When Don Rickles made (or didn't make) a pitching change

Norm Hall

So I was watching the latest episode of Jerry Seinfeld's Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee -- this one features Don Rickles -- and I heard a baseball story I'd never heard before:

Seinfield: I know you're a baseball guy.

Rickles: Dodgers. I used to go down to the dugout. Lasorda told me to put on the uniform one night? He said, "Go out and take the pitcher out." I'm in the uniform. I walk out to the mound, 50,000 people.

"Give me the ball."

"You don't know me. What the hell are you doin' out here?"

Harry Wendelstedt, who passed away, he was the head umpire, comes racing out, rips off the mask, "What the hell's-- Don, can you get me four seats in Vegas, to Dean Martin's show? Just four seats..."

Would this be the only instance in history where someone other than team personnel or an umpire made a pitching change?

Ah, but did this actually happen? A quick web search reveals this passage from Jon Weisman's book, 100 Things Dodgers Fans Should Know and Do Before They Die:

That's how a man who was all business when it came to winning could also find time to dress Don Rickles up in a Dodgers uniform and send him out to the mound to pull Elias Sosa from a game after the Dodgers had clinched the NL West title in Lasorda's first season.

Well, that's helpful. We know it's Lasorda's near the end of Lasorda's first season, and we've got a pitcher (Sosa) to accompany our umpire (Wendelstedt). But what does Lasorda say? He did include a passage about Rickles in his book ... but he tells a different story:

One of the people I became close with that season was Don Rickles. Although he seems hard and tough on the outside, on the inside he really has a heart of lead... [A]fter we'd clinched the pennant, I put him in uniform one day and let him work as a ballboy. I told him I could pay him only $15 for the game, but promised him top billing over the other ballboys. That was enough for him. The primary job of a ballboy during the game is to run from the dugout to the home plate umpire to give the umpire new baseballs when he needs them. Rickles did an excellent job throughout the game; he didn't drop one ball and he didn't get lost.

No mention of Rickles heading to the mound to yank Sosa.

Lasorda actually took over as Dodgers manager in the last week of the '76 season, but nobody's suggested that anything really happened with Rickles -- or any of Lasorda's other show-business pals -- until 1977, his first full season. That season, they clinched early, beating the Giants on the 20th of September to open up an 11½-game lead with 11 to play.

But the Dodgers had a few more road games before returning to Los Angeles for their last seven games: three against the Giants and four against the Astros.

Sosa didn't pitch against the Giants, and Wendelstedt wasn't working that series.

Sosa did pitch against the Astros, in both the first and third games of that season-ending series. In the second of those appearances, though, he was lifted for a pinch-hitter; nobody would have come to the mound to remove him.

Oh, and Harry Wendestedt? He wasn't in Los Angeles for any of the Dodgers' last seven games. He seems to have finished his 1977 in Pittsburgh (when the Dodgers were hosting the Giants), then been off-duty for the last weekend of the season.

Wendelstedt umpired for another couple of decades, Lasorda managed for nearly as long, and Rickles is still going strong. But Elias Sosa's last season with the Dodgers was 1977. So someone's missing a detail here or there. Which doesn't mean it's not still a great story. But I'm the curious sort, and would love to know what really happened.

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