Barry Chin/Globe Staff
Much is being made about the new nature of major league baseball. Starting pitching is no longer the be-all and end-all of the postseason. Scratching out runs is not in vogue. We are inhabiting a grip-and-rip world in which home runs are prized above all, sacrifice bunts are eschewed — the cackle you hear is Earl Weaver up there in that Great Sports Bar In The Sky telling us, “I told ya so!” — and strikeouts are no embarrassment.
This has caused some consternation among those who fear that the current game has way too much of the ball not being put into play. When you have a record number of home runs and strikeouts, combined with a high walk total, it is undeniably true that a shocking percentage of at-bats end with the fielders having no part in the action. Yet I wonder just how much this has upset the average fan. After all, it’s not just chicks who dig the long ball. And strikeouts can be electric. I’m of the belief the agonizing is basically restricted to a few professorial types. The object of the game remains the same: score more runs than the other guy. Oh, and it is also my belief that we live in a golden era of defense, with an abundance of highlight-film material on a nightly basis throughout baseball. There is still a lot to like about the game.
What does annoy me is the complete La Russa-ization of baseball when it comes to handling pitching staffs. The constant parade of pitchers, often working to one batter, is, to me, an eyesore.
The World Series was once the province of the great starting pitcher. Why in the very first World Series, 1903, two starters won three games in that best-of-nine series. Big Bill Dinneen went 3-1 for the winning Boston Americans. Deacon Phillippe was 3-2 for the losing Pirates. Of course, things were a bit different then. The Red Sox went through the entire season with six pitchers.
So much of World Series history has to do with heroic starting pitching. The Giants’ Christy Mathewson tossed three shutouts against the A’s in the famed All-Shutout 1905 Series. Babe Adams won three for the Pirates against Detroit in 1909; Cleveland’s Stanley Coveleski won three for Cleveland against Brooklyn in a best-of-nine Series in 1920; Harry “The Cat” Brecheen of the Cardinals beat the Red Sox three times in 1946; Milwaukee’s Lew Burdette conquered the mighty Yankees with three complete games in 1957; Bob Gibson was 3-0 vs. the Red Sox in 1967; Mickey Lolich was 3-0 against the Cardinals in 1968. That was the last time someone won three games in a World Series.
The closest anyone has come in the ensuing 49 years was in 1988, when Orel Hershiser of the Dodgers, fresh from a notable NLCS (a win, a save, and a 1.09 ERA vs. the Mets), was 2-0 with two complete games against the A’s; and 2014, when Madison Bumgarner was 2-0 with a shutout and an historic five-inning save in Game 7. Now that’s pitching.
But now it’s about tag teams, with the most being asked of a starter is six innings. Hooks are very quick. Witness Luis Severino the other night. Joe Girardi wasn’t going to mess around, and he was rewarded when his relievers went the final 8⅔ innings, striking out 13. That was the ultimate, unless the next skipper doesn’t like Ball One to the leadoff man and decides he’s seen enough. Don’t laugh.
For the record, the granddaddy of individual relief efforts in what we used to call the Fall Classic came in 1966 when Baltimore’s Moe Drabowsky, whose previous claims to fame had been a) he was born in Poland, b) he was a graduate of Trinity College when college grads weren’t that prevalent in baseball, and c) he was quite possibly baseball’s reigning comedian, entered a tough spot in Game 1 of the World Series and threw 6⅔ innings of shutout relief, fanning 11 Dodgers. Let’s see somebody top that in the next few weeks.
All of this brings to mind a man who must sit around laughing at what he’s seeing. I am speaking of someone who may have been — check that, absolutely was — the most versatile pitcher of note in Red Sox history. I am speaking of Bob Stanley.
Bob Stanley took the mound for the Boston Red Sox 637 times in a career that began in 1977 and lasted through 1989. Included were 85 starts spread over seven seasons. So, yes, he was primarily a reliever. But there are relievers and there are relievers — and Bob Stanley was a workhorse reliever. There was none of that one-batter or one-inning stuff, although he did close often enough to rack up 132 saves.
Bob Stanley was the pluperfect long reliever. Check this out: In 1982, the first year in which he did not start a game, he worked 48 times for a record 168⅓ innings out of the pen. Back-to-back? Of course. The following two seasons he threw 145⅓ and 106⅔ innings, respectively, again all out of the pen.
Quick story: On March 27, 1977, rookie Bob Stanley was the winning pitcher in a 10-3 triumph over the Twins at Tinker Field in Orlando. After the game, manager Don Zimmer told the media that Stanley, who had been in Single A the previous year, was going to make the big club, but that we shouldn’t tell him until Zim could pass the news when the team got back home to Winter Haven. That evening I was having a beer or two with my friend George Kimball, then of the Boston Phoenix. We spied Stanley across the bar and went over to buy him a congratulatory beer. He looks at us and says, “What am I going to do with $20,000 a year?” I’m guessing he thought of something.
Bob Stanley was a terrific guy and what happened in Game 6 nine years later was very painful for us who knew and respected him. No one deserved to be the man accepting the congrats with the Sox finally winning it all more than Bob Stanley.
He’d be ideal today. He could enter in the second or third and give you five or six quality innings. That’s if somebody would let him.
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