Friday, October 25, 2013
Blast From the Past: Was Dick Dietz Blackballed Out Of Baseball?
One of my favorite players from my early days as a young Giants fan was catcher Dick Dietz, AKA "The Mule." Dietz was an excellent hitter and a poor defensive catcher. He was also the Giants Player Representative to the MLBPA at a critical juncture in the formation of that organization. I have always thought that Dietz' MLB career came to a rather abrupt end and was never quite clear on why. Former Giants RHP John D'Acquisto thinks he knows why. He has a long article on a site called Instream Sports(www.instreamsports.com/alpha/node/341). The way I found the article is it was linked in a Hardball Times article over on Fangraphs by Bruce Markusen entitled The Blackballing of Dick Dietz. If you are a Giants fan who goes back as far as me, or even if you aren't, D'Acquisto's article is a must-read! It's mostly about Bobby Bonds and Bobby Murcer and the dismantling of the 1960's Giants, but it's the paragraph about Dietz that we'll focus on here.
Dietz was a pretty good hitting backup catcher for the Giants from 1967-'69. After Tom Haller was traded, he shared catching duties with Jack Hiatt from what I can remember. He became the outright starter in 1970 and responded with one of the great seasons of any Giants catcher: .300/.426/.515 with 19 HR's. Yeah, you read that right, an OBP of .426! He walked 17.8% of the time and struck out 17.3%. He made the NL All-Star team. I think that was the year Pete Rose barrelled into Ray Fosse while scoring the winning run for the Nationals. His numbers fell off a bit in 1971, the year the Giants won the NL West only to lose in the playoffs to the Pirates, but he was still darn good: .252/.387/.419 with 19 HR's. He put up 5.1 WAR in 1970 and 4.0 in 1971.
The 1972 season started with the first player's strike. Dick Dietz was the Giants Player Representative and was one of the most enthusiastic and vocal player reps in baseball. To old-school owners like Horace Stoneham, such a thing was unthinkable. Despite coming off 2 terrific seasons, Diets was placed on waivers 3 days before the 1972 season was scheduled to start. The Giants said the reason for the release was his poor defensive play(he led the league in PB's 2 years in a row). The Dodgers claimed him, but he suffered a season-ending injury a few days into the season. He spent 1973 with a Atlanta Braves as a utility catcher/first baseman and led a strong bench effort that became knows as the "F-troop." In 83 games and 197 PA's, he hit .295/.474./.432. .474!!. He walked an amazing 25.7% and struck out just 13.1%. Simply amazing. The Braves rewarded him by releasing him after the season. He was never able to hook on with another team, his MLB career over.
John D'Acquisto is pretty sure Dick Dietz got blackballed, not just off the Giants, which seems pretty clear, but out of baseball entirely. I'd say there is a greater than 50% chance that he is right.