The easiest person to blame for this is Giancarlo Stanton whose ninth inning strikeout with two runners on base in game four was just one of several times in that series when the slugger came up empty in potentially game changing situations. That strikeout will likely be the enduring memory from a solid, but unspectacular season from Stanton, his first with the Yankees. However, the fault cannot be laid entirely at the feet of Stanton. The problem is bigger than that and starts with a team that had five batters with 100 or more strikeouts, two more with between 90-99 whiffs and 180 more team strikeout than the Astros, Red Sox or Indians, the other teams that made it into the final four in the American League.
The Yankees are a good team now and came within a game of the World Series because they, albeit very briefly, stepped off the win now treadmill that had mired them in being a good but never good enough team for all but one of the years from 2001-2015. Jumping back into that position too quickly by trading off prospects for veterans who are no longer very good or losing confidence in young players too quickly would be a big mistake, but it is not hard to see the Yankees going down that road. They spent the offseason raising expectations. If the next month looks like the last two weeks, things could get ugly in the Bronx pretty quickly.
The Cooperstown case for John is based on having had a long and very good, if never quite great, career and for the larger impact he had on baseball. For Tiant, his very impressive peak, relative longevity, including 229 wins and just short of 3,500 innings pitched, are a big part of his case, but there is more to Tiant than that. He was a reliable big game pitcher and one of the first great Cuban stars to make it to the big leagues. Starting pitchers are not well represented in Cooperstown. Tiant and John are among the best of their era who are not in yet, so electing them would begin to rectify that and perhaps open the door to even more qualified pitchers, like longtime Yankee Mike Mussina, from later eras. And, for what its worth, both were better pitchers than Jack Morris who may just get in on some kind of strange sympathy vote this year.
If, however, recent, and not so recent World Series history tells us anything, it is that anything can happen this week. The Royals bullpen could blow three leads, Bumgarner could get roughed up in the first inning of game one. The Giants could continue to score runs on wild pitches and errors by the pitchers as they did against the Cardinals. A light hitting middle infielder like Joe Panik or Alcides Escobar could hit a big home run or two to win a game. The kvetching that these are not the best two teams in baseball, whatever that means, notwithstanding, this should be a fun World Series with lots of interesting stories and players, but the way each team got to this point is a reminder that predicting what will happen next is a mug's game.
he games themselves still need to be played and it is possible this World Series could be a less than dramatic one, but that can happen any year even when the Yankees or Red Sox are playing. However, the stories, players and characters behind this World Series are as compelling as in almost any year. If you're a baseball fan and don't realize that, you haven't been paying attention.
Following a season that was been dominated by MLB relentlessly telling fans that Derek Jeter is class act deserving of their respect, to the point where even Yankee fans were tired of it, Martinez demonstrated that he, like his longtime Yankee rival, is also a class act, willing to stand up for somebody who he thinks was treated badly. That too deserves our respect.
I saw when Jeter when first broke in at the end of 1995, and recently made one last trip to Yankee Stadium to see the great Yankee play one last time, although he struck out so quickly in his last at bat that I barely had time to take a photograph. I want to remember Jeter for the numbers he put up year after year, the championships he helped win, and the many great moments including the flip, the diving catch against the Red Sox where he landed in the stands, the leadoff home run in the 2000 World Series and being in the middle of almost every big Yankee rally for a generation. However, I can live without being told by MLB, the Yankees and their cheerleaders in the media who deserves my respect and reverence.
With roughly a month remaining in the baseball season, it is clear that, at least for 2014, there has been a geographical shift in the game's balance of power. If the season were to end today, four California teams would be assured of one of baseball's ten post-season spots, while another west coast team still has a chance for the second wild card in the AL. Equally significantly, no team from Boston, New York or Philadelphia would make the post-season. The last time none of those three northeastern cities all missed the post-season was 1992. That was also the last year that only four teams made the playoffs.
The Red Sox might not be able to trade Lester, or the the prospects they get for Lester may not turn into valuable players in the future, but the willingness of the Red Sox to shop Lester demonstrates why the Red Sox are one of the smartest organizations in baseball. It also presents a stark contrast between the Red Sox and their top rival the New York Yankees. In recent years, the Yankees have never accepted that they are out of contention or decided to trade a player approaching free agency. This has contributed to a cycle that demands the Yankees sign increasingly expensive and old free agents to field a team that is unlikely to play deep into the playoffs.
Baseball lost a bit of its history last week when Don Zimmer died. Zimmer was the starting 2nd baseman the day the Dodgers won their only championship in Brooklyn. Twenty-three years later he spent Rosh Hashanah managing the Boston Red Sox to their most famous defeat ever as Bucky Dent's three run home run dashed the Red Sox pennant chances. He was the starting third baseman in the first game the New York Mets ever played; and 27 years after that spent Yom Kippur managing the Chicago Cubs as they got eliminated from the NLCS on a clutch single by Will Clark. Zimmer, however, wasn't Jewish, so probably was not aware of the connection between important defeats and Jewish holidays in his life.
Despite their four pennants and two World Series victories, the Mets have embraced the lovable loser narrative. This is a difficult thing to define; and clearly Mets fans to prefer their team to win, but the existence of this narrative, even though its relationship to reality is more tenuous, gives the Mets a more forgiving environment than some teams. This dynamic is, of course, exacerbated, by the more successful, wealthier and, according to most Mets fans, arrogant, team that plays in the Bronx. The Yankees are a great foil for the Mets. The Mets can explain away failure by saying they can never compete with the more wealthy and ruthless Yankees, but can also cultivate a following as New York's kindler and gentler team.
The Cardinals are obviously a very good team, but some of the mistakes they make as an organization would draw much more attention if not for the best organization frame. One of the most memorable moments of the last World Series occurred in game four when Kolten Wong got picked off first base for the last out of the game with the tying run, in the person of Carlos Beltran, at the plate. It is not fair to blame that defeat on Wong as the Cardinals were in a very tough position, but if the top prospect for another organization had made such a mistake in a similar situation, it would likely have been viewed as a reflection on that organization. Similarly, failing to address the shortstop situation after 2012 was an organizational mistake.
Two other intriguing Hall of Fame manager candidates are Bruce Bochy and Terry Francona. They are 58 and 54 years old so have more years as managers left than the others. They have also both each won two World Championships, but Bochy has only won 1,630 games while Francona has only won 1,121. Bochy and Francona are both still managing so they have the opportunity to increase their total number of wins and both have an outside chance at winning another championship. If Bochy manages four more years, he will have well in excess of 1,900 wins and will have a strong Hall of Fame candidacy. Francona will need to mange for nine or ten more years go get to 1,900 wins, so despite being younger he has a more difficult challenge.
This will, and probably should, be enough to get Ortiz into the Hall of Fame. On the surface it seems wrong that a player who is, on the numbers, a strong, but not overwhelming Hall of Fame candidate and who has some connection to steroids will get into Cooperstown before some of the greatest players of his generation who have their own strange and unclear relationship with steroids. There is, of course, an inconsistency here. Had Ortiz not been so good with the media, and such a likable player, the Hall of Fame discussion, and the discussion of his recent World Series performance would be very different right now. It is possible that if Ortiz is elected, the rancor towards other players with connections to steroid use will slowly recede because the questions around Ortiz will linger. If not, the Hall of Fame will look even more absurd with Ortiz on the inside and Bagwell, not to mention Bonds, Roger Clemens and Rodriguez on the outside.
Clearly the team that wins the World Series plays the game the right way, but the meaning of this phrase in not always what it might seem. The right way to play baseball at the big league level is to score more runs than the other team. That is all. However, when an announcer or writer describes a team as playing the game the right way, this usually means the team fields well, doesn't hit too many home runs, probably bunts too much and does things like move the runners by hitting to the right side of the infield.
The point here is not that steroids do nothing or that PED use should be legalized, but that the discussion itself may be approaching, or already reached, a tipping point where many fans simply do not care so much anymore. Steroids may be moving towards becoming an issue like gambling, against which baseball also has rules, but is not something fans spend a lot of time debating. The question of whether or not Jhonny Peralta should, in some abstract moral sense, be allowed to play in the ALCS may simply not very interesting to most fans. Perhaps fans would rather discuss the resurgence of Justin Verlander, or the question of Miguel Cabrera's health. These are more interesting questions for the millions of Americans for whom baseball is a hobby or passion but not a question of morality or good and evil.
Legendary New York Yankee closer Mariano Rivera is winding down an extraordinary career. Rivera who is universally understood to be the greatest closer ever will soon jog in from the bullpen one last time. Rivera first became a dominant closer and a fixture of the New York sports world when Rudy Giuliani was mayor, September 11th was just another day on the calendar, and sending an attachment by email was still considered high tech by many. In this, his last year, he is still one of the best in the game at what he does.
The Timmy-Cain-Panda-Posey-Bumgarner Giants may never win another championship, but keeping that nucleus together is smart economic thinking and good for the Giants. If the Giants resign Lincecum and Pence, they will be poised to be a strong contending team in 2014, especially if they are able to add an above average hitting outfielder or a league average starting pitcher. It is unlikely that any trade of those two players would have left the team a similarly strong position for 2014.
Cano's intangibles are almost never mentioned, but an argument can, and probably should, be made for them. Cano handled a starting job in New York during a rough time for his team gracefully and smoothly. He has also transitioned from being a supporting player on a team of stars, to being the best player on an old team last year, and on a team of castoffs this year. There are many reasons why the Yankees are surprising so many people this year, but Cano has been a big part of that, hitting .290 while leading the league in home runs. Cano also starred on a Dominican team that, under a fair amount of pressure to succeed, completely dominated the recently concluded World Baseball Classic.
The basic problem with this cliche, like many cliches, is that it has no meaning. On one level, it states the obvious, that the Yankees would like to win the World Series every year. This, however, is true of most teams. Moreover, while the Yankees remain the most successful team in baseball history, winning the World Series every year, or even most years is simply not a realistic goal. The team has won one World Series in the last decade and even going back to its most successful recent period, has won only five of the last 17 championships. This is, of course, an extraordinary run of success, unless the platitude of winning every year is taken seriously. This cliche also suggests that other teams either only occasionally set out to win, or that when they do win, it is do to some kind of coincidence. However, in recent years teams like the St. Louis Cardinals, San Francisco Giants and even the Boston Red Sox have managed more championships than the Yankees. Fans and management of those teams would probably not agree that those were the result of luck or anything of that nature.