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Monday, November 5, 2001
Bask in Baseball Nirvana

By Brian Murphy
Special to Page 2

Gather 'round, Cooler denizens.

Craig Counsell
For the Murph's money, the drama of the 2001 World Series simply cannot be beat.
Put the Barcalounger into near-horizontal. Prop open the chaise lounge. Sink into that beanbag.

Me? I'm popping in the Marley CD, firing up a stogie (contents undisclosed), cracking a cold one, and taking a big, long Monday morning puff-n-sip to savor it all.

By the way -- if you came to the Cooler looking for rap about the Chicago Bears and their nonsensical wins, if you're looking to revel in Ole Miss' Rebels, if you're looking to break down Mike Weir's ability to birdie a playoff hole in front of El Nino and the Big Easy, look elsewhere, homeboy.

If today's Cooler were a radio station, it'd be KGM7 -- all Game 7, all the Time.

I grappled with the emotions like the rest of you. Let's be straight up about this: I did not -- repeat: Did Not -- want to see the World Series trophy go to a town that could not sell out its NLCS games. I did not want to see Jerry Colangelo -- who has basically hocked his squad -- rewarded. I did not want the Color Purple to be anywhere near Bud Selig.

But after watching that seven-game opera, I've dropped my petty squabbles.

Break out your red-green-black-and-gold macrame reggae hats: It's all about One Love, baby.

It's all about appreciating The Game. It's all about giving it up for Mark Grace's fister. All about giving it up for Bob Brenly holding a trophy. All about Luis Gonzalez, arguably the coolest cat in sports, bringing home the Series winner with a little chinker to the outfield grass.

It's all about Joe Torre, pure class, having to taste something unthinkable and doing so with dignity. It's all about Rudy Giuliani, leaving the most exciting and proud city on Earth to board a bird headed for arguably the most uninteresting city on Earth -- and then standing and applauding the exploits of the home nine. It's like my buddy T.C. says: Everywhere Rudy goes, he should just be preceded by the announcement: "Ladies and gentlemen ... the next President of the United States."

It's all about one of the best World Series ever.

Joe Torre
Selig helped Joe Torre get his first ride.
Let's throw it down. I'm 34, so I don't know the '60 Series, though I know my guy Artie Howe, A's manager, grew up in Pittsburgh and can't find anything better than the Pirates-Yanks tilt. I don't know the '68 Detroit-St. Louis Series, though I guess if I wanted to know it better, I could have always conducted a phone interview with Denny McLain back in the day -- through a one-inch-thick glass window while he wore an orange jumpsuit. Of course, '75 remains the Gold Standard, though I'm convinced that half the reason is the self-important, moaning, provincial New England scribes who keep that whole half-myth alive.

And that means you, Stephen King and Doris Kearns Goodwin.

OK, speeding up to the present. Cards-Royals '85 wasn't half-bad, was it? '86, of course, is its own entire animal. Quietly, '87 Twins-Cards was a hell of a Series. And '91 Twins-Braves -- think Kirby Puckett, and think it big! -- was right up there. Joe Carter's walk-off in '93 might have been a Game 6 but, shoot, man, that was good stuff.

Indians-Marlins in '97 was tight, but then again ... it was the Marlins, right?

That leaves us with this. So let's consider it: Game 1, blowout. Game 2, good game 'til Matty goes deep. Game 3, Yanks grind one out. Game 4? Well, what are you gonna say, except "Ti-no! Clap, clap, clap!" Game 5? I'm speechless. I am without speech.

Game 6 was absurd, but that's OK.

Game 7? Game 7 was the Real Deal.

In other words: Uh ... a pretty damn good Series. Number One in my book.

So, I'm giving it up, residents of Phoenix. You guys are Champs, and you're reveling in it, and you can toast it and enjoy it while rubbing SPF 4 on yours elves Christmas Eve. It might be the Worst Cab Town in America; it might be the city that produces the most riveting "Cops" episodes; but it is, I must say, our World Series champion town.

You earned it, and for you, you desert snakes, I dedicate an all-World Series List of Five:

1. Unit and Schilling: The Right Call
Randy Johnson and Curt Schilling
Splitting the World Series MVP award between Randy Johnson and Curt Schilling was definitely the right call.
I was stuck watching Game 7 in the hotel bar of a Houston Marriott. (Don't ask, but if you want to know what Mike Weir hit into 18 in the playoff, I can tell you.) So anyway, me and my boy D.H. were watching and going nuts. We were out of the stools, shouting at the stoic-faced bar denizens, telling all that "Some Ball is Being Played Tonight!"

When it was over, we couldn't make the call on Series MVP. Schilling, who won Game 1 but not Game 4 or 7? Unit, who won Game 2 and 6, but bogarted the win in Game 7? We agreed: The only call is the joint call. We looked up, and there they were: the Koufax-Drysdale of retractable roofs, the Spahn-Sain of interleague ball ... Unit and Schilling, co-MVPs. Perfect.

Hey, for once, the scribes got it right.

2. Mariano Loses
I swear to God, I am not making this up, but when the Yanks went down in the top of the ninth, Fox cut to a shot of Rivera in the dugout and I told my boy D.H.: "Dude, he looks nervous!" Now, I'm going Kreskin on you all, but what was that ninth inning?

So Gracie fists one off you. So what? They lay a bunt down, you go to first base, no question! So un-Mariano-like to try for too much and throw wild to second. So un-Yankee! All I could think, right at that moment, was: Finally, man. Feet of clay. Mariano shows us his feet of clay.

Mariano Rivera
Mariano Rivera finally showed that he bleeds like the rest of us.
Then the bar buzz took over. Watching Mariano throw it away into center field, I immediately flashed to that scene from "An Officer and a Gentleman," when Sgt. Foley, as played by Lou Gossett, Jr. and Zack Mayo, as played by Richard Gere, have their showdown fight in the airplane hangar near the end of the flick. Gere gets off some early blows, and makes Gossett bleed. Then Gossett goes Bruce Lee on Gere, and Gere starts bleeding, too. Gossett then tosses off one the great early '80s lines: "Yeah ... your blood's as red as mine ... ain't it ... Mayo-naise?"

That's it. Mariano Rivera was Gere; the D-Backs were Gossett. And as it turns out, through all the shutdown close jobs, all the slam-shut saves this near-demigod had produced, he showed he bleeds like the rest of us. His blood's as red as ours.

To think: Mariano Rivera -- human being. Damn. What's next?

3. A Word on Paulie
So, he made a terrible decision, trying to stretch his first-inning double into three. But his last at-bat as a Yankee was a single in the rally to tie the game, the kind of grinder thing he loved to be a part of. And, let's face it: He might be a red-ass, but he was the subject of probably the greatest fan tribute in the history of American sports. That gorgeous, never-ending, sing-song "Paulll O-Neiiilll" in Game 5 would bring tears to the eyes of anybody, including Mr. Burns from "The Simpsons."

I was so proud of the Yankee Stadium fans. For once, our country produced a sports moment of clarity, beauty and unity -- and devoid of any absurd commercialism or Two-Minute Warnings or coaches calling five timeouts in the final minute. I'd seen similar stuff and heard similar stuff in European sports venues, but Americans always seemed too wrapped up in beating traffic, in not understanding the vitality and importance of certain sports legends, and unable to express proper appreciation for the moment.

Baby, Yankee Stadium appreciated the moment. So did I.

4. Two Guys: De-rek Je-ter (Clap, Clap, Clap-Clap-Clap!) and Byung-Hyun Kim
Byung-Hyun Kim
Despite all his struggles in New York, Byung-Hyun Kim still gets to wear a World Series ring.
As for Jeter? His throwout of Danny Bautista on the 8-6-5 putout was straight-up Baryshnikov. God, I love watching this kid play ball. From going Oklahoma-football-option-pitchout on Jeremy Giambi, to going Dick Butkus into the expensive seats for a pop foul on the A's in Game 5, to pounding the game-winning homer on Kim in Game 4, is he Montana-plus-Magic-plus-Kirk-Gibson or what? And, God, I love the fact that he's, like, as old as Tiger Woods.

As for Kim? The D-Backs were going mob scene on the diamond after the win, and my boy D.H. turned to me and said: "Kim gets a ring, baby! Kim gets a ring!"

How great is that? He does get a ring. His face was the portrait of heartbreak in Game 5, and if you didn't want to grab the guy and buy him a tall, cold one and tell him everything would be OK, then you had no ticker. So the kid got it. He's a champion. As Mel Allen might say ... How about that?

5. A Final Word From Nick Hornby
I can't write stuff like this. But I can appreciate stuff like this. So in the afterglow of this Series, and to better fortify us as we wait six long months for baseball to begin again, I offer you this conclusion from English author Hornby, from his ode to fandom called "Fever Pitch." It doesn't matter that Hornby was talking about the English soccer club Arsenal and the great moment the Gunners provided him. It matters that he wrote this, and that we should all take this into our winter, after the Best World Series Ever:

"So please be tolerant of those who describe a sporting moment as their best ever. We do not lack imagination, nor have we had sad and barren lives; it is just that real life is paler, duller and contains less potential for unexpected delirium."

Man. It was fun, wasn't it?

Brian Murphy of the San Francisco Chronicle writes the "Weekend Water Cooler" every week for Page 2.