By IAN WILSON
A barefoot pitcher, a chimpanzee chasing players around the diamond, a missing mascot head and much, much more.
Minor-league baseball really does have it all and Tim Hagerty knows that better than most people.
As the broadcaster of the Triple-A El Paso Chihuahuas, who has been calling baseball games for nearly two decades, Hagerty has seen a lot of crazy things happen at the ballpark.
With his new book Tales from the Dugout: 1,001 Humorous, Inspirational & Wild Anecdotes from Minor League Baseball, the author is sharing his findings on some of the more unusual things that have happened at the ball diamond. Some of those abnormal occurrences took place in Alberta and Canada, as well.
We caught up with Hagerty to pick his brain about the book and baseball’s odd events over the decades. Here’s what he had to say:
Q: Let’s start with the origins of this book. Where did the idea come from for Tales from the Dugout?
A: In 2012, when researching something else, I came across an 1880s newspaper article about a wild bull running on the field during a Texas League game in Austin. I thought, if I’ve never heard this story, most fans probably haven’t either. So I spent the next decade compiling the craziest minor league stories of the past and present.
Q: There’s a lot of information in the book. How did you go about your research for this project and how long did that take?
A: I had an ongoing document I’d add to whenever I heard a wild story or read about a unique game that had just happened. For stories from minor league history, I used newspaper archives, Spalding & Reach annual guides, Baseball Digest archives and baseball books. SABR (Society for American Baseball Research) member Al Arrighi helped with research, as well. I started actively working on it in 2013.
Q: You are a Triple-A broadcaster with the El Paso Chihuahuas. Were you able to witness any of the anecdotes you shared in this book first hand? If not, what are some of the crazier scenes you’ve seen on the minor league baseball beat?
A: I’d say about 20 of the 1,001 stories are from games I witnessed in person. The book’s foreword is from Billy Butler and he shares what it was like to play third base in Casper, Wyoming with a snake in front of him in the grass. I was the broadcaster for that rookie-league game in 2004.
I also filled time on the air when Double-A Mobile pitcher Matt Elliott locked himself in the dugout bathroom in Montgomery. He was upset about allowing a home run, slammed the door and broke the lock. He had to leave the game and Montgomery’s fire department had to come and get him out. That story’s in the book, as well.
Q: Alberta has a rich history of affiliated minor league baseball, including rookie-level Pioneer League baseball in Medicine Hat, Lethbridge and Calgary and Triple-A Pacific Coast League (PCL) action in Calgary and Edmonton. You explore some of the unique baseball history from our province. Do you have a favourite bit of Alberta baseball trivia you can share with us?
A: I loved discovering that Calgary, Edmonton, Lethbridge and Medicine Hat hosted night games in 1907, long before ballpark lights were the standard. They were able to do it because of your late sunsets.
I also got a great story from broadcaster Steve Klauke about the sprinklers coming on one night in Calgary in 1997 and the grounds crew was unable to shut them off. That’s when a priest emerged from the stands with a bucket, put the bucket over a sprinkler, and sat on the bucket to contain the water. The headline above that story in the book is “Holy Water.”
Q: One of the bits of information you shared was the rare triple-header, which happened for the Calgary Cannons at Foothills Stadium in 1988. I was intrigued by this so I looked up the game story and box scores. In doing so, I discovered that future MLB stars Omar Vizquel and Edgar Martinez played in all three games. Did you have any anecdotes that sent you down a rabbit hole that led to further interesting discoveries?
A: Absolutely. I love that you checked the box scores! I know the feeling. When a former player told me about a fly ball that disappeared from a Double-A game in New Jersey in 1978, I had to know the details. I spoke to players who were on the field, employees at the park and a fan who was there. The ball just vanished. The umpires decided to give the batter a double.
Q: Baseball seems to have a knack for odd happenings. In particular, minor league baseball is a familiar home for the unusual. Why do you think the minors are such fertile ground for strange occurrences?
A: I think it’s because so many cities have had minor league teams throughout the years and those teams played so many games every season. There have been so many opportunities for strange occurrences.
Q: Your book includes a lot of instances from a long time ago, but it also includes very current trivia, which I really enjoy. Do you keep tabs on bizarre baseball experiences? Is this an ongoing obsession that will lead to another volume or updated version of Tales from the Dugout?
A: I love baseball stories and feel they’re the most interesting and fun part of the game. When deciding if a story was worthy of being in the book, I asked “would a non-baseball fan find this interesting?” I don’t think there will be a sequel to Tales from the Dugout. I want to focus on letting people know how great the illustrations and stories are in this one.
Q: In our work, we occasionally discover some stories that might be worthy of inclusion in your book. We’ve written about the Medicine Hat Blue Jays general manager camping out at Athletic Park until a lengthy 1988 losing streak came to an end, and as recently as last year players from two Western Canadian Baseball League (WCBL) squads wore cowboy hats for an entire game. In addition, we saw a walk-off hit last year in Lethbridge that took place under fireworks, a la the movie The Natural. Should we track some of this for you and send it your way or just enjoy that it happened!?
A: Thank you for sharing those! And feel free to send me any memorable event that you see. Your first story reminds me of the Vermont Lake Monsters’ front office sleeping in the dugout until their team won a game in 2003, and your second story reminds me of the early-1900s Pendleton Buckaroos wearing cowboy hats in their official team photo.
Q: What’s next for you as both a broadcaster and an author? What can we look forward to from Tim Hagerty?
A: I look forward to the next El Paso Chihuahuas season. We’re the Triple-A affiliate of the San Diego Padres. It’s a tremendous ballpark and fan base here.
I also look forward to talking to more people like you and giving potential readers a flavour of the book. I think casual fans and passionate fans will both like it. I got to go on MLB Network to talk about it recently, which was a great thrill.
Q: Thanks so much for your time and best of luck with promoting the book.
A: Thanks for having me, Ian. I’m impressed by your site.