Time for more silliness regarding the National Pastime. This time, I will talk about perhaps the single greatest base-running boner from an individual player of all time. It will be about a player who hit a triple and was called out because he failed to touch first base.
This play involved what many regard as the worst Major League Baseball team ever, the 1962 New York Mets. The ’62 Mets were a first-year expansion club, and they went 40-120. They could’ve made the 2004 Diamondbacks look good.
The Mets’ first baseman, former Brooklyn Dodgers’ veteran Gil Hodges, had bad knees and couldn’t play. The Mets traded for a player Manager Casey Stengel wanted, “Marvelous” Marvin Throneberry of the Baltimore Orioles.
When Throneberry was with the New York Yankees’ organization, he was considered a power-hitting minor league player who was especially strong in clutch situations. Stengel, the Yanks’ manager at the time, and others considered him a “can’t miss” prospect, and he played well in some games with the Yanks in the late 1950s. Unfortunately for him, the Yanks already had too many players who could play first base. They traded him to the Kansas City Athletics for an outfielder named Roger Maris.
With the Mets, however, Throneberry turned out to be something of a stumble-bum. He was the man who was trying so hard and, for some reason, he couldn’t get it right. He became the symbol of their futility.
The story of Throneberry’s base-running boner has been told quite a number of times. An authoritative version was written by Alan Raylesberg for the Society for American Baseball Research. The Mets were playing the first game of a double header against the Chicago Cubs on June 17, 1962 at the Polo Grounds in New York. Throneberry had already bungled a play at first base in the top of the first inning when he came to bat in the bottom of the first. The Mets were already down, 4-1, when Throneberry came up with two runners on base.
Throneberry saw a pitch he liked and sent it deep into the outfield recesses of the Polo Grounds. Both runners scored easily. Throneberry landed on third base with a stand-up triple. The crowd went wild, and Thorneberry doffed his cap to acknowledge their cheers.
Meanwhile, over at first base, Cubs’ first baseman Ernie Banks was calling for the ball. Ball in hand, he stepped on the bag. He turned to the umpire and said: “You saw he didn’t touch first when he passed it, didn’t you?”
“You’re right. He didn’t,” the umpire said, raising his fist with the thumb extended, the sign for “Out!”
Not only was Throneberry out, he had technically passed two base-runners, so the runs didn’t count.
Stengel stormed out of the Mets’ dugout to protest the call. However, he never got a chance to present his case to the first base umpire. He was stopped at the third base foul line by the third base umpire and one of the Mets’ coaches.
“Don’t bother, Case,” they told him. “He didn’t touch second, either.”
Stengel was a man who was rarely at a loss for words. This was one of those occasions.
“Well, I know he touched third,” he finally said. “I can see he’s standing on it!”
It’s worth noting Throneberry had one last chance to redeem himself. He came up with runners on base in the ninth inning and the Mets down, 8-7. He struck out.
Remarkably, the Mets’ fans loved Throneberry. He was their most popular player. Maybe it was because he was a nice guy. It could be the fans were sympathetic, or maybe they were masochists.
Throneberry was one of the biggest reasons Stengel often asked “Can’t anybody here play this game?” during the 1962 season.
Interesting trivia from the Society for American Baseball Research: Throneberry was the first player to play for both the Yankees and the Mets.