Saturday, April 16, 2005

 

April 16th, 1972

Rich "Goose" Gossage Debuts


One of the great myths to exist in baseball today is that of the (capital-C) Closer. Teams spend great amounts of time fretting about who'll be pitching the ninth inning for them, and often spent great amounts of money attempting to solve the problem. The simple truth of the matter however--and leaving aside here for a moment the debatable worth of modern closer usage pattern--is that there are essentially two kinds of relievers: elite, and everyone else. The elite, of which Gossage is one along with pitchers like Mariano Rivera, Eric Gagne, Dennis Eckersley and others. are a valuable group and often paid according. Everyone else is fairly replaceable on a year-to-year basis and teams would be best served if they are unable to acquire (or afford) an elite reliever to simply stick someone in that role and let them close unless they give significant evidence they are unable to handle the job.

This may seem ludicrous at first blush, but it’s spelled out by results. Over the course of a season an ordinary reliever pitching the ninth inning may give up a blown save or two more than an elite one, but on a limited budget, it can work. Perhaps the best examples of this are the two greatest dynasties of the past fifteen years: The Yankees and the Braves. The Yankees have, with the exception of 1996, had Mariano Rivera, the greatest closer of all-time, pitching the ninth innings for them. Being the Yankees, Rivera is rewarded handsomely for the task. Meanwhile, the Braves have seen an incredible mix, the pitchers who have served as the team's primary closer is as long as it is diverse: Alejandro Pena (1992), Mike Stanton (1993), Greg McMichael (1994), Mark Wholers (1995-97), Kerry Lightenberg (1998), John Rocker (1999-2001), John Smoltz (2002-04) and now Danny Kolb (2005-). That's eight different closers during the Braves' run. Despite the alleged necessity of a ninth inning specialist, the Braves won one-hundred six and went to the NLCS in 1998 with a man who had fifteen MLB innings prior to that season and won a World Series with Wholers in 1995, who had a combined seven saves in his four career seasons to that point.

Elite relievers are valuable tools. But the notion that a team need have someone with that special, unique something to pitch the ninth inning forty-five times a season and should be willing to pay out the nose for it is a misconception, one players are taking all the way to the bank.



Friday, April 15, 2005

 

April 15th, 1968

Billy Brewer Born

Sometimes I think the people who run Major League Baseball teams have absolutely zero sense of humor. Billy Brewer (who was born William Robert Brewer, meaning he could've been Billy Bobby Brewer) had a mediocre seven year, four team career but never took the field in a single game for the Milwaukee Brewers. I mean, I know Billy wasn't much of a pitcher (career: 11-11, 4.79 ERA) but I mean, if the man was good enough to get a win for a team that would go on to win the World Series (the 1996 Yankees), you're telling me they couldn't have found room for him on the collection of mediocre Phil Garner managed Brewer teams that correspond almost exactly with Billy Brewer's career? No sense of humor at all.


Thursday, April 14, 2005

 

April 14th, 1969

Larry Jaster Pitches to Lou Brock


This event is worth noting as it was the first pitch delivered in an official MLB game outside of the United States, being the home opener for the new Montreal Expos. Playing in Parc Jarry (which is now a tennis court) the Expos won their Canadian debt 8-7 despite a seven run outburst from the defending champs in the fourth inning that chased Jaster. In his defense, the innings play-by-play reads like a scene out of Major League or maybe the 1962 Mets Team Video: the inning's first hitter, Mike Shannon, hit a foul pop that was dropped by catcher John Bateman. Evidently feeling charitable, Shannon grounded to shortstop Maury Wills who botched the play allowing Shannon to reach. Tim McCarver then singled and Jaster--probably a bit rattled by having the Keystone Kops playing defense behind him--made an error allowing Julian Javier to reach, leaving the bases loaded with no one out.

Happily for Jaster, he was now at the bottom of the order; if could retire shortstop Dal Maxvill (who was a career .217/.293/.259 hitter with three home runs to that point) and pitcher Nelson Briles (a career .154 hitter) he would have a chance to escape the inning with, relatively speaking, only minor damage done. Of course, the best laid plans rarely work out that way and Jaster served up Maxvill's career home run number four, a grand slam that emptied the bases and brought the Redbirds back into a game they had been losing 6-0. The pitcher, Briles, grounded out and Brock made out to left but
Curt Flood singled and Vada Pinson singled after Jester had balked Flood to second. Flood would come around to score on an error by centerfielder Don Bosch. Joe Torre then launched a home run, scoring Pinson and putting the Cards ahead 7-6. Jester, having allowed seven runs but just two earned, was pulled for Dan McGinn. Mike Shannon came up and hit a foul pop which was dropped, this time by first baseman Bob Bailey. Thankfully, Shannon then popped out to Maury Wills.

McGinn would earn the victory when the Expos came back to score one in their half of the fourth and one more in the seventh, with McGinn himself driving in the winning run. The totals for the fourth inning, however, are just the picture of an expansion team, allowing seven runs (but only two earned) while giving up five errors (including two dropped foul pops) and allowing a grand slam to one of the weakest regulars in baseball.


Wednesday, April 13, 2005

 

April 13th, 1963

Mark Leiter Born


I have, through a secret source (no, not the one I used on that Castro story) been able to acquire the plans for Mark's birthday this year. The gang will start at his house for dogs and burgers, then go out to see a movie of Mark's choosing before coming back for presents and cake. All guests will leave with a little goody bag. A fairly routine party really, although the guest list is more exciting. It’s pretty short but it is some interesting company: Mike Maddux, Joe Niekro, Ramon Martinez, Mel Stottlemyre, Jr., Alan Benes, Tim Worrell and Melido Perez. I feel like all those guys have something in common, but I just can't my finger on it...


Tuesday, April 12, 2005

 

April 12th, 1960

Candlestick Park Born


Candlestick Park (alias: 3-Com Park or Monster Park) was born on April 12th when the Giants played a game against the Cardinals. Vice-President Richard Nixon threw out the first pitch and declared it "the finest ballpark in America." This isn't quite in the same order of "I am not a crook" so far as Nixonian lies go, but it’s still up there. The park had problems from the start; in the third inning the umpires noticed that the foul poles rather than being in their traditional spot were one hundred percent in fair territory and complained. The response of Giants' manager Bill Rigney was not recorded although one imagines it ran towards "What do you want me to do about it? Pick them up and move them?"

The foul poles however were hardly the only flaw with the new park. If Opening Day was Candlestick's birth, it was conceived when George Christopher, the Mayor, took Giants' owner Horace Stoneham around Candlestick Point on a sunny morning, and told him that the site would soon be the home of the Giants' park. When
Stoneham did not know, but Christopher did was that although Candlestick Point looked lovely on that morning, it tended to be cold, foggy and above all windy, among the worst parts of San Francisco insofar as weather was concerned.

The stadium's chief architect, John Bolles, gave the stadium a unique boomerang shape in the hope of reducing wind. Unfortunately, Bolles' unique shape proved as ineffective as the unique shape used by plague doctors centuries earlier. The stories about the stadium's wind are legion: during the 1961 All-Star game, the Giants' Stu Miller was literally blown off the mound, which earned him a balk. During a 1963 batting practice session, Casey Stengel watched the wind pick up the batting cage and relocate it sixty feet to the pitcher's mound. The stadium was also notorious for its chill; despite being in "sunny
California", night games at Candlestick often required clothing more suitable to a day in New England. To their credit, the Giants at least realized this and would award the Croix de Candlestick to fans who stayed through entire extra-inning evening games. The stadium was enclosed in the winter of 1971-1972 to provide more seating for the stadium's new tenant--the 49ers--ideally, reducing the winds. Although the new seating was a success, it only succeeded in altering the wind patterns to swirl inside of the stadium bowl. Candlestick does deserve credit however for surviving the 1989 Earthquake with virtually no damage. At the time, it was holding a full house in anticipation of Game 3 of the World Series and a collapse would have been tragic.

After the 1999 season, the Giants moved to the infinitely superior SBC Park leaving Candlestick to concerts (it is the site of the last proper Beatles concert in 1966) and the sport it always seemed built for, football.



Monday, April 11, 2005

 

April 11th, 1975

Todd Dunwody Born


A frequently neglected but extremely important element of player evolution is that anyone can accomplish anything in fifty at-bats and it is therefore foolish to draw wide conclusions. Right now, depending on the team you root for, there are anywhere from one to five people on the team (or at Triple-A) based on the fifty at-bats they put up in Spring Training. Anytime a GM or manager is thinking about making a move based on a player's last fifty at-bats rather than his entire history he should think of Todd Dunwoody.

Dunwoody was called up to the Marlins in 1997 and made his debut on May 10th. He would play regularly through the end of May when he was sent back down, only to be recalled on June 20th after which he played every day for a week and was sent back down to Triple-A and would not play in the majors again until 1998 when he was a regular for a terrible Marlins team. Happily for the sake of this exercise, in his time with Florida
, Dunwoody got exactly fifty-at bats. And in those fifty at-bats, Dunwoody hit pretty well: .260/.362/.500 with six extra-base hits (including two homers) and a perfect 2-for-2 in stolen bases. Playing in ample Pro Player Stadium, Dunwoody's numbers were good enough for a 128 OPS+.

I don't think Jim Leyland and Dave Dombrowski looked at Dunwoody's fifty at-bats from 1997 when they made their decision to use him regularly in centerfield in 1998--the dismantled Marlins had few options--but his performance in 1998 and 1999 and every other year of his career, much more clearly reflects Dunwoody's talent level then did his fifty at-bats in 1997. For the rest of his career, Dunwoody never managed an on-base percentage above .300 or a slugging percentage above .400, let alone .500. His OPS+ for the rest of his career never topped seventy-nine and he finished with a career total of just 63; he has not played in the majors since 2002.

Although people inside and out of baseball occasionally forget it, anyone can do anything in fifty at-bats. When they do forget it however, they should think of Todd Dunwoody in 1997.


Sunday, April 10, 2005

 

April 10th, 2000

Ken Griffey, Jr. hits 400th Home Run

At the time, this made Griffey the youngest man to ever hit four hundred home runs (thirty years, one hundred forty-one days, younger than Jimmie Foxx by about a hundred days) and having averaged nearly fifty-five home runs over the previous four seasons and been traded--as per his request--to Cincinnati, Griffey seemed ready to continue his illustrious career which would culminate with the night he hit home run number seven fifty six, setting a new home run record.

Of course, it never quite worked out that way. Griffey hit well his first season with the Reds (.271/.387/.556, 40 HRs) but during spring training 2001 he suffered a hamstring injury that, ahem, hamstrung him for many seasons. Griffey hit just one hundred one home runs after number four hundred, and while Griffey needed just eleven seasons to reach four hundred home runs (including his one hundred twenty game rookie year, and two strike shortened years) it was not until June 2004, a full four and a half seasons, that Griffey finally connected on home run number five hundred.

During the 1999 World Series, the "Major League Baseball All-Century Team" was announced. The only active players on the team were Roger Clemens, Mark McGwire, Cal Ripken and Ken Griffey. While Clemens, McGwire and Ripken were all at least thirty-five, Griffey was just twenty-nine and it was suggested that he might be the only player to be on the All-Century for both 1900-1999 and 2000-2099. Griffey had the talent to accomplish that, and the time frame was right; it seemed a sure thing. Other factors have interfered however, reminding us that there simply is no such thing as a sure thing.


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