Had lunch today with my hero Duane Kuiper, his brother Jeff, and a new favorite, the hilarious Mike Krukow*. What a great time. Stories. Opinions. Jokes. I wonder if they would let me be on that announcing crew just so I could follow them around for a season.
*Nicknamed "The Polish Prince" according to his Baseball Reference page. I did not know that. I should try to get Mike into the Polish Sports Hall of Fame in Troy, Michigan.
I have to share one story. There were about 40 stories I could share, and probably will. But we'll start with one. It's about a plunking -- I'm not entirely sure why old stories about pitchers hitting batters with baseballs make me laugh. But they do.
We started talking about how pitchers can only rarely hit batters on purpose anymore because of suspensions and the way that baseball has tried to lock down on vigilante pitching, and I asked Duane if he thinks he'd ever been hit on purpose. He said that he figured he got hit on purpose a dozen times in his career, maybe a few more. This is Duane Kuiper remember, the nicest guy around, the man with one home run in his career. He remembered one in particular: He had slashed Brian Downing -- by mistake, of course -- and Jim Kaat hit him in the ribs.
"I knew he was going to hit me," he said. I asked what he did. He said: "I went to first. I didn't want him to hit me again."
So then I asked if he had ever asked a pitcher to retaliate for him. He said he never did, but, well, there was the Jim Bibby story. Details are hard to lock down but the story is too good to hold back: The Indians were playing the Twins, and at some point Rod Carew slashed Kuiper in a double play scenario at some point during the series. Duane was furious. He told Carew, "I'm going to come down the line and slash your achilles." Jim Bibby calmed him down.
"Don't worry," Bibby said. "I'll get him for you."
Kuiper said, "OK, fine, you get him." Only, Bibby did not get him. He got pulled before he had a chance to get him. If it's the game I'm thinking, in 1977, Bibby lasted just five innings and Carew actually homered of him. Anyway, the point is Bibby didn't get Carew that day for whatever reason, and unexpectedly that was the last time he ever faced Carew in a big league game. Bibby left Cleveland for Pittsburgh at the end of the season. So the story should be over. Kuiper basically forgot about it.
Only … one day, the Indians are facing Carew's team, probably the Angels by then, and Carew comes over to Kuiper and says, "You little $$@$ …"
"What did I do?" Kuiper said.
And Carew said that he was playing an exhibition game in Japan. He stepped in against, yep, Jim Bibby. And suddenly he felt the jolt of a fastball pounding his side … this in an EXHIBITION GAME IN JAPAN.
And he said Jim Bibby flexed and said: "That was for Duane Kuiper."