Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Whitey Ford: An Appreciation; October 7 Anniversaries


October 7, 1950: Game 4 of the World Series. Rookie lefthander Eddie Ford, with 9th inning help from Allie Reynolds, beats the Philadelphia Phillies 5-2, as the Yankees complete the sweep. Coleman wins the Babe Ruth Award as the Series Most Valuable Player.

Ford and the Phillies’ center fielder Richie Ashburn both have very light blond hair that gets them nicknamed “Whitey.” In Ashburn’s case, even that was a shortening, of “The White Mouse.” Ford will be drafted into the Army and spend the 1951 and ’52 seasons in the Korean War, but when he comes back in ’53, he will be at the top of his game, and he will be “Whitey” from then on.

In contrast, most Phillies fans did not yet know Ashburn as “Whitey,” but his friends did. The nickname became more familiar as he became a broadcaster, with partner Harry Kalas calling him “Whitey” and referring to him, when he’s not there, as “His Whiteness.”

The Phils are nicknamed “the Whiz Kids” because they have the youngest average age of any Pennant-winner ever, 23. Ashburn would later say that they figured they had enough time to win a few more Pennants.

But mismanagement, and the success of the team the Phils edged to win the Pennant, the Brooklyn Dodgers, meant that, by the time the Phils did win another Pennant, Ashburn was in the booth, and the Phils’ biggest stars would be men who were small children in 1950: 9-year-old Pete Rose, 6-year-old Steve Carlton and Tug McGraw, 2-year-old Mike Schmidt, and a child who would not be born until a few weeks after the 1950 World Series, Greg Luzinski.

There are 4 players from the 1950 Yankees' World Series roster who are still alive: Ford, catchers Yogi Berra and Charlie Silvera, and 3rd baseman Bobby Brown.

October 7, 1964, 50 years ago: Game 1 of the World Series. Whitey Ford develops a problem with his elbow, and has to leave the game in the 6th inning, after giving up a home run to Mike Shannon and a double to Tim McCarver. Before Al Downing can finish the inning, the Cardinals have scored 4 runs, and win the game 9-5.

Whitey had appeared in 22 Series games, winning 10 and losing 8, all records that still stand. But he would never appear in another: His injury kept him out of the rest of the '64 Series, and the Yankees didn't make it back until 1976.

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Whitey Ford has never gotten the credit he deserves -- not during his career, when he was always overshadowed by Mickey Mantle, Yogi Berra and Roger Maris; and not in the 50 years since his last World Series appearance. I want to do this piece while he's still alive and (last I saw) well.

Yes, he was the first Yankee pitcher to get his number retired (16, upon his election to the Hall of Fame in 1974). And, yes, he was, along with Lefty Gomez, the first Yankee pitcher to get a Monument Park Plaque (in 1987).

But fans under the age of 55 have never seen him pitch, except in Old-Timers' Games. Fans whose memories begin with the Torre/Jeter/Rivera era haven't even seen him do that. They don't get just how good he was, just how important he was.

Edward Charles Ford was born on October 21, 1928, in Manhattan, and grew up in western Queens, in Long Island City and Astoria. My grandmother was a Dodger fan, and she hated the Yankees. Hated Yogi. Hated Mickey. Really hated manager Casey Stengel. But there were 2 Yankees she loved: Phil Rizzuto and Whitey Ford. She loved that they were little guys (Whitey was 5-foot-10 and usually listed as 178, 4 inches taller and maybe 25 pounds heavier than Rizzuto), and she loved that they kept their cool under pressure. (She always hated hotheads, meaning the Yankee she hated the most was Billy Martin.) I suspect that there was a 3rd reason: She loved that they were, like her, from Queens.

Whitey gave 2 different versions as to why he signed with the Yankees. To Peter Golenbock, in an interview for Dynasty -- Golenbock's tribute to the 1949-64 Yankees and his totally unveiled rebuttal to Dodger fan Roger Kahn's statement in The Boys of Summer that, "You may glory in a team triumphant, but you fall in love with a team in defeat" -- he said that the Giants offered him a $5,000 signing bonus, and the Yankees offered him $6,000. Golenbock asked, "So if the Giants had offered you $7,000, you would have signed with the Giants? Whitey said, "Yes."

But he's said on other occasions that his dream was to play for the Yankees -- as a 1st baseman. He must have been a huge fan of Lou Gehrig. "But when they saw me hit," he once said, "they decided my future was as a pitcher."

He made his big-league debut on July 1, 1950, at Fenway Park, in relief of Tommy Byrne. Byrne had gotten rocked, and Whitey couldn't stop the bleeding. The Red Sox beat the Yankees 13-4.

But Casey must have seen something, because, 5 days later, on July 6, he started Ford at Yankee Stadium against the Philadelphia Athletics. It wasn't a very strong performance, allowing 4 runs in 7 innings, but the Yankees won, 5-4. It started him off on a streak, winning his 1st 9 big-league decisions, before finally losing 1. He finished 2nd in the American League's Rookie of the Year voting, behind Walt Dropo, who had homered off Byrne in Ford's debut, and whose 34 homers and 144 RBIs really did justify it.

After 2 years serving in the U.S. Army during the Korean War, Whitey returned to the Yankees in 1953, and for the next 12 years was as good a pitcher as you'll ever see. Switching from the 19 (and, briefly before that, 18) that he'd worn in his rookie year, he switched to Number 16, and no other Yankee would ever wear it again. He helped the Yankees win the Series that year, their 5th in a row. "That was always my favorite World Series ring," he once said. "It had a Number 5 on it." The diamond was in the round part of the 5.

He led the AL in wins 3 times, winning percentage 3 times, ERA twice, complete games and shutouts once each. He was named to the All-Star Game in 8 seasons. When the Cy Young Award was first awarded, to players in both Leagues, in 1956, he finished 3rd behind Don Newcombe of the Dodgers and Sal Maglie.

But Casey never used Whitey right. He would move him up or back in the rotation, to face a tougher team. As a result, under Casey, he won 19, 18 twice, and 16 twice, but never 20. And in the 1960 World Series, he pitched Whitey in Games 3 and 6, instead of 1, 4 and 7. His best big-game pitcher, and he didn't give him 3 World Series games? That, as much as anything else, cost the Yanks the Series, and Casey his job.

Before the 1961 season, Whitey was at a fight card at the old Madison Square Garden, and new manager Ralph Houk was there. "How would you like to pitch every 4th day?" Houk asked. "I'd love to!" said Whitey. And he did, fitness permitting, for the next 6 years. Whitey's 1st 4 seasons under Houk: 25-4, 17-8, 24-7 and 17-6. That's 83 wins, against 25 losses, in just 4 seasons.

Whitey won the Cy Young Award in 1961 -- still a both-Leagues award until 1967. In 1961, he was asked about "breaking the record." What record? Babe Ruth's record of 29 2/3 consecutive innings pitched. Whitey didn't know such a record existed, and he didn't know the Babe was a pitcher! He broke the record, and, musing on that and Roger Maris' 61 homers breaking the record of 60, said, "It was a tough year for the Babe."

By 1963, Whitey has admitted, he had begun cheating. He would use his wedding ring to scuff the baseball. And his catcher, Elston Howard, would use the edge of his shinguards to do the same. You know the old saying: "It ain't cheatin' if you don't get caught." Whitey and Ellie never got caught.

Whitey developed a problem with his circulation, and from that 1964 Series lid-lifter onward, he hardly pitched without pain again. But he did win those 10 World Series games: Game 4 in 1950, Games 1 and 6 in 1955, Game 3 in 1956, Game 1 in 1957, Games 3 and 6 in 1960, Game 1 and 4 in 1961 (named Series MVP), and Game 1 in 1962 (when his streak finally ended at 33 2/3 consecutive scoreless innings -- while Mariano Rivera got to 34 straight in postseason play, Whitey still holds the World Series record).

With his circulation worsening, he couldn't pitch a 2nd inning at Tiger Stadium on May 21, 1967, and was replaced by an also-injured and very unprepared Jim Bouton. The Yankees lost to the Detroit Tigers 9-4. Whitey then retired. He spent some time as the Yankees' pitching coach, and then was elected to the Hall of Fame in his 2nd season of eligibility, 1974, allowing him to go in with Mantle, who was in his 1st.

He won 236 games, surpassing Red Ruffing as the all-time Yankee leader, and still ranks 1st. He lost only 106, for a winning percentage of .690. That percentage is not only the highest of any pitcher with at least 318 decisions (only Spud Chandler and Al Spalding, who fattened his stats on the weakness of the 1871-75 National Association, are ahead of him), but it's actually better than his team: As good as the Yankees of 1950 and 1953 to 1964 were, Whitey made them better.

His career ERA was 2.75. That's the lowest of any starting pitcher in the post-1920 Lively Ball Era. (Clayton Kershaw is currently at 2.48, but we haven't seen his career decline yet, and I will bet you right now that he finishes higher than 2.75.) His ERA+ was 133, making him a full one-third better at preventing runs than the average pitcher of his time. His WHIP was 1.215. His ERA and WHIP were actually lower in Series play: 2.71 and 1.137 against the best that the National League had to offer.

Broadcaster Mel Allen nicknamed him "The Chairman of the Board." It was fitting, not only because he had a commanding presence on the mound, and because it rhymed with his name, but because it was also one of the nicknames of Frank Sinatra, and Whitey was a huge fan of his.

So who is the greatest pitcher in Yankee history: Whitey Ford, or Mariano Rivera? It's a tough call. Whitey kept winning for 12 years straight, while Mariano kept saving for longer. You could argue that, with an ordinary starter in place of Whitey, the Yankees would still have won some Pennants, but would they have won 11 Pennants and 6 World Series? And that, with a closer who was merely very good instead of Mariano, the Yankees would still have made the Playoffs in most of those seasons, but would they have won 7 Pennants and 5 World Series?

For those of you who aren't old enough to have seen Whitey pitch (and I'm not), think about this: The very fact that there I'm putting into question that a Yankee pitcher might have been better, or more valuable, than the shining Mariano Rivera should tell you just what a gem Whitey Ford was. And, since he's still alive, is. Presuming he lives another 2 weeks, he'll be 86 years old.

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October 7, 1871: The Great Chicago Fire breaks out at 10:00 in the evening. As the Rockford baseball club travels toward Chicago the next day‚ they see the glow of the fire‚ turn around and return home. Chicago loses its ballpark and all equipment in the fire. The White Stockings are leading in the National Association Pennant race, and must defeat the Troy Haymakers (representing the Albany region) in their remaining 3 games to clinch.

October 7, 1885: The Providence Grays sweep a doubleheader from the Buffalo Bisons, 4-0 and 6-1 at Olympic Park in Buffalo. Fred Shaw wins both games for the Grays, pitching a no-hitter in the opener.

These are the last 2 games ever played by these franchises, who are both struggling for cash. Only 12 fans pay admission, as Buffalo, as it so often is, turns out to be cold in October.

Never again has a major league baseball team played in the State of Rhode Island. And, unless you count the Federal League of 1914-15, never again has a major league baseball team represented Buffalo or any other city in the State of New York, other than the City of New York.

Although Buffalo has an NFL team and an NHL team, and it has an in-city population of 261,000 that isn’t that much less than those of St. Louis, Pittsburgh and Cincinnati, its metropolitan area population of 1,135,000 ranks it 51st among American metro areas. The current smallest area with an MLB team, Milwaukee, has nearly twice as many: A little over 2 million. If you count Canadian cities, Buffalo drops to 56th.

Providence? It has 178,000 people, and while its metro count of 1,600,000 isn’t that far behind Milwaukee, it’s usually included within Boston’s area. Providence is, for this reason, the home of Boston’s Triple-A baseball (well, Pawtucket is) and hockey teams, and the NFL team is actually slightly closer to Kennedy Plaza in Providence than to Downtown Crossing in Boston.

But Providence ain’t getting another MLB team, and Buffalo will never get any closer than it did in 1991, when it was one of 5 finalists for the 2 that began play in 1993.

October 7, 1899: The Brooklyn Superbas clobber their arch-rivals, the New York Giants, 13-2 at home at Washington Park, to win the NL Pennant, and thus the unofficial World Championship of baseball.

October 7, 1902: Perhaps the first all-star game in North American sports is played at Exposition Park in Pittsburgh — the Pirates’ current stadium, PNC Park, is built roughly on the site. Sam Leever and the Pirates, including the great Honus Wagner, beat a team of American League all-stars‚ with Cy Young as the losing pitcher, 4-3.

October 7, 1904: Jack Chesbro pitches the New York Highlanders to a 3-2 win over the Boston Americans (Red Sox) for his 41st victory of the season — a record under the post-1893 pitching distance of 60 feet 6 inches that ain’t never gonna be broken unless there’s a major change in the way pitching is done.

The win gives New York a half-game lead over Boston. But the season will not end well for the Highlanders in general and Chesbro in particular.

October 7, 1908: The New York Giants complete a 3-game sweep away to the Boston Doves (forerunners of the Braves, and named for their owner, the brothers George and John Dovey), winning the finale‚ 7-2. The National League season ends with the Giants and the Chicago Cubs each 98-55‚ and the Pirates 98-56, half a game back. The September 23 game between the Giants and the Cubs, declared a tie after Fred Merkle's "Boner" cost the Giants the winning run, will be held tomorrow at the Polo Grounds.

Just up the block from the Polo Grounds, but at the other end of the competitive spectrum, the Highlanders close out the season losing 1-0 in 11 innings to young budding star Walter Johnson and the Washington Senators. It is the 103rd loss of the season for the Yankees-to-be, and it remains a club record.

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October 7, 1911: With just 1‚000 fans on hand at the Polo Grounds‚ and with the Pennant already clinched, Giant manager John McGraw finally listens to the appeals of Charles Victor “Victory” Faust, who’d told McGraw that a fortune teller had told him that if he pitched for the Giants, they’d win the Pennant.

Faust is sent to the mound in the 9th inning against the Boston Rustlers (the Doves having been renamed for new owner, William H. Russell)‚ allowing a hit and a run in a 5-2 loss. Faust also hits‚ circling the bases for a score as the Rustlers, in on the joke, deliberately throw wildly.

Faust will reprise his act on October 12th against Brooklyn: He allows a hit in his one inning; is hit by a pitch and then steals 2nd base and 3rd base‚ and scores on a grounder.

In the next few weeks, Russell will die. The team is purchased by James Gaffney, an officer in New York’s Tammany Hall political organization. They are known as “Braves,” and the Boston team is so named.

The team carries the name to this day, although they are now in Atlanta. Braves Field is built in 1915, and one of the bordering streets is still named Gaffney Street. Boston University’s Nickerson Field complex was built on the site, with the right-field pavilion of Braves Field still standing as the home stand. An NFL team named the Boston Braves will also play there, changing its name, to avoid confusion, to the Redskins. They will move to Washington in 1937.

October 7, 1914, 100 years ago: The Indianapolis Hoosiers defeat the St. Louis Terriers, 4-0 at Federal League Park in Indianapolis, and win the 1st Federal League Pennant. However, their 4-2 win over the Terriers the next day will turn out to be the last Major League Baseball game ever played in the State of Indiana -- if, that is, you consider the FL to have been a "major league." (MLB did not then, but it does now.) Financial losses lead them to be moved to Harrison, New Jersey, where they will become the Newark Peppers.

On the same day, at Fenway Park, the Senators and Red Sox wind up the season in a meaningless game. Washington manager Clark Griffith, age 45, makes his final mound appearance‚ while Boston's star center fielder Tris Speaker does the only pitching of his career‚ giving up a run in an inning. Babe Ruth‚ in relief of starter Hugh Bedient‚ pitches 3 innings for Boston.

October 7, 1918: Robert Gustave “Bun” Troy‚ born in Bad Wurzach, Baden-Württemberg, Germany‚ who pitched in (and lost) 1 game for the 1912 Detroit Tigers, fighting for his new country against his old one in World War I, is killed in battle in Meuse‚ France. He was a Sergeant in the Army's 80th Infantry Division, a.k.a. the Blue Ridge Division. There is no mention of this single-day Tiger's service, in baseball or in the Army, at Comerica Park.

October 7, 1919: Game 6 of the World Series. The Chicago White Sox, down 4 games to 1 in this best-5-out-of-9 Series, must win 4 straight to win. Swede Risberg makes 2 errors, Happy Felsch 1 -- holding up their end of their corrupt bargain. But Shoeless Joe Jackson, on the take, and Buck Weaver, who refused to take part, combined for 7 hits, and Dickie Kerr, who had won Game 3, wins again, as the White Sox top the Cincinnati Reds 4-0.

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October 7, 1922: With the questionable calling of Game 2 due to “darkness” in mind, Commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis insists that Game 4 be played, despite a heavy rain. Again, one big inning, a 4-run 4th off Yankee pitcher Carl Mays, is enough for Hugh McQuillan of the Giants to squeeze out a 4-3 win. Aaron Ward’s 2nd homer of the Series is all the long-ball clout the Yankees will display.

Mays’s brief collapse today‚ coupled with his 2 losses in the 1921 Series‚ and with the 1919 Series still fresh in fans' memories, leads to rumors that he took money to throw the games. The accusations will persist for decades.

October 7, 1925: Christy Mathewson dies of tuberculosis at the health-spa town of Saranac Lake‚ New York‚ at the age of 45. At the time of his death, the Giant pitching legend was part owner and president of the Boston Braves. Later in the day, as word reaches Forbes Field in Pittsburgh, the flag is lowered to half-staff, and will remain so there and at Griffith Stadium in opposing Washington for the remainder of the Series. Commissioner Landis orders that black armbands be applied to both teams' uniforms, even though Mathewson had never been involved with either the Pirates or the Senators.

October 7, 1927: Game 3 of the World Series. The 60‚695 on hand at Yankee Stadium see the Yankees’ Herb Pennock take an 8-0 lead and a perfect game into the 8th against the Pirates. He retires Glenn Wright‚ the 22nd straight batter‚ but Harold “Pie” Traynor, the Bucs’ Hall of Fame 3rd baseman, breaks the spell with a single‚ and Clyde Barnhart doubles him home. Pennock settles for a 3-hit 8-1 victory.

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October 7, 1931: Game 5 of the World Series. Philadelphia Athletics manager Connie Mack, who surprised everyone in 1929 by starting veteran Howard Ehmke in the Series opener, tries the ploy against the St. Louis Cardinals with former Yankee Waite Hoyt. Pitching in his 7th Series, Hoyt falls victim to Pepper Martin, who homers and drives in 4 runs with 3 hits. Hallahan wins for the Cards 5-1.

October 7, 1933: Prior to Game 5 of the World Series‚ at Griffith Stadium in Washington, flags are at half staff to honor William L. Veeck‚ president of the Chicago Cubs, who died suddenly. He is not well remembered with the passage of more than 80 years, but his son, Bill Veeck, already working in the Cubs’ front office, will become one of baseball’s most remarkable men.

In the meantime, the Series comes to a close when Mel Ott homers in the top of the 10th inning for a 4-3 Giants victory. Adolfo “Dolf” Luque, Cuban but light-skinned enough to play in the majors of the time, gets the win in relief. The Giants are World Champs for the 4th time, tying the Yankees and the Philadelphia Athletics for the most all-time.

This remains, 81 years later, the last World Series game played by a Washington team, let alone in the District of Columbia. Ya think the Nationals now wish they’d let Stephen Strasburg pitch just one inning in the 2012 NL Division Series? One very particular inning?

October 7, 1935: Game 6 of the World Series, at Navin Field (later renamed Briggs Stadium and Tiger Stadium) in Detroit. Stan Hack of the Cubs leads off the top of the 9th inning with a triple, but his teammates can't bring him home. In the bottom of the 9th, Goose Goslin singles home his catcher and manager, Mickey Cochrane, to win 4-3, giving Detroit its 1st World Championship in any sport.

This will quickly be followed by the Lions winning the 1935 NFL Championship, the Red Wings winning the 1936 and 1937 Stanley Cups, and Alabama-born, Detroit-raised boxer Joe Louis winning the Heavyweight Championship of the World in 1937.

October 7, 1940: Game 6 of the World Series. Bucky Walters pitches a 5-hit shutout at Crosley Field, and becomes the 1st pitcher in 14 years to hit a Series home run. The Cincinnati Reds beat the Tigers 4-0.

October 7, 1947: A day after the Yankees won the World Series, Del Webb and Dan Topping buy out the shares of the other part-owner, Larry MacPhail, who was also the general manager. MacPhail had ruined the postgame party the night before with a drunken tirade.

Although he had brought lights and local radio broadcasts to baseball, built a winner in Cincinnati, saved the Brooklyn Dodgers from bankruptcy and built them into a winner, and gave the Yankees their 1st organizational steps forward since Yankee Stadium opened, he never worked in baseball again, because of his erratic behavior. As was said of the Roaring Redhead, "With no drinks, he was beautiful. With one drink, he was brilliant. With two drinks, he was impossible. And he rarely stopped with two." And he would die before his election to the Baseball Hall of Fame. But his son Lee and grandson Andy would become prominent baseball executives, with Lee joining Larry as the only father and son ever both elected to the Hall.

October 7, 1949: Game 3 of the World Series. Ralph Branca pitches pretty well for the Dodgers, until the 9th inning. With the score tied 1-1, Johnny Mize hits a 2-run pinch-hit single, and Jerry Coleman drives in another run. The Dodgers get homers from Roy Campanella and Luis Olmo in the bottom of the 9th, but both were solo jobs, and the Yankees win 4-3, to take a 2 games to 1 lead in the Series.

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October 7, 1952: In the decisive Game 7, the Yankees beat the Dodgers at Ebbets Field, 4-2, to win their 4th consecutive World Championship, their 15th overall. The Dodgers still haven’t won a World Series — the idea that “Next Year” will come is getting more and more frustrating.

This game was highlighted by the Dodgers loading the bases in the bottom of the 7th. Yankee manager Casey Stengel had already used each of his “Big Three”: Vic Raschi, Eddie Lopat, and now Allie Reynolds. He calls on the lefty reliever who had closed out the previous year’s Series, Bob Kuzava.

He gets Jackie Robinson to pop the ball up, but the late afternoon sun is peeking through the decks of Ebbets Field, and nobody sees the ball! Nobody except 2nd baseman Billy Martin, who dashes in, and catches the ball at his knee to end the threat.

It was the first time Billy would ruin Dodger hopes. The last time he did so, it would be as a manager, and the Dodgers would represent Los Angeles.

Gil Hodges finishes the Fall Classic hitless in 21 at-bats, which had prompted some Brooklyn fans, some fellow Catholics, some not, to gather at local churches asking for divine help for their beloved 1st baseman. Fortunately, Dodger owner Walter O’Malley, mean old man that he is, is not George Steinbrenner, and doesn’t do what George did to Dave Winfield following his 1-for-21 performance in the ’81 Series against the L.A. edition of the Dodgers: Call him “Mr. May,” in comparison to “Mr. October,” Reggie Jackson.

There are 3 players from the 1952 Yankees' World Series roster who are still alive: Berra, Kuzava and Silvera. Brown had started the season with the Yankees, but by October, he, like Ford, was in the Army as part of the Korean War.

October 7, 1957: Lew Burdette beats the Yankees in Game 5, his 2nd win of the Series, a brilliant 1-0 shutout to give the Milwaukee Braves a 3-2 Series lead.

The day gets worse for New York baseball, as the Los Angeles City Council approves the Chavez Ravine site for Dodger Stadium by a vote of 10 to 4. The Giants had already announced their move to San Francisco, and now the Dodgers’ move was inevitable. It was announced the next day.

Apparently, finally winning the World Series in 1955 and another Pennant in 1956 couldn’t save them.

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October 7, 1961: Game 3 of the World Series. Bob Purkey of the Reds lasts into the 9th inning with a 2-2 tie, but Roger Maris leads off with a home run -- an unofficial 62nd homer for him that season. The Yankees win, 3-2, and take a 2 games to 1 lead in the Series.

Most of NBC's World Series footage from 1947 to 1970 has been lost. Somehow, the 9th inning of this game has survived. Note that Mel Allen gives a recap of the scoring as Maris steps up to bat, since instant replay was still 2 years away from being invented. (CBS would debut it at the 1963 Army-Navy Game.) At about the 6:15 mark, you can see the Reds' bullpen in foul territory, and the famous "incline" in deep left field at Crosley Field. You'll also notice that the Reds fans gave a nice hand to Maris as he trotted around the bases, even though he hit the home run that may have just beaten them -- a better reception than he got for some of his Yankee Stadium homers that year. They still, however, cheered when Purkey struck out the next batter, Mickey Mantle. And Mel's broadcast partner, Joe Garagiola, was Yogi Berra's across-the-street neighbor growing up in St. Louis, and has insight into him as he bats.

October 7, 1965: Game 2 of the World Series. Having Don Drysdale lose to the Minnesota Twins the day before, because Sandy Koufax wouldn't pitch on Yom Kippur, the Los Angeles Dodgers need Koufax to pitch well today. But Jim Kaat pitches even better, and helps his own cause with 2 RBIs, as the Twins beat the Dodgers 5-1 at Metropolitan Stadium. The Bums are in a big hole as they head back to L.A.

October 7, 1968: Mickey Lolich saves the Tigers‚ winning Game 5, 5-3 over the Cardinals, with an unlikely assist from Lou Brock. On 2nd base in the 5th‚ Brock, normally one of the game’s greatest baserunners, tries to score standing up on Julian Javier’s single, and is gunned down by Willie Horton’s throw from left field. Al Kaline’s bases-loaded single off Joe Hoerner in the 7th scores 2 for the winning margin. The Tigers stay alive, but still need to win Games 6 and 7 — in St. Louis, with Bob Gibson the potential Game 7 starter.

The bigger story, at least in the short term, is Puerto Rican-born, New York-raised singer and acoustic guitar wizard Jose Feliciano’s modern rendition of “The Star-Spangled Banner.”

Born blind, Feliciano comes onto the field wearing sunglasses and being guided by a dog — both of which a lot of people consider threatening. He does no vocal hysterics like some more recent singers we could mention; he just sings the National Anthem of the country he loves and which gave him the chance to become rich and famous, but a little differently, in his own style which he calls “Latin jazz.”

In this time of the Vietnam War, race riots, assassinations and political unrest — Richard Nixon is about to be elected President in a squeaker because too many Democrats turned off by the war and the assassinations of Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy stay home and don’t vote for longtime liberal hero Hubert Humphrey — the reaction to Feliciano’s rendition is muted in the Tiger Stadium stands, and furious on telephones, talk radio and newspapers. His career stalls for 2 years, until the release of his Christmas song “Feliz Navidad.”

Tiger broadcaster Ernie Harwell, himself a published songwriter, authorized by the office of Commissioner William D. "Spike" Eckert to select Detroit’s Anthem singers for the Series, defended his choice. Ironically, the man he’d selected for Game 4 was Marvin Gaye, a superstar of Detroit’s Motown Records. Gaye sang it straight, and very nicely. In 1983, at the NBA All-Star Game, Gaye, in the midst of a big comeback that would tragically end with his death the next year, sang the Anthem gospel-style. The times had changed: His version was greeted with thunderous cheers and applause.

“Mr. Ernie” had introduced Feliciano to his wife, Susan, who grew up in Detroit. In 2010, Harwell died, and a memorial service was held at Detroit’s Comerica Park. Feliciano was invited to sing the Anthem at this service, and was wildly cheered afterward. His version was also included on The Tenth Inning, Ken Burns’ 2010 sequel to his 1994 miniseries Baseball. Listen and judge for yourself. (As I pointed out, NBC no longer has color videotape of most of the World Series prior to 1975.)

October 7, 1969: The Cardinals trade Curt Flood, Byron Browne, Joe Hoerner and Tim McCarver to the Phillies in exchange for Richie Allen, Jerry Johnson and Cookie Rojas.

Essentially, this was a "my headache for your headache" trade. Flood and McCarver had been complaining about how they were being treated by Cardinal owner Gussie Busch. And Allen was a lightning rod, who stayed out late, arrived to games late, drank too much, bet on horse races, and (however unintentionally) stirred up the racial resentments of "the City of Brotherly Love." He had also begun to insist upon being called "Dick," saying that "Richie," was "a little boy's name." On this, Phillies broadcaster and center field legend Richie Ashburn (who usually preferred "Rich" or, like Ford, "Whitey") backed him up.

As could be expected, Allen, who so badly wanted out of Philadelphia, was involved in a trade that also became controversial — except, ironically, his part in it wasn’t the controversial part. Flood, like Allen believing Philly to be a racist city (with some reason), refuses to report to Philadelphia.
The Cardinals will send Willie Montanez and a minor leaguer to complete the trade, but Flood’s courageous challenge to the reserve clause will have a dramatic impact on the game.

The Phillies will eventually get Allen back, and, having been transplanted across town to Veterans Stadium, will faced cheers as in 1964 instead of boos as in 1965 to 1969, and will help the Phils win the NL Eastern Division title in 1976. These days, he works in the Phils' front office, has beaten his drinking problem, and whenever he's introduced at Citizens Bank Park, he is thoroughly cheered.

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October 7, 1977: First 1950, then 1969, now 1977, October 7 is not a good day for baseball in the City of Brotherly Love.

It starts out as a good one: The 63,719 fans at Veterans Stadium are so loud, they force Dodger pitcher Burt Hooton to load the bases in the 2nd inning, and then walk 2 runs home. The Phils, who won 101 games (a team record not broken until 2011), look like they’re going to win this game, and will need just one more win for their 1st Pennant in 27 years, since the 1950 Whiz Kids.

But in the top of the 9th, trailing 5-3 and down to their last out, the Dodgers benefit from a sickening turn of events. Pinch hitter Vic Davalillo, a 41-year-old Venezuelan outfielder who has already retired from baseball once, shows enough guts to lay down a drag bunt, at his age, with 2 strikes, and he beats it out.

Another again Latin pinch hitter, 39-year-old Dominican Manny Mota, hits a long drive to left field. Ordinarily, Phils manager Danny Ozark would have sent Jerry Martin out to left for defensive purposes, in place of the powerful but defensively suspect Greg Luzinski. This time, he didn’t, and the Bull can only trap the ball against the fence. (In fairness, I’ve seen the play several times, and I don’t think Martin would have caught it, either, especially since he was a bit shorter than the Bull.) Luzinski throws back to the infield, but Phils 2nd baseman Ted Sizemore mishandles it, Mota goes to 3rd, and Davalillo scores. It’s 5-4 Phils, with 2 out.

Then comes one of the most brutal umpiring screwups ever. Remember, the Dodgers are still down to their last out. Davey Lopes’ grounder hits a seam in the artificial turf, and caroms off Mike Schmidt’s knee to Larry Bowa‚ and the shortstop’s throw is incorrectly ruled late. Instead of the game being over in Philly’s favor, Mota scores the tying run. The Dodgers go on to win, 6-5, and win the Pennant the next day.

In Philadelphia, the game is known as Black Friday. The umpire whose call killed the Phils? Bruce Froemming. He had already cost Milt Pappas a perfect game with a bogus ball four call in 1972 (though Pappas kept the no-hitter), and will go on to umpire for a record 37 years, with his swan song being the 2007 AL Division Series between the Yankees and the Cleveland Indians, when he, as crew chief, refused to stop the game until the Lake Erie Midges left.

October 7, 1978: The Yankees beat the Kansas City Royals for the 3rd straight year, and win their 3rd straight Pennant, their 32nd overall. Roy White, in his 14th season with the Yankees, hits a tiebreaking homer in the 6th. Graig Nettles homers and makes a sensational play at 3rd, and Ron Guidry wins for the 26th time in his remarkable season.

The NL Pennant is also decided today, and, yet again, the Phillies can't catch a break. In Game 4 of the NLCS, Ron Cey scores in the 10th inning on Bill Russell's 2-out game winning single, giving the Dodgers a 5-4 victory, and their 2nd consecutive Pennant. Cey, who walked after the first 2 batters were retired, advanced into scoring position when Garry Maddox misplayed Dusty Baker's fly ball in center field.

How odd is this? Maddox was so good in center field that he was nicknamed the Secretary of Defense. Ralph Kiner, the Pirate slugger turned Met broadcaster, said, "Two-thirds of the Earth is covered by water. The other third is covered by Garry Maddox." But on this occasion, Maddox blows it. He will, however, catch the final out of the NLCS in 1980, when the Phillies finally win the Pennant after 30 years.

October 7, 1981: For the 1st time, an MLB postseason game is played outside the United States. The Montreal Expos defeat the Phillies 3-1 in Game 1 of the strike-forced National League Eastern Division Series at the Olympic Stadium in Montreal.

October 7, 1984, 30 years ago: Game 5 of the NLCS. Winner takes the Pennant. The San Diego Padres are in their 16th season, and have never won one. The Cubs haven't won one in 39 years. Something has to give at San Diego's Jack Murphy Stadium.

The Cubs lead 3-0 going into the bottom of the 6th, but the Padres score 2 runs. Eventual NL Cy Young Award winner Rick Sutcliffe begins the bottom of the 7th by walking Carmelo Martinez. Garry Templeton bunts him over to 2nd. The batter is Tim Flannery, a good-field-no-hit 2nd baseman, pinch-hitting for pitcher Craig Lefferts (and not much of an upgrade at the plate). He hits a dribbler to 1st, and Leon Durham lets it go through his legs -- much as the man he replaced as Cub 1st baseman, Bill Buckner, will do in the World Series 2 years later. Martinez scores the tying run.

Then the Padres pile it on. Alan Wiggins singles. Tony Gwynn doubles Flannery home with the go-ahead run. Wiggins also scores on the play. And last night's Padre hero, Steve Garvey, singles home Gwynn. The score is 6-3, and it stays that way.

Of note for Yankee Fans: There were 3 members of their 1981 Pennant-winners on the Padres: Graig Nettles, Goose Gossage, and outfielder Bobby Brown (no connection to the earlier Yankee 3rd baseman of the same name). For Padre fans, it is their 1st Pennant, and the biggest moment in San Diego sports since the Chargers won the 1963 AFL Championship. For Cub fans, it is a bigger heartbreak than 1969. In 1969, it took them an entire month to melt down; in 1984, it takes less than 24 hours. (They hadn't seen nothin' yet: In 2003, it would take them 15 minutes.)

On this same day, there is big football news. Walter Payton of the Chicago Bears breaks Jim Brown's career rushing record of 12,312 yards. The Bears beat the New Orleans Saints 20-7 at Soldier Field.

*

October 7, 1995: Game 4 of the ALDS. The Yankees can win the series over the Seattle Mariners at the Kingdome tonight. But Edgar Martinez has other ideas. He breaks an 8th-inning tie with a grand slam, and the Mariners go on to win 11-10, forcing a Game 5.

The Yankees had now blown a 2-games-to-none lead, and I was thinking, "Uh-oh... "

October 7, 1998: Game 2 of the ALDS. In the top of the 12th inning, Travis Fryman bunts for the Cleveland Indians. Yankee 1st baseman Tino Martinez fields it, and throws to 2nd baseman Chuck Knoblauch covering 1st. Except the ball hits Fryman in the back, and he reaches base safetly. That would have been bad enough.

Except Knoblauch argues that Fryman ran out of the baseline -- which he had. But the ball is still loose and in play, and Enrique Wilson (later a Yankee), even though he stumbles approaching the plate, scores the go-ahead run. The Indians score 2 more runs in the inning, and win 4-1.

I had gotten up to get a drink, and missed what became known as "the Blauch-head Play." Had I seen it as it happened, I would have gone straight to Newark Airport, where the Yankees would have been heading to fly to Cleveland for the next 3 games, and beaten Knoblauch to a pulp with my bare hands.

Right, I think somebody would have stopped me. But I sure wanted to! He had put the Yankees' magnificent season in jeopardy.

October 7, 2000: Game 3 of the NLDS. Benny Agbayani’s 13th inning home run ends the longest LDS game ever played, 5 hours and 22 minutes. The dramatic round-tripper by the Mets outfielder, who (like a previous Met, Sid Fernandez) wears Number 50 because he's from Hawaii, the 50th State, gives the Mets a 3-2 victory, and a 2-games-to-1 series advantage over the San Francisco Giants.

October 7, 2001: On the last day of the regular season -- delayed a week, due to the 9/11 attacks -- Rickey Henderson, now with the Padres, bloops a double down the right-field line off John Thomson of the Colorado Rockies. It is the 3,000th hit of his career.

Tony Gwynn, who is playing in his last game, meets him at home plate, 2 members of the 3,000 Hit Club together. Gwynn retires with a .338 lifetime batting average, the highest of any player who debuted after the 1939 season. It is also the highest of any black man, whether American or Hispanic.

Also on this day, Barry Bonds extends his major league record for home runs in season to 73*, as he drives a 3-2 1st-inning knuckleball off Dodger Dennis Spriner over the right field fence. The blast also secures two more major league records * for the Giants’ left fielder, as he surpasses Babe Ruth (1920, .847) with a .863* season slugging percentage, and bests Mark McGwire (1998, one homer every 7.27 AB * ) by homering in every 6.52 at-bats *.

October 7, 2003: The Marlins defeat the Cubs‚ 9-8‚ on Mike Lowell's pinch-hit homer in the 11th inning. The Cubs had tied the game at 8-8 on Sammy Sosa's 2-out‚ 2-run homer in the bottom half of the 9th to send the game into extra innings. The two teams combine to hit 7 HRs to set an NLCS record.

October 7, 2004, 10 years ago: The Atlanta Braves even their NLDS against the Houston Astros with a 4-2 win in 11 innings. Rafael Furcal wins it with a walkoff home run.

October 7, 2006: The Mets defeat Los Angeles at Dodger Stadium, 9-5, to complete a 3-game sweep in the NLDS. For their fans, the Mets finally get revenge on the evil O'Malleys, even though that family hasn't owned the L.A. Bums since 1997.

The Mets haven’t won a postseason series since. Since beating the A’s in the 1988 World Series, the Dodgers have not won a Pennant.

On the same day, the Tigers beat the Yankees 8-3, to win their Division series, 3 games to 1. Magglio Ordonez and Craig Monroe homer for the Tigers. Just 3 years after setting an AL record with 119 losses in a season, the Tigers will be playing for the Pennant.

The Yankees had played so well all year long, but in this series, they couldn't hit sand if they fell off a freakin' camel. Hideki Matsui batted only .250, Johnny Damon .235, Robinson Cano .133, Jason Giambi .125, Gary Sheffield .083 (1-for-12), and Alex Rodriguez .071 (1-for-14). A-Rod had been hitting so poorly that manager Joe Torre bats him 8th today. With a few exceptions, every Yankee Fan I know thinks it was totally deserved. Notably, this is the last game Sheffield ever played for the Yankees.

October 7, 2010: With only 17 instances of a manager being tossed in the history of MLB postseason play, two occurrences happen on the same day when the Rays' Joe Maddon and Twins' Ron Gardenhire are both ejected from different ALDS games.

The Tampa Bay skipper gets the heave-ho in the 5th frame in a game against Texas, for arguing a check swing with home plate umpire Jim Wolf. The Rangers beat the Rays 6-0. The Minnesota pilot suffers the same fate with Hunter Wendelstedt, for arguing balls and strikes in the 7th inning in the contest against the Yankees, who win 5-2.

October 7, 2013: Game 3 of the ALDS. The Red Sox, as they have been known to do, blew a lead, 3-0 in the 5th. But the Rays also blew a lead, 4-3 in the top of the 9th. The Rays have the last laugh, though: Jose Lobaton takes Koji Uehara over the center field wall in the bottom of the 9th, and the Rays win 5-4.

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