Before Game 4 of the World Series scheduled for next Wednesday, Major League Baseball will unveil its top five moments as voted by the fans. For the past few months, fans have voted upon selections from a list of 30 nominations selected by a panel of experts.
There is an obvious modern bias in the nominees. Nine of the 30 moments have occurred since 1991. Granted, some of these selections, such as Game 7 of the 1991 World Series, the home run chase of 1998, and Barry Bonds’ 71st homer from last year deserve to be there. However, there are some questionable choices, for example Ichiro’s 2001 season.
Additionally, the definition of a baseball moment varies. Some of the “moments” are actually entire seasons, like Ted Williams’ 1941 season when he hit .406 and Ichiro’s 2001 season. Out of the nominees, two encompass multiple games, namely Johnny Vander Meer’s consecutive no-hitters in 1938 and DiMaggio’s 56-game hitting streak in 1941. Finally, three of the moments — including Satchel Paige’s election to the Hall of Fame in 1971, Lou Gehrig’s farewell speech in 1939, and Babe Ruth’s sale to the Yankees in 1920 — did not occur during games.
That said, I think that the nominees do in fact include the five best moments that baseball has to offer. (Just a note: I decided to treat a “moment” as an actual play. However, I could understand the inclusion of Jackie Robinson’s rookie season on account of great historical and social significance).
Here’s how I rank them:
5. Oct. 22, 1975. Reds vs. Red Sox at Fenway Park, Game 6 of the World Series. This game is arguably the greatest in baseball history. It featured a back and forth battle that left the Reds four outs from winning the World Series. Then Bernie Carbo sent the game to extra innings with a home run in the bottom of the eighth inning. In the top of the 11th, Dwight Evans robbed Joe Morgan of a home run. This set the stage for Carlton Fisk leading off the bottom of the 12th. With a one-ball, no-strike count, Fisk lined Pat Darcy’s sinker deep down the left field line. The only question was whether the ball would stay fair. In one of the greatest moments of televised sports, a camera in Fenway Park’s Green Monster captured Fisk waving his arms in an attempt to keep the ball fair. The ball hit the left-field foul pole and the Red Sox had won the game.
4. Sept. 29, 1954. Indians vs. Giants at the Polo Grounds, Game 1 of the World Series. In the top of the eighth inning, the score was tied at 2-2 with Vic Wertz batting and two men on base. Wertz lined the ball 450 feet to center field. Giants center fielder Willie Mays turned immediately and ran down the ball to make an over the shoulder catch. He then proceeded to quickly turn and fire the ball back into the infield to prevent the runners from scoring. The Giants later won the game and the series. This is the greatest defensive play in baseball history. Granted, other players have made catches like this one, notably Jim Edmonds over the last few years. However, none of these plays have occurred on as big a stage.
3. Oct. 15, 1988. Athletics vs. Dodgers at Dodger Stadium, Game 1 of the World Series. The A’s took a 4-3 lead to the bottom of the ninth and brought in Dennis Eckersley to close out the game. After retiring the first two batters, Eckersley walked Mike Davis. Dodgers manager Tommy Lasorda then called upon Kirk Gibson to pinch hit. Gibson had injured his leg in the NLCS and was only available for emergency duty. It didn’t look good for the Dodgers. Eckersley was a top closer and Gibson could barely walk. During his at bat, Gibson fouled off pitch after pitch, grimacing after each swing. Then Eckersley threw a 3-2 slider and Gibson hit a miraculous home run into the right-field stands. The Dodgers won the game and Gibson limped around the bases, pumping his fist.
2. Oct. 13, 1960. Yankees vs. Pirates at Forbes Field, Game 7 of the World Series. In a game that went back and forth, the Yankees erased a 4-0 deficit and carried a 7-4 lead to the bottom of the ninth. Then, after Bill Virdon’s grounder bounced off a rock and hit Yankee shortstop Tony Kubek in the throat, Hal Smith hit a three-run homer and Pirates were up 9-7. The Yanks scored two in the top of the ninth, and Bill Mazeroski led off the bottom of the inning for the Pirates. Mazeroski, who had only hit 11 homers during the regular season, somehow managed to hit Ralph Terry’s pitch over the left field wall. This was the first time a World Series had ended with a walk-off home run, and Mazeroski was an unlikely candidate.
1. Oct. 3, 1951. Dodgers vs. Giants at the Polo Grounds, Game 3 of a three-game playoff for the National League Pennant. The fact that this game was even played was amazing. The Giants were 13.5 games behind the Dodgers on Aug. 12. However, incredibly, the Giants won 37 of their last 44 to tie the Dodgers and force the playoff. In Game 3, the Dodgers took a 4-1 lead to the bottom of the ninth. After two singles and a Whitey Lockman double, Bobby Thomson came to bat with one out and runners on second and third with the Giants down 4-2. Thomson hit Ralph Branca’s 0-1 pitch for a three-run homer to left. Giants announcer Russ Hodges immortalized the play with his call, “THE GIANTS WIN THE PENNANT! THE GIANTS WIN THE PENNANT!”, which he actually said eight times. This dramatic homer is known as “the shot heard ’round the world.”