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Jim Murray

As Usual, It's a Series for the Nobodies

October 23, 1987|Jim Murray

ST. LOUIS — Don't tell me who's pitching or who's playing, just tell me where.

The home team (ho-hum) won another (yawn) World Series game here in St. Louis Thursday night, another triumph of geography and geometry over games and gamesmanship. It is now, officially, a trend. The home team has not yet had to bat in the bottom of the ninth in this tournament. If you put this thing in Omaha, no one would win it.

You know, Babe Ruth twice hit three homers in one game of the World Series. He batted .625, the highest average in Series history, in 1925. He called his shot with a homer in the Series in 1932. Lou Gehrig twice hit two homers in one Series game and once batted in nine runs in a four-game Series.

So, stars do occasionally glow brightly in a World Series. But that's not the way to bet.

Ted Williams, no less, batted .200, no more, in the 1946 World Series with 5 measly singles in 25 at-bats. Ty Cobb, no less, batted .200 in one World Series and .231 in another.

The annals of the World Series are littered with the lackluster decimals of the great and near-great.

But they are alive with the glitter of the achievements of the not-so-great, the near-nobodies, the nobodies and the normally inept. The World Series is a showcase for the spear-carriers, the supernumeraries, the chorus boys, the undersung and overlooked.

For every Reggie Jackson who becomes Mr. October, there are dozens of anonymities who become Mr. October for one Series and Whatever-became-of-what's-his-name? the rest of their careers.

So, no one should have been surprised when someone from somewhere named Tom Lawless bobbed up as a hero of the 84th World Series here this week. Twenty-four hours before, he might as well have been Tom Nameless, but he got a fastball out over the plate in the fourth inning of Game 4 and was so surprised when he hit it out that he turned around to see who did it before he remembered to run.

Tom Lawlesses always surface in the World Series. In the 1969 World Series, there was a utility infielder named Al Weis, whom nobody ever heard of before or since, and he astounded the baseball establishment by hitting .455 in a five-game Series. Frank Robinson, a future Hall of Famer, with the fourth most home runs ever hit in history, batted .188 in that same Series.

Who ever heard of Gene Tenace in 1972 before the time he hit home runs his first two times at bat, then hit two more for good measure before the tournament was over?

Sometimes, an unknown bursts on the scene in a World Series and becomes a household name and remains one throughout his career. John Leonard Martin became "Pepper" Martin in the '31 Fall Classic when he stole 5 bases, hit .500, got 12 hits including 4 doubles and a home run, scored 5 runs and drove in 5. The Athletics didn't know who he was the night before the Series started.

That may be a key ingredient in keeping the stars from starring in a World Series. A pitcher knows who Babe Ruth is. And what he can do. Babe Ruth was walked 11 times, a record, in the 1926 Series.

There is an old axiom in baseball. In the favorite double negative of the grand old game, it goes "Don't let no (leave blank name of big star) beat you no ball game." (As in, "Don't let no Willie Mays or Henry Aaron or Ruth or Cobb beat you--put him on if you have to.")

But nobody worries about the Tom Lawlesses of the world. Him, they challenge, Him, they throw fastballs. Him, they say, "Here, hit this, chump!"

Close students of the grand old game would have made Tom Lawless, or someone like him, an out price to knock a ball out of the lot. His kind always do. Precisely because pitchers think he can't.

Tom Lawless had batted exactly 25 times all season. The homer he hit was his third hit of 1987 and the first home run he had hit since August 1984, which was the only homer he ever hit.

If ever a guy fit the profile of a World Series star, he was it. The pitcher should have walked him on four pitches. He should have pretended he had Roberto Clemente up there. The watchword really should be, "Don't let no Tommy Lawless beat you no ball game."

A World Series comes out just a kind of complicated Amateur Night. It's an understudy's paradise.

It doesn't happen too often in too many other sports. A plater doesn't win the Kentucky Derby. Ninety-fifth seeds don't win Wimbledon. Magic Johnson and Larry Bird go to the line in basketball, not Mike McGee. Form prevails. Backup quarterbacks don't win Super Bowls. Dempseys don't lose to underweight Frenchmen. Mutts don't win best-in-shows at Madison Square Garden.

But, the World Series belongs to the common man. Not even pitchers escape the dreaded star cross. Moe Drabowsky (surely, you remember Moe Drabowsky?) starred in a World Series that featured Sandy Koufax, Don Drysdale, Jim Palmer, a cast of Hall of Famers you wouldn't believe in 1966. He struck out 11 batters in 6 innings. And he was just a relief pitcher.

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