In 1992, Jimmy Breslin was grumpy. He was covering the Iowa caucuses and wandered into a candidate's headquarters. The volunteer at the front desk didn't know who he was. He harumphed that if Mario Cuomo were running for president, everybody in the room would know him.
And if things had gone about one game per month better, you'd be reading an intense, impassioned, incisive, insightful dissection of the National League Division Series right here, right now. But our candidate isn't on the ballot, so, like Breslin, we're just strangers from Queens covering a contest in which we don't really have a horse.
Therefore, it is with fleeting interest and shallow depth that Faith and Fear in Flushing presents its first annual visceral and uninformed playoff preview. I'll skip the National League because, quite frankly, I don't much care for any of the combatants, and concentrate on the circuit where our attention is forced to be focused.
Welcome, fellow NL'ers to the league where almost nobody wanted to integrate, where baseball hasn't been played as it's meant to be played since 1972 and where boatloads of Orioles and Blue Jays throw themselves at the feet of the most vile franchise in the history of professional sports after calling up and asking, “how many would you like against us in September and by what means would you like us to lose them to you?” Fortunately, there are three American League teams we can look to in the somewhat reasonable hope that one of them will rescue us from a fate worse than snow — a blizzard of goddamn ticker tape.
LOS ANGELES ANGELS OF ANAHEIM
Should We Care? We have to. The Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim are our de facto favorite team of all time starting Tuesday night and continuing for three to five games.
Have I Had A Spiritual Relationship With This Team, The Los Angeles Angels? Yes. As mentioned here from time to time, the Angels are my nominal favorite American League team, attributable to two events. The first game I ever saw at Yankee Stadium (after my dad took my tiny hand in his enormous mitt and secured us box seats behind home plate through his friends in the music business and Gus Mauch gave my tiny body a rubdown after which Mickey Mantle autographed my prepubescent coccyx…oh wait, that's Billy Crystal's life story) featured the Angels bashing the Yankees in 1986. And in October 2002, the Angels sent the Yankees home quicker than any post-season opponent since the 1980 Kansas City Royals. No matter how stupid their name, the Los Anaheims of Angel won my lifelong affection with that series.
Have I Been Where The Angels Play? Yes. I visited what was then Anaheim Stadium in 1996, before it was shrunken and faux-beautified. It reminded me of Shea but without the spit. I considered both qualities a plus. I took a picture of Stephanie with the Angels' bearlike mascot, genEric.
Have I Worn An Angels Cap? Yes. In 1986, I bought an adjustable mesh model at (genuflection alert!) The Stadium and wore it at (genuflection alert!) The Stadium without consequence. Yankee fans were pretty well beat down that year. I brought it out of mothballs in 2002. That's just an expression. There are no moths in this house.
Metigating Factors? The Angels beat us two of three in June but the one we beat them was quite possibly the best game the Mets played in 2005, a.k.a. The Marlon Anderson Game. Vladimir Guerrero, not Shane Spencer and Karim Garcia, was supposed to be our rightfielder in 2004, but that's all right for now because he's where he can do us some good. The ex-Mets on the '02 world champions, Alex Ochoa and Kevin Appier, are long gone. I don't think we have any reformed Mets in Anaheim at the moment. I'm a little annoyed that Chone Figgins edged Jose Reyes for the Major League stolen base crown but Chone Figgins is one of my favorite players in the American League to the extent that I keep such a list. It's pretty much him and Papi. That's the list. They stuck us with Fregosi, but 2002 wiped away that sin. Who did we trade to get him anyway?
Can They Do What We Need Them To Do? Knowledgeless afternoon radio host, national spokesperson for the unabashedly ignorant and vocal Yankee propagandist Mike Francesa fears the Angels most of all. This is the same media powerhouse who a week ago was pretty much guaranteeing the White Sox couldn't beat the Indians because the Indians needed those games and the White Sox would have nothing to play for. The White Sox swept the Indians. Despite that, the Angels can beat the Yankees. It is what our world has come down to. That and addressing Get Well & Get Lost cards to Braden Looper.
BOSTON RED SOX
Should We Care? It's hard not to. The Red Sox are, after all, one half of the greatest rivalry ever. Ya got that? It's the greatest rivalry EVER. It's better than the Giants and the Dodgers even if the Giants and Dodgers have been going at it relatively evenly for more than a century. It's better than the French and the English, who fought a mere Hundred Years' War with a North American rematch in the 1750s. It's better than Pringles, which are stackable, and those bagged chips that are always broken and greasy, according to the Pringles commercials. The Red Sox and Yankees have been going at it tooth and nail, mano-a-mano, eyeball to eyeball as perfectly matched opponents since 2003. Now that's a rivalry.
Have I Had A Spiritual Relationship With This Team, The Boston Red Sox? Yes. In the summer of 1978, with the Mets on administrative leave, I picked up the cause of the Boston Red Sox in my little nook of Long Island. I became known to people I was just meeting for the first time as That Red Sox Fan. I was very cocky, very confident. Obviously, I read the bandwagon wrong. Absconded with to a Catskills resort on October 2, 1978 for a Rosh Hashanah weekend special, I walked by a group of Yankee fans watching the one-game playoff on a TV in the lobby while I was wearing my Red Sox cap. One of them pointed me out and I gave them the finger. So there's a little something there that goes beyond mere enemy-of-my-enemy stuff. 1986 kind of obliterated that, but I bled with them in 2003 and reveled in them in 2004. It smacked of frontrunning, but it was sincere frontrunning (besides, what's October for but to frontrun?).
Have I Been Where The Red Sox Play? Twice. The first game I ever saw that wasn't at Shea was at Fenway in 1985. It was me and Joel and Joel's friend Rich, White Sox at Red Sox. Tom Seaver pitched for the White Sox, which put me in a bind, finally getting to see a team I had always liked versus a pitcher I had always loved. I reluctantly went with the visitors. Back then, there were tolls every five miles on the Connecticut Turnpike. So tired had I become of tossing quarters into the machines that at one stop, I faked the toss and sped off. No authority chased me, but Rich wondered why I bothered with the fake. Fourteen years later, Stephanie and I saw the same two teams. Pedro pitched for the home side. The Red Sox scored 17 runs on his behalf. A townie woman behind me kept cursing out Lou Merloni anyway. What's not to love?
Have I Worn A Red Sox Cap? That was part and parcel of my 1978 identity. I was overjoyed that you could actually find a Red Sox cap in New York for purchase. It was at Herman's in Roosevelt Field. It was five bucks. I think it cost me a letter grade in social studies. The cap found its way to the top of our living room television last October. I refused to wear it, though. I wore it in 1978 and you see how well that went.
Metigating Factors? Olerud right now. Any team with John Olerud is to be respected and quite possibly revered, unless it's the Yankees (though Oly was thoughtful enough to come up with an oweee at a most opportune moment). Last year erased the offense I took that Red Sox fans rooted against the Mets in 1986. We got the Mookie ground ball back and Ken Burns could take a hike. When I visited a friend in Boston in the spring of '87, I ducked into a bar where some guys were watching the Mets and the Expos in the game of the week. “Who's winning?” I asked. “Who cares?” I was told. “It's only the Mets.” Ahhhh…to be ruefully dismissed with a purpose. Mo Vaughn was a Red Sock before he was an Angel before he was a Met. I hold all three teams responsible. Manny Ramirez won't be traded to us this week. One of our intermittent but valued commenters is a Red Sox fan. There is common ground to be had.
Can They Do What We Need Them To Do? Of course they can. But there's the possibility they won't. Either way, Red Sox-Yankees III is a perilous and numbing possibility. Too many demented Bill Gallo cartoons (“Boston? Derek's BEAN there and WON that!”) can come of it. I wish them the best if push comes to evil, and I wish them well in any event.
CHICAGO WHITE SOX
Should We Care? Only in theory. The last World Series they won came at the expense of the New York Giants, so it's been a while. Their cult keeps quiet, which is to their credit. A White Sox championship would serve to make the Cubs look even more ridiculous. Do we not like that? This is a team stocked with players who mostly haven't bothered to make their identities known to me. They knocked out the slightly less anonymous Cleveland Indians after being written off from first place, so something tells me they're not dead yet.
Have I Had A Spiritual Relationship With This Team, The Chicago White Sox? A little. I've always liked the way they're not the Cubs. They did have the good taste to pluck Seaver from us in '84 (less mad at them than the Blue Jays for signing Dennis Lamp from the White Sox, thus allowing Chicago to pick from the short-lived compensation pool, the one Cashen flung Seaver into so carelessly). Every time they're in the playoffs, they're new blood and I almost always root for new blood. But they never circulate for very long, so I've never gotten to know them well.
Have I Been Where The White Sox Play? Yes. On my first business trip to Chicago, I had it in mind to get to Wrigley Field, but the timing didn't work for me and they were a sizzling hot ticket. As it happened, the Sox were at home that same week, so I skipped the NutraSweet party at which I was supposed to be gladhanding and hopped into a cab at my hotel. “Comiskey Park,” I said. The driver asked me if I was a sportswriter. I get the feeling very few guests went out of their way to find the South Side of Chicago. But boy am I glad I did. Plenty of good seats available. I loved Comiskey Park, the original Comiskey Park, then in its second-to-last year of existence. The place just reeked of baseball with the green and the arches and the history (and the fuh-GLAY-vin). It became my favorite ballpark ever. The driver had warned me that cabs didn't idle outside Comiskey, so I left the game early to ensure I could call a taxi and not be stranded there alone. Had to wait a couple of innings for one to arrive. I don't think it was mine, but I commandeered it. Comiskey was immortalized in the wonderful Baseball Palace of the World by Douglas Bukowski, a serious fan's diary of the joint's final season. The author promised to never step inside the next place to call itself Comiskey, a temptation I gave into twice in 1994 and 1999. It was depressing the first time given what had stood across the street for 80 years. The second time wasn't so bad. I nabbed my only foul ball ever, off the bat of Carlos Lee, for whom I carried a torch until this season when he started kicking the crap out of the Mets.
Have I Worn a White Sox Cap? One of the things that I loved about Comiskey was its intimacy, the way the upper deck wasn’t cantilevered all the way back to the 'burbs. The thing I (and actual White Sox fans) hated about the second Comiskey when it opened was the way the upper deck reached for the clouds. Stephanie and I not only had very high, very steep seats on a sold-out Sunday afternoon, but it was hot-hot-hot, and Stephanie forgot to pack any headwear. So I was compelled to spend 15 bucks on a white White Sox cap with black pinstripes. She wore it that day, I wore it once in a while thereafter. I used to be into wearing caps from other teams just for the hell of it. I have a hard time doing that now with a clear conscience.
Metigating Factors? Timo Perez and Carl Everett are on this team, right? Good luck, Ozzie.
Can They Do What We Need Them To Do? Should it come down to White Sox-Yankees, well, that would be kind of disappointing because I'd hate to think the Angels can't do what we need them to do. But these Sox played those Skanks pretty well this year. I'm always wary of writing off teams the likes of Mike Francesa write off. On the other hand, I don't trust teams that rely on ex-Yankees like Orlando Hernandez and Jose Contreras. It's the same reason I don't put a lot of stock into David Wells with the Red Sox. Jim Leyritz made like he was the king of San Diego in 1998 and it didn't help the cause greater than ourselves one bit.
What The Fuck Are They Doing Here? Though not a playoff team and not even a recent Yankee opponent, Joe Torre and Alex Rodriguez had the gall to blame Buck Showalter for pulling several of his regulars from the Rangers' last game against the Angels. By not beating the Angels, the Rangers, to Yankee logic, were responsible for taking away the Yankees' home-field advantage on Sunday. Holy fucking shit. This organization knows no shame. The Yankees, I mean. The Rangers told Kenny Rogers to get lost. They're OK by me.
Yankees Suck. They shouldn't be here but they are. Yankees Suck. They will be tough. Yankees Suck. None of these four teams is overwhelming. Yankees Suck. I sure as hell hope the Angels beat them in the first round. Yankees Suck. If they don't, I sure as hell hope the Red Sox or the White Sox beat them in the ALCS. Yankees Suck. If that doesn't happen, there's a TBD National League team that will become my new favorite team of all time. Yankees Suck.
An easily overlooked October institution celebrates its tenth anniversary starting this afternoon. Toast the LDS at Gotham Baseball.