Friday, December 15, 2006

December 15th, 2006

The End

This will be the seven hundred and eight entry in this blog since I started it back in January of 2005. At the time, I was living in London, had just two and a half years of college under my belt, and although I had spent periods writing every day, it was usually writing explanations of the Laws of Thermodynamics. I had no idea how long the blog would last--I didn't even tell my parents about it for the first few weeks for fear I would tire of it and give up. To the surprise of no one more than myself, I've stuck with this through a year and a half of college, one summer job, several months of a real job, and moving from London to New York, New York to Washington and Washington back to New York. I'm not so vain as to claim I've produced great work--although there are more than a few entries I will admit being very pleased with--and I've certainly produced a handful of stinkers. Such is life when one writes every day.

So why stop now? Well, practically, I stopped around this time of year last year; I'm wrapping things up a little earlier as I have a friend in town starting tomorrow. More generally however, I'm not pleased with the blog lately. I wouldn't say I'm 'burned out' which is a horribly overused turn of phrase but given that my job doesn't offer (alas) the freedoms of college life, I find posting blogs at ten or eleven at night isn't what I think the people who read them deserve. The blog isn't "The Annotated Yesterday In Baseball History."

But fear not, as I am not hanging up my...well, keyboard for good. Instead I will be moving over to The Hardball Times where I will be writing a (longer) weekly column in the vein of this one. So if you've enjoyed funny names, lists of the best players from countries, continents, states, and story after story about mediocre members of the 1991 Yankees, I encourage you to come over to Hardball Times for more of the same.

Before I shut out the lights here, I'd like to finally say thank you to everyone who came by. From the people who cared enough to write in, to those people who stopped by, baffled why they ended up on my site while searching for pictures of Biff Tannen from Back to the Future--thanks Google!--thank you. As I type this, my counter has topped 26,800 visits to the site. That is a jaw dropping total, more than I ever imagined. And it has helped propel me to The Hardball Times. So once again, thank you. With only a few exceptions, I loved doing this every day, I hope everyone enjoyed reading it.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

December 14th, 1925

Sam Jones Born

Given how many funny names I do, it only seems fitting that as the years winds down I do a name that is, if not quite 'boring' at the very least ordinary. Of course, I could never do bring myself to do a name with nothing fun about it and a name like Sam Jones is just begging for nicknames. But we'll dedicate a little to his career before getting into that.

Jones was a pretty decent pitcher over a twelve year career, he pitched primarily for the Giants before bouncing around at the end of his career. His best year came in 1959 when led the league in both ERA, wins and strikeouts for the Giants. Jones failed to win the Cy Young award that year as it went instead to Early Wynn who won twenty-two games in the American League. (In those days there was just one award for both leagues, a face that Jones must have cursed.) Jones won eighteen games in 1960 but that was end of his effective career; the next four years he would pitch for four different teams and go just twelve and twelve before retiring.

Now for the nicknames. Jones was known through as his career as both "Sad" Sam Jones and "Toothpick" Jones. The latter of the nicknames is perhaps the more obvious, as it was based on a real affectation, through his career Jones really did have a toothpick in his mouth, often even while on the mound. As for the Sad part, well, the truth of the matter was even when he smiled, Sam just didn't look like a very happy guy.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

December 13th, 1996

Roger Clemens Signs with Blue Jays

In honor of the Red Sox at least securing Daisuke Matsuzaka, it only seems fitting to discuss the loss of the another Sox pitcher, one who they will presumably now begin attempting to lure back to Boston. Famously, Sox GM Dan Duquette said that Clemens was in the "twilight" of his career; since then Clemens has won four Cy Young awards and a hundred and fifty seven games. Well-played, Dan.

Of course, Duquette's defenders--and they do exist--claim that Clemens was getting complacent in Boston and point to his 10-13 record in 1996. These people seem to entirely miss the point. Clemens was seventh in ERA that year, fifth in innings, fourth in ERA+. According to BaseballProspectus' VORP statistic, in a neutral context Clemens was worth four and a half wins more than any other Sox pitcher. In fact, VORP lists Clemens' as the team's most valuable player, ahead of Mo Vaughn who actually finished fifth in MVP voting that year.

So the Sox made a drastic miscalculation in letting Clemens go, that was hardly the first time. But give them some credit, the Sox' day wasn't a total lost. They may have let go their most valuable player from the previous season--arguably the greatest pitcher to ever live--but they did hold on to Tim Naehring. I'll forgive you if you don't really remember Naehring. To be fair, he did have a pretty good '95 for the Sox as their third baseman. On the other hand, he took a step back in '96 and was a twenty-nine year old with exactly one season.

The Red Sox were desperate to sign Naehring because he was coveted by the Indians. As it turned out, the Indians had to settle for Matt Williams who hit thirty-two home runs, had the team lead in RBI and led them to the World Series. Meanwhile, Naehring played in just seventy games in 1997 (and zero in 1998) as the Sox finished fourth. I'm sure he enjoyed collecting his two year, five and a half million dollar contract; I'm less sure Dan Duquette enjoyed watching him collect it.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

December 12th, 1912

Red Barkley Born

As some of you might have figured out, Red got himself picked for today's blog because his name is a homophone for the (now deceased) trucker Homer encounters at a steak house. I wish I could say that after nearly two years of doing this my method of finding the day's topic has gotten more refined, but I'm afraid the truth is that things like Red Barkley/Barclay still end up making the choice for me. Such is life.

Barkley was a middle infielder, he saw action in just sixty three games of his career in three years (1937, '39 and '43) for three different teams (the Browns, Boston Braves and Dodgers). For his career he hit just .264 but had almost zero power, he only hit nine extra base hits in his entirely career, all doubles. Isolated power is stat calculated by subtracting batting average from slugging, effectively removing a players singles from his slugging percentage. Barkley's career isolated power was .055; for sake of comparison even Mike Hampton managed a career isolated power of .112.

Barkley is one of only a handful of players to be the grandfather of a Major League player, without also being the father of one. Barkley's grandson Brian Barkley threw eleven innings for the Red Sox in 1998. Evidently, athletic talent skips a generation in the Barkley family; although given the careers of the two Major League Barkley's, perhaps Red's son (and Brian's dad) caught a break.

Monday, December 11, 2006

December 11th, 1930

Eddie O'Brien Born

"I think coach Eddie O'Brien is going to prove a gold-plated pain in the ass...O'Brien noticed some of the guys were sunflower seeds in the bullpen. 'Hey, none of that,' he said. 'No eating in the bullpen.'
'Not even sunflower seeds, Eddie?'
'Nothing. Not even sunflower seeds.'
Eddie O'Brien will have to be clued in on what happens in the bullpen. Maybe the way to cure him is to make him head of the refreshment committee.


Today, while we were sitting in the bullpen, Eddie O'Brien, the All-American coach, said just after one of our pitchers walked somebody in the ballgame: 'The secret to pitching, boys, is throwing strikes.'
Gee, Eddie! Thanks.


Eddie O'Brien has finally been nicknamed. Mr. Small Stuff. It's because of his attention to detail. Says Mr. Small Stuff: 'Put your hat on.' He said that to me today. Also to Mike Hegan. We were both running laps at the time.
Another thing Eddie O'Brien does is stand next to you when you're warming up. I think he does it so he can be near the phone when it runs. He has to answer it. One of these days I'll beat him to it and when [manager Joe] Schultz asks for O'Brien I'll say, 'He ain't here,' and hang up. Add dreams of glory.
Oh yes. As I went to out to pitch he said, 'Throw strikes.'
I don't think Eddie O'Brien understands this game."

~Jim Bouton, Ball Four

Sunday, December 10, 2006

December 10th, 1906

Bots Nekola Born

One point I return to here a lot--probably too much, but that's another issue--is the idea that every player is notable, even if there's nothing about them worth remembering at first glance. Besides the name--his real first name is Francis which might be one of the only names for which 'Bots' represents a legitimate improvement--there is nothing in Nekola's statistics to make him especially notable. He pitched exactly twenty innings in the Major Leagues, almost all for the Yankees in 1929. He never appeared in the post season and his lifetime record is a mighty 0-0, 5.85 ERA.

However, it is Nekola's post playing career that makes him worth remembering. For many years, Nekola was to the Boston Red Sox what Paul Krichell was to the Yankees. Nekola scouted for the BoSox for twenty-seven years and signed or discovered players like Ben Oglivie (1980 AL home run champion), Rico Petrocelli and greatest of all, Carl Yastrzemski. That might not be quite as impressive a list as Krichell's, but of course, the Red Sox were never quite as impressive a franchise as the Yankees.

Like I said, I harp on this point a lot because I think it one worth discussing, but Bots Nekola is yet another example of a player worth more than a brief look.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

December 9th, 2000

Rockies Sign Mike Hampton

Now talk about your bad contracts, this one was Now Hampton was coming off a couple of good years. In 1999 he'd won twenty-two games with a 2.90 ERA for the Astros and he'd helped lead the Mets to the World Series with a 3.14 regular season ERA and then was voted MVP of the League Championship Series after winning two games and throwing sixteen shutout innings. Desperate to attract pitching to Coors Field--the Rockies had already shelled out fifty-five million for Denny Neagle-- the Rockies opened their wallets and shelled out a jaw dropping one hundred and twenty-one million for eight years of his services.

The deal was the longest given to a pitcher since 1977 and remains the richest ever given to a pitcher. (It is the sixth highest contract of all-time, behind those given to A-Rod, Manny Ramirez, Derek Jeter, Todd Helton and Soriano's new one.) The Rockies realized almost instantly that the deal was a mistake; Hampton pitched just two years for them winning twenty-one games aganist twenty-eight losses with a 5.76 ERA. In the off-season of 2002, the Rockies offloaded Hampton onto the Braves in a complicated three-team trade with the Marlins which bizarrely featured the Marlins agreeing to pay Hampton twenty-three million to pitch for a division rival. All said Colorado paid Hampton forty-nine million for his time with them, coming to $128,384 per inning.

The Rockies must have been thrilled to watch their erstwhile pitcher in Atlanta however, as after paying him almost nothing the first few years, the Braves will pay Hampton thirteen million a year for the 2006-08 seasons. Hampton already missed all of last year having arm surgery and while the Braves are publically optimistic for Hampton's return in '07, it is far from a sure thing. For the moment then, Hampton cost the Rockies $128,384 per inning pitched, the Marlins twenty three and a half million (despite never playing for them) and the Braves $112,355 per inning pitched. That's a lousy contract.

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