Saturday, March 26, 2005

March 26th, 2000

The Kingdome Dies

Home for many years to the Seattle Mariners and Seahawks, the Kingdome was replaced with single-use stadiums for each team and passed away from implosion on this date. I would discuss the best game to ever take place there, but I already have, Game 5 of the 1995 ALDS, described here. Since I don't do football--and the Seahawks have always been pretty lousy anyway--I'll describe the events that put the Mariners into that ALDS, a series that most would never have expected them to be in.

August 13th, 1995 the Mariners lost 6-3 to the Royals to drop their record to 50-49. They were in third place in the AL West, eleven and a half games behind the division leading California Angels and a game and a half behind the second place Texas Rangers. From that point on, the Mariners and Angels would post records that were almost perfect opposites, the M’s going 29-17 (.630) while the Halos went just 16-29 (.355). By September 1st, the M's had shaved five games off the Angels' lead and left Texas a game behind them. Their comeback efforts seem to stall however as on September 7th, with just twenty-two games left, the Mariners found themselves six games out of first place. However, the Mariners went on an incredible 17-5 run to end the season, including a seven game winning steak from September 18th through the 26th. Meanwhile, the Angels went just 10-12 over the same period, propelling the Mariners into first place.

To the Angels credit however, they refused to fold and went 5-1 over the season's last six games compared to the Mariners' 3-3, and ended the year tied with identical 78-66 records, setting up a final game for the division, to be played at the Kingdome on
October 2nd, 1995. The game was tense through the first six innings as the M's held a 1-0 lead behind Randy Johnson. However, the Mariner offense exploded in the 7th and 8th, scoring a combined eight runs off the Angels' bullpen (the only Halos reliever to remain unscathed was John Habyan) and Randy Johnson turned in one-run, twelve strikeout complete game sending the Mariners east to face the Yankees.

Friday, March 25, 2005

March 25th, 1887

Clyde Milan Born

Clyde Milan made his debut for the Washington Senators as a twenty year-old on August 19th, 1907, less than three weeks after another youngster, nineteen year-old Walter Johnson, made his. Johnson and Milan had been signed on the same scouting trip and were for many years roommates and best friends, both men known for their relatively calm demeanor. Milan and Johnson were also for many years the only bright spots on some pretty awful Senators teams, Johnson pitching and Milan playing centerfield. Milan did not have much power; he never slugged over .400 but made up for it with a high average, decent eye and exceptional speed. He twice led the league in steals and finished in the top ten nine times. His eighty-eight steals in 1912 took the American League record away from Ty Cobb and Milan held the record until Cobb reclaimed it with ninety-six in 1915.

Milan was virtually done by the time the Senators appointed him player-manager in 1922 and after that season he went to the minors, missing out by two seasons on the team’s championship over the Giants. Milan became a minor-league manager in 1924 and would alternate between minor-league managing gigs and various coaching and scouting work for the Senators until 1938 when he became a coach for good. He stayed with the team until 1953 when he suffered a heart attacked while running a spring training drill and passed away later the same day.

Thursday, March 24, 2005

March 24th, 1958

Bruce Hurst Born

Bruce Hurst holds the unfortunate distinction of being one of great “What-might-have-been” stories of the last twenty years. After a good year (13-8, 2.99) in 1986, Hurst started Game One of the World Series. Facing the Mets, who had led the National League in runs scored by a sizable margin, Hurst did not allow a run in eight innings and got the 1-0 win after Calvin Schiraldi pitched a scoreless ninth. Hurst then started Game Five and pitched a complete game allowing just two runs. Hurst had now won two of Boston’s three wins and going into Game Six had a 1.05 ERA. During the famous (or infamous, I suppose, for Red Sox fans) tenth inning of Game Six, the Shea Stadium scoreboard briefly offered congratulations to Hurst for winning the 1986 WS MVP award. Of course, its traditional to wait until the Series is over to vote on the MVP award and that proved Hurst’s undoing.

He started Game Seven on short rest and pitched relatively well, tiring and surrendering three runs in the sixth inning, his final one of the Series. Despite this, had the Sox managed to win the Series, Hurst who was far and away the most effective of the Sox pitchers going 2-0, 1.96 ERA in three games probably would’ve taken the MVP. Instead, Ray Knight won the award and Hurst was doomed to what-might-have-been status. He played two more seasons for the Sox before leaving for San Diego as a free agent, and ended his career after ineffective performances for the Rockies and Rangers in the early 90s.

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

March 23rd, 1994

Roger Wolff Dies

Perhaps more than anyone else, knuckleball pitchers are the most fragile type. Not physically, of course, but with regards to their career. They can be brilliant one season but if the dancing pitch stops dancing the next, and lacking any other Major League quality pitches, they quickly find themselves on the bench or out of work. If anyone personifies this it would be Roger Wolff.

Wolff, an Illinois native, made his debut in a 1941 cup of coffee for the Philadelphia A's. He pitched well for the team in 1942 and 1943 but suffered losing records playing on teams that lost ninety-nine and one hundred five games respectively. After the 1943 season, he was traded to the Washington Senators for Bobo Newsom (who deserves a day of his own sometime). Wolff evidently lost the feel for his knuckleball the first season in DC, going 4-15 with a 4.99 ERA, which was good for a cringe-worthy thirty-five percent worse than league average. The Senators for their part were an uninspiring lot, going 64-90 and finishing last, twenty-five games behind the St. Louis Browns. In 1945, both Wolff and the Senators had revivals however. Finding the touch on his knuckleball once again Wolff went 20-10 with a 2.16 ERA, forty-six percent better than the league average (and a greater than eighty point swing compared to the league average from the season before. The Senators went 87-67, finishing just a game and a half behind the Tigers for the pennant. For his part, Wolff finished seventh in the MVP voting.

Wolff was again good in 1946 but the Senators were not going just 76-78 and giving Wolff a 5-8 record despite a 2.58 ERA. After that season he was traded to the Indians where he pitched just sixteen innings before being bought by the Pirates, but Wolff had left his knuckleball in DC and finished with an ERA north of seven. He never pitched in the Majors again, the fragile knuckleball having evidently finally abandoned him.

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

March 22nd, 1993

Steve Olin Dies

Like Darryl Kile, Ray Chapman and a few others, Olin is remembered best for the tragic circumstances surrounding his death than anything having to do with his career. And like Kile, Chapman and others, Olin deserves better. When he was killed (along with Tim Crews) in a boating accident during spring training 1993, Olin was coming into his second year as Cleveland’s closer. He had recorded 29 saves and put up a very fine 2.34 ERA the previous year and signed a two-year contract with the Indians in the off-season. It is hard to project relief pitchers, closers especially, but it is very reasonable to say that if he had gone on what turned out to be just another boat trip, we would all remember Steve Olin, not Jose Mesa, as the closer on the Indians run of late 90s playoff teams and maybe even that if Steve Olin had been on the mound in Florida for Game Seven we would all remember the 1997 Indians as World Series winners.

Monday, March 21, 2005

March 21st, 1944

Manny Sanguillen Born

Manny Sanguillen was a catcher for the Pirates during the 70s, and was the first man to play right field after the death of his close friend Roberto Clemente, although the move proved unsuccessful and Sanguillen was moved back behind the plate. The most interesting incident of Sanguillen's career however, came on November 5th, 1976 when he was traded to the A's for Chuck Tanner along with a reported one-hundred thousand dollars. What makes this more than an ordinary trade was that at the time Tanner was a forty-six year old man who had not played in the Major Leagues since 1962. The Pirates were happy with the trade however, as they were acquiring Tanner for his skills managing players rather than being one himself. Tanner had managed Oakland to an 87-74 (.540) record the season before and Pittsburgh thought Tanner was the man to replace Danny Murtaugh (who had been hired over candidate Don Hoak).

The trade worked out well for
Pittsburgh as Tanner led the team to an average of ninety-four victories his first three seasons with the team and a World Series victory in the 1979 World Series. Sanguillen for his part played just one season in Oakland before being returned to the Pirates in an April 1978 trade and was therefore able to play under the manager he had been traded for and further ensure his place in trivia history: Manny Sanguillen, the man traded for a manager.

Sunday, March 20, 2005

March 20th, 1984

Stan Coveleski Born

One of my Obscure Hall of Famers, Stan Coveleski was a pitcher in the teens and twenties and among the seventeen pitchers who had their use of the spitball "grandfathered" after the pitch was outlawed prior to the 1920 season. The decision to grandfather those seventeen was something of an odd one; although we think of them today as "spitball pitchers" in those days, everyone threw a spitball. Now, people like Coveleski were perhaps more skilled (and almost certainly more blatant), but in truth, everyone did it. If you could mark up the ball, there was no reason not to. And given how rarely balls in play were replaced, a pitcher was likely to find that if he hadn't messed with the ball, his counterpart probably had.

Back to Coveleski, he lasted until 1928 throwing his spitball, mixing it with a curve and fastball, although contemporaries characterized his success as being entirely based on the spitter. In The Glory of Their Times Coveleski was quoted as saying that he produced the necessary spit by keeping alum in his mouth (an unappealing thought, that) and was able to make his spitter break down, out, or a combination thereof.

Coveleski used the spitter to win two-hundred fifteen games with an ERA twenty-percent better than league average for his career. Although he's not the worst pitcher in the Hall of Fame (hello Rube Marquard) he is among them, and must make poor Bert Blyleven bang his head against the wall whenever he sees Stan's Hall of Fame plaque.

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