Road Warriors

What does it take to win a playoff spot? Good pitching is essential. Good, timely hitting is an absolute. Solid relief pitching is a must. But the one statistic that rules is this: you cannot have a losing record on the road. Road warriors rule.

Take a look at this season’s playoff contenders: Boston has the second best record in all of baseball and tops in the American League. Not only do they win in Fenway, but they have a winning record on the road…the second best road record in the league. Oakland also is a road warrior with more wins then losses. The Detroit Tigers were road winners over the season. Tampa was even with a 41-41 record.

Over in the National League, the only teams that are .500 or better are Pittsburgh, St. Louis and Los Angeles. Atlanta is one game under on the road. However, their home record is the tops in all of baseball.

Why is it these teams perform better sleeping on a Sealy away from home? The answer lies in the make up of the teams. Travel distances are one of the things to consider. Boston is part of a rather tight geographic fit in their division. But this brings up the issue that teams who have a big geographic spread and have to travel great distances should not do as well. While travel distances can be a factor they are not THE factor why a team plays better on the road than other teams.

Veterans are the key. Look at each team and see how age and wisdom contribute to a winning road record. Boston has regular position players Drew (30), Napoli (31), Pedroia (30), Gomes (32), Victorino (32) and Ortiz (37), all of whom have played on playoff teams previously. They are experienced road warriors. Oakland has Cespedes (27), Crisp (33), Callaspo (30) and Young (30), again, all have had playoff experience.

Perhaps you get the point. Experience in understanding a season is a marathon (not a sprint) and being able to kick it up into another gear, especially on the road, makes for a winning season on the road.

Pittsburgh may be the perfect case in point. Here is a team that finally has their first winning season in over 20 years. And their lineup is loaded with experienced road warriors who have had valuable playoff experience to support the likes of Alverez and McCutchen who do not. Morneau (32), Martin (30), Byrd (36), Barmes (34) all have playoff experience plus they have pitchers who have done so as well. A.J. Burnett, Francisco Liriano both bring added understanding to this year’s team, as does their manager, Clint Hurdle. He has won the National League pennant previously.

Then look at the Dodgers. Capuano (35), Greinke (29), Wilson (31), Gonzalez (31), Hairston, Jr. (37), Punto (35), Uribe (34), Young (36), Crawford (32) and Ethier (31).

Case in point: Nothing blends a team better than experience. The veterans are, at their very best, teachers. All of these teams who are fighting for a league pennant have young, exciting players on their roster. But those who succeed, especially on the road, have experience to guide the youth.

Humans are not unlike any heard of animals. Elephants look to their older members to guide them to water holes through a season, filled with drought and the unknown.

Experienced veterans are a the key to blending young and old while creating that thing called ‘chemistry’ that makes a group a team. That makes all of the difference in winning on the road. 

It’s going to be an exciting playoff.

Play Ball!

It’s Who’s Time

Labor Day weekend is a changing point for the fan. The first taste of ‘gridiron fever’ has been feed and few surprises developed, except for North Dakota State’s amazing upset. On the diamond, we already know who will be in and who will not make the playoffs, with a couple of exceptions. The biggest surprise of all is of course Pittsburgh. The Pirates will make the playoffs for the first time since the early ‘90s. Now it is time to make some predictions on who will win the big prizes and who will not be back. Of course, this is only one man’s view.

For the AL MVP: Miguel Cabrera, Detroit Tigers. Nobody in modern baseball does what he does with a bat. There are only two that can be compared to him in the entire history of baseball…Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig. Yes. He’s that good. Yes. He is the MVP in all of baseball.

For the NL MVP: Paul Goldschmidt, Arizona Diamondbacks. He plays in the middle of the night to most of the baseball world. So the world doesn’t know how good this young Gehrig really is. Stay up late one night and see the vision of young greatness.

For the AL Cy Young: Max Scherzer, Detroit Tiger. In one of the worst deals in baseball history, the Diamondbacks gave up on one of their true first round drafted superstars for who? Get this. In a three-team trade, Tigers get Scherzer for Edwin Jackson and sent Curtis Granderson to the Yankees who sent Ian Kennedy to the D’Backs who was traded to San Diego for Matt Stites and Joe Thatcher. So, Scherzer (71-43) was traded for Thatcher (8-11 career). This year he is the best pitcher in baseball.

For the NL Cy Young: Clayton Kershaw, Los Angeles Dodgers. Inordinately talented, he is the best pitcher in the National League and perhaps in all of baseball. He is the one pitcher this year who ‘dominates’ in every game, even when he loses.

For the AL ROY: J.B. Shuck, Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. Batting .297 as lead-off hitter, he leads all American League rookies in hits. Has 2 HR and 33 RBIs. What makes this a tough choice is that he is from Ohio State but we needed someone from SoCal to offset THE Rookie of the Year in all of baseball. Saint Puig.

For the NL ROY: Yasiel Puig, Los Angeles Dodgers. Descended from heaven, via Havana, and spread peace and grace upon Chavez Ravine as Düsseldorf mustard is to the Dodger Dog. OK. It’s Sunday. What do you want?

For AL Mgr Year: Ron Washington, Texas Rangers. With no star outfielder (Hamilton left for a place behind the Orange Curtain), half a season without their PEDBoy, without great pitching, he is in first place in the West and 16 ½ games ahead of the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. This does not make Arte feel good.

For NL Mgr Year: Don Mattingly, Los Angeles Dodgers. Idiot sports radio babblers ranted about how he should be fired. Then St. Puig descended upon the masses and magic came from each and every decision Donny Ballgame made. Who should be fired? Sports radio personalities in the City of Angels. Who should be hired? Donny Ballgame. His team is 20 games ahead of the 2012 World Champion San Francisco Giants who went from first to worst.

BYE BYE

The AL GM: Jerry Dipoto, Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, signed Pujols, Hamilton, traded Segura for Greinke, whom he couldn’t sign and keep. Left his manager hanging. He got rid of Segura, an All-Star shortstop. That alone should get him fired. Plus he doesn’t know how to sell billboard space.

The NL GM: Michael Hill, Miami Marlins, for working under Loria  He should be fired just for making the decision to accept the job and work for Loria. His team is the worst in baseball’s National League, 33.5 games behind division leading Atlanta.

The AL Mgr: Ned Yost, Kansas City Royals.  He should be fired because his name is Ned Yost, which rhymes with ‘most’ but leaves a taste of burnt toast. Neddly just doesn’t know how to manage, particularly young players.

The NL Mgr: Ron Roenicke, Milwaukee Brewers. He should be fired because he is not ready to be a manager. He cannot manage his players nor his coaches. Must have had over 100 lineup changes in first 130 games. His team is 20 games behind Pittsburgh.

The AL Coach: Jeff Manto, Chicago White Sox. Poorest hitting team in the AL and the  poorest performing team in nearly all of baseball. If you can’t hit, you can’t score. If you can’t score, you can’t win.

The NL Coach: Ed Sedar, Milwaukee Brewers, the worst 3B coach ever in the history of baseball.

It’s just one man’s opinion. Now let’s go out for one more month and ….

Play Ball!

One Down, Three To Go

It is that time during every marathon to take stock in how the race is going. We have just reached the quarter-mile post of this years great seasonal march to the crown jewel…  the World Series Championship.

As the second leg begins, in the American League, the New York Yankees are on top of the Eastern Division. So what else is new? They are ahead of Boston, Baltimore and Tampa Bay, all of whom are .500 or better.PREDICTION: Yankees pull away when their big guns return.

In the Central Division, Detroit is the team to beat as they have been for the past few seasons. They have the best 3-4 batters in baseball’s lineup and their pitchers are once again on top of their game. Cleveland, the surprise team is one game back. But, can they keep up with the American League champion all season long? PREDICTION: Detroit will win this division again.

Once again in the Western Division, the Texas Rangers are on top, as they should be. But once again, the Oakland A’s, with a cast of near nobodies, are the only other team over .500 in this division. PREDICTION: This time the Rangers will actually win the division and not collapse completely.

In the National League, the marathon continues with more of the usual suspects atop their divisions. In the Eastern Division, Atlanta has a good lead over the Washington Nationals, the only teams over .500 in this division. PREDICTION: Atlanta moves on again hoping to reach the final rung.

In the Central Division, St. Louis is atop with Cincinnati close behind. Along with Pittsburgh, all three teams are playing plus .600 baseball, the only division playing at this high level. PREDICTION: St. Louis continues in its traditional position.

In the Western Division, the biggest battle looms with three teams, Arizona Diamondbacks, Colorado Rockies and the San Francisco Giants are all tied with a .551 record. This year pitching will once again separate the teams as the race enters its second stage. PREDICTION: Arizona Diamondbacks will pull an upset win over the World Champion Giants.

Who do you think will win the marathon?

One down, three to go. The marathon is just getting interesting.

Play Ball!

It Was A Season To Forget For 29 Others

The San Francisco Giants are champions of baseball, once again. Their sold out season at home was a testament to their power in the West and throughout all of the game. The center of attention come spring will be Scottsdale. That is where they will begin to defend their title this past season and second in the past three years. For other teams it was a season to forget.

In Miami, what should have been a season to remember, became a nightmare quicker than you can say Fidel Castro. Of course when Ozzie said those two words, the beginning of the end began. Ozzie is no longer the manager of the Miami Marlins. He’s out of the fish tank. Now he can spout off about the aged dictator in Cuba all he wants with his profanity laced vocabulary. Así que lo siento. Me encanta el béisbol.

In Boston there was a tea party like only Beantown can deliver. They had fired the most successful manager in their history, who won not one but two World Series supposedly because he had lost control of his team. Guys were actually drinking beer in the clubhouse. Imagine that. Baseball players drinking beer in the clubhouse. After that horrible discovery was blabbed throughout New England on every fish wrap and sports talk mediums, there was a long debate between the candidates they would select as the next great Red Sox manager. Suffice to say the guy they should have taken grabbed the job with the Cubs before the Red Sox decided on Bobby Valentine. Yikes!

In Philadelphia and Milwaukee, great pre-season pitching staffs do not materialize to automatically put them into the playoffs. In Minneapolis, they found out that you can’t have a team built around one high-priced catcher. On the North side of Chicago, Dale Sveum is facing, like others who have taken over that franchise before him, another losing season which must be followed with a winning season or Sveum will have swum. On the South side of Chicago, they let a season of great leadership by one of their own disintegrate in September. St. Louis, Atlanta and Cincinnati had hopes crushed by the tidal wave known as the Giants. Arizona’s owner showed how he knows more about baseball than anybody because he has all the baseball cards Topps has ever printed. That makes him an authority. Unfortunately, Gibson can’t manage cardboard players. Houston was seen rushing over to the American League. They forgot to play ball in 2012.

Seattle had a season to remember. They gave up the greatest player in the game to the Yankees but had more great pitching performances at their stadium than anywhere on the planet ever. They are smiling in Seattle. Same with the fans in Washington, DC, where they were rewarded with a team that brought the city their first divisional championship. Quite an accomplishment for a City that had not seen a title winner since 1933.

Pittsburgh did it again. After a hot start, they faded badly. What do you expect from a team  that is managed by Clint Hurdle. Cleveland was never in the papers the entire season. Nor were the Padres. The New York Mets were non-factors this past season. Colorado disappeared in their own thin air plus their manager left after the season. Kansas City’s only claim to fame this season was hosting the All-Star game. The two ‘T-Towns’, Toronto and Tampa Bay had flashes of brilliance but not enough to put them in the big dance. On top of that, the Blue Jays lost their manager who became the head dude of the Boston Valentines.

Then there were the New York Yankees. The rapid loss of skills of A-Rod and the physical loss of The Captain, doomed the pinstripers this past season. In Dallas, the almost unexplainable coldness of Hamilton’s bat late in the season doomed the Rangers third attempt to win it all in three straight seasons. This franchise still hasn’t realized it needs pitching to win. Did you hear that Nolan Ryan? Remember what you did better than most? It wasn’t hitting. And what can you say about Detroit that hasn’t already been said?

That brings us to Baltimore. What a magical season Buck Showalter brought to baseball. 93 wins. Finally, Buck got his due. After rebuilding the Yankees and then getting fired; after building the Diamondback from scratch and setting all of the pieces together to win the World Series and got fired; after rebuilding the Rangers before he got fired; he took over a team that had won only 66 games the year before he got there and in two short years took them to the door of greatness.

Then there is Oakland and Billyball. The Athletics won the American League West title. And they played for the Championship of the American League. Go ahead. Name three players on the A’s besides Coco Crisp. They won an exciting 94 games. This was one of the most amazing stories in baseball. Billy Bean for President. He is the star of this franchise. Nobody understands the game better…on how to get the most out of talent like Mr. Bean.

On the other side of the equation is the Battle for LA. On one hand there is a billionaire who  bought a pig in a poke and thought he could win the American League pennant and finished third. On the other hand there are billionaires who not only  have to improve a team on the field but a stadium they play in and make it once again safe to go and see games. The Pujols Angels were only exciting because of one rookie. Their manager finally showed what he is made of. Arte has to take a look at his manager if he hopes to capture a title soon. As for the former LaLa Dodgers, they have gotten rid of all that has been bad over the past couple of years by taking out of the game the battling McCourts.

Which leads us to the Giants of San Francisco. Jack Elliot once said “Baseball is grown men getting paid to play a game.” In the City by the Bay, men enjoyed playing baseball this season like few before them. The had food fights before the games. One of their biggest boosters was an injured pitcher who played Ernie Kovacs routine of The Nairobi Trio in the dugout during the game. There were more than smiles. There was laughter and joy of being in a game they love to play. Pandemonium ruled. They put new gas into the gashouse gang. Think of them as the laughing gasers. They have all winter to smile the smile of victory.

Play Ball!

Tigers Could Use ‘6’

 

 

Out to the mound one of the most famous of all living Tigers walked before the first home game in the World Series at Comerica. Al Kaline, of course, threw a perfect strike to open the game. Here was the only man who won a batting title in the major leagues at the age of 20. Throughout his 20+ years with the Tigers, he was known at ‘6’ or the number on his back.

The Tigers could use ‘6’ now.

No team in the history of the game have come back being down 3 games to 0 to win the World Series. No team. Nada. Zip. Never.

The real problem for the Tigers is that they have forgotten to hit. It’s not that they cannot hit. They just haven’t been hitting. It could be that the Giants have the best pitching staff in the major leagues. Zito, Cain, Vogelsong, starting then with Lincecum and Romo coming out of the pen make it difficult to get any hits. However, maybe it is the tightness they feel and show when coming to bat or take the field. The Tigers just look tight.

On the other hand, the Giants are loose. They have a pregame routine like no other. The Giants pregame routine is crazy. The ritual of throwing popcorn and other snacks around the clubhouse brings memories of “Animal House” and food fights. This team is NOT traditional in thought or in action. They are loose and they are red-hot.

The Tigers on the other hand are non-emotional. There is no excitement. There is none of Prince Fielder’s famous antics that were part of the Milwaukee Brewers climb out of obscurity back to the top of baseball’s elite. The Tigers appear to be walking on egg shells, not wanting to disturb tradition…not wanting to appear to have a little swagger. Not that ‘6’ had a loose attitude when he played. He appeared to be buttoned up. Maybe that is at the heart of the Tigers. Plus, they haven’t scored a run in 18 innings. Come on.

Their top pitcher, and the top pitcher in all of baseball, Justin Verlander, appeared to be shell-shocked when he gave up some of the strangest hits in the history of baseball in Game #1. A ball hits the 3rd base bag and goes between the third baseman and shortstop for a double? Can’t happen. But there was a clue given by his catcher, Alex Avila, in an interview explaining Verlander’s difficulties in post season before this series. He said that Verlander became too cautious. He was not throwing with abandon like he did during the season. In a nutshell, it happened again this year. He let a bad break, with a ball hitting a bag and taking a crazy bounce, get inside his head. Once Verlander faltered, the entire team collectively appeared to say, “Oh, oh”.

Baseball is a funny game. Ritual is everything. Perhaps it is time to bring back a ritual that never failed the Tigers in their history. After Miggy comes to bat, the announcer can say, “Now batting for the Tigers, number 6, Al Kaline. Kaline.”

Play Ball!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Case For #28 As MVP

 

All-star, silver slugger award winner, Prince Fielder is an undisputed MVP candidate of the American League this season. Case in point: in 2011 he was the insurance behind the National League’s MVP, Ryan Braun. that assured pitchers threw would rather pitch to Braun in the third position in the batting order than take their chances with the ever dangerous Fielder in clean up. In 2012, he was the insurance behind the American League’s first Triple Crown winner in 45 years, Miguel Cabrera. In the clean up position, Fielder was again the biggest threat. Pitchers have learned that they just don’t like pitching to #28. He is that dangerous. Cabrera was the beneficiary.

This is not to take anything away from Braun or Cabrera. They are both great baseball players and superb hitters. Both earned their achievement titles.

But how dangerous is Fielder? In both 2011 and 2012, he played in all 162 games. In 2011 he had 170 hits. In 2012 he had 182 hits. Last year he had 36 doubles while he collected 33 doubles this season. He hit 38 home runs while driving in 120 RBIs last season. This year he hit 30 home runs and drove in 108 RBIs. As for the RBI total, you probably can’t have too many men on base when the Triple Crown winner is hitting ahead of you. Last year he hit .299 and this year hit .313. Perhaps the most amazing stat is the fact that he walked 85 times while striking out only 84 times.

He will get better. This was his first season in the American League. Despite inter league games, he had to learn all of the pitchers in a new league.

So, who is better than Prince Fielder as an MVP candidate in the American League? Is it a Triple Crown winner or Michael Trout of the Angels, who had a very good rookie season?  Detroit won their division and moved on to the playoffs. The Angels finished out of the running. MVP is all about who got you there not who might have gotten you there. Remember, Prince played in more games and hit as many home runs as Trout did. Plus he’s playing in the playoffs once again.

Play Ball!

 

 

 

 

 

From The Navy Yard To Pigsville And Beyond

In case you are living under a rock, baseball fever is at an all-time high due to the expanded playoff spots now up for grabs. It is pandemonium in the parks. All you have to do is watch the Fightin’s and the BrewCrew to see what’s happening. Both teams, picked to finish near or at the top of their divisions before the season began, struggled to find their bearings throughout the summer. But now when the window is closing fast, both Philadelphia and Milwaukee are putting together winning streaks that are defying the odds.

As of this morning, both teams are closing in. The Phillies are only one game behind in the loss column and the Brewers two games behind because the Dodgers pulled off another great 9th inning rally to beat St. Louis and tie the Cardinals for the wild card spot. That leads us all to the next question: if you tie for the Wild Card at the end of the season, do you have a one game playoff? And, where would that game be played? How is it determined? Let’s not forget the D’Backs. There are only 4 games out in the loss column.

Wild Card fever is not only limited to the National League. In the American League, there is an insane rush  for the playoffs going on as well. The Amazing A’s not only are in the driver’s seat for the Wild Card spot, they are only 2 1/2 games behind the mighty Texas Rangers for the top spot in the AL West. Baltimore, behind their Manager of the Year candidate, Buck Showalter, are three games ahead of the payroll laden Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, the unbelievable Tampa Bay Rays and the powerful Detroit Tigers. For everyone who wants a final half month of the season to be up for grabs, you’ve got it this year.

The Angels are another interesting story in all of this. With a payroll that is bigger than most, along with an amazing AL Rookie of the Year candidate in Mike Trout, they continue to stumble when they need it the most. The latest Scioscia Slip occurred last night in Kansas City where former Royal’s Cy Young Award winner, Zach Greinke, the former Brewer earlier in the season, took the mound and was Greinkesque. He masterfully shut out his former team for 8 innings. Then Scioscia, as only he can do, decided to let him go  back out to the mound for he 9th. With the pitch count running into the low 100s, Greinke had not finished  a complete game in years. But if Big Mike wills it, it will happen.

Or not.

Greinke got the first two out before he gave up a single into left. Now Mike the Merciless jumped out of the dugout and immediately called for a reliever who promptly gave up a game tying home run and then the winning home run, back-to-back. If you could have seen Greinke’s face in the dugout when Billy Butler slammed the game tying home run, you would have been whisked back to an earlier few days in the season when he had the same experiences while a member of the Milwaukee Brewers. Deja Vu all over again.

How quickly we come full circle back to Pigsville’s favorite ball park. Last night the Crew unloaded against the Mets only to see Scoscia’s disciple, Ron Roenicke bring in Axford in the ninth inning with a big lead. Axford promptly made the game interesting as he gave up his usual runs in the 9th. But unlike what happened in KC or in Dodger Stadium, the game at Miller Park ended with no more runs scoring.

We’re in for a great final few weeks in September. As Jim Murray said, “The charm of baseball is that as  dull as it may be on the field, it is endlessly fascinating as a rehash.”

Play Ball!

#23 Maybe #1

For many of us who grew up in the land of Wisconsin, Minnesota, Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan or Ohio, the cool breeze of fall leads to one destination: Pasadena. The ‘Granddy of Them All’ is the goal for every kid who steps on the gridiron in the breadbasket. It’s the time the kids from the Midwest get to strap it on against the kids from the Pacific Coast. No matter where you live in Rockford, Rochester, Akron and the many other cities that mark this region of blue-collar workers, the goal is there. This year our team will make it to the Arroyo Seco where the Rose Bowl resides.

He was like us all. The difference: he was a natural from Pontiac. Tough, determined and very athletic, the schoolboy star became an All-American wide receiver who won the Big Ten football title while attending Michigan State. His tough, Ditka-type mentality along with great speed and agility, made him a sure pick for pro ball. When the draft came, the Cardinals picked him. But just when everyone expected him to jig, he jagged. Who wanted to play for the Racine-Chicago-St. Louis-Phoenix-Arizona Bidwell’s?

During college, his football coach, Darryl Rogers, suggested he go out for baseball. In only one collegiate season he hit .390, with 16 home runs and 52 RBI in 48 games. He jagged to the Tigers. His career was filled with honors. Two World Series championship rings, one in the American League (1984) and one in the National League (1988). One NL MVP (1988). A Silver Slugger (1988) and 2 time All-Star.

Oh ya. He hit what was probably the most famous home run in Dodger history. It is one of the most famous in World Series history. Just ask Hall of Fame pitcher, Dennis Eckersley. Strike one. Strike two. Ball, outside. Ball, again outside. Foul ball. Ball again. Mike Davis is on the move toward second.

“But, we have a big 3-2 pitch coming from Eckersley. Gibson swings, and a fly ball to deep right field! This is gonna be a home run! Unbelievable! A home run for Gibson! And the Dodgers have won the game, 5 o 4. I don’t believe what I just saw! I don’t believe what I just saw! Is this really happening, Bill? One of the most remarkable finishes to any World Series Game…a one-handed home run by Kirk Gibson! And the Dodgers have won it…five to four; and I’m stunned, Bill. I have seen a lot of dramatic finishes in a lot of sports, but this one might top almost every other one.” (Jack Buck)

The other day, in the tunnel that takes one from their seats to the club beneath the stands behind the plate at Chase Field, if you are on the 3rd base side, you get to pass the entrance to the Diamondback’s locker room and their dugout. It is one of the great hidden gems in all of baseball, as you will undoubtedly meet any number of players and coaches as they go back and forth from dugout to locker room. Surprisingly, the players and coaches  are very accommodating. Most have smiles and acknowledge you with a ‘how ya doing’ or ‘great to see you’ without ever having met you before. This close. This intimate. This is unbelievable. These are the guys in the Show. That’s Kennedy. “How ya doing, Up?”. “Goldie”. “Let’s get’em tonight.” “Thanks.” “See ya.” “Have a good game.” Talking with the guys. Guys talking to us.

Then, there he was. Looking down at a piece of paper in his left hand, shuffling toward the dugout, looked up briefly and said, ‘Hi’ as he moved on past and into the dugout. Another ‘Hi’ in the land of dreams. He looked like an older man, shaggy stubble of a beard, an old athlete well past his prime. But he was undoubtedly ‘Gibby’, the hero of East Lansing, Detroit, Los Angeles and certainly soon to be in Phoenix.

This is a tough man. He takes no guff. Going back to his days in Detroit (the first eight years he was there) he became a free agent in 1985 but received no meaningful offers and therefore re-signed with Detroit. He knew it. Baseball knew it. Baseball ownership had been in collusion and in 1988, an arbitrator moved that MLB owners colluded against the players in an effort to stem free agency. Seems nothing changed between players and management from the time of Comisky to Selig. Owners are owners. Players are chattel. Gibson took free agency immediately and went to the land of Dodger Blue.

He was a Sparky Anderson player. Tough. Straight-laced and to the point. There he was the student. In Dodgertown he appeared to be outspoken and disciplined, something never said about the team since they flew across the nation to reside in Hollywood. He chastised the team for being unprofessional and brought about a winning attitude through the full strength of his personality. He openly criticized the team and became the de facto leader. His intensity and absolute determined attitude made the powder blue into a fighting blue. The Dodgers became tough under Gibson. Some say he brought back the Brooklyn spirit (us against them) to Los Angeles. The result? They became winners once again. They were once again the Dodgers of Robinson and Hodges, Pee Wee and Campy, Erskine and Newcombe. More than anyone, it was Gibson who brought them to this point.

Skip forward a decade or so. Now he was a bench coach in a very lonely Diamondback’s dugout for a manager nobody remembers. After a few really horrible months, crowds thinning and losses mounting, D’Back’s fired their manager and moved Mr. Gibson up to an ‘interim’ position as manager of their ball club. It was a move that saved money with management not caring what would happen the balance of the season. Gibson was an old baseball man who would step in place and marshal the troops until they could find someone who might bring them back to a pennant fight. After all, if their previous manager couldn’t do it, why would you think Gibson could do any better?

What he did in the final few games of 2010 was a miracle. These same bunch of guys who literally wallowed in defeat learned to become winners. There was only one thing that happened. Kirk Gibson became their manager. It is absolutely as plain and simple as that.

But the Diamondback management, since the days they forced out Colangelo as the owner, have been helter skelter. This GM in. That GM out. The owner interferes with everything. He criticizes the players and drops hints to his journalist pals about this and that. Announcers are fired because they don’t wear a logo T-shirt. Loyalty is non existent. Important decisions are hard to come by.

Beyond all odds, prior to the next season, mercifully, the ‘interim’ tag was thrown away and Gibson became full-time manager. It was the best decision this owner has ever made, certainly better then his purchase of the T-201 Honus Wagner (The Gretsky) baseball card.

Before the season began, Gibby asked around, including his old Dodger coach, Tommy Lasorda, what he would look for in selecting a good coaching staff. Lasorda simply said, ‘get the best’. Get the guys that every player looks up to.’

Gibson is no dummy. He quickly surrounded himself with the finest coaching staff in baseball. For batting coach, who better than Don Baylor (former NL Manager of the Year. 1979 AL MVP, hit 139 RBI in single season. 19 years in the Major Leagues.) Charles Nagy, Pitching Coach, 3x All Star (Cleveland) pitcher (129-105) in 14 years. Eric Young, First Base Coach, All-Star (Colorado), Silver Slugger (1996) in 15 years. Matt Williams, Third Base Coach, 5x All-Star, 4x Gold Glove, 4x Silver Slugger. Only player to hit home run for three different teams in three different World Series (Giants-1989, Indians-1997 & Diamondbacks-2001). Alan Trammell, Bench Coach. 3x All-Star, 3x Silver Slugger, 4x Golden Glove, MVP World Series (1984). Hit .343 in 1987. One of only three players to play 20 or more seasons for the Tigers (Ty Cobb & Al Kaline).

If you are a player for the Diamondback, who do you want to look up to and ask if you have a question? This is the best coaching staff in baseball. Result? The Arizona Diamondbacks were the surprise team of the season in 2011. Result? Gibson was NL Manager of the Year (2011) with nearly all of the same players he had inherited from the previous regime.

That was yesterday. Now is another year. Without any superstars, without the great pitching staff of the San Francisco Giants. Without the rah-rah of the Magic invested Dodgers, here come the D’Backs, within 2 in the loss column. This isn’t the Roeneke led Brewers, 16.5 out of first. This isn’t the Ozzie led Marlins, 14.5 out of first or the Manuel Phillies 16 out of first place at the beginning of August. These are the Gibson led Diamondbacks. Tough as their manager is. Strong as their manager is. Single-minded as their manager is.

Since he has worn that jersey number since he was a kid, #23 may just be the #1 manager in all of baseball. Other than he, who has done what he is doing? For many, we don’t believe what we are seeing.

Play ball.