Probably the most acclaimed baseball in the Reliquary’s collections isn’t even a baseball; rather it is a potato, which was disguised as a baseball and thrown by former minor league catcher Dave Bresnahan. Now in a somewhat desiccated state, the potato has been preserved since 1987 in this specimen jar filled with denatured alcohol. (Photo courtesy of Larry Goren)
In October of 2000, the Baseball Reliquary acquired for its permanent collections what is believed to be the actual potato thrown by former minor league catcher Dave Bresnahan in one of the classic stunts in baseball history. In August of 1987, Bresnahan, then a 25-year-old second-string catcher with the Williamsport (Pennsylvania) Bills of the Class-AA Eastern League, decided to liven up a meaningless late-season home game. Before the game, Bresnahan peeled and sculpted a potato in the shape of a baseball. Behind the plate in the fifth inning, with the potato concealed in his mitt and a runner on third base, he threw the potato wildly past his third baseman, hoping the runner would think he made an errant pick-off throw. The play worked to perfection. The runner at third trotted home, and Bresnahan tagged him out with the baseball. An umpire retrieved the potato and awarded the runner home for Bresnahan’s deception. The following day, Bresnahan was fined by his manager and then released by the Bills’ parent club, the Cleveland Indians, for what they perceived as an affront to the integrity of the game.
Although his four-year professional baseball career was over, Bresnahan, much like Rupert Pupkin in Martin Scorcese’s film, The King of Comedy, became an overnight celebrity. He received numerous interview requests from around the world, and Bob Verdi of the Chicago Tribune named him the “1987 Sports Person of the Year.” In 1988, the Williamsport club held a “Dave Bresnahan Day” and retired his uniform number 59. Bresnahan told the more than 4,000 fans in attendance, “Lou Gehrig had to play in 2,130 consecutive games and hit .340 for his number to be retired, and all I had to do was bat .140 and throw a potato.” Today, Bresnahan is a successful stockbroker living in Tempe, Arizona.
After the catcher’s stunt, the umpires examined the potato and one of them pocketed it. When the inning was over, the umpire, incredible as it sounds, simply tossed the potato in a trash can near the front row of stands. A teenage boy instantly ran to the discarded potato and, after brushing off hot dog wrappers and beer cups, salvaged it. He took it home and placed it in a specimen jar from his high school biology class, wisely filled the jar with denatured alcohol, and the potato has been preserved in this desiccated state since then. The teenager, now a Reading, Pennsylvania attorney, purportedly offered the potato to the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum in the summer of 2000, but officials in Cooperstown showed little interest in this historic relic; in fact, they said that “it would be perfect for the Baseball Reliquary.” The attorney then contacted the Reliquary and arrangements were made to transfer the potato, in its original specimen jar, to its new home in Southern California.