Would replay have changed history for '77 Phillies?
The play at first was close, but umpire Bruce Froemming called Dodgers baserunner Davey Lopes safe. Phillies manager Danny Ozark walked slowly out of the dugout, then peeked back at bench coach Bobby Wine, who gave him a thumbs up. Ozark turned to Froemming and said he was challenging the call. Replay officials in New York began to study the video.
Aw, that didn't really happen on Oct. 7, 1977, during Game 3 of the National League Championship Series, of course. This is the first year Major League Baseball will utilize expanded replay in the playoffs. Still, Phillies fans have to wonder how vastly different things might have turned out if the system had been available 37 years ago on what will always be remembered as Black Friday. It's all speculation, naturally, but the potential ripple effect is profound.
Here's the set-up: After splitting the first two games of the best-of-five series, the Phils had a 5-3 lead going into the ninth at Veterans Stadium. With Steve Carlton, who would win the second of his four NL Cy Young Awards that season, set to start the next day, the chances of making it to the World Series for the first time since 1950 seemed bright.
Except the Dodgers rallied with two outs. A single, a double and an error made the score 5-4, with the tying run on third. Lopes hit a grounder that took a bad hop off third baseman Mike Schmidt and caromed toward shortstop, where Larry Bowa grabbed and threw. Froemming called Lopes safe. He eventually scored the winning run and the Dodgers beat Carlton the next day to snuff the Phillies' hopes.
The Phils didn't ended up winning the first World Series championship in franchise history for another three years.
Replays, relatively primitive back then, appeared to show that Bowa's throw beat Lopes. Which didn't matter at the time, because that evidence couldn't be used to overturn the call.
But what if ...
Bowa, who played in more than 2,000 big league games and coached or managed thousands more, still watches that play.
"I have all these films and everything. That's the game that, once a winter, I always look at it. That will live forever with me," he said. "I think that was our best team. I think we would have had another ring, maybe, or at least a chance to win another.
"When I see Bruce I always say, 'You know, if anybody but Davey Lopes is running, you call him out.' But the fact that he ran so fast, the fact that Schmitty didn't catch the ball, you're saying to yourself, 'There's no way this guy could be out.' And to this day, he goes, 'No, no, no. I got it right.'"
There's much more. Maybe the Phillies wouldn't have signed Pete Rose before the 1979 season. Maybe Dallas Green wouldn't have replaced Ozark as manager on Aug. 31 of that season.
"I don't think they would have [fired Ozark]. Even if we just get there," Bowa said.
Which means that Green could have remained a Minor League director and never blossomed into the larger-than-life figure that he became after famously leading the team past the Royals in the 1980 World Series.
"Bad for me. No doubt," Green said with a laugh. "I guess they call it fate. Danny would have still been there [if Lopes had been called out] and he'd be an icon instead of me. Because that was the ballgame. That killed what momentum we had and gave them more momentum. I still think we were the best team in baseball that year and we just let it get away from us."
Without the profile he gained from that World Series, it's entirely possible Green wouldn't have been hired as general manager of the Cubs in 1982, eventually becoming team president. That helped alter the course of another franchise. One of his first moves he made after arriving at Wrigley Field was to make a trade with the Phils, getting future Hall of Fame second baseman Ryne Sandberg as a throw-in.
Schmidt has mixed emotions about that pivotal play.
"You never know how the outcome of that game would have been," he said. "We probably would have played a little more relaxed, a little more confident. There just would have been a feel about the game the next day that we were one step away from the World Series. Sometimes each individual goes to a different level. It's easy to say it would have happened. But when you're down and have to win, you should go to a stronger level, too.
"But you know, I was involved in that. If I'd have caught the darned ball and thrown the guy out at first, everything would have been different."
Bowa, on the other hand, has no doubt.
"People say there are no hangovers in baseball," he said. "Even though we had our best pitcher going, it seems like they took that game right away from us. When you play 162 [games] and they take one away from you, you say, 'Aw, well.' But when you're in the playoffs, there's a scar there, no matter what people say: 'Turn the page. Forget about it.' We basically came out with a little hangover. I really believe it was a big letdown for us, even though we had our big guy on the mound."
This, again, is exactly why baseball now has expanded replay. To get it right.
"It's amazing how one play changes everything," Bowa said.
Or maybe not. What-if is intriguing and seductive, but there's ultimately no way of saying with certainty what would have been different and what might have changed.
"If I hadn't stopped switch-hitting, I wouldn't be [in the Hall of Fame] right now," Schmidt said with a laugh. "Or what if Columbus had gone in a different direction?"