Blogs > Jim Collins' Editor's Notebook

Jim Collins is editor emeritus of The News-Herald and also serves as executive in residence at Lakeland Community College. His popular weekly column appears each Sunday in Comment in The News-Herald.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Acta’s obsession pitches Tribe right into trouble

Yankees legend Yogi Berra gets credit for 93 percent of all the wisecracks, smart remarks and witticisms uttered in organized sports. If you don’t believe that, Google the Department of the Interior, baseball stats, and ask for Wilma. She will confirm it.

Among the other 7 percent is one of my favorite comments, spoken by the greatest football coach of all time, Paul Brown, as his team was being driven on a bus to a game somewhere up North (Green Bay, Minnesota, wherever) and the bus driver got lost. The Browns were late arriving at the stadium.

“I don’t blame you, son,” Brown told the driver, “I blame the guy who hired you.”

Which brings us to Opening Day at The Jake, now known as Progressive Field, in downtown Cleveland.

The Indians were playing Toronto, and our pitcher, Justin Masterson, was pitching a gem, a masterpiece or hurling a stellar performance. That is what baseball scribes call a well-pitched game.

(In the industry, baseball writers are known as “scribes.” They are never just writers. They are scribes. Don’t ask me why. But I digress.)

Be that as it may, after eight innings of his gem, or masterpiece, the Indians were leading 4-1, Masterson had given up two hits and struck out 10 batters. He had thrown 99 pitches.

At the beginning of the ninth inning (known as the “top” of the ninth in baseball circles), Cleveland manager Manny Acta removed his starting pitcher and brought in his closer.

(Starters do not finish games. Closers do. Sometimes there is a set-up man in between.)

So closer Chris Perez trotted to the mound. Our quartet behind first base (me, Gary Robinson, Joe Cocozzo and Steve Byron) looked at one another. We knew he had thrown 99 pitches because it was on the scoreboard. We weren’t certain the move was a good one except that pitchers nowadays are seldom allowed to throw more than 100 pitches because they might hurt themselves.

The way I looked at it, Masterson had one more pitch coming. But you don’t let your starter come in at the beginning of an inning and let him throw one pitch. So my thought was to let him pitch to one batter. If he got him out, let him pitch to one more batter.

And so forth, until you get to three. If you get to three, the game is over and everyone can go home.
So we watched Perez begin to close. But he didn’t close anything except the Indians’ three-run lead.

He quickly got it down to nothing. It was awful to behold. It was as much fun as going to the state pen and watching an execution.

Perez is a very good pitcher. But he had a bad day. We all have bad days. But not in front of 43,000 people.

When he was finally removed from the game, it was too late. The game was tied. It went into extra innings. After 12 innings it was getting cold and we went home. After 16 innings the Indians lost.

When Perez walked to the dugout after being removed (scribes often say “yanked”) the boos that cascaded down upon him were deafening and merciless. Everybody in the place hated him. He was Public Enemy No. 1.

But I didn’t blame him. He was like the bus driver. I didn’t blame Perez, I blamed the guy who took Masterson out of the game. That would be Manny Acta.

Acta isn’t necessarily a bad manager. But he has this 100-pitch obsession that is so prevalent.

And I thought about Bob Feller, one of the greatest pitches who ever lived. He thought the 100-pitch obsession was a joke. I heard him say so, many times. And for good reason. When Feller reached the 100-pitch level in a game it was about the fifth inning. Maybe the fourth.

In 1941, his last season before he joined the Navy and went off to war, Feller started 40 games and completed 28 of them. In 1946, his first full year back after the war, Feller started 42 games and completed 36.

Do you know how many complete games he would have pitched those two seasons if he had been limited to 100 pitches per game? Zero. That is correct. Zero. I say again, zero.

Of course, Feller was a big strong guy. But Masterson isn’t a midget. I think he stands about 6-6.

But managers like Acta are making sissies out of their pitchers. And losing games in the process.


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