Feliciano stirred controversy 35 years ago

Updated: October 12, 2003, 11:29 PM ET
Associated Press

MIAMI -- Jose Feliciano sat on the Florida Marlins' bench during batting practice Sunday at the NL championship series and gave the seat a pat.

"I'm in the dugout," he said happily.

Feliciano returned to baseball's October spotlight after a 35-year absence, singing the national anthem before the Marlins' game against the Chicago Cubs.

It was his first postseason performance since Game 5 of the 1968 World Series, when his stylized, gospel-tinged rendition caused a dispute that derailed his career for years.

"The reason I created a stir was because I did it with feeling," said Feliciano, who was then 23. "I sang it with soul. I thought, 'Jose, you've got a great opportunity to express what you feel for America.' I never thought in my wildest dreams I was going to cause such a stir."

Feliciano's two-minute rendition Sunday drew only cheers at Pro Player Stadium. But 35 years ago, the crowd of 50,000 at Tiger Stadium had a mixed reaction to what he termed the first nontraditional version of "The Star-Spangled Banner" at a major sports event.

TV viewers bombarded network phone lines with complaints, and there were calls to have the native of Puerto Rico deported. Feliciano said he was told angry war veterans threw their shoes at the television.

"Don't forgot -- '68 was a turbulent year," Feliciano said.

Also upset was Mickey Lolich, the Tigers' starting pitcher that day. He complained that his pregame preparations were thrown off because Feliciano sang too long.

Radio stations boycotted the singer's records, including "Light My Fire," which had become a hit earlier that year.

Despite the controversy, Feliciano said he's glad he performed a version of the anthem he considers groundbreaking.

"Because of me," he said, "everybody now does the anthem in the way they want -- some not so good, but ..."

Blind since birth, Feliciano moved to the United States at 5 and lives in Connecticut. He roots for the Marlins because they have several prominent Latin players.

High-and-tight to Sosa: Sammy Sosa's reaction had a lot to do with history.

Florida Marlins right-hander Josh Beckett angered Sosa with a high-and-tight fastball Sunday, leaving the Chicago Cubs slugger shaking his head and pointing his bat toward the mound.

But Sosa refrained from doing anything more in the game.

Sosa said he responded that way because his batting helmet was cracked in April when he was beaned by Pittsburgh's Salomon Torres. Ever since, the Cubs have been especially sensitive to high-and-inside pitches to Sosa.

"He probably wasn't throwing at me," Sosa said. "But because of what happened before, maybe that was my reaction."

Cubs and Marlins players came to the top step of their dugouts, but it was a vastly different scene than what happened in the ALCS on Saturday, when Boston ace Pedro Martinez grabbed Yankees coach Don Zimmer by the head and threw him to the ground in a bench-clearing fight after a pair of inside pitches.

Beckett's first pitch to Sosa in the fourth inning dropped him to the ground. Sosa jumped up, pointed his bat at Beckett, swung his left arm in disgust and took a step toward the mound. Plate umpire Larry Poncino and catcher Ivan Rodriguez quickly stepped in front of Sosa.

Rodriguez patted Sosa on the back to calm him.

"He overreacted a lot," Beckett said.

"I don't know if he was trying to pull a Boston Red Sox-Yankee thing," Beckett said. "It was pretty ignorant. I'm not trying to hit him"

While Rodriguez was consoling Sosa, Beckett calmly walked to home plate and grabbed a new ball out of the umpire's pocket. Six pitches later, Sosa struck out looking on an 88 mph changeup.

Beckett went the distance on a two-hitter with 11 strikeouts to send the series back to Wrigley Field with Chicago leading three games to two.

"It's playoff time," Marlins outfielder Jeff Conine said. "Tensions are running high. But he kept his composure. He got back on the mound and struck him out."

McKeon moves Cabrera: Marlins manager Jack McKeon shuffled his lineup again Sunday, moving rookie Miguel Cabrera into the cleanup spot. McKeon moved Cabrera from third base to right field for Game 4, his first start there since Little League.

Cabrera entered Game 5 hitting .344 in the postseason with two homers and five RBIs. He started one game this season in the No. 4 spot -- and the Marlins lost.

Derrek Lee batted cleanup in each of the first four games in the NLCS, but he had just three hits in 18 at-bats (.167).

"Just changing it around a little bit, nothing to read into it," McKeon said. "We've done this before. Maybe he'll get up and do some damage."

Venus tosses to Willis: Tennis star Venus Williams threw out the ceremonial first pitch Sunday in Game 5, which the Cubs lead three games to one.

A fan of Marlins rookie Dontrelle Willis, she had the left-hander catching for her.

"I was a little nervous, but I just threw it like a tennis ball," said Williams, who also met Cubs slugger Sammy Sosa as she left the field.

Willis seemed to be a fan of hers, too. He fumbled his glove when he gave Williams the baseball and had a huge smile on his face as he jogged back to the dugout, where jeering teammates awaited his return.


Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press

ALSO SEE