40 years ago today, one of the all-time great managerial stunts occurred. I’m sure it’s happened on other occasions, but this time it happened in a World Series, which helped make it so great. It’s possibly the most famous moment in the Hall of Fame career of A’s manager Dick Williams.
Oct. 18, 2012 was during Game Three of the World Series. The A’s had won the first two games, but Cincinnati was up 1-0 and threatening to break the game wide open in the top of the eighth. With one out, Cincinnati had runners on the corners with only one out, and NL MVP Johnny Bench at the plate. Yeah, that’s not much fun for Oakland.
With one strike on Bench, trailing Reds runner Bobby Tolan stole second. As Oakland reliever Rollie Fingers got ready to throw his next pitch, Dick Williams had a sudden inspiration. He told his coach that if this pitch was a strike, he was going to do something he’d once seen 1940s Cardinals manager Billy Southworth do when Williams was a kid growing up in the St. Louis area.
It was a strike—allowing Williams to spring into action. He walked out to the mound, visibly signaling to the wide-open first base. He made a big show of anger and dismay to Fingers. How could you pitch to the MVP with first base open? That was the clear visual message being sent to Fingers.
Except, of course, it wasn’t the message sent to Fingers. It was the message sent to everyone in the world except Fingers. It was most especially the message Williams wanted to send to Bench. Williams would give a very different message to Fingers.
When he got to the mound, Williams told Fingers and the catcher what he really had in mind. OK you guys, fake an intentional walk, and then throw a real pitch. There are two strikes and if you pull this off, we’ll fan the dangerous Bench and put ourselves one out from getting out of this jam. That said, Williams told Fingers to throw a breaking pitch—just in case Bench caught on.
Message sent, Williams stomped back to the dugout to see what would happen. Gene Tenace, the catcher, went back to the plate and stood up signaling for an intentional walk. Bench fatally relaxed at the plate. Fingers went into his wind up—and threw a breaking pitch that caught the unprepared Bench completely flat footed.
And all over America, people turned next to the person sitting next them and burst out laughing. Williams had pulled a fast one on Bench. Well, Bench always maintained that the pitch was just too good—and Williams later noted it was a beauty of a pitch Fingers threw. But Bench had also relaxed at the wrong time. At third base, Reds lead runner Joe Morgan shouted to him to look out or the set up before the pitch was thrown—but Bench wasn’t ready.
Williams had the moment, but the Reds had the game. It turns out they didn’t need an extra run, as they’d win, 1-0. But the moment people remember is Dick Williams out-foxing the star catcher, and that moment was 40 years ago today.
Aside from that, many other events today celebrate their anniversary or “day-versary” (which is something occurring X-thousand days ago). Here they are, with the better ones in bold if you’d rather just skim.
1,000 days since the Angels trade Gary Mathews Jr. to the Mets. Anaheim sends cash in the transaction, too.
4,000 days since Texas releases Ruben Sierra.
6,000 days since Eddie Murray, at age 40, hits the last triple of his career. It’s his first one in two years and a day.
6,000 days since Frank Thomas drives in six runs in one game, a personal best that he will tie once later in his career.
8,000 days since the Tigers sign free agent slugger Rob Deer.
8,000 days since Bo Diaz dies tragically and weirdly when a satellite dish falls on him in Caracas, Venezuela. He is 37 years old.
9,000 days since Ron Guidry appears in his last game.
15,000 days since the Astros and Padres have a great pitchers duel. San Diego’s Clay Kirby fans 15 in 15 scoreless innings while Houston’s Ken Forsch lasts 13 innings without allowing a run. Neither hurler factors in the decision, as the Astros beat the Padres 2-1 in 21 innings.
15,000 days since Willie Mays hits his 500th career double.
15,000 days since Kevin Millar is born.
15,000 days since Cubs pitcher Milt Pappas strikes out the side on the bare minimum of nine pitches in the fourth inning against the Phillies.
20,000 days since the Yankees sell their TV rights to games on WPIX-TV for over $1,000,000.
30,000 days since Giants star Mel Ott belts three homers in one game, but his team loses anyway, 14-10 to the Braves.
1848 Candy Cummings, baseball Hall of Famer and reputed inventor of the curve ball, is born.
1884 Kindly Old Burt Shotton, manager for the Phillies and Dodgers, is born.
1939 The Cubs release Earl Whitehill, a pitcher who won over 200 games in his career (mostly with the Tigers).
1942 Willie Horton is born.
1949 George Hendrick is born.
1950 Eternal A’s manager Connie Mack finally retires, after 50 years helming the A’s. He’s 87 years old and still the oldest manager ever.
1952 Jerry Royster is born.
1955 Ralph Kiner announces his retirement.
1960 The Yankees fire Casey Stengel, claiming the game has passed him by and that he’s getting too old.
1966 The Angels release Joe Adcock. He’ll become a manager the next year for the Indians.
1967 AL owners approve Charles Finley’s proposed move of the A’s from Kansas City to Oakland for the 1968 season.
1971 The Mets trade young starting pitcher Jim Bibby to the Cardinals in an eight-player trade.
1973 The Mets top the A’s 2-0 in Game Five of the World Series as Jerry Koosman and Tug McGraw three-hit Oakland. The Mets, who went just 82-79 on the season, are now one win from a world championship. (They don’t get that last win, though).
1975 The Boston Globe, using aerial photography and computers, says that Fenway Park’s Green Monster is 304 feet from home plate, not 315 feet like the Red Sox claim.
1977 Reggie Jackson becomes a legend. He homers in each of his three at bats, always in the first pitch he swings at, off of three different pitchers and each homer is longer than the one before. Jackson’s feat propels the Yankees to a Game Six 8-4 win over the Dodgers and with it the first Yankees world title in 15 years. As an added bonus, Jackson homered in his last at bat in Game Five, giving him homers in four straight at bats—in the World Series! Mr. October, indeed.
1986 The Red Sox top the Mets 1-0 in Game One of the World Series. The only run is unearned.
1988 The A’s post a walk-off win against the Dodgers in their 2-1 triumph in Game Three. It will be Oakland’s only win of the World Series, though.
1992 Toronto tops the Braves 5-4 in Game Two. Atlanta led 4-2 after seven innings but Toronto scored once in the top of the eighth and twice in the top of the ninth for the win.
2001 Former batting champion Ferris Fain dies.
2001 Astros manager Larry Dierker resigns. He brought the team unprecedented regular season success, but couldn’t find success in the postseason.
2004 The Red Sox continue their unlikely comeback against the Yankees, winning Game Five of the ALCS 5-4 in 14 innings.
2004 In Game Five on the NLCS, the Astros beat the Cardinals 3-0. The game is more exciting that the final score, as it’s 0-0 entering the bottom of the ninth until Houston wins is on a walk-off three-run home run. St. Louis manages just one hit all game long.
2007 After 12 seasons, Joe Torre is out as Yankee manager when he refuses to take a pay cut in order to return in 2008.