Saturday, May 27, 2006

May 27th, 1981

Elmer Leonard Dies

In the ever-growing (but sadly rarely shrinking) list of things that easily confuse me, we come to Elmer Leonard. Elmer Leonard, born in 1888 and quite obviously dead, is not to be confused--as I did--with the crime writer Elmore Leonard, who is, in fact, very much alive.

Elmer Leonard meanwhile, the confusion he provokes in me notwithstanding, was not much of a ballplayer. He played just one season in the Majors, 1911, as a twenty-two year old pitcher, appearing in just five games (one start) and going 2-2 with a respectable 2.84 ERA. (1911 being the time when 2.84 ERAs were "respectable" rather than "sparkling"). The most interesting thing about him, it appears, is that despite being listed at 210 pounds, his nickname is given as "Tiny," which I'm assuming was given ironically.

Other than that, I got nothing on Leonard, although given how young he was during his debut season; it would seem almost a sure thing that unless injuries derailed him he pitched in the non-Majors a bit more. Leonard was born and died in Napa, maybe he got into the wine business. I can think of worse ways to spend one's post-baseball life.

Friday, May 26, 2006

May 26th, 1872

Stoney McGlynn Born

I orginally picked this as a topic because "Stoney McGlynn" sounds like a name a TV anchorman in Fargo, North Dakota would use. "Welcome to Fargo's Channel 16 Eyewitness News, I'm Stoney McGlynn, along with my co-anchor, Larra Leslees." As it turns out, his name is even better than I hoped, as Stoney is a nickname (of course) with his given name being "Ulysses Simpson Grant McGlynn," after the victorious Union Civil War general. (As an aside, Grant's name is something of a source of debate, given that he changed it around the period of his entry to West Point.)

Naming issues aside, McGlynn is most notable for having made his debut extremely late, he first came up to the Majors with the Cardinals in 1906 at the age of thirty-four and pitched forty-eight innings. The next year he was a full-fledged member of the rotation, leading the league with more than three hundred and fifty innings, finishing thirty-three of thirty-nine starts, both league bests. Unfortunately for both him and the Cards, McGlynn also led the league in earned runs, hits and walks allowed, finished second in homers allowed (albeit with just six) and led in losses with twenty-five. The next year he pitched just seventy-five innings and was out of Major League baseball for good, although he would continue to perform well in the Minor League American Assiociation into his forties.

So what circumstances brought McGlynn to the Majors so late, for his one bright, shining blaze of mediocrity, only to ne'er be heard from again? I have absolutely no idea, and with my books still packed from my trip back from Washington, I am unable to pursue the question further. If anyone does know, I'd be happy to hear.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

May 25th, 1935

Babe Ruth Homers

Oddly, for a man who hit so many home runs, surprisingly few of Babe Ruth's are remembered in particular. There was number sixty of course, and his famous "called shot" in the World Series, but for a guy who hit 714 home runs, plus another fifteen in the playoffs, two is an awfully small number to remember.

That's unfair, because in point of fact everyone actually remembers five of Ruth's homers, albeit with three-fifths of them coming in one day, today. As a member of the Boston Braves, Ruth was having an awful season (he would play just twenty-eight games and hit just .181) but today, the Babe of old shone. Playing at Forbes Field, Ruth slugged three homers--the last of which supposedly traveled over six hundred feet. While it's possible that's apocryphal, it seems fitting for the man who hit, to that point, more home runs than anyone else in baseball history by a huge margin.

It is a shame that so few of Ruth's home runs are specifically remembered--although with so many perhaps that was an inevitability--but we should cherish the ones we do remember, especially such a definitive set of three.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

May 24th, 1979

Joe Kennedy Born

Not this Joe Kennedy of course--John Sterling's fondness for referring to our Joe Kennedy as "The Patriarch" notwithstanding--pitching Joe Kennedy has had a rather underwhelming career. He spent the first three years in Tampa Bay, never winning more than eight games or posting an ERA below 4.44, although he was probably the best pitcher on the team in 2002. His 2003 was an unmitigated disaster however, as Kennedy went 3-12 with a ghastly 6.13 ERA. Evidently itchy to be rid of their one-time "ace" the D-Rays traded him to Colorado as part of a complicated three-way deal with the Blue Jays and Rockies. (That trade might deserve a blog of its own someday, a three-way trade with absolutely no one of note involved, that can't happen much these days.)

Typically, being sent to Colorado indicates doom for pitchers. For Joe Kennedy however, at least for 2004, it was heaven. Kennedy won just nine games (against seven losses) but that belies how good he really was. He posted a 3.66 ERA, which would be respectable anywhere, but in Colorado was excellent. It was good enough to give Kennedy one of the ten best ERA+ numbers of 2004, and was the only full-season ERA below 4.00 ever for a Rockies' starter. (The closest anyone had ever come before was Armando Reynoso's exactly 4.00 ERA in 1993.) Kennedy can lay claim to the greatest pitching season ever by a starter in Coors Field history.

Of course, it was all rather a fluke, and when Kennedy was traded from the Rockies to the A's in mid-season 2005, he was already sporting an ugly 7.04 ERA. He improved in Oakland, returning to the league average pitcher he had been in Tampa Bay, but it appears that whatever brought Kennedy his 2004 greatness had left him. Given the way balls fly around Coors, however, it may be a long time before his name is erased from the record books.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

May 23rd, 1912

Augie Galan Born

Augie Galan is a name I know for a rather obscure reason, he's Johnny Damon's most similar player (at least through last year), a fact I discovered while perusing Damon's stat page this past off-season. Galan--whose first name is short for "August," incidentally--was obviously not quite the media darling Damon is. That being said, Galan was a pretty good player, albeit one with an oddly late peak.

Galan first saw time in 1934 for the Cubs, hitting .260 in just under two-hundred at-bats. The next year would prove his coming out party however, as the switch-hitting Galan played left field full time for the pennant-winning Cubs, hitting .314/.399/.467 at age twenty-three and seemingly launching the start of a highly productive career. For a while after that however, it appeared 1935 would be a fluke season as Galan struggled in 1936 (losing more than a hundred points of slugging) and although he bounced back somewhat by 1939 to be a productive hitter, his OPS+ never topped one hundred in the years 1940-1942.

Perhaps because of weakened wartime competition, or perhaps just because of a late peak, Galan--who was by now thirty-one years old--had a renaissance in the following years. In 1943 Galan, now with the Dodgers in Brooklyn, put together a 137 OPS+, bettering his performance in 1935. The next year would be even better as Galan had the best year of his career, hitting .318/.426/.495, good for the sixth best OPS+ in the league. Galan's numbers would drop the next season, but so would the rest of the league's and he managed his best ever OPS+ result, finishing fifth.

Galan would remain an effective player through 1947, and hit well in limited duty in 1948; some reports credit this to his abandoning switch-hitting after the 1944 season, although I'm not quite sure why giving the platoon advantage would help one as a hitter. After his playing days ended after the 1949 season, Galan managed briefly in the Pacific Coast League (he was from California) and for the Giants under Mel Ott before retiring from the game to manage meat markets in San Francisco. He died in late December of 1993.

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