Saturday, February 11, 2006

February 11th, 1997

Jackie Robinson Honored

1997 marked the fiftieth anniversary of Jackie's debut for the Dodgers and so he was honored in a variety of ways. That year, all Major League players wore a patch to commemorate Robinson's having broken the color barrier, large-scale copies of the patch were displayed in some stadiums and, most famously, #42--Jackie's number--was retired by all teams in Major League Baseball. (Players currently wearing the number were grandfathered, today only one, Mariano Rivera, remains.)

Of course, the greatest honor Robinson received was announced today. General Mills, the makers of Wheaties, announced Jackie would not only be featured on the ordinary box of Wheaties but also become the first man honored by simultaneously appearing on the front of Honey Frosted Wheaties and Crispy Wheaties 'n Raisins. I'm sure when he became the first black man to play Major League Baseball, striking a blow for diversity and battling racism he did it not only for altruism, but also in the hope of someday being featured on all three kinds of Wheaties at the same time in tribute.

Friday, February 10, 2006

Editor's Note: Before I get to today's entry, I'd like to extend my sincere thanks to all of you who visit this blog. Today is less than halfway through February and I have already had more visitors this month than I had in all of February 2005. It is very flattering to think I have gotten almost 8,500 visits in the thirteen and a half months I've been writting this, and I hope you will all continue to come by. As always, comments are welcome to the e-mail address at left.

February 10th, 1954

Larry McWilliams Born

I originally had a snide comment planned here, something about how McWilliams looks like the kind of guy you’d expect to find lurking in your bushes when you get up in the night to get some water. Instead, I turned up two things that earned him more than just a smart-ass remark.

For one McWilliams lasted as long as he did—thirteen years as a starter and reliever, including a fifth place finish in the Cy Young voting in 1983—in part because of a herky-jerky delivery, one that was taught to him by Johnny Sain. Sain is most famous for his part in “Spahn and Sain and pray for rain,” but was also a highly, highly regarded pitching coach for many years. (Jim Buoton speaks highly of him in Ball Four) and taught McWilliams the wind-up while in the minors. Second, like Jon Lieber and a handful of others, McWilliams pitched with great expediency—“as if he was double-parked”—according to one-time centerfielder and then broadcaster Duke Snider.

Thursday, February 09, 2006

February 9th, 1946

Preacher Roe Fractures Skull

Preacher Roe was a pretty good pitcher for the Dodgers for a number of years, going 22-3 in 1951 and was a five-time All Star. He was also, incidentally, a truly terrible hitting pitcher batting a lifetime .110 with three extra base hits in six hundred and twenty at-bats and finished with a career OPS+ of -24 (the lowest one can go is -100).

Anyway, the titular skull fracture took place during a basketball game in the off-season. Reports refer, but Roe was either acting as a coach or referee and got into a fight with a referee or coach about a call in the course of which he suffered a fractured skull. Roe was able to pitch in 1946 but largely mediocre, it was not until 1948--after he had been traded to Brooklyn from the Pirates--that Roe found his form again. The fractured skull is generally thought to be responsible for changing Roe from a power pitcher into a junkballer, a change which might be true although the correlation somewhat escapes me.

This caught my attention in large part because it seems as though basketball as been rough on baseball players over the years. Bucky Harris, who won a World Series as a player/manager with the Senators and as a manager with the Yankees--he's in the Hall of Fame--was once admonished by his owner for playing basketball in the off-season. And famously, Aaron Boone blew out his knee playing basketball during the 2003-04 off-season, an event which set off the course that eventually put Alex Rodriguez on the Yankees. Evidently, once you take them off the dirt and onto the hardwood, baseball players become a rather fragile lot.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

February 8th, 1996

Del Ennis Dies

Ennis was an outfielder for the Phillies in the 40s and 50s; he had a reputation for being a good RBI man, driving in one hundred or more seven times. Ennis' best year was 1950 with a league leading one hundred and twenty-six for the "Whiz Kid" Phillies, although like nearly all the Phillies in the World Series that year he was shut down hitting just .143 with no RBIs. Of course, as a team the Phillies hit just .203 with three RBIs, so Ennis was hardly the only one at fault. The 1950 performance, Ennis was pretty consistent, a fact that the Philly fans--they were tough even then--apparently didn't like, expecting more out of a local boy so Ennis was consistently booed.

Ennis also had a reputation for being a fighter, having once been selected by Joe Garagiola as a member of the All-Star brawler team. Somewhat paradoxically, Ennis was also a teetotaler, although I suppose my image of all the tough guys in baseball going out, throwing some punches then throwing a couple down might just be all in my head. Either way, Ennis obviously learned some people skills, as he ran a bowling alley in Philly for several years after his playing career ended and died in Huntingdon Valley, just outside of the city proper.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

February 7th, 1949

Joe DiMaggio Signs Contract

This was no ordinary contract for "Joltin' Joe" as it made him the first player to make $100,000 for a season, worth about $775,000 in today's dollars. DiMaggio was coming off one his better years in 1948, although one that marked a rare World Series without the Yankees during DiMaggio's tenure. (Excluding the seasons DiMaggio was in the war, 1943-1945, the Yankees played in the World Series in ten of DiMaggio's thirteen seasons, winning nine.) DiMaggio suffered something of an off year in '49, playing in just seventy-six games, although he still managed to win enough MVP support to finish twelfth in that year's voting.

The contract was more interesting, however, for being another point on the continuing climb of baseball salaries. Babe Ruth had made an estimate fifty thousand in 1922--about a half a million in modern dollars--but DiMaggio and his breaking the $100,000 ceiling would not come for another twenty-seven years. It would be an even longer time, thirty-years, until the $500,000 barrier was cracked, this time by Mike Schmidt, who earned it in 1977 for the Phillies. Schmidt's contract opened the floodgates, however, as it just two years later that the Astros gave Nolan Ryan a contract for an even million.

In another twelve years, Roger Clemens received more than five million from the Red Sox for his services in 1991 and by 1996 the White Sox had decided Albert Belle was worth more than ten million a season. Kevin Brown marked the fifteen million mark when the Dodgers gifted him a seven-year contract (one that Yankees just finished this past season) after the 1998 season. Just two years later, the Red Sox again broke a new salary barrier, this time making Manny Ramirez the first to break twenty million, an amount that was soon shattered with the announcement of the twenty-five million average Alex Rodriguez would be receiving.

As of now, no one has come close to topping A-Rod's record, and it looks like it might be a long while before anyone does. But then, who could've guessed in 1949 that within just over half a century the highest paid player would have a salary two hundred and fifty times higher than what DiMaggio was getting. I guess we'll just have to keep watching.

Monday, February 06, 2006

February 6th, 1927

Smoky Burgess Born

"Smoky Burgess was fat. Not baseball fat like Mickey Lolich or Early Wynn. But FAT fat. Like the mailman or your Uncle Dwight. Putsy Fat. Slobby Fat. Just plain fat. In fact, I would venture to say Smoky Burgess was the fattest man to ever play professional baseball. Of course, he was not always fat; when he was a catcher...he was merely plump, the way good hitting catchers can afford to be.


But as Burgess grew older a curious tendency began to manifest itself...the older he got and the fatter he got, the better his hitting seemed to become, until at the age of thirty-eight Smoky weighed close to 300 pounds and was hitting over .320.


I don't have any idea what Smoky is doing these days (he retired finally in 1967), but I can tell you one thing for sure, he must be an interesting and instructive sight, now that he's been out of baseball for a few years and has had the chance to really get out of shape."

~Brendan C. Boyd and Fred Harris, The Great American Baseball Card Flipping, Trading and Bubble Gum Book

Sunday, February 05, 2006

February 5th, 1977

Abraham Nunez Born

This is the Abraham Nunez who is a light-hitting outfielder, not the Abraham O. Nunez who saw major time with the Cardinals last year. I bring him up today not for his own merits, but rather to illustrate a larger point. Every day when I'm searching for topics, I go to BaseballReference's Born-On (or, if I'm feeling especially dark, Died-On) page and check for possible topics. In all the dates I've checked, February Fifth is the first I can remember that did have not a single player active in 2005. Other days have had only one or two players active in the previous season, but this is the first day when simply no one born on the day played in the previous year.

The funny thing is, February Fifth actually has a relatively distinguished history. February Fifth is the birthday of Roberto Alomar, one of the greatest second basemen in history and a sure-thing Hall of Famer. Even greater than he, February Fifth is the birthday of Hank Aaron, one of the ten or fifteen greatest players in history. There are days that haven't produced one player that could hold a candle to Alomar or Aaron, and yet February Fifth has produced both of them. Since then however, bit of a dry spell.

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