Monday, January 13, 2014

Google Alert alerted me to Ignorance

Every day, I get a Google Alert about the Braves.  Often, the articles are not noteworthy and are made up of analysis of a recent acquisition, or during the season, of a recent game.  This offseason has seen a lot of articles about the pending move to Cobb County in 2017 and most recently, articles talking about how awesome Greg Maddux was or in Tom Glavine’s case, how frustrating #47 made it on hitters.

But today, two articles garnered my attention.  While most recent articles about Maddux tout his accomplishments, the Denver Post’s Joan Niesen focuses on his “flops.”  I am all for more women in sports journalism, but this kind of analysis makes her look like Woody Page writing under a female pen name.

In an article apparently about Peyton Manning’s postseason failures, Niesen touches on former Nuggets coach George Karl, whose teams never missed the playoffs but only once got past the first round.  I don’t know a lot about the NBA, but the Nuggets never seemed like a contender to the crown.  In a sport where 16 teams go to the playoffs, a good team that keeps its core together should be able to make trips to the playoffs.  But like I said, I don’t follow the NBA that closely.  Niesen next touches on Alex Rodriguez (again, the article is supposedly about Peyton Manning).  After other famous “chokers in sports,” Niesen finally comes up with what she considers a tremendous comparison for Manning – Greg Maddux.

“Maddux, arguably one of the greatest pitchers of all time, was voted into Cooperstown this past week.”  Wait, arguably?  “His Atlanta Braves teams made the playoffs over and over and over again, but what we forget — Manning already is jealous — is that he won one only World Series.”  Who forgets that?  Certainly not the litany of fans of other teams.  And what do you mean "he won only one World Series?"  This isn't tennis.  The team either wins or loses.  “Like Manning, Maddux was consistently lights-out in the regular season. He too was dorkily terrifying, winning an average of 18.3 games from 1992 to 2000, with his ERA hovering from 1.56 to 3.57. Maddux, like Manning, was likeable, but intense, seeming as smart as he was talented — and once the calendar turned to October, things just weren't quite the same. ERAs ticked upward, win counts down, and seasons petered out.”

I will ignore for the time being that win-loss record and ERA are pretty awful judgments of a player.   Career ERA for Maddux – 3.16.  Postseason ERA – 3.27.  Yes, his win-loss record looks miserable (11-14), but it ignores several instances where Maddux posted great numbers.  He took a 3-2 loss in Game 6 of the 1996 World Series despite giving up just three runs in 7.2 ING.  Those three runs were helped by a RBI triple by Joe Girardi…to center field.  Maddux took the loss the following year in Game 5 of the NLCS despite giving up two runs in seven innings.  He gave up two runs in five innings during Game Three of the NLCS, taking the loss.  Oh, he came back two days later and got a save.  He gave up two runs in seven innings during Game 5 of the 1999 NLCS, but got a no-decision.  Two runs in the 2001 NLCS Game One while going seven innings, but he gets a loss.  In the 2003 NLDS against the Cubs in Game Three, he surrendered two runs and took the loss.

Was Maddux as good in the postseason as he was during the regular season?  It appears not on the surface, but he still pitched rather well.  He gave his team a chance to win in many of these games, but the offense and defense often did not come to his assistance.  To call Maddux a choker is to follow the narrative of the weak-minded.  It does not pass the test of true logic.

Elsewhere, Alex Chitty is upset to hear any comparison that includes both Bobby Cox and Joe Torre.  The comparison is not fair to Torre, Chitty argues, because the Yankees won the World Series a few times.  The Braves didn’t.  And that’s all that matters.

Here’s the problem with that argument.  Torre coached the Mets for five years and they never won the series.  Coached the Braves three years…they never won it all.  Was with the Cards for four full season and two other partial years…they never even got to the playoffs.  So, suddenly, Torre was a genius in New York?  Why, for seven years, despite not winning fewer than 94 times, did the Yankees not win a World Series from 2001-07.  This argument loses its luster very quickly.  In three years with the Dodgers, Los Angeles never won a title.

But what the Yankees did have was money.  They finished second in payroll ($5M more than ATL) during 1996.  Not a big difference.  They led the league in 1997 in payroll ($10M more than ATL).  In 1998, when the Yankees got their second title, the difference between the two was $5M as the Yankees finished second in payroll.  The following season, 1999, when the Braves and Yankees once again met in the series, the Yankees led baseball in payroll…$13M more than the Braves.  The Yankees would again lead baseball in payroll during their final championship season, 2000, $9M more than the Braves.

Why did the Yankees not win anymore?  Their core was getting older.  So was the Braves, but they didn’t have the extra cash to supplement the rest of their squad.  Nevertheless, by 2004, the Yankees doubled the Braves in payroll, but they weren’t getting much deeper into the playoffs.  Torre’s mojo was either lost or his players weren’t as good as they once were (despite being well-compensated).

I’m not going to argue that Cox was better than Torre…God knows I have my issues with Cox.  However, I will give Cox credit when he deserves it.  I saw Torre more than a few times not fight for his players.  Especially A-Rod.  Now, A-Rod is a jackass, but his manager should be out there fighting for him.  Cox would have hated A-Rod, but he would have fought for his guy.  Cox got the most out of his players.  A blank check gave Torre the most.

That's not to take away from Torre, who was a fine manager.  He never struck me as a genius, but he was still rather good at his job and at the end of the day, Torre has three more rings than Cox.  Does that make him the better manager?  If that’s all that matters to you, I guess it does.  To me, I prefer context as it tells a story.  The story does not provide for any consensus on who was better.  But to argue that the comparison between the two is unfair to Torre is ignorant.

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