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Despite bad baseball management, another marvelous season

Despite bad baseball management, another marvelous season

By now, barring yet another rainout, either the New York Mets or the St. Louis Cardinals have arrived at the doors of baseball’s Promised Land, earning the right to play the well-rested Detroit Tigers in the World Series, which begins Saturday in this season’s final best-of-seven contest.
Last Tuesday afternoon, just before CBT press time, it was fitting that I rode with lifelong Cardinals fan Chips Godfrey to the “new” Busch Stadium to catch Game 5 of the National League Championship Series.

More than 20 years ago, I was hosting a jazz and baseball show on KOPN-FM, “The Tom Seaver Report,” when Chips, then manager of Columbia Photo, persuaded me to start writing professionally about baseball because, as he suggested, it would pay better than writing about jazz. When I was covering Major League Baseball, Chips occasionally came on road trips to shoot the photos.

I’d moved to Columbia in August 1978, after growing up in Queens, New York, in the shadow of Shea Stadium. Like Mets manager Willie Randolph, I grew up a Mets fan. Also like the former Yankees second baseman, I root for the Bronx Bombers—unless they play the Mets.

I came into baseball after the Dodgers and Giants had moved west, leaving the city without National League Baseball; I learned only recently that the Mets’ original blue and orange colors were intended to represent each of those franchises’ colors.

I was rooting not only for the Mets in the NCLS but against the Cardinals. In part this is because I have found over the years that a measurable number of Cardinals fans seem to be loyalists—not all of them, mind you, but many. Most Cardinals fans think they “own the rights” to being the “best baseball fans” who live in the “best baseball city” in America. Most loyal, maybe, but not the best; if they were the best, they would embrace the entire sport, not just one team—and not just one league. And, please, let’s not use the ill-conceived designated-hitter rule
as the ultimate guidepost. It is ironic,

of course, that manager Tony LaRussa earned his reputation in the American League with the White Sox and then the Oakland A’s. He brought his entire coaching staff with him, not to mention going after a plethora of players from that league. The current crop includes Jim Edmonds (likely gone after this year) and David Eckstein and, more recently, Scott Spezio and Raphael Belliard. Pitching-wise, there are the truly gifted Chris Carpenter, a former Toronto Blue Jay, and the fallen Mark Mulder, who arrived with great fanfare from Oakland. Meanwhile, Jeff Suppan spent as much time in the A.L. as the N.L. Let’s not forget Mark McGwire—Big Mac—the celebrated Oakland A’s giant. If he doesn’t epitomize A.L. ball, then who does?

The most amazing thing about baseball team owners and their commissioner is that no matter what they do to try to ruin the game, they simply can’t. No matter how many stupid and costly decisions they make, each season is a marvelous one. This year we had Ryan Howard come out of nowhere to lead the National League in home runs and RBIs. We had Ichiro Suzuki finish with a 221-hit season—his sixth season in row with more then 200 hits. How good is he? Consider that his six-year total—1,354 hits cumulatively—is 112 more hits than Pete Rose, the all-time hit leader, had in his six best years. Consider that the Tigers surprised everyone this season and Albert Pujols did not; he still put up history-setting numbers despite missing 18 ballgames. This season more than 75 million people—an all-time record—attended Major League Baseball games.

And so here we are again, a little deeper into October with the added layer of games. Baseball, of course, has mucked up the schedule. By allowing indiscriminant and unnecessary additional days off in the opening rounds of the playoffs, they were forced to make the Cards and Mets play on consecutive days, twice, during their second-round volley rather than taking a more logical approach that would have included a day or two off.

Due to television rights, baseball is locked into night games and a Saturday-Sunday, Tuesday through Thursday and then Saturday-Sunday scenario for the World Series, should it last seven games. The opening round of the playoffs, still only a best-of-five format, should be a best-of-seven. It makes for better evaluation of a team’s real depth. It’s as if we don’t have enough time for that on one hand, but on the other hand there are extra days off because of television.

Maybe the Cardinals are in the Series, or maybe the Mets are. I think whichever team survived the grueling NLCS chapter is likely to be dead meat for the Tigers.

If it’s the Cards, then they have the always-popular romantic nostalgia—a rekindling of the 1968 series with the Tigers. Baseball likes such symmetry. If that happens, they’re likely to trot out Mickey Lolich to throw out the first donut—he’s been in the business for years—or have the perennially jailed Denny McLain, the last man to win 30 ballgames, receive enough of a reprieve to chuck one to catcher Ivan Rodriguez before one of the home games.

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