Week of July 27, 2018

Dustin Johnson knows the pecking order in his family. 

The Best Game I Ever Watched

Jack Morris is getting inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame this week, and it’s about time. It’s also a great excuse to revisit his legendary performance in Game 7 of the 1991 World Series by way of Dan Haye’s oral history of the event over on The Athletic. I will be adding a lot of bits from the story and sprinkle in some commentary since people that aren’t subscribers can’t click on the story.

To the uninitiated, let me start by telling you that Jack was a bad man in the 80s and 90s. He won more games in the 80s than any other pitcher. He has 3 World Series rings – ‘84 with the Tigers, ‘91 with the Twins, and ‘92 with the Blue Jays. The guy had a great, long career, but he’s remembered for Game 7 of the Twins-Braves classic. Morris went 10 innings in a complete game shutout and the Twins won 1-0 on a Gene Larkin “single” (the outfield was playing in and his medium-deep fly ball fell over their heads).

As Hayes puts it, “To this day, the Smoltz-Morris showdown is considered one of the greatest Game 7s in World Series history. Though only one run crossed home plate at the Metrodome on Oct. 27, 1991, the contest was teeming with dramatic moments and volatile momentum swings.”

Morris: I went to the bullpen and threw longer than most guys. I would throw 20 minutes in my warmup and throw 60, 70 pitches. I always wanted to go longer because I’d rather be tired than too fresh. My control wasn’t as good as when I was fresh and that helped me get over that adrenaline rush.

PAL: 60-70 pitches? That is insane to me. Then he went out and threw another 127 pitches. Include the warm-ups between innings and Morris threw way over 200 pitches that night.

Braves starting pitcher John Smoltz (PAL: a young stud at the time): You know it’s going to be the loudest place you’ve ever been in because of the dome and Game 7. The walkup to any start is usually pretty unique on its own. I had previously pitched in Game 7 in Pittsburgh (in the NLCS). I had faced it already, had faced that kind of hostile crowd, walked to the bullpen. This (bullpen) was on the side of the stands, so you’re really in the open space. I really vividly remember. Couldn’t wait for it. Wanted it. Dreamt about it. But then seeing (7-year-old Jacqueline Jaquez sing the national anthem), I turned to Leo and said, ‘If she can do that, I can do this.’ It lived up to all the expectations I had as a kid, the hype.

Twins catcher Brian Harper: A lot of the game plan when Jack was pitching was how Jack was pitching when he was on. The biggest thing for Jack when he had his angle on his fastball, when he was throwing downhill, it was pretty much over for the other guys. You could tell right away that he was locked in and he had really good angle and a really good fastball. He was working on three days’ rest for a third straight time, but he was locked in right from the get-go.

Twins bench player Gene Larkin: Smoltz was dominating. There’s no other word. Both pitchers were dominating. In a certain amount of respect, Smoltz was dominating earlier in the game than Jack was.

Kent Hrbek: In the playoffs, all the pitchers are good. They were all good against me because I couldn’t hit my ass with both hands. So much gets talked about Jack being so good that you don’t think about the job (Smoltz) did. He stuck it up our butt as Jack did with them. Not too many talk about his performance, which was as good as Jack’s.

5th Inning

With runners on the corners and two outs in the fifth inning, Morris throws a forkball in the dirt. Harper doesn’t block it as much as it bounces off of him and rolls out between home and the mound. Lemke at third comes halfway down the line and barely gets back to third on a nice play by Morris. Then Morris strikes out Ron Gant on a called third strike and does…whatever this is:

Braves infielder (PAL: and complete pest the entire series) Mark Lemke: We couldn’t ask for anything more. It’s just Jack put the pitch right where he wanted it. My goodness. I remember the fist pump. I said, ‘Oh boy. He’s stealing it.’

6th Inning:

As CBS went to break, play-by-play announcer Jack Buck said, “Folks, this game is gonna be decided late … isn’t it?”

Smoltz: Luckily, we played in the era we did because you could see matchups like this. You’re not going to see them ever again. This is what we were supposed to do as pitchers. If your stuff was good enough, you didn’t have anybody even close to coming in the game. At the end of the year it’s a little different story, too. You’ve pitched your 240, 250 innings. You’re at the max and you just know and you were prepared. You were mentally prepared to do this. There was not a fatigue factor you allowed to enter your mind.

8th Inning – The Deke

Morris: Lonnie wasn’t deked on the play. He was off to second base and when he looked up he couldn’t find the ball. He looked over at the third-base coach and he was still watching the ball and didn’t get a sign. So he’s wondering if the ball is popped up and has to slow down before second base. That’s all it took for him not to score.

Harper: The real deke was Dan Gladden acting like he was going to catch it. And in Lonnie Smith’s defense, with no outs you don’t even take a gamble of being thrown out at home plate. With Lonnie Smith and (third-base coach) Jimmy Williams, with no outs you’re going to be super cautious. It was running the bases the right way. If there was one out you’d gamble a little bit more. I think Gladden deked him that he was going to catch it and the ball hit the wall and he got it in real quick. It was a good play. It looked on the film like the infielders deked him, but Lonnie said he was looking right at Gladden acting like he was going to catch it.

Braves bullpen coach Ned Yost: Lonnie Smith got on. Terry Pendleton did a hit-and-run and Lonnie got deked a little at second. That would have been the run that scored if he hadn’t of hesitated. Ended up second and third and nobody out. I think, ‘OK, we’ve got Ronnie Gant, David Justice and Sid Bream coming up. We’re going to score a run here. Here we go.’

The Twins walked Justice, and Sid Bream hits into the huge double-play the Twins were hoping for, 3-2-3.

Hrbek: I knew where I was going. I wanted the ball. That’s why I was playing in. Knew what I was going to do. There was already a conversation between myself and Harper that I was coming home. We did it a million times in spring training the last 10 years. You practice that play just because it might happen at some time or another. I was prepared and ready. A lot of times guys aren’t prepared and ready, they don’t know which way to go. I knew what I was going to do with it before it was hit to me.

Harper: We got the rare 3-2-3 double play. I’ll tell you what, there were some nerves making that throw to first base. You’ve got the runner kind of in the line. You’ve got to make sure you’re out of the way. You’ve got the runner from third coming at you and he’s trying to hit you as he slides and so you’re trying to get rid of it. The first baseman is moving toward first. My whole thought process was, ‘Don’t screw up.’

The Twins come up in the bottom half of the inning and threaten as well. They too were undone an unconventional, unassisted double-play.

Twins reliever Carl Willis: I remember how ecstatic we all were (in the bullpen) and then in the bottom of the eighth inning, we had the bases loaded and one out, and we were thinking, ‘Hey, we’re going to do it. We’re going to win this thing.’ And the same thing happened (to us). They ended up getting out of it. We went from low to high back to low. It was the craziest inning, emotionally, I can ever remember of any game.

Bottom of the 9th (all of this is pulled directly from the story)

With nine innings in the books for Morris, Kelly was preparing to turn the game over to ace closer Rick Aguilera in the 10th.

Harper: There was at no point until the ninth that TK was going to take out Jack. Jack got us out of the ninth inning and Tom Kelly walked up to him and said, ‘Great job, we’re going to bring Aggie in to pitch the 10th.’ And I’m sitting in my catcher’s gear watching this and going, this is going to be really interesting how it gets handled. Jack’s like, ‘I’m not coming out. I’m not coming out.’ TK’s going, ‘Hey, 120 pitches, three days’ rest, Jack, unbelievable job. We’ve got Aggie warmed up. He’s coming in.’ Jack sat there and said, ‘I’m not coming out of the game. I’m not coming out.’ He said a few other choice words.

Mazzone: Good luck with that.

Bush: Literally in exasperation, Tom Kelly turned to (pitching coach) Dick Such and said, ‘Tell him he’s done, Suchy. Tell him he’s done.’ Suchy with the great line said, ‘He’s going pretty good, Skip.’

Kelly: That’s true.

Harper: Tom Kelly walks down kind of toward the middle of the dugout where Jack is and he looks at Jack and says, ‘Go get him, big guy. Go get him,’ and walked away.

PAL: How good is that? I love the pitching coach breaking ranks. It’s like a scene out of a movie.

TOB: I literally LOL’d at that one. Also, I mean it worked out – but I must point out that the “You’re not taking me out” is a really selfish move. If he blows it in the 10th because he wanted to finish the game, he’s a bad teammate who cost his team the World Series. It’s also an interesting move because, if the Twins don’t score in the 10th…how long did would he insist on pitching?

The 10th Inning

PAL: Morris retires the side in eight pitches. M-effing eight pitches.

TOB: I guess he was going pretty good.

PAL: The Twins get a lead-off, hustle double from Gladden. Knobluach finally gets Twins bunt down, and the Braves walk Puckett and Hrbek to load the bases with one out. The twins send pinch-hitter Gene Larkin to the plate.

Larkin: When TK (manager Tom Kelly) called my name out, I was as nervous as a human being can be in an athletic situation from the on-deck circle to the batter’s box, my knees were shaking. People were standing in the stands just going nuts. The moment hits you right there that you can help your team win Game 7 of the World Series or if you don’t get the job done you’re going to feel bad. If your team doesn’t win because of that, you’re going to feel bad about that for the rest of your life. Whether people believe that or not, that’s in your mind that if you had just driven in that run, we would have won the game.

Hrbek: All I was kept thinking about was if there was a ball hit to the outfield don’t get caught up running the bases. Make sure you go back and tag. But if you look, you’ll see, Puck doesn’t go back and tag. Puck is running around the bases. The guy could have caught the ball and threw Puck out at second base. He was way off the base. That was my thought was, ‘If there’s a play at the plate, I better be sure I’m tagging up. Watch out for the line drive. Don’t get too far off because my run is not important. Don’t get picked off. Stay here as close as I can. But if it’s a double-play ball, I’ve got to get down there as fast as I can.’ There was a lot of things going through my head other than what Geno was going to do.

Larkin waists no time. He gets a fastball up and sends it over Brian Hunter’s head in left field. Twins Win, 1-0.

3rd Base Coach Ron Gardenhire: I did one of those dumb baseball moves where instead of going down the line with Gladden and being in all the pictures I ran over to the commissioner to shake his hand. The commissioner and I had been having a conversation back and forth from his seats.

Gladden: After the celebration, Wayne Terwilliger and I went up in the training room and grabbed a pack of cigarettes and a six-pack of beer and turned on the TVs and watched the celebration. I was so tired.

Leo Mazzone (Braves pitching coach): At the end, I didn’t feel like crap. I was just a part of one of the greatest World Series in the history of baseball. Sure, you have that immediate emotion of losing. But once you sit back and think about it a little, you’re proud to be a part of it.

Morris: My son was crying and I was worried if someone had knocked him down (during the celebration). I asked him why and he said, ‘Dad, that was so cool.’ It was so amazing to share something so personal with him.

PAL: After reading this I realized that moments from this series have mashed together, and it’s hard to separate the less iconic plays, e.g., the 3-2-3 double play ball, game by game. I just remember being so damn happy. That is my team. Specifically, that 1991 roster are the players and coaches I picture when I think of a baseball team.

Source:An oral history of Game 7 of the 1991 World Series: The night Jack Morris was unbeatable”, Dan Hayes, The Athletic Ink (7/25/18)

TOB: While Kirk Gibson’s home run is my earliest baseball memory, and I watched the Giants’ run through the ’89 NLCS and into the World Series, the 1991 World Series is I think when baseball really got its claws into me. It was such a visual and audible spectacle – Minnesota with the white hankies whipping around, and the insane noise. Atlanta with the tomahawk chop and chant. It was mesmerizing.

I’ll never forget this game because I didn’t even get to see the end. Late in the game, my parents made me go to bed. Not wanting to miss the end, I managed to find the game on the radio of my alarm clock. I pulled the covers over my head and the radio to muffle the noise, and I drifted off to sleep, I believe, before the game ended. I woke up in the morning to music still playing, having incorporated the song that was playing into my dream.

Sports & Flags

This story is as powerful as anything I’ve read this year.

Awhile back, Natalie and I were walking Max the Dog up in the fancy Piedmont neighborhood (we call it the Fantasy Tour), and one of us commented on the the American flags waving outside some of the mansions. Natalie wasn’t a fan. I didn’t mind it, noting that what makes America great to me isn’t the same as what might make it great to someone else, and I won’t acquiesce the symbolism of the flag. Patriotism is apolitical. I got where she was coming from, and that conversation has stuck with me over the past 19 months or so.

Every sporting event presents a challenge in this regard. The flag genuflection is disingenuous. We didn’t always have flags the size of football fields, and camo jerseys haven’t always been a thing. This all came in the wake of 9/11, and Howard Bryant’s segment on WBUR (Boston Public Radio) is a sobering look at commercialized patriotism from the perspective of veterans who are sick of it. You must read the story, but here some of the most compelling bits:

Retired Air Force lieutenant colonel Bill Astore on flyovers:

I think, at first, there’s a sort of thrilling feeling. I’m like all the other fans: a big plane goes overhead — ‘Wow!’ That’s kind of awe inspiring. But at the same time, to me, it’s not something that I see should be flying over a sports stadium before a baseball game or a football game. You know, these are weapons of death. They may be required, but they certainly shouldn’t be celebrated and applauded.

Some of you know this (I know we’ve written about it), but it’s worth repeating: We are paying sports teams for all that celebration of America.

…[T]axpayer-funded contracts between the Pentagon and virtually every pro sports league. In 2012, the New York Army National Guard paid the Buffalo Bills $250,000 to conduct on-field re-enlistment ceremonies. In 2014, the Georgia National Guard paid the Atlanta Falcons $114,000 to sing the national anthem. In 2015, the Air Force paid NASCAR $1.5 million in part for veterans to shake hands with racing legend Richard Petty. Your tax dollars. At work.

In one simple sentence, Astore crystallizes a major issue I have with the choreography of it all. “Patriotic displays, they mean a lot more to me when they’re spontaneous,” he says. Exactly.

Nick Francona, son of Indians manager Terry Francona and grandson of Tito Francona, enlisted in the Marines while a student at Penn. He saw a baseball friend of his leading a life of meaning while Nick was playing online poker and hitting the bars. Before he was even deployed, the Red Sox – the team for which his dad managed – wanted to make the manager’s son a military hero.

“They were having Marine Week in Boston, and it was a pretty big deal,” Nick says. “They had wanted me to throw out the first pitch at Fenway during one of the games. It would’ve been a good story of having the manager’s son being a Marine and throwing out a first pitch at Fenway. But I was horribly uncomfortable with that and didn’t think I had done anything to deserve that and gave them a firm pass on that one.”

MLB is happy to sell a camo hat for $40, but guess how many vets make up the league’s 5,000 employees are vets? 10.

Where do sports go from here? I asked one baseball executive, who told me his sport promotes the military not out of patriotism but out of fear — the fear of being called unpatriotic.

The fear of seeming unpatriotic…that right there is a weapon that buries us. It ain’t a bomber or a fighter jet. – PAL

Source: Veterans Speak Out Against The Militarization Of Sports”, Howard Bryant, WBUR (7/21/18)

TOB: It’s just so gross, especially coming from the side of the political spectrum who claim to advocate for small government. *ZAP* Sorry, sorry. Anyways, another story told by Nick Francona shows just how contemptible this whole thing is:

Working with the Mets, one moment defined his frustrations. He created a Memorial Day program where he matched players with Gold Star families from similar backgrounds. The players recorded videos that told the stories of the fallen.

Players, he says, were emotional learning the stories of the dead soldiers from America’s wars. They wore bracelets naming soldiers they were matched with. It was authentic and personal, appropriately respectful of a day commemorating sacrifice.

“So I’m on the flight back, and I get an email from someone with the Mets asking, like, ‘Oh, great job. Now we need to get all the families to sign these waivers, to waive the rights as licensees for the bracelets that these guys wore.’ And I’m, like, ‘Whoa, whoa, whoa, we’re not … like, absolutely not.’

“They referred to them as ‘license holders.’ The families. And I’m, like, ‘I think you mean parent of dead Marine or soldier.’ Patently offensive. And there was no way I was going to have them sign that and refused to do so. I wanted to know exactly whose bright idea this was and was going to give them a piece of my mind. And that ended it pretty quickly. And the next day was my last day there.

“They called me in and said, ‘You’ve done a great job here, really had a huge impact. You’ve also had a big impact on the veteran stuff with Major League Baseball, but your comments aren’t compatible with having a career in baseball. So we’re going to have to part ways.’ “

The Mets fired him. Nick Francona is now out of baseball.


Why Do Women Subject Themselves to Co-Ed Sports?

This is a really good article on the problems women face playing adult co-ed sports, which are very popular in the age 20-30 demographic. In my late 20s, I played a few seasons in a co-ed basketball league here in the city. It was fun! I also liked to go watch my now-wife play in her co-ed soccer league. She had fun! But both experiences also gave me a first-hand look at the issues women face when playing sports with men. I mostly enjoyed playing in co-ed leagues. As opposed to men’s leagues, the presence of women seemed to tone down the guys’ aggression. It was still competitive, but you saw a lot less arguing and near-fighting than you do in men’s leagues.

But there were problems, too. As this article discusses, some guys didn’t want to pass to the women, which of course was frustrating. More than once I had the women on our team come to me, as team manager, and complain that they weren’t getting the ball enough. And they were right (this was especially frustrating to me because two of the women on our team had played college basketball, and were really frigging good). When I’d watch my wife’s soccer games, she would often be wide open with a chance at goal, and the guys wouldn’t even look her way. Instead, they’d either try (and fail) to take on the entire defense themselves, or try (and fail) to make a difficult pass to a covered male teammate. I would get very frustrated for her, and more than once tried to help her find an all-women’s league.

Most co-ed sports leagues have a requirement for a certain number of women to be on the court/field at all times. This makes sense, sadly, as many men would otherwise leave them on the bench. Some leagues even instituted rules to get men to pass to women more – for example, a goal by a woman counts as 2 points. But as the article discusses, this kind of treatment makes many women feel like a handicap. Another issue facing women is that some men are overaggressive idiots and they plow into the women, injuring them. Other times, the men get angry and fight each other, creating a toxic environment for everyone.

The article discusses how the numbers are dropping, in part due to these problems. Men outnumber women in these leagues 2-to-1, and women are less likely to show up to games, and more likely to leave leagues completely, and considers why. And her answer: “Women don’t play co-ed intramural sports because it’s not fun for us. In fact, it sucks.”

And it makes sense. Why subject yourself to that kind of treatment? I did end up finding my wife a women’s league. And I think women playing co-ed should band together and form their own women’s leagues. In my estimation, many men play co-ed simply because they don’t have enough men to form a team of only men. They use women to fill out the roster, in their view, as a necessary evil. As the author says, “Co-ed social sports leagues aren’t really co-ed. They’re men’s leagues, where women are required to be present for the game to happen.” So screw ’em, ladies. -TOB

Source: Why Co-Ed Sports Leagues Are Never Really Co-Ed“, Catherine LeClair, Deadspin (07/25/2018)

Video of the Week: 

Tweet of the Week

PAL Song of the Week: Ray Davies – “Waterloo Sunset”

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Yeah, Serenity by Jan is kicking ass and taking names. You remember last week when that girl went missing? Guess whose candles they used for the vigil?

-Jan Levinson

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