Saturday, January 14, 2006

 
January 14th, 2005

Richard Barbieri Returns to Washington DC


I'm currently sitting in my apartment in Washington buried, I'm sorry to say, about up to my ears in groceries, clothes, blankets, towels and all the other items that move with me from New York to DC and back. As I can barely face the prospect of unpacking it, let alone unpacking it and writing something new and original here, I am going to (lazily, I know) link back to my previous entry when I moved back to Washington, on our Nation's Capital's best ballplayers.

Friday, January 13, 2006

 
January 13th, 1964

Billy Jo Robidoux Born


I'm not even going to pretend that I picked this one for anything other than the name. The last name, incidentally, is pronounced "Ro-ba-doe" such that when the name was announced as a whole, it would rhyme. I can only imagine this gave famed Yankee Stadium announcer Bob Sheppard great joy each time Robidoux came to bat.

Unfortunately for fans everywhere, Robidoux didn't come to the plate very often. He was hyped as a prospect after success in the minors and the Brewers summoned him to the Majors in 1986 as a replacement for the aging Cecil Cooper. As it turned out, Robidoux--who was just twenty-two--was obviously not ready, hitting just .227 and twice ending up on the disabled list. Whatever had brought Robidoux success in the minors would elude him throughout his big league career which also included stints with the White and Red Sox, as Robidoux never hit higher than .253 nor topped the two hundred plate appearance mark after his rookie year.

Billy Jo Robidoux may have been something of a bust as a player, but hey, he always had that name.

Thursday, January 12, 2006

 
January 12th, 1903

Win Mercer Dies


Bit of a sad one today. Mercer's death was a suicide in a San Francisco hotel. Mercer had been the best pitcher on some fairly dire early versions of the Washington Senators which is where the nickname comes from; his given name was George. Prior to the 1903 season, Mercer had been part of a barnstorming tour of Major League players around California and had recently been announced as manager of the Tigers for the coming year.

All of this meant that, at least to his contemporaries, Mercer's suicide was a great shock. Two stories of the circumstances around Mercer's decision have emerged, both with enough evidence to support them. One version was that Mercer was suffering from medical ailments that refused to get better and sent the pitcher into depression. One obituary at the time reports Mercer left a note documenting that he owned no money. This is a crucial detail as the other story about Mercer's death--and one more commonly accepted--is that Mercer took his life because he had gambled away all the money made from the barnstorming tour. This version of the story claims Mercer left a note warning of the evils of women and gambling. The only substantial evidence to the contrary for this story is that Addie Joss reportedly received six hundred dollars for his efforts on the tour, raising the question of how the players were being paid if Mercer had truly gambled away all the money.

As I said, the exact circumstances that surrounded Mercer's choice will never truly be known. All that can be known really is that some series of events prompted Mercer, a twenty-eight year old Major League star with a seemingly bright future to check into a hotel and end his life.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

 
January 11th, 1922

Frank Fanovich Born


One of the little games I play to amuse myself--often when I tire of the anagrams--is seeing how much about a player one can divine just from looking at his stats. Did he hit for decent average? Have any power? If a guy has lousy batting numbers but a ten year career, it's usually a safe bet that he was a middle infielder. The game isn't quite as much fun with pitchers but still rewarding. Having done absolutely no research on the matter, of this fact I am sure: insofar as his Major League career was concerned, Frank Fanovich could not find the plate.

Now, fairness dictates that I say I don't know why Fanovich couldn't find the plate. I don't know if he was a fireballer with no control or a junkballer who nibbled too much or what, but he couldn't throw strikes. How do I know this? Well, let's see. In his career--which was just two seasons, 1949 and 1953--Fanovich pitched a total of one hundred and five innings. In those innings, he walked a total of sixty-five men, making his career walks per nine innings a rather mighty five and a half. Of course, it wasn't just the walks. In 1953, despite pitching only sixty-one and two-thirds innings, Fanovich managed to appear in the top ten in both wild pitches (third, with seven) and hit batsmen (tied for tenth, with six).


So what was Fanovich's problem? I don't know repeated attempts at discovering it failed to turn up anything that would explain his problem. All I can tell you then is that when it came to throwing strikes in the bigs, Frank Fanovich couldn't do it.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

 
January 10th, 2000

Mariners Sign Aaron Sele


The story behind this move is more than just Sele, who was coming off eighteen and nineteen win seasons and therefore a much desired commodity, picking Seattle as the place he wanted to be and signing a contract. Sele had actually agreed to a four year, twenty-nine million dollar contract with Baltimore, but O's owner Peter Angelos acting either with advice from doctors or just on his own views cancelled the deal after having concerns about Sele's health. Sele signed a two-year deal with Seattle instead and made them look smart, pitching over tw0 hundred and ten innings each year, while winning thirty-two games (against fifteen losses).

At the time, the Angelos' decision was widely criticized as owners' meddling but history actually proved him somewhat right in practice, if not in theory. Although Sele was healthy and effective his two years in Seattle, he then signed a contract with the Angels. In 2002 Sele was ineffective most of the season, and then tore his rotator cuff. He returned in mid-2003 but was even less effective. All of this doesn't necessarily mean that Angelos was right to pass on Sele (and he was definitely wrong to be sticking his nose in how the GM picks the team) but the last two years of Sele's contract (when the O's would've been paying him a combined fourteen and a half million) brought just two hundred eighty-one innings of 5.28 ERA pitching. In the end, perhaps the O's were lucky their owner decided to make himself Doctor-for-the-day.

Monday, January 09, 2006

 
January 9th, 1975

Walt Cruise Dies


No relation, so far as I know, to Tom, Walt Cruise was a part-time outfielder in the teens and twenties. Cruise had a couple of good years--he was second in the league in OPS+ in 1921, albeit in limited time, and posted respectable numbers as a regular with the Cardinals in 1917. All said though, Cruise appeared in more than one hundred games just three times in his career. What drew my attention, however, were two bits of trivia about the man, one baseball related and one that is, well, kind of baseball related.

The baseball related one concerns Walt's power. Although you wouldn't necessarily know it by looking at his numbers--he hit just thirty home runs in his career, and never more than eight in a season--Cruise was apparently something of a strong guy. This can be established because in 1917 he became the first man to hit a ball out of the ballpark entirely at Braves Field in Boston. Interestingly, Cruise would later be traded to Boston and hit the second ball out of the park, this time wearing the home uniform.

The second thing about Cruise--and this is the bit I really like--concerns his wedding. Cruise apparently got married at home plate in between games of a doubleheader in Cincinnati. This raises two interesting questions. The first is that given Cruise never played for the Reds, what compelled them to allow an opposing player to get married in their stadium between games and why did Cruise himself even want to do that? The second question, of course, is how Cruise ever managed to convince his wife-to-be that home plate at Crosley Field was the perfect romantic place to exchange vows.

Sunday, January 08, 2006

 
January 8th, 1953

Bruce Sutter Born


As the deadline for Hall of Fame voting draws near it is, appropriately enough, the birthday of one of this year's most contentious candidates, Bruce Sutter. Sutter was for many, many years a top-flight reliever (I deliberately don't call him a "closer" since Sutter's annual inning totals were frequently twenty to forty innings ahead of the load carried by modern closers) who won a Cy Young award in 1979 and finished with an ERA more than thirty-five percent better than average. On the con side of the argument, although Sutter pitched a lot of innings by modern standards he still never topped one hundred and twenty-five and managed only 1,042 innings in a twelve year career.

Hall of Fame voters’ estimation of Sutter has improved through time; he drew less than twenty-five percent of voters to his cause in 1994, his first year on the ballot, but has since increased nearly every year and was just under sixty percent last year. It would take a relatively large leap to put Sutter in this year (one must be named on seventy-five percent of all ballots) but with a relatively weak ballot, it is possible. Personally, I hope Sutter makes it; his small innings are somewhat mitigated by the circumstances in which he threw those innings. To wit, the innings thrown by a reliever are often more crucial to the outcome of a game than those thrown by a starter.

It will not be a grand injustice if Bruce Sutter fails to reach the Hall of Fame (he's still behind Bert Blyleven in my book) but an institution that claims to honor the game's greatest players should house Sutter long before it welcomes Jim Rice, another much-debated player who drew just under sixty percent of the vote last year.

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