The unlikely tales of Kevin Bass and Jeff Manto
“The hitters came out today.”
Box score: June 8, 1995
Kevin Bass hit five home runs in his lone season with the Orioles; one just happened to land on Eutaw Street.
On June 8, 1995, Bass took Saloman Torres deep in the first inning. The ball bounced off of the pavement beyond the right field courtyard and into an open window at the Warehouse. The Orioles went on to defeat the Mariners by a score of 8-2 with Mike Mussina picking up the win. The next day’s papers reported that Bass’ hit traveled 409 feet; however, the Eutaw Street baseball commemorating the accomplishment lists the ball as having traveled 410 feet. And so it shall stand.
Bass’ shot followed a Brady Anderson leadoff home run, the ninth such home run of Anderson’s career to that point. (In 1996 Anderson broke Bobby Bonds’ 1973 record by leading off twelve games with a homer.) The back-to-back blasts continued a pattern as all but one of the first four Eutaw Street home runs came during multi-homer innings.
While four hitters stroked balls onto Eutaw Street before Bass did so, not one of them played for the Birds. Bass, who tallied 118 home runs during a 14-year major league career that ended in Baltimore, was an unlikely candidate to be the Birds’ first “bronze bomber,” but Eutaw Street is about moments more than monuments, and Bass’s blast was the final in a series of individual anecdotes about a player who looked to be headed toward a storybook career.
In 1986 Bass was named to the National League All-Star team. He batted .311, with 20 home runs and 22 steals for the Astros, who lost in the NLCS to the fabled Mets team that won the 1986 World Series. In the sixth and final game of that year’s NLCS, Bass struck out swinging in the 16th inning with runners on first and second. The Astros lost the game, 7-6, and the series, four games to two.
One year later, on Aug. 3, 1987, Bass joined the baseball fraternity of switch hitters to homer from both sides of the plate in the same game. Oriole legend Eddie Murray leads the pack, having done so 11 times overall. The others to do so in Orange and Black are Don Buford (April 9, 1970), Mike Young (Aug. 13, 1985), Mickey Tettleton (June 13, 1988), and Roberto Alomar (July 25, 1996 and Aug. 14, 1996).
Earlier in 1987, on June 27, Bass legged out a seventh-inning double when a single would have allowed him to have hit for the cycle, an act that forever endeared him to Houston fans. The Astros led the Giants 6-2 at the time.
Injury and the baseball strike ultimately limited Bass’ effectiveness in the ’90s.
However unlikely Bass’ 1995 accomplishment in Baltimore may have been, it paled in comparison to the developing story of Jeff Manto. On the same day that Bass went deep – very deep – Manto homered twice, the first two-homer game of his major league career. His four RBI also were a career best.
Thom Loverro of The Washington Times began to burnish the Manto legend the following day.
“Jeff Manto, who has had the letters AAA associated with his name more than the motor club during his 10-year minor league career, led the Baltimore Orioles with two home runs and four RBI in an 8-2 victory over the Seattle Mariners before 40,730 yesterday at Camden Yards.
Manto, 30, is a walking tribute to the will to survive in baseball. After signing with the Angels in 1985, he played for eight minor league teams, plus brief stops in Cleveland and Philadelphia, before he was traded by the New York Mets to the Orioles on May 19, 1994, for minor league pitcher Mike Cook.
Manto went on to have a monster season with Rochester, batting 310 with 27 homers and 83 RBI in just 94 games. He was also named the International League’s MVP. He caught Regan’s eye early in spring training, and when Leo Gomez began slumping at third, Regan inserted Manto. Since then, he has become a regular, batting .299 with six homers and 17 RBI in 27 games.
Despite this success, Manto refuses to believe he has finally won a major league job.
‘I play every game like it’s my last, and in the past, it usually was,’ he said. ‘This game has frustrated me, kicked me and spit on me too many time before. I won’t set myself up for a letdown. I’ve done that too often in my career.'”
Manto finished the season – like Bass, his lone year with the Orioles – with 17 home runs. The team mounted a hopeful push for Manto as a write-in candidate to the 1995 All-Star Game, but the effort fell short.
Manto played five more seasons in the majors, never totaling more than six home runs in any one year. He finished his major league career with the Colorado Rockies in 2000. Meanwhile, Bass played his final major league game on Oct. 1, 1995.