Saturday, September 10, 2005

September 10th, 1940

Sam Crane Begins Parole Proceedings

Sam Crane was a mediocre hitting shortstop who apparently impressed with his play below the Major League levels but never performed in the Majors, hitting just .208 in almost one hundred seventy-five career games. Crane was just twenty-seven in his last season, and might have seen more time in the Majors, but something got in the way. To wit, Crane murdered--depending on reports-- his current or ex-girlfriend (several reports say "sweetheart") and/or her current beau.

So off Crane went to prison--where he did manage to win a regular spot as the SS on the prison team--seemingly ending any chance he had of a career in baseball. However, while in prison, Crane was visited by his first manager, Connie Mack. Mack decided that although Crane had his problems, he was worthy of being saved. Mack worked with Crane and lobbied for his parole, which was eventually granted. Crane went to work with Mack and managed, happily, to turn his life around.

Friday, September 09, 2005

September 9th, 1972

Felix Rodriguez Born

Felix Rodriguez is a long time Major League reliever who landed with the Yankees this season, coming from the Phillies in exchange for Kenny Lofton. Rodriguez has been hurt for a lot of the season, but had recovered sufficiently to appear in this game, which I had the misfortune of attending. Rodriguez was bad--we'll get back to him later--but not of the same order as the evening's starter, Al Leiter.

Leiter pitched five innings, surrendering just one run. That's the good. The bad is everything else. Leiter started the game by giving a single to Shannon Stewart. Then another to Nick Punto. Lew Ford reached on a fielder's choice when Derek Jeter threw to Alex Rodriguez to force Stewart at third. Leiter then struck out Joe Mauer, but Torii Hunter singled leaving the bases loaded. Leiter escaped, however, when Jacques Jones grounded out to Rodriguez. In the second Leiter retired the Corpse of Bret Boone and then Justin Morneau, but Michael Cuddyer doubled. Leiter then proceeded to hit Stewart with a pitch and walk Nick Punto. But Leiter again escaped with a ground out to third when Ford hit one weakly to Rodriguez.

In two innings then, the Twins had four hits, a walk, a HBP and a fielder's choice. They had left the bases loaded twice. And to watch was just torture. It wasn't that Leiter wasn't pitching well--that didn't help, of course--but it was the whole pace of the game. Leiter pitches like he's being paid by the minute. Each pitch required a little walk around the mound, a stare in, several signs being shaken off, and perhaps stepping off the rubber and beginning the whole process over again. And there were a lot of pitches, forty-five in the first two innings alone.

All said, Leiter would allow fourteen base runners, but allow only one to come around to score--the Twins would leave ten men on base, an average of two per inning--and came out of the game having thrown a stunning one hundred fifteen pitchers in five innings. On came Felix Rodriguez. Like the other fifty thousand three hundred and thirty-three people in the stands--excluding perhaps the Twins' fans--I was pleased to see Leiter leave. I was horrified to discover however, that Felix Rodriguez, F-Rod, was a proud graduate of the Al Leiter school of pitching.

Despite allowing just a single in his inning, Rodriguez still needed twenty mind-numbing, time-taking pitches to retire the Twins. Tanyon Sturtze would pitch the next innings, and while he was the least effective Yankee pitcher of the night (giving up three runs on three hits and two walks); it was a relief to see him in the game.

Thursday, September 08, 2005

September 8th, 1916

Yankees Play at A's

The A's were a desperately bad team that season, losers of one hundred seventeen games and their attendance reflected that, as only one hundred eighty-four thousand people came out to see them that season. This game, however, reflected a new low as only twenty-three people showed up to the watch the A's triumph 8-2. Twenty-three! The country was smaller then, Philadelphia too, but that's just amazing. A couple of years ago Mike Veeck (son of Bill) ran a promotion where the total attendance for his Minor League team was zero. They closed the gates until the fifth inning and had fans standing on ladders watching from the outfield fence. Every now and then fans of European soccer teams are so unruly--even for soccer--that the team is punished by having to play behind closed doors, no fans allowed. But besides situations like this, in modern times, fans can usually be counted on to show up.

And, truth be told, this is rather amazing. The 1996 Tigers probably weren't as bad as the 1916 A's, but they were a fairly awful squad in their own right, losing one hundred nine games and giving up more than eleven hundred runs. Their biggest star was Cecil Fielder...and they traded him in July to the Yankees. Their "closer" was Gregg Olson who collected just eight saves with an ERA over five. Their shortstop, the late Andujar Cedeno, hit .196. Compounding all that, they played in historic but by that time largely decrepit Tiger Stadium. And of course, if you were going to suffer through Tiger baseball, you might as well stay at home and listen to the best man associated with the Tigers that season, the legendary Ernie Harwell. Despite all that, they still managed to draw one million one hundred sixty eight thousand six hundred and ten people to Tiger Stadium.

Think about that. On any given day in
Detroit, almost fourteen thousand five hundred people decided there would be no better way to spend their afternoon or evening (and their money) then to go to a lousy stadium in a bad neighborhood to watch an awful team. Even if we say a few thousand of those are fans of the other team, it's still an astounding number. I can see why people like me go to these--I might even attend a game between the 1916 A's and 1996 Tigers under the right circumstances--but to imagine that people did this all the time defies description. But they did. The Tigers drew as many people in fewer than two weeks of games than the 1916 A's did in their entire season.

I wish I had a way to wrap this up, something about how this shows just how intertwined the game is our national character or some population data or something. But I don't, I'm genuinely amazed. Every day in
Detroit in 1996 thousands and thousands of people showed up to watch a truly miserable collection of talent in unpleasant surroundings. That's summary enough.

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

September 7th, 1973

David Newhan Born

The son of long-time Los Angeles Times sports columnist Ross Newhan, David was a journeyman who had a low-level break out season in Baltimore last year at age thirty, although he seems to have regressed somewhat this year, batting just .204 and dubbing the Orioles' Triple-A home Ottawa as "a terrible place to be" featuring "bad weather, bad fans [and] bad atmosphere."

His grumpiness and poor performance this year not withstanding, Newhan was a key player in my favorite (non Yankee) play from 2004. It took place on July 21st at
Fenway Park. Newhan was facing Pedro Martinez with the O's up 6-4 in the top of the seventh. Newhan had runners on first and second but had gotten himself into a 1-2 hole against Pedro. Despite this he managed to launch a ball to deep center field in Fenway. Johnny Damon chased the ball all the way to the Stop and Shop Sign in centerfield (you can see it on the right of this photo) and made a leap but the ball was over his head and bounced away. Damon tracked it down and launched a throw towards the cutoff man.

Now, here is where the whole thing gets strange. Damon has a weak arm, and was probably hoping to hold Newhan to a triple with the ball reaching cut off man Mark Bellhorn. However, for reasons known only to himself (and maybe not even then) Manny Ramirez, the Sox left fielder, made a diving play on Damon's throw, cutting it off in the shallow left-center. Seeing this, Newhan, who had been slowing down at third base, promptly turned the jets back on and took off for home. Manny then--from his knees--threw the ball to Bellhorn who sent it home to catcher Jason Varitek.

It was too late however, as Newhan chugged home and slid around Varitek's late tag, finishing an improbable inside-the-park three run home run, thanks to a diving cut off from a left fielder and avoiding being tagged out on a play that would've gone 8-7-4-2.

Editor’s Note: Speaking of things involving Pedro Martinez, one of my esteemed guest writers, Evan Drellich, has deciding to try and make it own his own in the blogging world. His Mr. Met’s Words of Wisdom is one of the latest entries to the Mets’ blogsphere but I’m pleased to say it is already one of the best. I recommend you check it out.

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

September 6th, 1888

Red Faber Born

Red Faber was a spitballer, one of the grandfathered spitballers who got to continue throwing the pitch even after it was banned. Faber spent his entire career with the Chicago White Sox and was the second best starter on the White Sox 1917 World Series team but had injuries that limited him in 1919 and he was not a part of the Black Sox scandal. It is, I suppose, an interesting question whether Faber could've been tempted by the gamblers that year—the fact that his bread-and-butter pitch was an illegal one suggests it was possible—but one that remains forever unknown.

What is known is that while Faber is an awfully borderline Hall of Famer--he's in there anyway--in the 1917 World Series Faber performed brilliantly. He appeared in four games, pitching the most innings for the ChiSox with a 2.33 ERA while winning three games.

This is not to say the Series was without flaw for Faber. Fabrer, who couldn't hit at all (lifetime .134) slammed a ball into right field with Buck Weaver on second. On the throw home Faber took second. Noticing the pitcher was throwing from a full wind-up--and assuming Weaver had scored on his single--Faber decided to take some initiative and steal third. He ran and made it...only to discover third base was rather full because Weaver hadn't actually scored on the hit and was therefore still occupying third. Luckily for Faber the White Sox were already winning 7-2 at the time so the blunder didn't cost him anything except embarrassment.

Monday, September 05, 2005

September 5th, 1992

Billy Herman Dies

Billy Herman was a Cubs' second baseman, a lifetime .304 hitter who was widely renowned for his skills as a hit-and-run batter. He had his best season in 1935 when he lead the league in hits and doubles and hit .341, fifth in the league. Herman also had a good World Series that year, hitting .333 with four extra base hits and six RBIs in Chicago's six game loss to the Tigers.

Herman caught my attention however, for his given name: William Jennings Bryan Herman. William Jennings Bryan, of course was the late nineteenth and early twentieth century orator, politician and prosecutor in the Scopes Monkey Trial. Herman was born in 1909, shortly after
Bryan had lost a Presidential election to William Howard Taft. Normally, such an extravagant name would ensure Herman a place in trivia history, but here, unfortunately, Herman has to settle for the title of second best player wholly named after a historical figure. The best of course, is Grover Cleveland "Pete" Alexander.

Sunday, September 04, 2005

September 4th, 2002

Oakland A's Win 20th straight Game

In the latest in my occasional series of Sunday book recommendations (others can be found here and here) we come to the book that many believe will be (or already is) one of the most influential baseball books of the decade, Michael Lewis' Moneyball. I think some of the hype may be slightly overblown, but the book is still remarkably well-written (as are all of Lewis') and for a baseball fan, carries fascinating insight into how a Major league front office works. It also has an excellent chapter which culminates in a description of this game, one in which the A's blew an eleven run lead before coming back to win in the bottom of the ninth. Moneyball comes highly recommended.

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