As I do with any former player from the era of my baseball awakening, the 1970’s, I examine bodies of work at baseballreference.com and for years I have read SABR’s ever growing biography project work. I enjoy putting the history of this personal golden age together anything of significance in this distinctive period – 1970’s.
When it comes to examining 70’s baseball, I look for players who are today accessible and willing to add their takes and analysis on the era. Kurt Bevacqua in particular comes to my mind now because he is back on the local radio again doing baseball talk and analysis. Bevacqua in latest media role (post game show) offers straightforward and knowledgeable analysis and in tandem with his locally established and baseball savvy co-anchor, Craig Elsten. I first remember listening to Bevacqua in 1986 when he hosted a Padres post-game talk show and always found his strong opinions with ‘no filter’ approach to be refreshing.
As a steward of anything 70’s baseball, an examination of Bevacqua’s gipsy or labyrinth career and the whole decade of the 70’s opens up and made me truly admire the baseball history and memories that he experienced as a player during the era. Surviving as a utility infielder and outfielder and keeping his skills sharpened enough out of this role to play for fifteen years is impressive. He was rewarded for the hard work getting to compete at the highest level and seeing an important part of baseball history unfold before his eyes.
After digging into his body of work I was surprised that he played with an incredible amount of great players (13 Hall of Famers) with some legendary teams and played on teams and in games that stand out in a baseball historians mind as noteworthy. As is the case for many Padres fans of my age or older, Bevacqua is best remembered for hitting the 1984 World Series the game winning game two home run and kiss blowing salute as he rounded third base. After various media work stints for the local San Diego market he has become a sort of peninsular hero in which seemingly only his Padres days are discussed. As the hazy days of 70’s baseball become even hazier with time, Bevacqua’s documented experience well before he arrived here at the enclave are interesting and worth examining. His swath of professional work covers a lot of territory.
My own first baseball memory of Bevacqua came as the only bright light in the 1980 season when he came off the bench in May and June to hit over .500 in 20+ AB’s. This work came mostly in the late innings for the Padres and cemented his tag as a late inning pinch hit specialist. Little periods of high achievement during these incredible lean years of the franchise stand out in your mind because they provided the only excitement for two prime months for a young fan entranced with the game. Needless to say, he was moved later that season (only to return in 2 years for his moment in the bright lights) to the Pirates, who were looking for a role player in their push for the NL East flag.
Here are some slices of note.
Bevacqua came into major league baseball with the Cincinnati Reds at the age of 20 and played 3 years in the period leading up to the rise of the Big Red Machine dynasty. If this is all Bevacqua did as a player, wash out after this stint, then he still would have major baseball junkie cred. With the Reds alone he played with three Hall of Fame players – Bench, Morgan and Perez along with a Hall of Fame manager in Sparky Anderson.
He had two stints with the famous “Lumber Company” teams of the Pittsburgh Pirates. In 1974 and 1980 – playing with Hall of Famers Willie Stargell and Bert Blyleven. These stints alone could open up a line of questioning from me which could fill hours. “What was it like playing with the “We are Family” team just before it imploded in scandal ? Did you see the seams already starting to open up? What was Danny Murtaugh like as a manager when you played for him in 1974 ? And of course I have to ask him about playing with Doc Ellis.
Now that I live in Dallas, Texas, I hear the ramblings of a popular local radio guy in here Dallas named Mike Rhyner discuss the old Ranger days of the 70’s and 80’s. Hearing this on a frequent basis has me going back to the archives in baseball reference.com history to re-examine these Ranger days of old. I found that Bevacqua played on the 1977 Rangers a team that won 94 games and had two Hall of Fame pitchers in both Bert Blyleven and Gaylord Perry. Bevacqua raked that summer, posting a .970 OPS in just over 100 AB’s. But what makes this particular year and team stand out in terms of trivia or the just ‘pure wacky’ is that this team had four managers in a period of eight days. One of these managers and the first manager of ’77, Frank Luchesi, has his lights punched by Lenny Randle before a ’77 spring training game and was fired after a 31-31 start. The second manager of ’77, Eddie Stanky, quit after one game saying he was “homesick”. The fourth manager that year, after a brief interim stint by Connie Ryan, Billy Hunter went on to guide the club on an incredible 60-33 run and a 94 win season. A 94 win season which still meant sitting home as their inner league foe the Kansas City Royals won 102 games. This serves as a reminder of how difficult it truly was to make the post season in the pre-Wild Card days also shows how teams are shuffled away in the memories of most simply because they don’t grab a playoff spot.
Bevacqua was familiar to former Padre GM Jack McKeon, who he later played under as a Padre, because Bevacqua had played for McKeon the 1973 Kansas City Royals team. On this ’73 team, he played with 20-year-old rookie and later Hall of Famer George Brett. Two years later, Bevacqua was playing for the 1975 Brewers who were breaking in future Hall of Famer, 19-year-old Robin Yount at SS and closing down the career of Hall of Famer Henry Aaron as a teammate during his farewell season. Later with the Padres, Bevacqua was on the squad that broke in 22-year-old and future Hall of Famer Tony Gwynn in 1982.
As the years tick on in the baseball world and I personally near the half century mark and the players of the 1970’s themselves reach the 70 and over mark in age, it’s neat to be able to communicate with these players via social media and share with them. Bevacqua is one who has always been accessible to the fans of San Diego. We are lucky as fans of baseball to have him in our market.