In lieu of actual baseball, I’ll be posting snippets that were cut from The Baseball Codes as a way of amusing myself and, hopefully, you. Today’s theme: showboating and celebrations These old stories help show just how far baseball has come.
Jim Palmer: “You never want to show up guys. My best story is the last year I won 20 games . I had hurt my elbow, and I went from something like 12-4 to 13-12, and I had seven more starts. I had to win them all to win 20, and back then it was a big thing to win 20 games. [It was actually 1977, Palmer’s second-to-last 20-win season. He was 13-11 on Aug. 26, and won seven of his last eight starts, with one no-decision, to finish 20-11.]
“I was going for number 19 in Cleveland on a Saturday afternoon. Football season had started. It was late September, and I was pitching against Dennis Eckersley, who was a starter at the time. Dennis is striking guys out, and then shooting them [with his extended fingers] and blowing the end of the pistol. Our guys aren’t happy. In baseball, if you’re a pitcher, your job is to get hitters out, and if you’re a hitter it’s to get hits. You don’t celebrate your own feats. But here he is, he’s blowing them off the field.
“It’s a 1-1 ballgame, bottom of the eighth, and I load the bases with nobody out: A leadoff hit, a couple of bunts, DeCinces falls down, I slip, because it’s a horrible ballpark anyway, and now it’s football season and it’s wet. The bases are loaded, and I’ve got Andre Thornton, their No. 1 RBI guy coming up, then Bruce Bochte, who hit .300 four straight years, and Rico Carty, who’d had hit .366 and led the NL in hitting about three years earlier.
“I didn’t know how to get Thornton out. He was a great low-ball hitter, but an out-over-the-plate fastball hitter, too. I throw him a first pitch up and in, and he pops up to Mark Belanger.
“I get 2-2 on Bochte and he keeps fouling balls off. Then he strikes out on a high fastball. I said, “Jeez, I might have a chance to get out of this.
“Rico Carty comes up. Rico always used to talk to you. He’s not as bad as Cliff Johnson, who if you pitched him in—because he couldn’t hit the ball in—he’d growl, “Hey, keep on comin’ in there. You’re gonna pay!” He was just trying to talk you out of throwing it where he couldn’t hit it.
“I’d thrown Rico a slider low and away earlier in the year, and he hit it about 440 feet to right center for a home run. I’m thinking, “It’s 1-1 and I have a chance to get out of this, then we have Murray and Singleton and the heart of our order in the top of the ninth.” I’ve only got one more start coming up, so I’ve got to get Carty out somehow. I throw him a high fastball, and he takes it! He never took those. Ball one. Throw him another one, ball two. He always swung at those pitches.
“The wind is blowing out a little bit, and the fences are in that year—they used to move them in and out depending on what type of offensive year they wanted to have. I figure that I can’t throw him a slider because he hit that for a home run earlier in the year, so I’ll take a little off my fastball and hope he gets out in front. I throw him a fastball about thigh-high down and away, and he hits it off the end of the bat to center field. The wind’s blowing out, and Bumbry goes back … and back … and back. Al wasn’t a real big guy, probably 5-foot-8, and he jumps and catches it right where it would have either gone off the top of the wall, or over it. It was as close as I’ve ever come to throwing a grand slam, but Bumbry caught it.
“We come up to hit. Here’s Eckersley, he’d probably struck out 10 or 11 [12, actually], pulled those six-shooters out a lot on the day, and guys are still trying to beat him. Singleton and Murray hit two of the longest home runs I’ve ever seen, back-to-back, and we end up winning 4-1.
“The next day I see Dennis in the outfield, and I said “Dennis. I know you’re young, and I know you speak “Eckinese,” as we used to call it, and I hope you understand how great a future you have … but when you strike a guy out, pretend it’s an accident and go on to the next guy. These guys want to beat you bad enough, especially when you’re a little bit brash. There’s an arrogance there. It’s all right to be good, and it’s all right to have a lot of self-confidence, but let everybody else toot your horn for you. When you strike people out, get the ball and just walk off the field.”