On Series MVPs, designated hitters, and road records
It's anybody's guess who is going to wind up as the Most Valuable Player of this 79th World Series, but chances are good that it will be at least a fairly big name.
That's not the way the popular myth goes, of course. Legend has it that the stars usually fall on their faces in the annual classic while some lesser light rises up to steal the show. This does happen on occasion, of course (Bobby Richardson, Billy Martin, Gene Tenace, and Bucky Dent are among the names that come to mind), but such heroics are really the exception rather than the rule.
Meanwhile, although it doesn't make as good a story, the fact is that it is indeed the big stars who have turned in most of the big performances - as the list of MVP's surely shows. Hall of Famers Sandy Koufax and Bob Gibson (twice each), Whitey Ford, Roberto Clemente, and Frank Robinson have all won the award, as have Reggie Jackson (twice), Brooks Robinson, Pete Rose, Johnny Bench, Willie Stargell, and Mike Schmidt. Hardly a group of nonentities!
Milwaukee's Paul Molitor and Mike Caldwell took the early lead in this year's race via their performances in the Brewers' 10-0 opening game victory - the former with a record breaking five hits and the latter with a spectacular three-hit pitching performance. Robin Yount, a cinch for regular season MVP honors, also got off and running with four hits and two RBI's. Meanwhile, the only Cardinal to do anything was Darrell Porter, MVP of the playoff victory over Atlanta, who continued his fine post-season hitting.
Of course there's still a long way to go, and the whole thing is hard to predict anyway in view of the shifting priorities in voters over the years. Going by a combination of history and recent trends, however, it's a pretty good guess that the winner will turn out to be the top hitter on the winning team.
That wasn't always the case. Pitchers, in fact, monopolized the honor for the first half of its 27-year existence, capturing it an amazing 11 times in its first 14 years. But since then the pendulum has swung even more decisively the other way, with everyday players winning 12 of the last 13 years.
This isn't to say that there haven't been some outstanding recent candidates on the mound. A lot of people, including this observer, thought Pittsburgh reliever Kent Tekulve, rather than Stargell, should have won it in 1979. You can also make cases for Philadelphia's Steve Carlton in 1980, New York's Goose Gossage in 1978, and Cincinnati's Rawley Eastwick in 1975.Eastwick, in fact, was actually voted the winner during the famous sixth game in the latter classic, but Boston came back to win that game, and eventually the voters changed their minds and picked Rose instead.
Ironically, the only pitcher to win the award in the last 13 years was current Milwaukee relief ace Rollie Fingers, who did it in Oakland in 1974.
As for picking a member of the victorious team, that's almost automatic. The only MVP chosen from a losing club was Richardson of the 1960 Yankees. Again, there have been other strong candidates, but many voters obviously believe that no matter how great a player's individuals efforts are, it doesn't matter if his team doesn't win. Only in truly exceptional cases does common sense overrule this bias - as it did with Richardson, and again in this year's AL playoffs, when Fred Lynn's 12 hits and .611 batting average enabled him to beat out Milwaukee reliever Peter Ladd despite the latter's brilliant job in filling in for the injured Fingers. Designated hitters lessen strategy
The American League's designated hitter rule is in effect this year, meaning that the Series already has two strikes against it in terms of the pinch-hitting decisions and the second guessing that is such a fascinating part of the game.
You only have to go back to last year to Yankee Manager Bob Lemon's move in pinch-hitting for Tommy John in the final game to find a perfect example. And people in Boston are still asking why the Red Sox lifted their ace reliever Jim Willoughby for a pinch-hitter with the score tied in the eighth inning of the seventh game in 1975. But nowadays all such potential controversy is sacrificed in every other World Series for an extra bat in the lineup, and this is one of those years.
Milwaukee Manager Harvey Kuenn is happy that his pitchers don't have to bat for the first time all year, while Cardinal pilot Whitey Herzog says it doesn't much matter to him.
''If there was no DH it would be an advantage to us, but having it is really not a factor either way,'' Herzog said.
Maybe not in theory, but in the three previous Series in which the rule has been employed (1976, '78, and '80) the American League DH's have outhit their National League counterparts .322 to .236, and driven in nine runs to two.
A lot of that production, though, was by hitters like Reggie Jackson and Hal MacRae who undoubtedly would have found their way into the lineup one way or another with or without the rule. This year's teams, on the other hand, are using what might be called ''pure'' DH's who would otherwise be on the bench - Roy Howell and Don Money in the left-right platoon that Milwaukee has employed all season, and Dane Iorg and Tenace in similar fashion for the Cardinals. Not exactly a game-breaking, cleanup-type array, so perhaps they really won't be too much of a factor this time. Brewers a strong road team
Milwaukee's success in St. Louis shouldn't really have come as any surprise; the Brewers had the best road record in the major leagues this season at 47-33, which is actually a few percentage points better than their home mark of 48-34. The Cardinals also didn't seem to care where they played, posting identical 45- 36 records at home and away.
The alleged disadvantage to an American League team of playing on articial turf, which is much more prevalent in the National league, also seems to have been a bit overblown. Prior to this year there had been 23 World Series games played on artificial turf, almost all of them in NL parks, and the senior circuit had managed only a 13-10 edge. Anyway, the Brewers dispelled any doubt about their ability to handle the surface in the opener, handing St. Louis a most unpalatable helping of its own ''Whitey ball'' as they slapped the ball around, beat out several infield hits, came up with some big defensive plays, and generally out did the speed-oriented turf-minded Cardinals at their own game.