Saturday, March 12, 2005

March 12th, 1942

Jimmy Wynn Born

Jimmy Wynn played fifteen seasons, mostly for the Houston Astros and was the franchise's first real star. Nicknamed the "Toy Cannon" for his strong arm attached to a 5'9" frame, Wynn was actually left unprotected by the Reds in the 1962 expansion draft. He would make them regret that decision posting an average OPS+ of nearly 140 his first six seasons with the Astros. After that sixth season however, Wynn's career ran into trouble. He had already been replaced in center-field by Caesar Cedeno and on December 21st, Wynn's wife Ruth stabbed him in the stomach, reminding us once again that Christmas is stressful for everyone, even those whose husbands hit .282/.394/.493 the year before.

Wynn had surgery and was supposedly recovered for the 1971 season, but he hit just. 203 suggesting that even if he was physically recovered, the mental issues surrounding being stabbed by his wife lingered. (And who can blame him; we can only guess how many years it took Roy Hobbs to recover from being shot before he could play again.) Wynn played two more seasons for the Astros before being traded to the Dodgers. He enjoyed a brief career revival in his two seasons
in Los Angeles including a fifth place finish in the 1974 MVP race. The Dodgers traded him to the Braves after his second season, a wise decision, as 1975 was Wynn's last great campaign. After playing for the Braves, Yankees and Brewers Wynn retired.

Wynn is still alive today--although presumably divorced—and still features prominently in the Astros all-time record book; it was not until 1999 that Jeff Bagwell passed him as the franchise's home run leader.

Friday, March 11, 2005

March 11th, 1945

Dock Ellis Born

Dock Ellis is most famous, of course, for supposedly having pitched a no-hitter while tripping on LSD, putting him in the odd accomplishment club with David Wells' "half-drunk" perfect game. Ellis is also notable for his 19-9 performance for the 1971 champion "We Are Family" Pirates, although Willie Stargell and gang had to overcome Ellis being shelled in his only appearance as the Pirates' starter in Game One.

Ellis is also worth remembering for his presence in one of the most lopsided trades in baseball history. On December 11th, 1975, the Pittsburgh Pirates
acquired pitcher Doc Medich from the Yankees. In return the Yankees acquired Ellis, pitcher Ken Brett and twenty-one year old second baseman Willie Randolph. Medich pitched one year for the Pirates providing league average innings and little more and was traded to Oakland after the next year. Brett was traded by the Yankees without having even pitched five innings for them, but Ellis and Randolph paid off nicely. In 1976 Ellis won seventeen games for the Yankees, and got the win in Game 3 of the ALCS, although he was again beaten fairly badly in the World Series. Randolph meanwhile, would man the the keystone for the Yankees until 1988, and is among the franchise leaders in walks, runs, on-base percentage and is second to Rickey Henderson in steals.

Ellis further helped the Yankees, after the 1976 season he was traded to Oakland for Mike Torrez. Torrez won fourteen games for the Yankees, and was easily the most valuable non-Reggie Jackson Yankee in the World Series. And of course, Torrez signed with the Red Sox in the off-season which would help the Yankees out the following October. For his part, Ellis would bounce around from Oakland to Texas to the Mets and finally back to Pittsburgh before he retired after the 1979 season, the "man who pitched a no-no on drugs" but also a factor in one of most one-sided trades in history.

Thursday, March 10, 2005


March 10th, 1992

Kirk Gibson Traded to Pirates From Kansas City

Nick “The Greek” Dandalos who had once played poker for millions of dollars in Las Vegas ended his gambling life playing low-limit poker in Southern California. Asked how he could have gambled for vast sums and now sit attempting to earn five dollar chips, Dandalos replied “It’s action, isn’t it?” One imagines that this is a sentiment to which Kirk Gibson, just a few years removed from hitting his famous home run in Chavez Ravine to win Game One of the World Series while wearing the classic Dodger uniform, would have agreed as he went through the 1991 season wearing his powder blue Royal jersey and batting just .236 on the bright green turf of Royals Stadium for a team that barely finished above .500.

Wednesday, March 09, 2005

March 9th, 1908

Myril Hoag Born

Myril Hoag is another player, like Fernando Tatis (second entry there) who I am fond of for holding a record based in quirkiness rather than actual talent. Hoag had a long career as a generally mediocre outfielder for the Yankees, St. Louis Browns, White Sox and Indians during the 30s and 40s. His moment of glory however, came on June 6th, 1934 when he set a Yankee record that remains to this day: most hits in a nine-inning game, 6.

At Fenway Park that day the Yankees and Sox played a double-header. In the first game, the Yankees crushed the Sox 15-3. Hoag was "playing in the left garden in the absence of Babe Ruth" (as the New York Times story the next day put it) and despite hitting in the seventh spot in the line up, Hoag came to the plate six times. In each of his chances Hoag banged out a single (another Yankee record he holds: most singles in a nine-inning, 6) against Sox pitchers Lefty Grove (having the worst season of his career) and reliever Henry Johnson.

The story has two footnotes. The first is that although the Yankees lost the second game of the double header, Hoag again started and this time was bumped to the third spot in the line-up. He got a hit his first at-bat off Sox starter Johnny Welch but went 0-for-4 the rest of the night. The second footnote is that on
May 1st, 1996 an equally immortal Yankee, Gerald Williams, rapped out six hits at Baltimore. However, Williams required fifteen innings for his six hits, while Hoag could do it in just nine.

Tuesday, March 08, 2005

March 8th, 1984

Richard Barbieri Born

In honor of the birthday of your humble scribe, why don't you head over to Baseball Think Factory and see him try his hand at writing not about the past, but instead predicting the future with a season preview of the Colorado Rockies, which will hopefully appear shortly.

Monday, March 07, 2005

March 7th, 1890

Dave Danforth Born

Also known as "Dauntless Dave," "Dandy Dave, " "Demon Dave," and so on, Danforth had a ten year career as a pitcher for the A's, White Sox and St. Louis Browns in the teens and twenties. A graduate of Baylor University, Danforth evidently spent much of his career putting his smarts to use finding new ways to doctor the ball. Danforth is frequently credited with being the inventor of the "shine ball." There is some confusion here, however. Traditionally speaking, the shine ball worked by scuffing up one side of the ball until it was nearly black--this was easier in the era Danforth played in when balls were replaced only occasionally--and keeping the other side blindingly white, often with the help of either talcum power or paraffin wax. This created the dual consequence of having the ball slide out of the pitcher's hand like a spitball and having a baffling effect on the batter who saw alternating dark and light sides of the ball coming at them.

Danforth however, was quoted as saying his shine ball was entirely scuffed and dirty, but nonetheless shiny. Danforth said he invented it in 1914 while pitching at
Louisville, where oil was spread on the infield to keep the dust from rising. According to Danforth, "the combination of the oil slick and dirty turf discolored the balls and made them look black and shiny." Whether Danforth threw a "traditional" shine ball or his own version is a matter of debate.

Danforth was twice given ten day suspensions for throwing a "loaded" baseball. Danforth (who possessed large strong hands) would take the cover off the ball and use that to give him more break on his curveball. Ty Cobb alleged Danforth would lift the seams and then use paraffin wax to give the impression the ball hadn't been tampered with. Danforth also allegedly pioneered the practice of keeping his thumb nail sharpened to a point so that he could raise and tear the seams of the ball to make it break further.

In addition to his assortment of doctored baseballs, Danforth also featured a pickoff move that was regarded by many as the best in the game, virtually indistinguishable from his pitching motion; many also thought it was a balk. Despite all the ball tampering and possibly balks, Danforth managed just seventy-one wins and an ERA worse than the league average, and retired after the 1925 season. Having gotten his DDS in 1915, Danforth worked as a dentist in
Baltimore until 1960 when he retired. He died ten years later at age eighty.

Sunday, March 06, 2005

March 6th, 1977

Marcus Thames Born

Marcus Thames (pronounced "timms," rhymes with "whims," rather than like the river in London)--was an outfielder drafted by the Yankees in 1996. He spent several seasons in the Yankee system and finally made his Major League debut in 2002 at age twenty-six for them, playing in a handful of games that season. The next year he was traded to Texas for Ruben Sierra and moved on to Detroit in 2004, where he is currently competing for a fourth outfielder job.

Thames' otherwise unremarkable career is noteworthy for his first at-bat on June 10th, 2002. Only playing in the game because a more touted prospect, Juan Rivera, had fractured his kneecap in a collision with a maintenance cart, Thames came to the plate for the first time in a Major League game against Randy Johnson at Yankee Stadium. Johnson's first pitch was a hard fastball at the level of Thames' neck. The rookie, who had been planning to be aggressive against the big lefty, decided that this was his kind of pitch, and swung the bat, his first Major League swing. Thames connected and the ball began to carry, and carry, and carry all the way to the Yankee bullpen in left-center field. Thames had hit a home run off Randy Johnson (no small feat) and done so in his first at-bat, only the second Yankee in history to accomplish that.

There is very little of note about Marcus Thames career, and having never earned a full-time job at age twenty-eight, there probably never will be. But he will always have
June 10th, 2002 and a neck-high fastball from Randy Johnson.

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