I hate these reminders of how old I really am, especially when I’m still trying to convince myself I’m still 22.
But some random Internet surfing reminded me that July 3 was the 40th anniversary of the greatest baseball game I’ve ever seen, when Angels pitcher Clyde Wright threw a no-hitter at the Oakland A’s.
I was 12 then, and I grew up in a family of incurable Angels fans. We went to a few games every year, and we were at Anaheim Stadium, third base side in the terrace level on that July evening. My family accounted for four of the 12,131 butts in the seats that night.
OK, as I get older my memory tends to fire more at random, but it seems we were at the ballpark a lot when historic things happened. My grandmother (who was even more incurable than the rest of us) took my brother and me to an afternoon doubleheader the previous year (again the Angels were playing the A’s), and when the announcement came that Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin safely landed on the Moon, play stopped on the field and we got all misty. But I digress.
The left-handed Wright came off a miserable 1969 (one win, eight losses. But he was pitching like a monster in 1970. Won 22 games that year; only Nolan Ryan was able to match him four years later. Made the All-Star team, during the time the American League was always getting slaughtered — Wright was the losing pitcher in that midsummer game.
And that no-no. It was right around the sixth inning when I noticed those zeroes on the board. And of course, there’s this old superstition that no one on the bench talks about a no-hitter when it’s in progress. Out of respect, neither did we.
After his great season, Wright wasn’t quite the same. It turned out he had some problems, something about a well-fought bottle. It was years later when I saw a film clip of him finishing his no-hitter, and it was used as a lead-in to a commercial for an alcohol-and-drug rehab hospital. But after his career in the bigs was over, he spent some time in Japan. From Baseball Reference:
In the sixth inning of a 1-1 game early in his first season in Japan, Wright was removed after the first two batters reached. Manager Shigeo Nagashima yanked Wright, who refused to give over the baseball, then charged off the mound and fired the ball into the dugout. After leaving the field, Wright tore off his uniform and threw it into the bathtub and kicked over a garbage can. Wright was nicknamed “Crazy Righto”, a name that stuck throughout his time in Japan. Fans and sportswriters called for Wright’s release but Nagashima stood by his pitcher …
1970 was a strange year for no-hitters. Less than a month before Wright’s, Dock Ellis of the Pittsburgh Pirates threw one at the San Diego Padres. His control was way off; he walked eight batters that day. He later said he was in mid-LSD trip during that game (which probably explains why his fastball had a tail).
Wright’s boy, Jaret, was a pitching phenom for the Cleveland Indians in 1997, coming out of nowhere to win a bunch of games for them. He started Game 7 of the World Series that year, as a 21-year-old rookie. Arm trouble, though, curtailed his career.
The Angels’ leadoff hitter in Clyde’s no-hitter was Sandy Alomar, who himself had two sons in the bigs (Sandy Jr. and Roberto). The Angels had some real characters in the lineup that day: Alex Johnson, who had a good bat and serious issues. Jim Fregosi, who later managed the Angels. And noted prankster Jay Johnstone, the man our household referred to as “Ol’ DM” for “dirty-mouth.” Seems one of us noticed Johnstone had trouble getting through a sentence without uttering a profanity. Being earthy folks, we thought it was funny.
I might as well forget about claiming I had a deprived childhood. How many kids got to see a no-hitter?
The box score, from retrosheet.org
What’s Wright doing now?