The Futility Infielder

A Baseball Journal by Jay Jaffe I'm a baseball fan living in New York City. In between long tirades about the New York Yankees and the national pastime in general, I'm a graphic designer.

Wednesday, June 23, 2004


Off the Continent

I'm off to Europe for a week; Andra and I are hitting Paris (for her 30th birthday) and then London. My travels mean I'll miss the Yanks' series with their crosstown rival Mets as well as a set with the Sox, both of which I had to surrender tickets for. Oh well, we can't have everything in life. For Yankee coverage start with my boys Alex Belth and Cliff Corcoran, for Dodger coverage check my man Jon Weisman. I'll catch you all when I get back.

Monday, June 21, 2004


Rashomon and On

As I noted on Friday, the good folks at invited me to participate in the Rashomon Project -- so named for a Kurosawa movie presented from the point of view of four separate narrators -- in which each writer (eleven in all) contributed his take on Sunday night's Dodger-Yankee ballgame. Jon Weisman was at the game, Rich Lederer penned a touching tribute to his late father, Will Carroll ranted about the umpiring, Peter White did a side-by-side comparison of the game with Game Five of the '81 World Series (the one where Pedro Guerrero and Steve Yeager smoked back-to-back homers off of Ron Guidry to back a gem by Jerry Reuss, Alex Belth took things from a pinstriped persepctive, and those are just the ones I've gotten to so far.

My own take, which remixes elements of what I've written here in the recent and distant past regarding the rivalry as well as covering the weekend series, is up at the Cub Reporter. Thanks to Christian Ruzich, Jon Weisman and the rest of the A-B gang for including me in this great project.

Sunday, June 20, 2004


A Thumbnail Guide to the Dodger-Yankee Fall Classics

As has been mentioned several times this weekend, the Dodgers and Yankees have met 11 times in the World Series, the most frequent postseason matchup in history. While the Yanks have won eight of those 11 Fall Classics, the two teams have been fairly evenly matched; the Yanks hold only a 37-30 edge in games won, four of the Series have gone the distance, and the two teams have split their last six pairings. This rivarly has produced more than its share of memorable battles, not to mention some of the game's signature moments. Volumes have been written about some of these matchups, but what follows here is a thumbnail guide to the eleven meetings, dedicated to the two men in my life who suffered through so many of these Dodger defeats while savoring the infrequent triumphs while passing their love of the game down to me: my late grandfather Bernard Jaffe and my father, Richard Jaffe. Happy Fathers Day!

1941: Yankees 4-1 over Dodgers
Prior to this meeting, the Dodgers had appeared in only two World Series in the franchise's 57-year history, 1916 against the Red Sox and 1920 against the Indians, losing both. By contrast, the Yanks were already well-acquainted with the Fall Classic, having won eight out of the eleven Series (including four straight from 1936-1939) in which they participated.

Skippered by Joe McCarthy, the '41 Yanks (101-53) ran away with the AL by 17 games. Joe DiMaggio hit a monstrous .357/.440/.643 with 30 homers and 125 RBI, reeled off his 56-game hitting streak, and won the MVP, and the potent lineup featured Hall of Famers Bill Dickey and Phil Rizzuto as well as Joe Gordon, Red Rolfe, Tommy "Old Reliable" Henrich, and Charlie "King Kong" Keller. The rotation was anchored by Hall of Famers Lefty Gomez and Red Ruffing, who tied for the team lead with 15 wins, along with ace reliever Johnny Murphy. Yeah, these guys could play ball.

The upstart Dodgers (100-54) were managed by the fiesty Leo Durocher, who in the span of three seasons had turned around the second-division-dwelling Bums. The Dodgers' biggest bat was wielded by first baseman Dolf Camilli .285/.407/.556 with 34 homers and 120 RBI, accompanied by a stellar outfield of Dixie Walker, Pete Reiser, and Hall of Famer Joe Medwick, All Star third baseman Cookie Lavagetto and All-Star catcher Mickey Owen, and 22-year-old Pee Wee Reese. Starters Whit Wyatt and Kirby Higbe both won 22 games, while Hugh Casey was the team's bullpen ace.

The first three games of the Series were all decided by one run, two of them going in the Yankees' favor. The two teams were scoreless through seven innings of the third game, but the outcome of the Series may have hinged on Yankee starer Mario Russo lining a ball off of Dodger pitcher Freddie Fitzsimmons' kneecap, breaking it. Casey came on in relief and yielded two runs in the eighth on four straight singles before getting the hook. Casey's fortunes went from bad to worse in the next game. After entering with the Dodgers trailing 3-2 and the bases loaded in the fifrth, he held the Yankee bats at bay while his team rallied. Holding a 4-3 lead with two outs in the ninth and nobody on, he threw strike three to Henrich, but the ball got away from Owen and Henrich reached first base. DiMaggio followed with a single, and the Yanks rallied for four runs to take the game. They wrapped things up the next day for their fifth crown in six years. Though they didn't start awarding the Series MVP award until 1955, Gordon, who hit .500/.667/.929 with a homer and 5 RBI, would have been a good choice.

1947: Yankees 4-3 over Dodgers
The game of baseball had changed forever by the time the two teams next met, as the Dodgers (94-60) had signed Jackie Robinson, who broke the color barrier which had been in place since 1884. Playing out of position at first base, Robinson hit .297/.383 /.427 with 12 homers. Adding a new dimension to the offense with his speed, he scored 125 runs while leading the league with 29 steals. All of this happened while he endured endless taunting and baiting by racist opponents and hostile crowds and frigid responses from some of his own teammates. That wasn't the only distraction, as manager Durocher was suspended for the season for associating with gamblers and Burt Shotton took the reins. The team didn't have much power (Jackies' 12 homers tied for the team lead with Reese, of all people), but the team's .361 On Base Percentage easily outdistanced opponents, and the lineup, which still featured Walker and Reiser along with Carl Furillo and Eddie Stanky, was without a glaring weakness. Ralph Branca was tops on the staff, while Casey was still the relief ace.

Piloted by Bucky Harris, the Yanks (97-57) had again run away with the AL pennant, winning by 12 games. DiMaggio had another MVP season (.315/.391/.522 with 20 HR and 97 RBI). Henrich and Rizzuto were still on hand, along with a young Yogi Berra, but the rest of the lineup was a curious collection; Snuffy Stirnweiss, Billy Johnson, Johnny Lindell, and George McQuinn aren't exactly hallowed names in Yankee lore. Allie Reynolds was the Yankee ace, winning 19 games, and Joe Page was the team's formidable fireman.

The Yanks took the first two games of the Series in the Bronx, but the Dodgers rallied back to tie it up in memorable fashion. Yankee starter Bill Bevens was one out away from an ugly 10-walk no-hitter -- which would have been the first in Series history -- when pinch-hitter Cookie Lavagetto laced a two-run double (oh, those bases on balls!), giving the Dodgers the game and sending the Ebbets Field crowd into a frenzy. But that wasn't the only classic moment of the Series. The see-saw Game Six began with the Dodgers jumping out to a 4-0 lead, KO'ing Reynolds in the third, but the Yanks rallied to tie the game in the bottom of the inning and chased Dodger starter Vic Lombardi. An RBI single by Berra put the Yankees on top, but the Dodgers put four runs across on Page in the fifth. With two men on and two out in the bottom of the sixth, DiMaggio sent a long fly ball to leftfield which defensive replacement Al Gionfriddo reached for and hauled in at the 415-foot sign for one of the greatest catches in Series history. Halfway to second, DiMaggio kicked the dirt in frustration, said to be his only show of emotion on the ballfield during his storied career.

For all the drama leading up to it, things still weren't destined to go the Dodgers' way. Though the Bums took a 2-0 lead in Game Seven, chasing Shea in the second, Bevens and Page held the Dodgers scoreless the rest of the way while the Yanks spread five runs over four innings, taking the lead for good in the two-run fourth inning. The Dodgers' storybook season ended in defeat at the hands of the damn Yankees. Surprise hero Lindell .500/.609/.778 with 9 hits and 7 RBI, merited MVP honors. It was literally a last hurrah for Lavagetto, Gionfriddo and Bevens; none ever appeared in another major-league game after the Series.

1949: Yankees 4-1 over Dodgers
In their first year under manager Casey Stengel, the Yankees (97-57) held off a challenge by the Boston Red Sox which went down to the season's final weekend, with the Yanks taking a pair from the Sox to win the pennant by one game. DiMaggio missed the season's first 69 games with a painful heel injury but made up for lost time with a 4-homer, 9-RBI series against the Sox upon rejoining the team and going on to hit .346/.459/.596 with14 homers and 67 RBI. Henrich and Berra were the team's other big bats, but the season was really a testament to the burgeoning genius of Stengel, who mixed and matched the team through injuries and maximized his players' production through the use of platoons, not all of which were based on simple lefty-righty matchups. Rizzuto was the only player to appear in more than 128 games. Reynolds and Vic Raschi led the starters, while Page remained the team's fireman.

Like the Yankees, the Dodgers (97-57) didn't sew up the NL pennant until the seasons' final day. Under Shotton, the team which would dominate the NL for much of the next decade began to jell. Robinson's dominating MVP season (.342/.432/.528 with 122 runs, 124 RBI and 37 steals) was augmented by fellow Negro League grad Roy Campanella, old hands Reese and Furillo, and emergent sluggers Gil Hodges and Duke Snider. Another Negro Leaguer, Don Newcombe, earned Rookie of the Year honors while stepping forward as the ace of the staff, and Preacher Roe put forward a strong campaign as well.

The two teams split a pair of 1-0 games to open the Series in the Bronx. In the opener, Reynolds limited the Dodgers to two hits and Henrich smacking a homer in the bottom of the ninth off of Newcombe to spoil his 11-strikeout gem. The Dodgers recovered to win the second behind Roe, but from there it was all Yanks. Tied 1-1 in the ninth of Game Three, the Yanks rallied for three runs thanks to a two-run single by late-season addition Johnny Mize, and while the Dodgers got solo homers from Luis Olmo and Roy Campanella, they fell short, 4-3. The Yanks rocked Newcombe in the fourth game and jumped out to a 10-1 lead in the fifth one before holding on to win 10-6, giving Casey the first of his seven World Championships. Reynolds, with 12.1 scoreless innings, a win and a save, and Bobby Brown, who hit .500/.571/.917 with 5 RBI in only 12 at-bats, helped the Yanks to overcome a combined 3-for-34 from DiMaggio and Berra.

1952: Yankees 4-3 over Dodgers
In the two seasons since their last World Series matchup, the Dodgers had lost a pair of agonizingly close pennant races on the last day of the season. 1950 saw them fall to the "Whiz Kid" Philadelpha Phillies in 10 innings when they could have forced a tie, while 1951 saw them lose a three-game tiebreaker on Bobby Thomson's "Shot Heard Round the World" home run. Had it not been for that, the two rivals might have faced each other eight times instead of six within a ten-year span. The 1952 squad (96-57) under Charlie Dressen took the NL flag handily, the Boys of Summer -- this was the first of the two teams chronicled by New York Herald-Tribune beat reporter Roger Kahn in his famous book -- outdistancing the Giants by 4.5 games. Hodges socked 32 homers and drove in 102 runs, while Reese, Robinson, Campanella and Snider all turned in their usual stellar years. The balanced pitching staff was led by Rookie of the Year Joe Black, who won 15 games out of the pen while saving 15 more.

The Yankees (95-59) went down to the wire for the AL pennant with the Cleveland Indians, both teams roaring to the finish. The Indians won 18 out of their final 21 games, but the Yanks won 13 out of their final 15 to capture their fourth straight flag under Stengel. But these weren't the same old Yanks. Gone since their last meeting with the Dodgers were DiMaggio, Henrich, and Page, with the most notable addition to the team being Joe D's replacement, Mickey Mantle. The 20-year-old put together his first fine season, hitting .311/.394/.530 with 23 homers and 87 RBI, augmenting Berra's 30 homers and 98 RBI. Reynolds and Raschi led the rotation, with Johnny Sain the big man in the bullpen.

In only his third start of the season, Black won the opener in Brooklyn behind homers by Reese, Snider, and Robinson. The Yanks won the second on the strength of Raschi's three-hitter, and the Series continued to seesaw, with neither team able to put together back-to-back wins. Roe won the third, Reynolds posted a four-hit shutout in the fourth to best Black, and the Dodgers won an 11-inning thriller in Game Five, with Carl Erskine going the distance and Furillo robbing Mize, who already had three homers in the series of a potential game-tying dinger in the bottom of the eleventh.

The Dodgers headed back to Ebbetts up 3-2, and when Snider homered to break a scoreless tie in the bottom of the sixth, they were nine outs away from their first World Championship. Alas, Berra tied up the game to lead off the next inning and the Yanks added two more, including an eighth-inning homer by Mantle, the first of his record 18 Series homers. The finale was another tight contest, with both teams scoring runs in the fourth and fifth, and the Yanks adding runs in the sixth via a Mantle homer and the seventh via a Mantle single. The Dodgers loaded the bases with one out in the bottom of the seventh,; Bob Kuzava came on in relief and got Snider to pop out and then got Robinson to pop up as well. First baseman Joe Collins lost the ball in the sun and it looked like the ball would drop, but at the last moment Yankee second baseman Billy Martin snared the ball at his knees, quelling the threat. That was all she wrote. There was no shortage of heroes in this series, Reynolds and Raschi split the four wins while posting ERAs under 2.00, Mantle hit .345/.406/.655 with 2 homers and Mize .400/.500/1.067 with 3 homers, while Snider's 4-homer, 8-RBI .345/.367/.828 effort went for naught. Hodges' 0-for-21 performance is one for the annals, but in exactly the wrong way; had he gotten hit or two here and there, the Dodgers might have prevailed.

1953: Yankees 4-2 over Dodgers
The Yankees (99-52) rolled to their fifth straight pennant under Stengel. Berra was the team's outstanding hitter at .296/.363/.523 with 27 homers and 108 RBI, with Mantle putting up a strong season as well. The staff was led by Whitey Ford, a 24-year-old lefty who returned from missing the previous two seasons due to military service. Ford went 18-6 with a 3.00 ERA, and he had plenty of help from Raschi and Eddie Lopat. Swingmen Sain and Reynolds combined to make a formidable bullpen while absorbing plenty of starts as well. Ho-hum, another great managing job by Casey Stengel.

The Dodgers (105-49) put forth the strongest team in the franchise's history. Campanella won his second MVP award with a .312/.395/.611 season with 41 homers and 142 RBI, while Snider nearly matched him at .336/.419/.627 with 42 homers and 126 RBI. Furillo won the batting title at .344, while Rookie of the Year second baseman Jim Gilliam hit 17 triples. No fewer than six Dodgers scored over 100 runs, and the team hit .285/.362/.474 with 208 homers and 955 runs scored -- over 6 per game. The team gave up its share of runs, and Carl Erskine was the only starter with an ERA under 4.00. "Oisk" won 20 games. Clem Labine was the team's top reliever.

Opening in the Bronx, the Yanks battered Erskine for four runs in the first, thanks to Billy Martin's bases-loaded triple. The Dodgers tied the game at 5-5 in the seventh, but the Yanks scored four more off of Labine and Ben Wade. They came from behind to take the second game, with Martin tying the ballgame with a solo homer in the seventh and Mantle smacking a 2-run shot in the eighth. The Dodgers clawed their way back into the Series on their home turf, with Campy breaking a 2-2- tie with a solo homer in the eighth and Erskine striking out a Series-record 14. They roughed up Ford with three runs in the first inning of Game Four, and Snider drove in four runs on a homer and two doubles to win 7-3. Game Five was a slugfest, with the Yanks rolling to an 8-2 lead on the strength of a Mantle grand slam and two other homers before staving off a late Dodger comeback to win 11-7. The Yanks rolled out to an early 3-0 lead in Game Six, but the Dodgers tied it up in the ninth with a two-run homer by Furillo. The Yanks clinched their record fifth consecutive title (and 16th overall) in the bottom of the ninth with a rally capped by Martin's single, his 12th hit and 8th RBI of a remarkable .500/.520/.958 performance.

1955: Dodgers 4-3 over Yankees
Having lost four World Series to the Yanks in the previous eight years and gone 0-for-7 in their Fall Classic appearances overall, the Dodgers (98-55) had to wonder if the promised land of "Next Year" would ever arrive. But under second-year manager Walter Alston, they destroyed the rest of the National League, winning the pennant by 13.5 games and putting themselves in a position to test their October fate again. Campanella rebounded from a disappointing season to win his third MVP with a .318/.395/.583 with 32 homers and 107 RBI, and once again Snider gave him a run for his money with a stellar .309/.418/.628 42-homer 136-RBI effort. Furillo, Hodges and Reese had their usual fine years, but 36-year-old Robinson was showing the signs of age, hitting only .256/.378/.363 with a mere 16 extra-base hits while missing 49 games. Newcombe put up a stellar 20-5, 3.20 ERA season that was augmented by an impressive .359/.395/.632 performance with the bat that included 7 homers and 23 RBI and prompted Alston to use him as a pinch-hitter 23 times. Labine remained the team's ace out of the bullpen.

The Yankees (96-58) won the AL pennant by three games, led by Berra, who like Campy won his third MVP with a .272/.349/.470 27-homer, 108-RBI campaign. Mantle (.306/.431/.611 with 37 homers) was the superior hitter, however, and the team got excellent production from Bill Skowron and Hank Bauer as well. Ford, Bob Turley, and Tommy Byrne gave the Yanks three formidable starters, while 38-year-old former Whiz Kid Jim Konstantny split the fireman role with Tom Morgan.

It looked to be more of the same old, same old, as the Yanks won the first two in the Bronx. Joe Collins' two homers off of Newcombe paced the Yanks in Game One, though Robinson's eight-inning steal of home and Berra's ensuing argument with umpre Bill Summers remains the game's signature moment. In Game Two, Byrne five-hit the Dodgers and drove in two runs in a four-run fourth-inning rally, winning 4-2. But back in Brooklyn the Dodgers took the next three. On his 23rd birthday, Johnny Podres went the distance in Game Three while the Dodgers battered Turley for four runs in the first two innings. Campy, Hodges and Snider all homered in Game Four, helping the Dodgers to overcome a 3-1 Yankee lead to win 8-5. Two Snider homers and a Sandy Amoros shot, all off of Bob Grim, put the Dodgers up 4-1, and they survived a late charge to win 5-3 and put them one victory away from their first World Championship.

Their celebration was anything but guaranteed. In Game Six back in the Bronx, the Yanks scored five off in the first off of Karl Spooner, who retired only one batter, with Skowron hitting a three-run blast. Ford limited the Dodgers to four hits and one run, setting the stage for the two teams' third Game Seven in eight years. It was an experience-versus-youth matchup, with the 35-year-old Byrne facing Podres. The Dodgers struck in the fourth inning with a Campanella double and a Hodges single, and a Skowron error on an attempted sacrifice bunt by Snider (!) led to another run via a Hodges sac fly. In the sixth, Alston inserted Amoros into left field to replace George Shuba, and the move paid off when, with men on first and second and nobody out, Berra sent a drive into the leftfield corner which the fleet outfielder chased down and speared one-handed near the foul line, one of the greatest catches in Series history. The Yanks could do no damage against Podres, who went the distance for his second complete-game win, the first Series MVP award, and more importantly, Brooklyn's first and only World Championship. "Next Year" had finally arrived.

1956: Yankees 4-3 over Dodgers
On the heels of their first World Championship, the Dodgers (93-61) narrowly eked out the opportunity to defend their crown. Not until the season's second-to-last day did they overtake the Milwaukee Braves for good, and they won the pennant by a single game. Snider had another fantastic season (.292/.399/.598, 43 homers, 101 RBI), and Hodges added 32 homers, but Campanella slumped to .219/.333/.394 with 20 homers. Robinson, playing what would turn out to be his final season, rebounded from his decline to go .275/.382/.412. Newcombe won both the MVP and the inaugural Cy Young award with a 27-7, 3.06 ERA season, though his bat lacked the magic of the previous year. 39-year-old former Dodger foe Sal "The Barber" Maglie came over from the Indians early in the season to give the rotation a boost. Labine still held down the top spot in the bullpen.

The Yankees (97-57) handily won the pennant by nine games, their seventh in Stengel's eight years. Mantle won the Triple Crown with a monster season (.353/.464/.705, 52 HR, 130 RBI), unanimously winning the MVP award. Berra and Skowron also enjoyed fine years, the latter's .308/.382/.528 with 23 homers and 90 RBI representing his peak. Ford won 19 games with a 2.47 ERA, while Johnny Kucks won 18. Byrne and Morgan were tops out of the pen.

The Dodgers zoomed out to a 2-0 lead. Hodges' three-run homer off of Ford backed Maglie's gritty 9-hit, 4-walk complete game in the opener. The Dodgers knocked Don Larsen out of Game Two in the second inning, but the Yanks did the same to Newcombe, and it was 6-6 after two innings. But Don Bessent stopped the bleeding for the Dodgers with seven innings of relief, while his team punished a succession of Yankee relievers. Hodges had 4 RBI and Snider 3 en route to a 13-8 win. But the Yanks swept the three games in the Bronx, capped by Larsen's perfect game, the only one in World Series history.

Back in Brooklyn, the Dodgers forced a seventh game when Labine, drawing a rare start, shut out the Yanks for ten innings and Robinson singled home Gilliam in the bottomf of the 10th off of Turley, only the fourth hit given up by the Yankee hurler. Game Seven pitted Kucks and Newcombe, but it wasn't even close. The Yanks scored five off of the Dodger ace in three-plus innings, including two home runs by Berra and one by Howard. Newcombe was left winless and carrying an 8.59 ERA in his five World Series starts. Skowron added a seventh-inning grand slam, Kucks limited the Dodgers to three measly singles, and the Yanks returned to their familiar spot as World Champions. This would be the last time the two teams would face each other as crosstown rivals; the Dodgers spent only one more season in Brooklyn before embarking for Los Angeles.

1963: Dodgers 4-0 over Yankees
Though the Dodgers had a lousy inaugural season in L.A., they didn't take too long to adapt to their West Coast surroundings, winning the 1959 World Series over the Chicago White Sox in their second season, facing a non-Yankee team in the Fall Classic for the first time since 1920. They nearly had another opportunity to face the Yanks in 1962, but lost a three-game tiebreaker to the San Francisco Giants. The '63 Dodgers (99-63), still managed by Walter Alston, rebounded to win the pennant by six games. In their second season in Dodger Stadium, the ballpark's high mound and large foul territory heavily favored pitchers, none moreso than 27-year-old lefty Sandy Koufax, who had a breakout season. Koufax went 25-5 with a 1.88 ERA, winning the NL MVP and the Cy Young (still given to only one pitcher in the two leagues). He was accompanied in the top of the rotation by Don Drysdale, who won 19. Bullpen ace Ron Perranoski had one of the best relief seasons in baseball history, winning 16 and saving another 21 with a 1.67 ERA. The offense rested on the broad shoulders of 6'7" slugger Frank Howard (.273/.330/.518 with 28 HR) and Tommy Davis (.326/.359/.457) but was equally dependent on the speed of Jim Gilliam, Willie Davis and especially Maury Wills -- who led the league in steals for the fourth season in a row, but declined to 40 from his record 104 the previous year.

Though their perch atop the American League was familiar, the Yankees (104-57), who won the pennant by 10.5 games, were now piloted by Ralph Houk, who took the team to three straight pennants and the previous two titles. In June, Mantle ran into a chain link fence in Baltimore, breaking a bone in his foot and suffering ligament and cartilage damage in his knee, causing him to miss two months. Fellow slugger Roger Maris was beset by a hand injury. When the two could play -- almost exactly one season between them -- they combined for 38 homers, 88 RBI and a .570 slugging percentage. Catcher Elston Howard helped to pick up the slack, enjoying an MVP season (.287/.342/.528 with 28 HR and 85 RBI), and Tom Tresh (.269/.371/.487 with 25 homers) was key as well. Ford won 24 games and Jim Bouton went 21-7 with a 2.53 ERA. Hal Reniff was tops out of the bullpen.

The Series was no contest. Opening in the Bronx, the Dodgers jumped on Ford for five runs in the first three innings, with Roseboro hitting a three-run homer and Skowron, now a Dodger, driving in two runs. But the real story was Koufax's dominance, as he struck out a series-record 15 hitters. The Dodgers won Game Two behind a stellar game by Podres, still clutch after all these years. Drysdale bested Bouton in a 1-0 duel in Game Three, and Koufax wrapped up the sweep, the only one in the history of the rivalry, with a 2-1 win over Ford. Typically, the Dodgers managed only two hits in the decisive game, but one of them was a Howard homer. The Yanks scored only four runs in the entire Series, and the two teams combined for only 16. Koufax's 2-0, 1.50 ERA line made him the MVP.

1977: Yankees 4-2 over Dodgers
When Sandy Koufax retired Yankee rightfielder Hector Lopez on an infield grounder to close out the Dodgers' 1963 World Championship, my parents had been married less than a month. By the next time the teams met in a World Series, they had two sons, including a seven-year-old who was starting to catch on to baseball. The Yankee-Dodger rivalry of this era was my real introduction to major league baseball, with the outsized personalities of characters such as Tommy Lasorda and Reggie Jackson drawing me in long enough to discover the game's true excitement and drama. The continuity of the two teams' rivalry from 1977-1981, while its participants came and went, provided me with a sense of the game's history and up-close introductions to the spectacular extremes of achievement on the ballfield and bad behavior off of it, the revolution of free agency, the vagaries of player development, and the harsh realities of the game's labor situation. A quarter-century removed from all of this, I simply cannot imagine my childhood without the Dodger-Yankee battles, nor can I imagine a better introduction to baseball.

When Tommy Lasorda took the Dodger helm on the final weekend of the 1976 season, it marked the first time since 1953 that the Dodgers had made a managerial change. Walter Alston's 23-year tenure had seen the team's first World Championship in 1955, the team's move west in 1958, the opening of Dodger Stadium in 1962, with eight pennants and four World Championships. Lasorda, who served on Alston's staff for four seasons, was promoted into some very big shoes. But he'd played an important role in the team's development, managing many of what would become his key players in the minors, including Steve Garvey, Davey Lopes, Bill Russell, and Ron Cey -- the longest running infield in the game's history, a unit that stayed intact for nearly nine seasons. They were mid-tenure when Lasorda graduated to the managerial seat, and from the season's first month, when Cey drove in 29 runs and the Dodgers jumped out to a 17-3 start, they gave him a significant leg up in the NL. The Dodgers (98-64) ran away with the NL West by 10 games, unseating the two-time World Champion Cincinnati Reds, the Big Red Machine, and then defeated the Philadelphia Phillies in the NL Championship Series. Garvey, Cey, Reggie Smith and Dusty Baker all clubbed 30 homers or more, a baseball first for teammates, with the quiet Smith the team's most devastating hitter at .307/.427/.576. Lopes made for a classic leadoff man with a .372 OBP and 47 steals. The rotation was anchored by veterans Tommy John, who won 20 games, and Don Sutton, but the team went five deep in starters, at the time still a new concept. Knuckleballer Charlie Hough -- another Lasorda protegee -- anchored a strong bullpen.

The New York Yankees had changed dramatically since the two teams' last meetings as well. After a decade of oblivion under CBS, the franchise was bought for a song by egomaniacal Cleveland shipbuilder named George Steinbrenner, who took to the game's new franchise-building rules by embracing free agency. He signed A's ace Catfish Hunter, coming off of three straight World Championships and granted free agency on a contractual breach, before the 1975 season and then Reggie Jackson before the '77 season. Brash and quotable, with enough mustard for a ballpark full of hot dogs, Jackson took to the New York limelight like no player before or since, and he delivered on the field as well .286/.375/.550 with 32 homers and 110 RBI. Acrobatic third baseman Graig Nettles contributed 37 homers and 107 RBI, and gritty catcher Thurman Munson drove in 100 as well. Lefthander Ron Guidry developed into the team's ace, going 16-7 with a 2.82 ERA, and Sparky Lyle won the Cy Young Award with a stellar season out of the bullpen. With fiesty former Yankee World Series hero Billy Martin skippering the club, this team maintained a link to its glorious past, though the intense media scrutiny quickly created a pressure cooker for Martin, Jackson, and Steinbrenner. The Yanks (100-62) won the AL East by 2.5 games, then beat the Kansas City Royals in the AL Championship Series to face the Dodgers.

Opening in New York, the Yanks won the first game in 12 innings, but three Dodger homers off of Hunter early in Game Two helped even the Series. The Yankees took the next two in LA, with Mike Torrez and Guidry both going the distance for the Bombers. With their backs to the wall, the Dodgers routed the Yanks and Don Gullet 10-4, with catcher Steve Yeager driving in four runs. The Series returned to the Bronx, and in Game Six, Jackson put on an eye-popping display for the ages: home runs in three consecutive at-bats off of three different pitchers, each hit longer than the last. The Yanks overcame an early Dodger lead and took their first World Championship since 1963. Jackson, who hit .450/.522/1.250 with a record five homers for the Series, won the MVP.

1978: Yankees 4-2 over Dodgers
A baseball fan could be forgiven for feeling a sense of déjà vu in 1978, as all four division winners repeated, and the playoff results were duplicated as well. The Dodgers (95-67) had won the West by 2.5 games with virtually the same cast of characters as the year before, with Garvey (.316/.353/.499 with 113 RBI) and Smith (.295/.382/.559) leading the way. A severe throat injury to catcher Yeager necessitated some juggling (and led to an equipment change around baseball), but aside from a bit of clubhouse dissent -- a fight between the All-American Garvey and the more cynical Don Sutton -- the Dodgers rolled. Burt Hooton emerged to lead the deep rotation with 19 wins and a 2.82 ERA, while free agent signing Terry Forster took over the top spot in the bullpen.

If the results were the same in the Bronx, the manner in which they were achieved was anything but. The Yanks (100-63) fell as far as 14 games behind the Boston Red Sox while Martin and Jackson feuded, and in late July, the manager was forced to resign. Replaced by Bob Lemon, the Yanks took off, tying the Sox to force a one-game playoff in which Bucky Dent hit a three-run homer to give the Yanks the AL East title. Amid a host of injuries and a clubhouse so raucous with dissent it became known as the Bronx Zoo, Jackson (.274/.356/.477 with 27 HR and 97 RBI) and Nettles (.276/.343/.460 wiht 27 HR and 93 RBI) led the way. On the mound, Guidry dominated with a 25-3, 1.74 ERA Cy Young-winning season, and Ed Figureoa won 20 games as well. Marquee free-agent signing Rich Gossage claimed Lyle's fireman role, a matter of no small controversy.

The Series opened in LA on a somber note, as Dodger coach Jim Gilliam died of a brain hemorrhage just two days before it began. With emotions somewhat raw, the Dodgers rolled over the Yanks 11-5, with leadoff hitter Lopes hitting two home runs and driving in five runs. In Game Two, the Dodgers, paced by a three-run homer by Cey, clung to a 4-3 lead in the ninth inning. The Yanks got two men on base with one out when Lasorda summoned rookie pitcher Bob Welch, who retired Munson and then struck out Jackson in dramatic fashion to save the game. The classic confrontation, immortalized in a poetic update of "Casey at the Bat," became a touchstone of my youth.

Back in the Bronx, the Yanks took an early 2-1 lead in Game Three but the Dodgers kept threatening. As Guidry scuffled, Nettles made four incredible plays, directly leading to seven stranded Dodger runners, and Guidry allowed only one run despite 15 baserunners, with the Yanks winning 5-1. In Game Four, the Dodgers rolled out to a 3-0 lead on the strength of a Smith 3-run homer, bu thte Yanks clawed their way back thanks in part to a controversial throwing error by Russell, who in trying to complete a double play hit baserunner Jackson in the hip; the ball caromed into rightfield as a run scored. The Yanks tied the game in the eighth and won in the 10th on a Lou Piniella singe. Game Five was a 12-2 rout for the Yanks, with Munson driving in five runs and Roy White three, and four Yankees collecting three hits apiece among the Yanks 18 total hits. Back in LA, a three-run second inning paced by timely hits from Brian Doyle (subbing for injured Wille Randolph) and Dent helped the Yanks overcome a leadoff homer from Lopes, and Jackson exacted some vengeance on Welch with a seventh-inning homer. The Yanks were World Champions again. Dent hit .417/.440/.458 with 7 RBI to win the MVP award, with Doyle (.437/.437/.500) and Jackson (.391/.462/.696 with 8 RBI) helping to carry the Yanks as well.

1981: Dodgers 4-2 over Yankees
The 1981 season was like none before, as a seven-week players' strike cleaved the season in two, creating an extra tier of playoffs. The Dodgers (63-47), on the strength of 20-year-old rookie pitching sensation Fernando Valenzuela, jumped out to a 36-21 start as Valenzuela won his first 8 starts, seven of them complete games, five of them shutouts. Fernandomania took hold, and the Dodgers won the first-half NL West "title" by a mere half-game over the Cincinnati Reds. Guaranteed a spot in the playoffs, the team went on cruise control during the second half. This would be the last hurrah for the longest running infield; as Lopes struggeld, the Dodgers took a long look at rookie Steve Sax. Baker (.320/.363/.445), Rick Monday (.315/.423/.608) and emerging slugger Pedro Guerrero (.300/.365/.464) paced the balanced Dodger attack. Valenzuela ended up winning 13 games to net Cy Young and Rookie of the Year honors, helping to offset the departure of free agent Don Sutton from the top of the rotation. Hooton and Jerry Reuss turned in stellar seasons as well. Second-year reliever Steve Howe led the Dodger bullpen. The team took a harrowing ride through the playoffs, escaping from a 2-0 hole against the Houston Astros in a best-of-five, then beating the Montreal Expos in the NLCS after being down 2-1 in another best-of-five. Monday's ninth inning homer off of Steve Rogers in the cold, wet weather -- "Blue Monday," in Expos lore, put the Dodgers in the Series.

Like the Dodgers, the Yankees (59-48) won the first-half flag and then sputtered in the second. Despite the guaranteed playoff berth, Steinbrenner was so dissatisfied with the Yanks' sluggish performance under manager Gene Michael -- who had only 82 games in the big chair since Dick Howser's firing the previous October -- that he replaced him with Lemon. Trophy free agent Dave Winfield (.294/.360/.464) picked up the slack for the struggling Jackson, but these were hardly the Bronx Bombers of yore, as only two regulars topped a .244 batting average and nobody slugged anywhere close to .500. Guidry, Tommy John, and rookie Dave Righetti led a deep rotation, and Gossage put up a dominant season out of the bullpen, ably aided by Ron Davis. The Yanks beat the Milwaukee Brewers in the Divisional Series after nearly blowing a 2-0 lead, then swept the upstart Oakland A's managed by Billy Martin to face the Dodgers for the third time in five years. Lasorda claimed that he had been praying for the rematch since the end of the '78 Series.

The Yankees got of to a good start in the Bronx, KO'ing Reuss in the opener to win 5-3 behind Guidry. John and Gossage combined on a four hit shutout in Game Two, and things look ominous for the Dodgers as the Series returned to LA. Cey poked a three-run first-inning homer off of Righetti, but the Yanks scored four off of Valenzuela over the next two innings. The Dodgers rallied against reliever George Frazier, and Valenzuela survived to pitch a gutty 140+ pitch complete game, allowing 16 baserunners but winning 5-4. In Game Four, the Yanks chased Bob Welch before he could retire a batter, but Yankee starter Rick Reuschel couldn't hold a 4-0 lead, and a pinch-hit two-run homer by Jay Johnstone capped a comeback that tied the Series. The next day, a six-hit complete game by Reuss, accompanied by back-to-back seventh-inning homers by Guerrero and Yeager off of Guidry -- who allowed only four hits -- pulled the Dodgers within reach of their first Series victory since '63. Perhaps in an attempt to ignite his team, Steinbrenner revealed that he'd had a confrontation with two Dodger fans in an elevator, though his claims went unverified.

The Series returned to New York, and things took a curious turn in Game Six when Lemon elected to pinch-hit for John in the fourth-inning of a 1-1 tie with two on and two out. Bobby Murcer flied out to end the threat, and the Yanks rallied for three runs against Frazier (already twice bombed in the Series) and then four more against Davis the next inning. Guerrero drove in five runs with a triple and a three-run homer, and the Dodgers finally had their World Championship at the Yankees' expense. The MVP award was split three ways between Yeager (.286/.286/.786 with 2 HR), Guerrero (.333/.391/.762, 2 HR, 7 RBI) and Cey (.350/.435/.500 and 6 RBI, not to mention surviving a Gossage fastball to the helmet). Frazier tied a Series record with three losses, all in relief.

Saturday, June 19, 2004


Wearing My Dodger Blues, Part II

Round one of the long-awaited interleague series between the Dodgers and the Yankees went to the boys in red, white and Dodger blue, 6-3. Former Yankee Jeff Weaver looked shaky, giving up three runs in the third inning and exhibiting the same pouty body language -- like a two-year-old with a full diaper -- that made him so unpopular in the Bronx. But he gave up no runs and only three hits in the five other innings he pitched before turning it over to a stellar bullpen capped by last year's Cy Young winner, Eric Gagne, who converted his 80th straight save.

Yankee starter Javier Vazquez, who's pitched great lately, had a horrible night, looking completely out of sync with catcher Jorge Posada, throwing three wild pitches and failing to pick up a shoddy Yankee defense. Jason Giambi botched a 3-6-3 double-play in the fourth which led to the Dodgers tying the score. Vazquez threw two of his wild pitches in the sixth and then making a throwing error, leading to two more runs, and the Dodgers added an insurance run in the seventh off of Felix Heredia. All in all, it was as bad a game as the Yanks have played in quite awhile.

What with my history of rooting for both of these teams, watching the game was a unique experience. I was rooting for the Dodgers -- while my girlfriend Andra pulled for the Yanks -- but it was hard to muster the kind of antipathy for the Yankees which came so easily to me during those three World Series of my youth. I also had an especially difficult time pulling for Weaver, who disappointed me and every other Yankee fan so many times I lost count, and I recognize the nuances of the current Yank squad much better than those of the Dodgers. Which isn't to say that I wasn't having a ball. I got a huge charge out of watching Fernando Valenzuela throw out the ceremonial first pitch, savored the intercut highlights of the '81 World Series, and feasted my eyes on the beauty of Dodger Stadium, which I usually see only on a highlight or via a tiny, pixelated feed via On the other hand, I was frustrated by how little the Yankee announcers seemed to know about the Dodgers. At one point, when reliever Guillermo Mota came on to pitch the eighth for the Dodgers, Jim Kaat noted that Mota hails from the shortstop factory of San Pedro de Macoris in the Dominican Republic without recognizing that Mota spent six years playing short in the Mets chain before converting to pitching. It was nice, however, to see Kaat's own Dodger-entiwined history celebrated; as the ace of the Minnesota Twins, Kitty started Games Two, Five and Seven of the 1965 World Series, all against Sandy Koufax, beating the great lefty once but losing the finale 2-0.

As I mentioned in my previous piece, on the eve of the series, its significance was decidedly downplayed here in New York City, with the Times and Daily News devoting one article apiece and the Post ignoring it completely. In the Times, Murray Chass recalled the last time these two teams met during the '81 World Series. Yankee owner George Steinbrenner made a complete ass of himself, first by allegedly engaging in a fight with two Dodger fans in an L.A. hotel elevator and then by publicly apologizing to Yankee fans for the team's defeat in the Series. Of the "fight," Chass wrote:
After the Yankees had lost their third straight game in Los Angeles, they stayed there overnight, their flight home scheduled to depart the next morning. Steinbrenner was to have dinner with his wife and associates that evening and, as he rode an elevator to the lobby, he said, he encountered two young men who recognized him.

They were drunk and profanely abusive, Steinbrenner related at the time, adding that they talked about the "chokers" who played for the Yankees and the "animals" who lived in New York. Steinbrenner most likely thought his players had choked, and he had not always spoken in glowing terms about every aspect of New York, but they were his players and his city. These brash young men, one of whom wore a Dodgers cap, had no business bad-mouthing his players and his people.

Steinbrenner said he responded with an obscenity, whereupon one of the men hit him on the side of the head with a beer bottle he was holding. Steinbrenner, 51 years old at the time, said that in rapid succession he threw three punches -- two rights and a left. Down went the first miscreant; down went the second.

Muhammad Ali? He might have stung like a bee, but Steinbrenner said he swung a sledgehammer.

"I clocked them," Steinbrenner told reporters just before midnight in a news conference he called in his hotel suite. "There are two guys in this town looking for their teeth and two guys who will probably sue me."
Not too surprisingly, no one ever came forward to verify Steinbrenner's story. As Chass put it, "Somewhere today, if the fight really occurred, there are two men, perhaps in their mid-40's, who have a unique story to tell... Despite a variety of injuries - a cast-covered left hand, scraped knuckles on his right hand, a bump on his head, a bloody lip - Steinbrenner failed to convince everyone that he really had engaged in a fight."

Chass also wrote about the key moment of that '81 World Series, in Game Six when Yankee manager Bob Lemon chose to pinch hit for starter Tommy John in the fourth inning of a 1-1 tie, with two on and two out:
John had shut out the Dodgers for seven innings in Game 2 and was doing fine in Game 6. Nevertheless, Bobby Murcer batted for John and flied out. The Dodgers proceeded to break the game open, and clinch the series, by scoring seven runs in the next two innings against Yankees relievers.

Why did Lemon bat for John? All indications point to Steinbrenner as the reason. In the days and months after the game, players said they heard that Steinbrenner had called the dugout and told Lemon that the Yankees had to score runs that night and that the manager shouldn't miss any chances to score.
Classic meddling George. In the Daily News, current Yankee bench coach Willie Randolph, who played second for the Bombers in '81, recounts his less than pleasant memories of that Series which centered around the Yankee owner:
It was a weird series," Randolph said. "It was drawn out, a lot of mumbo jumbo. That was a strike year and a bad year overall. We let the series slip away. We should've closed the deal and we let them creep back in and before you knew it, it was all over.

"There were so many obstacles, so much in the way, a lot of distractions. It wasn't all about playing the game. It wasn't like we played the series freely and it went smooth. There were a lot of detours and snags."

...Randolph laughed when asked about the supposed fight. "All I know is there was really tight security in the hotel and it would've been hard for me to believe that he would be in the elevator with someone like that by himself like that," Randolph said. "There was a lot of security, people around. I wasn't with him, so I don't know, but I just thought it was something else to talk about.

"Is this an attempt to spur us on, give us some fight? We didn't need that. I just got a chuckle out of it. I thought it was par for the course with the Bronx Zoo kind of thing."

So was the notorious apology, Randolph said. In addition to apologizing for the team's play in the series, Steinbrenner added that the Yanks would "be at work immediately to prepare for 1982."
As you could probably tell by the scene at Dodger Stadium last night, where a record crowd of 55,207 packed Dodger Stadium from the first inning through the ninth (a rarity in Chavez Ravine) and serenaded the New York nine with what seemed like a continuous chant of "Yankees Suck!" there was no downlplay of the series on the West Coast. Both the L.A. Times and the Daily News devoted several articles to the matchup in Friday's paper. In the Times, Bill Shanklin points out that a key strategic move in the '81 Series was before Game Four when Dodger manager Tommy Lasorda dropped Dusty Baker from third to fifth in the batting order, leaving Davey Lopes, Bill Russell, Steve Garvey, and Ron Cey -- the Longest Running Infield -- in the top four slots. It would be the last time the quartet, who played together for nine seasons and four World Series, would appear in the same lineup, as Lopes was shipped to Oakland over the winter. Shanklin notes the group's unlikely origins:
This was not an infield of dreams. At first, this was not even an infield.

Lopes and Russell were center fielders, but the Dodgers converted Lopes to second base and Russell to shortstop. Cey and Garvey were third basemen, and Garvey got to the majors first, but the Dodgers moved him across the diamond because he couldn't throw across the diamond.

On June 13, 1973, in an otherwise forgettable 16-3 loss to the Philadelphia Phillies, Garvey replaced Willie Davis in the fourth inning, Tom Paciorek moved from first base to center field, and the infield quartet played together for the first time.

By the time the Dodgers broke them up — after a record run of 8 1/2 years — Garvey was an All-Star eight times, Cey six, Lopes four, Russell three

... The eight-year run of the Dodger infielders might endure alongside Joe DiMaggio's hitting streak and Cal Ripken's consecutive-game streak. The odds are long indeed that four infielders could come up at the same time and remain productive and injury-free — and, in this era of free agency, cost-effective.
The most interesting Daily News article, sure to stir up debate among fans of both sides, is "10 greatest moments in Dodgers-Yankees history". Don Larsen's 1956 World Series perfect game tops the list, followed by Sandy Koufax's 15-strikeout game to open the '63 Series, which the Dodgers swept. Johnny Podres' seventh-game win in the '55 Series, the year "Next Year" finally arrived for the Dodgers, is relegated to fifth, a spot with which many True Blue fans might beg to differ. One of my personal favorites, Bob Welch striking out Reggie Jackson to end Game Two of the '78 Series, comes in seventh; the moment prompted a rewrite of "Casey at the Bat," the original clipping of which still remains on my childhood bedroom wall. The bane of my childhood existence, Graig Nettles' defensive performance in the next game, credited with preventing five Dodger runs and turning the tide of the Series, rounds out the list at number 10. Elsewhere, Tom Jackson checks in with Dodger broadcaster Vin Scully, who has clocked in a remarkable -- in both length and quality-- 55 seasons with the franchise. Scully, who according to the article was once offfered a job to replace another golden voice, Yankee broadcaster Mel Allen, is uniquely positioned to evaluate the rivalry's change since the Dodgers' westward move in 1958:
"They're two of the most successful franchises in the history of the game," Scully said. "The Yankees have been absolutely monumental in their stature and winning. You think of Lou Gehrig and Babe Ruth and Joe DiMaggio, and it's a great franchise, period. Brooklyn grew from a troubled franchise, one step ahead of the mortgage bankers, and eventually rose to prominence.

"The Los Angeles Dodgers are not the Brooklyn Dodgers. Willard Mullin, a great artist, always drew the Dodger as a bum, but nobody would think of the Los Angeles Dodger franchise as a bum because it has been very successful and well established. Now what you have is two titans meeting as opposed to David and Goliath."
It's debatable whether a team which hasn't won a postseason game since 1988 can be considered a titan alongside a team with four World Series rings and six pennants over the past eight years, but there's no question that this is as rich a rivarly as baseball has to offer.

Friday, June 18, 2004


Wearing My Dodger Blues, Part I

It took eight years to bring the most natural AL-NL matchup to fruition, and if that isn't the most scathing indictment of Bud Selig's poorly conceived interleague plan, then I don't know what is. The Dodgers and Yankees have met in the World Series eleven times, the most frequent matchup in history, yet until this weekend, they've never squared off in a regular season game. When the AL East and NL West teams squared off in 2002, this marquee pairing was conspicuously absent from the docket, and while Bud might tell you it's so that fans in the two biggest media markets could be treated to yet another home-and-home series with their crosstown rivals, it isn't too hard to imagine the commish pulling a few strings to spite the two big-market teams, depriving them of rich paydays and promotional opportunities to celebrate their common past. But finally this weekend, the two teams will meet for a three-game series in Dodger Stadium.

On a personal note, this matchup features the two teams which have framed the entirety of my 28 seasons of baseball fandom. When I first began learning the game it was 1977, the Dodgers were our household team and the Yanks their hated October rivals. The Yanks had the loquacious Reggie Jackson, the gritty Thurman Munson, the fleet Mickey Rivers, and the fiery Billy Martin at the helm, while the Dodgers, led by the boisterous Tommy Lasorda, crossed the apple-pie superficiality of Steve Garvey with the quiet professionalism of players like Reggie Smith and Davey Lopes, who along with Garvey, Bill Russell and Ron Cey, anchored the longest-running infield in baseball history from 1973 through 1981. When they faced off in the World Series, Jackson's fireworks got the upper hand, his three home runs in the decisive game elevating him into the pantheon of World Series heroes.

The two teams were an excellent contrast in those years. The Dodgers of that era represented continuity, Lasorda rising through the organization with many of his players and serving as manager for a remarkable 20 seasons. The George Steinbrenner-owned Yanks were the first team to crack the burgeoning free-agent market as a means of augmenting their home-grown talent while disposing of managers at the drop of a hat -- seventeen changes in that same 20 year span. The teams met twice more in the Fall Classic with many of the same characters still on hand, the Yanks winning in 1978 and the Dodgers finally exacting some vengeance in 1981. Thereafter, Steinbrenner's propensity for meddling in the team's affairs took its toll, the Yanks signing too many of the wrong free agents and sliding into more than a decade of oblivion. The Dodgers, despite shedding their old infield and losing pitchers like Don Sutton and Tommy John to free agency (the latter signing with the Yanks and becoming the focal point for one of the most boneheaded decisions in Series history) kept coming up with homegrown talent and remained competitive in the NL, winning division championships in 1983 and '85 and scoring a huge upset victory in the 1988 World Series over the Oakland A's. Some lean years followed that, including a 99-loss season in 1992, but they returned to prominence at the end of Lasorda's reign, winning the division in 1994 (the truncated strike year) and '95. Slowed by a heart attack, Lasorda was forced to hand over the reins to Bill Russell in mid-'96.

I moved to New York City in 1995 still a Dodger fan, but as Lasorda faded from view and the Dodgers rolled over on the final day of the '96 season to accept the wild card, my enthusiasm for the team began to wane. For the first time, I found myself in a city with a major-league baseball team, and surprise of surprises, it was the Joe Torre-managed Yanks, a much classier if less colorful group of ballplayers than the Bombers of my youth, who drew my fascination. Having the means to jaunt up to the ballpark whenever it suited me suited me just fine, thank you. In 1998, I began a partial season ticket package to Yankee games with some friends, and I've been fortunate enough to attend games in four World Series, even being present for the clincher in 1999.

While I've never renounced my allegiance to the Dodgers, keeping up with them on a day-to-day basis, even with the Internet and cable TV packages of today, has never caught my fancy quite like the buzz of following the local nine. The end of the O'Malley era of Dodger history and the transition into the benign neglect of the Rupert Murdoch years has given me a new perspective on Steinbrenner, who for all of his early buffoonery (such as the phantom elevator fight during the '81 Series, which Murray Chass writes about in today's New York Times) is more than happy to spend the money to bring New Yorkers a championship-caliber ballclub. If only L.A. fans could say the same thing, my Dodger citizenship might never have lapsed.

That said, there is no hesitation in my mind as to who I'll be rooting for this weekend. Nine years of geographic convenience, even with a championship caliber ballcllub, aren't enough to cut through the ties that bind, ties that take me all the way back to my grandfather's bemusement at watching Babe Herman get hit on the head with a fly ball (or not, as that occurrence may be apocryphal). When I pull Boys of Summer off the shelf, I still cringe as I read about Billy Martin catching Jackie Robinson's popup in the '52 Series, when I see Game Three of the 1978 Series on ESPN Classic, I still throw objects at the TV when Graig Nettles makes another leaping stop of a Dodger liner to thwart a rally, and when I think about Fernando Valenzuela, Pedro Guerrero and the Longest Running Infield finally celebrating a World Championship, I'm all smiles. Deep down, I still bleed Dodger blue.

All of this is a gross oversimplification, of course, and it would take me an entire book to flesh out the nuances of the numerous story lines here. I've written about my youthful Dodger days and my transformation into a Yankee fan several times, including here, here and here. I hope to follow this piece up with a couple more this weekend to celebrate this historic rivalry.

Back to the present, this weekend's series finds the two teams both in first place, much to my delight. After a sluggish 8-11 start, the Yanks are now 42-22, winners of 17 out of their past 21 games and leading the Boston Red Sox by 4.5 games in the AL East. The Dodgers were 22-10 on May 12, the best record in baseball, but immediately after that they dropped 12 out of 14. They've recovered to win 11 out of their past 17 and come in at 35-28, 1.5 games up on the San Francisco Giants. While it's tempting to say that the Yanks are the team with all the sluggers and the Dodgers the team with all the pitching, the truth is that much of the difference, at least this season, is based on the teams' playing environments. Here's a chart:
          RS    RA    TOT    PYWP   WP   EQA   

YANKEES 5.44 4.75 10.19 .567 .656 .273
DODGERS 4.40 3.90 8.30 .560 .555 .271
What that chart says is that the Yanks are scoring about a run per game more than the Dodgers, allowing nearly a run per game more as well, for a combined scoring environment that is nearly two runs (or 22.8% greater) than that of the Dodgers. But based on their runs scored and allowed, the two teams are very close together, with only a seven point difference in their expected (Pythagorean) winning percentages, and only a two point difference in EQA, a park-adjusted hitting measure from Baseball Prospectus which combines OBP and SLG onto a scale comparable with batting average. However, the Yanks have outstripped their Pythagorean winning percentage by about 90 points, while the Dodgers have just barely underperformed theirs. Both teams have had similar success in 1-run ballgames (often a culprit for wide deviations from expected winning percentage), 13-6 for the Yanks, 12-5 for the Dodgers. The Yanks have had a fair number of lopsided losses, nine of five runs or more, but they've similarly dropped the hammer on their opponents eight times. The Dodgers have nine lopsided wins of such ilk, to go along with seven such losses. Other than the fact that the Yanks seem to be getting some incredibly well-timed hits, the explanation for their outpacing their Pythagorean by six wins in less than half a season is a bit elusive. Sooner or later, things will probably even out.

This weekend's pitching matchups are a strange lot, especially for the Dodgers:

6/18 NYY - Vazquez (7-4, 3.43 ERA) vs LA - Weaver (4-7, 4.54 ERA)
6/19 NYY - Halsey (ML debut) vs LA - Nomo (3-7, 7.56 ERA)
6/20 NYY - Contreras (4-2, 6.20 ERA) vs LA - Lima (5-2, 3.67 ERA)

In the first game, the two teams showcase their marquee pitching additions in the offseason, and that the Dodgers' marquee addition amounts to a Yanks' castoff says something. After a disappointing season and a half in the Bronx, Weaver was shipped to LA over the winter for Kevin Brown, who finds himself on the DL at the moment with back woes. A native of southern California, Weaver hasn't pitched all that well for LA since returning home and has a 5.09 ERA in his three June starts. On Saturday, the Yanks depleted rotation (Mike Mussina is also sidelined, having tweaked his groin) means they will send Brad Halsey to make his major league debut; the 23-year-old lefty has put up a 2.57 ERA with 5.4 K/9 and a 2.4 K/W ratio in AAA Columbus; blogger Cliff Corcoran has more to say about him here and Fabian McNally covers him here. Meanwhile Hideo Nomo has been simply Hideous since off-season shoulder surgery, and it simply baffles me that the Dodgers keep sending to the slaughter every fifth day, though he did sit for three weeks on the DL with a split fingernail. He's lost five straight. Jose Conteras has shown signs of straightening himself out lately, having emerged disaster-free in winning his last two starts. On the year he's had four starts where he hasn't made it out of the fourth inning, but his recent pairing with backup catcher John Flaherty may be helping him. Meanwhile, Jose Lima is nuttier than a Christmas fruitcake, but he's pitched effectively for LA, moreso as a reliever (2.84 in 19 innings) than as a starter (4.11in 35 innings). Still, if all of their reclamation projects turned out as well as he did, the Dodgers would be sitting even more prettily atop the NL West.

A couple of other things worth noting:

• the Yanks will be at a disadvantage without the DH in the NL park; theirs have hit .286/.375/.513 -- compared to .264/.356/.456 overall as a team -- with 13 homers and 38 RBI , providing time for Jason Giambi, Bernie Williams and Gary Sheffield to rest their ailing bodies in between letting Ruben Sierra swing his once-hot, now rapidly cooling bat.

• the two teams have two other recents deal in common. Robin Ventura was traded to the Dodgers last July 31 for Bubba Crosby and Scott Proctor. The Yankee starting third baseman at the time, Ventura's since become a mediocre role player for LA; he's hitting .217/..277/.233 on the year with no homers and 7 RBI after a similarly lackluster .220/.331/.422 post-trade. Crosby made a bit of a splash early this season, surprisingly making the club out of spring training and smacking homers in his the first two games he batted; he's bounced up and down between New York and Columbus, currently in the bigs again, hitting .231/.259/.500 with the 2 HR and 7 RBI in 29 PA. Proctor appeared in five games out of the Yankee bullpen, posting a 7.36 ERA in 7.1 innings but striking out 9. He'll probably get another shot later this year to give somebody in the pen a breather. More recently, the Dodgers sent Tanyon Sturtze to the Yanks, and while he's 2-0 with a 4.26 ERA in 19 innings, he's walked 10 men and allowed 1.53 baserunners per inning, thin ice to skate upon. The Yanks recently sent Bryan Myrow, a 27-year-old on-base machine of no fixed glove ability to LA to complete the deal.

Other than the aforementioned Chass article, there's a dearth of traditional media coverage on the matchup this weekend. Perhaps that's a reflection of how stale the concept of interleague play has become in general, but to me at least, this is one duel that should buck the trend, the resumption of a rivalry that should have taken place a long time ago. If all goes well, I'll round up the few articles covering this in another post this weekend, and present a thumbnail guide to the two teams' World Series matchups in yet another.

• • •

Late note: I've been invited to participate in's Rashomon Project in which the A-B writers and I will all watch Sunday's Dodger-Yankee game and file our game reports on Monday. On the A-B tip, be sure to check out what Dodger Thoughts' Jon Weisman -- who will be attending both Saturday and Sunday's games -- has to say in his Dodgers-Yankees by the Numbers.

Tuesday, June 15, 2004


Bookin' It

I wasn't at the ballpark, but last Saturday evening was every bit as saturated with baseball as Sunday turned out to be. On the occasion of a Baseball Prospectus/SABR Bookstore Event (no pizza, to our disappointment), Alex Belth, Alex Ciepley, Mike Carminati and I hung out for about an hour at Bryant Park, across the street from Coliseum Bookstore, where the event was to take place. Mike was up from Princeton or therebouts, meeting all of us for the first time, and Belth steered the conversation towards Mike's beloved Phillies of the late '70s and early '80s -- Mike Schmidt, Steve Carlton, Bake McBride, Garry Maddox, et al. We shot the shit for awhile, old and new friends, and then I got a call from Chris Karhl to say that the Prospectus contingent -- Kahrl and Steve Goldman -- was currently "staring at bumpers" at the entrance to the Holland Tunnel and running late, asking me to convey the message to the other speakers on the bill to proceed without them.

We wandered into Coliseum to find one Dan Schlossberg taking the podium to talk about a book he'd written -- a post-championship quickie -- on the Florida Marlins. Schlossberg proceeded to tell a room full of Yankee and Cub fans about last season's unlikely championship run, managing to be simplistic, plodding, and condescending all at once. As if we New Yorkers were somehow unable to recall the unlikely Fish tale from last fall. As if the Cubs fans in the room had never heard of the Billy Goat Curse. Had he been writing about the Red Sox, I'm sure Schlossberg would have been telling a room full of SABR members and BP readers that the last time the Red Sox won a World Series, it was 1918 and a guy named Babe Ruth was PITCHING for them. The Marlins won? Shit, I think I saw something in the paper about that...

So I'm sitting there among Belth, Cliff Corcoran, and Baseball Primer's Darren Viola (a/k/a Repoz) -- all Yankee fans -- and Ciepley, a Cubs diehard, and we're all giving each other glares that ask, "Is this guy serious?" and answer with, "No really, is this guy fucking serious?" Soon enough the class clown in all of us begins to take over, the rolled eyes, muttered asides, stifled laughs, everything but the "bullshit" coughs. Rough sledding for Mr. Schlossberg, a fifty-something author of 27 baseball books, none of which any of us had ever seen, let alone read. Schlossberg told us about how he originally had an agreement from Marlin manager Jack McKeon to collaborate on the book, but McKeon withdrew when an offer for him to revise his own autobiography came through, and the writer turned next to the only player to partake in both Marlin World Championships, Jeff Conine. Plain vanilla, boring-as-lint, yawn-inducing, .800 OPS Jeff Conine, whose career has produced exactly no memorable moments for anyone outside the state of Florida. On the back of the book, Conine is holding up a poster showing directions to the Yankee victory parade, delicious irony except to those of us in the room who would rather have tested out the slim volume's suitability as a projectile.

To our satisfaciton, Mike C. got off a good number of Q's in the Q & A which put the author on the defensive -- something about the Yanks not needing Ugie Urbina after the author had characterized them as being beaten out by the Marlins in the trade market, something about the league catching up with Dontrelle Willis after his hot start -- and after that we tuned out, some of us wandering away to browse the bookstore. Belth handed me a galley copy of The Numbers Game by Alan Schwarz, a delicious-looking history of the development of baseball stats and the men behind them, which helped me wait it out like a rain delay.

Finally Steve and Chris showed up, about an hour late. The two of them began with impassioned recollections of the late Doug Pappas and his work before moving onto a general Q&A, much of which centered around the baseball-in-D.C. issue, as Chris lives in the area. Steven's book about Casey Stengel, Forging Genius (about which I wrote recently), came up for discussion as well; Chris is its editor for Brassey's. In marked contrast to Schlossberg, both writers held the audience's complete attention, drawing intelligent questions and genuine laughs instead of blank stares.

As Belth mentioned in his blog, Chris is now living as a woman, a fact that those who attended the March 11 NYC Pizza Feed (or a few others since then) may have learned but which has somewhat miraculously avoided circulating through the baseball blogosphere. To the best of my knowledge, Belth's post is the first time anybody in the baseball community has written about Chris' situation publicly. It's been an open secret, mostly because it hasn't been particularly relevant to anything baseball related and because nobody in the know wants to see some semianonymous halfwit start lobbing tasteless Piazza-type jokes on some bulletin board. But with Chris herself heading to the SABR Convention next month and making several references to her lifestyle choice as she spoke in front of the Coliseum crowd, it was only a matter of time before the news reached a wider audience, and the moment appears to have arrived. Deal with it.

I came to that March 11 feed armed in advance with the info about Chris' big change, and whatever uneasiness I had about the situation (very little, but still...) evaporated the moment she enthusiastically responded, "Yeah, the Futility Infielder!" as she shook my hand. Back in the day, Chris' "Transaction Analysis" columns were probably the single biggest reason I became a regular BP reader, so to find that he she was excited about my writing was a true thrill. I spent well over an hour that evening chatting with Chris about baseball, book publishing and "the other stuff," and came away with as much admiration and respect for the person as I did for the writer. The courage, grace, and wit with which she has handled her situation is inspiring, and it's quite amusing to think that no matter which side of the gender plate she's swinging from, Chris is still as knowledgeable and entertaining a baseball writer as one could ever hope to meet. Reconnecting on this particular night, it was like seeing any of my old baseball buds -- we all end up gabbing and giggling, bouncing ideas and observations off of one another, occasionally cutting each other off in our excitement, like giddy kids on a midsummer evening's sugar high.

Anyway, a sizable group of us ended up milling around the Coliseum -- Jon Daly (a.k.a. Primer's Gary Geiger Counter) introduced himself to me -- until they threw us out a half-hour after closing time, and still we lingered in front of the store, chatting further about baseball. Eventually nine of us (Steve, Chris, Cliff, Alex C., two friends of Steve's, two extremely talkative youngsters named Milo and Dave, and myself) wandered over to the east side to get some mediocre Mexican food; not our first choice, but at 9:30 on a Saturday night we weren't in much mood to complain. Somewhat out of our element in that particular neighborhood, five of us ended up drinking at a cheesy sports bar called Third and Long, talking ball, music and politics until nearly 1 AM before splitting up. Nobody -- with the possible exception of Steve, who napped at the bar without touching his rum and Coke -- wanted our conversation to end a moment sooner than it had to, but New Jersey and the outer boroughs beckoned.

Like an amusement park ride, I can hardly wait to do all of this over again.

Monday, June 14, 2004


Double Comeback

The Yanks were cooked. Down 2-0 with two outs in the ninth inning, it looked for all the world that they were headed to defeat, both for the afternoon and for the weekend's interleague series against the San Diego Padres. David Wells had returned to Yankee Stadium wearing the navy-and-sand garb of the Padres but pitching like Fat Man #33 in Pinstripes, the one that we Yankee fans grew to love through his triumphs and transgressions. Drawing an ovation from the forgiving crowd -- the back trouble in the World Series, the reneged oral contract agreement over the winter -- upon his entrance, Wells was moved him to tip his cap before his first pitch, and later admitted to being "a little choked up." He hung seven zeroes on the Yanks for the afternoon, holding them to five meager singles and striking out four while walking none, letting only one baserunner reach third, pounding the strike zone while moving the game along at a brisk pace, a mere 76 pitches. Vintage Boomer.

Padre manager Bruce Bochy had put the game in the hands of his able bullpen, first the sensational Japanese setup man Akinori Otsuka and then closer Trevor Hoffman, who stood one out away from racking up his 15th save. "Where's Scott Brosius when you need him?" asked the suffering Alex Belth, my ballpark comrade for the day (my girlfriend Andra and friend Julie had scurried down to Loge to get out of the sun in the middle innings). As Hideki Matsui stepped into the box, the crowd was strangely silent, making my singing of Blue Oyster Cult's "Godzilla" sound pretty insipid, even to my own ears. Sheepishly, I gathered my belongings. But Hoffman, who'd gone 0-2 on both Jason Giambi and Jorge Posada, fell behind 2-0 on Matsui, and on the third pitch, Godzilla jacked a long home run to rightfield, cutting the score to 2-1. "Oh no, there goes Tokyo, go, go, Godzilla!"

Ruben Sierra had been in the on-deck circle to hit for first baseman Tony Clark, but Yank manager Joe Torre called him back in favor of Kenny Lofton. Alex and I had been busting on the just-activated Lofton all afternoon. Bernie Williams had started in centerfield and batted first, Lofton's desired role when he signed over the winter, and the two of us had savored the fact that Bernie's well-timed recovery was chafing the itinerant Lofton's hide. Lofton's blaming his injuries on not being in the lineup and kvetching about his limited role have made him an easy target and a likely trade candidate.

But on this day Lofton executed his role perfectly. He took two pitches from Hoffman for balls, fouled one off, and then hammered a shot to righfield that was nearly as convincing as Matsui's, tying the score and insuring that Boomer's return would not end quite so triumphantly. Suddenly the efforts of Wells' (literally) opposite number, Javier Vazquez (who now wears #33) -- eight strong innings, six hits, two runs, no walks, eight K's -- were all the more appreciated, not that the Puerto Rican Day celebrants flying their colors needed any extra encouragement.

Just as Lofton had stepped to the plate, Alex and I began conjecturing over who would play first for the Yanks with Giambi already at DH, assuming they tied the score. With the point no longer moot, we continued to wonder. Posada (16 games of major league experience there), with John Flaherty going behind the plate? Bernie Williams (rumored to have been encouraged to buy a first baseman's mitt, or something), with Lofton going to center? Enrique Wilson? Giambi, with the Yanks giving up the DH? Finally I guessed Miguel Cairo, correctly as it turned out; he shifted over from second as Wilson entered the game.

It had been a quick-paced ballgame through nine innings, clocking in at around two and a half hours. Vazquez had been nearly as efficient as Wells, mostly staying ahead of the hitters and making only two mistakes -- one which rookie shortstop Khalil Greene blooped over the leftfield wall for a solo shot in the third, and another which Terrence Long smoked for an RBI double in the seventh. But as the relievers filed out of both bullpens like clowns stuffed in a tiny car, the game slowed to a crawl. Tom Gordon, who'd sailed through the ninth, yielded a fan-interference double to Sean Burroughs and wild-pitched him to third in the tenth before wriggling free. Padre reliever Scott Linebrick walked the bases loaded in the tenth -- the first walks on the day for either side -- before escaping trouble. Paul Quantrill gave up two hits in the eleventh, finding a safety valve when Posada gunned down pinch-runner Kerry Robinson.

It's an old adage that if you call upon enough relievers, sooner or later you'll find the one who will lose you the ballgame, and for the Yanks, it looked as though Brett Prinz was the bad apple at the bottom of the barrel. In between rides on the Columbus shuttle (through no fault of his own), Prinz had thrown 9.1 innings of scoreless ball thus far on the season, yielding only four baserunners, but the Padres got to him in the 12th. Two singles, a four-pitch walk, and then a Mark Loretta sacrifice fly put the Padres up one. One pitch into the next at-bat, Torre called upon Felix Heredia, who with his 9.00 ERA and two baserunners per inning had "bad apple" written all over him. Brian Giles ripped Heredia's first pitch to rightfield, and it squirted past Gary Sheffield (perhaps brooding after his two-on, one-out, first-pitch pop foul to the catcher in the 10th), two runs scoring and Giles taking third, 5-2 Pads and some blue language in Upper Deck Section 14, Row E, Seats 11 & 12.

Rod Beck came on in the bottom of the 12th, providing a kind of symmetry -- one over-the-hill fat, bald, biker-type guy to finish off another fat, bald, biker-type guy's ballgame. Or not. Beck walked Bernie on four pitches, then yielded a double down the rightfield line to Derek Jeter, with Williams holding up at third. The tying run came to the plate in the welcoming form of Alex Rodriguez , but A-Rod could only manage an infield grounder which scored Williams, eating up an out. Sheffield made some amends by blooping a single to center, with Jeter taking third. Giambi roped one to center, scoring Jeter and sending Shef to third, the lead trimmed to 5-4.

Bochy came out to remove Beck, and in came a sight for sore eyes: former Yankee Jay Witasick. I jumped up and down, laughing and pointing like some deranged monkey at Witasick, recalling his futility at the back of the Yankee pen in the 2001 season. He's turned into a reasonably productive reliever -- 2.32 ERA in 31 innings with 33 K's -- but rotten memories of that 2001 World Series (a 54.00 ERA in 1.1 innings, allowing ten hits) still linger, and those remaining of the 52,754 who had attended booed him lustily. Needless to say, I liked our chances.

Witasick got a quick strike on Jorge Posada, but on the second pitch, he ripped a ground-rule double down the rightfield line to tie the game. Giambi, Sheffield, and Posada had been a combined 0-for-14 on the afternoon, but at the drop of a hat, the big bats which had lain dormant swung to life, overcoming the Yankee bullpen's mistakes. This just in: these guys are good.

With runners on second and third, it was academic that Witasick walk Matsui intentionally. Torre countered by sending up Sierra for Wilson, but before Alex and I could settle the "Who's on First, What's on Second" debate again, Sierra, who'd patiently waited for his turn all afternoon, lofted a 1-1 pitch to centerfield. The ball hung in the air for an eternity, and when it settled into Jay Payton's glove, Giambi trotted home with the winning run -- their 26th come-from-behind win of the season -- ending one hell of a great afternoon at the ballpark.

Wednesday, June 09, 2004


The Big Three in the Bullpen

ESPN’s Buster Olney -- yes, my favorite whipping boy of late -- recently took an interesting look at bullpen usage, namely the pace at which the Yankees and several other teams are taxing their top three relievers so early in the year. Fifty-five games into the season (through Monday, June 7) -- one game past the 1/3 marker -- the Yanks have gone to Mariano Rivera 30 times, Tom Gordon and Paul Quantrill 29 times apiece. The combined total of 88 appearances among the three is second in the majors behind the Giants’ trio of Felix Rodriguez, Jim Brower and Matt Herges, who have combined for 92 appearances.

Olney runs down a usage pace list of no fewer than 18 teams, so if you're interested, chances are your team is in there somewhere. Here’s the portion of the chart pertaining to the Yanks:

Yankees App Proj App IP Proj IP Career High
Rivera 30 92 31.2 96.2 107.2 (1996)
Gordon 29 89 31.1 96.0 79.1 (1998)
Quantrill 29 89 32.1 99.0 88.0 (1997)
Yowzah! Ninety appearances and 90+ innings is a hell of a lot for any of these guys in this day and age, especially three guys with an average age of 35 years old. Rivera's been his usual dominant self, posting a 1.09 ERA and limiting opponents to a .543 OPS. Gordon has been excellent, yielding only a 2.27 ERA and a .542 OPS. Quantrill's 3.93 ERA and .680 OPS allowed conceal a dramatic swing to the negative: a tidy 2.70 ERA in April, an ugly 5.51 ERA in May. His gingerly steps since injuring his right knee in a collision on Opening Day in Japan certainly would appear to be cause for concern, but night after night, Quantrill keeps dragging himself out to the mound, with generally diminishing returns. He's averaged 81.7 appearances over the past three years, but only 79 innings; this is a heavy workload, especially for a pitcher who's less than 100 percent.

Lefty Gabe White is the only other reliever who's pitched in more than nine games, but with his 6.63 ERA in 19 innings, Joe Torre clearly would rather send him back to porn-star school or wherever it is that it's acceptable to wear thick gold chains and hair grease than give him any meaningful innings. Fellow lefty Felix Heredia (9.00 ERA in 8 innings) hasn't been much better. The burden is clearly on the Big Three.

How does Torre's reliance on this trio compare to his other Yankee bullpens? I took a quick look back at the Yanks during the Torre era to find the top three (or so) relievers of each season and their usage -- I'm not really looking at performance here except as an implicit measure: how often Joe calls the guy's number. The pitchers are ranked by innings, but when another pitcher had more appearances than one of the top three, he's listed too, and the closer, Rivera since '97, is always listed. Got that? Totals for appearances and innings pitched are tabulated separately based on the top three in each category, and all totals have had any starter innings removed:
1996      App     IP

Rivera 61 107.2
Wickman 58 79.0 (traded 8/23 to MIL)
Nelson 73 74.1
Wetteland 62 63.2
TOP 3 196 261.0

1997 App IP
Nelson 77 78.2
Rivera 56 71.2
Stanton 64 66.2
TOP 3 197 217.0

1998 App IP
Stanton 67 79.0
Rivera 54 61.1
Holmes 34 51.1
Lloyd 50 37.1
Nelson 45 40.1
TOP 3 171 191.2

1999 App IP
Mendoza 47 84.0
Grimsley 55 75.0
Rivera 66 69.0
Stanton 72 58.1
TOP 3 193 228.0

2000 App IP
Grimsley 59 79.0
Rivera 66 75.2
Nelson 73 69.0
Stanton 69 68.0
TOP 3 208 223.2

2001 App IP
Rivera 71 80.2
Stanton 76 80.1
Mendoza 54 91.0
TOP 3 201 252.0

2002 App IP
Stanton 79 78.0
Karsay 78 88.1
Mendoza 62 91.2
Rivera 45 46.0
TOP 3 219 258.0

2003 App IP
Rivera 64 70.2
Hammond 62 63.0
Osuna 48 50.2
TOP 3 174 184.1
Skimming through here, one surprising thing that's often glossed over is how little Jeff Nelson pitched in the regular season. In 1998 and '99 he combined for only 70.2 innings, more or less one season's workload, and the mysterious appearances of the forgotten likes of Jason Grimsley and Darren Holmes on these lists are owed to his fragility. But Nellie was ready when the lights were the brightest, and so the vaunted Stanton-Nelson-Rivera combo which gave the Yanks a lot of jewelry is etched in memory even though they really only had two seasons -- 1997 and 2000 -- at the top of the Yankee bullpen pyramid on a full-time basis.

Looking at just the top 3 "totals":
         App     IP

1996 196 261.0
1997 197 217.0
1998 171 191.2
1999 193 228.0
2000 208 223.2
2001 201 252.0
2002 219 258.0
2003 174 184.1
AVG 195 227.0
2004* 259 280.2
If there's a trend here, it's that the Yanks have stopped winning championships since they've increased their reliance on a top 3. Torre's 2001 bullpen featured the exalted Stanton, Rivera and Ramiro Mendoza if they were tied or ahead, and the damned Jay Witasick, Mark Wohlers and Sterling Hitchcock when they were behind, with Randy Choate kind of floating in the middle. The 2002 signing of Steve Karsay gave them an effective quartet, but Rivera's shoulder woes required each of the other three to pick up some slack, and perhaps it's not a coincidence that none has ever been the same: Karsay missed all of '03 with rotator cuff surgery and is just now working towards a comeback; Mendoza signed with the Red Sox and has pitched so badly people have questioned whether he's still on the Yankee payroll; Stanton aged about five years just by moving across town to the Mets. Karsay's injury caused no end of disarray in last year's pen, and Torre did more mixing and matching than any season since '98, discarding many solutions -- including trio members Antonio Osuna and Chris Hammond -- on the way to the World Series in favor of late-season pickups White, Heredia, and Nelson. The result was lows in the top three innings and appearance categories for the Torre era, and it's not surprising that the Yanks decided to spend again over the winter to secure more reliable help. "We need a big three!" is apparently the mindset.

But now Torre appears to be running the risk of wearing his new horses out before the backstretch. This year's trio of choice is on pace to smash through both appearance and inning highs by a wide margin, and while it's likely that the pace will slow -- especially if somebody makes a trip to the DL -- it's almost a certainty that Rivera will pitch more innings than any season since he took over the closer duties (his existing high is 80.2 innings from 2001, though he did have the 107.2 as a setup man in '96). For him not to do so would mean pitching only 47.1 innings over the Yanks next 106 games, less than an inning every two days. This team's going to need to put up an awful lot of blowouts for that to happen.

If there's a culprit here, it's the Yankee starters, who have put up an ugly 4.87 ERA compared to the relievers' impressive 3.55. They're averaging only 6.0 innings per start compared to 6.54 last year and 6.36 the year before. A half inning per start translates to another 81 innings the pen has to absorb -- the workload, more or less, of an effective reliever. Whether it's Karsay or somebody else, the Yanks are going to need a lot more help in the pen before this is over.

Saturday, June 05, 2004


There's A Beer Riot Goin' On

Friday marked the 30th anniversary of one of the more colorful -- or dubious, depending on your take -- events in the history of baseball, the 10-Cent Beer Night Riot. On June 4, 1974, at Cleveland's Municipal Stadium, a promotion -- ten ounces of Strohs for ten cents -- went predictably awry, resulting in a fiasco of epic proportions and a game forfeited by the Indians to the Texas Rangers. Nine people were arrested and seven hospitalized, and an an example of preposterously bad judgment on the part of the Indians' organization turned into a very strange baseball legend.

Put it another way: I don't condone angry, drunken mob violence, but I refuse to not be entertained by it when it suits my purpose. Anyway...

Trouble was brewing between the two teams even before the first beer was served. As James G. Robinson recounts for, the bad blood between the Rangers and the Indians centered around the actions of Rangers second baseman Lenny Randle in a ballgame six days earlier. Randle slid hard into second base on one play, then later gave a forearm shove to a pitcher fielding a bunt and on the same play crashed into the first baseman. A bench-clearing brawl ensued, and Rangers fans threw beer on Indians players.

When the two teams rematched, the Indians fans were carrying a serious grudge. The team had been averaging only 8,000 fans a game in cavernous Municipal Stadium, but 25,000 turned out for 10-Cent Beer Night, many already plastered by the time they arrived. Writes Robinson:
After the Rangers took an early lead, the alcohol-fueled frenzy that had pushed fans through the turnstiles began to push them onto the field. In the second inning, a large woman jumped into the Indians' on-deck circle and lifted her shirt; in the fourth, a naked man slid into second as Rangers outfielder Tom Grieve circled the bases with his second homer of the game; and in the fifth, a father-and-son team welcomed [Mike] Hargrove to Cleveland by leaping into the infield and mooning the crowd. From the seventh inning onwards, a steady stream of interlopers greeted [Jeff] Burroughs in right field. Some even stopped to shake his hand.

The stadium simmered until the Tribe came to bat in the bottom of the ninth, down 5-3. With one out, an Ed Crosby single scored George Hendrick; two singles later, a bases-loaded sacrifice fly to center by John Lowenstein plated Crosby to tie the game. But slugger Leron Lee never had a chance to drive in the game-winner (Rusty Torres) from third. As the Cleveland fans pelted the field with golf balls, rocks and batteries, someone took the opportunity to swipe Burroughs' glove. Burroughs chased the fan back to the stands and in response, people began swarming into the outfield, surrounding the Rangers' star outfielder and ending any hope for an Indians rally.

Dodging more than a few flying chairs, Texas manager Billy Martin grabbed a bat and led his team on a rescue mission to right field. "The bat showed up later," Hargrove recalled, "and it was broken." Even the Indians were helping to fight off their own fans. Umpire Nestor Chylak, hit by both a chair and a rock, quickly forfeited the game to Texas, officially ending the Indians' comeback. "They were just uncontrollable beasts," said Chylak later. "I've never seen anything like it except in a zoo."
Wild and crazy times. Incidentally, Grieve, Burroughs, and Lee are all fathers of current major leaguers: Ben Grieve, Sean Buroughs, and Derrek Lee, respectively.

In an article from last November (excerpted from a book called Cleveland Sports Legends: The 20 Most Glorious and Gut-Wrenching Moments of All Time), Bob Dyer of the Akron Beacon Journal noted that while the idea of the 10-Cent Beer Night seems self-evidently idiotic today, "The media didn't seem the least bit put off by the prospect. In his pregame story in the Cleveland Press, writer Jim Braham gleefully proclaimed, 'Rinse your stein and get in line. Billy the Kid and his Texas gang are in town and it's 10-cent beer night at the ballpark.'"

In his lengthy report of the affair (which is well worth reading), Dyer recalled that you could buy six cups of beer at a time, and that some 65,000 were consumed on this particular night. "Let's say half the crowd consisted of teetotalers, juveniles, and the elderly," he wrote. "In that case, the average consumption would have been more than five cups per person. And plenty of fans were imbibing even before they got to the ballpark."

The definitive account of the evening was written by gonzo journalist Mike Shropshire in the hilarious memoir of his stint covering the Rangers in the mid-Seventies, Seasons in Hell. I've cherrypicked some of my favorite lines from his seven-page account to paint a picture of the surreal milieu:
On the commuter train from Hopkins Airport into downtown it became clear that something really special -- or at least different -- was looming at the ballpark on 10-Cent Beer Night. At each stop the train was filling with young people obviously headed for the game to take advantage of the promotion. Everybody was wearing Indians baseball caps and Indians batting helmets. As a court-certified expert on brain abuse, it was my educated guess that most of these fans were already loaded on Wild Turkey and whatever medicine it is that truck drivers take to stay awake on long hauls. Their condition suggested that they might be on their way home from, and not on their way to, a 10-cent Beer Night game.

...If it is true the decade of the Seventies was earmarked by behavioral residue of the spirit of the late Sixties, then Beer Night in Cleveland was the archetypal illustration of what all of that was to represent.

...When the game reached the bottom of the ninth inning, the temperament of the crowd became strikingly like that of Billy Martin when he reached his hour of belligerence in the cocktail lounge. What had been a largely congenial gathering turned combative. Woodstock had become Kent State.

...From my safe haven in the pressbox I was delighted by the entire spectacle since my dispatch to the newspaper back in Texas would offer something out of the ordinary and I figured that the players' post-game quotes might not be as clichéd as usual.

...When I talked to the Rangers, most of them appeared rather shaken by what they had clearly regarded as an ordeal. Billy Martin was predictably verbose. "We got hit with everything you can think of," Martin recounted with an air of seeming wonderment. "Chairs were flying down out of the upper deck. Cleveland players were fighting their own fans. First they were protecting the Rangers and then they were fighting to protect themselves. Somebody hit Tom Hilgendorf [Indians pitcher] with a chair and cut his head open."

...About a dozen players were in the bar when I got there. One -- Burroughs -- pulled me aside. "Hey," he wondered, "do the stats count in a forfeit? I hope not. I went 0-for-4, but the marijuana smoke was so thick out there in rightfield, I think I was higher than the fans."
No truth to the rumor that the smoke came from the Indians' management as they dreamed up their next promotional stunt. And sadly for Burroughs, the stats did count, though he was actually only 0-for-3 with a walk. Fortunately, he did recover to hit .301/.397/.504 with 25 homers and 118 RBI on his way to the AL MVP award.

If you haven't read Shropshire's book, I can't recommend it highly enough. My first copy of it, a $6 paperback, circulated to about seven or eight people and traveled around the world before falling apart somewhere in Thailand. It's laugh-out-loud funny, and the Beer Riot is just one of its high (or low) points. Imagine Hunter S. Thompson as a beat reporter for a lousy but eminently colorful ballclub -- managed at times by Whitey Herzog and Billy Martin, brains a-fryin' in the Texas heat, the fire only put out by copious quantities of beer and cocktails. Somebody ought to make a movie.

[Thanks to my friend Willie L. for calling my attention to the anniversary of this event.]


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