The recent weekend series between the New York Yankees and the Los Angeles Dodgers produced hyperbole about the teams' bygone days of glory and hotly contested rivalry.
Unfortunately for fans under the age of 40, it doesn't mean anything since the teams haven't met in a World Series in 29 years. The last three of those meetings featured two competitors who not only haven't forgotten but are still around to duke it out.
Tommy Lasorda was the Dodgers manager for those three Fall classics (1977, 1978, 1981) and is a Dodger of 61 years standing. Reggie Jackson is the Yankees' so called Mr. October. Together they made an embarrassing spectacle of themselves on the Fox television broadcast of last Saturday's game.
The action on the field became mere background without much attention paid to it during the half-inning when Lasorda and Jackson were in the booth with Joe Buck and Tim McCarver.
Jackson, who after his playing career was over migrated back to the Steinbrenner big tent in the Bronx, has been an adviser to the old man for nearly twenty years. I'm not revealing any confidential information when I say that Reggie is not known for being self-effacing or humble in any way.
Lasorda bleeds Dodger blue all over everyone he speaks with and has a hard time remembering anything that isn't a highlight or a great moment in Dodger history. At the age of 82, everyone cuts Lasorda slack when he repeats himself, engages in ridiculous predictions of Dodger greatness, and can't let the old days become bygone days.
Naturally, he can't stand to think about the Yankees beating his butt in '77 and '78, before his team finally stood up to Bronx Bombers and took it to them in 1981. Pairing him with a blowhard like Jackson was dangerous to begin with, but became more so due to the inability of Joe Buck or Tim McCarver to control the situation.
We should have expected that from Buck after the disaster that was his prime time HBO special. By injecting a foul-mouthed comedian into the proceedings during a live broadcast, the producers of "Joe Buck Live" doomed their host to failure. Buck couldn't control Arte Lange when he decided to hijack the show. The result will live in YouTube heaven for years to come. First Buck thought he could trade quips with Lange, then he tried to insult him and finally he waved the white flag.
When Lasorda and Jackson got in the booth you knew it wasn't going to be pleasant as soon as Reggie started needling Tommy for his inability to get Jackson into a sold out game the night before. Calling him out for being ineffectual just made Lasorda reach into his bag of mean and he searched for how he could hurt Jackson.
Buck and McCarver fed the flames of the controversy, apparently thinking it was comical. It might have been for the first thirty seconds but it got to be a food fight at a pre-school. Tommy decided to retreat to a righteous position and call out Jackson for being a cheater in game four of the 1978 World Series. Yup, that's right, the one where Reggie's right hip made a good play on the ball.
Jackson was on the base path between first and second base and leaned his right hip out as he saw a ball being thrown towards him on his way to second base. The ball caromed off Reggie's hip, and although he was called out, the runner behind him heading to first was able to run all the way to second while a runner heading home was able to score on the play. The Yankees went on to win the game in extra innings but that play in the early innings was seen as a key to all that came after it.
This was the pivotal game of that series. The Dodgers had taken the first two games and the Yankees had won the third. In a seven game series, being up 3-1 doesn't make it a sure thing that you'll win but you are pretty darn close and the Yankees weren't going to go down without a fight.
Lasorda argued with the umpires that day until he was blue in the face, but they wouldn't budge on their call that the runner behind Jackson was safe, allowing the runner ahead of him to score. To this day, Lasorda believes he was robbed because Reggie intentionally interfered with the ball. If that was true, the runner behind Jackson should have been called out as well.
The problem for Lasorda was asking the umpires to over rule a judgment call. It doesn't happen today, never mind in 1978 and without video to show Reggie's move into the direction of the ball, Tommy was barking up the wrong tree. Think he's ever let it go? He considers the play a game changer of the highest magnitude and will never believe Jackson didn't cheat him.
The two old war horses went at it with fake smiles and a few stabs at levity, more so from Jackson than the 82 year old Lasorda. But it all sounded like, "You're a cheater, you pain in my butt." "Oh yeah, well you're just a sore loser and by the way, you don't even have enough pull with the team to get me in on a pass when the game is sold out."
The scene was cringe worthy to say the least and bad television at worst. But seeing these two egomaniacs argue about something from 32 years ago made me realize that for them and perhaps others like them, the rivalry sure isn't dead yet.