Monday, June 4, 2012
Pedro Borbon was a character out of Damon Runyan’s typewriter, except Pedro Borbon was not a piece of fiction, he was a real character, with point of emphasis on character.
If I hadn’t been there, if I hadn’t seen most of it in person, I would never believe the stuff I saw out of Borbon - on and off the field, mostly off.
Borbon, 65, a member of the Cincinnati Reds Hall of Fame, died Monday and there are those who say he might bite his way out of the coffin.
Among other things, Borbon was a practitioner of voodoo.
AFTER PITCHING FOR 10 years out of the Reds bullpen from 1970 to 1979, Borbon was traded to the San Francisco Giants for Hector Cruz. Borbon was so angry that he put a hex on the Reds and said, “They’ll never win another championship.”
Borbon pitched on championship teams for the Reds in 1970, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1976 and 1979.
The hex worked. In 1981 it really worked. There was a players’ strike in 1981 that interrupted the season, so baseball decided to divide the season in two halves, with division winners of each half meeting in a playoff.
The Reds had the best record in all of baseball for all games in 1981, but they didn’t win either half and didn’t make the playoffs and Borbon snickered in delight.
Then in 1982 they lost 101 games, most in franchise history. When Pete Rose managed in the late 80’s, they had three second-place finishes and Borbon snickered some more.
FINALLY, IN 1990, Borbon said, “I’ve lifted the curse.” And the Reds went wire-to-wire to win the division and swept the Oakland Athletics in the World Series. They should have voted Borbon a World Series share.
When the phrase, ‘Rubber arm,’ is used, they should show people a picture of Borbon to display what it means. He could pitch and pitch and pitch. Not only did he never have a sore arm, he never applied a single ice cube to his arm during his entire career. Never took treatment. He must have left it all up to Jobu, the mythical idol worshiped by Pedro Soriano in the movie ‘Major League.’
FROM 1972 TO 1977, Borbon was in the top five in appearances every year. Manager Sparky Anderson never asked Borbon, “Are you ready?” He just called him to the mound when necessary.
From 1970 to 1978 he appeared in more games than any pitcher in the National League and his 531 appearances for the Reds remain a record.
General manager Bob Howsam is credited with many outstanding trades and one of the unheralded ones was when he traded outfielder Alex Johnson and utility infielder Chico Ruiz to the California Angels for pitcher Jim McGlothlin, infielder Vern Geishert and Borbon. Borbon was a throw-in on the deal.
BORBON WAS PROUD of his Dominican heritage and often talked of his hobby, cockfighting. And when Riverfront Stadium was invaded one year by cicadas, Borbon made a bundle by betting teammates he would bite the heads off cicadas. Then he did it — over and over and over as he raked in the $20 bills.
One day I walked into the clubhouse just in time to see equipment manager Bernie Stowe walk over to Borbon’s locker, carrying a glove he had repaired. There was a long strand of rawhide hanging from the glove, where Stowe had re-strung it. It was too long and dangled a foot or so off the glove.
Instead of using industrial-sized scissors, Stowe took the glove to Borbon and he bit off the excess rawhide in one snap of his jaws.
I was amazed and as I stood there gap-jawed, Stowe said, “Strongest, sharpest teeth you ever saw. He does that all the time for me.”
THOSE SHARP TEETH became national treasures during the 1973 playoffs when Cincinnati’s Pete Rose and New York Mets’ shortstop Bud Harrelson engaged in a second base wrestling match. A brawl broke out on the field with equipment and hats strewn around the infield.
When the skirmish was over, Borbon picked up a hat and put it on his head. It was a New York Mets hat owned by Cleon Jones. When teammates pointed at it and laughed, Borbon yanked it off his head and bit a hunk out of the bill.
Try that. Just trying biting the bill of your baseball cap. Then call the dentist.
THEN THERE WAS the time the Reds were to embark on a 10-day road trip and Borbon had just acquired a German Shepherd. With nobody to watch it, Borbon left a large bag of dog food and a tub of water for the beast and left with his team.
When he returned, he was shocked to see his apartment turned into an indoor pigpen, complete with locked-in odor and enough dog droppings to fertilize a football field. And the rented furniture was gnarled into splinters.
Borbon was nearly finished when the Reds traded him in 1979. By May of 1980 he was finished.
Gone but not forgotten.
When the baseball players struck again during spring training of 1994, baseball, in one of its dumber decisions, decided to try to play the season with replacement players, strike-breakers — a bunch of retired guys, guys who had been cut from major-league teams in the past, minor-leaguers with no chance to make it in the majors, truck drivers, physical education teachers and burger flippers.
Jim Bowden, general manager at the time, decided to pull a publicity stunt and announced that the Reds had a mystery pitcher coming to spring training camp to pitch for the Reds. He kept it a closely guarded secret.
On the designated day, in walked 47-year-old Pedro Borbon. It was a joke, but the thing is, Borbon was serious, and thought he really could pitch. And you know what? He probably could.Tweet