Saturday, October 22, 2005

October 22nd, 1916

Harry Walker Born

Today I must remedy a situation that I only realized today was a problem. I have, including for the man born today, referenced Jim Bouton's Ball Four. However, I have never given a proper entry to the book itself. While Jim Brosnan's The Long Season and Ring Lardner's fictional You Know Me Al had given some sense of life as a Major League player on a day-to-day basis, there was no book before or since as done as good a job as Ball Four. Bouton had been a star for the Yankees, winning twenty-one games in 1963 and eighteen (plus two more in the World Series) in 1964. By the season of 1969 however, he had blown out his arm and was getting by on his knuckleball under the eye of Joe Schultz for the expansion Seattle Pilots. The book is remarkable then for showing how someone for whom the game had once been almost easy and was now barely hanging lived, but also the more ordinary joys (defeating one's former team) miseries (getting sent to the minors) pleasures ("beaver shooting") and indignities (bed checks) of playing in the Majors. It is a brilliant book, one that is as readable (and enjoyable) the tenth time as the first, and highly, highly recommended.

Friday, October 21, 2005

October 21st, 1969

Juan Gonzalez Born

I have done this story before, in one of the first blogs I ever wrote (gah! look at the formatting there, horrible) but with the 2005 season, and Juan Gonzalez's career--barring a miracle--over, it seems appropriate to do a final tally. Gonzalez was offered a contract extension for eight years and one hundred forty-three million dollars. That would've covered the 2001 through 2008 seasons. Now, that deal might've been back loaded, but for our purposes, let's assume Juan Gone would've gotten the average (17.875 million) every year. The first few years (2001-03) after Gonzalez passed on the deal weren't so bad as he made thirty-four million compared to the roughly fifty-four million he would've made in the first years of the Tigers' deal. The next two years (2004-05) however were markedly worse as Gonzalez made just four million six hundred thousand, miles below the nearly thirty-six million he would've been guaranteed from the Tigers. And, of course, the next three years (2006-08) are not looking so good as Juan will likely be getting nothing while he could've been cashing checks worth a total of almost fifty-four million.

All said, Gonzalez's decision ended up costing him $104,400,000. As I said back in January, Gonzalez will never be poor--unless he's a fool; he's still made over eighty-seven million total for his career--but even with nearly ninety million in the bank, I can't imagine what it must be like to know you left over a hundred million sitting on the table.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

October 20th, 1998

Yankees Play at Padres

Every fan of the truly obsessive variety, of which I am one, for better or worse, has a moment (and it’s always a moment, I think) when something clicks and you are simply hooked for life. In the past, I've referenced Larry Mahnken's of two Mel Hall home runs; in Fever Pitch Nick Hornby describes his with regards to the English football team Arsenal; and George Plimpton has even described the moment for poet Marianne Moore. I'm sure most of the sporting insane can pinpoint theirs. Today, we do mine.

Going into the third game of the 1998 World Series, things were looking good for the Yankees. They had a two games to none lead, after posting a seven-run inning to win Game One and torching Andy Ashby for seven runs (four earned) in two and two-thirds in Game Two. Game Three featured David Cone facing Sterling Hitchcock. Hitchcock had been the Padres' best starter in the playoffs, winning the NLCS MVP and came into the game with a 1.12 ERA and 3-0 record in sixteen postseason innings. If the Padres won Game Three, they would have Kevin Brown going in Game Four and a decent chance to even the series.

The game was relatively quiet through five. Scott Brosius--having a pretty good 4-for-9 World Series to that point--hit a long fly ball in the second that was tracked down by Steve Finley. The Padres had a couple of walks but Cone was throwing a no-hitter into the sixth. In the top of sixth, Cone lined a single, which started a Yankee rally that loaded the bases with just one out for Bernie Williams and Tino Martinez but Hitchcock persevered and the Yankees couldn't score a run. Evidently deciding to just do things himself, Hitchcock led off the sixth in the Friars' first hit, a clean single. He would come around to score on a Tony Gwynn single while a Paul O'Neill error and Ken Caminti sac fly gave the home team a three run lead.

Down three and with the momentum seemingly having shifted, the Yankee led off the seventh with Brosius. This is where my part of the story begins. Brosius had been having a good playoffs, hitting a combined .333 in the first two series and my Mother--who will doubtless be just thrilled I'm sharing this with the world--had developed something of a schoolgirl crush on him. This, combined with his performance in the playoffs (and an unexpectedly good regular season) had made him a favorite in our house. With the Yankees needing a boost, Brosius provided one, leading off the inning with a home run to deep left field. The Yankees would rally for another run off the Padres' bullpen, bringing them within a run.

The Padres went down in order in the seventh after Chris Gomez was thrown out stretching a single. Paul O'Neill led off the eighth with a walk against Randy Myers. Pads' manager Bruce Bochy went to his bullpen and brought on his closer, Trevor Hoffman. Hoffman had been brilliant in 1998, recording fifty-three saves in fifty-four chances with a 1.48 ERA (258 ERA+) and entered games to AC/DC's "Hell's Bells." His first batter was Williams who lofted a fly ball that took Gwynn to the track in right field. He then walked
Martinez, bringing up Scott Brosius...and bringing me from a casual, if loyal, fan to the diehard I remain. Brosius worked the count and when Hoffman, whose change-up is his best pitch, threw Brosius a fastball, the third baseman launched it over the centerfield wall for a three-run home run. It also launched my family and me out of our seats and into each other's arms as we celebrated the success of my newfound all-time favorite player. Brosius rounded the bases with his arms in the air in triumph, showing me the magic that baseball could be. Mariano Rivera ended the game and the next day the Yankees would end the series.

My father and I would attend the Yankees' victory parade in the Canyon of Heroes in downtown New York, my first ever as school prevented my attending the 1996 parade (I skipped class for this one). That was a great time, and the clinching moment (a groundball to Brosius, appropriately enough) was great. But the moment that made me the baseball fan I am today, that led more or less to this blog, was Scott Brosius and his home run on this day. Thanks, Scott.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

October 19th, 1960

Mark Davis Born

Most people who follow baseball beyond the most perfunctory review of the standings know of Keith Foulke's struggles this season. Foulke--whose birthday is also today, incidentally--was brilliant for the Red Sox in 2004, putting up a 2.17 ERA (225 ERA+) in eighty-three innings and then allowing just one run in fourteen post-season innings, including a stretch in which he threw five scoreless innings across three straight days against the Yankees. However, whether because of that workload or something else entirely Foulke collapsed in 2005 throwing just forty five and two-thirds innings with a brutal 5.91 ERA (75 ERA+) and requiring mid season knee surgery. Foulke's ERA got worse by an astounding one hundred fifty percent compared to league average.

If anyone can sympathize however, it would be his fellow relief pitcher and October 19th birthday boy, Mark Davis.
Davis' 1989 was brilliant as he posted a 1.85 ERA (190 ERA+) in ninety two and two-thirds inning for the Padres, while recording forty-four saves. In a middling year for pitching in the NL (Mike Scott led with 20 wins but an ordinary 3.10 ERA while the voters couldn't see past Scott Garrelts' 14 wins to his league leading 2.28 ERA) Davis was awarded the Cy Young. Davis headed out to free agency armed with his award and landed a four-year fourteen million dollar deal with the Royals. It was to be a disaster in 1990 as Davis posted an awful 5.11 ERA (75 ERA+) and lost his closer's job to the extent the Royals' even tried him as a starter.

We don't know what Keith Foulke will do in the time remaining on his contract in
Boston, but Sox fans can only hope he doesn't follow the Davis model, as the one-time fireman posted ERAs of 4.45, 7.13 and 4.26 over the rest of his contract. October 19th is perhaps not the best birthday for successful relief pitchers coming off a career year.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

October 18th, 1983

Willie Jones Dies

Better known to friend and foe alike as "Puddin' Head" Jones, the nickname comes from a song "Wooden Head, Puddin' Head Jones" which was popular when he was a young boy, rather than anything about his head which, as you can see, was not especially puddin' like. Jones first came to prominence as the third baseman for the 1950 "Whiz Kids" Phillies, and while Jones only hit .286 in the World Series, he was actually one of the Phils' better hitters as they were thoroughly dominated by the Yankees' pitching staff which allowed just three earned runs in four games.

Jones would stay in Philly another eight full seasons as a roughly league average hitter, mixing his better seasons (1951, '56) with some of his not-so-good ones (1953, '57). He was traded in the midst of his ninth season to the Indians but after a brutal ten-game stretch in Cleveland (.222/.263/.278) he was bought by the Reds where he would spend the rest of 1959 and all of 1960 before retiring after just a handful of 1961 at-bats.

Monday, October 17, 2005

October 17th, 1974

John Rocker Born

To paraphrase Seymour Skinner, I'm a small man in many ways, a small petty man. So, I can't help but take great, great pleasure in the struggles of John Rocker. Rocker who shared, among other things, his belief that riding the 7 train to Shea Stadium involved sitting next to "some kid with purple hair next to some queer with AIDS next to some dude who just got out of jail for the fourth time next to a 20-year-old mom with four kids," and that the biggest thing he didn't like about New York was the foreigners because he is "not a very big fan of foreigners." Rocker also referred to one his teammates--supposedly first baseman Randall Simon--as "a fat monkey." So it was with great satisfaction that I saw the Yankees break a one-one tie off Rocker in Game One of 1999 World Series as Rocker gave up a hit and two walks.

Rocker pitched decently in 2000, but went to pieces in 2001 after a trade to
Cleveland (posting a 5.45 with the Indians) and after ineffective stretches in Texas and Tampa Bay Rocker was out of Major League-affiliated baseball. He attempted a comeback with the Long Island Ducks in 2005 but was released after suffering a dead arm and posting a beautifully ugly 0-2, 13.50 line. So far as I know, Rocker is now out of baseball entirely. Perhaps at long last he's ready to learn the lessons imparted in that Sports Illustrated article by Mike Remlinger that, like life, "baseball is a game of humility. You can be on top one minute, as low as possible the next...sooner or later you learn--we all do. Be humble."

Sunday, October 16, 2005

October 16th, 1931

Dave Sisler Born

To be a famous athlete's brother or son is a tragedy. But to be a famous athlete's brother AND son who tries to become a famous athlete himself is just plain foolhardy. Dave Sisler was the son of George Sisler, a Hall of Famer...and the brother of Dick Sisler, whose home run in the last game of the 1950 season clinched the National League Pennant for the Phillies. Do you imagine that there were ever fifteen seconds during the waking existence of Dave Sisler that he was able to forget these facts? What would drive a kid like this to become a ballplayer anyway? Wouldn't he have been happier as a lawyer or clamdigger or something along that line? David Michael Sisler, son of George Harold Sister, brother of Richard Allan Sisler, possessor of a 38-44 lifetime record, retired from baseball at age thirty-one, wherever you are...I only hope that you made a lot of money in the stock market or are about to discover a cure for cancer.

For your sake.

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

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