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November 4, 2005

Prospectus Matchups

I Remember

by Jim Baker

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Now that the 2005 season is in the vaults and the chill of winter is beginning to freeze the soft liquid centers of our brains, it's time to let our minds drift back to seasons of yore. It's the perfect time to look back at some games I attended in person and see what memories I can dredge up about them. Anything the brain can't conjure, Retrosheet is on hand to spike into the present.

Here, at random, are some memories of games I happened to witness in the years 1979 to 1987. This, to me, is the essence of the offseason--reliving memories, cherished or otherwise.

  • June 5, 1979; Yankee Stadium - Royals 3 Yankees 1

    My mother had a friend who worked for the Food Science department at Cook College. Someone in the department had put together a group outing to Yankee Stadium. There were a couple of extra tickets, so my father and I got to tag along with a host of graduate students, most of whom spent their days doing things with soy. It so happened that nearly everyone in the department was a recent arrival from China. As I recall, a good number of the party was fairly new to the United States and had never seen baseball before. To my mind, they saw the one game I have ever been at in person in which just about nothing happened.

    There were no extra base hits. All the scoring came on singles and sac flies and was over by the third inning. Past that point, Larry Gura and Luis Tiant allowed three total base hits. Did they do it by striking out people with spectacular frequency? No, just six Ks combined for the whole game. These two teams met in the playoffs four out of five times in this period, but this was the year they both missed--perhaps as punishment for this, a game memorable for its dullness. I have never witnessed a game that was less likely to inspire Chinese graduate students to become baseball fans.

  • August 9, 1982: Kingdome - A's 9, Mariners 4

    I include this game as a cautionary tale: never go to a ballpark expecting to see something specific. Go with an open mind and enjoy and accept what the day brings you. In this case, I wanted to see Rickey Henderson play during his record-setting run at Lou Brock's stolen base record. Although I wasn't a huge fan of the stolen base then, I was still in impressed at the sheer number Henderson was amassing. At that point in the year, he already had 104 steals. Imagine my disappointment when Jeff Burroughs trotted out to left instead of Henderson.

    I remember thinking that Seattle's Jim Beattie was well on his way to breaking the single-game strikeout record. Unfortunately, in addition to getting nine of the first 11 outs on whiffs, he had also surrendered seven hits, three walks and six runs. Any game that starts off the ninth 9-0 and ends with the tying run in the on-deck circle can't be all bad. In the end, what did I miss, really? 1982 doesn't even make Henderson's top-ten season list, It's just the one with the big, silly number attached to it.

  • April 5, 1983: Shea Stadium - Mets 2, Phillies 0

    A fun thing to do at ballgames is to play a game of Count the Hall of Famers. Sometimes the pickings are slim and sometimes it's highly speculative if the players are still early in their careers. In this game, it was pretty obvious that we were in the presence of five and maybe six future Hall of Famers. Steve Carlton was facing the just-returned Tom Seaver and arrayed behind him were Tony Perez, Joe Morgan, Mike Schmidt and Pete Rose. The one we weren't sure of at that point in time was Perez. Ivan DeJesus at short was all that kept that the infield from being all-Cooperstown-bound.

    Seaver and Carlton pitched matching shutouts through six with Lefty whiffing nine Mets. In a bit of strange irony--given that there were well over 2,000 career home runs represented on the field--the game was won on a bases-loaded single by a player named Mike Howard. In a further bit of irony, this proved to be Howard's last-ever major league plate appearance in a career that was shorter (76 total PAs) than any other player on the field. I'm going to venture a guess that his is the only career in the history of baseball that ended on a game-winning hit on Opening Day. I would doubt that many careers ended on Opening Day period.

  • August 23, 1985: Shea Stadium - Padres 6, Mets 1 (game one)

    I include this here for a single incident--one that still boggles my mind whenever I contemplate it. In the bottom of the ninth, the Mets loaded the bases with one out when Rafael Santana singled and Tim Stoddard walked Lenny Dykstra and Wally Backman. Rusty Staub made out number two, bringing Keith Hernandez to the plate with Gary Carter in the on-deck circle, representing the tying run. It was then that San Diego catcher Terry Kennedy whipped the ball down to third and caught Santana napping to end the game.

    Since then, I've compared all boneheaded baserunning plays to that one and find that none of them can compete. It is the piece de resistance of unforgivable baserunning.

  • September 16, 1985: Yankee Stadium - Indians 9, Yankees 5

    Don't let the listed attendance on this game fool you; there were most definitely not 15,320 people at this game. It was more along the lines of 2,000--maybe. The American League didn't release turnstile count but rather the number of tickets sold--an effective propaganda tool. This was a makeup game from earlier in the season and was announced on short notice and played on a Monday afternoon. I was under the impression nobody knew the game was being played, given the turnout. I know this much: I've never seen Yankee Stadium emptier. To illustrate the size of the crowd, at one point Mike Hargrove hit a foul ball into the upper deck. It took a couple kids 30 full seconds to chase down the ball. Of course, that meant Hargrove was just about ready for the next pitch by the time they got to it.

    The Yankees blew a 4-0 lead and, inexplicably, Billy Martin let Brian Fisher stay on in the ninth as he coughed up the lead and then some. The assembled non-multitude was puzzled. It was almost as if Martin were throwing in the towel on the pennant race with over two weeks to go. The still-active Julio Franco hit a big triple in the fateful ninth. I remember this game fondly because it made me think that this is what baseball looked like 60 years previous on sunny weekdays.

  • July 3, 1987: Veterans Stadium - Phillies 2, Astros 1

    Before Steve Martin went on to thrill us with great movies like Bowfinger and madden us by pissing away his talent in Cheaper by the Dozen and, heaven forbid, Cheaper by the Dozen 2, he was a stand-up comedian. One of his great gags was to dedicate a magic trick to the "people in the last row." Then he'd pull out a dime and do "the disappearing dime trick." For me, this was the disappearing dime trick game.

    We decided to go at the last minute. It was fireworks night and I think we parked in Camden and walked the rest of the way. How bad were our seats at this game? You might remember that, when originally built, Veterans Stadium had a walkway ringing the very top of the park. To maximize revenue, Little League field-style aluminum bleachers were built there. We were in the last row. You might also remember that the decks at the Vet had very extreme angles, so if you leaned forward to, say, look at your watch, you felt like you were going to pitch over and fall forever. Nolan Ryan was pitching for the Astros, so there weren't a lot of balls being put in play, at least by the Phillies. This led to another problem--by this point in time, the carpet at the Vet was very worn and faded so balls were hard to pick up moving across it. Every ball in motion was a disappearing dime trick.

    In the end, Ryan was beaten by Bruce Ruffin, dropping him to 4-9. You would think that his 1987 season would have sounded the death-knell of reliance on pitchers won-loss records. This was the year he went 8-16 in spite of leading the league in ERA and strikeouts. Based on DERA and NRA, it's one of his best three or four seasons. Given the obsession with won-loss records at the time, it's surprising to see that he did get some Cy Young support. He got second-place votes from four enlightened souls and finished sixth. This is not to say he deserved the award (although he certainly did more so than the actual winner, Steve Bedrosian), but more to say that it was nice to see that there were four writers willing to look past his won-loss record and 10 no-decisions.

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