Hot Stove #143 – The Final Four (ALCS/NLCS); Remembering Bob Gibson and Eddie Van Halen

We have advanced from the Sweet Sixteen to the Elite Eight to the Final Four. Just can’t get enough of the March Madness terminology.

In the short 60-game season, the Royals played only nine teams – their counterparts in the Central Divisions of the AL and NL. The idea was to eliminate the amount of travel during the pandemic. Seven of those nine Royals opponents made it to the first round of playoffs, the Sweet Sixteen. None of the seven made it to the second round, the Elite Eight. Now we have the Final Four: Tampa Bay, Houston, LA Dodgers and Atlanta.


Who “Deserves” To Win?: Earlier this year, stats guru Bill James wrote a piece on what teams are the most deserving of winning a World Series. His examples of prior deserving teams included the 1955 Dodgers (first ever World Series win for the franchise, finally ending the cries of “wait ‘til next year”), the 2016 Cubs (who had not won since 1908) and the 2017 Astros (who had not previously won in their half-century of existence; but maybe not deserved after being caught cheating).

Bill James's Kansas Home - WSJ

James does not just look at the number of years without a victory. That’s worth one point for each year, but can be bumped to two points if a team finishes at least nine games over .500, or three points for 95 or more wins. These bonus numbers are to recognize teams that have put competitive teams on the field. When a team wins a World Series, their score reverts to zero, and they have to start a new climb to deserving. In general, teams with more than 30 points deserve to win a Series. James has some other nuances to his system and also provides a brief history of how the system has worked for each of the 30 teams. But I’m afraid to go there – mindful of the attention span of readers during this crazy election – so I’ll just link Bill’s article for those who want to dig deeper. Click here.

Going into the 2020 season, James’ top five “most deserving” teams (and points) were Cleveland (103), Texas (95), Milwaukee (69), San Diego (60) and Seattle (55). None of them are in the Final Four. But there are three teams in the Final Four who do deserve to win:

 Los Angeles Dodgers (53): The Dodgers have won eight consecutive division titles. Their last Series victory was in 1988.

 Atlanta Braves (51): Atlanta has consistently fielded good teams, but has not won it all since 1995.

 Tampa Bay Rays (33): This is my favorite because they have never won a Series. Their point number is relatively low because they did not exist until 1998.

 Houston is barely on the chart because they won the Series in 2017. So they don’t deserve to win again so soon. Two other reasons: (i) They cheated to win in 2017, and (ii) they had a losing record in the regular season (29-31) and lucked into the postseason because of the expanded playoff structure.

 2020 Postseason Trivia: On October 1, San Diego played the Cardinals in the first round of the playoffs. San Diego won the game 11-9, but the big news was that Fernando Tatis and Wil Myers of the Padres each hit two homers. This had happened in the postseason only one other time – Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig did it in Game 3 of the 1932 World Series (on the same date, October 1). The second homer by Ruth that day was his “called shot.” I thought that this was such a good piece of trivia that I backed up the video and took a screen shot of our TV.

Bob Gibson (1935-2020): Bob Gibson died last week at the age of 84. Gibson was a first-round Hall of Famer after his 17-year career with the St. Louis Cardinals (1959-1975). For those who want to dig deep into Gibson’s career and personality, the must-read is the 1980 New Yorker article by the great Roger Angell (click here). I’ll highlight two of Gibson’s biggest achievements: the 1968 season and his postseason record.

The visual that defined Gibson was his follow-through on the mound:

Bob Gibson -

 As described by Roger Angell:  “All in all, the pitch and its extended amplification made it look as if Gibson were leaping at the batter, with hostile intent. He always looked much closer to the plate at the end than any other pitcher; he made pitching seem unfair.”

 His pitching was so unfair (i.e., good) that the rules of the game were changed. In 1968, MLB pitchers held hitters to overall batting average of .237. Pitchers Denny McClain and Don Drysdale recorded some spectacular numbers. But it was Gibson who did what seemed impossible – his ERA was 1.12. In the hundred years from the start of the live-ball era (1920) to today, it is by far the lowest ERA for a season. Second place is Dwight Gooden with 1.53 in 1985.

The baseball establishment was not keen on what became known as “The Year of the Pitcher.” Shutouts were boring to many fans. So the game took a page from 1920 when the live-ball was born – the rules were changed to favor the offense. In 1969, the mound was lowered from 15” to 10” and the strike zone was decreased in size. Gibson was not happy about that, but as Cardinal sportswriter Bob Broeg told him, “Goddam it Gib, you’re changing the game. It isn’t fun anymore. You’re making it like hockey.” And from Roger Angell, “Bob Gibson, we may conclude, was the man most responsible for the next major change in the dimensions of the sport.”

Gibson started nine World Series games. He lost the first and last games, winning the seven in between. Check out the numbers:


He pitched eight complete games. ERA of 1.89. Note the strikeout total of 17 in the first game of 1968. It is still the record for a pitcher in a World Series game.

The Cardinals won the Series in 1964 and 1967, and Gibson was the MVP each time.

RIP to one of the great ones.

NBA Finals: Last night, the Los Angeles Lakers won the NBA championship, beating the Miami Heat four games to two. LeBron James has now led three different teams to an NBA title: Miami (twice), Cleveland and the Lakers. King James was the MVP in all four of those finals.

The NBA season was suspended in March because of the pandemic. It resumed on July 30 with all games being played in an isolated zone within Walt Disney World – a bubble. The games were played without fans. There was not a single case of COVID in the bubble. One pundit quipped, This is the first year that the answer to “You just won the NBA finals, what are you gonna do now?” is “I’m going to leave Disney World!”

 Lonnie’s Jukebox – Eddie Van Halen: As a teenager in the 1950s, I heard the sounds of Chuck Berry, the man who made the guitar the primary instrument of rock ‘n’ roll. Eric Clapton, Jimi Hendrix and others followed. Some 20 years after I first heard Chuck, the next generation of teenagers were introduced to their own guitar genius, Eddie Van Halen, the lead guitar player in his namesake band Van Halen. Eddie died last week at age 65.

Van Halen released its first album in 1978. Two of the teenagers who took note were Pat McInerney (14) and Brian Shalton (16). Jason Shalton, then only 7, was not far behind.

Van Halen (album) - Wikipedia

I’ve known Pat McInerney for many years, but did not know he was a Van Halen fan until he sent this tweet last week: “EVH changed everything with a 1:44 face-melter on VH1. God Speed Eddie.” So the first thing I did was look up face-melter in the Urban Dictionary. “A heavy metal solo that is so awesome and powerful, it causes one’s face to melt.”

I asked Pat to expand on his tweet, and here is what he had to say:

The 1:44 is a reference to the length of “Eruption” from the first VH album. It was a track that literally made everyone on the planet say “WTF?” I was 14 when the first album came out and saw them first in 1979/80 then 8 or 10 times after that. They were incredible – and what can you say about Eddie. He was to the guitar what Lin-Manuel Miranda is to Broadway.

 At the end of college and for the first 6 months of law school, I worked part time at KY-102, a long-gone album oriented rock station here in KC. I was doing promotional stuff and was on the air overnights and weekends. As part of it, I was backstage at concerts a lot, including VH’s show here on the 5150 Tour in 1986 (Sammy Hagar’s first tour with VH). I was backstage with all four guys and, being out of smokes, bummed one from Eddie. We hung out in their dressing room for about half an hour and – to this day – there is a photo somewhere in my storage boxes of me, Eddie, Sammy and Michael Anthony in the suite. Eddie jumped on my back right before the shot and he has his arm around my neck. I wish I knew where it was.

 Eddie Van Halen, rock guitar god, dead of throat cancer at 65

 My son Brian posted his Eddie Van Halen tribute on Instagram and Facebook (neither of which I use, but he kindly sent me an email). You readers also know Brian as the webmaster for the Hot Stove archives.

I was sad yesterday when I heard that Eddie Van Halen died. Driving home from the office, 98.9 was wall-to-wall Van Halen. By the time I got home I wasn’t sad, I was wrecked. Growing up, when Van Halen released an album, you bought it that day. When concert tickets went on sale, you got in line early. As good as their music was, their concerts were better. Epic. Other than the Rolling Stones, I don’t think there was a better big concert band. I looked on and they show Van Halen played in KC four times in 1978. They played Memorial Hall, Pogo’s 4 day later (wow), Summerjam and Municipal. Four very different venues. I saw them no less than 8 times, the most recent being 2015. The first time was Summerjam ’78. Summerjam concerts were the highlight of my summers as a teen. A one-day show at Royals Stadium (sometimes at Arrowhead but those were called Superjam). The entire stadium was full. All general admission. There were always one or two headliners and several supporting acts. I don’t think Van Halen was the headliner that year, but they are the only thing I remember from that day.

 Every show I ever saw was worth more than the ticket. Thank you Eddie. Rock in Peace!

Below, Van Halen in Kansas City in 1984.

Best Van Halen Guitar Solo 1984 Tour - Very Clean and Crisp - Kansas City  6/20/84 - YouTube

 Jason is my younger son and was only 7 when Van Halen arrived on the scene in 1978. Even at that young age, he had been drawn to the guitar by the band Kiss. Jason was a fan of innovators like Les Paul and Eddie Van Halen and became an all-state guitar player in high school. When he was a senior, we took him to New York to see guitar legend Les Paul who had a weekly gig at Fat Tuesday’s. There is a great photo we took of Jason with Les Paul, but like Pat McInerney and his Eddie Van Halen photo, we can’t find it.

When we saw Les Paul at Fat Tuesday’s, he was in his 70s. Guitar rockers often dropped by the club to pay homage to the man who pioneered guitar design and multitrack recording. In this video, reminiscent of the night we were there, Eddie came to the stage and was introduced by Les Paul as his “favorite guitar player in the rock field, without a doubt, hands down.” In turn, at a Van Halen concert, Eddie called Les Paul to the stage and told him, “Without the things you have done, I couldn’t do HALF the things I can do now.”

Jason went on to graduate from the Berklee College of Music in Boston and played professionally for many years in the U.S. and Japan. Check him out at the 7 minute mark of this YouTube video. Below, Jason during high school posing with his new guitar and sporting a tee-shirt featuring the rock band Police. Coincidentally, the commencement speaker at his Berklee college graduation was Sting, principal songwriter and lead singer of the Police.

Now for the Van Halen jukebox selections (click on the song name to play). WARNING: Some Hot Stove readers’ ears may not match up with the sounds of hard-rock guitar. But you can still appreciate the music genius. When you think you have had enough hard rock, try “Jump” – my softer rock choice.

From Pat, “Eruption/You Really Got Me.” On the album, the 1:44 face-melt of “Eruption” is followed by a cover of the Kinks’ “You Really Got Me.” Van Halen often paired the two in their concerts as shown in the video.

From Brian, “Unchained.” Brian has never lost the concert bug. To this day, he is a regular at live music venues. So he can’t wait for the COVID era to end.

[Reverting to their teenage selves, both Pat and Brian also promoted “Hot for Teacher.” But this is a family newsletter, so interested readers will have to Google that on their own.]

From Jason, “Mean Street.” Jason says this was always one of his favorites: “When I was a kid, we were in the Columbia Record Club and got a record every week. Since I got home from school first, I was always excited to see a cardboard record box sticking out of the mailbox. This was one of those records. Brian and Stacey would ask days later why we hadn’t received it, and I would have to confess it was in my room where I’d been playing it on my little 45 size GE record player.”

From Lonnie, Jump.” Even my generation is familiar with this record. It was Van Halen’s only #1 single. Fun video.

Thank you Eddie.

 Lonnie’s Jukebox – Bonus Selection – Spinal Tap Reunion: My favorite fictional hard rock act is Spinal Tap, the band in the 1984 “rockumentary” movie This Is Spinal Tap. Taking a cue from Eddie Van Halen, the band famously took hard rock to another level – by turning the volume up to 11 (in this must-see movie scene). Director Rob Reiner is bringing the band back together for a virtual reunion this Wednesday, October 14. If you want to join in the streaming, click here. Full disclosure: It’s a Biden fundraiser.

Cast of Rob Reiner's 1984 film, 'This is Spinal Tap,' staging virtual  reunion in fundraiser for Pennsylvania Democrats. - Pittsburgh Current