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Thursday, October 11, 2012

Alex Rodriguez pinch hit for: worse than benching.

Alex Rodriguez was replaced in the ninth inning of last night's Major Baseball League (MBL) first round tournament game at Yankee Stadium against Baltimore by his manager Joe Girardi.  Lefty pinch hitter Raul Ibanez batting against a righty pitcher tied the game with a home run taking Girardi off the hot seat.  Ibanez next batted against a lefty in the 12th inning and hit the first pitch for a game winning home run.  To my knowledge no batter has ever done that in a MBL post season game.

I think being lifted in a clutch spot like that is much more humiliating than being benched outright as Yankee manager Billy Martin did to Hall of Famer Reggie Jackson in game five of the division series in Kansas City in 1977.  It helped that Billy hated Reggie.  Reggie pinch hit late and delivered a clutch single to relieve the tension as the Yankees won.  Jackson hit three home runs in the sixth and final game  of the World Series against the Dodgers and Billy loved him for a short time afterward.  Winning heals all wounds.

In the final losing game of the first round in 2006 Yankee manager Joe Torre dropped Rodriguez to 8th in the batting order.  After last night's game Yankee announcer Micheal Kay repeated the usual drivel about how Rodriguez was ruined by this humiliation.  This is contradicted by Rodriguez having his best Yankee season in 2007 winning his second MVP award as a Yankee.

Rodriguez could not have reacted better to being pulled last night.  When Ibanez tied the game Rodriguez immediately jumped for joy and fully engaged in the celebration with his teammates.  And he hugged Ibanez.

People talk big when they are not the ones making the decisions.  Handling a fading super star is extremely difficult and usually the manager does not humiliate the player.  They generally do not:

- bench
- drop in the batting order
- pinch hit.

At the time of his sudden and untimely death late in the 1929 season Yankee manager Miller Huggins was batting 26 year old Lou Gehrig sixth ... because Gehrig was not having a typical season.

In 1959 Red Sox manager Pinky Higgins humiliated 41 year old Ted Williams who had led the league in batting average in 1957 and 1958 by dropping Williams to sixth (starting on July 4) for 17 games despite the fact that the Red Sox were going nowhere.

Those cases are unusual.  Check these starting batting order positions for stars in their final seasons:

- Joe DiMaggio 1951 managed by Casey Stengel: 4th 108 games; 5th 5;
- Mickey Mantle 1968 managed by Ralph Houk: 2nd 8; 3rd 122;
- Willie Mays 1973 manged on the Mets by Yogi Berra: 1st 21; 3rd 35; 5th 1.

DiMaggio batted fourth in all six games of the 1951 World Series against the New York Giants with 25 plate appearances.  In his final game DiMaggio hit a double in two at bats plus two walks, one intentional.

Mays played four post season games in 1973:
- one against Cincinnati: in game five Mays got a pinch hit single for Ed Kranepool batting fifth; Mays went 1 for 3 and played CF.

- three against Oakland in the World Series:
    - game one batting 3rd;
    - game two pinch ran for Rusty Staub and stayed in the game in CF batting third going 1 for 2;
    - game three PH for Tom Seaver in his final plate appearance.

There was plenty on the line but neither Stengel nor Berra humiliated his aging star despite the fact that neither had a long or close relationship with the star.

The easiest for a manager is to bench the aging super star.  There's always the pretext that the star needs rest.  Next, though difficult, is to drop him in the batting order and even that is seldom done.  By far the most difficult because it is the most humiliating for the star is to pinch hit for him, especially in a big spot.

Joe Girardi did the most difficult thing last night.  Fortunately for both Girardi and Rodriguez it worked.  Tonight they both catch a break because Baltimore is starting a lefty pitcher and Girardi can comfortably put Rodriguez into the starting lineup.  But where?

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