How Brewers Manager Craig Counsell became involved in one of the greatest baseball stories ever told

How Brewers Manager Craig Counsell became involved in one of the greatest baseball stories ever told
Posted at 4:20 PM, Oct 11, 2018
and last updated 2018-10-12 14:07:37-04

Rich Donnelly spent 28 years as a coach in the Major Leagues, including a stint as the Milwaukee Brewers third base coach from 2003 to 2005.

A father of eight children, Donnelly found it tough to balance the important things in life; his wife, his children, his faith, and, of course, his occupation: baseball. It was an unsuccessful juggling act that eventually cost him his marriage, and his relationship with his only daughter, Amy.

That all changed before the 1992 season, when Donnelly was set to begin his first year as the Pittsburgh Pirates third base coach. In February of that year, a 17-year-old Amy called her dad to tell him she had a brain tumor.

"She was apologizing to me for getting a brain tumor," said Donnelly. "She knew how much that would affect me." 

Donnelly went to Texas with Amy and her mother, then Donnelly's ex-wife, for an operation to remove the tumor. Following the operation, the doctor told the family that Amy had just nine months to live.

While Amy was struggling through chemotherapy, the Pittsburgh Pirates were fighting their way to the postseason. Amy told her father to go back to Pittsburgh.

"She said 'go back and get in that third base coaching box and win that pennant,'" recalled Donnelly.

Go to the playoffs they did. Not just the Pittsburgh Pirates, but Rich Donnelly as third base coach, and Amy, as a fan and #1 supporter of her father.

After Game 5 against the Braves, Amy was curious about what exactly her dad was doing in that box with a runner on base. "Dad, when you get down in that stance with a man on second, what are you telling him? The chicken runs at midnight or what?" said Amy.

"We just laughed and thought it was hilarious," said Donnelly. "It didn't mean anything. We don't know what the heck it meant. It just came out."

Just a few months later, on January 28th, 1993, Amy passed away at the age of 17. The new phrase 'the chicken runs at midnight' had since become their family motto. So much so, they took it upon themselves to put it on Amy's gravestone.

Fast-forward to 1997. Jim Leyland, former Pirates manager, is hired to coach the Florida Marlins. Leyland brought Donnelly with him to be the third base coach. In July of the '97 season, the Marlins traded for a young infielder from the Colorado Rockies. His name was Craig Counsell, and he immediately became the starting second baseman.

Counsell was known throughout his career for his unusual batting stance. His arm would flap up and down before the pitch. It was quite noticeable to Donnelly's son, Tim, a Marlins batboy at the time, so he nicknamed Counsell 'The Chicken'.

The Marlins made it all the way to the World Series that season. The Marlins and the Cleveland Indians battled it out, back-and-forth, all the way to a deciding Game 7.

The game went to extra innings, and Counsell found himself on third base, representing the winning run in the 11th inning of Game 7 of the World Series. With two outs, shortstop Edgar Renteria lined one up the middle scoring Counsell.

With 70,000 rabid Miami fans screaming at the top of their lungs, Donnelly was running around uncontrolled. "There were policemen there on horseback," recalled Donnelly. "I think, I think, I'm not sure, but someone told me I kissed a horse. I was so happy"

In the chaos, Donnelly was trying to find Tim. He found him halfway between first and second base, screaming and crying. When Donnelly asked him why he was crying, he said "Dad! Dad look! Look at the clock!"

The clock read 12:02 a.m.

"Dad! 'The Chicken' ran at midnight," said Tim.

Donnelly dropped to his knees. "I was floored," said Donnelly.

Craig Counsell, nicknamed "The Chicken", ran at midnight to score the winning run in the World Series.