David N. Townsend
Baseball Journal

December 3, 1996
Post-Season Review 1996 . . . Sox Loox

I don't know about you, but I found the ending of this season to be highly entertaining.  Partly because I spend a lot of time with New Yorkers (in-laws, you know) these days, I got caught up in the excitement surrounding the Yankees.  You have to admit that their comeback victory in the World Series was one of the best baseball shows in years.  After everyone in the country had left them for dead, and declared the Braves perhaps the "best team ever," the Yankees forged an astounding reversal.  Game 4 was on everybody's highlight list, with the Leyritz homer ranking up there with Bernie Carbo's (and I loved Wade Boggs's game-winning walk).  And the Game 5 1-0 shutout by Pettitte was also a classic, in the mold of Jack Morris's 1991 Game 7 masterpiece.

But for my money, the most enjoyable game was Game 6, which I watched with some Yankee fans from the first pitch to the last.  The showdown between Maddux and Key was just vintage baseball. But for his brief 3rd inning lapse, Maddux was unhittable, nibbling perfectly at the corners for batter after batter.  Key, on the other hand, always seemed on the ropes, going 2-0 on almost every hitter as he would just miss the same outside corner that Maddux was hitting, but he always somehow just managed to escape.  Then Rivera did his job to perfection after walking the first batter, and Wetteland characteristically fllirted with disaster in the 9th. The Yankees were one strike away from a tie that could easily have led to a 7th game, and a Series loss.  They, however, managed to put aside such fears with a simple pop foul.  How ironic.

As for the post-season awards, I was pretty close in most of my predictions.  I was glad that Gonzalez won the AL MVP, by a margin of only 3 points over Alex Rodriguez.  Belle is too much of a jerk, McGwire faded badly at the end, and Rodriguez is too young.  But did you see the ballot results?  One voter gave 1st place to Ivan Rodriguez.  Isn't it just possible that this was some old fogie who wasn't really paying attention, and he meant to vote for Alex?  I mean, Ivan is clearly the best catcher in the league and a very valuable player, but it's pretty hard to rank his season (.300, 19, 86) up there with that of Alex (.358, 36, 123).  No one else voted Ivan 2nd or 3rd.  Alex will have plenty of chances to win many MVPs, so I don't feel sorry for him, but I can't help wondering if he was robbed by somebody's goof-up.

I was surprised by Pat Hentgen's Cy Young award.  It seemed everyone assumed it would go to Pettitte, except when you compared the numbers at the end of the season, Hentgen clearly deserved the award.  He must have snuck that 20th win in on the last day of the season, because I thought he only had 19, and the one extra win really made the difference.

With regard to the latest hot-stove developments, I am underwhelmed.  The owners and players finally signed the labor agreement.  I don't care.  There will be interleague play.  I don't care.  Also, Albert Belle signed for $11-million per year over five years with the White Sox, a good $3-million+ higher than the next highest paid player in the game.  What a stupid decision, which will come back to haunt Reinsdorf the same way Fielder's contract ruined the Tigers and Kenny Rogers's contract will screw the Yankees.  But the dumbest thing would be if any other owners were to take Belle's contract as any kind of precedent.  Sure, when Griffey and Thomas come up for renewal, they should be able to break the bank.  But just because Belle is being overpaid by about $4-million doesn't mean that Greg Vaughn or John Wetteland should make $6-million next year.

Sox Loox.  Then there's the issue of Roger Clemens. I wonder how soon this will be resolved, and how dramatically.  If Clemens goes to the Indians for, say, $5-million per year over 4 years, it will be almost as devastating as losing Tiant in 1979.  What irks me the most is all these commentators saying that Clemens isn't "worth" it because he's "only" 40-39 over the past 4 years.  First of all, how many other pitchers have had as good a record, with a cumulative ERA of 3.77 during the juiced ball era?  Is he slowing down?  He only led the league in strikeouts and was 5th in innings pitched and threw his second 20-strikeout game.  You think 34 is too old to give a pitcher a 4-year contract?  How did Dennis Martinez do from age 34 to 37? (56-40)  How about Nolan Ryan? (53-37)  El Tiante himself was 34 in that legendary season of 1975, and he only went 64-42 over the next four years.  Isn't Clemens a superior pitcher to any of those guys?

If the Sox lose Clemens (unless they sign Alex Fernandez), just watch how fast the franchise goes downhill.  They've hired this Nowhere Man, Jiminy Cricket or whatever his name is, as manager, and Duquette really seems to have lost his way in the "rebuilding" effort.  We've got 3 shortstops and no outfielders, and a bullpen that looks like cow dung.  Catching remains a major problem, as does fielding generally.  Kevin Kennedy was not the solution, but he really wasn't the problem, either.  At least we can assume that Canseco won't be the left fielder next year, if he's in Boston at all.

On the other hand, if Duquette sees the light and manages to keep Clemens as the core of the pitching staff, there could be a foundation for a very exciting team over the next couple of seasons.  I expect him to make a serious effort to sign Moises Alou now that he's a free agent, which would solve the Center Field problem very nicely (no offense, Jesus).  That would allow Cordero to play Left and Bragg and Rudy ("The Next Dwayne Hosey") Pemberton to platoon in Right.  Now if Valentin could be a nice boy and play 3rd Base, we could have him, Garciaparra, Frye, and Vaughn across the infield (bye-bye, Timmy Naehring, we hardly knew ye), with Haselman and Stanley behind the plate, and things might straighten out a bit.  I frankly don't care if Canseco stays or goes, since he'll be hurt half the year anyway, and Reggie Jefferson has really come into his own as a DH.

We would still need serious pitching help, and I, for one, would be interested in signing Jimmy Key. His health questions are still there, but that should also keep his price reasonable.  He would fit in nicely with Clemens, Sele, Gordon, Wakefield, and Suppan in some combination.  I'd love to trash Slocumb for a real closer, but the greater priority, it is now apparent, is to find that super Latino set-up man, in the Mariano Rivera-Julian Tavarez mold.  Is it too late for Rich Garces to step forward again?

Anyway, there's room for a lot more off-season speculation now, with the stupid labor dispute off the table for a while.

DT, 12/3/96

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