We assume this pitch was a curve. - Hannah Foslien
Baseball is art, of a type, and in fields like music and film, scholars are constantly discussing how a work "stands up" decades later. It's been a quarter-century since the 1987 World Series, so let's take a look back at Game 5, which took place 25 years ago today, and see how it holds up.
The first thing you notice is the pants. My God, the pants. You forget the era of polyester in baseball, of calf-hugging, shin-hugging, everything-hugging pants. It's disconcerting - Willie McGee's trousers appear to be cutting off the blood flow to his legs - but what we're really interested in is the baseball. Most sports change wildly over time, but baseball is supposed to be timeless, unchanging, the same now as it was ever. The pants are different. But what else is different?
Not much happens until the top of the second, when Cardinals starter Danny Cox - sporting a handlebar mustache that presumably was capable of impregnating women at fifty paces - gives up a single to Tom Brunansky, and then walks Tim Laudner while paying an inordinate amount of attention to Brunansky at first. Brunansky had stolen eleven bases that year, but had also been caught eleven times, and probably should have been ignored completely. So there's something that hasn't changed - pitchers throwing over to first for no reason. Steve Lombardozzi pops out to short to end the threat.
Color commentators Jim Palmer and Tim McCarver discuss how home plate umpire Ken Kaiser does not call the low strike, leaving unsaid that this is because Kaiser is too fat to bend down that far. The fat umpire has disappeared somewhat from the game, so that's a difference, too. In the bottom of the inning, Palmer goes over Twins starter Bert Blyleven's numbers, and compares him to Catfish Hunter, who Palmer notes has just been named to the Hall of Fame, but sadly no one makes this comparison ever again in the history of baseball discussions.
In the third, Dan Gladden walks, then with two out, steals second. Cox, even with the runner on, keeps his usual gigantic leg kick; the slide step was somewhat of a nineties invention, apparently. Kirby Puckett grounds out on a 3-0 pitch to end the inning. I'd like to say this is a change in the way baseball is played, but Puckett was Delmon Young with talent, willing to swing on any pitch, any time.
Jose Oquendo leads off the bottom of the inning, with his virtually indescribable batting stance, in which he is almost completely facing the pitcher, with his bat held flat, parallel to the ground, and his head jammed into his own shoulder like a man trying to go to sleep on an airplane. Oquendo singles to left, somehow. There's another change - you don't see as many goofball batting stances. Nowadays, if you tried to go to the plate with Oquendo's batting stance, your team's hitting coach would call time and beat you to death with a fungo bat.
Tony Peña, wearing a pair of wire-rim glasses which cover almost his entire face, singles the other way, and there's two on with nobody out. Cox bunts Peña to second after swinging through two pitches, a heck of a bunt that would put pretty much everybody on the current Twins roster to shame, but the rally ends when Oquendo hesitates on a Vince Coleman grounder to short, and gets thrown out at home. Doing dumb things on the basepaths hasn't changed much either.
In the fifth, the Busch Stadium crowd does the wave, as Cox endeavors to strand Gladden on second with two out, so in case you were wondering, fans have been doing the wave at stupid times since at least 1987. I'll say this, as well - nobody, but nobody, throws a curve like Bert Blyleven these days. It is ludicrous, breaking from above the batter's head to below his knees. Hitting it must have been like trying to hit a ball dropped from a blimp.
Oquendo and Peña get back-to-back hits again, leading off the Cards fifth, but then comes one of the sillier sequences you'll ever see. After Cox swings through two pitches, manager Whitey Herzog decides to get all sneaky and put on the suicide squeeze. The Twins pitch out, Cox strikes out, and Oquendo's tagged out halfway down the third-base line. Coleman, who'd hit .289 that year, was coming up next. Any manager pulling this kind of stunt these days would hopefully be defenestrated for his stupidity.
Everything goes wrong for Blyleven in the sixth, though. Coleman - who'd gotten 56 hits that year that never left the infield - hops one to first that hits the lip of the Astroturf cutout and squirts straight at Kent Hrbek's ankles. Astroturf has advanced since - you seldom see the ball act like it hit a pothole, these days. A pissed-off Blyleven throws over to first four times without getting back on the rubber, which I don't think I've ever seen since; he threw over twice without even getting back on the mound in between. Ozzie Smith bunts and Blyleven can't field it, putting Cardinals on first and second until Smith and Coleman steal second and third. The Twins walk Dan Driessen to face McGee, who strikes out looking, but Curt Ford comes up with the clutch two-out single to center to score two. To finish off the awfulness, Gagne boots a routine grounder, Driessen scores, and it's 3-0 Cards.
After the Twins go down in order in the seventh, Keith Atherton comes in to relieve Blyleven. Atherton looks like a gym teacher that likes throwing dodgeballs at kids when they aren't looking. He walks Coleman, then balks him to second by not coming set, and Tom Kelly immediately puts him out of his misery and brings in Jeff Reardon. Coleman steals third immediately, Smith hits a liner to second that Lombardozzi can only knock down, and it's 4-0 St. Louis. It's been awhile since we've seen somebody like Coleman, who put the fear of God into everybody whenever he was on base.
In the eighth, the Twins get on the board. Gladden singles, Gagne bunts for a hit - did no third baseman play even with the bag in 1987? - leading to Gaetti hitting a deep fly to center that pops out of McGee's glove, with the center fielder up against the wall, scoring two. Still down 4-2 in the ninth, the Twins get a pair of walks and bring Don Baylor to the plate for the dramatic game-winning homer, but Baylor pops to second to end the game.
So does this game, from 25 years ago, still hold up? The pants are different, yes, and you don't see many teams play the bunt-and-steal-second game any more, like the Cardinals did on the Busch Stadium turf. The swings from middle infielders were lustier and less effective in 1987, but ultimately the baseball was the same. Take away the turf and the video quality, and it looked the same as last night's Cardinals-Giants game, which I watched simultaneously with Game 5 from so long ago.
Sure, it holds up. It's still baseball, isn't it?