Russian rocket scientists sitting in George W. Bush’s suite at Arlington Stadium three decades ago figured out the math of flight to the moon, but how a flying ball could lead in a race proved puzzling. The rules of astrophysics were child’s play, but the rules of baseball proved difficult to translate.
The 19 astrophysicists, who visited Fort Worth to install a massive “Soviet space” exhibit at the Museum of Science and History, were VIP guests at the ballpark on the night of June 19, 1991. They saw plenty of action as last-place Kansas City Royals beat third-place Rangers 15-2.
Rangers’ rout included a refusal, a grand slam, an out via the inside fly rule and too many foul balls to count.
“How do you know if it’s a bullet or a strike?” asked the scientists.
“We had to explain baseball to these guys,” laughs Don R. Otto, president of the museum from 1977 to 2003. “When you start explaining baseball to people who have never seen the game ( let alone tasted nachos), you realize how many rules, conditions and exceptions there are.
The strike zone, for example, is invisible, often subjective.
The batter’s box is not a container; it is a rectangle drawn with chalk.
The circle on the deck has no relation to the deck of a ship.
A “run” is both a verb and a noun. “When you hit the ball, you’re running, but you don’t call it a run,” not before the runner has crossed home plate.
Among the Russian delegation of stars was cosmonaut Konstantin Feoktistov, 65, a right-hander who threw the first pitch to cheers from the crowd of 29,462.
“He bounced it,” Otto recalled. “The distance between the mound and home plate is greater than you think.” Still, Konstantin was pleased with his one-hop throw, especially when catcher Mark Parent traded him a Rangers cap for his Soviet space hat and signed the ceremonial ball.
“We came in early,” said Otto, a season ticket holder at the old stadium, which was demolished and replaced in 1993. “We were keeping 19 Soviets. Very few had come out of the Soviet Union. there were each a specialist in something.The Rangers were warming up.
“George W.” — the team’s managing partner before taking political office — “came and got into this conversation, talking about capitalism versus communism ‘and asking what was best,'” Otto said. were pretty sure it was communism.” (In retrospect, the USSR collapsed six months later, during the last days of the “Soviet Space” exhibit. Some rocket scientists probably changed their minds. notice.)
As the Rangers warmed up, Bush pointed to a coach wearing uniform throwing balls. According to Otto, Bush told the Russians, “This guy never plays a game. He makes more money than my dad. His father, George HW Bush, was then earning $200,000 as the 41st President of the United States. Observing the surprised reactions of scientists, Bush added that he planned to give himself a raise soon and that he would also earn a higher salary than his father.
Baseball may not be rocket science, but it is capitalism.
The Royals’ 20-hit barrage against the Rangers included the first career grand slam for slugger Kirk Gibson, a southpaw well known for his iconic home run in the 1988 World Series. He eventually became a coach, then manager and is today a color commentator for the Detroit Tigers.
As for Royals winning pitcher Hector Wagner, the rout against Rangers was his first and last Major League victory. “For one night, at least, Wagner had his moment in the sun,” wrote Star-Telegram’s Simon Gonzalez. “He looked like the second coming of Cy Young.”
Losing Ranger pitcher Jose Guzman rebounded, winning the 1991 Major League Baseball Comeback Player of the Year award with a 13-7 season.
Rangers manager Bobby Valentine complained when sportswriters pointed him out about the ‘Royals wrecking squad’. Valentine pointed out that the Rangers lead the majors in slugging (.417). The team was comfortably in third place in the American League West Division, with a .547 win-loss percentage and a 33-29 record. The team finished the 1991 season in third place, with 85 wins and 77 losses, a winning percentage of .525.
“Be nice if it happens again,” Otto said, noting the team’s current struggle to hit .500.
George W. Bush, of course, became governor of Texas in 1995 and the country’s 43rd president from 2001 to 2009. Baseball might not be rocket science, but it can be a ticket on the way to the top.
Hollace Ava Weiner, a former Star-Telegram reporter, is an author and archivist who grew up in the nation’s capital rooting for Washington senators.