Baseball postsFriday November 02, 2018
Willie McCovey (1938-2018)
How many ways was he a giant? In stature (6' 4“ at a time when most ballplayers didn't reach 6 feet); in San Francisco (of course); and ultimately of baseball. There was a musicality to his name. It rhymed. It's now the name of a cove on the other side of the right-field stands at Giants Stadium. SABR, in its tribute, calls this fitting since ”his ferocious swings always sent ripples of fear throughout the National League.“
When my guy, Harmon Killebrew, won the Most Valuable Player award in 1969, just as I was becoming baseball cognizant, McCovey was the first baseman in the other league who did the same. There's actually an interesting parallel between the two. Killebrew was a ”bonus baby,“ a player signed north of $4k who had to remain on the 25-man roster for two years, but his first full year in the Majors, 1959, was McCovey's first year overall. He debuted July 30 and went 4-4 with two triples and three runs scored. He hit his first homer, off Pittsburgh's Ron Kline, three days later. He only played in a third of the games that year, 52, but still won the NL Rookie of the Year. Unanimously. Meanwhile, in the AL, Killebrew led the league in home runs.
Then it was McCovey's turn, believe it or not, to fight for playing time. According to Joe Posnanski in his tribute, the Giants were loaded then and didn't have an obvious spot for McCovey. Or his obvious spot, first base, was taken by Orlando Cepda (another musical name), who was NL Rookie of the Year in 1958, and who led the league in homers and RBIs in 1962. Nice problem to have, Giants. McCovey didn't play a full year until 1963 when he was often in left field. He didn't play a full year at first base until 1965.
But McCovey and Harmon? Some kind of synchronicity there. They were mirror images. NL/AL. Black/white. ”Stretch“/”The Fat Kid.“ Both were quiet. Both had the most powerful swings in their league. They were homers/RBIs/walks guys who hit the thing a country mile. For their MVP years, their lines are somewhat similar:
Ditto their career lines.
Killebrew hit more homeruns in the 1960s than anyone (393), while McCovey was fifth (300), but that was in part because of limited playing time, a tougher league, and a tougher ballpark to hit it out of. Was this why McCovey seem more respected? He was a first-ballot Hall of Famer while the Hall passed on Killebrew three times before deciding ”What the hell.“
I wish I'd gotten to see McCovey play more. We saw AL teams in Bloomington. But I was certainly aware of him: Topps, NL Leaders, Baseball Digest, and ”Baseball Stars of 196-whatever.“ Not to mention Peanuts.
I'd always assumed this was a random game, and the three feet was what was necessary to hit the ball over the wall. I think I was an adult before I realized, no: Schulz, a Minnesota boy now living in northern California and rooting on the Giants, was lamenting the end of the 1962 World Series. The Giants were playing the hated Yankees and losing Game 7 1-0 in the bottom of the 9th when Matty Alou led off with a pinch-hit bunt single. Ralph Terry struck out the next two batters, but then Willie Mays hit a double to right. Some part of me wonders, without seeing the footage, how Alou didn't score on that. Two outs, double to right, speedy baserunner? But he didn‘t. Some part of me also wonders why Terry stayed in, but that was baseball then. He stayed and faced McCovey, who hit a screaming line drive ... right at second baseman Bobby Richardson. Game, series, season over. Cue Charlie Brown’s lament. Was it McCovey's most famous at-bat? Probably. Cue Shelley: Our sweetest songs are those that tell of saddest thought.
I suppose he's lucky he saw a pitch during that at-bat. Nobody wanted to pitch to him. Killebrew led the AL in intentional passes three times, with 18, 15 and 20. McCovey? Four times: 45, 40, 21 and 25. The 45 IBBs were during his MVP year, and they set a record. The 25 were in 1973, after his black-ink days, when he was 35. And they still didn't want a part of him.
Walter Alston: ”When he belts a home run, he does it with such authority it seems like an act of God.”
Sparky Anderson: “If you pitch to him, he’ll ruin baseball.”
What Glory, Price! Red Sox Win 9th World Series Title
Another baseball season is done and for the ninth time in its history the Boston Red Sox are world champions. That moves them ahead of the Giants (8) and ties them for third all-time with the Athletics. Second is the Cardinals with 11. First is the Yankees with 27. It's still no contest.
You know what I would worry about if I were a BoSox fan? They‘ve never won a title after the 19th year of a century. All of their titles are clustered at the beginning of each century: 1903, 1912, 1915, 1916, 1918 and then nothing for 80+ years. Then: 2004, 2007, 2013, 2018. Smoke ’em if you‘ve got ’em, I guess. But it couldn't happen twice. Could it?
I'm bummed for Clayton Kershaw, who takes the “Can't pitch in the postseason” mantle into another off-season. I'm happy for David Price, who shed his mantle in the last two weeks. After winning the pennant-clinching game against the Astros (his first postseason victory), he started two of the five World Series games, going 2-0 in 13.2 innings with a 1.98 ERA and a 0.95 WHIP. Has any pitcher had such numbers in such a short series and not won the MVP? Instead it went to Steve Pearce, whom the Sox picked up on June 28. The Red Sox were his 7th team in 11 years. He did well for them (.279/.394/.507) and in the series went 4 for 12 with three homers and a double. He walked four times and drove in eight. He scored five runs.
Who decides the MVP? “A committee of reporters and officials in attendance.” For some reason I thought pitchers won it often but this century it's happened only four times: 2001 (RJ/Schilling), 2003 (Josh Beckett), 2008 (Cole Hamels) and 2014 (Madison Bumgarner). My brain must still be back in the ‘80s and ’90s. From 1987 to 1997, pitchers won it every year but two (Pat Borders and Paul Molitor in the two Blue Jays years). Back then, it was like QB for Super Bowl MVP.
Alex Cora, meanwhile, becomes the 11th innaugural-year manager to win the World Series since the advent of the playoff system in 1969. It's the most common tenure for a World Series-winning manager. Go early and often, I guess.
Mostly, though, the Red Sox victory solidified their claim as Team of the Century. Since 2000, the Yankees have been to the postseason most often (15 times), and are tied with the Cardinals for the most LCSes (9). But then it's a four-way tie for most pennants (4) between Yanks, BoSox, Cards and Giants. Cards and Yankees have two World Series championships. Giants have three. Boston is on top with four.
Of course, the Red Sox were the Team of the Century in 1918, too.
Here are MLB's longest current droughts:
- World Series championship: Cleveland Indians (1948)
- Pennant: Washington Nationals (b. 1969), Seattle Mariners (b. 1977), Pittsburgh Pirates (1979)
- LCS appearance: Washington Nationals (1981 as Montreal Expos)
- Postseason appearance: Seattle Mariners (2001)
Pitchers and catchers report Feb. 13.
Of the 16 Original Teams, Who Hasn't Played Whom in the World Series?
Tonight we get the second match-up ever between the Red Sox and Dodgers in the World Series. The first was in 1916.
Back then, the Dodgers were in Brooklyn, enjoying their first pennant, while the Red Sox, who had a young pitcher named Babe Ruth on their staff (who won Game 2, pitching 14 innings of 1-run ball), were the best team in baseball. They'd won every time they gone to the World Series—1903, 1912, 1915—and they would win this one, too, 4 games to 1. They would win in 1918. The future was theirs. The whole century was theirs.
All of this has made me wonder if the Red Sox had played every one of the original eight NL teams in the World Series.
Turns out they‘ve played seven. They’re missing the Braves—their old Boston rivals. Wouldn't that be something? We might‘ve gotten that this year but for a few breaks. Maybe we’ll get it next year.
That, of course, raised another question: Has any of the original 16 teams played all eight of the other league's original teams in the World Series?
The answer is the obvious one: the Yankees, of course.
They‘ve won 40 pennants, so it would be pretty amazing if they’d missed any of the original eight. They'd actually collected all eight by 1957 when they knocked off the last one, the Braves, then in Milwaukee. Hell, the Yanks have at least doubles on every NL original team. Here are the numbers:
|Yankees Opponent||No. of WS matchups|
All 11 of those Yankees-Dodgers matchups, by the way, were between 1941 and 1981. If you were watching the World Series then, you had a 27% chance it was Yankees-Dodgers. Oy. If you were watchingn between 1947 and 1956, you had a 60% chance it was Yankees-Dodgers.
Other fun facts:
- The Phillies have faced the fewest original 16 opponents in the World Series—just three: Red Sox in 1915, Yankees in 1940 and 2009, Orioles in 1983. They‘ve never beaten any of them. The Phils’ two World championships are against expansion teams: the 1980 Royals and the 2008 Rays.
- The AL team with the fewest original 16 WS opponents? White Sox and Indians: four each.
- Senators/Twins (6 times), Pirates (7), Reds (9) and Cubs (11) are the only teams to have only played original 16 teams in the World Series.
- The most common non-Yankees matchup is a three-way tie between Giants/A‘s, Red Sox/Cardinals and Tigers/Cubs. Each has met in the Series four times.
- Besides the Red Sox, the other teams that just need one more to complete the set are the Dodgers (need: Tigers) and Giants (need: Orioles).
- Expansion teams have made up almost half of MLB since 1998, but only once, in 2015 (Royals vs. Mets) have they faced each other in the World Series.
For the completists out there, here’s what each original team needs to complete the set:
|Braves||vs.||White Sox||Orioles||Tigers||Red Sox|
The 21st century is beginning the way the 20th century did for the Boston Red Sox. They've been to the World Series three times—2004, 2007 and 2013—and won all three. Now they face the Dodgers, who, for an added touch of irony, are managed by Dave Roberts, the man whose stolen base in the 9th inning of Game 4 of the ALCS began the turnaround for the Sox. Will he help stop the resurgence he began? Or will they keep winning? Maybe the future, the whole century, is theirs.
Boxscores: August 1, 1970
I saw this game on NBC's “Game of the Week” when we were visiting my grandmother in Finksburg, Maryland when I was 7. I still remember it. I remember being thrilled by it.
It was partially the score. I mean, 20-10? That's a football score. Not that I knew football at the time. That would take a few more years.
It was partially the great players involved: Hank Aaron, Rico Carty, Willie Stargell, Orlando Cepeda—all of whom I mostly knew from baseball cards and those annual “Baseball Stars of...” books. I don't think I saw them much. I grew up in Minneapolis, an American League city, and I think even on TV we mostly saw AL games. So this was new.
Plus I thought the uniforms were cool; they were darker than what I was used to.
So were the players.
Start with the Pirates. Their leadoff hitter, Johnny Jeter, was black. So was Dave Cash, Al Oliver and Manny Sanguillen. Bob Robertson, batting fifth, was white, but Willie Stargell and Jose Pagan were not. Shortstop Gene Alley was white, as was pitcher Bruce Dal Canton. So six of nine were players of color.
The Braves did that one better: seven of the starting nine were players of color.
In comparison, on this day in 1970, my Twins started just three non-white players: Cesar Tovar, Tony Oliva, Leo Cardenas. (Rod Carew was injured.) Their opposition, the Detroit Tigers, did the same: Ike Brown, Elliott Maddox, César Gutiérrez. (Willie Horton, ditto.) It had been 23 years since Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier for the NL Brooklyn Dodgers, but the American League was still whiter. Noticeably so. At least I noticed.
Anyway, for whatever reason—the score, the unis, the players—I‘ve never forgotten that game. Sitting in my grandmother’s house on Cedarhurst Rd., in Finksburg, Md., it just stuck.
BTW: If you‘re wondering where Roberto Clemente was, he must’ve been injured. He didn't play between July 26 and August 7—except, oddly, as a pinch-runner in the July 31 game.
A year later, on Sept. 1, 1971, this Pirates team would field the first all-black and Latino team in Major League history.
For the 1970 season, the Pirates won the NL West, while the Braves—the NL East champs in ‘69—finished second-to-last in their division. Rico Carty led the league in hitting with a .366 mark, and Manny Sanguillen finished third with .325. Hank Aaron hit 38 homers to bring his career total to 592—third all-time. Two years later, he would pass Willie Mays for second all-time. In early ’74, of course, he would break the most sacrosanct record in the game. Clemente hit .352 in '70, but without enough plate appearances to quality for the batting title. But his 145 hits raised his career total to 2,704. Two years later, he would reach 3,000 on the dot, only the 11th man in baseball history to do that. Three months after that, he would die in a plane crash flying relief supplies to earthquake victims in Managua, Nicaragua.
Who's Due? Anybody but the Yankees
This isn't exactly shocking, but of the five remaining teams vying to win the AL pennant this season, the Yankees have won more World Series titles than the other four combined: 27-20. This despite the fact that the AL teams with the second- and third-most titles (A's and BoSox, respectively) are still in the mix.
|TEAM||World Series Titles||How Often||Pennants||How Often||Last Went||Last Won|
(For those who could guess that the A's had the second-most titles in the AL, take a bow. That's actually a good trivia question. Feel free to use it.)
(And for those who care, the Tigers are the fourth-most successful AL team in this regard—with four titles. Then it goes: Orioles, Twins and White Sox with three each; Indians, Royals and Blue Jays with two each; Angels and Astros with one. Bringing up the rear, with bupkis, is the Rangers, Rays, and our Seattle Mariners.)
Anyway, looking at the above, you could make an argument that the Yankees are in fact due. Throughout their history, they‘ve averaged a pennant every 2.8 years and a title every 4.1 years, and they haven’t gotten either in eight whole years. Poor Bronx. Poor fans. They‘re used to crushing and they haven’t crushed in so, so long they‘ve almost forgotten what it’s like. But, of course, no, they‘re the last team I’d root for. If they went through 50 years of bottom-dwelling pain they'd still be the last team I'd root for. Riffing off Joe E. Lewis, rooting for the New York Yankees is like rooting for white people. They don't need help.
BoSox? They were the best team in baseball during the regular season, and I kinda like seeing such teams make it to the World Series. Plus a BoSox victory would sting Yankee fans the most. Astros won just last year but they‘re fun, and they’ve only won once in 55 years, and no non-Yankee team has gone back-to-back since the ‘92-’93 Jays. Indians? Look at that painful history. They‘re so, so due. A’s, meanwhile, have the lowest payroll in baseball. How can you not root for that?
As for the NL? The historically most victorious team there, the St. Louis Cardinals, with 11 rings, were eliminated last week. This is our lineup:
|TEAM||World Series Titles||How Often||Pennants||How Often||Last Went||Last Won|
In a way, all those teams are due. Not a lot of winning in that group. But few teams are due like the Brewers are due. Call it the Curse of the Pilots. Or the Curse of Bud Selig. Shouldn't have moved the team, Bud! Shouldn't have moved the team.
You often don't know who to root for until you start watching, and, as of now, I still have nine possibilities. But I am partial to teams with Lorenzo Cain on them.
Here's to October baseball.