Sunday Notes: Diamond Jim Used Dr. Strangeglove’s Bat, and Monbo Was Mad

Jim Gentile had 21 multiple-home-run games, the most historic one coming in 1961 when he hit grand slams in back-to-back innings. More obscure, but no less interesting, was a two-homer effort at Fenway Park three years later. Playing for the Kansas City A’s, the man known as ‘Diamond Jim’ triggered a skirmish in the Red Sox dugout with his dingers.

“A dear friend of mine, Dick Stuart, was playing first base for Boston,” the now-86-year-old Gentile told me recently. “They finished batting practice, and as I was walking up to the cage, he yelled at me, ‘Diamond, how ya hitting ‘em?’ Then he threw me his bat, and said I should try it. On my first swing, I hit the ball into the bullpen. I got out of the cage and went to throw it back to him, and he said, ‘No, keep it.’

Bill Monbouquette was on the mound for the Boston that day. A solidly-built right-hander, ‘Monbo’ not only had a no-hitter and a 20-win season on his resume, he was a self-described red-ass (a segment in this 2015 Sunday Notes column serves as evidence). If Gentile didn’t already know that, he would soon find out… albeit from a safe distance.

“Come game time, I’ve got my bat in my hands,” recalled Gentile. “I’ve also got Stuart’s bat in my hands. I figured, ‘Heck, I’m going to use his.’ I probably shouldn’t have. There’s kind of an unwritten rule that if someone gives you something like that, you wait until you get out of town. But I walked up there with his bat, and hit the ball in the bullpen. A couple innings later, I hit another one in the bullpen.”

As Gentile was rounding the bases, Red Sox catcher Bob Tillman picked up the bat and saw Stuart’s name on it. Moreover, he told Monboquette.

“When Monbo got in the dugout, I guess he and Stuart got into a little pushing deal,” Gentile told me. “When I went into in the clubhouse, I got a phone call from Stuart. He said ‘Hide the bat! — the newspaper guys think you used mine.’ So I put it in my bat bag, and put mine in my locker. I told the reporters, ‘No, I just used my own.’ But it was kind of comical what happened with Stuart [a hulking slugger whose defensive ineptitude earned him the sobriquet ‘Dr. Strangeglove’] and Monbo.”

What ended up happening to the bat is yet another story. Shortly after the Fenway escapade, Gentile did a radio interview on the field following a boffo game at another venue. Once it was over, he retreated to the visiting clubhouse, assuming that a bat boy had returned his new favorite weapon to his locker. It turns out he hadn’t.

“The next day I come to the ballpark and can’t find my bat,” said Gentile. “I went through my bat bag, I went through everybody’s locker. I thought somebody was playing a trick on me. I finally asked a bat boy, and he said. ‘Oh, does it have tape around the handle? I said, Yeah.’ He said, ‘A friend of mine came down to the railing after the game and asked for a bat. I didn’t know it was yours.’ I said,’ You’re kidding.’ He said, ‘No.’“

The ‘friend’ subsequently offered to return Gentile’s bat, but at a cost. He wanted $50 for it. Gentile passed on the offer, suggesting in no uncertain terms where its new owner might want to put it.

“That was the end of my good bat,” sighed Gentile. “I even ordered the same model that Dick threw to me, but I never got one quite like it. I always think to myself, ‘I could have had a hell of a year had I kept that bat.’”

Gentile finished the 1964 season with 28 home runs and a 129 wRC+.

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Adam LaRoche had a successful career. Playing for six different teams from 2004-2015, the left-handed-hitting first baseman slugged 255 home runs and put up a rock-solid 110 wRC+. He even took a turn at pitching, tossing a perfect inning for the Chicago White Sox in a 2015 blowout.

Dayton Moore thinks LaRoche should have toed the rubber on a regular basis. Moreover, he once endeavored to make that happen.

“Adam wanted to hit,” said Moore, who was in Atlanta’s front office when LaRoche was drafted by the Braves out of Seminole State College in 2000. “I liked him as a pitcher. He was left-handed and could really spin the ball. I also didn’t think his approach, and that stance he had, was going to work in professional baseball. I remember watching him play in Danville, Virginia, in his first year, and telling Paul Snyder that we should move him as quick as possible, so that he fails as a hitter. Then we could put him on the mound.”

Moore wasn’t alone in his belief that LaRoche — the son of longtime lefty reliever Dave LaRoche — projected better as a pitcher than he did as a hitter. A lot of scouts felt the same way. Regardless, Moore’s stratagem didn’t work. The Braves double-jumped LaRoche the following spring — from rookie-ball to high-A — but instead of falling flat, he continued to hit.

“I’ve shared that with Adam,” said Moore, who has spent the last 14 years as the general manager of the Kansas City Royals. “I’ve told him, ‘I was wrong about you. I didn’t think you were going to hit.’ Well, Adam made a lot of money as a hitter. Again, I wanted to move him quickly, so that he would fail and then we could put him on the mound. To this day, I believe that he would have been a quality Major League pitcher.”

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RANDOM HITTER-PITCHER MATCHUPS

Barry Bonds went 3 for 35 against Mike Bielecki.

Ted Williams went 2 for 20 against George Zuverink.

Joe DiMaggio went 1 for 25 against Hal White.

Ken Griffey Jr. went 1 for 16 against Scott Radinsky.

Willie Mays went 0 for 15 against Ron Bryant.

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Major League Baseball is celebrating the 100th anniversary of the Negro Leagues today. Founded in Kansas City under the guidance of the legendary Rube Foster, the Negro National League began play in 1920, with the Negro American League to follow in 1937.

Then came integration. The Negro National League folded after the 1948 season, while the Negro American League hung on until 1962 — albeit with a lot of barnstorming, and the level of talent steadily declining.

Money was an issue across the board.

“[Post integration] was a time of dwindling crowds and finances, and the finances weren’t great to begin with,” said Negro League historian Phil Dixon. “One thing that happened was the Negro Leagues became a training ground for players to go to the Major Leagues. They could sell those players. The Pacific League integrated in 1948, as well.”

Hank Aaron and Ernie Banks played in the Negro Leagues at that time. Neither was there for very long.

“Banks was originally signed in 1950, then went into the military and came back in 1953,” explained Dixon. “Again, this was the period where the emphasis was, “Hey, I can get you to the Major Leagues if you’re a really good ballplayer.’ So Banks signed with the Kansas City Monarchs, and Aaron — he was an infielder at the time — signed with the Indianapolis Clowns. Before long, they were sold. That was how it was. Owners could make money selling someone to the big leagues. If you had a good ballplayer, he might only be there for a year, and you can’t build an organization around that.”

Ultimately, the Negro Leagues had little chance to survive. That they existed in the first place is a sad commentary on our nation’s history.

“There were a lot of changes going on all at once, and the Negro Leagues had to battle against all of them,” Dixon said of the eventual dissolution. “And they had already been battling against a whole bunch of things. Especially racism. I always say that racism was America’s other national pastime. It might still be.”

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I asked a longtime official scorer about the play where Los Angeles Angels outfielder Jo Adell had a fly ball carom off his glove and over the fence. Here is what he shared with me via email:

It’s a judgment call. If a play that should have been made with ordinary effort is misplayed, it should be an error. That ball could have, should have, been caught with ordinary effort. Rule 9.12(a)(1) Comment: “The Official Scorer shall charge the outfielder with an error if such outfielder allows a fly ball to drop to the ground if, in the Official Scorer’s judgment, an outfielder at that position making ordinary effort would have caught such fly ball.” The fact the ball went over the fence instead of hitting the ground is immaterial.

In other words, the correct ruling is four-base error, not a home run.

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A quiz:

Which pitcher had the most wins in the 1960s?

The answer can be found below.

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NEWS ITEMS

When the Toronto Blue Jays played the Miami Marlins in Buffalo on Tuesday, it was the first time since September 8, 1915 that the state of New York had hosted three MLB games in three different ballparks on the same day. On that long-ago date, the New York Yankees, Brooklyn Robins, and the Federal League’s Buffalo Blues all played at home. Taking the Federal League out of the equation, the Brooklyn Superbas, New York Giants, and New York Highlanders hosted games on August 28, 1907.

Carlos Santana drew his 858th free pass as a member of the Cleveland Indians earlier this week, moving him past Tris Speaker into second place on the franchise’s all-time list. Jim Thome had 1,008 walks as an Indian.

The only player to have pinch hit for Ted Williams died earlier this week at age 87. A native of Sturgis, South Dakota, Carroll Hardy played for four teams from 1958-1967.

Former NBC Sports Hardball Talk writer Craig Calcaterra has started a daily baseball newsletter called ‘Cup of Coffee.’ Craig’s always-entertaining thoughts and opinions can be found here.

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NPB NOTES

Yakult Swallows right-hander Yasuhiro Ogawa threw the 93rd no-hitter in NPB history yesterday. (By comparison, there have been 303 no-hitters in MLB history.) Ogawa walked three and fanned 10 as the Swallows beat the DeNa BayStars 9-0 at Yokohama Stadium.

Former Texas Rangers and Chicago Cubs reliever Tony Barnette works for the Yakult Swallows as an advisor in baseball operations/pro scouting. Barnette pitched for the Swallows for six seasons before making his MLB debut in 2016.

Former Baltimore Orioles outfielder Adam Jones is slashing .236/.312/.362 with five home runs for the Orix Buffaloes. Yuki Yanagita is slashing .378/.491/.744 with 15 home runs for the SoftBank Hawks. The 31-year-old outfielder has a .984 OPS over 10 NPB seasons.

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The answer to the quiz is Juan Marichal. The Hall of Fame right-hander logged 191 wins from 1960-1969. The decade’s next-highest win totals belong to Bob Gibson (164) and Don Drysdale (158).

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Last Sunday’s column led with Kyle Higashioka’s avid support of Liverpool FC. Left on the cutting-room from my conversation with the Yankees’ backup backstop was his mention of teammates, both current and former, who have adopted international soccer clubs.

Austin Romine is a Liverpool fan,” Higashioka told me. “Adam Ottavino is a Man U fan. Tommy Kahnle likes Bayern Munich. CC Sabathia is a PSG [Paris Saint-Germain] fan. CC started getting into it last year.”

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Fred Lynn grew up in Southern California, then went on to play 17 big-league seasons, the best of them in a Boston Red Sox uniform. All but the last 90 games of Lynn’s career were spent in the American League.

A National League team in the Midwest has always held a place in his heart.

“I was very excited to play at Wrigley Field,” explained Lynn, who did so with the San Diego Padres in 1990. “I was born in Chicago and used to visit my relatives there. As a matter of fact, when I was nine years old I was supposed to play Little League, but instead we went and saw all my relatives in the Chicago, Minnesota, and Wisconsin areas — a typical summer there. I didn’t even start playing baseball until I was 10.

“So I’m a Chicago guy. I saw the Cubs play — [Ernie] Banks, [Ron] Santo, Billy Williams… and then I got to play against Williams a little bit. So it was really cool. The first thing I did when I got [to Wrigley Field] was go out to the ivy. I was poking around, and it was ‘Hey, there’s a wall back here!’ It was really fun. I enjoyed that.”

I asked the nine-time All-Star if he identified as a Cubs fan growing up.

“I was a North sider — I was not a White Sox guy — so yeah, I followed the Cubs,” responded Lynn. “But I was a mainly a Giants fan as a kid. I was a big Willie Mays guy. They had Juan Marichal, Orlando Cepeda, Willie McCovey… I identified with the Giants more so than the Dodgers, even though I grew up [in the Los Angeles area]. So for me it was Giants and Cubs. Even now I follow the Cubbies, to see how they’re doing.”

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LINKS YOU’LL LIKE

At USA Today, Bob Nightengale wrote about how, while the Seattle Mariners had 10 Black players on their opening-day roster, the numbers league wide continue to be low.

Awful Announcing’s Ian Casselberry wrote about how MLB’s blackout restrictions are adversely affecting fans in Buffalo.

MiLB.com’s Benjamin Hill filled us in on how Cooley Law School Stadium — the home of the Midwest League’s Lansing Lugnuts — is currently hosting collegiate competition in what has been christened ‘The Lemonade League.’

The San Francisco Chronicle’s Anika Orrock entertained us with Sounds of Summer: The Joy of Baseball on the Radio.

Cleveland caught pennant fever in 1920, and Dave Scott wrote about it at Medium.

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RANDOM FACTS AND STATS

Aaron Boone’s managerial record is 216-127 (.630). Rocco Baldelli’s managerial record is 113-68 (.624).

Miguel Cabrera had a .313 batting average and a .542 slugging percentage with the Florida Marlins. He has a .314 batting average and a .542 slugging percentage with the Detroit Tigers.

Albert Pujols has 5,883 total bases, tops among active players and fifth-most all-time. His single-season high is 394. The all-time leader in total bases is Hank Aaron, with 6,856. His single-season high is 400.

Lou Gehrig had 400 or more total bases five times. That’s the major-league record.

Marty Barrett and Johnny Pesky each executed a hidden-ball trick successfully on three different occasions while playing for the Red Sox. That’s the franchise record.

In 1905, Philadelphia left-hander Rube Waddell went 27-10 with a 181 ERA+.
In 1972, Philadelphia left-hander Steve Carlton went 27-10 with a 182 ERA+.

In 1975, Pete Rose was Cincinnati’s leadoff hitter in all 162 games. Rose had 210 hits, 89 walks, a career-high eleven HBPs… and zero stolen bases.

On August 17, 2008, Tampa Bay Rays manager Joe Maddon had right-hander Grant Balfour issue an intentional walk to Texas Rangers outfielder Josh Hamilton with the bases loaded in the bottom of the ninth inning. Dan Wheeler then replaced Balfour and proceeded to strike out Marlon Byrd to close out a 7-4 Rays win.

One hundred years ago today, Cleveland Indians shortstop Ray Chapman suffered a fractured skull when hit by a pitch thrown by New York Yankees submariner Carl Mays. Chapman died later that night.

Players born on this date include Tiny Bonham, who went 103-72 with a 3.06 ERA for the New York Yankees and Pittsburgh Pirates from 1940-1949. Bonham changed teams in 1946 when the Bucs acquired him in exchange for Cookie Cuccurullo.





David Laurila grew up in Michigan's Upper Peninsula and now writes about baseball from his home in Cambridge, Mass. He authored the Prospectus Q&A series at Baseball Prospectus from December 2006-May 2011 before being claimed off waivers by FanGraphs. He can be followed on Twitter @DavidLaurilaQA.

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Mitchell Moore
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Mitchell Moore

I correctly surmised the answer to the weekly quiz for the first time ever. I think I’ll take the rest of the day off.

Jim
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Jim

Congrats.