Dave Bresnahan would much rather be inducted into the Bowman Field Hall of Fame because he was such a great player. But this isn't so bad, either.
The former Williamsport Bills catcher, and author of "The Great Potato Caper" in which he threw a potato down the left-field line in 1987 in order to deceive a baserunner, was inducted into the Bowman Field Hall of Fame during Monday night's sixth annual Hot Stove Dinner at the Genetti Hotel in Williamsport.
Last night was the fourth time Bresnahan has returned to Williamsport from his Arizona home to celebrate the event since that 1987 day. Bresnahan's number 59 is already retired and hanging on the center field wall at Bowman Field. He brought his youngest son, Matthew, an eighth-grade student, to help celebrate the occasion.
Dave Bresnahan speaks with the crowd Monday at The Genetti.
"Not in a million years did I think I'd be coming back here a year later, 10 years later, 20 years later and 25 years later to talk about this," Bresnahan said. "It was meant for something fun and crazy. It would be great if I was being inducted because I was such a great player, but I'll take it."
The Great Potato Caper was born out of a dare from his teammates late in the season in 1987. Bresnahan was in the midst of a season in which he hit just .150 as a backup catcher for the AA team. It was at the end of a season in which the Bills finished 27 1/2 games out of first place in the Eastern League.
After getting the perfect scenario runner on third, two outs Bresnahan pulled off the trick. He first had to tell the umpire his glove was broken because the potato was in his alternate glove in the dugout. As he went back to the dugout, all his teammates were laughing because only manager Orlando Gomez didn't know about the plans for fake play.
"I went on the theory of beg for forgiveness instead of asking for permission because he wouldn't have allowed me to do it," Bresnahan said.
Bresnahan called for the first pitch, a slider down and away. He transferred the potato from his glove to his throwing hand as the pitch was thrown, picked the pitch out of the dirt, stood and fired the potato down the third-base line. Bresnahan told a sold-out crowd that because the potato was peeled and slippery, he didn't have a good grip on it and when he threw it, it was headed directly at the head of the baserunner.
The runner ducked, the potato landed down the left-field line. And as the runner ran toward home, Bresnahan put the ball in his glove and tagged out the runner. The plan among the team was for everyone to jog off the field simultaneously as Bresnahan rolled the ball up the mound after recording the third out.
"But they had their heads buried in their gloves laughing," Bresnahan said.
Bresnahan was not thrown out of the game the opener of a doubleheader by the umpire, but Gomez did pull Bresnahan from the game after the inning was over. Between games Gomez spoke in his office with Bresnahan about how unprofessional the play was and fined him $50. As Bresnahan walked out of the manager's office, his teammates asked him how much the fine was and then took up a collection to pay for it.
The next day, Bresnahan was released by the Cleveland Indians and he never played professional baseball again, despite having multiple opportunities. Before leaving, Bresnahan went into the clubhouse and left about 50 potatoes on Gomez's desk along with a note saying "you don't expect me to pay the fine since I got released, do you?"
"People don't understand a minor league season gets pretty monotonous," Bresnahan said. "There's lots of pranks because we're with each other all the time. Between the bus rides in spring training all the way through, there's lots of pranks to pass the time and break the monotony. And that's really all I did. I look at it as just another prank that happened to evolve over the years."
Bresnahan, who recently turned 50, is working in Arizona in real estate investment after working as a financial advisor for both Merrill Lynch and Prudential. He has season tickets to the Diamondbacks and said he attends about 10 games a year.
His family doesn't really talk about the 1987 event that often. Only when one of his sons friends sees his name and what he did in a book does he have to tell the story.
"My friends call him the Potato Man," Matthew said.
The Caper earned Bresnahan the title of Sportsman of the Year by the Chicago Tribune in 1987. He was brought to Japan to talk about the incident, and there was even a bobblehead made of him in a Bills uniform holding a potato that sold for more than $300 on eBay.
"This is especially fun when I can share with somebody like family and friends," Bresnahan said. "When I get asked to come back, it's really fun to bring family."