Long Live the Little Guy
By Steve Hofstetter
I've decided that I want to be a World Series hero.
I think I have what it takes. Like Scott Posednik, I didn't hit one regular season home run this year. Like Tadahito Iguchi, I haven't had two seasons in the majors. And like Geoff Blum, I haven't been able to stick with one organization.
Okay, so I'm never going to be a World Series hero. I'm never even going to be a church-league softball hero (though that last part could be because I'm Jewish). I don't have the talent to make the majors or the minors or a college team orâ€¦You know, this is getting bad for my self-esteem. My point is that my favorite part of the postseason is when the little guy wins. Because the people watching are even smaller than him. (Not always in size of gut, but you see where I'm going).
Fransisco Cabrera. Johnny Podres. Donn Clendenon. These are the guys of legend. Forget Willie, Mickey, and the Duke. When people talk World Series baseball, they're talking Bucky, Tenace, and the Maz. That's why October is so exciting. Because players you never heard of before and may never hear of again get to have millions of kids pretend to be them for a few days.
This year's series was particularly fun because everyone was the little guy. The White Sox and Astros combined for more than 130 seasons without winning a World Series and we knew the drought had to end for one of them. Though one team in any given world series will probably lose, the other one usually ends up winning the whole thing. On a home run by a guy you've never heard of.
In the meantime, the 26-time champion Yankees must retool for next year. And they've got their work cut out for them. I hear Randy Johnson is leaving next season to tour with Jeff Foxworthy.
"If your mullet is more intimidating than your fastball, you might be a redneck!"
Fear not, Bomber fans. There's a great prospect on the staff in Chien-Ming Wang. Wang alternated between brilliance and mediocrity this season, but more importantly has a last name spelled "Wang."
Also knocked out are the high-paid, no-longer-underdog Red Sox. Boston backed their way into the playoffs to begin with, when the Indians surrendered the Wild Card like it was Manhattan Island in the 1620s.
And then the reigning NL champion Cardinals, who got spoiled when they played the Padres in the first round. It must have been confusing for St. Louis when they had to face a Major League team in round two.
Was I the only one rooting for the Padres to lose the last few games of the season so they could end up under .500 in the playoffs? I don't want to make a sham of the postseason; I just wanted the Dodgers to feel stupid. (That's for stepping on my father's heart in 1957. Take that, Walter O'Malley!)
And then there's the Atlanta Braves, who seem to be allergic to October. In 15 years, they've won 15 division titles, lost in the first round nine times, and won only one title. Which was in part due to underdog Luis Polonia.
The Angels had many potential underdog heroes, many of whom helped beat the Yankees when Vlad looked more like the Imposter than the Impaler. But they eventually lost to the ChiSox in the ALCS for two reasons. One, ChiSox is just more fun to say. Two, all the luck went Chicago's way. Watching that series was like watching the sequel to Angels in the outfield, where Christopher Lloyd fights with Danny Glover and makes the Angels lose. You know, like they've been doing for all but one of the last 45 years.
Even though the White Sox swept the Astros, it's still been an exciting series. Game One wasn't much, but the back and forth of Game Two was like watching ping pong, except with the rules of a real sport. And fourteen innings in Game Three. How can you not like that? Even some Astros fans would acknowledge Game Three was great, but they're too busy trying to remember when Geoff Blum was on their team.
"Really? Only two years ago? For two full seasons? I've actually never heard of the guy."
And of course Game Four: a classic pitcher's duel won on a home run by Jermaine Dye. Is Jermaine Dye the little guy? Not really. He's been playing well for the last decade. But two much-needed innings of stellar relief came from Neal Cotts and Bobby Jenks. Those two guys combined to allow two runs in 10.1 post-season innings, and they're not exactly household names. Though they will be this week.
The best part of the recent World Series? Sure, there have been two anti-climactic sweeps in a row. But in the last five seasons, two teams ended droughts of more than 80 years and two more teams won the series for the first time in franchise history. That's a welcome change from just two teams winning six of the eight contests before that.
It's also much better than the entire decade of the seventies, which featured just eight teams on both sides of the fall classic. Or the fifties, which featured just seven. If people don't think there's enough parity in the game now, they should realize that in the last eight years, the Yankees are the only team to repeat an appearance in the Series. The last ten World Series berths have been occupied by nine different teams.
Speaking of Davids and Goliaths, this off-season will be crucial to the performance enhancement issue, as the owners have unanimously backed commissioner Bud Selig's plan for harsher steroid testing. Of course, they also backed his plan for flying cars, time machines, and sharks with laser beams on their heads.
Gotta love the little guy.