Pittsburgh Pirates, Catcher
"I thought we'd have
[Bream] by a mile."
Pirates' catcher Mike LaValliere says catchers have an internal clock in their head, much like a quarterback in a football huddle. And when the pitch from Stan Belinda came off of Francisco Cabrera's bat and headed into left field, LaValliere's mental stopwatch calculated that there would be plenty of time to get Sid Bream at the plate.
"Then the clock just started going faster," said LaValliere. "I was like, 'Gosh, there's going to be a play.' I didn't believe even whenever the ball was coming in [from Barry Bonds] that it was going to be very close. I thought we'd have [Bream] by a mile. And then all of a sudden, again, the clock kept ticking faster. By the time I got [the ball], it was just a little too late."
LaValliere, now a coach for The Big League Experience, an instructional baseball facility in Sarasota, Fla., still can't say for sure how close the play at home was -- the split-second difference between Pittsburgh getting a second chance in extra innings or the Pirates' season ending -- because he says he's never seen it on videotape.
"I don't care to watch it," he said. "It's probably as devastating of a thing that could happen to someone that plays on team sports."
For the first 19 years since 1992, LaValliere told people who asked that Bream was safe; but this year, he's changed his tune. Sort of. He's taken to adding a short message to his autographs on the Bobblehead of the play the Braves produced for the 20-year anniversary, which shows Bream sliding across home with LaValliere and umpire Randy Marsh also in the scene.
"Some of my students [in Sarasota] wanted a Bobblehead of Coach Mike," said LaValliere. "So I sign it, 'He was out.' Then I put my name.
"I have never, ever been happy about it. I've never enjoyed the, 'Hey, let's talk about this.' It's never something I will bring up, but it is part of history. It was a great game. The wrong team won."
He will never forget the scene -- "surreal quiet" he calls it -- in the clubhouse after the game. As his teammates stood at their lockers, everyone was stunned. It was total devastation, he said. Nobody uttered a word.
"The way I kind of picture it in my mind is the movie 'Saving Private Ryan,' whenever the bomb goes off and everybody really becomes deaf," he said. "That's kind of what the feeling was. Not to say that we were in a war, but that surreal [atmosphere] where you couldn't hear anything. However, later, an hour maybe, then you could start hearing voices again. That's what it was like for me."
In one sense, time, for the Pirates, has been lost for 20 years since Oct. 14, 1992; they have not had a winning season since.
Someday, LaValliere hopes, they will find it again.
"I love the city," he said. "You want it for the organization. But gosh -- I want it more for the city."
-- Anna McDonald, ESPN.com
Randy Marsh, Mike LaValliere, David Justice, Terry Pendleton, Sid Bream, Ron Gant, Brian Hunter, John Smoltz, Andy Van Slyke, Bud Selig
"I wasn't worried
about style points."
"Sid was barely safe.
a matter of inches."
"I didn't go to sleep 'til
7:00 the next morning."
"At that point in time,
it was up to me."
"You always have
that one out left."
"We knew Bonds didn't
have a good arm."
"I was pouting
in the clubhouse."
"I just knew that
it was the end."
Major League Baseball
The celebration began with Sid Bream and David
Justice at the plate as Mike LaValliere's tag was late.
Photo: AFP/Getty Images/Jim Gund