You love baseball. Tim Kurkjian loves baseball. So while we await its return, every day we’ll provide you with a story or two tied to this date in baseball history.
ON THIS DATE IN 1981, second baseman Brandon Phillips was born.
He was a good player, especially defensively. He would carefully place five gloves in his locker, three of them practice gloves, all significantly smaller than his game glove.
“You can touch my practice gloves, but no one touches my game glove,” he said. “I put a batting glove on top of my glove so I’ll know if someone touched my glove. [Pitcher Mat] Latos held my glove once. If he had put his hand in my glove, we would have fought.”
Gloves are the most personal piece of equipment. Players nourish their gloves, they protect them, they treat them like a loved one, not a piece of leather. No one was allowed to touch second baseman Roberto Alomar’s glove or shortstop Mark Belanger’s glove. Former Oriole infielder Rene Gonzales carried his glove in a Wonder Bread bag because its slogan is “no holes.” Former shortstop Walt Weiss used his glove for so long, it was so beaten and weathered, he called it “The Creature.” Ex-infielder Nick Punto kept his beloved glove lubricated, not floppy, by spraying it with suntan lotion, Aqua Net, Glade, etc.
“This is my baby,” he said. “I have to take care of it.”
Former utility man Jeff Manto used to carry 13 gloves on road trips, including two catcher’s mitts and two first baseman’s mitts. “The guys call me, ‘Store,”’ Manto said. “The equipment man hates me.”
Utility man Jeff Baker used four different gloves: one to play second base, one to play third, one to play the outfield and a mitt for first base. No one was allowed to touch the gloves for second or third, but he had teammate pitcher Kerry Wood break in his first baseman’s mitt because Wood loved playing first during batting practice. And he had the team’s video guy, Naoto Masamoto, break in his outfielder’s glove.
Former second baseman Darwin Barney carried five gloves, the exact same make and model, on every road trip. Each one was strategically broken in to someday become his game glove. He never used his game glove except in a game, “I don’t even play catch with it before the game,” he said. “If I play catch with it too often, it can make the pocket too deep. The other four gloves, I rank them. My No. 2 glove is next in line.” One game, he didn’t make a backhanded play. “I threw the glove away — in the trash can — and I never used it again,” he said. “It lasted a year and a half, but I just couldn’t use it anymore.”
Infielder Mike Gallego, a career .239 hitter, was in the A’s clubhouse when the earthquake hit at the 1989 World Series. “The lights went out, everything was dark,” Gallego said. “The place was shaking. Guys are running all over the clubhouse, trying to get out. I was halfway out when I realized I had forgotten my glove! I ran back into the clubhouse — a security guard said I couldn’t go back in, it might all collapse — but I found my locker. I got my glove. I couldn’t leave my glove behind, that’s my livelihood, my glove.”
Other baseball notes for June 28
In 2007, Craig Biggio got his 3,000th hit, a single, but was thrown out trying to stretch it into a double. He was the first player to record his 3,000th hit in a game in which he got five hits. (Derek Jeter would match him four years later.) The same day, Frank Thomas hit his 500th home run.
In 1960, John Elway was born. He was drafted out of high school by the Royals in 1979, but went to Stanford, played football and baseball there, and was drafted by the Yankees in 1981. He played one year of minor league baseball. Several years later, one of Elway’s former baseball teammates, Rangers third baseman Steve Buechele, told me, “Man, he had a great arm.”
In 1976, Tigers pitcher Mark “The Bird” Fidrych beat the Yankees, 5-1, to raise his record to 8-1. The game was televised nationally on Monday Night Baseball. I remember it like it was yesterday. He talked to the ball. He was so entertaining. He was a phenomenon.
In 1964, outfielder Kevin Reimer was born. He was a good hitter. Teammate B.J. Surhoff, who was an expert on bats — as a catcher, he knew what model every player used — said Reimer once broke 12 bats in one day: four in batting practice, four in the game, and four that he angrily snapped the handles off of after making each of his four outs in the game.