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Baseball’s best bloopers and trick plays

“This Week in Baseball” (TWIB) hosted by legendary Yankees announcer Mel Allen was a staple of my teen years. Long before Sportscenter, Baseball Tonight and the MLB Network, TWIB showed the best highlights of the week’s pay as well as baseball’s funniest bloopers, best plays, and unusual plays and accomplishments. TWIB and programs like it showcased the good, bad, and ugly of baseball. Some established stars like David Cone and Paul O’Neill have had moments they would like to forget. Then there have been average players like Gene Michael and Steve Hamilton who used every trick in the book to help achieve success.

Over the years, some of the best moments have involved the Yankees, whether it was before, during, or after their time in the Bronx. I hope you enjoy these bloopers, misfires, and trick plays.

Now you see it, now you don’t

Gene Michael has built up a reputation of being one of the best front office people in baseball. He kept the Yankees on the right track when principal owner George Steinbrenner was suspended in 1990. Michael was also a good manager, but some people forget that he was a stellar-fielding shortstop.

He was also a master of the hidden ball trick. In fact, Michael successfully pulled off the maneuver on five separate occasions. The NY Post’s Steve Serby asked him about it in 2010:

Q: How did your hidden ball trick start?

A: I did it in the minor leagues a few times. I coulda done it more, but players get angry. When I was just getting ready to make my move (Ralph) Houk was crossing the line to take the pitcher out. Four or five times that happened.

Unfortunately, there is no video available showing Michael pulling off his master trick.

That’s going to leave a mark

With all of the hot air and craziness involving Jose Canseco, people forget that he was an extremely talented ballplayer. Prior to illegally enhancing his body, Canseco was a great all-around player. He hit for power, ran like the wind and had a great outfield arm. In 1988, he became the first Major Leaguer to hit 40 home runs and steal 40 bases in the same season.

While Canseco could throw well once he had the ball, he wasn’t always the most adept at fielding his position. As a member of the Texas Rangers, Canseco gave the gift that keeps on giving…a home run, courtesy of his cabeza. The Indians’ Carlos Martinez will always be grateful.

A Shocker

Phil Stephenson was one of the greatest college baseball players of all time. Playing for his older brother Gene, as a member of the Wichita State Shockers, Stephenson set many college records. The College Baseball Hall of Fame in Lubbock, Texas welcomed him into their fold in 2007.

The Shockers made it to the College Baseball World Series in 1982 and were facing off against baseball powerhouse Miami Hurricanes. Stephenson had racked up an amazing 86 steals in 90 attempts, so when he reached first base against the ‘Canes, Miami was ready for him.

Pitcher Mike Kasprzak’s pickoff attempt went horribly wrong. The ball sailed down the right field line…or did it? First baseman Steve Lusby dove for the misfire and “Ball, Ball” could be heard. Stephenson, who dove back into first base, leapt to his feet and took off for second base. The problem? Kasprzak still had the baseball. To avoid being called for a balk, Kasprzak stepped off the rubber prior to pantomiming the fake throw. Stephenson was a dead duck. The Hurricanes went on to a 4-3 victory.

El Duque has a dance and a delivery service

Orlando Hernandez, aka El Duque, was one of the most colorful characters in all of Major League Baseball. And, when the game was on the line, the Yankees (1998-2002, 2004) could count on him to perform in the clutch.

To win in any sport, athletes will do whatever it takes. That includes being inventive, as El Duque was when facing the NY Mets in 1999. Mets’ shortstop Rey Ordonez hit a comebacker that El Duque fielded cleanly, but the ball got stuck in the webbing of his glove. Desperate times call for desperate measures, so El Duque threw the entire glove to first base. Tino Martinez made a nice two-handed catch as if he did it every day, and Ordonez was retired.

Another former Yankee, Terry Mulholland, first made the play famous as a member of the San Francisco Giants in a 1986 game with the Mets. This time it was Keith Hernandez‘ comebacker that got stuck in Mulholland’s glove. The left-hander ran part way to first base and then flipped the glove underhand to Bob Brenly for the out.

Paul O’Neill and Anger Management 101

During Paul O’Neill’s time as a member of the Yankees, he was an emotional, extremely intense, driven ballplayer. Some would describe it as immaturity (O’Neill’s wife Nevalee for one) but to O’Neill it was merely his competitiveness.

However, O’Neill’s attitude didn’t initially take form as a member of the Yankees. While O’Neill’s fire probably reached its peak with the Yankees, the flame was lit as a member of the Cincinnati Reds.  A day after America celebrated Independence Day in 1989, the Phillies and Reds were in the bottom of the 10th inning of a 2-2 game. With runner Steve Jeltz on second base, the Phillies’ Lenny Dykstra singled sharply to right field.

The ball proceeded to ricochet off O’Neill’s glove and body until finally, out of frustration, he kicked the ball. Remarkably, the ball made a perfect arc to first baseman Todd Benzinger. The Phillies held Jeltz as he rounded third, though it appeared he could have scored.  (However, the Reds’ reprieve was short lived…moments later a passed ball by Reds catcher Jeff Reed allowed the winning run to score.)

Coney and Knobby Take a Nap

One of the worst things you can do in baseball is to not pay attention to what’s going on. Athletes always need to be alert on the field. Otherwise, opponents can take advantage, for example, by pulling off delayed steals or taking an extra base…or two. The latter occurred in two separate incidents that involved David Cone and Chuck Knoblauch.

Cone was a member of the 1990 Mets when they faced the Atlanta Braves on the last day of April in 1990. The Braves held a 2-1 lead in the 4th inning, with two outs and two men aboard – Dale Murphy was on second and Ernie Whitt on first. The Braves’ Mark Lemke hit a tapper to the right side of the infield. First baseman Mike Marshall appeared to range too far to his right and wasn’t be able to get back to the base when second baseman Greg Jefferies fielded the ball.

Jefferies tossed to Cone covering, for what appeared to be the final out of the inning, but first base umpire Charlie Williams said otherwise. Appearing to be out of sync as he approached the first base bag, Cone dragged his right foot along the base. Needless to say, Cone went ballistic when Williams ruled Lemke safe. To make matters worse, Cone temporarily lost his mind and forgot about the base runners. Murphy and Whitt both scored without a play at the plate.

The Braves increased their lead to 4-1 and went on to a 7-4 win, their first back-to-back victories of the season. To his credit, Cone owned up to his mistake afterward.

“I’m a human being and I’m an emotional person,” Cone said. ”I snapped emotionally and I have to live with it. It’s an embarrassing moment that might have cost us a ballgame. For two minutes, I snapped. I was in my own little world.”

Yankees second baseman Chuck Knoblauch had a moment he would like to forget in the 1998 ALCS. The Yankees captured Game 1 against Cleveland, but the teams were deadlocked 1-1 in the 12th inning in Game 2. Jim Thome singled off of Yankees reliever Jeff Nelson to start the inning.

With pinch-runner Enrique Wilson on first base, Travis Fryman laid down a bunt. Yankees first baseman Tino Martinez fielded the ball and threw towards Knoblauch, who was covering first base. But, the ball struck Fryman in the back and rolled to the back of the infield.

Instead of chasing the baseball, Knoblauch stood on first base pointing to the home plate umpire in an appeal for an interference call. To make matters worse, he blew a bubble, leading one NY paper to print the headline “BLAUCH HEAD” the next morning.

Wilson stumbled around third but still scored easily to give the Indians the lead on the way to a 4-1 victory. When Cleveland won Game 3 as well, Knoblauch’s miscue became even more magnified. Thankfully for him, the Yankees won the ALCS in six games. Then, Knoblauch hit a clutch 3-run home run in Game 1 of the World Series that helped lead to a four-game sweep.

Tag Team Outs

There are times when a third base coach would like to crawl into a hole and hide. Arguably, it’s the second toughest coaching job after the manager. The pressure is tremendous. Their responsibilities include interpreting the manager’s signals and relaying them to the batter, and deciding whether to hold a runner at third or send him home. The third base coach is always blamed if the runner could have scored and was held or gets thrown out at the plate.

The aforementioned Gene Michael was the Yankees’ third base coach against the Chicago White Sox on August 2, 1985. The teams were tied 3-3 in the 7th inning when the Yankees started a rally against lefty Britt Burns. Andre Robertson began the inning with a single and Dale Berra reached on an error by third baseman Tim Hulett.

With pinch-runner Bobby Meacham replacing Robertson, Rickey Henderson drove a ball to deep left-center field. Center fielder Luis Salazar couldn’t make the catch, but Meacham mistakenly went back to second to tag up instead of playing it halfway.  As he charged toward and rounded third base, Berra was within spitting distance of him. On the replay, you can see Michael throw his hands up in frustration.

Fisk caught the relay throw at the plate and tagged out Meacham, who attempted to knock the ball out of his mitt. Fisk then quickly regained his balance and tagged out Berra, who came in standing up instead of sliding. One baseball + two outs = total embarrassment.

Up, Up, and Away

12-year veteran Major Leaguer Steve Hamilton was a tall drink of water at six feet, six inches. A dependable reliever, he spent parts of eight seasons with the Yankees. But, teammates, opponents, and fans will remember him for one thing…the “Folly Floater”.

An eephus pitch, Hamilton’s trick pitch came in like a pitch in unlimited arc softball. Imagine the release of a pitcher of Hamilton’s height, enhanced by the height of the mound, and long arms. Basically, Hamilton looked like he used a high-lob golf wedge to deliver the pith.

The batter waited and waited and waited…and then took a hellacious swing…and usually missed. Cleveland’s Tony Horton knew all about it. In the video that follows, Horton crawled the last few steps to the dugout after falling victim to the Folly Floater.

Years later, Yankees pitcher Dave LaRoche would throw his version of an eephus pitch, the “LaLob”. While not attaining the height of Hamilton’s pitch, it was pretty effective. Of course, not all eephus pitches work. El Duque would throw one once in a while, but the memory that remains is Alex Rodriguez, then of Texas, blasting a long home run off it.

The Tarp Goes on How?

Athletes are not the only ones who have issues during ballgames. The Florida Marlins grounds crew, circa 1993, will live in infamy forever. During a game with the New York Mets, the rain started to come down. The grounds crew raced out on the field and the mayhem began.

First, they rolled out the tarp out in right field, far from the infield, making their job harder. Second, they couldn’t get the tarp to the infield and hilarity ensued. Enjoy and thanks for checking out some of baseball’s offbeat moments.