Baseball is the summer game, or was. The World Series is the fall classic, or used to be. The game that has changed so little in its 108 years changed dramatically in 1971. Before Oct. 13 of that year, World Series games were played in the afternoon. The magic of Mantle, Ford, Mays and Mazeroski crackled over transistor radios which danced on bicycle crossbars, through “hearing aids” which sprouted in classrooms and offices and factories, in snatches and glimpses stolen while passing and lingering at TV and radio shops. The fall classic.
Last week on opening day of the 76th series, the jet stream that usually heads down through Colorado ducked into Maryland and into the coffers of network television—the comptroller of professional sport in general, baseball, this week, in particular.
It was obvious to mailmen and anyone else who made appointed Baltimore rounds last Tuesday that the rain was heavy, constant and not conducive to baseball. But with millions of dollars in ad revenues locked up by the American Broadcasting Company, the precipitation which was collecting in troughs in left and right field at Memorial Stadium was not deemed sufficient to postpone such a media event until 8:32 p.m. The mailmen groaned.
The following day, Maryland baseball fans were granted immortality of sorts. Their tales of shovelling out their driveways to get to a baseball game should outlive them. For the sake of television and the vested interest therein, the game was played. The two best teams in the major leagues this year, the Pittsburgh Pirates and the Baltimore Orioles, took the field. The temperature was 5°C, but the dampness bedevilled the figure, which dropped to near freezing before long. It was to have been a classic confrontation—good pitching versus good hitting—but it became a contest between the players and the jet stream, and between baseball Commissioner Bowie Kuhn and reality.
Oriole first baseman Eddie Murray said: “The ball felt like a big, cold marble.” Pirate pitcher Bruce Kison said: “I had no sensitivity in my fingers. I couldn’t feel the seams on the ball,” and he wild-pitched in an Oriole run. Pirate second baseman Phil Garner handled the marble in the first inning. “When I pulled it out of my glove it was wet and I was so cold, I couldn’t even feel the ball.” He threw toward second base for an easy double play that would have ended the inning. The marble landed in left field and two runs scored. The Orioles went on to score three more and that was all they needed to win the first game, 5-4.
Doug DeCinces caught the ceremonial first pitch from his predecessor and legendary Oriole third baseman Brooks Robinson and told him, “I just want to follow in your footsteps.” He did, by hitting a home run in his first World Series at bat, then, cold-handed, booted and sprawled his own way to tie a series record of two errors by a third baseman in one inning—a record that had stood alone since 1910. The fall classic.
Pirate Dave Parker has been called the best player in baseball. He and Oriole Ken Singleton, a candidate for the American League’s Most Valuable Player, patrolled right field that night. “Every time I positioned myself,” said Parker, “I was standing in a puddle. Ken and I are both over 200 pounds and when we get moving in that kind of stuff, we have a hard time stopping.” Singleton could only shake his head; “Snow Oct. 10. But we can’t dome the whole country. It reminds me of Montreal.” (Singleton was traded from the Expos to the Orioles in 1974.) “I bought a house up there and was worried about getting the sod laid; it was October. I asked the contractor about it and he just said, ‘Monsieur, don’t worry. In two weeks everyone will have the same lawn.’ He was right.”
Through it all sat Commissioner Kuhn. While all around him 53,735 fanatics in parkas huddled by Thermoses, Kuhn sat without a topcoat, as is his national TV wont while watching the summer game. Now, in downtown Baltimore, there is a place called Hamburgers. It’s a many-storeyed place. You can’t buy anything to eat there but you can get just about anything else. The day after his topcoat-less night, Kuhn visited Hamburgers’ men’s department on the second floor. He asked the kindly saleslady for thermal underwear. She told him she couldn’t help him in that department, but she could fix him up with flannel pajamas. That done, they picked out a wool shirt and the commissioner was set for a coatless Game 2. Fall show business.
It was far too warm for snow last Thursday—10 damp and dropping degrees. But with the score tied 2-2 in the sixth inning, it was just right for rain. It was still falling when the Pirates sloshed away with a 3-2 win. “If that was a regular season game, they would have stopped it,” said Pirate shortstop Tim Foli. “That was spooky out there.
You couldn’t tell which way the ball was going to hop, and your spikes were so clogged in mud you couldn’t move left or right.” The players called it “treacherous,” “dangerous”; the managers called it “great baseball under the con-
ditions”; and the network called for a “word from our sponsor.”
Pittsburgh’s Three Rivers Stadium is as much a TV studio as it is a ball park. It looked good Friday night, the banks of lights erasing shadows, 50,848 chilled patrons taking “noise” and “applause” cues from the scoreboard like primetime veterans. But the weather didn’t miss its cues either, and it rained again. After the vacuum pumps and the squeegies were through, it still didn’t look good to the Pirates’ Garner. “That ball that Singleton hit at me had overspin, so it hopped up. If it had underspin, I’d probably be in the hospital with a hernia.” Game 1 lasted a record three hours and 18 minutes, the second more g than three hours, the third from Friday 1 to Saturday. Thanks to the hitting of ¿ Kiko Garcia and the pitching of Scott > McGregor, the Orioles won 8-4. g They were back at it 12 hours later g because of ABC’s broadcast of a college “ football game later that day. Finally the rain, if not the cold, relented. They played baseball that day. Oriole Manager Earl Weaver was masterful, his Orioles rallied and it came down to the last out in the longest nine innings in series history. The Orioles won 9-6, took a three-games-to-one lead, and the fans gave glove-muffled applause to a game reminiscent of a fall classic.
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