My entry this morning that included the box score from the forfeited game in Toronto 33 years ago stirred a minor debate over manager Earl Weaver’s actual beef with the umpiring crew.
I didn’t recall every detail and relied on baseball-reference.com’s explanation before taking advantage of a job perk and placing a few calls.
“I remember that the issue was a tarp down in the bullpen,” said center fielder Al Bumbry, who doubled in that game and was the only Oriole with three at-bats before Weaver pulled his team from the field in the bottom of the fifth inning.
“What happened was the grounds crew covered the mound for the Blue Jays but didn’t cover it for us, and Earl made a big-time issue out of it. I remember that Earl took us back in the clubhouse and had a meeting and explained to us what the possible ramifications would be - the playoffs, forfeiting the game and where it would leave us in the standings. He presented all that stuff to us. It was a key game at the time. Earl was up on it. He did talk about it.”
The Orioles were in a pennant race, 2 Ã‚Â½ games out of first place after the forfeit. But no one questioned Weaver’s decision - at least not to his face.
“Earl called himself ‘God,’ right?” Bumbry said, chuckling. “If Earl said this is the situation it puts us in, this is what my feelings are, I don’t remember that being major debate, at least not in the clubhouse when we had the meeting.”
Bumbry recommended that I contact Jim Palmer “because he remembers everything.”
Palmer didn’t disappoint. The Hall of Fame pitcher immediately knew that umpire Marty Springstead worked that game - and he wasn’t one of Weaver’s favorites, to put it mildly - and that Jays pitcher Jim Clancy was protecting a 4-0 lead.
Palmer actually watched the game on television. He flew home a day early because he was starting the next night and teams couldn’t get late flights out of Toronto.
“We’re down, 4-0, and Earl took the team off the field,” Palmer said. “Mark Belanger, who went on to be one of more militant union guys, was the player rep, and they all concurred with Earl that they should do that. I know it’s kind of second-guessing, but how do you do that?
“You’ve got to understand, we’re down 4-0 in the bottom of the fifth and Clancy is pitching great. For some reason, Earl thought the league president would overrule the umpires and allow the manager to set a precedent. Could you imagine? There’s no way in the world you can win that protest. You can protest and play the game over from that point if you win the protest, but if you set a precedent by taking your team off the field, it would have sent the wrong message to baseball. There’s just no way. You just have to think that out. You put the league president in an impossible position.
“It was certainly an emotional decision by Earl and he did not like Marty Springstead. They didn’t like each other. It was an issue that one mound was covered and the other wasn’t. Earl wanted either both off or both on. But it doesn’t matter what the situation was. You can’t take your team off the field. You’ll never, ever win that argument.
“Clancy was a big, tall right-hander who had his sinker, changeup and curveball going that night, and Earl was exasperated. The offense wasn’t doing anything, but it was a no-win situation. There are some things you can’t do in baseball and that’s one of them.”
Palmer also remembers that Springstead worked the game in Cleveland when Weaver tore up the rule book and tossed it in the air.
“There was a history,” Palmer said.
Springstead used to break out the same line on the banquet circuit, borrowed from John Cameron Swayze in the old Timex commercials. “It takes a licking and keeps on ticking.” Springstead, however, would suggest that the watch be strapped to Weaver’s tongue to provide the truest test of its durability.