June 16, 1984…From Redleg Journal by Greg Rhodes and John Snyder:
“Mario Soto blows his cool for the second time in three weeks. Playing the Braves in Atlanta, Soto sailed three pitches at the noggin of Claudell Washington in the third inning in retaliation for Washington’s leadoff homer in the first. In the fifth, Washington swung and missed at Soto’s first pitch, and the bat flew out of his hands, landing near the pitcher’s mound. Fearing mayhem, home plate umpire Lanny Harris followed Washington as the hitter retrieved the bat. Washington turned on Harris and threw the ump to the ground. Dann Bilardello and Atlanta third base coach Joe Pignatano leaped in as peacemakers, and Soto fired the ball into the tangle of bodies with the intent of hitting Washington, but struck Harris and Pignatano instead. After Soto and Washington were ejected, the Reds won, 2-1.
For his actions, Soto drew a five-day suspension and a $5000 fine…however, let’s go back to May 27 of the same year….also from “Redleg Journal”:
“A disputed call by third base umpire Steve Rippley triggers a ruckus during a Cubs-Reds game at Wrigley Field. In the second inning, Ron Cey struck a Mario Soto pitch down the left field line which Rippley called a home run. Furious, Soto rushed toward the umpire, and bumped into him. During the course of the argument, the Reds pitcher had to be wrestled to the ground by Vern Rapp and Brad Gulden to keep him away from Rippley. In the process of restraining Soto, they collided with Cubs coach Don Zimmer, prompting both benches to empty. During the ensuing melee, a vendor threw a bag of ice onto the field and struck Soto on the chest. The seething Soto grabbed a bat and tried to climb into the stands, but was stopped before he could infllict any bodily harm. Meanwhile, the umpires conferred and reversed the home run ruling, reducing Cey’s drive to a mere foul ball. Cubs manager Jim Frey went berserk over the decision, and was ejected along with Soto. In all, the game was delayed for 32 minutes. Once play resumed, the Reds won, 4-3.”
For his initial outburt (here on May 27), Soto drew a five day suspension. (Side note…anyway, how does Zimmer always seem to get knocked down?–see Pedro Martinez)
Wow…by 1984 Soto was already a star. Soto was rushed through the minors, reaching AAA after only 1 1/2 seasons of A Ball and 31 minor league games (30 starts) at age 20. Sparky Anderson gave him a brief trial in 1978, and Soto hurled a shut out in one his 10 starts before being returned to the minors. Soto wasn’t ready for a couple of more years while he harnessed his control, but the talent was clearly there.
He became a fantastic swing man for manager John McNamara in 1980, finishing fifth in the CY Young Award voting despite only starting 10 games. He finished the year 10-8 with a 3.07 ERA in 190 innings pitched over 53 games, striking out 182. He became a rotation fixture in 1981 and became one of the finest starters in baseball as the Reds’ team’s fortunes went downhill. The 1984 season marked the third consecutive losing season for the Reds after the glory days of the 1970’s Big Red Machine.
During this losing period, Soto was magnificent. For losing teams, Soto went 14-13 with a 2.79 ERA and 274 K’s in 1982, and followed that by going 17-13 with a 2.70 ERA and 242 K’s in 1983, and then in 1984 he went 18-7 with a 3.53 ERA and 185 K’s. He led the National League in complete games in 1983 with 18 and with 13 in 1984. He finished in the top nine in Cy Young voting all three years, finishing second in 1983 behind the Phillies’ John Denny who had gone 19-6 with a 2.37 ERA. Soto’s K rate dropped by one in 1984 per nine innings from 8.0 to 7.0, after being as high as 9.6 in 1982, and as he fooled fewer people the earned run average rose, as indicated by the 3.53 in 1984. His peripheral stats from 1985 were similar to his 1984 stats, but his record dropped to 12-15 with a 3.58 ERA and 214 K’s, including a period where he lost five consecutive decisions and missed the all-star game for the first time since 1982 (he had even been the all-star game starter in 1983). Soto played only parts of the next three seasons due to injury and was finished, his last truly effective year coming at age 28.
Soto finished sixth in the Cy Young voting in 1984, the year of his two suspensions. He went 18-7 with a 3.53 ERA, but he lost both of his starts following the first altercation, and the start following his second altercation, and he received no decisions in both games that he was ejected. He went nine days between starts the first time around but didn’t skip any extra time following the second incident. He didn’t pitch poorly in any of these games, but you have to wonder if these games affected Soto’s Cy Young chances. The Cy Young Award that season went to the Cubs’ Rick Sutcliffe, who had only pitched 20 games for the Cubs that year (going 16-1) after being acquired in a trade. Others finishing ahead of Soto were rookie Dwight Gooden (17-9, 2.60), the Cardinals’ Joaquin Andujar (20-14, 3.34) and two relievers, Bruce Sutter (5-7, 1.54, 45 saves) and Rich Gossage (10-6, 2.90, 25 saves). All those guys pitched on a winning teams, but if Soto had won 20 it would have been a huge boost for him.
No Red has ever won a Cy Young Award.