The 1971 World Series, at least the first two games' worth, was scarcely a triumph for those who consider baseball to be a tactical exercise. Rather, it proceeded a bit more along the lines suggested by the Pittsburgh Pirates' Roberto Clemente on Monday after his team was disassembled 11-3.
"You hit him hard," said Clemente, speaking of the Orioles in a collective sense—which is the way the Orioles always seem to be coming at you, "and he hit you harder. And you say, 'This fellow want to kill me.' "
The Baltimore Orioles may not exactly have had homicide in mind, but there was no doubt that the Pirates were on the verge of extinction. Those who were looking forward at all could only hope that the escape from Baltimore to their carpeted home field would offer them a chance to recoup, or at least to die less ignominiously.
The opening loss was by a reasonably dignified 5-3 score, although all of the Oriole runs were a result of home runs. The second was something else, however, an inartistic shambles in which the Orioles inflicted many indignities. Oriole Pitcher Jim Palmer twice walked with the bases loaded, scoring Brooks Robinson each time. Merv Rettenmund singled twice in one inning—the six-run fifth. And Pirate Catcher Manny Sanguillen was felled at the plate by a near-perfect block thrown by the Orioles' Dave Johnson. Johnson was out on the play. So, nearly, was Sanguillen.
October 17, 1971
"I'm sorry," said Johnson on his next turn at bat. "That's O.K.," said Sanguillen. Later he qualified his acceptance of the apology. "That's no fair baseball," he said out of Johnson's hearing. "But what can I say after he says, 'I'm sorry'?"
In all, the Orioles reached Pirate pitching for 14 singles in that second game, three of them by Frank Robinson (see cover), a home-run hero in the first game, and three more by Brooks, who also walked twice. Frank entered the third game in Pittsburgh hitting a robust .625, Brooks .571.
All of this—the heavy hitting, the roughhousing, the bases on balls (15 in the second game alone)—negated what both managers seem to count upon as a forum for the expression of their tactical genius.
Danny Murtaugh has the prototypical baseball manager's face—a masterwork of seams and pouches, all drawn downward to a junction with his protruding jaw. But he is no curmudgeon, and he has great respect for his trade. Asked how important a manager is to a team, particularly one that hits .274 for the season, Murtaugh replied in depth.
"The leader of any team in professional sport has to play an important part in its success. Every manager must realize what his ball club needs. We are all equal in this knowledge. We all make about the same moves. Eventually it is a question of strength."
Murtaugh's team has its strength; it also has its weaknesses, one of which—pitching—may prove competitively fatal against a club as abundantly talented as the Orioles. As the clubs headed for Pittsburgh, Murtaugh's best hopes for survival seemed to be in praying for rain. At least the Pirates did not lose on Sunday.
It is perhaps inevitable of Murtaugh's counterpart on the Orioles that he should worry, even in the beginning, as much about the Pirates' weaknesses as about their strength. Before the Series opened, Earl Weaver was pensive, his Mickey Rooney features stilled for once. He was trying hard to think of a way the Pirates could wrest the championship from his Orioles. It is always wise for a major league manager to have such unpleasant thoughts, for even the best of teams—Weaver's included—can be beaten in unsuspected ways. Remember what happened to the Orioles in 1969. Still, it seemed Weaver was stretching even his own formidable capacity for stone un-turning when he finally concluded, "They have great arms on that pitching staff. We will just have to hope their pitchers all have bad days."
Weaver may be the only man in his business who ever gave a thought to Pittsburgh pitching. It is Pittsburgh hitting that commands the respect of more ordinary thinkers. Clemente, Stargell, Sanguillen, Robertson—these were names to be reckoned with; Pittsburgh pitching was useful only for complying with the regulation that says both teams must have a turn at bat before an inning is completed. For the Pittsburgh team it is an obligation to be fulfilled between licks.
But then Weaver had to fret about something. Worrying is a tool of his calling. And when a baseball manager can turn loose three 20-game winning pitchers on his opponent and keep a fourth in reserve for unlikely emergencies, well how is he going to scare himself silly over the other guy's hitting? No, the only thing left to brood about as Weaver approached the Series was pitching, or whatever they call it in Pittsburgh.
Danny Murtaugh had many more legitimate concerns. Baltimore pitching was the best in baseball. The Baltimore defense was the best in baseball—so good that in the opener Weaver could bench Paul Blair, whom he considers to be the game's best outfielder, in favor of a bigger hitter, Merv Rettenmund. And Baltimore hitting would be the best in baseball if Pittsburgh's was not. But Murtaugh is, like Weaver, a baseball academic to whom the obvious is contemptible. Habitually, he scurries about the laboratory, experimenting with lefty-righty batting orders and suicide squeeze plays, content to let the monster with the bat in his hand lie dormant and shackled on the slab until needed—and then, sometimes it is too late.
Such curiosity is, under ordinary circumstances, admirable, but in the final analysis it is the players who must play the game. Even in the opening win by the Orioles it was obvious that managerial cerebration went for nothing. The players simply refused to perform as programmed.
Murtaugh, seeking an advantage over Weaver's left-handed pitcher, Dave McNally, benched two left-handed batters, Richie Hebner and Al Oliver, who between them hit 31 home runs and batted in 131 runs during the regular season, in favor of two right-handed batters, Jose Pagan and Gene Clines, who between them hit six home runs and batted in 39 runs. Righties Pagan and Clines went 0 for 8 against McNally. As for Murtaugh's suicide squeeze, it worked just fine—if only because the best defense in baseball went comically bad for one inning.
Most everyone conceded that even Pittsburgh's fierce batsmen would have trouble making fools out of Baltimore's consummate fielders. Then, in the second inning, this theory was also given the lie. With Bob Robertson on second base by means of a walk and a wild pitch, Manny Sanguillen hit a hard ground ball to the ordinarily impeccable Oriole shortstop, Mark Belanger. Robertson, ignorant apparently of Belanger's reputation for alertness, foolishly attempted to advance to third. Sure enough, Belanger threw to Brooks Robinson in ample time to catch the sliding Robertson. But the ball bounced off Robertson's batting helmet and he scored easily. Sanguillen, meanwhile, moved to second. He was on third moments later when McNally fielded Jack Hernandez' squeeze bunt. The pitcher then tossed quickly to Catcher Elrod Hendricks who, as he later explained, "Never saw the ball." It bounded past him for error No. 2. The Pirates scored their third run of the inning and last of the game when Dave Cash singled to center field, scoring Hernandez. It was an improbable Baltimore inning—two errors, three unearned runs.
But McNally mowed down the Pirates' right-wing platoon the remaining seven innings, retiring, in one stretch, 19 consecutive batters. He finished with a tidy three-hitter and nine strikeouts.
Weaver's concern over Pittsburgh pitching didn't trouble him for long. Frank Robinson homered for one run, Rettenmund homered for three more and Don Buford homered for yet another, and the game was won.
If Weaver ever feared Pirate pitching, his outfielders never saw reason to do so. They were surprised, they said after the first game, that Pittsburgh starter Dock Ellis was not faster. The always solicitous Rettenmund told reporters he knew from past experience that Ellis had a better fastball than he exhibited on Saturday. Ellis and Murtaugh agreed, although Ellis' explanation seemed flawed in logic.
"The scouting report on me happens to be that I'm a breaking-ball pitcher," he protested, adding, "Yes, all those big hits were off breaking pitches."
Murtaugh allowed as how he might have some second thoughts about his platooning tactics but said he reserved the right to make his own judgments on such matters. This was in obvious reference to unfavorable opinions on platooning advanced earlier in the week by the benched Oliver. After the first game, however, Oliver was as charitable as only a man so vindicated can be. Yes, he'd like to play all the time, he acknowledged, but, "This is the way he [Murtaugh] manages."
Weaver was hard pressed to describe just how he manages. It was brought to his attention that benching the best defensive outfielder in the game for an offensive platoon was remarkably prescient. Weaver modestly demurred.
"During the season I went by the pitching charts," he said. "I'd play whoever I thought could hit the pitcher best. It was all very scientific. Almost computerized. Today, I didn't have any charts, so I just looked up the batting averages and played the guys who had the best ones."
Modern science, it appeared, had given way to bookkeeping.