Category Archives: Baseball

Baseball from a left-wing Bay Area perspective.

Ball Four Outtakes Part 2

In my Ball Four Outtakes post a few months ago, I discussed the unedited full transcripts of the audio tapes Jim Bouton recorded for the basis of his classic book about his experiences in the 1969 season. These are available at the Library of Congress, though you have to make arrangements to view them in person at the library in Washington, DC. I also detailed some examples of interesting material that didn’t make the book, even if Bouton and his collaborator/editor Leonard Shecter almost always picked the best stories and observations for the final manuscript published in 1970.

There are many other items that didn’t make the book, some trivial or of not nearly as much value as what made the cut. Some of the omissions, however, were noteworthy, even if they weren’t on the level of what you read in Ball Four. Here are a few other examples, for what might be called Ball Four outtakes.

**One of the most colorfully controversial stories of the era in major league baseball took place the year after Ball Four, when Dock Ellis pitched a no-hitter, or so he at least sometimes claimed, on LSD. Acid isn’t mentioned in Ball Four, but it turns out shortly before 1969, Bouton and fellow Yankee pitcher Fritz Peterson went to Haight-Ashbury and were offered LSD by a youngster calling himself the Acid Man. Bouton demurred, in part because he thought he might be used in relief (presumably the Yankees were playing in Oakland). Peterson pointed out Jim couldn’t pitch any worse on LSD, considering how he’d been pitching of late.

**There’s an interesting observation on pitcher abuse, before that term was used, that’s both perceptive yet at the same time illustrates how faulty memories could be even four years after the fact — and how difficult it was to check on their accuracy in the days long before Bouton’s career went sharply downhill starting in 1965, when he went 4-15 with a 4.82 ERA after winning 21 games in 1963 and 18 in 1964 (and pitching very well in three World Series starts, winning two of them in 1964). He blames the sore arm he developed in 1965 in part on pitching eleven innings on a cold-weather opening day versus future Hall of Famer Jim Kaat, whose Minnesota Twins went on to win the pennant that year.

These days no pitcher goes eleven innings, let alone on a cold opening day after, according to Bouton, going no more than six innings in spring training. As he correctly points out, it’s poor management to risk someone’s long-term career by using a pitcher that way in cold conditions so early in the season.

But when you go to to check the boxscore, it didn’t happen that way. Bouton went just five innings, not pitching that well, giving up four earned runs. The game did go eleven innings, the Yankees ultimately losing. Maybe Bouton felt sore during or after the game, and retrospectively blamed this on pitching too long when remembering how long the contest lasted. Whatever the case, he never would pitch too well in the majors again, though his status as opening day starter indicates the Yankees were expecting him to.

**In about the only story in the book that reflects badly on a member of the Astros, Bouton writes about a fight breaking out on the team bus after Jimmy Ray makes fun of Wade Blasingame. Several members of the Astros got up to block a coach’s view of what was going on, so the incident didn’t blow up any more than they thought necessary. In the transcript (but not the book), those members are named: future Hall of Famer Joe Morgan, star outfielder Jimmy Wynn, and Curt Blefary. Jim especially praises pitcher Denny Lemaster for telling the coach (also named, Buddy Hancken) to get back to the front of the bus where he belonged. Bouton also hails Lemaster, the Astros’ player representative, for not being shy of standing up to coaches and the team’s general manager.

**In a take on baseball politics that didn’t make it into the book, Bouton notes that player representatives seem to get traded more often than others, in the days when a strong baseball union was just getting off the ground under Marvin Miller. This is specifically sparked by relief pitcher Jack Aker, the Pilots’ player rep, getting traded early in 1969. Aker, who generally had a good career (including leading the American League with 32 saves in 1966), was off to a poor start with Seattle, with a 7.56 ERA after fifteen games, which could be seen as reasonable justification. He was traded to the Yankees for Fred Talbot, who had a mediocre career (and barely pitched in the majors after 1969), and to Bouton the trade didn’t make sense. Aker righted himself with the Yankees, putting up a 2.06 ERA the rest of the year, and had five more good-to-average years.

**Mike Marshall would become one of baseball’s most successful relief pitchers for much of the 1970s, albeit with some down years. In 1974, he won 15 games and saved 22, setting a still-standing record for pitchers of appearing in 106 games. In Seattle he was used as a starter and, after some early success, did poorly, getting sent down to the minors in July. Bouton points out that in the minors he quickly pitched better, in part because Marshall was able to set his own pitching program instead of fitting into what Seattle wanted. He also points out that after seeing Jack Aker pitch much better with the Yankees, Pilots manager Joe Schultz might be starting to understand that it was better to leave pitchers alone with their methods instead of trying to impose these on them. Schultz wouldn’t have much of a chance to try that out, getting fired after the season, the only one in which he’d manage in the big leagues.

**There aren’t many comments in the book about then-Washington Senators manager Ted Williams and then-Minnesota Twins manager Billy Martin, but the ones that were used weren’t negative. In the transcripts, Bouton does cite a newspaper article — probably hard to track down now, especially as he doesn’t name the publication — where Martin criticizes Williams for being the kind of player who wouldn’t get his uniform dirty or slide to break up a play. Jim admires Martin for having the guts to say this, considering how canonized Williams, one of the greatest hitters of all time, already was by 1969. Acknowledging he never saw Williams play, Bouton does remember Ted being a player who didn’t give his all on defense or being that well-rounded in his effort.

Ted Williams, Manager of the Washington Senators March 17, 1969 X 13900 credit: Fred Kaplan – assign

**Bouton’s very complimentary about Tommy Davis in the book. Briefly a superstar in the early 1960s with the Dodgers, when he one two batting championships, Davis never recaptured his peak performance after breaking his ankle in 1965. But Jim praises Tommy for being one of the Pilots’ team leaders. Of greater interest, he notes that on most other clubs, there were factions in which team leaders gathered around black players or white players, without overlap.

**In a small fun story about how the game is played, Bouton remembers how umpires would speed up games to make sure they finished quickly, whether because of rain or other reasons. Specifically, he relates a story from Tommy Davis of how on the Dodgers, Junior Gilliam was told by an umpire who had an appointment to get to with one out in the ninth inning that if there was a ground ball, Gilliam could get the first out and the umpire would get the second to complete the double play. Gilliam got a ground ball, and the umpire called the runner out at first base before the ball got there.

**In Ball Four, Bouton is very critical of some elements of the Yankees, whether specific players, the culture of the club, the executives he dealt with, or manager Ralph Houk. Yet he wanted very much to be able to play for them again, if in large part because his home and family were in New York and he wanted to be based there. Extraordinarily, he even said he’d be willing to go to New York’s minor league system to work on his knuckleball if he could get back in the organization. He noted he’d be willing to play for the Mets too, though 1969 being the Miracle Mets year of their surprise World Series championship, there wouldn’t have been a place for him on that club. Bouton never did play for the Yankees again, and in fact he wasn’t invited back for a Yankees old-timers day until 1998, with the help of a New York Times article from Jim’s son Michael urging the Yankees to lay aside grudges stemming from his father’s remarks in Ball Four.

Ball Four Outtakes

Jim Bouton’s Ball Four is one of the most famous and successful sports books of all time, and deservedly so. There’s not much more that can be said about it that hasn’t already been stated elsewhere. As its Wikipedia entry notes, it’s the only sports book that made the New York Public Library’s 1996 list of Books of the Century, and made Time magazine’s list of the hundred greatest non-fiction books published since 1923 (when Time itself was founded).

But there is a lot more that he wrote, or at least dictated for the transcripts that became the basis for its diary-like text, than has been published. To read it, you have to know where to get it, and make a special effort to access it, especially if you don’t live near Washington, DC.

The Manuscript Division of the Library of Congress has a collection of Jim Bouton papers with more than a hundred containers with about 37,000 items. Probably no one would be able to go through all of those unless they were writing a Bouton biography (and one did come out a few years ago), and maybe not even for that kind of project.

Among them, however, are the original transcripts of the tapes he dictated during the 1969 baseball season that, with editor Leonard Shecter, were turned into the far more concise prose of the Ball Four book. There are also early drafts of the book, though these are much closer to Ball Four in its published form. All of the transcripts, and much of the early drafts, are in just four of the many boxes comprising the Bouton papers.

I went through all of the transcripts, and one of the early drafts, during two days I devoted to looking at the material recently at the Library of Congress. Anyone could do this, as long as you register for a Library of Congress library card (quick and easy to do there in person) and make an appointment with the Manuscript Division a good deal ahead of time (two weeks at least, I’d say), as the material’s stored off-site. But you do have to do it in person in Washington, DC, which I managed to plan as part of a multi-week East Coast trip that was primarily devoted to a work project.

There is a lot more material in the transcripts than the book, hence a lot of material that didn’t make the book. Is it revelatory, or at least worth reading for serious Ball Four fans, of which there are many?

It’s a question that will take a long time to answer, which I’ll try to in some ways with this blogpost. As interesting as I generally found it, it’s sort of like deluxe box set editions of classic rock albums, which I’ve reviewed and dissected much more often than I have literary works. On most deluxe editions, the extra material — the outtakes, the demos, the live recordings from the same era, the alternate mixes, the home tapes, etc. — aren’t nearly as good as the final record, whether they’re alternate versions or songs that didn’t make the album in any form. They’re often interesting, but not on par with the familiar work, and more of value for insight into the creative process than for listening pleasure. Sometimes they are very good from a pure listening standpoint. More often, they’re just okay, or not very different from the final versions.

That’s kind of the case with the Ball Four transcripts. Bouton and Shecter definitely picked the best of the pitcher’s stories and observations for the published book, though there might be a handful of unused ones that should have been considered. In addition, the stories and observations used in Ball Four — even the very best ones — were virtually always considerably pruned from the much longer, more repetitious, and wordier ways they were first voiced in Bouton’s tapes.

That’s to be expected. Bouton was speaking off the top of his head (though he also took some written notes), not writing even rough versions on a typewriter at the end of each day (this being, of course, long before there were word processors that would have those tasks much easier). Often it’s a little like hearing a long version of a classic song, with fadeouts and rehearsals and false starts that can be trimmed, before it’s whittled down to its most effective essential shape.

If you are the type of fan and reader who knows most or all of the stories from the book by heart —and I bet I’m far from the only one —there are a fair number of reasonably interesting ones, or “outtakes,” that didn’t make the final cut, though it takes a lot of patient weeding through the transcripts. While there aren’t many general conclusions to be drawn from what was chosen other than the most obvious previously stated one that he and Shecter plucked the best anecdotes and comments, I do have one.

When Ball Four was published, it sparked an enormous amount of controversy for its depiction of behavior that wasn’t publicized by professional athletes. These included labor disputes, unfair personnel decisions by managers/coaches/ownership, fighting (seldom physical) among players, frequent use of profanity (if commonplace even in mainstream media more than half a century later), and some sex (tame if fairly sexist by today’s standards) and drugs (limited to amphetamines). From some of the outrage it generated among journalists, fans, and the baseball establishment at the time, you might have thought Bouton went out of his way to be as offensive and sensationalistic as possible.

Yet if anything, Bouton held back quite a bit of controversial material — both in terms of stories and thoughts about what he was experiencing — that he dictated into his tape recorder, but didn’t use in Ball Four itself. This included some specific conflicts with other players, sometimes cited by name, that he omitted; citations of drug use and sexual behavior in which famous players were named that didn’t make the book, or in which the story made the book and the player wasn’t named; and substantial criticism of racist or insensitive actions by other players and one manager that aren’t found in the final version. Maybe Bouton was reluctant to go too far and jeopardize his position as a still-active player, especially when detailing the Astros, with whom he’d still be playing when the book was published in 1970. Maybe he felt that getting too personal and cutting too deep would cause too much specific animosity in a few particular situations. Maybe it was a combination of those concerns.

On the flipside, some quite positive comments Bouton made about some associates, particularly Seattle Pilots manager Joe Schultz, aren’t in the final version. Maybe these weren’t felt colorful enough, or were deemed unnecessary considering there are several pretty positive passages about Schultz in the book, something often overlooked by commentators. Some of Ball Four‘s more interesting incidents are fleshed out considerably more fully, sometimes for stories that are fairly brief or presented more lightheartedly in the final version.

There are many examples I could describe in this post, but I’ll limit myself to just a few of the ones I found among the more interesting:

**Although Bouton generally found race relations—not just between blacks and whites, but also between blacks, whites, and Latin players—friendlier on the Astros than on other teams he’d played with, he’s extremely critical of them at a couple points. He notes that two or three players—he doesn’t name them—used the n-word, and not in a kidding manner. He also muses that if changes should be made to the Astros roster, those players should be dispensed with.

He also felt that the team should have traded a few players (rookie pitcher Tom Griffin, who struck out 200 batters in 1969, is mentioned as a possibility) for slugger Richie Allen, then wrapping up a very controversial season in which it was apparent the Phillies were eager to trade him during the off-season. Bouton’s feeling was that Allen was so good it was worth giving him special treatment to have him on a club, at a time when many teams would have shied away from him (though the Phillies did trade him to the Cardinals, in a famous deal in which Curt Flood was included and refused to report to Philadelphia).

Far from being controversial from our vantage point, Bouton’s attitude toward the prejudiced players seems admirable. Maybe he didn’t, for all the risks he took in Ball Four, want to rock the boat too much with the Astros, for whom he still had to play (if not for much longer) when the book came out. (A brief recommendation that general manager Spec Richardson get fired would have probably caused him far more trouble.) Because Bouton does mention a few white players (particularly Curt Blefary and Doug Rader) who had very good relationships with the blacks on the club, and because he’s generally complimentary about most of his Astros teammates, it’s impossible to say who the offending bigots were, though there might be some suspects more likely than others by process of elimination.

**One of the longest entries in Ball Four is for June 7, when Bouton and some other Seattle players participated in a sports clinic for underprivileged youth in Washington, DC. His friend and roommate Gary Bell was traded minutes after Jim returned to their hotel room, and both events got a lot of space in the book.

On tape, however, an incident at the clinic is treated with much more depth and gravity than it is in the final text. Shortly after arriving at the clinic, Pilots manager Joe Schultz and one of the team’s best players, Don Mincher, simply bailed out as they got impatient and bored with the bureaucracy of getting assigned to run part of the activities. In the book, this is treated as a somewhat quirky and slightly comic turn of events that Bouton views as copping out, without hectoring Schulz and Mincher too much.

In the transcript, it’s obvious this troubled Bouton much more deeply  than he let on in the final product. Such was his anger that he talked about it for about half a dozen pages. In part this was because by abandoning the clinic, the pair had failed to come through on commitments that people were counting on, including Hall of Fame player Monte Irvin, then public relations specialist for the baseball commissioner’s office. He states he could never deeply respect either Schultz or Mincher after what happened, though he has a fair amount of positive things to say about both in Ball Four

**While Bouton held back some of the toughest things he could have revealed, he also held back some comments that would have put his associates in a better light. Maybe this was just done for space reasons, but it’s interesting that in an entry after a good deal of time had passed since Schultz disappointed him in DC, the pitcher’s quite fulsome in his praise of how the manager made sure to put him and Marty Pattin in games after rough outings. He views this as Schultz caring about players and not showing favoritism, looking for the long-range health of the team.

Along the same lines, the Seattle Pilot who comes off worst in the book is outfielder Wayne Comer, mostly as a result of a verbal fight between the pair after Comer profanely insulted a man who’d come by the team bus to thank a teammate for tickets. Bouton makes an important distinction, however, between his view of Comer as a person and his appreciation of him as a player. He’d try to get along with him, he said, and praised his abilities and character in uniform, even if he didn’t care for him as a man.

**In summer 1969, rookie White Sox star Carlos May lost part of a thumb in an accident when he was in the Marine Reserves. He had a decent major league career, but the injury probably cost him a chance at a much better one. The incident isn’t mentioned in the book, but on tape, Bouton is pretty critical of what he sees as the military’s stupidity. When he was fulfilling his own military commitment at Fort Dix, he notes, he was never allowed to participate in the dangerous activities like crawling in live machine gun fire. It’s implied that athletes or reservists who might be known to the public were protected in this fashion, May getting injured in a screw-up of that mode of operation.

**Bouton writes about how a Houston sportswriter seemed to think star Astros pitcher Don Wilson’s arm problems were mental, not physical. The book doesn’t detail how he sat down to dinner with Wilson and Wilson’s wife — still sometimes considered daring in 1969, as Wilson was black — and urged Don’s wife not to let him pitch if her husband’s arm was hurting that much. Jim knew it was hurting because Wilson had told him to be prepared to take his place if his arm felt so bad he couldn’t take the mound. Bouton told Wilson’s wife it wasn’t worth risking a career.

**Yogi Berra was fired as Yankees manager after the team lost the 1964 World Series (in which Bouton won two games) to the Cardinals, with Cardinals manager Johnny Keane replacing Berra. According to Bouton’s tape, this decision had been made before the World Series was over — that the Yankees wouldn’t keep Yogi regardless of the outcome. That led to the odd situation of two managers fighting for a championship with one who’d be leading the team he beat the next year, and the other replaced by his opponent even if the Yankees had won. Bouton thought Keane was the only guy involved in the Series on the field who knew about the situation.

**Reserve catcher Freddie Velazquez isn’t mentioned much in Ball Four, other than the disclosure that he earned the nickname “Poor Devil.” The transcripts reveal that Bouton had a friendlier relationship with him, and with some other marginal players like Gus Gil and Billy Williams (not the Cubs star),  than you’d guess from their light presence in the final book. It also reveals that when Velazquez caught pneumonia in spring training with the Giants in 1959, he was told by a club official that he’d be released if he didn’t play, though he was under doctor’s orders not to. Velazquez didn’t, really couldn’t, play, and was released the day he got out of the hospital, in Bouton’s account.

**The risk and uneasy logistics of dictating into a tape recorder while he was on the road aren’t discussed much in Ball Four. Bouton was fortunate to have roommates—Gary Bell, Bob Lasko, Mike Marshall, Steve Hovley, and Norm Miller—with whom he got along and trusted to let know he was writing a book. All of them were supportive and kept it a secret, and if any had told on him, it might have cost him not just some status in the clubhouse, but his actual job. 

Bouton faced a dilemma of sorts when Bell was traded, unsure of who his next roommate would be. The transcript discloses, though he doesn’t muse upon this in the book, that he’d prefer fellow reliever John Gelnar — a fairly minor Ball Four character —or Marty Pattin, a starter who comes off better in the book than almost any other Pilot (and who would have one of the most successful subsequent careers of anyone on the team). The book could have been different if he’d roomed with either of them, depending on how they reacted to finding out he was writing one. Or it could have jeopardized the book itself, if they were displeased and restricted what he could say in their presence, or even worse let the secret out.

Bouton ended up rooming with Mike Marshall, but only for a few days, as Marshall got sent to the minors. While Bouton didn’t spell it out in the book, he faced an awkward situation when he was then assigned to room with Steve Barber. Barber is one of the Pilots who comes off worst in the book, mostly because of his refusal to go on the disabled list though a sore arm limited his innings, though Jim did appreciate Steve’s willingness to catch the knuckleball in pregame warmups when catchers didn’t want to. It might well have been tense for the two to room together, even if Bouton had somehow hid the project, or Barber hadn’t objected to the book. Over the objections of a Pilots executive, Bouton and three others switched hotel room keys so Jim could room with his friend Steve Hovley, Barber ending up rooming with Greg Goossen.

Bouton’s book-in-progress might not have been as much of a secret as he would have liked. On tape, he admitted near the end of his time with the Pilots that it must have seemed apparent he was working on one, even quoting a suggestion to put something in the book from coach Eddie O’Brien, the figure from the team that comes off in the weakest light. Maybe it was thought Bouton wouldn’t go through with a book, or that there wouldn’t be publisher interest in one from a player who wasn’t a star (even if he’d been a star for a couple years), and indeed was fighting to hang on in the majors.

**One of the more lighthearted vignettes in the book has veteran pitcher Johnny Podres, who’d be starting his final season with the Padres, giving Bouton some pitching tips in a bar in spring training. Like the Pilots, the Padres were also a new expansion team, and it’s observed that Podres didn’t have a contract when he came to spring training to ask for a chance. After a pretty successful career including four World Series wins with the Dodgers, he’d been out of baseball a full year before taking the chance, aged 36. He even got in the Padres rotation and started their second game as a franchise, and though he was 5-3 with a 3.31 ERA on June 1, he was cut by the end of June after a couple rough outings.

**Mike Marshall was sent to the minors by the Pilots in early July, and Marshall’s refusal to report unless they sent him to Toledo rather than Vancouver is written about in Ball Four. What’s not written about is that Bouton went to the trouble of going to Marshall’s apartment the day after Mike was sent down ready to convince him not to quit, telling him what a great town Vancouver (the Pilots’ AAA team) was, how good the Vancouver manager (Bob Lemon) was, and why he should stay in baseball long enough to get a pension.

Also discussed in the book is how another Pilots pitcher, Garry Roggenburk, actually quit mid-season although he hadn’t been set down, as he didn’t like the game anymore. Not discussed is that Bouton speculated that if he’d known Roggenburk was that unhappy, he would have tried to talk him out of it before it was too late, making the point that you couldn’t reverse that choice. Although Bouton was criticized in some quarters for the criticisms he made about organized baseball, he clearly thought it was worth the sacrifices and indignities to do what was necessary to stay in the majors, even at a time when it was so much lower-paying and afflicted with unfair labor practices.

**Not everything in the book or transcript is about something mildly or very controversial. It’s sometimes overlooked there’s a lot of good insight into how the game’s played, and numerous stories that don’t have social/organizational dimensions. Like this one that didn’t make the final book, about fellow Pilot pitcher George Brunet. Bouton remembers a time Brunet entered a game to pitch to Mickey Mantle with the bases loaded, looking into the Yankees dugout and knocking his knees together to let them know how scared he was.

I hate to ruin a good story, but I went through Brunet’s relief appearances against the Yankees on and didn’t find any such game in which this happened. Maybe Bouton was thinking of August 4, 1963, when Brunet did give up a pinch-hit homer to Mantle, though with the bases empty and not right after he’d entered a close game (which the Yankees won 11-10). Or maybe it was a spring training game.

**One of the more interesting items in Bouton’s Library of Congress file isn’t from the audio transcripts, but a letter from collaborator Leonard Shecter on September 1, 1969. He expresses pleasure about Bouton’s trade to the Astros just a few days earlier, inferring it will be great for the book. He also urges Jim to speculate on why he was traded from the Pilots, with some tough love that’s both the mark of a good editor and might have been tough for Bouton to read. 

Shecter felt that Bouton had become unpopular with fellow players and the front office, acknowledging the pitcher might disagree. He points out that getting his shoes nailed to the floor—by pitcher Gene Brabender, Jim discovered shortly after the letter—was not an indicator of affection. Shecter wonders if Bouton’s just not the kind of guy to get along with more baseball players than not. Jim didn’t really take Shecter’s advice and speculate much about why he was traded, or consider whether it might have been because he was disliked at the Pilots. He did seem to take Shecter’s suggestion to ask Tommy Davis, a fellow Pilot traded to the Astros just after Bouton was, about this, and that exchange did make it into Ball Four.

There are many other interesting extras in the Ball Four transcripts. Interesting I think, at any rate, to longtime readers who want some more behind-the-scenes details into the making of this classic. There are enough that I might add some others in future blogposts, though this gives you a taste of what awaits at the Library of Congress. And, maybe, one day in a superdeluxe edition of Ball Four that adds some of the unpublished material, complete with contextual footnotes.

Ten Wins, Ten Homers

Shohei Ohtani. What can you say about the 2021 American League MVP that hasn’t been said already? Which doesn’t stop broadcasters and pundits from repeating a variation of that sentence ad infinitum. Even some people who aren’t baseball fans might know that in 2021, he almost became the first guy to have both ten wins and ten home runs in a season since Babe Ruth did it a little more than a hundred years ago, in 1918. Which would have made him the only guy besides Ruth to have done that. Actually Ohtani had nine wins and forty-six home runs, though unlike Ruth, he seldom played in the field when he wasn’t pitching.

(Important note: Almost one year after this post was written, Ohtani did become the first player since Ruth to win ten games and hit ten homers in a season when he won his tenth game of 2022 on August 9. He also hit his 25th homer of the year in that game. Also note that two players from the Negro Leagues, Bullet Rogan of the 1922 Kansas City Monarchs and Ed Rile of the 1927 Detroit Stars, also accomplished this feat.)

It’s not often been mentioned, however, that there are a couple of other guys who’ve both won ten games in a season and hit ten home runs in a season, though not in the same year. One of them’s the only player besides Ruth to both win twenty games and hit ten home runs in separate years. Another’s the only guy besides Ruth to both win ten games and hit twenty home runs in separate years. There are a few other guys who came close to notching double figures in both wins and home runs, one in the same year. 

One of those other men pulled off the double-double, if you want to call it that, fairly recently. As a rookie, Rick Ankiel showed great promise in 2000 for the Cardinals, going 11-7 in thirty starts with a 3.50 ERA and striking out 194 batters in 175 innings.  Rather infamously, he melted down in the 2000 playoffs, with stats that still astound – four innings pitched in three games and two starts, a 15.75 ERA, eleven walks, and nine wild pitches.

These were the early days of being able to follow a game online if you couldn’t watch it or hear it on the radio, and I still remember wondering if the site relaying the play-by-play was having a meltdown by displaying wild pitch after wild pitch. No, it really happened. And Ankiel never regained adequate control, though he pitched a few more games in the majors. His 2001 minor league Triple A stats are particularly gruesome—4.1 innings, seventeen walks, and twelve wild pitches—and though some low-minor stints went much better, in a few years he decided to concentrate on trying to make it back to the bigs as an outfielder.

That went pretty well, and in 2008 he hit 25 homers as a Cardinal. He didn’t sustain that success, in part due to injuries, and finished with 76 career home runs—the only man besides Ohtani and Ruth to win more than ten games and hit more than 70 homers, as Wikipedia will tell you. Would he have been a better hitter, or star, had he focused on hitting and fielding from the beginning? We won’t know, though his overall unspectacular record suggests he wouldn’t have been an all-star.

The other man to have double-digit seasons in both the home run and win column is much more obscure. As a rookie, Reb Russell went 22-16 for the White Sox in 316 innings, with a 1.90 ERA. Norms were much different for pitchers in the dead ball era, of course, but that’s still an impressive start. Russell also won 18 games for the Sox when they won the World Series in 1917, and started one of the series games, but was pulled after failing to retire a batter. He wasn’t given much of a shot, getting relieved after just three batters – a walk, single, and double. (Which is, by the way, another rabbit hole baseball trivia question: how many starters were pulled from World Series games without recording an out? See the end of this post for some follow-up.)

Back to Russell: he’s one of the most obscure members of the Black Sox, pitching to just two batters in one June game (retiring neither) in 1919. He’d been a good if unspectacular hitter for a pitcher, with ten triples in White Sox uniform. Like Ankiel, he also converted to outfield and worked his way back to the majors by hitting well in the minors. When he played for the Pirates in the final months of 1922, he played better than well. 

Get a load of this stat line: 60 games, 12 home runs, a .368 batting average, a .668 slugging average, and 75 RBI. Over 150 games, that works out to 187 RBI, which threatens Hack Wilson’s all-time record of 191. Sure, that’s inflated by the conditions of the early 1920s, a boom time for hitting, but even relative to those, that’s stunning. Could he have been a bigger star if he’d been an outfielder all along?

Russell didn’t even get much more of a chance in the majors. He was 33, and while he did get a fair amount of playing time in 1923, his stats fell back to ordinary status, though he did hit nine home runs. Had he hit one more, he would have joined Ruth and Ankiel as the only players to have both ten-win and ten-homer seasons more than once. He didn’t play in the big leagues again, defensive limitations also being a factor, though he hit well in the minors the rest of the 1920s.

Who’s the closest to pulling off a double-double without quite managing it? Fairly famously, Wes Farrell holds the record for home runs in a season by a pitcher—nine, in 1931 with Cleveland. He also holds the record for home runs in games in which the player is a pitcher—37 (he had 38 lifetime, but one was as a pinch-hitter). He was a pretty good pitcher too, with 193 lifetime wins, and six seasons where he won twenty or more. One of them was 1931, when he won 22 games besides bashing those nine homers.

Ferrell seemed headed for a Hall of Fame career, but developed arm trouble as he entered his thirties. I once read it suggested that Ferrell would have been a Hall of Famer had he been an outfielder, and he did try to play outfield for about a dozen games in 1933 while maintaining his career as a pitcher, though that was soon abandoned. I’m not so sure about that.

While he was undoubtedly the best-hitting pitcher in history who primarily played games as a pitcher, it’s a little curious he—unlike Ankiel, Russell, and a couple others we’ll soon get to—didn’t make it back to the majors as a position player after his pitching career ended. He did play as an outfielder for a few years in the low minors in the 1940s before and after the war, putting up some awesome numbers—a .425 BA with 24 homers and .766 SA in class D in 1948, for instance, at the age of forty. Maybe he was too committed to pitching to make a relatively quick conversion after his arm troubles, or maybe considered too old to advance once he’d started tearing up the low minors as a hitter.

There are a couple other guys who didn’t miss the double-double by much—one pretty well known, one not so well known. Smoky Joe Wood, like Ferrell, seemed on track for a Hall of Fame career after going 34-5 with a 1.91 ERA with the Red Sox when they won the World Series in 1912, aged just 22. He hurt his arm the next year and, while effective with a much reduced workload the next three years, barely pitched after 1915. 

But he was a good-hitting pitcher—.290 in the year he won 34 games, with 13 doubles. In 1918 he came back to the minors with Cleveland as an outfielder and, if not exactly a star, did okay, hitting .366 as a part-timer in 1921. The next year, as a regular, he hit .297 with eight homers—not star material by early-‘20s standards, but alright. He probably had some baseball left in him and maybe could have had a shot at hitting ten home runs in a year. But as he told it in The Glory of Their Times, “Could have played there longer, too, but I was satisfied. I figured I’ve proved something to myself. So in 1923 when Yale offered me a position as baseball coach at the same salary as I was getting from Cleveland, I took it. Coached there at Yale for twenty years.”

Also getting a chapter in The Glory of Their Times was the far less famous Rube Bressler. As a nineteen-year-old rookie pitcher with the 1914 Philadelphia Athletics, he was outstanding—10-4 with a 1.77 ERA, though he didn’t get to pitch in the World Series, which they lost to the Braves. A’s manager Connie Mack notoriously sold off most of his star players after the Series loss, and in 1915 the team fell to last, Bressler contributing with a 4-17 record and 5.20 ERA. It looked like he was on his way back by going 8-5 with the Reds a couple years later, but he didn’t pitch much after that. He got into some games with the 1919 Reds, but didn’t pitch in the World Series, which they won over the Black Sox.

Yet by then he was playing more in the outfield than the pitcher’s mound. By 1921 he was just a position player (sometimes at first base), and nearly a regular, hitting .307 in just over a hundred games. While he wasn’t a star as a semi-regular for the Reds during much of the 1920s, he was okay, and had a lifetime .301 average with 1170 hits. In 1924-1926 he posted averages of .347, .348, and .357, helped by conditions that inflated batting averages to historic proportions throughout the majors. He never had much home run power, but he did have nine in 1929, just missing double figures.

An honorable mention should be given here to Don Newcombe, one of the first outstanding African-American major league pitchers. Besides winning 153 games (mostly for the Dodgers, including three years when he won twenty or more), he was one of the best-hitting pitchers of his or any era. In 1955, besides going 20-5, he hit .359 with seven homers, nine doubles, a triple, and 23 RBI in 117 at-bats. Wrote Bill James in The New Bill James Historical Baseball Abstract, “That was, with the exception of one Wes Ferrell season and Babe Ruth, the best-hitting season by a pitcher in the twentieth century.”

After wrapping up his big league career at the beginning of the 1960s, Newcombe played one season in Japan. However, he only pitched one game, playing outfield or first base the rest of the time. In about a half season (81 games), he held his own, hitting 12 home runs to go with a .473 slugging percentage. If you consider the Japan Central League a major league, that means he hit double figures in wins and homers in two different seasons – in fact, that he both won twenty games in a year and hit ten homers in a different one. In fact, that would make him the only player to win 25 in a year (he won 27 in 1956) and ten in a different year. Even Babe Ruth didn’t do that.

(Back to a question posed earlier: how many starters besides Reb Russell were pulled from World Series games without recording an out? There were four. Harry Taylor of the Brooklyn Dodgers faced four batters (two singles, a walk, and a fielder’s choice) without getting an out in the fourth game of the 1947 series. That game’s famous, for an entirely different reason. It’s the one where Yankee pitcher Bill Bevens had a no-hitter with two outs in the ninth, only to lose the no-hitter and the game on Tommy Henrich’s two-run double. And neither Taylor nor Russell, by the way, ever pitched in another World Series game, thus never retiring a batter at all in World Series competition.

Another World Series starter not to retire a batter was Hank Borowy, who faced three batters in the final game of the 1945 World Series, giving up singles to each of them. There were extenuating circumstances. After starting games one and five for the Cubs against the Tigers, he pitched the last four innings of a twelve-inning game in relief the day after game five to get the win. Then, just two days after game six, he started game seven, and didn’t have much left on such short rest. He’s one of the few pitchers to get four decisions in a World Series, winning two and losing two. Another, Red Faber, was a teammate of Reb Russell in the 1917 World Series, when he went 3-1, winning the game that Russell started.

And there’s another 1917 game in which a starting pitcher didn’t retire a batter that’s fairly famous, and involves another guy in this survey. On June 23, 1917, Babe Ruth walked the first batter against the Senators, and was thrown out of the game for arguing with the umpire. He was relieved by Ernie Shore, who, after the runner who’d walked was thrown out stealing, retired the next 26 batters in a row. For many years this was considered a perfect game, though now it isn’t officially classified as one.)

Two other less colorful World Series games in which the starter didn’t record an out were Charlie Root in 1935 and Bob Welch in 1981. Charlie Root, more famous as the pitcher who gave up Babe Ruth’s legendary called-shot homer in the 1932 series, gave up four hits and four runs as the starter against the Tigers in game 2 in 1935. Root was a decent pitcher who won 201 regular season games, but was bad in the World Series, with a lifetime record of 0-3 and a 6.75 ERA in four series for the Cubs (all of which they lost) between 1929 and 1938. He was also the starting pitcher in the famous game 4 of the 1929 World Series when the Cubs lost an 8-0 lead to the A’s (and eventually the game, 10-8) when they gave up ten runs in the seventh inning, though Root wasn’t on the mound long enough that inning to get charged with the loss. Welch gave up three hits, a walk, and two runs in game 4 of the 1981 series against the Yankees, though his Dodgers actually won that game 8-7, though they lost the series.

Ball Four Revisited

This spring marks the fiftieth anniversary of the publication of Jim Bouton’s Ball Four. As I’ve written before, I think it’s the finest first-person account of playing major league (and, for a bit, minor league) ball over an entire season. It’s more than that: I’d say it’s the best sports book, period. And an important book on its own terms, not just for its documentation of baseball.

Bouton questioned many of the sport’s norms, most famously the reserve clause, but also the general baseball culture that often treated players callously. As a nonconformist in a conformist environment, he also championed the underdog, making many like-minded young readers feel that they too had voices worth hearing. 

And—in a point often overlooked by retrospective overviews of Ball Four, even very positive ones—it’s very funny. Some other memoirs have been hailed as worthy cousins to Ball Four, and I’ve tried some (such as Bill Lee’s), but none seem, to use baseball terminology, even in the same league. Maybe part of that well-written wit is down to sportswriter editor Leonard Shecter, whom Bouton never shied away from crediting as his collaborator. I have to think, however, that much of it is down to Bouton just being a naturally funny and insightful storyteller who’s not afraid to shoot sacred cows.

Bouton died last summer, at the age of eighty. If I’d been able to ask him a few questions about Ball Four, here are some that come to mind. Most of them are interrelated, and some might have made him uncomfortable, despite my admiration for the book.

1. From the standpoint of making a story, does he think the season couldn’t have turned out any better?

I think it could have hardly turned out any better. You couldn’t plan this, but the three sections vividly illustrated three very different aspects of the ballplayer experience. The one taking up the bulk of the book had him with the first-year expansion team the Seattle Pilots—who would only stay in Seattle one year before moving to Milwaukee. (Just to clarify for any curious readers, the Seattle Mariners, who’ve been in the city since 1977, were not the same franchise.) So you have the sometimes comic drama of a team of rejects from other squads, green rookies, and over-the-hill veterans trying as best they can to survive.

The briefest, but still memorable, section had him sent down to the minors for a few weeks in April, after he’d been in just a couple games. Bouton then reeled off a series of impressive relief stints that got him called back up, even though manager Joe Schultz had told him “Well, if you do good done there, there’s a lot of teams that need pitchers” the night he was demoted. As luck would have it, that brief time in the minors took in a week-long trip to Hawaii, as well as a brief stopover in Vancouver, where Seattle’s Triple-A team was based. That lent a tinge of exoticism to the narrative, but also served as a bold contrast to the much plusher life led by major leaguers.

For the final section, Bouton unexpectedly found himself in a different league and the midst of a pennant race when he was traded to the Houston Astros in late August. Again, a mightier contrast to his time with the Pilots could have hardly been staged, unless he’d been traded to the Miracle Mets, who were on their way to the most improbable World Series victory in history. Alas, though they were two games out of first in the National League’s Western Division on September 10, the Astros lost 16 of their last 22 games, finishing fifth and a dozen games back.

Probably Bouton, and his publisher, would have preferred that the Astros gone on to win the World Series, with Bouton as a hero winning the final game. That would have likely helped sell more books, but it also would have obscured the title’s ultimate more everyman experience. Most major leaguers aren’t World Series heroes (though Bouton was, back in 1964, the second of the two consecutive years he was an ace for the New York Yankees). They’re usually more like Bouton in 1969, bouncing from team to team, from majors to minors, and indeed struggling to hang on to a major league job. 

As Bouton noted in his epilogue, in spring 1969, he’d started out even with Jim O’Toole, another former ace trying to make the Pilots. O’Toole didn’t make the club, and indeed never pitched in organized baseball again; by the summer, he was pitching in the semi-pro Kentucky Industrial League. Bouton might have been cut from the Pilots too, in which case there wouldn’t have even been a book. But his journey between three teams could have hardly made for a better, more varied scenario.

2. As he was traded with a little more than a month to go in the season, did he feel more at liberty to write with frankness about his Seattle Pilots teammates, manager, general manager, and coaches?

I don’t remember ever reading or seeing Bouton asked this. If he hadn’t been traded near the end of the year, he would have been returning to the Seattle Pilots (or, as they became, the Milwaukee Brewers) in 1970. Although he wasn’t as personally critical about the team’s personnel as some have reported, there were certainly details many would have preferred to keep private, especially as few of the Pilots knew he was writing a book. (It seems that none were, other than his roommates Gary Bell, Mike Marshall, and Steve Hovley, as well as his brief minor league roommate Bob Lasko.) 

There were a few guys in Seattle who didn’t come off well in Ball Four. Worst was bullpen coach Eddie O’Brien, with whom Bouton often clashed over his petty rules about how to do things, Jim nicknaming him “Mr. Small.” Not much better was pitching coach and ex-Giants star Sal Maglie, whom Bouton admired as a fan growing up in the New York area, but with whom he had differences with the Pilots, especially over when and how often to throw his knuckleball.

Bouton and outfielder Wayne Comer didn’t get along, Comer sniping “get him the fuck out of here” when Bouton went into an intellectual explanation of a book he was reading, and the pair briefly arguing when Comer said the same thing about a fan coming on to the team bus thanking fellow pitcher Garry Roggenburk for tickets. Although pitcher Fred Talbot isn’t portrayed as badly as some have reported—he and Bouton had some friendly interactions as well as contentious ones—he does come off as something of a redneck, especially when he jumps in front of Bouton to get a cab and calls him a communist.

While Bouton didn’t have anything particularly negative to say about the personality of another former ace, Steve Barber, he came down hard on Barber for lingering on the active roster when he could have gone on the disabled list or rehabbed in the minors. “There was Steve Barber getting his road uniform refitted,” observed Bouton. “I guess he wants to look good while sitting in the diathermy machine. ‘You son of a bitch,’ I said to myself. ‘You’re the guy who won’t go down in order to help out the club. Instead you hang around here, can’t pitch, and now other guys are sent down because of you.’”

They did get along well enough for Bouton to throw knuckleball pitches to him—Jim had a hard time finding people, catchers or otherwise, to catch him due to the knuckleball’s unpredictable movements—in exchange for him catching sore-armed Barber. When Mike Marshall was sent down to the minors after rooming with Bouton for just a few days, Bouton and Barber were assigned to room together, but just switched keys so Bouton could room with his friend Steve Hovley. When the incident’s reported in Ball Four, nothing is said as to whether Bouton’s reluctant to room with Barber.

Even some of the guys Bouton basically likes have their bad points noted. He originally thought of slugger Don Mincher as something of a redneck due to his heavy Southern accent. Yet he was man enough to admit, when Mincher encouraged him to hang in there after being sent down to Vancouver, “I really was wrong about him. He’s a good fellow.” Still, when Mincher and Joe Schultz bail out of a clinic for underprivileged kids in Washington, DC,  he reports, “I don’t think Joe would have gone back to Baltimore alone, and I don’t think Mincher would have either. But they gave each other just enough support to do it together. They were less afraid, both of them, of running out than they were of facing this great unknown that involved so many people.”

This is also the one page that puts Schultz in a pretty poor light, in these paragraphs:

“Mike Marshall said he thought he understood what had happened with Joe Schultz and Don Mincher. ‘I could see it coming,’ Marshall said. ‘Joe couldn’t cope with the situation. He wasn’t in charge. He was forced to follow along. It was frustrating to him not to know what the plan was and he’s neither intelligent nor competent enough to be at ease with the unknown. That’s why he surrounds himself with other people, coaches, who are as narrow as he is. He wants to rule out anyone who might bring up new things to cope with. He wants to lay down some simple rules—keep your hat on straight, pull your socks up, make sure everybody has the same-color sweatshirt—and live by them.’

“And it was obviously true. Like on the bus going to Washington, Joe Schultz and I were sitting across the aisle from each other. I handed him the sports section of the paper and when he was through with it I asked him if he wanted to read the rest of the paper. ‘Nah,’ he said. ‘I don’t read that.’ There’s no comfort for Schultz in the front of a newspaper. When he wants comfort he can get it from somebody like Mincher.”

I don’t know whether Schultz read that passage (though he hadn’t read the book at all a couple years later, according to Bouton), but he wasn’t happy about Ball Four. “A year after the book came out I was a sportscaster from New York covering spring training in Florida,” wrote Bouton in his updated edition of Ball Four. “Before a game one day I spotted Joe Schultz, then a Detroit Tiger coach, hitting fungos to some infielders. I hadn’t spoken to him in about two years. Naturally, I had to go over and say hello.

“I half expected him to tell me I was throwing too much out in the bullpen. Instead, he said he didn’t want to talk to me, that he hadn’t read my book, but he’d heard about it. When I tried to tell Joe that he came off as a good guy, Billy Martin, the Tiger manager at the time, who’s a bad guy, came running across the field hollering for me to get the hell out (this was before Martin wrote his tell-all book). Because I’ve grown accustomed to the shape of my nose, I got the hell out.”

Maybe Schultz would have been upset to read him frequently—very frequently—quoted good-naturedly cursing up a storm, as well as some places where he acts goofy, like when he’s smiling after a Pilots loss because Lou Brock (of the Cardinals, where Schultz had coached) has stolen successfully on his first 25 attempts. But Bouton does on the whole treat him well. “There’s a zany quality to Joe Schultz that we all enjoy and that contributes, I believe, to keeping the club loose,” is one of his observations. “It makes for a comfortable ballclub.” Elsewhere he notes, “I’ve heard no complaints about Joe. I think he’s the kind of manager everybody likes.” And when Schultz called him to tell him he’d been traded, Jim “told him I thought he was a helluva man and that I was sorry I couldn’t do more for him.”

Furthermore, in the anthology of pieces about managers Bouton oversaw (I Managed Good, But Boy Did They Play Bad), the pitcher wrote, “I enjoyed pitching for him more than any other manager I ever played for…Under the circumstances I couldn’t have had a better manager that summer than Joe Schultz.” And in his follow-up book to Ball FourI’m Glad You Didn’t Take It Personally, Bouton quotes Schultz as saying the following about Ball Four: “What the shit. The more I think about it, it’s not so bad.” Adds Bouton after that quote, “Some day there’ll be a movie made of Ball Four. Only Joe Schultz could play Joe Schultz.”

All this speculation might be moot, since between 1969 and 1970 in their transition from the Pilots to the Brewers, the team underwent more personnel changes than almost any I can think of in such a short period of time. Schultz and the whole coaching staff were fired. Talbot was sent to Oakland just a few days after Bouton was traded to Houson; Mincher was traded to Oakland in the off-season; Barber was released, though he’d pitch five more years for other teams; and Comer went 1 for 17 for the Brewers before getting traded in May to the Senators. 

There were enough ex-Pilots on Milwaukee, however, to cause some commotion. As Hovley reported in I’m Glad You Didn’t Take It Personally, “The ball club is really in an uproar. Every guy on the club has a copy of the magazine [in which excerpts of Ball Four appeared before the book was published] and the excerpt is the topic of conversation from the time the bus leaves the hotel until the bus returns from the ball park after the game. They’re all looking at the dates in there and trying to figure out how many other dates are going to be in the book and what they might have done on them…[pitcher] Gene Brabender wants to know how you’d like to take a ball in the chest.”

General manager Marvin Milkes’s two-faced penny-pinching ways are slammed in Ball Four, but he didn’t seem to take it personally. According to the Ball Four update, Milkes invited Bouton to lunch a few years later and offered to pay him $50 for Gatorade for which Jim hadn’t been reimbursed. “Of course I didn’t accept, but we had a good laugh about it,” Bouton wrote. “Marvin told me he liked the book because it helped open a few doors for him. He said wherever he goes, people ask him if he’s the Marvin Milkes in Ball Four.” Maybe he found that any publicity was good publicity in his line of work.

3. Did Bouton go easier on the Houston Astros because he knew he’d be back with that team in 1970?

It seems like it. There’s very little in the entries documenting his month or so with the Astros that would cause offense. About the worst incident is one where a fight broke out on the team bus between Jim Ray and Wade Blasingame, after Ray teased him about a woman in Blasingame’s room. Manager Harry Walker’s sometimes bombastic manner is mocked a bit, as are general manager Spec Richardson and (for his curfew bedchecks) coach Mel McGaha. This didn’t stop Bouton from inscribing in the copy of Ball Four he gave Walker, “I have more respect and admiration for you than any manager I’ve ever played for.”

Bouton is very complimentary about the personalities of a number of Astros, including his roommate Norm Miller, Larry Dierker, Doug Rader, and pitching coach Jim Owens. He’d also been very complimentary about some Seattle Pilots, including, besides his roommates, Tommy Davis, Marty Pattin, and (though he didn’t make the club before going on to a long career) Skip Lockwood. He also makes a point of noting how on the Astros, “The blacks go out of their way to join with whites and the whites try extra hard to join in with the blacks…It doesn’t seem forced, and I think it’s worth a lot to the ballclub.”

4. Was Bouton deliberately protective of some marginal players on the Pilots, not or barely mentioning them in the book so it wouldn’t adversely affect their careers?

Again, it seems that might have been the case. Bouton mentions taking utilityman Gordie Lund and pitcher Garry Roggenburk on his neighbor’s boat in Puget Sound with his family. But he barely mentions them elsewhere in the book, other than as part of an interesting incident not long afterward, when Roggenburk unexpectedly quit baseball and Lund (his roommate) drove him to the airport. 

The night Bouton was sent down to Vancouver, he makes a point of noting that reserve outfielder Jose Vidal “was the first guy to come over and say he was sorry to see me go,” and that backup catcher Freddie Velazquez was the second. “At that point I felt really close to them,” Bouton wrote, though they’re seldom named elsewhere in the book. He called Diego Segui—not a marginal player, but about the best pitcher on the team—“a good fellow” in passing, but otherwise wrote little about him. Maybe it was simply a matter of not talking much with Latin players who didn’t speak English as their first language.

Reserve outfielder Steve Whitaker played 69 games for the Pilots, and had been a teammate of Bouton’s for the three previous years with the Yankees. The only time he’s mentioned is in the context of the Yankees years, for being invited onto The Match Game (Bouton wasn’t) and a run-in Whitaker had with an umpire. Or maybe this is reading too much into things, and Bouton just didn’t have anything interesting to say about the player.

5. Could Bouton’s personality had something to do with him being traded to the Astros, especially as it happened a few days after he’d argued with some of the Pilots in the bullpen?

After pitching poorly and getting taken out of the game on August 18, Bouton wanted to throw pitches in the bullpen, as he didn’t think he had the right feel of his knuckleball and wanted to work on it. No one showed much enthusiasm for this, including the bullpen catchers, and fellow reliever John Gelnar made fun of Bouton. Jim kind of blew up, stopped throwing, and delivered an angry mini-tirade about their insensitivity, coming down especially hard on Eddie O’Brien, who told him to take a shower. Bouton did promptly apologize after the game to everyone except O’Brien.

“I don’t really think I did myself any good in the bullpen tonight,” admitted Bouton in his diary entry. “I mean what will get around about it is not that I said some tough things, but that I delivered a short speech in front of the bullpen. Nobody delivers short speeches in front of the bullpen.” This seemed to blow over, as a couple days later, “Sitting in the bullpen tonight it seemed as if I’d never given my little bullpen lecture. The guys were coming over to tell me stories and I felt right back in the swing of things.”

Still, Tommy Davis—who was traded to the Houston Astros just a few days after Bouton—told Jim “the talk around the club was that I wasn’t traded just to get two players, but because Marvin Milkes wanted to get me off the ballclub. The rumor did not explain why.” Speculated Bouton, “Gatorade?” (Referring to their dispute over him getting reimbursed for ordering it for the Pilots.) That’s a funny quip, but maybe the bullpen speech did have something to do with it.

6. Was Bouton surprised that some of the players he describes as misfits or flakes went on to careers as respected managers?

Lou Piniella was with the Pilots in spring training, but traded before the season began. Bouton gives the impression it was because of Lou’s attitude. “Sounds like somebody up there wants to unload Lou Piniella,” he speculated after reporting on a run-in between Piniella and Schultz. And a few days later: “Lou Piniella has the red ass. He doesn’t think he’s been playing enough…He says he knows they don’t want him and that he’s going to quit baseball rather than going back to Triple-A.” 

A few days after that: “Piniella is a case. He hits the hell out of the ball. He hit a three-run homer today and he’s got a .400 average, but they’re easing him out. He complains a lot about the coaches and ignores them when he feels like it, and to top it off he’s sensitive as hell to things like Joe Schultz not saying good morning to him. None of this is supposed to count when you judge a ballplayer’s talents. But it does.” When Piniella was traded, “like we all knew Piniella would be canned and it happened today. He was traded to Kansas City for Steve Whitaker and John Gelnar, a pitcher. It was a giveaway. Bound to happen, though. Lou just wasn’t their style.”

It doesn’t sound like a recipe for a longtime player, let alone a manager. But Piniella went on to win the 1969 Rookie of the Year award for Kansas City, and then to a long career as major leaguer that lasted until he was forty years old in 1984, taking in stints as a valuable contributor to World Series titles for the Yankees in 1977 and 1978. Then he managed several teams for periods totaling more than twenty years, landing a World Series title for the Reds in 1991. You don’t get to do that unless you learn to get along with the baseball establishment, or at least find teams where you can do that.

Astros third baseman Doug Rader is described in detail as the team’s prince clown, playing practical jokes and, when the tension of the pennant race got to him, putting his mouth to a shower nozzle so it looked like water was coming out of both his ears. No one disputed he played hard, however, and he’d manage the Rangers and the Angels for a total of about six years in the 1980s and early 1990s. You’d rather have a manager with a sense of humor than a skipper without one—a point Bouton subtly made about Joe Schultz, though Rader’s sense of humor was likely more sophisticated. It’s too bad Rader didn’t get more of a chance to manage in the big leagues.

Larry Dierker, the ace of the Astros (a highlight of Bouton’s stint with the team was saving his twentieth win in September), is portrayed in the book as a loose, funny, freewheeling guy, though again a  very serious competitor on the ball field. Among the highlights of the Astros section is an account of how Dierker sang the Beatles’ “Rocky Raccoon” to himself on the bench between innings while he was working on a shutout. He and Bouton also agreed they much preferred the Beatles to the country music a lot of other ballplayers did; you can read more about Ball Four’s musical references in this prior blogpost.

Dierker went on to a long career as an Astros broadcaster before unexpectedly being hired to manage the team in 1997, despite no professional managerial experience. This had all the marks of an impulsive move in the face of conventional baseball wisdom that would blow up in everyone’s faces, but actually it worked out pretty well. The Astros finished first in their division four of the five years Dierker was at the helm. His firing had more to do with their poor postseason record (2-12, never advancing beyond the first round) than his in-season performance. Obviously he took his responsibilities as managers very seriously. He also wrote a book that focused on them, This Ain’t Brain Surgery, though it was a more straightforward, conventional baseball volume than Ball Four. Again it’s unfortunate he didn’t get the opportunity to manage for more years.

The most famous player Bouton played with in 1969 was Joe Morgan, then second baseman for the Astros, though it was his superstar years with the Reds in the 1970s that would put him in the Hall of Fame. Bouton doesn’t have much to say about Morgan in Ball Four, though he compliments his skills turning double plays. It’s hard to tell how negatively Morgan felt about the book from a quote attributed to him on Mark Armour’s article about Ball Four on the Society for American Baseball Research site: “I always thought he was a teammate, not an author. I told him some things I would never tell a sportswriter”—though such things, whether they were controversial or not, aren’t in the book.

Bouton didn’t play with Nolan Ryan, who was just starting his career with the Mets in the late 1960s, and became one of the most famous pitchers from his era. Ryan’s image is pretty conservative, in part because of his long friendship with the Bush family, George W. Bush being a part-owner of the Rangers while Ryan pitched there. But there’s little-known evidence that he read and enjoyed Ball FourI’m Glad You Didn’t Take It Personally reprints a letter from Ryan’s wife Ruth, who wrote:

“I want to congratulate you on your success with Ball Four. I bought it in Houston in July, and both Nolan and I enjoyed it very much. We have often discussed the pretentiousness, the loneliness, and the frustrations which accompany baseball; and your honesty and subtle sense of humor captured that aspect so well.”

7. How does he feel about the books he did after Ball Four in the early 1970s: I’m Glad You Didn’t Take It Personally and I Managed Good, But Boy Did They Play Bad?

Ball Four was going to be an impossible act to follow. Even if Bouton had stayed in the majors (he quit baseball in summer 1970), no team would have welcomed him doing another diary book of a season. It would have been impossible to recreate the circumstances that helped Ball Four’s narrative in any case. But he did come out with a follow-up, I’m Glad You Didn’t Take It Personally (also in collaboration with Shecter), in 1971, just a year after Ball Four.

I don’t think I’m Glad You Didn’t Take It Personally sold that well. It did get into a paperback edition, but you don’t see many copies around. It’s pretty good, though, if not as in-depth or electrifying as Ball Four. It focuses on the reaction and fallout from Ball Four, and also includes quite a few stories from his last season with the Astros in 1970, though these aren’t delivered in Ball Four’s diary form. There are some good stories from other points in his career, though the chapters on his transition to TV broadcasting aren’t as interesting.

There’s also an interesting, if more specialized, chapter on the ins and outs of the book deal for Ball Four. Bouton was subject to many runarounds from his publisher, whether not getting as much money as he thought he would from the terms of his contract; staff turnover at the publisher that left him dealing with people who hadn’t put him under contract and didn’t particularly want to put out the book; incompetent promotion and book tour support; manipulation of the release date that forced him and Shecter to settle for worse terms; and, worst of all, insensitive editing of the controversial material, which he and Shecter had to fight hard to restore. 

“Every single passage which told some truth, every passage that may possibly have been considered tough, or funny or sexy, was neatly excised,” complained Bouton. “Example: The section in which I talked about the Yankees staying out late and partying whenever they played in Los Angeles was crossed out and this note was attached to the margin: ‘Is this possible?’ Nah, I made it up.

“An incredible job was done on the manuscript. If we had allowed these changes to stand, Ball Four would never have been heard of. We could have changed the title to Peter Rabbit Goes to the Ballgame. We wore out two erasers just restoring what the…copyreader had taken out.”

(As an aside, Ball Four itself was edited down from many tapes Bouton made during 1969. I’d like to read the unedited transcripts of those, in case they survive, though usually what doesn’t make a book isn’t nearly as interesting as what does. Fortunately, his personal papers and related materials are now preserved at the Library of Congress. According to a blog on the Library of Congress site, “the glory of the collection is the hastily scribbled notes, the audiotape transcripts, and the drafts of Ball Four.”)

Bouton relays all of these injustices as if he and Shecter were victims of particularly unfortunate staff at their publishers. As a published author myself, I can tell you that half a century later, very similar ones are not uncommon. Probably they weren’t uncommon back in 1970. But he felt like he was getting screwed, because it wasn’t something he went through in his chief profession. Maybe he got a better deal with I’m Glad You Didn’t Take It Personally, although unlike Ball Four, it wasn’t a bestseller. Follow-up books often get a better deal, in part because it’s reasoned that based on the success of the author’s prior book, enough people will buy it to turn a profit no matter what kind of book it is.

Although the credit for 1973’s I Managed Good, But Boy Did They Play Bad reads “written and edited by Jim Bouton with Neil Offen,” in fact most of it’s not written or edited by Bouton (or Offen). It’s an anthology of pieces about managers from the early twentieth century to the 1960s, most of them previously published. Bouton did write a few chapters, including an overall introduction and the sections on the Yankees mid-‘60s skippers (Ralph Houk, Yogi Berra, and Johnny Keane), Dick Williams, and Joe Schultz. Those chapters are pretty good and funny, as are some briefer Bouton-penned comments on some of the managers for which he didn’t write the essays. The other essays are okay, but there’s the sense his name was being used to sell a book that wasn’t really his, or that he’d compiled rather than (for the most part) written.

8. What did he think of his first wife’s book?

In 1983, Bouton’s first wife, Bobbie, wrote the memoir Home Games with Mike Marshall’s ex-wife Nancy. The book’s not so great, in part because of a contrived structure that takes the form of imaginary letters they might have written to each other about their lives and husbands. However, it doesn’t portray Bouton in a very positive light, detailing some of his imperfections as a husband and father. Both he and Marshall come off as kind of egotistical guys—not that it’s so common among star athletes.  

Those unsympathetic to Bouton’s undercover reporting in Ball Four might say he was getting a taste of his own medicine. The pitcher had this to say about the book to George Vecsey of the New York Times in 1983:

“We all have the right to write about our lives, and she does, too. If the book is insightful, if it helps people, I may be applauding it.

“I’m sure most of the things she says are true. I smoked grass, I ran around, I found excuses to stay on the road. It got so bad that I smoked grass to numb myself. It took me a year to where my brain worked again. I no longer think of grass as harmless. We were in the death throes of a marriage. She should ask herself how did she not see these things.” According to the story, he had not yet read the book.

Added Bouton in the article, “A lot of guys have been faithful to their wives in baseball. It didn’t happen with me, but I don’t think you can blame baseball. I don’t think I became more egotistical at 38. I was egotistical in the third grade.”

1970: Baseball’s Bumper Crop of Fluke Seasons

Baseball season’s starting, and with it the unavoidable hopeful predictions that so-and-so is poised to have a “breakout” year. Much of this is hype from managers, owners, broadcasters, and sometimes the players themselves. Every year sees some “career” years that are unexpected, but you can’t count on too many of them, no matter which team you’re following. Here on the San Francisco Giants, for instance, it doesn’t seem impossible that Brandon Belt would somehow put it all together one year and hit .330 with 35 homers and 120 walks. Even if he did, however, it’s likely that would be his one “peak” year, and he’d revert to his usual streaky slightly-above-average performance at the plate.

Some years do see more out-of-context performances than others. I don’t know if there’s any way to measure such things, but for some reason, 1970 seemed to see more of them than most other seasons, and perhaps any other season. You could field a killer All-Star caliber team with the guys who, for just that year, exceeded their career norms by implausibly high margins.

Perhaps the most improbable of them, given his age (33) and how he’d never before approached stardom in his nearly decade-long career, was Cubs outfielder Jim Hickman. His career high in homers had been 21, his highest batting average .257. He’d even been demoted to the minors for a while a couple of years previously, at the age of 31. Suddenly he was a Triple Crown threat, hitting .315 with 32 home runs, 115 RBI, and 93 walks. He even delivered the game-winning hit in the bottom of the twelfth inning of the All-Star game—the famous one in which Pete Rose scored the winning run by crashing into (and injuring) catcher Ray Fosse. Hickman had a couple of fair years for the Cubs over the next two seasons, but never approached those numbers again.

1970 Jim Hickman (f)

On base between Hickman and Rose as that All-Star finish played out was Billy Grabarkewitz, who that year hit .289 with 17 HR, 84 RBI, 95 walks, and 19 stolen bases for the Dodgers—the only season, unbelievably, in which he had more than 200 at-bats. Grabarkewitz had hit a mere .092—that’s not a misprint—in 65 at-bats the previous year, in his first big-league trial. Injuries would limit his playing time to 90 at-bats in 1971; he his a woeful .167 with more action (144 at-bats) in 1972; and he never got regular playing time again. What happened?

“What was amazing was the day after the All-Star game, which was a day off, [Dodgers general manager] Al Campanis calls me into his office and says, ‘You’re doing real good, but you know you need to cut down on your strikeouts,’” Grabarkewitz told Michael Fedo in the book One Shining Season. “So he got [coach] Dixie Walker to go out and work with me. I’m hitting .376 and Dixie wants to change my whole hitting style again. And he says, ‘First of all, you need to quit swinging for home runs.’ He switched me to a heavier bat again, and it’s like I didn’t have a choice. I’m being told to do this. So in the month of August, I don’t think I struck out six times. And I think I hit .101…[in September] I went to [the lighter] bat, and the last month I did real good again—hit home runs, struck out a lot, but got base hits.”


For the record, Grabarkewitz was actually batting .341 at the All-Star break; he’d have two walks and a two-run homer, his tenth, the first day after the break. But he was indeed down to .289 (and had been dropped from leadoff to the eighth spot in the order) by the end of August, in which he batted .173 (not .101, but bad enough). (He also struck out 26 times in August, not six.)

What really killed his career, however, might have been (again according to his memory in One Shining Season) being told to work on double plays for a long time the second or third day of spring training the following year. That hurt his shoulder badly enough to keep him out of the lineup most of 1971, and he never got a foothold in the big leagues again, with the Dodgers or several other team he’d play for over the next few years.

Or, there might have been a more prosaic explanation. I wish I could find it for reference, but I remember Phillies broadcaster (and ex-center fielder) Richie Ashburn writing in a newspaper column that Grabarkewitz had come looking for him after a game because of a negative comment from Ashburn. Ashburn wrote something along the lines of that if Grabarkewitz had tried to hit him, if Ashburn had curved, Billy would have missed.

Also on the Dodgers that year, in the midst of a much longer career, was Wes Parker, regular first baseman for the team since the mid-1960s, including on the pennant-winning squads of 1965 and 1966. Although acknowledged as an excellent fielder, Parker had never seemed to live up to his potential at the plate. His best season had been 1969, when he hit .278 with 13 homers (though just one came after July, around the time he had an emergency appendectomy). In 1970, however, he had his only superb year, hitting .319 with 111 RBIs, and leading the league with 47 doubles.


His explanation for why he didn’t approach those figures again will no doubt vex Dodgers fans unaware of Parker’s attitude at the time. “After doing that for one season, I decided it wasn’t worth it,” he revealed in One Shining Season. “It was a conscious decision on my part that the sacrifices and effort, the amount of energy that had to go into it, was more than I thought it warranted. 1970 was for one season only. I’m glad I did that once, but I wanted to enjoy all aspects of my career, part of which was dating again, part of which was enjoying people. I didn’t want to live like a hermit again”—which he’d done in 1970, so he could focus almost exclusively on baseball—”and I really believe that’s what it would have taken for me to have another year like 1970.”

There could have been other grounds for criticizing Parker’s approach to the game. Again I wish I could find the newspaper story, but I remember in 1976, Phillies manager Danny Ozark (who’d been a coach with the Dodgers in 1970) was getting on outfielder Jay Johnstone for not hustling on extra-base hits that could have been triples, stopping at second to pad his doubles total. (Johnstone hit 38 doubles that year, finishing second in the National League.) Parker, Ozark remembered, had led the league in doubles back in 1970 by doing the same thing.

Moving across the diamond, at third base Tommy Harper had a superstar year for the Milwaukee Brewers, then playing their first year under that name after having started life as the Seattle Pilots in 1969. Harper always had speed—he’d stolen 73 bases the previous year—and he’d flashed some power by hitting 18 homers for the Reds in 1965, though he’d never hit more than ten in any other season. Suddenly he hit 31 homers to go with 38 stolen bases, a .296 average, 35 doubles, and 104 runs. He’d never come too close to that stat line again, and never hit more than 17 homers in his remaining years, though he did lead the American league with 54 stolen bases in 1973.

Tommy Harper

At shortstop, Bert Campaneris had the best career of any player to have a fluke season in 1970. He made the All-Star team six times; led the American league in stolen bases six times; and was the shortstop on the A’s team that won three straight World Series in 1972-74. He was not, however, a power hitter, with 79 home runs in a 19-year career. Except, that is, in 1970, when he somehow clubbed 22 roundtrippers (and 28 doubles). In no other year did Campaneris manage more than eight homers. In 1969, he hit two; in 1971, five.


There’s no vintage anecdote explaining what happened, but it’s interesting to note that Campaneris turned on the power again for a few weeks a few years later, when it mattered most. In 1973, he hit just four home runs (and slugged just .318) in the regular season. Yet in the postseason, he hit three—two in the American League playoffs, and one in the World Series.

In San Diego, Cito Gaston, like Jim Hickman, had a near Triple Crown-worthy season — .318 average, 29 homers, 93 RBI. It was all the more shocking coming after a rookie year in which he’d hit .230 with two homers, slugging .309. Unlike Hickman, Gaston was relatively young (26), and fans of the second-year-expansion Padres entertained reasonable hopes they had their first superstar. Yet the following year, his average dipped to .228, with 17 homers. Only once did he top ten homers again, with 16 in 1973, his last year as a regular.

1970 Clarence Gaston (f)

As great as his 1970 was, Gaston never did master the strike zone. Even in ‘70, he struck out 142 times—the same year he had his highest walk total, a modest 41. His 121 whiffs in 1971 (accompanied by a mere 24 walks) suggests poor command of the strike zone that pitchers learned to exploit. Gaston’s greatest fame, of course, came not as a player, but as a manager with the Toronto Blue Jays in 1989-1997 and 2008-2010, where he was the first African-American manager to win a World Series (in both 1992 and 1993).

Behind the plate, San Francisco Giants catcher Dick Dietz had an amazing 1970, at least at the plate. He hit .300 with 22 HR, 107 RBI, and 109 walks, not to mention 38 doubles. He’d only played semi-regularly in his earlier seasons, but for that year, was almost as good a hitter as the National League MVP, fellow catcher and future Hall of Famer Johnny Bench.


Dietz tailed off in 1971, but was still very above average for a catcher as a hitter, with 19 homers and 79 walks. Somehow he was waived (not traded) to the Dodgers in April 1972, where a broken hand ruined his 1972 season, in which he hit .161 in 56 at-bats. He rebounded with a rather phenomenal, if unheralded, year as a reserve (playing more first base than catcher) for the Braves in 1973, hitting .295 and walking 49 times in just 139 at-bats, compiling a .474 OBP. That translates to about 150 walks in a full-time year.

Dietz was just 31, and it seems like he should have kept finding work as a reserve, perhaps moving to the American League to DH considering his subpar defensive reputation. It’s been suggested that he was blackballed owing to his role in the 1972 players strike, when he was serving as the Giants’ player representative (and, likewise, suggested he was waived to the Dodgers in early 1972 because of that as well).

With a bit of juggling, you have a starting eight of fluke 1970 seasons here. You could move either Grabarkewitz or Harper from third to second (both played some second base in their career). There are only two outfielders; you could add Bernie Carbo, who had a great rookie year as a platoon player for the Reds (21 HR, .310, 94 walks in just 365 at-bats) and never hit nearly as well again.


Pitchers aren’t nearly as well represented by fluke 1970s, but there was one guy whose All-Star year came out of nowhere. Clyde Wright had started and relieved for the Angels for a few years without distinction, especially in 1969, when he was 1-8 with a 4.10 ERA. In 1970, he somehow won a place in the rotation and rocketed from 1-8 to 22-12. He’d have a couple other good years in 1971 and 1972 (winning 34 games with a sub-3.00 ERA) before declining into retirement by the mid-’70s. His 12-6 record at the break was good enough to get him a spot on the American League All-Star squad, where he gave up the game-winning hit in the twelfth inning to…Jim Hickman, which is where we started.


Pitchers in Postseason

The Arizona Diamondbacks didn’t get very far in the 2017 playoffs, getting swept by the Dodgers in the NLDS. There was a memorable moment in the wildcard game they won to advance to that series, however. In their 11-8 win over the Colorado Rockies, reliever Archie Bradley hit a triple — the first triple ever hit by a relief pitcher in a postseason game. It was all the more unexpected coming from a player with a career batting average of .098 and no extra base hits in 61 at bats, which included 37 strikeouts. (Bradley than gave back the two runs his triple knocked in by giving up two consecutive homers in the top of the next inning, but that’s another story.)


These are the kind of moments that make some fans wish so hard for pitchers to continue to be able to bat in major league games, at least in the National League. It’s hard to believe it’s been about 45 years since the designated hitter rule was adopted by the American League, but despite periodic rumblings of discussions that pitchers should bat in both leagues (or not bat in either), it looks like the DH is here to stay in the AL at the very least. Which robs of the unexpected lightning bolts like Bradley’s two-run triple, not to mention the occasional genuinely good-hitting pitcher like Madison Bumgarner, whose 17 lifetime home runs include two on opening day in 2017.

I’m an advocate of having pitchers bat in professional baseball. The overall pros and cons of the DH rule is a lengthy debate for another time that could probably fill up a book, but my rationale is one I never hear: that the game’s simply fairer when each player has to play both offense and defense (or go out of the game for good if he’s pinch-hit for). Bradley’s triple, however, did get me thinking about how many memorable hits by pitchers there have been in post-season play.

If you want a long list of such blasts as evidence the DH rule should be discarded, you’ll be displeased to know that pitchers’ performances in the postseason do not make for a compelling case. I don’t have a lifetime figure for how pitchers as a whole have fared since 1903 (perhaps one has never been compiled), but generally they’ve done pretty poorly — more so since the DH has been instituted, and less pitchers bat less frequently in the majors (or at any level). But I did think of about a dozen memorable instances in which hits by hurlers have been surprising or important, albeit virtually all in World Series competition. We can start with the most famously good-hitting pitcher of all: Babe Ruth.


Primarily a pitcher in his first four years in the majors, Ruth was already considered a good enough hitter in his first full season that he pinch-hit in the 1915 World Series. In fact, that was his only appearance in the series, though he’d won 18 games in the regular season. By 1918, he was splitting time between the mound and the outfield (as well as some first base), as it became evident that he had unprecedented power at the plate.

In the 1918 World Series, however, he appeared mostly as a pitcher, starting and winning two games (though he pinch-hit in another). He only had one hit in his five at-bats, but it was a big one — a two-run triple to deep right-center field that proved the margin of difference in his 3-2 victory over the Cubs.

Ruth would play in seven more Series, all as an outfielder for the Yankees. He actually got off to a slow start as a hitter in these, getting injured in the 1921 Series and hitting .118 the next year. But then he asserted himself as one of the best postseason sluggers (in an era when the only postseason games were the World Series, of course), ending up with fifteen homeruns and a .326 average.

If any World Series hitting feat by a pitcher deserves an asterisk, it’s probably the one in the opener of next year’s series. Won 9-1 by the Reds over the White Sox, this was of course the infamous series in which much of the Sox team threw games for money. In that opener, winning pitcher Dutch Ruether hit not one, but two triples, as well as a single (and walking once), knocking in three runs. His hits are among many plays cited in retrospect as evidence that many of the Sox were deliberately losing, including that day’s opening pitcher, Eddie Cicotte. It’s interesting to note, however, that one of the triples was tagged off a mop-up reliever not involved in the fix, Grover Lowdermilk.


Ruether is probably best known as one of the pitchers on the fabled 1927 Yankees, for whom he went 13-6 in his final year (though he didn’t appear in the World Series). He was a good-hitting pitcher (though no Babe Ruth), with a lifetime .258 average and seven home runs, and an ace on the Reds that year, winning nineteen games and losing six. It’s sometimes overlooked that the Reds were a very good team in 1919, going 96-44 in a season shortened to 140 games in the year after World War I.  It’s probable that the series would have been very competitive had the Sox played it straight, but we’ll never know.

This was a good stretch for Series hitting by pitchers, as in 1920, the Indians’ Jim Bagby clubbed the first homer by a pitcher in series history. This was about as interesting as an 8-1 game can get, as it also saw the first World Series grand slam, hit by Elmer Smith right after the bases loaded with no outs in the first inning. It’s most famous, however, for the unassisted triple play by Indians second baseman Bill Wambsganss later in the contest — a rare play in any game, let alone in the World Series.


It was a capper on a great year for Bagby, who won 31 games in the regular season. He was a fair but not great-hitting pitcher, with a lifetime .218 average, and just two homers outside of World Series play (though he’d been pretty good at the plate  in 1920, hitting .252 with eleven extra-base hits in 131 at-bats).

Wrote Bill James in The Baseball Book 1992, for the series game in which Bagby homered (the fifth, in a series the Indians went on to win), “In order to increase attendance, [Cleveland] owner Jim Dunn had shrunk the field of play by installing temporary bleachers in center and right field. When manager Tris Speaker warned Bagby before the game to pitch with extra care to the Dodger home run threats, he replied, ‘Ah think ah’ll bust one out to those wooden seats. They seem just about right for me to hit.’ In the fourth inning, with two men on, Bagby was as good as his word, sending a fly to right center that barely made the bleachers.”

Hall of Famer Dizzy Dean is known more both for his pitching and his overall zaniness than his hitting, but he wasn’t bad with the bat, hitting .225 with eight homers. In his only World Series in 1934, he went three-for-twelve with a couple doubles (besides winning a couple games on the mound). Two of those hits, and one of those doubles, came in one inning in the seventh game — a seven-run inning that broke open the game, won by the Cardinals 11-0.


Facing elimination in the sixth game of the 1940 World Series, the Reds shut out the Tigers 4-0 behind Bucky Walters, who also homered and drove in two runs. In winning the second game 5-3, Walters had doubled and scored. The Reds won the series, and it’s not an exaggeration to speculate they might not have without Walters on the mound and at the plate. It wasn’t a secret, but Walters did have an advantage over most other pitchers: he’d actually started his major league career as a poor-hitting third baseman, switching to pitching after a few years, at which he excelled, winning almost 200 games. That changed him from a bad-hitting infielder to a good-hitting pitcher, ending his career with a .243 average and 23 homers.


Jumping ahead to 1967, that year’s World Series had two home runs by pitchers. The first was a shocker: Red Sox hurler Jose Santiago, who hit .173 lifetime with just one homer, cleared the fences off Cardinals Hall of Famer Bob Gibson in the opener. It tied the game 1-1, the Cards pullng the game out 2-1.  Besides being a much better pitcher than Santiago, Gibson was a much better hitter, with 24 lifetime home runs. And he homered off Red Sox ace Jim Lonborg  in the deciding game seven, in his third win of the series.



Gibson also homered in the 1968 series, making him the first player to hit two World Series homers as a pitcher.  (Oddly, he didn’t homer in either the 1967 or 1968 regular season.) But the unlikeliest homer in World Series history, perhaps, belonged to the opposite team that year. Mickey Lolich, a poor hitter with a lifetime .110 average, belted his only major league home run off Nelson Briles while winning the second game 8-1. He’d also win the seventh and final game of the series for the Tigers (his third win of the series), outdueling Gibson, though neither pitcher homered in that game.


It took just a couple more years for Dave McNally to become the second pitcher to homer more than once in World Series play. He did  his bit to try to spoil the Mets’ upset victory over the Orioles by hitting a roundtripper in the fifth and final game in 1969. In 1970, he hit the only grand slam by a pitcher in the World Seres against the Reds in a game he won, and a series the Orioles won. McNally actually wasn’t very good at the plate, with a .133 lifetime average, though he did manage nine home runs. In the 1973 and 1974 postseason, he wouldn’t even get a chance to bat, the DH having been instituted in the American League (including in the championship series, which the Orioles reached in both of those years, though they lost both).


Pitchers could still bat in the World Series, however — in fact, they were required to between 1973 and 1975, before the World Series began permitting DH action (soon to be limited to National League home games in those contests). The team that beat the Orioles in 1973 and 1974, the A’s, benefited greatly from that requirement, even though their pitchers hadn’t batted at all before advancing to the World Series.

For in 1973, A’s pitcher Ken Holtzman hit two doubles and scored two runs in three at-bats. In the A’s win in the 2-1 opener, one of those runs he scored was crucial. He also scored the opening run in winning the seventh game. The next year, he did even better, homering and doubling in four at-bats (and walking once). supplying key hits and runs in two of the A’s four victories over the Dodgers. Holtzman actually wasn’t that great a hitter even for a pitcher (.163 lifetime average, two regular season homers), but the A’s were sure glad he was there when they needed him.


In that way, Holtzman was sort of a poster guy for advocates of banning the DH. So you think he might have personally objected to the DH rule, right? No. “I personally like the DH because it enabled me to stay in the game longer and not be pinch hit for,” he told Dan Epstein in a 2016 interview for the Jewish Baseball Museum website. “I never wanted to be taken out of a game, regardless of the score or situation, and the DH enabled me to pitch more innings, even though I would have to face one more tough hitter in a line-up than existed in the National League.”

An A’s pitcher also struck a key blow for their final World Series title to date, though it doesn’t seem as well remembered as many of the other feats on this list. In the fourth game of their 1989 sweep of the Giants, winning moundsman Mike Moore struck a two-run double. Having spent his whole career in the American League, Moore had batted exactly once in the majors before the series (and would never bat in the majors after this game, spending the rest of his days in the AL too). The A’s needed those two runs, too, as the final score was 9-6. The actual baseball of the 1989 World Series, however, tends not to be remembered too well, overshadowed by the earthquake that interrupted the series after the first couple games.


Jump ahead almost twenty years, and we have the only pitcher besides Mickey Lolich to strike his only major league home run in World Series play. Joe Blanton of the Phillies did so as the winner of a 10-2 blowout over the Rays in 2008. If Lolich was a bad hitter, Blanton was even worse, hitting .106 with no extra base hits in 216 career at-bats (and 92 strikeouts). Lolich did at least have five doubles and two triples, albeit over a longer career.

Asked at the time when he’d last hit a homer at any level, Blanton guessed it was high school. “I’m not a hitter,” he admitted. “I’m just going to close my eyes and swing as hard as I can, just in case I make contact.”


Blanton and Lolich are the only pitchers to have hit their only major league homers in the World Series, but another deserves honorable mention, to break up the chronological flow of this post just once. Don Gullett’s homer in his opening win over the Pirates in the 1975 National League championship series was his only such major league blast. The Reds pitcher also singled in that game, driving in three runs in all. He actually wasn’t so bad at the dish, hitting .194 for his career, though without a four-bagger in regular season play.

Barry Zito had seldom batted in the regular season before starting a highly-paid and largely disappointing seven-year stint with the Giants. He was a legendarily bad hitter, chalking up a lifetime .102 mark with no extra base hits, though he did at least conscientiously work to improve his bunting during his time in the National League. You had the sense he even had trouble reaching the outfield on the fly, but he did come up with a surprise RBI single against superstar Justin Verlander  in his opening win over the Tigers in the 2012 World Series. He’d also driven in a run with a bunt single in his Game Five win against the Cardinals a few days earlier, in a key contest where the Giants were facing elimination.


Often reviled during his struggles with the Giants, those hits — and those wins, in his one fairly good year with the team — were enough to justify that big contract, at least to serious Giants fans. Are they enough to justify getting rid of the DH rule? That’s up for debate, but those occasional blows pitchers strike in the games that matter most do matter.


Part-Time MVP Contenders, Past and Present

For a few weeks last year, Yoenis Cespedes was being touted as a credible National League MVP candidate. He hadn’t played with the New York Mets much more than a few weeks after getting traded from Detroit at the end of July. But he was in the midst of a ridiculously hot streak, and the rationale was that the Mets wouldn’t be where they were without him. He cooled off some near the end of the season, and so did talk of Yoenis for MVP, Cespedes (who had 17 home runs and a .942 OPS in 57 games) finishing 13th in the voting with 24 points.


It struck me as kind of ridiculous that any player could be considered for MVP on the basis of just a few great weeks, or indeed on less than a whole season. I hoped to post about this at the time, but I didn’t have time at the time, and by the time I had time, the season was over. Spring training for 2016 has just started, however, and now’s the time to blog about it, as belated as it is.

No one’s won an MVP for his work on a team for whom he didn’t play the entire season, and no one’s won an MVP who has missed as much as a third of the year (though some MVPs have missed signficant time, as George Brett did in 1980, when he hit .390 in 117 games). During the brief Cespedes-for-MVP campaign, I became curious as to how many players with similar partial seasons attracted MVP votes. I knew there were some, but a little to my surprise, there were quite a few, and not all from the distant past, when the ever-debatable notions as to what constitutes an MVP weren’t as solidified. There are too many, indeed, to list in a blog like this without going into several thousand words. So this is a survey of some of the more credible or interesting half or partial season would-be MVPs.

Candidates in this category factored into the MVP voting from the very beginning of the award, or any rate its predecessor, the Chalmers Award (only given from 1911 to 1915). In 1911, A’s catcher Ira Thomas finished eighth in the AL MVP voting despite only playing 103 games with 337 plate appearances, and batting a respectable but hardly notable .273 in the dead-ball era. Catchers with modest (and sometimes, as in the case of Al Lopez, even poor) batting stats in general fared much better in the early years of MVP voting than they would in more recent times, perhaps being viewed as team leaders or semi-managers at a time when there were far less coaches. In 1913, A’s catcher Wally Schang finished tenth despite playing just 79 games with 252 plate appearances, and an okay but not-too-threatening batting line.

Ira Thomas, in the days when some baseball cards didn't even have the players' first names.

Ira Thomas, in the days when some baseball cards didn’t even have the players’ first names.

Even putting catchers aside, some of the players getting stray votes in early MVP contests were strange, even indefensibly weird choices — anomalies that occur throughout the history of MVP voting, if less frequently now than then. In 1925, Boston second baseman Doc Gautreau got a couple votes for NL MVP despite playing just 68 games and notching a decidedly unimpressive .676 OPS. (Listed at just five-foot four and 129 pounds, he must have been one of the smallest players of an era.) In the 1930s and early 1940s, a few part-time players with what would now be called “outlier” seasons got down-ballot votes, like A’s catcher Earle Brucker did by batting .374 in 53 games in 1937, and Cardinals reserve outfielder Estel Crabtree did in 1941 by hitting .341 (at the age of 37, after an eight-year absence from the majors) in 198 plate appearances. Senators backup outfielder Dave Harris got five points in 1932 despite just 177 plate appearances, though he did hit well in those, with a .938 OPS.

Estel Crabtree.

As the back of his baseball card made clear, Estel Crabtree spent years in the minors before getting called back up for his breakthrough 1941 season.

The most credible part-time MVP candidates emerged during World War II, when many players were in the military for entire seasons or parts of season, affecting both the quality and predictability of major league ball for a few years. In 1943, the first of the three years in which many players were in the military (though some had entered with increasing numbers in 1941 and 1942), Bill Dickey finished eighth with 85 games and 284 plate appearances. He did have a very good year for the pennant-winning Yankees, hitting .351 at a time when offense was depressed by a less lively ball. (In 1938, fellow Hall of Fame catcher Gabby Hartnett finished tenth in the NL with just a bit more playing time, his cause no doubt helped by managing the pennant-winning Cubs as well.)

In 1944, for the first time, a non-catching half-timer was a serious MVP threat. Detroit Tigers outfielder Dick Wakefield, who’d finished sixth in his 1943 rookie year, finished fifth despite playing just half a season. In that half season, he was spectacular, hitting .355 with power for a 1.040 OPS. Had he played the whole year, there’s little doubt the Tigers would have won the AL pennant instead of finishing just a game behind the St. Louis Browns (who won their only pennant that year). Of course, all times were missing key players in those years, and many would have won significantly more or less games had the war not been raging.


When you look at Wakefield’s record, you’d logically assume he had to miss the second half of the season, almost all players who missed partial years being called up after play had begun. Oddly, he missed the first half of the year and played the second. He was in the Navy, but was discharged when his aviation program was discontinued, though he was called up again at the end of 1944 and missed 1945. Though he looked like he’d be a superstar, Wakefield, like some other players who had great years during the war, didn’t come close to matching his previous stats after 1945, and was just a journeyman after the war.

In 1945, there were strong part-season MVP candidates in each league. Pitcher Hank Borowy was famously sold to the Chicago Cubs for $100,000 after clearing waivers in the American League, despite having a 10-5 record. With the Cubs, he was great, going 11-2 with a 2.13 ERA and basically providing the difference that gave them a slight edge over the Cardinals and put them into (as of this writing, their most recent) World Series. Borowy was sixth in the MVP voting, and although a couple Yankees rookies (Tiny Bonham in 1940 and Whitey Ford in 1950) got a few votes for spectacular debut years in which they had just a dozen starts, there would be just a couple subsequent occasions on which such pitchers would figure strongly in MVP contests.


There’s still uncertainty and controversy over how Borowy managed to clear waivers, and why the Yankees let him go. The Yankees claimed he’d become ineffective, though his good (if not quite great) performance with them in 1945 indicates otherwise. It’s been speculated that the Yankees really wanted the $100,000 more than they wanted to get rid of Borowy, and that the other American League clubs didn’t claim him on waivers (necessary to enable his sale to an NL club) because they figured the Yankees would withdraw him from being available if that happened. A la Dick Wakefield, Borowy had just a brief and so-so career in the years after the war ended.

Also in 1945, the Detroit Tigers had one of the most serious half-season MVP candidates in baseball history, though he oddly underperformed in the voting itself. Superstar slugger Hank Greenberg spent most of 1941 and all of 1942-44 in the military, getting out in time to play the second half of 1945 with the Detroit Tigers. In that half year he hit .311 with power at a time when, again, offense was way down because of a less lively ball. Had he doubled his stats, he would have won the Triple Crown. He also hit the game-ending (actually season-ending), come-from-behind grand slam that clinched the pennant for the Tigers in their last game (though they would have been able to play one more game to clinch the pennant had they lost). The Tigers certainly wouldn’t have gone to the World Series (which they won, over Hank Borowy’s Cubs) had Greenberg not returned for the final half of the schedule.

Hank Greenberg crosses the plate after his pennant-winning grand slam in 1945.

Hank Greenberg crosses the plate after his pennant-winning grand slam in 1945.

Yet Greenberg was just 14th in the MVP balloting. #1, deservedly so, was another Tiger, pitcher Hal Newhouser, who won 25 games. It’s strange, though, that average-hitting, not-quite-full-time (83 games) Tiger catcher Paul Richards finished tenth, ahead of Greenberg. Indians shortstop Lou Boudreau was limited to 97 games, but finished eighth. Maybe Greenberg was unpopular with some writers; maybe there were too many other Tigers getting votes; or maybe they figured he’d already won a couple MVPs (in 1935 and 1940). Greenberg probably wasn’t too hurt, as he was able to play for a World Series winner.

“That was the biggest thrill of all,” Greenberg later said of his pennant-winning homer, hit shortly before darkness would have ended the game on a rain-sodden field. “What was going through my mind is that only a few months before I was in India, wondering if the war would ever end. Now I had just hit a pennant-winning grand-slam home run. I wasn’t sure whether I was awake or dreaming.”

Another great slugger of the era had a great half season in a close pennant race a few years later. Joe DiMaggio was out with an injury for the first half of 1949, but came back with a .346 average, 14 homers, 67 RBI, and a 1.055 in the second half. The Yankees beat the Red Sox by just a game, and certainly wouldn’t have gone to the World Series if DiMaggio had played significantly less than what he managed. Of course, had DiMag not been injured for such a long time, likely the pennant race wouldn’t have been as close as it was. But even if you doubled Joe’s stats, they wouldn’t have matched those of the MVP and Triple Crown winner Ted Williams. DiMaggio finished only twelfth in the voting, behind four of his own teammates.

A few years later, Williams became the only position player to get an MVP vote with less than 100 at-bats. Serving in Korea for much of 1953, he was able to play in 37 games near the end of the year, and had the best season — easily — of any player in history with less than 100 AB, hitting .407 with 13 homers and 34 RBI in 91 at-bats for an astronomical 1.410 OPS. The greatest month in history can’t win you an MVP award if you don’t play much of the rest of the year, though, and he just got one point, perhaps from a sympathetic journalist who recognized Ted’s sacrifice in going into the military for a second stint (he’d also served in 1943-45). Less well known is that in the previous year, Monte Irvin got five points despite only getting 126 at-bats due to a broken leg, again perhaps from a journalist who sympathized with a bad break.


In 1955, Williams became the first position player missing more than a third of his team’s games to place in the top five vote-getters for the MVP award. Playing 98 games, he finished fourth. It was a testament to how good he was in those games — he hit .356 with a 1.200 OPS. He didn’t play the whole year as he didn’t sign a contract until May 13, and didn’t play his first game until May 28. He’d briefly retired, though according to the Society for American Baseball Research’s online Williams bio, “it seemed as though retirement was a strategic move in a divorce.” Finishing fifth, right behind Williams, in the MVP voting was Mickey Mantle, who really should have won that year, as he played 147 games and easily had the best WAR (wins above replacement) mark in the league at 9.5 (Williams had 6.9).

Ballot placings by part-timers became more infrequent in the next three decades, though there were still oddities like votes for spare outfielders/pinch-hitters Dusty Rhodes and Jerry Lynch, and 16 points for Wes Covington when he had a fine 90-game season (.330, 24 home runs) in 1958. Although he managed to play exactly two-thirds of the 162-game schedule, mention should be made of Elston Howard’s seven points in 1967, when he began the year with the Yankees before joining the Red Sox. Howard, a fine player for many seasons, was terrible at the plate that year, hitting .178 with a .478 OPS. The vote was probably in the recognition of stability he brought to the pennant-winning Red Sox’s catching position and his veteran leadership, but that kind of hitting really shouldn’t be recognized in MVP balloting under any circumstances. And he was even worse with the Sox than the Yanks, hitting .147 in 116 at-bats (and getting just two hits, both singles, in 18 World Series at-bats, though post-season performances aren’t considered as part of the MVP voting).

1968 Elston Howard (f)

In 1984, Rick Sutcliffe became the only starting pitcher to both seriously contend for an MVP award and not even qualify for the ERA title. After coming over from the Cleveland Indians (where he was 4-5 with a 5.15 ERA), Sutcliffe was sensational in 20 starts for the Cubs, where he was 16-1. That put him at a quite respectable fourth place (and 151 points) in the MVP contest, though teammate Ryne Sandberg won the award. Sutcliffe did win the NL Cy Young, and remains the only Cy Young winner who split the year between two different leagues.


Just three years later, Doyle Alexander finished 13th in the American League MVP voting on the basis of going 9-0 with the Detroit Tigers after coming over from the Atlanta Braves (where he was mediocre, with a 5-10 record and 4.13 ERA). As great as his eleven starts (with a 1.53 ERA) with the Tigers were, they probably weren’t enough to justify any MVP votes, or Cy Young votes, though he did even better there, finishing fourth. It wouldn’t be the last time a pitcher got some MVP votes for a strong finish after getting traded, Randy Johnson picking up a couple points for his 10-1 charge with the Astros in 1998, and another ace ranking much higher with a similar situation in the twenty-first century (see a few paragraphs down).


In 1997, Mark McGwire split his year between the A’s and Cardinals, leading the majors with 58 homers, 24 for the Cardinals in 51 games — which was enough to get him six MVP points, although he got none in the American League, where he’d hit just as well for the A’s in about twice as much playing time. Interleague trades can still result in votes for few games played, Mark Teixeira getting a point for a sizzling third of a season with the Angles in 2008. That was the year not one but two players finished in the top six of the NL voting with portions of full seasons.

The fourth-place player was Manny Ramirez, who had an amazing 53 games with the Dodgers, hitting .396 with 17 homers and a 1.232 OPS. That blaze of glory has since been diminished by PED use revelations. Not far behind him, in sixth place, was C.C. Sabathia, 11-2 with a 1.65 ERA in 17 starts for the Brewers after a so-so 18 starts for the Indians. Unlike Sutcliffe, Sabathia didn’t fare much better in the Cy Young sweepstakes, where he finished fifth. This was less than ten years ago, and while Yoenis Cespedes, to bring us back to where we started, wasn’t quite as phenomenal as Ramirez and Sabathia were over similar part-seasons, they did establish part of the precedent for taking Cespedes seriously as an MVP candidate. So, in a different and lesser way,  was another Ramirez, Hanley Ramirez, who was eighth in the 2013 voting despite playing just more than half (86) of the games for his team, the Dodgers, hitting .345 with 20 homers.

Manny Ramirez in younger, more innocent times in 1992.

Manny Ramirez in younger, more innocent times in 1992.

Is any player worthy of a first-place MVP ballot who plays less than two-thirds of a season for his team, let alone just one-third of a season, as Cespedes did? No, I would contend. But contending teams will continue to land players like Cespedes near the trading deadline, and they’ll continue to get MVP votes if they get hot at the right time.

Travis Ishikawa and Other One-Hit Wonders

Travis Ishikawa, who won the last round of the National League playoffs for the San Francisco Giants last year with a game-ending home run, was designated for assignment by the club a few weeks ago. You can never count this guy out considering how often he’s been up and down (and not just with the Giants) for the last ten years, but he’s probably finished in San Francisco, especially since it’s the second time he’s been DFA’d this year. (He has subsequently hooked on with the Pittsburgh Pirates.)


I happened to be at the game in late June marking his first time at bat in the big leagues since last year’s postseason, and typical of how this year’s gone for him, he struck out. He’s never gotten much playing time since his first call-up in 2006, and there’s no place for a subpar outfielder on a club with two guys ahead of him at his real position, first base. Sure, he helped the team win the World Series last year, especially with his mighty playoff blow. But as the chairman said in that Monty Python sketch where an accountant is fired for embezzling a penny, “There’s no room for sentiment in big business.”

Ishikawa’s demotion did get me thinking about how many players in major league history with otherwise undistinguished careers are known just for one hit, or one game, or even one play. No doubt there are interesting instances absent from the list below, especially from baseball’s early years. Here, however, are a few of them, some by players who compiled much more impressive career records than Ishikawa, and some who were yet more marginal.

Howard Ehmke: It’s a pretty well known story in World Series lore: how a veteran pitcher, on the verge of getting released, got the first start of the 1929 World Series and excels, setting a record (since broken, but which stood for many years) by striking out 13 batters. His team, the Philadelphia A’s, went on to win that series, in part because of a miraculous comeback from an 8-0 deficit with a ten-run inning in one game.


Some colorful retellings have it that Ehmke convinced manager Connie Mack to start him, telling him he had one good game left in his arm, Mack sending him to scout the Chicago Cubs hitters in advance. Actually, however, Ehmke had pitched very well (if seldom) during the regular season, going 7-2 with a 3.29 ERA in a hitters’ era. He won a couple games in September, too, making it doubtful he was on the verge of getting let go. This article at has a lot of interesting detail exploding the myths around Mack’s decision to start Ehmke, which was likely a shrewd, if risky, hunch that his delivery would be tough on the Cubs’ hitters.

When this tale is told, the impression is sometimes given that it was Ehmke’s last game. That would make for a great story, but again, it wasn’t the case. He also started the last game of the series, and didn’t do nearly as well, getting removed in the fourth inning (perhaps the Cubs were on to his delivery by then), though the A’s won the game. He also pitched in three regular season games for the A’s in 1930, getting bombed to the tune of an 11.70 ERA before leaving the bigs for good.

Ehmke was actually a pretty good pitcher, with a career record of 166-166, sometimes for pretty bad teams. His other big claim to fame, though not nearly as celebrated as his 13 strikeouts, is nearly pitching two no-hitters in a row in 1923. In the no-hitter, a batter hit what seemed to be a double, but was called out for missing first base; in the one-hitter that followed, an apparent error was called a hit by the official scorer.

Floyd Giebell: When a close three-way race for the American League 1940 pennant came down to the final three games, the Detroit Tigers needed to win just one of the three they were playing against the Cleveland Indians (also in the race) to clinch. Pitching for the Indians in the first game was Bob Feller, one of the greatest pitchers of all time, and perhaps the best pitcher in the game at that particular time.


It was assumed the Tigers would pitch one of their front-line guys, like Bobo Newsom, Tommy Bridges, or Schoolboy Rowe, all among the better pitchers of the era. Instead they selected Floyd Giebell, a 30-year-old rookie whose major league experience consisted of 24 innings. As Tigers outfielder Barney McCosky remembers in Cobb Would Have Caught It (a fine oral history book of vintage Tigers stories), “We didn’t want to throw one of our best pitchers against Bob in the first game. So we had a meeting. We had Newhouser, Hutchinson, and a young guy called Floyd Giebell. We took a vote and we picked Giebell.” In Baseball When the Grass Was Real, Feller speculates the Tigers wanted to have all of their best pitchers available for the last two games, and were willing to concede the first, figuring it was unlikely to best Bob.

One of the finest relatively obscure baseball books is this oral history of the Detroit Tigers from 1920-1950.

One of the finest relatively obscure baseball books is this oral history of the Detroit Tigers from 1920-1950.

And guess what? Giebell pitched a shutout, and the Tigers won, 2-0, clinching the pennant. Giebell had pitched a complete-game victory nine days before (when the team had to play doubleheaders on two consecutive days), in his only other appearance that year. But he’d joined the club too late to be ineligible to pitch in the World Series (which the Tigers lost), and after 34 innings with a 6.03 ERA and an 0-0 record the following year, he never played in another major league game. “We stopped down in Virginia once to see if he was still there,” said McCosky in Cobb Would Have Caught It. “We looked in the phone book, but no luck.”

As another odd footnote, during this memorable game, as Richard Bak wrote in Cobb Would Have Caught It, “Indian fans peppered their guests with obscenities and trash. [Catcher] Birdie Tebbetts, minding his own business in the bullpen, was knocked out when someone in the upper deck dropped a basket of empty beer bottles and garbage on him.”

Bill Bevens: It’s a surprise to me that the fourth game of the 1947 World Series doesn’t show up more often on lists of the greatest baseball games ever played. The ending, at least, couldn’t have been more dramatic. For Yankees pitcher Bill Bevens was just one out away from a no-hitter, only to lose it – and the game – on the very last pitch, when Cookie Lavagetto doubled in two runs to win it for the Brooklyn Dodgers, 3-2.


The game’s often been written about, but here are a couple things sometimes forgotten about:

Bevens, who’d had a couple pretty good years for the Yankees in the mid-1940s, never pitched in the majors after 1947, when he wasn’t so great (with a 7-13 record). However, this loss wasn’t the last game he ever pitched in the big leagues. He redeemed himself with two and two-thirds innings of scoreless relief in game seven of the world series, which the Yankees won, though Bevens wasn’t the winning pitcher.

Lavagetto might not have ever gotten to the plate if it wasn’t for yet another hero-for-a-minute, reserve outfielder Al Gionfriddo, stealing second as a pinch runner in the bottom of the ninth. Gionfriddo is mostly known for robbing Joe DiMaggio with a big catch later in the series, but his steal set up the Yankees’ controversial intentional walk of a hobbling, injured Pete Reiser. That put the winning run on base, another pinch runner (Eddie Miksis) scoring that on Lavagetto’s double.

Great graphic showing the motion and positioning of players on the field when Cookie Lavagetto broke up Bill Bevens's no-hitter with a game-winning double.

Great graphic showing the motion and positioning of players on the field when Cookie Lavagetto broke up Bill Bevens’s no-hitter with a game-winning double.

Part of the reason he was struggling to win a no-hitter in the first place was that he’d walked ten batters. Had Bevens finished the no-hitter, it would still be the record for most walks in a no-hitter in any major league game (or at least tied for the record, Jim Maloney walking ten batters in a 1965 no-hitter during the regular season).

I can’t find the source for this quote, but I remember watching a special on the 1947 World Series on public television as a young teenager back in the mid-1970s. If I remember correctly, as the story was told on the program, one of the announcers of the game apologized to Bevens the next day for jinxing the no-hitter by letting listeners know it was happening as it was in progress. Bevens told the announcer that the announcer hadn’t lost the game; the bases on balls had lost the game.

Al Gionfriddo: The 1947 World Series was quite the series for unlikely heroes (and goats). Gionfriddo is solely remembered for robbing Joe DiMaggio of an extra-base hit with a catch near the fence in the sixth game. The memory was ensured by a shot of DiMaggio, at a time when games such as these were just starting to be filmed and broadcast, kicking the dirt in anger in a rare display of public emotion. This was indeed Gionfriddo’s final major league game; he didn’t play in game seven, though as noted above he had a crucial role in winning game four.


Cookie Lavagetto: The guy who hit the double that broke up Bevens’s no-hitter actually had a fair major league career, with several seasons as the Dodgers’ regular third baseman (including 1941, when they also lost to the Yankees in the World Series). He was an infrequently used reserve in 1947, however. Like Bevens and Gionfriddo, he didn’t play in the majors after 1947. But although his double was his last big-league hit, it wasn’t his last big-league appearance, Lavagetto going hitless in four at-bats later in the series.


Nippy Jones: Skipping ahead ten years, in 1957 Nippy Jones was a seldom-used pinch-hitter/backup first basemen for the Milwaukee Braves. He’d seen some regular playing time for the Cardinals in the late 1940s and early 1950s, and batted .300 one year, but didn’t have enough power to stick with the big club. He didn’t even play in the majors from 1953 to 1956.

Game four of the 1957 World Series was an incredibly tense one that would be much better remembered if it was a game seven. Leading 4-1 against the Yankees with two out in the ninth, Hall of Famer Warren Spahn gave up a three-run homer to Elston Howard. The Yankees went ahead 5-4 in the top of the tenth, and Jones pinch-hit for Spahn to lead off the bottom half.


Tommy Byrne’s first pitch went by Yogi Berra, and Jones argued that it had hit him in the foot. He wouldn’t have won that argument if he hadn’t shown umpire Augie Donatelli a mark that his shoe polish had made on the ball. He took first base and left the game for a pinch runner—and he’d never appear in another major league game.

Which wouldn’t mean much, except the pinch runner scored, setting up a game-winning home run by Johnny Logan. Here’s something I didn’t know until reading the chapter on Tommy Byrne in the recent book Bridging Two Dynasties: The 1947 New York Yankees: “Byrne said that if Berra had thrown the ball back to him instead of holding onto it for Donatelli, Byrne would have marked it up so that nobody could spot the shoe polish.”

Incredibly enough, in the final game of the 1969 World Series, a very similar scenario played out with another player named Jones. The New York Mets’ Cleon Jones claimed a ball had hit him on the foot; manager Gil Hodges showed the shoe-polish mark on the ball to the umpire; Jones took first base; and a home run followed, starting their comeback from a 3-0 deficit to beat the Orioles. The game-tying home run the next inning was by light-hitting utility infielder Al Weis, who might also qualify for this list, although he had a pretty lengthy career and some other moments of note in that series (in which he hit .455).

Dick Nen: Nen only had one hit as a Dodger, but it was a big one: a pinch-hit home run that helped win a crucial game in the 1963 pennant race. It was also his first hit in the major leagues.

Dick Nen got a 1964 rookie card after hitting a key home run for the Dodgers in 1963, but never played another game for the Dodgers in 1964 or any other year.

Dick Nen got a 1964 rookie card after hitting a key home run for the Dodgers in 1963, but never played another game for the Dodgers in 1964 or any other year.

I’d wondered whether the importance of this hit had been blown up over the years, since the Dodgers did win the pennant by six games that year. At the time, however, it did seem that way. They went into a three-game series in St. Louis in mid-September leading by just a game. If Nen’s home run hadn’t tied the game in the ninth (the Dodgers went on to win 6-5 in 13 innings), they would have left St. Louis just two games ahead with nine to go.

Although Nen had some decent years in the minors, he never did play that regularly or well in the majors, where he spent a few years with the Washington Senators (and one with the Cubs). Ken Harrelson’s memoir Hawk tells of how Nen was embarrassed to be getting the opening day start in 1967 ahead of Hawk, who wasn’t getting along well with Senators manager Gil Hodges. To Giants fans, Dick Nen’s most known for being the father of Robb Nen, their relief ace from 1998-2002.

Moe Drabowsky: After faring rather poorly as a starter for his first few years, Drabowsky had a pretty good career as a reliever for the final half or so of his time in the big leagues, though he was never an ace. His best years were for the Orioles in the late 1960s, and though he was lost to the Royals in the expansion draft, he came back to Baltimore during the 1970 season to contribute to their world championship that year.


His contribution to their 1966 World Series win, however, was far greater and more memorable. In the first game of the series, he relieved a struggling Dave McNally and struck out 11 batters (including six straight at one point) in 6 2/3 innings, giving up just one hit. That would be an excellent start, and as a relief appearance, it’s easily the most impressive in World Series history. All 11 strikeout victims went down swinging.

Other than for this game, Drabowsky is most notable as one of baseball’s most notorious practical jokers. Some of these (like giving the hotfoot or scaring teammates with snakes) aren’t all that interesting to read about. But his best one—impersonating (while he was with the visiting Orioles) Kansas City A’s’ manager Alvin Dark on calls to the A’s bullpen, getting A’s pitcher Lew Krausse to needlessly warm up—is classic.

Billy Rohr and Gary Waslewski: The Boston Red Sox’ “impossible dream” pennant victory of 1967 has lots of interesting stories, two of which belong to some of their least successful players. On April 13, rookie Billy Rohr almost got a no-hitter in his very first major league game, the Yankees’ Elston Howard breaking it up with a single with two out in the bottom of the ninth. One pitcher in the modern (post-1900) era has thrown a no-hitter in his first big-league start (Bobo Holloman in 1953), but to this day, no one has done so in his first game. But that was his main contribution to the team that season. He began the year as the Red Sox’ third starter, but pitched poorly after that sensational debut, getting sent down to the minors a couple months later after just one more victory, and winning only three games total in his major league career.

Although Bill Rohr got a 1968 Red Sox rookie card (still being a few innings short of losing his rookie status), he didn't pitch for the Red Sox in 1968 or any year after that, though he appeared in some games for the Indians in 1968.

Although Bill Rohr got a 1968 Red Sox rookie card (still being a few innings short of losing his rookie status), he didn’t pitch for the Red Sox in 1968 or any year after that, though he appeared in some games for the Indians in 1968.

Rohr didn’t pitch for the Red Sox in the World Series, but a barely more experienced hurler ending up starting a crucial game. Gary Waslewski was a seldom-used rookie on the team that year, compiling a 2-2 record in twelve games, eight stars, and 42 innings. He was only eligible for the series because another pitcher, Darrell Brandon, had to be replaced due to an injury. He hadn’t started since July 29. But on October 11, with the Sox facing elimination down three games to two against the Cardinals, Waslewski, who’d pitched well in relief in a loss in game three, got the ball to start. He didn’t do great, but he did well enough, getting into the sixth and keeping the Red Sox in the game, which they won 8-4 (though Gary didn’t get the victory, and the Sox lost the series in game seven).


Waslewski bounced between a few teams over the next five years, never pitching more than 130 innings in a year, and ending his career with a 12-26 record. Is that the least impressive career won-loss record for any World Series starter?

Jim Qualls: On July 9, 1969, in the midst of the Miracle Mets’ run toward the World Series, ace Tom Seaver brought a perfect game into the ninth inning against the team they were chasing for the Eastern Division lead, the Cubs. With one out, a little-known rookie reserve outfielder named Jim Qualls stroked a clean single to left field. It remains his only claim to modest fame, Qualls finishing the year with a fairly poor .608 OPS in just 124 plate appearances. He did play a bit for the Expos and White Sox in 1970 and 1972, but with even less distinction, going 1-19 post-1969, and ending his career without a home run.


“When I got to first base, I was never booed so bad in my life,” said Qualls in this article on him for the SABR Baseball Biography Project. “We got back to Chicago and I got all this hate mail. You could tell by the handwriting it was just kids, little Mets fans: ‘You bum, don’t show up in New York.’ I don’t get any letters like that anymore.” The only subsequent meeting between Qualls and Seaver came less than a week later when they crossed paths while running in the outfield, Seaver telling Qualls, “You little (bum), you cost me a million dollars!”

Seldom remembered, incidentally, is that the batter before Qualls, Randy Hundley, had tried to bunt for a base hit, though the Cubs were down 4-0. Bunting for a base hit to break up a no-hitter is still considered violating an unwritten law, and would have probably sparked enormous controversy had Hundley beaten it out. The Mets got their revenge in early September when one of their runners was called safe at the plate in a key close game against the Cubs, despite Hundley’s furious protests.

The darkness to Qualls’s light, perhaps, was supplied the previous day by another Cubs rookie outfielder, Don Young. Young remains known almost solely for misplaying a couple flyballs in the ninth inning of a game against the Mets on July 8, helping lead to a come-from-behind 4-3 victory for New York. The misplays also stirred up controversy in the Cubs clubhouse after the game when All-Star third baseman Ron Santo and manager Leo Durocher harshly criticized Young to the press (Santo subsequently apologized to Young in prive and public), though the Cubs’ true collapse didn’t start until about a month and a half later.

Dave Augustine: In one of the weirdest key pennant-race games of all time, Pirates rookie reserve outfielder Dave Augustine appeared to have put Pittsburgh ahead of the New York Mets on September 20, 1973 with a home run in the top of the thirteenth. The ball landed at the very top of the fence, but took a freak bounce back to outfielder Cleon Jones, and via a relay from third baseman Wayne Garrett, Pirates runner Richie Zisk was thrown out at the plate. The Mets went on to win in the bottom of the inning, and win, narrowly, the Eastern Division, going on to win the pennant before losing the World Series in seven to the A’s. This was a big game, bigger than the one Dick Nen won in 1963; had they lost, the Mets (who won the division by a game and a half) would have been two and a half games out of first with eight to go, instead of just a half game back.

In the cruelest footnote, not only was Augustine denied his Dick Nen moment. Having come as close as possible to a home run (in one of only seven at-bats he had in 1973) without getting it, he never did hit a home run in his big-league career, which lasted just 29 games and 29 at-bats.


After his 1973 near-homer, Dave Augustine got rookie cards in both 1974 and 1975, but didn't come close to getting enough at-bats to lose his rookie status.

After his 1973 near-homer, Dave Augustine got rookie cards in both 1974 and 1975, but didn’t come close to getting enough at-bats to lose his rookie status.

Bucky Dent: Probably the most famous instance of a player-known-for-just-one-thing—even more so than Bill Bevens—is light-hitting Yankees shortstop Bucky Dent, whose three-run homer keyed their dramatic 5-4 one-game playoff win over the Red Sox to win the 1978 Eastern Division. Dent actually had a respectable twelve-year career, though he was known more for his defense than his offense, hitting .247 lifetime with just 40 home runs (and only five in 1978). Volumes have been written about that game, and season, some participants and observers (especially Red Sox fans) viewing it as a cheap homer over Fenway Park’s notoriously short-distance left-field wall. But hey—the Red Sox also had chances to hit homers there that game.


It’s sometimes forgotten that Dent had an excellent World Series that year, hitting .417, driving in seven runs, and winning the series MVP award. The even unlikelier hero of that series, however, was…

Brian Doyle: Rookie Brian Doyle had an undistinguished year for the Yankees in 1978, hitting .192 in 52 at-bats with no extra-base hits or walks. Regular Yankees second baseman Willie Randolph got injured before the post-season, however, and Doyle got most of the playing time at the position in the World Series. And he delivered, going 7-for-16 with, most dramatically, four hits in the series-winning victory in game six, including a double—his first extra-base hit in the majors.


Doyle did play for three more years in the majors, but not well, ending up with a .161 average in 199 at bats, and just four extra-base hits (though one of them was a home run). He is, incidentally, the younger brother of Denny Doyle—who, though he had a better and much lengthier career as a second baseman, is also most famous for a World Series game, though in a negative way. Denny Doyle’s error on a potential inning-ending double-play ball in the seventh game of the 1975 World Series set up a two-run homer by Tony Perez, in a game the Red Sox lost by one run.

Mark Brouhard: One of the least familiar names on this round-up, reserve outfielder/DH Brouhard is perhaps the greatest one-game wonder in postseason history. In game four of the 1982 American League playoffs, he hit two doubles and a home run, leading the Brewers to victory over the Angels in a five-game series they won after being down 2-0. Playing in place of injured outfielder Ben Oglivie, Brouhard somehow never got in another game either that series or in the World Series, which the Brewers lost in seven games.


Brouhard did have a six-year career as a part-timer, and not such a great one, with a .705 OPS and 25 home runs. “It was frustrating at the time,” Brouhard told the Los Angeles Times in 1991 of his failure to appear in the World Series. “I felt that I deserved a chance to play some in the World Series. I felt like I had earned it.

But (manager Harvey Kuenn) felt that this might be the veterans’ one shot to play in the World Series and he went with them…As it turned out, we lost anyway.”

Tom Lawless: For a player with such an unremarkable career as a multi-position reserve, Lawless has had some remarkable highlights. One, if you can call it a highlight, was being traded for Pete Rose late in the 1984 season, near the end of Rose’s time as a player. Another was hitting a home run in the 1985 World Series, after a season in which he’d gone 2-25 for an .080 batting average. It was his only hit in ten at-bats that series, which his Cardinals lost in seven games to the Twins. He wasn’t much better over the course of his playing days, chalking up a measly .521 OPS and two homers in eight years, during which he accumulated just 590 plate appearances.


On the brighter side, he was 53-66 lifetime as a base stealer; in fact, between 1986 and 1989, he was a rather splendid 28-30. He also managed the Houston Astros for 24 games last September, though it was just an interim position for the luckless Lawless.

Billy Bates: Bates had the least distinguished career of any player on this list. He appeared in 25 games as a pinch-runner and second-baseman, hitting .125 with one extra-base hit (a double) in 48 at-bats. But the Reds picked him up for some roster depth at the end of 1990, which made him eligible for the World Series that year. In game two he delivered his only hit in a Cincinnati Reds uniform (he’d gone 0-5 for them in the regular season) by beating out an infield single as a pinch-hitter, scoring the game-winning run in a series the Reds swept from the A’s.


A la Nippy Jones, Bates never played in a major-league game after scoring this run (though he at least got to stay in the game after reaching base). Another strange footnote: it was his only hit against a right-handed pitcher in his career, coming against Hall of Famer Dennis Eckersley, no less.

Gene Larkin: The seven-game 1991 World Series between the Braves and the Twins is pretty well-remembered. So is Gene Larkin, though even some fans who watched the series forget that he’s the guy who delivered the single that won the game for the Twins in the bottom of the tenth inning of the seventh game.


Larkin had a pretty nondescript career as a multi-positional player for the Twins from 1987-1993. He never quite established himself as a regular, had a .723 OPS, and only made twelve plate appearances in the 1987 and 1991 postseasons. His game-winning hit, over a drawn-in outfield, would in most situations have been an average flyball (if deep enough to score runners from third). But, more than almost any player in baseball history, he was in the right place at the right time.

“I was a role player,” he acknowledged to Baseball Digest in 2002. “An average player at best. If I didn’t get this hit, I’d be just another player who had a so-so career.” But as the article reported, “It doesn’t matter here he goes or what he’s doing…shopping, eating, playing golf, or just going for a walk. People are always shaking his hand or patting him on the back. ‘Every time I play golf, it happens. Just a few days ago, a gentleman I didn’t know said, “Thanks a lot for ’91.” People want to thank me, congratulate me or tell me how happy that hit makes them feel.’”

Francisco Cabrera: A reserve catcher and first baseman for the Atlanta Braves in the early 1990s, Cabrera had just 374 at-bats over the course of a five-year career. He wasn’t that bad, hitting 17 home runs in that span, and posting an okay .747 OPS. He was never good enough, however, to get regular playing time, and had just ten at-bats in the Braves’ 1992 pennant-winning season.


He still got on their playoff roster, and was the pinch-hitter chosen when the Braves were one out from elimination against the Pittsburgh Pirates. With his team down 2-1 and two out in the bottom of the ninth, he hit a two-run single that won the pennant for Atlanta and sent the Pirates home.

There’s some speculation, incidentally, that had a superstar on the other team been playing the game more astutely, the outcome could have been very different. Wrote Mark Fainaru-Wada and Lance Williams in Game of Shadows, when Cabrera came to the plate, “Andy Van Slyke, the Pirates’ centerfielder, whistled to Bonds, then signalled with his glove for him to move in and to his left. Bonds looked at Van Slyke, but didn’t move. Instead, he stayed just where he was, deep, guarding the left-field line. Until he won his first MVP in 1990, Bonds had been paid less than Van Slyke, and he still resented it. Bonds called him ‘the Great White Hope.’

“Cabrera slapped a base hit to left field, about where Van Slyke had tried to get Bonds to play. The runner on third, David Justice, trotted home with the tying run. On second for the Braves was the slow-footed Sid Bream, a former Pirate who once said that everybody in the Pittsburgh clubhouse had wanted to punch Barry out at one time or another. As Bonds played the ball, Bream rounded third and lumbered home. Bonds’s throw was strong, but it was up the first base line. Bream scored, and the Braves were in the World Series.”

Chad Curtis: An unhappier ending was in store for Chad Curtis, an outfielder with a ten-year career that was better than Larkin’s, but not much. He did manage to clear 100 homers and 1000 hits, with a .745 OPS. And though his 1999 season wasn’t that special (five homers and a .767 OPS in 245 plate appearances), in game three of the World Series he hit two home runs for the Yankees, the second winning the game in walk-off fashion.


Right after the game, Curtis was interviewed on national TV by sportscaster Jim Gray. Well, not quite interviewed: Curtis told Gray, on-camera, that he wouldn’t speak to him because of a critical interview Gray had done with Pete Rose before game two. At that moment, it was hard to decide who was more unlikable, Curtis or the characteristically irritating Gray.

While his refusal to be interviewed had no negative consequences on his reputation as far as I can tell, an off-field incident many years later did. On October 3, 2013, Curtis was sentenced to seven to fifteen years in prison for six counts of criminal sexual misconduct, stemming from accusations of sexual harassment from several female students at the high school where he was coaching.

Geoff Blum: The 2005 World Series is disdained by those who want higher-profile matchups than the Astros vs. the White Sox, or seven-game series, not four-game sweeps. Actually, however, this series was about as exciting as four-game sweeps got, with close games and quite a bit of drama and strategy. The crucial blow in the most exciting game was a two-out homer in the top of the 14th inning by Geoff Blum, an infielder (for the most part) for 14 years, and several teams, without ever quite gaining a regular job. He had a lifetime .694 OPS and 99 home runs – 100, however, if you add that World Series shot.


Blum only had 99 plate appearances for the White Sox that year (and just one home run in the regular season for the team), and would never play for the Sox again. What’s even more notable about his home run than its timing, however, is that it was his only World Series appearance, for the White Sox or anyone else. He is, incidentally, not the only player to hit a homer in his only World Series at-bat, the other being the yet more obscure infielder Jim Mason, who hit his for the Yankees in the third game of the 1976 World Series. The Yankees were swept in that series, and Mason was one of the worst players in this roundup, with a lifetime OPS of .534 and 12 home runs in nine years of mostly part-time service.

DeWayne Wise: Most of the players on this list performed their heroics or near-heroics in the post-season or the heat of the pennant race. Here’s an instance, however, of a spurt of brilliance that happened in a regular season game, and not a particularly meaningful one. On July 23, 2009, Mark Buehrle’s perfect game was saved in the ninth inning by reserve outfield DeWayne Wise, who was in as a defensive replacement and robbed the Tampa Bay Rays’ Gabe Kapler of a home run. To quote Wikipedia, “To thank Wise for his play Mark Buehrle gave him a bottle of Crown Royal XR in a cloth bag embroidered with his name and the date of the perfect game.”


On the strength of his defense and base-running, Wise scratched out an eleven-year career despite a subpar .645 OPS. Another perfect-game saving play was made a few years ago by Giants outfielder Gregor Blanco, who made a spectacular diving catch in the seventh inning to preserve Matt Cain’s June 13, 2012 gem. That’s probably what Blanco will be most remembered for, though he’s building a career as a modestly useful Giants reserve outfielder.

Yusmeiro Petit: As long as we’re talking Giants, the last name on this list is a teammate of Blanco’s and, for that matter, Travis Ishikawa (or at least he was a teammate of Ishikawa before this month). Yusmeiro Petit, on the Giants’ staff as I write this, has had a journeyman career, with a lifetime ERA of 4.72 and a win-loss record of 20-27. He’s had his moments with the Giants, however, losing a perfect game on September 6, 2013 with a 3-2 count and two out in the ninth inning.  The following year, he set a major league record by retiring 46 batters in a row (over the course of eight appearances). More memorably, he pitched six scoreless innings out of the bullpen to get the win in an 18-inning playoff game against the Nationals in 2014, with seven strikeouts and just one hit allowed—not as impressive a performance as Moe Drabowsky’s, but still an amazing one, given the circumstances.


In this post, I haven’t cited the numerous players who are known primarily for an on-field failure. And there are many: Mickey Owen’s dropped third strike in the 1941 World Series, Fred Merkle’s failure to touch second base on a (nearly) game-ending single in a key game in the 1908 pennant race, Donnie Moore giving up Dave Henderson’s home run to erase what seemed a certain victory in the 1986 playoffs, etc. Maybe those will be a subject for a future post. Because the infinite possibilities of how baseball games play out will certainly leave room for more remembered-only-for-this feats in the future, good and bad.

The 1960 World Series: The Game Remains the Same

With my hometown team, the San Francisco Giants, winning a world series in seven games this year, I got to thinking about other game sevens. These days, you can do more than think about them; you can watch them, or at least parts of some of them. The match often cited as the best game seven of all, the Pirates vs. the Yankees in 1960, is now online, or at least the last three innings of it.


It’s been 54 years since that game, which the Pirates won 10-9, the home team winning when Bill Mazeroski hit a home run to open the bottom of the ninth. The game of baseball itself has changed a lot since then, and so has television. What surprised me the most on viewing these three innings, however, was how little baseball has changed in some respects. I’m not a fan of the other major sports, but I imagine if you saw a football or basketball game from 1960, it would look quite a bit different than it does today.

There’s been a lot of talk, mostly justified, lately about speeding up the pace of major league baseball, with many games dragging over three hours or more (four hours or more, sometimes, in the postseason). Watching games on TV is itself a much different experience than it was in the twentieth century, both in the barrage of commercials, in-house network promotions (often in the middle of innings), and onslaught of statistics that were largely inaccessible a few decades ago. Yet for all that, it’s not at all hard to follow the 1960 World Series game, even if you’re unfamiliar with the teams and players.

True, compared to what you see nowadays, the camerawork can seem elementary. There are just a few angles, and no instant replay. When Yankees shortstop Tony Kubek, for instance, is famously struck in the throat by a bad hop on a grounder that looked like a double play, there are no replays, where today there would likely be a dozen or so. The camera lingers on the scene for literally minutes as Kubek struggles, unsuccessfully, to recover and stay in the game.


I’m not one of those purists who laments all the statistics on hand for broadcasters nowadays. I like hearing the OPS, BABIP, left-handed averages, and so forth, as long as it’s integrated smoothly into the flow. I have to say, however, that it’s a little refreshing hearing the announcer (Mel Allen) just stick to the action, and describe it very well. No frills, no bells and whistles, just acute play-by-play description of what’s going on, which in this game seven was very complex indeed, with several tough fielding plays, lead shifts, dramatic home runs, and a really strange play where Mickey Mantle evaded a tag to dive back into first to evade getting erased on a groundball double play that would have ended the game in the top of the ninth. Aside from the relative lack of those interminable delays when batters step out of the box to adjust things, or pitchers taking forever between pitches, it’s very close to the way the game’s still played today.

Here are a couple of notable differences, however. One is the lack of African-Americans and Latin-Americans. There are just a couple blacks: Hall of Fame Pirates right fielder Roberto Clemente (from Puerto Rico) and Pirates pinch runner Joe Christopher (from the Virgin Islands). (If you’re wondering about the Yankees’ Elston Howard, the fine African-American catcher did not play that day.) These days just about every club has several Latin Americans on the rosters, and often several from the Dominican Republic alone.

A less expected difference was the absolutely atrocious state of the infield dirt. Yes, groundskeeping was less refined back then. But this is a World Series game, and the infield looks like golfers have been chopping out divots for hours the night before. No wonder Kubek got struck by that grounder – which, if not for that bad hop, probably would have been a double play and resulted in a far less dramatic Yankee victory, though of course the Pirates infielders had to contend with the same conditions.

Every year, there’s a hailstorm of moans and groans about how baseball’s slipping in popularity, is losing traction with young kids, doesn’t get high World Series ratings, etc. And every year, traditionalists bemoan how the game isn’t what it used to be, that it was better and more meaningful “back then,” whether 1960 or 1990. And really, play the game sevens (both close nail-biters) of 1960 and 2014 back-to-back, and there’s ultimately little difference in their ability to rivet with their suspense. As much as things have changed, that’s remained the same.

A 1960 World Series program.

A 1960 World Series program.

Memories of Philadelphia Ballparks Past

As I wrote in a post a while ago, Candlestick Park, former home of the San Francisco Giants, is due for demolition pretty soon. That got me thinking of other major league ballparks I’ve been to that no longer exist. There aren’t that many – Connie Mack Stadium (Philadelphia Phillies), Veterans Stadium (also Phillies), the Kingdome (Seattle Mariners), Memorial Stadium (the Baltimore Orioles, which I only went to once), and the old Yankee Stadium (also only visited once).

Connie Mack

Since I grew up in the Philadelphia suburbs, I know Veterans Stadium by far the best of these parks, though I never went there after moving to the San Francisco Bay Area in the early 1980s. Retrospectives of the Vet, as it was known locally, emphasize the most famous moments – the 1980 World Series victory, the feats of Hall of Famers Mike Schmidt and Steve Carlton, the 1993 pennant with rowdy characters like Lenny Dykstra and John Kruk, and colorful glove-thumping of reliever Tug McGraw, and Pete Rose coming to the Phillies for a few years near the end of his career. This post, though, will recap some of the odder moments of Phillies baseball I saw in person, none of which are likely to get much if any coverage in baseball books.

As a preamble, the very first major league games I saw were in Connie Mack Stadium, the facility (formerly known as Shibe Park) the Phillies played in from 1938 to 1970. When I was seven, I saw my first games at a doubleheader against the Pirates on June 22. The Phillies were pretty bad then, and thought of as pretty star-crossed, never having won a World Series, and having blown the 1964 pennant by losing ten games in a row near the end of the season. Their superstar, Richie (later Dick) Allen, was generating enormous controversy for his knack for irritating management and fans (even writing messages to them in the infield dirt), and in fact would get suspended for about a month just a couple days later for failing to show up for games in New York.

DA 1966

Even at that age, I could tell the neighborhood surrounding Connie Mack Stadium was pretty bad, too. Bad enough that you could, even at that age, tell parents were pretty nervous parking around there, which was just one reason the team moved to a much safer (if more isolated) area in the early 1970s.

The only two other games I saw were a doubleheader against the Giants in 1970. (My parents were very economy-minded, and if they had to take the family to a ballpark, they’d do it just once a year, and get two games out of the way at once.) The Phillies were still bad, but they swept the twinight doubleheader, though in a fashion that still managed to accent their futility. In the first game, Jim Bunning had the chance to become the first pitcher after Cy Young to win 100 games in both the American and National Leagues. He left a 5-4 lead in the hands of ace reliever Dick Selma, who struck out the first two batters in the top of the ninth (the second of them Willie Mays). Then he faced Willie McCovey, and though I can’t look up the count, as I remember got two strikes on him. And then – McCovey hit a home run. The 100th win for Jim Bunning in the national league would have to wait.

It almost looks like this photo was snapped right after Dick Selma gave up a game-tying homer to Willie McCovey, delaying Jim Bunning's chance to become the second pitcher to win 100 games in both the American and National Leagues.

It almost looks like this photo was snapped right after Dick Selma gave up a game-tying homer to Willie McCovey, delaying Jim Bunning’s chance to become the second pitcher to win 100 games in both the American and National Leagues.

Looking back at the Phillies’ 1970 schedule, as you can easily do online these days, I’m struck by how differently games could get bunched up back then. Probably due to a makeup game, the Phillies had also played a twinight doubleheader against the Giants the previous day. And that wasn’t the only time they played doubleheaders on consecutive days that year – they’d done so about a month earlier in two different cities (Montreal and Philadelphia) on July 1 and July 2, that after playing two games in St. Louis on June 28. And dig this – after playing doubleheaders against the Giants on both Friday, July 31 and Saturday, August 1, the Phils would play two-fers against the Pirates August 6 and the Cubs August 9, with no off days the whole while. That’s fourteen games in ten days. Can you imagine the Players Association letting MLB get away with that now?

Also, the day I went to Connie Mack on 1970, it actually hosted a triple-header. How’s that possible, you ask? Well, in the afternoon, the festivities started with the Double-A Eastern League All-Star game, the Phillies having a double-A affiliate not far away in Reading, Pennsylvania. Three games in one day was just too much for my parents, and we saw just a few innings of the All-Star game, in which I’m pretty sure future Phillies slugger Greg Luzinski played. What sticks with me the most, however, is that between the double-header and the first “real” game, I saw one of the Eastern Leaguers, still in uniform, on the concession ramp, talking earnestly with a woman I assume was his wife. Can you imagine that happening at a big-league ballpark these days?


When Veterans Stadium was torn down about a decade ago, I was amused to hear it referred to as something of a decrepit, characterless structure. Back when it opened in 1971, it (along with two similar, now-demolished stadiums that opened at around the same time, Pittsburgh’s Three Rivers Stadium and Cincinnati’s Riverfront Stadium) was considered cutting-edge state-of-the-art. Not only was it bigger and safer (and in a safer neighborhood with more parking), it had a big electric scoreboard that showed player stats – still something of a novelty then – and cannons, fountains, and a Liberty Bell that were supposed to go off with Phillie home runs.

As it happened, our family went to the second game ever played there, against the Montreal Expos on April 11. The Phils’ big hope that year was new right-fielder Roger Freed, who’d been trapped in an Orioles minor league system overflowing with talent. In 1970 in triple-A, he was the International League’s MVP, hitting .334 with 24 homers and 130 RBIs. The Phillies traded one of their starting pitchers (Grant Jackson, coming off a bad year) to get him. There was even a story in a national magazine (Sport, if I remember correctly) titled something like “Freed at Last.” And, wouldn’t you know it, Freed hit a grand slam, setting off all those artificial fireworks we were hoping to see.


Except, in a portent of things to come, the fireworks didn’t work. At least, not all at once or like the cannon, fountains, and bell were supposed to. The Phillies did win that game 11-4, but Freed turned out to be a bust, hitting .221 with six homers, getting relegated to part-time duty the following year, and returning to the minors the year after that, never playing regularly in the bigs (or at all for the Phils) again. Grant Jackson didn’t exactly become a star, but he was a good reliever for a long time for the Orioles and the Pirates, winning a game for the latter in the 1979 World Series.

Another odd play that sticks out came four years later, when the Phillies had gotten much better and were finally contenders. In the first game of a Memorial Day twinight doubleheader against the Cubs, Mike Schmidt, who’d ascended to superstardom the previous year after a tough 1973 rookie season, hit a triple in the bottom of the first. In the eyes of one of my relatives also at the game, Schmidt – despite his impressive statistics – could do no right, always failing in the clutch, striking out, or making physical or mental errors at big moments. And as if on cue, Schmidt thought about going for an inside-the-park homer, thought better of it, scampered back to third – and got called out. They didn’t score that inning, and lost the game 7-5. I cannot remember another time I witnessed a player getting tagged out after rounding third on a triple and trying to return to the bag.


The Phillies continued to get better, despite this mishap, and got into the playoffs in 1976, 1977, and 1978. But they failed to advance to the World Series each time, and despite adding Pete Rose in 1979, they fell out of contention by late summer. I saw what was probably their last hurrah – a 12-inning walk-off victory against their chief rivals (and eventual world champion that year), the Pirates, in the first game of a twinight doubleheader on August 10. Ex-Met Bud Harrelson, whose acquisition my friends and I had soundly derided, knocked in the winning run with a single with two outs in the bottom of the 12th. The Phillies lost the second game, however, and it wouldn’t be until 1980 that they finally cleared the hurdle to the World Series and, against the Royals, won a world championship.

When I think of the earlier years when the Phillies were struggling to first rise to respectability and then to keep from choking themselves in the post-season, one symbol stands out in greater relief than any other. For opening day, the Phillies would hire this guy named “Kiteman” to sort of ski, sans snow, down a ramp in the stands, lift off into the air as if he was an Olympian ski jumper, and make a parachute landing on the field, hopefully on the pitcher’s mound. The thing was, like the Cone of Silence in Get Smart, it never worked, though they tried it more than once. In fact, on Kiteman’s first attempt (actually the first Kiteman’s attempt, since various Kitemen assumed that role over the years), he kind of skidded off the ramp and crashed in the stands, though fortunately he wasn’t seriously hurt. It wasn’t until 1990, in fact, that a Kiteman made it to the pitcher’s mound.


Nor was having “the Great Wallenda,” tightrope walker Karl Wallenda, walk on a rope suspended high above the field from foul pole to foul pole exactly common between-games (back in the days when there were scheduled doubleheaders) fare. Quite fortunately for all involved, he made those journeys without accident, even standing on his head in the middle of the rope on one televised walk. When Wallenda did fall to his death, it wasn’t at the Vet, but far away, on a walk between two towers in Puerto Rico.