Saturday, June 25, 2005

 

June 25th, 1934

White Sox Play at Yankees


This game represents a classic example of "Do what you're paid to do and leave the rest to the professionals." (That's good advice in life but also, as we shall see, in baseball.) The Yankees jumped all over the ChiSox, defeating them handily by a thirteen-two score to retake first place. Much of the offense in the eleven run victory was provided by Lou Gehrig, having an astounding season: .363/.465/.706, with forty-nine home runs and one hundred sixty-five RBIs. It was plainly Gehrig's team by then. Although Babe Ruth didn't have a bad season (.288/.448/.537) he would leave the Yankees after that year and it would be Gehrig's team until the ALS that would eventually kill him ended his career in 1939 and the team passed to DiMaggio. Gehrig was still in his prime on this day however, and proved it by hitting for the cycle (or, as the Times described it the next day, "ran the scale in hitting from single to homer"). In contrast, Yankee pitcher Johnny Broaca, in the midst of a middling rookie season, suffered at the plate tying a rather inglorious record by striking out five times in a row.

But, and here's where that part about doing what you're paid to do and leaving the rest to the pros comes in. For all of Gehrig's heroics at the plate, he didn't throw a single pitch that afternoon. And, for all of Broaca's struggles at the plate, he got to bat five times because he was pitching a fine game. Although he surrendered ten hits to the Pale Hosers, he limited them to just two runs and took the complete game victory. So, Gehrig hits (and boy could he hit) but wouldn't think of pitching and while Broaca was an embarrassment at the plate on the mound he delivered. Do what you're paid to do, and leave the rest to the professionals.


Friday, June 24, 2005

 

June 24th, 1907

Rollie Hemsley Born


I mentioned Rollie Hemsley ever so briefly as one link in the chain from Frank Bowes to Arnie Munoz, and being that today is his birthday (or would be, he died in 1972) it seems fitting to do him. Hemsley came up in the Pirates system in a prosperous period for the franchise that also produced Kiki Cuyler and Paul (Big Poison) and Lloyd (Little Poison) Waner. Those three went to the Hall of Fame and all but Cuyler were long-term Pirates. Hemsley made some All-Star teams, but never developed into a star. The reason is fairly clear in his nickname "Rollicking Rollie," earned because Hemsley enjoyed a good time and a good drink. Bill James, in a phrase so clever I wish it were my own, wrote that Hemsley "seemed to take prohibition as a personal challenge."

He played, almost entirely as a back-up, for
Pittsburgh, the Cubs, Cincinnati, the Browns, Cleveland, the Yankees and the Phillies in a nineteen year career. The Indians got him to AA during his time there and managed to get one of Hemsley’s better seasons out of him before he fell off the wagon. Hemsley was never known for his hitting, but rather as a strong defensive catcher, on par with the best of any era, but his lack of commitment to the game caused his frequent moves around the league. He ended his playing career after a few appearances for the Philles in 1947 at age forty, and moved on to a career as coach and scout, ending as I mentioned earlier, with his death in 1972.



Thursday, June 23, 2005

 

June 23rd, 1994

Marv Throneberry Dies


Having done "Fabulous Faye" yesterday, it seems fitting to turn to his better known brother. Marv Throneberry was a Yankee prospect who had a few mediocre years for the more prominent New York franchise until being dispatched—like seemingly all failed Yankee prospects in the 60s--to the Kansas City A's as part of a trade for Roger Maris. Throneberry played a mediocre season with the A's and part of another before he was traded to Baltimore for Gene Stephens (noted yesterday as one of the Red Sox other "caddies") in June of 1961.

Having seen Marv for just over a hundred at-bats, the Orioles decided they'd had plenty of him and sent him to the expansion Mets. Throneberry was a natural fit for the team, even down to his initials, Marvin Eugene Throneberry, MET. Of course, it was as a Met that the legend of "Marvelous Marv" was born. Before I get into the Marvelous Marv stories, and fear not, I will get there, it’s worth nothing that while Throneberry was pretty bad, for the 1962 Mets, he wasn't that bad. His 93 OPS+ ranked fourth among regulars and he had the second highest slugging percentage on the team. He did manage to make seventeen errors at first base, in just ninety-seven games, a rate not even topped by the Mike Piazza First Base Follies of 2004.

What cemented the Throneberry legend however, was the legion of stories about him from the '62 Mets. Like the stories of his manager, Casey Stengel, chances are only a small percentage of the stories about Throneberry are true, but what the hell, they're all good fun. The personal favorite of Brendan Boyd and Fred Harris (whom I quoted yesterday) was the time the Mets decided to throw Casey Stengel a birthday party complete, of course, with cake. Throneberry noticed that while all of his teammates had received some of the confection, he had not and complained. Stengel, so goes the legend, leaned over to his first baseman and in a stage whisper announced "We wuz gonna give you a piece, Marv, but we wuz afraid you'd drop it."

My favorite Marv Throneberry story is almost certainly apocryphal, but I love it so much I'm willing to ignore that. It goes that one day in 1962 Throneberry hit a triple for the Mets, a rare feat for him (he only had eight in his career) although not one for the '62 Mets who actually ranked fifth in the league in that statistic. However, in this particular case the umpires called Marv out for missing second base. Stengel came out to argue and began to protest that his first baseman had in fact touched second base and should therefore be safe. The umpire, however, interrupted. "Don't argue too hard Casey, he missed first too."



Wednesday, June 22, 2005

 

June 22nd, 1931

Faye Throneberry Born


Gene Stephens [of the Red Sox] was the ultimate caddy, or scrub--which is the baseball equivalent of the fag (if you'll pardon the expression) or new boy in the English public school system. It is the caddy's sole function in life to come in as a substitute in the late innings of a hopelessly lopsided game [or] to act as a defensive replacement for an aging power hitter...During the late fifties the Red Sox had two other fulltime caddies of note--Marty Keough for Jim Piersall and Faye Throneberry for Jackie Jensen. It was Throneberry's extra burden in life to be the brother, in spirit as well as in flesh, to Marvelous Marv Throneberry, the non plus ultra New York Met first baseman.

Fabulous Faye!

~Brendan C. Boyd and Fred Harris, The Great American Baseball Card Flipping, Trading and Bubble Gum Book

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

 

June 21th, 1982/1895

Arnie Munoz Born/Frank Bowes Dies


Unless someone has sprung up lately Arnie Munoz is the latest (which is to say, youngest) player born on June 21st to ever have played in the Major Leagues. And, unless new records have been discovered, Frank Bowes was the first man to have played Major League caliber baseball to have died on June 21st. Munoz, born in the Dominican Republic town of Mao was a reliever for the White Sox last season who pitched fourteen innings with a rather gruesome 10.49 ERA. Frank Bowes, born in the New York state town of Bath was a utility man who played one season for the 1890 Brooklyn Gladiators--now there's a team name--of the American Association. Bowes hit .220/.246/.259, a line which stunk, even in 1890.

However, it is possible to connect them beyond the date of one's birth and another's death. This is done thanks to BaseballReference.com's amazing Oracle of Baseball. The Oracle takes any two players, like say, Arnie Munoz and Frank Bowes, finds common teammates, and gives you a chain. It can also tell you how "connected" a player is to others in the baseball universe. Someone like Jesse Orosco is, unsurprisingly, quite connected, having shared a clubhouse with more than six hundred and fifty people and having common teammates with nearly six thousand. Frank Bowes, in contrast, is barely connected at all. The link from him to Munoz then, is an interesting one, and I'll list it below, along with a brief note on each player:

(1) Frank Bowes played with John Peltz
Peltz was a mediocre hitting outfielder for the Gladiators and a handful of other clubs in the 1800s

(2)
John Peltz played with Frank Scheibeck
Scheibeck was a light hitting shortstop who actually had ten at-bats with the Tigers in 1906 at age 41

(3)
Frank Scheibeck played with Charley O' Leary
O'Leary was a starter and later reserve infielder for the Tigers for many years on some decent teams

(4)
Charley O'Leary played with Rollie Hemsley
Hemsley was a catcher who had a nineteen year career for many teams and made five All-Star teams

(5) Rollie Hemsley played with Curt Simmons
Simmons was a pretty good lefty for Philly and St. Louis for many years, winning as many as 18 games

(6) Curt Simmons played with Steve Carlton
You have, of course, heard of Carlton, who is one of the greatest lefties ever

(7) Steve Carlton played with Mike Jackson

No relation to the recently acquitted singer, Jackson has bounced around seemingly forever as reliever on the strength of his slider

(8) Mike Jackson played with Arnie Munoz
And the chain at last complete, having gone through the eminently forgettable to Hall of Famers and All Stars and back to Arnie Munoz.

One can accurately put the distance between the careers of Bowes then, eight players and one hundred fifteen years. It is amazing the game has as much history as it does but I am eternally grateful.

Monday, June 20, 2005

 

June 20th, 1943

Andy Etchebarren Born


Andy Etchebarren was the Orioles' catcher for their World Series victory in 1966, becoming the starter when the previous regular, Dick Brown, had to retire on account of a brain tumor. Etchebarren hung on with the team through the beginning of Earl Weaver's successful run on the back of, I assume, his defense, since he didn't offer much with the stick. Etchebarren did offer the Orioles something that went beyond baseball, however, during his rookie season. Frank Robinson, in the midst of what would be a Triple Crown season (.316, 49 HRs, 122 RBIs) was at a private team party on August 22nd. Now, Frank Robinson is from Beaumont, TX. And while you'll notice on this map, that Beaumont features a fairly prominent body of water--it's an offshoot of the Sabine Lake if you're truly curious--it was something young Frank never explored as he was unable to swim.

This was presumably not too much of an issue for Frank until that August 22nd when, perhaps having had a couple, Robinson fell into the pool. Unable to swim, it appeared that he might drown until Etchebarren dove in after him and pulled Robinson to safety. Robinson was ok, and continued his hot hitting but to this day he credits Etchebarren with partial credit for his MVP season, for keeping the now Nats' manager from an early, watery demise.



Sunday, June 19, 2005

 

June 19th, 1897

Wee Willie Keeler Gets Hit


Wee Willie Keeler--all 5'4", 140 pounds of him--recorded a hit today, running his consecutive hitting streak to forty-four. The hitting streak came during the best year of Keller's career, he would hit .424, one hundred and twenty-six points higher than the National League batting average that year--the equivilant of a batter hitting .389 in the NL last season. Keeler's place in baseball history is slightly exaggerated by the era in which he played--the league batting average for his career was .281--and for the over prominence placed on batting average. In some ways he vaguely reminds me of Ichiro! who draws a hefty percentage of his value from batting average but doesn't walk or hit for much power.

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