Saturday, June 04, 2005

 

June 4th, 1951

Indians Hold "Beat Eddie Lopat" Night


That's the kind of promotion you don't see anymore. Lopat had beaten the Indians eleven times in a row, and in an effort to defeat him, the Indians held this night. The giveaway that night was lucky rabbits’ feet, going to the first 15,000 fans. Perhaps fearing it wasn't enough, a Cleveland fan--Lopat would later call him a "drunk"--ran onto the field before the game and threw a black cat at Lopat while he was warming up. Whether from hoodoo, good luck for the Indians and bad for Lopat or simply the law of averages, the Indians managed to break the streak, as they scored five runs in the first inning and went on to a 8-2 victory.

You wouldn't see this kind of promotion these days for any number of reasons. For one thing, you would probably get a million shrill sports columnists and sports radio hosts complaining about how "classless" it was and so in, indicating further just how much they lack a sense of humor. More practically, if you tried to give away 15,000 rabbit feet, you would have at least an equal number of PETA protesters standing outside your stadium, throwing buckets of red paint at everyone walking in. Not a good night at the ballpark.



Friday, June 03, 2005

 

June 3rd, 1971

Carl Everett Born


Ok, this one is cheating a little bit, but Carl Everett was drafted on June 4th and I really can't wait another day to do "Crazy Carl." Everett was drafted by the Yankees in 1990, back in the days when the Yankees could draft, in a draft that included Jorge Posada (in the twenty-fourth round). Everett was left unprotected in the 1992 Expansion Draft for the Marlins and Rockies and drafted by the Marlins. Everett still believes the Yankees disrespected him and underestimated his talent (in fairness, he might be right on the second point, he's a pretty good player to have left unprotected) although he's developed something of a bizarre persecution complex about it, claiming "I never wanted to be drafted by [the Yankees]. There were people in that organization that didn't want me to succeed."

After a couple of forgettable cups of coffee with the Marlins,
Everett began to bounce around the league, usually doing something (and occasionally several somethings) stupid wherever he goes. A quick rundown is an odd collection: The Marlins felt compelled to trade him to the Mets after his 1994 campaign ended at Triple-A with a suspension for insubordination and lack of hustle that climaxed in a verbal confrontation with his manager. Playing winter ball while with the Mets, Everett managed to get him banned for life from the Venezuelan Winter League for going into the stands to attack fans who he claimed had thrown beer at him.

More seriously, also with the Mets, Everett and wife were arrested on charges of child abuse, after a Shea employee became concerned with the appearance of one of their children. A judge eventually ruled that Carl's wife was guilty of excessive corporal punishment while Everett himself did little to stop it. Carl's assertion of course is that this is all patently absurd--there's that persecution complex again--but it was serious enough for the judge to put one of the Everetts' children in the care of her maternal grandmother.

Everett was traded to Houston, and turned into a star, but was traded after an incident on the last day of the 1999 season. Dissatisfied with manager Larry Dierker’s line-up card—which gave him a day off—Everett marched into his manager’s office, ripped up the card, threw the pieces at Dierker and told him “make a new line-up,” an offer Dierker declined.

Traded to the Red Sox,
Everett continued to hit well, but also continued his insane act. Incensed on over umpire Ron Kulpa’s decision to require him to stand in the batter’s box—Everett also made a point of wiping out the front line and standing as close to the plate as possible—Everett threw a fit that resulted in his ejection. After the ejection, Everett bumped Kulpa several times, including one Hacksaw Jim Dugan style headbutt which resulted in a ten game suspension, a damaging blow to a team that couldn’t hit at all and needed all the stick they could get.

One final note on Everett, he doesn’t believe in dinosaurs. It's not that he’s simply a believer in Creationism (a reasonable albeit scientifically shaky belief) but he simply doesn’t believe in dinosaurs, at all. I’ll let Carl (from Sports Illustrated) take it himself at this point: “The Bible never says anything about dinosaurs. You can't say there were dinosaurs when you never saw them. Someone actually saw Adam and Eve. No one ever saw a Tyrannosaurus Rex.” Except, you might say, in a museum. But Carl has an answer for that too, the dinosaur bones in museums, you see, are all fakes. Part of a worldwide paleontologist conspiracy. They don't call him "Crazy Carl" for nothing.


Thursday, June 02, 2005

 

June 2nd, 1987

Pete Harnisch Drafted


(If you can't tell, its draft season, I'll be doing drafted players for the next couple of days.)

As I think I’ve said before, I believe all players of any career longer than a cup of coffee are involved in at least one interesting story. Some, like Pete Harnisch, manage to involve themselves in several interesting stories.

Harnisch who still holds the strikeout and ERA records for Fordham University (presumably because the records of another Rams' Major Leaguer, Ed Walsh, are a bit shaky), was drafted by the Orioles in 1987 and promoted in September 1988 to an Orioles team that had started the season a worst-ever 0-21 (the ’62 Mets were 5-16, the ’03 Tigers 2-19) and were more than forty games under .500 by the time Harnisch was pitching. Not surprisingly, he lost his first two starts. The next year however, featured the “Why Not?” Orioles, who went from thirty-four games out of first to just two in the course of one season. Harnisch made two starts in April, was demoted to Triple-A then recalled in July making fifteen starts and finishing the year five and nine.

Harnisch, who left Fordham with the fastball-slider-change combination that would serve him well for the bulk of his career, joined the Oriole rotation for good in 1990. A quick step back in history is required before we can continue Pete’s story, however. In 1988,
Baltimore had given the Red Sox pitcher Mike Boddicker for their stretch run in exchange for two players you’ve probably heard of: Brady Anderson and Curt Schilling. For reasons known only to them, after the 1990 season Baltimore traded Schilling and Steve Finley and Harnisch to the Astros for Glenn Davis, who proceeded to stink and cost a lot of money doing it. Schilling would be traded again before developing into the huge blowha---er, very good starter he remains to this day, but Finley and Harnisch paid instant dividends for Houston, especially Harnisch who was fifth in ERA, four in strikeouts and made the All-Star team his first year. After a few years of up and down, the Astros let Harnisch go and he signed with the Mets for 1995.

In 1997, after a successful ’95 season, and a less successful ’96, Harnisch gave up chewing smokeless tobacco before the season started and found he was losing his appetite and suffering from insomnia. Visiting his doctor, Harnisch was diagnosed with depression and put on medication. Although he had seemingly recovered—he started Opening Day for the Mets—he would not pitch again until August. After feuding with Bobby Valentine regarding his condition, Harnisch was sent to the Brewers to end the season and become a free agent.

Signing with Cincinnati in the off-season, he pitched effectively, well enough in fact, to be the win leader on the 1999 team that lost a one-game playoff to the Mets. Arm problems began to derail him shortly thereafter, but he remained with the Reds for the rest of his career. Appropriately enough for a man whose career ran into such a wide collection of stories, Harnisch managed one more piece of trivia by pitching the then-Enron Field’s first shutout, defeating his former team 4-0.



Wednesday, June 01, 2005

 

June 1st, 1988

Steve Foster Drafted


One of the things I sometimes wonder is how one becomes a Major League General Manager. I know on an intellectual level, you join a baseball team at some low level and work your way up, but even if you dropped me in a team at an entry-level position on the chain, I wouldn't have much of an idea how one really makes it up the ladder.

That being said, I do have some vauge notions. One hint is provided to me by a Steve Foster baseball card I have. On the back, in lieu of information about Steve or his family or his career, it informs us that "Steve was signed by scout Chuck LaMar." That is, I assume, the same Chuck LaMar who was later promoted to the position of General Manager of the Devil Rays. Now, Foster didn't last long as a pitcher--I don't know why; he pitched effectively in relief in all three of his MLB seaons--but I suppose he still shows us one step on the ladder to the GM's office, signing players who reach the Major League level.

Of course, if I'm following the steps that Chuck "Career .399 Winning Percentage*" LaMar took to the top, I may be in some trouble once I get there.

*That's through the 2004 season, but the D-Rays are playing .358 ball at the moment. So I don't think I'm being unfairly snarky.

Tuesday, May 31, 2005

 

May 31st, 1949

Charley Lupica Ascends Flagpole


This is one of those stories that everyone sort-of knows, but almost no one really knows. "Oh yeah, the nut who climbed up a flagpole and promised to stay there until the Indians won the pennant," that kind of thing. That's right and it’s wrong. Charley Lupica--no relation, so far as I know, to Mike--did indeed climb a flagpole and promise to sit there until the Indians won the pennant, but he wasn't really a nut anymore than I am for refusing to watch the first hour of Yankee playoff games (it brings them good luck, you see); he just did his nuttiness on a grander scale.

In 1948, the Indians had won the World Series (they've not won it since, as I'm sure you know) but were struggling a bit in 1949. On the morning of May 31st, as Charley ascended his post, the Indians were in seventh place, just 17-18 and seven games behind the first place Yankees.

Before we go any farther, however, a brief diversion into how Charley ended up there anyway. While the story may be apocryphal, legend has it that Lupica was sitting in a bar on May 30th when he heard another group of patrons knocking the Indians. Lupica went over to confront them and discovered they were Yankee fans. After some banter, Lupica finally got frustrated with Yankee fans in "his" town and challenged them: "if you hate the Indians so much, and love the Yankees, why don't you move to
New York?" The Yankee fans considered this for a moment and retorted: "if you love the Indians so much, why don't you sit on a flagpole until they're in first place?" From such humble beginnings are great ideas born, or at least crazy ones.

Lupica accepted the challenge and a sixteen foot pole was constructed with a little booth thing on top for Charley to sit in. Unfortunately for Charley, while the Indians did turn their season around, they would go 72-47 the rest of the way; it wasn't enough as both the Yankees and BoSox performed better, with the Yankees stealing the pennant from
Boston on the season's final weekend. All said, Lupica stayed in his perch for 117 days, missing (among other things) haircuts, doctor's appointments and the birth of his son (Mrs. Lupica must've loved that). Finally, on the season's last day the Indians paid to have Lupica strapped into his little booth and taken by truck to the "Mistake by the Lake," Municipal Stadium, where he descended from his perch in front of the home crowd.

Lupica would live until 2003, meaning he did get to enjoy the Indians 1954 111-win season (although I imagine he was less fond of the 0-4 defeat in the World Series) but then had to suffer through their forty year drought, plus the humiliation of being mocked in Major League. However, he get to see the Indians make the playoffs six times in the last eight years of his life, including two pennants, 1995 and 1997 although the latter ended in heartbreaking fashion for the Tribe. I like to think Charley Lupica is still rooting for the Indians to finally win him another World Series, and one can only assume he's doing it from a place more comfortable than the top of a flagpole.



Monday, May 30, 2005

 

May 30th, 1871

Amos Rusie Born


Amos Rusie was a pitcher for the New York Giants in the end of the nineteenth century, who pitched the high inning totals typical of the era--over five hundred innings thrice, over four hundred and three hundred twice--and was finished as a Major League pitcher by age twenty-eight. There's plenty to say about Rusie's career; a New York reporter once said the "Giants without Rusie would be like Hamlet without the Melancholy Dane" and a drink was named for him (I'm afraid how one mixes a "Hoosier Thunderbolt" has been lost to time), but I think the story of his life after his career is more interesting.

Rusie, after having not pitched in the Majors since 1898, made a comeback, or thirty innings worth of one anyway, for the Cincinnati Reds. He had been traded by the Giants to the Reds in exchange for a name you'd know, Christy Mathewson. At first blush this seems an awful trade, a washed-up former star, and one used to pitching from a fifty foot mound to boot, for one of the greatest pitchers of all-time. However, it was actually a gigantic scam. The Giants wanted Mathewson but didn't want to pay the $2,000 it would have taken to get him from the Norfolk Mary Janes of the Virginia League as required by previous agreement. To this end, the Giants returned Mathewson to the Mary Janes--some name, by the way--where he was then drafted by the Reds who, as part of a prearranged deal, then took Mathewson from the Mary Janes for the mere $100 as required by the rules and then traded him to the Giants for Rusie.

After the stretch in
Cincinnati, Rusie moved back to Indiana and worked for most of the Aughts (a decade whose first half saw Mathewson dominating the National League) as a steamfitter in Seattle. In 1921, John McGraw gave him a job as the night watchman in the Polo Grounds, along with two other Giants' stars from Rusie's era, Bill Dahlen and Dan Brouthers. This saved Dahlen, who had fallen into the bottle and probably did Rusie and Brouthers a lot of good as well. Rusie left the job in 1929 and returned to Seattle where he bounced around as the Great Depression ended many of the businesses Rusie worked for or owned and in 1934 he suffered a car accident which left him with a concussion and broken ribs. He returned to the more rustic areas of Washington State and died in obscurity in 1942. He was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1977.



Sunday, May 29, 2005

 

May 29th, 1972

Moe Berg Dies


Most of the stories I tell have been told elsewhere, in many cases better told or with more detail. (Or both better told and with more detail, which is really annoying.) That said, I do what I do here, and that's that, so I rarely recommend other sources. In this case however, the varied life of Moe Berg is worthy of book-length history and one has been expertly written by Nicholas Dawidoff, The Catcher Was a Spy. It is probably one of the best baseball books ever and well worth a read.

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