March 1, 2012
Bates' Dugout Motel
Bobby Valentine was kind enough to spend a few minutes in front of a microphone on Tuesday, which he is usually reluctant to do, and proceeded to cast aspersions in the way of the Yankees, Derek Jeter, and the Captain’s famous 2001 flip to Jorge Posada to beat Jeremy Giambi. “We’ll never practice that,” Valentine told reporters. “We’ll never practice that. I think he was out of position and I think the ball gets him out if he doesn’t touch it, personally. But the Jeter-like simulation today is the [establish] what the first baseman and third baseman do as the ball is coming in.” So, in one foul swoop, Valentine essentially called Jeter’s defining moment unnecessary and questioned whether Jeter was even in the right place.
I’m aware that this borders on baseball sacrilege, but it’s conceivable that Bobby is right. Jeter does seem to be way out of position, and it’s also possible that the throw would have come through in time, given that it seems to be relatively on-line. That shouldn’t diminish the fact that it was a very athletic play, and it may very well have saved the Yankees’ bacon in 2001, but it may be represent an unnecessary embroidering of the Jeter legend.
Not content to poke holes in the cherished memories and legends of the Red Sox’ most hated rivals, Valentine went on to correct our impressions on several of the most seminal moments, beloved figures, and cherished beliefs in the game’s modern history:
Milwaukee Brewers: Every game at Miller Park, in the middle of the 6th inning, five sausages race around the infield to the delight of the Milwaukee masses. I abhor violence, but this is still really funny. Also, your obsession with sausage is not endearing. In fact, it's creepy.
Houston Astros: Nolan Ryan pitched 27 seasons in a big-league uniform. He spent nine of those years with the Astros. Yes, that's more than he spent anywhere else, but you all have no business retiring Ryan's number. He was good in, like, three of his nine seasons down there, in 1981, 1983, and 1987. J.R. Richard pitched 10 years in Houston and had four-and-a-half remarkable years to close out his shortened career before a stroke (the warning signs for which were tragically ignored) crippled him at 30. When the hell are you going to retire J.R. Richard's number?
Arizona Diamondbacks: If anyone should have been able to get a sacrifice bunt down, it’s Jay Bell. But nooooooo, in the ninth inning of Game 7 of the 2001 World Series, he has to bunt it straight back to the mound, and Mark Grace gets thrown out at third base. If Bell gets that down, Tony Womack is almost certainly walked, and never would have doubled to tie it. Then it’s bases loaded for… probably Erubiel Durazo pinch hitting for Craig Counsell. And when Mo strikes him out, Luis Gonzalez never gets to hit with the infield in, and Jeter that floater up the middle gets caught. Plus, the whole thing was started by Rivera throwing to the wrong base on Damian Miller’s attempted sacrifice anyway. So don’t be too proud of yourselves, Arizona.
Atlanta Braves: It’s 1992, the ninth inning of Game 7 of the NLCS. With the bases loaded, pinch hitter Francisco Cabrera, who would have just 89 regular season hits in his entire career, smoked a line-drive single that brought home David Justice. Sid Bream, who had been on second, rounded third and headed home. I can’t believe that Bream, who was monumentally slow, tested Barry’s arm on that. He never should have been sent. It’s sheer dumb luck that Barry’s throw was offline, or Bream would have been D-E-A-D, dead. That's not how we practice baserunning.
Baltimore Orioles: In 1992, Cal Ripken only played four innings against the Cleveland Indians on the last day of the season. That really shouldn’t count as a “consecutive game played,” should it? I mean, if you’re going to be the “Iron Man,” you should really have to commit to it. And can you imagine how much better Cal would have been, and how many more games you would have won, if he’d just taken a rest every now and again? Selfish.
Chicago Cubs: Poor Steve Bartman. Look, Bartman probably shouldn't have gotten in Moises Alou's way in the eighth inning of Game 6 in the 2003 NLCS, but you can't really blame a fan for getting excited and losing his mind a bit when a ball is coming down straight at his head. Plus, it's not Bartman's fault you couldn't get five outs or hold onto a lead in Game 7. That's not a curse; that's bad pitching. Lay off the Bartman.
Cincinnati Reds: The only reason Pete Rose broke Ty Cobb's record was because he was allowed to keep writing his own name in the lineup every day. There, I said it. Rose was 44 and in his first full season as a player-manager and led the Reds to 89 wins. He also gave himself 501 plate appearances despite the fact that he had absolutely no power and Tony Perez was still on the club and hitting. With a better first baseman, it's conceivable that the Reds would have won the NL West in 1985.
Colorado Rockies: Let’s not insult each other’s intelligence, okay? In 2007, the Rockies faced off against the San Diego Padres in a Game 163 playoff for the NL Wild Card. The game went 13 innings. In the bottom of the 13th, with Matt Holliday on third base, Jamey Carroll hit a fly ball to right field. Holliday challenged Brian Giles arm in an attempt to score the winning run. He was called safe, but you know and I know that Matt Holliday never touched that plate and was tagged out as he was lying in the batter's box. Who knows if a better slide would have gotten him in; Michael Barrett had that plate pretty well blocked.
Minnesota Twins: In Game 2 of the 1991 World Series, Ron Gant hit a two-out single in the top of the 3rd inning to put runners on first and third . Kevin Tapani saw that the big outfielder had rounded the bag too far and threw behind him to Kent Hrbek, who applied the tag low on Gant's leg; for some reason Gant didn't slide. In the ensuing scuffle, Gant's leg came off the bag and he was called out by Drew Coble. Watching that play again and again in your mind. You know the truth: Kent Hrbek pulled Ron Gant off of first base, probably on purpose. And that's how you won the 1991 World Series.
Boston Red Sox: Look, we’re not immune here either. In 2003, the Sox had a horrendous collapse. With Pedro Martinez on the mound in Game 7 of the ALCS against the Yankees in the 8th inning, and a 5-2 lead, it looked like the Red Sox were going to finally make it back to the World Series. Despite the fact that the whole world knew Pedro Martinez was tired after around 100 pitches (indeed, some have written whole books about that), Grady Little sent him back out there. As Tim McCarver and Joe Buck looked on incredulously, Pedro gave up four straight hits to bring home three runs and tie the game before Little could even get a pitcher warmed up. Now sure, leaving Pedro in didn't work out, and Grady certainly should have had someone up and throwing at the start of the inning just in case. Can you blame Grady Little for sticking with his gassed inner-circle Hall of Famer over a slightly less gassed Alam Embree or Mike Timlin, both of whom had pitched just a day ago, and would each be coming into their fifth game of the series?
And with that, Bobby Valentine apologized for peeling back the curtain through which we'd maintained our childlike wonder and innocence. Disillusioned, we took comfort wherever we could find it. He walked back into the clubhouse to take a shower, leaving us to pick up the shattered pieces of what had once been our lives.