Friday, April 7, 2017

Don Rickles and the Los Angeles Dodgers

Don Rickles passed away yesterday at the age of 90. He was one of those guys that my grandfather liked which means I liked him too. This story told by Frank Sinatra perfectly sums up Don Rickles and his sense of humor.

Don Rickles was also a huge Dodger fan and became good friends with Tommy Lasorda. They were such good friends that apparently late in the 1976 season, with the NL West already clinched, Don Rickles dressed in a Dodgers uniform and sat in the dugout for the entire game. That was until a Dodger pitcher was getting roughed up and Lasorda had Rickles head to the mound to take him out. Rickles told the story like this:

"Sorry, fella," I told the pitcher. "You're through.""You're not the manager," he shot back."You're not even a coach. You can't pull me out of the game.""Give me the ball," I demanded."You're crazy," he said.Meanwhile, home-plate umpire Harry Wendelstedt, a great veteran, headed out to the mound."What's going on here?" he asked. When he got in my face, he saw who it was and said,"I'll be damned. Don Rickles! Don, any chance of getting me two tickets to see Dean Martin in Vegas?"
Did this really happen or was it just a really good story? Tommy Lasorda only mentioned Rickles dressing up as a ball boy for a game but never anything about using him to make a pitching change. 

This game was also said to be played in late September on Fan Appreciation Day. Usually teams have Fan Appreciation Day on their last home game of the season. That would have been October 2, 1976 for the Dodgers. 

Looking at the boxscore of that game, the Dodgers would lose and three Dodger pitchers were used but none of them were taken out during the middle of the inning. Of course, maybe that pitcher refused to let Rickles take him out. 

The home plate umpire on that day was not Harry Wendelstedt but Bob Engel. Wendelstedt was not behind the plate or even umpiring any of the last six Dodger home games of the 1976 season. So did this story really happen? Probably not, but it's great to think it did. Rest in Peace Don Rickles.

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