Saturday, August 26, 2006

August 26th, 1947

Dan Bankhead Debuts

Here's a pretty good trivia question. Most everyone knows the first black player in baseball history, and most baseball fans can tell you the first black player in the American League (Larry Doby, if you didn't know) but few could tell you who the first black pitcher in Major League history was. The popular guess, I assume, would be Satchel Paige but that's not the case. The answer, as you probably guessed, is Dan Bankhead.

Bankhead made his debut today for the Dodgers--of course--and, it must be said, failed to impress. Starting against the Pirates Bankhead gave up ten hits and six runs before being knocked out in the fourth inning of an eventual 16-3 stomping by the Bucs. The highlight of Bankhead's day was the home run he hit in his first Major League at-bat. Ultimately, Bankhead has been reduced to trivia answer in large part because he simply wasn't very good. He pitched just ten innings in 1947 and finished with a 7.20 ERA. He was out of the Majors for 1948 and '49 but returned to the Majors in 1950. Bankhead won nine games against four losses, but did so despite a 5.50 ERA. In 1951 Bankhead was again with the Dodgers but saw action in just fourteen innings as he posted a 15.43 ERA.

That marked the end of Bankhead's MLB career, as he finished with a 9-5 record and a 6.52 ERA in just over one hundred and fifty innings. Given the nature of his accomplishment, it is a shame that Bankhead is not better remembered, and exists only as a footnote to the story of baseball integration.

Friday, August 25, 2006

August 25th, 1939

Dooley Womack Born

"Another thing about that [1967] spring. This was after I'd pitched about twenty-five marvelous innings. [Yankee manager Ralph] Houk sat next to me in the dugout and told me, very confidentially, 'You know, you're having a helluva spring, a better spring than Dooley Womack and I think you're just the man we need in the bullpen.'
What I wanted to say was 'I'm having a better spring than who? Dooley Womack? The Dooley Womack? I'm having a better spring than Mel Stottlemyre or Sam McDowell or Bob Gibson.' That's what I should have said. Instead I just sat there shaking my head. He could've knocked me off my seat.
Instead he sold me to Seattle.


At this morning while I was asleep in my room at the Statler Hotel in Baltimore the phone rang. I picked it up and [Seattle manager] Joe Schultz said: 'Jim, you've been traded to the Houston Astros.
There were two things I wanted to know...The second thing was, who for? You like to hear a big name on the end. It's good for your morale.
'Who for?' I said to Schultz.
'Dooley Womack,' he said.
Dooley Womack? Holy mackerel. The same Dooley Womack whose great spring I almost matched with the Yankees? Oh lord! I hope there was a lot of undisclosed cash involved. I hope a hundred thousand at least. Maybe it's me for a hundred thousand and Dooley Womack is just a throw-in. I'd hate to think that at this stage of my career I was being traded even up for Dooley Womack."

~Jim Bouton, Ball Four

Thursday, August 24, 2006

August 24th, 1983

Blue Jays at Orioles

I've mentioned this before, but one of my favorite things to see is a guy playing out of position. My real favorite is position players pitching, but that doesn't happen very often, so sometimes I have to settle for an outfielder playing first base or something. (The best one this season, by the way, was Pudge Rodriguez being forced to play second base a couple of weeks ago.) Today's game provides an example that is so extreme, it very nearly made a mockery of the game itself.

Down two runs entering the bottom of the ninth, Earl Weaver pushed all the pedals on his organ, which ended with the Orioles tying the game. That was good. What also ended up was that Weaver, who had already pinch-hit for his catcher once, did it again, leaving the Orioles with no catchers. That was bad. In something of a pinch, Weaver called up infielder Lenn Sakata to catch. Tim Stoddard entered to pitch and--perhaps offput by having an infielder back there--promptly gave up a lead-off home run to Cliff Johnson and a single to Barry Bonnell.

At this point, Tippy Martinez entered the game to pitch. On first, Bonnell began to take a big lead, in anticipation of stealing off the presumably hapless Sakata. As it happen, he was anticipating that a trifle much, as Martinez proceeded to pick him off. Dave Collins then walked, and also began to take a large lead in anticipation of stealing off of Sakata. Martinez, who evidently had the hang of this sort of thing, then picked him off, meaning the Blue Jays now had a homer, single and walk to start the inning and managed to turn it into two outs, no one on. Willie Upshaw then singled. Having learned from the previous two batters, Upshaw did not ta--actually no. I have that wrong. Upshaw had seemingly been paying no attention to the opening part of the inning and, amazingly, got himself picked off by Martinez.

After Johnson's HR, the Jays had singled, walked and singled, only to see all three erased on pick offs on account of their desire to steal off Sakata. Despite that, they still went into the bottom of the tenth holding a one-run lead. That was soon gone, as Cal Ripken led off the tenth with a game-tying home run. The O's then put two on with two out for--who else?--Lenn Sakata. The once-and-future-infielder, but current catcher, doubtless had no desire to put back on the tools of ignorance. And in grand style, he made sure that he wouldn't, launching a game-winning three-run walk-off home run.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

August 23rd, 1989

Dodgers at Expos

I think if you attend a really, really long game, there comes a certain point where--assuming it's not a vitally important game--you're more or less just rooting for an end. It's hard to be espcially "up" or "down" on a game that has gone on for say, five hours and fourteen minutes. That, of course would be the time of today's Dodgers-Expos game back in 1989, with those five hours and fourteen minutes covering a grand total of twenty-two innings. Twenty-one and a half of which were scoreless.

The game pitted Orel Hershiser aganist Pascaul Perez in an afternoon start. Both starting pitchers were having decent years (Orel going just 15-15 but with a 2.31 ERA while Pascaul went 9-13 with a 3.31 ERA) but today both were nearly flawless. Hershiser left after seven innings having given up no runs and just six base runners while striking out an equal number. Perez went an inning longer, walked no one, and gave up seven hits while also striking out an equal number. In came the bullpens, and the Dodgers got a combined six scoreless innings out of Jay Howell and Alejandro Pena while the Expos countered with scoreless from Tim Burke and the Smiths, Bryn and Zane.

In the sixteeneth, Larry Walker led off with a single aganist Tim Crews. Andres Galarraga followed with another sending Walker to third. Tim Raines was walked intentionally loading the bases with none out but Tim Wallach popped up, giving the Expos just one more shot to win it on an out. Mike Fitzgerald appeared to do that with a sac fly in right field but--incredibly--the Dodgers appealed and despite two umpires no longer being on the field, the appeal was affirmed, putting Walker out and sending the game to the seventeenth.

That inning passed largely uneventfully, but in the top of the eighteenth things continued to go a little wacky. After Lenny Harris hit a two-out single, Eddie Murray hit an absolute screamer to right field. Larry Walker attempted to make the play but trapped the ball as Harris came around to score. Or, at least, that's what nearly everyone at the game save four people saw. As you might imagine, however, those four people were the only ones who counted, the umpires, and the inning was over.

The game continued scoreless until the twenty-second when the Dodgers faced Dennis Martinez. Martinez, usually a starter, was pitching because the Expos had emptied their bullpen, but needed someone to pitch the innings of a seemingly endless game. The Dodgers, also running low on players, led off the inning with ancient back-up Rick Dempsey. Dempsey had easily the most important at-bat of the game, slamming a home run to put the Dodgers up by a run. In the bottom of the inning, facing--of all people--John Wetteland who was in his sixth inning of work, the Expos managed a two-out single but saw that erased on a caught stealing.

After all those hours and all those innings, the game was at last finished: 1-0 Dodgers. As I said, I'm sure the Expos fans weren't pleased with the result, but having watched all that baseball, it's hard to imagine they were heart broken either.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

August 22nd, 1969

Hipolito Pichardo Born

As some of you may have seen, I briefly had an actual entry here, on Hipolito Pichardo and other similarly funny named peoples. However, due to some technical problems that are partially my fault and partially the site's, that entry seems gone forever. Rather than try to recreate it, I'm going to give you something that was included in the original--and is still pretty good--the throwback to Hipolito.

Monday, August 21, 2006

August 21st, 1966

John Wetteland Born

Like many Yankee fans of my generation, I will always have a great fondness for John Wetteland. Acquired in an almost comical deal from Montreal before the 1995 season--the Yankee surrendered the great Fernando Seguignol and cash--Wetteland almost instantly became the Yankees' best closer since Dave Righetti and arguably the first to close really meaningful games since Goose Gossage.

Wetteland struggled badly in the 1995 ALDS; he was 0-1 with a 14.54 ERA, but paired with Mariano Rivera in 1996, he formed the back-end of an almost unhittable combination. Wetteland was never better than in the 1996 World Series where he locked down all four of the Yankees' wins and gave up just one run across four and a third innings. As fond as I am of Wetteland, that World Series also serves as a pretty good representation of what he was like across a whole season: he usually got the job done, but it was never easy.

To Wetteland's credit, he nailed down the save in the crucial Game Three with two strike outs and the only runner reaching on a Derek Jeter error. In Game Four however, "Classic Wetteland" emerged. With the Yankees clinging to a two-run lead (after
famously rallying from six runs down) Wetteland replaced Graeme Lloyd--who shut down Fred McGriff and Ryan Klesko that series--and promptly allowed an Andruw Jones single, giving the Braves two shots at a game-tying two-run home run. And the Braves took those shots indeed. First Jermaine Dye socked one into left field that that Tim Raines tracked down and then Terry Pendleton hit one almost as hard to left that Raines again caught, but did so while falling down, nearly inflicting three simultaneous heart attacks in my house.

In Game Five Andy Pettitte outdueled John Smoltz over eight and a third innings and left with a one-run lead after giving up a leadoff double to Chipper Jones and a ground out to McGriff that moved Jones to third. With the infield in, Javy Lopez hit a liner that Charlie Hayes was able to glove and throw to first, holding Jones at third. The Yankees then walked Klesko, putting the winning on first and the tying run on first with two out. Up stepped Luis Polonia. Polonia, a dead fastball hitter, battled Wetteland for--and this is an approximate count from my memory--eighty-seven pitches before shooting one deep into the gap in right-center. Paul O'Neill, playing on a bad hamstring just managed to track the ball down, retiring Polonia and securing Game Five for New York.

Wetteland was not done yet, however. Wetteland entered the game with the Yankees holding a three to one lead, needing three outs for their first World Series title since 1978. He made a promising start striking out Andruw Jones, but then allowed back-to-back singles to Klesko and Pendleton, putting the tying runs on. After striking out Polonia in a rematch of their Game Five battle Wetteland and the Yankees were just one out away. Never one to shy away from the drama though, Wetteland allowed a single to Marquis Grissom, cutting the lead to just one run. With Mark Lemke up, Wetteland finally induced the last out, getting him to pop-up to Charlie Hayes.

A quick glance at his numbers for the series--2.08 ERA, four saves, six strikeouts--reflects why Wetteland was a wise choice for MVP. But as was his wont, whether on a meaningless July game or in the biggest game of his life, Wetteland never made it easy.

Sunday, August 20, 2006

August 20th, 1978

Dodgers at Mets

The end result of this game, a one-run victory by the Dodgers, was hardly surprising given the Dodgers would go on to the National League pennant while the Mets were earning another of their ninety-six losses that year. What was more uncommon was the events that took place before the game. Don Sutton, the Dodgers' one-time ace who was struggling through a season in which his ERA would end up below average, had made comments about the All-American image of Steve Garvey, specifically whether or not it was an act. Garvey, having an MVP caliber season, took exception (possibly because it was all an act, Garvey was fathering children out of wedlock at a Shawn Kemp like pace) and the two came to blows in the Dodgers' clubhouse.

Players getting into fistfights with their teammates is uncommon, but incredibly, this marked the second time in two years that a team which had a much-publicized fight between teammates would make the World Series. The altercation between Reggie Jackson and Billy Martin in a Fenway Park dugout is now much better remembered (in no small part because there's television footage of that) but obviously the late 1970s represented the peak of pennant winners slugging it out on and off the field.

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