Baseball Balderdash: Pulling Starting Pitchers

This is what I hate about today’s baseball. Tonight, Sept. 4, 2012, the Dodgers are fighting for a spot in the playoffs. They have their best pitcher, last year’s National League Cy Young Award Winner Clayton Kershaw, on the mound againstSan Diego. In a tight 1-1 game, the Dodgers score two runs in the 7th inning, taking a 3-1 lead in a must win game.

Despite the fact that Kershaw has been indomitable since allowing a leadoff home run on his first pitch of the game, striking out 9, walking only 3 and allowing only four more hits in seven innings, apparently because Kershaw has thrown 116 pitches, Dodger manager Don Mattingly (who played first base when he was a player and knows as much about pitching as I know about knitting) pulls Kershaw and puts in a guy named Matt Guerrier, who hasn’t pitched since April 18. Guerrier promptly allows two runs (on a two run home run), walks the next man, and the game is tied up. Mattingly pulls Guerrier, effectively locking the barn door after losing his prize horse. That’s a good manager for you. There is justice in the world, however, because the Dodgers lost the game 6-3 in 11 innings, a game they would have undoubtedly won 3-1 had Kershaw remained in the game.

In the old days when I loved the game, pitchers pitched complete games. Baseball guru Branch Rickey, who developed baseball’s farm system in the 1930s with the St. Louis Cardinals, spoke the sentence that should define how the game is managed. “Pitching,” said Rickey, “is 80% of the game.” It would have been unthinkable to pull Warren Spahn or Sandy Koufax or Bob Gibson or Lefty Grove or Bob Feller or any pitcher of the era before around 1970 in a game like this. In fact, had anyone tried to pull Gibson from a game like this, he would have had his head torn off in front of 50,000 fans.

Agent Scott Boras uses the argument that pitching more than 100 pitches a game shortens a pitcher’s life and encourages pulling a starting pitcher after seven innings, regardless of how well he’s pitching. Well, if that’s true, how could people like Christy Mathewson (435 Complete Games out of 552 starts, 78% in 16 years) and Grover Cleveland Alexander (437/559, 78% in 20 years) and Lefty Grove (298/457, 65% in 17 years) and Bob Feller (279/484, 58% in 18 years, but he missed what would have been his four prime years because of WWII: Feller enlisted in the Navy two days after Pearl Harbor) and, well I could go on and on and on, pitch complete game after complete game and still last 15-20 years in the big leagues? Have pitchers, alone among athletes, become wusses?

What’s sad is that this ridiculous handling of pitchers has gone on for so long that nobody questions it. There is nary a mention of it in the media. So it continues.

Rickey’s dictum is incontestably true, but the dopes who manage today just don’t recognize that. They all fall prey to the group think that nobody can pitch longer than seven innings or throw much more than 100 pitches today. It is absurd and it’s why I find it almost impossible to watch baseball today. I don’t care who is in the bullpen, you don’t pull a starting pitcher who is in total control of a game for a relief pitcher who isn’t close to the quality of your starting pitcher. It’s idiotic and anyone who does it is, by definition, an idiot. Since there are 30 major league teams and they all have one manager, there are at least 30 idiots in theUnited States, and they have ruined the most perfect game ever devised.


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