There’s a wonderful book that’s been out for quite some time, written by Richard Bak, called Cobb Would Have Caught It, which is a historical look at the Tigers.
Jim Northrup would like to, I believe, write his own book one day and title it, Flood WOULDN’T Have Caught It.
I saw Northrup, the former Tiger who played on the 1968 World Series championship team, signing books at the Borders book shop at Oakland Mall over the weekend. And it reminded me of a conversation he and I had about ten years prior.
At the time, Northrup and I were an unlikely pair, trying to make a TV show work. I was co-producing it, a local cable show where Northrup and Oakland Press sports writer Jim Hawkins went on the air and tried to sell baseball memorabilia to the viewers. It wasn’t a very good show, but it enabled me to pick the Gray Fox’s brain in between rolling tape.
Inevitably, the discussion turned to Northrup’s famous drive in the seventh inning of Game 7 that sailed over the head of Cardinals center fielder Curt Flood. The clutch hit was a triple that drove in two runs and sent the Tigers on their way to victory. And since Flood plainly stumbled as he went back for the ball, it was widely believed that it was Flood’s misstep that enabled Northrup’s hit to go uncaught.
That belief clearly has Northrup steamed — at least it did when he railed at me back in 1998.
“There’s no way Flood would have caught that! Take a look at it again. That was a rope!”
That’s the G-rated version of what Northrup said after I brought up the hit and the notion that it was Flood’s stumble, not Northrup’s power, that opened the floodgates.
You could tell that history’s version of Northrup’s smash off Bob Gibson rankled the Fox to no end. His face literally turned red and you could almost see his insides clench.
Of course, I’d seen the play countless times prior to Northrup’s rant, and I confess to buying into the version that says Flood would have caught it had he not stumbled. But now when I see it, I try to look at it from Northrup’s point of view. Trouble is, the only available video accounts of the hit don’t really enable the viewer to see the ferocity with which the ball was driven. All you pretty much see is Flood going back. Yet Northrup, of course, would know as well as anyone how hard he hit the ball, and on what sort of line. And he’s absolutely convinced that Flood didn’t have a prayer — stumble or no stumble.
Here’s the play (good luck trying to verify Northrup’s assertion. But I will say this: don’t EVER argue the matter with him):