Is this the World Series that is going to take baseball down?
I ask this as a certified Old Guy who has been following the World Series since 1946 (I was quite young) when Harry (The Cat) Brecheen, a wiry lefty, pitched 20 innings and won three games for the Cardinals.
Pitchers were epic back then and remained so until the past decade when almost all of them became spear carriers in an opera that drones on, too long, every night.
(And it’s not totally the fault of Joe Buck and Fox, either.)
In the formerly showcase season-ending event that once saw Deacon Phillippe of Pittsburgh pitch 44 innings and win three games in 1903….and Bob Gibson of St. Louis pitch 27 innings and win three games in 1967 ….and, as recently as 2014, Madison Bumgarner of San Francisco pitched 21 innings and won two games.
Seven years later, pitchers are interchangeable, and mostly forgettable, used by managers and coaches who burn to win, and know their game and their players, but are under the un-calloused thumb of mysterious analytics wizards, chained in the laboratory, coming up with numbers that general managers (and club owners) pay for and force upon their managers.
The result is two pitching staffs of spare parts, not a commanding figure among them.
To be fair, I love some players on both teams -- the miniature second basemen, Altuve and Albies, the Old Reliables, Brantley and Freeman. As good as it gets. But gone is the epic figure on the mound , the center of the action.
After five games – the shuttle resumes Tuesday night in Houston, with the Braves up, three games to two – the pitching staffs are mutually anonymous.
The most innings by a Braves pitcher is 5.1 by Kyle Wright who pitched most of the season for the Gwinnett farm team in the Atlanta region.
The most innings by an Astros pitcher has been tossed by Jose (Hombre de Acero) Urquidy – a massive total of 6. Urquidy also has 2 victories – but may not be remembered along with Bob Gibson, who on the final weekend of the 1964 season pitched eight innings (and lost to the Mets) and then gutted his way through 4 innings on Sunday to help the Cardinals nail down their first pennant since 1946.
I remember. I was there. I can still see Gibson on the stairs to the players-only loft. “Hoot, how’s your arm?” a reporter asked. “Horseshit!” Gibson bellowed. After that game, kindly Manager Keane was asked why he went so often with a fatigued pitcher. “I had a commitment to his heart,” Keane said softly – one of the most touching answers I have heard in decades of sports interviews.
Gibson then started the second game of the Series and pitched 8 innings and lost, and won the fifth game in 10 innings) and then won the seventh game in 9 innings to ice the World Series. He had pitched 56 innings in 22 days
Is this sort of super-human out of stock these days? Have the hitters become so bulked-up, so fearsome, that statisticians dictate pitching changes, while a rank smell of fear permeates the ball parks?
Is this the reason baseball has the feel of an ancient ritual, that appeals mostly to geezers with memories, like me?
Part of the problem is the glut of commercials and other baseball promos between every inning.
And the television production is numbing, with statistics for “post-season” accomplishments being flung at the viewers with no context and no compelling narrative. Joe Buck is plastic and John Smoltz, while he surely knows the game, is humorless.
I’m an early person anyway, and I dozed here and there, but for the fifth game I switched to radio,with the TV on blessed mute.
The ESPN crew of Dan Shulman, Jessica Mendoza and Eduardo Pérez was vastly better – more interplay and humor and even disagreement, plus expertise (Mendoza was an Olympic softball star, Pérez played over a decade in the majors.
Vastly better. ESPN is 98.7 on the FM radio in the New York area.
Nevertheless, the World Series lacks star pitchers who command attention. No Christy Mathewson, no Smoky Joe Wood, no Mickey Lolich, no Randy Johnson.
You want a plot? You want drama? Go watch baseball, in the international spotlight, throttle itself.
Welcome to World Cup 2022, the most absurd thing that the routinely absurd world of sports has ever produced.
Those extreme descriptions were what virtually the entire world, save for those who had walked off with bags of cash from Qatar, called the awarding of soccer’s greatest event to the incredibly tiny, incredibly wealthy country back in 2010.
Twelve years ago, many were convinced this event couldn’t possibly happen: staging the world’s biggest sporting event in a country the size of Connecticut, one with zero soccer culture and even less soccer infrastructure? The tournament couldn’t possibly take place in 120-degree heat, and FIFA, the governing body of soccer, most certainly wouldn’t upend football leagues around the world to change the traditional summer schedule, could it?
And, for God’s sake, what about the beer?
Those were just the logistical concerns. The moral concerns are far more distressing. FIFA, so busy paying lip service to equality, couldn’t possibly expect the world to embrace a country where you could go to prison for being gay, where women’s rights are severely curtailed and female victims of sexual assault could go to prison, charged with engaging in extramarital sex. And all those questions came before the global realization that the World Cup was being built on the backs of migrant labor: modern-day slaves held in Qatar with virtually no rights, low wages and no ability to leave. Migrants make up 90% of Qatar’s stated population of 3 million. The country’s native-born equal about 300,000, or roughly the size of Anaheim.
---Ann Killion, columnist for The San Francisco Chronicle.