Although it seems like baseball’s Division Series round began just a few years ago, we have already had 88 of them. How many do you remember? Many baseball fans can tell you who played in the 2002 World Series (or the 1952 World Series), but remembering the four 2002 Division Series might be a more challenging task. It’s like knowing the history of the NCAA basketball regional finals.
It was early 1989, almost three years since the most surreal moment in Mookie Wilson’s professional life. No one in New York had to be reminded. For any Mets fan, the ’86 World Series still had the effect of a hallucinogenic drug. And as for Mookie . . . well, he was a walking advertisement for the impossible. Honest and homegrown, Mookie was on a first-name basis with an entire city, and one of the principals in a surprise ending that’s remembered to this day.
Miller Huggins is widely regarded as one of baseball’s greatest managers. A 1964 Hall of Fame inductee, he managed the Yankees to six American League pennants and to the 1923, 1927, and 1928 World Series championships. During his 12-season tenure in New York, Huggins-led Yankees teams won nearly 60 percent of their games, and only once finished out of the first division. A lifelong bachelor and tireless worker, Huggins’s great advantage was the single-mindedness with which he prepared both himself and his team.
Both teams dominated their respective leagues in the regular season—the White Sox by nine games and the Giants by 10 games. The World Series opened at Chicago’s Comiskey Park on Saturday, October 6. The pitchers were knuckleballer Eddie Cicotte for Chicago and Slim Sallee for New York, though as was often the custom at the time, the identities of the starters were kept secret as long as possible.
Not much was expected of the San Francisco Giants when the San Francisco Examiner assigned me to cover them in 1987. Only two years before, the ball club had lost a hundred games. In the previous season, new manager Roger Craig had led the team to an 83–79 record, but that was still good for only third place in the National League West.
I’m only half-kidding when I say I’ve been covering baseball since the Paleozoic Age; it just feels that way sometimes. Nevertheless, decades of my professional life have been spent in the press box, which makes historical comparisons credible, if not easy. So when I’m asked about the best postseason run I’ve ever covered, I draw on an archive that includes the ’86 New York Mets, the ’91 Minnesota Twins, the ’96 New York Yankees, and the ’04 Boston Red Sox.
In his baseball career spanning almost 50 years, Leo Durocher didn’t always walk the walk, but there isn’t a scintilla of doubt that he could talk the talk. A small, slick-fielding shortstop, he broke in with the Yankees in 1925 for two at-bats and a cup of coffee. He spent the next few years in the minors before joining Murderers Row in 1928. His fiery personality, scrappy play, and benchjockeying prowess compensated for his light hitting.
In 1916, John McGraw’s New York Giants had finished in fourth place, but they dominated in 1917. Only the Cincinnati Reds gave them trouble in head-to-head matchups, both teams winning 11 games. All the way through June, however, the Giants had to fight to maintain first place. Only once (on May 17) did they have a lead as large as three games. On 10 days they were tied for first, but most of the time they were in second place—though very close (some 14 days saw them in second by only half a game).
Eighty games into the 1968 season, the Baltimore Orioles fired Manager Hank Bauer and brought in Earl Weaver. At first, the move appeared to have little consequence outside Maryland. After all, ’68 had already become the “Year of the Tigers,” with Detroit moving out to an early lead in the American League (1968 was the last season without divisions and the winner of each league moved directly to the World Series).