Saturday, December 03, 2005

 
December 3rd, 1970

Paul Byrd Born




Paul Byrd has performed the neat trick of having his career appear dead only to resurrect it not once, not twice but thrice. After two up-and-down years with the Mets, and a season and a half in Atlanta, Byrd was waived by the Braves and picked up by the Phillies. To that point he was twenty-seven years old and had thrown one hundred and twenty-five innings and had an ERA just under four and a half. However, like W.C. Fields, Byrd would rather have been in Philadelphia as he immediately took to his new surroundings, finishing the season with a 2.29 ERA in Philly and then posting a season as a league average starter the next year.

The wheels appeared to come off the tracks in 2000 though, as Byrd posted a 6.51 ERA and after an even worse start to 2001--8.10 in ten innings--Byrd was shipped off to
Kansas City. Byrd once again proved not quite ready to accept retirement however finishing the year strongly and then posting a pretty good season for a pretty awful Royals team in 2003, leading them in ERA (3.90), wins (17, almost a quarter of the Royals' wins that season), innings, strikeouts, complete games and BB/9 among other categories.

All those innings took their toll on Byrd' arm, and necessitated surgery causing him to miss the entire 2003 season. By now, Byrd was thirty-three and coming off major arm surgery. Few would've blamed him for calling it a career. Unwilling to do, Byrd instead returned to the Braves--with whom he had signed a contract prior to the arm troubles--and pitched well in 2004 for the Braves. After that season, he signed with the Angels and won twelve games in the regular season, plus one more in the playoffs.

Byrd is now thirty-five and a free agent once again, with reported offers as long as three years from teams like
Cleveland, Texas, Baltimore and the Angels. Even before whatever contract he signs for 2006 and beyond, Byrd has already made nearly twenty million dollars, money well earned for a man who has repeatedly brought his career back from the dead.



Friday, December 02, 2005

 
December 2nd, 1998

Orioles Sign Albert Belle




This, of course was the last contract Belle ever signed, a five year sixty-five million dollar contract for the 1999 through 2003 seasons. As it turned out, Belle would only play the first two years after a degenerative hip condition rendered him unable to play. Belle had previously been the model of health, at one point holding the active games played streak (it would end at three hundred and ninety-two) and playing in at least ninety percent of his team's games eight years in row, 1992-99. (I used the ninety percent rather than an actual number of games because the strike does funny things to Belle's 1994 and 1995 games played total.) Belle was also an absolutely devastating hitter as his best, three times posting an OPS+ over 170, and slugging fifty home runs in one hundred and forty-three games in 1995.

Belle presents an interesting Hall of Fame case--he's eligible this year. His career is relatively short, just fifteen hundred games and sixty-seven hundred plate appearances. However, he has impressive numbers in that time, a .295 batting average, .363 OBP and most impressively, a .564 slugging, the latter two of which are good for a career 143 OPS+, in the same range as Hall of Famers Hack Wilson, Reggie Jackson and Sam Crawford. Despite the short career, Belle still slammed nearly four hundred home runs, he retired just nineteen short.

Leaving aside Belle's well-known personality issues--Belle was rather an ass, and may or may not have corked his bat at one point--I don't think he's quite a Hall of Famer. Belle was a great hitter at his best, but mixed in some seasons that were simply good rather than great, especially once he left Cleveland (his original team) for Chicago and Baltimore. With such a short career, a player can't afford to have been anything but consistently great.



Thursday, December 01, 2005

 
December 1st, 1992

Chile Gomez Dies


It seems a trifle macabre to describe a day concerning many deaths as a "good" day, but insofar as it goes, today was a heckuva day of deaths for nicknames. In addition to the titular death, Jose Luis "Chile" Gomez (an infielder) in the thirties, today also marked the last on earth for George "Moose" Earnshaw, James Francis "Kid" O'Hara, Kyle "Skinny" Graham, Monroe "Dolly" Stark and Reuben "Dummy" Stephenson. Several of those sound like the kind of names someone would make up when writing a novel about baseball's early days, but I assure you that they are all on the level.

Of course, they're all topped by today's far-and-away best name. I don't know why, but someone in Ranger,
Texas in 1908 decided it would be a dandy idea to name their child Colonel Buster Mills. That's right, he had his rank built right into his name: Colonel. Well, at least he made a damn fine bucket of fried chicken.



Wednesday, November 30, 2005

 
November 30th, 1967

Yankees Purchase Gene Michael



Michael, nicknamed 'Stick' by someone with a sense of irony (he only hit higher than .235 twice in ten seasons while hitting .225 or less six times) was acquired by the Yankees to help shore up the shortstop position, manned primarily in those days by whatever was left of Tom Tresh. Michael was about what you would've expected, not hitting a lick, but hung around with the club until the 1975 season. Michael's best talent on the ball field was probably the hidden ball trick; he claims to have used it successful five times.

He is most notable for something else however. In Rob Neyer's Big Book of Baseball Lineups, Neyer has an essay titled The Little Move That Became a Big One, telling the story of Sandy Alderson's acquisition of Billy Beane and the contributions that move would end up making to the A's franchise. Michael's acquisition was probably not as big for the Yankees as Beane's was for the A's, but it was a big one nonetheless. Michael would spend some time managing the Yankees non-continuously in 1981 and '82, accumulating an impressive 92-76 two year record. He left to manage the Cubs for the 1986 and '87 seasons, but those would be his only post-retirement years not with the Yankees and by 1990 he was put in place as GM while George Steinbrenner was serving his suspension. Without the meddling of The Boss, Michael began to implement the program that would develop the talent that led to the Yankees' Torre-era Dynasty. Players drafted and/or developed under Michael's watch included Bernie Williams, Derek Jeter, Andy Pettitte, Mariano Rivera and Jorge Posada.

Michael served as GM until 1995 when he left the position for Bob Watson, having decided five years as Prime Minister in the
Kingdom of George was plenty. His name is often tossed about when discussing GM openings--the Yankees denied the Red Sox a chance to talk to him in 2002--and Yankee power struggles. At the moment, Michael seems to be back in favor, a fact which, given his history, can only fill a Yankee fan's heart with delight.



Tuesday, November 29, 2005

 
November 29th, 1967

Bob Hamelin Born



A few weeks ago I did a two-part "look back" on various Rookie of the Year Awards. Today, I thought I might dive into depth on one of the all-time great Rookie of the Year busts, Bob Hamelin. Truthfully, Hamelin's reputation is in large part unfair. He deserved the award in 1994, but had the misfortune of beating out a small army of players who have gone on to superior careers, including Manny Ramirez, Jim Edmonds, Rusty Greer and Brian Anderson. Furthermore, while Hamelin was the best rookie in 1994, it was a doubly-odd year. For one it was, of course, the year of the strike meaning Hamelin's .282/.388/.599 performance, good for the league's sixth best OPS+ was in just over a hundred games. (To Hamelin credit, in those games he also broke Bo Jackson's record for homers by a rookie, hitting twenty-four, two more than Jackson had managed in fifteen more games.) The bigger issue was that Hamelin was not really a prospect. He was twenty-six and had spent six years in the Royals' minor league system before being called up for a cup of coffee in 1993. Hamelin was basically a twenty-six year old who happened to have his career year in his first season, which itself was shorter than usual and spent the rest of his career failing to live up to a probably unreasonable standard.

But oh my, did he ever not live up to that standard. Hamelin's 1995 was an unmitigated disaster. Hamelin hit just .168 for the season, and suffered the indignity of being the first Rookie of the Year since Dave Righetti in 1982 to be sent back down to the minors the next season. Hamelin would eventually return to the big club, but his 1995 was a lost season. 1996 was a slight improvement for Hamelin; he returned his OPS+ to above average, but was released after the season by the Royals, just two seasons removed from his Rookie of the Year season.

Hamelin was signed to a minor-league deal by the Tigers for 1997 and actually proved a useful player that year, posting a 122 OPS+ as the Tigers' primary DH, but by now his reputation as a bust was cemented. After an unsuccessful season with the Brewers in 1998, the now thirty-one year old Hamelin spent the 1999 season with the Tigers' Triple-A affiliate but was never called up to the Majors and was out of organized baseball after that season.



Monday, November 28, 2005

 
November 28th, 1969

Robb Nen Born



Today, my time being limited on account of my trip back to DC from New York last night, I will provide a link to one of the best written piece of sportswriting, ESPN.com's "E-Ticket" story on Robb Nen, entitled "The Man Who Threw Too Much" written by Eric Neel (one of the best of the current mainstream writers). Being outside of the mainstream gives bloggers the chance to provide a new perspective, but articles like Neel's show us that the perspective from the inside isn't quite as stale as often imagined.

Sunday, November 27, 2005

 
November 27th, 1987

Babe Herman Dies



Usually known as "The Other Babe," Herman had the misfortune to be a contemporary of "The Babe," that is to say, Ruth. Herman is also known as something of a punch line, on account of his weakness in any part of the field that wasn't the batter's box. During his rookie season with the Dodgers, Herman--allegedly--doubled with the bases loaded. The runner on third scored easily, while the runner on second rounded third and headed for home and the runner on first tried to get Babe three RBIs on the play. Herman, meanwhile, had decided he was getting a triple out of all this, and was steadily chugging for third himself. The Dodgers third base coach realized this was going to be a problem and began shouting at Herman, "Back! Back!" However, in the confusion the runner who had been on second thought this was in reference to him and began retreating back to third, while the runner who had been on first arrived followed shortly thereafter by Herman. After what one imagines was a brief discussion of the rules and the joys of a nice, simple career in accounting, the umpires ruled that the runner who had been on second was out (since the base "belongs" to the lead runner) and that Herman was out for passing a runner--although it seems to me this was probably more on general principles for his having started the whole mess. The next day it was reported that "Babe Herman did not triple into a triple play, but he doubled into a double play, which is the next best thing."

Herman's other problem was that he was not exactly a defensive superstar. In 1927, despite playing in just one hundred and five games there, Herman lead the league in errors with twenty-one at first base. Deciding he could do less damage out of the infield, he was moved to the outfield in 1928 where he did indeed make fewer errors (just sixteen in roughly twenty more games) he nevertheless led the league in that total again, and repeated the dubious honor in 1929. It is probably around this time that the story began circulating that Herman had been hit on the head with a fly ball, one he denied vehemently for the rest of his life. (Having myself been struck on the head with a fly ball, I can tell you it is actually not altogether that bad, although painful, you're generally too dazed to actual feel any real embarrassment.)

Nonetheless, Herman was--in his words --a "pretty fair country hitter" who posted an OPS+ in the top ten nine times in a thirteen year career, finished second in the batting race in back-to-back years, 1929 and '30 and holds the distinction of having hit the first home run ever in a night game. He is not a Hall of Famer--despite some statements to the contrary by the ubiquitous "Old-Timers" who claim his poor defensive reputation unfairly crippled his Hall of Fame chances--but he was an excellent hitter for a sustained period and there's nothing wrong with that; if he could only play today, he'd be the DH somewhere and raking in the cash. Such are the vagaries of life, I suppose.

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