Saturday, November 05, 2005

November 5th, 1996

Derek Jeter Wins Rookie of the Year Award

Having pointed out the number of times the Rookie of the Year award has ended up looking real stupid a few years down the road, it only seems fair to point out some times the voters got it right on both the best rookie of the year and the player who would develop into a great. Such a year was 1996 when the American League voters overwhelmingly gave the award to Derek Jeter, who won all twenty-eight first place votes. 2001 was a good year for both leagues, as every first place vote in the National League went to Albert Pujols while the AL saw all but one first place vote go to quasi-rookie Ichiro!

Getting it right isn't just a recent phenomenon, however. 1974 saw another legendary figure in the Yankee-Red Sox rivalry accumulate all the first place votes; this time it was
Boston's Carlton Fisk. In 1967 the voters gave the awards to a pair of all-time legends, the National League's Tom Seaver and American League's Rod Carew. In 1956 the voters gave the awards to another pair of future Hall of Famers, Frank Robinson in the NL and Luis Aparicio. And to its everlasting credit, when the award debuted in 1947--there was only one then rather than the two league format that would debut in 1949--they made a great choice, presenting the award to Brooklyn's Jackie Robinson.

Friday, November 04, 2005

November 4th, 1873

Bobby Wallace Born

Wallace is in the Hall of Fame, a choice of the Veterans' Committee in 1953 which was reflective in part of Wallace's longevity (he was in baseball in some capacity or another for nearly sixty years) rather than his particular Hall worthiness. He's not the worst choice in there, anyway.

I've written before about players who see the league change around them as their careers progress. As true as that was for Claude Osteen, it was really true for Bobby Wallace. Wallace made his debut in 1894 for the Cleveland Spiders. That year the National League had twelve teams, some you would know today--the Cubs, Reds, Pirates and Phillies were all their familiar homes--but with some notable differences, such as the Baltimore Orioles (no association with the current franchise), the St. Louis Browns (today's Cardinals) and the Louisville Colonels. Wallace appeared in only a few games for the Spiders, all as a pitcher. In 1895 he joined Cy Young (who went 35-10) in the Spiders' rotation but in 1896 he appeared in an equal number of games as a pitcher and outfielder and by 1897 had been converted fully to a position player.

Wallace manned the hot corner for the Spiders in '97 and '98 but was traded--as part of an infamous mass exodus--to the St. Louis 'Perfectos' in 1899, thereby avoiding the fate of being on the shockingly bad 1899 Spiders team who lost 134 games and finished thirty-six games out of eleventh place. With the turn of the century came a new-look league as the NL dropped to just eight teams, all of which remain in the league under various names to this day. After a few seasons in
St. Louis with the Cardinals, Wallace jumped to the American League's St. Louis Browns. He would stay with this franchise until 1916.

When he retired after the 1918 season--back with
St. Louis' NL franchise--he had watched the game change radically from the one he had entered. In 1894 the NL runs per game average was 7.36; in 1918 it was just 3.62. In 1894 all the top five pitchers in innings had topped four hundred, led by Ted "Theo" Breitenstein's 447; in 1918 no NL pitcher topped three hundred innings, and the leader 'Hippo' Vaughn threw just 290. The changes were more than just numbers. In the course of Wallace's career, innovations that today we think of as commonplace were introduced including the hit-and-run and cut-off man system. Further, when Wallace entered the game, it was still possible for an owner to own more than one team, and shenanigans between co-owned teams were common. Of course, this all seems rather appropriate as Wallace himself as evolved radically, from a pitcher to a man who retired known as "Mr. Shortstop."

Thursday, November 03, 2005

November 3rd, 1971

Matt Lawton Born

Everyone has, I think, heard the old one-liner "So, other than that, Mrs. Lincoln, how was the theatre?" Well, that's a feeling with which Matt Lawton can certainly sympathize. As he wakes up today to his thirty-fourth Lawton will not only be rapidly approaching--if not have already reached--the age at which he will no longer be effective as a player, but also suffering on two fronts. For one thing, Lawton and his family are from (and still reside in) Gulfport, Mississippi. Although they luckily escaped any loss of life, Lawton reported the roof was torn off the house as well as damage to the windows and floors. Compounding all this, a story released yesterday revealed that Lawton tested positive for steroids and will therefore have to serve a ten game suspension at the beginning of next season. Lawton released a statement calling his steroid use "a terrible and foolish mistake that I will regret for the rest of my life."

So, other than that,
Mr. Lawton, how was your birthday?

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

November 2nd, 1888

Dutch Zwilling Born

Edward Harrison "Dutch" Zwilling had a largely forgettable career as an outfielder in Chicago for the American, (White Sox) Federal (Whales) and National (Cubs) Leagues, being notable perhaps most for leading the Federal League in home runs in 1914 and RBIs the next year. That is indeed an obscure distinction, but Zwilling is known today--such as he is anyway--for another fact altogether. If you were to assemble every player in Major League Baseball history and line them up, the line would start with David Aardsma (it used to start with Hank Aaron until Aardsma's debut, which I am almost sure will be the only of Hammerin' Hank's records that is broken by a mediocre pitcher). Stretching through the entire alphabet you would end with, that's right Dutch Zwilling. It's not much, but hey, Dutch got a blog out of it.

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

November 1st, 1979

Edward Bennett Williams Buys Orioles

Williams--a respected Washington DC attorney who was also a part owner of the Redskins--bought the Orioles from previous owner Jerold Hoffberger for $12.3 million. It is a statement oft-repeated, usually by owners around the time collective bargaining agreements with players are up for negotiation, that buying a team is a money losing proposition, that teams lose money every year but owners stick around out of a sense of civic pride. There are probably some owners for whom that is true but the huge majority leave out what is often the most crucial element in owning a team, its sale.

Now, to be fair, Williams is not the best example of this, he didn't strictly speaking sell the team; it was sold by his estate in 1993. However, the profit made reflects just how good an investment a sports franchise can be. Adjusted for inflation, Williams' 1979 purchase of the Orioles cost roughly $26.5 million in "1993 dollars." However, the team was sold was to a Peter Angelos led group for $173 million, a pure profit of $160.7 million and one adjusted for inflation at $146.5 million. Williams then, could've lost nearly ten and a half million a year running the team and still broken even upon its sale. As I said, Williams' estate rather than the man himself was the beneficiary of the profit, but it is a number worth remembering the next time your local team owner cries poverty.

Monday, October 31, 2005

October 31st, 1963

Matt Nokes Born

While Scott Brosius is fairly secure in his status as my favorite player of all-time, Matt Nokes will always hold a special place in my heart as my first favorite player. Nokes was a catcher who began his career in
San Francisco, but played just a handful of games there before being traded to the Tigers for the 1986 season. Matt saw limited time in 1986 but was given the starting job for the 1987 season. Nokes responded with his career season, batting .289 while swatting thirty-two home runs (good for ninth in the league) and making the All-Star team. The Tigers also won ninety-eight games and the AL East title before losing four games to one to the eventual champion Twins in the playoffs. Nokes would never again match his 1987 performance, and was traded in the midst of the 1990 season to the Yankees, where his path and mine collided.

The 1990 Yankees were a dire squad, losing ninety-five games, the worst Yankees team on a win-loss basis since 1908 Highlanders and still the second worst ever. They had six regulars hitting .250 or worse, including catcher Bob Geren who hit .213/.259/.325 with just eight home runs across two hundred seventy-seven at-bats. Nokes' arrival then, was something of a revelation for a six year-old, as Matt hit four home runs in his first sixty at-bats while wearing the pinstripes. Adding to my fondness was the fact that although Nokes--like virtually every catcher--threw right handed, like me, he hit left handed. My father, a patient soul if ever there was one, actually purchased me a left-handed catcher's mitt (God only knows where you'd find one of those) and a catcher's mask to humor my desire to emulate my hero, who led the Yankees in homers in 1991 and was second on the team with twenty-two jacks in 1992. By 1993 however, the beginnings of the team that would evolve into the Yankee Dynasty was forming and Nokes was relegated to part-time status behind Mike Stanley.

Unless my memory fails me--always a possibility--the last time I saw Nokes was during this game when he struck out as a pinch-hitter in the ninth with the tying runs on base. He saw limited time for the Yankees during their 1994 season, but had moved onto
Baltimore by the time the strike was over and split that season--his last in the Majors--between Charm City and Colorado. He played and managed in the Independent Leagues for a few years but I was unable to turn up anything about him since he left as manager of the Joliet JackHammers after the 2003 season.

Sunday, October 30, 2005

October 30th, 1975

John Montefusco Wins Rookie of the Year Award

With the 2005 Rookie of the Year Awards due to be announced a week from tomorrow, I thought today would be a good opportunity to look back on the award. Rookie of the Year is funny thing, because it is voted--ostensibly--on the performance of a player that year, rather than their future chances. This often results in votes that appear, with benefit of hindsight and without benefit of context, as absurd. The National League 1975 vote, for example, seems comical. Although John "The Count" Montefusco had an average career as a pitcher (he would finish 90-83, 3.54), the man he beat out is an all-time great, and Class of 2003 Hall of Famer, Gary Carter. But push-come-to-shove, Montefusco was simply a better player in 1975, going 15-9 with a 2.88 ERA. Carter was no slouch himself, he hit .270/.360/.416 while splitting time behind the dish and in the outfield (he wouldn't become a full time catcher until 1977) but "The Count" was simply better.

Blessed with hindsight and ignorant of context, it is almost impossible to find a period longer than three to four years when a vastly inferior player triumphed over a superior one. In 1974 George Brett finished behind Mike Hargrove--who had managed the Indians for three years by the time Brett retired--and Bucky Dent. The National League's 1982 award went to Steve Sax, while another second baseman, Ryne Sandberg (Hall of Fame Class of 2005) languished in ninth place. In 1984, Alvin Davis won the award over both Kirby Puckett and Roger Clemens. In 1995 Marty Cordova won the award but has seen the second, third, fourth, fifth, sixth and ninth place finishers all emerge as better players than he. All of those awards however, were defensible at worst and correct at best. Something to remember next time you stroll down the list of Rookie of the Year award winners and see names like Bob Hamelin (1994 AL over Manny Ramirez) and Wally Moon (1954, over Ernie Banks and Hank Aaron) on the list.

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