I posted in my book update that three ballparks along my tour were too meaty to do justice in a postgame blog. And while I didn’t have time to write about them then, it takes no time at all to upload a photo post from each of them. This is the first of those three. The other two are Fenway Park and Oriole Park at Camden Yards.
Commencing photos now.
Still feels weird to look at myself wearing a Yankees cap. Stay tuned for more on my Yankee Stadium experience when the book comes out next year.
At least 4 people told me that during my time at Tropicana Field last night. Why? Well, for starters, they won on Tuesday night, 6-1. It was the second straight win against the Yankees, and since more than half of the fans in attendance were Yankees fans, a series win is a very satisfying thing.
It was also another stop on the Derek Jeter Farewell Tour. The Rays presented him with a kayak with pinstripes, apparently. Personally, I’d rather get the BBQ sauce set that the Royals gave Paul Konerko last night instead, but maybe #2 does more kayaking than the average person. Multiple times over the weekend the typical DER-ek JE-ter *clap, clap, clapclapclap* chant spread throughout The Trop.
So the Yankees fans kept telling me I’d missed the ceremony. Rays fans kept telling me that I’d missed a butt-kicking. I kept jokingly responding with, “a pox upon me for a clumsy lout,” as if I was going to adjust my itinerary to see Derek Jeter get honored. Again.
Tempers flared that night as well when Derek Jeter got hit in the hand in the 8th inning. Both dugouts were warned. Yankees manager, Joe Girardi went off and got tossed. Then the Yankees retaliated and hit Kevin Kiermeier in the next half inning and the dugouts emptied. There wasn’t a brawl, but a lot of jawing at one another while coaches restrained angry players.
But that was Tuesday. Last night was Wednesday. Let’s talk about Wednesday in St. Petersburg.
The Trop isn’t a miserable place, but it also isn’t great. The main entrance and concourse feels like a shopping mall, and you can’t see any of the game through the concourse. The grandstand is one giant bowl and the vendors don’t provide any visibility into that bowl unless you get back to the seats. There are TVs everywhere though, so that’s nice.
The seats are bright blue, which is kinda refreshing and cool, but about 1/5 of them are covered with tarps because the Rays hardly ever come anywhere close to selling out. Unless the Yankees are in town, which they were yesterday, it’s typically a pretty desolate place to see a game.
The worst part about the Trop: the outfield grass. The AstroTurf in Tampa Bay is uuuuuuugly. It’s splotchy and black and streaky in places. It looks greasy and wet in large swaths across the outfield. While most clubs have gorgeously maintained lawns, the Rays basically have an ugly stained carpet. The warning tracks are fake too.
The infield dirt, however, is real, thank goodness.
There’s a giant aquarium tank in the center field stands too. You can touch the rays with your own hands – two fingers, along the wings, according to the tank attendant. They’re rubbery. I didn’t like it.
Despite this being just the Rays 17th season as a franchise, Tropicana Field is 25 years old. St. Petersburg spent a decade trying to lure a baseball team to come to Florida, and the giant white dome was one of the major moves they made in hopes of landing a team.
The experience bringing the Rays to Tampa Bay was quite the roller coaster ride.
In July 1988, there was a vote that nearly passed to move the Chicago White Sox to St. Petersburg. They had been in talks with the Twins, Mariners, A’s and even the Tigers as their ballparks were growing older to move them to Florida. Talks with the Twins progressed somewhat too, but obviously didn’t work out. In 1993, they tried to land an expansion team, but the Marlins were awarded to South Florida and Rockies to Colorado instead.
At one point – and this is just crazy to think about – the San Francisco Giants even signed paperwork to make the move from crumbling Candlestick Park to play at The Trop. Thankfully, Major League Baseball blocked the move. Can you imagine a world where the Giants play in Florida?*
* – Probably exactly what people were saying when the Giants and Dodgers moved west in the first place.
Finally, the roller coaster of possible suitors ended in 1998 when the Tampa Bay Devil Rays became a thing.
Originally, they wanted to be the Stingrays, but there was another team in Hawaii already called that and Vince Naimoli – the penny-pinching paranoid micromanaging former owner of the Devil Rays – didn’t want to pay the measly $35k it cost to purchase naming rights. So they went with the Devil Rays instead.
A story just to get an idea of the kind of guy Naimoli was: he created a strict No Outside Food rule as to force patrons to purchase everything inside the park. Naimoli enforced this rule extremely well: he would roam the stands himself and if he found someone with outside food, he would ask what gate they had entered through and immediately fire whatever employee was assigned to that gate, no questions asked. Once, a bus of senior citizens came to the ballpark and a woman in a wheelchair was found with a granola bar in her purse. When she was asked to throw it away, she explained that she was a diabetic and needed it to stabilize her blood sugar level. When they wouldn’t budge without her ditching the granola bar, she opted to wait in the bus for 4 hours until after the game was over. That’s the sort of penny-pinching we’re talking about.
There was lots if immediate backlash to the name. The public hated it and they hated the color scheme/logo even more. Naimoli held a public vote between the Devil Rays and Manta Rays. When the voting opened, Manta Rays was winning in a landslide. Slowly and mysteriously, the gap narrowed, and about the time it was almost 50-50, the polls closed and Devil Rays was declared the winner, which was fortunate for Naimoli because all that money spent on “Devil Rays” gear would’ve gone to waste.
Vince Naimoli just didn’t get it. He made his millions by buying failing businesses, slashing all extraneous positions and expenses, and resurrecting it by doing things as extreme as forcing employees to reuse Post-It notes.
As the owner of a baseball franchise, this didn’t translate. The Devil Rays’ didn’t even have a company email account during the majority of his tenure. Everyone had to email from their personal AOL, Yahoo!, or Hotmail address because Naimoli was too cheap to pony up and pay for company email. And the worst part was that everyone was so afraid they’d get fired, no one stood up to his antics. They lived in fear.
The quality of ownership was reflected on the field. The Devil Rays were absolutely dreadful.
While the process of getting a team was a roller coaster, the Devil Rays first decade of existence was anything but. It was more of a flat line. Between 1998 and 2007, the Devil Rays finished dead last in the AL East every year but once, and that year they finished second to last. They lost 90+ games all ten years and 100+ three years.
They were an absolute embarrassment and the laughing stock of Major League Baseball.
So, in 2007, they exorcized the “Devil.”
No, I’m not calling Naimoli the devil. Chill out, you guys. I’m talking about the name change. They dropped the “Devil” and simply became the Rays. And while the team still embraced the sea creature as it’s namesake, it was also an allusion to the other meaning for the word: a ray of sunshine.
Brighter, sunnier days were coming. And soon.
It was time for a change. There was a new philosophy of Rays Baseball. One that centered around defensive analytics and being comfortable going against the grain of baseball tradition. In the same way that the Oakland Athletics’ Moneyball thinking redefined how to win in baseball, the Rays needed to do the same. Otherwise, they’d always stay behind the Yankees and Red Sox in the AL East.
And while I wasn’t calling Naimoli the devil, he did decide to step out of his role as owner. There was a new ownership, new GM, new marketing, new color scheme, new logo…and a new manager who was the perfect match for this new era of baseball at The Trop.
Joe Maddon was hired by the Tampa Bay Rays and he is NOT your traditional manager. He isn’t afraid to push against orthodoxy and do things managers aren’t supposed to do. For example, he doesn’t like to utilize a traditional closer. Instead, he will bring in his best reliever at the most crucial point. If the bases are loaded with 1 out in the 7th, he won’t hesitate to pitch the guy who usually throws the 9th.
He breaks unwritten rules. One time in a game against the Rangers, Maddon intentionally walked Josh Hamilton to pitch to Marlon Byrd with the bases loaded. He didn’t care that it let in a run, the score was 7-2 at the time, he just believed that they were more likely to get Byrd out than Hamilton. Unlike the Naimoli era, ther is no fear in Tampa these days.
In 2007, the new leadership didn’t do much. Why? Because they didn’t feel it was important to win immediately. They could’ve worked hard to put the best team they could out on the field. Instead, they decided to take their time, flip some assets, and play for the future.
“Trust the process,” became their motto.
Royals fans are now familiar with this phrase – their own period of ineptitude, Dayton Moore started utilizing it as well. And now, 8 years later, they have fruits to show for their patience.
But for the Rays, it was much quicker. As in immediately. In 2008 – very next year – the Rays won the American League Championship and advanced to their first World Series. Worst to first.
Granted, spending a decade in the basement had produced a solid crop of young draft talent that was ready to emerge in the majors, but this was a different team – a different franchise and fanbase – than it had been.
The fans are a mixed group. On the one hand, there’s a youthful party vibe to Tropicana Field as might be expected for a young franchise. However, with the large number of retired individuals living in the Tampa area, there seems to be a segment of elderly fans too, but the majority are a raucous bunch.
One of the moves the new management made was to make it fun to come to The Trop. This meant summer concert series and goofy promotions. The most popular was Cowbell Night where fans received cowbells as an homage to the SNL, Blue Oyster Cult skit with Will Ferrell and Christopher Walken. The cowbells stuck and are now around at every home game.
I was sitting out in right field for most of the night, and there, right in front of me, was Wil Myers. Myers was traded to the Rays two years ago along with Jake Odorizzi in exchange for James Shields and Wade Davis. It was a hotly contested move at the time, and one that seems to have actually paid off for the Royals and the Rays…assuming the Royals don’t blow it down the stretch.
Myers is smooth and casual and makes the game look easy. He made a leaping catch up against the wall last night that most players can’t make.
“Oh, to be young,” says Ichiro, probably. The Yankees right fielder spends literally every spare moment in the field bending and squatting and stretching out to make sure he is as loose as can be. At his age, he can’t walk out and play like he could when he was Myers age.
There was at least a buzz around the place – something that exists only depending on the opponent and/or promotion. Sadly, most of the buzz supported the rival Yanks.
Anyway, all that to say, it was an…okay experience. Not sure what the theme is here yet. Probably something about leadership and communication and fear. I have some ideas but I’ll have to flesh them out a bit before I write any of it down.
For now, some game notes.
The game was a good one. Both starters pitched well to start the game. Alex Cobb, who nearly threw a no hitter against these same Yankees in his last start against them, retired the Yankees in order the first time through the lineup. He worked around a lead off single to start the fourth, and had 0 runs on 1 hit through 4 innings.
In the bottom half, the Rays got on the board first when Evan Longoria – the most prized of those many early draft picks through the years – hit a solo HR to center field. 1-0 Rays.
Brandon McCarthy started for the Yankees, and he needs to thank his defense for the win last night. In the first inning, Ben Zobrist led off with a single, and then David DeJesus scorched a grounder up the middle that looked destined for the outfield “grass.” Instead, it ended up in second baseman Brendan Ryan’s glove as he dove up the middle. If that ball finds green, it would be 1st & 3rd, nobody out. Instead, it got Zobrist with a 4-6 fielder’s choice. DeJesus got thrown out trying to steal second soon after, and McCarthy, somehow, only faced three batters in the first.
After Longo’s bomb, the wheels started coming off for Alex Cobb. Slowly in the 5th, and then entirely in the 6th.
The 5th started with Cobb hitting Chris Young with a pitch, who scored on a Chase Headley double. Headley then score himself when Ryan doubled two batters later and the Yankees took the lead, 2-1.
Then in the 6th, Cobb gave up a single to Jeter and three walks. Amazingly, the Yankees only plated one run as Jeter tagged up and scored on Myers dazzling play in right field. The Rays got 1 back when DeJesus led off with a triple in the bottom of the 6th, but that was it. Yankees took the final game i the series 3-2 and avoided the sweep.
First of all, I need to apologize for the blog silence over the past couple weeks. I spent a week in Colorado running a youth ministry trip and the wheels came off for a bit there. It’s amazing how difficult it is to write when you aren’t doing it on a daily basis. Gotta get back into the routine though, because this upcoming week is going to demand a ton of it.
Because I leave tomorrow afternoon for the east coast.
Eight days. Six ballparks.
And when I get home I’ll be 2/3 of the way through the tour before the All Star Break.
Tomorrow night, I’ll be in Queens to see the Mets. Then on Thursday, a quick train ride to Philly will have me there in time for the USA/Germany match and a trip to Citizens Bank Park for the Phillies game. Then it’s back to NYC for a Red Sox/Yankees rivalry matchup on Friday night.
I’ll follow the Red Sox back to Boston, switch caps, and head to Fenway on Monday evening. Finally, Tuesday morning I fly south for games in D.C. and Baltimore on Tuesday and Wednesday, respectively.
Then I’ll fly home and spend the next 48 hours sleeping, watching Independence Day, and tweeting about how Jeff Goldblum is the greatest actor not named Tom Hanks.
Here’s a look at the pitching match ups currently lined up for this week…
6/25 – Oakland @ New York Mets (Mills vs Wheeler)
6/26 – Miami @ Philadelphia (Koehler vs Hamels)
6/27 – Boston @ New York Yankees (??? vs Nuno)
6/30 – Chicago Cubs @ Boston (Arrieta vs Peavy)
7/1 – Colorado @ Washington (Friedrich vs Strasburg)
7/2 – Texas @ Baltimore (Martinez vs Norris)
Immediate takeaway: I wish I’d bought tickets to Saturday’s game in the Bronx instead of Friday: Lester vs Tanaka. Not that it will matter. Yankee Stadium will take my breath away regardless. The legacy of this team is wild. The theme going into Friday night: Empire, and it’s retiring Captain, Derek Jeter.
Same with Fenway. I loved seeing this game fall into place on the schedule. The two “cursed” teams in baseball, the Cubs and Red Sox, in an interleague battle. Of course, Boston’s curse has been well lifted while the Cubs are well on their way to 106 years without a World Series title. The theme of blessings/curses is going to be really fun to write about.
Finally, I can’t wait to see Stephen Strasburg pitch. In 2009, when he was a pitching prodigy coming out of San Diego State, my buddies and I were on the prowl for every box of Bowman baseball cards we could find. His rookie card was the most coveted baseball card since Ken Griffey Jr.’s in 1989. His injuries (and being shut down in the playoffs two years ago) have wrecked his potential coming into the league. When he’s on, there’s no one better. Can’t wait to finally see him in person.
Lastly, Camden Yards in Baltimore is a ballpark that I am extremely excited to visit. Man that place is majestic with the B&O building in right field. It set the standard for ballpark creations for the future. I’ve got a tour lined up for that one already (along with NYY and BOS, obviously).
It’s fun to see spiritual themes already unfolding as I get ready to depart. Here comes another adventure in pursuit of discovering the Story the God is telling in the game of baseball across the United States! Can’t wait to share these experiences with you all!
I’ll be listening to a lot of Jay-Z and The Roots to prepare. Maybe with some Ryan Adams in the mix. See you tomorrow, New York.
As I posted over the weekend, I’m beginning a new series looking at every World Series starting with 1943. I promise future posts won’t be nearly this long. I’m going to try and vary my approach to these posts too – sometimes focusing on stats, other times stories, other times focusing on specific players.
I figured out the reason for MLB Films beginning in 1943. It was the first year they ever did a World Series highlight film, and thus the first footage that was comprehensive enough to tell the story well enough visually.
The film was made for those fighting overseas during World War II so they wouldn’t miss the Fall Classic. Babe Ruth, 8 years into retirement, opened the highlight reel with a speech thanking the men and women for their service. This was especially important since many professional ballplayers from both teams were in active duty and not on the ball field.*
* – This year also marked the launch of the All American Girls Baseball League. In an effort to keep baseball alive in a time when so many stars were off at war. This 1943 season is told loosely in the film, A League of Their Own, which popularized the classic Tom Hanks line, “There’s no crying in baseball!”
The 1943 World Series featured the Cardinals and the Yankees – a rematch of the 1942 Series that the Cardinals won in 5 games – but because of so many players entering the military during the 1943 season, the rosters looked very different than the year before.
Take a look; players in italics left for the military before or during the ’43 season, and players with asterisks were their replacements.
Yankee Position Players – 1942/1943
C – Bill Dickey/Bill Dickey
1B – Buddy Hassett/Nick Etten*
2B – Joe Gordon/Joe Gordon
SS – Phil Rizzuto/Frankie Crosetti
3B – Frankie Crosetti/Billy Johnson*
OF – Charlie Keller/Charlie Keller
OF – Joe Dimaggio/Johnny Lindell*
OF – Tommy Henrich/Bud Metheny*
Cardinals Position Players – 1942/1943
C – Walker Cooper/Walker Cooper
1B – Johnny Hopp/Ray Sanders
2B – Jimmy Brown/Lou Klein*
SS – Marty Marion/Marty Marion
3B – Whitey Kurowski/Whitey Kurowski
OF – Stan Musial/Stan Musial
OF – Enos Slaughter/Harry Walker*
OF – Terry Moore/Danny Litwhiler*
The Yankees had 4 position players leave for the military, while the Cardinals had 3.* So New York, at a glance, lost way more than St. Louis to the war. So how did they both make it back here to defend their pennants?
* – I chose not to include Cardinals’ 2B, Creepy Crespi, who technically started the most games (93) there in 1942, but Jimmy Brown started more games overall as a utility infielder playing 145 games between 2B (82), 3B (66), & SS (12). Plus, Crespi’s 1942 WAR was -0.2, so technically the Cardinals gained something when Crespi left. Crespi would go on to break his leg playing a pickup game on an Army base, then would break it again in a wheelchair race, and later a nurse would accidentally administered 100 times the correct amount of boric acid to his injury leaving him with severe burns and a permanent limp.
Well, first, it should be noted that every team lost players to the war, and not just the two defending pennant winners. But this is about the World Series and not the regular season. But in order to set up the Fall Classic, let’s quickly look at the comparative WAR between the starters in 1942 and their replacements during the 1943 season.
1942 Yankees: 15.9 WAR Joe DiMaggio (5.7), Phil Rizzuto (5.7), Tommy Henrich (2.7), Buddy Hassett (1.4) 1943 Yankees: 8.0 WAR Billy Johnson (3.8), Nick Etten (2.4), Johnny Lindell (1.0), Bud Metheny (0.8)
NYY Difference: -7.9 WAR
1942 Cardinals:9.9 WAR Enos Slaughter (6.2), Terry Moore (2.6), Jimmy Brown (1.1) 1943 Cardinals:10.2 WAR Lou Klein (5.8), Harry Walker (1.8), Danny Litwhiler (1.5)
STL Difference: -0.8 WAR
So while the Yankees, coming off their World Series loss, fielded a team with -7.9 WAR than the previous year, the Cardinals, coming off their World Series win, amazingly enough, fielded a nearly identically talented team in 1943 after shipping 3 of their starters overseas. They decreased by less than 1.0 WAR.
How did the Cardinals manage to maintain their level of production, and how did the Yankees overcome such massive losses?
For St. Louis, the answer is obvious: Stan Musial won his first MVP in 1943 and contributed more than enough to lead the Cardinals back to the World Series. His 9.4 WAR led the entire MLB.
The other major contributor was rookie Lou Klein. Klein, in his only worthwhile statistical year, played every single inning at 2B, and nearly matched Enos Slaughter’s WAR from the year before. Klein left for military duty in 1944, and came back playing second fiddle to future Hall of Famer Red Schoendienst.
So here’s the real question: How did the Yankees lose such major pieces of their team and make a return to the World Series?
The answer: Spud Chandler, AL MVP.
Spud had one of the most historical pitching seasons in the history of baseball. In 30 starts, Chandler went 20-4 for the best Win & mark in baseball that year. He threw 20 complete games and his 1.68 ERA was the lowest of any starting pitcher between 1920 and 1967, and is still the Yankee record. His .992 WHIP was the lowest in 1943, and the only sub-1.000 of any pitcher that season.
So this series featured the face-off of the two league MVPs – Musial and Chandler – who had risen to the occasion and carried their teams back to the World Series for a rematch. The Cardinals looking to defend and the Yankees looking to reclaim. And while the names on the front of the jerseys were the same, the names on the back were drastically different (that is, if they’d had names on their backs).
The Yankees sent Spud Chandler out to pitch Game 1, and the Cardinals countered with lefty Max Lanier.The Cardinals had home field advantage in 1943, but due to the costs of war, it was decided that the teams should play the away games first in New York and then finish with 4 straight games in St. Louis. The Yankees crowd was astonishingly huge in all 3 games in New York, averaging around 69,000 fans each game.
In the early innings, both teams tried their best to manufacture runs. A lot has been written about bunting in recent years. Today, sabermetrics suggest two things that make bunting a poor decision:
1. Outs are too precious to just give away for free. Even if it advances a runner, your team only gets 27 outs, so you’d be more likely to score more in the long run by just swinging away.
2. Odds are better that a run will score with a man on 1st and 0 outs than with a man on 2nd and 1 out. Typically, managers will simply intentionally walk the next batter anyway, and set up the double play scenario. Statistically, it doesn’t help much.*
* – However, I still believe strongly in the bunt in certain situations. Unlike some of my peers, I haven’t written off bunting entirely. Late innings. No outs. One run or tie game. Strikeout pitcher on the mound. Putting the ball in play is infinitely better than a strikeout. But never NEVER bunt a guy to second when your best hope is on deck. Automatic IBB.
However, this is not 2014. This was 1943, and bunting was extremely popular in those days. And if this World Series is any example, the fielding wasn’t nearly as good those days either (the teams combined for 15 errors over the 5 games of this Series), so maybe the advantage was greater simply to put the ball in play.
All that to say, both teams succeeded in plating their first run thanks to advancing the runner with a bunt. After Cardinals catcher Walker Cooper singled in the 2nd inning, Whitey Kurowski sacrificed him over to 2B with a bunt and he eventually scored on a Marty Marion double.
The Yankees’ SS, Frankie Crosetti, reached on an infield error by the pitcher in the 4th, stole second, and then Billy Johnson bunted for a single to set up 1st and 3rd with no outs. Charlie Keller hit into a double play, but Crosetti scored making it 1-1.
Then Joe Gordon hit a 420 foot bomb to make it 2-1. Which, after all the small ball the teams had played up until that point, makes a HR seem way too easy.
Gordon would give the Cardinals the run right back in the next half inning though after a poor throw let Sanders advance to 2B to start off the 5th. Sanders came around to score tying it back up at 2-2.
The Yankees next two runs would come thanks to a screwy play. After lacing together two leadoff singles, and with 1 out, a pitch from Lanier popped up off the front of the plate. Cooper, throwing off the mask and looking around frantically, had no idea where it was (it was sitting about 5 feet behind him on the grass). He searched long enough for the baserunners to advance two bags, scoring 1, the other coming across on a shallow fly to CF two batters later.
Even though both runs were considered earned to Lanier after the wild pitch, they were sloppier than they appear in the box score.
This game (and entire series) was a pitchers duel, but poor fielding led to a 4-2 finish in Game 1. Chandler went the distance, spreading out 7 hits over the complete game. Lanier pitched well too, but he was responsible for both errors.
The Cardinals sent out Mort Cooper to start Game 2 in New York. Mort Cooper was the older brother of Cardinals catcher Walker Cooper, and the pitcher-catcher duo played together in St. Louis from 1940-1945.
Just hours before the beginning of Game 2, the Brothers received news that their father, Robert, had died. Suddenly, Mort was pitching to honor his father and his mentor.
The Cooper brothers were from Atherton, MO, just East of Kansas City near Independence. Had this been the 70’s, the Cooper Bros. might have been Royals instead, but white baseball* wouldn’t be in Kansas City until Connie Mack moved the Philadelphia Athletics in 1955.
* – Of course, the Monarchs of the Negro Leagues were huge in KC from 1920-1965. Two years later, in 1945, Jackie Robinson would come back from the war and become a Monarch.
Ernest Edward Bonham, better known as Tiny, was on the mound for the Yankees, but the Cardinals offense came out strong. A solo homer from Marion in the 3rd that barely cleared the 301′ sign in LF put the Cards up early again. Unlike Game 1, this time they were able to increase their lead by posting 3 runs the next inning anchored by a 2-run homer by Sanders.
Mort Cooper was brilliant until the bottom of the 9th when he got into some trouble. Johnson doubled. Keller tripled. The next batter, Bill Dickey, lined a shot right at Lou Klein at second base. Who knows what the damage would have been had that screamer found grass. Instead, it was just a loud out.
Nick Etten grounded out to Klein to make the second out, but Keller scored from third to make it 4-3. And with 2 outs and nobody on, Gordon came to the plate.
And he popped out unceremoniously to the catcher in foul territory to end the game.
Mort Cooper threw a complete game giving up 3 runs on 6 hits, most coming in the final inning.
The final game in Yankee Stadium of 1943 hosted a record crowd of 69,900 fans. The tie series put significant pressure on both teams to take Game 3 and head to St. Louis up 2-1.
The Cardinals had a big 2nd inning. Leadoff single from Stan the Man*, double by Kurowski, and an intentional walk to Sanders juiced the bases with 1 out. Litwhiler singled, plating Musial and Kurowski. Another intentional walk, this time to Marion, loaded the bases again for pitcher, Al Brazie, who fouled out to 1B. Lou Klein then grounded out to end the inning. The Yankees dodged some major damage,
* – Musial wasn’t much of The Man in his 4 World Series appearances, only batting .256/.347/.395 with 4 RBI in 99 plate appearances.
The Cardinals seemed on their way to taking a Series lead back home until the bottom of the 8th. With the score 2-1, suddenly Brazie got into some trouble. The Yankees put up 5 runs with a Billy Johnson triple off the 450 ft sign on the CF wall.
The Yankees took Game 3, 6-2, and more importantly held a 2-1 Series lead headed to Sportsman’s Park in St. Louis.
With the Yankees up in the Series, manager Joe McCarthy decided to hold Spud Chandler until Game 5. Instead they threw Marius Russo, who went 5-10 during the season in 24 appearances. He walked more guys than he struck out that year (45 BBs, 42 Ks). He hadn’t won a single game in August, going 0-5 in 4 starts and 1 relief appearance. Opponents hit nearly .300 against him that month, and his ERA was 5.11.
But September was a different story. In 6 games (5 starts), Russo posted a 1.53 ERA with a 2-1 record, and even got a save in his one relief appearance. Batters hit only .184 against Russo in September. He was a different guy altogether.
And his excellence in September spilled over into October. Going into the 7th, Russo had only allowed 3 singles and nobody had made it past 1B. The Yankees lad 1-0, and if Frankie Crosetti hadn’t dropped an easy 2-out pop fly in the 7th inning, the Cardinals never would’ve had a chance. Then two batters later, Johnson botched a grounder to third, and the Cardinals knotted the game a 1-1.
So Russo decided to bring his excellence to the offensive side of the ball too. The Cardinals brought in Harry Brecheen to take over for Lanier who had been pinch hit for the previous inning, and Russo lead off with a double – his second of the game. After being bunted over to third. A fly to CF plated him and the Yankees took the lead back 2-1.
And that’s the way the game would finish.
Russo’s run was unearned, so his line was 9 innings, 7 hits, 1 R, 0 ER, 2 Ks. He pretty much single handedly won Game 4 for New York and put the Cardinals up against the ropes for the Series.
Finally, the matchup everyone wanted: Mort Cooper vs Spud Chandler.
Mort Cooper struck out the first 5 Yankee batters of the game, and held the Yankees in check until the 6th inning when Keller singled and Bill Dickey hit a homer to make it 2-0 New York.
And that’s all the help Spud Chandler would need.
He pitched another complete game, giving up 10 hits, but managed to pitch his way out of multiple jams. The Cardinals had runners in scoring position in 5 different innings, and couldn’t get the clutch hits when they needed them. Chandler kept the ball down and forced the Cardinal hitters into 16 ground ball outs on top of 7 strikeouts.
The Cardinals probably had the better offense, and were likely the better team overall, but the 1943 World Series was all about pitching. The Yankees – behind Chandler and Russo – were better and deeper in that department, and reclaimed the championship they’d lost in 1942.
But all was not lost for the Cardinals. As we will see in 2 of the next 3 Fall Classics. And maybe next time Stan Musial will actually live up to his regular season performance. We’ll see.
This was the 10th World Series championship for the Bronx Bombers, and the last appearance for manager Joe McCarthy who would stay with the club through the 1946 season, but would retire before the Yankees could get back to the World Series again in 1947.
I missed the game live last night, but went back and watched the last few innings this morning. What a phenomenal celebration of a phenomenal player and person. I felt compelled to throw some thoughts down after watching Mariano Rivera, The Sandman, pitch for the last time at Yankee Stadium.
Mariano Rivera was born in Panama. His father was a fisherman. Mariano hated fishing, but it was his job too until he was twenty. Growing up, he played shortstop for the local baseball team. For equipment, he used taped up balls of fishing net and homemade gloves manufactured out of cardboard. He was good – not spectacular – but good enough to get a Yankees scout to take a gamble on him as a pitcher in 1990.
Five years later Mo made his first appearance against the California Angels as a starter. He was a really bad starter.
In his first MLB appearance, he pitched 3 1/3 innings, gave up 5 runs on 8 hits – including three-run home run to then 25-year-old Jim Edmonds that effectively knocked Rivera out of the game – and he got the loss. He went 4-6 as a starter and was platooned after the first few weeks of the season and would remain in the bullpen the rest of the 1995 year.
By the 1996 playoffs, when the Yankees beat the Braves in the World Series in 6 games, Rivera had become the set up man for closer John Wetteland, the Series MVP. The Yankees let Wetteland walk the following year to become a Ranger. It wasn’t a difficult decision when your set up man posts a 2.09 and 1.59 ERA in the regular season and playoffs respectively. The greatest closer of all time had found his place in history.
Mariano Rivera is very religious. He never hesitates to give God the credit for his entire career’s success. His best pitch, the cutter – which he discovered early in his career by messing around with new grips on the ball – he calls a “gift from God”. He doesn’t know how he figured it out, he just suddenly started throwing it. It’s just a gift that he’s used to his fullest.
Written on his glove and stitched into his cleats is the scripture reference Phil. 4:13 – “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” His faith is central to who he is as a person and a player. He even dreams of becoming a pastor after his playing career is over.
What impresses me most about Mariano Rivera’s faith is not found in what he says about God in his postgame interviews or the Scripture on his (now much nicer) glove. It’s how he handles himself on and off the field that speaks most. Has there ever been a more loved and respected man to ever play the game? At his last game in Fenway Park, the Red Sox – the Yankees hated rivals – presented him with multiple gifts as a way to honor his legacy. A stadium seat. A painting. An “42” plaque autographed by the whole team. It was all a tribute to their rival’s closer. They even let him sign the bullpen wall in his final game at Fenway Park: “Mariano Rivera – Last to wear #42, thank you for everything.”
The importance of the number 42 cannot be overstated. When he signed Jackie Robinson to the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947, Branch Rickey told Jackie that he hoped he had the guts to not say anything in response to the racial backlash that would come as a result of his playing. Robinson would have to take all the hatred, all the anger and ridicule and bear the burden without speaking up and without showing emotion. He was forced to stay silent. His silence was strong and spoke louder than anything he could’ve said.
No one else in baseball could honor Robinson’s legacy as the last man to wear 42 the way Rivera does. It’s hard to find a flaw in the man. This heroic silence is what is so admirable in how Mariano Rivera handles his faith. He doesn’t force it, doesn’t flaunt it. Doesn’t cross himself before he pitches, doesn’t point to God when he strikes someone out. He’s nearly monastic. He talks about his faith often, but never in a way that seems judgemental, forceful or insincere, and his public life is curiously silent. Has a first-ballot Hall of Famer ever done it so selflessly? And he did all this under the brightest of lights of them all: those of Yankee Stadium.
“How does someone close games in New York for 16 years and come out of it adored? How does someone who wears nothing but Yankees pinstripes his entire career — can you even picture Mariano Rivera without his Yankees cap on? — get honored at Fenway Park? How does someone in today’s Twittery, bloggy, First Take, Facebook, chat board, talk radio, GIF-infused world come out of a long career as universally beloved?
See, even people who loathe Mariano Rivera love him.
Scandal? Not a hint of it. Gossip? Never heard any. Embarrassing moments? Didn’t happen. Crisis manager Dan McGinn tells his clients: Biggest, best, most, first. He says that when you are one of those things, you are in the crosshairs, you are in constant danger of a significant fall. Mariano Rivera was all of those things. The biggest moments. The best closer. The most saves. The first option. And he comes out of it all immaculate, a sports legend. The perfect athlete of our time.”
I have no connection to New York City. In fact, I natually dislike everything about the Yankees simply on historic principle alone. They’re the Empire. The late George Stienbrenner’s lucrative and overpayed creation. The team that has no excuse but to succeed because they can buy anybody they want. Clemens. A-Rod. Ichiro. Soriano. Jermaine Dye. Texiera. David Cone. David Wells. Vernon Wells. Johnny Damon. Rickey Henderson. Dave Winfield. Gary Sheffield. Jason Giambi. CC Sabathia. The list goes on. Guys that could’ve gone elsewhere but were paid outrageously more to be a Yankee.
But Rivera was not bought, he was discovered in Panama and has been a Yankee since Day 1. So he’s pure in the eyes of Yankee haters like me.
As I watched the footage from last night’s game in New York – a 4-0 loss to Tampa Bay – I was surprised at how emotional I was. It was the 8th inning. One out. Girardi went to the mound and tapped his right arm to the bullpen. As Metallica’s “Enter Sandman” played loudly throughout Yankee Stadium, Rivera made his familiar jog, glove off and held in his hand, and I started smiling.
Six pitches: a fastball to Delmon Young flew into left for out number two. Then Rivera went back to his bread-and-butter. Five straight cutters to Sam Feld resulted in a chopped groundout back to the mound (Rivera has always been an excellent fielder), and he walked to the dugout after retiring two straight and stranding both baserunners. Another day at the office. I felt like clapping along with the fans.
After the Yankees failed to score in the bottom half of the 8th, they marched Rivera back out for the 9th inning.
After retiring the first two batters with ease – 1-3, F4 – Rivera prepared to face his final batter. But as a last minute surprise, Andy Pettite and Derek Jeter – the two teammates who have been with him in New York since the mid-90s – walked out to the mound to pull Rivera from the game and give him center stage. He threw 12 pitches, 11 of them cutters. Rivera looked up to see them coming toward him. The ever stoic Rivera smiled widely and met Pettite with a hug on the mound and that was it. That was the moment when the emotions rose to the surface. Tears flowed into the right shoulder of Pettite’s navy blue sweatshirt. He hugged Jeter next and then headed to the dugout to hug his coaches and the rest of his teammates.
The last person in line in the dugout processional: Alex Rodriguez. The Yankeest of the Yankees. The Cheater. A-Roid. The in the wake of the Biogenesis scandal (A-Rod is still waiting to hear the results of his appeal to MLB for his original 211 game suspension) the two met in an embrace that felt like a clash of worlds. The sinful and universally hated Rodriguez hugging the angelic and universally adored Rivera. Then A-Rod, like a little kid, put his hands on the back of Mo’s shoulders and pushed him up the dugout steps for a curtain call. The curtain call A-Rod is probably not going to get anymore. I wonder what his influence has been over the years. Over just this year. In his joy for Mariano, I saw a glimpse Mariners Alex. Pre-Bronx and pre-Biogenesis. It was refreshing. I’m not sure you could call it a conversion, but it’s the effect that Mariano Rivera has on those around him.
I think we can learn a lot from Mariano Rivera about how we live out our own faith: out of the spotlight, quietly, lovingly and through our actions. Swiping that dirt off the mound was probably the most selfish thing Mo ever did in his life. Rivera said nothing that earned him his title as the greatest closer and arguably the most adored player of all time. He let his authenticity do the talking. His cutter may have earned him the Hall of Fame, but the way he expresses his faith in God led to the celebration last night.
I pray we can all exit like The Sandman.
BTW: The picture at the top…I ran into Mariano Rivera coming out of our hotel last time we were in Chicago. The Yankees were in town playing the White Sox. He’s leaving for the game. Stood right next to the guy while he waited for his car to pull up. I was so star struck that I had nothing to say and was too scared to get my phone out until he was walking to the car. You’d be scared too if that bodyguard was staring you down with his fist clenched.