Results tagged ‘ Reds ’
Now that Bob Melvin has been fired as the skipper of the
Diamondbacks, the speculation can begin as to which team will be the next to
fire its field manager. The Cleveland Indians could be that team; with a record
of 13-22, the Indians have the worst record in the American League. That may
not bode well for the future of Eric Wedge, who has been on the hot seat ever
since the Indians started last season
Many observers have pointed to the Indians as first-class
underachievers, one of baseball’s biggest disappointments. Just two months ago,
the Indians were the fashionable pick to win the American League Central, a
balanced division ripe for the taking. Personally, I think that prediction was
a bit of a stretch, considering the departure of CC Sabathia, the regression of
Fausto Carmona, and the unsettled state of Cleveland’s outfield beyond superstar
Grady Sizemore. Still, there’s no question that the Indians have underachieved. They shouldn’t be
buried so many games below .500, just a couple of ticks ahead of the Washington
Nationals, the most dreadful team in either league. There’s just no excuse for
such a poor standing.
The Indians will probably give Wedge at least two to three
more weeks before making any kind of a change. If they do, they have two highly
logical candidates in place within their organization. First up is Joel
Skinner, currently their third base coach and now in his ninth year on the
staff. Skinner also has prior managerial experience. He served as the Indians’
interim skipper in 2002. Prior to that, Skinner managed for several years in
the Tribe’s farm system, developing a reputation for winning and developing
young talent. A former catcher, Skinner is very bright and familiar with the
organization from top to bottom. The other top candidate is Torey Lovullo,
currently the manager of the Columbus Clippers, who just so happen to be the
Indians’ Triple-A affiliate. Lovullo’s minor league managerial record is
spotless. He has won two International League titles, the highlight of a resume
that features a winning record every season he’s managed.
If none of those candidates are to your liking, then how
about this blast from the past? Mike Hargrove, who left the Mariners in
mid-season two years ago, is also available. He’s scheduled to manager a summer
league team of college prospects, but that contract could be broken in favor of
a return to the Midwest…
There’s an old axiom in baseball that says, “Every game you
watch, you’ll see something different, something you’ve never seen before.”
That’s an exaggeration, of course, but baseball is such an unpredictable game
of diverse outcomes that we often do come away seeing something new and without
precedent. That happened to me on Tuesday night, as I watched the game between
the Mets and Braves. In the top of the 10th inning, Mets utilityman
Alex Cora, who’s normally a middle infielder, took over at first base. (Cora
had played the position just once before, back in 2005 with the Red Sox.) After
warming up with a standard issue first baseman’s mitt, Cora decided he wasn’t
comfortable with it, ran to the dugout, and replaced it with a regular infielder’s
glove. As Mets broadcaster Gary Cohen commented that he had never seen that
before, I thought the same thing. I’ve never
seen a first baseman play the position without a first baseman’s mitt, just
like I’ve never seen a catcher go behind the plate without a standard catcher’s
mitt. It’s something that probably happened during baseball’s early history,
before gloves and mitts became so advanced and specialized. It might have even
happened sometime since World War II, but I just can’t recall it. Perhaps
someone out there has seen a first
baseman play without a mitt. If so, feel free to let us know…
Earlier this week, former big league right-hander Jack Billingham
visited the Hall of Fame here in Cooperstown.
As Billingham explained to a friend of mine, Hall senior researcher Bill
Francis, he and his wife Jolene, along with his sister and brother-in-law, have
been touring the country in RVs. Along the way, they’ve visited some of Jack’s
old stomping grounds, including Cincinnati (where he pitched most of his career
with the Reds) and Detroit (where he pitched for three seasons late in his
This was not Billingham’s first visit to Cooperstown.
Forty years ago, he came to town as part of a contingent with the Astros to
play in the annual Hall of Fame Game. He also has an indirect connection to the
Hall of Fame. Billingham is a distant cousin of Christy Mathewson, part of the
inaugural Hall of Fame Class in 1939.
“Cactus Jack,” as he’s sometimes called, remains one of the
most underrated members of Cincinnati’s
“Big Red Machine.” Too often Billingham is remembered for giving up Hank
Aaron’s record-tying 714th home run, and that’s just not fair. While
the Reds’ offensive stars, like Pete Rose, Joe Morgan, Johnny Bench and Tony
Perez, garnered most of the publicity, Billingham turned in workmanlike
performances for a reliable rotation that also included Gary Nolan, Don
Gullett, and Fredie Norman. Durable and consistent, Billingham used a
sinkerball to post consecutive 19-win seasons in 1973 and ’74, before winning a
total of 27 games during the two world championship seasons of 1975 and
’76. He raised his level of pitching in
World Series play, allowing only one earned run in just over 25 innings, and
still holds the record for lowest ERA in World Series history.
Yes, Cactus Jack was pretty good.
If ever a team needed a dramatic come-from-behind win on
Opening Day to rejuvenate the hopes of a sagging fan base, it was the
Pittsburgh Pirates. Down by two runs with two outs and a man on base in the top
of the ninth, the Pirates mounted a nearly miraculous rally. Facing newly
crowned Cardinals closer Jason Motte, Adam LaRoche kept the Pirates alive with
an RBI single. Eric Hinske, one of the team’s few veteran winter acquisitions,
followed with a double, putting runners on second and third. After Motte hit
Brandon Moss with a pitch, light-hitting Jack Wilson delivered a two-strike
double to the gap, clearing the bases to give the Bucs a 6-4 lead and setting
the table for one of the franchise’s most thrilling wins in recent memory.
The Pirates did little of tangible consequence over the
winter, adding only Hinske, backup outfielder Craig Monroe, and utility
infielder Ramon Vazquez as low-end free agent signings. With such little cause
for optimism, most Pirates fans have resigned themselves to another last-place
finish in the NL Central. That still might happen, unless the Reds or the
Astros fall back even further in a weakened division, but at least the long
suffering Steel City can take some solace in an
exhilarating Opening Day win against a division rival. Watch out, ’71 Pirates,
here comes Mashing McLouth and the LaRoche Brothers!…
While the Pirates have few burdens of high expectations, the
Yankees find themselves at the opposite end of the rainbow. Their high-priced
winter pickups failed miserably on Day One as part of an ugly 10-5 loss to the
ever-rebuilding Orioles. CC Sabathia failed to make it through five innings,
while walking five batters and failing to register a single strikeout. Mark
Teixeira didn’t fare much better; he went 0-for-4, topped off by an
eighth-inning at-bat in which he stranded the potential tying run on base.
Still, the Yankees found themselves in the game, down only 6-5, before watching
relievers Phil Coke, Brian Bruney, and Damaso Marte implode during a four-run
eighth. Hey, it’s only one game, but CC and Tex will surely be reminded of their
exorbitant salaries in Tuesday’s editions of the Post and Daily News. The
pressure will only grow if their Opening Day futility becomes a trend, and
that’s something the Yankees don’t need as they try to avoid repeating what has
become a bad habit in recent seasons–lousy play in April and May that puts the
team into early holes…
The Mets did much better than the Yankees in their opener,
clipping the Reds, 2-1, on a dreary, cold afternoon in Cincinnati. Jerry Manuel surprised the Mets
broadcasters, most of their fans, and yours truly by pulling Johan Santana
after only five and two-thirds innings. With Santana’s pitch count nearing the
dreaded 100 marker (he was at 99)–and bells, whistles, and alarms sounding in
the minds of the pitch-count preachers–Manuel called on ex-Mariner Sean Green
to quell a sixth-inning rally. Manuel decided to use the rest of the game as a
showcase for three of his newest relievers, with Green followed by more
heralded pickups J.J. Putz and Francisco Rodriguez. The trio of bullpen
newcomers pinned the Reds down the rest of the afternoon, combining to pitch
three and a third innings of hitless relief. From the Reds’ perspective, Dusty
Baker will surely draw the wrath of the aforementioned pitch counters, as he
allowed ace Aaron Harang to throw 114 pitches in 39-degree weather. As long as
Baker remains in charge, Sabermetricians and second-guessers alike will have
plenty of material with which to attack Baker for his old-fashioned way of
With a new season upon us after an extraordinarily long and
bitter winter, you may have noticed a few subtle changes to our homepage here
at “Cooperstown Confidential.” For the first month of the 2009 season, we’ll honor
the memory of the fallen Dock Ellis by displaying his Topps rookie card from
1969. Hopefully, Dock was wearing curlers and smiling from above as he watched
his Pirates pull out a finish that would have made the “Lumber Company” proud.
In other changes, we’ve added links to some of our favorite baseball web sites,
including Baseball Think Factory and Bronx Banters. Lovers of film and TV will
notice the link to the incredible IMDB site, too. We’ll be adding more links as
the season progresses.
Other plans are in the works. We’ll be adding some few
features (including an historical piece on great nicknames), keeping tabs on
Keith Olbermann, and generally posting more often during the new baseball
season. Please let us know what you think of the changes, and feel free to make
suggestions about what you would like to see and read in this space. Let the
comments fly in 2009!
Each winter brings outrageous free agent demands by players and their agents. At the start of the current off season, Scott Boras let it be known that he wanted a ten-year, $250 million contract for prized client Mark Teixeira. Last week, Boras “settled” for an eight-year deal worth $180 million. But even Boras’ initial demands don’t represent the most outrageous request by an agent or player this winter. No, that honor belongs to Jason Giambi, who has had the gall to insist that the A’s give him a three-year contract running through the 2011 season. That would be a three-year contract for a 38-year-old, one-dimensional slugger with a bad body and a severe lack of athleticism. That would be three years for a guy who plays first base with all the dexterity of a stone statue, and will be limited to DH duty for the balance of the contract. That would be three years for a streak hitter who disappears for long stretches, making him an offensive non-entity because of his lack of foot speed and inability to make contact. Is Giambi out of his mind? How did A’s GM Billy Beane prevent himself from keeling over with laughter after hearing that particular demand from Giambi’s agent? I mean, you can’t write this stuff…
Because of Giambi’s desire a three-year deal, the A’s have turned to two other free agents of left-handed vintage, Bobby Abreu and Garret Anderson. Abreu makes some sense because of his ability to maintain a high on-base percentage and steal bases, but Anderson is harder to figure. Never a patient hitter, Anderson doesn’t draw walks the way the A’s would like their sluggers to do. He also has a bad reputation for failing to run out grounders and pop-ups, a criticism that dates back several years with the Angels. Frankly, I’m surprised the A’s haven’t made a run at underrated free agent Adam Dunn, whose combination of power and patience makes him the consummate “Moneyball” player. Dunn also has seen his market shrink this winter, making it possible for the A’s to sign him to a three-year deal at reasonable terms. With Dunn and Matt Holliday in the middle of the Oakland order, the A’s would have their best one-two power punch since the hey day of Giambi and Miguel Tejada…
Dunn’s former team, the Reds, made a risky signing over the weekend. They inked the non-tendered Willy Taveras to a two-year contract, thereby committing themselves to him as their new leadoff man. Taveras is a good defensive center fielder with plenty of range, but his .320 on-base percentage is less than satisfactory in the leadoff spot. And while he did lead the major leagues with 68 stolen bases, it’s always a bad sign when your stolen base total exceeds your runs scored total; Taveras scored a mere 64 runs in 2008. He’s really only a slightly upgraded version of Omar Moreno, which is fine when you have players like Bill Madlock, Dave Parker, Willie Stargell, Bill Robinson, and Mike “The Hit Man” Easler batting behind you, but the Reds don’t have that assemblage of talent backing their leadoff man. In an ideal world, Taveras should be batting eighth in a National League lineup, but the Reds don’t have anyone else who fills the bill properly…
With Taveras in place, the Reds now have two-thirds of their outfield set: Taveras’ presence in center and allows Jay Bruce to move to right field, where he’ll be a better long-term fit. Still in need of someone to play left field, the Reds are considering moving Edwin Encarnacion from third base to the outfield, but they’d first have to sign Ty Wigginton. The Reds have also made contact with the Yankees about one of their spare outfielders, either Hideki Matsui, Xavier Nady, or Nick Swisher. Let’s rule out Matsui, mostly because no one knows whether his two surgically repaired knees will hold up playing the outfield. IT could come down to a preference for either Nady (who can be a free agent after 2009) or Swisher (who is signed long term), with the Yankees likely looking for two solid bench players in return. A package including a catcher (Ryan Hanigan?) and an infielder like Jeff Keppinger could get it done, or perhaps Keppinger and a B-level prospect.
Now that the Thanksgiving holiday weekend has come to an end and teams will finally have to decide by Monday whether to offer arbitration to their own free agents, we should start to see some activity on the hot stove front by later in the week. Finally. One veteran pitcher who might not be offered arbitration is Andy Pettitte, who made $16 million last year and actually might be in line for an increase despite a poor year in the Bronx. (You have to love arbitration–if you’re the players, that is!) The Yankees would like to bring Pettitte back, but only at a cut from his exorbitant $16 million rate–an understandable desire in my opinion. One would think that Pettitte, who embarrassed himself with his involvement with HGH, would gladly accept a modest paycut after an off year in order to stay with a team he likes, but like so many other Yankees, he seems unwilling to accept any kind of a discount. If that’s truly his attitude, it may be time for the Yankees to say, “Good riddance.”
As free agents try to maximize every last dollar, teams continue to talk trade. One of the more intriguing conversations has involved the Reds and White Sox. In need of both a right fielder and a right-handed power hitter, the Reds would like to add Jermaine Dye. So far, they’ve been willing to offer Homer Bailey and scraps, but that doesn’t appear to be enough from Chicago’s perspective. In some ways, Dye makes sense for the Reds, but he’s also 35 years old and probably not enough of a difference maker for a team trying to make up a 16-game gap in last year’s wild card race. If I were the Reds, I’d be very careful how much I surrender for an aging Dye.
Finally, the Cubs are trying to include the Orioles as the third team as part of their on-again, off-again Jake Peavy discussions with the Padres. The Cubs would be willing to send Felix Pie to Baltimore for Garrett Olson, who would then be re-routed to San Diego. I’m not sure that I completely understand Baltimore’s interest in Pie, who has been a standout minor leaguer but has looked lost at the plate in various major league trials. Pie strikes out too much, doesn’t walk enough, and has shown little big league power. His No. 1 talent, his defensive play in center field, would also be wasted in Baltimore, since the O’s already have Adam Jones pegged to play the position for the next six to ten years. At this point, Pie is clearly a project–and one that might be a better fit for a team more desperately in search of a young center fielder.
Robinson Cano might not be the biggest individual disappointment in major league baseball this year, but he has to rank among the top five failures. In Wednesday afternoon’s loss to the Twins, Cano went hitless at the plate and committed three mental mistakes in the field as the Yankees fell, 4-2, to close out a 3-and-7 road trip. Without those mistakes, the Yankees might have played the Twins to a tie, setting the stage for a second straight day of extra innings.
The Yankees envisioned Cano having a breakout season in 2008, hitting .315-plus with power and playing Gold Glove defense at second base. Instead, they’ve watched Cano sink to his lowest major league levels, as he struggles to hit .265, shows no additional patience at the plate, and waltzes around the infield, playing the position without passion or hustle. The regression is so stunning that I have to believe Cano misses the influence of Larry Bowa, the Yankees’ former third base and infield coach. Bowa, with his relentlessly aggressive style, had a way of lighting a fuse under Cano; without Bowa, Cano plays too often as if he is sleepwalking.
In 2008, the Yankees have shown many deficiences–a lack of hitting, no bench, inconsistent starting pitching, and age. They’ll need to fix at least some of those areas over the winter. They’ll also need to address the mindset of Cano. If he continues to play more and more like Horace Clarke, and less like Rod Carew, the Yankees will again find themselves in third place–or worse–in 2009…
With the Yankees on the verge of falling completely out of the playoff picture, the Rays and Red Sox can breathe easier. Or can they? There’s no guarantee that the American League wildcard will come out of the East, so the Rays and Sox will need to stay ahead of the pace set by the Twins and/or the White Sox. That mission became a bit more difficult this week. The Red Sox had to place Mike Lowell and Tim Wakefield on the disabled list, weakening the middle of their lineup and the back end of their rotation. Thankfully, the Red Sox have depth. They can move Kevin Youkilis to third base, and slide Sean Casey in at first base. They also made a wise move in picking up the durable Paul Byrd, who has pitched well since the All-Star break and should be a short-term improvement over the enigmatic Clay Buchholz.
In the meantime, the Rays will have to operate without the ailing Evan Longoria and Carl Crawford, both out with hand injuries. Longoria’s injury is especially cruel; he had become the league’s second best third baseman, right behind Alex Rodriguez. Crawford, while having a down year, remains one of the league’s most intimidating baserunners, an outright blazer who can steal bases and distract pitchers almost at will. The Rays simply aren’t as deep as the Red Sox, a factor that may force the front office to become more serious in its pursuit of Gary Sheffield. Baltimore’s Melvin Mora and Seattle’s Adrian Beltre could become targets, too, depending on the length of Longoria’s stay on the disabled list…
It appears that the Reds will receive Micah Owings from the Diamondbacks as one of the players to be named later in the Adam Dunn deal. I’d like to see the Reds get creative with Owings and use him in a pitcher/player utility role, ala Brooks Kieschnick a few years back with the Brewers. Owings has had little success as a major league pitcher, but has shown legitimate hitting talent, whether it’s starting the game or pinch-hitting. The Reds could platoon Owings with Joey Votto at first base, giving him regular duty against left-handed pitching. On the other days, Owings would be available to pinch-hit, or log some innings out of the bullpen, especially in games that have degraded into blowouts. In this day and age of 12-man pitching staffs, a versatile player/pitcher like Owings would give the Reds an extra bat and an extra arm.
Where does one begin in handing out bouquets to the National League champion Rockies? Incredibly, the Rockies have become the first team since the 1976 Cincinnati Reds to win their first seven games of the postseason. Given that those Reds featured the Hall of Fame likes of Johnny Bench, Tony Perez and Joe Morgan and would-be Hall of Famer Pete Rose and won the LCS and the World Series with those seven games, the Rockies have taken their place next to some of baseball’s immortals.
The Rockies have played well in all facets in winning 21 of their last 22, but two areas have stood out in my eyes: their remarkable ability to hit with runners in scoring position their sensational defensive play. The third and fourth games of the series exemplified Colorado’s clutch hitting, as the Rockies twice mounted game-winning rallies with two outs. Defensively, the Rockies have shown almost no weakness, whether it comes to surehandedness, range, and athleticism. Other than Matt Holliday, who is a bit clunky in left field, the Rockies have no below-average defenders who play regularly. They also have several terrific fielders, including the rangy and power-armed Troy Tulowitzki, the fleet Willy Taveras (who is reminding me more and more of Garry Maddox), and the ever-reliable Todd Helton at first base.
As well as the Rockies played in sweeping the National League Championship Series, that’s how badly–and stupidly–the Diamondbacks performed throughout the four games. The D-Backs committed a host of baserunning errors, from Miguel Montero making the final out of Game One at second base to Justin Upton’s forearm shiver of Kaz Matsui to Chris Young being picked off at the start of Game Four. Then there was Stephen Drew stepping off the base when he wasn’t sure if he had been called out and Eric “Captain America” Byrnes foolishly diving into first base, the latter bringing a fitting end to a series filled with mental mistakes and an inability to hit in the clutch. Putting aside Game One, the D-Backs lost the final three games by a total of six runs, giving Arizona fans plenty of “what-if” ammunition for the long winter ahead. If the D-backs had hit just a little bit better with runners in scoring position or run the bases appreciably better, then this series would be moving on to Game Five.
Fortunately for the Diamondbacks, they are a young team loaded with talented players and have every right to expect to contend in the NL West for the foreseeable future. If Drew, Young, and Upton fulfill even 75 per cent of their perceived potential, they will be playing in plenty of All-Star games over the next decade. Conor Jackson, Mark Reynolds, and the injured Carlos Quentin (remember him) also have chances to be very good players, giving the D-Backs a terrific core of everyday players. Then it’s just a matter of finding two young starters to supplement Brandon Webb in the rotation and adding one more bigtime arm to a bullpen that already features closer Jose Valverde and the Other Tony Pena. That could spell some long-term trouble for the Dodgers, Giants, and even the Rockies in what remains a balanced NL West.
So much for the philosophy that it’s easier to pitch in the cold weather than it is to hit. The Yankees have tried to disprove that longstanding theory all by their lonesome through the first week of the season. Their starters have surrendered 24 runs in 22 and a third innings, giving them an ERA of 10.00 through five games. Joe Torre has had to call on his relievers a remarkable 22 times through those five games; at this rate, Torre will have blown out his bullpen by the end of the month. While the horrid pitching will only raise the clarion call for Roger Clemens and increase the temperature on Ron Guidry’s hot seat, the Yankees may have to expedite a third (and most immediate) option: dipping into the deep pool of pitching prospects at Scranton-Wilkes Barre. Under ideal circumstances, the Yankees would like to wait until at least June before placing a call for either Phil Hughes or Ross Ohlendorf. They may have to move the recall date to sometime in April or May, especially if Hughes continues to pitch as well as he did in his minor league opener, when he allowed only two hits and two runs in five innings…
The state of the Yankees’ bench is almost as scary as the starting rotation. On Sunday, the Yankees started two of their reserves–Wil Nieves behind the plate and Miguel Cairo in left field–giving the bottom of the order a look that was too reminiscent of those awful Yankee teams from the early 1990s. For all the good that Brian Cashman has done in reducing the age of his team, recruiting young pitching, and adding flexibility to the 25-man roster, Cashman continues to stumble in the area of constructing a bench. The Yankees haven’t had a top-drawer backup catcher since Joe Girardi or a truly effective utility infielder since Luis Sojo. And with Cairo clearly out of place in the outfield, the Yankees’ decision to carry only four outfielders looks like another early-season mistake. Heck, the Yankees have almost as many first baseman (three) as they do outfielders. It’s a far cry from the days when the Yankees had so much depth in the outfield that they could start games with Sweet Lou Piniella, Oscar Gamble, and Bobby Murcer available to come off the bench…
While the Yankees are concerned about the ghastly state of their starting pitching, whispers out of Boston express some worry about the Red Sox’ sudden lack of patience at the plate. Red Sox batters failed to work the count throughout their weekend series against the Rangers, a trait that runs completely counter to recent Boston teams and the preferred philosophy of general manager Theo Epstein. Some critics are pointing to the change in hitting coaches. Former batting instructor Ron Jackson preached the important of patience and walks, yet was let go in favor of current hitting coach Dave Magadan. While I understand the reason for worry, I find it hard to believe that Magadan is the culprit. Magadan was an extremely patient hitter throughout his major league career; if anything, he took criticism for being too passive at the plate. I can’t fathom that he’s changed his philosophy so radically that he has Red Sox hitters swinging wildly at pitches ala Yogi Berra and Manny Sanguillen…
The dull starts experienced by the Red Sox and Yankees represent the disappointing end of the major league spectrum. On the other side, we find surprising teams like the Twins, Pirates, and Reds, who have raced out to good starts despite lackluster winters. (Hey, why couldn’t the Pirates have started out like this last year, when I was trying to sell copies of The Team That Changed Baseball? Oh well, the book has sold well anyway.) Those three small market teams are a combined 12-5, with expected bottom feeders Cincinnati and Pittsburgh leading the way in the NL Central, and Minnesota doing the same in the AL Central. The Pirates’ play has been arguably the most impressive. They’ve won four of their six while playing on the road, survived most of the first week without the injured Freddy Sanchez, and have watched their bullpen work to near perfection, having stranded every inherited baserunner. Salmon Torres is four-for-four in save opportunities and making a case to be this year’s version of Joe Borowski…
The Reds’ bullpen has actually been just as good as Pittsburgh’s. Reds relievers didn’t give up their first runs of the season until Sunday’s loss to the Pirates. And then there’s been the early play of Adam Dunn, who has shown hints that he might be able to take the step from one-dimensional slugger (like Frank Howard) to All-Star mainstay (think Reggie Jackson). Dunn banged out two more hits on Sunday to raise his early batting average to .381. The “Big Donkey” also has three home runs, an .857 slugging percentage, and two stolen bases thrown in for good measure…
The Twins initially seemed like an afterthought in the stacked AL Central, but their pitching beyond Johan Santana has been remarkably poised. Ramon Ortiz and Carlos Silva both turned in good starts during the first week, successfully holding the fort until more talented young pitchers are deemed ready for recall. For all of their critics, Ron Gardenhire and Terry Ryan remain one of the most effective manager-GM teams in all of baseball.
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.
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.”