Ex-losers in happy-faces lineupby Michael Lopresti on Oct. 03, 2006, under Sports
Have your scorecards ready. Now introducing the lineup of all those happy faces in baseball’s postseason with a chance to tell somebody to stick it in their ear.
Playing the position of formerly disgraced manager, wearing No. 9 for the Los Angeles Dodgers . . . Grady Little.
When last seen in October, Little nearly needed a police escort to get out of Boston. The man won 188 games in two seasons for the Red Sox, but going with Pedro Martinez too long in Game 7 against the Yankees in 2003 made him public enemy No. 1.
He went from the brink of the World Series to a candidate for the witness protection program. Now he’s taken the Dodgers to the playoffs, while the Red Sox couldn’t even finish ahead of the Blue Jays.
Playing the position of estranged star, wearing No. 35 for the Oakland A’s . . . Frank Thomas.
You remember last fall. The Chicago White Sox danced to the World Series title while Thomas – a Sox man forever – was an injured and forgotten used part.
He moved to Oakland this season and engaged in a public debate with Sox general manager Ken Williams that made the U.S. and Iran look like golf partners. He went from appearing in only 34 games last season to hitting 39 home runs in this one. And he’s playing this week, while the White Sox aren’t.
Playing the position of scapegoat, No. 13 for the New York Yankees . . . Alex Rodriguez.
He drove in 121 runs, but was on the cover of Sports Illustrated as a disappointing teammate. In Yankee Stadium, everyone down to the pretzel man knows how Rodriguez hit .133 against the Angels last October, and vanished against the Red Sox in 2004. In the Bronx, they don’t care how many millions you make or awards you get.
They want to know how many rings you own. Rodriguez’ world totally changes if he ever makes it to one.
Playing the position of worn-out sensation . . . the Detroit Tigers.
The theory is the pitching staff is weary, and who can argue after the Kansas City Royals scored 28 runs in three days? In most predictions, the Tigers have the life expectancy of the mayfly against the Yankees. They confounded logic in the spring. Can they do it again in the fall?
Playing the position of hopeless mess . . . the St. Louis Cardinals.
The lineup seems meek. The rotation thin. The bullpen a wreck. They won the division despite a losing record against division opponents. There is no good reason to expect the Cardinals to last long. Until you watch Albert Pujols walk to the plate.
Playing the position of history’s whipping boys . . . the Oakland A’s.
They have dropped four straight division series, all of them reaching the limit. When’s it their turn?
Playing the position of aging veterans with fuel left in the tank . . . a gaggle of graybeards.
In the Mets-Dodgers series Thursday, it will be 40-year-old Tom Glavine against 40-year-old Greg Maddux. In the Tigers-Yankees series Friday, it’s 41-year-old Kenny Rogers against 43-year-old Randy Johnson.
Mike Piazza will catch for the Padres at 38, getting another chance at the World Series while his old foil, Roger Clemens, knocks down steroid reports.
Takashi Saito will close for the Dodgers as a 36-year-old rookie, having spent his salad days as a Yokohama Baystar.
Opportunity now pounds on the door, for the young and old, slumping and surging. From the gilded Yankees, who have 200 million reasons why they should be unstoppable, to the A’s and Twins, who between them combine for a payroll barely above the Red Sox.
It is October. Vindication, retribution and glory can come in a moment.
So can infamy. Ask Grady Little.