How Rich Donnelly's Daughter Inspired The Famous Saying 'The Chicken Runs At Midnight'

Oct 2, 2018

Marlins' former third base coach Rich Donnelly thanks his daughter, Amy, for baseball's iconic phrase “The chicken runs at midnight.”

In Major League Baseball the phrase means victory. Donnelly began to use the saying when he worked with the Pittsburgh Pirates' player development department in 1992.  

In Miami, the phrase made its debut in 1997 when the Marlins won their first World Series against the Cleveland Indians. Since then, the story behind the phrase inspired a book, an ESPN special and a song by Brad Holman, former Major League Baseball pitcher for the Seattle Mariners.

Now sportswriter Tom Friend has written a book, called “The Chicken Runs at Midnight,” which details the story. Donnelly and Friend joined Sundial to talk about the book and how Donnelly’s daughter made the expression so iconic.

WLRN: Remind us again about this phrase -- it's the title of the book and it's a phrase that now really lives with so many people around the country. How Amy came up with the phrase "The Chicken Runs at Midnight"?

Donnelly: When Amy contacted her brain tumor in '92 during that season we (The Pirates) were fighting and trying to get in the playoffs. After the game, we are driving home and she put her arms around my neck and says, "Dad, when you get down that stance with a guy on second what are you telling him? The chicken runs at midnight or what?" And we just laughed and it went on and on the whole year. 

In January of that next year, Amy lapsed into a coma and passed away on January 28, 1993. We thought to honor her by putting that phrase on her tombstone -- chicken runs at midnight-- and it became our family motto. We were writing letters signing them "C.R.A.M." We never knew what that meant and had no idea. We just know as a testament to Amy we kept it in our family. Well, five years later we go to Florida, we started off and lord behold we (The Marlins) get the playoffs. We beat the Giants first then we beat Atlanta. And next played the powerhouse Cleveland Indians. During this season we acquired a second baseman named Craig Counsell. My two boys, Tim and Mike, nicknamed [Counsell] "the chicken" because every time he held his bat real high and flapped his left and looked like a chicken. So he was a chicken all summer.

When we get in the World Series, a dream. And so now we're in the seventh game of the World Series, the 11th inning, and Craig Counsell stands on third base. I'm standing right next to him. Edgar Renteria comes up and the place is going absolutely crazy and I can't even breathe. This is the ultimate of where you should be in your career. Craig Counsell scores a winning run. We are the world champions. Pandemonium ... 68,000 people just going crazy. I was so happy and I couldn't believe.

All of a sudden I'm trying to find Tim and Mike and I'm looking. Tim and I find each other halfway between the first and second base and I picked him up but he's screaming and he's crying. I asked him "why are you crying about what's the matter with you?"

His face was beet red and tears coming down his face. He said "Dad, Dad, look, look! Look at the clock!" I looked behind me at the stadium clock it was like 12:02 a.m.

He said, "The chicken ran at midnight."

Every emotion of my body went limp. The "chicken" scored the winning run at midnight.

Amy said it. She knew and she was there. She knew in my life that was the most important thing that I could ever do in baseball.

Watch a song by Brad Holman inspired by Rich Donnelly's daughter, Amy.