Gary Trujillo: I watched that Field Of Dreams game, and it was really cool from an aesthetic standpoint… and what an ending! I’m not a big fan of the movie though, it’s way too cheesy for my tastes. My favorite baseball movie would have to be Bull Durham because the writing is smart, funny, romantic, sexy and raunchy. And Susan Sarandon! Meow.
I met BD writer Ron Shelton at the Burbank Library in 2010 and he was a cool guy. Jim Bouton (RIP) was there that day too as was Greg Goossen (RIP)
Brian Kingman: Yes! Bull Durman is more realistic and my favorite too. When I watched the movie I was interested to see who wrote it because it combined a high level of understanding of what it was like to play the game professionally, as well as an awesome job of capturing the personal interaction between teammates (Mostly Costner & Robbins) as well as what it is like to be a naive rookie or a seasoned pro. My favorite scene is when Costner tells the hitter what’s coming and he hits the home run off the bull. It so accurately depicted the feeling and interaction between an experienced catcher and rookie pitcher who thinks he is invincible.
I think almost every young pitcher has been in that situation. I remember the first time I faced Reggie Jackson, it was 0-2, no one on base and I shook off a curveball twice! because I WANTED TO ANNOUNCE MY PRESENCE WITH AUTHORITY.…..with a fastball of course. Well, that ball ended up 30 rows deep in the right-field stands. If the Durham bull had been there it might have knocked its head off! Jim Essian, my catcher came out to the mound with a smile that said, I told you so and said, “Now there’s something to remember.”
Anyway, Ron Shelton should be in Baseball’s HOF for writing (and directing) that movie!
Field Of Dreams is different. Less realistic and requires the suspension of disbelief. It would be awesome if old-time players could emerge from a cornfield! Not sure how many would be available or where it might happen. Maybe in a parallel universe there is a schedule of old-timers games for everyone that ever played. Like (the novel) The Wax Pack you could catch up with your favorite players. Unlike Wax Pack it wouldn’t matter if they were still living …well at least not in the here and now.
With everyone theoretically available, my list would be very long. I would like, of course, to meet Dolf Luque. August 24th was the 99th anniversary of his 20th loss – the last pitcher before me to lose 20 for a winning team. Jack Nabors, who suffered through a 1-20 season and of course Pud Galvin. I’d want to get Babe Ruth’s opinion on today’s homerun glut, but more importantly the highlights of his nightlife. I’d ask Rube Wadell why he chased fire trucks, and I would ask Casey Stengel to tell me all he knows about Billy Martin. I’d like to meet Anthony Young to hear his frustrations of losing 27 consecutive decisions. I would hope that the power of walking through the corn isn’t limited to just the diamond. I want to meet these guys in a bar so we can sit down and talk for hours. I know Babe would feel right at home. I also know that Luque and Stengel don’t like each other, and as the night wears on a plastered Billly Martin should appear to make things even more interesting.
Ok, so what the hell does Don Mossi have to do with Billy Martin, Cal Ripken Jr. Durwood Merrill, Rickey Henderson? (editors note: the Cal Ripken incident will be discussed in a future post.) I want to say absolutely NOTHING, but I would have been wrong. As it turns out, Mossi was traded to the Tigers, along with his good friend and roommate, Ray Narleski, in a November 1958 deal that sent Billy Martin to Cleveland. No that’s not the reason for Mossi’s appearance here either.
The reason I posted Don Mossi’s baseball card is all about the book someone mentioned, The Wax Pack. After reading their description of the book I was intrigued and checked out a couple of reviews. I then ordered a copy that should arrive next week.
It appears that The Wax Pack covers several of my favorite subjects: The afterlife, the loss of innocence, and of course, baseball. Impermanence is just a more sophisticated way of saying “Nothing lasts forever”or ‘A constant state of change”. Impermanence only becomes a “gift” when we learn to understand and accept the constantly changing, fleeting nature of life and appreciate what we have. All things good and bad eventually come to an end.
Is there life after baseball? I am going to say yes, mainly because I am currently living it. It has been said that athletes die twice so Ipresume I’ll be dying at least one more time. Athletic careers imitate our life span. The life span of an athlete’s career is an accelerated version of our real lives. It mimics the process of development and decay we experience throughout our lives at a faster pace. As we age our performance declines It’s the curse of mortality, a symptom of impermanence. You spend the first portion of your life learning, growing stronger, polishing your skills, then your body begins to fail. You remember yourself in your prime and wonder where that person went. The wear and tear of training and competing, combined with the physiological changes that naturally occur as we age, conspire to slowly diminish our physical skills…..nothing lasts forever and careers come to an end.
Then in “real” life, you repeat the process only at a slower pace. If you have come to terms with the inevitability of impermanence then you will be better prepared to cope with it. I guess you could call it a gift as the L.A. Times review did, but I think if you have managed to come to terms with the inevitability of impermanence, you likely earned it the hard way.
The Loss of Innocence
As it pertains to baseball the loss of innocence for many of us the transition from the joyful innocence of playing the game as a youngster to professional baseball where it was much more of a business than it was a game. Then there comes another transition from doing something that you had worked hard at and has been a major part of your life since childhood quickly deteriorate and leave you facing a fate that apparently can be the equivalent of death! This is why they say athletes die twice because for some, getting a job in the real world after living in a fantasy world can be very traumatic.
Back to Don Mossi
About 10 years ago my friend Steve Ashman (High school & Senior league baseball teammate) was staring at Don Mossi’s baseball card commenting about the size of his ears and said “You know we should go visit him, he only lives a couple of hours away” It sounded like a good idea to me. We made a list of players we wanted to meet in addition to Mossi. I added a pair of 20 game losers, Don Larsen, Roger Craig, and Vida Blue even though he only lost 19–never mind being an MVP, and Cy Young award winner! Steve added Alex Johnson and Willie McCovey to the list along with Rusty Kuntz. Rusty Kuntz? I asked Steve ‘Why Rusty Kuntz?” He replied “I always wanted to ask him what his parents were thinking when they named him Rusty”
So we planned a trip for “sometime in the future” and as you might imagine we never got around to making that trip. Life got in the way. Alex Johnson passed away in 2015, McCovey in 2018, Mossi in 2019, and Larsen in 2020. They were victims of impermanence as we all will eventually be.
Hey, dude…I bought this little pin at a garage sale, and it just happened to be attached to a ticket stub. After some research on the Baseball Almanac, you actually pitched that day! You tossed 7 innings giving up 2 earned, but unfortunately lost to Dave Steib who pitched a CG giving up only 1 in a game the A’s eventually lost 3-1. Do you have any additional information? I had apprehensions that you would remember a Monday game from the Coliseum in 1982, but I thought I’d give it a shot.
I do remember the game, but as you mentioned there was really nothing notable about the game itself, that I can recall. What I do remember about the game is that it was a scenario I was too familiar with. Dave Steib was sharp that day, and although I was pitching well enough to win most games, this wasn’t going to be one of them.
The game was played at a time when the players already knew Billy would not be returning to the A’s, but it was not public knowledge. These were the waning days of the Billy Ball Era, which was a bit of a phenomenon, but that time had now clearly passed. The game was played about a week after Billy had demolished his office. Rumors had been circulating for a few weeks that Billy wanted out of his contract with the A’s and apparently the A’s did not want to let Billy go. So Billy tore up his office, made some insulting remarks about the owners, and got what he wanted, which was a chance to manage the Yankees again. Steinbrenner had seen his success with the A’s and Billy could see from the way the 1982 season had gone that he had pretty much run his pitching staff into the ground. The future looked dim for Oakland and the grass looked much greener in New York.
I think Billy had been considering his departure from the A’s for a few months prior to the office incident. By mid-season he seemed less focused and intense than the previous years. I believe one of the symptoms of this can be seen in a game of June 23rd of the 1982 season. Billy picked a lineup out of a hat in a game we were playing against a division rival (KCR) Turns out he has done this before, but it seemed way out of character for the Billy Martin we knew. (ed note: Kingman lost that game as well, giving up 1 in 8 innings, but the terrible Oakland club managed only 4 hits and lost 1-0.)
You spend a good piece of your life gripping a baseball and in the end it turns out that it was the other way around all the time ~Jim Bouton
Perhaps the best description of life as a professional baseball player from a players perspective since
Ball Four. John D’Acquisto and Dave Jordan have done a wonderful job of bringing the remarkable events of John’s career to life. A career in professional baseball is a journey, and the path to the major leagues is a precarious one. Obstacles abound. Temptations from all seven of the deadly sins surround you. Only a few of those who are chosen will make it as far a the major leagues.
John’s remarkable story is about his transition from the joyful innocence of high school baseball, to the business of professional baseball, and his return to life as a civilian. Professional baseball is more than just a game–it is a cut throat business. For John it was more than just a career, it was a way of life.
John’s stories are captivating, because they are real life experiences. His involvement in a mafia run restaurant, the fight with Bob Gibson on an elevator after beating him on the mound, betrayal by one of his best friends: The “Count” John Montefusco, and his legal problems after baseball are riveting.
John’s story is fascinating. Fastball John is well written and an entertaining read!
CCA: On page 209 of Nancy Finley’s new book “Finley Ball,” she writes that manager Billy Martin started dating Jill, who he eventually married. (She also was called “the devil” by his children from another marriage by refusing to give them any memorabilia and selling it all after Martin’s death.) Is it true that she was dating a player who asked you “how do you complain to the manager who is hitting on your girlfriend?” Are you comfortable naming this player?
REVISITING 1980 – BILLY MARTIN’S DOG HOUSE & SOAP OPERA
“Billy first laid eyes on Jill Guiver in 1980 before a game against the California Angels. She had a camera on her shoulder. Though she didn’t work for any organization, she was telling everyone she was a free-lance photographer. At one time she had dated one of the Yankee players, Reggie Jackson. According to ball players who knew her at the time, her photography was her way to get to meet them. The way she looked, an introduction was all she needed. She liked to wear tight-fitting clothes and short shorts. She was very sexy. Jill asked Billy if she could take his picture. Billy asked her if he could take her for a drink after the game. They began dating, which threw a scare into at least four of Billy’s players who were also seeing her. These players feared that she would reveal to Billy that they were also going with her and that Billy would take it out on them. They were praying that Billy’s relationship with Jill Guiver would soon end, that she was only a phase, in part because they feared Billy’s wrath and also because as long as Billy was with her, they couldn’t be.” ~ Wild, High and Tight: The Life and Death of Billy Martin
BK:I don’t know if it was the day Billy met Jill, but it had to be close to it. All the players had noticed an attractive woman with a camera near our dugout during batting practice. Billy spent an abnormally long amount of time in the clubhouse during the game that day. This was extremely rare. Billy was always watching the game from the dugout. I wasn’t pitching on this day and happened to be in the clubhouse when I saw Billy emerge from the manager’s office with Jill. Most of the players had noticed Billy’s unusually long absence from the dugout,and a few knew that Billy was interested in the “girl with the camera”. I don’t think any of them knew he was alone with her in the manager’s office during the game.
Well I don’t know about four players on our team dating her, but I had heard of one that was. During the game I mentioned to him that I had seen Jill in Billy’s office. His response was “How do you complain to the manager who is hitting on your girlfriend?” Maybe he was just wondering what those other guys mentioned in Wild High & Tight were going to do about it?
CCA: There was also an instance mentioned in the same book where Martin tells you to walk a guy and the guy reaches out and slaps a single on pitch that was meant to be ball and Martin apparently charged out of the dugout screaming, “you motherfucker…I told you to walk him!”
BK:There were actually two games where Billy really surprised me with the way he handled things. The first one is the one you asked about, where Billy came out of the dugout yelling at me. It was against the Cleveland Indians. The second game was about two months later against the Toronto Blue Jays. Both are described below:
THIS IS THE HORSESHIT MOTHERFUCKER GAME AGAINST THE INDIANS (MAY 7, 1980)
On May 7, 1980 I pitched a game against the Cleveland Indians in Oakland. It was a day game and there were maybe 5,000 fans in attendance. I didn’t give up a hit until the 5th inning, but in the 6th I gave up two hits and when Mike Hargrove came to the plate, Billy Martin came to the mound.Billy told me to throw Hargrove four straight pitches high and away. “Maybe we can get him to pop up”. The first two pitches were shoulder-high and a foot outside. The next pitch was a little higher, but maybe only 9 or 10 inches off the plate. Hargrove managed get a hit and Billy came out of the dugout screaming obscenities (“You horse shit motherfucker”) at me. With such a small crowd his voice carried, and could be heard throughout the stadium.
My catcher Jim Essian couldn’t believe that we didn’t just walk Hargrove. Which is the same thing Hargrove told our first baseman.
I didn’t pitch again for two weeks!
It turns out Hargrove knew that Billy had told me to throw him high fastballs up and away. He said he had seen it before several times when Billy was his manager in Texas. THE STUPID PITCHER GAME: JULY 21,1980
In the game above, against the Indians, Billy had called me a horseshit motherfucker. In this game, about two months later, I apparently had progressed enough to just being called stupid, which some may see as an upgrade from horseshit motherfucker.
Toronto Blue Jays 1 Oakland Athletics 0
Pitching IP H R ER BB SO HR ERA Brian Kingman, L (5-10) 9 9 1 1 2 8 1 3.41
Billy was a great manager. He knew the game, and all of its nuances, inside out. If he had a weakness as a manager it was in how he treated players. He was especially hard on pitchers, especially LOSING pitchers. The last straw for me was in a game he insisted I throw a fastball to a hitter (Alvis Woods) who hit a home run. I threw a complete game and lost 1-0. When the reporters came up to me after the game, they told me that Billy said I was a stupid pitcher because I threw a fastball hitter a fastball behind in the count. My reply to the reporters was: ‘How stupid can I be if Billy is the one who called the pitch? The next day the headline in the sports section was:
KINGMAN RIPS MARTIN
Well, that might not have been the best thing for my career. The old proverb “The truth shall set you free, suddenly turned into “It may be the truth, but the truth shall make Billy mad” I had no idea that would be the headline! I realize that reporters have to make a living, and headlines sell papers, but after this happened, I knew Billy hated me. He was a very small man in that way – holding grudges, always looking for revenge for things real and imagined.
CCA: Nancy also talks a bit about how you were going to get married but Billy Martin was dead set against it. You lost 9 in a row after the marriage. What was going on there? Was it a psychological issue? Rebellion?
BK: The short answer is that It wasn’t a rebellion. It was just the cumulative effect of a very toxic situation. The combination of poor run support combined with a manager who unless you were winning, was one of the hardest managers to pitch for. Instead of looking forward to my next start, I began to dread it. For the long answer read on:
The games above preceded my 9 game losing streak. Before the losing streak my record was 7-11 and my ERA was 3.41. I easily could have been 11-7, except for the fact that I was getting less than 3 runs a game in offensive support.
The 2.50 runs per game the A’s scored in my 20 losses are deceptive because 11 of the 50 runs scored were in one game. If you take out those 11 runs and that one game, I got a whopping 2.05 runs per game in my other 19 losses. If I had been 11-7 with a 3.41 ERA I believe Billy would have found someone else to pick on. Everyone is happy when they are winning. Losing was like a small piece of death for Billy, and I was losing at an alarming rate.
In order to get married, I was going to have to miss a game. I told Art Fowler about my plans and he said “You’d better ask Billy, he usually doesn’t like guys getting married during the season because it’s a distraction” I told Art that I would ask Billy, but I was thinking there could be no bigger distraction for me than Billy. My first goal when I stepped on the mound was to win the game. My second goal, unfortunately, had become to avoid incurring Billy’s wrath.
Billy “granted” me permission to miss a game and get married. When I returned I threw 3 straight complete games, but lost all three by the scores of 3 -2, 4 -3 & 4 -2. I pitched well in those games. I think my era was around 3.5, yet my record now stood at 7-14. The main reason I was losing once again was a lack of offensive support. One of the most devastating factors to a pitchers won-loss record is a lack of offensive support. It the difference between winning 5-4 instead of losing 3-2.
“As for Kingman’s run support, it was literally historically bad. I’ve gone through the game logs at retrosheet & figured out the run support (adjusted for park & league)for 1096 different seasons in which a pitcher started at least 25 games. Kingman’s 1980 is the 13th worst of that bunch. His run support was only 68% of league average when adjusted for park & league.”
I read this about 10-12 years ago online. It was written by a blogger called Dag Nabbit. It was from one of those baseball Sabermetric sites that are often a challenge to read, but he did a good job of translating my misery and explaining it numerically. I have always wanted to thank Dag Nabbit, so maybe he will read this. I am positive that very, very few fans, or even players pay attention to a pitcher’s long term lack of offensive support, and even fewer appreciate how utterly devastating it can be.
In the remaining six games of my losing streak, I pitched less effectively than I had up to that point in the season. There is no doubt that the psychological burden of losing was becoming more and more of a factor. Constant, long term losing erodes confidence, which is crucial to success in all sports.The lethal combination of poor offensive support and playing for a manager who hated to lose perhaps more than any manager in baseball history took it’s toll on me. There was an increasingly pervasive sense of futility that you think you can overcome by being mentally tough, and to a certain degree you can. However it is still a burden, an additional obstacle, for which the only remedy is to win. It felt like I was the only one losing, since all the other starters were winning. After losing nine consecutive games my record stood at 7-20.
“Brian Kingman was a pitcher who was very frustrating to Billy because Billy could see he was probably the most talented of the five of us as far as stuff went. Brian was a very intellectual guy. If Brian and Billy had a problem, it was because Brian would not talk to Billy about things that bothered him or about personal things” ~Matt Keough Wild, High and Tight: The Life and Death of Billy Martin
If you look at the history of 20 game losers you’ll see that virtually all of them were on teams that lost at least 90 games, and quite often 100 games or more. On those teams with 20 game losers almost all the starters have losing records. They say misery loves company, well I was all alone in 1980. In fact the last time a pitcher lost 20 games on a winning team was in 1922. His name was Dolf Luque. Ironically I was a winning pitcher in 1979 (8-7) with a team that lost 108 games.
I just noticed you were born on July 27th. I was born on July 26th, 1975….you were a young buck just starting out in Boise at that time…
A 19 year old punk just a day shy of his 20th birthday…out on the road, away from his parents and living his baseball dream. Do you remember what you did that day? So fucking long ago….
July 26, 1975….let’s see if I can successfully do some time traveling back almost 40 years to the Northwest League. Normally this would next to impossible, however
through the magic of the Internet I was able to find a newspaper clipping that helped to spark my memory.
On Thursday July 24th I was within two outs of a no-hitter in Boise Idaho, but ended up with a one hitter in a 7 inning game against the Portland Mavericks. Jim Bouton played for the Mavericks that year but he wasn’t with the team at the time we played them. If he had been I would have run through a brick wall to meet him! (editors note: Kurt Russell’s father owned the Portland team and the actor actually played for the unaffiliated team in 1973…a few years before Brian was in the league.)
I believe we played the Mavericks again on Friday, July25th. Only in the minor leagues would you leave around midnight, take a long bus ride and play the next day, but that’s what we did. We were off to Bellingham, Washington to play the Dodgers. So on SaturdayJuly 26th, 1975 – Your Birthday- I would have been in Bellingham, between starts, and trying to figure out what the hell to do for entertainment after the game in a small town (population probably around 40,000 back then). The usual strategy for minor leaguers who constantly find themselves on the road and without a car, is to meet girls who have cars, and other coveted assets that can be shared and enjoyed. For more on this topic refer to Life in The Minors or perhaps even Ball Four.
Dave Stewart was on the Bellingham Dodgers. I remember him being mostly a relief pitcher at the time. I remember there was a team in Seattle as well, that played in the same ballpark (Sick Stadium) as the Seattle Pilots had several years earlier. Most baseball fans have never even heard of the Pilots because they only lasted one season, 1969. The only reason I remember
this is because Jim Bouton included his season with the Pilots in his epic book Ball Four.
“Stew” looking mean.
Bouton resurfaced in the majors as a knuckleball relief pitcher in 1969 with the Seattle Pilots and later the Houston Astros. This period is well documented in Ball Four. Although Bouton was moderately successful as a knuckleball relief pitcher, after the backlash against Ball Four, Bouton disappeared from the majors. Although gone from the major leagues, Bouton continued to pitch for professional and semi-pro teams. He eventually made it back to the majors with the Atlanta Braves for five games in 1978 at the age of 39
After making it back to the major leagues he wrote this in a Sports Illustrated article: “Actually, I thought I’d play about five more years, Hoyt Wilhelm pitched until he was 48, but by the time I got called up, I knew I wouldn’t even stay around that long.” (Bouton was 39 at the time)
I recently e-mailed ex-Athletics pitcher Brian Kingman– informing him that the first player on the 1981 team that he had played for had passed. Kelvin Moore, who had played parts of 3 seasons in the majors had died on November 9th, 2014 from cardiac arrest. He was 57.
Brian, being insightful and clever as always sent me back this interesting e-mail that ponders life after death and the infinite intricacies that perhaps may await us. I hope C.C.A. readers enjoy this special, one of a kind look into a former ballplayers deepest, most personal thoughts:
I am so very sorry to hear about Kelvin.
He was a great teammate – easy-going nice guy and powerful hitter.
What do you think happens when you die?The short answer of course is that no one knows. For all we know dying might be an awesome experience. Unfortunately no one has managed to report back from the dead to let us know. It remains a mystery. In fact you could say our entire existence is full of uncertainty. Man still debates the origins of our beginnings, questions the meaning of life, and has no knowledge of what happens after death.
The Souls Search For Salvation aka Coping MechanismThe fact that life is full of mysteries and unexplainable events, such as death, has been a source of angst since the beginning of time. What is a coping mechanism? It is a term used by psychologists
R.I.P. Mr. Moore
to describe an adaptation to environmental stress that is based on conscious or unconscious choice, and that enhances control over behavior or gives psychological comfort. It has also been used by 20 game losers to make themselves believe that other people actually understand how they lost 20 games (trying to remember this is a baseball blog!)
The emergence of religion (some might say the invention of religion) gave Man an explanation for suffering, evil and the unknown in the world. It also gave man the hope for life after death. The essence of all religions are basically the same: A life does not begin at birth or end at death. Some religions believe in a Heaven or Hell, while others believe in reincarnation. Religion grew to become a huge part of an individuals life from birth to death, and helped to diminish the despair of meaninglessness.
With the advent of science many religious beliefs became mythology, and belief in God, which was the basis for meaning and value went into decline his led to Nietzche’s famous quote: “God is dead”. Cause of death? Indifference caused by a cultural shift away from faith, and towards science and rationalism. Beginning around the time of the Renaissance there was a major change in Man’s psychological evolution. By losing religion, modern man lost his connection with the afterlife.
“Life has no meaning the moment you lose the illusion of being eternal.”
~Jean Paul Sartre
But is it an illusion?
Those who have had a near death experience have reported various things from feelings of warmth, serenity and detachment from the body, to the presence of a light at the end of a tunnel. Sounds very similar to what a baby goes through at birth. It leaves the only home it has known, and travels through a narrow tunnel towards a light. Perhaps after all, death is just a part of the cycle of life. I find life more satisfying living with the belief that we are eternal beings. It is so much more satisfying than what Shakespeare described in the early 1600’s when
he wrote these famous lines for his play Macbeth (Act 5, Scene 5):
Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow,
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day
To the last syllable of recorded time,
And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle!
Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage
And then is heard no more. It is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Now that you have read the long answer, you learn it really is the same as the short answer. No one knows what happens when you die.
You have to die to find out!
Two buddies Bob and Earl were two of the biggest baseball fans in America. Their entire adult lives, Bob and Earl discussed baseball history in the winter, and they pored over every box score during the season.They went to 60 games a year. They even agreed that whoever died first would try to come back and tell the other if there was baseball in heaven.
One summer night, Bob passed away in his sleep after watching the Yankee victory earlier in the evening. He died happy. A few nights later, his buddy Earl awoke to the sound of Bob’s voice from beyond. “Bob is that you?” Earl asked. “Of course it me,” Bob replied.
“This is unbelievable!” Earl exclaimed. “So tell me, is there baseball in heaven?”
“Well I have some good news and some bad news for you. Which do you want to hear first?” Earl excitedly replies, “Tell me the good news first.”
“Well, the good news is that yes there is baseball in heaven, Earl.”
“Oh, that is wonderful! So what could possibly be the bad news?”
I won my last start of the 1980 season in Chicago 5-1. I always liked pitching in Chicago. I liked the restaurants, the bars, the nightlife, and after winning what I thought was my last game of the season I took advantage of all Chicago had to offer. Our last two games of the season were in Milwaukee. I planned to catch up on my sleep and watch Mike Norris (22 wins) and Rick Langford (19 wins) close out the season.
Rick Langford started the very last game of the year in pursuit of his 20th win. It was a cold October day in Milwaukee. Rick was having an amazing
year. He had completed 28 of his 32 starts including 22 consecutive compete games prior to this last game of the year. Going for his 20th win you
knew there was no way he would be coming out of this game. Most of the guys, especially those who knew they wouldn’t be playing had been out
until the bars closed, since it was our last night of the year on the road. This included most of our relief pitchers, and all of the starters except for Langford.
After a couple consecutive nights of heavy drinking I wasn’t feeling too good. As the game wore on the temperature dropped and wind blew harder. I remembered from the year before that there was a ladder that you could climb and get to a catwalk inside the giant scoreboard in right field near our bullpen. I knew I would be the last person called into the game having just pitched a couple of days earlier. Not only had Langford completed 90% of his games, we had a bullpen full of able bodied relief pitchers. Well, perhaps I should say able bodied, but hung over relief pitchers.
Somewhere around the 4th or 5th inning I started to feel worse, and decided I needed to lie down. I climbed up the ladder and into the giant scoreboard.
I rested on the narrow cat walk shielded from the wind, and warmed by all of the electrical stuff inside the scoreboard. The guys in the bullpen would occasionally let me know what was happening in the game. I dozed off a couple of times only to be awakened by the sound of a baseball rattling
County Stadium (R.I.P.) scoreboard. What’s that smell??
around the catwalk that someone from the bullpen had thrown to playfully harass me.
After puking somewhere deep in the bowels of the scoreboard I felt a little better. It was now he 8th inning and the bullpen kept teasing me that Billy
wanted me to warm up. The game was tied 4-4, Langford had men on base, but I knew they were kidding me. Langford would not be coming
out of this game unless it became a lost cause, and I would be the last person to be used in relief!
Langford pitched the 9th and the 10th inning. After finishing the 10th inning Jeff Jones who was my roommate on the road and is now the pitching coach for the Detroit Tigers got my attention and said that I needed to get ready to pitch the 11th inning. He said Art (Art Fowler our pitching coach) had called down to the bullpen and said get Kingman up. It was no joke.
The first batter I faced was Ben Ogilvie,he got a base hit. The next batter grounded out. This was followed by an intentional walk, and then an unintentional walk. There I was in a game I had no business being in, on the road with one out and the bases loaded facing loss number 21! Fortunately the next batter hit the ball back to me and we turned a double play to mercifully end the inning. Dave Beard came into the game to pitch the 12th inning. The team didn’t score much when I pitched, and they didn’t score any for Beard who threw 3 scoreless innings and then took the loss in the 15th inning.
Rick Bosetti was a flashy fielder who, with Toronto in 1979, led AL outfielders in putouts, assists, and errors. Recognizing his own modest talents as a player, Bosetti had other goals – notably to urinate in the outfield of every major league park, a goal he was able to achieve!
Hard to believe who ever wrote this thought Rick had no other goals. He was a decent ballplayer. Rick went on to become the Mayor of Redding CA. not too long ago. I had no idea about his goal to urinate in every MLB park until he told me in 1981. I am sure if Billy would have been pissed off he had caught Rick in the act!
Bruce Robinson was my catcher in Chattanooga. He also caught for the A’s and Yankees.
We had a day off in Montgomery and decided to check out the state capitol. Bruce struck up a
conversation with Wendy as we were wandering around the rotunda. She turned out to be George Wallace’s receptionist, and her family had known the Wallace family for years.
When Wendy learned that we were in town to play baseball she mentioned that Governor Wallace had played baseball at the University of Alabama. I told Wendy that my father had played baseball with the Governor at Alabama.
With that, Wendy said that she was sure he would want to meet us. We were ushered in to his office ahead of several people who had appointments to meet with him, one of them was Harvey Glance who had won a gold medal in the 1976 Olympics.
George was happy to see us and remembered playing with my father who he said was a fine shortstop. This was very interesting since I don’t think my father has thrown a baseball in his life and may have never even set foot in Alabama!
I remember a game in Toronto when Billy Martin put Mike Edwards in to pinch run at third base, late in the game with the score tied. With his speed he would be able to tag up and score on a fly ball. Instead he got caught off third on a ground ball to the infield. He was so mortified that he exited the field through
the Blue Jays dugout in order to avoid the inevitable confrontation with Billy in our dugout!
3) You were best known for being a 20 game loser before Detroit Tigers pitcher Mike Maroth “achieved ” this honor in 2003. Have you spoken to Mr. Maroth about this dubious achievement?
No, I never have spoken to Mike. I didn’t want to distract him during the 2003 season. I think I can safely assume he wasn’t very interested in talking to me
about losing 20 games after the fact. The Tigers were having a horrible year and didn’t appreciate the added media attention regarding the possibility that Maroth
might lose 20 games.
When I lost 20 games in 1980 it wasn’t as uncommon of an occurrence as it was in 2003. There has been a 20 game loser almost every year in baseball history, and some years there were multiple 20 game losers. A list of 20 game losers was established by baseball reference.com because of the media created interest started and fueled mainly by Jayson Stark. In 1991 Stark wrote a column in the Philadelphia Inquirer that mentioned a couple of
pitchers that might lose 20. He noted that no one had lost 20 in over a decade and that “somewhere Brian Kingman was praying for someone to lose 20 games
so he could be relieved of the dubious distinction of being the last 20 game loser”. A friend of mind who lived in Philadelphia mailed me the article. I called the Inquirer and
they gave me Stark’s home phone number. I called him and told him that I wanted to remain the last 20 game loser, basically forever. He of course didn’t believe it was me calling at first. He thought he was being pranked by one of his friends. This was the start of what I call my “Reign as the Last 20 Game Loser” which lasted until 2003. This however is a story in itself and deviates from your question.
When Mike Maroth lost 21 games in 2003 it had been 23 years since I had lost 20. Baseball, and especially pitching, had undergone a lot of changes. Complete games were on the decline, and the importance of the relief pitcher increased. Pitch counts gained in popularity as front offices worried about injuries to starting pitchers who had been rewarded lucrative contracts. Because of these factors starting pitchers didn’t pitch as deep into games, and had fewer decisions.
Just as it became harder to win 20 games it became less likely that someone would lose 20. It took a historically bad team (2003 Detroit Tigers) losing 119 games for Maroth to “achieve” 20 losses. When a team has that many losses they are very likely going to produce a 20 game loser. The 1962 NY Mets finished lost 120 games and produced two 20 game losers as well as a 19 game loser.
In this sense becoming a 20 game loser was most likely less stressful for Mike in 2003 than it was for me in 1980. No one on the Tigers was winning while on the 1980
Oakland A’s everyone was winning except me. I am sure the casual fan believed I was a horrible pitcher. It is assumed that over the course of a baseball season
everything evens out. If you get shut out once in awhile you’ll likely be the be beneficiary of an offensive outburst every now and then as well. I learned first hand that
this isn’t always true;
A section of a blog by Aaron Gleeman:
Perhaps more amazing than the fact that no one has been able to do what he did in 1980 in 22 years is how Brian Kingman lost 20 games that year. First of all, he actually pitched for a good team. The 1980 Oakland A’s went 83-79 (.512) and finished second in the American League West. The AL East was much stronger that season, but A’s had the 7th-best record in the 14-team American League.
Secondly, Brian Kingman was actually a decent pitcher in 1980. He pitched 211 1/3 innings and had a 3.83 ERA. .
So, he pitched for a good team and was right around league-average in preventing runs, yet he went 8-20.
Meanwhile in 1980…
Dan Spillner pitched 194 1/3 innings for a Cleveland ballclub that went 79-83. He had a 5.28 ERA – 29.4% worse than league-average – and he went 16-11.
Well as you can see here I have drifted off in my answer to the original question!
Jack Morris pitched 250 innings for the Tigers who went 84-78. He had a 4.18 ERA – 1.5% worse than league-average – and he went 16-15.
Len Barker pitched 246 1/3 innings for that same Indians team that Spillner was on. He had a 4.17 ERA – 2.2% worse than league-average – and he won 19 games.
Dennis Leonard pitched 280 1/3 innings for the Royals
who were American League Champions (97-65). Leonard had an ERA of 3.79 verysimilar to Kingman’s (3.83) and was a TWENTY game winner (20-11).
Oakland’s runs per game when Kingman pitched:
That’s the difference run-support can make. For the season overall, the A’s scored 4.43 runs per game. So, even in the games Kingman won, he got below-average run support from his teammates.In the games Kingman pitched in, the A’s scored 2.87 runs per game. In the other 130 games they played in 1980, they scored 4.55 runs per game. That’s just plain, old, simple bad luck.
Of the 20 games Kingman lost, 5 of them were games in which the A’s got shutout.
The 2.50 runs per game the A’s scored in Kingman’s 20 losses are even a little inflated because 11 of the 50 runs scored were in one game. If you take out those 11 runs and that one game, Kingman got a whopping 2.05 runs per game in his other 19 losses.
Well as you can see here I have drifted off once again from the interview question!The answer sort of morphed into things I would have mentioned to
Maroth if I had talked to him. That’s why editors get paid the big bucks.
When I lost 20 most fans didn’t realize the number of really good pitchers that had lost twenty games. The average fan assumed that only bad
pitchers lost 20. They forget Steve Carlton lost twenty games the year after winning 27 games, and that there are several 20 game losers in the Hall
of Fame, including Pud Galvin who lost 20 games ten years in a row.
The biggest factor in a pitcher losing 20 games is almost always poor sun support. Pitchers ERA’s are always posted on line or in the sport section
along with their won-lost record. There should also be a number that indicates the average number of runs scored for the pitcher. I think it would
be enlightening for fans and players to see run support adjusted W-L totals. Some big winners would look less impressive, and some pitchers with unimpressive records would gain respect. It is so much easier to pitch when your team scores for you.
Part 2 of this amazing interview…just some nuances that are the ambrosia of baseball.
2) What was the day like when you took the photo for the Sports Illustrated cover, and how did that come about?
I am going to answer this two part question in reverse order: How it came about…
SI decided to put us on the cover for two reasons. First was our performance during the 1980 season. We went from 54-108 in 1979to 83-79 in 1980. That’s a remarkable 29 game turnaround. We racked up 94 complete games, which I believe is the modern day record. I don’t know though, does 1980 qualify as modern day or does it seem rather ancient to the readers of your blog? It was the most complete games since 1946, and
if you look below at the innings pitched per start, it was quite an aberration from the norm!
The second reason was that we started off the 1981 season 11-0 which was an MLB record at the time.
Only 20 teams in modern history (since 1901) have produced a season in which five players logged at least 200 innings. All but three of those seasons occurred before 1930.
1. 1980 Oakland Athletics (Matt Keough, Brian Kingman, Rick Langford, Steve McCatty, Mike Norris)
Finish: 2nd in AL West
Runs scored: 686
Runs allowed: 642
2. 1977 Los Angeles Dodgers (Burt Hooton, Tommy John, Doug Rau, Rick Rhoden, Don Sutton)
Finish: Lost World Series (4-2) to Yankees
Runs scored: 769
Runs allowed: 582
3. 1957 Detroit Tigers (Jim Bunning, Paul Foytack, Billy Hoeft, Frank Lary, Duke Maas)
Finish: 4th in American League
Runs scored: 614
Runs allowed: 614
So, how do the 1980 A’s fair when compared to the teams from long ago? Well, incredibly, Oakland’s 1,261.1 innings logged by their starters stills tops the field. Ye, gods.
That isn’t really fair because the season is longer now. Besides, I already noted IP/GS is a better way than raw IP. When you look at innings per start, a handful of teams do nose out Martin’s bunch, as the chart below reveals:
Year Team IP/GS
1923 NYY 8.03
1922 NYY 7.99
1920 CWS 7.96
1920 BRVS 7.90
1920 PIT 7.81
1932 NYY 7.81
1920 CIN 7.81
1920 BRK 7.81
1980 OAK 7.78
Notice something there? They are almost entirely made up of teams from the early 1920s. That’s interesting. There have been three periods in baseball history when workloads for starting pitchers declined noticeably: 1) In the 1890s when the pitchers were pushed back to 60 feet, 6 inches; 2) In the early 1920s when the lively ball came out; and 3) In the 1990s when pitch counts became all the rage. In each instance, the game changed in a few years, causing managers to adapt to how they used pitchers.
So how did Martin run the 1980 A’s? Like someone who hadn’t fully realized the Dead Ball era had ended.
Part 2> What was the day like when you took the photo for the Sports Illustrated cover?
It is probably more interesting the effect the SI cover had on me for yearsafter the day it was taken……………
The photo was taken in the visitors locker room at Anaheim Stadium. All of us were proud to be on the cover. Perhaps I was a little less proud than the others.
They were all winners, and I was a 20 game loser. 1980 was a nightmare year for me. In fact that was the hardest part of my 20 loss season was that I was losing
while everyone else was winning. Virtually every 20 game loser pitches for a bad team where losing becomes expected . Typically these are 90-100+ loss teams.
In 1980 we were a winning team (83-79). The last time a pitcher lost 20 game was in 1922 when Dolf Luque was 13-23 for the Cincinnati Reds.
Misery Loves Company
The last pitcher before me to lose 20 games for a winning team might have had some good advice for me. Trouble is he died in 1957.
They say misery loves company, but I had to suffer in solitude. While the other guys enjoyed the thrill of victory I had to endure the agony of defeat.Sports Illustrated
gave each of us a framed blow up of the cover but, I couldn’t look at it for at least ten years. Not only did it remind me of the 1980 season, but when my career was
over looking at the cover made me dwell on how different things may have turned out if I had won 14-15 games instead of losing 20.
Just as dramatic as the 1979 A’s turnaround from last place in 1979 to second place in 1980, was my turnaround from 8-7 In 1979 to 8-20 in 1980:
Who was the last rookie starting pitcher with a minimum of 15 decisions to have a winning record on a team with at least 100 losses?
Answer: Brian Kingman, 1979
Brian Kingman was 8-7 for the 1979 Oakland A’s who were 54-108. Before that Tom Seaver was 16-13 for the 1967 NY Mets who were 61-101. Kingman ironically went on to become a 20 game LOSER the very next season going 8-20 for the A’s. Not only did he remain the last 20 game loser for 23 years until Mike Maroth lost 21 for the Tigers in 2003 he did it for a winning team, the A’s were 83-79. The last time that happened was in 1922 when Dolf Luque lost 20 for the Cincinnati Reds.