Now that the Giants have lost and the Braves have won — and the people at ESPN who were going to televise the single biggest baseball game of the year have buried their heads in a giant fish tank — it is time to get down to picking a winner. We’re talking baseball. The playoffs. They begin tonight.
I have examined the pluses and minuses of the teams. And I’ve come to my conclusion. Advantage: Philadelphia.
I say this not because I spent much of my childhood in that city, not far from where Ben Franklin tied a key to a kite, watched it rise in the sky, and said, “What the hell am I doing? Now I’m locked out!”
No. I say it because I follow the old theory: When the opponent looks phenomenal, go with the other guy.
For example . . . TEAM CHARACTERISTICS:
Toronto is a team that, by winning the World Series last season, finally shed its choker reputation. This is a veteran franchise that tasted glory and is coming back for more. The Blue Jays are determined to win.
The Atlanta Braves, making their third straight try in the postseason, face the same put-up-or-shut-up problem that once faced the Blue Jays. They are loaded with talent. They are determined to win.
The Chicago White Sox suffer from a rare disease: inferiority-inferiority complex. Somehow, they are always playing second fiddle to the Cubs, the most miserable franchise in baseball history. They are dead set on showing the Windy City that the real heroes play in Comiskey, not Wrigley. They are determined to win.
The Phillies, meanwhile, like to eat bottle caps, roll in the mud, and beat each other up.
Advantage: Philadelphia. TOP PLAYERS:
Toronto, of course, has more talent than the William Morris Agency, although much of it is rented. The latest stars to join the year-abroad program in Canada are Rickey Henderson, who was better known as an Athletic, and Paul Molitor, who was better known as a Brewer. They join Joe Carter, Roberto Alomar and John Olerud as part of the most star-studded roster in these playoffs.
Atlanta is also loaded. Big names, such as Fred McGriff, Ron Gant and David Justice. Not to mention a pitching staff that’s the best in the majors. And of course, Deion Sanders, who plays two sports, football and bench-warming.
Chicago has Bo Jackson, who, by himself, has more TV commercials than everyone else in the playoffs.
And Philadelphia has John Kruk, who looks more like John Candy, and says, proudly, “I’m not an athlete, I’m a baseball player” — as he gulps another Milky Way.
Advantage: Philadelphia. PITCHING:
Toronto features strikeout master Juan Guzman, 19-game winner Pat Hentgen and stopper Duane Ward, who shared the American League lead with 45 saves. Wow.
The White Sox feature Jack McDowell, the AL’s winningest pitcher. Wow.
The Braves have so much sparkle on their pitching staff, you need sunglasses to watch them. Tom Glavine won 22 games. Greg Maddux won 20. John Smoltz struck out 208. Steve Avery had the fifth-best ERA in the league. Wow.
The Phillies? They have Terry Mulholland, who once fielded a ground ball, got it stuck in his glove, then threw the glove and the ball to first base.
Advantage: Philadelphia. STADIUMS:
The Blue Jays play in the Taj Mahal of domed stadiums, the SkyDome, where you can rent a hotel room, eat at the Hard Rock Cafe, and never get rained out.
The White Sox play in new Comiskey Park, which, despite a few cracks, is otherwise holding up well.
The Braves play in Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium, which can always be counted on for a rousing Tomahawk Chop, and a nod from King Ted and Queen Jane.
The Phillies play in Veterans Stadium, where, believe it or not, I used to work as a program vendor. I was 13. One night, I stuck a wad of gum under my seat. Last year, I went back to visit, reached down, and found the gum still there.
Advantage: Philadelphia. MANAGERS:
Toronto has Cito Gaston. Boring.
Chicago has Gene Lamont. Boring.
Atlanta has Bobby Cox. Double boring.
Philly has Jim Fregosi, who was once traded for Nolan Ryan, in what some people call the worst deal ever. Those are the people who got Fregosi.
Advantage: Philadelphia. MISCELLANEOUS:
The Blue Jays have the Nos. 1-2-3 hitters in the American League in their lineup, Olerud (.363), Molitor (.332) and Alomar (.326). How do you beat that?
The Braves are on SuperStation TBS all season. The whole nation knows them. How do you beat that?
The White Sox have the power of Frank Thomas and the comeback of the decade, Jackson. How do you beat that?
The Phillies have Mitch Williams, who has his nickname, Wild Thing, engraved in his bowling ball. They have Lenny Dykstra, who drools tobacco and calls everybody Dude. They have Pete (Urp!) Incaviglia, who takes up both
“stand” and “pass” sides of moving walkways in airports. They have Darren Daulton, married to a former Penthouse Pet.
They were the worst team in their division last year; now they are the best.
Also, they have my gum.
It seems perfectly clear to me.