Sunday Notes: Tom Grieve Day Came Without the Wheels

Tom Grieve had a relatively nondescript playing career. From 1970-1979, the now-72-year-old former outfielder logged 474 hits, 65 of which left the yard, and a 100 wRC+. Those numbers came primarily with the Texas Rangers, who had drafted Grieve out of the University of Michigan while the franchise was still located in Washington DC.

Grieve is a product of Pittsfield, Massachusetts, and while he grew up rooting for the New York Yankees, one of his biggest thrills came in his home state’s most-famous sports venue. The date was May 5, 1974, and the event itself was proceeded by a certain amount of trepidation.

Billy Martin was the manager at the time,” explained Grieve, who is now a TV analyst for the Rangers. “Jim Fregosi and I had been playing against left-handed pitchers, and Mike Hargrove and Jim Spencer had been playing against right-handed pitchers. Anyway, the people of Pittsfield had called the Red Sox and were somehow able to set up ‘Tom Grieve Day’ at Fenway Park between games of a Sunday doubleheader. Usually when there’s a day for someone at a ballpark, it’s for a Hall of Fame player, so I can remember going to Boston knowing that it was going to happen, and being a little bit embarrassed.”

Not to mention wary of what his manager might think. Not only was Grieve a 26-year-old platoon player, Martin had donned pinstripes for much of his own playing career. Moreover, Martin was notoriously as combative as they come.

The night before the game, I was walking back to the hotel after having dinner, and Billy happened to see me,” recalled Grieve. “He was at table just inside the door of a bar, and he motioned for me to come in. He said, ‘I just heard that tomorrow is Tom Grieve day.” OK, here is a guy who played in multiple World Series with the Yankees, and he’s probably thinking ‘Who the hell are you to have a day at Fenway Park?’ I kind of braced myself for what was coming.”

Instead of vitriol, Grieve received a gift. Martin informed the Massachusetts native that Luis Tiant was going to be pitching the first game for Boston the next day, and Juan Marichal was going to be pitching the second game. Which would he rather face? Not wanting to disappoint the dozens of proud Pittsfield residents who would be in attendance, Martin was willing to set aside his normal platoon and pencil Grieve into one of the two lineups.

Grieve opted for Tiant in Game One. He’d gotten a hit off the Cuban-born right-hander a few weeks earlier, and had never faced Marichal, so he felt Tiant was likely the more-favorable matchup. He chose well. Grieve stroked a run-scoring single against Tiant, and later did the same against Red Sox reliever Roger Moret.

Then came an even bigger surprise than Martin’s magnanimity. It initially raised Grieve’s spirits even higher, then sent them crashing to the ground.

“Between games, they ushered the mayor and some other people onto the field,” recounted Grieve. “As we were walking out, the public address announcer said ‘The Boston Red Sox are proud to introduce Pittsfield’s own Tom Grieve.’ When we reached the mound, he said, ‘Now Mayor Evan Dobelle, from Pittsfield, would like to present Tom with the keys to a brand new Chevrolet.’ I was thinking, ‘Holy cow, they’re actually going to give me a car.’”

That didn’t happen. The keys the mayor took out of his pocket and handed to the man of honor were his own.

“In order to get ‘Tom Grieve Day,’ they had to tell [the Red Sox] they were going to give me a car,” explained Grieve. “The mayor, who I knew, informed me of that as I reached out to take [the keys]. I started smiling, everybody cheered, and as we walked off the field I gave him back the keys to his car. For pretty much 20 years after that, every time I went back to Pittsfield someone would have something to say about the car I never got at Fenway Park.”

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Left on the cutting room floor from Friday’s feature on Matt Foster was the rookie right-hander’s first Wrigley Field experience. The Alabama native had only been to two big-league ballparks — Atlanta’s old Turner Field, and Miami’s Marlins Park — before debuting with the White Sox at the beginning of August. Chicago’s historic North Side venue became his seventh ballpark a few weeks later.

“It was awesome,” Foster said his Wrigley visit. “I remember watching Cubs games on TV and looking at all the ivy. I actually got to go out there and touch it. All the guys were messing with me afterwards. They said I was going to get poison ivy.”

Foster threw a scoreless inning at Wrigley Field on August 23rd. No poison ivy symptoms emerged.

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RANDOM HITTER-PITCHER MATCHUPS

Hawk Harrelson went 10 for 23 against Jim Bouton.

Gary Sheffield went 11 for 18 against Roger Clemens.

Lonnie Smith went 12 for 24 against Nolan Ryan.

Sammy Sosa went 13 for 27 against Orel Hershiser.

Manny Ramirez went 14 for 24 against CC Sabathia.

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The Cincinnati Reds have thus far fallen short of expectations. At 17-22, Johnny Bench’s old club sits not-so-comfortably in fourth place in the NL Central. Which isn’t to say all is lost. Thanks to 2020’s expanded playoff format, October baseball remains well within reach. As Reds TV analyst Chris Welsh put it, “They don’t have to be the 2019 Nationals, they just need to make up a couple of games on the teams that are ahead of them.”

As of this morning, Cincinnati is just 1.5 games in arrears of the eighth and final playoff slot in the NL. They’re also only 2.5 games out of second place in their division, which is an automatic qualifier in this, the strangest of seasons.

Welsh stopped short of a prediction when I spoke to him on Friday, but he did suggest that brighter days lay ahead for the team he once played for. As for the slow start they need to recover from, his explanation came in form of an analogy.

“It’s like a pulley,” said Welsh. “You pull on one end of the rope and your pitching is good, but your hitting goes bad. Then you pull on the hitting end of the rope and the pitching goes bad. They just haven’t clicked yet. They haven’t made a run, but I think they have it in them. I’m expecting it to happen any time.

“On paper, they’re as good as anybody in the division,” continued Welsh. “The problem is that they haven’t been able to go out there and figure out ways to win. Instead, they’ve been figuring out ways to lose. The National League Central is a division without a perfect team, even without a near-perfect team. That said, the Cubs have figured out a way to win games more than any other team in the division.”

What does that say about Chicago’s first-year manager?

“I think [David Ross] is the Manager of the Year so far,” opined Welsh. “I think he’s a perfect fit over there. He’s negotiated his way through a bullpen that was in tatters early in the season, and guys like Javier Báez and Kris Bryant, who they were depending on, haven’t been hitting. But they’re winning games.”

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Count Scott Barnsby among those who aren’t surprised by Ross’s success. The two not only broke into pro ball together with the short-season Yakima Bears in 1998, they were on opposite ends of a battery. Barnsby was a pitcher during his playing days — he’s now Cleveland’s director of amateur scouting — while Ross strapped on the tools of ignorance throughout his 19 professional seasons.

“You could tell he was a leader,” Barnsby said of his one-time teammate. “He was very advanced in terms of understanding the game, but the best way to describe him would be to say that he had a presence. Had someone asked me at the end of that year which guys had the best chance to go on — not only because of their ability on the field, but their overall approach — David clearly stood out. And not only did he go on to make ‘Dancing With the Stars,’ he’s a big-league manager. That’s pretty good.”

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A quiz:

What was first father-son duo to play in the World Series? A hint: both were primarily catchers.

The answer can be found below.

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NEWS ITEMS

Bert Blyleven broadcast his last Minnesota Twins game earlier this week. The Hall of Fame right-hander had been a TV analyst for the Twins since 1986. Blyleven — one of 12 players in MLB history to have been born in the Netherlands — will remain with the team as a special assistant.

Publication to Be Named Later is a new cooperative sports quarterly run by free-agent internet writers, editors and artists. Information can be found here.

The Society for American Baseball Research has announced the finalists for the 2020 Dorothy Seymour Mills Lifetime Achievement Award, which is presented by SABR’s Women in Baseball Committee. It’s an impressive list.

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The answer to the quiz is Billy Sullivan Sr. and Billy Sullivan Jr. The former caught for the Chicago White Sox in the 1906 World Series, the latter for the Detroit Tigers in the 1940 World Series.

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2020 STAT NOTABLES

A total of 171 players had made their MLB debuts through Friday. There were 261 debuts all of last year.

The Red Sox had been 12-0-3 in their last 15 series with the Braves prior to being swept by Atlanta this week at Fenway Park.

Charlie Culberson made his fourth career pitching appearance on Friday. The 31-year-old utility man retired the only batter he faced in a 10-9 Atlanta Braves loss to the Washington Nationals.

Washington’s Trea Turner went 11 for 15 against the Red Sox last weekend. Sam Rice, for the Senators in 1924, and Marty McManus, for the Tigers in 1929, are the only other players to have had 11 hits in a three-game series versus the Red Sox.

Going into last night, Milwaukee’s Josh Hader had faced 47 batters and not allowed a hit. He’d issued 10 walks and two HBPs.

Marco Gonzales’s complete-game 2-1 win in Anaheim earlier this week gave him a career record of 8-1 against the Los Angeles Angels. The Seattle southpaw has a 3.55 ERA in 15 career starts versus LA.

All three of the Cubs’ outfielders — Ian Happ, Jason Heyward, and Kyle Schwarber — homered twice in last Sunday’s 10-1 win over the Reds. It was the first time in MLB history that a team’s trio of starting outfielders turned that trick.

Washington’s Juan Soto leads all players with a .208 wRC+. The 21-year-old outfielder is slashing .354/.453/.758.

Tim Anderson leads the American League with a .360 batting average. The White Sox shortstop led all players last year with a .335 batting average. Christian Yelich, last season’s National League batting champ, is hitting .206.

Orix Buffaloes outfielder Masataka Yoshida leads NPB with a .374 BA, and his .476 OBP ranks second behind Kensuke Kondoh’s .481 mark. The 27-year-old Yoshida has drawn 46 walks and fanned just 15 times.

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I recently ran a Twitter poll asking which of Roberto Clemente and Al Kaline was the better player. Bill James, aware of my efforts, subsequently ran the same poll in order that a more-substantive sample size could be obtained. In each case, the respondents leaned heavily Clemente. The Pittsburgh Pirates legend received roughly 80% of the overall vote.

With the caveat that “better player” is subjective, their respective numbers suggest that the Detroit Tigers legend is the one who should have come out on top. To wit:

Clemente: 3,000 hits, 240 HR, .365 wOBA, 129 wRC+, 80.6 fWAR.

Al Kaline: 3,007 hits, 399 HR, .378 wOBA, 134 wRC+, 88.9 fWAR.

Does that particular set of numbers tell the entire story? Of course not, but they do say a lot. Both are all-time greats, and in terms of on-field value — historical importance is another story — Kaline is at least Clemente’s equal.

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LINKS YOU’LL LIKE

At Our Game, MLB historian John Thorn wrote about Cleveland Indians icon Herb Score, the phenom of phenoms and what might have been.

Writing for The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Richard Peterson told us about the 1960 Pirates Easter miracle, which portended that year’s World Series heroics.

Jason Katz gave us an abbreviated history of Miami’s Negro League team at the Miami New Times.

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RANDOM FACTS AND STATS

1969 is the most recent season in which starting pitchers posted a lower ERA than relief pitchers. Starters had a 3.60 ERA that year, while relievers had a 3.65 ERA.

Christy Mathewson pitched in 636 games over 17 seasons and had 373 wins. All came with the New York Giants… except for the final game of his career. Mathewson went nine innings and got the win for the Cincinnati Reds on Sept 4, 1916.

Joey Votto has slashed .355/.434/.577 in 320 career plate appearances against the Houston Astros. Forty-three of his 99 hits have gone for extra bases.

Willie McCovey had 521 home runs and 1,550 strikeouts.
Frank Thomas had 521 home runs and 1,397 strikeouts.
Ted Williams had 521 home runs and 709 strikeouts.

Ernie Banks had 483 hits and a 133 w.RC+ from 1959-1961.
Tito Francona had 482 hits and a 135 wRC+ from 1959-1961.

Frank Wurm made his only big-league appearance on September 4, 1944. Starting for the Brooklyn Dodgers against the Boston Braves, Wurm went BB, BB, K, 2B, BB, BB, BB, then was lifted from the game. The lefty out of Glens Falls, NY was charged with four runs, giving him a lifetime ERA of 108.00.

On today’s date in 1936, Red Sox right-hander Wes Ferrell went 3 for 4 with a triple and a home run while pitching Boston to a 14-5 win over the New York Yankees.

Dizzy Nutter mad his MLB debut on September 7, 1919. Playing center field for the Boston Braves, Nutter went 2 for 4 in a 2-1 loss to the New York Giants.

On September 9 1955, Washington Senators third baseman Eddie Yost walked in all four of his plate appearances. The following day, he walked five times, and struck out once, in six plate appearances.

Cotton Nash had three hits in a brief big-league career that saw him play in 13 games for the Chicago White Sox and Minnesota Twins from 1967-1970. Nash also played in both the NBA and ABA, seeing action with the Los Angeles Lakers, San Francisco Warriors (his teammates included Wilt Chamberlain), and Kentucky Colonels.





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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emh1969
1 year ago

So Josh Hader’s hitless streak ended the way it had to: by giving up a double to Oscar Mercado, who prior to that at bat had only 6 hits in 47 at bats. And none for extra bases. And then Hader allowed the game winning run when Cesar Hernandez singled through a 5 man infield.