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New York Mets History

Mets Thursday Therapy: Yogi Berra makes the franchise’s worst managerial decision

NEW YORK - CIRCA 1973: Manager Yogi Berra #8 of the New York Mets looks on from the dugout during an Major League Baseball game circa 1973 at Shea Stadium in the Queens borough of New York City. Berra managed the Mets from 1972-75. (Photo by Focus on Sport/Getty Images)
NEW YORK - CIRCA 1973: Manager Yogi Berra #8 of the New York Mets looks on from the dugout during an Major League Baseball game circa 1973 at Shea Stadium in the Queens borough of New York City. Berra managed the Mets from 1972-75. (Photo by Focus on Sport/Getty Images)
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What brings me to the therapist’s office this time is whether it is worthwhile for me to obsess about bad decisions made by past New York Mets managers. After all, what good purpose could that serve today? What took place in the past happened already –  you can’t change it.

On the other hand, it is true that lessons can be learned from history, and certainly from past mistakes. Wealthy individuals point to many past failures as their ultimate path to financial success.

With that setting the stage, let’s surf back to 1973. That year the Mets had an 82-79 record, the worst of any world series team. Despite a powerful Oakland A’s lineup featuring Reggie Jackson, Sal Bando, and Joe Rudi plus a stellar pitching staff led by SP Catfish Hunter and closer Rollie Fingers, the Mets found themselves up 3-games-to-2. Mets manager Yogi Berra had a critical decision to make – who to start in Game 6 – Tom Seaver on three days’ rest or George Stone, the Mets hottest pitcher in the second half of the season? Stone pitched a mere one inning in Game 2 in relief six days prior.

Mets should have gone with the rocksteady Stone

LHP George Stone, acquired from the Braves along with Felix Milan for Gary Gentry and Danny Frisella the year before, posted a 12-3 record for the Mets in 1973 with a 2.80 ERA. The decision boiled down to this: Was the combination of Stone in Game 6 and a rested Seaver for Game 7 (if needed) a better risk than Seaver in Game 6 on 3-days’ rest and Jon Matlack in Game 7 also on short rest?

In an Observer-Dispatch article by Don Laible on November 27, 2016, he writes that Stone, then aged 70, reflected that he was bewildered as to why he was passed up to start Game 6, as Tom Seaver was given the ball instead. “I kind of thought that I would start. I was the hot pitcher”. Leaders on the team tried to talk Yogi into starting Stone, but to no avail.

A look at the analytics

Some believe that Yogi’s decision was defensible. Seaver started seven games that year on short rest, and except for one hiccup, he went 7 innings in all and gave up no more than three runs in each. Matlack’s numbers on short rest were even better, despite a small sample size. He had a 1.29 ERA in 5 starts.

Berra’s mindset was that the Mets had nothing to lose. Stone pitched well in Game 2 and we give an extra day of rest to Seaver for Game 7 if necessary. Sounds plausible, right? “If you’re going to lose, lose with your best”, Berra argued.

But things didn’t turn out the way Berra and others thought it would

The reason I say “and others” is because maybe the final decision wasn’t made by Berra after all. Perhaps it was Seaver who prevailed upon Berra just like Matt Harvey did to Terry Collins in Game 5 of the 2015 World Series against Kansas City. We all know how that went down. Or perhaps the final decision came from the front office! Imagine that.

Be that as it may, Seaver did pitch well in Game 6. He gave up 2 runs on 6 hits and struck out six. But he wasn’t his dominant self. And neither was Matlack in Game 7. Yogi’s claim to lose with your best would have made more sense if both Seaver and Matlack were on full rest, despite the above-mentioned defensible argument. All those numbers have to be viewed with much more suspect when analyzing pitching performance on short rest.

Moreover, Stone was a good hitting pitcher. He had a .212 batting career batting average in 339 plate appearances versus Seaver’s career .154. While this realistically may not have affected the outcome of the game, Stone would not have been an automatic out in the lineup. That year was the first year of the DH, but pitchers had to take their turn at bat in the WS.

The straw that broke the camel’s back

While you’ve got to give credit to Oakland’s pitchers, allowing just 1 run twice and then only 2 runs twice in four out of the seven games, there was one last disturbing thing that was not foreseen by Berra. In Game 3, Seaver was dominant and struck out Reggie Jackson 3 times. In Game 6, Seaver gave up two RBI doubles to Jackson. Perhaps if he had an extra day of rest, he may have overpowered Jackson once again. Instead, the Mets went down that fateful game 3-1.

Next. Best Opening Day moments in Mets history

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It seems as if Yogi was to blame for the bad decision. But even if you believe the decision came from the front office or whether Seaver pulled a Matt Harvey on the manager, the final outcome made the sting of losing all the same. This was definitely the worst manager decision in Mets history because it came at the direct expense of losing a World Series

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