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Wednesday, October 26, 2011
Here's to more World Series goofiness

By Tim Keown
ESPN.com

You know it's a World Series everyone's going to remember when a team loses a pivotal game and attributes a good part of its misfortune to a bullpen coach being unable to hear the right names over the phone.

You know it's a Series that's gone from memorable to downright awesome when that miscommunication results in a reliever coming into the game to issue an intentional walk -- and then leave without throwing another pitch.

Ron Washington
Rangers manager Ron Washington could be a dugout show all by himself.

And here's where it goes so far outside the norm that it threatens to defy description: When that reliever's manager makes so many goofy, unconventional moves that he can bring in a reliever to issue an intentional walk -- and then immediately replace him -- and everybody just assumes he's doing exactly what he wanted to do. Most veteran Tony La Russa watchers saw that and thought, Wow! There's one for the Tony Signature Collection.

The best part? We might get two more games of this. We might get two more games of Ron Washington riding the dugout rail like a jockey on the home stretch in the Derby. We might get two more games of La Russa attempting to out-La Russa his most La Russaesque moves. (And, in the process, making Washington's moves look conventional.) We might get two more games of Mike Napoli doing whatever he wants, two more games of Allen Craig getting thrown out stealing with Albert Pujols standing in the batter's box, two more games of Adrian Beltre's genuflection swings.

In Game 5 on Monday night, it went from weird to spectacularly weird. Cardinals pitching coach Dave Duncan apparently called down to the bullpen twice to get quasi-closer Jason Motte warmed up, and it didn't happen either time. And then La Russa went to the mound to replace Marc Rzepczynski with Motte, only to look up and see Lance Lynn jogging in from the bullpen.

Chris Carpenter
Let's play "Count The Beards" on Chris Carpenter.

Seriously, the Cardinals say they didn't know who was warming up. Maybe they should take that as a sign to ... I don't know ... shave? Here's an idea: Maybe every other right-handed reliever should shave, so La Russa doesn't need to get his cheaters out to see which one of his late-inning relievers is warming up in the bullpen. (Although he's not a reliever, and although he's unlikely to throw another pitch this year, I'm guessing America would be unanimous in voting for Chris Carpenter to shave all four of his beards: neck beard, jaw beard, cheek beard and lower-eye beard. With Fox employing its little-used Follicle Cam, Carpenter looked like the ace of the Occupy St. Louis staff.)

While we're at it, could we please call for a moratorium on judging baseball -- particularly the postseason -- by television ratings? Would that be too much to ask? I know more people are likely to watch the Packers play Racine High School than watch Rangers-Cardinals, but I don't care. What that tells me and everybody else who's riveted by this World Series is not that we're a football country but that we've lost a shocking amount of our imagination.

This World Series, with its randomness and blatant anti-Sabermetric-ness, is bound to reignite a few longstanding baseball controversies. One, clearly, is the Closer Question: Doesn't it make sense, especially in Game 5 of a 2-2 World Series, to use your best reliever in the most important situation? By that measure, and setting aside the St. Louis bullpen's inability to distinguish between the words "Lynn" and "Motte" in the 178th game of the season, Motte and not the lefty Rzepczynski should have been in the game to pitch to Napoli with the bases loaded and one out in the eighth. (At least if La Russa had called for Motte earlier, he would have known sooner that he wasn't warming up.)

The Series moves back to St. Louis, which gives everybody an easy, straight storyline to counteract all the weirdness: Is this Pujols' long goodbye to St. Louis? (We're admittedly bouncing all over the place here, but as your college professors always said, we've got a lot of material to cover.) Over the past five games, the world has definitely seen an Albert who rarely appears in public. This is the Albert who stiffed the media after flubbing a play in Game 2 (yeah I know -- nobody cares about the media, but still), got chippy about it and then responded by hitting three vengeful home runs in Game 3.

Albert Pujols
The game within the games: Speculating on Albert Pujols' future.

This might not seem to have any relevance to his upcoming free agency, but that side of him -- the baseball assassin side -- could be the side that dominates the negotiations. That side might contradict the prevailing notion about Pujols. Call it the Alternate Reality Theory, which says he couldn't possibly play anywhere else because, after all, we can't imagine him donning another uniform.

Every time you hear that one -- and it could reach four figures by the end of the Series -- understand that it's straight fantasy, the pipe dream of a bunch of adults who still see pro sports the same way they did when they were 8. (Current 8-year-olds excluded.) The idea that Pujols would be upsetting our dreamy idea of a pure and orderly world by wearing a blue uniform next year is not Albert's reality. Yes, he's done a ton for the community in St. Louis. Yes, he's been quite an ambassador for the franchise and the city. But the one thing that fuels this man is pride, and it will preclude him from accepting less than he believes he's worth.

And what he's worth is determined by one thing: Whatever someone is willing to offer, regardless of uniform.

ESPN The Magazine senior writer Tim Keown co-wrote the autobiography of Pawn Stars' Rick Harrison. "License to Pawn: Deals, Steals, and my Life at the Gold & Silver" is available on Amazon.com. He also co-wrote Josh Hamilton's autobiography, "Beyond Belief: Finding the Strength to Come Back," available as well on Amazon.com. Sound off to Tim here.

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