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Historical Hot Stove
by Bruce Markusen
Previous Columns

Cooperstown Confidential - Opening Week Edition - 04/03/2003

The Birth Of The DH—Thirty Years Ago :

Dating back to the earliest days of Marvin Miller and his reign over the Players’ Association, baseball’s players and owners have clashed on a wide range of economic issues. Free agency, arbitration, salary caps, and luxury taxes have all become causes of conflict. Even the on-field rules of the game have come into question. An example can be found in the never-ending debate surrounding the designated hitter. The Players’ Association wants to retain the DH, while at least some owners have expressed interest in eliminating one of the game’s costliest positions. The DH has become a perennial subject of discussion among fans, too; almost every diehard follower of the game seems to have a strong opinion on the merits or faults of the game’s most controversial rule.

It’s been 30 years since the designated hitter rule first came into play in the American League, but the idea for a DH has origins that date back nearly 75 years. In 1929, a man named John Heydler proposed that pitchers, who carried reputations as weaker hitters, should not be allowed to bat. Although he actually never used the term “designated hitter,” Heydler suggested that a “10th man” be allowed to hit in place of the pitcher. Ironically, Heydler was the president of the National League, which historically has maintained staunch opposition to the DH, and remains the only professional league in North America not to employ the rule.

Heydler’s suggestion failed to gain acceptance during his lifetime, and the issue of the DH fell into the background. In the 1960s, at a time when pitchers were beginning to dominate the game, Kansas City A’s owner Charlie Finley pushed hard for the adoption of a designated hitter, a rule that he felt would increase the amount of “action” in the game by aiding each team’s offensive production.

At first, the other major league owners resisted Finley, whom they considered a brash and unsophisticated maverick. By January of 1973, a sufficient number of major league owners had come to see the potential benefits of the DH. The American League, which had seen its attendance decline in recent years, saw a particular need for the fan interest that the DH might spur. On January 11, the owners agreed to allow the American League to use the DH on an “experimental” three-year basis.

At first, some media outlets referred to the new rule as a “designated pinch-hitter” or “DPH,” but soon dropped the “P,” shortening the acronym to DH. When the American League saw its attendance jump from 11.4 million in 1972 to 13.4 million in ’73, the “experimental” tag was also dropped. The DH has been in place in the junior circuit ever since—30 years and counting.

The dramatic rules change set the stage for a bit of history on Opening Day of the 1973 season. On that day, April 6, Ron Blomberg of the New York Yankees became the first designated hitter in major league history. The role of DH surprised Blomberg, a first baseman by trade. He sought advice from Yankee coach Elston Howard. “I asked Ellie, ‘What do I do?’ He said, ‘The only thing you do is go take batting practice and just hit.’ ” Playing in 30-degree weather at venerable Fenway Park, Blomberg made his first plate appearance (with the bases loaded, no less) against Boston Red Sox ace Luis Tiant. The result was somewhat less than dramatic—a base on balls—but it resulted in a first-inning run for the Yankees. At the end of the inning, Blomberg remained at first base, unsure of what to do next. “I was going to stay there because normally that was my position,” recalled Blomberg. “Elston said, ‘Come on back to the bench, you aren’t supposed to stay out there… You just sit here with me.’ ” Blomberg made three more plate appearances in the game, picking up one hit in New York’s 15-5 loss to arch-rival Boston. After the game, Yankees public relations director Marty Appel arranged for Blomberg’s bat and jersey to be sent to the Hall of Fame, where it was featured in a prominent exhibit for several years.

(In many ways, the DH rule was made to order for a player like Blomberg, who was a poor defensive first baseman and prone to injury. Blomberg was fragile to begin with, and the more often that he had to play the field, the more he found himself susceptible to injuries. In 1975, Blomberg would play in only 34 games. The following two seasons, he would miss all but one game with a severe knee injury. In 1978, Blomberg tried to make a comeback with the White Sox, but ended up retiring after a 61-game struggle.)

The Red Sox’ designated hitter, Orlando Cepeda—who had actually been the first player specifically signed to fill the DH role—did not fare nearly as well as Blomberg that frigid day at Fenway. The “Baby Bull” came to bat six times, coming up empty each time. Still, Cepeda would go on to enjoy a productive season, finishing second in home runs and RBIs among the American League’s designated hitters. Cepeda’s performance as a DH, marking his last productive major league season, padded a career that would eventually land him in the Hall of Fame.

The other Opening Day designated hitters featured a collection of intriguing talents—and stories. Perennial All-Star Tony Oliva, a sore-kneed but skilled batsman, was an obvious DH choice for the Minnesota Twins. Oliva hit a home run in his first at-bat, connecting against future Hall of Famer Jim “Catfish” Hunter. Oliva finished the day 2-for-4 with a home run and three RBIs. Ed “Spanky” Kirkpatrick, the initial DH for the Kansas City Royals, had far worse luck than Oliva, having to face California’s Nolan Ryan. Kirkpatrick went 0-for-3 against Ryan, who struck out 12 Royals in one of his typically dominant performances. In 1981, after his playing days ended, Kirkpatrick would suffer a blood clot in his brain that first left him in cardiac arrest, followed by a coma that lasted five and a half months. Thankfully, Kirkpatrick eventually emerged from the coma.

On the second day of the 1973 season, the Chicago White Sox, Cleveland Indians, Detroit Tigers, and Texas Rangers debuted designated hitters in their opening games. The White Sox used veteran infielder Mike Andrews, who had been the starting second baseman on the Red Sox’ “Impossible Dream” team of 1967. Later in the 1973 season, after being released by Chicago and picked up by the Oakland A’s, Andrews would become involved in one of the largest controversies in World Series history. Charlie Finley tried to “fire” Andrews after he made two errors in a Game Two loss to the New York Mets.

While Andrews served as the DH for the White Sox, the Rangers chose former National League batting champion Rico Carty, a fearsome batsman when healthy and one of the best two-strike hitters in the history of the game. Since Carty was an atrocious defensive outfielder and had suffered a series of leg injuries during his career, he seemed like a natural for the DH. Yet, Carty struggled in adjusting to the DH role, and longed for the days when he could play the outfield. By mid-season, with Carty batting a measly .204 as a designated hitter, the Rangers sold him to the Chicago Cubs. Carty quickly clashed with longtime Cubs star Ron Santo, the team’s emotional leader. The personality conflict led to Carty’s hasty departure from the Windy City. The Cubs sold the once-and-future DH back to the American League, where he finished out the season with the World Champion Oakland A’s.

There were also some tough characters among the “first-day” DHs. The Indians employed John Ellis, one of the true “rough and tumble” figures of that era, as their first DH. The Tigers, who played the Indians in the opener, used the venerable Gates Brown in the DH role. Brown, who went 0-for-4 against future Hall of Famer Gaylord Perry, was one of the game’s best pinch-hitters in the late sixties and early seventies, and a major contributor to the Tigers’ 1968 world championship. Brown was also an ex-convict, having spent 22 months in prison on breaking-and-entering charges.

One of the best designated hitters in 1973 didn’t even play in his team’s opening game. Tommy Davis started the season platooning with Terry Crowley, but soon became the Baltimore Orioles’ everyday DH. Davis batted .306, the best figure among full-time DHs, and drove in 83 runs while playing as a DH, third behind Oliva (91 RBIs) and Cepeda (86 RBIs).

The class of 1973 designated hitters also included a member of baseball’s exclusive 500-home run club—and one of its most underrated superstars. Frank Robinson started the season in the California Angels’ outfield, but ended up playing most of the time as a DH. F. Robby led all of the first-year designated hitters in home runs with 26. From 1974 to ’76, Robinson would play almost exclusively as a DH, finishing out a Hall of Fame career.

Before giving in completely to the notion of eliminating the designated hitter, some current-day major league owners might want to consider the full—and non-economic—consequences. If there had never been a DH, how many of the players listed above would have seen their careers ended by 1973, or shortly thereafter? Orlando Cepeda? With his ravaged knees, almost certainly. Oliva? Very likely—for the same reason as Cepeda. Rico Carty? Ditto. Tommy Davis? Quite possibly, once again because of bad legs. If there had never been a DH, some baseball fans might have been denied the opportunity of watching these skilled hitters over the last four or five years of their extended careers. In other words, a generation of baseball fans, including this writer, might never have seen these men play—even for a little bit.

In honor of the 30th anniversary of the DH, here’s a chart that contains the names of the first players to serve as designated hitters for their respective teams. The chart also includes listings for National League teams, who began using DHs in the regular season with the introduction of interleague play in 1997.

American League League First: Ron Blomberg, New York Yankees

Team	            Score    Name	        Date	        Performance Opponent 
Baltimore Orioles   w(10-0)  Crowley, Terry	April 6, 1973	4-1-2-0 Milwaukee 
Boston Red Sox	    w(15-5)  Cepeda, Orlando	April 6, 1973	6-0-0-0	NY Yankees 
California Angel    w(3-2)   McCraw, Tom	April 6, 1973	4-0-1-0	Kansas City 
Chicago White Sox   w(3-1)   Andrews, Mike	April 7, 1973	3-0-1-0	Texas 
Cleveland Indians   w(2-1)   Ellis, John	April 7, 1973	4-0-0-0	Detroit
Detroit Tigers	    l(2-1)   Brown, Gates	April 7, 1973	4-0-0-0 Cleveland 
Kansas City Royals  l(3-2)   Kirkpatrick, Ed	April 6, 1973	3-0-0-0 California
Milwaukee Brewers  l(10-0)   Brown, Ollie	April 6, 1973	3-0-0-0 Baltimore 
Minnesota Twins	    w(8-3)   Oliva, Tony	April 6, 1973	4-1-2-3, HR Oakland  
New York Yankees   l(15-5)   Blomberg, Ron	April 6, 1973	3-0-1-1	Boston 
Oakland A’s	    l(8-3)   North, Bill	April 6, 1973	5-0-2-0 Minnesota 
Seattle Mariner     l(7-0)   Collins, Dave	April 6, 1977	4-0-0-0, lead off	California 
Texas Rangers	    l(3-1)   Carty, Rico	April 7, 1973	4-0-1-0	Chicago White Sox
Toronto Blue Jay    w(9-5)    Velez, Otto	April 7, 1977	4-1-2-0	Chicago White Sox

National League	     League First: Glenallen Hill

Team	             Score	Name	         Date	        Performance Opponent
Atlanta Braves	     w(3-0)    Lockhart, Keith	 June 16, 1997	4-0-0-0	Toronto
Chicago Cubs	     w(8-3)    Clark, Dave	 June 16, 1997	4-0-1-0	Chicago White Sox
Cincinnati Reds	     w(4-1)    Taubensee, Eddie  June 16, 1997	3-0-0-0 Cleveland
Colorado Rockies   l(12-11)    Bichette, Dante   June 12, 1997	5-2-3-0	Seattle
Florida Marlins	     w(7-3)    Eisenreich, Jim	 June 16, 1997	5-1-1-2	Detroit
Houston Astros	     l(5-2)    Berry, Sean	 June 16, 1997	4-0-1-0	Kansas City
LA Dodgers	     l(5-4)    Piazza, Mike	 June 12, 1997	4-1-3-0	Oakland
Montreal Expos	     w(6-4)    Vidro, Jose	 June 16, 1997	4-0-0-0 Baltimore
New York Mets	     w(6-0)    Huskey, Butch	 June 16, 1997	4-0-2-1	New York Yankees
Philadelphia Philliesw(5-4)    Daulton, Darren   June 16, 1997	5-1-1-0	Boston
Pittsburgh Pirates   w(8-6)    Smith, Mark	 June 16, 1997	4-1-1-2, HR Minnesota
St. Louis Cardinals  l(1-0)    Young, Dmitri	 June 16, 1997	4-0-1-0 Milwaukee
San Diego Padre      l(8-4)    Henderson, Rickey June 12, 1997	5-1-2-1, HR, batted leadoff	Anaheim
SF Giants	     w(4-3)    Hill, Glenallen	 June 12, 1997	3-0-0-1	Texas

Odors of Opening Day

Opening Day 2003 provided plenty of news and strange happenstances, but it was also marred by a series of poor umpiring decisions. In Baltimore, the umpiring crew of Tim Welke (the crew chief), Chuck Meriwether, Gary Cederstrom, and Mark Wegner inexplicably allowed the Orioles and Indians to continue playing despite blizzard-like conditions that prevented the outfielders from seeing the baseball—which is a fairly basic necessity in a game. The umpires finally stopped play, but O’s skipper Mike Hargrove shouldn’t have had to go onto the field pleading with the umpires to use some common sense… In Toronto, third base umpire Paul Emmel blew the call on the Derek Jeter play at third base, signaling that Jeter was out when his foot came off the bag and he was tagged by Toronto’s Ken Huckaby. It doesn’t matter that Huckaby’s collision with Jeter was accidental; intent doesn’t matter when a fielder physically pushes a runner off the base. The runner maintains the right to the base, and should remain safe, unless he falls off the base without physical contact… In Tampa, a glaring non-call by second base umpire Hunter Wendelstedt was overshadowed by the hysteria surrounding the Red Sox’ bullpen-by-committee and their failure to maintain a 4-1 lead. As poorly as Alan Embree and Chad Fox pitched, the Red Sox should have won the game on a potential double-play grounder involving Nomar Garciaparra. Devil Rays baserunner Damian Rolls was clearly out of the basepath when he made contact with Garciaparra, who was trying to complete the double play at first base. Since Rolls could not have touched second base from the location that he slid into Garciaparra, Wendelstedt should have called the batter-runner at first base out automatically, resulting in a game-ending double play… Staying with the Red Sox, I hope that Theo Epstein and company have the resolve to stay with their bullpen-by-committee approach. Bullpen-by-committee has worked in the past (Jack McKeon used it to near perfection with the Reds a few years back); the trick is finding good relief pitchers who can fill varied roles in the bullpen. Of Boston’s current group of relievers, Ramiro Mendoza and Alan Embree have the talent to thrive in Grady Little’s bullpen. The key will be Epstein’s ability to find one or two other relievers who can supplement the sinkerballing Mendoza and the hard-throwing Embree.

Opening Week Widgets (Or Is It Widgers?)

The hand wringing has already begun over Joe Torre’s decision to pick 35-year-old John Flaherty as his backup catcher over 31-year-old Chris Widger, who was designated for assignment during the final days of spring training. No question, Widger is the better offensive player (with a career OPS of .709 compared to Flaherty’s .669), but Torre and the Yankee coaches feel that Flaherty is the far superior defensive catcher. (And for what it’s worth, most scouts agree.) Regarded as an excellent receiver and handler of pitchers, Flaherty still owns an excellent throwing arm into his mid-30s. Since taking over the Yankees, Torre has always valued defensive play over offensive output from his backup catchers, as evidenced by the previous releases of such players as Todd Greene and Bobby Estalella. It’s a philosophy that makes some sense when your starting catcher, Jorge Posada, remains a far better offensive player than defensive presence. The key is finding a backup catcher who can hit just a little bit, unlike the Alberto Castillos and Chris Turners of recent seasons. Here’s the bottom line: the Yankees can no longer ask Posada to catch as many games as he has in the past, given his declining offensive production in the second halves of both the 2001 and 2002 seasons. The heavy-legged Posada needs more rest throughout the season, which will put Flaherty on the spot more often than his predecessors among Yankee backup receivers… Another factor in the Yankees’ decision to sign Flaherty and move Widger? Flaherty, a native New Yorker, had already indicated that he would retire if he didn’t make the Yankees’ roster, while Widger might have some trade value and could bring a low-level prospect in return… Speaking of the Yankee bench, it will have almost a completely new look in 2003. Of last year’s reserves, only utility infielder Enrique Wilson returns—and he might be starting a lot of games at shortstop now that Derek Jeter is sidelined a minimum of six weeks. In addition to Flaherty’s emergence as backup catcher, the Yankees will have a new backup corner infielder in Todd Zeile (replacing Ron Coomer), a different fourth outfielder-designated hitter in Bubba Trammell (taking the place of Shane Spencer), and a new fifth outfielder in Chris Latham (replacing John Vander Wal)… While the Yankee bench undergoes its latest renovation, the team’s left field position remains in a state of flux. With Hideki “Godzilla” Matsui starting the season opener against the Blue Jays, the Yankees have now featured 10 different Opening Day left fielders in the last 10 seasons. The list—courtesy of NetShrine’s ( Lee Sinins (author of “Around the Majors” reports and the Sabermetric Baseball Encyclopedia)—features some surprising names and provides this strange “Who’s Who of Baseball:”

1994—Luis Polonia (now out of the major leagues)
1995—Paul O’Neill (now retired and working for the YES Network)
1996—Gerald “Ice” Williams (now with the Marlins)
1997—Darryl Strawberry (out of baseball)
1998—Chad Curtis (out of baseball)
1999—Ricky Ledee (with the Phillies)
2000—Shane Spencer (with the Indians)
2001—Chuck Knoblauch (out of baseball)
2002—Rondell White (with the Padres)
2003—Hideki Matsui

And there’s a real possibility that the Yankees will have a different left fielder in 2004, if Joe Torre makes the gutsy move and relocates Matsui to center field, with Bernie Williams taking over in left… When was the last time that the Yankees had the same player starting in left field in back-to-back seasons? That would have been 1988 and ’89, when the currently unemployed Rickey Henderson graced left field on two straight opening days.

Opening Day and History

With an assist from the Hall of Fame’s staff, here is an unofficial listing of the top 10 Opening Day milestones and achievements involving Hall of Famers:

No. 10 - In 1917, Babe Ruth of the Boston Red Sox pitched a three-hitter in shutting down the New York Yankees—his future team—on Opening Day. Ruth’s performance marked the start of good things to come. He would win 24 games in 1917, while leading the American League with 35 complete games.

No. 9 - In 1907, Roger Bresnahan of the New York Giants played the game wearing leg guards usually used in cricket—believed to be the first shin guards in major league history. Although Bresnahan was treated to taunts by the opposition, the leg guards came in handy in the April 11th game, protecting Bresnahan from a fifth-inning foul tip. Other catchers would follow Bresnahan’s lead and wear similar shin guards.

No. 8 - In 1959, Don Drysdale of the Los Angeles Dodgers hit his second Opening Day home run, becoming the only pitcher to hit more than one career homer in opening games. Drysdale’s historic blast accounted for the Dodgers’ only run in a 6-1 loss to the Chicago Cubs.

No. 7 - In 1971, Willie Mays of the San Francisco Giants blasted a home run on Opening Day, marking the start of a historic streak. Mays would hit home runs in each of the Giants’ first four games, setting a major league record.

No. 6 - In 1910, William Howard Taft became the first U.S. President to throw out a ceremonial first pitch on Opening Day. Attending the game in Washington, D.C., President Taft tossed the first ball to future Hall of Famer Walter Johnson, who played the unaccustomed role of catcher. That baseball now resides in Cooperstown.

No. 5 - In 1983, Tom Seaver made his first appearance for the New York Mets since 1977 and set an Opening Day record in the process. For Seaver, it was his 14th Opening Day assignment, tying the major league record set by Walter Johnson. Seaver defeated the Philadelphia Phillies, 2-0, at Shea Stadium.

No. 4 - In 1975, Frank Robinson of the Cleveland Indians became the first African-American manager in the history of the major leagues, making his managerial debut at Cleveland’s Municipal Stadium. Robinson not only guided the Indians to a 5-3 victory over the New York Yankees, but also hit the 575th home run of his illustrious career. In his first year on the job, Robinson would lead the Indians to a respectable record of 79-80, good for fourth place in the American League East. Playing primarily as a designated hitter, Robinson hit nine home runs and drove in 24 runs in 49 games.

No. 3 - In 1974, Atlanta Braves slugger Hank Aaron blasted a memorable three-run home run against Cincinnati Reds pitcher Jack Billingham. The home run was the 714th of Aaron’s career, tying him with the legendary Babe Ruth for the most home runs in major league history. Four days later, Aaron would break Ruth’s long-standing record by hitting a home run against Al Downing of the Los Angeles Dodgers.

No. 2 - In 1947, 28-year-old Jackie Robinson made a historic debut for the Brooklyn Dodgers, becoming the first African American to play major league baseball in the 20th century. Robinson went 0-for-3 in his debut but flawlessly handled 11 chances at first base against the Boston Braves. In 1947, Robinson would hit .297 and steal 29 bases while playing first base. He would win the first ever Rookie of the Year Award, as voted upon by the Baseball Writers Association of America.

And finally, No. 1 - In 1940, Bob Feller of the Cleveland Indians hurled the first and only Opening Day no-hitter in major league history. Feller out-dueled Edgar Smith of the Chicago White Sox in winning a 1-0 decision at Comiskey Park. During one at-bat, White Sox star Luke Appling (also a future Hall of Famer) fouled off 15 straight pitches, but failed to get a hit against Feller.

Card Corner

This week’s entry is just for fun. Twenty years ago, Topps issued this card portraying journeyman catcher Rick Sweet, who just might have had the wildest hairdo of any major league player in the early 1980s. Sweet’s Afro-like hairstyle, which was about six years after its time, made it a bit challenging to keep his cap and helmet on, especially when chasing pop-ups or running the bases. It also motivates this quick question of curiosity; which was bigger, Sweet’s catcher’s mitt, or his hair?… In addition to featuring Sweet at his “big-hair” best, Topps introduced something a little different with its 1983 set. For the first time since 1963, individual player cards featured two photographs of the player, a larger picture that occupied about 80 per cent of the card’s space, and a smaller circular-shaped inset photo, featured on either the bottom left-hand or right-hand corner of the card. Generally, the larger photo featured the player in game action (though in Sweet’s case, he’s merely engaged in a sideline game of catch), while the smaller image featured a close-up head shot of the player. Thanks to the close-up, we can gain fuller appreciation for Sweet’s coiffure… And where is Rick Sweet today? Still equipped with a mustache, but minus a few layers of head hair, Sweet is the manager of the Padres’ Triple-A affiliate at Portland in the Pacific Coast League.

Hall of Fame Handbook

From time to time, I’ll field phone calls at the National Baseball Hall of Fame from curious patrons who visit the Hall’s web site and ask: “What in the world are Sandlot Stories?” Well, they represent one of the many educational programs that we offer at the Hall of Fame and Museum. Sandlot Stories generally deal with some noteworthy aspect of baseball history, usually take the form of either PowerPoint or slide presentations, often with video incorporated, and last anywhere from 25 minutes to an hour. The list of Sandlot Stories, currently offered on Wednesdays, Thursdays, and Fridays at the Hall of Fame, includes the following topics: the 30th anniversary of Roberto Clemente’s election to the Hall of Fame; the seven Latin-born members of the Hall; the first all-black lineup in major league history; the “Murderers’ Row” Yankees of 1927; Charlie Finley’s “Swingin’ A’s;” the hobby of collecting baseball cards; the history of women in baseball; and the explanation behind the decision to locate the Hall in Cooperstown… Other topics in the works include a Sandlot on Brooks Robinson’s performance in the 1970 World Series and one on the 35th anniversary of the 1968 World Champion Detroit Tigers… Sandlot Stories presentations take place in the Hall of Fame Library’s Bullpen Theater, a wonderful 56-seat mini-auditorium that allows each host to interact with members of the audience… For anyone who would like more information on Sandlot Stories, call the Hall at 607-547-0261.

War And Baseball

The ongoing war in Iraq reminds us that the paths of the military and baseball have repeatedly intertwined, most notably during World War II, when scores of players either voluntarily enlisted or were summoned to active duty overseas. While much has been written and researched about the connection between baseball and the second World War, little of baseball’s relationship to the Vietnam War has been publicly discussed. Yet, a number of players did serve in active duty during the long conflict, either before or during their major league careers. According to research done by SABR members David Avins, John Heer, and Maxwell Kates, the list includes the following major leaguers: Jim Bibby (while he was in the Mets’ farm system), Al Bumbry, Bill Campbell (who was an Army radio operator during combat), Ed Figueroa, Bobby Jones (the former outfielder, not one of the pitchers), Garry Maddox (who was in the Giants’ farm system at the time), Gene Martin, Carlos May, Bobby Murcer (who missed two full seasons while in the Army), and former Met Dave Schneck.

The story of Carlos May might have been the most interesting of those players who served during Vietnam. While stationed as a Marine at Camp Pendleton, a mortar misfired and caused severe damage to May’s thumb. Fortunately, doctors were able to perform a skin graft, saving the use of May’s thumb and allowing him to continue his pursuits in baseball. May went on to have several productive seasons as an outfielder and DH with the White Sox before wrapping up his career with the Yankees and the Angels.

Pastime Passings

Tadayoshi Kajioka (Died on March 23 in Urayasu, Japan; age 82): One of the best pitchers in the Japanese Leagues in the 1940s and fifties, Kajioka was the second Japanese pitcher to throw a no-hitter after World War II. In making his debut in 1947, he won 22 of 30 decisions and posted a 1.92 ERA. Five years later, Kajioka finished the Japanese season with the best ERA of any pitcher in his league.

Al Libke (Died on March 7 in Wenatchee, Washington; age 84): Libke was a pitcher and outfielder who played two seasons for the Cincinnati Reds in the 1940s. Making his major league debut during the war-torn year of 1945, Libke batted .283 with 53 RBIs and also pitched briefly in relief, hurling four scoreless innings. After his final major league stint in 1946, Libke returned to the minor leagues for three more seasons.

And here are two additional deaths from January:

Toby Atwell (Died on January 25 in Purcellville, Virginia; age 78): A left-handed hitting catcher with the Chicago Cubs, Pittsburgh Pirates, and Milwaukee Braves, Atwell broke into the major leagues in 1952 by hitting an impressive .290 in 395 at-bats. He never achieved such success again—or received as much playing time—during a five-year career in the National League.

Harry Smith (Died on January 3; age 75): Smith was a part-time scout for the Los Angeles Dodgers and Baltimore Orioles for 18 years before finally landing a fulltime job with the Milwaukee Brewers in 1978. After a 14-year tenure with the Brewers, Smith also worked for the California Angels and Boston Red Sox before retiring in the year 2000. Smith’s son, Chris Smith, played three seasons in the major leagues in the early 1980s.

Bruce Markusen is the author of A Baseball Dynasty: Charlie Finley’s Swingin’ A’s (ISBN number 1-878282-23-9), which is available at and at many major bookstores, including Borders Books. Markusen has also written The Orlando Cepeda Story and Roberto Clemente: The Great One.

by Bruce Markusen


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