Saturday, March 18, 2006

March 18th, 2000

Mets Acquire Joe McEwing

Nicknamed "Super Joe" because of his early performances in St. Louis, the nickname would eventually take on something of a mocking tone as McEwing carried on with his career as a utility mediocrity, playing all around the field but not hitting anywhere. The Mets finally tired of his no-hit stylings after the 2004 season; he spent last year with Kansas City and is in camp there this year as a NRI.

Anyway, this is as good a time as any to tell my Joe McEwing story. I was walking home from school one day in the winter of 2001--this must've been after the World Series but before Thanksgiving--when I noticed a sign in the window of our local supermarket: "Today! Meet Joe McEwing!" or something to that effect. Figuring it wasn't every day I got to meet a Major League player, even a scrub, I decided to go in. This began one of the stranger experiences of my life.

For one thing, the supermarket had put McEwing waaaay in the back of the store, near the freezer cases, so Joe was sitting there wedged between the Red Baron Pizzas and Lean Cuisine Entrees. For another, although they had set up a table for Joe (upon which was a comically high stack of Joe McEwing photos waiting to be autographed; Joe McEwing hasn't signed that many photos in his entire life), he was sitting on what appeared to be cardboard boxes filled with, I suppose, more Red Baron Pizzas and Lean Cuisine Entrees. As you might imagine, Joe had a "I really need to fire my agent" kind of look on his face.

I approached Joe and in my most respectful tone asked if he could sign a photo for me. He asked my name, took the top photo off the stack and signed it. I was about to move away when it occurred to me that I wasn't exactly holding up a line here. In fact, besides some woman who looked like she was debating whether or not to ask Joe to get her a Lean Cuisine, he and I were alone. I asked McEwing if he would mind signing a photo for a friend of mine, a big Mets' fan, and he did. Signing the two photos had taken maybe forty-five seconds, but I felt compelled to stay, in part to bathe in Joe's glow but mostly because I wanted to see how long it would take for someone else to show up.

Joe and I made awkward chit-chat for almost ten minutes--during which time I learned that being a Major League player is fun, but being away from one's family is not--a boy of maybe ten started to nervously approach the table. McEwing, obviously desperate by now to have human contact with anyone who wasn't the weird high school kid talking to him, all but grabbed the kid and began to sign an autograph. I took the hint and made my exit, wishing Joe good luck in the coming season, and resumed my walk home.

Friday, March 17, 2006

March 17th, 461

St. Patrick Dies

I haven't gone back and checked, but I'm pretty sure that's the earliest year I've ever had in a title here. The exact date is probably a bit apocryphal but never mind; it has led to to the annual celebration that bears St. Patrick's name, most prominently celebrated with parades and, of course, green rivers.

The obvious blog to do on this day would be a list of the greatest Irish (and Irish-American) ballplayers. The Irish have played a huge part in baseball history, especially in the early part of the century. But I'll save that for another day. Instead, in honor of their namesake, I'm going to do the all-Pat/Patrick team.

C: Pat Borders (1980-2005): That could be 1988 to present, Borders has surprised many by making it into the Majors the last couple of years; he was even in the playoffs for the Twins in 2004. Borders is most famous, of course, for his performance in the 1992 World Series when he hit .450 and was voted MVP. That aside, Borders in his prime was a competent hitter with a fine reputation as a defensive catcher, allowing just seventy-three passed balls in over a thousand career games at catcher.

Pat Tabler (1981-92): A career .282 hitter with a career .345 on-base percentage, Tabler could always be counted on to reach base, but not so much in the power department; he finished with a career slugging percentage of just .379. Tabler was something of a jack-of-all-trades, also seeing significant time at third base and the outfield, in addition to limited time at second base early in his career.

Pat Kelly (1991-99): As you'll soon discover, Patrick has produced a fair amount of batteries but surprisingly few infielders; the low quality of Pat infielders is just shocking. This is one of three Pat Kelly's in baseball history. I remember his first Major League hit--he came up as a Yankee--was a double. That's funny besides Kelly generally didn't have much in the way of power. Or patience. He lasted nine years as utility man and quality bunter, however, so I guess you have to give him that.

Pat Moran (1901-14): Also the team's manager (see below) Moran only played forty-three games at third base but --astoundingly--that's one of the highest numbers for a Pat. A career 78 OPS+ hitter, Moran was nothing special, but represents a notable upgrade on alternates for the position.

SS: Pat Meares (1993-2001): Rather at the bottom of the barrel here, Meares beats out fellow underwhelming mid-90s middle-infielder Pat Listach. I've written rather extensively on Meares in that entry so I won't do too much here.

Pat Burrell (2000-Present): "Pat the Bat" may yet prove to be the best Patrick of all time if he can maintain his 2005 form that saw him hit thirty-two home runs and even more so if he can find his 2002 form when he was eighth in the league in total bases. Chances are he'd hit third or fourth for this team.

Pat Mullin (1940-41, 1946-53): As you can probably tell by the years of his career, Mullin missed time on account of the Second World War, missing his age twenty-four through twenty-seven seasons. Mullin played center early his in his career but not much thereafter so this might be a bit of a stretch but this team will need all of the offense it can get so Mullin, a decent power hitter gets the spot.

Pat Kelly (1967-81): Another of the the three Pat Kellys in history, this is the best one. Like Tabler, Pat Kelly could get on base but lacked the power usually associated with the position he played, never hitting more than eleven home runs. That said, in a relatively low power era (the league average slugging for Kelly's career was .381) he was an acceptable ballplayer, finishing with a 107 OPS+ in more than five thousand plate appearances.

Pat Hentgen (1991-2004): The only Pat to have won a Cy Young award (1996: 20-10, 3.22) Hentgen finished his career with a 131-112 record and a 109 ERA+. Like Andy Pettitte, his man competition for the '96 Cy Young. Hentgen relied heavily on a cut fastball for his success. I've written a bit about Hentgen before.

Chad Cordero (2003-Present): Ok, so this one is cheating a bit. But if Major League Baseball can put Mike Piazza on Team Italy and Mark Mulder on Team Netherlands, then I can put Chad Patrick Cordero on my all-Patrick team. Cordero, known as "The Chief," was the dominant end of the Nationals' bullpen in 2005 and while he may be hard pressed to repeat the quality of 2005, he figures to be an effective closer for some time to come.

Pat Moran (1915-23): Moran is both the all-time winningest Pat manager and the one with the highest winning percetange. In his first season he led the Phillies to ninety wins and the World Series where they lost to the Red Sox. The Phils finished second in 1916 and 1917 but after a drop to sixth in 1918 Moran was fired. He was picked up by the Reds in 1919 and guided them to the World Series and of course, a highly controversial win over the "Black Sox." The Reds showed a little more patience with Moran, tolerating third and sixth place finishes and were rewarded with a second place showing in both 1922 and '23. Moran died in early March of 1924, ending with a career record of 748-586, good for a .561 winning percentage, fifteenth all-time.

So how would team-Patrick do? Well, let's just say that if they're going to win many games, they'll need a lot of that Luck of the Irish.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

March 16th, 1907

Detroit Proposes Trade

As I say towards the end of this entry, sometimes the best move is the move not made.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

March 15th, 1910

Whitey Wietelmann Born

His given name was William Wietelmann; that's equally bad insofar as aliteration goes. He would've been better off going by "Frederick" (his middle name) but once Casey Stengel made him Whitey, he was Whitey for good. Wietelemann played parts of nine seasons in the forties. His only full time role was in 1943 when, not called to serve, he manned shortstop for the Braves full-time. Despite the lowered level of competition, Wietelmann hit just .215 and it was plainly apparent that hitting wasn't for him. To be fair, he at least explored all possibilities at this; in 1939-40 and 1942 Wietelmann played exclusively as a righty. In 1943 and 1945 he went as a lefty and 1941, 1944 and 1946-47 he batted from both sides of the plate. None of this, of course, worked.

Wietelmann's true fame in baseball came after his Major League career. Although he had pitched seven and two-thirds awful innings in the Majors, he became a decent minor league hurler, once winning more than twenty games. After his career ended, Wietelmann became a coach in the minors, evantaully moving up to the Majors as a coach with the Padres, a role he served from for ten years before moving onto a variety of jobs in the Padres organization. Wietelmann was choosen to throw out the first pitch before the Pads' first home playoff game in 1984 and was introduced as Mr. Padre. Wietelmann, of course, was honored by this but also embarrassed, admitting "I didn't like that. If you're not playing in the game, you shouldn't be on the field."

Wietelmann lived the rest of his life in San Diego, dying there in 2002, just before the season was to begin.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

March 14th, 1960

Kirby Puckett Born

Writing these in advance of my trip to London, I had a hard time picking a topic for this day, and considered doing it about Puckett. The problem was that I only vaguely remember Kirby the ballplayer--but a lot of my audience recalls him much more clearly for --and what of Puckett I do remember -- his post-career scandals, doesn't really make for a good topic.

Now that's he's died, the whole thing become even more complicated as people try to balance their memories of Kirby the ballplayer and Kirby the man. In a lot of ways, Puckett reminds me of Thurman Munson. Their on-field demeanor could not have been more different, of course; Puckett was smiles-and-joy while Munson was grit-and-gruff. The commonality is the question of how much their on-field personalities corresponded to their actual personalities, what they were "really" like.

As I ultimately said about Munson, unless one actually knew Puckett, the most you can say is that he was a pretty damn good player (I have no problem with his place in the Hall of Fame) who died under pretty sad circumstances. The rest is just talk.

Monday, March 13, 2006

March 13th, 2006

Richard Barbieri returns to London

To paraphrase The Beatles, I'll be Back in the UK but just for a week this time, visiting friends. In honor of my visit however, I thought it would be appropriate to do an entry on England's best ballplayers. England (that's England alone, not Scotland or Wales, I'll save those for another day I'm desperate for a topic) has produced just thirty ballplayers. The majority of them came during baseball's early days and were probably immigrants who adopted to early baseball fairly easily from English varieties like rounders and cricket.

The best English ballplayer of time--and it's not even close--was a Sheffielder named Harry Wright. Wright was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1953 for having organized, managed and played center field for baseball's first openly professional team. He is credited with introducing, among other things, the concept of hitting fungeos to outfielders pre-game, backing up plays on defense and shfiting defenses to adjust to hitters, although that middle one seems so obvious I can't imagine anyone "invented" it. Wright was a career .272/.303/.338 hitter, which looks just awful, but when viewed in the context of his league averages of .296/.310/.369, it becomes clear he wasn't quite that terrible a player; for good measure Wright also pitched nearly a hundred innings.

The best of the "modern" English players (that is to say, not cricketers) is probably Danny Cox. Cox attended college in the states so I don't know if was born in England and moved to the states or what but in an eleven year career Cox won seventy-four games, including eighteen in 1985 and pitched in three World Series, finally winning on his third try in 1993 with the Jays. The most recent England-born player was pitcher Lance Painter who pitched as recently as 2003. Like Cox Painter went to college in America and thereafter had a largely mediocre career as a middle reliever. These days Painter is working as a pitcher coach at the Mariner's Single-A affliate.

I don't know when the next English ballplayer will emerge, but for now I'll be in London drinking pints and wearing my Yankee shirt. You never know...

Sunday, March 12, 2006

March 12th, 1978

Ferrell Anderson Dies

This is one of those things that I wish I had my books for, since I'm sure there's some kind of story because Ferrell Anderson, but damned if I can find it. Leaving the name aside--Ferrell is apparently an Irish name that means 'brave'--Anderson's professional baseball adventures begin in 1939 when he was signed by the Yankees. Sometime between 1939 and the beginning of the 1942 season, Ferrell found his way to the Brooklyn Dodgers although whether this was by trade, waivers or otherwise is unknown.

Ferrell made his debut for the Dodgers in 1946 as the back-up catcher, and put a decent year hitting .256/.330/.337 while playing seventy games behind the dish. Here Anderson's once again fades from the spotlight, bouncing from the Dodgers to the Reds, back to the Dodgers, to the Phillies (once again in an unknown variety of transaction), from the Phillies to the Browns and the Browns to the Cardinals, all without playing a Major League game.

Finally, in 1953 after a six season away, Anderson returned to the Major Leagues. He was less impressive this time, playing in just eighteen games and getting only thirty-five times at bat. Ferrell hit .286 but it was an empty .286 with no walks and no power. After that season, he disappears from the radar entirely, no more time in the Majors. I remain hopeful my full library will reveal more about the mysterious life and career of Ferrell Anderson but for now the most information I can give about his post baseball career is the title, his death in early 1978.

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