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World Series Stature Still on the Stove

Any World Series that goes seven games has a chance to be called “great.”

Murray’s Law is that a World Series is like a great stew. It has to simmer awhile before you can assess its true flavor.

The 1991 World Series has a lot going for it. All those one-run games, extra-inning affairs. Let me root-root-root for the home team, if they don’t win it’s a shame, and all that. . . .

But a World Series is like a blockbuster movie. The cast of characters is all-important. For that reason, I always held out the 1975 World Series as the greatest of the modern era. Consider the stars in that one--Pete Rose, Johnny Bench, Joe Morgan, Tony Perez for the Cincinnati Reds. Carl Yastrzemski, Carlton Fisk, Fred Lynn, Luis Tiant for the Boston Red Sox. Marquee value.

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A World Series doesn’t need seven games to make Valhalla. Any World Series starring the 1927 New York Yankees, and the 1928 and 1932, was instant history. Those weren’t contests, they were concerts. The Yankees won them all, four games in a row. The opposition was just the backdrop. The Yankees had Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Bill Dickey, Tony Lazzeri and company, and they just gave a home run recital. It was in 1932, for instance, a Series that was as one-sided as the electric chair, that Ruth hit his famous “called shot’ home run. That alone made it a historic Series.

The 1934 World Series was the Gashouse Gang’s finest hour. These were the rollicking St. Louis Cardinals of Leo Durocher, Pepper Martin, Dizzy Dean and his brother Paul, Frankie Frisch and Joe Medwick, so called because they were a fearless, fighting, underpaid band of renegades who took on a very good Detroit team starring Hank Greenberg, Charley Gehringer, Schoolboy Rowe, Goose Goslin and Mickey Cochrane. Dizzy Dean was as unpredictable as Kansas weather. In the final game, he turned to Manager Frisch as Tiger slugger Greenberg came up and asked, “What is it you say not to throw him?” “Don’t give him a fastball--he’ll kill it!” Dean threw a fastball. Greenberg killed it. Off the left-field fence. “What’d you do that for?” screamed the enraged Frisch. “I was beginning to think he couldn’t hit anything,” Dean relied sunnily.

I was amused recently to read a piece by a former colleague of mine, Roy Terrell, in Sports Illustrated. Roy was insulted to read that the sixth game of the 1975 World Series at Boston was “the greatest Series game ever played.”

Roy was indignant. He said, miffed, that he knew for a fact the final game of the 1960 World Series--Bill Mazeroski hit a home run in the bottom of the ninth of Game 7--was the greatest game ever played. The evidence was incontrovertible. Roy saw that game.

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Roy deplores the tendency of the modern reporter to lay the superlatives all over the event he has seen, thus ennobling both the event and himself. The I-was-there syndrome. He knows for a fact sporting events he witnessed deserve those accolades.

Commissioner Fay Vincent, a scholar of the grand old game, has decreed this World Series to be the best ever played. But baseball isn’t a monarchy. He only gets one vote like everyone else.

If I had a fault to find with this year’s World Series, it would be this: I have never seen anything more nonsensical than having half the games played without the designated hitter and half with it. Depending on whose ballpark you’re in.

I don’t like the designated hitter. I’ll tell you why: It takes away the second-guess, which is life’s blood to the dedicated sportswriter (and the dedicated fan). In the 1981 World Series, in the fourth inning of Game 6 with the score, 1-1, Yankee Manager Bob Lemon had a thorny problem. His starting pitcher, Tommy John, was sailing along satisfactorily, but in the bottom of the inning, the Yankees had the bases loaded, two out and a chance to break the game wide open. But they had no DH. He decided to pinch-hit for John. Pinch-hitter Bobby Murcer flied out--and the Dodgers roughed up relief pitchers for seven runs in two innings and walked off with the championship. The Hot Stove League had a winter of controversy, and anyone who doesn’t think baseball needs controversy doesn’t know baseball.

The DH doesn’t belong in baseball, but even so, the spectacle of forcing pitchers who haven’t swung at a curve in years to take their cuts in the year’s most important games is laughable. Besides, National League teams do not stock up on DH’s--understandably--and are overmatched in this category in the World Series.

Baseball has to take steps to resolve this schizophrenic World Series, short of putting the game in a straitjacket.

The Series was a good one. It may have been the greatest, as Commissioner Vincent holds.

It was easy for it to capture the public imagination, coming as it did after three consecutive one-sided World Series--a four-out-of-five victory for the Dodgers in 1988 and two four-game sets in a row. CBS, with its billion-dollar investment in payment for the games, was happy. Ratings rose as the Series tightened.

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You have to wait and see. World Series are sometimes like a cult movie. Their impact is subtle, progressive. The dramatis personae have to flesh out. In 1942, when the brash young Cardinals shocked the lordly Yankees by winning four in a row after losing the first game, we didn’t know the kid left fielder, Stan Musial, would turn out to be Stan the Man. And in 1975, we didn’t know the third baseman on the Reds one day was going to break Ty Cobb’s record.

Maybe someday the 1991 World Series will be singled out because it was David Justice’s or Ron Gant’s first or Kirby Puckett’s or Jack Morris’ last.

A World Series, like fine wine, has to age before its bouquet can be properly appreciated.


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