“Imagine,” Eddie Dweck muses as he looks at The Photograph, “a kid going to a ballgame dressed in a suit and tie!”
You probably don’t know Eddie Dweck, but you’ve probably seen him before. Because of The Photograph he has a cameo role in history. But history is a defiant and elusive thing. It will tell you that The Photograph Eddie Dweck is ruminating on is one of the iconic images of Jackie Robinson just before he stepped out of that Ebbets Field dugout and into history 66 years ago today.
Except it wasn’t taken on April 15, 1947. And Mr. Dweck will also reveal to you that – albeit in the mildest sense of the word – the photograph was staged.
The kid looking at the camera, the kid Jackie Robinson seems to be looking at? Meet Eddie Dweck.
12-year old Eddie and his pal Bobby Saltzberg from the apartment building on Ocean Parkway went to the first few of their sixth grade classes, then joined Eddie’s first cousin – also named Eddie Dweck – and took the half hour subway ride to Ebbets Field. To see history? To see the Dodgers’ first game of 1947! “It wasn’t quite Opening Day,” 78-year old Eddie says. “We just wanted to be there. We were fanatics about the Dodgers. That was the whole thing. I lived, slept, died with them.”
The Dodgers’ first game of 1947 – the first one in Brooklyn anyway – wasn’t the world-changing National League opener whose anniversary we celebrate today. It was an exhibition game against the Yankees on Friday, April 11, 1947, and it drew 24,237 fans – two Eddie Dwecks and one Bobby Saltzberg among them – just 2,026 fewer than the 26,623 who did not fill the stands for the actual moment of history on a Tuesday afternoon four days later.
Having clarified history’s erroneous conflation of Robinson’s first game in a major league uniform in a major league stadium (April 11, when the photo was taken, when Robinson went hitless but drove in three runs, one on a fielder’s choice and two on sacrifice flies) and his first official Major League Game (April 15), what was that part again about the photo – a photo which nearly all the rest of us look at as we might look at an image of Abraham Lincoln in a crowd or at least Babe Ruth – what was that about it being staged?
“Staged,” he said again, and matter-of-factly. “We had maybe bleacher seats, the cheapest seats, and we trying to get to the Dodger dugout just like we tried to get to the Dodger dugout every game we went to. But there were a hundred photographers taking pictures of him. This was a momentous day. So they told the ushers ‘let these kids come down, and lean over like you’re trying to get his autograph.’ And that’s how we got down there. It was a matter of a few minutes, five minutes, ten minutes as I remember. Then we had to scatter.”
So this was a kind of benign news management, as opposed to news manufacturing. There were kids trying to get to the Dodger dugout, they were hoping to get Jackie Robinson’s autograph, and the photographers simply reduced to zero the chances against them getting to their destination. “With me, it looks like he’s looking at me, that’s the interesting part. Maybe I had a long hand or something!” I asked Eddie if he ever got the autograph. “No. It looks like he’s signing something, but I don’t think anybody got an autograph, not while I was there.” But he got something better. “That picture was in The Brooklyn Eagle, and from The Brooklyn Eagle it was in Sport Magazine, and then it was in one of Jackie Robinson’s books. But, man, I was in The Brooklyn Eagle!”
There was one detail that troubled Eddie Dweck. Where were his Cousin Eddie, and his pal Bobby? “I didn’t go down there myself, that’s for sure.”
Steer away from Dweck’s photographic odyssey for a moment for a larger question. Did he – the 12-year-old-from-Ocean-Parkway-he – understand what had happened? How one day baseball didn’t allow African-Americans to play in the major leagues and then that day, that day, suddenly it did? “Yes. I knew that Jackie Robinson was the first negro player to play in the major leagues. So I knew it was significant but I didn’t think of the social aspects. At twelve years old that’s not on your mind. What’s on my mind is ‘he’s going to be a great second baseman and maybe we can win a pennant.'” Here Eddie Dweck laughs. “But of course as I got older I started to realize, reading more about this, hearing about Dixie Walker and how he was against him all the time, and all the problems and how they couldn’t even put him in the same hotel sometimes, he had to be in other hotels, you realize this was Rosa Parks in baseball.”
This is where it would’ve ended, a story-and-a-half as it was. But then last Monday, Eddie Dweck phoned me and in his voice I could hear a touch of the excitement that must have been felt by his 12-year old self. “Keith, there’s another photograph!”
Eddie was in last Sunday’s New York Times.
Oh, for crying out loud!
The New York Times Magazine review of the new Jackie Robinson movie “42” showed another photograph from April 11, 1947. Sure enough, almost dead center, same suit, same sweater, but this time just above and to the left of the beaming Robinson shaking hands with the Dodgers’ acting manager Clyde Sukeforth, there, again, is Eddie Dweck.
“I hadn’t seen that one before!” Apparently The Times had never printed it before, either. But there was more. “I found Bobby Salzberg! He’s next to me, in the bow tie!”
Seeing Bobby also rattled something loose in Dweck’s memory. “Now I know where my cousin Eddie was. It was Passover. He was at our seats, protecting the food! And protecting the seats, for that matter.”
Too bizarre for words, no? The unexpected thrill of getting to see yourself in a new photo in your local newspaper at age 12 in 1947, and then the again unexpected thrill of getting to see yourself in a new photo in your local newspaper at age 78 in 2013 – with both photographs from the same event?
It gets stranger still. Months into this process and a second photo having turned up and still nobody had done an image search for something as simple as “Jackie Robinson Dugout.”
Sure enough, sitting on the website Biography.Com: Dweck/Jackie Robinson Photo number three:
Eddie Dweck wasn’t kidding when he said there were a hundred photographers on the field clamoring for photographs of Robinson in the dugout. And there is a certain poignance in these two images that Eddie – clearly the Zelig of Robinson’s first day of Ebbets Field – hadn’t seen before. In this third shot, he and Bobby are positioned around the only other two players in the pictures: Ed Stevens and Howie Schultz:
Ed Stevens and Howie Schultz were the first basemen who would be displaced by Robinson.
It had been Schultz who had worked with Robinson throughout spring training to adapt to that position – which Robinson had never played before – even though Schultz knew it would probably cost him his job. Robinson, Branch Rickey, Sukeforth, Pee Wee Reese, even the walkout-threatening Dixie Walker got the headlines. But Schultz and Stevens simply uncomplainingly gave way to the better man.
At the moment the photographers captured them and Eddie and Bobby, Stevens and Schultz had exactly seven more games left between them as Dodgers, and only 375 more games left as big leaguers. Stevens would be sent out to the minors before Robinson would make his official debut the following Tuesday, and Schultz would linger as Robinson’s sub and instructor until he was sold to the Phillies on May 10th. He would have a little more time in the sun (and in sports integration history) as a member of the 1952 NBA Champion Minneapolis Lakers, who won the first Finals ever to feature an African-American player, Sweetwater Clifton of the Knicks.
On the other side of Robinson (shaking Robinson’s hand in the Times shot) is Clyde Sukeforth, who had just taken over as acting manager after the suspension of Leo Durocher. Sukeforth – who helped to scout Robinson for the Dodgers originally – would manage Robby’s first game, and win it, and his second, and win that one, too. Those would be his only games as a manager, and his only other imprint in baseball history would be as the Dodger bullpen coach who in the 9th inning of the third game of the 1951 National League special playoffs against the Giants infamously led manager Chuck Dressen to conclude that Ralph Branca was his best asset to face Bobby Thomson because the other pitcher whose warm-up he was supervising, Carl Erskine, was “bouncing his curve.”
Thus the memories the autograph photo evokes are not all happy ones. When I pointed out to Eddie that apart from him and Robinson the image also shows Branca, he said he cried all day after Branca gave up Thomson’s home run four years later. Shortly after that Dweck actually attended one of the famous Dodger tryout camps at Vero Beach (“No expenses paid,” he laughs. “I’ll pay you to play. Such was the devotion”) but did not cross paths with Robinson there. And within a decade the Dodgers would prove that an African-American was like any other player in baseball: he could be unceremoniously dumped no matter what his contributions to team or time. And as they traded Robinson to the hated New York Giants, they were already negotiating for the event that would prove that a Brooklyn fan was like any other in sport: he could be unceremoniously dumped if a better deal loomed westward. “When they did leave, I lost total interest. I didn’t follow them to Los Angeles. Even baseball in general, I kinda got turned off. It really hurt me.”
In some indirect way, it hurt him to the degree that until last month, he hadn’t owned a copy of The Photograph since that edition of The Brooklyn Eagle came out. That is even stranger when you consider what Eddie Dweck does for a living. Today he is the with-it, energetic co-proprietor of Studio 57 Fine Arts on West 57th Street in New York, and can use the photograph to prove to doubters that he wasn’t in diapers in 1947. The gallery features not just high end art and some of the metropolitan area’s avant-garde painters, but has also always offered a great supply of historical baseball photographs, many of which are at the level of sophistication and eccentricity of a shot of Babe Ruth pitching for the Yankees and a variety of shots of Dweck’s beloved Ebbets Field. More over, I’ve been one of his customers since 1997 and last January was the first time he ever mentioned that it was him in the Robinson/Fans photograph.
“Well,” Eddie Dweck says with a measure of contemplation that dissolves into a laugh. “You didn’t ask.”
UPDATE: 11:00 AM EDT April 15: It’s a torrent! It’s an avalanche!
Courtesy of the impeccable Bill Francis at the Baseball Hall of Fame, there are three more photos in the library files in Cooperstown of Eddie Dweck during the photographers’ flashbulb frenzy.
He may have only seen himself in The Brooklyn Eagle on that next day (April 12) but he was also in The New York Post:
That’d be Eddie, dead-center, reaching down towards Jackie. Obviously this is a photocopy or a microfiche print-out. The original credit goes to The Associated Press.
And he made it on the right side of another image from Acme Telephotos, which was printed in the April 12 edition of Upstate New York’s Binghamton News:
Eddie Dweck (on the right) and his pal Bobby are lined up perfectly to frame Jackie Robinson.
All this time this weekend debating when the “Highlanders” nickname was phased out, and the “Yankees” nickname phased in, and I missed a jewel sparkling up from one of my primary pieces of evidence.
Take a good look at the stern faces in this photo, particularly in the back row, sitting on the fence at old Hilltop Park:The Yankees – and if the editors of the New York American of 1907 decided to try to sell newspapers by giving away these postcards, and a special supplement of this photo, by calling them the Yankees, so will I – had traded veteran Joe Yeager to St. Louis a month before spring training for a promising but ultimately disastrous utilityman.
He was listed as a catcher, but on June 28th with him behind the plate, the Washington Senators stole 13 bases against the Yankees. Thirteen. “My arm was numb and I was helpless to do anything.
The Branch Rickey. 40 years later he’d be ushering Jackie Robinson in the majors.
And parenthetically, front row, on the left in this detail? Another Hall of Famer, 1907 Yankees manager, future Washington Senators owner, Clark Griffith.
One of the few infuriating aspects of Jackie Robinson Day is the blowback from the uninformed. I have read today of how integration in this country was inevitable, and Robinson’s success in 1947 was just a happy coincidence. I have read that the talent of the Negro Leagues was just too great and had Robinson failed, had he hit .197 instead of .297, it was still inevitable that those great athletes would have forced their way into the mainstream of American sports.
Was it inevitable when Frank Grant led the International League in homers in 1887? Was it inevitable when John McGraw put the great second baseman Charlie Grant on his 1901 Baltimore Orioles squad under the pretense that he was a Native American named Tokohama? Was it inevitable when the Oakland Oaks of the PCL signed pitcher Jimmy Claxton in 1916 only to drop him days later? Was it inevitable when Satchel Paige and Josh Gibson both played in Pittsburgh in the early ’30s and the Pirates desperately needed a starting pitcher and a catcher? Was it inevitable when John Henry Lloyd and Cool Papa Bell and Judy Johnson and Jose Mendez and nearly three dozen more future Hall of Famers spent their entire lives playing for peanuts in separate and unequal conditions?
Baseball had fought integration ever since the 1884 major league team in Toledo signed Fleet and Welday Walker. It had slowly closed the door on African-American players in the minors, through boycotts and threats, and by 1900 they were all gone. And the spasmodic attempts to sneak in a Grant or a Claxton as a Native American had been met with crushing responses and threats of retribution. Even when Robinson seemed safely over the threshold, other teams integrated haltingly and – as in St. Louis with the Browns – sometimes disastrously. Many of the others hung back. The New York Yankees saw nothing “inevitable” about integration: they did not add a black player until Elston Howard in 1955.
While the Boston Braves were signing Hank Aaron and Billy Bruton and Wes Covington and then moving to Milwaukee to win pennants with them, the Boston Red Sox chose not to sign Robinson in 1945, and not to add any African-American player until 1959. The Sox, intentionally or otherwise, kept to a limit of no more than five African-American players on their roster well into the ’70s. It was maintained with extraordinary efficiency. On June 14, 1966, the Sox made a trade that added the former Negro Leagues pitcher John Wyatt to their bullpen. On June 15, 1966, they gave away pitcher Earl Wilson to the Detroit Tigers and their quota was back down to five.
And there was nothing inevitable about black athletes getting another chance in the major leagues had Jackie Robinson failed. He didn’t win the civil rights war by himself (indeed, it has hardly been won), but his role was pivotal and unique. Leaders from each decade and every perspective have said that Robinson provided the cultural groundwork that made integration not necessarily possible, but practical. Unlike Jack Johnson or the less threatening Joe Louis, he had succeeded in a previously all-white team sport. He had white teammates and white friends.
It is little credited today, but Jackie Robinson’s real contribution was not to convert the haters and the proactive racists towards an enlightened view of this country. In fact, what he did would’ve been impossible before the vastly increased interaction between whites and blacks in the military during World War II, and it might’ve been impossible if he had then failed on the ballfield or in his relationship with his white teammates: He erased benign prejudice.
My late father, nearly as liberal a man as I’ve ever known, used to look back at attending games of the New York Black Yankees as a teenager, with a sense of astonishment and shame. “It never occurred to us, never occurred to us, that the black players didn’t want to play only with other black players. We had no idea this was segregation. We thought it was choice.”
And for every open-minded individual like him whose consciousness was raised by Jackie Robinson, there was another who had no animus towards blacks but was convinced that there was either no way they had the athletic chops to succeed at the major league level, or no way they had the psychological stability to withstand the pressure of the game or of the process of integration.
Some large, but ultimately never-to-be-measured, group of Americans went from believing in 1946 that blacks had chosen their own world, or couldn’t physically or psychologically function next to whites, to realizing that these convictions were the most insidious forms of racism. These were the white men and women who supported Brown v. Board of Education, and the marches in the South, and the integration in Little Rock, and Martin Luther King, and the repeal of the laws forbidding blacks to marry whites that stayed on the books of some states as late as the mid-’60s. These were the men and women who began to attend pro football and basketball games in the large numbers they needed to succeed as stable national enterprises only after these leagues began to fully integrate – and, yes, the NBA didn’t integrate until Robinson had completed his fourth season with the Dodgers.
It is imperative to remember that none of the progress – in baseball or in America – that followed in Jackie Robinson’s wake was inevitable. There were millions of hateful Americans who would have exploited a Robinson failure to roll back the limited gains of the war years. There were millions more who would’ve thought that Robinson’s season, or half-season, or six weeks in the spotlight, had been a noble experiment, but that he and his race just weren’t up to it. And when their support was needed to beat back the Orval Faubuses and Bull Connors and Strom Thurmonds, they would not have been there. Even today there are those who would push us back towards our awful past. Who would have stood against their predecessors – who sought a virtual apartheid in this country – had Robinson failed in 1947?
Inevitable! In 1948, when Thurmond ran on an openly segregationist, racist platform as a third-party candidate for president, he received 1,175,930 votes. In 1968 – after Jackie Robinson and after Malcolm X and after the rise and death of Martin Luther King – George Wallace ran on virtually the same platform and still got 9,901,118 votes.
There was nothing inevitable about the healing of this nation at the center of which was Jack Roosevelt Robinson.
Presented with no implication of racism, nor with any other comment.
Lester Rodney, the onetime sportswriter who in the 1930’s and 1940’s was one of the fiercest and most insistent white advocates of the integration of major league baseball, died on Sunday, his family has announced. He was 98 years old.
Dirk Hayhurst’s description of himself for the author’s ID in his upcoming book The Bullpen Gospels reads in part, “Dirk is a former member of the San Diego Padres, and after this book gets printed, a former member of the Toronto Blue Jays.”
Some families are the perfect model citizens, Mr. and Mrs. John Q. Host family with their white picket fence and adorable little children with their cherub faces who can’t wait to be just like their new older brother. Some families are wealthy and treat you like the draft pick you always wanted to be. Some host families aren’t even families at all; some are just one person: a well-toned Cougar looking for an after-hours power hitter to keep her company between filming.
Depending on the makeup of the player, all these choices are desirable. However, they only represent one side of the coin. On the flip side, there is the family who has a pack of misbehaved trolls for children with parents who don’t believe in discipline. The reason your PlayStation has peanut butter leaking from the optical drive can be chalked up to “youthful curiosity.” You may live with a super fan who wants to play coach, manager, and parent. He’ll live vicariously through you and evaluate, criticize, judge, blog, and call the organization about you. Or you may end up with a miserable old spinster who loves cats and hates men…
Players aren’t saints either, and it takes a special family to agree to house one. If you’re a devout Catholic family, getting a Mormon player can make things a tad awkward. If you’re parents of little children, getting that Bostonian player who uses “****” for greetings, good-byes, pronouns, adjectives, verb, and prayer, might be more than you bargained for…
As this excerpt suggests (and the asterisks are mine), it doesn’t hurt that Hayhurst is a fluid and gifted writer, whose prose can take off like a jet and compel you to read for half an hour more than you have. He populates the pages of The Bullpen Gospels with teammates, some identified, some amalgamated, some under aliases – and if the book takes off, ripping the Hayhurstian masks off the more colorful ones may become a low-key hobby after the book is published on March 30 (it’s already up for pre-orders on Amazon and no doubt elsewhere – I’d get it now because I think they’ll be able to raise the price later).
Inspired by Johnny Damon’s double-stolen base in Game Four on Sunday, I thought it was time to salute a part of the game rarely acknowledged and even more rarely listed among its greatest appeals to the fan. What they once quaintly called “good brain-work”: the nine Smartest Plays in World Series History.
We’ll be doing this on television tonight, illustrated in large part with the kind help of the folks behind one of the most remarkable contributions ever made to baseball history, The Major League Baseball World Series Film Collection, which comes out officially next week, and which, as the name suggests, is a DVD set of all of the official “films” of the Series since ex-player Lew Fonseca started them as a service to those in the military in 1943. The amount of baseball history and the quality of the presentation (the “box” is by itself, actually a gorgeous Series history book) are equally staggering.
We start, in ascending order, with a famous name indeed, and Jackie Robinson’s steal of home in the eighth inning of the first game of the 1955 World Series. It is perhaps the iconic image of the pioneer player of our society’s history, but it was also a statement in a time when the concept was new. Ironically, the Dodgers were losing 6 to 4 when Robinson got on, on an error, moved to second on a Don Zimmer bunt, aggressively tagged up on a sacrifice fly.
Robinson was at third, but up for the Dodgers was the weak-hitting Frank Kellert. And, after all but taunting pitcher Whitey Ford and catcher Yogi Berra of the Yankees, Jackie seized the day, and broke for the plate. No catcher has more emphatically argued a call, and no moment has better summed up a player, his influence, or the changes he would bring to the game.
Ironically, that was the last run the Dodgers would score and they would lose the game. But the steal set a tone for a different Brooklyn team than the one which had tried but failed to outslug the Yankees in their previous five World Series meetings. The Dodgers would win this one, in seven games.
The eighth play on the list is another moment of base-running exuberance. In a regular season game in 1946, Enos “Country” Slaughter, on first base, had been given the run-and-hit sign by his St. Louis Cardinals’ manager Eddie Dyer. Slaughter took off, the batter swung and laced one into the outfield. As Slaughter approached third base with home in his sights, he was held up by his third base coach Mike Gonzalez. Slaughter complained to his skipper. He knew better than Gonzalez, he told Dyer, whether or not he could beat a throw home. Dyer said fine. “If it happens again and you think you can make it, run on your own. I’ll back you up.”
It indeed happened again – and in the bottom of the eighth inning of the seventh game of the 1946 Series! The visiting Red Sox had just tied the score at three, but Slaughter led off the inning with a single. Manager Dyer again flashed the run-and-hit sign, and Harry “The Hat” Walker lined Bob Klinger’s pitch over shortstop for what looked to everybody like a long single.
Everybody but Slaughter. He never slowed down. He may never have even seen third base coach Gonzalez again giving him the stop sign. When Boston shortstop Johnny Pesky turned clockwise to take the relay throw from centerfielder Leon Culberson, and, thus oddly twisted, could get little on his throw to the plate – Slaughter scored, the Cardinals led, and, an inning later, were World Champions.
The Red Sox should’ve seen it coming. Long before Pete Rose, Slaughter ran everywhere on the field, to the dugout and from it, on walks, everywhere. He said he had learned to do it in the minor leagues, when as a 20-year old he walked back from the outfield only to hear his manager say “Hey, kid, if you’re tired, I’ll get you some help.”
That manager was Eddie Dyer – the same guy who a decade later would encourage Slaughter to run any and all red lights.
The particulars of the seventh smartest play in Series history are lost in the shrouds of time: the 1907 Fall Classic between the Tigers and Cubs. This was the Detroit team of the young and ferocious Ty Cobb, but its captain was a veteran light-hitting third baseman named Bill Coughlin. In the first inning of the second game, Cubs’ lead-off man Jimmy Slagle walked, then broke for second base. Catcher Fred Payne’s throw was wild and Slagle made it to third. Coughlin knew the Tigers were in trouble.
There are two ways to do what Coughlin did next; we don’t know which he used. Later third basemen like Matt Williams were known to ask runners to step off the base so he could clean the dirt off it. Others, through nonchalance or downright misdirection, would convince the runner that they no longer had the ball. Which one Coughlin did, we don’t know. The Spalding Base Ball Guide for 1908 simply described it as “Coughlin working that ancient and decrepit trick of the ‘hidden ball,’ got ‘Rabbit’ Slagle as he stepped off the third sack. What the sleep of Slagle cost was shown the next minute when Chance singled over second.”
Coughlin snagged Slagle with what is believed to be the only successful hidden ball trick in the history of the Series.
Sixth among the smartest plays is another we will not likely see again. The New York Mets led the Baltimore Orioles three games to one as they played the fifth game of the 1969 World Series. But the favored Birds led that game 3-zip going into the bottom of the sixth. Then, Dave McNally bounced a breaking pitch at the feet of Cleon Jones of the Mets. Jones claimed he’d been hit by the pitch, but umpire Lou DiMuro disagreed – until Mets’ skipper Gil Hodges came out of the dugout to show DiMuro the baseball, and the smudge of shoe polish from where it had supposedly hit Jones. DiMuro changed his mind, Jones was awarded first, Donn Clendenon followed with a two-run homer, Al Weis hit one in the seventh to tie, and the Mets scored two more in the eighth to win the game and the Series.
But there were questions, most of them voiced in Baltimore, about the provenance of that baseball. Was it really the one that McNally had thrown? A nearly identical play in 1957 with Milwaukee’s Nippy Jones had helped to decide that Series. And years later an unnamed Met said that ever since, it had always been considered good planning to have a baseball in the dugout with shoe polish on it, just in case.
Today, of course, players’ shoes don’t get shined.
Hall of Fame pitcher, Hall of Fame batter, Hall of Fame manager, all involved in the fifth smartest play. But only two of them were smart in it. Reds 1, A’s nothing, one out, top of the eighth, runners on second and third, third game of the ’72 Series, and Oakland reliever Rollie Fingers struggles to a 3-2 count on Cincinnati’s legendary Johnny Bench. With great theatrics and evident anxiety, the A’s battery and manager Dick Williams agree to go ahead and throw the next pitch deliberately wide — an intentional walk.
Which is when Oakland catcher Gene Tenace jumps back behind the plate to catch the third strike that slides right past a forever-embarrassed Bench. As if to rub it in, the A’s then walked Tony Perez intentionally. For real.
Another all-time great was central to the fourth smartest play in Series history. With Mickey Mantle, you tend to think brawn, not brain, but in the seventh game of the epic 1960 Series, he was, for a moment, the smartest man in America. Mantle had just singled home a run that cut Pittsburgh’s lead over the Yankees to 9-to-8.
With one out and Gil McDougald as the tying run at third, Yogi Berra hit a ground rocket to Pirate first baseman Rocky Nelson. Nelson, having barely moved from where he was holding Mantle on, stepped on the bag to retire Berra for the second out. Mantle, on his way into no man’s land between first and second, about to be tagged hi
mself for the final out of the Series, stopped, faded slightly towards the outfield, faked his way around Nelson, got back safely to first, and took enough time to do it, that in the process, McDougald could score the tying run.
Mantle’s quick thinking and base-running alacrity would have been one of the game’s all-time greatest plays – if only, minutes later, the 9-to-9 tie he had created, had not been erased by Bill Mazeroski’s unforgettable Series-Winning Home Run to lead off the bottom of the ninth.
Like the Mantle example, the gut and not the cerebellum is associated with the third smartest play in Series history. It’s Kirk Gibson’s epic home run to win the opening game of the 1988 classic. The story is well-known to this day; Gibson, aching, knees swollen, limping, somehow creeps to the batter’s box and then takes a 3-2 pitch from another hall of fame Oakland reliever, Dennis Eckersley, and turns it into the most improbable of game-winning home runs.
But the backstory involves a Dodger special assignment scout named Mel Didier. When the count reached 3-and-2, Gibson says he stepped out of the batter’s box and could hear the scouting report on Eckersley that Didier had recited to the Dodgers, in his distinctive Mississippi accent, before the Series began. On a 3-2 count, against a left-handed power hitter, you could be absolutely certain that Eckersley would throw a backdoor slider. He always did it. And as Gibson once joked, “I was a left-handed power hitter.”
So Gibson’s home run wasn’t just mind over matter. It was also mind. And it was also Mel Didier.
The second smartest play in Series history came in perhaps the greatest seventh game in modern Series history. The Braves and Twins were locked in their remorseless battle of 1991, scoreless into the eighth inning. Veteran Lonnie Smith led off the top of the frame with a single. Just like Enos Slaughter in 1946, he then got the signal to run with the pitch, and just like Harry Walker in 1946, his teammate Terry Pendleton connected.
But something was amiss at second base. Minnesota Shortstop Greg Gagne and second baseman Chuck Knoblauch were either completing a double-play, or they had decided they were the Harlem Globetrotters playing pantomime ball. Smith, at least momentarily startled by the infielders pretending to make a play on him at second, hesitated just long enough that he could not score from first as Enos Slaughter once had. He would later claim the Twins’ infielders hadn’t fooled him at all with their phantom double play – that he was just waiting to make sure the ball wasn’t caught.
But he never scored a run, nor did the Braves. The game, and the Series, ended 1-0 Minnesota, in the 10th inning on a pinch-hit single by Gene Larkin from — appropriately enough for the subject — Columbia University.
All-stars and cup of coffee guys; fielders and hitters and baserunners and pitchers and even a scout, and stretching over a span of 102 years of Series history. And yet the smartest play is: from this past Sunday. Johnny Damon not only worked his way back from down 0-2 to a line single on the ninth pitch of the at bat against Brad Lidge, but he quickly gauged the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity with which the Phillies had seemingly presented him. Few teams employ a defensive shift towards the left side or the right when there’s a runner on base. This is largely because if there is a play to be made at second or third, the fielders who would normally handle the ball are elsewhere. With Mark Teixeira up, the Phillies had shifted their infield, right.
So Damon realized.
If he tried to steal, the throw and tag would probably be the responsibility of third baseman Pedro Feliz. Feliz is superb at third base, fine at first, has experience in both outfield corners, and even caught a game for part of an inning. But his major league games up the middle total to less than 30 and this just isn’t his job. Even if Feliz didn’t botch the throw or the tag, his meager experience in the middle infield slightly increased the odds in Damon’s favor. The question really was, what would happen immediately afterwards, if Damon stole successfully: Where would Feliz go, and who would cover third base?
Damon chose a pop-up slide so he could keep running. Feliz took the throw cleanly, but did not stop his own momentum and continued to run slightly towards the center of the diamond. And nobody covered third base. All Damon needed was daylight between himself and Feliz, and Feliz would have no chance of outrunning him to third, and nobody to throw to at third.
And all of that went through Johnny Damon’s mind, in a matter of seconds. Before anybody else could truly gauge what had happened, he had stolen two bases on one play without as much as a bad throw, let alone an error, involved. It is a play few if any have seen before, and it is unimaginable that any manager will let us ever see it again!
Thereafter, in a matter of minutes, the Yankees had turned a tie game, with them down to their last strike of the ninth inning, into a three-run rally that put them within one win of the World’s Championship. And all thanks to the Smartest Play in World Series History.
Nate McLouth, since his trade to the Atlanta Braves:
.263/.344/.433/.777, 6 HR, 19 RBI, 9 SB, 34 R
.293/.349/.488/.837, 6 HR, 31 RBI, 9 SB, 37 R
Did Pirates Upgrade In Center?
Don’t get me wrong about Nate McLouth. Great guy, hustles, works hard, busted his butt at an All-Star Game, better than anything the Braves had in their outfield before tonight’s trade. I’m just not convinced Pittsburgh didn’t improve its line-up by replacing him with Andrew McCutchen….The key to this trade is that McLouth’s replacement does not come from it. McCutchen, who arrives in Pittsburgh as McLouth’s equal in speed and outfield skill, probably more than his equal for batting average, and eventually capable of producing 75% of his power, nearly made the majors out of spring training. The Pirates were sorely tempted to damn arbitration and take him north – that’s how authoritative a hitter he looked in Florida.
I do not see McCutchen keeping up homer-for-homer with McLouth and the RBI margin seems out-of-joint. But the point is, you’d be hard-pressed to criticize the Pirates for this trade – and this wasn’t the trade.