Smith once wrote, of Bobby Thompson's "Shot
Heard 'Round the World", that "[t]he
art of fiction is dead. Reality has strangled
invention." This year, fiction is very much
alive and reality has strangled only the Twins.
It turned from a World Series that only Hollywood
could have imagined, to a World Series that anyone
could imagine, being played in Hollywood. The
Twins magical season is over.
But why such local rancor? Sure, the Twins made
mistakes. Lots of them. Their offense was frozen
against the Angels pitching: by now we all know
that Torii Hunter drove in a total of zero runs,
Jacque Jones' hit a resounding .100 (with but
two RBIs), and Corey Koskie stood at the plate
like some frightened first grader gaping at the
t-ball. Doug Mientkiewicz tried to defend his
team's meager output, suggesting that the Twins
were good at "small ball", and we shouldn't
expect big hits. Well, in our book, the "small
ball" theory argues that you get by on stolen
bases and bunts, neither of which the Twins had
in abundance. And what about the glaring mistakes,
the lack of fundamentals? We saw seven errors
by the best defense in baseball. During game five,
in the first inning, we watched in horror as David
Ortiz whacked a fastball, hurled his bat aside
and stood in the box to watch his ball sail way
back... to the wall. He barely made it in for
a double. Later, in the fifth, we were bewildered
by A.J. Pierzynski's thrill over having been thrown
out at second, having driven in but one run. Perhaps
he knew they would lose by eight. Only God knows
why the Twins heralded relief corps fell apart-maybe
they were running on fumes, having held the team
on their shoulders all year. Could that explain
why Johan Santana, with an 0-2 count on Adam Kennedy,
threw something other than junk? Did all the relievers
have to look so frightened?
The Twins were outplayed, pure and simple. Maybe
the pain of watching that ten-run seventh inning
has made us so quick to assign blame. But more
than anything else the Twins did wrong, the Angels
did right. They're unstoppable. Bellying up to
the buffet in the seventh, they respond to the
Twins three runs by moving around the bases like
Germans pouring across the Maginot Line. You could
say that the Twins were afraid, nervous, terrified,
and we'd agree-but fear alone didn't blow that
inning apart. It wasn't fear that upset David
Wells and the Yankees enough to rack eight runs
in the fifth inning of deciding game of the Division
Championship. The Angels are playing like a team
bent on winning. They hit when they needed, and
got the pitching that counts. When Mike Scioscia
needs someone to rise up for the team, a line
forms. Darin Erstad, Kennedy (who apparently doesn't
realize that you can't pad your regular season
HR totals in the playoffs), and newcomer Francisco
Rodriguez stepped up their game, unlike most of
the Twins, who shrank into theirs.
It is only with benefit of twenty-twenty hindsight
that you can really question some of Gardenhire's
decisions. From what we've heard, the backwards
glances aren't very observant. Fans ask: What
was he thinking with Rick Reed? Why stick with
Ortiz? Why not more Mohr? For starters, statistics
don't support some of the complaints. The last
time Reed pitched against the Angels, he went
the full nine, giving up three hits and one earned
run. Against Oakland, Boston and Seattle (the
three best teams he faced in the second half)
he went 21.2 innings, with a 2.97 ERA. Had Gardenhire
put Lohse in (as many suggested), and had Lohse-a
rookie-got clocked (as was the case with Santana,
the other alternative to that lousy Reed), we'd
hear nothing but complaints about how the greenhorn
manager ignored the above stats. Look, if there's
one thing that Gardenhire has done all year, he's
shown a remarkable loyalty to his players. Gardy
stuck with Reed in the post-season because he's
stuck with Reed through the whole year, period.
As for everything else, well, at least he's consistent.
Sacrifice bunts and stolen bases weren't his gig
against the Angels earlier, so why now? You might
question his strategies, but they're what got
the team this far in the first place. Did we already
forget that Gardenhire's wisdom helped an underdog
Twins team capture a Central Division title against
an overconfident-and hugely talented-Oakland team?
Many have argued that Tom Kelly would have taken
the Twins farther in the post season, and they
might be right. But under the hypercritical eye
of Kelly, would they have made it through their
injury prone first half? With Kelly at helm, we
might today be wondering why the White Sox consistently
lose in the first round.
Our Twins made mistakes, failed to execute, and
got spooked by than the toughest team in both
leagues. Anaheim came ready to play, and the Twins
were not quite there yet. Credit is owed to the
Angels more than ire is due to the Twins. The
future isn't quite now. Maybe it's next year.
THE ENORMOUS RADIO
Our childhood ended officially on
September 29 of this year, as Ernie Harwell retired
as broadcaster of the Detroit Tigers. More than
anyone else, Harwell was baseball in Michigan,
and we've enjoyed more games filtered through
his voice than any other medium.
there anything we could write that could truly
capture the beauty of this man's work? Harwell
wasn't a cheerleader, nor a harsh critic, but
he did have that voice, and it captured baseball
like nothing else. Writing about a man like Harwell,
there's not much to go on. A study of his biography
shows him to be a good man, with a few interesting
quirks (he's a songwriter), and a wealth of fascinating
baseball stories, many of which are collected
in his books (though he's not a great writer).
No, his success rests on his ability to take you
to the game without the intrusion of his personality.
Harwell never called attention to himself, and
never overstated his quips, as many broadcasters
do today. Ernie used our favorite-"He stood
there like the barn by the side of the road!"
for a called strike-but once a game, if that.
With Harwell, the Tigers were wherever you could
haul a radio. Ernie's voice could be heard throughout
the state every summer, when the Tigers won and
when they lost. Between blasts of the rivet guns
in the crushing factories of Detroit and Saginaw,
to the porches of the rickety cabins by the reedy
lakes, and even echoing from the cells of Jackson
Prison, Ernie took you away from the rough times,
or added another layer of joy to the good ones.
Ernie Harwell opened every spring
training broadcast with this verse from The Song
of Solomon: "For lo, the winter is past,
the rain is over and gone; the flowers appear
on the earth; the time of the singing of birds
is come; and the voice of the turtle is heard
in our land." Now he's gone. Who will tell
us that the winter is past, that the song of the
turtle is heard again?
SHADOW OF A DOUBT
Congratulations are due to Bud Selig
and the Lords of Baseball in this year's labor
fight. Make no mistake, the Owners were the clear
winners here. With the interests of baseball in
mind, they agreed to put off contraction until
2006 in exchange for ushering in the luxury tax.
Nothing for something... that's quite a deal.
We'll say it again: we do not believe the owners
were going to contract. This dry piece of
lint served just fine as a bargaining chip, and
the players, knowing that a strike would damage
the industry beyond belief, caved in. Look for
the contraction threat to rear its ugly head in
2006, when the "deadline" approaches,
and the Twins still don't have a new stadium (the
agreement also conveniently states that the owners
don't have to tell anyone which teams will be
Good Mr. Selig stands to reap great
benefits personally. His Milwaukee Brewers stand
to gain considerable million dollars from the
luxury tax. This is the same team that USA Today
recently reported is cutting an additional $18
million in salary by slicing away many of their
(admittedly mediocre) marquee players. This little
compromise brings in over $30 million bucks for
the Selig clan alone. This extra profit-without
bettering the teams-is precisely what the players
warned us against.
You may say, relax, pay attention
to baseball, we've got a good postseason coming.
Well, we're concerned, you see. Like to look at
the long term as well, what, what. Wouldn't it
be better to try and figure out ways to avoid
labor strife down the line? To create real competitive
While we don't have any magic bullet,
but we do believe that, in many ways, the players
ideas were valid, and in the best interest of
the sport. However, only Michael Dukakis could
have communicated them in a more unappealing manner.
We believe it's time for an alternative
commissioner. Right now, the players have only
Don Fehr as their mouthpiece, and he's not so
camera-friendly, if you know what we mean. But
rather than have some pro-labor puppet standing
at the podium, wouldn't it behoove the players
to hire some alternative? A shadow Commish? One
that the union chose, but, like the owners with
Landis, one who was independent from them, whose
decisions the players would abide, regardless
of whether they agreed. Don't believe that Selig's
ever going to step down, despite all the pundits
calling for his hide. True, it's fat chance that
this'll happen. Still, you have to dream, and
it's time someone thought of solutions for baseball
without having to rely solely on Selig or Fehr.
A MOVEABLE FEAST
Montreal to Washington? No? Well,
maybe Montreal to North Carolina, where the Twins
were supposed to go? Not that good, either, huh?
Maybe, as our close personal friend, Seal, used
to sing, it's time we got a little crazy.
We take our promotional cues from
Bill Veeck, and thus give you the following oddball
suggestion: why not, for one year, make the Expos
a barnstorming team? Six different locales for
the six different months? The National League
Barnstormers (just a suggestion) open the season
in Washington, D.C., where President George W.
Quayle throws out the first pitch in the grand
old tradition of the Senators of old. May sees
the squad tearing it up in... New Orleans? In
June, our wanderers go internacionale,
heading to Mexico City, Monterrey or even Puerto
Rico. In July, it's West, to Las Vegas, or Salt
Lake City. Cooling off, August is for Portland
(whose sportswriters keep trying to plug that
ville as Major League material). September sees
them... where? Vancouver or Edmonton? Sacramento?
North Carolina? Perhaps even Hawaii.
You'd be right to say that the stadiums
in many of those burgs wouldn't be much more than
minor league venues, but so what? They'd draw
better than Montreal (home average 10,025 per).
Plus, it's only one year. It might help MLB determine
the best place (and it's not Montreal) for this
team to perch the following season. Nothing like
it has ever been seen before, at least in the
Majors. Evoking the somewhat forgotten history
of the barnstormers, it would, above all else,
be great fun.
is trying their damnedest to make the Angels out
like some kind of incredible underdog, having
lost the rights to make the most of the Twins
Phoenix-like rise from the so-called contraction
ashes. Then again, perhaps more movers and shakers
read Mudville than we realize. Readers may recall
that it was our suggestion back in July to put
the Angels on the chopping block ("Where
Angels Fear to Tread", May issue).
Since it's unlikely that the muckitymucks at Fox
are readers, we have to point out that the Angels
aren't much more Cinderella than San Francisco,
what with Dusty Baker & Co making the Giants
overachievers of the year (again). True, the Angels
have never been in a World Series, but the Giants
haven't won since they moved West over forty four
Is it any mistake that the two remaining
teams are those which played in the toughest divisions?
New York feasted on Tampa and Toronto, while St.
Louie and Atlanta consistently play the likes
of Pittsburgh, Milwaukee, and, for this year,
the Mets. 'Seems pretty even to us-although the
Angels fire doesn't look to be extinguished any
time soon. Our prediction: Anaheim in five over
San Francisco (two wins, one loss, two wins).
Three articles stick out in this
month's Baseball Digest: "Never Say
Die Guys", about teams that don't give up
(like this year's Angels). Since we're keen on
catchers, "Sustaining a Long Career",
which highlights the careers of weak-hitting catchers
who endure (like Minnesota's Tom Prince), is also
given the nod. Last but not least, thanks are
given to the fans whose letters to Baseball
Digest are amongst the most enlightening pieces
on baseball as can be found anywhere. That the
editors publish so many is also worthy of praise.
Keep up the good work.
The September 23rd New Yorker
(find it at the library) has an intriguing article
on Billy Beane of the Oakland A's. "The Buffett
of Baseball" (as in Warren not Jimmy), it
suggests that Beane's SABRmetrics approach to
training ballplayers is paying off. However, this
question is left unanswered: is it interesting?
With few stolen bases and sacrifice bunts (which
we believe are successful and exciting), are the
A's fun to watch? Is this lack of a flexible offense
the reason they can't move past the first round?
Or why they never attract great crowds (with an
average not much better than the Metrodome)? Perhaps
it is no mistake that the accompanying illustration
shows a ballplayer smacking an abacus.
Last but not least-and not about
baseball whatsoever-check out the September edition
of Britain's Sight and Sound magazine (still
at bookstores). "The Ten Best Films of All
Time" is intriguing in much the same way
that the Modern Library's mishandled 100 best
books of the century is not: its results are not
from some Star Chamber of fuddy-duddies, but collected
from a poll of critics and filmmakers around the
world, including Camille Paglia, David Denby,
Quentin Tarantino, Jim Jarmusch, and many others.
Considering it comes with a free paperback copy
of Pauline Kael's analysis of "Citizen Kane",
and is published but once a decade, it is essential
reading. That is, unless you're hoping to see
"Bull Durham" listed.
As usual, keep
us posted with your favorite scribes.