Don’t spread this around, but I don’t ever remember catching a baseball game. I could be wrong, but I do not remember sitting behind home plate with a mask on, with a too-large catcher’s mitt on my left hand. Maybe it was because I have never been very flexible, and didn’t enjoy sitting in a crouch for the better part of two or three hours while the rest of the guys on the team got to run around and move. Or maybe I just considered it a bit too dangerous, having those pitches coming at me really fast, and then the batter swinging the bat who knows where, and then the ball bouncing off the ground or off the bat, and maybe hitting me in the mask, or on the shoulder or who knows where. Or maybe I never wanted to catch after witnessing the Johnny Roseboro brawl in 1965.
As was normal back then the Dodgers and the Giants were in a pretty tight race for the pennant. It was late August in a season that was to be one of the Dodger’s finest. This game was a classic match-up pitting Sandy Koufax against the Giant’s star pitcher, Juan Marichal.
As often happened, Maury Wills started the game with a bunt single, and came around to score on Ron Fairley’s single. Marichal was not happy. When Maury came to bat in the second inning, Marichal threw a pitch at him which sent him sprawling to the ground. In the bottom of the 2nd Koufax threw a pitch over Willie May’s head, in a message of retaliation. In the top of the 3rd, Marichal again threw an inside pitch close to Ron Fairly, prompting home plate umpire Shag Crawford to issue both teams a warning.
Marichal came to bat in the third inning expecting Koufax to take further retaliation, but instead, he was startled when Roseboro’s return throw to Koufax after the second pitch brushed his ear. Marichal became angry and confronted Roseboro as Roseboro came out of his crouch. Marichal, apparently fearing what Roseboro would do next, struck him twice across the head with his bat. Koufax raced in from the mound, but it was too late. A 14 minute brawl ensued, with Marichal being thrown out and Roseboro suffering 14 stitches.
Well, to make a long story short, both Johnny Roseboro’s and Juan Marichal’s careers were forever more intertwined. Roseboro went on to play five more years behind the plate before retiring in 1970 and Marichal returned to the mound, totaling 243 wins before stepping away in 1975. 10 years after the brawl they met after an old-timers game, shook hands, apologized, and gave up their grudges.
7 Years later, Roseboro answered his phone. It was Juan Marichal calling, and he needed John’s help. Marichal had again fallen short of gaining enough votes for a well-deserved entry into the hall of fame, and Marichal believe it was all because of the brawl. Roseboro flew to the Dominican to play in Juan’s golf tournament there, and to announce to the world that all was forgiven. The next call from Marichal was a much happier message that he in fact had been voted in to the hall; A great ending to a difficult story.
Special Note: 04/04/2020; Today the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame announced the nine honorees in the Class of 2020. The Class includes 18-time NBA All-Star and five-time NBA champion Kobe Bryant. Jeanie Buss, the controlling owner and president of the Lakers, honored Bryant’s legacy in a statement, saying, “No amount of words can fully describe what Kobe Bryant meant to the Los Angeles Lakers.”