As one of my catchers indelicately put it, I didn't just suck, I "swilled." ... Even my brushes with baseball immortality were of the "swilling" sort. I am, in fact, represented in the baseball record book for one accomplishment. It happened in 1967, during a game in the Florida State League. I was the starting pitcher for the Lakeland Tigers against the Miami Marlins, which at the time was the Baltimore Orioles farm club. After the manager, "Stubby" Overmire (at five-foot-two, possibly the shortest pitcher in modern Big League history when he pitched for the Tigers in the 1940s), gave me the ball and I took the mound, he did what he always did: he walked down to the left-field foul pole, ducked into our makeshift clubhouse, and lit a cigarette, smoking being prohibited in the dugout. The details of what followed blur in memory, but this much is clear from the record book: the lead-off man for Miami, Moses Hill, hit a solo home run to start the game. The same man, Moses Hill, also hit a grand slam later that inning during his second at bat, bringing in runs seven, eight, nine, and ten. There was still nobody out. The usual crowd of several dozen drunks, whores, and pimps was, on this particular night, joined by a couple dozen prisoners from the local road gang. State troopers brought a group once a week, in chains, clanking into the stadium, and whenever our team fell behind, the prisoners clanked their chains rhythmically. After the grand slam, everyone was screaming, clanking, and getting generally unruly as they shouted for Stubby to come and get me the hell out of the game."If you think I'm going to waste another pitcher on this game, you're crazy," has since become a touchstone of conversation any time my friends and I have seen a pitcher enduring an interminable shellacking, not an infrequent occurrence in this slugfest-heavy age. The irony, in fact, is that in the same month that Blight's article was published, on April 23, The Cardinals' Fernando Tatis bashed two grand slams in the same inning off the Dodgers' Chan Ho Park.
After Moses Hill took me deep for the second time, Stubby at last put out his cigarette and headed to the mound, accompanied by the boos and the clanking. I watched him all the way in, and thought, Jesus, at last he's coming to get me out of here. Stubby reached the mound and, as a former pitcher, he (as usual) picked up the resin bag with his left hand and tossed it down. But this time he just stood at the bottom of the mound and looked up at me with a big grin on his face, which reached roughly to the height of my belt buckle. When I bent down to hand him the ball, he handed it right back, and said, "If you think I'm going to waste another pitcher on this game, you're crazy. Man, you are in for nine. Good luck. I'll be down in the clubhouse suckin' weed." And so he left, to more booing and clanking.
I did eventually get someone out, then someone else, and someone after that. At the end of nine innings, I had given up twenty-two earned runs on thirty-one hits. As far as I know, no pitcher has before or since, in the recorded history of baseball, given up two home runs to the same player in the same inning. The reason is obvious: in every case but mine, the manager removed the incompetent pitcher before such a feat became possible. In their way, my teammates understood the significance of the evening. As they filed into the clubhouse after the game, each, in turn, looked me solemnly in the face and then began to laugh uncontrollably. So did I. So did Stubby. So, I imagine, did Mo Hill. Even the prisoners must have yucked it up as they clanked back to the state prison. I was beginning to see the implications of being a natural batting-practice pitcher. I didn't suck, my catcher said, and I didn't even swill. Tonight, he said, I "chugged." For the remainder of my brief career in the minors, Chug became one of my nicknames.
...I saw absolutely nothing, other than Ryan's arm coming toward me. I heard a faint whoosh, then a pop behind me that sounded like gunfire, followed by "Steeee-rike one!" from the umpire. My knees started shaking. My palms began to sweat profusely. I will never forgive Nolan for the next pitch. It was a slider or curve or something like that. It started out behind me, or so it seemed, and then broke hard over home plate for strike two. As the ball crossed the plate, I was flat on my back on a pile of dirt, in a needless effort to avoid being hit.The notoriously contact-shy Blight understandably reached an epiphany at that point, surrendering his major league dreams for a different path, one that led him to settle in as a research professor at Brown's Watson Institute and author a dozen books on U.S. foreign policy, most notably The Fog of War: Lessons from the Life of Robert S. McNamara, later turned into a documentary directed by Errol Morris. Blight's expertise brought him face to face with the likes of Fidel Castro and North Vietnamese leaders, but quite understandably, nothing ever scared him as much as facing Ryan did.
Labels: baseball history
Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]
June 2001 July 2001 August 2001 September 2001 October 2001 November 2001 December 2001 January 2002 February 2002 March 2002 April 2002 May 2002 June 2002 July 2002 August 2002 September 2002 October 2002 November 2002 December 2002 January 2003 February 2003 March 2003 April 2003 May 2003 June 2003 July 2003 August 2003 September 2003 October 2003 November 2003 December 2003 January 2004 February 2004 March 2004 April 2004 May 2004 June 2004 July 2004 August 2004 September 2004 October 2004 November 2004 December 2004 January 2005 February 2005 March 2005 April 2005 May 2005 June 2005 July 2005 August 2005 September 2005 October 2005 November 2005 December 2005 January 2006 February 2006 March 2006 April 2006 May 2006 June 2006 July 2006 August 2006 September 2006 October 2006 November 2006 December 2006 January 2007 February 2007 March 2007 April 2007 May 2007 June 2007 July 2007 August 2007 September 2007 October 2007 November 2007 December 2007 January 2008 February 2008 March 2008 April 2008 May 2008 June 2008 July 2008 August 2008 September 2008 October 2008 November 2008 December 2008 January 2009 February 2009 March 2009 April 2009 May 2009 June 2009 July 2009 August 2009 September 2009 October 2009 November 2009 December 2009 January 2010 February 2010 March 2010 April 2010 May 2010
Subscribe to Posts [Atom]