Wednesday, October 1, 2003 Updated: October 2, 1:20 PM ET
There's no styling in baseball
By Eric Neel Page 2 columnist
There was a disturbing trend in evidence on the first day of the baseball playoffs. I'm not talking about the scarcity of runs or the rash of fielders' jitters. I'm not even talking about Dusty Baker letting Kerry Wood throw 124 pitches (which isn't a trend so much as a tradition). I'm talking about the fact that teams wearing hideous mismatched road unis won two out of the three games on Tuesday.
Kerry Wood is in his sixth season with the Cubs.
Whatever happened to simple, sturdy road grays? Whatever happened to uniforms that spoke straight and tough, uniforms that said a team was all business, that it had its eyes on the prize and was working the bunker mentality? Why the "special" darks phenomenon? Why the Granimals chic? These things aren't uniforms; they're poly-something, fire-retardant, big-boy jammies. They're "Tron" costumes. They're a joke.
It's bad enough that the Cubs, Twins and Marlins all voted to go with their ugmo alternative kits on Tuesday; it's bad enough that the players' wives didn't force them to choose between changing to the standard road unis and sitting through a "What Not to Wear" marathon, that their kids didn't do water color and crayon pictures of "Dorky Daddy" crossed out with a big red X, laughed at by all the hip, cool daddies, and burned at the stake in the town square. But what's really bad is that the high council of all things baseball, the spirits who nurture the soul and uphold the laws of the game, didn't deliver a right and proper smiting at the first sight of them yesterday.
"Wear them on a sunny Sunday in May," the emperors should have said. "We got no problem with that."
"Wear them for a mid-season matinee game," they should have said.
"Hell, wear them on the 4th of July for all we care. But do not bring them into the house of playoffs again, my friends. Do not soil this hallowed ground, do not trifle with this October. Got it? Good. Now here, take your Game One loss and come back fresh, gray and ready to play tomorrow."
That's how it should have gone; but in two games out of three, it didn't. And I'm worried. In the short term, I'm worried that we'll see more of these fashion crimes in the days and weeks to come. In the long term, I'm worried that traditional values are eroding in this country, my friends -- the values that you and I hold dear, the values that define who we are (home team or visitors) and where we are (in our own backyard or in the lion's den) in this crazy, mixed-up world.
Some other first-day observations:
If Guzman wasn't safe he would have been ... uh, out.
Cristian Guzman scored Run No. 1 for Minnesota by running first-to-third right in front of the Yankees' Hideki Matsui and the ball, and then running home on a shallow ball to right. He was safe both times, so he was playing gutsy ball. If he'd been out, of course, it would have been brash, inexperienced folly in the House That Ruth Built. Pitches are dramatic because you wonder if a guy can do what he has to do to get the job done and be a hero. Same with swings at the plate. But plays in the field and on the base paths are maybe the most dramatic of all, because you're watching a guy's decisions play out and his fate hang in the balance between bravery and stupidity.
People credit the Yankee mystique to Ruth, Gehrig, Joe D, the Mick and the like. Those guys are a huge part of it, no doubt, but the guys keeping it alive now are Torre, Zimmer and Stottlemyre, leaning against the back wall of the dugout like "made" guys waiting for you to pay your respects.
I know the ball skidded on him a bit, but Bernie Williams looked slow on Torii Hunter's ball in the sixth. Was that sound I heard the door creaking shut on the Bernie Era?
In the dictionary next to "want-to," by the way: Matt LeCroy going first-to-third (and eventually scoring) on that play. Was that sound I heard the door swinging wide open on the Twins' reign?
You know what's fun? Listening to Joe Morgan while watching Alfonso Soriano. It's like Joe's waggle-bat power is alive and kicking in Alfonso's shimmy-shake pop.
The Marlins' Miguel Cabrera, who by the way is about nine years old, had a great 12-pitch at bat against the Giants' Jason Schmidt in the second inning. He eventually struck out; but for a while there, he was a foul-it-off machine every bit the ace's equal. One of the best things about the playoffs is the way the smaller field of teams and the easy pace of baseball combine to focus your attention on people you might have heard of but never seen, and guys you might never have heard of at all. Ladies and gentlemen, we present for your viewing pleasure, Mr. Miguel Cabrera. Miguel ... come on out here ... say hi to the people ... let 'em love you!
It works both ways, of course: Miguel's error in the fourth inning was under the glaring light of the playoff spotlight.
Ever notice that Jason Schmidt looks like a skinnier version of that Burl Ives doll in "Rudolph"?
Unless, of course, you're a Marlins hitter. Then, he looks a lot like Jim Palmer. Or maybe he just looks like Mr. Jason Schmidt, Esq., the man whose name appears on the deed to your sorry butt.
Barry Bonds continues to make a run up the home run chart.
Here's how good Bonds is: Years from now, when my little girl asks about him, I'm not going to tell her about the home runs (they're too common). I'm going to tell her about the first pitch from Josh Beckett in the fourth inning in the first game of the 2003 divisional playoffs. I'm going to tell her it was a straight fastball over the plate. I'm going to tell her Barry swung like Bunyan & and missed. I'm going to tell her it was the damndest thing I ever saw.
Here's how good Josh Beckett is: he threw that ball by Bonds.
Speaking of balls, the "No Balls" signs Giants fans held up when Bonds was at the plate are nice. A punny manhood challenge -- not something you see every day.
Enduring image from Giants-Marlins Game One (after Schmidt's ball exploding in Benito Santiago's glove time and time again, that is): Balls that looked to be decently hit just running out of gas in the outfield air and lazily giving in to gravity, wind, and a fielder's glove.
I'm looking at Kerry Wood standing on second in the sixth inning of the Cubs-Braves game, with two hits in his back pocket and only one on the opposition's scorecard, and I'm seeing Orel Hershiser, circa 1988.
I'm looking at Sarah Wood rocking back and forth in the stands while Kerry pitches, and I'm thinking when Leo Mazzone finally decides to hang 'em up, the Braves might want to give Sarah a call.
After Cabrera's game effort against Schmidt, the most entertaining nothing-really-happened-AB of the day was Randall Simon's whiff in the sixth, just before the floodgates opened to wash Russ Ortiz away. Randall's taking out his chain and kissing his crucifix and then carefully tucking it back under two layers of jersey. He's stretching his neck from side to side like a prize fighter, patting his shoulders, hitting himself in the thigh like Columbo looking for the notepad. He's all tics and timing devices. And oh yeah, big, big, don't-get-cheated cuts.
While we're on the subject of healthy slices, Gary Sheffield's awfully fun to watch. That is, if you can see the blur of his bat coming through the zone.
While we're on the subject of Sheffield ... the Sheff's Chefs thing? ... not working, fellas.
So Fox shows flashback footage of that nasty collision earlier this year between Marcus Giles and Mark Prior; and seconds later, Giles comes up gimpy after a run-in with Eric Karros' elbow on a close play at first. Eerie. Remember, Fox, like Peter's uncle Ben says, "with great power comes great responsibility."
The two most anxious hitters I saw all day: Jason Giambi and Sammy Sosa.
And in closing I'll just say this: The difference between regular season baseball and playoff baseball is revealed in close-up camera shots under players' hat bills. It was 61 degrees last night in Atlanta, but Joe Borowski was sweating in the ninth like Jimmy Stewart in "The Flight of the Phoenix." Lucky for the Cubs, he had that same mix of fear and resolve on his face, too.
Eric Neel is a regular columnist for Page 2.