(Photo by Associated Press)
MLB Network is currently in the process of selecting the 20 greatest games of the last 50 years, which will be narrowed down from a list of 50 candidates they unveiled on a broadcast earlier this week. The final 20 will be chosen by an “expert panel” with input from an online vote by fans, and revealed during a live show Jan. 3.
Of the 50 games on the master list, one involved the Mariners, and I don’t think it’s any mystery which one that is. Of course, it’s the playoff game against the Yankees on Oct. 8, 1995, that ended with Edgar Martinez’s 11th-inning double off Jack McDowell that scored Joey Cora and Ken Griffey Jr., the latter racing around the bases at warp speed as the Kingdome crowd lapsed into delirium.
I can’t imagine that game not making the final cut. I wasn’t there — I was still working in San Francisco at the time, and covering the NL playoffs — but I feel like I was, after talking so many times to so many participants. and wattching so many replays of Edgar’s double. In fact, I was watching the game on television as it unfolded and remember being riveted to the set. I truly believe that game, culminating a thrilling five-game series that captured national attention (the Yankees were involved, after all, not to mention Griffey, who was at his peak of his celebrity), helped re-spark fan interest in baseball after the disillusionment from the strike the previous season.
I’ll be interested to see if that game will make the final cut. There are a lot of great games on the list, and I’m not sure the rest of the country feels quite the same emotional attachment as do Mariner fans, who still view Edgar’s double as the signature moment in franchise history. Still, I expect it will crack the top 20.
One game that just barely missed being eligible because it didn’t fall in the “past 50 seasons” timeline is Game 7 of the 1960 World Series between the Pirates and Yankees — the Bill Mazeroski game. Maz hit what remains the only Game 7 walkoff homer in World Series history, and it surely stands as one of the most memorable games in baseball history. I can now vouch for that, in fact. On Wednesday, the MLB network showed a recently discovered tape of the original NBC broadcast — the first time the game has been seen nationally since its original airing. The story of how the Game 7 kiniescope was found last year in nearly pristine condition in the wine cellar of Bing Crosby’s home near San Francisco, unearthed in September by the New York Times’ Richard Sandomir, is a doozy, well worth checking out.
Also well worth checking out is the MLB network re-broadcast of that game. The network did it up right, renting a theater in Pittsburgh in November and inviting several living members of the 1960 Pirates team to attend, including Dick Groat, Bill Virdon, Elroy Face and Vernon Law. Unfortunately, Mazeroski himself was ill and couldn’t attend, but he taped an interview later. Also in attendance was Bobby Richardson of the Yankees, who was actually named the World Series MVP (I have a hunch the vote was taken before Mazeroski’s homer), as well as Vera Clemente (Roberto’s widow), Franco Harris, actor MIchael Keaton (a PIttsburgh native) and others. After each inning was aired, they cut back to the theater for a discussion of the events that had just transpired, moderated by Bob Costas. I’m telling you, it was riveting. I started watching in about the sixth inning and hung with it until the very end. By that time, was after 1 in the morning, but I wasn’t about to go to sleep until Mazeroski’s homer — which was viewed from camera angles never before seen. The best part of the whole broadcast might have been the frenetic post-game clubhouse interview conducted by Pirates legendary broadcaster Bob Prince, wearing a sports coat that not even Craig Sager would have dared put on. The whole broadcast serves as an invaluable time capsule, allowing a rare glimpse into the way the game used to be played. The broadcast is sparse — no replays, no analysts, with Prince and Mel Allen alternating on the play-by-play — but with players like Clemente, Mickey Mantle, Roger Maris and Yogi Berra on display, you can’t turn away. At least, I couldn’t. The game itself is incredibly tense, with lots of twists and turns. I’d highly recommend checking it out the next time it runs.
For what it’s worth, here are the 20 games I would vote for from the original list of 50. I discovered I had actually been in attendance for 11 games on the master list (several of which didn’t make my final cut). Here are my choices, in chronological order, with a star by the games I was at:
1, Oct. 16, 1962: Willie McCovey’s screaming liner is speared by Yankee second baseman Bobby Richardson to end Game 7 of the World Series with Giants’ runners at second and third. The Yankees’ only run in a 1-0 title-clinching win came on a double-play groundout by Tony Kubek in the fifth.
2, July 2, 1963: San Fransisco’s Juan Marichal out-duels Milwaukee’s Warren Spahn over 16 innings. It’s hard to fathom in this age of pitch counts, but Marichal, just 25 years old, was allowed to go the distance, pitching 16 shutout innings. Spahn, who was 42, matched zeroes until the 16th, when Willie Mays won it with a one-out homer. Two Hall of Famers in peak form, one near the outset of his career, one near the end. Epic.
3, Sept. 9, 1965: Sandy Koufax pitches a perfect game and the Dodgers win 1-0 over Bob Henley and the Cubs. The game featured just one hit — and it had no influence on the lone run.
4, Oct. 1, 1967: Carl Yastrzemski goes 4-for-4 to cap his MVP season as the Red Sox beat the Twins, 5-3, in the final game of the regular season to prevail in one of the most exciting pennant races ever.
5, Oct. 15, 1969: Ron Swoboda’s great catch helps the Miracle Mets beat the Orioles in the World Series.
6, Oct. 21, 1975: Carlton Fisk’s iconic homer down the line wins it for the Red Sox over Cincinnati in Game 6 of the World Series. A no-brainer.
7, Oct. 18, 1977: Reggie Jackson hits three homers to lead the Yankees over the Dodgers in the clinching game of the World Series. One of the greatest individual clutch performances ever, turning Reggie into Mr. October.
8, Oct. 2, 1978: Bucky Dent crushes Boston’s hopes in a one-game playoff for the AL East title. Or, as more accurately phrased by Red Sox fans, Bucky Bleepin’ Dent.
9, Oct. 12, 1986: The Red Sox get their chance to crush the dreams of an opponent on Dave Henderson’s game-winning homer off Donnie Moore, preventing the Angels from winning their first pennant.
10, Oct. 25, 1986: Back to more Red Sox misery: Bill Buckner. Enough said.
*11, Oct. 15, 1988: Kirk Gibson limps off the bench to win the game for the Dodgers with a homer off Oakland’s Dennis Eckersley. “I don’t believe what I just saw!”
*12, Oct. 27, 1991: Jack Morris’s 10-inning gem beats John Smoltz and the Braves, 1-0, in Game 7 of the World Series. Definitely the most exciting 1-0 game I ever saw.
*13, Oct. 14, 1992: Francisco Cabrera turns defeat into victory for the Braves in the ninth inning of Game 7 of the NLCS, with Sid Bream sliding in ahead of Barry Bonds’ throw to give Atlanta the pennant over Pittsburgh.
*14, Oct. 23, 1993: Joe Carter’s homer off Mitch Williams wins the World Series for the Blue Jays.
15, Oct. 8, 1995. Edgar’s double.
*16, Oct. 26, 1997. Edgar Renteria’s single in the 11th inning leads the Marlins over Cleveland in Game 7 of the World Series, after the Indians had blown a ninth-inning lead.
*17, Nov. 4, 2001: The Diamondbacks rally in the bottom of the ninth off Mariano Rivera in Game 7 of the World Series to win on Luis Gonzalez’s single.
*18, Oct. 16, 2003: Aaron Boone gives the Yankees the pennant over the Red Sox with an 11th-inning homer in Game 7 off Boston’s Tim Wakefield.
19, Oct. 7, 2004: Got to have something from the Red Sox miracle over the Yankees, so I’ll take their Game 4 win that started the epic comeback, featuring Dave Roberts’ vital steal of second base in the ninth, and David Ortiz’s walkoff two-run homer in the 12th.
20, Oct. 6, 2010: Roy Halladay pitches the second postseason no-hitter in history.