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THE BEST OF TGS...RECALLING 45 YEARS AGO: JUNE 4, 1968
by Bruce Marshall, Goldsheet.com Editor


Following is an excerpt from a past memorable TGS piece that first ran in March of 2010 and recalled events from 45 years ago, June 4, 1968...

We were unknowingly hurtled into a trip down on our own memory lane this week when Sen. Jim Bunning's name popped into the news. Although it might be a bit different memory than most have of the old Hall of Famer.

Our specific memory of Bunning the baseball pitcher doesn't recall his glory days with the Tigers or Phillies, but rather his short stint, late in his career, with Pittsburgh, and a particularly memorable night in 1968. Even longtime baseball fans can be excused for not having much recollection of Bunning with the Buccos, to whom he was traded from the Phils after the '67 campaign in a multi-player swap that saw, among others, Woodie Fryman and Don Money sent to Philadelphia. On the downside of his career, Bunning labored to a career-worst 4-14 mark in '68, and I was in attendance when he was on the mound for the Pirates that June 4th at Chavez Ravine to face the Dodgers and the incomparably hot Don Drysdale, who was seeking an MLB-record sixth straight shutout en route to what would become a record 58 2/3 scoreless innings pitched.

Drysdale, in another zone for that wondrous month, was mowing down the Bucs effortlessly that night, and by the time the bottom of the 5th inning rolled around was staked to a 3-0 lead. Bunning was still on the mound for the Bucs, but was likely to be lifted for a pinch-hitter after SS Gene Alley led off the Pittsburgh half of the 6th. Meanwhile, Drysdale was due up third in the bottom of the 5th. Bunning opened the bottom of the 5th by walking 2B Paul Popovich, who was immediately erased by C Jerry May when trying to steal. Zoilo Versailles (Remember him? And do any remember him as a Dodger?) then struck out when caught looking by Bunning. Then due up was the menacing Drysdale, who, as longtime baseball fans know, was also pretty handy with the bat.

What happened next was something not necessarily out of the ordinary in those times, but still fascinates me to this day, nearly 42 years later. That's because if I ever get to meet Bunning, I will ask him if he had something of a feud going with Drysdale, because no sooner had Big D stepped into the batter's box than Bunning came at him high and hard, real hard, and very, very inside, forcing Drysdale to bail out at the last second, narrowly avoiding a serious beaning. What struck me and anyone else watching that night was that no pitcher was brazen enough to ever dare challenge the imposing Drysdale, throwing at his head, no less! Big D would normally either have charged the mound or taken retribution on opposing batters (or heaven forbid, opposing pitchers like Bunning) when it was their turn to step into the box.

But maybe Big D was keeping a sort of personal score with Bunning from games and years past, and figured it was his turn to be targeted, because there was no hint of retaliation from Drysdale. Despite the boos and hisses directed at Bunning from the pro-Dodger crowd, Big D didn't even fix his customary glare toward Bunning, rather just matter-of-factly stepping out the batter's box, and back in to face the next pitch. Touche', Big D seemed to be saying. Drysdale, though outwardly composed, at least stayed true to his macho character by taking a few cuts at Bunning's next offerings, and went down swinging. With the big crowd at the Ravine still booing Bunning loudly, Big D then peacefully retreated back to the dugout before returning to the mound, while Bunning sauntered off the field and back to the Pirates' clubhouse as he was lifted for pinch-hitter Gary Kolb in the top of the sixth. No glaring, no gestures. Surprisingly, there was no outward hint of hostility between Drysdale and Bunning, who each went about business as usual after that very close shave.

Of course, if Bunning wanted to throw at Drysdale for the heck of it, he might never have a better opportunity, with the bases clear and two outs. Drysdale would be reluctant to retaliate with his record-setting performance on the line and would be unlikely to needlessly plunk any Bucs batters out of spite to put them on base in subsequent innings with the scoreless streak still intact. And Bunning likely knew he was going to be pulled for a pinch-hitter in the top of the sixth, so he himself would have at least been spared Big D's wrath the rest of the evening. But no matter, Drysdale was certainly no character to mess with, and even if he were unlikely to retaliate that night, the Bucs and Bunning still had three more series that season against the Dodgers, including a return engagement at Forbes Field a couple of weeks later. No one ever dared Drysdale in such a manner, and even if the dynamics were rather unique that night at the Ravine, it took a pretty nervy pitcher to challenge Big D.

Now, fast-forward to Washington earlier this week, and to the moral of this story. Agree or disagree with Senator Bunning's tactics on the Hill, one thing is for certain:

After braving Don Drysdale's fury 42 years ago, does anyone really think Jim Bunning is going to be intimidated by Harry Reid?

A couple of post-scripts to that memorable June 4, 1968 game. It was also the night of that year's California primary, and during the later innings of the game, the big message board in left field was posting the early election returns from the Democratic primary, in which Eugene McCarthy was actually leading Bobby Kennedy in the early stages, first 45-40%, then 44-39% flashing on the big board in the late innings before Drysdale wrapped up a 5-0 win and his sixth straight shutout. Of course, the election tide began to change as the evening progressed. And sadly, we know what happened a couple of hours after the final pitch, just a few miles away from the Ravine at the Ambassador Hotel.

On a different note, Drysdale's streak was also recalled 19 years later, when Orel Hershiser exceeded Big D's streak by going scoreless for 59 1/3 IP at the end of the 1988 season (catching a huge break on a freak play that nullified what should have been a legitimate run during the streak and facing several end-of-season lineups, it should be recalled). Hershiser's streak also lacked the drama of Big D's record-setting run, which had some hair-raising moments of its own. But Drysdale's six straight shutouts still stands, as Hershiser (who didn't eventually figure into the decision in an extra innings game the Dodgers lost at San Diego the night he broke Big D's scoreless inning streak) never exceeded five straight shutouts.


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