False Springs are a common theme in this game, another common theme is the promise of youth and the spark it can bring a team. Springs stories are awash in fables of the found player (Pete Reiser) the hustling tough guy (Pete Rose) the energetic odd ball (Chris Sabo) Many a rookie is often perplexed when first asked to speak to the press, most of their speaking usually involves profanities or shoe gazing tenacity, most often it comes off as a sure-fire impression of Ebby Calvin ‘Nuke’ LaLoosh. However the inevitable humorous quote finds its way to the surface eventually almost every spring and weekly as evidenced by BP’s weekly frolic. A favorite of mine is an early Yogism that was uttered in the late 40’s when Yogi Berra was asked about his work with catching legend Bill Dickey.
“Bill Dickey is learning me his experience.”
Truer words were never spoken.
What team hasn’t had a player show up in the spring and turn a few heads? Most baseball guys tend to let this experience play out before anointment of future stardom and if they don’t they tend to eat their words at a later date, and no incident better exemplifies this than the infamous Sparky Anderson - Chris Pittaro fiasco of 1985.
If born that year you are now in your second year of being able to drink legally, pace yourself.
In 1985 Bob Geldoff gave us Live Aid and Sparky Anderson tried his best to give us Chris Pittaro.
Fresh off a stunning run of superiority the Tigers went into training camp in 1985 with a team that Anderson felt the team could use a steady 3rd baseman as well as a DH, the first 10 games of spring a no name AA 2nd baseman named Chris Pittaro who had played college ball led the Tigers in hitting.
His performance so enamored Sparky that he forgot to check his tongue at the door when the scribes got him to utter his infamous assessment of Pittaro,
Sparky thought so highly of Pittaro that he tried to move Lou Whitaker to 3rd to accommodate him. Rather then receiving the treatment to the move that Pete gave him in 1975 he received the treatment that Pete gave Don Hefner in 1966 when he tried the exact same move that Sparky was able to maneuver. Much grumbling ensued and slowly Sparky began to see it Lou’s way, it was soon after that lifetime middle infielder Chris Pittaro was anointed starting 3rd baseman of the world champion Tigers.
“Chris Pittaro is the best young player I’ve had in 15 years.”
In fairy tales the hero is tested and tested until he perseveres and conquers all. In baseball some burn fast and bright and flicker under the glare of 10,000 watt halogens in the din of screaming fanatics and drunks. On opening day 1985 Chris Pittaro went 3 for 5 against the Indians, driving in the tying run in the 8th inning and later watched from 1st as the winning run was scored on a Sacrifice Fly.
After the game Chris Pittaros carriage must have turned into a pumpkin, 12 hits and 5 errors at 3rd base later Chris Pittaro found himself no longer the “Best young player I’ve had in fifteen years” but instead spring training pyrite Chris Pittaro, a man who played in the show. Eventually he could claim that he also never got to play in the show in July, August or September. In fact his career is as big as a fingernail, the man who had a scant 102 trips to the plate in a brief career that ended as a Twin in 1987.
Which oddly enough was the year the Twins won the World Series. The team had voted on distributing the teams winnings to 35 ¾ separate shares. One has to wonder if Chris Pittaro got a cut of the loot. Or if he was once again just close enough to touch it, but not close enough to grab it.
Here’s his last trip to the plate.
102 trips to the plate a final infield single on a championship team and poof he’s gone forever, well sort of. Now he’s a footnote like Moonlight Graham, Victory Faust and Motorboat Jones, a trivia answer, a quote, a memory.
TWINS 8TH: Davidson singled to center; SMALLEY BATTED FOR BUSH;
Smalley grounded into a double play (first to shortstop to pitcher)
[Davidson out at second];
Pittaro singled to shortstop; Butera grounded out (pitcher to first);
0 R, 2 H, 0 E, 1 LOB. Twins 0, Royals 10.
Since the spring of 1985 2102 Major League Players have achieved 100 plate apperances in MLB, with Indians manager Eric Wedge being the bottom rung on that ladder, just below Chris Pittaro Here are the top ten players in attaining plate apperances since 1985, when Chris Pittaro rocked Sparky Anderson’s world.
PLATE APPEARANCES PA
1 Barry Bonds 12129
2 Rafael Palmeiro 12046
3 Craig Biggio 11948
4 Cal Ripken 10746
5 Roberto Alomar 10400
6 Steve Finley 10358
7 Omar Vizquel 10207
8 Fred McGriff 10174
9 Rickey Henderson 9858
10 Luis Gonzalez 9618