Billy Bates, today’s unsung post season hero, only played 29 games in the major leagues. His last big league appearance made him a cult hero in Cincinnati.
Bates was a toss in from Milwaukee in the deal that brought Glenn Braggs (the October 12th unsung hero) to the Reds. He was a short reserve second baseman whose lone claim to fame was racing a cheetah in a stunt for the Cincinnati Zoo. (No really, click HERE and see.)
The 1990 Reds had Bill Doran, Mariano Duncan, Ron Oester and Luis Quinones on their squad. If there was one thing they did NOT need for the post season was a 5th string second baseman.
But Doran got hurt in the final weeks of the season and was removed from the playoff roster. Bates was activated to be a pinch runner, the role he played in the NLCS.
The Reds improbably took the opener of the World Series from the defending champion A’s and Dave Stewart. Oakland took an early 4-2 lead in Game 2 and chased Reds starter Danny Jackson early from the game. Manager Lou Piniella began to empty his bullpen and his bench. He had used 4 pinch hitters or double switches before the Reds forced the game into extra innings.
With one out in the 10th and the lineup twisted about with double switches, Piniella called for Bates to make his first at bat of the post season. He would face future Hall of Famer Dennis Eckersley, whose post season record was unblemished after Kirk Gibson’s homer in 1988.
With two strikes, Bates dribbled a weak grounder towards third. It was all he needed.
Remember, he had cheetah speed. He beat out the grounder and made it to first. After a Chris Sabo hit moved Bates to second, catcher Joe Oliver came to the plate.
Oliver hit a hard grounder just fair past third. Bates raced home to a mob of his Cincinnati teammates. The Reds had stunned the A’s, beating Stewart and Eckersley and winning a game started by 27 game winner Bob Welch.
Bates would not appear in a game the rest of the series as the Reds completed the sweep. In fact Bates did not ever play another big league game again. The next year he failed to make the team out of spring training and in a few years he was out of baseball for good.
But without his slow dribbler, the Reds might not have taken Game 2 of the World Series. The A’s might have gained momentum back to California. Either way, in the short list of people who have beaten Dennis Eckersley in the World Series, you need to add the name Billy Bates.
And for that reason, we salute him as the Unsung Postseason hero of October 17.
Please enjoy Bates scoring from second.
And here is Bates racing the Cheetah.