Cold War Classic

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The Cold War Classic was a baseball game played in February 1974 between leaders of NATO and leaders of the Soviet Bloc as part of detente. It was held in Zagreb, Yugoslavia (now Croatia).

Background and conditions[edit]

The idea for the Classic was brought up in a private conversation between American Secretary of State Henry Kissinger and Soviet Foreign Minister Andrei Gromyko and then strongly endorsed by their respective bosses: Richard Nixon because he believed that the West would easily win such a game, and Leonid Brezhnev because he was widely believed to be drunk at the time.[1]

The disparity in baseball experience between the West and the East was a potential problem that both sides attempted to correct for. Zagreb was chosen not only because, under the leadership of Josip Broz Tito it was considered neutral territory in the Cold War, but also for its proximity to the Soviet Bloc, minimizing the travel weariness of the Communist team. The Soviet Bloc was also allowed to play as the "home team" (batting in the bottom of the inning). Additionally, Cincinnati Reds second baseman Joe Morgan was allowed to play for East Germany, giving the Soviet Bloc the only professional player in the game.

Participation[edit]

Of the European Communist states other than Yugoslavia, only Romania and Albania declined to participate, due to Nicolae Ceauşescu and Enver Hoxha drifting out of the Soviet Bloc to pursue more nationalistic policies. The People's Republic of China, North Vietnam, and North Korea, not being part of the traditional Soviet Bloc, were not invited, nor did they show any interest in attending. Cuba, however, having a strong baseball tradition, was very eager to participate, especially as Fidel Castro had significant experience playing baseball.

On the NATO side, many NATO nations declined to participate. Canada refused due to personal issues between Richard Nixon and Canadian Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau. Francedeclined in order to point out that it was not a full NATO member (having withdrawn from the military structure). Italian Prime Minister Mariano Rumor was very eager to participate, but suffered a knee injury shortly before the game, forcing him to be replaced. NATO was left with a rump of American and British cabinet members, as well as a few heads of government from conservative European nations.

Lineups[edit]

Soviet Bloc Lineup[2]

The Soviet Bloc team was managed by Leonid Brezhnev, who did not play.

Position Name Country
SS Edward Gierek Poland
RF János Kádár Hungary
3B Andrei Gromyko USSR
2B Joe Morgan East Germany
1B Erich Honecker East Germany
LF Alexey Kosygin USSR
C Todor Zhivkov Bulgaria
CF Gustáv Husák Czechoslovakia
P Fidel Castro Cuba

NATO Manager Richard Nixon

NATO Lineup[3]

The NATO team was managed by Richard Nixon, who, like his counterpart Brezhnev, did not play.

Position Name Country
RF Poul Hartling Denmark
CF Anthony Barber United Kingdom
SS James Schlesinger USA
1B Gerald Ford USA
C Henry Kissinger USA
2B Willy Brandt West Germany
3B Edward Heath United Kingdom
LF Dimitrios Ioannides Greece
P Alexander Haig USA

Play-by-Play[edit]

US Secretary of Defense James Schlesinger, NATO's shortstop.

First Inning

Top:

  • P. Hartling grounds out to second
  • A. Barber grounds out to second
  • J. Schlesinger doubles to deep left
  • G. Ford hits home run to deep left, J. Schlesinger scores
  • H. Kissinger strikes out swinging

Bottom:

  • E. Gierek safe at first on fielding error by J. Schlesinger
  • J. Kadar safe at first on fielding error by W. Brandt, E. Gierek to second
  • A. Gromyko strikes out swinging
  • J. Morgan hits home run to deep center, E. Gierek and J. Kadar score
  • E. Honecker pops up to shortstop
  • A. Kosygin grounds out to shortstop

Score: NATO 2, Soviet Bloc 3

Second Inning

Top:

  • W. Brandt safe at first on fielding error by E. Gierek
  • E. Heath lines out to shortstop
  • D. Ioannides singles to right field. D. Ioannides advances to second and W. Brandt advances to third on fielding error by J. Kadar
  • A. Haig safe at first on fielding error by E. Gierek, W. Brandt scores, D. Ioannides to third
  • P. Hartling strikes out swinging

Bottom:

  • T. Zhivkov pops up to second
  • G. Husak grounds out to pitcher
  • F. Castro doubles to deep left
  • E. Gierek lines out to shortstop

Score: NATO 3, Soviet Bloc 3

Third Inning

Top:

  • A. Barber singles to center
  • J. Schlesinger singles to left, A. Barber to second
  • G. Ford doubles to deep right, J. Schlesinger and A. Barber score
  • H. Kissinger singles to left, G. Ford scores
  • W. Brandt strikes out swinging
  • E. Heath strikes out swinging

Polish dictatorEdward Gierekscored the first Soviet Bloc run after reaching base on an error.

With D. Ioannides batting, H. Kissinger picked off at first

Bottom:

  • J. Kadar grounds out to shortstop
  • A. Gromyko lines out to third
  • J. Morgan hits home run to deep center
  • E. Honecker singles to center. E. Honecker advances to second on fielding error by A. Barber
  • A. Kosygin walks

8T. Zhivkov flies out to center

Score: NATO 6, Soviet Bloc 4

Fourth Inning

Top:

  • D. Ioannides grounds out to second
  • A. Haig singles to left
  • P. Hartling grounds into 4-3 double play

Bottom:

  • G. Husak lines out to first
  • F. Castro singles to center
  • E. Gierek strikes out swinging
  • J. Kadar pops out to pitcher

Score: NATO 6, Soviet Bloc 4

Fifth Inning

Top:

  • A. Barber grounds out to second
  • J. Schlesinger singles to center
  • G. Ford intentionally walked
  • H. Kissinger safe at first on fielding error by E. Gierek
  • W. Brant flies out to left, J. Schlesinger scores
  • E. Heath grounds out to pitcher

Bottom:

  • A. Gromyko lines out to shortstop
  • J. Morgan intentionally walked
  • With E. Honecker batting, J. Morgan steals second
  • With E. Honecker batting, J. Morgan steals third. J. Morgan scores on fielding error by E. Heath
  • E. Honecker strikes out swinging
  • A. Kosygin grounds out to pitcher

Score: NATO 7, Soviet Bloc 5

Sixth Inning

Top:

  • D. Ioannides grounds out to first
  • A. Haig pops up to second
  • P. Hartling grounds out to pitcher

Bottom:

  • T. Zhivkov hits infield single to third
  • G. Husak grounds out to pitcher, T. Zhivkov to second
  • F. Castro doubles to left, T. Zhivkov scores
  • E. Gierek safe at first on fielding error by E. Heath
  • J. Kadar walks, F. Castro to third, E. Gierek to second
  • A. Gromyko strikes out swinging

Score: NATO 7, Soviet Bloc 6

Seventh Inning

Top:

  • A. Barber singles to left
  • J. Schlesinger singles to center, A. Barber to second
  • G. Ford doubles to deep left, A. Barber scores, J. Schlesinger to third
  • H. Kissinger singles to left, J. Schlesinger and G. Ford score
  • W. Brant grounds into 4-3 double play
  • E. Heath grounds out to pitcher

Bottom:

  • J. Morgan hits home run to deep left
  • E. Honecker grounds out to shortstop
  • A. Kosygin pops up to third
  • T. Zhivkov flies out to center

Score: NATO 10, Soviet Bloc 7

Eighth Inning

Top:

  • D. Ioannides grounds out to shortstop
  • A. Haig grounds out to first
  • P. Hartling grounds out to second

Soviet Premier Alexey Kosygin scored the tying run in the bottom of the 9th.

Bottom:

  • G. Husak hits infield single to pitcher
  • F. Castro singles to center, G. Husak to second
  • E. Gierek grounds into 6-4-3 double play, G. Husak to third
  • J. Kadar strikes out swinging

Score: NATO 10, Soviet Bloc 7

Ninth Inning

Top:

  • A. Barber singles to left
  • J. Schlesinger grounds into 4-3 double play
  • G. Ford doubles to deep center
  • H. Kissinger lines out to second

Bottom:

  • A. Gromyko strikes out swinging
  • J. Morgan intentionally walked
  • E. Honecker singles to left, J. Morgan to third
  • A. Kosygin safe at first on fielding error by A. Haig, E. Honecker to second
  • T. Zhivkov pops up to shortstop
  • G. Husak hits inside-the-park grand slam to right, J. Morgan, E. Honecker, and A. Kosygin score

Final Score: NATO 10, Soviet Bloc 11

Box Score[edit]

Team 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 H R E
NATO 2 1 3 0 1 0 3 0 0 15 10 5
Bloc 3 0 1 0 1 1 1 0 4

10

11 4
  • WP: F. Castro
  • LP: A. Haig
  • HR: J. Morgan (3), G. Ford (1), G. Husak (1)
  • SB: J. Morgan (2)

Consequences[edit]

Czechoslovakian dictator Gustáv Husák, the game M.V.P.

NATO's 9th inning meltdown caused a stir on both sides of the Iron Curtain. In the West, many were outraged by Gustáv Husák's hard slide into home plate, which dislodged the ball from Henry Kissinger's glove and allowed the winning run to score. American commentators said that such play was unacceptable in an exhibition game.[4] In the East, Husak was seen as a hero, and his inside-the-park grand slam was hailed as the "Most Clutch Moment in Czeckoslovakian History".[5] As for the hard slide, Husak stated that "My father instructed me to always play in the correct fashion, and not in any other."[6]

A notable number of NATO participants in the game lost power later in 1974, including Hartling, Heath (and therefore also Chancellor of the Exchequer Barber), and Brandt in elections, Ioannides in a coup, and Richard Nixon due to resignation over the Watergate Scandal. This has led some to speculate that there exists a "Cold War Classic Curse" on the losers;[7] adherents of this theory also point to the subsequent unsucessful Presidency of NATO first baseman Gerald Ford.[8] On the other hand, most of the Soviet Bloc participants stayed in power for at least another decade (Fidel Castro remains in power as of 2007), and Joe Morgan continued to be a popular and successful player in the major leagues and later a broadcaster and announcer for ESPN. Others claim that the eventual triumph of capitalism over communism is inconsistent with a curse.[9]

In the East, the victory was generally viewed as proof of the superiority of the socialist system to the capitalist one. Leonid Brezhnev awarded copious amounts of medals to all participants, even those who had not particularly distinguished themselves (such as Andrei Gromyko). In the West, the loss was generally viewed as a failure on the part of individual western leaders, rather than on the part of the free-enterprize system. Some, citing the significant defensive and offensive contributions to the Soviet side by their second baseman, actually viewed the outcome as a victory for the West, since the Soviet Union showed that it was extremely dependent on Western imports (in this case, Joe Morgan).

References[edit]

  1. Gaddis, John Lewis. We Now Know: Rethinking Cold War History. Oxford University Press, 1997. ISBN 0-19-878070-2. Pg 229.
  2. Gaddis, John Lewis. Private correspondence with the author.
  3. Gaddis, John Lewis. Private correspondence with the author.
  4. Major Problems in American Sport History. ed. Steven A. Riess. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company. 1997. ISBN 0-669-35380-9. Pg 385
  5. Gaddis, John Lewis. We Now Know. Pg 234
  6. Ibid.
  7. Gorn, Elliot J. and Warren Goldstein. A Brief History of American Sports. University of Illinois Press, 1993. ISBN 978-0-252-07184-3. Pg 249
  8. Elliot, Brief History, Pg 250.
  9. ibid.