Friday, June 19, 2015

June 19, 1967: Maris Comes Up Big With His Bat; Flood Caps Things Off With an Unassisted Double Play

     On June 19, 1967, Roger Maris came up big with his bat in the top of the eleventh, and Curt Flood ended a battle in Houston with an unassisted double play to secure a 5-4 eleven inning win over the Astros.

     Bob Gibson took to the mound for the Birds, but it would not be a classic Gibby type of day, considering he struck out just three men and gave up three runs. With that said, Gibson kept the boys in it, and turned in seven innings before handing the ball over to the bullpen. He had been stung by an RBI triple by Julio Gotay in the third, then watched Orlando Cepeda put the Cardinals in front by knocking in two with a double in the sixth. That lead disappeared in the blink of an eye when Rusty Staub took him deep in the bottom of that same frame. Houston held onto that 3-2 lead until the eighth, then Lou Brock and Curt Flood came up with a pair of RBI's off of starter Mike Cuellar to give the Cardinals a 4-3 lead. The seesaw shifted back to the Houston side in the bottom of the ninth when Gotay picked up his fifth hit of the day, which was an RBI single that sent it to extras.

     Neslon Briles had inherited a runner in the ninth, and while he gave up the hit that ended up tying the ballgame, the run was charged to Joe Hoerner, who gave up a leadoff double to Bob Aspramonte. Briles picked up one more out during that inning, but it was a productive one that moved Aspramonte over to third with a sac bunt, which was the end of the line for Hoerner and the beginning of what was going to be a tough battle for Briles to win. He struck out the first man he faced before giving up the game tying hit to Gotay, who ended up a home run shy of the cycle. This set the table for Briles to win his third game of the campaign, as he held Astros in check until that fateful eleventh, when Roger Maris came up big with a one out RBI double that scored Tim McCarver, with what proved to be the game winning run.

     What kept that run from being preserved as the game winner was the spectacular play by the perennial Gold Glover who roamed center field like no other: Curt Flood. That web gem from '67 came after Briles surrendered a leadoff single to Jim Landis. Houston's skipper Grady Hatton went right back to the small ball that led to the game tying run in the ninth, as Landis was moved over to second with a sacrifice bunt. Landis thought he was going to tie it moments later, as Bob Lillis hit a looper to center that looked like a sure hit, only to have Flood take it away with a shoestring catch. Landis was off and running, and the alert Curt Flood was as well, as he darted to second base in a flash to record the game ending unassisted double play.

      One of the greatest to ever roam an outfield, Flood will forever be known for his challenge of the reserve clause. That challenge led to free agency in the ranks of Major League Baseball, and today every single player who puts ink on a contract owes that man a bit of gratitude. It is undoubtedly something that has defined his legacy, but it should never be forgotten that the man could play some ball. In my humble opinion what he did on the field should be enough to put him among the legends of the game in Cooperstown, New York. The challenge of the reserve clause simply adds something that revolutionized the game to what I consider a Hall of Fame resume. While I do understand the on the cusp on numbers alone argument, I do believe that the historical impact of what he did by sacrificing his career for the greater good of the men that followed him pushes him well over the top. It seems that most that understand baseball history realize what he meant to the game, and for this one fan I do believe it is a travesty he has been shunned from the institution that is built around preserving the history of the great game that is played on a diamond. Maybe one day they will get it right; maybe one day Curt Flood will be represented with a plaque in Cooperstown.

Check out the box score here:

I am very passionate about the belief that Curt Flood belongs in the Hall of Fame. I have written several papers in college about it, and did a speech about it as well. If and when that day comes I will do everything in my power to make a trip to watch an induction ceremony for the first time in my life. While he will not be there to celebrate the day, I do believe that he will be looking down on his family who have waited long enough for Major League Baseball to bestow the well deserved honor on the man that they knew and loved.

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