Saturday, August 06, 2005

 

August 6th, 1954

Ken Phelps Born


Most famously remembered as the man the Yankees got in exchange for Jay Buhner—prompting Frank Costanza’s assertion that George Steinbrenner didn’t know what the hell he was doing—Ken Phelps was a player whose skill set was so vastly misunderstood and underappreciated by his teams that instead of contributing on the Major League level, he wasted away in Triple A.

Phelps consistently put up numbers in the minors indicating he could hit major-league pitching, and even proved it when given a shot. In 1984 with the Mariners, he was given nearly three hundred at-bats, and responded by hitting just .241 but posting a .378 OBP and .521 SLG. The slugging was highest among team regulars and the OBP second to Alvin Davis. Apparently unconvinced, the Mariners gave the DH job in 1985 to 34 year-old Gorman Thomas. Thomas hit .215 with an on base percentage of .330 and slugged .450. In his limited action, Phelps hit just .207 but topped Thomas in both OBP and SLG and homered at a better rate. Finally, in 1986, Dick Williams gave Phelps a regular job and he responded by hitting .247, but getting on base more than forty percent of the time and slugging .526, both team leading figures. The next year Phelps was a regular again and again topped .400 in on-base percentage and .500 in slugging, this in his age 32 season. At 33, Phelps was hitting .284/.434/.547 when the Mariners (wisely) traded him to the Yankees for Buhner. He would never post another season like the ones he had in Seattle, although he did hang around long enough to win a World Series ring for the ’89 A’s.

Phelps' other legacy—besides Seinfeld-related infamy—is of the “Ken Phelps All-Stars.” Created by Bill James, the ‘Phelpses’ were summarized in 2001 by Baseball Prospectus’ Jeff Bower as “an assemblage of players with skills that made them useful, but who were generally not given a fair opportunity to prove their worth in the majors or had been given unwarranted labels they couldn't shake.” In Phelps’ case, this was an inability to hit for average and an inability to play anywhere but DH that kept him from becoming a viable major leaguer. Phelps was a Moneyball player cursed to be born before Moneyball had come into fashion. When Bower wrote a 2001 version of the Ken Phelps All-Stars he included players who’ve since become valuable members of Moneyball style teams, notably Mark Bellhorn (Boston) and Erubiel Durazo (Oakland).


Friday, August 05, 2005

 

August 5th, 2001

Mariners Play at Indians


Gah! I had a blog here about this game, it was the year Seattle won a billion games (but then blew it in the playoffs, nice job in the ALCS guys) and took a huge lead into the late innings against the Indians on August Fifth, at Jacobs Field, only to blow it in dramatic (and for the Mariners and their fans, embarrassing) fashion. The blog had a link to a fantastic--but now evidently defunct--website which played back the Indians' radio announcers call of their team's remarkable comeback.

Since I'm unwilling to lose that bit of snark about the 2001 Mariners performance in the playoffs, however, I will instead refer you to the Retrosheet link which has the play-by-play and you can perform it yourself.



Thursday, August 04, 2005

 

August 4th, 1938

Ray Oyler Born

I wrote a while back about Mark Belanger a good-field, n0-hit shortstop for the Orioles who preceded Cal Ripken, and about the absurdity of his being a Hall of Fame candidate. Belanger would be a terrible Hall of Famer, and was a terrible hitter, but compared to Ray Oyler, he was Honus friggin' Wagner. Oyler played for six seasons in the Majors, and was the starting shortstop for three years, 1967-68 in Detroit and 1969 with the Seattle Pilots.

But no matter where he was, he couldn't hit a lick. Oyler's career line was .175/.258/.251. In case you think that's an illusion of the pitching-favored era in which Oyler played, in his best year his OPS (that's on-base plus slugging percentage) was thirty-nine percent below league average, and that was the only time in his entire career he came within forty percent of the league OPS. In 1968, the Tigers incredibly won the World Series with Oyler as their starting shortstop, despite his hitting .135 in two hundred fifteen at-bats, for a grand total of twenty-nine hits. Of those twenty-nine hits, all but eight were singles. In the 1968 World Series Oyler never even came to the plate, as the Tigers decided to use Mickey Stanley--who had played nine games at the position, all in September--at shortstop in an attempt to boost their offensive output. (It worked, more or less, as
Stanley had six hits in twenty-eight at bats.)

The Tigers left Oyler unprotected in the expansion draft and he was taken by the Seattle Pilots. Boosted by the only half mocking "Ray Oyler Fan Club" the light hitter made quite a debut in
Seattle, hitting a home run in the Pilots first (exhibition) win at home. He had a brief stretch with the California Angels in 1970 but retired shortly thereafter and returned to Seattle where he would live, running a bowling alley and working for Boeing until his death in 1981.


Wednesday, August 03, 2005

 

August 3rd, 1990

Dale Murphy Traded

Every now and then a player suddenly and inexplicably loses whatever talent he had, and it is just gone for good. I like to think of this as falling off the Dale Murphy's Career Memorial Cliff. Murphy had been the National League's MVP in 1982 and 1983, hitting thirty-six home runs each year. In 1987 he slammed forty-four home runs and hit .295/.417/.580. Murphy was just thirty-two years old heading into the 1988 season and coming off arguably the best year of his career. So what happened next was just baffling.

Murphy hit just .239 in April of 1988, but most dismissed this as a slow start. However, when he followed that up by hitting .200 in May and .234 in June, people began to worry. However, Murphy seemingly shook that off with a good-if-not-great .284/.366/.578 July. Rather than a return to form however, July 1988 would prove a last hurrah for Dale. He hit .194 in August and failed to break .225 in any month the rest of the season, finishing the year at .226/.313/.421, a loss of nearly seventy points of batting average and more two-hundred fifty points of OPS. Murphy would sink even lower in 1989, losing much of his remaining power.

Midway through the 1990 season, the Braves traded Murphy--still less than three seasons removed from a forty-four home run season--to the Phillies for reliever Jeff Parrett, who had an ERA of 5.18 at the time. Murphy would bounce around until 1993 but even time in Colorado failed to revive his career as he hit just .143 at Mile High Stadium.

So what happened to Murphy's talent? I have no idea. No one seems to. It simply disappeared, the first victim of going over the Dale Murphy's Career Memorial Cliff.


Tuesday, August 02, 2005

 

August 2nd, 1979

Thurman Munson Dies

I've written about Munson before, namely on the circumstances surrounding his death and the legacy that has grown up around him. I'm not wild about that entry; it seems on re-reading to be a rambling effort, in which I work out my thoughts about the man before finally summing them up in the final line. I like the final line--it does express my feelings towards the Munson legacy--but I probably could've spared you all my mental process to reach that point.

Having done my bit on Thurman the man, I feel I should do one as well on Thurman the player. Munson was an interesting player in that he did one thing well--hit for average--and everything else well enough. Average wise Thurman was excellent, for his career he hit .292 compared to a league average of .255. In contrast, Munson never walked a lot; his career high was fifty-seven in his rookie season. But then, when you hit .300 five times in eleven seasons, and .280 or better in three others, huge numbers of walks are a bonus, rather than a necessity. Munson, outside of 1973, also never hit for a lot of power; his twenty home runs that season comprising nearly twenty percent of his career home runs. But he hit for enough power and like his on-base percentage, was nearly always above average in slugging. Of course all of this offense came from a premium defensive position and one Munson played quite well, winning Gold Gloves from 1973-75 plus his role as team captain and leader.

Does he belong in the Hall of Fame? Probably not. Munson didn't become a regular until he was twenty-three and--tragically--never had an at-bat past age thirty-two. His lifetime rate stats (.292/.346/.410, OPS+ 116) are good but not so good as to justify looking past his short career and the short career prevented Munson from reaching any landmark statistics. But was he a very good player for some very good teams? Absolutely. He deserves to be remembered not only for the circumstances around his death, but also for the player he was.


Monday, August 01, 2005

 

August 1st, 1950

Milt May Born

A relatively undistinguished, if sometimes good hitting, catcher for much of his career, Milt May was notable in large part for his legendary slowness afoot. In a fifteen year, nearly two thousand game career, May attempted to steal just seventeen times, or roughly once every seventy games. This was really for the best, however. May succeeded in just four of his seventeen attempts, a success rate of twenty-three percent, which isn't exactly going to cause people to confuse you with Tim Raines.

May does have a couple points he is remembered for beyond his foot speed (or lack thereof). In Game Four of the 1971 World Series, May drove in the Pirates' go-ahead run in the eighth inning, a key win for the Pirates as they were down two games to one at the time. Furthermore, May ensured his place in trivia history forever when on
May 4th, 1975 he homered to drive in Bob Watson who scored what was--at least officially--the one millionth run in Major League Baseball history.


Sunday, July 31, 2005

 

July 31st, 1961

Bud Weiser Dies

And you thought Coco Crisp had a funny name.

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