As we endure the final dog days of August, let’s take a look back at some of the events that took place on this date in baseball history. Here are six of the more notable occurrences:
On August 29, 1982, Gaylord Perry of the Seattle Mariners reaches the 100-strikeout mark for the 18th season in his career, tying him with Hall of Famers Walter Johnson and Cy Young for the most times in major league history…
On August 29, 1977, Lou Brock of the St. Louis Cardinals becomes the king of the stolen base. Playing against the San Diego Padres, Brock steals his 893rd and 894th bases to surpass Hall of Famer Ty Cobb for the all-time lead in thefts…
On August 29, 1973, Thurman Munson of the New York Yankees breaks up Nolan Ryan’s no-hit attempt. Munson’s first inning pop fly drops between two California Angels fielders. In a questionable scoring decision, Munson’s short outfield pop-up is ruled a base hit. Ryan allows no other hits the rest of the way and settles for a one-hit, 5-0 win…
On August 29, 1970, Mickey Mantle returns to the New York Yankees as their first base coach. Mantle, who retired as an active player prior to the 1969 season, will serve as coach for the balance of the 1970 season before leaving the position…
On August 29, 1925, the Detroit Tigers hold an honorary dinner for longtime star Ty Cobb. The Tigers give Cobb a check for $10,000, and the city of Detroit presents him with a trophy…
On August 29, 1925, New York Yankees manager Miller Huggins suspends Babe Ruth for arriving late to the ballpark. Huggins fines Ruth $5,000 and orders him not to suit up for today’s game. A few days later, Ruth will take his case to Yankee owner Jacob Ruppert, who sides with Huggins.
During the summer of the blockbuster trades that never were (A.J. Burnett, Manny Ramirez, and Alfonso Soriano), a small deal made in the days leading up to the July 31st trading deadline may end up having a bigger impact on the playoff race than any other. The Yankees’ acquisition of Shawn Chacon–who arrived in the Bronx at the mere cost of two C-level prospects–has kept the previously underachieving Bombers afloat in both the wildcard and the divisional races. Since joining the Yankees, Chacon hasn’t endured even one bad start; in every game he’s pitched, he’s more than kept the Yankees in the game, usually turning a lead over to the bullpen in the sixth, seventh, or eighth innings. He’s even made an emergency appearance out of the bullpen, pitching in between starts on a night when both Mariano Rivera and Tom "Flash" Gordon were unavailable.
Most writers now refer to Chacon as the Yankees’ No. 3 starter behind Randy Johnson and Mike Mussina, but in reality he’s been their No. 1 starter since coming over from the National League. Chacon’s success must have a few Rocky Mountain fans wondering how Colorado could have surrendered Chacon for such a small price tag. It’s understandable that the Rockies came to the conclusion that Chacon couldn’t succeed in the mile-high air of Coors Field, but it’s quite another to give up a 27-year-old right-hander with a live arm in exchange for a measly package of lower-level prospects.
At the time of the trade, most Yankee fans would have had trouble picking Chacon out of a lineup and might have been excused for confusing him with Elio Chacon, one of those legendary Mets from the franchise’s early years. With just a handful of starts, Chacon has made himself one of the most recognizable of Yankees. He’s the one who works quickly, throws a moving fastball in the low 90s, features two kinds of curves (one slow and the other slower), and has shown the uncanny ability to pitch from behind in the count. As YES Network analyst Jim Kaat so aptly pointed out during a broadcast of Chacon’s start against the Blue Jays, his pitching style is reminiscent of that of Hall of Famer Early Wynn. Like Wynn, Chacon doesn’t throw a high percentage of first-pitch strikes, often falling behind 1-and-0 and 2-and-1, but compensates by being able to throw his breaking ball for strikes when he’s behind in the count. It’s a backwards way of pitching, but it has worked wonders for Chacon thus far.
Will Chacon be able to maintain his surprising domination of American League hitters, which has seen his AL ERA fall below the level of two runs per nine innings? Probably not, if only because he isn’t THAT good; in reality, no American League pitcher is. But as of the latter days of August, Shawn Chacon has been the most important trade acquisition of the summer–and one of the main reasons the Yankees, despite a bevy of problems and setbacks, don’t have to call this season a lost cause just yet.
In today’s installment of "Card Corner," we continue our look back at Topps’ memorable 1975 card set, which featured those distinctively colored borders. As part of a long line of Chicago Cubs third basemen, let’s recall the career of a former major leaguer whose talents stretched well into the musical world.
It’s too bad that none of Carmen Fanzone’s baseball cards showed him holding a trumpet. While the third baseman often struggled with the bat—arguably the most important instrument for an everyday major league player—he repeatedly proved himself accomplished with a musical instrument.
A player of limited talents on the ballfield, Fanzone did his best to make up for his lack of skills by hustling at all times and demonstrating an inspired attitude. After making his major league debut for the infield-clogged Boston Red Sox, Fanzone moved on via a trade to the National League, where he hoped for more playing time with the aging Chicago Cubs. Fanzone showed immediate promise in his first National League at-bat, clubbing a home run against Pittsburgh Pirates ace Steve Blass. Given such flashes of fame, the Cubs thought they might have found a successor to their fading star at third base, Ron Santo. Unfortunately, milestone home runs and other moments of disntinction didn’t happen often enough for Fanzone. He struggled at the plate with the Cubs, bouncing up and down between Chicago and its minor league affiliates for several seasons. In 1975, the Cubs finally released Fanzone. He found work with the Triple-A Hawaii Islanders (not a bad place to be if buried in the minor leagues), but never again reached the major leagues.
Fanzone’s flailings at the plate didn’t prevent him from excelling in his other area of expertise—music. He had first started playing the trumpet at eight years of age, moved on to performing for a high school band in Detroit, and eventually majored in music at Central Michigan University. The music didn’t stop once Fanzone picked up a bat and glove. A part-time musician and trumpeter during his baseball career, Fanzone played for the Salvation Army during the off-season, taught music classes in the winter, and also played the trumpet at night spots in Chicago and area high schools. He specialized in jazz music, with a little classical thrown in for balance.
After his release from baseball, Fanzone became a fulltime performer. In one of his more notable gigs, he played trumpet for the Baja Marimba Band at the Fairmount Hotel in New Orleans. Even 30 years after the end of his baseball career, Fanzone remains active in music, making him one of the most successful athletes-turned-musicians in sports history. Yes, baseball may be life, as indicated by the slogan, but there is also life after baseball.
It may have been the greatest game in baseball history. And it happened thirty years ago. It is remembered, quite simply, as Game Six.
Joe Mooney’s ground crew restored Fenway’s Park’s dirt and grass to playadaily ble condition, allowing Game Six to begin amidst surprisingly warm 64-degree temperatures. After retiring the first two batters he faced, Nolan surrendered back-to-back singles to Carl Yastrzemski and Carlton Fisk, followed by a three-run homer to the previously slumping Fred Lynn. With that home run, Nolan tied one of the most undesirable of World Series records. Lynn’s blast was the eighth that Nolan had allowed in World Series play, drawing him even with Hall of Famers Don Drysdale and Whitey Ford. Of course, no one wanted to tell Nolan that Drysdale had allowed that many over the span of five World Series and that Ford had done so in 11 visits to the Fall Classic. Nolan, in stark contrast, was pitching in only his third World Series. Nolan narrowly avoided allowing a ninth career home run when Rico Petrocelli lofted a deep drive that seemed earmarked for territory beyond “The Wall” in left, only to fall into the waiting glove of Cincinnati’s center fielder.
In contrast to Nolan’s pratfalls, Tiant successfully battled his cold–although he disputed reports that his back bothered him–and kept the Reds scoreless over the first four innings before showing signs of weakness in the fifth. Tiant found fortune in retiring his first batter, Cesar Geronimo, who lined directly at Dwight Evans in right field. Sparky Anderson now called on Ed Armbrister–oh no, not him again!–to bat in the pitcher’s spot. The pesky Armbrister waited out a walk and then moved up to third on Pete Rose’s single to center field. With the tying run now at the plate, Ken Griffey stroked an opposite-field drive that chased Fred Lynn toward the outer regions of left-center field, right near the 379-foot sign. Lynn leapt up and into The Wall, but his courageous attempt fell short. As the ball bounded back toward the field of play, Armbrister and Rose scored, Griffey steamed into third, and Lynn collapsed in a heap at the base of the wall. He lay there motionless for several moments, drawing the attention of Carl Yastrzemski, who scurried over to check on his fallen teammate. “I hit the corner of the wall and fell,” Lynn told Joe Giulotti of the Boston Herald American. “The base of my spine struck a pipe which extends a few feet out of the ground and I had no feeling above my waist.” His legs paralyzed, Lynn felt frightened. “I always heard that if you suffer spinal injury [you should] remain still. That’s why I didn’t move. It was several seconds, but it seemed like minutes before I got feeling back in my legs.”
After the momentary scare, Yastrzemski and the rest of the Red Sox realized that Lynn was all right–at least physically. The disappointment that came with failing to make a spectacularly important catch had left Lynn drained emotionally, but relatively uninjured–an amazing result given the awkward way he had collided with the wall. Lynn would remain in the game in spite of a sore and stiff back that would require several bags of ice in the post-game clubhouse.
Once Lynn returned to his station in center field, Tiant had to face the middle of the “Big Red Machine” order–Joe Morgan and Johnny Bench. When Morgan lifted a harmless pop-up to Rico Petrocelli at third base, Tiant appeared to have recovered, only to falter again when Bench lined one of his pitches off the ever-present left field wall. The unusual single–unusual for any park other than Fenway, that is–scored Griffey with the game-tying run. Tiant finally ended the rally when he struck out Tony Perez, the home run hero of Game Five.
Tiant ran into more trouble in the sixth, before escaping a precarious two-out, two-runner jam. Just as in Game Four, Tiant was pitching nowhere near his level of peak efficiency. His breaking pitches lacked movement, and his fastball, one of his saving graces in the fourth game, seemed to have departed him. Even Tiant’s repertoire of pace-changing wind-ups did little to confuse the Reds’ batters. With his pitch count now climbing at an alarming rate, Tiant started the seventh by allowing back-to-back singles to Ken Griffey and Joe Morgan. Darrell Johnson stubbornly maintained the status quo, opting not to replace Tiant’s dragging right arm with a fresher one. The next batter, Johnny Bench, followed with another hard-hit ball, but it landed squarely in the glove of Carl Yastrzemski in left field. Tiant now faced Tony Perez, whom he had struck out to end the fifth inning. This time, Perez made contact, but only managed a fly-out to Dwight Evans in right field. Griffey moved up from second to third on the medium-depth fly ball, while Morgan held his ground at first. A tiring Tiant was just one out away from ending the threat. In spite of warm-up activity in the bullpen, Johnson once again decided to stick with his ace. Perhaps viewing the outcome of the inning with overly optimistic eyes, Johnson felt that Tiant could handle the formidable right-handed bat of George Foster. Having expounded so much energy in the fifth and sixth innings, Tiant couldn’t put Foster away. Foster propelled a line drive to the deepest part of Fenway’s outfield expanse. The ball crashed off the center field wall before caroming back onto the outfield grass. By the time Fred Lynn retrieved the pinball shot that had dented the wall, both Griffey and Morgan had scored. The two-out, two-run double by Foster had given the Reds a 5-3 lead.
The Reds tacked another run onto their lead in the eighth, when Cesar Geronimo hooked a Tiant pitch down the right field line, just inside Fenway’s oddly situated foul pole. The home run, the shortest possible at the misshapen ballpark, put the Red Sox’ deficit at three runs, finally convincing Darrell Johnson to make a change. Tiant, who had claimed both of Boston’s victories and was attempting to become the first pitcher since Mickey Lolich in 1968 to win three games in a Series, would not have a chance at a third. Johnson called on left-hander Roger Moret to replace Tiant and face the bottom rung of the Reds’ order, which was currently represented by relief pitcher Pedro Borbon. Moret induced a ground out from Borbon, and then did the same with Pete Rose to end the inning. With a comfortable lead of three runs, the Reds had placed themselves within six outs of the world championship. Sparky Anderson hoped that Borbon could acquire three of the outs in the eighth and that Rawly Eastwick could do the same in the ninth.
Speaking of Eastwick, he quickly became the topic of conversation in the Fenway Park press box. A group of writers who had been entrusted with the duty of conducting a vote for Series MVP elected to cast their ballots on the spot. The writers decided that Eastwick, who had won two games and saved a third game, deserved the MVP–and the new car that went along with it. In the meantime, the rest of those in attendance at Fenway set their sights on Borbon and Fred Lynn, the first batter to face him in the bottom of the eighth. Lynn banged a line drive that clipped the Cincinnati right-hander in the leg. Borbon could not recover the ball in time, allowing Lynn to reach on an infield single. Borbon then walked Rico Petrocelli, putting runners on first and second and bringing the tying run to the plate. With the power-hitting Dwight Evans scheduled to bat, Anderson strode to the mound and called for Eastwick, who had just been voted MVP in a ballot that had not yet been publicly announced. Eastwick and Evans had met before, most recently in Game Three, when “Dewey” clubbed a game-tying two-run home run in the ninth inning.
This time around, Eastwick gained the upper hand. Using his trademark moving fastball, he struck out Evans. Next up came Rick Burleson, who lined to George Foster at left. The Red Sox’ rally, which seemed so promising only moments ago, appeared to be flickering. With Roger Moret scheduled to bat, Darrell Johnson decided to call on one of his pinch-hitters. Preferring one with power, Johnson instructed reserve outfielder Bernie Carbo to pick up a bat. Although Carbo had previously annoyed his manager by questioning his decision not to start him in the World Series, Johnson knew this was no time to institute a grudge. Carbo offered him his best chance of coming through in the pinch, just as he had done with a home run in Game Three. As a veteran of the 1970 World Series with the Reds, Carbo was familiar with the experience of playing in the game’s ultimate pressure situations. He was also familiar with Eastwick’s repertoire: rising fastballs, an occasional breaking pitch, and more fastballs. When Eastwick was at his best, his riding fastball bordered on the unhittable. Eastwick and Carbo tangled evenly for the first four pitches, working themselves to a count of 2-and-2. Rather than attempt to put Carbo away with a fastball, Eastwick threw a devious forkball, which moved down and away from the batter’s box. Carbo swung weakly–the “swing of a little leaguer,” as described by coach Johnny Pesky, or “the worst swing I ever saw,” in the words of an observant Carlton Fisk, — but somehow managed to tip the ball with a fractional segment of his bat. The count remained 2-and-2, and Carbo remained breathing. “I only wanted to keep the inning alive,” Carbo told Jim Regan of the Springfield Daily News after the game. “I was thinking, ‘Don’t make the final out.’ Billy Williams of the A’s says the worst thing you can do is make the last out of a game or the last out to end a rally.”
Carbo wanted nothing to do with the latter possibility. With his next pitch, Eastwick decided to throw Carbo his best pitch–a riding fastball–which he left over the middle of the plate. It was a pitch that Eastwick wanted to ride in on Carbo’s hands, but one that stayed out over the plate, a “terrible pitch” in Eastwick’s words. Using a level and compact swing, Carbo merely wanted to make contact. “I was telling myself not to strike out,” Carbo told Joe Durso of The New York Times. “With four days off because of the rain, I was just trying to put the ball in play someplace.” That someplace was in the direction of straightaway center field. The line drive carried, and to Carbo’s surprise, carried some more. From the grass in the Fenway outfield, Cesar Geronimo stared at the ball as it cleared the center field wall. Three-run homer. Tie game. And so much for the selection of a Series MVP. Carbo clapped his hands furiously as he rounded the bases. Several times, he interrupted his home run trot with periodic leaps in the air. By the time he reached home plate, Red Sox players had already emptied the dugout and encircled the area near Reds catcher Johnny Bench and home plate umpire Satch Davidson. Carbo, who had just tied Chuck Essegian’s record of two pinch-hit homers in one Series, stepped on home plate before melting into the friendly mass of grateful teammates. “It’s funny,” Carbo told The New York Times afterward, “but my first hit in the big leagues was a home run for the Reds, and two years later my first hit in a World Series was a home run for the Reds. And now this, against the Reds.”
One of the players who scored ahead of Carbo was Boston’s longtime infielder, Rico Petrocelli. “I was on first base. I came around; I was right in the middle of the pile,” recalls Petrocelli. “That was so exciting. You get the chills. I remember getting the chills when that ball was hit; it looked like it had a chance. You had to wait, and then all of a sudden, it goes in the center field bleachers. I think my hair was standing on end when we rounded the bases.” Petrocelli also remembers a dazed reaction on the part of Carbo, who was known for his rather offbeat states of mind. “Of course, Bernie at that time, he was kind of spacey,” says Petrocelli, “and he didn’t even know where he was; he was so excited.”
Not wanting to lose the clutch bat of Boston’s new hero, while strategically pushing the pitcher’s spot one slot further back in the batting order, Darrell Johnson decided to keep Carbo in the game when the Reds came to bat in the ninth. He placed Carbo in left field, where he was greeted with a standing ovation from an appreciative Fenway. Johnson moved Carl Yastrzemski to first base and removed the slumping Cecil Cooper, who was just 1-for-18 in the Series, from the top of the lineup. The new alignment left the Red Sox a bit weakened defensively, but it hardly mattered in the top of the ninth. Dick Drago, the new Red Sox’ pitcher, retired the Reds in order on two pop-ups and a ground out. Only one run–scored any which way–separated the Red Sox from a victory that would even the Series at three games apiece. And for the first time in the World Series, the Sox felt confident that they could break through against the previously impenetrable Rawly Eastwick. Denny Doyle, with hits in every game of the Series, led off the bottom of the ninth. The mercurial Doyle didn’t get a hit this time, but managed to work out a walk against the faltering Eastwick. With Yastrzemski batting next, Darrell Johnson now faced an important decision. Should he let Yaz hit away, or ask him to bunt, something he rarely did? Third base coach Don Zimmer gave Yaz a clear sign: forget about squaring to bunt, swing the bat. Yastrzemski did just that, lining an Eastwick pitch into right field. Running hard all the way, Denny Doyle rounded second and headed for third. With no one out, the Red Sox had put the potential game-winning run on third base with no one out.
Having seen enough of Eastwick, Sparky Anderson called on Will McEnaney and instructed him to intentionally walk Carlton Fisk, loading the bases. McEnaney, a flaky left-hander featuring a devastating curve ball that hampered most southpaw batters, now faced rookie sensation Fred Lynn. Swinging defensively, Lynn lofted a short fly down the left field line. George Foster, who was shaded toward the line, tracked the ball down in very shallow left field, at what seemed like only a handful of yards beyond the third base bag. As Foster made the catch on the 200-foot fly ball, third base coach Don Zimmer shouted his instructions to Doyle. Wisely choosing to hold Doyle, Zimmer yelled, “You can’t go. No, no, no!” Unfortunately for the Red Sox and the their fans, the message did not get through. Listening to Zimmer against the backdrop of a gasping crowd, Doyle thought his coach had said, “Go, go, go!” Noticing Doyle’s surprising break from third, Foster fired home. Johnny Bench, at first blocking the plate with his powerful legs, picked the ball up on one long, comfortable hop and applied a swipe tag to Doyle. Out No. 2! A mix-up in communications, caused in part by a raucous World Series atmosphere, had resulted in the most unlikely of double plays. For the mistake-prone Red Sox, it was a nasty case of déjà vu. Earlier in the Series, the Red Sox had short-circuited a rally under eerily similar circumstances. In the first inning of Game One, Dwight Evans believed he had heard Zimmer shout “Go!” when the coach had actually yelled “No!” on an infield hit by Fred Lynn. Evans rounded third and ran for home, only to be cut down by Dave Concepcion’s accurate throw to the plate.
A Red Sox’ win, which had seemed like a foregone conclusion only seconds ago, now figured to be more problematic. Although Yastrzemski had alertly moved up to third on Foster’s throw to the plate, he could no longer score on an out, since there were now two men down. A base hit, or a Cincinnati error of some kind, would have to occur in order to end the game in Boston’s favor. Rico Petrocelli, hitless in the game though productive in the Series, stepped in against McEnaney, who remained in the game. Petrocelli hit a medium-speed grounder toward third base. Pete Rose picked the ball up off the infield dirt, which remained surprisingly firm in spite of three days of rainstorms, and threw to Tony Perez at first. The Red Sox’ rally, which had appeared destined to end the game, was over.
It was on to the 10th inning. And then the 11th inning. When Pete Rose stepped to the plate to lead off the inning for the Reds, he decided to say something to Carlton Fisk, who was about to crouch behind the plate. “This is some kind of game, isn’t it?” Rose said in wonderment to his opponent, who couldn’t believe the words he was hearing. “Pete Rose said that to me,” a shocked Fisk informed Sports Illustrated afterwards. It was not the kind of thing that a player, certainly not a competitive one like Rose, usually said to another player on the opposing team. Yet, this was not a game of usual circumstances.
A few moments later, Rose reached first when he was hit by a pitch, but was soon forced out when Fisk deftly fielded an attempted sacrifice bunt and pinpointed a strong throw to second. It was an especially nifty play by Fisk, given the pain and soreness he had combated throughout an injury-plagued season. But the Red Sox still had to deal with the middle of the Cincinnati order. With the fleet-footed Ken Griffey now on first, Joe Morgan launched a high fly ball toward the deepest regions of right field. At first sight, the ball appeared to have home run distance, causing Griffey to make a hard run toward second. Dwight Evans, employing a series of long, graceful strides, gave chase to Morgan’s blast. The ball not only had the necessary footage to elude Evans and score Griffey, but it had seemed to have enough length to reach the wall, maybe even exceed it. Then, without warning, Evans stabbed the air with his glove hand. Amazingly, the ball stuck in his glove–a remarkable catch. Evans wasn’t done. Although his momentum pushed him into the fence and brushed him up against the fans (who graciously moved back to accommodate him), Evans stopped himself quickly, re-gained his balance, and unfurled a strong but inaccurate throw wide of first base. Carl Yastrzemski flagged the ball down and relayed to Rick Burleson at second base, doubling Griffey off the bases and erasing what might have been the go-ahead run.
Although many observers had concluded that Morgan’s drive was destined for extra bases, Evans felt otherwise. “I knew I had a chance. The ball was hit fairly low,” Evans told the Springfield Daily News. “I stuck up my glove and the next thing I know I was wheeling and throwing the ball in the location of first.” Evans’ play didn’t just save one run; it prevented two runs from scoring. “It would have been a homer because the fence is only three feet high there.”
Bill Plummer, a backup catcher for the Reds who was watching the play from the bullpen, confirmed Evans’ diagnosis. Plummer said that the ball would have landed two or three rows into the outfield seats. Evans’ play drew the ultimate level of respect from opposing manager Sparky Anderson. “You will never see any better [catch] than that one,” Sparky told Gerry Finn of the Springfield Union. “At least, I don’t think I will.” Keep in mind that Anderson had also witnessed Joe Rudi’s outfield robbery against his Reds in the ’72 Series.
The next inning, Cincinnati tried to mount another rally against Boston’s suddenly stubborn and stingy combination of defense and pitching. The Reds put two more runners on base, but veteran Rick Wise, a one-time ace now nearing the end of a long career, retired Dave Concepcion on a fly-out and Cesar Geronimo on strikes.
The sixth game of the World Series, seemingly as long as the string of rainouts that had preceded it, moved to the bottom of the 12th inning. By now, Sparky Anderson had used up three of his regular starting pitchers and four of his best relievers, leaving him with an obscure rookie right-hander named Pat Darcy on the mound. As Cincinnati’s eighth pitcher of the night, Darcy represented a piece of baseball history. No team had ever used as many hurlers in a World Series game. More pertinently, Darcy had retired all six of the Red Sox’ batters he had faced in the 10th and 11th innings. In reality, Darcy represented Anderson’s last viable pitching option of the night. Anderson had only two other pitchers on his entire staff who had not seen action during the marathon. One was Don Gullett, who was scheduled to start Game Seven, and the other was Clay Kirby, the only man on the staff who had yet to make an appearance in the World Series. Even though Darcy was about to embark on his third inning of work, Sparky simply couldn’t use Gullett, and he didn’t want to use Kirby. So Darcy it was.
The 25-year-old right-hander now prepared to face Carlton Fisk, the first batter for the Red Sox in the 12th inning. Darcy and Fisk had faced each other one time before in the Series, with Fisk drawing a walk in Game Three. Darcy didn’t want to walk Fisk this time, not with Fisk being the leadoff man in extra innings of a tie game, not with him representing the potential game-winning run. Darcy wanted to maintain an aggressive approach. Go after Fisk, get him out, and then pitch more carefully to the left-handed hitting Fred Lynn, waiting in the on-deck circle. In the meantime, Carlton Fisk had a contrasting thought on his mind. “It’s funny you know, that recollection–some of it is really fuzzy,” says Fisk. “We’re standing on the on-deck circle. As the warm-up pitches conclude, “I say, ‘Fred, I’m gonna hit one off the wall. Drive me in.’ He looks at me with that little smirky smile, [as if to say] ‘Oh, that sounds good to me.’ It was just one of those feelings that you just know–you just had a feeling that something good was going to happen that inning.”
Darcy missed with his first pitch, a fastball that sailed too high. Darcy now faced even more pressure to put his next pitch within the strike zone. With the clock now reading 33 minutes past the midnight hour, Darcy delivered his second pitch. He threw a sinking fastball, one that ran down and in on Fisk. A pretty good pitch–to most hitters, at least. But not to Fisk, in this at-bat, in this ballpark. “I don’t think about it every day,” Fisk says of what followed, a hooking, high-arching drive that seemed to float as it traversed the left field line, before nesting in the screen attached to the foul pole, having met the minimum requirements of a home run at Fenway Park. “It’s not something that I forget; it’s just something that I don’t think about every day. It happened so early in my career–the third or fourth year of my career, and I played 20 years after that–that it almost seems like it happened to a different player. Like I’m looking at someone else doing that dance, or hitting that ball and having it hit the screen.” Fisk’s dance, which consisted of an act of overt body English, fully replete with sets of jumping and waving, was uncharacteristic of a player who usually reacted to success with a more reserved demeanor. “That was the only time [I did something like that], in probably the only game that I’ve ever played that has ever meant that much. It happened to be a situation that was totally spontaneous. I don’t remember doing things like that. Not that I played the game unemotionally. I always thought it was the player’s right to be somewhat animated for doing well. Pitchers do it when they strike out hitters. Infielders do it, outfielders do it, when they make great plays. Hitters do it, and sometimes take it to an extreme, which offends a lot of people. But [you should] do it in a respectful way–I think everybody ought to be happy about doing well.” A star player, often a stoic, now showing his human side. “A lot of people who viewed that game realized we’re all people and we run the full gamut of emotions, maybe even more intensely than the fans.”
Once Fisk ceased his repeated motions of body English, he turned his attention to the most basic of home run rituals. “I made sure I touched every one of those sweet white bases,” Fisk told Maury Allen of the New York Post. “The fans jumped on the field, but I would score even if I had to stiff-arm them.” For Fisk, the home run represented the culmination of one of the most memorable games in the history of professional baseball. “There was a certain alignment of the stars that evening,” Fisk says. “I always think that game sort of defined both our teams in a lot of different ways.” Two terrific teams playing the game at its highest level of professional competition.
An incredible game had exhausted its participants, including the managers. “The way I hurt all over,” Sparky Anderson told United Press International, “it was probably as good a ballgame as I’ve ever seen.”
While headline seekers like Terrell Owens continue to make a mockery of the term "professional athlete," the baseball world lost a true sportsman on Thursday. Longtime Negro Leagues legend Ted "Double Duty" Radcliffe lost his battle with cancer at the age of 103, bringing to an end a long line of colorful storytelling that helped younger generations of fans learn about the days of "black ball." As with many retired stars, Radcliffe’s death is sure to stir the debate about his Hall of Fame worthiness. Does he deserve to be enshrined in Cooperstown, joining the likes of Satchel Paige, Buck Leonard, and Josh Gibson, other great players who were denied entry into the major leagues because of the color of their skin? Or was he simply a good player whose reputation was embellished because of his colorful sense of humor and wonderful storytelling abilities?
Based on the consensus of Negro Leagues experts like Baseball Primer’s Eric Enders, Radcliffe was a very good, durable, and versatile player for a long period of time, but his playing career ranks him somewhere short of Cooperstown induction. With the ability to both catch and pitch–sometimes on the same day–Radcliffe pulled off the kind of "double duty" that is noteworthy (especially given the current age of specialization), but was not the kind of dangerous hitter or pitcher that we would associate with greatness. In some ways, Radcliffe seems quite comparable to another former Negro Leagues standout, Buck O’Neil. Like Radcliffe, O’Neil was a solid player in the Negro Leagues–the frequent comparison of the first base-playing O’Neil to Mark Grace seems like an apt one–but was not a dominant or intimidating hitter. Given that assessment, it seems like O’Neil should rate as no more than an "honorable mention" when it comes to the issue of election to the Hall of Fame.
Yet, the comparisons between O’Neil and Radcliffe involve only their careers as players. Beyond their playing days, O’Neil and Radcliffe took very different paths. Unlike Radcliffe, O’Neil became a very successful manager after his retirement. O’Neil won four Negro Leagues pennants and guided his teams to a perfect record of 4-and-0 in the East West Game, the Negro Leagues’ celebrated and highly regarded all-star game. Even more impressively, O’Neil’s work in baseball did not end with the death of the Negro Leagues. While most Negro Leaguers like Radcliffe settled into other careers or outright retirement, O’Neil seamlessly moved on to a prominent non-playing career in the major leagues. Joining the Chicago Cubs as a scout, O’Neil played crucial roles in signing future Hall of Famers Ernie Banks and Lou Brock, and quality major leaguers like Oscar Gamble. O’Neil also became the first African-American coach in major league history, joining the Cubs’ unusual "College of Coaches" in the early 1960s.
O’Neil’s contributions to baseball didn’t stop there, either. After leaving behind scouting and coaching, O’Neil has probably done more than any Negro Leagues alumnus (including even the engaging Radcliffe) to promote the legacy of the Negro Leagues. Whether making himself a star on Ken Burns’ "Baseball," or appearing on late night television talk shows, or though his efforts with the Negro Leagues Museum, O’Neil has always done his best to praise the abilities of other Negro Leagues stars, while remaining modest about his own ballplaying abilities. O’Neil’s storytelling has only enhanced our knowledge and familiarity with the Negro Leagues, a topic of baseball conversation that was largely bypassed until the 1990s. Without question, O’Neil’s service as an unofficial ambassador to the sport has done wonders in exposing younger generations to the greatness of the Negro Leagues.
In considering someone’s candidacy for the Hall of Fame, it’s not enough merely to focus on what one did as a player. Rather, the accomplishments of an entire career must be taken into consideration. In the case of O’Neil, his efforts as a manager, scout, coach, and historian elevate his status, making his resume one of the most diversified of any figure in baseball history. And it’s the entirety of that resume that should one day earn Buck O’Neil what he deserves–election and induction into baseball’s Hall of Fame.
"Every time you watch a game, you see something new." It is one of baseball’s oldest cliches–and it is only slightly an exaggeration. While every game doesn’t produce a new occurrence, most games provide you with at least a different sequence of events, one that is different from anything else that has happened previously. And then there was last night, where two different major leaguers pulled off plays that I have never seen despite watching thousands of ballgames since the early 1970s. First, there was David Wright’s miraculous barehanded catch against the Padres. With the Mets’ young star playing normal depth at third base, a broken-bat, opposite-field blooper appeared headed toward a safe landing in short left field. Racing toward the outfield with his back completely toward the infield, Wright reached out with his bare hand and grabbed the ball on the fly. There was no unnecessary showboating on the play, either; given the angle that Wright took toward the ball, he would have had no chance to make the play with his glove hand. He simply had to barehand the ball, or watch it drop in for either a single or a double. For many fans, the play was reminiscent of a fly ball that the Giants’ Kevin Mitchell caught with his bare hand back in 1989. Mitchell’s play was probably more difficult, if only because the ball was hit harder, but Wright’s play was more athletic and acrobatic. As of right now, it ranks as the defensive play of the year.
Wright’s wondrous play overshadowed another unique occurrence last night. Another National League third baseman, Dodgers rookie Oscar Robles, actually swung at a pitch that bounced in front of home plate–it must have been about a 57-footer–and lined a single into left field. Up until now, Robles has been best known for playing in the Mexican League, but he’s pretty much guaranteed that he’ll have a different legacy from this point forward. Now I’ve heard many times from older generations of fans that Hall of Famer Yogi Berra used to swing at–and somehow hit–pitches in the dirt, but I’ve never actually SEEN it happen. Until last night, that is. Hitting a bounced pitch with a racket would be tough enough; hitting one with a rounded baseball bat strikes me as nearly impossible. The most well-known bad-ball hitters in baseball history–including Berra, Roberto Clemente, Manny Sanguillen, and Ichiro–would have been proud of Robles’ feat.
Two plays. Two different games. Two things that I’ve never seen before. Only in baseball.
"Second basemen’s teeth." It remains one of the best answers a ballplayer has ever given to an inquisitive reporter. And it was what George "Boomer" Scott told a writer when asked to identify the material used in making his distinctive necklace that made the hulking slugger that much more intimidating when he strolled to the plate. In reality, the unusual necklace (which was clearly in evidence on his 1975 Topps card) was made up of ivory tusks of some sort, but the reality doesn’t come close to matching the color of Scott’s sinister imagination.
Scott had other interesting accessories to his sense of baseball fashion. Unlike most fielders, he wore a helmet while playing first base. Scott began wearing the helmet in the field because of some idiotic fans on the road, who had decided to throw hardened objects his way. Given their unruly behavior toward the usually amiable Scott, Boomer might have been tempted to construct another necklace—this one consisting of fans’ teeth.
While the helmet and the necklace were always evident during the games, Scott exhibited another wardrobe preference as part of his pre-game workouts. During his second stint with the Red Sox, Scott used to wear a rubberized suit in a futile attempt to lose some of the excess weight that always seemed to accumulate toward his midsection. (The tight-fitting polyester uniforms that came into use in the 1970s didn’t accentuate Boomer’s figure either.) As Don Zimmer pointed out in his first book with Bill Madden, Scott might have sweated off a few pounds during each early evening workout, but he seemed to have gained it all back by the time the first pitch rolled around.
The 1975 World Series—30 Years Ago—Preparing For Game Six Under normal circumstances, teams participating in a World Series enjoy only two days off—one after Game Three and one after Game Five. But the schedule of events for the 1975 World Series turned out to be anything but normal. With both teams ready to play a critical Game Six, the weather would cause several unwanted delays.
The 1975 World Series—30 Years Ago—Preparing For Game Six
Under normal circumstances, teams participating in a World Series enjoy only two days off—one after Game Three and one after Game Five. But the schedule of events for the 1975 World Series turned out to be anything but normal. With both teams ready to play a critical Game Six, the weather would cause several unwanted delays.
After a day off for travel, the World Series was scheduled to continue in Boston on Saturday. Yet, there was one obstacle. Heavy rain, which pounded the greater Boston area for several hours, forced postponement of Game Six. While most of the players stayed away from Fenway Park and attended to person diversions, Fred Lynn and Pete Rose opted to attend an impromptu press conference at the ballpark. For Rose, it was a chance to put his long career—and pursuit of a title—in perspective. "I played 13 years and 2,000 games to be in the situation I’m in now," said the switch-hitting superstar, "needing one game to be world champs." Truth be told, Rose had been in a similar situation once before. In 1972, the Reds had forced the Oakland A’s to a decisive seventh game, only to lose by one run. In a particularly cruel twist, Rose had done what no player wants to do—make the final out of the World Series.
The two World Series managers pondered different thoughts than Rose on this overcast, rain-filled day in Boston. Specifically, they had to consider questions about their starting rotation, and how the rainout might affect their choices for Game Six. Both Sparky Anderson and Darrell Johnson decided to hold forth. Anderson would stick with sinkerballing right-hander Jack Billingham, while Johnson would stay put with breaking ball specialist Bill Lee.
At least that was the plan—until the rains continued in Boston on Sunday. While Anderson announced that Billingham would still start Game Six, Johnson decided to make a switch of his starting pitchers. He turned from Lee to staff ace Luis Tiant, who would be making his third start of the Series, which seemed incongruous given his advancing age, a bulging waistline, and occasional twinges of back pain. The move also angered Lee, who fired a not-so-subtle crack in the direction of his manager. According to a story in Sports Illustrated, Lee claimed that Johnson "had been falling out of trees all year and landing on his feet."
Lee’s comments, while perhaps unfair and certainly disrespectful, reflected both his willingness to speak his mind (often controversially) and a competitive desire to participate in the Red Sox’ World Series march. "Bill Lee had an oblique approach to pitching," says Carlton Fisk, a teammate of Lee’s from 1971 to 1978, "but when he was on the mound, he was as competitive and had the desire to win the games and get people out as much as anybody."
As Lee fumed over his missed start, the commissioner’s office considered whether to play Game Six on Monday afternoon or evening. NBC preferred to air the game at night so as to maximize potential ratings. Much of the print media (not to mention the purists) wanted the game to be played in the daytime, thereby making it easier to meet their newspaper deadlines. Both time slots had their drawbacks. An afternoon game would deprive Boston-area nine-to-fivers who had already purchased tickets of the opportunity to watch the game. An evening affair would conflict with ABC-TV’s popular airing of Monday Night Football, thereby damaging television ratings for NBC’s coverage of the World Series. It appeared to be a no-win situation for major league baseball, which was hoping to attract new viewers—and fans—to a game that had suffered a decline in attendance and interest in recent years, with many of those same fans having turned to football as their sport of preference.
Yet, Commissioner Bowie Kuhn, who ultimately elected to stage the game at night, sounded enthusiastic about baseball’s ability to compete with the Monday night football game between the New York Giants and O.J. Simpson’s Buffalo Bills. When a reporter asked Kuhn if he might actually "relish" a head-to-head matchup between baseball and football, the commissioner backed off only slightly. "Relish is not the correct word," Kuhn told the New York Daily News, "but I certainly don’t mind it. I would be very surprised if we didn’t do better in the ratings than the football game."
As it turned out, Boston’s fall weather made baseball’s matchup against the gridiron a moot point. A third consecutive day of rain caused yet another postponement of Game Six. A continuing mist, along with an afternoon inspection of a swampy outfield, convinced the umpires and Commissioner Bowie Kuhn that the game could not be played. Coupled with the scheduled day off between the fifth and sixth games, the incessant rain had prevented the Red Sox and Reds from playing competitively for four straight days. The untimely layoff surpassed even the length of baseball’s traditional three-day All-Star break.
Not wanting his players to accumulate too much rust, Sparky Anderson decided to take his Reds to nearby Tufts University for a second straight day to work out in an indoor batting cage. Darrell Johnson may have wanted to do the same with his Red Sox, but many of his players were battling a team-wide virus that they and team owner Tom Yawkey had apparently contracted in the cold, damp air of Game Two. "I’ve been sick since then," Dwight Evans told Dave Anderson of The New York Times. "I’ve had a chest cold and a head cold." As a result, Evans and most of the Red Sox decided to stay away from working out and instead regain their strength for the next game—whenever that would be.
By now, both World Series managers had decided to change their pitching plans for Game Six. Sparky Anderson, who had previously announced his intentions to stay with Jack Billingham through the first two rainouts, declared that Gary Nolan would start the much-anticipated sixth game against Luis Tiant, who was also ridden with a virus. It was somewhat of a curious change-of-pace, given that Nolan had lasted only four innings in Game Three, while Billingham had pitched respectably in a near six-inning stint in Game Two. Furthermore, Anderson could have chosen staff ace Don Gullett, who would have been available to pitch Game Six on his normal four days’ rest.
Hall of Fame Weekend 2005 delivered a much-needed boost to the Cooperstown economy, as large groups of Cubs and Red Sox fans spent money along the village’s Main Street. According to most estimates, about 25,000 to 28,000 fans visited Cooperstown on induction weekend—the highest figure in the last five years.
In recent years, Hall of Fame weekends have been marked by lackluster crowds, in part because of a sagging northeastern economy and in part because the inductees have lacked name recognition in larger cities in the East and Midwest. This year’s new class of Hall of Famers brought sizeable contingents from both Boston, where Wade Boggs played a large portion of his major league career, and Chicago, where Ryne Sandberg played almost exclusively as a major leaguer. Surprisingly, the number of Chicago fans heavily outweighed the fans from Red Sox Nation, even though Boston is only four hours from Cooperstown. Based on an informal scan of T-shirt logos and colors, Cubs fans seemed to outnumber Red Sox fans by a ratio of 5-to-1. And that’s a conservative estimate…
Amazingly, none of Wade Boggs’ former teammates in Boston, New York, or Tampa Bay bothered to attend the weekend festivities in Cooperstown. Although Boggs was never known for his warmth toward other players or the media, it boggles the mind that all of his retired teammates decided to become no-shows at the induction ceremony…
While the Hall of Famers become center stage for Induction Weekend, I enjoy trying to locate non-Hall of Famers who make the midsummer pilgrimage to Cooperstown. A number of former major leaguers participated in appearances and signings along Main Street, including Gold Glove outfielder Paul Blair (the best defensive center fielder I’ve ever seen), Gold Glove third baseman Clete Boyer (who looks much better a year removed from cancer surgery), former Met and Yankee slugger Darryl Strawberry, and former Brooklyn Dodgers Johnny Podres, Ralph Branca, and George "Shotgun" Shuba. Podres and Shuba are two of just a handful of surviving Dodgers from the 1955 World Championship team. The other living ‘55ers including Hall of Famers Duke Snider and Sandy Koufax (both of whom attended Sunday’s ceremony), along with infielder Don Zimmer and pitchers Roger Craig, Carl Erskine, Clem Labine, Don Newcombe, and Ed Roebuck… The Hall of Fame plans to honor the living members of the ’55 Dodgers this fall in Cooperstown…
Other notables who made it to Cooperstown for induction weekend included former commissioner Bowie Kuhn, Yankees executive Gene Michael, TV personality Maury Povich (the son of the late sportswriter Shirley Povich), and comedian Bill Murray, a diehard baseball fan and a personal friend of Sandberg…
On Sunday, Spink Award winner Peter Gammons delivered one of the best Hall of Fame speeches in recent memory. In an eloquently written speech, Gammons spent little time talking about his own career, instead shifting the focus to praise the good people throughout baseball history, like Jackie Robinson (whom Gammons referred to as one of the ten greatest men of the 20th century) and Dennis Eckersley, whom Gammons called one of the best teammates ever. In referencing Eckersley, Gammons remembered a game that the Red Sox lost during their remarkable collapse of 1978. As writers surrounded backup shortstop Frank Duffy to ask him about a game-deciding error, Eckersley told the writers to take a different angle with their stories. "I think of his start in the 1978 ‘Boston Massacre,’ when it seemed that nearly a hundred writers surrounded Frank Duffy because he made an error," Gammons said on Sunday. "[Eckersley] started pulling them off and shouted, ‘He didn’t load the bases, he didn’t hang the 0-2 slider. Get over to my locker and talk to the man who has an ‘L’ next to his name.’ Dennis Eckersley defines teammate." …
One of the least-publicized events of the weekend turned out to be one of the best. On Monday, the Hall of Fame and the Major League Baseball Alumni Association sponsored a "Skills for Youth" clinic that featured a few Hall of Famers and several retired big leaguers. Although the clinic lacks the drawing power of the Hall of Fame Game (which is now played earlier in the summer), it addresses the criticism that the weekend lacks attractions for younger fans. The clinic, held at historic Doubleday Field and free of charge for kids ages 5 to 12, featured instruction by Hall of Famers Orlando Cepeda, Gaylord Perry, and Brooks Robinson; Negro Leagues legend Buck O’ Neil; and former major leaguers Fred Cambria, Steve Grilli, Bill "Spaceman" Lee, and Ross Moschitto (the onetime outfield caddy for Mickey Mantle). O’Neil, who’s now in hid mid-nineties, continues to amaze. Showing more energy than some of the most hyperactive five-year-olds, O’Neil not only offered the youngsters some basic instruction in agility, but also led the kids in song, entertaining dozens of fans who watched from the stands at Doubleday Field.