Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Baseball Conspiracy?

I've been following the World Baseball Classic very closely. It's right in the "wheelhouse" of my interests: Cuba and baseball. By now everyone knows that Venezuela lost to an underdog Cuban team the other day by a score of 7-2. But what has surprised me is how much traction the conspiracy theories have gotten. Today I was listening to Enrique Encinosa on Radio Mambi and every caller (except me, I couldn't help myself) believed that Venezuela had thrown the game. The logic is that "el comandante" (castro) called "mini-me" (chavez) and asked him to "take one for the team" or that perhaps "mini-me" decided to do so on his own.

I'm just not buying it. In order to believe that Venezuela intentionally lost to Cuba, you would have to include at least 3 members of team Venezuela in the conspiracy. Let's look at their resumes.

Luis Sojo, Manager: 13 year major league veteran and part of the World Champion Yankee teams of 1996, 1998, 1999 and 2000, currently a coach on the Yankee staff.

Omar Vizquel, Shortstop, captain: 16-year major league veteran, 3 time all-star, 10 gold gloves, highest fielding percentage among shortstops that have played more than 1,000 games.

Giovanni Carrara, Relief pitcher: 10 year major league veteran, 27-19 lifetime, 4.70 career ERA, coming off a 7-4 season with a 3.93 ERA in 2005 and a 5-2 season with a 2.18 ERA in 2004.

Now each of these people had a pivotal role in the Venezuelan loss. I'd have to have a good reason to suspect any of these three of intentionally tanking a game. I find it extremely implausible that either Vizquel or Sojo would do such a thing and I know little about Carrara but he couldn't have gotten into the game without Sojo inserting him.

Now let's look at the chain of events that turned the game from a close one into a laugher. Sojo lifted Johan Santana (the 2005 American league Cy Young award winner) in favor of Carrara to start the 6th inning. Now remember that pitchers in this series are under strict pitch counts. The limit in this round is 80 pitches. Santana threw 67 pitches in the game. Santana certainly could have started the 6th inning but with no guarantee that he'd finish before reaching the 80 pitch limit. Rather than bringing in a reliever with a runner on or in the middle of a count Sojo decided to call it a day for Santana. Let's also keep in mind that Sojo is a major league coach and he's been entrusted with the health and well being of someone else's ace pitcher. It's only the 2nd week of spring training and players are not to regular season form. I don't blame Sojo for going to the bullpen.

The ESPN announcers mused in wonderment at Sojo's selection of Carrara to come into the game, only it was AFTER he got into trouble. But even if Carrara wasn't the best pitcher in Sojo's pen, he certainly has a credible resume. When Sojo inserted Carrara into the game Cuba was winning 1-0. The conventional wisdom going into this series was that Cuba would not be able to hit major league pitching. Perhaps that was on Sojo's mind. Instead of using all his bullets against a team that Venezuela was supposed to beat easily, he'd conserve his better arms for the games against the more formidable Puerto Rico and Dominican Republic teams.

Cuba put a run on the board and then with a man on first and one out Carrara got a pitcher's best friend, a ground ball to his gold glove shortstop, a tailor-made double play ball. Except the ball took a funny hop, right into Vizquel's uniform jersey. Instead of getting out of the inning everyone was safe. If your going to throw a game, I don't think you could count on a ball bouncing into a defensive player's jersey.

The next hitter also hit a potential double play ball to the second baseman. Vizquel mishandled the relay and was only able to record the out at 2nd. Now there were 2 outs with two on. The next hitter hit a 3-run blast to put Cuba up 5-0. The reality is that after giving up one run Carrara pitched well enough to get out of the inning without any further damage, producing two consecutive potential double plays and only getting one out for his trouble. The homerun pitch was definitely a mistake. A high fastball over the meat of the plate. Perhaps the “jersey ball” unnerved Vizquel and it affected him when the next ball was hit to the middle infield as well.

The next Cuban hitter also went yard and Sojo lifted Carrara for Victor Moreno. But the damage was already done. Venezuela would not surmount the lead Cuba had established at that point in the game. Moreno got Venezuela out of the inning but would surrender another run (Cuba's last) before leaving the game.

Now let's examine the possible motivations for throwing the game. Ideologically, we know that fidel castro is hugo chavez' mentor. And perhaps if the situation were reversed and castro wanted to throw a game he certainly has the power over every single member of the Cuban delegation to make sure it would come off as planned. But the Venezuelan team is not made up of the captive slave players like Cuba's is. I don't think it's fair to accuse anyone of this kind of foul play without even a shred of proof. We don't know what the personal political views of the players or the manager are.

As far as financial motivation goes, the three key figures involved in the unraveling of the game for Venezuela are all currently employed in major league baseball. Sojo is a 4-time world champion and employee of George Steinbrenner. And Vizquel is a potential hall of famer. Both have made enough money in baseball to live comfortably for the rest of their lives. If it were discovered that they conspired to throw a game in an event sanctioned by MLB they'd be finished. The same goes for Carrara who, as I mentioned before, did enough to keep Venezuela in the game but was let down by the defense of his teammates.

Just because Cuba was the underdog does not mean that they had no chance to win the game. After all, that's why they play them. The 1993 Florida Marlins were terrible. Probably the worst team in baseball, but even so they managed to win 64 games.

I guess this is one of the ugly byproducts of castro and the 47-year nightmare he has inflicted upon Cubans. We see ghosts. Sometimes they are there. Sometimes they aren't. He's disoriented us to the point that some of us are irrational.

1 comment:

Songuacassal said...

I too doubt Venezuela's throwing of the game. The passion in Caribbean Baseball is second only to the intense emotions found in a World Cup Soccer -no team just throws a match. With or without mini-me, Venezuela simply lost.

Funny you mentioned Marlins, because the whole time I'm watching Cuba I keep thinking of the Marlins when they started playing.