Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Another from 1977: The moment you knew the real Yankees had arrived and the Royals were doomed

This is another flawed negative. I remember clearly making a print of it in 1977, refocusing the enlarger, swearing, making another print, focusing the enlarger with the grain magnifier, making another print, swearing…

Royals’ first baseman John Mayberry apparently didn’t focus on this ball any better than I did. Even mighty, mighty, Photoshop couldn't save this one.

There are moments in games that break your heart. Not just fans, either. Some moments break a team’s heart, its spirit. That three run homer in the 11th tonight in Detroit may have been one of those moments. Thinking St. Louis, Game Six of the 1985 World Series is a perfect example. Game Seven was a foregone conclusion.

Well, in 1977, it seemed the young Royals might just beat those damned Yankees. They won Game One 7-2 in Yankee Stadium behind Paul Splittorff. They lost Game Two by nearly the reverse score – 6-2. A split at Yankee Stadium: Was it an omen? Had the Royals come of age?

Maybe. Just maybe. The Royals took Game Three by the reverse score – 6-2 – at Royal’s Stadium. One more victory… one more…

But Game Four was awful. The Yankees became the Yankees and the Royals became the A’s of the early 1960s. Farm team. Little brother. Poor relation.

And the moment you knew it was happening – the moment you knew in your heart the Royals would not go to the World Series in 1977, was the moment John Mayberry dropped this pop-up a few feet foul of the bag. It was the top of the fourth, Marty Pattin on the mound, Yankees ahead 4-2.

Willie Randolph reached on a throwing error by George Brett at third. I will never forget that error either, the first of two in the inning, because the ball took off like a rocket over Mayberry’s glove and ticked my vulnerable right ear as it sailed through the photo bay. I stood no chance because I was focused on Brett in a 300 mm lens and looking through such a lens you have no sense of distance. An inch to the left and it would have hit square in the middle of the lens and killed me. I have no doubt.

As I tried to catch my breath and summon courage to raise the camera to my eye again, Bucky Dent sacrificed Randolph to second. But Pattin induced Mickey Rivers to pop up. Whew! Two down. We’ll get out of this inning yet.

Not so fast. John Mayberry simply didn’t catch the ball and he would never have an easier chance. He should have caught it. He was there. He looked up, raised his glove and, unbelievably, the ball fell unmolested to the ground. My memory is his glove never touched the ball but this image is inconclusive.

In truth, it didn’t matter. Rivers grounded out to short on the next pitch. Greg Nettles singled Randolph home and the lead was three. The Yankees would have scored that run whether Mayberry caught the ball or not. The Yankees won 6-4.

But the moment Big John missed that pop-up was bigger than the scorebook says it was 34 years later. At that moment, standing in the photo bay no more than 20 feet from the play, it was impossible not to know the magic had been all used up. The real Yankees had returned and the pretenders would soon go fishing.

More to come...


Fuzzy photograph/ John Lofflin

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