"The World Series," George F. Will observed in October 1983, "occurs four times as frequently as the Iowa caucuses. What a wonderful country America is." Since Mr. Will's sage remark there have been 35 World Series, only eleven of which have gone to a full seven games. The World Series to begin Tuesday night has a splendid chance of becoming the twelfth such contest.
The Boston Red Sox and the Los Angeles Dodgers have met in the Series once before---in 1916. When Babe Ruth was a Red Sox pitcher (who won Game Two with a thirteen-inning pitching performance), Casey Stengel was a Dodgers outfielder (the team was known then as the Robins and hailed from Brooklyn), and of the four home runs hit in the set three were inside-the-park jobs.
Little chance of 75 percent inside-the-park homers this time around. The Red Sox hit 208 home runs on the regular season; the Dodgers, 235. That doesn't mean this World Series will be a bludgeon competition exclusively. If good pitching beats good hitting (and vice versa), both teams have pitching splendid enough to keep the nuclear weaponry from poking out of its silos very much. But as the late Joaquin Andujar (righthanded pitcher and human time bomb) once observed, "In baseball, there's just one word: you never know."
Lately the nation is wringing hands, gnashing teeth, pulling hair (its own and each other's, apparently), and otherwise ranting its fool head off about the forthcoming Congressional election. Like the old-style corrupt cop who seems more interested in beating his suspect to a pulp than gathering actual criminal information and affirmation, today's American citizens seem far more interested in beating each other into the middle of next month than deciding which between two parties with non-existent agendas---other than likewise beating each other into the middle of the next presidential contest---will hold how many Capitol Hill seats from which to do mischief.
Things were a lot less combative in 1916, and that's even including World War I. Among the babies born that year were a U.S. surgeon general (C. Everett Koop), a British prime minister (Harold Wilson), an Italian prime minister (Aldo Moro), an automotive legend (Ferruccio Lamborghini), an automotive anti-legend (Roy Brown, Jr., who designed the Edsel), a jazz star and his movie star wife (Harry James, Betty Grable), a Baby Boomer-favourite children's author (Beverly Cleary), a virtuoso violinist (Yehudi Menuhin), the almost-first man to pitch a World Series no-hitter (Bill Bevens), and the man who did the most to stop Joe DiMaggio's 56-game hitting streak. (Ken Keltner, third baseman.)
In the same year, the British Royal Army Medical Corps performed the world's first successful blood transfusion, Georgia Tech defeated Cumberland College in football with a score of 222-0, Woodrow Wilson won the presidency with a comparable margin (that's a joke, son), an Ethiopian king was overthrown by his aunt, a circus elephant was hanged in Tennessee for killing her handler (yes, you can look it up), Wilson signed the bill creating the National Park Service, the man considered the founding father of the National Weather Service (Cleveland Addo) died, and William Boeing created the aircraft manufacturer that has long borne his name.
Meanwhile, the World Series about to begin features the first two former teammates to manage against each other in a Fall Classic since 2002. That was then: Former Dodger teammates (1983) Mike Scioscia and Dusty Baker managed, respectively, the champion Anaheim Angels and runner-up San Francisco Giants. This is now: Dave Roberts and Alex Cora, former teammates on both the Dodgers and the Red Sox, manage, respectively, the Dodgers and the Red Sox.
The current political season dominated as it is to a certain extent by racialist conversation and argument, one can't help noticing something about these teams. Roberts, who is half black and half Japanese, manages the team that smashed baseball's ancient and disgraceful colour line in 1948. Cora, who is Puerto Rican, manages the team that was, shamefully enough, the last major league baseball team to admit a black player to its ranks, in 1959.
The Red Sox have come a long way, baby, not always simply, from the ancien regime of Tom Yawkey, whose subordinates, with or without his explicit say-so, rejected Willie Mays as a major league prospect before the New York Giants happily enough accepted the honour of signing him. But this year's model had the next best thing to Mays in Game Four of the American League Championship Series.
With the bases loaded and two out in the bottom of the ninth, Houston Astros third baseman Alex Bregman hit a sinking line drive to left field that looked as though it would send all three runners home with an Astros victory. Except that Andrew Benintendi, Red Sox left fielder, playing practically against the warning track, scampered in, took a dive, and came up with the ball, which landed in his glove a second before Benintendi hit the deck. It preserved the third of four straight wins the Red Sox achieved after losing the set's first game.
A couple of days later, Dodgers left fielder Chris Taylor, moved there from second base during Game Seven of the National League Championship Series, announced that the Red Sox weren't the only Series contestants-to-be with acrobats in the outfield. In the bottom of the fifth, Taylor ran down a deep drive by likely National League Most Valuable Player Christian Yelich of the Milwaukee Brewers, extending his glove hand out over his shoulder, avoiding plowing or being plowed by center fielder Cody Bellinger, and catching the ball just as he began to hit the warning track sliding.
Both teams have solid starting pitching. Both teams have bullpen pitching that proved badly underestimated in the postseason's previous sets. Both teams can deploy anything from hand held cruise missiles to burp guns to score runs and have enough men who can become perfect impressionists of the Road Runner on the bases. Both have pitchers who wield anything from howitzers to grenades. Both have field magicians who devoutly hope not to be kidnapped by jugglers. And both have managers who are remembered for surrealistic moments as players.
One happened while they were Dodger teammates. 12 May 2004, Dodger Stadium: Cora stepped up to hit with a man on against Chicago Cubs pitcher Matt Clement. On a 2-1 count, Cora began fouling off pitch after pitch after pitch after pitch until, after the fourteenth such foul and on the eighteenth pitch of the at-bat, he drove one over the right field bullpen gates. His most ardent cheerleader in the Dodger dugout was teammate Roberts.
Roberts was traded to the Red Sox at that year's deadline for non-waiver trades. In Game Four of that year's ALCS, with the Red Sox three outs away from being swept out of the set, outfielder Kevin Millar drew a leadoff walk of New York Yankees relief star Mariano Rivera and Roberts was sent to pinch run for Millar. After drawing three throws to first, Roberts stole second, scoring promptly on third baseman Bill Mueller's base hit up the middle, and tying the game at four. It pushed the game to the extra innings where David Ortiz hit the game-winning, game-ending two-run homer that started the Red Sox's improbable ALCS overthrow and four-game, (actual or alleged) curse busting World Series sweep.
Now these two ex-teammates with moments such as those on their playing resumes get to try to out-think, out-smart, out-maneuver, and out-run each other. They're renowned lately for flipping the script: their bullpens weren't supposed to be as good as their opponents; at least two of their starting pitchers (Clayton Kershaw, Dodgers; David Price, Red Sox) weren't supposed to be strong in the postseason---until they were, of course. This World Series entry couldn't have been scripted if the Marx Brothers had collaborated with Alfred Hitchcock on the preliminary storyboards.
Those 2004 Red Sox cheerfully called themselves the Idiots. Once upon a time---inspired by a legendary newspaper cartoonist (Willard Mullin), who promptly responded to a Brooklyn cabbie's dismissal by henceforth drawing the Dodgers in the image of circus legend Emmett Kelly, Jr.'s battered-hobo character---the Dodgers became known colloquially as the Bums. There's a World Series concept for you: Idiots versus Bums. Sounds a lot like the last couple of years' worth of Republicans versus Democrats. It also sounds like a lot more genuine fun.
These two teams going in stand an excellent chance of taking this World Series to seven games. That should please their ownerships, to whom making money is not heretofore known as an unwanted imposition. But it should please baseball fans and the nation even more. All politicking and no play makes Jack and Jill a boring couple.
Just after the Dodgers won the NLCS, Victoria, British Columbia proudly tweeted that more people attended the baseball games of the collegiate-league Victoria Harbour Cats than voted in the city's mayoral election. Thanks to two storied ballparks (Fenway Park, Dodger Stadium), radio, television, and the Internet, the World Series has the chance to draw more listeners and viewers than voters to the forthcoming Congressional election. Maybe America has her priorities straight, after all.