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My Kingdom for Millar

What's out there may be more important than what's not
07/13/2007 10:35 AM ET
By Steven Goldman / YESNetwork.com

The Yankees have run out of excuses.(AP)
THE GRAND PARADE OF LIFELESS FIRST BASEMEN
A random thought: sure, Shea Hillenbrand is freely available, but he's a mediocre hitter and fielder who hasn't hit in two years. With new management in Baltimore (both on the field and in the front office), might not Kevin Millar be an easy prize? He's 35 going on 36, and has a 2008 option based on plate appearances that will almost certainly vest if he plays everyday in the second half. Fortunately, it vests at only $2.75 million -- on the Yankees, the bat boys make $2.75 million.

Millar is a career .286/.368/.470 hitter. He hit .272/.374/.437 last year and is hitting .277/.395/.441 this year. Hillenbrand is a career .285/.322/.442 hitter. He hit .277/.313/.451 last year and is hitting .254/.275/.325 this year. Millar can play a bit in the outfield corners. Hillenbrand can play a bit of third base.

Various other thoughts on Millar-Hillenbrand:

1. Any scenario in which Hillenbrand would play third for the Yankees for more than an inning or a day is too depressing to contemplate.
2. The problem isn't first base as much as it's designated hitter and Johnny Damon.
3. The forgoing is operative only if the chances of acquiring Mark Teixeira look bleak.

TO THE MATS WITH READER MAIL -- A QUICKIE THE BRONX HAS A BURNING RASH

I have to say after reading your article on the book/TV series that I think you're missing the point of the story that's being told by thinking that "there wasn't really a nexus to those events, no real overlap" between baseball, a series of murders, an election and a power knockout beyond the coincidence of geography.

There absolutely was! And that "glue" is called New Yorkers--the people that lived here then. The air was thick with these events. It was the absolute Zeitgeist of the 1970s. We watched it all play out around us and it was important--for better or worse.

Why anyone else would be interested in this one summer, I'm not sure except to say that what happens in NYC is usually found to be intriguing to most people.

I enjoyed the book and really look forward to the next 7 Tuesday nights. In fact, I think I'd also like to read the book about the Yankees, the Navy Yard and comic strips!
-- M.

Thanks for writing, M. I think you're missing my point, which is about the organization of stories. I understand what was happening in New York in the 1970s. I was there, and though I was young, I remember the atmosphere of those days quite well. I could never forget about it, because my parents grew up in New York in the 40s and 50s, and were always speaking in romantic terms about "The City," and to paraphrase Larry Hart's famous lyric, not just Manhattan but the Bronx and Staten Island, too. Well, not so much Staten Island, but Brooklyn. I would look around me at the graffiti and the garbage and wonder what the hell they were talking about. It took years, and the city's recovery from bankruptcy, for me to figure it out.

Even were that not the case I wouldn't deny that all New Yorkers had these events in common in the Summer of 1977. That's the background to the story, your scene, your atmosphere. However, what we have in the ESPN film of "The Bronx is Burning" is background masquerading as foreground. Stories aren't just about atmosphere. You need compelling characters who are acted upon by the plot. "The Bronx" isn't big enough to give you a compelling narrative of the Yankees' 1977 season and the Son of Sam killings and the blackout and the mayoral race (not that they tried the last two in the first episode, but I imagine they're going to). Think about it -- if you really wanted to tell that story novelistically -- not documentary-style, like the book, but with dialogue and description and all that jazz -- you're talking about a tome the size of "War and Peace," or at least "The Bonfire of the Vanities." Now that I think of it, "Vanities" (emphatically the book, not the film) is actually the more accomplished older brother to "The Bronx is Burning." Though baseball-free and set about ten years after the events in "The Bronx," it does an even better job of telling the story of New York in a state of advanced decay.

There was no historical figure in New York who intersected significantly with all of those stories. Imagine if Reggie Jackson, after hitting his home runs, spent his after hours tracking the .44 Caliber Killer while pausing occasionally to advise Ed Koch on his mayoral campaign. Reggie and Jimmy Breslin spot the murder on the street when the blackout hits. Panic ensues. Wild rioters sweep Reggie away from the killer. Picking up a discarded piece of lumber, or maybe ripping a desecrated police/fire callbox out of the sidewalk, Reggie frantically swats looters aside, trying to clear a path to the shooter before he kills again...

It didn't happen that way, and "The Bronx is Burning" being a tru-life adventure (as Walt Disney used to bill his lemming-abusive documentaries) isn't going to invent a character to serve that purpose. Instead, it settles for hopping back and forth between stories that have little in common except a sameness of place. It isn't big enough to flesh out both, so it goes for what looks like (from the first episode) for an 80-20 split, the 80 being the Yankees, as is appropriate for a sports network like ESPN.

To give the whole summer of '77 equal justice, the film would have to get much, much bigger. Instead, you don't quite get all of anything. The effect of this compression is a bit different in a book. That was my only point.

NOTHING TO DO WITH BASEBALL, BUT IT'S BUGGING ME
Doesn't it seem the least bit incongruous that the president asserts the right to listen in to your phone calls without a warrant, but when we need to know what he and his aides were discussing while conducting, for good or ill, the public business, he says that Congress has no right to listen in?

Your questions, comments, suggestions welcomed at oldprofessor@wholesomereading.com.

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THURSDAY, July 12: Posted at 9:50 a.m. ET

BUT WILL HIS HAMMIES LET HIM THROW BP?
Raise your hand if you thought the story that Willie Randolph's Mets were replacing hitting coach Rick Down with Rickey Henderson was a joke. I did, for a second. I just don't see Rickey as being the most responsible, punch-the-clock kind of guy in baseball. That being said, I was impressed with the way his coaching of Jose Reyes a year ago seemed to pay off in, if not an actual increase in patience, greater selectivity. If Rickey can spread that philosophy across the lineup, and particularly to young fellers like Lastings Milledge, Carlos Gomez and Fernando Martinez, the Mets could reap huge benefits down the road.

With Henderson and Randolph on the same staff, can Don Mattingly and Dave Winfield be far behind? No? How about Bob Shirley for pitching coach?

HAVE YOU GOT ANY CASTLES THAT YOU WANT TO HAVE BUILT?
Nineteen days until the non-waiver trading deadline. Can Andy Phillips stay healthy and hot and keep his job? Will Mark Teixeira be dealt, and if so, will it be to the Yankees or the Orioles? Can the Yankees keep up their current 6-out-of-10 hot streak so the trading deadline even matters?

Over the last 10 games, the team batted .291/.363/.433 and the pitching staff chipped in a 3.83 ERA. That seems like a lot to ask, but then it will be Aug. 10 before the Yankees next see a team with a winning record. Of the opponents between now and then, you wouldn't call Tampa Bay, Toronto, Kansas City, Baltimore and the White Sox pushovers (though the Devil Rays are threatening to slide into that category), but all are beatable by a good team, and the Yankees need to carry off the illusion of being a good team between now and, well, the rest of the season, really, but let's settle for July 31.

Seven of the next 11 games will be against the Devil Rays, four against the Jays. The Rays were cruising along with a winning percentage in the .400s, respectable for them, when they went on an 11-game losing streak from June 25 to July 5, getting whipped in succession by the Dodgers, White Sox, Indians, and Red Sox. As an encore, they dropped two of three games to the Royals before the break. Over their last 30 games, the Rays went 9-12, batting .262/.329/.424 and putting up a rather spectacular 6.52 ERA. Opposing batters hit .315/.387/.501.

That's too long a span of lame to be a fluke. Perhaps the Devil Rays aren't as bad as a 6.50 ERA over a full season — that would put them in 1930 Phillies territory — but they're not a whole lot better. The staff ERA is now 5.82. The Rays' staff has two good pitchers, Scott Kazmir and James Shields. The former has a 5.05 ERA in eight starts since the end of May. The latter has a 5.05 ERA in seven starts over the same span. There is no one else.

The reason I'm emphasizing this is that there really is no excuse for the Yankees not to dominate these seven games. These are not only games they have to win, they are games they should be expected to win. This is the team with the worst record in baseball, the only gimme on the schedule. If there isn't carnage in these two series, there's really no reason to keep pretending.

We can check out Toronto, a team with roughly the same record as the Yankees, in a few days. In their last 30 games prior to the break, they went 15-15, batting .256/.320/.413 with an ERA of 4.32. The thing about the Blue Jays under their current management is that they're always just a little bit off.

ANOTHER FROM OLD TIMER'S DAY: FIGGY
Right-handed pitcher Ed Figueroa came over to the Yankees in 1976, accompanying Mickey Rivers in exchange for Bobby Bonds. At 27, Figueroa was coming off of a season in which he'd thrown 244.2 innings and 16 complete games. He continued to be similarly durable with the Yankees, climaxing with a 20-9, 2.99 ERA, 253-inning season in 1978. Then it was over. After throwing nearly 1,000 innings in four years, the inevitable elbow injury hit. He missed half of 1979, and when he opened the 1980 season with a 6.98 ERA, the Yankees sold him to the Rangers. His career ended less than a year later, at the age of 32.

The Pinstriped Bible Guy: I was looking at your record. You were a ridiculously durable pitcher for awhile. You were up around 250 innings every year. Nobody does that anymore. How did you do that?

Ed Figueroa: When I was pitching in the big leagues, I loved to stay there for eight, nine innings, you know. If I was winning 5 to 1 in the sixth inning, I wanted to stay in the game because I wanted to win that game myself, even though sometimes Sparky Lyle and Goose saved a few games for me. But I loved to pitch, every four days. Every year I have 13, 14, 15, 18 complete games. That was the only reason — I loved to pitch.

PB: I imagine some of that was Billy Martin too. He had a reputation of not pulling a pitcher unless he begged to come out.

EF: No, no! Because one time, or a few times, he tried to take me out of the game and I told him, "No way. I want to stay here." It all depends in the pitcher that you have. When I was pitching, I had the big confidence in myself that I can pitch, and that I can win the game and pitch nine innings. He knows that, and that's the reason he left me there. The same with Bob Lemon. He left me there. So that's the difference between the pitchers in the seventies and the pitchers now. They pitch five innings and they just want to get out of the game.

PB: Still, it must be hard to say no, I don't want to come out, when you have pitchers like Sparky Lyle or Goose Gossage warming up behind you.

EF: Well, you know, it happened a few times that I left for Sparky Lyle and Goose to save the game and they didn't save it [laughing]. One day in Kansas City I was beating Kansas City 2-1 in the last inning with one out and I gave up a hit, and Billy wanted to take me out. I told him no, I wanted to finish the game. Still he took me out and brought in Goose Gossage. Amos Otis hit an inside the park home run and we lost 2-1. I was pissed and I told him that. That was the last time. He said, "Okay, okay." He was good about it. I said, "Let me finish my games."

PB: Do you feel that all the pitching took a toll on how long your career lasted?

EF: No, no. I pitched nine innings easy. I pitched nine innings, I go home, my arm feels great. Catfish Hunter was the same way. He loved to pitch nine innings. No, not really. I started pitching when I was eight or nine years old. I pitched for a lot of years. I don't think pitching that pitching here every four or five days was the problem.

PB: Did your mechanics lend themselves to that? They had to be pretty clean.

EF: Good mechanics, yeah. Good mechanics. I see a lot of pitchers here... Especially the guys in the bullpen. Boy, they need a lot of work. They come to the mound, they don't know what to do in situations. They need a lot of work.

PB: You got traded to the Yankees just in time for everything to click into place, you were part of things clicking into place. Were you excited to come here?

EF: In 1975, when I was in the Angels, the last time that we played here, that year, I say, "I don't want to play in New York. It's a big city." I told my brothers, I don't want to play here. In December, when I went back to Puerto Rico, they trade me to New York, and I said to my brothers, "Remember how I told you I don't want to play in New York? Now I am going to." [laughing] But I went to spring training, and that was great. I put my uniform on for the first time, it was great, and I loved it.

PB: The Angels were in a mode of just trading all their young players away.

EF: They did. I remember in '75, Dick Williams, it was in Oakland, and it was the last game. He came to us, Nolan Ryan, Frank Tanana, Bill Singer, Andy Hassler, and he said, "You want to be in my rotation next year? I don't want to trade anybody. You're going to be here." In December they traded me. I was mad about it, but then I came to New York and I was able to play in three World Series, two championships, you know, that's very good.

PB: Gene Autry loved his veterans. Anybody under 30 got dealt away at that time.

EF: Gene Autry he talked to us in 1975, and he thought that we had a great team, with Nolan Ryan, Tanana, Bill Singer, myself and Andy Hassler, and he said that we were going to have a great year. But we didn't have any hitting, we didn't have anybody in the bullpen, just like this guy [pointing to Joe Torre]. The bullpen we had in California, the press used to call it the Arsonists Squad. The same with the one here in New York. They're the same. He [Autry] came to us and everybody was looking at each other, "What is this guy talking about?"

PB: Last question. Billy Martin is one of those missing from the reunion of the 1977 team. Could you give me some impressions of him? What was your relationship like?

EF: It was great. I had a great time with Billy, mainly because I loved to play, I love to pitch. I told him I want to pitch every fourth day, he knows that I don't want to miss any games in the rotation, and he knows that I want to stay there to win games. I worked hard everyday, and he knows that, so he was great to me several times. He treated me pretty good.

PB: He had the reputation of someone who was very hard on pitchers if you gave up a hit on an 0-2 pitch, he would get on the pitcher and the catcher for the pitch selection. Did you come under any of that kind of pressure?

EF: Yeah. We played California here in 1976... 1977. It was 1977. The game was 1 to 1 in the ninth inning. Ron Fairly came to bat with two outs, man on first. And [Billy] sent Art Fowler to the mound to talk to me, and Art Fowler told me, "Listen, it's 3 and 2, Billy doesn't want you to give any fastballs to him." I told him, "Why don't we walk him then?" He said, "No, no, just don't worry. Throw anything — nothing good." I say, "Okay." So I tell Cliff Johnson, let's throw a breaking ball here on 3 and 2, a low breaking ball. But the hitter, he was a veteran. He knows what's going on. He was looking for a breaking ball. He hit the ball out of the park and we lost 3 to 1. [Billy] was mad about it, but he wasn't mad at me, he was mad at the catcher. He was mad at Cliff Johnson [laughing]. So you know, he was my guy. I don't blame him. He wanted to win, you know?

...And now, as usual, a quick bit of fact-checking with the aid of Baseball-Reference.com and Retrosheet. Last things first. The game that Figueroa described in which he was beaten by Ron Fairly couldn't have taken place in 1976 or 1977 because Fairly spent his sole year in an Angels uniform in 1978. In fact, the game took place on June 18, 1978. The game was tied 2-2 in the top of the ninth. Figueroa retired Joe Rudi and Don Baylor for the first two outs, but then allowed the fatal home run to Fairly. In the bottom of the ninth, Jim Spencer led off for the Yankees against Angels starter Chris Knapp and drew a walk. Cliff Johnson batted next. He was called on to bunt. To add an extra layer of torture to what was already certain to be a hellish postgame chat with Martin, Johnson popped up the bunt and Spencer was doubled off. This was actually a bad call on Martin's part, as Johnson was never much for bunting — he had just four successful sacrifices in a career that lasted almost 1400 games. Jay Johnstone than grounded out to end the contest. Final score, 3-2.

The game with the Amos Otis inside the park home run also took place in 1978. It was May 12, 1978 at Kansas City. Thanks to a Graig nettles two-run home run, the Yankees took a 3-2 lead into the bottom of the ninth. Figueroa retired Hal McRae and Al Cowens on fly balls, but he walked catcher Darrell Porter and then fell behind 2-0 to Amos Otis. Martin went for Gossage. As recounted in Leonard Koppett's game story for the New York Times, Otis swung at Gossage's first pitch and hit a fly ball into the right-center field gap. Blair reached out for it, had it in his mitt... and was crushed by right fielder Reggie Jackson. Blair was spun like a top, flinging both his glove and the ball away in the process. It rolled into center field. Blair chased it, but became dizzy and had to stop check to see if his head was still attached to his body — "For awhile I thought my neck was broke," he said. Porter scored and Otis circled the bases for a two-run, inside the park home run and a 4-3 Yankees loss.

"A freak play," Martin said. "You can't fault anybody, they were both trying like hell to catch the ball, but Blair had it and the game is over. I never saw one like that." Said Royals manager Whitey Herzog, "I've watched thousands and thousands of games, and I've never seen a play like that. I've seen collisions, but not when it turned the result around like that."

THE SUN ALSO RISES (WE HOPE)
If you haven't had enough of me by now, in today's New York Sun I write about the importance of the July 31 trading deadline.

Your questions, comments, suggestions welcomed at oldprofessor@wholesomereading.com.

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MONDAY, July 9: Posted at 10:40 a.m. ET

One of the great privileges of this job is getting to interview the veterans on Old Timers' Day. I went again on Saturday, and this week in the blog I'll be sharing the various conversations I had.

One of my frustrations with oral history in baseball is the lack of imagination of many of the interviewers. With the exception of Lawrence Ritter, whose "The Glory of Their Times" was the granddaddy of them all (and still a book I return to several times a year), they never seem to delve. I don't want to know who-hit-what-when — we have the box scores for that. I want to know what the games were like, what the times were like, and most of all, what the people were like.

If you think about it, even in the very best histories, what comes down to us is a fragment of a person, an echo, a simplification. If you talk to five people who knew that person, you're dealing with the proverbial blind men trying to describe an elephant, but at least they had a personal experience of that elephant, once upon a time.

It's very difficult to get the veterans to go to that depth on Old Timers' Day. It's immensely crowded, both with the veterans themselves (the Yankees had just less than 50 of their former players show up this year) and the writers, radio, television, and Internet reporters. It seemed as if there were more than ever this year.

Given the crowds, the sheer number of old friends to catch up with — the clamoring autograph seekers, the plethora of interviewers — most players tend to give glib answers. In addition, they're not really used to being asked those kinds of questions, and some of them are probably not used to thinking that way (in their defense, my questions are at times perhaps too open-ended). In the past, a few have volunteered their home phone numbers for a less pressured follow-up, but that's normally not the case, so you struggle for the granite bedrock of memory and you often get the formica surface.

An example of the latter was my first catch of the day, Dr. Bobby Brown. A third baseman, Brown joined the Yankees in 1946 and played for them on and off through 1954. He was a fine hitter, but his career took a backseat to his interest in medicine and a stint in the service. Years later, he became the president of the American League. Dr. Brown doesn't look anywhere near his 82 years of age and looks sharp and alert. He and Yogi Berra were the most senior Yankees in attendance — both made their major league debuts on Sept. 22, 1946. He seemed eager to talk, but didn't seem like he wanted to get into any depth. In the heat of the moment I didn't see a clear avenue for pressing further. Now, typing up the transcript, I see a couple of openings I missed. I probably still wouldn't have gotten too far.

I first asked Dr. Brown if he knew Larry MacPhail, then the co-owner of the Yankees and something of an eccentric, severely alcoholic baseball genius. "Larry MacPhail really signed me. He and my dad made an agreement for me to sign with the Yankees. Of course following that I got to know Lee MacPhail, but I knew Colonel MacPhail, his father, extremely well."

Was MacPhail as volatile as people have said he was, I asked. "He was extremely emotional but extremely bright and creative," Dr. Brown said, and mentioned that MacPhail had started night baseball in Cincinnati. That was as far as we went there, so next I tried asking if he had gotten a good sense of what Joe McCarthy was about during their brief overlap with the club, and if he had been aware of his conflict with MacPhail and resignation during the 1946 season.

"I was at spring training with Joe McCarthy," Brown said. "He was a wonderful man. He was really very nice to me, and very considerate. And then in the middle of the year of course he resigned. But he lived in Buffalo. I was with Newark my first year and when we would visit Buffalo I would see him and talk with him and whatnot. I didn't know the particulars that surrounded his resignation, but he was just a terrific man and a terrific manager."

What kills me now is that I didn't say, "Well, what did you guys talk about?" Instead, I went for the same goal but in a clumsy and artless way, seizing on the Buffalo detail that Brown had just raised and remarking that McCarthy was supposed to be a heavy drinker but once he retired to Buffalo for good he lived to a very old age, which seems incongruous with the drinking lifestyle. Dr. Brown didn't bite.

"I don't have any clue as to what his personal habits were," he said. "I just know that as far as I was concerned he always treated me in a wonderful way and I thought he was a terrific manager."

So that was that. But before quitting I figured I had to get at the inevitable contrast that Casey Stengel made with McCarthy when the former took over the Yankees in 1949.

"Casey's reputation at the time was that he was more of a humorist and a comic than a manager," Brown said, "but after you met him and watched him and talked with him you realized he was a very erudite person and he managed extremely well."

Another missed opportunity. I should have asked "How was he erudite?" "How did he manage well?" You'd think after doing this stuff for ten years or so my instincts would be better. I tried again in a similar way to my awkward McCarthy gambit, saying that Casey's players had told me that he could be both bitingly cruel and quietly generous. Had Brown seen either of those sides?

"I think with me he was very neutral," Brown said. "He never criticized me, nor did he ever praise me. I think he just regarded me as some neutral person and that's the way he treated me."

Sigh. Okay, one more shot. I asked how he adjusted to being platooned. "You had to if you wanted to play," he said. "It was better than not playing at all, and of course we had excellent players, and the people that were platooning were all of equal ability, so you couldn't complain too much. I platooned with Billy Johnson and he was a terrific player. I just felt that I was pretty darn lucky to be playing at all."

Finally, with 1977 on everyone's mind, I asked what Billy Martin was like as a young player. "Billy was very outspoken, very aggressive. But he certainly got along with all the players very well and he knew how to play and he could execute. As long as he could [do those things] everyone regarded him as okay."

That surprised me. Was there no longer an old-school style sense that rookies should be deferential to the veterans by the time Martin came up in 1950? "There was no pecking order. Everyone was treated with great courtesy. The older players didn't have a pecking order. They took care of the younger players. They told them how to play and what they should do and how to act. It was just a wonderful atmosphere... We never had any arguments or fights or any problems. It was just excellent."

And that's where I left it. I certainly wasn't going to push an old fellow out of his comfort zone, not there in the Yankee Stadium dugout.

THE ANNOTATED RICK CERONE
I had a better time with Rick Cerone. Here's the interview in full. See if you can tell where each of us slipped on facts just a little bit. I'll give you the answers at the end:

The Pinstriped Bible Guy: In 1977 you were just breaking in, but I noticed that you got an interesting view of the Yankees. You played four times against the Yankees that year, and in one of the games you beat them 19-3, and in another you lost 15-0. Do you remember anything about those?

RC: Oh, I remember! Yeah, in the 19-3 game we hammered them here at Yankee Stadium and I took an 0-for-5 collar, so you don't forget that one. [laughs] Ah, yes, '77. It was always a big thrill for me to come home and play against the Yankees. Maybe I tried too hard. I don't remember the 15-0 game — oh no, I think the 15-0 game was Guidry threw a shutout up in Toronto and I had three hits that day. He only gave up four and I think I went 3-for-4.

PB: Reggie and Kingman hit home runs that game, Cliff Johnson hit two.

RC: But Guidry pitched. He threw a four-hit shutout and I had three of the hits. I remember that one.

PB: Did you see Guidry particularly well?

RC: Guidry I always hit well. He'll even tell you. We've been great friends... Another thing I remember, I guess it was '79, and it really pissed me off. They tried to embarrass us. I was playing the Blue Jays, and Guidry came to the mound to take out a pitcher on Saturday — it was the end of the season, last two games — and not only did he take out the pitcher, he took out the center fielder and went into center field.

PB: Wow.

RC: Now I've been around a little bit — to me they were trying to show us up, and I was fuming.

PB: Was that a game Billy Martin managed?

RC: Yeah. And I was fuming and cursing them out. I couldn't stand that. And I told Gator that. He said, "You know, Rick, we weren't trying to show you up," 'cause we got to be really good friends. But to me, it was like a slap in our face. And I know Gator is a pretty good outfielder, and he could run. But you know what? When you're sitting in that dugout and you're getting beat up a little bit, the third straight year we lost 100 games.

PB: I guess that's part of being on an expansion team.

RC: Yeah... It was a great experience. It prepared me for coming to New York the next year, after Thurman died. But that was the only time-I didn't like that. They tried to show us up.

PB: And then you end up playing for Billy in 1983.

RC: Yeah, but he got rid of me three times I never really got along with him.

PB: Why do you think that was?

RC: I don't know. It's just Billy was very hard on catchers. Most of the time they want you to just be quiet, because anytime they got a base hit it was the catcher's fault. I got to the point where you know what? It's not that way. We had some tough times. He released me Opening Day of '88. Opening Day! If you release me 10 days before, you'll get a job. You release someone Opening Day, you're trying to stick it to 'em. But we stuck it to him, because I went to the Red Sox and went to the playoffs.

PB: You had a good year that year that year. Didn't you hit .300 that year?

RC: .280-something.

PB: Right. I know you had one .300 year late.

RC: Yeah, but the '77 — now that you brought it up, 19-3, and I took the 0-for-5 collar. [laughing] You don't forget that.

Here are the facts underlying the above, all thanks to Baseball-Reference and Retrosheet. The 19-3 Blue Jays victory took place on Sept. 10, 1977. The Jays destroyed five Yankees pitchers, including starter Catfish Hunter, Ken Clay, and Ken Holtzman. The defense helped things along with four errors. Cerone batted eighth and did indeed go 0-for-5, though he scored a run after reaching first on a Chris Chambliss miscue. The 15-0 Yankees win took place at Toronto on Sept. 25. It was the first game of a doubleheader. Cerone recalled his 3-for-4 (all singles) correctly, though Guidry allowed seven hits that day, not four (he also walked one and struck out 10).

The game in which Cerone felt embarrassed by the actions of Guidry and the Yankees took place at Yankee Stadium on Sept. 29, 1979. The Yankees won 9-4. Tommy John started. The Retrosheet box has the sequence slightly differently from the way that Cerone remembered it, but the basics are the same. In the ninth inning, Bobby Murcer, who had started in center field and had hit two home runs, was replaced by Guidry. With two outs in the inning, John was pulled for Don Hood, who finished the game.

Finally, Cerone batted .269/.326/.360 for the 1988 Red Sox. The .300 season I was thinking of, the only year in Cerone's long career that even remotely qualifies, came when he was back with the Yankees in 1990. He hit .302/.324/.388 in 49 games.

Your questions, comments, suggestions welcomed at oldprofessor@wholesomereading.com.

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Steven Goldman's Pinstriped Blog appears daily on YESNetwork.com. "Forging Genius," Steve's biography of Casey Stengel, and "Mind Game," the story of the Red Sox' 2004 championship, and "Baseball Between the Numbers," from the authors of Baseball Prospectus, are now available at Amazon.com. More Steve is available on YESNetwork.com in the Pinstriped Bible, and the Baseball Prospectus Web site. Your questions, comments, suggestions welcomed at oldprofessor@wholesomereading.com. The opinions stated above are solely those of the author and should not be attributed to anyone connected in an official capacity with the YES Network.
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