With major league baseball’s trading deadline less than 48 hours away, it’s time for a last-minute look at the latest round of rumors. In spite of the hue and cry emanating from parts of Red Sox Nation, don’t expect the defending champions to trade Manny Ramirez. Ramirez, though still one of the game’s five best pure hitters, is due nearly $20 million per season over each of the next three years, making him virtually unaffordable for most teams. The complexities of dealing a superstar with so little time time before the trading deadline will also make it difficult for Theo Epstein to find a suitable buyer for Ramirez–and one that can offer a decent package of players in return…
The Angels and A’s, both convinced that they need additional starting pitching, have entered into the A.J. Burnett sweepstakes. With interest from the Orioles and White Sox having cooled, it’s possible that one of the West Coast playoff contenders will overpay for Burnett. The Angels, with a veritable surplus throughout their farm system, are in the best position to come up with a package of three prospects that will satisfy the Marlins. The Angels might even consider expanding the deal to include outfielder Juan Encarnacion, which would allow them to make the injury-plagued Vladimir Guerrero the everyday DH…
The Yankees are conducting some last-minute talks with the Rangers. No, they’re not discussing Alfonso Soriano, but have set their center field sights on the underrated Gary Matthews, Jr. "Little Sarge" is not only the best defensive center fielder available in a thin trade market, but has enough power (10 home runs) to make himself more than acceptable as the Yankees’ No. 9 hitter. A package of Sean Henn and Andy Phillips might bring Matthews to the Bronx… If the Yankees fail to acquire Matthews, there’s always a cheaper option available to them in Seattle, where Randy Winn appears destined to be traded. A middling package of two mid-level prospects would probably be enough to bring Winn to New York. Though Winn has a poor throwing arm, he would a significant upgrade defensively over Bernie Williams, Tony Womack, and Hideki Matsui…
The Mets and Rangers continue to discuss the parameters of a blockbuster deal involving Alfonso Soriano. The Rangers have been asking for a gigantic package of four players–including outfielders Mike Cameron and Lastings Milledge, pitcher Aaron Heilman, and a minor league hurler–but may be willing to lower their demands. If the Rangers will accept a three-player return that doesn’t include Milledge, the Mets will be very tempted to make a deal. Mets GM Omar Minaya loves Soriano a great deal more than Rangers skipper Buck Showalter, who has grown tired of Soriano’s bad habit of jogging to first base on apparent home run balls. One way or another, expect Soriano to leave the Lone Star State by the end of the weekend…
Finally, look for the Giants to keep Jason Schmidt in San Francisco, but expect Billy Wagner to leave Philadelphia. A free agent this off-season, Wagner doesn’t like the City of Brotherly Love, which leaves the Phillies in a position of trying to get something for the hard-throwing left-hander. The Phillies would love to bring back a starting pitcher in return, but might have to settle for a package of two highly-rated prospects who can help in 2006 and beyond.
1975 World Series Revisited With the 1975 World Series tied at two games apiece, the fifth game became a potential turning point for both the Reds and the Red Sox. Although the game would pale in comparison to the classic sixth game, Game Five did succeed in placing a future Hall of Famer and an oft-injured pitcher on the national stage.
1975 World Series Revisited
With the 1975 World Series tied at two games apiece, the fifth game became a potential turning point for both the Reds and the Red Sox. Although the game would pale in comparison to the classic sixth game, Game Five did succeed in placing a future Hall of Famer and an oft-injured pitcher on the national stage.
As they prepared for Game Five, the Reds desperately hoped to avoid losing a second consecutive game at Riverfront Stadium. In order to do so, they needed a much-improved performance from talented left-hander Don Gullett, who had been hit hard in the first game of the Series. Gullett didn’t look any better in the first inning of the fifth game, as he allowed a one-out triple to the slap-hitting Denny Doyle and a sacrifice fly to Carl Yastrzemski.
While Gullett was making his second appearance of the Series, his counterpart, right-hander Reggie Cleveland, was making his first for the Red Sox. Cleveland, the first Canadian-born pitcher to start a World Series game, held the Reds scoreless over the first three innings. He then retired the first two batters to come his way in the fourth. With no one on, the struggling Tony Perez walked to the plate. Hitless in his first 15 at-bats of the Series, Perez had been subjected to some twisted dugout humor earlier in the evening. Sparky Anderson had informed Perez that he if he kept up his cadaverous performance at the plate, he could tie or even break a World Series record. The record? The 0-for-22 Series endured by Dal Maxvill of the St. Louis Cardinals in 1968. Of course, such futility was nothing unusual for Maxvill, a lifetime .217 hitter who hit only six home runs over the span of a 14-year career.
The ribbing from his manager didn’t upset Perez; it only seemed to relax the laid-back Cuban. When Cleveland made his first mistake of the night and left a breaking pitch hanging high in the strike zone, Perez pounced on the pitch and launched it some 375 feet into the left field bleachers. The slump-ridding home run tied the game at 1-1.
Having settled down after an unimpressive first inning, Gullett supported himself on offense by lashing a two-out single in the fifth and hustling home on Pete Rose’s clutch double. One inning later, the Reds added to their lead. Joe Morgan started the inning with a walk and drew 16—count ‘em, 16—pickoff throws from Cleveland. Alas, Morgan didn’t try to run until Johnny Bench hit a routine double play grounder toward Denny Doyle at second base. Strangely, Doyle lost sight of the ground ball in the background of Bench’s lily-white uniform. As Doyle tiptoed precariously toward second base, the ball trickled into right field.
Rather than come to the plate with two men out and no one on, Perez stepped into a situation he adored: two runners on, one in scoring position. "When I started my career in the major leagues," Perez recalls, "I always loved to drive in runs. I always took my responsibility to drive in those runners—the guys who got on base for me—I really took it seriously. I was getting paid to drive in runs. Every 15 days my check—the money I was getting paid—was all about that, driving in runs." Perez now had a chance to do just that. He soon watched Cleveland compound Doyle’s mistake by committing one of his own. Taking advantage of another pitch poorly located within the strike zone, Perez vaulted his second home run of the night—a three-run shot that gave the Reds a sizeable 5-1 advantage.
Although Perez’ ability to produce in such clutch situations became his trademark, he supplied other, less tangible benefits to the Cincinnati clubhouse. "Tony Perez was so much more than just a clutch hitter," says Johnny Bench, who usually batted one spot ahead of "Doggie" in the Reds’ lineup. "To our ballclub, and to our clubhouse, he was everything. He was the constant that really made the ‘Big Red Machine’ go."
The four-run lead that Perez had supplied seemed plentiful for Gullett, who was now in the midst of a stretch that saw him retire16 straight batters from the first inning through the sixth. The 24-year-old southpaw remained strong until the ninth, when by his own admission, he started to tire. Just one out from completing the victory, Gullett permitted a single to Carl Yastrzemski, a single by Carlton Fisk, and a double to Fred Lynn. With the right-handed hitting Rico Petrocelli due up, Sparky Anderson decided that Gullett had seen enough game action and summoned Rawly Eastwick to save the win. Eastwick, the victor in the second and third games of the Series, quickly ended the budding Red Sox rally, fanning Petrocelli on three pitches. The 6-2 victory put the Reds back on top in the Series, three games to two.
Gullett’s near complete game effort left the catchers for both teams duly impressed. When asked to compare Gullett’s effort in the first and fifth games, Carlton Fisk offered a simple explanation. "He threw much harder tonight," Fisk told Lowell Reidenbaugh of The Sporting News. "The big difference was heat."
Another big difference between the two teams involved the contrast in team speed. The Reds, well-equipped for the fast track of Riverfront Stadium’s artificial turf, had stolen six bases in eight attempts during the Series. The Red Sox, more of a plodding team, had stolen no bases, been caught twice, and seen three of their runners cut down between third and home.
All The Rumors That Are Fit To Print
All The Rumors That Are Fit To Print
With so many general managers trying to hold up their front office counterparts, there may not be a lot of major trades made between now and the July 31st trading deadline, but it seems there are more trade rumors than at any time since the start of the new millennium. So with teams having less than two weeks to secure players in deals (at least without those players needing to clear waivers), let’s run down the best rumors in both leagues:
If the A.J. Burnett deal with the Orioles has indeed fallen apart, the O’s will take a serious run at Dodgers right-hander Jeff Weaver, another free agent to be. The Orioles don’t like Weaver nearly as much as Burnett, so there’s little chance that they’ll give up a package as enticing as the trio of Larry Bigbie, Hayden Penn, and Jorge Julio. A package of Bigbie and Penn could get it done. The Orioles might not be the only team that hopes Weaver ends up in Baltimore; the Red Sox and Yankees are simply salivating at the possibility of taking swings against Weaver…
The bullpen-starved Red Sox have set their sights on the Phillies’ unhappy Billy Wagner, who doesn’t like Philadelphia and will most definitely leave as a free agent at season’s end. The Red Sox have offered Alan Embree (recently designated for assignment), but they’ll have to add much more to the pot to bring in Wagner and his near 100 mile-per-hour fastball. The Phillies would love a top prospect like Jon Lester or Jon Papelbon, but there’s no way that Theo Epstein will surrender either of his prized pitchers in any deadline deal. A more realistic possibility might be minor league catcher Kelly Shoppach, who could replace the aging Mike Lieberthal for the Phils behind the plate… The Red Sox remain interested in Eddie Guardado, but the Mariners are acting as if "Everyday Eddie" is the second coming of Sparky Lyle. The Red Sox will only give up so much in a deal for a late-inning reliever… If the asking price for Guardado and Wagner is too high, the Red Sox might bite on a deal with the Twins for power left-hander J.C. Romero. According to one rumor, the Red Sox might be willing to part with starting third baseman Bill Mueller, which would enable the misused Kevin Youkilis to take over the hot corner on an everyday basis. And then there’s always the possibility that the Red Sox could trade Youkilis to the Twins and hope that the injury-prone Mueller will stay healthy for the balance of the season… If the Twins can’t acquire one of the Red Sox’ cornermen, they’ll push hard to make a deal for the Reds’ Joe Randa. The Reds would be happy to take any one of a number of Twins pitching prospects… With Bret Boone having been traded to the Twins and the slumping Mark Bellhorn now on the disabled list, the Red Sox did well in acquiring Tony Graffanino from the Royals. Unfairly labeled a utility player with the White Sox and Royals, Graffanino is more than capable of playing the pivot on an everyday basis. Or he could platoon with the switch-hitting Alex Cora…
Assuming that the Yankees don’t give underrated minor leaguer Kevin Thompson a shot at their center field vacancy, they’ll continue to concentrate efforts toward acquiring Seattle’s Randy Winn. The Mariners’ left fielder would not be a perfect fit in the Bronx—he’s really not an ideal center fielder and has a poor throwing arm—but his speed and range would certainly be improvements over Bernie Williams and Tony Womack. The Yankees will consider Winn strongly, but won’t give up either of their two best prospects, Eric Duncan and pitcher Philip Hughes. A package featuring Sean Henn, Colter Bean, and 20-year-old Melky Cabrera, who was overmatched during a six-game major league trial in center field, will likely have to do…Winn is probably their first choice, but the Yankees continue to monitor the Rockies’ Eric Byrnes and the Phillies’ Endy Chavez. According to the New York Daily News, the Rockies offered to send Byrnes and right-hander Shawn Chacon to the Yankees for pitchers Sean Henn and Scott Proctor, but the YANKEES turned it down. If that’s the case (and it’s hard to believe), the Yankees had better turn over the decision-making to Gene Michael… If the Yankees were to acquire Byrnes, who is almost certain to be traded a second time this summer, they might try him in left field and move Hideki Matsui back to center field. The problem with a Byrnes acquisition is this: it would do more to help the Yankees on offense and little to improve the outfield defense, which remains the team’s Achilles heel. As for Chavez, he’s an extremely limited player whose value is principally on the defensive side of the ball, which might actually make him a better fit for the Bronx. Chavez would also come far more cheaply via the trade route than either Byrnes or Winn… All in all, it’s stunning how much difficulty the Yankees have encountered in locating even a good-field, no-hit center fielder, a commodity that shouldn’t be that difficult to find. (Hey, it’s not like trying to acquire a competent starting pitcher, which is like trying to find the Lost Ark these days.) The way things have gone, the Yankees’ search party for a center fielder might soon degrade into an attempt to lure either Vic Mata or Gary Thomasson out of retirement…
If the Blue Jays decide that they can’t catch the trio of the Yankees, Orioles, and Red Sox, they’ll listen to offers for a number of different players—including star outfielder Vernon Wells and relief ace Miguel Batista, and possibly even Gold Glove second baseman Orlando Hudson and underrated left-hander Ted Lilly. In any deal, the Blue Jays will pursue young players and minor leaguers, with a special emphasis placed on finding some help behind the plate, at shortstop, and in the outfield (where a productive slugger would come in handy). And yes, there will have to be some pitching thrown into the mix if the Blue Jays are to become players at the trading deadline… At one point, the Jays considered themselves players in the A.J. Burnett sweepstakes, but ultimately decided that the asking price for the flawed right-hander was way too high and wanted no part of the declining Mike Lowell in an expanded deal…
The Cubs very quietly addressed part of their outfield miseries by stealing Jody Gerut from the Indians in a straight-up deal for the one-dimensional Jason Dubois. A onetime rookie sensation in 2003, Gerut has enough speed to play center field and might find his bat revived now that he’s back in his hometown and playing at the "Friendly Confines" (at least on days when the wind doesn’t blow in). Gerut also helps strengthen Chicago’s lineup against right-handers, giving Dusty Baker three dangerous left-handed bats in Gerut, Jeromy Burnitz, and Todd Walker. The acquisition of Gerut has probably lessened the Cubs’ desire for Juan Pierre, who had previously been a subject of trade discussion. The Cubs, however, still have some interest in Austin Kearns, who could take over left field and allow for Todd Hollandsworth to return to the bench, where he becomes a far more useful player. Like Gerut, Kearns is a once-promising prospect who could benefit from the proverbial change of scenery… With Gerut in tow, the Cubs can concentrate their trade efforts on fortifying the bullpen. Ryan Dempster has solidified their closer situation in the aftermath of the LaTroy Hawkins flop, but the Cubs would still like to improve the back end of the bullpen. They’ve talked to the Mariners about Eddie Guardado, the Devil Rays about Danys Baez, the Phillies about Billy Wagner, and the Pirates about Jose Mesa…
Firmly convinced that they can contend for the wildcard, the resurgent Astros are stepping up efforts to acquire a bigtime hitter for the middle of their lineup. The player who makes the most sense? Kansas City’s Mike Sweeney would be a perfect fit, replacing the injured Jeff Bagwell at first base while taking aim at the short left-field porch of Minute Maid Park. The only obstacle might be owner Drayton McLane’s willingness to take on Sweeney’s salary, but making the playoffs would help make up for any financial shortcomings to a deal…
Dissatisfied with the lack of hitting from Doug Mientkiewicz and concerned that they might be rushing Victor Diaz’ transition from the outfield, the Mets might turn to the Reds to solve their first base problems. Cincinnati’s Sean Casey is very much available, and would cost far less in a trade than someone like Adam Dunn. The Mets are concerned about Casey’s lack of power (only four home runs this season), but feel that even a Not-So-Mighty-Casey would represent an offensive upgrade over Mientkiewicz and utilityman Chris Woodward… In their endless search for relief pitching, the Mets will likely talk to the Blue Jays about Miguel Batista. The highly intelligent Batista would be a perfect fit for the Mets, taking over closer and allowing Willie Randolph to use Braden Looper as their eighth-inning set-up man…
Despite their recent slump, the Nationals’ front office remains dedicated to the pennant cause. General manager Jim Bowden has had serious talks with the Devil Rays about both Danys Baez and infielder Julio Lugo. Baez would become a set-up man and occasional closer for the Nationals, taking some of the load away from the overworked Chad Cordero. Lugo would be a terrific fit at shortstop, where the signing of Christian Guzman has proved more disastrous than the Yankees’ signing of Tony Womack and left the Nationals looking for a competent hitter to join Jose Vidro in the middle infield.
It’s Monday, which means it’s time for the latest edition of "Card Corner." In today’s installment, we examine a colorful player who had one of the most unusual of postseason jobs.
Like many of the Pittsburgh Pirates stars of the 1970s, Richie Hebner first dipped into the pool of fame in 1971, when the team surprised almost every rational baseball onlooker by beating the seemingly impregnable Baltimore Orioles in a classic seven-game World Series.
It was during that 1971 season that Hebner provided some details about his celebrated wintertime occupation—gravedigging. Hebner revealed that he made $35 a grave while working for his father, the superintendent of a cemetery in West Roxbury, Massachusetts. "The faster I dig, the more money I make," Hebner told the Boston Record American, using unflappable logic. Hebner explained that he could typically dig a single grave in about two hours. "It’s all pick and shovel. Some people thought it was a gag at first when they found out I dig graves, but it’s no gag. I really do it."
After the ’71 World Series, and presumable in between gravedigging assignments, Hebner’s hometown of Norwood, Massachusetts held a special day in his honor. During the offseason, the newly discovered Hebner, one of the few Pirate bachelors, received five marriage proposals in one batch of mail. "One of the girls who proposed forgot to sign her name," Hebner said with a laugh in a 1972 interview with The Sporting News. "Come to think of it, maybe she didn’t forget."
On the field, Hebner continued to improve his power production, hitting 19 home runs in 1972 and a career-high 25 the following summer. During the 1973 season, the likable Hebner became attached to controversy when he and Bill Virdon twice engaged in shouting matches. All the while, Hebner continued to battle his reputation as Pittsburgh’s most eligible swinging bachelor. "They talk as if the only things I think about are women and booze," Hebner complained to the Associated Press. Meanwhile, some Pirate officials criticized him for a lack of concentration, which may have caused some of his defensive problems at third base. Hebner also encountered difficulties with some fans, whose heckling clearly bothered the sensitive third baseman.
"Once I used to be the good guy," Hebner told The Sporting News in January of 1974. "Now every place I go, I’m looked on as the bad guy." Hebner admitted his guilt in the shouting matches with Virdon, who had since become the manager of the New York Yankees. "Those two run-ins with Bill Virdon probably did it. I was wrong about that. I know it now."
Hebner remained in Pittsburgh for three more seasons, before signing a free agent contract with Pennsylvania’s other team, the Phillies. Hebner inked a three-year deal worth an estimated $600,000. Later, when the Phillies signed Pete Rose as a free agent, Hebner became expendable in the City of Brotherly Love. On March 27, 1979, the Phillies traded him and infielder Jose Moreno to the Mets for pitcher Nino Espinosa. The Mets hoped that Hebner would fill their long troublesome third base position, but his stay in the Big Apple turned into a disaster. New York fans booed Hebner as he struggled at the plate, and in his re-adjustment to playing third base. Just a few days before his wedding day, the Mets traded Hebner to the Tigers for a pair of mediocre players, outfielder Jerry Morales and third baseman Phil Mankowski. Mets general manager Joe McDonald had come to the realization that the New York lifestyle did not suit Hebner. "Richie hated crowds and traffic," McDonald told The Sporting News in November of 1979. "He went into Manhattan only once all the time he was here."
While in Detroit, Hebner failed to take advantage of Tiger Stadium’s right field porch and never did justify manager Sparky Anderson’s initial confidence in him as Detroit’s cleanup hitter. Late in the 1982 season, the Tigers sold Hebner’s contract, returning him to Pittsburgh. He played two seasons for the Pirates as a pinch-hitter and utilityman and then signed as a free agent with the Cubs, where he contributed as a backup infielder on the team’s 1984 National League East championship. Hebner remained with the Cubs until March 1, 1986, when he drew his release.
Hebner didn’t remain out of baseball for long. In October of 1988, the Blue Jays named Hebner their first base coach. Two days later, the Boston Red Sox offered Hebner, the Massachusetts native, a position replacing Walt Hriniak as hitting instructor. The Red Sox sought permission from the Blue Jays, who agreed to let Hebner out of his contract. In 1995, Hebner became the manager of the Blue Jays’ Triple-A affiliate, the Syracuse Chiefs. He lost the job two years later, only to return to his first professional organization, the Pirates, as a minor league hitting instructor. In 2005, Hebner became the hitting instructor for the Durham Bulls of the International League.
When four of your six starting pitchers have been confined to the disabled list, it means that you’re somewhere past desparate in the search for additional help on the mound. Such is the scenario for the Yankees, who placed rookie sensation Chien-Ming Wang on the disabled list on Thursday, adding him to a corps of injured pitchers that includes Carl Pavano, Jared Wright, and Kevin Brown. And with the trade market so thin, causing teams to up the asking price for Jason Schmidt (who’s also spent some time on the disabled list this season), the Yankees will have to take some chances on other teams’ reclamation projects. That explains why the Yankees, according to the Denver Post, are close to finalizing a trade with the Rockies for Shawn Chacon. According to the rumor mill, the Yankees would send minor league left-hander Sean Henn and righty reliever Scott Proctor to Colorado, though there is a possibility the deal could be expanded to include the recently traded Eric Byrnes. Chacon has been miserable for the Rockies over the past year and a half, but he’s a live-armed right-hander who made the All-Star team only two seasons ago. Plus, he’s only 27, making him only three years older than Henn. If this exchange is indeed on the table for the Yankees, they should hurry up and make it happen before the the trade-minded Rockies decide to make a deal with someone else.
Henn might one day become an effective starter, but he’s clearly not ready to help the 2005 Yankees, who need pitching help now. With three terrible starts to his discredit, the Yankees have no plans to bring Henn back to the major leagues anytime soon, not with the tentative left-hander pitching scared against American League hitters. Proctor would be no great loss either; he throws 95 to 98 miles per hour, but his lack of movement and control remain major stumbling blocks to his success as a late-inning reliever.
As for Chacon, the Yankees can always hope that a departure from Coors Field will help his mindset–and the quality of pitches. And unlike many Rockies hurlers pitching at home, Chacon enjoyed at least some success at Coors, pitching effectively enough during the first half of 2003 to earn a spot on the National League All-Star team. Given the current state of the Yankees’ pitching staff, that’s enough of a resume to merit an immediate spot in the starting rotation.
The last time that Detroit hosted an All-Star Game, fans at the ballpark and around the country were treated to arguably the greatest Midsummer Classic in history. The game not only provided a spectacular mid-season showcase for the National Pastime, but also came to represent an entire era of major league baseball.
The ’71 All-Star Game was played at Tiger Stadium, one of the game’s most traditional and beloved ballparks. Given the number of venerable stars who participated in the game (many of whom were nearing the end of long careers that began in the 1950s and early 60s), Tiger Stadium seemed like an especially appropriate gathering place for this particular Midsummer Classic.
The ’71 game featured 20 Hall of Famers who were selected to participate in the game, a veritable “Who’s Who of Baseball” during the late 1960s and early 1970s. The list of 1971 All-Stars enshrined in Cooperstown is as follows: Hank Aaron, Luis Aparicio, Johnny Bench, Lou Brock, Rod Carew, Steve Carlton (who did not play), Roberto Clemente, Reggie Jackson, Ferguson Jenkins, Al Kaline, Harmon Killebrew, Juan Marichal, Willie Mays, Willie McCovey, Jim Palmer, Brooks Robinson, Frank Robinson, Tom Seaver (who did not play), Willie Stargell, and Carl Yastrzemski. The careers of most of these players started in either the mid-1950s (Aaron, Aparicio, Clemente, Kaline, Killebrew, Mays, B. Robinson, and F. Robinson), or the early 1960s (Brock, Marichal, McCovey, Stargell, and Yastrzemski).
A 21st player, Pete Rose, would almost certainly be a member of the Hall of Fame if not for his banishment from Major League Baseball. Two other players (Tony Oliva and Ron Santo) remain strong candidates in future Veterans Committee elections. In addition, the two All-Star managers (Baltimore’s Earl Weaver and Cincinnati’s Sparky Anderson) have both gained election to the Hall of Fame.
In an intriguing and somewhat haunting side note, three of the game’s most tragic figures participated in the ’71 All-Star Game. Roberto Clemente, Thurman Munson, and Don Wilson, who each appeared in the game as reserves, all died unexpectedly while they were still active players. Clemente and Munson perished in plane crashes in 1972 and 1979 respectively, while Wilson died of carbon monoxide poisoning in 1975, in what was believed to be a suicide.
The ’71 Midsummer Classic made history by becoming the first All-Star Game to feature two African-American starting pitchers. In fact, no African-American had ever started an All-Star Game for either league prior to 1971. In 1965, Juan Marichal of the San Francisco Giants had become the first Latin-born pitcher picked to start an All-Star Game. In 1968, Luis Tiant of the Cleveland Indians became the first black Latino to start in the All-Star classic.
Prior to the naming of two African-American pitchers for the ’71 All-Star Game, Dock Ellis of the Pittsburgh Pirates had created some controversy by predicting that National League manager Sparky Anderson would not name him the starter for the All-Star Game, for the specific purpose of avoiding a matchup of two minority starters. Ellis reasoned that with American League manager Earl Weaver likely to select the sizzling Vida Blue as his starter, baseball’s powers-that-be would want at least one white pitcher starting the midsummer classic in Detroit. “They wouldn’t pitch two brothers against each other,” Ellis told reporters. Ellis had offered a secondary reason for a possible snub. “Sparky Anderson doesn’t like me.”
Much to the pitcher’s surprise, Anderson announced that Ellis would start and would indeed face Blue in Detroit. Anderson denied that Ellis’ comments had, in any way, swayed his decision. “His 14-3 record and the fact that he hasn’t pitched since last Tuesday is what forced me to choose him,” Anderson said, while defending Ellis’ outburst against him. “I think everybody has a right to say what he wants.”
Ellis received a number of angry letters from fans, who criticized him for being so presumptuous about Anderson. Ellis also received a positive letter from the major leagues’ first black player of the 20th century. “I don’t mind those [negative] letters,” Ellis said, “but there was one letter I was particularly pleased with. Jackie Robinson wrote me a letter of encouragement. I met him last April in New York, and then I received this letter from him.”
On Tuesday, July 13, just hours before the start of the All-Star Game, Ellis offered no apologies for his recent remarks about African-American pitchers starting the national pastime’s showcase game. “When it comes to black players, baseball is backwards, everyone knows it,” Ellis told the New York Times. “I’m sort of surprised that I am starting, but I don’t feel my statements had anything to do with it.” Ellis also complained about the lack of endorsements for black athletes, compared to the commercial opportunities given to white players. A reporter asked Ellis if he had received any endorsement offers in light of his brilliant pitching in the first half of the season. “Aw, man, c’mon,” Ellis said incredulously. “Come to me for endorsements?”
Throughout his life, Ellis had bristled at racist treatment. During his first spring training in 1964, Ellis had argued or fought with seven different teammates who had used ethnic slurs in conversing with him. By 1971, instances of racism still bothered Ellis, but he had learned to use restraint. During the season, Ellis and a black friend visited a high school that had been affected by racial divisions. On the way to the school, a police officer called out to the two men, referring to them as “boys.” “That’s where I’ve changed,” Ellis told Sport Magazine. “Three years ago, I would’ve jumped on the cop’s chest. But all I did was to correct him [this time].”
Ellis now found himself at Tiger Stadium for the All-Star Game, facing off against Blue in an historic matchup of minority pitchers. Furthermore, a total of five National League starters were black or Latino, while three minorities started for the American League. In total, a record-breaking number of 27 minorities (17 African Americans and 10 Latinos) were chosen for the 1971 All-Star Game. The game’s racial composition accurately reflected the integration of major league baseball that had begun to progress rapidly in 1959, when 16 black players (a record number) made their debuts in the American and National leagues.
Two of the game’s minority players took center stage in the bottom of the third. With the Nationals leading 3-0, Ellis faced Boston Red Sox shortstop Luis Aparicio, the inning’s leadoff man. Aparicio, who was batting only .209 in regular season play, singled up the middle. American League manager Earl Weaver called upon Oakland A’s slugger Reggie Jackson to pinch-hit for Vida Blue. Jackson, a last minute All-Star Game replacement for the injured Tony Oliva, drove a mediocre Ellis fastball deep toward right center field. The ball, seemingly still on the rise hundreds of feet away from home plate, caromed off the light tower that perched above the right field section of the Tiger Stadium roof.
Observers estimated that Jackson’s home run had traveled 520 feet. Reggie claimed he had never hit a ball harder. Aparicio and fellow All-Stars Al Kaline and Carl Yastrzemski said that Jackson’s blast was the hardest they had ever seen. Norm Cash said the home run was the longest he had seen. And Ellis, despite his brilliant first-half pitching, would now be remembered more vividly for giving up an embarrassingly gargantuan home run on national television.
Unfortunately for Ellis, his problems had just begun. After a walk to Rod Carew, Frank Robinson clubbed another Ellis fastball into the right field stands, giving the American League a 4-3 lead. Robinson, who had gone hitless in his last 14 All-Star at-bats, was on his way to winning the All-Star game’s Most Valuable Player Award. Ellis was on his way to a loss in his first All-Star game appearance.
In the eighth, with the American League leading, 6-3, Roberto Clemente to the plate to face Detroit Tigers’ left-hander Mickey Lolich. Although most of the 53,559 fans at Tiger Stadium were focusing their concentration on their hometown pitcher, their collective attention would soon shift to the batter’s box. Clemente was about to produce one of the game’s most memorable batting sequences.
Lolich, it seemed, wanted no part of pitching to Clemente. Even though Lolich enjoyed a three-run lead, he threw two consecutive pitches well out of the strike zone. Clemente, visibly upset, stepped out from his accustomed position deep in the batter’s box and flipped his bat in the air. Lolich delivered another pitch, one that appeared to be sailing high and away from Clemente, again out of the strike zone. Surprisingly, Clemente swung at the rising fastball. At first glance, it appeared that Clemente would be able to do nothing more than pop the pitch–which wasn’t close to being a strike–weakly toward the second baseman. Clemente flicked his wrists, and launched the ball deep toward right-center field. The ball carried–and carried some more–and finally landed in the right field bleachers.
It was as if Clemente had challenged Lolich to throw him a strike, and when he refused, he simply expanded his strike zone, determined to deliver a hard-hit ball. Clemente wanted no part of drawing a walk in baseball’s most exalted exhibition game. In a showcase like the All-Star Game, Clemente wanted desperately to show the nationwide fan base watching on television that he could hit.
Clemente’s home run was the sixth by an All-Star that night in Detroit, joining Johnny Bench, Hank Aaron, Reggie Jackson, Frank Robinson, and Harmon Killebrew in the long ball parade. In addition to representing a new All-Star record, the six home runs were all hit by future Hall of Famers (In the 1956 All-Star Game, four home runs were hit, all by Hall of Famers.) While Clemente’s home run against Lolich failed to prevent the National League from losing the game, 6-4, and was overshadowed by the monstrous home run hit by Jackson–perhaps the most famous longball in All-Star game lore–it remains a stunning example of the intriguing confrontation between pitcher and hitter.
Still, the 1971 All-Star game represented so much more–even beyond the exploits of Clemente and Jackson. Virtually every superstar of the late 1960s and early seventies played in the game, truly indicating the era’s depth of talent. The ’71 All-Star Game also displayed the diversity of talent in baseball during that era. Black stars like Aaron and Mays. White stars like Bench and Yastrzemski. Latin American stars like Clemente and Aparicio. By merely watching a two-hour tape of the 1971 All-Star Game, one can obtain an accurate snapshot of what the national pastime was like in the era that began in the late 1950s, enjoyed its peak years through the sixties, and ended in the early 1970s.
Mike Cuellar—Topps Company
Mike Cuellar—Topps Company
For a young child growing up with baseball in the 1970s, Mike Cuellar had one of the most difficult names to pronounce. Not knowing of his Latino heritage at first, I had no idea that a Spanish pronunciation would apply. (And even if I did, I was too young to know that two back-to-back "L’s" in Spanish are pronounced like a "Y.") I usually referred to him as CUE-ler, or QUELL-er, and with no one around to correct me in my imaginary baseball world, that pronunciation stuck for many years. I wasn’t corrected until one fateful day on the school bus, when an older, high school boy informed me that his name was pronounced QUAY-ar. Yes, I was embarrassed.
Cuellar’s name was also hard to spell, as evidenced by his 1975 Topps card. It’s a nice-looking card, featuring a great close-up photo of Cuellar, but the last vowel on his name is incorrect, resulting in the spelling of Cueller. Well, that made me feel a little bit better about my own immature attempts at pronunciation.
In addition to having a tough name—and a tough screwball that often defrocked right-handed hitters—Cuellar owned one of the most colorful nicknames of that era; he was referred to as "Crazy Horse" by many of his Baltimore teammates. For an explanation, let’s turn to James Skipper’s wonderfully useful book, Baseball Nicknames. Skipper cited research done by a man named David Petreman, who uncovered the origin of the nickname. According to Petreman, Cuellar believed strongly in the spirit of a special baseball cap, which he felt that he had to wear in any game he pitched. On one occasion, Cuellar forgot this particular cap and demanded that the Orioles fly the cap back to Baltimore before he would pitch in his next scheduled start. With beliefs like that, the moniker of "Crazy Horse" soon evolved.
The Weekend Rumor Mill–July 8, 2005
Don’t be fooled into thinking that the Red Sox feel they’ve solved their bullpen problems by moving Curt Schilling into the uncharted territory of late-inning relief. They’re still holding out hope that Schilling can move back into the rotation by August or September, and even if he can’t, they still believe they need to acquire at least one quality reliever through the trade market. Their most desired commodity is Tampa Bay’s Danys Baez, but they’re hoping that the Devil Rays back off on their exorbitant trade demands of three prospects for the talented but inconsistent closer… The Red Sox are also one of several teams that have shown interest in Bret Boone, recently thrown into the wasteland known as the designated-for-assignment list. The Sox’ interest stems from their concern over the shaky defensive play of Mark Bellhorn, whose hands have become a sore spot in 2005. Like the other teams that have expressed a desire for Boone–principally the Twins, Yankees, and the Padres–the Red Sox will have decide whether to give up a small amount of value in a trade that will guarantee them the services of Boone, or wait until he becomes a free agent and hope that he chooses them over other contenders… The Red Sox and Twins do have an advantage over other teams in that they can offer Boone regular playing time this season. In contrast, the Yankees can only promise a platoon opportunity with impressive rookie Robinson Cano, while the Padres can only offer playing time until Mark Loretta returns from the disabled list…
In the meantime, the Yankees have given up on their efforts to acquire Mark Kotsay from Oakland. The reason is simple: Billy Beane’s asking price of top prospects Eric Duncan and Philip Hughes is way too high for the free-agent-in-waiting. The Yankees are now setting sites on Florida’s Juan Encarnacion, who is playing well for the Marlins but remains in the doghouse of Jack McKeon. The Yankees believe that Encarnacion, primarily a right fielder during his career, can make the transition to center field and give the Yankees more range and throwing power than Tony Womack, Bernie Williams, or Hideki Matsui. As always, the obstacle is what the Yankees can reasonably offer in return for Encarnacion. The Marlins would love Tom “Flash” Gordon, but the Yankees can’t afford to give up much more than Mike Stanton and the currently disabled Felix Rodriguez…
In the National League, the Cubs remain the favorites to pry Kotsay away from the A’s. Chicago is more than willing to offer the disappointing Corey Patterson along with some young pitching, which may be enough to convince Beane to pull the trigger. The A’s would then try their Moneyball approach on the talented Patterson, whose lack of patience at the plate remains the biggest landmine between mediocrity and stardom…
After some early-season optimism that he had returned to prior National League form, Javier Vazquez has once again returned to the rumor mill. For all the talk that Vazquez had rediscovered his mechanics and his fastball, his ERA remains mediocre, even in the suppressed hitting atmosphere of the senior circuit. With the Diamondbacks having fallen out of contention in the NL West, they’re now dangling Vazquez to several contenders, including the Braves, Nationals, Orioles, and Indians.
If not for a multitude of injuries and illnesses, Rico Carty might today be a famed member of the National Baseball Hall of Fame. Even without recognition in Cooperstown, Carty remains one of the most fascinating athletes of the late 20th century.
Prior to becoming a professional ballplayer, the well-built Carty starred as a boxer. Although the two sports require far different skills, Carty found common ground in one area: his ability to hit. He hit live pitching with the same ferocity that he hit live opponents in the ring. By the mid-1960s, his decision to turn to baseball seemed justified, as his minor league batting prowess earned him a promotion to the Milwaukee Braves. After moving with the franchise to Atlanta, Carty continued to build his reputation as one of the National League’s most feared hitters, combining the ability to bat for average and power, while rarely striking out. A number of scouts, coaches, and managers described Carty as the best two-strike hitter of his era.
Still, there were setbacks. One year, Carty hurt his back, forcing him to miss half of the season. In another year, Carty contracted tuberculosis, sapping him of much of his strength and rendering him unavailable for much of the season.
In 1970, a healthy Carty reached the peak of his playing career when he led the National League with a thunderous .366 batting average and a .456 on-base percentage. He had also hit for power, accumulating career highs with 25 home runs and 101 RBIs. Then, during the offseason, Carty’s career came to a crossroads. During a winter league game, he collided with fellow Dominican outfielder Matty Alou. The incident resulted in a crushed kneecap, which forced Carty to the sidelines for the entire 1971 season. He returned to the active roster the following season, but found himself hamstrung by a pulled muscle in his leg.
The injuries to Carty represented only part of the problem. Carty’s personality sometime put him in conflict with teammates and managers. During his years with the Braves, Carty brawled with six-foot, six-inch right-hander Ron Reed in one incident and with the team’s best player, Hall of Famer Hank Aaron, in another. Carty’s continuing problems with Aaron eventually influenced his trade to the Texas Rangers after the 1972 season. While in Texas, Carty sparred with manager Whitey Herzog, which resulted in his mid-season departure. The Rangers traded him back to the National League, this time sending him to the Chicago Cubs. Carty proceeded to butt heads with another popular star player, Ron Santo, one of the Cubs’ senior veterans and most prominent clubhouse leaders. Within a few weeks, the Cubs traded him back to the American League, where he landed with the Oakland A’s. Upon his arrival in Oakland, Carty pointed the finger at Santo, labeling him a selfish player. Carty bitterly predicted the Cubs would never win a division title or league pennant until they ridded themselves of their longtime third baseman. Although Carty’s criticism likely had little to do with it, the Cubs traded Santo to the cross-town White Sox after the season.
Carty could make controversy with the best of them, but he was colorful in a good way, too. He proudly called himself the "Beeg Boy," using his heavy Spanish accent to change the pronunciation of the word "Big." He also brandished a distinct style at the plate. Unlike many hitters who step out of the batter’s box and tug at their uniforms between pitches, Carty stood firmly planted in the batter’s box throughout each bat. He remained virtually motionless, all the while glaring at the opposing pitcher. Given his enormous hitting talents, Carty’s stance and stare only made him more intimidating to rival hurlers.
When healthy, Carty made pitchers very nervous. After a stint in the Mexican League, Carty found himself a new major league home with the Cleveland Indians. He revived his career in the Midwest, making himself one of the American League’s most productive designated hitters. The DH rule allowed Carty, even with his chronic knee problems, to continue his career until 1980.
In many ways, Carty’s splendid hitting skills and off-the-field histrionics overshadowed his intelligence. After his playing days, he became a political figure in his native Dominican Republic. In May of 1994, was elected mayor of his hometown, San Pedro de Macoris and was scheduled to be sworn in mid-August. political machinations then wreaked havoc on Carty’s career. On August 2, a recount gave the mayoral job to Carty’s principal opponent
If Carty had won, he had planned to repair many of the city’s streets and step up efforts to fight pollution in San Pedro de Macoris. He also wanted to ask the United States for help in bringing equipment—specifically bats and baseballs—to the Dominican Republic. Although Carty’s political desires were grounded, he still managed to earn the honorary rank of General in the Dominican army.
It’s the Fourth of July, a day that traditionally has produced some of baseball’s most memorable moments and noteworthy achievements. In honor of the Fourth, let’s take a look back at “This Date in Baseball History,” beginning with the “Iron Horse.”
*On July 4, 1939, the New York Yankees retire the uniform No. 4 of future Hall of Famer Lou Gehrig in emotional ceremonies at Yankee Stadium. For over 40 minutes, current and former Yankee greats, including Hall of Famer Babe Ruth, parade onto the field to honor the “Iron Horse.” Other former Yankee greats, such as pitcher Waite Hoyt, second baseman Tony Lazzeri, and outfielder Bob Meusel, also attend. Yankee manager Joe McCarthy presents Gehrig with a special silver trophy. Gehrig, in one of the most memorable speeches in baseball history, tells the 61,808 in attendance at the Stadium, “I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of the earth.” Gehrig, who is stricken with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, will die from the muscular disease in 1941.
*On July 4, 1984, Hall of Famer Phil Niekro collects his 3,000th career strikeout. Pitching for the New York Yankees, the knuckleballing veteran fans Larry Parrish of the Texas Rangers to reach the milestone.
*On July 4, 1983, Dave Righetti of the New York Yankees pitches a no-hitter against the rival Boston Red Sox. Righetti strikes out Wade Boggs to complete the 4-0 masterpiece at Yankee Stadium. Yankee third baseman Bert “Campy” Campaneris plays in a record 11th no-hitter.
*On July 4, 1976, Philadelphia Phillies catcher Tim McCarver hits an apparent grand slam home run against the Pittsburgh Pirates. When McCarver passes teammate Garry Maddox, the runner at first base, he loses credit for the grand slam. The Phillies still win the game, 10-5.
*On July 4, 1985, the New York Mets defeat the Atlanta Braves, 16-13, in a wild 19-inning affair at Fulton County Stadium. Light-hitting pitcher Rick Camp hits a game-tying home run in the 18th, only to see his team lose. New York’s Keith Hernandez hits for the cycle.
*On July 4, 1980, Hall of Famer Nolan Ryan of the Houston Astros collects his 3,000th strikeout during an 8-1 loss to the Cincinnati Reds. “The Express” fans Cesar Geronimo, becoming the fourth major league pitcher to reach the milestone.
*On July 4, 1925, two of the era’s greatest pitchers lock horns in a classic pitching duel. Herb Pennock of the New York Yankees defeats Lefty Grove of the Philadelphia A’s in a 1-0, 15-inning matchup of future Hall of Famers. Pennock retires the final 21 batters he faces.