Yesterday afternoon, in anticipation of the Phillies/Yankees Game 6, SportsCenter came up with a list of the ten best Game Six moments in World Series history. Joe Carter’s series-winning, walk-off homer off of Mitch Williams in 1993 was their number one moment, but there were plenty of other memorable ones. One of the most famous, of course, was the Bill Buckner error in the tenth inning of Game 6 of the 1986 World Series (and to my friends who are Red Sox fans, I apologize for bringing it up).
We all remember that moment – and that World Series – as one of the most exciting and memorable of the last twenty-five, or even fifty, years. It seems impossible to think of it in any other way. With that in mind, I found it pretty funny when I came across this article the other day. Written by Bill Conlin and published Sunday, October 26, 1986, the article was called “Paled by the playoffs/This Series is truly an anticlimax“. An excerpt:
“In the wake of two of the great individual games in the history of the pastime, two emotionally spent ballclubs have produced what so far has been a forgettable World Series.
Major-league baseball must now ask itself a serious question: Is it fair to expect 48 guys who already have driven themselves through 30 exhibition games and the 162-game regular season to hang out their skills for what could be 14 consecutive Super Bowls with their attendant media circus?
“I think that’s a bit much to ask of professional athletes,” Mets outfielder Mookie Wilson said. “We get paid a lot of money to play the best we can play, but we’re human beings and we can only stay on an emotional high for so long and you have to come back down again and go back up again.”
“After you put so much into a series there’s bound to be a letdown,” Wilson said. “We’ve had somewhat of a letdown after that series (with) Houston. We’re just beginning to get ourselves back up.””
Mookie would, of course, go on to have a key role in the Buckner game. Conlin wasn’t done explaining to his readers just why the Series was underwhelming that year.
“In case you’ve dozed off around 11 p.m., or the fifth inning – whichever came first – nobody is comparing this World Series with the 1975 classic between the Red Sox and Cincinnati Reds. Nobody is even comparing it to last autumn’s forgettable Missouri Waltz, when the only play anybody can remember a year later was a blown call at first base by American League umpire Don Denkinger.
Cutoff and relay men have been missed, and the baserunning has been right out of a 1962 Mets lowlights film. Wade Boggs, the best average hitter the game has seen since Ted Williams, has flogged the ball at a .227 clip.”
(Click “Read More” to continue reading)
This article was published in the “2 Star Edition” of the Houston Chronicle on Sunday, October 26. I can only imagine that the “2 Star Edition” is the early edition because, as you may or may not know, Game 6 of the ’86 Series was played on Saturday, October 25. That’s right – this article was published after the Buckner game, though it was obviously written before the game was over. Or perhaps he just “dozed off around 11 p.m., or the fifth inning – whichever came first”. You gotta love those early deadlines, right?
The article wasn’t a total whiff for Conlin, though. Here’s some very prescient insight on Buckner:
“Bill Buckner never could run or catch the ball very well, but at least he could hit. His presence at first base on those high-top elevator sneaks left the Red Sox playing a game of 8-on-9 in their own ballpark. Buckner is batting .174 in the Series with a lone RBI.”
We can’t fault Conlin for not being able to predict one of the most remarkable endings in World Series history. That play still amazes me every time I see it 25 years later, and it was simply impossible to see coming. What I find remarkable about this piece – other than the fact that the Red Sox were still playing Buckner with a lead in the bottom of the 10th of the clinching World Series game despite columnists writing things like this about him – is that this is a glimpse of the 1986 World Series mere hours before what has come to be one of the most memorable moments in the history of the Fall Classic, and it shows us just how utterly bored people were with the Series at that time. It’s amazing how one bad inning and one slow roller can change everyone’s perceptions so drastically.
There were no such dramatics in last night’s Game 6. The Yankees pulled out to a big lead early on and just never looked back. Congratulations to them and to the Yankees fans that I know. They were the best team in baseball this year, and clearly showed it this postseason. Congrats again.
Time will tell how we remember this World Series. I somehow doubt we’ll be talking about it as one of the best championships ever in the near or far future. We did see record-setting performances by Chase Utley (the good kind) and Ryan Howard (the bad kind), but those same records were also set in 1980, and few people outside of Philadelphia or Kansas City reminisce about that. No matter how this game turned out, though, or how we remember this Series, this article by Conlin is a good example of just how quickly things can change for the better – and for the immortal. The baseball season may finally (sadly) be over, but that doesn’t mean this lesson shouldn’t be remembered: as long as there is some game left to be played, there is always a chance for something great, memorable, and life-changing to happen. Now how many days until spring training?