|Dusty, Barry, Twinkies and Scosh|
By Ralph Wiley
Page 2 columnist
(The postseason baseball column that answers questions like: Will Dusty Baker go to the Mets? Is there a better managing fit for the Metsy-Wetsys? What hopp'n to: the A's? The Yanks? The Braves? What's the best World Series matchup for TV? Etc.)
"Dub, are the Mets getting Dusty Baker, or what? I can get 3-1 against him coming to Shea," Dog said. "Am I down on Dusty?"
"Dog, do something rare and different. Keep your money," I said.
The Giants vs. Cards in the NLCS were on the tube. We peppered our reunion/slash/consultation with verbal barbs and commentary.
"The Giants also need to sign Jeff Kent and GM Brian Sabean. My inclination, if playing with my own money, would be to have an Uncensored Thought Balloon: 'I can't sign everybody!' But MacGowan's Giants contend and sell out that beautiful Pac-Bell yard year-in and out with the blend they have. If it ain't broke ..."
"Right there!" said Dog, imitating Howard Cosell, a very weird effect. You'd agree if you could see Dog's face. "Dusty showed me some heart coming to face La Russa fast after Lofton started squawking. Dusty wasn't flapping his arms all over. He was backing up his guy. Him and Rags, they know their (bleep)."
"Lofton looked like he said to the pitcher, Crudale, 'Yeah, I know, yeah, brushback this.' It was Matheny the catcher putting in his two cents that set Lofton off. 'Yeah, you got it from the bench, you piece'a' ... Key: nobody blamed Crudale." I said. "Nobody went after him. Giants thought the brushback came from the bench. The Giants need to keep Dusty, Sabean, Kent and pitching. Often I have thought, 'How is Dusty doing it?' He's pretty good."
"Hope the Mets get him," Dog 'pined, "and that I capitalize."
"Take emotion out of your play, Dog. Looking at it from Dusty's P.O.V., what do they do with him once they've got him? Saddle him up for Steve Phillips, declining Mo Vaughn and The New York Post? This reminds me of a story Sabean told me one spring a few years back down in Scottsdale." I then told Dog the story verbatim. I'll clean it up a little bit for you here. "Two bulls (named Dusty and Brian?) were atop a hill, watching a herd of fat cows grazing down below. 'Hey,' said the younger bull. 'Let's run down there and 'milk' one of them cows!' 'No,' cautioned the older bull. 'Let's walk down there and 'milk' 'em all.' "
Dog paused "Guess Dusty ain't comin' here, huh?" he said.
Just then I noticed Tim McCarver was making good inside points about the game, revealing the characters' interior motivations and whatnot, raising his game for the playoffs higher than it had been in some time, pointing out Shawon Dunston's bench pantomime was saying Dunston felt the Cards buzzed Lofty because they felt he was homer-trot Cadillacking on them, for example. "Wonder if McCarver feels heat himself," I mused, "from Kevin Kennedy, or Psycho Lyons. He's definitely on his A game. Keep heat on him, if this is what I get for it. McCarver and Joe Morgan, they can take you inside the game," I said. "I'm not listening to analysts for their jokes. I watch the game to be entertained. I listen to them for analysis. I can't even watch your league ..." "My league? What you mean, my league?" said Dog.
"... like I said, your league, unless the Yanks or A's are in it."
"I'm from Brooklyn. NL. I been front-running with the Yankees like I'm in 'Chariots of Fire.' Which I'm not, by the way."
"No, Dog. You were front-running with the Yankees."
"Whatever. What matchup's good for World Series TV now? I know personally, with no Yankees, no Mets, I no care, Popi. There's not even nobody there to work up a good hate against."
"You care," I said. "You just don't know it yet. There's a matchup that might do a number, get a rating, gain attention, keep TV execs from jumping out of windows. The best Series match-up is ..."
Dog yawned carelessly, fearlessly, then chattered his capped teeth like a silverback gorilla. I decided we needed the kind of baseball fact/background to inflame his hidden passion for baseball.
"Barry's up," I said calmly.
"Eh?" Dog's head jerked up like a dozing jackal's, downwind from the scent of the freshly spilled blood of a large, wounded animal.
Brave new hurl
Hmm, let's see, Russ Ortiz, for one. Ortiz beat the Braves twice on the road, not with overpowering stuff but with impeccable location and absolutely clear communication with his defense's positioning. He pitched like Catfish Hunter, around the edges of the black, to Sheff and Chip, and dared Andruw to beat him. Then Livan once again proved maybe we shouldn't even be calling this the World Series, since Cooba isn't in it. Livan, self-admittedly the least effective pitcher in the Hernandez clan, is 6-0 lifey in the playoffs.
There was also Dusty, checking and balancing like the houses of Congress with Bobby Cox. It was as fine a shave as having J.T. guard the line with two on and one out in the ninth of Game 5.
Then there was the specter of Barry Bonds, who helps win almost as many ball games as the real Barry Bonds. It's almost funny how a guy can almost sneak up on being a contemporary of Babe Ruth. Become the pre-eminent slugger of his time, of all time, maybe, and then have people mostly spend all that time saying he needs a personality transplant as he was not exactly sneaking up on history.
"I'm Barry Bonds, And You're Not." Never forget that headline in the Illy. Turns out he was right. Nobody else is Bonds. Nobody else is even close. It's terrifying to watch, one way or another. The pea he hit against the Braves in Game 5, 417 feet to the opposite power alley, on a line? "Like a righty power hitter poled it," said Baker. Gene Clines, coaching in the dugout, screamed when Bonds hit it, screamed "like somebody threw scalding hot water on him," said the Oakland Baseball Guru. Someone skillful enough, with enough time, and no bills, could make a novel out of this.
Only Barry Bonds can transfix 2002 postseason baseball now. All it takes is one. One icon for a sport to maintain major viability.
In any field, there's always the hatred, jealousy, fear and envy of talent. That's why they call it intrigue, human nature, Salieri. The same went for Ruth. Cobb hated his guts. Ruth got called "nigger" all the time, even though everything before 1947 really doesn't even count, and I don't care if Jason Whitlock did say it first.
Now, Griffey Jr. may soon be committed to a sanitarium, A-Rod has supplanted him as the best, other than Bonds; now it's Barry Bonds Unchained. At Homerdome, Busssccchhh, or Disneyland. He's already been to Disney World; that's where the Braves have their spring training, and that's where Bonds sent them. Home.
Bonds & Giants vs. Contraction Twins. Bonds & Giants vs. Grieving Cards. There is the possible middle America religious match-up of the Cardinals versus the Angels. Would that work as entertainment to rival the NFL, the advent of NHL and NBA seasons, and college football? ... Nahhhhhhhh.
"Who are we kidding here, Dog? With the Yankees, Braves, A's, D-Backs and A-Rod out of it, it's all about Bonds. Unless you're a Mets fan. Then we're all about Dusty Baker. Cards vs. Twins? We've already seen that, remake from 1987, blah, blah, blah about the roof at the Homerdome, hankies in the crowd, Bud Selig in the owner's box -- oooo, there's a celebrity sighting for you. That'll stop that clicker in my hand for hours on end, all right.
"Giants vs. Angels, that's all on West Coast time; people in the East, besides being provincial, don't like being inconvenienced. What's best for baseball would probably be Giants vs. Twins.
"Whoever thought baseball would need to be shaken not stirred by Barry Bonds? It's the most baseball can get out of the 2002 postseason, if not the next few seasons. Do the Giants let Dusty Baker walk with a possible World Series, and 660, 715, 755 upcoming? Doubtful. Ironic, infuriating, whatever it fires up in you, the best of all coming new baseball worlds features the hard-to-get, Sphinx-like, ball-striking genius. Black Babe Ruth. Double-oh-two-five."
"Yeah? Clue me on the rest, Dub" said Dog. "I'll make that call."
Art Howls as Minnesota Trims
Be that as it may, baseball endured a bloody dumb postseason.
To wit: Consider Art Howe, the A's manager who has to spend a third straight offseason with the hair on his ears getting singed off by the barking dogs of war and ownership, ducking at parking lot shadows and asking, "Who's there?" It is a question A's followers now ask themselves of Howe come playoff time. He is perfect for young talent, perfectly nonjudgmental, he raises them to the point where they can win championships, but he doesn't know how to move in for the kill himself. He should watch tape of Billy Martin.
Howe managed the A's to a 20-game win streak and through a divisional race with the Angels. But it's as if somebody rings a bell once the playoffs start. Howe is trained so that bell means, "Roll over." He manages as if it's April instead of October. He was run over once again by a truck called Destiny. It's a horror of his own making. He keeps getting run over by the same truck, then by a different truck. Pretty horrible. Like "Hannibal," or "I Still Know What You Did Last Summer." Dr. Lecter handles pitchers better.
Howe brought this on himself. He has the reputation (which he despises, by the way) of a developmental manager, a guy who can develop and nurture championship-level talent, but somebody else is needed to seal the winning deal. I disagree. Howe can do it. He just has to do it. He's too much of a sweetheart, too much of an "Ah, it's OK," hail-fellow-well-met, if you're on the other team. He had the best pitcher in the league this year in Barry Zito, and the next best lefty in the league in Mark Mulder. His marks were the Twinks, whose best hitters, other than CF Torii Hunter, are all lefties. So how did Art Howe set his rotation for the five games? Not the same way Billy Martin would have, certainly.
Howe inexplicably ran Zito out to start the last game of the regular season against the Texas Rangers in Arlington on a Sunday, with the ALDS scheduled to start on Tuesday, muttering something about it being Zito's regular turn, thinking that 23-5 would look better than 22-5 to Cy Young voters, no doubt looking at righty Tim Hudson's 5-0, 1.82 ERA lifetime record against the Twinkies as his Linus security blanket. He ended up looking more like Chuck Brown when Hudson was beaten by the Twins in Games 1 and 4.
Zito won his start in Game 3. Unfortunately for the A's, it was his only start. They didn't have the margin for error Howe thought they had against the Twins. Howe must've muttered to himself that he wanted to keep everything the same for his boys, everybody on their same rest, but he broke that by going to a three-man rotation for the ALDS in the first place.
If Zito pitches Games 1 and 5, there's no need for a three-man rote. Rest never hurt a pitching arm. Zito never should have pitched the last game of the regular season. Your best pitcher must be available twice in a five-game series, unless you had to use him on the last day to get you there. Howe may want to think of that in next year's spring training. The A's owners already thought about it; they, Billy Beane and Howe had a nice knock-down drag-out after the Twins surprised the A's, and therefore knocked out three home playoff dates that would have helped defray the owners' bottom line. Small-market teams can't afford to miss opportunities for revenue, let alone glory.
Mulder won his first start in Game 2 against Joe Mays, and pitched well enough in Game 5 to win anyway, but didn't, because Brad Radke pitched better. Still, you could see Max Mercy drawing goat horns over Howe's head, not just for mishandling Zito. Howe showed Billy Koch's latest, straightest hard stuff to the Twins in the ninth inning of Game 2, a 9-1 A's win. Why? It wasn't a save situation. He could've thrown a nonfactor at that point. He didn't need to show them Koch, so they could start timing him. The A's needed Ricardo Rincon, their best reliever, to help save Zito's game.
So in Game 5, down 2-1 in the ninth, Howe brings Koch. Oakland Guru went nuts. Been watching Koch give up bombs and strike people out alternately all year. Lefty bats find his stuff particularly appetizing. It's like Howe hadn't been watching his own club play the last two months. Koch came in, threw gas on it, to the tune of 5-1 lead, and not even a 103-win team, even a back to-back 100-win team, is going to overcome all that, the Twins, and a truck called Destiny.
Koch said he felt like killing himself. "Spread some newspapers around first," spat Oakland Baseball Guru. "Wouldn't want the blood to get on the wedding-gown white unis." Ouch. Hardball.
Speaking of killing, Howe better learn the Billy Martin instinct, or one day he'll end up in a rocker, telling a 29-year-old priest giving him last rites what a great club he had once. "Mr Torre!" the priest will say. "I didn't know it was you! You changed your name?"
Howe opened Heaven's door for the Twins, a cute team that disproved the small-markets-can't-compete theory to a greater extent than the A's did. They are an interesting and deceiving blend; if you look at them and the A's, surprisingly, the Twins would have the starter in four of eight positions, in center, left, catcher, first, and maybe second -- everywhere but short, third and right. The Twins' starting pitching is good to excellent, and for five games, better than Oakland's -- the way Oakland's was set.
Radke was particularly fine. That Game 5 assortment he danced up there was crucial, preying on the A's system-wide habit of taking pitches, the first two often, then more, which enables them to size up the pitcher's stuff, work deep counts, or walk, as well as help tire big pitchers out. In the case of Radke, and what is now Book on the A's, he used this tendency to get ahead in the count, 0-2, or 1-2, or 2-2, all pitcher's counts, last I checked.
Radke went to three balls on exactly one hitter in Game 5.
The Twins could win, just not as easily as any of the other clubs. If they do (not), it really will be Destiny; they are not the best club -- although they are not the lambs Bud Selig made them out to be.
Masked Angel dooms Yanks
The manager. Big Skip. Scosh.
Oaktown Baseball Guru and baseball people from all over have been pointing out Scosh to me all year, and even before that. "It's the way he goes about his business, never gets rattled, never shows frustration, never gets mad, senses when the pitchers are losing it, knowing in warmups what they've got and how far they can go with it, just how far to go with them, probably because of his big-league playing history as a catcher."
And not just a catcher, but a very underrated one. One of the Dodgers' secrets, when they were perennial contenders, was that their catchers were almost always excellent to great defensive players, from Campy to Roseboro to Yeager to Scosh. Even Lo Duca has some defensive rep, and if he had a better arm, he could probably stand with the others. A longtime National League All-Star put Scioscia on his all-time National League team from the '80s. You were not getting the plate on Mike Scioscia, as a hitter or a baserunner trying to score. He now manages the game the same way, as if he plans to win it.
The man beat the Yankees. With the Angels, for God's sake.
The Mets should be asking about him.
Yankee pitching? Jeter bitching? Soriano? Whole other thing.
Dog didn't have time. He ran off to get down on the Giants.
Ralph Wiley spent nine years at Sports Illustrated and wrote 28 cover stories on celebrity athletes. He is the author of several books, including "Best Seat in the House," with Spike Lee, "Born to Play: The Eric Davis Story," and "Serenity, A Boxing Memoir."