Saturday, April 23, 2005

 

April 23rd, 1988

Steve Carlton Plays Last Game

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For me, there’s nothing more depressing than a player, especially one who was great, even if only briefly, hanging around long after his ability to play at the major level has left him. The last three years of Steve Carlton’s career, “Lefty” posted ERAs of 5.10, 5.74 and 16.76 in a desperate five year effort to prove he could still be an effective pitcher. He couldn’t; he mercifully retired when he was released five days after his last appearance. Carlton is not the only one guilty of this, in an ultimately futile attempt to reach 500 home runs, Fred McGriff spent part of the 2004 season with Tampa Bay, striking out in nearly a quarter of his at-bats and batting just .181.

Pat Hentgen wasn’t the player McGriff or
Carlton were. He did win the 1996 Cy Young Award, and probably deserved it (20-10, 3.22) although he has the dubious distinction of holding the highest career ERA of any Cy Young Winner (4.32). His last year, 2004, Hentgen was terrible but realized it. After a brutal start against the Yankees in July (2 2/3 IP, 8 runs, 7 hits, 4 walks, 0 strikeouts) Hentgen called it a career, walking away from the remaining portion of a two and a quarter million dollar contract. Hentgen will obviously live comfortably without the money, but I admire him for taking his dignity above someone’s cash. In the world of Fear Factor, that’s an all too rare occurrence.


Friday, April 22, 2005

 
April 22nd, 2005

Richard Barbieri Goes to Rome



Since I didn't find anything of particular interest on this date, and will be spending it in Rome, I thought it would be appropriate to write something on Italy and baseball. Despite having produced many great athletes, including footballers and Olympians, it has contributed just six players to Major League Baseball. (Although obviously many players of Italian descent like Joe DiMaggio and Yogi Berra have been all-time greats). The man who had the longest career having being born in Italy was Reno Bertoia, who was from near Udine, Italy outside of Venice. Bertoia moved to Canada before his second birthday, and had a ten year career for the Tigers (who were his team as he lived just on the other side of the border from Detroit), Senators/Twins (the team moved during Bertoia's tenure) and Kansas City A's. Bertoia was a mediocre infielder who held onto a job by playing all three of the infield skill positions.

The longest tenured Italian pitcher was Marino Pieretti who was born in Lucca Italy (near Florence) in 1920. He made his debut, oddly, while many Americans were fighting a war in his home country winning fourteen games for the Senators in 1945. He would hang on for five more seasons and finished his career with a 30 and 38 record and a 4.53 ERA. He is also notable for giving up the 2,000th hit to previously noted Italian-American Joe DiMaggio.

No native-born Itailan has played in a game since Bertoia since 1962 and none of the other four Italians player in even fifty games. So, if you can, do as I will be doing today, and sit at a cafe, have an espresso and toast to Reno Bertoia, Marino Pietetti and all the other Italians who have played Major League Baseball.



Thursday, April 21, 2005

 

April 21st, 1986

Pirates Play at Cubs


I have something for a fondness for extra inning games that just go on-and-on-and-on. I don't know where this started, but I suspect it had something to do with my further fondness for seeing something unusual, a guy playing out of position, an AL team losing the DH, things like that which don't happen much except in games that go on, seemingly, forever.

The Cubs-Pirates game on April 21st of 1986 was, at first, fairly routine. The Pirates came back from two runs down to build a 5-3 lead, and came back again to take a 8-5 lead after the Cubs tied the game. It seemed like a bad day for the Cubs, as they were down three heading into the ninth. However, pinch hitter Thad Bosley hit a triple and scored on a Davey Lopes double. Pirates' manager Jim Leyland pulled Bob Walk and replaced him with Jim Winn (no relation to Jimmy Wynn). Winn promptly threw a wild pitch, sending Lopes to third, but settled down to strike out Shawon Dunston and Ryne Sandberg, leaving the Cubs down two runs with just an out to go. Their fortunes changed however, when Keith Moreland slammed a home run off Winn, tying the game at eight. Leon Durham singled, suggesting perhaps the Cubs had one more trick up their sleeve, but it was not to be as Brian Dayett grounded out to the shortstop.

The game went on, with the Cubs managing to load the bases in the eleveth but pinch-hitter Manny Trillo struck out looking. Running low on pitchers, Cubs' manager Gene Michael--who was filling in regular skipper Jim Frey--called on Rick Sutcliffe to make his first relief appearence since 1983, and the last he would make until 1989. The Pirates loaded the bases in the thirteenth with just one out, but with the infield in, Bill Almon made an out to second base and R.J. Reynolds (that's really his name, by the way) was caught looking, giving the Cubs a chance to win in their half of the
thirteenth, but it was not to be. At this point, they game had gone on for nearly five hours. Being Wrigley Field pre-1988, this meant was more than just trivia, it meant the game had to be suspended on account of darkness, to be resumed at a later date. And when that dates comes around, so will the story of this game. Unless you cheat and look it up. But what fun is that?

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

 

April 20th, 1908

Henry Chadwick Dies


This may seem a cop-out, but I prefer to think of it as giving reconigition where it is sorely deservered: Henry Chadwick was a fasinating man, it was he who largely gave the statistical system we still use today and Chadwick's sensibilities run through it. His story which is an interesting one, and the stories of many others, all equally interesting, are expertly told in Alan Schwarz's The Numbers Game, which recounts the history of everyone who has furthered the use of statistics in baseball from Chadwick to Billy Beane. It was, in my opinion, the best baseball book of 2004, and comes highly recommended.

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

 

April 19th, 1964

Scott Kamieniecki Born


Hey! Its Scott Kamieniecki, someone like John Habyan of whom I have not terribly clear (or fond) memories pitching for some lousy early 90s Yankee teams but whose name sure is harder to spell. Kamieniecki was a 14th round pick of the Yankees in the 1986 draft and made his debut in 1991, and moved into a role as a full-time started in 1992, and was unlucky to go 6-14 with an ERA just ten percent worse than the league average, but I suppose that's what happens when you pitch for a team that loses eighty-six games. In 1993 Kamieniecki improved his ERA to better than league average and went 10-7, but it was really just a warm up for 1994, when Kamieniecki went 8-6 with a career best 3.76 ERA before the strike came. He slipped slightly in 1995 but pitched well enough to earn a start in Game 4 of the ALDS that year, he didn't pitch well but thanks to the Yankees offense left the game in a position to be its winner. Kamieniecki barely pitched at all in 1996, appearing in just seven games (five starts) while posting an 11.12 ERA, with his season ending before Memorial Day prior to injury.

Kamieniecki became a free agent after that season and signed with his former team's biggest divisional rival the previous year, the Baltimore Orioles. Serving as one of manager Davey Johnson's starters, Kamieniecki pitched relativlely well for an Orioles team that went wire-to-wire AL East champions, going 10-6 with a 4.01 ERA. He also pitched well in the playoffs, although he did not pitch in Baltimore's victory in the ALDS over Seattle (Johnson choose to pitch Mike Mussina on short rest instead) but threw eight scoreless innings in the ALCS loss to Cleveland with an effective relief appearence in Game 2 and five shutout innings in a Game 5 start.

Kamieniecki suffered through an ineffective and injury ridden 1998 and 1999, pitching just over fifty innings each year and left as a free agent after the 1999 season to go to the Indians. Kamieniecki could not find his form however, and even the usual Mr. Pitching Fix-It, Leo Mazzone, could not revive Kamieniecki's career and he retired after the 1999 season, finishing with a career record of 53-59 and 4.57 ERA.

Monday, April 18, 2005

 

April 18th, 2001

Larry Rothschild Fired


Larry Rotshchild had been Jim Leyland's pitching coach with the Marlins in 1997 and was hired after that season to manage the new Devil Rays franchise. Rothschild's talents as a manager as somewhat debatable. On the one hand, his career record was just two hundred five wins aganist two hundred ninety four losses. On the other, I doubt even Billy Martin could've made the early Devil Rays teams respectable, let alone contenders. The question I ask however, is why bother firing Rothschild at this point the season. The Rays were off to a bad start (4-10, .286) but they were unlikely to play at that pace for the rest of the season--it puts them awful close to 1962 Mets/2003 Tigers zone--and if they did, well, at least that would be something that might draw some fans and national media attention. Rothschild's replacement was Hal McRae, and took over and lead the team to fifty-eight and ninety (.392) record the rest of 2001 and then managed the worst D-Rays team ever in 2002 when they lost one hundred and six games.

Firing Rothschild is, along with a thousand other things, emblamatic of the problem of the Devil Rays franchise, one that has been appallingly bad for years now: namely, action for action's sake. Of course, they aren't the only franchise guilty of this, on this very date in 2002, after a 3-12 start, the Brewers fired Davey Lopes and replaced him with Jerry Royster. Naturally, the move didn't "shake up" the team and they went on to lose one hundred six games. Changing managers is fine, and teams do sometimes require it, but to do so less than thirty (at least) games into the season is a purely aestichic exercise.

Sunday, April 17, 2005

 

April 17th, 1967

Marquis Grissom Born


Marquis Grissom, who is part of the Giants’ geriatric outfield this season, was the centerfielder for the 1994 Expos, a team whose potential pennant run was interrupted by the 1994 strike. Now that ten years have passed since that monstrously ill-conceived event—best described as the players attempting to screw the owners and knocking the fans instead—we can finally look back with some certainty and ascertain who was hurt the most. The answers, it would seem, are the 1994 Expos, Fred McGriff, and Matt Williams.

The story of the 1994 Expos is well known; they had the best record in baseball (74-40, on pace for 105 wins) and a team that included on offense Grissom, Cliff Floyd, Larry Walker, and Moises Alou. The pitching staff featured Pedro Martinez, John Wetteland and Jeff Shaw among others. That the Expos would have won the World Series is almost entirely speculation, but they certainly had an excellent shot and it might very well have been the A’s or Devil Rays who were relocated to
Washington this past off-season.

Barring a miracle, Fred McGriff will finish his career fewer than ten home runs shy of five-hundred, a number which has—to this point—always merited Hall of Fame induction, something it looks like McGriff will otherwise miss out on. Throughout his career, McGriff had been a consistent player, slamming at least thirty-home runs a year every year from 1988 until 1994 and playing at lest one-hundred forty-five games every year until his age thirty-nine season. In 1994 the “Crime Dog” was having a great season, having already hit thirty-seven home runs through one-hundred thirteen games. As with World Series predictions, “on track for” predictions are dangerous things. Despite this, it is reasonable to assume that the strike cost McGriff approximately forty-games (most of them in 1994). It is even more reasonable to assume that McGriff could’ve hit at least ten home-runs in that time. It is reasonable then, to say that the 1994 strike cost Fred McGriff a Hall of Fame Plaque.

Lastly, Matt Williams. In 1994 Matt Williams had hit forty-three home runs playing in one-hundred twelve games, missing three of the Giants’ games. If Williams had kept up his pace—and played in all remaining Giants games—he would have hit seventeen or eighteen more home runs. Those numbers would have given him sixty and sixty-one home runs, respectively for the season, important numbers in the pre McGwire/Sosa/Bonds (or if you prefer, pre-steroid) era. Whether Williams would have topped Maris is—like everything else here—a matter of speculation, but the strike denied him the chance and instead left baseball to be saved, and Maris’ record to be broken by Big Mac and Sammmy four years later.



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