CLEVELAND, OH – I caught the last half of the 1989 classic Major League the other night and I was struck by how much of the baseball moves would be considered obsolete by today’s standards. The push toward advanced analytics has changed the game in a big way. Although many of the advances make strategic sense, they sure suck some of the fun out of the sport. Major League is filled with old school moves based on wild hunches and improvisation that wouldn’t make it past the decision makers in the analytics departments or their puppet managers in today’s game. Let’s slide in.
Willie Mays Hayes
After getting an infield hit in his first career AB, Hayes tells Yankees first baseman Haywood (played by real major leaguer Pete Vuckovich) that he bought one hundred pairs of gloves, meaning he plans to steal 100 bases.
I don’t know how many he ended up swiping that year, but the days of 100 stolen base seasons are long gone. Sorry Willy, but teams wait around for the three run homer now. The analytics tell us that it’s not worth it to risk outs on the bases. The last time someone nabbed a hundo was in 1987, when Vince Coleman had 109. And it’s been trending downward. The leaders in the last two full seasons had 45 and 46.
Willie MH was actively discouraged via pushups from not hitting the ball in the air. Come on, it’s all about the big flies now. This guy would be a pinch runner at best. Willie Mays Hays = Billy Hamilton.
Eddie Harris Goes 7 Plus
I’m not sure how old he was supposed to be in the movie, but the actor who played veteran starter Eddie Harris was 47 the year the movie came out. He was a junk baller clearly at the tail end of his career. Let’s allow for some generous creative license and say he was 38 in the movie. He got the start against the Yankees in the one-game playoffs for the pennant because he had more experience and a better record against the Yankees. Okay, that checks out.
But you’re going to tell me that this old starter was allowed to stay in the game until he got into trouble with two outs in the 7th? Come on, that’s like 5 more outs than Blake Snell was allowed in his prime, while pitching a gem. Harris had given up a 2-run bomb the previous inning. And the Indians won about 95 games that year, according to what Manager Lou Brown said they would need to catch the Yankees. Surely they had a reliever or two they could trust in winning that many games. Nobody is letting old man Harris go through the mighty Yankees’ lineup a third time.
Brown Bringing in the Wild Thing on a Hunch
Speaking of relievers, the most egregious affront to the analytics departments of MLB teams everywhere was bringing in Ricky Vaughn to pitch to Haywood with the game on the line in the 7th. As stated by Brown when confronted by his confused catcher “I know he hasn’t been very good against this guy, but I’ve got a hunch he’s due.” Later we learn from announcer Harry Doyle, played by immortal Bob Eucker, that Haywood homered both times he faced the Wild Thing. Two for two with two homers. Yeah, Billy Beane just threw up.
First off, you’re going to bring in your young ace (I think, or one of your top starters) in an unfamiliar situation in the middle of an inning with guys on base, to face the American League MVP who homered both times he faced him, on a effing hunch? And oh by the way, Vaughn is a rookie with no playoff experience. Are you kidding me? That move makes the Walking Dead’s plot look reasonable. Brown would be fired before he even got back to the dugout in 2020.
The Game-Winning Play
In the bottom of the 9th in a tie game, Willie Mays Hays reaches on another infield hit. He steals second, which might make some sense to the analytics nerds. I reckon Jake Taylor is pretty much a singles hitter at this point in his career. And they’re not going to walk him with the open base to get to the meat of the lineup, Roger Dorn and Pedro Cerrano, who combined to tie the game in the 7th?
But then Taylor comes up with the idea of the steal/bunt play and signals it to Brown who thinks it’s a “helluva an idea.” First of all, we don’t bunt. I know it wasn’t a sacrifice, but we got rid of the bunt forever in 2020 when we stopped letting pitchers hit. Second, has been catchers don’t call in the plays. They come from the nerds on the 58th floor.
Taylor then points to the left field bleachers, calling his shot in an act of subterfuge to disguise his real agenda. The Duke, the Yankees closer who threw at his own kid in a father son game, predictably throws one under Taylor’s chin. But why wasn’t Mays Hays stealing on that pitch? The bunt play was clearly signaled to him, how did he know to wait one pitch?
That aside, no one would ever call that play in that situation. Taylor is an ancient catcher at the end of his career after a stint in the Mexican League. He’s so old they put him out to pasture and made him a coach the next season in the sequel. He has bad knees and can’t run. The analytics would never allow for this super low percentage bunt play against a fire-balling relief pitcher that relies on your slowest player beating out a bunt. There is just too many things to go wrong.
This movie could have worked through the 90s, but could not have been made after 1999.
Charlie Sheen and Tom Berenger was an absolute #winning combination. Can you think of another pair of actors who produced two amazing movies in such different genres as these two did with Platoon and Major League?
When Sheen had his breakdown and was fired from Two and Half Men, I believe an opportunity was missed. They should have capitalized on Sheen’s nuttiness and gone in a different direction. Why not fire John Cryer and go full Sheen? Instead of the mismatched Odd Couple bit, they should have brought in Berenger to be a deranged sidekick. They could have reinforced each other’s bad behavior and been terrible influences on the little fat kid. “Jake, get in here and smoke this…What? I don’t care about your homework.” Not that I was ever a fan of any version of this show, but it would have been better than the neutered
Austin Ashton Kutcher version.
Come back tomorrow for Angry Ward, a guy at least as witty as Monte, Harry Doyle’s color guy. Follow us on Twitter at @BenWhit8, @MeetTheMatts, @Matt_McCarthy00, Instagram @MeetTheMatts and like our Facebook page, Meet The Matts