Saturday, March 25, 2006

March 25th, 1901

Denver Grigsby Born

That was his real name, Denver Clarence Grigsby. He was born in Kentucky so I don't know where the name comes from; perhaps his parents were just fond of the city. Generally speaking, there aren't too many "city" ballplayers, even if you include nicknames and Bermanisms. There was a "Seattle Bill" James (no relation, I assume to the Bill James) who played for the Braves in the teens and guys like Rudy "New" York; my personal favorite is probably Steve Phoenix, who was, in fact, born in Phoenix.

This is hardly a shock of course, ballplayers tend to come from more rural areas than cities and many of the greats have nicknames that reflect that, Mickey Mantle's "The Commerce Comet" perhaps most famously, while Roger Bresnahan (the first catcher inducted into the Hall of Fame) was "The Duke of Tralee." Baseball's highest levels are played in the cities, but most of the guys playing come from outside those areas, so it would seem that now city names will remain rare.

Friday, March 24, 2006

March 24th, 2001

Dove Dies

Continuing from yesterday on stories that are so bizarre they stretch the bounds of plausibility, we have this one which is really, really bizarre but is at least fairly recent so maybe remember it. Plus I have video evidence. Randy Johnson was pitching in a Spring Training game against the Giants and in the seventh was facing Jeff Kent. Johnson would up and delivered the pitch, Kent prepared to swing while catcher Rod Barajas was ready to catch.

Except Johnson's pitch never arrived. The pitch collided with a dove on the way to home plate and the dove , well, exploded is just about the only word for it. The velocity of the pitch drove the bird over Barajas' head and it landed a few feet behind him. Kent picked the bird up and mockingly offered it to Johnson who was not amused, later saying he didn't find the incident at all funny. I guess the Unit is a member of Audubon Society.

Anyway, the game soon resumed as normal, leaving the bird to nothing but a memory. But, least you think that this is all some elaborate pre-April Fool's Day joke, I provide you with the best kind of evidence, video.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

March 23rd, 1877

Peaches Graham Born

This is one of those stories is that is so bizarre I hesitate to tell it, because it stretches the bounds of plausibility to their breaking point. Nonetheless, here goes: Peaches Graham--that's a nickname, obviously, he was born George Graham--played seven seasons in the Majors between 1902 and 1912 as a catcher. Graham wasn't a great player but he was a decent hitter for the position. Records for Graham are somewhat sketchy after his Major League career, which brings us to the stretching the bounds of plausibility part of this story.

Around the time of Graham's career, a boxer named Billy Maharg began fighting. "Maharg" you'll notice, is "Graham" spelled backwards. Someone with the name "Billy Maharg," maybe the boxer or perhaps Peaches Graham using a bizarre alias, or perhaps someone else entirely, played in a couple of games as a joke in 1912 and 1916. It is also possible, however, that boxer Billy Maharg and Peaches Graham were, in fact, the same person.

This would all be something of an interesting footnote but for the fact that Maharg the boxer was recruited by "Sleepy" Bill Burns to raise money to help fix the 1919 World Series. Whoever Billy Maharg was, he was unofficially banned from the game after the fix was revealed. One would assume that it is possible to track down birth and death certificates and such (Maharg was both born and died later than Peaches Graham) but for the moment all I can do is present the story of the dual identities--and mystery--of Peaches Graham and Billy Maharg.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

March 22nd, 1965

Glenallen Hill Born

Glenallen Hill is usually noted for a couple of things. For one, he was an absolute butcher in the outfield; astoundingly he played nearly seven hundred games there, making nearly sixty errors in the bargain. Of course, Hill was also the sort-of outfielders for whom errors don't tell the whole story, since he possessed limited range, especially in his older days when he lost his foot speed; Mariners' pitching coach Bryan Price once described Hill's defense as like watching "a gaffed [hooked] haddock surface for air."

Hill's other great claim-to-fame was his intense arachnophobia. On one occasion, Hill had to go on the fifteen-day DL after having a nightmare involving being chased by spiders; he smashed his hand on a glass table and fell down a flight of stairs attempting to "escape" the spiders. I suppose the cynical take on all this would be that Hill must've often thought that fly balls had spiders on them.

What I remember about Glenallen Hill however, is his August 2000 season for the Yankees. I have personally never seen a man on such an astounding hot streak. Hill's raw numbers, .411/.456/.877, with ten home runs in just twenty-one games, tell a lot of the story but that doesn't really cover it. Hill seemed to homer every time he was up, and his home runs were absolute monsters, he hit at least one I remember into the black seats in (very) deep center field in Yankee Stadium. Hill did all this with a violent, forceful swing that seemed to lack almost any follow through; that August he just swung and the ball took off. I'm sure players have had more dominant stretches, but I can never remember anyone putting on a performance like Glenallen Hill in August 2000.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

March 21st, 1939

Tommy Davis Born

"Everyone works out [Opening Day] pregame nervousness in his own way. Tommy Davis was standing in the middle of the clubhouse taking a hitting stance with no bat in his hands, anticipating the pitch, striding into it, then checking his swing and then going back and doing it all over again. It reminded me of a guy going over his notes just before a final exam, knowing all the time it wasn't going to do any good. If you don't have it by now, Tom, you're not going to.


Tuned out [Don] Wilson was from Los Angeles too and he'd once tried to get Tommy Davis' autograph. "He was too good to sign it," Wilson said. "Ever since then I never looked forward to sitting with him on a bench"
"You really resent him, huh?" I said, adding an eggbeater to trouble waters.
"Well, yeah,"
Wilson said. "It's been kind of a thing with me. In fact, right now it's no big deal sitting here with him. If he's too good to sign autographs, the hell with him."
"You see how smart these young kids are?"
Davis said. "Boy, if I ever said that when I was a kid, that would've been something. Imagine me saying that to Roy Campanella. Boy, for your guys these guys really talk a lot."
And I said, "That's good, isn't it Tom? They should be allowed to say whatever they feel, don't you think?"
"Well, that's your idea,"
Davis said. "I know that's what you think."
Generation gap revisited. I loved it.


Right after [Ball Four] came out I heard from a few old teammates. Tommy Davis sent me a note which started out with, "Hello big mouth." Tommy said that he was offered four movie contracts. "After reading your book, everyone thinks I'm some kind of actor.""

~Jim Bouton, Ball Four and Ten Years Later...Ball Five

Monday, March 20, 2006

March 20th, 1981

Gee Walker Dies

One of my least favorite things as a Yankee fan when they're playing the Red Sox is watching Manny Ramirez hit, the man can flat-out rake. On the other hand, one of my favorite things is watching Manny Ramirez do pretty much anything else asscioated with being a Major League player. I've never bought into the argument that Manny is stupid--he hits much too well for that--but he's quite clearly a big-time space cadet.

Gee Walker never hit as well as Manny, his career OPS+ is nearly sixty points less, but when it came to the other stuff he and Manny were quite clearly in orbit over the same planet. Walker debuted with the Tigers in 1931 and although he hit over .300 several times, it was not long before he demonstrated his own unique take on baserunning. In a 1934 game Walker was on first with Hank Greenberg on second. When catcher Rollie Hemsley threw down to first, Walker was caught off the bag and saved only by Greenberg making a break for third. Greenberg was thrown out, but Walker managed to advance safely to second. Once on second, it was not long before Walker once again found himself trapped off base and was picked off by the pitcher. So enraged was manger Mickey Cochrane that he suspended Walker for ten games and fined him twenty dollars.

1934 was a bad year for Walker's baserunning generally, as that year in the World Series he was standing on first base when the Cardinals bench began shouting at him. Walker began shouting back and really getting into with his opponents...until he was tagged out on a pick-off throw that he had never even seen coming. On another, at least non World Series occasion, Walker was picked-off after he tried stealing a base during an intentional walk. Perhaps not surprisingly, the Tigers evantually tired of these sorts of things--although oddly Walker was a pretty good base-stealer--and sent him to the White Sox. Walker would bounce around for a while, finally retiring at age thirty-seven after the 1945 season with the Reds.

Sunday, March 19, 2006

March 19th, 1871

Joe McGinnity Born

Since my trip to London has, I must admit, rather dashed my creativity, we might we as well make this a Joe Mac weekend.

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