Saturday, July 15, 2006

July 15th, 1980

Jung Bong Born

Moving right along from Billy McCool, we come to Juan Bong, Bong is from South Korea and I'm told the name is actually quite common over there. Anyway, Bong, who pitched for the Braves in the first part of this decade is, of course, a member in good standing of the "Mind-Altering Substances Name Club," which has membership stretching throughout the game's history. Other members include Herb Hash who pitched in the 40s for the Red Sox, Jack Daniels (no, not the Jack Daniels) who pitched in the 50s across town for the Boston Braves, a 1920s and 30s pitcher who was--I swear--known as "Lil Stoner" and of course, Bud Weiser.

Friday, July 14, 2006

July 14th, 1944

Billy McCool Born

Now that, loyal readers, is a great name. Sounds like some character in a bad, wannabe John Hughes 80s movie. Billy McCool, the popular jock who learns a lesson about life and love when he's forced to date the unpopular sophomore. Or something.

Moving right along to his feats on the diamond, McCool was a pitcher in the 60s for the Reds; he came up when he was just nineteen and posted a pretty good season--almost ninety innings, 2.42 ERA--pitching largely out of the bullpen. The next year he was the Reds' closer (as much as closers existed in 1965) and regressed somewhat, with his ERA going up to 4.27, although he did have twenty-one saves, second most in the National League. In 1966 McCool developed a slider and at age twenty-one had his best season, throwing more than a hundred innings with a 2.48 ERA, recording eighteen saves (again second in the league) and going to the All-Star game. At just age twenty-one, McCool seemed primed for a good, maybe even great, career as a reliever.

As it turned out, that would never come. McCool would lose his closer's job to Ted Abernathy in 1967 after an unsuccessful spell as a starter. Though he still managed a respectable 3.42 ERA, his career path was clearly heading the wrong way. In fact, despite being just twenty-two, McCool was essentially cooked as a ballplayer. He would post a 4.97 ERA in 1968 and was left unprotected in that winter's expansion draft where he was taken by the San Diego Padres. The changes of scenery failed to help and McCool put up a 4.30 ERA in San Diego. 1970 was the last year of McCool's career, as he pitched poorly in limited duties for the Cardinals. Ultimately, his story seems to be that the innings he threw at a young age (almost four hundred across nearly two hundred games) meant the promising second half of his career would never come. At least he always had that name though.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

July 13th, 1940

Jack Aker Born

One of the more interesting things about the modern age of baseball players--even rather average ones--making huge money is that their post-career life is entirely one of leisure. That's not to say that all retired ballplayers spend their time sitting on a beach somewhere drinking a piña colada, but a lot of them could, if so inclined. Whereas some players of the past were coaches because they loved the game and had something to teach, many were coaches simply because that was all they knew. Others went into real estate, or the lecture circuit, but everyone save the superstars had to do something; the money from baseball just wasn't good enough to hold one over after his career.

Jack Aker is a classic example of this. Although his career numbers (11 years, just under 750 innings and a 3.28 ERA) aren't overwhelming, he managed some really good seasons in his time, leading the league in saves in 1966 and finishing in the top ten five other times. Had he been lucky enough to live in the post-reserve clause age, and have one of his good years just prior to free agency Aker would likely have signed a contract that, if well invested (and well hidden from the taxman by a clever but law-abiding CPA) would have allowed him to spend the rest of his life in comfortable, if not opulent, surroundings never having worked another day in his life.

Of course, some of us were just born at the wrong time, and such was the case with Aker. Not having ever signed a multi-million dollar contract, he had to find some way to keep himself solvent. Like so many others, Aker went into coaching, but Aker's players are, shall we say, slightly below the Major League level.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

July 12th, 1992

Andy Van Slyke Singles

That was one of Van Slyke's league leading 199 hits that year, he also led in doubles with forty-five. Despite those accomplishments, and being a five-time Gold Glove winner (all as an outfielder, although he also saw time at the corners in his youth) and top five finisher in the MVP voting two times, Van Slyke will probably—and deservingly—be best remembered for his wit. About Mitch Williams and his sometime erratic control, Van Slyke said that if “everyone were like him I wouldn't play. I'd find a safer way to make a living." Contrasting his days with the Cardinals to those with the Pirates he remarked that in St. Louis “everybody would be reading the business section to see what their stocks were doing. You get to this [Pittsburgh] locker room in the morning and everybody is looking at the sports page to see if Hulk Hogan won." My personal favorite though is Andy complaining "my biggest problem in the big leagues is that I can't figure out how to spend forty-three dollars [a day] in meal money." I could go on and on with these.

It is a terrible shame then that Donruss Triple Play choose to use this gem for the back of Andy’s card pictured above: “Don’t ever try to be something you’re not. The real you is the one people will like.” As corny as that is, it does rather prove its own point, the real Van Slyke was quotable, funny and well-liked. The preachy Van Slyke of the card? Probably not so well-liked.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

July 11th, 1999

A's at Diamondbacks

During radio broadcasts of Yankee games this season, they run a pair of--truth be told, fairly goofy--promotions: the "Triple Play Third" and "Grand Slam Inning" (usually the fifth). If the Yankees turn a triple play in the third, a lucky listener wins not only $10,000 but also a "Triple Play" of Time Warner cable packages. The Grand Slam Inning meanwhile, requires the Yankees to not only hit a grand slam but also for the fourth batter of the inning to do it. Should this happen the chosen listener wins a new Toyota. Not surprisingly, given the rarity of triple plays in general, and fourth batter grand slams in the fifth inning, neither grand prize has even been awarded.

That's not to say contests of this nature never pay out, as today's game proves. At the time, the Diamondbacks had a promotion that a fan would pick a player and an inning and if said player hit a grand slam in said inning, the fan would win a million dollars. Despite the presence of noted sluggers like Matt Williams (378 career home runs), Luis Gonzalez (323 career homers to date, including one year of fifty-seven) and Steve Finley (302 career homers to date), Gylene Hoyle selected Jay Bell, he of 195 career r0und-trippers and the sixth inning.

Well, you can probably see where this is going. Bell came to bat in the sixth inning with the bases loaded and--wonders never cease--drove a Jimmy Haynes offering over the wall for a grand slam. Hoyle had won her million dollars while Bell had given his team a 7-3 lead. The D-Backs would go on to win the game 7-4, which probably only raised Hoyle's sprits higher, but one imagines the highlights for all involved was Jay Bell and his Million Dollar Grand Slam.

Monday, July 10, 2006

July 10th, 1967

Skinny Graham Dies

Would you believe, I mean really, would you, that there have been not one, but two Skinny Grahams in the history of Major League Baseball? This one--born Arthur Graham--was an outfielder for the Red Sox in the 30s for a handful of games while the other--born Kyle Graham--was a pitcher for the Braves and Tigers in the 20s. It was only that second bit of information that gives the second Graham's nickname any source of meaning.

To wit, the first Graham stood 6'2" and weighed 172 pounds. Although not perfect because it isn't really designed for elite athletes (who tend to have a fair bit of muscle)
Body Mass Index can give us some idea of a person's weight as it is compared to their height. The first Graham has a BMI of 20.8, putting him on the low end of the "normal" section. (One could argue he shouldn't be called "Skinny" then, but that's just splitting hairs.) The second Graham is listed at the same 172 pounds but a full seven inches shorter than 1920s Graham, at just 5'7". How, I wondered, could a man with a BMI of 25.4--just in the "overweight" section--possibly have earned a nickname like Skinny?

The answer is clear, of course: there were some cruel folk in the Boston media (or Red Sox rooting section) who, remembering the previous Graham decided to inflict the nickname on the more heavyset eponymous outfielder. After having some unsolved mysteries over the past few nights, I can sleep soundly knowing this one is worked out.

Sunday, July 09, 2006

July 9th, 1955

Willie Wilson Born

Willie Wilson spent all but the tail end of his career with the Kansas City Royals; although he lacked the power and plate discipline to make him an elite player he was nevertheless a valued member of the Royals teams of the mid-80s. Wilson was a center fielder and speedy guy, stealing as many as eighty-three bases in a season and finishing with a nearly eighty-five percent career success rate; he also led the league in triples five times.

It wasn't Wilson himself that actually drew my attention today, however, what I really noticed is that July 9th appears to be the day for people with alliterative names born in a year that is itself alliterative. In addition to Willie Wilson in 1955, this day saw the birth, in 1944, of Hal Haydel. In 1933 the world welcomed Raymond Roy Ripplemeyer. All I can say, I guess, is that if you're having a son on July 9th, 2022, an alliterative name would be a good first step towards his Major League career.

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