Friday, May 10, 2013


Manny Mota caught in the act...
The very fact that there seems to be absolutely no place in present-day baseball for a player like Manny Mota is a perfect reason why he should be celebrated.

And the voters at the Baseball Reliquary, in Year 15 of their quest to create a baseball Hall of Fame for the rest of us, have brought it all back home, honoring a singular hometown hero who has remained a fixture in the often hellish City of the Angels, playing and coaching for that other team...let's see, what's their name, anyway?

Anyway. The folks in Cooperstown have never come close to putting a pinch-hitting wizard into their pantheon of great players, but when you think about it a bit, you'll realize that anyone who can pick the splinters out of their butt, get off the bench, and get a hit in a clutch situation is doing something more than beating the odds.

A player not considered "good enough to start" is going to have to overcome a series of conceptual problems when the question of greatness is proffered. But, in the Reliquary formulation, the singularity of the role and the extremity of the achievement are the key factors involved in any evaluation of worth.

The Reliquary voters recognized this, and, despite the fact that Manny spent much of his time in the shadows of the dugout, made him the highest vote-getter on their 15th Shrine of the Eternals ballot.

When you consider the nature of Manny Mota's achievement, you realize that he is among the most singular of all players. There have been other proficient pinch-hitters (Mark Sweeney and Lenny Harris in recent years, Smoky Burgess and Jerry Lynch in the 50s and 60s), but no one else carried a credible aura of stardom by simply being the man who was saved to hit in the key late-inning situation.

Mota's career as baseball's greatest pinch-hitter didn't begin auspiciously. In 1962, his first partial season, when he was still with the San Francisco Giants, he was just 1-for-15 as a PH. Traded to the Pirates that offseason, he began to get the hang of it, and in both 1965 and 1966 hit over .350 coming off the bench.

As a right-handed hitter with little to no HR power, Manny had a tough time winning a regular job. People seemed to think that he couldn't hit righties, though all of the data--even right from the beginning of his career--refutes this notion. He had a number of useful seasons for the Pirates, but he was let go in the 1969 expansion draft, an occurrence that would bring him to the Dodgers and to his particular brand of anonymous immortality.

Manny had a poor year as a PH in '69 (just 2-for-16); maybe it was all the moving around. But in 1970 he would begin what turned into a decades' worth of late-inning heroics, much of it centered in Dodger Stadium. In a hundred and one plate appearances there from 1969-82, from the seventh inning on, with the score tied or with the Dodgers trailing by one run, Mota had a simply incredible run of success.

How successful, you ask? In these situations, Mota had 29 pinch-hits in 78 at-bats. That's a batting average of .372. Honed down to making contact with the ball, he had virtually no power--just three doubles and no homers, but opposing pitchers treated him as though he were Babe Ruth, walking him 17 times, six of those intentionally. It works out to a .474 OBP.

Included in this cascade of high-pressure, everything-on-the-line success were eleven go-ahead events (hits or productive outs), six game-tying events, and eight walk-offs. Let's cover those walk-offs, just to give you some flavor:

Manny has become well-known for his bicycling exploits
during spring training...which prompts the thought that he
might just ride into the Pasadena Central Library to
accept his award on Shrine of the Eternals Day (7/21/13)...
September 20, 1970--Manny singles off the Astros' George Culver in the bottom of the tenth to score Billy Grabarkewitz. The Dodgers win, 7-6.

June 26, 1974--Manny singles off Altanta's Tom House in the bottom of the ninth to score Dave Lopes. The Dodgers win, 5-4.

Then there was the month of May 1976, when Manny had three walk-off pinch hits, including two in consecutive games.

May 1, 1976--Manny singles off the Cardinals' Al (The Mad Hungarian) Hrabosky (who was really mad when it happened...). Steve Garvey (the mad baby-maker!) scores; the Dodgers win 4-3.

May 22, 1976--Manny's thirteeth-inning sac fly brings home the winning run off Houston's Paul Siebert as the Dodgers win, 6-5.

May 23, 1976 (the very next day)--Manny's tenth-inning, bases-loaded single off the Astros' Ken Forsch gives the Dodgers another 6-5 walkoff win.

Manny wasn't quite done with the walk-off stuff in 1976. He did again on August 18th, against Tom Seaver (silly managers, leaving their ace pitchers in the game into the ninth inning...), doubling in Bill Russell with the game-winner. Final score: Dodgers 3, Mets 2.

August 4, 1979--Manny's eleventh-inning single off the Giants' Gary Lavelle plates Joe Ferguson as the Dodgers win, 4-3.

September 24, 1980--Mota singles against the Giants' Mike Rowland in the bottom of the twelfth; Steve Garvey (with pregnancies still in single figures...) scores. The Dodgers win, 5-4.

It's no wonder that Dodger fans would give Manny a standing ovation simply for appearing in the on-deck circle.

And that's exactly what the audience in Pasadena is going to do on July 21st when Manny makes his way to the podium to acknowledge his rightful place in the Shrine of the Eternals.

It might be the longest ovation in the history of the ceremony. Don't miss it!