Missed it by that Much: The Dan Graham Story

If you happened to read the transactions section on December 8th, 1979 you probably would have missed it. The previous day, the Detroit Pistons fired their General Manager, a guy named Dick Vitale. At the winter meetings in Toronto, the Montreal Expos pulled off a big trade for Ron LeFlore, who would lead the N.L. in stolen bases in 1980.

Just after that was this note:

MINNESOTA (AL) – Traded infielder Dan Graham to

Baltimore for first baseman Tom Chism.

Between the two of them, Graham and Chism had a total of seven big league at-bats and zero hits.

“It looks like deals like this are the only ones you can make these days,” Orioles G.M. Hank Peters told the media. They’re unencumbered, uncomplicated.”

Graham was playing winter ball in Venezuela when he heard he news and he was thrilled. He was buried behind 1979 Rookie of the Year John Castino at 3rd, Ron Jackson at 1st and Butch Wynegar at catcher. A trade gave him a new start and he was ready to take advantage of it.

Dan Graham and Earl Weaver
Graham and Earl Weaver

Once Spring Training rolled around, Graham immediately impressed people with his bat. He put up 20 or more homers in three different seasons in the minor leagues, but after his batting average slipped to just .213 in 1979, the Twins felt he was expendable while the Orioles saw potential.

He hit .346 to begin the year in Rochester and got the call to the big leagues in May and collected nine hits in his first 16 at-bats, including home runs in his first two starts.

Player of the Week

After a rough June, he caught fire in July, hitting .302 and driving in 20 runs in just 15 games. The highlight of the month was a three game series against the Twins where he went 6-11 with two homers and 13 RBI, earning him Player of the Week honors.

Graham became so popular in Baltimore that among the items up for bid at the Orioles charity auction, along with a pair of jockey shorts signed by Jim Palmer, was a 30 minute fielding practice session with the new slugger.

The new star hit three more homers in just 13 August games, and as the Orioles battled the Yankees for the A.L. East flag, Graham hit .313 with six homers in 80 at bats down the stretch. He finished the year at .278 with 15 homers and 54 RBIs as a part-time player.

 

Dan Graham
It wasn’t meant to be

Baltimore seemed to be set with a platoon of Graham and Rick Dempsey behind the plate. But just as quickly as he burst onto the scene, Graham lost his mojo in 1981. He hit just .176 in 55 games. He spent 1982 in AAA and retired.

1980’s Longest Hitting Streak

DiMaggio: 56

Other DiMaggio: 34

Landreaux: 31

Wait… what?

From 1941 through 1980, the three longest hitting streaks in the American League belonged to Joe DiMaggio (56 in 1941) , Don DiMaggio (34 in 1949) and Ken Landreaux. The two DiMaggio brothers are household names, but Landreaux, not so much.

Ken Landreaux
1980’s longest hitting streak belonged to Ken Landreaux

Ken Landreaux was selected by the Angels in the first round of the 1976 draft and amassed all of 77 hits in his first two seasons before being dealt to the Minnesota Twins in a six-player deal involving future Hall-of-Famer Rod Carew. When Landreaux returned to California for the first time as a member of the Twins in 1979, he told reporters he thought enough of his abilities to suggest it should have been an even swap: him for Carew.

“I know Carew is a seven time batting champion,” said Landreaux. “But I feel, if I continue to work hard, someday I can produce just as much as Carew did for this club.”

The comments didn’t sit well with Carew, who refused to speak to Landreaux after hearing them, but Landreaux said it was all in fun.

“I say outrageous things once in a while just to spice up a conversation,” he told The Sporting News. “I can’t believe how mad Rod got.”

Landreaux showed a lot of promise in his first season in Minnesota, hitting .305 with 15 homers and 83 RBI which somewhat eased Twins fans’ angst over losing Carew. Twins skipper Gene Mauch told The Sporting News, “If we leave him in left, he could become one of the best in the game.”

That didn’t quite happen, but he did turn in one of the more underrated hitting performances of the decade and it began at the end of an otherwise forgetful day.

The Twins opened the 1980 season with a 12-game road trip and thus didn’t have their home opener until April 22nd when they beat the Angels 8-1. The next day, in front of just 4,772 fans at Metropolitan Stadium, things didn’t go so well as California lefty Bruce Kison held Minnesota hitless into the 9th inning. If that wasn’t bad enough, the Angels also held a 17-0 lead as Landreaux stepped to the plate with one out in the ninth. His double to left field broke up Kison’s no-hit bid and served as the beginning of what would become a 31-game hitting streak.

From April 22nd until the end of May, Landreaux was an offensive force, batting .392 for a woeful Twins team that managed a mere 12 wins during the streak. The Twins were so woeful that Landreaux scored only 13 runs while getting on base 60 times via hit or walk.

After 31 games and 49 hits, the streak finally came to an end against Scott McGregor and the Baltimore Orioles Saturday, on May 31st.

“It figured a guy like that would stop me,” said Landreaux. “I prefer the gassers, the guys who bring some heat. But I had a couple of chances. McGregor threw me some cookies…I just missed them.”

The other thing he just missed was a bonus of $1,000 for each game of the streak, offered up by the makers of Aqua Velva. After Pete Rose’s 44-game hitting streak in 1978, Aqua Velva offered the bonus to the person who recorded the longest hitting streak each season. Rose himself took the prize home in ’79 but Commissioner Bowie Kuhn stepped in in 1980 saying the bonus put too much pressure on official scorers. Kuhn and Aqua Velva eventually reached an agreement which allowed Landreaux to donate the money to the Little League and Pop Warner programs in his home town of Compton, CA.

Rough Weekend in Minnesota

Every team has them. That series where nothing goes right. The pitching isn’t getting it done but you make up for that by not hitting or making a bunch of errors. Or both.

Such was the case for Billy Martin and the Oakland A’s as they visited Bloomington, MN for a three-game series against the Twins in April of 1980. Oakland had won six games in a row entering the series and held a half-game lead in the A.L. West but things got away from them in Minnesota.

In game one of the series, a fan in the stands hurled marshmallows at Martin, which resulted in Martin hurling homophobic slurs in his post-game press conference. The Twins won 10-3 behind Jerry Koosman. Then things got worse for Oakland.

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Kingman went 8-20 in 1980

Minnesota took game two of the series 5-1, which set up the finale on Sunday afternoon. Brian Kingman was the Oakland starter and took the mound hoping to end the brief skid and get the A’s back on track. Unfortunately for Kingman, he didn’t get out of the first inning. Kingman faced six batters and five of the reached, and he was lifted for relief pitcher Dave Hamilton.

Hamilton faced eight batters and seven of them reached before he was lifted. When there are two outs in the first inning and you’re on your third pitcher of the game, it’s going to be a bad day. The Twins put 10 on the board in the first inning.

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Staked to a 10-0 lead, Zahn couldn’t hold it

That should have been plenty for Minnesota starter Geoff Zahn, but that wasn’t the case. But on the bright side, Zahn gave up fourteen hits and eight runs in four and one-third innings and didn’t get a loss. In fact, he was in line for a win despite allowing eight straight batters to reach in the same inning. Doug Corbett relieved Zahn and got the final two outs of the 5th to escape the jam.

Minnesota ended up winning the game 20-11 but even that doesn’t tell the story of a truly bizarre game. Consider the following:

  • Oakland outhit Minnesota 22-20
  • Minnesota scored 20 runs and had 3 extra-base hits
  • Oakland hit the only homer of the game and it came in the 9th inning
  • Fifteen players played the entire game and only two didn’t record a hit. Naturally they were both Twins.

For Billy and the A’s, it was a weekend to forget. They were swept three games to none and outscored 35-15. Two of their three starting pitchers failed to make it out of the first inning, Martin had marshmallows thrown at him and they left town a game and a half behind the White Sox.

Billy Martin vs. the Marshmallow Man Part II

The story of how Billy Martin lost his job with the Yankees after a fight with a marshmallow salesman in October of 1979 is well known. But there’s an under-the-radar marshmallow story that’s just as good and perhaps even more volatile.

In April of 1980, Martin brought his new team, the Oakland A’s, to Bloomington, MN for the first time since the celebrated incident and things did not go well. Oakland starter Matt Keough lasted just two-thirds of an inning before Martin had to pull him. On his way back to the bench, Martin was forced to dodge marshmallows thrown at him by a fan sitting behind the Oakland dugout. Billy said something to the fan and then ducked into the dugout.

In the 9th inning, the fan once again seized the opportunity to throw marshmallows at the Oakland manager. This time Martin was set to go after him and had a foot on the railing to go up into the stands before umpires and others intervened.

Martin pulled no punches in his post-game media session, including a few choice words that would undoubtedly cause a suspension or worse were they to cross the lips of a current manager.

“He did it once and then went and hid like a baby,” Martin told the Associated Press. “But my coach caught him the second time and the police got him. I hope they fine him.”

“The Minnesota fans are good fans. This was just one guy acting like a jerk. There’s no room for that in baseball. I can tolerate a lot of things, but I can’t tolerate throwing stuff on the field. He could have put somebody’s eye out.”

Incidents of marshmallow induced eye injuries are rare in baseball, but Martin was on a roll and he couldn’t be stopped. Then he really went on the offensive.

“It was a young kid with a French queer’s hat on. When I went up there, I didn’t know whether to kiss him or punch him. I thought he would have caressed me. He was a big, fat fag.”

“It had to be a fag because he was throwing marshmallows.”

Um, OK.