By TOM HAMILTON, Discovery Feature Writer
The World Series is Willie Mays catching Vic Wertz' long drive over his left shoulder with his back to home plate. It's pitchers Don Larsen hurling a perfect game against the Dodgers in 1956 and Cardinal great Bob Gibson striking out 17 Tiger batters in 1968. It's the Babe calling his shot against the Chicago Cubs at Wrigley Field; it's Mr. October, Reggie Jackson, belting three homers in one game. It is, after all, the Fall Classic, pitting National League champ vs. American league champ in a best-of-seven series that has withstood lockouts, agents, a steroid scandal and greedy owners in becoming capsules in time . . . defining moments in American sports history.
The New York Yankees have won 26 World Series championships since the Fall Classic was first introduced in 1903. Here are a dozen memorable series since 1950 that have made headlines, prompted ticker-tape parades, propelled players into the Hall of Fame and captivated television audiences:
1975 Cincinnati Reds vs. Boston Red Sox: Red manager Sparky Anderson's Big Red Machine won what many consider to be the greatest series ever played when Joe Morgan hit a two-out bloop single in the ninth inning to secure a win in the seventh and decisive game. The Reds rallied from a 3-0 deficit in Game 7, scoring the winning run in the top of the ninth that defined a true classic in which five games were decided by one run and two of them went into extra innings. The Reds all-star infield featured Tony Perez at first, Joe Morgan at second, Davey Concepcion at shortstop, Pete Rose at third and catcher Johnny Bench behind the plate. Perez, Morgan and Bench are in the Hall of Fame while Rose, the all-time career hits leader, was banished from the game for admitting that he gambled on baseball games. The defining moment of the series came in Game 6 when Boston Red Sox catcher Carlton Fisk hit a homer that curled inside the leftfield foul pole that gave Fenway Park fans reason to believe, even though they would have to wait another 20 years before capturing an elusive world championship.
2002 California Angels vs. San Francisco Giants: The Giants were seven outs away from their first world championship since moving to San Francisco in 1958 when the Angels' Scott Spiezio hit a three-run homer to give Gene Autry's Angels an improbable win in Game 6 that tied the series, 3-3. Angel rookie John Lackey became the first rookie to win a Game 7 and the Anaheim faithful had their first world championship since the team came into the American League as an expansion franchise in 1961. There were four, one-run games in this classic, including an 11-10 slugfest in Game 2. Giants slugger Barry Bonds had one of the greatest slugging performances in series history, belting four homers, including a pair of 500-foot shots that may led into the Balco Investigation regarding major leaguers' use of performance enhancing drugs. The defining moment of this series was the "Rally Monkey", a piece of pure marketing genius that developed tambourine-playing, stuffed animal monkeys that became the symbol of the Angels' persistence in overcoming the odds and defeating the heavily-favored Giants.
1972 Oakland A's vs. Cincinnati Reds: Charlie Finley's mustached A's with their colorful uniforms and mule for a mascot featured Catfish Hunter, Rollie Fingers, Joe Rudi, Sal Bando, Bert Campaneris and Reggie Jackson but a little-known player named Gene Tenace, who batted .225 during the regular season, emerged. Tenace, who now resides in Redmond, belted homers in his first two trips to the plate and drove in nine of Oakland's 16 runs in the series, including a go-ahead two-run double in the seventh inning of Game 7 to become the MVP. The series featured six games decided by one run, including two games in the ninth inning. The A's also rallied for two runs in ninth inning of Game 4 for a 3-2 victory. The defining image of the series was manager Dick Williams' colorful group of players wearing white shoes and the handlebar mustaches, echoing the 70's era of free spirits.
1964 St. Louis Cardinals vs. New York Yankees: There were enough heroics to fill sports pages across the country with Yankee slugger Mickey Mantle winning Game 3 with a homer and then the Cards battling back to win Game 4 on Ken Boyer's grand slam in the sixth inning. Cardinal pitcher Bob Gibson won Game 5, hurling 10 innings and striking out 13 batters, finally earning the victory when Tim McCarver hit a three-run homer in the 10th inning. Gibson, one of the game's greatest competitors, came back on two days rest and won Game 7, earning the series MVP award. The series marked the end of the New York Yankees dynasty that had seen the Bronx Bombers win 15 pennants in 18 seasons. The Yankees would hit hard times until being resurrected by shipping tycoon George Steinbrenner.
1960 Pittsburgh Pirates vs. New York Yankees: Many believe Game 7 is the greatest World Series game of all time. Pirates second baseman Bill Mazeroski belted a homer off Yankee starter Ralph Terry in the bottom of the ninth inning at Forbes Field in Pittsburgh to give his team the unlikely championship. Yankee starter Whitey Ford, who won more games than other pitcher in series history, was left on the bench in Game 7 in favor of Terry and the moved proved to be costly for manager Casey Stengel. Stengel was highly criticized and ultimately fired in the off season. The Yankees batted .338 and had victories of 16-3, 10-0 and 12-0 yet the Pirates wore the crown. Perhaps the biggest upset in Fall Classic history.
1973 Oakland A's vs. New York Mets: A's relief pitcher Rollie Fingers had a Hall of Fame performance, appearing in six games and pitching 13 2/3 innings of relief, ultimately throwing more innings than any other A's starter as his team won its second of three straight titles. The A's staged a big comeback in a 3-1 win in Game 6 and then won the deciding Game 7 with a 5-2 victory at the Oakland-Alameda Coliseum. In the end, they were outscored, 24-21, and hit a meager .212 as a team but somehow found a way to get it done. The series also marked the debut of Mr. October, Reggie Jackson, who batted .310 and drove in six runs in his first Fall Classic. Unfortunately, the defining moment of this series was an aging Willie Mays, the greatest player of his generation, stumbling to make plays in the Mets' outfield. The game has passed by one of the greatest of all time.
1979 Pittsburgh Pirates vs. Baltimore Orioles: The Pirates or "The Family" were down, three games to one, but found a way to win the final three games, all in the sixth inning or later. Willie Stargell, the series MVP, belted three homers and four doubles in seven games, including a two-run homer in the decisive Game 7. Afterward, one of the game's biggest players cried like a baby when presented the MVP award. Orioles manager Earl Weaver, who somehow managed to hide his chain-smoking habit from the television cameras in the dugout, had a formidable pitching staff led by Hall of Fame pitcher Jim Palmer, slick-fielding third baseman Brooks Robinson and slugger Boog Powell, but "family ways" prevailed.
1969 New York Mets vs. Baltimore Orioles: The Miracle Mets, with the worst record in the history of divisional play, upset the 109-victory Orioles and captured the hearts of the American public. Baltimore won the series opener, but then the Mets behind outfielder Tommy Agee captured four straight games to claim the championship. Agee's performance in Game 3 goes down as one of the great individual performances in the Fall Classic. He belted a solo homer off Hall of Fame pitcher Jim Palmer in the first inning and then made two spectacular catches in center field to earn MVP honors. The defining moment of the series was the Shea Stadium fan that seemed to have a placard for game every situation whenever television cameras zoomed in on the crowd.
1985 Kansas City Royals vs. St. Louis Cardinals: The Royals, behind third baseman George Brett, rallied from a three-game deficit to and won Game 7 with a convincing 11-0 victory despite manager Whitey Herzog and starting pitcher Joaquin Andujar being ejected from the game. Facing elimination in Game 6, the Royals rallied for two runs in the bottom of the ninth inning and then celebrated its first championship by staggering the Cardinals with a decisive Game 7 knockout. The championship seems like a distant memory today given that the Royals have slumped to consecutive 100-loss seasons over the past two years.
1977 New York Yankees vs. Los Angeles Dodgers: Reggie Jackson, later dubbed "the straw that stirs the drink", makes World Series history by slugging three homers in one game against Dodger pitchers Burt Hooten, Elias Sosa and Charlie Hough. Interesting, all three of Jackson's blasts came on first pitches. The Yankees' 8-4 victory in Game 6 signaled the George Steinbrenner turnaround of this once-great franchise that would continue into the 21st century. Reggie's final 10 plate appearances for the Bronx Bombers were stuff that legends are made: He scored seven runs on six hits and belted five homers.
1965 Los Angeles Dodgers vs. Minnesota Twins: The Twins won the opening two games at home but the Dodgers behind the play of speedster Maury Wills and Hall of Fame pitchers Sandy Koufax and Don Drysdale captured four of the next five games to win the pennant. Koufax, the greatest lefthander of his era, pitched a 2-0 shutout in Game 7 by allowing only three hits and striking out 10 batters. The duo of Drysdale and Koufax won 49 games that season, but the one-two punch was short lived as Koufax retired a year later in his prime with elbow problems. Sadly, the game's most dominant pitcher until the arrival of Nolan Ryan left the game in 1966 following a 27-game win season and later was elected into the Hall of Fame in 1972.
1959 Los Angeles Dodgers vs. Chicago White Sox: Relief pitcher Larry Sherry, a midseason call-up from Spokane, had two victories and two saves to earn MVP honors as the Dodgers celebrated their first pennant in Los Angeles. The Dodgers moved to the West Coast in 1958 and played in the massive Coliseum for four years, finishing a lowly seventh in their first season. They struggled to win only 88 games in 1959 but edged out the Pirates for the National League title on the final day of the season. Sherry, a 24-year-old Los Angeles native, allowed only one run in 12 2/3 innings and became the first rookie to win MVP honors. But the series goes down in history for two reasons: The three games in the Coliseum drew an average of 92,000 fans and Game 4 was the first Fall Classic game that I attended. I was nine years old and I'll never forget the sight of 90,000-plus, shirt-sleeved fans jammed into the Coliseum.
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