Last weekend, a young lefty reliever named Cesar Cabral was called into a game to face the Tampa Bay Rays. Cabral had a short stint with the Yankees last year, and a few weeks ago he earned a promotion to the big leagues after a slew of injuries hit the bullpen. In a blowout game, Cabral proceeded hit three batters in a row without recording an out. After the third hit-by-pitch, he was ejected. These hit-by-pitches were not intentional. It was just a bad game.
Well, it happens. Wait, no it doesn’t. Do you know how many times in the history of baseball that a pitcher has hit three batters without recording an out? Three times. It is rarer than a perfect game, rarer than an unassisted triple play, rarer than just about anything in the game.
The first time this happened was in 1914 in a game between the Indianapolis Hoosiers and the Buffalo Blues. Yes, until now I did not know that, at one point, there were two major league teams in Indianapolis and Buffalo.* A pitcher named Earl Moore entered the game in the second inning and hit three Hoosier players before he was pulled (or ejected; no one really knows).
*The Hoosiers played one year in Indianapolis, then re-located to Newark and were called the Newark Pepper. Yes, Pepper. Singular. The franchise collapsed after 1915. The Blues (sometimes called the Bisons or Buffeds) also collapsed after 1915.
Both of these teams were in the Federal League, which tried to challenge the American and National League as a third league in the early twentieth century. Interference by the NL and AL in their operations caused the FL to fold after the 1915 season. In fact, this led to one of the more renowned Supreme Court cases of the time – Federal Baseball Club v National League, in which the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the Sherman Antitrust Act did not apply to Major League Baseball. In any event, the league itself and many sports writers considered it a major league during its existence, and all stats and records fall under the hood of Major League Baseball (organized baseball recognized its major league status in 1968). The Federal League was the last serious attempt to create a third major league.
The second time it happened makes for one of the oddest baseball stories of all time.
I don’t know how I never heard this story. But I always like coming across new one’s. You see, at this point I’ve read so many books and watched so many games that I know pretty much all of the juiciest baseball stories, so hearing a new one is like when you find out something new about a friend or a family member that you’ve known forever. It’s always good to know that there are untold stories that have slipped through the cracks. And, if you’ve hung around this blog enough, you know that I love hearing about odd baseball stories, most of which are lost in the ether of the game’s past.
This is a story about Dock Ellis. You probably know that Ellis pitched for the Pirates in the 1970’s and is most famous for throwing a no-hitter under the influence of LSD (which has since prompted one of the most most ridiculous videos on the internet).
“I can only remember bits and pieces of the game. I was psyched. I had a feeling of euphoria. I was zeroed in on the (catcher’s) glove, but I didn’t hit the glove too much. I remember hitting a couple of batters, and the bases were loaded two or three times. The ball was small sometimes, the ball was large sometimes, sometimes I saw the catcher, sometimes I didn’t. Sometimes, I tried to stare the hitter down and throw while I was looking at him. I chewed my gum until it turned to powder. I started having a crazy idea in the fourth inning that Richard Nixon was the home plate umpire, and once I thought I was pitching a baseball to Jimi Hendrix, who to me was holding a guitar and swinging it over the plate. They say I had about three to four fielding chances. I remember diving out of the way of a ball I thought was a line drive. I jumped, but the ball wasn’t hit hard and never reached me.”
But no, this is a story about what happened on May 1st, 1974, four years after the no-hitter. This story starts at a party in Pittsburgh, as all good stories do. A sportswriter named Donald Hall spotted Ellis at a party. He then spotted Dock’s attorney and friend Tom Reich, who was shaking his head in disapproval of a plan of Dock’s.
Dock Ellis was planning to hit every Cincinnati Reds player in his next start.
Hall then approached Ellis and asked him about the plan:
“Are you really going to hit every Cincinnati ballplayer Wednesday night?”
Ellis looked at Hall with awe. “How do you know that?” he said.
In a 2006 interview, Ellis gave some more background on the incident.
“They called our team dumb,” said Ellis of the Reds. “I told Kurt Bevacqua in spring training I would drill all of them. Bevacqua said, ‘I’ll bet you a Chateaubriand.’ I collected.”
Manny Sanguillen was the Pirates catcher that day.
The Reds said something in the paper, and Dock told me, “I’m going to knock everybody down.” I just sat there and he threw the ball. He said, “No matter what you do, I’m going to throw the ball at them. No matter what you say, I’m going to throw at them.” Dock didn’t care.
It was something out of a video game – yes, a major league pitcher was planning to hit as many players as he could in a game. Ellis was one of the few men capable of having such a thought and actually acting on it.
And then it was Wednesday night, and only a handful of people knew what was about to happen. The first batter of the game was Pete Rose. The first pitch was thrown directly at his head, “not to actually hit him,” as Ellis later said, “but as the message, to let him know that he was going to get hit.” The next pitch was behind Rose. The next one hit Rose in the side. Rose smiled, picked the ball up, and gently tossed it back to Dock. And then he sprinted to first. Rose always had style.
The next batter was Joe Morgan. It’s not often you have two Hall of Fame players lead off a game back-to-back, but this was in the heart of the Big Red Machine era, right before the Reds won two consecutive World Series against the Red Sox (1975) and Yankees (1976). Morgan would win the MVP award in both years.
The first pitch hit him in the kidneys.
In 2014, this is the point where Ellis is ejected, and you could imagine the outrage that would follow. But, no, this was 1974, and Ellis was still out there, even though everyone knew that he was completely crazy.
The next batter was Dan Driessen. The first pitch was high and inside. The second pitch hit him in the back. OK, so at this point Ellis had thrown six pitches, all inside, and had hit three men.
But, no, Ellis was still not ejected. Bases loaded, no outs.
And then the cleanup hitter Tony Perez came up to bat. Here is how Ellis remembered it.
“There was no way I could hit him. He was running. The first one I threw behind him, over his head, up against the screen, but it came back off the glass, and they didn’t advance. I threw behind him because he was backing up, but then he stepped in front of the ball. The next three pitches, he was running. . . . I walked him.”
Ellis was making a farce of the game. Still no ejection, though.
The next batter was Johnny Bench. It’s pretty amazing – three of the top five Reds that day were future Hall of Famers (four if you include Rose). The first pitch was at Bench’s jaw, and he avoided it. 1-0. The next pitch was at the back of his head, and he avoided it again. 2-0. I don’t know who the home plate umpire was,* but how could you have possibly allowed Ellis to keep pitching?
*Thanks to the magic of the internet I just discovered it was a man named Jerry Dale, who as it turns out is 81 years old and still alive. He was a National League umpire from 1970 to 1985 and then became an adjunct professor of business and social science at Maryville College, as well as an African safari tour guide. Quite the life. I am tempted to track him down and write him a letter.
**Update from the future: I did track him down! You can read the interview here.**
Finally, someone took a stand. It was Pittsburgh manager Danny Murtagh, who walked to the mound. “What’s wrong?” he asked, deadpan. “Can’t find the plate?” He removed Ellis from the game.
Ellis’s final line: 0 IP, 0 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 1 BB, 0 SO, 3 HBP.
And now Cesar Cabral joins this most improbable list.