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Friday, November 8, 2002


B. C. Stangl



"A boy's first ballgame. Priceless." That's the caption for an internet joke that's been circulating recently. A woman has yanked up her shirt and the boy in front of her is not watching the game on the field at all. Instead, he is wearing the widest grin beneath his cap, turned 'round and looking up at the most perfect pair of breasts he may ever see in his entire lifetime. These are hooters that would make even Hugh Hefner cockle doodle doo.

"Priceless." That's the tagline for MasterCard's homey ad campaign that seems to have the legs of Rickey Henderson. All through the long 2002 Major League Baseball season just ended, TV viewers were barraged with ads soliciting their vote for the most priceless moment in baseball history. "Moment," excellent, precise word, which to my mind, cannot span more than well a moment or two.

The promo ads also pointed out that the ceremony to honor these moments would be held before Game 4 of the World Series. Who around here wouldathunk that PacBell Park would be the site of this awards presentation?

MasterCard's ceaseless campaign yielded only an embarrassing one million votes, or thereabouts. But what the hell, the FOX Network had teamed with another partner that fell miserably short of participants. Throughout each postseason game, Sprint asked you to email your vote on any mundane subject that popped into some company representative's teeny fiber optic brain. Amazingly, probably due to the overwhelming majority of us who work online while we watch baseball, the results of this "Virtual Manager" poll could be tallied and posted on your TV screen after only about a minute and a half's worth of voting.

Nonetheless, FOX-TV commentators Joe Buck and Tim McCarver - who sounds as though he is speaking to Brittany Spears, Ray Charles, Pee Wee Herman, and Opie Taylor - dutifully reported the results of these high-tech polls.

The pair also felt the need to spice up the pre-game announcement of the "Priceless" winners. Of course, they became suddenly hog-tied the "moment" Pete Rose made his first appearance on a major league ball field since he was banned from the game for life for betting. Still, the PacBell faithful erupted into by far the longest sustained applause accorded any of the award winners.

Rose had finished sixth in fan balloting for that "moment" in 1985 when he broke Ty Cobb's record for all-time hits (4,191). Jackie Robinson breaking baseball's color line was voted third, Hank Aaron passing Babe Ruth's all-time home run record in 1974 finished second, and the hated Dodger Kirk Gibson's clutch homer in the bottom of the ninth in the 1988 World Series came in ninth.

"The Giants win the pennant. The Giants win the pennant!" How could that infamous Bobby Thompson homer, "the shot heard around the world," go missing? Consider Don Larsen's perfect game, the dominance of Sandy Koufax over the Yanks in '63. Where were Bob Gibson or Mickey Lolich? Each won MVPs for the rare feat of winning three games in one World Series. Lolich's teammate Denny McClain not only pitched his perfect game, but did it in a year he won 31 games, a feat not witnessed since the 1940s.

Besides Carlton Fisk's wave, and Mickey Mantle's triple crown, one also might consider a fella named Bonds and his 71st! Hornsby, Cobb, and Ruth all failed to deliver a "moment"? How many other sluggers called their home run shot? The Yankees might suggest Bill Mazeroski's heroic ninth inning homer to win it all against the Bronx Bombers in 1960. Don Drysdale hurled 56 2/3 consecutive scoreless innings one year. Reggie Jackson hit three homers in one World Series game.

One of baseball's most replayed moments, a great day in New York Giants history, Willie Mays' incredible catch and throw, didn't crack the top ten. Then there's the worst moment in San Francisco Giants history - up until this series - when Bobby Richardson dove to his left to snag Willie McCovey's screaming line drive to end the '62 series.

I am reminded of Nike's brilliant newspaper ad when Dennis Rodman, the high-profile endorser of their products, was shamefully left off the NBA All Star team. In the teeniest print in the middle of a blank, white full page were the words, "Where's Dennis?" A shadow of a Nike swoosh logo was posted near the very bottom of the page.

Speaking of logos, will someone please explain the buffoonery behind Taco Bell's logo on a floating bulls-eye tethered in the middle of McCovey Cove past right field? The odds of someone hitting that diminutive target - if someone did, then the entire country won a free taco - were about the same as Tommy Lasorda winning a foot race against Henderson.

But the real questions here are who gave the fast food chain the opportunidad fantastico to in essence anchor its craft anywhere in the bay. Which city department grants such favors, especially on incredibly short notice? How much did the city earn from it? Odds are - odds that even Pete Rose could appreciate - that Taco Bell paid FOX, not San Francisco.

FOX, the same network someone complained about because it kept interrupting network promotions to show all that baseball action.

Back to MasterCard, which also took lots of flak over its 1999 All Century Team. The company and its voters seem to think that the 1998 season-long, home run race between Sammy Sosa and Mark McGwire was one long, delicious moment. The moment McGwire stuck his record 63rd - or Roger Maris his 61st - these were not the right moments. And neither was Bobby Bonds' 71st, much less his record 73rd.

And coming in at #7, Ted Williams busting the .400 barrier - throughout the season of 1941 - was that one long moment? The same argument might be made against Joe DiMaggio's record 56-game hitting streak (#8). Wasn't the game where he broke the old record the one historic moment of the long streak in that same year Williams broke .400?

Which brings us to MasterCard's "priceless" #1 all time moment: That would be the string of seasons that Cal Ripken Jr., a lifetime .260 hitter who is nonetheless destined for the Hall of Fame, spent chasing Lou Gehrig's string of consecutive games played. Consecutive games played by a somewhat talented infielder. This is the national pastime's greatest "moment"? Sure. That's about as likely as seeing Dusty Baker as spokesman for Safeway next season.

But if it were the players who had voted, it should have been unanimous for Curt Flood. For the moment Flood - Tim McCarver's teammate - walked out on the game to stubbornly challenge what he called the slavery of organized baseball's "ownership" of each of its players. Any argument that Flood's victory didn't pry open the door of free agency, which directly lead to the astronomical salaries players enjoy today, is moot.

Here are a couple, outside-the-lines, suggested moments we might consider as well: Bud Selig, the man who searched the world before nominating himself to be commissioner, seen at Game 7, the day after SF's forever-memorable mousetown meltdown. The guy was wearing a friggin' long overcoat in ANAHEIM. How about the end of that sad Game 6, when Melissa Etheridge learned that there would indeed be a Game 7 where she would in fact personify the way the national anthem ought to be sung?

My votes for all-time moments? Seeing Lasorda knocked down by a broken bat shard in the coaching box at that '99 All Star Game. Maybe that special moment when some slugger earns me a sloppy, juicy taco. Better yet, how about the moment when Tim McCarver retires forever from the announcer's booth? Muy bueno.