Saturday, November 26, 2005

November 26th, 1956

Bob Walk Born

In the past, I've done funny names those which jump out at me for their absurdity one way or the other. Those are "bad" names in baseball, but today there's the first ever "bad baseball name." Now, for a hitter, being named "Bob Walk" is not altogether a bad thing. Not as good a name as Homer Bush--although that one didn't quite work out, as Homer managed just eleven of his namesake hit--but still not a bad name. For a pitcher however, it’s a pretty terrible name. And, appropriately enough, Bob's problem was, in fact, the walk. His strikeout rate was nothing special, but high enough that he could've survived if he worked to keep guys off the bases. The problem however, was that Bob was a trifle walk happy, surrendering more than three walks per nine innings, for a strikeout-to-walk ratio of under 1.3.

Now, Bob did manage a fairly long career, albeit a largely mediocre one, and has now moved onto to color commentary duty for the Pirates, so his story is largely a nice one, triumph over the unfortunate name. We can only hope that whatever secret Bob used, he has passed onto the new pitcher-with-a-bad-name, Grant Balfour, and yes, that's pronounced just like which number pitch gives the batter a free pass. Good luck, Grant.

Friday, November 25, 2005

November 25th, 1993

Burgess Whitehead Dies

A middle infielder, albeit one who saw most of his time at second base, Burgess Whitehead began his career in 1933 with the Cardinals. He played just a handful of games that year. In 1934, however, he played in a hundred games for the World Series champion Cards, and would later become a regular at the keystone for the Giants on their 1936 and 1937 pennant wining squads. He is truly notable, however, because Whitehead, how can I put this nicely? He was a few chairs short of a living room set.

Following the 1937 season, and the Giants' loss in the World Series, Whitehead--who had played in all but two of the Giants' games the two previous seasons--apparently suffered some sort of nervous breakdown and had to miss the entire 1938 season. The Giants nevertheless welcomed Whitehead back after that season and he returned in 1939. Things still weren't quite perfect, however; in mid-August Whitehead was suspended for violating a team rule. In response, Whitehead dressed in full uniform and showed up at Yankee Stadium, asking to work out with the Yankees. Yankee manager Joe McCarthy, to the surprise of no one (except perhaps Whitehead), refused to let him work out and the Giants decided to take back their eccentric second baseman a few days later. The relationship was still not perfect though, as Whitehead was again suspended by the Giants later that season for leaving the team.

Whitehead continued to play for the Giants in 1940 and '41 but left after that season to join the Navy. He would spend three years fighting in World War II (there's no record, sadly, if Whitehead ever got suspended from the American Navy and attempted to drill with the Royal Navy instead) and would play briefly for Pittsburgh in 1946, but was out of baseball thereafter.

Thursday, November 24, 2005

November 24rd, 2005


What are you, nuts? It's Thanksgiving! Go, eat turkey, see family, watch (shudder) football. I'll be back tomorrow.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

November 23rd, 1898

Mother Watson Dies

That's Walter L. Watson on his birth certificate but apparently he goes down as "Mother" in the Encyclopedia. Despite much searching, I couldn't come up with any explanation of the nickname, which is not particularly surprising, as Watson was barely even a footnote in baseball history but for his eccentric nickname. He threw just fourteen rather ineffective innings in two games for the Cincinnati Red Stockings of the American Association in 1887, and shifted to the outfield in the course of one of those games; a move that must've been made for lack of players as Watson was apparently no better a hitter than he was a pitcher.

With the nickname unexplained, all I can offer Watson is a spot on the "All-Family" team along with "Pops" (Willie Stargell) and "Grandma" John Murphy, managed of course, by Wilbert "Uncle Robbie" Robinson and whose games are umpired by Darryl Cousins.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

November 22nd, 1950

Lyman Bostock Born

Lyman Bostock is a name many fans of the generations before mine remember, but one that is too often relegated to simply a name on a list for those fans since. In Bostock's case, that list is those players who died in the midst of a season. Bostock is often referred to as "especially tragic" because he had a promising start to his career, although this is a sort of logic I've never been entirely comfortable with.

Bostock was the son of a Negro League player whose name he bore, and made his debut for the Twins in 1975. He saw limited action in 1975, but made a respectable showing, hitting .282 and posting an OPS just below league average. In 1976 however, he became the Twins regular center fielder, and matured considerably as a hitter, batting .323 (good for fourth in the league) and posting a 130 OPS+. Bostock took another step forward in 1977, hitting .336--second only behind teammate Rod Carew and posted a career best 144 OPS+.

Granted free agency--one of the first big names to get it--Bostock signed with the Angels. He had an awful debut, batting just .147 in April and went to Angels owner Gene Autry offering to give back his salary. When Autry refused to take it, Bostock instead donated the money to charity. (It is this kind of behavior that makes Bostock's death so tragic, rather than his capacities as a ballplayer.) Bostock had a mediocre May but a scorching June--in which he hit .404--and after hitting nearly .300 in July and over .300 in both August and September, Bostock was hitting .296 after a September 23rd game at Chicago, with a chance for a hot last ten games to boost his average over .300 for the season.

After the game, Bostock went to visit his uncle. He was sitting in the backseat of a car when he was killed by a blast from a shotgun. Whether it was a case of mistaken identity or if the shooter was aiming for someone else has never been fully established, but either way, the shot was definitely meant for someone else. His killer severed some time in prison but was later released after being found mentally incapable of understanding his actions.

The Angels would honor their fallen teammate by finishing the season 5-2 in a last ditch effort to knock off the Royals and make the playoffs. In the end, Bostock was would finish with a career .311 average and the mystery of just how good a player he could've been.

Monday, November 21, 2005

November 21st, 1960

Mark Eichhorn Born

Mark Eichhorn made his debut for the Blue Jays in 1982, but suffered a shoulder injury, Eichhorn would not return until 1986. The shoulder injury had robbed Eichhorn of most of the velocity on his fastball and had forced him to turn to an unconventional sidearm motion. However, 1986 proved just how valuable the combination of Eichhorn's motion and devastatingly slow change-up could be. Appearing solely in relief, Eichhorn threw one hundred and fifty-seven innings with a sterling 1.72 ERA, a 14-6 record along with ten saves. (Eichhorn also had some class, turning down the chance to pitch five additional innings to meet the bare minimum and steal the ERA title for Roger Clemens.)

Eichhorn regressed slightly in 1987 but was again an effective reliever for the Jays. By 1988, either the league had begun to catch up to Eichhorn's unconventional combo or the innings total of the previous two seasons (nearly three hundred in over one hundred fifty appearances) caught up to Eichhorn and he was below average in both 1988 and '89. In 1990 however, Eichhorn regained his touch and began a string of successful seasons that would last through 1994, including excellent seasons for the Angels in 1991 and Orioles in 1994. Eichhorn returned to
Toronto in a mid-season 1992 trade and appeared in both the 1992 and 1993 playoffs for the Jays. Eichhorn was effective in extremely limited duty, appearing in exactly one game each series, and surrendering no runs in four and a third innings.

Eichhorn missed the 1995 season but returned in 1996 with the Angels, but he was below league average and retired after the year. Recently he was featured on the PBS special Smallball, as the coach of his son's Little League team.

Sunday, November 20, 2005

November 20th, 1995

Rockies Accquire Mike DeJean

I've actually written about DeJean before, and his mixed quality 2004 season. Today however, he earns his second blog for an accomplishment of a much longer time frame. DeJean was exchanged for Joe Girardi--a deal that worked out for the Yankees in 1996, of course--but didn't see any time in Colorado that year. In 1997 however, he made his debut. DeJean pitched well, posting a 3.99 ERA, mediocre at face value but actually thirty percent better than the league average at Coors Field. More relevantly, however, DeJean went 5-0 in fifty-five appearances. In 1998, DeJean would continue to pitch effectively for the Rockies, finishing the season with an excellent--again taking Coors Field into account--3.03 ERA.

The real news of DeJean's season however, came on July 3rd, at
San Diego. Coming on for starter Jamey Wright in a 2-2 game, DeJean allowed Chris Gomez to reach base, and after a sacrifice took him to second, DeJean retired Quivlio Veras and intentionally walked Tony Gwynn. Ken Caminiti then hit a RBI double, putting the Padres up 3-2. They would tack on another run in the seventh and the Rockies failed to rally, hanging DeJean with the loss. This was news because it was the first time DeJean had lost in his Major League career, which spanned, to that point, eighty-eight appearances. As it turned out, that was a Major League record for most appearances without a loss, breaking the one previously held by Phil Paine.

I'm the first to admit that this is a relatively obscure record, and not even one that
necessarily demonstrates great capabilities as a pitcher (it's basically custom made for middle relievers) but someone has to hold the record, and the overall excellence of DeJean's performances those years in Colorado, he's as deserving as the next guy, probably even more so.

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