Saturday, February 04, 2006

February 4th, 1922

Joe Harris Reinstated

I have a theory that a lot of really crazy things happen in baseball in January and February because owners and GMs and such haven't seen a real, live meaningful game in so long that they start making calls in attempt to do something and from this some wacky things emerge. Moves as varied as Babe Ruth being sold to the Yankees and Alex Rodriguez being traded there have happened in January and February, suggesting people are just antsy for some action so odd things start happening.

On that note, we come to Joe Harris' reinstatement. Harris was a pretty decent bat who had been suspended for playing in so-called "outlaw" leagues. However, on this day, Judge Landis removed the suspension, citing Harris' service for the United States in World War I. Actually, that's not quite it. That makes it sound as though Landis rewarded Harris for being a good and dutiful soldier. What Landis actually said was that the impact of the war on Harris--who had reportedly been gassed during a battle--caused him to make poor decisions. Harris then became the first player (I can only assume) who was pardoned on account of post traumatic stress disorder.

As it turned out, if stress was Harris' problem, he might've been better off staying suspended. Harris played for the Senators in 1925 and after coming to the team in a trade, played like a house on fire, batting .323 and posting an OPS over one thousand. He was even better in the World Series, hitting .440 and slugging nearly nine hundred (five of his nine hits were doubles or homers) but the Senators lost a heartbreaker in seven games after Walter Johnson blew a one-run lead with just four outs to go. In 1927, Johnson was now on his one-time nemesis, the Pirates, and playing again in the World Series. This time, of course, there was little drama as the Yankees swept the Bucs in four games.

Harris started 1928 scorching hot, but trailed off after a trade to Brooklyn and never played in the Majors after that season. Harris lived for several more years, dying in Pennsylvania in 1968, leaving behind the memory of both his 1925 World Series performance and his legacy as the man readmitted to baseball on account of shell shock; another one of baseball's strange February stories.

Friday, February 03, 2006

February 3rd, 1969

Terry Bradshaw Born

Well, it is Super Bowl week. But no, this is not that Terry Bradshaw; this Terry Bradshaw saw limited action for the Cardinals in 1995 and '96. That Terry Bradshaw was induced to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1989 while this Terry Bradshaw had a mediocre call-up in 1995 and although he faired slightly better in '96, never saw Major League action again.

Bradshaw isn't the only player to share his name with a NFL great; there are actually two mediocre ballplayers named Jim Brown (one is a pitcher with a 2-15 record, the other a lifetime .250 hitter). Willie Davis was actually a pretty good player for the Dodgers winning three Gold Gloves and making two All-Star teams but still isn't as good as his namesake NFLer, a Packer defensive lineman considered one of the all-time greats. Another mediocre pitcher, Bill George shares his name with another great from the NFL's early days, a Bears' linebacker. Those are all relatively common names, of course, and sadly there haven't been any ball players named Dan Marino or anything else equally unique, but I remain forever hopeful.

Thursday, February 02, 2006

February 2nd, 1874

Charlie Frisbee Born

Charlie Frisbee managed the rare feat of having not only a great actual name, but a pretty good nickname as well. Of course, being born in 1874 and having died in 1954, Frisbee never got to see the flying disc that shared his name become the huge hit it was. The Wham-O company (itself a dandy name) didn't actually give Frisbees their best known name until 1958 so Charlie was probably the last member of the Frisbee family who lived without the occasional--or more--puns and such.

Being that his name was at time nothing more than a spelling variety of a small New England bakery, Frisbee had to be given a nickname. I sometimes complain that modern nicknames aren't as good as their predecessors and while Frisbee's nickname doesn't seem so great at first, it grows on you. In his playing day, Frisbee was known as "Bunt." I think that has a certain utilitarian charm about it; some olde-timey manager sits in the dugout (that's probably an anachronism but never mind), knowing he has to move the runner over and wondering who can be reliably counted on to do the job. He looks over the bench...who can be called upon in this situation? Why, "Bunt" Frisbee, of course, he of eight sacrifices in less than one hundred seventy-five at bats.

Plus, "Bunt" Frisbee is, let's face it, just fun to say.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

February 1st, 2001

Jim Leyritz Signs with Mets

Leyritz would never see any action for the Mets, failing to make the team out of Spring Training and so moving into retirement. These days "The King" writes an occasional column for and hosts a show on Leyritz is probably best known for the home run he hit in the 1996 World Series which is now regarded as the turning point which turned the Torre Yankees into the late 1990's dynasty they would become.

I'm--obviously--very fond of that moment, but my all-time favorite Jim Leyritz story actually comes from another World Series. In 1999 Leyritz was traded to the Yankees in mid-season (for someone named Geraldo Padua whom I have never heard of before and probably never will again) and added to the roster for the World Series. In Game Four, after the Braves had closed the Yankees' lead to 3-1, Leyritz was sent up to pinch hit Darryl Strawberry against lefty Terry Mulholland. Leyritz promptly drove a home run to give the Yankees a three-run lead they would not relinquish, winning the World Series as Mariano Rivera went through the Braves 1-2-3 in the ninth.

What I like about this story is two things. The first is that it gives Leyritz a cool bit of trivia, his last World Series (and post season) at-bat resulted in a home run--I think he's still the last guy to have done that although I'm not positive. The part of the story I really like though concerns Leyritz's reaction. As you might've guessed by his nickname Leyritz always thought rather highly of himself. That opinion is widely believed to be part of the reason he was traded after the 1996 season despite his heroics. Leyritz was always widely known as a great post-season home run hitter; he is third all time in HR/AB among those with five or more. Anyway, upon his return to the dug-out, Leyritz was mobbed by teammates patting him on the back, giving high-fives, and so on. Leyritz waited until everyone had settled down and the bench waited for him to say something, perhaps along the lines of "Hell yeah!" or "Damn I'm great!" Instead Leyritz turned to his teammates and said the only thing a rational man could say having just hit his eighth post season home run in sixty-one at-bats: "I don't know."

Tuesday, January 31, 2006

January 31st, 1893

George Burns Born

George Burns is sometimes included in lists of guys who inexplicably won the MVP Award, especially as it pertains to having robbed Babe Ruth in 1926. That year Burns put together a good year hitting .358 and drove in one hundred and fourteen runs, good for second in the league. Ruth meanwhile put together another Ruthian season, finishing second in the batting race with a .372, slugging forty-seven home runs (more than twice what the closest guy had; the Babe was practically playing a different game) and winning the OPS+ title by nearly seventy-five points. Ruth, however, failed to receive a single MVP vote so the award went to Burns instead. This isn't because of the foolishness of sports writers--not directly anyway--but instead because of a rule which existed in Major League Baseball for some time dictating that once a player had won a MVP Award (as Ruth did in 1923) he was thereafter ineligible to ever win it again. When one looks at Barry Bonds' six MVP Awards, it is important to remember that whatever else one thinks of the man, he would probably still be looking up at Ruth if not for that rule.

Burns was known as "Tioga George," which must've been after a place he grew up. Burns' listed place of birth is Niles, Ohio but I imagine 1893 records are a little shaky and he could've moved besides. According to my research, there are Tiogas in several states, although the closest to Burns' place-of-birth seem to be the ones in Pennsylvania and West Virginia which are about equidistant, or so it appears from my eyeballing Google Earth. The official Tioga, Pennsylvania web page makes no mention of Burns, so just which Tioga he was from may forever remain a mystery. And who knows, maybe he was just a big fan of bike seats.

Monday, January 30, 2006

January 30th, 1984

Jeremy Hermida Born

As anyone who reads this regularly (or has just stumbled onto one of the entries through Google) knows I'm a big fan of obscure records, two grand slams in one inning, that kind of thing. I like discovering players who have these kinds of records in the course of my research, but what I really like is when someone establishes one of those records and I notice, filing the information away for a future entry.

All of which is a very longwinded way of bringing us to a piece of information you probably heard of last year, but I'm still using it. Prior to Hermida--a pretty good Marlins' prospect by the way--only two men had hit a grand slam in their first Major League game. One was, of all things, a pitcher, Bill Duggleby, who did it for the Phillies in 1898 and Bobby Bonds in 1968. Bonds hit the granny in his third plate appearance but Duggleby did one better and actually hit the slam in his first at-bat ever. (As an aside, Duggleby was not that great of a hitting pitcher, although he did manage to drive in fifty-one runs in an eight year career.)

Hermida though managed to narrow the category down even farther and in doing so set an obscure record that figures to be around at least as long as we are. (Of course now having said that, six or seven people will do it this year to spite me.) Hermida was a September call-up for the Marlins having put up good numbers in Double-A. Losing 10-1 to the Cardinals, but having the bases loaded, manager Jack McKeon decided to use Hermida, who had yet to come to the plate in a Major League game, as a pinch-hitter. Facing Cards' reliever Al Reyes, Hermida went to a 1-1 count and promptly smacked Reyes' next offering over the right field wall for a grand slam.

This would be a marginally better story if Hermida's grand slam prompted a big comeback but, alas, the Marlins lost the game 10-5. Nonetheless, it still gives him one of my much-loved obscure records: first Major League player to hit a grand slam as a pinch hitter in his first Major League game.

Sunday, January 29, 2006

January 29th, 1989

Game Winning RBI Retired

My past ratings have included a very brief one on baseball's most inane current statistic, the hold. The hold is awarded to a pitcher who enters a game in a save situation, records an out and leaves without giving up the lead. That's an improvement on the hold's previous rule when a pitcher was credited with one only so long as he had not surrendered the lead, with no regards to whether or not he recorded an out, but still pretty bad.

Of course, compared to the game-winning RBI, the hold is fantastic. At its face, the game-winning RBI seems like a good concept; even if clutch hitting isn't a repeatable skill (a hotly debated topic in baseball circles) it does have value on a year-to-year basis in seeing who drives in the winning run. At the least it would be interesting and fun, if not necessarily useful. The problem was that the statistic was almost absurdly loose in its definition of "game-winning" RBI in that any run that put a team ahead for good was considered game winning. Now, I suppose I have to concede that's true in the absolutely literal sense but that's not really the point. If a guy hits a single in the fourth inning to break-up a 3-3 tie in a game his team goes on to win 7-3 that's not really anyone's idea of clutch, compared to something like hitting a walk-off three-run homer when down by a pair. Moreover, because of the details of the thing, it was possible to accumulate huge numbers of RBIs without ever having a "game-winning" RBI.

On account of all these flaws (plus the element that it was possible, on account of errors and such, to actually win a game with a GW RBI which only makes the stat more absurd) it was retired today despite having been introduced just a few years earlier in 1980. The all-time leader in GW RBI, for what its worth is 'Mex' Keith Hernandez with one hundred and twenty-nine; Hernandez also holds the single-season record of twenty-four, set with the Mets in 1985.

As a postscript, the hold (itself a relatively recent concept; it was invented in 1986) is still not an official MLB statistic--unlike the GW RBI was--and hopefully with Major League Baseball having learned from their previous folly never will become one.

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