Another great Dodger laid to rest. Although he won 324 games, as many as Nolan Ryan, he was rarely the first starter for any club (he made the All-Star team only four times in 23 seasons in MLB). He did have a great run in the early 70s, but for most of his career I guess you can argue that he was the greatest “second starter” of all time. Even in the twilight of his career, he was still a dependable guy in the rotation:
Age 39: 14-12
Age 40: 15-10
Age 41: 13-8
Age 42: 15-11
For a Hall of Fame pitcher, he had an odd run of bad luck in World Series action. He made it into the Series four times, three with LA and one with the Brewers, but those teams lost all four.
The Brewers held a 3-2 series lead in 1982 (the “Harvey’s Wallbangers” year) when Sutton got the nod to start game six of the World Series against the Cardinals. He was hammered hard in a 13-1 shellacking which allowed the Cards to tie the series and knock all the wind out of the Brewers’ sails.
The 1978 Series was even more embarrassing. After Burt Hooton and Tommy John staked the Dodgers to a 2-0 lead, Sutton dropped game three, then came back to lose the final game as well, allowing the hated Yankees to win the whole magilla.
Mac Jones’s passing line pretty much sums it up: 36 for 45, 464 yards, 5 TDs. DeVonta Smith caught three touchdowns in the first half – among 12 receptions for 215 yards. According to ESPN Stats & Information research, Smith had more TDs and total yards than Ohio State’s entire offense. Smith and Jones finished #1 and #3 in the Heisman voting.
It could have been worse. Alabama had scored 52 with 13 minutes left, but chose to eat up the clock. Final score 52-24.
‘Bama averaged more than 48 points per game, about the same as last year’s LSU powerhouse.
“Tommy Lasorda, the fiery Hall of Fame manager who guided the Los Angeles Dodgers to two World Series titles and later became an ambassador for the sport he loved during his 71 years with the franchise, has died. He was 93.”
My favorite of Lasorda’s many great baseball stories (and one of the few that can be repeated in delicate company):
In a team prep meeting, Lasorda asked the great Dominican slugger Pedro Guerrero a question about strategy: “So it’s the bottom of the ninth, two outs, bases loaded, we’re trying to protect a one run lead. Pedro, you’re playing third. What are you thinking?”
“Skip,” responded Guerrero, who did not like playing third, “I pray they don’t hit the ball to me.”
“That’s all? With the game on the line, and that’s the only thing on your mind?”
“No, Skip, not the only thing. I also pray they don’t hit the ball to Steve Sax.”
Did you know … Lasorda, as a pitcher, started a game for the great 1955 Dodgers, the year the team won their only World Series in Brooklyn? Look at the starting line-up that day (May 5):
1 Jim Gilliam 2B
2 Pee Wee Reese SS
3 Duke Snider CF
4 Roy Campanella C
5 Sandy Amoros LF
6 Gil Hodges 1B
7 Jackie Robinson 3B
8 Carl Furillo RF
9 Tom Lasorda P
Reese, Snider, Campy and Robinson are in the Hall of Fame. Hodges could be, and was an 8-time all-star. Furillo was a great player, a former batting champion, and a brilliant outfielder with a rifle arm. He played 15 years in the majors, all with the Dodgers. Gilliam played in the majors for 14 years and reached base nearly 3000 times, all for the Dodgers.
Furillo batted .314 that year, with 26 homers and 95 RBI. Campy’s line was even better: .318-32-107, en route to his third MVP award. The Duke of Flatbush topped them both with .309-42-136. And Hodges chipped in with an additional 100+ RBI. That line-up was a pitcher’s nightmare. How great is a team that can boast as its 6-7-8 hitters Gil Hodges, Jackie Robinson and Carl Furillo? And what a thrill it would be to say you started a game for that club!
Lasorda threw a no-hitter that day, although it would have been more impressive if he had made it past the first inning. He gave up two walks and tossed three wild pitches.
Here’s a taste:
The first two batters for the Cardinals were Wally Moon and Bill Virdon
Lasorda walked Wally Moon, then wild-pitched him to second.
Lasorda walked Bill Virdon.
Lasorda wild-pitched Moon to third, Virdon to second
Lasorda wild-pitched Moon home, Virdon to third.
Lasorda was sold to Kansas City
The A’s were able to get Lasorda for about thirteen dollars cash and a full ream of mimeograph paper.
Lasorda’s career with KC went about as well as that game, although the A’s got the best part of Lasorda’s career, as his ERA for them was 6.15. It had been 7.62 for the Dodgers. His lifetime record finished at 0-4, with a 6.48 ERA.
A lot of failed major leaguers with long post-playing careers have had the good sense to employ self-deprecation, portraying themselves as worse players than they actually were. Joe Garagiola and Bob Uecker come to mind immediately. Tommy is not in that group, but not because he didn’t try. It’s just that no story could make him seem worse than he really was. He may not have been the worst pitcher in major league history, but he’s certainly in the conversation.
(Although many of us would be willing to lose a limb to be able to say we had once struck out Stan Musial with a runner in scoring position, as Tommy did.)
I’ve tinkered with the timeline above to make a joke. Lasorda really was sold to KC, but it happened in the following spring. What really happened in ’55 is that Lasorda made a few more weak appearances for the Dodgers before they demoted him to Montreal. That demotion was perhaps his greatest contribution to the Dodgers in his storied 70 years with that franchise. Lasorda sucked so hard that they were willing to demote him to Montreal on June 8th in order to give his roster spot to an untested, wild-throwing Brooklyn boy. Because Lasorda was so hopeless, the Dodgers were willing to gamble on a 19-year-old hometown kid who had never pitched a single inning of professional baseball at any level.
The two major undefeated teams will meet. That actually makes sense, for a change.
Unfortunately, the two New Year’s Day playoff games were not close enough to stay tuned. THE Ohio State University scored 35 in the first half against Clemson, although according to ESPN’s analytics, Clemson came into the Ohio State game as a very slight favorite, 50.3-49.7. Clemson’s defense wasn’t up to the task as Ohio State gained 640 yards from scrimmage. Justin Fields threw six TDs with only 28 passes, and State dominated the rushing yardage 254-44.
The same ESPN analytics gave Alabama an 81% chance of winning the other game. While it is true that Notre Dame fell behind 14-0 against the Tide and could never recover, the team stats indicate that the game was closer than indicated by the score.
The highlight of the game was this incredible demonstration of how a super-athlete can avoid a tackle. (Talk about pure athletic ability!)
His lifetime record (318-274 in 5404 innings with a 3.35 ERA) is essentially the same as Nolan Ryan’s (324-292 in 5386 innings with a 3.19 ERA). Baseball-reference calculates that his lifetime WAR was 97, compared to 84 for Ryan, whose career spanned essentially the same era. That means he is truly one of the game’s immortals.
He was modern baseball’s iron man. He pitched more innings than any other pitcher in the lively ball era (1920-2020), and was the last pitcher to start 40 games in a season (1979). In fact, he also started at least forty in each of the two seasons before that. He led the league in complete games in each of those three years.
He also led the league in losses four consecutive times, including those three years mentioned above. All those losses, 274 of them in the course of his career, second highest in the lively ball era, were no coincidence. Knuckleball pitchers, unlike power pitchers, can’t win without their best stuff. When Nolan Ryan had an off day and the curve ball wouldn’t curve, he could still bring it 95 MPH and upset your timing with the occasional change-up. That’s not the way it works for a guy like Niekro. A knuckleball dancing at you at 70 MPH seems impossible to hit, but when it won’t dance, 70 MPH is just batting practice.
Case in point:
I saw Niekro pitch in late July of 1986 in Texas, and the Rangers hit every ball hard against him. The only outs he got were accidents – balls that were timed perfectly, but went right at somebody. Nobody struck out. Nobody popped up. Niekro was pulled before completing the fourth inning, by which time he had allowed eight hits, a bunch of walks, a wild pitch, at least one stolen base, and I can’t remember what else. He was lucky to get out of the game uninjured, because a lot of shots off the Rangers’ bats came whizzing back at his head or feet.
So yes, I saw a Hall of Fame pitcher in action, but one who couldn’t have defeated a Little League team that day.
NFC Least watch: The Washington No-Names are in first place at 6-8, but they may spoil our fun of watching a losing team stumble through the post-season because they have two easy games remaining (the 4-10 Panthers and the 4-9-1 Eagles).
I think it is a good call, given that the top players were as good as the top players in the American and National leagues. I didn’t know that their records were documented well enough to assemble thoroughly, but I guess that the guys at Seamheads have been busy on that task.
Who cares? Of the top 12 teams, five didn’t play because of COVID, Miami got utterly crushed (62-26), Florida lost, and three others had bye weeks. That leaves only two of them that played and won: Alabama and Georgia. Another lost week in a lost year.
In my opinion, the bespectacled slugger is among the five best hitters in baseball history to remain outside the Hall of Fame, along with Shoeless Joe, Pete Rose, Barry Bonds and Ross Barnes.
Because he played in the second deadball era and his career was relatively short, the less scholarly baseball fans don’t know just how good Allen was. I will direct you to the baseball-reference section on lifetime OPS+, which adjusts the hitting performance of players based on their era and their specific ballparks. You will notice that Dick is rated just higher than four guys you may have heard of: Hank Aaron, The Big Hurt, Willie Mays and Joe DiMaggio.
In the exact same category as Aaron, Mays and DiMag? That’s not in the “pretty good” category. It’s in the “very best of tier one” category. He was the best hitter in baseball for a span of ten years, 1964-1973, and he was the AL MVP in 1972. That sumbitch could flat-out rake.
And he did so with Mantle-like power. On July 6, 1974, he smashed one into the roof facade in left center field at Tiger Stadium. The spot where it landed was 415 feet from home plate and 85 feet in the air.
So why isn’t he in the Hall? Well, he was not a friendly man. He didn’t get along with the press. He got into fights with teammates. He had a serious drinking problem. He was once found at the racetrack when his team was supposed to be playing. He missed team flights and buses. He sometimes wouldn’t take batting practice or play in exhibition games. He had a reputation as a quitter.
Whose fault was all of that? He gets some blame. External forces get some as well. He was pushed hard by fans (especially in Philly), by sportswriters and by racist assholes in general – and he was not one to suffer that gladly. This article at the Bill James site covers Allen’s bad behavior in a reasonably objective manner, summing it all up with, “We tend to think that Dick Allen’s failings are the failing of the larger society, while his successes are the triumphs of a courageous but flawed individual.”
And his defense was as bad as his offense was good, which is kind of surprising for a guy who originally played shortstop in the minors. But he just never got the hang of defense. My grandmother used to say of my grandpa that he spoke six languages, all poorly. Dick Allen was like that. He played six positions poorly. Maybe seven. There’s no official record of him in right field, but I bet he got out there a few times and bungled just as badly as he did everywhere else. (Outfield innings by exact position were not always recorded diligently.)
So should he be in the Hall? As my man Dalton used to say, “Opinions vary.” But the current of history is flowing in his direction. I think he will make it some day, perhaps very soon. His hitting feats will endure in the record books, even as the bad memories fade.
It seemed that their winless streak was finally over. With just seconds to play, the Jets were up 28-24 against a Raiders team with post-season aspirations. The Raiders were at midfield with no time-outs left. What could go wrong?
What can you say? They are the Jets. With time for only one play, the Jets made the unusual decision to blitz. Derek Carr threw up a rainbow as hard and as far as he could throw, then said a prayer. His Hail Mary was answered about 50 yards downfield when lightning-fast Henry Ruggs ran down the pass perfectly and pulled it in securely for the winning score.
The Jets fired their defensive coordinator after the game, presumably for his bizarre blitz call.
In other Pro news:
(1) If you didn’t think the Browns were for real, consider this: they scored 38 in the first half against a good Titans team, and are now 9-3.
(2) The lowly Giants stunned the Seahawks to take over first place in their division. (OK, they are merely 5-7, but first place is first place. It gets you into the post-season no matter how bad your record is. At that point it’s a fresh start.)
(3) Your fantasy team was lookin’ good if you had Darren Waller on the squad. He received the ball about as well as a 260-pound tight end possibly can. He piled up 200 receiving yards and two TDs. It’s only the 6th time in history that a tight end has managed a 200-yard game.
Who cares? Same old crap. The Fab Four all ran up the scores against sub-.500 opponents. About the only interesting development will occur in two weeks when Notre Dame and Clemson get a re-match for the ACC title. If Clemson wins, both teams should stay in the playoffs. If Notre Dame wins, it would be a second loss for Clemson. That might be enough to drop them out of the top four, or it might not. #5 A&M is hoping for a miracle.
Meanwhile, Sagarin’s computer rankings indicate that both Georgia and Florida are better than either Notre Dame or A&M. True or not, that fact will not even get them a free latte at Starbucks.
Just one observation in an uneventful week. This is actually a pretty cool story.
Last week I made a note that Buffalo’s running back, Jaret Patterson, ran for 300 yards and four TDs.
Turns out that was an off day.
This week he ran for more than 400 yards and scored EIGHT TDs. That ties the record for most TDs in a Division 1 game and came fairly close to the yardage record (427) as well. His total of 409 yards was the second highest in history.
(And Buffalo’s other running back ran for 97 yards and 2 TDs, which is a pretty decent game in its own right. That was the third straight game in which he’s been right around 100 yards.)
But back to Jaret Patterson for a minute. It happens that Jaret has a twin brother named James who is also on the team. James is a linebacker who is Buffalo’s best defensive player. In fact it was James who was heavily recruited, while Jaret was just part of a package deal because the brothers wanted to stay together.
How important is the rushing game in college football? This week’s recap gives you a good indication. In the games involving the top ten rushing performances, the rusher’s team won all ten. In contrast, the top ten passers won only four out of the ten games.
The Eagles are now leading the NFC East with a 3-6-1 record. The latest standings show that the other three teams are 3-7,so they are all in the hunt! One of those sorry-ass teams will be in the playoffs.
The Steelers moved to 10-0 with the Chiefs right on their tail at 9-1. The Jets moved to 0-10.
Props to the NFL for keeping everything as normal as possible and as safe as needed (we hope).
On the other hand, College football is a real mess, as you undoubtedly know. This week, postponements affected three of the top five teams while #4 Clemson had a scheduled bye, so there was just not much happening. The Badgers did manage to play their second (!!) game of the year. It’s going to get worse as the COVID numbers multiply.
I will note in passing that North Carolina’s QB passed for 550 yards and 6 TDs. That game looked like it should have been in old days of the Big Twelve, when defense was anathema. The final score was 59-53 in regulation, after Wake Forest blew a 21-point lead.
Tiger Woods was like one of us for one hole – he took a ten on a par three, the infamous number 12, “the scariest part 3 in golf,” the very hole that won Arnold Palmer his first major in 1958 when his double-bogey in the final round was altered to a par based on a ruling from senior tournament officials that overrode the onsite official who had refused Palmer relief on an embedded ball. (Palmer played a provisional, pending a final ruling.)
Tiger’s ten isn’t even close to the worst score ever recorded on that hole in the Masters. In 1980, hot-tempered Tom Weiskopf took a 13 when he dumped five balls into Rae’s Creek. Weiskopf’s bad luck wasn’t finished there. He gamely proceeded to the next hole, where he hit yet another ball into another part of the same creek on his way to an 85 for the day.
In 2018 the Indians also had two-time Cy Young winner Corey Kluber in the same rotation when the team won the AL Central by 13 games. The Indians, with the wisdom that is theirs alone, got rid of both Bauer and Kluber the next year.
Adding Notre Dame to the ACC really gave the conference a boost in prestige, and ended Clemson’s usual free pass through the season.
It’s not much of a surprise that Alabama is now #1. This is the 13th consecutive year in which they have been #1 at one time or another.
It really seems that the top four are fixed in stone: ‘Bama, Notre Dame, THE Ohio State University, and Clemson. There seems to be a big gap between those four and #5 A&M, which got its ass handed to it by the Tide in a four-TD loss.
Meanwhile, our Wisconsin Badgers remain undefeated with an impressive 1-0 record. If they can keep the team sick, they may be able to finish without a blemish on their record. Their only win was a curb-stomping of a weak Illinois team.
Remember last week when Dalvin Cook beat the Packers all by himself, scoring all four of his team’s TDs? Well he did even better this week. He “only” had two TDs, but he rushed for 206 yards on only 22 carries. That was more rushing yards for the week than the next two RBs added together! (And he had some receptions as well.) At 5’10” and 210 pounds he doesn’t look fast, but he can really motor. When he crossed the goal line on his 70-yard TD, he was still putting space between himself and his pursuers.
Josh Allen and the Bills showed they are for real by scoring 44 against the tough Seahawks. Well, the offensive line wasn’t so hot as Allen seemed to get sacked about 100 times, but he prevailed, thanks to 415 yards on 31-for-38 accuracy with no picks.
The Eagles are leading their pathetic division with a losing record.
The Steelers and Chiefs kicked ass again.
The Jets had their best Sunday of the year. (They play Monday. There’s an exciting Monday Night match-up: the 2-5 Patriots and the winless Jets. I’d rather binge-watch The Great British Bake Off.)
That was good, right? Almost anything can be viewed as a success if expectations are modest.
Not only did the Jets score no TDs, but they didn’t even get it close for their kicker, who had to nail one from 55 yards. That marks the fourth consecutive game in which they have scored 10 or fewer. The Jets-Chiefs game wasn’t a fair match-up, but it was a chance for Mahomes to pad his stats. He passed for 416 yards and 5 TDs, with no sacks or picks – and he didn’t even play the whole game.
The Steelers stayed undefeated with a second-half comeback against the tough Ravens.
After missing the previous two games, Dalvin Cook single-handedly defeated the Pack. He rushed for 163 yards and the team’s three rushing TDs, and also caught the team’s only touchdown pass! Hope you had him on your fantasy team because that day he WAS a fantasy team (and a reality team as well, as the Packers see it).
It doesn’t even seem fair that the Dodgers were able to add Betts to a team that was already stacked. Over the course of the year, they led the league in runs scored while also allowing the fewest opposing runs. The Rays have a long row to hoe.