I don’t know anyone who claims game six of the 1981 World Series was a great game. Neither do I. It is, however, a good way to look at one of my obsessions, the effect a manager really has on a game.
Game six of the 1981 World Series occurred on 28 October in Yankee Stadium. The Los Angeles Dodgers had a 3 games to 2 lead on the Yanks and sent Burt Hooton to the mound. He was 0-1 for the Series. He faced former Dodgers ace Tommy John (of elbow fame). John was 1-0. New York broke through in the bottom of the third when Willie Randolph homered off Hooton. The Dodgers responded by tying up the game in the top of the fourth.
The turning point of the game was the bottom of the fourth. With one out Graig Nettles doubled. The second out failed to advance him. Eight hitter Larry Milbourne was walked intentionally, bringing up John. John was pitching reasonably well. He’d given up six hits, but only the one run and struck out two with no walks. Yankees manager Bob Lemon decided to pull him and send up a pinch hitter. Lemon decided that he wanted to get ahead in the fourth and let the bullpen take over. So he sent up Bobby Murcer to pinch hit. Murcer flied to right to end both the inning and Tommy John’s participation in the World Series. I remember being surprised at the time by Lemon’s decision. I also recall the announcers being stunned by the call. John was furious and you could see his frustration in the dugout. As an aside he was traded late the next season.
Lemon brought in reliever George Frazier to face the Dodgers. Frazier had been in two previous games, lost both, and given up four runs in just over three innings. In other words, the Dodgers could hit him. They did. They tallied three runs in the fifth to take a 4-1 lead and coasted from there. They added four more in he sixth and one in the eighth to win the game easily 9-2 (the Yanks got a late run in the sixth) and Frazier joined Lefty Williams of the 1919 Chicago White Sox as the only pitcher to lose three games in one World Series (and Williams, of course, was trying to lose).
I’ve spent a lot of time on this site trying to fathom the role of the manager. How really important is he? How much of a team’s success is talent? That sort of thing fascinates me. I still don’t know the exact answer to that, but this is one time when a managerial decision truly changed a game. John had done well in his other game, was doing well in this one, while Frazier had been awful. But Lemon made the change and things fell exactly as a Dodgers fan would want. Obviously down 3-2 Lemon wanted to take advantage of a situation and try to get a lead, a victory, and a chance at game seven. He can be faulted for taking out John, but the major mistake, it seems to me, was inserting Frazier. By the way, I don’t fault Lemon for using Murcer as the pinch hitter (although Murcer went 0-3 with a sacrifice in the Series). Anyway, it came back to haunt Lemon in the game and later. He lasted fourteen games into the 1982 season before being fired. He never managed again.