I remember watching this when it happened. Game 5 of the 1977 ALCS between the Royals and the Yankees. In the bottom of the first Brett hit a triple with Hal McRae on first. It went over the head of Mickey Rivers and Brett slid in at 3rd base and got in tangled with Graig Nettles…Nettles did a dirty kick to the face of Brett and George came up swinging.
Everyone got in on the action including pitcher Ron Guidry and then Thurman Munson came over. Thurman had seen Nettles kick Brett in the face and although Nettles was a teammate…Munson’s sense of fair play took over.
Thurman gets into the pile and covers Brett and sticks his glove over Brett’s head to avoid any cheap shots. George Brett said Munson told him: “Don’t worry, George, I won’t let anybody hit you when you’re down.” And they didn’t. “Thurman is my hero.” This quote surprised me quite a bit since Thurman was known to be crusty at the best of times.
Yankee manager Billy Martin, no stranger to fights, wrapped an arm around the 5’5″ Royal shortstop Freddie Patek and pulled him from the fracas. Billy said to him, “Stay with me over here and we won’t get hurt. Let those guys sort it out.
The reason this fight stuck with me all of these years is because no one got ejected… there were no warnings. Everyone brushed themselves off and played the rest of the game like nothing happened…the Yankees won 5-3 and advanced to the World Series where they beat the Dodgers.
I didn’t start following baseball heavily until 1977. I do remember Detroit Tiger Mark Fidrych well though. Once in a while there will be a player that fans want to see no matter what team he plays for at the time. There are a few that come to mind. Fernando Valenzuela, Bo Jackson, and to a lesser extent Yasiel Puig in his rookie year. We want to see them because they have strong personalities and are usually good to great players.
Mark Fidrych was a joy to watch. He would look like he was talking to the ball, do ground maintenance on the mound, and would congratulate teammates for making routine plays. It was so much fun to see his obvious excitement playing Major League baseball. MLB estimated that in 1976 the 21 year old drew in over `1 million extra attendance across the league. Teams would ask the Tigers if they would change their rotation so Fidrych would pitch in their park to spike their attendance. Can you imagine that happening today?
His nickname “The Bird” came from his blonde thick curly hair and his big feet resembling to Sesame Street’s Big Bird. Fidrych was great in his rookie year. His record was 19-9 with an ERA of 2.34 and he pitched an incredible 250.1 innings with 24 complete games! He didn’t pitch his first game until May 15 that year. That makes it more impressive.
He injured his knee in Spring Training the next year in 1977. He recovered and was doing great until July 4 against the Orioles he felt his arm go dead. He ended up only pitching 81 innings in 1977 and was 6-4 with a 2.89 ERA. He tried pitching through what he could but missed a lot of time…he was out of baseball by 1980.
It was a rotator cuff injury that wasn’t properly diagnosed until 1985 when he was 31 because of medical advancement. There was too much damage already done to his shoulder that prevented him from coming back.
Some teams didn’t like his antics. The Yankees thought he was showing them up but teammate Rusty Staub said “It’s no act. There’s nothing contrived about him and that’s what makes him a beautiful person.” I think that is the reason people did like him so much…he seemed real and was having the time of his life playing baseball.
Fidrych went back home to Northboro, Massachusetts, where he became a licensed commercial truck driver and later purchased a farm. He married his wife, Ann, in 1986, and they had a daughter, Jessica. He made appearances for charity groups and nonprofit organizations over the years, making himself rather accessible to fans who fondly remembered the career of the Bird. Tragically, Fidrych died on April 13, 2009, at age 54, in an accident as he worked underneath a truck.
Baseball needs players like Fidrych…who are genuine and appreciate being a grownup playing a game.
Yips:The yips is the loss of fine motor skills in athletes. The condition occurs suddenly and without apparent explanation, usually in mature athletes with years of experience. … The condition is also experienced by snooker players, bowlers in cricket and pitchers in baseball.
The Yips can come at any time. When Atlanta’s then-manager Bobby Cox was watching his team play the Mets. The Mets catcher Mackey Sasser had problems just throwing the ball back to the pitcher. Cox turned and told his second baseman Mark Lemke that anyone on the field is just one bad throw away from having what Mackey has…Cox had seen the yips before.
It’s so hard to watch as the player totally losses his confidence. Many times players cannot pinpoint when it starts and for some they never find the cure.
I just finished a book about the 1981 Dodgers and it reminded me of Steve Sax who had a problem throwing a ball from second base to first. I thought I would find some more players who had problems. Some lasted just a little while while others it took their career.
It has affected pitchers significantly. They lose the ability to throw a strike and their career along with it.
Steve Blass – He may be the most famous case of the yips. He was a pitcher for the Pittsburgh Pirates from 1964 to 1974. He went from a 2.49 ERA in 1972 to a 9.85 ERA to 1973…1974 was his last year. For every 1 strikeout he had 3 walks. Balls flying to the backstop at times… Steve Blass: “I had no control over it, nor did I understand it. I would sit in my backyard 2…3…4 o’clock in the morning thinking, ‘My God, what’s happened to me? What is this? Has someone put a curse on me or something?”
He was only 31 when this happened. His stats were 100-67 with a 3.24 ERA from 1964-1972. He was 3-1 in post season with a 3.10 ERA and a World Series winner in 1971. He ended up with a 103-76 record with a 3.63 ERA.
The Yips have been called by some “Steve Blass Disease.”
Rick Ankiel – Ankiel looked like the real deal. A powerful left handed pitcher that USA Today called “the most promising young left-handed pitcher in a generation.” Tony LaRussa put it to the test and inserted the 21 year old into the 2000 NLDS against the Braves. It was painful to watch. Ankiel walked 6 men in 2.2 innings. He eventually went to the minor leagues and it didn’t get any better…in fact it got worse…but he did do something else about it. He became an outfielder and hit as many as 25 homeruns in one season. He was never as good of an outfielder as he was a pitcher though. He played until 2013…I’ve always wondered what his pitching career would have been like.
Chuck Knoblauch – After being traded to the Yankees in 1998 this second baseman’s trouble started. His errors doubled but hardly any throwing errors in 1999. In 2000 it started and his throws to first base would be wild. In fact… an errant throw sailed into the stands and hit sportscaster Keith Olbermann’s mother in the head.
He returned to second base briefly, but never regained his throwing accuracy. He was moved to the outfield and designated hitter for the remaining two years of his career, including New York’s World Series run in 2000.
Steve Sax – Steve joined the Dodgers in 1981 in the last half of the season. Steve was on the playoff roster for the World Series. His troubles started in 1983 after an error involving Andre Dawson. After that he could not throw accurately to first base. This went on for 2 months and he had over twenty errors before the All Star break. Something his dad said broke the spell.
His father told him, “One day you are going to wake up and this problem is going to be gone,” confessing that he had suffered the exact same problem in high school, but his confidence had eventually returned and he overcame it.
Six hours later John Sax died. It was the last conversation his son had with him. But buoyed by his father’s words, Sax persevered, slowly regaining his confidence over time. Baseball became fun again. Sax didn’t make a single error in the last 36 games of the season.
Years later Sax’s mom, who had known his dad since the fifth grade, told him the truth: His father never had a throwing problem.
“He lied. He didn’t want to see me fail, so he lied,” “He bailed me out on his death bed. And it changed my life.”
Some people also call the yips from a fielder “Steve Sax Syndrome” Steve went on the play with the Dodgers, Yankees, White Sox, and A’s after this and the problem never resurfaced.
There have been other players in the MLB and many other sports to suffer from this.
Vin Scully has said before each post season he would pray…not that the Dodgers would win but that no one on either team would become a goat that would be so hard to live down. After what happened to Kershaw against the Nationals it made me think of some unfortunate players/spectators/umpires failed at the wrong moment.
A few of these people got reminded of these plays the rest of their life…as if their life boiled down to this one moment.
These are in no order
Bill Buckner – Probably the poster boy for scapegoats… Bill’s misfortune happened in the 1986 World Series. I always thought he was unfairly treated. The Sox were leading the Mets in the 10th inning 5-3 with TWO outs. All they needed was one out to win the World Series. After a single, single, single, walk, passed ball… let’s stop here for a second…now they are tied because they cannot get one out. Mookie Wilson is up next and dribbles one down the first baseline and Buckner…who usually was taken out of games because of defensive reasons…misses the ball and the Mets win 6-5. That tied the series up at 3 games apiece.
Game 7 belonged to the Mets after winning 8-5 and they won the World Series.
Mitch “Wild Thing” Williams – This one I felt when they put him in to pitch. Joe Carter took him long to win the World Series in the 9th inning for the Toronto Blue Jays. I remember Curt Schilling always hiding his head under a towel when Mitch pitched which didn’t go over well with the reliever. Williams does have a sense of humor about it anyway.
Willie Davis – Some will remember the day in 1966 when he made three errors in one World Series game. On Oct. 6, 1966, against the Baltimore Orioles, Davis lost three fly balls in the sun at Dodger Stadium. According to reporter Charles Maher’s account in The Times the next day, Davis came back to the dugout after the inning and told pitcher Sandy Koufax, “I’m sorry, I just lost them in the sun.” Koufax said: “Don’t let it get you down.” Pitcher Don Drysdale said: “Hell, forget it. … You’ve saved a lot of games for me with great catches.”
It wouldn’t have mattered much in the long run in all probability. The Dodgers were swept by the Orioles in 4 games.
Fred Merkle – “Merkle’s Boner” In the bottom of the ninth, the Giants and Cubs were tied at 1–1 with two men on base and two outs. Giants outfielder Moose McCormick stood at third base, while Merkle was the runner on first. Giants shortstop Al Bridwell took the first pitch from Cubs southpaw Jack Pfiester and got the ball past second baseman Johnny Evers for a single into center field. McCormick scored and the pennant appeared to belong to the Giants. Fans stormed out of the stands in celebration as Merkle made his way to the dugout, assuming that the game was over.
One problem: Merkle never touched second base… Evers noticed the error and headed over to beat Merkle back to the bag, which would void McCormick’s run for the final out. But this is where it gets even weirder: Evers didn’t have the ball, which was hit and lost in the shuffle of people. Some re–tellings of the play say that Giants pitcher Joe McGinnity, who also served as a first base coach that day, tossed the ball into the stands to a fan, who bolted with his new souvenir. In this version of the story, police officers stopped the spectator and the ball made its way back to the field with a throw from Joe Tinker to Evers. The umpires saw Evers on the bag, and Merkle was called out. Charles Dryden, the Chicago Tribune‘s writer on-site, talked to multiple players that day and tallied 18 assists on the final play.
People never let him forget this through his life. This is what helped The Cubs win their final World Series in the 20th Century in the year 1908.
Steve Bartman – Ok not a player but he caught hell after leaning over to make a catch that a lot of fans will do. People forget that there was actually baseball played after the incident and a few errors that had an effect on the score. One of the biggest came from Alex Gonzalez, his bobble of a routine double-play ball that would’ve ended the inning with a 3-1 Cubs lead ended up turning into an eight-run inning for the Marlins. So, Bartman was an overzealous fan going after a fair ball but the man moved out of Chicago because of the furor of Cubs fans.
He was rewarded with a WS ring in 2016 but when you have a Halloween mask modeled after you…is that really enough?
Scott Norwood – I’m cheating here because this is football but man did I feel bad for this guy! I was watching this Superbowl and will never forget Al Michaels saying “Wide Right” after Norwood’s missed field goal attempt for the Bills that let the Giants win the Superbowl on January 27, 1991 .
Don Denkinger – He blew a huge call during Game 6 of the 1985 World Series. The Kansas City Royals were down one to the St. Louis Cardinals in the bottom of the ninth inning. If the Cardinals win the game, they would have taken the series. Jorge Orta came to the plate and hit a grounder to first. The throw beat Orta to the base, but Denkinger inexplicably called Orta safe. Kansas City went on to score two runs in the inning and tied up the series…..The Royals won Game 7 and the World Series, partially as a result of the blown call.
Frank Pulli – Oh how I disliked this man in 1978. The 12-year-old me learned quickly that life was not always fair.
It was 1978 and the Dodgers were leading the Yankees 3-1 in the 6th inning. The Yankees had runners on 1st and 2nd when Piniella hit a line drive at Bill Russell, who dropped the ball, picked it up and stepped on second for the force out. The ball wound up in right field after he attempted to turn the double play with a throw to first. At that moment Jackson stuck his hip out to deflect the throw, and run was scored on the play. This helped the Yankees tie it with a run in the 8th after which they won in the 10th. All of that helped them even the series. The momentum went to the Yankees after this… Reggie should have been called out for interference. The Dodgers would have had a 3-1 lead in the series and heading back to LA for games 6 and 7.
The Dodgers finally got revenge in 1981 against the Yankees and Reggie Jackson.
The firing of Dave Dombrowski shocked me. The reasons given why vary but The Red Sox just won a World Series in 2018. Some say it’s because of the contracts he handed out to David Price, Chris Sale, and Nathan Eovaldi. The other reason I’ve read is because he traded away the a lot of the farm system to build this team. Again…they won the World Series last year. Does that not count for anything anymore?
Trading is Dave’s thing. Everyone knew that including the Red Sox management when they brought him on.
Joe Maddon was fired. Did the guy turn into an idiot in 3 years since they won a World Series? I’ve never thought he was perfect..no manager is… He keeps guys loose and does the most important job now in the modern era…juggles egos pretty well.
If a manager would have won a World Series in Chicago for the Cubs in any other decade they would have had a job for life and probably been made the mayor…
Clint Hurdle was fired after a career record with Pittsburgh of 735-720-1. His situation is different. He wasn’t given the talent that Maddon had but did lead Pittsburgh to 3 straight post seasons at a dry time for them.
Baseball was, is and always will be to me the best game in the world.
— George Herman Ruth.
Welcome to talkingaboutbaseball.wordpress.com
I wanted to make a baseball only blog because there are some baseball items that probably would not go over really well on my Powerpop site. I would like to cover new and old…anything about baseball is in play.
I’m a Dodger fan but this will not be Dodger only posts. Since I know more about them I’m sure Dodgers posts will pop up. Everything from minor league prospects in 2019 to why did Babe Ruth try to steal second base in the 1926 World Series and make the last out.