Monthly Archives: May 2008

IT’S A SIMPLE GROUNDER TO SECOND, MAN ON FIRST, NOBODY OUT: SO WHY DID THE YANKEE TV ANNOUNCERS HAVE SO MUCH TROUBLE WITH IT? (AND DID THE YES NETWORK COVER IT UP LATER?)

                                                                            Kallas Remarks By Steve Kallas   

 

If you watch plenty of baseball, it’s a play you see eight or ten times a year or so.  Friday night, Yankees at Twins, bottom seven, Yankees winning 6-4, Brendan Harris on first for the Twins, nobody out.  Carlos Gomez hits a slow grounder to Robinson Cano at second.  Cano catches it in the baseline and, as many of you know, his first thought is to tag Harris and throw to first for the double play.

    

But Brendan Harris has a clue and stops about halfway to second or so. Cano has to make a split-second (but not that difficult with a two-run lead) decision:  Should he get the lead runner easily by either tagging him or flipping to second (remember, Cano is in the baseline between the runner and second base)? (Answer, by the way: Yes). Or, should he throw to first and let the first baseman try to throw Harris out at second for a possible double play (of course, if Harris makes it to second, you’ve foolishly allowed a runner to get into scoring position in a two-run game and you also lose the force at second)?  (Answer, by the way: No).

    

Cano makes the wrong decision and throws to first to get Gomez while Harris then beats the throw and slides safely into scoring position at second.

    

Not a big deal – if you’re an announcer, you simply point out that, in this situation, you want to get the lead runner because you’re only up two runs and you will then, with a man on first, still have a chance for the double play when the next hitter steps into the box.

    

But, somehow, this escaped former professional baseball players and current Yankee announcers John Flaherty and Ken Singleton.  Michael Kay, the Yankees play-by-play guy (the game was shown on MY9 and replayed on YES), also didn’t get it at first.  But a short time later, he did (maybe somebody whispered in his ear that, over on the radio side, the radio announcers had said that Cano made a mistake by not getting the lead runner or maybe it just dawned on Kay), bringing up the fact that maybe Cano should have got the lead runner out.  But Flaherty and Singleton would have none of it, crediting Harris with a good play rather than saying the obvious — Cano made a bad decision.  When Kay continued with his correct shouldn’t-they-get-the-lead-runner question (most unknowledgeable (and maybe even most knowledgeable) fans would believe the two former pros over the play-by-play guy), Singleton actually said the play was caused by Harris’ good baserunning.

    

Well, yes and no.  The ONLY intelligent thing a baserunner can do in that situation is to stop.  If he keeps running, HE’S the idiot who allows the fielder to get an easy double play (by quickly tagging him out and throwing to first).  But when he does stop, it puts the onus on the fielder to do the smart thing – in this case, get the lead runner (for you sophisticated baseball people, you’ll understand that much of the decision of the second baseman is dependent upon where the runner is – for example, if he’s only 25 feet off first, then it is correct to throw to first first because the runner will either be out by 20 feet at second or, more likely, will get in a rundown).  But where, as here, Harris was halfway or even a little more to second, it was clear when Cano threw to first that the Yankees weren’t going to get the out at second.

          

Too picky, you say?  I don’t think so.  This is the kind of thing you see in baseball games.  It’s a play you see sometimes but, depending on the situation, has very different approaches.  For example, if there are two outs, none of this matters (because the inning is over on the out at first).  If you’re up 10 runs, rather than one or two, you should still get the lead runner but it’s not as important (because you’re up 10 runs).  Maybe if the next guy had singled in Harris from second (he didn’t), it would have dawned on Flaherty and/or Singleton that, in fact, Cano had made a mistake.

    

By the way, this incorrect television analysis went on for a couple of minutes.  So, to give you a better flavor with exact quotes, I taped the Yankees encore (a two-and-a-half hour version of the game shown later that night and/or the next morning) on YES (again, the game was originally shown on MY9 in New York with Yankee announcers and replayed on YES).               

    

But a funny thing happened on the way to getting these not-so-great (for the announcers) quotes:  YES simply decided to skip over the bottom of the seventh (YES does skip parts of a game to fit in the two-and-a-half hour window – why they don’t always show the whole game is beyond me since YES is the Yankee network).  It simply was eliminated from the replay of the game.  One could argue that nothing happened in the bottom of the seventh – after all, the Twins failed to score.  But one could also argue that an interesting baseball play took place and with a correct analysis on the radio and a terrible analysis on TV, YES didn’t want to show again and again mistakes made by their broadcasters.        

    

So, where does that leave us?  With a hope that announcers will see their mistakes quickly and correct them (good luck waiting for that).  Or, at least, that when the replays are shown later that night or the next morning or both, the fan who missed the game the night before won’t be deprived of interesting plays because the announcers didn’t quite grasp the obvious (or decided not to criticize a Yankee).

           

© Copyright 2008 by Steve Kallas.  All rights reserved. 

HOW 2008 NFL HALL OF FAME INDUCTEE ART MONK CAN HELP HOCKEY GREAT LORNE CHABOT (WHO?) GET INTO THE HOCKEY HALL OF FAME

                                                                             Kallas Remarks By Steve Kallas

 

The Hockey Hall of Fame Committee will be meeting in a couple of weeks to determine the 2009 Class for induction into the Hockey Hall of Fame.  Can they correct a gigantic mistake?  Well, maybe football great Art Monk can help them (read on).

    

It’s arguably the greatest omission of any player in any major sport’s Hall of Fame.  By virtually all accounts, one-time New York Ranger goaltender Lorne Chabot was one of the greatest goalies of his time (1926-1937) and of all-time.  How do we know this today?  That’s easy – in 1999, The Hockey News published a list of the top 100 players in NHL history, regardless of position.  An expert panel selected Lorne Chabot, a two-time Stanley Cup winner, a first-team NHL All-Star and a Vezina Trophy winner, as the 84th greatest NHL player ever.

    

On that list, Chabot is ranked as the 17th greatest goaltender in NHL history.  This is amazing given the fact that there are 33 goaltenders in the Hockey Hall of Fame.  Unfortunately, Lorne Chabot is not one of them.

    

At number 84, Chabot is ranked near a number of Hall of Fame goalies like George Vezina (75th, yes, the trophy is named after him), Chuck Gardiner (76th), Clint Benedict (77th), Tony Esposito (79th) and Billy Smith (80th).  Chabot is also ranked ahead of Hall of Famer Johnny Bower (87th) and future Hall of Famer Dominik Hasek (95th).

    

STUNNING NUMBERS

    

Chabot’s numbers compare favorably with goalies of his era, goalies of any era and Hall of Fame goalies.  His career goals against average (GAA) is an astounding 2.04.  He had three seasons of 10 or more shutouts.  He finished his career with an amazing 73 shutouts.

    

Lorne Chabot’s playoff numbers are even more amazing.  His GAA is an unbelievable 1.54 in 37 playoff games.  Even more important, he won two Stanley Cups.  All of this was accomplished while facing Hall of Fame goaltenders on an almost-nightly basis.

      

LOOKING AT OTHER SPORTS

       

Another good way to understand Chabot’s greatness is to look at “greatest” lists from the other major sports to see if any such omissions have occurred in baseball, basketball and football.

    

BASEBALL:  In 1999, The Sporting News came out with its Top 100 list of all-time.  Every baseball player on that list who is eligible to the Baseball Hall of Fame is in the Baseball Hall of Fame (the glaring omissions of Pete Rose and Shoeless (I hit .375 in the 1919 World Series and didn’t make an error but was thrown out for life for throwing the series) Joe Jackson must be left for another time).

    

BASKETBALL:  In 1997, The National Basketball Association came out with its Top 50 list to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the NBA.  The NBA, of course, is a much younger league than the other major sports and only five men play at once (which is probably why there wasn’t a Top 100).  Every player on that list who is eligible to the Basketball Hall of Fame is in the Basketball Hall of Fame (starting to see a pattern yet?).

     

HERE’S WHERE THE HELP OF WIDE RECEIVER ART MONK COMES INTO PLAY

      

FOOTBALL:  In the past when I’ve discussed this issue, I would have to write that in football, in 1999, The Sporting News came out with the football Top 100 list and all of those on the list who were eligible to the Football Hall of Fame were in the Football Hall of Fame EXCEPT the man ranked 91st, ART MONK.  But this year, finally (better late than never), Art Monk was elected to the Football Hall of Fame.  It took the football voters a few years (not decades), but they finally got it right.

    

So, today, the following can be written:  Every eligible member in the Top 100 lists of baseball, football and hockey and the top 50 list in basketball is in their respective Hall of Fame.  EXCEPT ONE: LORNE CHABOT.  Time to fix that, no?

       

OTHER CREDENTIALS

      

Chabot was the main goaltender when the New York Rangers won their first Stanley Cup in 1927-28.  Chabot was the goaltender when the Toronto Maple Leafs won the Stanley Cup in 1931-32.  Chabot played in the only two six-overtime games in the history of the National Hockey League.  He won one and lost one.  Both were by scores of 1-0.  Give that a little thought (play almost 18 periods of playoff hockey, give up one goal and go 1-1 in those games).  Chabot was on the cover of Time Magazine (you can’t make this stuff up). 

    

Chabot fought for his country in France during World War I.  Later, he became a member of what would eventually become the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.

    

As a Ranger, Chabot was once approached by “an old-time boxer,” according to the accounts of the day, who offered him $15,000 to throw a game.  Chabot refused and immediately reported the bribe attempt to his boss, the legendary Lester Patrick.

    

Here’s a great Chabot goaltending story that nobody even knows about today, but shows his greatness in a circumstance that could never happen today.  In the 1934 playoffs, Chabot was playing for the Montreal Canadians, who had lost the first game of a (then) two-game series (total goals won the series back then) by a score of 3-2.  The Canadians had lost a few top players to injuries and then, in the first three minutes of Game 2 against the Chicago Black Hawks in Chicago before 17,000 fans, the Canadians lost their great superstar, Howie Morenz.  Chabot was amazing, shutting out the Black Hawks 1-0 in regulation.         

    

But, under the rules of the day, the game went right to overtime (series tied at 3 goals each) and the Black Hawks would eventually tie the game at 1 and “win” the series, 4 goals to 3.  Chabot stopped 46 shots for the undermanned Canadians while the Black Hawk goalie only had to face 26.

    

Imagine, shutting out a team on the road in the final game of the series, only to “lose,” 1-1 in overtime.  Hard to fathom, no?

    

SO, WHY ISN’T HE IN?

    

There are a number of theories as to why he’s not in, none of which hold water today.  He was allegedly involved in trying to start a players union, virtually unheard of then and certainly, to be kind, frowned upon by the powers-that-be (rumor has it that he was blackballed for decades in the Hall of Fame Selection room because of this).  He played for six different teams, unheard of at that time.  He died very young (at 46 in 1946) so he was quickly out of the public’s consciousness.

    

Today every league has a players’ union.  Today, everybody (or so it seems) switches teams many times.  Today, a guy who dies so young would be viewed (properly or not) as a hero of sorts.

    

In the last few years, this writer has been fortunate to speak to a couple of members of the Hall of Fame Selection Committee about Lorne Chabot, specifically Doc Emrick and Emile “The Cat” Francis.  While members aren’t allowed to speak about the specifics of what goes on in the room (the committee has 18 members, 14 votes are needed to make the Hall), both spoke glowingly of Chabot and both said that he had support in the room.

    

But apparently, not enough support to get elected.  The only recent reason that’s been in the papers in the last five years was the old “if they didn’t vote him in then, why should we vote him in now?”  Those arguments are easily refuted because, if a guy was blackballed for stupid reasons (is this happening today to Marvin Miller in baseball?) or  it was a sign of weakness to play for many teams back then or he died young, today’s committee has to see the error of those misguided (negatively-influenced?) judgments of decades ago.

        

ANOTHER MILESTONE FOR CHABOT

      

As recently as 2003, the “Hockey Maven,” acknowledged expert Stan Fischler, on Madison Square Garden’s website, MSG.com, ranked Lorne Chabot as the fourth greatest Metro-area goaltender (among the Rangers, Devils, Islanders and the old New York Americans) of all-time.  Mr. Fischler ranks Chabot ahead of four Hall of Famers – Chuck Rayner, Roy Worters, Gump Worsley and Eddie Giacomin.

    

VOTE HIM IN NOW!!!

     

For whatever reason, Lorne Chabot has slipped through the cracks.  It’s not too late to vote him in now.  Then, we can say that every player on the top lists of all-time players in the four major sports who are eligible to their respective Hall of Fame is in that Hall of Fame.  Now that Art Monk is in, Lorne Chabot remains the last one – still on the outside looking in.

      

© Copyright 2008 by Steve Kallas.  All rights reserved. 

WANT TO “STRETCH” JOBA CHAMBERLAIN OUT? NO PROBLEM – START A RELIEVER

                                                                            Kallas Remarks By Steve Kallas

 

What’s all the commotion about the difficulty of converting Joba Chamberlain from a reliever to a starter?  What’s all of this “this is a long process” stuff?  What’s all of this “it’s going to be hard to do this in a game situation” stuff?  Why does this seem to be so tough to do?

    

The Yankees are now talking about pitching Joba in relief for a few innings and then, if he can’t meet the designated pitch count for that day, have him finish by throwing in the bullpen.  How stupid is that?  You can’t give Joba a game-like situation in the bullpen any more than you can re-create a game situation in spring training or in a “simulated” game.  You can try, but anyone with any baseball knowledge knows that this wouldn’t be anything like a real game.

    

So, what can the Yankees do?  Well, this isn’t as difficult as it looks on its face.  Why not start a reliever, pitch him two innings and then let Joba come in to start the third inning?  That way, when they are trying to build him up to 55, 65, 75 or even 85 pitches, he can go three, four, five or even six innings, depending, of course, on how many pitches he throws, how he feels and how he does in an actual game.  To have him “finish” an appearance in the bullpen after being taken out of a game would be like having a position player you’d like to get some at-bats for take batting practice after the game.  It just isn’t the same.

    

The bigger issue has always been, do the Yankees really need to do this?  Even though Joe Girardi has said the switch to starting for Joba has nothing to do with the poor pitching (to date) of Hughes and Kennedy, the reality is that, if these guys were pitching well, there would be no reason to move Joba.  Since we already know he’s a lights-out setup guy, it would have been best for the Yankees to keep him in the bullpen.  Only if he projects to be a number one starter or (maybe) a top number two starter should it even be considered that he switch to starting rather than relieving.  Presumably, he does project as an ace in the view of the Yankeee experts.   

    

So, if the Yankees now want to make Joba a starter and the organization decides to start a reliever for two innings to give Joba an open-ended opportunity, who’s the reliever?  It says here that, like him or not, the best reliever on the Yankee roster right now to do the job is Ross Ohlendorf.  He’s averaging about two innings an appearance (15 games, 27 innings as of 5/25) and that’s all you would need to get Joba in the game.  It would be nice if the Yankees had a lefty reliever who could start once or twice (to set up a lefty-righty switch to Joba in the third inning), but they have no lefty relievers in their bullpen.

    

This whole “process” is not as big a gamble as people think for the Yankees.  If it doesn’t work, Joba can always go back to the bullpen.  The bigger long-term question is, frankly, whether Joba is the next Mariano.  Most Yankee fans would pick Mariano Rivera as the Yankee MVP since 1996.  But a closer is of no value if his team doesn’t have the lead very late in the game.  If the Yankees can develop good starting pitching in the next couple of seasons, it might be best for the team to have Joba in the bullpen.  If he’s going to be the ace of the staff for the next decade, that’s a different story.  It will be good for the Yankees to find this out sooner rather than later.

       

© Copyright 2008 by Steve Kallas.  All rights reserved. 

DOMALEWSKI FAMILY (NEW JERSEY BOY WHO SUFFERED BRAIN INJURY AFTER BEING HIT IN CHEST WITH BALL OFF ALUMINUM BAT) SUES LOUISVILLE SLUGGER AND LITTLE LEAGUE

                                                                            Kallas Remarks By Steve Kallas   

Steven Domalewski, the New Jersey boy who was struck in the chest by a ball hit off an aluminum bat in a youth baseball game in Wayne, New Jersey on June 6, 2006 and suffered brain damage after his heart stopped, has sued (along with his parents) Louisville Slugger (the bat manufacturer), Little League Baseball (an organization that has endorsed the use of metal bats) and The Sports Authority, Inc. (the company that sold the bat that was used when Domalewski was injured) in Superior Court of New Jersey, Passaic County. 

             

When Steven Domalewski, then age12, pitched in a youth baseball game on June 6, 2006 and was hit in the chest with the ball off an aluminum bat, his heart stopped, he couldn’t breathe for approximately 15 minutes, and the commotio cordis condition caused brain damage to the point where the now 14-year-old child is confined to a wheelchair, cannot speak clearly and needs 24/7 care.                     

The lawsuit is the latest salvo against aluminum bats and those who make them, sell them and support them as equally safe as wooden bats.  There is a movement against this equality theory – indeed, this season in New York City, for example, only wooden bats could be used in high school baseball games after a law was passed banning the use of metal bats for safety reasons.  Other lawsuits exist, including the case of John Baggs v. Little League International in New York State court in Staten Island, where a child was seriously hurt by a ball hit off an aluminum bat in a Little League All-Star game in Staten Island in the summer of 2006.                   

The Domalewski case in New Jersey seeks an unspecified amount of damages, including punitive damages, interest, attorneys’ fees and costs of suit.  But Mr. Domalewski’s attorney, Ernest Fronzuto, of the Ridgewood, New Jersey firm of Wellinghorst & Fronzuto, has already stated that Steven Domalewski will need millions of dollars worth of medical care, according to a report by the Associated Press.  Not surprisingly, plaintiffs are also seeking a jury trial.         

The suit is an interesting one on a number of levels.  Perhaps most interesting is that Little League is being sued, despite the fact that the game was a Police Athletic League game, not a Little League game.  But one theory (among others) under which Little League is being sued, according to Mr. Fronzuto, is that Little League endorsed and endorses the use of these aluminum bats when, in fact, according to the lawsuit, they actually increase the risk of injury to young children playing baseball.  Indeed, Little League has been at the forefront of the battle between proponents of wooden bats and their (Little League’s) position that metal bats are the same in terms of the speed and danger of balls coming off of the bats whether metal or wooden.         

The lawsuit has five counts against all defendants, including a violation of the New Jersey Consumer Fraud Act, a general negligence count and a strict liability count for “a defective baseball bat which was unreasonably dangerous to users and third parties that come in contact with, or were in the vicinity of, the subject baseball bat.”        

Another interesting aspect of the lawsuit is who is NOT being sued: the Police Athletic League is not a defendant.  Nor is the child who hit the ball with the targeted metal bat made by defendant Louisville Slugger, sold by defendant The Sports Authority and endorsed by defendant Little League. 

According to the plaintiffs’ attorney, Mr. Fronzuto, the complaint has yet to be served on the defendants as of Thursday, May 22.  Once served, the defendants will have time to retain their own attorneys and file answers to the complaint and/or motions testing the validity of the complaint.     

© Copyright 2008 by Steve Kallas.  All rights reserved. 

 

CLUELESS JOE MORGAN

                                                                            Kallas Remarks By Steve Kallas   

It’s hard to believe that ESPN’s Joe Morgan, who you always think should know better but often doesn’t, could be so clueless about the New York managerial situation.  But when Morgan and Jon Miller parachute into town to do a Mets-Yankees game, you just know something stupid will be said about the Mets and/or the Yankees.  This past Sunday night (May 17), it was the managerial status of Willie Randolph and Joe Girardi.

    

It started off innocently enough, when Miller started talking about the notion, talked about for weeks (months?) in New York, that Willie Randolph is in danger of losing his job.  Miller also pointed out that, even though the Yankees were doing poorly, nobody was talking about Joe Girardi losing his job.

    

Here’s what Joe Morgan had to say about that:

 “I would question that, Jon.  If it’s Willie’s fault on the other side of  town, why is it not Girardi’s fault on this side of town?  I think you have to look at both of them in the same, you know, way.  I mean,  the Mets are 1 1/2 games out of first place.  The Yankees are in last  place.  So, I would say you have to look at both of them and use the same microscope.”

Yikes!  There’s a lot to say about the above, but the notion that you can look at any two managers exactly the same is absurd.  Look at Joe Torre.  Because he got his four titles in his first five years as Yankees manager (after what could best be described as a mediocre managerial career before that), he was able to withstand presiding over the greatest collapse in post-season baseball history (2004, up 3-0 v. Boston, lose the series in seven games) and losing in the first round of the playoffs in 2005, 2006 and 2007 and STILL received an offer for 2008 (we can argue all day about whether it was “insulting” or not but that’s irrelevant).  Had Torre not had those World Series rings on his fingers, he probably wouldn’t have survived 2004.  In fact, it’s safe to say that if 2004-2007 had happened BEFORE his titles, he would never have managed for a long period of time in New York.  That’s just the nature of the managerial beast, especially in New York in either league.

    

But, according to many knowledgeable Met fans, Willie Randolph’s success rate (even with a 2006 playoff appearance) has been rather low.  The Mets organization has stepped up big-time and signed players and spent a ton of money and given Willie and the fans a great opportunity for huge success.  In 2006, it’s hard to believe that the Mets didn’t make it to the World Series.  In 2007, Willie presided over arguably the greatest collapse in the history of the regular season (up seven games with 17 to play) and failed to make the playoffs.  This year, before the two-game sweep of the Yankees, the Mets were piddling along at around .500, something nobody expected.

    

Nobody’s going to accuse Willie of being a brilliant tactician.  And he’s been hammered left and right for his perceived lack of outward emotion.  He’s starting to lose the media fight (when he tells Mike Francesa and Chris Russo on WFAN that they’re “clueless,” Willie, better than anyone, should know that’s a fight that’s almost impossible to win (although Michael Strahan has won it, certainly against Russo, see HBO’s Costas Now where Strahan embarrassed Russo)).  And, for better or worse (probably worse in the eyes of Met fans), Willie was (is?) a Yankee.  This part of it is similar to Islander legend Bryan Trottier when he became coach of the New York Rangers.  Had Trottier won, everything would have been wonderful.  When Trottier lost, he was just another miscast Islander in the eyes of Ranger fans.

    

What about Joe Girardi, though?  Well, Girardi’s very brief managerial resume includes the 2006 NL Manager of the Year.  He also has played on Yankee World Series winners, he was Joe Torre’s bench coach and he even announced Yankee games.  Even though he’s a Chicago guy, Girardi is, unlike Willie as a “Met guy,” viewed to be a “Yankee guy.”  Like it or not, that’s a huge difference. 

   

Other factors in Girardi’s favor for not getting heat yet (although the drums are starting to beat in New York) include the fact that A-Rod and Jorge Posada are on the DL.  While A-Rod won the MVP last year (remember the year before when ESPN’s Steve Phillips told us that the Yankees should trade A-Rod?), some knowledgeable Yankee fans thought that Posada was the MVP of the Yankees.  Throw in a couple of young Yankee starters who can’t get out of their own way (and that interesting stat that no team has won the pennant in about forever with two rookies in their rotation) and you can see that Girardi has been granted a brief honeymoon period.  But that, of course, could come to an end sooner rather than later. 

   

Girardi also has his own managerial issues (hard to believe he would let Mike Mussina pitch to Manny Ramirez with first base open earlier this year) and, again, the honeymoon will be brief in New York for him.  But the pressure on Willie is as much (or more) a result of last year’s collapse as it is due to this year’s inconsistent play.  This is Willie’s fourth year as manager of the Mets.  Met fans think they’re seeing a broken record now.  Girardi is only in his first year, but there’s already trouble brewing in the Bronx.  For him, we’ll have to wait for the return of A-Rod and Posada and for Brian Cashman to do something about the pitching.  But it’s already starting to look like Joe Torre got out in the nick of time.  We’ll see.

        

And as for “Clueless Joe” (Morgan, not Torre), he’ll just have to do a little more research to understand what’s going on before he shows up at a game.

       

© Copyright 2008 by Steve Kallas.  All rights reserved. 

 

 

 

WHY DO THIRD BASE COACHES (READ: BOBBY MEACHAM OF THE YANKEES) HAVE TO LEARN THE HARD WAY?

                                                                            Kallas Remarks By Steve Kallas   

It’s stunning how, when given a chance, baseball lifers can make game-deciding mistakes and then look reporters right in the eye and say they would do it again.  It’s already happened to Yankees manager Joe Girardi (see Kallas Remarks, 4/13 /08), when he made the bizarre decision (along with Mike Mussina) to pitch to Manny Ramirez with first base open after Manny had already hit a moon shot off Mussina.  After the second moon shot (making the Yankees losers), Girardi was still explaining why it was a good decision.  But you can bet that it won’t happen again.

Which leads us to Saturday’s subway series (no capital s in either word unless it’s the World Series, please) game, an eventual Mets victory.  Mets-Yankees, top of the third, Yankees up 2-0, nobody out, Johnny Damon on first and Bobby Abreu hits one into the gap in right-center.  An excellent relay from Ryan Church to Luis Castillo to catcher Brian Schneider, who somehow managed to block the plate, catch the ball and tag Damon out on a bang-bang play. 

   

Frankly, a very poor decision to send Damon home.  Why, you ask?  Well, that’s easy.  There were NO outs, and the Yankees had numbers three, four and five hitters (Derek Jeter, Hideki Matsui and Jason Giambi, respectively) coming to bat.  Stupid decision to send Damon whether he’s thrown out or not?  Absolutely.  Not that you would need more ammunition as to why this was a bad move, but Jeter had already hit a two-run homer off Johan Santana in the first inning.

    

But none of this phased third-base coach Bobby Meacham.  After the game, Meacham told reporters the following (according to Mark Hale of the New York Post): “I knew it was going to be close.  We’ve been struggling a little bit scoring runs and we’ve been preaching to these guys got to be more aggressive.  Once it got in the gap, my mind was made up.” 

    

Very scary stuff if you understand the different “skill set” needed to coach third base, which is vastly different from any other baseball job, including manager.  Unlike managers, third-base coaches have to make bang-bang decisions – they can’t turn to their bench coach, they don’t have 30 seconds or five minutes to think about that reliever or that pinch hitter or “should I get this guy warming up for the seventh inning?” or many other decisions.

    

Frankly, once Bobby Meacham “knows” it’s going to be close at the plate, HE HAS TO HOLD DAMON WITH NOBODY OUT AND THE HEART OF THE ORDER COMING UP.  Like not pitching to Manny Ramirez, this is a pretty simple solution, nothing complex.  To say after the game that we have to be aggressive is fine, but there’s a line (not that fine) between aggressiveness and stupidity.

    

We saw this when Larry Bowa came to coach third base for the Yankees in 2006.  Considered to be a relatively good manager of the Phillies (before his hard ways turned the players off), Bowa had a lot of trouble early on.  In the first couple of weeks of the season, he (mystifyingly) waved both slow-footed Jason Giambi and slow-footed Jorge Posada home (in different games) only to have them both thrown out.  Any Yankee fan could have told Bowa not to do this.  He eventually learned (the hard way, of course).

    

Which brings us back to Bobby Meacham.  Joe Girardi supported his coach, stating: “It’s an aggressive play.  I don’t have a problem with it.”  While you have to stick up for your guy, hopefully Girardi told Meacham privately that you don’t send these guys with no outs and the heart of the order up unless you’re 110% sure he’s going to make it.  In fact, Meacham should be told that if you know (as Meacham said he did) that it’s going to be close at home in the same situation, DON’T SEND THE RUNNER HOME.

    

It’s scary that this stuff takes place in the major leagues.  Again, it’s actually harder to coach third than to manage a team because you simply have to make instant decisions.  Anybody who’s coached third at any level knows this.

    

One final thing:  the one time a third base coach does have a little time (say, five seconds) to make a decision was this play – man on first, ball in the gap.  If a third base coach says as soon as I saw it in the gap, I’m sending him home, he’s given up those five seconds to make an informed decision.  Again, with nobody out, it’s a no-brainer: let your three, four and five hitters drive the runner in.   If the Yankees don’t have confidence that these guys can do that, then they are in deeper trouble than they already appear to be in terms of making the playoffs.

    

Won’t it be great if, some day, a manager or coach says:  “I shouldn’t have let my pitcher pitch to Manny.  It was a stupid move on my part and I hurt the team.” Or “I shouldn’t have been aggressive in that spot with nobody out and the meat of the order coming up.  Next time, I won’t do it.”

    

Good luck waiting for either of those to happen.  But know this:  right now, the Yankees aren’t good enough to overcome these coaching/managerial blunders.  Games like this (and the Manny two-homer game) are often the difference between making the playoffs or not.

 

 

 

© Copyright 2008 by Steve Kallas.  All rights reserved

TIME TO CHANGE THE TIMING OF THE TRIPLE CROWN RACES FOR HORSES

                                                                            Kallas Remarks By Steve Kallas   

 

Once upon a time, three-year-old thoroughbred horses would race frequently and, while it was a difficult thing to race three times in five weeks (Kentucky Derby first Saturday in May, the Preakness two weeks later, the Belmont three weeks after that), it wasn’t absurd, stupid or dangerous.  Many horses would routinely “dance every dance,” taking their shot at horse-racing immortality.  In the 1970s, Triple Crown winners were frequent (1973 — Secretariat, 1977– Seattle Slew, 1978 – Affirmed).

    

But that was then; this is now.  With no Triple Crown winner in 30 years, and even with a realistic chance that Kentucky Derby winner Big Brown can do it this year, it’s .simply stupid to expect them to go to the post three times in five weeks to race at distances they have never raced at before and, in the case of the mile-and-a-half Belmont, will never race at again.

    

Don’t take my word for it.  The Preakness, in the last decade or so, has simply become a prep for the Kentucky Derby winner to take his shot at the Triple Crown.  In the “old” days, six or eight or ten Derby starters would come back to take their shot at the Derby winner in the Preakness two weeks later.  Not anymore.  In this year’s race, other than Big Brown, there is only one horse (out of 19) coming back from the Derby to try his luck in the Preakness, and that’s speed horse Gayego, who finished 17th in the Derby, some 36 lengths back (some would say he didn’t even race in the Derby off that performance).  Frankly, that’s the trainers and owners of Derby losers telling us that it’s preposterous to race three times in five weeks in the 21st Century.

      

DON’T HURT THE TOP THREE-YEAR-OLDS

         

Today, you are pretty much doing a disservice to your good, young three-year-old if you send him (there probably won’t be any hers for a long time after Eight Belles broke both her ankles right after the Derby and had to be put down on the track) out to race three times in five weeks.  The Derby winner pretty much has to do it, because a Triple Crown winner today is probably worth an additional $40 million or so if he can get the job done.

    

Do horses get hurt racing three times in five weeks when, generally speaking, good horses today rarely race more than once every four to six weeks?   Well, that’s pretty much an unanswerable question in a sport where a horse can break a sesamoid bone, for example, by simply taking a bad step out of his stall.   

    

But in 2006, Barbaro had raced five weeks before the Derby (he paid $14 as an undefeated Derby winner because no horse in over 50 years had raced his last race more than four weeks before the Derby and won the Derby).  But then, in the Preakness, a pass race from a gambling perspective (as is this year’s Preakness because Big Brown will be a no-value, heavy favorite), Barbaro broke down and, after months of trying to save him, had to be put down.  Interestingly, Barbaro had only raced twice in 13 weeks prior to the 2006 Derby.  While nobody can ever say with certainty that Barbaro broke down in the Preakness because he came back to race 14 days after the Derby (rather than having five or eight weeks off between races as he had previously done in early 2006), the truth is nobody will ever know for sure.

    

Which brings us back to 2008.  Big Brown, beating another long-believed Derby no-no of having only three lifetime starts before winning the Derby (that hadn’t happened in something like 80 years), will come back just two weeks later to try and win the second leg of the Triple Crown.  He should do it (there’s not much competition), but the good horses now lay in wait for the Belmont, three weeks after the Preakness.

      

SO, WHAT SHOULD THE NEW SCHEDULE BE?

         

Here’s a simple but realistic schedule for the Triple Crown in the 21st Century:  Kentucky Derby, first Saturday in May, Preakness, first Saturday in June, Belmont, first Saturday in July.  Throw in the Travers at Saratoga (late in August) and you have a perfect four-race program for any real good three-year-old in the world.

     

HERE’S A GOOD BASEBALL ANALOGY

          

Of course, if you follow horse racing, you can hear the traditionalists screaming: “this is how it’s been done for over 100 years, horses should dance every dance, it takes a special horse to win the Triple Crown” and on and on and on.

    

But let’s take a look at pitchers in baseball.  Up until the late 1960s and into the 1970s, pitchers took the ball with three days of rest and started about 40 games a year.  That changed in the ‘70s and ‘80s to pitchers taking the ball with four days of rest and, today, starting about 34 games a year.  Not only that, but you baseball fans know that starting pitchers rarely come out for the eighth or ninth innings – the complete game, with rare exceptions, is on the verge of becoming extinct.  Few people know what a complete game looks like. 

    

Like the horse-racing traditionalists, the baseball traditionalists bemoan the fact that pitchers “aren’t tough anymore,’ that they don’t “suck it up anymore’ and go out for the eighth or ninth inning.  Of course, if you know baseball, you know that we are much closer to the five-inning starter than we are to a return of the nine-inning starter.

    

So the analogy is this:  To have horses race three times in five weeks in the 21st Century would be like making major league pitchers pitch every fourth day in the 21st Century, a stupid and dangerous (to pitchers’ arms) thing to put into play.  So, too, to make these horses run distances they have never run before and, in the case of the Belmont, a distance they will never run again, would be like making today’s pitchers (whatever one may think of their “toughness”) pitch complete games no matter how tired they might be in the eighth or ninth inning.  Hopefully, you get the point.

    

While tradition in horse racing (and many other things) should be respected and honored, there has to be a common sense approach to how it really is today.  That common sense approach, in thoroughbred racing, would be to space the Triple Crown races at least a month apart.  That way, more horses could “dance every dance” and, at least arguably, less horses will be put at risk of serious or fatal injury.           

 

 

© Copyright 2008 by Steve Kallas.  All rights reserved.