On a Friday night in Washington, D.C., May 2, 1969, about 14,000 fans filed into RFK Stadium to watch the surging Washington Senators play the slumping Cleveland Indians. Senators’ fans basked in the glow of Ted Williams’ arrival as manager and the club’s seven wins in its last 8 games, blasting above the .500 mark at 13-11.
Many, no doubt, sighed in disappointment when they learned that Washington’s mop-up man, Dick Bosman, got the starting nod that night from Teddy Ballgame. After a dreadful 2-9 campaign in 1968, Bosman barely made the 1969 squad out of spring training. He was Williams’ last option on his 10-man pitching staff. Until his start this on this cool Friday evening, he had appeared in only six games, two as a spot-starter.
The soft-tossing control artist had a single advocate — pitching coach Sid Hudson, who convinced the team to pick him up in the minor league player draft from the San Francisco Giants in November, 1964. Hudson liked Bosman’s variety of pitches, low pitch-counts, and willingness to learn. In a 1998 interview, Hudson said, “He would really listen and try anything you taught him.”
Bosman credited Hudson for teaching him the mechanics of pitching, but said Williams was the first one to “teach me how hitters think. How to win the cat-and-mouse game, so to speak, between the pitcher and hitter.”
But fans expected nothing special or memorable on this night. Bosman seemed the least desirable choice for Washington’s pitcher and the Indians, a club some sportswriters had chosen to contend for the American League East pennant, had already fallen apart. Their record, after a two-game winning streak, stood a 3-15.
The Nats got on the board early against Bosman’s opponent, Luis Tiant. In the second inning, Ed Brinkman drove in Ken McMullen with a sacrifice fly.
Bosman, for his part, faced the minimum nine batters through the first three innings, with three strikeouts. Only Tony Horton, on a one-out, broken-bat flair to shallow center field in the second inning, reached base. Bosman soon erased him when Jose Cardenal grounded to Brinkman for an inning-ending double play.
Bosman walked Larry Brown in the Cleveland fourth, but easily retired the Indians’ other three hitters. Then, in the Senators fourth, something happened that hinted at a special evening. Bosman, an extremely poor hitter, lined a bases loaded, two-out single to right, scoring Bernie Allen and Brinkman. The Senators added another run in the fifth when Hank Allen singled home Ed “The Streak” Stroud.
Bosman retired the Indians in order in the fifth and sixth innings as the crowd began to buzz. Through six, Bosman had faced on 19 batters and surrendered but a single hit. Suddenly, the unknown pitcher, listed as “Dave Bosman” in the Senators’ game program, had everyone’s attention.
He retired the first two batters in the seventh, then walked Cleveland’s slugger, former Senator Hawk Harrelson. Bosman next blew away Horton on a called third strike, his seventh of the game. In the eighth, three pop outs, the last from soon-to-be Senator Lee Maye, allowed Bosman to overcome a walk to pinch-hitter, Richie Scheinblum, another future Nat.
McMullen scored the Senators fifth run in the Washington eighth on a bases loaded walk to Del Unser. As Bosman strode to the mound to begin the ninth inning, the crowd rose to its feet to applaud their unlikely hero. Bosman, confidence surging, first faced Tribe third baseman, Max Alvis. He grounded out, Brinkman to Frank Howard. Brown came up next and flied out to Hank Allen in left field.
The cheers now soared as Russ Snyder was the last batter standing between Bosman’s one-hit shutout and a 5-0 victory. Snyder lined a fly ball to right field. Bosman turned and watched the ball settle into Stroud’s glove for the game’s final out. The ovation from the crowd was the loudest denizens of RFK Stadium had experienced since Opening Day.
The game, the Senators eighth win in their last nine games, propelled the Senators to two more victories as the club completed a 5-0 home stand. For the first time in many years, Washington baseball fans began to have something long absent from their hearts — hope.
Bosman’s masterpiece also filled him with confidence. He said, “That was the game where I said, ‘Shoot, I can do this. And I can do this more than once in awhile.’”
The man who would become the expansion Senators’ finest pitcher and have the honor of throwing out the first pitch at the final baseball game at RFK Stadium on September 23, 2007, rode that confidence to the crest of the A.L. ERA title in 1969.
It came down to a showdown game between Bosman and Baltimore Orioles’ star Jim Palmer on September 15. While Bosman did not win the game (Bob Humphreys did thanks to a late-game triple from Mike Epstein), he matched Palmer pitch-for-pitch and emerged from the game with the title in his grasp. He held on to first place through three more starts and added one more milestone for fans to savor during that lovely 1969 season in Washington.
A box score and play-by-play account of one of the best games Dick Bosman pitched in RFK Stadium is available on the wonderful web site retrosheet.org. Here’s the link:
You can read more about Dick Bosman and his 1969 Senators’ teammates in Steve Walker’s excellent book, “A Whole New Ballgame: The 1969 Washington Senators” available on Amazon: http://amzn.to/AzaNta or direct from the publisher, Pocol Press: http://bit.ly/y51taI