Saturday, December 17, 2005

December 17th, 1975

Bill Veeck Fires Skipper

As I am having computer trouble today, just a short bit and link back.

Friday, December 16, 2005

December 16th, 1964

Billy Ripken Born

Ah, Billy Ripken, the Dave Sisler of the Ripken family. Of course, as I've illustrated before, being the lousier brother of a pair hardly puts one in exclusive company. All that being said, there is perhaps no more complete list of lousy brothers--all of whom have played for one team--than "The Crappy Brother" list maintained by the fine staff at Dodger Blues. So, as we approach the holidays, please, take time out to remember those poor, less talented souls, doomed to play in their shadow of their siblings.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

December 15th, 1967

Mo Vaughn Born

One year when I was six or seven my father woke me up very early so that he and I could go see the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade balloons being inflated. This is something of a minor New York tradition, arguably more of a "true" New Yorker kind of thing than stationing oneself in Times Square to watch the parade and half-freeze to death. Anyway, I mention this because watching those balloons being inflated is pretty much what is called to mind when one tracks the career progression of Mo Vaughn.

Vaughn was drafted out of Seton Hall (where he had been on a team with fellow Major Leaguers Craig Biggio and John Valentin) by the Red Sox and when first drafted Mo looked more or less like this. He spent only a short amount of time in the Red Sox system but did manage to pose for a photo at their Triple-A club, where you can see a bit of weight being added, especially around the face. In Mo's early days with the Red Sox, he was still relatively svelt, although by the end of his tenure (which included an MVP award in 1995) Mo had rather, well, inflated. Mo signed with the Angels after the 1998 season but suffered an injury in the season's first game to his ankle. Now off his feet, this gave Mo the chance to really show what he could do when mostly sedentary, and soon the svelt slugger was little more than a memory. After a pair of largely unsuccessful years with the Angels in which he failed to capture his performance from Boston, Mo missed the entire 2001 season with an injury and was traded to the Mets for the 2002 season. Having not played in a season, it was clear Mo had dedicated himself to a hard routine of eating, eating and eating. There was plenty of Mets' Mo to go around.

Appropriately enough, Mo's balloon like inflation ended in New York when knee injuries (in which the weight was, pardon the expression, no small factor) finally ended his career. Mo's preferred nickname was the "Hit Dog" but to me, he'll always be the Human Thanksgiving Day Parade Balloon.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

December 14th, 1914

Charlie Faust Committed

Nicknamed "Victory," Charlie Faust was a mascot and good luck charm for the 1911 New York Giants. In July of 1911 Faust showed up in St. Louis and announced to manager John McGraw that a fortune teller had told him if he pitched for the Giants (in third place at the time) that year they would win the pennant. McGraw gave the man a shot (this happened all the time in the early days of baseball--not the fortune teller part--but people just showing up and being given a try-out) but it was plainly apparent that whatever the fortune teller had told Faust, he was no pitcher. Actually, he was more than that. In his hometown in Kansas, Faust had been known (in the ever sensitive language of the times) as the village idiot, one who was "feeble minded" and how exactly he made the journey to St. Louis is something of an enduring mystery.

Nonetheless, in something else that is rather an enduring mystery, McGraw decided to keep Faust around as a good-luck charm and mascot for the team. Before games Faust would "warm-up" in anticipation of pitching in that day’s game, run the bases and so on. As the Giants kept winning (prompted more than Christy Mathewson's three hundred plus innings at a 1.99 ERA than Faust's antics one suspects, but never mind) Faust's legend began to grow and his nickname was born. When the Giants were losing, Faust would be sent to the bullpen to once again warm-up. He missed some time with the team to perform vaudeville, telling stories and practicing his wind-up. With the pennant secured, McGraw actually let Faust pitch in a pair of games (he gave up one run in two innings) and take a turn at bat (he was hit by a pitch and allowed to come around and score). After the Giants were defeated in the World Series, Faust received a World Series share worth about a thousand dollars.

Faust stayed with the team for the start of the 1912 but McGraw finally tired of his antics and Faust was fired--despite he claims he had signed a two-year contract on a shirt collar. He resurfaced in 1914 in Portland, Oregon claiming he was walking from Seattle to New York to help the Giants win the pennant. He was committed there (listing his occupation as "professional ballplayer") but released shortly thereafter. He returned to Seattle where he wrote letters begging for a contract with the Giants but was ignored and confined to an institution permanently on this date, dying in 1915.

Today his story, a relatively sad one in many ways, is virtually forgotten as is Faust. But for one season, Charlie "Victory" Faust could say he was a valued--albeit a bit oddly--member of a pennant winning team. And there are certainly greater people who have accomplished far less.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

December 13th, 1942

Fergie Jenkins Born

Although he seems to be most often pictured these days in a cowboy hat, Jenkins' true claim to baseball trivia gold lies in the hat he should've been wearing, to wit, this one. Don't feel bad if you don't recognize it, most people don't without the full context. Now before I lose you completely, no, Jenkins never was an actual Mountie. In fact, given Jenkins was once discovered with a suitcase full of cocaine, marijuana and hashish, he's probably not really the Mountie type.

That's ok though, despite never making the RCMP, Jenkins was nonetheless a Canadian. And herein lies his trivia: upon his election to the Hall of Fame in 1991--not a terrible choice by the way, although hardly a great one--Jenkins became the first Canadian inducted into the Hall of Fame. As if that was not trivia enough, to this day Jenkins remains the only Canadian so enshrined. Jenkins is still regarded as a national hero in Canada--his conviction for the aforementioned suitcase of drugs was erased instantly after being handed down on grounds of his past behavior--and unless Larry Walker sneaks his way in figures to remain for the foreseeable future Canada's only baseball Hall of Famer.

Monday, December 12, 2005

December 12th, 1944

Tigers Accquire Skeeter Webb

I’ve written before about Ray Oyler, who was one of the worst hitting players to ever have a career of any length. I didn't know if he was the worst hitter to ever have a career like that, but I figured at the least I could say he was the worst hitter to ever be the shortstop for a World Series winning Tigers team. Well, what Richard thought, meet Skeeter Webb. I know it seems hard to believe Webb could actually be worse than Oyler as a hitter, but there you are. And, strangely enough, he managed to also be worse as a hitter while playing shortstop for the Tigers in their 1945 Championship team.

Webb's trade to
Detroit actually caused a bit of a hullabaloo, as he was the son-in-law of then Tigers' manager Sam O'Neill. O'Neill claimed he had only read about the trade in the papers after it was made, but much controversy remained. Despite Webb's performance in 1945, I imagine it was all but gone after the Tigers defeated the Cubs in a thrilling seven game series.

Sunday, December 11, 2005

December 11th, 1968

Derek Bell Born

Roger Clemens is a reason baseball is a great game. So is Pedro Martinez. Nolan Ryan? Stan Musial? Babe Ruth? Christy Mathewson? All reasons. But people like Derek Bell are reasons too. He was—and no offense intended here Derek—one of the goofiest looking players ever. He had absurdly big ears, an absurdly thick mustache, and until he was banned from doing so by the league, wore absurdly baggy pants. To compliment this, his personality was a bit unusual as well. After being traded from the Astros to the Mets prior to the 2000 season, Bell sailed his sixty-three foot yacht to Flushing Bay and lived on it for the season.

After a .266/.348/.425 season for the Mets, Cam Bonifay for reasons known only to himself and the voices in his head, signed Bell to a two-year, nine million dollar deal. After an injury plagued first season, in which he batted .173 in just forty-three games, he was massively offended by the suggestion that his job as the team’s right fielder was not guaranteed for 2002. So offended in fact that he announced if manager Lloyd McClendon even so much as suggested his job was in jeopardy “then I’m going into Operation Shutdown”. While a name like Operation Shutdown suggests a vast indifference towards one’s play, it's somewhat unclear how exactly Bell planned to distinguish his not-trying self from the trying one that had hit .173 the year before.

In the end, that question went unanswered as the Pirates released Bell and ate his four and a half million dollar deal. So Derek took his goofy face, his Operation Shutdown, his baggy pants, and sailed his yacht down the Allegheny River and into legend.

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