Saturday, July 22, 2006

July 22nd, 1969

All-Star Game Postponed

The All-Star Game first took place in 1933 and was played, sometimes twice a year, every year thereafter, excluding 1945 when wartime travel restrictions made it impossible. Remarkably, this was the first time in the game's history that it had to be postponed on account of rain. I don't know if the possibility of a rain-out if why the All-Star Game is sandwiched with off-days, but it obviously served them well this year.

The game itself--this was in DC, at RFK Stadium incidentally--was generally underwhelming as the NL trounced the junior circuit 9-3. The highlights of the game were moon shot home runs by Johnny Bench and a pair from Willie McCovey. The oddest part of the game, besides the rain-out was that listed starting pitcher Denny McLain somehow missed the beginning of the game and didn't appear until the fourth inning, at which point the NL held its dominant lead. There is seemingly no explanation of why exactly McLain missed his start, but knowing what we know about Denny, he was probably up to no good. As it turned out, that was equally no good for the AL.

Friday, July 21, 2006

July 21st, 1955

Mark Lemongello Born

That was his name, believe it or not. Mark Lemongello. He came up to the Astros as a twenty year-old in 1976 after being signed by the Tigers before his eighteenth birthday in 1973. Lemongello was somewhat underwhelming as a pitcher; although he threw more than two hundred and ten innings for the 'Stros in both 1977 and 1978, he finished both years with around or below league average, and went 9-14 both times. He was traded as part of a package to Toronto that netted the Astros catcher Andy Ashby, which was probably Lemongello's greatest contribution to the Houston franchise.

I don't know whether his lack of success is to be blamed on the stress of living with a name like his, or whether or it something to do with the rather vacant expression that Mark wears in nearly every
photo I've seen of him. The latter might be more likely as Lemongello was a little, well, soft in the head. Following a bad appearance in Toronto he bit his shoulder until it bled. More seriously, he and another former pitcher Manny Seoane were later accused of kidnapping Lemongello's cousins (one a professional bowler and the other a lounge singer who had appeared on the Johnny Carson show) as part of some bizarre financial dispute; frankly this all sounds like a Coen Brothers movie to me.

News reports are a little unclear on what exactly became of Lemongello after he turned himself in, although they imply without actually saying that the cousins decided not to press charges. I'm equally unclear on what's become of him since; all I can report is that Lemongello is still alive, still has that name and (presumably) still wears that vacant expression at all times.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

July 20th, 1938

Tony Oliva Born

His full, proper name apparently was Antonio Oliva Lopez Hernandes Javique Oliva. I'm a little hazy on how exactly they managed to stick "Oliva" in there twice, and which Oliva exactly Tony used for his "baseball name" but there you are. Oliva is sometimes mentioned as a should-be Hall of Famer, and a quick look at his stats would seem to suggest that: fifteen years, .304/.353/.476 batting line, three time batting champion and an eight-time All-Star.

The problem with Oliva's Hall case is that his career was, in reality, not much longer than his name. Of those fifteen seasons, Oliva played in fewer than ten games in three of them. Even leaving those out, Oliva averaged fewer than a hundred and forty games per year over the course of his career. Oliva's eight All-Star games, 1964 through 1971 basically mark his period as a quality player. Now mind you, he was outstanding in those eight years, twice finishing second in the MVP vote, leading the league in hits five times and doubles four times.

If Oliva had surrounded those peak years with a typical career rise and fall, he'd be in the Hall of Fame by now with no trouble. Unfortunately, outside of those years he played in fewer than five hundred games and hit under .280. Tony Oliva is no doubt an elite member of the Hall of Very Good, but he remains rightly outside the Hall of Fame.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006


July 19th, 1974

Oakland at Cleveland

Like just about every baseball writer who ever lived, I've written before about Harvey Haddix' near perfect game; to say nothing of the many other near perfect games I've done. This one, however, takes the cake. Facing the two-time defending World Series champions--who would go on to their third title in a row--Indians' pitcher Dick Bosman came as close as is possible to throwing a perfect game. Over the course of nine innings, facing a line-up that included Reggie Jackson and Sal Bando, Bosman allowed no hits and no walks. The only blemish on his record was a throwing error in the fourth inning which allowed Bando to reach second base.

Normally in this situation, the player behind the error would feel one of two ways. The first (and more obvious) is terrible at having cost his pitcher a shot at a perfect game. The second is a sense of regret but also the knowledge that it was a do-or-die play and the perfect game would have been lost anyway, thus allowing the pitcher to keep a no-hitter. This game introduced a new and unique feeling for the perfect game stopping error: I've got only myself to blame! The man behind the error in this case was the pitcher himself, Bosman. Able to go nine innings without giving the A's a good pitch to hit or four bad ones to take, Bosman was nonetheless unable to make a throw to first base to retire Bando.

Funnily enough (well, not for him, but you get the idea) Bosman was usually an excellent defensive pitcher, one who made only eleven errors over the course of his career and finished with a better-than-average .968 fielding percentage. Unfortunately for Bosman, one of those errors happened to come at the worst possible time.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

July 18th, 1865

Herman Pitz Born

So, you might ask, was he? Herman played just one season, 1890, in what is now consider a "major league" although why the 1890 American Association is so considered is something of a mystery given some teams played as few as thirty-four games while others played nearly a hundred but still couldn't win thirty-four games. That team was the Brooklyn Gladiators for whom Pitz--who was from Brooklyn--started the 1890 season. Playing all around the diamond Pitz hit just .138 with a matching .138 slugging percentage, although he did draw enough walks to reach a .312 OBP.

With Brooklyn going badly, Pitz ended up (whether through trade, release or jumping his team I don't know) with the Syracuse Stars. Once again playing positions from catcher to shortstop to the outfield Pitz improved his hitting slightly getting his average up to .221 with a still matching slugging while the OBP went up a shade to .321. For the year, he finished with a .165/.315/.165 line, good (or not) for a 45 OPS+. As to what became of him after that, I can't say as Pitz vanishes from the records thereafter. For that one though, the answer is that yes, he was.

Monday, July 17, 2006

July 17th, 1941

Joe DiMaggio Goes Hitless

I'm sorry to be doing this again, espcially after all the repeats at the beginning of the month, but the combination of my new job (and its 7:00 AM wake-up call) and my attendance at tonight's Yankee game forces a repeat. I'll be back tomorrow.

Sunday, July 16, 2006

July 16th, 2005

Nationals at Brewers

I've written about Mike Stanton before, but despite his various heroics for the Yankees, what I remember most about him is how he managed the neat trick of losing two consecutive games for two different teams on exactly one pitch. How does one manage that? I'll tell you.

Tiring of the inept stylings of Felix Heredia the Yankees sent him to the Mets in exchange for Stanton, whose inept stylings the Mets had tired of. Stanton was not pitching terribly well for the Yankees early in the year (who, of course, weren't playing terribly well early in the year), managing to accumlate an ERA over six and a half entering July. Despite this Joe Torre still had some faith in his warhorse lefty so Stanton entered a game in Baltimore on June 28th in the tenth inning. Tom Gordon had already wasted a good outing by Chien Ming-Wang giving up a run in the eight to tie the game at four as Stanton entered. He was to face Brian Roberts, Larry Bigbie and Miguel Tejada, as Mariano Rivera sat in the pen. As it happened, Stanton only faced one batter, in fact, only threw one pitch, as he gave up a walk-off home run to Roberts. Even with Torre's loyalties, Stanton was soon gone, passed off to the Washington Nationals.

Stanton made his Nationals debut in equally tough spot as he had made his Yankee exit, entering the titular Nats-Brewers game in the bottom of the tenth in a 3-3 game with runners on the corners and one out. Stanton's job, presumably, was to retire Lyle Overbay ideally in a double-play to maintain the tie. Stanton may have done that, but before he could throw a pitch, he attempted pick Rickie Weeks off first base. Oops. Stanton balked, and the winning run jogged home. Although the loss was charged to Luis Ayala, Stanton had now given up two walk-off runs on one pitch. Neat trick.

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