Published October 20, 2011
For me the World Series is like a family wedding or funeral. It causes me to revisit my history with this autumnal event and to rejoice in memories that link me to baseball and to my now long life as a fan. For this is the 107th World Series and I realize I have memories of some 65 of them.
When I was 8, in 1946, I recall the father of my best friend lamenting the surprising failure of his beloved Red Sox and especially the stunning disappointment of Ted Williams going 1 for 25 in that series. Later when I got to know Ted, he often complained at the loss of that series and blamed himself for what he called “my horseshit” hitting. He struggled with that brutal reality the rest of his life. He is not alone as our great game is as much about the failures and surprisingly bad performances in the world series as it is about the shimmering moments of success we remember so fondly.
But as I run the tape of my memories of the World Series it is the glorious plays and performances that keep replaying in my mind and not the errors or poor play. The mind is remarkable-- it stores data in a whimsical manner.
As a 12-year-old in 1950, I recall vividly being at the Yale Bowl watching a Yale football game while getting reports from radio broadcasts that a rookie lefthander named Whitey Ford had won the fourth game of the series as the Yankees swept the Phillies.
I have no idea why that one game is so set in my memory but there it is. Ford remains one of my favorite players and I recall Yogi Berra, his catcher, telling me why Ford was so special. “He could throw any of his pitches for a strike when the count was 3 and 2. He was never predictable.”
Similarly, I remember the Yankees and Casey Stengel went on after that 1950 series to win the next 3 series—or 5 in a row-- before the Cleveland Indians won in 1954. When I came to know Bob Feller, the Indian pitching legend, he quietly acknowledged his disappointment he was not asked to start a game in that series. There is drama behind the scene not often visible to us as fans.
In the 60’s and 70’s as I was moving along in my working life, the importance of the series moved into the shadows of my other obligations, but the walk off homer by Bill Mazerowski of the Pirates in 1960, the superb pitching performances of Bob Gibson and Sandy Koufax and the fielding plays at third base by Brooks Robinson remain fixed in my memories of those years with the same intensity as the less noble images of Vietnam, the ugly scenes of President Johnson and General Westmoreland, Watergate, the travails of the tragic and flawed Spiro Agnew and the resignation of President Nixon.
My memory tape uses the glory of Brooks Robinson going behind the bag at third base to make several impossible fielding plays to offset the dreary realities of public misconduct. In those grim years, baseball for me was one of the reminders of better American traits. There is a discernible nobility to baseball—a gracious victor and an honest loser-- and even though these are merely games and not central to political or economic realities, they do stand as confirmation of some of core values. One cannot lie or cheat in baseball. The rules matter. Frequently the best team does win. In the 70’s we needed reminding.
My personal participation with the Series began in the 80’s. My dear pal and predecessor Bart Giamatti died five months into his term of office in 1989 and so the World Series that fall was dedicated to his memory.
How can I forget the painful scene as we began that series with his beloved Yale Whiffenpoofs singing group performing the National Anthem?
Then just as the third game of that series was about to begin, the earth shook and the series had to be postponed to permit recovery efforts.
The grim realities of the ensuing dramas have faded in my memory. Instead, the memory tape vividly captures the dominating play of Ricky Henderson who led the Oakland A’s of Tony LaRussa to a sweep of the Giants.
In the next few years, I sat as Commissioner while the Reds swept the A’s in 1990 and as The Twins and Kirby Puckett defeated the Braves in 1991 in a series often rated as one of the greatest ever.
Those memories are captured in the memory tape because I was living out the ultimate fantasy. There I was as the Commissioner of Baseball trying to believe the games in front of me were really happening and that I was not having a dream. Who would believe? The tape runs out as it always does. But I replay it almost daily.
Fay Vincent is a former CEO of Columbia Pictures Industries and from 1989-92 served as the Commissioner of Baseball.