World Serious Business

Four Baseball Fans Share Thoughts and Experiences of the Fall Classic

Joe Mathews

I have a rule. If a friend ever offers you an extra ticket to a baseball game, take it.

The wisdom of this rule was proved again last month when my roommate offered me an extra ticket for a Saturday afternoon game in Yankee Stadium. I went, and Jim Abbott tossed a no-hitter. Go figure.

But the Rule of the Extra Ticket's biggest payoff came five years ago.

A teammate of mine from our high school baseball team offered to take me along to Game One of the 1988 World Series: Dodger Stadium, the Oakland A's versus the Los Angeles Dodgers.

Post-season baseball in L.A. is special. Those are the only games of the year when most of the crowd arrives early and stays to the end. But 1988 was even more special. The Dodgers had been decimated by injuries. Purely on the strength of a little clutch hitting and the incredible shutout-inning string of Orel Hershiser, the Dodgers had won the National League West, outlasted the Mets in a seven-game League Championship Series and reached the Fall Classic.

Anyone who knew baseball, however, knew the Dodgers had no chance. The A's had "The Bash Brothers"--hulking sluggers Jose Canseco and Mark McGwire. The Dodgers had Franklin Stubbs (currently playing in Pawtucket) at first base and Mickey Hatcher, a mediocre hitter who made a career as utility player, batting third.

Hatcher hit a two-run homer in the first inning, and the place went crazy. The Hatchet Man, never one to contain his enthusiasm, ran so fast around the bases that he almost caught the runner ahead of him.

But for the rest of the game, it looked like the A's would dominate. Dave Stewart pitched well for Oakland, and in the second inning, Canseco lined a grand slam home run that left a dent in NBC's centerfield camera.

Dennis Eckersley, the greatest reliever of all time, came in to pitch the ninth inning, his team up 4-3. He retired the first two batters, and got to a count of one ball and two strikes on Mike Davis, who hadn't hit well all season. From our seats in Dodger Stadium's upper deck, we could see the entire stadium parking lot. It was already emptying out fast as fans tried to beat traffic and make it home. This game was over.

Then something incredible happened. Eckersley, who has the control of a pitching machine, walked Davis. And Dodger manager Tommy Lasorda sent Kirk Gibson to the plate to pinch-hit.

Gibson was hurt. He could hardly walk, and this would be his only atbat during the entire series. He made a couple of terrible looking swings at pitches and then Eckersley threw a few balls.

Suddenly, the count was three and two.

Sometimes in baseball, as in life, you just know that something special is about to happen. This was one of those times. Gibson limped to the plate, but he was determined. He had picked the Dodgers up all year. I think everyone in that stadium felt what I felt. Maybe it was the alignment of the planets, maybe it was the smog layer. But we all knew we were about to see something special.

Eckersley made the big mistake: He threw Gibson a hanging slider. Gibson hit the ball. Canseco, playing rightfield, didn't even bother to turn around. The ball was in the rightfield pavilion.

In the stands, we celebrated for what seemed like an hour.

Later in the week, someone at NBC would get the bright idea of splicing highlights of Gibson's final at-bat with film clips from the end of The Natural, when Robert Redford homered into the light standard to win the pennant.

In the movie, that made for quite a visual effect. There was a similar effect here: When Gibson hit the ball, the brake lights of every car exiting the Dodger Stadium parking lot went on.

The drivers of all those cars had been listening to Vin Scully announce the end of the game on the radio (this is a Dodger fan tradition). Sitting in their steel cages, in the sea of red lights that was the Dodger Stadium parking lot, they missed the greatest finish in the history of the World Series.

And, unlike me, most of them had paid for their tickets.

Joe Mathews is a Crimson staff writer.

John Ausiello

If you live in Boston and you're a sports fan, you hate the month of October.

You hate that the weather is turning cold. You hate all those leaves lying on your yellow-and-brown lawn. And you hate when those freaks come knocking on your door asking for candy.

If they want candy, then they can bring us a World Championship.

You see, being a Red Sox fan brings out the Satan in all of us. The next door neighbor, who frequently travels to Calcutta to assist Mother Teresa, can only speak in four-letter words in the month of October. And in the fall of 1986, everything reached a peak, at least for me.

That October, I was excited. It was going to be our year at last. We had the best pitcher on the planet, the best pure hitter of this generation, and Big Lou lunching on a dog in the box. How could we lose?

Apparantly I overlooked the fact that there would be a semi-cripple playing first base in the last inning of the most important baseball game for Boston in the last 20 years. Call me stupid, but it just never crossed my mind.

That game, that whole Series, I will never forget. But not for its great play. It was possibly the worst-managed World Series ever--on both benches. And at times, the play looked Little League, not major league.

There was Game One, in New York. In front of a completely sober and tame crowd of animals in Queens, the Sox stole the first one. Tim Teufel let a ball go through his legs and the Sox won, 1-0. Listening on a car radio, I think I expressed my love for the man.

Then came Game Two. The supposed pitching classic: Doc against the Rocket. Well, it was more like Abbott vs. Costello. Gooden was horrible, and Clemens was something less than mediocre. The Sox won a sloppy one 7-4.

Games Three and Four are blurred together. The Sox lost them both, I know that. But Game Five was a must. The Sox turned to Bruce Hurst, and he came through. They went back to the Shea Stadium jungle, up 3-2.

I was confident. But then again, I was young. I had only seen the collapse in '78 and even then, I was just five years old.

But there was my dad, a hardened, seasoned veteran of Red Sox chokes. He saw the dream slowly disappear in '75 as Joe Morgan's bloop single found the outfield grass. And he watched Bob Gibson and the Cardinals remove the glass slipper from the '67 Cinderella squad.

My dad was ready. He knew in his mind, even though he hoped in his heart he was wrong, that 1986 would join the list of disappointments. So there we were, sitting in our den, anxiously waiting for the last pitch.

There was my dad in the recliner, insisting that the Sox would lose. There was my mom on the couch, saying little. And then there was my brother, myself and our two friends--possibly the four most fanatical fans on the planet, alternating between praying and cursing.

In the eighth, when Clemens left the game and the Sox had a 3-2 lead, my friend boldly exclaimed "Five more outs!" My dad scoffed, and my brother told him to shut up. But it was too late, the damage was done--the game went into extra innings.

Then in the 10th came Henderson's homer. Our place went berserk. (The neighbors called the police, thinking someone had been shot.)

But as the horrors unfolded in the bottom half of the inning, the place was silent. And when Vin Scully exclaimed to the nation that the ball had gone through Buckner's legs, it got ugly. My brother cursed. My dad threw things and I think attacked the television. I was in shock.

I promised never to watch the bums again. And I didn't...until the third inning of Game Seven, two nights later.

John C. Ausiello is a Crimson staff writer.

Darren Kilfara

The symmetry is absolutely haunting.

The first baseball memory that I can consciously remember was from the 1980 World Series. Tug McGraw, the Phillies closer, comes on in the ninth and strikes out some faceless Kansas City Royal to win the Series in Game Six, and the Vet goes crazy.

And the last recollection I will have from this year of baseball: Mitch Williams, another lefty Phillie reliever, punching the air in ecstasy after the same strikeout, in the same stadium, after another Game Six. And it's an ex-Royal, Bill Pecota, that goes down swinging.

This much I know about this year's Series: No way will I be watching. Too much energy invested (and wasted) on behalf of my beloved Braves to root for the Phillies, a team I otherwise would really like; too much residual hatred from 1992 to root for the Blue Jays.

Kinda funny this year to be disconnected from the Series; it has been, you know, three years since the Braves last absented themselves from the October tango.

Of course, if you only started following baseball three years ago, it would be worth noting that the last Fall Classic attended by the pre-1991 Braves was in 1958. The then-Milwaukee Braves, that is. Or was.

And I suffered. Images, I remember, but images well-removed from my struggling, trying-to-climb-out-of-the-cellar Braves. A select few: Harvey's Wallbanging Brewers against the Indy 500 Cardinals in 1982; Dane Iorg, Don Denkinger, and Joaquin Andujar in 1985; Homer Hankies in 1987; Vin Scully screaming, "She is GONE!!" at Kirk Gibson and Chavez Ravine in 1988.

And, most vividly, Al Michaels doing play-by-play of an earthquake in 1989.

(Incidentally, which qualifies as the greater World Series natural disaster: San Francisco falling apart in 1989, or Bill Buckner's rumbling glove in 1986?)

But miracles happen. A baby-faced, 21 year-old lefthander named Steve Avery firing blanks at the Pirates in the NLCS, and next thing I know, Charlie Leibrandt is starting for the Braves in...in the Metrodome!

I have the MLB Productions tape of that 1991 Classic, what is perhaps the greatest World Series of them all, and it never fails to give me chills. What is so remarkable about the series, for me, is the collective naivete of the city of Atlanta--we had never sniffed at a world championship of any kind.

But here was David Justice, scoring from second on a Mark Lemke single in the 12th to win Game Three. Those first two losses really meant nothing; Atlanta was finally the center of the baseball universe, and to have an opening act like this...wow.

And Lemke again, this time scoring on a Jerry Willard sacrifice fly to even the series at two. Raspy old fart that Jack Buck is, I love him to death for this CBS play-by-play call: "[Crack] That's gonna be a winner for Atlanta! The runner tags at third...here's the throw from Mack. Here's Lemke!...He is ou..SAFE, SAFE, SAFE!" (Poor old Jack, muffing a huge call and yet making it sound strangely wonderful, like the Braves' season itself.)

"Sakes Alive, 14-5!" read the sports section of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution after Game Five; the headline on page 1A screamed "One Win Away!" Lemke had two triples, and Lonnie Smith homered in his third consecutive game. We were that close to winning it all.

It's now October 15, 1993; we haven't been as close since, and I wonder if we'll ever make it to that champagne-filled locker room at the end of the rainbow. We have the best team in baseball, and yet I fear an eight-team, three-tiered playoff system (best-of-five in round one, no less) conspires against us. It's just too easy for a team like the Phillies, Blue Jays, or Twins to beat us every year in a short series, no matter how many thrills the regular season may bring.

But even though it may be argued that Lonnie Smith's heroics, both in '91 and '92, were overshadowed by his baserunning blunders in each decisive game, I'll never forget his classy gesture in 1991's Game Seven.

Remember? He reached out and shook the hand of Twins' catcher Brian Harper. That's the way the game is supposed to be played: incredible events begetting a mutual sense of respect.

Because after all, despite my heartaches and frustrations, and my inability to watch this year's Series, it is only a game. A wonderful, incredible game.

Darren M. Kilfara is a Crimson staff writer.

Fay Vincent

[Editor's Note: Before his scheduled address on baseball and public policy at the Institute of Politics last night, Vincent shared his memories of World Series past with The Crimson.]

"Well, I was a Yankees fan growing up, so the 1950 World Series was a pretty good one. The Yankees beat the Phillies and in the fourth game, Whitey Ford won his first World Series game. Whitey Ford; he was a rookie that year. I remember that I was a Yankee fan and so it was a great win for the Yankees.

"The Phillies were the "Whiz Kids" then. Granny Hamner--he just died, but he was the shortstop. It was a very good team, but I think if they played 20 World Series the Yankees would have swept them, all 20. There was a very big discrepancy in talent.

"Then I remember Mazerowski's home run in '60, that was a great memory. I was in Pittsburgh, watching the game on television. I remember 1955, when Podres had the great World Series for the Dodgers, which was...spectacular. Spectacular.

"It's interesting; I don't have great memories of the '60s. I think I was working too hard. It happens often with baseball, that the interest ebbs and flows with your own career, and I was a young lawyer and I was just working around the clock. My memories of baseball in the '60s are pretty much a blur. Then, of course, I remember the great World Series in '75, and uh, oh, lots of memories there.

"The one I guess I'll always remember was the first when I was commissioner, in 1989. We had the earthquake, then Oakland played the Giants and Rickey Henderson put on some show. I don't think I've ever seen anybody dominate a World Series the way Rickey did in '89.

"I've been a Giants fan recently and I was one then; I'm a big fan of people like Roger Craig and Will Clark. I mean, Will Clark is remarkable because he plays with great intensity every day. He's a superstar, but he gives you your money's worth on every pitch. And I admire that; he's a real professional. Certainly, and especially since I was involved as commissioner, that '89 one will be real special.

"I've been to only one World Series game as a spectator. Only one. Never as a kid; we lived in New Haven and nobody would have taken me. But I saw the Dodger-Yankee game in 1978, the game when Welch struck out Reggie Jackson in Dodger Stadium. I remember that later in New York, Reggie hit the home runs, but that was a great game because I was sitting behind the Dodger bench, and Welch just blew Reggie away with those fastballs.

"That was just remarkable. Remarkable."

Fay Vincent is the former Commissioner of Major League Baseball.