VIDEO: Curt Flood Misplays Ball in Game 7 of 1968 World Series

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The 1968 Detroit Tigers are remembered fondly in Michigan. But in Missouri, Cardinals fans remember one thing more than any other from the 1968 World Series is the gaffe by center fielder Curt Flood in the seventh inning of the seventh game.

But don’t call it a mistake, because Tigers fans don’t want to hear that. Jim Northrup would bristle if someone said his two-run triple was a ball that Flood could have caught. As would many of his Detroit teammates. But when you consult the video from that series 55 years ago, you’ll see that Flood ran in on the ball, then stumbled as he went back. Without the first mistake, the ball would have been caught. And who knows how that game would have turned out.

Here’s the video of that seventh inning rally, which started with two outs in a scoreless game.

Detroit pitcher Denny McLain, who was in the bullpen beyond the outfield fence at Busch Stadium, swears that Flood could not have caught the line drive hit off the bat by Northrup.

But Flood was arguably the best center fielder in baseball, and maybe one of the best defenders to ever roam the outfield. On a typical day, Flood would have made the catch going back to his right and over his shoulder. But on October 10, 1968, in an afternoon game in St. Louis, circumstances conspired against him.

That day, the weather was warm and the skies were uncharacteristically clear. Hardly any clouds hovered above the city, which resulted in a bright, blue sky, made even more luminescent by the high sun. Ironically, Flood was not the first outfielder to struggle with a baseball off the bat that day. Earlier, Northrup, playing center field for Detroit, broke in on a drive by Lou Brock, and had to quickly retreat to make the catch. It was nearly a disaster that could have allowed the speedy Brock to circle the bases.

The drive by Northrup was a frozen rope that came off the bat loud. It came on Bob Gibson’s first pitch to Northrup, who was known as “The Fox” because of his silver hair. But, even though Northrup hit a line drive, the ball was not as low as Flood anticipated. He originally went by instinct based on the swing and sound of the bat, but the baseball was not where he expected. It was higher on the horizon. He took two full steps in and realized his mistake. When he tried to retreat, his cleat caught in the grass. By the time he could get to where the baseball could have landed in his glove, it was bouncing to the warning track. Two runners scored ahead of Northrup, who cruised into third. A moment later, Bill Freehan doubled him in to make it 3-0.

The Tigers won Game 7 by the score of 4-1, completing an unlikely upset of the heavily-favored Cardinals. Years later, members of the Cardinals still refused to believe Detroit beat them. They felt they squandered a title that should have been theirs.

“We knew we were a better team,” Brock said later. “We had some things go wrong for us, but that one still bothers me.”

Once years later in Lakeland, Florida, Northrup was at spring training in his role as a broadcaster for the Tigers. He was signing autographs for a few fans. One of them mentioned the play from the 1968 World Series, and intimated that Flood misjudged the ball.

“Bullshit,” Northrup said, not bothering to hide his disgust. “I crushed that ball and it was [a hit] all the way.”

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Dan Holmes

Dan Holmes

Dan Holmes is the author of three books about baseball, including Ty Cobb: A Biography. He previously worked for the National Baseball Hall of Fame, and Major League Baseball Advanced Media. He lives in Michigan where he writes, runs, and enjoys a good orange soda now and again.
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