MUSING WITH CECIL BUFFINGTON . . . Time Marches On . . .
Musing With Cecil Buffington
Time Marches On . . .
As a 10-12 year old kid in Jefferson, Georgia, I was fascinated with the game of baseball. I was a dedicated Dodger fan from about 1955 until the mid-nineties when a mean-spirited baseball strike cancelled the world series and lasted for 232 days. I was fortunate to watch on television as Don Larsen pitched his perfect game in 1956 for the Yankees and to see Sandy Koufax ( Dodgers ) and Bob Gibson ( Cardinals ) pitch some classic games in the 60's and 70's. I played baseball from about the age of 10 through little league, sandlot, through four years of high school and played softball for about 20 years after that. I liked the Braves early on even while remaining a die-hard Dodger fan. I loved the Dodgers with Robinson, Snider, Koufax, Drysdale, Hodges, Garvey and Wills and I hated the Yankees with Mantle, Ford, Berra, Skowron, Mattingly and Roger Maris. While major league baseball afforded me many thrills as a youngster, it also provide me with one of the biggest disappointments of my life with the 1994 strike that wiped out the last month of the season and the world series.
It was on October the 8th in 1988 that I witnessed an unbelievable feat on a baseball diamond. I saw Kirk Gibson deliver the home run shot heard around the world. Whenever I think or hear of baseball, I think back to that night when Gibson shocked the baseball world with his hit of all hits.
I was in Destin, Florida in a Holiday Inn game room with about 40 other Gold Kist Poultry management personnel. Every year we would use the three day Columbus Day weekend to take our management team on a trip to Florida ( Destin ) for a weekend of fishing, golfing and just hanging around the beach. In the game room that night, some of the guys and gals played pool, some played cards and some just sat around chatting.
I was watching the Dodgers-Oakland A's world series game with 10 to 15 of my Gold Kist friends when Dodger Manager Tommy Lasorda rolled the dice. He sent a badly injured League Most Valuable Player Kirk Gibson up to pinch hit. Having injured both legs during the National League Championship Series, Gibson was not expected to play at all. In Game 1, however, with the Dodgers trailing by a score of 4–3, Mike Davis on first base, and two out in the ninth inning, manager Tommy Lasorda unexpectedly inserted his hobbled league MVP as a pinch hitter. Gibson, limping back and forth between a pulled left hamstring and a swollen right knee, made his way to the plate to face Oakland's future Hall of Fame closer Dennis Eckersley. Gibson quickly got behind in the count 0–2, but laid off a pair of outside pitches that were called balls. He then kept the count at 2–2 by fouling off a pitch. On the 7th pitch of his at bat, a ball, Davis stole second. As the 8th pitch came from the Oakland star pitcher, with a seemingly awkward, almost casual swing, Gibson used pure upper-body strength—and according to Gibson, advanced scouting-based knowledge of what the pitcher would likely throw with that count—to smack a 3–2 backdoor slider over the right-field fence. He hobbled around the bases and pumped his right fist as his jubilant teammates stormed the field. The Dodgers won the game, 5–4, and would go on to win the World Series, four games to one.
Over the years, things have a tendency to change. I am not a fan of major league baseball anymore. I might have watched several innings of a few games since that strike of 1994. I lost all respect for baseball players that year and it has never returned. I did watch about 6 innings of the Washington-Houston game this past Wednesday night. The score was 3 - 2 when I turned off the TV in the seventh inning. The Washington team turned up the heat in those last few innings and won the game 12 - 3 to take a 2 - 0 lead in the series.
I seem to always root for the underdog, so I'll be pulling for the Nats to win the series.
Those days of eagerly awaiting the start of a game of the week each Saturday with Dizzy Dean as the featured announcer and the start of a world series game has long since ended. The innocence of the game has long since been gone and the greed of the players long ago killed my love of the game. I don't believe I would walk across the road from my house to watch a professional sport, including baseball, at this time.
While I wouldn't take anything for the thrills and excitment of watching Hank Aaron, Ernie Banks, Frank Robinson and others play the game as a youngster, there just aren't any more of these type players left. Time has changed the game and the players to a point where I can't get thrilled about a baseball game. It's a shame because those fun days will forever remain strong in my mind. Time, as that old saying goes, does indeed, march on!
Below is some of the players I grew up hero-worshipping during my pre-teen and teen years in Jefferson when baseball was truly the "national past time."
Kirk Gibson of the Los Angeles Dodgers ~ While with the Dodgers, Gibson was named the National League MVP in 1988. In game 1 of the 1988 World Series, Gibson faced heralded closer Dennis Eckersley and hit a pinch-hit walk-off home run—often described as one of the most exciting moments in World Series history.
Kirk Gibson rounds the bases after a walk-off home run in the 1988 world series.
Maury Wills is an American former professional baseball player and manager. He played in Major League Baseball (MLB) primarily for the Los Angeles Dodgers from 1959 through 1966 and the latter part of 1969 through 1972 as a shortstop and switch-hitter; he played for the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1967 and 1968, and the Montreal Expos the first part of 1969. Wills was an essential component of the Dodgers' championship teams in the mid-1960s, and is credited for reviving the stolen base as part of baseball strategy.
Hank Aaron hit his 755th and final home run on July 20, 1976, at Milwaukee County Stadium off Dick Drago of the California Angels, which stood as the MLB career home run record until it was broken in 2007 by Barry Bonds. Over the course of his record-breaking 23-year career, Aaron had a batting average of .305 with 163 hits a season, while hitting an average of just over 32 home runs a year and knocking home 99 runs batted in (RBIs) a year. He had 100+ RBIs in a season 15 times, including a record 13 in a row.
Mickey Charles Mantle, nicknamed The Commerce Comet and The Mick, was an American professional baseball player. Mantle played his entire Major League Baseball (MLB) career (1951-1968) with the New York Yankees as a center fielder and first baseman. Mantle was one of the best players and sluggers and is regarded by many as the greatest switch hitter in baseball history. Mantle was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1974 and was elected to the Major League Baseball All-Century Team in 1999. Mantle was one of the greatest offensive threats of any center fielder in baseball history. He had the highest stolen base percentage in history at the time of his retirement. In addition, compared to the other four center fielders on the All-Century team, he had the lowest career rate of grounding into double plays, and he had the highest World Series on-base percentage and World Series slugging percentage. He also had an excellent 0.984 fielding percentage when playing center field. Mantle was noted for his ability to hit for both average and power, especially tape measure home runs. He hit 536 MLB career home runs, batted .300 or more ten times, and is the career leader (tied with Jim Thome) in walk-off home runs, with a combined thirteen—twelve in the regular season and one in the postseason. Mantle won the Triple Crown in 1956, when he led the Major Leagues in batting average (.353), home runs (52), and runs batted in (RBI) (130). He was an All-Star for 16 seasons, playing in 16 of the 20 All-Star Games that were played. He was an American League (AL) Most Valuable Player (MVP) three times and a Gold Glove winner once. Mantle appeared in 12 World Series including seven championships, and he holds World Series records for the most home runs (18), RBIs (40), extra-base hits (26), runs (42), walks (43), and total bases (123).
Ernest "Ernie" Banks, nicknamed "Mr. Cub" and "Mr. Sunshine", was an American professional baseball player who starred in Major League Baseball (MLB) as a shortstop and first baseman for the Chicago Cubs between 1953 and 1971. He was inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 1977, and was named to the Major League Baseball All-Century Team in 1999.
Sandy Koufax pitched 12 seasons for the Brooklyn/Los Angeles Dodgers of Major League Baseball (MLB) from 1955 to 1966. Koufax, at age 36 in 1972, became the youngest player ever elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame. He has been hailed as one of the greatest pitchers in baseball history.
Edwin Donald "Duke" Snider, nicknamed "The Silver Fox" and "The Duke of Flatbush", was an American professional baseball player. Usually assigned to center field, he spent most of his Major League Baseball (MLB) career playing for the Brooklyn and Los Angeles Dodgers (1947–1962), later playing one season each for the New York Mets (1963) and San Francisco Giants (1964).
Snider was named to the National League (NL) All-Star roster eight times and was the NL Most Valuable Player (MVP) runner-up in 1955. In his 16 out of 18 seasons with the Dodgers, he helped lead the Dodgers to six World Series, with victories in 1955 and 1959. He was elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 1980.
Edward Charles "Whitey" Ford, nicknamed "The Chairman of the Board", is an American former professional baseball pitcher who played his entire 16-year Major League Baseball (MLB) career with the New York Yankees. He was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1974. Ford is a ten-time MLB All-Star and six-time World Series champion. In 1961 Ford won both the Cy Young Award and World Series Most Valuable Player Award. He led the American League in wins three times and in earned run average twice. The Yankees retired Ford's uniform number 16 in his honor.
Willie Howard Mays, Jr. , nicknamed "The Say Hey Kid", is an American former Major League Baseball (MLB) center fielder who spent almost all of his 22-season career playing for the New York/San Francisco Giants, before finishing with the New York Mets. He is regarded as one of the greatest baseball players of all time and was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1979. Mays won two National League (NL) Most Valuable Player (MVP) awards, he ended his career with 660 home runs—third at the time of his retirement and currently fifth all-time—and won a record-tying 12 Gold Glove awards beginning in 1957, when the award was introduced. Mays shares the record of most All-Star Games played with 24, with Hank Aaron and Stan Musial. In appreciation of his All-Star record, Ted Williams said "They invented the All-Star Game for Willie Mays."
Roger Eugene Maris was an American professional baseball right fielder. He is best known for setting a new major league baseball single-season home run record with 61 home runs in 1961; the record remained unbroken until 1998.
Lawrence Peter "Yogi" Berra was an American professional baseball catcher, who later took on the roles of manager and coach. He played 19 seasons in Major League Baseball (MLB) (1946–1963, 1965), all but the last for the New York Yankees. He was an 18-time All-Star and won 10 World Series championships as a player—more than any other player in MLB history. Berra had a career batting average of .285, while hitting 358 home runs and 1,430 runs batted in. He is one of only five players to win the American League Most Valuable Player Award three times. He is widely regarded as one of the greatest catchers in baseball history, and was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1972.
Frank Robinson (August 31, 1935 – February 7, 2019) was an American professional baseball outfielder and manager in Major League Baseball (MLB) who played for five teams, from 1956 to 1976. The only player to be named Most Valuable Player (MVP) of both the National League (NL) and the American League (AL), he was named the NL MVP after leading the Cincinnati Reds to the pennant in 1961 and was named the AL MVP in 1966 with the Baltimore Orioles after winning the Triple Crown; Robinson‘s 49 home runs (HR) that year tied for the most by any AL player between 1962 and 1989, and stood as a franchise record for 30 years. He helped lead the Orioles to the first two World Series titles in franchise history in 1966 and 1970, and was named the Series MVP in 1966 after leading the Orioles to a four-game sweep of the Los Angeles Dodgers. In 1975, Robinson became the first black manager in big league history, as the Cleveland Indians’ player-manager. A 14-time All-Star, Robinson batted .300 nine times, hit 30 home runs eleven times, and led his league in slugging four times and in runs scored three times. His 586 career home runs ranked fourth in major league history at the time of his retirement, and he ranked sixth in total bases (5,373) and extra-base hits (1,186), eighth in games played (2,808), and ninth in runs scored (1,829). His 2,943 career hits are the most since 1934 by any player who fell short of the 3,000-hit mark. He was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility in 1982.