On May 29, 1976, Joe Niekro hit the only home run of his big league career, and he hit it off his older brother, Phil. Joe Niekro had a total of 973 at-bats in his career, and his one round-tripper contributed to a 4-3 win for the Astros over the Braves.
While it doesn’t look like there’s going to be the typical “Star Wars Night” promotions going at at ballparks tonight, it appears that ESPN has found another way to exploit the fan holiday. I won’t be watching the broadcast (I don’t have ESPN), but that won’t stop me from indulging in a Star Wars movie or two in honor of the day.
May the Force be with you all!
In a minor league exhibition game held on February 27, 2006, 19-year-old Koby Clemens of the Lexington Legends of the South Atlantic League hit a home run off his 43-year-old father, Roger Clemens. In Koby’s next at bat, Roger threw a brushback pitch at Koby in retaliation. The father-son duo would later play another game together in 2006, as the elder Clemens was making his comeback with the Astros and pitched a game for Lexington.
Donald Howard Sutton was born on April 2, 1945 in Clio, Alabama. In a career that spanned 23 years, Sutton had a career record of 324-256 and an ERA of 3.26 while pitching for the Dodgers, Houston Astros, Milwaukee Brewers, Oakland Athletics, and California Angels. 58 of his wins were shutouts, five of them one-hitters, and 10 were two-hitters. He is seventh on baseball’s all-time strikeout list with 3,574, and he was named to the All-Star team four times.
Sutton entered broadcasting after his retirement as a player. He worked in this capacity for a number of teams, the majority of which were with the Atlanta Braves. Sutton was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1998 with 81.61% of the vote. Sutton was also inducted into the Braves Hall of Fame in July 2015 for his work as a broadcaster.
According to the Baseball Hall of Fame, Sutton died at his home in Rancho Mirage, California, after a long struggle with cancer. He was 75 years old.
Rest in peace.
Legendary second baseman Joe Morgan played Major League Baseball for the Houston Astros, Cincinnati Reds, San Francisco Giants, Philadelphia Phillies, and Oakland Athletics from 1963 to 1984. Over the course of his career, Morgan won two World Series championships with the Reds in 1975 and 1976 and was also named the National League MVP in each of those years. Morgan was also a ten-time All-Star, a five-time Gold Glove winner, and won the Silver Slugger award in 1982. Morgan was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1990, and he has also been inducted into the Reds Hall of Fame and the Astros Hall of Fame.
Joe Morgan died on October 11, 2020 in Danville, California at the age of 77.
Rest in peace.
On June 5, 1981, Astros pitcher Nolan Ryan surpassed Early Wynn as the all-time walk leader with 1,777 when he walked two in his 3-0 victory over the Mets. Of course, Ryan also struck out ten and only gave up five hits in that game.
Ryan would end his 27-year career with 2,795 bases on balls, nearly a thousand more than Steve Carlton, who is currently second on the career list for issuing free passes.
Free agent Nolan Ryan signed with the Texas Rangers on December 7, 1988, making him the first major leaguer to play for all four original expansion teams. (The Rangers organization had played their first 11 seasons as the Senators in Washington, D.C.) Ryan first broke into the big leagues with the Mets in 1966, then went to the Angels in a trade in 1972 before signing with the Astros, who were originally known as the Colt .45s.
With the Houston Astros’ sign stealing scheme making the news these last couple weeks, I find myself reminded of one of my own experiences with stealing signs. While my own venture into sign stealing didn’t make any headlines, I can certainly identify with the advantage that it provides.
One summer, when I was playing in a girls’ softball league, the coach of one of the other teams invited me to join his team for a tournament (an experience I also mention in this post). This tournament was external to the league in which we played against one another, and it’s no small compliment when another coach thinks enough of your ability to invite you to join his own team, so I naturally jumped at the opportunity.
While I don’t remember all the details of that particular tournament, there are a couple things that continue to stick out to this day. The first was the birth of my ballplayer nickname, Duke. The second revolved around learning the signs for this team I played with for the duration of the tournament.
Naturally, in order to be an effective part of the team, I needed to know all the signs that might get flashed at me from third base whenever we went on offense: bunt sign, steal sign, take a pitch, etc. I learned the signs, and I played pretty well throughout the tournament. One would also naturally assume that once we all returned to regular league play and I was back on the opposing side, this coach would change his own team’s signs.
The next time my league team faced off against this other coach’s team, I found myself playing third base. Out of curiosity, I found myself watching the team’s coach, who would also serve as the third base coach, out of the corner of my eye. I wouldn’t turn and stare, of course, but I used my periphery vision to the best of my ability to watch what signs he flashed to hitters and runners.
The first time he flashed what I recognized as the bunt sign, I was still wary. If the other team did change their signs, in anticipation of playing against me, I certainly didn’t want to creep up too close to the plate, lest I find myself on the receiving end of a hard line drive to the face. So I took half a step forward, but also made sure to stay on my toes in anticipation of a bunt.
Much to my surprise and delight, the hitter squared around and lay down a bunt that happened to roll up the third baseline. Anticipating the possibility, I was able to get on top of it quickly and threw her out. I couldn’t believe my luck.
The rest of the game, I didn’t hesitate to move up any time I saw that bunt sign flashed. I couldn’t believe that this coach didn’t stop to think about the fact that the opposing third baseman knew their signs because he had given them to me himself. On a couple of occasions, I found myself tempted to yell, “Watch the bunt!” to my teammates, but I knew that would be a dead giveaway, so I kept my mouth shut. I just continued to watch the coach, and they didn’t have a successful bunt attempt all game.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m certainly not condoning what the Astros are accused of doing. Even by Major League Baseball standards, what I did was perfectly legal, since I used no technology to steal signs and take advantage. If anything, it was the other team’s blunder in not changing their signs once we returned to regular league play. And I definitely wasn’t going to turn down the opportunity my situation presented.
Congratulations to the Washington Nationals on winning their first World Series championship in franchise history! That certainly made for a thrilling Game 7.
Congratulations to the Houston Astros and the Washington Nationals on winning their respective pennants and advancing to the World Series! Here is how this year’s World Series schedule looks to shakeout. All times are Eastern Time.
Tuesday, Oct. 22
Game 1: Nationals at Houston, 8:08 p.m. on FOX
Wednesday, Oct. 23
Game 2: Nationals at Houston, 8:07 p.m. on FOX
Friday, Oct. 25
Game 3: Astros at Washington, 8:07 p.m. on FOX
Saturday, Oct. 26
Game 4: Astros at Washington, 8:07 p.m. on FOX
Sunday, Oct. 27
Game 5: Astros at Washington, 8:07 p.m. on FOX
Tuesday, Oct. 29
Game 6: Nationals at Houston, 8:07 p.m. on FOX
Wednesday, Oct. 30
Game 7: Nationals at Houston, 8:08 p.m. on FOX