One of the devices by which baseball’s keeping itself alive during the coronavirus shutdown is assorted networks, YouTube, and Twitter linking to classic games. Allowing that “classic” is in the eye of the beholder a little more often than in the eye of history, you were probably right if you thought at least a few such games might anger more than amuse.
The Phillies aren’t amused that Major League Baseball itself tweeted Game Six of the 1993 World Series. Nobody likes to remember their World Series ending with the humiliation of the other guys’ home run sending those guys to the Promised Land, of course. But there’s a little more to that story than just the Blue Jays’s Joe Carter ruining closer Mitch (Wild Thing) Williams and the Phillies that night.
“Oh, not to be Mitch Williams, now that winter’s here,” Thomas Boswell wrote in a Washington Post column republished in Cracking the Show. “For the rest of us, it’s still autumn. But winter came early for Wild Thing . . . does baseball have eighteen goats to match Williams? . . . When the bullpen phone rang with the Phils leading, 6-5, when Williams saw the top of the gaudiest lineup in baseball awaiting him to begin the ninth, did he want to plead nolo contendere?”
Actually, Williams didn’t want to plead any such thing.
The Wild Thing had to deal with death threats over his blown save in Game Four (the Jays won the game 15-14) reaching him as he arrived home from Veterans Stadium. First he admitted he was terrified enough to spend a sleepless night holding his shotgun. Then he he rejected thoughts of handing the closing role to someone else: “No one’s going to scare me that much,” he answered when asked. “No one will make me hide.”
Nobody did, in fact. Not even after he walked Hall of Famer Rickey Henderson to open the bottom of the ninth with the Phillies up a run and three outs from forcing a seventh game. Not even when pitching coach Johnny Podres visited him on the mound and urged him to use a slide step delivery, instead of his normal, right knee bent to his shoulder leg kick, in a bid to keep the Man of Steal from grand theft second base.
Not even after getting Devon White out on a fly to left, a base hit from Hall of Famer Paul Molitor sending Henderson to third, and Carter checking in at the plate—with yet another Hall of Famer, Roberto Alomar, on deck. Not even when Williams stayed with his pitching coach’s suggestion despite its alteration of his delivery and threw Carter a 2-1 fastball when he had Carter, a low-ball hitter, thinking breaking ball.
“The only reason I hit it fair,” Carter eventually said, “was because I was looking for a breaking ball the whole time. I wasn’t way out in front of the ball. I guarantee you, if I was looking fastball, I would’ve swung and missed or hit a foul ball.” He swung instead into Toronto lore, his three-run homer nailing the Blue Jays’ second straight Series win and hammering Williams into Philadelphia infamy.
Not even facing the press gamely and answering every last question sent to him, however stupid or careless, saved the Wild Thing. “Ain’t nobody on the face of this earth who feels worse than I do about what happened,” he said straight, no chaser. “But there are no excuses. I just didn’t get the job done. I threw a fastball down and in. It was a bad pitch. I’ll have to deal with it.”
In due course, Williams gave the real breakdown. “I knew I made a mistake,” he’d say in due course. “That fastball was down and in, right in Carter’s nitro zone. I wanted to throw it up and away, which I could’ve done if I’d gone with my full leg kick. But the slide step altered my delivery and I ended up rushing the pitch.”
Williams’s teammates had his back—at first. “We wouldn’t have been here if it wasn’t for Mitch,” said first baseman John Kruk. “He’s not afraid to take the ball and I like a guy like that on my team,” said center fielder Lenny Dykstra, who might have had the 1993 World Series MVP to put on his mantel (or, all future things considered, put up for sale on eBay) if it hadn’t been for Carter.
Phillies historian William C. Kashatus wrote Macho Row about the ’93 Philthy Phillies, particularly a contingency within the team who lived by their own Code (the upper-case C is Kashatus’s) of solidarity inside and insularity from the outside. Clockwise the cover showed Kruk, Dave Hollins, Darren Daulton, Williams, and Dykstra. It took the figurative equivalent of five minutes after the Phillies finally left Toronto after the Series loss for someone to throw Williams under the proverbial bus.
Actually two someones. Both Dykstra and pitching star Curt Schilling—whose gutsy Game Five shutout got the Phillies as far as to Game Six in the first place—talked to the press showing “concern that Mitch Williams not return to the Phillies” after the Carter bomb, Kashatus wrote. “I love the guy,” said Dykstra. “He’s a great competitor and I’m sure he wants to pitch here again, but for his sake I hope he doesn’t have to . . . he’ll probably never be able to pitch in Philly again.”
That was mild compared to Schilling, who’d made a few World Series waves by sitting on the bench with a towel over his head whenever Williams came into a game and now suggested trading the Wild Thing would be a positive.
“What if we win and go to the postseason again next year?” Schilling asked, then answered. “We’d still be going in with the mentality of ‘Can he do it?’ Mitch was tired at the end of the season. It was a question of whether he was able to. Mitch gave his all every time out there, but, in the big leagues, it’s not a matter of giving everything and wanting the ball. It’s a matter of success.”
Nobody, of course, thought even once to question Podres’s judgment in urging Williams to the slide step delivery even with Henderson on the bases ready to commit high crime at the first known opening. Once a Brooklyn hero for beating the Yankees twice to win the only World Series the Dodgers ever won as the Brooklyn Dodgers, Podres served three more seasons as the Phillies’ pitching coach.
If Podres couldn’t make a second mound visit, the rule being a second visit by either coach or manager meaning the incumbent pitcher having to leave, why couldn’t he send Williams a sign to take the slide step off? Even with Henderson on second?
What’s the worst that could happen from there with the slide step taken off—Carter not missing, not fouling, but maybe hitting a soft fly ball on which even Henderson might not score, maybe even whacking into a game-ending double play that forces Game Seven?
Dykstra and Schilling may have insisted as Kashatus wrote, that Williams not take it personally, but then Williams did indeed get traded, to the Astros early that December. He fumed particularly over Schilling’s remarks at first, the two trading insults for a spell until Williams’s career hit the pit in Houston, Anaheim, and Arlington to follow before he retired.
Come 2008, Dykstra gave a radio interview in which he called Williams a barrel-finding joke. It prompted Williams to talk to the same station the following morning and call Dykstra “the most common sense-void person I’ve ever met in my life. He’s a savant with a bat in his hand. You could have a better conversation with a tree.”
Williams even predicted Dykstra’s long-infamous Players Club venture, giving financial advice to professional athletes, would collapse. Which is exactly what happened, along with enough other financial improprieties including bankruptcy fraud to send Dykstra to the calaboose in disgrace.
Not that it taped Dykstra’s mouth shut when it came to Williams. At a 2015 comedy roast, Dykstra told Williams, “Prison was a [fornicating] fantasy camp compared to playing behind you.” Williams wasn’t exactly caught unprepared, retorting that the only real reason Dykstra still burned over the Carter home run was because it cost Dykstra that ’93 Series MVP.
Schilling ended up going from Philadelphia to become a postseason legend in Arizona and Boston, a qualified Hall of Famer who throve when the games were the biggest, until a combination of his 38 Studios’s collapse and his tendency toward political opinions delivered with threatening tones sank his public image.
The harshest part of that isn’t just that Schilling hasn’t been elected to Cooperstown but that he also caused his parallel reputation for philanthropy to become ignored or at least bypassed. He was fired as an ESPN baseball analyst at a time when he needed the income badly enough after the 38 Studios debacle for which he never shirked responsibility.
Compared to all that, Williams’s life became something of a rose garden for a long enough time. His first marriage collapsed but he’d remarried in 1993. He became a Philadelphia baseball broadcaster who attracted MLB Network into hiring him as an analyst.
Then came an incident while he was coaching one of his son’s youth baseball team’s games. A dispute with an umpire, an accusation that he’d ordered a pitcher to throw at a batter, and another claiming he called an opposing player a feline euphemism for a certain part of the female anatomy. MLB Network fired him when he refused to sign a deal barring him from those games.
Williams sued MLB Network over the firing and Deadspin‘s parent Gawker Media for defamation, and eventually won a $1.5 million settlement in 2017. The Wild Thing couldn’t resist a tweet: “To all of the people that have wondered where I have been for 3 years.today that answer was provided by a court of law#justice.”
He never bought the Phillies saying they traded him to the Astros because they “thought the fans would crucify me the next year. But they underestimated me. They didn’t understand that the fans appreciated that I didn’t run and hide after the World Series or during the off-season. The fans knew I was a guy who fit into their city. They knew that every day I walked out there I gave everything I had.”
That standing ovation with which the Veterans Stadium crowd hit Williams when he returned as an Astro in an interleague game proved it.
A decade before Williams won that settlement, the Mitchell Report and other documents named Dykstra, fellow Macho Rowers Pete Incaviglia, Hollins, and reserve catcher Todd Pratt as using or being connected to actual or alleged performance-enhancing substances. “If someone was using steroids on that team,” Kruk insisted, “they were awfully quiet about it. And we talked about everything on that club.”
Speculation abounded, too, about regular catcher Daulton, who eventually admitted during his battle with brain cancer, “Anything I did in the past is my fault. Not my ex-wives’ fault, nor any of my kids’ faults, not baseball, not the media—me, my fault—I did the damage.”
There are indeed reasons why the Phillies today might not be amused to be reminded of Game Six of that ’93 Series. Reasons having almost nothing to do with the standup pitcher who shook off a sleepless, death-threatened night, listened to his pitching coach once too often, and didn’t look for the nearest hideout after one pitch meant disaster.
The guy who’s since forged a pleasant friendship with the man who destroyed his 2-1 fastball and the hope of a Game Seven. The guy to whom Phillies fans gave that standing O his first time back to Philadelphia because he was maybe the only stand-up man in the crowd.
Who’d have thought, when all was said and done, that the Wild Thing was the ’93 Phillie who had the least amount of splainin’ to do?