Saturday, April 22, 2006

April 22nd, 1959

Chicago at Kansas City

That's the Kansas City A's, of course, and "Go-Go Sox," with Luis Aparicio stealing fifty-six bases on the way to the Sox winning their first pennant since 1919. This game featured Sox ace Early Wynn (22-10, 3.17) facing Ned Garver. Wynn was awful on this day however, and the White Sox found themselves in a five-run hole after just two innings. They would battle back however, and with Bob Shaw stifling the A's offense--then featuring Roger Maris as the clean-up hitter--the Sox had built an two run lead, 8-6, by the time they came to the plate in the seventh. That seventh would prove to be one of the most remarkable offensive innings of all-time, as the White Sox scored eleven runs, and did so with just one hit.

Ray Boone and Al Smith both reached on errors to open the inning, and Johnny Callison singled and both runs scored (and Callison went to third) on a Roger Maris error. Aparicio then walked and stole second, but might as well have stayed at first since the pitcher, Shaw, then drew a walk of his own. Earl Torgeson then pinch-hit and drew a RBI walk of his own. This was followed by another RBI walk, this time to Nellie Fox. Jim Landis forced a runner at home, but the A's were unable to convert the double play so the bases reloaded. Sherm Lollar followed that with a walk of his own driving in another run.

Incredibly, the White Sox had now batted around despite only having one hit and Boone was back up. He walked, as did Smith, driving in two more runs. Still unwilling to give up a hit, but equally unwilling to actually retire a batter, A's pitching at least decided to mix it up, and hit Callison with a pitch, driving in another run. Aparicio then walked again, but Shaw struck out, leaving the bases loaded but with two outs at last. The A's were still unable to get out of the inning however, as pinch-hitter Bubba Phillips (pinch-hitting for a pinch-hitter, it should be noted) walked, bringing home another run. Fox then walked again--meaning he had 2 RBIs despite not having a technical at-bat in the seventh--but Landis grounded out, finally ending the inning.

All said then, the White Sox scored eleven runs on one hit, one hit-by-pitch, two errors and--gasp now--nine walks. Not surprisingly, the Sox won the game; the final score was 20-6. That's quite a way to come back from a five-run deficit.

Friday, April 21, 2006

April 21st, 1863

Germany Smith Born

That's George J. Smith on his birth certificate, born in Pittsburgh, so presumably the name comes from his heritage, rather than place of birth. Smith had a fairly long career in the 1880s, playing as the very model of a no-hit, good-field shortstop. (Although good-field is something of a relative term there; Smith made 971 errors in 1665 games at shortstop, but his career.902 fielding percentage there is actually .015 points higher than the league average during his career.)

He drew my attention though not for his "good" defense, but rather for his nickname. There have been five "Germany"s in baseball history, including Germany Schaefer and my personal favorite Germany Schmit, better known as "Crazy" Schmit. Not counting players actually named "French" (there've been a few of those) there've been five "Frenchy"s in the Majors; along with eight players known as "Irish," including Irish Meusel, brother of Bob.

The all-time national nickname winner though is "Dutch." While you might not think of the Netherlands as a great baseball country, they did manage the only no-hitter in this year's World Baseball Classic and finished a respectable 1-2 in their group. Perhaps it is fitting then, that there have been sixty-eight "Dutch"s in the history of Major League Baseball. So let's all remove our caps in honor of the Dutch and their overwhelming nickname superiority, while bowing down to Queen Beatrix.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

April 20th, 1965

Masato Yoshii Born

Masato Yoshii first came to America has a member of the New York Mets in 1998, after a number of seasons with the Yakult Swallows, going 13-6 with a 2.99 ERA his final season with the team. Yoshii turned down a number of big-money offers from Japanese teams (supposedly after being convinced to do so by Hideo Nomo) and instead signed a contract with the Mets for a base salary for $200,000 with a series of bonuses. Yoshii would pitch well in '98 (all said his bonuses raised the salary to over a million) and although he was less effective in 1999, Yoshii was beginning a run during which his ERA+ never went above 101 or fell below 97.

That would last until his left the Majors after the 2002 season, finishing with an underwhelming 32-47 record, but a decent 4.62 ERA, just better than the league and park average of 4.68 for his career. Yoshii returned to Japan. Although he struggled in his early return, he did go 6-5 with a 4.03 ERA last year for the Orix Buffalos, an impressive feat at age forty.

On a less biographical note, I've always liked Yoshii, based on a couple of silly incidents. For one, Yoshii achieved minor celebrity in New York on account of his stirring renditions of "Happy Birthday" in Japanese each time a Met player celebrated a birthday in the clubhouse. There's that, but my all-time favorite Yoshii story concerns his sense of humor. Asked in late 1999 what he would do if Bobby Valentine opted not to put him on the playoff roster. Yoshii replied--this is a paraphrase--that he would sit in the bleachers, drink beer and yell "Put in Yoshii!" whenever a Mets' pitcher gave up a hit.

Yoshii, perhaps not surprisingly, made the playoff roster.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

April 19th, 2001

Yankees at Blue Jays

I've attended a couple of pretty long games--including a four and a half four, thirteen inning affair on a rainy night in Baltimore, by the end of which the crowd was rooting for whichever team was batting at the time--but in honor of yesterday's real marathon, I thought I'd do today's game, the longest I remember following start to finish.

The Yankees entered the game at 8-7 and the Jays at 11-4. Starting for the Yankees was "The Rocket," Roger Clemens (a one-time Jay) opposed by Joey Hamilton. Hamilton ran into trouble early, walking three men in the first inning, giving up two runs. Clemens struck out the side in the first inning and the game remained 2-0 after the second. The Yankees scored another run in the third on a Tino Martinez ground out.

The wheels came off for Clemens in the bottom of the third, however, as he allowed five runs on five hits, the big blow being Jose Cruz' triple, which brought home three runs. The fourth inning passed without incident but in the fifth the Yankees tied the game on a Paul O'Neill double followed by a David Justice homer. Neither team would score through the rest of the game--though the Yankees would load the bases in the eighth and Jays did the same in their half of the ninth.

Both teams got a base runner in the tenth but it was for naught and the eleventh passed uneventfully. The Yankees got Scott Brosius to third with just one out in the twelfth but nothing came of it, just as the Jays were unable to do anything with runners on first and second in the bottom half of the inning. At this point I was torn between my desire and need to go to bed--it was a Thursday school night--and my even stronger desire to stay up and hear the end of the game.

The game remained tied all the way to the seventeenth inning, at which point I was barely awake but nonetheless still anxious to hear the end of the game, especially a Yankee victory. Staying up all night is one thing, but staying up all night only to have your team lose is quite another. This seemed a very real possibility at some points--Toronto had the bases loaded and Brad Fullmer up in the sixteenth--but I persisted. Extra inning games like this are a not unlike getting involved in a big pot in poker despite only having a low pair: you know you shouldn't be doing it, but you have so much invested already, you're unwilling to quit.

Finally, in the seventeenth, Chuck Knoblauch walked with two outs. Back-to-back Jeter and O'Neill singles brought Knoblauch home and gave the Yankees, at last, a one-run lead. Ramiro Mendoza, the Yankees' seventh pitcher of the night entered and although he surrendered a walk, it was quickly erased in a game-ending double play, putting the game (and more importantly, me) to bed after nearly six hours.

(If you're curious about all the particular goings-on, who pitched and so forth, you can check out the game's combined box score and play-by-play at Retrosheet.)

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

April 18th, 1981

Rochester at Pawtucket

One of the most famous minor league games in history--maybe the most famous--this thirty-three inning, eight and a half hour marathon is now celebrating its twenty-fifth anniversary. In its honor, I present this excellent article from the Washington Post, commemorating the occasion.

Monday, April 17, 2006

April 17th, 1923

Solly Hemus Born

Short for Solomon, if you were wondering--I was--Solly Hemus was a shortstop for the Cardinals and Phillies in the 40s and 50s. Actually, he was a shortstop in the sense that most days when you showed up at the ballpark and Hemus was in the line-up he would be playing there but you would never confuse him with say, Ozzie Smith. Hemus played fewer than four hundred seventy-five games at short in his career but nonetheless managed to make eighty-four errors; most accounts I've read imply (if not outright state) he was an absolute butcher out there.

Which is too bad, because Hemus was a pretty good offensive player. Although Hemus never hit for much power--although his slugging percentage generally hovered around league average, a valuable quality for a shortstop--he posted consistently excellent on-base percentages, sometimes over .400. His best season was probably 1952 when Hemus hit .268/.392/.425 in regular duty, leading the league in both runs scored and HBP. The HBP was a crucial part of Hemus' game; actually, he led the league two other times besides '52 and finished his career with sixty-two, which was eleven more than his total number of home runs.

His defensive shortcomings continued to haunt him however and Hemus had a difficult time staying in the line-up. He was a player/manager for the Cards in 1959 and continued to manage--but not play-- in 1960 and '61 but was fired midway through 1961 and replaced with Johnny Keane. Hemus would later coach for the Mets (in their early, really bad days) and Indians; he managed the Mets Jacksonville farm club in 1966 but retired from baseball after that season.

Sunday, April 16, 2006

April 16th, 1997

Cubs Lose

That's hardly an earth-shattering headline, I could've written it 9,290 times since the franchise was founded in 1875 (that's prior to today's games, however, and not counting the playoffs). This loss was somewhat out of the ordinary, even for a team for nearly 9,300 all-time losses. For the Cubs, it was their twelfth straight loss to open the season. Now, losing twelve straight is bad enough but losing twelve in a row to open the season is a pretty brutal thing. Number twelve was especially embarrassing for the Cubs however, as it marked the worst start in the history of any team in National League history.

The previous record had been held by the Detroit Wolverines, back in 1884. Those Wolverines would go 28-84, that's an even .250 winning percentage. The Cubs, whose twelve game losing streak including a near no-hitter by the Marlins' Alex Fernandez, wouldn't quite finish that badly ending up with a 68-94 record but breaking an embarrassing 113 year-old record is probably not what the Cubs had in mind.

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