Marty Lurie Talks San Francisco Giants Baseball

Reflections During a Rain Delay- Soriano and Giambi

While waiting for rain to slacken up one’s thoughts turn first to Soriano who is having what is probably the worst post season any player has had in recent or not so recent memory. At this point he has struck out twenty two times. He has absolutely no clue. He is behind the count 0 and 2 or 1 and 2 on every occasion he is called upon to bat. When he falls behind in the count you know that a strike out is coming up. He hasn’t hit a ball to the outfield,it seems, in his last twenty or so appearances.What makes all of this perplexing is that Soriano is frequently referred to as an undeniable prospect for inclusion in the Hall of Fame when he finishes playing. He hits well over three hundred during the regular season. He leads off the game with more first inning home runs than any player since Henderson. How does one account for the misery he is undergoing in this post-season?

There is no ready answer although there are a few conclusions one can come to which may have some validity. First of all, one must accept that post-season play is significantly different from regular season play. In the post-season teams in contention have been followed by the best scouts in the business for a month or so before playoff time. Any weaknesses a hitter has are thoroughly dissected by the time playoffs begin. Further, during the post-season a hitter is going to be batting against consistent strong pitching to a far greater extent than he will be facing during the 162 game season. During the regular season, there will be far more occasions when a hitter is batting against run of the mill pitching than against the type of pitching one sees in the post-season, both starting and relieving. In fact, as one saw repeatedly in these playoff games. it was not unusual to see strong starting pitchers in the game midway, in relief.

A hitter can’t feed off bad pitching post-season as he can during the regular year. Soriano, when he falls behind in the count, when the count is one and two or nothing and two, is not a three hundred hitter. I don’t know what the statistics will show, assuming one is interested enough to study them, but I would feel safe in wagering that Soriano is hitting a great deal less than three hundred in those circumstances. He is an undisciplined hitter despite his overall average during the regular year.

There is a recent book by David Halberstam called “The Teammates”. It’s about a visit by Pesky, Doerr and Dom DiMaggio to Florida to see their friend Ted Williams who is close to death. He quotes John Pesky, “I can still hear him(Williams) telling us, “you’ll get one good pitch to hit. One good pitch. That’s all. Don’t count on more. So, you better know the strike zone. And when you get that one good pitch you better hit it and hit it hard., Remember, one good pitch.’ ”

That was Williams, on hitting. When one reads that, one immediately thinks of Bonds. That is a perfect description of a great hitter. Soriano doesn’t know the strike zone and doesn’t wait for that one good pitch. He has the potential, since he has great natural aptitude, and one day he may be a great hitter. He isn’t one today. Good pitching gets him out. That is why he has struck out twenty two times already in the post-season. I recently saw some statistics which set forth the ratio between balls and strikes he had taken over the stretch of a season. If my recollection is correct, it was in the neighborhood of four to one more strikes than balls. That may be the answer to his present difficulties. It is unlikely that he will snap out of it during the remainder of the series. It isn’t a simple slump. It is far more basic.

Now for Giambi. This raises once again the designated hitter issue. There is an article in the Times this morning by one of their leading writers, George Vecsey, decrying the aberration produced by the designated hitter rule. We have baseball being played by different rules in the two leagues. The World Series is being played by two sets of rules.

Vecsey writes, “The National League, of course, plays real baseball, in which pitchers must hit and run and managers must make hard choices about pitching changes.” He refers to Kerry Woods belting a home run in the playoffs on his own behalf. Woods also had a three hit game against the Giants during the year. He refers to Willis hitting .243 over the length of the season, which is more than many position players hit these days.

Giambi is a flawed player. He is played today because Torre has hopes that he can hit more than his regular season average. But he can’t run and he is a bad fielder. During the regular season he sits on the bench until called on to hit. If he gets a hit, more often than not, he is pulled for a runner.

The justification for all this back in 1973 was that the fans needed more hitting in the game, As a result they changed the character of the game. What did they accomplish? Well, this year the batting champion in the American League was Bill Mueller, He managed to lead the league in hitting with a .325 average. Does anyone wish to compare him to Bonds, Sosa, Pujols, to name a few of the National League’s leading hitters?

This argument will continue to go on and on. The union, by now, will refuse to relinquish the right to have fourteen players who cannot really play the game, sitting on the bench until called upon on four isolated instances to get up there with a bat in their hands, even if the cannot field or run. And, for this, they have changed the rules and insisted that a different game be played in the two leagues.

Why couldn’t they have left well enough alone? The game was a thing of beauty. It still is, in the National League. It is something less than that in the other league.


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