Sunday, September 16, 2012

From the Angels and the Royals, The Book snatches defeat from the jaws of victory, Bill Clinton's arithmetic strikes again in baseball

Close to a laugh as you'll find from Mr. Gibson
who must be laughing now at the antics
of the Angels and Royals brain trust

Let’s talk baseball this Sunday morning.

It’s not quite time for hot stove talk, though after our sauna summer the morning has just enough chill to warrant it.

Last night Angels’ manager Mike Scioscia, managed himself out of a crucial victory. Friday night Ned Yost managed himself out of a meaningless victory. And both snatched defeat from the jaws of victory for the same reason.

The Book.

Baseball is played more by The Book than any human endeavor except, perhaps, running for president. And in baseball, The Book of the age of specialization says a starting pitcher works between five and seven innings, an eighth inning specialist pitches the eighth inning and a closer closes.

No doubt a crafty Sabermagician can produce a graph showing us why this is the least risky course of action. You have to respect the power of numbers, or, as Bill Clinton prefers, arithmetic.

But baseball players aren’t machines, so sometimes a manager has to use his head. Slavish adherence to the low risk option might make you wealthy, might win you games, but isn’t much fun. And sometimes it is just plain wrong, as the numbers also show.

Add to The Book, the prevailing notion in modern baseball that unless the pitcher is Justin Verlander, he’s delicate as a flower. He’s an orchid out there on the mound, who must be cared for with utmost tenderness. He must not be exposed to excessive heat, unnecessary baserunning, dangerous use of a baseball bat, the seventh, eighth or ninth innings, or, worst of all, defeat.

The thunder you just heard was Bob Gibson laughing. Gibson's leg was broken by a line drive off the bat of Roberto Clemente on July 15, 1967. He walked the next hitter, retired the next and dropped to the ground after throwing a ball on a three-two pitch to the third hitter.

OK, Friday night gets a bit complicated. Try to follow baseball logic here as the home manager Yost tries to follow The Book.

It’s the eighth inning of a see-saw battle. The Royals are ahead seven runs to five. Yost goes to the mound and takes the ball away from Aaron Crow who has induced a ground out, given up a single through the middle and struck out Alberto Callaspo. Yost gives the ball to Tim Collins because the numbers in The Book say to. You see, the switch-hitting pinch hitter, Kendrys Morales, the arithmetic says, hits less right-handed than left-handed. Rule: In such a situation, the manager must replace the right-handed pitcher with a left-handed pitcher to turn the switch-hitter around to his weaker side.

Morales promptly deposited this wise decision over the centerfield fence. A couple of singles, a hit batsman and a walk later, the home nine were losers.

Last night was much less complicated. In fact, what happened was shockingly simple.

Mike Scioscia, having learned nothing from watching the Friday night giveaway, turned to the same page in The Book. He watched Zack Greinke throttle the Kansas City club for eight innings then, courageously and against The Book, sent his fragile young charge back out for the ninth with plenty left in the tank and a 20-mile-per-hour difference between his fastest and his slowest pitches.

But then, with one out and one on, he lost faith in himself and in Greinke and went to The Book. Greinke had not yet reached the showers when the Lost Angel’s specialist coughed up the lead on four pitches. The culprit was, once again, the centerfield fence, followed by the pesky left field foul pole.

Denny Matthews pointed this out on radio as the fireworks began to arch over the stadium. When you’re a Ford C. Frick Award winner, you can say such things on the air. And Ryan Lefebvre, his sidekick who is also growing some brass, added his two-bits about coddling pitchers. They were right, and a lot of old schoolers listening to their radios were nodding their heads in silent agreement.


Baseball card image courtesy:

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Slick Willie rocked the Casbah last night

I hate to admit this but I love Bill Clinton. I think he is the best theater American politics has to offer. Only the law could prevent him from being elected president again this year if he wanted to run.

Heck, I even voted for him once. That was after James Brown was accused of domestic violence, which meant I couldn't write him in yet again.

In retrospect I was happier with my votes for James Brown. I always said a man who will lie to his wife -- and an affair is nothing but a lie -- will lie even easier to the country. But his presidency had some moments that look a lot better to me now than they did then. We got through his presidency without being engaged in a shooting war of any magnitude. That's saying something if you think about all the presidencies since Ronald Reagan.

And, from this perspective, his balanced budgets seem almost Herculean.

But his speech last night was just pretty damned good. His technique was nearly flawless. The language might have been more salty over a pile of ribs, but it wouldn't have been more warm, more homespun, more friendly. That is part of his charm. When he asks: "Now, why do I think that?" then he delivers the answer, he reminds me of an old boy at the local bar holding forth with whoever will listen. It is hard to hate that guy, even if sometimes you feel sorry for him because you know he's been there all afternoon and you know he's going home alone.

Bill -- I'm sure he wouldn't mind if I called him 'Bill' -- demonstrated a Rooseveltian ability to simplify complex issues without appearing to condescend. This is a gift of great magnitude. Roosevelt said something like, "Now let me talk about banking..." in his radio addresses in the same way, almost the same tone of voice, that Bill Clinton asks, "Now, why do I think that?"

My favorite device was this: "I know you're laughing now but you won't be laughing when I tell you this." Or, "Now listen to this because it is important." Who can tune out a man who implores you with such language?

And, of course, the line about vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan's "brass" was beautiful. "It takes a lot of brass to criticize a man for doing what you did." Man, that line had everything and it had several meanings. It was just slightly obscene, just skirting the edge, which is a dangerous key to Willie's charm. It had the ring of truth, if not the precision. It reduced the other side to just a couple of other good old boys who had maybe been talking too big a game for their britches. And it was personal, dontchaknow. How many Republican congressmen was he speaking to with that phrase. It takes a lot of brass to go after me for doing the same thing "with that woman" that youall have been doing in the sanctity of your offices all along.

Nobody in American politics has Bill Clinton's brass. The beating he took in the media over his sexual stupidity was huge. But you can kick him in the brass 'til the cows come home and he always seems to smile and go on. That's just who he is.

And, charm? Well, the salacious side of that comment is a perfect example of why women just seem to melt in his presence. He's still got the juice. Just below the surface, just somewhere inside that grin, you can see a boy with a red convertible parked on the asphalt behind the junior high, heat lightning on the horizon, and your virtue in grave danger. Women with PhD's and lot of savvy tell their husbands they'd never go for him, but betray their true feelings with the way their voices get all girlish when they say the words.

Ok, so what happens when he addresses the Democrat National Convention? Same thing. Red convertible. Probably a 65 Mustang. Big ocean of asphalt out behind the junior high. Rock 'n roll playing softly on the am radio. Heat lightning over the trees to the west. The seduction is irresistible.

Unless, of course, you're a died-in-the-wool Republican. But, by then, you'd no doubt turned off the telly and gone to bed. I mean, you know, you've got to be up early in the morning.