Monthly Archives: October 2008

WHERE’S DAVID PRICE? WAS A PULL-BACK BUNT ATTEMPT THE KEY PLAY IN THE WORLD SERIES? AND OTHER WORLD SERIES THOUGHTS

                               Kallas Remarks by Steve Kallas

 WHERE’S DAVID PRICE?

Readers of this column know that I’m a big Joe Maddon fan (see Kallas Remarks, 4/9/08) but, in the first suspended game in World Series history, a rare occurrence needed a different analysis if you were the Tampa Bay Rays.  Both teams made huge pitching mistakes, but the Phillies were up three games to one.  Unfortunately for Joe Maddon, you have to manage differently when you’re down three games to one.

    

Everybody is jumping down Maddon’s throat for his failure to “start” David Price and they’re right.  Most of the critics have forgotten that one of the reasons for Maddon not starting Price was that his spot was coming up fourth in the next inning.  In hindsight, most people ignore this.  But for Joe Maddon, this wasn’t a Wednesday night in May.  This was a World Series elimination game.

    

I don’t think any reliever should have “started” the game. The experts always talk about the closer’s “mentality.”  But they rarely talk about how different it is for a starter.  You rarely have a reliever who is prepared to start.  That’s exactly what we saw in the final game of the 2008 World Series.

    

So reliever Grant Balfour got smacked around (Jeff Jenkins crushed a double almost out of the park) and gave up the go-ahead run.  Up a run, the Phillies brought in their unhittable reliever, Ryan Madson.  He got smacked around (game-tying home run by Rocco Baldelli (Madson’s first home run given up at home since April); single to left by Jason Bartlett).  Inexplicably, Maddon then brought in J.P. Howell and he got smacked around (Pat Burrell with a moonshot double, inches from a home run).  Even J.C. Romero and Brad Lidge weren’t great.  But they were good enough to win the World Series.

    

So what about David Price?  He’s been lights out in the playoffs, was stunning against the Red Sox in the pennant-clinching win and has been a STARTER all of his life until these limited relief appearances.  He was not only the perfect selection to “start” this game, he had the mentality to prepare for it and win it.  No other pitcher who appeared on either side had that experience and it showed by the long hits and hard hit balls that the real relievers gave up.

    

But what about the fact that Price would have been due up fourth the next inning?  Well, that was a red herring that hurt Joe Maddon and the Rays.  When your back is to the wall and you’re in a tie game (down three games to one), giving up ZERO runs is your number one goal.  Everything else (including scoring) is a secondary goal.  So maybe Joe Maddon could have made a double-switch.  If impossible, then Maddon should have been willing to eat the Price at-bat to leave him in the game.  As it turned out, the pitcher wound up bunting in that spot so it wouldn’t have mattered even if Price had started.  But you couldn’t expect or rely on that.  Clearly though, this unusual situation dictated a different thought process that was rejected by Joe Maddon (similar to the unbelievably unusual situation where Joe Torre did nothing in “the bug game,” see Kallas Remarks, 3/29/08).

 

WAS A PULL-BACK BUNT ATTEMPT THE KEY PLAY IN THE WORLD SERIES?

 

You bet it was.  World Series tied at one game, game three tied at four, bottom of the ninth, Shane Victorino at bat with Eric Bruntlett on first after being hit by a pitch.  Victorino squares to bunt and Grant Balfour tries to do what he’s taught to do: throw a fastball up for a strike, a difficult pitch to bunt.  But the ball gets by Dioner Navarro as Bruntlett goes to second.  The ball takes a straight hop off the backstop back to Navarro, who makes the mistake of throwing to second for an error (into the outfield) that allows Bruntlett to get to third.

    

After two intentional walks and a 45-foot infield hit by Carlos Ruiz, the Phillies win the pivotal Game 3 (always called the most important game by Joe Torre) and, frankly, the Rays never recover (blown out in Game 4 and mismanaged in Game 5).

    

I’ve written about the bunt numerous times before, including in these playoffs (see Kallas Remarks, 10/14/08).  If you watched these playoffs and don’t understand its value, I certainly can’t explain it to you.  Yes, the “stats” over 50 bunts or 5,000 bunts or every bunt in baseball history show that, generally speaking, more runs will be scored if you don’t bunt first and second, nobody out.  But that ignores so much:  for example, when Joe Torre bunts against the Phillies and hits the sacrifice bunt “jackpot” (Ryan Howard picks it up, throws it away and you’ve got a run plus runners on second and third, nobody out) and people actually think that it wasn’t the bunt but Howard’s error that caused the run, you simply can’t explain it to them.  Do you think that Joe Torre cares, “statistically,” whether that play isn’t as successful the next five times he uses it next April or May?  Neither do I.  When you strip it bare, there are so many factors (batter (is Rod Carew or Phil Rizzuto up?), pitcher (lefty or righty?), first baseman (do you want to bunt more if Jason Giambi is there? Answer, yes), baserunners, situation, who is up next, and fifty other variables) present that there simply can’t be a hard and fast no vote to bunting.

    

Jimmy Rollins, in Game 5, sacrifice bunts Jenkins to third which CAUSES THE INFIELD TO COME IN which allows Jayson Werth to get that bloop hit that scores the go-ahead run in the World Series-deciding game.  It never happens if Werth isn’t on third base.

    

J.P. Howell sacrifices Jason Bartlett to second and Aki Iwamura hits that infield single that Utley stops, pump fakes to first and throws out Bartlett at home.  Unfortunately for the Rays, Bartlett didn’t bust it from second.  He should have either stayed at third or busted it from the get-go.  If he goes hard, it’s irrelevant what Chase Utley does with the ball.  Apparently, today, that’s baseball.

    

Since most people still don’t understand the value of the bunt (nor will they, even after this), I’ll say the pull-back bunt attempt by Shane Victorino in the bottom of the ninth of Game 3 was just one of the three most important plays in the 2008 World Series.  But you can certainly make a case, with lots of baseball knowledge, that it was the most important play.

   

BASEBALL RULES THROWN OUT THE WINDOW TO SUSPEND GAME 5?

 

You bet they were.  Unfortunately for announcer Joe Buck, Bud Selig didn’t bother to tell him when Buck wouldn’t stop telling us that this was an official game when it started pouring and the Rays had batted five times.  Although you certainly had a feeling, watching the game, that they wouldn’t end the World Series prematurely, they did throw out the rules of baseball.  The problem now for baseball (they should absolutely put that new rule in writing, the Commissioner’s “best interests” power isn’t really enough) is that, any time someone sees something that is obviously wrong, they can now make a case that the Commissioner should change it immediately.  Good luck with that. 

    

It’s funny how, when it’s “obvious” to all, the rules just didn’t matter.  While virtually all of us agree that it was the correct decision, someone will raise it in the future (i.e., you blew it off for the World Series, Bud, you can blow it off here, as well).  We’ll see.

 

WHY DIDN’T THE RAYS RUN HARD?

 

It’s become an epidemic in 21st Century baseball.  In no other sport has an actual in-game activity been compromised more than running hard on the bases.  And, with old-school Manager-of-the-Year-to-be Joe Maddon, who received national acclaim for benching B.J. Upton for not running hard earlier in the year, the Rays would be the last team you’d expect to have issues.

    

In Game 5, top of the fifth, Rocco Baldelli, a five-tool player who is fighting a neuro-muscular disease that weakens him, hit a high pop to short on a rainy, wind-blown night.  When none other than Jimmy Rollins could not catch it, Baldelli should have been on second.  However, he was still on first and, when Bartlett hits a ground ball to Chase Utley at second, it was a tag and throw to first for a key double play.  You don’t know if Bartlett would have grounded to second if Baldelli had been on second.  But you DO know that Baldelli couldn’t have been part of a ground ball double play had he been on second.

    

In Game 5, top of the seventh, Jason Bartlett on second, two out, Aki Iwamura hits a grounder up the middle for an infield hit.  Chase Utley backhands it, fakes a throw to first and then easily throws out Bartlett at home.  The replay clearly showed that Bartlett didn’t go as hard as he could.  Maybe he thought Utley had a play at first and he just kept running like many players do in that situation.  But he should have either stayed at third or really busted it from second where he would have had a much better chance to score.

    

Two gigantic, arguably game-changing (series-changing?), plays.  Very disappointing from a play-the-game-the-right-way perspective.

    

The Phillies had the same disease as well.  Watch Pat Burrell out of the box on that moonshot double in the seventh of Game 5.  He didn’t run hard at all the first 90 feet.  But, hey, the Phillies won and that’s modern day baseball.  Right?  Wrong, it says here.

    

One of the big problems that Joe Maddon and all major league managers have is to get these guys to run hard.  Good luck with that.         

  

CAN ANYTHING BE DONE ABOUT THE PATHETIC STATE OF BASEBALL IN LATE OCTOBER?

 

As a big-time baseball fan, it was sad to see the players slosh around the field in a pivotal World Series game.  So, what can be done?  It would be nice to return to a 154-game schedule.  But the owners won’t give up a nickel, so that won’t happen.  It would be nice if the games could at least start at a reasonable hour.  But the owners won’t give up a nickel of that prime-time TV money (eastern time zone fans be damned!  — move to the West Coast if you’re an East Coast team fan and actually want to see the end of your games (your kids might be able to watch them, too!)), so that won’t happen.

    

But here’s a partial solution.  Let major league baseball schedule every team to five or six day/night doubleheaders (the owners won’t give up a nickel, so you won’t get the doubleheaders – two games for the price of one — that you routinely got once upon a time).  This will give baseball an extra five or six days at the end of the season.  It’s not a lot, but it’s better than nothing.  If baseball would go to 154 games and day/night doubleheaders, you could finish the season almost two weeks earlier.  What a concept.

    

The day/night doubleheaders make a lot of sense (I don’t like them, but they make a lot of sense).  But that’s how you know they will never happen in baseball (too logical).  We’ll see.

© Copyright 2008 by Steve Kallas.  All rights reserved.

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SOME FINAL THOUGHTS ON THE BREEDERS CUP, ITS TV COVERAGE AND THE THOROUGHBRED RACING SCHEDULE

                               Kallas Remarks by Steve Kallas

 

THE BREEDERS CUP

 

It was, frankly, premature (to steal a word from racing expert Steven Crist) to race the Breeders Cup at Santa Anita on the relatively new synthetic surface.  But the horses came (especially the Europeans), the crowds came, the gamblers came (or so it seems) and almost everyone seemed to have a good time.  If, as some say, this new synthetic track is much safer for the animals (no catastrophic injuries in two days of racing does not a conclusion make), then it will be here to stay.  If, as others say, it’s the same statistically versus races on the dirt, then it’s a waste of time and money and a headache for the serious handicapper.

    

Just take a look at Curlin’s defeat in the Classic.  On the one hand, people say the race should be a throw-out because Curlin “didn’t like” the surface.  Yet others say that he made a stirring run (which he clearly did) around the final turn to take over the lead, only to be run over with 200 yards to go by the winner, three-year-old Raven’s Pass, considered a legitimate contender by some experts.  In addition, two other horses beat Curlin in the stretch: Euro invader Henrythenavigator, a 19-1 longshot and Tiago, considered to be a horse who could not possibly run with Curlin on the dirt.

    

So, what does it all mean?  Does Curlin lose Horse of the Year to the undefeated superfilly Zenyatta, who won all but one of her races on a synthetic surface?  Is Curlin still the Horse of the Year because he actually showed up here and just didn’t “take” to the track?  Or, since Curlin was run over by a three-year-old and clearly “took” to the track as he rolled by a bunch of horses to the lead around the last turn, is Zenyatta the winner?

    

It says here that Curlin is still the Horse of the Year.  And, if he’s not, look for top U.S. horses to avoid the Breeders Cup like the plague next year (in its return to Santa Anita), especially if they are considered the favorite in their division or for Horse of the Year honors and haven’t raced on the synthetic surface.      

    

From a gambling perspective, it was clear that somebody with deep pockets pounded the European horses in exactas.  For example, the 1-2 European finishers in the Classic, the $29 winner, Raven’s Pass, combined with Henrythenavigator, the 19-1 second-place finisher, combined for a woefully low $159 exacta.  In a race where Curlin was 4-5 and four other horses were bet more to win than the winner, an exacta like that (in a 12-horse race) would easily pay $100 more, maybe even double the $159 payoff.

    

Another example occurred in the Juvenile Turf.  The hot European horse coming in was Westphalia, who was bet down to 3-1 favoritism.  The fourth choice, at just under 6-1, was another Euro invader, eventual winner Donativum, who got up in the final strides to beat the favorite.  A just under 6-1 fourth choice over a lukewarm 3.30-1 favorite in a 12-horse field would usually be good for about a $40 payoff.  Yet with the winner paying $13.60 and with horses like Bittel Road and Grand Adventure being bet more than the winner, the exacta only came back $23.60.  Some people who really like the Euro invaders made a killing at the windows this past Saturday.     

          

Finally, if the races were run on a dirt track and it poured making the track a quagmire (see Monmouth Park, 2007), would Curlin and others have a built-in excuse?  Well, some say yes, but others say if you’re great, you win on any track in any condition.  The debate continues, but it says here that, unless there is proof positive that these new surfaces prevent injuries to horses and jockeys, they should be nipped in the bud and limited to very few, if any, tracks.  And no matter what anybody says, as a serious handicapper, you just don’t know if a horse will take to it or not until they do or don’t.  It’s that simple.  And it’s that complicated.  But then, again, that’s the beauty (and the frustration) of the game.

 

THE TV COVERAGE

 

There are only two things that the $2 ($20, $200, $2,000) bettor cares about when he watches a race:  1) where his/her horse is during the race and 2) what is the exact order of finish with prices as soon as the race is over (that means as soon as the race is official — not one or two minutes later, an eternity at the track).

    

Virtually all networks covering these big races simply don’t get that.  For example, a few years ago, somebody came up with the brilliant idea of showing a race from above (maybe a blimp camera or something).  Originally shown after big races (you really understand, for example, how lucky Street Sense was to win the Derby as he passed about 17 horses on the inside on his way to a Derby win), you could follow the race winner to see his trip – stunning stuff.  But now, somebody got the incredibly stupid idea of using this camera DURING the actual running of the race – where everybody looks like an ant and you can’t possibly pick up your horse (see Rule 1 above).  Networks insist on switching cameras and angles six or seven times a race – you have virtually no chance to follow your horse.

    

Why can’t networks take a tip (no pun intended) from the track operators who have been doing this forever?  Most tracks have gone to a split-screen: the bottom half on the leaders and the top half a wide shot of the whole field.  Then, at the top of the stretch, they show the whole field racing to the finish line.  It’s the ONLY way that you can pick up your horse early and stay with your horse the entire race.

    

This simple truth has escaped everybody who is in charge of showing races on national TV networks.  It’s really not that difficult.  And the blueprint for it is at virtually every track on virtually every day.

    

Now the race is over and the excited $2 bet winner is waiting for the results … and waiting … and waiting.  It’s as if the TV networks forgot why people are watching.  Many (most?) of them are watching to see how much they won (if they won.  Otherwise they are ripping up their tickets and cursing the screen).

    

This simple truth also escapes TV executives (see Rule 2 above).  For example, the undefeated filly Zenyatta was, without question, the star of the Friday filly races (sad that she got buried on a Friday afternoon TV spot, but we’ll discuss that later).  She lagged behind the field, as always, and then burst from last to first (as always) to remain undefeated in a stunning, maybe Horse of the Year performance.  It was the last race on TV and the TV coverage was on ESPN (or was it ESPN2?) for another just-under 11 minutes.  YET, THE PRICES OF THE RACE WERE NEVER POSTED.  Can you believe that?  Stunningly, they went off the air and, if you waited until Sportscenter (minutes late, hours later, the next day?), then the prices were given.  It doesn’t get worse than that. 

    

On other networks, sometimes they go to a commercial break after the race without posting the prices.  It’s stunning stuff but that’s the state of horse coverage today.  And, remember (you know if you’ve ever been in that position) that a minute feels like an hour when you are waiting for a photo to see if your horse was second or third or, if you know you won, what the payoffs are.

    

It’s scary stuff, but easily correctable.  Just follow the two rules set forth above and everything else will be gravy.

 

THE SCHEDULING OF THE THOROUGHBRED RACING SEASON

 

Thoroughbred racing is such that much could be done to improve its public face and chance for success with the casual watcher.  For example, even people in the business are starting to understand the absurdity of the Triple Crown being three races in five weeks and are now calling for change.  The breakdown of Barbaro after just two weeks between the Derby and the Preakness and Big Brown’s being pulled up in the Belmont this year aside, nobody races good horses three times in five weeks anymore (unless it’s now what appears to be a misguided effort to win the Triple Crown).

    

Changing the schedule, while keeping public interest alive and giving a modern day horse a real chance to win the Triple Crown, is easy to do:  Have the Derby the first Saturday in May (even non-fans know that day); then have the Preakness on the first Saturday in June and then the Belmont on the first Saturday in July.  It’s so simple and makes so much since that it will probably never happen.  Throw in the Travers at Saratoga at the end of August and you’ve set the schedule for every top three-year-old for the top races.

    

The sport could then stay in the public eye for a much longer period.  And, if you do have a Triple Crown potential winner, the build-up will be enormous.  And, hey, some horse might actually do it.

    

As for the “new” Breeders Cup, well, 14 races in two days is quite a bit.  But if you’re going to be able to attract most of the top horse in the world, then by all means make it on consecutive Saturdays.  A two-day buzz becomes a two-week buzz.  Look what happened to the great filly Zenyatta this year – who saw her, buried on TV on a Friday afternoon?  She should have been the feature on a Saturday the week before the male horses stepped on the same track.  Logistically a problem, some will say.  Maybe, but work it out.  Have some lesser stakes during the week; have a week-long (Saturday to Saturday) celebration; have a chance to have a huge crowd both Saturdays and have coverage for the week in between the big races.

    

The above is a blueprint to put horse racing in the public eye for a number of months, not just the few days it’s in the public eye now.  Too little, too late?  I don’t think so, but nobody will ever know if they don’t try it. 

 

 

© Copyright 2008 by Steve Kallas.  All rights reserved.

MORE CONFUSION FROM LITTLE LEAGUE BASEBALL…

HERE’S WHAT IS REALLY SCARY ABOUT THE TAMPA BAY RAYS

                               Kallas Remarks by Steve Kallas

 Well, no more talk about the Tampa Bay Rays and how they would fold in August or September, or how they were too inexperienced to win a round in the playoffs, or even how, once the Red Sox looked them in the eye in Games 5 and 6, they would fold their tents and go home in Game 7.  Even the disbelieving “experts” have to admit the obvious – that the Rays are for real.

But here’s what’s really scary about the Tampa Bay Rays and their future – four of their top players of the last few years had (relatively, for them) mediocre years in 2008 compared to their prior major league baseball experience.  Despite this, the Rays now remind people of the 1969 Mets (but that’s for another time).         

UPTON, CRAWFORD, PENA AND BALDELLI

 

B.J. Upton is only 24 years old.  Because of a bad shoulder during the regular season, his production was limited to nine home runs, 67 runs batted in and an average of .273.  Just last year, Upton hit 24 home runs, drove in 82 and batted .300.  His 2008 postseason performance stamps him as a legitimate star.  Don’t you think he’ll be much better next year during the regular season?

         

Carl Crawford is only 27 years old.  He’s had one of those rare stats as a major leaguer – a guy who has consistently raised his batting average each year.  He went from .259 in 2002, to .281 in 2003, to .296 in 2004, to .301 in 2005, to .305 in 2006, to .315 in 2007.  That’s a staggering accomplishment for another star in the making. 

         

But what happened to Carl Crawford in 2008?  Well, limited to only 109 games due to injury, Crawford only hit .273.  After averaging 53 stolen bases per year for the previous five seasons, Crawford could only steal 25 this year.  He, too, is performing well in the postseason.  Don’t you think he’ll be better next year during the regular season?

         

Carlos Pena is the “old man” of this group at the age of 30.  Cast off by numerous teams, including the Red Sox in 2006, Pena signed on with the Rays last year and proceeded to hit a stunning 46 home runs and 121 runs batted in while hitting .282.  While he still had good power numbers this year (31 homers and 102 runs batted in), his average went down to .247.  Also performing well in the postseason this year, Pena figures to improve at least his average next year (anything over 30 home runs and 100 runs batted in is great in the post-steroid era).

         

Rocco Baldelli is only 25 years old.  He’s a stunning all-around athlete and a five-tool player when healthy.  Most people didn’t see Baldelli in 2003, 2004 and 2006 (for better or worse, I’ve watched a lot of the Rays since my son, a die-hard Rays fan since 2004, started rooting for them because his favorite player, Tino Martinez, played for Tampa Bay in 2004).  But Baldelli had 184 hits and hit .289 with 27 stolen bases as a rookie in 2003.  After hitting .280 in 2004 and missing 2005 due to a shoulder injury, Baldelli came back and hit .302 in 2006.  In 2007 and 2008, Baldelli was diagnosed with a rare neuro-muscular disease that weakens a guy who can run like the wind and has a gun for an arm and was limited to 35 games last year and 28 regular season games this year.

         

Despite all of this, Joe Maddon has used Baldelli judiciously, concluding with Baldelli’s single to left that drove in what proved to be the Game 7 winning run to win the American League pennant over the Boston Red Sox.  While he has also contributed mightily in these playoffs, there is a question whether, health-wise, he can get back to what he once was as a regular five-tool player.  But if anyone can do it, it’s Rocco Baldelli.

         

With these four having sub-par seasons (for them), next year’s Rays figure to be better than this year’s edition.  And that’s a scary thought, especially if you root for the Red Sox or the Yankees.

 

BUT IT GETS EVEN SCARIER

 

It now appears, however, that an even bigger difference in the 2009 Rays will be the full season appearance of pitcher David Price.  The overall number one pick of the draft, he was pitching for Vanderbilt University just last year.  If anybody ever needs to know how much more difficult it is play baseball than any other sport, all one has to do is compare the number of players who walk out of college and walk into the NBA or NFL as professional players.  Virtually nobody walks out of college baseball and into the major leagues.

         

Enter David Price.  After a couple of months (not years) in the minors, he was called up and performed admirably in limited regular season appearances.  This guy is now lights out and, if you didn’t think he has ice water in his veins after watching him get the win in Game 2 of the Red Sox series, you now KNOW he has ice water in his veins after watching his stunning performance in Game 7.  A television “expert” was probably the only guy in the building in Game 7 who actually thought that the manager would take David Price out in the ninth inning.  Maddon, of course, didn’t and the rest is history.

         

In this writer’s opinion, Price has already jumped Joba Chamberlain in terms of ability.  Plus, in a rotation with relatively young pitchers and no perceived ace (although Matt Garza might now be that after his performance), Price might rise immediately to the top of the rotation. 

         

But it doesn’t really matter if, at the start, he’s viewed to be the number one, two, three or four starter (not to ruffle any feathers).  He didn’t come up to the majors with any “Rules” like Joba and it says here that neither bugs nor anything else will bother him in the clutch in the future.  While Joba still might be great, he doesn’t appear, in this writer’s opinion, to have the upside of Price (although I think Chamberlain can still be an excellent starter or reliever).  That bodes well for the Rays and poorly for the Red Sox and the Yankees.

         

RED SOX, YANKEES TO VIE FOR THE 2009 WILD CARD?

 

I’ve written, in the last few years, that one of the main problems for the Rays, Blue Jays and Orioles is that they are all in the wrong division.  Well, the Rays turned that division on its head this year, jumping from worst to first.  Since, unlike the NFL, three teams can’t make the playoffs in baseball from the same division, that means that at least one team (assuming they all stay healthy) among the Rays, Red Sox and Yankees will be the odd team out.  In 2008, it was the Yankees.  In 2009, who will it be?  I don’t know, but it says here that Tampa Bay will not be the odd team out and, like in 2008, the team that doesn’t make the playoffs will be decided between the Yankees and the Red Sox (or both if someone wakes up in another, weaker division).  A scary thought if you’re a Yankee or Red Sox fan.  We’ll see.    

© Copyright 2008 by Steve Kallas.  All rights reserved.

THE BUNT STRIKES AGAIN

                               Kallas Remarks by Steve Kallas

It will get lost in the shuffle (as it almost always does), but the use of the sacrifice bunt was crucial to both teams in Monday night’s (arguably) deciding game in the NLCS, as Philadelphia took a commanding 3-1 lead by beating the Dodgers, 7-5. 

In the top of the sixth (down 3-2), the Phillies had runners on first and second, nobody out and Shane Victorino at the plate.  Manager Charlie Manuel had Victorino sacrifice bunt, which made it second and third (tying run on third, go-ahead run on second) with one out.  Manuel was criticized heavily by the announcers and, when Pedro Feliz hit a weak, short fly to right (Ryan Howard, on third, had no chance to tag), the announcers were right – how could Manuel have taken the bat out of Victorino’s hands? 

    

But then, reliever Chan Ho Park threw a wild pitch and the tying run crossed home.  Just another example of how you can score from third on a play that you can’t score on from second.  Is it rare?  Absolutely.  Was Charlie Manuel expecting a wild pitch in that situation?  Of course not.  But it’s just another example of how a sacrifice bunt can set up a game-tying run in an important (deciding?) playoff game.

    

Interestingly, the announcers were quiet after the wild pitch (what were they going to say – that the bunt helped the Phillies tie up the game?).  Nobody would voice the obvious – that the bunt was a key component in the inning. 

    

So we moved to the bottom of the sixth, score tied at 3.  With first and second and nobody out, Joe Torre, never big on the bunt as Yankee manager (but now returning to his National League roots?), has Rafael Furcal lay down a sacrifice bunt with first and second and nobody out.  Torre hits the sacrifice bunt jackpot – Ryan Howard comes in, fields the bunt and promptly throws it away past a lunging Chase Utley.  Juan Pierre scores and the Dodgers wind up with second and third and nobody out.

    

That inning would end with Russell Martin lining out into a double play as Chase Utley made a brilliant play to save two runs and end the inning.  The question, of course, from a use-the-bunt perspective is how many people would have understood, if the Dodgers had scored an additional two runs there, how important that simple sacrifice bunt had been in giving the Dodgers an even bigger lead?

    

The answer, of course, is very few.

    

The importance of the sacrifice bunt has been discussed at length before in this space (see Kallas Remarks, 9/4/08).  As stated then, in Game 7 of the 1955 World Series, the Brooklyn Dodgers had their number three and four hitters (future Hall of Famers Duke Snider and Roy Campanella, respectively) lay down sacrifice bunts.  The first was misplayed, the second was successful and Gil Hodges then hit a sacrifice fly and drove in the important insurance run in their epic 2-0 Game 7 victory.

    

Imagine if the announcers (or the talk radio hosts or the statistical “experts”) of today had been around back then.  You can hear them screaming “How can you take the bat out of the hands of sluggers like Snider and Campanella?  It’s a disgrace.  Don’t the Dodgers know that, statistically, this can’t work?  These guys are future Hall of Famers.  How can they do such a thing?”

    

You get the point. 

    

It happened in 1955, it happened in a key game that the Red Sox won in early September and it happened again Monday night (for both teams) in the 2008 playoffs.  Maybe managers (and players and announcers and talk-show hosts and stat experts) are starting to see this and understand it.  Then again, maybe not.  

© Copyright 2008 by Steve Kallas.  All rights reserved.

ALL BASEBALL POSTSEASON SERIES SHOULD BE SEVEN GAMES

                               Kallas Remarks by Steve Kallas

 

We’ve already seen how baseball has cheapened the regular season in the last 40 years (see Kallas Remarks, 10/2/08).  With two divisions, then three and the dreaded Wild Card, “winning” became a misnomer.  You could not even win your (shrunken) division, make the postseason via the Wild Card and still win the World Series.  Sad but true, that will never be changed.  In fact, the new cry is to let more losers have a chance to win the World Series.  Like it or not, it made baseball like all the other major sports; that is, you don’t have to finish first to win it all.

    

But the problem that can be fixed is the absurd best-of-five first round of the playoffs.  How stupid is that?  Well, very stupid.  It cheapens an already cheapened regular season.  The best record in the league, which once was a pass to the World Series and, except in rare circumstances (the 1960 Yankees come to mind), a sign of a successful season, gave way to the snipers sniping at things like “this team can’t win the big one” or “this team isn’t built for the postseason.”  Of course, these things were never discussed when only one team won the pennant via finishing first in the regular season.

    

But that was then, this is now.  The “pennant” winner has given way to the “anything can happen” first round of the playoffs.  Some people actually like the notion that there can be upsets in the first round because it’s only five games.  Well, if upsets are the goal (they shouldn’t be), why not just make the baseball playoffs a series of one game do-or-die contests?  While most of us think that’s moronic, you get the point.

    

Once upon a time, winning the pennant (pre-1969) in the regular season was respected and meant great success.  Now, having the best record is almost a kiss of death, because everybody starts at 0-0 in the playoffs.  And, you know, “anything can happen in the playoffs.”  “It’s a crapshoot.”  Sad that it’s come to that.

    

The problem for teams like the Cubs (or, frankly, any team with the best regular-season record) is this:  under the enormous 100-year World Series winless streak (in the case of the Cubs), if you lose the first game at home in a best-of-five, you’re virtually done.  Now, this year, nobody thinks the Cubs would have beaten the Dodgers in a best-of-seven.  But that misses the point.  You could almost see and feel that, after one game, the doom and gloom Cub fans (and, arguably, the Cubs) had already expected defeat in the series.  The “New” Dodgers (i.e., the Manny “I’m trying now” Ramirez-led Dodgers) knocked the Cubs to the ground in Game 1 and never let them get up.

    

But any time a division winner loses Game 1 at home, they’re in deep trouble.  That shouldn’t happen.  A best-of-seven, at least, gives the better team (over a 162-game regular season) a chance to win.  The closer you get to one game winner-take-all, the more upsets you’re going to have.  And don’t forget that,.once upon a time, the World Series was best-of-nine.

    

The Cubs, of course, have more issues than just a best-of-five.  It’s finally dawned on people that Alfonso Soriano just isn’t that good in the postseason.  But that’s old news:  after his stunning off-the-shoetops home run off Curt Schilling in the 2001 World Series, Soriano hit .118 in the 2002 playoffs, .239 in 2003 and .143 in 2007.  Nobody should have been shocked, given the steady diet of breaking balls he sees (and has trouble with) in the postseason, that he would hit .071 this year.  But beliefs (like Robinson Cano is the next Rod Carew) die hard when you can’t (or won’t) see the obvious.

    

Where does all of this leave baseball?  Rather than furthering the cheapness of the regular season, baseball should announce a return to best-of-seven playoffs.  Although, apparently, Bud Selig won’t allow it because the season is already too long, he (or his advisors) should reconsider:  if time is truly the problem and baseball won’t return to real doubleheaders (you know, where people could actually go to two games for the price of one), baseball should schedule, three or four times a year, a day-night doubleheader, which would give the owners their precious separate admissions but would also give an extra three or four days come playoff time for one or two extra games.

    

And it would also give the better team a better chance to win – something they’ve earned by coming out on top in a 162-game season.

© Copyright 2008 by Steve Kallas.  All rights reserved.

BEWARE THE “POSTSEASON” STATISTIC IN BASEBALL

                               Kallas Remarks by Steve Kallas

 

It’s that time of year again.  You’ll see inflated “postseason” statistics or, rather, you’ll see the deflated World Series statistics of the old-timers.  They will be presented to you as the gospel, as if all postseason players and managers were created equal.  It’s nonsense, of course.  But that won’t stop the networks from bombarding you with it throughout the baseball postseason.

    

The first one this year was shown last week on ESPN.  Maybe you saw it:  Joe Torre, by managing the Dodgers into the playoffs, is second on the “All-Time Postseason Consecutive Appearances” list.  Bobby Cox (1991-2005) is first with 15 consecutive appearances.  Torre, with 13, is second.  Then, according to the announcer, Mike Hargrove (1995-99) and Casey Stengel (1949-53) were a distant third with 5 each.

    

Scary stuff, no?

    

As most of you know, once upon a time, baseball was a sport for winners only.  Until 1969, only the winner of the pennant (there are no more pennant races nowadays) played in the World Series.  In 1969, the two “division winners” in each league played each other for the right to go to the World Series.  Then, over time, baseball lost its mind and created more divisions and, then, the dreaded wild card and, for the first time, baseball became like other sports; that is, you didn’t have to finish first to win the championship.

    

Virtually everyone has jumped on board for the great excitement the wild card leads to; so many teams are still in the running in September for a postseason berth that it makes baseball more exciting.

    

And, of course, they’re right.  But never forget, the beauty of baseball for decades was that winners won and losers went home.  But not anymore. 

    

Hey, why not have 10 three-team divisions?  Better yet, why not have 15 two-team divisions?  Then you could have the 15 winners make the postseason and have the 15 losers vie for the wild card, the 16th playoff spot.  Think of the excitement!  Think how many teams would still have a chance for the “postseason!”  Think of the money the owners would make!

    

Back to the postseason stat.  Here’s the problem with the managers.  Stengel, as many of you know, won five World Series in his five consecutive “postseason” appearances.  Bobby Cox is one for 15, Hargrove zero for five.  Torre, of course, is four for 13.

    

If you’re scoring at home, that means that Stengel has as many World Series wins in his five consecutive appearances as the other three have COMBINED in their 33.  And, of course, Stengel would go on to win two more World Series later in the 1950s.

    

Now I hear many of you screaming that it was easier to win the World Series back in the pre-1969 days.  And that’s true, of course.  The regular season meant everything back in the good old days.  Now, it doesn’t mean as much, as you can struggle around .500 (as Torre’s Dodgers did this year) and still, with a late spurt, win the division.  Or, you can sneak into the Wild Card.

    

But, when you’re talking about any statistic in the postseason, today’s players and managers have a much greater advantage.  For example, the 1954 Yankees, coming off five World Series WINS in a row, won 103 games.  But they didn’t make the “postseason” because the Cleveland Indians won 111 games.  Maybe they could have won the “division” if they had divisions back then.  They would have, at least, won the Wild Card back then, don’t you think?  Then (1955-58) the Yankees won four more pennants in a row.

    

In 1959, the Yankees finished third.  Maybe Chicago and Cleveland, who finished far ahead of them, would have been in one division and the Yankees would have won the other.  Maybe the Yankees would have won the Wild Card.  Then (1960-64) the Yankees won five more pennants in a row.      

    

Hopefully, you get the point.

    

And, while it’s easier to make the playoffs now but harder to win the World Series today, the argument cuts both ways.  For example, in 2001, the Seattle Mariners were the Cleveland Indians of 1954.  The Mariners won 116 regular season games (playing eight more than the 1954 Indians).  The Yankees were never close to them in the regular season, winning only 95 games.  If that was the 1950s, the Yankees would have been about 20 games out of first (and the postseason).

    

Again, you get the point.

    

So, please keep in mind, when you’re bombarded with “postseason of all-time” stats, they were achieved under a different set of rules.  Manny Ramirez hit his 25th postseason home run Wednesday night and good for him.  But he’s hit only four on the biggest stage, the World Series.  Bernie Williams?  He’s hit 22 in the postseason, but only five in the World Series.

    

Those World Series numbers pale in comparison to the 18 that Mickey Mantle hit in the World Series or the 15 that Babe Ruth hit, or even the 12 that Yogi Berra hit or the 11 that Duke Snider hit in the World Series.

It would be best if TV and radio, internet writers and newspapers always publish two lists when discussing any postseason record: one for the World Series stat and one for the postseason stat.  Then people can compare, to a better degree, the greatness of the old-timers versus the greatness of the modern day players on the greatest stage, the World Series.

© Copyright 2008 by Steve Kallas.  All rights reserved.