Steve Peck will have the honor--or shame, depending on your viewpoint--of throwing the first replacement pitch of the season tonight when men wearing Angel uniforms play Arizona State in an exhibition game in Tempe Diablo Stadium.
"I guess it is sort of historic," said Peck, a 27-year-old right-hander who played at Mesa College. "I just hope I throw a strike on the first pitch--no pun intended."
The game will mark the first time in 83 years that replacements have played in place of major leaguers. The Detroit Tigers put together a team of Philadelphia-area semipro and college players for a 1912 game against the Athletics in the wake of a player revolt sparked by Ty Cobb.
Cobb, according to a book on the Tigers written by Fred Lee, had charged into the bleachers to punch a fan who had allegedly berated him during a game. American League President Ban Johnson responded by banning Cobb indefinitely.
In protest, the Tigers decided they wouldn't take the field for a subsequent game, so coaches recruited local players who wound up losing to the Athletics, 24-2, before a curious crowd of 20,000 in Shibe Park.
The replacement pitcher, a fellow named Al Travers, who later became a priest, received $25 and an extra $25 for lasting nine innings. The other Tiger replacements received $10.
Johnson called off the Tigers' next game, then threatened to banish the rest of the team unless it returned. The players, at Cobb's urging, called off the protest.
"If it's another 83 years before this happens again, that would be fine with me," Angel Manager Marcel Lachemann said. "Hopefully, it will never happen again."
Lachemann said he chose Peck as tonight's starter because he's an experienced pitcher who shouldn't get flustered in a potentially volatile situation.
Though Donald Fehr said the players union won't picket tonight because proceeds from the game benefit local charities, Angel replacement players have heard rumors of Teamster pickets, and they expect some hostile fans.
"I've pitched in hostile environments, so I'm not worried," said Peck, a six-year minor leaguer who was 12-4 with a 4.97 earned-run average at double-A El Paso last season. "I played in Mazatlan once where fans were shooting fireworks onto the field during the game."
Tonight's game, the only one in the Cactus or Grapefruit leagues, should draw a large crowd of reporters. Many of those are in town to cover baseball's labor talks are expected to swing by for their first look at replacement baseball. Some 2,100 tickets had been distributed for the game as of Tuesday afternoon.
Lachemann is concerned that some fans and reporters might draw conclusions about replacement baseball after only one game.
"We'll be under the microscope more than usual, and things could get blown out of proportion," he said.
After playing intrasquad games Monday and Tuesday, Lachemann still doesn't have a good handle on the caliber of replacement baseball, although a diving grab by third baseman Michael Fernandez and a spectacular diving catch by left fielder Randy Hood Tuesday certainly boosted his confidence.
Playing a good college team--Arizona State is 16-4 and ranked 13th nationally by Baseball America--should provide some indication.
After Tuesday's intrasquad game at Gene Autry Park, the Angels broke camp in Mesa and moved to Tempe, which they will now consider their major league camp. Of the 50 players in Mesa, only two, first baseman Nate Olmstead and pitcher Darrel Akerfelds, chose not to become replacement players. Manager Marcel Lachemann said four other players, who were not identified, would join the Angels for exhibition games but will not play if replacements start the regular season. Akerfelds, who spent parts of five seasons in the majors, and Olmstead will return for the start of the Angels' minor league camp in Mesa next week.