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(Speaking of nicknames: Coach Pantusso, who tended bar at Cheers for three years until he passed away at age 68 in 1985, was stunned to learn the origin of his own sobriquet. Said the inscrutable Coach, a member of the Red Sox brain trust for two decades, "I always thought they gave me that name because I never flew first-class.")
Following his flammable rookie campaign, Malone signed a modest endorsement deal with a lighter-fluid manufacturer. Mercifully, the Combust-O! TV spots were short-lived, though Malone's numbers never really did improve dramatically. His befuddling career statistics (page 64) trace a bell curve that peaks in 1975, when the success of the pennant-winning Red Sox raised all boats, levitating Malone's record that season to a career-best 5-5. Though a mysterious domestic groin injury kept him out of the postseason, Sam basked in the afterglow of that glorious October. He began to purchase Fenway tickets for underprivileged families. Alas, he could only afford some single seats with obstructed views, and Mayday's Mainstays mainly stayed away.
Still, it's the thought that counts, although Malone's thoughts (unlike his counts) seldom got very deep. Several years after his retirement, Malone donated one of his game jerseys to WGBH-TV, Boston's public-television station, which was holding an auction during its fund-drive telethon. Although Mayday's number 16 jersey wouldn't sell for several hours—and he eventually phoned in using a phony falsetto voice to offer $200—he was able to exploit the occasion to proclaim that PBS was his favorite network. "I especially like those two guys who talk about the day's events," he said.
MacNeil and Lehrer?
"No," said Malone. "Bert and Ernie. Wait a minute: Unless—maybe that's their last names."
You can hardly set foot in Cheers without hearing about the time Malone and some of the other boys from the bar snuck into Boston Garden in the middle of the night. They found themselves standing at center court in this otherwise empty basketball shrine. Norm Peterson looked around, mouth agape, and was moved to describe the Garden in properly reverential tones.
"Sacred, holy, like a cathedral," he said, in genuine awe. "I'm gonna rip a seat out and throw it in the back of my car."
Malone's breaking pitch was known as "the slider of death." Unfortunately, that was the sobriquet given it by his Red Sox teammates, who often saw the slider die in the nets above the Green Monster. During the 1970s, only Ray Kroc served up more taters than Malone. But which dinger was the deepest? "I seem to remember a long one he surrendered to Charlie Spikes of the Cleveland Indians back in '74 or '75," says Peter Gammons, who covered Malone's Red Sox for The Boston Globe. Spikes's slam was long—for a moment it looked as if the ball had a chance to punch through the "O" in the CITGO sign in Kenmore Square—but it wasn't the longest shot Sam surrendered. Not by a long shot.
Malone facilitated the longest home run ever hit at Baltimore's Memorial Stadium. In his new book, It's done!...No, Wait a Minute... television writer and former Oriole announcer Ken Levine recalls interviewing Malone on an O's pregame show during spring training of 1991. Naturally, Levine mentioned the time Lee May took Malone all the way out of the yard in Baltimore.
"There is a plaque where [the ball] landed in the parking lot," writes Levine, "and Sam wondered casually if it was a plate in the ground or a standing monument that could accidentally be run over by a car. When he learned it was in the ground, he shrugged it off, knowing that we would be out of that park in a year anyway. Finally, I wrapped up the interview, with Sam interrupting me constantly, wanting to know what gift he'd receive: Tires, maybe even a CD player for his 'Vette."