1946, 1967, 2004 and 2013: The Sox and Cards do battle again

16 Comments

While I’m sure many Red Sox fans were looking forward to a rematch of the 1916 World Series with the Brooklyn Robins (what, you don’t remember that?), the Red Sox are matched up with their historically most familiar World Series rival: the St. Louis Cardinals. It’s the fourth matchup between these storied franchises. They met in the days of Williams and Musial, of Gibson and Yaz and of Ortiz and Molina. Now they meet in, er, the days of Ortiz and Molina.

Obviously what happened in 1946, 1967 and 2004 has nothing to do with what will happen this year, but let’s take a walk down memory lane at the three past St. Louis-Boson Fall Classics:

1946: Slaughter’s Mad Dash

Here’s one familiar thing: in 1946 the Cardinals beat out the Dodgers for the pennant and the Sox beat out the Tigers. One difference: the base running here was way, way better than anything we saw from Prince Fielder the other night. Indeed, one of the most famous base running plays of all time occurred in the bottom of the eighth inning in Game 7 of this series when Cardinals outfielder Enos Slaughter scored from first base on a Harry Walker double. Slaughter was running with the pitch and, well, just watch:

Slaughter ignored his coach’s stop sign at third base and kept running. Sox shortstop Johnny Pesky either clutched or brain-locked or, well, something, and hesitated throwing home for a second before gathering himself and rushing his throw to the plate.  Slaughter’s run made it 4-3, which would be the final score and which would give the Cardinals the World Series.

Stan Musial and Ted Williams were the big stars here, but neither would ever see the World Series again. The Cards wouldn’t win another pennant until 1964. Boston wouldn’t return to the Fall Classic until 1967. But when they did, it was to face a familiar foe.

1967: The Impossible Dream Deferred

The Cardinals were in the middle of a mini-dynasty, the Sox were dreaming an Impossible Dream. World champs in 1964, the 101-Cardinals had just won their second of three pennants in the 1960s. The Sox, on the other hand, experienced their first winning season in nine years. And it wasn’t some “they finally got over the top” kind of thing either. In 1966 and 1965 they finished in ninth place out of ten AL teams. In the five seasons before that they were eighth, seventh, eighth, sixth and seventh. The Sox really came out of nowhere and — once again — beat out the Tigers in a legendary pennant race which came down to the last day.

The Sox were led by triple crown winner Carl Yastrzemski, who did his part, batting .400 while hitting three homers in the series. The Cardinals ace Bob Gibson, however, was too much to overcome. Gibson struck out ten batters in Game 7 and added a home run of his own. He tossed a complete game too — his third of the series — but that was just what aces did back then, right?  The Cardinals’ win gave them their eighth World Series title.

St. Louis would be back to try for nine the very next year. The Sox wouldn’t be back until 1975. Then 1986. Then, as the 90s and early 2000s wore on, their playoff legacy began to morph from one in which “Impossible Dreams” were dreamt into one of only nightmares. But then 2004 happened, and the “sad sack Sox” cliche would be banished for good.

2004: Breaking the Curse

I feel like hindsight has made the 2004 Red Sox into some dominant Team of Destiny. The team which Broke the Curse and which exemplified a decade dominated by titanic battles between the high-payroll Sox and Yankees. Meanwhile, I feel like that same hindsight has transformed the Cardinals into some sort of sacrificial lamb which meekly and unquestionably played its role in banishing 86 years of Boston demons.  The fact that the Sox easily swept this series just bolsters this meme.

Except that really wasn’t the meme at all at the time. The Cardinals won 105 games in 2004 and were led by the most dominant hitter on the planet in Albert Pujols. The Sox, meanwhile, were the AL wild card winners, having finished three games back of the Yankees. Sure, they were seen as the second strongest team in the AL — the Angels and Twins weren’t exactly scaring anyone back east — but after a devastating 2003 ALCS loss and a 2004 ALCS win which seemed more the product of divine providence than dominance, the Sox’ 2004 championship was not thought of as a foregone conclusion at all. Indeed, this felt more like the Impossible Dream Redux.

Of course it turned out differently. The Cardinals didn’t hold a lead in any of the Series’ four games. The Sox played sloppy baseball for the first couple of games and won anyway. Pedro Martinez and Derek Lowe dominated Cardinals bats in Games 3 and 4 and that, as they way, was that.

2013: The Titans Meet Again

The Cardinals would win the World Series two years later. The Sox would win it again the season after that. St. Louis would get yet another championship in 2011. Neither of these teams have been strangers to winning for most of the past decade, and even though there are only two remaining players from the 2004 series — David Ortiz and Yadier Molina — both of these teams feel more like continuations of quasi-dynasties than Impossible Dreams or winners of any kind of Mad Dash.

This is no underdog story. Check your “no one believed in us” propaganda at the door. It’s the best vs. the best. Two massively popular teams with passionate fan bases. Two teams near the top of baseball’s historical marquee meeting, once again, for a World Series title.

Here’s hoping for even more history.

Derek Jeter: no longer the media’s darling

Getty Images
2 Comments

There was a time, not too long ago, where the baseball press practically gave Derek Jeter awards for providing them no information whatsoever. As a player, he turned not answering questions into an art form. To the point where, eventually, the press just stopped asking him substantive questions almost entirely.

Unlike a lot of players who shut out the media, Jeter did it rather politely, so he did not get that passive aggressive treatment — or, occasionally, the aggressive-aggressive treatment — the press often gives uncommunicative players. To the contrary. He was positively lauded for his lack of communication. Lionized, even.

Take this column from Jeff Peralman at CNN.com from 2014, under the headline “Derek Jeter: Baseball’s Humble Hero”:

Throughout the first 18 seasons of his career, Jeter has often been labeled “dull” by the media. His answers to questions are unimaginative and full of cliché baseball nothingness blather. In hindsight, however, such lameness is almost to be admired. We live in an era where too many athletes feel as if they need to draw attention to themselves — for confidence, for commercials. If you’re not tweeting trash talk, you’re texting trash talk. Or making bold promises. Or demanding money or respect . . . he’s a guy who merely wanted to be a guy.

How about this from the New York Times around the time of his retirement:

Jeter’s ability to maintain a posture of sustained inscrutability — or, if you must, dignified comportment — has extended especially to the spoken word . . . he has played his best defense in front of his locker: catching every controversial question thrown to him and tossing it aside as if it were a scuffed ball unsuitable for play.

In a major league career that dates to the Clinton administration’s first term — he is the only Yankees shortstop a generation of fans has known — inquiring reporters have gathered around Jeter in the clubhouse thousands of times. He has maintained eye contact, answered nearly every question posed to him — and said nothing. This is not a complaint, but rather an expression of awe; of admiration, even. His batting average and fielding percentage aside, this kid from Kalamazoo, Mich., entered the New York meat grinder two decades ago and came out the other end looking as sharp as Joe DiMaggio’s suit.

This opinion of Jeter was pervasive throughout his career, but especially pronounced at its end of it. Jeter was deified by the press for saying nothing to the press. Praised for making the media’s job harder by the media itself. That’s pretty amazing when you think about it.

Times, however, have changed.

Some minor grumbling about Jeter’s non-answers to media questions began soon after he took over as Marlins co-owner. Ken Davidoff of the New York Post wrote a column about it all back in October, saying Jeter’s “Crash Davis Rules of Media Relations don’t apply anymore.” Not too many people echoed that at the time, probably because it came in the wake of a pretty boring introductory press conference and the stakes were pretty low. I did wonder at the time, though, if the media was waiting to turn on Jeter once he actually started making moves in his new role.

I think we can now say the answer to that is yes.

In the wake of the Giancarlo Stanton trade, a lot of baseball writers had a lot of questions for Derek Jeter. Jeter, however, decided that he didn’t even need to show up here at the Winter Meetings to answer them, despite the fact that he lives just a couple of hours away.

On Monday morning Buster Olney of ESPN made conspicuous note of it:

Later in the day Jeter deigned to talk to the media via a conference call. As usual, he said mostly nothing, but unlike 1997, 2007 or 2014 (a) he got testy about it; and (b) the press made a note of it:

They likewise noted when he passed the buck to someone below him on the org chart:

Last night I think a dam broke, and I don’t think Jeter will ever be able to sweet non-talk his way out criticism again. It all happened at a football game:

To sum up:

  • Jeter is now bad for not talking to the press;
  • Jeter is not lauded for his composure anymore; and
  • Jeter is being called out as a poor leader who does not face the music.

What a difference a few years and a change of role makes.

All of which, one would think, would make me at least a little happy. I mean, I’ll totally own up to rolling my eyes at the kid glove treatment Jeter got back when he played. About how his attributes, however great, were elevated even above their actual greatness and how his faults were, perversely, spun into attributes. You’d expect that, in light of that, I’d be sorta pleased that the tables have turned.

I’m not happy, though. Indeed, I have something approaching sympathy for Captian Jeets.

Why? Because, while I’d like to see him face the press, defend his moves as owner and explain his vision to Marlins fans everywhere, I know that he cannot. I know that he has no good answers to any of the questions he might be asked because the real answer to all of them is “hey, we need to make money for the ownership group and everything flows from that” and that’s not an answer he’s prepared to give.

Have some sympathy for Derek Jeter. He’s really in a tough, tough spot. Even if he put himself into it.