Former San Francisco Giant Manny Mota was a Giant for one season in 1962 (photo from Tony the Tiger)
Manny Mota: He Was A Giant For Just A Pinch
Manny Mota – OF – 1962 – # 38
He was a Giant?
By Tony the Tiger Hayes
The epitome of Dodger Blue stability, Mota – the game’s most renown pinch-hitter – is now well into his seventh decade of-employment with Los Angeles.
The amiable, seemingly ageless Mota is one of the game’s good guys. Born in 1938, Mota has been linked to the Dodgers since the late 1960s. The Dominican Republic native has been a player, coach, mentor, broadcaster, and goodwill ambassador for Los Angeles. And he’s done it all with class and style.
Despite his long ties, to Enemy No. 1 from the Southland, it’s next to impossible to dislike the humble career .304 batter.
If that sounds like we’re describing a Class-Act Giant ala Juan Marichal and Willie McCovey there’s a good reason. Mota was wearing Orange & Black long before adopting Dodger Blue – playing six seasons in the Giants organization before moving on to the Colt .45s, Pirates and Expos. A trade brought Mota to Los Angeles in 1969 and he’s been there ever since.
Mota played just one season in the big leagues with San Francisco, appearing in 47 games for the 1962 Giants – San Francisco’s first World Series participators.
Why was he a Giant?
One of the first clubs to seriously scout and sign players out of Latin America, the then New York Giants inked Mota in 1957, a year before the club relocated to Northern California.
Just 19 when he arrived in the States, Mota would lead the 1957 Class D Michigan City White Caps with a .314 average. He advanced a rung in the organization each year – making his debut in the Giants major league spring training camp in 1962.
Despite being overshadowed by established Giants stars such as Orlando Cepeda, Willie Mays and McCovey, the sharp-hitting Mota still stood out.
After sizzling an inside -the -park home run and pounding a two-run double in one spring exhibition, the press began to take notice.
“Fort Knox is not much tougher to break into than the San Francisco Giants outfield. But rookie Manny Mota is giving the later project an all-out try,” read one UPI nationwide dispatch from Arizona.
Mota would make the Giants ‘62 opening day roster as a backup outfielder and infielder.
Foreshadowing his future as a clutch batter, Mota’s first MLB hit – an eighth inning single off RHP Jim Brosnan, that went beyond the reach of Reds 2B Cookie Rojas – drove home Harvey Kuenn with the winning run in an 8-6 outcome at Cincinnati (4/21/62).
Playing off the bench would eventually become Mota’s ticket to fame and a long career, but it was his downfall as a Giants rookie.
Mota never did crack the Giants vaunted starting lineup and spent the bulk of his time with the G-Men scraping together playing time. Under manager Alvin Dark, Mota appeared in a starting lineup just a dozen times in his four months with the big league club.
Ironically, Mota was, frankly a crummy pinch hitter with San Francisco, batting just 1-for-16 for a puny .067 average coming cold into a game.
After he grounded out as a pinch-hitter in a 8-6 road loss to the Dodgers (7/28/62), Mota’s overall average sank to .176. The Giants had seen enough and sent Mota to Double-AA El Paso, swapping him out for hot-hitting farmhand OF Carl Boles.
Mota never made it back to the majors with San Francisco.
Before & After
A trade in exchange for IF Joe Amalfitano sent Mota and LHP Dick LeMay to Houston after the ‘62 season. The Colt .45s then flipped Mota to Pittsburgh before he had a chance to play a home game in Texas.
Beginning in 1963, Mota found stability with the Pirates, who like the Giants, openly recruited Latino and African American ball players.
Counting superstar Roberto Clemente as a good friend and mentor, Mota’s confidence soared in Pittsburgh. In 1966-67 Mota batted .332 and .321 respectively as a fourth outfielder.
In the Steel City, Mota was a prized pupil of influential batting coach Harry Walker and he watched up close as a burly contact hitter by the name of Smokey Burgess ambled from the bench on a nightly basis swinging a bat that resembled a two-by-four. Years later Mota would break Burgess’ all-time pinch-hit record.
While Mota was a frequently used pinch-hitter with the Pirates, it didn’t become his thing until after he landed with the Dodgers in 1969.
The moment Mota stepped into Dodger Stadium he became their most reliable pinch option. But initially he wasn’t limited to substitute hitting.
For several seasons with Los Angeles, Mota provided a keen pinch-bat and platoon option – often sharing LF starts with the left-handed swingers Willie Crawford and Bill Buckner.
But his most memorable moments seemed to come as a mid-game replacement batter.
One of Mota’s most consequential pinch-hits came at Candlestick Park during the classic Giants/Dodgers pennant race of 1971. The Giants began September with what seemed like a comfortable eight game lead over L.A. But then the Dodgers got super hot and San Francisco cooled – at least figuratively.
When the Dodgers dropped into Candlestick during the height of a blazing Indian Summer for a quick two-game set, the Giants lead had been whittled down to three games.
The Dodgers won the opener 5-4 in a game that featured a major brawl between the clubs (9/13/71).Tensions and and the temperature were still running hot the next night. When Gaylord Perry threw the game’s first pitch to Maury Wills, the ‘Stick temperature read 91 degrees.
Led by a pair of Bobby Bonds long balls, S.F. took a 5-3 advantage to the 9th. This one looked to be headed to the win column for the Giants.
But the lead quickly melted like the last unsold cup of chocolate malt in the bottom of a vendor’s aluminum basket.
Duke Sims led off the ninth with a broken bat single to center off Giants RHP Jerry Johnson. Pinch-hitter Bill Sudakis blooped a one-bagger to right and then the speedy Wills reached on a bunt to load the bases with no-outs.
The Giants brought in LHP John Cumberland while the Dodgers called on Mota to bat for Buckner.
On the first pitch, Mota crushed a deep double to left to score three runs. 48-year-old reliever Hoyt Wilhelm came on to close out the big 6-5 Dodgers win.
Dodgers manager Walter Alston compared the nail biter to a World Series contest.
“We wanted to win this game so badly,” said Mota who was doused with cold beer after the emotional victory. “I thought about the 25 guys on our team when I went up there to swing.”
But in the end, San Francisco would win the NL West flag by one game over the Dodgers.
In 1973, Mota got off to such a hot start that the Dodgers simply kept him in the lineup. When the time came to select an All-Star team, NL manager Sparky Anderson didn’t hesitate to include Mota and his league leading .351 average to the squad.
Naturally, Mota, age 35, appeared as a pinch-hitter in the ‘73 Kansas City hosted Mid-Summer Classic . He grounded out in his only career All-Star Game.
Beginning in 1974 the Dodgers changed their approach. They went with a set everyday lineup and Mota was made a full-time pinch-hitter. It worked. Mota rapped out 15 pinch-hits, resulting in a remarkable 16 RBI. The strategy took Los Angeles all the way to the ‘74 World Series before they tapped out to Oakland in five games.
From that point going forward, Mota was anointed King of the Pinch-Hit. From 1975 though his final game in 1982, Mota would remarkably make just three more starts in the field.
Though he was one of game’s most senior active players, Mota’s skill set seemed to get better within the strict boundaries of pinch-hitting.
“There aren’t many hitters who can do what Manny can do,” said the Dodgers Alston, the architect of Mota’s role. “He hits better as a pinch-hitter than a regular. He thrives on pressure.”
Los Angeles Times columnist Jim Murray put it more succinctly, writing: “(Mota) could get wood on a bullet.”
Mota hammered that point home on the final day of the 1977 season when the 39-year-old destroyed a blazing J.R. Richard fastball for a pinch-hit home run at the cavernous Astrodome.
Mota was at his apex in 1977-78 when the Dodgers went to the World Series in back-to-back campaigns.
In 1977, Mota batted 14-for-36 (.407) in the pinch for the pennant winners. Mota smoothed the Dodgers path to the Fall Classic with a ninth inning RBI pinch-double in Game 3 of the playoffs at Philadelphia – leading to a comeback Los Angeles victory.
In 1978, Mota compiled a .303 pinch average (10-for-33) with 6 RBI.
The Dodgers even added another full-time mature pinch-hitter during this time frame in left-handed swatter Vic Davillio.
In 1979, just over 17 years to the day that the Giants demoted Mota to the minors in part due to his failures as a pinch hitter – Mota, age 41, broke the all-time pinch-hit record – bypassing old teammate Burgess by stroking career pinch-hit No. 145 off Cubs RHP Lynn McGlothen at Dodger Stadium (9/2/79).
Mota finished his playing days with 150 career pinch-hit and an even .300 average in that role.
20 years later, Lenny Harris would break Mota’s pinch mark. Ex-Giant Mark Sweeney also passed Mota on the pinch-hit list.
He Never Had a (Giants) Bobblehead Day. But…
Willie Mays – not Manny Mota – was the reason the Mets packed out a raucous four-game series vs. the visiting Giants on the first post-Memorial Day weekend of 1962.
For the first time since the Giants confirmed their move to Northern California five years earlier, the Orange & Black were back on their old Coogan’s Bluff home turf.
While the stumble-bum expansion Mets were taking baby steps to popularity and the Giants still had a hard-core Big Apple fan base – it was clear from the first click of the Polo Grounds turnstiles that the only thing that mattered was the return of Mays.
A true New York folk hero, Mays had brought the basket catch, stick ball in Harlem and a 1954 World Series title to New York before his relocated to the City by the Bay in 1958.
The New York papers churned out tons of copy anticipating Willie’s return and from the the moment Mays peeked his head out of the Polo Grounds’ unique center field clubhouse, New York showered the “Say Hey Kid” with welcome home love.
Mays didn’t disappoint, clobbering three round -trippers and collecting six RBIs over the course of the a four-game Giants sweep that brought in 118,845 ticket buyers – the most to attend a Mets single-series in their maiden year.
Those paying attention to the on-field action and not just the fight action in the stands – there were several big-time Donnybrooks – would have also witnessed Mota’s first big league pinch-hit.
After starting his Giants career batting 0-for-6 in the pinch, Mota came through in the matinee of the Saturday twin-bill. The Giants were already up 8-1 in the fourth when Mota was subbed for Jimmy Davenport with two outs. Facing fellow 24-year-old rookie RHP Bob Moorhead – Mota stroked a single past New York 3B Felix Mantilla. The Giants won 10-1 (6/2/62).
Though he’s now dropped to third on the all-time pinch-hit list, Mota will forever be the People’s Pinch-Hitter.
The writers of the zany 1980 comedy “Airplane!” even wrote the lovable hitter into the film’s hilarious dry-witted script. Robert Hays’ pilot character hears voices in his head saying: “Now batting for Pedro Borbon, Manny Mota… Mota… Mota.”
Given that Mota’s playing days extended well into his 40s, it’s tempting call him a literal Silver Slugger. But the thing is, Mota never seemed to age. He didn’t sprout a gray hair or even change his look for that matter.
While other athletes adopted the daring mod styles of the 1960s and ‘70s, the forever clean-cut Mota never showed up at the ball park sporting aviator shades, love beads and a goatee.
Mota also never forgot his roots and for more than 20 seasons returned the D.R. to play for and manage Licey in winter ball in his beloved home land.
That consistency also showed itself on the field. After hitting .176 as a Giants rookie, Mota would never bat below .275 again.
To borrow a phase, that was just…”Manny being Manny.”