Baseball: Past and Present

1. Carlton Fisk waves it fair: Game 6 of 1975 featured enough moments to fill a list in itself, from a pinch hit home run by Bernie Carbo that tied it for Boston in the eighth inning to a catch by Dwight Evans that saved a home run in the eleventh. But it’s Fisk’s home run an inning later that lives greatest in baseball lore, with the iconic image of him waving his shot down the left field line fair (supposedly, the NBC camera man who captured Fisk doing this was distracted by a rat and froze, ignoring orders to follow the flight of a hit ball.)

2. Kirk Gibson’s home run: I’m a San Francisco Giants fan, and I still love to watch video of a hobbled Gibson fouling off pitch after pitch from Dennis Eckersley in Game 1 of 1988, then lifting a shot into the right field stands at Dodger Stadium, and staggering around the bases fists pumping. It was the only Series at-bat for Gibson, who didn’t even come out for a pregame introduction, though it spurred the Dodgers on to an upset of the heavily favored Oakland A’s.

3. Babe Ruth’s Called Shot: This might take the top spot here were it a real story. Ruth hit a home run off Charlie Root in Game 3 of 1932, and there’s a photo of Ruth supposedly pointing to the center field stands just before. It’s more likely Ruth was gesturing to Root, who swore that if Ruth really had called any shot, he’d have knocked him down. Still, teammates like Lou Gehrig backed Ruth up, and the rest of the story is history.

4. Bill Mazeroski’s Game 7 walk-off: David slew Goliath and decades later, Mazeroski got a plaque in the Hall of Fame for hitting a ninth inning home run that lifted the Pittsburgh Pirates 7-6 over the New York Yankees in 1960.

5. Joe Carter wins it for Toronto: Maybe this doesn’t rate quite with Mazeroski for dramatics, since Carter hit his walk-off in Game 6 of 1993, though the image of him racing around the base paths thereafter is equally joyful.

6. The Catch: Willie Mays made a number of great catches in his career but none greater perhaps than what he did in Game 1 of 1954. With the New York Giants locked in a tight game versus the favored Cleveland Indians, winners of 110 games in the regular season, Vic Wertz smacked what looked like a sure triple to deep center at the Polo Grounds. But Mays caught the ball on a dead run and fired an equally remarkable throw back to keep Larry Doby from tagging up. The Giants went on to a sweep.

7. Don Larsen’s perfect game: Larsen made baseball history Game 5 of 1956 on just 97 pitches, atoning for getting shelled in Game 2. He overcame fine work from his opponent that day, Sal Maglie who allowed just two Yankee runs on five hits. Asked after the game if Maglie had made any mistakes, Dodger catcher Roy Campanella said, “Sal make mistakes? The only mistake he made today was pitching.”

8. Reggie Jackson earns the nickname Mr. October: Whoever doubted Jackson’s $2.96 million free agent signing by the Yankees in November 1976 was silenced about a year later when he smacked three home runs in the series-clinching Game 6 against the Dodgers.

9. Bill Wambsganss’s unassisted triple play: The Indians second baseman accomplished his feat in Game 5 of 1920, recounting it years later in The Glory of Their Times:

Well, Jim Bagby was pitching for us, and he served up a fast ball that (Brooklyn Dodgers pitcher Clarence) Mitchell smacked on a rising line toward center field, a little over to my right– that is, to my second-base side. I made an instinctive running leap for the ball, and just barely managed to jump high enough to catch it in my glove hand. One out. The impetus of my run and leap carried me toward second base, and as I continued to second I saw Pete Kilduff still running toward third. He thought it was a sure hit, see, and was on his way. There I was with the ball in my glove, and him with his back to me, so I just kept right on going and touched second with my toe (two out) and looked to my left. Well, Otto Miller, from first base was just standing there, with his mouth open, no more than a few feet away from me. I simply took a step or two over and touched him lightly on the right shoulder, and that was it. Three out. And I started running in to the dugout.

10. Jack Morris’s 10-inning win: Morris gave the Minnesota Twins the World Series in 1991 with his 1-0 shutout in Game 7. John Smoltz offered a Maglie-like performance with seven shutout innings in the Braves’ loss. Like Carter, it wouldn’t be overly stunning if this moment is enough to get the Veterans Committee to overlook some lifetime statistical shortcomings, not that that’s kept everyone from the Hall of Fame.

11. Grover Cleveland Alexander strikes out Tony Lazzeri: It was like something out of a movie with the aging, alcoholic Alexander nursing a hangover in the bullpen during Game 7 of 1926 before his big moment. The moment came when St. Louis Cardinals starter Jesse Haines ran into trouble in the seventh inning, and Alexander was called in to face Yankee Hall of Famer Tony Lazzeri, two outs, the bases loaded, and St. Louis leading 3-2. Alexander fanned Lazzeri on three pitches and went two more scoreless innings to give the Cardinals the title.

12. Howard Ehmke’s surprise brilliance: On the occasion of Ehmke’s death in 1959, famed newspaper columnist Red Smith wrote of how Ehmke was due to be cut by Connie Mack late in the 1929 season before begging the A’s manager that he had one more good game in him. Mack gave Ehmke orders to clandestinely scout the Chicago Cubs for a week, and the move paid off, with the 35-year-old junkballer striking out a then-record 13 batters and winning 3-1.

13. Sandy Amoros’ catch: Johnny Podres got a lot of the credit for winning Game 7 of the 1955 World Series for the Dodgers, even being named “Sportsman of the Year” by Sports Illustrated. But it was Amoros who kept things alive in the sixth inning that day, making a dramatic catch on a Yogi Berra fly ball down the left field line and then relaying a throw into the infield to double up Gil McDougald.

14. Cookie Lavagetto breaks up Bill Bevens’ no-hitter: In general, I tried to stay away from famous miscues for the purposes of this list. It’s why there’s no spot here for Bill Buckner in 1986, Mickey Owen in 1941, or Fred Snodgrass in 1912, among so many others. There’s nothing especially great about men making errors, something that could happen to anyone in extraordinarily stressful circumstances. And that’s what was facing Bevens, a journeyman, when he reached two outs in the ninth in Game 4 of 1947 with a chance at the first no-hitter in World Series history. But fellow journeyman Lavagetto found greatness of his own, smacking a double (and the final hit of his career, incidentally) to win the game for Brooklyn.

15. Relief from Walter Johnson: The Big Train was American League MVP in 1924, his case bolstered by four innings of relief and victory in the twelfth inning for his Washington Senators in Game 7 of the series

16. Bobby Richardson’s catch: The Giants looked like they had their first World Series title in San Francisco when Willie McCovey hit a screamer in Game 7 with men on second and third. But Yankee second baseman Richardson made a leaping catch and the game was over.

17. Casey Stengel’s inside-the-park home run: The Giants lost the 1923 World Series, but Stengel won Game 1 for them in style, smacking a ball into the Death Valley of left-center field at old Yankee Stadium and then running cockeyed around the bases. He said after that he felt the rubber pad in his shoe shift as he rounded second base and that he ran the way he did to keep the shoe from coming off, though he never resembled a typical player, with legs later described in his obituary that “looked like two Christmas stockings stuffed with oranges.”

18. Enos Slaughter’s Mad Dash: Slaughter scored what proved to be the decisive run in Game 7 of 1946, dashing around from first on an eighth inning single by Cardinals teammate Harry Walker and beating a late throw from Red Sox shortstop Johnny Pesky.

19. Joe DiMaggio’s inside-the-park home run: The Yankee Clipper hit what looked like a single to right in Game 4 of 1939. But Charlie Keller barreled into Reds catcher Ernie Lombardi, knocking him senseless and allowing DiMaggio to run all the way around the bases and slide by a dazed Schnozz. The Yankees closed out the sweep in short order.

20. Randy Johnson channels Old Pete and the Big Train: Johnson followed up a 104-pitch performance in Game 6 of 2001 by recording the final four outs of Game 7 to give his Arizona Diamondbacks the win over the Yankees.



3 Comments so far

  1.    Devon on October 18, 2011 1:36 pm      

    Awesome list. I’m delightfully surprised you included Randy Johnson and not the bloop single that won the game. I think a lot of people forget how awesome Johnson was. The D-backs were losing that game when he was brought in, if I remember right.

    One thing that might be missing here though, is the end of the 1997 series. That was pure excitement. I guess you just ran out of room on the list eh?

  2.    Alex Putterman on October 20, 2011 2:32 pm      

    I enjoyed the list, (although you could’ve made room for Luis Gonzalez and Edgar Renteria) and I really like new site layout. Nice job.

  3.    Douglas Heeren on October 26, 2011 1:31 am      

    I have been involved with baseball for about 40 years and can remember few World Series events. I watched all the W.S. in the 70′s. Just the 87 & 88 series in the 80′s and just the 91, 96 & 97 series in the 90′s. Since then I haven’t paid much attention to the W.S. because the Cubs and Twins aren’t in it. How about the ump that blew the call at first base in game six of the 85 series?

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  • Written by Graham Womack