Friday, March 28, 2014

My First MLB Game - Jarry Park, 1973

   In honour of the return of baseball, albeit in exhibition game form, to Montreal, I thought I would re-post this account from another blog of mine about the first ever MLB game I attended.

   I am a long-time reader and fan of the publication Baseball Digest.  One of my favourite features is the Letters section.  People ask questions which the editors duly answer.  The typical letter seems to have a request that goes something along the lines of, "I remember seeing a game at Wrigley Field in the early 60s...Jim Brewer was the starter..can you give me any more information about the game?..."  The staff manages to find the game, prints the box score,  then delivers a brief summary to the nostalgic reader.
    Inspired,  I've spent a fair amount of time trying to track down the exact details of the first major league baseball game I ever saw in person.
    I was about 10 or 11 years old, and the game was at Jarry Park, the one-time home of the gone (but not forgotten, by me at least) Montreal Expos, sometime in the early 1970s. 
    I've asked my dad if he can remember any of the details of the game:  what year, who was playing, the final score, but even though he's a very physically and mentally sharp 79 year-old, he can't recall any of them.
    Here's the sum of what I remember:  the game was played in either late July or early August (my dad got two weeks' holiday when his company, the long-gone RCA picture tube manufacturing plant in Midland, Ontario was shut down), I got Scotty Bowman's autograph (or more like my dad shoved me with a program and a pen to where Scotty was sitting, a few rows down from us - I hardly had any idea who Scotty Bowman was, but my dad, being a life-long Canadiens fan, did), and Ron Woods hit a huge home run late in the game to put the Expos into the lead.
 Other than that, nothing.  Couldn't recall the score, or even the year.
A few notes about my dad:  he grew up in a farming village in Eastern Ontario, the oldest of 5 children.  Born in the Depression, he grew up during pretty rough times.  He left the farm for good to find a job in Toronto in 1950.  I can't imagine the culture shock.  His family was still a few years away from even getting electricity back on the farm.  
 I learned only recently that my dad had an Aunt who would have loaned him the money for a university education when he graduated high school, but for some reason he wasn't able to take her up on it.  That's unfortunate, because even though he had a very successful 47-year career as a manufacturing accountant, who knows what career he might have landed in with a university education?


    My dad was also a good athlete, even though opportunities for playing organized sports where he grew up were slim.  He played a fair amount of fastball, a game that is amazingly popular in rural communities across Canada, for reasons which elude me.  I mean, why not play baseball ?  There's more than enough room.  When he moved to Toronto, he was able to catch on with a high-level team playing in what we would now call the Greater Toronto Area.
   He was a catcher, and apparently caught some pretty good pitchers:  Pete Landers and Metro Zuryk, to name two.  Those names might not be familiar to many, but the former is one of only three fastball players in Canada's Sports Hall of Fame.
    I never got to see my dad play.  He had given up the game by 1967, when he moved our family from Oshawa to Midland, where he had been hired at the brand-new RCA picture tube plant.  In the late 70s, he helped set up a co-ed three-pitch league at RCA.   He didn't play much, preferring to do the organizing and the cheerleading, but I remember one at-bat where he whalloped the first pitch off of the roof of the school they were playing at.  The ball jumped off of his bat, and after a long parabola of a flight it bounced off the top of the roof like a lacrosse ball, then it skipped across the parking lot and rolled across the street into the Southern Ontario night . All were silent during the ball's long flight.
   So I come by my love of baseball naturally.  And genetically.  My dad was involved  with the coaching or umpiring of most of the games my older brother and I played as kids.  There's nothing like having your dad umping home plate while you catch.  "Why did you call that pitch?"  he would mutter under his mask after a long blast that split the outfielders and seemed to roll forever.   That was almost as bad as him fishing the puck out of the net after a goal was scored on me (he was a hockey referee as well), asking why I didn't stand up on that one.

   Their home, Jarry Park, was a jerry-rigged former minor league stadium that was meant to fill the void until Montreal's Olympic Stadium was built.  It had no covered stands, mostly aluminum seats, and a swimming pool beyond the right-field scoreboard that Wille Stargell often seemed to hit home runs into.
The atmosphere, despite the losing, was racuous, and Jarry Park was labelled, "Canada's largest outdoor insane asylum."
  So, even though I may not have been old enough to follow the team on a day-to-day basis, I was a huge fan.  Every Wednesday night, CBC would broadcast a home game, opening up a whole new world to me.
On one of those broadcasts, John Boccabella hit a walk-off home run to complete a huge comeback over the Pirates (when Boccabella came to bat, legendary PA announcer Claude Mouton would draw out his last name - BOCCCCC- A - BELLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLA!).  That home run led to some confusion for me as I tried to look up the details of this game I saw in person. Or did I see that game in person, and watch Ron Woods launch a walk-off homer on tv ?
 As the mists of time obscure even the best of memories, I had the two games confused.  Which one did I see live, and which one did I watch on tv ?
 Enter Baseball Reference.
What a treasure trove for statistics freaks like myself.  My dad's youngest brother introduced me to Strat-O-Matic baseball, and I can still recite stats from the players' cards (to wit:  Jim Hickman's 32 Home Runs, Clarence -later Cito- Gaston's .318 average from the 1970 set).  Baseball Reference is a great waste of time.
  Anyway, I searched both Boccabella and Woods on BR.  A quick check of each player's HR log revealed that Boccabella had but the one walk-off homer, Woods had none.  And Boccabella's was hit in September of 1970.  We wouldn't have been at that game, because my dad had only that two weeks in July/August. Boccabella's had to be the TV Home Run.
 So, a more thorough check of Woods' HR log was next.
Woods was signed out of high school by the Pirates in 1961, and spent the next 8 years in the minors, before debuting with the Tigers. After a couple of seasons with the Yankees, the Expos acquired him for Ron Swoboda, of Amazin' Mets fame.
 Woods was a right-handed hitting outfielder, who likely earned a major league spot as a result of the 1969 expansion.  He was a part-time player, and more known for his glove than his bat.
 He hit only 26 career home runs, so tracking this game down wasn't a huge challenge.  I do recall that the home run came late in the game, with the Expos behind.  I don't actually recall seeing it, because I was 10 years old, and everyone stood up to watch it, blocking my view.
 There it was, after a brief search:  

Wednesday, July 4, 1973,
, Parc Jarry
Attendance: 15,801, Time of Game: 2:41

                1  2  3   4  5  6   7  8  9    R  H  E
                -  -  -   -  -  -   -  -  -    -  -  -
Mets            3  0  1   0  0  1   0  0  0    5  7  1
Expos           0  0  0   0  0  0   0  7  X    7  9  0

 Now, I had to check with my dad, because the date didn't fall within his usual holiday period, but it turns out that he had a few weeks of unused vacation from the previous year, and used them that summer of 1973.
  More notes:  about our summer vacations.....
We were not big travellers.  With my brother and I so immersed in hockey and baseball, there wasn't time for a lot of vacationing.
I didn't take my first warm weather vacation until I was well into my 30s.  With only a few weeks of vacation every summer, and with my parents not being all that adventurous, we seldom made it further than my grandparents' farm near Kingston, Ontario.  One year, my mom insisted that we venture at least farther than that, so for some unknown reason, we vacationed in Pembroke, Ontario, on the Ottawa River.  I think we did a brief tour of Ottawa, but spent the rest of the time at the motel in Pembroke.  There was a pool there, so my mom was content to lounge around it.  The only other detail I remember is hearing Charlie Pride's Greatest Hits played endlessly on the 8-track of our Ford Montego.

 Another year, we became even more daring, and headed out to Montreal.  Once again, a pool with a motel was a must (how did people find these in the pre-internet days ?  did we just drive around Montreal until we found one ?) for my mom.  She had no interest in watching a ball game.  Living in a house with 3 males must have been tough.  Just ask my wife, who lives in the same kind of environment.  Hence, her insistence on female dogs as pets.
 So, it was my dad and I off on a Wednesday night to watch the Expos and the Mets.


Thanks to, I was able to find play-by-play details.
 As mentioned earlier, the Expos were pretenders for their first four years of existence.  1973 didn't promise to be much different.  The team did have 3 promising young players (Mike Jorgensen, Ken Singleton and Tim Foli) who they received in exchange for Le Grand Orange, Rusty Staub.  And there was Mike Marshall in the bullpen, who was still a few years away from bigger fame, but was already demonstrating the ability to throw multiple innings per outing out of the bullpen.  The rest of the team was a mix of cast-offs from other organizations.  Like Ron Woods.
 The Expos stumbled out of the gate with a 7-11 April.  May and June were slightly better, and they were only two games under .500 as the summer started.  That record might have been enough to have them out of contention in other years and divisions, but this was the 1973 National League East, meaning that they were right in the middle of a pennant race.
 The Expos' line-up was lead by Ron Hunt, who had to be one of the most battered men in the history of the game.  Standing almost on top of the plate, Hunt was hit a record 51 times in 1971.  I love a quote attributed to him:  "“Some people give their bodies to science; I gave mine to baseball."
 Their batting order, while middle of the pack in the league in terms of runs and average, was actually reasonably decent:  Ron Fairly (one of the slowest players I've ever seen), Jorgensen, Singleton and a rejuvenated Bob Bailey, an original Expo, who would go on to hit 30 HR that year.
 The pitching staff was a mix of youth and veterans.  The starting rotation was anchored by Steve Renko, who was in the midst of a career year.  In May, he would be joined by minor league call-up Steve Rogers, who recorded a 1.54 ERA for the season, and went on to become the Expos' all-time leader in numerous pitching categories.  Sadly, the late Dick Williams had some unkind words about Rogers' performance in big games in his book.  Rogers was my favourite Expo.  Even though I wasn't a pitcher, I loved imitating his herky-jerky delivery as I warmed up with my teammates on the sidelines before games.
  The bullpen was essentially a two-man show, featuring Tom Walker, who had come from nowhere to emerge as a set-up man to the rubber-armed Marshall, who with his 14 wins and 31 saves, had a hand in over half of the Expos' victories that year.  He pitched 176 innings in 92 games - unheard of stats for a closer today.
 I didn't realize it at the time, but the Met's starting centre fielder that night was 43 yr old hall-of-famer-to-be Willie Mays.
 A three-run homer in the first inning by George Theodore off of struggling Expos starter Balor Moore gave the visitors and early lead.
  Taking the mound that day for the Mets was another eventual hall-of-famer: 300 game winner Tom Seaver.
 Seaver cruised through the first seven innings, and the Mets added another in the third (on a Mays' homer - Number 657 for his career; he would hit only three more), and one more in the sixth, to take a comfortable 5-0 lead as the Expos prepared to bat in the bottom of the 8th.
 Hunt walked to lead off the Expos' 8th.  They may have ranked in the middle of the pack in most batting stats, but they were far and away the leader in On Base Percentage.  Not that many people paid attention to that stat in those days, but they were a team that could get on base, and could find a way to get runners home.
 Jorgensen followed with a single to right, and then Hunt moved up to third on a flyout to right by Fairly.
Mets' SS Teddy Martinez then made an error on a ball hit by Singleton (don't know if it was a routine DP ball or not), scoring Hunt and moving Jorgensen to 2nd.  A tiring Seaver then gave up a double to CF Boots Day, scoring Jorgensen with the second run of the inning. A single to centre by Bailey scored Singleton and Day, and ended Seaver's day, cutting the Mets' lead to one.
 Buzz Capra (can't forget that name) came in from the bullpen to relieve Seaver.  He gave up a single to Foli, then retired Boccabella.  With two men on, Capra was an out away from ending the inning.
 In came Ron Woods to hit for reliever Joe Gilbert, the Expos' fourth pitcher of the game.  
Woods hit a three-run home run into the left-field bleachers (that I didn't see - everyone stood up, and blocked my view) to put the Expos ahead, 7-5.
Marshall came in to pitch a 1-2-3 9th for his 11th save.
And that was it.  15 801 people saw the game.  I thought there were more people than that, but I had never been in a crowd that big.  I do remember that Jarry Park was loud - in great contrast to the funereal atmosphere at Olympic Stadium in the Expos' final years.  That's another post for another time.
 Joe Gilbert got the win.  Two weeks later, he would be sent back down to Triple A, never to return to the Majors.
The Expos continued to stay in the hunt in the crowded NL East.  The Mets, Cards, Pirates and Expos would go down to the final weekend.  The Expos reeled off 6 wins in a row in mid-September to move within a game of the Mets, but then promptly lost their next 7.  With the mediocrity of the division, though, they weren't out of it until a loss to the Mets in Game 159.  The Mets took the division with a record of 83-79, the worst record of any pennant winner in major league history.  Just the same, they upset in the Reds in the NLCS, and took the defending World Series Champion A's to 7 games.
  Ron Woods would hit only one more major league home run, and was released by the Expos at the end of the following season.  He played two seasons in Japan before calling it quits.
 And that was the one and only Expos game I saw live and in person at Jarry Park.  
  Four seasons later, the Expos left the cozy confines of Jarry Park for the cavernous Olympic Stadium.
A new generation of home grown players, like Gary Carter, Andre Dawson, Ellis Valentine, Warren Cromartie, and Larry Parrish, led the team to near-great heights.  To me, they still remain one of the best teams to never win it all.

     The Expos, of course,  left Montreal for Washington in 2004, but in the minds of most Montrealers, they had left several years before that. 
   I wish I could remember more details about that game.  I wish that I could've understood the significance of watching two one-day hall of famers.  I wish that I could have seen that home run ball land. Oh, well.
   I was just a young lad, enjoying a day at the ballpark with his dad.  And maybe that was the most important thing to remember.  This past summer, I took my dad and my two sons to a game.  Baseball hasn't gripped either of them in quite the same way it did me, but I hope the memory of the games we've been to over the years will stay with them, too.

 I almost forgot to include the box score:

Game Played on Wednesday, July 4, 1973 (N) at Parc Jarry

NY  N    3  0  1    0  0  1    0  0  0  -   5  7  1
MON N    0  0  0    0  0  0    0  7  x  -   7  9  0
New York Mets                AB   R   H RBI      BB  SO      PO   A
Garrett 3b                    2   1   0   0       3   0       1   1
Millan 2b                     5   0   0   0       0   0       3   3
Mays cf                       4   1   2   1       0   0       4   0
  Hahn cf                     1   0   0   0       0   0       1   0
Staub rf                      4   1   0   0       1   0       2   0
Theodore lf                   3   1   2   3       1   1       2   0
Milner 1b                     4   0   0   0       0   1       5   0
Dyer c                        3   1   2   1       1   0       5   0
Martinez ss                   4   0   1   0       0   2       1   1
Seaver p                      3   0   0   0       1   2       0   1
  Capra p                     0   0   0   0       0   0       0   0
  Sadecki p                   0   0   0   0       0   0       0   0
Totals                       33   5   7   5       7   6      24   6
E: Martinez (5).
PB: Dyer (3).
HR: Theodore (1,1st inning off Moore 2 on 2 out); Mays (3,3rd inning off Moore
0 on 0 out); Dyer (1,6th inning off Walker 0 on 0 out).
GDP: Milner (7,off Jarvis).
Team LOB: 8.
Montreal Expos               AB   R   H RBI      BB  SO      PO   A
Hunt 2b                       2   1   0   0       2   0       1   4
Jorgensen 1b                  5   1   3   0       0   0       8   1
Fairly lf                     4   0   0   0       1   0       2   0
  Marshall p                  0   0   0   0       0   0       0   0
Singleton rf                  3   1   0   1       1   1       5   0
Day cf,lf                     4   1   1   1       0   1       3   0
Bailey 3b                     4   1   1   2       0   1       1   0
Foli ss                       4   1   2   0       0   0       1   4
Boccabella c                  4   0   1   0       0   1       6   0
Moore p                       0   0   0   0       0   0       0   0
  Jarvis p                    1   0   0   0       0   1       0   0
  Mashore ph                  1   0   0   0       0   0       0   0
  Walker p                    0   0   0   0       0   0       0   0
  Breeden ph                  1   0   0   0       0   0       0   0
  Gilbert p                   0   0   0   0       0   0       0   1
  Woods ph,cf                 1   1   1   3       0   0       0   0
Totals                       34   7   9   7       4   5      27  10
DP: 1. Jorgensen-Foli-Jorgensen.
2B: Day (6,off Seaver).
HR: Woods (3,8th inning off Capra 2 on 2 out).
HBP: Hunt (19,by Capra).
Team LOB: 8.
New York Mets                IP     H   R  ER  BB  SO  HR BFP
Seaver                        7.1   6   5   3   4   5   0  33
Capra L(0-4)                  0.1   2   2   2   0   0   1   4
Sadecki                       0.1   1   0   0   0   0   0   2
Totals                        8     9   7   3*  4   5   1  39

 - Team earned runs does not equal the composite totals for all pitchers due 
to instances in which provisions of Section 10.18 (i) of the Scoring rules were 

HBP: Capra (1,Hunt).
Montreal Expos               IP     H   R  ER  BB  SO  HR BFP
Moore                         2.2   3   4   4   5   2   2  16
Jarvis                        2.1   2   0   0   0   1   0   8
Walker                        2     1   1   1   1   3   1   8
Gilbert W(1-1)                1     1   0   0   1   0   0   5
Marshall SV(13)               1     0   0   0   0   0   0   3
Totals                        9     7   5   5   7   6   3  40
WP: Moore (5), Jarvis (1).
Umpires: HP - Satch Davidson, 1B - Augie Donatelli, 2B - Bob Engel, 3B - Harry Wendelstedt
Time of Game: 2:41   Attendance: 15801

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