A BILL HIRSCH VIGNETTE: AN ARGUMENTATIVE MLB MANAGER AND A HORSE NAMED CIGAR

“My wife Mary Ryan Hirsch and I have been hosting ‘Horsemen’s Dinners’ in south Florida the past several years.  At one of our get-togethers, noted racetrack announcer extraordinaire Larry Collmus got up and told this story from 1996 about Major League Baseball manager ‘Sweet’ Lou Piniella.

At the time Lou was manager of the Seattle Mariners. The club was in Boston to play the Red Sox at Fenway Park.  On the day of a Saturday game, the great racehorse Cigar, trained by Hall of Famer Bill Mott, was running in the Mass Cap at nearby Suffolk Downs just outside Boston. Hall of Fame jockey Jerry Bailey was riding him.

The Mariners/Red Sox game was scheduled to start at 1 p. m.  As is customary before the first pitch, the teams’ managers are required to walk out to the home plate umpire and hand over their respective line-up cards. 

After Piniella walked a few steps away from the umpire, he did an about-face and returned to speak privately to the ump.  He told the ump that sometime in the first inning, when the Mariners were batting, Lou would run out of his dugout and fiercely argue ‘balls and strikes,’ something that is an automatic ejection.  Lou went on to tell the umpire that while he was arguing he wanted to be thrown out of the game.  

In bewilderment, the ump asked Lou, ‘Why are you doing this?’  Lou told the ump that Cigar was running in the Mass Cap at Suffolk and that Lou had arranged a waiting limo to drive him to Suffolk Downs so he could see Cigar run.

‘Sweet’ Lou and MLB umpires mixed like oil and water.

Sure enough, after a close pitch Lou ran out of his dugout and was screaming and flailing his arms and quarreling that the pitch was not a strike on his hitter. He did his customary antic of kicking the dirt at the umpire and soon, as expected, the umpire threw Lou out of the game.

Lou changed clothes in the limo and got to Suffolk Downs in plenty of time to see his beloved Cigar win the Mass Cap.”

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Lou Piniella was ejected from 63 games during his career, placing him at number 12 on the list of most ejected managers in MLB history. Another former MLB manager and racehorse owner, Joe Torre, is number 11 on the list with 66 career ejections.

Bill Hirsch is a retired racehorse trainer and the son and grandson of Hall of Fame trainers William Hirsch and Max Hirsch.

Horse Racing Business 2020

THEY SHOOT HORSES, DON’T THEY?

In the Dallas Cowboys game against the New York Giants on October 11, 2020, Dallas quarterback Dak Prescott suffered a gruesome ankle injury in which his bone protruded through his skin.  Bill Barnwell of ESPN wrote: “If you were watching the play, you are not going to forget what you saw for a long time.  If you didn’t see the play, consider yourself lucky.”  Tears running down Prescott’s face as he was carted off the field are seared into my memory.

The Prescott injury is the most recent in a long history of horrific physical and mental maladies incurred by football players.  The National Football League has acknowledged the brain trauma that its violent sport can cause and has instituted stricter rules and procedures to protect players.  Moreover, the most lucrative professional league in the United States, by far, must be concerned that parents of boys are increasingly discouraging them from participating in football. 

Had a racehorse incurred the same kind of ankle injury that the All-Pro Prescott did, the horse would surely have been euthanized.  Horses cannot be convinced to cooperate in their own recovery and rehabilitation. In the words of the 1969 movie, “They shoot horses, don’t they?”

When a serious breakdown occurs in a high-profile race like the Kentucky Derby, the outcry to outlaw horse racing is swift, unrelenting, and emotionally charged.  The sad breakdown requiring euthanasia of Eight Belles immediately after the finish of the 2008 Derby is an unforgettable case in point.

Going back to the early 20th century, there have been pleas and attempts to ban football.  President Theodore Roosevelt even threatened to abolish the sport for its “brutality and foul play.”  Twenty-five players died from football injuries in 1903 and another 18 in 1905.  However, a strong movement to abolish organized football has never gained much steam.

By contrast, some prominent animal-rights groups and zealous individuals habitually work to stop horse racing, employing hyperbole as well as breakdown statistics to persuade people to their point of view.  They proffer that, unlike human athletes, racehorses don’t have a choice. The radical extension of this perspective is that animals should not be used by humans for any purpose.

The degree of risk to participants in football and horse racing can be mitigated but cannot be reduced to zero.  Both are inherently dangerous.  A sport, however, can endure a heart-rending Dak Prescott or Eight Belles incident, as long as the larger society does not see the sport, through its actions or lack thereof, as having a callous disregard for its athletes, both while they are competing and afterwards in retirement.

What the American racing enterprise must do to have a sustainable future is to stay in step with modern-day sensibilities, in particular pertaining to humane treatment for its human and equine athletes, just as the NFL has done with concussion protocols and penalizing late hits to the quarterback, helmet-to-helmet targeting, and blindside blocking.  Fortunately, significant progress is being made in this respect, such as the likely passage into law of the Horseracing Safety and Integrity Act, whip-usage limitations, advancements in track surfaces, and improved aftercare for racehorses. Some measures are controversial in racing circles, but there is no choice except to move forward if horse racing is to have lots of tomorrows.

Copyright © 2020 Horse Racing Business

A BILL HIRSCH STORY ABOUT “MONEY TALKS”

“My wife Mary Ryan-Hirsch and I have been hosting ‘Horsemen Dinners’ in south Florida the past several years. Once a month, we gather up a crowd of horsemen and meet at a restaurant near Gulfstream Park and have one of these get togethers. We usually get a crowd of 60-75 guests.

One of the highlights of the evening takes place after dinner when we ask anyone in attendance to get up and tell their favorite racing story. On such a night at the Surf Club on Miami Beach we had one of these dinners and future Hall of Fame jockey Jacinto Vasquez told this story. It brought the house down!

Jacinto was the regular rider of Eclipse Award turf horse Noble Dancer trained by Hall of Famer T. J. ‘Tommy’ Kelly. Tommy was there that night along with another Hall of Fame jockey Don Brumfield and a few stewards who were in the stewards stand the day Noble Dancer was running in the United Nations Handicap at Atlantic City. Noble Dancer was the top-weighted horse in the race and the 3-5 favorite.

After the break Jacinto wound up on the rail in the 1 1/2 mile turf race. Around the far turn he was still trapped on the rail with Brumfield on a longshot lapped alongside Noble Dancer. Jacinto yelled to Brumfield, ‘Let me out, you’re on a dead horse.’ Jacinto offered him $500. Brumfield replied back to Jacinto, ‘I can’t hear you.’

After turning down the initial $500 offer and then another for $1,000, Brumfield began to ease his tiring longshot out when Jacinto raised the offer to $1,500. At $1,500, Brumfield yelled back to Jacinto, ‘Ok, I hear you, now come on through!’

Jacinto and Noble Dancer went on to win the race; our dining room roared with laughter with all the horsemen clapping their hands wildly, even Tommy Kelly and the two stewards. After that, several horsemen asked Brumfield if Vasquez paid him and Don replied, ‘Absolutely, the very next morning.’”

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Bill Hirsch is a retired racehorse trainer and the son and grandson of Hall of Fame trainers William Hirsch and Max Hirsch.

Horse Racing Business 2020