Count Carl "The Phantom" Pavano among the growing number of contemporary athletes who just don’t get it—with "it" being a shred of common sense. Pavano, who has been continuing his never-ending his rehabilitation in Tampa, rejoined the Yankees in Tampa Bay over the weekend. When a reporter asked Pavano about his relationship with his Yankee teammates—do they even remember what he looks like?—the enigmatic right-hander insisted he didn’t feel any need to reach out to the other players. In the meantime, Yankee players repeatedly roll their eyes whenever they are asked about The Phantom. As much as fans and media have seen their disdain for Pavano grow since the spring of this year, the amount of respect for the right-hander isn’t much higher than ground level in the Yankee clubhouse…
The nasty weekend collision between Washington teammates Nick Johnson and Austin Kearns—which resulted in a broken leg for "Nick The Stick"—was all too reminiscent of last year’s horrific crash between Carlos Beltran and Mike Cameron. Still, Nationals manager Frank Robinson said the Johnson-Kearns crackup wasn’t the worst outfield collision he’s seen in six decades as a player and skipper. Robinson says the 1973 incident involving his then-angels teammate Bobby Valentine still rates as worse. Playing center field in a game at Anaheim Stadium, Valentine ran in full pursuit of a deep fly ball hit by Oakland A’s second baseman **** Green. Valentine awkwardly barreled into the wall, breaking his leg in two places. The injury ended Valentine’s season—and short-circuited what might have been a brilliant career. Prior to the injury, the young Valentine—who had speed, power, and the versatility to play shortstop or the outfield—had been regarded as one of the top prospects in both the Angels’ and Dodgers’ organizations…
What’s the worst outfield collision I’ve ever seen? While my recollections don’t go as far back as Frank Robinson’s, I do recall a particularly jaw-numbing collision between Yankee outfielders Roy White and Paul Blair at Royals Stadium on May 12, 1978. Somewhat miraculously, neither player came away seriously hurt, but the collision flattened both outfielders, who remained motionless as the ball rolled around the outfield wall, allowing the Royals to score the game-tying and game-winning runs in the bottom of the ninth. Kansas City’s Amos Otis was credited with an inside-the-park home run in what had to be one of the most frightening finishes to a game ever…
The most memorable collision I’ve ever seen involved former Mets and White Sox outfielder Rodney McCray, who literally ran threw the bottom of a plywood wall in a minor league game in 1991. The incident took place at Civic Stadium in Portland, while McCray was playing for the Vancouver Canadians of the Pacific Coast League. In honor of his outfield bravery, the Canadians renamed the right-center field portion of Civic Stadium after McCray, who somehow escaped the crash without any serious injury. (The Canadians also held "Rodney McCray Bobblehead Night" this past August. Just as importantly, McCray forever earned the alias of "Wallman."
The Angels, barely grasping to a thread in the American League West race, are paying greatly for their decision not to spend money on a bigtime slugger last winter. According to this week’s missive from owner Arte Moreno, they won’t be making that same mistake again. Moreno says he will add at least one premier hitter to the lineup this fall, regardless of the cost. Among the free agent class, two players stand out as fitting Angel needs: right-handed power hitters Aramis Ramirez and Alfonso Soriano. Ramirez is the better fit because the Angels desperately need a third baseman—they don’t believe that Dallas McPherson is the answer and they feel Chone Figgins is better suited to a jack-of-all-trades role—but there are whispers coming out of Chicago that indicate Ramirez will return to the Cubs in 2007. Soriano would not fit quite as smoothly, especially if he demands that his 2007 employer play him at second base. The Angels have already targeted Howie Kendrick to take over that position from Adam Kennedy, who will also be tossing his hat into the free agent ring. Hopefully, Soriano will come to realize that he’s better off in the outfield. He has the speed and arm to become a good left fielder next year, and his offense benefits greatly from not having to deal with the grind of playing the middle infield. A separation from the wears and tears of second base has helped Soriano reach the 40-40 plateau for the first time in his career… If Ramirez and Soriano fall through their mitts, the Angels will turn to plan C, which involves Rangers slugger Carlos Lee. "El Caballo" isn’t as athletic as Soriano or Ramirez and doesn’t offer the versatility of playing the infield, but is a reasonable fallback option if the dollars are acceptable…
Another rumor involving the Angels has also made the rounds, and it leans toward the wild side, but is still worth mentioning. The blockbuster deal would send Alex Rodriguez to the Halos for a package headed up by Figgins, pitchers Ervin Santana and Scott Shields, and a top prospect. That kind of compensation package sounds about right from the Yankees, who will want a lot for A-Rod, but the bottom line remains this: Rodriguez has a no-trade clause and has given no indication that he is willing to waive it. A-Rod seems determined to succeed or fail in pinstripes and doesn’t want to be labeled as someone who is "running" from a bad situation. That’s the last piece of criticism that Rodriguez needs to hear after a summer of overheated bashing…
It’s no secret that the Red Sox want to revamp their bullpen this winter. They’d like to start the changeover by moving Jonathan Papelbon to the rotation and making Matt Clement the closer, but the oft-injured right-hander has already given thumbs down to that maneuver. Of course, the Red Sox can always insist that Clement move to the pen, but they’re more likely to consider a relatively cheap acquisition from outside the organization. GM Theo Epstein doesn’t believe in investing large amounts of players or salary into bringing in a closer, which probably rules out someone like Brad Lidge. He might, however, give strong consideration to Justin Speier (the son of former big league shortstop Chris Speier), who has pitched supremely well in a set-up role for the Blue Jays. The acquisition of Speier would not only help the Red Sox but would significantly hurt the Blue Jays, who figure to be contenders in the American League East next summer…
This week’s edition of the Rumor Mill wouldn’t be complete without an update on Joe Girardi. With the Marlins having stumbled out of realistic wild card contention over the last week, it appears that Girardi will most definitely be fired at season’s end. Some of the reasons given for the impending move are laughable, such as Girardi’s decision to bring back Josh Johnson after a rain delay, as if no manager has ever done that before in major league history. There’s also a claim that Girardi is too "introverted," which is a funny thing to say about a guy who has been a broadcaster, bench coach, and a highly regarded handler of pitchers. All of the so-called reasons are merely an attempt to cover up the bottom line—Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria doesn’t like Girardi and considers him disrespectful and insubordinate. With Girardi’s days in Florida numbered, the Marlins are considering at least a half-dozen candidates. The list includes Braves special assistant Jim Fregosi, Mets bench coach Jerry Manuel, Japanese Leagues manager Trey Hillman and a trio of third base coaches—Manny Acta, Joey Cora, and Fredi Gonzalez. (I’d love to see Hillman get a chance. I’ve liked him dating back to his days as manager of the Columbus Clippers.) The Marlins would like to bring in a manager who can speak Spanish, which might give Manuel or one of the third base coaches the upper hand. One legitimate criticism of Girardi is that he hired no one on his coaching staff who speaks Spanish, and that is something that will have to change on next year’s Marlins.
I’ve attended and participated in scores of baseball-related programs over the years—book signings, school visits, commemorative days honoring retired stars, and meetings of the Society for American Baseball Research. Yet, I’ve never attended a baseball event that was as well organized or as effective as the one I participated in earlier this week.
On Monday at Philadelphia’s Renaissance Airport Hotel, I took part in a special benefit luncheon commemorating the 35th anniversary of the lineup that Pittsburgh Pirates manager Danny Murtaugh wrote out on September 1, 1971. Regular readers of this column know of what I speak: the first all-minority lineup in major league history. The luncheon provided local baseball officials with a way of honoring Murtaugh’s history-making lineup while simultaneously raising much needed funding for the last youth baseball team still operating in Murtaugh’s financially depressed hometown of Chester, Pennsylvania.
A gentleman named Jim Vankoski deserves more than a few pats on the back for the exhaustive work he did in putting together a smoothly run, well-paced, and supremely entertaining event. Vankoski, the president of the local Delaware County Baseball League (of which Chester is a member), almost single-handedly tied up all of the loose ends in the planning of the event. The list of attendees that Vankoski managed to secure included former Philadelphia Phillies slugger **** Allen, who overcame repeated bouts with racism to become the first African-American star in the team’s history; his brother, Hank Allen, currently a scout with the Milwaukee Brewers and formerly a utility player with the Brewers, Washington Senators, and Chicago White Sox; Tim Murtaugh, the son of Danny Murtaugh and a former player and minor league manager with the Pirates; and former Senators star Mickey Vernon, a native son of Delaware County who won two American League batting titles during a career that was interrupted by World War II.
**** Allen and Tim Murtaugh both spoke during the two-hour event, which almost became a three-hour program as some of the baseball celebrities graciously stayed late to sign autographs and take pictures. Allen wasn’t scheduled to speak, but agreed to when asked at the last moment. Showing few signs of a lack of preparations, he delivered a short series of thoughtful and funny remarks, exhibiting the kind of intelligence and humor that the media wrote so little about during his tumultuous career in the sixties and seventies. The soft-spoken Murtaugh concluded the program, which was ably emceed by Phillies PA announcer Dan Baker, by offering some heartfelt recollections of his father, who was almost universally beloved by Pirates players during a career that included four managerial terms in Pittsburgh.
Although Hank Allen and Mickey Vernon did not make formal comments during the luncheon, they both made strong impressions as approachable gentlemen willing to talk openly about their careers in baseball. I was fortunate enough to interview both; Allen was articulate and amiable, and highly respectful of the accomplishments of his brother, while the 88-year-old Vernon was sharp and insightful, giving off the presence of a much younger man.
The luncheon also provided a personal thrill. After I made a few public comments about Danny Murtaugh and his involvement in starting the all-minority nine, **** Allen motioned me to come over to his table, extended his large right hand, and congratulated me for the remarks I made. It’s not often that I’ve received that kind of acknowledgment at a speaking engagement, especially from someone as noteworthy as **** Allen.
More importantly, the Philadelphia luncheon achieved both of its intended goals. The luncheon sold out, and with an overflow turnout of 150 fans at a rate of $35 per person, the Chester baseball team received a substantial jumpstart in remaining in business for 2007. Just as happily, the nearly 200 people that attended the program learned a little bit more about the Pirates’ first all-minority lineup, a story that continues to be ignored by much of the mainstream media. A few more folks will learn about that historic event now, thanks in part to the presence of reporters from both the Philadelphia Inquirer and the Philadelphia Tribune, the latter being the oldest black newspaper in the country.
It isn’t often that such events achieve financial success while also delivering an inspiring message along the way. Simply put, the luncheon honoring Murtaugh and the all-minority lineup exhibited the stark way in which past and present can come full circle. In 1971, Murtaugh showed the courage to field a lineup consisting entirely of black and Latino players. Thirty five years later, Murtaugh’s good name and reputation have allowed the youth team from his hometown of Chester, a team that consists largely of black and Latino players, to continue playing the game that Murtaugh’s Pirates played so well.
One look at the lineup the Orioles used against the Yankees on Sunday tells you all you need to know about the lack of vision the franchise seems to have. Here’s a team that has been completely out of contention for months now, yet somehow sees the need to make out a lineup that includes journeymen like Chris Gomez at first base and Kevin Millar at DH. (And don’t even get me started about Fernando Tatis.) A light-hitting shortstop by trade, Gomez should never be starting games at first base—and certainly not for a rebuilding team that ought to be looking at young players at every turn. As for Millar, he should have been traded at the July 31st deadline rather than be allowed to soak up at-bats that could be going to one of Baltimore’s minor league prospects. Then again, as Orioles fans are sure to point out, Baltimore really doesn’t have a sufficient number of prospects to go around… Speaking of the Orioles, Sam Perlozzo has been uninspiring in his first full season as manager, making one wonder why a career coach was brought in to manage the team in the first place. Furthermore, it’s puzzling why Baltimore, a proud franchise with a rich history, doesn’t have more of its former players working in the organization as either managers or coaches. Terry Crowley and Rick Dempsey are currently coaches on Perlozzo’s staff, but that’s not enough for an organization that used to pride itself on doing things the "Oriole way." People like Don Baylor, Paul Blair, Davey Johnson, Eddie Murray, and Merv Rettenmund are either with other organizations or on the outside looking in, searching for work in baseball…
Bill Madden had an interesting note in his Sunday New York Daily News column. In assessing Theo Epstein’s recent streak of bad trades, Madden mentioned that backup catcher Doug Mirabelli was the most unpopular player among teammates on the 2004 World Championship team. If that’s really the case, then Epstein’s decision to reacquire Mirabelli becomes even more curious. Did Epstein know the degree of Mirabelli’s unpopularity? If he knew, did he ignore the social dynamic, as Sabermetric types are known to do? Either way, the trade that sent pitcher Cla Meredith and catcher Josh Bard to San Diego for Mirabelli may stand as the worst of all the moves that Epstein has made since returning from his brief hiatus to resume the GM reins. Meredith has become arguably the National League’s best set-up man, while Bard has a chance to become San Diego’s No. 1 catcher whenever Mike Piazza decides to call it quits…
On the subject of Sabermetric thinking, Dodgers GM Ned Colletti has taken his share of criticism from Sabermetric types for being the anti-Paul DePodesta, but critics should take note of two important team statistics. Colletti’s Dodgers are currently ranked first in the National League in on-base percentage and a respectable fourth in the league in runs scored. Without Colletti acquisitions like Nomar Garciaparra, Rafael Furcal, Kenny Lofton, and Rookie of the Year candidate Andre Ethier (picked up as part of the Milton Bradley deal), the Dodgers wouldn’t rate nearly as high in either category. Though not known as a Sabermetric follower in the tradition of Billy Beane or J.P. Ricciardi, Colletti has concentrated most of his acquisitions on players capable of reaching base, with the added bonus of speed in the form of Lofton and Furcal…
On a team packed with high-profile names, the best story among the current crop of Yankees might involve little known reliever Brian Bruney. A self-professed Yankee hater, Bruney was released by the Arizona Diamondbacks in May. A bad elbow then sidelined him for two months. The Yankees took a chance, and Bruney bit the bullet over his hatred for the Yankees. A Bob Wickman lookalike, Bruney has emerged as a reliable entity in Joe Torre’s deepening bullpen. Bruney has hit 97 and 98 on the radar gun, making him the team’s hardest thrower after Kyle Farnsworth and Scott Proctor. More importantly, Bruney has yet to have a bad outing in relief, instead showing control, movement, and poise, to the extent that he has probably pitched himself onto the team’s postseason roster…
Finally, I saw that one of my old favorites, Richie Hebner, lost his job as a coach with the Durham Bulls over the weekend. It doesn’t sound like Hebner did anything particularly wrong; the entire Bulls staff was fired by the Devil Rays, including the manager, coaches, and trainer. The colorful Hebner, who can let the expletives fly with the best of them, will probably land on his feet, as he always seems to do. He’s worked for the Red Sox, Blue Jays, Pirates, and Devil Rays in a variety of roles since his playing days ended. There should always be a place in baseball for someone like Hebner, who has a passion for the game that is matched by few others.
This article is dedicated to the memory of Adam Lewis, Hamilton College Class of 1987, who was killed in the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001.
This article is dedicated to the memory of Adam Lewis, Hamilton College Class of 1987, who was killed in the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001.
With absolutely no managers having been fired during the regular season, it’s inevitable that some field bosses will lose their jobs this fall or winter. The first to go may be Seattle’s Mike Hargrove, who has already taken his share of blame for the Mariners’ awful August, which transformed them from contenders into also-rans. I must confess that I like Hargrove—he’s one of the nicest people I’ve ever met in the game—but his track record outside of Cleveland has produced few highlights. Neither the Orioles nor the Mariners seemed to play with passion for Hargrove, who might just be too much a gentleman to give underachieving players the kick that they need. So whom will the Mariners turn to as a successor to the “Human Rain Delay?” Other than administrative coach Dan Rohn, who is respected within Seattle’ hierarchy and knows the Mariners’ young talent, Seattle’s coaching staff is lacking in realistic managerial candidates of the name brand variety. As a result, the Mariners may end up going outside of the organization for Hargrove’s successor… There have been some whispers that Seattle could bring back Lou Piniella, but “Sweet Lou” will have his pick of managerial jobs, and there may be more attractive openings in Chicago and Philadelphia. Another candidate who has already been mentioned is Dusty Baker, who will almost certainly be fired by the Cubs after the season. Four years ago, Baker expressed interest in managing the Mariners; that’s why his name is being linked to Seattle right now. But let’s remember that the Mariners didn’t even bring Baker in for an interview in 2002, when his managerial stock was much higher. Don’t expect Mariners GM Bill Bavasi to call Baker on this occasion, either… The Mariners will probably end up hiring a lesser name with little to no managing experience, someone who is willing to work for something less than an upper echelon salary. Two candidates could be Bud Black, the Angels’ highly respected pitching coach, and Luis Sojo, the former Mariners utility infielder currently managing in the Yankees’ farm system… Besides Hargrove and Baker, three other managers are expected to be fired at season’s end. They are Charlie Manuel in Philadelphia—unless the Phillies can somehow pull off the wildcard—Felipe Alou in San Francisco, and Frank Robinson in Washington. A sixth manager could be moving on if Marlins owner Jeff Loria does the unthinkable and fires Joe Girardi for various acts of insubordination. If the Marlins finish the season better than .500 and win the wildcard (both of which are real possibilities), Loria will face the public relations job of a lifetime in trying to explain Girardi’s firing to the Marlins’ fan base. Like the Mariners, the Marlins don’t have many in-house candidates. Third base coach Bobby Meacham is a possibility, but most of Seattle’s coaches are career minor leaguers like Perry Hill and Gary Tuck. If the Marlins delve outside of the organization for a bigger name, they’ll face the problem of enticing someone into working for a meddlesome owner. I can’t believe a marquee managerial name like Piniella or Bobby Valentine would be willing to take the job, which might force Florida to settle for a mid-range hire like Jerry Manuel or Don Baylor. Manuel has a solid tie to the organization, having worked as a coach under Jim Leyland on the Marlins’ 1997 World Championship team. Loria would have to play up that connection fiercely in order for Manuel to gain acceptance in Florida… Count me among the legions of those who were shocked by the Tigers’ release of DH-outfielder Dmitri Young. The Tigers claim that Young’s release had to do with his performance and not with any drug or alcohol related incident, but the timing of the move, just three weeks before the start of the postseason, has to make you wonder. Unnamed whispers out of Detroit have already indicated that Young had become a negative influence in the clubhouse. Still, this is a team that has been searching for left-handed hitting ever since the switch-hitting Young first went on the disabled list earlier this summer. Other than Carlos Guillen, the Tigers have lacked a dangerous left-handed presence in their lineup. Curtis Granderson has struggled badly in the second half of the season and mid-season pickup Sean Casey is merely a pedestrian hitter, clearly nowhere near his peak of two years ago … Once Young clears waivers on Monday, he’ll be free to work out a deal with another major league team. One club that might have interest is a rival of the Tigers; the Twins have had the worst DH production of any American League team this year and could platoon Young with another new acquisition, Phil Nevin. The team that signs Young will have to deal with at least one caveat. Since the Tigers released him after September 1, he won’t be eligible for postseason play with anyone.
The events of September 1, 1971 have never received much media attention, paling in comparison to the coverage of Jackie Robinson’s historic entrance into the major leagues. Yet, the happenings in Pittsburgh on that date, 35 years ago, constitute one of the most significant milestones in the racial history of major league baseball.
That afternoon, while sitting in his office at Three Rivers Stadium, Pittsburgh Pirates manager Danny Murtaugh prepared to oppose the Philadelphia Phillies and left-handed pitcher Woodie Fryman. Murtaugh filled out the following names on his lineup card:
Rennie Stennett, 2B
Gene Clines, CF
Roberto Clemente, RF
Willie Stargell, LF
Manny Sanguillen, C
Dave Cash, 3B
Al Oliver, 1B
Jackie Hernandez, SS
Dock Ellis, P
At first glance, Murtaugh’s lineup seemed to represent nothing particularly out of the ordinary. In fact, the lineup appeared typical of ones that he would use against left-handed starters like Fryman, with the exception of the lefty-swinging Al Oliver at first base in place of the right-handed batting Bob Robertson. Upon further review, however, observers in the press box noticed that the lineup consisted exclusively of African-American and dark-skinned Latin American players. Baseball experts surmised that for the first time in the history of baseball, and 24 years after Jackie Robinson had broken the color barrier, a major league team was employing an all-black lineup.
Gene Clines, one of the players in the lineup that evening, initially believed that the Pirates had used an all-black lineup several years earlier. Willie Stargell, one of the senior members of the 1971 Pirates, corrected Clines’ speculation. “No, this is the first time,” said Stargell, the Hall of Fame outfielder-first baseman who died in 2001. “Back in 1967, in Philadelphia, [former Pirate manager] Harry Walker started eight of us, but the pitcher, Denny Ribant, was white.”
Although Murtaugh’s decision to write out an all-black lineup drew relatively little attention from the fans and media, it was immediately noticed by some Pirate players in the clubhouse prior to the game. “We saw the lineup on the [clubhouse] wall… Oh yeah, we were aware,” recalled pitcher Steve Blass, the eventual winner in Game Seven of the 1971 World Series.
In 1971, the Pirates represented baseball’s most heavily integrated team, with black and Latino players accounting for nearly fifty percent of the club’s roster. The Pirates also featured one of baseball’s most harmonious teams, with friendships and gatherings often crossing racial lines. White players often socialized with black and Latino players, either at bars and restaurants after games, or at barbecues and parties organized by one of the team’s leaders, Willie Stargell. Considering the unity of the team, the players’ reaction to the all-black lineup was not surprising. “We had a loose group, [so] we were all laughing and hollering about it and teasing each other,” said Blass. “I thought that was a great reaction.”
Third baseman Richie Hebner, who sat out the game with an injury, said the players’ pre-game reaction to the lineup typified the kind of good-natured racial humor that was prevalent with the Pirates. Hebner said such humor was doled out purely for fun, and not intended to be taken seriously. “Some of the guys joked around the clubhouse, saying, ‘Hey, you white guys, you can take a rest tonight’… Back then, Ellis and Stargell would get on us [white players] and we’d get on them. You could do that,” Hebner recalled.
Other players, like Al Oliver, didn’t realize that the Pirates were actually using an all-black lineup until the middle of the game. “I had no clue,” Oliver said, “Because as a rule we had at least five or six [black and Latino players] out there anyway. So, two or three more was no big thing. I didn’t know until about the third or fourth inning. Dave Cash mentioned to me, he says, ‘Hey, Scoop, we got all brothers out here.’” Oliver pauses for a moment and laughs. “You know, I thought about it, and I said, ‘We sure do!’ “
The fact that Oliver even started the game was strange for several reasons. Why was Oliver, primarily a center fielder in 1971, playing at first base instead of usual starter Bob Robertson? Even more strangely, why was Oliver starting against a left-hander, when Murtaugh had benched him against many southpaws that summer? “That’s a good question,” Oliver replied. “That’s a good question, because to this day when people ask me who was the toughest pitcher I ever faced, it was Woodie Fryman.” One article indicated that Robertson sat out the game with a minor injury, but didn’t specify what the injury was. According to Oliver, Murtaugh may have been looking to light a fire under a slumping Robertson, who had gone 2-for-14 in his previous four games. “Bob Robertson normally would have played that day, but Dave Cash had told me within the last [few] years, and I never knew this, that Murtaugh was kind of disappointed in Bob for whatever reason. I don’t know what the exact reason was, but he was disappointed in Bob, so he sat him down. He played me that night at first base.”
Popular and patriarchal, Murtaugh had become a comforting, father-like figure for almost all of the Pirate players, regardless of skin color or nationality. In the past, he had not hesitated in giving significant amounts of playing time to black and Latino players, and now seemed to be showing pioneering courage in making out the first all-black lineup when he was under no pressure to do so. So why did Murtaugh write out the lineup the way he did on September 1, 1971? Given the decision to start Oliver over Robertson, was it possible that Murtaugh was looking for a way to put an all-black lineup on the field? Oliver doesn’t think so. “In my estimation, I think Danny was just putting the best team on the field, and he probably didn’t notice [the all-black lineup] until later. I didn’t know until the third or fourth inning.”
Steve Blass said Murtaugh was concerned with winning games–not with making social statements. “This was not a statement, nor a device,” Blass said. “The thing I remember about it, when he was interviewed afterwards, Murtaugh said, ‘I put the nine best athletes out there. The best nine I put out there tonight happened to be black. No big deal. Next question.’ ” Blass said Murtaugh handled the matter with the proper attitude and perspective. “He was aware of the repercussions that might come out of it,” said Blass. “But he didn’t have a problem with it.”
So, for the first time since the demise of the Negro Leagues in the early 1960s, a professional major league-caliber baseball team fielded a starting nine consisting exclusively of blacks. The results? The Phillies scored two runs against Dock Ellis in the first, but the Bucs countered with six hits and five runs in the bottom half of the inning. The Phillies added four more runs in the second, knocking out Ellis, who was replaced by long reliever Bob Moose. Down 6-5, the Pirates rallied for three runs in the second. Gene Clines singled and Roberto Clemente walked. After Clines stole third, Willie Stargell produced one run with a sac fly, and Manny Sanguillen added two more on a home run.
Bob Veale, also a black player, relieved Bob Moose in the third inning, and struck out the one batter he faced. Ironically, Luke Walker, a white pitcher from Texas, relieved in the fourth and emerged as the Pirate pitching star of the day. Walker held the Phillies to one run over six innings and picked up the win in a 10-7 victory for the Bucs. On offense, Clines, Clemente, Stargell, Sanguillen, Oliver, and Rennie Stennett each collected two base hits, and Clines and Cash each stole a base. The all-black lineup had produced a win in its very first major league go-round. Unfortunately, only 11,278 fans were on hand at Three Rivers Stadium to witness this intriguing piece of baseball history.
At the time, most of the Pirates’ players and fans didn’t grasp the historical relevance of the first all-black lineup, but they have grown to appreciate its importance. “[In 1971], I didn’t even think anything about it,” Oliver said. “Nothing about it at all.” Once his playing career ended in 1985, Oliver took a step back and emerged with a different perspective about the night of September 1, 1971. “But now, of course, it means something. Once you’re out of the game, you look back and [you realize] you could be a part of baseball history. To me, that’s something that I feel good about, being part of baseball history.”
Bob Robertson never did make an appearance in the game, but like Oliver, has a similar perspective on its importance. “I think it’s a great thing that really happened there,” Robertson said. “That was the type of ballclub that we had. It didn’t make a difference if you were black, yellow, green, purple, whatever. We enjoyed each other’s company. We got along fine. We had a lot of respect for one another. I thought that was a great evening, to see that.”
According to some baseball historians, the all-black lineup of September 1,1971, remains significant because it exhibited how progressive the Pirate organization was in drafting and signing blacks and Latinos at all positions. In the past, major league teams had shown a willingness to sign many black infielders and outfielders, but had tended to avoid developing minority pitchers and catchers. Oliver agrees that the all-black lineup demonstrated the Pirates’ belief that blacks and Latinos could play the “thinking man’s” game behind the plate or on the mound. “I signed with the Pirates in 1964,” Oliver recalled. “In 1965, it was really my first spring training in Daytona Beach. The Pirates had signed, if you look at the catcher’s position, they had many [black] catchers. If you looked at the pitchers, there were many black pitchers that they had signed or drafted… I think what it came down to was that the Pirates were not afraid to draft black and Latin players because they were interested in one thing, in my opinion,” Oliver said, “And that was winning.”
In overview, the racial mix of the 1971 Pirates–culminating in the use of the all-black lineup–occurred as a product of the organization’s aggressive approach to seeking winning talent of any color, and the willingness to play blacks and Latinos at any position–first base, outfielder, catcher, utilityman, pitcher. “Obviously, we were looking for talent,” said Joe Brown, the architect of the ’71 Pirates, in an article that appeared in Baseball Digest in 1995. “We didn’t care where they came from or what color they were. If they happened to be black, so be it.” Unlike the Brooklyn Dodgers of the early fifties, the Pirates had not imposed a limit of four black players on their starting lineup. While other organizations had made progress in integrating parts of their major league rosters, the Pirates had taken a comprehensive, no-holds-barred approach in populating their entire roster with both African Americans and Latinos, top to bottom. The Pirates’ philosophy not only helped the team win the World Championship in 1971, but also sent the following indirect message to other major league organizations: expand the available talent pool to include black and Latino players, select the best players at each position regardless of color, and you will increase your chances of winning.
Prominent players from other teams took note of the composition of the Pirates’ roster. Frank Robinson, often mentioned as a candidate to become the major leagues’ first black manager, offered some admiring comments about the Pirates in a 1972 interview with Sport magazine. “Last year the Pirates may have had more black players than any team in baseball,” Robinson said. “They became the first team to start an all-black lineup in a game. And they won a world title.” Robinson described a direct connection between winning and the presence of minorities on a team’s roster. “Color shouldn’t matter anymore,” said Robinson, “except it’s clear if you have most of the top black players, you have a lot of top players, which gives you an edge in talent.”
Although it is difficult to prove conclusively, many of the subsequent championship teams of the 1970s seemed to have followed the lead of the Pirates. Evidence of such a trend cannot necessarily be found in any publicly attributable statements from baseball front office officials, but can be traced through their own tangible actions in assembling major league rosters. The Oakland A’s, who won three straight World Championships from 1972 to ’74, featured a changing, increasingly integrated roster. Having already developed a number of minority players, including Campy Campaneris, Reggie Jackson, and Vida Blue, by the time the Pirates won the 1971 World Series, Oakland would add a large number of African Americans and Latinos in ’72, ’73, and ’74. For example, the A’s acquired several minorities, while giving up mostly white players, in a series of trades engineered during the 1972 season. Oakland dealt onetime Cy Young winner Denny McLain to the Braves for Puerto Rican first baseman Orlando Cepeda, stole .300-hitting Dominican Matty Alou from the Cardinals for two marginal players, acquired outfielder “Downtown” Ollie Brown from San Diego for catcher Curt Blefary, and picked up Cuban utility infielder Marty Martinez from St. Louis for outfielder Brant Alyea. During the summer, the A’s promoted Venezuelan pinch-hitter Gonzalo Marquez and Panamanian speedster Allan Lewis from the minor leagues. After the season, the A’s sent pitcher Bob Locker to the Cubs for a black outfielder, Billy North, and dealt first baseman Mike Epstein to the Texas Rangers for a Mexican reliever, Horacio Pina.
During the ’73 campaign, Oakland purchased three accomplished Latino hitters (Rico Carty, Vic Davalillo, and Jesus Alou) and promoted three other minorities (Manny Trillo, Jose Morales, and Tim Hosley) from the minor leagues. In 1974, the A’s recalled top prospect Claudell Washington from the Southern League, signed sprinter Herb Washington as the game’s first “designated runner,” and acquired pinch-hitter Jim Holt from the Twins. While Oakland’s controversial owner and general manager, Charlie Finley, had come under fire for various offenses during his reign in the Bay Area, critics would have been hard-pressed to knock his frequent acquisitions of black and Latino players during Oakland’s glory years of the early 1970s.
Although Cincinnati’s championship teams of ’75 and ’76 were not as heavily populated with minorities as the aforementioned A’s, the starting lineup of the “Big Red Machine” did contain six African Americans and Latinos. Infielders Tony Perez, Joe Morgan, and Dave Concepcion, and the entire starting outfield of George Foster, Cesar Geronimo, and Ken Griffey, Sr. comprised a large part of baseball’s best offense. In the months after the 1971 season, the Reds had acquired both Morgan and Geronimo in a trade that had seen them net three black players (Ed Armbrister being the other), while losing only one (Lee May). The Reds then promoted Griffey to the majors two years later. Only two white players, Pete Rose and Johnny Bench, played on a regular basis during the 1975 and ’76 seasons. In ’76, the Reds’ pitching staff included the names of three Latinos: veteran Pedro Borbon and two newcomers, Santo Alcala and Manny Sarmiento.
In 1977, the Yankees moved to the top of the baseball world, and did so with black players like Chris Chambliss, Willie Randolph, Roy White, Mickey Rivers, and Reggie Jackson in the starting lineup. Although White had come up with the Yankees in 1965, the other players had been acquired through trades and free agent signings since the 1971 season. The Yankees picked up Chambliss, Randolph, Rivers, and Dock Ellis in a series of excellent trades, while surrendering only one African American–Bobby Bonds–in return. Off the bench, post-1971 trade acquisitions like Cliff Johnson, Paul Blair, and Elrod Hendricks, along with recently promoted minor leaguer Dell Alston, performed creditably in the pinch. In 1977, the starting rotation featured a Latino, Ed Figueroa, and a Mexican-American, Mike Torrez (acquired in a trade for Dock Ellis), who combined for 30 victories.
In 1979, the Pirates won their second championship of the decade. Much like the ’71 team, the “We Are Family” Bucs did so with an intriguing mix of nationalities and colors. Willie Stargell, Rennie Stennett, and Bill Madlock comprised part of the infield’s makeup, while Lee Lacy, John Milner, Dave Parker, Bill Robinson, and Panamanian Omar Moreno monopolized the playing time in the outfield. Manny Sanguillen, who had been traded and then re-acquired from Oakland, and another former Athletic, Matt Alexander, chipped in off the bench. Mexican right-hander Enrique Romo and African Americans Jim Bibby, Grant Jackson, and Dock Ellis (since returned to Pittsburgh) all contributed to the pitching staff. Except for Stargell and Stennett, all of the aforementioned players had been acquired or re-acquired in trades, or developed through the farm system since the 1971 World Series.
Although it is difficult to say with absolute certainty that the success of the integrated Pirates of ’71 directly influenced other successful teams of the seventies, it is quite possible that an indirect correlation existed. General managers in all sports, baseball included, have tended to adopt the following copycat philosophy: when they see other teams have success, they examine the reasons for that success and often incorporate similar blueprints for their own teams.
This much is certain: every World Championship team of the 1970s had at least one great star of minority descent, a player who not only excelled on the field but provided other black and Latino teammates with a leadership model, a point of reference. The A’s of the early seventies revolved around Reggie Jackson, the Reds of the mid-seventies leaned heavily on the talents and leadership of Joe Morgan, the Yankees of ’77 and ’78 also centered on Jackson’s presence, and the Pirates of ’79 fed off the ample influence of Willie Stargell. And let’s not forget Frank Robinson of the ’70 Orioles, and of course, Clemente with the ’71 Pirates. Black and Latino stars had not only made their marks in terms of sheer numbers, but also as full-fledged impact players on championship ballclubs.
Bruce Markusen is the author of the new book, The Team That Changed Baseball: Roberto Clemente and the 1971 Pittsburgh Pirates, available from Westholme Publishing.