Last HurrahsOctober 4, 2016
How do things end? This is still in question for David Ortiz, who is set to get at least a few more at-bats in the playoffs. His final regular season at-bat is now a matter of historical record, at least, a meek squibber up the first-base line, for Big Papi a rare intimation of baseball mortality in a season that may stand as the best final season in baseball history. So that’s how it ended for him, a little ground ball, a roaring ovation.
I already compared that last at-bat with the most memorable final at-bat of my life, Yaz’s final turn, but what I left out of the memory of Yaz was his final moments on the field, after the at-bat, when he took a lap around Fenway, touching as many hands as he could. I cried when he did that. I’ve talked about Yaz’s final day before—why do I leave that part out? No ending will ever top that for me, no matter what happens with Big Papi in the playoffs.
How does it end for the rest of us? At some point it’ll end for me and the box of cards shown above that contains my childhood, at least in my eyes, will become someone else’s possession, devoid of the memories, cardboard without the gods.
This is may or may not be relevant, but yesterday, thinking about all my Octobers and about October itself, the favorite month of Jack Kerouac, I wondered whether Jack Kerouac watched the 1969 World Series, the crowning moment of the Miracle Mets. He was a couple of weeks away from dying at the age of 47. I’m a year older than he ever got, and yet still his unwanted dufus apprentice! He ended in Florida living with his wife and mother and drinking a lot and watching TV. He had a terrible liver from all the drinking and an untreated hernia and had gotten beaten up in a bar fight a few days earlier and had a head stuffed no longer with visions but rather with angered ranting, about communists, hippies, Jews. According to a recent Boston Globe article by James Sullivan about Kerouac’s daughter, Jan, Kerouac had $91 to his name at the end. So that’s kind of how his last at-bat went, and maybe why I want to imagine him marveling at the Mets in his last October.
Most final at-bats don’t come in October. This has to be true because most games occur before that time, but it’s also supported by some research on my part, if this type of thing can be called research. I don’t so much research things as look for ways to escape the inevitable. This latest attempt was built around the conceit of last at-bats for Red Sox standouts at every position who actually had their last at-bats as a member of the team. I had to leave out many players who drifted away from the team at the end and had to be lenient with some position assignments (e.g., Williams shifting over to right, where he played for a while as a youngster).
Anyway, the list:
- Catcher: Jason Varitek singled in the go-ahead run in a late September win against the Yankees as the Red Sox attempted (unsuccessfully, as it turned out) to stave off the worst final-month collapse in baseball history.
- 1B: Yaz popped out to second base in October.
- 2B: Bobby Doerr grounded out to short in early September. In the following inning, Doerr, who had been suffering from a bad back, was taken out of the game after completing the pivot in a 6-4-3 double play. This might be, all things considered, the second best final moment noted here, next to only the one below that was immortalized by John Updike: the second-baseman who died with his boots on, or rather his cleats high.
- SS: Speaking of injuries, Joe Cronin reached on an error by the opposing second baseman in April. He broke his leg on the following play and had to be removed (by himself—he was the player/manager) for a pinch-runner.
- 3B: Rico Petrocelli drew a walk in a September loss.
- LF: Jim Rice flied out to deep right-center field in an August loss. He was replaced before his next at-bat by Randy Kutcher. Randy Kutcher? I can’t find out why this happened, but Rice’s last years were injury-riddled. He may have tweaked something and then never made it back.
- CF: Dom Dimaggio popped out in a May loss.
- RF: Ted Williams homered in September (attendance: 10,454).
- DH: David Ortiz grounded out, in October, 2-3 if you’re scoring from home, like a failed attempt to reach base by a bunt.
Only Yaz, Ortiz, and Williams had moments of knowing goodbye. Everybody else was like the rest of us, never really knowing when it will be over, or when it already is.