The wild card is a gimmick. Now baseball is making the franchise of Edd Roush and Vada Pinson and Dave Concepcíon play the team of Honus Wagner and Ralph Kiner and Roberto Clemente in one game for the championship of the Ohio River.
As an old Brooklyn Dodger fan, I cannot choose between cities. They exude history, from the confluence of the Allegheny and the Monongahela to the miniature Roebling suspension bridge over the Beautiful Ohio.
When I lived in Louisville as a news reporter, Cincinnati was a major-league city, with young Al Michaels on the radio, calling the Big Red Machine. And I used to write about Pittsburgh, too – mine subsidence under schools, Heinz Hall, now the sweet ball park with the sensational view of downtown Pittsburgh. So don’t ask me to pick between cities.
All I know is this: back in 1992, a manager asked for respect for his team.
Jim Leyland had the credentials, even back then. He managed the game right. Now he was addressing reporters just outside the visiting clubhouse in Atlanta, where his Pirate players were dealing with the sudden 3-2 loss to the Braves on a three-run rally in the bottom of the ninth.
Francisco Cabrera had just driven home Sid Bream with the winning run (in what seemed like slow-motion) and the Braves were going to the World Series (and a generation of success) and the Pirates were heading to oblivion.
Leyland said this team had tried hard, and fallen short, and he challenged reporters to be fair. Bobby Bonilla and John Smiley were already gone because ownership could not afford the free-agent salaries, and everybody knew Barry Bonds and Doug Drabek were leaving. Leyland’s talk was sentimental, what a reporter might encounter after a high-school championship game, but he was talking about professionals, and he made his point in a touching way.
Now Leyland manages in Detroit with great, expensive players, and it has taken 21 years for the Pirates to play another post-season game. This is a big event, for anybody who loves baseball, the American sport with the most history, the sport with regional ties.
These two grand old teams go back to the Nineteenth Century; now they must play one game just to keep going. Cruel.
All I know is that the Reds have been in the post-season in 2010 and 2012, but the Pirates have not played a single post-season game since Andy Van Slyke fell to the ground in center field watching Bream lumber home, and Leyland challenged us to be decent to a team that was coming apart. Twenty-one years. Go, Bucs.
David Vecsey's sweet tale of distant love before the Web, now NYT Podcast, narrated by Griffin Dunne. Please see:
George Vecsey is Hofstra University's Alumnus of the Month! Read a Q&A with George here.