Saturday, December 02, 2006

December 2nd, 1946

Pedro Borbon Born

As you can probably tell by the date of birth, this is Pedro Borbon, Sr. not the Pedro Borbon Jr. who pitched for the Blue Jays and Braves among others and whose career ended a few years back. Pedro Senior and Junior might be the first ever pair of father-and-son middle relievers; between them pair appeared in nearly a thousand games but only made four starts, all by Dad; in fact, no Borbon started a Major League game after 1976.

Today's Borbon birthday boy was a middle reliever from the period when men were men and relievers pitched the kind of inning totals that would give Trevor "Sixty Innings a Season" Hoffman nightmares. With the Reds in the mid-70s Borbon threw more than a hundred innings a year for six straight years, and only missed out of making it a lucky seven years by two-thirds of an inning in 1978. Given those years were centered around the Big Red Machine, it should be no surprise Borbon won double digit games three of those years and pitched decently for the Reds in the playoffs.

For sake of contrast, his son--admittedly never the pitcher his father was--never pitched a hundred innings in a season. In 1976 Borbon pere appeared in sixty-nine games and pitched a hundred and twenty-one innings while facing more than five hundred batters. Borbon fils appeared in seventy games in 1999, pitched fifty and two-third innings and failed to face even half of his father's total. Of course, in the end the joke was on Papa Borbon as the Baby Borbon made more than five million dollars in his career, an amount the elder could never have dreamed of making in the 1970s. The game does change.

Friday, December 01, 2006

December 1st, 1925

Cal McLish Born

Given my fondness for wacky names, I would be remiss in not including Cal McLish. Now, at first blush, that seems silly. Cal McLish? Nothing special or funny about that. Well, we'll get to the name in a moment, but first let's pay a little respect to the man's career. McLish was a pitcher and had a fifteen year career for (deep breath) the Dodgers, Pirates, Cubs, Indians, Reds, White Sox and Phillies. McLish was something of a round number kind of guy, finishing with an exact .500 winning percentage (92-92) and a 4.00 ERA. His best years came back-to-back in 1958 and '59 for the Indians; he posted a 2.99 ERA in '58 and won nineteen games and went to the All-Star game in '59. Although McLish pitched as a righty, he was ambidextrous and often claimed to have better stuff--but less control--from the left side. He got by most of his career, especially the most successful part, on the strength of an excellent change-up; and is still co-holder (with Greg Maddux among others) for most consecutive road wins with sixteen.

Now for the name. Like the list of McLish's teams, this one requires a deep breath before getting it out. McLish's full give name was Calvin Coolidge Julius Caesar Tuskahoma McLish. No, really, it was. Incredibly, despite having that many names to choose from, McLish also had two nicknames, being known to his teammates as either "Bus" or "Buster." McLish's explanation for his comically ornate name was that he was the only of eight children his father got to name, so his father decided to make up for this perceived slight by going rather crazy with the names on the one child he did get to name.

After his career, McLish coached for his onetime manager and longtime friend Gene Mauch and today he celebrates his eighty-first birthday.

Thursday, November 30, 2006

November 30th, 1942

Slim Love Dies

Sometimes names come about that I can't even try to come up with a joke for. I mean, Slim Love? I suppose he the opposite of a professional wrestler I caught on TV the other day--this guy--who is billed as "The World's Largest Love Machine." (Although a little checking reveals that during my glory days of watching the then-WWF, he was the larger half of a comical rapping tag team.) In his defense, Love really was slim, he's listed at 6'7", 195. Love--and his family, I guess--apparently took their surname from the town where they were from, Love, Mississippi.

Love had a six year career as a pitcher for the Senators, Yankees and Tigers. He was a regular starter for the 1918 Yankees, one of the last Yankee teams before they became the Yankees. Although Love went 13-12, he struggled with his career long foe, the base-on-balls. Love issued a hundred and sixteen free passes that year, most in the American League and an average of a four and a half per nine. That's slightly above his career average of just over four walks per nine, but Love's nearly 1:1 K/BB ratio goes a long way to explaining why he finished his career with an ERA below average. Unfortunately, I can't say what became of Love after his Major League career, but I do know he died in Memphis.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

November 29th, 1981

Guillermo Quiroz Born

Sean Foreman is doing some really incredible things with these days, and it seems like every time I go over there, he has added something new. The latest addition is the English-to-Spanish (and Spanish-to-English) baseball dictionary. Although services like AltaVista provide basic translations, this is a remarkable tool, even if I would only use it as a gimmick.

And how better to use that gimmick than on a player who, being born in Venezuela, almost certainly speaks Spanish. Quiroz was signed as an agente libre by the Azulejos in 1998. He worked his way through los menores until he made his big league debut in 2004. Quiroz was at one point a highly touted prospecto but an inability to stay away from the lista de incapacitados hurt his development and chance at being a regular.
Quiroz is a receptor but also saw time as a bateador designado in mostly limited time for the Jays in '04 and '05. During the entrenamientos primaverales of 2006 he was tomado en waivers by Seattle. It turned out to be a bad move for Quiroz as he saw his playing time go from slight to almost none, playing in only one juego for the Marineros last year spending much of the year at pelota Doble A. Appropriately enough, Quiroz's time in Double A was spent in San Antonio, a city where he no doubt had many occasions to practice his Spanish.

Monday, November 27, 2006

November 27th, 1967

Mets Acquire Gil Hodges

Perhaps unfairly, ever since the Devil Rays traded Randy Winn to the Mariners for the right of having Lou Pinella skipper them to three traditional Devil Ray-like seasons--but at least they were fiery!--trading players for a manager seems like a bad idea. Given how I've marginalized the value of managers here, I would tend to agree with that, but I must admit there is at least some evidence to suggest when a team wants a manager badly enough to give up players for him, they're on to something.

In the past, I've described the Pirates trading Manny Sanguillen for Chuck Tanner, a deal that "worked" when Tanner led the Pirates to the 1979 World Series. Today we have the Mets trading for Gil Hodges. In order to acquire the longtime Dodger (who had played briefly for the Mets in 1962 and '63) the Amazins sent the Washington Senators--where Hodges had been managing since 1963--pitcher Bill Denehy and a hundred thousand dollars. On first blush, making all that effort for Hodges seems silly, as he had only managed a .420 winning percentage in DC and never led the Senators to a higher finish than sixth.

Despite some suspicion that bringing Hodges in was all a publicity stunt for the still-struggling franchise--Mets' attendance had dropped nearly four hundred thousand in the year before Hodges arrived--I will give Mets' management the benefit of the doubt and say they knew Hodges had what it took to lead their young team. And let's just say that when it came to leading them, especially in one magical year, Hodges had what it took.

I still don't know if it wise to exchange someone who can help a team on the field for a man who can only decide who is helping the team on the field, but the '69 Mets and Gil Hodges are another point in favor of the concept.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

November 26th, 1997

Blue Jays Sign Randy Myers

As it turned out, this move was a disaster for the Blue Jays, but one that they remarkably managed--to paraphrase Mr. Burns--to turn a potential Chernobyl into a mere Three Mile Island. Of course, when they signed Myers, a disaster was the last thing the Jays thought they were getting. Having signed Roger Clemens the year before, Myers would take over the closers role for the Jays. To be fair, the role did need filling (as much as it ever does) with six pitchers recording saves for the Jays in '97, but none with more than fourteen. Myers meanwhile had recorded forty-five saves for the Orioles in 1997 with a sparkling 1.51 ERA. So good was Myers that he finished fourth in both the MVP and Cy Young award voting.

With expectations that the one-time Nasty Boy would continue to dominate despite being thirty-five years old, the Jays gave Myers a three year contract for eighteen million. Almost from the start, the contract was a bad decision; on June 1st Myers had an ERA over four and just thirteen saves. It appeared the Blue Jays had bought themselves an anchor, but thanks to a bizarre series of circumstances they would soon be rid of him.

While Myers was stinking up the AL East, the Braves and Padres were battling for both the best record in the NL and with the assumption that they would soon meet in the NLCS for the chance to take on the presumptive AL champions, the buzzsaw '98 Yankees. As the trade deadline approached, the Padres became concerned that the Braves would attempt to acquire Myers either to shore up their left handed relief or perhaps to slot in as closer in place of the seemingly ruined Mark Wholers. When the Blue Jays placed Myers on waivers, the Padres thought it was in anticipation of sending him to the rivals and therefore filed a claim, confident the Jays would be unwilling to lose their new signing for nothing.

As it turned out, they were wrong, and quite dramatically. All too happy to let their anchor weigh down another ship, the Jays let Myers go in exchange for a minor league catcher. San Diego now had both a mediocre left handed reliever for which they had no real need and the privilege of paying him nearly fifteen million dollars over the next two and a half seasons. (The Jays' contract had been heavily backloaded, so nearly seventy-five percent of the contract came in the final two years.) Myers was even worse in San Diego than he had been in Toronto--6.28 in fourteen and a third innings--and then performed equally badly in the playoffs.

Compounding matters, Myers suffered shoulder problems after the '98 season and would never pitch in the Majors again. The Padres spent several years in court with Lloyd's of London arguing over who exactly should have to pay Myers' wages during that period--they reached a settlement in early 2003 for around eight million. In the end the Myers contract was spread around three equally suffering parties--Toronto, San Diego and Lloyd's--but the Blue Jays, the ones most responsible, managed to get away paying the least. That's some damn fine weasling out from under a problem.

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