This, from a Hardball Times article by Bruce Markusen back in January, which contextualized the play:
In Game One of the 1974 World Series, Ferguson cut in front of center fielder Jimmy Wynn to make a catch and then unleashed a 290-foot tracer to the catcher, erasing Sal Bando and taking a potential run off the board for the world champion A’s. It was also a smart play by Ferguson, given that Wynn was playing with a badly injured throwing shoulder and would have had little chance to throw out Bando.
When a friend of mine forwarded me a link to this video the other day, I felt like I wanted to write about it, but I’m still not sure why. It was a great play, to be sure, and I love watching frozen rope throws from the outfield. The fact that it happened in a World Series game that featured a classic 1970s rivalry adds to the coolness. But still, I’ve seen throws that are just as good or better, so why write about this one?
Beyond the drama inherent to an “outfield Assist in a World Series game,” there’s Ferguson cutting in front of Jimmy Wynn. That’s a bit more mysterious. Wynn didn’t back off substantially, which made me think at first that he wasn’t actually expecting Ferguson to make the play. But then I thought that they probably would have collided if Wynn really committed to make the play himself, so Wynn must have known, even at the last second, that Ferguson would take it. Ferguson, for his part, never hesitated: he was running hard all the way and made the catch in perfect stride, had set himself up with a good angle to make the throw to home plate.
So then, realizing this, I thought maybe Wynn hung around to deceive Bando and the A’s: Wynn just sort of hovered in mock anticipation of the ball; he even had his feet positioned for a throw. The announcers knew that Wynn had a bum arm, so almost certainly the A’s knew, too. If Bando thought Wynn was going to make the catch and throw, he might have been more relaxed about the tagging-up process, though how much difference that would make, I’m not sure — probably not much.
If that’s the case, if Wynn hovered until the last second, even refusing to move enough that he and Ferguson ended up brushing each other on the play, and if that was all a façade to relax Bando a little too much, well that is something from a different era of baseball. There’s a showmanship, a personality, a grace of a different order. Those things are still in the game to some degree, they’re just…different now. BLAH BLAH OLD MAN BAUMANN. #STFU AMIRITE.
Still, even a possible attempt at trickery was not the thing that made me want to write about this play. The little detail that stand outs to me is one that speaks to the humanity of ballplayers, suggests a nuanced mind.
It happens just after Ferguson makes the catch and starts to throw; Wynn sort of moves his shoulder in a throwing motion, as if to stretch it out — or, perhaps, to explain to the crowd in the stands and at home why he didn’t make the play himself. Or maybe he was consoling himself, reassuring himself that he simply had to let Ferguson make the throw for the good of the team, or for the good of preserving his arm for the rest of the Series. Likely, it was mostly an involuntary or subconscious thing that he did, but born of some kind of nervousness. We’ll never know for sure, but that mystery, that little human mystery made me watch this clip over and over and over.
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