Maybe Clete Boyer was first, maybe he was second.
Morganna “the Kissing Bandit” Roberts became something of a baseball celebrity in the 1970s and beyond, a buxom exotic dancer who was known to bound onto the field and lay a smooch on various famous ballplayers. Some accounts list Cincinnati Reds standout Pete Rose as her first “victim” in August of 1969, though former Atlanta Braves publicity man Bob Hope (not THAT Bob Hope) wrote in his autobiography that Boyer was the first.
Whether first or second, Morganna definitely planted one on the Braves’ third baseman during a game against the Chicago Cubs on Aug. 31, 1969, 50 years ago this month. And it caused a national sensation.
Boyer — whose older brothers Ken and Cloyd also played in the big leagues — made his baseball name as a slick-fielding, OK-hitting third baseman for the New York Yankees’ late dynasty teams of the early 1960s, typically batting toward the bottom of the order and good for double-digit home runs every season. He won World Series rings with New York in 1961 and 1962, and was also part of pennant-winners in 1960, 1963 and 1964.
Boyer was genuinely outstanding with the glove, so good that the Yankees often played him at shortstop. He produced at least 2.0 defensive WAR (and as high as 3.4) every season from 1960-63, but wasn’t going to win any Gold Gloves in those days with Brooks Robinson also in the American League.
Boyer was still a well-above-average defender when the Yankees dealt him to the Braves prior to the 1967 season, their second in Atlanta. The Braves were looking to replace Hall-of-Fame third baseman Eddie Mathews, then in the twilight of his career. New York was looking for a successor to Roger Maris in right field, and coveted Atlanta prospect Bill Robinson for that job.
Though Robinson went on to have a fine career as a power-hitting outfielder/first baseman with the Philadelphia Phillies and Pittsburgh Pirates in the 1970s, he never did much with the Yankees. Nor did the other player acquired in the Boyer deal, veteran pitcher Chi Chi Olivo (he never played for New York at the major-league level).
Boyer took advantage of the launching pad that was Atlanta Stadium in those days, socking 26 home runs and driving in 96 in 1967, receiving some down-ballot MVP votes. Boyer was limited to 71 games in 1968 after he was hit twice in the hand by pitches from eventual Hall-of-Famers Juan Marichal and Don Drysdale.
But he bounced back to play every day for the Braves in 1969, when Major League Baseball introduced divisional play for the first time. Boyer and Atlanta were part of a jumbled National League West race entering play on Aug. 31, in fourth place behind the San Francisco Giants, Los Angeles Dodgers and Cincinnati Reds, but only 1.5 games out of first.
The Braves and Chicago Cubs — who were then in first place in the NL East — were scoreless in the bottom of the fourth inning before Atlanta’s Orlando Cepeda ripped a one-out double. That brought to the plate Boyer, who was mired in a 1-for-17 slump that had dropped his average to a shade over .240.
That’s when fate — or Morganna — intervened. As venerable Atlanta sportswriter Furman Bisher put it, the exotic dancer “leaped the fence and made it right at home plate with Clete Boyer.” (It’s unclear what Bisher meant by “made it”).
No video of the incident appears to be currently available online, but to give you an idea of Morganna’s schtick (among other things), here’s video of her running on the field to kiss Baltimore Orioles star Cal Ripken Jr. in 1988:
Thus inspired, Boyer lined an RBI single to put the Braves up 1-0. He went 3-for-4 in the game, though the Braves lost 8-4.
The play of Cepeda, Hank Aaron and Tony Gonzalez (acquired from the Phillies in a June trade) probably had more to do with it, but the Braves went 20-6 in September to claim the NL West crown by three games over the Giants. Though he cooled off considerably down the stretch, Boyer went 12-for-26 at the plate with two doubles, a homer and six RBIs in seven games from Aug. 31-Sept. 8.
In an October 1969 Baltimore Sun story headlined “Stripper’s Kiss Starts Streak,” Boyer described the scene a bit more chastely than Bisher did: “I heard a commotion from the stands and there she was. … She came up to me, put her arms around me and said ‘Clete, you’re the greatest.’ Then she kissed me on the cheek.”
And he apparently had one more encounter with Morganna, who later told Sports Illustrated: “He kisses good. I told him I loved him. He said, ‘I love you, too.’ A week later he came into the club where I was dancing and jumped up on the stage and kissed me. He said, ‘Now we’re even.’ “
Though born in Louisville, Ky., Morganna became infamous in Atlanta (and later nationally) after her on-field kiss with Boyer. She was arrested a few days later for jumping in a fountain in a bikini during a speech by Atlanta mayor Ivan Allen during the dedication of the city’s new Equitable Building.
The Atlanta Constitution ran a lengthy profile of Morganna in September 1970, which as with most any story about her in those days didn’t fail to list her measurements. She claimed in the story that she earned $100,000 that year from her nightclub act and other personal appearances.
(As an aside, Morganna’s actually age seems elusive. Some online sources list her as being born in 1954, which would have made her 15 when she kissed Boyer. Bisher’s story refers to her as — much more plausibly — 23 years old at the time, which would mean she was born some time in the mid 1940s, and thus in her early 70s today).
Back in 1969, the Braves were swept by the “Miracle” New York Mets in the National League Championship Series. They stumbled to 76-86 and fifth place in 1970, and wouldn’t reach the postseason again until 1982.
Boyer — who had won his only Gold Glove in 1969 — dropped off at the plate in 1970, giving Atlanta general manager Paul Richards an excuse to get rid of him after years of acrimony between the two (Boyer was by all accounts a legendary carouser, and was fined $1,000 by MLB commissioner Bowie Kuhn at one point for gambling on football). Boyer was cut loose by the Braves after just 30 games in 1971, spending the remainder of the season in the minor leagues.
He then played four seasons (1972-75) in Japan before retiring as an active player. Though he later served as a coach with the Yankees and Oakland Athletics under manager Billy Martin, Boyer maintained a home in the Atlanta area, where he died in 2007 at age 70 following a brain hemorrhage.
Morganna is apparently still around, though she’s long since retired from crashing ball games. Among her other famous “victims” over the years were Hall-of-Famers Nolan Ryan, Johnny Bench and George Brett, as well as mere All-Stars such as Steve Garvey, Dickie Thon and Wes Parker.
But none of the above seem to have drawn such immediate dividends from their encounter with the Kissing Bandit as Clete Boyer did, 50 years ago this month.
Sources: BaseballReference.com; Sporting News archives (via PaperofRecord); Newspapers.com; SI Vault; SABR Bio project; Bob Hope “We Could Have Finished Last Without You”