Baseball 101 – More about 1973

We talked a bit about 1973, but lets get a bit more specific about the Red Sox in 1973. Well, that’s my plan at least. As you’ll see, I went awry again.

Big picture? They Sox finished second to the O’s, eight games back with a record of 89-73. The Sox played well against the O’s going 11-7 on the season. In April and May, the race was a tight one with all the AL East teams within six games of each other through the end of May. The Yankees had torrid June, going 19-10. From the second half of a double header on June 17 to the end of another double header on July 1, the Yankees went 13-3 and from 1.5 games behind to 4 games up. But, then the Sox came to Yankee stadium for a five game series (the teams were making one game up from an earlier rainout).

The teams split the first two games. The Sox, behind Ray Culp, Roger Moret and Bill Lee swept the final three games, 2-1, 1-0 and 9-4. The Yankees lead was down to 1.5 games, a tiny lead they would hold until they arrived in Boston for a four game series from July 30 to August 2. The Sox took three of four and the Bronx Bombers quickly fall out of the race. By the end of August, the Yankees were 9.5 games behind the O’s, thanks to a 9-18 record for the month.

The Orioles on the other hand, started slowly and picked up steam in June and July. In August they put the division to rest. On August 11 they lost to the Royals 9-4. They would not lose again until August 28 – a 14 game win streak that took them from 1.5 games behind to 5 games up. They never looked back. The O’s would fall though to the A’s in the AL Championship series.

The O’s, under their manager Earl Weaver, were known for good pitching and hitting the long ball. Weaver, who wrote a book on baseball strategy entitled “Weaver on Strategy” famously said “The key to winning baseball games is pitching, fundamentals, and three run homers.” Many people who think of baseball by the numbers appreciated Weaver way before the old time baseball people did. Tom Verducci, a bit over the top in this quote, explained it:

“Weaver was the Copernicus of baseball. Just as Copernicus understood heliocentric cosmology a full century before the invention of the telescope, Weaver understood smart baseball a generation before it was empirically demonstrated.”

I’m not sure I’d go so far as to say Weaver = Copernicus, but you get the point. He was ahead of his time. He eschewed bunting and sacrificing. He hated giving up outs. And he, despite being a short guy, he was a mean cuss. Or maybe because he was a short guy he was a mean cuss. Ask Napoleon. “On my tombstone just write, ‘The sorest loser that ever lived.'” But, Weaver was also humble in an ornery way. “The job of arguing with the umpire belongs to the manager, because it won’t hurt the team if he gets thrown out of the game.”

I love quotes from managers. It’s like they don’t have a lot to do during the game but come up with quips about life, baseball, and whatever else comes to mind while dealing with keeping the twenty-five personalities that have to survive a 162 game season together and pulling as one. I can’t imagine how hard that is, what with answering baseball reporters questions and keeping players’ feelings from getting hurt. A tough job.

I’m not even sure the players need to respect the manager’s baseball pedigree for the manager to be successful. Most managers stunk at the game. Jim Palmer, one of Weaver’s best pitchers and a Hall of Famer said “the only thing Earl knows about big-league pitching is that he couldn’t hit it.” Quite an insult, but Palmer and Weaver, despite much publicized friction, had a long and rewarding relationship. They even wrote a book together – as I think I mentioned in my Jim Palmer post – Together We Were Eleven Foot Nine.

Palmer still gets choked up when he thinks about Weaver. Here is a wonderful story from the Baltimore Sun that Palmer tells to people about Weaver. One day in spring training, Weaver was sitting beside a young Mike Flanagan (a pitcher for the O’s who was just getting started with his career when this story is told). Palmer had just finished pitching five innings in a spring game and Palmer was out running sprints in the outfiled.

“You see that guy out there,” Weaver said.

“You mean Palmer,” Flanagan replied.

“Just do what he does and you’ll be fine.”

Sage advice, but that’s only half the story. Palmer ran into Weaver at one of the Hall of Fame induction weekends in Cooperstown, N.Y. a few years ago and recounted that anecdote, which Flanagan had shared with him during their many seasons together.

“I told Earl the story,” Palmer said. “I told him, ‘One of the biggest compliments you ever paid me was what you told Mike Flanagan.’ He said, ‘I didn’t just tell Mike Flanagan. I told everybody.'”

That’s what good managers do. They irk you but you love them. Unfortunately, managers have a hard time staying a successful manager. Maybe it has to do with age and relating to the players, maybe it’s about perspective and youth, maybe its about just being lucky and having a good team. Who knows. I do know that Weaver was done managing at the age of 55. Since I sit at 50, that doesn’t seem to old. But, when I think about trying to relate to 20 somethings, it seems very old. Or maybe its about shelf life. You get stale after a while with the same team.

Terry Francona held the Sox together for eight years before his time ran out. How long will John Farrell last? Lets hope he has a Francona like run with the Sox winning 90 or more games in six out of eight years. That would be a good run.

As usual, not much about what I wanted to talk about – the ’73 Sox. Maybe next time.

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