ROCKY REDUX: DON’T KNOCK THE ROCK
In the footnote for a review I recently posted on Terry Pluto’s “Curse of Rocky Colavito”, I wondered whether or not Pluto would need to revise his view of the Indians as lovable losers in light of the organization’s recent success. If I had done just a little bit of fact-checking I would have discovered that since the publication of “The Curse of Rocky Colavito”, Pluto has written two more volumes on the Indians: “Burying the Curse: How the Indians Became the Best Team in Baseball” (1995), and “Our Tribe: A Baseball Memoir” (1999).
Speaking of Rocky Colavito, the former Tribe slugger is one of 26 players up for HoF consideration by the newly revamped Veterans Committee. I doubt whether he will be elected, still I did run across another story involving Rocky, which may be of interest.
Colavito, in the final year of his career (1968), was released early in the season by the L.A. Dodgers, and picked up by the Yankees on June 15th. This was the CBS Yankees, in the midst of their decline. But the Yankees in 1968 weren’t so awful, and they played above their heads, grasping for respectability. In late August, they hosted a 5-game series against the Detriot Tigers. The Yankees won the first three games, but had to face Pat Dobson and Mickey Lolich in a double-header to end the series on Sunday. Due to an unfortunate quirk in the schedule, it would be the first of three straight double-headers. Three days, six games. Oy.
According to Dick Lally’s book, “Pinstriped Summers: Memories of Yankee Seasons Past” (1985),
“The team was about to suffer a severe case of the pitching shorts…Colavito was gifted with one of the great right arms in baseball history, a rally cippler. On balls hit to him in right field, enemy base runners realized that any thoughts of taking an extra base put them in a no-man’s land. Invariably they either stayed put or were thrown out. It was this majestic cannon that Houk turned to that Sunday afternoon, and its pitching performance provided the team with a lift that would last the season.
The Tigers took three and one-third innings to dispose of left-hander Steve Barber in the first game, scoring five runs on seven hits and three walks. When Houk strode in from the dugout to lift his battered starter, the stage had been set for Rocky’s Moment: runners on first and second, one man out, and the Yankees on the wrong end of a 5-0 score. Not another Tiger crossed the plate. Throwing nothing but overhand heat, Colavito pitched two and two-thirds innings of scoreless relief, giving up only one hit: a double by Al Kaline. He walked two and struck out one. The Yankees, meanwhile, obvioulsy inspired by the sheer audacity and success of the gamble, cut and slashed their way to six runs and the ball game, Rocky getting the win. It was only the beginnning. In the second game, with his team trailing 3-2, Colavito, now safely positioned back in right field, hit a game-tying home run off Mickey Lolich. Pandemonium. The shot left New York with no other options but to win that game, too, and sweep the doubleheader.
They finished that day at .500, but that was unimportant. What was important was the way they reached that mark: using a storybook performance to beat a powerful Tiger team. It was the sort of day what would rekindle the self-confidence that this club had once taken for granted. It gave them the motor to make their late-season charge, a run that would at one point have them as high as third place. Finally, as if the very effort of this push had exhausted all their reserves, they faded in the final two weeks of the season. They finished in fifth place with a record of 83-79. No one of the team could remember when so little had meant so much.”
Here is a good idol-worship page on Rocky, for anyone who is interested. It gives those of us who are too young to have seen Colavito play, a good visual sense of what he meant to all those kids like Pluto.
The good people at Baseball Primer have been running a series of engaging articles on the Hall of Fame. Using a series of questions devised by Bill James (“The Keltner List”), Eddie Murray, Dale Murphy, Dave Paker, and Tommy John and Kim Kaat, are all given the once-over by Baseball Primer’s competent staff of contributors.
The Hall of Fame will announce it’s newest members next Tuesday; the Veterans Committee make their choice known on February 26th.