Monday, October 09, 2006

A Baseball Rant

I keep my sports geek on a short leash around here, because I think most of my regular readers -- somewhat miraculously -- don't really care. But occasionally I have something to say, damn it. It's easy enough to skip the post if you'd like. For those who can stomach it:

The Detroit Tigers finished the 2006 regular season 95-67, a pretty impressive record by any measure and a remarkable turnaround for a franchise that went 43-119 three years ago. The Yankees finished 97-65. For the non-mathematicians among you, that means that over the course of 162 games, a pretty good sample size, the Yankees proved that they could be relied on to win .006 percent more of the time than the Tigers. (I think that's what it means; I'm not a mathematician myself.) Moreover, the Tigers had built their record (the fourth-best in baseball) with the help of very good pitching, the one element that every expert, barstool manager, and recently dead person agrees is essential for postseason success.

Yet, as the playoffs started -- because Detroit played poorly down the stretch and their young starting pitchers had shouldered the heaviest workloads of their careers -- the media took it for granted that the Yankees would win this series. Mike Francesa, a figure on New York radio and TV for whom the title of “talking head” would be much too dignified, said he thought this was the easiest matchup the Yankees had gotten in their last several years in the playoffs. Granted, they’ve had some tough slogs, particularly in 2001, when they had to beat the A’s and Mariners to reach the World Series -- those two opponents had combined for 216 wins in the regular season. Yikes. But the Twins of ‘03 and ‘04, and the Angels of last year, these were significantly better teams than Detroit and its league-leading team ERA? To quote Nigel Tufnel: Is that a joke?

People I know gripe about the Yankees “buying the championship” every year, which would make perfect sense as a complaint if they won the championship, which they haven’t done in six years. I guess "buying their way into the eight-team playoff bracket" doesn't have the same rage-against-the-machine ring to it. With all their high-priced talent, the Yankees are rarely more than two or three games better than their next closest rival over the season. Every year, there are teams like this one in Detroit, who succeed with good young players that don't yet cost a king’s ransom. (In the Tigers' case, most notably, pitchers Jeremy Bonderman, Justin Verlander and Joel Zumaya.) And all money issues aside, once you get to five- and seven-game series -- anyone who thinks those can't be toss-ups doesn’t follow the sport on any meaningful level. Even the Royals, who often look like they should be sponsored by a local dry cleaner, can be reasonably expected to win two out of five games against just about anybody. That’s baseball.

Did I think the Yankees would advance? Yeah. They’re more experienced, they knock in a lot more runs when they’re hitting, and they had the home field advantage. But I was worried beforehand, and the result hasn't shaken my belief in conventional physics. Any sane general manager would have taken the Detroit pitching staff over New York’s going into that series. (No one could have predicted the gutless Kenny Rogers suddenly turning into a bulldog, but other than that...) The Yankees gave up nearly a hundred more runs than Detroit did this year. For those of you new to the game, giving up runs is the opposite of the goal. You can't even really call the Tigers' win an upset if that word is to retain its clarity.

Now Steinbrenner, that model of calm reason, will probably fire Joe Torre. And others are floating even crazier notions, like “trade Jeter instead of A-Rod.” Say wha?? This jewel from the suggestion box comes from Jim Caple, the same professional scribe who predicted the first round exactly wrong. I’ll tell you what -- trade Jeter, keep A-Rod, and let me know if that Bronx crowd sounds grumpy on opening day next year. Caple and others keep insisting that A-Rod is the best player on this team, as if his inability to hit in big spots (not just during the playoffs) is somehow unimportant in the grand scheme of things. There’s a number of managers who would take A-Rod over Jeter on a playoff roster, and I’m pretty sure that number starts with the letter z.

Sorry to go on and on. The point is, it’s bad enough being a Yankees fan when they outspend everyone and are considered the bullies on the block. But I also have to deal with the media-created stupidity of people who claim to know the sport acting like Michael Jordan just lost a one-on-one game to Emmanuel Lewis. The Tigers are really good. And Detroit’s a great baseball city that’s been dormant for too long. I’ll be rooting for them against the attendance-challenged A’s.



Blogger MAW said...

So, um, how about them Yankees?

Sorry. Seriously, we watched the game from a bar and the vibe after that win was insane. I only wish I had been home so I could have driven downtown and been a part of the celebration. Any moment when someone can pour champagne on a cop's head and get away with it is a truly special moment.

Go Tigers!

9:27 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'd just like to point out that when you wrote a mid-season article about how nice it was that the Tigers had baseball's best record, I commented that it's a long season, and the Tigers would fade.

The moral, as always, is that I'm an idiot.

Sorry your boys lost. I can totally understand your frustration, since it's been 6 whole years since your last championship.

-- The Comish (sic)

2:46 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


You are dead wrong about A-Rod.



3:45 PM  
Blogger JMW said...

I've watched A-Rod for years now, with Texas and New York. He's prodigiously talented, obviously, but he's not the guy you want up with two outs in the ninth. I'm dead right about that.

Look, the guy's not a bum. He's a Hall of Famer. But when you put up those numbers and you're paid that much money, you're held to a different standard.

4:01 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


Late getting back to this, but: don't get fooled by the small sample size that the playoffs presents, or by the prejudice of personal observation, or even by the capriciousness of the NY sports media.

If A-Rod has a gonzo playoff run next year, his stats will be even more awesome than they already are (NB - his playoff stats are pretty good already) and everyone will have forgotten about his "problems" in the clutch.

Not to be contrarian, but A-Rod is near the top of a very short list of people I would want with two outs in the bottom of the ninth.


3:22 PM  

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