The Roseboro Incident And How The MLB Let Jason La Rue Down

As the Cincinnati Reds prepare to make their first trip to Busch stadium in the 2011 season, it is time to take another look at the unfortunate events that took place at Great American Ballpark on August 10, 2010. A late season pennant race between the St. Louis Cardinals and Cincinnati Reds turned tragic when Yadier Molina took exception to some things that Brandon Phillips had said the previous day. The two proud baseball players yelled at each other, some of it happening with their faces separated by mere inches. The two benches would soon empty and the ensuing scrum brought Johnny Cueto of the Reds into contact with Chris Carpenter and Jason La Rue of the Cardinals, and the results were disastrous for La Rue.

When it came time for Major League Baseball to take action, the Roseboro incident was cited as a precedent for their ruling. In the first part of this series, we will take a look back at that infamous moment in baseball history.

August 20, 1965

The events that led up to Juan Marichal striking Johnny Roseboro with his bat actually started in the middle of this Friday night game in San Francisco. The Giants and Los Angeles Dodgers were battling for the National League Pennant, with the Giants 1 1/2 games out. Thanks to a Willie Mays home run and a successful squeeze bunt, the Giants had built up an early 4-1 lead. Things got interesting when Maury Wills stepped up to bat to start the fifth inning.

Maury Wills was one of those types of players that made things happen. Sometimes it could really get under the skin of the opposition, and this was one of those times. He took a very long and slow swing, coming in contact with catcher, Tom Haller’s glove. The home plate umpire immediately ruled catchers interference and Wills was awarded first base. The Dodgers failed to capitalize on this controversial call, but that was not the end of the matter.

When the Giant’s Matty Alou, another player who could get under the opposition’s skin, led off the next inning, he tried the same trick that Wills had done moments earlier. The home plate umpire ruled that Alou’s bat did not come in contact with Johnny Roseboro’s catcher’s mitt, negating an interference call. The Giants were furious about the Alou non-call, claiming that the umpires were favoring the Dodgers. Roseboro was furious because Alou caused him to take a fastball in the chest protector. The Giants would go on to win the game, but the issue was far from settled.

August 22, 1965

With 1 1/2 games separating the two teams, Juan Marichal and Sandy Koufax would meet in the Sunday afternoon series finale. Both pitchers were having exceptional seasons. Koufax had won 21 games thus far, while losing just four. Marichal had just won his 19th game a few days earlier, and was looking to go over the 20 win mark for the third consecutive season.

It didn’t take long for the tempers to flare in this game. Marichal was still fuming over the officiating earlier in the series. When Maury Wills stepped up to the plate to start the game, Marichal sent a clear message that he was not going to put up with anything out of the Dodgers’ shortstop. He threw a high and tight fastball that put Wills on his backside. Undaunted, Wills fired back by laying a beautiful bunt down the third base line. The first two shots across the bow had been fired.

Things turned even more tense when Marichal knocked down the next batter, Jim Gilliam. With that message delivered, Marichal tried to turn his attention back to the game, but got into a bit of trouble. He would give up a run in each of the first two innings, the second ironically on a Johnny Roseboro single.

When Juan Marichal came up to the plate, things turned ugly, but not in a way that anybody expected.

Johnny Roseboro called for an inside knock down pitch, but that was not how Sandy Koufax played the game. Perhaps if it was a position player, but even then, that was not how Koufax went about his business. On a low curveball to Marichal, Roseboro dropped the ball which allowed him to get up and walk behind Marichal. He then threw the ball back to Koufax uncharacteristically hard, and quite close to Marichal’s head. Depending on which account of the story you believe, it either buzzed by closely or actually clipped Marichal in the ear. Regardless, it enraged Marichal and he confronted Roseboro.

If you want to see what happens next, here is the actual game video – but please be advised, there are a several disturbing and graphic moments.

 

Before continuing, it is important to know that Johnny Roseboro was a great catcher, but more than that, he was one of baseball’s toughest players. He would courageously block home plate with runners bearing down on him without as much as blinking. I remember a game when Mike Shannon, in full stride, hit Roseboro, and it was Shannon that went bouncing off in another direction.

Johnny Roseboro, Juan Marichal and Sandy Koufax

When Marichal decided to confront Roseboro, he suddenly found himself facing a much larger and tougher man, and that man was wearing a lot of protective gear. Marichal proceeded to hit Roseboro several times with his baseball bat, with at least one blow landing rather savagely on his helmet. Both benches emptied and punches started getting thrown all over the place. Credit home plate umpire Shag Crawford and Giants center fielder Willie Mays for getting in the middle of the melee and keeping things from escalating even farther

Roseboro leaving the game (photo by Neil Liefer)

When the players were finally separated, the resulting scalp cut from Marichal’s attack left Roseboro bleeding rather badly. Willie Mays escorted the injured Roseboro off the field so that he could be taken to the Dodgers training room. The Dodgers’ catcher would require several stitches to close the wound on his forehead, and would be diagnosed with a concussion. As a result, he would miss the next two games, although he did travel with the team to New York. By August 25, he was back behind the plate, no worse for the wear. Roseboro was a very tough baseball player.

Although he protested vigorously, Juan Marichal was immediately ejected from the game. The league office would decide what additional punishment was warranted over the next several days.

Punishment

The commissioner would eventually suspend Marichal for 9 games, plus the final series of the season between San Francisco and Los Angeles. For those last two games, he was barred from even traveling with the team to Los Angeles. In addition to those 11 games, he was fined $1,750, or about 3 percent of his annual salary.

Many fans, especially those in Los Angeles, were angered over the perceived light punishment that Marichal received. The 9 game suspension worked out to just two missed starts. Giants manager, Herman Franks, used Marichal on just two days in Chicago, just so the Los Angeles travel ban would not cost him another start.

The true punishment for Marichal came much later, when it was time for his induction into baseball’s Hall of Fame. In spite of being one of the best pitchers of his era, winning more games than any other pitcher in the decade of the 1960’s, he would not be invited into Cooperstown until 1983, three full years after the start of his eligibility. Roseboro might have had a big part to play in that too, but we’re getting slightly ahead of ourselves.

The Giant Meltdown ?

Historians often cite the Roseboro incident as a turning point in the 1965 season. Marichal and the Giants were hot on the Dodgers heels, and those two (plus perhaps one later) start Marichal missed might have been the difference between San Francisco or Los Angeles going to the World Series. While that would be a storybook ending to the season, that’s not how things actually happened.

The Giants would keep winning, in spite of Marichal’s suspension. They would even win both remaining games against the Dodgers, with Juan Marichal safely tucked away in San Francisco. As late as September 16, they held a 4 1/2 game lead in the National League.

The difference in the 1965 season was a 13 game Dodgers winning streak, largely on the arms of Sandy Koufax, Don Drysdale, Johnny Podres and Ron Perranoski. It had nothing to do with Marichal, and the Giants didn’t collapse. The Dodgers just ran away with it, as the Cardinals had done with Cincinnati the previous year.

Civil Suit and Forgiveness

Disappointed with the light punishment handed down from the commissioner, Johnny Roseboro filed a civil suit against Marichal for $110,000. That suit was later settled out of court for $7,000. The matter was settled, or so we thought. What happens next surprised everybody.

Johnny Roseboro did what a lot of people might not have been able to do, he forgave Marichal. Perhaps it was because his actions played a big part in that terrible event, or he was just a really good person; the two were able to put that unfortunate event behind and become friends.

Marichal a Dodger ?

Things got very interesting in Los Angeles when Juan Marichal, now 37 years old and in the tail end of his career, signed a free agent contract with the Los Angeles Dodgers. He only appeared in two games that season, one of them in Dodger Stadium. Johnny Roseboro made a plea with the fans in attendance to forgive Marichal and accept him as a Dodger. Marichal even wore Roseboro’s number, on the former catcher’s insistence.

There were no hard feelings on my part, and I thought if that
was made public, people would believe that this was really over
with. So I saw him at a Dodger old-timers' game, and we posed
for pictures together, and I actually visited him in the Dominican.
The next year, he was in the Hall of Fame. 

Hey, over the years, you learn to forget things. --Johnny Roseboro

After Baseball

After baseball, the two became close friends. Roseboro may have even had a hand in Marichal’s induction into the Hall of Fame when he wrote letters to Baseball Writes’ Association of America (BBWAA), urging them to reconsider their opposition to the former Giants pitcher. On the third ballot, Marichal received enough votes, and was finally inducted in 1983. The two would frequently show up at old-timers events, and Roseboro would travel back to the Dominican Republic to play in Marichal’s charity golf events. Perhaps the most touching moment came in 2002, when Marichal delivered an emotional eulogy at Roseboro’s funeral.

Next time we will take a look back at August 10, 2010, and see how the two incidents were similar, and where they were drastically different.

Bob Netherton covers Cardinals history for i70baseball.com and writes at On the Outside Corner. You may follow Bob on Twitter here or on Facebook here.

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