Sunday, August 28, 2011

Most Bizzare Twins Fielding Play: Brant Alyea on April 25, 1970

In the early season of 1970, new Twins outfielder Brant Alyea was the flavor of the month.  He had been acquired in the off-season from Ted William's Washington Senators; dare I say it, he was "Mr. En Fuego" that April, so hot that Twins fans were just busting down the turnstiles to get a look at Calvin Griffith's latest trade steal. Which was good, since he and the organization were dealing with a backlash from said fans angry about the sacking of Billy Martin as manager.

1970 Topps Card
Earl Wilson was a top-flight starter for the Red Sox and Tigers in the 1960's. Paul Ratliff was one of the average, fill-in catchers who populated the Twins roster in the period between Earl Battey and Butch Wynegar. He'd been in the Twins system since 1962.

                                                                 Big Brant!
 Alyea, 29 at the time, has gone down in Twins baseball lore for his starring role in the strangest fielding play ever during that '70 campaign. For your perusal this piece...

The superstitious Leo Cardenas
(see Classic Twins story)
1970 Wheeldon Super Value
From Dave Smith: May 1997 Baseball Retrosheet newsletter 

"How about a strikeout with the batter being retired K-7-6-7? In the game of April 25, 1970, [Jim Kaat struck out] Tiger pitcher Earl end the seventh inning in the Twin Cities. Or so it appeared to everyone except Detroit third base coach Grover Resinger. He saw that Twins catcher Paul Ratliff trapped the pitch in the dirt, did not tag Wilson for the strikeout, and rolled the ball to the mound. Resinger told Wilson to start running as most of the Twins entered the dugout. Earl got to first easily and headed for second. Since no one interfered with him, he started for third. By this time, Brant Alyea, who was trotting in from left field, heard Resinger shouting at Wilson. Alyea hustled to the mound but had trouble picking up the ball. Wilson headed for home where Twins Leo Cardenas and Ratliff had returned. Alyea finally picked up the ball and threw to Cardenas. Wilson turned back to third but was tagged out by Alyea for a K-7-6-7. Rookie catcher Ratliff was charged with an error. After the game, Detroit catcher Bill Freehan said "If Alyea had been hustling, Earl might have made it [home]. Tell him [Alyea] to start coming in and off the field a little quicker." The aftermath of the story is that Wilson pulled a hamstring muscle running the bases and had to leave the game."  [same description (plus Alyea biographical info) of play at Baseball Reference].

Today, Alyea joins Johnny Briggs and Joe Mauer
in the Twins all-time sideburns Hall-of-Fame.

(1970 Wheeldon Super Valu portrait)

In case you missed Freehan's meaning in Smith's piece, he was slyly intoning that had Alyea charged into the dugout from left field with Pete Rose-style gusto, he never would have been in the position to pick up the ball and make the inning ending play with Cardenas. Instead, his lollygagging proved a fortunate circumstance for the Twins. The lamentable part of this episode to me is the fact that even though the game was televised locally and being videotaped, the twins broadcast team went to commercial immediately after the apparent strikeout of Wilson. And without an actual newspaper wire photo, I have to rely on my imagination to picture Paul Ratliff standing by home plate near Cardenas, idly scratching his nether regions while the craziness transpired. His presence in the lineup that day was to give George Mitterwald a day off, in any event.

As said, Alyea had one HELL of a month that April with the Twins. In fact he was Hotter than Hell, to quote those American rock poets of KISS (the difference being, his services were for the Twins and Griffith, and not, well, Satan). Of course, big league clubs had ways even then about spreading the word about a player, what pitches they're hitting well, their tendencies to swing or not in a given ball/strike count. Well...things apparently caught up with Alyea soon enough. His coach turned back into a pumpkin, and teams were again throwing him a curveball, or some pitch that didn't neccessarily stay on a straight plane for him to hit. In his defense, he didn't really get all that many starts as a "regular," what with the Twins use of several players to man left field. Hard to stay sharp, much less remain on a hot streak! So, it was back to being a career .255 hitter (BBRef stats, 1965-69). But he undeniably had his career month that April, no taking that away!

May 9, 1970 TSN

See his April stats: for awhile, Twins fans could forget about Billy can click on any date to get additional game info and boxscore minutae. Hit the "back" button on your browser to circle back to the list for other games (season totals in black, bottom).

As our old friend at the mic, Herb Carneal, would say: "...And the count rides along." - TT
                           Getting some ribbies, first day as a Twin

1 comment:

Douglas said...

Interesting story. For a pitcher who finished his career going 5-12, Earl Wilson sure had interesting season the plate. That year he was the last pitcher to hit a home run for both an American (Det) and National league (SD) team within the same year. A feat not repeated until 2008 when CC Sabathia (Cleveland and then Milwaukee).