Saturday, December 09, 2006

December 9th, 2000

Rockies Sign Mike Hampton

Now talk about your bad contracts, this one was Now Hampton was coming off a couple of good years. In 1999 he'd won twenty-two games with a 2.90 ERA for the Astros and he'd helped lead the Mets to the World Series with a 3.14 regular season ERA and then was voted MVP of the League Championship Series after winning two games and throwing sixteen shutout innings. Desperate to attract pitching to Coors Field--the Rockies had already shelled out fifty-five million for Denny Neagle-- the Rockies opened their wallets and shelled out a jaw dropping one hundred and twenty-one million for eight years of his services.

The deal was the longest given to a pitcher since 1977 and remains the richest ever given to a pitcher. (It is the sixth highest contract of all-time, behind those given to A-Rod, Manny Ramirez, Derek Jeter, Todd Helton and Soriano's new one.) The Rockies realized almost instantly that the deal was a mistake; Hampton pitched just two years for them winning twenty-one games aganist twenty-eight losses with a 5.76 ERA. In the off-season of 2002, the Rockies offloaded Hampton onto the Braves in a complicated three-team trade with the Marlins which bizarrely featured the Marlins agreeing to pay Hampton twenty-three million to pitch for a division rival. All said Colorado paid Hampton forty-nine million for his time with them, coming to $128,384 per inning.

The Rockies must have been thrilled to watch their erstwhile pitcher in Atlanta however, as after paying him almost nothing the first few years, the Braves will pay Hampton thirteen million a year for the 2006-08 seasons. Hampton already missed all of last year having arm surgery and while the Braves are publically optimistic for Hampton's return in '07, it is far from a sure thing. For the moment then, Hampton cost the Rockies $128,384 per inning pitched, the Marlins twenty three and a half million (despite never playing for them) and the Braves $112,355 per inning pitched. That's a lousy contract.

Friday, December 08, 2006

December 8th, 1894

Bill Wambsganss Born

After much puzzling, false starts and so on, I have concluded that name is pronounced "Wom-gans" with the first syllable rhyming with "rom" as "CD-ROM." Not positive about that though. Wambsganss--that's going to be a pain to type out every time--is remembered for recording an unassisted triple play in the 1920 World Series. Pictured here with his three "victims" Wambsganss remains the only player to record an unassisted triple play in the World Series and one of only twelve to do all-time. (Incidentally, Wambsganss' triple play remains the only triple play in World Series history.)

Wambsganss was actually rather wise insofar as his play was concerned, telling Lawrence "Glory of Their Times" Ritter that "you'd think I was born the day before and died the day after." This is true of a lot of players, of course, including a handful of the perfect game bunch (probably Don Larsen most notably) and the Bucky Dent types. Wambsganss had a decent but truthfully unremarkable thirteen year career, leading the American League in sacrifice hits in 1921 and '22. (With eighty-five combined; the leader the past two years managed just twenty-five.) He also managed to rank among the league leaders in slightly better statistics like doubles (third in 1924) and stolen bases (eighth in 1922). Wambsganss lived to be ninety-one and died in Ohio.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

December 7th, 1936

Bo Belinsky Born

"If you didn't follow baseball you knew about Bo Belinsky. But I bet you didn't know his real name was Robert. Bo spent six years in the minors...toiling anonymously in leaky--roofed bucolic outposts such as Pensacola and Brunswick, Aberdeen and Amarillo, quaint little mid-American hamlets which, while not totally without their charms, I am sure, were nevertheless not exactly tailor made for the kind of varied and far-reaching social activities that Bo liked to engage in. When he got a shot at L.A., baby, he was ready.

[He was] the originator of poolside spring training press conference for nonroster pitchers. He pitched a no-hitter one of his first times out, was rewarded with a new contract by Angels' owner Gene Autry and was even engaged for a short time [actually, a year--RB] to Mamie Van Doren--no small accomplishment in itself.

It took about a year and a half for pool hustle, chug-a-lug and peppermint [his] way into semiobsolescence. Bo was still active, in more ways than one, I'm sure, as late as 1969 with Hawaii of the Pacific Coast League. What he could have done in baseball had he been serious about the whole thing is entertaining speculation, but since Bo didn't really seem to have cared, why should we?"

~Brendan C. Boyd and Fred Harris, The Great American Baseball Card Flipping, Trading and Bubble Gum Book

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

December 6th, 1914

Turkey Tyson Born

Not his real name, of course. I'm sorry to do this twice in three days, but I am still battling my cold so sleep is at a premium at the moment. So in honor of Cecil "Turkey" Tyson, let's look back at Bird Week.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

December 5th, 1972

Cliff Floyd Born

I've always admired Cliff Floyd for a couple of things. For one thing, despite standing 6'4", 230 and being an imposing presence generally, Floyd has one of the dorkiest baseball names of all-time: Cornelius Clifford Floyd. That's not one, not two, but three dorky names. Somehow I imagine he didn't get made fun of a lot, at least not once his growth spurt hit.

The other thing I like about Floyd is--once again--despite standing 6'4", 230 he is endearingly fragile. Floyd has only played in a hundred and thirty games in back-to-seasons once and has never had back-to-back seasons of five hundred and fifty at-bats. All said, that's probably a shame because when he is on the field, Floyd is a really great hitter. His lifetime OPS+ is just 120, but that's brought down by both his early career--Floyd had nearly mediocre seven hundred and fifty times at the plate before he was twenty-four--and by his nagging injuries.

Of course, as it turns out the joke is ultimately on Cliff. If he had played fifty years ago, and we'd looked at his stats, everyone would go "Oh, he should've been a DH." But Floyd lives and plays in the age of the DH, but has managed, partially through fate and partially through choices of his own, has played all but forty-seven games of his career in the National League. Now interleague play has given Floyd a few more chances to experience the joys of a batter-only role, but he's still only done it for just under three percent of his career games.

Floyd is a free agent this off-season, but coming off the worst year of his career the market for him will probably be somewhat soft. (Well, as soft as this crazy market can be for anyone.) But I can only hope for the sake of my favorite dorky named, fragile, 6'4" 230 Major League Baseball player, that he can find a niche somewhere as a DH.

Monday, December 04, 2006

December 4th, 1957

Lee Smith Born

I'm feeling a cold coming on, so I will heading to bed early tonight, and instead replaying last year's entry from this date, back in the good ol' days when Lee Smith was still the all-time saves leader.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

December 3rd, 1997

Wilson Alvarez Signs

Alvarez' contract was with the Devil Rays, and it was good for five years and thirty-five million. Alvarez was just twenty-eight years old and coming off a good season for the White Sox and Giants--he was traded to San Francisco in a deadline deal--and the deal would seem to give the D-Rays a solid starter to anchor their rotation. Instead, Alvarez existed as yet another data point in the long list of long term contracts for pitchers that end (and sometimes practically begin) badly. In fact, December Third as a whole exists as an example of that, as there were a number of pitcher contracts signed on this day that teams would rather forget.

We begin with Alvarez. For their thirty-five million, the Devil Rays got just over three hundred innings at an ERA just under 4.50 the first two years of the contract. Alvarez then began to suffer arm troubles, and missed all of the 2000 and 2001 seasons. During the 2000 season, Alvarez's nine million dollar salary made him the eighth highest paid player in the American League, even though in this case 'player' was being used in the Carl Pavano sense of the word; Alvarez returned to give the Rays seventy-five poor innings in 2002. In total, the Devil Rays received three hundred seventy-seven and two-thirds innings at a 4.62 ERA for their thirty-five million. That's a grand total of more than ninety-two thousand dollars per inning.

Of course, teams didn't always pay quite that much, but that doesn't mean it isn't money badly spent. On this day in 1992, the Mariners signed Chris Bosio to a four year contract for just over fifteen million. Bosio was at least healthy enough to pitch in each year of the deal, but he never managed more than a hundred and seventy innings in any given season and was as likely to pitch fewer than a hundred and fifty as he was to top it. Overall, the Mariners got five hundred and twenty innings from Bosio at a 4.43 ERA, or just under thirty thousand per inning. But that figure is deceptive as after the contract's first year, Bosio only provided just over thirty hundred and fifty innings at an ERA of 4.88, making the contract's last three years basically a bomb. (In a funny coincidence, Bosio most similar pitcher according to their stats is Cal McLish.)

I could go on-and-on here: Dave LaPoint, three year contract, ERAs of 5.62, 4.11 and 16.20; Tom Candiotti, four year contract, average record of 8-12. This isn't to say that no team should sign free agent pitchers, they do sometimes work out. (Mike Mussina, recently resigned by the Yankees, is an example of that.) But pitchers who succeed on big free agent contracts are the exception rather than the norm, something fans should remember as their teams pursue the likes of Barry Zito and Jason Schmidt this year.

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