Some World Series Memories

By John J. Duncan Jr.

In my column last week, I wrote that the World Series was huge back in the ‘50s and early ‘60s, at least in part because college and pro football and basketball were not nearly as popular back in those days as they are now.

Even sports fans who were not alive in 1956 have seen the photo of Yogi Berra running to the pitcher’s mound in Yankee Stadium, jumping into the arms of Don Larsen after his perfect game in the World Series that year.

I have been lucky to go to World Series games in Atlanta, Baltimore, Cleveland, Minneapolis, New York, Philadelphia, Toronto and Washington over the years.

But the game I remember the best was the last game of the 1984 Series in Detroit. Detroit won the game 8 to 4 against San Diego to win the Series four games to one.

What I best remember is what happened after the game. I had gone to the game with relatives and friends: my brother, Joe; my cousin from Dayton, Richard Duncan and his 14-year-old nephew, Brett Barthel; and two close friends from Knoxville, Bob Griffitts and Melvin Miller.

Our tickets were split up into three different sections, and we were going to meet at Gate One after the game. When the home team (Detroit) won, ending the Series, several thousand fans ran onto the field.

Bob and I had sat together, and I said to him, “Gosh, they are even ripping the sod off the field,” taking every kind of souvenir.

About that time, Melvin walked up carrying some of the sod. Bob and I busted out laughing, but we laughed even harder when Melvin said: “I had to take a hard blow from a Detroit policeman to get this! She nearly knocked me out!”

I said, “She?!” Boy, did we tease him about that. I still go to church with Melvin, and I know the statute of limitations ran out many years ago concerning his “souvenir.”

Many years later I was on the phone with Spencer Abraham, the Secretary of Energy, talking about Oak Ridge. Spencer had been a one-term senator from Michigan, and he got excited when I told him I had been a batboy in Knoxville for many players who later played for Detroit. I also told him I had been to the 1984 Series.

Spencer then told me he had been in the right-field bleachers at that last game with three of his friends. He said he was 32 years old then, and at that time he was the youngest Republican State Chairman in the nation.

He said Ron Kaufman, who was the political director for then Vice President Bush, found out he was there and came to the bleachers and took Spencer up to the Press Box, where he got to sit with Bush during the game.

Spencer said he could not believe it – one minute he was way out in right field, then minutes later he was sharing wine and cheese in a box with the vice president!

After the game, Spencer was to meet his friends at their car several blocks away. He said it started to rain and being mid-October, he huddled up in a doorway. He said he saw a street wino coming toward him and he thought he was about to be rolled. Then the wino said, “Buddy, you look like you need a drink,” and offered to share his cheap wine, not knowing Spencer had just been sharing food and drink with the vice president just a short time earlier.

A few months ago, I read a book called “Ten Innings at Wrigley – The Wildest Ballgame Ever.” It was a 1979 game in Chicago that Philadelphia won 23-22.

The book said: “The Philadelphia Phillies were mismanaged from the start.” They were the last of the original franchises of the major leagues that had never won a World Series. As of 1979, “they were oh-for-ninety-six-years. Their 7,705 losses were the most in major league history, 327 more than the Chicago Cubs.”

One sportswriter for the Philadelphia Inquirer wrote: “It’s easy to see why generations of Philadelphians never followed the examples of Chicago or Boston baseball fans in believing their team was cursed. Cursed would have been an improvement.”

In the late ‘60s and early ‘70s, I followed the old Washington Senators closely. For many years, there was a saying among their diehard fans: “Washington – first in war, first in peace, last in the American League.”