The Baseball Diaspora
A home for those who live nowhere near the home team.
As if my credibility as an unbiased prognosticator wasn’t already shot after my (correct) but decidedly homer pick of the Cardinals in 6 over the Brewers in the NLCS, now a new obstacle to objectivity has been thrown in my way.
A little background. Some years ago I came across an ad for the MLB Extra Bases credit card. The card, in contrast to thousands of other themed credit cards, offered two things of value to a die-hard baseball fan like me. Number one, it offered me the chance to bear my colors in the course of every financial transaction, major or minor, that I decided to put on a credit card. This has turned out not to be the clear plus it appeared to be at the time, but that is a story for another day. Number two, it offered me baseball-specific rewards.
When I signed up for the card, travel-based rewards had a bad reputation, so why not get baseball-related perks? At the outset, I anticipated tickets, hats, jerseys, other gear, possibly some memorabilia. Nice stuff, to be sure, but essentially small potatoes. Then I discovered the “Experiences” section of the rewards catalog. All-Star Games, League Division and Championship Series and Fall Classics, now we were talking! I resisted the urge to squander my precious points on Bob Gibson autographs or authentic jerseys, hoarding them instead for a much grander prize.
At first, that was the 2009 All-Star Game in St. Louis. I really wanted that one, but I was ever so short on points, so that opportunity passed me by. Since mid-summer 2009, those points have just been sitting there - accruing and waiting. When the Cardinals outlasted the Phillies to advance to the NLCS, I began to get excited. If the Cardinals could simply beat the Brewers, I could finally unleash my cache of points on the reward for which they had been destined: the World Series. I got as much information as I could and waited for the Cards to clinch. I had visions of Game 1, Game 2 or both. Then, through a combination of restrictions, incompetent customer service, bad information and a couple missteps on my part (again - a story for another day), I ended up with two tickets to Game 7…if necessary.
So now not only do I find it nearly impossible to pick against the Cardinals, but it is likewise practically fruitless to try to talk myself into fewer than seven games. I have a very large dog in this fight. If the series goes seven, I get to go to the first Game 7 since 2002. Six or less, I get my reward points back and it’s wait until next year. I have gone so far as to entertain the heretical debate of whether it would be worth it for the Cardinals to lose if they ultimately did so in Game 7…with me in attendance. The loyal fan in me won out and I will sacrifice for another trophy if it comes to that.
With all of my cards now on the table, it’s time to make my World Series prediction in earnest.
No matter how I try, I cannot get around picking the Cardinals to ultimately prevail. The Rangers appear to be the near unanimous favorite, but I don’t care. There has been a good deal of discussion about their deep lineup, their strong bullpen, their severe home-field advantage in Arlington. The Cardinals, though, just defeated a team with a very similar M.O. in the NLCS and did it rather handily.
While Texas was tied for the second best home record this season at 52-29, Milwaukee had the best at 57-24. One of the teams with whom Texas tied for second-best home record was the Philadelphia Phillies. The Cardinals beat both Philly and Milwaukee in these playoffs with each holding home-field. St. Louis will have home-field in the World Series. What’s more, Miller Park played (at least in the NLCS) much like the Ballpark in Arlington is reputed to play, with balls flying out of the ballpark and a total of 48 runs scored in three games during the NLCS. That’s 16 runs combined per game. The Ballpark featured 35 runs scored in three games, good for just under 12 per game. Did I mention that the Cardinals went 2-1 at Miller in the NLCS and clenched the series there?
Granted, the Rangers’ lineup is deeper and their bullpen stronger than the Brewers’ was this season. They also both performed better than their Brewers counterparts in the LCS. The Rangers also played in the tougher league. But their strengths are in many ways the same as those cited by the vocal majority who picked the Brewers to best the Cardinals in the NLCS.
And much like they matched up well against the Brewers, the Cardinals - to my way of thinking - match up well with the Rangers. Here is how:
- Both teams have good-not-great starting pitching that has struggled in the postseason. Chris Carpenter is the best of the bunch, however, giving the Cardinals the slightest of edges.
- Both teams have deep, high-powered offenses that have absolutely raked in October so far. The Rangers have more established hitters while the Cardinals have relied on key contributions from young players like David Freese, Jon Jay and Allen Craig. In addition, most of the current Rangers were just in the World Series a year ago. But the Cardinals are not short on postseason experience in their lineup, either. Matt Holliday and Lance Berkman are each playing in their second World Series, while Albert Pujols and Yadier Molina are each playing in their third. When the series shifts to Texas and Allen Craig gets into the lineup for three straight games, the Cardinals lineup becomes very reminiscent of an AL lineup and nearly as deep - if not as deep - as that of the Rangers. This one is even.
- Both teams have strong, effective bullpens. One of the questions that analysts have been asking is can the Cardinals ‘pen keep it up? With Alexi Ogando, Mike Adams, Mike Gonzalez, Koji Uehara (who has struggled thus far in the postseason) and Neftali Feliz, the Rangers bullpen is a known commodity. The Cardinals ‘pen, while overpowering down the stretch and throughout the postseason, is still not fully-vetted. The Rangers have the edge here, but the Cardinals ‘pen seems to really have come together over the past month and I see no reason they can’t keep up their stellar performance even given their heavy postseason workload.
- Both teams have entertaining managers, in very different ways. Ronnie Wash has an infectious energy and has been the emotional leader of his team. La Russa, meanwhile is one of the most controversial figures in the game and his grating competitiveness and sparring matches with the press are appointment television. Washington came out of last October somewhat exposed for questionable bullpen management and in-game decisions. Tony La Russa, though his arrogance is off-putting to many (including Cardinals fans) has long been recognized as a strong in-game manager so long as he doesn’t fall prey to overmanaging. The 2011 postseason has seen some of his finest managing in recent years and as long as he keeps the hook quick (particularly with Jaime Garcia), he should keep the advantage in this category.
- Both teams are on a roll. From that mythical date of August 25th, when the Cardinals were 10.5 games back in the Wild Card, St. Louis went 22-9 to close the regular season. Texas went a nearly identical 22-8 to hold onto the AL West title. Texas is 7-3 in the postseason thus far, while St. Louis is 7-4. Another push.
Based on these factors, this series appears a lot closer to me than many are giving it credit for. And although the Rangers may be the better team overall, the way in which the Cardinals have reached the World Series makes it difficult for me to believe they won’t continue to defy the odds. Some have pointed to the Colorado Rockies - that hottest of hot stretch teams - that fizzled in the 2007 World Series and was swept by the Red Sox as a cautionary tale. This Cardinals team just doesn’t have that same feel. That ‘07 Rockies team swept through the NLDS and NLCS before getting swept themselves by Boston in the Series. The ‘11 Cardinals have had to play nearly every postseason game and have taken the losses with the wins to be where they are today. I believe they have four more wins in them.
I do not, however, believe they have 3 more losses. Perhaps it is the fact it has been so long since we have seen a Game 7, but I just cannot picture this series going more than six. As much as I want to be there in Busch Stadium for a Game 7 for the ages, I think it’s next year for me. I am going with the same call as the NLCS: Cards in 6 (take that, Nolan Ryan!). I hope I’m right on the first part, but wrong on the second.
As for Game 1, I see Chris Carpenter’s every-other-start-a-classic producing an outing more in line with Game 162 and Game 5 of the NLDS (and C.J. Wilson’s every-postseason-start-a-dud trend holding up, as well). Game 1 to the Redbirds.
Full disclosure: I might be in the Moneyball movie. Last July I answered the call, did my duty as a baseball fan and as an American and spent a long night as an extra at the Oakland Coliseum during the filming of Moneyball. So I’ve been excited for this film for a long time. Not so excited, mind you, that I considered the possibility of it premiering in Oakland until less than a month ago, but excited nonetheless.
Then over the past month, the buzz began to build. Previews, posters, mentions in articles and on podcasts; Moneyball was all around. Then, between the Toronto International Film Festival and various press screenings and sneak previews, it seemed that everyone who writes about baseball had already seen the film and dissected it a good week before the official premiere at the Paramount Theatre.
Keith Law alone wrote a full review of the film and then discussed his review and a response it elicited from Michael Lewis on no fewer than three Baseball Today podcasts. It felt as if the world had digested Moneyball and moved along, stealing some of Oakland’s thunder in the process.
I should have known better. It took all of two seconds to get caught up in the excitement of the premiere (albeit from the median of Broadway Avenue - the mob was not welcome on the Paramount side of the street). With a steady stream of traffic passing both in front of and behind me, I hunkered down with my fellow gawkers and set myself to the task of documenting Oakland’s next great public moment. This is what I saw.
The diehards were well represented. A group of fans decked out in their StAy t-shirts staked out a parking spot (beginning at 1 PM they said) directly across the street from the main entrance of the Paramount. They hung a banner reading “Don’t take our A’s away” to remind the who’s who across the street that we can celebrate the team’s past but we need to secure its future where it belongs - in Oakland. You can imagine the reception Lew Wolff received from this very vocal contingent.
The stars were out in force from cast members to team ownership and management to current and former players to local and national media. Brad Pitt, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Chris Pratt, Stephen Bishop, Billy Beane, Ron Washington, Scott Hatteberg, David Justice, Andrew Bailey, Trevor Cahill, Coco Crisp, David DeJesus, Hideki Matsui, Cliff Pennington, Michael Lewis, Mychael Urban, Ray Ratto and many more were spotted and hailed by the throng in the median and on the other side of Broadway from the theater. But the true star of the show for me was a man who went practically unnoticed amidst all the activity, Joe Posnanski.
I have been an avid reader of Posnanski’s for several years now and consider him to be one of the most insightful and gifted sportswriters working. When I heard that he would be on site for the Moneyball premiere, I immediately reprioritized who to be on the look out for. Within a few minutes I spotted him (it was infinitely easier than I had anticipated). Standing by himself and observing the bustle around him, he seemed like he would have had a second to greet a fan if not for the tight security in front of the theater and the adjoining mock stadium set up for the red carpet. Given this barrier, a simple casual intrusion would not do. I had to resort to slightly more creative means of saying hello to Posnanski.
The aforementioned diehards had brought along their flags, some beers and the familiar “Let’s go Oakland, clap-clap clap-clap-clap” chant. For the purposes of articulating their support or disdain for various personalities on hand, the chant was modified. Iterations included “Ron-nie Wa-ash” for Washington, “Lew Wolff su-ucks” for Wolff and “leather sho-orts” for a young woman in leather shorts. I knew what I had to do.
I went to the lead diehard and enlisted his help. I said, “you see that guy over there in the jacket? His name is Joe Posnanski and he is an outstanding sportswriter. Can you guys help me out with a Joe Posnanski chant?” After confirming the correct pronunciation of Posnanski’s name, we launched into it. “Joe Pos-nan-ski, clap-clap clap-clap-clap, Joe Pos-nan-ski, clap-clap clap-clap-clap.” Posnanski looked our way, went a little red, then smiled and waved as we chanted on. I turned to the lead diehard and said “I bet nobody ever recognizes that guy. We just made his day.” That may have been an exaggeration, but the diehards were in no position to argue; they had moved on to a new target for their chants…or maybe back to the girl in the leather shorts.
Exaggeration or not, I got what I came for (and my day was made in the process) and the rest was just icing. It certainly didn’t hurt that I later got to observe from afar as Posnanski seemingly talked shop with Michael Lewis for awhile before heading in.
Once people began filing in, the focus of the crowd turned to spotting Brad Pitt. Pitt’s whereabouts consumed the majority of conversation and drew a group of people that would fail to rise even to the modest standard of casual baseball fans. But those who read Moneyball and those who read Entertainment Weekly alike were rewarded with a brief glimpse of Brad before he went into the theater through a side entrance.
When Pitt disappeared as quickly as he had arrived and it became clear he would not be seen again, the onlookers began to disperse. After soaking in the atmosphere for a few minutes longer, I too took my leave, but not before granting Jack London George’s (new to me, too) request for a photo.
Thanks Moneyball, indeed.
- Pretty sure this kid wins the prize for best hair at the premiere:
- We wish you were still in Oakland, too, Ronnie Wash:
- This was a big day for The Baseball Diaspora. Our first on location coverage of a major media event, our first live tweets, our first Joe Posnanski sighting. My thanks goes out to my colleagues Dan, for sharing the experience via phone from across the country and Louw, for joining me at the scene and making the live tweeting a reality.
- Louw and I also learned just how underdeveloped our paparazzi skills truly are. “Paparazzi-in-training” a fellow Oakland resident dubbed us after my camera froze while trying to snap a picture of the elusive Pitt. By way of example of our general incompetence, this is the best I could do as far as capturing Philip Seymour Hoffman and his double t-shirt look:
- Even after the press and personalities had cleared out, the rabble couldn’t be trusted to come across the street to see the interview area up close, so I settled for this shot: