July 7, 2007

Mike Torrez's Memory And The Job Of A Journalist

Several players on the 1977 New York Yankees watched the new mini-series "The Bronx Is Burning" and then talked about the 1978 team's comeback against the Red Sox in the AL East.

The New York Times quotes Mike Torrez, who pitched for the MFY in 1977 and then signed as a free agent with the Red Sox in 1978:
Zimmer took Bill Lee out of the rotation because they did not get along. Bill had 10 wins and 3 losses at the All-Star break. But he called Don a buffalo head and Don took him out of the rotation and put him in the bullpen. He called up Bobby Sprowl from the minors to start and he didn't win a game in seven starts. That hurt us.
Torrez doesn't have his facts correct. Which is fine -- it was almost 30 years ago. But New York Times writer Joe Brescia falls down on the job, not bothering to check Torrez's memories.

Bobby Sprowl did not start seven games for the Red Sox. He started three games -- his only appearances that season -- and Boston won one of them.

Sprowl made his major league debut on September 5, 1978 in Baltimore. He pitched well, throwing six shutout innings before faltering in the 7th and into the 8th (7-5-4-3-3-5). The Red Sox lost to Jim Palmer, 4-1.

His second start is the game that anyone really remembers him for. It came in what was the fourth and final game of the Boston Massacre -- September 10 against the Yankees at Fenway.

Boston began the series with a four-game lead on the Yankees, but lost the first three games 15-3, 13-2 and 7-0. Zimmer defended starting the kid with first place on the line because, he famously said, the 22-year-old left-hander had "ice water" in his veins.

Sprowl lasted only .2 of an inning: Mickey Rivers walked and stole second. Willie Randolph walked. Thurman Munson grounded into a 6-4-3 double play, moving Rivers to third. Then Reggie Jackson singled to center, scoring Rivers, Lou Pinella walked, and Chris Chamblis walked. And that was Sprowl's day. ... Bob Stanley let two of those inherited runners score on a Graig Nettles single and the Yankees went on to win 7-4.

(Note: A 14-year-old kid from Vermont was at the game the previous day -- his third ever trip to Fenway -- watching Ron Guidry toss a two-hitter (two first-inning singles). Giving me a 0-3 record at Fenway at that point.)

Sprowl's third start for the Red Sox came in Detroit on September 18. Sprowl put up a 5-6-3-3-5 line, but did not get a decision. Boston won 5-4 in 11 innings.

On to the Spaceman.

When the 1978 All-Star game was played on July 11, Lee was 9-3. He improved his record to 10-3 four days later. That minor error is quite forgivable. However.

Looking at Lee's game log, it's obvious that he was not pulled from the rotation at that time. Indeed he made seven more starts -- every five days, like clockwork: July 20, 25, and 30, and August 4, 9, 14, and 19.

Lee lost every single one of them: 41.2 IP, 54 hits, 16 walks, only 9 strikeouts, a 5.18 ERA. Seven straight losing decisions, dropping his record to 10-10 on August 19. Lee did not start another game after that, though he did pitch in relief on August 28 and September 1, 8 and 10 (the Sprowl game).

So we learn that it was Lee who lost the seven games, not Sprowl. Zimmer hated Lee and let him rot in the pen -- putting his personal feelings ahead of trying to win ball games -- but Lee had slumped to 10-10 before he was pulled from the rotation.

Joe Brescia could have spent five minutes online double-checking Torrez's recollection. He did not bother -- and presented his readers with a distorted view of what happened in 1978.

(Also, while Lee hung the Gerbil tag on Zimmer -- "What is Billy Martin? He's a dirty rat. Then what is Don Zimmer? He's a gerbil. He has puffy cheeks and kids like him." -- I believe it was fellow pitcher Fergie Jenkins who coined the term "buffalo head".)


laura k said...

Somebody please email this post to Mr Brescia!

allan said...

Already sent to the Times sports editor.


(I knew there was nfw that Sprowl got seven starts.)

laura k said...

Already sent to the Times sports editor.

Good job somebody's doing their work for them.

accudart said...

Allan, great stuff! I heard the tail end of an interview with the Spaceman last night on ESPN radio. It was very good and very entertaining. He had some intersting views on steriods and the modern game. I guess he was hawking a new book about ecentric players in the game.

Alan do have a won-lost record of games you've attended @ Fenway? Any your road record?

For the record, I'm good for a couple of gum balls a year.

accudart said...

anyone read reviews or have Lee's book?

allan said...

No idea what my record is. Living in New York for 17 years, I saw a lot of Sox games.

In fact, I don't know when the first time I saw them win was. I always say it was at least the 5th time.

I went once each in 76, 77 (don't remember the date) and 78, but then ....? (I wish I still had my scorecards from those years, both from games attended and from the radio.)

We went in down for those two games in what -- 1982?


Nope. 1983! July 8 and 9, 1983. Friday night, Sox lost to Bruce Kison and Saturday afternoon, Sox and Tudor won 10-3; Yaz had 5 RBI.

laura k said...

So Ray chews gum balls. Learn something new every day.

Hi Ray! See you soon. :)

allan said...

Well, there's a cheap wedding present possibility.

accudart said...

penny for a gum ball Mickey? 83', don't remember much.....Yaz, sleeping in a car, sleeping on the sidewalk, we broke beer bottles we brought into Fenway that's pretty much it. Looking forward to seeing you guys!

laura k said...

sleeping in a car, sleeping on the sidewalk, we broke beer bottles we brought into Fenway

Those were the days, eh?


allan said...

The beer bottles were on the trip we took by bus -- and sat in sunny right field. (How we ever got those beers in the park -- a backpack full of 'em -- will remain an eternal mystery.)

I remember Steve Balboni hit 2 HR that day.

I'm off to Retrosheet....

allan said...

I remembered wrong. He hit 8 HR in Fenway -- and never 2 in one day.

Okay. I *know* he was with the Royals that day -- which would mean it had to be 1984, 85 or 86 (when I was still in VT). And it was likely a weekend game.

Here's his Fenway taters with KC:

None in 1984.

None in 1985.

Five in 1986:

April 16 v Al Nipper - Wednesday night and it was the only run in a 1-0 Sox loss. (Nope)

April 17 v Roger Clemens - Thursday night, Clemens CG, Don Baylor GS, Sox win 6-2. (Nope)

August 1 v Bruce Hurst - Friday, solo shot in 4th, Sox win 5-3. (Nope)

August 2 v Tim Lollar - Saturday - KC scores 11 in 7th, wins 13-2. (Nope)

August 3 v Al Nipper - Sunday, 3-run shot in the 4th, Sox win 5-3 (Possible, but could we have gone this late in '86 and so close to me moving to NY?)


Date still unknown.

allan said...

Thanks Universal Hub!

jmk said...

Lee's 7 straight losses are misleading. He pitched 2 complete game losses and 1 game where he left with 2 out in the 9th. In the 7 losses the Sox scored 6,2,1,2,1,3 and 4 runs. Koufax can win with that support but few others can. His ERA was 3.52 when pulled from the rotation after game 122. The last 40 games (1/4 of a season!) that stupid SOB Zimmer pitched him only 16 innings, (including 9.1 against the NYY in relief in lost games in which Lee allowed only 1 ER!) The last 20 games of the season Lee pitched 0 IP as Zimmer would rather lose with Sproul etc than win with Lee. This season ended in a tie and playoff game with the NYY but one more win by the Sox would have made the playoff game unnecessary. Zimmer is the villain and the stupidest SOB ever to manage the Sox and makes Grady look like a genius. After the season Zimmer got Lee traded to the Expos for Stan Papi (a .200 hitter) and Lee won 16 for the Expos. Torrez is generally right-Lee was a solid pitcher that Zimmer hated and wouldn't pitch and that is a big part of the reason Zimmer alone is responsible for the Sox meltdown in 78.