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More than World Series wins and run records, baseball fans remember the little moments

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

Joe Posnanski's new book reminds us that those of us who love baseball often speak of its magic moments - not winning the World Series and home run records so much as, did you see that throw from right? Can you believe that play? Do you remember that night? His new book - "Why We Love Baseball: A History In 50 Moments." And Joe Posnanski, a former Sports Illustrated columnist who has been named national sportswriter of the year by five different organizations, joins us from St. Louis today. Thanks so much for being with us, Joe.

JOE POSNANSKI: I'm so happy to be with you, Scott.

SIMON: So this is NPR. How do we define a baseball moment?

POSNANSKI: I would say you define a baseball moment by something that you see that you take home with you - something that you think about either days later, weeks later, months later, years later. I think of baseball moments - some that are in this book - that I was in my car listening on the radio, and the moment was so overwhelming. Of course, the announcer's call was so great, and I will never forget it. I'll never forget where I was.

SIMON: Let's not delay - Carlton Fisk's home run for the Boston Red Sox to win the sixth game of the 1975 World Series, sometimes called the best single game ever played.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED ANNOUNCER #1: We will have a seventh game in this 1975 World Series. Carlton Fisk becomes the first player in this series to hit one over the wall into the net.

SIMON: But, of course, they didn't win the World Series. They just won that sixth game. And the picture of Carlton Fisk dancing on his toes - tell us the story of how we came to see that picture.

POSNANSKI: Yeah, I love the story so much 'cause the camera guy in left field was supposed to follow the ball. That was his job. But as the story goes, the cameraman actually saw a rat...

SIMON: (Laughter).

POSNANSKI: ...Very close to the camera during the at-bat, and he ended up sort of panicking a little bit and training his camera on Carlton Fisk instead of following the ball. So what we see is Carlton Fisk dancing up the line, waving, waving, trying to move the ball fair. And it's probably the most iconic shot in the history of baseball on television. And it was captured all because of a rat at Fenway Park.

SIMON: Oh, my gosh. Let me ask you about what I'll call a prolonged and largely unheralded moment. Jackie Robinson - his integration of Major League Baseball - one of the few examples where I think baseball history is American history. Little less than three months later, Larry Doby, Black player, joined the Cleveland Indians. And he was mentored, if you please, by a coach in center field who was considered the greatest center fielder of all time but had some drawbacks as a mentor, wasn't he?

POSNANSKI: So you're talking about Tris Speaker who - yes, to this day, many consider him the greatest defensive center fielder. And Cleveland calls up Larry Doby. And Larry Doby had never played center field before. And so they brought in Tris Speaker to mentor him. Tris Speaker, when he was young, was a member of the KKK. He was pretty outspoken about some of his views, particularly of the Civil War. And what ended up happening was he loved Larry Doby. And he tutored, mentored Larry Doby to the point where he not only became a great center fielder, but when Larry Doby was in the Hall of Fame, when he was inducted, he thanked Tris Speaker as the man who helped him get there.

SIMON: I have to ask you about what might be the funniest moment. 1993, Jose Canseco, then of the Texas Rangers - great home run hitter, former MVP - settles under a fly ball in right center field. What happened, Joe?

POSNANSKI: (Laughter) He settles under these - he's drifting back and drifting back, and he kind of loses the ball. He wasn't a great outfielder anyway, but he was certainly competent, and he's...

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED ANNOUNCER #2: Checking the wall and the ball, reaches up, hits him right in the head (laughter) and goes over the top.

(LAUGHTER)

UNIDENTIFIED ANNOUNCER #3: It hit Canseco in the head and bounced over the wall for a homer. Look at this.

UNIDENTIFIED ANNOUNCER #2: (Laughter).

UNIDENTIFIED ANNOUNCER #3: Boink.

POSNANSKI: I don't think there's ever been anything in sports that felt more cartoonish - his reaction to getting hit on the head with the ball, the sort of confusion about what had exactly happened, his teammates just breaking out laughing. I think it is the funniest moment in baseball history.

SIMON: Let me ask you finally about what is often referred to as most controversial moment still - Game 3, 1932 World Series, Cubs versus Yankees, Wrigley Field, score tied in the fifth. Cub fans were rude and vulgar to Babe Ruth. He takes two strikes from Charlie Root, the pitcher. Then what happened? It's in some dispute.

POSNANSKI: It is a mystery to this day, I think, of exactly what happened. What we do know is that the Cubs dugout was really riding Ruth, and he was really, you know, sort of riding them back. And we know he made some very grand gestures with his hand. There are those who say he held up his finger just to say it only takes one swing. And there are some who say he held up two fingers because they say he was saying, OK, I have two strikes, and watch what I do now.

But the most, of course, glorious interpretation of what happened is that he pointed to center field beyond the flagpole, and on the very next pitch, hit the ball to exactly where he said he was pointing for what is remembered as the called-shot home run. Everybody has a completely different opinion about what happened, and I just love that so much. So much of baseball to me is mythology. And there's no play that has more mythology than the called shot.

SIMON: Joe Posnanski's new book - "Why We Love Baseball: A History In 50 Moments." Thanks so much for being with us.

POSNANSKI: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Scott Simon is one of America's most admired writers and broadcasters. He is the host of Weekend Edition Saturday and is one of the hosts of NPR's morning news podcast Up First. He has reported from all fifty states, five continents, and ten wars, from El Salvador to Sarajevo to Afghanistan and Iraq. His books have chronicled character and characters, in war and peace, sports and art, tragedy and comedy.