Archive for the ‘Opponents’ Category

In the same year Jackie Robinson integrated the big leagues, Dan Bankhead became the first black pitcher in the majors.

In August 1947, Bankhead debuted for the Dodgers against the Pirates. His second appearance came against the Cardinals.

Unlike Robinson, Bankhead didn’t have a Hall of Fame career. He pitched in three seasons for the Dodgers and had a 9-5 record. Versus the Cardinals, he was 2-0, including his lone shutout.

Talent search

During the 1947 season, while the front-running Dodgers tried to fend off the Cardinals in the National League pennant race, Dodgers executive Branch Rickey launched a nationwide search for pitching help. Two of his scouts, Hall of Famer George Sisler and Wid Matthews, recommended Bankhead, a right-hander with the Memphis Red Sox of the Negro American League.

Bankhead was 20 when he began his pro baseball career in 1940 with the Birmingham Black Barons of the Negro American League. According to the New York Times, he served three years (1942-45) in the Marine Corps at Camp Lejeune in North Carolina.

After his discharge, Bankhead joined the Memphis Red Sox and his baseball career soared. B.B. Martin, a dentist who owned the Memphis club and had been involved in Negro League baseball for many years, called Bankhead “one of the great pitchers I have ever seen,” the Associated Press reported.

On July 27, 1947, Bankhead was the winning pitcher in the Negro League All-Star Game before 48,112 spectators, including Dodgers scouts, at Comiskey Park in Chicago. About the same time, Rickey began his search to bolster a Dodgers pitching staff led by 21-year-old ace Ralph Branca and closer Hugh Casey.

“I’ve flown all over the country trying to find the best possible solution to a problem that I consider desperate,” Rickey told the Brooklyn Daily Eagle.

Rickey eventually focused his attention on Bankhead. In August, he saw him pitch a five-hitter and strike out 11 in a win against Birmingham. Rickey was as impressed with Bankhead’s poise and confidence as he was with his fastball. For the season, Bankhead was 11-5 with more strikeouts than innings pitched.

Rickey, who told the Brooklyn Daily Eagle, “In the last three weeks, I’ve looked at more pitchers than any man in North America,” became convinced Bankhead, 27, could help the Dodgers immediately.

Dan or Diz?

On Aug. 24, 1947, the Dodgers purchased Bankhead’s contract from Memphis for $15,000. He became the second black player in the National League, joining Dodgers teammate Jackie Robinson, who integrated baseball four months earlier.

As the first black pitcher in the big leagues, Bankhead’s arrival in Brooklyn received much attention. Rickey upped the ante when he told the Brooklyn Daily Eagle, “If he were a couple of inches taller and if he had better command of that change of pace, his style would strongly suggest that of Dizzy Dean.”

Rickey added, “He wouldn’t be here if we didn’t think he had extraordinary ability, but, at the same time, I regret the necessity of rushing him right into the National League.”

On Aug. 26, two days after he signed with the Dodgers, Bankhead made his debut at Ebbets Field in Brooklyn. About one-third of the crowd of 24,069 were blacks, according to the Associated Press. As the game began, Bankhead walked to the bullpen “to the tune of welcoming applause,” the New York Times reported.

Pitching in relief of starter Hal Gregg, Bankhead gave up eight runs in 3.1 innings. His highlight came in his first plate appearance in the big leagues: a two-run home run into the left field seats against the Pirates’ 39-year-old Fritz Ostermueller. Boxscore

Dodgers manager Burt Shotton suggested Bankhead was tipping his pitches, inadvertently letting the Pirates know what was coming.

“I admit the boy didn’t look good,” Shotton said to the Associated Press, “but he certainly showed me he knows how to pitch. He has speed, a good curve and control. His delivery could be improved. The boys were calling all his pitches before they were made. His motion is too slow with men on bases.”

Noting that at Memphis he made three starts a week and often relieved on other days, Bankhead told the Associated Press, “I’m quite a bit overworked,” but added, “This is no alibi … They (the Pirates) smoked back every pitch faster than I threw it.”

Another test

Bankhead didn’t pitch again until two weeks later, Sept. 12, at St. Louis.

The Cardinals were an especially difficult test. Before facing Jackie Robinson for the first time in May, some of the Cardinals’ players reportedly threatened to boycott the game in protest of having a black player on the field. Three months later, Cardinals baserunner Enos Slaughter spiked Robinson on the foot. Some thought it was intentional.

Naturally, the first Cardinals batter to face a black pitcher was Slaughter.

Entering in relief of Casey with two outs and a runner on third in the seventh, Bankhead got Slaughter to ground out. Boxscore

(It would take seven more years, 1954, before the Cardinals had a black pitcher, Bill Greason, play for them.)

Bankhead pitched in four games, earning one save, for the 1947 Dodgers, who won the pennant. His roommate on the road, Jackie Robinson, won the Rookie of the Year Award.

In the book “We Played the Game,” another black pitcher, Don Newcombe, who was with the Dodgers’ farm team in Nashua, N.H., in 1947, said Bankhead “was a pretty good pitcher who struck out a lot of batters, but I think he was brought in mostly as a companion for Jackie.”

Sign of the times

Bankhead spent the next two years in the minors, achieving 20 wins in each season.

With nothing more to prove in the minors, Bankhead seemed ready for a return to the Dodgers in 1950, but there was a catch. According to the New York Daily News, Branch Rickey Jr., the Dodgers’ farm director and son of Branch Rickey Sr., candidly called it the “saturation point.” The 1950 Dodgers already had three blacks _ Roy Campanella, Don Newcombe and Jackie Robinson _ and the ignorant consensus of the time was that a ballclub wasn’t ready for more.

Branch Rickey Sr. “worked hard” to sell Bankhead’s contract to the White Sox, but was unsuccessful, The Sporting News reported. The Braves wanted Bankhead but the cost was deemed too steep.

“Rickey made it clear his price for Bankhead ran in the six figures,” The Sporting News reported.

Right stuff

Unable to trade Bankhead, the Dodgers opened the season with him and he won his first four decisions.

On June 18 at Brooklyn, Bankhead shut out a Cardinals lineup that included Stan Musial, Red Schoendienst and Enos Slaughter.

“Bankhead smothered each scoring chance as he poured across his fastball and snapped off his curve,” the St. Louis Globe-Democrat reported.

Bankhead also had three hits and scored a run. Boxscore

The New York Daily News described him as “the tremendous triple threat man who is the pleasant surprise of the season. Dan can pitch, he can hit and he can run.”

Moved to the bullpen, Bankhead was 3-0 with two saves for the Dodgers in September. He finished the 1950 season at 9-4 and was hailed by The Sporting News as “a competitor of high quality. He has the stuff and the brass.”

Border crossings

In 1951, Dan’s brother, Sam Bankhead, became the first black manager “in organized baseball” when he signed to lead the Farnham club of the Class C Provincial League in Canada, United Press reported. As player-manager of the Homestead Grays of the Negro National League, Sam had led them to pennants in 1949 and 1950.

The 1951 season didn’t go so well for Dan Bankhead. He began the year with the Dodgers, went 0-1 in seven games and never again pitched in the majors.

“Dan and I were roommates for a while,” Don Newcombe told author Danny Peary. “He was a good pitcher, but didn’t have that much desire to play in the majors. Dan preferred playing in the wintertime because he had fallen in love with a woman in Mexico.”

Bankhead pitched in the Mexican League until 1966 when he was 42. He also became a manager there.

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The St. Louis Hawks had a significant role in launching Bill Russell into a NBA career with the Boston Celtics.

In April 1956, the Celtics traded for the rights to the Hawks’ first-round draft spot and used it to take Russell. Eight months later, when Russell made his NBA debut with the Celtics, it came in a game against the Hawks.

A five-time recipient of the NBA Most Valuable Player Award who helped the Celtics win 11 league championships, Russell was a center who revolutionized the game, excelling at rebounding, blocking shots and playing defense.

Draft moves

With the tandem of Russell and guard K.C. Jones, the University of San Francisco won consecutive NCAA basketball championships in 1955 and 1956.

Russell generally was regarded as the best amateur basketball player in the country, but at the NBA draft on April 30, 1956, the Rochester Royals used the first overall pick to take Duquesne guard Sihugo Green.

According to the New York Times, money was a factor in the Royals’ decision. The Harlem Globetrotters were expected to make a lucrative offer to Russell and the cash-strapped Royals didn’t want to get into a bidding war with them.

Defending the choice, Royals owner Lester Harrison called Green “the best all-around player in the country, bar none,” International News Service reported.

Russell told the San Francisco Examiner, “I think Rochester made a good choice for its No. 1 man. I always said Sihugo and my friend, K.C. Jones, were the two best ballplayers I ever looked at.”

(Green played in nine NBA seasons, including four with the Hawks, and finished his career as Russell’s teammate with the 1965-66 Celtics.)

Please come to Boston

After the Royals selected Green, the Hawks, with the No. 2 overall pick, had the chance to take Russell. Like the Royals, though, the Hawks didn’t think they could afford him, especially if the Globetrotters bid high, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch and the New York Times reported.

The Hawks also were looking to generate local interest. In the 1955-56 season, their first since moving from Milwaukee to St. Louis, they finished 33-39. Club owner Ben Kerner thought Celtics center Ed Macauley, a St. Louis native who had been a standout performer at St. Louis University, was just the sort of popular local player the Hawks needed to attract customers.

In exchange for Macauley, the Celtics got the Hawks’ draft spot and used it to select Russell.

Two days later, on May 2, the Celtics sent Cliff Hagan to the Hawks in a cash transaction. Kerner said the acquisition of Hagan “had nothing to do with” the deal for Russell, the Post-Dispatch reported. Over time, though, several publications, including the Post-Dispatch, reported the transaction as Macauley and Hagan to the Hawks for Russell.

(The Celtics made quite a haul in the 1956 draft, getting K.C. Jones and Tommy Heinsohn of Holy Cross in addition to Russell.)

After acquiring Russell, Celtics coach Red Auerbach told the Boston Globe, “He’s the greatest defensive center I’ve ever seen.”

Russell said to the San Francisco Examiner, “I was pleased when I heard I was drafted. It was flattering to know they thought enough of me to pick me among the first.”

The Celtics in 1950 had become the first NBA team to draft a black player, Chuck Cooper.

Decades later, in a 2013 interview with Bill Simmons that aired on the NBA’s TV network, Russell, discussing the trade to acquire him, said, “St. Louis was overwhelmingly racist. If I would have gotten drafted by St. Louis, I wouldn’t have been in the NBA.”

Great expectations

Though drafted, Russell remained an amateur so he could play for the United States in the 1956 Summer Olympics. The Games at Melbourne, Australia, were held Nov. 22 to Dec. 8.

After helping the U.S. win a gold medal, Russell returned home and got married. He and his bride arrived in Boston on Dec. 16. Three days later, Russell signed a one-year $17,000 contract with the Celtics.

“He is one of the most publicized performers to join a Boston team in years _ and if he lives up to his advance notices he will belong in a class with Ted Williams,” columnist Harold Kaese wrote.

Jack Barry, who covered the Celtics for the Globe, wrote, “Bill Russell may revolutionize the game of basketball … Russell could be the first player to become a drawing card on his defensive ability.”

After three practice sessions with the Celtics, Russell was deemed ready to play in a regular-season game. His first opportunity came on Dec. 22 against the Hawks at Boston Garden.

Arnie Risen, in the NBA since 1948, was the Celtics’ starting center that Saturday afternoon. Russell came off the bench, totaled six points (he missed eight of 11 shots and all four free throws), but grabbed 16 rebounds and excelled on defense. Boxscore

“Demonstrating his great defensive strength,” Russell “three times went high into the air to block shots by Bob Pettit, generally considered the NBA’s top big man,” United Press reported.

Risen told the wire service, “He’ll block a shot by any man who shoots straight away in front of him. Fellows will have to be very tricky to score against him.”

(In a 1999 interview with the Globe’s Bob Ryan, Risen said, “I feel flattered when I hear Bill Russell say I was his mentor. I’m not so sure that isn’t just an old friend boosting a teammate. If I did anything for him, it was to tell him what to expect from the other players in the league, and to help him with our offense.”)

Russell said to United Press, “I have to admit I was very nervous. I was very tight all the way. My shooting was way off and I was just plain lousy at the foul line.”

Regarding his four missed free throws, Russell said to the Globe, “I choked.”

Auerbach told United Press that Russell “revealed his potential but also his greenness.”

Celtics owner Walter Brown said to the Globe, “I don’t care if he can’t shoot, as long as he gets those rebounds and cuts down some of those guys who have been murdering us for years.”

True greatness

The Celtics won the NBA championship in Russell’s rookie year, beating the Hawks in the final round of the playoffs. The next season, the Hawks won their lone title, prevailing against the Celtics in the finals.

After that, Russell and the Celtics dominated, winning eight consecutive NBA championships from 1959 to 1966.

Russell had several strong performances against the Hawks, including:

_ 37 rebounds on Dec. 23, 1966. Boxscore

_ 35 points on Nov. 14, 1961. In that game, the Hawks’ Clyde Lovellette, averaging 23 points a game, “couldn’t cope with Russell’s defensive tactics” and was held to two points, the Associated Press reported. Boxscore

_ 29 rebounds and 26 points on Nov. 21, 1962. Boxscore

_ 28 points and 27 rebounds on Feb. 4, 1964. Boxscore

In 1966, Russell became the NBA’s first black head coach. In three seasons as player-coach of the Celtics, Russell led them to two NBA championships. 

Russell five times led the NBA in rebounding. The top three career rebounders in the NBA are Wilt Chamberlain (22.9 per game), Russell (22.5) and Pettit (16.2).

During the 1960s, when Kareem Abdul-Jabbar was a teen named Lew Alcindor at Power Memorial High School in New York, he saw the Celtics play many times at Madison Square Garden.

“The man I studied was Bill Russell,” Abdul-Jabbar said to Bob Ryan. “I learned so much. Watching him, I learned the dynamics of the game, and how to win.”

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Tommie Aaron, who usually played in the shadow of his older brother, Hank Aaron, got to share the spotlight with him in a game against the Cardinals.

On July 12, 1962, Tommie and Hank each hit home runs in the ninth inning, rallying the Braves to victory versus the Cardinals at Milwaukee.

With the Braves trailing by three runs, Tommie’s solo homer ignited the comeback and Hank’s walkoff grand slam completed it.

Oh, brother

Henry Louis Aaron was born in 1934 in Mobile, Ala. Tommie Lee Aaron was born there five years later.

“I remember seeing Henry play in Mobile,” Tommie told the Atlanta Constitution in 1968, “but I was too young to play on the same team with him.”

Hank Aaron made his big-league debut with the Braves in 1954. He got his first hit, a double, on April 15 against the Cardinals’ Vic Raschi. His first home run came eight days later, also versus Raschi, at St. Louis.

Four years later, John Mullen, who had brought Hank Aaron from the Negro League to the Braves’ organization in 1952, signed Tommie Aaron.

Tommie, like his brother did, batted right-handed. He played first base and outfield. Tommie hit 26 home runs for Eau Claire in 1959 and 20 for Cedar Rapids in 1960.

After batting .299 for Austin in 1961, Tommie made the leap from Class AA to the majors with the Braves in 1962, joining his brother on a team for the first time. Hank already had won a National League Most Valuable Player Award, two batting titles and three Gold Glove honors for his outfield play.

Tommie made the team as the backup to first baseman Joe Adcock. Another Braves rookie that season was a catcher, Bob Uecker.

In his major-league debut, against the Giants at San Francisco, Tommie got a single against Juan Marichal. Boxscore

“He has really impressed me as a good hitter,” Hank Aaron said to The Sporting News. “He does not fall away from the plate. He hangs right in there.”

On May 30, 1962, at Milwaukee, Tommie and Hank combined to give the Braves a victory against the Reds. With the score tied at 3-3, Tommie led off with a single against Dave Sisler, moved to second on a bunt and scored on Hank’s single. Boxscore

Two weeks later, on June 12 at Milwaukee, Hank and Tommie hit home runs in the same game for the first time. Hank’s solo homer came in the second inning against Phil Ortega, and Tommie’s two-run homer was in the eighth versus Ed RoebuckBoxscore

Fantastic finish

Exactly a month later, Tommie and Hank hit their ninth-inning home runs against the Cardinals.

With one out and none on, Tommie, batting for pitcher Claude Raymond, hit the first pitch from starter Larry Jackson into the bleachers in left-center at County Stadium, cutting the Cardinals’ lead to 6-4.

After Roy McMillan singled, Lindy McDaniel relieved Jackson. McDaniel hadn’t allowed an earned run since May 31, but the Braves were unfazed. Mack Jones singled and Eddie Mathews walked, loading the bases for Hank Aaron.

Hobbling because of an ankle ailment, Aaron worked the count to 2-and-1 against McDaniel. “If he had been ahead of Henry, with two strikes, he would have thrown a forkball,” Cardinals pitching coach Howie Pollet told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

Instead, McDaniel delivered a fastball, and Hank hit it deep, “almost a duplicate of the kid brother’s towering poke over the left-center fence,” the Post-Dispatch reported. Boxscore

The game-winning home run was Aaron’s third grand slam of the season. He totaled 16 grand slams in his career.

Tommie and Hank Aaron became the first brothers to hit home runs in the same inning of a big-league game since Sept. 15, 1938, when Lloyd and Paul Waner did it for the Pirates in the fifth inning against the Giants’ Cliff Melton at the Polo Grounds in New York. Boxscore

Highs and lows

Tommie Aaron had a terrific August for the 1962 Braves, filling in at first base after Adcock got hurt. For the month, Tommie hit .333 and had a .423 on-base percentage. He had 28 hits and 13 walks in 27 games in August.

On Aug. 4, Tommie hit a walkoff grand slam against Jack Baldschun, giving the Braves a 7-3 victory over the Phillies. Boxscore

Ten days later, Tommie and Hank hit home runs in the same game for the third and last time. Facing the Reds at Cincinnati, Tommie’s solo homer came against Johnny Klippstein in the sixth, and Hank followed with a solo homer versus Ted Wills in the seventh. Boxscore

Tommie completed his rookie season with 20 doubles, eight home runs and a. 231 batting mark. It turned out to be the best of his seven seasons in the majors, all with the Braves.

Asked in 1968 about whether he’d offered advice to Tommie, Hank told the Atlanta Constitution, “I’ve talked to him about hitting, but you can’t tell a fellow how to hit. I tell him what I know about certain pitchers, things like that. I’ve talked to him more about his weight. That’s been his biggest problem. He has to watch his weight.”

Hank and Tommie hold the record for most career home runs (768) in the majors by brothers. Hank hit 755 of those.

“You couldn’t possibly compare Hank and me,” Tommie told Milt Richman of United Press International. “We’re two different style ballplayers. He is the complete ballplayer. He can do just about anything. I had to scuffle to do it.”

Mentor to many

In June 1973, Tommie Aaron, 33, was named manager of the Braves’ farm club in Savannah, Ga. He became the first black manager of a professional baseball team in the state and the first in the Southeast, according to the Atlanta Constitution.

Tommie managed in the Braves’ system from 1973-78. Dale Murphy played for him as a catcher with Savannah in 1976 and with Richmond in 1977.

In 1979, Tommie returned to the majors as a Braves coach on the staff of manager Bobby Cox. When Joe Torre became Braves manager in 1982, he kept Tommie Aaron on a coaching staff that included Bob Gibson and Dal Maxvill.

In May 1982, results of a routine annual physical exam showed Tommie Aaron had leukemia. He died on Aug. 16, 1984, two weeks after turning 45.

Braves general manager John Mullen, who some 30 years earlier had signed Tommie and his brother, told the Atlanta Constitution, “He was just a tremendous person with an awful lot of influence on a lot of ballplayers’ lives.”

Among those attending the funeral in Mobile were Hank Aaron, Mullen, Torre and Murphy.  Pallbearers included former Braves outfielder Ralph Garr, along with former big-leaguers and Mobile natives Tommie Agee and Cleon Jones.

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In a reversal of roles, Marv Throneberry played the hero and the Cardinals performed like the 1962 Mets.

On July 7, 1962, Throneberry hit the first walkoff home run of his big-league career, lifting the Mets to victory against the Cardinals at the Polo Grounds in New York. Throneberry’s winning hit came an inning after Dal Maxvill made a base running blunder that cost the Cardinals a run.

A first baseman whose gaffes on the field came to symbolize the ineptness of the expansion 1962 Mets, losers of 120 games, Throneberry hit like an all-star against the Cardinals that season.

Family affair

Marv and his older brother Faye, who also reached the big leagues, grew up on a family farm in Fisherville, Tenn., about 30 miles east of Memphis.

Faye Throneberry signed with the Red Sox in 1950 and hit .236 during eight years in the majors as an outfielder for the Red Sox, Senators and Angels.

Marv Throneberry signed with the Yankees in 1952. A left-handed batter, he became a prolific slugger for their Denver farm club, hitting 36 home runs in 1955, 42 in 1956 and 40 in 1957.

When Marv made his big-league debut with the Yankees in a game at Boston on Sept. 25, 1955, Faye was in the outfield for the Red Sox. Marv went 2-for-2 with three RBI and a run scored. Boxscore

That would be Marv’s only big-league experience until he stuck with the Yankees as a backup to first baseman Moose Skowron in 1958.

After the 1959 season, Throneberry was traded to the Athletics in a multi-player deal that brought Roger Maris to the Yankees.

“Marv Throneberry swings and misses with outlandish regularity,” Sports Illustrated noted in April 1960, “but manages to connect just often enough to maintain his reputation as a slugger of great promise.”

The Athletics shipped him to the Orioles in June 1961. Throneberry was a teammate of Whitey Herzog in Denver and with the Athletics and the Orioles.

No shortage of shortcomings

The 1962 Mets opened their inaugural season with Gil Hodges, 38, as their first baseman, but a variety of ailments limited his playing time. On May 9, the Mets acquired Throneberry, 28, from the Orioles for a player to be named (former Cardinals catcher Hobie Landrith) and cash.

When Mets general manager George Weiss said Throneberry probably would be the club’s first baseman for the next four years, manager Casey Stengel “almost fell off his seat,” columnist Joe King reported. Weiss and Stengel were with the Yankees when Throneberry was there, and Stengel wasn’t impressed. “I know he can maybe move around at first base, but whether he can hit, I don’t know,” Stengel told The Sporting News.

With his options limited, Stengel played Throneberry against right-handers. Making mistakes in the field and on the base paths, and whiffing a lot at the plate, Throneberry was viewed as “a symbol of the futility of one of the most tragicomic teams in baseball,” the New York Times noted.

On June 17, in the first inning of a game against the Cubs at the Polo Grounds, Throneberry, batting with two on and one out, drilled a deep drive to right. Both runners scored and Throneberry reached third with a triple.

“He was dusting off his uniform at third base, apparently feeling that the tide in his fortunes had turned,” the Associated Press reported, when the Cubs appealed to first-base umpire Dusty Boggess, saying Throneberry had failed to touch the base on the way around.

The umpire agreed, and Throneberry was ruled out. He was credited with two RBI but no hit on the play.

“Stengel charged from the dugout in protest,” columnist Arthur Daley wrote in the New York Times. “The umpire shut him up fast. Throneberry didn’t touch second either.”

When the next batter, Charlie Neal, followed with a home run, Stengel emerged and pointed out each of the four bases to Neal as he made his home run trot, the New York Times reported. Boxscore

Hooray for Marv

The Mets were 22-57 entering the July 7 Saturday doubleheader versus the Cardinals at the Polo Grounds.

With the score tied at 3-3 in the eighth inning of the opener, the Cardinals had two on and two outs when Red Schoendienst hit a smash off Hodges’ glove at first base and into right field for a single.

Dal Maxvill, running at second for Stan Musial, rounded third and reached the plate easily with the apparent go-ahead run. The Mets appealed, saying Maxvill didn’t touch third base, and umpire Augie Donatelli agreed, calling him out and nullifying the run. Donatelli said Maxvill missed the bag by almost a foot, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported.

In the ninth, Curt Flood led off with a home run, putting the Cardinals ahead, 4-3.

Facing left-hander Curt Simmons in the bottom half of the inning, Joe Christopher hit a tapper along the first-base line. Simmons fielded the ball, tried to tag Christopher, but missed, enabling him to reach first with a single.

After right-hander Ernie Broglio relieved and got Hodges to fly out, Stengel countered by sending Throneberry to bat for shortstop Elio Chacon. Rather than have a left-hander pitch to Throneberry, Cardinals manager Johnny Keane stayed with Broglio.

Facing the Cardinals for the first time in a regular-season game, Throneberry worked the count to 1-and-1 before lining a pitch into the lower seats in right for a two-run home run, giving the Mets a 5-4 triumph. Boxscore

“Chances are that if you had 20 guesses as to which Met batsman had a pinch-hit homer in the ninth, you’d probably mention Marv Throneberry last, if at all,” the New York Times concluded. “His derelictions afield and at bat in recent exercises had made him the comic symbol of all that is wrong with the forlorn Mets.”

Throneberry started at first base in Game 2 of the doubleheader and almost was the hero again. In the seventh inning, his home run against Ray Washburn tied the score at 2-2. After Stan Musial put the Cardinals ahead, 3-2, with a home run in the eighth, Throneberry hit a triple against Washburn with two outs in the ninth, but Lindy McDaniel relieved and retired Gene Woodling to end the game. Boxscore

Man of the people

Throneberry hit one more walkoff home run for the Mets. On Aug. 21, 1962, he was coaching first base when Stengel told him to bat for Jim Hickman in the bottom of the ninth. Throneberry hit a three-run home run against Pirates closer Roy Face, eliminating a two-run deficit and giving the Mets a 5-4 victory. Boxscore

For the season, Throneberry led the National League in one category: most errors by a first baseman (17 in 97 games).

He hit 16 home runs for the 1962 Mets and batted .244, with almost as many strikeouts (83) as hits (87).

Against the 1962 Cardinals, though, Throneberry batted .326 (with 15 hits) and had an on-base percentage of .396.

“Marvin Eugene Throneberry became the symbol of the New York Mets,” Arthur Daley wrote in the New York Times. “Even his initials spelled out Met. Like the rest of his team, he was lovably inept but with a flair for heroics. He’d lose games by his bungling, or win them with dramatic home runs.”

According to Daley, “more than half the fan mail that came to the 1962 Mets was directed to Marvelous Marv. Ninety-nine percent of it pledged undying devotion. One percent call him a bum.”

After the season, the Mets acquired Tim Harkness, 25, from the Dodgers and made him their first baseman in 1963. Throneberry got into 14 games, hit .143 and was sent to the minors in May. 

In seven years in the majors, he had 295 strikeouts and 281 hits.

He resurfaced in popular TV commercials for Miller Lite beer during the 1970s. Video

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Two of the Cardinals’ savviest competitors, a pair of future Hall of Famers, got picked off base on successive plays.

The pitcher who nabbed them was a 22-year-old Padres right-hander, facing the Cardinals for the first time.

On June 9, 1972, Bill Greif picked off Bob Gibson at second base. Then he picked off Lou Brock at first base.

Premier prospect

A standout in multiple sports in high school at Austin, Texas, Greif passed up a scholarship offer to the University of Texas to sign with the Astros when he was 18. He made his big-league debut with the Astros in July 1971 and was traded to the Padres with two other prospects for pitcher Dave Roberts after the season.

“We hated to give up Greif,” Astros general manager Spec Richardson told The Sporting News. “He throws hard and has a fine sinker. He could be an outstanding pitcher.”

The Padres had finished in last place each year since joining the National League in 1969 and were headed there again in 1972. Greif looked to be one of their top talents and earned a starting rotation spot.

Padres pitching coach Roger Craig, the former Cardinal, said Greif was one of the most mature and intelligent young pitchers he had coached, the Associated Press reported. “All Greif needs is 200 innings under his belt and he’ll be quite a pitcher,” Craig predicted.

Greif told the Society for American Baseball Research, “Roger was an excellent tactician. We talked a lot about setting pitches up and which pitch to throw in each situation. It was situational pitching and that was very helpful to me.”

Greif entered his start against the Cardinals with a 3-8 record. The Padres totaled nine runs in his eight losses.

Craig, who with the Mets had 24 losses in 1962 and 22 in 1963, understood what it was like to pitch for a bad team and used that experience to try to guide Greif.

“I’ve learned more from Roger in three months than I learned all the rest of my career,” Greif told The Sporting News. “He helps a pitcher in so many ways, especially in keeping up his confidence.”

Right moves

Greif was matched against Gibson for the Friday night series opener at San Diego. Greif was 9 when Gibson got his first win in the majors in 1959.

In the third inning, the game was scoreless and the Cardinals had one out and none on when Gibson doubled. Before pitching to Brock, Greif, a rangy 6 feet 4, whirled around and fired the ball to shortstop Enzo Hernandez, who was covering the bag at second. Hernandez tagged out Gibson, who had strayed too far.

Brock followed with a single. In 1972, Brock would lead the National League in stolen bases for the sixth time, but Greif wasn’t intimidated. As Brock took his lead, Greif whipped a throw to first baseman Nate Colbert, who applied a tag before Brock could reach the bag.

“Many pitchers have been improving on their moves,” Brock told The Sporting News. “The pitchers are much more responsible for base steals than catchers.”

The Padres scored twice in the fourth, snapping Gibson’s scoreless inning streak at 25, but the Cardinals came back against Greif in the sixth. Brock led off with a triple and scored on a wild pitch. After Bernie Carbo popped out, Matty Alou crushed a home run, merely his second of the season, to tie the score at 2-2.

In the ninth, Joe Torre led off with a home run against Greif. “He has great stuff,” Torre told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. “He just got a curve in too much. I’m sure he didn’t want to put the ball there. He’s so big that it looks as if he’s reaching out to touch you when he lets go. He’s big enough to scare you.”

Gibson sealed the victory, retiring the side in the bottom half of the inning. It was Gibson’s 210th career win, tying him with Jesse Haines for the Cardinals’ franchise lead. Boxscore

“I was studying Gibson and marveling at the stuff this man has and the way he challenges the hitters,” Greif told the Associated Press.

By dueling with Gibson into the ninth, “At least I know now that I can pitch in the majors,” Greif said, “and that’s something I didn’t know this spring.”

Mind over matter

The remainder of the 1972 season had more lows than highs for Greif. He finished with a 5-16 record and 5.60 ERA.

In five seasons with Padres, he was 29-61.

In May 1976, Greif, 26, was traded to the Cardinals for outfielder Luis Melendez. In 47 relief appearances for the Cardinals that season, his last in the majors, Greif was 1-5 with six saves.

Expressing an interest in experimental psychology, Greif attended college during the baseball off-seasons. He earned a degree in psychology from the University of Texas and a master’s from Texas State University.

He told the Austin American-Statesman, “Pitchers, in particular, might be an interesting study _ how a pitcher can program his brain to release a certain pitch the same way time after time.”

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Leave it to Lou Brock to find a hole in a five-man infield.

On June 27, 1972, the Expos put five players on the infield in an attempt to escape a jam against the Cardinals.

Brock did what the Expos hoped he would _ hit a ground ball _ but it eluded the infielders and bounded into the outfield for a game-winning hit.

Stacking the infield

After a loss to Sam McDowell and the Giants dropped their record to 24-32, the Cardinals won six in a row heading into a Tuesday night doubleheader versus the Expos at Busch Memorial Stadium in St. Louis.

The Expos’ starting lineup in Game 1 featured a pair of former Cardinals (Tim McCarver, making his second career start at third base, and center fielder Boots Day), two future Cardinals (right fielder Ron Fairly and first baseman Mike Jorgensen) and a St. Louis native (second baseman Ron Hunt).

After the Cardinals came back from a 3-0 deficit and tied the score, the game went to extra innings.

In the 11th, with the bases loaded and one out, Brock came to bat against closer Mike Marshall, who was working his fourth inning. Marshall’s signature pitch was a screwball, which batters tended to hit on the ground.

Hoping for a ground ball to create either a force at the plate or a double play, if Marshall couldn’t get Brock to strike out or hit a pop-up, Expos manager Gene Mauch removed left fielder Jim Fairey and sent utility player Hector Torres to the infield.

Because Brock batted left-handed, the Expos put three infielders on the right side _ first baseman Mike Jorgensen, shortstop Tim Foli (positioned to the right of second base) and second baseman Ron Hunt (stationed between Jorgensen and Foli), according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

On the left side were third baseman Bobby Wine (who had replaced McCarver in the sixth inning) and Torres (positioned to the left of second base).

The two outfielders, Ron Woods in center and Ken Singleton in right, played shallow in case of a pop fly.

Getting it done

Jorgensen at first base moved in a bit from his normal fielding spot so that if Brock did ground the ball to him he could attempt a short throw to the plate. Jorgensen also didn’t want to be too far from the bag in case he needed to beat Brock there to field a relay throw on a double play.

Brock, a spray hitter, did the unexpected, slashing a grounder down the first-base line. The ball zipped past Jorgensen for a single, scoring Scipio Spinks from third with the winning run. Boxscore

“He hit it to the (Expos’) strong point, the right side, and still hit it past them,” Cardinals manager Red Schoendienst said to the Post-Dispatch.

Stunned that Brock, who hit .233 for his career against Marshall, drove the ball where he did, Mauch said, “If I’d have had seven infielders, I wouldn’t have put one right there.”

Brock seemed surprised, too. “It must have been 1967 since I last hit a ball to that spot,” he told The Sporting News.

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