History lesson: the 1950 World Series

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A day off that serves absolutely no one but a few network people makes for a relative dearth of baseball news today. So let’s look backwards at the last time the Phillies met the Yankees for all the marbles: 1950.

I wasn’t around for it and neither were hardly any of you, but MLB.com’s Hal Bodley was, and he went to every game:

The day before my dad and I were to drive to Philadelphia for Game 1, he held up a newspaper in amazement. “Can you believe Eddie Sawyer is going to start Jim Konstanty in the first game? Against the Yankees!” 

Yes, that was the story of the first game. Konstanty, a 33-year-old who had pitched 74 games as a reliever, saving 22 (though the stat had yet to be invented) and winning 16, would be named the National League’s MVP.

But to start Game 1 of the World Series?

Well, it’s not like Sawyer had much of a choice.  Robin Roberts was the ace, but he had pitched three times in the last five days of the regular season, and back then there weren’t a ton of superfluous days off: Game 154 of the regular season was on October 1st. Game 1 of the World Series was on October 4th.  Guys may have been built out of iron and moxy and asbestos and whatever in those days, but even back then you didn’t throw your starter on two days’ rest after he had just started three of the last five.  And Konstanty did good! He only gave up one run in eight innings. The only problem was that Vic Raschi threw a shutout for the Bombers.

Which kind of set a pattern. As Robin Roberts remembers: “We got swept, but they were all close. Could have gone either way. We lost the first game, 1-0, the second one, 2-1, the third one, 3-2, and the last one, 5-2.” Joe DiMaggio was the hero of Game 2, hitting a 10th inning homer.  Yogi Berra hit an RBI single and a solo shot to stake rookie Whitey Ford to what in this series was an insurmountable lead in Game 4. Looking back and seeing those names, the path of history seems inevitable even if really wasn’t. The better team clearly won.

I’m a sucker for close pitchers’ duels, so I’d love to see a bunch of low-scoring, one run games like we, well, like Hal Bodley saw in 1950.  With the uncertainty of the Phillies rotation and the potency of the Yankees bats, however, I don’t see it happening.  Of course, I also don’t see the 2009 Phillies going without a home run like the 1950 Phillies did either.

But I’ll save a prediction for tomorrow.  Given my track record this postseason, whoever I pick is gonna have some really angry fans.

The Yankees were booed last night. Did they deserve it?

Masahiro Tanaka

The boos came raining down from the Yankee Stadium faithful last night. They started when Brett Gardner grounded out in the eighth inning. More came later. A lot of it was, no doubt, based on Gardner’s disappointing performance late in the season. A lot of it was because, around that time, it seemed like the Yankees had zero shot whatsoever to mount a comeback. Which, in fact, they didn’t. A lot of it was pent-up frustration, I assume, from a late season skid which saw the Yankees lose their lead in the AL East and wind up in the Wild Card Game in the first place.

Anyone who buys a ticket has a right to boo. Especially when they buy a ticket as expensive as Yankees tickets are. It’s obviously understandable to be disappointed when your team loses. Especially when your team is eliminated like the Yankees were. And last night’s game was particularly deflating, with that 3-0 Astros lead feeling more like 10-0 given how things were going.

But isn’t booing something more than a mere manifestation of disappointment? Isn’t a step beyond? Booing isn’t saying “I’m sad.” It’s saying “you suck!” It’s not saying “I’m disappointed,” it’s saying “you should be ashamed of yourselves!” And with all respect to Yankees fans, the 2015 Yankees have absolutely nothing to be ashamed of.

This was a club expected to miss the playoffs, full stop. Maybe some people allowed for an if-everything-breaks-right flight of fancy, but hardly anyone expected them to play meaningful games late in the year, let alone a playoff game. They were too old. Too injured. There weren’t enough young reinforcements to fill the gaps. Some even went so far as to claim that they were about to spend years in the wilderness.

But then A-Rod broke out of the gate strong. And Michael Pineda had a really nice first couple of months. And Mark Teixeira put up numbers that wouldn’t have been out of place for him several years ago. The bullpen did what it was supposed to do and more, Masahiro Tanaka held together somehow and, eventually, a couple of young players like Greg Bird and Luis Severino came in to reinforce things. The not-going-anywhere Yankees were contenders. And they led the division for a good while. Of course they stumbled late. And of course they lost last night, but by just about any reasonable measure, this was a good team — better than expected — and, unlike a lot of Yankees teams in the past, was pretty darn enjoyable to watch.

Then the boos. I just can’t see how this Yankees team deserved that.

I realize a lot of people in the media have duped a lot of people into thinking that a team with a high payroll is supposed to be dominant. And I realize George Steinbrenner duped a whole lot of people into thinking that anything less than a World Series championship for the New York Yankees is failure. But that’s rhetoric and branding, not reason. In the real world where baseball players play baseball games World Series titles are rare, even for the Yankees. At the end of the season all but one of 30 teams are either at home for the playoffs or went home after suffering a gut-wrenching playoff loss. The Yankees are the most dominant franchise in the history of American professional sports yet they still have finished their year without a title over 75% of the time.

With that as a given, fans are left to judge their team’s performance based on its talent, its health, its heart, its entertainment value and the strength of the opposition which ultimately vanquished it. The Yankees weren’t nearly as talented as many, yet made the playoffs anyway. They were a walking hospital ward, let limped on. They never quit and never got pulled down into the sort of muck a lot of New York teams find themselves in when things start to go sideways. And, ultimately, they were simply beat by a better team. By any reasonable measure the 2015 Yankees were a good story, a successful enterprise, a resilient bunch and no small amount of fun.

It’s OK to be sad that it ended as it did. But that doesn’t deserve to be booed. Not by a long shot.

Collin McHugh will start Game 1 of the ALDS for the Astros

Collin McHugh Astros

After using ace left-hander Dallas Keuchel to get past the Yankees in the Wild Card game the Astros will turn to right-hander Collin McHugh in Game 1 of the ALDS versus the Royals.

McHugh had an up-and-down year, posting a 3.89 ERA compared to his 2.73 mark last season, but thanks to good teammate support he had a 19-7 record and his 171/53 K/BB ratio in 204 innings was solid. He was particularly good down the stretch, posting a 2.89 ERA and 69/20 K/BB ratio in 72 innings after August 1.

McHugh will match up against Royals right-hander Yordano Ventura in Game 1. Houston hasn’t named a starter for Game 2 yet, while Kansas City is going with Johnny Cueto. And then the Game 3 matchup figures to be Dallas Keuchel versus Edinson Volquez.