Steve Peck will have the honor--or shame, depending on the viewpoint--of throwing the first replacement pitch of the spring training season tonight when men wearing Angel uniforms play Arizona State in an exhibition game at Tempe.
"I guess it is sort of historic," said Peck, 27, a right-hander who played at nearby Mesa College. "I just hope I throw a strike on the first pitch--no pun intended."
The game will be the first in 83 years in which replacements are playing. In 1912, the Detroit Tigers put together a team of Philadelphia-area semipro and college players for a 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 play 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, Al Travers, who later became a priest, received $25 for his efforts and a $25 bonus for lasting nine innings. The other Tiger replacements got $10 each.
Johnson called off the Tigers' next game, then threatened to banish the rest of the team unless it returned to action. 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 Tuesday. "Hopefully, it will never happen again."
Lachemann said he chose Peck as tonight's starter because he's an experienced pitcher who doesn't figure to get flustered in a potentially volatile situation.
Although union head 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 went 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 scheduled in the Cactus and Grapefruit leagues, is expected to draw a huge media crowd.
Lachemann is concerned that some fans and writers might draw conclusions on 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.
Even after intrasquad games Monday and Tuesday, Lachemann doesn't have a good handle on replacement baseball, although a diving grab by third baseman Michael Fernandez and a spectacular diving catch by left fielder Randy Hood on Tuesday did boost his confidence.
Playing a good college team--Arizona State is 16-4 and ranked 13th nationally by Baseball America--should provide some indication.
"This might be the sternest test of the year," Lachemann said. "I just don't know. A good college team this time of year is a big challenge."
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 would not play if replacements start the regular season.