High and Tight: Our Rock & Roll Baseball Experts on the One Game They Would Love to Have Seen - Rolling Stone
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High and Tight: Our Rock & Roll Baseball Experts on the One Game They Would Love to Have Seen

Steve Earle, Tom Morello, Handsome Dick Manitoba and more weigh in on America’s pastime

mark fidrychmark fidrych

Mark Fidrych of the Detroit Tigers

Tony Tomsic/MLB Photos via Getty Images

Imagine for a moment that you’re searching for baseball tickets online – StubHub, Craigslist, wherever – when suddenly you come across the following listing:

“Baseball Time Machine! Choose one game from the entire history of Major League Baseball, and we’ll take you there to watch it in person!”

You contact the poster and somehow determine that this miraculous offer is indeed 100 percent real. For a diehard baseball fan, such an offer would be the equivalent of finding Willie Wonka’s golden ticket – only about a million times cooler. But if you could only pick a single game, which one would you choose?

For this writer, it would have to be the Yankees-Tigers contest at Tiger Stadium on June 28th, 1976. No records were set during this game, and its outcome had zero influence on the AL East pennant race that year. It was simply the game which turned Tigers rookie Mark “The Bird” Fidrych into a rock star.

A gangly, goofy, shaggy-haired, Grateful Dead-loving pitcher from Worcester, MA, the 21 year-old Fidrych had already electrified Detroit fans by winning seven of his first eight starts, and word of his unorthodox pitching approach — which involved dropping to his knee at the beginning of an inning to smooth out the mound with his hands, verbally instructing the ball how to behave and giddily congratulating his fielders after they’d made good plays – had slowly begun to spread beyond Michigan’s borders. But in the pre-Internet, pre-cable package world of 1976, it took network television to introduce Fidrych to a national audience. And on the evening of June 28th, ABC’s Monday Night Baseball did just that.

During the pre-game introductions and the early innings, the ABC broadcast team of Bob Prince, Warner Wolf and Bob Uecker detailed Fidrych’s eccentricities in amused tones, as if he were some sort of wacky TV sitcom character come to life. But as the game progressed, they – along with the Yankees and the millions of viewers watching at home – began to realize that “The Bird” (so nicknamed for his resemblance to Sesame Street’s Big Bird) was the real deal. For all of his charismatic antics, Fidrych was all business on the mound, scattering seven hits and walking no one in a spectacularly efficient 5-1 complete game takedown of the same Billy Martin-led team that would win the American League pennant that year. By the time the final out was registered, Fidrych had become a national hero.

You can still see clips of the game on YouTube, and – unlike so many other games of the era – the full broadcast exists on DVD. But to actually witness the game in person, to be among the 47,000-plus Tigers fans who refused to go home until “The Bird” came out for a curtain call, to hear and feel their jubilant roars reverberating around the ancient ballpark, to see Fidrych humbled and overwhelmed by the profound joy of the moment. . . that would really be something beautiful. All the more so with the poignant hindsight that the game essentially represented the very peak of Fidrych’s brief career; though he’d finish the season with a 19-9 record and a 2.34 ERA, win the AL Rookie of the Year award, and even become the first athlete to get his face on the cover of Rolling Stone, injuries would ultimately prevent “The Bird” from fully living up to the potential he showed that night.

This week, we ask our esteemed panel of rock & roll seamheads: If you could travel back in time and attend one specific major league ballgame, which one would it be?

Name: Scott McCaughey
The Baseball Project, The Minus 5, Young Fresh Fellows
Guitar, Vocals

Great question, and so tough to answer! I could name hundreds, but I’ll go with the famous “Merkle’s Boner” New York Giants-Chicago Cubs tilt of September 23rd, 1908. Not only did it have controversy and a near riot, but it ultimately decided what was probably the greatest pennant race of all time. With Christy Mathewson on the hill, no less. And more than anything, to see a game of that era, over a hundred years ago, would just be so fascinating. It’d be amazing to find out how different – or hardly different at all – baseball was back then.

Name: Steve Earle
Vocals, Guitar

Game 7 of the 1952 World Series – New York Yankees vs. Brooklyn Dodgers, Ebbets Field, Brooklyn. Micky Mantle, at the height of his powers, comes up big with a homer in the sixth and an RBI single in the seventh. In the Dodgers’ seventh, with the bases loaded, Billy Martin saves the game and the Yanks’ fourth consecutive world championship with a hard-charging shoelace catch.

george thorogood

Name: George Thorogood
Band: George Thorogood and the Destroyers
Position: Vocals, Guitar

July 2nd, 1963, the Milwaukee Braves against the San Francisco Giants at Candlestick Park. A 16-inning game, a 1-0 shutout with only two pitchers used – Warren Spahn and Juan Marichal, both future Hall of Fame players. The game also included future Hall of Famers Eddie Mathews, Hank Aaron, Orlando Cepeda, Willie McCovey and Willie Mays, and Mays won it in the bottom of the 16th with a home run. A perfect ending to probably the greatest pitched game ever.

Name: Steve Wynn
The Baseball Project
Vocals, Guitar

There are so many – Babe Ruth’s called shot in 1932 (did he or didn’t he?) stands out. But I’d have to choose the Sandy Koufax perfect game at Dodger Stadium in L.A. on September 9th, 1965. I actually lived about 10 minutes from the stadium at the time so I COULD have been there, but I was only five years old and couldn’t figure out how to drive the car. But it just feels like the right time in the right city to see my all-time favorite player in his absolute prime pitching his best game. Ah, I can almost see it in my head, which I guess is the next best thing to being there.

Name: Tom Morello
Band: The Nightwatchman, Street Sweeper Social Club, Rage Against the Machine
Guitar, Vocals

Well, that’s a split decision. I would like to have been there in 1908, the last time the Cubs won the World Series with Tinker, Evers and Chance. Or I would like to revisit a game I was actually at, Game 6 of the 2003 NLCS. Knowing what I know now, early in the game I would have pulled Steve Bartman out of that seat like a bad tooth.

Name: Handsome Dick Manitoba

Sandy Koufax’s Game 7 win in the 1965 World Series, a 2-0 shutout thrown on two days’ rest, after shutting out the Twins 7-0 in his previous WS start. In a book I read on Koufax, Dodger catcher John Roseboro said that Sandy had no curveball that day, “just” his fastball. A complete game shutout, TWO DAYS’ REST, one pitch, against a mighty hitting team in the seventh game of a World Series. . . YUP, THAT’S THE ONE FOR ME!

joe pernice

Name: Joe Pernice
Band: Pernice Brothers
Vocals, Guitar

I would have liked to witness the final game of the 1949 season between the Red Sox and Yankees. They were tied for first. It came down to one game. Loser plays golf. My teenage father was at that game, cheering for the Yankees (who would win the game). If I had been there I would have grabbed my old man by the neck and said, “What kind of piss-poor example are you trying to set for me? No wonder I’m going to waste my life writing books and making records.”

Name: Pete Yorn
Vocals, Guitar

June 12th, 1970. I would love to sit front row right behind the catcher for the Dock Ellis perfect game on acid.

alice cooper

Name: Alice Cooper
Position: Vocals

Ty Cobb. I would love to have seen Ty Cobb do anything. Anybody that held most of the hitting records in the American League must have been one hell of a player to watch.

Dale Earnhardt jr jr

Name: Joshua Epstein
Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr.
Vocals, Keyboards

Any game with Ty Cobb would be amazing to watch. I wanna see the cleat-slashing in person. Mean people are always entertaining.

Name: Ken Casey
Dropkick Murphys
Bass guitar, Vocals

Game 6 of the 1975 World Series had everything: Bernie Carbo’s three-run blast in bottom of the eighth made it 6-6, then Dick Drago got nine out of 10 Reds out from the ninth inning through the end of the 11th, then Carlton Fisk hit his immortal line drive home run off Pat Darcy in the 12th. One of baseball’s finest games ever played, according to both Carl Yastrzemski and Pete Rose.

Name: Scott Ian

Game 5 of the 1956 World Series – a.k.a. Don Larsen’s perfect game.

vinnie paul

Name: Vinnie Paul
Hellyeah, Pantera

I’m into the now. . . so I’m lookin’ forward to goin’ to all the World Series games this year with my Texas Rangers and whoever makes it from the NL. Hellyeah!!!

Dan Epstein’s book, Big Hair and Plastic Grass: A Funky Ride Through Baseball and America in the Swinging ’70s, is now available in paperback.


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