The Miggy Walk
OK, apologies in advance, but I must unload my rant about the Yankees intentionally walking Miguel Cabrera with 3,000 hits on the line in Thursday’s game in Detroit. I made the rookie mistake of starting this rant on Twitter, which was just dumb, not only because Twitter is the enemy of argument. A typical Twitter exchange goes like this.
You: Mad Men is a good show.
Response: Why do you like mad men? There’s already too much anger in the world.
You: No, that’s not what I said, I said …
Response: Check out this guy who wants MORE rage in the world.
Response: Typical of this guy.
Response: You don’t know anything about movies.
You: Wait, I didn’t say anything about movies …
Response: Shut up. The designated hitter is terrible for baseball.
Response: Jonah Hill GIF.
Response: Stick to sports.
Response: Please retweet this plea to have NBA reduce ticket prices.
I knew this before I started that Tweetstorm about the intentional walk, but I was so overcome with rage that I just HAD to get some of it out there. And when the expected barrage came against all those things I had not said and do not think, well, it served me right.
So, here, I’m going to try to spell out my fury with, I hope, a bit more clarity, because I think that what Yankees manager Aaron Boone did when he intentionally walked Miguel Cabrera is right at the heart of the biggest thing wrong with baseball.
To keep this orderly, I’ll start with the pure strategy of the situation. The Yankees, as you might know, can’t score any runs these days. I suspect this will work itself out over time, but right now Joey Gallo is just about unplayable, Gleyber Torres the same, Josh Donaldson, Giancarlo Stanton, even Aaron Judge, all of these players look almost helpless at the plate. Of course, even with that, the Yankees entered Thursday’s game against Detroit in first place in the American League East because, basically other than Gerrit Cole, their pitching staff has been pretty much untouchable.
Now, we’ll get to this part in a minute, but we do need to at least mention that the big thing about the game was that Detroit’s Miguel Cabrera entered with 2,999 hits. That was the overriding story, and every time Cabrera came up, fans pulled out their cellphones in the hopes of recording a little bit of baseball history.
But, again, we’ll get back to that.
In the eighth inning, the Tigers led 1-0. The Yankees had loaded the bases in the top of the eighth, but then Anthony Rizzo tapped the ball back to the pitcher, and Giancarlo Stanton grounded out, and that was that. Cabrera was 0-for-3, and he was scheduled to bat fifth in the bottom of the eighth, so Tigers fans were desperately hoping for a little Detroit rally so that Miggy would get one more shot.
And they got the rally. Victor Reyes doubled. Robbie Grossman reached on an infield single. Jonathan School walked to load the bases. So bases loaded, nobody out, and up came Jeimer Candelario, with Miguel Cabrera on deck.
And Aaron Boone went to lefty pitcher Lucas Luetge to get out of the jam.
Lucas Luetge, by the way, is a 35-year-old journeyman who between 2015 and 2020 was signed and let go by five different organizations without pitching a single game in the major leagues. He signed with the Yankees and somehow figured out a way to get off-the-chart spin rates on his cutter and ridiculous movement on his curveball.
Candelario is a switch-hitter who actually hits quite a bit better from the right side, so it isn’t exactly clear why Boone brought Luetge in there, but baseball is a game where the percentage difference between the “right decision” and the “wrong decision” is impossibly thin. And, right or wrong, it worked. Candelario bounced back to Luetge, who started a 1-2-3 double play. That made it two outs with runners on second and third.
Miggy was scheduled to hit next.
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That’s when Yankees pitching coach, Matt Blake, went to the mound, and you could feel the dread in your stomach: They wouldn’t really walk Cabrera here, would they? Well, it turns out that Blake’s message to Luetge was, no, go after Miggy.
In the dugout, though, Boone had second thoughts. And he walked Cabrera, to a cascade of boos and “Yankees suck” chants.
But, again, let’s hold off on the emotion. Was it the “right decision” strategically? Let’s look at the situations:
Situation 1: Pitch to righty Miguel Cabrera, a 99 OPS+ hitter for the last six seasons, with runners on second and third.
Situation 2: Pitch to lefty Austin Meadows, a 126 OPS+ hitter for the last six years, with the bases loaded.
So by walking Cabrera, you get the platoon advantage, whatever that’s worth, but you’re also facing the better hitter as of right now and you have no margin for error because the bases are loaded. What’s better? What’s the right thing?
Using general data — which assumes that Cabrera and Matthews have roughly the same chance of getting a hit — the Yankees’ win percentage actually went DOWN after the walk, from 12.6% to 11.9%.
If you happen to know Tom Tango and ask him to dig as deeply as possible into the data, you could make the case that the Yankees’ chance to win ticked up the tiniest bit from 8.7% to 8.9%.
If you take the latter statistical breakdown precisely — and, let’s be honest, you really can’t — that would mean that if the Yankees and Tigers had that exact same situation ONE THOUSAND TIMES, then walking Miguel Cabrera would win New York … two more games.
In other words, from a pure strategy perspective, it was too close to call.
Anyway, Boone walked him. Under normal circumstances, this would be infuriating to those of us who truly believe the intentional walk to be evil and anticompetitive. But now we can get into it: These weren’t normal circumstances. Miguel Cabrera was one hit away from 3,000. Every person in the crowd was there to see if he might do it. Lots of baseball fans around the country were tuned in to see if he might do it. This was potentially a baseball moment.
And the Yankees intentionally walked him. Meadows promptly dumped a two-run double into left field, putting the game on ice, which was about the best “ball don’t lie” karma we could get out of the situation. But it didn’t really satisfy. Sure, the Tigers are still at home, and Cabrera will get his 3,000 hits, and you play to win the game and all that stuff.
But it stunk. And, once again, I wonder: Who are these people playing baseball for, anyway?
You might know I’m in the middle of writing my next book, WHY WE LOVE BASEBALL, about the most legendary moments in baseball history. Not to give too much away, but one of those moments, surely, will be the time that Satchel Paige intentionally walked at least one, and probably more, batters, so that he could face Josh Gibson with the bases loaded.
This was one of Buck O’Neil’s favorite stories — and also one of his most requested stories — and while I will try to go into all the details in the book, the important part here is what Kansas City Monarchs’ manager Frank Duncan said to Buck.
“Listen to what this fool wants to do,” Buck said, and Paige said he wanted to load the bases for Gibson. Duncan nodded and turned to O’Neil.
“Buck,” he said, “you see all these people out here? They came to see Satchel pitch to Josh.”
I love that story so much because it’s what baseball should be — a game for the fans. It’s supposed to be entertainment. It’s supposed to be fun. I’m not saying that Max Scherzer or Gerrit Cole should intentionally load the bases to face Mookie Betts or Mike Trout (though that would be awesome) but I am saying that there should be SOME consideration for making the games enjoyable and thrilling.
The game itself has lost some of that through sheer evolution. We all know that a couple of weeks ago, Dave Roberts felt like he needed to pull Clayton Kershaw after the seventh inning, even though he was throwing a perfect game. I wrote how Roberts probably made the right decision — one that Kershaw seemed to agree with — but that didn’t make the moment any less awful.
But that’s the way of the world now. Complete games are gone. Triples are mostly gone. Stolen bases are mostly gone. The dream of someone hitting .400 is gone. With fewer balls in play, there’s less action. Add in shifts on virtually every play, and we don’t see nearly as many of those classic and wonderful defensive plays that captured the imagination. Baseball is still wonderful, but in different ways from before.
And then you throw in decisions like Aaron Boone’s. Even if he was right, that walking Cabrera give his team a microscopically better chance of winning this mostly lost game — and I will insist that he was not right — how do you weigh that against the fact that baseball fans in the stadium and around the country were watching for this moment? It’s April. The Yankees were losing. They were sending up the bottom of their lineup in the bottom of the ninth against the Tigers’ closer.
And now ask yourself: What if the Tigers were going on the road after this game? Would Boone still have walked him, ruining his chance of getting No. 3,000 at home, or would that have made a difference in his decision-making? What if the Yankees were down two runs instead of one, would that have made a difference in his decision-making? Is there any point at all where a manager should take the larger situation into consideration, any point at all when they should think like Frank Duncan and ask what the fans came to see?
I do know a lot of people would say: No. There is no point. The only point is to win, and even if that means wrecking the fan experience to improve your chances of winning from 0.1 to 0.2%, you do it because that’s the only thing that matters. I get it. I just don’t agree with it.
To me the game is about so much more than wins and losses, it’s about creating memories. It’s about sharing the experience. It’s about watching thrilling matchups. It’s about actually HAVING great moments — not always trying to scheme and plot and maneuver your way out of them.
The Yankees did not have to walk Miguel Cabrera. One thing I heard from the Twitter flurry was that it’s Boone’s job to win the game there. But I would argue that it isn’t. It’s the players’ job to win the game there. And Lucas Luetge absolutely could have tried to get Miguel Cabrera out. He probably would have gotten Miguel Cabrera out.
But instead, Aaron Boone stomped on the moment and hid behind the smallest of percentages as his motive. And it’s not just Boone; I feel pretty sure that plenty of other managers would have done the same. This is too much of the game now. And I think baseball is the poorer for it.
I totally disagree. The walk was the right thing to do to win the game. What the fans want means nothing. If the fans were important in the decision, why not just throw him a nice BP pitch to make sure he could get all of it and make those fans happy. Because it wouldn't be honest to the game. Not walking him would also not be honest to the game.
Boone was right only in that he did the obvious and safe thing in that situation: load the bases to maximize a ground out. The equivalent of kicking a field goal in the 4th quarter when down by 21 instead of going for it. The manager can't not be blamed for what happens next; only the players can.
Boone was wrong in thinking the Cabrera at the plate was the Cabrera who'll go to the Hall of Fame. Even the Cabrera that got three hits the night before wasn't that Cabrera. The next guy up, he was that Cabrera. And thus the Yankees lost. Again.
What Boone should have done was told his team: Show me who you are. Shut down this Hall of Famer. Maybe that would light a fire under them.