FROM 50 MOMENTS THAT DEFINED MAJOR LEAGUE BASEBALL
Chapter 13: Extra Innings
The baseball season is like life. It’s every day. It’s a grind out there. You play hurt most of the time, but you play every day. -- Jim Wohlford, 15-year MLB veteran.
1977 will always be a highlight for me. The fans were terrific. I got several standing ovations one day in July that year when my batting average surpassed .400. It really touched me. The last game that year I also surpassed 100 RBI in a season for the only time. It was late in the game and I had 99 RBI. Sam Perlozzo got to 2nd base and I was up. Gene Mauch called time out and went out to talk to Sam. The message, “If Rod gets a hit, whatever you do, don't stop at third.” I got a hit, and Sam kept running until he scored. -- Rod Carew, MLB Hall of Famer.
The players make the impact in the game, the coaches are the instrument. What I’ve tried to do is help players become the best they could be. For example, Craig Biggio was a transformation project from catcher to 2nd base. He didn’t want to do it at first, but when he committed, he wasn’t satisfied until he was a Gold Glove 2nd baseman. He worked relentlessly on making the transition. He’s the impact, I’m the instrument. -- Astros coach Matt Galante, who helped Biggio and Jeff Bagwell transition to new positions and develop into perennial all-stars.
Hitting that grand slam in the All-Star Game (in 1983) was the accomplishment that stood out the most to me. The game had a lot of meaning. I had been an all-star for each of the past eight years and we hadn’t won once. The National League was just beating us like a drum. The game was played in my home town (Chicago) and we were just tired of the NL’s superiority. To add insult to injury, they walked Robin Yount to load the bases to get to me. I understood the move; Atlee Hammaker was a lefty. But I still didn’t like it. -- Fred Lynn, 1983 MLB All-Star Game MVP, on hitting the first grand slam in All-Star Game history to lead the AL to a 13-3 win. The win was just the second in 20 years for the American League.
You learn real quick that you are a marketable asset, a piece of meat. You’re a widget that someone wants to buy. -- Andy McGaffigan, who was involved in four trades and played for five teams over 11 years in the majors, discussing the business side of the game.
The St. Louis Cardinals wanted to sign me when I was in high school, but there weren’t very many opportunity for black ballplayers during those times. I asked them to guarantee that they’d pay for me to go to college for four years. They said they never heard of such a thing and wouldn’t agree. I said no and went to Tennessee State to play football instead. It was the turning point of my life. I was an All-American quarterback and when I was done I had three NFL teams and five major league teams interested in me. The times weren’t right for football though. They told me they didn’t want to have a black quarterback and tried to switch me to defensive back. I chose baseball instead and signed with the Baltimore Orioles, who were very good to me. -- Fred Valentine, outfielder for the Orioles and Washington Senators from 1959-1968 on the struggles he faced as a black athlete in the 1950s.
My first career hit was against Jim Rooker, in Pittsburgh. Rookies are presented with the ball on the occasion of their first hit and mine came back from center to Willie Stargell, one of the most famous players ever. He popped it up and down in his glove and flipped it to his open hand, then tossed it to me and said, “Here you go kid, only two thousand, nine hundred, ninety-nine more to go.” My first home run came off Randy Moffitt, a grand slam and my only home run of the year. I played with Randy later on, in Toronto, and he teased me that my home run scraped the back of the fence on the way down. I told him it looked like a 500-footer in the paper. – Barry Bonnell, who had 833 hits and 56 home runs over his ten-year career, discussing his first career milestones.
In 1989 I was starting a game for the Expos in the middle of the season against the Giants who were the National League champs that year. I gave up a two-run homer to Will Clark in the seventh and finished the inning. The next day our General Manager Dave Dombrowski called me in his office and told me I was traded for Mark Langston, who was one of the best. I said, “Come on, we had to include someone else, it couldn’t have been just me.” He said, “Ok, we included Randy Johnson too.” -- Brian Holman, on his trade to Seattle in 1989.
When I played for the Cubs, a kid about eight years old came up to the dugout one game. He was a big Dave Kingman fan looking for an autograph. I grabbed the kid and put him in our dugout. He walked around and got some autographs. He didn’t meet Kingman, but met a number of players before he had to get out of there. Years later I read about the story in some national publication because it turned out that kid was Jim Thome. -- Barry Foote, on the good rapport he built with fans and kids during his playing career.
My first major league hit came in a really interesting game. In 2000 I was playing for the Rockies and we went into extra innings against the Braves. We ran out of pitchers so Buddy Bell asked (catcher) Brent Mayne to pitch. He had been sitting out with a wrist injury and couldn’t swing the bat, but could throw. Eventually, I was asked to pinch hit for Mayne, who had been pitching. I went on deck and could see Bobby Cox talking to his coaches pointing at me in the on deck circle. I ended up getting my first big league hit for the walk-off win. After the game, our coach Toby Harrah said, “Thank God you got a hit, if you didn’t you were going out there to pitch next inning.” Good thing he didn’t tell me that before my at bat. I would have been even more nervous and probably went up there and laid an egg. – Adam Melhuse, on the incredibly unique surroundings of his first major league hit.
I was drafted and signed right out of UCLA and my first spring training I was up in the big league camp. They put me in a game to catch against the Reds and Pete Rose came walking up to the plate. I was feeling my oats and as he was walking up I said, “Hey Pete, how’s it going!” He looked at me, put my hand on my shoulder, turned me around slowly and said, “Fine, slug it.” I felt about an inch tall. – Don Slaught, who caught over 1,300 major league games, on his first camp as a big leaguer.
Baseball isn’t basketball. You can’t put three stars out there and expect to win championships. There are so many different factors that come into play like injuries, pitching performances, and trades just to name a few. -- Tim Leary, 1988 World Series champion.
The things I remember the most in my career are winning the World Series in 1990, which was the final season of my career, Pete Rose's hits tying and breaking Ty Cobb's record and Tom Browning’s perfect game. Of course, my first hit and home run. All of my teammates, managers, coaches and great fans in my years as a player in Cincinnati. Pete Rose coming back as a player-manager. Johnny Bench Day in Cincinnati in which he hit a home run. Tony Perez Day in Cincinnati, to name a few. As far as my greatest accomplishments they were getting to the big leagues, playing for 13 years, and getting a World Series ring. – Ron Oester, reflecting on a 13-year career as a 2nd baseman for the Reds that ultimately ended with an induction into the Reds Hall of Fame in 2014.
I remember in ’05 we were in a tight race with the Red Sox for the division. We thought we had to win the final two games of the season to win the East. During the second-to-last game of the year I went back into the clubhouse and Mike Mussina was there with his Stanford education looking at scores and breaking everything down. Well he figured out that if we won and one other game result went the right way, we would win the East. That ended up happening and we were in the clubhouse celebrating. We went out on the field after the game and were telling the bullpen guys that we just won the East. They had no idea! It wasn’t the way I’d dream up a celebration for winning the East over the hated Red Sox. – Aaron Small, who went 10-0 for the Yankees in 2005 to help the Yankees to the AL East title.
If I was a pitcher today, these guys with all that armor they wear up to bat, I’d hit them every time! – Rod Gaspar, 1969 World Series champion outfielder.
We played a 19 inning game against the White Sox in 1991. I had started a couple of days before and pitched into the seventh inning in a win. We ran out of pitching in the 15th inning, so I came in to pitch. I got hit in the face with a comebacker by Ozzie Guillén the first inning I pitched, but still had to stay in. We had no other pitchers. I ended up pitching five innings and getting the win. -- Brewers pitcher Don August, on one of his most memorable performances as a big leaguer.
I went to high school with Robin Yount. He was a senior when I was a sophomore. Sometimes when I see him, I show him my 1982 World Series ring just to rub it in a little bit. -- Kelly Paris, member of the 1982 Cardinals, who beat Yount and the Brewers in the 1982 World Series.
I was in the dugout for “The Bartman Game” for the Cubs. I went back to the clubhouse at the start of the eighth inning and saw they had put plastic over the lockers and had the champagne ready to go. I came back into the dugout and told Kerry Wood, “I hope they didn’t just jinx us by setting that all up.” That ended up being the inning where everything fell apart. Everyone on the Cubs felt like with Wood pitching Game 7, we’d have a good chance to win anyway. I did a radio show that morning and everybody was focused on the Bartman play though. We had chances to get out of the inning after that as well. For Game 7, there was definitely a different feeling in the park. It didn’t have the same buzz; it was as if the fans were defeated already. – Shawn Estes, 13-year MLB pitcher who was on the 2003 Cubs pitching staff.
The person who inspired me the most was my father. He was a very good amateur pitcher in Butler (Pennsylvania); a legend even. I don’t have many regrets in life but one for sure is that he didn’t get to see me pitch in the big leagues. He passed away during my junior year in college. -- John Stuper, winning pitcher of Game 6 of the 1982 World Series for the champion Cardinals.
One game stands out to me and that was in 2004 against the would-be World Series champs that year: the Boston Red Sox. I went toe-to-toe with Curt Schilling, threw seven scoreless and got the ‘W.’ Stephen King wrote a book about that season and I was in it. That was pretty cool too. -- Dave Borkowski, pitched in 181 games for the Tigers, Orioles and Astros in the early 2000s.
Tom Glavine is a great person and a great pitcher. When I have the ability to hire people in a baseball department, he’s the one guy I would love to have as a consultant on the pitching side. He has the background and has a great way about him. -- Eric Valent, Glavine’s teammate with the Mets in 2004 and 2005.
Hitting home runs in seven straight games was a memorable feat, so was hitting three consecutive home runs in three straight innings. The game before I started my home run streak I hit a ball off the top of the wall, so I came that close to tying the record. I was just going about my business, having fun with it. I had the chance to talk to Don Mattingly (who shares the MLB record of eight home runs in eight games) about it. He did his over an all-star break, so he had those days in between. Mine was done all on one home stand as well. The consecutive inning feat is really something unique though. I didn’t even know I was one of the only people to do it until about five years later when a Latin radio host told me about it. They’re cool places in history. – Kevin Mench, on being the only right handed hitter in MLB history to homer in seven straight games and being just one of two players to homer in three consecutive innings.
Playing in a game seven was better for me than watching it. I was a nervous wreck as a spectator. Once I went in to catch, I calmed right down. Hitting is always tough, but my World Series at bat in game seven was the only bunt in my 16-year career that I didn’t get down and one of just two times in 16 years I failed to advance the runner. I don’t look back upon it favorably, but we ultimately won the game and the series, which is the important thing. -- Greg Zaun, 16-year MLB catcher who was the Marlins’ catcher for their game seven win to clinch the 1997 World Series.
The Mets were one of the first teams to really scout Puerto Rico. They were also the first team to have a program to teach English to Latin American players. Whitey Herzog signed me from a tryout in Puerto Rico based on my throwing arm. I was ready to leave Puerto Rico (at age 19) to go start my career. I got to the plane and didn’t want to go. I didn’t want to miss home and miss my family. But I took advice from my family. They told me to get on the plane and go make a future in the United States. -- Benny Ayala, 10-year MLB veteran and member of the 1979 and 1983 Orioles World Series teams.
I was standing in the locker room when I first came up in 1979. Looking around I saw Nolan Ryan, Frank Tanana, Rod Carew, Don Baylor…all guys like that. I get a tap on my shoulder, turn around and it’s Gene Autry (then Angels owner and original singing cowboy). He said (in his distinctive voice), “You know, Jim Kaat’s got more years in the majors than you have years.” He then gave me a belt buckle with a picture of himself with a guitar and a horse on it and said, “Welcome to the big leagues kid, good luck.” -- Dave Schuler, member of the 1979 AL West Champion Angels.
In spring training of my second year, Andre Dawson hit a towering home run off of me in an intrasquad game over the centerfield wall, which was 30 feet high. My fastball, his swing…he crushed it! Afterwards, I'm sitting on the bench, and here comes Duke Snider. He sits down next to me and says, “You know DeMola, I had to jump in my car and rush back to the hotel so I could open my window before that ball Dawson hit broke it.” Priceless! The Duke was probably one of the most awesome human beings I have ever met; I miss him to this day. By the way, that spring I was 4-1, and the next time up I k'ed Dawson looking. Nobody ever got me twice. – Don DeMola, Montreal Expos pitcher, who now is active with www.pastpros.com, a site that helps fans interact with former big leaguers online.
During David Cone’s perfect game there was a rain delay after three innings. I joked in the umpires’ room that we have to get back out there because of the perfect game. I looked up in the ninth and knew he faced the minimum, but wasn’t positive it was a perfect game until afterwards. With Matt Cain, I knew it was a perfect game all along. He just had dominating stuff. Just to sit back and say, ‘Wow, I was part of that.’ Calling two perfect games and being the 3rd base umpire for a third is pretty amazing. It’s definitely great to be a part of baseball history. – Veteran umpire Ted Barrett who is one of just a small handful of people to have been in uniform for three perfect games and is the only umpire to have a home plate assignment on two perfect games.
I grew up in Oklahoma, so players from that state were most of my favorites. Johnny Bench and Mickey Mantle the most. I also liked the Yankees so Yogi and Whitey Ford were a couple of favorites. Nolan Ryan will always be my favorite. – Ted Power, veteran pitcher who pitched in 564 games between 1981 and 1993, discussing his favorite players growing up.
One of my favorite players was Earl Battey. He lived in my neighborhood growing up and he’s the one who got me to Bethune-Cookman College, which led me to the majors. If it wasn’t for him, I wouldn’t have had the chances I did. In the summer, he got me a job with him working with the Con Ed Kids program with the Yankees. We’d teach them baseball and also educate them as well. For example, we came up with lesson plans that would teach the kids arithmetic through figuring out batting averages. He was just a great guy who did so much for me and gave so much back to kids. -- Former MLB outfielder Stanley Jefferson on the impact made by all-star catcher Earl Battey.
I was playing video games with my son in our basement one day and his school principal called me up. He said, “I’m watching one of your games on these classic re-runs they show. It’s the 11th inning, how long do I have to watch before you do something?” I said, “Just keep watching.” I flipped the game on myself and in the 12th inning I hit one over the centerfielder’s head to win it. My little son looked at me and said, “Wow daddy, they really like you there!” -- Don Slaught discussing sharing his memories with his family.
Playing against the Yankees, they’re always the hated “Evil Empire,” but once you get there, you realize they’re just great guys. When they signed me, I asked Scott Brosius what it was like over there. He said that there were more solid guys in that organization than any other. He was right. There were just so many good Christian men there in that clubhouse. – Aaron Small on joining the Yankees after pitching in the majors for seven seasons.
I had so many rewarding moments as a manager in the minors. Two guys who really stood out to me who I felt like I made a nice impact on their careers when they were young were Matt Joyce and Evan Gattis. They had so much potential and I feel like I was able to pass along a lot of my experience on how to carry yourself as a big leaguer. I tried to teach them how to control their controllables and they seemed to take it to heart. Not that there was anything negative before, but just stepping up their game, dressing right on the road, things like that. It was very rewarding to see them get called up and do so well. -- Matt Walbeck, former catcher and minor league manager on the impact he was able to make as a mentor.
Jim Rice was extremely successful against me. He not only had a high average, but did a lot of damage with RBIs and runs scored. When I was broadcasting in Detroit after I retired I came across Rice at a game. He said, “Lary, I’m happy to see you’re still in the game with Detroit. Now I know where to send the limo when we have a home run hitting contest.” -- Former all-star pitcher Lary Sorensen on Hall of Famer Jim Rice, who he considered perhaps the toughest hitter he faced in the game.
Deep down it was awesome to be a major leaguer; it was the culmination of a long term dream. But in the moment it was more nerves than anything. Having been a player with little self-confidence it was hard to believe I deserved being one, so I never was very comfortable at that level for a few reasons I figured out since. I've come to appreciate the accomplishment so much more in the last few years. – Jack Perconte, seven-year MLB veteran who retired with the highest all-time stolen base success rate (86%) for any player with at least 80 career stolen base attempts.
I had a game one night against the Twins where I struck out 16 batters. I had electrifying stuff that night. Physically and psychologically, I don’t even know how it happened. That’s being in a zone. It happens sometimes and you can’t explain it. Once against the Indians I threw a shutout and had 15 strikeouts. Thurman (Munson) looked at me after the last pitch and said, “You didn’t even realize the game was over, did you?” He was right, I was so in that zone that I didn’t realize I was done. -- Rudy May, 156-game winner over 16 major league seasons.
I still look at Dan Quisenberry as the epitome of closers in Kansas City. I was lucky to surpass some of the records he established, but I still see him as the best. – Jeff Montgomery, Royals all-time saves leader and member of the Royals Hall of Fame.
One of my great memories was hitting a home run in the clinching game of the 2001 NLDS. It’s one of those things where I’ll always remember the pitch, the count, the swing. It’s really special. The home run put us ahead and we cruised from there. It’s something that will always stick out for me personally from my time in the majors. -- Paul Bako, 12-year major league veteran and catcher for the 2000 and 2001 NL East champion Atlanta Braves.
The postseason was great. Much different atmosphere, felt like the purest form of the game. Everyone is so focused on each pitch, each at bat, really pulling for one another. It also was very draining and just a battle. Every little thing is magnified, and each at bat and each inning seems like it takes a lot more energy and effort to get through. The atmosphere in New York was just electric as well. – Brendan Harris, eight year major league veteran who was the starting 3rd baseman and DH for the Twins in the 2009 NLDS vs. the Yankees.
George (Brett) was my first major league strikeout. As a rookie the umpires won’t give you the call on a close pitch, especially against a Hall of Famer like Brett. I had two strikes on him and I threw one right down the middle, belt high. I mean it was right there and Brett took it. The umpire (Terry Cooney) looked at Brett and gave him a look like, “George, you know I have to call this,” almost apologizing, and punched him out. I don’t know why he didn’t swing, but I was lucky he didn’t because he would have hit it a mile. -- Jeff Ballard, Baltimore Orioles lefty starter who went 18-8 and finished sixth in the AL Cy Young Award voting in 1989.
I had a good relationship with George Steinbrenner. He asked me to stay on as a special assignment scout once my career was cut short due to a back injury. I answered directly to George with the job. He was just a bigger than life personality. He did a lot of great things that didn’t make the papers. He had his shortcomings, like everyone else. But what he did for people far surpassed his shortcomings. He did so much for the city and kids of Tampa and worked a lot with the New York Police and Fire Departments, especially for families who lost loved ones on the job. -- Barry Foote, on his relationship with George Steinbrenner during his time as a Yankee.
I was very fortunate to come up when I did. I played against many terrific players from different generations. In 1967 my first All-Star Game alone I played against I believe 21 Hall of Famers from Willie Mays and Mickey Mantle to Hank Aaron and Roberto Clemente. In 1984 my last All-Star Game the names had changed to Tony Gwynn, Cal Ripken and Rickey Henderson. All told these players career spanned more than 50 years of baseball. It was incredible to be a part of it. – Rod Carew, MLB Hall of Famer.