Thursday, April 07, 2005
what's in a number? A lot...
Quatrains can wait - baseball is back! *LOL*
Following is an ode to the unluckiest number in a field of... bad dreams!
The first Red Sox player to wear #6 was a shortstop: Hal Rhyne, a 5'8" Californian who'd come over from Pittsburgh. Hal led the league in assists and fielding percentage in '31, but lasted only one more year with the Sox.
In 1933 the number went to William Henry "Bucky" Walters. Bucky was a young third baseman who played a total of 75 games for the BoSox, batting .244, before being sold to his home town Phillies in 1934. He must have had a great arm at third, because Philadelphia turned him into a pitcher! Pitching for Cincinnati, Bucky went on to lead the league in wins three times, and was the NL MVP in 1939. He ended up with 198 career victories. Put Bucky Walters in a special alcove of the Jeff Bagwell Room.
1936 shortstop-manager Joe Cronin took over #6, the only season he didn't wear his now-retired #4. Cronin was injured for much of the year, and the shortstop job went to Eric "Boob" McNair, a versatile infielder who had starred for Connie Mack. Some say that the slow-footed Cronin was jealous of the slicker-fielding McNair. Anyway, the team finished 6th, and Cronin ditched his unlucky number. The following year Joe was back at SS and McNair took over second base and #6.
In 1937 Boob McNair's wife died in childbirth and he blamed himself. He starting drinking heavily. He got hold of a revolver and went out on a high ledge of the team's hotel in Detroit, saying, "I'm going to kill Cronin." It took his teammates forty-five minutes to get him back inside. McNair's playing fell apart in '38 and he was traded to the ChiSox. McNair died a broken man in his hometown of Meridian, Mississippi, shortly before his 40th birthday.
In 1942 #6 was assigned to rookie shortstop Johnny (Paveskovich) Pesky. Johnny led the league in hits with 205, then went off to war. When he came back, #6 was returned to him, and he led the league in hits for two more years. However, Pesky won a plaque in the Bill Buckner Room for the play which ended the 1946 World Series -- as Enos Slaughter scored the winning run from first, Pesky "held the ball". Actually, he took a relay throw from center field, turned, and threw the ball, but the Boston press convinced a generation that Pesky had stood transfixed while Slaughter raced home. Pesky moved to third base in '48, and was traded in '52, but he came back as a manager-coach-interim manager-fungo hitter from 1961 to the present, wearing 22 and 35 before settling on his old #6. He is still haunted by Enos Slaughter's dash to the plate.
Pesky was traded to Detroit as part of a monumental deal that hurt both teams. Coming over from the Tigers was a steady shortstop named Johnny Lipon. Johnny donned Pesky's #6, and promptly turned into a has-been, batting .208 with the Red Sox and earning a quick trip to the St. Louis Browns.
In 1954 a rookie left-handed first baseman named Harry Agganis broke in with the Sox. Harry was a beloved high school and college football-baseball hero from Lynn, a role model for thousands of early-50's kids. He wore #6. After a mediocre first season, Harry was batting .313 when he checked into Sancta Maria hospital with pneumonia. The baseball world was shocked on June 27, 1955 when Harry Agganis died of a pulmonary thrombosis. He was 25 years old.
To show that baseball players aren't superstitious, Harry's number was not taken out of circulation. Instead, they made him the start of a new tradition -- #6 for left-handed first basemen. Mickey Vernon and Vic Wertz, who'd had their best years with Washington and Cleveland, succeeded Agganis. In the 60's came another southpaw first sacker, Lee "Mad Dog" Thomas, who survived to become general manager of the Phillies, the worst team in baseball.
The next wearer of #6 was shortstop Americo Peter Petrocelli of Brooklyn. Rico was an insecure young player who was persecuted by manager Billy Herman to the point where he almost quit baseball. Rico's fortunes improved when Dick Williams became manager; Petrocelli became an All-Star, and set a record for home runs by a shortstop. Like Johnny Pesky, Rico was moved from shortstop to third base in mid-career, and like Pesky he has stayed close to the Red Sox organization in various capacities -- announcer, Pawtucket manager, hitting instructor. After Rico retired, the next wearer of #6 was... Needlenose Johnny Pesky, in a coaching stint for Ralph Houk.
When Bill Buckner came to the Red Sox in 1984, he wore #16. John McNamara brought in a new set of coaches in '85, Pesky was out, and Billy Buck appropriated Needlenose's #6. In 1986 Buckner, like Rico Petrocelli in '67, caught the game-ending pop-up that launched a pennant celebration for the Red Sox. And then Buckner, like Pesky, became a World Series goat. Makes you wonder.
Here is what Bill Lee wrote about Carl Yastrzemski's number in The Wrong Stuff:
"Yaz is blessed. I believe that is one of the reasons he has been able to play so well for so long. The other reason is his uniform number. Yaz wore number eight. I had noticed that, starting in 1975, Carl was taking catnaps in the trainer's room. With his uniform on. When laid on its side the number 8 resembles the symbol for infinity. That symbol was recharging Yaz's batteries. If he had just worn his uniform while he slept at night, I am convinced he could have played forever."
You gotta love Bill Lee - the spaceman! And I do! But, Don Cherry used to say "you gotta love him" about ANOTHER number 8... in his own sport of course ; Cam The Man Neely! And that infinity thing did not exactly work out for HIM... Cam's career was in fact cut terribly short. Hockey being a contact sport, Neely was outright assaulted - in a cowardly way too - while Yaz never had to worry about defending himself while swinging the bat or patrolling the field... Thus, my luminous conclusion is - all of that number stuff, though fascinating it may be, can be off-shot by a mere goon play from a goofy would-be goon such as "Ulf" Samuelsson...