That anecdote and other bits of history Noble has collected from former Yankes third baseman Clete Boyer and former Giants third-base coach Whitey Lockman make for an intriguing story that first appeared in the 2012 edition of SCOREBOOK, the journal published each year in conjunction with the winter dinner staged by the New York Chapter of the Baseball Writers' Association of America. The story follows.
We begin at the end. The Yankees lead the Giants, 1-0, in the ninth inning of Game 7 of the 1962 World Series. Many of us recall the final play: Willie McCovey swings, makes typical Willie McCovey contact, and Yankees fans throughout the land inhale hard through clenched teeth, as people do when one car is about to collide with another.
The baseball and the glove of second baseman Bobby Richardson collide, and Richardson makes the play as if he had anticipated every aspect of it. The Yankees put the World Series in their back pocket, winning for the third time in five years, the ninth time in 14. Ho hum! Or, "How about that?" And they don't win another for 15. But that's not the story.
These are the stories, the kinds of stories that seep out gradually over years, even decades, and colorize what most of us witnessed in black and white, the kinds that illustrate how human each of us is, even the seasoned professionals who can hit Marichal and strike out Mantle, Mays, Maris or McCovey, the kinds that make retrospectives compelling and so entertaining.
McCovey comes to bat with two out and runners on second and third, the result of a double to right by Willie Mays off Yankees starter Ralph Terry that advanced Matty Alou from first. The score might have been tied at 1 before McCovey's turn, but Roger Maris quickly retrieved Mays' hit and relayed the ball to the infield. Giants third-base coach Lockman held Alou.
Boyer, the Yankees' third baseman, surveys the circumstances and gulps quietly as his knees begin to shake. He talks to himself: "You know we're gonna walk McCovey --- it's the right thing to do, walk the lefty hitter. But then it's [Orlando] Cepeda, [he's] right-handed, and there's no chance he's not gonna pull something hard off my knees. We're gonna lose, 2-1, and I'm gonna be the goat.
"That cartoon guy in the paper [New York Daily News cartoonist Bill Gallo] is going to draw the horns on me. I know it."
As Boyer trembles, Yankees manager Ralph Houk walks to the mound. "I start for the mound," Boyer said, "knowing Ralph is going to say 'Four balls.'
"But I get there, and I hear him say, 'What do you wanna do?' I can't believe it. The Major is giving Terry a choice. It's 'Pick your poison, kid.' But I'm still sure Terry's gonna say 'I'll walk McCovey and take my chances with the righty [Cepeda].'
"But he doesn't say that. He wants to go after McCovey, the lefty. I'm standing right next to them, and it's all I can do to keep myself from screaming 'All right, all right.' I'm safe. Terry can be the goat. I'm safe. Terry made the decision. I didn't. I still can't believe it."
Well, Gallo put the hero's crown on the head of Terry that night, and Boyer's image was nowhere to be seen the following day -- just as he preferred it.
"I don't know if I ever told Terry," Boyer said. "I know I never told Houk. They always used to say I wanted the ball hit to me, but not that day. I was the happiest man in the ballpark when the ball went in the other direction."
Weeks pass. Lockman still is in Northern California, and he is having trouble sleeping. He never has been any kind of insomniac, but his hours in bed are unsettled. It's mid-December, 1962, and late in the evening. He reaches for a phone book and a phone. He finds the number he wants -- needs -- and pays no mind to the time or geography. He must speak with Elston Howard, the Yankees' catcher in Game 7.
Howard lives in Teaneck, N. J. He's sound asleep when the phone rings.
"Ellie," the caller says. "It's Whitey Lockman, Ellie. Can't sleep. I gotta know. Tell me, if I send Alou, does he make it?"
Howard got right to the point. "Go back to bed. He's out by 15 feet."
Marty Noble is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.