- TOP PLAYERSOffensePABLO S. TORRE | August 20, 2012
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- Faces in the CrowdJune 11, 2001
Incredible! Sparky was losing a pennant, so I understood about him, but why were the Dodgers angry? My phone was ringing off the hook. Reporters wanted to know what I thought. I didn't know what to say. I felt sorry for the Dodgers, who were obviously suffering from sunstroke.
In his next game, Bozo the Clown beat the San Francisco Giants 4-1. The pennant-contending San Francisco Giants. It should have been 4-0, but I threw a double-play ball into centerfield. After the game, reporters asked me if I had won because it was windy. I said that was it. The wind blew hot-dog wrappers around the field, and the batters couldn't see the ball. I had won my first major league game since July 11, 1970. I couldn't wait for the reviews.
"Next time I'm going to bring up my little boy to bat against him," said Bill Madlock, who was hitless in two at bats. "It was the most humiliating experience of my life," said Darrell Evans, who had a pop-fly double in three at bats. "Terrible," said Mike Ivie, who was hitless in three at bats. I almost forgot who won the game.
Johnny Sain told me later I had revolutionized the sport. I had invented a new way to judge baseball ability. Results in a game didn't count anymore. You just ask the opposition what they think.
Maybe the hitters were confused by how I got them out. Players today don't mind being outmuscled, but they hate being outsmarted. It looks foolish from the stands. Take Randy Jones of the Padres. When he was the Cy Young winner in 1976, some hitters said they "couldn't respect that" because he didn't throw hard enough. He didn't "challenge" the hitters. It's a macho thing. When Atlanta Reliever Gene Garber ended Pete Rose's hitting streak last year by getting him out with a changeup, Rose got mad. He said Garber should have "challenged" him with a fastball. This is a recent phenomenon in baseball. I heard it all summer in Savannah, too. Whenever a pitcher got a hitter out with slow stuff, someone would holler, "Challenge the hitter, damn it!" I've got a question: Why? The last I heard, the object of the game for pitchers was to get hitters out.
I used to challenge the hitters. And win. When I won 21 for the Yankees in '63, every game was a battle. And I was heavily armed. But there's more than one way to skin a cat. Now I had no guns, no velocity, not even a great knuckleball, if you want to know the truth. Just a little slider, and a sinker that Sain taught me in Richmond, and a changeup. But I never felt so much in control on a pitcher's mound as I did last summer. Now I had something else going for me. A new way of feeling about myself. A sense of being in control. What I brought to the game when I was 20 was strength and youth and bulldog determination. What I brought to the game at almost 40 was much more powerful. It was something I had found inside myself. It was what I had left home to look for.
Finding myself pushed me even farther away from my wife. We finally separated. But it also pulled me closer to my kids, Michael, David and Laurie, who's 12. When I was traveling, they were with me some of the time, but I'd been a part-time father. Now, they live with me half the time, and we are much closer.
When I first asked Ted Turner to give me a chance, I told him that Hoyt Wilhelm threw knuckleballs in the big leagues until he was 48. That meant I had almost 10 years left. Actually, I thought I'd play about five years. But it occurred to me that I wouldn't stay around that long right after I pitched that first game.
I was on the team flight from Atlanta to San Diego. It was a charter, and we had the whole plane to ourselves. I was sitting by myself in my own private row of six seats, the overhead lights were out, and most of the players either slept or played cards. And as I watched this scene, it suddenly hit me. This is boring. I had been on hundreds of flights like this years ago. It wasn't nearly as much fun as the bus rides in Savannah.
After I beat the Giants, I pitched a few more games. I went seven innings against the Astros. My pitching opponent, J. Rodney Richard, maybe the hardest thrower in baseball, chose the occasion to break the modern league strikeout record for righthanders. The flamethrower and the junkballer. We were each taken out with the score tied 2-2. A standoff. I loved the contrast. There was no criticism this time, just silence. Then Sparky Anderson of the Reds got his wish. I pitched against Cincinnati, and they beat me. But only 2-1. I allowed just five hits. Anderson said, "We didn't even hit the ball hard off him. We got two runs we shouldn't have gotten." Well, what do you know?