How a misread lineup card caused lots of chaos

Now batting ... the designated hitter ... Charles Nagy

May 22nd, 2020

Everybody has one. A moment that's always stuck with you -- a weird play, a wild walk-off, a mascot ejection, anything in between -- but the details are hazy all these years later, and you can't seem to find video evidence anywhere. Did it actually happen? Were you hallucinating? What was the name of that guy at the plate, anyway?

In this new series, we're here to help: Simply send an email to [email protected], subject line "Clip Request," with the bit of baseball weirdness you've always wished you could find, and we'll dive into the MLB archives to see if we can dig it up.

Last week, an emailer tipped us off to a deep cut on the Bo Jackson Casual Displays of Jaw-Dropping Athleticism highlight reel. This week, though, we're taking a turn for the weird -- courtesy of Redditor thedeejus, who sent in the following request:

On July 22, 1999, [Indians manager] Mike Hargrove got Alex Ramirez and Manny Ramirez mixed up, or something -- the wrong Ramirez went into RF instead of DHing, causing the Indians to lose the DH, so Charles Nagy had to bat and the Indians lost by one run. I was at this game and everyone had no idea what was going on when Nagy came out batting seventh until after the game when we could listen to the radio. Anyway I was always very curious what the TV feed was like as it was happening!

DH shenanigans, a once-in-a-generation sort of confusion, vintage Manny Being Manny -- this was impossible not to investigate. Things didn't look so good at first: thedeejus specifically asks for the TV feed as this all was unfolding, and our multimedia team only had access to the raw stadium sound. As scintillating as it was to watch Mike Hargrove grow increasingly confused amid a circle of umpires, the job didn't feel done.

So they unearthed the actual game tape from storage -- Blue Jays at Indians, July 22, 1999 -- complete with the broadcast audio. It didn't take long to find what we were looking for: Because the Baseball Gods are not without a sense of humor, the first batter of the game, Toronto's Shannon Stewart, flew out to right fielder Manny Ramirez ... at which point Blue Jays skipper Jim Fregosi noticed that something was off.

Sure, a Ramirez was penciled into right field for Cleveland that night, but it wasn't Manny -- it was Alex, a young outfielder who appeared in 48 games for the team in '99. The lineup card listed Alex as "A. Ramirez," slated to bat seventh. Manny, on the other hand, was simply "Ramirez", playing DH and batting fourth.

But for some reason, Manny thought he was supposed to play right, so out he ran for the top of the first. After Stewart's flyout, Fregosi ran out to home-plate umpire Rocky Roe, demanding to know what was up. And then all heck broke loose:

It took nearly 10 minutes for everything to get sorted out, but eventually the umpiring crew issued a ruling: The moment Indians starter Charles Nagy delivered his first pitch with Manny in right, Cleveland had burned its designated hitter. By rule, Manny was now the right fielder, while Alex had to head back to the bench -- replaced by Nagy, a lifetime .105 hitter over 20 plate appearances, now batting seventh. To make matters worse: Since Alex was listed in the official lineup card, he was technically considered to have started the game, meaning he wouldn't even be available as a substitute off the bench. (The Cleveland broadcast crew, to its credit, sussed out the situation pretty quickly -- the announcers had a lineup card of their own, after all, and they pretty soon realized what had happened and tried to explain all of the ins and outs to the audience.)

Which begs the question: How exactly did this happen? Had Manny simply misread the card? Or had Hargrove -- who'd managed over 1,000 Major League games by that point, including two World Series -- gotten his own lineup wrong? As it turns out, the answer was "neither."

"I ripped up the first lineup card and then told [third-base coach] Jeff Newman I had to switch the Ramirezes," Hargrove explained after the game. "Then I went in and made out a new card. Jeff went to [first-base coach] Brian Graham and said the card had to be changed. So when Brian saw the card on his desk, he didn't know it was a new card and [he] changed it -- back to the wrong one."

So Hargrove 1) mistakenly swapped his Ramirezes, putting Alex in the cleanup spot and Manny in right, 2) went to change it himself without properly communicating it and then 3) realized to his horror that the error he'd tried to correct had found its way onto the field. Here's what that looks like, condensed into a single image:

Of course, that was just the beginning of the mayhem. We still haven't gotten to the most important part: the bottom of the second inning, when Nagy stepped up for his first at-bat of the night -- with the Jacobs Field crowd squarely behind him.

OK, he didn't look "good," strictly speaking, but he battled! He spoiled several pitches! He seemed to cause David Wells some mild annoyance! And hey, at least he went down swinging. That's worth a standing ovation in my book:

Alas, things went downhill from there. Nagy allowed four runs over six innings, and the Indians lost, 4-3 -- while neither of the pinch-hitters Hargrove sent up in the pitcher's spot reached base. Sometimes it's just really, really not your night.