40th anniversary: Bobby Valentine breaks his legby Chris Jaffe
May 17, 2013
Forty years ago today, one of the most gruesome and unfortunate injuries of the 1970s occurred. It ruined a promising career just as it was beginning— though the kid had a long future in baseball ahead of him anyway.
It was May 17, 1973, when Angels player Bobby Valentine broke his leg.
Valentine had been a huge prospect. As an 18-year-old in the Pioneer League, he was named league MVP. The club thought enough of him to bring him up for a few games in 1969, when he was still a teen.
At age 20, Valentine starred for the Dodgers’ Spokane club in the Triple-A Pacific Coast League. Valentine hit .340 with 29 stolen bases, 39 doubles, 16 triples, and 14 homers.
Figuring he was done with the minors, he became a major leaguer for almost all of 1971-72. The results weren’t quite what the Dodgers hoped for, though. Valentine had versatility in the field, playing all over the infield and outfield, but at the plate he was lackluster. He had virtually no power, and had a mediocre batting average.
In the 1972-73 off-season, the Dodgers sent him to the nearby Angels as part of a blockbuster trade also featuring Frank Robinson, Bill Singer, Andy Messersmith and Ken McMullen. Though Valentine’s career hadn’t quite taken off, he was still very young—just 23, an age at which many stars-to-be were toiling in the minors.
The change of scenery seemed to do Valentine a world of good. California settled on shortstop for Valentine, with occasional games in the outfield. A fifth of the way through the year, and Valentine was hitting over .300. The future appeared bright.
Then came May 17, 1973. This would be another of those games with Valentine in center. In the top of the second, Valentine’s career came to a sudden, shocking halt. Oakland’s Dick Green hit one to deep center field. Valentine went to the wall hoping to leap and rob Green of a home run. It didn’t work out that way. It really, really didn’t work out that way.
Valentine leaped up all right, but the ball missed his glove by a hair, for a home run. More importantly, gravity made a disastrous appearance. Valentine began descending, and when he did, his leg got tangled in the wall. It went between a pair of supporting poles. The wall gave way a bit, just enough to trap his leg. Then it flipped him to the ground. The middle part of his shin was bent. That middle part of a shin is never supposed to bend, but bend it did. It was the closest baseball got to a Joe Thiesman-Lawrence Taylor moment.
Valentine had multiple fractures to his right leg. He spent the rest of the 1973 season in various casts, but when they were taken off more bad news was in store for him. His bones hadn’t healed properly. Another surgery could fix it, but would mean Valentine would miss all of 1974, at the very least. He decided to play on his messed-up leg. He would play more than 100 games in 1974, but was soon relegated to backup duties. No more star-to-be, Valentine became a hanger-on. He bounced from the Angels to the Padres to the Mets to the Mariners, where his career ended in 1979, when he was still not even 30 years old.
Maybe Valentine wouldn’t have lived up to his potential. Plenty of prospects don’t. But maybe he would’ve. It’s a shame we’ll never know—and we won’t know because of the terrible injury that happened 40 years ago today.
Aside from that, many other baseball events today celebrate their anniversary or “day-versary” (which is something that happened X-thousand days ago). Here they are, with the better ones in bold if you’d rather just skim.
1,000 days since Arizona signs free agent pitcher Mike Hampton.
1,000 days since Matt Stairs hits his 21st career pinch-hit home run.
4,000 days since the 2002 draft. Among the more memorable picks are these: Florida gets Josh Johnson and Scott Olsen; the Dodgers get Russell Martin; the Reds gets Joey Votto; Detroit gets Curtis Granderson; the Mets get Scott Kazmir; the Brewers get Prince Fielder; the Royals get Zack Greinke; the Rays get B.J. Upton, the Giants gets Matt Cain, and the Braves get Jeff Francoeur and Brian McCann. Oh, this is also the famous Moneyball draft where the A’s pick up Nick Swisher, Joe Blanton, Mark Teahen, and the fat catcher Jeremy Brown.
5,000 days since Steve Finley hits three home runs in one game. It’s the third time he’s done that.
6,000 days since Florida signs free agent outfielder Moises Alou.
7,000 days since Atlanta releases Ron Gant, who broke his leg in a motorcycle accident, violating the terms of his contract.
8,000 days since Mickey Tettleton becomes the 17th person to hit a ball completely out of Tiger Stadium.
9,000 days since Jack Morris throws a one-hitter. The only hit is a single in the seventh inning by Mickey Tettleton. Boy, don’t mess with Tettleton in this interval of 1,000 days.
15,000 days since Buddy Bell mashes the first of eight career grand slam.
20,000 days since Reds manager Birdie Tebbetts resigns. Jimmie Dykes will take over as interim skipper.
20,000 days since Vic Power, rather amazingly, steals home twice in one game. The second one is the winning run in the 10th inning for a 10-9 Indians triumph over Detroit.
1860 Frank Mountain is born. He’ll pitch in the 1880s American Association (a major league at the time) and lead it in losses in 1883, with a 26-33 record.
1865 Al Mays is born. He’ll lead the American Association in losses in 1887 with a 17-34 record. The year before he was 11-27. Those records are more reflective of his offensive support, though.
1882 Charlie Buffinton, a pitcher who would go on to win around 200 games, makes his big league debut.
1887 Pud Galvin, the first pitcher to win 300 games (and also the first to lose 300), gives up the only grand slam of his career.
1892 The Louisville Colonels (a major league team back then) sign Hughie Jennings. He’ll go on to a Hall of Fame career.
1892 Hal Carlson, NL pitcher, is born. He’ll play for the Cubs in the 1929 World Series and then shockingly die in the middle of the 1930 season, while still a member of the club.
1893 Mickey Welch, a 300-game winning pitcher, plays in his final game.
1903 Cool Papa Bell, Negro Leaguer and Hall of Famer, is born. Legend has it he was so fast he could turn the switch off and get into bed before the room was dark. There’s truth to that legend, of a sort. Staying at one motel, he realized there was a short in the wiring causing a delay from switch to lights. Taking advantage of that, he bet his roomie he could beat the speed of dark—and then he did. And that’s how one legendary story began.
1912 The Red Sox have the official dedication of Fenway Park. They could’ve done it earlier, but management figures if they have one day for its grand opening and another for the dedication, they can sell more tickets. It’s a good idea, but Mother Nature doesn’t cooperate. It doesn’t rain enough to cancel the game, but it does rain enough to dampen attendance.
1913 The grandstand section of Comiskey Park collapses. Oops.
1913 Washington purchases veteran pitcher workhorse George Mullin from Detroit.
1915 Zip Zabel of the Cubs pitches the longest relief stint ever: 18.1 innings. He gets the win in a 19-inning, 4-3 Chicago triumph over Brooklyn.
1920 The New York Times reports that at the end of the year the Giants will evict their Polo Ground tenants, the Yankees. This report will be rescinded a few days later, but the Yankees aren’t long for the Polo Grounds either way.
1921 Hall of Famer Burleigh Grimes allows a personal-high 18 hits in one game. His line: 9 IP, 18 H, 7 R, 2 ER, 1 BB, 3 K.
1921 Iron man infielder Everett Scott plays in his 700th straight game. He’ll become the first person to play in 1,000 consecutive contests and will hold the iron man record until Lou Gehrig breaks it.
1927 Bob Smith of the Braves becomes the last pitcher to last over 21 innings in game. His line: 22 IP, 20 H, 4 R, 3 ER, 9 BB, 5 K. Unfortunately for him, it’s all for naught as the Cubs win, 4-3, and Smith gets pegged for the loss. The Cubs were just three days off an 18-inning game, too. In this game, the Cubs used three pitchers; most notably, Bob Osborn pitching 14 innings of shutout relief for the win.
1929 Pete Alexander loses his 200th game. He’s 366-200 at this point in his career, which is almost over.
1932 Tigers pitcher Billy Hoeft is born. He’ll represent them in the 1955 All-Star game and then win 20 for them in 1956.
1934 Rogers Hornsby hits his 300th career home run. He’s the first National Leaguer to do so, and third overall, behind Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig.
1934 Former Phillies great Chuck Klein returns to the Baker Bowl for the first time since becoming a Cub. He bangs out two home runs.
1939 It’s the first time a baseball game is televised: Princeton against Columbia in the Baker Bowl.
1940 Chuck Klein gets his 2,000th hit in only 1,576 games played. He is one of the fastest to get there.
1941 May 17, 1941 is a legal holiday in the state of Pennsylvania and city of Philadelphia to honor longtime A’s owner and manager Connie Mack.
1944 Boston’s Hall of Fame second baseman Bobby Doerr hits for the cycle.
1945 For the fourth straight day, rain causes the postponement of all AL games.
1947 Old Folks Ellis Kinder gets very lucky, or is almost extremely unlucky, depending on how you look at it. While he’s pitching at Fenway Park, a seagull flies by and poops on the mound, narrowly missing him.
1948 Carlos May is born. For much of his career, May will have the uniform number 17. He gets this number whenever he’s on a team that lists the player’s name on its back, so all the world can see “MAY 17”—his name, number—and also birthday. Pretty neat, eh? He’s also a two-time All-Star.
1957 Pascual Perez, Braves pitcher, is born.
1958 Stan Williams, a hard-throwing pitcher known for aiming at people’s heads, makes his big league debut.
1959 In the second game of a doubleheader, Harmon Killebrew has his fifth multi-home-run game of the month. Not bad, especially given it’s only midway through the month.
1959 Jim Perry, pitching in relief, surrenders the only walk-off walk of his career. And he can’t blame his fellow pitchers: he’s the guy who loaded the bases this inning, too.
1959 A Roberto Clemente home run ball juuuuuust misses hitting the Wrigley Field scoreboard. It flies a little to the left of it. To this day, no homer has ever hit it.
1960 The Dodgers release long-time right fielder Carl Furillo.
1961 Stan Williams out-duels Braves ace Warren Spahn and himself in 2-1 victory over 11 innings. He holds the Braves to only four hits but walks 12 batters while striking out 10. It’s one of only six times in the last 90 years a pitcher walks 12 and still gets the win.
1961 Roger Maris hits his first Yankee Stadium home run of the year and No. 4 overall. It’s a slow start, but he’ll pick up the pace as the year continues.
1961 Veteran hitter Walt Dropo appears in his last big league contest.
1961 Otto Knabe, second baseman, dies at age 76. He led the NL in sacrifice hits four times from 1907-13.
1963 Bob Allison becomes the first Twin to belt three home runs in one game.
1963 Don Nottebart hurls the first no-hitter in Astros history (or Colt .45s, as they were called back then): Houston 4, Philadelphia 1. He walks three while fanning eight in the game.
1965 Dodgers skipper Walter Alston wins his 1,000th game: His career record is 1,000-754.
1965 New York Mets release former Yankees legend Yogi Berra.
1966 Joe Torre enjoys his only four-walk game. He’s 0-for-1 in five PA. One of the walks is intentional.
1967 Tom Seaver surrenders the only walk-off home run of his career. Joe Torre hits it. It’s the third of four career walk-off blasts by Torre.
1968 After 41 straight scoreless innings, Indians ace Luis Tiant finally gives up a run. He ends up losing to Baltimore, 6-2.
1969 Pants Rowland, manager of the 1917 White Sox world champion club, dies at age 90.
1970 Hank Aaron laces his 3,000th career hit. It’s only taken him 2,460 games. He’s the ninth person to have 3,000 hits, and the first to combine 3,000 hits with 500 homers (though Willie Mays will join him in the 3,000 hit club later that year).
1971 Johnny Bench hits his 100th home run.
1971 Atlanta’s Ralph Garr homers twice in extra innings of one game, in the 10th and 12th frames.
1971 Jim Bunning helps his own cause. He hits a solo home run and drives in another run with a sacrifice fly and that’s the difference in a 3-2 Phillies win over the Reds.
1971 The Red Sox sign free agent pitcher Luis Tiant, whom the Braves cut two days previously. Tiant will go 1-7 for the Red Sox this year but then turn things around dramatically, going 96-58 over the next five seasons.
1971 As once noted here at THT, one of the most famous blooper plays in baseball history occurs on May 17, 1971. Washington infielder Tom McCraw hit a pop-up to shallow left-center, and three Cleveland defenders converged to catch it but instead ran into each other. John Lowenstein, Vada Pinson and Jack Heidemann ran into each other at full speed, and all had to leave the game after the play. McCraw got an unlikely inside-the-park home run out of it.
1971 Roberto Clemente hits a memorable clutch shot with the rare walk-off triple. There were two outs at the time, too.
1974 Hank Aaron gets his first sacrifice hit since July 27, 1961, when he bunts over Dusty Baker against Dodger reliever Mike Marshall in the eighth inning of tied game. Aaron went 7,863 consecutive plate appearances between sacrifices.
1975 Phillies reliever Gene Garber ties a modern record by recording his third win in three days.
1976 The Cubs trade Andre Thornton to the Expos for Larry Biitner and Steve Renko
1976 Jose Guillen is born. He’ll play 14 seasons as an outfielder.
1977 After reaching on a fielder’s choice in his 3,176th career plate appearances, Oakland A’s catcher Earl Williams steals second, his first ever stolen base. The embarrassed pitcher-catcher combination is Ron Guidry and Thurman Munson. Making this especially odd, Guidry’s a lefty, so you’d figure he could do a better job holding the runner. Then again, when the runner hasn’t stolen a base in over 3,000 trips to the plate, you probably aren’t thinking of him as a threat.
1977 In the very same game that Earl Williams steals his first base, his teammate Vida Blue pitches 13 innings, the longest outing of his career, but gets stuck with a no-decision as the game keeps going on. His line: 13 IP, 7 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 4 BB, 6 K. The Yankees win in 15 frames, 5-2.
1977 It must be windy. The Cubs bash seven homer runs in a 23-6 rout of the Padres.
1978 Carlos Pena is born. In the internet era, he has transformed from hot prospect to disappointment to washout to comeback player to aging vet.
1978 The Dodgers trade Glenn Burke to the A’s for Billy North, reputedly because Burke was gay.
1978 Lee Lacy sets a record with his third straight pinch-hit home run.
1979 Games don’t come much wilder than this: Phillies 23, Cubs 22 (10). Philly led 7-0, and then the Cubs came back to make it 7-6. Then the second inning began—really, that’s how it started. The Phillies scored the game’s next 10 runs, but the Cubs came back behind a trio of Dave Kingman homers, but still lost. Why yes, it was windy in Wrigley that day.
1979 After 45 days, the major league umpires strike is settled.
1982 Dixie Walker, star outfielder from the 1940s, dies at age 71.
1985 On the 12th anniversary of the play that ruined his promising playing career, Bobby Valentine manages his first game in the majors.
1985 After 990 career at-bats, Jack Perconte hits his first home run.
1985 St. Louis trades outfielder Lonnie Smith to the Royals.
1986 Slugging first baseman Fred McGriff makes his big league debut.
1988 Greg Maddux has the longest outing of his career: 10.2 innings and 167 pitches. He gets the loss.
1992 Gary Carter joins Bob Boone and Carlton Fisk in the 2,000-games-caught club.
1992 Wade Boggs gets his 2,000th hit in only 1,515 games. That's even faster than Chuck Klein.
1993 Dave Winfield hits his 500th double. He’s the 29th member of the club.
1993 It’s a pretty good week to be Mike Blowers of the Seattle Mariners: He hits a grand slam in his second consecutive game.
1994 Veteran skipper Buck Rodgers manages in his last game.
1994 The Phillies top the Expos 6-5 with two runs scoring in the bottom of the ninth. It’s one of the rare occasions where a walk-off error lets the tying and winning runs both score. Expos third baseman Sean Berry, who had just entered the game as a pinch hitter in the eighth, threw the ball away trying to nail the lead runner at the plate.
1994 It takes 12 pitches, but it’s well worth it for Kenny Lofton. On the dozenth pitch of an at-bat against Cal Eldred, he smacks a home run. It’s the only time he took more than eight pitches to homer.
1996 Jermaine Dye, MVP of the 2005 World Series, makes his big league debut.
1996 In just the 92nd game of his career, Jason Giambi lays down his second, and last, career sacrifice hit. Giambi does advance the runner, but that just allows the opposition to intentionally walk Mark McGwire, which in turn sets up an inning ending GIDP. Giambi has had over 8,100 PA since then without any more sacrifice bunts.
1997 Kenny Lofton enjoys his only 5-for-5 game. He had four other five-hit games, but all with six at-bats.
1998 David Wells throws a perfect game in Yankee Stadium in a 4-0 win over the Twins.
1999 Larry Walker hits his only inside-the-park home run.
1999 Edgar Martinez scores five runs in a game for the only time in his career.
2000 Cal Ripken passes up Hank Aaron by grounding into his 329th double play, the new record. Ripken will retire with 350 GIDP, which is still the record.
2001 Steve Trachsel becomes the first pitcher in Mets history to surrender four home runs in one inning. It happens in the third inning against San Diego.
2002 Erubiel Durazo hits three homers for Arizona in one game.
2002 Jeremy Giambi hits a memorable grand slam—a walk-off slam in the bottom of the 14th to give his new Yankee teammates a 13-12 comeback win over the Twins.
2004 Buster Narum, former pitcher, dies at age 63. In 1963, he became just the second person ever to homer in his sole at bat of the season.
2005 Mike Hargrove manages his 2,000th game. He’s 1,011-987 for his career so far.
2007 Curt Schilling allows seven doubles in one game. For most pitchers that would be a personal high, but not Schilling. He once allowed nine doubles in one game.
2007 John Mabry plays in his last game.
2007 Bill Wight, post-World War II pitcher, dies at age 85. In 1948, he led the AL in walks with 135 while posting a 9-20 record for the White Sox.
2009 Ivan Rodriguez hits his 300th home run.
2009 Joe Maddon screws up filling out the lineup card, forcing Tampa to go without a designated hitter. As a result, pitcher Andy Sonnanstine gets an RBI double in a 7-5 win over the Indians. Go figure.
2009 Mike Pelfrey balks three times in one game, the first time any pitcher has done that in 15 years (when Al Leiter did it).
2010 Arizona releases veteran reliever Bob Howry.
2010 The Red Sox and Yankees have a titanic battle. The Yankees go up 5-0 only to see Boston storm back to a 9-7 lead. The Yankees get a pair of two-run homers in the bottom of the ninth to win it, though, 11-9.
2010 Forget walk-off homers. In the bottom of the 11th of the Rays-Indians game, Tampa shortstop Jason Bartlett does something much rarer. He lays down a walk-off sacrifice bunt to win the game, 4-3. Most walk-off sacrifices are actually defensive errors, but this is the genuine thing, a sac with runners on the corners in which the winning run scores. It’s not a physical error by Indians pitcher Jamey Wright, who has a brain fart and throws to first for the fielder’s choice despite the winning run scoring.
2011 Legendary Twins slugger Harmon Killebrew dies at the age of 74.
2012 San Diego release veteran infielder Orlando Hudson, who is done. The White Sox will pick him up, but he’ll be terrible for them.
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.