erik lundegaard

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Thursday October 30, 2014

The 2014 San Francisco Giants Were Never the Story; They Just Got in the Way of the Story

The American League Champion Kansas City Royals, 2014

“You may glory in a team triumphant, but you fall in love with a team in defeat.”

I might as well get this out of my system.

After the Kansas City Royals lost Game 7 of the World Series to the San Francisco Giants last night, I posted various tempered vitriol on the usual social media sites, such as:

Congratulations to the San Francisco Bumgarners, winners of the 2014 World Series!

And:

Well, at least I won’t have to listen to Joe Buck for another 11 months.

But it was the comment below that resulted in the most backlash:

Here's something the San Francisco Giants and its fans never understood: No matter what, they weren't the story. They could only get in the way of the story. So congratulations for getting in the way of the story.

Many were confused. People who should know better, to be honest. So for them I’ll add this: Think of all the baseball movies about an underdog team of rag-tag losers who suddenly band together and eke out win after win on their way to the championship. Now think of  all the great baseball movies about the championship team that smoothly wins its third title in five years.

This year, the Kansas City Royals were a great story. A team that hadn’t tasted the postseason—even a wild-card spot—in 29 years winning one improbable game after another with speed, luck and a helluva great bullpen. They were a bunch of young guys who began to believe when no one else would. And they cut a swath through the postseason like Terrance Gore cutting a swath from first to second. In a way, it doesn’t matter that they came up 90 feet short. It doesn’t matter that they ran into the thick sweaty wall of Madison Bumgarner. It’s the Royals we’ll remember.

People are talking up a Giants dynasty now. Sure, why not. Three in five years. But year by year, dynasties are never a story. Remember that great Yankees team from 1950? Or was it ‘52? Hey, what about 1951? They won it all that year, too. But that was the year of the New York Giants great August/September comeback, punctuated by Bobby Thomson’s improbable three-run homerun in the bottom of the 9th in the Polo Grounds on October 3 to give the Giants a 5-4 win and the National League pennant. The Yankees wound up winning the World Series that year but they were a footnote. They weren’t the story; they just got in the way of the story. See Don DeLillo and “Underworld.” See “Pafko at the Wall.” See Roger Kahn and this quote from: “The Boys of Summer”: “You may glory in a team triumphant, but you fall in love with a team in defeat.”

So once more with feeling: Congratulations to the 2014 San Francisco Giants. May its fans glory in its triumph. But they weren’t the story; they just got in the way of the story. 

See you next year.

Posted at 09:31 AM on Oct 30, 2014 in category Baseball
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Wednesday October 29, 2014

The 19th Game 7 of My Lifetime

There have been 37 World Series Game 7s, but most (20) came in that 36-year sweetspot between 1955 and 1991. During that time, more than half of World Series played (55%) went to Game 7.

Before 1955? There'd been 12 in 51 years, so less than a quarter (23%) went to Game 7.

Since 1991? Five in 23 years, or 22%.

I've been alive for 19 of them and have probably watched a dozen. I'll be watching tonight, rooting for the Royals. 

Certain odds are in their favor. The last time the visiting team lost Game 6 (which would've given them the title) and then won Game 7 (which did) was the Big Red Machine in '75—after Fisk's homerun at Fenway in Game 6. Devastating loss but the Machine didn't care. It kept on going, right into the next year, when it swept both a good Phillies team in the NLCS and a noisy, Billy Martin-led Yankees squad in the World Series.

Game 7s, in general, tend to be won by the home team, but this appears to be a recent phenomenon:

Year Home team Game 7 Winner
2011 St. Louis St. Louis
2002 Anaheim Anaheim
2001 Arizona Arizona
1997 Florida Florida
1991 Minnesota Minnesota
1987 Minnesota Minnesota
1986 New York (NL) New York (NL)
1985 Kansas City Kansas City
1982 St. Louis St. Louis
1979 Baltimore Pittsburgh
1975 Boston Cincinnati
1973 Oakland Oakland
1972 Cincinnati Oakland
1971 Baltimore Pittsburgh
1968 St. Louis Detroit

Anyway, I'm glad it's here. Nothing like a Game 7. But go Royals. 

Kansas City Royals AL pennant winners

More of this tonight? Recent history says yes, the San Francisco Giants and their fans say no. 

Posted at 07:47 AM on Oct 29, 2014 in category Baseball
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Tuesday October 28, 2014

Bill James Doesn't Like WAR

The baseball kind. A quote from Joe Posnanski's piece on the baseball stats guru (he hates that title) in winter, “Vanguard After the Revolution”:

Sometime in the last year I was doing some research that relied on these WAR systems, so I took a look at them, and … they’re not very impressive. They’re not well thought through; they haven’t made a convincing effort to address many of the inherent difficulties that the undertaking presents. They tend to get so far into the data, throw up their arms and make a wild guess. I don’t know if I’m going to get the time to do better of it, or if it will be left to others, but … we’re not at anything like an end point here. I assumed that these systems were a lot better than they actually are.

Will be interesting to see if this has an effect on WAR's sudden ubiquity. If it does, if James manages to diminish WAR, I say we send him to the Middle East.

Posted at 02:04 PM on Oct 28, 2014 in category Baseball
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Friday October 24, 2014

The Greatest Baseball Giveaway Promotion Ever

The best giveaway promotion I've experienced at the ballpark was probably a bat night at Met Stadium in the early 1970s, back when they'd give away real bats, but reading Dan Epstein's “Stars and Strikes: Baseball and America in the Bicentennial Summer of ‘76” (recommended), I came across another. It involved Bill Veeck, of course. 

Veeck (as in Wreck) was a low-rent baseball owner, frowned upon by his contemporaries, and always trying any stunt to get folks to come out to see his (usually lousy) teams. He hired the clown prince of baseball, Max Patkin, as a coach. Stars and Strikes: Baseball and America in the Bicentennial Summer of ‘76He put Eddie Gaedel, a midget, onto the St. Louis Browns roster and in one game sent him up to pinch hit (he walked). In 1976, the year in question, he had his Chicago White Sox play in shorts for a few games and brought back fan favorite Minnie Monoso, who was 51 years old and had last played in 1964, for eight at-bats.But there was more:

In addition to his endless procession of “Ethnic Night” celebrations, on-field beer-case-stacking contests, and giveaway promotions ... Veeck also installed a shower in Comiskey Park’s center field bleachers, and convinced boozed-up Sox broadcaster Harry Caray to lead the crowd in a sing-along of “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” during the seventh-inning stretch of every home game. The latter would become a time-honored Chicago tradition, while the former instantly entered Comiskey lore. “It had a utilitarian function,” Veeck would later say of the shower. “It gets hot out there and people like to cool off. But it also attracts a number of young girls in bathing suits, and a certain number of young men who like to look at girls in bathing suits."

Indeed. But that's not the promotion I'm talking about. I'm talking about the parenthetical hidden by the above ellipsis:

—like “Ragtime Night,” where he gave away 10,000 copies of E. L. Doctorow’s best-selling novel—

Is that the greatest thing ever? Giving away a book? A novel? A literary novel written by the left fielder in my starting nine of the literary world?

That just makes me happy. It also makes me sad that I can't imagine any circumstances where anything similar might happen today.

Posted at 06:29 AM on Oct 24, 2014 in category Baseball
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Wednesday October 22, 2014

Breaking Down the Walkoff, Series-Ending Home Runs of Baseball's Postseason

I should've posted this yesterday, before Game 1 of the World Series, but life intervenes, as the Kansas City Royals, losers of Game 1 to the San Francisco Giants 7-1, must certainly feel by now.

So Major League Baseball tweeted this pic the day after Ishikawa's homerun last Thursday that gave the Giants the pennant. It's a list of all the post-season, walkoff, series-ending home runs. But there's an error. Can you spot it?

Walkoff, series-ending homeruns

OK, there isn't an error. I simply thought there was. I thought it was Ortiz. I assumed they were talking ALCS, when his walkoff homer in Game 4 simply kept the Sox alive, as did his walkoff single in Game 5. But Ortiz hit the walkoff in the ALDS against the Angels. Why didn't I remember that? 

Probably because, as walkoff, series-ending homers go, it was fairly forgettable. He hit it in the bottom of the 10th in a 6-6 tie to give the Red Sox the series three games to zero. Even if he hadn't hit it, even if the Angels had somehow come back in that game, the Red Sox still had a good chance of winning it all.

Let's break down the rest of these, shall we? (I'll highlight in red what's wanted in each column to make the homerun more exciting):

YEAR BATTER SERIES GAME INNING SCORE OUTS MEN ON COUNT
1960 Mazerowski WS 7 of 7 9th 9-9 0 0 1-0
1976 Chambliss ALCS 5 of 5 9th 6-6 0 0 0-0
1993 Carter WS 6 of 7 9th 5-6 1 2 2-2
1999 Pratt NLDS 4 of 5 10th 3-3 1 0  1-0
2003 Boone ALCS 7 of 7 11th 5-5 0 0 0-0
2004 Ortiz ALDS 3 of 5 10th 6-6 2 1 0-0
2005 Burke NLDS 4 of 5 18th 6-6 1 0 2-0
2006 Ordonez NLCS 4 of 7 9th 3-3 2 2 1-0
2014 Ishikawa NLCS 5 of 7 9th 3-3 1 2 2-0

What do we notice?

First, all of the die-or-die games involved the Yankees. They won two ALCSes that way and lost the big one in '60. 

And isn't it amazing how many of these games were knotted up by divisibles of three? Three of them were 3-3, three were 6-6, one was 9-9. Only Carter's (5-6) and Boone's (5-5) weren't.

Carter's was the only one where his team was behind, too. For all the others, it was a tie game. He was also the only guy behind in the count: 2-2. Nobody else even had a strike on them.

But if Carter's homer is highlighted in red three times in the above chart—indicating a pretty high level of excitement—why don't I think of it that way? Why do I think of it as ... dull?

Here:

  1. It wasn't the final game of the Series; it was just Game 6 of 7.
  2. There was only one out. 
  3. The Blue Jays were going to win it all anyway.

This last one is an intangible, not much talked about by statsheads, but it's huge to me. I was watching that game in '93, and once Mitch Williams started walking guys and giving up hits you knew it was over. His only out that inning was a fly ball to deep left by Devon White. The Blue Jays, back then, were the bad boys of baseball. They'd won it all in '92 and the Phillies seemed monumentally overmatched against them in '93. It's a wonder they won two games.

Who's the underdog? That's the intangible. That's why Aaron Boone's homer in '03 was more annoying than exciting. Sure, his team came from behind in the bottom of the 8th against one of the best pitchers in baseball history to tie it; but his team was the New York Effin' Yankees. In the previous seven years, they'd been to the World Series five times, and won it all four times. They're the definition of the overdog. 

Chambliss' in '76? A little better since the Yankees hadn't been to the Series since '64 and hadn't won it all since '62. But that team was already annoying. They were Billy Martin's bulliles. No one outside of the Bronx liked them. Plus the Kansas City Royals had never even been. And there went their first shot. 

That's why, of the above, Mazeroski's is still the ultimate walkoff homerun. It was the do-or-die game for both teams, and his team, the Pittsburgh Pirates, was the massive underdog. And it was in the World Series, not the ALCS or the NLDS.

But how does Mazeroski's shot rank with Bobby Thomson's “Shot Heard 'Round the World”? And why isn't that one included in the above?

Because it wasn't officially the post-season. It was a best-of-three playoffs that was considered part of the regular season. Cf. Twins-Tigers in 2009, Mariners-Angels in 1995.

But if you did count it, it would look like this:

YEAR BATTER SERIES GAME INNING SCORE OUTS MEN ON COUNT
1951 Thomson n/a 3 of 3 9th 2-4 1 2  0-1

Do-or-die game, his team's behind (by 2!), he's behind in the count. Plus the Giants were underdogs. They'd been way behind in the standings all year, made a great run (with some telescopic help), and hadn't won the pennant in 14 years. Although, yes, just how much could the hapless Brooklyn Dodgers, Dem Bums, be “overdogs”? Not by much. Pennants in '47 and '49, but no titles. Ever. They were hardly the Yankees. And they'd integrated baseball.

It's close, though. Maz or Thomson? Who would you choose? My gut says Maz, since it was in the World Series and against the effin' Yankees. But that game was tied, while Thomson's team was two runs behind. Plus there's Russ Hodges' call—the greatest call of all time

What would the ultimate walkoff, series-ending homer look like? It should be for some hapless team, like the Mariners, against some powerhouse, like the Yankees or Cardinals. Extra innings would be great but not necessary. Maybe something like this:

YEAR BATTER SERIES GAME INNING SCORE OUTS MEN ON COUNT
2015 Busick WS 7 of 7 9th 1-4 2 3  3-2

Touch 'em all, Mr. B!

Posted at 08:54 AM on Oct 22, 2014 in category Baseball
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