A Good Story (Even If It May Not Be True)
Let me preface today's post by stating that I love a good baseball story as much as the next fan. But I've developed a pretty good b.s. detector over the past 50-plus years. I can usually separate the fiction from the facts. My antennae tend to go up when I hear a former player recall an incident from long ago.
On Friday, August 27, the Cincinnati Reds were hosting the Chicago Cubs. I was watching the game via MLB Extra Innings. I'm not sure why I even had the game on other than to keep tallies on Joey Votto, who is on my fantasy baseball team.
With the Reds beating the Cubs 6-1 in the bottom of the sixth and Thomas Diamond facing Ramon Hernandez, play-by-play announcer Thom Brennaman asks color analyst Jeff Brantley a question out of the blue. "Cowboy, do you remember the first home you gave up as a major league pitcher? Do you remember who hit it? Do you remember the year?"
Brantley laughs, "Oh, yeah," but doesn't answer quickly. Brennaman interjects, "Let's start off with the easy part: the year." Brantley says, "The year was '88." Brennaman responds, "You're one for one." He offers Brantley a hint by saying "the guy at the time was playing for the Montreal Expos." Brantley guesses Delino DeShields. Brennaman gives him a hard time and basically hands him the answer by telling Brantley it was a slugging first baseman. Brantley asks, "Andres Galarraga?" Brennaman then chimes in, "You got it."
That discussion was all fine and dandy. No reason to question the truth here. I figured Brennaman or a staff member looked up that piece of trivia before the game. The good stuff immediately followed when Brantley proceeded to spin a tale about another home run he allowed.
Brantley: The one that I remember the most was the home run by Eddie Murray and the reason I remember it the most is because I had thrown him a split-finger on the first pitch and he swung and missed it by a mile. I mean, he looked like a clown, and I thought this guy was, like, really good.
Brennaman: (Laughing) He was pretty good.
Brantley: Yeah, and I'm thinking to myself, 'This guy just missed my pitch by a mile.' Terry Kennedy, our catcher at the time, came to the mound and he said, 'Don't throw him that pitch again.' I said, 'Why not?' I said, 'He just missed it by a mile.' He goes, 'He's going to be sitting on it.' So I threw him a bunch of fastballs and he kept fouling them off, fouling them off. Kennedy kept calling fastball. I was like, 'Forget that. This guy's not gonna hit another split-finger.' I threw it and he hit it in the upper deck in Candlestick. The upper deck.
Brennaman: That's a long home run.
Brantley: Oh my gosh.
Brennaman: Was that in '88 as well?
Brantley: No, that was in '89. I learned that one. But I learned a very valuable lesson that day.
Here is the two-and-a-half-minute clip of the foregoing conversation:
How do I know, you ask? Well, thanks to Retrosheet and Baseball-Reference.com, we can look up exactly what took place on that Saturday afternoon. A fact-finding mission moments after Brantley finished his tall tale detailed the real story. It's not quite as interesting as the one Brantley told.
Brantley indeed got ahead in the count. However, the first pitch wasn't a split-finger that Murray missed by a mile. Rather, it was a *called* strike. It's pretty tough to look like a clown when you don't even swing at the pitch. But, hey, it makes for a nice story 21 years later.
Murray fouled off the second pitch. Score one for Brantley. That said, Brantley didn't throw him "a bunch of fastballs," nor did Murray keep "fouling them off, fouling them off." Heck, Brantley only threw him three pitches. A called strike, a foul ball, and the offering that Murray presumably hit into the upper deck. Murray did slug a home run. That's not being questioned. And, for all I know, he may have hit one of Brantley's split-finger pitches. And it may have landed in the upper deck. Who knows at this point?
Just a matter of not recounting the type and number of pitches? Well, not really. Terry Kennedy didn't even play that day. Kirt Manwaring started and played the entire game at catcher. As a result, there is no way that Kennedy "came out to the mound" and told Brantley not to throw that split-finger again. If the truth be told, it was this bit of information that led me to question what happened. Look, why in the world would Kennedy (or Manwaring, for that matter) take a trip to the mound to tell his pitcher not to throw the same pitch that the batter had just swung and missed by a mile while looking like a clown? It doesn't make sense. In other words, it didn't pass the "smell test."
I don't know if anybody else caught this gaffe. More than anything, it reminds me just how valuable it is to access old box scores, as well as play-by-play and pitch summaries. Thank you, Retrosheet. Thank you, Baseball-Reference.com.
And thank you, Jeff Brantley. Nothing like some good ol' Cowboy folklore.