Saturday, July 09, 2005

July 9th, 1969

Cubs Play at Mets

In case you've not noticed, I have a fondness (or less kindly, an obession) for near-perfect games. I've done Harvey Haddix's, Walter Johnson's, a bit on Kevin Brown's, and now Tom Seaver's. "Tom Terrific" was pitching aganist the team that would become the Mets' primary rival for the NL East, the Cubs, at Shea Stadium. Coming into the game the Cubs were four and a half games up on the Mets, but just two on the loss side. A Shea record crowd of 59,083 came out to see the Mets take on the Cubs. From the start of the game Seaver was dominant and he took his perfect game into the ninth.

The first hitter was Randy Hundley (whose son Todd's follies in LF would haunt Met fans in the future), Hundley grounded out back to Seaver, leaving him just two outs from a perfect game. The next hitter was Jimmy Qualls, a Cubs rookie making just his seventy fifth Major League at-bat, and who would go on to bat just one hundred thirty-nine times, hitting a mere .223. On this night however, Qualls dunked a clean base hit in left-centerfield, ruining both Seaver's perfect game and potential no-hitter. Seaver recovered, however, and got pinch-hitter Willie Smith to pop out and Don Kessinger to fly out to left field. The victory brought the Mets within one game of the Cubs on the loss side, but kept alive a streak that has haunted the Mets from their birth to this very day, that of never having thrown a no-hitter or perfect game.

As for Seaver, while he probably wasn't fond of losing the perfect-o, you wouldn't know from his pitching in 1969, as he went 25-7, 2.21 with more than two hundred seventy-five innings pitched. For good measure, Seaver also won two games in the playoffs as the "Miracle Mets" would pass the Cubs, and go on to defeat Atlanta and Baltimore for the franchise's first World Series.

Friday, July 08, 2005

July 8th, 1965

Jerome Walton Born

No relation to the Wal-Mart Waltons--they're from Oklahoma--Jerome came up for the Cubs in 1989. The Cubs, who had finished 77-85 the year before would go 93-69 while Walton would hit .293/.335/.385, including a thirty-game hitting streak. He would also win the Rookie of the Year award; thanks in no small part to his perceived role in helping the Cubs make the playoffs for the first time in a few years. Walton would never repeat his success; although he managed a .290/.368/.525 stretch in a little over 150 at-bats for the Reds in 1995, the rest of his career was basically a disappointment.

This raises a question I've long wondered about but never been able to settle. If you're only going to have one great year in an otherwise undistinguished career, is it better for that to be your rookie year, or some year in the middle? On the one hand, if you're a rookie, you might win the Rookie of the Year, good press, etc. On the other, if you have a good rookie year and never do anything after, you're a bust, a failure, a guy who "never lived up to expectations." Now, having it come in the middle of your career is nice too. If you're really lucky, it comes in a free agent walk year and you can sucker some team into giving you a nice contract (I'm looking at you Jaret Wright and Tony Womack). Of course, if your one good year comes out of nowhere and then retreats back to that same nowhere, you're labeled a fluke, a one-year wonder the guy who "had that one great year."

So is it worse to be the bust or the fluke? I've never decided which, but luckily I doubt it will ever be a concern. As for Jerome Walton, he was a bust, retiring after an unremarkable stretch with the Devil Rays in 1998.

Thursday, July 07, 2005

July 7th, 1948

Satchel Paige Signed by Bill Veeck

July Seventh of 1948 was an especially good day for Satchel Paige, being both his forty-second birthday and the day on which he finally signed a Major League contract. Paige’s signing was a controversial one. Some saw it merely as a publicity move by Bill Veeck, who vigorously insisted otherwise. This did little to convince some, including The Sporting News who in one of their lesser moments dubbed the signing "a travesty on baseball."

Despite (or perhaps because of) comments like this, Paige and Veeck persisted and Paige would make his debut two days later. In doing so, he became both the oldest rookie in baseball history and the first black pitcher in the American League. The 1948 Indians, of course, were the last Indians team to win a World Series, and while Paige was not a crucial component, he was hardly the "travesty" that had been predicted. Paige appeared in twenty-one games, with seven starts. He pitched seventy-two and two-thirds innings, with an ERA of 2.84, good for nearly three-quarters better than league average. Perhaps not surprisingly, Veeck brought him back the next year and Paige again performed well, although not quite up to his standards of the previous year, throwing eighty-three innings with an ERA just under a third better than league average.

After a year off in 1950, Veeck signed Paige to pitch for his new team, the St. Louis Browns. Many again viewed it as a mere publicity stunt; Paige was by this point forty-four but he managed a respectable, if below average 4.41 ERA that season. Brought back again--to more critics--Paige responded with probably his best season. He appeared in forty-six games for the Browns, all but six in relief. He racked up twelve wins and ten saves, both good for the team lead, and a 3.07 ERA, also good for the team lead. He would pitch again for the Browns in 1953, this time at age forty-six. Despite being just a few years short of an AARP membership, Paige again pitched more than one hundred innings and again led the team in saves. It would be his last real serious Major League season, his actual last appearance coming in 1963 when the fifty-eight year old Paige started one game for the Kansas City A's, going just three innings but allowing only one baserunner while recording a strikeout.

The final question then I suppose is: how good a pitcher was Satchel Paige? The short answer is I have no idea. The long answer is I have no idea, but he was good enough to pitch almost five hundred innings of Major League baseball with an ERA nearly a quarter better than league average. And he was good enough to do that while not spending a day in the Major Leagues below age forty-two. Come to think of it, I do know how good Satchel Paige was, pretty damn good.

Wednesday, July 06, 2005

July 6th, 1925

Rabbit Maranville Appointed Cubs' Manager

Sometimes, you can put the exact wrong man in the exact wrong position. Such as the case of Rabbit Maranville and being made Cubs' manager. For one thing, he was almost certainly an alcoholic, although by the standards of the time he was simply considered a heavy drinker. More to the point Maranville was a character; there are several good stories about him, but he simple wasn't cut out for managing. He had a certain relaxed attitude towards the game--personified perhaps in his trademark ‘vest pocket catch’ on pop flies when he would allow the ball to hit his chest and roll down into the glove--which didn't work for managing. One writer at the time (quoted later by Bill James) noted "probably the only manager in history who would run up and down the aisles of the train throwing buckets of ice on complete strangers." His tenure, unsurprisingly, would not last the season as he was relieved of his duties after just over fifty games.

On the plus side, this allows me to tell some of the fun Maranville stories. On a trip to
Japan in the early 30s Maranville was invited to watch a military parade and decided it looked like so much fun that he stole a uniform and attempted to march. Maranville, not surprisingly, failed to pass himself off as Japanese and was promptly arrested. He later explained, a trifle feebly, that "I can march in English [he would later serve in the Marines] but I'm damned if I know how to march in Japanese." He was fond of pantomime on the bases and in the field; if a pitcher was taking too long he would check an imaginary watch or yawn and stretch in the manner of someone who had just woken up. He was also a fan of mocking the umpire, copying his hand gestures and such until the crowd started laughing (or the umpire noticed) at which point he would stop, only to pick it up later in the game. That doesn't really cover half the Maranville stories, and doesn't at all cover his career--he's a Hall of Famer--but I'll save those for another day, because I like to think I've created a pretty good idea of why Rabbit Maranville made for some good stories, but a lousy manager.

Tuesday, July 05, 2005

July 5th, 1985

Mets at Braves Game Ends

This one is cheating a little bit, since the game technically began on July Fourth, but it is worth a bit of cheating on my part to hear the story. The game was supposed to be begin as a standard evening start on the Fourth of July, and to end with a fireworks display. As it happened, both of those would be altered, but we'll get to the fireworks later. The game start was delayed ninety minutes by rain, and when the game finally began it is safe to say the field wasn't exactly in brilliantly playable condition. In the first inning, against Braves' starter Rick Mahler, after Lenny Dykstra grounded out and Wally Backman's single was erased on a pick off, Keith Hernandez doubled. He was driven in on a single by Gary Carter and Hernandez was easily safe at home because Carter's single ran into a puddle in the outfield and stopped dead. This was followed by a Darryl Strawberry single and George Foster walk but Ray Knight struck out to leave the bases loaded. At the time the Mets may not have thought much of the run that could've scored had Backman not been picked off, but they would later regret it.

The Braves answered in their half of the first off Dwight Gooden with a Claudell Washington triple and Rafael Ramirez RBI groundout. The next two innings were relatively quiet, at least until the third when after a Bob Horner single, the sky once again opened and the game was interrupted for a forty-one minute rain delay. When the game resumed Davey Johnson was forced to remove Gooden; the only start below six innings Doc would make in his otherwise sublime (24-4, 1.53) 1985 season. Roger McDowell replaced Gooden and allowed the Braves to take a 3-1 lead on a Ken Oberkfell double that plated two runs.

The Mets would answer in the top of the fourth as Rafael Santana singled. After Clint Hurdle flied out to left batting for McDowell Dykstra singled and Jeff Dedmon came in relief of Mahler. Dedmon immediately allowed a Wally Backman single which scored Santana and moved Dykstra to third after it hit the same puddle in the outfield, which was now deeper for having been rained on for an additional three quarters of an hour. Keith Hernandez, who had good wheels in his youth but was thirty-one at this point, then tripled although this too carries the watermark (stop groaning) of the game, as the two runs that scored and the triple itself came when centerfielder Washington fell down among the wet of the Fulton-County Stadium outfield. Gary Carter then singled, scoring Hernandez and putting the Mets up 5-3, but Strawberry and Foster made out, snuffing the rally.

The game continued on with the Braves picking up a run in the fifth but the Mets scoring in the sixth to preserve their two-run lead, and they added to it with a Keith Hernandez eighth inning homer. The Braves would come storming back however, pulling within two runs on a bases loaded walk by Ramirez and then taking the lead on a bases clearing double by Dale Murphy. The Mets refused to go quietly however, and in the ninth they strung three singles together off Bruce Sutter and tied the score.

The teams then played several scoreless innings highlighted only by Keith Hernandez's single in the twelfth which gave him the cycle for the evening. In the thirteenth Ray Knight singled and Howard Johnson, who had entered the game as a pinch-hitter in the ninth but was on his third at-bat, homered, putting the Mets up 10-8. Johnson then called on Tom Gorman to close out the game. Gorman allowed a single to Ramirez but then struck out Murphy and Gerald Perry, leaving the Mets with a two-run lead and just one out to record. It would never happen however, as Terry Harper would launch a two-run, game-tying home run, which incredibly, struck the foul pole, saving the Braves by mere inches. Oberkfell then popped out, but the game would continue, tied 10-10.

The game went on for four more scoreless, fairly uneventful innings, notable only for by the ejection of Strawberry and Davey Johnson for arguing balls-and-strikes on a Strawberry seventeenth inning K. The umpire would later tell a reporter that he ran the pair because "at
three AM, there are no bad calls." In the eighteenth, Howard Johnson led off with a single. Danny Heep then hit a double play ball back to pitcher Rick Camp but he threw it into center field instead, allowing Johnson to go to third. This would come back to bite him as Dykstra, in his ninth plate appearance of the game, hit a sac fly to put the Mets ahead by a run. Camp would escape the inning with no further damage.

In the bottom of the eighteenth Perry and Harper made out, bringing Camp to the plate. Normally Camp would have been pinch-hit for, but the Braves were out of position players. Rick Camp was, even for a pitcher, an abominable hitter. His career line was .074/.109/.114, and to that point, he had hit just .060. He had played eight Major League seasonst and never once hit a home run, and his career high in hits for a season was five, corresponding to a .111 batting average. He was, as you can probably tell, a truly terrible hitter with no power. To compound matters, he got himself down in the count 0-2 to Gorman. It was also
half past three in the morning and he had already pitched two innings. All Gorman had to do was throw one more strike past a man who struck out eighty-five times in his career.

Well, you can probably tell where this is going. Gorman delivered his next pitch and Camp lifted a fly ball that fell over the Fulton-County fence for a game-tying home run as Mets' left fielder John Christensen dropped his glove and pounded the ground in frustration. In the nineteenth, evidently determined to put the game out of reach for good, the Mets scored five runs, taking a 16-11 lead. Predictably however, things weren't over yet. The Braves managed to score two runs in their half of the inning and Camp came up again, this time with runners on the corners and himself once more the tying run. Camp couldn't repeat his previous heroics, however, and struck out, pounding his bat on the plate in frustration that I find hard to understand after a game that lasted--with rain delays, six hours and ten minutes and ended five minutes before four in the morning.

That's very nearly the end of the story, except for the rather crucial fact that the game had started on the Fourth of July. And as you might remember I mentioned earlier, the crowd had been promised a fireworks show. Although only a handful remained--I like to think I would have been one of them--the Braves nevertheless began to the launch the fireworks at approximately four in the morning. The reaction was predictable. Everyone in Fulton County Stadium enjoyed them, while everyone else in
Fulton County found them terrifying. Several called the police thinking there was a massive shootout on the streets while others retreated to their basements on the theory that the Soviets were bombing. It was a fittingly crazy end to an all-around crazy night in Atlanta.

Monday, July 04, 2005

July 4th, 1939

Lou Gehrig Appreciation Day at Yankee Stadium

"Fans, for the past two weeks you have been reading about the bad break I got. Yet today I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of this earth. I have been in ballparks for seventeen years and have never received anything but kindness and encouragement from you fans.

Look at these grand men. Which of you wouldn’t consider it the highlight of his career just to associate with them for even one day? Sure, I’m lucky. Who wouldn’t consider it an honor to have known Jacob Ruppert? Also, the builder of baseball’s greatest empire, Ed Barrow? To have spent six years with that wonderful little fellow, Miller Huggins? Then to have spent the next nine years with that outstanding leader, that smart student of psychology, the best manager in baseball today, Joe McCarthy? Sure, I’m lucky.

When the New York Giants, a team you would give your right arm to beat, and vice versa, sends you a gift - that’s something. When everybody down to the groundskeepers and those boys in white coats remember you with trophies - that’s something. When you have a wonderful mother-in-law who takes sides with you in squabbles with her own daughter - that’s something. When you have a father and a mother who work all their lives so you can have an education and build your body - it’s a blessing. When you have a wife who has been a tower of strength and shown more courage than you dreamed existed - that’s the finest I know.

So I close in saying that I may have had a tough break, but I have an awful lot to live for."

Sunday, July 03, 2005


July 3rd, 1912

Rube Marquard Wins 19th Straight Game

I have, in the past, knocked Rube Marquard as the worst pitcher in the Hall of Fame but have never really explained why. Today's date gives me a chance to both explain myself, and to illustrate just why Marquard is in the Hall of Fame. Sometimes it is necessary to break down statistics into time-era adjustments and other bits of detail to explain why players do (or don't) belong in the Hall of Fame, but in Marquard's case, it’s pretty simple. His career line is a mediocre 201-177, 3.08. Even that is deceptive however, as Marquard won more than thirty-five percent of those games in just three years of his eighteen year career. He never led his league in ERA, and indeed finished in the top five just twice. He did lead his league in wins (26 in 1912) but also led his league in losses (18 in 1918). Bill James' "Black Ink Test" measures how often a player appeared in the Boldface text that denotes a league leader. While the average Hall of Famer has a score of forty, Marquard has an eleven. Players who no one would consider a Hall of Famers but who have the same or better Black Ink Test scores include David Wells, Eddie Lopat, Bob Friend and Spud Chandler, and those are just the names I turned up in five minutes of random searching on BaseballReference.

Now, I'm not saying we should storm the Hall of Fame and pull Marquard's plaque off the wall, but I think it’s pretty clear the man simply doesn't belong. He wasn't a bad pitcher; it’s not like putting Scott Kamieniecki in there, but he really should be in the Hall of Very Good (Located in lovely Millstone, NJ). As to why Marquard is in the real Hall of Fame, it has to do with three things. The first was his arrival in the big leagues. Marquard was bought by the Giants for either $13,000 or $11,000 depending on who one asks. After an unimpressive debut, he was mocked as the "$13,000 Lemon," but it made his name prominent. Later for the Giants he had vast success, highlighted in 1912 by the nineteen game winning streak that went to this day. Marquard would lose his next start, supposedly in part because he bought an opal stickpin which jinxed him. Finally, he pitched for five NL pennant winners, although no World Series victors. All of this combined to make him a prime candidate for election by the overly generous Veterans Committee and they did so in 1971.

So, now my conscience is clear and I can say it knowing I've explained in painstaking detail why: Rube Marquard, Worst Pitcher in the Hall of Fame.

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