Holy Wise

Baseball records are full of statistics of great pitching accomplishments. For as long as he game has been played, pitching is one of the fundamentals that separates the best from the good. Yesterday, K-Rod reached a step in grand accomplishment as he earned his 300th save preserving a shutout win for the Milwaukee Brewers over the Atlanta team. That was done by throwing the ball. But what about hitting the ball?

One of the strangest accomplishments on the record book involves pitchers hitting. On this date in 1971, Phillies right-hander Rick Wise threw only 95 pitches to 28 batters for a no-hitter against the Cincinnati Reds. What made this effort really unusual was that Wise hit two home runs in the game, making him one of only 55 pitchers since 1900 to hit two home runs in a single game. That was the first time he had a multi-home run game. On August 28th, a little over a month later, he did it again against the Giants, making him one of only 9 pitchers ever to hit two home runs in the same game twice or more.

Those nine pitchers did the improbable. Lew Burdette of the Milwaukee Braves did it in 1957 against the Reds and in 1958 against the Dodgers. Tony Cloninger of Atlanta did it twice in 1966 against the Mets and Giants. Dick Donovan of the Cleveland Indians hit two in the same game against the Tigers and the Orioles in 1962. Jack Harshman, Baltimore Orioles, did it twice in 1958 against the White Sox and the Senators. Pedro Ramos of Cleveland, hit two  home runs in the same game against the Orioles in 1962 and the Angels in 1963.  Red Ruffing of the Yankees did the same in 1930 against the St. Louis Brows and in 1936 against the Cleveland Indians.

Then there is Don Newcombe of the Dodgers. The great Dodgers pitcher did it three times. In 1955, he hit two home runs in the same game against the New York Giants. He then did the same thing against the Pirates in 1955. Finally, as a Los Angeles Dodger, he did it against the Cardinals in 1958. But that was not the greatest multi home run game by a pitcher.

That accomplishment goes to Wes Ferrell of the Boston Red Sox. He hit two home runs in a single game five times. In 1931 against the Chicago White Sox; in 1934 against the St. Louis Browns and the White Sox; in 1935 against the Washington Senators and finally in 1936 against the Philadelphia A’s.

But nobody did what Rick Wise did by not only hitting two in a game but throwing a no-hitter on top of that. It’s like having both sides of your brain working at the same time at the same moment. That’s why when someone does it again, if ever, its Holy Wise.

Play Ball!

#23 Maybe #1

For many of us who grew up in the land of Wisconsin, Minnesota, Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan or Ohio, the cool breeze of fall leads to one destination: Pasadena. The ‘Granddy of Them All’ is the goal for every kid who steps on the gridiron in the breadbasket. It’s the time the kids from the Midwest get to strap it on against the kids from the Pacific Coast. No matter where you live in Rockford, Rochester, Akron and the many other cities that mark this region of blue-collar workers, the goal is there. This year our team will make it to the Arroyo Seco where the Rose Bowl resides.

He was like us all. The difference: he was a natural from Pontiac. Tough, determined and very athletic, the schoolboy star became an All-American wide receiver who won the Big Ten football title while attending Michigan State. His tough, Ditka-type mentality along with great speed and agility, made him a sure pick for pro ball. When the draft came, the Cardinals picked him. But just when everyone expected him to jig, he jagged. Who wanted to play for the Racine-Chicago-St. Louis-Phoenix-Arizona Bidwell’s?

During college, his football coach, Darryl Rogers, suggested he go out for baseball. In only one collegiate season he hit .390, with 16 home runs and 52 RBI in 48 games. He jagged to the Tigers. His career was filled with honors. Two World Series championship rings, one in the American League (1984) and one in the National League (1988). One NL MVP (1988). A Silver Slugger (1988) and 2 time All-Star.

Oh ya. He hit what was probably the most famous home run in Dodger history. It is one of the most famous in World Series history. Just ask Hall of Fame pitcher, Dennis Eckersley. Strike one. Strike two. Ball, outside. Ball, again outside. Foul ball. Ball again. Mike Davis is on the move toward second.

“But, we have a big 3-2 pitch coming from Eckersley. Gibson swings, and a fly ball to deep right field! This is gonna be a home run! Unbelievable! A home run for Gibson! And the Dodgers have won the game, 5 o 4. I don’t believe what I just saw! I don’t believe what I just saw! Is this really happening, Bill? One of the most remarkable finishes to any World Series Game…a one-handed home run by Kirk Gibson! And the Dodgers have won it…five to four; and I’m stunned, Bill. I have seen a lot of dramatic finishes in a lot of sports, but this one might top almost every other one.” (Jack Buck)

The other day, in the tunnel that takes one from their seats to the club beneath the stands behind the plate at Chase Field, if you are on the 3rd base side, you get to pass the entrance to the Diamondback’s locker room and their dugout. It is one of the great hidden gems in all of baseball, as you will undoubtedly meet any number of players and coaches as they go back and forth from dugout to locker room. Surprisingly, the players and coaches  are very accommodating. Most have smiles and acknowledge you with a ‘how ya doing’ or ‘great to see you’ without ever having met you before. This close. This intimate. This is unbelievable. These are the guys in the Show. That’s Kennedy. “How ya doing, Up?”. “Goldie”. “Let’s get’em tonight.” “Thanks.” “See ya.” “Have a good game.” Talking with the guys. Guys talking to us.

Then, there he was. Looking down at a piece of paper in his left hand, shuffling toward the dugout, looked up briefly and said, ‘Hi’ as he moved on past and into the dugout. Another ‘Hi’ in the land of dreams. He looked like an older man, shaggy stubble of a beard, an old athlete well past his prime. But he was undoubtedly ‘Gibby’, the hero of East Lansing, Detroit, Los Angeles and certainly soon to be in Phoenix.

This is a tough man. He takes no guff. Going back to his days in Detroit (the first eight years he was there) he became a free agent in 1985 but received no meaningful offers and therefore re-signed with Detroit. He knew it. Baseball knew it. Baseball ownership had been in collusion and in 1988, an arbitrator moved that MLB owners colluded against the players in an effort to stem free agency. Seems nothing changed between players and management from the time of Comisky to Selig. Owners are owners. Players are chattel. Gibson took free agency immediately and went to the land of Dodger Blue.

He was a Sparky Anderson player. Tough. Straight-laced and to the point. There he was the student. In Dodgertown he appeared to be outspoken and disciplined, something never said about the team since they flew across the nation to reside in Hollywood. He chastised the team for being unprofessional and brought about a winning attitude through the full strength of his personality. He openly criticized the team and became the de facto leader. His intensity and absolute determined attitude made the powder blue into a fighting blue. The Dodgers became tough under Gibson. Some say he brought back the Brooklyn spirit (us against them) to Los Angeles. The result? They became winners once again. They were once again the Dodgers of Robinson and Hodges, Pee Wee and Campy, Erskine and Newcombe. More than anyone, it was Gibson who brought them to this point.

Skip forward a decade or so. Now he was a bench coach in a very lonely Diamondback’s dugout for a manager nobody remembers. After a few really horrible months, crowds thinning and losses mounting, D’Back’s fired their manager and moved Mr. Gibson up to an ‘interim’ position as manager of their ball club. It was a move that saved money with management not caring what would happen the balance of the season. Gibson was an old baseball man who would step in place and marshal the troops until they could find someone who might bring them back to a pennant fight. After all, if their previous manager couldn’t do it, why would you think Gibson could do any better?

What he did in the final few games of 2010 was a miracle. These same bunch of guys who literally wallowed in defeat learned to become winners. There was only one thing that happened. Kirk Gibson became their manager. It is absolutely as plain and simple as that.

But the Diamondback management, since the days they forced out Colangelo as the owner, have been helter skelter. This GM in. That GM out. The owner interferes with everything. He criticizes the players and drops hints to his journalist pals about this and that. Announcers are fired because they don’t wear a logo T-shirt. Loyalty is non existent. Important decisions are hard to come by.

Beyond all odds, prior to the next season, mercifully, the ‘interim’ tag was thrown away and Gibson became full-time manager. It was the best decision this owner has ever made, certainly better then his purchase of the T-201 Honus Wagner (The Gretsky) baseball card.

Before the season began, Gibby asked around, including his old Dodger coach, Tommy Lasorda, what he would look for in selecting a good coaching staff. Lasorda simply said, ‘get the best’. Get the guys that every player looks up to.’

Gibson is no dummy. He quickly surrounded himself with the finest coaching staff in baseball. For batting coach, who better than Don Baylor (former NL Manager of the Year. 1979 AL MVP, hit 139 RBI in single season. 19 years in the Major Leagues.) Charles Nagy, Pitching Coach, 3x All Star (Cleveland) pitcher (129-105) in 14 years. Eric Young, First Base Coach, All-Star (Colorado), Silver Slugger (1996) in 15 years. Matt Williams, Third Base Coach, 5x All-Star, 4x Gold Glove, 4x Silver Slugger. Only player to hit home run for three different teams in three different World Series (Giants-1989, Indians-1997 & Diamondbacks-2001). Alan Trammell, Bench Coach. 3x All-Star, 3x Silver Slugger, 4x Golden Glove, MVP World Series (1984). Hit .343 in 1987. One of only three players to play 20 or more seasons for the Tigers (Ty Cobb & Al Kaline).

If you are a player for the Diamondback, who do you want to look up to and ask if you have a question? This is the best coaching staff in baseball. Result? The Arizona Diamondbacks were the surprise team of the season in 2011. Result? Gibson was NL Manager of the Year (2011) with nearly all of the same players he had inherited from the previous regime.

That was yesterday. Now is another year. Without any superstars, without the great pitching staff of the San Francisco Giants. Without the rah-rah of the Magic invested Dodgers, here come the D’Backs, within 2 in the loss column. This isn’t the Roeneke led Brewers, 16.5 out of first. This isn’t the Ozzie led Marlins, 14.5 out of first or the Manuel Phillies 16 out of first place at the beginning of August. These are the Gibson led Diamondbacks. Tough as their manager is. Strong as their manager is. Single-minded as their manager is.

Since he has worn that jersey number since he was a kid, #23 may just be the #1 manager in all of baseball. Other than he, who has done what he is doing? For many, we don’t believe what we are seeing.

Play ball.

It Was A Day To Remember

The National League MVP was back where he made his debut, five years ago in May. In his first game, in his second at bat, he got his first Major League hit. In his second game, he got his first MLB home run. Move forward to the last day of April 2012. Ryan Braun, who had been struggling at the plate early in this season, unleashed his power and hit three home runs and a triple for 15 total bases. It was the first time  a player hit three home runs in the history of Petco Park in San Diego, home of the Padres. It was one of those magical moments when a player does something exceptional that makes baseball unique.

Yet for all that Braun did Monday night, it isn’t the biggest game a Milwaukee player has had in hitting. For that we have to go back to a magical Saturday, July 31, 1954, in Brooklyn against the Dodgers.

On that 212th day of the year, history was made by a couple of people in the world. Ardito Desio led Italian mountaineers Lino Lacedelli and Achiile Compagnoni to become the first successfully to reach the summit of the Himalayan peak K2. In baseball, another summit in history was reached by Joe Adcock, #9 in your program, of the Milwaukee Braves. That was the day he did the unthinkable. He hit four home runs and a double (high off the top of the Lucky Strike sign in left field which would have given him five home runs for the game) to give him 18 total bases, a record which stood until Shawn Green (of the Dodgers) broke it with 19 total bases against the Brewers in 2002. As you can see, it’s sort of a Milwaukee thing.

The 12,263 fans who witnessed this feat in Ebbets Field that day saw the big Milwaukee first baseman hit the home runs off of four different pitchers, including Don Newcombe (in the top of the 2nd inning), Erv Palicka (in the 5th) and Pete Wojey (in the 7th) before capping his performance with that final home run against Johnny Padres in the 9th.

To say Adcock was prodigious is an understatement. During his career, he was the only player to ever hit a home run over the left field grandstand roof in Ebbets Field. He was the first of three to ever hit a home run in the center field bleachers in the Polo Grounds (Aaron and Brock were the others). Also, during his career, he hit 10 grand slam home runs out of the  336 he hammered over the wall. Obviously he could hit. He was an All-Star in 1960.

Adcock was a legend for his power accomplishments. But on that one Saturday in Brooklyn he set a standard few could ever reach, not even Braun on an almost perfect night of hitting in San Diego nearly sixty years later.

One more thing: on the next day, the Milwaukee Braves clobbered the Dodgers 14-6. After flying out in the first, he doubled in the 3rd inning off Russ Meyer. When he came to the plate in he 4th, Clem Lebine pitching in relief, beaned Adcock with a fast ball, sending him to the hospital. That’s the way the game was played, and with some, it still is.

Opportunity Missed. Watch Out For #9.

The Milwaukee Brewers missed a great chance to do something they have never done before…sweep the Dodgers in a series. Their 4-3 loss on Thursday made their record 6-7 compared to 7-6 last season after their first full 13 games and after winning the first two against the Dodgers by 3-2 scores.

The City of Milwaukee in major league baseball has only swept the Dodgers five times in history. The first time came in the inaugural year of the Milwaukee Braves in 1953, when in September on the 2nd (Bob Buhl won his 11th of the year 9-8 in relief of Warren Spahn and Ernie Johnson) and 3rd (Lew Burdette won his 14th of the year, 6-1 as Eddie Mathews hit his 44th home run of the year driving in 3 in the 8th and Jim Pendleton hit his 6th driving in 2, also in the 8th off of Carl Erskine), they swept the boys from Brooklyn at Ebbets Field.

Their next sweep was also at Ebbets Field on May 11 (Gene Conley won his second of the year, 2-0, striking out 7 with Joe Adcock hitting the home run for victory in the 6th) and on the 12th (Lew Burdette won his 3rd, 5-1, getting key home runs by Mathews & Adcock off of Don Newcombe) in 1954.

Finally in 1956, they beat ‘the Bums’ in Milwaukee in a major four game series, July 12 (in the first game of a double-header, Bob Buhl won his 10th, 2-0, with an Adcock home run – his 13th off of Craig), in the second game of the double-header on July 12 (Burdette won 6-5, with Adcock hitting his 14th home run off of Carl Erskine),  July 13 (Ernie Johnson won his 2nd in relief of Ray Crone, 8-6, again with Adcock’s 15th home run off of Newcombe), and on July 14 (Johnson again won in relief, 3-2, with yet another home run by Adcock, his 16th off of Sal Maglie in the 10th on a walk off). It is the only time a Milwaukee team swept a Dodger team in the Cream City thanks in large part to the Dodger killer, Joe Adcock. By the way, Jackie Robinson hit his 7th of the season in the 8th on July 13th off of Burdette.

Two other times, in Los Angeles, the Braves swept the Dodgers on April 24 (Hank Fisher won his 2nd of the year, 6-3, with Ed Bailey hitting his 5th home run) and April 25 (Warren Spahn won his first of the year, 5-1. beating Johnny Padres), 1964 and in the final year of the Braves being from Milwaukee in 1965 on July 21 (Wade Blasingame won 6-4) and July 22 (Tony Cloninger beat Bob Miller for a 5-2 victory).

Will this be the year of opportunity missed?

The Crew will play the Dodgers one more time this season, in Los Angeles in late May (28-31) at Dodger Stadium. With history on its side, the chance of a Brewers sweep is nil. That is unless we can wake up Joe Adcock from the grave. “Billy Joe Adcock”, ironically as Vin Scully popularized him, wore number 9.

Guess who wears #9 for the Brewers. George Kottaras.

There is a chance.