Like the annual swimsuit issue, those end-of-the-year lists about the best and worst moments in our culture or history are quite odious. Worse than that, they seem pointless. Really, with the Internet and cable television available in mass quantities, who really needs to wait once a year to see old-fashioned swimsuit models?
Conversely, who doesn’t want to look at swimsuit models? It’s like eating candy. Yes, we all know eating candy isn’t good for us, but dammit it tastes so good.
I like candy, the swimsuit issue and those end-of-the-year lists. I like them despite the fact that they are stupid. But in this case the-end-of-the-year list this time around we also have the end of a decade to contend with, which makes those hacky lists of so full and rich.
So using the if-you-can’t-beat-‘em-join-‘em model as my guide, here’s a list of my favorite/memorable moments of the past decade.
• Matt Stairs’ home run in Game 4 of the 2008 NLCS
This was my favorite because it was so perfect almost in a Dave Henderson in the 1986 ALCS kind of way. In fact, the parallels are uncanny. With two outs and facing the Angels’ closer Donnie Moore, Henderson saved the Red Sox season with the go-ahead homer. He did it again in the infamous Game 6 of the ’86 World Series at Shea Stadium, but apparently they weren’t ready for a Dave Henderson statue in Boston.
The thing about Henderson’s bomb off Moore was it was set up with a homer from Don Baylor. Without Baylor, Henderson just pads his stats. That’s kind of how it was for Stairs, too. Everyone kind of forgets about that spinning line drive Shane Victorino laced into the right-field bullpen at Dodger Stadium to tie the game in the eighth inning. It was Victorino’s homer that set up the confrontation between Stairs and Dodgers’ closer Jonathan Broxton with two outs in the eighth inning.
So what happens if Broxton gets Stairs out? It’s not unreasonable to think that the Dodgers could have tied the series at 2-2 and forced it back to Philly for a Game 6 or 7. All bets are off at that point.
And with Stairs coming up to hit after just two plate appearances in the prior 15 days and zero in more than a week, it seemed to be a favorable matchup for Broxton and the Dodgers. To that point no one following the Phillies thought much of the late-season acquisition. Sure, we knew Stairs could hit, but with just 19 plate appearances in a month for the Phillies, some wondered why he had even been on the playoff roster at all.
Besides, the first time he showed up in a Phillies’ uniform in Washington on Sept. 1, Stairs looked like a coach. Charlie Manuel and Pat Gillick said they got Stairs specifically to hit home runs in late-game situations.
Guess they knew what they were doing.
Nevertheless, the interesting part about Stairs’ pinch-hit homer wasn’t so much about the distance it traveled (it was a bomb!) or that he slugged on off a pitcher who had not allowed a homer at Dodger Stadium all season. Sure, the blast helped the Phillies rally to wild, come-from-behind victory and a 3-1 lead in the NLCS, but more importantly it became the moment of a long baseball career.
Matt Stairs never needed to get another hit for the Phillies to have his place in team history. The truth is Stairs’ blast just might be the biggest pinch hit in team history—maybe even the biggest hit. His one home run did a pretty good job killing a lot of ghosts.
It killed a lot of stories, too. Ironically, Game 4 of the NLCS was on the 20th anniversary of Kirk Gibson’s famous home run against Dennis Eckersley in Game 1 of the ’88 World Series. Whenever they do all those lists for greatest homers of all time, Gibson’s homer is always in the top two or three even though it was just Game 1 of the series. Still, it was a pretty incredible irony that Stairs’ homer came on the same day as Gibson’s.
It also was quite ironic that 20 years to the day later, the Inquirer’s Phil Sheridan was sitting in approximately the same spot at Dodger Stadium for both Gibson’s and Stairs’ homers. Also more than a coincidence was that Sheridan was fighting those east-coast newspaper deadlines from nearly the same seat on the same day 20 years apart.
Earlier that day Phil told me that he really didn’t have the chance to enjoy Gibson’s moment because he had to quickly rewrite and send his story back to Philadelphia after writing about how Oakland and Eckersley were on their way after a victory in Game 1. Exactly two decades later Matt Stairs did it to him again. Worse, Stairs delivered a great quote in the post-game press conference to Todd Zolecki that will always be remembered:
My favorite part of Stairs’ homer aside from the post-game quotes, and expressions on the faces of the more seasoned writers sitting near me (clearly indicating that we were in unchartered waters) was that I called it. As Stairs strolled to the box, I told everyone sitting near me:
“He’s going deep right here.”
Nailed that one.
But before we get too full ourselves I should also mention that I thought Tampa Bay was going to win Game 5.
Shows what I know.
• Harry Kalas
Here’s what I wrote the day Harry Kalas died:
WASHINGTON — So, yeah… Monday was a crazy day. It’s not every day when you are one of the last handful of people to see a man alive, let alone a baseball Hall of Famer like Harry Kalas. Strangely, had I not stopped at a Best Buy south of Baltimore off I-695 to replace the laptop power cord I accidentally left at home, I never would have stepped onto the elevator with Larry Andersen, Rob Brooks and Harry.
I also would never have taken the elevator all the way up to the top floor if we hadn’t been talking about the Mets opener at their new ballpark instead of the scribes’ floor one below.
And finally, if I hadn’t been for my forgetfulness I never would have walked along with Harry, L.A. and Rob to their respective booths before realizing I was on the wrong floor.
Crazy day all around.
I think everyone had the sense something wasn’t right when David Montgomery gathered all of the traveling media outside of the visitors’ clubhouse door at Nationals Park. Montgomery usually doesn’t address the press unless it’s really a big deal so by the look on the gathered faces and Monty’s demeanor meant something extraordinary had occurred.
Of course another tip off could have been that the clubhouse was closed up as soon as Cole Hamels, Rich Dubee and Lou Marson returned from the lefty’s bullpen session. A few of us were waiting out the pitcher for the latest on his progress as he prepares for Thursday night’s start. Initially, when we were summoned by the PR staff to the clubhouse, I thought Hamels was going to be brought into one of the side conference rooms for us.
Then I saw Monty and those faces.
When the events were explained to us – about how Brooks found Harry collapsed in the booth, alerted the emergency medics and then rushed him to George Washington University Hospital, there was a bad sense.
Unfortunately it proved to be correct.
So yeah, it wasn’t the typical day at the ballpark and I never did find out how Hamels felt after his bullpen session. It also struck me that it must have been remarkably difficult for Harry’s partners in the booth to call today’s game. How do they block that out and focus? How did they not want to copy the famous “Outta Here!” call when Ryan Howard hit that clutch three-run homer in the seventh inning?
How does baseball sound without Harry Kalas? I ask because I don’t know… I never heard it.
Gen Xers or kids born in the ’70s are prone to navel gazing and introspection. We love that “remember when” game. We love to talk about the first time we did this or heard that or what the air smelled like on a particular day something poignant happened. Maybe me more so than others, but damn, all those memories are flooding back.
I think I knew Harry Kalas’ voice before I knew what his name was or even before I knew I liked baseball. All I remember was being 4 or 5 years old and running around on a visit to my grandparents house in Lancaster, Pa. I remember a baseball game was on TV and how riveting it was – especially the part where a ball was hit and a fielder threw it to the first baseman.
I was hooked. I also thought the infielders were actually throwing the ball at the runner.
More than anything I remember that voice and the excitement. Since then I’ve learned that baseball can be pretty mundane from time to time. Not every game feels important – sometimes they just happen and that’s that. They don’t feel like a big deal.
But Harry Kalas never acted that way. To him, every game and every broadcast was important. Yeah, he lost a little off the ol’ fastball in the last few years. He missed a few here and there, but so what. Whose voice would you prefer to hear on a home run or a big victory?
There is only one I can think of.
My grandfather, Robert Johnson, was my hero. He died in 1986 when he was just 67 from cancer. Everything worth knowing, my grandfather taught me. He taught me how to tip, how to drink coffee, how to order off the menu, how to swing a golf club, how to throw a curve, how to spit, how properly use swear words, how to tell jokes and how to read the racing form. But, most importantly, he taught me how to treat other people. Sometimes I live up to the standard, other times I fall short… though with the swearing and the horse wagering is always pitch perfect.
The point is Harry was cut from the same cloth as my grandfather. In fact, they knew each other. One time at one of those sportswriters banquets at the Host in Lancaster, my grandfather walked over to Harry and said, “Hi Harry, how have you been?”
“Great, Bob. It’s good to see you…”
How did my grandfather know Harry Kalas? Needless to say, he went up a few notches in my book that day – if there were any more a mere mortal could climb.
But what made them the same was that they both knew how to treat people. The word, “no,” was not in their vocabulary. If Harry was ever annoyed, he never showed it and if he thought doing something was a drag, he never said anything. Ask him anything and he had a story to go with it. Ask him about his white shoes and he’ll tell you about Pat Boone. His favorite day in baseball? Anything with Mickey Vernon or his dearly departed pal, Richie Ashburn.
Too many stories and not enough time to tell them all.
As Scott Franzke said this afternoon:
“He never turned down an autograph. He never turned down a photo. He never turned down a request to record someone’s out-going voicemail message,” Franzke said. “As someone new in the game, he showed me that we do this for the fans. The fans are why we are here.
“The players come and go, but, ‘Outta here,’ lasts forever.”
Harry truly enjoyed his celebrity. He truly enjoyed the fans. It was never put on or phony. To him, he had the greatest job in the world and there is something romantic about a guy who has a calling and gets to do it until his very last breath.
Perfect. Just like one of Harry’s home run calls.
Other memorable moments worth mentioning (in no particular order):
• Scott Rolen’s two homer game in the first game back after Sept. 11
• The day Larry Bowa asked me, “Are you stupid?”
• Allen Iverson in Game 1 of the 2001 NBA Finals
• The “practice” press conference.
• Scott Stevens’ crushing hit on Eric Lindros in Game 7 of the 2001 Eastern Conference Finals and how the Wachovia Center got oh so quiet.
• Keith Primeau’s goal in Pittsburgh during the fifth OT of Game 4 of the 2001 Eastern Conference Finals.
• Eagles losing to Tampa Bay in the final football game at the Vet.
• Eagles losing to Carolina in the first NFC Championship at the Linc.
• Eagles beating Atlanta to advance to the Super Bowl in 2004.
• The Jim Thome press conference.
• The “Next question” press conference with T.O. and his agent Drew Rosenhaus.
• Eric Lindros’ return to Philly with the Rangers.
• That dude who fell into the penalty box with Tie Domi.
• Cliff Lee in Game 1 of the 2009 World Series.
• Ryan Howard’s double with two outs in the ninth of Game 4 of the 2009 NLDS
• Jimmy Rollins’ game-winner with two outs in the ninth against Broxton in Game 4 of the 2009 NLCS.
• Chase Utley hitting a grand slam for his first big league hit at the Vet in 2003.
• Tim McGraw scattering some of his dad’s ashes on the mound before Game 3 of the 2008 World Series.
• Kevin Millwood’s no-hitter.
• Brad Lidge’s last pitch of the 2008 World Series.