Wednesday, March 30, 2005

March 30th, 1950

Grady Little Born

Grady Little, of course, will forever be remembered as The Man Who Didn't Pull Pedro, a title that has improved only slightly with the Sox victory in 2004. Little is in the relatively exclusive, if dubious, company of those involved with baseball known for one mistake more than anything else. Perhaps not surprisingly given both the (lack of) success of the franchise and the nature of their fans, several of these people made their bad decisions for the Boston Red Sox.

The first, and arguably still most famous, case of a player having no place in history besides his screw-up is Fred Merkle. As a Giants' rookie in 1908, Merkle failed to touch second base after a game winning hit, and after much debate involving umpire, Johnny Evers, John McGraw and even the League President, the game was declared a tie and the Giants had to replay it. They would lose the replay, which ultimately cost them the 1908 pennant, and "Merkle's Boner" was born.

The next man remembered solely for one screw-up was Red Sox owner Harry Frazee who sold Babe Ruth to the New York Yankees. Frazee's reputation is probably worse than it should be, as the facts around the sale have long since passed into legend, a process which tends to remove accuracy, but still, it’s hard to argue with eighty-six years of futility.

In three seasons with the Brooklyn Dodgers, Chuck Dressen led them to two pennants and a .642 winning percentage, but he is remembered most for the season he didn't win the pennant. In 1951 the Dodgers held a one-run lead in the third and final playoff game to decide the pennant against the Giants. With Bobby Thomson coming up, for the Giants, manager Dressen went to his bullpen and called in Ralph Branca, against whom Thomson had already hit two home runs and whom the Giants had beaten six times that season, including in Game One of the series. Of course, Thomson soon took Branca deep for the "Shot Heard 'Round the World" and sent the Giants to World Series and Dressen into his place in history.

The next pair of screw-ups came in back-to-back World Series. The first was in 1985 when umpire Don Denkinger called Jorge Orta safe at first base in Game 6 of the World Series despite Orta clearly being out. The Royals would rally to win Game 6 and go on to crush the Cardinals in Game 7. The Series loss wasn't entirely Denkinger's fault--the Cardinals suffered an epic meltdown in Game 7--but he remains nonetheless remembered solely for that fault. In 1986 another non-player made a mistake that might have caused his team a world title. That man was Red Sox manager John McNamara who decided to let Bill Buckner and his achey knees be on the field for the Sox celebration in Game 6. Of course, that celebration never came and Buckner went down in infamy.

So cheer up, Grady Little, infamy may seem bad, but you're in exclusive company and immortality in trivia is better than none at all.

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