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Mudville: June 15, 2024 5:48 pm PDT

Dirty Kurt: Kurt Bevacqua

"It was funny, anytime you can get under someone’s skin like that, it’s pretty good."

BallNine likes to imagine a baseball world free of puppet managers. We picture the nerds offering valuable analytic information to the coaching staff and then getting the hell out of the way and letting the baseball people handle the baseball.

Sure, nobody goes to the games to see the mangers, at least not since Billy Martin was last at the helm. But there is something gripping about a manager making a decision that goes against the grain. There is something great about seeing something unconventional in a lineup or noticing a move that runs contrary to “the book.” Watching how those moves played out added a layer of intrigue to the action.

As a fan, you knew the manager was “going with his gut” and if you had a good manager, you learned to trust his instincts for the most part. It brought nuance and drama to the game.

When your manager was Hall of Famer Dick Williams, one of the best to ever sit in the skipper’s chair, you tended to trust the decisions he made.

So, when the 1984 World Series rolled around and Williams inserted Kurt Bevacqua as the Padres’ Designated Hitter for Game 1 despite starting just eight games all season, Williams got the benefit of the doubt.

Williams’ instinct, honed over decades of success in the game, was correct.

Bevacqua, then a 37-year old pinch hitter, started every game of the Series and led the Padres with a .412 average. He was the only Padres player to hit two World Series home runs that year and led the team with four RBIs.

Bevacqua joins us for this week’s edition of Spitballin’.

The 1984 World Series was the perfect capstone performance for Bevacqua’s career. He returned for one more year in 1985 before retiring after 15 seasons.

Punched out

Kurt getting dirty: Bevacqua gets punched out by Richie Garcia in the '84 World Series

Although Bevacqua played in over 100 games in just two of his 15 seasons, he is someone all baseball fans above the age of 40 will remember fondly.

He was always a dangerous pinch hitter in an era when managers had the roster flexibility to carry someone to fill that niche. It was nice to have a roster that wasn’t choked out by a parade of middle relievers. Bevacqua was also a valuable utility player, playing every defensive position except centerfield and catcher.

He was just one of those gritty guys you had to have on your team. A solid player who turned into the type of veteran leader any good team needs.

Bevacqua was also one of the game’s great characters. His feud with Tommy Lasorda and the Dodgers is the stuff of legend and if you collected baseball cards in 1976, you’ll remember his “Bubble Gum Blowing Champ” Topps card very well.

We get into all of that and more with “Dirty Kurt,” so come along as we go Spitballin’ with Kurt Bevacqua.

“I made a comment along the lines of, ‘They oughta fine that fat little Italian that ordered him to throw the pitch.’”

Thanks for joining us, Mr. Bevacqua. This makes three columns in a row where we featured World Series heroes. Let’s go back to your youth. When you were a kid growing up in Florida, who were your favorite teams and players?

The Yankees and Dodgers were the two teams that dominated baseball at that time and the Yankees were my favorite team. Growing up in Miami, we didn’t have a team, but Mickey Mantle was always my favorite player.

But I had a Brooklyn Dodgers hat too and that was my favorite hat. So, as most people know, I don’t like the Dodgers now, but I still wear a Brooklyn Dodgers hat that my son bought me.

That’s a pretty good hero to have! You debuted just a few years after Mantle retired. Did you ever cross paths with him in Spring Training or anything?

Our paths never crossed on the playing field, but he was always around the game. One of my favorite photos I have is me and Mick on the top step of the dugout at Arlington Stadium when I played for the Rangers.

I know we had done a barnstorming tour one spring where we played quite a few teams and we opened with the Yankees at home, that could have been when it was taken, but I’m not sure. But it’s one of my favorite baseball pictures. I was fortunate enough to spend some time with my boyhood idol.

Did you play other sports growing up or were you always a baseball guy?

I enjoyed all sports; it wasn’t just baseball. But I did spend a lot of time playing Little League and American Legion. I was fortunate to grow up in Miami where we had great weather year-round.

I grew up in a time where you left the house early in the morning and came back for lunch and then dinner when the streetlights came on. That was the way it was. Everything was different than it is now, but yes, I spent a lot of time on the sports fields. I always seemed to gravitate towards baseball, but I did enjoy playing football and track and field too.

Bevacqua and Garvey

Steve Garvey (right) performs a little moustache maintenance on Bevacqua

When it was time for college, you went to Miami-Dade, which very well can be considered the best two-year school in the country for baseball. Can you talk about your experience there?

That was a natural transition because it was so close to where I lived. I never went away to college. I just went to classes and practice at Dade and lived at home. We had a good team, and they were good even before I went there. They won the National Championship in 1964.

You want to know how good that team was? Steve Carlton went out for the team and was told that he wasn’t going to be a starter. They told him they might find a place for him in the bullpen. Carlton decided to sign with the Cardinals for $5,000 and the rest was history. It’s funny to look back and see a Hall of Famer who was a pretty good pitcher in high school being told they didn’t have a place for him. Although he didn’t nearly have the stuff he had in the Major Leagues when he was that age. He was just a fastball pitcher back then.

Wow, that’s pretty incredible. Moving on to your Major League career, when you came up as a young player, was there any veteran you would credit as someone who showed you the ropes of what it was like to be a Major Leaguer?

The guy who stands out in my mind was Willie Stargell. Now that I look back on it, I think he was the same with everybody. He was just a great teammate and a great guy. I look back now and the opportunity to be his teammate was incredible. He really was a special guy.

I know you have probably been asked about the next three items on my list all the time, so I’ll just throw these out there with little explanation and you can take it from there. First, tell us about your title as the 1975 Bazooka Bumble Blowing Champ.

That was something [Joe] Garagiola came up with. He always saw guys blowing bubbles on the bench during the NBC Game of the Week and he put this contest together with Topps. The players didn’t have much to do with it, we just entered the contest and went from there. I ended up winning like $1,500 so that was good. I think every kid got a little bit of talent for that, nothing really to hang your hat on.

Bevacqua as Dick Williams

Bevacqua - dressed as Dick Williams - bringing out the lineup card in a game where Williams was suspended for the '84 brawl with the Braves

That has to be one of the most famous baseball cards of that era too. Anyone who collected knew it. Now how about your feud with the Dodgers and Tommy Lasorda?

This was in 1982 and the Padres started to get a good rivalry going with the Dodgers. One of our players was hit right after someone hit a go-ahead home run. It came out that the pitcher was fined and I made a comment along the lines of, “They oughta fine that fat little Italian that ordered him to throw the pitch.”

It took a little while for him to come out with that tape, it might have been three weeks after the fact when they finally got him to bust loose. It turned out to be pretty funny.

I saw him a few times after the incident, but never really talked about it. As a matter of fact, I did a luncheon with him when I was still playing when the Dodgers came into town.

Over the years, it’s been one of those things that people keep reminding you of, both him and me. It was funny, anytime you can get under someone’s skin like that, it’s pretty good.

Especially someone like Lasorda! OK, one last incident. Take us through that insane brawl between the Braves and Padres in 1984.

It was one of those deals where you’re watching out for your teammates. We were leading the National League that year and it was August. The next thing we knew we got a Braves pitcher throwing at our catalyst and it was definitely on purpose. It was the first pitch of the game. We just weren’t gonna have anything of it; it wasn’t gonna happen.

We just kept after him. Did it go overboard a little bit? Eh, maybe. But looking back at it, we probably would have done everything basically the same.

That’s some video and every time I watch it, I see something crazy that I hadn’t seen before. Later that year the Padres made it to their first World Series. I have a few questions about that. First, let’s start off with your manager, Dick Williams. I know he’s a tough guy and I think he is actually an underrated manager among the greats, if a Hall of Famer can be underrated. What was it like playing for him?

You hit the nail on the head when you said he’s a tough guy to play for. You don’t look at guys that are hard to play for as being good managers during that period of time. I never looked at Dick as this great manager when I was playing for him, but I should have.

He used me as well as any manager did throughout my career. He really put me in a position to succeed the last five years of my career. It was a great opportunity that I had. He was tough on me just like he was on other people, but when I look back on it, I think to myself, “You know, he was one smart sonofabitch.” He found a way to get guys to play and do things that they might not normally had done.

He would say something through the press or the make out the lineup card a certain way. He had this underlying way to get under guys’ skin that he knew would propel them to bigger heights. He was a hell of a manager.

In the 1984 World Series, you guys were going against the Tigers, who had a historic season. You guys had some veterans like yourself, Steve Garvey, Graig Nettles and Goose Gossage, but much of your team was young. What role do veterans like yourself play in that type of situation?

I don’t think that I looked at guys being younger guys or veteran guys as much as the front office did. Maybe Garvey looked at being in the role where he could guide some of the younger players like the Carmelo Martinez or Kevin McReynolds of the world. Even Tony Gwynn, who had been for two and a half years before, was still a younger type of player.

That really was a great team. Two Hall of Famers with Gwynn and Gossage, but also so many guys who were just real solid players throughout that era.

We had such a mix of guys on that team that seemed to gel. But we also were at each others’ throats all the time. I think that’s what made us the team that we were. We were able to get by the altercations and arguments that we used to have and forget about it and go on to the next thing. It was a great group of guys, it really was.

The World Series was the culmination of a lot of hard work and finding out what chemistry is all about on a baseball team. That was that club that year. We had a heck of a baseball team, but we also had guys that cared about one another, so we were able to win and it was fun.

Your own performance in the World Series is still talked about a lot to this day. You were used almost exclusively as a pinch hitter all year and then Dick Williams named you the DH for the Series. You go out and are the best hitter on a team that included Gwynn, Garvey, McReynolds and many others. What did that mean to you to make your first World Series so late in your career and then have that kind of performance?

It really was gratifying, and it has to go back to the guy we were just talking about, Dick Williams. He was the kind of manager who basically pinch hit me for almost everyone in the lineup with the exception of Gwynn and Garvey over those few years. He put me in the middle of the lineup when Pascual Perez pitched against us his next start after the brawl in San Diego. He put me right smack dab in the middle of the lineup that night, hitting fourth.

He then found a place for me in the lineup during the World Series when other managers probably wouldn’t have. But he must have known something that I was the kind of player that could rise to the occasion. I think that’s one of the reasons I look back at Dick so kindly.

I think a little deeper into it than some players might, but he made quite a few guys better players by things that he said and did, and I was one of them. It was nice to be recognized by a guy who eventually got into the Hall of Fame as someone that he wanted in his lineup at the biggest time of the year.

That’s an awesome feeling to have. It may have been an unconventional move, but it was the right one for sure and you’ll always be a hero in San Diego. I have just one more question for you and it’s open-ended. Do you have any final thoughts on anything that you’d like to leave our readers with?

Yes, it was a big time here in San Diego. They don’t have that many World Series teams so even though it was a long time ago, it’s still on people’s minds. I am just glad that I played when I did because the game doesn’t look like as much fun as it used to be. A lot of people might think with the paychecks the way they are now, it would be a lot more fun, but I don’t think it is.

It’s almost like saying that you go to work 22 days every month and your workplace is miserable, but your paycheck at the end of the month is good. I am not saying that being a professional Major League Baseball player is miserable by any means, but the game is just not what it used to be and it’s becoming a little disturbing.

I don’t know what to expect in the future, but it’s something I am going to look forward to seeing. Hopefully, it’ll stay the somewhat the same type of game for my son as it was for me.

Rocco is a baseball writer with too much time on his hands who lives in the dusty corners of Baseball Reference. He was one half of the battery for the 1986 Belleville Recreation Farm League Champion Indians. He likes early 20th century baseball nicknames, pullover polyester jerseys and Old Hoss Radbourn. He works as a College Athletics Director and his second book was released in April of 2021.

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