Baseball 101 – September 30, 1972

Saturday, September 30, 1972: 

Before games are played this day, this is where the teams stood.

  1. Boston   84-67     –
  2. Detroit    83-69   1.5

Milwaukee v. Detroit 

The Tigers sent Joe Coleman to the mound to face off against Skip Lockwood. Coleman was a young pitcher in the middle of a terrific three year run with the Tigers. He had come to the Tigers in 1971 in one of the worst trades ever made by the Washington Senators. Afer the trade, this is what he did for the next three years with the Tigers:

  • 1971 – 20-9 with a 3.15 ERA
  • 1972 – 19-14 with a 2.80 ERA
  • 1973 – 23-15 with a 3.53 ERA

He tossed 280+ innings each of those three years encompassing his age 24-26 seasons.  He would slowly drop off after that and would be out of baseball at age 32 but really a shell of himself by age 28. This is another sad story of a stud young pitcher who, for whatever reason, flames out. Too many inning pitched? Bad luck? Bad genes? Anyway, it worked out for the Tigers for three years.

The Senators were not so lucky. They got Denny McLain in the deal. Now, McLain had been a great pitcher in 1968 and 1969 when he won 31 and 24 games. You read that right, he won 31 games in 1968, the last pitcher to win 30 games. McLain was a gifted pitcher for those two years ,but then his life went awry.

In 1970, Sports Illustrated published a story about McLain’s involvement with bookmaking activities. He was suspended for the first three months of the 1970 season by Commissioner Bowie Kuhn. When he returned to the Tigers he did not pitch well and things continued to spiral downward. He would receive another suspension, this of the seven day variety for dumping a bucket of water on two Detroit sportswriters.  Then, when that suspsenion was up he was suspended for the rest of the season for carrying a gun on a team flight.  Sounds like trouble, doesn’t it?

On top of that, McLain, despite being the Tigers first $100,000 player, filed for bankruptcy. Despite all this baggage, the Senators figured they’d take a flyer on McLain and “buy low” as they say.  Unfortunatley for them it wasn’t really a buy low situation for the cost was one of their best young pitchers, far from a low cost. As Bowie Kuhn would later say, he thought it was a “foolish gamble.” On top of that, Senators manager Ted Williams, yep that Ted Williams, wanted nothing to do with McLain and his high living lifestyle. McLain spent the 1971 season feuding with Williams, trying to get him fired. He was a shell of himself and would go 10-22 with a 4.28 ERA for the Senators. He would be traded away the next year.

Fortunately for the Tigers, Coleman was no Denny McLain. A bit of background on Coleman. He grew up in Natick, MA. His father, Joe Coleman Sr., pitched for the Philadelphia Athletics for many years, finishing with a 52-76, 4.38 record.  Coleman  was the third overall pick by the Senators in the 1965 draft and was sent immediately to AA, where he struggled. But, the Senators still gave him a September call up. Coleman was all of 18 years old. As often happens, he surprised the world by promptly winning his first two starts, both complete game victories. He did not pitch again in the majors again until the end of the 1966 season. He then threw another complete game, beating the Sox 3-2. He was 19 and had won his first three major league starts, all complete games.* His whole life was spread out in front of him. I’m sure he could see the stardom in his future. Great things were possible. But, it  didn’t turn out that way for him.  While still pretty good through his age 26 season, he just didn’t make it to the superstar level. He had three great years and then not much else. This happens all too often. It is so hard to be a great ballplayer for an extended period of time.

*There have been only six pitchers that started their careers with 3 straight complete game wins. Coleman was the only one under the age of 20.

  1. John Whitehead
  2. Stu Miller
  3. Juan Marichal
  4. Dave Ferriss
  5. Joe Coleman
  6. Craig Chamberlain

In 1972, Coleman wasn’t even the best pitcher on his team. He played second fiddle to staff ace Mickey Lolich. This is evidenced by the fact that the Tiger rotation was set up so that Lolich would pitch the first game of the Boston series. Despite being the number two man, Coleman was a key figure for the Tigers and got the ball in the middle game of the Brewer series. And, importantly, he’d be the starter for the final game of the Boston series – the final game of the season for one of the two teams.

HIs opponent on this day was Skip Lockwood, another 25 year old but not quite of the same pedigree as Coleman.  Lockwood would end the year 8-15 with 3.60 ERA. His ERA+ was 84 so he was a below average pitcher. The Tigers made quick work of Lockwood, knocking him out in the first inning after he retired only two batters.  The killer blow was a three run homer by Tiger shortstop Ed Brinkman which put the Tigers up 6-0.  The Brewers clawed back a bit, scoring two in the 8th to close the gap to 8-4 but the Tigers were having none of this comeback stuff and rudely sent the Brewers on their way by scoring five runs in the bottom of the 8th to complete a 13-4 drubbing.  The Brewers did not put up much of a fight the first two games of this series, allowing 12 and 13 runs.

Sox fans could only hope that the Sunday finale would turn out better. The Tigers had tapped John Hiller as the series finale starter. Hiller had suffered a heart attack in 1971 and had not made the team out of spring training. Hiller started the 1972 season as a batting practice pitcher. He was recalled in July and had appeared in 22 games, making two other spot starts. Starts that lasted three and four innings each. Hiller had pitched well, but it looked as if the Tigers would need to get into their bullpen before the Sox series and tire some guys out. Sox fans were rooting for a Brewers offensive awakening.

On a final note, this Tigers win eliminated the Yankees from the pennant race.

Meanwhile ….

Boston v. Baltimore

Marty Pattin v. Pat Dobson

Another good pitching matchup. Dobson went 20-8 the year before. What was remarkable about that year was the three other Orioles who won 20+ games as well: Jim Palmer, Mike Cuellar and Dave McNally. That was a pitching staff. One of only two teams to have four twenty game winners.* In 1972, Dobson wasn’t that much different a pitcher than he was in 1971, but his record was worse. He ended the 1972 season at 16-18. His ’72 ERA+ was identical to ’71, his WHIP was lower, he allowed fewer hits per 9 innings, allowed fewer homers per nine. He walked a tad more per nine and struck out a tad less, but overall, he was pretty much the same pitcher. As many numbers people argue, wins shouldn’t be how we value a pitcher. Pat Dobson ’72 v. Pat Dobson ’71 is a prime example of this.

*The other? The 1920 White Sox.

The game started off on the right foot, or should I say, the left bat of Yaz, who clubbed a single to center to drive in Tommy Harper who had singled and stolen second to start the game. The O’s did not get to Pattin until the third. Light hitting Mark Belanger singled to left and Dobson bunted him to second. With two outs, Paul Blair lined a single to right and the speedy Belanger came in ahead of the throw from Reggie Smith in right. I guess Dewey had not by this point in his rookie year found his way into his rightful outfield spot.

The Sox came right back in the top of the fourth. Reggie Smith singled and stole second, Rico Petrocelli singled softly to right and Smith moved to third.  Fisk was walked and up came Dewey with the bases loaded and nobody out. Dewey grounded into a double play but Reggie Smith managed to score from third. That was all the Sox could eke out from the bases loaded situation. The game remained a tense one for Sox fans.

In the top of the 8th, Dobson was replaced by Grant Jackson, a decent lefty who had a productive 18 year career. Jackson was brought on to face Yaz and the switch hitting Reggie Smith. The move backfired. Yaz worked the count to 2-2. Jackson threw him a curveball that Yaz nearly chased but held up. The home plate umpire, Jim Odom, indicated that Yaz had indeed  checked his swing. Earl Weaver erupted from the bench. Spit flew as he went into a tirade with Odom. When Odom refused to consult with the third base umpire, Earl lost it and got himself tossed. Wouldn’t you know it, but the next pitch was a grooved fastball from Jackson and Yaz took it deep into the night to give the Sox a 3-1 lead.  Phew, time to breath easy Sox fans. But no, the excitement was not over.

Pattin started the ninth by giving up a hit to Brooks Robinson, who was replaced by pinch runner Al Bumbry. Bumbry was in his rookie season and had only been called up earlier that month. Just two years earlier, Bumbry was in Vietnam. While in college he joined the Reserve Officer Training Corp so that he would be assured of finishing school before being drafted to go to Vietnam. After his return from Vietnam, he started his baseball career but admitted it did not have the same significance to him after his war experience. On a more mundane note, he was known as the “fastest player in Oriole history.” His speed would get him in trouble this game.

Pattin then walked Bobby Grich and that was the end of his evening.  Two on and nobody out and only up by two. Ouch. Eddie Kasko, the Sox manager, called for Bob Veale to come on in relief. Veale got Johnny Oates to foul out on his third bunt attempt. One down. I must suggest here that Weaver must have been irate at the decision to have Oates sacrfice. Weaver hated giving up outs.  Next up was Davey Johnson*, pinch hitting for Mark Belanger.

*Oddly, both Oates and Johnson would go on to manage in the big leagues. And, both managed the Orioles for a time. Oates from 1991-1994 and Johnson from 1996-1997.

Johnson got behind in the count 1-2. Veale threw a strike over the inside part of the plate, and as he wound up, Bumbry broke for third.

“I was surprised,” said Rico Petrocelli the third baseman. As if in harmony, Fisk added, “I was surprised.” Surprised or not, Johnson was out on a called third strike (out number two) and Fisk took a short step to his right to get a good angle for his throw and to avoid Johnson. Fisk fired and Petrocelli received the ball knee high. “Perfect. I took the ball and swept it around and had the guy by a little bit. It was some throw and I’ve never seen a game end that way in my whole life,” said Petrocelli.

Another win for the Sox. They had managed to keep their meager 1.5 game lead over the Tigers. One more game with the O’s before heading of to Detroit. Up next, though, another tough O’s pitcher, Mike Cuellar, the Cy Young winner in 1969 and winner of 20+ games each of the previous three seasons.

A final note, Clemente got his 3,000th hit this day.

Tomorrow – Sunday, October 1, 1972.

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