It happened more than 38 years ago, yet Manny Mota still can't bring himself to talk about it.
"It's very difficult," the Dodgers coach and former All-Star outfielder said. "It brings up bad memories."
"It" was a foul ball Mota lined into the seats down the first base line at Dodger Stadium during the third inning of an otherwise uneventful mid-May game against the San Francisco Giants in 1970. But what made this foul ball different from the thousands of others Mota hit into the stands during his 20-year big league career was that it hit a 14-year-old boy in the head, just above his left ear.
Five days later, the boy was dead.
"I felt guilty because I hit the foul ball," Mota said quietly in Spanish. "And a young boy lost his life."
Mota is the longest-tenured coach in Dodger history, having spent 29 years with the organization. And this may be a case where a job is more than just a job. After the tragedy, Mota could have left the team and the sport behind to try to escape his guilt. Instead he stayed—and ended up staying much longer than most. Is this career longevity a kind of penance, or protection, or both? (Or maybe it's just a job, lest I get too carried away.)
We'll never know why Manny Mota stuck around, but I'm glad he did. I also know from now on whenever I hear his name, I'll think beyond all the pinch hits to a man on the field and a family off it changed by the game of baseball in a way fans could never fathom.