Wednesday October 03, 2018
Boxscores: August 1, 1970
I saw this game on NBC's “Game of the Week” when we were visiting my grandmother in Finksburg, Maryland when I was 7. I still remember it. I remember being thrilled by it.
It was partially the score. I mean, 20-10? That's a football score. Not that I knew football at the time. That would take a few more years.
It was partially the great players involved: Hank Aaron, Rico Carty, Willie Stargell, Orlando Cepeda—all of whom I mostly knew from baseball cards and those annual “Baseball Stars of...” books. I don't think I saw them much. I grew up in Minneapolis, an American League city, and I think even on TV we mostly saw AL games. So this was new.
Plus I thought the uniforms were cool; they were darker than what I was used to.
So were the players.
Start with the Pirates. Their leadoff hitter, Johnny Jeter, was black. So was Dave Cash, Al Oliver and Manny Sanguillen. Bob Robertson, batting fifth, was white, but Willie Stargell and Jose Pagan were not. Shortstop Gene Alley was white, as was pitcher Bruce Dal Canton. So six of nine were players of color.
The Braves did that one better: seven of the starting nine were players of color.
In comparison, on this day in 1970, my Twins started just three non-white players: Cesar Tovar, Tony Oliva, Leo Cardenas. (Rod Carew was injured.) Their opposition, the Detroit Tigers, did the same: Ike Brown, Elliott Maddox, César Gutiérrez. (Willie Horton, ditto.) It had been 23 years since Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier for the NL Brooklyn Dodgers, but the American League was still whiter. Noticeably so. At least I noticed.
Anyway, for whatever reason—the score, the unis, the players—I‘ve never forgotten that game. Sitting in my grandmother’s house on Cedarhurst Rd., in Finksburg, Md., it just stuck.
BTW: If you‘re wondering where Roberto Clemente was, he must’ve been injured. He didn't play between July 26 and August 7—except, oddly, as a pinch-runner in the July 31 game.
A year later, on Sept. 1, 1971, this Pirates team would field the first all-black and Latino team in Major League history.
For the 1970 season, the Pirates won the NL West, while the Braves—the NL East champs in ‘69—finished second-to-last in their division. Rico Carty led the league in hitting with a .366 mark, and Manny Sanguillen finished third with .325. Hank Aaron hit 38 homers to bring his career total to 592—third all-time. Two years later, he would pass Willie Mays for second all-time. In early ’74, of course, he would break the most sacrosanct record in the game. Clemente hit .352 in '70, but without enough plate appearances to quality for the batting title. But his 145 hits raised his career total to 2,704. Two years later, he would reach 3,000 on the dot, only the 11th man in baseball history to do that. Three months after that, he would die in a plane crash flying relief supplies to earthquake victims in Managua, Nicaragua.