This article was written by John Contois
Who hits the ball and makes it go?
Who runs the bases fast, not slow?
Who’s better than his brother Joe?
But when it comes to gettin’ dough,
They give it all to brother Joe.
--Parody of Les Brown song: “Joltin’ Joe DiMaggio”
It is easy to overlook the remarkable career of Dominic DiMaggio. After all, he lived in the shadow of two famous ballplayers: his brother Joe, arguably the greatest all-around ballplayer of his era, and good friend and teammate Ted Williams, a Red Sox legend. Yet Dom was as solid a major-leaguer as there was in any era, and he was beloved by Red Sox fans. He was a career .298 hitter who played in seven All-Star games. He had a 34-game hitting streak in 1949, still a Red Sox record, and is one of only three players to average more than 100 runs per season throughout his career. For the years he played, he led the major leagues in hits, was second in runs and third in doubles. On the Red Sox all-time list, Dom is seventh in runs scored (1,046), doubles (308), walks, and total bases; eighth in hits (1,680), and 10th in extra-base hits. Many baseball fans will agree with David Halberstam, who in The Summer of ’49 refers to Dom as the most underrated player of his day.
Dominic Paul DiMaggio, the youngest of nine children, was born on February 12, 1917, and grew up in a typical working-class home at 2047 Taylor Street in the North Beach-Telegraph Hill section of San Francisco. Dom and brother Joe used to sell newspapers in downtown San Francisco on the corners of Sauter and Sansone Streets. The patriarch of the clan, Giuseppe DiMaggio, was a hardworking fisherman from Sicily who spoke little English. Their mother, Rosalie, a former schoolteacher, covered for the boys so that they could play baseball, which their father found frivolous and which violated Giuseppe’s code of a strong work ethic. Three of the DiMaggio brothers, Joe, Vince, and Dom, went on to play center field in the major leagues, and it was said of the brothers that Joe was the best hitter, Dom had the best arm, and Vince, who had aspirations to become an opera singer, had the best voice.
In his youth Dom thought of becoming a chemical engineer; he was offered an academic and baseball scholarship to Santa Clara College, but chose instead to follow the path of his older brothers. Vince had set the stage by winning a roster spot on the minor-league San Francisco Seals in the Pacific Coast League at the start of the 1932 season. Vince paved the way for his brother Joe to join the team when a shortstop position later became available.
While Dom was still in high school, Joe was burning up the Pacific Coast League and was sold to the New York Yankees for $25,000. In 1934, as a senior at Galileo High School, Dom was a solid pitcher and shortstop hitting .400. Dom later played shortstop for the North Beach Merchants sandlot team while working at the Simmons mattress factory. He was scouted by the Seals, and later attended a joint baseball camp and tryout for the Seals and Cincinnati Reds. He was immediately called in to the Seals office and offered a contract.
In 1936, Joe made it to the New York Yankees, and in the following year Vince made it to the Boston Braves. Meanwhile, Dom began playing for the Seals in 1937. Dom hit .306 that season, but was still criticized by some who thought he was signed not because of talent, but because of his famous last name. Dom turned down a chance to sit out the last game of the season in order to preserve his .302 average and instead added four points. Dom continued to prove himself with a solid 1938 season, hitting .308; then 1939 proved to be his breakout season. Dom managed to add 20 pounds to his diminutive frame, and with instruction from Lefty O’Doul, the Seals manager, Dom raised his average to .361, finishing second in batting in the Pacific Coast League and winning the MVP award. Dom was first in hits and runs scored and second in stolen bases and triples. A few years earlier, O’Doul had also helped Joe raise his average by almost 60 points. Dominic had high praise for O’Doul in his 1990 book, Real Grass, Real Heroes, calling him “…far and away the finest hitting instructor that ever put on a baseball uniform.” After the 1939 season, the Red Sox purchased Dom’s contract for $75,000.
Lefty O’Doul once again showed his insight into the game by telling reporters in San Francisco that DiMaggio would be a sensation in Boston: “Boston is one town where the fans know and appreciate all-around good ballplayers. Boston is going to idolize Dom” (from Real Grass, Real Heroes).
Dominic made his major-league debut on April 16, 1940, and had little trouble adjusting to the big leagues, hitting .301 and scoring 81 runs in 108 games in his rookie season. Going into spring training, Dom was concerned that he might not get to play because Boston was loaded with good outfielders: Ted Williams in left, Doc Cramer in center, Lou Finney in right, and Joe Vosmik, a 10-year veteran, as backup. But Dom, at age 23, had a solid spring and was able to beat out Finney, a .300 hitter the year before, for the starting right fielder’s job. Later in the season, Dom was moved to center field, and there he remained for the rest of his career. The Red Sox showed confidence in DiMaggio by trading Doc Cramer to the Senators during the offseason.
Dom had fond memories of the Red Sox-Yankees rivalry, and especially the media interest in the DiMaggio brothers in center field. He recalled that the newspapers made a big deal out of the first time in 1940 when the Yankees visited Boston for a five-game series. Dom had 11 hits to Joe’s nine, or as Dom said, “Twenty hits for the family in one series.” One week later in New York, Joe advised his younger brother to move back because the ball carried well in that part of the ballpark. The next day Dom, taking Joe’s advice, was able to run down a fly ball hit 460 feet to deep center -- off the bat of brother Joe.
In 1941, Dominic went to spring training knowing his role: center fielder and leadoff hitter. After a slow start, which he attributed to tender hands (playing cards in the offseason in his brother Joe’s new restaurant in San Francisco instead of fishing with his father) he finished third with 117 runs scored, batted a solid .283, and was named to the All-Star team for the first time. In his first All-Star Game he singled to drive in his brother Joe. The media attention surrounding the DiMaggio brothers, especially with the success of all three center fielders, led to false rumors of a Hollywood movie, and inspired sportswriter Grantland Rice to poetry:
Out in the olive trail they go --
Vincent, Dominic, and Joe,
Lashing, flashing, steaming hot
In the fabled land of swat.
Where the big ash sings its song
For the glory of the throng,
Or the big mace through the fray
Sends the apple on its way --
Watch them as they whirl, careen,
Over the fields of verdant green.
Rulers of the batting eye,
Where their gaudy triples fly,
In the sunset’s shining glow
Who is it that steals the show?
Vincent, Dominic, and Joe.
During the ’42 season, as World War II expanded, many ballplayers were drafted into military service. Around this time Dom was labeled the “Little Professor” because of his 5-foot-9, 168-pound frame, his serious expression, and his glasses -- necessary to correct his nearsightedness. Dom earned his second All-Star selection that season while on his way to hitting .286 with 110 runs scored, good for third in the league, 272 total bases, and 36 doubles. Early in the season, Dom tried to enlist in the Navy but was told that his vision was an issue. “I had to fight my way into the Navy,” said DiMaggio. “They rejected me because of my eyesight, and for the longest time, I told them I wanted to be in the Navy. I was not about to sit out the war.” Despite a 4-F classification, he was able to enlist after completing the season, and left work and home for a three-year stint in the United States Navy. While in the service, DiMaggio played for the Norfolk Naval Training Station team in Virginia and saw overseas duty as well.
Dominic returned to baseball in 1946, along with Ted Williams, Johnny Pesky, Bobby Doerr, and many of the more than 500 professional baseball players who had served during wartime. The Red Sox had an amazing year, finishing 12 games ahead of the Tigers and 17 games ahead of the Yankees, with 104 wins and only 50 losses. Dom was once again an All-Star, hitting .316 and driving in 73 runs. The Red Sox were exuberant about playing in their first World Series since 1918 and very confident.
The Series that year was decided in a legendary Game Seven at Sportsman’s Park in St. Louis. In the top of the eighth inning, with a 3-1 Cardinals lead, Dominic came to bat with two outs and men on second and third. With Ted Williams on deck, he knew he would get a pitch to hit and he drove the ball off the wall in right-center. Dom was thinking triple as he hustled around the bases, but he popped a hamstring and hobbled into second base. He was replaced on base and then in center field by Leon Culberson. Ted Williams popped out to end the inning. With the score tied, 3-3, St. Louis took the Series on Enos Slaughter’s “mad dash” home from first base after a soft line drive to center off the bat of Harry Walker. Dom believed that if he had been able to remain in the game, the outcome might have been different. He had more experience in center field than Culberson and he was more comfortable with the poor field conditions at Sportsman’s Park.
Over the next few seasons DiMaggio was consistently among the league leaders in runs scored, walks, hits, and doubles. In 1947 and 1948, he hit .283 and .285, respectively. In 1948, he was second in runs (127), fourth in walks (101), and fourth in doubles (40). Dom put together the longest hitting streak in Red Sox history in 1949, batting safely in 34 consecutive games. During the streak, from June 26 to August 7, he hit .352 and scored 35 runs. The streak ended against the Yankees on a fly ball to brother Joe. Dom hit .307 that season and finished third in the league in three categories with 186 hits, 126 runs, and 34 doubles, and he again was named to the All-Star squad.
Dominic met Emily Alberta Frederick in 1943, while playing an exhibition game in Boston to promote War Bonds. Despite a romantic spark between Dom and Emily, he did not see her again until four years later. In 1949 they were married. Emily was not a passionate baseball fan, but she was a passionate community leader. Ted Williams affectionately called her “the Queen” because of her strong personality. Dom and Emily had three children, Dominic, Jr., Emily, and Peter.
1950 was Dom DiMaggio’s finest season, with a career high .328 average and 193 hits (both third best in the league), and league-leading marks with 131 runs and 15 stolen bases. In 1951 he continued his hot hitting, putting together a 27-game hitting streak, batting .296 with 189 hits, and scoring a league-leading 113 runs. In 1952 DiMaggio played in just 128 games, but hit a solid .294, and played in his final All-Star Game. After being relegated to the bench the following year and playing in just three early-season games, Dom retired on May 9. The new manager of the Red Sox, Lou Boudreau, had felt that he was past his prime and replaced him in center field with Tommy Umphlett. Dominic had no desire to sit on the bench. He finished with a career .298 average and 1,680 hits.
Johnny Pesky called Dominic DiMaggio “the almost perfect ballplayer, so smart and so talented.” Dom was inducted into the Italian American Sports Hall of Fame in 1978, and the Red Sox Hall of Fame in 1995, but he has thus far been overlooked by the Veterans Committee for Cooperstown despite an energetic campaign on his behalf led by former teammate Ted Williams in the 1990s.
Late in his career, Dom expressed concern about the treatment of ballplayers at the hands of some owners. He joined Johnny Murphy, Allie Reynolds, Fred Hutchinson, Bob Feller, Eddie Yost, and others in the early vestiges of a players union, an effort that eventually led to the formation of the Major League Baseball Players Association.
Dominic found success after baseball, as well. In 1953, after he retired from baseball, he founded the American Latex Fiber Corporation along with two partners in Lawrence, Massachusetts. They produced padding for ammunitions packaging, boxcar insulation, and furniture and mattress padding. Dom later bought out his partners and began producing seat padding for the automotive industry. In 1961, he purchased a fire-ravaged company in Pennsylvania and merged the companies to form a new corporation: the Delaware Valley Corporation, and expanded production to include innovative products for the medical, construction, marine and RV industries. The company is still operated by a Dom DiMaggio, although now it is in the hands of eldest son Dominic, Jr.
After Red Sox owner Tom Yawkey died in 1976, DiMaggio headed a group of New England businessmen who put together an offer to purchase the Red Sox. The trust set up to handle the disposition of the ball club rebuffed a number of offers, in which prospective applicants had invested considerable time and money, leaving a sense that the Haywood Sullivan group had had the inside track all along, resulting a sense of estrangement that lasted for a number of years.
Among other commercial ventures, Dom was involved in the operation of DiMaggio’s Restaurant on famed Fisherman’s Warf in San Francisco, and in real estate on both coasts. He was co-founder of the Boston Patriots football franchise, and he has actively supported numerous charities. Emily DiMaggio served as a trustee for Boston’s Jimmy Fund for many years. Dom is co-founder (in 1966) and former president of the BoSox Club, now a long-standing fan organization founded to promote interest in the Red Sox and baseball, and to bring closer contact between the Red Sox and the community.
Dom’s love for the game of baseball is eloquently expressed in a passage from Real Grass, Real Heroes:
“It was that wonderful sameness, year in and year out. We could always count on baseball to be the same warm and sunny game, on the same fields, in the same cities. We loved baseball not only for itself but for the secure feeling of continuity it gave you. We felt a loyalty to baseball, because it was loyal to us.”
Dominic DiMaggio spendt his later years between homes in Massachusetts and Florida. He suffered with Paget’s disease since 1962, but he remained active following the family business and the Red Sox. His sense of humor was evident in his response to a question addressed to him on his 90th birthday:
Ninety tomorrow. Any goals?
“Reach 91,” he said.
Dominic DiMaggio died May 8, 2009 at the age of 92 at his home in Marion, Massachusetts after a bout with pneumonia. Red Sox owner John Henry said it best: "His loss saddens us all but his contributions to the glory and traditions of our ball club will forever be etched in the annals of Red Sox history" (from Dominic's obituary in the Boston Globe).
This article was written by Paul Hofmann
Ron LeFlore’s life story including his journey to the major leagues is truly One in a Million. Defying apparently insurmountable odds — including never having played organized baseball — LeFlore rose above a disadvantaged childhood, the rough streets of the east side of Detroit, and a more than three-year stint in the State Prison of Southern Michigan at Jackson to become a major league All-Star. Sadly, LeFlore could never entirely disentangle himself from the vices of his troubled youth, which ultimately led to his premature departure from the majors.
Ronald LeFlore was born on June 16, 1948 in Detroit, Michigan to John and Georgia LeFlore. He was the third of four sons born to the couple. John LeFlore was a native of Mississippi who moved to Memphis, Tennessee as a child. It was there that he met LeFlore’s mother, Georgia. The couple lived in Memphis until 1943 when they followed the call of opportunity and migrated north to Detroit. John initially found a job in an auto factory. However, he battled alcoholism and had trouble holding down a steady job. Georgia worked as a nurse’s aid and is credited with holding the family together.
Ron grew up on Detroit’s east side, a blue-collar working class area of the city that was riddled with crime and prostitution. From a very early age, these influences led Ron down the paths of truancy, drug use, and a wide range of petty crimes. In his autobiography co-authored with Detroit Free Press sportswriter Jim Hawkins, Breakout: From Prison to the Big Leagues, LeFlore recalled his stealthy stealing abilities as a child:
"Stealing was my specialty. As far back as I can remember, I was stealing things and getting away with it. … Every time I went into a store I would steal something, even if it was just a rubber ball or one of those ten-cent miniature pies, just to show the other kids I could do it. Sometimes I would steal for the thrill of it. I got away with so much stuff that I began to believe I couldn’t get caught. Usually everything I did was right out in the open, too. I thought I was the Invisible Man."
Ron’s crimes became increasingly more brazen and serious as he got older. As a teenager he spent 19 months in state reform schools, but the experience did little to set him straight. On a cold January night in 1970 he and two accomplices, all of whom were coming down from a heroin high the night before, decided to rob Dee’s, a neighborhood bar across the street from Chrysler’s Mack Avenue Stamping Plant. LeFlore carried the rifle used in the crime, and his subsequent conviction led to a five-to-fifteen-year sentence for armed robbery.
LeFlore entered Jackson State Prison on April 28, 1970. His first year in prison included long stays in solitary confinement as he resisted the change to a more regimented environment, rejected work assignments and often challenged authority. The transition was particularly difficult for LeFlore; it was not until later into his incarceration that he began to understand the concept of time off for good behavior.
While serving his sentence in Jackson, LeFlore had his first experience with organized baseball. He played baseball there, and according to himself he hit .469 in 1971 and .569 in 1972. He also became acquainted with Jimmy Karalla, another inmate who was serving a four-to-twenty year sentence for extortion. Believing LeFlore possessed professional baseball talent, Karalla reached out to longtime friend Jimmy Butsicaris, co-owner of Detroit’s popular Lindell Athletic Club, a bar frequented by Detroit sports celebrities. Butsicaris, a classic saloon-keeper type who knew many people in both high and low places, was a good friend of Tigers manager Billy Martin. In fact, Butsicaris was best man at Martin’s wedding. This intricate, semi-underworld network led to Martin’s visit to Jackson State Prison on May 23, 1973, and LeFlore’s subsequent tryout with the Tigers during a weekend furlough in June.
LeFlore was released from prison on July 2, 1973, and immediately signed a contract with the Tigers that paid him a $5,000 bonus and $500 per month for the remainder of the 1973 season. The 25-year old (though his age was then reported as just 21) was assigned to the Clinton (Iowa) Pilots of the Class A Midwest League. Under the tutelage of manager Jim Leyland, LeFlore began his transition from prisoner to professional ballplayer.
Leyland admitted he was a little leery of LeFlore at first:
"When I was told I was going to get him, frankly, I didn’t know what to expect. I presumed you could have all sorts of problems with a kid on parole. Could he cross state lines with the ball club? Did I have to keep him out of bars and pool halls? What happened if a brawl broke out on the field and he piled on?
"As it turned out, I didn’t have any problems with Ron at all. I guess the prison experience must have helped him rather than hurt."
LeFlore appeared in 32 games for the Midwest League champions, finishing the year with a .277 average, one home run, eight RBIs and two stolen bases. Reflecting back on his first professional baseball experience, LeFlore recalled:
"I was scared at the plate, I’ll admit it… In prison I saw curve balls only once in a great while, but in the minor leagues I saw hundreds of them. Most of them weren’t even good curve balls, but they sure fooled me. I’d be standing at the plate, the pitcher would throw the ball hard and inside, and I’d jump out of the way, thinking it was a fastball. And the umpire would call it a strike."
He added that this was his first experience with night baseball:
"We played mostly night games at Clinton and I had never played under the lights. They had other uses for the floodlights in Jackson."
LeFlore started the 1974 season with the Class A Lakeland Tigers of the Florida State League. In 93 games, he batted a team high .339 and swiped 42 bases before being called up to the AAA Evansville Triplets. LeFlore appeared in only nine games with the Tigers’ top farm club, hitting a modest .235 before being summoned up to the parent club because of a season-ending broken hand suffered by the Tigers’ four-time Gold-Glove winning center fielder Mickey Stanley.
On August 1, 1974, LeFlore joined the last-place Tigers in Milwaukee and made his major league debut against the Brewers. The Tigers were at the beginning stages of a rebuilding project that involved replacing a long-time nucleus of Tiger outfielders that included Al Kaline, Willie Horton, Jim Northrup, and Stanley. LeFlore started in center field that day and went 0-for-4, with three strikeouts, against Jim Slaton. The next day the rookie center fielder recorded his first major league hit, a ninth-inning single off the Brewers’ Clyde Wright. He also recorded the first two stolen bases of his career. Ten days later, on August 12, he belted his first major league home run, a two-run shot to right field off the Kansas City Royals’ Nelson Briles. LeFlore started 59 of the Tigers’ final 60 games that year and finished with a .260 average, 2 home runs, 13 RBIs and an impressive 23 stolen bases. Defensively he was a huge drop-off from the dependable and steady Stanley. He committed 11 errors and finished with an abysmal .935 fielding percentage.
Despite all the raw, natural talent, LeFlore was still just learning the game of baseball. In his autobiography, LeFlore recalled playing his first “real” baseball game on May 18, 1971 when he started in leftfield for the Jackson State Prison team. “I could hit the ball a long way and I could run. Other than that, I didn’t know what I was doing”. The strides he made as a ballplayer in Jackson were the result of his natural God-given abilities. Fast forward four short years, and he was now learning the nuances of the game at the major league level.
LeFlore’s 1975 season demonstrated just how much more he still had to learn. LeFlore started the season well. At the All-Star break he was hitting .289 with 7 home runs, 28 RBIs and 25 stolen bases. By contrast, the second half of the season saw him mired in a slump that tested his confidence and the patience of the Tiger management. Following the All-Star break he hit a mere .206 with one home run, nine RBIs and 3 stolen bases. On a positive note, LeFlore’s fielding improved significantly. In 134 games in center field, he committed two fewer errors and raised his fielding percentage to .973.
The next four years would see LeFlore take his game to a level that no one anticipated in 1975.
LeFlore had a breakout year in 1976 even though he was overshadowed by a 21-year old pitching phenom named Mark Fidrych. LeFlore started the year with a career high 30-game hitting streak. From April 17 – May 27 he rapped out 51 hits and batted .392. This happened despite the trauma of his younger brother Gerald’s murder, presumably related to the younger LeFlore’s involvement in drug and gang activity, that occurred in the midst of Ron’s career-long streak.
On July 13, 1976 LeFlore, together with right fielder Rusty Staub and Fidrych, formed a trio of Tiger All-Stars who started the 1976 Midsummer Classic in Philadelphia. LeFlore led off the game with a single to leftfield off N.L. starter Randy Jones but was immediately erased when Rod Carew bounced into a 4-6-3 double play. In his second plate appearance in the third inning, LeFlore became Jones’ only strikeout victim in the lefthander’s three scoreless innings of work. The National League All-Stars routed the American Leaguers, 7-1.
LeFlore continued to hit well after the All-Star break until he suffered a ruptured tendon in his right knee on September 12, ending his season abruptly. In 135 games he finished with a .316 batting average and 58 stolen bases, good enough for second among American League base stealers.
Coming back from the knee injury that prematurely ended his 1976 season, LeFlore (whose year of birth was corrected on his Topps baseball card) started the 1977 campaign slowly. Entering play on June 12, he was batting only .241. The slow start undoubtedly kept LeFlore off the 1977 All-Star roster. However, his body of work for the entire season was no less impressive than his All-Star season the previous year. From June 12 to October 1 LeFlore hit .363, the most productive four-to-five month stretch of his career. For the year, he appeared in 154 games and finished with a .325 average. His 212 hits, though a distant second behind future Hall of Famer Rod Carew’s 239, included 30 doubles, 10 triples, and a career-high 16 home runs. LeFlore finished fifth in total bases with 310, and was beginning to show some of the power the Tigers had always hoped he would develop. For his efforts, LeFlore was recognized as Tiger of the Year by the Detroit Chapter of the Baseball Writers' Association of America.
LeFlore enjoyed another fine season in 1978. While his batting average dipped to .299, he led the American League in both runs scored (126) and stolen bases (68) while driving in a career high 62 runs. On August 11 he hit an infield single off Britt Burns in the top of the third inning to start a 27-game hit streak. The hit streak allowed him to join Ty Cobb as the only Tiger with multiple hit streaks of 25 games or more. Again he was recognized with the Tiger of the Year Award, the first back-to-back winner since Denny McLain’s back-to-back Cy Young Award seasons of 1968 and 1969.
LeFlore had another All-Star caliber year in 1979. In 148 games he hit .300, eclipsed the 100-run plateau for the third consecutive season (110) and stole 78 bases, second only to the Kansas City Royals’ Willie Wilson’s 83. On the surface it appeared that the 31-year old LeFlore had established himself as a mainstay in the Tigers’ lineup. However, the winds of change were blowing through Detroit.
Fifty-three games into the ’79 season, the Tigers hired Sparky Anderson to replace Les Moss, who less than a year earlier had been hired by the Tigers to succeed veteran skipper Ralph Houk. Houk had managed the Tigers from 1974-78 and overseen the early years of the Tigers’ rebuilding efforts. Shortly into his tenure, Anderson realized that LeFlore was not going to fit into his clubhouse. By this time LeFlore had started to enjoy the trappings of baseball super-stardom, and he flaunted it off the field. There was a drug problem, there were lots of women and shady characters, some of whom were coming in and out of the Tiger clubhouse. The Tigers decided that Ron’s career was headed in the wrong direction.
True to Anderson’s “my way or the highway” management style, on December 7, 1979 the Tigers traded LeFlore to the Montreal Expos for left-handed pitcher Dan Schatzeder. On the surface the deal looked lopsided in favor of the Expos. LeFlore was in the prime of his career, coming off a remarkable four-year stretch that established him as one of the premier base stealers in the game. Schatzeder, on the other hand, was a promising 25-year old lefthander who had just enjoyed what turned out to be the best year of his career. He had finished 1979 with a 10-5 record and 2.83 ERA. But two years later the Tigers would trade Schatzeder, along with Mike Chris, to San Francisco for Larry Herndon, who became a key piece of the 1984 World Champion Tigers.
Though caught off guard by the move, LeFlore enjoyed his new surroundings and declared 1980 “the greatest year of my career.” Though his batting average dropped to .257, 40 points below his career average, LeFlore stole 97 bases to lead the National League in the process becoming the first player in major league history to lead both leagues in stolen bases. It was also the closest LeFlore would come to experiencing post-season baseball at the major league level. The Expos finished 90-72, a single game behind the N.L. East-winning and eventual World Series champion Philadelphia Phillies.
By this time it was clear that LeFlore was burning the candle at both ends. There were allegations that he was snorting cocaine and shooting heroin frequently. His reckless behavior was having an adverse impact on other young impressionable players, a fact that the Expos’ top brass did not fail to see. As a result, the Expos allowed LeFlore to leave via free agency after just one season.
On November 26, 1980, LeFlore signed a multi-year, $9 million contract with the Chicago White Sox. But his stint with the Sox was plagued by erratic behavior, disputes with management and, at the end of the 1982 season, an arrest for drug and gun possession. In two seasons with the Sox he had played a combined 173 games and hit just .267 with 64 stolen bases. Battling a drug problem, a poor attitude, and diminishing skills, LeFlore was released on April 2, 1983. Just two months shy of his 35th birthday, his nine-year major league career was over.
Following his release by the White Sox, LeFlore desperately tried to find work with a major league team in some capacity. In 1988 while working as a baggage handler for Eastern Airlines, LeFlore attended former MLB umpire Joe Brinkman’s umpiring school. The five-week course placed top graduates into open minor-league umpiring assignments. LeFlore failed to finish high enough in his class to qualify for a job.
LeFlore enjoyed one last opportunity to return to the field when he joined many MLB stars of the 1970s and 1980s to play in the Senior Professional Baseball League (SPBA). He played for both the St. Petersburg Pelicans and Bradenton Explorers during the league’s inaugural 1989-90 season. LeFlore batted .362 with the Pelicans and .317 with the Explorers, finishing the year with a combined .328 average with one home run and 21 RBI. In 1990, he played for the Florida Tropics before the league disbanded.
In 2000, LeFlore was hired as the manager of the now-defunct Cook County Cheetahs of the Frontier League. In the spring of 2003, he was hired as manager of the Saskatoon Legends in the fledgling Canadian Baseball League, which folded midway through its inaugural season.
In addition to his inability to find a position within major league baseball, LeFlore has faced numerous other challenges following his playing career. He lost a 49-day-old child to Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, faced felony charges for possession of a controlled substance and was arrested twice for non-payment of child support – once during ceremonies celebrating the final game at Tiger Stadium in 1999. In the summer of 2011, LeFlore lost his right leg to arterial vascular disease, the result of a lifetime of smoking. In his autobiography, LeFlore claimed to have started smoking at the age of nine.
As of 2016, LeFlore resides in St. Petersburg, Florida with his wife Emily. He often reflects on how quickly his career went downhill and what might have been:
"I really needed guidance and I didn’t get that. How come I couldn’t have gotten that guidance when I first came up? But I just didn’t have the guidance that I should have had. I had no support from anybody. I don’t know if they were afraid, because I was an ex-inmate, but nobody ever went out of their way to really help me. And I needed somebody. I really did. I really needed some help and some guidance, considering where I came from. And I didn’t get it.
"Just think if I had played baseball as a kid instead of running the streets. Just think if I had improved my baseball skills instead of going to prison. How good could I have been?
"Who knows, if I had gotten that guidance that I needed, if I had known what was going on in society, I could have had some Hall of Fame stats."
For four brief years (1976-79) in Detroit, LeFlore was able to overcome nearly insurmountable odds and compile the Hall of Fame statistics he thought he was capable of achieving. Over that four-year span, LeFlore hit .310, stole 243 bases and scored 429 runs, demonstrating just how remarkably gifted he was and how improbable his journey to baseball stardom had been.
This article was written by Ralph Moses
Vada Edward Pinson, Jr., star centerfielder for the Cincinnati Reds in the 1960s, was born in Memphis, Tennessee, on August 11, 1938. When he was seven, his family moved to Oakland, California. His father found work as a stevedore at the Bay Area docks, while his mother did domestic work. In 1952, Pinson enrolled at McClymonds High School. He developed an interest in music and became a trumpet player in the school band.
Apparently, Pinson was so talented musically that he seriously considered making the trumpet his career choice. However, the legendary coach at McClymonds, George Powles, who had been instrumental in developing Pinson's future major league teammates Frank Robinson and Curt Flood as well as basketball superstar Bill Russell, recognized Pinson's raw athletic ability. Powles helped the youngster to understand and realize his potential as a professional baseball player.
Pinson was offered a $4,000 bonus and signed with the Cincinnati Reds before his eighteenth birthday. He required only two minor league seasons to reach the majors. At Wausau in the Northern League in 1956 he hit .278 in 75 games. The next year, with Visalia in the California League, he hit .367 with 20 home runs, 97 runs batted in, and 209 hits in 135 games.
In the spring of 1958, Pinson impressed everyone in the Reds' spring training camp who saw him play. Timed at 3.3 seconds from home plate to first base, he was compared to Mickey Mantle, Hank Aaron, and Willie Mays. He had speed, great wrists, exceptional power, great instincts, and he played center field with hustle and grace.
"I came to camp with the intention of making the club," Pinson told The Sporting News that spring. "But if I don't make it, I won't be too disappointed."
Pinson was so quiet that spring that coach Jimmy Dykes believed he was Hispanic. Dykes spoke to him in gestures and broken English until Pinson finally said, "Mr. Dykes, if there is something you want me to do with my stance, please tell me." Dykes nearly fell over.
Pinson debuted with the Reds at Crosley Field on Opening Day, April 15, 1958. The rookie managed one single in five at bats against Robin Roberts and Ray Semproch as Cincinnati lost to Philadelphia, 5-4. Two days later in Pittsburgh, Pinson lined a grand-slam homer off Ron Kline that propelled the Reds to a 4-1 victory for Bob Purkey. A great first memory, Pinson's blast nearly ruined his career.
"Probably the worst thing that happened to me was hitting that homer against Pittsburgh," Pinson said one year later. "It won the game but didn't do me any good. I started thinking of myself as a slugger."
Pinson's batting average slumped to .194 in mid-May, and he was sent to Seattle of the Pacific Coast League. Back in the minors, he rebounded with a robust .343 season in 124 games. This earned him a September call-up where he hit .412 in a dozen games and won a permanent job in center field for the Reds.
In 1959, Pinson achieved a memorable first full season, batting .316 with 20 home runs, 84 runs batted in, 21 stolen bases, 205 base hits, and league-leading totals in runs scored (131), doubles (47), and outfield putouts (423). He played in the All-Star game in Los Angeles that summer. Pinson did not qualify for the Rookie of the Year award because his 96 at bats in 1958 were just beyond the cutoff of 90. He did earn eleven MVP votes.
Milwaukee Braves manager Fred Haney was sufficiently impressed with Pinson to suggest that while Hank Aaron was the top player of the day, Pinson was the star of the future. Wally Moses, batting coach for the Reds, agreed.
Teammate and future Hall of Famer Frank Robinson recalled, "I finally made a close friend in baseball when Vada Pinson joined the Reds in 1959." Robinson and Pinson became roommates on the road and rented apartments near each other. "We were always together, Vada and I. We roomed together, lockered and dressed side by side...We usually ate breakfast and dinner together. I had never been very close to anyone before, and it felt good."
Despite Pinson's outstanding 1959 season and another solid season in 1960 (20 home runs, 61 runs batted in, and a .287 batting average, plus another All-Star game appearance), the Reds remained a second-division ballclub.
In 1961 general manager Bill DeWitt strengthened the team through several successful trades and Cincinnati won its first National League pennant since 1940. Most Valuable Player Frank Robinson batted .323 with 37 home runs and 124 runs batted in. Pinson hit a career-high .343. with 16 home runs, 87 runs batted in, and a league-leading 208 hits. He was runner-up in the NL batting race behind Pittsburgh's Roberto Clemente, who batted .351.
Joey Jay (21-10) and Jim O'Toole (19-9) were the pitching aces and the Reds, managed by Fred Hutchinson, won the pennant by four games over Los Angeles. Pinson finished third in the MVP balloting, behind a pair of Hall of Famers, Robinson and the Giants' Orlando Cepeda.
In the World Series that October, the Reds went up against one of the most powerful New York Yankee teams in history. Led by Roger Maris' record-breaking 61 home runs, the Bronx Bombers belted 240 homers, the most ever up to that time.
The Yankees went on to take the Series easily, 4 games to 1. Pinson's only World Series was disappointing; he finished with just two hits in 22 at bats, a double off Luis Arroyo in the Reds' lone victory in Game 2 and a single off Bud Daley in the Game 5 finale.
Pinson posted solid power numbers in 1962 (23 homers and 100 RBIs), but his batting average fell 51 points to .292. This prompted Cincinnati sportswriter Earl Lawson to write, "Pinson would hit .350 if he would only bunt once in a while instead of going for homers." The normally mild-mannered Pinson angrily took a swing at Lawson. Lawson eventually dropped the charges, but only after swearing out a warrant for Pinson's arrest. Pinson considered the incident the most embarrassing moment of his career.
The Reds finished in third place in 1962, 3 1/2 games behind pennant-winning San Francisco.
Pinson rebounded in 1963 to achieve perhaps his greatest all-around season, with an OPS of .861, fifth in the league. He led the NL in hits with 204 and triples with 14. Pinson slammed 22 home runs and drove in a career-high 106 runs, while batting .313 and stealing 27 bases. But the Reds fell to fifth place.
In his autobiography, Extra Innings, Frank Robinson remembered, "some writers were reporting that Vada Pinson and I formed a 'Negro clique...that is gnawing at the morale of the club.'...What nonsense. Certainly Vada and I had been virtually inseparable for five years, but often duos and trios on the team palled around together, and they weren't called clique members."
In 1963, when Pete Rose was a cocky rookie taking the job of popular second baseman Don Blasingame, Robinson and Pinson welcomed him to the Reds when no one else would. Robinson recalled, "I saw that Pete Rose was being ostracized by most of my teammates...I asked Pete one night if he would like to join Vada and me for dinner. No other players warmed to Pete all season, so Vada and I became his friends and showed him the ropes around the league."
In Pinson's first five full seasons in Cincinnati, he amassed 985 base hits, more than the first five full seasons of Stan Musial (975), Willie Mays (954), Hank Aaron (914) and Frank Robinson (818). Pinson averaged 197 hits, 108 runs scored, 37 doubles, 10 triples, 20 home runs, 88 RBIs, 26 stolen bases, and a .310 batting average.
As a defensive center fielder, Pinson won his only Gold Glove in 1961. He led NL outfielders in putouts three consecutive years (1959 to 1961) and fielding percentage twice (1965 and 1969). In his career he fielded .981 with 172 assists.
The Reds battled for first place throughout the 1964 season, finishing in a second-place tie with Philadelphia. The Phillies blew a 6 1/2 game lead with two weeks remaining in the season by dropping 10 games in a row. Both teams finished one game behind the pennant-winning St. Louis Cardinals. Pinson hit .266 that season with 23 homers and 84 RBIs.
The 5'11" 181-pound left-hander was a rare combination of speed and power. In five seasons, Pinson had at least 20 homers and 20 stolen bases in the same year. For his career he was successful on 71 percent of his stolen base attempts. Although less than 18 percent of his homers came off left-handers, Pinson's top target among pitchers was Giants' southpaw Mike McCormick with seven. Pinson's most difficult mound foes were Hall of Famers Juan Marichal and Bob Gibson. "They both kept you off balance all the time," he said.
Pinson and Frank Robinson formed a devastating lefty-righty duo that terrorized National League pitching staffs. From 1958 until 1965, Robinson (257) and Pinson (147) hit a combined 404 home runs for the Reds. In 1965, their last season as teammates, Robinson hit 33 home runs, 113 RBIs and a .296 average, while Pinson had 22 homers, 94 RBIs, a .305 average and 204 hits, the fourth time in his career that he surpassed 200 hits in a season.
Despite his continued productivity, Robinson was traded to the Baltimore Orioles that winter. Reds' general manager Bill DeWitt called Robinson "an old thirty." DeWitt would live to regret those words. Robinson won the Triple Crown and the AL Most Valuable Player Award, and led the Orioles to their first World Championship in 1966.
After solid seasons in 1966 and 1967 (.288 both years), Pinson's numbers began to decline. In 1968 he had only 5 homers, 48 RBIs, and a .271 average, possibly the result of a series of leg injuries that had begun several years earlier. The Reds ended their long association with Pinson by trading him to the NL champion St. Louis Cardinals on October 11, 1968 in exchange for outfielder Bobby Tolan and pitcher Wayne Granger.
With the retirement of Roger Maris, Pinson joined ex-high school teammate Curt Flood and future Hall of Famer Lou Brock in what appeared to be a dream outfield for the Cardinals in 1969. However, Pinson's decline continued (10 homers, 70 RBIs, .255 batting average), and after the season he was traded again, this time to the Cleveland Indians of the AL in exchange for outfielder Jose Cardenal.
Pinson spent his final six seasons in the American League with Cleveland (1970-71), California (1972-73) and Kansas City (1974-75). Although his best years were behind him, Pinson averaged .266 with 10 home runs, 48 runs batted in, and 13 stolen bases per season in the AL. His playing career ended in 1976 when the Milwaukee Brewers released him in spring training.
Pinson's career totals include 2,757 hits, 485 doubles, 127 triples, and 256 home runs, good enough to rank in the top 100 all-time in all four categories 20 years after he left the game. In addition, Pinson's speed and base running skill enabled him to record 305 stolen bases, thus becoming one of only a handful of players who hit at least 250 home runs while stealing at least 300 bases in their careers.
As one of the best all-around players of the 1960's, Pinson ranks in the top 10 in games played during the decade (1,516), at bats (6,086), runs scored (885), hits (1,776), doubles (310), triples (93), and stolen bases (202). For the decade, he hit .292 with 175 home runs, 792 runs batted in, and a .460 slugging average. A durable player, Pinson played in 508 consecutive games between 1958 and 1962. He hit eight grand slam home runs in his career, and both his 1000th and 2000th lifetime hits were home runs.
Following his playing career, Pinson became a coach and hitting instructor for Seattle, the Chicago White Sox, Detroit, and Florida from 1977 until 1994. He retired from baseball after that season and continued to reside in his childhood hometown, Oakland.
On October 21, 1995, Vada Pinson suffered a stroke and passed away. He was just 57 years old.
An outstanding all-around player over a long and productive career, Pinson was often underrated and overshadowed. For many years after his retirement, his 2,757 hits were the most by any eligible player outside the Hall of Fame, but he never came close to election by baseball writers. His highest vote total was 67 out of more than 400 cast.
Analyst Bill James, in the 2001 edition of his Historical Baseball Abstract, ranked Pinson 18th among centerfielders, ahead of Hall of Famers Hack Wilson, Hugh Duffy, Max Carey and Earl Combs - but behind Jimmy Wynn, Dale Murphy, Wally Berger and Fred Lynn, who are also outside the Hall.
Note: A previous version of this article appeared in Baseball Research Journal, 25 (1999), 88-89.
(Editor's note: 1938 was accepted as Pinson's birth date throughout his baseball career and appears in all the encyclopedias. Several recent publications asserted that he was born two years earlier. California's official record, at http://vitals.rootsweb.com/ca/death/search.cgi, gives his age as 57 at the time of his death in 1995. SABR member Kerry Keene says he spoke with Pinson in 1991, and Pinson gave his birth date as 1938. His tombstone, at www.findagrave.com, also says 1938. )
This article was written by Wynn Montgomery
In 1964, a 24-year-old Dominican strongman named Ricardo Adolfo Jacobo (Rico) Carty burst into the major leagues like a tropical storm. After two hitless at-bats in 1963, Carty’s batting average (.330) in his first full season was the second highest in the majors. Only Roberto Clemente hit better, and only a phenomenal year by Philadelphia’s Richie Allen prevented Carty from being voted Rookie of the Year. He had exceeded the high expectations created by a stellar four-year minor-league apprenticeship and quickly became “one of the most popular players ever to wear a Milwaukee uniform.” After the Braves relocated, his popularity grew in Atlanta, where the left-field stands became known as “Carty’s Corner.”
Lofty predictions regarding Carty’s future did not materialize due to an unfortunate combination of illness, injuries, ineptitude on defense, and a reputation as a troublemaker. Concerns about Carty’s prowess in the field plagued him throughout his seven seasons with the Braves. His 1973 move to the American League –which included an abbreviated appearance with the Oakland Athletics — coincided with the birth of the designated hitter, which most baseball people thought fit Rico like a glove, but Carty initially resisted.3 Poor performance in his first year as a DH seemed to have ended his career, but a good season in the Mexican League earned Carty the chance to resurrect his career.
Rico Carty’s baseball journey began in San Pedro de Macoris, Dominican Republic, where he was born on September 1, 1939, one of 16 children. His mother, Olivia, was a midwife; his father, Leopoldo, worked in the sugar mill and played club cricket. Rico played pick-up baseball until he was 15, when he followed the example of four uncles and turned to boxing. He won his first 17 bouts (12 by KOs), but turned to baseball full-time after one embarrassing ring defeat.
In 1959 Carty joined (as a catcher) the Dominican team that played in the Pan-Am Games in Chicago, and he attracted considerable attention. Eight majorleague teams and four Dominican League clubs offered him contracts, and the naïve youngster signed them all. George Trautman, head of minor-league baseball at the time, resolved the resulting dispute in favor of Milwaukee.
Carty’s professional baseball career began in 1960 with Davenport/Quad Cities in the Class D Midwest League. He struggled both with the English language and with minor-league pitching, but moved up to Class C Eau Claire in 1961. In 1962, at Class B Yakima, Carty showed the hitting skills that would ensure his future success. He also showed the penchant for injury that would limit that success. His .366 average was leading the Northwest League when he tripped over first base, pulling a leg muscle and ending his season. He lost the batting race but made the year-end league All-Star team and was the Topps Class B All- Star catcher.
Carty started the 1963 season at Triple-A Toronto, where he was hailed as “the best catching prospect … in 10 years.” Even so, he was sent down to Double-A Austin to be converted into an outfielder because the Braves had a bevy of young backstops. The only blemish on Rico’s season, and perhaps another portent of the future, came when he decked a spectator for heckling him.
Despite his late arrival, Carty ended the season among Texas League leaders with a .327 average, 27 home runs, and 100 RBIs. He made his major-league debut on September 15, 1963, striking out as a pinch-hitter. The future looked bright for Carty, who was now being touted as “the best young hitting prospect in the [Braves] organization.” He had an outstanding 1963-64 season in the Dominican League and then married Gladys Ramirez de Jacobo. They would have six children, who produced 16 grandchildren. One son, Rico Jr., played 16 games as a Seattle Mariner farmhand.
After Carty’s fine winter season, Braves farm director John Mullen compared him to Orlando Cepeda, and his Grapefruit League performance justified the praise. He hit .408 and led the team with 13 RBIs. Carty made the Braves’ 1964 Opening Day roster, but did not play regularly at first as manager Bobby Bragan tried to balance playing time among his outfielders (Hank Aaron, Felipe Alou, Lee Maye, and Carty). When Alou was hurt in late June and Rico took over in left field, the Braves won 16 of their next 23 games. In late August, he ended a rare batting slump in dramatic fashion, delivering two 5-for-5 days within a week. He led the Braves in batting (.330) and slugging (.554) ,and made Topps’ Rookie All-Star Team.
In January Carty became the first Brave to sign his 1965 contract (for a salary of $17,500). He had a strong season in winter ball and reported for spring training, where Bragan was determined to transform him into a first baseman. Rico never mastered the new role and injured his back while trying to do so. Carty’s back ailment kept him out of the lineup often throughout that season; he never played more than a week at a time. He complained that Bragan often jerked him from the lineup late in games, undermining his confidence, but Carty’s fielding lapses often justified the manager’s actions. Late in the season, a doctor discovered that Carty’s right leg was slightly shorter than his left and prescribed a corrective shoe, quieting those who had accused the slugger of exaggerating his back pain.
While the 1965 season was disappointing, Carty hit when he played, compiling a .310 average in 83 games (all in left field). He also demonstrated his willingness to speak out when he thought he’d been wronged. Both traits continued throughout his career — as did frequent trade rumors, which began to circulate during that offseason.
Carty spent the winter of 1965-66 in a new environment, playing winter ball for the Aragua Tigers in the Venezuelan League. He wore his new orthopedic shoe and led the league with a .392 batting average and 13 home runs, a new season record. When he returned to the US, he was again headed for a different setting — the Braves’ new home in Atlanta — and renewed enthusiasm about his potential to become “the next great hitter in the National League” Even so, he was the Braves’ fourth outfielder, behind Aaron, Alou, and Mack Jones.
On June 4, 1966, Carty was inserted into the lineup as the starting catcher, and the Braves promptly won seven consecutive games as Rico went 12-for-24. But after nine games, he was back in left field. Trade rumors continued, but Carty was in the lineup to stay. He played in 151 games, even filling in at first base and third base, and hit .326 (third in the NL). During the offseason, Carty was the Brave most sought after player in trade, but the team now saw him as “the next NL batting champ.”
Before returning to the Dominican League for winter ball, Rico signed his 1967 contract (in the $25,000 range). He had another good season with the Estrellas Orientales, but his temper flared again, garnering him a $50 fine for insulting an umpire, and his injury jinx reappeared as he was hurt in a car crash.
The 1967 season began with optimism in Atlanta. The team had finished fifth in 1966, but had compiled a winning record (33-18) after Billy Hitchcock replaced Carty’s nemesis Bragan. Those hopes faded quickly, however, as both the Braves and Rico had dismal seasons. The Braves fell to seventh place, and Carty had his first sub-.300 season in the majors, although he was relatively injury-free. The low moment of the season came on June 18, when Carty engaged in a “brief but heated scuffle” with Hank Aaron. At the time, details were scarce, but Aaron later said that he was angry because Carty had loafed on a ball into the outfield and had called him a “black slick.” At season’s end, the Braves were actively seeking trades, and Carty was “among the most likely to go.”
Carty won the 1967-68 Dominican League batting title (.350) and led Estrellas to the regular-season title and the playoff championship. He reported for spring training down ten pounds to his “fighting weight” of 190 and downplayed teammate Clete Boyer’s offseason criticism (echoing Aaron’s) that Carty “doesn’t give 100 percent.”
Three weeks into 1968 spring training, Carty’s injury jinx struck with a vengeance. He was diagnosed with tuberculosis. While the disease was “not as serious as first suspected,” Rico was lost to the Braves for the season.
When he reported for spring training in 1969, a rejuvenated Carty tied for the team lead in batting (.333) during the spring, but a dislocated shoulder put him on the disabled list on Opening Day. He finally got into a game on May 2 as a pinch-hitter and responded with a game-tying sacrifice fly. In his first start, on May 18, he re-injured that troublesome shoulder and missed another two weeks.
Carty was in and out of the lineup for much of the season, but returned to spark the Braves in their stretch drive to the first NL West division title. He had hits in 19 of the final 21 games (17 Atlanta wins), averaging .383 and driving in 22 runs. He drove home the game winning run in the division-clinching game and finished the season with a team-leading .342 average in 104 games.
The Braves lost that first League Championship Series in three straight games to the New York Mets, but Carty played well in what would be his only postseason appearance, hitting .300 and compiling a .462 on-base percentage and a .500 slugging average, but with no RBIs. He finished a surprising second to Tommie Agee as the NL Comeback Player although, as Hank Aaron observed, Agee “only came back from a bad year [while] Rico came back off a hospital bed.”
Carty hit .333 in the Dominican League that winter. He was also fined $50 and suspended for three days for shoving an umpire. Major League Baseball later added a $500 fine for “inexcusable and intolerable” conduct.
Carty opened the 1970 season even better than he had ended 1969. He would have been a shoo-in for All-Star selection by the fans, but his name wasn’t on the ballot. The list of 48 candidates in each league had been compiled during spring training, and Carty wasn’t included. The fan voting period began on May 16, the day that saw the end to Rico’s 31-game hitting streak, a team record that lasted until 2011. More than 2 million fans voted, and Rico received 552,382 votes (67,000 more than Pete Rose) to join Hank Aaron and Willie Mays in the NL’s starting outfield as the first “write-in” All-Star.
Carty injured his wrist just before the All-Star Game, but started the game, batting twice (a walk and a groundout) before being replaced. In the latter half of the season, he suffered other injuries (a pulled leg muscle and a chipped bone in his finger caused when he was hit by a pitch), but he led the NL in batting average (.366) and on-base percentage (.454). In the midst of his best season ever, however, Rico was involved in another fight with a teammate — pitcher Ron Reed. Carty insisted afterward that “it was just a misunderstanding,” but he was on the trading block despite having the highest career batting average among active players. Sports columnist Dick Young suggested that Carty was an excellent choice for any team “looking for a big bat and willing to accept a big headache.”
On December 11, 1970, a different form of physical conflict took Carty off the market; he collided with Dominican League teammate Matty Alou and suffered a fractured knee and ligament damage. He was flown to Atlanta for surgery on what a team doctor called “as bad a knee injury as an athlete can have.” With his career in jeopardy, he returned home to recover — after signing a contract that included a raise over his 1970 salary of $45,000.
Carty reported for 1971 spring training with his leg in a brace, and he hobbled out of the dugout on Opening Day to a standing ovation. He took batting practice on July 18 and hit the first pitch he saw off the top of the fence in left field. He was scheduled to return to the lineup on August 5, when the first 15,000 fans would receive buttons that read “SMILE — the Beeg Boy’s Back.”
But a blood clot in his damaged leg ended any hope of a comeback, and Carty missed his second full season in four years. His bad luck didn’t end there, however. On August 24 he and his young brother-in-law were involved in a fight with two off-duty Atlanta policemen when Rico took umbrage at a racial slur. Atlanta Mayor Sam Massell labeled the incident “blatant brutality” and suspended the officers.
Although Carty played only sporadically during spring training and seemed destined to start the 1972 season as a pinch-hitter, he received a $50,000 contract after a trial period imposed by the Braves because of concerns about his physical condition. He hit well when he played, but developed elbow tendinitis and went on the disabled list with a pulled hamstring. He played in only 86 games that season and hit just .277. Though his career batting average (.315) was still the highest among active players, in October the Braves traded him to the Texas Rangers.
Neither the Atlanta press nor Braves fans were happy about the trade, but Rico said he was not surprised because he and new manager Eddie Mathews were not on good terms. Rangers GM Joe Burke admitted that some would call the trade a gamble, but expressed confidence that Carty had matured and was eager to play. New Rangers manager Whitey Herzog emphasized that he was looking for “ballplayers, not Boy Scouts” — a description that certainly fit Rico Carty. Then Carty suffered another Dominican League injury; a pitch from Pedro Borbon fractured his jaw.
There was good news, however. The American League had adopted the designated-hitter rule, and Herzog called Carty “the perfect man for such a role.” Rico did not agree. The man whose defensive skills had been described as “amusing at best” and who had accumulated more outfield errors (40) than assists (31) wanted to play on defense.
During 1973 spring training, Rico took a parting shot at the Braves, again singling out Eddie Mathews for criticism. Word leaked out that Carty had won a $20,000 judgment against the Braves, whom he accused of shortchanging him by not sharing the funds the team received (under an agreement between MLB and the Dominican League) after his 1971 knee injury.
On the field things were not going well for Carty. By early June his .203 average had cost him the Rangers’ DH job. He was back in left field and feuding with his manager. When he was sidelined after breaking a small bone in his foot sliding into second base on July 19, Rico’s initial foray into the American League was over. He was hitting only .232 with three homers and 33 RBIs in 86 games for the Rangers when the Chicago Cubs acquired him on waivers on August 13.
Carty made his Cubs debut the following day, grounding out as a pinch-hitter in a loss to the Braves. The next day, he was batting cleanup and did so for most of his time with Chicago. His best day as a Cub came on August 28 in his first game as a visitor at Atlanta- Fulton County Stadium; he hit a two-run homer in his first at-bat and later singled to drive in two more runs in a 9-6 Cubs win. That was his only home run for the Cubs and half of his RBIs, and on September 11, after 22 games with the Wrigleyites, Carty was sold to the Oakland Athletics. He again demonstrated his willingness to attack local legends, blaming his demise in Chicago on Ron Santo, whom he called a “selfish ballplayer.” The more likely reason was his .214 batting average and .257 slugging percentage — both career lows.
The Athletics were leading their division by six games when they acquired Carty “for reasons unclear to outside observers,” and they finished the season in the same position. Rico appeared in seven of the Athletics’ final 18 games, hitting .250 (2-for-8) and getting his only RBI with a solo home run. The A’s went on to win the World Series, but Rico was not eligible for postseason play. When he was released on December 12, Rico complained that he had gotten only a termination telegram from the A’s, who “didn’t give me a Series share, a ring, a handshake — nothing at all.”
Everyone except Carty thought his career was over. He played winter ball in Mexico and then signed with Cordoba in the Mexican League, where his performance justified his self-confidence. He hit .354 (second in the league) with 11 home runs and 72 RBIs in 112 games, and the Cleveland Indians, who were in a tight divisional pennant race, signed Rico to a $72,000 annual contract through the 1975 season. After 11 hitless at-bats, his first Tribe hit was a two-out, ninth-inning, game-tying RBI single. He then fought through a pulled hamstring to hit .363 in 33 games as a designated hitter and first baseman.
Carty was back with Cleveland in 1975, and the 35-year-old hit .308 and tied for the team lead in game-winning RBIs (9). He was even better in 1976, hitting above .400 until injuries once again shelved him. He played in a career-high 152 games, compiled a .310 batting average, and led the team with 83 RBIs. He had even become a fan of the DH rule, and Cleveland’s baseball writers voted him Man of the Year.
Despite this performance, the Indians did not protect Carty in the 1976 expansion draft. The Toronto Blue Jays made him their fifth pick but quickly traded him back to the Indians. In 1977 he was the highest-paid Indian, making an estimated $90,000, but he started slowly. He was hitting .200, and the team was in the division cellar (4-9) when he accepted the Wahoo Club’s 1976 Man of The Year award with “one of the strangest acceptance speeches in history,” criticizing manager Frank Robinson, who shared the head table, for “lack of leadership.” Carty had taken his reputation for confrontation to a new level, and when Robby fined Rico for “insubordination” after a June 6 dugout clash, local writers speculated that Carty would soon be traded.
Instead, less than two weeks later, Robinson was fired. Carty finished the season hitting “only” .280 while leading the team in RBIs (80). He signed on with Cleveland for 1978, but when the Tribe acquired Willie Horton, Carty became expendable and was traded to the Blue Jays during spring training.
Carty had 19 RBIs in April for Toronto. His troublesome hamstring again put him out of action briefly, but in a seven-game August homestand, Rico hit three homers and drove in six runs, bringing his season totals to 20 and 68, new franchise records. That was his farewell performance for the Jays, who soon traded Carty to Oakland for Willie Horton, whose arrival in Cleveland had led to Rico’s departure.
Carty quickly made the trade look extremely one-sided in favor of the A’s. After going hitless in his first game, he went on a 15-game hitting streak — two short of the club record. He hit eight homers in his first 19 games with Oakland and continued to top Horton’s Toronto performance in every important offensive category. Carty’s 31 homers for the season were his career high and set a new record at the time for designated hitters.
Carty made it clear that he intended to test the freeagent market in 1979 and indicated that his next team would be his last. Even so, the Blue Jays reacquired Rico, believing they could sign him because they could play him every day. When Carty was granted free agency, four teams sought him, but the Blue Jays signed him to a five-year partly-guaranteed contract for $1.1 million plus an immediate loan of $120,000 — not bad for a 39-year-old player with a history of frequent injuries. Carty’s 31-page contract was described as “probably the bulkiest in the history of baseball.”
After skipping winter ball, Carty pulled a calf muscle in spring training and hit under .200. The regular season saw no major improvements. In early June he was hitting only .250 and was the target of boos from Toronto fans. On July 1 he was benched after hitting only one homer in almost two months. Carty blamed his slump on a “freakish injury” — a swollen hand caused when he accidentally stabbed himself with a toothpick. That 1979 season had few highlights for Rico, but on August 6 he hit his 200th career home run, becoming the oldest player (at 39 years, 339 days) to achieve that milestone. Overall, however, it was his worst season except for 1973, when he had shuttled among three teams. When Jays manager Roy Hartsfield was fired after that season, he observed that it had been “hard to live with Rico Carty’s virtual lifetime deal.”
Hartsfield’s successor did not have that challenge. Carty hit poorly in winter ball, where he was again hampered by a leg injury, and was still favoring his calf when spring training started. He was unconditionally released on March 29, 1980. His “lifetime” deal as a player had lasted one year, although he still worked for the Blue Jays as a Latin American scout.
Carty’s major-league playing days were over, and his lifetime batting average had dropped to .299. Early visions of superstardom had not been realized, but, despite losing two entire seasons to illness and injury, he had played 13 seasons in the majors. He was big (6-feet-2) and slow, but he was a natural-born hitter. The flamboyant, self-described “Beeg Boy” made more comebacks than a boomerang, and few who saw him play will ever forget his aggressive right-handed swing and his trademark one-handed catches. He was a study in contrasts — known for his infectious grin and also for his fierce glare at the plate; popular because of his cheerful banter with fans yet branded a troublemaker. Carty argued that the latter reputation was unfounded, claiming he simply “stood up for his rights.” The record shows that he defended those rights frequently and that he was an equal-opportunity combatant, engaging in physical and/or verbal conflicts with teammates, managers, umpires, fans, local police, and at least one front office.
Rico Carty remained a hero in his homeland, where he lived as of 2014. During his playing days, he returned to the Dominican Republic almost every year to play winter ball, saying, “I owe my country a lot.” He retired as the Dominican League’s all-time home run leader (59). That record was eclipsed, but Carty’s legend survived. He didn’t get to Cooperstown, but he is enshrined in two Halls of Fame, the ones honoring heroes of Caribbean Baseball (1996’s inaugural class) and Latino Baseball (2011). He is an honorary general in the Dominican Army, and he once thought he had been elected mayor of his hometown until a recount proved otherwise.
Baseball gave Carty financial security and he stayed active in the game at home and elsewhere. In 1988 Rico led the Dominican team to a third-place finish in the first Men’s Senior Baseball League World Series and won the home run contest in the 40-plus age bracket. League founder Steve Sigler said, “He’s still an amazing hitter [at age 49], and he was the only one using a wooden bat. He may have summarized Rico Carty’s career: The “Beeg Boy” could hit … and he did things his way.
I regret that this biography was completed without input from the subject. Extensive efforts to locate Rico Carty were fruitless. One representative of the Atlanta Braves said that Rico “has dropped off the map.” Obviously, there is plenty of information on his career; I hope I have done him justice. If not, I’m sure he will let me know.