Saturday, April 17, 2004

Richard Nixon, Reggie Jackson and My List of Enemies

Why do Americans of so many political stripes continue to despise former president Richard Nixon?  There are many theories. Here's mine: even from the grave, Dick reminds us of our uglier selves. Who among us doesn’t yield to paranoia once in awhile? Who doesn’t cover up the occasional mistake at work? And who doesn’t keep a list of enemies? I know I do, a list of my baseball enemies.

I was nine when I began my list. It was Game 4 of the 1978 World Series. The Dodgers were up two games to one and clearly en route to avenging their defeat in the ‘77 Series, my first fall classic. I was in Mr. “I use the girls’ bathroom because it’s a jungle in the boys’ room” Hogan’s third grade class, and the only kid in the class rooting for the Dodgers. I knew nothing about the Dodgers prior to the series, but I knew that everyone in my class was pulling for the Yankees and my contrarian instincts led me to siding with Lasorda and company. Thus, my first World Series experience was one of social isolation and, when the Dodgers lost in six games, disappointment.

But ’78 was going to be different. The Dodgers were going to win, and I had an ally in Darin Watkins. He was not in my class, but he was in the class next door. And this being the ’70s and the era of open classrooms (In the school’s new wing, the classrooms were not separated by walls. Instead, a combination of cabinets, closets, and other storage units—all on wheels, none going from floor to ceiling, and at least one of which was a mere three to four feet high—divided one room from the next), Darin and I were able to touch base during the day. I remember leaning over the short counter in the short time between reading and math and discussing the series with Darin. We had a lot to talk about because the Dodgers had taken Game One in an 11-5 romp, and then won Game 2 in classic Davey and Goliath style. Dodger rookie reliever Bob Welch entered the ninth inning protecting a fragile 4-3 lead. Reggie Jackson came to the plate with two on and two out. The count went full and Jackson fouled off a trio of 3-2 offerings before Welch struck out Mr. October on the following pitch.

We were the only kids not rooting for the Yankees and we were certain that the Dodgers were going to win it all in ’78. Revenge for ’77 was in the air, bragging rights were imminent. Then Reggie Jackson stuck his ass in the way of our destiny. Or rather his hip.

Jackson had slugged the Yankees past the Dodgers in ’77, and though I disliked the guy, there was no denying his talent. Three home runs in a World Series game is the stuff of legend. In ’77 Jackson had earned the Yankees a World Series title; in ’78 he stole it for them.

Game 4, bottom of the sixth. Jackson was on first when Lou Pinella sent a low, soft liner to Dodger shortstop Bill Russell. Jackson assumed that Russell would catch the liner, so he, Jackson, stayed close to first. But Russell did not catch the liner. Instead he fielded it on a hop, flipped it to second baseman Davey Lopes who then relayed the ball to first baseman Steve Garvey. Only the ball never made it to Garvey. Jackson stuck out his hip and sent the ball into right field. Pinella reached base safely and ignited a Yankee rally. The pinstripes never looked back, going on to win the next three games and take the series in six.

At least that is the way I remember it. The record books will tell you different. They will minimize the impact of Jackson’s egregious actions. They will say that the Yankees scored but one run in the fateful sixth inning and did not tie the game until the eighth. They will tell further tales of the Yankees not winning the game until the bottom of the tenth. Do not trust the record books. I know what I saw. Jackson looked right at me and said, “Do you want to know what heartache feels like, kid? This is what you get for letting hope seep into your soul” just before he deliberately deflected Lopes’ throw. And he knew, like I knew, that he had just snuffed out the Dodgers’ momentum, that the Dodger collapse was underway, that he had stolen a World Series championship while millions watched.

And what better way to deal with bitter resentment than to start an enemies list?

Next issue: Enemy #2 - The Atlanta Braves

Mike Faloon is the publisher of Zisk. He denies allegations that he is currently in negotiations with G. Gordon Liddy and other former members of CREEP.

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