Russell and Duenes

Archive for the ‘The Greatest Game’ Category

Whitey Herzog, Not Earl Weaver

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From 1976 to 1985, two teams dominated the American League. The Kansas City Royals got to the American League playoffs in 1976, 1977, 1978, 1980, 1981, 1984 and 1985. The New York Yankees won the American League East in 1976, 1977, 1978, 1980, and 1981. In ’76 through ’78, the Yankees bested the Royals each time. Of course, as a Los Angeles Dodgers fan, I loathed the Yankees for beating the Dodgers in the World Series in ’77 and ’78, but as a huge George Brett fan, I also liked the Royals and hated to see them lose to the Yankees. I still have this image in my mind of Royals starter, Dennis Leonard, sitting in the Royals dugout, looking shell-shocked, watching the Yankees clinch at their expense yet again. Thus, my hatred of the Yankees only grew.

Whitey Herzog, the Royals manager in those late 70’s years, was establishing the brand of baseball he would eventually perfect as manager of the St. Louis Cardinals in the 1980’s, namely, build your team around speed, pitching and defense, particularly in light of the fact that your team plays on astro-turf, where, as Thomas Boswell once suggested, Herzog’s speedy players could pound the ball into the turf, beat it out, steal second, score on a seeing-eye single, and win the game, 2-1. Herzog didn’t have the bullpens with the Royals that he had with the Cardinals, but then in the 70’s, set-up men and “closers,” were largely unheard of. Herzog is the one who perfected the whole “turn it over to the bullpen in the 7th” strategy.

Earl Weaver also managed some pretty good teams in Baltimore in the 1970’s, but under a different managerial philosophy than Herzog. While both Weaver and Herzog had some pretty good starting pitching and solid defenses, Weaver famously relied on the “three run homer” from Frank Robinson or Boog Powell, rather than small ball and speed, like Herzog. For my taste, Herzog has always had the preferable style, if only for aesthetic reasons.

Which is why I love this Royals team. It’s like I’m transported back to the 70’s and 80’s. First of all, they’re playing the Giants, a team I hate just as much as the Yankees, if not more so now. But most of all, they have that same combination of speed, pitching and defense that Herzog’s teams traditionally had. I’ve always loved teams that have “lights out” bullpens. Though I’m no Cincinnati Reds fan, I had a certain affinity for “The Nasty Boys” of Pinella’s 1990 championship team (and I don’t mind liking them, since the Dodgers got theirs in 1988). The Dodgers’ Tommy Lasorda, much like Weaver, relied more on starting pitching and power than defense and a strong bullpen (Mike Marshall was before Lasorda’s time.), so I actually enjoyed it when the Dodgers had Eric Gagne. When it gets to the 7th inning, if the Royals have a lead, they’re usually a lock.

So this is a great Series, bringing up great memories of the baseball of my youth.

-D

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Written by Michael Duenes

October 25, 2014 at 7:22 pm

“The Best Years of My Career were the Ones Spent with Pete”

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So said Mike Schmidt, perhaps the greatest third baseman to ever play the game (Sorry, Brooks Robinson, you didn’t have enough offense). Oh, and Schmidt also said about Rose coming to the Phillies: “Right away our games were elevated by watching him everyday. First to park…last to leave. . . He constantly spoke to the media about my ability and how I was the best he ever played with. He told me daily I was the best, in fact he got everyone to believe they were.”

“He got everyone to believe they were.” That’s what I’m taking from the life of Pete Rose. I grew up toward the end of the Rose era. I was only 6 years old when the Big Red Machine won it all in 1975, but I remember well Rose playing for the Phillies when they won the World Series in 1980 (though I was rooting for the Royals). No one who has ever watched Rose play can deny that there’s never been another ballplayer like him, before or since. 

Rose was not nearly the most athletic or talented man on those great Reds teams. Bench, Perez, Morgan, Foster, and Griffey all had more by way of natural gifts than Pete Rose. But his manager, Sparky Anderson, knew best when he made Rose the captain of those teams, and though no one can know for sure, my guess is that the Reds don’t win even one championship in the 70s without Rose. He made all that difference. 

Rose worked tirelessly with what he had, and though it’s clear that Rose thought highly of himself, what I found in reading Kennedy’s book is that Rose consistently, easily and winsomely spoke well of others and wanted those around him to succeed just as he had. To my mind, Rose is a kind of “everyman.” No better, no worse. We only know about his money and gambling problems because he had the temerity to be one of the greatest baseball players ever. He was unfaithful to his wives, and there’s no excusing it, but in this he’s no different than countless other men. Do I look up to him and desire that my sons should be like him as a man? No. But I mean that in a qualified sense. What I do want my sons to emulate about Rose, and I have to think they’re going to learn about him, is his tenacity, his continual optimism about victory, no matter what the scoreboard said, his enthusiasm and energy with which he did everything, his ability to get a lot more out of a lot less than others had, and most of all, the “effusive” praise and uplift he had for those around him. He seems unpretentious, not put out at all to chat up the local nobody who comes to him for an autograph. 

“The best years of my career were the ones spent with Pete.” High praise indeed. I count it a privilege to have watched Rose play. I’d count it a greater privilege to have the effect on others that Rose has had on so many, both inside and outside the lines. 

-D

Written by Michael Duenes

August 12, 2014 at 5:44 pm

Out If You Don’t Slide at Home Plate

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I’ve been enjoying Kostya Kennedy’s book on Pete Rose, and of course, no book on Rose would be complete without going into detail about one of the most famous plays in baseball history. In the 1970 All-Star game, in Cincinnati no less, Rose came around from second base in the bottom of the 12th inning on a single by the Cubs’ Jim Hickman. Expecting nothing less from Rose, he barreled around third and proceeded to lay the wood to the AL catcher, Ray Fosse, in a bang-bang play at the plate. Fosse was hurled end-over-end, and baseball fans have been engaging in lively discussions about the virtuosity, or lack thereof, of the play ever since.

 

No baseball fan can deny that it is an adrenaline rush just to watch the play, even now, even knowing the outcome. Kennedy does a great job of describing what it was like for the players who were watching it live. I agree with his conclusion that there has likely never been another All-Star game, before or since, that seemed to matter more to those playing in it. As an NL guy, I don’t mind seeing the AL lose an All-Star game, but I have never been a fan of what Rose did that night. And Kennedy is again right, at least in my case, that my ill-will toward Rose for lowering the boom on Fosse probably has more to do with Rose, as a person, than what Rose actually did. Had it been Tony Perez making that play, I probably would feel differently. That’s just reality.

Yet virtually all of the discussion around that play at the plate has been confined to the question of whether Rose, in an “exhibition game,” should have simply chosen to slide. Kennedy thinks not, and it is indeed hard to imagine Rose doing anything other than what he did . . . unless the rules said he had to. And in my book, that’s the ultimate issue. That day, and every day in baseball since – from pee wee league up to the pros -it should have been taken out of the runner’s hands. The rules of baseball should just simply say: “You slide at home plate, or you’re out. You bowl over the catcher by running over him in any manner or form resembling Dick Butkus knocking some poor running back on his butt, and you’re not only out, you’re fined and suspended at least two games.” I’d put that right in there as Rule 10.3(a). If the catcher is illegally blocking the plate, as Fosse appears to have been, than you give the bag to the runner attempting to slide (very easy to do nowadays with instant replay).

It’s not football. It should never be played like football. A catcher in particular, who is typically looking out into the outfield and has his ribs and midsection vulnerably exposed, should never have to face being run over by the likes of Pete Rose (meaning, Pete Rose was built to put a guy on his ear), or any other player. It’s just not necessary, and it should be taken out of the players’ hands. Not an option.

There, I feel better now.

-D

Written by Michael Duenes

August 2, 2014 at 12:21 pm

L.A. Dodgers as “Yankees West”

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DodgersOne of my friends asked me if I planned on deriding the Dodgers for spending out the wazzou this offseason, seeing as I’ve trashed the Yankees and other similar high-spending teams over the years for playing the “rent-a-championship” game. My response: Absolutely!

I’m a baseball fan, so there is no way for me to utterly turn away from a game I love so much. But my interest in MLB has waned to a significant degree over the last decade or so, and even a Dodger’s championship contender will not change that. Sure, I check mlb.com virtually every night during the season, but mostly because it provides highlights, which gives me my baseball fix for the day. I understand all the blather about how “baseball is a business,” and blah, blah, blah. OK, so run it like a business if you want. That’s fine with me. It’s a badly run business. It’s way too expensive for fans, Bud Selig is a horrible “Commissioner,” players have no loyalty to teams anymore, every guy and his uncle is taking PED’s, contrary to Jim Carrey’s noise in “Dumb and Dumber,” it’s Tim McCarver who is “the most annoying sound in the world,” and major league baseball is just too darned removed from the common man of modest means like me who wants to enjoy the game.

I would ten-thousand times rather sit in the front row at a competitive high school baseball game than head down to the local stadium where it’ll cost me a week’s salary just to have a bite to eat. Give me little league over the ten-times too loud AC/DC music blaring over the loudspeakers between innings. The old MLB rivalries are hardly rivalries anymore. Yes, I still hate the Giants and Yankees, and always will; but it’s not the same as in the 70s when I was growing up. Heck, half my team’s lineup could be on the rival’s team the following season.

As far as the Dodger’s spending is concerned, I don’t think it’s going to get them to the Promised Land. The Yankees themselves tried this maneuver back in the 80s and came away with precisely zero World Series championships. I imagine the Dodgers are going to find a similar lack of success. But hey, as long as the TV stations can get theirs, and nosebleeds can start running me about $30 a pop, making big bucks for the already uber-rich athletes and top brass, well then, “it’s just good business,” right? No, it’s a bunch of crap, and I’m pretty disillusioned with it.

I’ll always be a kind of baseball historian, reveling in the great moments of the game gone by, reading aloud to my sons books entitled, “Baseball’s Greatest Sluggers” and the like; but you’re never going to hear me going on about my “love affair with major league baseball.” I have a love affair with baseball, and prefer to go out on dates with the non-major league variety.

-D

Written by Michael Duenes

February 2, 2013 at 3:33 pm

Bob Costas’ Eulogy of Stan Musial

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This one’s worth 20 minutes of your time. I wouldn’t use the word “decent” to describe a good man; it somehow seems an inapt adjective. But the quote from Hank Aaron is worth the whole speech.

-D

Written by Michael Duenes

January 28, 2013 at 8:35 pm