Baseball History

Dietz’ record season often forgotten

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GREENVILLE, SC — Buried in the same cemetery as ‘Shoeless’ Joe Jackson, Dick Dietz and the most famous ‘Black Sox’ player have more in common than just their final resting place.

Jackson, along with seven Chicago White Sox teammates received a lifetime ban from Major League Baseball for their involvement in throwing the 1919 World Series against the Cincinnati Reds. 

Now Jackson is likely the third best baseball player to not belong to the Hall of Fame behind Pete Rose and Barry Bonds. A .356 batting average and nearly 1,800 hits in just 13 seasons is remarkable. Dietz’ .261 average with just 66 home runs is much more modest, but his disappearance from the game of baseball is much more similar to Jackson than he was probably counting on.

Dietz, who was born in Crawfordsville on Sep. 18, 1941, is the only known major league baseball player to be born in Crawfordsville — What he did 50 years ago this summer as a member of the San Francisco Giants has never been accomplished again — but is often forgotten when people reflect on Dietz’ career.

After his family moved to Greenville, South Carolina during his childhood years, Dietz was drafted as an amateur free agent by the San Francisco Giants before the 1960 season.

There are two things Dietz is best known for, and the first came in 1968. Los Angeles Dodgers’ pitcher Don Drysdale was pitching against the Giants with the bases loaded and no outs and Dietz was at-bat. During the at-bat Dietz was hit by a Drysdale pitch, which would have allowed a run to score, but home plate umpire Harry Wendelstedt, citing a rarely enforced rule, refused to allow Dietz to take first base, claiming that Dietz did not attempt to avoid being struck by the ball. Drysdale went on to retire Dietz and the next two Giants’ hitters.

The kicker? The incident was in midst of Drysdale’s 58 2/3 innings pitched scoreless streak — a MLB record that stood until Orel Hershiser broke it with 59 scoreless innings for the Dodgers in 1988.

In 1972, Dietz helped lead the Major League Baseball players strike, and ultimately was released by the Giants. By 1973, Dietz was out of the league, after just eight seasons. 

Drafted in 1960, Dietz was called up for the first time in 1966, but didn’t get a chance to play a full season as the Giants’ catcher until 1970.

And he made the most of his opportunity.

He ended the 1970 season with career highs of an average of .300, 22 home runs, 107 RBI, 109 walks, and .426 on base percentage.

His efforts that season remains as the only catcher to tally 100 walks, 100 RBI, and hit for an average of .300 or better in Major League Baseball history.

The shelf life of a Major League Baseball catcher is often short, but many can’t help but wonder if Dietz was blackballed from baseball rather than revered for his record-breaking season 50 summers ago.

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