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Friday, October 31, 2003

TONY THE TIGER, PART 2 of a 4-part series

Yesterday we examined Tony La Russa's leadership style. Today we put him back under the microscope and take a look at...


DOES HE FAVOR A SET LINEUP OR A ROTATION SYSTEM? It’s a merry-go-round. This past year, La Russa used 125 different lineups, the most of any manager in baseball. In fact, he used his most frequent single lineup (what’s commonly called an “opening day lineup”) only six times. In several other years TLR has led the league in number of lineups used.

But there is a method to La Russa’s madness. He claims that his lineup machinations give his primary players rest while cultivating depth and preventing moral decay in the reserve ranks. Indeed, La Russa’s record down the stretch – 73-36 in September over the past four years – lends some credence to his thinking.

DOES HE GO WITH PROVEN PLAYERS OR YOUNGSTERS WHO STILL HAVE SOMETHING TO PROVE? Early on, La Russa liked taking chances on young guys. In Chicago and Oakland, he made regulars out of Harold Baines, Tony Bernazard, Vance Law, Rudy Law, Ron Kittle, Terry Steinbach, Mark McGwire, and Jose Canseco.

But as La Russa has gotten older, so have his teams. This year the Cardinals were the oldest team in baseball, with our average player 31 years old (courtesy of gray-beards Cal Eldred, Jeff Fassero, Lance Painter, Woody Williams, and Joe Girardi). And for the past several years La Russa has clearly favored age over youth. In 1996 he found 143 at bats for Mike Gallego despite his .224 slugging percentage (at the time TLR said, “Gallego plays second base the way Ozzie Smith plays shortstop”). In 1997 he handed the third-base job to Gary Gaetti (38) over David Bell (24). In 1998 he usually went with Tom Pagnozzi (age 35) or Tom Lampkin (34) over Eli Marrero (24). In 1999 La Russa favored grizzled Shawon Dunston over young Adam Kennedy. That same year he demoted J.D. Drew to Memphis in favor of 34-year-old Thomas Howard and 40-year-old Willie McGee (Drew was still fighting for playing time by May of the following year, despite slugging .700 and leading the team in homers). In 2000 he picked Rick Wilkins over Keith McDonald as his third-string catcher. And in 2001 La Russa’s starting third baseman out of spring training was Bobby Bonilla (38), not Albert Pujols (21).

La Russa has made regulars out of very few players in his eight years in St. Louis. And even when he does plug youngsters into the lineup, he keeps them on a short leash, often replacing them with a veteran whenever he gets the chance. Dmitri Young was our starting first baseman in ’97, but he was soon swapped in favor of John Mabry (and later Mark McGwire). La Russa pegged Marrero as his starting catcher for 1999, but he handed the role to Matheny then next year. Joe McEwing was his second baseman in ’99, but Vina took his job in ’00. In fact, there are only 3 position players in St. Louis who La Russa broke in as regulars for any appreciable time: Drew, Polanco, and Pujols.

You might conclude, then, that La Russa simply likes old guys and distrusts youngsters. But I don’t think that’s quite right. For example, La Russa has called young Albert Pujols the best player he’s ever had (choosing him over vets McGwire or Rickey Henderson). And even though La Russa intended to start Bonilla at third back in 2001, he still recognized Pujols’ strengths at the time and plugged him into the lineup while others (notably Baseball Prospectus here) urged him to give the kid another year in AAA.

So no, I don’t think La Russa’s necessarily plays favorites according to age. I think it’s more that he favors a certain kind of ballplayer – sturdy, hard-working types who don’t complain, so-called “winners.” Some of these guys are quite young: Joe McEwing, Bo Hart, Rolen, Pujols. But it so happens that most sturdy, hard-working, reliable guys are older rather than younger (indeed, that’s true of most professions).

On the flip side, La Russa absolutely abhors players who he perceives as lackadaisical or uncommitted to winning: the aforementioned Drew, Stephenson, Tomko, Bud Smith, Fernando Tatis. The end result is that TLR frequently doles out playing time not necessarily by age, but based on certain character traits. Tino Martinez offers a good illustration – when he first came to St. Louis he had a reputation as a gamer; but as he complained more and more, La Russa played him less and less. He didn’t get a free pass because he was a veteran – he simply landed in La Russa’s doghouse, which is like Alcatraz for ballplayers fighting for ABs.

DOES HE PREFER TO GO WITH OFFENSIVE PLAYERS OR DOES HE LIKE THE GLOVE MEN? La Russa seems to like good leather up the middle, particularly at catcher (he’ll take a glove-minded catcher over a bat-minded one any day of the week). That’s one of the reasons Mike Matheny has kept his job, despite putrid hitting numbers and terrible platoon splits. Otherwise TLR has had the luxury of guys who are fine players on both sides of the ball. Edmonds, Rolen, Renteria, Drew, Lankford, Jordan – all of them very strong on offense and defense.

As for his role players, La Russa loves those multi-positional in-betweeners – Marrero, Polanco, Cairo, Paquette, Gallego, Eduardo Perez, Wilson Delgado. Even if a guy isn’t naturally suited to play several positions (someone like, say, Pujols or Shawon Dunston), La Russa will assign him additional fielding positions. To underscore this point, La Russa once declared, “I believe if you had really good pitching and 13 Placido Polancos, you’d win 100 games.” This perfectly suits La Russa’s dream of an ever-shifting, mix-and-match, tinkertoy ballclub.

DOES HE LIKE AN OFFENSE BASED ON POWER, SPEED, OR HIGH AVERAGES? La Russa and Jocketty have built a team based on power. In 1995, the year before La Russa took over, the Cardinals were second to last in the league in homers (our starting infielders had a grand total of 5, 5, 2, 3, and 5 home runs). In ’96, La Russa’s ballclub added Gant and Gaetti and climbed to 11th of 14 teams in home runs. After that their power numbers took off. Every year for the last six (except for 2001), we’ve finished in the top 4 in team homers. We finished first in ’98 and ’00, and third the last two years, despite playing in a neutral park for gopher balls.

DOES HE USE THE ENTIRE ROSTER, OR DOES HE KEEP PEOPLE SITTING AROUND ON THE BENCH? As Bill James once wrote about La Russa, “if they’d let him carry 30 people, he’d use them all.” In this way TLR resembles Herzog, who frequently said if they’re good enough to be on his roster, they’re good enough to play. Everyone on La Russa’s ballclub can count on 150 ABs a year, whether it’s Mike Difelice, Pat Kelly, Bobby Bonilla, or Luis Ordaz. And these aren’t all garbage-time at bats either – La Russa will use these guys in the most critical situations, which is one reason players tend to enjoy playing for La Russa’s teams.

DOES HE BUILD HIS BENCH AROUND YOUNG PLAYERS OR VETERAN ROLE PLAYERS? His benches are a mix of veterans and youngsters, but they’re all role players. Each has a specific function – i.e., there are very few guys just taking their licks and being groomed as regulars.

La Russa famously ushered in the era of hyper-specialization with this pitching staff, and he’s somewhat similar with his bench players as well. He obsesses over every platoon advantage, sometimes leaving himself shorthanded late in games in order to find the handiest role player as soon as possible.

On Monday we'll return with part 3 of our series on Tony La Russa, when we take a look at his sometimes notorious, always intriguing use of in-game strategies.

LITTLE GRADY Ben Jacobs of Universal Baseball Blog, Inc. defends the firing of Grady Little up in Boston. I encourage you to read his whole argument; it's one of the most well-reasoned opinion pieces I've read in a long time.

(Is Universal Baseball Blog, Inc. -- with its shout-out to Robert Coover -- the coolest blog name out there? Might be. Although The Eddie Kranepool Society and Elephants in Oakland give it a serious run for the money.)

THE CURSED BAMBINO Zach Everson suggests that the Yankees -- yes, the New York Yankees -- are actually more cursed than the Boston Red Sox. How? Just look at the fates of New York's biggest stars: Babe Ruth (died young), Lou Gehrig (died very young), Joe DiMaggio (died bitter and alone), Mickey Mantle (died regretful), Roger Maris (died with an asterisk), Billy Martin (died drunk-driving), Thurmon Munson (died younger than Gehrig), and Catfish Hunter (died young). Meanwhile, Ted Williams was paraded around Fenway Park before the '99 All-Star Game with generous tears welling in his eyes.

BETSY NEWMARK compares baseball's postseason to the electoral college. Huh?, you ask. Well, each game of the postseason has a winner-takes-all format, similar to winning a state's electoral votes -- that is, a one-run squeaker is the same as a ten-run blowout. The end result is the same for postseasons as it is for elections. Al Gore (or poor Benjamin Harrison) can win the popular vote, but not the states' electoral votes, just as the Yankees can outscore the Marlins and lose the series. Square, I know, but I dig analogies like that.

Thursday, October 30, 2003

TONY THE TIGER, PART 1 of a 4-part series

Does Tony La Russa suck?

If you tune into KMOX sports open line, especially after another one-run Cardinals loss, you’ll certainly hear an answer. But if you open up the Post-Dispatch and read a column by Jeff Gordon, an organizational shill if there ever was one, you’ll hear a completely different answer. Log on to a chat room at STLToday, however, where fans are inventing new emoticons to express their feelings about the Cardinals manager, and you’ll hear yet another viewpoint.

But the question – not just does La Russa suck?, but does any manager truly suck? – is notoriously difficult to answer, for a couple of reasons. First of all, the job itself is not transparent. Much of what goes on in managing takes place behind closed doors, away from the press – like whether to have a private meeting with a struggling young player, or when to ignore the urgings of your advance scouts, or how to synthesize the contradictory messages from your pitching coach and your medical staff. In fact, sometimes you can’t fully assess a manager’s career until it ends, when secrets are made public, or when the manager and his players publish their memoirs.

What’s more, it’s my belief that very few managers are blanket good or blanket bad. Most bring different things to the table, with strengths and weaknesses depending on the team at hand. For example, a veteran club like the Yankees probably wouldn’t respond to a ranting bullwhipper like Billy Martin or Dick Williams; a hand’s-off skipper like Joe Torre or Sparky Anderson seems more up their alley. But change the team, the town, the front office, and the personnel, and suddenly you find that Billy Martin’s weaknesses are strengths, and Sparky Anderson is a three-time world champion struggling to keep his team over .350.

In that spirit, I’m trying to avoid easy verdicts about La Russa’s fitness for office – does he suck? is not what I’m after. Instead I’m looking for La Russa’s tendencies, his likes and dislikes, what he brings to the table. During the next few days I’ll be asking a number of questions about La Russa’s roster usage, his in-game strategies, and his approach to the pitching staff, in an attempt to see the man for who he truly is. The questions themselves are taken from the managerial boxes Bill James presented in both his 1984 Baseball Abstract and in his Guide to Baseball Managers. With a few answers and educated guesses, we might gain a better understanding of who this Tony La Russa character really is, and whether he’s the right guy to manage the Cardinals in 2004 and beyond.

Today we’ll ask a few questions about La Russa’s leadership style, and then we’ll get into the more tactical matters on Friday, Monday, and Tuesday.

AGE: 59

RECORD AS MANAGER: 2,009-1789, .529, 25 years, 9 division titles, 3 pennants, one ring.

RECORD AS CARDINALS MANAGER: 689-606, .532, 8 years (third longest tenure of any current manager), four division titles, no rings (not yet, anyway).

WHAT WAS HE LIKE AS A PLAYER? In a word: dogged. La Russa was a sub-Mendoza hitter in the majors, but he held on for a solid 16-year minor-league career as a middle infielder, largely by weathering a series of injuries, the worst of which was a torn tendon in his throwing arm that still bothers him today. “That’s the only place I give myself any slack,” says La Russa of his playing career. “I didn't give in to the injuries and the pain. I had guts, and I wasn’t going to just give up or disappear.”

One of the storylines in Michael Lewis’ Moneyball is how Billy Beane has kept his vow never to draft players like himself (that is, toolsy athletes with little discipline). La Russa, on the other hand, tends to favor younger versions of himself: multi-positional middle infielders, hangers-on, and hard-workers with immense drive and stick-to-it-iveness.


IS HE AN INTENSE MANAGER OR MORE OF AN EASY-TO-GET-ALONG-WITH TYPE? Oh, I’d say he’s intense. Just watch him in the dugout – he paces around, brooding, jaw clenched, kicking paper cups. He’s as into the game as any of his players. One time in Montreal he leaped up in anticipation of an extra-base hit and banged his head on the dugout ceiling.

And his intensity remains long after the game ends. A couple years ago he refused to wear the same jersey after the Cardinals had lost; another time he cast aside a pen he believed had cursed a bad road trip. After each game, he replays his every decision on blue notecards, churning over his mistakes, often taking hours to decompress. Says La Russa, “The losses, they go way past midnight.”

La Russa sometimes takes out this intensity on the guys under him. “I'm a believer in pressuring our players,” he says. “You never accomplish anything unless you feel the pressure.” This past year he had run-ins with Garrett Stephenson, Fernando Vina, Tino Martinez, and Brett Tomko. While managing the A’s he memorably tagged Ruben Sierra, his own player, the Village Idiot. And he once barked at a lollygagging Jose Canseco, “Do that again and I’ll knock you on your ass.”

IS HE MORE OF AN EMOTIONAL LEADER OR A DECISION-MAKER? A decision-maker. La Russa is emotional, for sure, and occasionally his intensity rubs off on his team (or, as in the wake of Darryl Kile’s death, the team adopts his focus and resolve). But he’s definitely more of the hard-working, legalistic, advance-planning type than a leader of men. He’s certainly not a warm fuzzy, as even longtime Cardinals coach George Kissel admits: “He doesn’t get as close to players as he probably should… He keeps people out there and is not going to be a holly-jolly guy.”

La Russa has frequently been criticized as a poor communicator. Shortly before his trade to San Diego in early August of 2001, Ray Lankford griped, “The guy who is the manager probably hasn’t talked to me since June. Like I’m punished. Like I’m grounded. I’m a grown man!” These unplesantries recall an even splashier charge, first made public by Ron Gant: that La Russa doesn’t like black players.

Said Gant after his trade to Philadelphia: “Rickey Henderson didn’t like him. Royce Clayton didn’t like him. He treated Ozzie Smith like dirt. Brian Jordan didn’t like him.” You can even add Mike Easler to this list, an ex-Cardinals batting coach who nearly sued the Cardinals for his unceremonious firing a couple years back. And indeed, if you look at the guys who assume leadership positions on La Russa’s teams – guys like McGwire, Rolen, Kile, Edmonds, the superstars who stay in St. Louis at a reduced salary – they’re invariably white.

But ultimately I find the racism charge unfounded. La Russa’s a stubborn guy, and he’s butted heads with whites as well as blacks – Andy Van Slyke and Jeff Brantley come to mind. He’s an equal-opportunity pisser-offer. And my reading of the Ozzie Smith situation is that Ozzie is an asshole who was too proud to platoon with a younger player (Royce Clayton, a black man, by the way), then used his stature in the community to make La Russa look bad to the St. Louis media.

As for relations with other minorities, La Russa seems to have a great rapport with Latino players. His Mom was Spanish, which became the first language in his home growing up, and the language La Russa still speaks with players such as Edgar Renteria and Albert Pujols.

(If you’re looking for a more legitimate charge of managerial racism – although I find this anecdote more silly than anything else – there’s a story told by Mike Shropshire in his book about the 1973-75 Rangers, a story that was repeated and verified by Whitey Herzog on Bobby Costas’ show Later: When Bill Madlock first arrived with the Texas Rangers, he walked into Whitey’s office and introduced himself. Whitey shook his hand, told Madlock to sit down, and then called security. Whitey thought, “this guy cannot be the real Bill Madlock. No black guys are called ‘Bill.’ Every black guy I've ever known or heard of whose given name is ‘William’ goes by Willie or Billie. Only white guys go by ‘Bill’.” Evidently Herzog had never heard of 11-time NBA champion Bill Russell.)

IS HE MORE OF AN OPTIMIST OR A PROBLEM SOLVER? La Russa is not one to simply live with his problems; he does whatever he can to take corrective action. An optimistic manager is likely to be a salesman; he’ll emphasize strengths rather than weaknesses, go with the hand dealt to him and try to make good. That’s not La Russa at all. He’s constantly shuffling his personnel, dwelling on perceived weaknesses rather than perceived strengths (case in point: J.D. Drew).

What’s more, La Russa likes to remake his teams with “his” guys, starting with his cadre of coaches (Dave Duncan, Dave McKay, etc.), and trickling down to his benches, his bullpens, and so on. In fact, the late-90’s Cardinals were densely populated with guys who played for La Russa in Oakland: Dennis Eckersley, Mike Gallego, Scott Hemond, Willie McGee, Todd Stottlemyre, Rick Honeycutt, Mark McGwire, Mike Mohler, Bobby Witt,Craig Paquette, and coaches Carney Lansford and Dave Parker. Some pundits called us the St. Louis Athletics, but St. Louis La Russas would have been more accurate. We still have, undoubtedly, a team made in La Russa's own image.

Check out Redbird Nation tomorrow for part 2 of our series on Tony La Russa, when we'll examine his approach to hitting and roster construction.

Wednesday, October 29, 2003

YOURS IF YOU WANT HIM If everyone in St. Louis scrapes together ten bucks or so and contributes it to the Cardinals, we can have Manny Ramirez, no strings attached. Seriously.

Tuesday, October 28, 2003

St. Louis, Misery
As the tartar sauce sits unused in Pac Bell, Wrigley, and Yankee Stadium, Cardinal fans throughout the Nation are forced to endure another long winter thinking about what was missed, yet again. Much ink and cyberspace will be used to discuss what went wrong, what should have been, and what can be done to remedy it all for next year, for the Cardbirds as well as for 28 other teams.

It’s now been 21 seasons since the Birds won it all. The Cardinals are creeping up on the longest drought of their existence. Consider this – a Cardinal fan born in 1906 could have lived a very productive life, cheering on such Champions as the ’26 Yankee Beaters, the Gashouse Gang, the wartime Swifites, the El Birdos in the 1960s, and Whitey’s Runnin’ Redbirds. Hopefully he could hang around long enough to see the 1996 team give it a good run. Such a fan would have had to endure only one really extended championship drought, that of 1946 to 1964. That’s 17 seasons.

What about a fan born in 1971? That same fan -- let’s call him Me -- has now gone 23 seasons since the Objects of Our Obsession won it all. While it has been great fun watching a contending team these past few years, and rooting for the track team back in the pennant-winners of ’85 and ’87, there seems to be an attendant misery for fans in Missouri that is gaining in strength.

What is this misery? Well, what defines misery for a baseball fan? If you are like me you got a bit tired of hearing about the Cubs’ 95-year drought while watching them this Fall. It’s an amazing thing, for sure, but after the eleventh “You know, when the Cubs last won the Series they were posting scores on the cave walls in mastodon blood” reference, I had just about had it.

Is what Cub fans have gone through misery? Or is misery getting your team to a series-clinching game and losing 8 straight times, like Oakland? How about getting close then blowing a 3-1 lead (1985 and 1996 anyone)? How about freak events that somehow derail your seemingly unimpeded path to victory (Denkinger, Buckner, Bartman, Dent, Eric Gregg – see 1997 NLCS). How about Donnie Moore? He should get his own category. Is stuff like that worse than not getting there at all?

To study this I came up with a completely arbitrary and unscientific “Fan Happiness” formula. The time period I chose to cover was the last 25 years. This period covers basically my own living memory of baseball. I do sort of remember the 3-pitches, 3-homers performance of Reggie Jackson in the ’77 World Series but that may be because as a six-year old I though the name Burt Hooten was just about the funniest thing of all time.

25 years is also a nice number giving us, obviously, 25 World Champions, 50 Pennants, 10 Division Championship Series (I am including the 1981 strike-induced mini-playoffs), and 140 possible playoff appearances. There is some sort of artificial symmetry to these round numbers. Finally, 29 of the 30 MLB teams have gone to the postseason at least once in this period, which makes for something.

Side note – for all the self-pity Cub fans have been showering upon themselves (and in which the rest of the nation got a university-level course via ESPN and Fox), consider that they have been to the playoffs four times in the past 19 years. This generation of Cub fans needs to look at their parents and grandparents for the real angst. 1946 to 1984 is a REALLY long time to go without a sniff of October. For all my disgust with the usual Cub nonsense, this fact cannot be ignored and the fans who are now about 65 are the ones who really deserve the most pity. Well, people who bought this deserve some pity, or ridicule, if you really think about it.

Back to misery. I figure that, for all the pratfalls and intensified hurt that accompanies postseason meltdowns, just making it there is a huge accomplishment for a team and its fans. The clincher is at least one fun game isn’t’ it? Think we won’t go crazy the next time the Cards win the Central? Now, admittedly, if you win your division several times in a short span of years, fans get finicky and tend to “reserve” some of their whoops for what they hope will be bigger and better things. See – Atlanta. Of course, that isn’t always true. A team could be on its way to its third division title but circumstances occur that make its victories much more meaningful – see 2002 Cardinals.

So, with the understanding that a division champion like the 2003 Cubs brings its fans much more joy than one like the 2003 Yankees, I accept that caveat and boldly go ahead with the formula. Here it is – one point for reaching the postseason, two points for winning a DCS series (including 1981), 5 points for winning the pennant, 10 points for winning the World Series. Additionally, there is a subtraction of 3 points for an “LCS heartbreak” and 5 points for a “World Series Heartbreak” and further subtraction for “Agony Points.” Any team that blows a 3-1 series lead automatically qualifies for Heartbreak. Any team holding a big lead in a deciding game that ends up losing qualifies for heartbreak. The Agony Points are assigned for hard to quantify things like Oakland’s inability to close out series, a team that has won it all in the last 25 years but is currently in a huge drought (like the Royals), and other intangibles. Bonus points come in for teams that break a huge drought (’84 Cubs, 2002 Angels) or accomplish something special (2001 Mariners - 116 wins).

After adding up the points I came up with an “Enjoyment Number” and a “Per-Year Score” (to take into account the success of the Marlins and D-Backs). Not surprisingly, Los Yanquis, with their 5 World Series wins, lead the way with a whopping 111 points. The top ten, with point scores:

1. Yankees 111
2. Braves 59
3. Dodgers 41
4. Marlins 36
5. Twins 36
6. Blue Jays 36
7. A’s 35
8. Cardinals 29
9. Mets 28
10. Orioles 27

The bottom five

30. Expos -1
29. Devil Rays 0
28. Cubs 1
27. Rockies 1

So, according to this formula, even though Cardinal Nation is in a Steinbeckian drought, we have a bit more to be thankful for than 22 other fan bases. That ’82 season goes a long way.

Some interesting things – The monotonous success of the Braves simply cannot be ignored, for all the talk of “blown chances” and postseason meltdowns. Also, while the Cubs have gone into the playoffs four times, the heartbreaks in 1984 and 2003 wipe out all but one of the happiness points they may have had.

Some teams that are "hanging on" in the formula as a result of long-ago glory: Brewers, Royals, Pirates, Tigers. None of these teams has even been close for ten years or more. They are currently ranked above teams that have been in it a lot recently but haven’t put it all together, such as the Astros, Red Sox, and Giants. (Boston’s ’86 and ’03 Heartbreaks don’t help them much...) These rankings are the result of a formula that assumes misery is abated for several years by winning a World Championship. This is, of course, eminently debatable. I mean, look, the Dodgers are ranked high mostly because of their wins in’81 and ’88. But really, who's had more fun the last ten years, Los Angelenos or Cardinal Nation? Blowing holes in my own formula, I know...

Since the Marlins and Diamondbacks are mere infants in their baseball lives but have still accomplished something that Houston, Milwaukee, San Diego, Seattle, Texas, and Montreal never have, I came up with a “per year” figure of fan happiness that, not surprisingly, came out like this:

1. Yankees 4.44
2. Diamondbacks 3.33
3. Marlins 3.27
4. Braves 2.36
5. Dodgers 1.64
6. Twins 1.44
7. Blue Jays 1.44
8. A’s 1.40
9. Cardinals 1.16
10. Mets 1.12

So there’s the formula, but is it at all accurate? Depends. I mean, could the fans of, say, Cleveland claim more happiness from their powerhouse teams in the '90s that won two pennants and were a perennial contender than the fans of the Angels, who had close calls in ’79 and ’86 (a heartbreak) before monkeying their way to the ring in 2002? Or do fans need those crushing times to make the good one feel better? How many times did you hear “Marlins fans don’t deserve this” over the last few weeks?

Is misery a pre-requisite to championship euphoria? There seems to be some validity to that. Remember a few years back when the Yankees were closing in on their 700th championship on the wave of yet another record-breaking payroll? Well, how about the misery of Joe Torre, who had just lost his brother and had his own health issues? I am not in any way making light of either of these things here; just pointing out that the contrast between a present victory and previous misery makes for a sweeter win.

Enough. This is all a rhetorical exercise by a Cardinal fan currently living in the Chicago Cub Lair of Woefulness. The talk of agony and curses and foul balls here in Dustyville has rendered me batty. If you stop and think about it (to apply sensitivity training to the whole thing), the Cardinals should be due to win in about 7 more years. 30 teams, each team gets to win a year. Sounds like a modern day PE class: “Here’s your ribbon! You were the best at everything, just like everybody else!”

That’s not the way it works, though. (Thankfully.) Each year 29 teams go home unhappy and one gets to enjoy it all for about five minutes before the speculation begins about whether they can do it again.

Misery? Fans need misery. Misery begets hope. Hope generates interest, interest turns to obsession, and obsession turns to ecstasy on those rare moments when it all goes your way. Here’s hoping we’ll know what that is again, next year.

THE WHITE RAT So Whitey Herzog, suffering from McKeon envy, wants to manage the Red Sox. (Here's the article; the headline cracked me up.)

Whitey is one of the best managers I've ever seen, but I wonder how well he'd do under a GM who's less than half his age. After all, Whitey's stubborn as hell, and he seems to be getting more curmudgeonly with age.

I think Whitey would do better in an organization where he has more control and plays a bigger part in rebuilding. Few people remember that Whitey, as director of player development for the Mets in the mid-'60s, was largely responsible for assembling the team that went on to win the crown in '69 (and the NL flag in '73). He also helped put together champions in Kansas City, Anaheim, and, of course, St. Louis. In my opinion Whitey's talents would be better served by filling the manager's vacancy in a town that could truly use him -- that means Baltimore, not Boston.

HERE'S A NICE RUNDOWN of the top major- and minor-league free agents on the market this winter.

Sunday, October 26, 2003

THE 2006 YANKEES Interesting tidbit from bizball guru Doug Pappas:

The Yanks' $164 million payroll this year was more than three times greater than the Marlins' $54 million. Perhaps even more astonishing, the Yankees already have a payroll well in excess of $54 million... for the 2006 season. Giambi, Jeter, Mussina, and Bernie Williams, all by themselves, stand to make $69 million three years from now, guaranteed. Pappas continues,

The figures above are conservative. They assume that no options will be exercised, and don't include yet-unpaid portions of signing bonuses, which would push the Yankees' future commitments well over $400 million... The Yankees already have to replace or re-sign three members of their 2003 starting rotation. Irreplaceable closer Mariano Rivera's contract expires after the 2004 season. The farm system has no one likely to help before at least 2006. This could get very, very ugly.

Or very, very beautiful, depending on the eye of the beholder.

Saturday, October 25, 2003

BECKETT, UNASSISTED What a fitting end to this game and this World Series, with Josh Beckett taking it by himself to tag out Posada and finish off his 2-0 complete-game masterpiece.

I was among the fans who applauded Jack McKeon even before the game for going with Beckett on three days rest (although I didn't put it in writing, so feel free to call me a bullshitter if you like). Sure, McKeon had a game to play with, but who was his alternative to start Game 6? Mark Redman? Dontrelle Willis? Rick Helling? Uh-uh. Beckett was the right call before the game and a righter call after the game. Like Jack Morris in Minnesota, Beckett will be a hero forever in South Florida.

Jack McKeon's a great story, of course -- 72-year-old guy, never won squat, enjoying his retirement with his grandkids when he got the call to helm the Marlins -- but more than all that, he gave the single best postseason managerial performance I've ever seen (that covers about the last 25 years). He pulled all the right strings -- relaxed and conservative when he needed to be; bloodthirsty and aggressive when it came time for that.

The Marlins now have as many world titles as the Cubs, Indians, and White Sox, and one more than the Philadelphia Phillies. I still can't quite grasp that they went into the House That Ruth Built and kicked the mighty Yanks right in the teeth, Aura and Mystique be damned. There were about umpteen moments during Game 6 where I was convinced the ghosts of Yankee Stadium would rear their maggoted heads, but each time Beckett quelled the possibility.

It's become fashionable nowadays to say that the postseason is a crapshoot, that the sample size of games are so small that you may as well determine the winners by rolling D&D dice. And indeed, the Yankees scored more runs this series than the Marlins, and had they squared off with them over 162 games we might have seen a different result. Nevertheless, over the past week the Marlins exposed nearly every one of the Yankees weaknesses -- their poor up-the-middle defense (Enrique Wilson's gaffe in Game 5, Jeter's costly error earlier tonight), an aging starting rotation (Wells' back giving out in Game 5), their shaky middle relief (Weaver blowing Game 4, Contreras blowing up the next night), and their inexplicably streaky hitting (their approach at the plate was frequently awful, particularly from Boone and Soriano).

Initiative Media, a media buyer for large corporations, did a ratings study during the league championship series and concluded that the Marilns-Yankees matchup would receive the lowest ratings of the four possible outcomes (with Cubs-Red Sox first, Cubs-Yanks second, and Sox-Marlins third). I don't care. For the third year in a row we were treated to a fanstastic World Series, chock full of memorable images: Pudge picking off Nick Johnson; Cabrera's opposite-field bomb off of Clemens; Clemens punching out Castillo on his last trip to the mound and the standing O that came right after; Sierra's two-strike game-tying triple; A-Gonz jacking that 331-foot walk-off homer; Bernie Williams' warning track flyout against Ugie Urbina; Gonzalez pulling off one of the most athletic slides I've ever seen to score the eventual Series-winning run; Beckett tagging out Posada to become a legend; and the sheer joy on Pudge's face as he lept into Beckett's arms. A great series, a great postseason, a great season...

Stay tuned to Redbird Nation this week, as we'll be unveiling our multi-part analysis of that strange, puzzling, hot-wired man by the name of Tony La Russa.

CHICAGO CUBS, EVILDOERS Greg Couch, who did some great reporting for the Chicago Sun-Times on the Cubs ticket scalping scams last Spring, now tells us that the Cubs are holding on to money they received for advance World Series ticket orders. They're automatically applying the money to next season's season ticket purchases, but in the meantime -- season ticket orders aren't due until January -- the club pockets several million dollars in interest, enough to pay for, say, Aramis Ramirez's 2004 salary ($6 million).

And this is the team we're supposed to feel sorry for? The one the national media misses so much from the World Series?

THE INTERNET BASEBALL AWARDS are now official and posted online. These awards are quite honestly more meaningful to me than the actual BBWAA awards, if only because there are smarter seamhead types voting on them. For example, Alex Rodriguez has now won 3 Internet AL MVP Awards, but got jobbed by the pro writers in '96, '01, '02, etc. (Then again, you do get a few jokers for the IBAs too, like the guy who had Matt Kinney as his #1 choice for NL Cy Young -- but by and large these errors have no impact on the final tally.)

Here are some notable finishers:

NL Cy Young
1. Bonds
2. Pujols
3. Sheffield
4. Javy Lopez
5. Thome
11. Renteria
15. Edmonds
18. Rolen
64. Morris
82. Woody Williams

NL Cy Young
1. Prior
2. Gagne
3. Schmidt
14. Woody Williams
23. Morris
50. Isringhausen

NL Rookie
1. Webb
2. Willis
3. Posednik
9. Bo Hart

NL Manager
1. McKeon
2. Baker
3. Cox
11. La Russa

1. A-Rod
2. Delgado
3. Manny

AL Cy Young
1. Halladay
2. Pedro
3. Loaiza

AL Rookie
1. Berroa
2. Matsui
3. Baldelli

AL Manager
1. Pena
2. Gardenhire
3. Macha

Friday, October 24, 2003

TWO DAYS AGO David Wells was asked to compare his training regimen to Roger Clemens'. His reply:

"[Y]ou don't need to bust your ass every day to be successful... I'll leave the working and conditioning to those guys forever. They can write a book and do videos. They can make money on that, on how to last 20 years in the big leagues by conditioning. I'll write, 'How Not to Work Out.'"

Wells lasted one inning of last night's Game 5 after succumbing to back spasms.

WILL THE SERIES GO SEVEN? Historically speaking, the World Series is disproportionately likely to go the limit. But mathematicians are stumped as to why this happens.

The NYT observes that "a simple statistical calculation — assuming the two teams are evenly matched and the winner of any game might as well be determined by a coin flip — shows that seven-game series should occur less than a third of the time, 31.25 percent." However, "in the past 50 World Series, nearly half — 48 percent — have stretched to the maximum seven games."

HISTORY LESSON, PART II The Yanks have trailed 3–2 in the World Series seven times and ended up winning just twice, never in the three tries with the final two games in Yankee Stadium.

Thursday, October 23, 2003

FLYING FISH I'm feeling lazy, so I'm just going to reprint a few bits of useless info I cribbed from Jayson Stark's column:

• With his 310 career wins, Roger Clemens came into Game 4 with nine more than all the Marlins who had pitched in this World Series combined (301).

• When Cabrera homered off Clemens in the first inning, they combined for a World Series record -- biggest age differential between a player who hit a home run and the pitcher who gave it up. Clemens is 20 years and 257 days older than Cabrera -- blowing away the previous record, 16 years, 236 days between Mickey Mantle and Preacher Roe (1953 World Series).

• Clemens was drafted by the Red Sox about six weeks after Cabrera was born.

• The Marlins are the 12th different team the Yankees have played in the World Series. They've played four clubs from each of the three NL divisions -- missing only the Expos, Astros, Brewers and Rockies. Here are the teams they have played:
NL EAST -- Phillies, Braves, Mets, Marlins
NL CENTRAL -- Cubs, Reds, Cardinals, Pirates
NL WEST -- Dodgers, Giants, Diamondbacks, Padres

• Stark says that the Cardinals have faced the second most World Series opponents, with ten, but I count only eight (Yankees, Athletics, Tigers, Browns, Red Sox, Brewers, Royals, Twins). Am I missing anyone?

HERE'S YOUR COMMISSIONER, Bud Selig, tilting at windmills, as usual.

Wednesday, October 22, 2003

ROCKET I didn't think he had it. Clemens was frankly awful in the first inning -- he fell behind six of the seven hitters he faced, couldn't blow a third strike past anybody (despite throwing 15 two-strike pitches), gave up five hits, and labored through 42 pitches. When 20-year-old Miguel Cabrera (the next Pujols?) drilled a two-run homer into right center, it seemed like a clear message to Clemens: step aside, gramps.

But somehow Clemens gathered himself to throw only 67 pitches over the next six innings without allowing another Marlin to cross the plate. That's simply incredible, especially for a guy taking the mound for the last time in his professional life. And when the Yankees pulled yet another heart-pounding rally to tie the score with two outs (and two strikes!) in the top of the ninth, those old ghosts Mystique and Aura seemed to descend on Pro Player Stadium like a bad outbreak of malaria.

But like the '01 D'backs, the Marlins are an upstart franchise who just doesn't know how things are done in these parts -- someone forgot to tell them they're supposed to be losing to the Yankees. And someone forgot to give Alex Gonzalez the message that he's not very good, that he doesn't have the mocha handomeness of media idol Derek Jeter, that, as Al Leiter said during the NLCS, "he's about as close to an automatic out as you're gonna get." Instead A-Gonz willed one over the left field wall -- Big Mac/Trachsel-style, barely over the 330 sign -- and suddenly, defiantly, we got ourselves a serious World Series.

As soon as the game ended, my girlfriend smiled and said "go home, Yankees!" About two seconds later my brother Matt called and said, "I can't believe Weaver went out there stoned."

DOUG PAPPAS explains why, Fox hoopla aside, this really isn't the 100th anniversary of the World Series.

THE DEPENDABLES I was rooting around on the Internet earlier today, getting my geek on, and I stumbled across a radio interview with sabermetrician Bill James from 2002, where he gives us his list of the most consistent players of all time. His formula essentially measures the standard deviation of a player's value from year to year, then ranks them against all other players in major league history. His results are interesting, so I'll give them to you here --

Bill James' 10 Most Consistent Players of All Time
1. Hank Aaron
2. Honus Wagner
3. Pete Rose
4. Ron Cey
5. Kenny Lofton
6. Doc Cramer
7. Wade Boggs
8. Mel Ott
9. Lou Gehrig
10. Jake Beckley

Bill James' 10 Most Consistent Pitchers of All Time
1. Urban Shocker
2. Lee Smith
3. Greg Maddux
4. Cy Young
5. George Blaeholder
6. Christy Mathewson
7. Doc White
8. Carl Hubbell
9. Bruce Hurst
10. Vic Raschi

Among the most inconsistent players of all-time: Rico Carty, Brian Jordan, and Wally Backman.

Postscript: I ordered an old Bill James book on, and during checkout Half pointed out that customers interested in Bill James were also into the White Stripes, Grandaddy's Sophtware Slump, and Johnny Cash's American IV. If that's not persuasive evidence that James is one of the coolest guys on the planet, I don't know what is...

NAIL BITERS You would think that the New York Yankees -- who have won four of the last seven World Series, and at one point a couple years back won fourteen straight World Series games -- would be sheer wrecking crews, masters of the blowout and the lopsided score. But in fact, most of the World Series the Yankees have played in recently resemble last night's game, which ended with a crooked 6-1 final score but stood at 1-1 with two outs in the 8th inning.

The Yankees' run under Joe Torre has been a litany of late-inning heroics. Consider:

In 1996 against the Braves, the Yanks got blown out twice at home to fall behind two games to none in the Fall Classic. But in Game 3 they won after entering the 8th inning down 2-1. Game 4 (the Jim Leyritz game) they won in extra innings. Game 5 was a 1-0 pitching duel in which Pettitte defeated Smoltz. Game 6 was a one-run win. That's four tight games, four wins.

In 1998 they swept the Series from the Padres, but again, most of the games were close: in Game 1 they were losing 5-2 in the 7th and stormed back to win; Game 3 they were losing 3-0 in the 7th and stormed back to win; Game 4 was 1-0 in the 8th before the Yanks put it away. Three tight games, three wins.

Same deal in '99 vs. the Braves. Game 1: losing 1-0 in the 8th when they erupted for 4 runs to take the Series lead. Game 3: won in extra innings. Two tight games, two wins.

2000, Game 1: won in extra innings over the Mets. Game 2: held on for a one-run win, 6-5. Game 3: tied in the bottom of the 8th before the Mets scored two to win 4-2. This was the first close World Series game the Yankees had lost after 11 straight wins. No matter: they came back to win a one-run Game 4, and a Game 5 that was tied going into the 9th inning. Five tight games, four wins.

2001: the Yankees won 2-1 in Game 3, and extra-inning duels in Games 4 and 5 (the Byung-Hyun Kim games), before losing their second tight World Series game in six years, the classic Game 7 final against the D'backs. At that point the Yankees raised their Fall record to 16-2 in tight ballgames (compared to 3-5 in all other games). So far this year they're 1-1, losing a nail-biter in Game 1 and edging the Marlins last night in Florida.

I don't think it's any surprise who's behind these late-inning successes: a certain Panamanian named Mariano Rivera. In 19 World Series games over 29 innings he's given up only four earned runs (for a 1.24 ERA). During all October games -- championship series as well as World Series -- Rivera is even better: an 0.77 ERA in 94 innings pitched.

I can't think of another player who left such a lasting imprint on a dynasty the way that Rivera has. He's almost more like a basketball player who can take over a short series game after game (notwithstanding his gigantic misstep in Game 7 of the 2001 Series). You can name anyone else -- Reggie Jackson, Bob Gibson, Home Run Baker -- but I think Mariano Rivera is the best postseason player of all time.

Tuesday, October 21, 2003

DRAMA QUEENS If you wonder why most of the country get tired of self-absorbed Red Sox fans, check out this letter to Bill Simmons, reprinted in today's Page 2 column:

I haven't slept for more than five solid hours in two weeks. I can't remember my own telephone number. My eyes are so red I'm certain people think I've been toking like Marley in his halcyon years. When I got home last night, my wife (who could bear no more and left the bar after the 10th) was wimpering like a scared puppy, completely unequipped to deal with her first Red Sox cannonball to the gut ... she is bitter at me for subjecting her to this life and keeps muttering, "I don't know what to do ... I don't know what to do ... I can't handle this ... you did this to me!!" And ... (in the too-much-information category) I haven't had a solid bowel movement in six days.

THE GREAT ALAN BARRA -- contrarian sportswriter and, it should be said, Yankees fan -- makes a persuasive case for rooting against the Marlins in this year's World Series. In a nutshell, he thinks you should never pull for an organization that was built up, torn down, and gutted by the evil three-headed hydra of Wayne Huizenga, Jeff Loria, and Bud Selig. Barra's reasoning is solid, but for the most part I think you should root for the poor people of Florida, who have to put up with the bullshit of their owners and deserve a little taste of what the Yankees seem to feast on year after year.

One could easily rebut this by pointing out that the "poor people of Florida" were hardly supportive of their team during the lean years. This year they finished 28th in the majors in average attendance. Last year they were 29th (and they passed the Expos only because a wealthy financier bought tens of thousands of tickets on the last day of the season so that the Marlins wouldn't have the fewest fans in baseball). But isn't there an argument to be made for creating new fans, just as 1982 turned on countless young St. Louisans to the glories of Cardinal baseball? It's better than churning out new Yankees fans, that's for sure.

ANKIEL SIGHTING Yesterday during his BP chat, Will Carroll mentioned that "the Cards are considering using [Rick Ankiel] as a DH/OF while he heals and he should be throwing by mid-season." One of the upsides of a guy like Ankiel is that he's a got a sweet hitting stroke and could plausibly be used as a Brooks Kieschnick-type pitcher/hitter.

Unfortunately Dick Ankle isn't that good a hitter. For a pitcher, sure, but in AA Tennessee this year Ankiel hit a modest .240 with a slim .400 slugging percentage and .269 on-base percentage. His major-league numbers: .209/.314/.253. Of course, Ankiel did tear apart the rookie leagues a couple years ago, smoking 17 xb-hits in only 105 at bats, but by and large I think it's safe to compare him to someone like, say, Andres Torres as a hitter.

As for Rick Ankiel the pitcher, a few people have suggested that the best thing for his career is for the Cardinals to cut ties with him and let him get a fresh start with a new organization. I used to agree with this thinking, but now I'm not so sure. First of all, the Cardinals have been unusually patient with Ankiel, and he seems to have bonded with Tennessee pitching coach Blaise Ilsley. In late June Ankiel strung together some solid starts before going down for the season with a Tommy John injury. Secondly, try to imagine what would happen if Ankiel actually joined a new organization. He'd be a 25-year-old kid in 2005, the subject of any number of painfully hopeful spring training profiles, wondering if this is the year and how he's battling his inner demons, and all that needless speculation. It's better, I think, if Ankiel simply recovers in anonymity and does what he can to untrack himself next year, in a familiar environment.

Monday, October 20, 2003

A SAHARA BETWEEN SERIES With their latest impersonations of Sisyphus, Vinko Bogataj, and Charlie Brown, the Cubs have extended their streak of 58 years between World Series appearances, the longest in major league history. Here are the longest droughts for each of the other franchises (since 1901):

58 Cubs (1946-present)
44 White Sox (1960-present)
43 Browns/Orioles (1901-1943)
43 Senators/Rangers (1961-present)
42 Astros (1962-present)
41 Angels (1961-2001)
40 A's (1932-1970)
40 Indians (1955-1994)
35 Expos (1969-present)
34 Phillies (1916-1949)
33 Braves (1915-1947)
32 Pirates (1928-1959)
31 Senators/Twins (1934-1964)
27 Mariners (1977-present)
27 Red Sox (1919-1945)
26 Giants (1963-1988)
25 Cardinals (1901-1925)
24 Tigers (1910-1933)
21 Brewers (1983-present)
20 Dodgers (1921-1940)
20 Reds (1941-1960)
20 Yankees (1901-1920)
18 Royals (1986-present)
15 Blue Jays (1977-1991)
15 Padres (1969-1983)
13 Mets (1987-1999)
11 Rockies (1993-present)
6 Devil Rays (1998-present)
5 Marlins (1998-2002)
3 Diamondbacks (1998-2000)

A few things jumped out at me while compiling this list:

• A whopping four teams are working on 40+ years without appearing in the World Series. That's sincerely sad.

• The city of Chicago has a collective 102 Seriesless years. The state of Texas: 85. May I nominate the Astros as the most star-crossed franchise in baseball? They've been in seven postseason series and won exactly zero of them (and some of them were agonizing losses). Worse yet, no one's even coming to their pity party -- there's no lore or legend to their wandering ways, as there is with the Red Sox and Cubs.

• One-third of the teams in the majors are working on their longest Series droughts in franchise history.

• Besides their first 20 years in the league, the Yankees' longest dry spell was a mere 14 years (1982-1995).

• Cincinnati hasn't seen too many rings, but they make sure they compete for a title relatively frequently. Even though they're the oldest professional baseball team, they don't have any epic stretches without reaching the Fall Classic -- 20 years is their maximum (same as the Yankees).

• There were more dry spells of 30-years-plus than I'd have thought. The Cardinals are working on a 16-year streak without glimpsing the World Series. Are we going to have to wait another 20 or 30 years before seeing another? The scary thing is I'll keep rooting for them either way.

Sunday, October 19, 2003

NO NUMBERS, no stats, just a lot of observations from a lot of jet-lagged old men -- it's Baseball America's scouting report for both teams in the 2003 World Series. Some interesting stuff.

LONGTIME YANKS FAN Alex Belth calls the Yankee Stadium crowd last night "unusually subdued." I agree. I don't think it matters much in the final score, but didn't you get the impression that the Marlins had just started playing the World Series and the Yankees had just finished playing theirs?

Saturday, October 18, 2003

AARON GLEEMAN likens this World Series to the last few NBA playoffs, in which the real champion was decided in the Western Conference finals. That's not to say that Aaron doesn't give the Marlins their props -- he concedes that they're a much heftier opponents than the Sixers or Nets and other assorted Lakers and Spurs chum.

Breaking down the Series, you have to give the edge to each team in the following areas:

For the Marlins -- Putting the ball in play; defense; speed; doubles and triples power; neutralizing the running game; Willis' unorthodox windup; one extra day of rest

For the Yankees -- Drawing walks; home runs; throwing strikes; righthanded relief; lefthanded hitting (handy for that short porch in Yankees Stadium); depth of starting rotation; bullpen closer.

Their benches (lousy) and managers (superb) are a wash.

I think the series will come down to how Brad Penny and Mark Redman play. If they succeed, Fish win; if not, Yanks in five or six. I think they'll let the Marlins down and the (yawn...) Yankees will be world champs again. But I hope I'm wrong.

I ASKED my Sox-loving New England pal if he'd be watching the World Series. He said it's a tough situation, sorta like falling in love with the hottest girl in high school, asking her to the prom, getting shot down at the last second, but still having to double with her and her date (and watching them makeout) on the way to the prom. In other words, the longing to switch places is just unbearable.

HOW UNLIKELY was this World Series pairing? Well, not one of ESPN's experts correctly guessed the finalists. Nor did Redbird Nation's crack research team. At least Mark's pick for champion is still alive.

Friday, October 17, 2003

A GOOD EGG If you want a gracious take on the Sox loss last night, check out our sister site, Sox Nation, for the goods. Money quote (outside of the appropriate lead-off by Teddy Roosevelt):

This postseason had much ugliness to it. Let's be honest -- game 3 at Fenway, D-Lowe's crotch grabbing, 'Lilly' taunts led by the PLAYERS! But there was much about it that was brilliant. D-Lowe's pitching, the comeback against Foulke, beating the Yanks in game 6, the spirited play after the Yanks tied it in game 7. The season was a gift to us sports fans; let's be grateful. For those who truly understand sports know that winning and losing just really isn't the point. The competition, the excellence, the camaraderie among fans, the tension, the drama, the thrills, highs and lows -- that's the point. And you know what? At the end of the day, if your value as a human being is determined by whether or not your team wins, you've got some evaluating to do.

MORE SOXANALYSIS Bill Simmons has this response to the Red Sox loss:

Of course, the TV networks and newspapers got what they wanted: They spent the entire month gleefully rehashing those same "Curse" stories for both the Cubs and Sox, flashing graphics like "RED SOX WORLD SERIES WINS AFTER 1918: 0" and showing so many Babe Ruth pictures, you would have thought John Henry Williams had brought the Babe back to life. It was borderline pathological.

Talk about pathological. The Fox executives are livid that they didn't get a Cubs-Red Sox series! The Marlins, with one borderline superstar and a puny fan base, were probably the worst of the four NL playoff teams for the ratings-minded. I mean, check out the barely concealed disappointment by Fox Sports President Ed Goren when the Cubs fell short in the NLCS.

As for the AL, sure, the Yanks are a nice consolation prize, but Fox would much rather have the Sox in the series. The Yankees are old hat, been-there-done-that; the Sox are new, exciting, with a backstory that rivals the Rubaiyat. Does Simmons not understand that all that talk about the Curse was because Fox wants you to think, "this might be the year they actually win it"? They couldn't have dreamt up a more compelling storyline, and now it's up in smoke.

THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK I watched last night's game in a room full of rabid baseball freaks, about half for the Yankees, half for the Sox. As baseball fans, we all won. When Aaron Boone golfed that no-doubter into the leftfield stands, we knew that we were watching something great -- not only another twist to the best postseason since 1986, but another chapter in the biblical sweep of baseball lore.

But as human beings, we felt something else -- a little hungover, a little hollowed-out, by what happened. Sometimes it's a shame that only one team can win, and it pained me to see Tim Wakefield march off the mound with his mouth pursed and the weight of the world on his shoulders. (Don't worry, Tim, you ain't no Ralph Branca or Mitch Williams, despite taking the blame for the loss. You pitched brilliantly all series.) And believe it or not, despite all my hangups with Red Sox Nation, it ached to think about all those suffering Bostonians whose October misfortunes must seem, at this point, like some pathetic cosmic joke.

Of course, we'll hear more about the Curse, and Aaron F. Boone, but we'll probably hear more about the bungled management of Grady Little. In the 7th Pedro gave up his second bomb to Giambi, then singles to Enrique Wilson and Karim Garcia before wriggling out of it. In the 8th he got rapped for a double by Jeter, then surrendered a solid single to Bernie Williams, and fans across the country prepared for another jingoistic commercial for Joe Millionaire 2, followed by shots of Alan Embree taking warm-up tosses on the mound. Pedro was already at 114 pitches, and he's not the same guy as his pitch count climbs. Consider: on the season Pedro had a .207/.257/.308 opposition AVG/OBP/SLG through pitch 105. After that he was at .363/.417/.424. The man gets tired in a hurry. And when Hideki Matsui can turn on your 0-2 fastball and rip it down the line, that little egg-timer in your brain should politely ding your pitcher out of the game, but still Little stuck with his man. The game was lost right there, in my opinion.

Two postgame quotes struck me. The first was by Grady Little during his interview with Fox reporters: "Pedro Martinez has been our man all year long and in situations like that, he's the one we want on the mound over anybody." The second was by Pedro himself. When asked if he was tiring in the 8th and whether he should have turned the ball over to his manager, he said, "That is no time to say I'm tired... I would refuse to give the ball up if he asked me to."

In other words, there was virtually no scenario where Little would have pulled Martinez, and none where Pedro would have admitted he was tired. It was as if the pitching decision was made hours before the game -- Little wanted Pedro to be the man, Pedro wanted to be the man, let the chips fall where they may. All this despite the fact that the Red Sox have a very respectable bullpen -- during the playoffs, they had a 1.31 ERA in relief (and 37 K's and only 16 hits in 34 1/3 innings). Theo Epstein went out and got Little a bunch of shiny new arms this season, and somehow Little forgot to use them. Inexcusable.

For another point of view, I turn things over to my longtime pal Brian, who was up in New England last night, suffering alongside dozens of other Sox fans at the boarding school where he teaches. He wrote me late last night:

You know, except for Yankees fans, every baseball teams' fans have known disappointing, even excruciating losses. I was on duty in the dorm last night, and I saw the kids absolutely devastated -- 19 year old boys crying openly in the dorm common room. It was very interesting -- I was in their shoes in '86 -- but, when all is said and done, life goes on.

Though I would've lifted Pedro in the eighth at the start of the inning, I don't think it was a classic mistake. Pedro was still getting ahead of hitters, still spotting his fastball, and still gassing it up there. Posada's hit came with a 1-2 count and he hit it off the handle. Jeter's double was 0-2 and he hit it down towards the end of the bat. In other words, I thought Petey still had good stuff.

I didn't sleep very well last night, and I am not looking forward to reading about curses all winter, and I could roll into a bit of self-pity pretty easily if I wanted... but feeling cursed, or unlucky, or whatever New England wants to feel, would be pretty selfish. After all, it's not like we're living in Baghdad.

Frankly, I think last night's game was one for the ages, but it was also one for second place. The Marlins look like a buzzsaw right now...

This Marlins-Yanks series could be a great one, despite what I jokingly wrote this morning. The Marlins are a solid team, and the Yanks, while powerful, have a number of exploitable weakness (their middle relief is shaky, and their defense is flat-out atrocious). Both teams threw the kitchen sink at the other guy during their LCS, so the managers will have to get creative with their pitching choices. And fortunately both Torre and McKeon have a cutthroat, "win now" strategy when it comes to postseason moves, so we should see a dogfight. A replay of the 2001 Series -- ingenue vs. longtime superstar -- would be awfully sweet...

ALL THE MARBLES Forget Ali-Frazier. Forget North Carolina-Duke, Redskins-Cowboys, Celtics-Lakers, and Maple Leafs-Canadiens. Hell, forget Alydar-Affirmed. THIS is the most epic rivalry in all of sports. THIS is what we've been waiting for. THIS is the showdown of the millennium:


The animosities between these two teams go back months, sometimes entire calendar years. Who can forget the classic duel of June 6, 1998, when the Marlins Jesus Sanchez hooked up with the Yanks Ramiro Mendoza? Every child in Miami knows the sad tale by heart: Sanchez gave up four early runs (the first on a dagger-to-the-heart RBI by Luis Sojo), and fell just short, despite a heroic home run by Todd Dunwoody. They ended up losing a 4-2 heartbreaker in nine innings.

Or what about the fateful trade of July 31, 1996, when the Yankees gambled by dealing Mark Hutton to Florida in exchange for Dave Weathers? Fish fans still rub this one in the faces of the evil, pinstriped Yankees, as Weathers was a bust in New York (9.57 ERA in 26 1/3 innings pitch) while Hutton won over the hearts of Dade County with a dazzling 3.72 ERA and a permanent place alongside such Marlin greats as Ryan Dempster and Pat Rapp.

Suffice it to say, whatever team loses this '03 World Series will have to deal with taunts and bruised feelings for years to come. Last night in his press conference Joe Torre said he was "looking forward to playing the Marlins" and that "it should be a great series." Now that's some serious bulletin board material. This one could get ugly.

Thursday, October 16, 2003

MYSTIQUE AND AURA Our friend the Baseball Crank passes along this fascinating factoid: the Yankees -- you know, pinstriped dudes, the Microsoft of Major League Baseball -- are only 5-6 in Game Sevens. In fact, they've not won a Game 7 in 41 years.

By the way, you can thank the Cardinals for the Yanks' sub-.500 record. We spanked them in the do-or-die finales of both 1964 (Gibby) and 1926 (Ol' Pete).

Of course, the Red Sox are historically only 1-4 in Game Sevens. And who has the only Game 7 win in franchise history? That would be Roger Clemens.

INFAMY This was inevitable, right?

THE CURSE OF DUSTY BAKER One of the great joys of this postseason is the work of Baseball Prospectus. Their staff (Joe Sheehan, in particular) has been so on-the-money with their game comments that you feel refreshed after reading them, as if scales had fallen from your eyes. Today's column by Rany Jazayerli -- in which he lays waste to Dusty Baker and applauds Jack McKeon -- is no different.

Wednesday, October 15, 2003

KINGFISH Quite honestly, one of the most stunning turnabouts I've ever seen. After last Saturday I started playing through the possibilities of a Cubs-Yankees or Cubs-Red Sox World Series; the idea that the Marlins would come back -- winning three games against Zambrano, Prior, and Wood, with the last two games in the cauldron of Wrigley Field -- never seriously entered my mind.

Regretfully, however, the national headline from this series is not MARLINS WIN. It is CUBS LOSE, with more ink spilled over the agonies of Cubdom (and its attendant self-analysis and self-recrimination) than on the heroic exploits of Josh Beckett (only 3 hits in his last 13 innings pitched), Ivan Rodriguez (10 ribbies), and Miguel Cabrera (two huge home runs, and a flawless rightfield).

These guys took the series from the Cubs for one simple reason: they have almost no glaring weaknesses on their team. They're solid up and down the lineup; they always throw a decent starter out there; they have great speed, good D, can hit the long ball, and have a handy bullpen. While the Cubs were forced to rely on no-gudniks like Mark Grudzielanek and Paul Bako in crucial situations, the Marlins were running out good player after good player. The Marlins have few superstars, but few black holes either, and that was the difference. They simply outlasted, out-"depthed," the top-heavy (and thinly stretched) Cubs.

Of course, the anti-Marlins backlash has already begun. Lee Sinins, who publishes a daily baseball e-newsletter, has already declared the Marlins sham champions. As he put it in an huffy email fired off mere minutes after the Marlins clinched:

The Marlins have pulled off another national disgrace, winning the NL pennant. Over [sic] spending 162 games proving themselves not to be the best team of 5, it is nothing but a tribute to the small sample size garbage of October that they can call themselves the best of 16.

This is idiocy -- pure, unadulterated idiocy of the highest order. The Marlins won 91 games this year to the Cubs' 88. (They were even better than that, at 72-42, since Jack McKeon was hired and after Dontrelle Willis arrived on the scene.) They gave up only 8 more runs than the Cubs over 162 games, but scored 26 more (which gives them a Pythagorean record two games better than Chicago). What's more, the Cubs were ideally suited to win in a short series, with much of their talented front-loaded in the big three of their starting rotation. Nonetheless, the Marlins were clearly superior in this series (they scored 17 runs in their last 11 innings), and they were just as clearly superior over a full season. Any attempt to claim that the Cubs were fundamentally better -- as Sinins has done -- is either willfully adversarial or utterly blinkered and unfair. He owes the Marlins an apology.

As for Steve Bartman, the hapless buffoon who joins Denkinger and Buckner as totems of team angst, you gotta feel for the guy. He reminds me of something the film critic Manny Farber once wrote about Preston Sturges' characters:

[E]very moment brings them the fear that their lives are going to pieces, that they are going to be fired, murdered, emasculated, or trapped in such ridiculous situations that headlines will scream about them to a hooting nation for the rest of their lives. They seem to be haunted by the specters of such nationally famous boneheads as Wrong-Way Corrigan, Roy Riegels, who ran backward in a Rose Bowl game, or Fred Merkle, who forgot to touch second base in a crucial play-off game, living incarnations of the great American nightmare that some monstrous error can drive individuals clean out of society into a forlorn no-man’s land, to be the lonely objects of an eternity of scorn, derision, and self-humiliation.

Call it the Curse of the Billy Goat transformed into the Curse of the Scapegoat.

Quite honestly, I thought I'd take more joy in the Cubs' collapse, particularly when I think of the hate mail we received at Redbird Nation back in September, when Cubbie fans were all too eager to call the Cardinals choke artists, losers, pushovers, and much much worse. But damn, I don't take joy in anyone losing, especially in the manner that the Cubs lost. I think about some of the great Cubs fans -- people like Ron Santo, and Christian Ruzich, and Al Yellon, and Jim S., and Will Carroll, and that red-haired lady crying at the conclusion of tonight's game -- and it certainly doesn't brighten my day any.

Instead, I prefer to celebrate the Marlins and their stunning comeback. How great were the odds against them? Well, teams that lead a seven-game series 3-1 are, historically, 34-5. Make it 34-6 after tonight.

COUNTING CHICKENS Here's what Chicago Sun-Times columnist Jay Mariotti wrote before Tuesday's game:

Prior will be the most poised guy in the house against the Marlins, who counter with the less-than-overwhelming Carl Pavano. Fans will chew fingernails, drink more than usual and gasp at the slightest problem. Absurdly, they will ponder the goat and other forms of lurking evil... You could summon every billy goat and black cat, every ghost and demon lurking in the bricks and increasingly red ivy, and the collective saboteurs couldn't get to Prior tonight... This is a different time and place in Cubdom, people. Stop worrying, start enjoying the start of a beautiful thing.

BILLY GOAT 8, CUBS 3 They say history is told by the winners. But sometimes it's told by the losers, especially when the losers play in one of the biggest media markets in the United States. In other words, it doesn't matter what the Marlins do in the NLCS, the series will be told from the Chicago Cubs' point of view.

Exhibit A: Sunday afternoon, Josh Beckett hurls one of the greatest games in postseason history. The headline on DESTINY DELAYED. For the Cubs, that is. No word on the Marlins' destiny.

Exhibit B: Game 6, the Marlins mount one of the most stunning October comebacks of all-time. The headline on FOUL PLAY. And every news broadcast and every sports-radio show I heard this morning began with the observation that a fan shattered the Cubs dreams.

Look, I don't want to minimize the influence of that poor bastard who snatched the ball from Moises Alou. If I was a Cubs fan, I'd be watching Game 7 tonight with a gun in my mouth, safety off, ready to go. And I don't mind the media giving this strange play a lot of air-time -- after all, it's an interesting angle, and the Cubs are a popular team with a dramatic backstory and about 200,000 times as many members as Marlin Nation.

But let's not overdo it. First of all, the play was not fan interference. I watched the replay about seven times in super slo-mo on my TiVo, and the ball was out of play. In other words, if the third-base ump would have ruled in favor of Alou, it would have been umpire interference. Secondly, I'm not convinced Alou would have caught the ball even if the fan (actually there were two meddling fans) would have backed off. Alou had to leap into the stands and try a backhanded catch with his left shoulder angled toward the playing field. Admittedly, Alou looked like he had an excellent read on the ball, and for all the world seemed like he was gonna make the catch. But you simply cannot make the claim that no fan = catch = win.

Two weeks ago on Redbird Nation I pointed out that it took me several years to realize that the St. Louis Cardinals, and not Don Denkinger, blew the 1985 World Series. Champions work around mishaps; they don't give in to them. I mean, consider what had to happen after the fan grabbed at that ball for the Marlins to overtake the Cubs:

Prior had to walk Castillo.
I-Rod had to get a base hit to drive in his team's first run.
Gonzo had to muff that potential double-play ball.
Baker had to stick with Prior (who was clearly gassed; after-effects of Game 3?).
Derrek Lee had to smoke a two-run-scoring double.
Conine had to hit a sac fly off a heat-throwing Kyle Farnsworth.
Sosa had to miss the cut-off on his throw home (otherwise he'd have had Lowell off first).
Mike Mordecai had to double off the wall to give his team a big cushion.
The Marlins bullpen had to shut down the Cubs for the last two innings.

I submit that nearly every one of those moments was weightier than that borderline play over in the leftfield stands. And yet the storyline is that a fan blew the game, which conveniently sidesteps the fact that the Marlins outhit, outpitched, and outfielded the Chicago Cubs. They reached base 14 times to the Cubs' 12. They hit three extra-base hits to the Cubs' one. They made no errors to the Cubs' two. And Mark Prior, who has been brilliant for months now, was, for once, human, giving up five runs (three earned) and 9 baserunners. He was actually outpitched by Carl Pavano.

The Cubs are still in decent shape. They have Game 7 at home, they have Kerry Wood on the mound, and they have another chance to avoid the mistakes they made in Game 6. I still think they're the frontrunners to represent the NL in the World Series. But let's give credit where credit is due. The Cubs were not beaten last night by a curse, or a hex, or a fan in leftfield. They were not beaten, as Mike Greenberg suggested this morning on ESPN Radio, by "Forces Greater Than Themselves" -- unless, that is, the forces in question are the Florida Marlins.

Tuesday, October 14, 2003

OVERHEARD Red Sox radio announcer and St. Louis native Jerry Trupiano quoted Mike Shannon during game 5 of the ALCS, citing his obscure "ol' Abner's done it again!" call when Garciaparra came to the plate in the bottom of the 5th. Trupiano also paid tribute to Jack Buck after his death in 2002.

FROM OUR SPIES IN CHICAGO You gotta check this out. Seems there's some interest in a Wrigley Series.

MLB beat the NFL by a 14.1-8.7 margin in the overnight ratings. (It didn't hurt that the Vickless Falcons were getting bushwhacked by the beloved Rams.) In Boston, 62% of all sets that were on were watching the Red Sox.

TRIBAL WARFARE Believe it or not, last Saturday's altercation was pretty tame by Red Sox-Yankees standards. Don Malcolm recounts some of the greatest hits in this "Great Rivalry." (Don't miss the anecdote about Sox hurler Wes Ferrell getting so upset about giving up a few runs that he punched himself out. According to legend, Ferrell once knocked himself out by socking himself in the jaw with both fists.)

JIM BAKER has done the research and now he's delivered his verdict: "What Josh Beckett did Sunday was the single greatest pitching performance in the history of baseball by a pitcher whose team was on the brink of elimination." Read the article to see how he stacks up against other greats. (Bad news for Fish fans, though -- only 4 of Bakers's 13 greatest pitching performances led to a series victory.)

DOES ANYONE get the impression that the determining factor of this year's World Series will be Hank Blalock?

Monday, October 13, 2003

TODAY'S TRIVIA From SI's Peter King:

Boston Red Sox outfielder Johnny Damon has been knocked unconscious twice in his athletic career. The second time was last Monday, when he collided head-to-head with second baseman Damian Jackson while chasing a popup in short center field in Game 5 of the American League Division Series at Oakland. The first time? As a Dr. Phillips High School football player, when he collided with Apopka High School's Warren Sapp.

FIGHT COVERAGE I've had some great conversations the past two days with a good friend of mine up in New England. We've been dissecting the breakdown up in Boston from every angle (for another cool angle, check out this Zapruder-like home video of the brawl), and I couldn't possibly do justice here to the intricacies of this controversy.

But I thought I should pass along one interesting tidbit from my friend:

The Boston Globe has a bulletin board for fans to post their thoughts on the incident yesterday, and my guess is about 85% of the posts from Sox fans were VERY negative about the behavior of Pedro. Red Sox fans and the Red Sox are pretty embarassed about this. Pedro has definitely worn out his welcome.

Edward Cossette shares similar sentiments over at his fine blog, Bambino's Curse, and for a Yanks fan's perspective, check out Alex Belth's outstanding work over at Bronx Banter.

One other tidbit that I got a kick out of: a local New England movie theater was scheduled to show last night's game on the big screen. Apparently 29" is too reductive to capture this oversized event.

SPEAKING OF LAST NIGHT'S GAME, that rainout was probably the best thing that could have happened for the atmosphere of the ALCS -- it gives the teams time to cool down, to let level heads prevail. But it was terrible for ratings (not only are we one more day removed from Saturday's pyrotechnics, the game now has to go head-to-head against Monday Night Football, albeit a fairly weak matchup without Mike Vick). And it was even worse for the Yankees, who must face Tim Wakefield rather than John Burkett. That might be the most blessed thing to happen to the cursed Red Sox all weekend.

FINALLY Here's a good article about the future of Fenway Park.

Saturday, October 11, 2003

ANTIETAM Nobody acquitted themselves well in Boston today -- not Zimmer, not Pedro, not Manny, not Nelson or Garcia, not Posada, not that obnoxious Boston grounds crew guy. (Why Zim wasn't tossed from the game, I have no idea.) Okay, Joe Torre and Grady Little were oases of sanity amid all the carnage. But I still say that choosing sides in this series is sorta like rooting for Stalin to beat Hitler on the Eastern Front in World War II.

In retrospect, however, a number of things about the game seem pretty hilarious. Like Scott Sauerbeck's reaction after the melee in the Yanks bullpen: "I thought it was a fan, so I went, 'All right, I want to watch them beat up the fan.' Then I saw it was our grounds crew guy and we all felt kind of bad."

And here's Clemens after seeing Zimmer lying on the ground: "Andy Pettitte and I went over there and I saw a bald head on the ground. We weren't sure if it was Zim or David Wells."

Funnier than either of those quotes was the pitch that buzzed Manny Ramirez. If it were a foot lower and two feet closer inside it may have actually hit him. What a buffoon.

And speaking of buffoons, Pedro talks a lot about how he's the man. Just the other night the Yankee Stadium crowd started chanting "We want Pedro!" and Pedro grinned confidently. Two years ago Pedro dared New York to "wake up the damn Bambino. I'll drill him in the ass." Well, after today's uninspired game Pedro is only 10-9 lifetime against his archrival. During the game Fox Sports asked, "Who would you rather start in a must-win game, Clemens or Pedro at their peaks?" About 60% of the respondents said Pedro, and I was inclined to agree with them. But now I'm not so sure. Can I take Prior?

D.I.Y. CHAMPIONS The other day Steve Lyons was talking about how much more likable the 2003 Marlins are than the '97 version, dismissing the team from 6 years ago by saying "they basically bought a championship." You hear this sentiment a lot -- according to the fable, then-owner Wayne Huizenga simply opened his fat wallet, rented a few high-profile players, put them in a Cuisinart: instant World Title. A freelance sportswriter named Dave Rosenbaum even wrote a book about the '97 run subtitled The Year the Marlins Bought the World Series.

But as Mark Armour and Daniel Levitt point out in their fine (but uneven) book, Paths to Glory, the 1997 Marlins were very shrewdly assembled, not just the product of a no-brainer shopping spree. I agree with their take, for several reasons:

1. The Marlins increased their team payroll from $32 million in '96 to $47.7 million in '97. That's a big bump, but there were still 6 teams in baseball with higher payrolls, including three teams (the Rangers, Indians, and White Sox) that finished with worse records. In fact, the Marlins payroll that year was only slightly higher than the Cardinals, who finished with 89 losses.

2. The Marlins had a solid core to their team before the spending increase. Charles Johnson, Luis Castillo, Edgar Renteria, Jeff Conine, Devon White, Gary Sheffield, Kevin Brown, Al Leiter, Livan Hernandez, and Robb Nen were all on the roster before '97. For the most part, the nucleus of that team was acquired via trade or through the farm system.

3. The big imports (Bobby Bonilla, Moises Alou, Alex Fernandez, Dennis Cook, and Darren Daulton) each had good seasons for the '97 Fish, but give GM Dave Dombrowski credit for finding the right free agents. For example, Dombrowski signed Bonilla for $5.6 mil and Alou for $4.5 mil, but he could have just as easily gone after free-agent busts Steve Avery ($4.9 million), Jaime Navarro ($5 million), or Mel Rojas ($4.6 million). None of these guys had seasons nearly as good as the guys Dombrowski picked up, even though the market guessed otherwise.

4. Since when can teams simply go out and "buy" championships? The Orioles, Rangers, and Mets have been trying to win titles for years, to no avail. This year, the team with the 7th highest payroll was the Mariners; #8 was the Cardinals. Neither team made the postseason.

Part of the reason folks from Chicago and Boston hate Florida is because they cling to the notion that an expansion franchise simply purchased the championship they've been dreaming about for decades. But the Marlins world title in '97 wasn't bought and sold; it was earned.

MORE FISH TRIVIA On March 31st, before the season opener against the Phillies, Marlins President David Samson predicted that his team would win 91 games and attract 1.3 million fans. On September 26th, the Marlins clinched a wild-card berth with a win over the Mets. They end the regular season with 91 victories and a final home attendance of 1,303,229.

RUMOR MILL Supposedly the Giants are going to go after free agent Vlad Guerrero. Hard. They're probably not going to re-sign Ponson, choosing instead to land a bat to protect Bonds in the lineup.

ONE MORE POST MORTEM on the Oakland A's, this time from the great Rob Neyer:

[I]t's ridiculous to suggest the A's are chokers. When the A's storm into first place every August or September with a great number of walk-off home runs, the writers fall all over themselves raving about the A's character, their chemistry, and their talent. When the A's fail to advance past the Division Series every October, the writers fall all over themselves looking for -- and claiming to actually find -- deficiencies in their character, their chemistry, and their talent...

From 2000 through 2003, the A's have played 20 postseason games against good teams, and they've won eight of them. Is that really so awful? From 1947 through 1953, the Brooklyn Dodgers played 25 postseason games, and won only nine of them. They finally won a postseason series in 1955, and today nobody questions their character or their talent.

BATTLE LINES Several readers have written in to share a dilemma common to many Cardinals fans: who to root for in this postseason? Do you root for the pinstriped Evil Empire of George Steinbrenner; the pinched Calvinism of Red Sox Nation; the neophyte non-dues-paying Marlins, or our arch-enemies from Chi-town? You can see the problem here. It's like trying to leave a four-sided room with no door.

I'm sure most of your have stumbled onto a favorite team already. You've been transported by the daily heroics of I-Rod, or swayed by the passion of your r-dropping Sox-loving buddy in New Hampshire, and made your allegiances accordingly. But others of you may still be on the fence; hell, I still haven't fully cracked that East vs. East matchup over in the AL.

So here's a guide to help you untangle this mess. We've come up with a list of factors for each team -- some pros, some cons, some both -- to help you separate the good guys from the bad guys. Think of them as mental flashcards. After your done reading, you'll know who to root for.

BOSTON Pedro, Harry Frazee, Sam Malone, 1918, "Cowboy Up," Harvard, Albert DeSalvo, 100.2% capacity attendance, Johnny Pesky, 2001 Patriots, vasocongestion, Jillian's bar, Mia Hamm, David "Cookie Monster" Ortiz, Ben Affleck, the Kennedys, Pumpsie Green, Bill Buckner, Bill Simmons, clam chowder, Manny's home run trot, Damon's head, Theo Epstein, Bill James, Nomah, the Curse of Shea Hillenbrand, Varitek blocking the plate, Denis Leary, Carlton Fisk

NEW YORK George Steinbrenner, Mickey Mantle, Jeffrey Maier, Derek Jeter, Jordana Brewster, Mariah Carey, 9-11, Babe Ruth, Billy Crystal, Joe Torre, Frank Torre, Ronan Tynan, $164 million payroll, $9 million payroll tax, Giuliani, David Berkowitz, 1918 placards, Gershwin, Casey Stengel, Graig Nettles vs. Bill Lee, Bucky F. Dent, Clemens, gout, Mr. October, Donnie Baseball, "New York, New York," Spike Lee, The Journey Within, 26 world championships

CHICAGO Harry Caray, Ron Santo, Curse of the Billy Goat, corked bat, ivy, John Wayne Gacy, Ditka, Dusty's prescription sunglasses, El Pulpo, Czechago '68, Let's Play Two, Kenny Lofton NLCS 2002, Eric Karros' hair, Kerry Wood's pubescent facial hair, Capone, Jordan, Scot Thompson, John and Joan Cusack, "I hope that Houston beats their brains in", 20,000 Cubfans in Atlanta, Richard J. Daley, Chris O'Donnell

FLORIDA Jeff Loria, Jack McKeon, Dontrelle Willis, teal, 2002 California Angels, Wayne Huizenga, 1997 Marlins, 1998 firesale, Ugueth Urtain Urbina, hanging chads, Jan Hammer, wild card, Pat Riley, Renteria drives home Counsell, I-Rod tags out Snow, Andrew Cunanan, Mike "Mr. Marlin" Piazza, testicular cancer, 16,290 average attendance, A.J. Burnett's elbow, Cuban boat lift, 150 team stolen bases, Hotel Fontainebleau, Miami Hurricanes