On August 4, 1980, the Pittsburgh Pirates took on the Chicago White Sox in the annual Hall of Fame game in Cooperstown, NY. At the time, it was a tradition that teams played an in-season exhibition game, but by today’s standards it seems like a crazy situation for the Pirates.
On August 3, 1980, the Pirates were at home taking on the San Diego Padres in a doubleheader. The August 2nd game was rained out and August 3rd was the last scheduled meeting for the two clubs during the 1980 season, so they needed to play two games. After losing both games of the doubleheader, the Pirates headed to Cooperstown to play the next afternoon. From Cooperstown, the club traveled to Chicago to take on the Cubs in an afternoon game the next day. Over a time period of approximately 50 hours, the Pirates played four games in three different cities.
So it may come as no surprise that the Pirates didn’t exactly put their “A” team out there. The lineup for the Hall of Fame game included name players like Manny Sanguillen, Phil Garner, Dale Berra, Mike Easler and John Milner, but the Pirates also used Vance Law, Rick Lancellotti and Jim Buckner in the starting lineup. If you’re asking who Jim Buckner is, that is a good question. He was a ten-year minor leaguer, who spent one season in the Pirates system and never made the majors. He was also the younger brother of Bill Buckner. The starting pitcher for the Pirates was Keith Thibodeaux, who was a third round draft pick out of LSU just two months earlier. He never made the majors either, spending all four of his pro seasons in Double-A.
Sanguillen was of course a name player at the time, but this game came at the end of his career and it was actually the final time he caught a game. He did not play a single inning behind the plate in 1980 during the regular season, but he caught all nine innings of this game.
A crowd of 9,791 showed up to watch these two teams square off and those fans were treated to a slugfest. The Pirates nearly put this game away in the top of the first inning. With one out, a Mike Easler single brought in Vance Law to start the scoring. Dale Berra followed with a two-run hit (it’s called a single in some recaps, double in others). Manny Sanguillen then followed with a two-run homer to make it 5-0. Jim Buckner tripled, then scored on a sacrifice fly by Rick Lancellotti. Six straight batters reached for the Pirates and all six scored.
The Pirates added two runs on a pinch-hit sixth inning homer by Willie Stargell. He was batting for Phil Garner, who would actually stay in the game after being pinch-hit for and he (Garner) batted the next time his spot came up. The homer by Stargell went over the right field fence and landed on the roof of a two-story house across the street. Manny Sanguillen picked up his third RBI of the day on a solo homer in the third inning. Sanguillen had three hits on the day and scored three runs. Berra and Buckner also had three hits apiece and both of them picked up two RBIs. Bucker nearly had the cycle, collecting a triple, double and single. The Pirates had 15 hits total.
Keith Thibodeaux impressed his new team by going five solid innings, giving up two runs. In the sixth inning, 21-year-old Johnny Taylor took over and he gave up five runs in his first inning to make it a 9-7 game in favor of the Pirates. Taylor, who was in High-A ball at the time, settled in and threw two scoreless innings. This game was as close as he would get to making the majors. Cecilio Guante took over in the ninth and gave up the final run in the 11-8 victory for the Pirates. Guante is likely a known name to you if you’re reading a Pirates Game Rewind from 1980, but he wasn’t at the time of this game. He didn’t make his big league debut until May 1, 1982.
On the White Sox side of things, Harold Baines took a break from his solid rookie season to hit two doubles and a three-run homer. He would end up enshrined in Cooperstown 39 years later. The White Sox lost outfielder Chet Lemon when he crashed into the outfield wall catching a long drive by Matt Alexander to lead-off the game. Lemon needed to go to the local hospital to receive stitches on his right eyelid.
The record books show that Sanguillen hit his final home run on July 31, 1978 off of Ross Grimsley in Montreal. He failed to connect for a round tripper during his final two seasons, though he obviously had some pop left saved up in his bat for Cooperstown. Not only did he catch nine innings for the first time in 14 months, Sanguillen was also the hero at the plate. He became the 13th player to hit two or more homers in a Hall of Fame game.