Monday, January 28, 2008

downtown dale long

dale long
Dale Long from Wikipedia

A native of Springfield, Missouri, the 6-4, 210 pound teenager Dale Long turned down a try out from the Green Bay Packers just as WW2 was ending in 1945. He wanted to try his hand at baseball instead. At first, it looked like he may have made the wrong decision.

Long spent six seasons in the minor leagues playing for five different organizations before he finally got his shot with the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1951. He played sparingly, hit less (his average was .167), and was waived. The St. Louis Browns picked him up in mid season and let him go at the end of the year.

He spent 3-1/2 more years toiling in the minors (he ended up playing for 15 minor league clubs) before the Bucs gave the 29 year old Long another chance in 1955. He took advantage of the opportunity, batting .291 with 79 RBI, 19 doubles, 13 triples and 16 home runs.

In 1956, Long posted career-highs with 27 home runs and 91 RBI. He added 7 more triples to his resume, a tribute to the vast expanse of Forbes Field's outfield more than the big galoot's speed around the basepaths. He much preferred a home run trot. Long earned a spot on the NL All-Star team that year.

But he made his claim to baseball fame that season by hitting home runs in eight consecutive games. Since then, the mark has been matched only by Don Mattingly in 1987 and Ken Griffey, Jr. in 1993. Not bad company to be in, hey? And the Pirates needed a bright spot - they would end the year in seventh place, 27 games behind the NL champion Brooklyn Dodgers.

The streak started at home on May 19 when he homered off the Cub's Jim Davis. In the next half dozen games, Long took Ray Crone, Warren Spahn, Herman Wehmeier, Lindy McDaniel, Curt Simmons and Ben Flowers deep.

He came home to a frenzied sell out crowd of 32,000 at Forbes Field howling for another blast. It wouldn't be easy. The Brooklyn Dodgers were in town and throwing Carl Erksine at the Bucs. He had no-hit the Giants just two weeks earlier.

His first at bat resulted in a weak infield roller. But his next appearance put him in the history books. After painfully fouling a ball off of his ankle, he launched one over the right field screen.

Bob Skinner sat patiently on deck as the delighted Forbes Field faithful erupted. The din went on for ten minutes until his teammates finally pushed him out of the dugout to take a bow. It was said to be the first curtain call in baseball history.

But fame is indeed fleeting. He was traded to the Chicago Cubs in May 1957 with Lee Walls for Gene Baker and Dee Fondy. Long belted 55 homers for the Cubs in two and a half seasons in the cozy confines of Wrigley Field.

And he got his name into the record books yet again. In 1958 Long became the first left-handed throwing catcher since 1906. He was behind the dish for all of two games, wearing his first baseman's glove (there was no such thing as a lefty catcher's mitt), and was credited with one assist and one passed ball in his brief time sporting the tools of ignorance. Another Buc, Benny Distefano, was the last lefty to catch, back in 1989.

In 1959 he tied another record when he hit back-to-back pinch-hit homers.

In 1960 Long split the year between the San Francisco Giants and New York Yankees. He got to face the Pirates again in the World Series, and went 1-3 as a pinch hitter against his former mates.

Long played for the Washington Senators from 1961-62 and ended the season as a member of the Yankee team that won the World Series over the Giants. Long went 1-5, spelling Moose Skowron at first base. He finished his playing days with New York in 1963.

After an 10 year MLB career, he retired to become a Yankee coach and later worked as a minor league umpire and executive. He hit .267 with 132 home runs and 467 RBI in 1,013 games and got a world series ring during his time in the majors.

Dale Long died of cancer in Palm Coast, Florida in 1991 at the age of 64.

"You can shake a dozen glove men out of a tree, but the bat separates the men from the boys." - Dale Long

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