On Saturday, July 29, 1978, with Bob Lemon having gotten six unexpectedly good innings out of Ken Clay and the Yankees leading the Twins 7-1 at Yankee Stadium, Lemon thought it was a good time to break the new kid in.
He had been obtained from the Cubs a month before in the repatriation of Ken Holtzman to Wrigley Field, and had dazzled in AA at West Haven. He was greeted by Minnesota catcher Butch Wynegar, who walked. Hosken Powell followed with a single. Roy Smalley then walked. I was there, but my scorecard is stored somewhere, so I don’t know if he actually threw any strikes before Lemon came and got him, and – in a move that would presage 1979, 1980, and 1981 – Rich Gossage was summoned to clean up the mess.
The next day, in my capacity as part-time free-lance semi-pro not-real-good photographer, I posed the kid on the field in the Bronx. “I guess you better get the picture before they get rid of me,” he said with a laugh that didn’t disguise his discouragement. I told him that he was 22 and I was 19 and even if neither of us was still in the majors the next day, he’d be back – and I’d never get there. That cheered him up.
I think they did send him back the next day, or soon thereafter. His next appearance in the majors was in September. The next year, amid an otherwise horrible season in New York, he’d go 14-2 (all in relief) with nine saves, and he’d stay in the majors through 1988.
His name was Ron Davis, and hours from when I write this his son Ike will debut, also in New York, also (almost) directly from AA. Wish I could be there.
THE METS AND NO-HITTERS:
Got asked a great question on twitter about any kind of theory that could even partially explain why, after Ubaldo Jimenez’s gem, the Mets could remain one of the franchises that has no no-hitters to its credit. Suddenly the light bulb turned on.
Years ago, one of the Stats Inc guys did a wonderful analysis of the amount of fair and foul territory in current and historical parks – I’ll have to find the book. But the gist was, the amount of fair territory in which hits could drop in the Mets’ first home (The Polo Grounds) was enormous (centerfield was nearly 500 feet away from the plate). In Shea it was still pretty damn big, and in Citifield, it is, especially when measured against other new parks, proportionately just as bad as at Shea.
That might be one explanation. Interestingly, if my list is complete, there were only five no-hitters ever thrown at the “last” Polo Grounds (Rube Marquard, Earl Caldwell, Jess Barnes, Carl Hubbell, and Rex Barney) over 69 seasons (57 by the Giants, 2 by the Mets, 10 by the Yankees) and only two (Jim Bunning, Bob Moose) in the 45 at Shea.
UPDATE, 5:30 EDT: Just to clarify, obviously this would only explain half of the Mets’ no-hit drought. One might wonder if years of pitching inside a big-fair-territory-area might influence how the same pitchers would throw in road parks, but lord knows there isn’t any stat to measure that.
It was the (only sometimes) unspoken question always in the background for the first season of the new Yankee Stadium, and it increasingly became the undertone as the post-season accelerated.
Even this afternoon, as the minions of the nation’s media capital tried to out-do each other with more and more speculative coverage of the victory parade, a reporter who has been on the radio here for nearly half a century insisted that the highlight of the day would be the “emotional moment” when Steinbrenner accepted his key to the city. A less-senior and far more skeptical colleague asked if this was actually going to happen. The veteran’s answer: “It’s right here in the program for the ceremony!”
This is, of course, the impression the Yankees continue to give: that all is not necessarily well with their venerable owner, but that he’s still frequently involved. There was even a very sad effort just last Saturday by The New York Post to palm off a series of e-mailed answers from infamous mega-flak Howard Rubinstein as an “exclusive interview” with George Steinbrenner. To paraphrase Churchill, the answers contained every cliche except “prepare to meet thy maker,” and “employees must wash hands.”
I have seen The Boss, with whom I have had a surprisingly warm and even conspiratorial relationship since I was a teenager, only twice this year, and the information gleaned from each encounter was directly self-contradictory. In March, David Cone and I were leaving the press box at Steinbrenner Field in Tampa when the place was frozen by security – it was George on his way out and they cleared the route for him. He was in a wheelchair and looked just this side of robust – twinkly-eyed and neither gaunt nor puffy. Cone whispered that he just had to say hello, and hoped he’d get a hello back.
This is what I heard:
Cone: (mumbled greeting)
Steinbrenner: Of course I know it’s you, David. Jesus! We could’ve used you pitching out there today. Who were those kids? Are any of them ready?
So much for Cone’s fear (and mine – to this day I think of George less for the chaos of the ’70s and ’80s and more for the letter he wrote to ESPN management praising my work on the 1992 Expansion Draft, in which I roundly criticized how his team handled the non-protection of its younger prospects, or the day he spent twenty minutes recounting to Bill Clinton, of all people, virtually every encounter he and I had had since 1973, right down to the story of my mother getting hit by the Knoblauch ball and refusing to ever go back to Shea Stadium even though the Yanks were playing World Series games there).
But just weeks later, during another lockdown, I saw Steinbrenner carted through the bowels of the new ballpark in the Bronx and lifted – not helped, but moved by a guy at each end – into a wheelchair.
Over the last few years, as his health has gotten intermittent, the volume of even rumors and whispers around the Bronx about how he is has declined. When the Yankees traded for Jeff Weaver, Steinbrenner poked his head in to the press conference and asked me “What do you think? How clear-headed does he sound? Is he going to be able to handle this?” – prescient questions, as it proved. A year later I was told that everybody knew there were “awareness problems” but that to my source’s knowledge, nobody in the Yankee organization had ever heard a diagnosis, a prognosis, or even a vaguely medical-sounding term. A year after that, when he recited our history to Clinton, his memory was so sharp as to include some stories that I had forgotten – but each time he tried to say my name, all he could come up with was “uhh… this young man.” After the 2007 season, there is no question that, to some degree great or small, he was behind the nightmarish, take-it-or-leave-it dethroning of Joe Torre as manager.
There are fewer such reports these days, and not even that level of source information. There’s a lot to be said against George Steinbrenner and lord knows I’ve said much of it. But something made me feel very sad today at that Yankee ceremony: contrary to what it said “right here on the program for the ceremony!,” The Boss was indeed not there to accept the keys to the city.