On the night of August 25, 1980, an armed man described as “screaming” and “ranting and raving” entered Miami Stadium in Miami, Florida, between games of a Class A minor-league doubleheader. He shot one fan in the neck, causing a minor wound, then turned to leave. When two other fans chased him, he shot them dead outside the ballpark’s main entrance.1
And after that, amid fear and sirens and disbelief, the Fort Lauderdale (Florida) Yankees and Miami Orioles went out and played the second game of their doubleheader.
The teams managed six hits between them as the Yankees claimed a 3-1 win. But the final score felt like an afterthought to players like Miami catcher John Stefero. “I was kind of scared. I didn’t care about playing the second game, period,” Stefero said afterward. “We were the center of attention. It could have happened to us.”2
The 1980 season had already been tempestuous for players on the Baltimore Orioles’ Miami affiliate. Riots erupted in May when a White jury acquitted four police officers in the beating death of Black insurance salesman Arthur McDuffie following a traffic stop the previous year.3 Players’ cars were pelted with rocks, bottles, and cinder blocks, and several games had to be moved or rescheduled when the National Guard took over Miami Stadium as a temporary base of operations.4
The teams that met on August 25 occupied opposite ends of the Florida State League’s five-team Southern Division. Manager Doug Holmquist’s Fort Lauderdale team was in first place with a 79-51 record, four games ahead of Vero Beach. Miami, led by Lance Nichols, was fifth and last with a 49-80 record, 29½ games back.5 The teams held the same positions at season’s end. Fort Lauderdale went on to beat St. Petersburg and Vero Beach and win the postseason playoffs.6
The junior Yankees’ most remarkable season belonged to pitcher Gene Nelson, who didn’t play on August 25. The 19-year-old Florida native compiled the league’s best won-lost record, 20-3, with a 1.97 ERA in 27 games. He made his major-league debut with the parent New York Yankees the following season. Notable Fort Lauderdale Yankees who played included outfielders Tom Dodd7, Wes Robbins, and Rob Teegarden, who tied for the team home-run lead with 7 apiece; first baseman Randy Guerra, team RBI leader with 62; and two future major leaguers, third baseman Brian Dayett and shortstop Rafael Santana. Robbins also led team regulars with a .279 batting average and 34 stolen bases.8
Besides Stefero, only one future major leaguer started the second game for Miami. Right fielder Mike Young, a .267 hitter in 115 games, later played parts of eight seasons for four big-league teams and spent a season in Japan.9 Team leaders who appeared for Miami that night included first baseman Donald Bowman, tops with 11 homers and 56 RBIs, and pinch-runner John Pavlik, leading basestealer with 36.
Lefty Irvin Clark got the second-game start for Miami. Splitting his time between starting and relieving, he went 4-3 with a 3.38 ERA in 16 games between Rookie and Class A levels in 1980. It was the first of his two pro seasons.
Due to injuries to other pitchers, Fort Lauderdale’s Holmquist had been forced to use second-game starter Chris Lein in relief in the first game.10 Lein surrendered three hits, including a game-winning eighth-inning double by catcher Bob Palmer, as Miami claimed a walk-off 4-3 win in the opener.11
As the teams prepared for the second game, 33-year-old gunman Jose Tomás entered the ballpark and shot 43-year-old Jose Angel Garcia in the neck. On his way out of the ballpark, Tomás fatally shot Edward Huntoon – celebrating his 23rd birthday – and 24-year-old Charles Matanis Jr.,12 who were pursuing him after the first shooting. “These guys apparently were just trying to be good Samaritans and ended up being killed for it,” Miami Police Detective Jimmy Beall said.13
Orioles executive director Bob Wild said the team chose to play the second game in hopes of keeping fans inside the ballpark. “We didn’t want to send them home in this mess,” said Wild, who had unsuccessfully tried to resuscitate one of the victims. “We decided it was much safer for the crowd to resume the second game. … By keeping the people in, it kept the crowd away from what the police and fire rescue were trying to do.”14 Still, one Miami newspaper reported that only 75 of the 542 fans were still in the ballpark by the end of the second game.15
Some of the players said they kept turning around to “watch their backs” during the second game.16 This distraction might have explained a relative lack of action on the field. (The game action that did occur has to be largely pieced together from the box score. Newspapers in Miami and Fort Lauderdale ran only the briefest of game recaps, focusing their reporting attention on the murders.)
Miami’s offensive output in seven innings against Lein, a righty from Staten Island, New York, can be summarized in two sentences. Designated hitter Matt Tyner, a former University of Miami player, hit a solo homer off Lein in the third inning, and Stefero hit a single at an unspecified point. Lein issued one walk, and Fort Lauderdale second baseman Rafael Villaman made two errors, but that was all for Miami baserunners.17 The Orioles stranded three runners.
Clark pitched 6⅓ innings, the first four without giving up a run. He surrendered only four hits – two to Dodd, including a triple, and one single apiece to Villaman and catcher Dan Plante. But he walked seven hitters and threw a wild pitch, while striking out only two.
Fort Lauderdale scored two runs in the fifth and one more in the sixth to claim a 3-1 lead. Dodd scored two of the runs.18 Designated hitter Pete Khoury scored Fort Lauderdale’s third run without getting a hit. Since Miami did not commit any errors and Clark did not hit any batsmen, it appears likely that Khoury drew one of Clark’s seven walks and Fort Lauderdale made it count. Only two RBIs are credited in the box score – one to Khoury, and one to center fielder Robbins.
Righty reliever Thomas Franke had won the first game of the doubleheader with two innings of shutout relief. He came on in the seventh inning of the second game and retired the final two Fort Lauderdale hitters, striking out one. That made August 25 one of the season’s better days for Franke, who compiled a 9.00 ERA in 16 relief appearances, surrendering 40 hits and 24 walks in 27 innings while striking out only nine batters. The 1980 season was Franke’s only campaign as a pro.
The game ended in 1 hour and 50 minutes. Afterward, Orioles right fielder Neal Herrick engaged in some bleak humor: “We’re gonna start calling ourselves the Miami Mailmen. We play in anything – rain, sleet, gunfire, riots.” Pitcher Mike Alvarez, a Miami native, added: “In Miami you can expect anything. But last night showed me why people won’t come out to the games.”19 The Miami team averaged 652 fans a game in 1980 – actually an improvement over some preceding years, but still not enough to ensure ongoing operations.20 Baltimore operated Class A affiliates in Miami and Hagerstown, Maryland, in 1981, then pulled out of Miami before the 1982 season – ending an affiliation that began in 1966.
Tomás’s mother told reporters he had been suffering from signs of mental illness for years and had recently been living in cars and empty houses; his parents, overwhelmed by his mental problems, had banished him from their home.21 A judge found him mentally competent to stand trial, and Tomás was sentenced in January 1981 to serve two consecutive life terms. Huntoon and Matanis were posthumously honored in November 1980 with awards for bravery.22
This article was fact-checked by Gary Belleville and copy-edited by Len Levin.
Sources and photo credit
In addition to the specific sources cited in the Notes, the author consulted Baseball-Reference.com and Retrosheet.org for general player, team, and season data.
Neither Baseball-Reference nor Retrosheet provides box scores of minor-league games, but the August 25, 1980, edition of the Fort Lauderdale (Florida) News published a box score.
Photo of 1987 Topps card #563 from author’s collection.
1 Joan Fleischman, “Ball Park Gunman Kills Two,” Miami Herald, August 26, 1980: 1.
2 Jack Knarr, “‘We Looked Up and Saw People Running,’” Miami News, August 26, 1980: 1.
3 Gene Miller and Joe Oglesby, “Cops Freed in McDuffie Case,” Miami News, May 18, 1980: 1.
4 Michael Janofsky, “Class A Crisis,” Miami Herald, June 3, 1980: 1D.
5 Florida State League standings as printed in the Fort Lauderdale (Florida) News, August 25, 1980: 4D. Holmquist served as a coach with the New York Yankees for parts of the 1984 and 1985 seasons. Nichols played seven minor-league seasons and managed 12, but did not reach the majors as a player, manager, or coach.
7 While Dodd was a Yankees farmhand in 1980, he logged his only major-league experience with the Baltimore Orioles – Miami’s parent club – in 1986.
8 Robbins, a former University of Miami athlete, played three professional seasons. His career peaked at Double A in his final season, 1981.
9 In 1987 Young became the fifth player in American or National League history to hit two extra-inning home runs in the same game. Gary Belleville, “May 29, 1987: Orioles Soar to Victory on Mike Young’s Two Extra-Inning Home Runs,” SABR Games Project, accessed August 2023.
10 “FSL Yanks Split, Face Vero Tonight,” Fort Lauderdale News, August 26, 1980: 2C.
11 “Orioles Split with Yankees,” Miami Herald, August 26, 1980: 9E.
12 The spelling of Matanis’s name varied in news stories about the murders. In stories published the day after the event, it was spelled Matanis. In some later references it varied to Matantis. And in news stories about Tomás’s conviction in January 1981 – such as Jim Buchanan, “Stadium Killer Given Life,” Miami Herald, January 20, 1981: 3B – it was frequently spelled Mantanas. This story uses Matanis, based on State of Florida death index and Social Security death index records found in August 2023 on Familysearch.org.
13 Rick Thames, “Murder at the Ball Park,” Miami News, August 26, 1980: 1; Associated Press, “Murder in the Ballpark,” Fort Lauderdale News, August 26, 1980: 1A. In the Miami News story, the first victim is identified only as Angel Garcia; the Fort Lauderdale News story names him as Jose Angel Garcia. Police reported that Tomás did not know Huntoon and Matanis.
14 Fleischman. The motive for the initial shooting was unclear. The first victim, Garcia, told the Miami News he lived in the same neighborhood as Tomás but had never spoken with him. In one news story, Miami police suggested that the gunman might have confused Garcia with another man with whom he had been arguing.
15 Thames, “Murder at the Ball Park.”
17 Villaman made 28 errors in 113 games at second base in 1980, most on the team by a wide margin.
18 It can be extrapolated from the box score that Dodd scored one run apiece in the fifth and sixth innings, as it would have been impossible for the team to bat around and Dodd to score both Fort Lauderdale runs in the fifth without any other player also scoring.
21 Dan Williams, “Double-Killing Suspect’s Parents Terrified by ‘Sick, Enraged’ Son,” Miami Herald, August 27, 1980: 1C.
22 “2 Life Terms in Stadium Murders,” Miami News, January 20, 1981: 5A; Dary Matera, “6 Heroes Faced Down Death, Named for Legion of Honor,” Miami News, November 11, 1980: 4A.
Fort Lauderdale Yankees 3
Miami Orioles 1
Game 2, DH
If you can help us improve this game story, contact us.