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Excerpt from Rob Neyer's 'Baseball Blunders' : Alston Goes 0 for 6
2006-05-05 12:34
by Bob Timmermann columnist Rob Neyer has a new book Rob Neyer's Big Book of Baseball Blunders : A Complete Guide to the Worst Decisions and Stupidest Moments in Baseball History.

It's an interesting look at some of the biggest blunders (which he defines as a bad choice taken, not a physical error) in baseball's history. The blunders start in 1917 when the White Sox acquired Chick Gandil through 2003 when Joe Torre opted not to use Mariano Rivera in Game 4 of the World Series because the game was tied and instead brought in Jeff Weaver.

Neyer does a good job in viewing every decision fairly objectively and the decisions are evaluated in terms of whether or not the blunder cost a team a chance at the pennant or a playoff spot for the most part. Surprisingly, a lot of blunders aren't nearly as bad as you think they might have been.

One of my favorite chapters is about Game 165 of the 1962 National League season. It was the deciding playoff game between the San Francisco Giants and the Los Angeles Dodgers on October 3, 1962.

Some excerpts follow below.

Alston Goes 0 for 6

The National League was born in 1876. Among its first seventy seasons, not even one season ended with two teams tied for first place. And then there were four in a hurry: 1946, 1951, 1959, and 1962, with the Dodgers being involved every time.

The similarities between 1951 and 1962 were striking. In both seasons, the Dodgers held a substantial lead in the middle of the season, only to wind up tied with the Giants at the conclusion of the schedule. In both seasons, the Dodgers and Giants split the first two games of their best-of-three playoff series. And in both seasons, the series ended with the Dodgers blowing a ninth-inning lead in the third game.

In 1962's first playoff game, Koufax started for the Dodgers but didn't have anything -- stil recovering from a serious finger injury, he hadn't turned in a good start since July 12 -- and Billy Pierce pitched a three-hit shutout for the Giants. In the second game, the Dodgers were behind 5-0 in the seventh but exploded for seven runs, then mooted a Giants comeback with a run in the bottom of the ninth.

And that set up the third game, winner-take-all.

Juan Marichal started for the Giants, Johnny Podres for the Dodgers. In the top of the sixth, with the Giants leading 2-1, they loaded the bases against Podres, who was relieved by sinkerballer Ed Roebuck. Roebuck wriggled out of the jam with no damage.

The Dodgers went ahead with two runs in the sixth, and added one more in the seventh for a 4-2 edge. Roebuck gave up a single in the eighth, but that runner was erased by a double play and he got the next guy on a pop to second.

Neyer goes on to describe in detail six mistakes Dodgers manager Walter Alston made during the game with the actions described by some of the participants: Coach Leo Durocher, Duke Snider, Maury Wills, Ron Fairly, Larry Sherry, John Roseboro, and Stan Williams. You can read a play-by-play of the game here. Basically, Durocher knew Roebuck was done, Alston ignored him and all the other players wondered why Stan Williams came into relieve when he couldn't throw a strike to save his life and why Don Drysdale never came in - BT

Reviewing the questionable moves ....

  • Not pinch-hitting Tim Harkness for Ed Roebuck in the bottom of the eighth, with two outs and the bases loaded;
  • Not replacing Roebuck with another pitcher to start the top of the ninth;
  • Shifting Larry Burright too far from second base to turn a double play;
  • Not replacing Roebuck with another pitcher after (or just before) he walked Willie McCovey and Felipe Alou to load the bases;
  • Not replacing Stan Williams with Ron Perranoski;
  • Again not replacing Williams with Perranoski.

If you or I were managing the Dodgers in some super-sophisticated baseball simulation, we might make some of the same moves that Alston made. Probably not all of them, though. And if Alston had decided differently in just half of them, the Dodgers would probably have won the game and the pennant.

What keeps nagging at me, though, is the knowledge that 1) Alston won a whole lot of games over the years, and 2) all of these moves were at least somewhat defensible. Drysdale had thrown 102 pitches just twenty-four hours earlier. Perranoski had struggled down the stretch (in his previous eight outings, he'd given up twenty-two hits and thirteen runs in eleven innings.) Harkness was not much of a hitter.

This certainly wasn't the best game Alston ever managed (and by the way, he had very little to say on the subject in either of his two autobiographies). But you know who I think deserves some mention here? General manager Buzzie Bavasi. In the first playoff game, with the Dodgers trailing 7-0 in the eighth inning, Alston felt compelled to bring in Perranoski to face a few batters. Why? Because he didn't trust anybody else.

In 1962, the Dodgers had two Class AAA farm teams, in Omaha and Spokane. In Omaha, a kid named Nick Willhite went 18-14 with a 3.33 ERA. In Spokane, Howie Reed -- only twenty-five, but a triple-A veteran -- went 12-8 with a 3.01 ERA. Another Spokanite, Ken Rowe, went 9-9 with a 3.44 ERA in seventy relief outings.

None of these guys would become even decent major-leaguers, but that's not the point. The point is that the Dodgers had, in their organization, at least a few pitchers who could have performed mop-up duties in August and September without completely embarrassing themselves or the ball club. And that would have lessened the strain on a trio of relievers that combined for more than three hundred relief innings. I believe that if Perranoski, Roebuck, and Sherry had been better rested at the end, the Dodgers would have won the pennant.

If you get the book, you can read all of Durocher's self-serving quotations (that's how I view them). You can read about Roebuck's weariness and Roseboro's concern about Williams. But I like how Rob points out that for many in-game blunder, there are often some long-standing intrinsic problems with the makeup of a team that can lead to a bad decision. It's not often that a manager or GM just goes off half-cocked. Roebuck talks a lot about the heat and the smog that day and the weather reports do back him up. The LA Times reported that "moderate to high smog levels" were expected those days. And in 1962, that's when L.A. really had smog.

And with the 1962 Dodger collapse, there were a lot of calls for Alston's head on a platter. The people I've spoken with about October 3, 1962 can't usually describe it without resorting a series of profanities. It was that infuriating. Although Andy McCue pointed out to me that he watched the game on TV with Vin Scully calling the action and Scully was his usual professional self and never pointed fingers at any of Alston's decisions, which must have been hard to do while watching the Dodgers implode. It also makes you wonder just what Vin Scully hasn't seen.

However, the Dodgers front office didn't do the obvious thing and fire Alston. The 1962 team stayed together for the most part. Williams was traded to the Yankees for Bill Skowron (who was awful for the Dodgers although he had a big home run in the World Series). The best thing for the Dodgers in 1963 was that Sandy Koufax stayed healthy and he went 25-5 with a 1.88 ERA and 306 strikeouts.

With Koufax and Dysdale both pitching over 300 innings, the bullpen got better. Mainly because Alston didn't have to use it as much. And the Dodgers would win the NL in 1963. And 1965. And 1966. And the Dodgers would win the World Series twice. And whatever mistakes Alston or Bavasi made in 1962 were not completely forgotten, but certainly they were not subject to the same level of self-flagellation that Red Sox fans went through in 1978 or 2003.

And the Red Sox of 1978 and 2003 get prominent chapters in Neyer's book as well.

2006-05-05 13:45:09
1.   Linkmeister
You know that phrase "there's no I in team?" Durocher always spelled "manager" as though it had an I in it.

Williams. I couldn't believe it. I was too young (11) to know all the possible moves Alston might have made, but listening to Williams walk those hitters was just devastating.

2006-05-05 14:10:13
2.   Marty
Mooted? Is that correct?
2006-05-05 14:13:06
3.   Bob Timmermann
That's what Neyer wrote. Except I originally typed it as moooted until Ken corrected me.
2006-05-05 14:17:27
4.   Humma Kavula
But does moot, as a verb, mean "to make academic or deprived of significance?"

Merriam Webster says it means "to bring up for discussion."

2006-05-05 14:51:33
5.   dagwich
Like Linkmeister, I was also just a kid (8) when this happened, but it formed my first solid memory of the Dodgers, and really sports. So since then I have always expected failure from the teams I root for....and what do you know, I am rarely disappointed.

Of course, losing in '62 to the Giants made the '63 sweep of the Yanks taste that much better.

2006-05-05 15:18:26
6.   psigney
As a nine-year-old, that third game of the playoff was one of the saddest moments of my life. Still ranks up there in the top ten.
One trivial note is that the second game of the playoffs was for many years the longest 9 inning game in baseball history clocking in at 4:18. I remember running home from school to see the last few innings.
2006-05-05 15:39:58
7.   Bob Timmermann
But the Dodgers and Giants still hold the record for longest 9-inning game. 4:27 on 10/5/2001. That was the game when Bonds hit homers 71 and 72.

And the Dodgers knocked the Giants out of the playoffs as well.

2006-05-05 17:49:29
8.   dzzrtRatt
I think history will forgive Alston for letting the great Mays-McCovey-Cepeda-Marichal team into the World Series once, since the Dodgers of that era made it four times.
2006-05-06 06:19:22
9.   Michael Green
I've read Durocher's account and those of others. After the game, Durocher made some comments that he later denied making. Bavasi said if Durocher really said those things, he would be fired. And the rumor long has been that Walter O'Malley wanted to fire Alston, and Bavasi threatened to resign if O'Malley did that, based on the premise that Alston wasn't the guy who threw the pitches, swung the bat, etc. But a couple of Dodgers from that era have said Bavasi liked Alston because he could order him around. True? Well, success has a thousand fathers while failure is an orphan, so don't expect anyone, even today, to take the blame.

As bad as that game was, I always think of Lasorda complaining about late-season losses and thinking, "Tommy, if you hadn't blown that game in April (or May or June or July or August), you wouldn't have to worry so much about September."

2006-05-06 10:11:24
10.   Bob Timmermann
I think that the front office knew what having Durocher in charge would mean and they didn't want it.

Alston never got a lot of respect while he was on the job, yet he has one of the most accomplished records of any manager who didn't run the Yankees. Four WS titles, Seven NL pennants.

The fact that the 1962 squad was able to win 102 games is something when you consider that Koufax was hurt parts of the year and the bench was awful.

2006-05-06 14:02:02
11.   norcalblue
>>The Dodgers went ahead with two runs in the sixth, and added one more in the seventh for a 4-2 edge. Roebuck gave up a single in the eighth, but that runner was erased by a double play and he got the next guy on a pop to second.<<

My first gut-wrenching memory as a Dodger fan. I was 9 years-old and 1962 was the year I became a thoroughly emgaged fan. I had the privledge of seeing Koufax's first no-hitter that summer with my grandfather and, I think, that June night will remain one of the top five most memorable events in my life.

When the Giants rallied in the 9th, I still recall coming home from school and sobbing, alone in my room. A janitor at my school had kept me informed of the games' progress all afternoon and I remember riding my bike home thinking the Dodgers would be in the World Series. To find out, when I arrived home, that my world had been turned upside down was true devastation. The four game sweep of the Yankees a year later was so sweet, but only partly made up for the pain of how 1962 ended.

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