Tug McGraw called the last pitch of the 1980 World Series, “It was the slowest pitch in the history of baseball: It took 97 years to get there.”
What gets forgotten is that prior to that pitch, Dickie Noles threw another one that was slightly faster and aimed at George Brett’s skull.
And what, until today, was completely untold was that Brett was not the first intended target of Dickie Noles’ wrath on the 1980 Royals.
“Things were beginning to look a little precarious,” emcee Dan Baker said of games three and four of the World Series that year. “But the Phillies had a distinct advantage. “It was the Phillies’ pitchers’ willingness to throw inside and keep those Royals batters loose. Particularly one individual…. Phillies pitcher number 48, Dickie Noles.”
It was a series of events that led to the infamous pitch, which Noles was happy to relate to the crowd at the 2013 SABR Conference in Philadelphia on Thursday:
"The first one that irritated our ball club was Hal McRae hit a ground ball single up the middle, just a little hopper. As he hit it up the middle and Gary Matthews fields it in center field on one knee, and lobbed it back in, McRae was a very heads-up player – he never stopped and ran into second and stretched a single into a double, but when he slid, he did a pop-up slide and came up on Manny Trillo’s glove. He has had his fist up in the air, the stadium was erupting again, it was going crazy, and he wouldn’t get off of his glove."
"So I walked to second base and I said, ‘If you don’t get off his glove, I’m gonna hit you in the head.’ So Hal McRae’s was the guy that I was gonna hit in the head. And Hal McRae looked at me and just as calmly as could be, he said ‘Hey, boy, you don’t wanna chill with me, I’m from Missouri.’ And I started to walk back to the mound, and I remembered, ‘…oh yeah, we are in Kansas City.’ Took me a while to figure that out.”
"But before McRae hits his ball, Willie Mays Aikens came up in the second inning, he’d homered in the first which was his third of the series, and now, with a 3-1 count, I throw him a curveball and he hits one off me. I wasn’t the kind of pitcher who cared about giving up home runs. If they hit home runs and it was a long way, I’d watch it. I’d turn around and go, ‘I wish I could hit it that far.’ So he hit one, and I thought it was gonna leave the stadium."
"The problem was, when I turned around, Willie was still standing in the batter’s box. So I walked to home plate and I said, ‘Hey Willie, you need to run.’ And he still wasn’t running, and finally he flips his bat, takes a couple steps, and I said, ‘Hey. I’m gonna hit you right the head.’ And he ran around the bases really, really, really slow, so I went to home plate, and let him know again, ‘When you come up next, I’m gonna hit you.’ So I went back to the mound and that’s when Hal McRae hit his little ground ball, so I’ve now told two guys I’m gonna hit them."
"And now we get to the fourth inning, and George Brett comes up. And when Brett walked up, I saw Aikens on deck and I went, ‘Okay, once I get Brett out, I’m gonna drill this guy.’ I threw a fastball right by him, he swung and missed it. I threw another one, and we had four nuns sitting over our visiting dugout over near third base, and that fastball, he hit a line drive that almost killed one of them, it went right between all of them. So I got no balls and two strikes on him."
"But he’s taking a lot of time to get back in the box, laughing at [Mike Schmidt] and looking at his bat like it had a hole in it. I said, ‘Hey, George, if you don’t get in the box, I’m gonna hit you.’ So George got in the box, and he kind of gave me a dirty look.” “And I thank God to this day, I would never throw at anybody’s head, I would never preach that – but I threw right at the man’s head."
"He flipped up, the ball was coming right at his face. I learned later on, after the game, Tom Seaver told me later on it was the slowest pitch I threw. I was throwing anywhere from 94-95 early in the late part of the game I was throwing about 95-96. That one, he said, was about 90 mph, and I thank God for that, because if that had been 95 and it hit him…”
"But when he hit the ground – I remember it like it was five minutes ago – the stadium went quiet. And then it just erupted into a bunch of boos."
"I look over and every one of their players were looking at me, and they had their hands around their neck, they were saying they were gonna hit me, I was going, ‘I don’t even hit, we got a DH.'"
"Pete Rose said, ‘Hey, you pitch your own ball game. If you want to hit any of those guys, you go ahead.' They all sat down, very quietly."
Noles went on to say that it took Brett 30 years and a couple bottles of wine to ask him if he threw at him on purpose.
“I said, ‘yeah,’” Noles said. “He went, ‘Yes! I love it.’”
“Boy,” Brad Lidge said, sitting next to Noles on the panel of speakers, scratching the back of his head, “the game has changed.”