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Tuesday, April 28, 2020

The harmless practical joke that changed baseball

On Oct. 2, 1983, the Boston Red Sox, their fans and the baseball world said goodbye to Carl Yastrzemski. There was a whole massive production at Fenway Park for his final game, with an hour-long pregame ceremony, the retirement of his No. 8 jersey and a letter, read aloud to the crowd, from President Ronald Reagan. For a team that hadn’t reached a World Series in eight years, and hadn’t won one in 65, it was the biggest Red Sox story imaginable.

But that night, the Boston sports talk radio show “The Sports Huddle” on WHDH wasn’t talking about Carl Yastrzemski. It was talking about a relatively unknown baseball lifer named Vern Rapp. And that little four-hour show was about to change baseball history.

The 1983 Red Sox were not a good baseball team, 78-84 on the season, and over the season’s last month, and for most of the season really, the only story worth talking about was Yaz’s retirement. It reached such a critical mass that even people who loved Yaz—which was everyone in Boston—had begun to tire of talking about it. So, Bruce Cornblatt, then a young producer of “The Sports Huddle,” a weekly sports call-in show (and now a producer at MLB Network), thought it would be funny to gently mock all the fanfare by doing a tribute to someone else, someone far less celebrated, on the day of Yaz’s last game.

“We wanted to pay tribute to the most remote person we could,” Cornblatt told me. “We thought that might be funny for a little while.”

So, what do you suppose happens if this little radio prank hadn’t been pulled?

 

QLE Posted: April 28, 2020 at 01:31 AM | 33 comment(s) Login to Bookmark
  Tags: carl yastrzemski, managers, pete rose, vern rapp

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   1. ERROR---Jolly Old St. Nick Posted: April 28, 2020 at 07:54 AM (#5945320)
That is one great story.
   2. Steve Parris, Je t'aime Posted: April 28, 2020 at 08:13 AM (#5945331)
It is a great story. But I have to believe that the Reds were going to trade for Rose one way or another and let him do what he wanted, regardless of how well Rapp was doing.
   3. Bourbon Samurai stays in the fight Posted: April 28, 2020 at 08:34 AM (#5945339)
But I have to believe that the Reds were going to trade for Rose one way or another and let him do what he wanted, regardless of how well Rapp was doing.


Almost certainly. Great story nonetheless.

The Reds were a good club in 85, but it looks like the main difference was the emergence of some young pitching and a big bounceback season from Dave parker
   4. Jose Needs an Absurd Ukulele Concert Posted: April 28, 2020 at 08:37 AM (#5945341)
I don't recall hearing that story before. I was at Yaz' final game and given that our Sunday night practice was the listen to Eddie, Mark and Jim on The Sports Huddle I almost certainly heard the show. I loved that show. At one point during Zimmer's tenure they wouldn't permit his name to be spoken, a buzzer would go off and the speaker would be instructed to refer to him as "Chiang Kai-Shek." This kind of thing would have been right up their alley.

Jim McCarthy passed away a few months ago.
   5. villageidiom Posted: April 28, 2020 at 08:59 AM (#5945342)
It is a great story. But I have to believe that the Reds were going to trade for Rose one way or another and let him do what he wanted, regardless of how well Rapp was doing.
They could have pursued Rose in trade less than a year earlier, for the same role, had they been so inclined. Yet they didn't.

It's stunning how often old-school management thought was not much more than "Let's find someone who can do the opposite of the last guy." Russ Nixon was too relaxed, so let's find a more serious guy. Oh, the players hated that guy? Let's find someone who the players will like. I don't think they hire Rose until the 1984 season played out the way it did, for both Rapp and Rose.

While there might be some merit to that philosophy on some level, it's basically how the Red Sox decided Terry Francona's replacement would be Bobby Valentine. EDIT: And it probably explains half the Boston managerial moves after John McNamara, right up until Francona - when they decided to hire someone they thought was the best all-around candidate rather than filling the last guy's biggest deficiency.

EDIT2: Although one might argue that "best all-around candidate" is the opposite of Grady Little, I'd say that's too harsh.
   6. Misirlou cut his hair and moved to Rome Posted: April 28, 2020 at 09:21 AM (#5945351)
Great story. But the final paragraph is more than a little odd:

Until I spoke to him, Cornblatt did not know who replaced Rapp as manager of the Reds. “Oh my God,” he says. “That is downright scary. Wow. What a thing. This is like a Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon thing. Did I … did I get Pete Rose banned? Am I responsible for that?” Cornblatt laughs, but only a little. “What a coda to the story. Our little radio show. Wow.”


Cornblatt, apparently a baseball media lifer, did not know that until now? That seems highly improbable.
   7. Steve Parris, Je t'aime Posted: April 28, 2020 at 09:54 AM (#5945366)
They could have pursued Rose in trade less than a year earlier, for the same role, had they been so inclined. Yet they didn't.

Rose wasn't playing well in '83, but would the Phillies have really traded him in the middle of a pennant race? Even if they were inclined, the price would've certainly been higher than Tom Lawless.

Also, Dick Wagner was the Reds' GM that let Rose walk over money after '78. He wasn't fired until July '83 and I don't think he would've pushed to bring Rose back.

Looking back at it, I'm a little surprised the Reds didn't sign Rose after '83. Dan Driessen was doing a decent job at 1B and lord knows they needed help elsewhere, but this certainly wasn't just a baseball decision. It might've been they just weren't desperate enough yet.
   8. Jose Needs an Absurd Ukulele Concert Posted: April 28, 2020 at 10:09 AM (#5945373)
Cornblatt, apparently a baseball media lifer, did not know that until now? That seems highly improbable.


Phrase it differently; "who preceded Pete Rose as Reds' manager?" I think when you put it that way not knowing makes more sense. I certainly wouldn't have known that Rose followed Rapp.
   9. PreservedFish Posted: April 28, 2020 at 10:14 AM (#5945376)
Sometimes people forget things.
   10. Commissioner Bud Black Beltre Hillman Fred Posted: April 28, 2020 at 10:23 AM (#5945384)
Cornblatt, apparently a baseball media lifer, did not know that until now? That seems highly improbable.
Eh, for a Boston sports media lifer to not know something about non-Boston sports seems pretty, pretty probable. And what Jose said.
   11. Crispix Attacksel Rios Posted: April 28, 2020 at 10:30 AM (#5945388)
.........and THAT, is how Tom Lawless ended up playing 11 games for the Expos. And that is where the trail ends, because if he wasn't on the Expos they would have just traded someone else for Mickey Mahler.
   12. Misirlou cut his hair and moved to Rome Posted: April 28, 2020 at 11:12 AM (#5945401)
Phrase it differently; "who preceded Pete Rose as Reds' manager?" I think when you put it that way not knowing makes more sense. I certainly wouldn't have known that Rose followed Rapp.


Yes, but you weren't instrumental in getting Rapp hired in the first place.
   13. Tom Nawrocki Posted: April 28, 2020 at 11:28 AM (#5945409)
Looking back at it, I'm a little surprised the Reds didn't sign Rose after '83. Dan Driessen was doing a decent job at 1B and lord knows they needed help elsewhere, but this certainly wasn't just a baseball decision. It might've been they just weren't desperate enough yet.


I don't know what the Reds' thinking was, but my recollection was that the Expos went after Rose pretty hard. They saw themselves as a team with a lot of talent (they had three HoFers in their prime in the starting lineup) that just hadn't able to get over the hump, and wanted Rose to bring the same kind of pixie dust he had supposedly brought to the Phillies.
   14. Jeremy Renner App is Dead and I killed it Posted: April 28, 2020 at 11:56 AM (#5945424)
Just did some quick research and have to ask, how oblivious was Reds senior management? Rapp had been fired from the Cardinals in 1978 barely into the season because the players hated him. Cincinnati leadership thought this was a good idea, hire the guy who players will despise??

I know it's all true. But this just seems such a ridiculous decision.
   15. SoSH U at work Posted: April 28, 2020 at 12:08 PM (#5945432)
Yes, but you weren't instrumental in getting Rapp hired in the first place.


I don't see the evidence they knew they were instrumental in getting Rapp hired. The Reds VP said the radio show prompted the pursuit of Rapp, not Cornblatt.
   16. Traderdave Posted: April 28, 2020 at 12:13 PM (#5945435)
Just did some quick research and have to ask, how oblivious was Reds senior management? Rapp had been fired from the Cardinals in 1978 barely into the season because the players hated him. Cincinnati leadership thought this was a good idea, hire the guy who players will despise??



Rapp had been a very well regarded AAA manager in the Reds' system.
   17. Jay Z Posted: April 28, 2020 at 12:21 PM (#5945437)
Yes, Rapp originally came from the Cincy system. He banned facial hair, in St. Louis, just as Alex Grammas did in Milwaukee. I think there might have been another manager out of that system that did the same thing, but I'm not sure. Sparky when he went to Detroit did not.

The facial hair deal in Cincinnati lasting for as long as it did, when the armed forces allowed it, police allowed it, tells you all you need to know about Cincinnati.
   18. Jeremy Renner App is Dead and I killed it Posted: April 28, 2020 at 12:33 PM (#5945441)
16--Thanks. But that happened before the St Louis job, right? The Reds didn't think that mattered? Based on how it reads that must have been a huge deal having the players mutiny against a manager.
   19. Traderdave Posted: April 28, 2020 at 01:00 PM (#5945453)
A drill sergeant mentality was considered a feature, not a bug.
   20. Jeremy Renner App is Dead and I killed it Posted: April 28, 2020 at 01:23 PM (#5945470)
19--Wow. Ok. That is just bizarre hiring
   21. Itchy Row Posted: April 28, 2020 at 01:46 PM (#5945477)
Rapp's first job as a manager was at age 27 when he replaced Danny Murtaugh for a AAA team that went 50-104. I wonder if he was more player-friendly then. After that, he went back to just being a player until he was 32. He put himself into games at ages 33, 38, and 48 and went 1 for 1 as a hitter each year.
   22. bunyon Posted: April 28, 2020 at 02:48 PM (#5945498)
He put himself into games at ages 33, 38, and 48 and went 1 for 1 as a hitter each year.

That reads like he was sitting there and realized he could hit the lame ass SOB pitching for the other side.
   23. flournoy Posted: April 28, 2020 at 04:52 PM (#5945571)
The facial hair deal in Cincinnati lasting for as long as it did, when the armed forces allowed it, police allowed it, tells you all you need to know about Cincinnati.


I always thought that was a Marge Schott edict.
   24. Tom Nawrocki Posted: April 28, 2020 at 05:16 PM (#5945588)
Long before Marge Schott, the Reds were one of the most conservative franchises in baseball, insisting on clean-shaven faces and solid black shoes, at the same time the A's were mustachioed and wearing day-glo. In fact, Marge Schott was the one who finally allowed them to move away from all-black shoes.
   25. salvomania Posted: April 28, 2020 at 05:31 PM (#5945596)
I remember Rapp when he managed the Cardinals, who had hirsute players with strong personalities like Ted Simmons and Al Hrabosky---Simmons had long hair and was known as "Simba" at least partly for his mane, and Hrabosky's fu manchu was as well known as his behind-the-mound psych-out act.

Despite the "success" of his 83-win team in 1977, the Cardinals' slow start in '78 combined with the players' open disdain for him resulted in him being canned after just 16 games.
   26. Traderdave Posted: April 28, 2020 at 06:25 PM (#5945622)
How did he pencil himself in the lineup for one day as a 48 year old manager? Do minor league rosters have different rules, or is it that the umps just didn't care?

   27. The Duke Posted: April 28, 2020 at 11:06 PM (#5945693)
Great story.
   28. winnipegwhip Posted: April 29, 2020 at 02:05 PM (#5945879)
Long before Marge Schott, the Reds were one of the most conservative franchises in baseball, insisting on clean-shaven faces and solid black shoes, at the same time the A's were mustachioed and wearing day-glo. In fact, Marge Schott was the one who finally allowed them to move away from all-black shoes.


...and Cincinnati was generally considered a conservative metropolitan area. I once heard that Cincy was the only metropolitan area in the USA which never carried FDR one time in his four Presidential elections.
   29. Jeremy Renner App is Dead and I killed it Posted: April 29, 2020 at 02:18 PM (#5945887)
Within the city limits of Cincinnati it is a majority minority city. But immediately outside the city it's all the people who work at P&G, Great American, Fifth Third and super white and very much the 1 percent. Population of actual Cincinnati is barely 300,000 people.
   30. DJS Thinks Apples and Oranges are Similar Posted: April 30, 2020 at 04:22 PM (#5946306)
Phrase it differently; "who preceded Pete Rose as Reds' manager?" I think when you put it that way not knowing makes more sense. I certainly wouldn't have known that Rose followed Rapp.

Yeah, I'm like 90% sure I would have said John McNamara or Russ Nixon unless I really sat down and racked my brain.
   31. bjhanke Posted: May 02, 2020 at 05:00 AM (#5946853)
I remember Rapp VERY well from St. Louis. At the time, someone, maybe Bill James, maybe someone else, had said that there were two kinds of manager who were pretty much doomed to fail. One was someone who, while he may have played in the majors, and played well, had never managed at any level before getting his first major league managing job. The other was someone who had managed in the minors, but who had never been in the major leagues in any capacity before being hired to manage a major league team. Rapp was failure #2. He was hired, essentially, because Red Schoendienst, a very likable man, but a very easygoing manager, had lost control of the clubhouse. His stars - Ted Simmons, Keith Hernandez, Garry Templeton, Lou Brock - pretty much did what they wanted, and the team was not winning. So, they hired the sternest disciplinarian in their system to get control of the clubhouse back. Unfortunately, said stars, and many of the other players, did not at all like being treated as if they were Rapp's players in the minors, still in need of basic fundamentals instruction. They also did not care much for the public criticisms that Rapp fed the media because he didn't know any better. And Rapp had never managed anyone except in the minors, where players often do need instruction and fundamentals. So, they hated Rapp's guts, with predictable results in the standings (they did win a few more games at the beginning of Rapp's tenure, but then just collapsed in rage). So, Rapp got fired, and the Cards hired Ken Boyer, who was, as a manager, much like Red Schoendienst. He lost control of the clubhouse right away. So, they brought in a man from outside their system - Whitey Herzog - and that finally worked. As to the military thing: I believe it, but have no sympathy for Rapp. My brother is a retired airborne ranger colonel. He was a military officer in charge of some of the toughest soldiers around. He once told me that the biggest mistake an officer could make was to throw his officer credentials in an enlisted man's face. No enlisted man who even heard of that would ever trust that officer. Well, Vern Rapp threw his manager credentials in his players' faces. He deserved what he got. That is, it's not just a "military thing." It's a BAD OFFICER military thing.
   32. Never Give an Inge (Dave) Posted: May 02, 2020 at 01:21 PM (#5946896)
This headline is really crying out for a Jack Keefe post...oh well.
   33. Pat Rapper's Delight (as quoted on MLB Network) Posted: May 02, 2020 at 02:01 PM (#5946899)
Marge Schott was the one who finally allowed them to move away from all-black shoes.

Marge Schott would be looking to move away from all-black anything.

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