Friday, November 05, 2010

True World Series MVP Dave Righetti

A couple of thoughts about winning & recognition, occasioned by some of my less literary passions. First, Gretchen Jones won Project Runway with a show of what could politely be called Sedona-Wear, highly commercial but yawningly predictable southwestern casual clothes. Mondo Guerra, the pint-sized Pinocchio of Denver, came in second with a show that demonstrated infinitely greater range, sophistication and creativity. Even third-place finisher Andy South’s collection, a little too safe to be as avant-garde as some of his warrior women costumes had been in the past, put on a better show than Jones, who might not have made in it to Fashion Week at all had the judges not applied an unwritten “one finalist must be a woman” rule, thereby dropping the effortless chic of Michael Costello. A poll in the LA Times showed viewers preferring Guerra’s collection with about 80% of the vote, Jones in second with just under 12% and South at 7%.

In the judging of the Fashion Week runway shows, the four judges – the three standard ones of Heidi Klum, designer Michael Kors & Marie Claire editor Nina Garcia, plus “actress” & “musician” Jessica Simpson – split evenly down the middle, with Klum & Simpson preferring Mondo while Nina & Michael backed Gretchen. In the expanded format of the 8th season of PR, viewers were treated to maybe 15 minutes of the judges arguing (cut down apparently from several hours in “real time”) before treating us, with absolutely no insight as to how the final decision was made, with the fait accompli. Smiles all around, but no way in for a viewer to grasp how a two-two tie turned into a fiasco. The Wikipedia page for the season states it this way (or would if somebody corrected spelling):

Gretchen Jones was declared the winner of Season 8 on October 28, 2010. The Season 8 finale decision has been the most controversial in the show’s history. Fans consistently voiced concerns about the outcome of the show. The majority of the Project Runway fans declared Mondo Guerra the winner and felt that Michael Costello should have moved on to Fashion Week. These feelings created pages such as 'The Official Project Runway Fans Rebel' page on Facebook ( Future boycotts are planned of the show and its sponsors

At a recent event at the King of Prussia Mall, PR’s official mentor Tim Gunn – who is nothing if not blunt in his assessment that Mondo was the better designer – was asked about the scandal point blank & there are multiple videos of his reply, since it turns out that Klum called him in to try and break the logjam. Basically, it came down to the three “full-time” judges going two to one for Gretchen & nobody taking Jessica Simpson very seriously. That of course makes a farce of her role as judge, just as it does of the entire process. Plus, not so hidden a secret, the whole result shows that Garcia & Kors have both moved well into, if not past, middle age & their critical eye may be perfect for the 1980s, but dot dot dot. Klum can’t very well replace Garcia, since she comes with the prizes the show gives to the winner, but if Kors isn’t history by season 9, Project Runway is going to have a very serious credibility problem going forward. And Garcia’s bosses at Marie Claire ought to recognize that her presence at the journal isn’t doing them any favor. At the very least, the show needs to adopt a policy of either never using an even number of judges, or of having an official tie-breaker – Gunn tried to talk sense to Kors & Garcia, but he didn’t have a vote – in situations such as this.


Edgar Renteria, the San Francisco Giants shortstop who may well retire after two straight seasons full of time on the disabled list, but who played his position competently in the World Series and came up with two important hits, was the official Most Valuable Player of the contest. The real story of the World Series wasn’t about the hitters, but the pitching. The Giants got four excellent-to-amazing starts in a stretch of five games and their closer was perfect throughout the playoffs. The person who deserves the most credit for this, the true MVP of the Giants’ triumph, is the guy who guided the Giants’ pitching staff – none of whose key players had any playoff experience at all – into producing their best work when it mattered most. That would be San Francisco’s longtime pitching coach, Dave Righetti. Rags, as he is sometimes called, played 16 years in the majors, mostly with the New York Yankees during one of their relatively fallow periods. He was a starting pitcher for three years, then the Yankees’ closer for the next seven, followed by one season as a closer for his “hometown” Giants (Righetti was born & raised in San Jose), then a few more seasons as a middle reliever for SF, Toronto, Oakland & the White Sox.

For a player known by most fans as an all-time “Yankee great,” Righetti himself didn’t get all that much playoff experience. The Yanks went to the World Series in his rookie year of 1981, losing to the Dodgers. Although he was the Rookie of the Year that year, Rags only got into one game in relief, for two innings, in which he gave up five earned runs. That would turn out to be his total World Series experience for a 16-year career, a lifetime series earned-run-average of 13.50. That’s 13 and ½ runs per game more than the ERAs of either Matt Cain or Brian Wilson in this year’s World Series.

Coaches, of course, can’t win MVP awards, even when they deserve them, since they aren’t the actual combatants out on the field. But the failure to acknowledge Righetti’s essential contribution to the success of this year’s Giants, a great pitching staff stapled to a do-it-yourself starting lineup, reminds me of all the other ways in which baseball coaches are slighted.

There is, for example, not a single person in Baseball’s Hall of Fame for their contribution as a coach, in spite of the fact that there are several candidates, now & in the future, such as Junior Gilliam, Don Zimmer, Jimmie Reese, Leo Mazzone, John Vukovich or Dave Duncan, who clearly deserve to be there.

One coach who isn’t being adequately appreciated at the moment is Davey Lopes, most recently the first base coach of the Philadelphia Phillies. First base coaches make some of the lowest salaries in the major leagues, in part because coaches never make much above the major league minimum salary (admittedly not so low these days) & in part because their job is perceived to be less skilled than that of the pitching coach, or the third base coach responsible for deciding when to send a runner home. But unlike other first base coaches, Lopes, once a base-stealing infielder for the Los Angeles Dodgers, was given total control of the Phillies’ running game on everything except hit-and-run plays. The result was that the Phils were the base-stealers least likely to be caught and put out. This may have made more of difference in previous years when Jimmy Rollins was healthy & able to steal a lot of bases, but it was true even in 2010. Lopes, who has had some family issues to deal with in the past year or so, wanted a raise to demonstrate that the Phils understood the value of his commitment. He was turned down flat and has now left the employ of the Phils. Even if the Phils do get healthy next year, and Jayson Werth’s replacement, Domonic Brown, turns out to be the five-tool player the Phils insist he is going to be, their running game is almost certain to deteriorate in 2011.

Another in a long list of penny-wise, pound foolish decisions the Phils have made over the years, the most infamous being the trade of Cliff Lee for a bunch of minor leaguers, all of whom appear to be more suspects than prospects. That in turn forced the Phils to give up a better group of prospects, including J.A. Happ, in order to fetch Roy Oswalt at the trading deadline mid-summer to fill in the gap in the pitching rotation. The day will come, not that far down the road, when the Phils will look longingly at Happ (as they already do at Brett Myers, also a part of the Phillies-in-exile regime with the Houston Astros). Similarly, what the Phils are losing in Lopes’ departure could cost them quite a bit more than the extra dollars he was seeking.