Time to harvest the usual conclusions, notions, laments and aspersions as the games of the long, long, regular baseball season dwindle down to a precious few.
For openers, I say bring Bobby Valentine back. Wacky managers unable to button their mouths will always be the favorites of this failed sportswriter. It’s why I still weep at the memory of Boss Yawkey replacing Dick Williams with Eddie Kasko. Who would you rather have to quote: Connie Mack or Ozzie Guillen? I’ll take an irreverent and egotistical manager in love with controversy every time.
Give the feisty Valentine his due. When he proclaimed his September roster “the weakest in baseball history,” he may have been over-stating the point a tad. Has he never heard of the St. Louis Browns, you wondered? But blatant over-statement is the coin of the realm for lovably feisty managers. Have you forgotten Earl Weaver’s act?
Moreover, on closer inspection, a scan of the lineup Valentine was obliged to field against Baltimore in games vital to the pennant race gives his bemusement considerable credibility. He had Messrs Lavarnway, Gomez, Aviles, Valencia, Nava, Podsednik, and Ciriaco – all of whom save one (Aviles) languished most of the season in the minor leagues – batting consecutively simply because he had no choice.
Unquestionably, Valentine is a hand-full, but that hardly comes as news. He’s done nothing you shouldn’t have expected, given his heavily advertised track record, and if he might have won a few more games by being more diplomatic, that wouldn’t have altered the team’s ultimate fate a soupcon. In my book, he needn’t apologize for bruising stray egos. If only those poor boys whose feelings he hurt could have had the “privilege” of playing for Williams or Weaver. I say they deserve one more year of advanced infantry training under Sgt. Valentine.
Frankly, I’d further assert that Valentine handled this season’s epic meltdown over the last miserable third of the season with a reasonable combination of restraint, humor, and humility, nor was he lacking in accountability. Bring him back, says I. They aren’t going to win next year, either. So we might as well be entertained.
Then there are the Yankees …
Down in the Bronx, the Yankees hang on by threads that are increasingly fraying even as speculation mounts about what manner of purge might be expected should they yet fade at the wire. Here are some suggestions for what might be on the burner should the worst-case scenario be realized:
Nick Swisher. While he seems to be emerging from his September swoon, there’s no way the too-streaky swashbuckler gets the nine-figure deal he covets in New York. Welcome to the free agent market, Nick.
Curtis Granderson. In another year, he may get to join Nick. Grandy’s virtues as a class act are greatly appreciated as is his tailor-made-for-Yankee Stadium power stroke. But not his batting average, now plummeting into the .220’s, nor his strikeout totals, approaching 200 for the season.
Elsewhere: Eduardo Nunez. His promise is dimmed by his intolerable defense. Jaba Chamberlain and Ivan Nova. Patience is thinning. They’re not alone. Phil Hughes ought not get too comfortable. Manager Girardi is safe but GM Cashman should be thankful The Boss is no longer the boss.
The most intriguing possibility, however, concerns Robinson Cano. As they approach the huge decision of how much to give him on how long a deal – with the likelihood he’ll be seeking near A-Rod money – might they be wondering if he’s over-rated? He’s batting around .200 in September. Hitting either 3rd or 4th in a power house lineup, he has 79 RBIs. His average for the season with runners in scoring position is .228. His vaguely languid manner begins to unnerve. He has never been a “big-game” guy. In the galaxy of Bronx super-stars, one is expected to rise to the moment. He has not. Grossly burdened with dumb contracts, how the Yankees handle this mega-dilemma should be fascinating.
… and the Orioles …
All of which adds to the joy they are experiencing in Baltimore after 14 consecutive losing seasons, although with 10 games left (as this is written), it could all still crumble. And if it does, who would be surprised considering the team they field features just one bona-fide star (Adam Jones), only one other regular hitting over .266, and a beat-up pitching staff laden with rookies led by a 12-game winner that is bailed out by an admittedly superior bullpen that’s been heavily over-worked.
With two weeks to go, the O’s ranked 8th in the league in staff earned run average, 10th in runs scored, 12th in team defense, and have given up more runs than they’ve scored. But in extra-inning games they are 16-0, one win shy of an MLB record that has stood for seven decades. Maybe that’s tells it all.
You may have to go back to the final days of the 1967 season when the Red Sox were perched in the same preposterous position to find a prospect more delightfully improbable than the Orioles prevailing over the AL East as they are preciously on the verge of doing this year. It’s a fine illustration of what makes baseball – like no other game – impossible to predict or sometimes even comprehend. In Baltimore this season, the whole exceeds the sum of the parts.
… and the A’s
Out West, they argue that the Oakland A’s, re-crafted overnight by Billy Beane and Bob Melvin, might just be more remarkable for having scratched and clawed to the brink of the playoffs on a $49.1million payroll that’s the lowest in all of baseball, precisely a quarter of what the Yankees are paying their pampered elite, and less than a third of what the Angels are shelling out for the privilege of having to chase the A’s futilely all season.
With days left, the Angels could still catch the A’s, something we should devoutly hope does not happen. If the A’s do make it, they’ll become the first lowest salaried team to do so in the modern big-bucks era. It’s a satisfaction we don’t need to be denied and for Beane, it will be quite a sequel to his “Money-Ball” antics.
Checking the Honor Roll
With the NL’s relatively uninspired playoff picture mostly settled, there is only the usual scramble for individual honors to focus upon. Here’s how it looks from this corner:
AL MVP: It’s the Tigers’ Miguel Cabrera and it won’t be close. He has the triple crown in reach, something no one has boasted since our Mighty Yaz in ‘67. The big question being will Cabrera’s heroics be sufficient to lead the Tigers to the playoffs. The guessing here is he’ll find a way.
AL Cy Young: It’s a pure toss-up among the Tigers’ Verlander, the Angels’ Weaver, and Sale of the White Sox. He who dramatically leads his team to the post-season wins the Cy, too.
AL Rookie: Not since Freddie Lynn has there been a more runaway pick than the Angels’ Mike Trout, though in the long run the A’s Yoenis Cespedes may prove just as worthy.
AL Manager: Ordinarily the A’s Melvin and Chicago’s Ventura get serious consideration, but the support for the Orioles’ Buck Showalter is a veritable tidal wave and deservedly, because not since Williams in ’67 has a manager made such a difference.
NL MVP: One pulls for Pittsburgh’s sterling Andrew McCutcheon, if only to allow the Pirates, edging on their 20th consecutive losing season, some solace. But in the end it will be one of the catchers, either Posey of the Giants or the Cards’ resident Molina.
NL Cy: The Mets’ R.A. Dickey was the season’s best story but the Mets are irrelevant so Washington’s Gio Gonzalez wins instead.
NL Rookie: The suspicion persists they’ll find a way to give it to Washington’s teenage phenom, Bryce Harper, deserved or otherwise.
NL Manager: The Giants’ Bruce Bochy is one of those superior skippers who could win most every year and not have to apologize.
Let the second season begin.