YESTERDAY: Early season baseball and NCAA Cinderellas
Early April usually brings the blustery Phillies’ season openers as well as the end of the college basketball season.
The Phillies have had their share of season debuts where a winter coat is required. I can remember being at Veterans Stadium for a Phillies-Mets opener in 1982 when I had to clear snow off my seat and snow was on the concrete.
This latest installment of my look back at YESTERDAY - a trip back in time to the late 1960s, the 70s and the 80s - is a recollection of some April moments and some relics, as well as some past NCAA Cinderellas.
For Openers ... If you’re a diehard Phillies’ fan, you’ll know who Boots Day is. He was the first hitter for the Montreal Expos when Veterans Stadium opened its doors on April 10, 1971.
Backup catcher Mike Ryan began the day when he caught a baseball dropped from a helicopter high above the Vet. Larry Bowa had the first hit with a leadoff single in the bottom of the first, as the Phils went on to a 4-1 victory. Unfortunately, it was just one of 67 wins opposed to 95 losses that year. However, it was the last of a six-year, opening day victory streak.
The previous year, legendary left-hander Chris Short pitched a five-hit, 2-0 shutout over the Cubs’ Ferguson Jenkins in the final game at Connie Mack Stadium, which always was a fan-friendly park. I remember being able to lean over the dugout to get autographs from the dugout.
However, the mid-to-late 70s wasn’t as kind to the Phils. From 1975 to 1978, they dropped four consecutive openers. Ironically, it was arguably their most productive stretch in franchise history.
Phillies and the Reserve Clause ... It appeared to be one of the most lopsided trades that ever worked against the Phillies on Oct. 7, 1969. The Cardinals traded outfielder Curt Flood, relief pitcher Joe Horner, catcher Tim McCarver, and outfielder Byron Browne for first baseman Richie Allen, second baseman Cookie Rojas, and pitcher Jerry Johnson. When Flood refused to report to the Phillies, it wasn’t well published that the Cardinals sent Willie Montanez to the Phils in April 1970.
Flood took his case about the reserve clause - that bound a player to a team - to court and lost, thus opening the door for free agency down the road. Flood announced his retirement, but he was still the Phillies’ property.
Many may have forgotten that the Phillies eventually traded Flood to the Washington Senators in 1970, and Flood never regained his All-Star status he had with the Cardinals.
Where were you, April 8, 1974 ... Over the past 50 years, it still has its perch among baseball’s best moments. Live TV carried it, and America watched mesmerized.
Atlanta’s Hank Aaron hit his 715th career home run off Los Angeles left-hander Al Downing to break Babe Ruth’s longstanding mark of 714. This was a groundbreaking initial moment for most of us who were born in the 1960s and 70s.
As a 14-year-old, you never realized the kind of threats Aaron received by challenging the mark. Another possible forgotten fact was that Aaron hit his first pitch of the 1974 season and sent it over the wall in Cincinnati off Jack Billingham to tie Ruth.
Hail to the Chief ... Baseball has run the gamut in mascots, and some have become a mainstay. The Phillies Phanatic debuted in 1978, and is the game’s most recognizable. “Mr. Met” came on the scene in 1964 until 1979, and later surfaced in the 90s. The San Diego Chicken debuted in 1977 and also has had some longevity.
But do you remember Atlanta’s Chief Noc-A-Homa? He was stationed in a teepee in the Braves’ left-field stands, and would do a celebratory dance and ignite smoke bombs for a home run and a Braves’ rally.
The teepee was taken down to try and sell more seats. But the move proved to be bad luck, as the Braves endured a rough start. It was restored and the chief remained a steady presence until the end of the 1986 season.
Those 1970s long-lost Cinderella stories ... St. Peter’s was the latest fairytale story in the NCAA tournament, and there have been many teams that have become famous overnight.
In the early 70s, Long Beach State became a surprise in the tournament as they advanced to the Elite Eight twice and the Sweet Sixteen four times.
Future Houston Rocket Ed Ratleff helped his club to the Elite Eight twice, and his supporting cast included future Celtic Glenn McDonald and future ABA standout Chuck Terry. Here’s some trivia ... what was their mascot? Elbee the shark ... and their coach ... the late “Tark” J- erry Tarkanian.
Remember when nobody heard of Gonzaga? In the 70s, Pepperdine was a team that burst onto the scene. The Waves made their mark in 1976 when they knocked off Memphis in the opening round of the then 32-team tournament before they fell to UCLA. They returned in 1979, and then had four stops in the 1980s.
Do you recall the North Carolina-Charlotte 49ers with Cedric “Cornbread” Maxwell? They advanced to their first Final Four in 1977 and nearly upset eventual champion Marquette with Al McGuire. That’s one college that fell out of the spotlight since then.
Flip the calendar back a few more years to 1973 with Providence’s Ernie “D” DiGregorio and Marvin Barnes. The Friars, led by Dave Gavitt, advanced to the Final Four and were beaten by Memphis State after Barnes had to leave the game with a knee injury.
Find Your Number ... Today, we can find anyone in a few seconds from our I-Phone, locating an address and a phone number.
Back in the 70s, we had to dial 555-1212. Once you did, you had to hope the operator could find the right person, especially if the part in question had a common name. If you didn’t know the address, you also might be in trouble.
The number was eventually changed to 411, which isn’t used often today.
Don’t Forget the Games ... A look at the early baseball season wouldn’t be complete without mentioning the baseball board games.
In your youth, it was hard not to have played or owned Strat-O-Matic. It was all about the cards that had the players’ ratings and your role of the dice.
Along with Strat-O-Matic, there also was the APBA game that also involved player cards and dice. They were both classic games of the time that put you in the moment, and it was another reminder about how you knew all of the players on every team.
There were other games, but these two usually were at the top of the list.
On the charts ... When Aaron hit his record-breaking homer in 1974, Elton John’s “Bennie and the Jets” topped the Billboard 100 list. John also was on his way to stardom.
At the movies, “The Sting” with Paul Newman and Robert Redford captured the nation. On the horizon was “Blazing Saddles,” a breakthrough film that all of us can remember a line or two.
Do You Remember? ... Every week, I’ll mention a likely forgotten player from Yesterday. Remember Archie Clark? The guard was recognized as a scorer for the Sixers from 1968 through 1971.
Eric Snyder contributed to this column