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?

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, or on Amazon.

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