Saturday, October 14, 2006

October 14th, 1984

Padres at Tigers

With the Tigers--in highly dramatic fashion, no less--once again reaching the World Series today, it seems only appropriate to look back on this game in 1984, when the Tigers clinched their last World Series title. The '84 Tigers are probably one of the more underrated great teams, in part because unlike a lot of other great teams they failed to surround their greatest team with a number of other pretty good ones, making the playoffs only one other time in the 80s. They opened the season 16-1, winning their first nine games, losing the tenth and then winning seven more in a row. By May 24th, at the end of another nine game winning streak, the AL East race was basically over with the Blue Jays nine games back in the loss column. The Tigers would end up winning the division by fifteen games.

The Tigers rolled through the Kansas City Royals in the ALCS, sweeping the series in three games. Kirk Gibson hit .417 with a home run in the series and was voted MVP. Facing the Padres in the World Series the Tigers would split the first two games in San Diego but take over in Detroit, sweeping the remaining games. Gibson put the final nail in the coffin for the Tigers hitting a three-run home run off Goose Gossage in the eighth inning to put the Tigers up by four runs. Guillermo "Willie" Hernandez closed the door in the ninth and the Tigers were champions. We will see next week, of course, if they can repeat this feat, ending a twenty-two year drought.

Friday, October 13, 2006

October 13th, 1950

Dick Pole Born

You know what? I'm not even saying anything about the name. It's there, that's his name. You read it right. Richard Henry "Dick" Pole. I don't think comment is necessary. Pole was at one point a highly touted prospect, leading the International League (that's Triple-A) in both strikeouts and ERA, and pitching a no-hitter in the minors. Pole was less successful at the Major League level, managing only a career 5.05 ERA in five hundred and thirty-one innings; perhaps his most memorable moment came when he gave up Reggie Jackson's 300th career home run.

In Pole's defense, his career might have turned out different had he not been struck on the face by a Tony Muser line-drive in 1975. The ball was said to have rebounded so far off Pole's face that two runners managed to come around and score on the play; ultimately it cost him ninety-percent of his vision in his right eye. (Raising the interesting question of what Tony Muser damaged more, Dick Pole's vision, or the Kansas City Royals.)

After his playing career ended, Pole went into coaching. He has served as a pitching coach at a variety of places, and is credited by as good a pitcher as Greg Maddux for helping teach him the theories on how to pitch at the Major League level. Most recently, Pole was Dusty Baker's bench coach in Chicago; given that Dusty has been blown out of the Windy City, it would seem that Pole will need to find a new club. Dick is still a relatively young man for coaches--though you'd never know it by looking at him--so it seems likely that he'll be somewhere in a ballpark next year coaching away.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

October 12th, 1915

Lou Novikoff Born

Known as "The Mad Russian," Lou Novikoff had the good fortune to be in the Majors during pretty much the only period of the twentieth century when it was not only acceptable, but even favorable to be associated with the Soviet Union, 1941 through 1946. Ten years later and the Glendale, AZ native would have been answering questions from Joe McCarthy. (That would be this Joe McCarthy of course, not this one.)

Novikoff was an absolutely hellacious minor league, winning batting titles practically everywhere he went, and being voted Sporting News Minor League Player of the Year in 1939. However, Novikoff was perhaps a Quad-A hitter, as although he posted good numbers in 1942, hitting .300 on the nose, he never lasted in the Major Leagues, especially not after the Second World War brought many of the regular players home. This was perhaps because Novikoff had a reputation of being something of a butcher an outfielder, particularly inept when it came to tracking line drives. Novikoff was also said to be afraid of ivy, a problem for anyone hoping to patrol the outfield at Wrigley Field. After 1946, Novikoff spent the rest of his baseball career in the minor leagues.

Once that career ended, Novikoff returned to the sport of softball, and played until he was fifty-three old. He was a good enough softball player to lead his team to three championships and was the first man inducted in the International Softball Congress Hall of Fame. (Worth noting here that Novikoff was playing fast-pitch softball, so not quite the mental image you might have of a Sunday beer league game.)

One final note on "The Mad Russian:" presumably his nickname comes in part from the Russian sound of his last name, but also perhaps on account of his behavior. According to various, potentially apocryphal stories, Novikoff once stole third base, the only problem being that the bases were loaded at the time. Asked for the logic behind such a move, he explained that he'd really gotten a good jump on the pitcher. One of Novikoff's minor league roommates reported that he was prone to coming back to the hotel just when the rest of the team was waking up; indeed Cubs' manager Charlie Grimm is reputed to have turned on his radio before going to one night only to find that player singing live from a bar. Novikoff died of a heart-attack just shy of his fifty-fifth birthday, but I think it is safe to say he managed to fit a lot of life into those fifty-four years.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

October 11th, 1856

Athletics at Atlantics

Without being able to say for sure, I think that's the Philadelphia Athletics while the home team (I know this part) is the Brooklyn Atlantics. The Atlantics are generally considered the first champions in baseball and the game's first dynastic franchise winning the league title every year from '56 all the way to 1861, and held the title several more times in the 1860s although the beginnings of "true" professional baseball put an end to the dynasty.

This game would likely be little noticed save one important factor. It is generally believed to be the first game in which scorecards were printed up and sold at the game. I think we all know that I'm a fan of having a scorebook with me at the game and while I don't know that the scorecards sold in those days allowed one to keep score in the modern matter--in fact, I'm sure they didn't; modern scoring came with Henry Chadwick many years later.

However, before Henry Chadwick could develop his scoring, and way before I could keep my own modest little tally at the ballpark there had to be a scorecard. So I think today is one worth celebrating, the birth of the scorecard.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

October 10th, 1929

Bobby Tiefenauer Born

I have a soft spot in my heart for knuckleball pitchers, in part because of Jim Bouton's Ball Four describing his efforts to succeed as one and in part because although he generally otherwise dominates the Yankees, Tim Wakefield spun the hell out of one and helped Aaron Boone send the Yankees to the 2003 pennant. Besides Wakefield, there just aren't a lot of guys throwing the knuckleball around today--although the White Sox called up Charlie Haeger this season so they aren't an entirely dead breed--so it's important to remember those who threw the knuckler.

Bobby Tiefenauer, as you've probably guessed, was one of those guys. He pitched in the 50s and 60s and like a lot of knuckleball pitchers (basically that means "like all knuckleballers except Phil Niekro) he was all over the map in terms of effectiveness. In 1964 Tiefenauer saved thirteen games, eighth in the league, for the Braves with a 3.21 ERA coming off a season of 1.21 ERA ball in limited time. Of course, the year before that Tiefenauer had a 4.34 ERA and the year after his thirteen saves he had a 4.71 so you see what I mean about all over the map. Perhaps the ultimate in this was the last two years of Tiefenauer's career: in 1967 he had a 0.79 ERA in eleven and a third innings; in 1968 he had a 6.08 in thirteen and a third.

After his playing career ended (at a late age, like a lot of knuckleballers) Tiefenauer went into coaching in the Phillies' system, an occupation he kept up for twenty years as a bullpen coach and minor league instructor. After those two decades he retired to Desloge, Missouri, where he was born and where he lived during the off season through his time in baseball. He died there in 2000.

Monday, October 09, 2006

October 9th, 1979

Alay Soler Born

To me, Alay Soler is a perfect representation of a player who is on every team every year: the guy who saw a surprising amount of time when you look back on his numbers, but who you don't really remember. "Alay Soler," Mets fans everywhere are saying. "He was on our team this year? Are you sure? Wasn't it 2005?"

Nope, it was 2006, and not only was Soler on the team, he made eight starts for the Mets, the most of any non-regular member of the rotation. This isn't a shot at the Mets of course (it's not really a shot at Soler either, for that matter) just an observation on the nature of fandom. Like everything else, we think of the season in a linear way, so the stuff that came early (like Soler's starts) tends to get mushed in with other nonsense, compared to the stuff that came later. Oliver Perez only made seven starts for the Mets this year, but doubtless more fans remember him because he made his in the final two months of the season.

This is an exercise you can repeat for nearly any team, and as you get into less playing time, it's often amazing who was once on your team. I had literally wholly forgotten until I just looked that Scott Erickson actually pitched eleven and a third innings for the Yankees this year. The only problem is that you can only repeat this exercise for teams with which you are familiar on a day-to-day basis, otherwise the whole point is lost. But with the 2006 statistics up at BaseballReference, head over and wonder at who wore your club's uni this year that you just don't remember at all.

Sunday, October 08, 2006

October 5th-8th, 2006


This is, bar none, the longest formally unannounced I've ever taken a break from daily posting here. The combination of not just Yankee games (blast those Tigers!) but also the whole range of post season baseball. Rather than attempting to post a series of "catch-up" entries all at once, I'll put this up and be back on Monday with original material until my usual Christmas sabbatical.

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