Sunday, November 25, 2012

Aging rookie didn't fall for Thomas' trick


Uncommon commons: In more than 30 years in sportscards publishing I have thrown hundreds of notes into files about the players – usually non-star players – who made up the majority of the baseball and football cards I collected as a kid. Today, I keep adding to those files as I peruse microfilms of The Sporting News from the 1880s through the 1960s. I found these tidbits brought some life to the player pictures on those cards. I figure that if I enjoyed them, you might too.

            On Oct. 26, I presented the story of a baseball “dirty trick” that cost a player a base hit.

            Here’s the story of an old baseball chestnut that didn’t fool its intended victim.

            In the fifth inning of the first game of an April 21, 1957, Sunday doubleheader at Brooklyn, Pittsburgh Pirates outfielder Frank Thomas had reached third on an error, a sacrifice bunt and a fielder’s choice.

            Twenty-eight-year-old rookie Rene Valdes was on the mound in his first major league appearance. Valdes had come on in the third inning after starter Don Newcombe gave up back-to-back-to-back home runs to Thomas, Paul Smith and Dick Groat.

            As he stood on third in the fifth inning with two out, Thomas yelled to Valdes that he wanted to inspect the ball.

            If Valdes had tossed the ball to Thomas, the Pirates base runner would have stepped aside and let it roll to the stands, trotting home for a run.

            Valdes did toss the ball to Thomas . . . but called “time” first. He had seen that trick before while pitching in the minors. Thomas was left stranded at third, though the Pirates went on to win the game 6-3.

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