Feeling the Magic?

August 19, 2011

The Milwaukee Brewers look like they could win the National League Central Division. They have a 6 1/2 game lead over the St. Louis Cardinals. They have only 38 games left.

Brewers fans are getting excited. They are starting to talk in hushed tones about the teams Magic Number.

In Major League Baseball parlance a team’s Magic Number is calculated using the number of games left and the lead a team has in the race. If a club leads the race by 3 games and there are 5 games left, it’s magic number to win is 3. And, a club’s number can be reduced when opponents lose.  

By Labor Day all but a few teams know their number will never be called.  Some teams never get a real shot for a Magic Number, like the ’62 Mets and, well, nearly every Cubs club. 

I’m getting nervous. It’s too early to start doing the math. Yet twice in the last 24 hours the Magic Number was referenced.

First, there were some Milwaukee sports radio guys. “So, there’s only 40 games left …… and they have series with the Mets, Pirates and Cubs …….. so you figure……. it would almost be impossible to miss the playoffs….” Similar extrapolations were being conjured using the more complicated two-team method. “OK, the Crew gets the Mets, Pirates and Cubs for 10 games but the Cardinals get the Cubs, Reds and Astros……so the Brewers should get 4-6 wins out of that week while the Cards can expect…….” It’s beginning to sound like winning the division is a foregone conclusion.   

But there are 38 games left.

The Brewers have a miserable road record and they’ll be playing in New York and Pittsburgh the next 7 games. They get at least three games left with St. Louis. They could face a hot club on the road. And injuries can crop up.

They have been scoring only 2-3 runs a game over the past month. They won a 1-run game last week by pulling off 3 double plays and one triple play. They won another when their runner moved from first to third on a passed ball. He then scored the winning run from third on a passed ball. The runner? Their catcher, batting 7th in the order. 

There are 38 games left.

The Brewers could collapse like the ’51 Dodgers. Or the ’64 Phillies. They could choke.

There are still 38 games left, people are calculating Magic Numbers – and I just received an invitation in the mail to purchase playoff tickets.

They have no chance.

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The Mid Summer Classic is upon us. It’s time for MLB to truck out the best of the game – the All Stars. It’s a time to recognize and enjoy player performance. And it’s changed a lot.

I was lucky to go to the 1964 All Star Game. Dad had gotten tickets and drove us off from New Jersey to Flushing Meadows. In my 10-year old existence family road trips had included the Hamptons and the Jersey Shore. Now there was Flushing. It could be land of  the ’64 Worlds Fair and the All-Star Game, but it was Flushing.    

Maybe Robert Moses liked Shea Stadium. I never did. Of course it couldn’t compare to the “House that Ruth Built.” But having also been to the Polo Grounds, Shea just didn’t feel like a ball park. Maybe it was just because I was 10 and didn’t truly appreciate what architecture, concrete and steel could create.

There wasn’t an All-Star “Festival.” There was the game. The game was in the afternoon.

There was no free agency, no interleague play. Players could be ID’d by team and league. And while they competed to get to the Series, they played together against the other side. Bragging rights.  

There was no ESPN-produced “Home Run Derby.”

There was batting practice. That was batting practice with the Mick, Harmon Killebrew,  and Al Kaline. Not bad. But consider the NL: Mays, Aaron, Clemente and Stargell. And the Nationals had Cepeda, Groat, Flood, Mazeroski, Williams and White. Is that six Hall of Fame members?

A youthful Joe Torre played for Milwaukee (the Brewers have 3: Braun, Fielder and Weeks). Ever the clever youngster I quipped, “Hey, if Joe Torre was afraid they could call him ‘Chicken Catcher Torre’.” Rimshot. Two hours in the car was tough on Dad and Bill.

Players wore their own uniforms in 1964. If you lived in the NYC metro that was no big deal. Having both the Yanks and Mets meant all of the visiting uni’s were coming through town. But for some fans it was part of the experience.

In fact, during BP I asked which team had the bright red caps. They weren’t the Reds. Dad explained the Cardinals wore red hats at home and blue on the road. The NL was the home team so the Cards would wear red ones. 

Fans didn’t vote to select the rosters. And there were plenty of Cardinals in the NL roster. They had 4 of the 24 players for 12 NL teams. The Cardinals had position players White, Groat, Boyer, and Flood.

Johnny Callison was the only everyday player from Philly despite a huge lead in the National.

The leagues’ managers were selected by their team’s records at the break. Gene Mauch was leading his Phils. The White Sox’ Lopez would managed the American League.

I loved every moment, every play. My guy, Brooks Robinson, got extra bases despite Clemente’s rifle. The crowd roared when the Mets’ young Ron Hunt singled to be met at first by coach Casey Stengel.

And at the end, my American League was set to finish off the National, 4-3. Then with runners on base Yankees first baseman Joe Pepitone (that’s right, Joe Pepitone) threw the ball away tying the game 4-4. With two on, the Americans called on Boston’s Dick “the Monster” Radatz. Callison was at the plate. The Monster fired and Callison hit a bomb into Flushing Meadows.

NL 7, AL 4. And the National League players ran to the plate and await Callison.

I had seen the best. That’s what an All Star Game is intended to be. That’s what an All Star Game should be.