Saturday, June 13, 2015

How Much Do We Covet These Baseball Videos?

Fans of every sport would kill to have modern-quality footage of old games. Basketball buffs, for instance, would love to dissect every basket from Wilt Chamberlain's 100-point performance. And what football fan wouldn't jump at the opportunity to watch video of the first completed forward pass in 1906? But alas, footage from many of our country's amazing athletic feats remains elusive or nonexistent.

Baseball video -- or the lack thereof -- is particularly frustrating. A few weeks ago, I e-mailed this question to the Effectively Wild podcast:

Hey guys,

In the past few days, I've unsuccessfully searched for two of my favorite baseball commercials ever. The first featured a young Dominican boy named Samuel who insisted on being called "Pedro" for obvious reasons. The second, a Pizza Hut ad with Ken Griffey, Jr., showed Junior explaining that a hitter must "think up the middle" then taking a full swing at a flying pizza box. (Maybe my memory's a little foggy, but I think that really happened.) Alas, as far as I can tell, the Internet has failed baseball fans because neither video exists.

What missing footage do you wish you could find? Would it be historical (e.g., Ruth's "Called Shot"), pop culture-related (film of the Copacabana Incident), or something else?

The Bronx, NY

The hosts, Ben Lindbergh and Sam Miller, addressed my question on two separate podcasts, Episode 676 and Episode 684. I used their input in constructing a list of the top 10 videos that baseball fans wish existed. If baseball unearthed its own version of the Dead Sea Scrolls, creating a stronger link to the game's past, which videos would we most covet?

10. The Will Clark Middle Fingers
We'll start out with Sam Miller's choice, which occurred during a game sometime between 1988 and 1991. The game took place in Houston, Will Clark's hometown. Giddy to share his fuzzy recollection, Miller said Clark hit a double that seemed like it had a chance of clearing the wall in the Astrodome. Presumably upset that he hit a double instead of a homer, Clark looked off into the stands and raised both middle fingers. That's right. According to Miller, Clark flipped a double-bird that would've made "Stone Cold" Steve Austin proud. Miller wishes that there was video evidence of this seemingly irrational act on the part of Clark. Video of the incident would probably cause us to view Clark in a different light than the saintly one a Sports Illustrated cover showed us after the 1989 earthquake.

9. The Pedro/Samuel Commercial
The only Internet evidence that I could find about the ad's existence is a Reddit post requesting the video. At least I'm not alone in remembering the sheer awesomeness of that commercial.

8. Bo Jackson's Worm-burning Homer off Nolan Ryan
According to an Effectively Wild listener, Bo once hit a homer to center field off Nolan Ryan that came off the bat so low that Ryan jumped in an attempt to catch it. This story is probably apocryphal, or at least exaggerated, because it includes two of recent baseball's most mythical figures. As Miller said on Episode 684, it's always smart to bet the under on Bo Jackson legends that have developed over the years. Still, it's fun to remember Bo as the pre-Giancarlo Stanton king of exit velocity. Maybe this play did happen, but as Carl Sagan said, "Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence."

7. Bo Jackson Throws out Harold Reynolds (Other Angles)
I actually just wish I had footage of everything Bo did, ever. Bo probably used to leap 10 steps at a time when he went upstairs at bedtime. The particular play in question took place in 1989.

Miller mentioned that he wished we had multiple angles of Randy Johnson exploding that bird. Well, I want more angles of that Bo throw. I want to see it leave his hand and watch it sizzle through the air for hundreds of feat. I want to see people give it the Cespedes GIF treatment. I want to see it and see it and see it.

6. That Time When I Dumped a Full Beer on Uncle Pat's Head
At the start of their magical 1998 season, the Yankees played one of the wildest home openers in team history. With a bunch of tickets to the right-field bleachers, my dad took me, my little brother, my uncle Pat, and my grandfather to the game, back when old Yankee Stadium still had a bit of a New Orleans party atmosphere. The Yanks fell behind 5-2 in the top of the third but rallied to put two men on base in the bottom half.

As Tino Martinez stepped up to the plate, I said loudly that Tino was about to hit a homer to tie the game. My uncle Pat -- a diehard Mets fan and one of my family's resident cartoon characters -- turned to me and made an alcohol-fueled statement that he'd soon regret: "If this bum hits a homer, you can dump this entire beer on my head."

Sure enough, six pitches later, Tino lined a bullet that landed a few rows in front of us. Amidst the mayhem, my uncle started to move away from me. But the stranger behind me, who had overheard our wager, handed me his full 20-ounce brew. (Like I said, shades of New Orleans.) I quickly turned around and sent the beer flying in Pat's direction. I hit him with a good amount of suds, but unfortunately I also nailed my eighty-year-old grandfather. The game-time temperature was 47 degrees, and the look my grandpa gave me was at least 20 degrees colder than that. My father was about to demolish me like Paul O'Neill would demolish a water cooler, but a few of the fans in our section defended me enough that I was able to walk out of the Stadium under my own power that day. This moment should have its own episode of Yankeeography, but no video of the incident exists.

5. Jim Leyritz's Magical Home Run
An Effectively Wild listener named Evan wrote in about a Jim Leyritz home run off Randy Johnson during the 1998 NLDS. According to a Baseball-Reference box score, Leyritz did indeed hit a homer off of Johnson in Game 4 of that series. However, that dinger cleared the fence at Qualcomm Stadium, not the Astrodome, as Evan claimed. The home run that he remembers probably took place in Game 2, when Leyritz took Billy Wagner deep. Evan recalled the fly ball slicing foul down the right-field line then changing course mid-air and hooking fair around the foul pole. I want to see video of this physics-defying homer if only because it would remind me of the "Magic Loogie" from Seinfeld.

4. Mickey Mantle's 565-foot Home Run

On Effectively Wild, Miller said that he didn't believe this 1953 dinger went 565 feet. He added that if video existed, Alan Nathan could disprove that legend. I wish fans had camera phones for this homer and Mantle's rocket off the Yankee Stadium facade a decade later.

3. Babe Ruth's Called Shot (Conclusive Evidence)
As Lindbergh pointed out, video -- albeit inconclusive video -- does exist of Ruth's famous homer in the 1932 World Series.

But did Ruth call his shot? We still can't tell. If only we could go back in time and get Babe "miked up" to hear what he said to Cubs hurler Charlie Root that day. If only we had video with multiple angles so that we could dissect Ruth's movements during that at-bat. Then again, if we had those tools and could determine that Ruth didn't call his shot, he might not loom quite as large in all of our imaginations.

2. The Copacabana Incident 
Remember when video of Larry Sanders' bar fight went viral? And that was just Larry Sanders. The Copacabana Incident included some of the most famous athletes (Mantle, Berra, Ford) and one of the most famous singers (Sammy Davis, Jr.) on the planet. Imagine if Adrian Gonzalez, Yasiel Puig, and Clayton Kershaw got into a fight to protect their buddy Jay-Z in a Hollywood nightclub. That's the type of scenario we're talking about here. If the Copa had security footage of the 1957 brawl, it probably would have poked a few holes in the status of Mickey, Yogi, and Whitey as all-American boys.

1. Merkle's Boner 
This is the Holy Grail, not of '70s porno videos but of baseball videos. It can't possibly exist because Fred Merkle's infamous gaffe during the the 1908 pennant race predated sports footage by a couple decades. The exact details of the controversial incident remain a bit murky. "I have read so many differing accounts, contradictory accounts that could be settled so easily with one little bit of footage of 10 seconds of that game," Lindbergh said on Episode 676. And since the incident happened over 100 years ago, as Lindbergh pointed out, "The fact that everyone involved is dead and everyone who was watching is dead sort of takes away from it a little bit maybe... But that's still to this day one of the biggest baseball debates. And it could be settled very easily with some footage and it could never be settled without that footage." For now, Merkle's Boner lives on through oral history and in the name of a damn good Wrigleyville pub.

Honorable Mention in Need of Its Own Post: Every Negro Leagues Game Ever Played
I could expand this list to 100 if I included all the Negro Leagues moments I wish I could have seen. I remember reading the book Black Diamond when I was about 10 and getting angry that I'd never even seen photos, let alone videos, of most of the players that were mentioned. I really, really wish that I could see footage of a Cool Papa Bell triple, a Satchel Paige hesitation pitch, an Oscar Charleston catch in the gap, or a Josh Gibson moonshot. I also wish that someone would turn Joe Posnanski's The Soul of Baseball into a movie about the life of Buck O'Neil.


I'm sure some of the videos I mentioned exist in MLB's archives or in fans' personal libraries. If someone's got VHS tapes in his attic of any of these moments, let's hope that he learns about YouTube in the near future. Until then, the best we can do is bitch and complain like Phillies fans about the fact that we can't watch footage of baseball's glorious past. 

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Follow Fran Tolan on Twitter @frantweet and follow Brian Kavanaugh @btkav

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