The Importance Of Winning One-Run Ballgames

By Richie Gebauer, Contributor

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At the start of every baseball season, I cannot stand when friends, family, and/or colleagues tell me that the first several weeks of the MLB season are not important because there are 162 games to play. Every game is of drastic importance! Ask Joe Torre and the ’73 Cardinals. They went 5-20 in April and found themselves losing the division to the Mets by a mere 1.5 games. I bet they wish they could have April back. I wonder if Tim McCarver wakes up with night sweats thinking about ’73. But yeah. Keep telling yourself it’s okay that your team had a slow start or lost a few one-run games in the middle of the season because they have 161 other games to make it up. That’s the kind of thinking that has you cheering for your favorite football team in the first week of September rather than uncontrollably waving your rally towel in section 118 after Matt Stairs rips one into the night causing even Joe Buck to show the tiniest bit of emotion.

So, why am I stressing the importance over each of the 162 games all 30 MLB teams play? Let’s use the 2017 Phillies as the lens for this discussion. This year, the Phillies have been on the wrong side of the win column. Currently 24.5 games out of first having only won 34 of their first 96 games, many are considering the Phillies to be one of the worst teams in baseball history. If you take a quick look at the standings, how can you disagree? 29 wins at the all-star break can make any fan sick to their stomach. However, what is most intriguing is looking at the way that the Phillies lose. The Phillies are 11-26 in one run games and are 4-9 when going into extras. 56% of their losses have come in games that were within their reach. Let’s just imagine that these Fightin Phils – claimed as potentially one of the worst teams in baseball history – win two-thirds of these games. They are then 57-39, find themselves 2nd in the division only 1.5 games back from the Nats, and heading into a battle for the divisional crown. This would come at a time when they are playing some decent baseball following the break, most recently taking two of three from the Marlins and then the Brewers.

Would have, could have, should have right? I don’t disagree. Back at the conclusion of May, Dan Levy said that after 75 pitches the Phillies had a 7.45 ERA. You deserve to lose one-run games and to send your team to extras only to lose at the rate the Phillies are when pitching that poorly. But, are they really as bad as their record indicates? I would argue they aren’t. Instead, they are just a prime example of how important each inning of all 162 games is. The best baseball teams – those consisting of players with “guts” – win one-run ball games either by maintaining the lead or digging deep and scrapping for late-inning runs because that’s what leads to them playing in October.

So let’s toss the “April isn’t important” philosophy out the window and pray that each one-run game your team loses in April, May, June, or any month of the season isn’t what keeps them out of the playoffs and has you wearing your ridiculous Tom Brady Jersey right after Labor Day.

Don Mattingly: The bricklayer of a baseball dynasty

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I’ve now been a die-hard Yankee fan long enough to understand what comes with it, and believe me I understand all of it: I know I’m not from New York, I know I grew up in South Dakota, I know the payroll, I know people hate A-Rod (or did, he’s actually great on TV) , I know they blew 3-0 in ’04, I know the “Yankees suck! Yankees suck! Yankees suck!” and the whole nine-yards.

The good news is I’m now old enough to know that none of that matters to me nor does it bother me. I truly believe I understand the club and the franchise and the team top to bottom just as good as any true Bronx season ticket holder. I’ve been to the city and to enough ballgames there to know that this is indeed true. I get the MLB package every season to catch as many games as I can. To me, the beauty of baseball overall is beyond any one player and any one franchise so it essentially is bullet proof. Haven’t you heard the James Earl Jones speech in ‘Field of Dreams’??? I love the MLB, I love watching big leaguers compete, I love the high-level battles and I love how good they are. Plus the good news is that the way the game is now, you really can’t just stack your squad with the best offseason free agents and win a title every year. (I also think that the 2009 Yankees will be the last team to be successful at this and that will be a story for another day). Well, actually Boston continues to sign every big name free agent that comes up even though all the while their “RSN” mantra was built on being the “Anti-Yankees” when in reality they are now basically the Yankees. This is now true. At least Chris Sale seems to be working out much better than Panda and Carl Crawford. Anyway.

In today’s game, you need to grow your talent and they need to be good when they get to the Big Leagues. If you miss too many, you won’t be good. That’s the way it is. But in reality I don’t need to be a Yankee defender/apologist. But what I do want to get into is a three word subject:

Donald. Arthur. Mattingly.

Growing up as a kid, the Yankees weren’t really all that great. In fact, they hit rock-bottom in around 1990 and were terrible. But one of the brightest moments of this era was the career of Mattingly. Mattingly is my #1 favorite athlete of All-Time. To me, he was my original Eddie Vedder. What I mean by that is he was my original hero: the guy I checked box scores of every day, the guy my dad would always tell me when he homered, the guy that I collected the most cards of (this is true, I have over 350+ Mattingly cards and haven’t met anyone in the world who has more. Even though today all 350 cards combined are probably worth about $65). He was left handed, I’m left handed. He was gritty, tough, had a sweet mustache and a constant five o’clock shadow. But beyond all that he was ready to play every damn day.

Prior to a back injury in 1987 that ended up lingering and worsening for him thereafter, Donnie Baseball was one of the top players in the game. Mattingly still holds Yankee records for most hits in a season (238 in 1986), doubles in a season (53 in 1986), and holds the MLB record for grand slams in a season (6 in 1987). He was the MVP of the 1985 season, and as I type this I can’t help but wonder how in bloody hell he didn’t win it again in 1986? He hit .352 in ’86. Wait, who the hell won it then? Give me a sec while I check Google………………………………….Roger Clemens was AL MVP in ’86. Ok, got it.

Recently, Sweeny Murti (@YankeesWFAN) of WFAN New York Radio put together a great podcast (30 With Murti) that gave an inside look at when Mattingly as a 26 year old in 1987 homered in 8 straight games. The eight straight homer games generated a lot of attention and media coverage, and became one of the biggest stories in sports that summer. Yet during the season Mattingly never once made it about himself and always reverted back to the team. It was always about “the team, the team, the team” and never about him. The majority of MLB writers covering him during this time still speak fondly of this. He literally did this his entire career, he constantly downplayed his achievements. No matter what happened, it was always about moving forward and playing winning baseball. Hmmmmmmm….Does this sounds familiar? There seems to have been a guy named Jeter that mimicked this formula for twenty years.

There’s a great clip on the Murti podcast from a joking Mitch Williams, who was a young pitcher with the Texas Rangers in 1987: “Mattingly goes to the equipment manager in the locker room every year and says ‘give me a pair of pants that are too big, give me a jersey that doesn’t fit, and a pair of lightening-fast hands and I’ll go play.'”

Mattingly’s back injuries worsened each year after 1989, and there’s no question it limited him from being the same hitter he was before the injury. But he learned to play through it, to fight through the pain and continue to battle at-bats each and every ballgame. He did this until 1995. Right around that time, the Yankees organization started brining up key young players. Starting in 1991 with the debut of Bernie Williams, and culminating with other young players Jorge Posada, Andy Pettitte, Mariano Rivera, and Derek Jeter. The latter four each made their Major League debuts during Mattingly’s last season in 1995. What happened with these players and teams after is a run of success that more than likely will be unmatched for quite some time in modern baseball: 4 titles in five years starting in 1996 and three straight in 1998, 1999, and 2000.

It’s always bummed me out that Mattingly missed out on ’96, but every player from that team speaks of Mattingly and his influence of why they won and also how each of them approached the game everyday as a professional. Mattingly wasn’t there physically, but he certainly had a profound impact on that championship dynasty. There’s no question that the selflessness of those clubs was a direct influence of Mattingly. He truly laid the foundation.

There’s not an anecdote about the Core Four that hasn’t been told already. It’s a part of history, and some would argue it’s been told too much and at times has seemed difficult for the franchise to move on from. Hence Derek Jeter Day, Derek Jeter Evening, Derek Jeter Morning, Derek Jeter Brunch, Derek Jeter everything at Yankee Stadium in the last couple years. But the most excited I get is during those times when a member of those championship teams talks about what Mattingly meant to them in their development. Donnie Baseball paved the way for them. He dug the foundation, he laid the bricks.

Barry Bonds 1992

Thanks to an overwhelming amount of requests (actually just one: from my good friend Jamie Davies) it’s time take a quick glance at the 1992 season of Barry Bonds. Just to note: this isn’t to put the guy on trial for what he did or didn’t do. What really interests me is how good he was before getting really really massive. His last season in Pittsburgh was in ’92, and he had a beast of a season for a 96-win Pirate club.

Bonds 1992: In only 140 ballgames Bonds hit .311 with 36 doubles, 39 steals, 127 walks, 34 HR’s, drove in 103 runs, his on-base % was .456 (100 points higher than any other Pirate) while striking out just 69 times. Oh and he won a Gold Glove. And an MVP. That’s basically dominating every facet of the game. All before getting massive, and dominating with a lean physique. The guy was likely on his way to Cooperstown before 1998 happened.

What happened in 1998?

Bonds was having another year like the one above, but no one was really paying any attention because of the McGwire/Sosa home run chase. Ken Burns majestic “Baseball: The 10th Inning” addresses this topic and states that Bonds was raged and jealous over Sosa/McGwire and this eventually led him to have the feelings of: “Oh, yeah? You think that’s great? Watch this!”

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My Friends: Joe Ford and the Drive By Truckers

I moved to Seattle in 2003 with every intention of seeing every band I’ve ever been into at least once. It’s now 2017 and I can honestly say that U2 is really the last on my list that I made years ago. I can proudly say I crossed Metallica, Iron Maiden, and Springsteen off this list most recently.

Rewind to early 2004 and my buddy Jared called me and said “The Drive-By Truckers are playing at the Tractor Tavern tonight. I know you don’t know them but they are awesome and we need to go.”

So of course we went.

It was great, and should’ve been at Key Arena instead of a tiny bar. When we arrived, I noticed that Peter Buck from REM was in attendance. I couldn’t imagine he wasn’t into great music so I knew this was likely a good sign for whats to come. It was a phenomenal set and Jared and I were front and center and afterwards we saw one of their guitarists, Jason Isbell. I went up to him and shook his hand and told him “hey man amazing show” and he replied in the heaviest Southern accent I’ve ever heard:

“Yeah that was about the best show we ever played.”

Really great to hear that, especially since we were there. So I was instantly hooked. And for several consecutive years the Truckers returned to Seattle and each time they did I’d see Jason before the show and tell him “Hi I’m Joe, not sure if you remember me but I saw you after the Tractor Tavern show years ago and said hello.” And he would tell me every time:

“Yeah I remember you, Joe. That was the best show we ever played!”

One of the times included me buying him a shot of Jack Daniels, and he took it with me. This may have not been such a good thing, because rumor has it that a big part of Jason leaving the band in 2007 was because of his drinking. But he’s proudly stopped drinking and now today is one of the most renowned recording artists in all of music.

But following that first show in 2004, I called my best friend Joe Ford back in South Dakota and really was jacked up to tell him about the Drive By Truckers and that we really needed to dive into their catalog. And boy did we ever as Joe and I have shared a great bond over Isbell and the Truckers and their music over the years. To me, the Truckers truly hit home that small-town rural Americana sound and to someone who grew up in a small town it’s easy to relate. It’s as easy as breathing.

Yesterday when I texted Joe that I got the Town Mile site up and running he responded: “You should do one about the first time you saw DBT and called your buddy back in SD and the band you recommended was so profound in your buddies life that he named his first born son after the lead singer.”

This is true: Patterson Joseph Ford was born March 12, 2015. He’s named after Patterson Hood, the founder of the Truckers and a guy who I’ve also had the pleasure of running into a few times throughout the years. To me that’s the beauty of rock and roll music, is the time stamp it places on lives and the great connection it helps solidify between friends. It’s a deep, powerful thing. And Patterson Ford will more than likely end up with bowed legs and be really really fast like his dad was. This is him recently at age 2, already training:

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Barry Bonds 2001-2004

One thing I find myself almost unconsciously doing over the years is visiting and looking through the career numbers of Barry Bonds. Whatever your opinion of Bonds, some of his metrics are just mind-numbingly awesome and hard to believe. I’ll save a rant on 1992 Bonds for a later time, but just take a look at the peak of his head-growth and Bio-genisis mechanical swing:

2001 Bonds: 153 games, 73 HR, 177 walks, 32 doubles

2002 Bonds: 143 games, 46 HR, 198 walks (not a typo, really walked 198 times), 32 doubles

2003 Bonds: 130 games, 45 HR’s, 148 walks, 22 doubles

2004 Bonds: 147 games, 45 HRs, 232 FUCKING WALKS!!(120 intentional), 27 doubles

**So to summarize: Barry Bonds for four consecutive seasons either hit a home run, a double, or walked in EVERY. SINGLE. GAME. For four straight years.

Paul O’Neill gets off the bus

It was May of 1993. My dad had started a yearly spring tradition the year before of going to Minneapolis to watch the Yankees play the Twins in the Metrodome. The Twins still had a strong core of players from 2 championship teams, and at this time had consistently more success than NY did in the decade leading up to this May series. My cousin Brad came along for this trip and my dad (Stick) figured out what hotel the Yankees were staying at. I was in 7th grade, Brad was in 8th. I remember getting to the hotel and before long we started to see our diamond heroes make their way through the lobby. We saw Don Mattingly. The Real Don Mattingly. Yes him: Mr. 6 (SIX!) Grand Slams in 1987. He signed our baseballs for us and this still stands out as an all-time moment. He was wearing a leather Planet Hollywood jacket. That is not a joke, I couldn’t make that up.

We ended up getting a few other players, and before long were out in the car pick-up area watching them make their way to the Metrodome. We said hello to Danny Tartabull, and as we did saw that Paul O’Neill quickly entered the bus behind him.

“Danny can you see if Paul will sign our baseball?” I asked him, and he answered “Yeah.”

Sure enough a moment later, Paul O’Neill got off the bus and signed both of our baseballs. Now O’Neill hadn’t been with the Yankees for too long, and at that time had not yet become “The Warrior” and the heart and soul of four World Series Championships in the Bronx. He had won a previous title with Cincinnatti in 1990, and now as I think back the trade straight-up O’Neill for Roberto Kelly  seems like one of the great steals in the last 30 years of baseball. But on that day he listened to his teammates’ request for a couple young kids asking for him, and came off the bus. He did it for Cousin Brad and I and it was pretty awesome. Paul O’Neill got off the bus.

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