I’ve covered a lot of minor-league baseball in my career at The Eagle, three seasons of the Wichita Aeros in the late-1970s and early-1980s and four seasons of the Wichita Pilots/Wranglers in the 1980s and early 1990s.
Most of it was fun. I got to know a lot of different players and managers and among my fondest memories are the long talks I would
have with then-Aeros outfielder Jim Tracy, who most recently managed the Colorado Rockies last season. Tracy was one of the best guys I’ve ever covered, regardless of the sport or the level.
But as I was thinking of the good times I had talking to Tracy and others (former Pilots first baseman Brad Pounders was another fantastic guy), I remembered an ugly incident inside the Aeros’ clubhouse following a game in probably 1979 or 1980 when I was threatened by left-handed pitcher George Riley.
Riley, who would pitch in the big leagues for the Cubs, Giants and Expos, didn’t like something I had written. It wasn’t unusual for a player to say something, but usually that player would pull me aside and speak privately. For the most part, I got along well with players, ticklish as their egos might be.
Riley was a basket case of a pitcher who could never find the plate. He pitched in parts of four seasons for the Aeros and walked 103 in 170 innings, a horrible ratio. Riley couldn’t find the plate in the majors, either, walking 41 while striking out only 40 in 87 innings. His ERA’s in Wichita were 4.85, 7.25, 6.08 and 4.40, which begs the question why he ever got called up to the big leagues in the first place.
Maybe that’s what I wrote at the time, I don’t remember.
Anyway, Riley was not a happy camper after one of the games and he called me out in front of the rest of the team. It’s the only time I can remember being physically threatened while on the job. If I had pushed the matter – and given my personality it probably required some restraint to keep from doing so – we probably would have gone to blows right there in the middle of the clubhouse. I wonder how enthusiastically Riley’s teammates would have supported him in such a skirmish?
Anyway, it didn’t come to that. My foggy recollection is that I attempted to reason with Riley and provide a context for what I had written. I just know that he didn’t want to hear anything I was saying at first. Ultimately, though, cooler heads prevailed and I left with mind still attached to my body.
Knowing what I now know, I suspect Riley was simply mad at the world. His baseball career wasn’t going that well, as evidenced by his towering ERAs. But the Cubs, the Aeros’ parent team at the time, stuck with him because he was left-handed and because they had spent a fourth-round draft pick on the Philadelphia native in the 1974 draft.
Riley did have a good arm, but he never was able to stick. He pitched professionally until 1986, when he failed in a few cameo appearances for Montreal before being released in early May.
I’m not sure where Riley is these days. Maybe he’s back home in Philly. I looked on Facebook for Riley, to no avail. I couldn’t find him on Twitter. By the way, if you’re not on Facebook or Twitter, are you anywhere? Anyway, it’s not like I would have reached out to Riley if he had been involved in social media. Nor is it likely he would even remember who I am.
But it’s interesting that whenever I recall my years of coverage minor league baseball in Wichita, that incident inside the clubhouse always comes to my mind. It was a bit dicey for a bit. I’m sure I was able to charm myself out of potential ugliness, though. I am a charmer.