Saturday, February 19, 2005

 

February 19th, 1935

Russ Nixon Born

Russ Nixon played parts of twelve seasons in the Majors as a catcher for the Indians, Red Sox and Twins and was most notable for a lousy sense of timing. He joined the Indians in 1957 three years after their 111 win season, and stayed with them until midway through the 1960 season when he was traded to the Red Sox. He stayed with the Sox through the 1965 season after which he was traded to the Twins. The Twins were coming off 102 wins and a World Series appearance, and would proceed to finish second the next two years, first to Baltimore and then in 1967 to Nixon's old team the Red Sox, having their "Impossible Dream" season. In April 1968 the Twins released Nixon and he signed on with the Red Sox, but the Impossible Dream was over and the team finished fourth. The Twins would spiral down to 7th place in 1968, but in 1969 (under Billy Martin) they would go to the first ever American League Championship Series.

Nixon went on to a mediocre managerial career (finishing with exactly a .400 winning percentage) but all of this, his playing career and time as a skipper has essentially been forgotten. Like many others, Russ Nixon has been reduced to a trivia answer: Who was the last man to manage the Braves before Bobby Cox?



Friday, February 18, 2005

 

February 18th, 1943

William Cox Buys Phillies

This is one move for which Major League Baseball wishes they could have taken a mulligan. The Phillies' previous owner was Gerry Nugent, a man who literally did not have enough money to pay for the team's day-to-day expenses, and often had to sell the team's best players to pay the bills. Having decided that they'd seen enough of Nugent turning a baseball team into an auction house, his fellow owners bought the team for $850,000 and put it up for sale after the 1942 season. The eventual purchaser was William Cox, who had made his fortune in lumber.

Cox was not an absentee owner and this would lead to his undoing. Taking over a squad that had averaged one hundred and seven losses over the last five years, new manager Bucky Harris had them on a ninety-four loss pace, hardly great but a big improvement. Cox decided he was unhappy with this performance and fired Harris. He did so through the media, calling a press conference while Harris was with the team in St. Louis. The team initially threatened not to play if Harris was not restored as manager but Harris told the players to play without him, and returned to Philly. Calling a press conference in his hotel suite, Harris described Cox in unfavorable—if probably accurate—terms and as the press was leaving Harris dropped the bombshell that Cox was gambling on his own team.

Commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis received word of the accusation from a Philly sportswriter and launched an investigation. On November 23rd, Cox was suspended, putting an end to his ownership that had begun less than a year before. Harris claimed he had made some "sentimental bets" on his team not knowing it was against the rules but that another front office employee had made the fifteen to twenty bets that Landis suspended him on account of. Cox resigned as Phillies' owner the day before the suspension was announced, but proceeded to recant his "sentimental bets" story and demanded another hearing. He got one on December fourth, although he did not attend, choosing to be represented by counsel. No change in the decision was made, and Cox became number sixteen on the permanently ineligible list.


The Phillies were sold to Bob Carpenter who ended up appointing former Yankee Herb Pennock as the GM. The Phillies would reach the World Series in 1950 but due to a number of factors (including, most controversially, a refusal to sign black players, they would not have their first until 1957) it would not be until 1976 that the Phillies were again competitive. William Cox was still on the banned list when he died in 1989.


Thursday, February 17, 2005

 

February 17th, 1989

Lefty Gomez Dies

Lefty Gomez was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1972. He's a questionable selection; supporters point to his 3.34 ERA (25% better than the league average for his career) and his nearly two-hundred wins in just fourteen seasons (Lefty's average season featured 18 wins) while detractors point out that he pitched nearly his entire career with the Yankees in the 30s and 40s, casting serious doubt on how much of Lefty's many wins came from the team behind him rather than the man on the mound.

It’s a tough call, but I think he belongs, with his wit being the tiebreaker. If Lefty Gomez isn't in the Hall of Fame we might forget the man who once said that "when Neil Armstrong first set foot on the moon, he and all the space scientists were puzzled by an unidentifiable white object. I knew immediately what it was. That was a home run ball hit off me in 1937 by Jimmie Foxx." Gomez was not quite like Casey Stengel, whose quotes demonstrated a keen knowledge of the game hidden behind the glib exterior, but he wasn't entirely unaware either. Gomez reflected that he lived by the rule that you "make your best pitch and back up third base. That relay might get away and you've got another shot at him."

Gomez also liked to poke fun at his miserable batting career (he finished a lifetime .147 hitter) saying "I was the worst hitter ever. I never even broke a bat until last year when I was backing out of the garage." Gomez might have been a little harsh in his self-assessment, although not too much. He triumphed over his ineptitude with the stick however to help himself hold a unique trivia answer: First man to drive in a run in an All-Star game. Gomez started the 1933 game--the first ever--and pitched three scoreless innings to earn the win (also the first ever, of course). In the third, Gomez came up with Jimmy Dykes on second and Joe Cronin on first. He singled, scoring Dykes and putting the
AL up 1-0. They would go onto a 4-2 victory, with another Lefty, Grove, earning the save.

Gomez retired after the 1943, and left the game revealing "the secret of my success was clean living and a fast outfield."


February 17th, 1893

Wally Pipp

Happy Birthday to Wally, who I've written about before.

Wednesday, February 16, 2005

 

February 16th, 1953

Four Way Trade Completed

You don't see many four way trades these days, although, to be fair, you didn't see many in those days either. This one featured the Phillies, Braves, Reds and Dodgers, and involved five players and two cash transactions. The trade began when Russ "The Mad Monk" Meyer went from the Phillies to the Braves, in exchange for first baseman Earl "The Earl of Snohomish" Torgeson. The Braves then turned around and traded Meyer to the Dodgers for Jim Pendleton and Rocky Bridges. Still not done dealing, the Braves then sent Bridges to the Reds who sent Joe Adcock in return. At some point in all this dealing the Phils also sent money to the Braves who also sent cash to the Reds. At the end of the deal then:

Braves: Received cash, Joe Adcock and Jim Pendleton.
Phillies: Received Earl Torgeson
Reds: Received cash and Rocky Bridges
Dodgers: Received Russ Meyer

So how do the teams rank in their performance in the trades?

(4) Reds: Bridges spent five seasons in
Cincinnati (plus two months of sixth) before he was waived to the Senators. Bridges was a no-hit utility man who played around the infield for the Reds, but never posted an OPS+ above 75 for his time there. The Reds also gave up Joe Adcock--who will be discussed more below.

(2 [Tie]) Phillies: Earl Torgeson put together a decent season (117 OPS+) for a decent Phillies team (83-71) in 1953, and followed it with a not-so-decent one (93 OPS+, the drop coming almost entirely from a major loss of power) for a no-so-decent Phillies team (75-79). He was traded the next season to the Tigers where he enjoyed a brief career resurgence and hung on through the 1961 season.


(2 [Tie]) Dodgers: Although Meyer went 15-5 his first year in
Brooklyn, his ERA jumped from 3.14 to 4.56 and he was relegated to the bullpen for the Dodgers six game loss to the Yankees in the World Series. He rebounded slightly in 1955 going 11-6 with a 3.99 ERA, but was traded after the season (along with Don Hoak) to the Cubs. After a few more mediocre seasons, Meyer was out of baseball.

(1) Braves: Although the Braves gave up Earl Torgeson, in exchange they got Joe Adcock. Adcock played more than 1200 games for the Braves, and is in the franchise all-time top ten in average (.285), on-base percentage (.343), slugging percentage (.511, good for fifth all-time) and ranks below only Hank Aaron, Eddie Mathews, Dale Murphy and the Joneses (Chipper and Andruw) for all-time Braves' home runs. The Braves dealt an aging first baseman and in return got a very good to excellent player for years to come, making them the clear winners of the trade.






Tuesday, February 15, 2005

 

February 15th, 1916

Frank Baker Sold to Yankees

That's Frank "Home Run" Baker who earned his nickname in the 1911 World Series with the Philadelphia A's, swatting two home runs in six games against the Giants. Baker led the league in homers that season with eleven, and would lead the league the next three years after that, despite never topping twelve home runs and totaling just thirty-one in three years. Baker had not played in the 1915 season, after Connie Mack broke up the AL Pennant winning A's, dismantling a team that had won ninety-nine games the year before into one that lost one hundred and nine. Mack tried to keep Baker but the third baseman refused to report and sat out the year.

Deciding that he would prefer to sell and get something for him than let Baker waste away, Mack sold Baker to the Yankees for $37,750. (That's roughly $650,000 in modern dollars, which shows you something about how costs in baseball have increased over the years.) It was a relative bargain to the Yankees, who improved to over .500 in Baker's first season and watched him finish in the top five in homers his first four seasons with the team. Baker's wife died during the 1919 off-season, leaving Baker the only person to care for the couple's two daughters. Baker decided to take the 1920 season off in order to do so. He returned to the Yankees in 1921, and helped the team win the pennant that year and the next, although they lost to the Giants in the World Series both times, with Baker retiring after the 1922 Series.

Baker was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1955, a valid selection given his status as one of the premier power hitters of the deadball era. Whether his seasons off were a case of putting himself above his team is a matter of opinion--I tend to side with Baker in both cases--but that he assembled a Hall of Fame career despite it is a testament to his ability.


Monday, February 14, 2005

 

February 14th, 1911

Giants and Phillies put pinstripes on their uniforms

In putting the stripes on their uniforms, the Giants and Phils became the first teams to do so, as the story of the Yankees inventing pinstripes to make Babe Ruth appear thinner is, alas, apocryphal. Being that this is a relatively slow day, excepting of course the birth of future trivia answer Brad Halsey (name one player besides Javy Vazquez the Yankees traded for Randy Johnson). So with a tip of my cap towards Paul Lukas, I think I will do a run down of my Top 10 Best and Worst uniforms of the last score of seasons, which happens to exactly coincide with my lifetime:

The Worst:
(10) Seattle Mariners, All, 1987-1992: There is something to be said for simplicity. No Technicolor gingerbread, just the name of the team. The problem is that unless the team has some sort of history, some legacy, you need to have a little something. Otherwise, the jersey isn't simple. It’s boring.
(9) Toronto Blue Jays, All, 1984-1988: These are fine--although I'll confess to not understanding the wide-ranging fondness for light blues in the 80s
AL--except for the giant Blue Jay in middle. In 1989, the Jay was moved off-center, to considerable benefit.
(8) Boston Red Sox, Alternate Jersey, 2003-2004: Like the Yankees, Dodgers and a few others, the Sox jerseys are beautiful in their simplicity and elegance. White with red lettering and trim for home, gray with the same for away. And then there's this thing. A gaudy bright red disaster saved from a higher spot only because it’s rarely worn and was abolished after this past season (although you think the Sox would have learned their lesson about changing things after titles).
(7) Chicago White Sox, All, 1984-1988: The 1984-1986 versions are especially bad featuring a horizontal stripe, almost always a deal-breaker. But all are guilty of something that will put a uniform onto my Worst List every time: writing on the pants. You don't have text on pants, it just isn't done.

(6) Texas Rangers, All, 1984-1985: I'm not as opposed to alternate jerseys as some are, but this bunch just annoys me. Alternate jerseys are one thing but there should be a clearly defined home uniform and clearly defined road and then take it from there. You can't have an off-white road uniform if you have a white home uniform. I'm getting worked up here, let's move on.
(5) Florida Marlins Home, 1993-94: When it comes to uniforms, I'm fairly traditional. I like strong colors. Dark blues, blacks, reds, greens, and so on. Teal, needless to say, does not fall into this category and the Marlins jersey was just teal overload! Teal pinstripes, teal logo, teal undershirt, teal hat and, one imagines, a teal jockstrap.
(4) San Diego Padres, Road, 2004-Present: Ok, so its a little unfair showing David Wells in it, he's not exactly an ideal model, but even more modest sized players can't make it look good. According to the Padres that jersey color is "sand." Must be a
California thing.
(3) Various, "Turn Ahead the Clock," 1999: They were a one-off promotion sponsored by Century 21 (thus the notion of leaning towards the future). And we learned that apparently, the future is really, really ugly. The only comfort that could be found was for fans of the Cubs, Yankees, Dodgers, Reds and others who spared their fans the torture of players dressed like clowns, even for one game. You can brand uniforms, you can put ads on bases but please god, spare me the future uniforms.
(2) Anaheim Angels, All, 1997-2001: Goofy looking, poor colors and just awful all-around. There are but two goods things for be said for these uniforms: at least they did not look as goofy as their fellow Disney-owned
Anaheim based team and the year they got some decent unis, the baseball gods rewarded them with a World Title.
(1) San Diego Padres, All, 1984: These have, flying in the face of all logic, actually become somewhat popular in the throwback jersey market. These jerseys have almost no redeeming feature, the primary colors (besides white) being brown and mustard yellow. They're just ugly from start to finish. The trend of popular throwbacks has also revealed the '84 Pads completed a rare trifecta: Their batting practice jersey was ugly as sin too.

The Best:
(10) Seattle Mariners, Home and Away, 1993-Present: I'm avoiding the gruesome alternate teal jersey the M's sometimes wore in the early nineties and sticking with the design that came after the 1992 season. That uniform held this same space on the Worst List and its upgrade is for demonstrating how a new team and developed some sense of identity without looking like fools.
(9) New York Mets, Home, 1985-1986: For reasons I've never quite understood, these were always one of my favorites. I really liked the thick vertical stripe running the length of the uniform. This is home only; the gray road unis are best left to memory.
(8) Oakland A's, All, 1989-Present: If these jerseys were just described, they come off as truly terrible, green and gold, combined with white shoes. And yet, despite that, they work quite well. I'm also a big fan of the elephant patch on the jersey sleeves, something which harkens back to the team's time in Philly.
(7) Los Angeles Dodgers, 1984-1998: The Dodgers drop a few spots because of their decision to change the lettering on their away jerseys from "Dodgers" to "Los Angeles" starting in the 1999 season. I generally support this policy (in front of your fans, you show your team, in front of enemy fans you show your city), but changing tradition requires a reason.

(6) Anaheim Angels, All, 2002-Present: These are another example of a new-ish team can create an identity for themselves without resorting to being gaudy. It was hard to forget the sea of red in Anaheim in 2002.
(5) Boston Red Sox, Home and Road, 1990-Present: 1990 was the first season the Sox changed the font on their road jerseys from plain text to the Olde English font that was on the front of their home uniforms. This gave the Sox uniforms a more, well, uniform look and one I'm a big fan of.
(4) San Diego Padres, Alternate Uniform, 1996-1998 (Approximately): Modeled here by Trevor Hoffman, who has been immortalized in it, this is one of the few solid uniforms I like, the combination of the solid blue of the jersey and hat combining with brighter shade of the pants works well.
(3) Florida Marlins, Road, 1997-Present: So I rated the home version of this jersey the fifth worse of the last twenty years, how does its cousin rate as the third best? Well, I'll be damned if teal and gray don't go well together! However, the Marlins insisted on sticking a teal hat on top of the uniform for the first three seasons of their career. Proving once again the wisdom of wearing an attractive uniform, the year the Fish changed to a far superior black cap, they went all the way.
(2) St. Louis Cardinals, All, 1995-Present: I've always liked the Cardinals uniforms, but it was not until 1995 when they adopted the distinctive white and gray for home and away uniforms that they earned the second favorite uniform spot. The units are distinctive with the two birds on the bat and classy. A damn fine uniform.
(1) New York Yankees, All, 1984-Present: At home, blue pinstripes, interlocking NY. On the road, gray with a blue "
New York." No jersey names. The classic standard to which all other strive. Marred only by "replica" jerseys which put a name, especially that of the wearer, above the number.


Sunday, February 13, 2005

 

February 13th, 1980

Drew Henson Born

Drew Henson was lured away from a potential career in the NFL by the New York Yankees, who gave him a seventeen million dollar contract after Henson forced the Cincinnati Reds to trade him back to the Yankees (he had been part of a deal that landed the Yankees Denny Neagle) under the threat that he would have turned to football otherwise. As it turned out, Henson probably wishes that the Reds had forced him to follow through, he quit baseball after three mediocre minor league seasons, walking away from all but five million dollars of the contract, and saw action in seven games (including one start) for the Dallas Cowboys in the 2004-05 NFL season.

Names like Henson's are inevitably thrown around when discussions of the “world's best athlete” is raised. Such discussions tend to focus on athletes like Bo Jackson, Brian Jordan and Deion Sanders who played two sports, and did so at the highest professional level. In contrast, people like Henson, Danny Ainge and most famously Michael Jordan are often discussed for showing how people like
Jackson and Sanders are at a different level. I've never quite bought into this theory. Michael Jordan was an astounding athlete, as anyone who watched him during his Bulls' days could have told you. He was also a terrible baseball player, batting just .203 in double-A and plainly had no future as a baseball player (and, some would argue, no right occupying a Double-A roster spot). That he failed however is looking at it the wrong way. Double-A is a relatively high level, there are (with due respect to the Japanese and Cuban leagues) only two leagues more difficult than Double-A. Jordan was thirty-one when he took up baseball again and had not played seriously in fifteen years, yet still managed to perform, if poorly, at the third highest level possible. In contrast, both Sanders and Jackson played baseball throughout their college years, and one wonders if they could have managed to repeat their dual-sport success if they had to pick one up at after fifteen years of layoff.

This is not to take anything away from either Bo or Deion, who were both exceptional athletes, but to appoint them the best athletes and dismiss Jordan simply based their success at various activates is foolhardy. Pro athletes are, and I mean this as nicely as possible, genetic freaks, with physical abilities simply outside the normal range. With the rare exceptions of those who physical attributes simply force them into one sport or another, any athlete could have been successful at any game had they chosen that path exclusively. This is not to say that Michael Jordan would have succeeded in baseball as he did in basketball, one was clearly the sport for him. But to rate those athletes who choose to pursue one sport over two as inferior isn’t right.


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