(Mark) Clear as Mud

Not many guys can go from getting seriously knocked around in the Appy League to becoming a Major League All-Star in less than five years, but that’s exactly what Mark Clear did.

Clear was drafted by the Philadelphia Phillies in the 8th round in 1974 and spent his first professional summer with the Pulaski Phillies of the Appalachian League. To say it didn’t go well would be a gross understatement.

The 1974 Pulaski Phillies were, to be blunt, terrible. They finished the season with an 18-50 record, led the league in errors and passed balls and their team E.R.A. was 6.07, nearly a run-and-a-half higher than the next closest team.

The manager of this crew was a man named Frank Wren, who had recently left a very successful career as a college coach at Ohio University, where he had helped Mike Schmidt become an All-American. He had to be wondering what he had gotten himself into.

A Clear Problem

If the Pulaski had the worst pitching staff in the Appy League that season, Mark Clear was one of the reasons why. In fourteen appearances, Clear went 0-7 with an 8.65 ERA. He gave up 69 runs (49 earned) in 51 innings while allowing 71 hits, 43 walks and hitting 11 batters. He also threw six wild pitches. He was just 18 at the time, but it wasn’t a great way to begin your professional baseball career. The Phillies felt so too, and on April 2nd, 1975, less than a year after he was drafted, they released him.

Like a Phoenix

Mark ClearBut the California Angels saw something they thought they could work with, signed Clear as a free-agent in June and moved him to the bullpen. It worked. In the rookie Pioneer League, Mark Clear shaved more the six runs off his E.R.A. in 13 appearances. There were still a few rough patches on his ascent, but on April 4th, 1979, four years and two days after being released by the Phillies, Clear made his major league debut and threw two and one-third scoreless innings against the Seattle Mariners. Four days later, he got his first win. He would win eleven games in 1979, make the All-Star team, and finish third in the Rookie of the Year balloting behind John Castino and Alfredo Griffin.

Eleven Seasons

Mark Clear ended up spending eleven seasons in the major leagues with California, Boston and Milwaukee, compiling a 71-49 record and winning a career-high 14 games with the Red Sox in 1982. He’s a reminder to athletes to never give up and a reminder to teams not to give up too soon on athletes.

 

 

Jimmy Piersall Loses It… Again

The summer of 1980 was brutal.

A heatwave swept across the southeast which resulted in nearly 150 deaths across seven states. From Alabama to Texas and up to Missouri, people looked for any relief they could find. The search became more difficult when temperatures caused roads to buckle in many states. Wichita Falls reached a record 113 degrees and Little Rock, Arkansas saw temps of more than 100 degrees as well, which was cited by the Poultry Foundation as the cause of death for nearly two and a half million chickens.

Perhaps the only thing hotter than the weather was the temper of White Sox broadcaster and part-time outfield coach Jimmy Piersall. Prior to the Sox July 2nd home game against the Angels, Piersall sought out Arlington Heights Daily Herald writer Bob Gallas to “discuss” his story about Piersall’s dismissal as the a part-time unpaid outfield coach.

As a player, Jimmy Piersall had a much-publicized mental breakdown that became the basis for the 1957 film, Fear Strikes Out, starring Anthony Perkins.  A two-time All-Star selection, Piersall’s mercurial behavior made him tough to deal with for both teammates and management.

Tony La Russa and the Sox felt it was a conflict of interest for Piersall to coach players and then go to the booth and criticize their play, so after polling the players he informed Piersall of the decision.

Adding to the intrigue was the fact that Sox Owner Bill Veeck had been trying to get rid of Piersall as a broadcaster because he felt he was too critical of the players. Piersall responded that he could say whatever he wanted, including taking shots at Veeck’s wife, Mary Frances, on a local radio show, calling her “a colossal bore” and suggesting she should stay in the kitchen.

Piersall was upset about losing his coaching position but when Gallas’ article made it public knowledge, Piersall confronted him in the clubhouse and the two exchanged words. Piersall backed away as if to leave, then spun and started choking Gallas.

“Jimmy jumped him; I saw it because it was right in front of the trainer’s room,” said Sox trainer Herm Schneider. “Gallas started turning blue in the face. Ross (Baumgarten)… and a security guard finally pulled Piersall off. Gallas certainly didn’t swing first. He was taken completely by surprise.”

Jimmy Piersall’s troubles didn’t end there. Once Veeck was informed of the incident, he sent his son, Mike to the broadcast booth to confront Piersall.

“When I walked in, I gave him a dedicated introductory statement as to my intentions,” said the younger Veeck. “I didn’t want it to look like Cowens’ sneak attack on Farmer. I said I wanted him to look at someone his own size.”

No sooner did Mike Veeck enter the booth and “announce his intentions” were he and Piersall involved in a scuffle that took Piersall’s broadcast partner Rich King and two writers to break up. In addition to potential embarrassment to his father’s baseball team, Mike Veeck’s intensity was most certainly ratcheted up by Piersall’s comments about his mother.

Piersall left the stadium and spent the night in a local hospital with what Sox officials termed, “exhaustion.”

The first half of the season was not kind to Daily Herald baseball writers. In spring training, Dave Kingman dumped a bucket of ice water on Daily Herald writer Don Friske. Kingman called the incident “a joke,” but Friske didn’t take it as such.

Ross Baumgarten

About the only person not affected by the pregame fracas was Baumgarten. After breaking up a fight in the clubhouse, he then threw a one-hit complete game shutout. The only hit Bumgarten surrendered was a seventh inning single off the bat of Rod Carew, who was given a reprieve after left fielder Wayne Nordhagen dropped his foul pop fly.

“It hit me in a bad spot,” said Nordhagen. “Right in the hand – U.S. Steel.”

The outing proved to be a highlight in an otherwise dismal season for Baumgarten, who finished the year 2-12. It wasn’t a good year for Veeck and the White Sox, but there was often a lot of excitement on the South Side.

June 20th, 1980 was weird

Flea goes for 3 and other oddities

“Is it a full moon or somethin’?”

That’s what my mother-in-law says when weird stuff happens. June 20th, 1980 must have featured multiple full moons because some bizarre crap went down. On the field, it began in Boston when the Red Sox hosted the California Angels.

The Angels were decimated by injuries but the lineup still featured Rod Carew, Carney Lansford Joe Rudi and Bobby Grich, so Boston starter Steve Renko could be forgiven for looking past the Angels shortstop. Standing 5’5” and weighing just under 150 pounds, Freddie “The Flea” Patek wasnt the kind of player to strike fear in the heart of opposing pitchers, but that didn’t stop him from putting on a prodigious power display on this evening.

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Patek stepped to the plate in the bottom of the 3rd against Dick Drago (Renko had already been knocked out of the game) and hit a three run shot to give the Angels a 10-0 lead.

He homered again to lead off the Angels’ 5th, and after grounding into a double play in his next at bat, Patek came to the plate in the 8th inning, again with Harlow on base, and he homered again, this time off Jack Billingham, to give the Angels a 17-0 lead.

He had a chance to become just the eleventh player in major league history to hit four home runs in a game, joining the likes of Lou Gehrig, Mike Schmidt and Willie Mays, when he came up in the 9th inning, but Bill Campbell struck him out.

“The whole thing is just amazing to me but it happens,” Patek told reporters after the game. “The fourth time up I was just trying to hit the ball and stay with what I know. I just wanted to hit the ball somewhere, but I struck out.”

Al Cowens vs. Ed Farmer

On the same night that Patek was putting on a power hitting display at Fenway, Detroit outfielder Al Cowens put on a display of an entirely different sort in Chicago. The Tigers and White Sox were tied in the top of the 11th inning when Cowens stepped in against Chicago relief pitcher Ed Farmer.

Farmer was looking to keep the Tigers off the board in hopes of picking up a win. Cowens was looking for revenge. The two were facing each other for the first time since the previous May when a Farmer pitch sailed inside and shattered Cowens’ jaw.

Al Cowens
Cowens got lost on the way to 1st base

This time around Farmer’s pitch was over the plate and Cowens grounded out. But as the ball bounced to shortstop Todd Cruz, Cowens must have gotten lost on the way to first base and charged the pitcher’s mound, causing a bench-clearing brawl.

American League President Lee McPhail acted swiftly, suspending Cowens for seven games and fining him an undisclosed amount. But that wasn’t the only trouble he faced. Farmer filed charges in Cook County Circuit Court, and a judge issued a warrant for Cowens’ arrest on an assault-and-battery charge.

When the Tigers returned to Chicago in August for a two-game series Cowens did not make the trip due to the outstanding warrant. Ever the instigators, White Sox fans hung a huge banner in the outfield that read, “Cowens the Coward.”

The two eventually buried the hatchet in September when the White Sox traveled to Detroit. They met at home plate to exchange lineup cards and Cowens apologized for charging the mound. Farmer accepted and later dropped the criminal charges he had filed.

“As far as I’m concerned, it’s over and done with,” Farmer told the media.

“I’m relieved,” said Cowens. “So much has been made of this. Every time I turned around there were headlines about it. The whole thing has been tough, but it’s a dead issue now.”

St. Louis Cardinals vs. Each Other

Nineteen-Eighty was a rough year for the St. Louis Cardinals. They began June 9.5 games out of first place and had just finished a two-game series against the Astros in which they scored zero runs when their team bus pulled up to the Stouffer’s Cincinnati Towers early in the morning of June 20th.

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A foul mood must have been prevalent because a shoving match broke out between pitcher John Fulgham and first baseman Keith Hernandez as they stepped off the bus. Fulgham had been out with a sore shoulder (which turned out to be a torn rotator cuff) and Hernandez had been giving him grief about it. There was also bad blood between the two because Hernandez reportedly had laughed after Fulgham gave up a home run in Montreal earlier in the season.

Teammates were able to separate the two before punches were thrown, though one report said the “brawl” spilled onto the sidewalk and involved as many as 10 members of the team.

Leonard-DuranIt was probably just a coincidence that the two baseball fights took place on the same day that Roberto Duran defeated Sugar Ray Leonard in front of more than 46,000 people at Olympic Stadium, home of the Montreal Expos.

Then again, maybe it wasn’t.