Kirk Gibson Day: 25 Years Ago Today

Note: The technical difficulties I had with Blogger.com look like they’ve been resolved.  It is possible that this will be my last post on this version of the blog, before I go back to the old one.

October 15, 1988, 25 years ago today: In one of the most improbable finishes in World Series history‚ pinch hitter Kirk Gibson hits a 2-run home run off Dennis Eckersley with 2 out and 2 strikes in the bottom of the 9th inning, to give the Los Angeles Dodgers a 5-4 win over the Oakland Athletics in Game 1.

The injured Gibson was not expected to play in the Series, and will not play in it again. It is the first World Series game to end on a home run since game 6 in 1975.

Vin Scully, normally the voice of the Dodgers but broadcasting this game for NBC, said, “In a year that has been so improbable the impossible has happened.” Jack Buck, normally the voice of the St. Louis Cardinals but broadcasting on radio for CBS, said, “I don’t believe what I just saw!”

Yankee Fans of my generation had heard tall tales of Mickey Mantle limping up to home plate, looking like he had no chance, then hitting a home run anyway, and limping around the bases to the rapturous cheers of the Bronx faithful.  But since we weren’t old enough to have seen it, and the expense of videotape meant that so many of those old games were taped over by WPIX-Channel 11, we’ve heardly seen any footage of it.  (Mickey’s 500th homer, on May 14, 1967, is an exception, thankfully preserved, showing both Mickey and the pre-renovation old Yankee Stadium in full color.) Gibson, one of many players who got the tag “the next Mickey Mantle” — and he got a lot more of the Mantle injuries than the Mantle homers — gave my generation a glimpse of what that must have been like.

After the game, Eckersley coined the phrase “walkoff home run.” The powerful A’s, winners of 103 games, were expected to make quick work of the comparatively weak-hitting Dodgers, who barely scraped by the Mets in the NLCS. Instead, Gibson’s homer set the tone for a very different Series.

It’s also worth noting that Gibson had a good enough year to be named National League Most Valuable Player that season, and had previously hit 2 home runs in Game 5 of the 1984 World Series, to give the Detroit Tigers the championship.  So he’s one of the few players to be a World Series hero for 2 different teams — in 2 different leagues, no less.

Today, Gibson is the manager of the Arizona Diamondbacks, having won the NL West title in 2011.  He is not in the Baseball Hall of Fame, as some predicted he might be, because injuries limited him to 252 home runs.  He, David Wells and Jake Peavy  share ownership of a hunting ranch in Michigan.  He and his wife JoAnn have been married for almost 28 years, and they have 4 children.  One, son Cam, has followed in his father’s footsteps, playing baseball at Michigan State University.

Eckersley was not unduly affected by this home run, he just kept on becoming one of the best relief pitchers ever, after having been a pretty good starter.  He won 197 games in his career, and saved 390 others.  He is one of 2 pitchers to have a 20-win season and a 50-save season, the other being John Smoltz.  He is in the Baseball Hall of Fame and the Boston Red Sox Hall of Fame, and the A’s have retired his Number 43.  He’s now a studio analyst for both TBS and the Red Sox’ NESN.

Also on this day, Mesut Özil is born in Gelsenkirchen, Westphalia, Germany.  A 3rd-generation Turkish-German, the midfielder has starred for the German national soccer team.  He helped Werder Bremen win the 2009 DFB-Pokal (German national cup), and Spanish club Real Madrid win the 2011 Copa del Ray (King’s Cup) and 2012 League title.  He now plays for London club Arsenal.  Which, for me, means, “Yay!”

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October 15, 1858: John Lawrence Sullivan is born. He is considered the first “true” heavyweight champion of the world, reigning from 1882 to 1892, and was a great hero for America’s Irish Catholic immigrants and their children. His personal life, however, was greatly criticized, mostly by the English Protestant establishment of the time, but who remembers them more than they remember “the Great John L.?”

October 15, 1881: H. D. McKnight organizes a new Allegheny Baseball Club of Pittsburgh in anticipation of the proposed new league, which becomes the American Association. This is the birth of the club known today as the Pittsburgh Pirates, although they cite their 1887 entry into the National League as their “date of birth,” and wore centennial patches on their sleeves in the 1987 season.

October 15, 1892: Charles “Bumpus” Jones of the Cincinnati Reds‚ making his major league debut‚ pitches a no-hitter against the Pittsburgh Pirates‚ winning 7-1 on the final day of the season. Jones‚ who won 16 games in a row in the minors‚ will have a tough time the following season when the pitching distance is increased from 50 feet to 60 feet, 6 inches. He will go 1-4 with a 10.93 ERA, and never pitch in the majors again.

October 15, 1897: William Chase Temple, a coal, citrus and lumber magnate based in Pittsburgh‚ who also owns the Pirates and as such donated a trophy that has been contested for the last 4 baseball seasons by the first- and second-place finishers in the National League‚ is dissatisfied with this year’s contest. He will attend the league meeting and ask that the Temple Cup be returned to him. The League will investigate the charge that the players agreed beforehand to divide the receipts equally.

In 1894, despite finishing second, the New York Giants had won the Temple Cup by sweeping the NL Champion Baltimore Orioles in 4 straight. In 1895, the second-place Cleveland Spiders took the Champion Orioles in 5. In 1896, the Pennant-winning Orioles got half of their revenge, sweeping Cleveland in 4. In 1897, the second-place Orioles defeated the Champion Boston Beaneaters (forerunners of the Braves) in 5. These games are not, however, generally considered to be for the “world championship,” and after the 1899 season the Orioles were consolidated out of the NL, making possible the brief two-year presence of a franchise of the same name in the AL, and then a minor-league team of that name from 1903 to 1953, before the St. Louis Browns moved and returned the City of Baltimore and the Orioles name to the major league level.

There was also a Dauvray Cup, donated by actress Helen Dauvray, wife of Giants star John Montgomery Ward. The Giants won it in 1888 and 1889, but the three-league strife of 1890 led to its end. Today, the Temple Cup can be seen in the museum section of the Baseball Hall of Fame, while the Dauvray Cup has long since been lost.

I’ve occasionally wondered if baseball history would have been any different if the game had a prominent trophy such as the Stanley Cup as a prize all those years. Would the White Sox have thrown the 1919 World Series if they knew it meant they would not win the Temple Cup, or the Dauvray Cup?

The current trophy, the Commissioner’s Trophy, with its ring of flags, was first awarded in 1967, but it still isn’t as identified with its sport as the Stanley Cup, or the Super Bowl trophy, also first awarded that calendar year and renamed the Vince Lombardi Trophy after Lombardi’s death in 1970. The trophy has been won the following number of times: The Yankees 7 times, the Cardinals and A’s 4 each, the Reds 3, 2 each to the Pirates, Orioles, Tigers, Mets, Twins, Blue Jays, Marlins, Phillies, Giants and Red Sox *, and once each to the Royals, Braves, Diamondbacks, Angels and White Sox.  The Cubs and Indians have each won at least 2 World Series, but did so before the Commissioner’s Trophy was created, so they dont have one.

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October 15, 1899: The Cincinnati Reds close out the season with 16-1 and 19-3 home victories over the hapless Cleveland Spiders. John “Bid” McPhee‚ usually considered the best second baseman of the 19th Century‚ plays in both games‚ the last of his career, with all 18 being spent with the Reds.

Cleveland finishes deep in the cellar with 20 wins and 134 losses‚ 84 games out, a “winning” percentage of .149. They also conclude a 36 game road trip (1-35) after setting a mark earlier this year with a 50-game road trip. These all remain records for professional baseball futility.

The reason for the Spiders’ futility is that they were bought by the owners of the St. Louis team that would soon be renamed the Cardinals. This system, known as “syndicate baseball,” was legal at the time. And, as St. Louis natives, the owners brought all of the good Cleveland players, including pitcher Cy Young – but not Louis Sockalexis, the once-powerful but now injured and alcoholic Penobscot tribesman who has been called “the original Cleveland Indian” – to St. Louis. The result is a Cleveland team that may not have been, by today’s standards, Triple-A quality.

The Spiders, the Baltimore Orioles, the Louisville Colonels and the Washington Nationals will be consolidated out of the National League within weeks, though this makes the American League, and its franchises in Cleveland, Washington and, at least for two years, Baltimore, possible.

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October 15, 1910: Stanley Ketchel, middleweight champion of the world since 1907, known as the Michigan Assassin, is murdered at the Conway, Missouri ranch where he was training. He was 34.

The murderer was a ranch hand named Walter Dipley. He and the ranch’s cook, Goldie Smith, were a couple (but not married) and set Ketchel up to be robbed. Dipley was captured the next day. At the trial, Smith said she had no idea Dipley was going to rob Ketchel. They were both convicted of murder anyway, and sentenced to life in prison, but Smith’s conviction was overturned and she served just 17 months. Dipley served 23 years.

The writer John Lardner (son of Ring and brother of Ring Jr.) wrote, “Stanley Ketchel died yesterday, shot by the husband of the woman who was cooking his breakfast” – the implication being that Dipley was a jealous husband who had caught Ketchel having an affair with his wife. It was great writing, but it wasn’t true.

Ketchel’s manager, a con artist named Wilson Mizner, was told about Ketchel’s death, and said, “Tell ’em to start counting ten over him, and he’ll get up.” (Mizner is also believed to be the source of the classic lines, “If you copy from one author, it’s plagiarism. If you copy from two, it’s research” and “Be kind to the people you meet on the way up, because you’re going to meet the same people on the way down.”)

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October 15, 1911: In an exhibition game at the Polo Grounds in New York‚ Honus Wagner‚ Walter Johnson‚ Gabby Street and other white major leaguers take on the Lincoln Giants‚ a star-studded black team featuring John Henry “Pop” Lloyd‚ Dick McClelland‚ and Louis Santop. Johnson strikes out 14 to give the white all-stars a 5-3 win. Wagner, Johnson, Lloyd and Santop would all be elected to the Hall of Fame.

October 15, 1912: In Game 7 on a cold day in Boston‚ the Giants catch up with Joe Wood’s smoke‚ teeing off for 6 runs on 7 hits before the 32‚694 fans have settled down. Jeff Tesreau wobbles to an 11-4 win and the Series is tied at 3-all. (Game 2 was called because of darkness while still tied.) The only Boston bright spot is Tris Speaker’s unassisted double play in the 9th‚ still the only one ever by an outfielder in Series play.

Before the game‚ Red Sox management foolishly releases the Royal Rooters’ block of tickets to the general public‚ and when the Rooters march on to the field shortly before game time‚ they find “their” seats taken. The Rooters refuse to leave the field, and the club resorts to using mounted policemen to herd them behind the left-field bleacher rail or out of the park.

When the Red Sox win the coin flip after today’s game to determine the site for the deciding match‚ the upset Royal Rooters boycott the finale‚ lowering the attendance. Imagine that, the Boston Red Sox management doing something to upset their loyal fans. Good thing that didn’t become a trend, right?

October 15, 1917: After the White Sox’ Urban “Red” Faber and the Giants’ Rube Benton match 3 scoreless innings in Game 6‚ the Sox’ Eddie Collins leads off the 4th and hits a grounder to Heinie Zimmerman at third base. Collins takes 2nd when the throw gets past first baseman Walter Holke. Joe Jackson’s fly to right field is dropped by Dave Robertson‚ and Collins goes to third. When Happy Felsch hits one back to the pitcher‚ Collins breaks for home. Benton throws to third to catch Collins‚ and catcher Bill Rariden comes up the line. But with Zimmerman in pursuit, Collins keeps running and slides home safely. Zimmerman will be blamed for chasing the runner‚ but nobody was covering home plate.

The Giants come back with two runs on Buck Herzog’s triple in the 4th‚ but Faber, a future Hall-of-Famer, wins his 3rd game of the Series 4-2, and the White Sox take the Series.

This turns out to be the last World Series won by a Chicago team for 88 years – partly due to the fault of at least 6 and possibly 7 White Sox “throwing” the Series 2 years later.

A letter signed by 24 members of the World Series Champion Chicago White Sox and manager Pants Rowland contains complaints concerning not receiving their full winner share after beating the Giants. The written request, which will be discovered as a tattered document more than 40 years later in boxes stored at the Hall of Fame library, may explain the ‘Black Sox’ motivation for fixing the Fall Classic the two years later.

The last surviving member of the 1917 White Sox was right fielder Harry “Nemo” Leibold, who lived until 1977.

October 15, 1920: Mario Gianluigi Puzo is born in Manhattan. In his screenplay for The Godfather Part II, the character of Hyman Suchowsky, a young Jewish mobster played in that part of the film by John Megna, is asked by his new boss, young Vito Corleone, to pick a new name. He chooses Rothstein, later shortened to “Hyman Roth,” in honor of the man behind the Black Sox Scandal, saying: “I’ve loved baseball ever since Arnold Rothstein fixed the World Series in 1919.”

The older Roth is played by Lee Strasberg, and the character was based on real-life mobster Meyer Lansky, who, unlike Roth, not only outlived the 1959 finale of that film but was still alive when the film was released in 1974, and phoned Strasberg to compliment him on his performance.

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October 15, 1923, 90 years ago: The Yankees win Game 6 of the World Series, riding a first-inning homer by Babe Ruth and the pitching of “Sad” Sam Jones, to beat the Giants 6-4 at Polo Grounds, and clinch their first World Championship.

This was not, however, the first title for many of the Yankees, and some of them, including Ruth and Jones, had won titles with the Boston Red Sox in the 1910s. In fact, of the 25 men on the Yankee roster when they won their first World Championship, 12, nearly half, had been Red Sox sold off by Boston owner Harry Frazee.

This was also the beginning of the end for Giant manager John McGraw and his style of baseball: Finally, the Yankees had put together a team that did not have to simply rely on Ruth’s home runs to beat McGraw’s style of “inside baseball” – what would, today, be called “small ball.”

The Giants would win another Pennant the next season, but that would be the last under McGraw’s leadership.  In the 90 seasons after that, in New York and San Francisco combined, the Giants have taken 10 Pennants, still more than most teams have. Up until this moment, the Giants had won 11 Pennants and 3 World Championships, either through the World Series, pre-1900 postseason series, or the title of the only league then playing; the Dodgers, 6 and, by the means available to them to win a “world championship” at the time, 3, but none since 1900; the Yankees, 3 and none. From the Yankees’ 3rd Pennant in September 1923 until the end of the Giants’ and Dodgers’ last season in New York, September 1957, forward, the count was: Yankees, 21 and 17; Giants, 7 and 2; and Dodgers, 7 and 1.

The last surviving member of the 1923 Yankees was center fielder Ladislaw Waldemar Wikttkowski, a.k.a. Lawton Walter Witt, a.k.a. Whitey Witt, who lived until 1988.

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October 15, 1925: A steady downpour yesterday and today has left the field at Forbes Field in Pittsburgh a muddy mess as Game 7 of the World Series is played in the rainiest conditions ever. The weather forecast suggested rain for the next 3 days for both cities involved, Pittsburgh and Washington, making the moving of Game 7 to Washington a bad idea, and Commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis was anxious to get it over with.

While I’ve never seen film of this game — I don’t even know if any survives, although YouTube has footage from earlier in the Series — it would have been just plain wrong to play if the rain were as bad as what Philadelphia and Tampa Bay faced when Game 5 of the 2008 Series was suspended. There was a 4-day delay in 1911, and there were 3-day delays in 1962 and 1975. It could have been done again.

It’s a short day for Pirate starter Vic Aldridge: 3 walks and 2 hits‚ and he’s out of there with one out in the first. Walter Johnson takes a 4-0 lead to the mound. In what becomes known as “Johnson’s Last Stand,” the Bucs clobber the 38-year-old Big Train for 15 hits‚ good for 24 total bases. Max Carey’s 4-for-5 gives him a Series-high .458.

The Senators make the most of 7 hits‚ scoring 7 runs‚ including shortstop Roger Peckinpaugh’s home run‚ the 12th homer of the Series by both teams combined‚ then a Series record, despite Forbes Field and Washington’s Griffith Stadium both having some of the most distant fences in the game. Johnson would have fared better but for 2 more errors by Peckinpaugh‚ his 7th and 8th‚ still the Series record for any position. The Senators made only one other error in the 7 games.

Ray Kremer picks up his 2nd win with a 4-inning relief effort‚ as the Senators lose 9-7. This is the Pirates’ first World Championship in 16 years, and only one player remains from that 1909 title with Honus Wagner: Babe Adams, who had pitched and won 3 games in ’09, and was riding out the string in ’25.

The last surviving member of the 1925 Pirates was shortstop Glenn Wright, who lived until 1984.

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October 15, 1928: After just one season away from the club for which he’d played his entire big-league career, Walter Johnson signs a 3-year contract to manage the Senators‚ owner Clark Griffith having secured his release from the 2nd year of his contract to manage the minor-league Newark Bears. Tris Speaker, newly retired as a player, will take over as Newark’s manager.

Despite being arguably the greatest pitcher and the greatest center fielder the game has yet seen, neither Johnson nor Speaker would lead the Bears to a Pennant. In fact, Johnson never won a Pennant as a manager, and Speaker never did except in 1920, when he had himself in his prime as a player.

October 15, 1933, 80 years ago: The Philadelphia Eagles play their first game in the NFL.  It doesn’t go so well: They lose to the New York Giants at the Polo Grounds, 56-0.  The birth of the Eagles was made possible by Pennsylvania finally dropping its law banning sporting events on Sunday.  Due to their proximity, Eagles vs. Giants will, eventually, become one of the NFL’s best rivalries.

October 15, 1935: Willie Eldon O’Ree is born in Fredericton, New Brunswick, Canada.  He played 44 games for the Boston Bruins between 1958 and 1961, but was still playing at the hockey equivalent of Triple-A ball until he was 43, winning 2 scoring titles in the Western Hockey League. It was hard to break into a team in the era of the “Original Six,” when just 6 teams meant that there were only 120 spots open at the big-league level. It was harder still for O’Ree, because he was nearly blind in one eye. And on top of that, he faced discrimination because he was the first black player in the NHL.

After he last played for the Bruins in 1961, not until the expansion season of 1974-75 would there be another black player in the NHL, Mike Marson of the hopeless first-year Washington Capitals. After these African-Canadians, the first African-American to play in the NHL was Val James, a left wing from Ocala, Florida, who played 7 games for the Buffalo Sabres in 1982 and 4 more for the Toronto Maple Leafs in 1988, but spent most of his career in the minors.

Today, there are 27 black players in the league, including New Jersey Devils Captain Bryce Salvador, and Jarome Iginla of the Boston Bruins, who will probably be the 2nd black player in the Hockey Hall of Fame, after Grant Fuhr, the starting goalie on 4 Stanley Cup teams for the Edmonton Oilers and backup on a 5th.

As O’Ree played much of his career for the WHL’s San Diego Gulls, his Number 24 was retired by that team (now defunct, but the banner still hangs at the San Diego Sports Arena), and he has been elected to the San Diego Hall of Champions, the city’s equivalent of a municipal sports hall of fame. His hometown of Fredericton named its new arena Willie O’Ree Place, and his country has named him an Officer of the Order of Canada for his youth hockey work.

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October 15, 1937: Rather than accept any trade offers‚ the Yankees release Tony Lazzeri, and allow him to make his own deal.  That’s right: In the heart of the reserve clause era, a future Hall-of-Famer, not yet 34 years old, has been allowed to become a free agent.  He later signs as a player-coach with the Chicago Cubs, and retires as a player after the 1939 season.

October 15, 1945: James Alvin Palmer is born in Manhattan, and grows up in Scottsdale, Arizona.  Jim Palmer helped the Baltimore Orioles win the World Series in 1966, 1970 and 1983, and when I say “helped” I don’t just mean he pitched very well in the regular season: He is the only pitcher to win World Series games in 3 different decades.  He is in the Hall of Fame, and the Orioles have retired his Number 22.  At Scottsdale High School, he was 2 years ahead of future Vice President Dan Quayle, who was a star on their golf team.

Also on this day, Jerald Eugene Burns II is born in Cambridge, Massachusetts.  Known professionally as Jere Burns, he is best known as the womanizer Kirk Morris on Dear John, and now plays Wynn Duffy on Justified.

October 15, 1946: It seems only fitting that the World Series with the most regular-season wins by the combatants – the Boston Red Sox with a city-record 106 wins, and the St. Louis Cardinals with 105, 1 win off their city record from ’42 – goes to a deciding Game 7 at Sportsman’s Park in St. Louis.

Red Sox fans are confident: After all, no Boston team has ever lost a World Series. The Braves won one in 1914; the Red Sox won them in 1903, 1912, 1915, 1916 and 1918.

But center fielder Dom DiMaggio gets hurt, and has to be replaced by Leon Culberson. In the bottom of the 7th, Enos Slaughter is on first for the Cards, and Harry Walker is up. Slaughter takes off for second on the hit-and-run. “Harry the Hat” drives the ball to center. Slaughter sees Culberson bobble the ball, and thinks he can score.

I’ve seen the film of the play many times. Culberson gets the ball to Sox shortstop Johnny Pesky, and I simply cannot see that with which Pesky has been accused for the last 67 years: “Hestitating” or “holding the ball.” And I don’t think it would have mattered, as Slaughter scored by plenty.

It has become known as “the Mad Dash” or “Slaughter’s Sprint,” and in the telling of the legend, Slaughter scores from 1st on a single. Not really, Walker did make it to 2nd and was credited with a double. But it is the go-ahead run, and the Cardinals win, 4-3.

For the Cardinals, led by Slaughter and the sensational Stan Musial, it is their 6th World Championship, their 3rd in 4 tries in the last 5 seasons. For the Red Sox, it is not only their first-ever World Series defeat, after not getting that far for 28 years, but it is the beginning of a stretch of 4 seasons in which they will end up bitterly disappointed 3 times.

Billed as the duel between the 2 best hitters in baseball‚ the Series sees Musial go 6-for-27 and Boston’s Ted Williams 5-for-25. This will be the only Series of Williams’ career, and the only one the Red Sox will play in a 49-year stretch from 1918 to 1967. The Cardinals, at first, will fare little better, as they won’t play in another Series for 18 years: Whereas Musial, who spent the ’45 season in the Navy and that was the only season from ’42 to ’46 when the Cards didn’t win at least the Pennant, had won a Pennant in each of his first 4 full seasons, he will play another 17 seasons without winning one, despite close calls in ’47, ’48 and ’49 and 2nd-place finishes in ’56 and his final season of ’63.

Harry Brecheen wins 3 games for the Cardinals‚ the first lefthander ever to accomplish this. It is a feat that has been matched only by Mickey Lolich in 1968 and Randy Johnson in 2001. Brecheen won Games 6 and 7‚ a feat matched only by the Big Unit.

With Musial’s death earlier this year, and that of Pesky last year, there are now 2 surviving members of each of these teams: For the Cards, 2nd baseman Red Schoendienst (HOF as a player although he was also a pretty good manager), and catcher Joe Garagiola (HOF as a broadcaster); for the BoSox, HOF 2nd baseman Bobby Doerr and pitcher Dave “Boo” Ferriss.

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October 15, 1959: Emeril John Lagasse is born in Fall River, Massachusetts.  I hope the great TV chef, a big Red Sox fan but a man who loves New York City, doesn’t blow out the candles on his cake by shouting, “BAM!” I do hope, however, that he contacts Dan Le Batard, the Miami Herald columnist and sometime guest-host on ESPN’s Pardon the Interruption, about appropriating his “BAM!” on the air.

October 15, 1964: Game 7 of the World Series at Sportsman’s Park – or, as Cardinals owner and Anheuser-Busch beer baron August Anheuser Busch Jr., a.k.a. “Gussie” Busch, has renamed it, Busch Stadium. The Cardinals start Bob Gibson, loser of Game 2 but winner of Game 5, on 2 days’ rest. The Yankees start rookie Mel Stottlemyre, who had defeated Gibson in Game 2.

Lou Brock’s 5th-inning homer triggers a 2nd 3-run frame and a 6-0 lead for Gibson. Mickey Mantle‚ Clete Boyer‚ and Phil Linz homer for New York – for Mantle, the record 18th and final Series homer of his career – and the Yanks close to within 7-5 in the 9th. But it’s not enough, as Gibson finishes the job, and the Cards are the World Champions.

Both Boyers‚ Ken for the Cards and Clete for the Yankees‚ homer in their last Series appearance. While they had homered in back-to-back games, Clete in Game 3 and Ken a grand slam in Game 4, this remains the only time in Series history that 2 brothers have both homered.

For each manager, it is his last game at the helm. Johnny Keane had nearly been fired by Cardinal management in mid-season, and their come-from-behind run to top the Philadelphia Phillies had saved his job. But he had had enough, and he resigns. Yogi Berra, after helping the Yankees to 14 World Series as a player and now one as their manager, also coming from behind, to top the Chicago White Sox, thinks he’s done a good job, and expects to be offered a new contract. Instead, he gets fired, and Yankee management hires… Johnny Keane.

This will turn out to be a massive mistake. While the Cardinals will hire former star second baseman Red Schoendienst, who will lead them to the 1967 World Championship and the 1968 Pennant, Keane, already in ill health, will be a terrible fit for the Yankees, getting fired early in 1966, and he dies in 1967. Del Webb and Dan Topping, who had owned the Yankees since 1945, had just sold the Yankees to CBS – yes, the broadcast network – and had cared little for keeping the farm system stocked. As a result, there was very little talent left to call up to the majors when the Yanks’ current stars got hurt or old, and it seemed like they all got hurt or old at once.

In the 44 seasons from 1921 to 1964, the Yanks won 29 Pennants and 20 World Series, but fell to 6th place in 1965, 10th and last in ’66. Despite a 2nd-place finish in ’70, they were well behind the World Series-winning Orioles. They didn’t get into a race where they were still in it in August until ’72, to the last weekend still in the race until ’74 (by which time George Steinbrenner had bought the team from CBS), to the postseason until ’76 and the World Championship until ’77.

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October 15, 1968: Didier Deschamps is born in Bayonne. That’s Bayonne, in the Basque Country of southwestern France; not Bayonne, New Jersey. The midfielder captained France to victory in the 1998 World Cup and Euro 2000. He starred for Nantes, Olympique de Marseille and Bordeaux in his native land; Juventus in Italy, Chelsea in England and Valencia in Spain. He is now manager of France’s national team.

October 15, 1969: Game 4 of the World Series at Shea Stadium, the Mets’ Tom Seaver against the Orioles’ Mike Cuellar, in a rematch of Game 1. It turns out to be a brilliant pitching duel between the Fresno stuff-mixer and the Cuban curve and screwball master.

The Mets were clinging to a 1-0 lead in the top of the 9th, but the O’s get Frank Robinson to third and another runner on first with one out. Brooks Robinson hits a sinking liner to right field, which looks like a game-winning 2-run double. But Ron Swoboda dives and snares it. Frank still manages to tag up and score the tying run, sending the game to extra innings.

In the bottom of the 10th, tied at 1-1, Met manager Gil Hodges gambles on getting a run now or good work from his bullpen and a run at some later point, and sends J.C. Martin up to pinch-hit for Seaver. “Tom Terrific” is normally a good hitter by pitchers’ standards, but this is no time for that. Martin bunts, and Pete Richert, who has relieved Cuellar, tries to throw him out at first, but his throw hits Martin on the wrist. The ball gets away, and Rod Gaspar, who had been on second, comes around to score the winning run.

The Mets are now 1 win away from completing their “Miracle.” The upset is nearly complete, and former Yankee and Met manager Casey Stengel no longer speaks sarcastically when he uses the word he used to describe the awful early Mets: When interviewed about it, he says, “The New York Mets are amazing, amazing, amazing, amazing… ”

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October 15, 1970: The Orioles avenge their upset loss in last year’s World Series, and claim their 2nd title with a 9-3 win over the Cincinnati Reds in Game 5 at Memorial Stadium.

After winning the first three games and then dropping Game 4 – this remains the only time in Series history this has ever happened – the O’s overcome a 3-0 deficit for the 3rd time in the Series. Frank Robinson and Merv Rettenmund each homer and drive in 2 runs. Brooks Robinson‚ who has not only fielded so spectacularly that he has been nicknamed the “Human Vacuum Cleaner‚” but has also gotten several key hits, and fields the final out, easily wins the Series MVP award.

October 15, 1971: Andy Cole is born in Nottingham. One of the first great black soccer players in England, the striker is the second-leading goal scorer in Premier League history – that is, the second-highest in English league play since the first division of “the Football League” became the Premier League in 1992. Too bad he did most of it for Manchester United. He scored 187 times in Premiership play, although this is well behind the record of 260 held by former Newcastle United star Alan Shearer.

October 15, 1972: In his last appearance at a major league ballpark, Jackie Robinson, speaking prior to Game 2 of the World Series, urges baseball to hire a black manager. Jackie will die of a heart attack, brought on by years of weakening by diabetes, 9 days later.

The first African-American skipper will not be hired until 2 years later, just after the conclusion of the 1974 regular season, when the Cleveland Indians hire Frank Robinson to run the team.

The Oakland Athletics win Game 2, 2-1, as Joe Rudi clouts a homer and makes an amazing game-saving catch in the 9th to back up Catfish Hunter’s pitching. Despite being without their best player, the injured Reggie Jackson, the A’s take a 2-game advantage over the Big Red Machine as the Series moves to Oakland.

October 15, 1977: The Yankees beat the Dodgers in Game 4 at Dodger Stadium, 4-2, to take a 3-1 advantage in the World Series. Reggie Jackson doubles and homers‚ and rookie lefthander Ron Guidry pitches a 4-hitter‚ striking out 7.

From August 10, 1977 through April 22, 1979, including the postseason, Guidry went 42-5 with a 1.93 ERA, one of the greatest runs any pitcher will ever have.

October 15, 1978: The Yankees beat the Dodgers in Game 5 at Yankee Stadium, 12-2, to take a 3-2 advantage in the World Series. Jim Beattie, the Yanks’ 4th starter who had a 6-9 record in the regular season, pitches the first complete game of his career. Bucky Dent, Mickey Rivers, and Brian Doyle, substituting at second base for the injured Willie Randolph, each collect 3 hits.

After taking the first 2 games in L.A., the Dodgers have been shellshocked by Graig Nettles’ defensive display in Game 3 and Reggie Jackson’s “Sacrifice Thigh” in Game 4, and have not recovered. The Series heads back to California, and the Yankees need to win only 1 of the last 2.

October 15, 1981: The Yankees beat the A’s, 4-0 at the Oakland Coliseum, and sweep the ALCS in 3 straight. Once and future Yankee manager Billy Martin, a native of nearby West Berkeley, California, had previously played for the Oakland Oaks’ 1948 Pacific Coast League champion under Casey Stengel, and now, once again, he had revived the fortunes of his hometown team, saving the A’s from total incompetence and irrelevance, taking them from 108 losses the year before he arrived to second place in his first season to the AL West title in his second.

This was the 5th time Billy had managed a team into the postseason, and with the 4th different team: Minnesota in 1969, Detroit in ’72, the Yankees in ’76 and ’77, and he came close to making it 6 times with 5 different teams, with Texas in ’74.

When introduced before Game 1 of this series at Yankee Stadium, Billy got a huge ovation. That made him very happy. George Steinbrenner couldn’t be reached for comment. But in this series, the Yankees just had too much for the A’s, and took their 33rd Pennant — the A’s, if you count their Philadelphia years, are 2nd among AL teams, with 12.

For reasons partly, but not entirely, his fault, Billy would never manage in the postseason again. And, for reasons partly, but not entirely, Billy’s fault, the Yankees’ 34th Pennant would not be soon in coming. Today, the total stands at Yankees 40, A’s 16. (Red Sox? 12. If you count the last 2 *.)

During this Game 3 at the Oakland Coliseum, “professional cheerleader” Krazy George Henderson, a native of nearby San Jose, leads what is thought to be the first audience wave. “And anybody who says I didn’t is a stinkin’ liar,” he would later say. Robb Weller, later to co-host Entertainment Tonight, would say he didn’t, claiming to have invented the Wave himself, at a University of Washington football game.  But the game in question happened 2 weeks later, so I’m inclined to believe Krazy George.

Still a “free agent” cheerleader, Krazy George once game to a Trenton Thunder game I was at, and we won. I told him, “George, stick around, we need the wins!” To be honest, though (and I didn’t tell him this), I’ve always hated the Wave, found it juvenile.

*

October 15, 1986: Desperate to win Game 6 of the National League Championship Series at the Astrodome, the Mets do not want to face Houston pitcher Mike Scott – a Met-killer both as a Met and an Astro – in a Game 7, especially in the Astrodome, where Scott is far better than he is on the road.

The Mets use that sense of desperation to score 3 runs in the top of the 9th to force extra innings. In the 14th, the Mets make their first bid to win. After Gary Carter opens with a single, a walk to Darryl Strawberry puts two runners on with nobody out. After Knight forces Carter at third, Wally Backman drives a single to right. When Kevin Bass’ throw to the plate sails high over Alan Ashby’s head to the screen, Strawberry scores.

But with one out in the bottom of the 14th and the Houston fans with their heads in their hands, Billy Hatcher shocks everyone with a line-drive home run off the left field foul pole. It was the first earned run allowed by the Mets bullpen in the entire series. Hatcher went 3-for-7 in the game, and his homer meant the Astros would be kept alive for at least one more inning.

Both teams fail to score in the 15th, and the game goes to the 16th inning, the most innings in baseball’s postseason history at that time.  The Mets appear to take control of the game once again, this time coming up with three runs in the top half of the inning. The rally begins with Strawberry receiving a gift double when Billy Hatcher and Bill Doran misplay his towering fly ball with one out. When Knight followsd with a single to right, a poor throw to the plate by Kevin Bass allows the tiebreaking run to score, just as it had in the 14th. Jeff Calhoun then relieves Aurelio Lopez and uncorks a walk, two wild pitches, and a single by Lenny Dykstra to bring in two more runs, putting the Mets up 7–4.

But as they had in the 14th, the Astros refuse to go down without a fight in the bottom of the 16th. Jesse Orosco strikes out Craig Reynolds to open the inning, but a walk and two singles later, Houston has a run in and the tying run on base. Orosco induces Denny Walling to hit into a force play at second for the second out, but Glenn Davis singles home another run, bringing the Astros within 7-6.  The tying run is on second, the winning run on first – a run that Met fans, freaking out over the possibility of facing Scott in the Dome in Game 7, and their magnificent 108-win season, their “inevitable” World Championship, going down in flames.

But Orosco strikes out Kevin Bass, ending the game. He throws his glove in the air, foreshadowing the end of the World Series. As the pitcher of record when the Mets took the final lead, he is was awarded the victory, marking the first time in postseason history that a reliever won three games in a series.

Despite a .189 batting average, the lowest average ever recorded by a winning team in a postseason series, the Mets have their 3rd National League Pennant, and it remains the only one they’ve ever clinched on the road.

In fact, to this day, 11 of the Mets’ 15 clinchings have been at Shea Stadium: 1969 Division (beating the St. Louis Cardinals to eliminate the Chicago Cubs), 1969 Pennant (Atlanta Braves), 1969 World Championship (Baltimore Orioles), 1973 Pennant (Cincinnati Reds), 1986 Division (Chicago Cubs to eliminate Philadelphia Phillies), 1986 World Series (Boston Red Sox), 1988 Division (beating and eliminating Pittsburgh Pirates), 1999 Division Series (Arizona Diamondbacks), 2000 Wild Card (beating the Braves to eliminate the Los Angeles Dodgers), 2000 Division Series (San Francisco Giants), and 2006 Division (beating the Florida Marlins to eliminate the Phillies).

Their only road clinchings have been: 1973 Division (at Wrigley Field against the Cubs, eliminating the Cardinals), the aforementioned 1986 Pennant, 1999 Wild Card (at Riverfront Stadium in a play-in game against the Reds), and 2006 Division Series (at Dodger Stadium against, well, the Dodgers).

My Grandma watched Major League Baseball for about 70 years, first as a Dodger fan in Queens and Newark, then as a Met fan in the New Jersey towns of Belleville, Nutley and Brick. I asked her once, what was her favorite game of all time. This is the one she chose, without hesitation.  I can’t say that I blame her. It wasn’t a “heavyweight title fight,” with big punches going back and forth. It was more like a middleweight or welterweight fight, with lots of jabs, until finally one fighter finished off a “death of a thousand cuts” and the other fell. It was an epic.

The same day, after being down three games to one in the ALCS, the Red Sox completed one the greatest comebacks in Playoff history by defeating the California Angels 8-1 to win the American League Pennant.  The game caps yet another heartbreaking failure for Angels skipper Gene Mauch‚ who in Game 5 was one strike away from reaching his first World Series in 25 seasons as a major league manager. He had previously been a part of the Phillies’ collapse in 1964, a tough last-weekend Division loss for the Montreal Expos in 1980, and the Angels’ 2-games-to-0 choke against the Milwaukee Brewers in 1982. No manager ever managed longer without winning a Pennant. After the game‚ second baseman Bobby Grich retired after a fine career with the Orioles and Angels.

*

October 15, 1989: Wayne Gretzky scores a goal for the Los Angeles Kings for his 1,851st career point, surpassing Gordie Howe to become the NHL’s all-time leading points scorer. The goal comes with 53 seconds left in regulation, tying the game against his former team, the Edmonton Oilers, a game the Kings go on to win in overtime.

October 15, 1997: The Baltimore Orioles waste another magnificent effort by Mike Mussina, as the Cleveland Indians score the game’s only run on Tony Fernandez’s home run in the top of the 12th to win‚ 1-0. Mussina hurls 8 shutout innings and allows just 1 hit‚ while walking 2 and striking out 10. Charles Nagy does not give up a run in 7 1/3 innings for the Indians‚ while surrendering 9 hits‚ as the O’s leave 14 batters on base.

The pitcher who gave up the Pennant-winning homer to Fernandez? Armando Benitez. It is not the last time he will mess up a postseason game, but it is the last time he will do so for the Orioles. The O’s now had a 1-5 record in postseason games played at Camden Yards.  Having finally gotten back to the postseason in 2012, that record now stands at 2-6.

October 15, 1999: Despite his guidance of the team to 5 straight AL Central titles and 2 Pennants, the only postseason berths the team has had since 1954, the Cleveland Indians fire manager Mike Hargrove.

October 15, 2001: The Yankees defeat the A’s‚ 5-3‚ to move into the ALCS. In doing so‚ they become the 1st team ever to win a best-of-5 series after losing the first 2 games at home. Derek Jeter gets a pair of hits to break Pete Rose’s postseason record with 87. David Justice hits a pinch-hit homer for the Yanks.

They will face the Seattle Mariners, whose 116-win season nearly went down the drain against the Indians, but they came back from a 2-games-to-0 deficit. Not the biggest choke in Indians’ history, but bad enough.

October 15, 2003, 10 years ago: The Florida Marlins complete a stunning comeback by defeating the Chicago Cubs‚ 9-6 in Game 7 at Wrigley Field‚ to win their 3rd straight game and the NLCS.

The Cubs seemed, at first, not to be affected by their Game 6 disaster, as homers by pitcher (!) Kerry Wood and aggrieved left fielder Moises Alou give them a 5-3 lead. But Florida bounces back to take the lead on Luis Castillo’s RBI single in the 6th. Miguel Cabrera hits a 3-run homer for the Marlins.

Catcher Ivan Rodriguez, who wins his first Pennant after going 1-9 in postseason games with the Texas Rangers, is named the NLCS Most Valuable Player. (Cough-steroids-cough, cough-Bartman-cough-absolved-cough)

Meanwhile, Game 6 of the ALCS is played at Yankee Stadium, as the Hundred-Year War builds toward a crescendo. The Red Sox rally for 3 runs in the 7th inning to come from behind and pull out a 9-6 victory over the Yankees to send it to a Game 7. Boston slugs 16 hits‚ including 4 by Nomar Garciaparra‚ and gets HRs from Jason Varitek and Trot Nixon.

October 15, 2005: Jason Collier, center for the Atlanta Hawks dies at age 28, of an enlarged heart. He remains the last active NBA player to die.

October 15, 2007: The Colorado Rockies beat the Arizona Diamondbacks, 6-4 at Coors Field in Denver, and complete a sweep for their first National League Pennant. Matt Holliday’s 3-run homer makes the difference.

No team had ever swept their way to the World Series since the Division Series began in 1995. Colorado was also the first team to have a 7-0 start to a postseason since the 1976 Cincinnati Reds finished the playoffs 7-0 sweeping both the LCS and World Series. The Rockies now have a chance to match or beat the 1999 Yankees’ achievement of 11-1, the best postseason record since the LCS went to a best-4-out-of-7 in 1984. They have now won 21 of their last 22 games. But it will be their last win of the season, as they are, themselves, swept in the World Series by the Boston Red Sox * .

October 15, 2008: In Game 5 of the NLCS, the visiting Phillies beat the Dodgers, 5-1, to win their first pennant since 1993. Southpaw Cole Hamels, the series MVP, hurls his third postseason gem and Jimmy Rollins starts Philadelphia attack with a leadoff home run to start the game.

October 7 Baseball Anniversaries

October 7, 1885: The Providence Grays sweep a doubleheader from the Buffalo Bisons, 4-0 and 6-1 at Olympic Park in Buffalo. Fred Shaw wins both games for the Grays, pitching a no-hitter in the opener.

These are the last 2 games ever played by these franchises, who are both struggling for cash — only 12 fans come out, as Buffalo, as it so often is, turns out to be cold in October.

Never again has a major league baseball team played in the State of Rhode Island. And, unless you count the Federal League of 1914-15, never again has a major league team represented Buffalo or any other city in the State of New York, other than the City of New York.

Although Buffalo has an NFL team and an NHL team, and it has an in-city population of 261,000 that isn’t that much less than those of St. Louis, Pittsburgh and Cincinnati, its metropolitan area population of 1,135,000 ranks it 51st among American metro areas. The current smallest area with an MLB team, Milwaukee, has over half a million more: 1,671,000. If you count Canadian cities, Buffalo drops to 56th.

Providence? It has 178,000 people, and while its metro count of 1,600,000 isn’t that far behind Milwaukee, it’s usually included within Boston’s area. Providence is, for this reason, the home of Boston’s Triple-A baseball (well, Pawtucket is) and hockey teams, and the NFL team is actually slightly closer to Kennedy Plaza in Providence than to Downtown Crossing in Boston.

But Providence ain’t getting another MLB team, and Buffalo will never get any closer than it did in 1991, when it was one of 5 finalists for the 2 that began play in 1993.

*

October 7, 1899: The Brooklyn Superbas clobber their arch-rivals, the New York Giants, 13-2 at Washington Park, to win the NL Pennant, and thus the unofficial World Championship of baseball.

October 7, 1902: Perhaps the first all-star game in North American sports is played at Exposition Park in Pittsburgh — the Pirates’ current stadium, PNC Park, is built roughly on the site. Sam Leever and the Pirates, including the great Honus Wagner, beat a team of American League all-stars‚ with Cy Young as the losing pitcher, 4-3.

October 7, 1904: Jack Chesbro pitches the New York Highlanders to a 3-2 win over the Boston Pilgrims (Red Sox) for his 41st victory of the season — a record under the post-1893 pitching distance of 60 feet 6 inches that ain’t never gonna be broken unless there’s a major change in the way pitching is done.

The win gives New York a half-game lead over Boston. But the season will not end well for the Highlanders in general and Chesbro in particular.

October 7, 1911: With just 1‚000 fans on hand at the Polo Grounds‚ and with the Pennant already clinched, New York Giant manager John McGraw finally listens to the appeals of Charles Victor “Victory” Faust, who’d told McGraw that a fortune teller had told him that if he pitched for the Giants, they’d win the Pennant.

Faust is sent to the mound in the 9th inning against the Boston Rustlers‚ allowing a hit and a run in a 5-2 loss. Faust also hits‚ circling the bases for a score as the Rustlers, in on the joke, deliberately throw wildly.

Faust will reprise his act on October 12th against Brooklyn: He allows a hit in his one inning; is hit by a pitch and then steals 2nd base and 3rd base‚ and scores on a grounder.

In the next few weeks, Boston owner William H. Russell, for whom the Rustlers were named, will die. The team is purchased by James Gaffney, an officer in New York’s Tammany Hall political organization. They are known as “Braves,” and the Boston team is so named.

The team carries the name to this day, although they are now in Atlanta. Braves Field is built in 1915, and one of the bordering streets is still named Gaffney Street. Boston University’s Nickerson Field complex was built on the site, with the right-field pavilion of Braves Field still standing as the home stand. An NFL team named the Boston Braves will also play there, changing its name, to avoid confusion, to the Redskins. They will move to Washington in 1937.

October 7, 1918: Robert Gustave “Bun” Troy‚ born in Germany‚ who pitched in one game for the 1912 Detroit Tigers, fighting for his new country against his old one in World War I, is killed in battle in Meuse‚ France.

October 7, 1922, 90 years ago: With the questionable calling of Game 2 due to “darkness” in mind, Commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis insists that Game 4 be played, despite a heavy rain. Again one big inning, a 4-run 4th off Yankee pitcher Carl Mays, is enough for Hugh McQuillan of the Giants to squeeze out a 4-3 win. Aaron Ward’s 2nd HR of the Series is all the long-ball clout the Yankees will display.

Mays’s brief collapse today‚ coupled with his 2 losses in the 1921 Series‚ leads to rumors that he took money to throw the games. The accusations will persist for decades.

October 7, 1925: Christy Mathewson dies of tuberculosis at the health-spa town of Saranac Lake‚ New York‚ at the age of 45. At the time of his death, the Giant pitching legend he was part owner and president of the Boston Braves. The next day, as word reaches Forbes Field in Pittsburgh, the flag is lowered to half-staff, and will remain so there and at Griffith Stadium in opposing Washington for the remainder of the Series.

October 7, 1927: The 60‚695 on hand for Game 3 of the World Series see the Yankees’ Herb Pennock take an 8-0 lead and a perfect game into the 8th against the Pirates. He retires Glenn Wright‚ the 22nd straight batter‚ but Harold “Pie” Traynor, the Bucs’ Hall of Fame 3rd baseman, breaks the spell with a single‚ and Clyde Barnhart doubles him home. Pennock settles for a 3-hit 8-1 victory.

October 7, 1933, 80 years ago: At the World Series‚ at Griffith Stadium in Washington, flags are at half staff to honor William L. Veeck‚ president of the Chicago Cubs, who died suddenly. His son, Bill Veeck, already working in the Cubs’ front office, will become one of baseball’s most remarkable men.

In the meantime, the Series comes to a close after 5 games, when Mel Ott homers in the top of the 10th inning for a 4-3 Giants victory. Adolfo “Dolf” Luque, Cuban but light-skinned enough to play in the majors of the time, gets the win in relief. The Giants are World Champs for the 4th time, tying the Yankees and the Philadelphia Athletics for the most all-time.

This remains, 80 years later, the last World Series game played by a Washington team, let alone in the District of Columbia.  Ya think the Nationals now wish they’d let Stephen Strasburg pitch just ONE inning in last year’s postseason? One very particular inning?

October 7, 1935: In Game 6 of the World Series at Navin Field in Detroit (later renamed Tiger Stadium), Stan Hack leads off the top of the 9th inning with a triple, but his Chicago Cub teammates can’t bring him home. In the bottom of the 9th, Goose Goslin singles home Mickey Cochrane to win, 4-3, and to give Detroit its first World Championship in any major sport.

This will be quickly followed by the Lions winning the 1935 NFL Championship, the Red Wings winning the 1936 and 1937 Stanley Cups, and Alabama-born, Detroit-raised Joe Louis winning the heavyweight boxing championship in 1937.

October 7, 1950: Rookie lefthander Eddie Ford, with 9th inning help from Allie Reynolds, beats the Philadelphia Phillies, 5-2, as the Yankees complete the World Series sweep of Philadelphia’s “Whiz Kids.” Jerry Coleman wins the Babe Ruth Award as the Series MVP.

Ford, and the Phillies’ center fielder Richie Ashburn, both have very light blond hair that gets them nicknamed “Whitey.” In Ashburn’s case, even that was a shortening of “The White Mouse.” Ford will be drafted into the Army and spend the 1951 and ’52 seasons in the Korean War, but when he comes back in ’53, he will be at the top of his game, and he will be “Whitey” from then on.

In contrast, most Phillies fans did not yet know Ashburn as “Whitey,” but his friends did. The nickname became more familiar as he becomes a broadcaster, with partner Harry Kalas calling him “Whitey” and referring to him, when he’s not there, as “His Whiteness.”

The Phils are nicknamed “the Whiz Kids” because they have the youngest average age of any Pennant-winner ever, 23. Ashburn would later say that they figured they had enough time to win a few more Pennants.

But mismanagement, and the success of the team the Phils edged to win the Pennant, the Brooklyn Dodgers, meant that, by the time the Phils did win another Pennant, Ashburn was in the booth, and the Phils’ biggest stars would be men who were small children in 1950: 9-year-old Pete Rose, 6-year-old Steve Carlton and Tug McGraw, 2-year-old Mike Schmidt, and a child who would not be born until a few weeks after the 1950 World Series, Greg Luzinski.

October 7, 1952, 60 years ago: In the decisive Game 7, the Yankees beat the Dodgers at Ebbets Field, 4-2, to win their 4th consecutive World Championship, their 15th overall. The Dodgers still haven’t won a World Series — the idea that “Next Year” will come is getting more and more frustrating.

This game was highlighted by the Dodgers loading the bases in the bottom of the 7th. Yankee manager Casey Stengel had already used each of his “Big Three”: Vic Raschi, Eddie Lopat, and now Allie Reynolds. He calls on the lefty reliever who had closed out the previous year’s Series, Bob Kuzava.

He gets Jackie Robinson to pop the ball up, but the late afternoon sun is peeking through the decks of Ebbets Field, and nobody sees the ball! Nobody except 2nd baseman Billy Martin, who dashes and catches the ball at his knee to end the threat.

It was the first time Billy would ruin Dodger hopes. The last time he did so, it would be as a manager, and the Dodgers would represent Los Angeles.

Gil Hodges finishes the Fall Classic hitless in 21 at-bats, which had prompted some Brooklyn fans, some fellow Catholics, some not, to gather at local churches asking for divine help for their beloved 1st baseman. Fortunately, Dodger owner Walter O’Malley, mean old man that he is, is not George Steinbrenner, and doesn’t do what George did to Dave Winfield following his 1-for-21 performance in the ’81 Series against the L.A. edition of the Dodgers: Call him “Mr. May,” in comparison to “Mr. October,” Reggie Jackson.

October 7, 1957: Lew Burdette beats the Yankees in Game 5, his 2nd win of the Series, a brilliant 1-0 shutout to give the Milwaukee Braves a 3-2 Series lead.

The day gets worse for New York baseball, as the Los Angeles City Council approves the Chavez Ravine site for Dodger Stadium by a vote of 10 to 4. The Giants had already announced their move to San Francisco, and now the Dodgers’ move was inevitable. It was announced the next day.  Apparently, finally winning the World Series in 1955 and another Pennant in 1956 couldn’t save them.

October 7, 1968: Mickey Lolich saves the Detroit Tigers‚ winning Game 5, 5-3 over the St. Louis Cardinals, with an unlikely assist from Lou Brock. On 2nd base in the 5th‚ Brock, normally one of the game’s greatest baserunners, tries to score standing up on Julian Javier’s single, and is gunned down by Willie Horton’s throw from left field. Al Kaline’s bases-loaded single off Joe Hoerner in the 7th scores 2 for the winning margin. The Tigers stay alive, but still need to win Games 6 and 7 — in St. Louis, with Bob Gibson the potential Game 7 starter.

The bigger story, at least in the short term, is Puerto Rican-born, New York-raised singer and acoustic guitar wizard Jose Feliciano’s modern rendition of “The Star-Spangled Banner.”

Born blind, Feliciano comes onto the field wearing sunglasses and being guided by a dog — both of which a lot of people consider threatening.  He does no vocal hysterics like some more recent singers we could mention; he just sings the National Anthem of the country he loves and which gave him the chance to become rich and famous, but a little differently, in his own style which is called “Latin jazz.”

In this time of the Vietnam War, race riots, assassinations and political unrest — Richard Nixon is about to be elected President in a squeaker because too many Democrats turned off by the war and the assassinations of Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy stay home and don’t vote for longtime liberal hero Hubert Humphrey — the reaction to Feliciano’s rendition is muted in the stands, and furious on telephones, talk radio and newspapers. His career stalls for 2 years, until the release of his Christmas song “Feliz Navidad.”

Tiger broadcaster Ernie Harwell, himself a published songwriter authorized by Major League Baseball to select Detroit’s Anthem singers for the Series, defended his choice. Ironically, the man he’d selected for Game 4 was Marvin Gaye, a superstar of Detroit’s Motown Records. Gaye sang it straight, and very nicely.  In 1983, at the NBA All-Star Game, Gaye, in the midst of a big comeback that would tragically end with his death the next year, sang the Anthem gospel-style. The times had changed: His version was greeted with thunderous cheers and applause.

“Mr. Ernie” had introduced Feliciano to his wife, Susan, who grew up in Detroit. In 2010, Harwell died, and a memorial service was held at Detroit’s Comerica Park. Feliciano was invited to sing the Anthem, and was wildly cheered afterward. His version was also included on The Tenth Inning, Ken Burns’ 2010 sequel to his 1994 miniseries Baseball.  Listen and judge for yourself.  (NBC no longer has color videotape of most of the World Series prior to 1975.)

October 7, 1969: The Cardinals trade Curt Flood, Byron Browne, Joe Hoerner and Tim McCarver to the Phillies in exchange for Richie Allen — who, among other controversies, had been to insist upon being called “Dick” instead of “Richie” — Jerry Johnson and Cookie Rojas.

As could be expected, Allen, who so badly wanted out of Philadelphia, was involved in a trade that also became controversial — except, ironically, his part in it wasn’t the controversial one. Flood, like Allen believing Philly to be a racist city (with some reason), refuses to report to Philadelphia.

The Cardinals will send Willie Montanez and a minor leaguer to complete the trade, but Flood’s courageous challenge to the reserve clause will have a dramatic impact on the game. (The Phillies will eventually get McCarver back.)

October 7, 1977: First 1950, then 1969, now 1977, October 7 is not a good day for baseball in the City of Brotherly Love.

It starts out as one: The 63,719 fans at Veterans Stadium are so loud, they force Dodger pitcher Burt Hooton to load the bases in the 2nd inning, and then walk 2 runs home. The Phils, who won 101 games (a team record not broken until 2011), look like they’re going to win this game, and will need just one more win for their 1st Pennant in 27 years, since the 1950 Whiz Kids.

But in the top of the 9th, trailing 5-3 and down to their last out, the Dodgers benefit from a sickening turn of events. Pinch hitter Vic Davalillo, a 41-year-old Venezuelan outfielder who has already retired from baseball once, shows enough guts to lay down a drag bunt, at his age, with 2 strikes, and he beats it out.

Another pinch hitter, 39-year-old Dominican Manny Mota, hits a long drive to left field. Ordinarily, Phils manager Danny Ozark would have sent Jerry Martin out to left for defensive purposes, in place of the powerful but defensively suspect Greg Luzinski. This time, he didn’t, and the Bull can only trap the ball against the fence. (In fairness, I’ve seen the play several times, and I don’t think Martin would have caught it, either, especially since he was a bit shorter than the Bull.) Luzinski throws back to the infield, but Phils 2nd baseman Ted Sizemore mishandles it, Mota goes to 3rd, and Davalillo scores. It’s 5-4 Phils, with 2 out.

Then comes one of the most brutal umpiring screwups ever. Remember, the Dodgers are still down to their last out. Davey Lopes’ grounder hits a seam in the artificial turf, and caroms off Mike Schmidt’s knee to Larry Bowa‚ and the shortstop’s throw is incorrectly ruled late. Instead of the game being over in Philly’s favor, Mota scores the tying run. The Dodgers go on to win, 6-5, and win the Pennant the next day.

In Philadelphia, the game is known as Black Friday. The umpire whose call killed the Phils? Bruce Froemming. He has already cost Milt Pappas a perfect game with a bogus ball four call (though Pappas kept the no-hitter), and will go on to umpire for a record 37 years, with his swan song being the 2007 AL Division Series between the Yankees and the Cleveland Indians, when he, as crew chief, refused to stop the game until the Lake Erie Midges left.

October 7, 1978: The Yankees beat the Kansas City Royals for the 3rd straight year, and win their 3rd straight Pennant, their 32nd overall. Roy White, in his 14th season with the Yankees, hits a tiebreaking homer in the 6th. Graig Nettles homers and makes a sensational play at 3rd, and Ron Guidry wins for the 26th time in his remarkable season.

October 7, 1981: For the first time, an MLB postseason game is played outside the United States. The Montreal Expos defeat the Phillies 3-1 in Game 1 of the strike-forced National League Eastern Division playoff at the Olympic Stadium in Montreal.

October 7, 1984: The San Diego Padres win their first Pennant, taking the NLCS as Tony Gwynn’s 7th inning two-run double breaks a 3-3 tie. The Cubs had a 2-0 game advantage as well as a 3-0 lead in the deciding Game 5, but were unable to end the thirty-nine year World Series appearance drought.

October 7, 2001: On the last day of the season — delayed a week due to the 9/11 attacks — Rickey Henderson bloops a double down the right field line off Rockies’ hurler John Thomson to become the 25th major leaguer to collect 3,000 hits. Tony Gwynn, who is playing in his last major league game and is also a member of the 3,000 Hit Club, meets the Padre outfielder at home plate in front of a sellout crowd at Qualcomm Stadium.

Gwynn retires with a .338 lifetime batting average, the highest of any player who debuted after 1939 – also the highest of any black man, whether American or Hispanic.

Also on this day, Barry Bonds extends his major league record for home runs in season to 73*, as he drives a 3-2 first-inning knuckleball off Dodger Dennis Spriner over the right field fence. The blast also secures two more major league records * for the Giants’ left fielder, as he surpasses Babe Ruth (1920, 847) with a .863 season slugging percentage, and bests Mark McGwire (1998, one homer every 7.27 AB * ) by homering in every 6.52 at-bats *.

October 7, 2006: The Mets defeat Los Angeles at Dodger Stadium, 9-5, to complete a 3-game sweep in the NLDS.  The Mets haven’t won a postseason series since.  Since beating the A’s in the 1988 World Series, the Dodgers have not won a Pennant.

October 6 Baseball Anniversaries

 October 6, 1923, 90 years ago: In a regular-season game, Ernie Padgett of the Boston Braves, in only his 2nd major-league appearance, pulls off an unassisted triple play in a doubleheader sweep of the Phillies.
 
Born in Philadelphia in 1899, the infielder would only last 5 seasons in the majors, and died in 1957 in East Orange, New Jersey.
 
October 6, 1926: Game 4 of the World Series, at Sportsman’s Park in St. Louis. Someone got a message to Babe Ruth, asking him to hit a home run for a sick kid in a hospital.
 
He hit one. And another. And another. It was the first time a player had hit 3 home runs in a World Series game. The Yankees win, 10-5, and tie up the Series with the Cardinals.
 
The boy’s name was Johnny Sylvester. He got well, later met the Babe, and lived to be 74.
 
In legend, the boy was dying, and the Babe visited him in the hospital, and promised him he’d hit a home run for him, and ended up hitting 3, and, hearing the game on the radio, instantly began to get well. The truth is great enough, is Ruthian enough.
 
October 6, 1934: The Tigers defeat the Cardinals, 10-4 at Navin Field in Detroit (later renamed Briggs Stadium and Tiger Stadium).
 
Jay Hanna “Dizzy” Dean – or Jerome Herman “Dizzy” Dean, depending on which story Ol’ Diz liked to tell on any given day – inexplicably runs onto the field when player-manager Frankie Frisch calls for a pinch-runner, and is hit in the head by a throw. He is taken to a hospital, examined, and released.
 
He tells the press, apparently without realizing what he’s saying, “They examined my head, and they didn’t find anything.” A newspaper says the next day, “X-rays of Dean’s head show nothing.” Dean will have the last laugh, though.
 
October 6, 1936: The New York Yankees defeat the New York Giants in Game 6 of the World Series, 13-5 at the Polo Grounds, and clinch their 5th World Championship.
 
At this point, the following teams have won 5 World Series: The Yankees, the Boston Red Sox, and the Philadelphia Athletics. (The A’s wouldn’t win another until 1972, by which point they were in Oakland. The Red Sox have never won another. Not without cheating, anyway.)
 
By beating the Giants, who have 4, the Yankees move ahead of the Giants into first place in New York, and they have never relinquished it. Now, they are tied with the Sox and A’s for first among all teams.  They have never been second again. Nor will they be.
 
October 6, 1938, 75 years ago: The Yankees defeat the Chicago Cubs, 6-3 at Wrigley Field, and take a 2-games-to-0 lead in the World Series.
 
Dizzy Dean, now with the Cubs following an arm injury that will ultimately end his meteoric career at age 31, takes a 3-2 lead into the 8th inning, but Frank Crosetti’s homer gives the Yanks a lead they will not relinquish.
 
The winning pitcher is Lefty Gomez, making him 6-0 in World Series play. Although Whitey Ford with 10 and Bob Gibson with 7 will win more Series games, Gomez has the best winning percentage in Series history to this day.
 
October 6, 1941: The Yankees beat the Dodgers, 4-1, and win their 9th World Series, clinching in 5 games at Ebbets Field. The Brooklyn Eagle’s headline reads, “WAIT TILL NEXT YEAR.” A catchphrase is coined.
 
It will take another 14 years, and several agonizing close calls including 4 more World Series losses, all to the Yankees, before “Next Year” finally arrives for Brooklyn.
 
This is the last Major League Baseball game before World War II, although some players, including Detroit Tiger Hall-of-Famer Hank Greenberg, are already in the U.S. armed forces. Not until April 1946 will baseball again be played without players missing due to military service.
 
This is also the first Yankees-Dodgers World Series. There have now been 11: Seven all-New York “Subway Series,” four Coast-to-Coast N.Y./L.A. series. There hasn’t been one in 32 years, and as long as Don Mattingly — a.k.a. Donnie Regular Season Baseball — is managing the Dodgers, there will never be a 12th.
 
October 6, 1943, 70 years ago: Robert Cooper, father of Cardinal pitcher Mort Cooper and their catcher Walker Cooper, dies during the World Series. But the brothers play on, and in Game 2, Mort goes 1-for-3 at the bat and pitches the Cards to a 4-3 win over the Yankees at Yankee Stadium. He leaves for home, Independence, Missouri, after the game. The Yankees win the next three games to take the Series, at which point Walker goes home, too.
 
October 6, 1945: Game 4 of the World Series is held at Wrigley Field. William “Billy Goat” Sianis is the owner of the Billy Goat Tavern, across from Chicago Stadium, home of the NHL’s Blackhawks and the Midwest’s premier boxing venue. He has a goat as his bar’s mascot, and he buys two tickets to this game, one for himself and one for the goat.
 
There is no rule against this. But fans around him complain to the ushers that the goat smells bad, and Sianis and his goat are kicked out of the ballpark.
 
A Greek immigrant and a superstitious man, Sianis puts a curse on the Cubs. The Tigers win the game, 4-1, all their runs coming in the 4th inning, after Sianis and the goat are kicked out. The Tigers win the Series in 7, and afterward, Sianis sends a telegram to Cubs owner Philip K. Wrigley, asking, “Who stinks now?”
 
In 1963, Sianis would move his bar, a precursor to today’s sports bars, to its current location on Michigan Avenue, just north of the Loop, near the Tribune Tower and the Sun-Times Building, making it a popular watering hole for journalists. He died in 1970, about a year after the Cubs’ 1969 September Swoon.
 
His nephew Sam Sianis has run the place ever since, and when William Wrigley Jr. sold the Cubs to the Tribune Company in 1981, he offered to lift the Curse of the Billy Goat. A number of times, Cub management has allowed Sam to take his bar’s current mascot onto the field in an attempt to lift the Curse.
 
It hasn’t worked: Apparently, Billy’s curse is stronger even than his own flesh and blood. The Cubs haven’t been back to the World Series in 68 years — over two-thirds of a century without a Pennant, by far MLB’s record.  (Next-longest drought: The crosstown Chicago White Sox going 46 years without one, 1959 to 2005.)
 
Is the goat the reason? Well, let’s put it this way: In 1945, the Cubs had already not been World Champions for 37 years, and had already had a number of weird things happen to them in Series play, including a 10-run inning by the A’s in 1929, Babe Ruth’s alleged “called shot” in 1932, and Stan Hack leading off the 9th with a triple with what would be the tying run and then getting stranded there to lose Game 6 and the Series to the Tigers in 1935. The goat curse doesn’t explain any of that.
 
So what’s the real reason the Cubs haven’t won the World Series in 105 years now? Your guess is as good as mine.
 
Left fielder Andy Pafko, later one of the Dodgers’ “Boys of Summer,” now 91, and shortstop Lennie Merullo, 95, are the only living men to have played for the Chicago Cubs in a World Series.
 
October 6, 1947: The Dodgers threaten in the top of the 9th at Yankee Stadium, but a double play clinches the 5-2 win for the Yankees in Game 7 of the World Series. It is the Yankees’ 11th World Championship. The next-closest team is the just-dethroned Cardinals with 6.
 
This was the first World Series on television, on NBC, although it wasn’t baseball on coast-to-coast TV.  That wouldn’t happen until 1951. This was also the first integrated World Series, with Jackie Robinson playing for the Dodgers.
 
However, it was Italians who were the major figures in the Series: Yogi Berra for hitting the first pinch-hit home run in Series history in Game 3, Cookie Lavagetto for breaking up Floyd Bevens’ no-hitter with one out to go in Game 4, Joe DiMaggio for coming through for the Yankees again with a homer in Game 5, Al Gionfriddo for robbing DiMaggio with a spectacular catch in Game 6, and Phil Rizzuto for starting the game-ending twin killing in Game 7.
 
An interesting note is that, while Bevens, Lavagetto and Gionfriddo were the biggest heroes of in this Series, none of them would ever play another major league game. Yogi, Jerry Coleman, and Dodger Ralph Branca are the only surviving players from the rosters in this game, 66 years later.
 
October 6, 1957: Eddie Matthews becomes the first National Leaguer to hit what we would now call a “walkoff” home run in a World Series game, and the first player in either League to do it in extra innings, hitting one out of Yankee pitcher Bob Grim in the bottom of the 10th, to give the Milwaukee Braves a 7-5 win and even the World Series at 2 games apiece.
 
This was the Shoe Polish Game, in which Braves pinch-hitter Vernal Leroy “Nippy” Jones claimed to have been hit on the foot by a Tommy Byrne pitch, and a smudge of polish on the ball revealed him to be telling the truth, leading to a Brave run.
 
This would happen again, in favor of the Mets in 1969, with Cleon Jones – although they are not related, as Nippy was white and Cleon is black.
 
Nippy, who had been sent up to pinch-hit for Warren Spahn, was replaced by pinch-runner Felix Mantilla, who was sacrificed to second by Red Schoendienst (who, like Jones, had also played on the 1946 World Champion Cardinals), and then came Mathews’ blast.
 
Players from this game who are still alive, 56 years later: From the Braves, Schoendienst, Hank Aaron, Del Crandall, Felix Mantilla (also an original 1962 Met) and Frank Torre (Joe’s older brother); from the Yankees: Berra, Jerry Coleman, Tony Kubek, Jerry Lumpe, Bobby Shantz and Johnny Kucks.  Whitey Ford is still alive, but did not appear in this game. Braves shortstop Johnny Logan died this past August.
 
October 6, 1959: A crowd of 92,706, the largest ever for a baseball game that counts, plows into the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum for Game 5 of the World Series. Dick Donovan shuts out the Dodgers, and Sherm Lollar grounds into a double play that forces home a run, and the White Sox win, 1-0, with Bob Shaw outdueling Sandy Koufax (not yet a star). This will remain the last World Series game won by a Chicago team for 46 years.
 
Players from this game who are still alive, 54 years later: From the Dodgers: Sandy Koufax, Don Zimmer, Maury Wills, Joe Pignatano, Wally Moon, Don Demeter, Ron Fairly, Chuck Essegian and Stan Williams; from the White Sox: Luis Aparicio, Jim Landis, Jim Rivera, Billy Pierce and Jim McAnany.
 
Also on this day, Dennis Boyd is born. The Red Sox pitcher will be nicknamed “Oil Can,” because that’s what people in his native Meridian, Mississippi called a can of beer. Despite helping them to the 1986 World Series, Boyd will be remembered for his eccentricities more than his pitching.
 
October 6, 1963, 50 years ago: The Dodgers complete a 4-game sweep over the Yankees at Dodger Stadium. Sandy Koufax, who won Game 1, wins Game 4 as well. The Yankees had come into this first West Coast version of Yankees vs. Dodgers having won 104 games, but would not win another until next April.
 
October 6, 1965: Game 1 of the World Series at Metropolitan Stadium in Bloomington, Minnesota — the first World Series game ever played in that State. Koufax, being Jewish, does not pitch today, because it is Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, the holiest day on the Jewish calendar. So he is pushed back to Game 2, and Don Drysdale is started. No problem, right? Big D is also a future Hall-of-Famer, right?
 
Not today: Don Mincher and soon-to-be AL MVP Zoilo Versalles (who hit only 2 homers in the regular season, and got the MVP for his contact hitting, speed and defense) hit home runs off Drysdale, and when manager Walter Alston comes to take him out in the 3rd inning, Drysdale says to him, “I bet you wish I was Jewish, too!”
 
Jim “Mudcat” Grant allows only one hit, a home run by Ron Fairly, and the Twins, in the first World Series game in their history (unless you count their Washington Senators days, in which case it’s their first in 32 years), win 8-2.
 
To make matters worse for the Dodgers, Koufax loses Game 2 as well. The Dodgers will come back, though, and win the Series in 7 games. The Twins will not get this close to a World Championship again for another 22 years.
 
October 6, 1966: Dodger outfielder Willie Davis, having trouble seeing a white baseball against the smog-gray L.A. sky, commits three errors in one inning, enabling the Baltimore Orioles to win 6-0, and take both World Series games at Dodger Stadium, and head back to Memorial Stadium with a 2-0 lead. Jim Palmer outduels Koufax, who struggles with the Oriole bats, Davis’ fielding, and the pain in his elbow.
 
No one knows it yet, but this is the last major league game for Koufax. He is not yet 31, Palmer is just 20. This could be called a “generational hinge” game.
 
On this same day, LSD is declared illegal throughout the United States.
 
Also on this day, Niall Quinn was born. Most Americans don’t know who he is. He is an Irish-born soccer player who was a reserve on Arsenal’s 1989 League Championship team.
 
He moved on to Manchester City, where he got in an altercation with teammate Steve McMahon, who had been on the other side when Arsenal beat Liverpool in the season finale that decided that League title; McMahon looked like a fool that night, signaling to his teammates that there would be just 1 minute of injury time, when there turned out to be 2, with Michael Thomas scoring the winning goal in said 92nd minute. But Quinn didn’t even play in that game.
 
After their fight on a 1992 preseason tour in Italy, Quinn pulled off his T-shirt, stained with McMahon’s blood, so he wouldn’t be denied entry into a dance club, danced his arse off (as they’d say in the British Isles), and, seen wearing only a pair of cutoff jeans by a Man City fan, heard that fan sing, to the tune of “The Stars and Stripes Forever,”…
 
Niall Quinn’s disco pants are the best!
They go up from his arse to his chest!
They are better than Adam and the Ants!
Niall Quinn’s disco pants!
 
Quinn, who has called it “the song that will follow me to the end of my career,” admits that he no longer has those pants. However, they can’t possibly fail to be better than Adam and the Ants. They sucked.
 
Quinn finished his playing career for Sunderland, and went into management, eventually buying a part-ownership of the team and being made its chairman.  He has since sold his stake in the team, and has returned to color commentary on soccer games.  (Or, should I say, “colour commentary on football matches.”)
 
In 2006, Sunderland, then in English football’s 2nd division, were playing away at Cardiff City, along with Swansea City one of two teams from Wales in the 92-team English Football League. Sunderland won, and Quinn got on the plane that was to take him, the players, and a few fans back to Sunderland. Already, there was a problem, as Cardiff’s airport wasn’t willing to take them. They had to go 40 miles across a bay to Bristol, England. Recognized by some fans, who’d already had a few drinks that night, they started singing “Niall Quinn’s Disco Pants.” At the top of their lungs.
 
A few of the other passengers complained, and the pilot had 80 people thrown off the plane. The airline, EasyJet, told them they could have seats on the first plane out the next morning, at no extra charge — but wouldn’t give them a place to spend the night. They were really in a bind.
 
Quinn pulled out the club checkbook – since it’s Britain, I should say “chequebook” – and hired taxis. He paid 8,000 pounds, about $15,000 at the time, to take them up Britain’s M5 Motorway, from Bristol in the southwest of England to Sunderland in the northeast — about 300 miles, or roughly the distance from New York to Portland, Maine. Or from Philadelphia to Boston.
 
This would have been chump change for a big club like Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool or Manchester United. But for Sunderland, it was a pretty penny. Sunderland fans – a.k.a. “Mackems” – have never forgotten this act of generosity, and adapted the song, including taking a pot-shot at Freddy Shepherd, then owner of their arch-rivals, Newcastle United, a.k.a. the Magpies or Mags (and since replacing him with Mike Ashley, current Newcastle owner):
 
Niall Quinn’s taxi cabs are the best!
So go shove it up your arse, EasyJet!
Fat Freddy/Fat Ashley wouldn’t do it for the Mags!
Niall Quinn’s taxi cabs!
 
I don’t like Sunderland, but, using the U.K. vernacular, Niall Quinn is a top man.
 
October 6, 1969: The New York Mets defeat the Atlanta Braves, 7-4 at Shea Stadium, and sweep the first-ever National League Championship Series. As they did after the NL Eastern Division clincher on September 24, the Met fans storm the field.
 
It is the first Pennant won by a New York team in 5 years. A long time by New York standards. But for Met fans, the children of a “shotgun wedding” between two groups of fans who once hated each other, to use the late scientist and former Giant fan Stephen Jay Gould’s phrase, “with that love that only hate can understand,” it is the first Pennant in either 13 years (Dodgers) or 15 years (Giants).
 
After 7 bad years, 5 of them absolutely horrible, in Year 8 the Mets have won the Pennant. It is the fastest any team has reached the World Series since the early days of the competition. It will be 1980 – or 1973, if you count the Mets’ 2nd Pennant – before a team other than one of the “Original 16” reaches the World Series again.
 
October 6, 1978: Game 3 of the American League Championship Series at Yankee Stadium. Winner takes a 2-1 lead in the series. George Brett of the Kansas City Royals hits 3 home runs off Catfish Hunter, the only 3-homer performance in LCS play in either league.
 
But in the bottom of the 8th, with the Yankees trailing 5-4, Thurman Munson steps up against Royals reliever Doug Bird, and crushes a pitch 470 feet to left-center field. On ABC, Howard Cosell, who admired Munson a lot, laughs: “Ho-ho! The damaged man!”
 
Goose Gossage finishes it off for Catfish, and the Yankees win, 6-5. Reggie Jackson had also homered, his 2nd of this series, after taking KC closer Al “the Mad Hungarian” Hrabosky deep in Game 1 at Royals Stadium.
 
This is what I love most about Munson: At the moment when the Yankees most needed him to hit a home run, the banged-up Captain hit the longest home run of his career. Appropriately, it went into Monument Park. At this point, the only players honored there were the big four: Ruth, Gehrig, DiMaggio and Mantle – along with owner Jacob Ruppert, general manager Ed Barrow, managers Miller Huggins, Joe McCarthy and Casey Stengel, and the plaque honoring the Mass delivered by Pope Paul VI. The next plaque to be dedicated would be the one for the Mass delivered by Pope John Paul II, but the next one for a Yankee would be, sadly, for Munson himself.
 
October 6, 1980: Having lost 3 straight to the Los Angeles Dodgers, the Houston Astros must now play them in a one-game Playoff to decide the NL West title, and at Dodger Stadium, no less.
 
No problem: Art Howe drives in four runs (which is more than the Astro second baseman ever did for the Mets as their manager), and Joe Niekro knuckleballs his way to his 20th win of the season, and the Astros win, 7-1. In what is unofficially the first postseason game in their 19-year history, they officially advance to the Playoffs for the first time.
 
October 6, 1984: A dark day in the long, gray history of the Chicago Cubs. Leading the NLCS 2 games to 1, needing only 1 more win to take their first Pennant in 39 years, they are tied with the San Diego Padres in the bottom of the 9th at Jack Murphy Stadium. But closer Lee Smith gives up an opposite-field homer to former Dodger “hero” Steve Garvey, and the Padres win, 7-5, to tie up the series.
 
Fans of lots of teams hated Garvey, due to his smugness and, as it turned out, his hypocrisy. But I think Cub fans hate him even more than Philadelphia and Cincinnati fans do. Certainly, they hate him more than Yankee Fans do – and that’s a lot.
 
October 6, 1985: With the Yankees having been eliminated from the AL East race the day before, manager Billy Martin sends 46-year-old knuckleballer Phil Niekro out to pitch an otherwise meaningless game at Exhibition Stadium in Toronto. He allows only 4 hits, becoming the oldest pitcher ever to pitch a complete-game shutout – top that, Nolan Ryan! The Yankees beat the Blue Jays, 8-0, and Niekro has his 300th career win. The Yankees will release him after the season, despite winning 16 games for them at age 45 and again at 46.
 
He will pitch two more seasons, with his home-State Cleveland Indians, the Blue Jays, and one more game with his original team, the Braves – he is the last active player who had played for the Braves in Milwaukee – reaching 318 wins for his Hall of Fame career. That makes him 16th on the all-time list, but among pitchers who’d spent most of their careers in the post-1920 Lively Ball Era, only his ex-Brave teammate Warren Spahn, and the still-active Ryan, Steve Carlton and Don Sutton had more wins before him. He has since also been passed by Roger Clemens and Greg Maddux.
 
With his brother Joe having won 223, the Niekro brothers are the winningest brother combination in MLB history, with 538 wins between them. Phil also struck out 3,342 batters, then 8th all-time and now 11th. In 1973, he pitched the first no-hitter in Atlanta history. It took 5 tries before he was finally elected to the Hall of Fame.
 
October 6, 1991: The final game is played at Memorial Stadium in Baltimore. The Orioles lose to the Tigers, 7-3. Afterward, while the music from Field of Dreams plays, Brooks Robinson trots back out to his old position of 3rd base, followed by Frank Robinson into right field, Jim Palmer to the pitcher’s mound, and so on, until Cal Ripken goes to shortstop as the last player, and Earl Weaver gives one last lineup card (no doubt with little room on it) to an umpire.
 
This ceremony paves the way for many ballpark closing ceremonies since, including the farewell to the old Yankee Stadium (which, neatly, was against the Orioles). The Orioles moved into Oriole Park at Camden Yards the following April, and the NFL’s Ravens play their first 2 seasons (1996-97) at Memorial before moving into their own stadium at Camden Yards. Memorial Stadium, built in 1954, is demolished in 2002.
 
The same day that Memorial Stadium hosted its last baseball game, Veterans Stadium in Philadelphia hosts an interesting and troubled one.  With a policeman watching his every move from the Met dugout, and the fear of being arrested at any moment due to false rape allegations, David Cone ties a National League mark for strikeouts as he fans 19 Phillies, en route to a 7-0 victory in the season’s finale.
 
The charges come to nothing.  The Mets let him get away in the off-season, and, except for a brief comeback in 2003, never pitches for them again. He will, however pitch for another New York team, and far more successfully than he ever did for the Mets.
 
That 1991 season remains the last one in which the Mets finished with a better record than the Yankees.  It also remains the last one in which the Mets finished with better attendance than the Yankees.
 
October 6, 2001: Another farewell in Baltimore. At Camden Yards, in front of a full house including Orioles notables Frank Robinson, Palmer and Weaver, as well as Commissioner Bud Selig and former President Bill Clinton, Cal Ripken plays his 3,001st and final game. After a hitless night for the 41-year-old, the final out of the 5-1 loss to Red Sox is made as Cal watches from the on deck circle.
 
In Seattle, with their 116th win, the Mariners tie the 1906 Cubs as the winningest team in major league history. Bret Boone’s 37th home run of the season, and the shut out pitching of five Seattle pitchers prove to be the difference in the 1-0 historic win over the Texas Rangers. But the Yankees will prove to the M’s that 116 don’t mean a thing if you ain’t got that ring.
 
At Shea Stadium, with his 151st career pinch hit, Lenny Harris breaks the major league mark established by Manny Mota. Coming off the Met bench to bat for Rey Ordonez, he lines a 1-2 pitch off Expo starter Carl Pavano for a single to become the career leader in pinch hits.
 
October 6, 2006: After failing to advanced past the first round of the American League playoffs in their previous five postseason appearances, the Oakland Athletics beat the much-favored Minnesota Twins, 8-3, to complete a three-game ALDS sweep. The victory, which was the team’s 10th opportunity to win a clinching game, puts Oakland in ALCS for the first time since 1992.
 
This remains the only postseason series ever won by a team with Billy Beane as its general manager. Explain to me again how Beane is a “genius”?
 
October 6, 2007: The Bug Game! In Game 2 of the ALDS at Jacobs Field, the Indians score the tying run on a wild pitch thrown by a bug-covered Joba Chamberlain. A rare infestation of Lake Erie Midges, which appeared en masse in the 8th inning, impacts the rookie Yankees reliever who suffers his first blown save of the season.
 
We may never know why Joe Torre didn’t tell the umpires, “Stop play until the bugs are gone, or I’m pulling my team off the field and taking my chances with the Commissioner’s office!” Would John McGraw have put up with that? Would Leo Durocher? Would Casey Stengel? Would Earl Weaver? Would Billy Martin? Would they hell! But Torre did.
 
The Yankees lost the game, 2-1, as several players — not just Alex Rodriguez — seemed to forget how to hit. So it wasn’t just the bugs.
 
October 6, 2009: With one out in the bottom of the 12th inning in the AL Central tiebreaker, the Twins beat the Tigers, 6-5, when Alexi Casilla’s single plates Carlos Gomez from second base with the winning run.
 
The Metrodome victory finishes an amazing comeback by Minnesota, going 17-4 in the final month to close a seven-game deficit and completes a colossal collapse for the Tigers, who become the first team in big league history to surrender a 3-game lead with only 4 contests to play. This, just 3 years after the Tigers blew a 15 1/2-game AL Central lead over the Twins, the biggest Division (or pre-1969 League) choke ever.  Of course, the Tigers won the Wild Card and ended up beating the A’s, who’d beaten the Twins, for the Pennant…
 
Maybe this anniversary will stick in the mind of some of the Tigers who are still here, 2 years later.
 
October 6, 2010: At Citizens Bank Park, Phillies right-hander Roy Halladay throws the second no-hitter in postseason history when he beats the Reds, 4-0, in Game 1 of the NLDS. Don Larsen became the first hurler to accomplish the feat by throwing a perfect game in the Yankees’ victory over Brooklyn in Game 5 of the 1956 World Series.

When Last We Met (Or So to Speak)

When last we met (or so to speak), on the afternoon of Saturday, September 7 — 9 days ago if you’re scoring at home — the Yankees were 9 games behind the Boston Red Sox (a.k.a. The Scum) for the AL East title, and 2 1/2 games behind the Tampa Bay Rays for the 2nd AL Wild Card.

Now, the Yankees are 12 1/2 games out of 1st place, officially eliminated from the Division race after being swept by the Sox this past weekend, and 3 games out of the Wild Card berths.

So? Two and a half games back, three games, what’s the difference? The difference is, on September 7, there were 20 games left in the regular season; now, there are only 12 games left.

If the Yankees had a completely healthy starting 9, this is what their lineup last night would have looked like:

11 LF Brett Gardner

2 SS Derek Jeter

14 CF Curtis Granderson

13 3B Alex Rodriguez

24 2B Robinson Cano

25 1B Mark Teixeira

55 DH Lyle Overbay

31 RF Ichiro Suzuki

29 C Francisco Cervelli

 

A decent enough lineup, right? Of course, this fully-healthy lineup presumes that the trading-deadline deal to obtain Alfonso Soriano would not have been necessary.  Nor would the wavier-wire pickup of Mark Reynolds.

 

Instead, here is what the Yankee lineup did look like at Fenway Park last night:

14 CF Curtis Granderson

13 DH Alex Rodriguez

24 2B Robinson Cano

12 LF Alfonso Soriano

55 1B Lyle Overbay

39 3B Mark Reynolds

31 RF Ichiro Suzuki

35 SS Brendan Ryan

19 C Chris Stewart

 

This isn’t “Who’s On First,” this is “Who’s at short, who’s catching, why’s he DH’ing, why’s he at first, and where is everybody?

Boone Logan has blown game after game.  So has Joba Chamberlain.  So has Phil Hughes.  Adam Warren, who got off to such a great start, has fallen apart.  CC Sabathia looks like he’s run out of gas.  This may also be the case with Hiroki Kuroda.  Ivan Nova pitched really well for much of this season, but got rocked in his last start.  The only Yankee starter really getting the job done lately is Andy Pettitte — and he’s 41 years old.  And David Robertson has been a bit shaky lately, making him look very much not like a viable successor to Mariano Rivera.

Granderson is back, but he’s been out most of the season.  So has Jeter.  So has Teixeira.  So was A-Rod.  So has Kevin Youkilis, who never really got a chance to show Yankee Fans that they should stop hating him from his Sox days.

If the Yankees’ current winning percentage of .527 holds (a pace for 85 wins), or if it rises to anything less than .540 (87 wins), it will be the worst Yankee season in 21 years — since 1992, the last time we didn’t have a winning season (76-86).

And yet, we’re still only 3 games out of the Wild Card.  As an old friend would have said, “I tell ya, Murcer, it’s unbelievable.  Holy Cow.”

Tomorrow night, the Yankees begin a 3-game road series, against those pesky Toronto Blue Jays.  Projected starting pitchers, with the Yanks’ listed first:

Tuesday: Pettitte vs. R.A. Dickey.

Wednesday: Hughes vs. J.A. Happ.

Thursday: Kuroda vs. Todd Redmond.

This has been a very hard season, by Yankee standards anyway.  But we can still make something of it.  The “World Series or bust” mentality doesn’t really apply, since, from the middle of the last off-season, when roster adjustments for our team and others made our 2013 situation look bleak before anyone even considered heading down to spring training.  Hardly anybody expected the Yankees to make the Playoffs.  That, with 12 games to go, they still have a chance to do so is incredible.

I’d say it’s “amazing,” but that’s a Mets word.  How are they doing? Oh, the usual, 15 games under .500, 22 games out of 1st place, 16 1/2 games out of the 2nd NL Wild Card, eliminated from both the NL East race and the Wild Card race a while ago.

Yes, Yankee Fans, it’s been rough, but we still have a chance to confound the experts and make the Playoffs.  The Mets?

As Bono sang, “Well, tonight, thank God it’s them, instead of you!”