Nine to Know: The last batter faced by Hall of Fame pitchers

The Chicago Cubs’ righty Kerry Wood retired on Friday at the age of 34 after a career that started with Hall of Fame dreams and ended with a series of nightmarish injuries. May 8 had been the last time Wood pitched at Wrigley and the Braves had their way with him and as Wood walked off the field after being shelled, he tossed his glove into the stands in disgust. Friday, Wood indicated that he would be retiring and wanted to make one last appearance in order to end his career, that began in 1998, with dignity.

Friday, Wood entered the game against the White Sox with one in the 8th and he struck out Dayan Viciedo on three pitches and called it a career.

Watching Wood’s swan song got us in the newsroom thinking about about how other pitchers ended their regular season careers, so we looked at the ending of nine Hall of Famers, chosen at random.

  1. Sandy Koufax, October 2, 1966: Struck out Jackie Brandt of the Phillies
  2. Juan Marichal, April 16, 1975: Gave up a single to Dave Concepcion of the Reds
  3. Whitey Ford, May 21, 1967: Jim Northrup of the Tigers grounded out to Ford unassisted
  4. Steve Carlton, April 23, 1988: Andy Allanson of the Indians doubled home a run
  5. Bob Feller, September 30, 1956: Bill Tuttle of the Tigers grounded out short to first
  6. Dennis Eckersley, September 16, 1998:  Orioles’ Charlie Greene struck out
  7. Nolan Ryan, September 22, 1993: Dann Howitt of the Mariners hit a grand slam, then on a 2-1 pitch to Dave Magadan he tore his ulnar lateral ligament. Ryan left after a 3-1 count and Steve Dreyer came in and completed the walk charged to Ryan.
  8. Tom Seaver, September 19, 1986: Tony Fernandez of the Blue Jays flew out to right field
  9. Bob Gibson, September 3, 1975: The Cubs’ Don Kessinger grounded out to first to Gibson covering the bag.

But there is more to the story of Gibson’s final appearance.

Here is an excerpt from Walkoffs, Last Licks, and Final Outs:

It would be fair to say that whether you are rich or poor, black or white, life consists of three stages – you’re born, you live a life, you die. The same is true for a baseball player’s major-league career. You break in, you play your career, and then you retire or are released. It doesn’t matter whether you are a scrub or a member of the Hall of Fame, that’s the way it goes. Sooner or later, every game ends, every stadium will close, every streak will end, every career comes to a close.

Here’s a story about a player in his first major league game, Buddy Schultz, of the Chicago Cubs. It’s also about Pete LaCock, third-year guy, although officially still a rookie. But this story is really about Bob Gibson, the great Hall-of-Fame pitcher in the last game of his storied career.

Pete LaCock came up for cups of coffee with the Chicago Cubs in 1972 and 1973, but September 22, 1974 was the first time LaCock faced Bob Gibson. He pinch hit for Rob Sperring in the 6th and singled to right. The next time up in the 7th Gibby brushed back LaCock before getting him to fly out to left.

Five days later, the two teams met again, this time with LaCock in the starting lineup. In the 3rd, he doubled to right. When LaCock told me this, I jokingly mentioned that Pete “owned” Gibby. Pete laughed and then in all seriousness quickly said, “No one owned Bob Gibson, I just got my licks at the right time.” The reason for that was quite evident in LeCock’s next at bat leading off the 4th…Gibson hit LaCock with a fastball.

Jump ahead to June 21, 1975, during Gibson’s last season. LaCock went 0-for-4 against Gibson, but the rest of the Cubs fared better winning the game, 6-1, as Gibson dropped to 1-6.

By August 4, when the two combatants faced each other again, Gibson pitched in relief and threw 3 1/3 scoreless innings. LaCock struck out to end the bottom of the 8th in his only time facing Gibson.

Bob Gibson’s last appearance in the majors was on September 3, 1975. Gibson came to face the Cubs with the score tied, 6-6. The Cardinals had tied the score by scoring five times in the bottom of the 6th topped by Lou Brock’s two-out, bases-loaded double that scored three. That brought in Buddy Schultz, making his major league debut. As he walked onto the mound, looked over at second and saw Lou Brock, Schultz told Bill Chuck, he thought, “Wow! I’m really in the big leagues!”

Nonetheless, Schultz threw two pitches and got Bake McBride on a grounder to second.

Bill Madlock led off the top of 7th against Gibson by flying out, but Jose Cardinal drew a walk. Champ Summers reached on an infield single and Cardinal moved to third when Mike Tyson (the shortstop, not the boxer) committed an error.

The hot-hitting Andre Thornton, who had taken LaCock’s starting job, drew a walk to load the bases. Manny Trillo bounced a ball back to Gibby who threw to Ted Simmons for a force at the plate.  Then Gibson gave an indication that the end was near by throwing a wild pitch allowing the go-ahead run to score. He then intentionally walked Jerry Morales to reload the bases.

It was Buddy Schultz’ turn at the plate, but up stepped Pete LaCock, who was frustrated being a bench player. Cubs’ manager Jim Marshall had spent 45 minutes before the game listening to his request to be traded. Marshall told reporters, “Pete is a very ambitious young man. He needs a lot of time for someone to explain to him what it’s all about.”

Pete had taken extra batting practice prior to the start of the game and also had a good run around the ballpark with his Siberian Husky puppy. The combination must have worked, LaCock blasted the last and only grand slam of his career deep to right field.

After Don Kessinger bounced to Reggie Smith at first who tossed it to Gibson for the final out, Hoot was done and on his way to Cooperstown. Before he left the clubhouse that day Gibby said, “When I gave up a grand slam to Pete LaCock, I knew it was time to quit.”

But the story is not over.

In 1986, former stars like Warren Spahn, Whitey Ford, Brooks Robinson and Gibson played a series of old-timer’’ three-to-five inning games at major-league ball parks to raise funds for former ballplayers not covered by the current pension system.  The games were sponsored by the Equitable Life Assurance Company.

According to LaCock, one day Bob Feller was on the mound and having trouble getting pitches to the plate. “I come up to the plate and all of a sudden Gibson comes running out to the mound and starts warming up, LaCock stold Chuck. “First pitch, he gets me right in the back.”

At the banquet that night, Gibson was serving as the MC and introduced all the players…except for LaCock. “The other players are going, ‘What about your friend LaCock?’ ” Pete recalls. Gibson laughed and went on with the evening.

That is the life of ballplayers.

Order your autographed copy of Walkoffs, Last Licks, and Final Outs for the mere price of one penny for every hit that Dustin Pedroia has in his regular season career. As of the morning of May 21, 2012, Pedey has 914 career hits. If you order the book today, it will cost you $9.14 including shipping. However, the price will rise one penny for every hit that Pedroia accumulates between now and June 14 when this offers ends.

Order early and date your check based on Pedroia’s accomplishments.

Send your check dated May 21 for $9.14 to:

  • Bill Chuck
  • 44 Coolidge Street
  • Brookline, MA 02446