Ten teams started the postseason. Four remain after completion of the division series. My early favorites were Tampa Bay and Milwaukee because neither has ever won a World Series. Alas, they are already eliminated. In the ALCS, the Houston Astros will meet the Boson Red Sox. In the NLCS, the Atlanta Braves will play the Los Angeles Dodgers.
Not easy for me to favor either team in the ALCS. I rooted big for Houston in the 2017 World Series, but their win became tainted by a sign-stealing scandal. The Astros bench coach Alex Cora and several players were caught cheating, and Cora served a suspension. The 2021 Red Sox manager is…Alex Cora. I just don’t know which Alex Cora team to favor. If it were just based on the manager, I would go with Houston’s current manager Dusty Baker. He has managed five different teams and each of them has won at least one division title. But he has never managed a World Series winner. Maybe it’s time.
In the NLCS, I could lean to Atlanta because of their futility this century. Since 2000, they have reached the postseason 13 times, but never won a pennant, much less a World Series. Los Angeles has been 14 times, won three pennants and the 2020 World Series.
Division Series Recap: The best-of-five format saw three teams losing out in four games. Fittingly, the one that went five games featured the two teams with the best records.
In the ALDS, last year’s AL pennant winner Tampa Bay came out strong against Boston. The Rays easily won Game 1 which was highlighted by the heroics of Randy Arozarena (more on that below). The Rays took a 5-2 lead in the first inning of Game 2, and then the momentum switched to Boston. The Red Sox came back to win Game 2 and then had two walk-off victories at Fenway in Games 3 and 4 to move on to the ALCS.
[Royals Trivia: With the loss by Tampa Bay, the AL will not have a repeat pennant winner. So the Royals are still the last AL team to be in consecutive World Series (2014 and 2015).]
In the other ALDS series, Houston faced the Chicago White Sox. Games 1 and 2 were in Houston, and the Astros won easily (5-0 and 14-6). The Series then moved to Chicago, and the White Sox bats came alive for a 12-6 win in Game 3. White Sox relief pitcher Ryan Tepera implied that Houston lost in Chicago because they did not have the benefit of whatever cheating they were still doing in Houston. Then came Game 4. Houston won 10-1. In Chicago. Tepera’s charges withered away. Houston moved on to the ALCS.
In one bracket of the NLDS, Milwaukee faced Atlanta. The Brewers won Game 1, scoring in only one inning, a 2-run homer that held up for the 2-1 win. The Brewers did not score another run until the 4th inning of Game 4. In between, they were shut out in Games 2 and 3. The Brewers scored their most runs in Game 4, but still lost 5-4. The Braves moved on to the NLCS.
In the other NLDS bracket, the Giants (107-55) played the Dodgers (106-56). They are both in the NL West, so the Dodgers had to play-in by winning the Wild Card. That gave them 107 wins, counting the postseason. The teams then split the first four games of the NLDS, taking them each to 109 wins. The goal of Game 5 – get win #110. As the game started, MLB Jesus tweeted that It was “#judgementday” and let it be known that he favored the Franciscans.
As it turned out, it was a “judgement call” by an umpire that ended the game. The two teams fought to a 1-1 tie through eight innings. The Dodgers made it 2-1 with a run in the top of the 9th. In the bottom of the 9th, with one on and two outs, Dodger pitcher Max Scherzer was ahead of Giant batter Wilmer Flores with an 0-2 count. The next pitch was out of the strike zone and Flores checked his swing. At least most people thought that. But not the first base umpire. He called it a strike. Game 5 was suddenly over on a walk-off umpire judgement call. Video here. It’s being called “The Check Swing Heard ‘Round the World.” LA moves on to the NLCS.
[Royals Trivia: Wilmer Flores was also at the plate as the last batter in the 2015 World Series. He was then with the Mets and batting against Wade Davis of the Royals. He struck out on a called third strike.]
Best Play of the 2021 Postseason – Randy Arozarena: The best play of the 2021 postseason occurred in the first game of the ALDS. I know, there are many more games to be played, but I’ll bet I’m right. I use the term bet strategically. You’ll see.
Last year, baseball fans got their first big-league look at Randy Arozarena. Here is what I wrote in Hot Stove #146:
“The breakout star of the  postseason was Randy Arozarena. His prior major league experience was a total of 99 plate appearances in short stints with the Cardinals (2019) and the Rays (2020). Because he has so few at bats in the regular season, he will still be eligible to be Rookie of the Year in 2021. Not bad for a guy who was the MVP of the ALCS and owns several records for a postseason: hits (29; old record was 26); total bases (64; old record was 50); and home runs (10; old record was 8). Looking forward to seeing what he does in a full season.”
So how has he done in 2021? His regular season stats may land him that Rookie of the Year award (4.2 WAR, 131 OPS+, 20 HR, 20 SB).
As for the 2021 postseason, Randy started where he left off last year. In the 5th inning of the first game of the ALDS against Boston, he homered, placing him in some good company:
But it was what he did in the 7th inning that will go down as a postseason legend. First some history, then to Randy.
Game 1 of the 1955 World Series: Jackie Robinson of the Dodgers is the runner at 3rd base. Yankee third baseman not holding Robinson close to bag, allowing for a long lead by Robinson. Left-handed Yankee pitcher Whitey Ford, his back to Robinson, winds up…Robinson bolts for home and is safe at the plate. A straight steal of home (not a pick-off play or the back end of a double-steal). One of the most-watched videos in baseball history shows catcher Yogi Berra vehemently disagreeing with the umpire (video here).
Game 5 of the 2020 World Series: Manuel Margot of the Rays is the runner at 3rd base. Infield shift moves third basemen far from bag, allowing long lead by Margot. Left-handed Dodger pitcher Clayton Kershaw, his back to Margot, winds up…Margot bolts for home. Kershaw does not see him, but first baseman Max Muncy yells for Kershaw to throw to home. He quickly does and barely gets the sliding Margot (video here).
Game 1 of the 2021 ALDS: Randy Arozarena of the Rays is the runner at 3rd base. Infield shift moves third baseman far from bag, allowing long lead by Arozarena. Left-handed Red Sox pitcher Jeff Taylor, his back to Arozarena, winds up…Arozarena bolts for home and is safe at the plate – not even close. A straight steal of home, the first in postseason since Jackie in 1955. And a special first – the only player to ever hit a homer and steal home in the same postseason game. Video here.
The game was at the domed Tropicana Field, and there are catwalks up in the dome. This made for a great vantage point for a photo of the steal (Dirk Shadd of the Tampa Bay Times):
TV Advertising: The national stage of the postseason brings out the big ad campaigns. In the old days, this often meant a lot of beer, car and (until 1971) cigarette commercials. More recently, MLB has aligned itself with some strange bedfellows, so to speak. Some of the major ones this postseason are roman, DraftKings, FTX and Evan Williams. If you have not previously heard of some of these, join the club.
roman (not a typo, small r): In the fall of 2014, Pfizer launched a Viagra ad campaign, the first featuring a female spokesperson. One of big buys was for the baseball postseason. Royals fans saw the ads over and over as their team advanced from the Wild Card to the World Series. During the playoffs, I sent a series of emails that were similar to Hot Stove. Here is an excerpt from October of 2014:
“If you have watched more than 3 innings of the postseason on TV, you have surely seen that woman in the blue dress hawking the blue pill. With an English accent. On the ocean. She is clearly a Royals fan – she is wearing blue.”
In 2015, Viagra and the Royals were back for the World Series. I again sent out a series of emails (Hot Stove started a month after the Series). I again commented on the ads:
“Yes, she is back (not the one with the English accent, but another woman in blue hawking the blue pill). It’s a close race between her and the DraftKings/FanDuel semi-gambling sites for ad overload…This tweet caught my attention:
|10/10/15, 6:30 PM
“So, son, isn’t it great that MLB games are on during the day?” “Yep. Hey dad, what’s ‘erectile dysfunction’?”
In 2021, the ED ads are from “roman”, an “Official Partner of Major League Baseball.” According to its website, the company provides telehealth services for prescribing medications for ED (including Viagra and its generics) and other male health issues, promising to ship them in discreet packaging. And if you want help with hair loss, roman is there for you.
The rotating digital ads on TV behind the plate often displayed roman with its trademark red background.
Below, a split screen during a Red Sox mound visit, displaying various roman products. I like to think the players were discussing those products – reminiscent of the non-baseball talk in the mound visit in Bull Durham (click here).
I can’t shake the idea that “roman” is a suggestive marketing play on “Trojans.”
DraftKings: The “Official Sports Betting Partner of MLB.” Let that sink in. Baseball has a gambling partner. Actually it has several under its “AGO” program (Authorized Gaming Operator). As do all the other major sports leagues.
A hint of this development came six years ago. During the Royals 2015 postseason, the games we saw on TV were inundated with ads from DraftKings and FanDuel. They were in fierce competition to recruit players who would pay entry fees to participate in daily fantasy baseball. The long term play was to convert these recruits to gamblers if and when more states legalized sports betting. The process stalled for a while, but in 2018, the Supreme Court ruled that states could legalize sports gambling within their borders.
The gates opened. Many states jumped in to legalize (and tax) sports betting. The volume of betting exploded and the top companies are worth billions. With so much money legally changing hands, MLB and other sports leagues saw no reason to not get their fair share.
So new partnerships were born. Below, screenshot of our TV during one of the games. Note the legal disclaimers at the bottom (gambling addiction hotline, etc.).
Below, DraftKings digital ads seen on TV both behind the plate and on the mound.
With legal sports betting being the reality, I don’t fault the owners and players for getting in on the action. It’s their logos, likeness, games, stats, etc. that fuel the gambling volume and profit. The process does present some interesting contrast to the past.
Flashback from 65 years ago. Brooklyn vs. New York in the 1956 World Series. Don Larsen threw his perfect game (below, with #8 Yogi catching, as he had been the year before when Jackie Robinson stole home). Note the vintage ads for beer (Ballentine) and cigarettes (Marlboro). And especially the non-ad at the left: “NO BETTING.”
Pete Rose has taken note of MLB’s embrace of gambling and joined the action. Last week, just in time for the MLB postseason, Pete launched a new sports betting podcast, Pete Rose’s Daily Picks. From the website: “Pete Rose, baseball’s all-time hit king and the most famous handicapper in sports. Each day Pete will share his game breakdowns and picks.” No word on Pete’s permanent ban by MLB.
And this memory of the 1919 White Sox (a/k/a Black Sox):
“Say it ain’t so, Joe.”
FTX Cryptocurrency Exchange: In June of this year, FTX was established as the “Official Cryptocurrency Exchange” brand of MLB. It was the first-ever partnership between a sports league and a crypto exchange. FTX also has a deal with the players that allows FTX to use highlights of players in content creation. FTX was based in Hong Kong, but recently moved to the Bahamas for its “proactive stance” on the regulation of cryptocurrency.
The fellow cleaning the pool above is the FTX mascot, “Lou Nar, the Moon Man.” Moon is a term of art that cryptocurrency investors use when they believe the price of a particular coin will skyrocket. Lou Nar was in the crowd behind home plate in LA for the Dodgers/Cards Wild Card game.
MLB has provided some unique space for FTX branding. Beginning with this year’s All-Star Game, the umpires have been wearing the FTX logo. Below, double coverage of FTX on our TV – on the umpire’s shirt and on the backstop.
The branding is especially noticeable when the umpires are working with replay officials.
I know little about cryptocurrency. I hear you deposit money through your computer and it goes to hide in a safe place that is protected by a digital blockchain. Then your money changes value from time to time for no apparent reason. I don’t understand. And I’m too old to want to understand.
Beer and Liquor: My main advertising memory of World Series’ past is the team of Budweiser Clydesdales. I have not seen many beer ads during this postseason, but bourbon is omnipresent. Below, “Proud Sponsor” Evan Williams takes its turn as part of the rotating digital ads on the mound.
And between batters on a split TV screen…
Other new (to me) names constantly on the screen.
The constant breaks for ads made long MLB games even longer.
But it’s worth it. Gotta love postseason baseball.
Home Run Derby Awards Banquet: In the last Hot Stove post, I reported the results of the Home Run Derby. Yesterday, the participants attended the first annual awards banquet at the Denver Biscuit Company in Westport. The traveling Rolling Cup was presented to winner David Matson who had flown in from Portland to pick up the trophy.
Above, the Rolling Cup is displayed at the head of the table. Clockwise from there: Lonnie, Steve Roling (outgoing Commissioner and three-time winner, but “Rolling Cup” remains misspelled), Jeb Bayer, David Matson (2021 winner), Marsha Campbell (investor in Team Matson), Joel Poole (incoming Commissioner, his award for finishing last), Bob White (inaugural winner of Rolling Cup in 1985 and 3rd place this year) and Team Del/Tom Grimaldi. Unavailable for photo: Jim Heeter (Colorado), Eric Trelz (St. Louis) and Tim Sear (overslept and sore loser).
Commissioner Roling declined to send my 2nd place money via cryptocurrency.
The Rolling Cup has been in the possession of Steve Roling since 1997, the last year of the competition until it was renewed this year. In those 24 years, it has been safe from damage. About three hours after Matson took possession yesterday, he sent out this photo, saying “I was so close to getting it back to the hotel in one piece. Nobody told me it was more fragile than Mondesi.” David will now use some of his winnings to reunite (glue) the two pieces together.
Saloon Book Signings: A couple of years ago, Pat O’Neill lured me to some local saloons to discuss a biography he and Tom Coffman were writing. It’s about Ted Sullivan, one of the most colorful characters in the early days of baseball. The book has now been published (Ted Sullivan – Barnacle of Baseball), and the authors are returning to those same saloons for “Family and Friends” book signings. All Hot Stove subscribers are “Friends.” For more info on the book, see Micheal Mahoney’s column here. The book signing events:
WEDNESDAY, OCTOBER 20 4:30 TO 6:30 AT KELLY’S WESTPORT INN (Westport Rd. at Pennsylvania)
THURSDAY, OCTOBER 28 4:30 TO 6:30 AT WALSH’S CORNER COCKTAILS (85th Street, just east of Wornall)
Lonnie’s Jukebox (1) – Macarena and Arozarena: Remember the “Macarena”? The catchy dance tune by Los Del Rio first hit the U.S. charts in May of 1996. It rose to #1 in August and stayed at #1 for 14 weeks. Almost everyone was dancing the Macarena. On August 15 that year during a Yankees game, some 50,000 Yankee fans joined together to break the record for most people to dance the Macarena in one place. [Other Yankees 1996 Trivia: They won the World Series that year.]
Personal note: Rita remembers being at Kauffman Stadium with her friend Ann Goldman Shanklin and the two of them dancing the Macarena with the rest of the crowd. I never could get the rhythm right.
Which brings us back to Randy Arozarena. Former Kansas City Star sportswriter Jeff Passan is now with ESPN. Last year, he was so impressed with Randy’s postseason that he penned new lyrics to “Macarena”:
There’s a guy who hits/his name is Randy Arozarena
Every time he takes a swing it is a thing/it’s cosa buena
Runnin’ round the bases/he’s as fast as a hyena
Listen here (just the first minute unless you want to get up and dance).
And one more view of Randy’s steal of home…
Lonnie’s Jukebox (2) – “Bueller? Bueller??”: One of the aces of the Los Angeles pitching staff is Walker Buehler. He may win the NL Cy Young Award this year (16-4, 2.47 ERA). When I hear his name, I think of the 1986 movie “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” (slightly different spelling). It’s not just me. MLB Jesus posted this tweet after Buehler gave up a homer on his way to losing Game 1 of the NLDS.
The “Bueller? Bueller??” comes from the classroom scene when the teacher is calling on Ferris (click here). But he’s not there. He and two friends cut school to attend a game at Wrigley Field. When Ferris catches a foul ball and is shown on TV, he is lucky when his principal misses that moment of the game (click here). The movie also has one of my favorite music scenes – Ferris lip-syncing to John Lennon singing on the Beatles’ “Twist and Shout” (video here).
Lonnie’s Jukebox (3) – “Give It Up! For Buck O’Neil”: The last Hot Stove post ended with Buck O’Neil singing “Take Me Out to the Ballgame.” This one will end with first-graders singing “Give It Up!” to Buck. The title references Buck’s signature invitation for people to hug him. The song emphasizes Buck’s response to those who suggested to him that he was born too early – if later, maybe he could have played in the big leagues. He of course was of the opinion he had played in the big leagues, just not the AL and NL. As far as he was concerned, “I Was Right on Time” (the title of his 1996 autobiography). On the 15th anniversary of Buck’s death last week, there were many tweets posted in his memory. One of them was this charming video of the 2004-05 first-grade class at Primitivo Garcia World Language School. Click here. Rita says it’s guaranteed to make your day.