- TOP PLAYERSOffensePABLO S. TORRE | August 20, 2012
- TAMPA BAY buccaneersENEMY lines WHAT A RIVAL COACH SAYSJune 28, 2012
- Faces in the CrowdJune 11, 2001
Sometimes there is a quality of splendor in defeat, a trace of gallantry, an evidence of persistence and courage in the face of hopelessness. Even the destruction of the Chicago White Sox last week by the New York Yankees left Al Lopez, the White Sox manager, surrounded by an aura of nobility, undoubtedly the hero of the piece even though he was thoroughly vanquished.
Sometimes, however, defeat is not so splendid. Sometimes it is so crushing and humiliating that it becomes almost tawdry, an unpleasant thing to see.
Such was the decline and fall these past weeks of the Cincinnati Redlegs.
Cincinnati is a collection of superb baseball players. This is the club that had five men in the starting lineup of the National League's All-Star team both this year and last. It's true that balloting for the All-Star lineups was distorted by a disproportionately large vote from Cincinnati, but even so no one denied that each Redleg player elected, if not the absolute best at his position, was very close to the best.
Shortstop Roy McMillan, for instance, is one of the great fielding shortstops of all time. Here is a ballplayer who quite literally thrills those who follow baseball closely. Daily he does quietly in the infield what Willie Mays does spectacularly in the outfield: he makes the impossible plays, plays that others make only in daydreams.
The names on the Cincinnati roster have a rich, ringing sound for baseball fans who savor great skill: McMillan, Ed Bailey, Ted Kluszewski, Frank Robinson, Johnny Temple, Don Hoak, Smoky Burgess, Wally Post, George Crowe. No other team in the major leagues has so many good players. No other team has a shortstop like McMillan and a second baseman like Temple and catchers like Bailey and Burgess and a trio of outfielders like Robinson, Bell and Post and first basemen like Kluszewski and Crowe and a third baseman like Hoak. This Cincinnati club is the best collection of first-string ballplayers in the major leagues.
But they aren't good enough. None of them is a pitcher. The importance of pitching has always been recognized by students of baseball, but never was the theory so emphatically demonstrated as it was in Cincinnati this summer. The Redleg collapse was a baseball tragedy, if you accept the classic idea of tragedy: that the character who experiences it carries the seeds of his downfall within himself.
Cincinnati carried the seeds of its destruction in its pitching staff. All year long it flirted with danger. Late in July (the pennant race was still tight, but the clouds were beginning to gather), only the eighth-place Chicago Cubs had a pitching staff whose earned run average was worse than Cincinnati's. Yet, whereas the Cubs were dead last, the Redlegs were only one game out of first place.
The reason? Cincinnati's hitters, despite the disabling of Ted Kluszewski and the erratic batting of Wally Post, had scored more runs than any other team in the majors. The hitters had carried the pitchers, had made up for their deficiencies. But because hitting is not a constant, consistent, regular thing—like bad pitching—the Redlegs' record of victory and defeat over the season had been erratic in the extreme.
They lost the first four games, won the next four, lost the next three. Six of those seven early-season defeats were to Milwaukee's Braves, four of them by the agonizing margin of one run.