Tim McCarver drinking game

I don’t drink much and never played drinking games (except that one time we played a Star Wars drinking game— the “drink every time Luke whines” rule alone will quickly get you hammered).

But here’s a Tim McCarver drinking game. Drink each time McCarver:

  1. Proclaims a Universal Law of Baseball (attempts to use an inconsequential play or minor occurrence to reveal some larger truth about cause and effect in the sport). Drink again if that Universal Law of Baseball conflicts with a previous Universal Law of Baseball.
  2. After gushing about a hot player and making him seem infallible, finally notes that player’s faults or weakness once it becomes self-evident. I admit this is as much a Joe Buck defect as a McCarver one.
  3. Speaks when the television screen depicts an action upon which no words could possibly improve.

Feel free to suggest more rules.

 

They’ll be talking about that play until the end of time

Holy cow. What a crazy baseball game, with the winning run scoring on an interference call. I’ve decided I’m not nuts about either team’s manager. They made a lot of moves I didn’t like tonight, many of which worked out for them just fine anyway. Baseball, being a game of probabilities, has a way of occasionally validating dumb decisions.

Red on red

The World Series starts tomorrow. The American League Championship Series put me in the unwanted position of rooting for the Detroit Tigers, simply because they were playing the Boston Red Sox. I don’t care for these Tigers, they are out of shape and not athletic. One guy is actually obese. A lot those fat guys can hit, though. I watched Miguel Cabrera jog around third base in one game, ignore his third base coach’s signal to stop, and then get thrown out by ten feet at home plate. He didn’t even slide. But he’s a great hitter, so he’s basically a golfer.

With the Red Sox in the World Series, though, I’ll have no problem rooting for the Saint Louis Cardinals.

Bullpen mismanagement

If I might engage in a little second-guessing of Jim Leyland…

In the eighth inning  Leyland practically emptied the Tigers’ bullpen before bringing in his “closer,” Joaquin Benoit. I don’t quite understand his need to work his way through the pitching staff up to his to best reliever. In the playoffs, unlike in the regular season, you don’t need to save your pitchers. If Benoit can come in for a four-out save, why not a six out save? They have the day off tomorrow and they could be done for good very soon. I realize Benoit gave up the game tying run but a series of failures put him in a position where one bad pitch to the Red Sox’s best hitter would lose the lead. Why not just go to your best pitcher first?

Among its other ailments, Major League Baseball suffers from a preoccupation with roles rather than results. But the results are unavoidable.

End of the dynastic cycle

October is upon us tomorrow and it brings the promise of a federal government shutdown and me being furloughed from work. There are things to look forward to, though, like autumn colors (if any; it was a very dry summer) and postseason baseball.

The Yankees didn’t make into the playoffs this year. They tied for third place in a tough division, and actually won 85 games despite an it-would-be-funny-if-it-wasn’t-so-serious epidemic of injuries that wiped out the core of their lineup, some of their backups, and a handful of pitchers.

Their record might give the illusion that the Yankees pulled off something of a moral victory with a makeshift roster of castoffs and spare parts a la Major League or Moneyball. In fact, they were quite bad much of the year. They owe their winning record to a strong start wherein everybody was firing on all eight pistons before the prolonged summer collapse, to the relocation of the 111-game losing Houston Astros to the American League, and Yankees’ repeated thrashings of the hapless Toronto Blue Jays (last in the American League despite an expensive retooling last winter). The Yankees simply did not win games against good teams and played even worse down the stretch. Even the Jays played the Yankees tough in September. Had they squeaked into the playoffs I can’t imagine them getting very far.

The season ended on a sort of warm note. Two of our favorites, Andy Pettitte and Mariano Rivera, retired at the end. Rivera had a season-long send-off, with each city they visited celebrating his storied career. Following his appearance at Yankee Stadium,  he declined to pitch during the last three games in Houston, letting the heartfelt hometown farewell be his last game. Throughout all that, he put together another all-star season, performing indistinguishably from any of his other 18 seasons.

This leaves Derek Jeter as the last connection to the late dynasty. He didn’t play most of the year, frustrated by slow rehabilitation and repeated injuries. He will probably return next year, but part of me wishes he’ll retire so the Yankees can move on, because the Yankees have become victims of their own successes. They expect themselves to contend every year, so rather than take chances on promising young players, they staff themselves  with high-priced free agent mercenaries. The young players never get a chance to fail.

Phil Hughes is a case in point. Joe Girardi yanks him from the mound every time he gets in trouble and replaces him with a revolving door of middle relievers visiting from Scranton. After seven years Hughes has no confidence, shows no improvement. And it’s possible he’s just not a good pitcher or will never recover fully from the injuries he’s had but I think he’s never really learned how to pitch. He’d be better off on some lousy team that’s happy to have him throw six or seven innings once a week, no matter the outcome.

So I hope the Yankees don’t go out and try to buy another championship like they did in 2009 (it sounds like they won’t; the owner is trying to keep the payroll from inflating further). Maybe they can develop some exciting home-grown players that we’ll actually care about when they take the field.

 

Glass Yankees

I can’t believe the Yankees— let’s call them the Glass Yankees— are in first place with all their injuries. Even the players replacing injured players are getting hurt. It’s insane. As usual they’ve done a great job of finding spare parts (Travis Hafner, Vernon Wells, Kevin Youklis, Lyle Overbay) and squeezing some extra life out of them, but some of the young call-ups are doing nicely too.

A good part of their first place record is due to their total domination of the Toronto Blue Jays. The Blue Jays, who made a bunch of big deals over the winter, need to beat the other teams in their division if they’re going to make a play for the pennant.

Arrested development

Checking in on today’s game: I am officially sick of Phil Hughes. He’s in his seventh season and still can barely pitch five innings. He’s never going to develop into the starting pitcher the Yankees hope he can be if they don’t leave him in the game, even when he’s not doing well, and let him learn how to pitch. That’s big gripe I have about the way the Yankees handle their young pitching.

Baseball reason

It’s been raining all weekend, which means spring is almost here and also baseball. And for that reason I was thinking about this: back in the late eighties, the Yankees radio announcers were a bunch of Greatest Generation-aged meathead ex-athletes. They included the beloved Phil Rizzuto and some other lesser personalities. They knew a lot about baseball and very little about anything else.

For example, once they were talking about a letter they received from a fan, who told them that because the baseball field was a “diamond,” the distance between the bases couldn’t have been exactly 90 feet, but some number fractionally short of that. The announcers spent at least half an inning trying to figure it out, probably only dropping it after their producer, or somebody else with at least a fourth grade education, told them they were being put on.

Another time they were talking about a new player for the Toronto Blue Jays, Cecil Fielder. They noted that he pronounced his name SEH-sil, rather than SEE-sil, as in the well-known Cecil Cooper of the Milwaukee Brewers. They reasoned that north of the border, Canadians said SEH-sil and south of it Americans said SEE-sil.

I mention this because I consider it the only downside to baseball season: a multi-billion dollar sport played by, run by, and announced by complete idiots.

Sweep

Well, you can’t win if you don’t score runs. I’m pretty sure the Yankees before tonight hadn’t been swept in a postseason series during the present era.

Back in the late nineties, when Joe Torre regularly gave birth to victory from his forehead, they made it look easy. I used to wonder what was wrong with Bobby Cox and his Braves, always the best team in the league, then as often as not getting knocked out in the playoffs. During that long dynasty (if it amounted to that), the Braves only won the World Series once. I now realize that, with all the levels of playoffs, it is really, really hard to win it all. The Yankees of the Early Torre Period (we’ll say 1996 to 2001), a team of steady and quietly productive not-quite-Hall-of-Famers, were exceptional, or were simply freaks of nature.

Jeter goes down

Ack! I had a feeling when Derek Jeter was helped off the field that something unusually bad had happened. He fractured his ankle and is out for the rest of the postseason. If you’re not used to watching Jeter you might be unaware that he plays through injuries with grit and determination, like some sort of Calvinist Terminator.

I’ve read that Jayson Nix will take over at shortstop. Why? Why can’t Rodriguez play short and Chavez play third? That would be the better offensive and defensive arrangement. I don’t get this benching and pinch-hitting for Rodriguez as if he was the only Yankee not hitting worth a damn lately. If I was Joe Girardi, I’m pretty sure I’d not want to lose the series with Jeter hurt and Rodriguez on the bench.

Suzyn Waldman

The Yankees have a female radio announcer, Suzyn Waldman. She’s sort of like your Jewish friend’s mother who happens to know a lot about baseball. Some typically endearing remarks from tonight’s game:

On Nick Swisher, who is in a dreadful slump, “You can’t just stand there at the plate and look at the ball like it’s where you think it should be.”

On Pedro Strop, who was having trouble finding the plate, “Strop is out there kicking the dirt. That’s not very good body language.”

The decline of excellence in Major League Baseball

I see all of the Division Series have gone to five games, which means I’m still waiting for the Yankees to wrap up the Orioles. Besides my complaint about the Yankees having to open the series in Baltimore, I would like to renew my gripe about “wild card” teams in general. Until last year, the division winner was exempt from having to play a wild card team from its own division in the first series. In the new playoff system, with two wild card teams, the winner of their one-game playoff could be the same team the division winner just disposed of. The Yankees spent the whole season fending off Baltimore; they shouldn’t have to do it again in the first round of the playoffs, if at all. Otherwise, what’s the point? Where’s the reward for coming in first? It amounts to an undeserved second chance for the second-place team and an undeserved obstacle for the first place team.

On another note, the Giants’ and Tigers’ victories means that we’re a little closer to a Pablo Sandoval versus Prince Fielder fat-off in the World Series. I’m eager to see these two butterballs competing at the highest level while stretching the definition of “athlete” to include “any obese slob with exceptional hand-eye coordination.” I tuned in to a Giants game last month to watch Sandoval get thrown out by about three feet trying to steal second base. Why did he even bother trying? Was it an exercise in pretending to be a complete ballplayer? I know the prevailing wisdom is “so what if he’s fat as long as he can hit” (see all of my other baseball posts about prevailing wisdom), but imagine what kind of players they would be if they took care of themselves.

Shoeless Joe

Somehow, my wife has gotten away for years without having watched Field of Dreams. Likewise, I’ve lived in Iowa City twice that long and had never read W.P. Kinsella’s Shoeless Joe, the book Field of Dreams is based on. The book is set in Iowa, specifically in Johnson County near Iowa City. Kinsella is an alumnus of the University of Iowa’s renowned Iowa Writers’ Workshop.

We remedied all that last week. Of the movie my wife commented, “Kevin Costner is not a very good actor and that was not a very good movie.” I agreed that it seemed better when I was a kid, that it’s too sentimental, that you need a deep cultural understanding of baseball to like it, and that Kevin Costner is not a very good actor.

I hadn’t seen Field of Dreams in a long time, but I took the opportunity to compare it to the book. The main character, Ray Kinsella, has a creepy intensity and obsessiveness that didn’t come out on the screen— he’s eccentric but not disarming and likable like Costner. Otherwise the story follows pretty closely. A lot of the dialogue is right off the page, though the book has many more characters.

I guess all that’s left is to go up to Dyersville and see the Field of Dreams movie site; a tourist trap that dies a little bit with every year the movie recedes into our collective memory. We can take our time: they just got a tax break from the state so they’ll be around for a little while.