How often does a baseball fan get to confront a player from their childhood who did their club wrong? To call it rare would be a slap¬†to the face of infrequency. I once read that upon Rick Monday’s introduction to Jonah Keri years ago, he said it was a pleasure to have met the Expos fan, to which Keri shot back “I wish I could say the same,” in reference to Monday’s homer than shattered Montreal’s dream of a World Series in 1981.
Inspiration was born, friends.
Last week Wednesday, more than a quarter century¬†after it happened, I got my shot at Thomas James Lawless.
Lawless may be the only player in major league history to have been traded for Pete Rose, and yes,¬†he once broke up a Mark Langston no-hit bid, but my beef with¬†Lawless has nothing to do with¬†Langston’s near-miss¬†or Lawless being swapped for baseball’s all-time hits leader, because let’s face it, the man gave me a great way to score free brew.
“If you’re ever in a bind and need a beer¬†but don’t have any money, you can drop that trivia question on somebody and you’re going to win,” Lawless laughed.
No, this is not about free beer (stay on target, Evanson), but rather about what Lawless pulled on Frank Viola and the Twins in Game 4 of the 1987 World Series.
Let me wind the clocks back for you.
Minnesota was up 2-1 in the Series, but with the game tied at 1-1 in the fourth inning, Lawless lifted a long fly ball that somehow, someway, scraped the back of the left field wall at the old Busch Stadium to put the Redbirds up by three.
I want to be clear. My nearly lifelong disdain does not come from the fact that Lawless¬†took Sweet Music yard. No, for that, I tip the cap. Nay, my snarl comes rather from what Lawless did after the ball cleared the fence.
Well, how ’bout we let Thom Boswell, then of the Washington Post describe it…
“One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight tiny casual loving little steps is how many Tom Lawless took toward first base before he fired his bat in the air like a whirling baton and began the cockiest and most amazingly improbable Show Me home run trot in World Series history.”
(The villainy begins at 3:52…)
Have I mentioned that after parts of five years in the majors, Lawless was the proud owner of just a single jack at the time? Or that the the third baseman had collected a whole four hits that entire season? Or that he was only playing because eventual 1991 NL MVP Terry Pendleton was injured? Or that Frankie V would go on to be named MVP of that Fall Classic and would win the AL Cy Young the following year?
After securing my interview with Lawless, a roving coach with the Oklahoma City Redbirds in the Astros organization, I rubbed my hands together and laughed a laugh of eeevilll and carefully crafted my plan.
Alright, I didn’t go diabolical on ‘em, but I did offer some questions about the nature of coaching and what kind of players¬†Lawless¬†felt may grow to be impactful¬†and help get¬†things headed in the right direction for Houston.
But recess was over. To paraphrase Rafiki, “It was time!”
I was¬†roughly mid-sentence with regard to being from¬†the land of 10,000 Lakes (and¬†never-ending winters)¬†when Lawless audibly, and unmistakably revealed that he knew his ass was had.
“Ahhh geez!” Lawless blurted with a laugh. Something that would prove a theme.
I won’t lie, I laughed myself, but that didn’t stop me from asking the question every Twins fan old enough to remember had been dying to ask¬†for 25-some-odd years:
Why did you toss that bat like Mr. freaking October?
“I couldn’t tell you why, I have no idea why, it kind of just happened,” Lawless said.¬†“Maybe being that it was the¬†World Series and being part of it, and me being an extra man that didn’t get a lot of at-bats and to do something like that in the World Series? I have no idea why I did it,” Lawless laughed. Again.
Glad you’re enjoyin’ yourself, Chuckles.
Twins Territory’s Bucky bleepin’ Dent can smile and remember fondly, though. In fact, he almost seems to relish it. And why not? For a guy who only averaged three RBI per, it’s good to be remembered, even if it means being a rapscallion.
“I went back to play an old timers game¬†(under the Teflon Confines)¬†about four or five years after I was done playing (Lawless retired after the 1990 season), and it was funny because when they announced us old guys playing,¬†and they announced my name,¬† I got a lot of boos. I said, ‘Well, they still remember don’t they?'” Lawless laughs once more.
Fans weren’t the only ones to remember. It didn’t go so far as Mitch Williams’ comments on Curt Schilling rockin’ a towel during his relief appearances in the 1993 Fall Classic, when Wild Thing stated point blank: “If that hadn’t have been a World Series, I would have beaten nine kinds of¬†$&!% out of him for it.”
Nah, not with Lawless and the Twins, though the ‘stached-up infielder did take some ribbing from Tom Brunansky after the slugging right fielder was dealt from Mount Crushmore to St. Louis early in the 1988 season.
“Bruno would give it, and I would give it back,” Lawless said. “No harm, no foul. it was just baseball. I didn’t do it to embarrass anybody or anything like that, it just happened.”
Confrontation, in cases such as these is always about persepctive, though, and Lawless’ is firmly intact.
“Bruno used to give me a hard time about it,” Lawless continued, “but I’d say ‘Bruno, you won the thing anyway, so be quiet!'”¬† Lawless again offers a healthy laugh.
Had Pendleton and Jack Clark been able to contribute, that ’87 Series may have turned out differently, but then Twins fans would never have had a beef with a career .207 hitter, and Lawless probably wouldn’t be remembered at all.
“We battled and we battled, and we came up one game short,” Lawless recalled about the seven-game, series loss.
Seeing as that first championship banner hangs frozen at Target Field and I got to “confront” Lawless¬†while having some¬†laughs in the process?
Looking back, I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Now that I’ve spent a few minutes chatting¬† with Lawless, would I ear flap him if I had the opportunity in a fantasy camp? Probably not. I mean, look, he’s a good dude and the Twins did win that Series on a Greg Gagne RBI, infield single because Lawless¬†possessed neither¬†the range nor arm to get it done, which quite frankly, brings me pleasure. Plus he gave me that in on free booze, so I have a sense of humor about all this.
I would buzz the tower, though.