Thursday, April 24, 2003
Making a little kid cry
By Eric Neel Page 2 columnist
On October 12, 1977, the Dodgers popped four home runs in a 6-1 win and took a two-games-to-none lead over the Yankees in the World Series. Burt Hooton went the distance; threw a five-hitter and struck out eight.
To a kid in sunny southern California, things were as they should be. God was in his heaven and the boys in blue were up two -- half-way to Paradise.
Six days later, the Dodgers were down three games to two and the kid was dizzy, stunned by the turnaround. He was looking for a righteous glimmer, hanging on for a ray of hope.
In the fourth inning of Game 6, with a 3-2 lead, a runner on first and nobody out, Hooton threw one of those clever, wiggly knuckle-curves he was so good at -- the ones that worked like a charm in Game 2 -- and Reggie Jackson tattooooooooed it. 4-3.
The kid was stung -- Jackson was impressive, and a little scary. The kid was worried, sure, but he still believed.
In the fifth, down 5-3 now, the Dodgers' Elias Sosa had two outs with a runner on first and Jackson back at the plate. The game was still within reach. Sosa threw the first pitch. Jackson swung. Bing. Ouch. Sigh. 7-3. The game was slip-sliding away.
The kid was hurting now, he cursed his bad luck, and he cursed Jackson. Repeatedly, with words he only half knew the meaning of.
But still, he thought, the universe is an infinitely hopeful place; the world is forever full of possibility. A hit here, a swing there -- they could come back. Couldn't they? Sure they could. They definitely could.
But his guys went quietly in the sixth, seventh and eighth. And the kid knew his longshot wasn't coming in.
He wanted to take the loss like a man, but he wondered, Do men curl up in balls in their grandfather's easy chairs the way he was curled up now? Do men mope the way he was moping now? Do men say, to no one in particular, "I hate Reggie Jackson." Do they swear, on the big fat Bible sitting right in front of them on the coffee table -- the one with the family tree all filled out in the front of it -- that they will forever, till the day they die, dedicate the darkest, most nasty corner of their souls to loathing Reggie Jackson? Do they pray to the baseball gods for one lousy strikeout, one stinking, sense-restoring, whupped-but-with-their-dignity-in-tact strikeout?
Then came the eighth. And now it was Charlie Hough, whose flutterby floaters were wicked testimony to the fickle laws of physics. And now it was Reggie at the plate. Again. And now there was a first pitch. But there was no second. Ball in the seats. Little shuffle-step trot from the slugger. Crowd going wild. "Reggie-Reggie-Reggie." 8-3. Ballgame.
And as he watched, unable to turn away, the kid cried. He didn't cry because of the loss. He didn't cry because his hopes were dashed. He cried because he had seen it, and he knew now that what people had told him was true: This world is a vast, empty place, and there is evil in it. He cried because he had seen Reggie, his hour come round at last, slouching toward Bethlehem. And he was afraid.
Eric Neel is a regular columnist for Page 2.