During one of the rare lulls in the 1975 World Series I turned to my neighbor in the Fenway Park press box, Stan Hochman of the Philadelphia Daily News, and asked what he thought his city's "most memorable moment" in baseball would be in the city-by-city poll the big leagues were conducting as part of the Bicentennial celebration.
"Sisler" was his immediate answer. Fortunately for the readers of Hochman's column, he does not write with the same economy with which he speaks. But despite the one-word reply, there was no reason to misunderstand him. Hochman was implying that any Phils fan knows that the pennant comes around only every 35 years. He also implied that even people in Pago Pago know that the last time the Phillies won the pennant (which is to say, only the second time they won the pennant), Dick Sisler clinched it with a 1Oth-inning three-run home run that beat the Dodgers on the final day of the 1950 season. Sisler's homer is not as famous as the one Bobby Thomson hit a year and two days later, but people on the Schuylkill side of the Hudson treasure it just the same.
That is, Hochman thought Philadelphians treasured it. But when Commissioner Bowie Kuhn announced the most memorable moments for the 24 major league teams, the most popular event in Phillie history was Jim Bunning's perfect game against the Mets in 1964. One would think that Philadelphia fans would like to put memories of the '64 season right next to the Dead Sea Scrolls. Don't ask Gene Mauch, the Phils' manager that year, for the particulars, but '64 was the season his team led the league by 6½ games with two weeks to play, only to slide down the chute on the last day of the schedule.
Sisler's snub is not the only surprise in the memorable-moment business. In fact, the baseball poll leads this observer to three possible conclusions: 1) few fans over 25 years of age bothered to vote; 2)the good old days were not that good; or 3) what is memorable for one city is forgettable for another.
None of the 24 winning memorable moments happened before 1938. Reds fans most cherish Johnny Vander Meer's back-to-back no-hitters of that year. After Vander Meer's double, there is a quantum jump to the next oldest moment—Yankee Don Larsen's perfect game in the 1956 World Series. Ten of the cities voted for highlights that have occurred since 1970.
Several cities were more remiss than Philadelphia. For example, Cub fans picked Ernie Banks' 500th career home run in 1970, a milestone that was reached on a damp spring afternoon before an intimate gathering of 5,264 at Wrigley Field. What Chicago school kids need is a good course in baseball lore; then they would surely agree that Banks' blow pales beside Gabby Hartnett's homer in 1938, a drive in the dusk that propelled the Cubs past the Pirates in the final week of a dramatic pennant fight.
And few voters in St. Louis could have been long of tooth. Cardinal fans singled out Lou Brock's 105th stolen base in 1974, the theft that broke Maury Wills' supposedly unapproachable record. Brock's accomplishment was considerable, but in choosing it the good burghers of St. Louis bypassed a caboodle of memories that are more memorable, providing that they knew about them.
Perhaps that's the problem. Since most fans in St. Louis—or anywhere else—are not fanatics who pore through old Spalding Base Ball Guides, they would have to be past middle age to remember Grover Cleveland Alexander's storied strikeout of Tony Lazzeri in the seventh game of the 1926 World Series. They would have to be only slightly younger to recall the Gas House Gang, which won the pennant on the last day of the 1934 season, then went seven games to defeat the Tigers in the Series.
Even allowing for a generation gap, it still seems that Cardinal fans should be aware of Enos Slaughter's swashbuckling dash from first base with the winning run in the seventh game of the 1946 World Series or of Bob Gibson's three 1967 Series victories over the Red Sox or of Gibson's 17-strikeout shutout of the Tigers in the '68 Series opener.
But St. Louisans were hardly as misguided as Minnesotans. The Twins must have been complete bores during their 12-year history, since their fans' most throbbing memory is an early July 1965 home run by Harmon Killebrew that beat the Yankees and kept Minnesota five games in first place. A crucial game this was not. The Yanks, showing the first winks of their Big Sleep, were a sixth-place team most of that year.
The selections of some other cities are indicative of the bathos that has engulfed their franchises. Houston's most memorable moment was not the knifing of Jimmy Wynn by his wife but the opening of the Astrodome. Even if President and Lady Bird Johnson were there, it was still only an exhibition game with the Yankees. Of the expansion teams, Montreal's first game at home was that city's most titillating moment, and San Diego fans put aside a comparable choice to choose Nate Colbert's five homers and 13 RBIs in a road doubleheader. What Milwaukee's 6-year-old American League supporters remember most is the Brewers' first game. Manager Dave Bristol would like to forget it, since his team lost 12-0.
A perfect game is usually a perfect choice, but A's fans should have overlooked Catfish Hunter's perfecto and voted for Gene Tenace's blitz of the Reds in the 1972 World Series. And why did Kansas City fans zero in on the first no-hitter by the Royals' Steve Busby, when his second no-hit game a year later was twice as noteworthy?
Fans in other cities were hit between the eyes with historic moments they could not ignore, possibly because most of them occurred fairly recently. They include the Mets' 1969 crushing of the Orioles, Henry Aaron's 715th home run, Pirate Bill Mazeroski's climactic 1960 Series homer and the White Sox' 1959 pennant, which came after a 40-year wait.
Fans whom the carpetbaggers left behind should not fret. Most memorable moments for teams such as the Brooklyn Dodgers, the New York Giants, the Washington Senators and the St. Louis Browns will be selected by a committee of baseball experts and added to a nationwide ballot that will be used to determine the game's most memorable moment. If Bobby Thomson and his home run don't finish first in that election, then the next voice you'll hear will belong to Russ Hodges, screaming in resurrection about the injustice of it all.