The past week of baseball gave us a great example of how we all succumb to societal pressure. In Game 2 of the ALDS, Joe Girardi, manager of the New York Yankees, made a couple critical blunders that likely cost his team the game against Cleveland.
First, with his team up 8-3 and grandpa ace CC Sabathia on a roll, Girardi switched him out for the vaunted Yankees bullpen. Only, the vaunted pen, starting with big time middle reliever Chad Green, didn’t do so hot. They gave up four runs in the inning, thanks to a grand slam from Francisco Lindor.
The real mistake in that inning, though, preceded the grand slam. With a 1-2 count, two outs, and two guys already on base, Green threw an inside pitch that glanced off the bottom of the bat’s knob and jumped into catcher Gary Sánchez’s glove. Strike three is what the call should have been. Instead, the umpire thought the batter, Lonnie Chisenhall, was hit in the hands by the pitch. So Mr. Chisenhall jogged straight out of the 19th century where he got his name and right to first base.
Girardi, without a crystal-clear replay showing the ball miss Chisenhall’s fingers, opted not to challenge. He failed to challenge even though his catcher knew and tried to tell him, and even though overturning the call would get them out of the inning safely. Lindor hit a grand slam minutes later, and people started calling for Girardi to be fired before the ball could land in the bleachers.
The attacks against Girardi blew me away. Here was a guy who has managed the Yankees for a decade, won a World Series (although for the Yankees, one championship in ten years isn’t much to brag about), and coached an overachieving group of young players — the Baby Bombers — into a decisive Game 5 against the best team in baseball.
This team wasn’t even supposed to make the playoffs to begin with! Yet Girari has one crappy inning and suddenly it’s time for him to find a TV job. Come on now. The reaction to that game fed off itself, until the public sentiment surrounding Girardi erupted into the kind of vitriol usually reserved for teams that aren’t still in the playoffs. And the worst part is, people soon started leaking “news” that Girardi had to win the series to avoid being fired. I believed it.
Separately, on Tuesday, Game 4 of the NLDS between the Washington Nationals and the Chicago Cubs got rained out. Despite the extra day of rest, allowing star pitcher Stephen Strasburg to pitch with full rest, Nats manager Dusty Baker chose not to start him because he was feeling a bit “ill” from mold in the hotel.
Just like with Girardi, talk shows and Twitter exploded alike at this news. Pundits and former greats eagerly weighed in, sharing their profound insight as to how weak and uncommitted to the team Strasburg was. Unless he was on death’s door or couldn’t walk, people said, Strasburg needed to pitch. Some people probably thought he should pitch even if he couldn’t walk. Strasburg heard the angry mob and rose from his bed to lockdown the Cubs for seven innings and help carry his team to a final showdown in Washington. Would he have pitched had the masses not joined up in arms against him? I doubt it.
Public sentiment is a weird thing in sports. People that don’t know what’s going on can influence the game, provided they have enough followers or they can bellow a juicy enough rant. Baseball, with all its tradition and glory and unwritten rules, subscribes to societal pressure even in its most important moments.
I can’t complain now though. My Yanks are through to the ALCS, thanks to DIDI (!!) going off and Gardy wringing out 12-pitch at-bats and that vaunted pen returning to its intimidating ways. The (artificially-induced) pressure was there on Girardi, but he came through and kept the postseason party going at least one series longer. And now that your offseason, Cleveland, has started earlier than expected, please, change your racist caricature of a logo.
Contact Jack Golub at golubj ‘at’ stanford.edu.