MANAGERS GONNA MANAGE…BUT CLUTCH IS STILL CLUTCH (Occasional Sports Moment #29)

I almost had to say I told you so again.

In the epic seventh game of the World Series played between baseball’s two most beleaguered franchises, Cubs’ manager Joe Maddon took out his hot pitcher not once but twice, thus sparking not one but two rallies from the opposing dugout he insisted on waking and re-waking (or, as John Smoltz might have it, making happier and happier).

The beauty and absurdity is that he got away with it.

Cubs win! Cubs win!

First time since 1908. In case you hadn’t heard.

Which means these two men are the only ones in the 114-year history of both the National League Chicago team being called the “Cubs” and the major league baseball championship being called “The World Series” who have ever managed the one to a victory in the other…

frankchance2

Jun 24, 2016; Miami, FL, USA; Chicago Cubs manager Joe Maddon (70) fields questions from reporters in the dugout prior to the game against the Miami Marlins at Marlins Park. Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

Wonder if Frank Chance ever took out a hot pitcher in any game…let alone two hot pitchers in one game (one of whom had overcome a shaky start after he replaced the first hot pitcher) which happened to be the deciding game of a World Series?

I’m sure we’ll never know. Record keeping in 1908 wasn’t quite what it is today. Besides, there being scant, if any, video evidence of those years, a term like “hot pitcher” can only rest on the shaky evidence of stats. Stats don’t always tell the story. My definition of a hot pitcher is that I know one when I see one.

Part of the reason Joe Maddon got away with taking the two hot pitchers me and John Smoltz saw out of a deciding World Series game (the second being removed so he could bring in a “closer” who had been exhausted by extensive mop-up duty in a blowout the night before–did I mention that managers are gonna manage?), was he had David Ross on his roster.

I was not surprised, after Ross’s thirty-nine-year-old catcher’s body was inserted in the middle of an inning, that he struggled defensively, or that those struggles resulted in two runs. A glorious last name can only get you so far when your manager’s gonna manage.

But neither was I surprised that Ross, a .229 lifetime hitter with barely more than 100 career home runs, came back a short while later and hit a monster home run over the center field wall, or that the home run ended up being enough to keep the Cubs tied when Maddon took out his second hot pitcher (and that pitcher’s designated catcher, Ross), so that his exhausted reliever could give up three more runs. Meaning Ross’s home run was the only thing that kept the Cubs from losing in nine.

The only time I saw David Ross play in person was in 1997, when he hit a two-out, bottom of the ninth, game-winning home run against FSU in the driver’s seat game of a college regional in Tallahassee. His Auburn team went on to the College World Series that year. The next year he transferred to the even more hated Florida Gators and they went to the College World Series.

Did I mention he was a Tallahassee native? Yep. Born in Bainbridge, Georgia, but he went to high school here. At the FSU lab school no less.

So that game-winning home run was a “take that.” Kind of a “if you wanted to go to the College World Series, you probably should have given me a scholarship.”

Clutch is still clutch.

I don’t know where David Ross is going to live after he retires, or what he is planning to do. But it wouldn’t hurt my feelings if he came back here and coached our baseball team.

After he gets done being Mayor of Chicago.

(I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that this was the first season I caught John Smoltz’s game analysis. It was akin to witnessing a miracle. He knows pitching, no surprise there. But he also knows every aspect–and physical or psychological challenge–of hitting, fielding, base-running, managing and selling popcorn. He even made Joe Buck sound intelligent. Plus he kept saying “Don’t make the other dugout happy,” which is even better than my longstanding “Don’t wake them up!” More than all that, I learned things from him. I think the last time I learned anything from a baseball announcer was some time in the early seventies, right before I turned thirteen. The only other announcer who has ever taught me anything about any sport I follow is Martina Navratilova, who provides similarly refreshing insights on the Tennis Chanel. I’m not sure if “well, there’s two then” is a sign of civilizational decline–after all, among hundreds, there’s only two–or a reason for hope to once more spring eternal. Maybe I’ll figure it out next season!)