World Series thoughts, memories … and a prediction

Seven thoughts, as I hope we’re headed to a seven-game World Series if they’re as dramatic as Game 7 of the NLCS.

Two former third basemen discussing their craft in the late 1980s

1. I’m thrilled with the Dodgers vs. the Rays. They were the two best teams in baseball all season. Though I’m rooting for seven games, it’ll be Dodgers in six.

One of my protests against protracted playoffs – whether it be baseball’s expansion or the incessant cry for a larger college postseason – is that the more tiers, the more likely an upset. The hottest, not the best, team wins. Look no further than 2019, when eight teams had better or an identical record to the World Champion Washington Nationals.

2. The get-off-my-lawn side of me kept me from hopping on the Braves bandwagon. Great players who don’t know how to play. When the rookie outfielder hit a home run while trailing 15-1 and went into a trot around the bases slower than Betty White would have made it, they lost me. Yes, Bellinger over-did his celebration in game 7 – but at least it was a decisive homework.

3. I don’t know I was ever more excited to cover a big event than I was my first World Series, in 1991. I’ve been lucky enough to cover the gamut – five or six Super Bowls, 11 Final Fours, a Kentucky Derby, a heavyweight championship fight and an Olympics – but the baseball lover in me had always dreamed of a World Series assignment.

I covered three – 1991, 1992 and 1991 – and I’ll always remember during batting practice at Yankee Stadium being able to walk all the way around the warning track from behind home plate to the Monument Park in CF. And an even longer, scarier walk once I got off the media shuttle bus at the Hyatt near Grand Central Station and had a three-block walk at 2 a.m. to my hotel.

4. I want to see Clayton Kershaw pitch a World Series game for the ages, just to erase all that junk about his postseason troubles. He’s been one of the best pitchers of this generation. Unfortunately, like how Tom Brady has been wrongly tagged the GOAT, the talk-show mentality around sports unfairly puts too much weight on a teams’ postseason success toward an individual’s legacy.

5. Can’t believe it’s been 50 years since one of the greatest World Series performances that indeed did weigh heavily on an individual’s legacy. It was the Brooks Robinson World Series, when his hitting and incredible defense led the Orioles to the title. (If you’re a subscriber to The Athletic, check out the oral history of that Series and a great column on Brooks.)

Robinson was my childhood hero and I had the chance to spend a lot of time with him when he made a couple of Chattanooga appearances. He was as friendly and nice in person as his reputation. So cool to meet a hero, and the hero doesn’t disappoint.

Trivia note: For all his great plays, the first ball hit to Brooks in that World Series was a routine bouncer and he made a throwing error.

6. Joe Buck and Troy Aikman are catching grief for their “tax dollars at work” line about the military flyovers? Put me in the category with them. Seems like a waste of money.

That said, a minor league team GM told me for “Never a Bad Game” how he got a flyover one day, and how disastrous it almost was.

Opening Night, April 20, 2000. Cars were backed up for miles on Interstate 40 on the northeast side of Knoxville, waiting to peel off at exit 407. The stadium, 13 months in the works just outside the tourist mecca of Sevierville, was state-of-the-art.  Local businesses poured out their support. A helicopter hovered above the diamond. Belonging to a local company that flew tourists around through the Smoky Mountain foothills, it was enlisted to shoot aerial photographs of the scene. A Lockheed CJ-130 Super Hercules refueling plane from the Tennessee Air National Guard stationed at nearby Tyson-McGhee Airport was set to fly over as the national anthem was completed.

What could go wrong?

Nothing … except the Tennessee Smokies staffer who enlisted the helicopter didn’t tell the pilot about the CJ-130. And the staffer who convinced the CJ-130 crew to zoom over the stadium as part of a routine training run didn’t know about the helicopter.

“We almost had a mid-air collision over the stadium,” Brian Cox, the Smokies’ general manager said.  Fortunately, the CJ-130 made a hard right turn, a trail of smoke in its wake. Fans had to figure it was just part of the show.

7. It has nothing to do with baseball, except I wish Fox would give up a couple of innings to let Mike “Doc” Emrick in the booth during the World Series.

I loved listening to Vin Scully and his stories and his relaxed pace. I think Al Michaels has been brilliant. Keith Jackson was terrific. I date myself by mentioning Ray Scott, who economy of words let the pictures tell the story – something that most current broadcasters’ egos could never permit. There are still a few play-by-play guys who don’t make my ears bleed, like Joe Buck and Mike Breen.

But Mike Emrick was the best. Ever. I’ve made my wife Patricia listen to hockey broadcasts, so much so that during the Stanley Cup she said, “You’ve got a crush on him.” Guilty.

Here, from Tom Jones of the Poynter Institute:

The best play-by-play sports announcer who has ever lived announced his retirement on Monday. Mike “Doc” Emrick, who has been calling professional hockey games for 47 years, is stepping down. And, yes, you heard me: the best play-by-play sports announcer ever. Obviously, that’s just my opinion, but there’s this, too: He has won eight Emmys for best play-by-play announcer  — the most of all time.

There are plenty of extraordinary numbers to associate with Emrick’s remarkable career, such as he has called more than 3,750 professional and Olympic hockey games. And 22 Stanley Cup finals, 14 NHL All-Star Games, and that he has been inducted into seven halls of fame. He has spent the past 15 years as the voice of the NHL for NBC Sports. And, I might add, he hasn’t lost a step.

And there’s this number, too: several hundred. That’s how many verbs he has used over the years to describe the puck moving from one part of the ice to the other — as he has the uncanny ability to use just the perfect word on the fly, such as “pitchforked,” “nudged,” “shuffle-boarded” and “slithered.” Somebody counted and found he once used 153 different verbs in one game.

But those numbers don’t relay that Emrick, 74, is one of the kindest and classiest gentlemen you could ever meet.

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