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Jim Murray

Schofield's Moment Made His Day, and Maybe, Angel Season

September 02, 1986|JIM MURRAY

You get some measure of the kind of ballplayer Richard Craig Schofield is when you know the Angels played him regularly when he was batting .193. That the pitchers still wanted him in there daily when he upped it only to .216.

With a glove in his hand, he was Ozzie Smith. With a bat in his hand he was Ozzie and Harriet. What Casey Stengel used to call an "I got it! " hitter. He swung--and four infielders yelled "I got it!"

A national magazine that charts those things recently ranked him fourth in the league in effectiveness at his position even though they rated him a minus 6 in offense. Only two players in the league outranked him on defense.

But the astonishing story of Dicky Schofield this wacky pennant year is that he crashed into the record books this past week not with what he did in the field but what he did in the batter's box.

Dicky put up one of the historic innings in the annals of the grand old game. Lots of guys can talk about their great years, or their great months, or their greatest-day-in-baseball, but Dicky put up an inning for the ages.

It all began innocently enough last Friday at Anaheim Stadium. The Detroit Tigers were leading the Angels, 12-5, and were on cruise control. It was the bottom of the ninth, the game was in the hangar. The three outs were considered a formality when leadoff hitter Schofield hit a ground ball to the hole between third and short.

Now, what happened next was illustrative and important. Detroit shortstop Alan Trammell pounced on that ball. Now, if Dick Schofield gave it the old schoolyard shuffle, if he did what the ballplayers call "nonchalanted" his run down to first, the game is over.

Dicky Schofield doesn't play that way--.216 hitters can't afford to. He ran down to first base as if the sheriff were after him. He beat it out for a hit.

That was the key to the inning and, for all anyone knows, the 1986 division title. Because there were two out, and that would have been three, and he would not have come to bat again in that inning with the bases loaded and the score 12-9.

Willie Hernandez, Detroit's Cy Young Award relief pitcher, was on the mound and unworried. He threw two quick strikes.

"They were screwballs and the second one made me look bad. It was in the dirt when I swung," recalls Schofield.

Protocol calls for the pitcher to waste one at that point. Hernandez decided to end the game right then and there.

He sure did. He got a screwball right in the middle of the plate and Dick Schofield got it in the left-field seats. End of game, maybe end of season. Texas had already won and, scoreboard-watching, had already locked themselves mentally only 3 1/2 games out of first place. Dick Schofield might have beaten more than the Tigers. He might have beaten the division.

Lots of players have gotten two hits in an inning. Only one--Gene Stephens of Boston--in the modern history of baseball got three in an inning.

But, usually, a hitter does this in a one-sided game in which his team is unloading on a series of mopup pitchers. And the hits are like raindrops on a flood. (When Stephens got his three hits in the seventh inning of a 1953 game at Boston, two teammates, Sammy White and Tommy Umphlett, reached first base three times themselves in that same inning.) A few guys--Max Carey, Rennie Stennett, Sherm Lollar and John Hodapp--have even gotten two hits an inning in the same game. But they were in games the ballplayers call "laughers," i.e. games so one-sided as to be comical.

Schofield's inning should be painted by Wyeth, should go directly to the Hall of Fame, gift-wrapped. It's doubtful if anyone ever got two more important hits in one inning.

Some years ago, when I was in the magazine business, we once pinned up a layout on a day Stan Musial had at the old Sportsman's Park in St. Louis. The Man hit five home runs, a single and got two walks and hit a 410-foot out to Willie Mays in a doubleheader, and our argument was that was the greatest single day any player had ever had at the bat.

Schofield's may be the greatest single inning, considering the stakes.

It came as no surprise to his manager. Gene Mauch has had his doubts about players in his lineup in his years in the game, but Dick Schofield was never one of them.

"Listen to me," he says in his best parade ground general tone of voice, "write this down and remember it: Dick Schofield is going to be not just a good player, but an outstanding player before he's through. I even want to say 'great' player, but there's no doubt in my mind and never has been that he is going to be one of the stars of this league. He's a Pee Wee Reese type player. You give him the glove and the game time and you forget about the position. It's taken care of."

Shortstop is ordinarily thought of as a 25-error-a-year position. The good ones have to handle 700 chances a year, otherwise you suspect the absence of errors add up to a multiplicity of dubious hits.

Schofield gets his 680-700 chances, and it's almost headline stuff when he boots one. He muffed a ground ball Sunday (he had to go in the hole for it) for only his 15th error of a season that has only 31 games to go.

He's batting around .250 this year, but regardless of what he does with bat or mitt from here on, he can tell his grandchildren that, for one inning, he was Ruth-Gehrig-DiMaggio rolled into one. None of them ever did any more damage--a single, a home run, two runs scored, four runs batted in in two-thirds of an inning. "I had a great week one inning," he can boast. Then he can add: "Shucks, I had a great season!"

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