â€‹1. 1978: Yankees vs. Dodgers
The switch was flipped for me in 1978. Before, baseball was a game of catch or whiffle ball in the backyard, and an occasional TV show my dad watched. But in a quick flash I comprehended it as a professional sport whose players had discernible personalities, and whose actions were as accessible as the morning paper. I collected baseball cards, learned to read a box score, and followed the pennant races in the daily standings. Where I paid intermittent attention to the 1977 World Series and was safely tucked in when Reggie Jackson entered the pantheon with his three-homer performance in Game Six, I was all over the 1978 World Series, the 10th of 11 Fall Classic matchups between the Dodgers and the Yankees. The first four games produced some of my most enduring baseball memories:
- An emotional team captain Davey Lopes dedicating his two-homer, five-RBI Game One performance and the team's 11-5 win to coach Jim Gilliam, who died of a brain hemorrhage just two days prior to the series opener.
- Bob Welch striking out Reggie Jackson to seal their Game Two win, the game for which I learned to keep a box score (sadly, the actual scoresheet didn't get saved). The Welch-Jackson confrontation moved AP Special Correspondant Jules Loh to pen an update to Ernest Thayer's poem, "Casey at the Bat." Clipped from the newspaper, it remains tacked to the wall of my childhood bedroom to this very day, and I can recite the whole thing from memory: "The outlook wasn't brilliant for the Yankees in LA / The score stood 4-3, two out, one inning left to play / But when Dent slid safe at second and Blair got on at first / Every screaming Dodger fan had cause to fear the worst…"
- In Game Three back in the Bronx, the Yanks took an early 2-1 lead, but the Dodgers kept threatening. As Yankee ace Ron Guidry scuffled, third baseman Graig Nettles made four incredible plays, directly leading to seven stranded runners. Two decades later, viewing a replay of the game on ESPN Classic, I found myself swearing and throwing objects at the television set because I was still so frustrated by Nettles' acrobatics.
- In Game Four, the Dodgers jumped out to a 3-0 lead on the strength of Reggie Smith's three-run homer, but the Yanks clawed their way back thanks, in part, to a throwing error by Bill Russell, who in trying to complete a double play hit the baserunner Jackson in the hip, with the ball caroming into right field as a run scored. Whether Reggie moved into the throw or not remains a sore spot more than 30 years later. The Dodgers were done; they would lose 12-2 in New York and 7-2 in LA, runners up yet again.
2. 1979: Orioles vs. Pirates
We didn’t have a major-league team anywhere near us when I was a kid, so I adopted the Pirates because we had relatives there and I’d been to a couple of games at Three Rivers Stadium. The 1979 World Series champs are best-known for the theme song identity “We Are Family,” presided over by Willie Stargell, “Pops,” who gave out gold stars for his teammates to affix to their caps.
I don’t remember much at all about the actual series, although I knew that coming back from 3-1 down to win was a pretty big deal even as it didn’t quite surprise me—I was a credulous kid. Here’s what I remember:
- A big hit by Phil Garner. Looking over the cumulative stats, this is not surprising: Garner had a marvelous series, batting .500 (!) and actually posting a higher OPS than MVP Stargell (1.238 to 1.208), although it was Stargell who had the monster Game Seven that completed the Bucs’ comeback. The thing is that there is not a specific Garner hit that qualifies as super-clutch; most of his dozen knocks were timely and productive but not momentous, as Stargell’s seemed to be (Pops hit three homers in the series, Garner none—although he did match Stargell’s four doubles). Two of Garner’s impact RBI hits came in games Pittsburgh lost. I suppose my memory of Scrap Iron’s “big hit” is really an amalgamation of knocks throughout a productive overall series for him.
- Kent Tekulve’s glasses. He looked like a guy in one of those new bands. He was tall and awkward-looking, vaguely Spock-like. Throw the squarish Pirates hat on his head, and it was all kinds of weird. Also, what kind of a name was Tekulve? Sort of alien-sounding, to match the look. (Tekulve appeared in 94 games for Pittsburgh during the 1979 regular season. He threw 134 innings. Old school.)
- Ed Ott (speaking of names). I loved the name Ed Ott because the entire thing had five letters in it. Is that the shortest name in the history of baseball? I like to think it is. I had a thing about baseball names back then.
- Bonus Thing I Remember. Bill Madlock’s “compact swing.” I was only a youngster, but Bill Madlock and the compact swing were synonymous for me—a thing, somehow, that everyone knew about—even though I had barely any idea what a compact swing really was, nor why it should be so admired. Still, I would tell anyone I could get to listen to me that the reason Bill Madlock was so great was that he had a compact swing.
3. 1983: Orioles vs. Phillies
I started watching baseball in 1983. I turned 7 that summer. Chicago hosted the All-Star Game, and the White Sox were "Winning Ugly." (We were a Cubs-fan family but willing to reach across the aisle to embrace the other side.) Not to mention, my aunt took me to a Cubs-Phillies doubleheader that year because I begged to go. (I still have the thermal mug from it. As an aside, I thought the Cubs got swept in that doubleheader. Turns out they won game one behind a complete-game five-hitter from Dick Ruthven, the former Phillie, who fanned, one. Good on ya, BABIP!)
- Gary Maddox had great hair. Seriously, pictures of Gary Maddox's hair from his career, even today, elicit awe. Maddox was stylish. Perfect hair on his head and his chin.
- Joe Morgan didn't flap his back arm much anymore while hitting. I remember the announcers (likely Howard Cosell and Earl Weaver) making a big deal about this. I didn't know why Joe Morgan, a seemingly revered player, would want to cluck like a chicken, but I was disappointed that I didn't get to see it. It seemed like it'd be fun.
- Memorial Stadium's scoreboard. Weird, right? Remember, I was 7. There was something about all the white lights on it that I loved. And, yes, I realize it wasn't nearly as cool as the scoreboard at Sox Park that had pinwheels and shot off fireworks, or was really all that special, but I vividly remember that. Maybe because I get distracted by shiny… oh hey! A quarter! —Mike Ferrin
4. 1986: Red Sox vs. Mets
The first World Series that I remember was the 1986 World Series at age 6. I had gone to my first live game earlier that year and had fallen hard for the game of baseball. Three things I remember:
- The Red Sox had a guy named Spike on their team. To a 6-year-old, that's the definition of awesome. Many years later, I made it a point to look up what Spike Owen's real first name was. It's… Spike.
- It was the first time I was allowed to stay up until 10:00 pm to watch something. My mom wasn't too sure about it, but my dad talked her into it. See, Mom? Dad was right.
- I remember drousily hearing the part where Marty Barrett was declared the player of the game in Game Six in the bottom of the tenth inning. Not entirely sure what happened after that. I fell asleep.
5. 1988: Athletics vs. Dodgers
When I was a kid, I had an obsessive tendency to immerse myself in singular interests, and 1988 was the year that baseball entered the equation. (It has dominated the landscape of my awareness ever since.) Growing up in a town that was equidistant from Oakland and San Francisco, one had to make a choice when selecting a local rooting interest, and though the vast majority of my peers followed the allegiance of their parents to the orange and black, the club that triggered my baseball fever was the Oakland A's.
Perhaps I was a front-runner as a 9-year-old, because it was easy to root for an Oakland ballclub that won a franchise-record 104 games in '88 and cruised to the AL pennant. The A's had three consecutive Rookies of the Year in the lineup and a dominant pitching staff that had been patched together by veteran-reclamation genius Dave Duncan. The team was loaded with personality, capturing my imagination with the stone-cold stare of Dave Stewart, the mustachioed countenance of Dennis Eckersley, the tactical shenanigans of Tony LaRussa, and a pair of homer-happy sluggers known simply as “the Bash Brothers.” My naïve mind could not conceive of the possibility that the A's would lose against the Dodgers in the World Series, especially with LA's top slugger on the bench nursing a bum leg.
Kirk Gibson's home run off of Dennis Eckersley in the bottom of the ninth inning of Game One is applauded as one of baseball's greatest moments, yet for the 9-year-old kid in the adjustable A's cap who was watching from his ottoman, it was the most gut-wrenching experience of his brief lifetime. Years later, I would listen to '88 Series MVP Orel Hershiser tell his personal account of the Gibson at bat. Hershiser was guest-hosting one of our pitching camps at the National Pitching Association, and when the inevitable subject was broached, Hersh explained how veteran scout Mel Didier had warned Gibby for the exact scenario that transpired: “As sure as I'm standing here breathing, Eckersley throws a backdoor slider on 3-2.”
The rest, as they say, is history. —Doug Thorburn
6. 1989: Athletics vs. Giants
Two weeks ago, I wrote in this space about not remembering the 1988 World Series. By 1989, though, I was a real A's fan. As it turns out, that was kind of a weird year to really get into baseball. My three memories, then, of the World Series, with at least some token attempt to relate them to baseball:
I was waiting at my after-school daycare spot to be picked up by my mom. The world started rumbling just after she showed up. I managed to run outside with something approaching clearheadedness despite this being my first earthquake, big or small, but whatever composure I had was lost when I saw the ground behaving like water. Turns out there's a name for this, but I didn't particularly care about the physics and geology so much as I cared that this is a thing that should never happen. Sort of like Adam Dunn running the bases.
While I was motoring outside, my brother, who had just turned four, was apparently put into some sort of trance by the massive quake and proceeded to walk like a zombie toward the floor-to-ceiling glass windows in the building. Which were, you know, shaking like hell. Fortunately, my mom snatched him up and hauled ass outside, but we're still not sure what happened in his brain. Sort of like Ruben Rivera running the bases.
The power, as you might imagine, was out for a while after the earthquake. My family had been relatively prepared, but others were not so much and had to make trips to 7-11 for supplies. I remember noticing large lines outside the stores and my parents explaining that because the lights were out, they were only letting one person in at a time. This struck me simultaneously as entirely sensible and a sign that drove home just how much Things Were Off-Kilter. Sort of like Jack Cust running the bases.
7. 1991: Twins vs. Braves
I'm cheating a little bit here. I have very specific memories of all three of the Bash Brother World Series—the Kirk Gibson home run in '88 and Los Angeles' subsequent world title, the lead-up to the Battle of the Bay (was the whole "Battle of the Bay" thing as big of a deal to people who lived outside of the shadow of San Francisco Bay? It was everywhere where I grew up.) followed by the earthquake, the A's losing *yet another* World Series in 1990 (in a sweep) and my 10-year-old self wondering if Oakland would just continue this win-one, lose-one pattern for all of time—but 1991 may be the first World Series I have an actual memory of watching a game.
Other memories of that series include, of course, the famous Jack Morris game. I'm certain that I knew he was pitching damn well that night, but I suspect also that I didn't really understand the magnitude of it at the time. As much as I'm tired of Morris today, that was still something special. —Larry Granillo
8. 1993: Blue Jays vs. Phillies
I was barely aware of baseball in 1993, and I wouldn’t watch it regularly for another few years. But Game Six fell on a Saturday, I was away for the weekend at my grandmother’s house in the Adirondacks, and there was nothing else on. Not “nothing on” in the way that there can be nothing on now, when you have hundreds of channels to choose from but none you want to watch. “Nothing on” in the way that there was close to two decades ago, when you were without cable in a place called Gull Pond, almost 10 miles away from the nearest tiny town. Fortunately, the game was on CBS*, which was about the only option.
*There hasn’t been a baseball game broadcast on CBS since. Another factoid: According to Wikipedia, the umpires were upset with the overhead replay CBS used during the series. How quaint!
Well, obviously. Thanks to this homer, I thought Joe Carter was way better than he actually was until Jonah Keri convinced me otherwise in the first chapter of Baseball Between the Numbers.
John Olerud’s batting average
I don’t know why I was so aware of John Olerud’s average—maybe it was mentioned or displayed on the broadcast, or maybe I was peripherally aware of it before the series started. That was the year Olerud hit .400 into August, so his batting average might’ve been a big enough story to penetrate whatever small corner of my mind wasn’t occupied by the NES port of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Arcade Game. Thanks to this series, and that average, I became convinced that Olerud was some sort of higher being. Unlike my opinion of Carter, my opinion of Olerud hasn’t changed since 1993.
The rabbit ear antenna
Seeing the end of the game depended on my ability to pose two pieces of metal in such a way that they could receive more signal than static. They required constant adjustment, and they rarely produced a perfect picture. It’s wonderful to live in a world without rabbit ears. Some staples of our childhoods inspire nostalgia no matter how annoying they were at the time. Not rabbit ears.
After October ’93, my baseball memories go blank until 1996, except for the day in 1994 when, as an impressionable 8-year-old, I went to a Yankees-Blue Jays game in the Bronx and bought a Blue Jays cap, which became a source of acute embarrassment by the time I was 10. I wasn’t hooked right away, but it was a beginning. —Ben Lindbergh
9. 1995: Indians vs. Braves
I was 5 at the time, so here's what I remember best:
- Coming away from the series thinking that Ryan Klesko, who went 5-for-16 with three home runs, was the best hitter on the planet. I had a few good laughs about this when he finished his career with the Giants five years ago.
- Jim Thome playing third base. I'm sure I didn't find this surprising at the time, but it's fun to think about in retrospect.
- Asking my uncle, "Who is that huge fat guy umpiring behind home plate?" during Game Three. (It was Bruce Froemming.) Incidentally, Game Three was also the first time I had watched—or watched attentively enough to notice—a game that went to extra innings, and I recall being extremely confused when the game didn't end in the bottom of the ninth.
10. 2002: Angels vs. Giants
I remember my awkward exposure to the game pretty vividly. After spending several years thinking that the World Series always included the Yankees, I first followed the standings and the postseason in 2002. After my beloved Yankees saw an early exit from the playoffs, I followed the Angels on their path to a World Series crown in 2002.
The series went back-and-forth, but the game captured me during Game Six. Barry Bonds and the Giants had a 3-2 series lead and jumped out to a 5-0 lead. In the bottom of the seventh, the Angels had a trio of one-out hits, capped off by a blast from Scott Spezio, whose alliterative name instantly captured the adoration of my 9-year-old fandom. Then in the eighth, after a solo shot from Darin Erstad, the Angels pieced together three more consecutive hits. Troy Glaus’ double made the score 6-5. One fan’s sign stuck with me. It read: “See Ya Sunday.” A 1-2-3 final inning from Troy Percival made that the case.
Game Seven featured rookie starter John Lackey and a seasoned Livan Hernandez. (I knew Hernandez wasn’t going to pitch well because he had lost 16 games that season.) Lackey pitched five strong innings, while the Angels got on the board early against Hernandez. Late in the game, Francisco Rodriguez (another rookie) picked up strikeouts 26-28 of the postseason. The appropriately-nicknamed K-Rod bridged the gap to Percival. It wasn’t perfectly clean, but the Angels closed out the game and the series.
Watching that first World Series gave me a strong personal attachment to each player in the series. My fandom was very susceptible to cool-sounding names, so I liked Spezio, Tim Salmon, David Eckstein, Jarrod Washburn, Rich Aurilia, and, of course, Barry Bonds. Over the next decade, I’d watch all of those players retire, and while today I realize that not all of those players were particularly likable, my connection to the game makes them impossible to dislike. —Hudson Belinsky
11. 1969: Orioles vs. Mets
The three things that I remember most from the 1969 World Series:
- Tommie Agee and Ron Swoboda making outstanding catches in the outfield for the Mets.
- Curt Gowdy making a big deal about the Mets winning the championship.
- Carl Yastrzemski saying "I want my Ovaltine" in a commercial for the breakfast food.