Game 7, and what Bud Selig bequeathed


Wednesday night will be the appropriate legacy to Bud Selig’s tenure as commissioner: the team which had nine fewer victories will host the season’s deciding game because a pitcher (Johnny Cueto) whose team was eliminated in the divisional series threw home runs to ex-teammates (Eric Hosmer and Salvador Perez) on last year’s world champions, who didn’t make this year’s playoffs.

Could MLB be any less logical? Selig ordained that the league which won the All-Star Game would host that year’s World Series because what once had relevance had been reduced to an exhibition. His answer was to assign it meaning, even if it’s false.

You might as well award home field based on which city has the best pizza (Chicago) or least-corrupted city government (presumably Cleveland)  or which city is closer to Cooperstown, N.Y. (Cleveland)

Or you might follow the lead of the late Chicago columnist Mike Royko when he decided which team to root for in the Series: “I try to decide which city’s population is most deserving of a championship,” he wrote in 1985, choosing between the Royals and Cardinals. (he picked the Cardinals, because, “(St. Louis) has a terrible burden … it’s right next to Illinois.”)

It’s typical of Selig that his machinations, as confused as the Indians closing on that flyball in the first inning Tuesday, may benefit the team which deserves it, since playing on the road is the only way Kyle Schwarber can bat.

Somewhere Selig is oblivious to all he has wrought. Remember the All Star Game-World Series connection and the 1994 strike when Selig’s Hall of Fame nomination is raised.

The 1975 Red Sox had a manager who made decisions for his team the way Selig did for the game. “(Darrell) Johnson has been falling out of trees all summer and landing on his feet,” said Bill Lee about the guy who decided when he would pitch and for how long.

Johnson chose Lee to start Game 7 of the ’75 World Series, though it’s safe to presume that wasn’t one of the decisions Lee was referencing.

(Lee is now involved in another game which makes less sense than baseball. He’s Vermont’s Liberty Union candidate for governor, and his politics are to Curt Schilling’s what the Red Sox are to the Yankees — diametrically opposed. “Everybody knows I don’t believe in strikeouts. They’re fascist,” Lee said. “I believe in ground balls, they’re more democratic. Everybody gets to play.” On the spectrum, Lee probably thinks fellow Vermonter Bernie Sanders is a nice enough guy but too far to the right.)

Johnson finally fell on his head in the ninth inning of Game 7 in 1975 when he brought rookie Jim Burton into a tie game. It wasn’t altogether unsound — Burton had a 2.89 ERA that season, was left-handed with lefties Ken Griffey the dad, Dan Driessen and Joe Morgan due, and he was ultimately undone by the Big Red Machine not by a blast but by a walk and a bloop.

Results matter and Johnson’s removal of Jim Willoughby — who retired four straight batters in Game 7 and had hurled 6.1 innings that Series without allowing an earned run — was remembered as the worst decision any Red Sox manager ever made, at least until John McNamara deigned to replace a hobbled Bill Buckner with Dave Stapleton at first base in the 1986 World Series.

Somewhere Hall of Fame manager Joe McCarthy, who didn’t fall out of trees at all, was relieved of his burden by Johnson. McCarthy opted for eight-game winner and 36-year-old Denny Galehouse in place of 15-game winner Mel Parnell, rested and a decade younger, for a one-game playoff in 1948 for the AL pennant. If not, the drought for the Indians, who pounded Galehouse and the Red Sox, 8-3, might be 96 years.

(When it comes to worst big-game decision ever by a Red Sox manager, McCarthy, McNamara and Johnson all get honorable mention. The gold goes to Grady Little, who was talked out of a pitching change by Pedro Martinez in Game 7 of the 2003 ALCS. If anyone ever tops that, I hope I’m not watching. And the rest of Galehouse’s and Burton’s major-league careers, post-1948 and -1975, lasted 4.2 innings combined.)

In 1975, 16 years before Jack Morris’ 10-inning Game 7 shutout, both staring pitchers were gone before the seventh inning was completed. This year’s bullpen tendencies aren’t completely unprecedented.

The Reds’ Don Gullett made it through four innings but left because of wildness and a deficit. Lee ventured into the seventh but was knocked out by a blister.

Sparky Anderson had said after Game 6 that he wasn’t worried about Game 7 because Gullett was starting it, and he was going to the Hall of Fame. When Sparky’s comments were relayed to Lee, the future gubernatorial candidate said he was going to the Eliot Lounge, a Boston bar, after Game 7. Only one of them made their destination, and it wasn’t Gullett.

Wednesday’s starting pitchers may not last as long as Gullett or Lee. The Indians appear to have all the edges: Corey Kluber has been this postseason’s best starter, relievers Andrew Miller and Cody Allen haven’t pitched since Saturday and Sunday, respectively, and Cleveland has home field it didn’t earn, thanks to Selig.

The Cubs have NL ERA leader Kyle Hendricks, who hasn’t made it out of the fifth inning twice in four postseason starts, Jon Lester in the bullpen and Aroldis Chapman about to go into free agency. Those three, plus lefty Mike Montgomery, seem to be the only pitchers Cubs manager Joe Maddon still trusts.

For the first four games, this World Series seemed a lot like 1990’s: the Reds used one dominant starter (Mario Soto playing the role of Kluber) and an overpowering bullpen (Norm Charlton, Rob Dibble and Randy Myers in the role of Miller and Allen) to surprise a team (the A’s in the role of the Cubs) that won 12 more games in the regular season.

In the last two games, the Series has looked more like 1958. The Braves took a 3-1 lead that year and lost Game 7 at home with Lew Burdette, who won three times in the ’57 Series, going on short rest (two days then, three now), like Kluber. Or 1968, when the Tigers won three straight, the last two on the road, after trailing 3-1, as Mickey Lolich pitched three complete games, the last on two days rest against Bob Gibson.

All the comparisons are no more relevant than the All-Star game should be to home field in the World Series. (What are complete games, a young fan might ask, if allowed to stay up long enough to watch one).

Thanks for all of that Bud.

 

 

 

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