Saturday, December 10, 2005

December 10th, 1910

Pretzel Pezzullo Born

Born John Pezzullo, Pretzel appeared in the Majors in just two seasons, the second of which was just a pair of innings. He remains in memory however for his accomplishments in the nickname department. There was a ballplayer in the 1880s and 90s known as "Pretzels," but unlike Pezzullo, the nickname failed to stick to such a degree as it did with Pezzullo.

Besides the alliterative qualities, Pezzullo's nickname comes from his unique wind-up. One baseball magazine appears to describe the lefty's wind-up as featuring a pronounced leg kick followed by a sidearm angle. The magazine concluded that the batter "is sometimes so bewildered by the whole business he forgets to swing." Thus, from all the contortions, Pretzel was born.

I don't know the story on why Pezzullo only lasted the two seasons; given his minimum number of innings in 1936 (the second year of his career) I suspect injuries were a factor, but I can't say for sure. However unsuccessful his career was though, he's always got a helluva a nickname to go back on.

Friday, December 09, 2005

December 9th, 1957

Steve Christmas Born

Well, it is that time of year. You might think Steve has a decent shot at being the best player with a holiday name--there are, after all, few people named "Jim Thanksgiving" or, say, "Jacob Chanukah." However, there is no miracle for Steve Christmas, alas. Christmas played three years in the Majors in the eighties for three different teams, but never saw action in more than twelve games in a season, and played only twenty-four in his entire career, posting a rather limp .162/.197/.297 line.

So who was the best holiday player? That honor lies with Luke Easter. Easter a Negro League star who didn't make his Major League debut until age thirty-three with
Cleveland. (Although until much later in his life Easter claimed he was born in 1921 and therefore just twenty-eight.) He became a regular a season later. Easter hit twenty-eight home runs (sixth in the league) and drove in over a hundred runs while hitting .280. Easter would have the best year of his career two years later in 1952 when he posted a 141 OPS+, hit thirty-one home runs--good for second in the league behind teammate Larry Doby--and finished thirteenth in the MVP voting. Easter lasted with the Indians until 1954 and continued to play in the minors through 1963 (when he was forty-eight). Easter's final stop was the Rochester Red Wings, whom he joined while also serving as President of Luke Easter Sausage Company and offered five pounds of sausage to any Red Wings player who hit a home run.

Easter died in 1979 when he was killed by an armed robber at the bank where he was working at the time. His legacy remains both the question of what kind of player Easter could've been had he played his whole career in the Majors and of course, the post as the greatest holiday player.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

December 8th, 1976

Reed Johnson Born

Johnson is a light-hitting outfielder who has seen time for the Blue Jays as both a regular and fourth outfielder. What drew me to him today is not, however his capacities as a player, but rather his date of birth. In 2004 the Blue Jays' outfield was composed more often than not of Johnson in left, Vernon Wells in center and Alexis Rios in right. While Rios was born February 18th (in the marvelously named "Coffee, Alabama") Wells was also born on December 8th, albeit two years later.

So the question then is has there ever been a regular starting outfield in which all three players shared the same birthday? It would seem like a statistical unlikelihood, but in point of fact it has almost certainly happened. There is a parlor game centered around that if you take a room of thirty random people, it is likely two share a birthday. (As this site demonstrates, when you plug in "30" a date will match up an overwhelming amount of the time.) Given how small a number of people are required to share just one birthday, it seems more than possible that Major League Baseball--which has had nearly two hundred and fifty outfielder combinations since 1998 alone--managed to assemble a same birthday-ed regular outfield. (Incidentally, given the huge number of outfield combinations that have existed, some for just an inning or two, I'm even more positive that three men with the same birthday have been in the outfield together at some point.)

Despite much searching, I haven't been able to find anything on an outfield that featured three players all born on the same day. But I remain convinced of its existence. And who knows, if the Yankees trade for Ryan Kelso and Damon Hollins, they can add them to the Hideki Matsui outfield and make me look smart. Of course, it'd make them look dumb giving up Gary Sheffield just for a birthday novelty. But I guess stranger things have happened.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

December 7th, 1995

Tino Martinez Traded to Yankees

Obviously a good move for Tino, despite concerns of how fans would react to his replacing Don Mattingly at first base; Tino is now hugely popular in New York and won four series, five pennants and six division titles in seven years with the Yankees. On the whole though, December Seventh--Franklin Roosevelt's "day which will live in infamy"--proved quite a day for Tino in 1995. First, of course, he discovered he was officially switching coasts and teams. Martinez also decided to make himself at home in New York and signed an extension with the Yankees. As if all that wasn't enough, Martinez's wife also gave birth to the couple’s third child, Victoria.

After all the activity of
December 7th, 1995, I think it is safe to say we all know what Martinez did on December 8th: Got some sleep.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

December 6th, 1937

Freddie Velazquez Born

"Gary [Bell] has come up with a good nickname for Freddy Velazquez. Freddy just sits there in the bullpen, warming up pitchers, and he never gets into a game and just looks sad. So Gary calls him Poor Devil."

~Jim Bouton, Ball Four

Editor's Note: Velazquez was on the Seattle Pilots with Bouton and Bell from the beginning of the season through early June when he was purchased by the A's. He appeared in six of forty-six games. Multiplied over a full season, that's about twenty-one games, or less than one a week. Poor Devil, indeed.

Monday, December 05, 2005

December 5th, 1973

Ron Santo Declines Trade

This is the kind of thing which is probably only interesting to me and other people who consider writing about baseball every day for a small (but much appreciated) web audience the very peak of a good time, but such is life. This isn't notable for being the first time a player had protested a trade--it happened all the time, but rather the circumstances surrounding it. Santo, the longtime Cubs' third baseman (and now broadcaster) who will hopefully someday be inducted into his rightful place in the Hall of Fame, was to be traded to the Angels for a pair of pitchers. Santo declined however, being the first player to do under the now common but then new arrangement that a player could decline a trade if he had been in the Majors for ten years and with his current team for five. Forced to scuttle their initial plan, the Cubs instead found a trade both they and Santo were happy with, moving him from the North Side to the South, as Santo spent the last year of his career with the White Sox.

There's plenty to remember about Ron Santo's career and life (as I mentioned earlier, he should be in the Hall of Fame) but there's nothing like some trivia to round off a player's career. So there you are: Ron Santo, the first 10-and-5 man.

Sunday, December 04, 2005

December 4th, 1957

Lee Smith Born

Among counting statistics, most people can tell you leaders of the prominent ones. Most home runs? Hank Aaron. Most hits? Pete Rose. Most wins? Cy Young. Most strikeouts? Nolan Ryan. Perhaps the only stat whose leader is not a household name is one of the newer ones, saves. The all-time leader is today's birthday boy, Lee Smith who accumulated 478 over the course of an eighteen year career. (Although if Trevor Hoffman matches his 2005 save total next year, he will pass Smith by one.) Besides not being a household name, Smith is also the only leader of a prominent counting stat who is eligible for the Hall of Fame, but not in it. In fact, in three years of trying, Smith has never even come close to the requisite seventy-five percent to gain induction; he topped forty in his first year but hasn't since. And, quite frankly, Smith doesn't belong in.

That's not to re-raise the debate about closers, which I've twice discussed, but rather about Smith himself. Although he had some good years, posting a 231 ERA+ for the Cubs in 1983 and a 188 for the Red Sox and Cards in 1990, Smith's major talent was longevity and consistency. He never posted an ERA below league average until his final year and saved between thirty and fifty games ten times over his career. He served as the primary closer at one point or another for the Cubs, Red Sox, Cardinals, Orioles and Angels. Smith's career ERA is 3.03 (132 ERA+) which compares unfavorably with active leaders Hoffman (2.76, 146), Troy Percival (3.10, 150) and of course, likely the only closer who will be elected to the Hall of Fame Mariano Rivera (2.33, 197).

Smith was by no means a bad player and will make a fine addition to the Hall of Very Good (joining those I've previously inducted, Rube Marquard and Juan Gonzalez) but despite his flashy saves total, the Hall of Fame's doors are correct to stay closed to him.

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