Unless you’re a steadily employed pool boy or Chicago Cubs fan, October is the most magical time of the year. Fourth quarter unemployment lay-offs and fall foliage fill the serene autumn streets, while grown men yell at television screens because fantasy football is more interesting than their jobs and/or children. The NHL – much to the delight of illegally immigrated Canadians – is in full swing, college football players are politely being asked to occasionally attend class and the WNBA celebrates yet another unlikely victory over looming bankruptcy. Yes, the sporting world is a flutter just before Thanksgiving.
However, for as much excitement as the gridiron, ice, and hardwood provide, there’s nothing quite like the boys of summer vying for a spot at the fall classic in a poetically whimsical ballpark. Baseball, as it has been for years, is a source of inspiration and intrigue filled with triumphant tales of unlikely heroes and humbling success. While there are countless moments of muse in the sport’s illustrious history, we here at rebel magazine have selected our five favorites.
5. Reggie Jackson becomes Mr. October
It was either William Shakespeare or Ozzy Osbourne who once said, “Some men are born great, others achieve greatness and some have greatness thrust upon them.” In the case of Reginald Martinez Jackson, greatness showed up at the doorstep, offered its services and developed a long-term relationship with the New York Yankees’ right fielder for over a decade.
In 1978, this became painfully evident during the single greatest World Series hitting display of all time.
In game six of a championship rematch against the Los Angeles Dodgers, Jackson took a “dare to be great moment” and knocked it 427 feet into the right field bleachers, along with the hopes and dreams of sporadically passionate Hollywood baseball fans.
On the first pitch, of his first at bat, Jackson sailed a line drive home run over the right field wall.
On the first pitch, of his second at bat, Jackson sailed a home run over the right field wall.
On the first pitch, of his third at bat, Jackson decided to switch things up a bit and sail a home run over the center field wall.
It was the only time any player had done anything remotely close to this feat, and would also be the last.
No player has ever come close to doing this again — perhaps because most managers would probably try throwing outside the strike zone after the game’s best player hits two straight dingers on opening pitch fastballs.
4. Climbing a Monster
The phrase “extra innings” is a daunting pair of words that can make the calmest of baseball fans enter a state of irrational paranoia. Fortunately, in 1975, when the Boston Red Sox entered a marathon World Series game six against the Cincinnati Reds, their exceptionally rational fans handled things with the serenity of a young Frank Costanza.
Tied at six after 11 innings of exciting play, the Red Sox and Reds bunkered down for one last frame that would forever change the way baseball was televised.
With the bases empty and hope echoing through the usually pessimistic grandstands of Fenway Park, Carlton Fisk stepped up to the plate, determined to give his team a shot to prolong the series. On the second pitch, Reds’ flame-thrower Pat Darcy offered a miscalculated pitch over the plate which Fisk sent flying towards the green monster in left field. Headed towards foul territory, Fisk began waving his arms frantically, in a symbolic effort to keep the ball in fair play. With the crowd on their feet and gravity lending a helpful push, the ball hit the foul pole, giving Fisk a homerun and the Red Sox nation a moment of hard earned joy.
The image of Fisk willing the ball into fair territory remains the most indelible image in franchise history and the first instance in which a television broadcast filmed a player – and not the ball – during a home run. (An intriguing television turning point, even though the camera man later admitted he lost track of the ball because there was a rat at his feet, and was consequently forced to focus on Fisk during the play.)
3. Desert VS. Goliath
In 2001, the recently formed Arizona Diamondbacks surprised many in the baseball world with a trip to the World Series (the quickest of any expansion team). Sadly, when they got there, baseball’s most storied franchise was awaiting them on the championship stage.
The villainous New York Yankees, fresh off three straight World Series wins, had casually marched through the American League playoffs and been ordained the overwhelming favorites to put yet another notch in the history books.
After giving up a 3-2 series lead in the confines of Babe Ruth’s backyard, the Yankees traveled to Arizona for a presumed formality in their seven game series win. Luckily, the Diamondbacks had other plans.
Down 2-1 and facing Mariano Rivera in the ninth inning (who had a .70 ERA in the playoffs) the Diamondbacks rallied to tie the game at two, setting up the single greatest play in Arizona sports’ history.
With the bases loaded, and one out, Luis Gonzalez stood at the plate with destiny at his back and opportunity in the air.
On the second pitch of his improbable at bat, Gonzalez lofted a soft single over the head of Derek Jeter into the outfield for the game winning run and a place in baseball history. With one swing of the bat, Gonzalez proved that greatness isn’t measured in talent or expectation, but rather in effort and relentlessness.
2. I Don’t Believe What I Just Saw
Inspiration comes in many forms. In one instance, it took the shape of a half-dead outfielder battling severe illness and what should have been a career crippling injury.
In 1988, Los Angeles Dodgers’ star hitter Kirk Gibson proved that inspiring millions doesn’t require two good legs or a functioning immune system.
During a World Series battle with the Oakland Athletics, the boys in blue trailed their cross state rivals 4-3 in the bottom of the ninth inning. At the time, Gibson was casually watching the game in the locker room, nursing what were described as two serious leg injuries and a stomach virus. While most people would have been curled up in a ball questioning the existence of God from the comfort of the bathroom floor, Gibson decided to take an alternative route.
After hearing a commentator say that he was far too unhealthy to play, Gibson felt challenged and came onto the field. With two outs and a man on first base, he demanded to be placed in the game to face the almost un-hittable, moustache-clad closer — Dennis Eckersley — on the mound.
Gibson went down 0-2 early in the count and seemed destined to suffer the same fate as the flame throwing closer’s other victims. Interestingly enough, however, Gibson thought proving the critics – and medical community – wrong would be a bit more fun.
On the sixth pitch of the at bat, he reached down, took an awkward hacksaw-type swing, and sent the ball out of the park as if it were being pushed by the wings of fate.
It would be the only time Gibson played in the entire Dodgers’ World Series victory, but the image of the gargantuan home run hitter limping with glee around the bases would withstand the test of time and remain the most unforgettable – and stirring – image from the classic championship run.
1. The Death of a Curse
Some people have bad days. Others have rough weeks. Boston Red Sox fans — sadly enough — had 86 gut-wrenching, winless years that could make even the tamest New England resident publicly rue the day that Bill Buckner’s father signed him up for little league.
Since selling Babe Ruth to the New York Yankees after their last World Series in 1918, the Red Sox had ostensibly picked up a curse that made them a cautionary tale in the athletic world for nearly a century. The team they traded him to, conversely, hit a championship windfall throughout and entered the 2004 playoffs as heavy favorites to snag yet another World Series.
After easily moving past the first round of the American League playoffs, the Yankees entered their championship series showdown against the Red Sox with a swagger usually reserved for Norwegian royalty or elementary school street thugs. They had dominated their interstate rivals for years and boasted a costly lineup of talent hungry for victory.
Through three games of this would-be epic tilt, the Yankees had validated their praise, taking a 3-0 series lead and outscoring the lowly Sox by 16 runs. It seemed as if it was destined to be yet another chapter in a novel of disproportionate failure.
But then, something magical happened.
Down 4-3, in the bottom of the ninth inning and facing Mariano Rivera (possibly the greatest closer of all-time), the Red Sox decided to take a stand, summon their inner Dylan Thomas, and not go quietly into the cool October night.
With Dave Roberts on second base and the hopes of a depleted nation grasping for one last chance at glory, Kevin Mueller changed history with one swing of the bat.
“It’s a single to center,” the completely objective announcer yelled with joy.
The Red Sox had tied the game with an improbable hit off an impossible foe and earned the right to fight another inning.
In the bottom of the twelfth, Boston would capitalize on their second life thanks to a two-run David Ortiz blast over the wall that gave them a 6-4, game four victory. Over the next two bouts, the Red Sox would claw their way into the most unlikely of situations with a 14-inning game three win, and subsequent game five victory.
The table was set for a game seven showdown that could re-write history. Only two teams in the modern era had come back from a 3-0 series deficit to win the series.
Oddly, the team cursed by history would be just the third to defy it.
Thanks to an offensive onslaught led by Manny Ramirez, Johnny Damon, and David Ortiz, the Red Sox won a definitive game seven with a 10-3 shellacking en route to their first World Series in 86 years.
It was, perhaps, the greatest instance of inspiration for anybody who believed that the impossible is unachievable. The Sox showed the world that history’s greatest accomplishments stem from overcoming situations that were once deemed impossible.