When Baseball Idles, We Hark to the Past

When baseball idles, as it has thanks to the coronavirus, minds begin to ramble, tremble, and amble. Major league players ponder ways to stay in shape while staying away from infection themselves. (The Yankees, at minimum, have quarantined their minor leagues after a player turned up coronavirus positive.) Minor league players ponder likewise plus feeding themselves and their families. And thanks to the Internet plus the game's vast literature, fans can return again to the baseball pasts too often romanticized and not often comprehended.

MLB.com has links to one classic game per major league team each. They're guaranteed to restore smiles to the winners and resurrect heartbreak for the defeated. You won't find too many Phillies fans willing to re-live Game 6 of the 1993 World Series, for example, even allowing their somewhat infamous hybrid of masochism and terminal outrage. Well, maybe you will. If subsequent successes still haven't cooled the anxieties of elder fans still seething over the 1964 pennant collapse, who's to say Mitch Williams's name isn't mud in too many Philadelphia places.

Too easily remembered: Williams surrendering Joe Carter's game and Series winning 3-run homer. Too easily forgotten: the customarily unflappable Williams going in on edge thanks to having lived with death threats over a previous blown save in that Series. (Only later did it emerge that Williams spent a sleepless night over the threats.) Not to mention Williams refusing to duck his share of responsibility for the Series-losing blast, answering every question after the game no matter how insulting.

By the way, Phillies fans in search of less painful recall can also hie to another game to which MLB.com linked: Game 6 of the 1980 Series, securing the first Phillies lease to the Promised Land ever, including but not limited to relief pitcher Tug McGraw's whooping celebration as the final out was nailed.

Red Sox Nation has long since graduated from a 20th Century of extraterrestrial sorrows to a 21st Century of extraterrestrial triumphs. (Quick: Name the one team with four World Series rings this century thus far.) That doesn't necessarily mean they'd like to re-live Game 6 of the 1986 World Series. Not even with the singular Vin Scully calling the play-by-play, as he did for NBC. They may have forgiven the late Bill Buckner at last, but that doesn't necessarily mean they'd like to see the Red Sox a strike away from winning the Series they went on to lose in a seventh game, either.

Far better to return to the night the actual or alleged Curse of the Bambino was shattered at long enough last. And, to Joe Buck's iconic final call. (Back to Foulke — Red Sox fans have longed to hear it: the Boston Red Sox are world champions!)

Cub Country gets an immediate link to the night their own century plus of surrealistic sorrow ended at last. The only sadness involved in Game 7 of the 2016 World Series had to be that the Cubs couldn't return to the Promised Land (for the first time since the Roosevelt Administration — Theodore's) in their own Friendly Confines; they won in Cleveland, and in extra innings delayed somewhat by rain yet. Is that so Cubs, or what?

Cardinals fans are more likely to feel the love having another look at Game 6 of the 2011 World Series, when David Freese went from barely known to never better, sending the game to extra innings with a game-tying RBI triple and then winning it with a leadoff home run in the bottom of the eleventh. Freese has had his moments since in a fine, serviceable career, but that game guaranteed his steak dinner bills in St. Louis would be minimal at best for the rest of his life.

Nationals fans won't exactly complain about getting a quick pass to Max Scherzer's second no-hitter of 2015, in which he struck seventeen Mets out and lost only one baserunner to an error. But something tells me they'd probably rather have re-lived Game 7 of last year's World Series. The one that finally made it "Washington — First in war, first in peace, and first in Show."

Rangers fans get an immediate passage to Hall of Famer Nolan Ryan's seventh no-hitter, making him both the only man ever to throw seven in the first place and the oldest to turn the trick in the first place. (He was 44.)

But I feel like being a stinker and sending Ranger fans to the game that ended their life in another city — Washington. Where the Senators were about to be kidnapped to Texas after their none-too-brilliant owner Bob Short bought and decimated the team before pleading publicly he didn't buy it to move it but all but forcing his fellow American League owners to let him move, after obtaining a couple of feeble local bids to buy the team and keep it there. (Washington Post legend Shirley Povich compared Short to the guy who buys a $9,000 car — that price got you a completely stuffed Cadillac de Ville in 1971 — abuses the hell out of it, sinks $3,000 into repairing it, and proclaiming the car's now worth $12,000.)

Where the Senators were one out away from banking a farewell win against the Yankees. Where behemoth first baseman Frank Howard brought the heartsick RFK Stadium crowd to nuclear level leading off what proved a four-run, game-tying fifth with a home run off the back wall of the left field bullpen. Where Senators reliever Joe Grzenda was unable to pitch to Yankee second baseman Horace Clarke after two swift outs and save a 7-5 win for fellow reliever Paul Lindblad, because the fans finally lost it, swarming and decimating the field and the scoreboard.

Grzenda, who died last year, somehow kept the ball he would have pitched to Clarke. It finally traveled from the RFK Stadium mound to the plate — on Opening Day 2004, after a different round of baseball leadership mischief turned the Montreal Expos into the Nationals. Grzenda was invited to throw the ball for a ceremonial first pitch, but he handed the job instead to then-President George W. Bush. The same Bush who once co-owned the Rangers. The ball took as many years to travel at last from the mound to the plate as the number (33) on the back of Frank Howard's uniform.

Senators radio broadcaster Ron Menchine spent half his air time from mid-game to the bitter end ripping the league for allowing the move. (He called those owners cowards once or twice.) But what he said near the end about the field-rioting fans said only too much, too well. "It's a shame they couldn't have waited for one more out."

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