Card Corner: Moon Manby Bruce Markusen
August 12, 2010
Greg Minton looks deceptively short on his 1980 Topps card. Camera angles can be funny, especially considering that Minton is actually 6-foot-2. But some other features on his card appear similarly odd. With his big glasses, long hair, skinny legs, and awkward stride toward the plate, Minton hardly looks like the premier relief pitcher who led the Giants with 19 saves while not surrendering a single home run in 1980. He does, however, look like the eccentric character who would make distinctive impressions on clubhouses in San Francisco and Anaheim.
In truth, there is very little about Greg Minton that fits the profile of a stereotypical major league ballplayer. As a youngster, he showed little interest in playing ball. Born in Texas, Minton grew up in southern California, where he spent much of his free time surfing.
In spite of his throwing problems and his lack of size, Minton was drafted by the Royals in the third round of the 1970 amateur draft. Realizing that Minton lacked the bat to stick long term as a prospect, the Royals converted him into a pitcher before trading him to the Giants’ organization for Fran Healy, at the time a young catching prospect. The Royals would regret the deal immensely; Healy became nothing more than a backup catcher (though he did eventually bring the yield of Larry Gura in a trade with the Yankees), while the Royals searched far and wide for a prominent relief ace for much of the 1970s.
In fairness to the Royals, Minton did not become an overnight success on the left coast. Minton would remain buried in the Giants’ farm system for the next six seasons. It was during a long tenure with the Giants’ top farm club that Minton earned his nickname—and for memorable reasons. While with the Phoenix Giants in 1973, Minton decided to go tubing— completely naked. As a result of his indiscretion, he suffered a horrible sunburn. That night, he reported to the ballpark, where manager Rocky Bridges (another character of mythic proportions) noticed the condition of his pitcher’s face and arms. Noting that Minton’s skin had more craters than the moon, Bridges dubbed him “Moon Man.” Teammates and friends would eventually shorten the appellation to “Moonie.”
Minton and Bridges remained a tag team of sorts; the manager often poked fun at his longtime right hander, who pitched several seasons under Bridges’ watchful eye. Minton appeared destined to be a career minor leaguer with only a few cups of late-season coffee in the major leagues, but a knee injury actually provided him with the break of a lifetime.
The development and improvement of his sinker, which he threw in the range of 88 to 92 miles per an hour, came about as the result of that accident. After injuring cartilage during the spring of 1979, Minton returned to active duty at Triple-A. His knee still sore, Minton modified his pitching motion by reducing his leg kick. Not only did the change reduce the stress on his knee, but his fastball started to sink more precipitously.
Later that season, a spot opened up in the San Francisco bullpen, the result of an illness to veteran reliever Randy Moffitt (better known as the brother of Billie Jean King), who was felled by a stomach disorder. Soon after, Minton graduated to the role of late-inning relief ace. By the end of the 1970s, Minton had become the Giants’ primary closer, though he sometimes shared the role with left-hander Gary Lavelle. He didn't allow a single home run over a span of three consecutive seasons.
Unlike the Goose Gossages and Jim Kerns of the day, Minton did not tame hitters with high, larger-than-life fastballs. Instead, he relied on a heavy, diving sinker, which he would throw almost exclusively. (“I might go three weeks without throwing a breaking ball,“ Minton once told Sports Illustrated.)
The role of sinkerball relief ace eventually brought with it a handsome salary, which Minton found hard to explain or justify. Unlike most players of the day, who vehemently defended their large contracts, Minton offered a humbler line of reasoning, along with his typical dose of comedy. “The Giants are paying me millions of dollars to pitch a few innings every couple days,” Minton told a reporter. “And they think I'm crazy!”
The reputation of “craziness” came about in part because of Minton’s delight in activities not usually pursued by major league players: skateboarding, snorkeling and deep sea fishing. Minton also loved pranks, particularly on his teammates and coaches. On a lesser scale, he used to steal the keys to the bullpen car, which was a popular conveyance used by many relievers in the 1970s and early '80s.
More notably, Minton achieved two of the greatest pranks in professional baseball history. As a minor leaguer, he once flooded his team’s ballpark in Amarillo, Tex., just so that he could go home one day early and get a head start on his winter plans. As a major leaguer, Minton managed to hijack the team bus. Well, he didn’t hijack it all by himself, but he came close. During a 1982 stopover in Atlanta, Minton left his hotel room early and boarded the bus before anyone else on the Giants did. Convincing the bus driver that he was the team secretary, Minton persuaded him to leave early for the ballpark. As the sole passenger, Minton arrived at the ballpark in plenty of time. Meanwhile, his teammates remained behind at the hotel, furious that they would have to pay for taxis. “Between seasons, I’m going to get a pilot’s license,” Minton told The Sporting News. “Then I can steal the team plane.”
Thankfully, that never happened. Instead, Minton continued to ground opposing batters, forcing them to beat balls into the grass at Candlestick Park. He remained effective for the Giants until 1985, when he lost the closer’s role. With his sinker no longer biting, Minton became the target of boo birds in San Francisco. Two years later, the Giants gave him his unconditional release.
Like the Royals, the Giants made a mistake. Minton revived his career with the Angels, for whom he turned in two solid seasons before becoming virtually untouchable as a middle reliever in 1989. Minton continued to pitch effectively into the 1990 season, rebounding twice from injuries, but decided to call it quits at season’s end, ending his career at the age of 38.
Given his mischievous, non-conformist ways, it may come as surprising that Minton has worked as a coach and manager since his playing days. He served the Angels as a minor league pitching coach before becoming a manager for two seasons with his hometown Lubbock Crickets. Now out of organized ball, Minton still teaches the art of pitching by offering 45-minute lessons to children 11 years of age and older.
And no, he doesn’t provide advice on how to flood your own ballpark.
For more on Greg Minton’s pitching philosophies, visit his website at http://www.gregmintonsbullpen.com.
Bruce Markusen is the author of seven books on baseball, including the award-winning A Baseball Dynasty: Charlie Finley’s Swingin’ A’s, the recipient of the Seymour Medal from the Society for American Baseball Research. He has also written The Team That Changed Baseball: Roberto Clemente and the 1971 Pittsburgh Pirates, Tales From The Mets Dugout, and The Orlando Cepeda Story.
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