As a blogger, when someone else writes a piece – the premise of which you wish you’d come up with yourself – your options are limited. You can either stew and mutter in incredulity or brazenly appropriate and hope the strength of your perspective and writing will make up for the less-than-original idea underneath. With most ideas the former is the only true choice, as co-opting would come off as transparent copy-catting. But once in awhile you come across a great idea that you can borrow and still add something to the conversation.
ESPN’s Jim Caple wrote an article this week containing just such an idea. Caple’s premise was simple but possessed of limitless potential: if you could travel back in time and attend a single baseball game, which one would it be? Caple asked the question of his colleagues at ESPN, MLB players and a few celebrities before revealing his own pick.
The great thing about the responses he got was all the different directions in which people went in answering the question. Some went for historical significance ( Jackie Robinson’s first game was the most common answer), others for unique games or odd moments (the White Sox’ Disco Demolition Day received multiple votes). Still others went for great and classic games from baseball’s storied history.
Upon finishing the article, I sent it to my dad. I knew he would enjoy seeing the range of answers and how the games selected compared to his own list. He wrote back to thank me for sending the piece, enter his pick, and ask me for mine. I tried to come up with one. I couldn’t. I started and stopped in composing a reply. I hemmed and hawed and deleted and rewrote. I finally conceded the impossibility (for me) of choosing just one and put together a top 10. I know it’s breaking the rules of the exercise, but I like the way my take on the prompt turned out. So here is my top 10, including my dad’s pick (once you start appropriating, it’s hard to stop, so his is one of my 10). In chronological order:
1909 World Series, Game 3: When you think Dead Ball era, are there two players who more quickly come to mind than Ty Cobb and Honus Wagner? Perhaps the foremost stars of the early 20th century and two original Hall of Famers, how could one of their few meetings not make the list? Game 3 was the game featuring their aggregate best performance, so it gets the nod. Game 2 rates a close second as it included an apparently spectacular steal of home by Cobb, but let’s face it: by all accounts Ty Cobb was an asshole and I’m not going back in time to cheer for an asshole. So it’s Game 3 with Wagner’s 3 stolen bases that makes the list.
1917 “Double No-Hitter,” May 2: It would be incredibly difficult for me not to use my one past game voucher on a no-hitter. It’s pretty well-documented that seeing one is one of my major baseball life goals. And since every baseball game ever played is on the table, why not go for the most no-hitter of them all, the 1917 “double no-hitter” between Fred Toney of Cincinnati and Hippo Vaughn of Chicago? Toney & Vaughan both pitched 9 hitless innings before Vaughn lost the no-no and the shutout in the top of the 10th. Toney closed out the Cubs in the bottom of the 10th – no-hitter in tact – to pick up the win.
1917 Relief Perfect Game, June 23: Appropriation is such a nasty habit. This was Caple’s pick for his one game, but it’s such a compelling one (and it largely inspired this piece), so it makes the list. Read his article for full details, but here are the highlights: Babe Ruth started for the Red Sox against the Washington Senators. After walking the first batter, Ruth punched the umpire after an argument, at which point he was ejected along with his catcher. Ernie Shore then took the mound for Boston. The new catcher threw out the runner at first and Shore was perfect the rest of the way. Sign me up.
1919 World Series, Game 1: I was more than a little surprised that no one that Caple interviewed picked this game. I get that one of baseball’s many transcendent moments would probably make for more enjoyable and edifying viewing than perhaps baseball’s darkest hour. Still, in terms of history, this series was one of a kind (hopefully). Game 1 was perhaps the most blatant example of the White Sox throwing a game and the opportunity to witness that kind of infamy live at least merits careful consideration.
1935 or 1936 East-West All-Star Game: Everyone in Caple’s story picked MLB games to time-travel back to attend, but baseball history is full of non-MLB games. Minor league, semi-pro, barnstorming, international, third major league (like the Players League and the Federal League) and, of course, the Negro Leagues. The East-West All-Star Game was black baseball’s annual signature event, drawing huge crowds and featuring the best black and latin players who were shut out of the big leagues pre-1947. I would go with either 1935 (Martin Dihigo & Luis Tiant, Sr. pitching for the East) or 1936 (Satchel Paige pitching for the East). Josh Gibson caught both games for the East squad during what would have been the prime of his career.
1946 World Series, Game 7: If you’re traveling back in time for a baseball game, you most likely want to see uniqueness and/or greatness. In those terms, this one makes for a pretty easy choice: Ted Williams. Stan Musial. Enos Slaughter’s mad dash to win the game and the series for the Cardinals. You may have been admiring the way I didn’t allow my own St. Louis partisanship influence me over the first half of this list. If so, you will not be doing quite as much admiring in the second half as this is the first of several Cardinals games to show up on the back 5.
1947, Jackie Robinson’s Debut, April 15: As previously indicated, this was the most popular selection among Caple’s interviewees and that’s understandable. Perhaps the biggest moment in baseball history from a social, cultural and societal perspective, Jackie Robinson’s debut transformed the sport. It’s hard to pass up that kind of history.
1963 World Series, Game 1: It’s a little sacrilegious for a Cardinals fan to choose Sandy Koufax’s then record-setting 15 strikeout game over Bob Gibson’s 17 K effort in Game 1 of the 1968 World Series, but I’m trying for an all-encompassing top 10, not just top 10 Cardinals games. Plus, as the podcast has repeatedly established, I love my fellow southpaws. Koufax being baseball’s preeminent left-hander – and facing a fellow lefty in Whitey Ford (the preeminent Yankee pitcher, no less) – Game 1 gets in by a nose over Game 4, another complete game win for Koufax over Ford – in the clencher – that featured a Mickey Mantle home run.
1964 World Series, Game 7: This was my dad’s choice. I’ll let him tell it: “I would probably go with Game 7 of the 1964 World Series since it was the first Cardinal championship in my lifetime. Not only would I get to see Gibson pitch but it would be against all the Yankee greats.” I get half credit back from my previous pick for choosing another of Gibson’s classic (if less-dominating than Game 1 1968) performances.
2011 World Series, Game 6: This one wouldn’t require much of a time machine, but it would be more than worth the brief journey. In an alternate reality somewhere, I went to this game. When I was selecting my World Series tickets last year – through my credit card rewards – there was a fair amount of confusion as to which games were still available. I had tickets to Game 6 in my online cart, but dropped them in a quest to secure Game 1 or Game 2. By the time I circled back around to Game 6, there were no longer any tickets available, leaving me to settle for Game 7 (the horror!). I think I speak for my dad in addition to myself when I say that we feel fortunate simply to have been part of a Cardinals World Series game, period, and a series-clinching Game 7, to boot. Still, being at that roller coaster Game 6 would have been an experience of another kind and it would have been amazing.
So that’s my Top 10. Again, go read Caple’s article and then chime in down in the comments with the game – or games – you’d time-travel for.