Saturday, November 19, 2005
Ted Turner Born
The success of the Braves in the John Schuerholz/Bobby Cox era has succeeded to a large extent in masking that Turner's initial years at the head of the Braves was a nearly unmitigated disaster and the team was--as recently as the late 80s, the subject of national mockery on The Simpsons. For a while, Turner was something like George Steinbrenner or Charley Finley without whatever good sense those men possessed. Turner was especially bad when it came to signing free agents. He allegedly had an inside track towards signing Reggie Jackson after the 1981 season but when Jackson arrived for a meeting, Turner was drunk and leading the bar in chants of "Reggie! Reggie!"
In things which are more than just slanderous rumor, Turner definitely was so over anxious in his attempts to sign Gary Matthews (a good but not great player) that he got himself suspended for a year on charges of tampering. During a brief period when Turner was reinstated, he put manager Dave Bristol a "ten-day paid leave" and announced he was taking over as Braves' manager. He lasted all of one game (a loss, naturally) before NL President Chub Feeney forced Turner to resign, citing the league rule that a manager could not have a financial stake in the team.
Turner also moved to put his players' nicknames on the jersey, and shortly after he acquired Andy Messersmith, Turned assigned him number 17 (Messersmith wanted 47) and decided Messersmith's new nickname was "Channel" such that "Channel 17" would now appear on the pitcher's jersey. Not coincidentally, this happened to be the channel which carried Turner's network on local cable in
Friday, November 18, 2005
Gary Sheffield Born
Now with the Yankees, after stops in
But did he really do it?
• April 23rd, 1989, Tigers at Brewers: In the top of the second, Tiger right fielder Chet Lemon reached on an error by Sheffield.
Intentional: Unlikely. While it does fit the pattern
• June 20th, 1989, Royals at Brewers: With the Brewers leading 1-0 in the seventh, Bill Buckner and Bob Boone singled. With Bill Pecota running for Buckner, Frank White singled to left-field.
Intentional: Maybe. Again the relative newness of
Intentional: Maybe. AP reports don’t describe either error, and it fits the pattern
• April 8th, 1991, Brewers at Rangers: On Opening Day, in the third inning,
Intentional: Almost certainly not. For one thing, the game was not at
So was Gary Sheffield making intentional errors or was he just later all talk? We may never truly know, but from where I sit, it looks like all talk.
Thursday, November 17, 2005
Smead Jolley Dies
Yes, that really was his name and no, I don't know what the story is. At first blush, actually, his whole career is kind of an I don't know what the story is. He made his debut in 1930 as a twenty-eight year rookie and immediately proved he could hit, posting a .313/.346/.492 line with sixteen home runs, good for tenth in the league. He was the just-above-the-cellar White Sox second best hitter (behind Carl Reynolds) and appeared in all but two games. The next year however, Jolley appeared in just fifty-four games, although he posted a similar batting line. In early April 1932 he was traded to the Red Sox and promptly posted a .309/.345/.480 line in
So...what was the story? As it turns out, Jolley was a 1930s Edgar Martinez or David Ortiz: all stick, no glove. And I mean really, really no glove. Of course, back then, there was no DH to hide players like that. In 1930 Jolley played just over a hundred and fifty games in the outfield. He made fourteen errors, a rate which isn't quite Hundlelian--although his 1931, 5 errors in twenty-games is pretty close--but it was still lousy. More than however, Jolley was widely considered the worst defensive outfielder of the decade. There is an almost surely apocryphal story that he once made four errors on the same play, first allowing a well hit line drive to go through his legs (Error #1), then allowing the rebound off the wall to go through his legs (#2), then bobbling the ball while trying to pick it up (#3), and then airmailing the cut-off throw (#4). I don't know why teams never tried him at first base, although perhaps if a man could have that story plausibly told about him, it is best to keep him out of the infield. Jolley did at least have a sense of humor about the whole thing, claiming the "One-a-Day" vitamin company had named their product after his error total.
Jolley was always a welcome presence in the minors however, where his defensive follies were better tolerated, as he led various minor leagues in batting six different times. There are plenty of players like Jolley, just born at the wrong time. That's Smead's cross to bear, a shame he had to live with the name too, however.
Wednesday, November 16, 2005
Herb Washington Born
One of the most unique players in the history of the game, Herb
Tuesday, November 15, 2005
Carl Yastrzemski Wins MVP Award
I suppose I should be nicer to sportswriters, since they've done pretty well in their awards this year, and I was rather critical of them just a few days ago. But I gotta call 'em like I see 'em and there's a problem. Not with the winner, of course, Yaz won the Triple Crown in 1967 and absolutely deserved the award. However some sportswriter somewhere cast perhaps the most baffling Most Valuable Player vote in history. Yaz received nineteen of the twenty first place votes. The final vote went not to second place finisher Harmon Killebrew, nor to third place Bill Freehan, or to the highest placing pitcher,
Tovar had doubtless been versatile for the Twins in 1967, playing the second most games at third base, second base, and also manning time at shortstop and the outfield. On the other hand, he hit just .267 with a .691 OPS (OPS+ of 107) to Yaz's .326 and OPS of 1.040 (OPS+ of 195). And while Yaz wasn't as defensively versatile as Pepito (as the 5'9" Tovar was known); he was no slouch defensively, winning a Gold Glove for his outfield play. So what was that final voter thinking? I have no idea.
Monday, November 14, 2005
Garland Buckeye Dies
Nicknamed Gob (but no relation to GOB of the recently and tragically cancelled Arrested Development), Buckeye was a pitcher in the twenties. A rather amply man, Buckeye stood six foot but weighed in at two hundred and sixty pounds. He debuted in baseball in 1918 but was out of the game until 1925, with most of the years (1921-24) spent as a different occupation: as a guard for the
Buckeye's story can nonetheless tell us two things. For one, it tells us that if even if Buckeye never did it simultaneously, it does tell us that athletes like Deion Sanders and Drew Henson weren't the first to play baseball and football professionally. The second is more about football than baseball, but still worth noting. Buckeye was a big guy for the time, and while it is true the population has been getting bigger, athletes especially have. The Indians battery of C.C. Sabathia and back-up catcher weighs in at four hundred ninety pounds, just a score fewer than “baseball’s biggest battery” but it draws no special attention in that regard. Of course, compared to football players today, the enlargening of baseball players is relatively minor. If Buckeye were to try out as a guard for the (now
Sunday, November 13, 2005
Bob Welch Awarded Cy Young
One of the few things which constantly baffles me about voting for the Cy Young Award is the extreme overemphasis on wins. This year, for example, America League winner Bartolo Colon was better than Johan Santana in one category, wins. In everything else, Santana was superior. But voters love wins, as Bob Welch demonstrates. In 1990 Welch won twenty-seven games (against six losses) with a 2.95 ERA (a 126 ERA+). Welch struck out one hundred and twenty-seven in two hundred thirty-eight innings while allowing 1.22 base runners per inning pitched. Before we get into the numbers of the man who should've won the award, it's worth noting that Welch's season, insofar as ERA is concerned, is similar to one like Kevin Milwood's 2002 or Mark Buehrle's 2004, seasons which drew no attention from the Cy Young voters. However, the almighty win helped propel Welch to an undeserved trophy.
So who should have won the award? Well, as most questions of pitching the mid 80s through early 90s, the answer is the greatest pitcher of the last forty years, Roger Clemens. Clemens had one of the best seasons of his entire career in 1990, posting a 1.93 ERA (good for a 211 ERA+, at the time the third best post-war single season number) while tossing two hundred twenty-eight innings. Despite throwing ten fewer innings than Welch, Clemens struck out eighty-two more batters (for a total of two hundred and nine, the fifth of Clemens' twelve seasons two hundred or more Ks) and allowed just 1.08 base runners per nine innings, a number ten percent better than Welch's. The really incredible part of the voting that year is that Clemens finished third in the MVP voting, while Welch finished just ninth. So evidently sportswriters could realize Clemens was a better player in 1990, but not see how he was a better pitcher.
Fairness dictates I point out that Clemens has been the beneficiary of the wins obsession himself in 2001--when he wasn't even the best starter on his own team--and arguably again in 2004. Of course, this year Clemens was back to being the victim, so I suppose that makes him even for his career. But that doesn't mean the sportswriter notion that wins are the ultimate measure of a pitcher won't continue to leave me dumbfounded.