The Forgotten Man III
“I’m the straw that stirs the drink”
– Reggie Jackson
Reggie Jackson’s performance in game six of the 1977 World Series not only helped the New York Yankees win their first World Series championship since 1962, it made Jackson more than a star; it put him into the almost mythic category. There was even a candy bar named after him. But how many remember the pitcher(s) who surrendered those blasts?
Every important, historic or infamous moment involves a player who was a part of these plays, but few people recall them. A crucial out on a stolen base attempt invariably gives credit to the catcher, but an infielder applied the tag. Baseball is filled with strange occurrences, but no play is a solitary event. Someone else is always involved, but not always remembered.
Jackson famously said, “I’m the straw that stirs the drink.” If that were the case, then Burt Hooten, Elias Sosa and Charlie Hough were the beverage. That trio gave up the home runs Jackson slugged that game.
Hooten, whose out pitch was a “knuckle-curve,” had started game two, pitching a complete game in a 6-1 victory. Jackson went 0-4 with two strikeouts. Hooton started game six. Jackson, as in the previous five games, batted fourth and playing right field.
Leading off the second inning, Jackson walked, and Chris Chambliss homered to tie the game 2-2. The Dodgers went ahead 3-2 in the third. In the fourth inning, with catcher Thurman Munson on first, Jackson clubbed his first home run of the game (and his third of the series), putting the Yanks up 5-3. The Dodgers then replaced Hooten with Elias Sosa.
In the next inning, with two on and one out, Jackson homered off Sosa, giving the Bronx Bombers a 6-3 lead. In the bottom of the eighth, Jackson led off against knuckleballer Charlie Hough and hit his third home run of the night.
He belted his round-trippers on the first pitch he saw from each pitcher. The Yankees went on to win the game 8-4 and the series 4-2. Jackson was named the series MVP.
Hooten had a stellar career at the University of Texas, and the Chicago Cubs selected him in the secondary phase of the June 1971 draft with the number two overall pick. The Cubs wasted no time bringing him to Wrigley Field. Only a few days after being drafted, the Cubs had him start against the St. Louis Cardinals on June 17, 1971. He pitched 3.1 innings, giving up three hits, five walks and two strike outs, and was charged with three earned runs. On the recommendation of Tommy Lasorda, who coached him in winter ball, the Dodgers traded for him in May of 1975. For Los Angeles, he went 18-7 with an ERA of 2.82.
Charlie Hough became one of the most successful knuckleball pitchers in baseball history; his 216 wins rank only behind Phil and Joe Niekro amongst knuckleballers. Hough was drafted by the Dodgers in the eighth round of the 1966 amateur draft, and after three years pitching in Los Angeles’ minor league system, he had a sore shoulder and average stuff. In attempt to jump-start his career, he learned to throw a knuckler.
He made his major league debut on August 12, 1970 -but it wasn’t until 1973 that he made the Dodgers roster for good. He was used exclusively as a reliever, and in 1975-76 saved 40 games. In 1979, he started 14 games to go along with 28 relief appearances.
Charlie Hough #49 of the Texas Rangers pitches against the New York Yankees during an Major League Baseball game circa 1985 at Yankee Stadium in The Bronx. Hough played for the Rangers from 1980-90. (Photo by Focus on Sport/Getty Images)
On July 11, 1980, the Dodgers sold him to the Texas Rangers, who inserted him into the starting rotation in 1982. In 1986, at the age of 39, he was 18-13 and led the league with 40 starts and innings pitched with 285.1. He concluded his career with the Florida Marlins in 1994 at the age of 46. According to Tyler Kepner’s book, K: A History of Baseball in Ten Pitches, Hough is the only pitcher in history to make at least 400 starts and have 400 relief appearances.
Sosa is the least known of the Jackson Three, despite having a solid career.
He had pitched in 44 games for the Dodgers in 1977, all in relief; he had one save. In 63.2 innings, his ERA was 1.98. A native of the Dominican Republic, he signed with the San Francisco Giants in 1968. Four years later, he was a September call-up, and had three saves in eight games. The following year, he appeared in 71 games with a record of 10-4 and 18 saves. In 1975, he started being traded despite putting up excellent numbers. The Giants sent him to the St. Louis Cardinals; the Cards then traded him to Atlanta, who then traded Sosa and Lee Lacy to the Dodgers for Mike Marshall. Despite his fine season with Los Angeles, the Dodgers sold him to the Oakland A’s in January 1978.
After being granted free agency, he signed with Montreal and pitched three seasons for them – the longest tenure of his career – before he was sent to Detroit. The Tigers then sold him to the San Diego Padres, where he concluded his career after the 1983 season. With eight teams, he amassed a 59-51 record, with a career ERA of 3.22, and had 83 saves.
Why so many teams despite fine seasons?
Sosa said “back then” trades were less complicated. “We were signed to one-year deals, and we weren’t making that much money. Today, teams sign pitchers to multi-year contracts and keep them, even if they’re injured. Teams would look at him and say, ‘he’s available, and they’d send a couple of minor leaguers for me.’”
And Sosa brought something else with him:
“I was never on the DL in 12 years,” Sosa said. “God blessed me with a good arm.”
Many years after Jackson’s historic Game 6, he, Sosa, Hooten and Hough met at an autograph session in New Jersey. Did they discuss Jackson’s home runs?
“We talked about it a little bit,” Sosa recalled.
(Original Caption) New York: Reggie Jackson, Yankees hitting his second home run of the game off L.A. Dodger pitcher Elias Sosa in the fifth inning of the game of the World Series.
On September 11, 1985, Pete Rose singled in the bottom of the first inning for his 4,193rd base hit, surpassing Ty Cobb’s mark. The hit came off San Diego Padres starter Eric Show.
According to press accounts, when the game was stopped to celebrate Rose’s accomplishment, Show sat down on the mound with his arms folded, annoyed that the festivities were taking too long. Later, he got into an argument with teammate Carmelo Martinez about a play Martinez failed to make. In press interviews after the game, he did not acquit himself well, saying in the grand scheme of things Rose’s record wasn’t a big deal.
A graduate of the University of California at Riverside, where he majored in physics, Show helped his collegiate team to win the College World Series. He was drafted by the Padres and made his debut in 1981. Two years later, he joined the Padres starting rotation and won 42 games in three seasons.
Unfortunately, Show struggled with drug and alcohol abuse. In 1989, the Padres bought out his contract; he signed with Oakland but was released in spring training when his explanation for missing time in spring training didn’t convince the team’s management. Show checked himself into a rehab center, was released, but the next day called the center saying he drank and used drugs and wanted to come back. He did, but on the morning of March 16, 1994, he was found dead in his room. He was only 38.
The San Francisco Giants on August 14, 1986, were in second place in the NL West, trailing the Houston Astros by five games. Hoping to play the spoiler, the Cincinnati Reds were fourth in the division, with a record of 54-59.
In the starting lineup for the Reds was player/manager Pete Rose, batting second and playing first base. Cincinnati won 2-0 – and Rose had a good game – three hits, all singles in four at-bats.
In the first and fifth innings, he singled off Giants starter Kelly Downs. In the seventh, he singled to left off Greg Minton. It was the last hit of Rose’s career, number 4,256.
Three days later, with the Reds trailing the San Diego Padres in the bottom of the eighth, and the pitcher’s spot due up, Rose had a decision to make: he would pinch hit for reliever Ron Robinson, but who would he bat? He might have thought, if you want something done right, do it yourself, and he batted for the pitcher.
“It’s pretty easy to pinch hit for me. I think he’s a little bit better hitter than I am,” said Robinson.
Facing Goose Gossage, Rose struck out, and it was the final at-bat in his career, number 14,053.
In a 16-year career, Minton appeared in 710 games. He didn’t reach the majors until he was 24. For four seasons, he was the Giants’ closer, saving 90 games.
Eric Minton #41 of the Minnesota Twins pitches during a baseball game against the Baltimore Orioles on May 3, 1998 at Camden Yards in Baltimore, Maryland. (Photo by Mitchell Layton/Getty Images)
In a Society for American Baseball Research (SABR) article about an appearance by Minton on September 25, 1982, author Tom Schott began his account:
“Greg Minton did everything for the San Francisco Giants during the 1982 season, including stealing the team bus. More about that later. The right-handed relief ace achieved a milestone when he recorded his 30th save of the season in the Giants’ come-from-behind 5-4 victory over the Los Angeles Dodgers at Dodger Stadium.”A native of Lubbock, TX, Minton was drafted by the Kansas City Royals in the third round of the secondary phase of the draft, held in January. He was traded to the Giants for Fran Healy on April 2, 1973.
Minton said of Rose, “I knew him a little bit, as a person, and he flew Bob Friend, who gave up his first (hit) and myself, who gave up his last hit, up to Las Vegas a few times to sign autographs.”
Late in the 1986 season, Minton noticed Rose wasn’t batting anymore. “So the next time we were in town I said, ‘Pete, I got a question for you, and he goes, ‘Greg, I already know what it is.’ I said, ‘What?’ And he goes, ‘I ain’t batting again.’ I knew I had the record (of being the pitcher to give up Rose’s last hit) then.”
While Minton can tell this story to any and everyone, there’s another story involving him and Rose he’d just as soon never want to hear again.
“In ’82, I got picked to be an all-star. Well, my dad was my little league coach and Pony League coach. I flew my dad up to Montreal for the All-Star Game. I got my dad through security and into the locker room and I’m next to Pete Rose. So, I introduced my dad to Pete, and Pete, he’s just being nice. He doesn’t mean this. He goes, ‘Mr. Minton, if we had Greg on the Big (Red) Machine, we’d be 25 games out in front.’ Well, of course, my dad tells every conceivable human the rest of his life that story, and he (Rose) was just being nice. He didn’t mean it literally. It was kind of cute. But my God, my dad told that every time we had a gathering. Oh (bleep), here comes the Pete Rose story again.”
Ron Robinson was the Reds’ number one draft choice in 1980 out of Woodlake High School in Woodlake, CA. He alternated between starting and relieving in his first two years with Cincinnati. In 1986, Rose had Robinson working almost exclusively out of the bullpen. Why the change?
“Because I did a pretty good job (at) the start of the season in ’86, and I just stayed in it and I got 70 appearances that year. I was 10 and 3 with 14 saves,” he said. His roommate that year was left-handed reliever John Franco. “We made a pretty good pair,” recalls Robinson.
“In ’87, I had 33 relief appearances and then we were on our way to Houston, and (Rose) told me to come up front in first class. He told me I was gonna start against the Houston Astros because we needed a starter. He said, ‘I got good news, you’re gonna start,’ and he goes, ‘I got bad news… it’s against Nolan Ryan.’ So I ended up winning the game and I got a hit off of Nolan Ryan. So it’s a pretty good game for me,” Robinson said.
These days, Robinson works with the Major League Baseball Players Alumni organization, conducting baseball camps for children six to 14.
Pitcher Ron Robinson of the Cincinnati Reds pitches against the Pittsburgh Pirates during a game at Three Rivers Stadium in 1984 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by George Gojkovich/Getty Images)
Baseball’s only fatal injury occurred August 16, 1920 when Cleveland’s Ray Chapman was hit in the head by New York Yankee pitcher Carl Mays. After being struck, Chapman collapsed to his knees and was bleeding from his ear. He was able to walk off the field on his own and was taken to St. Lawrence Hospital.
The game, however, had to go on, and little-used infielder Harry Lunte ran for Chapman at first base and completed the game at shortstop, going 0-1. Cleveland won 4-3.
At St Lawrence, doctors made a three-inch incision in the base of Chapman’s skull, finding a ruptured lateral sinus and plenty of clotted blood. They removed a small piece of his fractured skull. Kathleen Day Chapman, pregnant with the couple’s first child, was immediately summoned to New York. Chapman rallied briefly – but died the next morning before his wife’s arrival.
It was not the first time Lunte had replaced Chapman. In May of 1919, Chapman was injured and Lunte took his place.
Two years previously, Lunte had been selected by Cleveland from Mobile (Southern Association in the 1917 Rule 5 draft.
Lunte made his debut on May 19, 1919. With Cleveland trailing the Yankees 7-0, Lunte pinch-hit for a pitcher, and made an out.
A story out of New York that appeared in the August 2, 1919 Dayton (OH) Herald, discussed Lunte’s replacing Chapman. The article reported Lunte served in WWI and when he returned to baseball he broke an ankle, which could have delayed his reaching the major leagues.
Lunte played in 26 games in 1919 and batted .195 for Cleveland.
A Sporting News article reported, “Harry Lunte, the utility man delegated to fill the gap at short, is doing all that could be expected. There never has been any doubt about his ability to field with the best of them. But he hit under .200 in 1919 and he will have to do better than that to hold up his end.” Lunte’s hitting continued to be anemic, but his defensive statistics finally matched his reputation, as he turned in several spectacular plays and fielded the position as steadily as any American League shortstop, recording a fielding percentage of .979. Not even Everett Scott, the American League’s premier defensive shortstop, could match Lunte’s glove work that season.”
Following Chapman’s death in 1920, Lunte played regularly for Cleveland until September 6. He was hitting .197. (He also played three games at second base that season.)
According to a SABR article, “On September 6, when Lunte pulled a leg muscle that left him unable to play, the Indians purchased Joe Sewell’s contract from the New Orleans Pelicans of the Class A Southern Association. Sewell’s professional experience at the time amounted to 346 at-bats, yet out of necessity he was inserted into the middle of the infield of a team that was competing for the American League pennant.”
Cleveland manager Tris Speaker put him into the lineup for his major league debut on September 10, 1920, advising him to “just get a piece of the ball.”
It was good advice. That was Sewell’s game, who became one of the best contact hitters in history. In 8,333 at-bats he struck out only 114 times. In 1925, he came to the plate 608 times and struck out six times, batting .326 on the season.
Sewell would go on to play the remaining 22 games for Cleveland, hitting .329, as the team went 16-6 and hung on to win the pennant by two games by two games against the Chicago White Sox. After receiving special permission to be placed on the World Series roster (since he joined the team after September 1), he was the starting shortstop as his club went on to win the World Series against Brooklyn.
Sewell played 14 seasons, the last two with the Yankees in 1932 (he batted .333 in New York’s four-game sweep of the Chicago Cubs) and 1933. His lifetime average was .312 and he was elected into the Hall of Fame by the veterans committee in 1977.
Lunte’s last game in 1920 was on September 23 against the White Sox. He entered the game in the top of the eighth inning to play shortstop, but was pinch-hit for in the bottom of the inning. Lunte was on the roster for the 1920 World Series, but did not see any action in any of the six-games.
He never appeared in the majors again, and died on July 27, 1965 in St. Louis at the age of 72, in obscurity. His hometown paper, the Post-Dispatch, published a brief notice about him on the second page of its sports section on July 28.
Former Orioles pitcher Jack Fisher, who gave up a home run in Ted Williams' last at-bat, stands on the mound during the Ted Williams tribute on July 22, 2002 at Fenway Park in Boston, Massachusetts. The public was invited to the park to honor Williams who died July 5, 2002. (Photo by Darren McCollester/Getty Images)
Two of baseball’s most prominent home runs occurred within 363 days of each other. On September 28, 1960, Ted Williams hit his 521st and final home run of his career at Fenway Park. Almost a year later, Roger Maris hit his 60th home run on September 26, 1961, tying Babe Ruth for the most round trippers in a season (a mark he would break a few days later).
Both home runs were given up by Jack Fisher, then pitching for the Baltimore Orioles. With two outs in the bottom of the third inning, Maris, who was batting third and playing right field, belted a Fisher pitch into history.
After surrendering Maris’ blast, Fisher told the Baltimore Sun, “It was a curveball – I got it too high. I knew it was No. 60 the minute he hit it.”
“Sitting quietly in the clubhouse after the game, Fisher puffed on a cigarette and said the home run didn’t bother him a bit except that it cut his lead from 2-0 to 2-1 at the time,” the Sun stated.
“I’m out there to win,” Fisher told the paper. “I don’t care who hits home runs, as long as I win,” said Fisher.
He gave up Ted Williams’ last home run/last hit in his last at bat on September 28, 1960.
The Orioles starter that day lasted only a third of an inning, giving up two runs. Fisher came into the game and pitched 8.1 frames. He took a lead into the ninth inning, but lost the game when an unearned run was scored.
A native of Frostburg, MD, Fisher signed with the Orioles in 1957 when he was 18 after graduating from high school in Georgia. He made his debut with Baltimore on April 19, 1959 against the Yankees. He pitched 11 seasons in the majors, but always seemed to be in the right place but at the wrong time.
Baltimore traded him to San Francisco after the Giants won the 1962 pennant. The New York Mets acquired him in 1963, and traded him to Cincinnati only a season before they went on to win the World Series. The Reds traded him a season before the 1970 season, when they won the NL pennant.
After retiring, Fisher settled in Easton, PA, and opened a tavern he called “Fat Jacks,” which was a play on his nickname, “Fat Jack” (Fisher was listed at 6’2” and 215 pounds.)
Craig Anderson, a right-handed pitcher, was teammates briefly with Fisher for a short time in 1964 with the Mets.
“I went to see him in his Fat Jacks Bar in Easton,” said Anderson, an original member of the ’62 Mets. “He married the daughter of a large printing company owner who was from that part of Pennsylvania. Jack was always cordial and we talked baseball when we met. He put my picture up in his bar.”