Wednesday, March 21, 2012
Bobby Thomson, God rest his soul, couldn't hit anything but a fastball. Ralph Branca, good guy and a good pitcher in some situations, didn't have good command of anything but a fastball. Carl Erskine could have been brought in, and he had a really good curveball that became a great one...
Erskine gets Thomson to ground into a double play. The Dodgers win the Pennant.
Having won the 1951 National League Pennant, would the Brooklyn Dodgers have beaten the New York Yankees in the World Series?
It's certainly possible: The New York Giants, who beat the Dodgers in RL, took 2 of the first 3 against the Yankees. But the Yanks took the next 3 straight to win it in 6.
A look at the Dodgers' starting pitching, though, reveals a big problem:
* The World Series started on October 4, the day after the Playoff. It had been scheduled to start on October 2, 2 days after the regular season ended.
* There were no travel days when it was a Subway Series. If it went the full 7, it all happened within 7 days, barring a rainout.
* Don Newcombe pitched 272 innings in 1951, including 8 1/3 in Game 3 of the Playoff. He could not have started again until Game 4 of the Series -- Game 3 if Dodger manager Charlie Dressen were willing to risk him on 2 days' rest, like Phillies' manager Eddie Sawyer did with Robin Roberts the year before (and it almost worked).
* Clem Labine went the distance in Game 2 of the Playoff. Given 3 days' rest, he would not have been available until Game 2 of the Series.
* Ralph Branca went 8 in Game 1 of the Playoff, so while pitching to 1 batter (and warming up before that) in Game 3 wouldn't have hurt him, he wouldn't have been available until Game 2 of the Series, either.
* The last scheduled day of the regular season, September 30, the Dodgers went 14 innings in beating the Phillies and forcing the Playoff series with the Giants. Elwin "Preacher" Roe started, making him available for TTL-WS Game 1, but got rocked (a rare bad outing in a 22-3 season for him). Branca pitched an inning & a third, not much additional wear there. Clyde King and then and Labine followed with an inning each, Erskine 2, Newcombe 5 2/3 (meaning he went into the 9th on 2 days' rest to pitch the Pennant clincher), and Bud Podbelian went the rest of the way for the win, and also pitched the 9th in Game 1 of the Playoff.
* Joe Black, who did yeoman work for the Dodgers in 1952 and '53 while Newcombe served in the Korean War, was still in the minors, and not available for the '51 Series.
So, based on that, here's what the starting pitching matchups for the TTL-1951 World Series would likely have been:
Game 1: Roe vs. Allie Reynolds. In RL, the Giants started Dave Koslo, and beat the Yankees 5-1.
Game 2: Labine vs. Eddie Lopat. In RL, the Giants started Larry Jansen, who came in to relieve Sal Maglie in the Pennant clincher 2 days earlier, and he pitched well, but the Yankees won 3-1. This is the game where Giant rookie Willie Mays hit a ball to right center where Yankee veteran Joe DiMaggio waved off rookie Mickey Mantle, Mickey stopped short so as not to crash into Joe, stepped in a drain that had been left open, and tore up his right knee, leaving him out for the Series and damaging his career in ways that can be examined at another time.
Game 3: Newcombe vs. Vic Raschi. In RL, the Giants started Jim Hearn, and beat the Yankees 6-2.
Game 4: Branca vs. Reynolds. In RL, the Giants started Sal Maglie, and the Yanks won 6-2 thanks to a Gil McDougald grand slam.
Game 5: Roe vs. Lopat. In RL, the Giants started Jansen, but the Yanks smacked him around, scoring 5 in the 3rd and plugging away to a 13-1 win.
Game 6: Labine vs. Raschi. In RL, the Giants started Koslo, but the Yanks won 4-3 to take the Series. This was DiMaggio's last game. His last at-bat came in the 8th, and he doubled to left-center off Jansen.
Game 7: Newcombe vs. Reynolds. In RL, of course, this game was never played.
So let's speculate on what would have happened if it had been Dem Bums, rather than Da Jints, against the Bronx Bombers:
Game 1, October 4 at the original Yankee Stadium: If Koslo could shut down the Yankees, certainly Roe, with his sinker (cough-spitball-cough) could have. Different opponent, same result, same score: Dodgers 5, Yankees 1. Dodgers lead, 1 game to 0.
Game 2, October 5 at Yankee Stadium: The junkballing Lopat never seemed to get tired, while Labine, even on 3 days' rest, may not have been at his best, even though he usually pitched very well against the Yanks. (This included in the 1960 World Series for Pittsburgh.) Perhaps if Duke Snider, a lefty pull hitter, were batting instead of Mays, the ball that DiMaggio took from Mantle goes right to Mantle, and he doesn't hurt his knee, but let's not consider the long-term implications yet. Lopat outduels Labine. Yankees 3, Dodgers 1. Series tied, 1-1.
Game 3, October 6 at Ebbets Field: Newcombe would not have been as rested as RL-Game 3 starter Hearn. Instead of a 6-2 NL win, the AL Champions get to Newk and the Dodger pen. Yankees 7, Dodgers 6. Yankees lead, 2 games to 1, and already we have a substantially different World Series in TTL.
Game 4, October 8 at Ebbets Field: The Dodgers get what they need so badly, a day's delay due to rain. No question about it, if Sal the Barber, with his devastating curveball (and he was never better than in 1951), could give up a grand slam to McDougald (a good contact hitter but not a lot of power), then surely Branca would have. Or would he? We're not in the Polo Grounds now. But, knowing that Branca is a fastball pitcher, McDougald may have tried to pull the ball, instead of not trying to against Maglie's hook. Figure a double instead of a homer. Yankees 4, Dodgers 2. Yankees lead 3 games to 1.
Game 5, October 9 at Ebbets Field: As breaking-stuff experts, neither Roe nor Lopat benefits much from the extra day of rest. But facing a rested Roe instead of a tired Jansen may mean the Yankees don't score 5 runs in the 3rd. Maybe the Dodgers win this one. Dodgers 5, Yankees 4. Yankees lead 3 games to 2. So now we're back to where we were in RL.
Game 6, October 10 at Yankee Stadium: Labine is now fully-rested, and maybe that makes the difference, since the fireballing Raschi will have had just 3 days' worth. Dodgers 3, Yankees 1. Series tied, 3-3, and the Game 7 that didn't happen in RL happens in TTL.
Game 7, October 11 at Yankee Stadium: Think the Yankees can't lose a Game 7 at home? They already had, in 1926 (St. Louis Cardinals). And they would again in 1955 (Dodgers) and 1957 (Milwaukee Braves). So we have Big Newk on 4 days' rest, and the Superchief on 3.
This is where, as it did in RL-1952 Game 7, the Yankee bullpen has a chance to make the difference, as Newk, closing in on 300 innings pitched for the year, is shaky, and Dressen can't bring in a reliever as good as Bob Kuzava, who pitches the 9th in relief of Reynolds. Yankees 7, Dodgers 4. Yankees win Series, 4 games to 3.
So what's the verdict? Was it really worth it for the Dodgers to win what was, in RL, the Bobby Thomson Pennant? They don't win the Series anyway, although they have their chances. Would it really have made the difference?
Maybe, if Walter O'Malley had started immediately to work with City officials to get a new ballpark to replace Ebbets Field, with its 31,497 seats and 750 parking spaces. Maybe the Dodgers don't move to Los Angeles. Maybe this leads to the Giants getting out of the Polo Grounds and into the stadium that Robert Moses wanted to build in Flushing Meadow, the one that became known in RL as Shea Stadium.
But let's get real: In RL, the Dodgers moved 1 year after winning a Pennant, and 2 years after winning a World Series. If that success didn't stop O'Malley from moving the team, surely an additional Pennant (or even title) wouldn't have swayed him.
What would have happened if the Dodgers and Giants had stayed in New York? That's an entry for another time. As are what might have happened had one stayed and not the other.
If the Dodgers had won the 1951 Pennant, I suppose the biggest difference is that the New York Giants get more forgotten in the wake of the celebrations of Casey Stengel's Yankees and the Dodger Boys of Summer. After all, the Giants didn't win title after title, and there was no great book written about them as they moved into middle age by an equivalent to Roger Kahn.
Bobby Thomson died in 2010. Without that home run, he'd be on the level of other '51 Giants, like Whitey Lockman and Don Mueller and Wes Westrum. Except they were still with the Giants when they won the '54 Series -- Thomson wasn't.
And, of course, Ralph Branca never gives up that home run, and is probably remembered as follows: "What happened to him? He won 21 games at age 21, and then... and then... Huh? How come he couldn't keep it going? I don't get it."
This makes it sound like Thomson did Branca a favor. Which, I assure you, is not what happened.
Someday, I'll do a post about what would have happened if, in the '54 Series, Willie Mays hadn't made The Catch. You may be surprised: He is actually the person who ends up the least affected by that, although it'll mean that the Giants' 2010 World Series win isn't their first since 1954, it's their first since 1933! 56 years is bad enough, but 77 years?
Tuesday, March 20, 2012
NOTE: The following was written in March 2010, after Gooden had been pulled over for drunk driving. The story presumes that he never fell victim to substance abuse, which we first found out about on April 1, 1987 -- April Fool's Day, nearly 25 years ago.
Remember back in 1984, when Dwight Gooden was just 19 years old, went 17-9, and set a rookie record with 276 strikeouts? Met fans were already saying he was the greatest pitcher ever.
It was like Knick fans would get a year later after they got the top pick in the NBA Draft (wonder how that happened) and used it on Patrick Ewing: It wasn't if he would lead them to championships, it was how many.
The Mets finished 2nd that year, but the next year, 1985, they looked ready to make a serious challenge at the World Series. With Gooden, Darryl Strawberry and Keith Hernandez already in place, they added Gary Carter. They came close, chasing the St. Louis Cardinals for the National League Eastern Division Title to the last weekend before falling short. Gooden had one of the best seasons any pitcher has ever had: 24-4, ERA of 1.53, 268 Ks, and a WHIP of 0.965. (Walks and Hits, divided by Innings Pitched. Anything under 1.3 is good. Under 1.2 is excellent. Under 1.0 is ungodly.)
Dwight Gooden, "Doctor K" (eventually just "Doc"), won the Cy Young Award the year after being Rookie of the Year. He had won 41 games before he was old enough to legally drink. His future, and the Mets' seemed limitless.
In 1986, it all came together. True, he went "only" 17-6, and he failed to win either of his World Series starts (but then, he was opposed in both by Roger Clemens, who was every bit as dominating in '86 as Gooden was in '85), but the Mets did win the Series, after winning 108 games in the regular season.
What a rotation: Dwight Gooden, Ron Darling, Sid Fernandez, Bob Ojeda. A bullpen with Jesse Orosco, Roger McDowell and Randy Myers. An outfield of Kevin Mitchell, the platoon of Mookie Wilson and Lenny Dykstra, and Darryl Strawberry. An infield of Keith Hernandez, Wally Backman, Rafael Santana and Howard Johnson -- and Backman and Johnson could be platooned with Tim Teufel and Ray Knight, respectively, with occasionally "Amazin'" results.
At the City Hall celebration after the ticker-tape parade -- a bigger one than the Yankees had ever received to that point, but, then again, then-Mayor Ed Koch was a Met fan (no wonder he went bald: He probably pulled out most of his hair!) -- Mookie told the crowd, "1986: The Year of the Mets! 1987: The Year of the Mets! 1988: The Year of the Mets!"
Big roar. No one doubted him. Yankee Fans feared it would be true, but even we found it hard to doubt that it could happen.
But that was when things began to go wrong for the Mets. They traded Mitchell for Kevin McReynolds, who just didn't produce the way Mitchell did the next few years. They released Knight, which became a problem when HoJo kept getting hurt. Hernandez hurt his back and got old in a hurry. They traded Dykstra for Juan Samuel, a great trade for the Phillies but yet another in a long list of bonehead moves for the Mets. Hot prospects Dave Magadan and Gregg Jeffries didn't quite work out.
Through it all, Gooden kept on pitching. In 1987, he went 20-9, as the Mets again finished 2nd to the Cardinals, by just 1 game. In 1988, he had another great year, going 18-9, and starting the All-Star Game, as he had in '84. But a little foreshadowing came when he gave up a home run to the weakest hitter in the American League's starting lineup: Terry Steinbach, the catcher for the Oakland Athletics.
The Mets again won the NL East. Gooden shut down the Los Angeles Dodgers in Game 3 of the National League Championship Series, and the Mets won that series in 5. This enabled Gooden to start Game 1 of the World Series, but, again, he was victimized by an A's homer, as manager Davey Johnson left him in to pitch a complete game, and in the top of the 9th, Mark McGwire crushed one over the picnic area in Shea Stadium's left-center field, turning a 4-3 Met lead into a 5-4 A's win. The Mets never recovered, and the A's won in 5 games, with Gooden also losing the clincher.
Gooden sustained his first major league injury in 1989, but bounced back to put together a 12-5 season. The Mets again finished 2nd, to the Chicago Cubs as they had in '84, Gooden's first season. In 1990, he was 19-7, but the Mets again finished 2nd, this time to the Pittsburgh Pirates.
Another injury in 1991 left Gooden only 13-7, but by now the Mets had collapsed. In 1992, they were so bad that Bob Klapisch, the Mets' beat writer for the New York Daily News, published a book about them, titled The Worst Team Money Could Buy. Gooden fell to 10-13 in '92 and 12-15 in '93 as the Mets lost 103 games. For a while, in '93, they were ahead of their 1962 team's 20th Century record pace of 120 losses, and they were a bunch of juvenile delinquents as well, tossing firecrackers that ended up hurting children, spraying reporters with bleach, threatening reporters with physical harm. (Including Bobby Bonilla to Klapisch: “Make yo’ move, ‘cause I’ll hurt you!”) In all this, Gooden, now 28, was a beacon of maturity.
But improvement was not on the horizon for a man who seemed, with injuries and a poor supporting cast, to have fallen off the Baseball Hall of Fame's radar. In 1994, with a players' strike shortening the season, and a rotator cuff shortening his own, Gooden finished just 3-5. He bounced back in 1995, going 7-3 in limited action, but the atmosphere in Flushing Meadow was so bad that he wanted out. He entered the free agent market.
That's when Yankee owner George Steinbrenner pounced. In one of the great coups in baseball history, he took the biggest star the Mets had produced since Tom Seaver, and brought him to The Bronx.
On May 14, 1996, Dwight Gooden did something neither he, nor any other human being, had done, or still has done, in a Met uniform: He pitched a no-hitter. He blanked the Seattle Mariners as the Yankees won, 4-0. Rejuvenated, he went 13-8, and won Game 4 of the World Series, as the Yankees beat the Atlanta Braves in 6 games. (Note: Gooden doing the job that Kenny Rogers failed to do erased that 6-0 to 8-6 comeback, which means that Jim Leyritz is mainly known for his rain-strewn walkoff homer in Game 2 of the 1995 ALDS.)
Gooden again pitched well for the Yankees in 1997, going 16-9, helping them beat out the Baltimore Orioles for the AL East title, the Cleveland Indians in the ALDS, the Orioles again in the ALCS, and the upstart Florida Marlins in the World Series.
None of those teams have made the World Series since; in fact, only the Indians have even reached the postseason since, and South Florida doesn't even have a team anymore, after the Marlins were broken up, attendance sank like a stone, and the team was moved to Washington, D.C. Rumors abound that the Montreal Expos, if they can't get a deal for a new ballpark to open by the 2014 season, may move to Miami, but they'd still be stuck in whatever the Miami Dolphins' stadium is being called these days.
Gooden hadn't had a 200-strikeout season since 1990, and only that one since 1986, but it didn't matter, as, like his former Met, now Yankee, teammate David Cone, he became a smarter pitcher with age -- or, if you prefer, a pitcher rather than a thrower. The 1998 Yankees were the greatest team of all time, with a rotation of Cone, Gooden, Andy Pettitte, David Wells, and Orlando "El Duque" Hernandez, making the '86 Mets look like pikers. Their 117 wins were the most in baseball history, including Gooden's 12-9 record. They swept the Texas Rangers in the ALDS, took the Indians in 5 in the ALCS, and swept the San Diego Padres for their 3rd straight World Series. The Yankees had an unbelievable 11-1 postseason, the greatest performance in baseball's postseason since the '76 Reds went 7-0 (facing a maximum of 12, as opposed to 19).
Gooden finally seemed to slow down in 1999, at age 34, going 12-9 but with an ERA of 4.70. He did not appear in the Yankees' 2nd straight 11-1 postseason. An 11-10 season in 2000 showed him the writing on the wall, though it also showed him a 5th straight World Series ring -- something only the 1949-53 Yankees had previously done. He had surgery on his shoulder, allowing him to come back in time for the 2001 stretch drive, going 4-1 in limited action. He managed to shut down the Arizona Diamondbacks in emergency relief of Andy Pettitte in Game 6 of the World Series, and the Yankees claimed their record 6th straight World Championship, their 28th World Series overall.
It was too much for his shoulder, and Gooden sat out the entire 2002 season, in which the Yankees lost to the Anaheim Angels in the ALDS. But he was back in 2003, squeezing out one more solid season, going 15-12, with his first 200-K season in 13 years. His heroic bullpen work saved the Yankees in Game 7 of the ALCS against the Boston Red Sox, leading to Aaron Boone's epic home run to win the Pennant. Doc again pitched in relief to shut down the Chicago Cubs, in their first World Series in 58 years, to win Game 4, allowing the Yankees to beat the Cubs in Game 6 for Title 29. (Note: With the Marlins in disarray, and in Washington, the Cubs don't collapse in the NLCS. They do get the Pennant, if not the whole thing.)
But the end was near. The pain was too great for much of the 2004 season, and Doc announced it would be his last. He would, after all, be turning 40 shortly after it ended. But he did manage to make his last regular-season strikeout the 3,000th of his career. The Doctor still had one last procedure to perform.
With the Red Sox (cough-steroids-cough) having completed baseball's first-ever 3-games-to-0 postseason comeback, manager Joe Torre had a tough choice to make in Game 7. Pettitte had been allowed to leave for Houston. So had Roger Clemens. Mike Mussina wasn't ready. Neither was Jon Lieber. Wells had left. Kevin Brown hadn't been effective. Neither had Javier Vazquez. Neither had Esteban Loaiza. El Duque was hurting. So was Doc.
Doc sucked it up and said, "Skip, gimme that ball."
Joe gave Doc the ball. He sent the Sox down in order in the 1st. In the 3rd, David Ortiz led off. The biggest Yankee-killer of his generation had pummeled them the last 2 seasons, but Gooden stuck a fastball -- "The last good one I ever threw," he would tell the press -- right in Big Papi's fat ribs. Ortiz pointed at the mound, and Gooden, in his best imitation of an English hooligan's "Come on then" style, threw out his arms and accepted the challenge. Both benches cleared, and Ortiz flattened Gooden. Not by punching him, but by falling on him. That would flatten anyone. The umpires threw both men out of the game, thus requiring a new pitcher for the Yankees, but also taking the Sox' biggest threat out.
Vazquez came in, settled things down, and held the Sox off until the 7th. Then the Sox made the mistake of bringing Pedro Martinez in to pitch, and he found out "Who's your Daddy!" The Yankees tallied twice off him to take a 3-0 lead. Mariano Rivera pitched the last 2 innings to give the Yankees their 41st Pennant.
The Curse of the Bambino lived, and still lives. Ortiz, Manny Ramirez, Jason Varitek, Trot Nixon, Mark Bellhorn and Bill Mueller were soon outed as steroid users. Sox management allowed Pedro to leave Boston via free agency, just as they did to Clemens after 1996.
The Red Sox have not won a World Series for 94 years. This past offseason, team owner John Henry, fed up with it all, sold the team to a Russian oil billionaire, who has promised to build a new ballpark on landfill in Boston's North End. "Of course," Yankee Fans are saying. "Landfill for a garbage team." Sure, build a ballpark on landfill. After all, it worked so well for Cleveland Municipal Stadium, right?
Gooden pitched just one inning in the World Series against the Cardinals, but he said it was sweet revenge for 1985 and '87 with the Mets. The Yankees had their 30th World Championship, and Dwight Gooden walked away from baseball with a 9th World Series ring. Only Yogi Berra then had more (though Rivera, Derek Jeter and Jorge Posada have now matched Yogi).
Dwight Gooden retired with a career record of 256-149, for a superb winning percentage of .632, and just barely entered the 3,000 Strikeout Club – all this despite several injuries that got in his way.
After Gooden's retirement, the Yankees hit a little dry spell, as the World Series was won by the Chicago White Sox in 2005, the Cardinals in 2006, the Colorado Rockies in 2007, and the Philadelphia Phillies in 2008, before the Yankees dethroned the Phils in 2009, and the San Francisco Giants won in 2010 and the Cards again in 2011.
Gooden was caught speeding in March 2010, on his way to a banquet honoring his recent election to the Baseball Hall of Fame.
Some say he was the greatest New York pitcher ever. Well, probably not. Not even if you include what he did for the Mets.
Still, Dwight Eugene Gooden is a Yankee hero, and a baseball hero. With his injuries, it could have been a lot worse.
In fact, it could have been even worse than that. Look at his former Met and Yankee teammate Darryl Strawberry. Can you imagine if Gooden had wasted his life on cocaine and alcohol? It could have been not just a shame, but a tragedy.
With the "third coming" of Andy Pettitte, I bring back this piece, inspired by Lisa Swan of Subway Squawkers (see link to the right).
December 15, 2003 (point of divergence): As he previously had to talk George Steinbrenner and Brian Cashman out of trading him in 1999, so again does Yankee manager Joe Torre succeed in getting them to sign Andy Pettitte to a new contract.
October 20, 2004: Sorry, Yankee Fans, but Andy is no help in the meltdown against the Red Sox. In RL, he got hurt and didn't pitch after August 12. The Astros made the Playoffs anyway, but lost to the Cardinals. Andy doesn't come back any sooner if he stays in New York.
October 7, 2005: If the Yankees keep Pettitte, they don't desperately need another lefty, and they don't get Randy Johnson. So Pettitte starts Game 3 of the ALDS against the Angels. Instead of the Big Unit allowing 5 runs in the first 3 innings, resulting in an 11-7 Angel win, Pettitte allows 4 runs over 6, and the bullpen holds on for a 7-6 Yankee win. The Yankees take the series the next day.
October 16, 2005: Bad news: In RL, Andy started in the World Series for the Astros against the White Sox, but the South Siders still swept. I doubt he would have made a difference in a Yanks-ChiSox ALCS. No Pennant here. Besides, the White Sox had won just 1 Pennant in the last 86 years. It wouldn't have been right to deny them.
October 6, 2006: Another bad ALDS Game 3 for Randy Johnson turns into a good performance for Andy Pettitte, but it doesn't matter, as Kenny Rogers -- the Tony Fernandez of pitchers, he's lousy for the Yanks and Mets but great for non-New York teams -- pitches a shutout. The Yanks still lose the ALDS.
And in 2007, Andy has never left, and history resumes as we know.
So keeping Pettitte wouldn't have helped, unless it can be argued that he wouldn't have gotten hurt in New York 2004, the way he actually got hurt in Houston.
Sometimes these What-Ifs work out well. This time, the only real difference is that Randy Johnson never pisses us off in Pinstripes. Only in the uniforms of other teams.
Tuesday, March 13, 2012
Note: I wrote this before the publication of Jane Leavy's new bio of Mickey, The Last Boy, which mentions that Mickey had admitted to a few people that he had been molested as a boy, possibly explaining his issues with women and with trusting people. But that has nothing to do with my analysis of his injuries and his drinking.
We look at the "Mount Rushmore" of the Yankees -- Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Joe DiMaggio and Mickey Mantle -- and note that, of those, only Joe D lived to see collect Social Security. Aside from smoking, which led to lung cancer killing him at at 84, he took care of himself. The Babe caroused, drinking and womanzing and just plain carrying on, at a rate that would have exhausted even Mickey. And the Iron Horse, who probably took better care of himself than any of them, ironically was struck down by a malady that, while far better researched today, is still mysterious in that no one knows how it is originally contracted. Of the 4, Gehrig should have lived the longest, but he died the youngest, just short of age 38. The Babe, 53. Mickey, 63.
In terms of his health, Mickey Mantle would almost certainly have lived a lot longer if he had drunk only in moderation. Last October, he would have turned 80. But, at that age, he might've been dead by now anyway. His contemporary Duke Snider has now died, leaving Willie Mays as the only survivor of the 1950s New York center field triumverate.
But if Mickey had eased up on the bottle and the running around, and had his many injuries taken more seriously by Yankee management and thus treated better, rendering him fitter, and fit sooner, what difference would it have made on the field?
Statistically speaking, he might've gone from 536 career home runs to 600 or so. Not enough to threaten the Babe's then-record of 714, or to surpass Willie Mays' 660, or to avoid being surpassed by the 755 of Hank Aaron and the 762* of Barry Bonds, but still a lot. He also might have gotten a lot more than 2,415 hits. Would he have made it to 3,000? Maybe, if he could have played until he was 42 like Aaron, Mays and Stan Musial (who all made it to 3,000 -- and Ted Williams, who didn't get that milestone due to 5 years in military service).
But how would Mickey's improved health have impacted the Yankees' team performance? Surprisingly, probably very little.
Mickey arrived at Yankee Stadium in 1951. From that point through 1964, the Yankees won the Pennant every year but two: 1954 and 1959. By a weird twist of fate -- I won't call it a "coincidence" because that's what the incurious believe in -- both teams that did win, the '54 Cleveland Indians and the '59 Chicago White Sox, were managed by Al Lopez, one of the craftiest men in the game's history.
In 1954, the Yankees won 103 games, the most any team managed by Casey Stengel ever won. But the Indians won 111, breaking the American League record set by the Yankees in 1927, and establishing a new record that would stand until the Yankees broke it in 1998. Would a healthy Mickey, as opposed to RL-Mickey, have made an 8-game difference? Hardly, because, that season, he did play a full season: 146 games of the the 154-game schedule that was in place from 1904 to 1960, meaning he missed only 8. In those 146 games, he batted .300 with 27 homers and 102 RBIs. By nearly any player's standards, particularly in the Fifties, a pitchers' era, that's a very good season. So any injuries or illnesses he may have had that year didn't affect him very much in terms of stats.
In 1959, the Yankees finished 3rd, 15 games behind the White Sox. Mickey had, by his standards, a subpar season: .285 with 75 RBIs, but still hit 31 homers. And he played 144 games, a full season even by the 162-game standard that was put in place in 1961 (in 1962 in the National League) and has been in place for all non-strike seasons since. No way to say that Mickey could've made a 15-game difference if he'd gone the full 154 even without aches and pains.
Personally, I think a more interesting story is what if Gehrig hadn't gotten sick. And an even more interesting story is what if Roberto Clemente had landed safely. But those what-ifs are for another time.
What about those last 4 seasons? In 1965, age, injury, and a dried-up farm system making it nearly impossible to replace those affected by age and injury, combined to form a perfect storm, and it caught up with the Yankees wholesale. They finished 6th in the 10-team, single-division American League, 25 games behind the Minnesota Twins. Could even a healthy Babe Ruth -- hitting 60 home runs and winning 20 games on the mound when he wasn't playing the outfield -- have made a 25-game difference? Not by a long shot.
In 1966, the Yankees finished 10th (one of only 4 last-place finishes in club history, along with 1908, 1912 and 1990), 26 1/2 behind the Baltimore Orioles. In 1967, the Yankees finished 9th, 20 games behind the Boston Red Sox. (The Sox' first Pennant race in 16 years, and they didn't even have to get past the Yankees to win it.) In 1968, the Yankees had a bit of an improvement, a winning season, 5th place, but still 20 games behind the Detroit Tigers.
There was no way Mickey Mantle, healthy and happy even at ages 33 to 36, could have made a 20-odd-games' difference.
And what if he had been able to play until he was 42? Well, who knows, he might've just plain gotten frustrated by all those non-Pennant years and hung 'em up anyway. But if he had stuck with it? Remember, there would have been a decline eventually. In 1969, in the first year of the 6-team American League Eastern Division, the Yankees finished 5th, 28 1/2 games behind the Orioles. In 1970, they had their best season between 1964 and 1976, winning 93 games and finishing 2nd, but still 15 games behind the O's. In 1971, the Yankees finished 4th, 21 games behind the O's.
In 1972, the Baltimore dynasty came to an end, although they did win the Division in '73 and '74, but lost both times to the Reggie/Catfish Oakland Athletics. In '72, the Yanks were 4th, but only 6 1/2 games behind the Tigers.
Now, here is where things get interesting. With Bobby Murcer and Thurman Munson having come into their own, Mel Stottlemyre still one of the game's top starters, and Sparky Lyle having arrived and become the AL's top reliever, could Mickey have made a difference here? Chances are, even with his improved health, he's not playing center field anymore. After all, he is now 40 years old. Maybe he's playing right field in place of Johnny Callison, the former Phillies star. Maybe he's playing first base in place of Ron Blomberg.
At age 40, in 1971, Mays batted .271, with 18 homers and 61 RBIs, but 112 walks meant that he led the NL with a .425 on-base percentage. His OPS+ that year was 158. At age 40, in 1974, Aaron batted .268, 20 homers, 69 RBIs, OPS+ 128. Both were still legitimate All-Stars. Is it so hard to imagine a 40-year-old Mickey batting .270, with 20 homers and 70 RBIs? Especially with Murcer at his peak batting behind him, meaning you couldn't simply walk Mickey because that would put (at least) one man on with such a great hitter coming up -- especially at the pre-renovation Stadium, 296 feet down the right-field line? And would such a season have made a 7-game difference? I think it could.
The next season, 1973, was the first year of the Designated Hitter. As a 41-year-old DH, not having to play the field, Mickey might have had his last good season. But the RL-Yankees tailed off in August after staying well in the race until then, and finished 4th, 17 games behind the Orioles. Maybe a 41-year-old, but healthy, DHing Mickey could have had them in first place on August 1, and maybe that extra boost of confidence gets the Yankees the Division Title.
And in 1974, when Mickey was 42 -- Mays and Aaron were closing it down by that point but Ted Williams and Stan Musial still had good years, if final ones, at that age -- the RL-Yankees were just 2 games behind the Orioles at the end. Mickey platooning at DH with Ron Blomberg, who did bat .311 in 90 games that year: Could it have made the difference? I'm not saying it would, only that it could. Although it would have been very weird in TTL-1974 seeing Mickey playing home games... in Shea Stadium!
All right, that's the regular season. What about the postseason?
In 1951, '52, '53, '56, '58, '61 and '62, the Yankees won the World Series. Only in '61 was Mantle injured. So even then, it didn't matter much.
The Yankees lost the 1955 World Series to the Brooklyn Dodgers, the only Series the Dodgers would win while in Brooklyn, before moving to Los Angeles for the 1958 season, and winning the Series in 1959, '63, '65, '81 and '88. In '55, Mantle was hurt. He did not play in Games 1 and 2 (Irv Noren played center field for the Yankees), but the Yankees won them both anyway. In Games 3 and 4, Mickey played (albeit the end of Game 3 and all of Game 4 in right field, thus exchanging the bat and glove of usual right fielder Hank Bauer for that of Noren in center), but the Yankees lost. Mickey didn't play Game 5 (Noren in center again), and again the Dodgers won. Mickey didn't play Game 6 (this time Bob Cerv was in center), but this time the Yankees won. In Game 7, Mickey appeared only as a pinch-hitter (Cerv in center), batting for reliever Bob Grim, and popped up, and the Yankees lost, 2-0.
A healthy Mickey could have made the difference in Game 7, but the way Johnny Podres was pitching that day, it might not have made a difference. But in Game 5, Noren went 0-for-4 as center fielder against 6 innings of Roger Craig and 3 of Clem Labine, who otherwise allowed 6 hits and 3 runs (all earned) in a 5-3 Dodger win. Odds are, Mickey would have gotten a hit in either Game 5 or Game 7, and said hit might have made a difference between the Yankees or the Dodgers winning.
But do I really want to take that 1955 win away from the Dodger fans? No, I don't. They, and their team, deserved it. Besides, there's no guarantee a healthy Mickey would have been any better against Dodger pitching than Noren and Cerv were, any more than Tony Conigliaro would've hit better in the 1967 World Series than Ken Harrelson, had he not been beaned. So let's move on.
In 1957, the Yankees lost in 7 to the Milwaukee Braves. Mickey played 6 of the games, going 5-for-19 with a homer and 2 RBIs. He seems to have been reasonably healthy here. So, no difference.
In 1960, the Yankees lost in 7 to the Pittsburgh Pirates, outscoring them 55-27 but losing Game 7 10-9 on the Bill Mazeroski homer. Mickey said many times that, in his 12 World Series appearances, this was the one time -- including the others that the Yankees lost -- when he thought that the better team didn't win.
But don't be fooled by that: The Pirates were an excellent team, with Hall-of-Famers Mazeroski and Clemente, MVP Dick Groat, Cy Young Award winner Vernon Law and the best relief pitcher of the time, Elroy Face. They may not have been a better team than the Yankees, either statistically or by reputation (after all, this is the only Pennant they won between the Coolidge and Nixon Administrations), but they were worthy World Champions.
Mickey played in all 7 games of that Series, going 10-for-25 (that's .400) with 3 homers (one a tremendous opposite-field blast at Forbes Field, whose dimensions were functionally identical to those of the pre-renovation Yankee Stadium) and 11 RBI. Looks to me like he was fully healthy. Yogi Berra was supposedly asked why the Yankees lost, and he said, "We made too many wrong mistakes." Whatever mistakes they made, they appear not to have been caused by Mickey Mantle -- healthy or otherwise.
In 1963, the Yankees got swept by the Dodgers. They got zapped by the pitching of Sandy Koufax (Games 1 and 4), Johnny Podres again (Game 2) and Don Drysdale (Game 3), scoring only 5 runs despite allowing only 12. Mickey played in all 4 games, going just 2-for-15, but 1 was a home run. He wasn't injured at the time. Rather, he and his teammates were just plain stopped.
In 1964, the Yankees went down in 7 to the St. Louis Cardinals. Mickey played in all 7 games, going 8-for-24 (.333), with 3 homers (including what we would now call a walkoff homer to win Game 3) and 8 RBIs. The Yanks led that Series 2 games to 1, but a Ken Boyer grand slam the next day started the Cards on winning 3 of the last 4. Mickey, for perhaps the last time in his career (he turned 33 just 5 days after the Series ended), was reasonably healthy, and as much as he tried to be part of the solution, the Yankees didn't win; but, clearly, he was not part of the problem.
So of the 5 World Series the Yankees lost while Mickey Mantle played for them, a healthy version of him only would've been necessary once, in 1955, and, for all we know, that might not have made a significant difference anyway.
What about those 3 potential postseasons at the end? Suppose for a moment that a healthy, if old, Mantle had helped the Yankees, rather than the Tigers, win the AL East in 1972, and instead of the Orioles in 1973 and '74.
In 1972, the Oakland Athletics relied on 3 starters in the ALCS: Jim "Catfish" Hunter in Games 1 and 4, John "Blue Moon" Odom in Games 2 and 5, and Ken "Charlie Finley Must've Run Out of Nicknames" Holtzman in Game 3. Based on their end-of-the-regular-season rotation, the Yankees would probably have opposed Hunter with Mel Stottlemyre, Odom with Fritz Peterson, and Holtzman with Steve Kline.
The A's won the first 2, then the Tigers took the next 2, and the A's won the deciding Game 5. But considering that Kline wasn't very good, this could very well have been a sweep by the A's. Division title for the Yankees, but no Pennant, no matter what the aging Mantle could have done. Let's move on.
In 1973, the O's lost the best-3-out-of-5 ALCS to the A's in 5 games. Let's presume the Yanks would have won the games the O's did, Games 1 and 4. The A's won Game 2, 6-3. Hunter pitched pretty well. With his array of pitches, I doubt Mickey, about to turn 42, would have handled him. So we go to a Game 5, and Catfish pitched again, a 5-hit shutout, A's 3, O's 0. No, the Yankees don't win that Pennant, either.
In 1974, the A's dynasty continues into the ALCS, but now the Yankees have a little more experience, above and beyond the mountain of experience held by Number 7, in his TTL-final days. The O's took Game 1, 6-3, Mike Cuellar beating Catfish. But the A's took the next 3 for the Pennant, 5-0 (Holtzman over Dave McNally), 1-0 (Vida Blue over Jim Palmer), and 2-1 (Hunter over Cuellar).
If we use the end of the regular season as a guide, the Yankee rotation for the 1974 ALCS would have been: Rudy May in Game 1 (October 5, on 6 days' rest), George "Doc" Medich (a med student at the time) in Game 2 (October 6, 5 days'), Pat "the Snake" Dobson in Game 3 (October 8, 6 days'), and, if necessary, May in Game 4 (October 9, 3 days') and Medich in Game 5 (October 10, 3 days').
Those were all good pitchers, but rarely great ones. It's easy to see how they were beaten out by a team with a starting rotation of Cuellar, McNally and Palmer -- two guys who were maybe a step short of the Hall of Fame and one guy who's deservedly in -- plus Ross Grimsley, who won 18 games that season without getting a postseason start; while the Yankees' 4th starter had been Stottlemyre, but he tore his rotator cuff, never pitched again, and his place in the rotation was taken by Dick Tidrow, who was far better in 1977 and '78 as an emergency starter and a long man out of the pen than he ever was as a regular starter. (Joe Torre and Joe Girardi would have loved him.)
Does May outduel Hunter in Game 1? Maybe. How about Medich against Holtzman in Game 2? I doubt it, Holtzman was never better than that season. Dobson against Blue in Game 3? I don't think so: In RL, it was a match between Palmer who is in the Hall and Blue who might've been if it hadn't been for substance abuse. Dobson was the best starter the Yankees had that season, but he was no Vida Blue or Jim Palmer.
So the Yanks have their backs to the wall in Game 4, and May against Cuellar again. In RL, Cuellar allowed just 1 hit, but 2 runs; Catfish 1 run on 5 hits. Could the Yankee bats -- the aging Mantle, Murcer, Munson, Blomberg, Roy White, Chris Chambliss, Graig Nettles -- get the 3 runs they would have needed? I don't know. After all, the reason George Steinbrenner went so hard after Catfish in the offseason was that Catfish was great in October, not just April through September.
But let's suppose the Yanks do force a Game 5. They would have been at "home" at Shea. Medich against McNally... As Harrison Ford would later say, "I've got a bad feeling about this." A's win, and complete their threepeat in the World Series.
So... aside from allowing him to live a lot longer and in a lot less pain, Mickey Mantle receiving better physical treatment from himself and from Yankee management most likely boosts his personal stats, but probably doesn't help the team a whole lot. When they needed a little help, he was usually there to have already put them in that position. When better health could have made a big difference, they needed an even bigger difference than he could have provided.
Mickey taking care of himself would've made a big difference to him. But not much of a difference to the Yankees as a team.
I wish Mickey had lived to see the Yankee Dynasty reborn in 1996. I wish his liver hadn't been so badly damaged that doctors would've judged it to be in good enough shape to allow the knee-replacement surgery that Whitey Ford got, thus allowing him to play in Old-Timer's Games, thus allowing me the chance I never got: While I got to SEE Mickey Mantle, I never got to see Mickey Mantle PLAY.
That is one of several pieces of the tragedy of Mickey Mantle. But he had a lot of triumph as well. As the man himself said, "I still get goose bumps."
Note: This originally appeared in the March 26, 2010 edition of Uncle Mike's Musings, as a challenge from Jon Lewin, the Met half of the blog Subway Squawkers. (See link to the right.) Be careful what you wish for...
In 1966, the Kansas City Athletics -- soon to move to Oakland -- chose outfielder Reggie Jackson of Arizona State University with the 2nd pick in the Major League Baseball draft.
The first pick belonged to the Mets, who chose Steve Chilcott, a catcher just out of high school in Lancaster, California, outside of Los Angeles.
Why? Not because of original Met manager Casey Stengel's advice: "You gotta have a catcher. If you don't have a catcher, you'll have all passed balls."
No. According to legend, a legend Reggie was told at the time and continues to believe, it was because Reggie was black and had a white girlfriend.
Actually, Reggie's girlfriend, Jennie Campos, was Hispanic, the daughter of Mexican immigrants born and raised near Arizona State's Tempe campus. They eventually married... and divorced.
How could the Mets be so racist? Well, there's a line that has been attributed to Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Napoleon Bonaparte and Robert A. Heinlein, which I first read from the late great anthropologist and Yankee Fan Stephen Jay Gould: "Never ascribe to malice that which can be adequately explained by stupidity." With the Mets, always think stupidity before malice. Maybe the reason Reggie believes he was passed over by the Mets due to racism is that his agent wanted to soften the blow, by providing an explanation that, however false, and however vile if it had been true, made sense -- when there appears to have been no explanation that makes any sense. Make sense? As Bernie Kopell would have said on Get Smart at that time, "Zis is ze Mets! Ve don't make zenze here!"
Or maybe Reggie just wasn't ready for New York. Even in 1977, there were times when it didn't seem like he was ready. Sure seemed like it by September of that year, though. Definitely in October.
What happened to Chilcott? Well, he played 6 years in the minors, but injury kept him from reaching the majors. He had invested his $75,000 signing bonus in real estate, and that proved to be a far wiser decision than the Mets drafting him.
Only Chilcott, Brien Taylor (1991 Yankees) and, for the moment, Matt Bush (2004 Rays) have been Number 1 MLB Draft picks who never reached the majors.
Ironically, the Mets won the World Series in 1969 and the National League Pennant in 1973 anyway, with Jerry Grote -- not much of a hitter, but a good catcher -- behind the plate. So maybe they didn't need what Chilcott could have become if he'd stayed healthy.
But what could Reggie's booming bat, which hit 563 homers in RL, have done with the Mets? True, Yankee Stadium had that short right-field porch, and Shea Stadium was a pitcher's park. But he also played a lot of home games at the Oakland Coliseum and Anaheim Stadium, neither of which is a hitter's park.
So let's imagine that the Mets had done the right, and smart, thing...
1967: Reggie debuts with the Mets.
1968: Reggie is the Mets' starting right fielder, meaning that Ed Kranepool now plays a lot more first base, and Ron Swoboda gets traded. Swoboda ends up on the Oakland Athletics.
1969: The Mets win the Pennant, but lose Game 4 of the World Series when Reggie -- in the place we remember occupied by Swoboda -- not only doesn't make a great catch on Brooks Robinson's 9th inning liner, but does what we remember him doing at Fenway Park on June 18, 1977, "not hustling" in Billy Martin's words. The Orioles win that game, 3-2, win Game 5 3-0 (they did lead by that score until the 6th), and take the Series in Game 6 in Baltimore. Reggie hit 38 home runs, a Met record that will stand until 1996, but he is remembered as the goat of the Series.
1971: Unhappy with Reggie's contract demands following a strong '71 season, M. Donald Grant trades Reggie to the Chicago Cubs, whose owner Philip K. Wrigley not only is willing to pay Reggie the $120,000 a year he wants, but has some of Reggie's friends on the team: Billy Williams, Ferguson Jenkins, and the recently-retired Ernie Banks. Banks joins Negro League legend Buck O'Neil on the Cubs' coaching staff. The Cubs' manager (although, as it turns out, he gets fired the next season) is Leo Durocher, who managed Reggie's idol, Willie Mays, and until Leo is fired, they get along. Good situation for Reggie.
1972: The A's win their first World Series since 1930, when they were in Philadelphia, beating the Cincinnati Reds in 7 games. (Remember, Reggie was hurt and didn't play. I suspect Swoboda may have hit a home run in that Series.)
1973: Reggie Jackson is the Most Valuable Player of the National League, and the MVP of the World Series. First, the Cubs win the NL East. Then, in Game 3 of the NL Championship Series at Wrigley Field, Reggie slides into third base safely, and Pete Rose tags him in the face. Reggie clobbers Rose. Shocked that someone would not only stand up to him but beat him, Rose is never the same player. The Cubs take the Series the next day. Reggie homers off Oakland's Ken Holtzman in Game 7 of the Series, and the Cubs, Pennant winners for the first time in 28 years, are World Champions for the first time in 65 years -- the first World Championship for either Chicago team in 56 years. The Yankees remain the only franchise ever to win three straight World Series. (The A's, with Reggie, did so in 1972-74, and remain the only other one to do so.)
1974: The Cubs slump as Billy Williams and Ron Santo are getting older. The Orioles beat the A's in the American League Championship Series and the Los Angeles Dodgers in the World Series, for their 4th World Championship. (1966, 1969, 1970, 1974. That's one more than they've won in real life, as they add a 5th in 1983.)
1975: The Boston Red Sox beat the A's to win the American League Pennant, but lose a classic World Series to Willie Stargell and the Pittsburgh Pirates. The Pirates win the Pennant by beating the Reds, as Rose goes hitless in 11 at-bats.
1976: Charlie Finley breaks up his A's. The Mets that won the Pennant in '69 and nearly the Division in '73 have already been broken up. The Yankees win the Pennant on Chris Chambliss' homer. They lose the Series to the Philadelphia Phillies, who beat the Reds and then sweep the Yankees to win their first World Championship in 94 seasons of trying. Yankee owner George Steinbrenner opens the vault, and signs Reggie. After all, George reasons, if he can help Chicago win a World Series, why not New York?
Then history reasserts itself, until 1980, when the Phillies, who didn't need Rose to win the Series in '76, have the confidence to win it without him in '80.
1978: The Denver A's debut at Mile High Stadium. This time, Finley completes the sale of the team to Marvin Davis.
1983: Pete Rose retires, shortly after finally getting his 3,000th hit. He is never named manager of a major league team. Ty Cobb remains baseball's all-time hit leader.
1984: Leon Durham scoops up a key grounder, and the Cubs manage to beat the San Diego Padres to win the Pennant. But they lose the Series to the Detroit Tigers.
1986: Former Met ace Tom Seaver comes in to close out the Red Sox' Game 6 win over the Mets at Shea Stadium, 5-3. His last pitch is a strikeout of Kevin Mitchell. (I originally had it as Gary Carter, but in the wake of Carter's death, and all the talk about him absolutely refusing to make the last out of a World Series, I decided to change it to the next batter.) The Sox win their first World Series in 68 years. The phrase "the Curse of the Bambino" never makes it out of Massachusetts. The Mets have never won a World Series.
1988: The Mets win the NL East, but Dwight Gooden meets Mike Scioscia. The Dodgers go on to beat the A's, who have won their first Pennant in 25 years, their first in Denver.
1989: In a World Series interrupted by an earthquake, the A's beat their former cross-bay rivals, the San Francisco Giants, to win their first World Championship in 27 years, their first in Colorado.
1990: The Reds beat the A's in the World Series. It is the Reds' first World Championship in 50 years. Their former star, Pete Rose, serves a short prison sentence for tax evasion.
1992: Seaver is elected to the Hall of Fame, wearing a Reds cap on his plaque.
1993: Reggie is elected to the Hall of Fame, wearing a Yankee cap on his plaque. Cub fans are not pleased, but, hey, it's only been 9 years since they won a Pennant, and 20 years since they won a World Series. The Washington Nationals and the Florida Marlins begin play as expansion teams. (These Nats are not the RL-Montreal Expos, but the RL-Colorado Rockies. Remember, the A's are in Denver in TTL, and the idea of returning Major League Baseball to Oakland doesn't seem so hot.)
1996: Pete Rose, having been briefly imprisoned, but not banned from baseball (since he was never Reds manager and never bet on baseball in such a capacity), is elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in his 5th year of eligibility, despite having 3,000 career hits.
2000: The Yankees win the World Series, beating the Mets in 5 games. The Mets have now won 3 Pennants, but never a World Series.
2003: Cubs Hall-of-Famer Reggie Jackson throws out the first ball before Game 6 of the NLCS. The Cubs nearly blow a 3-0 8th inning lead, but hang on to win 3-2, and take the Pennant. The name of Steve Bartman is quickly forgotten, after Moises Alou remains calm after a minor incident. The Cubs go on to beat the Yankees in the World Series, winning Game 6, the last World Series game played at the old Yankee Stadium.
2004: The Red Sox beat the Yankees for the Pennant, but, having won the Series just 18 years earlier, it's a big deal, but not nearly as big a deal as we remember. The Expos, not having a good option to move (the Oakland Coliseum having been renovated to make it football-only for the returning Raiders), remain in Montreal for the time being. Pete Rose sues the makers of the film Mr. 3000, because of the premise of a player with 3,000 hits not making it into the Hall of Fame in his first 4 years of eligibility. The fact that the film's protagonist (played by Bernie Mac) is a black man playing for the Milwaukee Brewers, who is not a switch-hitter, and puts his massive ego aside to make a comeback, appears to be lost on Rose, who eventually loses the case.
2006: Aaron Heilman meets Yadier Molina, and the Mets blow a Pennant.
2007: The Mets lead the Phillies by 7 games with 17 to play, and end up not even getting the Wild Card. They get edged out for it by the Washington Nationals (RL-Rockies), who end up winning 21 of their last 22 games, including the postseason, to win the first Pennant for a Washington-based team in 74 years. But they lose the World Series to the Red Sox.
2008: The Mets lead the Phillies by 3 1/2 games with 17 to play, and end up not even getting the Wild Card.
2009: Following the collapses of the previous three seasons, David Lennon of Newsday publishes The Curse of M. Donald Grant, just in time for the Mets to leave title-less (unless you count the 1968-69 Jets) Shea Stadium for the new Citi Field.
2010: After 2 years of sharing U.S. Cellular Field with the crosstown White Sox, the Cubs move into a newly renovated Wrigley Field, now a modern(-ish) facility with 46,000 seats, but retaining some old touches like the ivy, the brick wall, the bleachers, the scoreboard. A fitting home for a team generally viewed as a winner.
2011: No appreciable change as far as standings are concerned.
2012: The Montreal Expos begin their 44th season of play, under new owners, who agree to build a new ballpark, thus saving the team for Montreal for the foreseeable future.
So the Cubs, Boston, Pittsburgh, Denver and Montreal benefit. The Mets, Oakland and Cincinnati get hurt. Pete Rose gets hurt, but he is better off than in RL, isn't he?
Reggie Jackson? He's a winner with the Cubs and the Yankees. With the Mets? Not so much.
Monday, March 12, 2012
This is an update of an article I first posted on one of my blogs on March 27, 2010. It has been edited for spelling, grammar, and any other errors.
December 10, 1971: The New York Mets trade four players to the California Angels for shortstop Jim Fregosi.
At this point, there was nothing wrong with wanting a healthy Jim Fregosi on your team. He would be just 30 years old on Opening Day 1972, had been an American League All-Star 6 times, won a Gold Glove in 1967, and until slumping to 89 in 1971, had never had an OPS+ (on-base percentage + slugging percentage, in relation to the league average) lower than 108 in his first 8 full seasons in the majors, peaking at 141 in 1964.
His highest batting average had been .290, in 1967; peak home runs, 22, and peak runs batted in, 82, both in 1970. In 1968, he led the AL in triples with 13. The franchise was just 11 seasons old at that point, but Fregosi was, without a doubt, the greatest player the Angels had yet had.
Certainly, Fregosi was a better player than the Mets' incumbent starting shortstop, Derrel McKinley "Bud" Harrelson. Although Harrelson had helped the Mets win the 1969 World Series, and had won the '71 season's National League Gold Glove for shortstops and was selected for the last 2 All-Star Games, Harrelson couldn't hit a lick. His highest single-season OPS+ was 82, well below Fregosi's slump season. His peak batting average thus far was .254, and he would top that only twice; his peak RBI year was 42, and his peak home run year was... 1 -- in each case, it would remain so.
Clearly, what the Mets needed to do was make Harrelson a backup, a "defensive replacement." Or maybe the Mets could move him to third base, where 1969 starter Wayne Garrett had badly tailed off, and incumbent starter Bob Aspromonte was at the end of the line. (Bob was a Brooklyn native, now best known as the last active player who had played for the Brooklyn Dodgers. He was also the brother of the somewhat better Ken Aspromonte.)
Instead, the Mets kept Harrelson at short, and moved Fregosi to third. At first, it seemed to work, but then Fregosi got hurt, finished the season with only 32 RBIs and an OPS+ of just 89, and was never the same again. His 382 plate appareances that season would be far and away more than he'd ever have again.
Between the ages of 21 and 28, Jim Fregosi was, statistically speaking, similar to Alan Trammell, the longtime Detroit Tiger shortstop who is maybe one step short of being elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame (and would be in, as would his double-play partner Lou Whitaker, if they could go in as a unit, like the Chicago Cubs' early 20th Century combo "Tinker to Evers to Chance"). But between the ages of 29 and 36, Fregosi was just another broken-down player.
At 36, in 1978, the Angels fired manager Dave Garcia, and asked Fregosi, then playing out the string with the Pittsburgh Pirates, to come back; he instantly accepted the job, retired as a player, and in 1979, his first full season on the job, led the Angels to the AL Western Division title, their first postseason berth. In 1993, he managed the Philadelphia Phillies to a Pennant.
Did the Mets blow it by trading 4 players for an injured formerly solid player? Not necessarily. We have to take a look at those 4 players, to see if the Mets gave up anything worth having.
Frank Estrada. He was a backup catcher who'd played 1 big-league game, for the Mets in '71, and never appeared in another. No loss there.
Don Rose. A pitcher, he'd also reached the majors for 1 game with the '71 Mets, put up a 1-4 record for the '72 Angels, and by April 1974 had appeared in the majors for the last time. No loss there.
Leroy Stanton. He was a right fielder, and he turned out to be a good player, putting up OPS+ seasons of 110, 116 and 123, before slumping a bit in 1976, and being left unprotected in the expansion draft. Taken by the Seattle Mariners, he put up an OPS+ of 130 in 1977, before an injury ended his career the next season at just 32 years old.
Still, the Mets could have used someone like that from 1972 to 1977, particularly after trading Rusty Staub after the '75 season -- another dumb Met trade, as they got Mickey Lolich. Staub for Lolich would have been a good trade, even after the '71 season; but not after '75. (Interestingly, on Baseball-Reference.com's "Similar Batters" list, Number 1 on Stanton's list is... Ron Swoboda. Former Yankee World Champions Gary Thomasson and Ricky Ledee are also in his top 4.)
And now, to confront the elephant in the room: The remaining player sent from Flushing Meadow to Anaheim.
Lynn Nolan Ryan of the Houston suburb of Alvin, Texas.
At the time of the trade, he was a month and a half short of his 25th birthday. He had a career won-lost record of 29-38. Not good, especially when you consider that the Mets had won 100 games in 1969, 83 in 1970 and 83 again in 1971. He struck out a lot of batters, but also walked a lot, giving him a WHIP (Walks and Hits, divided by Innings Pitched) of almost 1.6 in '71. His ERA was nearly 4, not good in the NL of the time, which was pitching-friendly with a lot of concrete multipurpose oval stadiums (3 new ones in the preceding season and a half), and, of course, no designated hitter.
With Ryan having been disappointing thus far, and with Tom Seaver, Jerry Koosman, Gary Gentry, a somewhat-still-effective Ray Sadecki and a rising Jon Matlack in their rotation, the Mets could afford to let Ryan go. Or so it seemed at the time.
In 1972, his first season in the AL, Ryan led the League in both walks and wild pitches... but also led it in strikeouts with a whopping 329, and shutouts with 8, forging a 19-16 record for a team that won just 75 games. A decent Angels team would probably have made him a 23-game winner.
In 1973, he set a new major league record (since the 1893 adoption of the 60 feet, 6 inches pitching distance, anyway) with 383 strikeouts. That record has never even been approached, except by Ryan himself the next season with 367. Nor is it likely to be approached, unless managers suddenly decide to stop babying pitchers and let them pitch 7+ innings every 4 days instead of the post-1990 idea of only letting them pitch 6 to 7 innings every 5 days.
By the close of the 1974 season, Ryan had 3 seasons of 300+ strikeouts, 4 no-hitters, 3 games with at least 19 strikeouts (he would add a 4th, although "only" 1 of those came without the benefit of extra innings), 91 wins (but also 86 losses), a career ERA of 3.01 (not bad considering he was now in the DH-affected AL), and 1,572 strikeouts -- and he was only 27.
Putting aside for a moment all the things Ryan would achieve after 1974 -- 233 more wins, 3 more no-hitters, and enough additional strikeouts to place himself 4th on the all-time list even if you only count from 1975 onward -- this was still a bad trade for the Mets. Add in everything Ryan did from Opening Day 1972 until his retirement after the close of the 1993 season, and Ryan-for-Fregosi -- even if you forget about the decently talented Stanton -- looks like a candidate for the title of "The Worst Baseball Trade Ever" -- and not just the worst Met trade.
But is it? There is another elephant in the room. (You ever smell a room with 2 elephants in it? Smells worse than the Mets... most of the time.)
Big question no one ever seems to ask: Would having Nolan Ryan have helped the Mets any from 1972 onward?
It's easy to say, as does Greg Prince, author of the book and blog Faith and Fear in Flushing, that the Mets lost the 1973 World Series to the Oakland Athletics because manager Yogi Berra pitched Seaver in Game 6 and Matlack in Game 7, each on just 3 days' rest.
And Yogi wasn't that "old school": He was only 48, and had seen his mentor, Casey Stengel, adapt to changing conditions pretty well when they were together on the Yankees from 1949 to 1960. And it's not like Yogi had a lot of choice: Koosman had started Game 5, and couldn't have pitched again unless rain pushed Game 7 back a day; Sadecki had pitched in relief in Game 4; and he and George Stone, the Mets' other starter, had pitched in the Series only in relief and weren't much better options.
Besides, if you're a Met fan, who would you rather have, pitching a game that could win you the World Series, in a park that really, really favored pitchers, as the Oakland Coliseum always has: Tom Seaver on 3 days rest, or... any other pitcher then active? Especially knowing that, if Tom Terrific couldn't go the full 9, you had a workhorse reliever in Tug McGraw?
If the Mets had Ryan in '73, that would have been a huge boost for them. Not just in the Series. Don't forget, due to the closeness of the race, and rainouts, the Mets did not clinch the NL East until October 1, the day after the season had originally been scheduled to end, and even then they had to play a doubleheader at Wrigley Field to get Games 161 and 162 in. They clinched in Game 161 when they won and the Pirates lost, making Game 162 meaningless, and more rain led to the umpires canceling it.
Having Ryan's 21-16 in the rotation instead of the combined 8-12 of Sadecki and Jim McAndrew might have gotten the Division clinched sooner, thus enabling the Mets to set up their NL Championship Series rotation better; having Ryan there, against the Cincinnati Reds, might have gotten the Pennant clinched before Game 5, thus helping the Mets set up better in the Series.
Or... would it? Ryan's career postseason record is mixed. He saved the Mets' bacon in Game 3 of the '69 NLCS against the Atlanta Braves, and did so again in Game 3 of the World Series against the Baltimore Orioles -- all this before he became NOLAN RYAN.
After that, he next appeared in postseason play in 1979, and while he pitched well for the Angels, it wasn't enough, as they lost the game and the Pennant to the Orioles.
In 1980, now with his hometown Houston Astros, he blew the Pennant-clinching Game 5 of the NLCS, at the Astrodome no less, enabling the Phillies to win their first Pennant in 30 years (and then their first World Championship in 98 years of trying). At that point in their history, blowing a Pennant to the Phillies was like losing to Suzanne Somers on Jeopardy! (This was when she was playing Chrissy Snow on Three's Company, well before she proved her smarts as a fitness expert and a businesswoman.)
In the strike-forced Division Series of 1981, Ryan pitched well for the Astros, but in the process, he only got a split of two decisions against the Los Angeles Dodgers. And he made just one other postseason appearance, in the 1986 NLCS with the Astros, losing Game 2, and pitching well but not getting the decision in a Game 5 his team lost... to the Mets.
Add on the fact that, from 1974 to 1983, the Mets were not in one single Pennant race, and it's hard to say how much difference Ryan would have made then.
Then there's the Mets' glory years from 1984 to 1990. Then again, for all their talk, there wasn't a whole lot of glory. Could Ryan, who pitched remarkably well even until he was 44 in 1991, have made a difference there?
So, really, what might have been the impact of the Mets keeping Nolan Ryan after 1971? Keeping in mind that, like Anaheim Stadium (or whatever the California Angels are calling it, and themselves, these days), Shea Stadium was a pitchers' park extraordinaire; but also that Ryan had a career winning percentage of just .526, is the all-time leader in walks, and is among the all-time leaders in wild pitches, we can surmise the following:
1973: We can presume that Ryan would have made a difference. The Mets clinch the Division sooner, and Ryan pitches well in the NLCS, where the Met rotation is Seaver-Koosman-Ryan-Matlack (in that order), clinching in Game 4, instead of Seaver-Koosman-Matlack-Stone-Seaver (as it was in RL), going the full 5.
The World Series? Instead of Matlack for Games 1, 4 and 7; Koosman for Games 2 and 5, and Seaver for Games 3 and 6; we get Seaver for Games 1 and 4, and potentially 7; Koosman for Games 2 and maybe 5; and Ryan for Games 3 and maybe 6, with Matlack as the long man if one is necessary.
Ken Holtzman pitched great for the A's in that Series in real life, so the Mets probably still lose Game 1 in this timeline. The Mets win Game 2 anyway. Against a tired Seaver, the A's needed 11 innings to win the real Game 3; against a rested Ryan, the Mets might win, and there's your difference. Presuming the Mets still win Games 4 and 5, get the riot police ready, it's another Shea Stadium clincher. New York Mets, 1969 and 1973 World Champions.
After this, the Mets aren't in contention again until...
1984: Ryan was only 12-11, but the Astros weren't very good that year. Without him, the Mets finished 6 1/2 games behind the Cubs. Would having Ryan have made 7 games' worth of difference? Probably not: After Dwight Gooden and Ron Darling, the Mets' rotation had Walt Terrell, Bruce Berenyi and a not-yet-there Sid Fernandez. Having Ryan instead of one of those might have made it closer, but the Cubs would still have won the NL East.
1985: Hard to say. Ryan was 10-12 for another under-hitting Astro team, with a 3.8 ERA and a 1.3 WHIP. If he were in the rotation instead of Ed Lynch...
The Mets finished 3 games behind the St. Louis Cardinals. I don't know if Ryan would have made 3 games' difference in this season. If he had, do the Mets beat the Los Angeles Dodgers in the NLCS? Maybe, the Dodgers had Tom Niedenfuer in their pen; Jack Clark hitting a Pennant-clincher in the top of the 9th in Game 6 wasn't a surprise, but Ozzie Smith hitting a walkoff in the bottom of the 9th of Game 5 was. I can certainly imagine Niedenfuer giving up homers to Lenny Dykstra in Game 5 (or maybe Lenny still hits his in Game 3) and Gary Carter in Game 6.
The Series, against the Kansas City Royals? I don't know, because the Cards did lose, and if Cardinal fans still curse the name of umpire Don Denkinger over a quarter of a century later, what would Met fans say if that same call were made? I think the Mets win the '85 Pennant, but lose the Series.
1986: No, Ryan makes no difference here. How can he? The Mets won the World Series. The only difference is that the Mets beat the Reds in the NLCS, since the Astros don't have Ryan. (Then again, the Astros won the NL West by 10, so maybe they win it anyway.)
1987: This is the season Ryan, at age 40, led the NL in ERA and strikeouts, but had an 8-16 record, because the Astros remembered that they are the Houston Astros: Great pitching, good defense, can't hit the ground if they fell off a ladder.
I saw Ryan pitch that year, at Veterans Stadium in Philadelphia, as a friend of the family had a relative who briefly pitched for the Astros. I got to sit right behind home plate as Ryan, still mighty fast at 40, was zippin' 'em in there. Being 75 feet away from Mike Schmidt as he batted against Nolan Ryan, even at that stage of each man's career, was awesome. It was a typical game for Ryan that season: The Phils won, 2-1, beating Ryan with a Randy Ready single in the 8th.
Anyway, in 1987, the Mets finished 2nd to the Cards again, 3 games back. Ryan definitely would have made a difference here, and the Mets would probably have beaten the San Francisco Giants for the Pennant. But the Minnesota Twins were not going to lose any World Series games in the Metrodome. Nobody beat the Twins in the Dome in October. Nobody. (Except, as it turned out, the 2003, '04 and '09 Yankees, who clinched 3 ALDS in that disgraceful facility.) So the Mets reach their 3rd straight Series, but win only 1.
1988: The Mets lost the NLCS to the Dodgers in Game 7... or, rather, they lost it in Game 4, when Mike Scioscia took Gooden deep in the 9th. The Mets started, in the 7 games, Gooden, David Cone, Darling, Gooden, El Sid, Coney, Darling. Ryan had a good year, but I'm not sure where he starts. In all honesty, I can't say with any certainty that he makes a difference in this series.
1989: In his first season with the Texas Rangers, Ryan had his last big season in terms of wins, 16, for an 83-win team. The Mets finished 2nd to the Cubs again, 6 games back. Maybe with Ryan, now 42 but still effectve, the Mets don't make that dumb trade for Frank Viola, and win the Division.
But I don't think they win the Pennant, unless there's another dumb trade they don't make, Kevin Mitchell to the San Diego Padres for Kevin McReynolds. Mitchell's trade, soon after, from the Padres to the Giants made the Giants a postseason team in '87 and '89, and they beat the Cubs soundly in the NLCS; they would have done the same to the Mets.
1990: The Mets finished 2nd, 4 games behind the Pirates. Ryan had a pretty good season, and if he'd been in the rotation instead of the sinking-fast El Sid, they might have won the Division. On the other hand, as I said, if they still had Ryan, they wouldn't have traded for Viola, who won 20 in his one good season for the Mets. No, having Ryan at this point probably hurts them.
1991: In Ryan's last effective season -- as a fastball pitcher at age 44! How come no one ever tested him for steroids? -- the Mets collapse, finishing 20 1/2 back of the Pirates. Having Ryan wouldn't have helped. Having him in the disastrous '92 and '93 seasons, Ryan's last 2, wouldn't have helped, either.
So, in their history, real and alternate...
Real Life Mets, 1962 to 2011, without Nolan Ryan after 1971: 7 postseason appearances, 4 Pennants, 2 World Championships. Not great, but plenty of teams haven't done that well, including some teams that have been around longer.
Alternate Mets, 1962 to 2011, with Nolan Ryan from 1971 (really, from 1966) to 1993: 10 postseason appearances, 6 Pennants, 3 World Championships. Not a huge improvement, but a significant one. After all, when you've only won 2 World Series, winning a 3rd is significant. Ask fans of the Chicago White Sox. And those of the Chicago Cubs.
My, my, this room is getting cramped. Do you know why? Because there's a third elephant in the room.
It's what happened to the Mets after the 1973 World Series. Team chairman M. Donald Grant -- who "didn't know beans about baseball," according to '69 Met scout and later highly successful big-league manager Whitey Herzog -- broke up the team, piece by piece. In 1977, he got rid of Seaver by playing him (and his wife Nancy) off the Anaheim-based Ryan (and his wife Ruth), with the help of New York Daily News columnist Dick Young, a once-great (and once-liberal) sportswriter who had became embittered, pedantic and pedestrian (and arch-conservative).
When Ryan signed with the Astros in 1980, it made him baseball's first $1 million-a-year player. At the time, if you asked most fans to name 5 current players who might be worth that, I think most of them would have had Ryan as one of the 5. (The others would have been Reggie Jackson, Mike Schmidt, Steve Carlton and maybe Dave Winfield.)
Grant would not have been one of those who believed that Ryan, or any player, was worth $1 million a year. (Then again, he was not a baseball fan in the classic sense.) It is likely that Grant would have gotten rid of Ryan well before the 1979-80 off-season.
After all, he had already traded several fan favorites before Seaver and Dave Kingman in the June 15, 1977 "Midnight Massacre" moves: Swoboda in 1970-71, Tommie Agee in 1972-73, Harrelson and Tug McGraw in 1974-75; Staub, Stone and Cleon Jones in 1975-76, and Garrett during the 1976 season; Matlack and John Milner would follow in 1977-78, and so would Koosman in 1978-79. And, unlike Fred and Jeff Wilpon letting Jose Reyes go in 2011-12, Grant didn't let those guys go because he desperately needed to save money, but because he greedily wanted to.
So, chances are, keeping Nolan Ryan beyond the 1971 season would have meant giving him up well before 1984. Therefore, the most likely scenario is that the Mets would have increased their winnings by 1 World Championship, and no other postseason berths.
Then again, think of how much 1 more World Series win would have meant to Met fans from 1973 onward.
A Met fan born between October 17, 1962 (who presumably would have been aware of baseball by October 16, 1969) and October 17, 1977 (the day before the Yankees won another Series) could have told a Yankee Fan born during that same stretch, "The Mets have won more World Series in our lifetime than the Yankees have!" And from October 16, 1969 until October 17, 1978, and again from October 27, 1986 to October 26, 1996 -- 19 of their 34 years -- that would have been true. And for all 34 years, the Mets would have been either ahead of the Yankees or tied with them (it would have been 2-2 from '78 to '86).
Of course, we're talking about the Mets here. Even with Tom Seaver, they found a way to lose the 1973 World Series. So who can say, with even 99 percent certainty, that they wouldn't have found a way to blow it with both Seaver and Nolan Ryan? After all, for much of their history, the Yankees have usually found a way to win; while, except for '69 and '86, the Mets have usually found a way to lose.
Saturday, March 10, 2012
NOTE: I first posted this on "Uncle Mike's Musings" on October 2, 2009, the 60th Anniversary of the game in question. It has been corrected for grammar, spelling, and one historical error: I had Roger Maris in Kansas City at a point where he would still have been in Cleveland.
October 2, 1949, Yankee Stadium, New York. Regular-season finale. Winner takes the Pennant.
The New York Yankees lead the Boston Red Sox 5-1 going into the ninth inning. But the Sox rally, and a fly ball goes out to the great Joe DiMaggio in center field. DiMaggio had a bad heel in the first half of the season and pnuemonia now, the Yankee Clipper had played his usual sensational in between. But Joe D dropped the ball.
That made the score 5-3, and the tying runs were on base. DiMaggio walked in from center field, disgusted with himself, taking himself out of the game.
Pitcher Vic Raschi had one more out to get, Sox catcher George "Birdie" Tebbetts. Get him out, and the Yanks win the first Pennant of the Casey Stengel era, and begin the transition of the 1940s DiMaggio-Henrich-Rizzuto Yankees to the 1950s Mantle-Berra-Ford Yankees (though Rizzuto is still a vital contributor for the first half of the Fifties). Lose the game, and...
This single game may be the most important in Yankee history other than their first Pennant win in 1921. If the Yankees fail to win, and thus lose the Pennant to the Red Sox, it's not hard to imagine baseball history taking some very different turns...
An injured and frustrated DiMaggio, already not happy with Stengel, tells owners Del Webb and Dan Topping, "Either he goes, or I go."
Committed to Stengel, at least in the short term, and with plenty of talent already on hand and coming up through the farm system -- including Mickey Mantle, who just finished his first pro season -- the owners call the Yankee Clipper's bluff.
He retires at age 35, having spent only 11 seasons in the majors (having lost three due to World War II). He still makes the Hall of Fame, and is still one of the most revered players ever due to his 1941 hitting streak and his comeback from injury to almost lead the Yanks to the Pennant in 1949. But with only enough games to amount to 10 full seasons under his belt, no one thinks of him as "Baseball's Greatest Living Player."
The Red Sox, confident after their 1949 Pennant, beat the Brooklyn Dodgers in the World Series, and come back in 1950 and win another Pennant, beating the Philadelphia Phillies in the Series. No one questions Ted Williams' ability to play in the clutch, or that he is a "greater player" than DiMaggio. And the Red Sox' World Series drought ends at "only" 31 years. Of course, after 1950, it takes them another 54 years to win another, but nobody talks about a "Curse of the Bambino." Boston Globe sports columnist Dan Shaughnessy has to come up with another explanation as to why the Red Sox haven't won a World Series since the early days of the Korean War, rather than the last days of World War I.
The Cleveland Indians succeed the Red Sox as the dominant team in the American League, winning Pennants in 1951, '52 and '54. They beat the New York Giants in the '51 World Series and the Dodgers in '52, but lose to the Giants in '54.
The Dodgers finally win their first World Series in 1953, giving Brooklyn its greatest day. This gives Walter O'Malley the impetus he needs to get his new stadium built in downtown Brooklyn. He has more time to work City officials, getting around City and State construction boss Robert Moses, and Dodger Stadium opens in 1958. The Dodgers still win the World Series in 1959, '63 and '65, plus the Pennant in '66, but as the Brooklyn Dodgers.
The City also builds a new stadium for the Giants, opening in 1960 in Flushing Meadow Park. It's called Stoneham Stadium, after the Giants' owner. Bill Shea, a noted New York attorney, has nothing to do with it, aside from being a Giants season-ticket holder, and lives the rest of his life with almost nobody outside the City ever hearing his name. And the Giants still win the Pennant in 1962.
However, when expansion comes in 1962, there's no need to put a new team in New York. So the team we know as the Mets goes somewhere else. Since the American League got the Los Angeles Angels in 1961, the National League gets San Francisco in 1962, a team named the Seals after, as were the Angels, the preceding Pacific Coast League team.
When Divisional play begins in 1969, the Dodgers, Giants, Philadelphia Phillies, Pittsburgh Pirates, Chicago Cubs and expansion Montreal Expos are put in the Eastern Division, while the West has the Atlanta Braves, Cincinnati Reds, Houston Astros, St. Louis Cardinals, San Francisco Seals and expansion San Diego Padres. When the three-Division setup begins in 1994, the East has the Dodgers, Giants, Philadelphia, Montreal and the expansion Florida Marlins; the Central has Atlanta, Chicago, Cincinnati, Pittsburgh and St. Louis; while the West has Houston, the San Francisco Seals, San Diego and the expansion Colorado Rockies.
Assuming each franchise still wins as many games as it did in real life, with Divisions adjusted for geography, this means the following teams win the following Division Titles:
* Arizona Diamondbacks: West, 1999, 2002, '07, '08; Wild Card, '01.
* Atlanta Braves: West, 1983, '91, '92, '93; Central, '95, '96, '97, '98, '99, 2000, '02, '03; Wild Card, '04, '05.
* Brooklyn Dodgers: East, 1973, '74, '78, '80, '81 first-half, '83, '85, '88, '95, '96, 2006, '09.
* Chicago Cubs: East, 1969 and '84; Central, 2007, '08.
* Cincinnati Reds: West, 1970, '72, '73, '74, '75, '76, '77, '78, '79, '81 first-half, '90 in the West; Central, none yet; Wild Card, '95.
* Colorado Rockies: West, 1995, 2009; Wild Card, 2007.
* Florida Marlins: East, 1997; Wild Card, 2003.
* Houston Astros: West, 1980, '81 second-half, '98, 2001, '03, '05.
* Milwaukee Brewers: None since moving to NL Central; Wild Card, 2008.
* Montreal Expos/Washington Nationals: East, 1981 second-half, losing to Brooklyn in the playoff forced by the strike year's split-season format.
* New York Giants: East, 1987, '89, '93, '98, '99, 2000, '01, '02, '03; Wild Card, '97.
* Philadelphia Phillies: East, 1976, '77, '82, '86, 2005, '07, '08; Wild Card, '09.
* Pittsburgh Pirates: East, 1970, '71, '72, '75, '79, '90, '91, '92; Central, none yet.
* St. Louis Cardinals: West, 1971, '82, '85, '87; Central, 2001, '04, '05, '06, '09; Wild Card, '96, 2000, '02.
* San Diego Padres: West, 1984, '89, '96; Wild Card, '98, 2006.
* San Francisco Seals: West, 1969, '86, '88, 2000, '06; Wild Card, '99.
The Playoffs take some different turns. The Cubs and Seals (our reality's Mets) are in different Divisions, so they both win Divisions. But the Cubs still lose, and the Seals, so horrible from 1962 to '68, continue their '69 miracle, with all those hippies in the stands at Kezar Stadium (since Horace Stoneham isn't there to approve the mistake known as Candlestick Park).
The Pirates beat the Cards instead of the Giants in '71. There's a New York team beating the Reds in '73, but it's the Dodgers. The Dodgers do it again in '74. The Phillies win more games than the Dodgers in '77, but not in '78; each team beats the Reds in the NLCS. Instead of one game for the NL West, the Dodgers and Astros play a best 3-of-5 for the Pennant, and the Astros reach the World Series 25 years sooner.
The Dodgers still beat the Expos in '81, but a round sooner. The Astros beat the Reds, and the Dodgers beat the Astros, but a round later. In '82, the Phillies finally get revenge on the Cards for the 1964 collapse. The Dodgers beat the Braves for the '83 Pennant -- Sorry, Braves manager Joe Torre, but your home Borough wins this one. The Cub fans still get their hearts broken in '84, and Jack Clark still beats the Dodgers with a homer for the Cards in '85. With the Seals (Mets) in the West, they beat the Phils rather than the Astros in a nail-biter of an NLCS.
The Giants finally end a 25-year first-place drought in '87, but lose to the Cards. The Dodgers still beat the '62 expansion franchise in '88. With the Giants and Cubs in the same Division, the Cubs miss the Playoffs in '89; the Giants beat the Padres for the Pennant. The Giants then lose not the Division, but the Pennant to the Braves in '93.
In 1995, Braves over Dodgers, Reds over Rockies, Braves over Reds. In '96, Braves over Dodgers, Cardinals over Padres, Braves over Cards. In '97, Braves over Giants, Marlins over Astros, Marlins over Braves. In '98, Padres get Wild Card, not Cubs, despite Sammy Sosa's 66 home runs and Kerry Wood's rookie pitching heroics, Braves over Astros, Padres over Giants, Padres over Braves. In '99, Braves over Seals, Giants over Diamondbacks, Braves over Giants.
In 2000, Giants over Braves, Seals over Cards, Giants over Seals. In '01, Cards over Astros, D-backs over Giants, D-backs over Cards. In '02, Giants over Cards, Braves over D-backs, Giants over Braves. In '03, Braves win Central, so Cub fans get their hearts broken again, but at least Steve Bartman is off the hook; Marlins over Braves, Giants over Astros, Marlins over Giants. In '04, Astros over Dodgers, Cards over Braves, Cards over Astros. In '05, with the Expos moving to become the Washington Nationals, Cards over Braves, Astros over Phillies, Astros over Cards. In '06, Seals over Dodgers, Cards over Phillies, Cards over Seals. In '07, Rockies over Phils, D-backs over Cubs, Rockies over D-backs. In '08, Phils over Brewers, D-backs over Cubs, Phils over D-backs. In '09, it'll be Dodgers over Cards, Phils over Rockies, Phils over Dodgers. In 2010, Phils over Reds, Wild Card Giants over Padres, Giants over Phils. In 2011, Cards over Phils, Brewers over D-backs, Cards over Brewers.
The New York Giants last won a Pennant in 2010. The Brooklyn Dodgers last won a Pennant in 1988. The San Francisco Seals -- TTL's stand-in for the Mets -- last won a Pennant in 1986.
And what about the Yankees? Frustrated that Stengel hasn't won them a Pennant, Webb and Topping fire him after the 1952 season. Bill Dickey, who had briefly managed the Yanks in 1946, is asked to rise from the coaching ranks and take over again. After all, he's a winner, and Yogi Berra and Phil Rizzuto trust him. He gets the Yankees back in gear, as they win the Pennant in 1953, their first in 6 years. But they lose the World Series to the Dodgers, finish second to the Indians in '54, and lose the Series to the Dodgers again in '55 and '56, as Mickey Mantle never quite warms up to Dickey the way he did to Stengel in RL, even though Mantle is from Oklahoma and Dickey from neighboring Arkansas.
After the Copacabana Incident in '57, general manager George Weiss cleans house. Billy Martin is traded away, and Dickey is fired. Charlie Dressen, who had managed the Dodgers to the '52 Pennant and the '53 World Championship, had just been fired by the Washington Senators, and Weiss picked him up. Following the season, in which the Yanks lost another World Series, this time to the Milwaukee Braves, Mantle went over the head of Weiss, who never liked him, to owners Dan Topping and Del Webb, saying he and Dressen couldn't get along. "Either he goes, or I go," the Mick said.
At the start of the 1958 season, Mickey Mantle was playing center field for the Kansas City Athletics, having been traded for several prospects.
The Yanks still win the '58 Pennant, but again lose to the Braves. They had now won four straight Pennants, five in six years, but had lost the World Series every time. (In essence, the TTL-Yankees have become what the RL-Dodgers were: A star-crossed club, close but no cigar.) After a few more deals with the A's, including obtaining promising young outfielder Roger Maris, the Yanks finish third in '59, and win the Pennant in '60, but lose the Series to the Pittsburgh Pirates. Dressen is fired, and replaced by Ralph Houk.
Without Mantle to bat behind him, Maris doesn't get as many good pitches to hit, and finishes the 1961 season with 45 home runs. Babe Ruth's 60 in 1927 remains the single-season record until 1998, although, with the steroid explosion of that time, many still consider the Babe's 60 to be the real record. The Yanks finish second to the Detroit Tigers, who beat the Cincinnati Reds for the World Championship.
The Yanks win Pennants in '62 and '63, but lose a Subway Series each time, to the Giants in '62 and the Dodgers in '63. Houk is fired, and replaced by Berra. The Yanks finish third behind the Chicago White Sox and Baltimore Orioles in '64; the White Sox lose the World Series to the St. Louis Cardinals. This time, there is no second chance: Yogi is gone, and never again appears in Yankee Pinstripes.
Since winning the whole thing in 1947, the Yanks had played 17 seasons, and won 8 Pennants, including four straight from '55 to '58, but lost all eight World Series. Then the team collapses, and never wins another Pennant while playing in Yankee Stadium.
In 1972, along with the NFL's New York Giants, the Yanks accept a deal to play at the proposed Meadowlands Sports Complex in East Rutherford, New Jersey. There is only a minor outcry, as they are the 3rd most popular team in the City, and Mayor John Lindsay does not feel obligated to lift a finger to stop it, any more than Robert Wagner Jr. did in RL when (at least theoretically) he had the chance to save the Giants and Dodgers in 1957.
Yankee Stadium is demolished after the 1973 season, and the Yankees share Stoneham Stadium in Queens with the Giants for two dreary years.
Meadowlands Stadium opens in 1976, and while the Yankees are good enough to win the American League East that season, they lose the League Championship Series to the Kansas City Royals.
The Royals win the Pennant again in 1977, but lose the '78 ALCS to the Boston Red Sox, who battled injuries and the onrushing, but not quite successful, Yanks. The death of Thurman Munson crushes the Yanks in '79, and after a rough 1980 regular season in which they beat the Orioles, they get swept by the Royals.
Dave Winfield signs with the Dodgers instead of the Yankees prior to the '81 season, and after the Yanks get embarrassed by the Milwaukee Brewers in the strike-forced Division Series, Reggie Jackson, to use his own words, "got on the first thing smokin' and headin' west," signing with the California Angels. He could've made the Meadowlands his for all time, but he didn't want to deal with that meddling George Steinbrenner anymore. And, not having won so much as a Pennant in his first nine years as owner, Steinbrenner begins making some crazy deals that further doom the franchise.
The World Series is won by the San Francisco Seals over the Orioles in '69, the O's over the Reds in '70, the Pirates over the O's in '71, the A's over the Reds in '72, the A's over the Dodgers in '73 and '74, the Reds over the Red Sox in '75, and the Reds over the Royals in '76.
In 1977, in their 95th season of operation, the Philadelphia Phillies finally win a World Series, beating the Royals. The Dodgers beat the Red Sox in Game 7 of the 1978 World Series when light-hitting shortstop Bill Russell -- who had the same name as a Boston sports legend, no less -- hits a home run over the Green Monster at Fenway Park, off Mike Torrez. It was the first World Championship for a New York team since the '65 Bums.
The Pirates beat the Orioles in 1979. In 1980, the Royals lose the World Series to the Astros, who have never won a World Series in our reality. There is bedlam in Brooklyn again in 1981, as the Dodgers beat Billy Martin's Oakland A's in the World Series. The Phillies beat the Brewers in 1982, the Orioles dethrone the Phils in '83, the Tigers over the Padres in '84, and the Royals finally break through in '85 against the Cards.
Some things don't change. Bill Buckner is one of them, although when Mookie Wilson hits that grounder between his legs, it's not at Shea Stadium in Flushing Meadow against the New York Mets, but, rather, it's at Kezar Stadium in Golden Gate Park against the San Francisco Seals.
The Minnesota Twins, with hometown hero Dave Winfield leading the way after his contract runs out in Brooklyn, beat the Cards in the '87 Series. In '88, Kirk Gibson's homer off Dennis Eckersley lands in the right-field pavilion of Dodger Stadium in Brooklyn -- any further and it would've landed on the Long Island Rail Road tracks heading out to Nassau and Suffolk.
When word reaches Stoneham Stadium in Flushing that an earthquake has rocked the home region of the A's, the Giants' 1989 World Series opponents, Game 3 is postponed, and, though there is talk about having the entire rest of the Series in New York, the Series is resumed as scheduled. As it turns out, a move is not necessary, as the A's complete a sweep. They are then swept by the Reds in 1990.
Twins over Braves in '91, Jays over Braves in '92 and '93, with a shaky Charlie Liebrandt giving up Joe Carter's capper. (Remember, the Braves won more games than the Phillies in '93, and in this version are in the same division. The Phils are still better off, title-wise.)
George Steinbrenner is sick of sharing Meadowlands Stadium with the football Giants and the Jets. At least, after 1993, he'll never again have to share it with Rutgers University's pathetic football program. Sickened by the labor strife of the 1994 strike, he sells the Yankees. "It's not like I'm selling the Mona Lisa of baseball," Steinbrenner tells the press. "Maybe the Yankees were that, once upon a time, but not anymore."
The man who buys the Yankees from Steinbrenner is Donald Trump, who promises a fabulous new stadium in New York City. With an obliging Mayor in Rudy Giuliani and an obliging Governor in George Pataki, it happens. In 1998, Trump Stadium opens at what was once John Mullaly Park in the South Bronx, across from the housing project where the original Yankee Stadium stood from 1923 to 1973. It is hailed by the New York media as an architectural marvel, half cathedral of baseball, half modern steel fortress. Outside the New York Tri-State Area, however, it is ripped as the ultimate in Trump's tacky taste.
Trump Stadium has field dimensions similar to Yankee Stadium, but that was too late to save the Yankees in 1996. In Game 1 of the ALCS, the Yanks trail the Orioles 5-4 in the bottom of the eighth. Rookie shortstop Derek Jeter hits a fly ball to right-center field, where it falls harmlessly into the glove of Tony Tarasco. About 20 feet away, behind the 375-foot mark on the fence at Meadowlands Sta- ... excuse me, First Union Field, I forgot that the naming rights had been sold... 12-year-old Jeffrey Maier sulks. For a moment, he thought that not only would this be a home run, but that he'd have a chance to catch it. The Orioles beat the Yankees in four straight, and are then bombed into submission in a five-game World Series by the defending Champion Braves. The Yanks don't win the Pennant in 1997, either, eliminated in the Division Series by the Cleveland Indians, who lose to the Florida Marlins.
It has now been 50 years, half a century, since the Yanks won a World Series. In comparison to The Curse of Pinky Higgins by Dan Shaughnessy (the Boston Red Sox ruined by their failure to pursue black players) and The Curse of Rocky Colavito by Terry Pluto (the Cleveland Indians ruined by one big trade), Mike Vaccaro of the New York Post writes a book titled The Curse of Casey Stengel.
Stengel, who has been dead since 1975 and had managed nothing but minor-league teams after his firing by the Yankees in 1952, has been nearly forgotten outside the Tri-State Area, remembered, if at all, for being the old ballplayer who got booed by some fans, tipped his cap to them, and having a sparrow he'd hidden under there fly out, literally giving the fans the bird.
With the opening of Trump Stadium in 1998, the Yanks have a truly formidable team. They set a new American League record with 114 wins, and look unbeatable. But the Curse of Casey strikes Chuck Knoblauch in Game 2 of the ALCS against the Indians, and the Yanks never recover. The Tribe wins in five games, and take their first World Championship in 46 years with a six-game win over the San Diego Padres.
The 1999 season is no better, as the Yanks fall apart in the ALCS against the Red Sox, making 10 errors in the five games, while the Boston fans beat up visiting New Yorkers in the stands at Fenway. The Red Sox end their curse, sweeping the Braves to win their first World Series in 49 years. Now, the only "cursed teams" left in baseball appear to be the Yankees and the two Chicago teams, the Cubs and the White Sox.
Somehow, the Yanks make a run for the ages in 2000, although a September nosedive makes it look like Casey is doing his dirty work again. But they hang on, and beat the A's and Seattle Mariners to win their first Pennant in 37 years, since the tragic last days of the Kennedy Presidency. This sets up a Subway Series with the Giants, who have their own drought: They haven't won a World Series since beating the Yankees 38 years earlier. (But nobody has said the Giants are under the Curse of Bobby Richardson, who, in this reality, just missed Willie McCovey's series-winning line drive in 1962.)
The symbol of the Series is an epic at-bat in the bottom of the ninth of Game 1 at Trump Stadium. Yankee right fielder Paul O'Neill fouls off pitch after pitch against Giant closer Robb Nen, but Nen finally gets him to fly out to left field, where Barry Bonds makes an easy catch.
Game 2 erupts in controversy, as Roger Clemens takes the broken barrel of Bonds' bat, and seemingly throws it at him. Bonds charges the mound, and the biggest fight in World Series history erupts. With both the Yanks and the Jints behind the Dodgers in the City's imagination, both sets of fans have their frustrations boil over, and fights break out in the stands as well. It takes the umpires five minutes to settle things, and public-address announcer Bob Sheppard tries to shame the crowd into behaving. Of course, since Sheppard has been there since 1951 and has never been there for a Yankee World Championship team, it's not like he's "the voice of God" or anything like that. As the game continues, there are still fights. The Giants win, and Mike Lupica writes in the New York Daily News that the Bonds-Clemens matchup is "the biggest reason yet why baseball must crack down on steroids."
The Giants take Game 3 at Stoneham Stadium, and while the Yankees salvage Game 4, Game 5 is a Giant victory. The Curse of Casey has struck again.
After the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, the hearts of baseball fans everywhere are with the Yankees as they make an improbable comeback against the A's and shock the 116-win Mariners to take the Pennant. The Arizona Diamondbacks slam the Yanks in Games 1 and 2 of the World Series. The Yanks take Game 3 and, incredibly, last-out homers save the Yanks in Games 4 and 5. But the D-backs win Game 6 in an ugly blowout.
In Game 7, Alfonso Soriano homers off Curt Schilling to give the Yanks a 2-1 lead in the top of the eighth. In the bottom of the ninth, the Yanks need three more outs to win their first World Championship in 54 years -- the same length as the Stanley Cup drought that the New York Rangers had (1940-1994). The D-backs are only in their fourth year of operation. But Mariano Rivera can't hold the lead, both his control and his fielding betraying him. Luis Gonzalez singles home Craig Counsell, and the Yanks have their most shocking postseason defeat yet. The Curse of Casey seems stronger than ever.
The 2002 Playoffs are a wash, as the Yanks lose to the Anaheim Angels, who go on to beat the Giants in an epic World Series. But 2003 seems hopeful for the Yanks, as they advance to the ALCS. Despite another brawl in Game 3 at Fenway, the Yanks need to win only Game 6 or Game 7 at Trump Stadium to win the Pennant against the hated Red Sox. They lose Game 6, and Game 7 looks lost as well. But four straight doubles by Derek Jeter, Bernie Williams, Hideki Matsui and Jorge Posada, bracketing Sox manager Grady Little's mind-bending decision to leave a tiring Pedro Martinez in, ties the game. Rivera silences his critics with a stunning three-inning performance, and Aaron Boone becomes perhaps the greatest postseason hero in Yankee history by homering on the first pitch of the 11th inning against Tim Wakefield. There is pandemonium in The Bronx.
But joy turns to anger in Game 4 of the World Series, as Jeff Weaver gives up an 11th-inning homer to Alex Gonzalez, and the Marlins clinch on Josh Beckett's shutout in Game 6.
The choke to the Red Sox in October 2004 is still too painful to discuss here. And the flop against the Angels in the 2005 Playoffs still has some fans calling for the heads of Alex Rodriguez and Randy Johnson. As the 2006 Playoffs began, there were those who hoped for a Subway Series between the New York Yankees and the Brooklyn Dodgers, but both teams are beaten in the Division Series. Again, Yankee fans call for A-Rod's head, or at least for his trade.
Finally, Yankee owner Donald Trump can't take it anymore, and tells manager Joe Torre, "Yuh fie-uhd!" Lee Mazzilli failed to get the job done in 2007, the 60th anniversary of the last Yankee World Championship, and the Yanks finished 3rd behind Tampa Bay and Boston in 2008.
The Yankees swept the Twins in the 2009 Division Series, and beat the Angels to win the Pennant. But they lost Game 1 of the World Series to the Phillies. Then, before Game 2, the intended performance of "Empire State of Mind" by Jay-Z and Alicia Keys doesn't happen when the power goes out. The same is true for the Yankee lineup, and the Phillies take the Series in 5 games.
The Yankees lose the 2010 ALCS to the Texas Rangers in 6 games, and the 2011 ALDS to the Detroit Tigers in 5 games. Randy Velarde is now Yankee manager.
It's been 64 years since the Yankees won it all. The Curse of Casey Stengel lives. The only question for the 2012 season is, How will the Yanks blow it this time?
Of course, it didn't happen that way. Vic Raschi got Birdie Tebbetts to pop up to Tommy Henrich, at first base, and the Yankees won the 1949 American League Pennant.
Not only did this mark the first real Yankees-Red Sox Pennant race -- 1904 doesn't count, as neither team had adopted its current name and the Babe Ruth sale hadn't happened yet, and 1948 was a three-team race won by neither, rather by the Indians -- but it was the beginning of the most unbelievable run of success in baseball history.
It was the start of 9 World Championships and 14 Pennants in 16 years -- 7 World Championships and 10 Pennants in 12 years under Charles Dillon "Casey" Stengel. As the man himself said, "And you can look it up."
Well, if you do look it up, you'll see that this didn't really begin the Yanks-Sox rivalry. At least, not in the minds of Yankee Fans. Sure, there were the comparisons of Joe DiMaggio to Ted Williams, and maybe of Phil Rizzuto to Johnny Pesky.
But the Sox were pretty much terrible from Ted's 1952 reactivation by the Marines to serve in the Korean War until their 1967 Impossible Dream season. And by that point, the Yankees had collapsed. After all, nobody ever really compared Williams to Mickey Mantle, or Mantle to Carl Yastrzemski, or Mantle to Tony Conigliaro. It wouldn't have been worth the effort.
Not until the 1970s did it really catch on, with both the Yanks and the Sox falling a little short in '72, a Thurman Munson-Carlton Fisk fight in '73, both teams gunning for the Division but falling short to the Orioles in '74, the Sox holding off the Yanks to win the Pennant in '75, the Fisk-Lou Piniella collision starting a wild brawl on route to a Yankee Pennant in '76, the three-way race with the Sox and O's in '77 culminated with Reggie Jackson's blast ending a previously scoreless September game, and, of course, 1978, ending in the Boston Tie Party, featuring Bucky Dent's home run.
After that, there wasn't really a Yanks-Sox race again until '86, and the Sox won that. There was a five-way race in '88, with the Yanks finishing only 3 1/2 games behind the Sox, but in 5th place behind them, Toronto, Milwaukee and Detroit. The next one was in '95, with Mattingly heading out and O'Neill, Pettitte and Rivera having arrived, and the Sox won.
Then came 1999, the first Yanks-Sox race with Jeter, Cone, Tino and a few other Dynasty-makers having arrived to face off against Pedro and Nomar. And from there, it's been even more hate-filled than in the Seventies, certainly more so than in the Thirties and Forties, where there were several races where the Yanks and Sox finished 1st and 2nd, but except for '49 they weren't really close races.
If you haven't read Summer of '49 by the late David Halberstam, who was then 15 and lived in New York but had relatives near Boston and thus understood both perspectives, I urge you to get it. I reread it in 2009, the 60th Anniversary of that season, and, although most of its participants alive in 1989 are dead now -- including Halberstam himself, and Joe DiMaggio, whose reputation has taken a nosedive since he's no longer around to shame writers into not saying what he was like off the field -- the book holds up very well.