Recalling Padre Bob Barton’s Big Blast Of 1971 (Or, The Win That Got Away)

Posted August 31st, 2010 by Tom Owens and filed in Bob Barton, Dick Dietz, Doug Harvey, Johnny Bench, Tom Haller, Willie Mays, Willie McCovey
Grand Salami Time!

Bob Barton may have been one of baseball’s most chatty catchers.

Judging from his awesome letter, the receptive receiver seems capable of engaging any hitter in conversation. I think pitchers would have loved facing distracted batsmen.

Barton noted that some umpires were happy to converse, too. He noted one in particular, writing:

“Had a lot of conversations with Doug Harvey. He was just elected to the Hall of Fame. Great umpire. Good guy. We became friends.”

I discovered that Barton belted a 1971 grand slam. That was only the beginning to an epic story. Barton continued:

“I hit the grand slam against my old teammates, the Giants, in Candlestick Park in the top of the ninth with two outs to put us in front, 9-5, as the score was obviously tied. In the bottom of the ninth, the Giants scored five runs to beat us, 10-9 (I was with the Padres).

“We got 2 guys out in that bottom of the ninth before a dear friend of mine, Dick Dietz, hit a 3-run, 2-out double to clear the bases and drive in the 8th, 9th and 10th runs to beat us. The two hitters we got out before Dick hit the double were a couple of pretty good hitters — their names — Willie Mays and Willie McCovey!

“True Story! Enjoy!”

Barton noted his career potential:

“Nine passed balls in eight years in the M.L. with a throwing-out potential base stealers of 43%. Might be an all-time best of the two together. Proud of that.

“But I got caught behind two all-star catchers, Tom Haller in S.F. and [Johnny] Bench in Cincinnati. Frustrating not getting to play more. Made five all-star teams on my way to the M.L. in the minors.”

Old catchers are sponges. They soak up all the game’s details. The Bob Bartons of baseball history have so much to share. I hope someone keeps asking.

(If you hadn’t guessed, www.retrosheet.org did it again. Barton’s big day brought to life. Thanks, guys!)

Red Rudy Minarcin Mastered the ’55 Dodgers

Posted August 30th, 2010 by Tom Owens and filed in 1955 Brooklyn Dodgers, Rudy Minarcin

Even at age 80, I’m sure Rudy Minarcin can produce the same smile seen on his two classic baseball cards.

How?

Just ask him about the 1955 Brooklyn Dodgers.

Based on June 15’s outcome, few would have thought the Dodgers would be that year’s World Series winners. Not after the pitcher nicknamed “Buster” beat Brooklyn with a four-hitter.

Looking at Minarcin’s letter, I think he may have enjoyed it. He wrote:

“The game against Dodgers was the best and happiest day of my life. It was great for me.”

Of course, the heroes at http://www.restrosheet.org/ have documented Minarcin’s milestone game.

Minarcin has kept smiling, despite his abbreviated career. He explained:

“My life in baseball was very enjoyable. I would play for nothing. That’s what I thought about the game of baseball. I got an ACL [injury] and the doctors didn’t know how to fix it back then. That’s what put me out of baseball. It was a very big disappointment for me.”

Cub Mark Prior Showed Good Letters Count

Posted August 28th, 2010 by Tom Owens and filed in Jim Hendry, Mark Prior

Why would you have an autographed newspaper clipping?

Because a rookie sensation clipped it out for me.

In 2002, I had attended the Iowa Cubs AAA games that launched pitcher Mark Prior to Stephen Strasburg-like potential. I watched visiting players on their dugout steps, staring and gasping like fanboys. I picked out Chicago general manager Jim Hendry in a Des Moines skybox nodding again and again for each strike, grinning like he just hit the lottery.

I wrote all this to Prior the week Chicago promoted him. I told him how meaningful it was to be part of his ascent to the majors. Plus, I mentioned that I thought I’d never afford the autographs offered in the team gift shop. However, I was enclosing a 9-by-12 SASE. Please, would he have a couple of photos to send to me and my brother?

Enclosed were two carefully-clipped color photos, one from the Tribune, one from the Sun-Times. Both showed that famous pinched Prior signature.

The moral? Forget the form letter. Lose the canned paragraphs. Dream big. Be personal every time. There’s no better way to beat those major league odds.