2021 World Series: Parade of Spare Parts
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.
Alan D. Levine
11/1/2021 10:02:54 pm
I just plain haven't watched. My wife, Sandy, and I found the final four episodes of the 2019 Ric Burns Country Music history in the library and watched one episode a night. TCM had "Blow Out," which we had never seen, on. I've had work to do. The New Yorker arrives every Tuesday. I'll be back to baseball in the Spring. And, I might add, my fifty-one-year-old son, who goes with me to about twenty Mets games every year, hasn't watched either. He's either working (at last, after theater and music venues being shut down for eighteen months) or working his way through his cache of DVRd Japanese films.
11/2/2021 07:49:45 am
Alan: Our quite-grown son does go to games, and agonizes over the Mets. But soccer has moved into the younger generation(s)...and I can understand. Liverpool-Man City: under two hours, and constant action.
11/2/2021 03:12:10 pm
I have read several books on the use of statistics in soccer. Simom Kuper has several good ones.
11/2/2021 02:55:43 pm
I'm with Alan Levine. I no longer watch baseball, but I watch soccer games with the sound off, even if I cannot get them on the radio. It is closer to the feel of being in the stands.
11/2/2021 03:46:19 pm
Alan: I saw Billy Martin catch Jackie Robinson's wind-blown popup, in the window of an appliance store on Hillside Ave.,outside the subway stop, while waiting for the bus home from junior high school. Yankees ruined another day for me. GV
11/1/2021 11:47:43 pm
George - I had to smile because unprompted by your Parade of Spare Parts - I was thinking/doing the exact same thing. For all the games - I mute the TV and listen to ESPN -- terrific!!!!! It's slightly out of timing but so what!! They are terrific!!! I too was there for the Mets- Cardinals final weekend in St Louis. Hey I got Mike Shannon out!! Gibson was a competitor!! Games Too long -- too many names to recognize. Too many factoids! Maybe need 14 pitchers and 3 catchers!! But I'm watching - First one for me 1948. I read the box in KC Star.
11/2/2021 07:46:33 am
(Bill Wakefield, from Stanford and a former Cardinal farmhand, pitched for the 1964 Mets -- and often enlightens this site with memories of Casey Stengel. After baseball, he went into business in the Bay Area.)
11/2/2021 06:38:04 am
11/2/2021 07:52:21 am
Randy: I'm sure you can get ESPN radio in the hills....and also on FM. I get it on my tinny little portable, like getting the Opry (see today's NYT) on the fickle old car radio -- even on Long Island on Saturday nights, years ago. We could get St. Louis and Boston and Baltimore ball games at night, east of the city. Be well. GV
11/2/2021 12:10:00 pm
Even I, a pro-analytics guy, agrees that the pitching thing in the post-season is crazy. I think part of it has to do with the longer season and post-season. Even Gibson admitted he got tired during his Series work load. What do you think Keane would have done if there had been a best of 5 AND a best of 7 series before the World Series?" And that "I had a commitment to his heart," is poetic, but from my reading, what he said to Gibson about sending him out to pitch the 9th with a 4 run lead was "They might hit 2 homers off you, but they won't hit 4." They hit 2. The longer innings guys were mostly hurt for both teams. This is why teams are so paranoid about pitch counts and high stress innings. You pay $30 million for an ace and he's hurt. It just makes sense to try to replace him with 3 Ten million pitchers, or, even better, 12 guys who pitch one inning and are as interchangeable and anonymous as the Aussies at Gallipoli.
11/2/2021 01:52:11 pm
(Darrell has been writing and following baseball for eons; I always enjoy his take when our group meets for lunch. GV)
11/2/2021 01:48:03 pm
One thing that is striking about all these four-hour postseason games is that the home crowd actually hangs in there on every pitch -- if the game is close. In other words, if you have a real emotional interest in the outcome, you can endure four hours, as absurd as that seems But if you don't have an emotional stake in the outcome, yeah, you might head off to bed.
11/2/2021 01:59:43 pm
(Jay Schreiber was the long-time baseball maven and assistant sports editor at the NYT; he also knows from soccer, so you can see why it was a double treat to work with him. GV.)
11/2/2021 08:27:11 pm
Hi George: I’m coming to baseball now. I love to learn about the past of the ballplayers and teams. As you know, Babe Ruth is my hero (movies and books), and his life has taken me into this amazing baseball world. Watching this World Series, I see much technology (clothes, gloves, sneakers). All these items help the ballplayers.
11/3/2021 10:48:16 am
Hi, Altenir: very good point. My friend Darrell (above) points out how much bigger and more athletic today's BB players are. In soccer, we have Ibra 6-5, Haaland 6-4, :Pogba and Lukaku and Van Dijk 6-3 and Cstiano Ronaldo 6-2, and looks bigger in the air.
11/3/2021 08:34:53 am
If you're taking a poll, I ain't watching baseball. Agreed that being a fan of one of the teams might help, but even then, I am a sore loser and the Yankees lose early. The interminability of the games and commercial breaks makes it intolerable.
11/3/2021 10:56:57 am
Andy:: very good points...I watched and listened (the second half) to Fox in6th and final game. It's what I do...and write about it. I groaned out loud when Fried got stepped on at first base -- it looked like a career-ender. Thank goodness he was okay, total accident. Was dozing in later innings. Tough to be an early person.
11/3/2021 10:35:40 am
You see, the way I figure it, The Mets won half a season over the Braves, are in the same division, ergo the “strongest” division in MLB, and while I hope Dusty Baker gets another chance and wins, this all means the Mets are better than the facts indicate! “Wait ‘til next year!”—whoops, thats been copyrighted and not available. How about, “Someday my prince(s) will come….”
11/3/2021 11:02:00 am
Ed, nice try, dude. The Mets were pretty dismal most of the time.
11/3/2021 11:09:48 am
Well maybe this, GV? A redo on old Boston Braves’ refrain, “Spahn and Sain and two days of rain.” “Lets Have some, Jake DeGrom, anyone else is… dumb.
11/3/2021 09:35:11 pm
11/3/2021 11:36:15 am
As a boy who once saved enough Elsie Borden ice cream cup tops to win free bleacher tickets to Ebbets Field ... and who left drops of blue blood across the country following the Bums to California, baseball--post 1986--has slowly though progressively lost some of its heart for me. But when the cowardly Braves took out Anderson when he was throwing a NO-HITTER through five innings, I turned off the tv. That may have been the end of my love affair with the national pastime. Go Crystal Palace!
11/4/2021 11:02:39 am
Steve. I'm with you in following the EPL teams that are not the four or five that are always near the top of the table. I also follow the lower profile managers.
11/4/2021 11:04:16 am
that is astounding.really leaves a bad taste.no gurantee that we will ever see a great pitching performance in a big game
11/3/2021 11:51:56 am
James Reston wrote, many, many years ago, that Americans didn't concentrate on the election campaigns until the World Series was over. In other words, until around Columbus Day. So here we are in a world where the World Series finally ended while the ballots were being counted. I watched the election returns.
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“I don’t think people understand how Covid affects older Americans,” Mr. Caretti said with frustration. “In 2020, there was this all-in-this-together vibe, and it’s been annihilated. People just need to care about other people, man. That’s my soapbox.”
---Vic Caretti, 47, whose father recently died of Covid at 85.
---From an article by Paula Span, who covers old age for the NYT, which currently has 2646 comments, the majority criticizing the American public – and public officials – for acting as if the pandemic is “over.”
Classic wishful thinking, at a lethal level.