Saturday, October 28, 2006

October 28th, 1935

Bob Veale Born

"[During a rain delay] back in the locker room...the players moved restlessly. Abruptly Veale decided that it was time to make a speech. I noticed that Jimmy Tompkins had draped a towel over his head, under his Blue sox cap, managing to look like a ball player from Oman...the others squirmed on the benches, rained into inactivity.

'You know you maybe think I was a pitcher and that's all I know,' Veale said, beginning so softly he was hard to hear. 'But I could a swing a bat in my day and, besides, I made a study of the game...You were goin' bad in Elmira. I guess you was maybe 0 for 4. But it ain't hard going up to the plate 0 for 4. You already done you worst. You can only get better. Hard is going up to the plate 3 for 4. You got something goin' you want to sustain. You understand? Don't interrupt me, but you can ask me questions later on.

Remember bust your helmet throwing it, it's the only one you got. Next time, you got to hit wearing a busted helmet. You got no protection. Don't look to Doc. He's only got aspirins. They ain't protection.' A few players laughed.

The collected sayings of Chairman Veale, I though. He had his personal syntax and his personal eloquence.

'Remember sayin' "I can't," sayin' "I tried," the two of them ain't worth shit. You got to do it. You got to get it done. There's one thing man don't like that's called fear. You got to make that work for you. God gave every man, big as me [Veale is listed at 6'6"]...the same instinct and we call it fear.

Outsmart 'em...and remind them of their fear. That's all I got to tell you guys in this fucking rain.'"

~Roger Kahn, Good Enough to Dream

Friday, October 27, 2006

October 27th, 2002

Art Howe Hired

Over the nearly two years I've been at this, I've done a fair amount of writing on managers. And this is also the period of the year when managers are endlessly discussed as to who is going to be fired, who is going to replace those people who were fired and all the rest. For my money, this is all kind of silly because while there are some truly excellent managers, and some truly awful ones, a huge majority--maybe seventy-five percent--is just as good as their team. The problem arises when a team hires a manager without doing anything to noticeably improve the team, and then is surprised when things don't go as planned.

Such is the case of Art Howe and the New York Mets. Howe was coming off seasons of 102 and 103 wins in Oakland, and had increased "his" winning total every year since 1997. He was leaving Oakland with six hundred wins and a .530 (87-75) winning percentage. Of course, Howe had also managed in Houston for five years, never won ninety games and averaged eighty-four losses a season but the Mets were evidently convinced he'd come around.

He hadn't of course, and the Mets were rewarded with two years of 95 and 91 losses, and the team finished a collective fifty-nine and a half games out of first place before Howe was fired with two years and more than four million dollars left on his contracts. Having sat at home and cashed the Mets checks Howe is now back in baseball as the third base coach for the Phillies, meaning he'll get to return to his old Shea stomping grounds several times a season. As he does, and Willie Randolph looks brilliant guiding the talented Mets, remember that the difference between them is probably less about the men themselves and more about the men they command.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

October 26th, 1947

Bill Gogolewski Born

I don't know how I missed this last year, I mean, Bill Gogolewski? That's a great name. Unfortunately, that's about the only thing great about him. Gogolewski was a right-handed starter with the Senators/Rangers franchise (being one of a handful of players who was with the team during its move) and then bounced around to the Indians and White Sox. For his career, Gogolewski won just fifteen games while losing twenty-four.

Like a lot of politicians, Gogolewski's best year was also the last he was in Washington, when he went 6-5 with a 2.75 ERA for the Senators in nearly a hundred and twenty-five innings. Other than that one year, Gogolewski never had a season with an ERA under 4.22. But hey, when you've gone through life with a name like Gogolewski, I suppose a few mediocre years on the mound are something you can live with.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

October 25th, 1923

Bobby Thomson Born

That's Bobby Thomson of "The Giants Win the Pennant! The Giants Win the Pennant!" fame and that's how his name is spelled, no "p" despite innumerable writers and others sticking one in there over the years. There's little to say about Thomson's moment that hasn't already been said so I won't even try but it did get me thinking about something else entirely.

Of the "great" home runs, those hit and remembered for their individual signifigance rather than the place in the larger scheme of history--in other words, Thomson's pennant winner rather than Maris' sixty-first, it's amazing how many of them were hit by guys who weren't really home run hitters. For example, a few years ago ESPN ranked the top one hundred home runs of all time, a list you can see the top fifteen of here. Leaving out numbers thirteen (Reggie's three homer night in the World Series as that's about the number of homers, rather than any individual one) nine (Bonds' 71st), seven (Maris' 61st), five (McGwire's 62nd) and three (Aaron's 756th) you're left with ten home runs.

The names left on that list don't exactly jump out at you as home run hitters. The leader is Joe Carter. While 1993 home run won the World Series for the Blue Jays, he also hit nearly four hundred the rest of his career and ranked forty-sixth all-time on the home runs hit list. He's the only guy in the top fifty however, the next closest is Carlton Fisk (376 HRs, fifty-ninth all-time).

Those are the only guys on the list who hit any kind of unusual total of home runs. While some other players have respectable totals, they are largely nothing to write home about. Kirk Gibson hit two hundred and fifty-five home runs, a total bested by names like Dean Palmer and Brian Downing. Like Carter, Kirby Puckett hit a memorable Game Six home run, but his two hundred and seven home runs are fewer than Joe Pepitone or Kevin McReynolds. And pleased as I was to see Scott Brosius listed as having one of the top fifteen home runs of all-time, even I would never have described him as a major power threat. All that doesn't even get into guys like Bucky Dent and Dick Sisler, who don't even have a hundred home runs between them.

This is all mostly apropos of nothing, as all of those guys but Dent at least had some power, enough to manage at least one double-digit home run season, sometimes more. But as Yadier Molina proved just a few nights ago, sometimes the guy with the big home run is the guy you expect the least.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

October 24th, 1977

Bobby Cox Hired

This was, of course, Bobby's first go-around with the Braves, although it sure seems like he's been managing them since time eternal, it's really only been since mid-1990. (That's a pretty long time in its own right, the longest by far of any current manager.) For the Atlanta Braves managerial position, Cox is something like Grover Cleveland to the United States' Presidency, having served the role on two, non-consecutive occasions.

That comparison doesn't really work, however, and not just because someone like Billy Martin's third and fourth tries with the Yankees (1983 and 1985) work better but also because Cox was seemingly singularly inept during his first run as manager and nearly always excellent in his second run. His first run Cox went 266-323 (.451) with an average finish of fifth. In his second effort, Cox has won a hundred or more games six times, a World Series, five pennants and most famously fourteen full-season division titles in a row. Grover Cleveland was the same basically mediocre President both times he served; whereas in his first run as manager Cox was basically Warren Harding but somehow transformed himself into FDR before his second "term."

Ok, so that was not much baseball talk covered by a whole lot of American history stuff. But hopefully not so much as to mask my core point about Bobby Cox and the relative merits of his two 'terms' as manager of the Braves.

Monday, October 23, 2006

October 23rd, 1894

Rube Bressler Born

Ah, for the good ol' days when ball players were, as a matter of routine, nicknamed things like "Rube." That's Raymond Bloom Bressler if we're being formal about it which, insofar as baseball nicknames in the teens were concerned, they obviously were not. Like a handful of other players--Babe Ruth most famously--Bressler began his career as a pitcher but ended it as a full-time offensive player.

The beginning of his career was the source of his nickname, as he earned the sorbiquet from other, more successful southpaws like Rube Marquard and Rube Waddell, the latter of whom really personified the term. In 1914, however, Bressler was a sensation and seemingly well-deserving of the nickname, going 10-4 with a 1.77 ERA for the pennant winning A's. In 1915, however, Connie Mac decimated the team and with names like Kopf and Schang behind him instead of Collins and Baker Bressler's ERA skyrocketed to 5.20. Having thrown more than three hundred innings between ages nineteen and twenty Bressler also began to suffer arm trouble and it appeared his career was over.

As it turned out, Bressler was just getting started. After a couple more unsuccessful years pitching, Bressler--to that point a career .181 hitter began to see time in the outfield. Batting right-handed with a split-hand grip on the bat taken from Ty Cobb Bressler incredibly began to develop into a quality hitter. Despite one last hooray as a pitcher in 1918, Bressler was already becoming a position player. By 1921, just a few years after he first saw time in the outfield, Bressler hit .307. In 1924 he had actually become one of the better offensive players in the league, hitting .347 and sporting a 133 OPS+. Bressler never such regular action again, but he remained a viable bat until as late as 1930.

For his career Bressler ended up with just twenty-six wins (against thirty-two losses) and a 3.40 ERA. However, he lasted nineteen seasons in the big leagues thanks to a lifetime .301 batting average and 110 OPS+. As neither pitcher nor hitter was he Babe Ruth, but Rube Bressler proved you needn't have been the Bambino to make the transition.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

October 22nd, 1936

Fred Olmstead Dies

As some of you might have guessed, I picked this based on the resemblance between the name of this ballplayer and the man who designed (among other things) Central Park. Given the different spellings of the last name, I assume they are no relation, although I can't say that for sure. Either way, Frederick Law Olmsted was far more adept as his chosen profession than Fred Olmstead was at his. Over the course of a four-year (1908-1911), nearly three hundred and sixty inning career, Olmstead managed only a 2.74 ERA--I know, I know, that looks good, but the league average ERA in those days was 2.65--and a 19-20 record.

The highlight of his Major League career came on September 8th, 1910. Pitching for the White Sox against the truly woeful St. Louis Browns (they finished 47-107 that year) Olmstead gave up a lead-off single, on the first pitch according to some accounts, to Frank Truesdale. Olmstead was apparently nonplussed by this set back as he promptly no-hit the rest of the Browns' line-up, throwing a complete game one-hitter. Olmstead may not have had much of a career, but at least he'd always have that one-hitter.

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