The native of Dunkirk Criscione remembers the time spent in the great | News, Sports, Jobs
EDITOR’S NOTE: The following article appeared in the OBSERVER on July 15, 2007. As the 45th anniversary of Dunkirk native Dave Criscione’s memorable home run as a member of the Baltimore Orioles approaches, he has been deemed appropriate to repeat the story.
Three times during his brief major league tenure, Dave Criscione came to bat with the game on the line.
On July 17, 1977, in his first ever MLB at-bat, Criscione stepped in and lined up second to end a Baltimore Oriole 3-2 loss to the Milwaukee Brewers.
His second chance ended the same way – a game-ending groundout in a 1-0 extra-inning loss to the Texas Rangers.
But it is for what happened on his third try that Criscione, a 1969 Dunkirk high school graduate, will be remembered for.
It happened on July 25, 1977, nearly 30 years ago. Facing Brewer reliever Sam Hinds in the bottom of the 11th at Memorial Stadium in Baltimore, Criscione smashed a fly ball over the left field fence, giving the Orioles a dramatic 4-3 victory and – at the time – the only possession of first place in the Eastern Division of the American League.
“It’s a little child’s dream come true” Criscione, who now lives in Fredonia, said in a recent interview. “How many times have you ever played sandball and said, ‘Down the ninth inning. Two withdrawals. Bases loaded. The runners leave and you hit a home run.
“It’s something you always dream of. You couldn’t have scripted it better.
Working on his eighth season in minor league ball, Criscione got his big break on July 8, 1977.
In fact, it was Rick Dempsey who received the break, when he was hit by a pitch from New York Yankees left-hander Don Gullett. The HBP resulted in a broken hand for Dempsey and a call for Criscione.
“(Rochester manager) Ken Boyer is the one who told me I was coming up,” said Criscione. “We were in Toledo, Ohio, playing the Twins farm team and I heard Boyer’s name called over the PA system. I was getting a little nervous because my wife was due to give birth to our first child.
“Nothing was said. We played the game, then when we walked into the clubhouse, Boyer called me into his office and said, ‘Well, you probably already know that.’ I said, ‘You know what?’ And he said, ‘Dempsey got hurt tonight, so you’re probably going up.’ And I was kind of in shock.
Later that night it was confirmed. Criscione was heading to the big boys to play for manager Earl Weaver.
“That was the furthest thing from my mind – being called up”, said Criscione. “I was excited. I just couldn’t believe it. It finally happened that someone was going to try their luck with me.
“The crazy thing – my mum and dad were already on the road to Toledo. They drove across Canada and introduced themselves and my roommate ends up telling them that I’m in the big leagues because I can’t get in touch with anyone.
After arriving in Baltimore, Criscione checked into the same hotel as the Yankees. He also shared the hotel with NBC broadcaster Howard Cosell, who was in town for the MLB version of Monday Night Baseball.
“I remember seeing him in the lobby” Criscione said of Cosell. “I introduced myself to him.”
After Baltimore wrapped up a four-game home series with the Yanks, it had a pair of three-game series against the Rangers and Brewers. It wasn’t until the Brewers’ final series contest that Criscione played his first game in MLB.
He came in in the bottom of the eighth and caught two different pitchers — starter Dennis Martinez and reliever Tippy Martinez.
In the top of the ninth, the Orioles tried to regroup from a 3-0 deficit, fending off two runs before Milwaukee closed in on Bill Castro for Criscione to line up with runners at first and second.
“I remember running to home plate for my first batting game,” said Criscione. “I was so excited. I couldn’t wait to get there. The good thing, I was hitting against a pitcher that I had seen in the minor leagues before. It was exciting. A lot of players that were there that I was against. had played over the years.
“I had waited so long. It’s really the same as what you do every day, but just a little more. You are in a big stadium. You get big crowds. It’s just something you dream about all your life.
After the game, Criscione hopped on a plane to Rochester while the rest of the Orioles returned to Baltimore. On July 21, when he was supposed to play for the O’s against their Class AAA affiliate, the Rochester Red Wings, in an exhibition game, his first child – daughter Keri – was born.
Three days later, Criscione received his first start against the Brewers and caught for starter Rudy May. Offensively, he went 2-for-3, which included his first hit in MLB, and added a key sacrificial bunt.
“I ended up getting three standing ovations that day,” said Criscione. “People were great. My first hit – people went crazy.
Leading the fourth and sixth innings, he collected singles against Milwaukee starter Jerry Augustine. He was blocked both times.
In the eighth, Oriole third baseman Doug DeCinces doubled and pinch hitter Pat Kelly reached on an error. Criscione moved them to second and third with a sacrificial bunt. Center fielder Elliott Maddox followed with a sacrificial fly, tackling DeCinces with the go-ahead, and Baltimore held on for a 4-3 victory.
The next day was the day Criscione hit the famous home run – his only home run. Baltimore’s starting catcher that day, Dave Skaggs, had been hit in the ninth inning and the O’s tied the game to force the extras.
Criscione caught the 10th inning from starter Dennis Martinez, then worked with reliever Tippy Martinex in the 11th.
After Brooks Robinson led the bottom of the 11th with a groundout, Criscione followed with the winning explosion.
“I knew (the ball) was gone straight away,” said Criscione. “I hit good. I knew I had hit good. I was running so fast I almost missed first base; I was smoking. I was about to take second and I thought to myself: “It’s going to be over before I get a chance to enjoy it,” so I slowed down a bit.
“The best part is my brother Pete and his wife and their kids were in the stands. They saw him coming.
These consecutive days were what Criscione called “the highlight of his career.”
“I was basically a role player and just got through it,” he said. “My teammates went crazy like everyone else. They were excited.
However, despite Criscione’s success, Oriole management felt they should add veteran support to the roster, and on July 27, just two days after the homer, Baltimore purchased Ken Rudolph from the San Francisco Giants.
With Skaggs and Rudolph on the roster and Dempsey returning in the next few days, Criscione was the odd man out. He was returned to Rochester on August 8.
“I thought I did a good job” said Criscione. “And everyone seemed to think I had done a good job. I was never called back, then in the minors they were preparing another child who had passed through the organization.
Criscione finished the 1977 season in Rochester and played the entire 1978 season there before deciding to leave professional baseball.
“We had just had our baby” he said. “And I had bought a house here. I had found a job at Ralston Purina and decided to stay here.
Today he works for INX, an ink company in Dunkirk.
From 1980 to 2002, Criscione coached at Fredonia State with Dale Till. During his last three years with the program, Criscione was the head coach.
Despite his love for the game, he grew tired of fitting training into his schedule with a full-time job and his family.
“With Dale, it was easier to do” said Criscione. “He would be able to do all the paperwork, I would do a lot of coaching.”
As far as he was concerned, he had already accomplished what he had planned to do.
“It was my goal all my life” he said. “That I was going to make it to the big leagues, even though everyone said my size was going to hold me back. You’re just going after. That’s it.”