Tuesday, July 19, 2011
15,000 days since Murcer’s biggest day and Tony Horton’s declining mental healthPosted by Chris Jaffe
15,000 days ago, baseball had a memorable doubleheader between the Indians and Yankees.
It began generically enough, with the Indians cruising to an easy win in the first game. Then came one of its stranger at-bats—an at-bat so odd that you can see it on Youtube. In it, Cleveland’s Tony Horton fouled out in Yankee Stadium against Steve Hamilton’s folly floater.
The at-bat was odd for a few reasons. First, the floater itself: a pop up of a pitch that went really high. It had to go real high because as slow moving as it was, gravity would otherwise bring it to earth before it went 60 feet, six inches.
Hamilton didn’t just do it once, but tossed it twice to Horton. The first time, he fouled it out of play, and the second time young catcher Thurman Munson made a nice running catch to catch the foul ball for the out.
That ended the play, but didn’t end the weirdness. Tony Horton tossed his bat, then his helmet into the air. Finally, as he approached the dugout, he went down on his hands and knees and crawled in. The crowd went wild, thinking Horton was putting on the show.
Sadly, he wasn’t. And this is where the story stops being humorous. Tony Horton was in the process of having a nervous breakdown. In fact, two months after the folly floater he left the Indians to seek mental treatment. He never played again—despite the fact he was a 25-year-old with a good bat and already four years' playing time.
There was a research presentation on Horton five years ago at the annual SABR conference that discussed Horton and his life. He apparently had the ultimate sports bully father from hell who put a tremendous amount of pressure on his son at all times to work at baseball. Horton went into the sport not by choice but by compulsion. One of the audience members at the presentation was a former college friend of Horton, who verified that his dad was a nightmare.
That said, despite the sad conclusion of Horton’s career, his life turned out all right. He moved on and found more enjoyment doing things without his dad’s overbearing pressure to force him into certain lines of work. He apparently has been financially and personally successful since leaving baseball behind. That’s one reason why he never returned, even after he recovered.
Ultimately, he ended up better than some of the others on the day in June 1970. Thurman Munson, the catcher who caught the ball for an out, famously died in a plane crash in 1979. The umpire at first base was Ron Luciano, who wrote a few bestselling books in the 1980s before committing suicide in the 1990s.
Not the cheeriest note to end the story on, is it?
Well, how about this: for many in Yankee Stadium that day, Tony Horton and the folly floater weren’t the big story. A few minutes after Horton’s crawl of shame, Yankee Bobby Murcer led off the bottom of the ninth with a home run. That really got him in a groove because when the second game began, Murcer launched another solo shot in the first inning. After receiving a walk, Murcer homered again in the fifth inning. In his last trip to the plate on the day, Murcer launched another home run, giving him four home runs, in four straight at-bats, tying a record.
Indians manager Alvin Dark was so bothered by it that the next day he decided that he would personally call all pitches to Murcer, to help make sure Murcer didn’t become the first person to homer in five straight at-bats. That’s probably over managing, but it worked, as the Indians made an out in his first at-bat the next day, 14,999 days ago.
(Oh, and whatever problems Horton had after the folly floater, he still played in the second game, going 1-for-3 with a walk).
Aside from all that, other events celebrate their “day-versary” or anniversary” today. The better ones are in bold if you just want to skim.
3,000 days since B. J. Ryan picked up the win for Baltimore despite not throwing a single pitch. He enters in the bottom of the seventh with two outs, and Omar Infante on first, and promptly picks off Infante. Then the Orioles score to take the lead and a new pitcher comes out for the eighth inning.
8,000 days since the Dodgers beat the Expos 1-0 in 22 innings on a walk-off home run by veteran catcher Rick Dempsey.
8,000 days since Larry Walker, he of seven career sacrifice hits in over 8,000 plate appearances, has two in one game.
15,000 days since the last game in Crosley Field. Lee May and Johnny Bench hit back-to-back home runs off Juan Marichal in the eighth inning for a 5-4 Reds win over the Giants.
15,000 days since Hank Aguirre, a horrible hitting pitcher, played his last game.
15,000 days since the big league debut of Ken Singleton.
30,000 days since Al Simmons got his 1,000th career hit in only his 710th game. He got to 2,000 hits in fewer games than anyone else in history.
30,000 days since Hall of Fame third baseman Pie Traynor played his 54th straight game without fanning. His line: 67-for-230 with 14 doubles, a pair of triples and one home run. He’s scored 35 runs and driven in 43—all without a strikeout.
1873 Harry Davis, first baseman and at one point the all-time AL career home run leader, born.
1883 Hall of Famer Dan Brouthers gets six hits in one game.
1888 Cap Anson refuses to play an exhibition game against International League team Newark because it has some black players, George Stovey and Fleet Walker. Stovey feigns illness and the club benches Walker so the game goes on.
1896 Bob Meusel, member of 1927 Yankees, born.
1897 Big league debut for Hall of Fame shortstop Honus Wagner.
1904 Mark Koening, also a 1927 Yankee, born.
1907 Mordecai Brown hits his only career over-the-fence home run. It’s all fellow Hall of Famer Joe McGinnity.
1909 Neal Ball, Cleveland shortstop, pulls off an unassisted triple play.
1911 The St. Louis Cardinals get incredibly lucky off the field. Their manager complains about the train they're riding, causing the team to leave it. Afterwards, the now Cardinal-free train gets in a wreck, killing 18. The section St. Louis players had been on is damaged beyond all recognition.
1914 The Miracle Braves climb out of last place with a 3-2 win over the Reds.
1916 Phil Cavaretta, longtime Cub, born.
1919 Tris Speaker debuts as Indians manager.
1924 George Burns, Cleveland player, gets six hits in a game.
1924 St. Louis Cardinal pitcher Herman Bell wins both ends of a doubleheader, 6-1 and 2-1 over the Braves. He allows no hits until the eighth in the first game, and none until the fifth in the second one.
1927 Giants honor their longtime manager with John McGraw Day at the Polo Grounds. The Cubs spoil it by winning, 8-5.
1928 Babe Ruth enjoys his seventh multi-home run game of the year. He won’t have another one for 11 months and two days.
1929 Rogers Hornsby hits his 33rd and final inside-the-park home run. No one’s had that many since. This one is off Pete Alexander in the first inning.
1933 Brother Wes and Rick Ferrell each homer in the same game for the only time. Rick hits his off brother Wes, in fact.
1936 Big league debut for the teenaged wonder of the world, Bob Feller.
1939 Arky Vaughan hits for his second cycle, and it’s no ordinary one. He gets two home runs, tying his personal best of five hits in a game.
1940 Cubs and Dodgers get in a fight when Cub pitcher Claude Passeau flings his bat at Brooklyn pitcher Hugh Casey.
1942 Enos Slaughter hits a walk-off inside the park home run in the bottom of the 11th. That’s a pretty snazzy clutch homer. Aside from being one of five walk-offs, and four insiders, it’s also the latest he ever homered in a game.
1945 Umpire George Magerkurth deals with heckler Thomas J. Longo in a way the league would not approve of—he walks over and punches him out.
1946 AL umpire Red Jones is bothered by a voice in the Sox dugout that he can’t identify, so he solves the situation by running all 14 men on the bench.
1946 Hall of Fame pitcher Hal Newhouser has his worst day at the plate: 0-for-5 with five strikeouts. It’s his only five-strikeout day.
1947 Willard Brown, Hall of Fame Negro Leaguer, makes his major league debut for the Browns. They’re just trying to raise ticket sales and soon will dump Brown and fellow Negro League Hank Thompson when the hoped-for surge of interest doesn’t materialize. Hank Thompson gets another chance with the Giants, but Brown never does.
1948 Joe Gordon, Hall of Fame second baseman, hits his 200th home run.
1950 The Yankees purchase Elston Howard from Negro League team the Kansas City Monarchs.
1951 Jayson Stark, former mustache man and current sportswriter, born.
1952 Red Sox manager Joe Cronin announces that outfielder Jimmy Piersall will miss the rest of the year on doctor’s advice due to mental problems.
1955 Vern Law of the Pirates has the best-known one-game WPA by any pitcher. His line:18 IP, 9 H, 2 R, 1 ER, 2 BB, 12K, but he gets a no-decision as it takes the Pirates 19 innings to beat the Braves, 4-3. (Yeah, that’s right, it was 2-2 after 18 but ends 4-3. Fun 19th inning). Law is the last pitcher to last over 16 innings in a start. Young outfielder Hank Aaron has his only game with at bats, going 1-for-8.
1955 In the Southern League All-Star Game, Jim Lemon of Chattanooga clouts four home runs.
1957 On Gil Hodges Day in Ebbets Field, the man of the hour records his 1,000th RBI. In the second game of a doubleheader, Johnny Roseboro laces his first home run.
1958 Ted Williams hits his third and final career walk-off home run.
1958 The Milwaukee Braves sign teenaged knuckleballer Phil Niekro.
1960 Juan Marichal makes his big league debut with one of the greatest starts in history: a complete game one-hitter with 12 strikeouts. An eighth inning single by Clay Dalrymple, the opposing pitcher (!), breaks it up. Marichal’s Game Score of 96 is the best he’ll ever have in a nine-inning game.
1961 On either this day or the day before (my sources conflict) Ford Frick makes his asterisk comments about what happens if Roger Maris hits his 61st homer after the 154th game marker.
1961 Big league debut for Al Downing, the man who later surrenders homer No. 715 to Hank Aaron.
1961 Carl Yastremzski makes two errors in one game for the only time.
1963 Harmon Killebrew belts his 200th home run.
1963 Roy Sievers belts his 300th home run.
1963 The best hitting streak of Willie McCovey’s career maxes at 24 games.
1964 Big league debut of Luis Tiant. He tosses a four-hit complete game shutout over the Yankees and Whitey Ford.
1965 The San Francisco Giants sign what’s left of Warren Spahn.
1966 Robin Roberts records 28 outs in a game for the 25th and final time. He lasts 11 innings, but gets a no-decision.
1966 Bryon Browne of the Cubs fans five times in 18-inning game against the Reds. All five Ks are to Jim Maloney. Browne than fans three more times the next day, setting a two-game record.
1968 Mickey Mantle hits his first triple in exactly 25 months. It’s the last one of his career.
1969 International League game in Buffalo supposedly suspended for “threatening weather.” Reality: knife-wielding gang takes over the clubhouse during batting practice. Well, that is threatening.
1972 Gaylord Perry wins his 150th career game.
1972 Steve Carlton wins 3-2 after pitching 11 innings, tying his longest career outing.
1973 After throwing a no-hitter in his previous start, Nolan Ryan nearly does it again. He lasts until the 8th inning when Baltimore’s Mark Belanger (of all people!) singles. Ryan fans 13, while Oriole start Mike Cuellar fans a dozen Angels.
1974 Cleveland’s Dick Bosman no-hits the A’s, 4-0. Oakland only has one base runner, who reaches on an error in the fourth inning. Then again, the error is by Bosman himself.
1974 Bruce Bochte makes his major league debut.
1975 The St. Louis Cardinals issue six intentional walks in one game, a record for a nine-inning game. Added bonus: they do it in eight innings, as they lose on the road, 5-2 to the Giants.
1975 Thurman Munson hits a RBI single in the first inning, but it’s nullified because the pine tar in his bat goes beyond 18 inches. The Yankees lose 2-1 to the Brewers.
1977 Japan’s Sadaharu Oh draws his 2,057th career walk, one more than Babe Ruth had.
1978 In the top of the fourth, Nolan Ryan loads the bases with no outs, then fans three straight batters to escape without allowing a run. It’s the third time he’s done that in his career. He never does it again.
1978 Pete Rose keeps his hitting streak alive—but barely. The Phillies retire him in the eighth inning, still hitless. Then his teammates have an offensive surge, allowing him to get on with a ninth inning bunt single.
1979 Rick Ankiel born.
1982 At the first annual Cracker Jack Old-Timers Classic, 75-year-old Luke Appling belts a home run off of Warren Spahn. Sure, it’s only 250 feet, but the man is 75 years old.
1982 Tony Gywnn makes his major league debut, doubling in his first trip to the plate.
1984 Orel Hershiser has his best Game Score, 92 while tossing a two-hit shutout with nine strikeouts. It’s his third consecutive complete-game shutout. He allows 11 hits and three walks in that time while fanning 29.
1985 White Sox beat the Twins, 1-0. This is one of only three 20th century games that contain all three following elements: 1) a 1-0 score, 2) two Hall of Fame starters pitchers tossing complete games (Tom Seaver and Bert Blyleven in this case), and 3) the only run coming when a Hall of Famer homers (Carlton Fisk).
1985 Texas trades longtime infielder Buddy Bell to the Reds.
1986 Ron Darling, Tim Teufel, Bob Ojeda, and Rick Aguilera are all arrested in an early morning fight with off-duty cops working as security at a Houston bar. Yeah, that sounds like the ’86 Mets alright. That day, the Astros win, 5-4. The Mets scored four in the top of the ninth to tie it, but Houston gets the final run in the bottom of the ninth.
1987 Minnesota retires Rod Carew’s number.
1987 Wade Boggs has his worst game, according to WPA anyway. He’s 0-for-6 with a pair of Ks, as the Red Sox win anyway, 5-3 over the A’s.
1988 In Japan, Hanshin Tigers GM Shingo Furuya kills himself. He’s only been there six weeks but been heavily criticized.
1988 Jose Cruz play his last game.
1988 A weird one: Rick Sutcliffe has the rare unassisted pickoff. Brett Butler wanders too far off the bag at first with a runner on second.
1989 Carlton Fisk nails his 2,000th career hit.
1989 Joe Carter has his fourth career three home run game.
1990 Pete Rose sentenced to five months in jail for not paying his taxes.
1991 The Royals lose 17-0 to Detroit, the worst loss in franchise history.
1993 big league debut for Raul Mondesi.
1994 For the first time ever, a game at the Kingdome postponed, as four tiles fall to the field during Mariners-Oriole game.
1998 Carlos Delgado becomes the first player to launch a ball into the Skydome’s fifth deck.
1998 Slap hitter Elmer Valo dies.
1999 For the second straight time, Scott Rolen homers twice in one game.
2000 Big league debut for the talented and troubled Milton Bradley.
2000 The Rangers trade Esteban Loaiza to the Blue Jays for Michael Young and another player.
2001 Jeff Kent belts the first of two career walk-off home runs.
2001 The Rockies trade Todd Walker to the Reds.
2002 Vladimir Guerrero joins the 1,000 Hit Club.
2002 Kenny Lofton collects his 100th home run.
2004 Pacific Coast League player Tagg Bozied hits the worst walk-off grand slam ever. How can a walk-off slam be bad? Simple: he jumps for joy at home, and ruptures a tendon in his left knee in the process. He’ll never make it to the big leagues.
2004 The Mariners send Rich Aurilla to the Padres as part of a conditional deal.
2006 Greg Maddux loses his 200th game in a Wrigley Field duel with fellow 300-game winner, Roger Clemens. Houston wins, 4-2. I was at that game. Not great pitching, but the best fielding performance by a pitcher I’ve ever seen. Maddux had a slew of assists, and at one point got a standing ovation for his glove work. Don’t see that too often for pitchers.
2008 A New York-Penn League game sees a pinch hitter face the game’s first ambidextrous pitcher. The pitcher is set to pitch with one arm, so the hitter faces him to get the platoon advantage, so the pitcher switches to the other arm, so the batter switches sides of the plate. And son on. Finally, the umps decided the batter needs to declare how he’ll hit before the at bat begins.
2009 The Angels beat the A’s 1-0 in 10 innings on a Bobby Abreu homer. Brett Anderson gives it up in a complete game loss. He had a perfect game until the seventh—when Abreu singles.
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.