Full Count is thrilled to share this guest post for Day 47 by Dr. Jason Epstein.
This is in honor of my son, Ami’s 14th birthday today. Please give him a shoutout here as it’s his very first birthday without baseball. I first recognized that he was a serious baseball fan when he passed the litmus test I use for deep baseball fandom. Somewhere around his first year of little league, I invited him to watch the best game 7 I had ever seen. When he was still there riveted some three hours later as the Twins danced and whooped in the middle of the Hubert H Humphrey Metrodome, I knew we shared something special . . . Happy Birthday, Ami. I hope we can watch baseball together again soon . . .
If, theoretically, you grew up in a certain rust-belt town during the two decades after its river caught on fire it would be understandable if you turned your back on sports entirely. Your city was known as the Mistake on the Lake and your teams were the laughingstock of each league they played in. When your football team and your basketball team started to put together a couple wins and make it into the playoffs, they would be swatted by proverbial giants such as “His Airness” and “The Duke of Denver.” If your primary love, however, was the city’s MLB franchise you needn’t worry. They made cellar-dwelling such an art form that a movie was made highlighting their ineptitude.
One might forgive a high school kid growing up in such an environment if in 1991 he latched on to a certain team that seemed a funhouse mirror image of his or her own team. Even though this new team played in the other division of the other league, they still had a similarly absurd and racist moniker. They were filled with young upstarts. They had a strong and deep fanbase despite years of ineptitude. And most importantly, they had also finished last in the previous season.
It was somewhat delirious then for our theoretical kid to see this other team go from worst-to-first (you can do that?), make the playoffs (that is possible??), and then best another rust-belt team in the NLCS in a series for the ages. The World Series matchup was equally remarkable with five games decided by one run, four in walk-off fashion and three in extra innings. When the Braves returned to Minnesota with a 3-2 game lead we could forgive that kid for actually dreaming that a team he rooted for might actually win the final game of the season. Then came Jack Morris.
Jack Morris was a native Minnesotan whose hall of fame bust sports a Detroit Tigers cap due to his 14 seasons, four all-star appearances, and perfect postseason record with the team as they became world champions in 1984. He was the winningest pitcher of the 1980s. He would win two more world series championships with the Toronto Blue Jays in 1992 & 1993, however, what he did on the night of October 27, 1991 was legendary.
The matchup for game 7 was remarkable in that the veteran was pitted against a 24 year-old future hall of famer, John Smoltz who had grown up outside of Detroit idolizing him. The series had already been hailed as one of the best ever before the game took place due to the close nature of the prior contests. What Jack Morris accomplished is a feat that will never be repeated, especially in this era of pitch counts, deep bullpens, and rules requiring pitchers to pitch to a certain number of batters after they have entered the game. A 10-inning complete-game masterpiece won on Gene Larkin’s pinch-hit single with the bases loaded.
Equally remarkable was the fact that Morris would not come out of the game. In the eighth inning, the Braves threatened with a man on second and third with nobody out (how Chuck Knoblauch deked Lonnie Smith into not scoring on a hit-and-run double is another story for another day) and Morris seemed to be annoyed when his manager came to talk to him on the mound. Morris stayed in and the ball never left the infield again. In the top of the 10th with 118 pitches already thrown, Morris again took the mound. Later, when asked about this decision, manager Tom Kelly supposedly said, “Oh hell. It’s only a game.” Eight pitches later the Braves were down in order and Gene Larkin could work his magic.
Jack Morris was a throwback to an older school of baseball where you lead with grit and determination. And on one fateful day 29 years ago, he shone in splendor. While that splendor broke my heart that day, years later it would prove to connect me to my son and begin a lifelong bond of a special heritage. Maybe one of these days we’ll even root for the winning team of a game 7.
Today is Day 47 which is six weeks and five days of the omer. Hod Sh’b’malchut.
Jason Epstein is a rebbitzen and doctor living in Brooklyn, NY. He is a fourth-generation baseball nut and spends much of his time actively inculcating the twin religions of Judaism and baseball in his two boys.