WORLD SERIES, DAY THREE, GAME FOUR
ATLANTA — Before I talk about Wednesday night’s game, or about my newfound appreciation for country music, which they play all the time down here, including my personal favorite — “She Called Herself a Georgia Peach, But All I Got Was the Pits” — I guess I should tell you about my reunion with Jack Morris, our old Detroit pitching pal, whose very presence makes reporters break out in hives. Personally, I always got along with Jack, mostly because, when he called me a jackass, I called him one back. But I hadn’t seen him since he’d left Detroit. I’d missed his return to Tiger Stadium in May, when he gave up seven runs in the first inning and, naturally, screamed at the media. “You wouldn’t be talking to me if I won! You’re only here because I lost!”
It was this sort of cheery attitude — along with his constant money complaints — that made Tigers fans, when they learned Morris was jumping ship to Minnesota after all those years in Detroit, respond this way: “So? What’s for dinner?”
Morris was sitting by his locker. I approached.
“I had enough of people blaming me for everything.”
Sneer. “What do you think?”
Moon over Osaka
OK. Maybe it was a stupid question, since Morris already has three post-season victories and is hailed as the missing ingredient that made the Twins click. I sure hope, with all that spotlight, he has learned to dress better than he did in Detroit. Jack’s wardrobe, which included a mink coat, leather pants, a green sports coat, and cowboy boots, always made him look, to me anyhow, like a cross between a pimp and Buffalo Bob. “Man makes all that money, still dresses like that?” a teammate once said, sighing.
But I did not ask Jack about his clothes. It’s hard to explore such topics with 400 reporters stampeding toward a naked relief pitcher to ask whether it was a slider or a curve that the batter hit halfway to Texas. Dumb questions? I saw Greg Olson being interviewed by a Japanese TV man, who asked, through a translator, whether Greg would show the audience how limber he was.
“OK,” Olson said. And he bent over, pulled his head through his legs, and, from under his butt, looked up at the camera and said, “How’s this?”
I’m sure they loved it in Osaka.
This reminds me: Wednesday I touched on the difference between the baseball “poets” (who could romanticize tobacco juice) and us regular reporters. Another example: The poets, who follow the game all year, as well as in their sleep, get to sit in the real press box during the World Series, while the rest of us are sent to a makeshift section way out in deep right field, upper deck. They call this the Auxiliary Box. I call it Nicaragua.
On Tuesday night, when Game 3 went into extra innings, the press box poets could hardly control their typing fingers:
“It’s like Chicago-Detroit in 1907!”
“Like Fred Snodgrass dropping the ball in 1912!”
“Oh . . . rapture!”
Meanwhile, out in the Auxiliary Box, writers were glaring at their watches, watching deadline and, more important, last call at the hotel bar disappear. “COME ON, JERK!’ they yelled at each batter, “HIT THE BLEEPING THING OUT AND GET THIS OVER WITH!”
But back to Morris.
Once upon a time, Jack was just another hot prospect coming out of high school in Minnesota. And once upon a time, John Smoltz, who pitched opposite Morris Wednesday night, was a just another hot prospect coming out of high school in Lansing. One man signed both of them to their first professional contracts. On Wednesday afternoon, that man was sitting in the lobby of the Marriott Marquis Hotel, his legs crossed, a drink on the table in front of him.
“So I guess we have you to blame for tonight’s game?” I said.
“Yeah,” said Bill Lajoie, “they ought to let me throw out the first ball.”
Call it the Lajoie matchup
Maybe they should. It was Lajoie’s instincts that helped nudge these guys toward stardom, although — unlike some baseball men who say, “I knew the kid was great the minute he tied his shoes” — Lajoie confesses Morris and Smoltz were just good guesses. “You never know what’s gonna happen after you sign them,” he said.
What happened, of course, is that both blossomed, both started in the World Series Wednesday night, and neither works for the Tigers anymore. Nor does Lajoie. More reasons to feel good about Detroit baseball.
But we are not here for that. We are here to ask the most important question of the day: Who in the heck is Mark Lemke, and why is he winning the World Series all by himself?
The answer can be found by bending over looking up from between your legs and asking a Japanese translator. Which is where I’m heading now. NEXT: GAME 5, OR BRAVES NEW WORLD.