Bob Bailey: Pirates bonus baby, original Expo, Reds world champion


Bob Bailey

Bob Bailey was one of the last of the big bonus babies before the amateur draft was implemented, earning more than $100,000 the day after his high school graduation, according to his bio at sabr.org (estimates, according to the bio, range from $125,000 to $175,000). Bailey, who died this week at 75, never played up to the level of the bonus for the Pirates, the team that signed him, but did for the expansion Montreal Expos nearly a decade later. His childhood friend Jeff Severson said Bailey was “the Babe Ruth of Long Beach (Calif.),” according to a story in the Long Beach Press-Telegram. “All I remember about those days was running over the fence to retrieve the ball that Bob hit,” Severson said, according to the Press-Telegram. The Pirates were duly impressed, signed him, and after Bailey hit .299 with 28 homers, 108 RBIs and 99 walks in AAA in 1962, promoted him to the majors at age 19. After the season, the Pirates traded starting third baseman Don Hoak, of City Slickers fame, to clear the position. Billy Crystal may know who played third base for the 1960 Pirates, but try 1963. That was Bailey’s first year, and he hit just .228. His average improved — .281, .256, .279 — but he hit just 47 homers over four seasons. The Pirates traded Bailey with Gene Michael — who achieved far more success in the Yankees’ front office — for Maury Wills to Bailey’s hometown Dodgers, where his fortunes changed. They got worse. “I still think he’s going to be a fine hitter one of these days,” Pirates GM Joe Brown said upon trading Bailey, according to sabr.org, but he wasn’t in L.A. Bailey hit .227 in consecutive seasons — 73-for-322 in each — and homered rarely (12 times in two seasons). Bailey turned 26 after the 1968 season and the Dodgers sold him to the expansion Expos, where he became the hitter the Pirates invested in. Joe Brown was right. Bailey got the first Expos hit and drove in their first run (two of them, thanks to an error and walk), doubling in their first inning off Hall of Famer Tom Seaver. The 1969 Expos won the opener at Shea Stadium, 11-10, but were just 51-110 thereafter; Seaver and the Mets went on to have a pretty good season. Bailey, according to the Montreal Gazette, became the first Expo to homer twice in a game, doing so on June 22 and again on June 24 (he hit four homers in those two games; in the season’s other 160 games, he hit just five more). The day after his second two-homer game, Bailey started the Expos’ first triple play, catching a Vada Pinson line drive, and according to the Montreal Gazette, stepping on first for out number two, and throwing to shortstop Bobby Wine for out number three. Bailey hit only .269 with nine homers in 1969, but it was in his second Expos season that he became one of the team’s first stars. Bailey hit .287 with a career-high 28 homers, walked 72 times, and triple-slashed .287/407/597 for a 1.004 OPS. Bailey had only 429 plate appearances — he was hitting .107 with one homer as of June 4 — but had he enough to qualify, his 1.004 would have ranked third in the NL. Only Willie McCovey (1.056) and Rico Carty (1.037) were better, and only Jim Hickman (1.001) also above 1.000. In June, July and August of 1970, there might not have been a better hitter in MLB than Bailey — he batted .385, hit 22 homers and had slugging percentages, by months respectively, of .913, 1.079 and .663. In July he had 18 extra-base hits, 10 of them homers, in 63 at-bats. Bailey’s final four seasons in Montreal didn’t match 1970, but he did hit 26 homers with an .868 OPS in 1973 and 20 more with 100 walks and an .842 OPS in 1974. His 1973 season included a two-homer, 7-RBI day on July 3 in a 19-8 win over the Mets. The fans, according to his bio at sabr.org, gave him four standing ovations. “That was the greatest thing that ever happened to me,” Bailey said, according to the website. The Expos traded Bailey after the 1975 season to the Reds, and Bailey played sparingly but well for the 1976 world champions, batting .298, slugging .508 and homering twice on July 3 in a 9-8 win over the Astros (for his career, Bailey batted .405 on July 3 with 18 RBIs in 37 at-bats). Bailey didn’t play in the 1976 postseason, which the Reds swept. Reds teammate Johnny Bench tweeted after learning of Bailey’s death: “A character and a talent that brought me plenty of enjoyment. He gave me a tip one day on how to hit Randy Jones. I hit three home runs that night.” (Bench did hit three homers off Randy Jones in a single game, but it wasn’t until 1980. Bailey hadn’t been a Red since 1977, or an active player since 1978, though the game was at San Diego, a two-hour drive from Bailey’s hometown of Long Beach.) Bailey was traded to the Red Sox late in 1977 and spent his last season mostly on Boston’s bench, playing in just 43 games. Bailey managed in the minor leagues — he was the Hawaii Islanders’ last manager in 1987 — and acknowledged overcoming alcohol and gambling problems in a 2014 interview with the Press Telegram. Bailey and his wife Karen, whom he began dating, according to the Press-Telegram in ninth grade, were married for 56 years. Career totals: .257 average, .347 on-base percentage, .750 OPS, 189 homers, 773 RBIs, 1,564 hits, 772 runs scored, 234 doubles, 852 walks, 1,126 strikeouts, 195 double plays grounded into, 17 seasons, 1,931 games, 111 OPS+, 28.7 WAR, 1 Hall of Fame vote in 1984, his only year on the ballot, five homers apiece — most off any pitcher — off Phil Niekro, Ferguson Jenkins and Steve Carlton, Hall of of Famers all.

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