25th anniversary: Joe Niekro’s nail fileby Chris Jaffe
August 03, 2012
25 years ago today, baseball had one of its most interesting – and humorous – ejections from a game.
On Aug. 3, 1987, the Twins went with veteran knuckleballer Joe Niekro on the mound on the road against the California Angels. In the early going, it was a standard game. Both teams scored, and it was 2-2 entering the bottom of the fourth. That’s when things got interesting.
After a groundout and a walk, the Angels complained to the umpires about Niekro. His ball wasn’t moving in a natural way – not even for a knuckleballer. They demanded that home plate umpire Tim Tschida check Niekro for foreign substances.
So Tschida marched to the mound, and so did some other umpires and some Angels officials. They went through the routine, checking Niekro’s glove and looking over his jersey and hat. So far, so normal. Then they made him turn out his pockets.
Well, that was a problem for Niekro. He had a nail file in one of those pockets and that was the foreign object the Angels suspected was causing the ball to move so funny. But if Niekro showed it to the umpires, he’d be ejected for sure.
But Niekro had to turn out his pockets, so he gave it his best chance. He grabbed the nail file with his fingers while turning his pockets inside out and as casually as he could tossed the file off to the side once his hand had left his pocket. It was all one fluid motion – hand leaves pocket keeps rising, and then something flies out of it.
Niekro’s hope was that everyone would be looking at the pocket and not his hand. His hope was unfulfilled.
One of the guys on the mound – I think it was the Angels trainer – was standing right next to Niekro and clearly saw it. Hell, they all probably did. It was pretty obvious. Lord knows the TV cameras caught Niekro red handed.
Caught dead to rights with the nail file, Niekro was ejected. He could claim it was just to file his nails, but no one was believing it. No one files their nails on the mound, and no one tries to dispose of it in front of the umpires like that.
It was part of a series of ejections for scuffing the ball in the 1980s. Earlier in the decade, Gaylord Perry became the first pitcher ejected in decades after being found with greasy stuff on the mound. Shortly thereafter, umpires gave Rick Honeycutt the heave-ho for possessing a thumbtack in his glove. A week later after the Niekro incident, umpires nailed Kevin Gross for having sandpaper.
There were many ejections for this in the 1980s, but none were so entertaining as the time the umpires ran Joe Niekro—and it happened 25 years ago today.
Aside from that, many other baseball events today celebrate their anniversary or “day-versry” (which is something occurring X-thousand days ago). Here they are, with the better ones in bold if you’d rather just skim.
4,000 days since Nick the Stick Johnson makes his big league debut.
8,000 days since Dave Burba makes his major league debut on the mound.
10,000 days since the A’s trade an aging Davey Lopes to the Cubs.
15,000 days since the Dodgers sign free agent Hoyt Wilhelm.
15,000 days since Rennie Stennett makes his big league debut.
30,000 days since Lou Gehrig hits a pair of homers in a game for the second straight day. It’s the third time in seven days he’s done this.
And along these lines, at some point today it’ll be a billion seconds since the birth of Nick Swisher.
1894 Hall of Famer Harry Heilmann is born.
1906 Long Tom Hughes has a great day on the mound and at the plate, he throws a 10-inning complete game shutout 1-0 win—and hits the extra-inning homer that delivers the victory.
1914 Pirates skipper Fred Clarke becomes the first big league manager to lodge his 1,500th victory. His record is 1,500-1,066.
1914 Yankees catcher Les Nunamaker throws out three Tigers base stealers in one inning. That’s the only time this happens in the 20th century.
1916 The Pirates release pitcher Babe Adams. He’ll be back.
1918 Gene Packard surrenders 12 runs, but doesn’t get stuck with the loss.
1921 Baseball head honcho Judge Kennesaw Mountain Landis says the Black Sox won’t be allowed to return. The official banning won’t come until Aug. 4.
1923 All baseball games are postponed due to the death of President Warren G. Harding the day before.
1928 Hall of Fame starting pitcher Stan Coveleski appears in his last game.
1931 Lou Gehrig hits his 100th career triple.
1931 For the fourth consecutive game, the Reds lose and don’t score a single run.
1932 The Cubs release second baseman and manager Rogers Hornsby.
1933 For the first time in 308 games, the Yankees fail to score a run. This last occurred on Aug. 2, 1931 when Wilcy Moore shut them down. Today, Lefty Grove does it.
1937 Lefty Grove wins his 250th game. His record is 250-115 at this point. It’s the fewest losses by anyone with 250 wins since at least Christy Mathewson.
1937 66,767 attend Lou Gehrig Appreciation Day in Yankee Stadium. George M. Cohan presents Gehrig with a pocket watch. It’s his 1,900th consecutive game played.
1937 St. Louis’ Mickey Owen becomes the third catcher to make an unassisted double play.
1940 In a grisly incident, Willard Hershberger becomes the only player to commit suicide during a season. He slits his throat with a razor.
1944 Due to the lack of manpower in the majors during World War II, 16-year-old Tommy Brown makes his big league debut as Brooklyn shortstop.
1947 Hank Greenberg hits his only grand slam with the Pirates. It’s the 11th and last one of his career.
1947 Hall of Fame starting pitcher Vic Willis dies.
1948 Billy Pierce has his worst day of control, walking nine batters while getting only eight outs.
1948 Satchel Paige makes his first start in the major leagues. 72,434 attend in Cleveland and watch him last seven innings versus Washington.
1953 Lew Burdette knocks down Roy Campanella and then yells “Nigger, get up and hit!” Campanella charges the mound, as does Joe Black.
1953 Whitey Ford goes 4-for-5 at the plate. He’ll do it again nine days and then never do it again.
1960 It’s a different one, as the Tigers and Indians trade managers—Jimmy Dykes to the Indians, and Joe Gordon to the Indians.
1962 Frank Thomas of the Mets hits two homers in the game, giving him six in three days.
1963 Orlando Cepeda hits two triples in one game. He’s 4-for-5 on the day.
1963 Luis Aparicio suffers through his worst WPA game: -0.569 WPA. He’s 0-for-5 with a GIDP.
1965 Judge Roy Hofheinz purchases 53 percent of Bob Smith’s holding in Houston, giving him 86 percent of the overall team stock.
1966 Jim Palmer famously never allows a grand slam in his big league career, but today he allows a bases loaded to triple to Max Alvis. It’s the only three-run triple Palmer ever surrenders.
1966 Roy McMillan appears in his last game.
1967 The Kansas City A’s fire manager Alvin Dark.
1967 The Yankees trade longtime star Elston Howard to the Red Sox.
1967 Joe Torre has perhaps the best game of his career, going 4-for-4 with a double and two homers. He also walks one, scores three times, and drives in two.
1968 Rod Beck is born.
1969 Dave McNally loses, ending a 17-game winning streak, stretching back to 1968. He’s 15-1 on the year now.
1969 The Expos top the Astros 1-0 on walk-off fielder’s choice for the game’s only run. With one out and runners on the corners, the Astros go for the double play and don’t get it while the runner scores from third.
1970 The Orioles win their 23rd consecutive games over the Royals.
1971 Pete Rose plays center field for the final time in his career.
1974 The Yankees retire Whitey Ford's No. 16.
1975 Pete Vuckovich makes his major league debut.
1976 Joe Wallis hits an inside-the-park, lead-off home run for the Cubs against Philadelphia ace Steve Carlton. The Cubs will lose, though, 8-5.
1976 Troy Glaus is born.
1977 Eddie Murray has the first of his 31 career multi-home run games.
1978 Mike Torrez defeats the Yankees, becoming the second pitcher to defeat all 26 teams. Rick Wise is the first one. Torrez will end his career 1-10 against the Yankees.
1979 The Yankees attend the funeral for Thurman Munson, who recently died in a plane crash.
1979 Pete Rose plays an inning at second base for the Phillies. It’s his first time at second in a decade and the last time he ever plays there.
1979 Tony LaRussa manages his first big league game.
1982 Andre Dawson lays down two sacrifice bunts in one game, the only time he ever does that.
1982 The Angels retire No. 26 for longtime owner Gene Autry.
1982 Doug DeCinces hits two homers in one game.
1982 Frank White hits for the cycle. It’s the second time he’s done it.
1983 Nolan Ryan throws his ninth career one-hitter. Houston edges the Padres, 1-0. Tim Flannery gets a third-inning single against him.
1984 Rollie Fingers undergoes back surgery on a herniated disk in his back. He’ll be out of the rest of the year.
1985 Bert Blyleven gives up the only walk-off home run of his career. Doug DeCinces hits a two-run homer that turns a 4-3 lead into a 5-4 loss.
1987 Jack Morris loses his 100th decision, for a 156-100 record. Morris uncorks five wild pitches in the game, which is a 10-inning loss.
1989 Keith Hernandez hits his only walk-off home run, an 11th-inning shot off Kent Tekulve. It’s Hernandez’s only extra-inning homer.
1989 Jim Rice plays in his final game.
1989 The Reds get 16 hits, including a dozen singles, in the first inning against Houston. They score 14 runs in the opening frame and beat Houston, 18-2.
1990 Atlanta trades Dale Murphy to the Phillies.
1991 Dave Henderson hits three home runs in one game for the A’s.
1991 The Tigers fire team president Bo Schemechler and chairman Jim Campbell.
1993 For the first time all year, John Olerud’s batting average drops below .400.
1995 The Senate Judiciary Committee passes a bill, 9-8, calling for partial repeal of MLB’s anti-trust exemption.
1997 Sammy Sosa has his best game according to WPA: 0.994 WPA. He’s 2-for-6 with a double and homer. The big blast is a three-run, walk-off homer in the bottom of the 12th inning.
1988 C.J. Nitkowski hits three consecutive batters in the eighth inning for Houston versus Florida.
1998 Kevin Mitchell appears in his last game.
1998 A’s starting pitcher Mike Oquist has one of the worst starts of all time: 5 IP, 16 H, 14 R, 14 ER, 3 BB, and 3 K for a Game Score of –21.
2001 A judge orders Anheuser-Busch to pay the Roger Maris family $50 million for improperly taking away his beer distributorship.
2002 Seattle’s Edgar Martinez gets three sacrifice flies in one game. Seattle tops Cleveland, 12-4. The win pushes manager Lou Piniella’s career record 187 games over .500 (1,295-1,108), his all-time peak. He’ll later match 187 games over .500, but never tops it.
2003 Robin Ventura, at age 36, hits his only inside the park home run.
2004 The Yankees sign free agent John Olerud.
2007 Arizona selects Byung-Hyun Kim off waivers from Florida. The D-backs also take Jeff Cirillo off waivers from the Twins.
2007 For the second straight game, Vladimir Guerrero hits a pair of dingers.
2008 Longtime Braves announcer Skip Caray dies.
2009 The Padres release one-time uber-prospect Mark Prior.
2010 For the second consecutive game, the Brewers score 18 runs in a game. Today they top the Cardinals 18-4, and yesterday beat the Cubs 18-1.
2011 Carlos Beltran, at age 34, hit his second triple in three days for the Giants. He does it again next month.
History instructor by day, statnerd by night, Chris Jaffe leads one of the most exciting double lives imaginable; with the exception of every other double life possible to imagine. Despite his lack of comic-book-hero-worthiness, Chris enjoys farting around with this stuff. His new book, Evaluating Baseball's Managers is available for order. Chris welcomes responses to his articles via e-mail. Oh, and now he's on twitter.