Major League Baseball has asked me to pick my 30 most memorable moments. I decided to hell with the “Major League Baseball” part. I’m going to pick my 30 most memorable baseball moments, period. Major League Baseball is welcome to keep the ones they like.
This week, the first 10 off the top of my head:
30) Oct. 21, 2000, at Yankee Stadium. Bernie Williams catches a fly ball hit by somebody on the Mets. The play wasn’t memorable; what’s memorable is that Williams is Puerto Rican, and the catch caused Jennifer Lopez, who was seated about six rows in front of me, dressed in a bare midriff halter top, to stand up and yell something in Spanish. Trust me, no one who was there will ever forget it.
29) Nov. 14, 1999, at the Montclair Book Center, Montclair, N.J. I get Yogi Berra to autograph his new book for me. I show him a copy of his 1961 autobiography, which he autographed for me at the Menlo Park Mall, Edison, N.J., 38 years earlier. I asked him if he remembers me from this. He smiles and says, “Yeah. How ‘ya been doin’?”
28) My first Mets game, at the Polo Grounds, sometime in 1962. On a 3-1 pitch in the first inning, a Pittsburgh hitter takes a close pitch and starts to trot to first base; the umpire calls a belated strike. The guy in back of me, in perfect movie Brooklynese, bellows, “Stick around, pal. He’ll trow yuh’ anudder!”
27) 1966, San Francisco Giants vs. Philadelphia Phillies, Connie Mack Stadium. I don’t remember the date, but Juan Marichal had just made the cover of Time magazine after winning his first 10 games. The Phillies beat him on the long, three-run homer by Bill White, which I could see soar over the right field wall, bounce in the street and up through an open apartment window.
26) Twenty years later at Yankee Stadium. I asked Bill White if he remembered that home run. He said, “Was that the one that bounced up through the open window?”
25) April 12, 1994, at Rickwood Field, the nation’s oldest surviving professional ballpark, in Birmingham, Ala. On the set of Ron Shelton’s great screen bio, “Cobb,” I encounter two local former ballplayers serving as advisors: Harry “The Hat” Walker and Bob Veale. I always had heard that Veale was the one who said “Good pitching can stop good hitting every time. And vice versa.” I ask him, “Mr. Veale, are you the one who said ‘Good …’?” He cuts me off with, “Yes, I am.”
24) May 15, 1964, Old Bridge, N.J. In a Babe Ruth game, I beat my friend, Joe Casamento, in the ninth inning with a line drive single to right. I never revealed to him that I never saw the pitch coming, that I was trying to check my swing, and that the whole thing was pure luck.
23) Walking in front of the Pyramid of the Sun in the Aztec ruins in Teotihuacan outside of Mexico City, March, 1985. A Mexican rug peddler offers to trade me a blanket for my Yankees jacket. I refuse. He says, “Why you no trade me?” I tell him, “This jacket belonged to Reggie Jackson.” “Re-hee Pack-son!” he replies in breathless awe. On my way back past his stand, all of the peddlers are lined up to stare at me. One of them walks over to touch my sleeve as I go by. I’m too embarrassed to tell them that I bought it at Stan’s across from Yankee Stadium.
22) Watching “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest,” 1975. Louise Fletcher’s Nurse Ratchet won’t let the patients watch the World Series; Jack Nicholson’s R.P. McMurphy does an imaginary broadcast for them. It’s Koufax pitching against the Yankees, Game 1 of the 1963 Series, at Yankee Stadium. I was actually at that game, but I remember it most vividly now because of Nicholson’s account: “And Koufax’s curve ball is breaking off like a fucking firecracker …” One oddity: Jack has Bobby Richardson hitting a triple off Sandy. Richardson would have had to hit the ball three times to reach third base off Koufax.
21) June 30, 1991. I get a phone call from Bill James telling me he is in town (with his then-assistant, Rob Neyer) for the SABR convention. I ask him if he’d like to get together with me, Marvin Miller (founder of the Players Association whose autobiography I had worked on), and Curt Flood at the Pierre Hotel in New York. Somewhere during our round table conversation, Bill got the idea for his great book on the Hall of Fame, “The Politics of Glory.” Curt Flood told the marvelous story about how the Cincinnati Reds wooed him by sending his mother a set of golf clubs. “Picture,” said Flood, “this middle-aged black woman opening this huge cardboard box and finding this set of golf clubs. She moved them into the hall closet.” To which Bill added, “Where they remain to this very day.” Next week, Nos. 20 to 11.
I’m sorry to take so long to get around to this, but I’ve been busy lately. In the July 1 New Republic, Franklin Foer took me to task for not having paid closer attention to an important World Cup soccer match. “As Allen Barra recently put it in Salon, ‘It’s like that edifying but boring article in The New York Review of Books that you feel guilty for not having tackled.’ According to this line of attack, soccer can’t sustain the interest of short-attention-spanned Americans because there isn’t enough scoring. But this is bunk. Baseball, which takes about an hour longer to play, doesn’t produce many more runs than soccer produces goals.”
For the record, I never said Americans had “shorter attention spans” than Europeans or anyone else. If anything, soccer caters to short attention span people because you can go out, get a beer, make a couple of phone calls, read a couple of chapters in a book, and come back without having missed anything at all that was memorable. Second, I haven’t a clue as to where Mr. Foer got his information that there isn’t much more scoring in baseball than in soccer. I suggest he check out a major league game that’s been played since 1910.