The World Series wants goats with the desperation of a junkie craving a fix. Remember the old "ABC Wide World of Sports" opening -- "The thrill of victory and the agony of defeat?" The World Series has always been at least as much about identifying who failed as who won. Sometimes there is no obvious culprit. When Reggie Jackson personally dismantled the Dodgers with three home runs in Game 6 of the 1977 World Series, there was no villain, no one to laugh at. Tommy Lasorda might have picked different pitchers for those at-bats and possibly gotten different results, but there really wasn't anything to be done short of intentionally walking him every time up, and that's a strategy that is going to give you worse results nine times out of 10. There isn't anyone to blame, which makes Jackson's feat a slightly less savory accomplishment than, say, Bill Buckner's in Game 6 of the 1986 World Series.
After Jackson's big game, Red Sox lefty Bill Lee said, "I think there are going to be a lot of Reggies born in this town." But come on -- how many Reginald Martinez Schwartzes were really born in 1977? Ten? A hundred? It's far more delicious to contemplate the number of New England newborns not named Bill or William during the long, icy winter of 1986.
Many goats don't deserve their horns. I think often of Heinie Zimmerman as an example of a bad man who got the right punishment for the wrong reason. Zimmerman played for the Cubs and Giants from 1907 through 1919, at which point he was released with the understanding that he was no longer welcome due to allegations of game-fixing. "Allegations" is not quite the right word; Zimmerman was palling around with Hal Chase, the patron saint of crooked ballplayers, who was also on the team, and they weren't subtle about what they were trying to do -- Zimmerman's typical pitch was to approach a player and say, "Here's $100. Lose." At his peak, Zimmerman, a third baseman, was a very good player. He didn't walk much, but hit as high as .371 with power. He was never formally banned, but it wasn't necessary; it was understood that a good hitter who is working against you might be of less value than a bad hitter who is working for you.
Zimmerman played on three pennant winners. The last, the 1917 Giants, faced the Chicago White Sox in the World Series. He had a miserable October. Having led the National League in RBI, he went 3-for-25 in six games, driving in no runs. As you might have guessed from that, this was the World Series the Black Sox guys actually won. Zimmerman got the blame for a botched rundown in the decisive Game 6. The game was scoreless through three innings. Leading off to open the top of the fourth, Chicago's Eddie Collins reached when Zimmerman heaved his grounder past first base. Shoeless Joe Jackson followed and popped up to right field. Dave Robertson dropped it, putting runners on first and third. Hap Felsch tapped back to the mound. Collins broke for the plate and was trapped. The ball wound up in Zimmerman's hands at third; he chased Collins back towards home plate, prepared to throw the ball -- and there was no one there. Zimmerman could only run after the speedy Collins as he scampered across home plate.
Somehow that one run in a game the Giants lost 4-2 made Zimmerman the scapegoat of the entire Series. Zimmerman earned any grief he got -- not only did he sell out his team, but in his post-career phase he was a business partner with the gangster Dutch Schultz, the kind of swell guy who once took his revenge on a former compatriot by rubbing bandages smeared with syphilis-infected pus in his eyes, so if he had a few bad nights as a result of the play, it's too damned bad. Still, he had a point when he asked, "Who was I supposed to throw it to? [Home plate umpire Bill] Klem?" Karma, as the old saying goes, is a bitch.
Compared to Zimmerman, Buckner or Will Middlebrooks or Kolten Wong were as innocent as a babies; the worst Buckner could be accused of was being old and arthritic, his presence on the field at the wrong moment due to his manager's incompetence, while Wong was even more blameless, having leaned the wrong way and slipped attempting to correct himself. In his analysis of the biblical Book of Job in his God: A Biography, Jack Miles, having reviewed the arc of Job's story, that of a righteous man picked out for complete devastation and, having had the temerity to question the appropriateness of this fate, is rebuked with a non-sequitur soliloquy from above the gist of which is, "Who are you to ask me to justify myself?" notes the words notes attributed to the Almighty in Zephaniah 1:12: "I will punish the men who rest untroubled... who say to themselves, ‘The Lord will do nothing, good or bad.'" "The counterclaim, the scandalous truth that the Book of Job places in evidence," Miles concludes, is not ‘The Lord will do only good'; it is, ‘The Lord will do good, and he will do ill.'"
Stephen Drew (Ronald Martinez)
Eddie Cicotte, the great White Sox pitcher who was one of the prime movers behind the 1919 World Series fate, could have been commenting on this same duality when late in his life he said, "The Lord must have known when he made the world round that nothing in it would ever be on the square." There is a hint of an excuse there, and maybe Knuckles Cicotte deserved one -- if you knew that your teammates intended to give a World Series to the gamblers, that it might happen whether you participated or not, and you had, as Cicotte later said, a "wife and kiddies" that you were supporting inadequately due to Charles Comiskey's tightwad ways, wouldn't you grab a piece of the action?
It's easy for us, sitting here nearly 100 years later, to say no, that we would find another way to pay the bills, retain our ethics and go through life unstained. We say that Cicotte condemned himself, that he was the architect of his own fate, but he both was and wasn't. That's one of the lessons of Job, one of the truths of an existence in which children die of cancer and bullet wounds and the wicked prosper. Things just happen. Sometimes there are no good choices, and sometimes your choices are irrelevant. You get what you get whether you deserve it or not.
The World Series loves goats. It hungers for them, fanged mouth yawning wide beneath every player who dreams of hitting the big home run, throwing the fastball for the clutch K. They walk a tightrope across the chasm of ignominy and humiliation. We play along, eager sadists, but we're really just a roll of the cosmic dice from falling ourselves. Jeer at Wong, Stephen Drew, Jon Jay, and the rest at your own risk -- it's your turn soon.
The only rational reaction to an unfair universe is compassion.
"Bad karma thing to do" from Too Much Joy's "Making Fun of Bums." They were right.