It was called the “Magic Bullet,” a name that would actually be coined during the World Series, by some would say “a disgruntled” Jose Canseco, who had obviously wished to see his team play in the Fall Classic, and with good reason, for Oakland appeared to without a doubt be a better team than Boston. The Athletics had in fact won fifteen more games than the Red Sox; Minnesota running behind Oakland had a better record than the BoSox and you had to give up the fact, no matter how much of a New Englander you were, that the Sox had benefited from being in the worse division in ’88.
Of course for Boston the talk of magic being on their side was ironic; dark, dark humor, and Canseco was slammed by many for attempting to upstage the games still to be played. This was a team that knew magic and knew it well, in the form of a seventy-year-old curse that had recently struck again. Just the mention of Buckner in an article still had the same sting in the hearts of most fans; the ball moved through the legs by none other than the Babe’s ghost simply forbidding Billy from getting down to make the play. These were not fans who took to being called lucky particularly well.
And yet the name stuck, simply because the play was horrible and unbelievable, a mix that on a much smaller scale did in fact echo the Kennedy assassination. The 1988 ALCS started as was expected, with an early Canseco home run and some dominating pitching. Things wouldn’t become extraordinary until the bottom of the seventh inning when Dave Stewart pitched a ball to Jim Rice that came back rocketing off the bat. Rice would later say that he felt as if someone else was swinging the bat for him—perhaps a rationalization for all the pain he caused, perhaps not, stranger things have been accepted in the world of sports.
So this ball is absolutely scorched, comes off and Canseco is running up on it immediately, fearing it’ll get by McGwire, which it does, but it the worst way possible: it takes a bad hop and goes straight into his left foot and Mark goes down for the count, further damaging his leg on the fall. And the sparks aren’t over, as this ball keeps going. Rice pauses as he’s rounding first and the ball is scooting out to Canseco, but he has to play the game and it looks like the worst has been done. Of course, as we know, it hasn’t; the ball takes yet another bad hop and flies up on Canseco with speed it probably shouldn’t mathematically have.
José watches as the ball comes up to his face. He would later explain that somehow what he saw was a ball that was speeding up in the air, one that there was no way he could put a glove on, or even get out of the way of. The instantaneous velocity, he would say, appeared to have doubled, from the time he saw it scooting out past McGwire.
Canseco is not an overly reliable source here, though, as he has admitted, and as you most surely know, that ball smacked him so hard in the face that he fell down cold, scaring everyone on the field more than even McGwire’s topple. And with that, we had the “Magic Bullet,” which put out the Bash Brothers for the next two games. Canseco would attempt to come into game four of the series, but he was not the same man for that game.
Boston, able to pull off the win in Game One, a long blistering fourteen inning game, then gathered some steam. McGwire with some broken bones was clearly unheard from, Canseco came back to get a hit in the aforementioned game, but was basically nonexistent as well. And hence the Red Sox got called lucky forcing their way back to the World Series through a sweep of the big bad Athletics. A team that didn’t win ninety games in the regular season.
And if you are a fan of eighties baseball, a simple pop culture historian, or maybe even a physicist, you can tell that the story above isn’t what happened in 1988. In fact, the A’s, as they style their name, I hate the apostrophe myself, swept the Sox, went to the Series and lost to the Dodgers in five games. I was simply writing up an idea that I have for a story called “Stealing Home.” Vonnegut does a bit of this in A Man without a Country, but he isn’t talking about something he’s going to write, but rather something he’s failing to write. The book was called If God Were Alive Today and it would have had aliens from Mars who took over the old racial humor, in that they pee gasoline; Vonnegut jokingly says that they “only eat homeless men, women, and children of all colors,” which he’s saying is a good thing to make light of that viewpoint. It’s a very Vonnegut thing to do.
Of course Kurt, like always, he’s making jokes. I’m not, so perhaps I should place the context of my little attempted trick of history above in the light of a more accurate similarity. You find this in Stephen King’s Blockade Billy (or “Blockade Billy,” if you wish). Here, in this story/novella, King creates a team called the New Jersey Titans, and has them playing 1950s baseball. He’s twisting and tweaking the history of the major leagues. I read the beginning of this book and got a bit of a chill, because I already had my idea for my own changes to history in my story and found the King, the man who’s sold more books than anyone else, doing something along the same lines. That was enough to make the story fun for me.
From here on, if you know Red Sox history before 2004, you’ll probably be able to guess I somehow have them dropping the World Series in “Stealing Home.” And if you have a moderate knowledge of the game, you can probably figure out how I would have that happening. But what I’ve written here is backstory, even the World Series of 1988 as I’ve imagined it, even this is just the background for the story. It takes place in 1998ish, maybe later than that. Which is why I thought I could give you the tale above, which I might as well source to a journalist in my fictional universe: if it was good thank Paul Kuberg; if bad then always blame me. And sorry for boring you, if I have done that again.