The On Deck Circle

Baseball History, Commentary and Analysis

Archive for the category “Historical Accounts”

A Mets Anniversary, of Sorts

Sometimes,  coincidences have a way of falling into your lap.

A little while ago, I was replying to a comment on the fine baseball blog, Misc. Baseball, where a conversation about no-hitters as they relate to the Padres (and Mets) was taking place.  I happened to recall that San Francisco Giants pitcher Ed Halicki tossed a no-hitter against the Mets in 1975.  Curious about the date of that no-hitter, I decided to look it up.  Strangely enough, today is the 40th-anniversary of that game.

Here are some bits of trivia I discovered while researching Halicki’s no-hitter.

The Mets manager that day was Roy McMillan, who had replaced Yogi Berra whom the Mets fired just 18 days earlier.  The Mets had gone 56-53 up to the point Berra was fired.  Under McMillan, they went 26-27.

The Giants manager was Wes Westrum.  Westrum had managed the Mets from 1965-67.  After 1975, neither McMillan nor Westrum ever managed in the Majors again.

Entering the ’75 season, both Ed Halicki and Mets starting pitcher Craig Swan had pitched fewer than one-hundred innings apiece in the Majors.  They went on to have not entirely dissimilar careers.  Halicki posted a career record of 55-66 with a WAR of 11.6.  Craig Swan finished his career with a 59-72 record, and a 12.6 WAR.

In 1978, Halicki won just nine games, but led the N.L. with a 1.060 WHIP.

In 1978, Swan won just nine games, but led the N.L. with a 2.43 ERA.

Halicki’s no-hitter at Candlestick Park in San Francisco was the second game of a double-header that day.  The Mets, behind Jon Matlack, won the first game 9-5.  In the first game, the Giants didn’t even attempt to steal a base off of lefty Matlack and catcher Jerry Grote.  In the second game, they ran wild, notching five steals off of Swan and catcher John Stearns.

The most controversial play of the game occurred in the top of the 5th inning.  Mets batter Rusty Staub hit a liner off of the leg of pitcher Halicki, which then bounced over to second baseman Derrel Thomas who picked up the ball, then dropped it.  The official scorer ruled this an error on Thomas.  But Mets beat-writer Dick Young was outraged by this scoring, and complained loudly about it.  He believed this play should have been scored a hit.

Though the no-hitter stood, official scorer Joe Sargis of UPI lost his part-time job as an official scorer.

Giants first baseman Willie Montanez drove in the Giants first two runs of the game in the bottom of the first inning.  Though the Giants would go on to win 6-0, those first two runs would be the only runs Halicki would need to win.  Three years later, the well-traveled Montanez would lead the Mets with 96 RBI.

Other than Staub reaching on an error in the 5th, the only other base-runners the Mets would have that day were pinch-hitter Mike Vail’s walk in the 6th-inning, and a one-out walk in the 9th to center-fielder Del Unser.

This was the last no-hitter ever pitched by a Giants pitcher at Candlestick Park.

It would be another 37-years until Johan Santana would throw the first no-hitter by a Mets pitcher in history (June 1, 2012.)  June 1st is also the birthday of Rick Baldwin, who pitched three innings in relief of Craig Swan on that August day in 1975 at Candlestick Park.

Look closely enough, and baseball is always full of quirky stats and surprises.


Dreams Before Dusk

The white sun showered Sacramento with fraying rays ’til well past 4:00.  By then, the only folks left in the ballpark were those paid ten cents an hour to pick up hot dog wrappers and half-filled soda cups under the bleachers.  Even the drunks had staggered out of the cooler spots under the grandstand, destinations to-be-determined.  And the Japanese kid, now just a hushed memory of Depression-era reticence.

Nine vs. nine, plus a couple of local high school kids on the bench to provide the home-team with extra lumber, should the boys from Nippon come looking for a fight.  Word was they were plenty good, though being on foreign turf had to rattle them some.  Especially out here in the Central Valley, where hard times had folded and molded men into something only faintly resembling human beings, and the W.P.A. was the only game in town.  Moering Field was the only getaway for the Oakies,  baseballs courtesy of Our Lady of Humble Secondary Offerings.

That Japanese kid, though, was some fast out there.  First six guys might not have even seen that steam, just read about it a half-second later in the catcher’s mitt, smoke emanating from leather like redolent gunshot.  My, how the laws of physics were Putting on the Ritz!  A pair of self-conscious pop ups to the infield, a ground-out to short, harmless as a baby snake, and three K’s, each punctuated with a grunting final swing, finished off the first three innings.

But our own kid, the dark-haired Angelich, held his own, too.  Just nineteen-years old, still had a year on their guy, Sawamura.  Angelich tossed down and slow, heavy pitches with just enough movement to frustrate over-eager sluggers, like suckers at a five-cent peephole aback a county fair.  Damned familiar she looked, too, all churlish grins as we counted our sins.  That is to say, they couldn’t touch it.

Still, their boys scratched out a pair of runs in the sixth and seventh innings, though none of the balls left the park.  Angelich left in the eighth to a Standing-O, waving one quick gloved-hand up to the crowd as he slicked back his hair with his bare one.  A fine performance, but still no permanent spot on the team.  Tough year, ’35.  And much tougher to come.

Sawamura, though, had the look that day.  Could’ve knocked down Mount Shasta with that game-face.  Baby-faced or not, the kid had STUFF.  How we managed even the one lone run was a water-to-wine miracle.  And what was he getting paid for this performance?  Did he even own a wallet?  Did he have a girl waiting for him back home?  And what did he think about during that empty Sacramento night, hours after reluctant American crowd regaled him with polite applause?  Fate writ large is still invisible to the naked eye, even to small-town heroes.

An ocean away, (both oceans, as it turned out), steely men with glinting eyes that knew neither love nor laughter planned hurricane death because they could and would.  Big plans, small minds, and lots of flags.

Baseball only a kid’s game, of course.  Inconsequential, but to those along the third-base line, shouting as the runner rounds third, digging for home, dirt-churning cleats digging clods of sod in a straight line to home plate, base-path all possibility, a dream out-running time and space, as the soft summer light fades into gray, and the dream withers at dusk.

This one’s for Jerry Angelich and Eigi Sawamura.

Please read the excellent link below for further context.


The Captain and the Curve Ball

Captain Lindeman of the S.S. Governor General Loudon recounts his earlier experiences on the island of Merat in the Strait of Sunda, off the coast of Java.

“Sunday, 26 August 1883.  As we approached the mere spit of an island called Merak, my thoughts recounted days past when I first visited that tropical idyll.  How calm and peaceful those days spent in the surf and sand!  And how leisurely did I enjoy our games of base ball, which I first introduced to the natives on that outcrop back in ’79.  

The sandy little clearing at the top of the island’s high point afforded an unobstructed view of the Strait of Sunda, and of the island mountain that was Krakatoa, tall and regal in the distant ocean mist.

The Javanese were quick studies to base ball, and once instructed, each insisted on carving his own bat out of the largest branches of cocoanut trees with shark-tooth knives.

While they relished the batted ball flying off into the thick tropical forests on the slopes of the hills of Merat, they had little natural inclination to run ’round the field, circling the bases, but instead, would simply stand and watch their handiwork fly off into the humid horizon. As the island’s only pitcher, it was up to me to instill some proper discipline into these half-civilized natives, whistling one speed ball or another close to their ear should they refuse to budge from the batter’s box.

Before we’d arrived, their pastimes had consisted of the strange art of diving in the narrow strait to grab onto the backs of mako sharks and ride them on the current.

But, within a fortnight, two respectable teams had created an instant sensation among the natives, bare-breasted women ladling water to the weary, though enthusiastic players, naked children prancing and scurrying into and out of the crude baselines as the game progressed, ten thousand kilometers from the Elysian Fields of Hoboken.

1875 Prescott & White CDV Hartford Dark Blues

1875 Prescott & White CDV Hartford Dark Blues (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Second-mate, Live Oak Taylor, of Belfast, Maine had played ball for the Hartford Dark Blues in ’77, and had recently taught me how to curve a ball. Those natives who had been witness to my speed ball, which they called “Crying Lightning,” after the flickering of St. Elmo’s Fire, ubiquitous on some maritime eves, would certainly stand aghast at this newest pitch I would uncork into their wheelhouse. I nearly trembled in anticipation to get back at it on the sands of Merak.

Heretofore, the weather had been muggy, the sea calm, but soon we heard the grumbling of Krakatoa towering over the Strait, a giant bestride his besotted realm. Past midnight, we could sight the green and brown outline of Merat, but now wondered if our travels should be in vain.”

Captain Lindeman tried to remain as much possible to the east of the exploding island, to avoid the ash and pumice rain:

Live Oak Taylor

Live Oak Taylor (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Monday, August 27th. Finding that at midnight on the evening of our arrival there was still no boat come off to us from the shore, and as the weather was now much calmer, I sent the second mate Taylor in the gig with a crew of six men to find out what was the reason of this.  

About 1 a.m. he returned, and stated that it had been impossible to land on account of the heavy current and surf; also that the harbour pier-head stood partly under water, and that there was no cracks to grasp or gaps to claw.  

That by 6 p.m. on Sunday evening it had already begun to be stormy, and that the stormy weather had been accompanied by a current which swept round and round (apparently a sort of whirlpool). When the mate had come on board, we resolved to await daylight before taking any further steps.

English: An 1888 lithograph of the 1883 erupti...

English: An 1888 lithograph of the 1883 eruption of Krakatoa. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

About 7 a.m. we saw some very high seas, presumably an upheaval of the sea, approaching Merat. These seas poured themselves out upon the shore and flowed inland, so that we presumed that the inhabitants who dwelt near the shore must be drowned.

 I bowed my head to think how small I was to think of throwing my new curved ball, and my “Crying Lightning” speed pitch just hours ago.  I smiled now, and said to Taylor, ‘Anticipation has a way of setting you up.’

The next time I caught my own reflection, the signal beacon was altogether carried away, and the Berouw then lay high upon the shore among the cocoanut trees. Also the revenue cutter lay aground, and some native boats which had been lying in the neighborhood at anchor were no more to be seen.  A few islanders must have escaped to the relatively higher ground atop the ball field, but how many?

Since it was very dangerous to stay where we were, and since if we stayed we could render no assistance, we concluded to proceed to Anjer under steam, and there to give information of what had taken place, weighed anchor at 7:30 a.m., and following the direction of the bay steered thereupon southwards.

At 10 a.m. we were obliged to come to anchor in the bay in 15 fathoms [27,5m] of water because the ash rain kept continually growing thicker and thicker, and pumice-stone also began to be rained, of which some pieces were several inches thick.  Live Oak Taylor and many of the male passengers began to clear these off the deck, lest we should capsize under the weight of this dangerous slop.

The air grew steadily darker and darker, and at 10:30 a.m. we were in total darkness, just the same as on a very dark night. The wind was from the west-ward, and began to increase till it reached the force of a hurricane. So we let down both anchors and kept the screw turning slowly at half speed in order to ride over the terribly high seas which kept suddenly striking us presumably in consequence of a “sea quake,” and made us dread being buried under them. The passengers for the most part were sent below.

Heavy storms, and prayers for any who made it alive to the top of Merat.  

The lightning struck the mainmast conductor six or seven times, but no damage. The rain of pumice-stones changed to a violent mud rain, and this mud rain was so heavy that in the space of ten minutes the mud lay half a foot deep. Kept steaming with the head of the ship as far as possible seawards for half an hour when the sea began to abate, and at noon the wind dropped away entirely. Then we stopped the engine. The darkness however remained as before, as did also the mud rain.

Of Merat, nothing could be ascertained from my spyglass but the small tip of the tallest hill, barely rising above the violent, frothing ocean. Perhaps my eyes deceived me in the inky blackness, but as the lightning struck around us, I thought I could make out a single, solitary figure at the pinnacle of the hill, driving a batted ball into the darkness of the great, black wave that thundered toward him, a vast mountain of sea distilled to its most awesome fury.” (Report from Captain T. H. LINDEMANN, 1883)

It was later reported that of the approximately 2,700 people on the island of Merak, only three survived the 135 foot tidal wave.

To read the original account of Captain Lindemann in its entirety, please click on the link below:

I’ve also added a music video to accompany this tale.  Enjoy.

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