SI Vault
A Celestial decision in Houston
William Leggett
December 17, 1973
The Celestial Suite on the top floor of the Astroworld Hotel in Houston, served by a private elevator, costs its occupants $2,500 a day. Last week it joined the list of memorable locations in which major league baseball has come uneasily to grips with large affairs. It was in Le Salon Bleu of the Savoy Hilton Hotel in New York that the Yankees announced Casey Stengel was leaving—only to have Casey say later he was fired. In the Comstock Room of the Sheraton-Palace in San Francisco, Commissioner William Eckert was rudely decommissioned. In the Lancaster Room of the Sheraton-O'Hare in Rosemont, Ill. the American League decided a year ago to play with 10 men instead of nine.
Decrease font Decrease font
Enlarge font Enlarge font
December 17, 1973

A Celestial Decision In Houston

View CoverRead All Articles View This Issue
1 2

Near midnight Wednesday, John Holt, Smith's lawyer, called him and advised him to sell. It was then that Smith gave up his last hope of keeping the team. When word reached the other owners the next morning they voted unanimously that the sale to Danzansky be approved—on condition that Smith be responsible for up to $5 million of any indemnities won by San Diego.

The influence of Mrs. Everett will nevertheless be felt. Anticipating the sweet uses of her bankroll, the Padres had done a spectacular job of collecting hitters prior to the Houston meetings. Danzansky's $12 million may be used up in balls lost in batting practice by May, for the Senpads now have Willie McCovey, Bobby Tolan, Glenn Beckert and Matty Alou to go with Nate Colbert, the .311-hitting rookie John Grubb, and second-year man Dave Roberts, who hit 21 homers in 1973. And when those bats start swinging in Kennedy Stadium, a home-run paradise, oh, boy. But many things will happen to the new Washington team, too, for of the pitchers left from last year's woeful Padres, none can be considered first class.

Houston's Celestial cerebration was by no means confined to the San Diego mess. Some teeth were finally put into the spitball rule. An umpire may now act solely on suspicion that a "foreign substance" is being put on the ball by a pitcher. Upon so suspecting, the umpire calls the pitch a ball, walks to the mound, warns the pitcher, and then has that warning announced to the crowd. The second time it happens the pitcher "shall be disqualified from the game and shall additionally be subject to such other penalties as may be imposed by the league office."

Undoubtedly the new ruling is due to the moist reputation of Cleveland's Gaylord Perry, and it surely reduces Perry's value in the marketplace. Two teams went to Houston hoping to get him. Boston wanted him to help fight champion Baltimore in the American League East. The Orioles wanted Gaylord to block Boston from getting him. Once the rule was changed, however, the Orioles backed off and picked up 23-year-old lefthander Ross Grimsley from the Reds. In three seasons with Cincinnati, Grimsley has yet to have a losing record and his overall mark is 37-25.

Boston, which had already traded Reggie Smith to St. Louis for Pitcher Rick Wise, talked and talked to the Indians about Perry. Then the Red Sox made two spectacular moves. First they went back to the Cardinals and dealt three fine pitching prospects, lefthander John Curtis and righthanders Lynn McGlothen and Mike Garman, for Reggie Cleveland, Reliever Diego Segui and Infielder Terry Hughes. Cleveland came within one pitch of a perfect game last season, and Wise, who has already pitched one no-hitter, had another going against the Reds last June with only two outs to get in the ninth inning. Cleveland seldom walks a batter; in Fenway Park such ability usually proves to be golden. Next, the Red Sox bought Juan Marichal from the Giants to complete a corps that may give Baltimore fits.

Of the 102 players dealt from the end of the season up to the deadline for inter-league trading, 49 were pitchers. Much of the most frantic bargaining involved lefthanders, emphasizing just how precious a commodity a good lefty is. Seven of the top 11 RBI men in the American League are left-handed batters, and many of the National League's top lead-off men and base-stealers either bat left-handed or switch-hit. To say nothing about such fellows as Willie Stargell, Darrell Evans, Al Oliver and McCovey.

One thing that did not occur in Houston was a resolution of the Dick Williams- Charlie Finley- New York Yankee crisis. That situation, said outgoing American League President Joe Cronin, might be one which could simmer all the way to the "courthouse steps."

Or to a room to be named later.

1 2