Saturday, April 01, 2006

April 1st, 1951

Jake Taylor Born

Although now most famous for his heroics for the Indians during the 1989 season--more on them later--Jake Taylor actually had a decently interesting career before arriving in Cleveland, his performance there serving as the fitting end. Originally drafted by Boston in 1969, Taylor slowly worked his way up the system, but suffered the first of knee injuries that would plague him through his career at Triple-A. Originally thought to be only a relatively minor knee sprain, Taylor instead attempted to repeatedly play through the injury and ended up aggravating the problem further.

After a lost season in 1974 on account of the knee problems, Taylor returned to Triple-A in 1975 ; he posted a good season and received a call-up in September, seeing action in a handful of games for the pennant-winning Sox. Taylor became the Sox' back-up in 1976, but saw little time behind Carlton Fisk in both 1976 and 1977. Taylor missed out on the drama of the Sox' 1978 pennant battle with the Yankees, however, as making a rare start in late 1977, Taylor re-injured his knee. After a failed attempt at rehab in the off-season, Taylor was released by the Red Sox. Signed by Houston, Taylor never suited up for the Astros as he missed all of the 1978 season battling his knee problems. Taylor's career appeared over, as he spent the entire 1979 season out of baseball altogether.

As it turned out, the year off was apparently just what Taylor needed; signing with the Mariners he had the best year of his career, hitting over .300 for the first time and taking advantage of the Kingdome to hit twenty-eight homers, easily the team lead. Taylor would stay in Seattle for another three years but never match his 1980 numbers again and after the '83 season, the M's cut him loose as his knee problems again flared up. Now on the wrong side of thirty and with bad knees hurting a never-fantastic defensive reputation, Taylor spent the middle part of the 80s bouncing around Triple-A for Montreal, Boston and the Padres. After a brief September call-up for the Pads in '86, Taylor was released and headed south of the border for the Mexican Leagues. First playing for Las Bromas Magnificas, Taylor's knee problems continued but he refused to admit it was the end of the line and managed to once again to rebound in 1988 while playing for Los Tontos de Abril, helping lead them to a surprising second-place finish.

This is where the most famous part of Taylor's career begins of course, his tenure with the Indians. Predicted by every newspaper in the country to finish dead last after a seemingly deliberate plan by owner Rachel Phelps to sabotage the team, the Indians instead put together a great season. With help from veteran spitba--er, curveballer Eddie Harris and rookie sensation Rick "Wild Thing" Vaughn on the mound, and Rookie of the Year Pedro Cerrano, speedy Willie Mays Hayes and Taylor, the Comeback Player of the Year, at the plate, the Lou Brown-managed team bounced back after a terrible start to tie the Yankees for the division title on the season's last day.

Engaging in a one-game playoff for the division crown, the Indians started Eddie Harris on short rest instead of Vaughn, who had struggled against the Yankees, especially with League MVP Clue Haywood. The game was scoreless early on, as Pedro Cerrano struck out (and looked bad) on a curveball from Yankee start Kyle Jackson in the third while Taylor helped keep the Yankees off the board with a snap throw pick off to nail Jeremy Springer at first.

Cerrano continued to struggle in his second at-bat, again looking awful on a Jackson curveball, but the game remained scoreless as Hayes took away a sure Yankee homer in the top of the sixth. Not even Hayes' namesake could've caught the next long drive, however, as Steve Burton crushed one the next inning with a runner on to put the Yankees up 2-0. The Indians got it right back however, after Taylor grounded out to begin the bottom of the inning (apparently re-aggravating his bad knee) Dorn singled and Cerrano, after looking even worse on two Jackson curveballs finally got a hold of one and hit a long home run to tie the game. Cerrano was so overcome by emotion he carried his bat around the bases during his home run trot.
In the top of the ninth Harris retired the first two Yankees but Anthony Sanzlo singled and Tim March doubled, putting a pair of runners in scoring position. Harris then walked Eddie Cheevers on four pitches, and despite the seemingly poor match-up, Brown went to the bullpen, bringing in Vaughn to face Haywood. "Wild Thing" responded brilliantly to his manager's confidence however, striking out the big first baseman on three straight fastballs, the last clocked at 101 MPH.

In the bottom of the ninth Mark Tomlinson nearly ended the game with a deep drive to right field but it was tracked down. Yanks' manager Bill Horton wasted no time in calling in Duke Simpson, the league's Cy Young winner who pitched 118 innings out of the Yankees bullpen with a sterling 1.37, leading the league in saves and K/9. "The Duke" had been dominant for the Yankees towards the end of the season, not allowing a run in his previous sixteen appearances.

Hayes was the first batter to face Simpson and got the Indians started with an infield single he just beat out. Jake Taylor then came to bat, just moments from his greatest glory. Before that could happen, however, Hayes stole second (on another extremely close play) putting himself in scoring position for Taylor. Echoing Babe Ruth, Taylor pointed to the outfield, calling his shot. Responding predictably, Simpson threw a purpose pitch, knocking Taylor on his rear. The catcher got up, dusted himself off and once again called his shot. It all proved a bluff however, as Taylor dropped down a bunt. Incredibly, despite a visible limp, Taylor managed to leg out the bunt, giving Hayes (who had been running on the pitch; it was a designed play) enough time to come around and score just ahead of the tag. The Indians were division champions and Jake Taylor, he of missing whole seasons with knee problems, floating around Triple-A and the Mexican Leagues, was the hero.

Happy Birthday, Jake.

Friday, March 31, 2006

March 31st, 1980

Chien-Ming Wang Born

This is something I wanted to do last year but never got around to, partially because of my travels, partially out of forgetfulness; to wit, predictions for the upcoming season. Today seems a good day, both for its closeness to the beginning of the season, and its birthday boy, since if my predictions are going to come true, that man will have up his strikeout rate and pitch well all year. Without further ado, here goes:

AL East:
(1) Yankees
(2) Red Sox (Wild Card)
(3) Blue Jays
(4) Orioles
(5) Devil Rays

AL Central:
(1) Indians
(2) White Sox
(3) Twins
(4) Tigers
(5) Royals

AL West:
(1) A's
(2) Angels
(3) Rangers
(4) Mariners

NL East:
(1) Mets
(2) Phillies (Wild Card)
(3) Braves {I'm going to regret this come September, I'm sure}
(4) Nationals
(5) Marlins

NL Central:
(1) Cardinals
Astros {Clemens' May return proves too little, too late}
(3) Brewers
(4) Cubs
(5) Pirates
(6) Reds

NL Westt:
(1) Dodgers
(2) Padres
(3) Giants {I don't like Barry's chances of staying healthy}
(4) Diamondbacks
(5) Rockies

A's over Red Sox (3-2)
Yankees over Indians (3-1)

Mets over Dodgers (3-1)
Cardinals over Phillies (3-1)

Yankees over A's (4-3)
Cardinals over Mets (4-2)

Yankees over Cardinals (4-2)

Alex Rodriguez
NL MVP: Albert Pujols
AL Cy Young: Rich Harden
NL Cy Young: Pedro Martinez
AL Rookie of the Year:
Ian Kinsler
NL Rookie of the Year: Ryan Zimmerman

Thursday, March 30, 2006

March 30th, 1983

Joe Cicero Dies

I've written before about my "What the hell...?" discoveries, players whose numbers create more questions than they answer. Such is Joe Cicero. Nicknamed "Dody"--I don't know the story on that either, although I like his given name, especially the surname, quite a bit--Cicero appeared in just a handful of games, in 1929, 1930 and 1945. In 1929 Cicero played just ten games, although he did manage to hit .312 and slug .500 in that time, an especially impressive accomplishment given that Cicero was the youngest player in the league that season at age 18. He reappeared the next year but hit .167 and also lost his youngest player title, to a guy you'd know, Hank Greenberg.

Cicero is then out of Major League Baseball until 1945 when he reappears playing for the Philadelphia A's in twelve games and hit .158 after which he was gone for good from the highest level. Unfortunately, unlike that earlier "What the hell...?" this one has no apparent explanation. I found one small tantalizing bit of information that referenced Cicero as being a cousin of Clark Gable. Gable was still a relative unknown in 1929-30 (his fame really took off with 1932's Red Dust) so it is unlikely that played any part in Cicero's early time. By 1945 Gable was a big star however, and coming off time in the Army helping he war effort. I suppose it is possible Cicero somewhat manipulated that into limited Major League time, but ultimately that's just a guess.

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

March 29th, 1988

Ted Kluszewksi Dies

Nicknamed "Big Klu" in part because "Kluszewski" doesn't exactly float off the tongue, but more because he was big. Story has it that the Reds began wearing vests because Big Klu found his arms were too big to fit in the sleeves and just cut them off. That strikes me as a trifle apocryphal, but then, having taken a look at the man, those are some big arms so if that's the story he likes, that's the story I like.

His arms are actually what got Kluszewski signed, he was working as a grounds keeper for the team as a young man when someone spotted him--or his muscles anyway--and suggested perhaps the Reds take a shot. (Kluszewski was a good athlete all-around, he had also been the tight end on Indiana's 1945 Big Ten Championship team.) It turned out to be a good move, Big Klu was a great power hitter, hitting forty home runs 1953-1955, including 49 in the middle year of that run. He also struck out an extremely low amount for a power hitter, the last three forty home-run seasons with fewer than forty strikeouts all belong to him. Klu did have his detractors, namely noted humanitarian Rogers Hornsby who during his tenure with the Reds repeatedly implored the team to trade "the big lazy Polack." Said Polack hit forty home runs for Hornsby in 1953, in spite of his manager's frequent attempts to ship him off for Earl Torgeson who hit eleven that year. Smooth move, Rodg.

Despite playing fewer than 1400 games for the club, Kluszewski still ranks in the top five all-time in Reds' home runs and slugging, and in the top ten for RBIs and total bases. He is today honored with a statue outside of the Great American Ballpark.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

March 28th, 1985

Sidd Finch Debuts

No, this is not an early April Fool's joke, the Sports Illustrated issue containing George Plimpton's "The Curious Case of Sidd Finch" although famously the April 1st edition was actually released on this day, which makes it--at least in a poetic sense--Finch's debut. The Finch legend is fairly well-known, but to recap briefly he grew up in an English orphanage, attended Harvard and later moved to Tibet (hence Sidd with two “d”s as in ‘Siddharta’) where he gained the ability to throw a baseball upwards of a 160 MPH. Later expanded into a novel, it is probably the best known thing ever written by George Plimpton.

That's something of a shame, as Plimpton wamarvelouslous writer generally, and even more so on sports. So my recommendation for the day is to expand one's horizons beyond Sidd Finch, and consider picking up a copy of George Plimpton on Sports or Out of my League. Both are highly recommended.

Monday, March 27, 2006

March 27th, 1973

Jim Perry Accepts Trade

I wrote last year about Ron Santo being the first player to decline a trade based on his 10-5 rights, the rule which says any player with ten years in the Majors and five with his current team has to approve any potential trade. When I declared Ron Santo "the first 10-and-5 man" I was not only being a trifle generous with the hyphens, but also a tad unclear in my facts. Ron Santo wasn't the first man to have 10-5 rights (I don't know who that is, although I suppose it could be discovered), he was just the first player to have them and use them to decline a trade. But that doesn't mean that hadn't come into play before.

Jim Perry is the less well-known half of the second winningest brother tandem in history, along with his brother Gaylord. (The Perrys, incidentally, come in at 529 wins, just ten behind the Niekros but still a ways ahead of the Madduxs.) While Gaylord Perry is most famous for his spitball, Jim was a more honest, but more mediocre pitcher. He spent the bulk of his career with the Twins, winning twenty-four games and the Cy Young award in 1970.

In 1973 however, the Twins decided that Perry, now thirty-seven, was about finished and arranged a trade to the Tigers for minor leaguer Danny Fife and cash. Perry however, who had been in the Majors since 1959 and with the Twins since mid-1963 could've scrapped the idea, had he choosen. However, Perry decided he didn't want to be where he wasn't wanted, and allowed the deal to continue. So there you are, we've now had Ron Santo, the first man to decline a 10-5 trade, and Jim Perry, the first man to accept one.

Sunday, March 26, 2006

March 26th, 1968

Shane Reynolds Born

In 1998 Shane Reynolds won nineteen games (against just eight losses) with a 3.51 ERA; the next year he won sixteen games saw his ERA rise to 3.85 but was actually just about as good when compared to league average. Before the 2000 season, I drafted Reynolds for my fantasy team and he more-or-less ceased being an effective Major League pitcher from that point.

Of course, it (probably) wasn't being on my fantasy team that did in Shane Reynolds, but he was very much done. In 2000 he went just 7-8 with a ghastly 5.22 ERA that is only partially accounted for by the move to then-Enron Field. He improved slightly in 2001 winning fourteen games with a just above league average but fell off thereafter as arm troubles began to take their toll, and although he won eleven games with the Braves in 2003, that obviously had a lot to do with his team as Reynolds sported a 5.43 ERA. Reynolds has been out of the Majors after a short stay with the D-Backs in 2004 Reynolds, having finally fallen victim to the twin-curses of arm trouble, and being expected to carry my fantasy rotation.

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