Saturday, November 11, 2006

November 11th, 1967

Noe Munoz Born

That's his name. "Noe." Least anyone accuse me of cultural insensitivity I've done some research and determined it is a Spanish name that translates, roughly, to "peace" or "rest." As it turns out, that was quite appropriate for Noe Munoz, whose Major League career was short enough that it could've gone by in the course of a brief rest. He saw time in just two games with the Dodgers in 1995, getting one at-bat and making out.

So why did I pick ol' Noe? The answer actually lies in another player, Jose Munoz. Jose was also born on November 11th, 1967. Jose also played just one year in the big leagues, although he saw a bit more action, hitting .259 in seventeen games as a utility man for the White Sox in 1996.

Seeing the identical days of birth I assume that Noe and Jose Munoz were another one of baseball's twins, and given that had both played just a year in the big leagues, made for a nice little story. As it turns out, Noe and Jose aren't twins, a fact that is easily revealed given that Jose was born in Chicago while Noe was born in Escatepec, Mexico making their being to the same mother a rather unlikely possibility. Unfortunately, that robs me of much of my good story for the day. But at least I can say that when it came to those people named Munoz, being born on November 11th, 1967 was not good for their baseball career.

Friday, November 10, 2006

November 10th, 1964

Keith Lockhart Born

There is, it must be said, often no justice in this world. The guilty go unpunished, bad things happen to good people and Keith Lockhart--although probably a nice enough guy--has not one, not two, not three, not four, but five trips to the playoffs while infinitely superior players remain locked out.

A look at the list of players denied a chance to show their stuff on baseball's biggest stage is fairly remarkable. It includes eleven Hall of Famers--although one of those Hall of Famers is Miller Huggins, who is in the Hall in no small part thanks to the three World Series and six pennants he won with the Yankees as a skipper, so let's not cry for him. It also includes Ron Santo, who should be in the Hall of Fame and Joe Torre who will be the second inductee to the "Miller Huggins Don't-Cry-for-Me Wing." Past ThisAnnotatedDayers on the list include Elmer Valo and Todd Hundley. In fact, you could assemble a pretty good team out of the guys who never saw the post-season. Al Lopez behind the plate, Ernie Banks at first base, Nap Lajoie at second, George Kell at third and Luke Appling at third. That's a Hall of Fame infield. Harry Heilman could man right field, Ralph Kiner in left and Minnie Minoso in center. That's a helluva squad all around.

I don't know what Keith Lockhart wishes for when he blows out his birthday candles--perhaps that one his many post-season trips would have resulted in a championship instead of this, or this, or this, or...well, I won't go on, that would be cruel. But perhaps he can take solace in knowing there is a small army of Hall of Famers who never even got a taste of that which he experienced on an almost yearly basis.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

November 9th, 1898

Fred Haney Born

About a fortnight ago I did an entry on managers, the gist of which is that a manager's "quality" is largely determined by the "quality" of his players. Fred Haney represents another example of this; he managed the Browns and Pirates to a combined 288-526 record (.353) over the course of five seasons (and a tad of another) then took over the Braves in 1956 and promptly guided them to a World Championship in 1957 and a pennant in 1958.

Something else that tells you a lot about managers and their quality being linked hand-in-hand with their team's quality is the list of all-time victories. The all-time victories list also gives a lot of credence to the notion that when it comes to raking up the wins, the best feature a manager can have is longevity. Someone named Jimmy McAleer, whountil this point I had never heard of, managed for eleven seasons. He has fifty-two more wins than Cito Gasten, although Cito managed his team to back-to-back World Series while McAleer's team had an average finishing position of sixth. Jimy Williams, who has been fired by three teams that would either win or go to the World Series within three years of his departure has nearly a thousand wins; while Bill Rigney who led his teams to one division title in eighteen years of trying actually has one thousand, two hundred and thirty-nine. That's more than Fred Haney and Branch Rickey, combined.

With the longer modern schedules, it only seems a matter of time before much of the top ten is dominated by recent skippers. (It already has three active managers--Tony LaRussa, Bobby Cox and Joe Torre--while Lou Pinella has an outside shot at reaching in the near future to say nothing of younger managers like Mike Scioscia.) When looking over that list however, it is important to look beyond the mere number of wins and instead try to find a better way to judge a manager.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

November 8th, 1969

Shane Halter Born

A rather basic review of Shane Halter's career numbers does not suggest that he is anything special as a ballplayer. He played eight seasons as a utility man. Played for the Royals, Mets, Tigers and Angels (in that order) and while both the Mets and Angels were playoff teams while he played for them, Halter never saw time in the post-season. He hit .246 for his career and was a regular just once: for the 2002 Tigers at shortstop.

But, as I have long argued, every player has an interesting story when you look into it, and for Halter, one doesn't even have to look very hard. In 2000 on the Fourth of July, Halter took over for Brad Ausmus behind the plate during a Tigers' blow out of the Devil Rays. Halter had never caught before in the Major Leagues but was evidently the emergency catcher and manager Luis Pujols--himself a former catcher--evidently wanted to give his back-up backstop some time. This experience gave Halter the unique claim to be able to say he had played all nine positions in a game at one point or another, having served in the other "odd" role (pitcher) during time with the Royals.

Halter was not content with this however, and had an idea that could be implemented at the end of another awful Tiger season. (As an aside, the Tigers' trip to the World Series this year is even more shocking given that in the previous ten seasons they'd lost ninety or more games eight times and a hundred or more three times.) Halter wanted to play all nine positions in one game, a feat only managed twice previously. On October 1st, Halter did it, as the Tigers' portion of this boxscore reflects. Incredibly, despite playing all nine positions and seemingly being in the game purely for the novelty, Halter actually doubled with none out in the bottom of the ninth and came around to score the winning run on a Hal Morris single.

There you are then, the career of Shane Halter--like so many others--with a story that can't be seen merely by looking at his stats but which is worth hearing.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

November 7th, 1932

Dick Stuart Born

"Stuart's a beauty. I remember a game we played against him in Boston with Earl Wilson (then with the Red Sox) pitching. On the first pitch of the game, somebody hit a foul pop fly between the catcher and first base and Earl ran over to call who was supposed to catch the ball and he made a tragic mistake. He called Stuart. The ball dropped to the ground in front of him with a sickening third.

Earl picked up the ball and stormed back to the mound. The next pitch was another pop fly, this one in foul territory. Earl ran over screaming at the top of his lungs, "I got it! I got it!" He wasn't taking any chances. At the last second guess who ran into him and spiked him. Dick Stuart. The ball went flying and the runner got two bases.

Now Wilson's got a spiked left foot and a man on second and he's steaming mad. The next pitch is a groundball on the first-base line and Earl runs over, picks it up, whirls to throw to first and Stuart isn't on the bag. First and third.

Wilson slammed his glove down and walked toward the dugout like he was quitting right there, but he thought better of it and came back to the game. And Stuart? Stuart was his usual jovial self. He knew he had bad hands and there was nothing he could do about it."

~Jim Bouton, Ball Four

[This is about par for the course as conversation's about Stuart's defense go, he was nicknamed "Dr. Strangeglove" for his defensive struggles. Incidentally, there is no perfect match for the situation Bouton describes in the Retrosheet game logs, but enough incidents that are close enough that I would mark the story as credible.]

Monday, November 06, 2006

November 6th, 2003

Spider Jorgensen Dies

Under ordinary circumstances, the debut of a twenty-seven year rookie nicknamed "Spider" making his Major League debut would at the least attract some attention. Spider Jorgensen, however, got to make his debut in almost total anonymity on account of another infielder making his debut that day: Jackie Robinson. Despite winning ninety-six games and finishing just two games away from the pennant the Dodgers remade their infield with Robinson (a natural second baseman) taking over at first base and Jorgensen taking over at third.

Of course, Jackie would be remembered (and rightly so) had he never performed on the field. Instead, Robinson performed admirably both as a man and ballplayer, eventually earning his way into the Hall of Fame. Jorgensen's fate was not so grand, as 1947 was his only year as a regular. He'd see limited time for the Dodgers in '48 and '49, and land with the Giants in 1950 and '51 for just over fifty games. He finished his career with a lifetime 95 OPS+, which certainly isn't awful for a third baseman.

Jorgensen played in the minor leagues in California for many years following the end of his Major League career--he was from the area--and lived there the rest of life. Jorgensen also remained involved in baseball for all of the rest of his life; at the time of his death he was a scout for Dusty Baker and the Cubs in Los Angeles/Los Vegas area.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

November 5th, 1940

William Byron Elected

William Byron was a Democratic Maryland politician who served, among other things, as Mayor of a small Maryland town and a State Senator for Maryland. Most prominently he served as a Representative for a little over two years before his death in a plane crash at which point he was replaced via a special election with his wife.

This is appropriate insofar as we're in election season, but what does any of it have to do with baseball? The relevant matter is Byron's opponent in his election for Congress: Walter Johnson. Johnson wasn't a total political neophyte having been elected as county commissioner for the area in which he lived in 1938. When it came to Congress however, the "Big Train" found that his limited experience, gentlemanly bearing and residual game from his baseball career--he had been elected as part of the first Hall of Fame class only four years earlier--was not enough. The election was nonetheless close, as Johnson managed to draw 47% of the vote in defeat.

There are a handful of sports related figures on the ballot this year including Lynn Swann and George Allen, son of the like-named Redskins' coach. I suppose those candidates can only hope voters respond more to them than they did to the Big Train.

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