|Before Dodger Kirk Gibson beat the Athletics in Game One of the 1988 World Series, Dusty Rhodes was the only man in baseball history to grab a bat, pinch-hit in the bottom of the ninth inning or later of a World Series game, and clout a game-winning home run. The day after Gibson's blast against Oakland reliever Dennis Eckersley, Rhodes could tell Gibson what to expect for the rest of his life.
"They will never, ever let him forget that," said Rhodes, the former Giants outfielder, then age sixty-one and working a tugboat in New York harbor. "Never in a hundred years. Never, ever, ever. No matter how many times he strikes out, all they'll remember is that home run."
Rhodes's unforgettable home run came in Game One of the 1954 World Series. In the eighth inning, Willie Mays had made his astonishing over-the-shoulder catch of Vic Wertz's 460-foot blast to center field. In the bottom of the tenth, New York and Cleveland were still tied 2-2, with Giants on first and second, and one out.
Rhodes was sitting on the bench, steaming at manager Leo Durocher. "I was still kind of mad at the time," drawled Rhodes, Alabama accent intact despite thirty-five years in New York. "Last game of the season in Philadelphia, Leo said, 'The starting lineup tonight is the starting lineup in the World Series.' I played that night.
"So next day is an off-day, and we're working out at the Polo Grounds. I'm hitting in the cage, with all the newsmen around. They said, 'Starting lineup come here for pictures.' I said, 'I'll be with you in a minute.' They said, 'Stay where you are, you ain't playing.' Next day during the game, I was still fuming."
In the tenth inning ... Durocher told him to pinch-hit for Monte Irvin against Indians righty Bob Lemon.
"My intention was to take the first pitch," said Rhodes. "But he hung me a curve. It looked like a balloon up there. So I took a swing and the wind caught it."
It plopped into the short right-field stands at the Polo Grounds and into baseball history. "I can still see Dave Pope jumping for it out there," said Rhodes. "Wertz hit one 460 feet, and Mays caught it. I hit one 250 feet, and I'm a hero for forty years. I turned around and looked at Bob Lemon, and he'd thrown his glove into the stands. It went further than my home run did."
The home run carried Rhodes deep into baseball lore. "I still get three or four letters a week from people looking for me to sign, and they include, 'Congratulations on your home run'," said Rhodes. "I heard Howard Cosell report once it was the cheapest home run ever. I'll tell you one thing: my home run stayed in the air longer than his television show stayed on the air."
Rhodes proceeded to tilt the series from the bench. In Game Two he tied the game with a pinch single, then stayed in the lineup and homered in his next at-bat. In Game Three he pinch-hit and singled with the bases loaded.
"Once in a while when you're down in the dumps, you think about it and it picks you up," said Rhodes.
-- David Cataneo
Baseball Legends and Lore
Baseball Legends and Lore, David Cataneo
Copyright 1991 by David Cataneo
Published by Galahad Books (New York), 1995
available at ABEBOOKS