Saturday, April 13, 2013
Bert Blyleven tracerPosted by Chris Jaffe
In a recent broadcast, Twins color man Bert Blyleven commented on the recent dust-up between Zack Greinkeand Carlos Quentin. (Grienke hit Quentin with a pitch, Quentin ignored that fact that it was likely an accidental HBP, charged the mound and in the melee the highly paid pitcher broke his collarbone).
Anyhow, Blyleven noted that in his ba-zillion years pitching, no one ever charged the mound on him. He did, however, once charge the mound himself after getting hit by a pitch.
Let’s look this up.
Blyleven was hit by a pitch just twice in his career, so this is fairly easy to check up. As it happens, he was ejected in neither game, which is unexpected. However, the wonder and glory that is Retrosheet helps fill us in on the details. Its recaps don’t simply record what the plays were, but what incidental drama also happened.
It was May 26, 1980 and Blyleven’s defending world champion Pirates were playing the Phillies.
The fun began in the bottom of the first. With two out and none on, Blyleven threw a brush-back pitch to Phillies star Mike Schmidt. He didn’t hit Schmidt, but ended up walking him. Then up came Greg Luzinski, who also walked after surviving a brush-back. Blyleven escaped his self-created jam without allowing any runs, and the game went on.
Schmidt came back to the plate to lead off the third. Again, Blyleven brushed him back. Schmidt had had enough of this, and took a few steps to the mound. He didn’t go much further, but both benches cleared. Things cooled down, and no punches were thrown. Blyleven ended up walking Schmidt (again) and Schmidt scored on a homer by teammate Garry Maddox.
Shortly after, Blyleven came up to bat to lead off the fourth for Pittsburgh. Nothing happened though; he just grounded out. But the game wasn’t over.
In the fifth, the Phillies had a new pitcher in, reliever Kevin Saucier. He got some payback for the club, hitting Pirates star slugger Willie Stargell.
Next inning, Blyleven came up again. With two out and none on, Saucier plunked him. That’s when Blyleven charged the mound. It’s odd that the pitcher who started it would be the one to charge, but I guess he felt the matter was over once Stargell was hit. However, according to the Retrosheet account, he did a bit more than just charge the mound—he picked up the bat and charged the mound. Yikes!
A big brawl broke out with both benches cleared. After a while, the fight appeared to have stopped, butr it caught fire again with Phillies bullpen coach Mike Ryan in the middle. The umpires eventually restored order.
Somehow, Blyleven wasn’t ejected. For that matter, neither was Ryan. Instead, Pittsburgh outfielder Lee Lacy and Philadelphia coach Herm Starrette got the thumb from Hall of Fame umpire Doug Harvey.
The game kept on, with Blyleven lasting until the eighth inning. The Phillies rallied to win on a walk-off single by Larry Bowa in the ninth.
So why did Blyleven go after Schmidt like that? It was the first Phillies-Pirates game of the year, so there was nothing that happened recently between the clubs. Schmidt did a good job against Blyleven over their careers, but there was nothing in their immediate past that would suggest this.
However, the last Phillies-Pirates game of 1979 had a very odd twist. On Sept. 20, 1979, Phillies outfielder Keith Moreland hit a fly to left that third base umpire Eric Gregg lost in the lights. He saw the Philadelphia Ball Girl jump up and down saying “home run!” so he ruled it a home run.
But it wasn’t a homer. It wasn’t even close to a homer. The Pirates raised all holy hell about it, and the umpire crew had a conference and in a rarity, decided to overturn the call.
Now it was Philadelphia’s turn to spit nails. Manager Dallas Green argued the call, earned an ejection, and threw some equipment on the field. Also throwing equipment on the field was star third baseman Mike Schmidt—the same guy Blyleven threw inside to next time they faced. So that must be the back story.
The umpire in that 1979 game was Doug Harvey, the same man who refrained from ejecting Blyleven in 1980. I’m not sure if that helps explain why Blyleven wasn’t ejected, but it is interesting.
So Blyleven’s memory holds up well about his career as a mound charger.
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.