One of the most famous headlines of all time is the one a Chicago newspaper ran following the 1948 Presidential election, when the paper trumpeted the election of Republican candidate Thomas Dewey over incumbent Harry S. Truman. Since you never read of "President Dewey" in history books these days, you no doubt realize that the headline was a major mistake. Given the closeness of the 2000 election, similar headlines may have appeared - or come close to appearing - at that time, too, as in "Gore Defeats Bush!"
At any rate, I thought about writing a column about the Yankees winning their 27th World Series Championship this week, but a funny thing happened ...
As I write this on Tuesday, the New Yorkers are still in the lead in the Series, 3 games to 2, having failed to finish off the Phillies in Game Five Monday night. The best thing about that, from my perspective anyway, is that if -- oops, I mean when - the Yanks put that 27th trophy in their case, they will do it with a win at Yankee Stadium (aka "The new Yankee Stadium").
So, if I had trumpeted the Yankees' win in this Thursday column, it would have either: 1) shown my supreme confidence in "my" team; 2) been yet another example of my superlative prognostication skills (which my weekly 'Beat the Press' participation disproves from time to time); or 3) been my own personal "Dewey Defeats Truman" cross to bear.
All in all, I decided not to risk such possible public embarrassment. I mean, it would have been the FIRST time that happened in my 59 years!
So, instead, I'll just make a few personal observations about this year's post-season baseball:
#1 - Baseball has been called the "Summer Game," and it should be exactly that. But with the expansion of baseball, the extension of the schedule from 154 to 162 games, the addition of division and League Championship series and the move to strictly night games in the ost-season, we have been introduced in recent years to November baseball. Watching playoff games and World Series games played in windy, rainy, 38 degree weather just doesn't cut it. I mean, players wearing caps with ear muffs and constantly blowing on their hands to warm up? No way. I would love to see Major League Baseball somehow cut the schedule back to 154 games and also cut the number of teams back to 8 in each league, with no divisions, no playoffs. Just the AL champ meeting the NL champ for the World Series championship. In other words, the way is was from 1903 -1968.
I know it will never happen, because reducing the number of teams would mean several major league players would lose their major league jobs and salaries. Baseball players have one of the strongest unions in the world. They just awarded their executive director an $11 million severance package when he retired because of all the benefits he and his predecessor (Marvin Miller) secured for them, for crying out loud. So, even though reducing the number of teams from the current 30 to 16 would bring about an overall improvement in the quality of players and play, it would also reduce the number of players from 750 to 400, meaning 350 guys would either be in the minor leagues (although that would also probably lead to improved play there, as well as increased attendance) or perhaps decide to pursue another professional sport. Also, there's no way the television networks would agree to telecast most games during daylight hours, because we all know the television networks run big-time sports and determine schedules.
So, bottom line, it ain't gonna happen. But I can dream...
# 2 - Alex Rodriquez is one of the best all-around baseball players of recent years. But there is an apparent need of some fans and media to have him continually prove himself - and the minute he falters a little, all of those folks declare him to be a failure, choker, and - many times, unfortunately - worse. No one - I repeat no one - comes through in the clutch every single time, no matter how much money they are being paid.
# 3 - Chase Utley of the Phillies has often been praised by those broadcasting the games as a real "throwback" player - always hustling, not afraid of getting his uniform dirty, etc. But I have been really impressed by the similar style of play displayed by one of the Yankees, Johnny Damon. I think the veteran outfielder kind of gets overlooked sometimes with all of his more celebrated teammates around. Damon, though, has been around for a lot of years, contributing his skills to several American League teams, and I have been very impressed watching his gutsy, hustling, smart play in this World Series - in particular his patient at-bats and his heads-up base running in Game four, when he stole second, realized there was no one covering third, and then proceeded to steal that bag as well. Yes, both teams in this series have a lot of big bats who can send the ball out of the park in a hurry, but I, for one, really enjoy watching players like Damon. They are what make baseball what it is - an exciting, strategic match-up of gifted athletes and wizened old (er) managers.
#4) -Speaking of managers, let me just say that there is indeed more to managing a big league team than just "pushing all the right buttons" (although that, too, is not a task to be dismissed lightly). Most Major League managers are not men who were superstar players, and that never has been the case. No, MLB mangers are usually guys who played in the majors in a utility role, and had to use all their smarts and skills just to stay around as a player. The Yankees' manager, Joe Girardi, was a big league catcher for the Cubs and Yankees, but was usually a back-up and never an All-Star. Phillies skipper Charlie Manuel played for the Twins, and was the ultimate "journeyman" ball player. He played for the Twins in 1969 - 1971, and I'm sure he spent a lot of his time while riding the bench observing one of the all-time great managers (though admittedly, not a wonderful human being), Billy Martin. Manuel got into 83 games in 1969 - his career high, as it turns out - but batted only 164 times, also a career high. His career position is listed as "Pinch Hitter." But this pinch hitter had a career batting average of just .198 in his six - year major league career with the Twins and Dodgers, and he came to bat just 384 times over those six years. But I'll bet he watched a lot of baseball and studied every aspect of the game, preparing for his future occupation.
However the Series turns out this year, it will be historic. Either the Yankees will win their 27th World Series, and the first in their new park, or the Phillies will become the first team in several years to win the World Series in back-to-back years, which will probably start rumblings in the media of the "D word" - dynasty. If that happens, let me tell you, as a life-long Yankee and Celtics fan, two years does not a dynasty make.