July 7, 1974
The 1974 season was Darrel Chaney’s sixth in the big leagues with Cincinnati. He was the club’s primary backup infielder at shortstop, second base, and third base. And although he wanted more playing time, he adjusted to his new role.
“Sparky Anderson told me, ‘I want to use you in a position where you’re coming off the bench, and you’ll play against righties most of the time, because Davey [Concepcion, the shortstop] has the starting job’ (we platooned in 1972 and Davey got the job in 1973),” Chaney recalled.
Sparky also asked Chaney to abandon switch-hitting and bat exclusively from the left side.
“Yes, at least for that year, Sparky said he wanted me to go all left-handed. Fortunately, he let me work on that in the big leagues and didn’t send me back to the minors for it.”
It was not necessarily a smooth transition.
“Earlier that year, we had an exhibition game against Indianapolis, and I tried it,” Chaney said. “Dave Tomlin was pitching for Indy, and he hit me right above my ear with a fastball – I was looking for the breaking ball, and it didn’t come. I had a knot the size of a baseball.”
“I wanted to hang in there against the left-hander,” he explained.
The results were different July 7 against St. Louis.
Rich Folkers was on the mound in relief for the Cardinals with the bases loaded, and Chaney thought he might be pinch-hit for; he had seen it happen to other players, even though it was early in the game.
“I was kind of looking over my shoulder, thinking Sparky might bring in a right-handed hitter,” Chaney said.
But he didn’t. And Chaney was ready.
“The count went to 2-0, and Folkers threw a fastball. I crunched it; I hit it off the facing of the green seats [lower deck] in Riverfront Stadium. In fact, it was bouncing back toward second base while I was running the bases; I almost wanted to pick it up.
“I never felt the ball hit the bat like that before,” he was quoted at the time.
“Everything was so smooth,” he told me. “The ball just jumped off the bat. I didn’t think I swung hard, and I didn’t feel like the ball was hit that hard. I knew I hit it solid, but the ball just took off.”
“I almost missed first base,” he said after the game.
I asked Chaney about the trip around the bases.
“Well, when you don’t hit that many [he had 14 career home runs] you think, ‘that ball might be off the wall; I better get going.’ I was looking up to see if it was off the wall or not. I’ll tell you, it got out of there quick.
“But I did make contact with the bag,” he laughed. He did touch all of the bases, and the Reds won the game.
Chaney had a unique way to preserve the memory of his big swing of the bat.
“Joe Nuxhall gave me a videocassette of the at-bat,” he said, “and after I got traded to the Braves in 1976, I played it for everyone who came over to my house: ‘here’s a really cool moment in my career.’ A neighbor who worked for AT&T suggested I hook it up to my doorbell, and he helped me do it.
“So when someone pushed the button, instead of ding-dong! they heard Marty Brennaman say
Swung on! Drive! Deep right field! Darrel Chaney has just hit a grand slam home run off Rich Folkers! Look at Darrel Chaney! He’s dancing around the bases!
“And then I would open the front door.”
“I could also adjust the volume so the whole neighborhood could hear it,” he said. “I had that hooked up for as long as we owned that house.”
Darrel Chaney has coauthored a book, Welcome to the Big Leagues: Every Man’s Journey to Significance, about his baseball career and his spiritual journey. He’s also in demand as a motivational speaker. To learn more, check out his Web site, darrelchaney.com.