The Hidden Potato Trick

This article was written by Steven Glassman

This article was published in The National Pastime: Major Research on the Minor Leagues (2022)



In August 2022, the Williamsport Crosscutters plan to commemorate Bresnahan’s trick by renaming the team for a night and selling Great Potato Caper collectibles, including the shirt shown here. (Courtesy of the Williamsport Crosscutters)

In August 2022, the Williamsport Crosscutters plan to commemorate Dave Bresnahan’s trick by renaming the team for a night and selling Great Potato Caper collectibles, including the shirt shown here. (Courtesy of the Williamsport Crosscutters)


Roger Bresnahan was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1945 for his achievements as a catcher. His great-nephew, Dave Bresnahan, was also a catcher, and in 1988 had his uniform number retired by the Williamsport Bills … for throwing a potato.

David Joseph Bresnahan was born on December 29, 1961, in Chicago, Illinois. Known to his teammates as “Brez” growing up, he rose through the ranks of Little League and played at Gerard Catholic High School in Phoenix, Arizona.

Brez was named to the Arizona Republic’s Class AA All-State First-Team and was the Arizona Daily Star’s Super Nine Catcher, while batting .471 and throwing out 60% of baserunners as a senior in 1980. His amateur career included stints in American Legion ball with Valley West Services (1978) and Kerr’s in Phoenix (1980), the Phoenix College Bears (1981-82, Arizona Community College Athletic All-Conference Catcher), and as a two-year letter winner at NAIA (National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics) with the Grand Canyon College Antelopes (1983-84).1 Originally a right-handed hitter, he became a self-made switch-hitting catcher after “he broke his right hand throwing one summer.”2

On June 4, 1984, the Seattle Mariners drafted him as the second pick in the 18th round (446th overall) of the Primary Phase of the Amateur Draft.3 Bresnahan signed with the Mariners on June 11, 1984, and was assigned to Bellingham (Washington) in the short- season Class A Northwest League. He got off to a good start—.259/.411/.315 in 64 games—in his first professional season that summer, but was released by the Mariners on June 17, 1985, after a subpar performance (.177/.288/.260 in 31 games) with the Class A Wausau Timbers of the Midwest League.4

The Cleveland Indians acquired him on March 21, 1986, because he had good catching skills and was well-liked by his teammates. In the chapter “The Great Potato Pick-Off Play” from Mark Bowden’s book Road Work, Bowden wrote the following about Bresnahan: “An avid fan and amateur baseball historian, he approached the game with an irrepressible fun streak that endeared him to players, coaches, fans, the media, and, above all, his fellow players.”5

Bresnahan was assigned to Class A Waterloo where he served as the team’s backup catcher and was a mid-season Midwest League All-Star selection, after compiling a slash line of .221/.347/.327 in 89 games and setting career bests in almost every offensive category. After Waterloo won the 1986 Midwest League Championship, the Indians rewarded manager Steve Swisher and most of the players (including Bresnahan) with promotion to the Indians AA affiliate of the Eastern League for 1987, the Williamsport Bills.6 But a short way into the season, on May 20, 1987, Swisher was promoted again, this time to the struggling Class AAA Buffalo Bisons squad of the American Association.

The Bisons had gotten off to a bad start, 11-22, and when Swisher went up, the Indians demoted manager Orlando Gomez to Williamsport (14-16). While Swisher was “a gung ho leader who owned [the players’] loyalty and esteem,” Gomez was unpopular with the players, “an emotional man, and his feelings about the demotion showed.”7 The players were also unhappy about Bresnahan being demoted to Class A Kinston of the Carolina League. (Bresnahan had been hitting under .200 and reportedly there was a hot catching prospect in Kinston he could help season.8)

The Bills took the field the day after Bresnahan left town with the right sleeves of their blue-and-red jerseys rolled up as a gesture of mourning.9 After playing nine games for Kinston, Bresnahan was promoted back to Williamsport when starting catcher Dain Syverson was hurt.10 By that time, the Bills were already out of the Eastern League playoff picture.

Bresnahan originally thought of using a potato in a game as early as junior college, but hadn’t pulled the prank then because “the games had all seemed too important.”11 But with the Bills out of the playoff race, the idea came back to him. He brought up using a potato in a game with his roommate Rob Swain at Joey’s Place, a restaurant/bar in Williamsport. Bresnahan did some research. Most of his teammates liked the idea except for pitcher Mike Poehl, the Indians’ number one pick in the June 1985 draft. Poehl was more concerned about his statistics than his team’s won-loss record and “[h]e told Bresnahan he thought it would be real funny so long as it didn’t happen in his game.”12

Bresnahan said “that the trick would be to make a runner on third believe the ball had been overthrown into left field. Then he could be tagged out at home with the actual baseball. Furthermore, there ‘would have to be a potato shaped the right size.’”13 Bresnahan also figured the best opportunity to do this was during a doubleheader, because he would probably play in one of those games. The only doubleheader left on the Bills’ schedule was Monday, August 31, versus the Phillies at Bowman Field in Williamsport.14 Two days before the doubleheader, Bresnahan had teammate and first baseman Bob Gergan phone a friend who was a major league umpire, Tim Tschida.15 Tschida told him there was not a clear rule (at the time) for what to do if a potato were substituted for the ball, and that if he were the umpire he would eject the player from the game.

Bresnahan went to Weis Market in Williamsport to purchase the potatoes and through trial and error, he managed to peel and carve ones that were shaped like baseballs. He also got another wish: he was starting game one of the doubleheader and Poehl was his batterymate. Poehl, who was still more concerned with his earned run average, still did not want any part of Bresnahan’s stunt because he did not want the run counted against him. Gergan reassured Poehl that the run wouldn’t count because the situation was not in the rule book. Poehl feeling the pressure from his teammates, “reluctantly” told them, “‘Do whatever you want.’”16

In the top of the fifth with the Phillies leading, 1-0, catcher Rick Lundblade led off with a single and moved to second on a sacrifice by center fielder Gib Siebert. Designated hitter Steve Williams grounded out to second and Lundblade advanced to third. Before shortstop Ken Jackson stepped to the plate, Bresnahan asked for time from home plate umpire Scott Potter.17 He told Potter he needed to change mitts because there was an issue with the netting in his glove. The guys on the bench, except for Gomez, knew what Bresnahan was up to. When he went to the dugout, Bresnahan retrieved a new glove: one pre-loaded with the potato.

Bresnahan went into his crouch to receive the first pitch from Poehl. Still not wanting any part of this stunt, Poehl threw a pitch low and outside. Potter yelled “’Ball!’” and Bresnahan threw the potato past Swain into left field. Lundblade, thinking there was an overthrow, was told to go home by third base coach Joe Lefebvre. Lefebvre looked out at Bills left fielder Miguel Roman, who wondered what was thrown his way. Lundblade proceeded to home plate where Bres- nahan was waiting for him—with a baseball.

The crowd of 3,258 was just as confused as Lefebvre, Lundblade, the Reading Phillies, and Potter. The potato, now in pieces, was retrieved and shown to Phillies manager George Culver and Potter. Potter was very angry at Bresnahan because he believed he was being “shown up” by the prank. Bresnahan told Potter he was not trying to do that, and that the run should not count. Potter, unconvinced, said that the run counted. Bresnahan was charged with an error and the run was unearned.

Following the play, Bresnahan stayed in the game after the Phillies were retired that inning.18 The Bills came back and won the first game of the doubleheader, 4-3. Gomez pulled him from the game and told Bresnahan to meet him in the office following the game. Gomez went over to the Phillies dugout and apologized to them. A few months later, Culver told Jayson Stark, “But we weren’t that upset, really. We thought it was kind of funny.”19

Gomez called Bresnahan into his office following the first game of the doubleheader to tell him, “‘What you do, Brez, is very embarrassing to the team.’”20 Bresnahan was fined $50.00 and “his teammates took up an immediate collection.”21

Gomez also contacted Jeff Scott, Indians Head of Player Development. Gomez knew that Bresnahan was one of the more popular members on the squad. He did not like demoting him to Kinston and “felt that the catcher resented him for it” and that Bresnahan was giving Gomez payback by throwing the potato.22 Bills Assistant General Manager Rick Muntean said, “The word got around immediately, and our phone did not stop ringing off the hook about, ‘This guy’s a bum. I hope he’s gone. Get him out of town,’ all that stuff. You’d have to know Williamsport. Williamsport was the birthplace of Little League Baseball. They take it seriously over there.”23

The next day, September 1, Bresnahan received a phone call from the team trainer to report to Gomez’s office. Gomez delivered the news that he was being released by the Indians. Bresnahan had been expecting to be ejected and fined, not fired. He spoke to Scott. Scott liked him as a person and a player, but he supported the organization’s decision to fire Bresnahan. As Tom Speicher wrote in 1997, for the tenth anniversary of the stunt: “Ray Keyes, the late editor of the Williamsport Sun-Gazette, revealed in his game story, which appeared on the Associated Press wire service, that Bresnahan tossed a potato during the contest. ‘If Ray hadn’t mentioned it in his story, people might still be scratching their heads wondering what happened,’ [Jim] Carpenter [sports editor of the Sun-Gazette said]. Once the word was out, the floodgates opened.”

Bresnahan told Speicher, “After being released, I got home at 10:30 [am] and the phone was ringing. It was a writer in Arizona who said he saw the story on the AP wire, and he told me that everyone wanted a piece of me because of the potato thing. When I told him I just got released, he said that just added more spice to the story.’”24 Bresnahan’s teammates were flabbergasted and for about an hour Bresnahan was depressed, thinking the stunt had been a bad idea after all.”25 He contacted his father who thought the prank was funny, and Brez ended up coughing and crying with laughter at the other end of the phone.26

On September 2, on the way to Bowman field to clean out his locker, Bresnahan purchased another bag of potatoes at Weis Market. Rick Muntean, the Bills’ Assistant General Manager, recalled it vividly: “I saw him come to the clubhouse with a sack of potatoes.” In their lockers, Bresnahan left a potato for each teammate and put the rest on Gomez’s desk with the following note: “’Orlando, you really do not expect me to pay the $50 fine levied on me. However, I will oblige you by paying you these fifty potatoes. This spud’s for you—Brez’”27

During a radio interview, “Williamsport General Manager Bill Terlecky decided to take advantage of the publicity and offered to let fans in for a potato and $1.00 general admission instead of the usual $2.75” for the last Bills home game.28 “Team officials said they collected only two bushels of potatoes, but fans also had collected spuds, complete with Bresnahan’s autograph. About two dozen fans crowded around the catcher as he signed his name and wrote ‘This Spud’s for You.’”29 According to the Los Angeles Times: “More than 100 of the 1,518 fans showed up with a [potato].”30

Numerous news outlets including Baseball America, Sports Illustrated, The Sporting News, Time, and USA Today carried the story. Media requests poured into the Bills offices. Bresnahan was a guest on (then) NBC’s “Late Night with David Letterman” and “Game of the Week” with Marv Albert.31 He appeared on the air in his native Chicago with the Cubs’ Harry Caray. Jokingly, Bresnahan considered running for governor of Idaho.

Later in the year, the Chicago Tribune named him “Sports Person of the Year” for “attempting to have a little fun with life and to inject lost levity into sports.”32 The Los Angeles Times’s Scott Ostler wrote: “Of all the scammers of 1987, Bresnahan was the most original, the only one who immediately admitted his crime and the only one who didn’t wind up with a slap on the wrist, a book deal and a modeling contract. Standing above the rest is Dave Bresnahan, supreme symbol of the absurdity of it all.”33 Baseball America honored Bresnahan with one of “minor league baseball’s 1987 Flying Fickle Finger of Fate awards.34

The following season, on May 30, 1988, the Bills (who were hosting the Phillies) held a “Dave Bresnahan Night” at Bowman Field in front of 2,734 in attendance. Every fan who brought a potato paid one dollar admission. By the night’s end, the Bills had collected six bushels for a local charity.35 Bresnahan autographed both baseballs and potatoes. His uniform number 59 was retired in center field.

During the 30-minute celebration, Bresnahan reenacted the throw with Lundblade, who was playing for the AAA Maine Guides of the International League. The New York Times’s Ira Berkow wrote in a June 8, 1988, article: “One of those who appreciated the potato play is new general manager of Williamsport, Rick Muntean. ‘Baseball purists ask why he made a travesty of the game,’ said Muntean, in remarks at home plate during the ceremony. ‘But we think Dave did something that is the essence of baseball—he had fun with it. At a time when the business of baseball dominates the headlines, he brought baseball back to the field.’”36

“I remember a black-and-white film of Lou Gehrig when his number was retired,” Bresnahan told the crowd. “He said he felt like the luckiest man on the face of the earth. I feel luckier, because Gehrig had to hit .340 and play in more than 2,000 consecutive games to get his number retired. All I had to do is hit less than .150 and throw a potato.”37

Bresnahan did receive some offers from other teams to play with them. “Several teams wanted to sign him the following spring, but all had plans to start him in High-A ball,” wrote Kevin Czerwinski in 2006 for But Bresnahan “realized that much of the interest in signing him was gimmick- oriented so he passed on all the offers.”38 Little did he realize that the celebrations of his potato caper were only just beginning.

The Bills, who were a New York Mets affiliate in 1991, moved to Binghamton, New York, after that season.39 Minor League Baseball returned to Williamsport in 1994 as a short-season A New York-Pennsylvania League affiliate of the Chicago Cubs. Bresnahan’s number was retired for a second time on August 29, 1997.40

In 2000, The Baseball Reliquary, Inc. added the potato used in the game to its collection, but Bresnahan states it can’t be the right one because the actual one fell apart after left fielder Miguel Roman retrieved it. “I peeled the potato. When I threw it, it broke into ten pieces. If someone wants to [claim it’s the real thing] … I’m not saying that it isn’t, but it ain’t.”41 Bresnahan was also a 2002 Baseball Reliquary Shrine of the Eternals Candidate.42

On August 18, 2007, the Williamsport Crosscutters, a short-season Class A New York-Pennsylvania League affiliate of the Philadelphia Phillies, celebrated the 20th anniversary of the potato incident with a Dave Bresnahan Bobblehead for the first 1,000 fans. Bresnahan attended the contest with family and friends. The celebration was sponsored by Professional Petroleum, Minor League Baseball Alumni, and WILQ Radio.

Prior to the Crosscutters night game against the State College Spikes, he was interviewed on the field about the hidden potato trick and his life following the incident. He signed autographs (including the bobblehead) behind the stands after the interview. He later told Yahoo News: “They gave away bobbleheads [where] I’m holding a potato. There’s one on eBay right now. A couple sold for over a hundred bucks this week. For kicks and giggles, I looked up what Barry Bonds’s was selling for, and I’m crushing him. I really don’t understand.”43 The Spikes defeated the Crosscutters, 4-1, in front of 2,434 fans.

He was inducted into the Bowman Field Hall of Fame on January 23, 2012, as “part of the Crosscutters’ sixth annual Hot Stove and Dinner & Auction with the Phillies.”44

On August 31, 2022, the Crosscutters—now a Draft League member—announced that they, too, will “commemorate the 35th anniversary of Dave Bresnahan’s Great Potato Caper.” For that night, when they will be playing the Trenton Thunder, “the Williamsport Crosscutters will be rebranding to the Great Potato Capers for the August 31 game.”45 Furthermore, “The first 1,000 fans attending the game will receive a limited-edition “Potato Ball.” Special Great Potato Caper jerseys, all featuring Bresnahan’s name, will be available to fans in an online auction.”46

Bresnahan’s Bills uniform also hangs in a Scottsdale, Arizona, restaurant. Following his playing career, Bresnahan held positions as a real estate salesman, stockbroker, and projects manager.47 Now living in Tempe, Bresnahan has a wife, Julie, and three sons— Colin, Ryan and Matthew. “He’s told them about The Great Potato Caper, but stresses that they aren’t allowed to pull such stunts. ‘I’m trying to teach them life lessons and the potato thing was all in good humor,’” he told Czerwinski in 2006.48 He added that he “meant no disrespect to his teammates, the opposition, his manager or the game.”49

STEVEN M. GLASSMAN’s article, “The Hidden Potato Trick,” will be his eighth article for The National Pastime. Steven has been a SABR member since 1994. He graduated with a Bachelor of Science Degree in Sport and Recreation Management from Temple University. Born in Philadelphia, Steven currently lives in Warminster, Pennsylvania.



The author used the following web sites as additional sources for this article:



1. Grand Canyon’s first baseball season was in 1953. They were in the NAIA from 1968 through 1990 and NCAA Division II (1999-2013) and is currently NCAA Division I (1991-98, 2014-present). Bresnahan was voted to the Arizona Republic Class AA Central Division Football Team at Quarterback as a senior at Gerard Catholic in 1979.

2. Mark Bowden, “The Great Potato Pick-Off Play,” Road Work, New York: Penguin Group, 210.

3. Grand Canyon’s most notable draftee was 1993 American League Rookie of the Year Tim Salmon in the third round in June 1989.

4. “Timbers receive top Seattle draft choice,” Daily Tribune, June 18, 1985: 6.

5. Mark Bowden, 211.

6. Williamsport was returning to minor league baseball for the first time since 1976 when they were an AA affiliate of the Indians in the Eastern League.

7. Mark Bowden, 210.

8. Mark Bowden, 211. The team Bresnahan was demoted to was in Kinston, not Kingston. It was not clear which catching prospect Gomez was referring to on the Kinston roster. Kinston had three other catchers on its roster in 1987: Lew Kent, Peter Kuld, and Doyle Wilson.

9. Mark Bowden. It is not known the exact date of this game.

10. Mark Bowden. It is not known the exact dates when Bresnahan was demoted to Kinston and promoted back to Williamsport.

11. Mark Bowden, 212.

12. Mark Bowden.

13. Mark Bowden.

14. The Phillie Phanatic was scheduled to appear during the doubleheader.

15. Tschida was in his third season as a major league baseball umpire at the time. He umpired through the 2012 season.

16. Mark Bowden, 214.

17. Potter umpired 89 games in the National League from 1991 through 1997.

18. Bresnahan was not the first baseball player to attempt the hidden potato trick in a game. In May, 1889 a Staten Island Athletic Club player named Small was one earliest known attempts in a game versus Yale University. A Lock Haven (Pennsylvania) player named Dunkle tried versus Williamsport in 1895. Another occurred by a Lafayette (Louisiana) catcher (Walter Stephenson or Ted Bubash) in a 1934 Evangeline League game. See Peter Morris, A Game of Inches (Chicago: Ivan R. Dee, 2010), 329.

19. Jayson Stark, “Our Hero: Mr. Potato has the right stuff,”, October 10, 1987.

20. Mark Bowden, 218.

21. Mark Bowden, 218.

22. Mark Bowden, 217.

23. Jacki Lyden and John Ydstie, et al. “Profile: Dave Bresnahan’s Famous Potato Ball Incident.” All Things Considered. Washington, D.C.: National Public Radio: August 22, 2002.

24. Tom Speichler, “The Great Potato Caper.. .Revisited,”, 2005. The Crosscutters’ website has since been redirected to, but the original article can still be read via the Internet Archive at

25. Mark Bowden, 218.

26. Mark Bowden, 219.

27. Mark Bowden, 219.

28. “A Different Kind of Skins Game,” Los Angeles Times, September 5, 1987: 2.

29. “Potato Ploy Has Fans Rooting for Catcher,” San Francisco Chronicle, September 3, 1987: 73.

30. “A Different Kind of Skins Game.”

31. The NBC Game of the Week was the New York Yankees hosting the California Angels.

32. Bob Verdi, “Bresnahan’s The Man-Mashed, Baked or Fried,” Chicago Tribune, December 20, 1987: 1.

33. Scott Ostler, “In the Year of Scam and Sleight of Hand, Give It to Bresnahan,” Los Angeles Times, December 14, 1987: 3.

34. John Scher, “1987 in Review: Minors, Trappers streak to record-setting year.” In Allan Simpson, et al, Baseball America’s 1988 Almanac. Durham: American Sports Publishing, Inc., 63–64. San Jose Bees catcher Rattoo Akimoto received the other “Flying Fickle Finger Award” for setting a California League record with a 0.112 batting average in 103 games played.

35. “And Singing the National Anthem, Mr. Potato Head,” Chicago Tribune, May 31, 1988: 2.

36. Ira Berkow, “Sport of The Times: Salute to the Potato,” The New York Times, June 8, 1988: A30.

37. Ira Berkow.

38. Kevin Czerwinski, “Backup catcher’s career mashed in ‘Potato Caper,’” December 27, 2006,

39. Williamsport spent parts of 33 seasons in the Eastern League between 1938 and 1991. They reached the Eastern League postseason five times in 1941 (Runners-Up), 1958, 1959 (Runners-Up), 1960 (Co-Champions), and 1962 (Runners-Up).

40. Williamsport spent 26 seasons in the New York-Pennsylvania League from 1994 through 2019. They became charter members of the Draft League for the 2021 season after Minor League Baseball did not renew their Working Agreement.

41. “What’s Up: Dave Bresnahan,” Arizona Republic (Online Print Edition),, October 25, 2006.

42. Mark Fidrych, Joe Jackson, and Minnie Minoso were the Reliquary’s 2002 inductees (Source:

43. “Tater Toss,”–mlb.html, August 31, 2007.

44. “Crosscutters to induct one into the hall,” The Daily Item, January 6, 2012: C1.

45. “Cutters Promotions Announced for 2022 Season,”, April 27, 2022.

46. “Cutters Promotions Announced for 2022 Season.”

47. Bresnahan earned a Bachelor of Business Administration (B.B.A.), Business Administration and Management from Grand Canyon University.

48. Kevin Czerwinski.

49. Kevin Czerwinski.