Some idle thoughts while waiting for the start of the fall classic tonight between the Dodgers and Astros in 100-degree heat…
Sports Illustrated Cover Jinx: Which of these two covers from Sports Illustrated will be a jinx? Or has one already been a jinx?
In fairness to SI, please note that the Astros cover was printed on June 30, 2014, over three years ago. The magazine was predicting that GM Jeff Luhnow (hired after the 2011 season) was astutely rebuilding a club that might win the 2017 World Series. The Astros had lost 106 games in 2011, and in Luhnow’s first three seasons, the losses were 107, 111 and 92. But he was trading victories to stockpile prospects, and it paid off in 2015 when the Astros went 86-76 and won the Wild Card game over the Yankees. They stumbled in 2016, but came back this year to win 101 games.
In 2013, a year before this SI cover, two of the people I follow on Twitter wrote long articles about Luhnow’s rebuilding of the Astros. Rany Jazayerli (Royals fan, dermatologist and sportswriter) wrote his piece under the clever title “The Joy of Tanking” – referencing the hoarding of prospects and being horrible to get good draft picks. The other is Molly Knight, featured in my last post for her Dodger fandom and fun book The Best Team Money Can Buy. She took a deep dive into the Astros organization in 2013 when she was writing for ESPN Magazine. In her words, “Luhnow’s plan was simple: blow up everything; trade for crops of prospects; outsmart everyone in the draft and beat teams to untapped talent overseas; hoard as many toolsy kids as possible; and sleep soundly knowing that, based on sheer laws of probability, some of these shiny orphan toys would become stars.” Looks like it’s working. For those who want more, see Rany and Molly.
The Dodgers cover was just two months ago and was in the midst of a streak that looked like the Dodgers might break the all-time win total of 116 (Cubs in 1906 and Seattle in 2001). That’s why the SI headline is phrased as a question, not a fact. But maybe still a jinx as the Dodgers quickly cooled off to finish with 104 wins – still the best win total in both leagues this year. And being the best of all-time did not bode well for the Cubs and Mariners. The Cubs record was 116-36 (just 152 games), but they lost the World Series to the White Sox. The Mariners went 116-46, but did not even make it to the Series, losing to the Yankees in the ALCS.
American League MVP: The vote is expected to be very close between Jose Altuve of the Astros and Aaron Judge of the Yankees. I lean to Altuve for MVP and Judge for Rookie of the Year.
The MVP vote took place before the playoffs and will be announced in the offseason. If the vote had been taken after the playoffs, I think Altuve would have been even stronger. He kicked off the ALDS with a 3-homer game and just kept going with hits until the Astros hit Yankee Stadium. Then Aaron Judge came alive to scare Houston fans with his bat and glove. With the return to Houston for the final two games, Altuve again starred with homers in each game. The final line for Altuve in the combined playoffs was .400/.500/.775, while Judge had .188/.316/.500. Although Judge improved in the ALCS after a bad ALDS, he still broke a record for postseason strikeouts – 27! But he was instrumental in keeping it interesting and stretching the Astros to seven games.
By the Numbers: The Dodgers (104-58) and the Astros (101-61) are the first two 100-game winners to face each other in the Series since 1970. Baltimore (108-54) won the 1970 Series over Cincinnati (102-60). The last time any two playoff opponents had 100 wins was 1977 when the Royals (102-60) faced the Yankees (100-62) in the ALCS.
In a showing of team parity, there have been nine different teams in the last five World Series. The only team to repeat from 2013 to 2017: the Royals (lost in 2014 and won in 2015).
Houston and Milwaukee are the only two franchises to be in both the AL and NL. Milwaukee (then in Seattle) started in the AL in 1969, moved to Milwaukee in 1970 and switched to the NL in 1998. The Brewers won an AL pennant in 1982, but have not yet won a pennant in the NL. Houston joined as a NL expansion franchise in 1962 and moved to the AL in 2013. The Astros have won pennants in both leagues, the NL in 2005 and now the AL in 2017. Neither has won a World Series.
Ian and Grandpa’s Pick: I have the same mixed feelings as Sports Illustrated, but I am going to stick with my personal logic. The Astros have never won a World Series. The Dodgers have six titles. So I will root for the Astros while appreciating the excellent and entertaining Dodgers. Grandson Ian is on the same page. In other news, Ian had his last fall league game this past Saturday – here he is at the plate:
1980 – Astros, Dodgers and Royals: Royals fans of a certain age will remember that the first appearance by the Royals in a World Series was in 1980. Maybe not remembered is that the Astros and Dodgers were part of the NL playoffs leading to that Series. With three games left in the season, the Astros were three games ahead of the Dodgers. All they had to do was win one of the last three games they would be playing at Dodger Stadium. They lost all three, forcing the NL West into a one-game tiebreaker. The Astros won the tiebreaker, but then lost to Philadelphia in the NLCS. The Phillies went on to beat the Royals in the 1980 World Series – the first Series that I ever attended.
[Royals 1980 World Series Trivia: The stars in the Royals losing effort were Amos Otis (.478 with 3 homers) and Willie Mays Aikens (.400 with 4 homers). The two were together this past Sunday at a Hy-Vee store where Amos was autographing his newly released bobble head. The Negro Leagues Baseball Museum is in partnership with Hy-Vee on a series of bobble heads. Amos is on the right.]
2015 – Astros and Royals: The two teams met in the ALDS in 2015. With the Royals down 2 games to 1, the teams were in Houston for Game 4. The Astros hit back-to-back homers in the 7th to make the score 6-2. At that point, the odds were that Houston would eliminate the Royals from the postseason. This fan seem to think so (nor did the Royals look encouraged; Gore had just been called out stealing after a replay review):
That Houston fan was joined by Texas Governor Greg Abbott who tweeted “Congrats to the Astros on advancing to the ALCS!”. After that tweet, the Royals scored 7 runs to win the game 9-6. The Governor deleted his tweet. The next day, the Royals won Game 5 to win the ALDS and eventually the World Series.
This year, as the Astros and Yankees went to a 7th game in the ALCS, Houston took a 4-0 in the 5th inning. This prompted some Astros fans to ask the Governor to stay quiet. Some anti-Yankee fans also chimed in.
|Rany Jazayerli (@jazayerli)|
|10/21/17, 9:45 PM
Got a big favor to ask @GovAbbott – PLEASE STAY OFF TWITTER UNTIL THE GAME IS OVER. Kthxbye
Governor Abbott was more careful this time and waited until after the Astros victory:
|Greg Abbott (@GregAbbott_TX)|
|10/21/17, 10:23 PM|
The Cardinals Hack Houston: Houston GM Jeff Luhnow was with the St. Louis Cardinals from 2003 to 2011. He was credited with building a top notch farm system, and many of his draftees were part of the 2011 Cardinals that won the World Series. Houston took notice and hired Luhnow as their GM after the 2011 season. Smart move.
The Cardinals, or at least one their staff, could not let Luhnow completely go. Chris Correa (not to be confused with Astros shortstop Carlos Correa) had worked closely with Luhnow at St. Louis. He found a way to hack into Luhnow’s Houston computer to get insight on prospects. The espionage went on for two and one-half years before Correa was caught. The embarrassed Cardinals were required by Commissioner Manfred to pay $2 million to the Astros, plus give them their first two draft picks. Correa was sentenced to 46 months and banned from baseball.
Houston Astros Notes: This franchise began as the expansion Colt 45s in 1962. The name changed to the Astros when the team moved into the Astrodome in 1965. They left the Astrodome for a new stadium in downtown Houston in 2000. Fortunately, they did not again change their name to match the stadium – the new venue was called Enron Field. The Enron scandal hit within two years, and the Astros bought back the naming rights in bankruptcy court for $1.2 million. In June of 2002, the stadium became Minute Maid Park. Orange juice and lemonade have succeeded where oil and gas did not.
The owner of the Astros is Houston businessman Jim Crane who bought the Astros for $680 million in November of 2011. The next month he hired Luhnow as GM. Good start. But going back in time, Crane is a Missourian. He grew up in the St. Louis area and attended Central Missouri State University in Warrensburg. In 1998, he was the largest donor for a $1.2 million upgrade to Central Missouri’s baseball stadium which is now named for him.
Los Angeles Dodgers Notes: Yes, the Dodgers owe much of their success to being rich. But they are also smart – both in the dugout under Manager Dave Roberts and in the front office. They have tinkered to get the right lineup, and the best example to me was that Justin Turner was the only player in the starting lineup in Game 2 this year that started in Game 2 of last year’s NLCS. New hires, platooning and maturing (Puig) have made a difference.
Yasiel Puig’s bat flips, licking his bat and dancing at the plate went from being flashy and immature to endearing. Amazing what a better batting average and outfield highlight plays can mean to fans.
Vin Scully was a Dodgers broadcaster from 1950 to 2016. At age 89, he is now following the Dodgers as a fan. For some nostalgia, here is Vin calling the final out of the 1988 World Series, the last time the Dodgers were a participant. Click on Vin.
Chicago Cubs Notes: I’ll let the headline talk.
New York Yankees Notes: Out there in the Twitter world, someone came up with why the Yankees would not win the Series this year. Since Jack Kennedy was elected in 1960, the Yankees have not won a World Series while a Republican was President. A Democrat all nine times: Kennedy (1961, 1962), Carter (1977, 1978), Clinton (1996, 1998, 1999, 2000) and Obama (2009). No Trump.
In a somewhat related tweet, Molly Knight reported from an LA bar while Houston and NY were still battling:
|Molly Knight (@molly_knight)|
|10/21/17, 7:44 PM
Everybody in this WeHo bar is rooting for Yankees because they think they’ll be easier to beat. Did we learn nothing from 2016 election ??
And now to finish with a piece from the Yankees storied history…
Lonnie’s Jukebox – Phil Rizzuto’s Biggest Hit: KC Star reporter Steve Vockrodt tweeted a Billboard article with the note he was shocked that Meat Loaf’s Bat Out of Hell was the 5th highest selling album of all time. I was also surprised, so went to Wikipedia (this link). Sure enough, the album is 5th and beats out the likes of Sgt. Pepper’s and Fleetwood Mac’s Rumors.
This reminded me that one of the tracks on the album featured Yankee legend Phil Rizzuto. Meat Loaf is a Yankee fan and wanted to have a Yankee voice for a song he was working on. The Hall of Famer Rizzuto had retired as a player and was broadcasting for the Yankees when Meat Loaf approached him in 1976 to record a play-by-play track for a song. Rizzuto got $5,000. In 1977, Meat Loaf added the Rizzuto track to a song about teenage love, wonderfully titled “Paradise By the Dashboard Light.”
You know how much I like baseball metaphors. This song has some of the best, though admittedly suggestive. While the teenage couple are in the car (that dashboard light), Rizzuto can be heard in the background talking about a batter getting to first base, proceeding to second base, etc. I think you get the picture.
Rita and I saw Meat Loaf at the Uptown many years ago, and the live performance is even more dramatic. So rather than try and describe all of the subtleties, I recommend the video. Please note that this is potentially NSFW (Not safe for work). Click paradise. It’s long (8:25), with Rizzuto at 3:30, including clips of Mantle, Martin, etc.
Rizzuto publicly said he did not know his recording would be used this way, but Meat Loaf said Rizzuto was just trying to fend off some unhappy Yankee fans after the record was released.