World Series anthem for the ages

Full confession. Last week, I identified my greatest moment covering the games people play was seeing Reggie Jackson hit three home runs on three pitches in Game 6 of the World Series. And that was my “sports” highlight for the World Series, the year 1977 and the career.

However, my “non-sports” highlight for all three was from Game 3.

I’d arrived at Dodger Stadium barely in time to visit the press room for a free lunch before settling into a comfortable chair in what was (and may still be) baseball’s best stadium. In picturesque Chavez Ravine, with purple ice plant decorating the landscape beyond the outfield walls, this stadium was always my favourite place to watch baseball. That day it was even more picturesque.

It was the only time, anywhere, that I was shocked by a pre-game public address announcement:

“To sing the national anthem here at Dodger Stadium, Miss Linda Ronstadt…”

I looked up, wide-eyed. Emerging from beyond the centre field fence, wearing a Dodgers jacket and jeans, her long hair tied up behind her head and accompanied by a microphone on a five-foot stand and an invisible organist was America’s No. 1 female rock star with her distinctive, captivating voice. I had long been smitten — yes, by her voice — and that day she sounded so much closer than the length of a football field that separated us.

The game after Linda was anticlimactic, a blur I’m sure. Mike Torrez, who won 15 games in Montreal the first season I covered the Expos, was the winning pitcher that day. I had to look it up. Tommy John, the first to have the historical and now elective arm surgery named after him, was the losing pitcher. Who knew? Dusty Baker, now 72 and this week in the World Series as the Houston Astros manager, hit a three-run homer to turn the game around. At least that’s what Wikipedia says.

Unforgettable, however, was Linda Ronstadt.

Her version of the often-mangled national anthem was simple. Powerful. Mesmerizing. One U.S. publication has ranked it the second-best singing of the anthem at sporting events, ever, behind Whitney Houston at the 1991 Super Bowl. Too bad I didn’t have a vote…maybe Linda would have been first.

Her attire was so impactful that she wore the jacket at the cover shoot for her next album, Living In The USA. That year, 1978, I changed careers and my radio station boss, Ted Blackman, had connections in the music industry. My “signing bonus” was two tickets to see Linda Ronstadt at Lansdowne Park in Ottawa.

Today, she has progressive supranuclear palsy, a terminal disease whose victims usually suffocate (a friend of mine was a victim) and singing — the national anthem from Dodger Stadium or anything else — is now her “distant replay.”