Thursday, April 6, 2017

4/6 Through the 70s: #21 Retired; Strike; Small Ball Dock, HBD Smokey, Sonny & Bert; RIP Doggie

  • 1885 - Hall of Fame RHP Smokey Joe (Cyclone) Williams was born Seguin, Texas. The fireballer pitched for the Homestead Grays from 1925-32. In a night game against the KC Monarchs, Williams allowed only one hit and struck out 27 batters as the Homestead Grays defeated the Monarchs and Chet Brewer (who had 19 K) 1-0 in twelve innings in what may have been the greatest pitching duel of all time. A 1952 Pittsburgh Courier newspaper poll of black baseball officials and sports writers named Williams the greatest pitcher in the history of the Negro Leagues and he was 9-2-1 barnstorming against white major-league teams with four shutouts, so his stuff played no matter what the level of competition. His nicknames were both based on his blazing fastball; Smokey Joe became his moniker during his Grays’ years, replacing Cyclone Joe.
Smokey Joe Williams (photo Matt Rucker/Getty)
  • 1909 - One of Pittsburgh’s most popular and colorful figures, George “Doggie” Miller, passed away in New Jersey. The C (he also played 2B, SS, 3B & OF) was the first player to spend 10 seasons with Pittsburgh, starting in 1884 as a 19-year-old for the Alleghenys, and he and Pud Galvin formed Pittsburgh’s first big-time battery. He hit .254 over his Steel City decade and was thus described by Alfred Spink in 1910’s The National Game: “Miller, a stocky little fellow full of life and comedy, was a type of the old-time ballplayer - frolicsome, boisterous, playing the game for all there was in it every day and spending all his money merrily at night...The Pittsburgh fans considered him a marvel in every way.” He was also the only MLB player ever to be dubbed “Doggie” - he bred dogs - or “Calliope” for his foghorn voice; in fact he was aka “Foghorn” too.
  • 1931 - 3B Emanuel “Sonny” Senerchia was born in Newark. He only played one MLB season, appearing for the Pirates in 1952 and batting .220 in 100 AB, but may have been the most interesting man to ever play in Forbes Field per his Wikipedia bio. Senerchia was an accomplished violinist as a boy, appearing at Carnegie Hall at the age of 10 and as an adult, he was a concert violinist for several symphonies. He also performed with Pearl Bailey, Jack Benny, and others as a jazz musician, playing clarinet, sax, flute and piano in various bands. Outside of music, Senerchia became a teacher & baseball manager at Monmouth University and was also was a race car driver, private pilot, and local TV & radio sports celeb. Sonny sadly but not surprisingly left this vale with his boots on - he died after a motorcycle accident at the age of 72.
Bert Blyleven 1979 Topps
  • 1951 - Rik Aalbert “Bert” Blyleven was born in Zeist, Netherlands. The Hall-of-Fame righty with the legendary hook pitched three seasons for the Pirates (1978-80) before being traded to the Indians for beads and trinkets after locking horns with Chuck Tanner. The Dutchman went 34-28 for the Bucs with a 3.47 ERA, six shutouts and worked 697-2/3 frames for the team. Oddly, his beef was getting pulled too quickly, so he apparently didn’t think 230+ innings/season was much of a load.
  • 1971 - It’s the little things that win ballgames. Before 39‚712 fans, the Pirates took a 4-2 win from the Phils at TRS’ first home opener. Dock Ellis won and laid down three sac bunts, one being a suicide squeeze to plate a score and another setting up an eventual run while the Phillies self-destructed with four errors that led to two unearned runs. Ellis went the distance, giving up eight hits and whiffing eight.
  • 1972 - It was supposed to be Opening Day and Bill Virdon’s managerial debut, but the player’s strike put the brakes to those happenings. Bucco GM Joe Brown reached out to player rep Dave Giusti and opened Three Rivers Stadium for the locally based players to work out if they so desired. 18 players did show up, as did the MLBPA’s Marvin Miller (Dock Ellis was the only Pirate in the area not to attend, and he worked out at the Pitt Field House). But the Pirates good-will gesture was short-lived. On the same day, NL President Chub Feeney ordered all the parks off limits to the players until a contract was reached.
Roberto Clemente 1973 Topps Retired Number
  • 1973 - 51‚695 fans were on hand at Three Rivers Stadium as number 21 of Roberto Clemente was retired. The Pirates then beat St. Louis‚ 7-5‚ staging an eighth inning rally that saw the Bucs score five times after two were down, keyed by a Richie Hebner double and Gene Clines three-bagger. Other honors for the Great One: PNC Park’s right field fence is now known as the Clemente Wall, and reaches 21’ high to commemorate his number while his statue sits outside the CF gates of the yard. And the players wore the round #21 patch on their uniforms for the season to commemorate Clemente after sporting black ribbons during spring training. At the All-Star Game in Pittsburgh on July 11th, 2006, players on both squads wore yellow wristbands with the initials "RWC" in honor of Clemente. He also has a street, bridge, and park named after him, a museum, a Susan Wagner statue and a bushel basket of awards.

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