Today feels like March Madness. Eight games being played by the 16 teams in the expanded MLB playoffs. Rita and I plan to have the TV on from noon to midnight, switching among the four channels broadcasting the games. Plus checking in on Game 1 of the NBA finals pitting the Lakers against the Heat in the Orlando bubble. It is a good day to be a sports fan.
This 2020 major league season was the shortest in history, but the playoffs are the longest ever. There are four rounds, potentially adding 22 games for the two teams that make it to the World Series.
From 1903 until 1961, the major leagues had 16 teams. In 2020, that many will be in the playoffs. Here is the lineup:
With so many teams involved, there are several intriguing potential matchups for the World Series:
All Chicago (White Sox v. Cubs): The two have only met in one World Series. In 1906, the White Sox won the AL pennant despite a team batting average of .230 (the “Hitless Wonders”). The Cubs, featuring “Tinker to Evers to Chance,” had the best regular season in modern MLB history (116-38; .763). The Sox beat the Cubs 4-2 in one of the biggest upsets in Series history. [Best Record Trivia: The 2001 Seattle Mariners also won 116 games, but it took them 162 games (116-46; .716). Seattle lost in the ALCS, so neither of the 116-win teams won the World Series.]
Cheaters v. COVID (Astros v. Marlins): Before spring training shut down, the Astros got a taste of how they would be treated by fans after the sign-stealing scandal. Lots of booing and nasty signs (the “Houston Asterisks”). So the lack of fans in the regular season may have been a break. The Marlins were the comeback heroes, winning a playoff slot after missing eight early games because of a COVID outbreak. They scrambled for players, making some 174 roster moves during the season, probably assuring that Don Mattingly will be named NL Manager of the Year.
Champions Match (Yankees v. Cardinals): The teams with the most World Series trophies (NY – 27; St. Louis – 11). The 2020 Cards also had several postponed games for COVID, but rebounded to make the playoffs. These teams last faced each other in a World Series in 1964 when Yogi Berra managed the Yankees and Johnny Keane managed the Cards. The Cards won 4-3, prompting the Yankees to fire Berra and hire Keane for the next season.
Tampa Bay v. Milwaukee: If the Royals are not in it, I usually root for the teams that have never won a World Series. There are six that have not done so: Tampa Bay, Milwaukee, San Diego, Colorado, Seattle and Texas. Three are in these playoffs. A matchup of the Rays and Brewers (or Padres) would net a first-ever Series victory for the winner.
Cleveland v. San Diego: The Indians have the longest drought in the major leagues. They have not won a Series since 1948 (Satchel Paige was on the roster). Maybe it’s their turn again. As noted above, the Padres are the other team in the playoffs without a Series victory. They were part of the four-team expansion class of 1969: Royals, Padres, Seattle (the Pilots who moved after one year to Milwaukee) and Montreal (the Expos who moved to Washington in 2005). From 1969 to 2018, fifty seasons of baseball, only one of these teams won a World Series – the Royals who did it twice (1985 and 2015). So San Diego is due and has the added attraction for Royals fans because Eric Hosmer plays for the Padres. As for the Expos/Nationals…
Washington Nationals v. Any Team: Not. The Nationals won the World Series last year, but failed to make the top-16 this year. Maybe the lack of crowds hurt. Remember the baby shark? And fans in the stands? Click here.
Bracketology: The expanded playoffs invite the use of bracketology predictions like we see for the Final Four during March Madness. The Athletic website had several of their writers submit their predictions (click here; subscription required). Here are two of them.
From Andy McCullough, former KC Star sportswriter, now with the Athletic.
From Joe Posnanski, former KC Star sportswriter, now with the Athletic. WARNING! Here is what Joe says about his picks, “Because this is 2020, I simply picked the exact opposite of what I want to happen.” And I can tell it’s true. Joe is a certified Yankee-hater and would want them to lose in the first round, not go all the way.
How About Those Royals?: The Royals are missing in action in the 2020 playoffs. This was not a surprise as they are in the midst of a rebuild.
In a Hot Stove post just before the start of the 60-game season, I listed some predictions for Royals wins: Steve Roling – 30; Jeb Bayer – 28; David Matson – 26; Lonnie – 25; and Bob White – 24. Going into the final 4-game series against Detroit, the Royals record was 23-33. If there was a sweep, by either team, none of us would win (nobody had 23 or 27). There was no sweep, the Royals winning three of the four games to finish 26-34.
So David Matson won, but we neglected to place any bets on our choices. David said he would feel rewarded if he got a mention in Hot Stove. So here it is, but I am not sure of the value of this mention for tax purposes. I think he should at least pay the IRS minimum tax of $750.
The Royals finished strongly. From September 8 to 27, they tied Tampa Bay for the best record in the American League (12-6). Adalberto Mondesi played poorly in July and August, but then exploded in September. He was the AL “Player of the Week” for the last week of the season:
Salvy had a great year when not injured. Young starting pitchers looked good. Superb relief pitching. Merrifield steady. So in the immortal words of baseball fans, “Wait ‘til next year.” Or maybe 2022 or 2023.
[Vintage Clips: Six years ago today, Salvy got the hit that won the Oakland wild card game (click here). And 38 years ago today, George Brett got his 3000th hit, but watch both videos – he then got picked off (click here).]
Goodbye Alex: In 2005, the Royals made Alex Gordon the second pick in the first round of the amateur draft. Alex made it to the big leagues in 2007 and was a core member of the Royals who won two pennants and a World Series. After the 2016 season, he became a free agent. With the Royals unlikely to win a bidding war, KC Star editorial cartoonist Lee Judge assumed the team would have a hard time replacing him.
But the Royals paid big money and kept the popular Gordon who played his entire 14-year MLB career with the team. The photo below is from last Saturday when the grounds crew cut number 4 in the left field grass. That night, he threw out a runner at home, his 102nd outfield assist (click here).
Alex played his last game on Sunday. Next up, the statue at the stadium (as envisioned by a fan on Twitter):
Triple Crown: This coming Saturday, the final leg of the Triple Crown will be run. In the non-COVID years, the order of the Triple Crown has been the Kentucky Derby, the Preakness Stakes and the Belmont Stakes. This year, after delays and rescheduling, the order became Belmont, Derby and Preakness. Tiz the Law won the Belmont, but he came in second to Authentic in the Derby (photo below; click here for the race). Tiz the Law is not running in the Preakness, and Authentic is the favorite. No fans will be in the stands. What a strange year.
Stanley Cup: The NHL finished its truncated season and playoffs in bubble venues in Canada (Toronto and Edmonton). No fans in the stands. This past Monday, the headline read that the Lightning beat the Stars for the Stanley Cup. I know where the Stars are based because Dallas expat Richard Martin always lets me know when his Dallas teams are doing well. Not being an NHL follower, I had to keep reading to find that the Lightning franchise is based in Tampa Bay. Could be a big year for Tampa Bay whose Rays are seeded #1 in the AL baseball bracket.
[Stanley Cup Trivia: In the winter of 1918-19, the second wave of Spanish Flu hit hard. The National Hockey League played its season, and Montreal and Seattle played for the Stanley Cup (sans bubble). With the series tied 2-2-1, Montreal had so many players sick that they intended to forfeit. Seattle declined to win that way, and so the engraving for 1919 on the Stanley Cup reads “Series Not Completed.”]
Loose Park Fountains: There are two fountains in the Loose Park pond. The main fountain has not been in operation recently, making it available as a pedestal for the resident heron to stand as sentinel.
The back fountain is in operation and gave us an amazing sight last Sunday. Spawning season is underway, and hundreds (thousands?) of baby koi gathered under the oxygen-friendly spray.
Other than checking out the pond wildlife in Loose Park, we don’t do our walking there. The paths are often crowded, and we begin feeling like we are in a Frogger video game. You wait to not cross someone, you range right or left to keep your distance, etc. Which makes me think of a Seinfeld episode where George Costanza makes a nostalgic return to his high school pizza hangout because it is closing. He discovers that he still has the high score on the Frogger video game. So he decides to buy the machine to save his claim to fame. As he removes the machine from the premises, he enters a Frogger world of traffic. Click here for the fun.
Lonnie’s Jukebox – Helen Reddy and Mac Davis: Yesterday, Helen Reddy and Mac Davis died. Both were 78.
Davis was a country singer who often crossed over to the pop charts. He was also a songwriter, most notably for Elvis Presley (“In the Ghetto” and more). His best known song is “Baby Don’t Get Hooked on Me,” which went to #1 for three weeks in September of 1972 (click here). Three months after Davis hit #1, Helen Reddy did the same with her feminist anthem “I Am Woman.” Different messages.
Reddy was far from a successful artist when she traveled to New York from her native Australia in 1966. She came to audition at Mercury Records, but failed to get a contract. The 24-year-old single mother of a 3-year-old had $200 and a return ticket to Australia. She decided to stay. Without a work permit, she had difficulty getting singing gigs, but that was solved by getting married. She moved to Los Angeles where Capitol Records gave her an opportunity to cut her first record, “I Believe in Music” (written by Mac Davis). The song fell flat, but the B-side of the record (“I Don’t Know How to Love Him” from Jesus Christ Superstar) went to #13. She was on her way.
After her first hit, Capitol Records wanted her to do an album. Reddy had been searching for a song to express her passion for female empowerment, and she said: “I was lying in bed one night and the words, ‘I am strong. I am invincible. I am woman’ kept going over and over in my head.” She wrote the lyrics and Australian guitarist Ray Burton put it to music. The song went on the album and was released as a single. “I Am Woman” went to #1. At the Grammys, accepting her pop female vocalist award, she cemented her status as an icon in the women’s movement by thanking “God because She makes everything possible.”
On January 21, 2017, the day after the inauguration of Donald Trump, protestors in 673 cities marched to advocate “Women’s Rights” – to deliver a message to the new administration that women’s rights were human rights. At the rally in Los Angeles, 75-year-old Helen Reddy appeared on stage to sing acapella her anthem “I Am Woman.” Click here.
Now let’s go back to the 1970, put a quarter in the jukebox, and play Helen Reddy’s three #1 records (click on the song title to listen):
“I Am Woman” (1972)
“Delta Dawn” (1973)
“Angie Baby” (1974)
Her words continue to inspire:
I am woman, hear me roar
In numbers too big to ignore
And I know too much to go back an’ pretend
‘Cause I’ve heard it all before
And I’ve been down there on the floor
No one’s ever gonna keep me down again