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MAYS OR BUCKNER?
October 18, 2002

by Bill Hogan

 
 

Barry Bonds has made no secret of his desire to play ball on the game's biggest stage. Barry Bonds should be careful what he wishes for. It takes only a single play under the microscope of the World Series to make a player the eternal hero or the infernal goat.

One magnified mistake and seventeen years of Hall of Fame baseball can disappear faster than, well, a Barry Bonds home run sinking into McCovey cove.

 
 


Remember Bill Buckner? You do? Tell me, why do you remember Bill Buckner? Because he had a fine career with the Dodgers, Cubs and Red Sox? Because he helped lead the Sox to the '86 World Series? No and no.

You remember Bill Buckner because he let a Mookie Wilson grounder roll through his legs allowing the winning run to score for the Mets in game six of the '86 World Series.

Buckner – the infernal goat – has never lived that one moment down. One magnified mistake and he now calls Idaho - where elk hunting and potato carving outrank baseball on the entertainment scale - home.

A move necessitated by success-starved Red Sox fans that perpetuate such unforgiving animosity toward him. In their defense, Boston hasn't produced a World Series winner since World War I.

Years of disappointment can make baseball fans very vindictive. (Though I think, at this point, Buckner has paid his dues.)

Of course, the last time the Giants won the World Series, they played their home games 3,000-miles east of Pac Bell Park. San Francisco fans have been waiting for a winner longer than they've been following the Grateful Dead.

Bay Area residents were not Giants fans in 1954 - they wouldn't become Giants fans for another four years. But they knew Willie Mays - and they knew about 'the catch'.

'The catch' was as miraculous as it was historic. Probably the greatest in World Series history. And probably the reason the Giants beat the heavily favored Indians in the '54 World Series. A Cleveland team that set a regular season record with 111 wins.

It was the eighth inning of game one, the score was tied at two and the Indians had two men on base with Vic Wertz at bat. Wertz, who hit .500 for the series, drove the ball to deep center field and Willie Mays – the 1954 NL MVP - gave chase. 440-feet from home plate, he made an unbelievable over-the-shoulder catch that kept the Indians from scoring.

'The catch' stunned the Indians and they never recovered. The Giants won the game in ten innings and took the series in four straight. It would be the Giants' last world championship.

(Such a feat will never be duplicated because there will never be another center fielder like Willie Mays. And because there will never be another ballpark where a ball hit 440-feet will be playable).

It may have happened forty-eight years ago. And it may have happened at the Polo Grounds in New York. But it's just the kind of heroics that Giants fans expect from their future Hall of Famer. Talk about pressure.

If Bonds doesn't do the impossible; if he doesn't make the play that turns this series in favor of the Giants; then he may as well let a routine ground ball roll between his legs and start looking for a potato farm somewhere outside of Boise.

Because he'll become the 'yea, but' guy. When he hits his forty-eighth home run next year to pass Willie Mays on the all-time list, they'll say "yea, but he couldn't win the World Series". And they'll say the same when he passes Ruth and again when he passes Aaron.

When he wins his fifth or sixth MVP award: "yea, but…". And when they announce his name in Cooperstown, there it'll be again: "yea, but…".

They won't say "yea, but he was a jerk". Or "yea, but he didn't get along with his teammates or the media". Fans can forgive that. Fans will forget that. But they won't forgive him if he doesn't bring a championship to San Francisco - and they won't forget.

Barry Bonds got what he wanted – he made it to the World Series. All that remains to be seen is whether he will be the eternal hero or the infernal goat. For a baseball player of Bonds' stature, the latter is much worse than not getting there at all.

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