I will always remember this as the “Jeff Reboulet game.” It was the game that featured the most audacious move I’ve ever seen from a major league manager. At least, that’s how I remember it. And it worked!
We’ll start with the basic facts. AL Division Series. Best of five. Birds up 2 games to 1. And Birds manager Davey Johnson decides to bench first baseman Rafael Palmeiro and second baseman Roberto Alomar, two Hall of Fame caliber ballplayers who in 1997 were in the middle of their careers for…Jerome Walton and Jeff Reboulet. Walton wasn’t even a first baseman. Not really. He was an outfielder who had been bouncing around since ’89. He had played a grand total of 16 games at first base in his career. Reboulet was your quintessential utility infielder who was never hit much but could play all the positions.
Now for the extenuating circumstances. Randy Johnson was on the mound for Seattle. Randy was at the peak of his game and he was truly a dominant force, especially against left handed batters. The switch hitting Alomar had been suffering from a shoulder ailment which prevented him from batting right handed. Palmeiro always hit left handed and was having a bit of an off-year, especially when batting left handed. So Davey made the switch.
The rest is history. First inning, Reboulet steps up and pokes a Johnson pitch into the left field stands. In his twelve year career, Jeff Reboulet had a total of 21 homeruns but this is the one folks remembered. Last summer he was at the Yards with three other old-timers at a signing event. We all had a chance to say a few words to them as we passed by and that homerun was all anyone mentioned. It was truly the bright light of his career.
Anyway the Birds won 3-1 thanks to some quality pitching by Mike Mussina. And Palmeiro and Alomar finally did get into the game. For defensive purposes. As a manager, Davey Johnson never looked better.