Saturday, June 11, 2005
June 11th, 1990
Nolan Ryan Pitches No-Hitter
This was Ryan's sixth no-hitter (incredibly he would have one more in him) but it was perhaps his most dominating performance. Especially since he was facing an Oakland A's team that would go to the World Series and featured the 1990 MVP Rickey Henderson who was having his best season ever, one which saw him post an OPS+ of 188 while stealing sixty five bases against being caught just ten times.
But neither Henderson nor any of his A's teammates would pose any trouble for Ryan on this day. Using his still potent fastball, a hard curveball and the change-up he had added a few years earlier, Ryan handcuffed the A's to the tune of fourteen of his all-time record 5,714 strikeouts. However, Ryan was able to be as dominant as he was because, at least for this night, he could eliminate his long-time nemesis the walk. As great a pitcher as Ryan was, and he was, he is vastly overrated by most fans. Although Ryan's control would improve as his career went on, he still finished his career with nearly half as many walks as Ks. In contrast, Roger Clemens who followed Ryan as baseball's premier power strikeout pitcher has, going into this year, barely over thirty three percent as many walks as strikeouts.
All that being said, this night belonged to Ryan, as he walked just two batters giving an all-around dominating performance. It also marked three unique records for "The Ryan Express" extending his personal no-hitter record to six (as I mentioned, he would later extend it to seven) as well as making him the first--and only--player to throw a no-hitter in three separate decades and to do it for three different teams.
Friday, June 10, 2005
June 10th, 2002
Marcus Thames Hits Home Run
As I was cruising my usual collection of web sites, books, databases and so on to find out what would be today's entry, I realized that seemingly every event that struck my fancy was something I had already touched on, one way or the other. The titiular home run, for example, I discussed back in March for Marcus' birthday. Something else interesting today was in 1997, when Kevin Brown became the third pitcher to have only a hit batsman seperate him from a perfect game. Brown, who I also wrote about in March, missed his perfect game when he hit Marvin Bernard with a pitch on a 1-2 count. Bernard, you may remember, was a Giants' role player and sometime starter for many years, who enjoyed the comforts of PacBell Park for the last portion of his career, but when he broke up Brown's perfecto was playing in cold, unpleasant Candlestick Park.
Another thing, today in 1956 is the birthday of Randy Johnson, no, not that Randy Johnson, this one however, also played for Joe Torre as his career as a utility infielder corresponded exactly with Torre's three years in Atlanta. Oh, and one last thing, today is the day Babe Ruth hit his home-run which moved him past not-so-noted slugger Roger Connor into first place on the all-time list. All things considered, quite a day.
Thursday, June 09, 2005
June 9th, 1989
Darryl Strawberry Hits 200th Home Run
I've done a column like this before, about Ken Griffey, and while I'm loathe to repeat the same point (especially since I’m not even two-hundred columns in) it seems appropriate given Alex Rodriguez's 400th home run which he struck yesterday night, making him the youngest to ever reach that plateau, the first in fact, on the right side of thirty.
Now, A-Rod could get hit by a bus tomorrow and be in the Hall of Fame (that's also true of Griffey of course) but people are predicting great things for him. A-Rod is just twenty nine season, and barely a third done with this season! If he can belt another thirty home runs this year, that will give him four-hundred thirty for his career. Why, if plays twelve more years (until he's forty one) and averages thirty-one home runs a season, he’ll reach eight-hundred!
That all sounds nice--and I'm not sure I'd bet against it--but as Griffey showed, a lot can go wrong after a 400th HR. And, as Darryl Strawberry showed, a lot more can go wrong after a 200th. When Darryl hit this home run, he was in his age twenty seven season, which is to say behind A-Rod's pace considerably. Still, he had hit 200 home runs. He might not have broken Aaron's record but five hundred home runs seemed a sure thing. If he played until he was forty one (another fourteen seasons in Darryl's case) he would hit five hundred easily, just twenty one homers a year. This from a man who had averaged thirty one a year for the beginning of his career, plus he had slugged thirty nine each of the two previous years.
Of course, it never worked out that way. Darryl's demons, whatever their reasons, overtook him, and he played in just eleven more seasons, including 1989, coming to the plate more than two-hundred times in just six of them. More to the point, he averaged just over thirteen home runs for the rest of his career, coming to a total of just three hundred thirty-five.
So, cheer for A-Rod (a great and massively underappreciated player for a number of variously valid reasons) and his 400 home runs, and dream of his hitting 400 more. But the more I think about it, the more sure I am I'd bet against it.
Wednesday, June 08, 2005
June 8th, 1944
Mark Belanger Born
Mark Belanger was an outstanding defensive shortstop for the Baltimore Orioles; a thin man (listed at 6'1", 170) who anchored the Orioles' infield defensively for many, many years. With the exception of the 1979 season, either Mark Belanger or Cal Ripken Jr. played shortstop for the Orioles every year from 1968 until 1996. That's not quite the Yankees having DiMaggio and Mantle every year from 1938 through 1962 excluding the war, but it’s pretty good.
Belanger's defensive prowess covers the fact that he was a truly awful, awful hitter. His career line was .228/.300/.280, good for an OPS+ of just sixty eight, or thirty two percent worse than league average. Belanger never posted a season of better than league average OPS, and had just one season of even being league average. I think this gives you a pretty good idea of what kind of defensive player he was, if he was able to stay in the line-up despite hitting like a pitcher.
So, Belanger is a pretty good player but clearly not an all-time great. However, in 1988, his first year on the ballot, he received sixteen Hall of Fame votes. Sixteen! Now, I'll admit that was enough to get him off the ballot (it fell below the 5% needed to stay on), but still, sixteen! What were these guys thinking? If you've never seen one, Hall of Fame plaques have little bios of the players, listing some career accomplishments, high points, etc. Hank Aaron's, seen here, is representative.
Now, my question is, what were those sixteen guys who voted for Belanger thinking would go on the plaque? Can you imagine having to write it?
Baltimore, Los Angeles, 1965-1982
An excellent defensive shortstop, anchored Baltimore defense. Won six Gold Gloves. Played in four World Series, and six ALCS. An All-Star in 1976. Led American League in sac hits in 1973 and 1975. Led in singles in 1969. Career batting average of....nevermind. Um...did I mentioned the Gold Gloves? Let's list the years: 1969, 1971, 1973, 1974, 1975, 1976, 1977, 1978. So...how are you folks today? Visited the gift shop yet? Nice weather we're having. Anyway, thanks for stopping by, enjoy the rest of your time here at the Hall.
Tuesday, June 07, 2005
June 7th, 1947
Thurman Munson Born
In his New Historical Baseball Abstract Bill James is perhaps a bit harsh on Munson, writing that he was essentially done as a player and would have been unlikely to improve his place on the all-time lists (14th among catchers according to James) even if he hadn't gone to the "Ken Hubbs Flight Academy" a fairly tasteless reference to Hubbs, a Cub who died in a plane crash in 1964, just as Munson would in 1979. James' feelings towards Munson are--perhaps subconsciously--influenced by the fact that Munson was a major member of the mid 70s Yankee team that killed, just killed James' hometown Royals. Munson hit .435 in the 1976 ALCS when the Yankees defeated the Royals in dramatic fashion on a walk-off Chris Chambliss HR in Game 5. (That having been said, James does include a priceless line from Sparky Lyle, who was asked if Munson was "moody" and replied "Nah, Thurman's not moody. When you're moody you're nice sometimes. Thurman's just mean.")
I wish I could offer some insight into just what kind of man Munson was, but I don’t think anyone outside of his family, teammates and friends (it's worth noting those last two groups are almost entirely mutually exclusive) really can. Part of Munson’s legacy is of a curmudgeon--in part because Thurman just looked like a curmudgeon--but one who used his curmudgeoness to serve as a leader of the team and one who took no crap. The other side of it, the one that fairness dictates I mention has been bathed in the martyr's glow, is of Thurman as a secretly kind and generous man but one who hid it behind his gruff exterior, as expressed in articles like this one.
I refuse, on general principle, to get into the kind of armchair psychology about Munson that many have. His death was unquestionably tragic, a young man robbed of life before his thirty third birthday, and doubly so because Munson's death was avoidable; he was flying a plane that was simply too much for someone who had been a pilot for as short a time as he, his wife believes he was planning to sell it. I have no idea if Thurman really was a jerk or simply a soft guy who hid it under a hard shell. Instead I can just report the facts; Thurman Munson was a pretty good player who died under pretty sad circumstances. The rest of it is just talk.
Monday, June 06, 2005
June 6th, 1917
John McGraw Ejected
Insofar as titles not telling the whole story, this one might rank just below "Joe DiMaggio gets hit" for the worst one I've ever had. John McGraw didn't get tossed out of games as often as Joe DiMaggio got hits, but it was probably a lot closer than you imagine. McGraw, I'm putting this as nicely as I can, was an asshole. He and his Baltimore Orioles of the 1890s were famous for baiting umpires, spiking opposing players and generally just playing dirty. By 1917, McGraw was in his forties and had cleaned up his act slightly but he was still feisty. Leaving the field after an ejection, McGraw took a swing at Bill Byron (known as "Lord Byron, the Singing Umpire" who once told a rookie arguing a call third strike: "you'll have to learn my friend before you get much older/you cannot get a hit with that bat upon your shoulder") and split Byron's lip.
The League Office looked down on this kind of thing, and NL President John Tenner responded by fining McGraw $500 and suspending him for sixteen days. McGraw was not pleased by this and responded for his part by launching into a tirade against Tenner and the umpires to the writer Sid Mercer. When Mercer published the comments McGraw denied he had ever made them. This prompted the BBWA to complain and force another meeting with Tenner, who fined McGraw an addition $1,000 (this ended up being an expensive day for ol' John) after ruling he had made the comments, despite his protestations.
The story's unfortunate postscript is that Sid Mercer and McGraw had previously been friends--probably part of the reason McGraw sounded off to him--but the incident so shook Mercer that he resigned from his beat job and never again spoke to McGraw.
Sunday, June 05, 2005
June 5th, 2003
Tony Clark Changes Number
Yesterday I stated that promotions like "Beat Eddie Lopat Night" wouldn't happen anymore, and, by extention I fear, that baseball has lost some of the lightheartedness that made it such a great game. That's not true, of course, as today's event demonstrates. Clark, coming off a terrible, terrible season with the Red Sox (.207/.265/.291 in nearly 300 at-bats) signed with the Mets and selected double zero as his uniform number, because he wanted to represent that he was "starting over" and "beginning anew" and so on.
This was fine until someone realized that double zero was already someone's number on the Mets. Not a player, manager or even a coach, but someone who is arguably the franchise's biggest name--and certainly its biggest head--Mr. Met. Clark stuck with the number for the season's early months but when a group of children presented with a petetion asking he restore Mr. Met's number to him (I don't recall what Mr. Met wore in the interim, a blank jersey perhaps) Clark decided that even though he had the smaller head, he should be the bigger man, and Mr. Met was double zero again, while Tony upgraded to number fifty-two.