It was time for a new season, but the question under discussion was from the old: Do you send Don Baylor up to bat for Bill Buckner?
Philadelphia manager John Felske and scout Ray (Snacks) Shore were standing behind a batting cage in Clearwater, Fla., early in spring training, reliving the night of Oct. 25, 1986. "I was sitting there in my den with two outs in the bottom of the tenth," said Felske, "and I turned to my wife and said, 'This is where I want to be someday.'
"Ten minutes later, I said to my wife, 'God, I hope I'm never there.' "
"I'm a John McNamara man," said Shore, who worked closely with McNamara when they were both with the Reds from 1979 to 1982. "But the one thing I'll never understand is letting Buckner hit against [Jesse] Orosco in the eighth."
"That's because you've never been a manager," Felske said. "Buckner had knocked in 102 runs. He helped get them there. A manager has to live with his players. As a manager, I understand. Why does McNamara have to listen to this crap after he took a team that was picked for fifth place all the way to Game 7 of the World Series?"
Felske paused, composing himself. Then, faster than you could say, "Greg Luzinski, 1977," he said, "But I will agree that he's got to get Buckner out of there for defense...."
The next morning, in Winter Haven, Fla., the manager in question, John McNamara, greeted the arrival of the full Red Sox squad with a closed-door, stern speech imploring them to forget what happened last October. Said one player afterward, "We became the first team in history to be told before the first workout of the spring not to think or talk about making it to the seventh game of the World Series."
"Last year should be remembered not for one inning or one game," said veteran relief pitcher Joe Sambito, "but what for most of us was the best of times."
The worst of times, of course, came in the bottom of the 10th inning of Game 6 of the World Series, when the Boston Red Sox turned a 5-3, two-out, bases-empty lead into a 6-5 loss to the New York Mets. In order, Gary Carter singled, Kevin Mitchell singled, Ray Knight singled to score Carter and send Mitchell to third, Mitchell scored on a wild pitch as Knight went to second, and Knight scored the winning run when Mookie Wilson's grounder went through Buckner's legs. Though it has been used many times before, the first paragraph of Charles Dickens's A Tale of Two Cities truly does describe Game 6: "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way...."
Game 6 has now taken its place with the other great World Series contests: Game 8 in 1912, Game 4 in 1947, Game 7 in 1960 and Game 6 in 1975. But in a way it stands alone as the greatest "bad" game in Series history. The Mets, who in 1986 won more games (116) than all but two teams ever, were facing the Red Sox, who hadn't won a World Series since Babe Ruth pitched for them. For much of the Series, the two teams bumbled around like a couple of September cellar dwellers. And managers McNamara and Davey Johnson, otherwise sound strategists, often seemed to be off in other worlds.