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October 16, 2001

The Daily Prospectus

Character

by Joe Sheehan

I didn't write a column for Monday, mostly because I couldn't get one started. That sounds weird, but it came down to two things:

  • So much had happened over the weekend

    and

  • I was completely exasperated by the decisions made by three managers on Sunday

The latter point was the bigger one. Even now, thinking about the Diamondbacks/Cardinals Game 5, I'm surprised that Bud Selig didn't walk on the field, call the game and send the Giants to Atlanta for the NLCS.

Rather than do 2,000 words on it, I'll just ask the one question that keeps bouncing around my head, then move on:

If the run is important enough to cause you to pinch-hit for Mark McGwire, isn't it also important enough to cause you to pinch-hit for Mike Matheny?

Onward...

The League Championship Series matchups are set, after three of the five Division Series went the full five games, and two of the three victors triumphed after trailing 2-0 or 2-1 in the series.

Full credit should go to the Diamondbacks, Mariners, and Yankees. Particularly the Yankees, who did what had never been done before in a best-of-five series, losing the first two games at home and winning the series, anyway. Their core strengths--front-line starting pitching and a great three-man bullpen--came to the fore in the last three games against the A's, and they made a handful of great plays--I'm thinking of Derek Jeter here--that made the difference in the series.

However, what bothers me is the notion that these three teams' wins represent something about their character, or say something about them as people. I've said this before, and I'll say it again, I'm sure, but attributing character traits to individuals based on their performance in baseball games is short-sighted nonsense.

I've already received a few e-mails castigating the A's for a lack of heart, and pointing to that as the reason they lost the series. That's an insult to every member of the organization, one that a week ago was being lauded for their tremendous in-season comeback from an 8-18 start. They didn't lose these games because they failed as men, because they lacked whatever ineffable quality the Yankees are assumed to have. They lost because they didn't hit home runs, they played lousy defense, and they did absolutely nothing with Mike Stanton and Mariano Rivera.

It works the other way, too. The Mariners and Yankees advanced not because they're better people than their vanquished opponents--not because they're "winners"--but because in a week's time, they played and managed better baseball, and got the bounces that make the difference between winning and losing close games.

The rush to lionize winners and deride losers of postseason series disappoints me. There is no need to draw a connection between a person's actions on the ballfield and the content of his character, and yet just that connection drives so much of the coverage of the postseason, and so much of people's reactions to the games.

The people we spent last week watching aren't good or bad people based on their performance as baseball players. They're good or bad people based on their performance as husbands, fathers, brothers, sons, partners...we know so little of that for any of these men, and to project their play--their job performance--as being what defines them as people is irrational.

P.S. Braves in seven.

Joe Sheehan is an author of Baseball Prospectus. You can contact him by clicking here.

Joe Sheehan is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Joe's other articles. You can contact Joe by clicking here

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