In Sports, What Goes Around Comes Around

October 25, 2009
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image0032by Brad Eastland, “the Sports Philosopher” 

      My fellow philosopher and novelist George Santayana once said, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”   Or something like that.   Cool, huh?   Heck, I know I’d sure like to utter some clever one-liner that people a hundred years from now will regularly blurt out at parties to sound smart or prove a point.    Ol’ Fellow Philosopher George was no doubt referring to things like world history, politics, war, international diplomacy, sex….you know.   Important stuff.

      But his witty quip applies to Sports just as well.

      Sports like baseball.   We saw a perfect, pristine example of it last Thursday, right down the road in Orange County, in Game Five of the ALCS between the New York Yankees and our own Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim.   (Okay.   Wait a minute.   We need a brief ‘time out’ here, to allow us to all say the name again, out loud….The “Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim”….god, what a stupid name for a ballclub….what’s next, the “Los Angeles Dodgers of Echo Park”?   The “Los Angeles Lakers of Inglewood”?   The “New York Jets of Giants Stadium Which Incredibly Is Named For A Rival NFL Team Sharing The Venue Within The Meadowlands Sports Complex In East Rutherford New Jersey Which In Case You Didn’t Notice Is A Complete Whole ‘Nother State”???   Sorry….I just had to relieve myself there.   So to speak.)

      Anyway, back to our little philosophical exercise.   It’s last Thursday.   It’s the top of the 7th inning, Yankees up three games to one, Yankees at bat, two outs, bases loaded, Angels up four -nothing.   The season is on the line.   The home crowd is wracked with fear.   But fear not, for I bring you good tidings of great joy; Angel ace John Lackey is on the mound.   And he’s doing great.   He’s pitching a beauty.   Yankee bats are as quiet as mice.   And after getting completely screwed by the ump on a 3-2 pitch-call earlier in the inning, which should have been the 2nd out (comfortably a strike, but called ball four), he has calmed down and just induced Johnny Damon to pop up for the 2nd out, which, of course, should have been out #3.   But like I was saying, there’s no problem.   Lackey is the man.   Lackey is the Angels’ horse.   He has only thrown 104 pitches, his fastball is still crackling in the low 90s, and his curve is still biting like a pissed-off snake.   One more batter to retire—the dangerous but badly slumping Mark Teixeira—and Lackey will be returning to the Angels’ dugout a conquering hero, his 4-0 lead very much intact.   This could have been a devil of a tight spot, Angel fans.   Thank God the Angeles have the best pitcher on their team out there….


Things Were Going Fine For John Lackey And The Angels, Until…


      At which point the crowd groans, and Lackey turns in response to see his manager, Mike Scioscia, striding moronically to the mound.   With the hook.

      I tell you, I was stunned.   So was Lackey.   He stared at his boss in disbelief.   You could read his lips:  “C’mon, ‘Sosh, this is mine!   This is mine!   Yer s_ _ _ _ in’ me, this is mine!   Don’t!”   But this was Scioscia’s second visit to the mound that inning, which by rule requires that the pitcher must be removed, so he could not have changed his mind even if he wanted to.   Which he didn’t.

      Lackey strode off the field to a thunderous ovation.   Spitting nails.

      You probably saw what happened.   A giddy Teixeira hammered reliever Darren Oliver’s very first pitch into the gap for a double, three runs scored, then a walk, a sharp single, a booming triple, and before the crowd had even had enough time to unload its full complement of less-than-Heavenly expletives the Yankees had scored SIX RUNS in the inning to seize a 6-4 lead.   The ballpark was quiet as mice.   You know.   Just like the Yankee bats before Lackey left the stage.

      I watch a lot of sports, and am a certified expert at rapid-fire flipping of channels via the remote, and I can tell you that almost every announcer and pundit on every network—both after and before the inning in question—thought Scioscia had erred in removing Lackey.   There’s an old adage in baseball: if you pull your starter with a good-size lead, your reliever has to make you better.   It has to be an upgrade.   But there is no upgrade on the Angels over Lackey.   He’s their best pitcher.   Period.   He’s the man.   He’s their horse.    AND HE WAS THROWING A FRICKIN’ SHUT-OUT!!!   Fox Sports announcer Tim McCarver, a very good catcher in his day and despite his whiny irritating voice a shrewd, brilliant analyst, declared long before Scioscia pulled Lackey that Lackey “is the best he’s got,” adding that as long as the Angels were still ahead he fully expected Scioscia to stick with his horse.   But Scioscia obviously didn’t have a TV tuned to channel eleven in his dugout, in order to absorb Tim’s sound—albeit whiny—wisdom.  (Perhaps he was watching the Home Shopping Network, with the off-season so very fast approaching….)

      He’s obviously never read Santayana either.

      Because of all people residing on Planet Earth, Mike Scioscia should have known better.   For only seven short, agonizing years ago (agonizing for me, that is) he had watched an eerily similar scenario play out before him in this very stadium.   And on that occasion he was not the culprit, but rather the beneficiary.

      It was the 2002 World Series, Game Six, my beloved San Francisco Giants up three games to two and leading Scioscia’s Angels 5-0 in the 7th inning.   Yes, once again, the 7th inning.   Three innings away from the World Championship.   The Giants have one of their best starting pitchers, Russ Ortiz, on the mound.   Like Lackey, he is pitching a beauty.   Like Lackey, HE IS THROWING A SHUT-OUT!!!    Like Lackey, his pitch-count is down and he’s looking strong and confident.   Ortiz had given up only four hits all night.   There’s one out and, admittedly, there are two men on base, but when a top-class starting pitcher is on the mound, pitching a gem, you leave him in.   I said, You leave him in!   But Giants’ manager Dusty Baker went to the mound anyway, pulled Ortiz, called for the fastball-only Felix Rodriguez to face the fastball-loving Scott Spiezio, and the result was roughly the same as last Thursday with curveball-hanging Oliver and hanging-curve-loving Teixeira—Spiezio hammers a gonad-busting three-run home run, the Angels go on to take a 6-5 lead, win by the same score, and go on to win Game Seven the next day.   Easily the closest I have ever come or will ever come to fainting, to killing myself, or to committing any manner of drunken violent felony mayhem over a sporting event.   Ugh….

      Scioscia was given the greatest gift of his baseball career that dark, awful day in 2002.   It had to be the pyramid-tip of his entire professional life.   So why, then?   Why do you suppose he didn’t remember it, when he began to even consider the idea, the utter sacrilege, of pulling Lackey while he was in control with a big lead and pitching a frickin’ shut-out???   It’s why sports fans like us don’t trust managers and coaches.   And never will.  

      Might as well ask why Dodgers manager Charlie Dressen let Ralph Branca pitch to Bobby Thomson in the 9th inning of Game Three of that epic Dodger/Giant playoff game way back in 1951.   Thomson owned Branca.   He’d already homered off him earlier in the playoff, for godsake, just 48 hours earlier.   And first base was open.   They could have walked him.   Pitched to that 20-year-old, scared-stiff rookie center fielder the Giants had just brought up from the minors in mid-season.   Willie something….

      Two possibilities.   Either Dressen had secretly placed a bet on his hated arch-rival Giants and actually wanted to see Thomson hit that epic, playoff-clinching homer….or, like Mike Scioscia, he had obviously never read a word of Santayana.


      IRONIC POSTSCRIPT:  Oddly enough, I think the baseball gods themselves weren’t even watching last Thursday.   Because, somehow, the Angels were allowed to come back from that 6-4 deficit and actually win that game 7 to 6….before finally going on, of course, to lose Game Six (and with it the pennant) on Sunday.   Weird.   In sports, when you do something really dumb, you’re supposed to lose the game.   So then why did the Angels win the game last Thursday, whereas the Giants lost Game Six in ’02?   I guess it’s the difference between the knee-jerk worshipping of Angels and choosing, of your own free will, to be a San Francisco Giants fan.   My God have mercy on my soul….

The Sports Philosopher

Brad Eastland is an author, historian, film buff, Civil War buff, and sports nut, in no particular order.   Brad’s other recent columns for LaVerneOnline can be found in Sports under ‘The Sports Philosopher’ and also in Viewpoint under ‘Brad Eastland’s View’.    Brad has also written four novels and over 20 short-stories.    Samples of Brad’s fiction work can be discovered within the links below :



One Response to “In Sports, What Goes Around Comes Around”

  1. once again, a compelling sports journalistic triumph, albiet a little too much frothing at the mouth. Your point was well taken, however.
    I can only think that baseball managers are just not as bright as you (or at least certainly don’t have the steel-trap memory that you do.)
    At any rate , good job. Even held my interest…and you know what a “rabid baseball fan” I am.
    Please promise me you will right about football after the world series…

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