Chico F***ing Ruiz and the Bonehead Play of the Year

September 21st is, quite simply, the darkest day in Philly Sports History. It was on this date, in 1964, that a mediocre utility infielder born with the name Hiraldo Sablon Ruiz did one of the stupidest things a baseball player can do, and in so doing started a chain of events that resulted in one of the most monumental collapses in the history of sports.

Born to a cigar maker in Cuba in 1938, at the time of the events in question he was a 25-year old rookie known as Chico. He is today more famous in Philadelphia than he is in his native city of Santo Domingo. If you don’t know who he is, ask your father. Or better yet, don’t. He seems happy. You’d hate to ruin his day. If your father is the salty sort, he’d probably just utter, “Chico F***ing Ruiz…I don’t want to talk about it.”

Ruiz is the gut punch in Philly that Bartman is in Chicago, and nearly as unlikely. He was a utility infielder with a .236 batting average when the Reds faced off with the Phillies that afternoon in 1964. The Phillies had Art Mahaffey on the mound, and a 6.5 game lead in the National League with 12 games to play. At 2:30 that afternoon, a young second baseman by the name of Pete Rose stepped into the batters box at Connie Mack Stadium, and the darkest day in Phils history began.

The 1964 Phils were a team whose whole was greater than the sum of its parts. The Giants had Mays, the Reds had Robinson, the Pirates had Clemente, the Braves had Aaron, the Phils had…Cookie Rojas. But it was a gritty team, the kind that Philadelphia falls madly in love with (see ’93 Phillies, 2001 Sixers). Go Phillies Go! bumper stickers started appearing on cars, and when World Series tickets went on sale in September, 90,000 were sold within hours. When their plane landed in Philly on September 19th after a West Coast swing, 2,000 fans had greeted them at the airport.

Mahaffey had his best stuff that day, and the game went into the 6th inning at double nil. With one out, Chico Ruiz got a single. Vada Pinson lined a screamer off of Mahaffey’s glove and into right field. Pinson tried to stretch it into a double, but Johnny Callison nailed him at 2nd with a perfect throw. And so, with two outs and Chico on 3rd, up to the plate stepped the dangerous Frank Robinson. Mahaffey quickly ran up two strikes on the right handed slugger, paying little attention to the Cuban dancing off of third base. Mahaffey wound up to deliver the pitch that he hoped would quell the Reds rally…and inexplicably Chico Ruiz broke for home.

If there is anything in baseball that is stupider than stealing home with 2 outs, 2 strikes, and a right hander at the plate, I can’t think of it off the top of my head. Mahaffey would explain why years later“Chico Ruiz stole home with two outs and two strikes on Frank Robinson. Now you must realize that with two outs and two strikes, if you throw a strike Frank Robinson swings and knocks Chico Ruiz’s head off. It was just so stupid. Ruiz wasn’t even thinking. Robinson was so upset because he was one of the league’s leading hitters and near the lead in RBI and this guy’s stealing home with him hitting. It was just such a crazy thing. We didn’t know it was going to start a 10-game losing streak, but it couldn’t have started in more ridiculous way.”

Mahaffey was shaken by Rico’s brazen stupidity, perhaps scared that if he threw a strike he would be an accessory to an involuntary manslaughter. The ball went flying out of his hands, far outside of catcher Clay Dalrymple’s reach. Ruiz slid safely into home. There was a stone silence, as Phillies fans shook their heads in shock, and the Reds bench was dumbfounded by the stupidity of their 3rd basemen. “It was,” said Pete Rose years later, “The dumbest play I’ve ever seen. Except that it worked.” The Reds took a 1-0 lead, and they held it. The Phillies went 0-8 with runners in scoring position, and the game ended 1-0 in the Reds favor.

After the game, Phils manager Mauch would scream in the clubhouse,  “Chico Fucking Ruiz beats us on a bonehead play of the year. Chico Fucking Ruiz steals home with Frank Robinson up! Can you believe it?” The next night, Mauch ordered his pitcher to drill him in the ribs. Ruiz smiled as he walked to first.

The “bonehead play of the year” started the monumental collapse of 1964. The Phils would lose their next 9 games as well, manager Gene Mauch would panic and start his two best pitchers (Bunning and Short) on two days rest 6 times, despite having Ray Culp waiting in the wings. The rest of the collapse is another story for another day. But today is a dark anniversary of the steal that started it all.

As for Chico Fucking Ruiz?  In 1967, he became the first and only player to ever pinch hit for Johnny Bench. In 1969, he would utter one of the most hilarious sentences in baseball history. After starting for two straight weeks for injured shortstop Leo Cardenas, Ruiz stormed into the managers office with an ultimatum. “Bench me or trade me!” He was traded to the Angels, where he had a Gilbert Arenas moment with teammate Alex Johnson, allegedly pulling a gun on Johnson in the clubhouse. In 1972, he died in a car accident in San Diego. He was 33-years old. In his 8-year career, he stole home one time.

RELATED: A must read piece from the SI Vault. A 1989 article in which Steve Wulf recalls being 13 and having his heart broken by the Phils in ’64.

9 Comments on “Chico F***ing Ruiz and the Bonehead Play of the Year”

  1. Alan Booth says:

    That photograph is a nightmare in itself. Ruiz, whom the sportswriters have already tagged as a few bricks short of a load (and indeed he certainly looks the part) can’t run very well either. No wonder old Philly fans are suffering nightmares that will never end. Common sense and mental health suggest that they avoid that photo like a bad habit.

  2. Judge Crater says:

    Sorry Philly fans, but Chico knew exactly what he was doing … and his sprint for home was a whole lot smarter than y’all realize. Here’s why:

    1. You always DO want to steal home with a right-handed batter at the plate. The catcher’s sight line and ability to make the tag is a whole lot harder than with a left-hander at the plate.

    2. Stealing with an 0-2 count is smart, too. What do pitchers do, at 0-2? At least 80% of the time, ESPECIALLY against a tough hitter like Frank Robinson, they are likely to waste one outside the strike zone. The chances of a passed ball, wild pitch or awkward bit of glove work go way up. That is exactly what happened. No surprise.

    3. Robinson liked to crowd the plate, figuring that he might sometimes get hit by an inside pitch, but that he could then turn on an outside pitch and pull it. (Read his 1968 bio “My Life Is Baseball” for more details.) Bad for Ruiz? No that wasn’t! It meant the tempting way to pitch him was a few inches wide of the plate on the first base side, inviting Robinson to chase a pitch that he couldn’t hit. Do that — and the catcher has an even harder job swiveling around to try to nail Ruiz.

    5. Scoreless tie against a tough pitcher is exactly when you should steal home. Jackie Robinson — an expert on stealing home — makes this point. When Robinson is down to his last strike with two out, he’s no longer the .306 hitter that he was for 1964 overall. Most hitters give up about 70 BA points at 0-2, so he’s notionally a .240 hitter at best. And if Robinson is out, the inning is over with a guy stranded on third. If Ruiz has even a 40% chance of stealing home, sending him is the smart play.

    5. It’s only the Phillies who claim Ruiz was “stupid” — and that’s the sort of asinine thing that a perpetual loser would say. Ruiz’s play worked. As the factors above show, it was very likely to work. No one on the Reds grumbled about it.

    If the Phillies were a championship team that year, they would have accepted the Reds’ cunning as part of the game, and regrouped just fine the next day. In any 162-game season, you’re going to have a couple games that go bad for the damnedest reasons. It’s like double-bogeying a hole in golf. You can let go of it and still have a good round, or you can poison your head with useless rage and take a double-bogey attitude through the rest of the afternoon.

    I’m liking everything about Chico Ruiz’s move — except the pitiful slide. He looks like the Disco Duck heading into the plate.

    You’re only quoting Phillie players about the supposed “stupidity” of Ruiz’s move

  3. Carlton Baxter says:

    Interesting article, I was only 9 that season, but have some memories. Saw Phils once anyhow, earlier in season. Wanted to see Bunning pitch, but still saw quite a game. Reds won, 14-4. Wes Covington was knocked cold by a pitch, very scary, especially seeing it from Reds’ box just a few yards away.
    About Chico Ruiz. Met him at a clinic in Dayton the Reds would held annually over All-Star break.
    He was very, very nice and friendly, and I learned more in that morning about fielding than in two years of little league. May have had a less than stellar career, but still, he made the bigs and had a lot he could teach.
    Thanks, Chico Ruiz, for bein’ a good guy and for making me a better player.

  4. Marc Rettus says:

    Garbage article. The Phillies had Richie Allen and Johnny Callison, in addition to Cookie Rojas.

    I second everything the Judge wrote. It sounds like he actually knows something about baseball.

    Perhaps never before or since can a manager be blamed as much for a team’s lousy play. It all started in mid-August, when “The Genius” pitched Bunning out of turn at Houston.

    BTW, Pinson getting thrown out at second was just as “stupid” as Ruiz play.

    Then Mauch having his best hitter BUNT a few times down the stretch……………

    Then Mauch went into full panic mode. He cost the team the pennant. But, he’s a genius.

  5. Mike Jarboe says:

    Was an 11-year-old listening to the game on the radio. And thus began the worst two weeks of my life. My neighbor also listened to the game and died of a heart attack afterward. At least he was spared the agony

  6. Fireblossom says:

    Awesome post! I was searching images for Chico Ruiz for my baseball replay blog, and came upon this. Henceforth, he shall always be Chico F. Ruiz!

  7. Mark Momorella says:

    The steal of the 20th Century !

  8. Wheat Bernhold says:

    The most exciting pennant race in National League
    history! The Phillies beat the Reds the last two
    games of the year at Crosley Field in Cinncinnati
    to “steal” the pennant away from the Reds at “home”. A bittersweet, “what if” ending for both

  9. Baseball Mike says:

    Very interesting article and equally interesting comments. Judge made some excellent points and backed them up with reasonable stats.

    However, as some erroneously posted, the article doesn’t just mention Phillie players who thought it was a dumb move.

    “It was,” said Pete Rose years later, “The dumbest play I’ve ever seen. Except that it worked.”

    That being said, I think the reason it was a stupid move has nothing to do with strategy or probability or baseball smarts (again, as Judge did a terrific job of pointing out), but instead that HE COULD HAVE BEEN KILLED! If Robinson swings, even if he hits the ball, Ruiz is likely to be hit somewhere by the bat. Worst case scenario, he gets it in the head. I wasn’t born until 1970 so I obviously don’t remember the play, but are they wearing helmets or still just wearing caps at this point? It really doesn’t matter, because an earless batting helmet isn’t going to protect your head from a bat being swung by Frank Robinson.

    If Robinson had been given the signal and known that Ruiz was coming (which is dumb because you’re telling him not to swing when he has two strikes on him, but whatever) then it was a not-as-dumb play because at least Ruiz wouldn’t have had to worry about being dead, let alone out. But if he just did it on his own, as is suggested by the article and the comments within it, then I have to agree that it was pretty stupid to do it. Or at least reckless.

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