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Jim Brosnan
October 23, 1961
The best writer who ever took the mound in the World Series describes how it feels to be clobbered by the New York Yankees
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October 23, 1961

Embarrassing, Wasn't It?

The best writer who ever took the mound in the World Series describes how it feels to be clobbered by the New York Yankees

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One popular Little League reaction to the embarrassment of being shut out by any facsimile (if that's possible) of Whitey Ford is the rationalization "He was lucky." Then you forget all about it as if it were an accident. To the mature ballplayer and to the mature female baseball fan, good fortune is to be courted, just as ill fortune is disparaged. (Talent alone may not win.)

Cincinnati Red fans had, as early as July, invoked natural and supernatural fantasies, Oriental and Occidental gods, effectually spurring our pennant progress. Ofuda blessed in a Shinto shrine at Kyoto, a real rabbit's foot from Kansas, a double buckeye especially worthwhile to an Ohio cultist and a sackful of lucky pennies...all had contributed favorably to our sense of destiny. On the eve of the second game, at the very witching hour of midnight, a special-delivery package arrived from Cincinnati containing an incense candle, partly consumed. "In prayerful plea for one happy moment," said an accompanying note. Sweet prescience. We lit the candle and slept peacefully.

Lingering doubts that we'd ever score a run in the Series were dismissed in the fourth inning of the second game when Gordy Coleman hooked a low fast ball into a crowd of souvenir seekers beyond the right-field scoreboard. His home run came one pitch after a necessary change in the rallying cry of the Red bench. At first, the appeal had been: "Everybody go get the Corvette," (a prize offered to the most valuable player in the Series). Such a materialistic, personal wish proved ineffective and led to the new inspiration: "Forget the———Corvette, everybody do his little bit."

The Yankees themselves contributed, playing badly enough to give us four more runs. Joey Jay, pitching like a 21-game winner from the National League (a superior major league), was bothered only by Yogi Berra, a catcher who misplayed left field for New York. Berra's home run tied the score in the fourth, causing a desperate female fan to rise behind the Red dugout, crying, "I'll change the name of my bird for that." (My wife's parakeet, for some forgotten reason, is named Yogi.)

The crowd of 500 or so fans that greeted us that night in Cincinnati was less noisy, more colorful (a festive Red) than the throng which celebrated the National League pennant-clinching victory (a more rewarding achievement). Being native Cincinnatians they could not get tickets for any Series game at Crosley Field (about 500 seats were reserved for the out-of-town press). The fans threw a little confetti, waved banners and pennants and reflected the poorly conceived if nobly intentioned local headline: PEPPY REDS FULL OF CONFIDENCE. Awash in platitudes, we rested one day, awaiting the Yankees.

Crosley Field, home of the Reds, is somewhat larger than the banquet room in the Netherland Hilton Hotel, but a bit smaller than Union Terminal, where the Yankees detrained on October 6. The park was drawn by an architect using a sumi brush attached to a fungo bat, and is dedicated to the principle that a pop fly is as deserving of a tape measurement as a well-hit line drive. Pitching at Crosley Field requires excellent talent or a masochist's philosophy, depending upon one's relative success. A pitcher may just as well try to make perfect pitches all the time. Why waste anything? The slightest mistake is often fatally embarrassing.

Bob Purkey wasted nothing for six innings of the third game, making just 46 pitches to get the first 18 outs (average effectiveness: 75 pitches). Amazed and grateful, Cincinnati Red batters applauded Purkey after each inning and promised to get him some runs, because "That guy ain't got a thing out there, and besides, we know what's coming."

"Why don't you hit him, then?" asked Purkey, sweating. "He's already hung 13 curve balls."

"We will, we will," they said—and they amassed two runs in seven innings.

With two out in the eighth, Purkey made his first mistake, and Blanchard hit it into the bleachers to tie the score. In the ninth he made another one, and Maris hit it farther. That was the ball game and, as it turned out, the turning point of the Series. Never again did the Yankees trail.

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