Baserunning Does Matter
It’s become baseball’s bad habit, and it finally reached its valley of embarrassment in Game One of this year’s World Series. On three different occasions, New York Mets baserunners failed to run hard on batted balls, costing them a minimum of two at-bats and at least one run. And despite Bobby Valentine’s protestations to the contrary, shoddy baserunning ranked as the number one reason the Mets lost Game One—plain and simple. For too many years now, it’s become fashionable among some major league players not to run batted balls out—whether they be routine grounders, high pop-ups, or long drives that the batter thinks will be a home run. Somehow, it’s become the "in-thing" to pause and preen instead, either to admire one’s own home run handiwork or to look "cool" by casually strutting down the first base line. Whatever the reasons for the lack of hustle, the nonsense on the basepaths has to stop. In the case of the Mets last Saturday night, Todd Zeile added the "assumption of a foul ball" to the growing list of baserunning transgressions. After topping a weak roller down the third base line, Zeile assumed that the ball would stay foul, even though it was close to the line and had a funny sidespin to it. Once Scott Brosius noticed that Zeile had essentially taken the play for granted, he smartly waited for the ball to roll back into fair territory, calmly picked it up, and threw to first for an easy 5-3 putout. If Zeile had run hard from the moment he had hit the ball, Brosius likely would have picked up the ball before it slid back into fair territory, not wanting to test the fates on a close play at first base. And who knows what Zeile might have done with a prolonged at-bat. A lack of understanding the rules also appeared to contribute to the Mets’ follies on the basepaths. When Jay Payton topped a ball near home plate, it first bounced behind the plate before caroming into fair territory, where Jorge Posada fielded it and completed the rarely seen 2-2 putout. Although Payton might have thought the ball had bounced off of Posada in foul territory (thus making it a dead ball), it appeared that he was under the impression that once the ball bounced behind the plate, it was automatically and immediately foul. In fairness to Payton, Posada probably would have been able to throw him out easily at first base if he had run hard from the start, but then again, who knows for sure? If Payton had forced Posada to make a throw, perhaps the Yankee catcher would have thrown the ball in the dirt or past Tino Martinez down the right field line. By making the wrong assumption (for whatever reason he did), Payton gift-wrapped an easy out for Posada, rather than challenge him to make a tougher play. Yet, the errors of Payton and Zeile paled in comparison to a critical baserunning blunder by Timoniel "Timo" Perez in the sixth inning. Running from first base on Zeile’s long drive to left field, Perez slowed down near second base and began the celebratory pumping of his first in the air, thinking that the ball would land in the left field stands. When the ball hit the absolute top of the padded wall in left and bounced back into the field of play, Perez started running hard again. By the time he reached home plate, Posada already had the ball in his glove, allowing him to apply the tag to the late-arriving Perez. Instead of owning a 1-0 lead with another runner in scoring position, the Mets found themselves still embedded in a scoreless deadlock and lost the opportunity to bring another batter to the plate. (By the way, Zeile wasn’t blameless here either; he too assumed the ball had achieved home run distance and stopped running hard between first and second.) The Mets would come to rue the loss of a surefire run later in the game, when the Yankees tied the game in the bottom of the ninth and then won it on Jose Vizcaino’s single the 12th. Over the last 20 years or so, statistically-minded analysts have made major inroads to a better understanding of offensive contributions, fielders’ defensive range, and pitching standards. Yet, baserunning remains overlooked, both by the Sabermetricians and much of the mainstream media. Hey, it’s not all about OPS, on-base percentage, and strikeout-to-walk ratios. It’s not all about home runs and diluted pitching, either. Baserunning matters, too. It especially matters in post-season play, when the scores are lower and the games are closer than they are during the bulk of the regular season. Perhaps now that poor baserunning—or quite simply a failure to hustle on batted balls that have a chance of remaining in play and being mishandled by fielders—has cost a team a game in the World Series, maybe both the internet and the traditional media will start to beat the drum about it. And, more importantly, perhaps players will stop this bad habit of not hustling and start running out grounders and fly balls—all the time.
Turning Back The Classic’s Clock
Now that we’re in the midst of what is taking shape as a memorable World Series, let’s take a look back at some of the history-making and trendsetting events in the history of the Fall Classic.
1903 World Series (Boston Red Sox vs. Pittsburgh Pirates): The established National League and the upstart American League staged the first modern-day World Series. Pittsburgh right fielder Jimmy Sebring hit the first home run in World Series play and batted .367 over the eight-game matchup. Two pitchers dominated the Series: Deacon Phillippe of the Pirates, who won the first, third, and fourth games, and Bill Dinneen, who won the second, sixth, and eighth games. In the finale, Dinneen shut out Phillippe and the Pirates to win the first Series, five games to three.
1905 World Series (New York Giants vs. Philadelphia Athletics): After a dispute cancelled the 1904 World Series, the two leagues agreed to resume the world championship—this time with a best four-out-of-seven format. The new system remained in place through the 1918 season, then gave way to a best five-out-of-nine for three years, before Commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis reinstated the seven-game format for good in 1922… In the 1905 matchup, the Giants thoroughly contained the A’s, winning in five games. Christy Mathewson pitched a trio of shutouts, dominating Philadelphia in the first, third, and fifth games. In hurling 27 scoreless innings against the A’s, "Matty" allowed a scant 14 hits…The Giants won the fourth game on an unearned run, the only tally of the game… In a statistical oddity, the losing team found itself shut out in all five games.
1915 World Series (Boston Red Sox vs. Philadelphia Phillies) For the first time ever, an American President attended a World Series game. Woodrow Wilson’s presence at the Series gave the event a sense of national recognition that had been lacking in its earliest years… With four of the five games decided by one run, the Red Sox won a highly competitive but low-scoring Series.
1970 World Series (Baltimore Orioles vs. Cincinnati Reds): For the first time ever, World Series games were played on artificial turf. Cincinnati’s carpeted Riverfront Stadium, the 1970 successor to decrepit Crosley Field, hosted games one and two. The artificial surface only seemed to help Hall of Famer Brooks Robinson, who made a series of sensational plays at third base and stopped several budding rallies by Cincinnati’s high-powered offense. Robinson also contributed with the bat, hitting .429 and accumulating a five-game Series record of 17 total bases… Robinson, Elrod Hendricks, and Boog Powell all homered in the first game at Riverfront Stadium… Veteran left-hander Dave McNally, one of the best hitting pitchers in the American League, clubbed a grand slam in Game Three, helping the O’s to a 9-3 victory… The Reds’ lone win of the Series, coming in Game Four at Baltimore, halted the Orioles’ 17-game winning streak… Frank Robinson and Merv Rettenmund homered in a decisive Game Five, supporting Mike Cuellar’s complete-game win.
1971 World Series (Baltimore Orioles vs. Pittsburgh Pirates): The Bucs and O’s staged the first scheduled night game in Series history, producing record television ratings for NBC. One year later, Major League Baseball decided to play two Series games at night. In 1973, the Oakland A’s and New York Mets started three games under the lights. By 1975, the third through seventh games all took place at night, in part because of rainouts that wiped out scheduled afternoon games on the weekend. From 1976 through 1982, the number of night games varied from three to five. Then in 1985, major league and television executives agreed to play all World Series games during the evening hours. Since then, only one exception has taken place to the nighttime rule. In 1987, the Minnesota Twins and St. Louis Cardinals played Game Six at the Metrodome in the afternoon. That Series marked the first time that any world championship games had taken place indoors.
1976 World Series (Cincinnati Reds vs. New York Yankees): Three years after the American League instituted the designated hitter rule, this Series became the first to allow the DH as a post-season option. The Reds turned their DH duties over to backup first baseman Dan Driessen, who responded by batting .357 and out-hitting the Yankees’ regular designated hitters… A non-DH—Hall of Fame catcher Johnny Bench—led all Cincinnati regulars with a .533 batting average and garnered MVP honors… The Reds swept the Yankees in four straight games, thus becoming the first National League team to repeat as world champions since the New York Giants of 1921 and ’22.
1989 World Series (Oakland A’s vs. San Francisco Giants) Prior to the start of Game Three at Candlestick Park, an earthquake measuring 7.1 on the Richter scale devastated large parts of the Bay Area. The tragedy, the first of its kind to strike the World Series, forced postponement of the third game and caused Commissioner Fay Vincent to consider a change of venue for the rest of the Series… When the Series anticlimactically resumed 12 days later at San Francisco, the A’s completed a sweep by winning back-to-back slugfests.
1992 World Series (Atlanta Braves vs. Toronto Blue Jays) With a six-game victory over Atlanta, Toronto became the first Canadian team to win a world championship. The Blue Jays would repeat the feat the following fall… Through the 2000 season, no other team from outside the United States has won the World Series, or even reached the Series. Of course, that fact should be taken with a few grains of salt given that the Blue Jays and the Expos are the only non-U.S. teams who have ever had membership in the major leagues.
The Birth Of A Catch Phrase
Prior to this year, baseball historians and researchers believed that the term "Subway Series" had originated in a Willard Mullin cartoon that appeared in 1941. As it turns out, the findings of researcher Barry Popik shows that the term is at least five years older than that. The phrase "Subway Series" actually appears to have originated in 1936, when the New York Giants played the Yankees in that year’s World Series. On September 17, 1936, two newspapers—the New York World-Telegram and The Sporting News—used the term "Subway Series" in headlines. A few days later, the New York Post followed the lead of the other publications and also referred to a Subway Series. Although these are the earliest references we know of, it's important to remember that research is continuing in this area. It's possible that there exist earlier references to "Subway Series" that have yet to be discovered.