50th anniversary: LaRussa goes proby Chris Jaffe
June 06, 2012
Fifty years ago today, a kid signed his first professional contract with a major league team. He’d stick around the game for quite some time.
It was June 6, 1962, when the Kansas City A’s sign a 17-year-old kid from Tampa, Florida who had just graduated from high school. His name? Tony LaRussa.
He wouldn’t make much of an impression as a player. Despite a middling performance in the minors, LaRussa won a brief call-up to the major leagues in 1963. After picking up 11 hits, he went back to the minors, where he stayed for five more years.
By the time he came back with the A’s, they were in Oakland and loaded with talent. LaRussa was never much more than organizational filler for them. One nice thing for LaRussa, however, was that he got to know a better prospect than himself, catcher Dave Duncan. Later on, Duncan would be LaRussa’s longtime pitching coach.
Not needing LaRussa, the A’s traded him in mid-1971. His prospect years over, he now became a minor league vagabond. Though he briefly played in the majors for the Braves and Cubs, LaRussa spent most of his time in the minors for a handful of organizations. While he amassed just 35 big league hits, his collected over 1,100 hits in the minors.
In 1977, he was a 32 year old hitting under .200 for the St. Louis Cardinals’ Triple-A club. His playing days were done.
Of course, that’s when LaRussa’s career really took off. In mid-1978, the White Sox tabbed him to manage their Southern League team. Apparently his smarts had impressed the Chicago brass when he played in their minor league system in 1976-77. The club immediately improved under LaRussa and continued to play at a high level in 1979. Then, midway through the ’79 campaign, the Sox fired their major league manager.
They didn’t have to look far to find his replacement. LaRussa, still in his mid-30s, was a big league manager. He’d stick around for 33 years, missing only a few weeks in the middle of the 1986 season.
Either as player or manager, LaRussa has been employed by some franchise or another for almost every day from June 6, 1962 until October, 2011. He retired last year just before the 50th anniversary of his first baseball paycheck.
Aside from that, many other events celebrate their anniversary or “day-versary” (which is something occurring X-thousand days ago) today. Here they are, with the better ones in bold if you just want to skim.
2,000 days since the Cubs sign free agent Ted Lilly. Rather memorably, team GM Jim Hendry signs the paperwork from his hospital bed, as he’s laid up at the moment. In a separate move, the team also signs Daryle Ward that day.
2,000 days since the Red Sox land a pair of relievers. They sign free agent J.C. Romero and get the Angels to trade them Brendan Donnelly.
4,000 days since Baltimore claims Tony Batista off waivers from Toronto.
5,000 days since Joe Carter plays in his final big league game.
6,000 days since the Red Sox sign free agent pitcher Jamie Moyer.
6,000 days since the Reds sign free agent Eric Davis, allowing him to return to the team with which he first came to prominence.
8,000 days since Barry Bonds belts his 100th career home run.
8,000 days since Melido Perez tosses a rain-shortened six-inning no-hitter. His brother Pascual had a similar shortened-game no-hitter the year before.
20,000 days since the Dodgers play their last game in Jersey City, losing 3-2 in 12 innings to the Phillies. This was something the team did while trying to drum up interest in a new stadium.
30,000 days since Babe Ruth gets a pair of sacrifice hits in one game. It’s the fourth and final time this happens to him.
30,00 days since Al Simmons homers in the fifth consecutive game.
30,000 days since Hall of Fame pitcher Waite Hoyt, who only balks five times in his entire career, gets called for it twice in one game.
1849 Jim Devlin, the only man to pitch 100 percent of his team’s innings in a season and also a man banned from baseball for helping to throw the 1877 pennant race, born
1888 Henry Porter throws a no-hitter. KC 4, BAL 0.
1890 Hall of Famer Hugh Duffy hits his only walk-off home run. It’s an inside-the-park one in the tenth inning in the Players League.
1892 Benjamin Harrison becomes the first sitting president to attend a baseball game.
1904 Fielder Jones manages his first game. He later pilots the White Sox to an upset World Series title over the Chicago Cubs in 1906.
1907 Bill Dickey, Hall of Fame catcher, is born.
1907 Lave Cross, long-lasting, great-fielding third baseman, plays his last game.
1912 Philadelphia Phillies sign amateur free agent (and future Hall of Famer) Eppa Rixey.
1915 Red Sox select Herb Pennock, also a future Hall of Famer, off waivers from the A’s.
1917 Rogers Hornsby hits the first of 12 career grand slams. This is his only inside-the-park one.
1918 Casey Stengel returns to Ebbets Field for the first time since the Dodgers traded him away to the Giants. He returns in style, too. In his first at-bat, he steps out of the batter’s box, doffs his cap to the crowd, and a bird flies out. Bizarre—and awesome!
1920 St. Louis Cardinals play their last game at Robison Field (their home since 1893). They’ll move to Sportsman’s Park, where they’ll stay over 40 years.
1921 Bill Gatewood of the Detroit Stars pitches the first Negro Leagues no-hitter in a 4-0 win over the Cuban Stars.
1921 Babe Ruth becomes the first 20th-century player to hit 120 homers. (Gavvy Cravath hit 119).
1922 Hall of Fame hitter Harry Heilmann connects for his tenth and last inside-the-park home run.
1930 Charlie Root, still the all-time leader in wins in Cub franchise history, has the best Game Score of his career: 87. His line: 9 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 2 BB, 6 K.
1932 Cincinnati Reds release Harry Heilmann, Hall of Fame outfielder.
1934 Lefty Grove has the worst start of his career: 4 IP, 13 H, 8 R, 7 ER, 2 BB, 2 K. Game Score: 6.
1935 Members of the Cleveland Indians team go public with their dissatisfaction with manager Walter Johnson. They place an ad in the papers fingering him as the cause of the team’s dissension. Ouch.
1937 The Phillies forfeit to the Cardinals. They stall in the fourth inning while losing, hoping the rain will pick up and cause a rainout. But they overdo their stalling, apparently.
1938 The Giants trade Wally Berger to the Reds.
1939 Bert Bebble, George Bebble, and Carl Stotz form Little League in Williamsport, PA.
1939 After missing five weeks with an injury, Joe DiMaggio returns to the Yankee lineup and hits a homer, double, and single.
1939 The New York Giants hit five homers in the fourth inning and a new record seven in one game.
1940 Boston Braves (or Bees, as they were called then) sign a 19-year-old Warren Spahn
1941 New York Giants wear plastic helmets in a game.
1944 All MLB games cancelled because it’s D-Day in Europe.
1944 Bud Harrelson, longtime Mets infielder, is born.
1946 Boston Red Sox release Joe Cronin as a player. He still manages them.
1948 Hall of Fame slugger Ralph Kiner hits the first of eight career walk-off home runs
1948 It might be the best game in Hall of Famer Red Schoendienst’s career. He’s 4-for-5 with three doubles and a home run as the Cardinals bombard the Phillies, 11-1.
1950 Red Sox release veteran infielder Ken Keltner.
1953 Robin Roberts wins his 100th game. He’s 100-60 so far in his career.
1953 Sleepy Bill Burns, pitcher who helped set up the fix in the 1919 World Series, dies. He’s the guy Christopher Lloyd played in the John Sayles movie Eight Men Out.
1954 Arnie Portocarrero of the A’s becomes the only pitcher ever to homer off Bob Feller. Indians win anyway, 2-1.
1955 Jackie Robinson hits his fifth and final walk-off home run.
1958 The Tigers become the 15th team to integrate, as Ozzie Virgil plays for them for the first time. Now only the Red Sox haven’t integrated.
1959 Hank Aaron gets his 1,000 hit in his 782nd game.
1959 Maury Wills makes his big league debut with the Dodgers.
1963 Billy Pierce allows the most humiliating pitch of his life, a walk-off home run to relief pitcher Lindy McDaniel. CHC 3, SFG 2 (10). It’s the second of three career home runs for McDaniel.
1963 Frank Robinson, who homered twice in the second game of yesterday’s doubleheader, homers twice in the first game of today’s doubleheader.
1963 Ball Four Tracer: In his book Ball Four, Jim Bouton recalled a time when he pitched for the Yankees and Baltimore’s Jackie Brandt hit a liner off his jaw, forcing him from the game. Well, that happened here.
1964 Orioles third baseman Brooks Robinson gets career hit No. 1,000.
1965 Johnny Callison hits three homers in a game for the second time in less than a year.
1965 For the third time in his career, Don Drysdale pitches a complete-game shutout and hits a homer in the same game.
1965 Tom Tresh of the Yankees hits three home runs in one game.
1967 Philadelphia trades Bob Uecker to Atlanta. With the Braves, Uecker will be most effective as a catcher. Hall of Famer Phil Niekro will later credit Uecker with making him a Hall of Fame pitcher. Uecker made Niekro unafraid to throw the knuckler at any moment. The passed balls and problems would be on Uecker, and the wins and low ERA would be on Niekro. That's the message Uecker gave him and that turned Niekro into a 300-game winner.
1967 Baltimore’s Curt Blefary hits three home runs in one game.
1967 Draft day highlights: A’s – Darrell Evans; Braves – Dusty Baker and Ralph Garr; Astros – John Mayberry; Cardinals – Ted Simmons and Jerry Reuss; Orioles – Bobby Grich. Among the better guys drafted who wouldn’t sign that year: Angels – Dave Kingman; Giants – Davey Lopes, and Yankees – Steve Rogers.
1971 Willie Mays hits his sixth and final walk-off home run.
1972 Draft day highlight: Indians – Dennis Eckersley; Padres – Randy Jones, Pirates – Willie Randolph and John Candaleria; Twins – Lyman Bostock; A’s – Chet Lemon; and Expos – Gary Carter.
1975 Frank Robinson has his 54th and final multi-homer game.
1975 Dwight Evens enjoys the first of 22 multiple-home run games.
1975 Nolan Ryan attempts to throw his second consecutive no-hitter and doesn’t miss by much against Milwaukee. A Hank Aaron single in the sixth is the first hit he allows, and Ryan surrenders only two on the day.
1976 The Astros cancel a game on account of rain, which is pretty odd for a team that plays in a dome, but the rain was so bad that 20 fans had to come to the park via canoe to get their rain checks. Yeah, that’s a bad rainstorm—seven inches of rain to be exact.
1978 Draft day highlights: Orioles – Mike Boddicker; Angels – Tom Brunansky; Yankees – Steve Balboni; Orioles – Cal Ripken Jr.; Phillies – Ryne Sandberg; Twins – Kent Hrbek; Dodgers – Steve Sax. Guys drafted whom didn’t sign include: Gary Gaetti (White Sox), Mike Moore (Cardinals), Mark Langston (Cubs); Frank Viola (Royals), and Tim Wallach (Angels).
1979 Rick Reuschel wins his 100th game: 100-94.
1980 Tommy John wins his 200th game: 200-144. He ties his career-high Game Score: 89. His line: 9 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 0 BB, 6 K. He had the exact same line many moons and one arm ago on July 4, 1967.
1980 Brewer manager George Bamberger returns from heart bypass surgery. Interim manager Buck Rodgers steps down.
1982 Frank Viola makes his big league debut.
1983 Draft day highlights: Reds – Chris Sabo; Mets – Rick Aguilera; Angels – Wally Joyner; Braves – Ron Gant; Red Sox – Roger Clemens; Reds – Rob Dibble; A’s – Terry Steinbach; and White Sox – Doug Drabek. Biggest names drafted but not signed; Jay Buhner (Braves), and Todd Zeile (Royals).
1986 Padres manager Steve Boros ejected before the first pitch. He shows the ump videotape of a disputed play from the night before.
1986 Wade Boggs raises his batting average on the year to .404. It’s downhill from here, though.
1988 The Dodgers sign amateur free agent Raul Mondesi.
1989 Tom Glavine tosses a complete-game shutout despite not fanning anyone. ATL 3, LAD 0. It’s only happened three times in the NL since then.
1990 The Yankees fire manager Bucky Dent.
1991 Indians demote Albert Belle to the minors for not running out a grounder in 2-1 loss to the White Sox.
1991 Royals 4, Rangers 3 (18). It ends on a walk-off error on a sacrifice hit attempt by Kurt Stillwell. The KC pitchers tossed 345 pitchers, the most known by one staff in a game. Texas’s Rafael Palmeiro has the worst WPA game of his career: -0.410 WPA, going 0-for-9 on the day.
1992 Lou Whitaker gets his 2,000th career hit in his 2,008th game played.
1993 Cal Ripken twists his right knee when his spikes catch on the infield grass in Orioles-Mariners game. He gets a swollen knee that nearly ends his streak, but (obviously) doesn’t.
1993 WPA’s favorite John Smoltz game: 9 IP, 5 H, 0 R, 4 BB, 12 K for a WPA of 0.704. Braves 2, Dodgers 0.
1995 Joe Torre loses his 1,000th game as a manager. His career record is a rather even: 900-1,000. It'll get better.
1995 Buck Showalter manages his 472nd game under George Steinbrenner, the most anyone had under Steinbrenner in one stint to this point in history. Torre shatters this mark.
1996 It’s the first major league game in 65 years to feature a cycle and a triple play. John Valentin gets the cycle while the Chicago White Sox defense executes the triple play.
1997 Sandy Alomar hits four doubles in one game.
1998 Mike Mussina gives up a leadoff hit to start a game for the first time in 42 starts.
1998 Cincinnati retires Joe Morgan's number.
1999 Eddie Stanky, former infielder, dies.
2000 The Rally Monkey makes its debut in Anaheim. Angels first show it on the Jumbotron to get the fans stoked.
2000 Jason Marquis makes his big league debut.
2003 Sammy Sosa receives an eight-game suspension for his corked bat incident.
2004 Veteran catcher Rod Barajas hits his only triple. He is the only person in baseball with over 2,600 plate appearances and only one triple. He’s over 3,500 currently.
2006 Draft day highlights: Giants – Tim Lincecum; Rays – Evan Longoria; Yankees – Joba Chamberlain and Ian Kennedy; Dodgers – Clayton Kershaw; Arizona – Max Scherzer; A’s – Trevor Cahill and Andrew Bailey; Cubs – Jeff Samardzija; Mariners – Doug Fister; Cardinals – Allen Craig; Padres – David Freese and Mat Latos; Mets – Daniel Murphy; .
2007 Trevor Hoffman creates the 500-save club.
2008 Armando Benitez plays his last game.
2009 Kelvim Escobar plays in his last game.
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.