I wanted to get yesterday’s piece up before flying to Phoenix, which is where I am today, taking in some Arizona Fall League action and participating in Baseball HQ’s First Pitch Arizona. Here are some of the notes I didn’t quite get to about Game Six, as well as some other follow-ups:
There seem to be a lot of people angry, or at least bitter, that the Yankees won, this feeling being tied to the team’s high payroll and large investment in personnel last offseason. My reaction is the same as it’s been: what else would you have them do with the money? The Yankees generate enormous revenues not just for themselves, but for the other 29 teams and for MLB as an entity. They take that money and try to make their product better. Short of the silliness of “well, they could lower ticket prices,” which would just mean transferring money from their pockets not to fans, but to sellers in the secondary market, what, exactly, should they do with all the money they have other than make the team as good as they can?
That’s an argument we’ve had, and I don’t mind having it. What bugged me about the tone of the reaction I’m seeing is the anger towards Yankee fans, as if they should somehow not be happy that their favorite team won, or that they’re in some way lesser people for rooting for the Yankees. Baseball isn’t a morality play, it’s a business. That applies a million-fold to being a baseball fan. I don’t know how other people came to their loyalties, but when it comes to baseball, mine were set as a child, and came through my family, and I’m willing to bet that’s the case for most people. You root for the local team or you root for the team your folks root for, or maybe you root for some other team, but you probably forged that bond before you lost your virginity. To criticize people for choices made…no, for something that wasn’t even a choice, just something that happened before they even knew it… is insane.
I’ve made this point before, but since I’ve made my fandom part of my work over the years, I should make it again. There are Yankee fans who remember a time before 1996. There are Yankee fans who, like myself, lived through a lot of crappy baseball in the 1980s, a lot of dumb free-agent signings, through a Mets era in New York for the most part, through the Oscar Azocar Yankees and Stump Merrill and “I just won you the pennant.” Being a Yankee fan has never been what being a Pirates fan is, but even as I write that sentence, I think about being 22 years old and having seen a hell of a lot more Pirates postseason games than Yankee ones.
So, stop criticizing people’s fandom. You want to criticize the economic system of baseball, fine, but stop acting as if being a fan of a certain team says something about a person. It probably just means that their dad watched the game every night, or their grandpa took them to watch that team in their first game, or their aunt gave them a jersey when they were six years old and they slept in it every night, dreaming of wearing it on a green field in front of a big crowd on a sunny day.
If there’s one question about the 2010 Phillies that I think could blow up their season, it’s the Jimmy Rollins issue. Charlie Manuel pretty much stayed with Rollins all year-and all postseason-as his leadoff man. Rollins’ inability to reach base often enough hurt this team’s offense, even as they led the league in runs scored. The lack of a leadoff man on base in front of the great slugging middle of the order was a problem in the playoffs, as it seemed like Rollins’ getting on triggered rallies, but not nearly enough of them.
Manuel can’t go another season with a poor leadoff man. Rollins has always been miscast in the role, but so long as he had an above-average OBP, you could live with it because Rollins would get himself into scoring position frequently and he ran the bases well. At .296, no amount of speed and power can save you. If Rollins doesn’t bounce back in ’10, he’ll have to be dropped to sixth or seventh, and I’m not sure what happens if Rollins gets demoted, whether that becomes a thing. It’s the biggest challenge facing the Phillies in 2010.
Ryan Howard got to Andy Pettitte in Game Six, but overall his poor World Series is directly connected to his seeing so few right-handed pitchers. I’m not sure I’m willing to stand by the “platoon player” label I placed on him-he improved his defense and baserunning enough that he’s not a complete cipher outside the batter’s box-but he was exposed in this Series, and you can bet the NL was watching.
I will say this: Howard made the effort to become a better baseball player last offseason, losing weight that showed up in his lateral range and his baserunning and basestealing. If I’m going to bet on a player improving his game, eliminating a flaw, it’s going to be when that player has already shown a willingness to work and improve. Maybe Howard doesn’t get any better against lefties, and is forever a player who can be taken out of a big spot by a tap on the left arm. But I think the changes he made to his game between 2008 and 2009 provide at least some hope that he can learn to handle southpaws in a way that makes him even more dangerous.
When Charlie Manuel looks back at this series, I think he’ll regret not leaning on J.A. Happ a bit more. Happ should have been shadowing Pedro Martinez from the start of Game Six, and should have been available to pitch to Hideki Matsui in the third inning, when Matsui hit a big two-out single that gave the Yankees their third and fourth runs. Happ also could have been used in the fifth, rather than Chad Durbin; a stretch of three right-handed batters in four spots, created when Jerry Hairston Jr. came in for Johnny Damon, seemed to be the main factor there. Durbin was ineffective, and the game all but over by the time Happ was finally called upon.
Give some credit to Shane Victorino, whose muff of Derek Jeter‘s line drive in the third set up that two-run inning for the Yankees. His ninth-inning, ten-pitch battle with Mariano Rivera was basically meaningless to the outcome of the game, but it was impressive to watch.
I was asked about how I felt about Matsui for MVP. I was OK with it-he had a key homer in Game Two and singlehandedly won Game Four. The Yankees didn’t have an obvious candidate; the guys with the best stats didn’t have significant game impact, and the guys with the most game impact-mostly Alex Rodriguez-had just OK stats. The two best players in the series were Chase Utley and Cliff Lee, but the series needed to go seven games for one of them to win. Matsui is effectively the compromise choice, and not a bad one at that.
It will get lost, but the relentless bunting with no one out and a big lead has got to stop. Jerry Hairston Jr. in the fifth, then Brett Gardner in the seventh, were called upon to sacrifice in situations where there was no good reason to be giving up an out. You win by getting guys on base, hitting for power and not making outs; sacrifice bunting in all but specific situations is counter to all three of those things.
Of the core five Yankees who came up through the system and formed the backbone of the dynasty, Andy Pettitte is the one I have the least attachment to. But the moment of his walking off the mound, and the “An-dy Pett-itte” chants that greeted him throughout the game and in the aftermath, were great moments.
With the end of the postseason comes the end of another run of postseason columns. I write more in October, really the better part of a book, than I do in any other month. It comes with the job, but truth be told, I just love it, love being able to write about baseball games. The games remain for me the best part of baseball, the things that keep me coming back year after year, and getting to write about games is why October is my favorite month. Some days in May or August, it’s hard to know what to talk about; I never have that problem in the postseason.
Without the readers at Baseball Prospectus, though, I wouldn’t have nearly as many people to talk to, or nearly so much fun doing it. Thank you. Thank for reading and subscribing and asking chat questions and writing comments and sending e-mails and calling into radio shows and watching ESPNews or Outside the Lines. Thanks for demanding a better brand of baseball content. Thanks for everything, for 14 years.
With t hat, I’m off to Phoenix Municipal Stadium. I’ll be there today and in Peoria tonight, hopefully seeing guys who we’ll be writing about for years to come.