Sunday, November 26, 2017

The Milwaukee Braves Final Home Game

TRIVIA QUESTION:   Braves pitcher Tony Clonigar became better know for a hitting feat than his pitching. What was that feat and when was it accomplished?

ANSWER TO TRIVIA QUESTION IN THE PREVIOUS COLUMN: 
The first player to break the American League color barrier was Larry Doby with Cleveland in 1947. 

September 22, 1965 saw what was pretty much a meaningless game for the two teams involved, but not for the fans. While the Milwaukee Braves were headed for a fifth place finish and the Los Angeles Dodgers were on their way to the National League pennant, for the fans, it was the end of an era.

All 12,577 faithful turned out to see the great Sandy Koufax square off against Wade Blasingame in a battle of lefty aces. Blasingame would win 16 games in 1965, Koufax would win 26. They didn't get to see much of the two pitchers. The Braves scored five runs off of an unusually shaky Koufax and Blasingame gave up six runs in 4.2 innings to the lackluster hitting Dodgers.

However, none of that mattered to the fans who were there to see the Braves last game ever as the home team in Milwaukee. The team was moving to Atlanta for the 1966 season after moving to Milwaukee from Boston in 1953. While in Milwaukee they won two NL pennants and one World Series title.  Their fortunes would be better in Atlanta. In Boston they did win two World Series and three pennants dating back to 1876 when they were the Boston Beaneaters. Milwaukee was their shortest stay by far.
It was an interesting game which featured no less than six Hall of Famers, four of them on the Braves. Hank Aaron, Eddie Mathews, Phil Niekro and Joe Torre were the Braves while Koufax and Don Drysdale were the Dodgers. Drysdale did not pitch in the game, but he did pinch-hit. He was recognized as one of the best hitting pitchers in the history of the game although he grounded out.

It was an ominous start for the Braves who saw the Dodgers open up a 1-0 lead in the first.  In the second, singles by Torre, Gene Oliver and Mathews loaded the bases for light hitting Frank Bolling. Bolling belted a Koufax pitch for a grand slam to give the Braves a 4-1 lead, stunning the Dodger left-hander.

It must have really shaken the usually unshakable Sandy because he gave up a solo shot to Mack Jones to lead off the third followed by a single by Aaron, and manager Walt Alston had seen enough. Howie Reed came in to relieve Koufax. After Torre hit into a double play, Oliver hit one to left Lou Johnson could not handle and the not-so-speedy Oliver rounded the bases for an inside-the-park home run. The Braves led 6-1.

In the fourth, rookie second sacker Jimmy Lefebvre homered with a man aboard to cut the lead to 6-3. In the fifth the roof caved in on Blasingame. Perhaps he was tired after hitting a double himself the inning prior and remaining at second base for what seemed like an eternity. He was stranded there and walked to the mound to take on Los Angeles in the fifth.

It was typical of the Dodgers to score low in 1965 and this time they put it all together in Dodger fashion. Three walks, a pair of stolen bases and two singles combined for three runs and it was all tied. Blasingame left with two out, giving way to Billy O'Dell.

Dodger relief ace, Ron Perranoski came in to pitch the fifth. Usually reserved for the eighth or even the ninth, Alston called on his closer to give rest to a beleaguered bullpen. All Perranoski did was pitch six (YES SIX) scoreless innings, giving up three hits and walking four.

Over the last two of those innings he faced a very young Phil Niekro. Niekro pitched two scoreless as well and they went into the 11th tied at six. Chi-Chi Olivo couldn't hold Los Angeles. After Drysdale grounded out, Maury Wills laid down a beautiful bunt and legged it out. He stole second. Jim Gilliam was intentionally walked and Olivo gave way to Dick Kelley. Kelley quickly got Willie Davis to fly out but Lou Johnson singled up the middle to score Wills and the Dodgers led 7-6.

The Braves had a chance in the bottom of the inning. Bob Miller came in to save it. With one out Jones hit an infield single bringing Aaron to the plate. He hit a sharp drive to center and the quick Davis grabbed it and doubled up Jones at first to end the game.

It was the last time the Milwaukee faithful would see the Braves in County Stadium and it was fitting the great Henry Aaron would be the guy who would turn out the lights. Eleven days later the Braves would close out the season, again against the Dodgers but this time in Los Angeles. It was another loss, 3-0 with Milwaukee getting only three hits. Aaron did not play and the final recorded out by a Milwaukee Braves player was by Mike de la Hoz.

It also pretty much marked the end of the line for slugger Frank Thomas. He went 1-4 for the Braves in that final game and was released at the beginning of the 1966 season. Signed by the Cubs he appeared in five games as a pinch-hitter, going 0-5 with a strikeout. He was released in June and retired. He hit 286 homers with a lifetime .266 batting average for eight NL teams including the Milwaukee Braves twice. A fitting end.

Milwaukee would be without a team until 1970 when the Seattle Pilots, nearly bankrupt after one season, shuttered the stadium in the great northwest and headed off to the Midwest where they became the Milwaukee Brewers. Braves players who continued a few years of stardom in Atlanta of course were Aaron, Niekro, Torre, Jones, Felipe Alou, Tony Clonigar, Denny Lemaster and many more.

Please pick up a copy of my book "Tales of My Baseball Youth; A Child of the 60's" at www.bobbrillbooks.com, or on Amazon.  
   


Saturday, November 18, 2017

The Last Player to Break the Color Barrier in MLB

TRIVIA QUESTION:   Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier in 1947 when he entered the game for the National Leaue Dodgers. Who was the first AL player to break that barrier?

ANSWER TO TRIVIA QUESTION IN THE PREVIOUS COLUMN: 
The 1965 Los Angeles Dodgers didn't hit many homers on their way to winning the NL Pennant and the World Series. They were a team of a walk, a stolen base, a bunt and a sac fly and then win 1-0. Sweet Lou Johnson and rookie Jim Levebre tied for the team lead with 12 home runs each. 


Thursday, September 26, 1963, was like any other day in the history of the New York Mets. They lost to the Dodgers in Los Angeles 5-4 on their way to a second straight year of losing 100 or more games. But this story isn't about the Mets or 1963 as much as it is about what happened just a few years earlier, and it is fitting the player who is the focus of this column played his last game in the majors against the Dodgers; the team which broke the color barrier with Jackie Robinson in 1947.

It is doubtful the 18,546 fans who showed up that night at Dodger Stadium and spent the next 2:15 watching a baseball game, even thought about the fact Elijah Jerry "Pumpsie" Green was playing his final game in the majors. It was Green who became the last player to integrate the game of baseball. In 1959 he came into the lineup for the Boston Red Sox as a pinch runner and therefore the Red Sox became the very last team to employ a Black player. It only took 12 years for all teams to follow the Dodgers lead n 1947 and right an egregious wrong on an entire segment of the population.

Green spent four seasons with Boston but was never an impact player. He never batted more than 313 times, never hit more than .260 and his entire major league total was 13 home runs. However, it was this Boley, Oklahoma native who completed the cycle of breakthroughs for the great game of baseball. He was mainly a middle infielder and pinch hitter who was purchased by the Sox in 1956 at the age of 23 and had to wait three years before being called to the Show. By the end of the 1962 season the Sox decided he wasn't going to help them and packaged him up with a player to be named later and Tracy Stallard to the New York Mets for Felix Mantilla. The Boston Red Sox sent Al Moran  to the New York Mets to complete the trade.

The Mets had just come off their debut season, the worst in MLB history and while the Red Sox were not big winners, there must have been some consternation for Green who may have seen this as a chance to play more often with the lowly Mets.

On this Thursday in September he would go 1-4 driving in a run with a single off Larry Sherry with his last hit. His last at bat came against Ken Rowe and he popped out to shallow left to shortstop Dick Tracewski. 

While Green's career didn't last too long, his brother Cornell's career did. Cornell was a defensive back for the Dallas Cowboys and played 13 seasons in the NFL. Interestingly enough he wasn't drafted by the NFL but rather the NBA. He chose football after an All-American career in hoops at Utah State. Their brother Credell was drafted by the Green Bay Packers.

On April 17, 2009, the Red Sox honored Green with a first pitch ceremony, marking the 50th anniversary of his breaking the color barrier in Boston. 

 Please pick up a copy of my book "Tales of My Baseball Youth; A Child of the 60's" at www.bobbrillbooks.com, or on Amazon.  

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Best Pitched Game and Short Too

TRIVIA QUESTION:   The 1965 Dodges were not known for hitting home runs. Which two players tied for the team lead that year in homers and how many did they each hit?

ANSWER TO TRIVIA QUESTION IN THE PREVIOUS COLUMN: 
Donn Clendenon played 12 years in the big leagues and eight of them were with the team which originally signed him; Pittsburgh. Clendenon was a multi sport star before turning to baseball solely and drew interest for football and basketball as well. He also played for the Expos, the Mets and finished his career with St. Louis.

Vin Scully, the Dodger's longtime announcer used to say "Bob Gibson pitches like he's double parked." On May 25, 1965 at Dodgers Stadium, he and Don Drysdale seemed to never stop moving while the car was parked. In an unbelievably short game, these two Hall of Fame pitchers put their best foot forward for 1:41 minutes of pure pitching magnificence. 

It was a fairly warm and typical Tuesday night in Los Angeles. More than 28,000 people showed up at the ballpark to see the Cardinals, who were 2.5 games behind the Dodgers. It was a matchup of real power. Don Drysdale whose side arm delivery and his giant frame could make any hitter go "jelly leg," versus the ace of the Cardinals staff; the fire balling Bob Gibson. 

Gibby was on his way to a 20-12 season while Big D would finish 23-12 and in the World Series. For their part the Dodgers were pretty much a weak hitting team. The formula for winning was Maury Wills would single, steal second, get sacrificed to third and come home on a sac fly. Then send Sandy Koufax and Drysdale to the mound, or Claude Osteen and watch them pitch a shutout. It worked pretty much that way.

The Cards were laden with much better hitting including Lou Brock, Curt Flood, Bill White, Ken Boyer, Dick Groat and Tim McCarver. The pitching was good but not as sound as Los Angeles. The Dodgers had a sound defense with Ron Fairly, Wills, Willie Davis, and a blossoming rookie named Jimmy Lefebvre. Wes Parker was an outstanding first baseman and along with the light hitting John Kennedy were the defensive standouts on the corners. 

This game started out pretty easily for the Cardinals. Curt Flood led off with a single and with Brock at the plate Drysdale uncorked a wild pitch. Flood stood at second but three harmless ground balls ended the inning and that was it for the Cardinals. Seriously. Drysdale didn't give up another hit, nor a walk and the only other Cardinal to reach base was when Dick Tracewski booted a Dick Groat grounder in the fifth.


Inning after inning three Cardinals came up and three Cardinal sat back down. The only problem for the Dodgers was Gibson was pretty much doing the same thing. Up and down with little fanfare until the eight when Drysdale himself really took charge. Known as one of the best hitting pitchers in the history of the game, Big Don led off the eight with a single. As per the usual course of the Dodgers actions, Lou Johnson sacrificed himi to second. Parker walked and Willie Davis popped out, leaving it up to Ron Fairly.

Fairly was no big homer hitter but he was clutch and he came through with a double to score both Drysdale and Parker. The Dodgers led it 2-0 and in the ninth Drysdale got two harmless ground balls before striking out Brock to end the masterpiece. And what a masterpiece it was. He faced two men over the minimum, 29 batters, gave up a lone single to the lead off hitter and didn't walk a man while striking out six in running his record to 7-3. 

Gibson on the other hand went the full nine innings as well, giving up six hits, walking two and striking out seven. The typical Dodger fan (the joke has been they arrive in the third and leave after the seventh) barely had time to sit down with a Dodger dog and a beer. The game started at 8:00o'clock and ended at 9:41 PM. It was one of the shortest nine inning night games in the history of major league baseball. And the fans got their money's worth; those who got there in time.

 Please pick up a copy of my book "Tales of My Baseball Youth; A Child of the 60's" at www.bobbrillbooks.com, or on Amazon. 


















































































Saturday, November 11, 2017

The Day the Mets Really Did Lose Last Place


TRIVIA QUESTION:   For which team did Donn Clendenon play the most years?

ANSWER TO TRIVIA QUESTION IN THE PREVIOUS COLUMN: 
The 1963 Chicago Cubs gave up their carnival of coaches routine and hired Bob Kennedy as their full-time manager. Kennedy led them to an 82-80 record in his first year and a fifth place finish. Kennedy did not flourish with the Cubs and was replaced shortly after the start of the 1965 season.

If you are a New Yorker (even if you love the Yankees) you will never forget September 10, 1969. Nor should you. The Mets played a double header that day and when they won the first game, they moved into first place for the first time in their history without retreating back to second place. In other words, you might say this was the day the New York Mets really did lose last place.

It was the first of two against the Montreal Expos at Shea Stadium. A total of 23, 512 fans showed up at Shea, a pretty low number for what would turn out to be the final turning point in the history of the Amazin' Mets. The Expos were on the verge of losing more than 100 games. 

In what would turn out to be an epic pitching battle, Montreal sent Mike Wegener to the hill against Jim McAndrew.  Wegener, a rookie, would pitch the game of his life. With a 5-14 record in his debut campaign, which began with his first big league pitch on April 9, he would spend one more year with the Expos before being out of baseball.

McAndrew on the other hand was in his second season and would end with a 6-7 record but did toss a pair of shutouts. The 25-year old right-hander was an 11th round pick of the Mets. 

The Expos were truly a team of castoffs. Names like Coco Laboy, Ty Cline, Ron Fairly, Ron Brand and Mack Jones would support the likes of an aging but still great hitter, Rusty Staub. The Mets were a team of draft picks supported by veterans such as Tommie Agee and Art Shamsky. It was one veteran who came to the Mets via the Expos who would make his mark with New York that year in the World Series. 

In January 1969 Donn Clendenon, who had been selected by the Expos in the expansion draft refused to report, leaving the Pirates. So he was traded by the Montreal Expos with Jesus Alou to the Houston Astros for Rusty Staub. Donn Clendenon refused to report to his new team on April 8, 1969. The Montreal Expos sent Jack Billingham (April 8, 1969), Skip Guinn (April 8, 1969) and $100,000 (April 8, 1969) to the Houston Astros to complete the trade.

Six months later in June he was sent by the Montreal Expos to the New York Mets for a player to be named later, Jay Carden (minors), David Colon (minors), Kevin Collins and Steve Renko. The New York Mets sent Terry Dailey (minors) (May 16, 1970) to the Montreal Expos to complete the trade.

Clendenon was in the line-up against his old team this day.

The game started ominously enough when Ty Cline rapped a triple off McAndrew to lead off the first. When Gary Sutherland hit a ground ball to shortstop Bud Harrelson, the usually stellar fielder booted it and Cline scored the run. Since Rusty Staub hit a fly ball which would have driven home Cline later in the inning, the was considered earned.

In the bottom of the inning, the Mets manufactured a run which WAS unearned. Agee led off with a walk, moved to second on a passed ball Brand could not handle, took third on a ground ball and scored when Shamsky, the former Red power blaster, singled him home. The score was tied 1-1.

The second inning it was more of the same, literally, for McAndrew. Just like Cline, Mack Jones led off with a triple and came around to score on an error by Clendenon, who tried to get Jones at third. The ball sailing past Wayne Garrett. Jones put the Expos ahead, 2-1.

Both pitchers sailed along until the fifth when the Mets recorded the fourth run of the game. With two out Agee hit a grounder to third which Laboy couldn't handle and Agee was on first via the error. Garrett singled and Cleon Jones drew a walk to load the bases for Shamsky. Wegener chose this moment to Balk in the run to tie it at 2-2. Wegener gives up his second unearned run.

Again both pitchers were masterful and while Wegener walked a few guys he was mowing down Mets with strikeouts. They went into the 11th inning tied. Jim Gosger pinch hit for McAndrew and Ron Taylor came in and didn't allow a run. In the 12th Wegener had had enough and was lifted for a pinch hitter. In the bottom of the 12th, Bill Stoneman (he of the no-hit fame) came into relieve. With two out he gave up a single to Cleon Jones who moved to second when Rod Gaspar drew a walk. That brought up Ken Boswell who sharply singled up the middle and running on contact, the speedy Jones came around to score, a 12 inning victory 3-2, with the Mets ONLY earned run of the game.

After pitching brilliantly, neither McAndrew or Wegener got the decision.  Wegener went 11 innings giving up five hits, and struck out 15  hitters while allowing zero earned runs. For his part McAndrew went 11 innings and while he walked five he only gave up four hits.

The Mets went on to win their next five in the middle of a streak winning 14 of 15 games and never fell out of first place. They finished winning nine of their last 10 games and won 24 games in September. The rest is history going on to beat the Orioles in the World Series.

Clendenon starred in the post season. He hit three homers, batted .357 and was named MVP. Not bad for a guy who refused to play in Houston and ended up the property of three teams in 1969. He retired after the 1972 season with 159 home runs and a lifetime .274 batting average.

Please pick up a copy of my book "Tales of My Baseball Youth; A Child of the 60's" at www.bobbrillbooks.com, or on Amazon.


Thursday, November 9, 2017

The Pilots Last Win

TRIVIA QUESTION:  In 1963 the Chicago Cubs gave up their carnival of coaches routine and hired a full time manager. Who was he?

ANSWER TO TRIVIA QUESTION IN THE PREVIOUS COLUMN: 
The 1961 Chicago Cubs used a carousel of coaches to manage the team in a bizarre test of whatever they wanted to call it. The managers they used were Vedie Himsl (10-21) , Harry Craft (7-9) , El Tappe (42-54) and Lou Klein (5-6). Go figure.

 What do Tommy Harper, Sandy Valdespino, Steve Hovley, Greg Goossen, Steve Whitaker, Jerry McNertney, Ron Clark, Fred Stanley and George Brunet all have in common? They were all starters in the last game ever won by the Seattle Pilots in their only season in the big leagues. When MLB Expanded in the 1969 season, Seattle seemed like a logical place to go. In what was a memorable season, mostly told in detail by pitcher Jim Bouton in "Ball Four," it was one of the worst teams and seasons in major league history; the 1962 New York Mets aside.

The fact hard luck pitcher Brunet was on the mound to start that final win, and he pitched brilliantly only tells how "hard luck" Brunet was. He got no decision despite pitching eight great innings.

The Pilots were a team of cast offs who played in tiny Sicks Stadium, which was a name appropriate for this team. The site saw an average of only 8,000 people attend home games. Only 3612 fans showed up in the 56 degree weather to see their Pilots on the next to the last day of the season, October 1. Game no. 161 would feature the 63-97 Pilots squaring off against the Oakland A's who had won 87 games on their way to a second place finish in the AL West. Seattle would finish dead last, 33 games behind the division winning Twins.

To say the Pilots were a team of destiny in futility was an understatement. They had losing streaks of 5, 8 and in August lost 16 of 17 at one stretch including 10 in a row. The only game they won during that streak was a 2-1 win over Baltimore. On July 27th they played 20 innings against Boston and lost. 

Harper led the league in steals and getting caught stealing, Valdespino would only play in 26 more games in his career, Hovley was a rookie but never caught on, Goossen, in a part time role, hit .309 but was out of baseball after one more season, Whitaker played one more season and was gone, McNertney never played a full season after that, Clark had 28 more hits in his career and Stanley (another rookie) played a utility role mainly with the Yankees until 1982, finishing with a .216 career batting average. Brunet's best years were behind him and he retired after a couple more seasons. None of the above hitters ever offered fear to opposing pitchers. 

The game was scoreless until the fourth when Sal Bando belted a Brunet pitch for a homer and the A's led 1-0. Rick Monday made it 2-0 with a solo shot in the 7th. In the bottom of the inning Goossen led off with a double and Whitaker became the last Pilot ever to hit a home run. The score was tied at 2. 

In the 8th, Manager Joe Schultz sent Don Mincher in to pinch hit for Brunet and he drew a walk. Harper singled and Valdespino followed with another, driving home Mike Hegan who ran for Mincher. The Pilots led 3-2. In the 9th however, Bando hit his second homer, this time off reliever Diego Segui and Brunet was left without a decisions. It was now 3-3.
The bottom of the ninth saw Whitaker lead off with a single and move to second on a McNertney sacrifice bunt. Remember those? Before the inning was over a pair of intentional walks sandwiched around a fielder's choice, brought Harper to the plate with two out and the bases load. The former Cincinnati Red faced off against Fred Talbot who came in to relieve Paul Linblad just to face Harper. Harper slashed a single and Whitaker came home to score the winning run, 4-3.

The next day, in true Pilots fashion, they lost to the A's 3-1. Whitaker would homer in that game too, giving him six for the season.

No starting pitcher posted an ERA below 4.00 for the Pilots. The bankrupt team was sold and moved for the 1970 season and became the Milwaukee Brewers


Please pick up a copy of my book "Tales of My Baseball Youth; A Child of the 60's" at www.bobbrillbooks.com, or on Amazon.

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

The Baseball Candle Flickered Out Too Quickly

TRIVIA QUESTION:  In 1961 the Chicago Cubs employed a round robin system of managing which featured four different managers. If you can name just two you are really, really good.

ANSWER TO TRIVIA QUESTION IN THE PREVIOUS COLUMN: 
The 1963 Rookie of the Year in the National League was of course, Pete Rose. Two others who played in the game discussed in the most recent column were Dick Allen (1964) and Frank Robinson (1956).


 September 10, 1961 was not a special day by any means for two teams playing out the schedule, but the 7628 faithful who showed up at Wrigley Field in Ch-Town that day were given a special treat. A bright candle appeared on the scene but went out long before it ever should have.

It was the major league debut of Cubs second sacker, Ken Hubbs. Hubbs was only 19 years old when the Riverside, California native heard his name announced batting second in the order against future Hall of Fame pitcher, Robin Roberts

The Cubs were 59-79 while the hapless Phillies were 41-97 a third of the way through the final month of the season. Roberts was in the midst of his worst season ever. He would finish 1-10 with an ERA of 5.85. On the mound for the Cubbies was veteran Don Cardwell who had pitched a no-hitter in his Cubs debut. Cardwell was solid this season with a 15-14 record and leading the league in starts with 38 on his way to pitching 260 innings. It would be the former Phillies winningest season and could be considered his best.

The game started quietly enough and Hubbs faced Roberts in his first at bat ever in the big leagues in the bottom of the first. After Lou Brock led off with a single, Hubbs hit a shot which shortstop Ruben Amaro snared and fired back to first baseman Don Demeter to double up Brock. An inauspicious debut for Hubbs but at least he hit the ball hard.

In the fourth with the Cubs trailing 1-0 on a Johnny Callison home run, Hubbs led off the inning with sharp double to left. It was his first major league hit and it went for extra bases. Roberts got Ernie Banks and George Altman but Billy Williams hit a triple and Hubbs scored to tie the game. Hubbs achieved three things this inning; his first hit, his first extra base hit, and his first run scored.

In the fifth the Cubbies opened it up and Hubbs was in the middle of it. He drove home Brock with a single and later scored on a single by Altman. When the dust cleared, the Cubs led 6-1.  In the seventh inning however the Phillies reached Cardwell and reliever Barney Schultz for seven runs including a grand slam by Demeter.  The Phils now led 8-6.

In the seventh with the right handed pitching Frank Sullivan taking the mound, Hubbs was lifted for left handed hitting Richie Ashburn. Sullivan was pitching in one of the final games of his career and the USC Graduate got the aging Ashburn to ground out. 

That was it for Hubbs. His big league debut showed and impressive line, 3 at bats, 2 hits, 2 runs scored, an RBI and a double. Even though his Cubs would go on to lose 14-6, it was a strong showing for the rookie. He would appear in nine more games as the Cubs played out the string and while a new fan favorite, the rest of the season mirrored the Cubs. He had only two more hits although triple and a home run were among them. He finished the short season batting .179 but did not commit an error in 28 chances.

It was the following year where he really shined, batting .260, playing in 160 games and despite leading the league in strikeouts with 129 and grounding into double plays with 20, he won a Gold Glove and was honored as Rookie of the Year in 1962. However, 1963 was a bit of an off year and his final. Ken Hubbs was killed in a plane crash in the off season and the bright light which shown back on September 10th, 1961, was gone forever. 

Ken Hubbs was 22 years old.


Please pick up a copy of my book "Tales of My Baseball Youth; A Child of the 60's" at www.bobbrillbooks.com, or on Amazon.


Tuesday, November 7, 2017

The Steal Which Changed A Season


TRIVIA QUESTION: Dick Allen was only one of the Rookie of the Year players who took part in the game which is the topic of today's blog. While Allen was the 1964 ROY, who won the NL ROY the previous year; 1963?

ANSWER TO TRIVIA QUESTION IN THE PREVIOUS COLUMN: 
The 1963 Washington Senators were an awful team and finished in last place again, nearly 50 games out of first. No wonder they went through three managers that season. After former slugging first baseman Mickey Vernon was let go, he was relieved on a short term basis by Eddie Yost, who was replaced by a first baseman many believe should be in the Hall of Fame; Gil Hodges. Hodges success with the Sens was limited but he did take the 1969 Miracle Mets to the World Championship.

Never before or since has one stolen base meant so much to a baseball team and a city. In 1964 the Philadelphia Phillies, led by the manager many believe should be in the Hall of Fame, Gene Mauch, were sailing along on their way to the pennant. The Phils were blessed with a dynamite ball club.

Rookie of the Year Dick Allen would provide the power along with veteran Johnny Callison. Allen, the temperamental third baseman, would blast 29 homers and lead the league with 13 triples and 125 runs scored, while batting .318. He also had 201 hits. Callison blasted 31 dingers, They also had Wes Covington, Tony Gonzalez and Cookie Rojas.

On the mound they were blessed with strong starting pitching led by Jim Bunning (19-8 2.63 ERA), lefty Chris Short (17-9 2.20 ERA) and a pair of 12 game winners in Dennis Bennett and Art Mahaffey. Out of the bullpen it was Jack Baldschun and Ed Roebuck with 33 Saves between them. Bobby Shantz and Bobby Locke contributed strong performances.

The Phillies were well in the lead in the National League heading down the home stretch. With 12 games left the Phillies led the Cardinals by 6.5 games. If they basically split the last six games they would walk into the World Series. Even if they win four of those games they likely to get in. The fates had something else in mind.

On September 21st, the Phils were at home to play the Cincinnati Reds who were also in the race. Mahaffey squared off against John Tsitouris. Tsitouris never had much of a career, winning 34 games overall and this year he would finish 9-13. He was coming off his best season, at 12-8.

The Reds were three years removed from the World Series and were still a powerful club with Frank Robinson, Pete Rose, Vada Pinson, Deron Johnson, Leo Cardenas and a rookie named Chico Ruiz who played third that day.

Through five innings neither team could get a whiff of a run. Mahaffey was throwing well but Tsitouris was outstanding. He was giving the Phillies nothing and was logging one of his best games ever. Then came the top of the sixth.

Pete Rose grounded to second to start off the inning but Ruiz followed with single. When Pinson singled, Ruiz took third. However, Pinson, trying to stretch a single into a double was thrown out at second base. That left a runner (Ruiz) at third with two outs and slugging Frank Robinson at the plate. Robinson was having an average year for him, nearly 30 home runs and a .306 average. With the slugging Deron Johnson on deck, there was really no thought of walking F-Robby. He did lead the league in Intentional Walks four years running but Mahaffey soon quieted that notion when he put two quick strikes past Robinson.

So here is the situation. There is no score, two outs in the sixth and two strikes on one of the game's great sluggers. What happened next was something no one expected. On the 0-2 pitch Ruiz broke for home. Maybe Mahaffey was surprised, certainly Robinson was. In what was one of the dumbest moves ever in baseball, Ruiz tried to steal home. Shocked, Robinson luckily caught him out of the corner of his eye and backed away. Mahaffey's pitched sailed wide and catcher Clay Dalrymple could only grab it, come back and try vainly to tag Ruiz to no avail.

Ruiz scored and the Reds led 1-0. Tsitouris made it stand up. He went the distance pitching a 6-hit shutout, walking two and striking out eight. It might be argued since Robinson did get a second hit later in the game, he just might have gotten a hit when Ruiz stole, but thankfully Robinson didn't swing or Ruiz head may have ended up over the left field wall.

Either way, the die was cast. The Phillies proceeded to lose their next nine in a row before winning the final two. It didn't matter. The Cardinals the very next day began a streak, winning nine of their next 10 games and taking the 1964 pennant. At the same time the Reds won seven more in a row before losing four of their last five games to fall out of contention. The Reds and the Phillies would finish tied in second place, just one game back of the Cardinals in one of the most memorable finishes to a baseball season ever recorded.

Chico Ruiz, the only player to ever pinch hit for Johnny Bench, had his own moniker after that. His play became known to Phillie fans as the "Curse of Chico Ruiz," while other fans dubbed him something more harsh. Philadelphia, which last went to the World Series in 1950, would have to wait until 1980 to get there again.

Ruiz had a colorful career which ended way too soon. Ruiz became a U.S. citizen on January 7, 1972. Early in the morning of February 9, just before he was to join his new team, the Royals, in spring training, Ruiz was killed when he drove his car into a sign pole while driving alone outside of San Diego. Deron Johnson attended the funeral.

Mahaffey, known for losing 19 games in 1961 and winning 19 the following year, was out of baseball after two more seasons. He won three games over those two years. Tsitouris didn't fair much better. He would win only seven more games, closing out an 11 year career in 1968. 
 
Please pick up a copy of my book "Tales of My Baseball Youth; A Child of the 60's" at www.bobbrillbooks.com, or on Amazon.  

Saturday, November 4, 2017

The Story Book Game No One Remembers






TRIVIA QUESTION: Of the three men who managed the Washington Senators in 1963, two were primarily first baseman during their careers. Who were they?

ANSWER TO TRIVIA QUESTION IN THE PREVIOUS COLUMN: 
Even after completing the bizarre trade mentioned in the previous column, the White Sox still finished in second place behind Minnesota. It was the second straight year the Sox finished second.  The Kansas City A's remained dead last.



There are meaningless games across the spectrum of every season but even in those seemingly meaningless encounters there are little nuggets of history which change the course of human life. Such as the case on May 8th, 1963 in the game between the Washington Senators and the Cleveland Indians at D-C Stadium. Only 7, 047 fans were there that night and a whole lot fewer when the real excitement took place in the 13th inning. But let's not get ahead of ourselves. 

It was an early season game and even though hopes are high in May, the Washington Senators were pretty much already out of the race. They were 11-16 and the Indians were 10-10. The Senators would finish 56-106 in 10th place,  48.5 games behind the Yankees.

What was significant about this game is both starting pitchers pitched into the 13th inning. Jack Kralick took the mound for the Indians in what would be a 3:08 game. Don Rudolph, one of the fastest pitching mounds men in MLB was on the hill for Washington. The same Don Rudolph who was married to, by this time, retired burlesque queen; Patti Waggin


The Indians scored first when Tito Francona, leading off the second inning, drew a walk and promptly stole second. Mike de la Hoz laid down a bunt which third baseman Chuck Hinton muffed and runners were at first and third. Tony Martinez laid down a squeeze bunt scoring Francona. Indians led 1-0.

The two pitchers kept on going, matching each other pitch for pitch. The Sens finally broke through in the sixth when light hitting Eddie Brinkman doubled and Rudolph sacrificed him to third. He came home on a Jim Piersall Sac Fly to center to tie the game 1-1. 



Nine times Rudolph would face three up and three down. Kralick for his part did the same eight times. These two journeymen pitchers were pitching the games of their lives. Then came the 13th, the unlucky 13th for some folks. 

In the top of the inning de la Hoz led off with a single. With one out Johnny Romano, the slow footed catcher, belted one in the gap and ended up on third with a triple to score de la Hoz. The Indians had broken the tie, now leading 2-1. Rudolph struck out pinch hitter Al Luplow but Vic Davalillo singled to bring home Romano and it looked like the game was out of reach, 3-1. 

Rudolph got Willie Kirkland and they went to the bottom of the 13th with Barry Latman taking over for Kralick. Brinkman started the inning off with a base hit to right and Dick Phillips, pinch-hitting for Rudolph did the same. Brinkman took third and the Sens were in business. Lefty Ron Nischwitz came in to relieve Latman.

Nischwitz had come over from Detroit in a deal for Bubba Phillips in 1962. He'd spent much of his time in the minors but started this season with the Indians. The 25 year old had only one decision on the young season and he lost it. He came into face Ken Retzer who was batting for Piersall. Manager Birdie Tebbits lifted the left-handed hitting Retzer for the right handed batting Marv Breeding to face lefty Nischwitz. 


Breeding singled to right sending Phillips to third and allowing Brinkman to score, making it 3-2 Indians. Minnie Minoso hit a ground ball to third but Phillips, trying to score was thrown out at the plate. Breeding took second on the throw and that put runners at second and third with one out. They walked Chuck Hinton to load the bases and set up a double play.

I happened to be doing research for my film script on Rudolph when I spoke to Nischwitz several years ago about this game. The conversation went like this.

"I know this is one game in a career 50 some odd years ago, Ron, and I don't expect you to remember much," I asked when he suddenly jumped in.

"Bob, I remember it like it was yesterday," the retired player and college baseball coach told me. 

And in a game like this you certainly would. Right fielder Don Lock stepped to the plate. Lock had not had a hit of Kralick. With the bases loaded Nischwitz delivered and Lock connected. He sent a towering fly ball to the wall in right field. Kirkland went to the wall and timed his leap perfectly. He jumped up, grabbed the ball in his glove for what should have been the third out.

As fate, or bad luck would have it, Kirkland did catch the ball but as he was coming down with it, it rolled out of his glove and over the fence for a grand-slam home run. Ball game over, the final Senators 6, the Indians 3, and Nischwitz said he slammed his fist into his glove and had such an angry look on his face in the locker room, "no one would talk to me."

The Senators, especially Lock and Rudolph, were thrilled and while the rest of the season didn't amount to much for Washington, it turned out really sour for Nischwitz. It was a matter of a couple weeks before he was sent back to the minors. In that season he would pitch only 14 innings, giving up 12 earned runs. He would get only one more decision the rest of his career which ended back in Detroit in 1965. He won his only game that season and pitched respectfully with a 3.40 ERA in 20 games.

Nischwitz would go on to become a successful college coach at Wright State University in Dayton, Ohio, for 29 years before retiring in 2004. As a big league pitcher he had one very good season leading Detroit with 48 appearances out of the bullpen in 1962 and even managed a big league batting average of .278, batting .417 in 1962. 

1963 was Breedings final season in the bigs, being sent to the Dodgers before the year ended. Retzer never fulfilled his potential and despite having a decent utility player season he was out of baseball after the 1964 season. He played in 237 big league games.

Lock's you might say "had a career." He remained a steady presence in center for Washington for several years and banged some home runs but his lifetime average of .238 kept him above the radar and he was finally sent packing to Philadelphia for reliever Darold Knowles. 1963 was pretty much his best season hitting .252 with 27 home runs.

Kirkland, the key player in the game when you come right down to it, had a parallel career to Lock. They both were low average hitters with some power. Aside from a few games with Baltimore, Kirkland would spend his entire career with Washington. After the 1963 season he was traded to Baltimore for Al Smith and less than a year later the Senators purchased him back. 

As for Kralick, 1963 was arguably his finest season, finishing 14-13 with a 3.03 ERA.  He had other fine seasons winning in double figures five times ending up with a 67-65 life time record, over nine years with three clubs. He passed away in 2012 in Mexico, where he is buried. He was 77.

For Rudolph, the journey man pitcher, this was his finest game of a career which lasted more years in the minors than in the big leagues. At the age of 31 this would be a dismal year for him, finishing 7-19 with a 4.55 ERA, allowing 28 home runs. It should be noted the Senators were terrible and Rudolph, who pitched Opening Day in 1963 had his highlights. He pitched in front of President John F. Kennedy that day on what would be JFK's final opening day appearance. 

Rudolph pitched one more season in the big leagues, his sixth, mainly in relief closing with a record of 1-3. Washington wanted to send him to the minors to start the 1965 season but after breaking into baseball as a phenom in the early 1950's he decided to hang them up. He was part owner in a trucking business in California. In 1968 while driving a company truck, it is believed the brakes went out and he rolled the vehicle. He was killed on September 12, 1968 at the youthful age of 37. 

His career ended 18-32 but he was extremely well liked. Known as a practical joker the late Jim Landis once told me Rudolph convinced him to go to the local burlesque show where Rudolph's wife Patti Waggin was performing. The set up was when Patti tossed one of her pieces of clothing into the audience it would land squarely on Landis' head. It did.

Please pick up a copy of my book "Tales of My Baseball Youth; A Child of the 60's" at www.bobbrillbooks.com, or on Amazon.