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random hackers, rubio begonias

more memories

On today’s Giants telecast, Mike Krukow was talking about his major-league debut, which came back in 1976. You could tell by the sound of Kruk’s voice that he remembered that game as if it were yesterday. That’s not hard to understand … it’s the goal of every ballplayer to make the big leagues, and someone like Krukow, who thanks to a long career as a broadcaster has now been in the game for many decades, is sure to recall that initial performance.

The subject came up when talk turned to another pitcher-turned-broadcaster, Steve Stone. Krukow noted that his first appearance in the big leagues came in relief of Stone. Krukow had just joined the Cubs from the minors, and Stone, the starting pitcher for the Cubs that day, had nothing. As Krukow told it, Stone warned the bullpen that he wasn’t likely to last long, so they should be ready to go. Four outs later, he said, Stone was gone and Kruk was in. He retired the first nine men he faced, but then gave up three runs.

All credit to Kruk’s memory … do you remember what you were doing on September 6, 1976? But this is the Internet era, and it’s easy to check and see how that game actually turned out. Baseball-reference.com gives the details.

Krukow was right, Stone only lasted 1 1/3 innings. But he was relieved by Buddy Schultz, who retired the side. In the bottom of the inning, manager Jim Marshall pinch-hit for Schultz, and then, in the top of the third, Krukow made his debut.

Coming into the game, Kruk was as good as he remembered. He got the Mets 1-2-3 in the third, and repeated the feat in the fourth, meaning he had retired the first six hitters he faced in the big leagues. But in the fifth, he gave up hits to four of five batters, allowing three runs, after which he was removed from the game.

Again, credit is due to Krukow for remembering that day so well, and you could end the story there and not be too far from the truth. But what actually happened differed from what Krukow remembered … not by much, only in a couple of details, but different nonetheless. And this happened 35 years ago, but it was also an event that Krukow likely counts among the biggest of his life. And his memory was less than flawless.

Does this matter? Probably not. But it’s worth a thought the next time you tell someone your memories about an important event in your life. You’ll remember that story as if it were yesterday. And you’ll get at least part of the story wrong.


You Know I'm Unemployed Yet Afreakinggain Because Life Is Forever Oh So Fair

Unfortunately, I have a bad habit of repeating stories. (I’ve told you this before, haven’t I?) I’m very aware of this—though (not usually) while I’m actually repeating a story—and, perhaps as a result, I try to pay particular attention when I’m hearing someone else repeat a story. Not that I’ve done any kind of scientific study, but it sure seems to me that the people who tell the same story exactly the same way 100 times out of 100 tend to be chronic liars—it’s as though they’ve memorized a script.

On the other hand, those who repeat “genuine” stories (and I’m counting Krukow here, because no doubt he’s told the story of his debut a zillion times) tend to get some details wrong here and there, even more so with the passage of time. I know these observations aren’t exactly revolutionary, but this is what your article made me think of.

Further, it reminded me of one of my favorite Krukow quirks, which I haven’t really heard much of over the past few years: When one team or the other pulls the infield in, you used to be able to count on Kruk to point out that this would increase a hitter’s batting average by... 30 points—or 40, 50, 70, the cube root of infinity, or whatever number happened to come to mind at the time.

Steven Rubio

I hear you ... in a movie I watched recently, an interrogator explained that you could tell someone was lying when each telling of their story was the same.

I mostly obsess about this because memory has been a favorite topic of mine in recent years, perhaps because I'm losing mine in my old age. I've included sections on the vagaries of memory in my critical thinking classes for some time now. The kind of "mistakes" Kruk made today are harmless ... he got the story "right" (his first game, Stone started and bombed, Kruk pitched well to start and then got tagged for 3 runs), even if he didn't get it right. The problem comes when we assume our memories are incapable of being wrong at all. If Kruk saw this blog post, he's probably laugh, tell me I was too OCD, and admit he'd missed a detail or two. But when, say, a witness in a crime says on the witness stand "Yes, it happened exactly this way, I remember it perfectly," they believe themselves 100% and they won't laugh if you show them where they're wrong.


Thanks for reminding us that no matter what our age, memory is not necessarily a factual happenstance.

Steven Rubio

Hey, I'm the guy who still thinks we were at Hoberg's for McCovey's debut!

You Know I'm Unemployed Yet Afreakinggain Because Life Is Forever Oh So Fair

This stuff about memory is much on my mind as well, and not just because it ties in with the reason for my out-of-work-itude these days. The long-term memory is still pretty good, since memories get reinforced further (rightly or not) with each retelling, but after a while, even these get morphed. My mind is packed tighter (though far less interesting) than Mila Kunis’ leotard with Mindless Pointless Trivia, and these idiot facts used to be available at a moment’s notice, but now that I’m approaching my dotage, stuff that’s been in there for 30 or 40 years drops out now and again, and I’ll find myself going nuts because I can’t remember the name of that actor from that episode of Night Gallery, or whatever.

However, if I start thinking about something else, often that name will come to me quickly and out of the blue. And then sometimes, having just remembered the name triumphantly (“Bradford Dillman! Yes!”), I’ll forget it again instantly. Still, at least I’ve learned, on these occasions, to deliberately start thinking about something else—such as the fact that I keep forgetting the name of that kid the Giants brought up last year, the one with the low ERA but who scared everybody anyway because he walked about two batters per inning, so he ended up being sent out for good.

In any case, memory is hard to bank on at the best of times (“Denny Bautista! Yes!”). This is why the cop-’n’-courtroom shows always tell us that Eyewitness Testimony Is Notoriously Unreliable. The most satisfying approach, probably, is to say: “My memory is definitive; screw reality.”


Don't know if you've ever seen Remembrance of Games Past by Gabe Schechter, who works (or perhaps worked) at the library at the Hall of Fame. People would often ask him to find the box score of the first game they ever attended... it's a great essay, and is appropriate for Willie Mays Day as well.


Steven Rubio

Thanks, that's a great piece! My son is lucky ... at his first game, John Tamargo hit the only triple of his career, so it's easy to track down. My own first game is foggier. I only realized in my 40s that I'd been to Seals Stadium, which only narrows it down to two years :-).

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