Let’s get this straight. Think of the Houston-Atlanta matchup as the World Series – an event unto itself -- not the end of a long and grueling tournament.
Think of the World Series when it stood alone as a treat, a dessert right after the regular season, in sunshine – bright or hazy – rather than a late-night marathon with people on the East Coast dozing off. (Me! It’s all about me!)
The recent games, as good as some of them were, have been bloated with post-season statistics, most of them irrelevant. For the next four to seven games, everything that happens should be compared to derring-do performed by players like Babe Ruth, Tris Speaker, Frankie Frisch, Whitey Ford, Yogi Berra, Duke Snider and Mickey Mantle.
While we’re talking about wretched trends, have you noticed the commercials for gambling dens, gambling sites? I mean, how could you not?
At least, the commercials for Caesars gambling world are interesting, with a cool latter-day Caesar giving the people a spectacle.
The gambling commercials play into the weaknesses of thousands, millions, of people who come to life only when their money, their lives, are tied into the action – pitch by pitch, by dancing roulette balls or actual pitches thrown by Major League Baseball.
The commercials do not show the after-effects of people betting the rent money, the food money, school tuition money, and skulking around, unable to admit they have a gambling jones.
The last time I looked, Pete Rose is still banned from baseball for gambling on games (including ones in which he may have managed or played.) Rose, the dope, also stonewalled Commissioner Bart Giamatti, who seethed with anger and died of a heart attack a few days later.
Under Rob Manfred’s “leadership,” baseball is sanctimonious about gambling because it needs the TV commercial money because baseball is falling behind other sports.
(When I am watching Liverpool-Man City on the tube, I can tell my wife it will be over in two hours.)
Baseball is also falling behind other sports because it has become bloated with pitching changes and rituals like adjusting wristbands (and private parts), plus the ball is in play less and less. The new analytics dictate “strategy” involving shuttling pitchers in and out of games, batters swinging for “exit velocity.” However, a good sign is that the better teams – the ones we are seeing in October – seem to remember old-timey tactics –the occasional hit-and-run, the professional sacrifice fly, the stolen base.
My friend Jerry Rosenthal is enamored with the Atlanta Braves, for good reason. Jerry played two years in the old Milwaukee Braves farm system, with mentors like Dixie Walker, Andy Pafko and Jim Fanning, and he played against Bobby Cox in the minors, and decades later he chatted with Cox at the Mets’ ballpark. He says the Braves and Manager Brian Snitker have never stopped inculcating players with traditional skills and tactics.
“Snitker is a clone of Bobby!” Jerry wrote in an email. “He has the fine human qualities that a great manager must have! I think the whole process comes naturally to this ‘old salt’ who learned his trade by managing in the minor leagues for many years, just the way it was when I played!”
Jerry added: “If this series with the Dodgers doesn’t teach these new-age numbers savants that the game is played on the field, nothing will! The consistency of the Braves defense is remarkable! Everyone does their jobs in a workman-like fashion. No outsized egos in sight!
“The concept of ‘picking-up’ the guy who didn’t get it done is evident in the Braves’ approach! Put the ball in play, move that runner to third base, steal a base, etc.! I love it!”
The Astros have stayed mostly intact as fans haunted them with reminders of the sign-stealing scandal four years ago. I can’t help enjoying that team that was so much fun a few years ago, although I miss George Springer.
To get to the point, how does a neutral fan, like me, choose between the Braves or the Astros?
When I was working, I rooted for the cities of San Francisco and Oakland mainly for the ambience of the Bay Area, or Boston, for the October walks. But now, my standards are different.
The Dodgers have been gone from Brooklyn since after the 1957 season so during this year’s wild-card playoff I immediately rooted for the Giants because of one player, Wilmer Flores, known affectionately as Weeping Wilmer for the way his emotions flowed the night he heard rumors the Mets had traded him. (It was subsequently called off.)
This year, Wilmer was at the plate with two outs in the ninth, and Ron Darling (who made the TBS broadcasts so good) told the audience that Wilmer was a clutch hitter with the Mets. Just then, Wilmer was called out on strikes while trying to check his swing. After seeing the replays, I think Wilmer and the Giants were screwed, but we have moved on, haven't we.
I had no problem with Mookie Betts and the Dodgers, or the team representing the great city of Boston, and as a Mets fan I liked the Braves of Chipper Jones and Bobby Cox, and I like this team, with Freddie Freeman schmoozing with everybody who reaches first base, plus unglamorous old school manager Snitker.
But now we’re in the World Series; remember, it’s a separate entity, no matter how many "post-season" stats Fox shovels at us.
I find myself gravitating to Houston – that very contemporary American multi-cultural city -- because of the manager, Johnnie B. Baker, Jr.
Dusty was mentored by Henry Aaron and later was like a big brother to my late friend Bob Welch, a star pitcher with the Dodgers in the early 80s. Now he has been a good manager with five different clubs.
Baker was profiled by Tyler Kepner, the Mister October baseball columnist of the NYT, who pointed out that Baker now holds the record for most games (1987) won by a manager without winning a World Series. Baker, true to himself, acknowledges that he was aware of that “distinction” during the league series, and he will surely be asked about it during the World Series. He can handle it.
I’ve been around Dusty during part of his managing odyssey with the Giants, Cubs, Reds, Nationals and the Astros, and I also heard about him through my pal John McDermott, master photographer, now living in Italy, who knew him in the Bay Area.
“Dusty has a great family,” McDermott reports. “His son Darren plays on the baseball team at UC Berkeley” – a reference to the son-of-manager junior batboy who wandered too close to home plate during the 2002 World Series. “He has a wine company, Baker Family Wines: and an energy company, and is good company.”
John knows Dusty via a fellow Bay Area photographer, Terry Heffernan, a fishing buddy of the manager.
"Dusty is many things: smart, wise, emphatic, loyal, fierce, a giver, consistent, quick to smile, a lover of life… a true friend, the real deal!" Terry emailed me. He added:
"Its easy to talk about Johnnie B Baker Jr. If we all rolled like he does, our world would look very different!
"GO ASTROS… and hopefully Mr Baker will break the managerial Hall of Fame color barrier!"
I’m retired. I don’t have to profess neutrality. All due respect to Atlanta, I’m rooting for Houston, mainly because of Johnnie B. Baker, Jr.
“They may hate the cultural context they now find themselves teaching in, but they love their work. The Achilles’ heel of schoolteachers, one all too easily exploited by politicians, is that they love their students.”
(One of the best reads in the NYT these days is Margaret Renkl, in Nashville. In her latest post, Renkl describes the dedicated core of “born teachers” – the majority, she submits.)
(From Madeleine Albright in one of her final interviews in February):
“Putin is small and pale,” I wrote, “so cold as to be almost reptilian.” He claimed to understand why the Berlin Wall had to fall but had not expected the whole Soviet Union to collapse. “Putin is embarrassed by what happened to his country and determined to restore its greatness.” – Former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, recalling her first meeting with the relatively unknown Vladimir Putin in 2000. – The New York Times, Feb. 23, 2022.