In the Air Tonight
by Ed Botti
October 31, 2023
Photo Adobe Stock
As some of you may or may or may not know about me (some do read the author's Bio, I have been told!), most of my evenings for the better part of 40 years have been spent on a dojo floor. First as a student and over the last 25 years or so as an instructor to adult and law enforcement students in various forms of martial arts.
Because of my evening activity, I have seen many things unfold, in many cases nasty injuries sprinkled in with a few serious fights.
To some on my floor, it can get scary.
Which brings us to Halloween. Since this is a baseball site and it is Halloween today, I thought it might be interesting to revisit some scary and weird episodes that have taken place on the diamond.
To start with, as far as I can tell the macabre tradition originated with the ancient Celtic festival of Samhain, when people would light bonfires and wear costumes to ward off spirits and ghosts. Sometime in the 8th century, Pope Gregory III assigned November 1 as a time to honor all saints. The evening before was known as All Hallows Eve, and later Halloween. As time went on, Halloween evolved into a day of activities such as wearing costumes, trick-or-treating, carving jack-o-lanterns, parties, and eating lots of candy.
I can remember seeing the original Black Sabbath on a Halloween night (I think) way back in the day! Upside down burning crosses and all! It was a great show!
So what are some weird, macabre and/or scary moments that have taken over a baseball game?
Here are a few that I have either seen or read about over the years.
June 4, 1974, the Cleveland Indians front office determined it would be a good idea to do a “10-Cent Beer Night” at the old Municipal Stadium (a/k/a the “mistake by the lake”). What they got was a crazy scene instead.
Predictably the crowd got drunk and many fans jumped onto the field (some naked... after all it was the height of the 1970’s streaking fad!) culminating in complete chaos. Fans went after the Ranger players and fights broke out all over the field.
Umpire chief Nestor Chylak had to forfeit the game to the Rangers after the unruly crowd wouldn’t leave the field.
All the while the organist played "Take me out to the ball game".
I can still remember a young Billy Martin (manager of the Rangers) running on the field with a bat in hand to protect his players!
In the end the SWAT team was called in and order was restored. There were numerous arrest and injuries and all three bases were stolen (and never recovered).
Believe it or not, a month later they did again. This time with more police and a few rules in place.
I guess the guys in Chicago didn’t bother to pay attention to 10 cent beer night in Cleveland.
From the annals of “what were you thinking” in a July 12, 1979 doubleheader at Comiskey Park White Sox executives decided to encourage fans to bring their disco records to the games so that they could be burned in a special promotion between games (the height of the "Disco sucks" era!).
The result: 52,000 screaming and drunk fans who were already throwing their disco records around like Frisbees before the game even started.
As planned the fans proceeded to light the records on fire in the outfield, and when the explosives were ignited to blow up the records, they blew a hole in the outfield grass and started a fire.
More fans ran out onto the field in droves, lighting small fires of their own and creating such chaos that the umpires ruled the field unplayable for the second game of the doubleheader.
August 22, 1965 Juan Marichal attacked Dodger Johnny Roseboro with a bat as the San Francisco Giants and Los Angeles Dodgers faced off at Candlestick Park in the middle of another very tight pennant race between the two ancient and relocated rivals featuring a classic matchup of Sandy Koufax vs. Juan Marichal.
The incident occurred after the Dodgers had scored single runs in the first and second innings and Marichal had flattened Dodger shortstop Maury Wills with a high and tight one. When Marichal came to the plate Koufax, who was 21-5, whipped a called strike past Marichal and then came high and tight on his next pitch. On Roseboro’s return throw to Koufax the ball ticked Marichal’s ear and Juan turned and appeared to say something to Roseboro and then chaos broke out. Before being thrown to the ground by the umpire crew, Marichal swung at Roseboro with his bat and hit the side of Roseboro’s head, opening a wound from which poured a flow of blood.
Marichal was thrown out of the game and Roseboro had to leave, a blood-soaked towel firmly pressed against his bleeding head.
In Game 3 of the 2003 ALCS between the Red Sox and Yankees, Pedro Martinez hit Yankee Karim Garcia in the top of the fifth up near the shoulder with a pitch, prompting an argument between Martinez and the Yankees bench. Martinez pointed at Jorge Posada gesturing to the side of his head. Real classy Pedro!
Yankees bench coach Don Zimmer, took Martinez’s gesture as an indication he intended to throw at Posada.
In the bottom half of the inning, Red Sox Manny Ramirez took a high strike from Roger Clemens and inexplicably freaked out, causing both benches to empty. In the ensuing fracas, Zimmer, then 72 years old, confronted Martinez who avoided Zimmer and threw him down to the ground.
An image I’ll never forget.
On Aug. 18, 1967, Red Sox right fielder Tony Conigliaro, who had already gained notoriety, by becoming the second-youngest player in MLB history (Mel Ott, 1931) to reach the 100-home run mark, was at the plate ready to face California Angels pitcher Jack Hamilton.
Conigliaro was hit just under the left cheekbone by a Hamilton fastball and suffered a linear fracture of the left cheekbone and a dislocated jaw with severe damage to his left retina.
Conigliaro was later told by doctors that if the ball had hit him a couple of inches higher, he would have become the second player ever to have died from being hit by a pitch.
Conigliaro missed the rest of the season (his only chance at a World Series), and then sat out the entire 1968 season.
On July 4th 1999, the Pittsburgh Pirates were at home facing the Milwaukee Brewers in an afternoon holiday game (we need more of them).
Pirates’ catcher Jason Kendall, a very fast runner for a catcher, was attempting to bunt for a hit.
Kendall failed to beat out the bunt and his foot oddly hit the side of the first-base bag instead of the top of the bag. He took a few more strides, then collapsed.
When the trainer and players came to his assistance, they saw a gruesome sight. Kendall’s fibula was sticking several inches out of his skin.
It was one of the more gruesome and horrifying sights on the baseball field.
Photo by AP
On August 4, 1983 in between half innings heading into the bottom of the fifth inning Yankee star Dave Winfield innocently threw a ball back towards the infield that hit and killed a seagull.
For those of you old enough to remember Exhibition Stadium, seagulls seemed to love hanging around the old ball park.
After the game was over (Yanks won 3-1), Winfield got arrested for causing “unnecessary suffering of an animal” punishable by six months in prison or a $500 fine.
Winfield got hauled away to the police station. Blue Jay General Manager Pat Gillick paid his $500 bail to get him released.
The next day the charges were dropped.
The seagull actually had an autopsy (it’s true), which revealed that the seagull was not healthy prior to being hit by the ball, which explains why it didn’t try to evade the ball. Authorities in Toronto stated that it would have died within the next couple of weeks, nevertheless.
“That’s the first time Winfield’s hit the cutoff man all year” joked Manager Billy Martin.
Winfield, being the classy man that he always seemed to be, went back to Toronto that winter and brought with him a painting that he got an artist to create of seagulls flying and a red maple left.
He put it up for auction and raised $32,000 for Easter Seals.
Not to be outdone, 18 years later on March 24, 2001, during the seventh inning of a spring training game against the San Francisco Giants, Randy Johnson’s 95 MPH fastball struck a flying dove. The dove appeared to immediately explode amid a sea of feathers.
The umpire ruled that the pitch was a “no pitch.” PETA had another opinion!
On June 9, 1999, Mets manager Bobby Valentine was ejected in the 12th inning of an eventual 14-inning Mets victory over the Blue Jays.
In a 3-3 game in extra innings with speedster Shannon Stewart on first base, Valentine called for a pitch out with Pat Mahomes (Patrick’s dad) on the mound.
Mike Piazza stepped out for the pitchout, caught the ball and fired it to second base. Randy Marsh, the home plate umpire, called the play off for what he interpreted as catcher's interference, which officially gave the batter first base and Stewart second base.
Valentine came out to question the call, and was eventually thrown out of the game.
Bobby V then went to the clubhouse as is the normal course of action when being thrown out of a game.
However, it didn’t end there. He came back into the dugout in a disguise of sunglasses and a fake mustache, made of eye black.
He didn’t realize it at the time but the third-base camera captured the entire covert operation.
When it was relayed down to the umpires, they laughed it off but Bobby V was fined $5,000 and given a two-game suspension.
This one always angers me to this day. On September 19, 2002 the Kansas City Royals were on the south side to play the White Sox at Comiskey Park. During the game, Royals first base coach Tom Gamboa, doing his job and looking at the action at home plate, was suddenly attacked from behind by two fans who had jumped out from the stands. A wild commotion ensued, as Gamboa was thrown down to the ground by the two lunatics.
Gamboa ended up with several bruises and cuts on his face while a knife was found on the ground, seemingly belonging to one of the two assailants.
The more disturbing part of this story is that the two assailants were a father and son.
At 5:04 p.m. on October 17, 1989 just seconds before the start of Game 3 of the 1989 World Series between the Oakland Athletics and San Francisco Giants a substantial earthquake struck the Bay Area.
Since the World Series was being nationally televised, it was the first earthquake that had ever been witnessed live on television.
The quake caused immense destruction throughout San Francisco and the surrounding areas.
Paradoxically, it is said that the World Series actually helped to keep the death count very low, as many people had left work early that day to watch the game.
Photo via Twitter
This was a weird one. On September 23, 2022 I received a call from a friend telling me to put on the Mets - A’s game because there was a weird lady in the stands right in the camera’s view. So I did.
What I saw was bizarre, to say the least. Apparently Paramount sent actors to the game (as well as two other games) to promote the release of their new horror movie, Smile. A film that showcases demonic weirdos with very creepy smiles.
The actors at the games simply kept very weird and diabolical smiles on their faces and looked straight forward, unfazed by anything going on around them.
The marketing definitely worked as it got people talking about these weird fans at the games.
Seven pitches into Opening Day 1996 at Riverfront Stadium in Cincinnati with Rondell White at the plate tragedy struck. Umpire John McSherry called time, signaled to second base umpire Steve Rippley and started toward the exit into the umpires’ room behind home plate.
Tragically, he collapsed on the field, and was declared dead at University Hospital after intense on-field attempts to revive him by paramedics, attending medical staff and trainers from both teams.
A truly horrific scene.
San Francisco starter Dave Dravecky had a cancerous tumor in his arm removed in the 1989 offseason and in his second start back in the majors, he broke his arm throwing a pitch against the Montreal Expos.
A terrible sound that could be heard by all watching on TV as well as those in attendance.
A couple of years later he broke his arm again in the post-game celebration after the Giants won the National League pennant, ending his career.
Two years later, his left arm and shoulder were amputated.
On September 22, 1974 in a 5-5 game in the Top of the 9th inning between the Cubs and Cardinals “The Mad Hungarian” Al Hrabowski was on the mound.
Hrawbowski was well-known for a protracted ritual he did in which he turned his back to home plate, forcing the batter to wait out the ritual. On this day the Cubs were not in the mood and Bill Madlock chose to make Hrabowski wait for him instead, walking away from the batter’s box to add some pine tar to the bat.
Umpire, Shag Crawford, instructed Madlock to return to the box. When he didn’t hear him or just didn’t comply, Crawford started calling strikes with no one in the batter’s box, which brought out Cubs manager Jim Marshall to argue. The on-deck hitter, (ex- Yankee coach) Jose Cardenal, got into the argument as well and at one point, had started towards home plate, when Crawford continued to call strikes.
Cardenal impulsively stepped into the batter’s box to hit at the same time that Madlock ran up and tried to step in to hit as well, creating an insanely bizarre scenario in which two hitters were in the batter’s box at the same time.
Things didn’t end there as an all-out fight broke out between the two teams. Calm was eventually reestablished, but it just may be the only time in MLB history where two batters were ready to take a swing at the exact same time.
July 4 – 5 1985 the Mets were in Atlanta and the game seemed doomed from the start. There were multiple rain delays, arguments, ejections, and a fireworks show planned for after the last out of the game.
After 9 innings, the game was dead locked 8-8 and continued into extra innings. In the top of the 13th inning, the Mets grabbed a 10-8 lead. With 2 outs in the bottom of the 13th, Terry Harper hit a home run to tie the game. When the clock struck midnight the game continued on to July 5th.
The Mets scored in the top of the 18th.
In the bottom of the 18th, the Braves had run out of position players and sent up to hit relief pitcher Rick Camp. Camp was an infamously terrible hitter. He had never come close to hitting a home run.
That is exactly what he did to extend this game even further.
The Mets did score 5 in the Top of the 19th and ended up winning the game. To make this game even crazier, the fireworks still went off at about 4 in the morning, prompting 911 phone calls from residents who thought the city was being attacked and bombed.
Who can forget the 2007 playoffs? The Cleveland weather was unusually warm for an October evening. The Yankees were hanging on to a 1-0 lead in the 7th inning when set-up man Joba Chamberlain was summoned by Joe Torre to set things up for Mariano Rivera.
Chamberlain had a 0.38 ERA and 12.8 per 9 strikeout ratio that season. He was nearly unhittable. He closed out the 7th inning without an issue. “We were dead in the water,” said one Indians player.
When Joba took the mound in the 8th it got weird. The weather and stadium lights attracted an army of bugs known as “Canadian Soldiers” or midges-- small mosquito-like flies. The flies congregated on the pitching mound precisely during the top of the 8th inning.
One Yankee would later expound “I just remember Joba grabbing the back of his neck to wipe off sweat and his hand was black, full of bugs.”
It was difficult for Chamberlain to focus as the bugs completely surrounded him. A walk and two wild pitches later, he gave up the tying run. He was understandably shaken and frustrated as the bugs continued to wreak havoc throughout his entire appearance.
No one thought to stop the game.
Now it gets weirder, when the Yankees came up to bat and it was the Indians turn to handle the bugs, they had suddenly disappeared. Thanks to the midges, the Indians won the game and the series.
To this day, I believe it was the final straw in the Joe Torre era.
I’ll close this out with a classic Yankee moment that just happened to occur on Halloween night.
During the aftermath of the cowardly 9/11 attacks, Derek Jeter stepped into the batter’s box in the 10th inning of Game 4 of the 2001 World Series against the Arizona Diamondbacks. A game that began on October 31st.
Jeter was just 1 -15 when he dug in against Diamondback’s reliever Byung-Hyun Kim with the bases empty and two outs in a 3-3 game.
Jeter fouled off the first pitch and swung and missed at the second pitch. But, as we all learned over his career, he never gave up.
He would foul off two more pitches in what was developing into a long at-bat.
Unfortunately for Kim, he had to throw yet another pitch. Jeter's contact on that ninth pitch was good enough for an opposite-field drive that landed into the right field stands.
A fan held up a sign that would help the headline writers of the New York tabloids later that day:
Happy Halloween everyone! Make sure you have some treats on hand tonight, or you just might end up with some tricks!