Happy Labor Day! Regularly Scheduled Articles Will Resume on Tuesday, September 2.
October 27, 2010
World Series Prospectus
Fall Classic Memories
Every baseball fan has a special World Series memory, whether it's Willie Mays' catch, Bill Mazeroski's home run, Brooks Robinson's defense, Kirk Gibson's limp around the bases, or Derek Jeter becoming the first-ever Mr. November. With the World Series opening tonight at AT&T Park in San Francisco with the Giants facing the Texas Rangers, many of our writers, editors, and interns share their favorite memories of the Fall Classic.
Stephani Bee: 1999
In my 21 years growing up a Yankee fan, I have had the great fortune of celebrating a World Series title with my father five times. My dad grew up loving Yogi and Mickey, Joe D. and Whitey, Howard and Bauer. I grew up loving the stories he shared about them, and in 1999, I finally had the opportunity to see the greatness of those players personified with the unveiling of the All-Century Team.
It was the bridging of a generation gap. There was Yogi and Ruth, Stan the Man and Hammerin’ Hank, the Big Train and the Iron Horse. As each name was called out, my skin prickled with goosebumps. I finally started to understand why my dad got starry-eyed talking about these men and their accomplishments. This was what baseball was all about.
The day after the All-Century team was unveiled, my favorite game in the ’99 World Series was played—Game Three. Andy Pettitte, one of my childhood favorites, matched up against Tom Glavine, and the Bravos knocked him around for five runs. But I needn’t worry—these were the Yankees. “Have faith in the Yankees, my son,” Ernest Hemingway had written in The Old Man and the Sea. I had faith. The Yankees would pull this out.
Glavine started to tire. The Bombers were down by a deuce. Up stepped Chuck Knoblauch with a man on. With one swing, it was knotted up. I had no doubts. This was the Yankees’ game.
Mariano Rivera came on to pitch and did what he has always done—shut the opposition down. It was the bottom of the 10th and the Yankees were at home. Playoff magic was knocking on the door.
Chad Curtis, who had already homered against Glavine, came up to face Mike Remlinger. His bat must have been blessed that night. He belted a homer to left field. At home in front of the TV, my dad and I were hugging and cheering. As my dad and I high-fived and jumped around for the rest of the night, I started to realize how much a sport could bond a family.
I spent the offseason looking up every man on the All-Century squad and learning more about his life and on-field feats. Now my dad and I banter endlessly about which player had the better career, who will end up in the Hall of Fame and who deserves enshrinement, and what lies ahead for baseball. I pepper him with questions about players from the past. Dad always has stories to share, and the importance of those stories and the father-daughter connection that baseball fosters was magnified for me during the ’99 World Series.
The odds of any two teams meeting in the World Series in 1989 (when MLB consisted of only 26 teams)? 1:162. Odds of a major northern California earthquake occurring on a given day? Considering three earthquakes over 7.0 occurred over the past 150 years, a completely unscientific assumption would be that one occurs every 18,000 days. Odds a World Series game is played on a given day in a year? Generously, 7:365. The odds of each of these events occurring on the same day? 1 in 6 billion.
Memories are sparse prior to 1989, when I turned 5 years old—the field behind our house, our dog Maggie, my first tee-ball team (the Braves), and a few selections from pre-school. The 1989 baseball season is the first sporting experience I remember in full. I grew up in Mountain View, California, at the time a town dominated by a military base, a few technology companies, and a few Asian restaurants; the blue collar neighbor to the ultra-wealthy suburbs populated by San Francisco elite—this, of course, prior to the influx of tech millionaires and, later, Google. The Giants (and 49ers) were their teams—we rooted for the A’s. The players—despite the stereotypes of the aloof and arrogant team—were accessible and generous. After games, Tony La Russa set up autograph sessions in the parking lot of Oakland-Alameda Coliseum for his animal rescue charity, and every star participated. That said, there weren’t many ‘non-stars’ on that roster, and even those—specifically, Billy Beane—did all right for themselves in baseball.
I remember driving home with my mom to watch Game Three, waiting for Big Mac and Jose and Rickey and Eck and Walt Weiss (hey, he’d just won ROY and, more importantly for the family, was a University of North Carolina graduate) drop the hammer on the Giants. We were stopped at a light on El Camino, when everything started shaking; minimally at first, then being thrown around the front seat of the car. The street lamp to my right looked like it was going to come loose from its bearings and crash on the hood of the car. We were directly between San Francisco and the epicenter, 50 percent closer than what the folks saw on TV.
The 1989 World Series is the only championship a professional team to which I give my allegiance won in the past 26 years. The A’s absolutely pummeled the Giants, outscoring San Francisco 32-14 during the four-game sweep, pouring on 13 runs in Game Three when the series resumed 10 days after the quake. The team that should have been a dynasty managed to be foiled by Kirk Gibson, Mother Nature, and Jose Rijo.
The memories of the moment the team won are complicated. Early promotional material dubbed it as the ‘Bay Bridge Series,’ yet during the earthquake the Bay Bridge had collapsed. Like most successes, the payoff of a championship never lived up to the expectation, even for the most improbable of World Series.
Jeff Euston: 1985
Every World Series has a lasting image, and 1985’s is The Denkinger Call. The Cardinals, three outs away from a championship, thought they had retired the Royals’ Jorge Orta leading off the ninth inning of Game Six. Even those of us sitting down the left-field line could see the ball had beaten Orta to the bag. But Denkinger missed the call and ruled Orta safe, setting the stage for a game-winning Kansas City rally and a Game Seven victory the next night.
But the fallout from the call obscures the fact that the Cardinals—baseball’s best team that season with 101 victories—were out-hit and out-pitched by the Royals throughout the Series. The Royals could have won Game One, should have won Game Two, and decisively won games Three and Five before coasting to an 11-0 rout in Game Seven.
Despite building a 3-1 series lead, St. Louis looked nothing like the Runnin’ Redbirds who had led the league in runs and stolen bases. One problem was the Cardinals’ loss of leadoff man Vince Coleman to a freak accident with the automated tarp at Busch Stadium. A more immediate problem was the Royals’ pitching staff, which allowed just 13 earned runs in 62 innings. A baby-faced Bret Saberhagen shut down St. Louis twice and welcomed into the world a baby of his own between starts. Danny Jackson was electric and Charlie Leibrandt was quietly dominant.
The Series featured several other signature moments: Frank White’s long blast in Game Three at Busch Stadium. Coach Lee May catching a flying George Brett as the third baseman careened into the KC dugout chasing a foul pop in Game Five. Darryl Motley hitting a long drive—foul—in the second inning of Game Seven, then hitting the next pitch from St. Louis ace John Tudor deep—and fair—into the left-field seats. And, poignantly, Dick Howser finally finding post-season success and winning “the whole enchilada” just months before his cancer diagnosis.
My favorite memory was the aftermath of Saturday night’s Game Six. When the Cards scratched out a run in the eighth, the game and the Series seemed lost for the Royals, and the mood in the ballpark was impending heartbreak. Then, in a half inning, everything changed. Orta reached on Denkinger’s Call, and St. Louis imploded. Dane Iorg got the hit to score Jim Sundberg with the winning run, and the ballpark shook. Another fan in my row—who will remain nameless—fell into the row in front of us—and promptly jumped up and continued cheering.
Now, 25 years later, World Series appearances are nearly a birthright in St. Louis. In Kansas City, post-season play is something of an urban myth, like the $30 face value for tickets to the ’85 Series. Missouri, always a swing state politically, has gone decidedly red—in its baseball rooting interests, anyway. But in one October, the upstart Royals turned the state blue.
Ken Funck: 1994
Due to a series of events involving the settlement decisions of my German immigrant forebears, and the almost pathologically stubborn loyalty which I inherited from them, I’ve been a Cubs fan my whole life. Thus, I don’t have any happy World Series stories to share involving triumph, tears, and multi-generational group hugs—though I remain convinced that they’re out there waiting to be told, and the sooner I get to tell them, the better. For many years the pleasure I got from watching the World Series was tempered by a deep-seated longing to be that guy in the stands beaming with delight as he watches his favorite team’s dugout empty to celebrate a hard-won championship. Envy isn’t the most dignified of human emotions, but it’s certainly a common one, as evidenced by it’s placement among the Seven Deadly Sins—and for many years, envy was a feeling I could never entirely shake come the end of October.
That ended in the fall of 1994, when the men who run baseball conspired to cheat us all out of a World Series. I didn’t claim then, and I don’t claim now, to know who was in the right—and frankly, I didn’t (and don’t) care. What mattered is that in their attempts to ensure that their side was allotted an appropriately large piece of an already massive pie, the owners and players engaged in a game of economic chicken that ended with neither side willing to swerve, and the aftershocks of that head-on collision continue to be felt today. You don’t need the uncanny navigational skills of William Bligh to plot a course from the 1994 labor stoppage through the decreased attendance of 1995 and into the fan-pleasing run environment of the late ‘90s, an era that fans continue to argue whenever a player of the “Steroid Era” is discussed.
In 1994 I didn’t have a team to root for in the World Series, but that was nothing new. Instead, regret was a pebble that wiggled its way into every fan’s shoe, not just mine. Expos fans, of course, were the most cheated, as the NL’s best team by far was unable to play on the ultimate stage—perhaps a world championship would have kept baseball in Montreal to this day. The Yankees would have been a solid bet to represent the AL that year for the first time since 1981, setting up a terrific matchup between the team that had never been there and the team everyone loves to hate. I like to think we missed out on some fantastic moments: young Pedro Martinez striking out Don Mattingly to finish his Game Two shutout; Luis Polonia’s unexpectedly dazzling catch to save the Yankees’ bacon in Game Five; Wil Cordero’s three-run shot off Jimmy Key in Game Seven. But we’ll never know. The 1994 World Series That Wasn’t taught me that misery doesn’t love company, and as much as I’m a fan of a certain team, I’m even more a fan of baseball itself—and the Fall Classic has been more important to me ever since.
Let’s set the scene. It’s Halloween night in 2001 and, while children across the country are dressing up and asking for candy, I was sitting in my living room with my family learning about the power of rooting for the underdog and watching the epic tragedy that was Byung-Hyun Kim’s playoff experience. It was a night and series filled with classic names like Tino Martinez and Orlando Hernandez as well as soon-to-be-great ones like Jorge Posada and Alfonso Soriano playing alongside a Matt Williams who was playing third instead of coaching first and a Mike Stanton who was known more for his arm than his monster home runs.
Yes, the 2001 World Series matchup between the then-teal Diamondbacks and the dynastic Yankees was memorable for many reasons. Perhaps it was the fact that I was able to see a game that featured both Curt Shilling and Randy Johnson on the same team and pitching on the same night or maybe it was because I, a lifelong Chicago Cubs fan, could root for a team that could win a World Series. Whatever the reason, it is clear that, while this duel was memorable to me for things that I saw, it was important for the things that I learned. I’d like to share a few of those lessons here.
The first lesson this series that taught me was that, no matter how hard you can throw or how much you can bend a breaking ball, if you don’t have control of your pitches you can get hit. Hard. We’ll credit that lesson to Professor Kim and his 13.50 ERA, 18 H/9, and three homers allowed in the series.
The second lesson I learned from this series: In the playoffs, nothing is off-limits. This lesson was demonstrated by Bob Brenly’s move to have Randy Johnson appear in relief during Game Seven instead of their surely-frazzled closer. The Big Unit would throw 1
The final lesson I learned from this series is that anything can happen. In a world that was shocked by the seemingly impossible in 2001, baseball was ready to answer back with a shock of its own. After all, this was the season of baseball beyond October, “Mr. November,” and a championship not won by the Yankees. Even that series-winning hit, though whacked by the most probable hitter, was set up by some of the most improbable weapons. Starting with a single from Mark Grace, players like Damian Miller, Jay Bell and Tony Womack all had meaningful contributions to this inning. It’s games like this that remind us that no matter how small, worn down or unassuming one is, anything, and everything, can happen.
Steven Goldman: 1996
The years 1995 and 1996 were intense ones for my future wife and I. I got my first professional writing published and encountered the bane of every writer, the underfinanced entrepreneur who can get you a ton of money if you just consent to write a hundred or so items for free, while she was trying to get established in her PhD program, which required that she become fluent in German, pass several exams with should-I-stay-or-should-I-go consequences, and figure out a course of research that would sustain her for the rest of her working life. In the midst of this, we also had to cope with unexpected heartbreak: in 1995, my wife’s mother was diagnosed with an advanced case of lung cancer, and at Christmas, she died.
My wife and I had bonded, among other things, over baseball. She was a Braves fan. I had grown up a Yankees fan. The Braves had known recent success, including winning the 1995 championship. The Yankees had been repeat World Series winners when I was a child, but the first World Series I experienced with any kind of mature understanding was the heartbreaking 1981 World Series in which they went up two games to none and then proceeded to lose four in a row. And then, nothing. Though the Yankees were the most successful team of the 1980s in terms of piling up regular-season wins, they could never get to the playoffs. To quote William Shatner in one of the films of the era, “Like a poor marksman [they] just kept missing the target.”
By 1996, I had been waiting 15 years for the Yankees to win, which is the blink of an eye to a Cubs fan but nonetheless represented three-fifths of my entire existence and 100 percent of my maturity. They had been lost in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s. Bud Selig destroyed their chances in 1994. Edgar Martinez and Buck Showalter helped hurry them out of the playoffs in 1995. The World Series against the Braves was their first real chance since the debacle of 1981. In the event, they went down two games to none, and then, in shocking, emotional fashion, they won four straight to win it—1981 in reverse.
As the Yankees celebrated, I looked over at my wife. She was crying. Now, I’m a supportive husband, or partner, or whatever I was at that time. Yet, I have to confess that I was more than a little put out. The Braves had won the year before. She knew I had been waiting. Couldn’t she just have been happy for me? Summoning up all the compassion I could muster at that moment, I asked, “Are you crying because of the Braves?”
“No,” she sobbed.
Fellow males, put yourselves in my shoes. I knew it wasn’t that her mother (who, parenthetically, I greatly cared for) was a huge Braves fan, or that my wife was flashing back on memories of going to the ballpark with a pennant-waving, foam-fingered mommy in matching Dale Murphy T-shirts. It was simply that, as often happens to people who are grieving, an unrelated emotional moment lowered her barriers enough that all the sadness she had been coping with for the previous nine months spilled forth. What would you do? Celebrate or sympathize?
I chose sympathy; I knew this was my life-mate, and some things are more important and lasting than a transient feeling of euphoria resulting from watching a bunch of guys in their pajamas win a game. A funny thing happened after. The Yankees won again in 1998, and this time my wife didn’t cry, but I didn’t feel a thing. They took another in 1999, from the Braves again, and this time my wife was congratulatory, but I was mostly numb. By the next year, I had begun writing about the Yankees professionally and getting to see how things worked behind the scenes, and quickly almost all fannish enthusiasm was gone. It is not hard for me to be objective now, because I am objective. But, when I look back at the 1996 Series, I do have a feeling, an odd, unresolved feeling, a gap in memory where I know a good feeling is supposed to be but isn’t. All these years later, I haven’t quite forgiven my wife for stealing that moment from me, however innocently, but I also know that if that was the price I had to pay to keep her, I would gladly pay it a thousand times over.
Kevin Goldstein: 1986
1986 was a good year. I was an independent adult for the first time, and after living through the Nino Espinosa/Craig Swan eras, the Mets were finally good. The future seemed limitless. Unless one was a Met fan, the team was impossible to like, filled with enough arrogance, cockiness, and hubris to make cast members of “Jersey Shore” blush. Luckily, they backed it up with an almost boring regular season that saw them run away with the National League East by winning 44 of their first 60 games to open up an 11
Everyone remembers what happened after that, with the Red Sox winning the first two games in New York to create a panic in the city, followed by the most famous first-base error in the history of baseball that cost Boston their first title since 1918. Millions of words have been written about Mookie Wilson's ground ball and what followed, but what I remember most about Game Six is how I felt.
Growing up a Mets fan, I hated the Cubs, as they had a strange, almost irrational rivalry based on which team was really worse, but as I got into the business I'm in now, those kinds of feelings went away. When you talk to people who work for a team, it's hard to just demonize them based on location or logos, but the inverse is true as well, as on a pure team basis, my ability to live and die with each loss is gone to the point where I'm not sure I even have a favorite team as much as I simply just love the game itself. On October 25, 1986, during the 10th inning of Game Six, I punched a wall with anger and cried tears of joy within the span of about 15 minutes. I know far more about baseball now than I did then, but at the same time, I know the game will never make me feel that way again.
Jay Jaffe: 1981
For the third time in five years and the 11th time in 40, the Dodgers faced their all-too-familiar foes, the Yankees, in the 1981 World Series. The Yankees had won eight of the previous 10 battles, including the most recent ones in 1977 and 1978, with the latter marking the first Fall Classic in which I truly grasped the proceedings. The Dodgers lost that year in six games, dipped below .500 in 1979, and lost a Game 163 play-in to the Astros in 1980. To an 11-year-old third-generation Dodgers fan, it seemed like forever until they'd get another chance to win.
To a familiar cast of holdovers—the "Longest Running Infield" of Steve Garvey, Davey Lopes, Bill Russell, and Ron Cey, as well as Dusty Baker, Rick Monday, Burt Hooton, and manager Tommy Lasorda—the 1981 Dodgers added a new weapon: Fernando Valenzuela. After debuting as a reliever late in 1980, the chubby 20-year-old screwball-tossing lefty from Etchohuaquila, Mexico took the mound on Opening Day in place of injured Jerry Reuss, blanking the Astros to spark a brilliant eight-start stretch: 8-0 with an 0.50 ERA, seven complete games, and five shutouts. Fernandomania was born via a transcendent superstar who could pack stadiums but couldn't speak a lick of English. As a baseball geek, I'd tape box scores of Valenzuela's starts into a notebook, compute his microscopic ERA on my mom's calculator, and trace pictures of him out of Sports Illustrated. No other player ever inspired such fandom in me.
Though a seven-week strike would mar the 1981 season, the Dodgers made the three-tiered playoffs on the strength of their Valenzuela-led burst from the gate. Quickly pushed to the brink of elimination against the Astros in the ad hoc Division Series and again in the NLCS against the Expos, they nonetheless won five straight elimination games to return to the World Series and face an all-too-familiar cast of Yankees, including Graig Nettles, Lou Piniella, Willie Randolph, Goose Gossage, Ron Guidry, and most notably, Reggie Jackson.
The Dodgers fell behind two games to none on the road, but Valenzuela proved the stopper in Game Three, weathering the slings and arrows of nine hits and seven walks while throwing 147 pitches over nine innings; the Dodgers won 5-4. Aided by a Jay Johnstone pinch-homer and a late rally against the Yankee bullpen, they overcame a 6-3 deficit the next day to win 8-7, then squeaked by in Game Five via back-to-back solo shots by Pedro Guerrero and Steve Yeager against Guidry—the game which preceded Yankee owner George Steinbrenner's phantom elevator fight with two Dodgers fans. Returning to the Bronx, they broke open a 1-1 tie in Game Six once Yankee manager Bob Lemon pulled Tommy John for a pinch-hitter in the fourth inning, with Guerrero and company pummeling a parade of relievers to run the score to 9-2. When Bob Watson's lazy fly ball settled into the glove of center fielder Kenny Landreaux for the last out, my brother and I jumped gleefully: finally our team was on top.
Christina Kahrl: 1988
A fan's experiences vary—despair and joy are our lot. You invest years of your life awaiting a payoff, the expectation of some great reward; sometimes, you actually get one. But sometimes you first get dealt deep-dish agony, which you have to eat entire, because Emily Post teaches us that it's rude not to at least make the attempt.
I became an A's fan as a matter of local duty, but even so it was hard to get excited about the Gary Alexander A's, the Bobby Winkles A's, the pointless A's of the late '70s, followed by Billyball's false promise. Then Dave Kingman's '84 re-fired my enthusiasm, probably making me the first and last person whose love of the game depended upon the performance of one of the most unloved and apparently unlovable figures of the day. Rickey got traded, Jose arrived, I left for Chicago and college, but Sandy Alderson won a power struggle to become the man in charge. Then Hawk Harrelson did something (else) spectacularly stupid, and canned Tony La Russa. Within weeks, La Russa was skippering the A's, and on his first day he started journeyman Dave Stewart against Roger Clemens, a sure loss—except that everything changed that day. The hard-throwing badass pitched well enough to beat Boston, to beat the Rocket. A new destiny seemed to start right there, one in which Alderson's canny pickups of innumerable discards, La Russa's thoughtful skippering, and a good farm system combined to produce a team that had direction.
Anticipating that team's arrival in the postseason seemed to be a matter of inevitability, something that would make everything that preceded it worthwhile, even Dave Collins, even Shooty Babbitt, even Chris Codiroli. The comfortable romp of 1988 had me going to classes listening to ballgames with a portable radio tucked into an inside coat pocket, sitting to the side so that one professor or another couldn't see the old-school earpiece's thin connection snaking from my left ear. That was how I listened to the A's drub Mike Boddicker in the ALCS, months after I had derisively, confidently snorted to friends over his deadline pickup, “'We own that guy.”
It all seemed so very certain.
So on October 15, I popped by my best friend's place off campus with a couple of friends from LA with a couple of cases of beer to watch the first game of the Series, expectant that “my” guys would come through. Heading into the bottom of the ninth, all seemed fine. Stew had pitched eight, the A's were up by a run, Eck was on the mound. The Dodgers had made a fine accounting of themselves, but now it was time to play their part and lose, like they were the Mariners. This was what I'd been waiting for, after all, and the A's were supposed to win this thing, going away. One out, two outs... wait a minute, a Mike Davis walk? Is that even possible? That's OK, it's just Dave Anderson on deck, no, wait... it's Gibby. Well, hell, the man can't even walk to the plate, so no problem...
There was a stupefied moment of silence in that living room, at which point the two Angelenos and my friend Al erupted from their seats with shouts and yells and expletives and exultations, because they had seen something wonderful and amazing. Then they paused, looking my way to the room's quiet corner. I remained rooted in my chair, staring at the TV, through the TV, seeing nothing and saying less for a long moment. Then I stood, mumbling that, right now this instant, I needed a shot of something stronger, and left without another word. I trekked back downstairs to the Falcon Inn, ordered and downed a row of shots from Daik, the ageless Asian barkeep, and then set off in the darkness for the long walk back to the dorm, alone in my thoughts to ponder the necessary death of certainty.
So in 1988 the World Series re-taught me the lesson that nothing is guaranteed, that no foe is beaten and no victory won until the very end, on the diamond as in life. Perhaps I also learned a little bit about how unnecessarily, ludicrously serious about the whole thing I'd been. Unfortunately, that maturity didn't come all at once, and I still had the balance of a bitter cup to drink in the World Series games to come, an experience for me that wound up being just like that of my father watching “his” '54 Indians go down in flames. But where that outcome drove him away from baseball and straight into the orbit of Paul Brown and Woody Hayes, I figured if I'd made it this far, I'd stick it out. This was my team, and their time would come. I mean, c'mon, I wasn't rooting for the Cubs, right?
So, as we step into this Series, that's the thing I always remind myself of, that this is the flip side of every moment in sports history, however glorious—for every win, there is a loss.
Only that is certain.
David Laurila: 1968
For a fan, the importance of any World Series is directly related to the impact that it has on his/her life. For me, the 2004 Fall Classic stands as the most meaningful, but the most formative came in 1968 when the Detroit Tigers defeated the St. Louis Cardinals. It helped trigger my love affair with baseball.
Game Seven of the 1968 Series was played on a weekday afternoon, and as a grade-school student in Upper Michigan I was immersed in reading, writing, and (pre-sabermetric) arithmetic when Mickey Lolich took the mound against Bob Gibson. Baseball had recently begun to appear on my radar screen, and I learned a valuable lesson about the importance of America’s pastime when a radio was turned on for the final hour of the school day. A lasting memory is hearing the call of Mike Shannon’s ninth-inning home run as I left to board a school bus for the ride home.
The next summer I began to collect baseball cards, which is how I learned that Gibson had logged a 1.12 ERA in 1968 and that Denny McLain had won 31 games. Unlike the people in my hometown, they were larger than life.
Preteens lack perspective, but 40 years later it is easy to recognize the historical importance of the 1968 World Series.
The championship came one year after the 1967 Detroit race riots, which included Tigers outfielder Willie Horton, a hometown hero, venturing into the mayhem in full uniform to implore rioters to cease and desist. Less than 15 months later, Horton and his teammates helped to heal a city.
The Tigers and Cardinals squared off in what would be the last “pure” World Series. In 1969, divisional play was introduced, making it possible for a team like the 2006 Cardinals to win a title despite finishing the regular season with just 83 wins and the fifth-best record in their league.
The 1968 Series was also the last played with a 15-inch mound. Following a season in which American and National League batters hit a combined .237, it was lowered to 10 inches.
When Lolich bested Gibson in Game Seven, on two days’ rest, it was his third win, and third complete game, of the Series.
Gibson, who struck out a record 17 batters in Game One, allowed only one baserunner through six innings of Game Seven. After retiring the first two hitters in the seventh, he allowed a pair of singles followed by a Jim Northrup triple that broke a scoreless tie. The ball was misplayed by Curt Flood, a seven-time Gold-Glove winner. The final score was 4-1.
In what might be the boldest move ever made in the Fall Classic, Tigers manager Mayo Smith benched Ray Oyler, who had hit just .135 in the regular season, in favor of Mickey Stanley. Stanley, a center fielder, started all seven games at shortstop, a position he had never played as a professional. It was a remarkable stratagem in a most memorable World Series.
Ben Lindbergh: 2001
I can’t write the book on the 2001 World Series; for one thing, it has already been written. For another, I’m on a strict word limit (which I’m about to break). That’s just as well, since I’m more easily captivated by the reassuring slog of the six-month regular season than the small-sample dramatics of the playoffs. Like a whiff of perfume that tantalizes from afar but becomes cloying when unleashed on the unsuspecting occupants of an elevator, the concentrated agony and ecstasy of October often leaves me longing for a less heady sensation. Still, my memories of one particular series refuse to fade.
I was 14 in the fall of 2001, and a high school freshman at the Manhattan BP talent mill that produced Joe Sheehan, Derek Jacques, and Jon Sciambi before me. To humanize a Yankees fan may prove an impossible task, but put yourself in my privileged place: I’d come of age with the ’96 team and known little but ultimate victory in the intervening years, leaving me almost totally unprepared for an outcome that didn’t end with a pinstriped pile-up. Yes, I can hear the ensemble of world’s smallest violins sounding from your fingertips, but remember—every dynasty’s end elicits some sadness from the parties ousted from power.
On some level, I knew that teams just didn’t do this, as the 2010 model’s recently aborted attempt to repeat illustrates. But as the Bombers recovered from a two-game deficit in the Division Series and trounced the 116-win Mariners in the ALCS, a sense of destiny seemed to envelop them. Recall that this Fall Classic was played less than two months after the September 11 attacks. As a New Yorker, I suppose I should have felt more affected, but my world didn’t collapse along with the Twin Towers; whether out of naiveté or premature disillusionment, I felt no less safe than I had on September 10. Still, the team’s playoff run—as well as baseball’s continued presence—acquired a significance to many that was hard to ignore, setting this series apart.
The match-up produced several moments so memorable that I hardly need recount them. For Game Four’s—Tino Martinez’s game-tying blast and Derek Jeter’s “Mr. November” heroics—I stood at the Stadium, adding a personal perspective to the televised vantages in my mental highlight reel. As Game Five drew to a close, I huddled in bed with a radio, unwilling to watch what I expected to be a bitter end, but unable to tune out completely. Say what you will about John Sterling (remember, there may be children present), but his call of Scott Brosius’ game-tying homer forged an indelible memory for me that night. In both games, the Yankees clung to a single-digit chance of victory when down to their final out (though at 14, I wasn’t yet thinking in terms of win expectancy), prompting Joe Buck to call their comebacks “surreal.”
The Stadium’s serenade of Paul O’Neill just before the latter blow amplified the series’ Abbey Road¬-esque vibe of a band on the verge of dissolution attempting to go out on a high note: O’Neill, Martinez, Brosius, and Chuck Knoblauch would all move on after the final out. I didn’t bother to watch the blooper off the bat of Luiz Gonzalez land, having seen enough Rivera cutters morph into dying quails to know that this one would not be caught by a drawn-in infield.
Scanning the list of contributors to this article, it looks like most of us chose to recall a series from our respective youths. That’s probably not a coincidence. I could easily make this series an important element of my bildungsroman—a further loss of innocence as I embarked on my teen years armed with the unsettling knowledge that even Mo couldn’t always be counted on. If I’m being honest, though, it was really just a snippet of spectacular baseball, in which a collection of players whom I’d grown up watching nearly vanquished an opponent that nearly tripled their run total.
A well-meaning relative gave me the 2001 Series DVD set for my 15th birthday. I still own those discs, but I’ve left them sealed in their original packaging. I’m not quite ready to revisit those seven special games, but I haven’t let them go.
John Perrotto: 1979
Those under the age of 25 may find this hard to believe, but the Pirates were once one of the premier franchises in baseball. They won six division titles in the 1970s, the decade in which I grew up about 40 miles northwest of Pittsburgh in the rural community of Ohioville, Pennsylvania.
The last time the Pirates played in the World Series was 1979. Like most baseball-playing 15-year-olds in Western Pennsylvania, I idolized Chuck Tanner's Pirates—Chuck's Bucs—who had such great players as Willie Stargell, Dave Parker, Bill Madlock, Bert Blyleven, and Kent Tekulve. Also like most 15-year-old in Western Pennsylvania, I was the son of a steelworker. While our family wasn't poor, we also couldn't afford the best box-seat tickets to the World Series that year as the Pirates faced the Orioles.
Thus, on a Sunday afternoon, with the Pirates down 3-1 in the series and facing elimination, my father and I decided to drive to Pittsburgh and pay $10 each for standing room tickets at Three Rivers Stadium. Little did I know it would be one of the most fortuitous and memorable days of my life.
Hoping against hope, my father and I tried to negotiate with the various scalpers outside Gate A, thinking that maybe we might strike a good deal. Suddenly, a kindly older gentleman approached and asked if I needed two tickets and showed me a pair that were in Section 75, Row E, five rows off the field just beyond third base.
I figured he would want a small fortune for them, or at least a heckuva lot more than the face value of $35 each. Much to my amazement, he looked at me, smiled and said, "If you don't mind sitting with some Orioles' fans, they're yours for free." I was so stunned that I could barely get the words "thank you" out of my mouth.
It turned out the Good Samaritan was the owner of the Hilton in downtown Baltimore, the hotel that then hosted most of the visiting American League teams. Thus, my father and I sat in the Orioles' family section and cheered under our breaths as the Pirates won Game Five, which started them on their way to a stunning comeback victory in the series.
Dad will have been gone 19 years next month, and I've been beyond blessed to have covered the last 15 World Series, which would tickle him to no end if he were still with us. Yet I'll never have a Fall Classic memory to match that crisp autumn late afternoon 31 years ago.
Mark Smith: 1995
1995 was the year I became a baseball fan. I was seven years old, and I had finally realized that baseball went beyond tee-ball. My brother, Adam, was an Atlanta Braves fan, and similar to most little brothers, I wanted to be just like him and chose to be a Braves fan as well. As it turns out, I had excellent timing.
Chipper Jones arrived as a rookie and became my favorite player, and the Braves made the World Series against the Cleveland Indians. The World Series even had excellent timing that year. Game Six landed on October 28, and October 28 just happened to be Adam’s birthday. Most of you realize what happened next—the Braves, behind Tom Glavine and David Justice, won the World Series. Making the situation all the sweeter, an uncle of mine lived in Canton and was an Indians fan. Once the game ended Adam ran to the nearest phone and dialed my uncle, and when my uncle didn’t answer (for reasons still unknown), Adam left him a celebratory voicemail that sparked a family rivalry. It was the happiest I had ever seen young Adam. I don’t think I fully realized what had happened in that moment, but my interest was irrevocably sparked. The Yankees, unfortunately, ruined my first truly cognizant World Series the next October, and I still yearn for that moment of pure childish ecstasy my brother had that night. It’s what we all hope for every spring.
Matt Swartz: 2008
In 2008, I went to Citizens Bank Park in Philadelphia to see the Phillies five times in one week even though they only played three games at home that series. That was because Bud Selig and Mother Nature gave birth to a two-part miniseries for Game Five which, when completed, sent me back to the park a fifth time to watch a parade.
The Phillies came into the game as underdogs against the young Tampa Bay Rays, but they split the first two games on the road. They won Game Three on a walk-off dribbler in the bottom of the ninth, and won Game Four in a convincing 10-2 blowout. Philadelphia started to believe; a pre-parade broke out spontaneously in the middle of Broad Street at midnight upon the Phillies victory, three miles north of the stadium, as the city’s mouths watered for the first championship of any kind in 25 years. Fans also filled South Philadelphia in anticipation of a win on Monday night, in hopes of being near a celebration that a pessimistic city suddenly felt was inevitable. The Phillies led 2-1 through five innings as rain began falling harder, but the umpires were hesitant to call a rain delay in fear that the World Series would be clinched on the technicality of a shortened ballgame.
Ultimately, the Rays scored to tie it at 2-2 going into the bottom of the sixth and the umpires quickly suspended the game. If 25 years without a championship—28 years in baseball—were not long enough to wait, it rained through Tuesday night too, so the series resumed Wednesday. Geoff Jenkins had been relegated to pinch-hitting duties, but when the game began again, he was given the opportunity to get the biggest pinch-hit of his life and launched a double off the top of the right-center field wall, and scored two batters later. However, the Rays tied it up in the top of the seventh. Luckily, Pat Burrell led off the bottom of the seventh. He had spent a decade with the Phillies as they worked their way up from last place to first, but had been hitless upon finally reaching the World Series. Burrell launched a double to deep left-center field that ultimately led to the winning run.
Brad Lidge may have been perfect all year, completing 47 saves in 47 tries going into Game Five of the series, but he had narrowly missed blown saves all year. His 48th try looked like it might become his first blown save, as a runner reached second base with one out, but a lineout later, Lidge struck out Eric Hinske to give the Phillies a world championship for the first time since 1980. The stadium shook as the Phillies ended their drought. Fans filled the aisles, attempting to get closer to the celebration on the field. The Phillies team understood how long the fans had waited and celebrated on the field for hours after the game ended.
Five one-run games. Four walk-off wins. Three extra inning games. Two 1990 last-place finishers. Number one on ESPN’s “World Series 100th Anniversary” countdown. Zero road-team victories.
Umpire Steve Palermo threw out the first pitch; he was shot three months earlier while helping a robbery victim in Dallas and was forced into early retirement. From that moment, until a game-winning Gene Larkin single in Game Seven, there was plenty of excitement in this Fall Classic.
Game One was the first of two non-descript games in the series; the Twins won 5-2 on the power of home runs from Greg Gagne and Bloomington native Kent Hrbek. Game Two was far more controversial, as Kevin Tapani and NL Cy Young winner Tom Glavine squared off. The Twins jumped out to an early 2-0 lead as Chili Davis socked a two-run homer to take advantage of defensive miscommunication that allowed Dan Gladden to reach.
The controversy emerged as Ron Gant stoked a single into left in the second. Lonnie Smith, who made numerous gaffes in the series, attempted to gain third. Tapani, backing up the throw from Gladden, scrambled to recover the errant toss and fired to first to catch a napping Gant. Eyewitness accounts vary, but Hrbek received the throw and toppled backward, carrying Gant back with him. Umpire Drew Coble ruled Gant out, later explaining he felt Gant was off balance and fell with Hrbek. Hrbek still maintains his innocence and bristles when asked. The Braves were held to one run in the inning, and fell by the score of 3-2 as the Twins took a 2-0 series lead.
Game Three was billed as the first World Series game played south of the Mason-Dixon line, and after four-plus hours, did not disappoint. Braves hurler Steve Avery pitched brilliantly for seven innings, but gave way to closer Alejandro Pena, who promptly gave up Davis’ second home run of the series to tie the game. After a litany of double-switches, one Twins relief pitcher (Rick Aguilera) pinch-hitting for another (Mark Guthrie), and the Twins running out of bench players, Lemke singled home the winning run in the bottom of the 12th. Lemke played the role of hero again in Game Four as he scored on a Jerry Willard sacrifice fly for the series-evening victory. The Braves pummeled Tapani in Game Five 14-5 to send the Twins back home, trailing 3-2.
Game Six will forever be known as the game in which Kirby Puckett told his teammates to “jump on his back” and he’d carry them to victory. Puckett made a sensational extra-base hit robbing catch off Gant in the third, and homered off Charlie Leibrandt in walk-off fashion to send the series to a decisive seventh game.
Jack Buck’s famous call of “We’ll see you tomorrow night!” rang true for Game Seven. Smoltz and Morris exchanged scoreless innings, with Smoltz departing after 7