By now most people, at least sports fans, are aware that the Chicago Cubs last played a World Series game in 1945 and won one in 1908. The Cleveland Indians haven't been victorious in the fall classic since 1948. The fact that these two teams are meeting in this year's World Series shouldn't be surprising, considering the craziness taking place around the 2016 presidential race. The city of Cleveland shed the loser label earlier this year when the Cavaliers shocked the Warriors by coming back from a 3 - 1 deficit to win the NBA title. Now the Cubs are trying to break the longest drought in Big Four history, hoping they can join the city's other franchises for titles in the last twenty years. As the series gets underway tonight, I'm thinking back on specific memories for me, which begin with the earliest one I can remember in 1964.
At that time, there were no night games, so the weekday contests were played partially during school hours. The '64 Series was a classic, with Cardinals greats Bob Gibson and Tim McCarver taking on Mickey Mantle, Roger Maris and Mel Stottlemyre of the Yankees. I can still remember racing home from school to catch games 1, 2, 5, 6 and 7, the transistor radio still not in full use in the mid-60's. Mantle hit three home runs, including what we now call a walk-off in game 3 in Yankee Stadium to give the home team a two games to one lead. But Gibson would come back and win games five and seven with complete games, including a ten inning performance in game 5. Talk about the first one to remember.
The next year, it was the Dodgers of Sandy Koufax and Don Drysdale taking on the Minnesota Twins, led by Harmon Killebrew, Tony Oliva and Jim Kaat. It was another seven-game thriller with Sandy Koufax throwing a three hit shutout to secure the win for the Dodgers. I remember the Dodgers, in essentially the same style uniforms they have today, playing in the bright Southern California sunshine in Dodger Stadium. The performance of Sandy Koufax, an awesome pitcher that played a short career, was the highlight of the series. Almost as a footnote, the following year the Orioles allowed just two runs, shutting out the Dodgers in the final three games of a 4 - 0 sweep of the defending champs.
Gibson and the Cardinals would return again in 1967 to take on the Red Sox led by Triple Crown winner Carl Yastrzemski. By now the transistor radios were in style and even though we thought the teachers were unaware of their use, as I look back on it they must have chuckled at how obvious we probably were. Gibson pitched three complete games, struckout twenty-six and walked five in twenty-six innings, giving up fourteen hits and three runs in the process with an ERA of 1.00. His dominance was incredible and his legacy probably isn't what it should be in the sport. To end the run of great World Series, the next season Gibson led the Cardinals to a 3 - 1 lead against the Tigers, only to see Detroit win three straight, including game seven against Gibson, to grab the title.
As the 1970's dawned, so did divisional play (1969), a plethora of new stadiums and night World Series games (1971). As a Pittsburgh Pirates fan, the 1971 series was especially memorable. Three Rivers Stadium was new and the Pirates had an exciting team led by Roberto Clemente and Willie Stargell. The initial night World Series game was in Pittsburgh and this time I remember how great it was to be able to watch an entire game on a weekday. Game seven was on a Sunday and I was on a church retreat with my youth group. I ended up listening on a car radio as Steve Blass held on for complete game, 2 - 1 win to secure the series for the Pirates.
My World Series memories were fleeting in mid-70's, as high school and then college tended to diminish my attention. But in 1975, as a freshman at Virginia Tech, the Red Sox and Reds treated us to what might have been, at least to that time, the most memorable of all World Series. We were riveted as the Big Red Machine of Cincinnati, with Pete Rose and Johnny Bench faced off against Carl Yastrzemski, Carlton Fisk and Fred Lynn. There were five one-run games and a game six twelve inning masterpiece won by the Red Sox with a home run by Carlton Fisk, highlighted by Fisk waving the ball fair as he makes his way down the first base line. We watched all of the games on a fifteen inch, black and white television, and even though the Reds ended up winning, I've never loved watching any World Series more.
By 1979 I was in graduate school and the Pirates were once again in the playoffs, this time against that same Reds juggernaut. My aunt had season tickets and invited me to Pittsburgh for the National League Championship Series. The Bucs had won the first two games in Cincinnati and came back to Three Rivers only needing one win to get to the World Series. I drove from Blacksburg Friday morning and attended the game on a picture perfect night for baseball. The Pirates took care of the Reds 7 - 1 and we were able to go out on the field as "We Are Family" blared over the public address system. The following week, I made the trip again, this time after game one had been snowed out in Baltimore and the teams split the first two games in the Queen City. I can't remember if it was Friday night's game or the one on Saturday, but one of them was delayed by a cold drizzle. By the time we got to a dreary Three Rivers Stadium on Sunday evening, the Pirates found themselves down three game to one and had to face Mike Flanagan, Jim Palmer and Scott McGregor in succession in order to win the series. Well, the rest is "We Are Family" history, as they outscored the Orioles 15 - 2, led by Willie Stargell, the rest of the way and brought the last World Series title to Pittsburgh.
As a finishing touch, I can provide another memory, but it wasn't mine. My aunt was a lifelong Pirates fan and was especially fond of Willie Stargell. Her tickets were even on the first base side so she had an up close view of Stargell. In 1960, she was at Forbes Field when Bill Mazeroski hit arguably the most famous home run in history to win the World Series over the mighty New York Yankees. She passed away in 1998, and I dedicate this to the memory of my Aunt Ginny.
Don't forget to check out my new book, "Offsetting Penalties - A PK Frazier Novel" at Amazon.com and listen to me Friday's at 8:40 am EDT/ 7:40 am CDT on Lou in the Morning, streaming live on www.WPFLradio.com, 105.1 FM. I can also be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.