Thursday, October 1, 2009

There's Only One October, and It Is Pinstriped

Believe it or not, there was a time when the World Series began in September.

In both 1932 and 1955, it began on September 28.

September 28, 1955: Game 1 of the World Series at Yankee Stadium. The Yankees defeat the Brooklyn Dodgers, but Jackie Robinson steals home plate. And after 54 years, Yogi Berra still says Jackie was out. Whitey Ford, who was pitching at the time, also says Jackie was out. In the last few years of his life, Phil Rizzuto said he had the best view of it from shortstop, and Jackie was safe. Not content with this answer, the Scooter's fellow Queens native Ford looked it up, and the Yankee shortstop that day was Jerry Coleman, not Rizzuto. Oh well.

September 28 sports-themed birthdays: 1930s heavyweight champ and Joe Louis nemesis Max Schmeling, Eight Men Out director John Sayles, Hall of Fame football receiver turned right-wing Congressman Steve Largent, Hall of Fame hockey goaltender Grant Fuhr, 2-time Devils and 1-time Red Wings Stanley Cup defenseman Brian Rafalski, Flyers goalie Ray Emery, Connecticut basketball star Emeka Okafor and Nationals 3rd baseman Ryan Zimmerman.

September 29, 1954: Game 1 of the World Series at the Polo Grounds. The Giants and Cleveland Indians are tied 2-2 in the top of the 8th, and have runners on first and second, when Vic Wertz hits a ball 460 feet (or so the legend says, it may have been more like 440, not that this makes a huge difference in how amazing the play was) to dead center field at the bathtub-shaped ballpark, and Willie Mays catches it over his shoulder, and throws back to the infield to keep Larry Doby from advancing only from 2nd to 3rd.

In the bottom of the 10th, James "Dusty" Rhodes pinch-hits, and hits the ball maybe 260 feet -- but it bounces off the hand of a fan in the upper deck and falls back onto the field. Home run. (No, it's not a "Jeffrey Maier" situation: The fan was in his seat, not reaching over. As short as the home run was, by the rules in place in that crazy ballpark, the homer was legit.) Giants 5, Indians 2.

The Giants go on to sweep the Series, defeating an Indians team that won 111 games, an American League record until 1998.

September 29 sports-themed birthdays: Actor, singer and Angels owner Gene Autry, Prime Minister of Italy and president of A.C. Milan Silvio Berlusconi, sportscaster Bryant Gumbel, Expos outfielder Warren Cromartie, British track Olympic Gold Medalist Sebastian Coe, Chicago Bulls star John Paxson, Hockey Hall-of-Famer Dave Andreychuk, Ukrainian soccer star (Dynamo Kiev, A.C. Milan and Chelsea) Andriy Shevchenko, Cleveland Indians outfielder Jake Westbrook and Oklahoma City Thunder prodigy Kevin Durant.

September 30 sports-themed birthdays: Chewing-gum magnate and Cubs owner William Wrigley Jr., Dodgers pitcher Johnny Podres, Dutch soccer legend Frank Rijkaard, Falcons running back Jamal "Dirty Bird" Anderson, lesser baseball brother Jeremy Giambi, Tigers slugger Carlos Guillen, tennis star Martina Hingis, American gymnast Dominque Moceanu, and football thug Adam "Pacman" Jones.


October 1, 1903: The 1st World Series game is played at the Huntington Avenue Grounds in Boston. The Pittsburgh Pirates defeat the host Boston Pilgrims, forerunners of the Red Sox, 7-3. Deacon Phillippe outpitches Cy Young, and Pirate right fielder Jimmy Sebring, a local boy from Liberty, Pennsylvania, hits the 1st-ever World Series home run. Sadly, Sebring will later contract Bright’s disease, a kidney disorder, which will kill him on December 22, 1909.

October 1, 1932: Game 3 of the World Series at Wrigley Field. It would not be for another 6 years that the familiar hand-operated scoreboard and ivy-covered outfield wall would go up. At the time, Wrigley was nothing special; it was the years of history and the meetings of other contemporary ballparks with the wrecking ball, every bit as much as the press releases of Philip K. Wrigley and the prose of Jack Brickhouse and Ernie Banks, that made it the beloved "Friendly Confines." After launching a few shots in batting practice, Babe Ruth says, "I'd play for half my salary if I could play in this dump all the time." Nobody doubted that it was a dump, or that a great slugger would love to play there.

The Cubs had Rogers Hornsby, Hack Wilson, Gabby Hartnett and Riggs Stephenson -- the 1st 3 are in the Hall of Fame and the 4th probably would be if his career hadn't been shortened by injuries.

In the top of the 5th, with the game tied 4-4 and Ruth and Lou Gehrig having both already homered, Cub pitcher Charlie Root gets a 2-2 count on the Babe. The Babe makes some sort of gesture -- even with a home movie of this game having been found, it's hard to tell exactly what he meant -- and then hits a tremendous blast to dead center field. It becomes known as Babe Ruth's Called Shot, and the Yankees win the game 13-5 and finish off the sweep the next day.

Did the Babe really call his shot? He gave contradictory answers over the rest of his life. It's almost certain he didn't point to the center-field stands and say something like, "I'm going to hit the ball there." But, equally certain, he pointed at pitcher Root and said something, sending some kind of message, and then made it stand up with that homer. So, by my defintion (obviously biased since I'm a Yankee Fan), he did call his shot.

October 1, 1945: Rod Carew is born. Member of the Hall of Fame and the 3,000 Hit Club. Number 29 retired by both the Minnesota Twins and the team known when he played for them as the California Angels. Although raised in New York, he was the 1st native of Panama elected to the Hall. Mariano Rivera will almost certainly be the 2nd. (I don't see him doing anything to disgrace the game and blow his near-certain chance, nor do I see any other Panamanian sneaking in ahead of him.)

October 1, 1949, 60 years ago today: The Yankees have led the American League race for most of the season, but have blown a 12-game lead over the Boston Red Sox. That's right, the Yankees choked to the Red Sox. As the schedulemaker would have it, the last two games of the season are at Yankee Stadium, the Yanks hosting the Sox. The Yanks have to win both to win the Pennant: If the Sox win either, they win, and go on to face either the Brooklyn Dodgers or the St. Louis Cardinals in the World Series.

It is Joe DiMaggio Day: After a season that saw him miss the first two months with a heel injury, come back with a flourish of 4 home runs in 3 games against the Sox -- including his brother and fellow All-Star center fielder, Dom DiMaggio -- at Fenway Park, the Yankee Clipper has been sick the last few days, dealing with pneumonia. He looks thin and tired. A crowd of 69,551 turns out, more than turned out for Lou Gehrig Day in 1939, more than turned out for Babe Ruth Day in 1947, more than can fit in any current big-league ballpark -- even if the tarps are taken off the upper deck at the Marlins/Dolphins stadium in the Miami suburbs.

With broadcaster Mel Allen as master of ceremonies, Joe receives lots of gifts, and cash which goes to some charities he patronizes. He says, "I want to thank my fans, my friends, my manager Casey Stengel, my teammates, the gamest, fightingest bunch of guys that ever lived. And I want to thank the Good Lord for making me a Yankee."

About half a century later, that last line is later placed on a sign leading from the Yankee clubhouse to the dugout. Derek Jeter asked for that sign after the old Stadium closed, and, as the closest thing the Yankees have had to DiMaggio since, he got it.

In the game, Mel Parnell outduels Allie Reynolds, and the Sox jump out to a 4-0 lead. Joe Page comes in to relieve for the Yankees, and holds them to one hit over the last 6 2/3 innings. DiMaggio doubles to start a 4th-inning rally that makes it 4-2, and gains an infield hit to tie the game in the 5th. Left fielder Johnny Lindell hits a home run off Boston reliever Joe Dobson in the 8th, and Page finishes the job. Yankees 5, Red Sox 4. Tomorrow the Pennant will be decided between these 2 teams. A rivalry is being born.


October 1, 1950: The Philadelphia Phillies win their first National League Pennant in 35 years, on a 10th-inning home run by right fielder Dick Sisler, son of Hall-of-Famer George Sisler, into the left-field stands at Ebbets Field, beating the Brooklyn Dodgers. A Dodger win would have forced a Playoff for the Pennant.

The Dodgers almost scored the winning run in the bottom of the 9th, but left fielder Cal Abrams ran too wide an arc coming around 3rd base, and Phils center fielder Richie Ashburn threw him out at the plate. Abrams would be remembered as a Dodger goat. For one year and two days, until Ralph Branca threw an ill-advised fastball to Bobby Thomson.

This was the last National League Pennant won by an all-white team, and the Phillies would also go on to become the last NL team to integrate, with an infielder named John Kennedy in 1957.

October 1, 1953: Pete Falcone is born. Like Sandy Koufax, he was a lefthanded pitcher who graduated from Lafayette High School in Brooklyn. Unlike Koufax, he never did learn how to pitch properly at the major league level.

He pitched for the Mets from 1979 to 1982, and had this nasty habit of walking batters with the bases loaded. I remember watching a game on WOR-Channel 9 with my father, and seeing Falcone walk 2 batters with the bags juiced. From that point on, walking someone with ducks on the pond became "pulling a Falcone."

I thought of Falcone when Kenny Rogers ended the Mets' amazin' Playoff run of 1999 against the Atlanta Braves with a bases-loaded, Pennant-losing walk of Andruw Jones. I've barely thought of him since. Nevertheless, let the record show that on May 1, 1980, he tied a record by striking out the game's 1st 6 batters. But the Mets didn't hit for him, and he ended up losing to the Phillies, 2-1. That's a Mets game for you.

October 1, 1961: 61 in '61. Phil Rizzuto had the call on WPIX-Channel 11: "Hit deep to right, this could be it! Way back there! Holy cow, he did it! Sixty-one for Maris! And look at the fight for that ball out there! Holy cow, what a shot! Another standing ovation for Roger Maris, and they're still fighting for that ball out there, climbing over each other's backs. One of the greatest sights I've ever seen here at Yankee Stadium."

To this day, while Ken Griffey Jr. and Ryan Howard have both gotten to 58, no other Major League Baseball player has hit 61 home runs. Not honestly, anyway. The record still belongs to Roger Maris, and if Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa and Barry Bonds don't like me saying that, then the lying, cheating bastards can sue my Pinstriped ass. And then they'll have to say, under oath, that they didn't cheat.

October 1, 1973: John Thomson is born. No relation to Bobby Thomson, he pitched briefly for the Mets in 2002, but has been out of the game since 2007.

October 1, 1975: The Thrilla in Manila. For the 3rd time, Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier fight. It is an epic. Frazier hits Ali so hard in the 10th round, Ali later describes it as the closest to death he's ever felt.

He survives it, and in the 13th, he knocks Frazier's mouthpiece out, sending it flying out of not just his mouth but all the way out of the ring. Another Ali flurry in the 14th, and, despite Smokin' Joe's protestations that he can go on and fight the 15th and final round, trainer Eddie Futch, sensing his man may be hurt worse than he's letting on, says, "The fight's over, Joe," and throws in the towel. Ali, victorious but exhausted, rises from his stool to claim the victory, and then collapses.

Both men should have retired after that fight. Neither did. Sometimes, a boxer's most dangerous opponent is himself.

October 1, 1981: Johnny Oduya is born. He has never played professional baseball, but he is one of my favorite players on my favorite hockey team, the New Jersey Devils. Not because he's a good player (although, sometimes, he is), but mainly because I like saying his name, pronounced like, "Oh, do ya?" He is half-Kenyan and half-Swedish, born in Sweden and a citizen of that nation.

I've often tried to figure out how a black man could come from Sweden, but then, Sweden's top soccer player is the former Inter Milan, now Barcelona, star Zlatan Ibrahimovic. He's half-Bosnian, half-Croatian, and his parents moved to Sweden after they married.

October 1, 1984: Walter Alston dies at age 73. Hall of Fame manager for the Dodgers, winning the World Series in Brooklyn in 1955 and in Los Angeles in 1959, 1963 and 1965, plus additional National League Pennants in 1956, 1966 and 1974. Number 24 retired.


October 1, 2007: A Playoff for the National League Wild Card is held at Coors Field in Denver, between the surging host Colorado Rockies and the collapsing San Diego Padres. One thing that is often forgotten about this game is that, early on, a Colorado drive hit a seat beyond the outfield fence, fair, and bounced back onto the field, but was called a double instead of a home run. If the correct call had been made then, the game would not have gone into extra innings, and the controversial call that ended the game would never have happened.

In the top of the 13th, Scott Hairston hit a home run to put the Padres up 8-6. But in the bottom of the inning, Kazuo Matsui led off with a double, followed by a double from Troy Tulowitzki to make it 8-7. Matt Holliday tripled Tulowitzki home to tie it. After an intentional walk, Jamey Carroll came to the plate, and flied out, but Holliday tagged up at third, and slid across the plate. Plate umpire Tim McClelland called him safe, and the Rockies had a 9-8 victory and their first appearance in the postseason proper in 12 years. Replays suggest that Holliday never touched the plate and should have been called out, but – keep in mind, this is Denver vs. San Diego, so I don’t have a dog in the fight – it’s always looked to me like he really was safe.

It is October. Let the fun begin.

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