By Glen Sparks
Any discussion of Bob Gibson’s great and glorious 1968 season gets around to this one inevitable question: How did the St. Louis Cardinals ace ever lose nine games that year?
Well, as they say, it wasn’t easy. The 32-year-old right-hander pitched 304.2 innings in ’68 and gave up just 38 earned runs. That equated to a remarkable 1.12 ERA, the lowest figure in the live-ball era. He posted a WAR of 11.3, higher than Sandy Koufax (10.7 in 1963), Juan Marichal (10.3 in 1965) or Don Drysdale (8.0 in 1964) ever put up over one campaign.
Gibson compiled a 22-9 won-loss record in ‘68. How is it that he, in his 10th year in the majors, did not win 25 or 30 games in 1968? Denny McLain, after all, went 31-6 for the Detroit Tigers in 1968. He posted an ERA of 1.96, an impressive mark but one nearly double Gibson’s number.
This post offers a review of Gibson’s season in the fabled Year of the Pitcher (Drysdale set a record, since broken, with his 58 2/3-inning scoreless streak, Carl Yastrzemski led the American League with a .301 batting average, Luis Tiant topped the A.L. with a 1.60 ERA, etc.) and takes a close look at the Redbird hurler’s nine defeats.
The 6-foot-1-inch right-hander began the season with two no-decisions, one at home and one on the road, both against the Atlanta Braves. He shut out Atlanta over seven innings in the first game and gave up three earned runs in the second.
“Hoot” Gibson as some called the Cardinals pitcher, after the old movie cowboy star, started against Ferguson Jenkins. Billy Williams smacked a two-run home run in the first inning to give Chicago an early lead. Gibson gave up two more runs, both unearned, in the fifth, following an error by St. Louis second baseman Julian Javier. Chicago added a run in the eighth on a Lou Johnson RBI double.
The Cardinals finally scored when Curt Flood ripped a solo homer in the ninth inning off Jenkins. Both starting pitchers hurled complete games as Chicago won 5-1. The five runs would tie for the most that Gibson would give up in any one game in 1968. His ERA stood at 2.35, the highest it would be following any contest all season and the only time it would be above 2.00 at the end of the day. His won-loss record was 0-1.
Gibson won three straight decisions following that loss to Chicago. He beat the Pittsburgh Pirates at home, the Houston Astros on the road and the New York Mets in St. Louis. He threw a total of 32 innings in those three wins (Yes, nine innings, 12 innings and 11 innings), surrendered just 17 hits and allowed only one run in each game.
Gibson faced the Houston Astros and Larry Dierker, a 21-year-old right-hander from southern California. Dierker went nine innings in this one and gave up two runs, just one of them earned. Gibson pitched eight innings and allowed three runs, two of them earned. Gibby struck out 10 and gave up 11 hits, one of just four times he’d surrender at least 10 hits. His ERA was now 1.43. His won-loss record dipped to 3-2.
Gibson battled the Phillies’ Woodie Fryman, a third-year left-hander, in this match-up. Neither pitcher gave up a run through nine innings. Fryman shut down the Cards in the 10th, while the Phillies pushed across a run in the bottom of that frame to win 1-0.
Fryman singled to open the 10th and advanced to second on a sacrifice bunt Tony Gonzalez. With two outs, former Cardinal Bill White singled to centerfield; Fryman sprinted home. Gibson gave up seven hits and four walks in 9.2 innings. He lowered his ERA to 1.36 and dropped to 3-3.
Not surprisingly, Gibson found himself in the middle of several pitching duels in 1968. In this one, he faced the Los Angeles Dodgers’ Don Drysdale. Two hard-throwing right-handers with big fastballs and nasty reputations for throwing inside would be squaring off against one another. Gibson gave up just one run over his eight innings. L.A. first baseman Wes Parker drilled an RBI double to score Paul Popovich, who had walked, in the third inning. The Dodgers added a second run in the ninth, off Cardinals reliever Joe Hoerner.
Drysdale, though, tossed a shutout in front of a paltry crowd of just 9,560. He gave up five hits, struck out eight and didn’t walk anyone. Gibson, in addition to the one run, walked two and fanned six. (Just for the record, neither pitcher hit a batter.) He gave up just the lone hit, to Parker. Gibson won-loss record was now 3-4 (The Cardinals were 21-16 at this point.) and his ERA was 1.34.
This time, Gibson got to face Gaylord Perry. The Cardinals put a run across in the first inning when Lou Brock scored on a fielder’s choice with Roger Maris at bat. Perry, famous for tossing spitballs (real and imagined), shut out St. Louis the rest of the way.
Gibby gave up a solo home run to Dick Dietz in the sixth inning and a two-run homer to Willie Mays in the seventh. His ERA rose to 1.52, and his won-loss record dipped to 3-5. The great Bob Gibson was fighting a four-game losing streak. In those four games, he pitched 33.2 innings, gave up just 23 hits, struck out 34 and walked 12. His ERA over that span? 1.90.
Gibson pitched a good, not great, game against the New York Mets on June 2 at Shea Stadium. The Redbird muscled up and scored six runs; Gibson allowed three in a complete-game effort. He ended his own losing streak, upped his record to 4-5 and raised his ERA to 1.66. Hoot’s incredible run for the ages began with his next start, June 6 against the Astros in Houston. He shut out the ‘Stros on a three hitter.
Between June 6 and July 30, Gibson made 11 starts and went 11-0. He completed every game and tossed eight shutouts. In the other three games, he gave up one run to each team. No one had a chance. Opponents hit .163 against him and slugged .190. Gibby struck out 83 in 99 innings of work and gave up only 56 hits. He hurled five straight shutouts at one point, from June 6 to June 26. The man with the crackling fastball and the devastating slider was on fire. His ERA on July 30 was 0.96.
The 2016 documentary Fastball goes into details about baseball’s most fearsome pitch. Gibson merits his own section in the film. He talked about his great 1968 season.
“I was in a zone that entire year,” he said. “I had complete control over the game. I felt like I could throw it wherever I wanted.”
He also added, “I lost nine games … I would sit by myself on the bench. No one would get near me. I was (angry). Get me a run!”
Following a mild hiccup that turned into a no-decision—he gave up five runs (four earned) and 12 hits, but in 11 innings on a sweltering day at Busch Stadium against the Cubs on Aug. 4 before giving way to the bullpen—Gibson continued along on his epic roll. He beat the Braves, Cubs and Phillies on the road, throwing three complete games and two shutouts. His record following the Aug. 19 game in Philadelphia stood at 18-5. His ERA was exactly 1.00.
This one looked like it might be a fairly easy win for Gibson. Yes, the Pittsburgh line-up boasted Willie Stargell, Roberto Clemente and Matty Alou. But Gibby was facing Bob Moose, a 20-year-old pitcher in his first full season in the big leagues. And, St. Louis led 4-0 after four innings.
But then Stargell slammed a solo homer in the top of the seventh, and Alou hit a sacrifice fly in the eighth inning to score Freddy Patek. Suddenly, the Cards led just 4-2. But, Gibson was pitching, right? No problem.
Stargell led off the ninth for the Bucs with a double. Donn Clendenon reached base on a Dal Maxvil error, which scored pinch-runner Gary Kolb to make the game 4-3.
Gibson struck out a season high 15 batters. His record slipped to 18-6. His ERA was a masterful 1.07.–
Gibson got his revenge against the Bucs just four days later. He hurled a four hit shutout at Forbes Field to go to 19-6 with a 1.03 ERA. This time, he fanned 14.
On Sept. 2, Gibby notched his 20th victory the hard way. He went 10 innings to beat the Cincinnati Reds 1-0 at Crosley Field. Gibson gave up four hits, walked three and struck out eight. Baseball’s top pitcher went to 20-6. His ERA on Sept. 2 dipped to 0.99.
Bobby Bolin, a young veteran having an excellent season (He would finish the year 10-5 with a 1.99 ERA.), matched up against Gibson in the first game of a doubleheader.
The Cards scored first, on an RBI single from Curt Flood in the bottom of the third. The Giants came back with two runs in the top of the fourth, on an RBI single from Jesus Alou (Matty’s brother) and an RBI double from Jack Hiatt. A Maxvil error led to one of the runs.
Hal Lanier added a run-scoring single for San Francisco in the sixth inning to make the score 3-1. St. Louis managed one run in the eighth, and the game ended with a score of 3-2. Gibson pitched eight innings and gave up nine hits and two earned runs. He struck out seven and didn’t walk a batter. His record was now 20-7 with an ERA of 1.03.
The Dodgers came to Busch Stadium on Sept. 11 with Mike Kekich going up against Gibson. This was not one of Hoot’s best games. He went nine innings, allowing 11 hits and four earned runs. Kekich, though, gave up three runs in just 1.2 innings, and reliever Jim “Mudcat” Grant surrendered two in 6.1 innings. The Redbirds won 5-4, and Gibson’s record was 21-7. His ERA was 1.13.
Once again, Gibson locked up with the Giants’ Perry. Once again, Perry won this duel. Each pitcher threw a complete game. Ron Hunt smacked a home run in the bottom of the first inning, and it held up. The Giants won 1-0. Perry hurled a no-hitter, the only one of his career. Gibson allowed the one run and four hits. He walked two and struck out 10. He lowered his record to 21-8. His ERA was still 1.13.
Talented right-hander Don Sutton hooked with Gibson in this late-season game. Neither pitcher allowed a run through the first five innings on this Sunday afternoon. The Dodgers finally broke out on top with a Popovich RBI single in the sixth. Willie Crawford’s solo home run in the seventh inning made it 2-0 Los Angeles.
The Cardinals tied the game 2-2 in the eighth thanks to run-scoring hits by Brock and Bobby Tolan. The Dodgers went ahead for good in the bottom of the eighth. Billy Sudakis opened the inning with a walk and advanced to second on a sacrifice bunt from Wes Parker. Sudakis scored following a Popovich flyball and error by St. Louis right-fielder Joe Hague. Gibson gave up three runs, two of them earned. He walked five and struck out 11 in his eight innings of work. He was 21-9 with a 1.16 ERA.
Gibson’s season ended with one final masterpiece. He beat Dierker and the Astros 1-0 on Friday, Sept. 27, at Busch Stadium, in front of 18,658 fans. Hoot gave up six hits, no walks and struck out 11 in his 13th shutout of the season, the single-season record in the live-ball era. He raised his record to 22-9 and lowered his ERA to 1.12. It was final start of 1968.
It really was an amazing season. Gibson threw a complete game in every one of his 22 wins. In those games, he posted a microscopic 0.57 ERA. In his nine losses, his ERA went up to 2.14. (Good for sixth in the National League in 1968). His ERA at night was 1.59. In the daytime, it was 0.95. He pitched five games on three days’ rest and threw four shutouts. He finished in double figures in strikeouts 11 times and with one or fewer walks 15 times. Opponents hit just .184 against him the entire season with a slugging percentage of .233.
The Cardinals finished the year 97-65, nine games in front of the second-place Giants, and faced the Detroit Tigers in the World Series. Gibson’s big run continued into the postseason. The Tigers knocked off the Cardinals in seven games. Gibson won two games and lost one. He had an ERA of 1.67. In Game One, he set a World Series record with 17 strikeouts and beat McLain 1-0. He defeated McLain again in Game 4, 10-1, and lost to Mickey Lolich, 4-1, in Game 7.
Postseason, Gibson won the N.L. Cy Young award, the MVP and even the Gold Glove for his fielding excellence.
Over a 17-year career, all it spent with the Cardinals, Gibson won 251 games with a 2.91 ERA. He won at least 20 games five times and won a second Cy Young award in 1970. He struck out 3,117 batters and tossed 56 shutouts. In his nine postseason starts (all in the World Series), Gibson went 7-2 with a 1.89 ERA. He won Game 7 match-ups in 1964 and 1967. The first-ballot Hall of Famer went into Cooperstown in 1981.
Chicago Cubs great Ernie Banks said this about Gibson in Fastball: “He was such a great competitor. … He wanted it more than the hitter wanted to hit him.”
By Glen Sparks
The life of Jose Fernandez ended in the warm, calm waters off Miami Beach.
The Miami Marlins ace died, along with two friends, following a boating accident early Sunday morning. While on routine patrol, U.S. Coast Guard personnel discovered a capsized craft on a rock jetty at about 3:15 a.m., according to news reports. Divers with Miami-Dade Fire Rescue found two bodies underneath the 32-foot SeaVee. They found a third victim on the rocks.
An investigation into the accident will take several days to complete, said Lorenzo Veloz, a spokesman for the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission. The boat probably hit the jetty at between 50 mph and 65 mph, Veloz said.
Baseball continues to mourn Fernandez, who was just 24 years old.
The Toronto Blue Jays’ Marcus Stroman tweeted: “Sick to my stomach. Can’t believe this.”
Fernandez’ good friend Yasiel Puig of the Los Angeles Dodgers sent out this tweet: “You loved striking me out and teasing me about it. I’m going to miss you, bro.”
The Kansas City Royals’ Eric Hosmer, who grew up in south Florida, tweeted: “Absolutely crushed hearing the news about Jose. Brought so much energy and passion toward life. You will be missed, Papo.”
Evan Longoria, third baseman for the Tampa Rays, tweeted his grief about the tragedy: “Words can’t express the shock and sadness the MLB community feels over the loss of Jose Fernandez. Thoughts and prayers for all his family.”
Fernandez, a big right-hander (6-feet-3-inches, 240 pounds) with a ready smile and an electric arm, played only four seasons in the majors. He pitched in just 76 games–all of them starts–and compiled a 38-17 won-loss record.
Mets pitcher Jacob DeGrom told an MLB reporter: “He was very fun to watch play the game. I don’t think anybody really brought more energy out there to the field, and even when he was in the dugout, you’d look over there and he’d been rooting on his team, probably more than anyone you’ve ever seen.”
Fernandez was born July 31, 1992, in Santa Clara, Cuba. The Fernandez family tried and failed to defect three times from their native land. In 2007, they were finally successful.
The family, together with several others, set off on a flimsy boat. One night, the waves were high, and the people were frightened. A woman fell into the frothy surf and began to yell. She was drowning. Jose Fernandez, 15 years old, jumped into the dark saltwater. He swam toward the woman and saved her life as the waves shook them in the face. The woman, it turned out, was Jose’s mom.
The Marlins drafted Fernandez in the first round of the 2011 draft, out of Braulio Alonso High School in Tampa. The following year, he went 14-1 with a 1.75 ERA for minor-league squads in Jupiter. Fla., and Greensboro, N.C. That flashy campaign earned Fernandez a nod as the game’s fifth-best prospect, according to Baseball America.
Fernandez put his four-seam fastball and assortment of tough off-speed pitches on display for the Marlins in 2013 and earned National League Rookie of the Year honors. He went 12-6 with a glittery 2.19 ERA (176 ERA+). In 172.2 innings, he struck out 187 batters. Named to the All-Star team, ernandez finished third in the Cy Young race.
Not many batters squared up Fernandez. Troy Tulowitski, then of the Colorado Rockies, ripped a hot liner off him one game. Fernandez snagged the ball; Tulo couldn’t believe it.
“Yeah,” Fernandez said. The pitcher grinned. He grinned and laughed a lot. He was good, he knew it, and he enjoyed himself. Jose Fernandez loved baseball.
Then, he suffered a setback. The Marlins placed Fernandez on the 15-day disabled list May 12, 2014, due to elbow pain. An MRI revealed a torn ulnar collateral ligament in the right elbow. Fernandez underwent Tommy John surgery on May 16. He started eight games that season and went 4-2 with a 2.44 ERA (153 ERA+)
During limited action in 2015, Fernandez pitched 64.2 innings over 11 starts. He compiled a 6-1 record and posted a 2.92 ERA (131 ERA+).
Fernandez was 16-8 in 2016 through 29 starts. He had a 2.86 ERA (137 ERA+) and, most amazingly, he had struck out 253 hitters in just 182.1 innings (12.5 K/9, tops in the league). Not surprisingly, he made his second All-Star team.
Marlins owner Jeff Loria sent out a press release following the accident. It read in part: “It is with the deepest sorrow that I, together with my family and the entire Marlins organization, mourn the tragic loss of Jose. Sadly, the brightest lights are often the ones that extinguish the fastest. Jose left us far too soon, but his memory will endure in all of us.”
Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred also issued a statement on Fernandez: “… He was one of our game’s great young stars, who made a dramatic impact on and off the field since his debut in 2013. …”
Fernandez’ career numbers, now frozen, read like this: 38-17, 2.58 ERA (150 ERA+), 589 strikeouts in 471.1 innings, 6.8 H/9, 11.2 K/9. He was special. Fernandez pitched his last game on Tuesday, Sept. 20, against the Washington Nationals in Miami. It may have been the best one of his career. He threw eight shutout innings and struck out 12. He gave up just three hits and didn’t allow a walk as the Marlins won 1-0.
Miami’s first-year manager Don Mattingly fought through tears as he spoke about Fernandez on Sunday. Several Marlins players stood in the background for one of the saddest press conferences you’ll ever see. “When I think of José, I see such a little boy, the way he played,” Mattingly said. “When you watch kids play Little League, that’s the joy that José played with and the passion that he felt about playing. That’s what I think about.”
Outside Marlins Park, many fans placed flowers as a makeshift memorial to Fernandez. A member of the team’s grounds crew wrote in Fernandez’ uniform No. 16 on the mound. Someone else added a Marlins cap and some flowers.
Retired pitcher Dan Haren, a teammate of Fernandez’ in 2015, tweeted: “Jose Fernandez is one of the most genuine guys I’ve ever played with. He loved life, he loved baseball…..he will be missed dearly. Jose Fernandez is one of the most genuine guys I’ve ever played with. He loved life, he loved baseball…..he will be missed dearly.
By Glen Sparks
Test your ballpark knowledge with this quiz. You’ll find the answers at the bottom.
- No pitcher ever threw a no-hitter in any of the more than 4,700 games played at this ballpark, which opened in 1909.
- This ballpark, opened in 1912, replaced Palace of the Fans and was nicknamed The Old Boomerang due to its unusual V shape from behind home plate and down the lines.
- This memorable ballpark, long-since demolished, was built in an area of the city called Pigtown.
- Workers were still putting in extra seats to accommodate fans on opening day 1969 at this ballpark , a converted minor-league venue.
- This ballpark hosted a 26-inning marathon on May 1, 1926. The game ended in a 1-1 tie. … Some people called this park “The Bee Hive.”
- Willie Mays played his final game as a San Francisco Giant at this ballpark on May 9, 1972. He hit a single as a pinch-hitter in the ninth inning.
- Motorcyclist Evel Knievel jumped over 13 cars two nights in a row at this ballpark in January of 1971. There was talk that he might even try a jump over the entire stadium.
- A 17-year-old Bob Feller struck out 17 batters in a game played at this ballpark on Sept. 13, 1936.
- Lou Gehrig smashed four consecutive home runs at this ballpark on June 3, 1932. The Yankees won 20-13.
- Carl Hubbell struck out Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Jimmie Foxx, Al Simmons and Joe Cronin in succession at an All-Star game hosted by this ballpark in 1934.
- Forbes Field in Pittsburgh.
- Redland Field, later called Crosley Field, in Cincinnati.
- Ebbets Field in Brooklyn.
- Sick’s Stadium in Seattle.
- Braves Field in Boston.
- Jarry Park in Montreal.
- The Astrodome in Houston.
- League Park in Cleveland.
- Shibe Park in Philadelphia.
- The Polo Grounds in New York City.
By Glen Sparks
That poker game in 1920 changed everything.
Charles Arthur Vance, along with some teammates on the New Orleans Pelicans, took his spot around a card table one evening—undoubtedly sultry—in the Big Easy.
They called Vance “Dazzy.” He picked up that nickname because he once fired a dazzling fastball. That was when his right arm was strong. Now, it was sore. It had been for years. That was why he was pitching in the Southern League at the age of 29. Vance hoped for one last chance in the majors.
He was a decent prospect at one time. Vance, born March 4, 1891, in Iowa, grew to 6-feet-2-inches and 200 pounds. Country strong, as they say. Local scouts liked the young fireballer. The Pittsburgh Pirates signed him in 1915; he made his big-league debut later that year. In his one game with Pittsburgh, he tossed 2.2 innings and gave up three runs, all earned. Not too dazzling. The Pirates promptly traded him to the New York Yankees.
Vance pitched in eight games for the Yanks in ‘15, picked up three decisions and lost all three. Over the next few years, he toiled in the minor leagues and nursed his chronically sore arm. Dazzy finally made it back to the Bronx for 2.1 innings in 1918 and made a mess of things, surrendering nine hits and four earned runs. New York sent him from one farm club to another and, finally, to New Orleans.
He couldn’t stay healthy. Luckily for Vance, smacking that poker table turned a chronic pain into an excruciating one. He sorely needed medical attention. (He supposedly won the pot. His exact hand is lost to history.)
Whatever the doctor did, it worked. (One theory is that Vance had some bone chips removed from his aching elbow.) He notched 21 wins for the Pelicans in 1921. The Brooklyn Robins, the forerunner of the Dodgers, purchased Vance’s contract from New Orleans in early 1922. He responded by winning 18 games in each of the next two seasons for Brooklyn.
That led up to 1924. The pitcher, with a big smile and a shock of wavy red hair that he hid underneath his cap, won the MVP award that season. Besides compiling a career-high 262 strikeouts, he went 28-6 with a 2.16 ERA (174 ERA+) and a WAR of 10.4. Vance won 15 straight games at one point and struck out a career-high 15 batters on Aug. 23 against the Chicago Cubs.
Vance flat-out dominated National League hitters. Burleigh Grimes and Dolph Luque, finished second and third, respectively, in strikeouts that season. They fanned 221 batters combined, or 41 fewer than Vance.
The Dodgers’ ace threw a no-hitter in ’25, on Sept. 13. The no-no came on a Sunday afternoon at Brooklyn’s Ebbets Field, in the first game of doubleheader against the Philadelphia Phillies. Vance was matched up against Clarence Mitchell, who didn’t record an out in the game. He gave up three runs in the first inning, departed for relief that never came and was on the losing end of a 10-1 blowout. Dick Cox, the Brooklyn clean-up batter, had four hits, while Johnny Mitchell and Jimmy Johnston each drove in three runs.
Vance walked one batter and struck out nine. Philly scored a lone run in the second inning. Nelson “Chicken” Hawks reached on a Johnston error, advanced to second base and ran safely to third following a passed ball by Brooklyn catcher Hank DeBerry. Hawks then scored his unearned run on a sacrifice fly from Bernie Friberg.
Vance improved to 22-7 following that victory. The Brooklyn ace lost his last two games of the season but 22-9 isn’t shabby, especially for a team that ended up 68-85 and in sixth place. He led the N.L. with 221 strikeouts and four shutouts. Writers voted him fifth in the N.L. MVP race.
Dazzy combined a hot fastball with a 12-6 curveball. Batters couldn’t catch up to the heat or make any sense out of the breaking stuff. He finished first in ERA in 1928 (2.09) and again in 1930 (2.61) at the age of 39. Following a 12-11 season in 1932, Vance left the Robins for the St. Louis Cardinals and then the Cincinnati Reds. He returned to Brooklyn for one more season, 1935, before calling it quits at the age of 44 with a career won-loss mark of 197-140 and a 3.24 ERA (125 ERA+).
All told, Dazzy led the National League in strikeouts a record seven straight seasons (1922-28). He topped it in K/BB ratio eight times (1924-31) and in K/9 ratio eight times (1922-28, 1931). Vance put together an incredible (and overlooked) career that began slowly, got rolling in the heart of the Jazz Age and ended during the Great Depression.
Sabermatrician Bill James rated Dazzy the 35th best pitcher of all-time in the 2003 paperback edition of his Historical Baseball Abstract, just ahead of Bert Blyleven and Hal Newhouser. Baseball writers elected Vance to Cooperstown in 1955. The Hall of Famer died Feb. 16, 1961, in Florida. He was 69.
By Glen Sparks
New York Mets starter Jerry Koosman fired the first pitch to St. Louis Cardinals lead-off batter Lou Brock at 8:11 p.m. Eastern Time on Wednesday, Sept. 11, 1974, at Shea Stadium in Flushing, N.Y.
Seven hours and four minutes later, at 3:15 a.m., Thursday, Sept. 12, Redbird reliever Sonny Siebert struck out the Mets’ Jon Milner to end this 25-inning marathon.
The Cards knocked off the Mets 4-3. Only one National League game has ever lasted more innings than this one. The Brooklyn Dodgers and Boston Braves played to a 1-1 tie over 26 innings on May 1, 1920, at Braves Field. (In the American League, the Chicago White Sox and Milwaukee Brewers endured a 26-inning battle on May 8-9, 1984, at Chicago’s Comiskey Park.)
The Cards-Mets contest ended not on a dramatic home run blasted deep into the New York night, or a ringing double ripped to the wall with a man on second. No, St. Louis speedster Bake McBride, from Fulton, Mo., scored the winning run following a single and two New York errors. Well, it was time to go home, anyway. Though, Cardinals outfielder Reggie Smith warned his teammates: “There’s no way that your wives are going to believe you guys were out playing baseball all night.” Just one more wild night in the Big Apple.
New York sent 103 men to the plate, an all-time record; St. Louis sent 99. The teams compiled 175 at-bats and hit a collective .194. That puny batting average doesn’t tell the entire story, though. The pitchers gave up 19 walks, but they stranded 45 runners, another record.
Each team scored a run in the first inning. The Cardinals’ Joe Torre rapped a single to left-field that brought in Ted Sizemore, who had walked with one out and advanced to second after Koosman also walked Smith. New York tied the game 1-1 following Milner’s RBI double off Cardinals starter Bob Forsch. Cleon Jones, safe on a force out, sprinted home.
Jones, a 32-year-old veteran outfielder, made it 3-1 in the fifth inning. He blasted a two-run homer off Forsch. Ken Reitz added a two-run home run of his own, off Koosman, in the top of the ninth. That round-tripper ended the scoring for the next 15 innings.
St. Louis skipper Red Schoendienst called on six pitchers to provide 19 innings of outstanding relief. Claude Osteen, a veteran lefty near the end of his career, came into the game with one out in the 14th for St. Louis and hurled 9.1 scoreless innings. Mets manager Yogi Berra called on five relief pitchers. Jerry Cram tossed eight innings of shutout baseball.
Sizemore went 1-for-10 for St. Louis, Brock 1-for-9. Both McBride and Reitz enjoyed 4-for-10 games. Among New York hitters, Milan went 4-for-10 and Jones ended up 3-for-9. Light-hitting shortstop Bud Harrelson put up an 0-for-7 goose egg. No one, though, suffered though this epic clash quite like Wayne Garrett did. The infielder failed get a hit in any of his 10 at-bats (He did draw a first-inning walk, though.)
Each team had its chances. The Mets loaded the bases with two outs in the 23rd, for instance. Jones, though, flied out. Both teams loaded the bases in the 24, but could not score.
Berra sent in Webb to pitch the 25th. The New York native was making his first appearance of ’74 and the ninth of his career. McBride led off the final frame with his base hit. Then, he nearly got thrown out. Webb’s pick-off attempt, though, sailed into right field; McBride rushed to second and kept going.
Milner, the New York first baseman, ran to the ball and threw it home as McBride rounded third. Mets catcher Ron Hodges caught the toss, but dropped it before he could apply a tag. And, an estimated 1,000 or so fans out of the original 13,460 watched and groaned. Siebert set the Mets down in order in the bottom of the ninth.
Following the game, the oft-quoted relief pitcher Tug McGraw (who sat this one out in the bullpen) said: “The only thing I regret now is that all the eating places are closed. I’ll have to go home and make myself a baloney sandwich.” New York, it seems, is a city that does indeed sleep.
The Cardinals improved to 75-68 with the victory. They were in second place in the National League East at that point. They’d finished the year in second, at 86-75, 1 ½ games behind the Pittsburgh Pirates. Left-fielder Brock, 35 years old, set a major-league record (since broken) with 118 stolen bases.
The Mets, coming off a National League championship season, fell to 65-75. They were in fourth place in the East and dropped to fifth by season’s end, finishing 71-91. This was the year that two-time Cy Young winner Tom Seaver pitched through an 11-11 (3.20 ERA) off-season at age 29.
Of note, St. Louis and New York played another marathon contest years later, this time at Busch Stadium. The Mets won 3-1 in 18 innings on July 19, 2015. Time of the game: 5 hours, 55 minutes. At least it didn’t go 25.
By Glen Sparks
Jackie Robinson broke baseball’s color barrier in April of 1947. No player crossed the Washington Senators’ color line until Carlos Paula did so in the fall of 1954.
Integrated baseball came late to the nation’s capital. What took so long? Senators owner Clark Griffith had told sportswriter Sam Lacy in 1937 that “the time was not far off” before black baseball players would start filling big-league rosters, according to Brad Snyder’s 2003 book Beyond the Shadow of the Senators.
What the local African-American community may have thought of Griffith’s quote is unclear. Griffith delivered mixed messages in regard to racial issues. On the one hand, he rented out his ballpark for numerous black sporting and community events, Snyder writes. A local historian, Henry Whitehead, called Griffith Stadium “sort of like an outdoor theater for the black community.”
On the other hand, black fans rarely sat in box seats or the grandstand at Senators games. Mostly, they sat in the right-field pavilion. Lacy, who grew up in D.C., confirmed that a segregated seating policy existed at Griffith Stadium during the 1920s and ’30s. “There were places I couldn’t go,” he said, according to Snyder’s book.
D.C. eventually welcomed a second baseball team. The Homestead Grays, a Negro league franchise founded in Pennsylvania, moved half their home games to Griffith Stadium in 1940. Clark Griffith collected the rent checks and other receipts. By 1943, the Grays were playing most of their games in the District.
The team, at various times, featured great players such as Walter “Buck” Leonard, Josh Gibson, James “Cool Papa” Bell and Ray Brown. The Grays went on to win league titles from 1940-45 and in 1948 after capturing championships in 1931 and 1937-39. They were a powerhouse.
Back in 1937, during that interview when Griffith told Lacy “the time was not far off” for an integrated major league, the owner proposed a plan. He wanted to see a Negro League of eight teams. He asked for a league “so professional” that in time—he wasn’t specific on exactly how much time—it could not be ignored. Integration would inevitably follow.
That didn’t happen, of course. Dodgers President Branch Rickey ended segregation by his own plan. He announced Robinson’s signing on Oct. 23, 1945. Baseball’s first African-American player in the 20th century debuted for Brooklyn on April 15, 1947. The Cleveland Indians’ Larry Doby followed Robinson just a few months later.
By mid-April of 1954, 11 teams had crossed the color line. The Senators, along with the New York Yankees, Philadelphia Phillies, Detroit Tigers and Boston Red Sox still fielded white-only teams.
Clark Griffith, though, needed some talent. His club, once a solid first-division franchise, began slipping into the second division more often than not in 1934. The owner looked to Cuba for help. Griffith told scout Joe Cambria to find major league-caliber players on the island. Make sure they’re light-skinned players, he added.
Cambria discovered Paula while on a scouting trip in the early 1950s. Paula certainly looked like an athlete. He stood 6-feet-2-inches, weighed 200 pounds and packed plenty of muscle onto his frame. Paula ripped line drives, sprinted around the base paths and hurled darts from the outfield. Cambria thought Paula might be a superstar in the making. He wasn’t light-skinned. Cambria signed him, anyway.
Larry Brunt, a digital strategy intern at the Baseball Hall of Fame, wrote about Paula’s life and career in a recent article on the HOF web site. Paula’s story is unfamiliar to most fans. He never became a superstar. Paula, born Nov. 28, 1927, didn’t even go to bat 500 times in his big-leagues career.
During spring training in 1954, Paula impressed the right people. Washington skipper Bucky Harris said about Paula: “He can whack that ball.” The ballplayer did, however, have a hitch in his swing, Harris said. The Senators sent their prospect to the Charlotte Hornets of the Class A Sally League. Paula led Charlotte in several categories and finally made his debut with the Senators on Sept. 6. He doubled and singled in his first game.
Paula batted 24 times in 1954, but managed just two more hits. The following year, he got into 115 games and batted .299 (.332 on-base percentage). He slammed six homers and drove in 45 runs. Over one 22-game stretch, Paula batted .450 with 14 extra-base hits.
That was definitely the best season of Paula’s short career. He showed up late for spring training in 1956; Washington optioned him to the Denver Bears of the American Association. There, he hit .375 over a month’s work and earned a call back up to D.C. Paula, though, played in only 33 games. He hit .183 in 82 at-bats.
Paula never made it back to the big leagues. The Senators said he was late all the time and that he didn’t think of baseball as “a serious business.” Paula hit .271 over his 457 major league at-bats. He belted nine home runs and collected 60 RBI. Never a good fielder, Paula committed 11 errors in 157 games.
Over the rest of his career, Paula played in the minor leagues and, eventually, back in his native Cuba. He died April 25, 1983, at the age of 55. The Washington Post printed an article about the former player. Two days later, the Post included a second story that informed readers: “He was the Senators’ first black.”
As for Clark Griffith, he owned the Senators until his death on Oct. 27, 1955, at age 85. Clark’s nephew, Calvin Griffith, then took control. In 1961, the Senators moved to Minneapolis-St. Paul and became the Twins. Calvin said in a 1978 speech to the local Lions Club that he relocated to Minnesota because “you only had 15,000 black people here (in the Twin Cities). Black people don’t go to ball games.” Griffith sold the Twins to Carl Pohlad in 1984.
By Glen Sparks
Gil Hodges, one of the fabled Boys of Summer, put together a career that many baseball fans say is worthy of Cooperstown.
The first baseman belted 370 home runs over 18 seasons, mostly with the Brooklyn Dodgers, and topped the 30-homer mark six times. He drove in more than 100 runs for seven straight years (1949-55). As a manager, Hodges led the 1969 New York Mets–the Miracle Mets of ’69–to an improbable World Series championship.
This man’s man (U.S. Marine Corps, 16th Anti-Aircraft battalion, Okinawa, Bronze Star) from Princeton, Ind., enjoyed his greatest day in the big leagues on Aug. 31, 1950. He went 5-for-5, cracked four home runs and accumulated 17 total bases.
The Dodgers were at home that afternoon, at cozy Ebbets Field in Flatbush. They were playing the Boston Braves. A 23-year-old Carl Erskine, in just his third season in the big leagues, faced 29-year-old Warren Spahn, a five-year veteran with one 20-win season already on the books and 12 more to go. Erskine was a right-hander, Spahn a lefty.
Brooklyn went into the game with a 68-50 record and in second place, 6 ½ games behind the Philadelphia Phillies. Boston was 68-53 and in third place, eight games out of the top spot. Each team looked to get hot over the final month of the season.
Dodgers Manager Burt Shotton placed Hodges sixth in his batting order, between right-fielder Carl Furillo and catcher Roy Campanella. This was Hodges’ fifth season in the big leagues and his third year as a regular. He came up for a two at-bat cup of coffee in 1943, fought in World War II in ’44 and ’45, spent 1946 in the minors and played in just 28 games for Brooklyn in 1947.
During his first year as a regular, in 1948, the converted catcher hit 11 homers, drove in 70 runs and batted just .249. The next year, he ripped 23 home runs, drove home 115 and hit .285. Hodges went into the game on Aug. 31 with a .293 batting average, 19 homers and 75 RBI.
It didn’t take him long to get things going against the Braves. He ripped his first home run in his first at-bat, after Furillo singled to lead off the second inning. That put the Dodgers up 2-1. Jackie Robinson led off the third inning with a base hit, and Furillo rapped another single. That ended Spahn’s tough day. Boston skipper Billy Southworth called on Normie Ray to provide some relief.
Hodges didn’t oblige. The right-handed hitter crushed a three-run home run. Brooklyn led 6-1 and tacked on four more runs that frame. The route was on.
Then, things stayed quiet until the bottom of the sixth. That’s when Hodges knocked his third home run of the game, a two-run job off Boston relief pitcher Bob Hall. By the end of the inning, it was 14-1 in favor of the Dodgers.
Hodges probably disappointed the Ebbets Field crowd of 14,226 when he came to back in the seventh inning. He merely hit a single. He did, however, come around to score after Billy Cox reached base on an error. The Dodgers added to more two runs that frame.
Boston scored twice in the eighth to make it 17-3. Hodges knocked his fourth homer of the game, and his third two-run dinger, in the bottom of the eighth, this time off Johnny Antonelli. Final score: Dodgers 19, Braves 3. Erskine improve to 2-3 on the season; Spahn dropped to 16-15.
Neither the Dodgers nor the Braves could catch up to the Phillies in 1950. Philadelphia ended the year 91-63 to capture the National League pennant and then got swept in four games by the New York Yankees in the World Series. Brooklyn came in second with an 89-65 mark. Boston fell to fourth place by season’s end, 83-71.
Hodges’ game in the late summer of that campaign remains one for the ages. He joined Yankees great Lou Gehrig as the only player since 1900 to hit four home runs in one game. (Since then, 14 other players have joined the club.) His 17 total bases rank him fourth on the all-time single-game list. (Another Dodger, Shawn Green, set the record with 19 total bases in a game against the Milwaukee Brewers on May 23, 2002.)
Hodges smacked 32 home runs and drove in 113 that season. He went on to play in eight All-Star games and on two World Series winners (1955 and ’59). He was never better than on Aug. 31, 1950.
By Glen Sparks
Brock for Broglio.
Few trades in the game’s history—Delino for Pedro?—have inspired quite as many smiles from one side and groans from the other side as this one still does, more than 50 years later.
On June 15, 1964, the Chicago Cubs sent young outfielder Lou Brock to the St. Louis Cardinals in exchange for pitcher Ernie Broglio. The transaction also involved four other players. No one cares about those guys. The trade is known now and forever as simply “Brock for Broglio.”
The Redbirds won the deal, of course. Brock went on to complete a Hall of Fame career. He retired with 3,023 hits and 938 stolen bases. The left-fielder made six All-Star games and batted .391 in three World Series as a Cardinal.
Broglio, a 21-game winner for St. Louis in 1960 and an 18-game winner in 1963, sputtered to a 7-19 won-loss record in two-plus seasons as a Cub. The right-hander retired following the 1966 campaign. He was just 31 years old.
St. Louis knew all about Brock. The team’s scout liked what they saw of him at Southern University in Baton Rouge, La., according to the book October 1964 by David Halberstam. Cardinals Manager Johnny Keane asked General Manager Bing Devine to look into a deal for the left-handed hitter.
The Cardinals were struggling. They had just lost three games to the Los Angeles Dodgers and had fallen into seventh place with a 28-29 won-loss mark. Devine made a call to Chicago. The Cubs were also struggling. They needed some starting pitching.
Might Ernie Broglio be available, Chicago G.M. John Holland asked. Broglio lost one of the games to L.A. His won-loss record dropped to 3-5 on the season, although he did sport a decent ERA of 3.50 (110 ERA+).
Holland agreed to trade Brock. The speedster was still something of a puzzle to the Cubs. He was only hitting .251 that year for Chicago. More to the point, he had just 10 stolen bases.
Redbird players hated the trade, according to Halberstam’s book. Bob Gibson asked how you could let go of a former 20-game winner. First baseman Bill White and shortstop Dick Groat also criticized the deal. Who was this Lou Brock guy, anyway?
Well, the truth is, Brock wasn’t that much of any unknown commodity. He was in his third full season. In 1963, he knocked 11 triples (third in the National League) and stole 24 bases (sixth in the N.L.). Brock, stronger than his slender appearance might suggest, launched a titanic blast into the center-field bleachers at the Polo Grounds in 1962. Few players had ever done that.
Even so, Chicago sportswriter Bob Smith wrote this after the trade was made: “Thank you, thank you, oh, you lovely St. Louis Cardinals.”
But, Keane gave Brock the green light. Run whenever you want, the skipper said. Over the final 103 games of the season, No. 20 swiped 33 bases and batted .348 for a St. Louis team that quickly began climbing in the standings. Behind Brock, White (21. 102. .303), Ken Boyer (24 HR, 119 RBI, .295 avg.) and the pitching of Gibson (19-12, 3.01 ERA), Ray Sadecki (20-11, 3.68) and Curt Simmons (18-9, 3.43), the Cardinals captured the pennant with a 93-69 mark. They beat the New York Yankees in the World Series.
Brock went on to play 19 seasons in the majors. He led the league in stolen bases eight times and notched a then-major league record 118 thefts in 1974. Brock retired with a .293 lifetime batting average and with 3,023 hits. His 938 steals rank him second on the all-time list. Brock went into the Hall of Fame on the first ballot in 1985.
After leaving baseball with a 77-74 career mark, Broglio moved to San Jose, Calif., near his boyhood home. Broglio turns 81 years old today. The man who may have had the best curveball in baseball at one time, according to none other than Lou Brock, revealed in an article for espn.com a few years ago why St. Louis let him go: He was damaged goods, he said.
He hurt his elbow late in the 1963 season. The Cardinals gave him treatments and some cortisone shots in ’64. His arm hurt so much that he hurled three wild pitches and walked five batters in a game on May 19 …. against the Cubs. Several balls bounced into the grass on their way to the plate.
In November of 1964, Broglio underwent surgery to remove bone chips from his right arm and to repair the ulnar nerve. He was never the same.
Broglio pitched with pain for the Cubs, and he didn’t complain. Brock once said this about the man he was dealt for: “Ernie s top of the charts. He is a good man, a man with integrity.”
By Glen Sparks
Fresno, Calif., the raisin capital of the world, produced a couple of fire-balling pitchers in the 1940s. The more famous of the two, Tom Seaver (born in 1944), won 311 major league games. Baseball writers voted him into the Hall of Fame on the first ballot.
The other guy, Jim Maloney, enjoyed a 12-year career in the big leagues, almost all of it spent with the Cincinnati Reds. He topped the 200-strikeout mark four times and won at least 20 games twice.
A hard thrower with a wild streak, Maloney was born in Fresno on June 2, 1940. His dad, Earl “Hands” Maloney played semi-pro ball on the west coast in the 1930s and later opened an auto dealership. Jim grew up as a star athlete. Most teams saw him as a future big-league shortstop. The Reds liked that strong arm and envisioned Maloney on the mound.
The right-hander signed with Cincinnati in 1959 for about $100,000. In July 1960, the Reds called him up to the big club. Over the next couple of years, Maloney did what he would do for much of his career. He struck out a lot of guys. He walked a lot of guys. And, he battled arm problems. Maloney threw as hard as anyone, 98 or 99 mph. But, could he stay healthy?
And, could he ever harness that heat? Over his first two years with the Reds, he pitched 158.1 innings. He struck out 105 batters and walked 96.
By 1962, more and more of Maloney’s pitches began to catch the strike zone. In 115 innings that season, he gave up 66 free passes, not great, but much better than in 1960-61. Maloney fanned 105.
The pitcher’s big run began in 1963. He established himself as one of the top hurlers in baseball. Maloney went 23-7 for a Reds team that finished just 86-76 and in fifth place in the National League. Outfielders Vada Pinson (22 home runs, 106 RBI, .347 on-base percentage) and Frank Robinson (21, 91, .379) led the offense.
Maloney posted a 2.77 ERA (120 ERA+) and struck out 265 batters in 250.1 innings. The new Cincinnati ace threw 13 complete games and six shutouts. He walked 88 and, just to keep batters from feeling too comfortable in the box, led the N.L. with 19 wild pitches.
From 1963-69, Maloney compiled a 117-60 (.661 pct.) won-loss mark and put up a 2.90 ERA (125 ERA+). He K’d 1,375 over 1,528.1 innings and gave up just 1,220 hits. Further proving that he was one of the era’s top power pitchers, Maloney hurled 29 shutouts. He still walked plenty of hitters (609), but, due to all those strikeouts, posted a combined K/BB ratio of 2.26. (By comparison, Seaver posted a career 2.62 K/BB ratio over 20 seasons.) Maloney fanned more than 200 hitters every year from 1963-66. (Seaver struck out at least 200 batters for nine straight seasons, 1968-76, and did it again in 1978 after missing that mark by four in ’77.)
Tom Terrific, pitching for the Reds after all those great years with the New York Mets, tossed his one and only no-hitter on June 16, 1978, against the St. Louis Cardinals. Maloney pitched two no-hitters in his career. He nearly threw three. On June 14, 1965, in front of fewer than 6,000 fans at Crosley Field in Cincinnati, Maloney struck out 18 and held the Mets scoreless for 10 innings. In the 11th inning, he gave up a lead-off solo home run to Johnny Lewis. Later in the inning, he surrendered a one-out single to Roy McMillan.
The Reds didn’t score in the bottom half of the 11th and lost 1-0. Even so, under the rules of the day, Maloney was credited with a no-hitter; he did not allow a hit through nine innings. (Baseball changed its standard for a no-hitter in 1991. Now, Maloney only gets credit for pitching a great game and getting a tough loss.)
Maloney’s first still-official no-hitter came a few months later. On Aug. 19, 1965, at Wrigley Field in Chicago, he held the Cubs hitless over—can you believe it?–10 innings. He struck out 12, walked an amazing 10 and supposedly threw 187 pitches. The Reds won 1-0 on a Leo Cardenas home run.
The final no-no was a little easier. This one was back at Crosley Field, April 30, 1969, against the Houston Astros. The Reds scored once in the first, seven times in the fourth and twice in the eighth. Maloney walked five and struck out 13 as the Reds cruised to a 10-0 win in front of 3,898 fans.
Maloney looked like he might be headed to the Hall of Fame. But, the arm woes never stopped. He complained about shoulder issues and elbow pain at various times. Management and many teammates got tired of hearing about it, even if it did come from someone as talented as Maloney. On-going salary disputes also made headlines.
The flame-thrower crashed fast. He went from a 12-5 season in 1969 with a 2.77 ERA to a 0-1 year in 1970, with an 11.34 ERA over just 16.2 innings. In his second start that year, Maloney ruptured his Achilles tendon. He worked hard to make it back to the team by September, but his Cincinnati career was nearly over. Maloney was even left off the team’s postseason roster.
The Reds traded their former ace to the California Angels in the offseason. There wasn’t any Hollywood comeback story, though. Maloney pitched in 13 games and went 0-3. He finished his career with a 134-84 record and fired 30 shutouts.
Following his playing days, Maloney battled alcoholism and later directed the Alcohol and Drug Abuse Council in his native Fresno. He still lives in Fresno today.
What more can you say about Jim Maloney? Well, there’s this: He faced the great Willie Mays a total of 66 times. The Say-Hey Kid batted .172 lifetime against Fresno’s other fireballer.
By Glen Sparks
(This is the second of my two-part interview with baseball writer Doug Wilson. We’re talking about some of the great games, top teams and big stars from the 1970s. You can read Part I of the interview here: https://dazzyvancechronicles.com/2016/08/10/part-i-doug-wilson-talks-1970s-baseball/
Baseball split into four divisions in 1969. Was that another blow for baseball purists?
As far as the split into four divisions in 1969, I don’t think it was too big of a deal. Over the first decade of the League Championship Series, some of the most exciting moments in baseball history occurred. Just to name a few: Johnny Bench’s 9th inning home run to save the Reds against the Pirates in 1972, the Bert Campaneris bat toss against the Tigers in 1972 (That whole series was great.), the Rose-Harrelson fight in 1973, the Chris Chambliss home run for the Yankees.
I think the much bigger blow to purists was the expanded playoffs in which several rounds of games were required to reach the World Series. That set the stage for seasons in which the best team did not make the Series, only the team that got hot for the two weeks of the playoffs. While the expanded postseason allows more teams to get in, it diminishes the importance of the regular season. So it’s a trade-off.
Baseball was played much differently in the 1970s than it is today. Most teams, for instance, liked to run a lot and didn’t rely as much on the home run.
Stealing bases made the game more exciting. Baseball in the 1950s was pretty much played station-to-station on the bases. Then, in the 1960s it started to change with Maury Wills and Luis Aparicio. Lou Brock and some other guys (Davey Lopes, Omar Moreno, Willie Wilson, etc.) really got things going in the ‘70s. You also had a guy like Joe Morgan, who combined power and speed.
I think the artificial turf, multi-purpose stadiums played a large part. They were big, and you could hit the ball and start running. It was tougher to hit home runs, so guys wanted to steal after they got on base. It was a lot of fun. Now, we’re back to teams not wanting to run.
The theories behind Moneyball have played a part in that. Billy Beane (the general manager of the Oakland A’s, subject of Michael Lewis’s 2003 book Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game) doesn’t like the running game. He likes on-base percentage and home runs.
But the A’s still haven’t won a World Series under Billy Beane, have they? Moneyball hasn’t won it all yet, so maybe it’s not the bible some people think it is. Oakland hasn’t even gone to the World Series under Beane. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with stealing bases and taking the extra base. That sort of stuff makes watching baseball fun. It isn’t just about walks and hitting home runs.
We touched a bit on free agency in the first part of our interview. Do you think free agency been good or bad for the game?
Free agency was inevitable; it had to come. In the past, the players really were abused in many instances, and most of them were underpaid. Most guys in the off-season had to grab a lunch pail and get a job. They couldn’t pay the bills with just their baseball salary. In the early ‘70s, I think the major-league minimum was like $12,000. It was still a big deal to make $100,000. Guys had to fight to get even a minimal raise. The GMs certainly abused their power in contract negotiations because they knew players really had no recourse whatsoever.
Now, it’s gone the other way. You have mediocre middle relievers signing $20 million contracts. A very large percentage of teams give up in late June every year and dump salaries if they don’t think they can make the playoffs. So it’s very frustrating for a fan to have tickets in, say, mid-July and show up and essentially see a AA team on the field because management has conceded that because they can’t compete, they are going to save as much money as possible (and tell fans they are building for three years down the road—often in three years, they are still in the same spot).
Hank Aaron broke baseball’s all-time home run mark on April 8, 1974. Where were you that evening?
On the night Aaron was trying to break Ruth’s record, I was at a friend’s house and we were going to watch the game there because they had a bigger, color TV (It was something like a 28-inch. That was a big deal in those days). His mother commandeered the TV to watch the network showing of Hello Dolly with Barbra Streisand. After she kicked us out of the living room, we were in a panic. By the time we rode our bikes back to my house, we would have missed his next at bat. Luckily, my friend’s big brother was out. He had a tiny black and white TV in his room. So we ran up to his room and watched it on that. We tuned it on just in time.
Aaron retired with 755 home runs. Barry Bonds hit 762 home runs in his career, but, of course, many fans calls his numbers into question due to accusations of steroid use. Who do you think is the rightful home-run king?
Aaron, of course. To be honest, I did not know how many career homers Bonds hit. I purposely did not want to know and did not care; the numbers mean nothing because they are fake. It was obvious as soon as guys started hitting 60 and 70 home runs every single year that something very bad was going on and that it was going to ruin the numbers of the game, and that is a big part of the history of baseball. It’s a shame nobody had the guts to do anything about it.
I’ve thought a lot about this, and I think the leader of the players union, Donald Fehr, bears the most guilt for the whole mess. His sole response to what everyone knew was going on was to cover the guilty players in a shroud of bluster and defiance (which led to more and more players doing it just to keep up) and to fight against testing. If he had truly been representing what was best for the players, he would have pushed for testing to protect the innocent players from being overrun by the cheaters. If he had done that in the mid-90s, there’s no doubt that guys like Bonds and Clemens would be in Cooperstown right now. He dropped the ball by being such a jerk, and look where it led. Do you think Bonds and Clemens (and McGwire and Palmeiro and Sosa) are happy now that they weren’t subject to testing back then?
All-Star games of the 1970s did not decide home-field advantage in the World Series. The games, though, still seemed more popular and intense than they are today. Pete Rose, for example, famously collided with A’s catcher Ray Fosse in the 1970 match-up. There was a more of a rivalry between the leagues back then. Why do you think that was the case?
It may sound quaint now, but the players played for pride. There was no inter-league play then. The only time the two leagues met each other was in spring training, the World Series and the All-Star game, so it was a bigger deal. Also, players didn’t change teams or especially leagues nearly as often back then, so it was more of this us-against-them sort of thing. I have heard several African-American players from that era speak about the chip on their shoulder they carried as National Leaguers because, especially in the 1960s, the American League was still not very integrated—so they had that extra incentive.
Another thing that made the All-Star games better is that there were only 24 teams, so you could fill out a roster without that stupid “every team has to have a representative” rule and still have room for virtually all the great stars of the day. Now, by the time you add a few middle relievers and .240-hitting second basemen from all the lousy teams, there’s no room left, and modern All-Star games never have the best players. That takes a lot away from it. There is much more of a party/exhibition/spectacle atmosphere now.
Ron Bloomberg came to bat for the Yankees on April 6, 1973, at Fenway Park. He was the first designated hitter in baseball history. Are you a DH guy or anti-DH?
I guess the DH helped keep some aging stars in the game and adds a little offense. I’m not violently opposed or against it at this point.
ESPN went on the air in 1979. For much of the decade, baseball fans relied on the NBC Game of the Week to see out-of-market teams. Joe Garagiola, who passed away earlier this year, helped fans get to know players from throughout the game.
If you were a baseball fan, you tuned in on Saturday to watch the Game of the Week and listen to Joe Garagiola. If you were a kid like I was, you’d come back from Little League practice and catch at least a few innings. Joe educated people about baseball and had a great time doing it. He had so many funny stories that he relayed to fans.
Was Reggie Jackson the player of the ‘70s, with this combination of power and showmanship?
It’s hard to name the player of the decade. You could make a good argument for Pete Rose, Johnny Bench, probably Willie Stargell and a few other guys. Jackson certainly put his performance where his mouth was. He played for winners in Oakland and New York and then helped California get to the playoffs. And, he did seem to come up big in big moments (18 postseason home runs, including 10 in 18 World Series game). It’s strange that he doesn’t seem to be held in as high esteem nowadays as I would have expected. Maybe it’s because when all the ‘roiders passed his career totals so fast, it made his numbers look pedestrian.
Do any teams today remind you of a 1970s-sort of team?
The Royals of the last few years come to mind with their speed and defense. Each era is different, though, and you have to do what will win in your era. The economics and the play on the field is different; you can’t build a team like you could have built one back then.