To those millions of people who have wondered how major league baseball, a kid's game played by adults, can maintain such a vise-like grip on our times and emotions, I give you the 1986 World Series! You know, the one with all the weeds in plain view (meaning players' errors and both managers' goofy decisions) between the New York Mets and the Boston Red Sox. Have you ever seen anything, except for the wind, shift directions so quickly and with so little warning? There were gremlins causing wild pitches and muffed ground balls all over the place.
Maybe the strangest part of this untidy Series, taking into consideration its many oddities, is the fact that the Red Sox probably wouldn't have stretched this thing to seven games in the first place if it hadn't been for the Seattle Mariners. While compiling the second-worst record in baseball this season, the Mariners still managed to aid the Red Sox in winning a few games.
Seattle did this with an Aug. 17 trade that sent shortstop Spike Owen and outfielder Dave Henderson to Boston for a rookie infielder whose name (Rey Quinones) no one could pronounce, plus two minor league relief pitchers with none of the credentials of Dave Righetti.
It is possible that this trio will remain forever as anonymous as the name of the cow who kicked over Mrs. O'Leary's kerosene lantern to start the great Chicago fire.
At the time of the trade, the Red Sox did not think they were trading for a bat (Owen's) that was full of postseason singles or a second war club (Henderson's) that was full of high explosives.
What Boston saw in Owen was a steadying influence at shortstop, a guy with soft hands who could consistently make the routine plays every team needs to become a contender. Even if his throwing arm wasn't registered with the National Rifle Association, it was plenty good enough. Maybe with a little help in spring training next year with batting instructor Walt Hriniak, Spike could be taught to get his average way up to .250. But if Owen kept his errors to a minimum, even that wouldn't be absolutely necessary.
As for Henderson, since two fly chasers by that name have played for Seattle in the last couple of years, there was immediate confusion as to which one the Red Sox were getting. Was his first name Dave or Steve? Their careers were very much like doorknobs, in that very few fans outside Seattle had ever been able to tell them apart.
The way the Red Sox viewed Henderson was as a late-inning caddy for veteran center fielder Tony Armas. Tony had reached that point in his career where he never again has to worry about breaking the 55 mile-an-hour speed limit while trolling for fly balls.
The fact that Armas had led the American League in home runs in 1984 had, in a manner of speaking, given him squatter's rights in center. And even though both his offensive production and defensive skills had fallen off since then, he still had enough left to hold the starting position, relegating Henderson to a backup role.
There was hope that when he did see action, the right-handed-hitting newcomer might be able to pull an occasional pitcher's mistake off Fenway Park's short left field wall, which is only 315 feet down the line. After all, he did check in at 6 ft. 2 in. and 220 well-muscled pounds.
Dave looks the part of a slugger, too. He has shoulders that seem to reach from Providence to Worcester, with enough room on his forearms for a tattooed version of the Battle of Bunker Hill. His hands are the size of frying pans.
But even that lost much of its luster when Dave, in parts of 36 regular-season games with the Red Sox, batted .196 in 51 trips to the plate. Boston was so unsure what to do with Henderson that it gave him jersey No. 40, which is baseball's equivalent of telling the wearer that his next stop could be Siberia -- or at least the minor league equivalent thereof.
Henderson figured to watch the American League Championship Series against the California Angels from a seat on the bench. Instead, when Armas injured an ankle midway through the fifth game of the playoffs, the understudy got to play Hamlet. If you recall that game, you probably also remember that it was Dave's two-out, two-strike home run in the ninth inning that saved the Red Sox from elimination and put them on the road toward the World Series.
Owen, the No. 9 hitter in the lineup, was an even bigger surprise at the plate, leading all Boston regulars with a playoff batting average of .429. And both men kept up their offensive heroics in the World Series.
Through the first six games Henderson racked up the vaunted Met pitching staff for 10 hits, 5 runs scored, 8 extra-base hits, including 2 home runs, plus 5 RBIs, and a .435 batting average.
Meanwhile Owen, in addition to fielding virtually everything hit near him, was batting a surprising .353 entering Monday night's seventh game.
Not too surprisingly, in view of these exploits, the two newcomers have already become big favorites of the Boston fans. And barring any unforeseen developments, both should be a big part of the Red Sox picture for many years to come.