Tag Archives: San Francisco Giants

Looking Back at Some Historic Long Balls Tainted by the Lens of Revisionism and Hindsight

The other day I watched the 30 for 30 documentary Long Gone Summer on ESPN. The film chronicles the 1998 battle between Mark McGwire of the St. Louis Cardinals, and Sammy Sosa of the Chicago Cubs as they battled to break the Major League Baseball (MLB) single season home run record set by Roger Maris of the New York Yankees in 1961.

I always enjoy the 30 for 30 series, and this entry was no exception. As I watched the documentary, I was taken back to the excitement of the battle between McGwire and Sosa during the summer of 1998. I was also reminded of the minor role I played three years later when Barry Bonds of the San Francisco Giants tied the record of 70 home runs that McGwire set in 1998.

On October 4, 2001, I saw my first baseball game at Enron Field (now modern-day Minute Maid Park). Aside from being my first visit to what was then a National League Ballpark, October 4, 2001 was also the day that Barry Bonds tied Mark McGwire’s home run record at 70.
Photo R. Anderson

On October 4, 2001, I saw my first baseball game at Enron Field (now modern-day Minute Maid Park) when the Houston Astros hosted the San Francisco Giants.

The game had originally been scheduled for September, but was moved to October after a week of games was cancelled following the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001.

Aside from being my first visit to what was then a National League Ballpark, October 4, 2001 was also the day that Barry Bonds tied Mark McGwire’s home run record at 70. Bonds hit the record tying homer in the ninth inning off of Houston Astros rookie left-hander Wilfredo Rodriguez.

The home run came after Bonds was walked eight times, and hit by a pitch once in 14 prior plate appearances in the series against the Astros. After Bonds was intentionally walked, the over 40,000 fans in attendance booed Astros manager Larry Dierker. It is not every day that the home team manager is booed for walking an opponent.

Perhaps not wanting to be booed again, Dierker allowed Rodriquez to pitch to Bonds the next time he came to the plate. When the ball left Bonds’ bat, the stands erupted in cheers as that record tying homer sailed over the wall. Of course, it is not often that a home run hit by the opposing team gets such a response, but this was history in the making. Or at least it was history tying in the making.

Bonds made two curtain calls following the home run, and the world of baseball was truly united on that one evening a little under a month since the terrorist attacks of 9/11 shook the nation to its core.

The same thing happened when Sosa and McGwire were battling for the record in 1998. Fans of baseball put aside their team partisanship and rooted for Sosa and McGwire as individuals for the greater good of the game. This fact is even more amazing when one considers how bitter the fan bases of the Cubs and Cardinals can be to each other.

It would be nearly 10 years to the day before I saw the Giants play the Astros again after my first trip to the Ballpark. The return game occurred three years after Barry Bonds last played, and lacked the record setting buzz, and the crowds of my first trip to the Ballpark.
Photo R. Anderson

Fast forward to that 2001 October night in Houston, and fans were once again cheering for a player from a hated rival.

Bonds very well may have broken that record as well during the same game that he tied it were it not for Dierker deciding to give Bonds an intentional walk in a game that the Astros had very little chance of winning.

I recall writing at the time that the history denying intentional walk was not in the spirit of competition. Instead, by walking Bonds, Dierker was manipulating records by not allowing the at bat to proceed organically without the interference of a manager refusing to let his pitcher throw to the batter.

At the end of the 2001 season, Larry Dierker was no longer managing the Astros after another early playoff exit. I have often wondered whether his actions of committing a sin against the baseball records played a part in the decision of the team to go in a different direction.

If memory serves, at the time, Dierker called it shameful that the Astros fans had dared to cheer for Bonds the way they did. I guess he just did not understand the gravity of the moment. Or, perhaps he did, and wasn’t swayed by it.

As an aside, it should be noted that Rodriquez, the other key Astros player that night, had only appeared in two games prior to giving up the home run, and he never pitched in an MLB game again after Bonds tied the record against him.

Before going any further, it is important to acknowledge the elephant in the room. In the years since 1998 and 2001, Sammy Sosa, Mark McGwire, and Barry Bonds have each, to varying degrees, had their career accomplishments overshadowed by whispers of how much of a role performance enhancing drugs (PED) played in their record setting achievements.

Each of the three men are currently on the outside looking in of the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, along with many other players from that era who have been tied to suspicion of PED use.

As I have noted many times before, players tied to the PED era should be allowed in the Hall of Fame. I am in the minority opinion in that issue, but I have not wavered in my resolve. The Baseball writers who elect the members of the Hall of Fame have a duty to enshrine the best players from an era. Unfortunately, some writers feel that they can act as the morality police and ban players in order to make a political statement.

This approach can ring shallow since it is entirely possible that players already in the Hall did far worse things on and off of the field than the players being punished for PED use. That is not to say that I condone PED use. I do not. Players from that era should be enshrined with an asterisk by their numbers stating that it was during the era of PED. That way, fans can decide for themselves how much that impacted a player’s ability on the field.

Time will tell whether the tide turns to allow players from the steroid era of baseball to be enshrined in Cooperstown, or if they will fall victim to voters who feel that the inclusion of tainted players would hurt more than a steroid injection in the butt.

Barry Bonds went on to break Hank Aaron’s career home run mark. Steroids or not, when one does that a collectible is made in their honor.
Photo R. Anderson

Personally, I would much rather see a player in the Hall, who may or may not have used PEDs, than a player who was tipped off on every pitch by a tell-tale trash can. Talk about a performance enhancer.

In addition to breaking the single season home run record with 72, Bonds also broke the career home run record with 756. Both records have detractors who question their validity. However, both records will stand until another player breaks them.

While I did not get to see history made, getting to see history tied while visiting only my second Major League Ballpark at the time was a pretty cool way to spend an October night.

With the hindsight of the nearly 20 years since that October 2001 night, I have often wondered whether the experience is tainted at all by the accusations against Bond that followed. Given the chance to be there again for that night, I would do it all over again and would probably have cheered even louder.

Now if you’ll excuse me, this trip down memory lane has me craving some nachos.

Copyright 2020 R. Anderson

Orioles and Royals kick off Championship Series Tonight

The American League Championship Series kicks off tonight in Baltimore between the Baltimore Orioles and the Kansas City Royals.

When people were making their predictions at the start of the season I am sure there were very few, if any who saw that particular match up in the cards for the American League Pennant.

While the last few decades have not been kind to the fan base of either franchise, in the mid eighties they were among the teams to beat in the American League led by a pair of Hall of Famers in Cal Ripken, Jr. and George Brett for the Orioles and Royals respectively.

I saw my first live baseball game in 1983 at Memorial Stadium when the Orioles hosted the Milwaukee Brewers.  Memorial Stadium is gone now and the Brewers are in the National League but I can forever say that my first baseball game occurred during a pennant winning season as the Orioles were the 1983 World Series Champions. Photo R. Anderson
I saw my first live baseball game in 1983 at Memorial Stadium when the Orioles hosted the Milwaukee Brewers. Memorial Stadium is gone now and the Brewers are in the National League but I can forever say that my first baseball game occurred during a pennant winning season as the Orioles were the 1983 World Series Champions.
Photo R. Anderson

The Orioles last went to The World Series in 1983 where they defeated the Philadelphia Phillies.

I saw my first ever in person baseball game in 1983 at Memorial Stadium when the Orioles hosted the Milwaukee Brewers.

Memorial Stadium is gone now and the Brewers moved to the National League, but I can forever say that my first baseball game occurred during a World Series winning season.

While I was fortunate to witness a World Series title come to Baltimore, Orioles fans who were not alive during 1983 have had very little to cheer about.

While the 1997 season showed promise and included a trip to the American League Championship Series, it was the Cleveland Indians who made the trip to the World Series instead of the Orioles.

Starting tonight the fans clad in orange and black filling Oriole Park at Camden Yards will know that the O’s are once again four victories away from the World Series.

Standing in the way of that trip to the World Series are the Kansas City Royals. The Royals defeated the St. Louis Cardinals in the 1985 World Series and had not made the playoffs since until this season.

The last time I saw the Royals play the Orioles neither team was at their peak. This year, four wins are all that stand in the way of a trip to the World Series. Photo R. Anderson
The last time I saw the Royals play the Orioles neither team was at their peak. This year, four wins are all that stand in the way of a trip to the World Series.
Photo R. Anderson

I last saw the Orioles and Royals play against each other on March 23, 1991 during a Spring Training game in Baseball City, Florida.

The Royals won the game but 1991 was not a good season for either team as most of the mid eighties mojo was already starting to fade.

The Orioles and Royals each finished in sixth place in their divisions in 1991 and both teams fired their managers during the season.

The Orioles have had a couple of more playoff appearances than the Royals over the past 30 years, but both teams are hungry for another World Series title which makes this year’s American League Championship Series much watch television.

Over in the National League Championship Series the San Francisco Giants and St. Louis Cardinals are battling for yet another World Series appearance.

Since that 1985 World Series loss to the Royals, the Cardinals have made five additional trips to the October Classic with a pair of championships to show for it.

Over in San Francisco, the Giants have made four trips to the World Series since 1985 claiming two World Series Championships.

The 1991 season for the Baltimore Orioles and Kansas City Royals started with promise in Spring Training and ended with both teams in sixth place in their divisions after firing their managers.  Photo R. Anderson
The 1991 season for the Baltimore Orioles and Kansas City Royals started with promise in Spring Training and ended with both teams in sixth place in their divisions after firing their managers.
Photo R. Anderson

In fact, since 2010 the National League representative in the World Series has been either the Cardinals or the Giants with each team making a pair of trips. This year’s NLCS winner will take a 3-2 advantage in that ranking.

So with the National League turning into a tale of the same two teams year after year, the American League Championship series offers a chance for fresh blood to hoist the Pennant.

Only six members of the Baltimore Orioles active roster were alive the last time the team made a World Series appearance.

Of those players only Nelson Cruz, born in 1980, is likely old enough to remember it as the other five players were under a year old.

The Royals offer a slightly older roster and have 11 players who were born before the Royals last went to the World Series.

And if that does not makes one feel old enough consider this, when the Orioles were last in the World Series the top movie at the box was “Return of the Jedi.”

In 1985 when the Royals won it all fans were flocking to see “Back to the Future.”

Of course this time around one does not need the power of the Jedi or a time traveling DeLorean to see the Orioles and the Royals face off in the ALCS. They just need access to the TBS broadcast.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have a game to get ready for.

Copyright 2014 R. Anderson