By In Baseball, RIP

Tom Veryzer

When I was a kid, the Cleveland Indians ALWAYS won when we went to the ballpark. No, really, always. I don’t remember how many years the magical stretch lasted or how many games it involved, but it seemed pretty remarkable at the time. My Dad favored doubleheaders because my parents have always liked bargains — double-coupon days, buffets, doubleheaders, bat days, refunds, cap days, jacket days, etc. I know we went to at least five consecutive doubleheaders where the Indians swept. I know it.

Well, I don’t “know it.” But I believe it. I went back nervously to Baseball Reference because it seems unlikely that the Indians even swept that many doubleheaders. But it’s easy to forget: Teams played A LOT of doubleheaders in the mid-70s. it turns out the Indians swept 18 home doubleheaders in my childhood years, including two against the Yankees. I remember being at both of those. My childhood delusions live on!

In any case, by 1978 I know our family winning streak was very much a part of our baseball experience. And I vividly remember a Friday night in July, on the way to the ballpark, we talked confidently about how the Indians HAD to win because we were coming. It was July 7, I now know, and I’m pretty sure it was my first night game. My Dad was not much for night games (no bargains there). We only went that night because of a promise. He had taken my brother David and me to the July 4th game against Baltimore*, only we never got there. We got started late, and we got caught up awful traffic, and my Dad couldn’t find a parking spot (the crowd of 36,000 or so seemed like a million). At some point, in frustration, he begged us kids to just go bowling. In return, he promised to take us to the Friday night game. So we went bowling. It was just as well: The Indians lost, further confirming our belief that we were blessed.

*We had gone to the Independence Day game in 1977 (July 3rd against the Royals — a 6-3 victory!) and my Dad liked the bargain of fireworks after the game. It wasn’t QUITE the bargain of a doubleheader or bat day, but it was close.

In any case, we went to the Friday night game. And I remember I was pretty interested to see the Indians new shortstop, a tall, kind of lanky guy named Tom Veryzer. I say “interested” rather than “excited” — I was not too thrilled with Veryzer at the time. He had two strikes against him. One, he was replacing a favored player of mine, the old shortstop Frank Duffy. Two, the Indians had traded another one of my favorites, the great Charlie Spikes, to get him. I was dubious, to say the least.

Well, the reason I was dubious is because I was 11 and had no idea what was going on. Duffy had hit .201/.247/.287 the year before and was done as an every day shortstop. Spikes had once been this extraordinary prospect — the legendary scout Tom Greenwade predicted he would hit 40 homers in a season, and he did hit 20-plus homers two years in a row when he first got to Cleveland. But he had stopped hitting. This might have had something to do with getting hit in the head by a pitch in Puerto Rico. It also might have been because people stop hitting.

Veryzer had also been a prospect — he was the 11th pick out of Islip High in the 1971 draft, chosen ahead of Frank Tanana and Jim Rice among others. Right from the start, he began a lifelong struggle with the bat; but that wasn’t too important because shortstops didn’t hit back then. Veryzer was a good and alert fielder, he played hard, and the Indians took a chance on him. Sugar Bear Blanks actually went into camp as the starting shortstop, but Veryzer’s steadiness and determination won the day. The newspapers had been playing him up as one of those guys who “plays the game the right way.” I was cautiously looking forward to see him play.

As it turns out, that game would be one of the wildest I would see as a kid. I readily admit that I had to go back to Baseball Reference for the details because almost all of it has been lost in the 36 years since. All I really remembered were two vague facts:

1. The Indians somehow won.
2. Tom Veryzer had like a bajillion hits.

As it turns out, the Red Sox took a 3-0 lead in the game. That really should have been the end of the game. Boston was playing INSANELY good baseball at that point; they were on pace to win 111 games. They were scoring runs like crazy, they were pitching great, and the Indians were typically lousy. Mike Torrez was on the mound for Boston; he seemed more than capable of wrapping this thing up. The way the season turned out for Boston — with the playoff game against the Yankees and Bucky Bleepin’ Dent — I suspect this was a game they looked back on with a shaking heads.

The Indians scored one in the third — a single by my hero Duane Kuiper followed by Tom Veryzer’s single, followed by a single from another favorite, Rick Manning. After Boston made it 4-1, the Indians scored twice, again sparked by a Tom Veryzer single. Boston made it 5-3. Cleveland made it 5-4. This was a fun game.

The Indians tied it in the sixth when Veryzer led off the inning with a double and scored on Johnny Grubb’s double. Ah, Johnny Grubb. These names, straight from childhood, fill my heart.

Cleveland blew it open in the seventh — or so my 11-year-old mind thought. The Indians scored four and, once again, Tom Veryzer was in the middle of it. Well, he got hit by a pitch, and that loaded the bases. Manning and Grubb clubbed back-to-back singles, and the Indians led 9-5. Thrilling.

I don’t remember for sure, but I would wager that this was precisely the time when my father asked if we were ready to go home. It was getting late, it was getting cold, traffic was going to be brutal (there were 19,000 people there that night for some reason). But this was my first night game, and I wanted to stay to the bitter end.

Well, of course the Red Sox came back. This is the funny part of memory — I remembered clearly that Tom Veryzer had this great day and I remembered that Cleveland won. But I somehow did not remember at all that I saw Carl Yastrzemski hit a two-run homer to tie the game in the top of the ninth. You would think that bit of awesomeness would have stayed in my memory bank; I saw the great Yaz hit a clutch home run. That’s something to cherish. But, nope, no recollection at all, couldn’t tell you a thing about it. At 11, I was a Cleveland fan, not a baseball fan.

I do remember the bottom of the ninth, though. I remember the crowd, whatever was left of it, seeming crazy loud. I remember the way my shoes stuck to the concrete floor; Lord knows what had been spilled down there. I remember us sitting down the third base line under that creaky old roof at old Municipal Stadium. I remember one of those ever-present steel girders blocking our view of something. With Paul Dade on second and one out, Tom Veryzer stepped to the plate. He cracked a single to center, his fourth hit of the day. Dade scored, and the Indians won another game for me, my brother and my Dad.

That was probably Tom Veryzer’s best game as a big leaguer — he went 4-for-4 with a hit by pitch, scored three runs, drove in one with a walk-off single. But I don’t remember it as his best game; I remember it as my first night game. That’s the beautiful thing about sports, baseball in particular. That game was the first thing I thought about when I heard that Veryzer, at age 61, died on Wednesday from complications of a stroke.

Veryzer’s passing wasn’t big news around the country; he wasn’t a good enough player to make many headlines. But baseball fans remember. Veryzer got to ground balls, and he dug in, and he knocked almost 700 hits, and through sheer will he played almost 1,000 games in the Major Leagues. He affected my life. I’ve probably said his name five hundred times and written it down another hundred or so in scorebooks and blog posts. I’ve thought about that July 7th game many times, and I’ve thought about how happy he made me that night. I never spoke with Tom Veryzer. I’ll miss him, though.

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30 Responses to Tom Veryzer

  1. Geoff says:

    I always treasured Veryzer’s rookie card. Mostly because Keith Hernandez was on it, but still.

    • MCD says:

      And Phil Garner.

      I think of Veryzer as Tiger, but looking at Baseball Reference, he played more games and ABs as an Indian, even though he spent more time, calendar wise, with Detroit.

  2. Tim Lowell says:

    I remember Tom from his Strat card, which was never very good, but that’s about it. I also recall that some Mets announcer, either Bob Murphy, Ralph Kiner, or one of the lesser lights that worked the Mets booth in the late 70’s and early 80’s would always refer to him as Tom Veryz-ah. This announcer did not have a New York, Boston, or southern accent, and would only drop the last ‘r’ on this one name. It was very strange.

    • BeatzRamirez says:

      That’s actually how us folks from Islip pronounce it too (Tom graduated from Islip – a true Buccaneer.) RIP

  3. Edward says:

    Somewhere in a box I have a Tom Veryzer Tigers card. Detroit traded him to Cleveland so Alan Trammell could get a shot.

  4. vlock1 says:

    Oh, man, my dad grew up with Tom Veryzer. What a shame. 61’s still too young to go.

  5. Mary Juliano says:

    LOVE the Article – I had the pleasure of having Tom Veryzers Fan Club – I was So Blessed to be able to have Tom’s Fan Club – He was an all -around nice guy who will be greatly missed RIP Tom – Prayers go out to Vivian and the family !!

  6. mark says:

    As a Yankee fan – 16 years old in ’78 – I thank you and your Dad for abandoning the meaningless (to me) July 4 game against the Orioles and instead attending this game against the Red Sox, ensuring an all-important loss for the Sox. Funnily enough, 1978 is the year that generated my 3 biggest single game baseball memories of my youth: Yankee road losses to the Royals and Orioles, and a home win against the Mariners. I have looked all three up on Baseball reference and have found that while my overall impressions were accurate, most of the details I “remember” to support those impressions are not so certain.
    Another great story Joe.

    • wogggs says:

      I always enjoyed a Royals win against the Yankees, especially in the late ’70s when they were such big rivals.

      • mark says:

        woggs – this was a game in which the Yankees had a one-run lead with 2 outs in the bottom of the ninth. The Royals had one man on base and Amos Otis at bat. He hit a fly ball to the gap between right and center. Paul Blair came over from center and closed his glove around the ball but before he could hold it long enough to be an out Reggie Jackson barreled into him coming over from right field. The ball trickled away, both men collapsed, and Otis ran around the bases for a game-winning inside-the-park home run. May 12, 1978.

        • wogggs says:

          I was 8 at the time. I’m sure I at least read about it in the paper at the time. I may have even gone to sleep while listening to it on the radio.

  7. KB says:

    Tom Veryzer, Charlie Spikes and Rick Manning were favorites? Really Joe? At least as an Indian fan growing up the same age as you I had enough wherewithawal to root for all the good players the team wound up sending away in bad trades. Give me Buddy Bell and Dennis Eckersley any day.

    Of course the all usually have good stories behind them. Charlie Spikes was the man Gaylord Perry banned from ever playing on the same field with him after letting a couple fly balls drop. Then Rick Manning. Well, this is only the guy the team decided to keep instead of Dennis Eckersley when Eck caught him cheating with his wife because, well everyone knows light hitting outfielders are more valuable than hard throwing, young pitchers with an ERA title, a Rookie of the Year trophy and a no-hitter on their resume. Veryzer, saw him play a lot, now great, semi-tragic, typical Cleveland Indians stories come to mind on Veryzer.

  8. […] Joe Posnanski, who grew up as an Indians fan in the 1970s, wrote a touching blog post about Veryzer, one which is well worth your attention. The photo above comes from the Cleveland […]

  9. Guilherme says:

    Funny how some unmemorable players get stuck in our personal memories.

    I’m a Brazilian, but I didn’t go a soccer stadium until I was 19-years old (my father died when I was young, and my mother would never take me), as a birthday present from a cousin and a friend.

    2007 was an awful year, my beloved Corinthians were relegated from Serie A in December. But on October 28th, my last day as a 18-yr old, the horrible, horrible striker Finazzi scored twice to seal a comeback against the also awful team of Figueirense.

    I went to eleven Corinthians games since then, and they won all of them, including 2nd division games, derbies and Brazil Cup finals. Haven’t been to one since 2010, mainly because my car was stolen and I got pissed (but also because I don’t want the 11-for-11 streak to end).

    So R.I.P., Veryzer, forever known as Posnanski’s Finazzi.

  10. tombando says:

    Veryzer also drove in some big runs vs Ny last day of the yr to help set up the Bucky Dent game the next game…

  11. AndyL says:

    Hearing the name Charlie Spikes (a big Yankee prospect if I am recalling correctly) leads me to Rusty Torres and then, of course, to the trade where the Yanks shipped them both, and others, to Joe’s Indians for Craig Nettles. Which leads to think about my team, the Mets, trading for a third baseman around the same time — that one didn’t work out so well (Nolan Ryan for Jim Fregosi). One name leads to another and then to another . . . One of the pleasures of baseball.

  12. I had to look up the details, but I knew I knew that name. The Giants got Frank Duffy from the Reds by trading away George Foster. Then he was a throw-in when they traded away Gaylord Perry for Sudden Sam McDowell.

  13. Joe C says:

    One thing I like to do with Baseball-Reference sometimes is look up some forgotten fringe player and find his best day in the major leagues, a day when he was the hero and got to think of himself in the same league as Willie Mays or Roger Clemens for that one day. The best way I’ve found to do that is to find the games with the highest WPA – not always the most hits or total bases, but the one where he had some clutch hit or eked out a 1-0 victory.

    Anyway, the game you were at was Tom Veryzer’s best-ever day in the major leagues by WPA (he had 0.548, not that it matters). Just short of the 0.569 that Duane Kuiper had earlier in that season against those same Red Sox, when he went 4-for-6 with the game-tying single in the seventh, a stolen base and the go-ahead run in the tenth, and the go-ahead RBI with another single in the eleventh.

  14. Jeff says:

    My biggest regret about not being a MLB baseball player is that Joe is not going to write anything about my death. These never fail to touch me.

  15. Peter Crane says:

    Been an Indians fan since 1968, at ripe old age old age of 12. I never realized that Tom Veryzer was only three years older than I am. Makes you wonder who’s next. Thoughts and prayers to his wife and children.

  16. Coming soon: LeBron goes to Cleveland.

  17. His brother (Jim, I believe) was my 7th grade math teacher on Long Island

  18. Bill Caffrey says:

    I have a very similar experience to your not remembering that Yaz HR, Joe. I was at Game 4 of the 1988 NLCS. The Mets led the series 2-1 and I had tickets to Game 5 the next day and I can distinctly remember thinking they were about to take a 3-1 lead and I could see them win the pennant in a few hours (I think Game 4 was a Sunday night and Game 5 was a day game on Columbus Day). I have no recollection of the Mike Scioscia homerun off of Gooden in the 9th that tied the game, nor of anything that happened afterwards. I was 14 years old. I was at the game. I just do not remember it.

    On the other hand, I remember everything about a homerun that Terry Pendleton hit with 2 outs in the 9th inning of a Friday night game in September in 1987. The Mets had clawed back from being 10 out in July to being 1 1/2 out of first. The crowd was chanting 1/2, 1/2, 1/2. And Roger McDowell, being an excellent sinker ball pitcher did not give up homeruns. And Terry Pendleton did not hit them. And almost nobody hit homeruns to dead-center at Shea, where it was 410 feet from home plate. But that is what Terry Pendleton did and the feeling of Shea going from raucous to stony silence remains with me to this day. It must’ve been the same silence the next year when Scioscia hit his homerun. But I can’t remember it.

  19. John Leavy says:

    I hadn’t heard the name “Charlie Spikes” in ages! I remember him, though. He was part of one of the best trades the Yankees ever pulled off: they gave away Spikes, Rusty Torres, Jery Kenney and Johnny Ellis to get Graig Nettles. That wasn’t the last time they robbed the Indians, either.

    • Andrew says:

      As a Tigers fan in the early 70s I thought Charley Spikes was a heck of a player — certainly better than most of the bums Cleveland was trotting out there. Then he fell off the earth and Andre Thornton succeeded him as the one Indian we had to watch out for.

      I wish Tom Veryzer had given me a memory as good as the one he gave Joe. He came up with a lot of hype and replaced Eddie Brinkman, a feisty little Gold Glover who held the SS record for fewest errors in a season. Tom was quiet and a good fielder — but not as good as Brinkman or our 3B Aurelio Rodriguez, and he really didn’t hit better than either. Meanwhile we watched native son Frank Tanana become a strikeout monster alongside Nolan Ryan and Bill Singer.

      On the other hand, it was funny to hear my dad rant about Veryzer’s long hair after he grew it out to Eckersley-length, so that’s in his favor. RIP, Tom.

  20. KHAZAD says:

    I went to my first Royals game in 1973, and the Royals scored 4 runs in the bottom of the ninth to win a game 8-7. They then won every game I went to until 1981, a streak of 33 games, which I know seems impossible.

    As a kid, I actually believed that the team couldn’t lose if I was there.

    The game they finally lost in 1981 was the first game I ever drove to myself. The team was down by 4 during the game and came back to within a run. They had the go ahead run on base in the 8th, and stranded the tying run at third in the ninth. I don’t think I ever had any doubt they were going to come back and win until it was over.

    I still kind of think of that day as the end of my childhood innocence.

  21. senorpogo says:

    The best part about Municipal Stadium as a kid was the racket you could make slamming the seat on those wooden chairs up and down.

  22. Steve L. says:

    Wow, just found out he died today two weeks after my Mom. I also lost a cousin this year. Tom was my idol as a kid. I know it sounds corny, but I was only 7. He was the one that I followed as I was becoming a baseball fan. Loved getting the chance to see him recently on ESPN Classic in the famous Mark Fidrych game. I heard him and the Bird were close. Ironically they are now both gone. Way too soon. I had hoped one day I would meet Tom. Too bad he never did autograph shows in Detroit. I think he would have been surprised all the fans he had. I am really bummed to hear he died. RIP Tom. God Bless.

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