Saturday, June 18, 2005

 

June 18th, 1975

Felix Heredia Born


Felix Heredia is one of my least favorite players of all-time. He earned this dubious distinction with his performance for the 2004 Yankees, a season in which his numbers--6.28 ERA, more than a baserunner and a half per inning pitched--don't even sum up his terribleness. Heredia had forty-seven appearances and in nearly a quarter of them he failed to record even one out. He was so frustrating a fellow Yankee fan dubbed him "The Run Fairy" a nickname which has been getting some play (scroll down to the Mets) in the media of late.

Speaking of Yankees who have earned my ire with the ineptitude of their play, we have recent addition Tony Womack. Womack was already on thin ice with me for his game-tying double in Game Seven of the 2001 World Series but he really brought my rage upon him with his performance this year. For one thing, it’s his performance, .244/.283/.271, proving as always that no matter how fast you are, you can't steal first base. For another it’s the fact that people seem surprised Womack isn't hitting. Just yesterday during the broadcast Michael Kay remarked that "a low batting average and low on base percentage is not what Tony Womack expected"; nor was it what anyone else expected. Why they would have expected anything different I have no idea, since Womack, with the exception of 2004, has always had a low batting average and low on-base percentage. Tony has also started grumbling about his move to the outfield, which fills me with hope that his grumbling will finally lead to his ticket out of town.

Another one of my least favorite players, as you may have gathered, is Carl Everett, who might be the only baseball player I actively dislike in an "I wouldn't mind seeing this guy get hit by a bus" kind of way. There's the child abuse, the constant violence, the homophobia and of course, the dinosaur thing. (Which reminds me someone found this site the other day by searching on Google for "paleontologist Carl Everett," which boggles the mind.)

Michael Restovich earned a place in my...place where you store people you hate (what's the opposite of a heart?) on Thursday night when his Yankee Stadium home run off Randy Johnson not only ruined the shutout but also fouled up my scorebook for reasons too complicated to explain. So, I want it placed here that not only did Michael Restovich ruin my scoreboard and necessitate the use of White-Out on
June 16th, 2005, but also that he was a generally mediocre outfielder not good enough to hang on with a Minnesota Twins team that had noted superstar Michael Ryan as one of their back-up OFs. So take that Restovich, you dink HR hitting, scorecard screwing up little jerk.



Friday, June 17, 2005

 

June 17th, 1993

Owners Vote to Expand Playoffs


This vote changed the playoffs to the format we know today, with three divisions (and division winners) in each league and a wild card team, and also fixed some geographic silliness, most notably moving Atlanta out of the NL West. I've never quite been sure if I like the newly arranged divisions--and the inclusion of the Wild Card--or not. The self-serving pragmatic part of me favors the Wild Card in seasons like this one when it appears it might help punch the Yankees' ticket to the playoffs. Of course, that's a double-edged sword, as the Wild Card team has now punched the Yankees’ ticket out of the playoffs for three years in a row.

Leaving aside my feelings as it relates to my team, I still can't decide what I think of the Wild Card. The main benefit of it is indisputable, that is, adding more teams to create a more competitive mix. The sometimes overlooked downside is less obvious, to wit, that it makes races like the Yankees and Red Sox of the last two years little more than a battle for home field advantage and to see who can stay/get healthy. The Yankees/Sox games maintain their luster, obviously, but a race between two teams with no history (such as the 1996 NL West) are simply dull.

I guess if I had to make a choice, I'd come down in favor of the Wild Card. While it has actually made more races into bores than created new and exciting ones (thanks to Joe Sheenan of the incomparable Baseball Prospectus for that bit of data) the trading of two teams going for one spot in exchange for three teams going for two strikes me as ultimately good for baseball, and as a baseball fan, I go with that.



Thursday, June 16, 2005

 

June 16th, 1992

Dodgers Play at Braves


Still full of the euphoria from yesterday evening's Yankee game, I thought it would be appropriate to do a game that featured a dramatic ninth inning of its own. This Dodgers-Braves game, played on what was probably a warm day in Atlanta in mid June (average daytime temperature in Atlanta for June 16th is 87°) was unremarkable for the first eight innings. The Braves jumped all over Dodgers' starter Kevin Gross to the tune of seven runs (six earned) in less than four innings, highlighted by back-to-back homers by Ron Gant and David Justice in the third. Although it was 5-2 going into the fourth, the Braves tacked on two more runs that inning, making it a seeming blow out, 7-2 after four innings. The Dodgers would get a run in the seventh but enter the ninth down by four runs. And that's when things got interesting.

Mark Wholers, not yet the Braves closer, started the ninth, replacing Kent Mercker. Mike Scioscia walked leading off the inning, but Wholers retired pinch-hitter Stan Javier on a strikeout. However, Jose Offerman walked and with two runners on, Bobby Cox made a move to his bullpen, replacing Wholers with Mike Stanton to pitch to the lefty Brett Butler. The plan worked as
Butler forced Offerman at second, but managed to avoid the double play, leaving runners at the corners with two outs. Mike Sharperson, who had entered the game as a pinch-hitter for Lenny Harris in the seventh doubled home Scioscia and moved Butler to third.

Having seen enough of
Stanton against the righties, Cox went to Juan Berenguer to face Mitch Webster. The thirty-seven year old Panamanian, in the last year of his career, simply didn't have it, as he surrendered a two-run single to Webster which brought the Dodgers within one. Up next was Eric Karros, who would be that season's Rookie of the Year. He helped prove why as he drilled one of his twenty home runs, giving the Dodgers an improbable 8-7 lead.

But the game wasn't over yet. After a Juan Samuel strikeout ended the inning, Dodgers' manager Tommy Lasorda called on Jay Howell to close out the game. Howell surrendered a single to Terry Pendleton but then got Gant on a liner to first. Lasorda then pulled Howell for lefty John Candelaria to pitch to lefties David Justice and Sid Bream. The "Candy Man" failed as Justice walked and Candelaria was pulled after Cox went to his bench and used righty Jeff Blauser as a pinch hitter for Bream. After Lasorda made his own move and inserted righty Jim Gott, Cox made his countermove, sending up lefty swinging Jerry Willard to bat against Gott. (This is another game I'm glad I wasn't keeping score at.)

All of these machinations came to a head when Willard singled, scoring the tying run in Pendleton and moving winning run Justice to second. Cox then pinch ran for Willard with Brian Hunter (presumably to stay out of the double play since that run meant nothing) as Damon Berryhill came to the plate. Berryhill struck out, leaving the Dodgers--as the Braves had been--just one out from victory, but as in the ninth for the Braves, it would never come. Mark Lemke worked a walk off Gott, and Lasorda called upon Roger McDowell to try and close it out. It wouldn't happen as light hitting (.211 in 1992) Rafael Belliard hit a single to center, scoring David Justice with the winning run, and giving the Braves an unlikely victory after throwing away a four run ninth inning lead.



Wednesday, June 15, 2005

 

June 15th, 1862

Peak-A-Boo Veach Born


William Walter Veach, as he would more properly be known, who served in the Spanish-American War ("Remember the Maine!" and all that) after his career, was from Indianapolis where he was--according to his obituary in the Sporting News--a "penniless orphan boy and bootblack on the streets" before his baseball career. That might sound more like something out of a Dickens novel, but then, if you merge Veach's nickname into one word, it could probably pass as a Dickensian character.

Veach made his initial impact in amateur baseball, which was common, probably ubiquitous in the era he played. He was signed by the Fort Wayne Golden Eagles for twenty five dollars a month and board. That was a relatively small sum, even in those days but if Veach's condition really was as dire as the Sporting News implies, it probably seemed like fantastic wealth. Veech started his career as a pitcher but was a superior hitter for that position and would eventually spend the last years of his career as a first baseman, retiring from the game in 1896 after which he would move on, as I mentioned, to military service; he died at age seventy five at a Veterans' Hospital in
Indianapolis.

As for the nickname, since I know you're wondering, it came about during Veach's time in
Kansas City. Veach was notorious for the trouble he had with runners on base. To help solve this, his manager Ted Sullivan came up with a plan. Veach was to keep an eye on the bench at all times, and when Sullivan threw up his hands, to fire the ball to first. After picking off two runners this way--this part of the story seems a bit apocryphal but there you are--the opposition figured out what Sullivan's "Peek-A-Boo" meant. To solve this, Veach was assigned to focus on a certain area of the grandstand to throw to first whenever a scorecard was raised. This system lasted a bit longer, but it too was eventually figured out by the opposing teams. From these incidents the Peek-A-Boo nickname was born, and would stick with him the rest of his career.



Tuesday, June 14, 2005

 

June 14th, 1976

Frank Tanana Surrenders Home Run to Hank Aaron


Sorry, I know I've fallen a bit in love with the "Titles That Tell You Nothing" lately, but sometimes that's the way it goes. The home run Tanana gave up was an unremarkable one, not Aaron's first, nor his 500th or his 715th or 755th. It was notable for another reason. It put Tanana into exclusive, if slightly dubious company, as one of only two men to give up home runs to two of the three 700 HR men in baseball history. Tanana shares the "honor” of watching both Barry Bonds and Hank Aaron launch one his pitches over the fence with Rick Reuschel.

This is the sort-of trivia that I love, even if it’s not especially (or at all) meaningful. It is interesting to note that depending on how the home run races play out over the next few years, Tanana and Reuschel may retain--or even enhance--their place in history, or have it fall by the wayside. If no one else reaches 700 home runs in the next couple of decades, Tanana and Reuschel will be safe. If Bonds drags himself out of all the BALCO controversy and recovers from his knee surgeries to pass Ruth (and perhaps Aaron) then Tanana and Reuschel will have given up home runs to the two top home run men in history. Of course, if Bonds fails to pass Ruth, or passes Ruth but not Aaron and is later passed by Alex Rodriguez, then we'll be back to the same sorry, trivia-less state of affairs we have now, with the two top home run men never having hit a bomb off the same pitcher.


Monday, June 13, 2005

 

June 13th, 2003

Roger Clemens Wins 300th Game


Here's something many of you will disagree with but which I will argue until I am blue in the face: if you were born in 1967 or later, Roger Clemens in the greatest pitcher you've ever seen. Now, I know there are plenty of candidates to shout up instead of Roger, obvious but poor ones like Nolan Ryan or Randy Johnson (both of whom walked too many for too long), close but no cigar choices like Greg Maddux, Bob Gibson or Tom Seaver, and even let's-not-be-too-hasty ones like Pedro Martinez who may yet prove himself. But for now, Roger Clemens.

Now, I'll admit I fudged the date a little bit there, I had originally intended for it to be 1966 or later, which would have excluded Warren Spahn, but by moving it forward to 1967, I also get rid of Sandy Koufax. I really don't know how to compare Koufax and Clemens. Career wise, you'd obviously take Clemens in a heartbeat; Koufax was only an effective pitcher for six seasons. But Koufax's six seasons are amazing, especially the last four: ERAs sixty percent lower than league average (even factoring in Dodger Stadium) while averaging nearly three hundred innings each year. That might be the best four year stretch in pitching history, so how you compare it with Clemens' extended excellence I have no idea.

That being said, Clemens has simply been masterful and has been doing it forever. Leaving aside this year, although its worth noting that he isn't exactly embarrassing himself, Clemens is the active leader in wins, shutouts, complete games, and of course, strikeouts. Just speaking of pitchers from 1967 or better, Clemens is also second in wins (he's actually first, having passed Steve Carlton this year) and second in Ks, behind Ryan, obviously. Clemens' real accomplishment is in his ERA. While his career ERA seems nothing amazing, 3.15 to this date, in the context of his era, it is outstanding. ERA+, the measure of a pitcher's ERA relatively to his league and home ballpark puts Clemens twelfth on the all-time list. Even that is deceptive however; if you leave off 19th century ballplayers and relievers Clemens jumps to seventh. If we take the list down to my earlier statement, those pitchers active only in the year of Sgt. Pepper or later, he's behind only Randy Johnson (who may yet get passed if he keeps pitching the way he has so far in 2005) and Pedro Martinez.

Martinez is an interesting case. His ERA+ prior to 2005 is 167, an amazing number that is nearly twenty percent ahead of the next list. I rank him behind Clemens for two reasons, however. The first is his age. Martinez is just thirty-two, meaning he has however much of his decline phase he chooses to pitch ahead of him. The second is the matter of innings. Clemens' ERA+ may be twenty six percent worse than Pedro's, but he has thrown fifty percent more innings. This isn't an illusion of age either, through his age thirty-two season; Clemens had thrown two hundred thirty three more innings than Pedro, basically a season's worth. And let's face it, as great as Pedro is, he's unlikely to pitch the more than the two thousand innings Clemens has pitched since he was thirty two.

Frankly, if you thought Tom Seaver or Pedro Martinez or even Nolan Ryan was the greatest pitcher since The Graduate, I've probably not convinced you and if you thought Roger was it, I've just been preaching to the choir. But even if you don't think he's the best, he's one of them. One never knows when Roger's last year will really be--the way he's pitching he might pitch past the Jesse Orosco age in which case he’d probably go down as the greatest pitcher of all-time--so if you have a chance to go see him pitch, do it. Especially if you're thirty-eight or younger, because you've never seen a better one.


Sunday, June 12, 2005

 

June 12th, 1839

Abner Doubleday Invents Baseball


This is, as most everyone knows at this point, patently untrue. Doubleday didn't invent baseball anymore than I invented television, and baseball wasn't really "invented" at all, it evolved from a variety of other English (and American) stick-and-ball games. Doubleday, for what its worth, was a rather dull but competent general during the Civil War who briefly held command of a Corps at Gettysburg. The Doubleday Legend was based on the reports of a Colorado eccentric named Abner Graves, whose story was accepted by a panel organized by Albert Spalding. Spalding's panel, while supposedly seeking the independent truth of how baseball was started was really looking for a story of how baseball was invented in America, with no British origins. Spalding and the panel accepted Graves' story, and a legend was born.

That is, of course, the Cliff Notes, version of the story. A far more extended version, albeit one that occasionally gets bogged down in minutiae, is David Block's Baseball Before We Knew It, which dives into extensive detail on the games of baseball's origin and into personalities like Spalding and
Graves.


This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?

Listed on BlogShares