Monday, December 05, 2016

We remember Chico Ruiz (1934-72)

Chico Ruiz stealing home 1964 against Phillies
We remember today one of the most interesting Cuban major leaguers.   He was not a super star but was involved in one of the most talked about plays ever.
Giraldo (Sablon) Ruiz was born in Santo Domingo, Cuba on this day in 1934.   He died in early 1972 in an automobile accident.
Chico Ruiz broke with the Reds in 1964.    He hit .240 over 8 seasons with Reds and later the Angels.   His numbers, and limited time, has to be understood in the context of playing behind fellow Cuban Leo Cardenas with the Reds and later Jim Fregosi with the Angels.
He is well known for stealing home in the middle of the 1964 National League pennant race.     This is the story:
Despite not being known as a big-time base stealer (he was only 34 for 50 in his career), Chico managed to steal one of the most improbable bases in the history of the sport. This occurred during a game on September 24, 1964, against the Philadelphia Phillies. After a one-out single, Ruiz found himself on third base with two outs. There were also two strikes on the batter — none other than five-time All-Star and former (and future) Most Valuable Player Frank Robinson.
Somehow, in Chico Ruiz’s mind, it made sense to try to steal home at this very moment. Remember, there were TWO strikes on Robinson, one of the most feared hitters in the game, so not only was the opposition concerned that big Frank could change the game with one swing, Chico had to have been concerned for his well-being. If Chico got a good jump and Frank swung at a pitch not knowing he was coming, Chico would have been in great danger. If Robinson swung and struck Ruiz with a line drive, not only would Chico have likely been injured, but he may also have been called out depending on whether he was within the base line. Finally, if Ruiz was thrown out trying to steal home with Robinson at the plate, the play may have gone down as one the biggest boneheaded plays the game has ever seen. An infield single would have scored Ruiz; so would a wild pitch.
It was the fact that Ruiz was successful that made this play so memorable. Phillies pitcher Art Mahaffey saw the runner breaking for home and hurried his delivery. That resulted in a pitch that could not be handled by his catcher and an easy run for the Reds. The run happened to be the only one of the game, as the Reds defeated the Phillies, 1-0, the first of ten straight losses by the (then) first-place Phillies.
And so it was “The day Chico Ruiz stole home” with Frank Robinson at the plate.


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