World Series goofs and goats

Autumn is the best of times in baseball, the season when the World Series escorts new heroes and tall moments to the headlines. Sometimes deathless quotes emerge, as well – such as when crusty old Casey Stengel was honoured in 1961 for leading the New York Yankees into 10 World Series in his 12 years as their manager.“I couldn’t have done it,” the modest fellow confessed, “without the players.”

The Series often produces a home-run hero for posterity. Such as Joe Carter, who in 1993 delivered the three-run explosion in the bottom of the ninth for the Blue Jays’ second consecutive championship.

Thirty-three years earlier Bill Mazeroski administered the same devastating blow in the bottom of the ninth for Pittsburgh, stunning the Yankees.

It has been occasionally noted that in its up and downs, sport is a metaphor for life. Yogi Berra provided his own version of that notion in an observation that will live longer than he will. Yogi is quoted as saying, “It ain’t over ’til it’s over.”

And it ain’t. Because all too often somebody goofs and the miakes become synonymous with their names. Berra himself was there in 1941, catching for the Yankees against the Brooklyn Dodgers when that fabled team played in Ebbets Field, and the goat was Berra’s opposite number, Dodger catcher Mickey Owen.

In the ninth inning of the fourth World Series game, the Dodgers led the Yankees 4-3. There were two out, the Yankees had no one on base, and there were two strikes on their man Tommy Henrich. When Henrich swung and missed strike three the game should have been over. But, as in the Berra philosophy, it wasn’t.

For when Henrich missed that third strike the ball tipped Mickey Owen’s mitt and rolled away. Henrich legged it out to first. The next batter, Joe Di- Maggio, ripped a single. Charley Keller followed with a double. The rout was on. The Yankees won 7-4. Next day they wrapped up the Series and Mickey Owen’s name lives on in baseball infamy – now 57 years later.

Owen was by no means the first World Series goat. Before him there was Hack Wilson in centre-field for the Chicago Cubs. Hack was a gorilla of a man, 5-foot-6 and 190 pounds, all thick arms and shoulders and tree-trunk legs, a guy who batted in 190 runs one season and slugged 58 homers.

But those achievements were not what preserved his name. No, losing a flyball in the sun turned that trick in the 1929 Series against the old Philadelphia Athletics.

On that brilliant, sunny afternoon the Cubs held an 8-0 lead in the seventh inning. Then the As began to peck away. They clawed to 8-4 with two men on base when As outfielder Mule Haas lifted a routine fly to centre field.

Hack Wilson staggered, blinded by the sun as he looked for the ball. As it rolled to the fence, three runs crossed the plate. The As went on to score 10 times that inning, won by 10-8 and closed out the Series the next afternoon.

Fate’s victim in 1986 was Bill Buckner, the Boston first-baseman, whose stupefying error helped prevent the Red Sox from winning their first World Series since 1918.

In the top of the 10th inning of the sixth game, the Red Sox scored twice to lead the New York Mets by 5-3. A win that day would end the Series, but it was not meant to be.

The Mets, with two out and nobody on base, rallied in the bottom of the 10th. They put across two runs and had a runner at second base when a future Blue Jays outfielder, Mookie Wilson, tapped an easy roller along the first-base line. Buckner stooped for the ball – and it hopped between his legs.

Meantime the runner at second base, Ray Knight, was scurrying around third and dashing for home. With him he carried the winning run and a lifetime of misery for Bill Buckner.

But not only ballplayers succumb in a World Series; umpires, paragons before television and instant replays, now can be shown as fallible. Two of them, Don Denkinger and Bob Davidson should have been accompanied by seeing-eye dogs for assistance on a couple of their Series calls.

Denkinger worked first base in the sixth game in 1985 when the Cardinals led Kansas City by 1-0 going to the bottom of the ninth. KC’s Jorge Orta led off and grounded to first-baseman Jack Clark, who tossed the ball to pitcher Todd Worrell covering the bag and beating Orta. Denkinger, to the wonderment of all, called Orta safe.

Repeated television replays showed the toss clearly beat Orta but Denkinger held firm. Kansas City went on to score twice, and next night beat the demoralized and still furious Cardinals, collecting World Series rings.

In 1992 the Bob Davidson myopia on a tag by third-baseman Kelly Gruber prevented the first World Series triple play ever executed on Canadian turf.

It followed a magnificent catch by Blue Jays outfielder Devon White with Atlanta runners Terry Pendleton and Deion Sanders at first and second bases. Dave Justice hit a ball far into centre field that somehow was flagged down by White face-first against the fence like a fly on a wall.

The catch set off a weird series of events. White threw to Alomar, the cutoff man, who relayed to John Olerud to double off Pendleton, not realizing Pendleton had been called out for passing Deion Sanders on the base path.

Olerud in turn, threw the ball to Gruber at third to get the onrushing Sanders.

Triple play!

Except that Sanders skidded to a stop and headed back towards second. Gruber took off in pursuit and nailed him on the foot as he dove for the bag, Umpire Davidson called Sanders safe, thereby qualifying for a chair in the Canadian National Institute for the Blind and once again illustrating that World Series immortals are not always heroic figures.