Saturday, February 05, 2005

 

February 5th, 1928

Don Hoak Born

Don Hoak was a third baseman for a variety of teams in the 50s and 60s, best known probably for his time with the Pirates where he was viewed as the emotional leader of the 1960 team that defeated the Yankees in the World Series. Hoak had formerly been a boxer but he retired after receiving seven straight knockouts, although I can assume Don only remembered the first two or three.

Hoak is one of only a few players in the post World War II era to have a rule change instituted based solely on a play he made. In April 1957, Hoak was on second base with Gus Bell on first and Wally Post at the plate. Post hit a groundball to shortstop Johnny Logan for a seemingly sure double-play. However, before Logan could field the ball, Hoak stepped in front, fielded the ball barehanded, and after a moment, flipped the ball to the confused Logan and trotted off the field. The umpires ruled Hoak out for being "hit" with a batted ball but Post received credit for a single and Bell advanced to second. The play caused a minor sensation, Arthur Daley in the New York Times quoted 'baseball men' (a group whose identity is seemingly more secret than the Illuminati) as wondering if 'Master Donald' had opened a Pandora's Box, ushering in a new era of players interfering with balls in play. Of course, it was nothing of the sort as NL President Warren Giles (working with AL Umpire-in-Chief Cal Hubbard) soon modified the rule such that any play in which a runner intentionally interfered with a ball in play resulted in both he and the batter being out with no advance by any other runners.

Hoak died in 1969, he was pursuing a car thief who had stolen his brother-in-law's car when he apparently suffered a heart attack. It was the end—quite literally, I suppose—of a bad day all around for Hoak. Earlier he had received word that his manager from 1960, Danny Murtaugh, had been named manager of the Pirates for the 1970 season, a job that Hoak had coveted after some successful seasons managing in the minors.


Friday, February 04, 2005

 

February 4th, 1909

John Clarkson Dies

John Clarkson was a star in the 1800s, in the 50 foot mound era actually, during which time he won 328 games in just twelve seasons. He was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1963, more than half a century since he died and almost seventy years since he had last played a professional game.

The Hall of Fame has, including the 2005 elections of Wade Boggs and Ryne Sandberg--both good choices by the way--260 members elected as players, managers and executives. Until I looked him up, I knew absolutely nothing about Clarkson. Not which position he played, not for which teams, nothing. At most I could've guessed he was probably a player (there are so few managers and executives in the Hall of Fame that most of them are familiar names) and might've taken a wild guess that he played prior to World War I, since the post Great War players are also more familiar. I decided to take a look through the Hall of Fame's complete list of members (it can be found here) and see how many of them I could provide bare bones biographies for, and attempt to fill in the blanks.

Presented in alphabetical order:

So there it is. Every Hall of Famer that I couldn't provide at least a bare minimum of detail for. All said it comes to twenty-five plus Clarkson for an even twenty-six out of two-hundred and sixty, or exactly ten percent. What have we learned? There are umpires in the Hall of Fame, the waxed mustache is coming back and I really need to get out more.


Thursday, February 03, 2005

 

February 3rd, 1885

Slim Sallee Born

Slim Sallee (no relation to Tubby Spencer) was indeed slim, standing 6'3" but weighing in at just 180 pounds, thus earning the nickname. He was a good pitcher for the St. Louis Cardinals during their truly awful period in the late aughts and early teens going 106-107 for a team that was over .500 just once during his time there. In 1916 he was sold to the Giants in midseason. In 1917, after going 18-7, 2.17, Sallee started Game One of the World Series for John McGraw and pitched a gem but lost to Eddie Cicotte 2-1. With the series tied 2-2, McGraw again called on Sallee. He started Game Five and was again out pitched by Cicotte (who came on in relief in the first inning despite having started Game 3 just two days prior) while allowing eight runs in a 8-5 Giants loss. The Giants would lose the series the next game leaving Sallee without a chance at redemption in a potential Game Seven. Sallee's final line was a mediocre 0-2, 5.28 for the series. Despite another solid season for the Giants in 1918, the Giants placed Sallee on waivers where he was claimed by the Cincinnati Reds.

Despite being thirty-four and in his twelfth Major League season, Sallee posted his best season going 21-7 while delivering a career low 2.06 ERA. The Reds in 1919 went to the World Series where they met Sallee's old nemesis Eddie Cicotte and the Chicago White Sox. Sallee started Game Two and won 4-2, although like all records from that year, it must be viewed through the lens of the White Sox efforts to throw the Series. Sallee started Game Seven (the series was best of nine that year) with a chance to clinch but with the Sox and their gambler backers feuding, he was again out pitched by his nemesis Cicotte, and lost the game 4-1. The Reds clinched the next day, leaving Sallee with a more dignified 1-1, 1.35 record for his second attempt at postseason play.

After an ineffective stretch with the Reds in 1920, they placed him on waivers, and the Giants claimed him, reuniting Sallee with many of his former teammates. Evidently happy to be back in New York
, Sallee finished strong allowing just 3 earned runs in his seventeen innings with the Giants. In 1921 Sallee became McGraw's primary reliever, not starting a single game but finishing 19, earning a 6-4 record, along with two saves and a 3.64 ERA. He retired thereafter and returned home to Higginsport Ohio, the place of his birth, where he ran a restaurant. Sallee died in Higginsport in 1950.



Wednesday, February 02, 2005

 

February 2nd, 1972

Jared Fernandez Born

Jared Fernandez is among the last of a dying breed, the Knuckleballers. Besides Tim Wakefield and Steve Sparks, Fernandez was the only knuckleballer to pitch in MLB last season, and the only one under the age of 35. Of course, Fernandez pitched just one inning (in two games) for the Astros, including getting crushed in a start against St. Louis allowing 4 runs while managing to retire just one batter--despite being spotted a 4 run lead of his own before he even took the mound.

Fernandez is unique not just in throwing the knuckleball, but also for the style of knuckleball he throws.
Wakefield, Sparks and most pitchers throw a "slow" knuckleball, that is, one that comes to the plate in the 60s. Fernandez by contrast, is the first pitcher since Joe Niekro (for those of you keeping track, he’s the less talented Nierko) to throw his knuckleball in the low 70s. Fernandez is also unique in that, unlike literally everyone else for years and years, Fernandez actually throws his knuckleball with the knuckles, compared to the fingertips most pitches use. Fernandez’s unique method of throwing the pitch probably explains in part why Fernandez throws the hard knuckleball. Whatever the reason for his hard knuckles, if you get a chance to see Fernandez (or Sparks or Wakefield), you should, because someday soon the knuckleball might be as rare a sight as an Eephus pitch.


Tuesday, February 01, 2005

 

February 1st, 1926

Wally Pipp Sold to Cincinnatti Reds

A lot of people, even ones who aren't really baseball fans, know the story of Wally Pipp. Plagued with a minor injury (a headache, according to most versions) Pipp asked out of the Yankees' game in early June 1925, to be replaced with a young rookie out of Columbia University, with Pipp doomed to waste away on the Yankee bench. The story has a nice little Paul Harvey aspect about it ("and that rookie's name was Lou Gehrig...so now you know the rest of the story") as well as a kind of Aesop, or perhaps Gordon Gecko-ish moral: next time you take the easy way out you might be replaced by someone more dedicated and talented than you.

The only problem with this little story is that bears only passing resemblance to the truth. Pipp was benched for the June 2nd, 1925 game (which, incidentally, was not the actual start of Gehrig's streak, he had pinch hit the day before) but it was not because of a headache. The aging Pipp was having a terrible season (he would finish at .230/.286/.348) and manager Miller Huggins figured the 22 year-old Gehrig deserved some time in lieu of the struggling veteran. Gehrig hardly set the league afire initially in 1925; he was pinch-hit for several times by Huggins, especially against left-handers. Pipp never got another start for two reasons. The first was that in 1925--on account of injuries to many including Babe Ruth--the Yankees had their first under .500 season since 1918 (and, in a side note, the last they would suffer until 1965 which is astounding) meaning Huggins had no incentive to play the aging Pipp over the younger Gehrig. The other reason was that on July 2nd Pipp was beaned during batting practice, severely enough that many thought he would meet the fate of Ray Chapman but he survived. These two circumstances combined to give Wally Pipp few chances to start in the rest of 1925.

Also, compared to many versions where Pipp is forced to sit on the Yankee bench watching Gehrig play the game, a veritable Tantalus of the Roaring 20s, Pipp was sold to Cincinatti where he actually had a rebound season in 1926 (.291/.352/.413) until age got to him in 1927. In 1928 the Reds replaced him with another first baseman whose best days were behind him, George "Highpockets" Kelly.

Pipp would spend many of his remaining days--he died in 1965--denying the headache story, sometimes without explanation and sometimes mixing chronology so that his beaning occurred on June 2nd, providing a reason for his being out of the line-up on that day. Pipp should've saved his breath, like so many others, his story was lost to legend.

February 1st, 1958

Mysterious Walker Dies

No kidding, that was his nickname. Frederick Mitchell "Mysterious" Walker. He was a pitcher in the teens, who pitched a handful of innings for the Reds, Cleveland Naps (not the Indians until 1915), Brooklyn Superbas (they had been the Dodgers the year before but wouldn't be again until 1932) until he jumped to the Federal League and pitched for the Pittsburgh Rebels (where he led the league in wild pitches) and Brooklyn Tip-Tops. The nickname came from Walker's habits regarding game attendance, namely that he go AWOL with a surprising frequency. Where did he go? Well, that's pretty mysterious actually.


Monday, January 31, 2005

 

January 31st, 1947

Johnny Kling Dies

Johnny Kling was the catcher for the Cubs' teams that went to four World Series in five years in the late aughts, winning two of them. Kling was above average for each year the Cubs went to the World Series, an impressive feat for a catcher in his late 30s, a time when most have begun to decline. The only season in the period 1906-1910 that the Cubs did not go the World Series was 1909, when Kling wasn't on the team. He had retired prior the 1909 season when in the winter of 1908 he won the World Pocket Billiards Championship and decided to hold out, working on the theory that he could always fall back on his billiards career. When Kling failed to hold the title and discovered that playing for a semi-pro team in Chicago didn't quite pay the bills the way playing for the Cubs did, he returned. He was fined $700 (roughly $15,000 in modern dollars) played for his 1908 salary of $4,500. Although they had not made the World Series, the Cubs had done alright in Kling's absence, winning 104 games, and Kling helped them do so again, and the total proved enough to take the team to the World Series, where they were defeated in five games by the Philadelphia A's.

Early in the 1911 season Kling was traded to the Boston Braves where he served as the starter on a pair of truly miserable Braves' teams, the latter of which Kling also managed. The team lost 101 games (it was actually an improvement, they had lost 107 the year before) and Kling was sold to Cincinnati where his one-time teammate Joe Tinker was manager. Kling played one season for the Reds and retired.

Besides his brief career as Minnesota Fats, Kling is also notable for his long run as holder of the National League stolen base record for catchers, with 23 in 1902 and 1903. Kling held the record for more than seventy-five years until it was broken by John Sterns of the Mets in 1978. Kling has since been dropped to third on the list behind the current record holder, Jason Kendall and his 26 steals in 1998.


Sunday, January 30, 2005

 

January 30th, 1973

Bob Henley Born

Bob Henley played just one season for the Montreal Expos. Debuting in late July, he played 40 games the rest of the season and hit .304/.377/.470, and altough an Associated Press story credits him with "good defense" Henley threw out just 33% of would be base-stealers, with a fairly average passed ball rate. Nonetheless, catchers who can post an OPS+ of 126 (for an explanation of OPS+ plus, see the third paragraph of this entry), even in limited time are worth keeping around. Henley never played again not because the Expos were too foolish to recognize his value, but instead because of injuries. Henley underwent elbow surgery after the 1998 season. Before he could come back, Henley torn his right labrum, and had to have surgery to fix that in 1999. He finally recovered sufficiently to join the Expos for spring training in 2001 but was no longer able to play catcher (presumably on account of having no arm strength) and after failing to make an impression as a first baseman, he was released. Henley went on to be the only one of the Expos minor league mangers to survive the team's move to Washington, and is now the skipper of the Single-A Potomac Cannons.

Henley
's story is not particularly unique, change various details and it could probably be told about any number of ballplayers. I choose it not only because it struck me as both reflective of the wide-variety of ballplayers who had this fate befall them but also because it raises the interesting question of how many truly great players had their career ruined by these kinds of things. Its unlikely anyone could have found a way to be more valuable than Babe Ruth (who is arguably the greatest hitter ever and has 1200 innings of better-than-average pitching to boot) and I doubt that Henley could have been it, but it does make one wonder how many would-be Willie Mays or Roger Clemens suffered an injury somewhere along the way and never made it.


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