Fans clamored to get Marty McSorley’s autograph last week. And, no, he wasn’t using a crooked pen.
The line at Staples Center was so long, you would have expected overpriced beer to be available at the end of it. Clearly, with the Kings again in the Stanley Cup Final, all is forgiven and forgotten.
“It will never be forgotten,” Kings fan Chuck Parido said, smiling.
OK, but all is forgiven.
“If we continue to have success this year, it will be forgiven more,” Parido said.
There are moments that last in sports. The ground ball to Bill Buckner that gave Boston Red Sox fans conniptions. Donnie Moore’s fateful pitch that so tortured Angels faithful. Chicago Cubs fans seeing Steve Bartman, one of their own, reach for a foul ball.
McSorley is that to Kings fans.
The Kings were 1 minute 45 seconds away from taking a 2-0 series lead over the Montreal Canadiens in the 1993 Stanley Cup Final. Then McSorley was caught using a stick with a curve that went beyond NHL legal limits.
The Canadiens scored a power-play goal and then won in overtime. The Kings lost the next three games.
Yet it is never as simple as ground ball … or a pitch … or a foul ball … or even an illegal stick.
“A lot of times, there is a flash-bulb moment and people fixate on it,” said Dr. Rick Grieve, a professor of psychology at Western Kentucky University. “It makes it easy to rationalize why things went south.”
Certainly McSorley has done far worse things with a stick — clubbing Vancouver’s Donald Brashear in 2000 tops the list. But his illegal stick “has become Stanley Cup folklore,” said television analyst Barry Melrose, the Kings’ coach in 1993.
McSorley addressed the incident with the media Sunday in a scene that resembled a congressional hearing, lacking only an attorney whispering in his ear.
He claimed the way the Canadiens found out about the stick was not “honest.” But it was an illegal stick, which he still has at home. He was coy as to where in his home.
“It’s not on display,” McSorley finally said after repeatedly being asked. “I don’t think it warrants being on display.” He then asked, “What’s bigger, the stick or the story?”
Kings fans don’t see the difference.
While observing McSorley sign autographs, Parido was asked by his wife, “Who’s that?” Parido replied, “That’s Marty McSorley; he had the illegal stick in 1993.”
Asked if it was fair to shoulder that blame, McSorley said, “As a player, I don’t think you have the ability to stand back and say this is fair and not fair. Fans have the ability and the right to think and choose.”
But Grieve said that connecting the dots is more complicated.
“The play fans focus on isn’t usually the play that lost the series,” Grieve said. “Remember Steve Bartman? What was the score of the game at the time? The fact was, it was not that play that cost the Cubs the game.”
The Cubs were five outs from the 2003 World Series, leading the Florida Marlins, 3-0, in Game 6 of the National League Championship Series. Bartman knocked a foul ball away from a leaping Moises Alou, who was reaching into the stands. The Marlins scored eight runs in the inning.
Bartman was immediately vilified by fans, yet others could share the blame. Shortstop Alex Gonzalez botched a double play that would have ended the inning with the Cubs leading, 3-1. Kerry Wood, one of the Cubs’ top pitchers, couldn’t hold a 5-3 lead in Game 7.
But Grieve said, “When we see memorable plays, it makes it easy for people to say, ‘Here’s why we lost the game,’ as fair or unfair as that may be.”
Other lost facts ...
What’s remembered: The Angels were one strike from the World Series in Game 5 of the ALCS in 1986. Moore gave up a two-run homer to the Red Sox’s Dave Henderson for a 6-5 Red Sox lead.
Don’t forget: The Angels tied the score in the bottom of the ninth. With the bases loaded and one out, Doug DeCinces went first-pitch fishing and popped up to shallow right field. The Angels didn’t score, eventually lost, and then rolled over en masse in the next two games.
What’s remembered: Buckner’s error on a grounder by the New York Mets’ Mookie Wilson allowed Ray Knight to score the winning run in the 10th inning in Game 6 of the 1986 World Series.
Don’t forget: The Red Sox were one out from their first World Series title since 1918 when Calvin Schiraldi gave up a run on three consecutive singles. Bob Stanley’s wild pitch let the tying run score. The Red Sox blew a 3-0 lead in Game 7.
“If you rewind every game, you can find five or six reasons for the outcome,” Grieve said.
Rewind to 1993 ...
Canadiens Coach Jacques Demers was believed to be working with inside information when he asked that McSorley’s stick be examined. Shenanigans by a Montreal Forum employee assigned to the Kings’ locker room were suspected.
Eric Desjardins’ power-play goal after the illegal-stick penalty tied the score, 3-3, with 1:13 left. Desjardins scored again a minute into overtime. The Kings lost the next two games at home in overtime, then were buried in Game 5 in Montreal.
“Do I think it had a huge impact?” said Luc Robitaille, who is the Kings’ president of business operations and played on the 1993 team. “It was one moment in one game in a five-game series.”
Rob Blake, a Kings defenseman in 1993, agrees with Robitaille that the stick incident did not affect the team.
“We wanted at least a split on the road and we got it,” Blake said. “We lost two games [at home] that could have gone either way. Now we’re down 3-1. I don’t know what you can pin it on other than they were very good in overtime.”
Melrose points out that in 1993, Canadiens goaltender Patrick Roy “won 10 overtime games that year. We out-chanced them. We outplayed them. Patrick was fantastic.”
An end to the Kings’ championship drought might bring a different specter. When the Red Sox ended their drought with World Series titles in 2004 and 2007, the animosity toward Buckner seemed to lessen.
McSorley is not looking for exoneration, saying, “I don’t think there is anything to be absolved from. I don’t look at the fan base as a body of people who have hung on to that.”
Then McSorley admitted, “Yes, it comes up, and yes, it is on their minds. It is a point in Kings history. If there is honesty and real frankness involved with that, then I’m fine with it.”