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Cooperstown Confidential
by Bruce Markusen
Previous Columns

A Thought On Post-Season Rosters

In putting together their rosters for the Division Series, some teams make the basic mistake of carrying too many pitchers. What’s the point of having 10, or worse yet 11 pitchers (like the Mariners are doing), for a series that can go no longer than five games? If a manager needs to use 11 pitchers in a five-game series, that’s probably a signal that his team has lost—or is about to lose—the series. In other words, the best pitchers have been banged around so much that the manager has had to resort to using his worst pitchers in mop-up roles. Managers don’t usually employ their worst pitchers in playoff games they eventually end up winning… Just once we’d like to see a manager have the courage to carry only nine pitchers in a Division Series. Under that structure, he can use either three starters and six relievers (with at least one reliever having the capability to start), or four starters and five relievers… Playoff teams would be much better off carrying an extra position player, a specialist who’s either a capable hitter or a fast runner. The need for quality pinch-hitters and pinch-runners is much greater in tight playoff games where a single run in the late innings can make such a large difference. That way we wouldn’t see backup catchers like Josh Paul being used as pinch-runners in crucial late-game situations… As for the Championship Series and the World Series, that’s a different story. Since those series can run as much as seven games, an extra pitcher or two might be needed, especially if a string of blowouts occurs early in the series. Under that scenario, a 10-man or perhaps even an 11-man pitching staff makes sense.

Marking An Anniversary

Twenty-five years ago, the structure of the baseball world was quite different from what we are witnessing today at the start of the new millennium’s first post-season. Full-fledged free agency did not exist; it was still one year away from being included in the collective bargaining agreement. Most National League teams played on artificial turf that was laid out in cookie-cutter stadiums; retractable roofs and indoor grass had not yet come into style. Each league had two divisions (an East and a West), not the three- division set-up that we have today. The word "wildcard" was not a part of the game’s vernacular, but rather a term used in playing poker. And the Boston Red Sox and Cincinnati Reds found themselves steamrolling toward an October collision that some would call the most captivating in the history of World Series play. The 1975 Red Sox clinched the American League East on September 27, just one day before the end of the regular season. The Red Sox lost to the Indians that day, but still captured the division title as the second-place Orioles dropped a doubleheader to the third-place Yankees. The Red Sox had put themselves in a position to clinch by winning their previous four games in a row, and nine of their last 11 overall. The heavy hitting of supporting cast members Rico Petrocelli and Dwight Evans made up for the late-season absence of rookie star Jim Rice, who broke his arm on September 21, and the tail-end struggles of an injury-wracked Carl Yastrzemski, who continued to play despite an injured shoulder. The Red Sox had also solidified their first-place standing by capitalizing on head-to-head matchups with the Orioles during the month of September. Boston won three of four games against Baltimore, including two victories against Orioles ace Jim Palmer, who would win the Cy Young Award that season. On September 3, veteran right-hander Rick Wise outdueled Palmer in 10 innings, winning a 3-2 decision on Cecil Cooper’s home run. Two weeks later, Boston’s ace and spiritual leader, Luis Tiant, bested Palmer by shutting out the Orioles, 2-0 at Fenway Park. With Tiant, Wise, and the unheralded Reggie Cleveland (who went 4-0 the final month) combining to win nine games in September, the Red Sox claimed their first Eastern Division crown since the institution of divisional play in 1969. The clinching set up a Championship Series meeting with the defending champion Oakland A’s, a dynastic team that had not lost a post-season series since 1971. In the National League, the Reds enjoyed a far easier route to the World Series. Equipped with a 12-and-a-half game lead at the All-Star break, the Reds extended the eventual margin to 20 games, thanks to a 20-9 record in July, a 21-8 August, and an 18-9 September. Given such a surge, the Reds clinched the Western Division with an 8-4 win over the Giants on September 7, marking the earliest clinching in National League history. Two weeks later, the Reds captured their 103rd victory, smashing the franchise record that had been set by the first edition of the "Big Red Machine" in 1970. Even with the West officially locked up, the Reds showed no signs of complacency (in contrast to the Yankees of 2000), winning 10 of their final 11 games. The strong finish capped off a regular season that saw the Reds establish a National League record for the most wins at home (64) while totaling the third highest number of wins in league history (108). Only the 1906 Cubs and the 1909 Pirates had won more games. The reasons for Reds dominance were plentiful, but a deft strategic maneuver by manager Sparky Anderson played a significant role in the Reds’ second-half performance. By moving Pete Rose from left field to third base in early May, Anderson not only improved the productivity he received from the hot corner, but also made room for young slugger George Foster in the outfield. Eventually taking over as the everyday left fielder, Foster batted an even .300 and hit 23 home runs, the second highest total on the Reds’ roster. With Foster, Johnny Bench, and Tony Perez supplying the power, and Rose, Joe Morgan, and Dave Concepcion running the bases at will, the Reds established themselves as the most prolific offensive team the game had seen since the Yankees of the early 1960s. Cincinnati’s ensuing second-half runaway set up a Championship Series collision with another head-banging offensive powerhouse: the Pittsburgh Pirates of Willie Stargell, Manny Sanguillen, and Dave Parker. We’ll have more on that series—and the Red Sox’ surprising encounter with the A’s—in a future column.

Something In Common

The current version of the Reds concluded a disappointing season on Sunday (unfairly costing Jack McKeon his job one year after he earned "Manager of the Year" honors), but they did accomplish something unusual by becoming the first team since the 1932 Yankees to go through an entire season without being shut out. Unlike the 2000 Reds, those Yankees did not disappoint, running away with the American League title by 13 games on their way to sweeping the Cubs in the World Series. The ’32 Yankees boasted a boatload of 10 future Hall of Famers on their roster, including regulars Lou Gehrig, Tony "Poosh Em Up" Lazzeri, and Joe Sewell on the infield; Earle Combs and Babe Ruth in the outfield; and Bill Dickey behind the plate. In fact, only two non-Hall of Famers played regularly—shortstop Frank "The Crow" Crosetti and left fielder Ben Chapman—and even they contributed mightily. Crosetti didn’t hit much but played well on the left side of the infield. Chapman compiled a .299 batting average and a .381 on-base percentage, while topping the century mark in both runs scored and runs batted in.

Goodbye Chico

The baseball world lost one of its genuinely colorful characters recently when Chico Salmon died from a heart attack at the age of 59. Born Ruthford Eduardo Salmon (pronounced SAHL-MAWN), the native Panamanian forged a nine-year career as a utilityman in the sixties and early seventies, but earned most of his notoriety for his rather extreme fear of ghosts. Salmon was so fearful of otherworldly spirits that he refused to sleep in the dark. Salmon’s trepidation apparently stemmed from his childhood, when his mother and other adults warned him that ghosts could enter rooms at night if the windows were left open or keyholes in the door were left unplugged. "When I was young, I heard talk about evil spirits and I started to believe it," Salmon once told The Sporting News. "Older people told me that they had seen evil spirits and I don’t believe they’d tell me lies." A most trusting soul, Salmon maintained his extreme fear of ghosts well into his adult years. It wasn’t until 1964 that Salmon overcame his fear of sleeping in the dark. A stint in the military will do that; the Army wouldn’t let Salmon sleep with the lights on in his barracks… Having conquered his sleeping "phobia," Salmon experienced his first major league tour of duty that same year. As a part-time player with the lowly Indians from 1964 to 1968, Salmon earned the nickname "Super Sub," a tribute to his ability to play seven positions—the four infield spots and all three outfield locations. After the 1968 season, Salmon was drafted by the expansion Seattle Pilots, but he never did suit up for the Pilots’ team made famous by Jim Bouton in Ball Four. Tommy Harper won the Pilots’ second-base battle during spring training, making Salmon expendable and leading to a trade with the Orioles, who acquired him in exchange for journeyman pitcher Gene Brabender. Although Salmon had lost out on a chance to play regularly (what with Boog Powell, Dave Johnson, Mark Belanger, and Brooks Robinson ahead of him), he did become the primary utility infielder on those Orioles’ teams that won three straight American League pennants from 1969 to 1971, including a world championship in 1970… Unlike most utility infielders, Salmon posed more of a threat with his bat and his legs than he did with his glove. As one of his Baltimore teammates said in 1970: "If Chico’s hands get any worse, we’ll have to amputate."… Although Salmon’s fielding and his worries about ghosts often made him a prime target of clubhouse barbs, he did earn respect for his baseball intellect and his commitment toward youth baseball. After his playing days ended in 1972, Salmon worked as a scout and served as a manager of the Panamanian team in the World Amateur Baseball Series. He continued to coach amateur teams in his homeland right up until the time of his death.

Previous Columns