Sports

Ghost player in the sky

Hal Quinn October 23 1978
Sports

Ghost player in the sky

Hal Quinn October 23 1978

Ghost player in the sky

Sports

Hal Quinn

The Yankees were hurtling off a memorable sudden-death playoff drive and the Dodgers, doing their im-

pression of the Waltons, had won another pennant in Happy Valley. They were getting set to revive a rivalry that spans four decades when suddenly a Dodger of 26 years was struck down, and the World Series became a struggle in which Mr. October met The Devil.

It all started back in 1953 in “N Yawk.” It was a wonderful town then City Hall wasn’t floating loans, the Rockettes had steady work and there were the magnificant “subway series.” The Giants played in the Polo Grounds, the Yankees in their Stadium and “Dem Bums” were mixing up Dodger Blue in Ebbets Field. The Brooklyn Dodgers fanatics came to jeer and cheer “Oisk” and “The Duke” and “Pee Wee” and the great Jackie Robinson. And that year they came to watch a rookie, No. 19.

Some fans, opponents and teammates called Jim Gilliam, the fleet 24year-old second baseman, “Nigger.” The rest called him “Junior,” which to Gilliam was about the same. The ones who knew him well called him “The Devil.” He couldn’t be the militant that Robinson, who broke the baseball color bar, wanted him to be. But as Gilliam quietly went about his job, his egopuncturing wit earned him his diabolical nickname.

They buried Jim Gilliam the morning of the second game of this 75th World Series. They mourned him in the apartment building that now stands in place of Ebbets Field and eulogized him in Los Angeles, where the Dodgers moved in ’58, seeking sunshine and three million clicks of the turnstile. The California Dodgers aren’t called Bums; more often they are called guests on TV game shows. But a generation and the breadth of a continent removed, they donned black arm patches and dedicated the championship series to No. 19.

Davey Lopes now plays second for the Dodgers. He put on Dodger Blue 19 years after Gilliam first wore it. Then

The Devil was in the coach’s box on the first base side.

Against a backdrop of carbon monoxide haze and under the bright orange neon ball of a petroleum company, the scoreboard at Chavez Ravine last Tuesday flashed L-O-P-E-S and the largest Dodger Stadium crowd ever (three heads short of 56,000) chanted his name. Lopes lined Ed Figueroa’s first pitch over the 385-foot sign in left centre and the Dodgers were on their way. The Yankees sent four to the mound but as Lopes explained after finishing off with a three-run homer: “Jimmy was up there watching. There were 50 of us out there because his spirit was in every one of our 25 guys.” Those 50 collected 15 hits and 11 runs in Game One.

Standing alone on the other side of home plate had been Reggie Jackson— Mr. October. He was everything in last year’s ninth edition of the Dodger-Yankee Series collection. Jackson’s fairytale three homers in the final gamejustifying the nickname that celebrates his post-season potency—will be retold by the million's who saw them and the legions who will say they did. This night he stood and waited for Tommy John to saunter to the mound in the top of the seventh to nurse his two-hit shutout. Jackson rose above the boos and broke John’s 23 consecutive scoreless innings string with a 430-foot homer.

He was the only Yankee at Gilliams’

funeral the next morning. He sat with Lopes, former manager Walter Alston, manager Tom Lasorda and pitching greats Don Newcombe and Joe Black. The new Dodgers were there, and so were some of the Brooklyn boys of summer—Roy Campanella, Pee Wee Reese, Duke Snider. Jackson was eloquent and won a chorus of amens as he spoke of Gilliam and Christianity beside a velvet blue-on-silver No. 19 at the front of the Trinity Baptist Church.

The spirit of The Devil infected the crowd at Game 2 when the ads for next year’s season tickets blinked off the scoreboard long enough for an announcement that Gilliam’s uniform had been buried with him.

The Yankees, too, regained their spirit-battling on the bus and squabbling over how large a share of the take Billy Martin would get for taking them to 14 games back of the Red Sox and how much his replacement as manager, Bob Lemon, would get for bringing them to L.A. Once back on the field, Yankee pitcher Catfish Hunter made one bad pitch—“I hung a slider and The Penuin (Dodger third baseman Ron Cey) put it out”—to erase Jackson’s three RBls. The Dodgers were ahead 4-3.

Bob Welch, a 21-year-old righthander called up from Albuquerque, trotted out for the Dodgers in the top of the ninth to a standing ovation. He dispensed with Yankee catcher Thurman Munson before Mr. October stepped in with two out, two on, trailing by one.

Welch (“My best is my fastball”) fired and Jackson (“I swung too hard”) almost fell. The next fastball was right at Jackson’s head. Reggie fouled one off and the crowd, still standing, roared. He fouled the next one into the second deck and that cooled them off. Jackson fouled the next pitch into the third deck and the mob booed. They screamed as a fastball sailed high and inside. They danced at their seats when Jackson fouled again. Then it came high and wide and the count was at the mystical three and two. The cantilevered roof of the stadium was shaking as Jackson stepped out (“I tried to relax and key back down”) and then settled back in. Welch fired his ninth fastball and Jackson swung (“It was a bit inside but it was a pitch I couldn’t take”) and missed.

Reggie slammed into the dugout as the Dodgers mobbed Welch. He shoved manager Lemon who shoved back, as Dodgers manager Lasorda hugged his

boy wonder. Lemon said Jackson was teed off that he couldn’t be the hero; Lasorda said it was one of the greatest moments in series history. Mr. October said he’d been thinking of something else.

The Devil travelled to New York with the Dodgers. “Man, that team is spiritually high,” said Jackson. “Lopes is blatantly penetrated by the spirit of Gilliam.” The Yanks threw their ace, but Ron Guidry had already thrown 273.2 innings this season. He came with his fastball and catcher Munson said it wasn’t popping. Lopes hit the first pitch deep to centre, forcing fielder Mickey Rivers back. But it’s 417 feet to the wall there; 430 feet a little to the left in “Death Valley.” Rivers caught a Chavez Ravine home run and the fired-up Lopes was just a long out.

All night the Yankees went into Lopes at second like the red-necks had gone after Gilliam. In the second, Graig Nettles drove one by him, then Chris Chambliss took him out in a slide to break up a double play. Brian Doyle slid into him forcing a one hop, two-late throw to Steve Garvey at first. In the seventh it was Paul Blair’s turn. He slid wide and forced another bad throw from Lopes and Munson followed with an RBI single.

Lopes stung the ball each trip to the plate, but it was Nettles who was charmed that New York night. He took a Lopes line drive in the third then, with the bases loaded and two out in the sixth, he backhanded what looked like a Lopes triple and the inning was over. Nettles had done the same to Garvey with the bases loaded in the fifth.

So the Yanks took the third game 5-1 and by Saturday’s rainy fourth, there was devil enough in Mr. October. With the Yanks trailing 3-0 in the sixth, Jackson had just singled in the team’s first run. Dodgers shortstop Bill Russell then dropped a soft liner from Lou Piniella and stepped on second to force Jackson out. But Reggie wasn’t there; he was back by first, and Russell’s throw bounced off his right thigh, past first base, allowing Thurmon Munson to score from second. Asked later if he would swear on a Bible that he didn’t block the throw intentionally, Reggie said he really couldn’t answer that.

The Yankees tied it 3-3 in the eighth and after Jackson singled with two out in the 10th, he wandered over to the dugout to counsel Piniella on his nemesis from Game 2, young Dodger pitcher Welch. Two pitches later Piniella punched in the winner and the series was tied 2-2, primed to go back to L.A.

“Sure Gilliam is a big factor in the Series,” Jackson said in the locker room. “But he can’t hit for them and there are people like Nettles and myself that are going to be factors, too.” Amen.'ÿ