Almost everyone remembers their first live major league baseball game. My first Cleveland Indians game was great, even if it didn’t end the way I hoped.
Okay, maybe not everybody. Some people went to their first game when their dad drug them there at age two. But enough about my kids. This is about my first Cleveland Indians game.
Your first game is better when you get to see a quality opponent.
On Wednesday, July 11, 1973 I woke up early. Today was the day! Dad was taking us to our first major league baseball game. My Cleveland Indians were playing the World Champion Oakland A’s.
Your first game is even better when you get to see your favorite pitcher.
I was finally going to see – live and in person – my favorite pitcher: Gaylord Perry! I listened to his games on the radio. Herb Score described the action. Specifically the action of managers like Billy Martin screaming that Perry was throwing a spit ball.
Occasionally the Indians were on TV, and I got to see Perry go through his ritual. Touch the cap, touch his ear, back to the cap, maybe to the uniform. It was the ultimate mind trick for the batter. Was he loading up the ball with Vaseline? Where was he hiding it?
He would throw a pitch, it would drop two feet, and the opposing manager would go nuts. The umpires would come out and search him, and find nothing. They always checked the cap. It was never there.
I wanted to know all about Gaylord Perry. I read his book “Me and the Spitter.” He used Vaseline, spit, even K-Y jelly. I had no idea what K-Y jelly was, but I thought it was cool that he used it.
In 1972, Perry rode his spit ball, or sinker, or whatever you wanted to call it, to a Cy Young Award. In 1973 he was still effective – his ERA coming into the game was 3.15, the same as his opponent, Catfish Hunter. Hunter’s record was better, 13-3 vs. 8-12 for Perry, but that wasn’t Perry’s fault. I figured if the Indians get a run or two, Perry wins the game. Better yet, I get to see it live and in person!
Your first game is great when you can walk up and get seats in the fourth row.
We got seats at the box office. They were four rows behind the Indians dugout on the first base side. $6 each. With only 8,627 in attendance – many in the 50 cent bleachers – good tickets were easy to come by.
As I walked to our seats I was amazed at how green the grass was. In the middle of a city there was a beautiful field of grass, perfectly manicured.
And now for the bad news.
The game didn’t turn out the way I wanted. Oakland took the lead in the first, and never let go. Jack Brohammer hit a home run in the third inning and George Hendrick hit one the fourth to pull the Indians within two runs (5-3) but that was as close as it got. The Indians managed four hits against Hunter all day. The A’s wound up winning 9-3.
How often do you get to see two HOF starting pitchers in one game?
Looking back I wondered: How many people get to see a game where both starting pitchers are future members of the Baseball Hall of Fame? Well, 8,627 that day. And of course four games before that Perry faced Nolan Ryan…and the week after that Perry faced Bert Blyleven…then on July 20 he went up against Hunter and won in Oakland.
When Gaylord Perry was in Cleveland, there was a decent chance of seeing two Hall of Famers. In fact, it feels like the Indians have had more than the average number of starts by a Hall of Fame pitcher. That would mean this event is less rare for an Indians fan (Perry, Feller, Lemon, Wynn, Blyleven, Eckersley, etc.) than for a Reds fan (Eppa Rixey and a little Tom Seaver). This requires further analysis in a future article.
Seeing two Hall of Famers go at it isn’t as rare as an Asdrubal Cabrera unassisted triple play, or a Lenny Barker perfect game, but it was still a cool experience.
It would have been even more cool if Gaylord had won.
What was your first Tribe game? Leave a comment!