Friday, October 15, 2004
Go with Don Baylor, if you want my advice. I have no problem with Charlie Manuel either. And Grady Little, whatever his decision in the ALCS to leave in Pedro, did get the Sox to within five outs of the World Series. But don't think nostalgia will lure a championship to Citizen's Bank Ballpark.
Thursday, October 14, 2004
Here is the upside for the Red Sox: the next three games are all in Boston. Why can't the Red Sox, fired up at home, come out like gang-busters and stick it to the Yankees and send the series back to the Bronx on Sunday night with a 3-2 edge? Undoubtedly, they'll have to play better baseball. In two games this team has managed one walk? Johnny Damon is oh-for-eight? Manny Ramirez has a single? Manny can’t play defense? These aren’t the Red Sox I know! (Well, aside from Manny not being able to play D.)
Bottom-line: Friday night is a must-win, because I just can’t see the Red Sox emerging from an 0-3 hole here. Win or die.
Reading links: Eric Neel at ESPN's Page 2 pleads with fans to watch the NLCS. Sox fan Ben Jacobs finds hope at Hardball Times, meanwhile Yankees partisan Larry Mahnken doubts the Sox. SI's John Donovan adds his voice to the "Red Sox are in trouble" chorus. No kidding.
Phil Sheridan has a nice article about the Phils search for a manager in yesterday's Inquirer. Sheridan seems to support the idea of hiring Baylor as the Phils first minority skipper. Read on:
Managerial quest is really pretty basic
By Phil Sheridan,
The common wisdom says the Phillies will replace Larry
Bowa, who was tough on players, with a manager who is soft on players. The common wisdom is, as usual, more common than wisdom. But then, what do you expect? Witness a presidential election in which the two candidates have no choice but to stick simple-minded labels on each other.
Flip-flopper. Misleader. We have to live with that in
politics, but when it comes to something as important to the national
interest as sports, the line really must be drawn somewhere. It may be
inconvenient to talk-radio hosts and the folks who shout at each other on ESPN,
managers are much like real people in that they are
That's one of about 20 flaws in that common wisdom about the Phillies' search for a new manager. Some others? Well, Bowa wasn't tough on players in the sense that he was some kind of disciplinarian. The problem was that Bowa failed to create the kind of atmosphere that winning managers create. Period.
Fear and loathing are good words for Hunter S. Thompson titles, not for success over a long, intense season. Put another way, if you manage people in any kind of business, whether it's two people or 2,000, and you don't think your demeanor and attitude affect employee morale, guess what? You're a lousy boss.
The common wisdom is based on the perception there is a pendulum effect, that Bowa was hired to compensate for the "soft" Terry Francona. But Francona wasn't nearly the pushover that media caricaturists made him out to be, either. He was a decent guy trying to manage a lousy team. Francona has a pretty good team in Boston. How soft is he looking now? "I know it's been written that we went from Terry/soft to Bowa/hard and now we're going to go back the other way," general manager Ed Wade said yesterday. "I can tell you when we went through this interview process four years ago, we were not trying to find the
anti-Terry. I know it's been portrayed that way." Wade's words may not mean that much to disillusioned Phillies fans. What matters are Wade's actions, and they support the words, at least so far. The candidates the Phillies are bringing in are not anti-Bowas, at least as label-makers would define that. Don Baylor played for managers such as Gene Mauch and Earl Weaver. His
reputation during stops in Colorado and with the Chicago Cubs was as a steady-handed, no-nonsense skipper. He didn't coddle players, and has no intention of coddling them here, if he's hired.
Charlie Manuel and Grady Little, who interview this week, are seasoned big-league managers. Jim Fregosi, who is on Wade's list, was a lot of things during his previous tenure in Philadelphia. Soft on the players was not one of them. Some of the other names being tossed around - Bobby Valentine, anyone? - are consistent with the known candidates.
Baylor walked into a post-interview news conference carrying a
briefcase. He came prepared to discuss his approach, his style on the field and in the clubhouse, and his analysis of the Phillies' current roster. He is the only known African American candidate, but Baylor didn't feel he was here for political correctness. He's been through those interviews, and this one passed the smell test.
"I can't give you my clues," Baylor said, "but they're there. There are different signs of being sincere, the people they have present
[for the interview], the baseball people. Sometimes, it's just the general manager. Here, they had five guys present who are decision makers in this organization."
Wade said the same five - he, Dallas Green, Mike Arbuckle,
Ruben Amaro and Gordon Lakey - will conduct the other interviews. Baylor is a legitimate candidate because he's an accomplished baseball man who has managed in some tough situations before, not because he happens to be a minority. That's as it should be. The Phillies have never had a black manager before, and that will remain an embarrassment until the organization makes it no longer true. It is imperative that Wade and his crew hire the right manager for this team
at this time. That means someone with a hand steady enough to take the reins and find out once and for all whether this team is thoroughbred or nag. Baylor meets the criteria, and so do some of the other candidates.
The Phillies may get the right guy, and they might get the wrong guy. Just don't make the mistake of thinking that the former manager's personality will dictate which is which.
Wednesday, October 13, 2004
My take on the NLCS? I think the Cards pitching is a lot thinner than people think. True, the Cards have a real murderers row with Walker, Pujols, Edmonds and Rolen, but as Yogi Berra said, good pitching can stop good hitting, and vice versa. I'd say Cards in six, and the Cards will struggle at times down in Houston. It won't be a cakewalk.
Ken Caminetti's death has gotten little-to-no attention from the baseball world. Is it because they don't want to come to grips with the problems that steroids pose for the game? Are the players scared of being exposed, and management is terrified of what they might find? If the BALCO rumors are true and Barry Bonds pursuit of Hank Aaron is ... (how should I say this?) ... artificially enhanced, what then? Ban Barry? Put an asterisk next to the record?
I’m disappointed by the results of Game One of the ALCS, but I have to admit it was a great game thanks to the big Red Sox rally that nearly closed the gap from 8-0 to 8-7. Needless to say, game two is vital for the Sox to win (you don’t want to start 0-2) and I think that Pedro can probably do it.
A few thoughts …
-Manny Ramirez may contribute a ton of runs to the Red Sox lineup with his bat, but boy did he cost them with his sloppy glove work in left field. He misplayed Bernie Williams triple that made it 10-7, and he misjudged Matsui’s double in the first inning, which allowed Sheffield to score and got the Yankees scoring going. His defense work probably cost them four runs. (Every time the ball went into left field my friend Greg, a passionate Red Sox fan, would groan in anticipation of Manny failing around like a little leaguer.)
-What was the deal with Schilling? Is his ankle injury hurting him a lot more than he’s letting on? If so then the Red Sox chief advantage over the Yankees, their pitching, isn’t so big anymore. Schilling is supposed to hurl game five, which is always a critical game.
-Even though the Red Sox got 10 hits and 7 runs off the Yankees pitchers, notice that they didn’t draw a single walk. They should have been trying to wear down Mussina a little during the first six innings or so. The Red Sox were second (to the Yankees, interestingly) in walks per plate appearance (.101, to the Yankees .105) … Hopefully they can get a few walks against Lieber.
The villains always win the first battle … but good triumphs over evil (Star Wars, The Lord of the Ring) …
Tuesday, October 12, 2004
The Cardinals – Astros matchup is a lot less sexy than Red Sox – Yankees (the Victoria's Secret of baseball rivalries), but it should be a good one nevertheless: lots of runs because both teams have high-powered offenses. I’m rooting for the Cardinals, because regardless of who wins the ALCS it will lead to a rematch of one of two 1960’s World Series: the ’64 Cards-Yankees series (won by St. Louis in 7, chronicled by David Halberstam in October 1964) or the ’67 Red Sox-Cards series (again, won by the Cards in 7).
Tonight is Game One of the ALCS and you can practically see the Fox programming guys with the drool coming out of their mouths thinking about the ratings. This really is baseball’s version of the Crusades, its holy war. I know there are other rivalries to baseball (Cardinals-Cubs, Dodgers-Giants) and sport (Steelers-Browns, Packers-Bears, Redskins-Cowboys, etc.), but this is the best. No other rivalry is as ancient or has survived the test of time better.
It is going to be great.
Incidentally, yesterday I finally sat down and read last week’s Sports Illustrated (October 11, 2004 issue). If anyone gets a chance, read Tom Verducci’s “Five Outs Away”, starting on page 72. It is a nice article summing up the agony of the Cubs and Red Sox blowing last season’s respective LCS and the mind games played on fans of the Cubs and Red Sox thanks to their teams’ over eighty year journey in the desert.
Alright ... Aaron Gleeman has broken himself out of his funk from the Twins loss and posted an analysis of the ALCS on Hardball Times. Advantage: Red Sox. Ben Jacobs (Sox fan) and Larry Mahnken (Yankees fan) published this back-and-forth here. If you subscribe to Baseball Prospectus, they have an analysis here. Alas, I don't because I can barely afford food these days. Meanwhile, ESPN has no shortage of articles on the subject.
Monday, October 11, 2004
Armageddon: tomorrow ... Oh yeah, and game five of the Astros and Braves is tonight. Watch it. Or Everybody Loves Raymond.
They have the albatross of Kendall’s contract hanging over them, as well as the fact that the team has some major flaws: despite having an OBP machine like Kendall in the line up they are 13th in OBP in the NL and 13th in slugging percentage. This team also had the worst walk to plate appearance and walk to strikeout ratio in the NL.
Defensively they were also dead last in the NL in ZR.
They need, desperately, to move Kendall, hope that their pitchers finally develop, and not give in to the temptation of giving Jack Wilson a big deal: nothing against the Pirates plucky shortstop, but he isn’t likely to repeat the career year he had in ’04.
Sunday, October 10, 2004
And this is the Red Sox year. I said it in the preseason, and I say it now, the Boston Red Sox are the best team in baseball. They will win the World Series this year. They will defeat the Yankees. As long as the mystique of the past doesn’t play with their minds, they will win. The numbers are clear:
Offense (GPA / Runs / OBP / SLG)
Boston: .280 / 940 / .360 / .472
New York: .273 / 897 / .353 / .458
Pitching: (WHIP / ERA)
Boston: 1.293 / 4.18
New York: 1.369 / 4.69
But even if we were just working off the numbers, I'd go with the Red Sox. There is something different this year. The Yankees look more lukcy than good, and the Red Sox look more confident, grittier and tougher than we've ever seen before. This isn't those old Sox teams that you knew in your heart would fall short. This team can beat the curse.
The Red Sox are stronger. Sox in six.
Armageddon begins Tuesday.
Charlie Manuel: Manuel was with the Tribe during the glory days of the mid-‘90s and would probably like to work with Thome again. Not exactly a stellar record as the Indians manager: the team went from the dominant force in the AL Central to an also-ran, although the Indians decision to contract their payroll was a factor. Since he has been Wade’s special assistant for the last two years, Manuel probably has the inside track.
Grady Little: His failure to remove Pedro in the ’03 ALCS is going to leave a wide-open mark for the Philly media to exploit whenever Little makes a difficult decision that goes against the team. He’d be eaten alive in the media.
Don Baylor: Baylor seems relaxed and calm, a sort of players coach who would make a dramatic contrast with Bowa. He’d be the best fit. He’s also the least likely to be hired.