Saturday, May 06, 2006

May 6th, 1971

Israel Alcantara Born

Ok so I'm guilty of a repeat here, but this is one of my favorite blogs, albeit for the content rather than the writing. Plus is includes a dandy video link, so here we are again.

Friday, May 05, 2006

May 5th, 1862

Cinco de Mayo

Don't worry, not another repeat today, although last's year entry on Mexican ballplayers is still worth reading. As I mention very briefly there, Cinco de Mayo is the celebration of the defeat of French forces at the Battle of Puebla. I'm very familiar with this topic from writing about it for my senior history thesis, titled "The American Civil War and Diplomatic Ramifications of French Intervention in Mexico." Catchy title, I know.

Anyway, seeing as last year I did something on the best Mexican ballplayers, today it seems only fair I do something to cheer up my readers of French heritage whose defeat on this date is being joyously celebrated today by the Corona Corporat--er, I mean, the people of Mexico! Among the eight Major Leaguers born in France--if not necessarily French--the most famous is current Padres' manager Bruce Bochy. Bochy was born in Landes De Bussac in 1955, and while his playing career was nothing special (a lifetime .239 hitter as a back-up catcher), Bochy is currently the second longest tenured manager in baseball behind Bobby Cox. Bochy has thrice led the Padres to the playoffs, including a trip to the World Series in 1998.

The France-born player with the most at-bats is actually Steve Jeltz, who was born in Paris. Jeltz was a starter on some mediocre Philly teams as a shortstop in the 80s, hitting a lifetime .213 with just four home runs. (All of which, curiously, came in 1989.) Charlie Lea, born in Orleans on Christmas Day 1956, is probably the best France-born player of all-time. Lea won sixty-two big leagues games with a just better than average 3.54 ERA. In 1981, appropriately enough given the bilingual nature of their home city, Lea threw a no-hitter for the Expos, the second pitcher in franchise history to have done that.

So chin up France, the Battle of Puebla may have been a humiliating and unexpected defeat, but at least you've got Bruce Bochy and Charlie Lea to cheer you up!

Thursday, May 04, 2006

May 4th, 1973

Atlanta at Philadelphia

I'm heading out to the Nationals game tonight. On paper, it looks like a fairly underwhelming match-up, the bottom two teams in the NL East--both of whom are pretty awful--facing off in a game that will still leave the winner miles behind the division-leading Mets and pretty far south of .500. If recent Nats' attendance is anything to go on, they'll draw a crowd of about 21,000--or roughly equal to what DC United draws playing soccer in the same stadium.

I'll be there though, because I love baseball. And because of games like this one I described last year, which proves even a game which on paper appears to be a snoozer can turn into so much more.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

May 3rd, 2001

Indians at Royals

Fans running on the field is always stupid, but perhaps never so vividly illustrated as it was on this night. In the ninth inning of a Royals' loss, twenty-two Michael Orschlin jumped on to the field in order to win a four hundred dollar bet from a friend. As it turned out, this idea was far better in theory than in execution, as Orschlin ended up delaying the game for nearly fifteen minutes as he had to be carted off the field after breaking his foot in the course of jumping over the Kaufman Stadium fences.

Compounded his misery, although Orschlin was now presumably up four hundred dollars from his bet--assuming his friend paid up, something of dubious certainty--he was actually a thousand dollars in the hole from the fine he would receive for trespassing on the field. Even with his winnings, that's still a six hundred dollar loss. All said then, Orschlin lost a whole bunch of money and broke his foot. That's why you don't run on the field.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

May 2nd, 1939

Gates Brown Born

I like Gates Brown, and not just because he's one of only a handful of players to get into the Encyclopedia with a name that is made up of two nouns. (The nickname was a childhood one; Brown claimed he never knew its origins but preferred it to "Billy" so it stuck.) Brown was a professional pinch-hitter, a term that gets thrown around a lot. These days it generally means "a professional baseball player who is in the waning stages of his not-so-great career but is an inexplicable manager's favorite and therefore remains on the team to ground-out weakly in crucial situations when called upon as a pinch-hitter." Since that's a bit of a mouthful, most broadcasters simply shorten it to "a professional...pinch-hitter," to explain why Ruben Sierra is grounding out with runners on second and third in the seventh for the fifty-fourth time this season.

Gates Brown however, really was a professional pinch-hitter. Brown stood 5'11", 220 and despite that height is almost invariably described as "squat." Squat or not, Brown wasn't much of a defensive player but he knew how to swing the bat. Appropriately, his first Major League at-bat in 1963 was as a pinch-hitter for Don Mossi and Brown homered, bringing his Tigers within two runs of the Red Sox. Such pinch-hits soon became Brown's forte, he twice led the AL in pinch-hits (1968 and 1974) and hit sixteen pinch-hit homers in his career.

The best year of Brown's career came in 1968. With pitching at its high water mark of the post World War II era, Brown was instrumental in providing the offensively-limited Tigers with enough runs to make it to the World Series. He saw time in the field in just eighteen games but appeared as pinch-hitter in nearly fifty others and hit .370 with six home runs, while posting an astounding 234 OPS+.

That was the high point for Brown; although the introduction of the DH would extent his career, it came too late--Brown was thirty-four in 1973--to really give him the chance to ply his trade. But next time you watch Dave Hansen pop-out, you can think back to Gates Brown and remember when professional pinch-hitters really did exist.

Monday, May 01, 2006

Editor's Note: As May begins, I'd like to take time to once again thank everyone who came to the blog last month. April saw more than 2,400 visitors, more than double my previous monthly high (August of last year, if you're curious). That brings the total visitors up to nearly 12,500 a number that amazes me, and I'm very grateful for everyone who comes by.

May 1st, 1991

History Made

I know that's a hopelessly vague description for the date, especially since given my standards, every day is 'History Made' but it's really the only way to describe a day on which two significant historical events occurred. Both are outstanding individual achievements, although they are in many ways different.

The first took place in Arlington, Texas. Despite pitching to a pretty solid Blue Jay line-up that included Robby Alomar, Joe Carter and John Olerud, Nolan Ryan threw his record seventh no-hitter. The list of Ryan’s accomplishments is well known (perhaps summed up best by George Scott who said that "nobody throws harder than Nolan Ryan. Not even God.") and while the seven no-hitters are in some way a function of luck--he probably could just as easily have thrown only three with some bad breaks--the sheer number of them, seven, is awe-inspiring. At the time, Ryan was personally responsible for nearly four percent of all modern no-hitters, a remarkable run of single-game achievement.

Meanwhile, in Oakland, Rickey Henderson stole the 939th base of his career: third, off my then-favorite player, Matt Nokes, breaking the record held by Lou Brock. (Brock was in attendance to watch Rickey break his record. Henderson graciously observed that "Lou Brock was certainly a great base stealer, but today I'm the greatest of all-time;" real modest there Rickey.) Henderson is one of the greatest players who ever lived and of course the still stolen base champion with 1,406 a total that no active player is even close to and one he figures to hold at least as long as Nolan Ryan has the record for most no-hit games.

Sunday, April 30, 2006

April 30th, 1905

Cy Rigler Signals Strike

This is a story that doesn't quite ring true for me--it's a little too neat--but that's (obviously) not going to stop me from reporting it, because even if it is apocryphal, we'll just consider it a creation myth. The story has it that Rigler was umpiring home plate at a minor-league game in Evansville, Indiana and had a group of friends in the stand. (As an aside, that's an interesting thought all on its own, an umpire who brings fans to the game. I assume they're attending for the sake of watching the game, rather than watching their friend call balls-and-strikes, but who knows?) At some point either prior to or during the game his friends observed that they were sitting too far away to hear Rigler's calls and therefore didn't know in many cases if the pitch was a ball or strike.

Rigler thought about this and, according to legend, became the first umpire to raise his right arm on strikes. Thereafter his friends in the outfield bleachers could now see the call on a pitch without having to strain to hear the call. The technique soon spread throughout the country as umpires realized this was a far superior way to announce calls than bellowing "BALL!" or "STRIKE!" more than two-hundred times a game. By the time Rigler made it to the Majors as an Ump the practice was standard.

Rigler would go on to a distinguished MLB career; he umpired in ten World Series, the second-most all time and was just a few weeks removed from being promoted to NL Supervisor of Umpires when he died following complication from surgery for a brain tumor. His ultimate legacy however, remains an afternoon in Evansville and a raised right arm.

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