Remember Sam Malone, the Boston Red Sox pitcher who once switched arms in mid-inning, thereby becoming the first big leaguer to relieve himself on the mound? Well, as everyone knows, they’ve made his post-baseball life into a popular TV show called Cheers, though the series, starring Ted Danson, hardly ever mentions Malone’s sporting days. That’s a shame. Malone wasn’t a bad ballplayer — he just wasn’t a very good one. Twelve years after he quit baseball, it’s still unclear if he was nicknamed Mayday because he got the Red Sox out of jams or into them.
Malone’s career began in Medford, Mass., where he learned to switch-pitch on a sandlot team sponsored by the local rescue squad. ”I’d skip practice to cut people out of cars they were trapped in, go into burning buildings, crazy stuff like that,” he says. At Medford Vocational High, Malone did all his saving on the baseball team: He was the ace of the Wildebeests’ bullpen. In his senior year, the Red Sox gave him a tryout. His fellow rescuers came along, and it’s a good thing: Sam beaned a batter, beaned a scout, and beaned a hot dog vendor standing 10 rows behind the home dugout.
The Red Sox didn’t offer him a contract, but they did pluck him out of the Cape Cod League a few years later. Malone signed for $400 a month to play A-league ball in Winter Haven, Fla., and spent the next seven years connecting the dots on a map of the bush leagues.
When Malone arrived at Fenway in 1974, the Sox starters were losing their attention spans so fast they couldn’t read Dick and Jane, let alone pitch six or seven innings. Relievers were making more cameos than Jack Nicholson at the NBA play-offs. Though he played regularly, Malone’s vaunted ”Slider of Death” often expired in mid-flight: Legendary sluggers Boog Powell and Harmon Killebrew both launched it into the ionosphere. And the Yankees’ Dutch Kincaid homered whenever he came up against Sam — a total of 27 times. It was then that Malone started brooding in joints like the bar called Cheers.