[Thanks to guest blogger C.T. Revere for this lovely ode to post-season baseball.]
October baseball is at hand. Fans, whether serious or casual, know it’s a time when legends and goats are made.
Don Larsen was a marginal starting pitcher who lost 10 games more than he won in his 14-year career. He suffered the indignity of a 3-21 season in 1954. But on Oct. 8, 1956, he became a legend when he threw a perfect game for the New York Yankees, against the cross-town Brooklyn Dodgers in Game 5 of the World Series. It’s still the only non-hitter/perfect game in World Series history. (With the passing of catcher Yogi Berra on September 22, Mr. Larsen is the last man alive who was on the field for this game.)
Bill Buckner was 17 seasons into a distinguished Major League career in 1986. During what might have been an 80s renaissance for the Boston Red Sox, a ball slipped through Mr. Buckner’s legs in Game 6 of the 1986 World Series, forever eclipsing the better achievements of his 21-years as a ballplayer. (The Sox lost to the New York Mets; losing to the Yankees in the American League Championship Series is worse, but not by much.)
The bright lights of playoff baseball can offer a false picture that endures. Here are a few more observations about postseason lore and literature as we wait to see what 2015 brings.
The Chicago Cubs are in the mix in 2015, which brings to mind those deadball legends Tinker to Evers to Chance. Joe Tinker, Johnny Evers, and Frank Chance remain the best-known names from that last Cubbie title team, 107 years ago in 1908. That’s because they were memorialized in “Baseball’s Sad Lexicon,” written by New York newspaper writer Franklin Pierce Adams, who was mourning the defensive prowess that kept the New York Giants from the World Series.
While the famous poem portrays the trio as the best double-play combo of all time, they were not even the best in that championship season. The Cubs as a team finished third in turning double plays behind the Boston Bees and those sad New York Giants. As individuals, Tinker ranked second in double plays by a shortstop that year, and Evers and Chance were fifth in the Senior Circuit at their positions—second base and first base—respectively. (Notwithstanding the poem, the Bees led the league in “turning two,” but they finished 36 games out and “Dahlen to Ritchey to McGann” lacked that certain je ne sais quoi.
For 83 years many have debated whether Babe Ruth called his shot in Game 3 of the 1932 World Series in Chicago. Maybe he did. Maybe he didn’t. But that moment is linked to another bit of baseball lore that endures in film and fiction. While grainy footage suggests Ruth might have pointed to the spot where he would plant pitcher Charlie Root‘s next offering, it is certain that bad blood and bench jockeying were rampant in that Series. The Yankees were miffed that their former teammate, shortstop Mark Koenig, was denied a full World Series paycheck by the Cubs players because he had joined the team midseason. The Bronx Bombers were relentless in sharing their displeasure and Ruth’s gesture may have simply been further taunting. The reason Koenig was obtained by Chicago was because the team’s starting shortstop, Billy Jurges, was recovering from a gunshot wound suffered in July of that season when an overzealous showgirl and former lover named Violet Valley shot him in a Chicago hotel room. (Bernard Malamud borrowed that unfortunate incident for his novel The Natural, and the legend of Roy Hobbs was born.)
Lastly, the 1948 National League pennant race gave life to the popular misquote “Spahn and Sain, thn pray for rain, so Spahn and Sain can pitch again.” The notion was rooted in fact. On one occasion in September of 1948, that famous duo won both ends of a doubleheader, then did so again after several rainouts. But lost in that ditty was the fact that a forgotten member of that Boston Braves pitching staff did a pretty fair job down the stretch as well.
In September of that year, Johnny Sain carried the load, winning all eight starts he made that month. Warren Spahn, while undeniably one of the greatest pitchers ever to play, went 4-3. When neither of those fair-weather arms was on the hill, forgotten No. 3 starter Vern Bickford went 4-0 and the race was never really that close. The Braves won the pennant by 6.5 games, then lost to—wait for it—the Cleveland Indians, who have not won a World Series since.
Enjoy October baseball!