Saturday, January 28, 2006

January 28th, 1982

Paul Schreiber Dies

Generally when I'm researching blog topics every few days I come upon a player who prompts a "What the hell...?" kind-of reaction from me. Sometimes it's guys who accomplished a fair amount but I've never heard of them (such was the case with Bill Madlock) but more often than not it's just something that makes, without any context, no sense. Such is Paul Schreiber. As his BaseballReference page shows, Schreiber pitched a grand total of twenty and a third innings, divided up among three seasons: 1922, 1923 and 1945. So...what the hell?

As you might've guessed, there is a story here. Schreiber was a not-very-good Major League pitcher and his sixteen inning, two year cup of coffee with Brooklyn in 1922-23 was apparently enough to keep him chugging away in the minors until 1931 but that still leaves us with fourteen years unaccounted for until Schreiber suddenly reappears pitching for, of all people, the Yankees. The story is that at some point in those fourteen years, apparently towards the beginning, Schreiber gained employment as the Yankees' batting practice pitcher and a coach.

Cut to 1945, and the Yankees (who would finish in fourth place that year, the last of Joe McCarthy's tenure) were being creamed by the Tigers late in the season. Deciding that rather than waste one of his actual hurlers in a lost cause, and taking advantage of the rather looser enforcement of roster rules in that period, McCarthy called upon his long-time batting practice pitcher to finish up the game. Perhaps on talent, but more likely on account of the Tigers' indifference in a blow out, Schreiber wouldn't surrender any runs in his stint. McCarthy tried the trick again later the season, with less success and Schreiber would not appear in a Major League game again. But for now, mystery solved, Paul Schreiber gone from "What the hell?" to "Oh, I guess that makes sense."

Friday, January 27, 2006

January 27th, 1982

Philles Accquire Ivan DeJesus

Talk about your lousy trades. In exchange for DeJesus--who was coming off a season when he'd hit .194 incidentally--the Phils gave up their long-time shortstop Larry Bowa and a prospect. Now, to be fair, although Bowa was coming off a superior offensive season (although that's a relative term, he was pretty lousy too) he was several years older than DeJesus and thought the pair would be a wash offensively in 1982, DeJesus was a far superior player (again, relative term) thereafter.

The lousy trade part comes with the prospect. The Phils gave up a man who would hit better than both DeJesus or Bowa in 1982, was just twenty-two and would eventually have a Hall of Fame career in the form of Ryne Sandberg. Sandberg had been underwhelming in a cup of a coffee with the Phils in 1981, but in 1982 was a regular for the Cubs (albeit mostly at third base) and played well enough to earn a first place vote for the Rookie of the Year award. By 1984 Sandberg would win a MVP award along with a Gold Glove for his play, now at second.

In exchange for a marginal upgrade at shortstop, the Phillies gave up a future MVP and nine-time Gold Glove winner as well as a long-time fan favorite who would instead play out his days bouncing from team-to-team. Smooth move, guys.

Thursday, January 26, 2006

January 26th, 1935

Bob Uecker Born

Returning to a theme I hit on last year, someday, if there's any justice in the world, Bob Uecker's birthday will be a national holiday when we can all take off and watch Major League. Until then, you can enjoy the Best of Bob.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

January 25th, 1965

Brian Holman Born

When trades involving minor leaguers are discussed, they tend to be simplified as the major leaguer who was traded for the minor leaguer who eventually became a star. Sometimes this is valid; John Smoltz really was traded for Doyle Alexander and just Doyle Alexander, but more often its not. David Cone wasn’t traded for Ed Hearn, he was traded—along with Chris Jelic—for Ed Hearn, Rick Anderson and Mauro Gozzo, and despite what Annie Savoy thinks, Frank Robinson wasn’t just traded for Milt Pappas, Cincinnati also got Jack Baldschun and Dick Simpson in the deal.

The point of all this is that everyone remembers the Expos traded Randy Johnson for Mark Langston. But, of course, there’s more to it than that. The Expos traded Johnson, Gene Harris and Brian Holman to the Mariners in exchange for Langston and Mike Campbell. What is often overlooked by history is that at the time, the Mariners held out on making the deal until they received Harris. Johnson was a throw-in, a flamethrower whose walk and strikeout rates in the minors brought to mind another Bull Durham character, “Nuke” LaLoosh. Harris never panned out but Homan had success initially in Seattle—including coming within one out of a perfect game, broken up by Ken Phelps of all people—but his career ended after rotator cuff surgery in 1991. It was not until 1993 when Johnson nearly halved his walk rate of the year before when it finally became clear that Seattle had “won” the trade and done so because of The Big Unit. When that happened, Brian Holman, like Mauro Gozzo and Jack Baldschun before him, was lost to the ages.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

January 24th, 1913

Frank Navin Complains About Length of Games

Frank Navin was the Tigers' President from 1908 (when he bought into the franchise with money reportedly won in a card game) until his death in a horse riding accident in 1935. Tiger Stadium was known as Navin Field in honor of the man from 1912 when it opened until 1938 when new owner Walter Briggs named the stadium after himself.

Navin's complaint--this seems laughable now--was that games were often exceeding two hours in length. Just as everyone has a theory today for why games often top three hours (pitching changes, pick-off throws, too many TV commercials) lots of people had theories for why games lasted so long in the teens. Navin, however, might've won the award for the wackiest. According to him, games were moving too slowly because of the coaches’ boxes. Navin claimed that the boxes were too close to the catchers. This was causing the delay, you see, because the catchers had to make a determined effort to decoy their signs, otherwise the coaches could see them and relay the coming pitch to the batter.

So far as I know, Navin's idea attracted little notice and no action towards moving the coaching boxes. But next time you're sitting at home, watching the minutes tick by with only limited action and your buddies start giving their pet reason why the game is too long, give a shout out back to Frank Navin and explain how much faster the game would be if they would only move those damn coaching boxes.

Monday, January 23, 2006

January 23rd, 1938

Bob Moorhead Born

Having just done two straight blogs with Yankee titles, it only seems fair to give some equal time to their cross-town little brother, the Mets. Moorhead was an original Met in both the sense that he was a member of the 1962 club and that 1962 marked his rookie year. As it turned out, that wasn't much of a year for Moorhead, as he went 0-2 with a below average ERA for the team in just over a hundred innings. Compounding his misery of being on the worst team of all time, Moorhead also pulled a Kevin Brown and broke his hand punching a locker after a poor performance. (I suppose more accurately one would say Kevin Brown pulled a Bob Moorhead.) Moorhead was out of the majors for the 1963 and '64 season but returned to the Mets for a brief (and unsuccessful) stretch as knuckleballer in 1965.

However, despite a short and mediocre career, Moorhead is not forgotten. He holds a place in trivia history, and one that he can never lose. It was Moorhead on April 11, 1962 who Casey Stengel called in to replace starter Roger Craig, making him the first reliever in Mets' history. And it was Moorhead who pitched around (perhaps, maybe he just couldn't find the plate) Stan Musial, issuing the first walk in Mets' history. It's not much in way of distinction, but it will keep Bob Moorhead's legacy in trivia books alive forever, and that's something.

Sunday, January 22, 2006

January 22nd, 1929

Yankees Announce Uniform Numbers

Given that somewhere around ninety-five percent of people who follow baseball these days can't remember a time when uniforms didn't have numbers, it sometimes seems odd to think that the Yankees' announcement today made them the first team to ever have numbers as a regular part of their uniform. (The Yankees number assignment system, incidentally, was based on where one batted which is why Babe Ruth was #3 and Lou Gehrig #4.) In fact, it would not be until 1933 that the all teams finally had uniform numbers on their players meaning that the 2008 season will mark the seventy-fifth anniversary of uniform numbers being league-wide, although I imagine that will be a largely unnoticed event. Nonetheless, numbers are in some ways a relatively recent concept; many all-time greats (Ty Cobb, Cy Young among them) never wore uniform numbers regularly.

Of course, uniform numbers has given rise to one of baseball's great traditions, retired numbers. The Yankees were also pioneers in this regard, being the first franchise to retire a number, giving the honor to Lou Gehrig on the same day when he made his famous "Luckiest Man" speech. The most definitive list of retired numbers that I've found can be found here, and is always interesting to see who teams have retired (and who they have not) along with speculation about whose number might next be placed in a place of honor in your team's ballpark.

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