Saturday, July 16, 2005

 

July 16th, 1999

Whit Wyatt Dies

Whit Wyatt, in addition to having a name like a Southern sheriff, was a long-time Major Leaguer, pitching for Detroit, Chicago, Cleveland, Philly and (longer and better than for anyone else) Brooklyn in the course of a sixteen year career. Wyatt was a fairly average starter for most of his career, which was something of a disappointment as he had been a high school superstar in his native Georgia, reputed to have struck out twenty-three Oglethorpe University batters in a game. In 1929 he had sixteen straight wins for Evansville, the Tigers’ top minor league affiliate. He was called up later that year with predictions of greatness and promptly flamed out. Actually, that's unfair, Wyatt was plagued by injuries and could be effective when healthy (he managed to better the league average by nearly thirty-five percent in 1930) but he was largely injured and ineffective.

After several middling years the Tigers traded Wyatt to the White Sox. He would have several more ineffective and injury-filled years, pitching as few as three innings in a season, and was let go to the Indians. Wyatt pitched another underwhelming season there and had now spent all or part of nine seasons in the Majors with only one really better-than-average year. He spent 1938, therefore, in the American Association where he evidently figured something out as he was voted League MVP and signed by Brooklyn.

In Brooklyn, Wyatt's career finally began to fulfill its potential. He was an All-Star four times there, including during his best season, 1941, when he went won twenty-two games (to lead the league) with a 2.34 ERA in nearly three hundred innings, which earned him third place in the MVP vote and almost certainly would have won him the Cy Young award had it existed at the time. He slumped slightly in 1942 but pitched well that year and in 1943, presumably in part because of weakened war-time competition. As the regulars players began to filter back however, Wyatt was shelled in both 1944 and 1945.

Wyatt never pitched in the Majors after those seasons, but would stay in the game as a pitching coach for the Braves and Phillies, during which time he reportedly attempted to encourage his pupils to follow the headhunting ways he had practiced during his own career.


Friday, July 15, 2005

 
July 15th, 1901

Giants Play at Cardinals


On this day, the Giants' Christy Mathewson, then just in his second season in the big leagues, pitched a no-hitter. I won't be describing the game however, but something else. This no-hitter is an important element in the first chapter of what is not only my favorite baseball novel, but also, I believe, think the best baseball novel of all-time. That is The Celebrant by Eric Rolfe Greenberg. It has damn near everything, Mathewson and McGraw, life in America for the early twentieth century immigrants, the Black Sox, the trouble of family, all brilliantly written. The Amazon.com review, which in most cases is as inane as scoreboard trivia, puts it absolutely perfectly: “its adherents [are] virtual zealots; to them, reading the novel border[s] on having a religious experience.” Buy a copy today and have the experience for yourself. You will not be disappointed.


Thursday, July 14, 2005

 
July 14th, 1967

Robin Ventura Born


Something I really like about my scorebook, beyond having a record of the actual game played on the field, is that it leaves me with an experience of the game as I attended it. I can write "Rainy" in the little "Weather" box, but I can tell without checking which games were rainy; they’re the ones on which the ink is blotted by rain drops. It also allows me to record some of the truly inane "facts" about players that are displayed on the scoreboard, usually next to a frequently less-than-flattering photo during a player's third or fourth at-bat. One of my all-time favorites for these was one from a Yankee game on June 17th, 2003, which reported of today's subject: "Robin has hit a HR in 36 different parks (6th all time)"

Now, I could spend a while--too long--explaining my problems with this, so I'll just go over them quickly. For one thing, it's simply minutiae, it doesn't tell us anything about Robin except maybe that's played in both leagues, hit a fair number of home runs and they've replaced a lot of stadiums in the course of his time in the league. For another, it's not even especially good minutiae. If Robin was first all-time, or even in the top three or five for having hit HRs in multiple ballparks, that's something. But sixth? Sixth? That's not exactly impressive. If you're going to list something in which he was sixth, how about the 1999 NL MVP vote?

For a list in which he does slightly better, they could've listed his career rank in Grand Slams; at the time of the game
he was third all time (he's since dropped to fourth) a distinction which is equally trivial to the home runs in ballparks one, but at least portrays him in a bit of a better light. It’s unfair to pick on the Yankee Stadium ones, of course, since these kinds of statements are about par for course. At Camden Yards in 2002 I was informed that Geronimo Gil had "11 HRs, most ever by a Mexican rookie." This was a good one as it was both inane and poorly written, being open to the interpretation that that Gil was a Mexican in his first season playing baseball or a baseball player in his first year as a Mexican. (He would later up his total to 12.)

Ventura was traded in the middle of the 2003 season to the Dodgers, which perhaps enabled him to move slightly higher in the list of all-time ballpark home runs kings. Gil, so far as I know, still holds the Mexican rookie distinction, but has rather flamed out as a ballplayer otherwise, hitting just seven home runs since that rookie year. But I doubt that will change anything in when a Mexican hits 7 HRs thirty years in the future and a graphic is prepared: "Juan Doe has seven home runs, good for sixth all time by a Mexican rookie."



Wednesday, July 13, 2005

 
July 13th, 1982

Yadier Molina Born


One of the trio of catching Molina brothers, the other two, Bengie and Jose both play for the Los Angeles Angels of...ZzZZzzzz...uh, er, where was I? Oh, right, the Molinas of Anaheim, Bengie is the starter and Jose his back-up. Although I've not seen much of Yadier, if he's anything like his brothers, he shares one prominent characteristic: he’s absolutely slower than dirt. Bengie and Jose might be--I say this without hyperbole--the two slowest men in Major League Baseball right now, and possibly the two slowest ever. Jose is the faster of the pair (he actually stole four out of five bases last year, I don't know what the deal is on that) but he's pretty damn slow.

Bengie on the other hand, just redefines slow. All that keeps him from constantly leading the league in double-plays is his position in the batting order, not behind any really high OBP guys, and his position, as catching keeps him from playing every day and keeps the totals down. Despite this Bengie has hit into fifteen or more double-plays four times in his career, and has seven already this year. This is one of those things, however, that statistics just can't illustrate. You could change a tire in the time it takes him to get down the line, it's captivating--in a watching paint dry sort-of way--to watch.

As I said, I've not seen enough of Yadier to paint him with this brush just yet. But next time a Molina comes to your local ballpark, go out and see them. It’s quite something.



Tuesday, July 12, 2005

 
July 12th, 1997

Astros Play at Pirates


I'd like to say that every time I see something notable in a baseball game I instantly recognize it and make a note. But of course, that's not true, and this game is a perfect example of it. I was at the town where my family has a summer house and being that July is hot, even by the beach, a pair of friends and I decided to stay inside, order some buffalo wings and watch TV. After a round of channel surfing, we discovered ESPN was showing this Astros-Pirates game and discovered further that Pittsburgh starter Francisco Cordova was pitching a no-hitter.

Cordova kept retiring Astros without surrendering a hit but Astros starter Chris Holt and reliever Billy Wagner refused to surrender a run and after nine innings the game was still tied at zero. For the tenth, Pirates manager Gene Lamont decided not to send his weary starter out for another inning and instead went to lefty Ricardo "Ricky" Rincon. While I wondered aloud to my friends how many no-hitters had been pitched by more than one pitcher (a question to which I still don't know the answer) Rincon set down the Astros in order, bringing the Pirates up for their half of the tenth.

Facing Astros pitcher John Hudek the Pirates got two on with two outs for pinch-hitter Mark Smith. Smith drilled a Hudek pitch over the wall for a game winning, walk off three-run home run. Equally important to the Pirates as the victory, which moved them in a tie for first with the 'Stros, was the no-hitter. Although I didn't know it at the time, it was (and is) the only multi-reliever extra inning no-hitter in all of Major League Baseball history.

So I may not recognize every interesting baseball moment the instant I see it. But at least I can look 'em up later and share 'em with the world.



Monday, July 11, 2005

 
July 11th, 1967

Donnie Wall Born


Donnie Wall was drafted as a starter by the Astros in 1989 and performed that task for a few years (he was tied for ninth in shutouts--with one--in 1996) until he ended up in San Diego where he was converted to middle relief. His path to San Diego was an odd one; he was waived by the Astros and picked up by the Reds in October. On November 11th, he was traded with catcher Paul Bako to the Tigers for Melvin Nieves. Just a few days later however, on November 19th, he was traded from the Tigers with Ryan Balfe (a minor-leaguer who never made it) and Dan Miceli to San Diego for a pair of players.

I really don't know what the story is here. For one thing, while Wall was a decent pitcher, and one who would have a fantastic year in 1998 for the Padres (Game One of the World Series aside) it would be a stretch to say anything in Wall's performance to that point suggested it. He had never posted an ERA of better than league average, and in 1997 had a gruesome 6.26 ERA despite playing in the cavernous Astrodome. I suppose it’s a bit like the cliché about pitchers who lose twenty games "You have to be pretty good to lose 20." That takes its truth in that you have to be a pretty good pitcher to have a team keep trotting you out there despite constant losing but not too good, otherwise you wouldn't lose twenty games. This is also true of Wall. He obviously had something that caused teams to keep wanting him--three held his rights within the course of six weeks--but obviously not too much something, because teams kept letting him go.

After all his moving and shaking in the 1997 off-season, Wall would stay with the Padres for a while, not leaving until a trade in the 2000 off-season to the Mets for Bubba Trammel. He finished his career after a season for the Mets and Angels, the season with
Anaheim being notable for the first in an eight year career that Wall, as a free agent, got to pick his team. Hope he was happy with the decision.



Sunday, July 10, 2005

 
Editor's Note: Today, your humble correspondant it taking the day off--he's at the beach--and allowing a guest writer to take over. Joshua Stober is my cousin, and like myself, a hopelessly devoted Yankee fan. Although we've both enjoyed their recent sucess, like me, Joshua endured the early 90s of John Habyan, Scott Kamieniecki and Steve "Bye-Bye" Balboni. Today, he writes about the debut of a man who despite playing for the Yankees in the late 90s, seemed to share more in spirit with those earlier, Stump Merril managed teams.


July 10th, 1997

Hideki Irabu Debuts

I’ll always remember this game for the sheer number of Japanese people in attendance at Yankee Stadium. Irabu wasn’t the first Japanese player to make the transition to Major League Baseball from Japan, but his arrival to the Yankees was a choppy one.

The rights to negotiate with Irabu were sold to the San Diego Padres by the Chiba Lotte Marines in early 1997. Irabu said he would only pitch for the Yankees and four months later, the Yankees and Padres made one of the odder trades in baseball, with the Yankees sending $3 million in cash plus oft injured outfielder Ruben Rivera and a minor leaguer to the Padres for the mere right to negotiate with Hideki.
New York also received some minor league prospects with the deal. Irabu was finally signed on May 29th, 1997 to a 4 year $12.8 million contract that included an $8.5 million signing bonus.

Flash Forward to July 10th and Irabu’s first start, in which Hideki impressively struck out nine and held the Detroit Tigers to 3 runs. Alas, for Hideki, this would be one of the few highlights of his career. Irabu never won more than 13 games in a season, in fact only reaching above 10 wins once more. His 6 year career winning percentage was .493. Irabu moved on to the Montreal Expos for two seasons and in his last season in 2002 he was converted into a closer with 16 saves for the Texas Rangers.

He also holds the honor of being called a “Fat Pussy Toad” by Yankee owner George Steinbrenner for not covering first base during an exhibition game. Not that I disagree with George, but an exhibition game?


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