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THE PLAYOFFS: BASEBALL ENTERS THE . . . HOME STRETCH
| BILL PLASCHKE

October Baseball Is Always a Treat

September 30, 1997|BILL PLASCHKE

You can have your Michael Jordan, your Joe Montana, your Mark Messier.

Me, I'll take Francisco Cabrera.

The most heroic athletic moment I've witnessed occurred in the fall of 1992, when Cabrera hit a two-out, ninth-inning, pinch-hit, all-adjectives-apply single to score two runs and give the Atlanta Braves the National League championship over the Pittsburgh Pirates in the seventh game of their series.

And the most heroic moment wasn't the hit.

The most heroic moment was happening at the same time in the Atlanta Fulton-County Stadium tunnel, where panicked workers had five minutes to roll huge carts of champagne 30 yards from the Pirate clubhouse to the Brave clubhouse.

They did it in four, sprinting the last bottles out of the losers' room just as the weeping Pirates were entering.

"They haven't invented a word to describe this," said the Pirates' Andy Van Slyke.

I can do it in two.

October baseball.

The best postseason play in sports.

Nothing comes within 485 feet.

Not pro basketball in June, or pro football in January, or golf in Spain.

Not three days of a Final Four, or two months with Lord Stanley, or four hours at the Rose Bowl.

October baseball is not about supermen or movie stars. It is not about three-hour pregame shows or choreographed halftime dances.

It's not a made-for-TV movie, it doesn't fit neatly into a book.

October baseball is human.

It's about self-absorbed millionaires ending a six-month marathon by sprinting naked through the town square at noon.

It's about athletes who, during moments that define their career, have no choice but to let us see them sweat.

Ever wonder why you never see any behind-the-scenes documentaries of October baseball, as you do in postseason football?

Because in October baseball, there is no behind the scenes. We see it all, as it happens, every man facing moments that could live forever.

During the Chicago Bulls' playoff run, supporting players can rest easier, knowing that Michael Jordan will take most of the shots.

On the Atlanta Braves today, chances are that Tony Graffanino will have just as many at-bats as Chipper Jones.

October baseball is the same, simple game that is played from April to September . . . magnified 100 times . . . yet remaining that same, simple game.

As much fun as Silly Putty, it is.

The other sports, their postseasons consume them, transform them.

The NBA finals become one-on-one contests.

The Super Bowl becomes a game in which everyone is afraid to spill blood or show guts.

The Final Four turns 19-year-olds into cult figures, then two days later turns them back again.

October baseball doesn't change for anybody.

October baseball is radio--Jerry Coleman is hilarious in the playoffs, Vin Scully is masterful in the World Series.

Just asking, but when was the last time the NFL or NBA playoffs were compelling without being seen?

October baseball is bad weather for a sport that is supposed to be played in good weather. It is snow on the fastball, shivering in the bullpen, some old guy sitting in the dugout for three hours in 40-degree temperatures and then walking to the plate and hitting a fastball as if his hands were on fire.

The NFL playoffs occur in snow, but why do you think they call it "football weather?" And the only chance that the conditions for an NBA playoff game would be less than perfect ended when the Boston Garden closed.

October baseball is 12-year-old Jeff Maier in the stands, it's Don Denkinger at first base, it's Vince Coleman in the infield, not realizing that a tarp is about to swallow him whole.

October baseball can involve everybody. Other playoffs involve almost nobody.

What does Pat Borders have in common with Johnny Bench? They were both World Series most valuable players.

In the last seven years, two men have been NBA finals MVPs. Only three times in 11 years has a Super Bowl MVP not been a quarterback or running back.

October baseball is Mitch Williams and Joe Carter.

It is Dave Henderson and, sadly, Donnie Moore.

It is Jim Leyritz getting a hit that will make fans remember him forever.

It is Mike Scioscia hitting a home run that everyone forgets, but without it, there would never have been Kirk Gibson's.

Other playoffs, with incredible dunks and upside-down catches and speed shaking, are them.

October baseball is us.

You see Jeff Blauser gripping his bat and biting his lip in the bottom of the ninth inning and you think, "I know that feeling."

You see Julian Tavarez crying on the bench after the Cleveland Indians are eliminated and you think, "I know that too."

You see Bill Buckner miss a ground ball and you think, "Thank heavens I do not know that. I do not want to know that."

Certainly, October baseball has problems. The seeding system stinks. Forcing the San Francisco Giants to open their series at the home of the lousy wild-card team after they have spent six months winning their division title is unconscionable.

But controversial October baseball is better than no October baseball, and won't we believe that forever.

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