SAN DIEGO -- Three dozen or so former Major Leaguers got together for an MLB Alumni event on Tuesday night at Petco Park.The receptions are held at Major League ballparks across the country, giving alums an opportunity to reconnect, learn about projects and initiatives for alums and, of course, swap
SAN DIEGO -- Three dozen or so former Major Leaguers got together for an MLB Alumni event on Tuesday night at Petco Park.
The receptions are held at Major League ballparks across the country, giving alums an opportunity to reconnect, learn about projects and initiatives for alums and, of course, swap stories.
At one point, all of them got together for a group photo.
"All the short guys in the front," said Dan Boone, standing front and center for the picture.
Boone always has been small in stature, but that didn't prevent him from reaching the big leagues.
The 5-foot-8 left-hander made the Majors with the Padres in 1981 before being traded to the Astros during the 1982 season. His brief career seemed over after that season before Boone made a memorable return with the Orioles eight years later.
His career may have lasted longer if more teams had the gumption to go with the little guy.
"I believe I'm the lightest pitcher that's ever pitched in the big leagues," said Boone, 64, who was drafted out of Cal State Fullerton by the Angels in 1976. "I've never done a study, but I want to do that. I weighed 130.
"My baseball cards say different. I wanted to be 145 because maybe the Padres, Angels, or whoever, felt embarrassed having a 130-pound pitcher on the mound because it's not in anybody's mind to see somebody that small."
Imagine the disparity during Boone's rookie season in '81 when Padres manager Frank Howard -- at 6 feet 7 inches, the tallest manager in Major League history - would come out to make a pitching change.
"And he would stand right at the top of the mound," said Boone, shaking his head.
Say this for Howard, he gave Boone a chance to realize his dream. After being released by the Angels in 1980, Boone was signed by the Padres and spent another year in the Minors. He made the '81 team out of Spring Training, earning the 10th spot on the 10-man pitching staff.
Boone made it despite a fastball that topped out at just 83 mph. He had an extensive repertoire of other pitches -- curveball, sinker, slider, screwball.
"He knew how to pitch," said former Padres pitcher Randy Jones, a contemporary of Boone's who won the 1976 National League Cy Young Award. "He was a lot like me, not overpowering stuff. He wasn't going to do that. He could extract a weakness from a hitter and could be effective doing that."
Boone made his Major League debut in a relief outing in the season-opening series against the Giants.
A few days later, he pitched 4 2/3 innings of relief in the Padres' home opener against a Cincinnati team that still had several cogs remaining from the Big Red Machine.
Particularly memorable was Reds future Hall of Fame catcher Johnny Bench booming a double off the 17-foot wall in center field at San Diego Stadium. Boone had that in mind two weeks later, when the teams met again at Cincinnati's Riverfront Stadium. Bench was at the plate again, and he was wearing Boone out again.
"I'm throwing curveballs, screwballs, I'm throwing him everything," Boone recalls. "Anything close in his zone, 'Whack!' I threw a screwball to him, he took a hellacious swing and the ball is going right down the left-field line, two runners on bases and I'm thinking, 'Oh, Lord, please let it go foul.' It hooked at the last second and went foul."
With a new ball in his hands, Boone is thinking, "What do I throw this guy now?"
Padres catcher Terry Kennedy had an idea. Boone also threw a knuckleball, although that particular pitch was still waiting to make its Major League debut.
Kennedy squats back down behind the plate and puts down the sign, extending all five fingers.
"And he's just grinning from ear to ear from behind his mask," Boone said. "I can't smile or laugh or anything. It's the first time I've thrown it in a game.
"I throw it, and the ball is going right down the middle. Johnny Bench takes another hellacious swing and at the last second the ball takes a dip and he swings and misses it.
"Thank the Lord."
Boone was running wind sprints in the outfield before the following night's game when he bumped into Bench.
"Hey, they told me you had every pitch," Bench said, "but they didn't tell me you had a knuckleball. And it was a good one."
Said Boone: "My heart almost exploded hearing that from a Hall of Famer."
Boone made 37 appearances, all in relief, that season for the Padres, going 1-0 with two saves and a 2.86 ERA. He made 20 more appearances in 1982 before the midseason trade to the Astros.
The following season, Boone was back in the Minor Leagues. A year later, Boone was released in midseason by Triple-A Vancouver and his professional career was seemingly over.
Or so he thought.
In the mid-1980s, Boone worked in construction to support his wife and three daughters. He still played in a men's hardball league in San Diego. He dominated hitters - going 40-3 - while developing that knuckleball.
"I was settled in, taking care of my family," Boone said. "Never thought of (a comeback) for one minute."
Then, in 1989, the Senior Professional Baseball Association was founded in Florida for players 35-and-over.
Boone's dream was rekindled, and he walked away from a $60,000-a-year job as a construction company superintendent.
He called his boss and said, "I know I probably won't have a job when I get back, but I've just got to go and test this out. I never heard from him again."
Boone signed to play with the Bradenton Explorers. He went 4-3 with a 3.16 ERA. His knuckleball caught the eye of the legendary Birdie Tebbetts, then semi-retired in Florida and scouting for Baltimore.
"He told me he was looking for a guy that pitched in the big leagues who had come up with a pitch he didn't use as a main pitch back in the day," Boone said. "And that was my No. 5 pitch. That's what keyed him in."
The Orioles signed him to a Minor League contract and assigned him to Triple-A Rochester. Boone split his time between starting and relieving, going 11-5 with a 2.60 ERA.
The performance earned him a September call-up. At 36, Boone was back in the big leagues, where one more memorable moment awaited.
After three relief appearances, Boone made his first - and only - start in the Major Leagues in the second game of a doubleheader at Cleveland on Sept. 30, 1990.
"It was a dream come true, and I have (Baltimore manager) Frank Robinson to thank for that," Boone said. "I was nervous as heck, but it was at the end of the season. It wasn't that big of a deal. I was thinking, 'Just go out and do what you did all year long. Throw the knuckleball.' "
Boone pitched 4 2/3 innings, allowing eight hits and three runs -- two of them coming in the fifth when Indians DH Candy Maldonado tagged him for a home run.
"I knew better," said Boone, who did not get a decision in the 7-3 loss. "I tried to throw a 100 mph fastball. I meant to go outside, it came inside and he hit it out of the ballpark."
Boone went to Spring Training the following season with Baltimore, but he knew his days were numbered when he walked into Robinson's office one day and saw the Orioles' pitching plans.
"Nowhere on it was my name," Boone said. "So I knew I wasn't going to get a chance. I was so disappointed."
Boone was released by the Orioles that spring, but played that season for the Rangers' Triple-A team in Oklahoma City. That's where his second stint at pro ball ended. Boone started his own cabinetry business in San Diego shortly thereafter.
"Even when he got out of professional baseball, I kept hearing his name every five years that he's still pitching somewhere," Jones said. "I couldn't believe he wasn't out of innings yet. He just continued and continued.
"Even talking to him today, he finally gave it up, but it looks like the notion's still there that he thinks he can pitch."
Said Boone: "God gives us abilities to do things in life. It's up to us to develop them to the maximum of whatever we can do. I feel for being as small as I was, I got to the top with what God gave me."
*Kirk Kenney is a contributor to MLB.com.*