Saturday, January 15, 2005
Delino DeShields Born
Delino DeShields holds the relatively obscure distinction of being the best Major League player born in
Getting off that geographical tangent and back to DeShields, he is probably best remembered today for having been traded--straight-up--to the Los Angeles Dodgers for Pedro Martinez. In hindsight, of course, the trade seems laughable. DeShields wasn't a bad player (and he was versatile, capable of playing everywhere but the battery) but Pedro Martinez was (and on some days still is) Pedro Martinez. There is a point however, at which one uses too much hindsight. At the time, DeShields was a young player coming off a season where he hit nearly .300 (and gotten on-base at nearly a .400 clip) and Martinez was a twenty-one year old with major durability questions, albeit coming off an excellent season (10-5, 2.61 in 107 IP) in his own right. DeShields is also notably for having been one of the first modern ballplayers to wear his socks at knee level, which he did as a tribute to the players of the Negro Leagues.
Friday, January 14, 2005
Joe DiMaggio Marries Marilyn Monroe
This isn't really baseball history per se, but it is an interesting event to remember and reflect on. These days people tend to look back at this with the distance of fifty years and view it as nothing special. Athletes marrying celebrities isn't that unusual, the most recent being the Are-They-or-Aren't-They? couple of Enrique Iglesias and Anna Kournikova. I think this beguiles the scale of the marriage in the popular consensus at the time. An approximate modern-day equivalent would be if Michael Jordan married Cameron Diaz. DiMaggio had been retired from the Yankees for three years but had been very popular during his time with them, making the All-Star team each of his thirteen seasons and won three MVPs. Monroe was coming off the release of How to Marry a Millionaire and Gentleman Prefer Blondes. One of
DiMaggio probably did not enjoy the publicity, he would later say that he "never thought [the marriage] was anybody's business " but his own. Although the couple divorced by October--although due to the vagaries of
Thursday, January 13, 2005
Kevin Mitchell Born
In honor of Kevin Mitchell's 43rd birthday, we bring you seven links (that's 4 + 3, you see) that touch on the highlights and lowlights of Kevin's Career and Life
(1) Mitchell makes his debut as a pinch-hitter in the Mets 12-2 loss to the Cardinals on September 4th, 1984
(2) After being put in RF for an ejected Darryl Strawberry, Mitchell is himself ejected (along with Ray Knight, Eric Davis and Mario Soto) from this game for a brawl, forcing Met manager Davey Johnson to Jesse Orosco and Roger McDowell (both pitchers by trade) at once, with Orosco pitching to the lefites while McDowell played LF and McDowell pitching to the righties while Orosco played RF. Incredibly, the plan works as the Mets score 3 runs in the top of the 14th (including Orosco who draws a walk off Carl Willis) and win the game 6-3.
(3) Despite reportedly being in the clubhouse making plane reservations to fly back to his native San Diego when called upon, Mitchell singles off Calvin Schiraldi in Game 6 of the 1986 World Series and would come around to score the game's tying run off a Bob Stanley wild pitch.
(4) According to "Doc" Gooden at some point in his Mets' tenure, Mitchell takes a kitchen knife and cuts the head off his girlfriends' cat. Mitchell claims the story is false, but it remains, at best, murky.
(5) The final game of Mitchell's finest season, 1989, when he hit .291/.388/.635 with 47 home runs, despite playing in cavernous, windy, Candlestick Park. Mitchell won the MVP netting 20 of 24 first place votes, and propelled the Giants' to the World Series. Mitchell's own scorching NLCS (.353/.429/.706) was overlooked, however, by the play of teammate Will Clark and his counterpart at first base the Cubs' Mark Grace both of whom hit over .600.
(6) The incomprehensible to non-Japanese speaking website of the Fukuoka Daniei Hawks, the team Mitchell played for briefly in 1995. Just as many American visiting that site find it baffling, so Mitchell found Japanese baseball. Although he intially got off well (as another slugger travelling the other way, Hideki Matsui, would do many years later, Mitchell hit a grand slam his first at-bat) Mitchell had a bitter disagreement with the team over the nature of a knee injury and went AWOL to the United States for "treatment" on his knee. Despite being the league's highest paid player at 4.5 million (US), Mitchell played in just 37 games and by mutual agreement retuned to the United States for the 1996 season.
(7) Mitchell plays his last Major League game (he would bounce around independent and minor leagues), like Mitchell's first game, it is a blowout as his Oakland A's lose 14-1 to the Yankees.
Wednesday, January 12, 2005
Kenesaw Mountain Landis Becomes Commissioner
That’s a great name, Kenesaw Mountain Landis. Sounds like the patriarch of a soap opera family or something. His father, Dr. Abraham H. Landis insisted on naming him that for the Civil War battle where he nearly lost a leg while acting as a surgeon for the army of General Sherman. He did however, manage to misspell it, the actual
Landis is far and away most famously remembered as the first Commissioner although he had a fairly distinguished career as an attorney and federal judge prior to his twenty-three run of absolute power at the head of Major League Baseball. Appointed by Teddy Roosevelt to the Federal Bench, Landis presided over the Standard Oil antitrust trial, fining them $29 million, quite a sum in those days (it's roughly $560 million in 2005 dollars) although the judgment was eventually set aside. Landis also presided over the trial of one-hundred and one members of the Industrial Workers of the World which resulted in a conviction for the lot under the World War I Espionage Act and on frequently shaky evidence. Landis nevertheless sentenced some to terms as long as twenty years.
Landis’ place in history was secured however when he decided to take the position as the first Commissioner. Like a fair number of Presidents, Landis’ first major act remains his most famous, the banishment of eight members of the 1919
Landis served as Commissioner until his death in 1944 (when he was inducted into the Hall of Fame in a special election and the MVP award was renamed for him, a legacy that remains, although virtually unknown, to this day) and is still a controversial figure not only for his banning of the Sox, but also for his much-debated role in maintain the segregation of baseball. Landis’ reputation has shifted considerably; many now view him as a bigoted man who unjustly banned Weaver and Joe Jackson. The truth, as always, is considerably more complicated, but the influence Landis held on the game is easy to see.
Tuesday, January 11, 2005
Billy Martin Hired As Yankees' Manager
This was Billy’s third go-round with the Yankees (he’d have five altogether), and marked a return to the Stadium where he had been both manager and player previously. Martin was, like many managers, a mediocre player but probably the best manager at turning a team around, even if he couldn’t always sustain that success. Martin was first hired to manage the Minnesota Twins in 1969. Taking over a team that had gone 79-83 and finished 7th under Cal Ermer the season before, Martin went 97-65 and won the AL West, falling to the Baltimore Orioles 3-0 in the ALCS, losing the first two games in extra innings before being blown out in game 3. Despite his success, Martin was fired after the season, partially for ignoring owner Calvin Griffith but mostly for having punched out Twins’ pitcher Dave Boswell.
Martin was next hired in 1971 to take over yet another team that had gone 79-83 the previous season, the Detroit Tigers. The Tigers improved under Martin to 91-71 and finished second in the AL East. The next season, the Tigers dropped to 86-70 but nonetheless won the division by a half-game over the Red Sox, passing
Martin was not unemployed for long. He was fired on August 30th by the Tigers and hired by the Texas Rangers to replace Whitey Herzog on September 8th. Martin led the Rangers to just a 9-14 (.391) record finishing the season, although that was actually an improvement on their 48-91 (.345) record prior to Martin. The next season, taking much of the same 100+ loss roster, Martin went 84-76 and put the team in second place. He was fired the next season, going just 44-51, his first significant stretch under .500.
Martin was again not out of work for long, being fired by the Rangers on July 20th and hired by George Steinbrenner on August 2nd, replacing Bill Virdon and improving the Yankees’ winning percentage more than twenty-five points in their final fifty games. In 1976, he took the Yankees to their first World Series since 1964 (and Martin’s first ever career post-season series victory in the ’76 ALCS over
Martin soon found work, taking over another terrible team, the
Not put off by this, Steinbrenner nonetheless re-hired his former manager, and Martin led a team that had finished 79-83 (seemingly the record of every team Martin took over) to a 91 win season, but just third place. Steinbrenner fired Martin for Yogi Berra for all of 1984 but dissatisfied with Berra he fired him after just sixteen games in 1985 (an event that would have long-lasting consequences for Yogi and the Boss) and installed Martin. Martin took over a 6-10 team and went 91-54 (.628) his best winning percentage ever, but the 97 win Yankees still fell two games short of the playoffs. Martin would manage the Yankees one more time for a 68 game stretch in 1988, going 40-28 for a team that played below .500 without him at the helm.
He was working as a special consultant for the Yankees when he was killed in a car accident on Christmas Day, 1989, at age 61. The driver of the pick-up truck Martin was in was drunk and (like Martin) not wearing his seat belt, but survived anyway. Martin’s #1 was retired by the Yankees the next season. This remains one of his few honors, despite obviously qualifications—he has a better career winning percentage than Sparky Anderson, Tommy Lasorda or Joe Torre—he has not been voted into the Hall of Fame, easily its most glaring omission with regards to managers.
Monday, January 10, 2005
Joe Schultz Dies
That is indeed the Joe Schultz of Ball Four, immortalized by Jim Bouton as the more-than-slightly inept manager of the more-than-slightly inept Seattle Pilots. Schultz was an interim manager in
Of course, being a poor major leaguer does not disqualify one from competent (or better) managerial ability. Of the truly successful managers, a significant number were mediocre major leaguers or never reached the majors themselves. Joe McCarthy won 2,125 games (5th all-time) with the best winning percentage of all-time (.615%) and never played a game in the major leagues. No one has ever been inducted into the Hall of Fame as a player and then later, as a manager. The closest case anyone has might belong to Joe Torre who is a former MVP and borderline Hall of Famer as a player, and an obvious sure thing as a manager. Some have even go so far as to argue that mediocre and role players make the best managers.
An oft-quoted line of Shakespeare reminds us that "some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon 'em." Joe Schultz may have been born great, but acheieved only mediocrity and then had mediocrity; in this case thy name is Pilots, thrust upon him.
Sunday, January 09, 2005
Indians Sign Juan Gonzalez
Juan Gonzalez signed a one-year deal with
Of course, the real irony of Gonzalez's contract was that the previous off-season he had turned down
Spud Chandler Dies
Chandler won 109 games in 11 years with the Yankees, good for 14th all-time with the club, and did it against just 43 losses, good for a .717 winning percentage.
Spud, by the way, is not a nickname in reference to him being from