by | Oct 21, 1994 | Detroit Free Press | 0 comments

WAHIAWA, Hawaii — The coffee pot was nearly empty by the time the last players staggered down to breakfast.

“Ohhhhh man,” Lenny Dysktra moaned, rubbing his eyes.

Kirk Gibson sniffed as he filled his cup. “I hope I can see the ball this early.”

It was 7:30 a.m., and already, half a mile away, a small crowd of spectators was gathered near the lush green playing field in the shadow of the Waianae mountains, where two dozen players — mostly major leaguers — soon would arrive, players who had vowed to finish their Secret World Series on their own terms.

They would play until a champion was crowned.

If it took all day and night.

Financial forces be damned

It was the only way, they had decided.

“We can’t let them ruin everything,” Cal Ripken had said Wednesday night in a frantic group meeting after news leaked that the Series was being played here in Hawaii, and the financial forces of baseball — owners, union officials, marketing people, TV networks — boarded planes for the island. Heck, they were probably here already, determined to shut down these games.

Donald Fehr had declared the Secret Series “treason to the brothers of baseball,” claiming it weakened the strike. The owners called it a “violation of all contracts” because they weren’t seeing a dime. ABC said “either we televise it, or we sue for damages.” And the licensing people wanted all rights to sweatshirts, T-shirts and other souvenirs.

“Jeez, all we wanted to do was make sure there was a World Series this year,” Jim Abbott said.

“Once they find us, we’re history,” Don Mattingly noted.

“We could keep moving,” Ozzie Smith suggested. “Maybe get to another island.”

“I don’t think so,” said Mike Kelly, the Hawaii native and great-grandson of King Kelly, the early-baseball legend. “By tomorrow night, they’ll be so many people offering so much money, no place will be remote enough.”

“We could nuke ’em,” Dykstra said.

“What is it with you and nuking people?” Ken Griffey asked.

“Hey, dude, we’re history. If we’re lucky, we have one day left before we lose control of this Series.”

“That’s right. And we’re tied, two games apiece.”

“You guys could forfeit.”

“You forfeit!”

From the back of the room, a voice said, “I have an idea.”

Everyone turned to Ernie Banks, who had been sitting quietly, listening to the wind. Banks — who had never gotten to play in a World Series — had become a sort of guru to this affair, watching the games from both benches, sharing stories, absorbing every minute. He gazed at ribbons of pink sunset in the darkening sky.

“Looks like a beautiful day tomorrow,” he said, breaking into a familiar smile.

“Let’s play three.” First pitch: 8:05 a.m.

And so it was on Oct. 20, 1994, Game 5 of the World Series began at 8:05 a.m., in the hazy morning sunshine, and before the day was done a champion would be crowned and victorious songs would echo through these canyons — but for now it was, “Good morning, batter up!” Tony Gwynn of the National League walked out, perhaps the first time in World Series history the leadoff man was yawning.

“Maybe he’s too tired to hit,” whispered Buck O’Neil, the 82-year-old American League manager.

Nope. Gwynn, blinking as he swung, laced the first pitch down the rightfield line for a long single. It should have been a double, but nobody runs very fast this early.

With that hit, by the way, Gwynn was 17-for-17, the best offensive World Series ever.

“Forget it, Rog!” Alan Trammell yelled to his pitcher, Roger Clemens.
“Let’s double up this next guy. Hum babe, hum babe, hum babe.”

Clemens nodded, reached back, then stopped. He looked up at the sound of a distant engine that was growing louder in the sky. Gwynn looked up, too, and so did the others, Trammell, Griffey, Kirk Gibson, Barry Bonds, Mitch Williams, Julie Croteau, Yogi Berra, all of them.

O’Neil saw them first. He exhaled deeply.

“Helicopters,” he whispered. Here come the bad guys

As this was going on, the baggage claim area of Honolulu International Airport was like something out of baseball’s central casting. Fehr, Richard Ravitch, 17 major league owners, including George Steinbrenner (of the Yankees, who employ Mattingly), and Jerry Reinsdorf (of the White Sox, who employ Michael Jordan), Dan Rather and Connie Chung from CBS, Tim McCarver and Jim Palmer from ABC, two dozen people from Major League Baseball Licensing, with cartons of souvenirs loaded behind them — all of these folks were throwing themselves into limousines and taxis and yelling directions across car roofs.

“Take us to the cemetery where that Alexander Cartwright is buried,” Steinbrenner barked at the limo driver. “The field has to be near there. Hurry up, or I’ll fire you!”

“But I don’t work for you,” the stunned driver said.

“Then I’ll buy the company you work for and fire you! Now MOVE!” Ketcham’s big moment

By 10 a.m., Game 5 was in the seventh inning, with the American League leading, 8-5, thanks to a two-run homer by Mattingly and a bases-loaded double by, of all people, Clemens.

The good news was, the helicopters had gone away. They came over the mountain and then abruptly turned around. “Lucky break,” Ripken said, although we all were a little suspicious.

Not so lucky was Clemens’ left knee. He had bruised it sliding into second on his double, and it was swelling beneath his uniform. He sat with ice between innings, but by the eighth he was limping with every pitch.

O’Neil, as manager, was faced with a tough decision. He had only Nolan Ryan, who was scheduled to pitch the next game — which would begin in an hour — or Abbott, who had pitched eight innings the day before, or Lee Anne Ketcham, the female walk-on from the Silver Bullets.

Logic would have dictated going with the major league guys, no matter what. But O’Neil took one look at Ketcham, whose eyes said, “I can do this,” and he remembered all the days in his career when they said baseball wasn’t ready for his type.

“Start warming up,” he told Ketcham. “Just in case Roger can’t make it.”

In the top of the ninth, Clemens summoned everything he had. He was actually grunting between pitches. He got Dykstra to foul out on a change-up and got Mike Piazza on a fly to deep left. Matt Williams would have been the final out — had he not smoked a Clemens fastball over the rightfield fence.

“BLEEP IT!” Clemens yelled. “BLEEP! BLEEPIN’ BLEEP!”

In the stands, mothers put their hands over their children’s ears.

The score was 8-6. Bonds swaggered to the plate. “You got nothin’ left, Roger,” he taunted. “You got nothin’ leffffft.”

Clemens fumed. But Bonds was right. He sat on the first pitch — maybe an 80-m.p.h. fastball — and whacked it over Jordan’s head in rightfield, about 50 feet over his head.

“Here we come, baby!” Bonds yelled, rounding the bases.

It was 8-7.

“Time!” O’Neil hollered. He rose from the bench, stepped over the white line, took a breath and nodded.

Out came Clemens, cursing.

And in went Lee Anne Ketcham. Thanks, Junior

Now I would like to tell you that Ketcham mowed down the next batter, winning the game and scoring a blow for equal rights, women’s sports and the free world.

But that would not be true.

What Ketcham did was throw four straight high balls to Ryne Sandberg, and four straight low balls to Ozzie Smith, and two straight outside pitches to Pokey Reese, followed by a foul ball, followed by two more outside pitches.

She loaded the bases on walks.

The crowd groaned.

“Damn it, Buck,” Ryan mumbled on the bench, “put me in there before she blows the dang game.”

The other American Leaguers were thinking the same thing. Gibson spit on the ground and shook his head. Griffey waved at O’Neil as if to say, “Come on, already!”

O’Neil walked out to the mound. He took the ball from Ketcham and she looked down, exhaled and started to walk off.

“Where you going?” O’Neil asked.

She stopped. He stood there, rubbing the ball slowly.

“You know, when I was playing back in the old Negro leagues, we used to travel with nine players in one car. We had to sit with our arms reaching across one another just to make room. Four-hour drive, five-hour drive. We’d get out, stretch, then get back in with our arms the other way.

“We didn’t do it for a cause, we didn’t do it for race, politics or none of that stuff. We did it because we wanted to play. We were hungry.

“If you ask me, being hungry is the best quality a ballplayer can have. Don’t you think?”

He half-smiled, then handed the ball back to her.

“I was just cleaning it off for you.”

And so, at 11:28 a.m., under a partly cloudy Hawaiian sky, Lee Anne Ketcham threw this pitch to Jose Rijo: a low slider over the plate. Rijo pounded the ball high toward centerfield, and the runners took off, circling the bases. Two of them crossing the plate before Griffey reached the fence. The ball was coming down, fans were on their feet, Griffey bounded into the links, ricocheted up and caught the ball at the top of his trajectory.

He landed, feet first, like a kid jumping from a low tree. He held the ball over his head.

Game over. Americans win, 8-7. They were one win from the title.


Ketcham was mobbed by her teammates. They hoisted her in celebration.


“Jesus, I’m lifting a woman pitcher!” Gibson yelled, half in jest.
“This is the damnedest World Bleepin’ Series!”

Ketcham looked across at O’Neil as a single teardrop fell.

His, not hers. Sorry, George

“Can’t you go any faster?” Steinbrenner was yelling. His limo was the first in a fleet that looked like a dozen presidential motorcades. They were winding their way from Nuuanu cemetery, up Highway 99, and across the Waikele River, as the white hotels of Honolulu faded into the landscape of these tropical islands. The sign read: “Wahiawa three miles.”

“This is the only place I can think of where a guy could fit a ballfield on his property,” the driver said. “But I gotta tell you, I never saw one.”

“Just keep driving,” Steinbrenner said. “When I get ahold of Mattingly, I’m gonna shake him upside down for every nickel I ever paid him.”

Two cars back, Fehr was barking into his cellular phone. “That’s right, operator, a Mike Kelly . . . Impossible! . . . What are you talking about? . .
. Oh, for bleep’s sake!”

He threw the phone across the seat. “She said there’s no Mike Kelly listed on the entire island.” No time for reflections

Back on the field, the players took a 20-minute intermission before starting Game 6. Each night we had been getting together for a barbecue on Kelly’s back patio, and the accomplishments of the Series were reviewed and debated. Since I was in charge of recording everything — that was how I got invited, remember? — and since time now was precious, I gave the teams a brief synopsis of where they stood after five of the best games ever to squeeze under the marquee “Fall Classic.”

“Griffey and Matt Williams are leading the home-run battle . . .

Michael, unfortunately — “

“Don’t even say it,” Jordan said.

Everyone knew he was on a record pace for errors and strikeouts. But he managed to grin, and that made everyone feel better.

“Pokey Reese, your unassisted triple play was the second in World Series history. Congratulations.”

The minor leaguer smiled shyly and looked down as Rijo slapped him on the back.

“And Tony Gwynn — you, Cowboy, are breaking every record known to man.”

The players laughed and rolled their eyes. Gwynn was batting 1.000. What more could you say?

“Come on, Tony, let us touch your bat,” Griffey, Mattingly, Trammell and Bonds said, getting on their knees.

“No way,” said Gwynn, who had taken to sleeping with the tan Louisville slugger model. “Nobody touches this baby.”

“Uh, guys, I hate to rush you,” Mike Kelly said. “But this ain’t that big an island.”

They nodded and grabbed their gloves and caps. The players took the field in businesslike fashion, and the crowd — I’m guessing 300, the biggest yet — applauded loudly. I looked at the big manual scoreboard the players had built Sunday and the uniforms they wore with no names or numbers. They were playing during the day. They were not getting paid.

It struck me how far backward we had gone in five days.

Or forward. The King’s last slide

By the way, speaking of Kelly, I did some research. And Buck O’Neil was right. The original King Kelly died almost exactly 100 years ago. He was still a young man, but he had been fired from his baseball job for drinking too much. He was reduced to traveling around the country in burlesque shows, reciting “Casey at the Bat.”

In 1894, he caught pneumonia and was taken to a Boston hospital. There, while being carried on a stretcher, the man who made sliding famous was somehow dropped by the orderlies. He rolled down the stairs. Injured and ill, he managed to make his last notable remark.

“That,” he whispered, “was my last slide.”

Three days later, he was dead.

Weird, huh? But true. Oh, no! The blimp

Game 6 of the Secret Series officially began at 12:01 p.m., Hawaiian time, with reliever Mitch Williams again starting for the National League and 47-year-old Nolan Ryan throwing for the American. After three innings, the score was 2-2, and after five innings, it was 5-5. Matt Williams had two home runs. Griffey had one. As the players came out for the sixth, nerves were tightening. The Series could be nearing the end.

Bonds pointed to the sky.

“Uh-oh,” he said. “Check it out.”

The Goodyear blimp. Tell the suits it’s over

“Ask this guy! Ask this guy!” ABC president Dennis Swanson yelled from the back of his limo. ABC, NBC, CBS and TNT were in a race of their own to get cameras set and begin broadcasting. Like the owners and union officials, they also were racing through the mountainous roads outside Wahiawa in search of the Kelly ballfield. The limo driver had no idea how close he was when he came upon a squat old man with a large nose sitting in a beach chair at the bottom of a road, a sombrero pulled over his eyes.

“Hey, buddy, does this road go to the Kelly place?”

“Never heard of him,” the man said from under his hat.

“You know of any baseball fields around here?”

“Never heard of baseball.”

“Baseball! You know, bats and balls, Mickey Mantle?”

“Never heard of Mickey Mantle.”

Swanson leaned forward. “Forget this geezer. Let’s drive up there and look for ourselves.”

“Me no do that,” the man said.

“Why not?”

“This a volcano.”

“A volcano? What the hell are you doing here then?”

“Waiting for big explosion.”

The man paused. “Me like explosions.”

Swanson looked at his driver. “Turn around,” he ordered.

The limo turned around, and so did the dozen vehicles behind it. As they pulled away, Swanson was yelling, “When we find these players, their little charade is over!”

Under the hat, Yogi Berra smiled.

“It ain’t over till it’s over,” he whispered. OK, the REAL last slide

This is how the World Series of 1994 ended. There might be some disputes, but I was there, and I’m telling you what I saw:

In the bottom of the ninth, the National League led, 6-5. It looked as if the Faux Classic would go to seven games — if it wasn’t shut down first. The blimp was still overhead, and the approaching sound of helicopters was increasing every moment. The American League had the bottom of the order due up — catcher Mike Kelly, batting .050, pitcher Nolan Ryan, hitless in the Series, and Jordan, who was setting a record for strikeouts.

“Piece of cake, Mitchie,” Ozzie Smith sang from his shortstop position.
“Hum it, baby, hum it, baby, hum it.”

Williams hummed it — and Kelly hummed it right back. A solid shot to the gap in rightfield — his first hit since the fluke home run in Game 1. Gwynn played it badly off the fence, and Kelly went to third with a stand-up triple.

“C’mon, Tony, gimme some defense,” Williams implored. “I ain’t losing another World Series, OK?”

Ryan came to the plate, and Williams smoked a fastball past him, strike one. He came back with the change-up, and Ryan was so fooled, he swung wildly, spun around and fell on the plate. “Eeeyow!” he yelled. A groin pull. Bad one. His teammates helped him off.

“I’m getting too old for this,” Ryan said.

With no reserve hitters, O’Neil had no choice.

“Abbott,” he said. “Just get up there and . . . whatever.”

Abbott took a bat and went to the plate. I guess most people assume, since he was born with only one hand, that Abbott’s hitting is nonexistent. That’s not true; his senior year at Flint Central, he hit six homers and batted over
.400. And when he came to the plate, he shot a glance down third base to Kelly. Wait. Did he smile?

The pitch came in — and Abbott wheeled and bunted, a perfect bunt down the third-base line. Kelly, who saw it coming, got a jump and was chugging home, a suicide squeeze. Williams yelled, “Ohhhh, bleep!” as he dashed for the ball, scooped it up barehanded and whipped it to Mike Piazza, who seemed to have the plate covered. Then Kelly — whose great- grandfather inspired the song “Slide, Kelly, Slide” — did something I’ve never seen before. He whipped himself like a boomerang — as he slid — and curled around Piazza, who was so startled that he barely attempted a tag.

“Where’d he go?” Piazza said.

“SAFE!” the ump called.

The bench went nuts. Nobody had ever seen anything like that. Mattingly, Trammell, Griffey, Ripken high-fived and whooped as the crowd stood up to applaud the whirling dervish, Mike Kelly.

“You’re the King!” Mattingly yelled. “King Kelly!”

The score was tied. I was sitting closest as Kelly walked back, dusting himself off. He looked to the sky and he mouthed something, and while most people thought he was giving thanks, I tell you, truly, this is what he said:

“Now that,” he whispered to the heavens, “was my last slide.” Jordan rules

And now Jordan came to bat. He swung badly at the first pitch, took two more for balls, and then made about the worst swing I’ve ever seen, actually losing his grip on the bat. It flew toward the bleachers, barely missing the guy who sells grilled chicken and poi. It didn’t miss his grill, however. It knocked the thing over. When Jordan retrieved the bat, it was not only chipped, it was covered in sauce.

“Uh, anybody got a spare?” he said.

What followed was either the nicest or dumbest thing a World Series player ever did. Gwynn, Mr. Perfection, called time from the outfield. He jogged in and got his special, tan, Louisville slugger model.

He handed it to a startled Jordan.

“Why?” was all Jordan could say. “Why me?”

“Cause you stood by the game,” Gwynn said. “We shoulda done the same.”

Does it shock you, then, that Jordan dug his cleats and tightened his fingers around that bat and bent his knees and cocked his head and finally, finally got that look he always had when he was playing basketball and a last shot needed to be made? And Williams threw a pitch that was remarkably similar to one he threw last year about this time, to a fellow named Joe Carter, and Jordan stroked it on a clean shot up, up and away.

Home run. The final note.

“AAAAARRRGGGH!” Jordan yelled, dancing like a man sprung from a maximum security prison. Final score: 8-6. Americans take the Series, four games to two.

Every game went down to the wire. Every game had a different hero. The 1994 season could go in the books. There was a world champion, after all.

“We did it, baby! We won!” the American players yelled, and they were quickly joined by the National Leaguers, who chanted, “We finished! We finished!” They waved up at the Goodyear blimp. “Nice try!” they yelled. Buck O’Neil was in tears. Yogi came running in, still wearing his sombrero, yelling, “That’s the greatest thing I never saw!” The players, from Abbott to Ripken to Julie Croteau to Pokey Reese to Bonds, Griffey, Williams, Dykstra, faces of today, tomorrow and yesterday formed a big line and bowed to the crowd, all 300 of them, which was clapping and whistling, the sound echoing into the valley.

“Hey, how about it for the man with the field!” Ripken yelled. “Give a hand, folks, to Mike Kelly!”

Everybody looked.

Kelly was gone. Baseball, the right way

Midnight Thursday. Well, by now, you’ve probably seen the TV accounts. The owners, union officials, merchandisers and TV execs finally found their way up the road and came upon a ballfield, but it was empty and bare.

The Oahu authorities say the land in that area is a public park, and there is no record of a Kelly ever owning any of it.

The Goodyear blimp people tried desperately to air the few minutes of footage they shot, but apparently they were too far up. All you could see were the field and some bodies — or at least they looked like bodies. They might have been birds.

As for the players, well, they managed to get off the island without being mobbed. Don’t ask me how. The last time I saw them, minutes after the game, they were jumping in three brown vans. Gibson and Trammell, who had invited me on this crazy experience, stopped me at the door.

“The deal’s done,” they said, smiling. “This is where we part company.”

I stepped back, a little stunned, but I guess I understood. And then, because I couldn’t think of anything else to say, I said, “Thank you.”

“Just tell them what happened,” they said.

And the van was gone.

In the hours that followed, nearly every inch of the area was examined. Only two significant things were discovered:

At the Nuuanu gravesite of Alexander Cartwright, the man who really invented baseball and who spread the joy of the game from the Atlantic to the Pacific — a tan bat, Louisville slugger model, was found leaning against the tombstone.

And inside a large farmhouse near the mysterious ballfield, of all things, a fax machine.

Years from now, they’ll debate whether this Series should count, whether it gets an asterisk, whether it is ignored as some sort of crazy stunt by deranged players. You know what? Talk doesn’t matter. This might not have been the real World Series, but it was the only one we had. And for those of us who were there, it was every wonderful thing baseball is supposed to be.

You could look it up.

Well, maybe . . . CUTLINE: Michael Jordan struck a familiar pose after his Series-winning home run in the bottom of the ninth Thursday. Tony Gwynn let Jordan use his bat because he
“stood by the game. We shoulda done the same.” Don Mattingly leaps on Jim Abbott, who scored the Series’ winning run after a clutch suicide squeeze bunt. Ernie Banks, finally experiencing a Series title, is close behind. Yankees owner George Steinbrenner tests the water as a contingent of union officials, agents, network executives and other intruders land off the coast of Hawaii. That’s owners negotiator Richard Ravitch in the foreground; union leader Donald Fehr is at far right, directly behind Steinbrenner. Ken Griffey Jr., the Series home-run leader, made a game-saving catch to end Game 5. The tombstone of Alexander Joy Cartwright — a prominent force in the founding of baseball — is adorned with the bat of Tony Gwynn at Oahu Cemetery in Nuuanu, Hawaii. Cartwright died in Honolulu in 1892.


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Mitch Albom writes about running an orphanage in impoverished Port-au-Prince, Haiti, his kids, their hardships, laughs and challenges, and the life lessons he’s learned there every day.

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