Screw Mastercard - My Top Baseball Moments
Back in 2002, corporate monolith Mastercard partnered with Major League Baseball to create a definitive list of the 30 Most Memorable Moments in Major League Baseball HistoryTM. See the list here. It's fine and all, probably the best list compiled to date. It's got some issues, of course. There's too much focus on events occurring on the Yankees specifically and the coasts in general, which isn't surprising. There also seems to be an emphasis on embracing diversity, which also shouldn't be a surprise given the corporate sponsorship. (Ichiro winning the 2001 MVP is one of the greatest baseball moments ever? Really?)
But... it's fine. However, most of the events on the list don't really resonate with me. Joe D's 56-game hitting streak? Sounds impressive. Carl Hubbell starting out the 1934 All-Star Game with five consecutive strikeouts? Hmm. I bet that was fun to watch. Even Carlton Fisk's homerun that beat the Reds in Game 6 of the '75 Series is a little hollow, despite having been subjected to it 1,432,235 times in replays. So a list featuring "memorable moments" where 57% of the highlights occurred before I was born (and 66% occurred before I followed baseball) leaves me wanting something more.
Like my own list. (Of course it's my own list. Where did you think I was going with this?)
The criteria for said list is pretty simple. First, the moment had to happen between 1988 and the present. Second, it doesn't need to have any sort of historical significance. It has to be, for lack of a better word, "cool." (And, trust me, I looked for a better word. Cool may sound bad, but it's better than nifty, keen, or hunky-dory.) For example... #28 on the Mastercard/MLB list is Barry Bonds hitting his 71st homerun in 2001. Great. Memorable. Historic. But do you remember the details of the game? Do you remember where you were if/when you watched it? Do you remember thinking you'd never see anything like that again? Probably not. Therefore, not cool. Third, it has to be an actual moment. #7 on the corporate list is Ted Williams' .406 season in 1941. That's not a moment.
(By the way, I'm a bit hung up on this "cool" terminology. If you can think of something better please let me know and I'll come back in and change everything. Really.)
Anton, can I get a drumroll, please?
#10 A Deranged Roger Clemens Throws a Bat Chunk at Mike Piazza 10/22/2000
First, some background. In July of that year, Clemens beaned Piazza, giving the catcher a concussion and causing him to miss the All-Star Game. The two teams met again in the World Series and Piazza stepped into the batter's box in the first. On the fourth pitch Piazza swung and broke his bat, with the barrel heading out towards the mound. Clemens picks it up and proceeds to chuck it at Piazza's feet.
I was watching this at the St. Paul apartment with Matty, and we were both pretty excited about seeing the first meeting between these two. Our jaws definitely dropped when Clemens picked up the bat and threw it-- what was he thinking? Piazza was clearly confused by what was going on, and I think that allowed cooler heads to prevail and prevented a brawl between the two teams.
#9 Ted Williams Appears at the All Star Game 07/13/1999
Teddy Ballgame retired eight years before my parents got married. So how does this make the list? The goosebump factor. Williams was brought to Fenway Park in 1999 to throw out the first pitch before his former hometown crowd. His health was failing, and he had a seemingly well-deserved reputation as a curmudgeon. Would this just be another one of MLB's publicity stunts that sounded nice in theory but pulled off badly?
Not a chance.
Before the first pitch, Williams waved his cap at the crowd, which he never did once in his 19 seasons at Fenway. Then, as he wobbled a bit before throwing the pitch, Tony Gwynn came over to steady him, and pointed him towards home plate. Finally, after getting back into his golf cart, The Splinter was surrounded by all of the stars of my era, all looking at him with wonder in their eyes. McGwire, Sosa, Palmeiro, Griffey... all gathered around Williams, shaking his hand, whispering in his ear. Just amazing.
#8 Randy Johnson Pitches Above John Kruk 07/13/1993
From the magical to the inane... but still. At this point Unit was a bit wilder than his current status of elder statesman, before any of his five Cy Young awards. He fired a 95+ mph fastball that cleared Krukker's head by five feet, but definitely made an impact: Kruk swung badly at the next three pitches in an effort to get the hell out of there. mlb.com has a link to streaming video of the entire at-bat at the bottom of this page.
Johnson repeated the scenario in 1997 when pitching to Larry Walker. Walker flipped his batting helmet around, and re-entered the batter's box as a right-handed hitter. Can't say I blame him.
#7 Randy Johnson Makes Doves Cry 03/24/2001
Woah. RJ throws a 97-mph pitch during a spring training game and a dove is unlucky enough to get in the way. The bird explodes into a messy mass of feathers. It's sad in that a bird meets his maker, but it's pretty amazing to see the impact of a Randy Johnson fastball. And of all people... if Tony Fiore was pitching that day, the bird would've caught the ball and thrown it back faster than the original pitch.
And, for now at least, you can see clip here.
#6 Luis Gonzalez Takes the Series 11/04/2001
At the risk of being called a blasphemer, the 2001 Series was the greatest I've ever witnessed. (No disrespect to my boys Jack, Brian, Kent, Chuck, Greg, Mike/Scott, Dan, Kirby, and the rest of my '91 Twins posse. PEACE!) Where was I? Oh, right. Game 4 was tied by a Tino Martinez homerun off of D-backs closer Byung-Hyun Kim in the bottom of the ninth, and won by a Derek Jeter hit (again off of Kim) in the tenth. Game 5 would prove to be just as exciting, this time with Scott Brosius hitting a two-run homerun off of Kim with two outs in the bottom of the ninth to tie the game. Alfonso Soriano knocked in the winning run in the 12th.
Before we get to the end of the Series, let's back up a moment and review a couple of Wade's Rules of Baseball. First, true baseball fans cannot be lukewarm about the Yankees. Second, the only people allowed to be Yankees fans must be born in New York City. As an aside, nothing makes me more ill than going to a Twins v. Yankees game at the Dome only to be surrounded by yahoos from Maple Grove wearing Posada jerseys. Corn-holing, unimaginative bastard traitors. (And of course you're exempt, Chelle.) Not being from New York, you can who I was cheering for in the '01 Series. But. Given the events of the prior two months, and given the magic that the Yanks had pulled out to win Games 4 and 5... let's say I wouldn't have been as upset if the Bombers came back and won this one.
That sentiment was moo, though (like a cow's opinion), as the D-backs stormed back to take Game 6, and then used some of their own magic in the bottom of the ninth of game 7. Luis Gonzalez faced Mariano Rivera-- ten times the closer Kim ever hoped to be-- and looped a single to center, scoring Jay Bell and giving Arizona the Series. Breathtaking. Granted, the previous games of the Series made this "moment" more special, but I'm able to bend my own rules. I had been married less than a month at this point, and my wife had to deal with being woken up on multiple occasions because of my baseball gyrations (I tend to yell and curse and jump around during playoff baseball), and I'm sure she was wondering what the hell she had gotten herself into. Now she knows.
#5 Tommy Lasorda Knocked on His Ass 07/10/2001
Classic. More background: us Austin boys have held a fond admiration for Lasorda that roots from a clip aired 15 years ago on KQRS. Tommy was about to be interviewed before a Dodgers game and apparently thought his microphone was off. He can be heard saying (multiple times) "Hey-- did you hear that? Did you hear that? Yeah, I just farted. It smells like SlimFast." We've never looked at him the same since hearing that.
The usual suspects were gathered in wadE and Chelle's basement to take in the All-Star Game, and by the sixth inning we'd enjoyed several cocktails and were in the mood for some entertainment. Lasorda hadn't managed since '96 but was brought back as an honorary third-base coach for the National League. Vlad Guerrero hit a ball down the line in right and, in the process, shattered his bat. The barrel flew down, hit Tommy in the hip, and completely knocked him ass-over-teakettle. There was a dead silence in the room, which if you know all of us is pretty impressive. Not that we were concerned about Lasorda's well-being-- it was quickly apparent he was fine-- but we were all trying to think of the funniest response to what had just happened. Great stuff.
#4 Joe Carter Ends the '93 Series 10/23/1993
This one hurt. The Phillies are the lone non-Twins team I've had an affinity for (the red hats? my Kruk-like physique?) and I didn't like seeing them lose the Series to Toronto. However, the dramatic fashion in which the Blue Jays took Game 6 made it hurt less. A little.
The Phillies were up 6-5 in the ninth when Jim Fregosi brought in Mitch Williams to pitch. While Williams was a decent closer who had notched 43 saves that season, I felt more at ease when LaTroy Hawkins was coming in to save Twins games-- Williams' nickname "Wild Thing" was deserved. Maybe it was the mullet. Whatever. Williams walked Rickey Henderson, gave up a double to Paul Molitor (scoring Rickey,) and then Joe Carter stepped in. Carter homered to left, giving the Blue Jays an 8-6 victory and the title. The fact that it was a Series-winning homerun and that Carter looked like he was going to pass out from the excitement makes this a memorable moment.
#3 Jim Abbott No-Hits Cleveland 09/04/1993
Abbott's no-hitter never makes any memorable moment list, and I guess I understand why. It was, for the most part, a meaningless September game between two teams out of the playoff chase in the A.L. East. The Cleveland lineup hadn't yet become the powerhouse it would in the mid-90's. Abbott wasn't necessarily sharp, dealing five walks and only three strikeouts.
But he has... one... hand.
I'd been amazed by Jim Abbott since his debut in 1989. He was born without a right hand. He pitched with his left (obviously) while his glove was on his right arm; after throwing the pitch, he switched the glove to his left. He fielded with one hand. He had two major league hits with one hand. To me, Abbott's success is the ultimate example of someone overcoming nearly impossible circumstances to achieve success. It would've been easy for him to give up on his pathway to the majors because the trip couldn't have been easy. And not only did he make it to the bigs, he had legitimate success (18 wins in 1991, ERA of 2.77 in 1992, the no-no in 1993.)
Abbott now is a motivational speaker as well as a resource for children who are born with limb deficiencies.
#2 Kirby's Game Six Homerun 10/26/1991
I'm not sure there's much I can say. Kirby was an icon to me growing up, as he was to many that grew up in the Midwest. Enthusiastic, always smiling, and constantly proving his critics wrong by being a fantastic hitter despite not having the typical athlete's stature. There were some baaaaad Twins teams between '89-'90 and '93-'95, but Twins fans could always get excited when #34 strolled to the plate. You never knew what could happen.
The Twins were coming off a 14-5 drubbing at the hands of the Braves in Atlanta, and were now facing a 3-2 deficit in the Series. Earlier in the game Kirby made one of his signature leaps in center field, robbing Ron Gant of a homerun. Later, in the 11th, Kirby came to the plate against Charlie Liebrandt with the score knotted at 3. Kirby drove a lame Liebrandt pitch into left center, circled the bases with his fists pumping, and led Jack Buck to say one of the more famous quotes in announcer history, "We'll see you tomorrow night." Black Jack Morris shut the Braves out for ten innings the next night, allowing Gene Larkin to knock in the winning run for the Series win. But none of it would have been possible without Kirby's heroics the night before.
#1 Kirk Gibson Blasts Off 10/15/1988
I've read arguments that Gibson's homer wasn't any more memorable than Kirby's, but gets more publicity because he played for the Dodgers and Kirby was with the Twins. I must say-- I don't buy it. Sure, both were Series game-winning homeruns, both hit by popular figures, both featuring dramatic pumping gestures when rounding the bases. But Gibson's is more slightly memorable. And here's why...
First, Gibson wasn't even supposed to play. He had injured his knee in the NLCS and wasn't expected to play at all in the World Series. His homerun would be his only at-bat in the Series. Second, he got his hit against Dennis Eckersley, the late-80's version of Mariano Rivera. Finally, while Kirby had several great years after the '91 Series, Gibson spent a few more injury-riddled seasons in the bigs before retiring, and never once regained the productivity he had in his MVP season of 1988. It's almost like he gave his all for that one hit.
I can remember sitting on the couch in the den of my house, glued to the television. Two outs in the bottom of the ninth... 3-2 count... The game's most dominant reliever against one of the best-- albeit hobbled-- hitters... and bam! Again, Jack Buck summed it up best by saying "I don't believe what I just saw."