Wednesday, June 19, 2019

Cooperstown, 2019

                It was all her idea. It really was.
                She had heard me and her mom talking about our trip several years back and was a little jealous. And I wasn’t going to say no. So, off to Cooperstown we went…

                We left early Tuesday morning, like 4 AM early, as it was going to be a long drive. North on Interstate 81 to Binghamton, NY, then east for an hour on Interstate 86. On the way, I hadn’t checked any social media or emails before we left, or for the first several hours.
                As we hit lunch time, we stopped for a sit-down meal at a burger place just north of Harrisburg, PA. That was where I saw the news of the passing of Bill Buckner. One of my friends e-mailed me about it, and he mentioned that the scrawl across the bottom of the screen on the sports network kept referencing that one play that he was famous for, the one that extended the ‘curse’ for the Red Sox.
                You all know the story of how in 1986, the Red Sox had come within one out of clinching their first World Series title since 1986. But the Mets, who were down two runs in the bottom of the tenth staged an unbelievable and improbable comeback to tie and then win Game Six, and then win Game Seven and the title.
                The tenth inning ended with a ground ball to first hit by Mookie Wilson, that seemed to bounce a hundred times before Boston first-baseman Bill Buckner got to it, only to have the ball go between his legs. As he turned to chase the ball, the runner on second, Ray Knight, who was running on contact, rounded third and scored the winning run. Knight jumped and landed on home plate so hard that he later admitted that he ‘tweaked’ his back a little, before being mobbed by his teammates.
                Buckner was the media goat of the game, and the entire Series.
                He was deeply affected by this and became even more aloof than he had been. He stopped signing autographs and doing personal appearances. And that was wrong.
                As a matter of full disclosure, I am a Mets fan. I remember that season, and that play vividly. And it sucks that Buckner’s career is remembered by that play. For a couple of very big reasons.
                As that inning played out, the Red Sox bullpen could not shut the door on the Mets. They allowed three straight singles.
Gary Carter singled.
Kevin Mitchel singled.
Ray Knight singled, driving in Carter, Mitchell going to third.
Mookie Wilson comes up. Sox pitcher Calvin Schiraldi is replaced by Bob Stanley.
An historical footnote here, in that two of the 1986 Red Sox bullpen’s major components set an unenviable record in 1985, when the both pitched for the Mets. Schiraldi and Joe Sambito became the first teammates to give up ten runs in the same game, a 26-7 shellacking by the Phillies. A game where Mets radio announcer Gary Thorne joked during the recap of the game, that the turning point may well have been the National Anthem.
Sox pitcher Bob Stanley and Mookie have an at-bat for the ages. Wilson fouling of several pitches. *Stanley unloads a pitch on the inside corner at Mookie’s feet, the ball gets past catcher Rich Gedman, and Mitchell scores the tying run. More importantly, Knight goes to second on the wild pitch.
The count goes to 3-2, as Mookie keeps fouling balls off to stay alive. Watching the game, it seemed like a dozen foul balls, but the reality was two after the wild pitch, but six for the ten pitch at-bat.
Mookie finally connects on one that stayed fair, and was a little more than a dribbler, but not a hard-hit ball, towards Buckner at first. Knight, like I said was running with the pitch. Wilson was one of the fastest players in Mets history, and in my mind, the most fun to watch running the bases for sure, was running all out towards first.

This play has been analyzed thousands of times, by people a lot smarter than me. But here’s what I think:
Buckner was in a no-win situation. Like I said the ball was not sharply hit, and Wilson was a very fast runner. Buckner, who at this point in his career had very bad ankles, may have realized that it was going to be a very close play at first, and may have checked to see where Knight was, to see if he had a better chance with a play at the plate. For just a second, he took his eye off the ball, which then hit the ‘lip’ of the infield dirt, not giving a true hop and changed the angle of the ball and staying down.
Should Buckner have caught the ball? Yes. It was easily playable. However, it would have been an easier play with Knight still being on first, if Buckner would have been closer to the bag and playing in, to keep Knight closer to first.
However, the Sox may have chosen defensive indifference, and not held Knight at first. But it’s moot, since he was on second due to the wild pitch. And he was taking a pretty good lead as well. At one point (as I re-watched that inning) commentator Joe Garagiola said that Marty Barrett, the Sox second baseman, was out of position as he was trying to get Stanley’s’ attention to try to pick Knight off second.
Barrett even came in to the mound to tell Stanley that they had Knight picked off second. That was after the eighth pitch. The ninth pitch was the slow roller that everyone knows.

OK, indulge me here…
In the early nineties, I had gotten to know several players for the Blue Jays double A affiliate in Knoxville. I attended dozens of games, got to know and socialize with some of the players. Some of them went on to lengthy major league careers. Some of them didn’t make it past AA ball. I won’t mention their names.
One season, Bill Buckner worked as a traveling hitting coach for the Jays, and would spend time with all their affiliates, including Knoxville. One of the players joked that he was glad he was coaching hitting and not fielding. I corrected the player immediately, and I shared with him a tidbit of information. I also shared this with my wife as we were eating the night before our trip into the Hall of Fame.
If you watch a clip of Hank Aaron hitting his 715th career homer, the one that surpassed Babe Ruth’s record, watch closely. The Dodgers were the opponent, Al Downing was the pitcher. As the ball sailed towards the left-field fence, the Dodger left-fielder climbed up attempting to catch, or knock back the homer, to keep it in play. He was a dozen feet too short, but he tried.

That was Bill Buckner.
As I told my wife, and as I said when I posted that small video clip, after a twenty-two year major league career, with batting titles and All-Star appearances, that clip would be what I reference in my mind’s eye when I think of Bill Buckner.
It always had been anyway.

I don’t know how many of you have been to Cooperstown. It is a quaint, picturesque town at the base of Lake Otsego. The town is very proud of itself, as it should be. Apart from the Hall, there is the Fenimore Art Gallery and the Farmer’s Museum. Admittedly, I have never been to the art museum, but I have learned all about the value of hops, its harvesting and many uses, along with seeing the “Cardiff Giant” which is on display at the Farmer’s Museum.
But for me, Cooperstown is all about the Hall. And getting to see it with my eleven-year old’s eyes, was very cool. I knew and remembered enough NOT to begin our visit on the first floor, where the Gallery is. That should be last.
We went upstairs to the second floor, where we were met by a guide who welcomed us and told us about various displays and artifacts the we would encounter on our visit. He asked which teams we were a fan of, and I said Mets before my wife could embarrass me by saying Braves (ha!). He recapped the previous night Mets-Dodgers game for us. He then directed us towards a short movie that was about to begin, about the Hall and baseball in general.
The guide found us later and directed my daughter to a photo of a beagle (Homer) that was the Mets mascot for one year.

When the movie started, it began with Yankee manager Joe McCarthy leading a slow-moving Lou Gehrig to the microphone at Yankee Stadium, where Gehrig made his short speech that still gives me goosebumps at the enormity of it.
A man, cut down in the prime of his life, diagnosed with an incurable disease that would take his life a short time later, being honored by fans, friends and teammates, looking at his impending slow, agonizing end, proclaiming that he was “..the luckiest man on the face of the earth.”
Then, there it is, Hank Aaron and his 715th homer.
And there was Bill Buckner, right there on cue. Just like I told my wife.

There they all were…Ripken, Morgan, Seaver. All talking about the Hall…and baseball.
Aaron, Brett, Eckersley…those who still have voices to share the love of the game. Their love of the game. Our love of the game.

We wandered aimlessly around the Hall, the ladies off by themselves as I looked closer at some displays. I sought out what I knew was there, as I shared stories with my daughter some of the little snippets of things that were there.
She wanted to see the displays of the World Series rings, because of my stories about Charlie Finley.

In 1972, when Finley’s A’s beat the Reds in the Series, he presented the team (and their wives, along with scouts, office personnel and friends) with one of the most opulent Championship rings that baseball hade ever seen. Major League Baseball allowed something like $1,700 cost for each ring, which Charlie doubled. There was the gold, with a huge green stone, and a good-sized diamond the middle of it. Along with Charlie’s code “S+S=S” (Sweat + Sacrifice = Success)

As related to me by former A’s bullpen coach Ver Hoscheit, Finley told the players that if they won it in 1973, that ring would make the ‘72 ring look like a dime store ring.
The 1973 Series was very tumultuous, to say the least. The heavily favored A’s squared off against the Mets, who had won the National League title with the lowest winning percentage of any League Champion, and who had already surprised the powerful Reds in the Championship Series to even make it to the Fall Classic.
Pitching was what carried the Mets this far, but it would be fielding that caused the biggest uproar that overshadowed the games on the field.
Now, one can argue the merits (and the sanity) of Charles Finley. His innovations, both good and bad, did have an impact on the game. His unusual way of motivating his team by antagonizing and instigating them to lash out at him wound up unifying the team to win to spite him.
During the second game of the Series in Oakland, A’s second baseman Mike Andrews made two errors in the twelfth inning which allowed three Mets runs to score. Afterwards, and incensed Finley allegedly forced Andrews to sign an affidavit saying that he was in fact injured, and that injury caused those errors. Finley then tried to use this affidavit as a way of ‘firing’ Edwards, removing him from the roster, and adding rookie second baseman Manny Trillo to take his place.
The Mets refused to allow that switch, as did the baseball commissioner, Bowie Kuhn. The A’s players, once they found out about the plan, voted to strike before the third game, which was to be in New York. Andrews, after signing the affidavit, left the team and went home to New England, where he went into semi-seclusion.
As Kuhn rebuked Finley, the dash was on to try to locate Edwards to get him to New York to avoid the first ever World Series forfeiture. The A’s team worked out pre-game as normal, but with several of the players wearing 17 on their jerseys, fashioned out of athletic tape, in support of Andrews, who wore 17.
Andrews made it to Shea in time for the game, which was delayed about thirty minutes or so for the a’s players to redress. (many of the players came off the field after practice and began dressing in their street clothes)
As the game played out, and possibly to stick it to Finley who was in attendance, Andrews was called on to pinch-hit. To which, the fifty-five thousand fans in attendance gave hi a standing ovation. The only one in memory for a World Series opponent in ‘enemy territory’.
As the Series went on, and the A’s brought the Series back to Oakland on the verge of elimination, they rallied to win the final two games, and clinch their second Championship in as many years, the first since the Yankees a dozen years prior.
That World Series ring, for the 1973 Championship, was as generic as possible. No explanation was given, but many assume that Finley felt betrayed by the actions of the team in support of Andrews. So, in what many believed to be a passive/aggressive retribution, the 1973 (and 1974) ring was a very generic looking ring.

As an aside, Vern shared the story of his wife somehow losing the stone from her 1972 ring, and Finley paying to replace the stone.

But, back to the Hall, and my sauntering.

Watched a replay of the 1978 one game playoff game between the Red Sox and the Yankees. Well, just one at-bat. The one that earned Russell Earl Dent the New England nickname of Bucky “Bleeping” Dent. The unlikely home run over the Green Monster in Fenway.
Watching with another gentleman, we saw that Dent had broken his bat, so they showed him choosing a new bat. He looked at two, before deciding. The one he chose was the magical bat. As I pointed out to the stranger. Rivers told the bat boy to tell Dent that there was ‘magic’ in that bat, that there “…was a home run in it”.

The ‘magic’ was alleged to be cork.
According to the story, Yankee center-fielder Mickey Rivers offered up his bat to Dent, who chose the bat, but was unaware that Rivers had altered it. Dent, who was hitting below .200 with no homers in the last two weeks before this game, took a Mike Torrez offering and drove it high and deep into the Boston afternoon, giving the Yankees the lead in the game that they would not relinquish.
Dent was unaware of the illegal bat at the time, and Rivers never made the fact known until many years later. He told some people, including Mike Torrez, that the bat was corked. Then he later rescinded the story. So, the world may never know if ‘Mick the Quick’ pulled a fast one or not.

There was a display where people were able to vote on the Hall of Fame eligibility of Pete Rose. As I got near the display, I could see my wife eyeing me very suspiciously. There were two men already at the display engaged in a mild debate, but it was more of a sense of trying to justify their vote to each other. I did not get involved, which relieved my wife. But I was shaking my head at their rationalizations.

I won’t share my feelings here, as I have already shared them in earlier posts. But I will say this…right now, the worst thing for Peter Edward Rose would be Hall of Fame induction. He is making too much money and getting so much publicity by not being inducted.

We made our way to the gallery on the first floor, or as Joe Morgan refers to it, “sacred ground”. For those who have never been, it is oddly serene. Not as noisy as the rest of the museum. Reverence and respect abound in this chamber of greatness.
What struck me is how even keeled it is. Babe Ruth, Ty Cobb, Jackie Robinson, Tom Seaver, Bob Gibson, Cy Young…all their greatness is encapsulated on simple plaques, none bigger than the other. True, some have more narrative than others, but each enshrinement is of a uniform size. As it should be.
You can stop and visit at each one. Yogi, Mickey, Piazza, Teddy Ballgame. Take a moment in remembrance of their careers, what they meant to you, to others, to the game. Reflect upon their impact, to the game, to history, to you.

I owe this visit to my eleven-year old daughter.

Our visit was good, fun and fulfilling. Can’t wait to get back.

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