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An A’s versus Pirates World Series is every baseball fan’s wet dream. It’s David vs. David.

Hey, baseball fans, you’ll get this one: It would be like a World Series of the 1987 Twins and 1969 Mets.

Football fans: It would be like the 1968 Jets against the 2001 Patriots.

Basketball fans: It would be like the 1995 Rockets against the 2004 Pistons.

Hockey and soccer fans: It would be like … I have no idea.

How cool would an A’s / Pirates World Series be? I really have little else to say except this, but it’s mid-September and it’s still very possible. The A’s are pulling away with the AL West lead and the Pirates can still catch the Cardinals in the NL Central and if not, they’ll take the wild card pending a historic collapse.

Yes, this matchup is highly unlikely in the land of unnecessary-playoffs-that-don’t-really-determine-the-best-team-of-the-year, but that’s the wonderful thing about bullshit playoffs – sometimes they allow a more fun team to win it all (see: 1987, 1988, 1990, 2003, 2004, 2010 and 2011).

Pirates
They haven’t had a winning season since Barry Bonds was skinny and Americans where thinking they were done with those Iraqis after Desert Storm. Pittsburgh is home to the greatest ballpark on the planet and baseball icons (and actual good men) Honus Wagner, Roberto Clemente and Willie Stargell.

PNC Park deserves a Fall Classic.

PNC Park deserves a Fall Classic.

A’s (a.k.a. the Athletics)
Everyone has read Moneyball and if you haven’t, shame on you. Oakland is not exactly following the same formula (as everyone copied it after they caught on), but it’s still finding talent in strange places and winning games with a (for the most part) unknown lineup. They play in the worst 100% outdoor ballpark and have no sign of changing venues.

These teams barely avoided each other in the seventies with the Pirates participating in and winning the ’71 and ’79 series while the A’s did the same with ’72, ’73 and ’74.

Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig would not agree with this blog as an Oakland/Pittsburgh World Series would likely destroy television ratings. The fair-weather fan would not tune in. Although, I believe any fan will tune in should the game reach Game 6 or 7, especially if the previous games were good (see 1991 and 2011).

I don’t care about ratings. Major League Baseball will be fine without a Yankees / Dodgers World Series.  An Oakland versus Pittsburgh Fall Classic is what the game needs. It may not get the ratings, but it will provide the stories that will last and that is exactly what baseball is known for.

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Baseball could start over.  Did they ever think of that?

The main complaint after the steroid era was that all the record books were ruined; records that shouldn’t have been broken were and now it’s too late.  Of course, it was really only two records, so I don’t see the big deal.  However, baseball could start a new era and draw a definite line in the record books if it liked, or if you like, start over.

Through 1960, major league baseball had a 154-game schedule and ever since it’s been 162.  With the expanded playoffs, a lot of unnecessary spring training and Americans’ attention spans dwindling every day, many complain the season is too long.  With pitchers and catchers reporting in mid-February to the end of the World Series in late October (and sometimes early November), the season can stretch to almost nine months.

Lord knows I’d like a 365-game schedule, but even Cal Ripken needs a break now and then and new excitement needs to be brewed into the old game.  The baseball playoffs are dragging behind the NFL.  This year proved baseball can have pennant races in September thanks to horrible performances in Boston and Atlanta and spectacular runs in Tampa Bay and St. Louis.  But this year was a rarity.

Reduce regular season length
The problem with the 162-game season isn’t necessarily because there are too many games.  The problem lies in the beginning and the end of the season.  Baseball starts too early and ends too late.  Attendance tends to drag after opening day in April due to cold.  Should the schedule be reduced to the old 154 games there would be too many ignorant fans comparing current records to those of pre-1961.  A schedule somewhere around 145 games would work well.  This would allow teams to have opening day in the second week of April, giving spring more chance to develop.

Erase the record books
Instead of comparing the new shortened season to the 162 or the 154-game schedule, why don’t we just start a new record book?  This probably should have been done around 1994, but better late than never.  The first year of the new shortened season, every record will be an all-time record.

No one will pitch as many innings as Cy Young and Walter Johnson.  No one will steal 130 bases like Rickey Henderson.  No one will likely ever approach Sam Crawford’s 309 career triples.  No one will hit 73 home runs, so why not just start a new book?

Good luck to anyone planning to approach this man’s single-season or all-time stolen bases record.

The All-Star Game means nothing … again
Even though today’s All-Star Game decides home-field advantage in the World Series, it hasn’t stopped players from not wanting to play in it.  No matter how hard a competitor, there are always going to be players who would rather spend time with their families than play in this game, no matter what the outcome means.  Let the All-Star Game be a fun exhibition again and alternate the World Series home-field advantage every year like it was.

Division realignment
The only difference between the American and National leagues are their names.  They’re both owned by Major League Baseball so swapping teams shouldn’t be looked on as sacrilegious.  Fine, the NL doesn’t have the DH, but that’s the only difference.

Teams in the NL Central have been at a disadvantage since expansion and realignment in 1998 having six teams whereas other divisions have five while the AL West only four.  Let’s give another division the burden of the extra teams and give the NL Central a break.  Move the Astros to the AL West, giving the Rangers a strong division rival.  The schedule doesn’t work with an odd number of teams in the league, so let’s not only give the AL West the extra team, but let’s give the AL 16 teams instead of 14.  The Colorado Rockies can’t help but play offensive baseball making them the perfect team to adopt the DH and move to the AL West.  After years of having a blind one-in-four chance of winning the division, the AL West would now have a one-in-six chance.  The new division would look like this:

NL West – San Francisco, Los Angeles, San Diego, Arizona
NL Central – Milwaukee, St. Louis, Chicago, Cincinnati, Pittsburgh
NL East – New York, Washington, Atlanta, Philadelphia, Florida
AL West – Texas, Houston, Oakland, Seattle, Colorado, Los Angeles
AL Central – Minnesota, Chicago, Detroit, Cleveland, Kansas City
AL East – New York, Boston, Tampa Bay, Baltimore, Toronto

Can’t wait for that Padres / Royals matchup
Aside from Chicago, Los Angeles and New York, interleague play isn’t very exciting and with the extra time for exhibitions in early April, the inter-city rivals could easily have a series before the regular season begins.  Interdivision games are much more exciting than the Tigers-Diamondbacks series.  The schedule needs to be further biased matching teams like the Cardinals and Cubs, Yankees and Red Sox, and Dodgers and Giants even more often.  Aside from these obvious rivalries, more will form.  The Royals and Yankees aren’t much to watch now, but they were in the late seventies and early eighties only from the fact that both teams were so good.  Who knew the Brewers and Cardinals had a rivalry until they found each other in the NLCS this season?

Let’s save the Cubs / White Sox games for the preseason.

For a National League East team, a season could consist of playing each team in its division 25 times and every other team in the league five times giving them a 145-game season.

New, exciting playoffs
When there are one-game playoffs or series-deciding games, the nation pays attention.  Only real baseball fans care about Game 2 of the ALCS.  With the new playoff system, the nation will pay much closer attention, much like they do in the NFL.

There will be 12 playoff teams: six division winners and second place in every division.  The second-place teams, or wild cards, will play one marathon day of exciting baseball in two ballparks.  Bud Selig and MLB are working right now on giving wild-card teams more of a disadvantage.  I’m taking it a step further.

Giving teams home-field advantage based on overall record in an unbalanced schedule is not fair.  To remedy this, teams will be given home-field advantage based on their records against each other.  Should the Indians, Orioles and Mariners be the wild-card winners, their overall records against each other will be added together and the team with the highest winning percentage will have the advantage.  That edge in the new playoffs will matter, too.  It will matter for the outcome of the team as well as the ticket sales.

One day, two ballparks, four games = baseball pandemonium
Twenty four hours before the playoff series begin, the three wild-card teams of each league will come together in the ballpark of the team with the best combined record.  The two visiting teams will play an afternoon game with the winner moving on to play the home team beginning two hours after that game.  Ticket prices will be steep, but they will cover both games – a real doubleheader only with three teams.  The winner of the second game will go on to begin their best-of-five division series against the top division winner the next day.  Not only is the wild-card team worn out from playing either one or two games the day before, but they’ve also used one or two top (most likely) starting pitchers to begin a short series.  Should the wild-card team move on the championship series, they deserve it.  No matter what their record against the other playoff teams, the wild-card team will never have home-field advantage with the exception if they make it to the World Series.

Conclusion
The reduced regular season schedule will start the record books anew, reduce April snowouts and create more excitement in a more compact season that will end in late October.

The new team alignment will ease the burden of the last 14 years of the NL Central and put it on the AL West (we can switch it again in another decade or so).

More interdivision play will increase excitement and create new and real rivalries.

Can we really consider the wild-card playoff day the playoffs, or is it just a way to get into the playoffs?  Either way, there are now 12 teams involved in the postseason with six do-or-die games in one day which leads to a real advantage to division winners.

Will this realistically happen?  No, but I’ve enjoyed writing about it.

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In terms of the postseason, the one thing that differs baseball from other sports is it’s the sport most difficult to reach the playoffs.  There are 30 teams in major league baseball and eight move to the postseason unlike basketball and hockey where 16 teams advance.  In the NFL, 12 of 32 teams advance.  There has been talk recently that baseball could expand its postseason to include two additional teams.  Here’s what one baseball fan thinks.

It’s not easy reaching the baseball playoffs and I hope it stays that way.  However, if done properly, the playoffs could be just as challenging to reach if more teams are included.  As of now the division winners of each league (three in each) automatically reach the postseason.  There is one wild-card team in each league that represents the team with the best record that did not win its division.  The first round of playoffs is a best-of-five series.  The winner of those playoffs reach the league championship series in each league for a best-of-seven battle and the winner of those two reach the poorly named World Series (thanks for that egotistical title, 1903 sportswriters). 

To add the most excitement along with television ratings, it would be great to see baseball add one wild-card team to each league.  The two wild-card teams would play something similar to what two teams that tied to end the season.  Some call it a 163rd game and others a one-game playoff.  The winner of that game would go on to play the team with the best record in its league regardless of what division they play in.  Today’s rules state a wild-card winner cannot play a team in its own division in the first round.  Why does this rule exist?  My guess is so the Yankees and Red Sox can play seven games instead of five and increase television ratings. 

There is nothing more exciting than a one-game playoff.  One-game tiebreakers were necessary in 2007, 2008 and 2009 and ratings were great.  This cannot be said for the 2010 World Series which ended after only five games.  Playoffs ratings for the NFL are always great and a big part of this is the importance of each game: loser goes home.  When this instance happens in baseball, ratings skyrocket and baseball benefits for more than one reason. 

One-game postseason drama. The Tigers-Twins 2009 one-game playoff was ranked as the No. 1 regular season game of the decade on si.com.

Many coaches will argue that a team’s destiny shouldn’t be based on one game after playing 162 during the regular season.  My response is: Then maybe you should have won a few more games between April and October.  A team has plenty of time to earn a division title.  Wild-card teams shouldn’t earn the same privileges of division winners. 

Having a one-game playoff also won’t add onto the length of the playoffs.  It can be played the day after the regular season ends and the winning team can have one day off before the division series begins.  Should the players union demand for a best-of-three series, a doubleheader should be played one day and if the games are split, then the decisive third game should be played the next day.  Having the wild-card team play extra games with its rotation out of order will also add to the disadvantage of playing the league’s top team.

If this system were in place for the 2010 season, the Yankees and Red Sox would have been the wild-card teams in the American League.  This means there would have been a winner-take-all Monday night game between these two large-market teams.  Not only would baseball pull in huge ratings, but it would have created huge interest for the remainder of the playoffs and lasting highlights and memories.

In the NFL, the top teams are given first-round byes: extra time to rest and prepare.  This is wise.  Baseball should find a way to better reward the best teams while making wild-card teams work to make up for their lack of wins during the regular season.  As of now, the only disadvantage the wild-card team has is lack of home-field advantage.  Ask the 1997 Marlins, 2002 Angels, 2003 Marlins and the 2004 Red Sox if home-field advantage makes a difference.

More teams and playoff levels aren’t needed to spice up baseball’s postseason, but suspense and drama is.

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“People ask me what I do in the winter when there’s no baseball.  I’ll tell you what I do.  I stare out the window and wait for spring.” – Rogers Hornsby

I originally thought of commenting on the World Series, but then realized that every baseball writer in the United States would be doing that.  Instead, I ask the question to every passionate baseball fan that I ask myself after the final out of the World Series: now what?  I don’t enjoy any other sport a tenth as much as I enjoy baseball.  What am I supposed to occupy myself with until spring training?  George Will summed up my opinion of football pretty well when he said, “football combines the two worst aspects of American society: violence punctuated with committee meetings.”  I do enjoy a good live basketball game, but can’t stand to watch the first three quarters of any NBA game or even the first 30 minutes of a college matchup (It also doesn’t help that my two teams – the Timberwolves and Gophers – aren’t at the top of their games lately.

Another sport isn’t going to hold me off.  I’ve come to accept this and have figured out the best ways to enjoy baseball without a single (meaningful) box score to look at until opening day.

Literature
By the end of the World Series, I’m in no way tired of watching baseball, but I am tired of staring the television for three hours a night and watching endless ads for ED drugs, beer and politicians who seem to think if I vote for their opponent, the United States will quickly come under Nazi regime.  There might be a two or three-day vacation from the game until I need my fix.  This is usually when I pick up some sort of baseball biography from my bookshelf or the library.  There is an almost endless number of books on baseball and rarely do I not enjoy one.  I can remember reading nine baseball books one offseason.

I sometimes wonder if I appreciate baseball more in the offseason when I read these books and the game is played out within my imagination.  I can imagine aspects of the game I was never able to see like Roberto Clemente throwing out a runner trying to get from first to third on a single, Babe Ruth hitting home runs at will and then downing a dozen hot dogs and sodas after the game, Bob Uecker catching fly balls during batting practice with a tuba or Sandy Koufax’s curveball dropping like it fell off a table.

Check out my Flashlight Worthy list of great baseball books to get fans through the offseason: http://www.flashlightworthybooks.com/Great-Baseball-Books-Fans/633.

Simulations
Many baseball fans like to play video games on their game system of choice.  For me, I don’t like my team’s ability to win or play well based on how well I can use a controller or my ability to read a pitch from the cartoon on my TV screen.  I can’t stand it when I play video games and I strike out on three pitches out of the strike zone and Albert Pujols is batting.  I think, “Pujols wouldn’t do that!  I would, but if this game were realistic, it wouldn’t let Pujols swing like Bobby Bonds.”

For me, I need realism in my baseball simulations so I turn to the dice game Strat-o-Matic (https://tripleinthegap.wordpress.com/2010/09/09/dungeons-and-dragons-for-baseball-nerds-like-myself)  and sometimes the computer game Baseball Mogul.  Baseball Mogul doesn’t have any real graphics, but does a pretty good job of simulating baseball in the view of a manager and/or general manager/owner.  The player can go through a century with one team and make all the moves from how the game is played on the field to the price of ice cream.

Video library
If it weren’t for the invention of DVDs, my 1991 World Series videotape would probably have worn out by now.  Before I got it on DVD, there was a glitch in the tape just after Kirby Puckett’s catch at the wall in game six from my constant stopping and rewinding.  I have a number of DVDs in my library, but thanks to Netflix, I have many more at my disposal.  Through Netflix, I can rent just about every DVD released by Major League Baseball, including full games of the 1975, 1979 and many other World Series.  Many people ask me how I can watch an entire baseball game I already know the outcome of.  There’s much to learn from watching those old games from Joe Morgan’s routine before every pitch to how the commentators have evolved.  Every game is divided into chapters by half inning, so the viewer can skip to the run-scoring innings.  But that just omits the good defense and pitching.

I’ve also downloaded a number of complete games from iTunes and can watch them on my computer as I wish.  Any classic game is usually available to download within 24 hours after its completion.

There’s also the Ken Burns baseball documentary.  Despite its length of over 18 hours, I seem to watch every winter.

Offseason news
I keep an eye on certain website’s baseball news like Ted Williams watched every pitched ball of his career.  As I go online, I go straight to sites like Yahoo!, Sports Illustrated and the Star Tribune.  Of course, I have these sites bookmarked, so I skip over the main sports page and usually find out how the Packers and Vikings via eavesdropping.

The negative aspect of the around-the-clock news on the internet is that official news rarely comes as a surprise to fans anymore.  When Roy Halladay was traded from the Blue Jays to the Phillies, the rumors had been flying for some time before it was announced.  Even after the rumors comes the news that there is going to be a press conference the next day and so-and-so is expected to be announced as the newest member of their new organization.  Minor trades and free agent signings still happen quickly to the fan, but I’m pretty sure there will be weeks of speculation before Cliff Lee and Carl Crawford sign with anyone this offseason.

Anything else
Whatever else I can do in the offseason to hold me over, I do.  I’ve gone to Twins Fest, an annual get together at the Metrodome which features current and former players as well as way too many merchandisers.  On occasion, I’ll grab my wood bat and take a few swings at the local indoor batting cages.  This usually results in waking up the next morning wondering why my ribs are so sore.  Twice I’ve flown to Arizona to watch spring training games.  My only issue with this is I wish it were in January.  By March, I’m less than a month from opening day and the weather in Wisconsin is beginning to thaw.  It’s the days in January when the high temperature is 2 and the sports pages are filled with the football playoffs that I really need an escape.

A longer offseason than usual for me
On a personal note, I will be moving to Thailand as a Peace Corps volunteer in January.  As far as I know, there is no baseball in Thailand.  How will I cope?  I don’t know other than reading books and keeping a close eye on the news via the internet.  Aside from friends and family, I know baseball will be what I miss the most.

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Congratulations to the San Francisco Giants in winning their first World Series. They made the Texas Rangers look like the Seattle Mariners. It was great fun watching the Giants pitchers dominate.

I do have one big complaint aimed at no one. It has now been eight years since baseball has played a seven-game World Series. This is the longest streak without a deciding game since 1913-1924 (11 years). Of course, this may not be comparable as the 1919-1921 World Series were a best-of-nine competition.

I do like the fact that the National and American league has traded the title back and forth since 2005, but where has the drama gone? When will baseball fans have two evenly matched teams in the fall classic? We continue to wait.

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In terms of baseball, the 1991 World Series was the best ever played.  Critics can turn to others and make a case based on TV viewership, large-market teams or national security, but when it comes down to the best possible baseball being played, 1991 runs away from the pack.

The main story behind that World Series was both teams, the Minnesota Twins and Atlanta Braves, were in last place in 1990.  No team had ever come from last place to the World Series in one season and in 1991 two teams did it.  Most people love an underdog and 1991 had two of them.

Many point to 2001 as the greatest ever with 9/11 less than two months old and the New York Yankees at center stage.  It’s true, it was a great World Series and one of the best.  There were four games decided by one run, three in the final at bat and two that needed extra innings.  Most of the nation, for once, was rooting for New York.

In 1975 the Boston Red Sox looked as though they might end their championship drought against the Big Red Machine, Cincinnati Reds.  This series contained five one-run games and two decided in the final at bat.  Games 1, 3 and 7 contained comeback wins for the Reds while Game 6 remains one of the greatest World Series games ever with Bernie Carbo and Carlton Fisk carrying Boston to victory and keeping hope alive.  The vastly talented Reds, however, won an exciting seventh game to win it all. 

In 1955 the Brooklyn Dodgers final beat the Yankees for their first and only title.  The underdog Cardinals and Pete Alexander defeated the Yankees in 1926.  The “bad guys” New York Mets won a thrilling sixth game at Shea Stadium to propel them to the 1986 championship.  The Red Sox and New York Giants needed eight games (one ended in a tie) in 1912 to decide it all with the Red Sox winning one of the greatest final World Series games of all time (it’s certainly the best Game 8 of all time).

Any World Series involving the Yankees or Red Sox tend to be over publicized.  This isn’t to say 2001 and 1975 didn’t have great World Series, but they don’t match up to 1991 – here’s why.

There is nothing more exciting than a walk-off win.  The suspense is held and the game is decided in the final at bat and the home team and fans go home happy.  This happened four times in 1991.   Over half of the final seven games weren’t decided until the last batter of the game.  All four of those games were decided by one run along with one other: five games decided by a single run.  There was little room for error in the 1991 World Series.

For the first time in World Series history, three games needed extra innings.  The Minnesota Twins and Atlanta Braves were the most evenly matched teams in World Series history.

The series started slow enough in Game 1.  The Twins won 5-2 thanks to home runs from Chili Davis and Kent Hrbek.  Jack Morris earned the win.  Although it was a well played game, this would be the Twins’ most boring victory.

The pitchers took over for the second game.  The Twins’ Kevin Tapani and Cy Young winner Tom Glavine battled.  With the game tied at two in the eighth inning, the Twins third baseman Scott Leius went deep off Glavine.  Rick Aguilera struck out the side in the ninth for the save to preserve the 3-2 win.

Gregg Olson took Dan Gladden's spiking at home plate with good sportsmanship.

It was the third game were things started to get really exciting.  Down two games to none, the Braves needed to win.  The franchise hadn’t been in the World Series since the Milwaukee Braves in 1958 and had never been in the Series since its move to Atlanta in 1966.  Down 4-1 in the seventh inning, the Twins stormed back to tie the game at four with a run in the seventh and two in the eighth.  In the bottom of the 12th, with two out and David Justice on second, Mark Lemke stepped to the plate.  Lemke was a .234 hitter that year, but had 10 hits in the Series and batted .417.  His single scored Justice to give the Atlanta Braves their first World Series win ever. 

Jack Morris returned to the mound for the Twins in the fourth game.  A 24-year old John Smoltz pitched for Atlanta.  A 2-2 tie followed the Braves into the bottom of the ninth.  The night before a .234 hitter was the hero.  In Game Four, a .214 hitter with 16 plate appearances was the hero: Jerry Willard.  With Lemke on third, Willard drove a shallow fly ball to Shane Mack in right field.  The throw was on time, but Twins catcher Brian Harper could only get an elbow, not his glove, on the sliding Lemke.  The Braves won 3-2 and evened the series at two games apiece. 

The fifth game was the anomaly for the 1991 World Series with Atlanta crushing Minnesota 14-5.  This only set up the notion that the Braves might run away with the title in Minnesota.

Atlanta had their two walk-off wins.  Now it was Minnesota’s turn.  In the first five games, Kirby Puckett was batting .167 (three-for-18).  Puckett foreshadowed how his night would go in his first at bat with Chuck Knoblauch on first base.  The centerfielder tripled down the left-field line to score Knoblauch and put the Twins on top.  Both starters (Steve Avery and Scott Erickson) were taken out after six innings.  Both bullpens proceeded to go into Operation Shutdown.  It was Mike Stanton and Alejando Pena for the Braves and Carl Willis and Rick Aguilera for the Twins.  Manager Bobby Cox decided to put left-handed junkballer Charlie Leibrandt on the mound to start the 11th inning with the score still tied 3-3.  Puckett took three pitches and then launched a hanging changeup into the left-center field seats sending Minnesota into dome-controlled chaos. 

“It’s a storybook World Series,” Tom Kelly told reporters after the sixth game.  “What’s going to happen in Game 7, Chapter 7?  Oh my, God, I can’t wait,” the Twins manager said as he turned his cap backwards to a throng of giggling reporters.  How could you not giggle?  Not only were you about to watch the seventh game of the World Series, but you were about to see the final game of a World Series that had already been spectacular.  How could the final act not be spectacular?  But at the same time, many must have wondered, how could it top the last game?  Or the third game?  Or the fourth game?  Thanks to a grizzled veteran and a young, unestablished pitcher, the seventh game of the 1991 World Series was the greatest in history.  In the words of the highlight film released in time for Christmas that year, “It was a beautiful dream and a tension-filled nightmare all wrapped into one.”

Another great aspect of the 1991 World Series worth noting was the sportsmanship shown by both teams to begin the final game.  As Lonnie Smith stepped into the batter’s box for the first at bat, he stuck his hand out to Twins catcher Brian Harper and they shook hands.  I still have never seen a gesture like than in professional baseball. 

Jack Morris and John Smoltz traded one scoreless inning after another.  Neither team posed much of a threat until the eighth.  In the eighth inning of the 1991 World Series, every real fan of the Atlanta Braves and the Minnesota Twins lost five years of their life.  The Braves had runners on second and third with no out in the top half.  No one really knows why Lonnie Smith didn’t score from first on Terry Pendleton’s double, but there are theories.  One is that Smith simply lost the ball as Dan Gladden and Puckett chased it against the left-center field wall.  Another is Smith fell for shortstop Greg Gagne and second baseman Knoblauch’s decoy which made it appear they were fielding a double-play ball.  My theory is a combination of the last two along with God and/or the baseball Gods wanted the Twins to win the World Series.

Morris managed to get Ron Gant to ground out weakly to first base.  Then, after walking David Justice, Sid Bream hit into a 3-2-3 double play to end the inning.

The Twins had the bases loaded with one out in the bottom half before Kent Hrbek lined into an unassisted double play to the shortstop.  Even in the ninth Minnesota started the inning with two singles before Mack hit into a double play and later Paul Sorrento struck out to strand a runner on third. 

And still, Jack Morris kept pitching.  He pitched a scoreless ninth and 10th inning.  In the bottom of the 10th inning, the Twins showed the world how baseball was played in Minnesota.  Dan Gladden broke his bat on a bloop single to left-center field.  His hustle stretched it to a double and the Twins thought they might see a light at the end of the tunnel.  Knoblauch put down a sacrifice bunt and Gladden was on third with one out.  The Braves walked Puckett and Hrbek to face … Jarvis Brown?  No, but he was due up.  Manager Tom Kelly put in of his best pinch hitters through the years: Gene Larkin.  With the infield and outfield playing in, Larkin poked a single over the leftfielder’s head to send Gladden home to a waiting Morris.  The starting pitcher had just thrown 10 shutout World Series innings and faces don’t get happier than Morris’s when Gladden touched home plate.

There may be bigger names names in other World Series and others may be more historical.  Names like Ruth, Mantle, Jackson, Jeter and Clemente come to mind when many fans think of the World Series.  There was one hall of famer in the 1991 World Series (Puckett) and two or three others who hope to make it (Glavine, Smoltz and Morris).  But the Series wasn’t defined by them.  It was defined by great baseball games.  If every World Series was compared to each other with a blindfold to the fan – not knowing what the teams, players, cities, fans or ballparks are – there was never a more evenly matched and enjoyable World Series than 1991.

This celebration was part happiness and part tension release.

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The first criticism I heard about Ken Burns’ new documentary, Baseball: The 10th Inning, was from my parents.  Being the good mid-west people they are, they’re tired of hearing about the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox.  So am I, but at the same time: what’s done is done.  They told me it contained too much Yankees and Red Sox.  This turned me off, but then I thought about it and realized it would be very difficult to make a documentary about baseball from 1992 through 2009 without including those two teams.

Having said that, I loved Ken Burns’ new addition to his original nine-part series.  Burns takes his best sources from the original series like George Will, Doris Kearns Goodwin, Thomas Boswell and Roger Angell and puts them right back in front of the camera for a great perspective on the last two decades of the game.  Burns also calls on new opinions to the game like Howard Bryant, Joe Torre and Pedro Martinez.

Burns gives great perspective on the steroids era, starting with Jose Canseco and the Oakland A’s of the late eighties and flows to Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa and eventually Barry Bonds.  Almost every story that is told in The 10th Inning I’ve heard before, but never from the perspectives they’re told from here.  It’s great to hear of Pedro Martinez’s dominance from 1997 through 2003 from Pedro as well as noted sportswriters.  I’ve known the story of Ichiro as I’ve been watching him play since his first game in 2000, but never really thought about what an anomaly he was from the rest of the game.  While the name of the game in the beginning of the century was, as George Will puts it, “Get two guys on base, get Godzilla to the plate to knock it into Tokyo Bay,” Ichiro was playing like a throwback to the deadball era and Negro leagues.  Ichiro is Cool Papa Bell!

 

Ken Burns

 

The story of Bonds cannot be ignored and Burns tackles it well from a small biography of his father, Bobby, to his time with Pittsburgh and onto his big signing with San Francisco before the 1993 season.  Burns shows the viewer how Bonds became the egotistical player he was.

I was worried Burns would go through all five of the Yankees World Series victories in depth, but instead, we only get to really know the 1996 Yankees.  That team happened to be the one New York squad I was rooting for (and likely, the rest of the country).  Joe Torre gives great insight to that team along with how the Series went down after losing the first two at home to the Braves.

Burns uses a lot more players than the previous nine innings and every one of them contribute well to the story.  Omar Vizquel, Ichiro, Torre and Martinez all show they have a great personality to match their skills on the diamond.

If it isn’t obvious that Burns is a Red Sox fan by the film, then watch the bonus footage and be thankful most of it was cut.  There is a full games highlights at Fenway Park as well as the entire guided tour in the special features.  Much of the interviews are certainly worth watching, especially from the ballplayers.

Much like my attitude at the time, I was happy to listen to the stories of the 2004 Red Sox, but was glad to move on once it was done.  Thankfully, Burns doesn’t dwell on the 2007 team and only mentions them along with the other World Series winners from 2005 through 2009.

Fans of small market teams may feel left out of this four-hour film, but this isn’t the All-Star Game and everyone can’t be included.  I would have loved to see more on the Twins, but how much is there to tell to the casual fan who’s not from the midwest?

I think the greatest compliment Ken Burns’ original documentary received was from my girlfriend who didn’t know anything about baseball or even care about it.  I was watching the second inning and Ty Cobb was being profiled.  She watched a few minutes and said, “I could watch this.”  When even the non-baseball fan enjoys it that much, imagine how much real baseball fans can get out of it.

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