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Yankee-Red Sox London Slugfests Bring Back Memories of Phillies-Cubs 23-22 1979 Classic Re-Told In Kevin Cook's "Ten Innings At Wrigley"

I have my doubts that the two end-of-June slugfests the Yankees and Red Sox engaged in at London's Olympic Stadium will "grow the game" in Europe as both players and owners claim.  It was somewhat entertaining if you like lots of run-scoring and bizarre plays. 

 
My favorite moment was the amazing catch of a foul pop-up by Red Sox rookie first baseman Michael Chavis in the final game of the two-game series. He's not really a first baseman but injuries to regular Mitch Moreland and his capable sub Steve Pearce forced Chavis into an unfamiliar position.  

 
In a stadium built for track and field, now used for soccer and never for baseball, foul territory is huge. Far larger than either Oakland's cavernous Coliseum or Hiram Bithorn Stadium in San Juan, Puerto Rico.  After not making a play on a similar foul on Saturday, Michael Chavis calculated the distance better on his second chance.  

 
Starting from between first and second, he raced into foul territory like a sprinter, slid, and made the catch with room to spare before he hit the wall. Yet I sure hope before the next series in 2020 between the Cubs and Cardinals, they somehow reduce the foul territory.  

 
Red Sox manager Alex Cora was very honest after the Yankees swept the games, 17-13 and 12-8.  "They are better than us right now," he said.  The Sox did show spunk by making games of each tussle, but their bullpen is in disarray. 

 
There is now talk of putting oft-injured starter Nathan Eovaldi in the closer's role when he returns. Yet I wouldn't count out the defending world champions from making a run, at least at the first wild card.  They still have the Four Killer B's in the heart of their lineup - Benintendi, Betts, Bogaerts, and Bradley Jr., all home-grown by the way. And I haven't even mentioned the big bopping Trump-supporting J. D. Martinez.

 

The six-run first-inning haymakers delivered by both teams in the 17-13 must have shocked the British locals used to seeing low-scoring soccer. In blessed baseball, nothing is new under the sun.  

 

To my mind the game brought back memories of the 23-22 10 inning game in May 1979 in which the Phillies scored 7 in the first only to see the Cubs respond with 6 of their own. Later in that game, Philly couldn't hold 15-6 and 21-9 leads and needed a Mike Schmidt 10th inning homer off future Hall of Famer Bruce Sutter to give them the victory.   

 

Kevin Cook has brought that game back to life in "Ten Innings at Wrigley:  The Wildest Ballgame Ever, With Baseball At The Brink" (Henry Holt).  Cook, who recently authored the absorbing "Electric Baseball" about key characters in the 1947 Dodgers-Yankees World Series, is blessed with an almost pitch-perfect ear for pithy character revelations.  

 

Here is sportswriter John Schulian remembering  Cubs manager Herman Franks seated in his office "with his feet on his desk, eating chocolate donuts and smoking a cigar, ignoring questions."  There is Phillies manager Danny Ozark, the master of malapropisms, saying that an opening day ovation sent "a twinkle up my spine."

 

But when starting to feel the heat for failing to make the World Series with three straight playoff teams, Ozark branded Phillie fans as "the boo-birds of unhappiness."  To a player demanding more time on the field, Ozark scoffs, "His limitations are limitless."  


"Ten Innings" is a lively summer read, but what separates it from the usual light baseball reading are the sensitive stories of the players and their later lives.  Bill Buckner, who died just after the book came out, is remembered as a gritty ballplayer who played hard through nearly-crippling injuries. In a reflective moment before the start of the 1986 World Series, he even mentions a nightmare of missing a ball on defense.  

 
Dave Kingman, the other offensive power on the 1979 Cubs, is recalled as focused almost entirely on his home run output to the detriment of other aspects of his game.  He did draw many fans to Wrigley, prompting Cubs fan turned official team historian Ed Hartig to tell Cook, "He was bad in interesting ways."  Kingman's contempt for the press is well-described but he is now evidently living his life happily as a family man in Lake Tahoe. 

 

The most tragic story in "Ten Innings" centers on relief pitcher Donnie Moore who entered the game after starter Dennis Lamp was knocked out in the first inning.  (In one of the vivid details that permeate this fine read, Lamp's wife arrived late for the game and no one was eager to tell her what had happened.)  

 

Cook was able to interview Moore's daughter who provides many insights on the life of her talented tormented father who committed suicide in 1989 after failing to kill his wife. Observations from Moore's teammate and fellow moundsman Ray Burris are very moving, memories of happier times in Chicago 1979.    

 
That's all for now.  Next time I want to say a lot about the play "Toni Stone".  For now I just want to mention it is running through Aug. 11 at the Pels Theatre at 111 W 46th Street just west of Sixth Ave. in NYC.   The story of the first woman to play baseball in the Negro Leagues is extremely well-told, acted, and choreographed.  

 
Always remember:  Take it easy but take it! 

 

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