SABR

Sid Monge

This article was written by Tracy J. R. Collins.

"Monge doesn’t need a rest;
That’s why he’s among the best.
He is one who earns his pay
Pitching almost every day."

— Dan Coughlin, April 24, 1979

 

How many baseball players, good — even great — baseball players have never played in a World Series? Moreover, how many players can say that they played for both of the teams competing in the World Series? Since the first modern World Series was played, in 1903, only one man can make these claims, Sid Monge. He will tell you that it was luck. He will even tell you about Father Time, or about the power of a positive attitude, but upon seeing a list of his accomplishments and learning of his championships at every level, two facts emerge. Sid Monge was not only a gifted athlete and pitcher, and a talented coach, but he was also a hard worker. As Dan Coughlin noted in 1979, Monge was known as the man willing to pitch every day if that was what it took to get the job done.

Isidro “Sid” Pedroza Monge was born on April 11, 1951, in Agua Prieta in Sonora state in northwestern Mexico. He was the second oldest of six children born to Consuelo and Pedroza Cardenas. He described his childhood “as not your typical childhood,” adding: “It was adverse and unconventional. I don’t recommend it to anyone.” Monge’s parents divorced when he was 8 years old. Two sisters and a brother went to live with his mother, and two other sisters and Sid went to live with his father. Monge’s father, the head mechanic for a trucking fleet, went to the United States, and for the next 18 months, Monge was shuttled among aunts and uncles at the border until he could join his father in the Los Angeles area. As a 9-year-old, Monge found himself in a foreign country, learning a second language, and starting the fifth grade in Rancho Cucamonga, California. It was a tough start for anyone trying to make a life for himself, let alone someone who would grow up to be a successful major-league baseball player. Then came “Uncle Frank.” Frank Pedroza, an uncle on his mother’s side, was seven years older than Monge and gave him his first glove. “I looked up to him,” Sid said. “He loved baseball. If he had been an outlaw, I probably would have followed that. He gave me my first glove, a right-hander’s glove. I just wore it on the wrong hand.” Frank made a difference in Monge’s life. So did the chance to play baseball. “Baseball saved me,” Sid told Bob Sudyk in May 1979. “It helped me deal with life. It totally occupied me. I was too busy playing ball to feel sorry for myself or be tempted to break the law. I was poor all my life until I signed (a professional contract).”

Monge lived with his siblings, father and stepmother in Rancho Cucamonga until his last two years of high school. But more turbulence crept into his life. Recalling the time in 2010, he said, “I’m an outsider, I’m not related to her, so I was treated like a stepchild, God rest her soul, she was kind of on the mean side to me, that’s what led me to leave the house. I had had enough. I had to tell my dad that I just could not live with his new wife.” So, at 16 Monge moved out. He moved to Brawley, California, near the Mexican border, rented a room and began to support himself. Monge told Cleveland sports reporter Dan Coughlin in 1979, “I was always short of cash. I was in the poorhouse. I wouldn’t ask my father for anything. I was too proud. I’d earn it some way.” That desire and work ethic helped him through the next few years. Unlike his high-school teammates, Monge was working 40 hours a week to pay for rent and groceries, working on his grades, and playing sports. He was on the honor roll in his last two years of Brawley High School. He also was involved in every sport imaginable. When asked what he liked to do as a kid, he quickly replied, “Sports, sports, and more sports.” He played football, basketball, and baseball, and ran cross-country and track. During one season he played baseball and ran cross-country at the same time. He also outlined plans for his life. “My priority was school and preparing myself for my future. I was going to go to college and become a high-school teacher. I was going to double-major in Spanish and physical education. I had all of these ideas and plans already laid out. My dad always told me, ‘Make your mind and body work — don’t be a mechanic or work in the fields.’”

In June 1970, Monge graduated from high school, and on June 4, 1970, he was drafted as a pitcher by the California Angels in the 24th round of the amateur draft. He signed his first pro contract for $3,000. The Angels were interested in him because, according to Ray Herbat in The Sporting News in 1979, “An Angels scout saw Sid in a three-hit victory for the league championship in Imperial Valley and the California organization became interested in him.” He was sent to California’s Rookie League team in Idaho Falls, Idaho.

It was an anxious, exciting, and energetic time not only for Monge personally but also for the country. Other young men were getting drafted, not into major-league baseball, but into the military to fight in Vietnam. Monge’s manager in Idaho, Bob Clear, who saw potential in him, was also an officer in the National Guard, encouraged Monge to join the California National Guard. By doing so, Monge could fulfill his military commitment while at the same time staying in the United States and playing baseball. Always the hard worker, Monge found that baseball and being in the military weren’t enough to keep him busy. That summer he also took correspondence courses through California State University at Los Angeles. Monge completed his basic training at Fort Knox, Kentucky, and then moved back west. He learned to survive in the minor-league baseball system; he also learned how to drive a tank. For the next six years, Monge played baseball wherever he was and returned one weekend a month and two weeks during the summer to Brawley to train with the National Guard. Success followed Monge wherever he went. As happened with the Imperial Valley championship that got him noticed, Idaho Falls won the championship of the Pioneer League in his year with them.

After a 5-1 record at Idaho Falls, Monge was promoted to the Quad Cities team in Davenport, Iowa, of the Midwest League. Once again, his team won the championship, this time when he beat future Hall of Famer Goose Gossage, 3-2. Earlier in the season, on May 4, Monge pitched a no-hitter — the only one of his career — against the Cedar Rapids Cardinals, winning 6-0. He told The Sporting News, “This is my first no-hitter. I came close two or three times in high school, but never had one before.” Including the no-hitter, he threw five shutouts for the Midwest League champions that summer. The no-hitter almost never happened. A Cedar Rapids batter hit an apparent double, but an observant Quad Cities player, Terry Tuley, noticed from the dugout that the batter had missed first base and appealed to the umpire. The umpire upheld the appeal, ruled the batter out, and Monge’s no-hitter was saved.

In 1972 Monge pitched for Shreveport of the Texas League, where he slumped. He finished the season with a 5-10 record. Even so, as one of the organization’s top southpaws, he was invited to spring training by the Angels. Of that summer, Monge told writer Ray Herbat in 1975, “I thought I did well and I figured even if I didn’t stick with the big club I would at least go to [the Triple-A minor-league team in] Salt Lake City. But then they sent me back to Double-A (Shreveport). I was very disappointed.” During the 1973 and 1974 seasons Monge pitched in El Paso of the Texas League, which had become the Angels’ Double-A affiliate. In 1973 he finished the season with a record of 7-11 and was still hoping for his chance to move up. “They said they had too many pitchers coming off the big club and they had to pitch in Triple-A. I was very depressed. I lost my first two starts and began to realize that I wasn’t concentrating on the mound.” That is when he met Sylvia Chavez. According to The Sporting News’ Herbat, Monge believed she helped his pitching: “I met Sylvia on a blind date. Her brother-in-law introduced us. Sylvia and I talked about baseball much, and she learned how to keep charts on my pitches. I began to concentrate again and wound up with a nine-game winning streak. I’m pitching more with my head now.” Monge married Sylvia in June 1974, pitched in the Texas League’s All-Star Game, and finished the season at 14-5. “I finally got my head together,” he said.

In 1975, he was finally given a chance in Triple-A with the Salt Lake City Gulls of the Pacific Coast League. He finished the season with a 14-9 record and a 4.63 ERA, and pitched in the playoffs. After the playoffs he was called up by the Angels.

On September 12, 1975, Monge made his major-league debut. He pitched in relief for the Angels against the Kansas City Royals. It was not a memorable debut. He threw 4⅓ innings, gave up six hits and three runs, and struck out two batters. He did not figure in the decision. Yet Monge was with the big team to stay. The 1976 season was his first full year with the Angels, and although his role as a starter was not one of baseball legend, he was involved in some historic moments. On July 6 Monge gave up future Hall of Famer Frank Robinson’s final home run. On September 12 the first anniversary of his arrival in the big leagues, Monge threw a fastball to 53-year-old Minnie Minoso, who was making a one-game “comeback” with the Chicago White Sox. Minoso singled and became the oldest player to get a hit in the major leagues. Monge pitched 117⅔ innings and ended the season with a 6-7 record and a 3.37 ERA in 32 games. Still, it was frustrating to find himself working only four games and pitching 12⅓ innings for the Angels in the 1977 season’s first month. Thus, it was a relief when he was traded on May 11 to the Cleveland Indians. The Indians sent a pair of left-handed pitchers, Dave LaRoche and Dave Schuler, to the Angels for Monge, outfielder Bruce Bochte, and $250,000 cash.

For Monge the cold shores of Lake Erie were certainly a world away from sunny California and his warm Mexican homeland, but maybe it was just the change he needed, for his years with the Indians helped Monge develop as a major-league pitcher. Speaking of the trade, Monge said, “I’m pleased — real pleased — for a lot of reasons. Mr. [Phil] Seghi [Indians general manager] has promised me the opportunity to pitch and prove myself, and that’s all I ever wanted.”

Cleveland indeed proved to be good for the hard-working Monge. It offered his best memory in baseball as a player. On May 17, 1978, Monge pitched 6⅓ scoreless innings in relief against the New York Yankees, giving up just one hit. He savored the experience: “It was almost a perfect game. Thurman Munson blooped a single. I remember that day. I didn’t sleep for days. Before 1977 it took me a few years to get established. That game turned my career around.” Following his first four games for Cleveland after the trade, his manager, Frank Robinson, said, “He throws harder than I thought.” Monge pitched in three of Cleveland’s first four games after his arrival and was glad to be working again. He told sportswriter Russell Schneider in a Sporting News article that June: “I believe in myself and I think I can help any team, as either a starter or reliever. I prefer to start, though I can relieve if that’s what they want because I’ve got the kind of arm that can pitch every day if necessary.” It was in fact Monge’s ability to keep on working that garnered him attention at the beginning of the 1979 season, his finest.

On April 24, 1979, Dan Coughlin, writing in the Cleveland Plain Dealer, described Monge as having “a good arm and a rubber arm. He can pitch almost every day. He thrives on work.” He wrote that Indians manager Jeff Torborg, the bullpen coach when Monge was acquired, said of Monge: “I’ve been in his corner since he got here. The more we used him, the better he got. Each time out he has more confidence.”

Monge had spent the winter of 1978 pitching in Culican, Mexico, for Tomatores de Culiacan. He appeared in 45 of the Tomatores’ 72 games, going 5-4 with 21 saves and a 1.05 ERA. The following April, thought his arm might be burned out. Monge told Coughlin about the ability of his arm to work day after day: “In one stretch [this winter] I pitched eight days in a row. I pitched three innings one day and the next day we had a morning-afternoon doubleheader. I pitched one inning in the morning game and two-thirds of an inning in the afternoon game. I wanted to see how much my arm could take. It was amazing. My arm bounced back very effectively every day, even though it was a very hectic schedule. I’m living proof that you can do it.”

Monge worked more innings in 1979 than in any other season in his career. It was his best year. He was named American League Pitcher of the Month for July. In 29⅓ innings pitched during the month, Monge allowed only 17 hits and struck out 17. The Indians won 11 of the 12 games he pitched in. When Monge was asked if he had found a niche in relief instead of as a starter, he replied, “I enjoy pitching. Being the late man in the bullpen keeps you on your toes. It has changed my life in pitching because I’m concentrating on one particular thing — relief. And you know you’ll be back in there the next day. I’m ready each day and when I’m brought in, I’m ready for anything.” He was one of three relievers named to the 1979 American League All-Star Team (which also included Nolan Ryan and Tommy John) and the first Mexican-born pitcher to make a major-league All-Star Team. Monge posted career bests that season: a 12-10 record, 19 saves, 76 appearances, and 131 innings pitched. He won the Cleveland sportswriters’ Good Guy Award for his accessibility and sense of humor. Monge was arguably the best relief pitcher in baseball that summer.

Monge pitched two more seasons for the Indians but couldn’t duplicate his strong 1979 season. Life has a way of getting in the way of baseball sometimes. He and his wife, Sylvia, went through a messy divorce during the 1980 season. Monge told Cleveland Plain Dealer writer Burt Graeff, “The whole thing should be over within the next three weeks. The judge in Cleveland read newspaper accounts of how this had been affecting me and has tried to get it resolved as soon as possible. I guess he’s an Indians fan.” With his usual sunny disposition, Monge declared he was on the upswing and ready to get back to work. However, Monge’s numbers never fully recovered. He finished the 1980 season with a 3-5 record, 14 saves and a 3.53 ERA, and he ended 1981 with a 3-5 record and a 4.34 ERA. According to Terry Pluto of the Cleveland Plain Dealer, “Monge is an enigma. In 1979 he was elected to the All-Star Team. In the last two years, he has tossed 21 home-run pitches in 147 innings. That is one gopherball for every seven innings, which is a frighteningly poor ratio.” Because of his waning statistics, Monge was granted free agency on November 13, 1981, but two months later on January 21, 1982, the Indians re-signed him. Then, less than three weeks later, on February 16, he was dealt to the Philadelphia Phillies for outfielder Bake McBride.

Marvin Miller, executive director of the Major League Baseball Players Association, challenged the legality of the trade. The Sporting News wrote, “Miller was unhappy over a report that the Indians insisted on Monge waiving a no-trade clause before becoming a free agent.” Miller accused the Indians and 10 other clubs of collusion. In The Sporting News on March 6, Bill Conlin wrote that Monge and McBride were both happy with their new teams and that Marvin Miller, “a man near the hot core of the malignant tumor of bilateral greed eating away at all pro sports, immediately hollered foul.” But Monge said, “I couldn’t be happier about this deal. I’m going to a class organization and a top contender. Add to that the fact that I’ll be reunited with my catcher, Bo Diaz [who had caught Monge in Cleveland]. The trade is a real plus for me.” In the end, the trade went through, and Monge started off the 1982 season as a member of the Phillies.

Perhaps a happier Monge meant more effective throwing from the bullpen. On August 30, 1982, Hal Bodley reported in The Sporting News that since that summer’s All Star Game, “Monge has been the Phils’ most consistent southpaw reliever.” Once again, it was Monge’s need to work and work every day that seemed to make him stronger. “It has taken time for me to get used to the hitters in this league,” he said. “In the beginning it was tough. I was not getting enough work. For me to be effective, I have to pitch frequently.” He became a part of history again that season. On July 19 future Hall of Fame outfielder Tony Gwynn got his first hit, a double, off Monge. Sid finished the 1982 season in fine form again with a 7-1 record. The next season began equally well.

By the middle of May 1983, Monge had won three games, all in relief, without a loss. Then on May 22, he was traded to the San Diego Padres for outfielder Joe Lefebvre. For Monge it was a welcome change if for no other reason than that he was to be reunited with Dick Williams and Norm Sherry, two of his former coaches with the Angels. It was Sherry who had told Monge he could be a baseball player. “He made me believe I could be a major-league player. He made me a baseball player,” Monge said, further declaring, “I want to work. I’ll do anything but dishes and windows.” He was 7-3 with the Padres.

In June of 1984 Monge, with a 2-1 record for the Padres in 13 games pitched, was sold to the Tigers. With 100 regular-season games left, Monge found himself in Detroit with a team that was red-hot. In a 2008 interview, he said, “When you’re traded, you’re puzzled, but Sparky [Anderson, Detroit’s manager] told me he was going to try and get me into as many games as possible. They didn’t really need anybody like me. They were magnificent. It was like a family. They were deep in the bullpen and Willie [Hernandez] was having a good year.”

It was a good year for the Tigers, but they did need Monge, and he pitched in 32 games that year. His favorite moment from that memorable season, he said it occurred on July 21, the day he got his first victory for the Tigers. He won the game in relief of Glenn Abbott, pitching four innings and allowing the Texas Rangers just one unearned run. “I didn’t quite feel like a part of (the team) until the day I won my first game for them. Then I really felt like I had contributed to the season.” After all, it was unlike Monge to have success happening around him without his making a big contribution to achieve it. Even though that was the only game Monge won for the Tigers, in 19 appearances, it was a fabulous season, for him and the team. After the Tigers won the World Series, he exclaimed, “I was walking on a cloud! It seemed like I didn’t sleep for 16 days!”

After the celebrating was over, Monge was granted free agency for the final time on October 25, 11 days after the World Series ended. “At 36, 37 (he was actually only 33), my fastball was leaving me, so I decided to go into coaching,” he said. “Father Time tells you when it is time to go.” He had pitched his last game as a major-league pitcher on September 30, 1984. But despite Father Time, Monge was not quite through pitching; in 1985 he appeared in 45 games, 34 for Detroit’s Nashville farm club and 11 for the Hawaii Islanders, a Pittsburgh farm team in the Pacific Coast League.

Monge loved everything about baseball, and he found a natural home waiting for him as a pitching coach. He said, “I am a true throwback, an absolute baseball junkie.” He coached for the Rockford Expos (Midwest League) in 1990, the Fayetteville Generals (Carolina League, Tigers affiliate) in 1992, the Peoria Chiefs (Midwest League, Cardinals affiliate) in 2000, the Potomac Cannons (Carolina League, Cardinals) in 2001, the New Jersey Cardinals (New York-Penn League) in 2003-05, for the State College Spikes (New York-Penn League, Cardinals) in 2006, and the Johnson City Cardinals (Appalachian League) in 2007. In 2010 he was the pitching coach for the Sultanes de Monterrey in the Mexican League. Monge said he cannot help but notice that things have changed. Stardom and notoriety are greater than ever, but there is a price to pay in loss of personal privacy and security. “The glamour, the exposure, it’s quite a thing nowadays. You need 17 IDs to get into the clubhouse now. The money is out of control and players do not seem as dedicated to their careers in baseball as they used to be.”

Monge’s own dedication, hard work, championship pitching and personality were honored in June 2004 when he was one of four men inducted into the Salon de la Fama, the Mexican Baseball Hall of Fame. Being honored was especially important to Monge because during his playing days he was involved with 10 different teams in Mexico in winter ball. He played with five — Culiacan, Guaymas, Navojoa, Mexicali, and Mazatlan — and also coached for five — Mexicali, Obregon, Mazatlan, Monterrey, and Guasave. He was part of six Caribbean World Series title-winning teams, three coaching and three playing from 1972 to 1990.

Perhaps a more interesting testimony to Monge’s reputation not only as a player but for his personality is represented in the Sid Monge Fan Club, an active group that meets once a year at his various minor-league games. It is also a true testament to his generosity during his playing days. The club has an extensive Web site (http://www.geocities.com/sidmongefc/). Monge has four children. His oldest son, Michael, 30, graduated from San Diego State University, and in 2010 was the regional distribution center manager for Frazee Paint in San Diego. His daughter, Mandy, 25, graduated in 2010 from the University of Arizona. His 19-year-old son, John, was attending trade school in Boston in 2010, and his youngest son, Andy, 7, lived with him and his current wife, Lorena, in Mexico, and was learning how to throw a baseball.

 

Sources

Articles

“Angels’ Monge Granted Reprieve in No-Hitter.” The Sporting News, May 22, 1971. 43.

Bodley, Hal. “Addition of Monge Crowds Bullpen.” The Sporting News, March 6, 1982. 28.

Bodley, Hal “Monge Regains Bullpen Form.” The Sporting News, August 30, 1982. 41.

Coughlin, Dan. “Monge Bringing Belief to Indians.” Cleveland Plain Dealer, April 24, 1979. C1, C3.

Conlin, Bill. “Monge, McBride Happy; Miller Isn’t.” The Sporting News, March 6, 1982. 31.

Graeff, Burt. “The Real El Sid Finally Stands Up.” Cleveland Plain Dealer, no date listed. C1

Herbat, Ray. “Salt Lake’s Monge Enjoys Raindrops with Victories.” The Sporting News, May 10, 1979. 35.

Nold, Bob. “Monge Impressive by Any Measurement.” Akron Beacon Journal, June 3, 1979. D4.

Pluto, Terry. “Monge Signs with Tribe for $1 Million.” Cleveland Plain Dealer, January 21, 1982. D1.

Sanchez, Jesse “Talking Beisbol: HOF Mexico Style” Baseball Perspectives page, www.mlb.com. June 17, 2004.

Schneider, Russell. “Ex-Angels Take Quickly to Indian Blankets.” The Sporting News, June 4, 1977. 13.

“Sid Monge.” Baseball-Reference.com, 30 April 2008. http://www.baseball-reference.com/m/mongesi01.shtml.

“Sid Monge Fan Club.” June 15, 2008. http://www.geocities.com/sidmongefc/.

Sudyk, Bob. “Monge Travels Far on Hard Road As a Youth.” The Sporting News, May 12, 1979, p.7.

Utnick, Dave. “A Man for All Seasons.” Publication and date not given.

Other

Collins, Tracy. E-mail interview with Amanda Monge. August 5 and 12, 2008.

Collins, Tracy. Personal interviews with Sid Monge. June 19, 2008, and August 1, 2008.

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