Major League Baseball teams have a bench full of coaches. There’s always a hitting coach and a pitching coach. There’s a bench coach, who I assume is the guy who takes over if the head man blows a gasket and gets ejected. There’s a specialist to coach first base and another to coach third. Out in the outfield is a bullpen coach. But having done the research for this series of the dumbest plays in baseball, I have to think it might be a good idea to trade in one of these guys for a baserunning coach.
While so many of the gaffes I’ve been describing involve bad baserunning. there is one that stands out above all the others. It happened on May 27, 2003 in a game between the Arizona Diamondbacks and the San Francisco Giants.
Ruben Rivera was on his fifth major league team at that time. The cousin of legendary Yankee closer Mariano Rivera, the Panamanian was signed by the Yankees in 1990. Five years later Baseball America labelled him the number two prospect in baseball. He made his debut as a September call-up with the Yankees that same year. San Francisco was the last stop in an 8-year major league career.
Rivera did not make much of an impression with the Giants that year. That is until the May 27 game against the Arizona Diamondbacks. The game was tied 2-2 in the bottom of the ninth. The Giants sent up a pitch hittter Andres Galarraga who reached on an error. They then sent Rivera to first base to pinch run for Galarraga.
AP baseball writer Ben Walker describes what then ensued:
“Ruben Rivera got so lost on the bases, even fans at Pacific Bell Park tried to point him in the right direction. His misadventure was blooper tape material, for sure. And he could afford to laugh about it later, too, because his team won.
“Rivera was running as Marquis Grissom hit a high fly that right fielder David Dellucci misjudged, and the ball landed for an error.
“Rivera had already made it to second base, but retreated once he thought the ball would be caught. When it wasn’t, he reversed course again and took off for third.
“Only one problem: While scrambling, Rivera missed second base and wound up on the infield grass.
“At that point, many fans in the crowd were standing, pointing at the skipped bag.
“So Rivera went back, retouched second and headed for third. The relay from second baseman Junior Spivey was in plenty of time to get Rivera at third, but the ball skipped away for another error.
“When the ball rolled loose, Rivera bumped into third baseman Alex Cintron and sped home.
“Arizona shortstop Tony Womack recovered and threw to the plate, and Rivera was easily tagged out.”
Giants announcer Jon Miller called it “the worst baserunning in the history of the game.” Here’s his call:
After that adventure on the bases, Rivera only played in one more major league game. He was released by the Giants a week later. At the time he had 50 at bats and was hitting .180. Rivera resumed his career in Mexico where he played until he retired in 2019. He also played for the Panama team in the World Baseball Classic in 2006 and 2009.
Baseball’s dumbest plays:
Chicago Cubs vs. New York Giants, Sept. 23, 1908
New York Giants vs. Washington Senators, Oct. 10, 1924
St. Louis Cardinals vs. New York Yankees, Oct. 10, 1926
Philadelphia Phillies vs. Pittsburgh Pirates, July 4, 1976
Arizona Diamondbacks vs. San Francisco Giants, May 27, 2003
Minnesota Twins vs. Chicago Cubs, June 12, 2009
A year before his baserunning misadventure, Ruben Rivera was released by the Yankees in spring training because he stole a bat and glove from teammate Derek Jeter’s locker and sold the items, according to the Associated Press.
That 2003 Giants team had a 1990s Expos vibe, with manager Felipe Alou and players such as Grissom, Galarraga and Kirk Rueter.
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Yes! I was thinking that was the same guy! Now I feel kind of sorry for him, though.
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Tough way to be remembered.
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