I may have run through a stop sign.
I honestly don’t know.
I couldn’t tell you for sure.
People have come up to me over the years and told me that our third base coach, Jimy Williams, held up his arms and was telling me to stop as the ball skipped out to Barry Bonds on that Wednesday night in Atlanta 25 years ago. But if he did, I never got the message.
I never looked at Jimy as I was approaching third.
Never even thought about looking at him, really.
I was just….
Motoring as fast as my legs would take me.
All I was thinking about was doing everything in my power to score the winning run in Game 7 of the NLCS and beat the Pittsburgh Pirates and send us to the World Series. You can see it on my face … how bad I wanted it.
I was just motoring as fast as my legs would take me.
The weird thing is, if you go back and look at the video of that play, you don’t ever see Jimy in the frame. The TV cameras somehow never picked him up.
So I just have no idea.
And, hey, that reminds me, before I really dig in here and break down what happened in that Game 7, maybe you could do me a favor. If you’re reading this, and you for some reason have a wide-angle tape of that game, please … send it my way. I’d love to know if I was being held or not — if everything that happened after that moment was partly because I didn’t listen to my third base coach.
That would make this story even crazier.
But, believe me, it’s already plenty crazy.
It’s impossible for me to paint you a full picture of how things went down at the end of that game, and what it all meant to me, without first providing a little background.
Two years before that NLCS matchup, I was the starting first baseman for the Pittsburgh Pirates. And 30 years before that … I was born in Carlisle, Pennsylvania.
I’m a Pennsylvania guy. There’s no two ways about it.
So when the Dodgers traded me to the Pirates in ’85, it was like a dream come true.
There were a few lean years at first, but our club started to turn things around under Jimmy Leyland and Syd Thrift, and we eventually developed into a division winner. I was playing some good baseball back then, but I also made many good friends in life during that time — guys like Jeff King and Gary Redus and Doug Drabek. Doug and his wife, Kristy, became really good friends. Our kids were around the same ages, so our families did quite a bit together. We were godparents to their children.
Anyway, when I signed as a free agent with the Braves following the 1990 season — after having spent more than five years in Pittsburgh — it was a difficult move. The Pirates’ executives had shared in the Pittsburgh papers that I was their first priority to sign for the ’91 season. The problem was that in the negotiations, they never even came close to market price for a contract. Then Atlanta made me an offer I couldn’t refuse, but the night that I verbally agreed to that deal — literally the whole night long — my wife and I sat up in bed crying our eyes out about the idea of leaving Pittsburgh.
So, we tried to stay in Pittsburgh by taking the contract that the Pirates were offering, but I wanted a no-trade clause in that particular deal. The Pirates’ ownership said no, and I said that if I was their first priority, I would hate to see what their last one was.
We loved everything about the area, and the people, and just … everything.
Rusty Kennedy/AP Images
When I had to tell Skip, it only got tougher. I remember crying on Jim’s shoulder knowing that I was going to be leaving him, and I believe he felt some sadness over the fact that I was departing, as well.
It was a tough move because of all the teammates that we were leaving. Then the ’91 National League Championship Series happened. After we defeated the Pirates to go to the World Series that year, I was truly saddened thinking that my friends in Pittsburgh would maybe never have a chance to make the World Series. I was happy for my Braves teammates, but I also hurt for my other brothers as well.
Then another season started, and at the end of it the Braves and Pirates were fighting it out again for the chance to go to the World Series in ’92. As the NLCS progressed it happened that we had to play a deciding game in Atlanta to determine who would move on. And in Game 7, Doug Drabek threw an absolute gem through eight. Five hits, one walk, zero runs. He just completely shut us down. He was painting his pitches. He was in total command. We were all walking back to the dugout shaking our heads, just one guy after another. After eight, we were down 2–0.
Then we got to the ninth.
When Terry Pendleton led off the inning with a double down the right field line, it just seemed like something changed. Even when Doug was making us look silly, we still believed in our hearts that we could come back and win the ball game, and Terry’s big hit just kind of gave life to that belief. All of a sudden, when he hit that ball, everything seemed possible for us.
A few moments later this happened:
Now, for those of you who may be a little younger, or who don’t know, the second baseman there was Chico Lind.
Well, Jose Lind. But everyone called him “Chico.”
Anyway, he was one of the best defensive second basemen I ever played with. He was good!
During that year, 1992, he won a Gold Glove. Chico made 745 defensive plays that season, and he made a total of six errors.
He makes that play 999 times out of 1,000. So I wasn’t expecting what I saw during the ninth inning of Game 7 in Atlanta. It was a total surprise to me. And more than anything, it got our crowd extremely fired up as I stepped to the plate with runners on first and third and nobody out.
I had already hit a double off of Doug earlier in the game, so I definitely wasn’t lacking confidence. And, as loud as the place was, I was always able to do a pretty good job of blocking that stuff out.
I know my stomach was kind of rumbling and telling me like, Don’t be an idiot here … get this done! But I was able to stay focused on what I needed to do. I didn’t get too caught up in the moment, or think for a second about hitting one out of the park during that at bat … but if I had, that would’ve been the ball game.
I was just looking to get a hit. Solid contact. Do my job.
When Doug delivered that first pitch, a breaking ball, I just watched it bounce in front of the plate. It wasn’t close.
Right off the bat I was ahead in the count. I was in the driver’s seat.
By that point, the crowd was going nuts. They were chanting: “Sid! Sid! Sid! Sid!”
Now, I can’t say for sure whether Doug was feeling that pressure bearing down, but I can tell you that what happened next wasn’t something that he’d do ordinarily. And it honestly took me by surprise.
Ball 4 … high and outside.
He walked me on four pitches. Doug Drabek, a guy known for his pinpoint control, walked me on four pitches to load the bases.
After Leyland pulled Doug and brought in the Pirates’ closer, Stan Belinda, Ronnie Gant hit a sac fly to make it 2–1, with one out. But then Belinda walked Damon Berryhill to load the bases again and move me over to second.
David Justice was on third as the tying run. And I was out there standing on second as the potential game-winning run.
Now, at this point I need to take a moment for a short side note. Just so you fully understand the situation and where things stood, I need to tell you, in no uncertain terms, that….
I was a very, very slow runner at that time.
In fact, I’ll be the first to tell anyone who asks that I was probably the worst possible person to have on base in a situation where you desperately needed a run to score from second.
It was really of no fault of my own, though. Earlier in my career, I had what some people like to call “sneaky speed.” But by that point, I was a 32 year-old guy with six knee operations in the can and a big old knee brace on my leg. No one was going to mistake me for a speedster. Not me, not the Pirates defenders, and definitely not my manager, Bobby Cox.
So, naturally, I figured that I’d be lifted for a pinch runner after I got to second. The thing was, we had very few guys left on our bench. Bobby has told me time and time again over the years that he didn’t make a switch there because he didn’t have anyone left who could play first base if he took me out.
But … I don’t know.
Brian Hunter was still available to play first base after his pinch hit in the ninth inning, the same for Francisco Cabrera. The problem as I saw it for Bobby Cox was who was going to play second base. Mark Lemke had been pinch-hit for, so we really had no one to play second. So, in my opinion, again — not to battle with Bobby, because he was a great manager — we had plenty of pitchers in the bullpen who were faster than me. Any of those guys would’ve worked as pinch runners in that spot. But Bobby didn’t make the move, and to this day I speak about that all the time.
I believe I know why, and that was that God had set the stage for me. He kept me there. But whatever the reason, Bobby had me out there running.
I don’t know. Maybe he had a hunch.
Francisco Cabrera was the last position player left on our bench.
If it wasn’t going to be him coming up to bat with two outs, pinch-hitting for Jeff Reardon with the bases loaded, it would’ve had to be a pitcher. Tom Glavine, or someone like that.
And, you know, Tom could hit pretty well, but Cabrera was an easy choice there. That guy, honest to goodness, probably had more power than anybody on our team that year. He had some trouble finding a consistent position on defense, so he only got a handful of at bats that season, but that guy could flat-out hit the baseball.
Standing out there on second, I was certain that he was going to get a base hit.
But I also realized that when he did, I was going to need any little advantage I could get in order to score that winning run. So I decided to press my luck a little bit.
My lead off second base, if you go back and look at it, was just gigantic.
It was a ridiculous lead. Absurd.
Had the Bucs put a play on and thrown behind me at that point, I would’ve been dead. Toast. Game over. I would’ve been the goat of all playoff goats had they run a pickoff play there … but it never happened.
On the last pitch of the game, my right foot was coming down just as Frankie’s bat met the baseball.
John Reed/AP Images
Francisco doesn’t get enough credit. He did the hard part. He got the hit … in one of the most pressure-packed situations you could ever imagine.
Since there were two outs, I didn’t have to worry about where the ball was hit. I just went. And at that point, I wasn’t thinking about the outfielders’ throwing arms or how close we were to winning the ball game or what might happen next.
I wasn’t thinking about anything at all … I was just moving my body as fast as it could possibly go as the ball bounced past Jay Bell at short and out toward Bonds in left.
Years later, I heard Pirates centerfielder Andy Van Slyke tell the story about how, before that last pitch, he had motioned over to Barry and told him to move in some. Bonds, according to Andy, just gave him the peace sign and didn’t move a muscle.
Now, you know, I can’t say whether that’s what happened or not, but what I will say is that had Barry moved in, he may have actually been in a worse position to make that throw home. If you watch the video, he had to run several steps to his left to get to the ball. Had he moved in before that hit, his angle to the baseball may have made it more difficult to right himself and make a strong throw home.
And here’s the other thing. Make no mistake about it: Barry did make a strong throw home there. It was a nice one-hop throw. It was just … up the first base line a bit.
Lucky for me.
My knees were barkin’ as I rounded third on my way home. That’s for sure.
Back then, anytime I had to run hard I’d feel them.
But I just kept on chuggin’, you know what I mean? I was on a mission to score that run. And when it came time to slide, things got … interesting.
In the 25 years that have passed since that night, I’ve had hundreds of people come up to me — thousands, maybe — and tell me how awesome that slide was.
I always make sure to thank them for that, first and foremost. But then, I can’t help it … every single time, the next thing I say is….
“What the heck slide were you looking at?”
There was nothing special to the slide. I just tucked my knee and slid straight to the plate.
ROBERT SULLIVAN/AFP/Getty Images
It was a bent leg slide that just barely — and I mean barely — got the job done.
So I don’t really like to take any credit when people tell me about how great that slide was.
I’m just not so sure they’re right about that.
What I am sure about, though, is that my foot did indeed touch home plate just before Mike LaValliere gathered in Barry’s throw and reached back to put the tag on me.
If you look closely at the tape, you’ll see that my left heel came in and touched the front corner of the plate right before Spanky (everyone calls Mike, “Spanky”) got the glove on me.
Now, sure, I’ll admit that it does look awful fishy … because my heel just barely hit, and then it immediately came off the plate right as Spanky was tagging me.
But I got the plate there. Believe me. I’m 100% certain of it.
And once I did, it was on to the celebration.
I’m getting a little older these days, and 25 years is a long time to think back, so I don’t remember a ton of details in terms of what happened next.
I know David Justice jumped on me first, and then it was just a wave of people. Everyone piled on top, and when I got up I just pretty much hugged every single person I saw. But beyond that, it really is kind of all a blur to me at this point.
The two things I probably think about most from that game are, first off: Francisco Cabrera doesn’t get enough credit. He did the hard part. He got the hit … in one of the most pressure-packed situations you could ever imagine. All I did was run home without tripping over my feet and make a lousy slide that was somehow just good enough.
The other thing that I think about a lot, though, is how me being out there as the potential winning run — the fact that it was me specifically, and not some other player — actually resulted in that play being as exciting as it possibly could have been.
If the runner there is just a hair faster than me, the play isn’t all that close. He’s in there with the winning run no problem. If the runner is a tad slower, Spanky tags him out and the ball game continues, because the game would have been tied and Bobby would have had to figure out who was going to play second base.
But because it was me, that play is as close as it can get. Just totally bang-bang. And that’s why people still remember it to this day.
I guess some things are just meant to be, you know? And realize this: You will never, ever be able to have a play with that excitement again, because of replay in baseball. Just think, if that was today, Jim Leyland would have called for a review, and all the excitement would have been delayed waiting for the powers that be to render a verdict on the play.
After the celebration in Atlanta ended, and we moved on to play the Blue Jays in the World Series, I received a death threat from an angry Pirates fan.
I still had a home in Western Pennsylvania at the time, and when my wife and I returned there, some sick individual called our phone and told me he was going to kill me and everyone in my family.
We contacted the cops, but nothing ever came of it. It shook us up for a while there, though. And that incident, plus the heartbreak of losing the World Series in six games to the Jays, meant that the elation I experienced late on that Wednesday night in Atlanta didn’t last as long as I would’ve liked.
People, it is just a game. No one needs to be that evil. As you hear said quite a bit: “Get a life!” If you are so hung up that your response to your team losing is to do something evil, then you are messed up. (I feel sorry for the gentleman in Chicago who reached out to catch that foul ball at Wrigley during the 2003 NLCS. He did what 99% of the fans in that stadium would have done that night, but he was the one sitting in that seat. His life was forever changed because of the evil of people.) Things need to change. Baseball is just a game that we need to love, and we should cheer on our players.
Personally, I know I am truly grateful for the opportunity to have done something I absolutely loved to do. Baseball is a great game! And that particular game in 1992 — more specifically, the final 15 seconds of it — has provided me with 25 years of joyful experiences. Thanks to that last play, and that goofy slide, and the whole thing, I’ve met and gotten to know so many kind and thoughtful people who share their memories of that moment with me.
People still come up to me almost every day and want to talk about it. Now, they talk about it differently depending on if I’m back home in Pennsylvania, or Down South visiting Atlanta … but, no matter what, people want to talk about it. It doesn’t matter if it’s at the airport, or in a restaurant, or if I’m stopped at a red light, they will always bring up that winning run I scored.
They tell me about jumping up in the living room and putting their fist through the ceiling, or about how there was some crazy bet where they had to go streaking naked out on the front street if I scored.
I’ve heard it all at this point.
And, you know what?
It never gets old.
I never get tired of hearing those stories, or of reliving the final play with folks who want to share memories from that moment.
The way I see it, a lot of guys, when they retire from our game, within a couple of years, they kind of go into obscurity. People forget about them. And that’s it.
But people remember me, because of “The Slide.”
And even if it’s just because of that one play over the course of a 12-year career, I still feel like that’s pretty darn cool.