Saturday, February 18, 2006

 
February 18th, 1980

Walter Young Born


Walter Young made his debut last season for the Orioles, appearing in fourteen games and hitting .303 in the cup of coffee, not enough to convince the Orioles to keep him as he was released and replaced by new signing Kevin Millar. Given full playing time, Young probably could've performed about as well as Millar, but then the Orioles aren't really known for their brilliant team construction lately. Young meanwhile has ended up with the Padres where he probably won't see much time so his chance of becoming a Major League regular is pretty slight.

And that's a shame because Walter Young is one of the most compelling players to watch because he's just huge, an absolute mountain of a man. Young is listed on the Padres' roster as being 6'5" 320 but even that doesn't really give you a sense of the man. Squeezed into a baseball uniform he looks almost comically large--not fat, just large--especially when manning first base. Watching an O's-Yankees' game last year, one of my friends reflected that when Young was holding Gary Sheffield (listed at 6', 215) on first, Sheffield looked like he had been taken out from inside Young like one of the Russian nesting dolls. Young also has the kind of mobility and foot speed one associates with someone that size, he's the latest in a long-line to play first base with the "three-foot dive and a cloud of dust" style of defense.

As I said, Young is unlikely to see much time with the Friars this year, but if you happen to catch the beginner of a Padres' game, check the line-ups, if Big Walter Young is in there, it's worth staying to watch.


Friday, February 17, 2006

 
February 17th, 1976

Scott Williamson Born


Scott Williamson was the 1999 Rookie of the Year; he was also an All-Star that year as a crucial member of Jack McKeon's expertly managed Reds' bullpen. Williamson threw ninety three innings with a 2.41 ERA while recording twelve wins and nineteen saves. The Reds tried him as a starter in 2000; he wasn't quite as effective and was moved back to the bullpen where he stayed for the rest of his career. He was one of many tried as the closer for the Red Sox in 2003, saving all three of Boston's wins in the ALCS and some have argued that had he--and not Tim Wakefield--been on the mound in the extra innings of Game Seven, Boston could've won that series as well.

Williamson is also notable for being the most recent example of trend that has emerged in recent years, that of teams signing an injured player to a two-year contract with the understanding the player will miss all (or most) of the first with an injury and be healthy for the second. Williamson had reconstructive right-elbow surgery and has signed a two-year contract with the Cubs; optimistic reports say he will be ready by mid-season but a more reasonable expectation would be Williamson contributing in 2007. This is the third prominent time a team has done this; the Yankees carried Jon Lieber through 2003 while the Cards carried Chris Carpenter; both were rewarded with fourteen and fifteen wins respectively in 2004.

This may not ever be a widespread trend--the number of players worthy of two years of pay for one year of performance won't ever be that high--but it remains something that larger payroll teams will continue to do and for the moment, Scott Williamson is the latest example in a trend.


Thursday, February 16, 2006

 

February 16th, 1952

Barry Foote Born


Foote was a catcher who bounced around in the seventies and eighties, he made the World Series as a Yankee in 1981 but otherwise had a relatively uneventful career although he did once lead the league in sacrifice flies (with twelve in 1974). I bring him up because today is, how I can put this, rather a bodily day. In addition to Barry Foote, we also have Jerry Hairston, Sr. and my personal favorite Frank "Ribs" Raney. Meanwhile, we'll have to wait for the birthdays Bill Hands, Hal Toenes, Tsuyoshi Shinjo and, of course, Rollie Fingers.


Wednesday, February 15, 2006

 
February 15th, 1948

Ron Cey Born


Ron Cey was known as "Penguin" supposedly because of his body type; Bill James says Cey had "low knees" which were evocative of penguins and hence the nickname was born. I don't really see it, but who knows? Maybe it was a had-to-be-there kind of thing.

Cey is best known as the third baseman of the Dodgers' infield--Cey at third base, Steve Garvey at first, Davey Lopes at second and Bill Russell at short--that stayed together for eight years (1974-1981, they had the same catcher for every year of that run but '81) which is easily the longest in history, no one even comes close. It was also pretty damn talented; it's no surprise the Dodgers won four pennants (and an average of ninety-two games, leaving out strike-shortened '81) during that time.

But above all it was the stability that impresses me. Perhaps the closest to the Dodgers' in third base consistency and performance were the Orioles' who had only Doug DeCinces and the great Brooks Robinson manning the hot corner from '74 to '81 but of course the rest of the infield changed around those two. In contrast, the Mets who are famed for their problems at third base (they've had more than one hundred twenty-one players at third over the years; David Wright would seem to have solved that problem, however) who managed six different starters in the period and an astounding thirty for the entire eight-year period. While the Dodgers had Cey reliably maintain his position more often than not, the Mets trotted out, among others three future managers (Joe Torre, Bobby Valentine, Rod Gardenhire), two members of the Miracle Mets (Wayne Garrett and Jerry Grote) and a member of the 1986 Mets (Wally Backman). They even tried Dave Kingman there for twelve games which must've been a trip. Kingman had bad reflexes for left field, God only knows what he was like at third base.

Getting back on track, the Dodgers infield was broken up when Steve Sax replaced Lopes in 1982, Cey was shipped out a year later to the Cubs where he continued to perform reasonably well; he retired as a still above-average hitter and is currently an upper-tier member of the Hall of Very Good.


Tuesday, February 14, 2006

 
February 14th, 2005

Richard Barbieri Plays Mr. Blackwel


Having done this for a year, I now have a nearly complete reserve of past entries to fall back on for days in which I don't really feel like writing anything. Today isn't necessarily one of those days--in honor of Valentine's Day I was considering doing an entry on past Valentines in baseball, from Ellis to Bobby--but ultimately decided to instead call back to one of my past entries, and one of my early 2005 favorites, my (exhaustive) review of the ten best and worst uniforms of my lifetime.


Monday, February 13, 2006

 
February 13th, 1971

Todd Wililams Born

"You know, I didn't think I was that bad a ballplayer, but they're making a believer out of me."
~Jim Gosger, after being sent down to Triple-A, quoted in Ball Four

Those words were spoken by Gosger, but capture a sentiment thought by every journeyman ballplayer at one point or another. I have no doubt that thought went through Todd Williams head in the course of his journey which has, most recently anyway, found him as a relatively valued member of the Orioles' bullpen.

Williams began his travels in 1990 when he was drafted, in the fifty-fourth round, by the Dodgers. Shocking for someone drafted that low (exactly 1,387 people were drafted ahead of him) Williams broke in with the Dodgers in 1995, pitching a rather underwhelming nineteen and a third innings with a 5.12 ERA. In early September of that year, the Dodgers sent Williams to the A's in exchange for minor-leaguer Matt McDonald. Williams missed the 1996 season, I don't know why, and was released by the A's in January of that year. Signed by the Reds in February (on the third actually, a nice early birthday present) and assigned to their Double-A team in Chattanooga.

Williams worked his way up to Triple-A in 1997 and pitched there in 1998, posting sub-2.50 ERAs at every stop. Called up the Reds Williams was back in the majors again but found them as unwelcoming as in 1995 as he posted a 7.71 ERA in nine and a third innings. After an underwhelming beginning to the season in Triple-A in 1999 the Reds sent Williams to the Mariners in exchange for Kerry Robinson. Williams had only a short stay at the M's Triple-A team before called up to the big leagues once more, and pitching his first ever above average innings, this time nine and two-thirds at a 4.66 ERA.

Williams, who was by now almost thirty years old, failed to make an impression however and spent all of 2000 with Triple-A Tacoma posting a 2.98 ERA. In November of that year the Mariners released Williams and he signed with the Yankees in January of 2001. Williams would never see Triple-A for the defending champs, pitching briefly in rookie ball (on some sort of rehab, I assume) and in Double-A before being called up to the big club. Once again Williams struggled at the Major League level, posting a 4.70 ERA in just over fifteen innings.

This began a new period of wandering for Williams, he became a free agent after the 2001 season and spent the 2002 and 2003 seasons toiling in Triple-A for the Expos and Devil Rays, respectively. Williams was signed and released by the Rangers without having thrown a pitcher for the organization and found himself, in mid-2004 as a thirty-three year old pitcher with a 5.46 career Major League ERA who had, in the course of his career, played in Great Falls, Bakersfield, San Antonio, Albuquerque, Los Angeles, Chattanooga, Indianapolis, Cincinnati, Tacoma, Tampa (for rookie ball), Norwich, New York City, Ottawa, and Durham. If Williams ever had a moment of self-doubt, this would be it.

Nonetheless, he signed a minor league free agent with the Orioles. Called up to the big club, Williams did something remarkable: He dominated. Williams threw thirty-one and a third innings and allowed just ten runs, good for a 2.87 ERA. The Orioles brought him back in 2005 and though Williams wasn't as dominant, he spent the entire season with the big club, and ranked eighth in relief appearances. Best of all for Williams, he earned $347,000 with the O's in 2005 and recently settled his arbitration case for $775,000, probably more than he had made in the entire rest of his career. And as a bonus, DUI charges were recently dropped when it became clear Williams had not in fact been drunk, but failed a field test on account of an ankle injury he suffered in the crash.

I don't know what 2006 holds for Williams, but his is a nice little story of persistence paying off. Except for those nineteen games against the Yankees, I'll be rooting for him.



Sunday, February 12, 2006

 
February 12th, 1965

Dennis Springer Born

These five things and these five things alone do I know about Dennis Springer:

(1) A mediocre journeyman pitcher, he registered on my radar only for being a knuckleball pitcher.
(2) Is probably best known now for being the man who gave up Barry Bonds' 73rd home run in 2001 (if you cue up the clip on this link to about 1:30 you can see Springer delivering the pitch that Bonds is about to hammer)
(3) Spent several years bouncing around the minors before finally being called up in 1995
(4)
Once snubbed Rob Neyer for an interview, although Neyer admits that he was flustered and called Springer "Steve" so perhaps it was justified.
(5) For reasons I cannot begin to imagine or understand, inspired an insanely loyal following, who considered themselves members of Springer Nation.


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