Saturday, September 09, 2006

September 9th, 1995

Swallows at Giants

As one or two of you might know, that's the Yakult Swallows (now known as the Tokyo Yakult Swallows) and the Yomiuri Giants (more commonly known as the Tokyo Giants). The Giants are commonly, and accurately, known as the Yankees of Japan with more pennants and titles than any other franchise. I don't know an equally good comparison to the Swallows; they're in the same league as the Giants but have had some success of their own (including five titles) so perhaps they're the A's or Tigers of Japan.

Anyway, continuing our theme from the other day of notable no-hitters, we come to this game. On this day the Swallows--on their way to their third league title--got the best of the Giants, no-hitting them. Although I don't have the exact data I assume Japanese leagues have no-hitters at roughly the same rate as leagues based in the United States (or anywhere, for that matter) but today's was nonetheless significant for its pitcher. The pitcher was Terry Bross, he of twelve lifetime innings in the Major Leagues (0-0, 3.00) who was nonetheless lights out in Japan finishing 14-5 and leading the league with a 2.33 ERA.

Bross' no-hitter was notable for being just the second one ever pitched by a foreign born player--and even more so for (like Kevin Brown two years later) missing out on a perfect game only by hitting a batter. Despite a fair bit of effort, I've not been able to turn up who threw the first no-hitter in Japan by a foreign born player, so if anyone can send me that information, I'd be much obliged. For now though, we can marvel at Terry's feat.

Friday, September 08, 2006

September 8th, 1913

Slick Castleman Born

No, he wasn't one of the minor characters in Saturday Night Fever, "Slick" Castleman (born Clydell Castleman; I'd get a nickname too) was a pitcher in the 1930s for the Giants. Castleman debuted as a twenty year-old in 1934, appearing in seven games--one start--and finishing the year 1-0 albeit with a gruesome 5.40 ERA. The next year, at just age twenty-one, Castleman won fifteen game (good for third on the team) and with just six losses "Slick" was also third in the NL in winning percentage. His best year came in 1937, although Castleman won just eleven games he ranked in the NL top ten in WHIP, BB/9 and strikeout-to-walk ratio.

1937 also represented Castleman's last truly effective year, perhaps his high inning totals, more than four hundred and fifty before age twenty-four, did him in but he was out of baseball by 1940 and threw only one-hundred twenty-four and a third inning in '38 and '39 combined. A native of Tennessee, Castleman died in Nashville in 1998.

Finally, the nickname. As sometimes happens, this is a nickname where one can guess the origin. Castleman was known for being a tidy and clean guy in the clubhouse, and stylish dresser when not in uniform. From his--logically enough--"Slick" was born.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

September 7th, 1946

Joe Rudi Born

The recent (and somewhat mysterious) release of Dimitri Young got me thinking about good players on bad teams. Young, of course, was literally the only player of any talent--at the time anyway--on the 2003 Tigers. Young put a line for the season of .297/.372/.537 which is good under normal circumstances but awe inspiring given that the Tigers' team line for the season was .240/.300/.375.

But what, of course, does any of this have to do with Joe Rudi? Well, not a whole lot. But bear with me. Although I've never done it, one could make a "team" out of every day of the year, and play them aganist each other. I have no idea what day would win --off the top of my head, if Feburary 5th could find a pitcher to go with Hank Aaron, Robby Alomar, Don Hoak and Roger Peckinpaugh they'd be a contender at the least--but I do know that September Seventh would not be much of a team.

Although they have a decent starter in Mark Prior, and closer in Jason Isringhausen, if they could stay healthy, the rest of the team is fairly underwhelming. Few players have a career of any length, and those that do tend towards the Darren Bragg (.255 in nearly 2500 lifetime at-bats) or Sergio Valez (12-20, 5.06 over eight seasons) category.

But what does any of this have to do with Joe Rudi? Well, as you've probably guessed by now, Rudi is the runaway winner of best player ever born on September 7th. Despite the decent pitchers, September 7th has not seen the birth of any really good hitters, let alone great, before or after Rudi's birth in 1946. So let's all wish a Happy Birthday to Joe Rudi, the Dimitri Young of the September 7th team.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

September 6th, 1905

Chicago at Detroit (Second Game)

In honor of Anibal Sanchez and his no-hitter tonight--ending the longest no-hit drought in history--we come to the second game of a double header between the White Sox and Tigers. Although a no-hitter usually reflects some measure of dominance, Sanchez needed to pitch well today as the Marlins could only manage two runs themselves, so the game was at least somewhat in doubt all the way into the ninth inning.

That wasn't the case for Frank Smith in his no-hitter on this date. Like many (most?) pitchers who threw a no-hitter, Smith was not really anything special as a pitcher. He did win as many as twenty-five and twenty-three games in a season, and while the twenty-five win season had a pretty decent ERA, in his twenty-three win season he actually had an ERA below league average. For his career, Smith finished with fewer than a hundred and fifty wins and an ERA just at league average.

On this day, of course, Smith allowed no runs, as one is wont to do when allowing no hits. As it turned out, he could've allowed almost any reasonable number of runs you can think of, as his White Sox scored fifteen runs to give them an easy victory. (For an idea of how many runs fifteen was in 1905, remember that it represented nearly two and a half percent of all the runs the White Sox scored that year.) To this day that remains the largest margin of victory ever in a no-hitter, so Smith was not exactly under a lot of pressure in the later innings.

Anibal Sanchez may have had to bear down and make sure he not only had his no-hitter but also won the game for his team, but for Frank Smith on that day in Detroit more than a hundred years ago it was all smooth sailing.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

September 5th, 1900

Merv Shea Born

I like players born in years like 1900 or 1950; it's always easy to calculate how old they are, which is always nice for someone like me, who is not so good at the ol' math. In the case of Merv Shea, that helped me noticed him, since his 1927 debut (albeit at age twenty-six) is unusually late for someone born in 1900. If those dates had been, say, born in 1911 and debuted in 1937, I might have skipped right over him. I also noticed because Shea's final season came in 1944, also late for someone born in 1900, and even more so for a catcher like Shea.

To be fair, there were probably a couple of other factors at work in Shea's 1944 season. For one, that was one of the war years, when Major League players were hard to come by, but forty-four year olds were not exactly prime draft material. Shea hadn't caught in the Major Leagues since 1939, although whether he was resting his knees at home or bouncing around the minors I don't know. Generally speaking, he had less wear and tear on him at forty-four than say, Carlton Fisk did given he only caught more than a hundred games in a season once, and more than fifty just twice.

Shea made the most of his last go-around, hitting .267/.421/.467 in extremely limited time as the oldest player in the league. Shea would not live much longer, dying in 1953, a sad but fittingly easy way to calculate end to his life.

Monday, September 04, 2006

September 4th, 1950

Doyle Alexander Born

You all remember Doyle Alexander, he's the guy traded for John Smoltz. That's what's going to end up on his tombstone anyway: Here Lies Doyle Alexander. You know, the guy traded for John Smoltz. Boy, was that ever stupid. And to be fair, with the gift of hindsight, it was stupid. Smoltz is a borderline Hall of Famer, a man with nearly three hundred and fifty combined wins and saves, but the Tigers traded him for a guy who pitched in barely more than seventy-five games and did it with a 4.26 ERA.

I'm not sure if it's possible to justify that trade, and I'm not sure if I want to be the guy attempting to justify it. But I do know two things. For one, if you'd asked any Tigers' fan in 1987 what they thought of the trade, it would've seemed a mad question. The Tigers held off the Blue Jays for the '87 AL East title by just two games. It almost surely would not have happened but for Alexander who was simply masterful down the stretch. He went 9-0 with a sterling 1.53 ERA. He averaged more than eight innings a start and threw three shut outs in eleven starts. The only comparable addition in recent memory for me is Randy Johnson for the '98 Astros. Alexander pitched so well, in fact, that he finished fourth in the AL Cy Young race.

The other thing I know is that it is unfortunate Alexander is remembered for nothing but that deal. He wasn't a truly great pitcher--this isn't like Randy Johnson being remembered for his time with the Astros and nothing else--but he probably deserves better. Alexander finished sixth in Cy Young voting for the Blue Jays in '85, made the All-Star team in '88 and won nearly two hundred games in his career. As it stands, he's been doomed to the Milt Pappas scrap heap of history, but that's how it goes sometimes.

Sunday, September 03, 2006

September 3rd, 1978

Mets at Dodgers

Charlie Hough is probably best known now for two things. The first is his nearly endless career as a knuckleball pitcher--Hough pitched for twenty-five seasons, throwing more than two hundred innings at age forty-five. The other is being the pitcher who gave up Reggie Jackson's third home run in the 1977 World Series. As it turns out, 1977-78 were Hough's years for giving up notable home runs to New York team players.

Batting lead off, and facing lefty Tommy John, switch hitter Lee Mazzilli started the game with a home run from the right-handed side of the plate. The Mets would go on to score six runs in the next inning, giving them a commanding seven run lead. Not surprisingly, John was gone from the game by the seventh inning when Mazzilli came up to the plate for his fourth at-bat of the game. John had been replaced by Charlie Hough so Mazzilli had switched over to the left side of the plate.

To this point in history, no Met had ever homered from both sides of the plate in the same game. But Mazzilli, already three-for-three on the day, was obviously locked in and clobbered a Hough offering for his second home run of the game. Obviously I doubt Mazzilli's second home run made quite the splash that Jackson's third did, but for Hough, it was the continuation of a disturbing trend.

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