Saturday, September 24, 2005

September 24th, 1966

Kevin Koslofski Born

In my collection of baseball cards, around the early 1990s, I start to see some identified as “Topps Stadium Club.” Judging by their appearance, with gold foil lettering and a high gloss shine on every card, Topps was marketing these as some sort of upper level brand of trading card. To me, this was a bad idea. I can’t imagine there are enough adults to justify the market, and the distinction would probably be lost on kids, who while I grant you like gold foil lettering and a high gloss shine, don’t like them enough to pay an extra buck or so per pack. The cards are most interesting however, because the backs all feature little boxes that include some key categories in which the players were team or league leaders.

It notes, for example that Kevin Koslofski (think ol’ Kevin had Polish heritage?) “wrecks havoc on lefties.” Given that Kevin is a lefty, that’s pretty impressive. And if that’s all there was, they probably would have gotten away with it and to this day I’d think of that Koslofski was a strong hitter against southpaws. Where Topps fails is that they actually print the statistics, allowing one to examine it. Kevin’s havoc? Six singles in fourteen at-bats. If that’s havoc, one can only imagine what Topps will have to say about Gary Sheffield’s performance against lefties this year, as the right fielder is batting .357/.426/.567 in almost one hundred fifty ABs.

Friday, September 23, 2005

September 23rd, 1942

Woody Woodward Born

Woody, of course, is a nickname, he was born William Woodward. Whatever you call him, Woodward is best remembered today for his tenure as General Manager of the Seattle Mariners, which included the trade that brought Freddy Garcia, John Halama and Carlos Guillen to the M's in exchange for Randy Johnson going to Houston. At the time the deal was widely seen as a coup for the Astros but would later evolve into a pretty decent deal for the Mariners.

Anyway, I like to remember Woodward for something else. Actually a pair of something elses: he spent his playing career as a mediocre utility infielder, but had two items of note, both concerning his tenure with the Reds. The first is with regards to Woodward's uniform. I've always been of the opinion that Tino Martinez is the Yankee of the last few years who wears the uniform the best, especially when it comes to the post season on the road and he would wear the road gray with a long sleeved blue undershirt. When it came to the Cincinnati Reds, however, their GM Bob Howsam thought no one looked better in the uniform than Woody Woodward. To encourage the rest of his players to follow Woordward's example, Howsam had a photo of the man enlarged and placed in the clubhouse so that every Red could not only admire Woodward's example, but also stick to it.

The second incident is perhaps less about Woodward than about the ever-tenuous nature of our existence, but he does factor rather heavily, so it is as much Woodward's story as anyone else's. On
September Fourth, 1971 Woodward was manning shortstop for Reds at Chavez Ravine. In the ninth inning, while Woodward was probably thinking about the Reds' 2-1 deficit in the game as he stood at his position, he was rudely disturbed by the arrival--about half-a-yard away from him--of a ten pound bag of flour dropped from a passing airplane. Without getting into melodrama--the flour could have in theory killed Woodward had it struck him flush--it is still an amazing incident.

Perhaps leading a team for several years (Woodward retired as the longest tenured GM in the Majors) is a more noteworthy accomplishment. But to me, Woody Woodward will always be the neatly uniformed player nearly killed by a falling bag of flour.

Thursday, September 22, 2005

September 22nd, 1932

Cubs Vote World Series Shares

World Series shares, a divvying up of the profit from the Series' first four games (to discourage players throwing games to drag out the Series), at this time could represent as much as a player's salary twice again and the assignment thereof was sometimes a contentious process. The 1932 Cubs--who of course didn't actually win the World Series, this was the loser's share--were easily the most contentious of all-time.

The Cubs had been managed for the beginning of the season by Rogers Hornsby. Hornsby--as that last one demonstrates--was basically an ass, and spent most of the season alienating his players. He was fired midway through the season and replaced with Charlie Grimm. Grimm led the team to the pennant although they were swept by the Yankees. One of the key elements in the Cubs' run to the pennant was the performance of Mark Koenig. The shortstop for the Murder's Row Yankees, Koenig joined the Cubs' late in the season, took over the shortstop job and promptly went on a tear the likes of which his career had never seen. Koenig hit .353/.377/.510 in thirty-three games, miles ahead of his lifetime .279/.316/.367.

When it came time to vote then, the Cubs' players--led by Captain Woody English--voted Koenig a half-share and Hornsby nothing. Hornsby, being Hornsby, promptly filed a grievance with Judge Landis, complaining that the Cubs owed him something. In a related story, some Chicago sportswriters, showing they had something in common with their ilk today, began to stir up trouble claiming the Cubs owed Koenig a full share given his performance.

Landis decided to solve this problem by calling in English. English and Landis were casual acquaintances--Landis had a box on the third base line at Wrigley and English was the third baseman--so Landis trusted the Captain's judgment. After the meeting Landis publicly stated that how teams divide up World Series shares was none of his business and privately told English he thought the Cubs were right on both cases, maybe even generous to Koenig. This put the incident to bed, ending one of the most hostile divvying up of playoff money in baseball history.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

September 21st, 1963

Cecil Fielder Born

Cecil Fielder, who as Bill James put it "acknowledges a weight of 261, leaving unanswered the question of what he might weigh if he put his other foot on the scale," was a hulking slugger for, primarily, the Tigers in the nineties. In 1990, after a season in Japan Fielder returned to the Majors and promptly hit fifty-one home runs making look rather stupid the Toronto Blue Jays who had sold him to Japan in '88, and for whom the difference between Fielder and John Olerud as their DH might've made up the two games they finished behind Boston in the AL East.

Anyway, Fielder never topped fifty again although he did remain one of the AL's elite home-run hitters for a while, leading the league with forty-four in 1991 and finishing in the top ten three other times. I write about him today, however, for something he almost never did: steal bases. Fielder failed to steal a base until 1996, after ten part or whole seasons in the Major Leagues. His first stolen base wasn't even a "true" steal; on a failed hit-and-run the catcher's throw, which had Fielder easily, bounced off his helmet and trickled into center field. Improbably, the Metrodome official scorer ruled it a stolen base and Cecil--he of three hundred nineteen home runs, eighty-eighth all time--had his first swiped bag ever.

(By the way, the current Cecil Fielder, big guy, no steals--albeit not as good a power hitter--is
Minnesota's Matt LeCroy, who has as many steals as you and me: zero.)

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

September 20th, 1937

Tom Tresh Born

"But if you want to talk about a guy whose career just seemed to disintegrate, to come apart at the seams and unravel--slowly, methodically, almost geometrically, like a $35 polyester suit, then Tommy Tresh is definitely your man...In 1962 Tom Tresh had everything. He loved the world and the world loved certainly loved him. By 1968 he didn't have much of anything. He was thirty-one years old; New York was in ninth place...he had completely forgotten how to hit; the Yankees were desperately trying to trade him for just about anything. He was even beginning to get crow's feet."

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

Monday, September 19, 2005

September 19th, 2002

Twins Attempt to Play at Tigers

That's 'attempted' to play the game, because it was rained out in the second inning. That was especially unfortunate for the Twins, who had scored nine runs in the first inning. However, bad that was for the Twins, it was really bad for Twins rookie Michael Ryan. Ryan, who has hung around with the Twins as a utility outfielder, made his debut that day. Or rather, he would have had the game not been rained out and all the stats disregarded.

And it's that last bit which ruined Ryan's day, as in that nine-run first inning, Ryan made quite a first impression, hitting two singles, scoring two runs and driving in another pair. Given that Ryan only has sixty-eight hits, thirty-two runs and thirty-one runs batted in on his career, those numbers would've done him some good. In fact, if he still had those two singles they would raise his career average five points. As it turned out, Ryan's first game would come on the twentieth, against the White Sox where he would go o-for-4 with a strikeout. I guess that's just a rough first day at the office.

Sunday, September 18, 2005

September 18th, 1993

Red Sox Play at Yankees

In hindsight, of course, it's easy to say that the Curse of the Bambino was silly, an attempt at trying to explain the inexplicable. Before the playoffs last year however, one could seemingly find endless examples of times when, for whatever reason, the Yankees just seemed to have the Sox' number.

This game is a perfect example of just that phenomenon. The Yankees were down three to one in the bottom of the ninth with two outs and a runner on first. Mike Stanley lifted a fly ball to left field that was caught by Mike Greenwell, apparently ending the game. However, prior to the pitch a fan had run onto the field, forcing umpire Tim Welke to call time and nullifying
Stanley's out. Given another chance against Sox closer Greg Harris, Stanley lined a single. That brought up Wade Boggs who singled, bringing home the tying run.

Harris--perhaps still flustered by having to still be pitching--then walked Dion James, bringing Don Mattingly to the plate. Donnie Baseball was having the last good season of his career, and continued it today, lining a hit and bringing home pinch runner Andy Stankiewicz for the victory and continuing the Yankees' apparent otherworldly dominance of the Red Sox.

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