MONDAY, AUGUST 11
PIRATES—The sign on the chartered city bus taking the team to Atlanta Stadium is ironic. It offers "priority seating" for "the elderly and the handicapped," and recently the ailing Eastern Division leaders have appeared to be a little bit of both. They have lost 11 of 15 games and six of seven so far on this road trip, and their 5½-game lead of July 27 is now down to two over Philadelphia, 5½ over onrushing St. Louis. In the last two weeks they have averaged only three runs a game and their team batting average has plunged eight points. Despite a team meeting in St. Louis and extra batting practice in Houston, the Pirates, says Manager Danny Murtaugh, are in the worst slump he has ever seen.
But even without Willie Stargell, who flew home to Pittsburgh today with a fractured rib, the Pirates are an unlikely victim of hitting anemia. As they rip and snort in the batting cage before the game, lining frozen ropes to the outfield and 'taters into the seats, their recovery appears imminent.
And sure enough, Pittsburgh wins 8-1. A five-hit, six-run ninth, the biggest Pirate inning in two months, ends their longest losing streak of the year at five games. Murtaugh lets out a deep sigh. "Maybe we're out of it."—LARRY KEITH.
August 24, 1975
PHILLIES—There are two terribly nervous people among the 42,079 in Veterans Stadium this steamy night. Byrum Saam, who has been broadcasting Philadelphia baseball for 38 years, announces before the game that this season will be his last. Saam is popular in Philly for being funny when he is trying not to be. Several years ago he described what must have been a grisly episode: "Alex Johnson is going back.... He's going back, back. His head hits the wall. It bounces off. He reaches down, picks it up and throws it in to second base." Saam is 60 now. His solemn announcement over, he sits perspiring up there in the radio booth, nearly four decades of memories and malaprops rushing past.
Larry Christenson, who is only 21, is equally unsettled down on the pitcher's mound. He is facing the Dodgers on national television, and he is wild. He needs calming. He does not get it. His manager, Danny Ozark, orders him to walk Bill Russell, a .187 hitter, with one out and two on in the second to get to opposing Pitcher Andy Messersmith. His catcher, Bob Boone, calls for a futile pitchout on the first pitch, and Christenson, in his wildness, never catches up with the count. He walks Messersmith with the bases loaded. Then Davey Lopes hits a line drive to center which Garry Maddox loses sight of. It falls for a two-run double. Maddox says later that he could not see the ball because Christenson on the mound blocked his view. The Phillies lose 7-1 and fall three games behind the Pirates. Christenson is miserable. Byrum Saam is cooled down now. For him it is just another game, about his 6,500th.—RON FIMRITE
CARDINALS—After winning eight of 10 and the last four in a row, St. Louis loses to the Astros tonight 7-2 to fall 6½ games behind the Pirates and 3½ behind the Phillies. Nevertheless, the Cards have begun to show they can play inspired, if not brilliant, baseball after having been in the lower half of the division for months. They have begun to glow like a winner. They have become lucky (a sure sign of abilities jelling) and they have remained relatively healthy, although they did play tonight without Willie Davis, who was absent for "personal" reasons. Davis, who had hit safely in 20 of his last 23 games, is a strange man. He wanders through the hotel lobby carrying his elaborate hi-fi system with its earplug in his ear, while at the ball park he curls up on the trainer's table in a fetal position and then drapes a towel over his head as if all his waking moments are consumed by an attempt to blot out some psychic discomfort.—PAT JORDAN
PIRATES—They lose 3-2 when two of their best hitters, Al Oliver and Dave Parker, leave runners stranded at second and third in the ninth inning. Oliver pops to first, Parker grounds to second and a fine pitching performance by Bruce Kison is wasted. In the dressing room the usually placid Murtaugh indicates his renewed displeasure by answering reporters' questions loud enough for the offending players to hear. "We can't get anybody to get a bleeping hit," he fumes. "The third and fourth bleeping hitters were up there and couldn't do it." Across the quiet room Parker gets the message, "Constructive criticism," he calls it.
To a man the imperturbable Pirates consider their decline a painful aberration which must be temporarily endured. "People in Pittsburgh may think we're blowing it," says Third Baseman Richie Hebner, "but you're going to have losing streaks. All you can do is wait them out." Nor are they particularly bothered by the tightening division race. They may cast an occasional glance at the scoreboard to check the progress of Philadelphia and St. Louis, but they admit to no pennant pressure. Hebner says, "We've been through it before, and we know how to deal with it."—LARRY KEITH
PHILLIES—Poor Danny Ozark. Even when he does something right, it is wrong. Tonight, in the 10th inning, he makes what is called in baseball parlance a "percentage move." He orders the Dodgers' leading RBI man, Ron Cey, walked with a runner on second base and one out. He has bypassed a dangerous hitter and set up a possible double play. Furthermore, the next hitter, Steve Yeager, has never been able to do much more than hit loud fouls off reliever Gene Garber. Ozark is using his head this time, right? Wrong. Yeager hits a three-run homer and the Dodgers win 7-6. The Phillies miss another chance to close in on the plummeting Pirates, whom they are chasing, as Tom Cushman of The Philadelphia Daily News puts it, "like they are wearing banana peels on both feet." The Evening Bulletin's Jim Barniak is sympathetic toward Ozark. One of the reasons the sad-visaged, big-eared manager is so unpopular with the fans and the local press, Barniak writes, is that "he doesn't look so hot."—RON FIMRITE
CARDINALS—If Al Hrabosky, throwing only heat, cranked up any tighter, he'd bust a spring. He grunts a fastball to the plate. Doug Rader, the Astros' muscular third baseman, uncoils with such force one fears that if he misses, he will corkscrew himself into the ground. It is the bottom of the eighth, runners on first and second, two out, a 3-and-2 count and the Cards leading 5-1. They have built their lead on the hitting of Catcher Ted Simmons. In the past two months Simmons has raised his average from the .280s to .345 and a tie for the league lead with the Cubs' Bill Madlock. Simmons, who has silky shoulder-length hair and the dreamy fluttery-lidded eyes of a sensitive hippie, went 4-for-4 yesterday, singled his first time up today and hit a two-run homer in the sixth. Rader sends Hrabosky's 3-and-2 fastball over the left-centerfield wall to bring the Astros within one run. Undaunted, Hrabosky retires the next batter, and in the ninth he fans the side on fastballs. The Cards' win, coupled with the Pirates' and Phillies' losses tonight, puts them back to within 5½ games of the top.—PAT JORDAN
PIRATES—The agonies of a pennant fight seem remote when your closest pursuer is losing four straight games and you are playing before disinterested crowds of 4,450. Besides, Pittsburgh may be the loosest team in baseball. One just never knows whom Hebner's rubber snake will terrorize next or when Pitcher Dock Ellis will start agitating.
Of course the Pirates care that they lost the last game of the Atlanta series tonight 4-3. One player points out that the seventh-inning double that put Ralph Garr in position to score the tying run occurred because Hebner was not protecting the line at third. "There's no excuse for mental mistakes," he says. "We make a lot, but lately we haven't been hitting well enough to overcome them."
The Pirates are all but reveling in their ineptitude. As they fly from Atlanta to Cincinnati, Pitcher Jerry Reuss suggests that victory symbols like the Green Weanie and the Babushka are no longer appropriate. In the future, he says, all Pittsburgh fans must carry clothespins befitting a new slogan: "We Stink."
The jaunty Pirates hum Taps on their one a.m. bus ride from the airport to the hotel in Cincinnati.—LARRY KEITH
PHILLIES—The rain falls for two hours and 20 minutes on 34,919 patient but angry fans. It only postpones the inevitable: another Phillies loss, their fourth in a row and the third straight to the Dodgers. The fans are here to boo, and the rain does not dampen their malevolent spirit. They boo Pitching Coach Ray Rippelmeyer as he gallantly helps the ground crew secure the tarpaulin against the storm. They boo Danny Ozark when he leaves the dugout. And they boo the once-revered Steve Carlton, the losing pitcher in this 5-4 debacle. Carlton in person and Ozark by implication are booed in the third inning when the manager permits the pitcher to bat for himself with two runners on base, nobody out and his team already behind 4-0. Carlton grounds into a double play that snuffs a rally. "It was a gamble," says Ozark wearily. "Steve's a fairly decent hitter." Steve was hitting .136. There are soggy banners hoisted in the grandstand which read FIRE OZARK NOW. The Phillies are still three games behind, treading on banana peels.—RON FIMRITE
CARDINALS—It is one of those seductive certain-victories-to-be (three quick runs in the second and then a stack of scoreless innings) which can lull a team to sleep, and which, if the team isn't careful, can become a sudden loss. Cardinal Pitcher Bob Forsch is working on a 3-1 five-hitter going into the ninth when Milt May, the Astros' catcher, singles and Doug Rader follows with his second home run in two days. Hrabosky comes on belatedly to retire the side. The Cards score a go-ahead run in the 11th, and then in the bottom of that inning 39-year-old Bob Gibson comes in. He has not pitched since Aug. 1, and then only in relief. He probably will never start another game for the Cards. He fans the first batter, and then the second takes three straight strikes and the third is called out looking. It is Gibson's second save of the year and his most important. Now the Cards are only 4½ games out. In the clubhouse the players file by to shake Gibson's hand. "Nice going, rookie," some of them say.—PAT JORDAN
PIRATES—Pittsburgh is ready to break out. You can feel it. Second Baseman Rennie Stennett predicted it in Houston last week. "You know we're not going to play bad in Cincinnati," he said.
But come inside the visitors' dressing room at Riverfront Stadium and see for yourself. Catcher Manny Sanguillen shaved his head again today. He's ready. Parker is rubbing himself down with a religious medal. He's ready. Leftfielder Richie Zisk is shaking a Green Weanie all around Oliver. Both of them are ready. Whoa, now, look out—First Baseman Bob Robertson is racing around the room with a grocery cart filled with dirty laundry. He must be ready, too. How can Pitcher Ken Brett read with all this going on? And has anybody seen Hebner's snake? Is it ready?
What's this? Parker is threatening to put an ax blade in the back of Sanguillen's "wrinkled head." The Black Adonis is always threatening somebody, but this looks serious because now the gap-toothed Panamanian is stalking Parker as if he has a knife tucked under his sweat shirt. Whew! Big joke. No knife and no ax, either. Everything's in fun. The madcap Pirates are psyching up.
Their minds sharp, their bodies poised for action, the Pirates get all of four hits and lose 6-1. "Well, there's one good thing about it," Reuss says, "We're a day closer to getting this slump over with."—LARRY KEITH
PHILLIES—A merciful day off. In repose the Phillies accomplish what they have been unable to do in action: they gain on the Pirates. By sitting still while the front-runners lose, they advance half a game. But they are not entirely inactive, attending, virtually en masse, the wedding of Pitcher Dick Ruthven to Sue Harper of Largo, Fla., at St. Rita's Church in South Philadelphia. Did the serene nuptials dispel the fears of his faltering legions, Ozark is asked. "Probably the only one it loosened up was Ruthven," says the manager, whose own uptightness verges on the terminal, what with fans and newspapers daily demanding his resignation or dismissal. Ozark, looking more lachrymose than ever, announces cheerlessly that bridegroom Ruthven will start tomorrow against San Diego. "The last time I started a guy who was just married was in the minors," Ozark says. "A centerfielder named Dick Smith. He got hit on the head by a fly ball."—RON FIMRITE
CARDINALS—St. Louis chips away at an early Atlanta lead until, in the eighth, the Cards load the bases with none out. Ted Simmons works Ray Sadecki to a 2-0 count—and pops up. The next two batters fail to deliver, and the Cards are beaten 6-4.
In the clubhouse Simmons emerges from the shower room arguing softly with Coach Vern Benson. Simmons' teammates all like him—they call him Simba as in lion—but they consider him odd. "The biggest flake in baseball," says Gibson. There is his shoulder-length hair, his sustained silences, his habit of sleeping long hours in his room during the day and seldom joining them in their pursuits. Simmons, however, is sensitive in a way few ballplayers can fathom. He has caught 106 games so far this year, and he is an exhausted young man.
Now, he says to Benson, "So if I walk we lose 6-5, man. That's all. But you blew your cool. I mean, telling me I'm worrying only about an RBI." He goes on, "But that's cool. You find out about a man." And he walks away. Vern Benson says nothing. He was born 50 years ago in Granite Quarry, N.C. and has been in baseball all his life. He stares after Simmons and his shoulder-length hair. Benson sits down. He is a pleasant man and he would like to understand Ted Simmons.—PAT JORDAN
PIRATES—Danny Murtaugh is up to his tobacco wad in problems. In the dressing room he announces that four new players will be in the lineup tonight. One of the benched starters is Oliver, a .294 lifetime batter with three hits in his last 44 appearances. "I know I'm not hitting," Oliver says, "but it bothers me that I'm overlooked when the team goes good and blamed when it goes bad. Maybe people will recognize now how important my hitting is."
Murtaugh does not believe the infusion of four players with a collective .227 average will help the Pirates, but he is confident the night off will be therapeutic for his regulars. After the evening's 8-3 loss to the Reds he even finds something to smile about. Noting two home runs and three doubles among the Pirates' seven hits, Murtaugh confidently announces, "The worst is behind us."—LARRY KEITH
PHILLIES—O wondrous day. Ruthven is not hit on the head. Instead, his single drives in the winning run as the Phillies stave off the Padres 4-3. But the newly-wed does not survive the fifth inning and does not receive credit for the game won by his fourth-inning hit. Tom Hilgendorf, a balding reliever who pitches 3‚Öì scoreless innings, is the winner, although he, too, needs help from the old "Better-Believer," Tug McGraw. The real heroes are the two brutish sluggers, Greg Luzinski and Mike Schmidt, who have the physiques of NFL running backs. Luz-inski hits his 30th homer and Schmidt his 26th to account for three of the four runs." Sure we were depressed by the loss streak," says Schmidt, "but it wasn't the end of the world." Asked about his manager's travails, the 225-pound Luzinski tersely replies, "I get paid to play the game, he gets paid to manage it." Ozark appears certain of managing it at least to the end of the season. "Danny Ozark is going to remain our manager, period," Team President Ruly Carpenter announces emphatically before the game, although conceding, "Danny Ozark is not a colorful person." Colorless Danny's win, coupled with yet another Pirate loss, moves the Phillies a game and a half from the top.—RON FIMRITE
CARDINALS—They get two beautifully pitched games from Ron Reed and Harry Rasmussen to take a pair from the Braves 4-1 and 2-1. And could it be? The Pirates lose again! The Cards are now three behind and looking more like a winner every day.
Reed, called Junior by his teammates, is a recent acquisition from these same Braves, and he has pitched well for the Cards (7-4). Rasmussen (2-2) is one of the many good young Cardinal pitchers who have virtually carried the club this past month. The others are Hrabosky (10-3), John Denny (7-3), Bob Forsch (11-8), Mike Garman (3-4), Hrabosky's bullpen partner, and John Curtis (8-9), who has yet to find himself. They are an excellent nucleus for the future, but can they carry the load this September?
A sad note. Willie Davis leaves the club again. More correctly, he takes to his hotel room and refuses to play. He has been placed on the Cards' disqualified list. His replacement is Hector Cruz, called up from Tulsa where he had 29 home runs and 115 RBIs. "That's cool," says Davis, "but nobody replaces Willie Davis." He has quit baseball, he says, because he will not play just to give his ex-wife alimony.—PAT JORDAN
PIRATES—Despite Murtaugh's belief, the worst is not behind them. They lose again to the Reds, 5-3, and Pitcher Dock Ellis accomplishes a rare double for any sport by being suspended twice in one day.
The first suspension of Ellis is a result of the pitcher's refusal to go to the bullpen in last night's game. Ellis had lost his place in the rotation because he had retired only one batter in his last two starts. Dock, however, did not exactly see it that way. "I should have been left in both times," he said, "They can't wait for me to mess up every time I go out to pitch."
The suspension is revoked 15 minutes later when Ellis calls Murtaugh to apologize. Tonight, Murtaugh assumes Ellis wants to apologize to the team when he requests a meeting before the game. Instead the pitcher begins a loud harangue directed mainly at the bewildered manager, who finally storms over to Ellis and offers to fight him. A coach intervenes and Murtaugh winds up separating coach and player. It may be the only serious exchange that has taken place in the dressing room all week.
Ellis changes to street clothes and spends the evening with friends in his hotel room. The second suspension is announced.
The Pirates are generally unsympathetic to Ellis. "This is a bad time for him to be thinking only of himself," says Ken Brett. Zisk adds, "If he had said those things about me, I'd have punched him."—LARRY KEITH
PHILLIES—"The Vet" is awash with nostalgia. The Whiz Kids, the Phillies' last pennant winners, are in town for a 25th anniversary celebration, and they are welcomed affectionately. The Vet is also just plain awash. It starts raining half an hour before the oldtimers' game, which pits the Kids, now portly gentlemen in their late 40s and early 50s, against an "all-star" team composed of such ancients as Enos Slaughter, Bobby Thomson and Ted Kluszewski. Larry Shenk, the Phillies' publicity director, looks up at the leaden skies with disapproval. "I just wish I had some influence with The Man Upstairs," he says wistfully. Apparently he does, for the rain stops seconds before the interminable introductions. A crowd of 40,127 sees the Kids Robin Roberts, Del Ennis, Richie Ashburn, Dick Sisler, et al.—win again, 5-1 in two innings. The same cannot be said for the young fellows who wish to supplant them as the town's new pennant winners. They lose 5-1, when the Padres score four runs in the ninth. They are seemingly bewitched by the sight of a Pittsburgh loss on their multiple scoreboards. "We look up and see they've lost, and we're still playing," says the reprieved but still frustrated Ozark. "Then we lose." Stalled again, the Phillies still trail by a game and a half.—RON FIMRITE
CARDINALS—Bob Gibson relieves in the seventh tonight with the Cards leading 7-6. He pitches two fine scoreless innings, but then a hit, two walks and a sliced single that lands on the left-field chalk line send him, head bowed, into the clubhouse. He loses 8-7. What a difference a couple of days makes.
"It's degrading to see him go out this way," says a Gibson teammate. "He could have gone out like a tiger. When he was taken out of the rotation he said he still had good stuff when he had nothing. But still, no matter what, he's got the gift. He can lift you right out of your seat."—PAT JORDAN
PIRATES—It took a week of determined effort, of gopher balls, defensive misplays and stranded runners, but we now have a gut-clutching pennant race. A 3-1 loss to Cincinnati, the Pirates' sixth in a row and 11th in 12 games, allows Philadelphia to draw within half a game and St. Louis within two. "The toughest job I've had this week," says Pirate broadcaster Bob Prince, "is covering up our mistakes."
Before the four-game series began, Reds Manager Sparky Anderson had said the Pirates were the team he would least like to face in the playoffs. "Too much hitting," he said. To prove him wrong, Pittsburgh pounded out an average of two runs and six hits a game.
"But we're still out front," says Parker. "It's like being in a footrace. You just run straight ahead and never look back."
Pittsburgh will start hitting again, no doubt of it, but the team could not have left Cincinnati at a better time. The Ohio Association of Cemetery Superintendents began a three-day meeting here today. —LARRY KEITH
PHILLIIS—Danny Ozark is in a reflective humor this day. "Some games you inevitably win," he says. "Others you just lose. The rest you play close to the belly. We've been losing the belly games lately, but we'll come out of it. I don't believe nice guys finish last. I consider myself a nice guy, and we're not gonna finish last. It doesn't bother me what people say about me, but I don't like them using that word 'fired.' That's a drab word. It implies outstanding negligence. Managers aren't really fired. They just relinquish their positions when teams go bad."
Nice guy Ozark's position seems more secure after a rollicking 10-4 win over the Padres, highlighted by tremendous back-to-back home runs in the third inning by hot-hitting Jay Johnstone and the Bull, Luzinski. The Bull's homer clears the centerfield fence and the fountains behind, its momentum finally smothered by the black canvas backdrop that hangs funereally from the bleacher railing. "I feel good physically," the Bull says afterward, standing beneath huge horns nailed above his locker. Tom Underwood, who is 21 but looks 15, is the winning pitcher, though he departs for a pinch hitter after giving up three runs in the seventh. "I got lazy," he says, looking very adolescent. The win closes a clumsy 5-7 home stand which, nonetheless, leaves the Phils but half a game back and eager for more belly games.—RON FIMRITE
CARDINALS—John Denny wins his second game of the week, 8-1. The 22-year-old rookie is 8-3 since being recalled from Tulsa in June. In a week of horrors for the teams above them, the Cards have dealt themselves into the race but good. Give Red Schoendienst credit for not overmanaging this team. He is a man of the laissez-faire school, not the dictatorial. He lets his players cultivate a plethora of facial and cranial hairstyles and imposes no curfew. Here in Atlanta, the Cardinals can be seen at all hours of the night.
But one wonders about Al Hrabosky. His "Mad Hungarian" routine has begun to wear thin. So far his pitching has suffered only fitfully, but September may tell a different story. For the time being, though, the Cards are ridin' easy. The week that was was theirs—PAT JORDAN