This past Saturday night, Rita and I joined about a thousand others at Unity Temple on the Plaza for an event sponsored by the Truman Library Institute. The subject was presidential leadership, and the speakers were author Doris Kearns Goodwin and Washington Post columnist David Von Drehle. David got the evening off to a good start by asking Doris who she had rooted for in the World Series. Doris grew up a passionate Brooklyn Dodger fan and then famously disowned the team when owner Walter O’Malley moved it to Los Angeles in 1958 (recounted in her book, Wait Till Next Year).
Doris began her answer with an old story about a Brooklyn Dodger fan who was asked “If you were in a room with Hitler, Stalin and O’Malley and you had a gun with only two bullets, who would you shoot?”. The fan answered “I’d shoot O’Malley twice, to make sure he’s dead.”
But Doris appears to have softened, possibly because the O’Malley family sold its interest in 1998. She probably also appreciated that ceremonial first pitches celebrated three players from the 1955 champion Brooklyn Dodgers: in Game 1, on the mound were Jackie Robinson’s widow Rachel and his children Sharon and David; in Game 3, it was Don Newcombe and Sandy Koufax. Doris said she would have been okay with either team winning this Series, but she liked the story line of Houston capturing its first title. That had also been my reasoning to root for the Astros, but I was glad the Dodgers took it to seven games for a memorable and entertaining World Series. Or as it is officially branded, the World Series presented by YouTube TV. Now to the games:
Game 1: Clayton Kershaw, overcoming his not-so-good-in-the-postseason reputation, was the winner in a 3-1 Dodger victory. All four runs scored on home runs.
Game 2: Going into the 8th, the Dodgers led 3-1. The relievers of both teams then fell apart, taking the game to the 11th when the Astros finally put it away, 7-6. What started as a quiet game ended with a World Series record of eight home runs, six of them after the 8th inning. The game was an instant classic in World Series history, but would soon be topped by Game 5.
[Game 2 Trivia: The first pitch was thrown out by Vin Scully, via the arm of Fernando Valenzuela. Vin talked so long (but endearingly) that the network moved back the start of the rest of the games in case someone else did the same thing. Joe Posnanski’s take, “Someday, hundreds of years from now, when they study us ancient and unenlightened people, they will say: ‘Well, they did have Vin Scully.’ “]
Game 3: A homer-deficient game. Only one tater in the Astros 5-3 win, but it proved to be the most controversial. It was hit by the Astros’ Yuli Gurriel who celebrated in the dugout by stretching his eyes to mock Japanese pitcher Yu Darvish. More on that below.
Game 4: Pitchers ruled through 8 innings. The 1-1 tie was broken in the 9th with the Dodgers scoring five times and winning the game 6-2. Of the eight runs, five scored on homers.
Game 5: Clayton Kershaw, living up to his reputation as not-so-good-in-the-postseason, blew leads of 4-0 and 7-4. The Dodgers made it interesting by scoring three times in the 9th to tie the game at 12-12. The Astros scored in the 10th to finish off a 13-12 victory. There were seven home runs that plated 15 of the 25 runs. The game topped five hours. Sportswriters effusively praised the game as one of the best Game 5s in World Series history.
[Game 5 Trivia: The Dodgers can claim another Game 5 classic, but again from the losing side. In Game 5 of the 1956 World Series against the Yankees, the Brooklyn Dodgers were on the wrong end of Don Larsen’s perfect game.]
Game 6: Five Dodger pitchers combined to allow only one run in a 3-1 Astros loss. Two solo homers.
Game 7: Yu Darvish gave up only one homer, but the Astros found ways to score four other runs to lead 5-0 after two innings. The Dodgers had two or more men on base in five different innings, but only scored once, losing the game (5-1) and the Series (4-3). Clayton Kershaw pitched four scoreless innings in the middle of the game, something that would have been much more valuable in Game 5.
[Kansas City A’s Trivia: Art Ditmar played for the Philadelphia A’s in 1954 and moved with the team to play two years in Kansas City. He then went to the Yankees and in 1960 started two games in the World Series. He failed to complete two innings in either game, the only starting pitcher to have ever had two such quick exits in a World Series. Until Yu Darvish in Games 3 and 7 in 2017. So now there are two.]
Home Run Series: You probably have figured out one of my themes by now. This was the World Series of the Home Run. After the first 5 games, the two teams had a combined 22 home runs to break the old record of 21. The teams slowed down in the last two games to finish with a total of 25. There was a chorus blaming a “juiced” ball or possibly one with a slicker surface that made it harder for the pitchers to grip their sliders. Commissioner Rob Manfred said the balls were within specs, but that just caused complaints that the specs were too loose. No doubt a big topic for the offseason.
Strikeout Series: Striking out is the flip side of the home run explosion. During the 2017 regular season, there were 6,105 home runs and 40,105 strikeouts, both new records (a jump from 5,693 and 38,982). During the playoffs, the kings of the strikeout were the two likely unanimous choices for rookie of the year in the AL and NL, Aaron Judge and Cody Bellinger.
Playing in the 2017 Wild Card, ALDS and ALCS (57 plate appearances), Judge struck out 27 times, a new postseason record. But not for long. Bellinger, with the advantage of more plate appearances (67) because he played in the Series, struck out 29 times in the postseason. More strikingly (pun intended), 17 of Cody’s strikeouts were in the World Series, shattering the old record of 13.
George Springer – MVP: Leading the Astros homer barrage, George Springer hit 5 home runs, tying Reggie Jackson and Chase Utley for the World Series record. Springer also had 3 doubles for a total of eight extra-base hits, a new record. And yet another record with 29 total bases. He was an easy choice for the Willie Mays MVP Award. Certainly no pitcher could compete for the MVP this year (some proof: Dodger manager Dave Roberts made a record 32 pitching changes; Astros starter Lance McCullers established a new record for hit batters in a game – he hit four in just 2.1 innings.)
Remember that Nostradamus Sports Illustrated cover posted in Hot Stove #57? It was from June of 2014 and predicted that the Astros would be win the World Series in 2017. Guess which Astros player they chose for that cover. George Springer.
Carlos Correa – Best Post-Game Move: During the celebration on the field after the final game, Astros shortstop Carlos Correa popped the question to his girl-friend. She said yes.
Carlos Beltran: Kansas City fans were no doubt rooting for Carlos, but he only played sparingly for the Astros in the Series, going 0 for 3. But he may have been instrumental in the meltdowns of the Dodgers’ Yu Darvish in Games 3 and 7. Beltran played with Darvish in Texas in 2016 when Darvish admitted that he had been tipping his pitches. The problem had seemingly been corrected, but may have resurfaced under the pressure of the Series. In a Fox postgame show, Beltran said that there had been tipping and that he was feeding the info to his teammates.
Carlos started his major league career in Kansas City in 1998. One of his teammates in 2001 and 2002 was backup catcher A. J. Hinch, his Astros manager this year. Carlos was traded to Houston in June of 2004 and ended up in the postseason where hit eight home runs, a postseason record (tied with Barry Bonds and Nelson Cruz). After that partial season in Houston, he left to play for five other teams before returning to Houston this year for his 20th season.
Long-time KC Royals fans will remember their dream outfield of 1999 and 2000: Johnny Damon, Carlos Beltran and Jermaine Dye.
Although Carlos is the likely Hall of Famer in this group, the other two beat him to a World Series ring. Jermaine Dye was the World Series MVP in 2005 when his White Sox beat the Astros. Johnny Damon was with the Red Sox in 2004 when Boston beat the Cardinals and broke the “Curse of the Bambino” – their first Series win since 1918. Damon also won a ring with the Yankees when they beat the Phillies in 2009.
2012 Royals, Cubs and Astros: The 2012 season was not so good for the Royals (72-90), Cubs (61-101) and Astros (55-107). Two years later, the Royals were in the World Series, losing to the Giants, and then returning in 2015 to win it all. A year after that, the Cubs won the Series. The next year, the Astros.
2015 Royals v. 2017 Astros: When the Royals won the 2015 Series, they did it with a great bullpen, speed and a keep-the-line-moving scoring model. They hit only two homers, both in Game 1 – the inside-the-parker by Escobar and Gordon’s to tie and send the game to extra innings.
The Astros of 2017 got most of their offense from a record 15 homers which overcame their lousy relief pitching. Vive la difference.
The Royal did match one of the Astros highlights – a classic Game 5. The Mets’ Matt Harvey insisting he pitch the ninth. Hosmer’s mad dash to tie the game and force extra innings. Colon driving in Dyson and then scoring the go-ahead run on Escobar’s hit. Cain pouring it on with a bases-loaded double. Sweet. We’ll always have 2015.
2017 Royals v. 2017 Astros: Does anyone think the Royals could have done better than the Dodgers in seven games with the Astros? Just so you know, the Royals did play the Astros seven times this year. Three games at the K in April and four at Minute Maid Park in June. Final tally: Royals, 4 games to 3. Just sayin’.
On My Soapbox: After I did my Charlottesville post on “Hitler, the Klan and Baseball,” I assumed (hoped) that racism might not surface again for a while in Hot Stove. Yuli Gurriel changed that after his home run off Yu Darvish in Game 3. When he got to the dugout, Gurriel made a racist gesture to mock the ethnicity of Darvish who has a Japanese mother. Full disclosure: I have two grandchildren who have a Japanese mother. You have often met grandson Ian through these Hot Stove posts as we picked an all-time baseball lineup.
I don’t for a moment equate Gurriel with the Nazis and the Klan, and I don’t mean to pile on. Gurriel will pay plenty with his 5-day suspension, boos from the crowds and the cloud over his World Series participation. There would have been a sense of poetic justice if Darvish had won Game 7 for his manager Dave Roberts who is the son of a Japanese mother and an African-American U.S. Marine. In the end, the game was best left to the field of play.
But it will hopefully be a teaching moment. Baseball has been played in Japan since the 1870’s, and the game developed into a major amateur sport. In the 1930’s, Japanese fans followed our major leagues, and big crowds turned out for Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig and others who made a goodwill tour in 1934. The first major pro league started in Japan in 1936 and flourishes to this day. Baseball is extremely popular in three places: the United States, Latin America and Japan. That’s how Yu Darvish of Japan ends up pitching to Yuli Gurriel from Cuba, Jose Altuve from Venezuela and David Bregman, born in Albuquerque and a descendent of Russian Jewish immigrants.
In 1947, Bill Veeck owned the Cleveland Indians and fielded Larry Doby as the first black player in the American League. The next year, Veeck added Satchel Paige. The Tribe won the 1948 World Series.
Satchel Paige and Bill Veeck
This leads me to a story I have told before in Hot Stove. Veeck was a Marine in WW II and suffered a foot injury that resulted in a series of amputations and ultimately a prosthetic wooden leg. He never felt sorry for himself and in a characteristic Veeck move, he carved an ashtray in the hollow leg to serve his chain-smoking. He used his condition to give us a lesson about prejudice:
“What offends me about prejudice, I think, is that it assumes a totally unwarranted superiority. For as long as I can remember I have felt vaguely uneasy when anybody tells me an anti-Negro or anti-Semitic or anti-Catholic joke. It only takes one leg, you know, to walk away.”
Good words to live by.
Triple Crown Travel: While Rita and I were watching Game 6, she logged on to Triple Crown Travel, the company that we used for our bus tours of stadiums in 2016 (East Coast) and 2017 (California). She came up with the good news that the 2018 tours are now set. So we are booked for a June trip that will take us to PNC Park in Pittsburgh, Progressive Field in Cleveland, Great American Ballpark in Cincinnati and SunTrust Field in Atlanta. There are also stops at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, the Louisville Slugger bat factory and a minor league game in Nashville. If you want to check out their offerings, click Triple Crown Travel.
Lonnie’s Jukebox – Dodgers Selection: In prior Hot Stoves, I have often quoted author/sportswriter Molly Knight, a life-long passionate Dodgers fan. As Game 7 ended, she tweeted her lament, “I got nothing except ‘baseball is built to break your heart.’ It broke mine tonight.” She added a quote from W. H. Auden’s poem “Funeral Blues”:
Stop all the clocks, cut off the telephone/Prevent the dog from barking with the juicy bone
Silence the pianos and, with muffled drum/Bring out the coffin. Let the mourners come.
We know Molly will get over this. Although she will need to “Wait Till Next Year” like the old Brooklyn Dodger fans, the current Dodger fans can be happy that Bellinger, Puig, Kershaw and others will again make up one of the best teams in baseball. In the meantime, during what is now the true Hot Stove season, they can mellow out and do some “California Dreamin’” about the 2018 World Series. Click on the Mamas & the Papas to listen.
Lonnie’s Jukebox – Astros Selection: For Houston, I am selecting my favorite Texas singer, Buddy Holly, in one of his records as part of the Crickets. With the Astros waitin’ since they were born in 1962 to win their first World Series, these lines from “Oh Boy” feel right:
All of my life, I’ve been waitin’
Tonight there’ll be no hesitatin’, oh boy! (Oh boy!)
When you’re with me, oh boy! (Oh boy!)
The world [Series] can see that you were meant for me.
Click on Buddy.