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All-Time Record Holders Runs Batted In

October 17, 2008
 Untitled 
“They just came back and beat us. That happens sometimes.” – Joe Maddon

I.
Hank Aaron was born in 1934, grew up in the Depression, lived through World War II, started his professional baseball career in the Negro Leagues, lived through the Korean War, lived through the Civil Rights movement, lived through the Vietnam War, broke the long-standing major league record for lifetime home runs while receiving racist death threats (and while also setting the record shown here, which has withstood all assaults, chemically-aided and otherwise), lived through the entirety of the Cold War, lived to see his major league record for lifetime home runs broken amidst an aura of cynicism and disbelief, and is currently living through the Iraq War and the possible collapse of the worldwide economy into the kind of economic crisis that hasn’t been seen since his earliest years. He has lived though the most tumultuous three-quarters of a century in human history, yet until last night he had never lived to see (or to sleep through, depending on how late he’s staying up these days and his level of interest in the American League) the thing that prompted Joe Maddon to say “That happens sometimes.” In the phenomenal lifetime of Hank Aaron, a playoff team had never rallied to win after falling behind by seven or more runs.

II.
I do not have cable television, but I subscribe to XM radio, so my connection to my favorite team in their playoff run has been an oddly old-fashioned one. I can either go out to a saloon (OK, a bar) and watch, which I have done a couple times, both to ill effect, or I can stay at home and listen to Red Sox radio announcer Joe Castiglione tell me what’s happening. For most of their playoff games I have enhanced my vision of the game by keeping score in my writing journal, trying not to think about the crushing line from the Vin Scully-esque announcer for the Springfield Isotopes, who ends a description of a play by saying “. . . if you’re scoring at home. And if you are, you’re loneliness saddens me.” So last night I wrote out all the names and within minutes of the opening pitch I was again darkening in rectangles for the Rays, my way of signifying that the batter in question had rounded the bases and scored. By the middle of the game I had flung my notebook across the room, leaving my scoring of the game unfinished. I still listened, but found myself nodding off a couple times on the couch. Joe Castiglione’s voice had turned sour. There was no crowd sound behind him.

“This is a fucking funeral,” I said to my wife.

“It is completely 100% over, done,” my old friend Matt, from Greenfield, MA, said at about the same time, in an email.

III.
The Depression began with the stock market crash in 1929, the same month we’re in now as the stock market again careens and plummets. October. A couple weeks before the crash in 1929, the Cubs forged a seemingly insurmountable 8–0 lead over the Philadelphia A’s by the seventh inning of game 4 of the World Series, virtual locks to knot the series at two games apiece.

But a lot can happen in an inning. It was a sunny day. The man in the above card, to Hank Aaron’s left, a man who would go on to become a member of the Hall of Fame, lost two fly balls in the sun in the bottom of the seventh, nurturing an A’s comeback so improbable and unusual in its magnitude that it would not need to be referenced for 79 years.

IV.
My wife has been very busy lately with graduate school, an internship, and a demanding job. There hasn’t been much time for . . . relations. Even on the rare occasion when she hasn’t been at or traveling to or from one of her many responsibilities she’s either been exhausted or stressed out or, most often, both. But last night, as the awful top of the seventh inning was drawing to a close and I was throwing dirt on the moribund Red Sox and wondering how the Celtics were going to do this year, my wife let me know that there was an unusual lull in her schedule.

“Do you want to sit here and listen to them lose or . . . , ” she said.

There are very few things that I would choose over the “or . . . ” option, but one of those things, most of the time, would be to follow the Red Sox in the playoffs. But a loophole in that system of prioritization occurred to me. I am, in general, a short pitch-count kind of guy.

“What the hell,” I thought. “The most I’ll miss is an inning.”

As I rose off the couch, Pedroia knocked in the first run of the game for the Red Sox. We have a small apartment, so I could still sort of hear the radio call while “or . . . ” was happening in the bedroom. I could not hear words, but I could hear Joe Castiglione’s voice rising again and again. Either the Red Sox were rallying or Joe Castiglione had abandoned the call of the game to pay tribute, for my benefit, to fellow broadcaster Phil Rizzuto’s work midway through “Paradise By the Dashboard Light.”

I got back to the actual words, and not merely the music, of the radio call by the ninth inning, the score knotted, and heard Masterson get out of a jam by inducing a double-play. I heard Youkilis reach on a two-out two-base error. I heard Bay get intentionally walked, just like the left-fielder who he replaced would have been. I heard Drew send one over the head of Gross, Joe Castiglione’s voice cracking orgasmically, as if he’d never seen such a thing in all his years.

10 comments

  1. 1.  Beautiful juxtapositions.

    I really liked the part about the music of the radio call.


  2. 2.  This is what I love about the Red Sox. All heart, no matter what. Lovely recap.


  3. 3.  You got laid, and Rays fans got screwed. How cosmic. 😉

    I’m pissed that I stayed up til 12:30 (alarm goes off at 6 AM) to see the Red Sox win, but when it boils down to it, I saw baseball history. If you catch me in a weak moment, I might admit that I’m better for it.

    Also: TBS’ cameras caught Sawx fans heading for the exits in the seventh. I hope for your sake and mine that they were some of those obnoxious bandwagoneers that have spread like mold since 2004, and that they might never come back.


  4. 4.  Question: I had a long debate the other night about the Ray vs Sox farm systems. My buddy’s main argument against Sox was that they had lots of money to buy players (Ortiz, Bay, Manny, etc), and that the Rays were a team of farm players skyrocketing to stardom. Mine was that the Sox, while rich, are still stocked with outstanding farmhards – Pedroia, Ellsbury, Lowrie, Pap, etc etc. And that the quality of Sox players far exceeds that of the rays. Anybody got thoughts on this one?


  5. 5.  3 : My friend Pete also told me about the shots of people leaving the game. I don’t know. Corporate ticket-holders, maybe?

    4 : The Sox have a good farm system that they pour a lot of money into, but the Rays do have some great young players. If I had to bet, I’d bet that when all is said and done there will be more members of last night’s Rays lineup than last night’s Red Sox lineup in the hall of fame. (Longoria, Upton, Crawford versus . . . ?)


  6. 6.  True, but then again the Rays have been absolutely awful forever and correspondingly blessed with high draft picks. Upton = 2nd overall 2002, Crawford, 2nd round, 1999, Longoria = 3rd overall pick 2006. Then youve got the Sox, who have to make significantly tougher draft decisions, picking up Pedroia as the 65th pick 2004, Youkilis 2001 243rd overall!, Ellsbury, 2005 23rd overall. Papelbon, 2003 17th round. That to me points to a much stronger farm system, that can recognize diamond in the rough, overall players, and fine tune them into green monster machines.


  7. 7.  Anybody else think Longoria kind of got screwed on that “E5”? Even though it bounced, I’m used to seeing Pena make that play, and he just straight-up missed it.
    I guess Maddon would agree: that’s the way the ball bounces sometimes.


  8. 8.  Must be nice to be married, Wilker-san. Sounds like you have an invigorating and supportive partner.

    I’m glad they won. I can’t quite believe it, but I am most definitely glad.

    Nonetheless, I think your choice was wiser…

    What’s that line from “White Men Can’t Jump” ? “Listen to the woman.”


  9. 9.  Beautifully written.

    Word choice in the last line? Priceless.


  10. 10.  5 “I don’t know. Corporate ticket-holders, maybe?”

    I can tell you from my experience in the 2nd to last row (not so) cheap seats that several people in our area left, too. Also, you couldn’t tell from seeing on TV, but many people were heading to the exits not to leave, but to get their beer before they stopped serving it.



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