Saturday, August 19, 2006

August 19th, 1976

Johnny Walker Dies

Alas, today will not be the all-alcohol team, despite my fondness for a drink every now and then. I tried my best to construct one, but even with the presence of Bud Weiser (1915-16) and Clarence Beers (pitched two-thirds of an inning in 1948), there just isn't enough to justify calling them a "team."

The blog will therefore have to be about Johnny Walker. There is unfortunately not a whole lot to say about Johnny; he played three years in the Major Leagues, 1919 through 1921 but only saw any meaningful time in the final year when he was the regular first baseman for a dire Philadelphia A's team. That was appropriate as Walker was a trifle dire himself, hitting just .258/.278/.329 with just two home runs and not even fifty RBIs, hardly the power numbers expected from a first baseman. Of course, given that the A's were in the middle of a three-year period during which they lost 100 games a year, I imagine everyone on the team needed more than their share of ol' Johnny Walker.

Friday, August 18, 2006

August 18th, 1955

Bruce Benedict Born

In the past, I've done birthdays that you might describe using words or phrases like "awful" or "best forgotten." Not all baseball birthdays, however, are so awful. Bruce Benedict, in fact, celebrated his twenty-third birthday in style, but more on that in a moment. For his career Benedict was never much of a player, as he simply had no power at all--his career slugging percentage is .299, below that of Rey Ordonez or Mike Hampton--but he lasted twelve seasons in the Majors and even made the All-Star team twice.

Moving on though, we come to his birthday in 1978. As I mentioned, Benedict was turning twenty-three (coincidentally, the same age I'll be turning at my next birthday) and while he is from Alabama, Benedict was spending it in St. Louis. Why St. Louis? Because Benedict was a recently called up member of the Atlanta Braves, and made his Major League debut in the eighth inning of a 5-1 Braves' loss, getting a single in his only at-bat in the ninth. 1-1 in one's first Major League game on your birthday. That's a great birthday.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

August 17th, 1965

Alex Cole Born

According to the back of this card, the Indians “built their entire team around Alex’s speed in 1991.” Their reward for this decision was last place and a league-leading one hundred and five losses. Like they say, speed—especially when you steal twenty-seven bases but are caught seventeen times—kills. Luckily for the Indians, by 1992 they realized that Albert Belle and his twenty-eight home runs were worth a lot more than Alex Cole and his ten net steals.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

August 16th, 1941

Gene Brabender Born

"We [the Seattle Pilots] were talking about what we ought to call Brabender when he gets here. He looks rather like Lurch of the 'Addams Family,' so we thought we might call him that, or Monster, or Animal which is what they called him in Baltimore last year. Then Larry Haney told us how Brabender used to take those thick metal spikes that are used to hold the bases down and bend them in his bare hands. 'In that case," said Gary Bell, 'we better call him Sir.'


'Larry Haney read a selection from the New York Post, a story by Vic Ziegel. 'Today Mel Stottlemyre goes after his seventh victory," Ziegel wrote, 'and Gene Brabender goes after whatever the Gene Brabenders of the world go after.'
Ray Oyler: 'Hey Bender. That guy just shit all over you.'
Brabender: 'Will someone point out that fucker to me?'
[Jim] Pagliaroni: 'He must never have seen you in person, Rooms'
Footnote: Brabender beat Stottlemyer, 2-1.


Pagliaroni says that one of the great things about Gene Brabender as a pitcher is that he's big enough to intimidate hitters with his size. 'He looks like if you got a hit off him, Pag said, "he'd crush your spleen.'

~Jim Bouton, Ball Four

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

August 15th, 1975

Earl Weaver Ejected

Actually Weaver was ejected twice. This was a double header pitting Baltimore against Texas and Weaver against his long-time nemesis, umpire Ron Luciano. In the first game Weaver was ejected in the fourth inning by Luciano (Rangers' manger Frank Lucchesi, meanwhile, had managed get himself ejected in the second inning of that game) and when Weaver decided to resume the argument at the line-up card exchange before the second game, Luciano ejected him him then-and-there.

This was only the latest in a series of somewhat legendary confrontations between Weaver and Luciano, altercations that got so bad the league began to specifically avoid assigning the ump to Baltimore series. The whole rundown of Weaver and Luciano's would-be double act is given in Luciano's collection of books, along with a variety of other stories. Although many are almost surely apocryphal, they're all enjoyable. The books are now out of print, but can be found on Amazon and other like sellers. They come recommended.

Monday, August 14, 2006

August 14th, 1984

Spud Davis Dies

Continuing my theme of all-something teams, we come to today, the "All-Crop" team. Our titular player is Virgil "Spud" Davis. Davis was a pretty good player over his career, finishing with a career .308 average, especially good as Davis spent the bulk of his career as a catcher.

Today also marked the demise of another member of the All-Crop team, Mack Wheat in 1979. Wheat was not much of a player, hitting just .204 over seven seasons, although I suppose he deserves credit for hanging around for seven years despite not being able to hit a lick. Wheat hung on because, like Davis, he was also a catcher and at the time catchers hitting .204 were widely tolerated. Come to that, not a whole lot has changed in that

Mack was hardly the only Wheat in baseball history; there have been two others. The first was Lee Wheat who had a brief--just thirty innings--career in the mid-50s. The second is the best member of the All-Crop team, and its only Hall of Famer, Zach. Zach Wheat played all but one of his nineteen seasons for Brooklyn. For his career he had a .317/.367/.450 line. Wheat won a batting title in 1918, and finished as high as third in the MVP.

Other crops are represented on the team, however, as Gene Rye played one season for Boston in 1931, and although "Half Pint" (as he was known) hit just .179, his name is good enough to put him on the squad. Finally we come to the Cotton bunch, although no player was blessed (or cursed, I suppose) with Cotton as a surname, several acquired it has a nickname. The best of these was Cotton Tierney an infielder/outfielder who finished with nearly a .300 across a short six-year career.

I'm not sure you could assemble a full team from the All-Crop bunch, and even if you were to manage it I'm not sure they'd be very good. But with such a carbohydrate collection for names, they'd probably never be hungry.

Sunday, August 13, 2006

August 13th, 1951

Boston at Brooklyn

Those are the Boston Braves, of course, interleague play was still a few years off in 1951. A few days back, I described a promotion at an Expos' game in which fans who attended with a dog were entitled pre-game to parade around the field. I implied, without actually saying I think, that this was the sort of silliness the Expos were reduced to in their later years as they tried everything possible to bring out the fans.

That's still true, but as it happens, even the great franchises sometimes found themselves reliant on such foolishness to bring out the fans. Today was a prime example for the Brooklyn Dodgers. The Dodgers had won the pennant two years earlier and finished second the year before, and while 1951 would end badly, they were again a pennant quality team. On account of such things, the Dodgers led the National League in attendance, averaging more than sixteen thousand a game.

Bringing in those numbers requires all kinds, and today is a prime example of that. The Dodgers held "Music Depreciation Night," with the depreciation being in ticket prices: any fan who arrived with a musical instrument was admitted free. Nearly two thousand fans took advantage of the offer, including one who apparently turned up with a piano. It was an all-around good day at Ebbets Field as the Dodgers hung on to win despite a late rally by the Braves, and I'm sure there were no shortage of people to play "Take Me Out to the Ballgame" on the the Subway ride home.

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