The Greatest Team in Baseball

Please Enjoy A Short Story by George L. Duncan

The Greatest Team in Baseball - By George L. Duncan

    Even sitting six rows back of home plate, we heard the loud smack when Bob Gibson’s fast ball crashed into the catcher’s glove. The Red Sox home crowd groaned. They had a right to be in anguish. Two men were on base but Gibson had dominated the 1967 World Series series, winning the first two games he pitched. He’d win this game too. The batter would strike out.
     He glared toward the plate, twisting the ball in his hand for the next pitch. Gibson pitched the way Marines hit beaches. If a batter got too close to the plate, he brushed him back and didn’t care if the ball bounced off him. He didn’t just look at a batter. His red-eyed predator stare was akin to a wolf licking his chops when spotting a barnyard chicken.
    The ball zoomed toward the plate. Batter Reggie Smith was a rookie and hadn’t seen anyone like Bob Gibson in the minor leagues. Nevertheless, his bat connected solidly on the curve ball and it soared toward the seats. The crowd yelled in delight and half the fans leaped to their feet, cheering the ball as it sailed. A few feet over and it would have bounced off the Green Monster, assuring Smith a double. But it took just enough of an angle to sail over the center field fence.
   The crowd roared again. Tens of thousands of people clapped as Smith rounded the bases. His run made the score 5-2 in favor of the Red Sox.
    I didn’t cheer. I merely munched my popcorn. They train us not to get excited or emotional. When you get emotional you make mistakes, and that’s something the agency didn’t want.
    So I was very calm as I sipped my drink and turned to look at Lynn.
    “That could be a problem,” I said.
    Lynn took a bite of her hot dog jammed with ketchup and green relish. A bit of relish stayed on her upper lip. She wiped it away with a napkin.
    “Yes, it could,” she said. Her tone was as matter-of-fact as mine.
     The St. Louis Cardinals had won the final game of the 1967 World Series 7-2.  Gibson was the Most Valuable Player of the series.   
    “So what happened?” I said. “You’re the Ph.D. Give me your scientific opinion.”
     She waved to the vendor and bought another hot dog after he had added extra ketchup and relish. She took a bite.
    “Gosh, those are good. Hot dogs are always better at a ballpark. That is a scientific fact.”
    I nodded. I took her word for it. Lynn’s mother is a long suffering Chicago Cubs fan. The Cubs haven’t won a World Series since 1908. But Lynn attended many games while growing up and also shares her mother’s affection for the Cubs. She’s an attractive five-eight blond with incredible stunning green eyes. Hey, no one appreciates her intelligence more than I do but that doesn’t diminish the beauty of those green eyes.
    “Now that we have the hot dog question answered, how about the other question, about the wrong team now ahead?”
    She shook her head. “Beats me.”
    “I really wish you wouldn’t toss your scientific background around like that. Makes me feel inferior,” I said.
     Gibson retired the next Red Sox hitter for the third out. Jim Lonberg, the Boston ace, was on the mound for the Red Sox but he was pitching on only two days rest. And he looked shaky. Well, historically he had been shaky, and had to be taken out in the Cardinals’ 7-2 victory. But now?
     He looked confident as his first fast ball nicked the plate and was called a strike by the umpire. The home run seemed to have given him confidence and stamina. Another fast ball and a curve finished the batter. The next Cardinal hitter also struck out and the third knocked a slow roller to the second baseman and was thrown out.
     “Darn good game,” I said.
     “Yes.”
      It was the sixth inning and the Red Sox had a three run lead. Officially Boston had not won a World Series until 2004.
     “This is one for the record books.”
     “You can say that again,” Lynn said.
     I decided my colleague was right about hot dogs and ballparks. So I bought one, without relish. Unlike Lynn I don’t like relish. I bought a coke too. I thought they tasted about the same inside or outside a ballpark.  I looked at her again.
     “By the way we didn’t, by chance, make a mistake that screwed up the timeline, therefore possibly leading to the future extinction and annihilation of the human race did we?”
     “I’m not sure,” she said.
     “That really wasn’t the answer I was hoping for.  I mean, it’s not that I’m worried or anything, but could you be a bit more definitive.”
     She shook her head. “This is odd but all we did was buy tickets. We wanted to see the great Bob Gibson pitch.”
     “We thought we were going to see him win.”
     “But even if this is unusual I would say the mathematical chances of a time error erasing the human race is very low. Almost infinitesimal.”
     “Oh, good. By the way, what were the mathematical odds of the Red Sox winning this game?”
     “Very low. Almost infinitesimal.”
     I took another bite of the hot dog.
     “Thank you for sharing. I take great comfort from that.”
     Gibson pitched well during the inning. The first Red Sox batter lined to first. The second popped up to third. The third hit a solid double down the leftfield line but the third batter was Carl Yastrzemski, the Red Sox Hall of Famer who hit approximately .500 in the 1967 World Series, the only Red Sox to hit Gibson well during the seven games.
     Gibson took care of the next batter, striking him out on four pitches.
     I took another bite of my very good hot dog and looked over at Lynn again.
     “Should we do anything in response to what...er… never should have happened, or never did happen or…whatever?”
     “Not yet.” She patted my shoulder. “We know that occasional anomalies pop up in the time field. Small, trivial ones we don’t worry about. They don’t seem to cause any ripple that lasts in the time stream. I think we can say one unexpected hit is an anomaly. Let’s see which team wins. St. Louis might still take the series and if the Cardinals win nothing really has changed.”
    I nodded. And pulled for St. Louis.
    Because the Cardinals had scored seven runs in the final game, I thought they still had a chance. The Red Sox only had five runs, and the Cardinals had a good offensive team. They did make a game of it. In the eighth inning, former Yankee Roger Maris knocked a home run over the right field fence. One of his teammates was on base so when they both came home, the Red Sox only led 5-4. But at the bottom of the inning, a Red Sox single, a stolen base and a double pushed the Red Sox lead to two runs. Tim McCarver, the Cardinal Hall of Famer who later went into broadcasting, knocked a solo homer in the ninth but the Red Sox took the game 6-5. The crowd went wild. It was the first World Series win for Boston since 1918. It was also a World Series win that wasn’t supposed to happen until 2004.
    While the rest of the crowd was clapping, cheering, hugging one another and running on the field to celebrate I just showed a forlorn stare to Lynn.
   “Oops,” she said.
   “That does sort of sum it up. What do we do now?”
   “Get a drink?”
   It sounded like a good idea to me.
    
    We didn’t have to worry about anyone overhearing our discussion at the small pub because they were all yelling about the Red Sox victory. If anyone heard any words about “time travel” they would be too drunk to recall it the next morning.
A glass of bourbon and coke was in front of me. Lynn had a whisky sour.
    “You know if something like this had happened, and it has, I wish it had boosted the Cubs and not the Red Sox. The Red Sox went on to win a World Series in 2004 and won two more in about eight years time. The Cubs got nothing. If something was going to change time, it should have benefited the Cubs.”
    “Life is not fair,” I said.
    “My poor mother has rooted all her life for the Cubs. They have never won a World Series and even rarely had a winning season. I’ve seen her groan when they lose. Physically groan.”
    I nodded and tried to look sympathetic.
    “They actually made the playoffs back in 2002. Got beat by the Marlins who went on to defeat the Yankees in the World Series. The Cubs didn’t get into the post season again until 2022. They lost in the first round. It was another ten years before they got into the post season again. They lost in the first round that time too. In 2045 they had that terrible collapse and----”
    “You know all those dates?” I said.
    “I’m a Cub fan too. But I really sympathize with Mom. Cub fans can never get a break.”
     I nodded again. I had seen all her Cub paraphernalia. The T-shirts, the sweatshirts, the posters, the caps.
     “Mom is elderly now and the one thing I wanted for her before she passes on is to see the Cubs win a World Series.”
     “I hope that happens but right now we have another little problem on our hands.”
     She was silent for a minute before taking another sip of her drink.
    “This may not be as bad as it seems,” she said.
    I scratched my jaw.
    “Lynn, the Boston Red Sox just won a World Series that they did not win. They lost it four games to three. At least until today. This means that something has gone wrong in the great grand time scheme.”
    She nodded. “Looks like it.”
    “And because we were here, we are going to be blamed for it.”
    “No, the agency will understand we are not responsible.”
    “Who cares about the agency? What if Gibson finds out? That guy was one of the toughest chew-nails guys in baseball. You know once when he was in a jam Manager Whitey Herzog came out to replace him. Herzog was not exactly a wallflower. He was a tough guy himself. Gibson just stared at him, looked at the pitcher throwing in the bullpen and growled, ‘Is he better than I am? No. So I think I’ll stay in.’”
    “Herzog just smiled and walked back to the dugout,” Lynn said.
    “That’s right. We don’t want Gibson mad at us. But if he finds out about this he is going to be ticked off.”
    She smiled. It’s always a pleasant, contemplative smile, full of assurance. “OK, but we have to keep calm. The wrong team losing a baseball game is not going to change history.”
    “That’s another thing,” I said. “If a time change occurs, we always thought we could go back and fix it. But we were thinking of something like an assassin killing FDR or murdering Lincoln before he took office. One man or even a small group of men we could stop. How do we go back and change the outcome of a baseball game? It’s impossible.”
   “Do you know when you get excited you wave your hands when you talk.”
    “Only when you mention it.
    “We may not have to.”
     After taking another sip of her drink, she gave me some chrono-terminology. I held up my hand.
     “Can you dumb it down please?”
     Let me say I am not unintelligent. I am also much more than a mere bodyguard. Lynn is one of our superb chrono-technicians and, obviously, cannot be allowed to roam around in the past alone. She is too valuable. But time-partners have to be highly intelligent themselves. Most of our time travelers have an avid interest in history. They also know many languages and dozens of other subjects. But the time-techs, such as Lynn, are on an IQ level all of their own.
    “Ok, let me put it this way. When we got into the business of time travel, it was speculated – by me and by other analysts – that our traveling might cause minor, trivial changes in history such as, say, the outcome of a baseball game. It was decided to take that risk.”
     “This is not just a baseball game. It’s not a sandlot softball game. It’s not even the minor league. This is the World Series.”
      “You’re talking with your hands again. Anyway, the change should have very little effect on other events. No major social and political event should be affected. This small, tiny little ripple will be wiped out by the roaring river of time that is flowing.”
     “We hope.”
     “We hope.”
     “So what do we do?”
     “We are on a week’s vacation. We take it. Plus we keep an eye on television news and newspapers to check to see if there are any significant changes in the past. I’m guessing there won’t be. If not, all is well.”
      I drained my glass. “But if there is a rippling, maybe the rippling influence won’t show up for years. Maybe it will change something that will influence something else that will alter a third whatever and….” I shrugged.
      “Then I suggest after we read tomorrow’s newspapers we jump ahead, say, thirty years to 1997. Better yet, we’ll make it forty years, to 2007. If any major changes have happened, they should have occurred by then. We use our computers to check history. If all is well…”
     “Don’t think I’m being picky but are you sure of the time isolation paradox? The guys back at the agency won’t know that, in real time, St. Louis actually won this game.”
     “No, nor will they care. Well, they will care about time being changed but not the baseball aspect of it.  You and I are the only two baseball fanatics in the group. Which is one reason they made us partners.”
      I nodded. I’ve been with Lynn for five years. It’s something like a marriage, with all the joys and frustrations there in. Thankfully, it’s been a happy marriage. Our personalities meld with one another. The chemistry between us is good. Technically, she is my boss. In dangerous situations, the command shifts to me. When shots are fired the Secret Service can order the president around. But when she needs someone to talk to about the complexities of time travel, I can stay with her 95 percent of the time. As I said, I’m more than just a bodyguard.
     “The time isolation paradox has been proven time and time again,” she said. She drummed her fingers on the table. “As for now, for whatever reason, the Boston Red Sox have won this World Series. The sports pages and the record books will so stipulate. Our time controllers will also think Boston won. We – the time travelers – are both inside and somehow outside the time stream. Right now, we are the only two people on Earth who know the St. Louis Cardinals should have won that game.”
    “Perhaps we should never take a vacation again,” I said.
    “Right now I think a trip to 2007 and some intense checking and double checking is our best option. Get a good hotel. We may be staying there a few days.”
     “Would you prefer the mountains or the seashore?”
     “The beach.”
      I made the arrangements, then hoped I could find a Western film on television. Everyone has his or her own special fondness for specific items in the past. I like the old Western movies circa 1940 to the early sixties. But all the channels were showing the Red Sox victory. There wasn’t a gunfighter on screen that night.
     
      Vero Beach, Florida, was a nice, scenic city facing the Atlantic. The Holiday Inn had a pool, plus being located on the beach. We got two adjoining rooms. Lynn had all her high-tech equipment spread out over hers. We made sure everything was folded up before the maids came in to clean.
      I was busy speed reading every history book in print or online. As far as I could see, there was nothing out of the ordinary. History had proceeded since 1967 just like it had when the Cardinals had won the 1967 series. As far as I could tell, nothing was out of place in the time stream. The presidents were all the same. The domestic and international incidents hadn’t changed. The world after the Red Sox won the ’67 Series looked the same as the world when the Cardinals won the ’67 series.    
    I heard Lynn’s jubilant yell just before she knocked on the connecting door. For that matter, I think the entire motel heard her yell. When I opened the door, my jaw dropped.
     I don’t know where she had found it. I guess Vero Beach was big enough to have a sports shop but she wore a Chicago Cub jersey. She was No. 27. A Cubs cap was on her head. She smiled like the Cheshire Cat and jumped up and down.
     “You won’t believe this. It’s fantastic!” she yelled.
     “What is?”
     With her finger she beckoned me in her room. There was a baseball book on her bed, but she pointed toward the computer.
     “Look at this. We missed something. We looked for anything different in the political, social, international arena. A few things changed but not in those areas. But look at this!”
     I glared at the computer screen. Lynn had called up the list of World Series winners. Three years after the Red Sox won the 1967 series the computer informed me that the Chicago Cubs had defeated the Baltimore Orioles 4-3 in the World Series. I opened my mouth but no sound came out. If I recalled correctly, the 1970 Orioles, led by their ace pitcher Jim Palmer had defeated the Cincinnati Reds rather easily that year.
    I skipped to the late nineties on the computer. That was when the Yankees began a dynasty. They won four World Series in five years, then lost to the Diamondbacks in 2001. Now, though, the Cubs had won three World Series during that time, beating the Yankees twice.
    “The Steinbrenners are not going to like this,” I said.
    Lynn tapped the screen with her fingers. “According to this, the Yankees have never won a World Series since 1923.”
     “You’re kidding.”
     “Nope.”
     She yelped again and danced around the room. “Cubs rule! Cubs rule!”
     I scanned through the years and the Cubs name kept coming up.
     “Just how many times did they win the World Series?”
     “Twenty-seven,” Lynn yelled. “They’ve been in 42 series and won 27 of them. I’m sure my mom is ecstatic.”
     I backed away from the computer as if it were a venomous snake. I was breathing shallowly and shaking my head.
     “We have to tell the agency about this,” I said.
     “No, we don’t.”
     I looked at her and nodded my head. “Yeah, we do. I mean…really…we do…”
      She shook her head. “No, we don’t.”
      I lowered my voice. “Yes, we do.”
      She smiled, walked over and put her hands on my face.
      “Bill, we’ve worked together for five years, right? Through thick and thin, good times and bad, ancient times and in the future, right?”
      “Yes.”
      Her fingers patted my face.
      “In that time we have began a deep and abiding friendship. We trust one another and hold each other in deep respect and great affection.”
      “Yes.”
       She smiled sweetly. “So let me say if you tell the agency about this, I will kill you.”
       I looked at her sweet smile. Then thought of an old Western. Two Rode Together. Richard Widmark and James Stewart starred. Widmark is a cavalry officer and Stewart is a sheriff. They are great pals but in one scene an angry Stewart pulls a gun on his friend. Widmark is not scared in the least.
    “You’re bluffing,” he said.
    Stewart’s reply is not growling or menacing. He doesn’t chew nails or spit cotton. His tone is just above his normal voice. But somehow the syllables could stop a charging elephant.
     “Now wait a minute, Jim. Wait a minute,” he says almost gently. “You’ve known me for a long time. I haven’t pulled my gun much but when I did I wasn’t bluffing. And I’m not bluffing now.”
      Widmark rides on, but they remain great friends.
      I looked at Lynn and her incredible, intense green eyes. Intense and determined. I saw the James Stewart smile and I could hear his words.
      And I’m not bluffing now.
      “Yes, ma’am,” I said.
      She patted my face. “Now that we have that settled, do you know what we are going to do?”
      “No, ma’am.”
      “We are going to go back and see one of those victories. I think 1970 would be a good year. The Orioles had a great team. That should have been a great series.”
      “I just hope Yankee fans don’t hear about this.”
      “They won’t. This will be our little secret.”
      I nodded.
      I looked at the book on her bed. I flipped open the cover. It was published in 2005. The title caught my interest: “The Chicago Cubs – The Greatest Team in Baseball History.”
      Our little secret, Lynn.
      Yours and mine.

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