Nearly 30 years after it happened, it’s still one of the most-remarkable feats in Albuquerque’s long baseball history.
On June 2, 1983, Franklin Stubbs hit four home runs for the Albuquerque Dukes in a game against Phoenix at the Albuquerque Sports Stadium.
The Albuquerque ballpark looks a lot different today, Stubbs was sure to notice, than it did on that memorable day. He’s back in the Duke City as the hitting coach for the Albuquerque Isotopes, and Isotopes Park will never be mistaken for the old Sports Stadium.
Stubbs had been the Los Angeles Dodgers first-round draft pick in 1982, when he was playing at Virginia Tech. In what remained of the ’82 season, he played in just 16 games at Class A Vero Beach before breaking his ankle and having to recuperate — and wait — for the 1983 season.
He began the 1983 season at double-A San Antonio, playing in 47 games for the Missions before a promotion sent him to Albuquerque.
Stubbs, 52, remembers struggling for longer than anyone would hope to.
“I think the first thing I remember, is when I first came up I was about 0 for 12, because I was just learning how to play the outfield,” Stubbs recalled. “They asked Del Crandall, who was my manager at the time, ‘Is he going to play tomorrow, because he’s not hitting.’ And he said, ‘He’s going to play right field every day,’ and you know what happened that night.
“I got my confidence back and I hit four home runs that night,” Stubbs said. “That was my biggest memory here.”
Stubbs said hearing Crandall’s confidence in him helped him hit four homers in his next game – and another homer in his first at-bat in his next game.
As all players seem to do, Stubbs remembered every homer.
“I happened to get a fastball in the zone that I really liked – kind of middle-in, down — I hit that one and it felt good. The next one was a breaking ball — he hung it, I hit that one,” Stubbs said. “I went, ‘Man, this is feeling pretty good. I didn’t have any idea I would hit four that day.
“I ended up popping up the third at-bat. And then the fourth at-bat, I hit another. … And my last at-bat, I ended up hitting a change-up down the line,” he said, wrapping up his feat.
“Everything felt good, the ball looked good, I was relaxed — and I didn’t chase pitches,” he explained.
“The other one that would stand out would be when we beat Las Vegas, which had a very powerful team that year, in San Diego’s organization. Some great players were over there and we had some great battles. We ended up beating them in a five-game series,” Stubbs recalled. “It was a tough series because a lot of our guys went up to the big leagues, and we didn’t have a lot. But we played well, we played hard (for manager Terry Collins).
“I hit a game-tying home run (in the fourth game) to give us the win and put us in the final game. We ended up losing to Portland, but it was a great series.”
Stubbs batted .277 for the Dukes in ’83, which ended a three-year streak of PCL championships, with 16 homers (he hit 12 at San Antonio) and 58 RBIs.
He split time between the Dukes and L.A. Dodgers in 1984 and ’85, then stayed with the Dodgers through the 1989 season.
No Dodgers fan can forget the 1988 season, of course. That’s the last time the Dodgers won a world championship.
“That’s big one, because when you grow up as a child, the one thing you want to do is win a World Series,” he said. “I was blessed enough that we won, which was a beautiful thing, and I always said, if you’re going to play in it, win it.”
Aptly recalled in “Miracle Men,” a book detailing the 1988 season by new Isotopes play-by-play man Josh Suchon, Stubbs was asked about his memories of Kirk Gibson’s game-winning homer in Game One off Dennis Eckersley.
The Dodgers won that game, which seemingly provided enough momentum and sentiment to win it all.
Gibson, Stubbs said, “was our leader all year long. I knew if he could breathe — forget about walking — he was going to go up there and try to do something.
“Nobody expected a home run. When Mike (Davis) stole second, I was just saying, ‘Man, if he could just get a base hit right here, that’ll get us into extra innings.’ And when he hit the home run, I just thought there was no possible way we could lose.”
They didn’t. But the Dodgers haven’t been to the Fall Classic since then — 25 years ago.
“I believe we’re on the right path and I believe we’ve got a great chance to do it,” Stubbs said. “Once you win one, you always have it, no matter what.”
As a kid, Stubbs said his idols were Hall of Famers Roberto Clemente and Willie Stargell. Once he was in the big leagues — he played with Houston in 1990, Milwaukee in 1991-92 and Detroit in 1995 — Dusty Baker was instrumental in providing mentorship to the young Stubbs.
“He took Kenny (Howell) and me under his wing … took us over to his house, showed us how to play, just did everything he could possibly do for us.”
Coaching is something Stubbs thought about midway through his playing days.
“I always felt this is what I was going to do afterward, because I enjoyed being around young people,” Stubbs said. “I always felt like I could help; I always felt like I could teach. And I felt that was the second thing I was going to do, because after I played I felt like I was going into coaching because I had something I wanted to give back.”
His coaching days began with the Braves in 1997. “Twelve years later, I was still there — then they let me go, and I came over here.
“So I’ve been blessed to be in two very well-run, first-class organizations.”
Once college foes, Stubbs and Albuquerque Isotopes manager Lorenzo Bundy now are buddies — and co-workers.
“He went to James Madison, I went to Virginia Tech,” Stubbs said. “He’ll tell you he was the second-best player in Virginia — so he knows who the first was.
“But he was a great player back then; a great competitor,” Stubbs said. “That’s what I love about him. He’s kind of like me, kind of low key: ‘Let the players play the game, because they play the game.’ But we help where we need to help at, and if we need to get on a player, we get on them. But the biggest thing, I think, is we’re honest with them.”
Here’s what he tells his charges: “The thing is, if you get one hit every day, you’re always doing good. So 1 for 3, you’re in the Hall of Fame. One for 4, you’re still doing OK. Try to get a walk every day. But come prepared and have a great routine every day — you’ve got to prepare yourself these days. … You do that and you keep it simple.”
He said he still stays in touch with former Dukes teammates Ken Howell and Ralph Bryant.
“Everybody goes their separate ways, but every now and then you’ll see some guy and you’ll give him a hug and talk about their families.”
Stubbs doesn’t know if any of today’s Isotopes realize he hit four bombs in a game.
“If they find out, they find out,” he explained. “But that’s not something I bring up — I don’t bring up my stats. It’s not about me.
“They’ve got to live in the moment, just like we did when I played. It’s not about what you did in the past; it’s what you do now.”
“He’s going to do a nice job for us,” Bundy said. “Stubby’s one of those ‘look first, then react’ guys … He’s not going to jump in and try to fix you. His insight, between playing in the big leagues, and working with hitters for umpteen years — you let him go. … Our conversations are very open — this is his ballgame.”
IsoTopics: The Isotopes have a short four-game home stand with Oklahoma City Saturday through Tuesday. Game times are 7:05 p.m. Saturday and Monday, 6:05 Sunday and 12:05 on Tuesday. June has only eight home games; the ‘Topes will be home June 14-17 to face Memphis and again June 22-25 to face Round Rock.
… Minor League Baseball recently named the isotopes as one of the top 25 teams in licensed merchandise sales. The ‘Topes have been in the top 25 all 11 seasons of their existence. Rankings are based on wholesale sales reports from Jan. 1 to Dec. 31, 2012.