Flashback Friday: The Catcher Who Looked Like a Beer Can

Remembering Dave Criscione’s lone career home run

by Matthew Taylor

This week the Birds celebrated the 25th anniversary of the team’s 1983 World Series championship, which led The Sun’s Dan Connolly on Wednesday to reminisce about Tito Landrum, he of the 39 career regular season games with the Birds.

Landrum’s lone post season home run as an Oriole – to match his lone regular season home run with the team – was timely enough to make the career .249 hitter a legend in Baltimore. Wrote Connolly: “Landrum … was to Baltimore what Bucky Dent and Aaron Boone are to New York and what Francisco Cabrera is to Atlanta.”

At his Corner Sports Bar blog, Connolly invited discussion of the question “What is the greatest homer in O’s history?” One astute commenter referenced the effort of Dave Criscione in 1977.

“This doesn’t qualify as a ‘greatest’ home run as far as impact, but it sure was memorable. The Orioles had called up a journeyman catcher named Dave Criscione in 1977. Just by looking at Criscione, you knew it would only be a short-term thing, and his major league career consisted of seven games and 9 at-bats. One of those at-bats, though, was a walk-off home run in extra innings to beat Milwaukee. I remember reading the story in the paper the next day about how Criscione, while being interviewed, would suddenly let out a shout as if he couldn’t believe what he had just done. That one is memorable to me.”

Talk about timing, Criscione didn’t just hit one home run in his Orioles career, he hit one home run in his entire Major League career. This week’s Flashback Friday takes you back to that day on July 25, 1977, and Criscione’s magical eleventh inning moment that for some, including Oriole Poet, embodied “The Oriole Way.”

“Whenever I think of the ‘Oriole Way’ I think of Dave Criscione, a seemingly nondescript catcher who played in seven games during the 1977 season. He batted nine times and collected three hits–a career .333 hitter. He was originally drafted by the Senators in 1969 and played for the Rochester Red Wings. One night in late July, the Orioles were tied 3-3 with the Brewers going into the bottom of the eleventh inning. Weaver sent Criscione to the plate to pitch hit for Dave Scaggs. I remember watching this game on a black-and-white TV. Criscione drilled a Sammy Hinds pitch into the left field bleachers to win the game. I remember him jumping the last few steps to home plate like it was the greatest moment in his life. He was never heard from again and out of baseball soon thereafter. In those days, Earl could insert a role player in any situation and that player would deliver. That was the Oriole Way. That was Oriole baseball. What I want is someone with the heart of Dave Criscione who can step up to the plate with the game on the line and jack one out. In only nine major league at bats, all for the Orioles, Criscione won a game. For the past ten years, we have been the team that gives up that homerun.”

Another guy who remembers the occasion well, albeit for different reasons, is current MLB Commissioner Bud Selig. As with some past Flashback Fridays, Roar from 34 looks to Daniel Okrent’s “Nine Innings” for the inside details.

“After the company of his fellow owners – the only people, family expected, whose calls Selig’s secretary, Lori Keck, would put through to him in his box during a game – and after shoulder-rubbing with his players, Selig most enjoyed the give-and-take with out-of-town reporters who came into Milwaukee with the visiting teams ….

Selig loved to partake, and today the target was Benny Ayala, the rather graceless Baltimore outfielder whose hitting had hurt the Brewers badly in the first game of the series. ‘Benny Ayalluh?’ Selig said, his voice rising in incredulity. ‘And you guys call this a baseball team?’

Selig walked along the back row of the two-tier press box, tugging on one of his omnipresent Cherry Tipalet cigars, his eyes gleaming, his toothy grin making him seem a boy in a business suit. ‘Beaten by Benny Ayala! Not since … what was his name? The catcher who looked like a beer can?’ ‘Dave Criscione,’ someone said, referring to an improbably figure from the Baltimore past whose ninth-inning hit in a 1977 game had beaten the Brewers. ‘yeah, Dave Crish-ee-own-ee,’ Selig said, masticating the syllables with sarcastic glee. ‘And now Ben-nee Eye-all-uh. Powers! Immortals!'” (pp. 105-106)

Check out the box score from that 1977 game. Note that Lenn Sakata, then of the Brewers, homered in the top of the ninth off of Dennis Martinez to help send the game into extra innings.

Criscione appeared at the 2007 Hall of Fame induction weekend, where he joined in the Legends for Youth Skills Clinic. Asked to name his favorite Hall of Fame player, Criscione went with a hometown favorite: “I’d have to say my favorite is going to be inducted this week — Cal Ripken.”

[Image Source: Oriole Poet. Click photo for original.]

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About mptaylor11

Roar from 34, a Baltimore Orioles Blog. Humor. History. Homerism. Since 2006.
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