For many reasons, 1985 bothers me. While so many great things happened (I shaved for the first time, and as the new kid in a new school, I would meet friends that year that would become my lifelong friends), the Los Angeles Dodgers lost the National League Championship Series to the St. Louis Cardinals. After jumping out to win the first two games, the Dodgers lost the next four and the series. I hated Ozzie Smith when he hit his home run in the bottom of the 9th to beat us in game 5. “Go crazy, folks!” announcer Jack Buck exclaimed to close the night. I hated Jack Clark even more for his three-run homer in the 9th to beat us in game 6. Fifteen-year-olds hate with a passion, especially when their team loses, the object of their hate, the person who beat them, even if he was the wonderful Wizard of Oz. (My hate for Ozzie subsided, though it never went away for Jack Clark.)
Before this series, I wanted the Dodgers to beat the Cards, payback for that disappointing 1985. Down two games, beating our two best pitchers, things looked grim before the game tonight. Then again, we could do to the Cardinals what they did to us back then.
Before Game 3 tonight, I turned back the clock another four years more, and had a fleeting moment when I wished it was 1981 again. In 1981, the Dodgers had already done this before. They stared deficits three times that post-season, the climax to a troubling strike shortened season, where baseball that year was played in two halves. The winner of the halves played each other in the DCS, the winner of that moving on to the LCS, both series five games. The Dodgers were down first to the Houston Astros 2-0, before coming back to win three straight games to advance, including a win over Nolan Ryan in the deciding fifth game. Once again, in the next series, the Dodgers found themselves down 2-1 to the Montreal Expos, before winning the last two games to take the series, game 5 only decided by a pinch-hit homerun by Rick Monday in the 9th inning. Then came even more drama in the following round at the World Series. The Dodgers found themselves down two games to none again, this time to the hated New York Yankees, having also lost two recent World Series a few years prior in 1977 and again in 1978.
Just 11 years old, I was inconsolable, having only learned to speak English a few years prior, and at that actually having learned how to read before speaking with a book about the history of the World Series, reluctantly conditioned to losing to the Yankees in those games. The Dodgers had only beaten the them twice, in 1955 and 1963, and in my young, immigrant mind those wins might as well have happened at the dawn of time in another country cos they were irrelevant to me. And this year seemed like it would end like all other years.
But then, Dodgers skipper Tommy Lasorda in the pre-game interview (with Joe Garagiola or Tony Kubek, if I remember right) on TV announced he had prayed to that Great Big Dodger in the Sky. Tonight was gonna be a good night. The Great Big Dodger was on our side, and we had Fernando on the mound. Along with all Dodgers fans, I believed in, and hung on every word uttered by, Uncle Tommy. I was optimistic, but cautiously so; my history against the Yankees were too frustratingly long from my 11 year-old perspective. That being said, there was something to what Uncle Tommy had said; and I too began to think about that Great Big Dodger in the Sky.
Fernando Valenzuela took me and the baseball world by storm that year, creating Fernandomania. It was awesome. I had never seen anything like it; neither had the rest of the country. This roly-poly young 20 year-old from Mexico who could barely speak English was unhittable to start the season 8-0, with five shutouts and a 0.50 ERA. He reminded me of me, except he could play baseball. Though he sputtered in the second half, he still won the NL Cy Young Award and NL Rookie of the Year Award. And now the fate of the Dodgers and their fans rested on his pitching arm and his signature pitch, the “screwball”.
While he wasn’t sharp, Fernando came through, propelling the Dodgers to a 5-4 victory that sparked three more wins to beat the Yanks 4 games to 2. I was so happy, thanking that Great Big Dodger in the Sky. History potentially repeating itself, the Dodgers won tonight, beating the Cardinals 3-0 to finally get a game. Interestingly, the three best pitchers left in the National League still playing (arguably the three best pitchers in the National League, period – Kershaw, Wainwright, and Greinke) have all lost in this series, going 0-3.
If the Dodgers do win the NLCS and go on to win the World Series, I’ll be happy. I’ll be really happy. But I won’t be as happy as I was in 1981 when the Dodgers won it all. Or in the 1981 or 1984 seasons when the NINERS won the Super Bowl. Or in 1988 when I achieved a trifecta with my teams when the Dodgers won the World Series, the NINERS won the Super Bowl, and the Notre Dame Fighting Irish football team won the college football national championship. Or in 1989 when the NINERS won the Super Bowl again. A few years later in 1995, I would be happy again as the NINERS won the Super Bowl for the fifth time, that one sweeter as my teams had been in a “slump”, both Notre Dame and the NINERS exceptionally good, but couldn’t get over the hump, coming oh so close to winning it all, but not. And that would be the last time. When the Cubs almost went to the World Series in 2003, it almost brought me back to the way I felt when I was a kid. The Red Sox winning the World Series in 2004, especially in the fashion in which they won, brought me back. Last year’s Notre Dame team and the NINERS of the last two years have been a joy to watch.
More than ever, I think back to when I was eleven, when the Dodgers won it all (in my mind, their first time). I was so happy; there are times I wish I could have bottled that feeling of unbridled joy. A child’s joy knows no bounds. Whenever I need to go to my happy place, oftentimes that place brings me back to 1981. In 1988, when Gibson pinch-hit a homerun (as he was fist-pumping while painfully, yet gleefully, rounding the bases, Jack Buck exclaimed over the radio — “I don’t believe what I just saw!”) over the heavily favoured Oakland A’s en route to the Dodgers championship, after that game one win, I ran around the block I was so happy. But it still didn’t compare to 1981, when winning “against all odds” gave hope to a young boy that anything could be possible if you believed enough and worked hard to get the result you wanted. Years later, I still believe that.
And that’s why if the Cardinals do win this series and next, I won’t mind. I won’t mind cos they are my sister Bess’ favourite team. And she loves baseball. She may love baseball even more than me. She especially loves the Cardinals. She loves in the way you’re supposed to love baseball, sports in general, and in the way you’re supposed to love your team. More importantly, her baby girl Beatrix is just becoming a Cardinals fan. I’ve been graced this past week with pictures from Bess of Bea donning her Cardinals ballcap, rooting on the team she’ll be a fan of her entire life. They’re a fun team to root for, built the way teams in the past were built (unlike this year’s Dodgers, aside for a few key young players, who bought their team – much like the Yankees of the past decade). Almost two, she’s building a lifetime of memories. And I can hear her giggle as I too smile, looking at the pictures of her.
I’ll be happy if the Dodgers (or Red Sox) win it all. But if I were really true to, and honest with, my 11 year-old self, I would be even happier if the Cardinals win it all instead. There’s a 22 month-old’s future at stake. The Cards best not let her down. I certainly won’t get in the way.
- Baseball’s Greatest Walk-off Home Runs
- Puig Puts His Stamp on the NLCS
- Dodgers top Cardinals 3-0, cut NLCS deficit to 2-1 (sacbee.com)
- NLCS, Game 3: Cardinals-Dodgers lineups (hardballtalk.nbcsports.com)
- Wacha, Cardinals Edge Dodgers for 2-0 Lead in NLCS (abcnews.go.com)
- Beltran, Cards top LA 3-2 in 13 in NLCS opener (bigstory.ap.org)
- Dodgers’ Hanley Ramirez has fractured rib, game-time decision for NLCS Game 3 (tracking.si.com)
- Dodgers top Cardinals 3-0, cut NLCS deficit to 2-1 (abclocal.go.com)