Friday, June 28, 2013

The All-Geriatric Team

In July of 2006, 83-year old Jim Eriotes led off a game for the Sioux Falls Canaries. He swung the bat a total of four times, making contact with just one pitch—a foul tip. The strikeout reportedly distinguished him as the oldest man to play in a professional game. Perhaps inspired by this accomplishment, former Negro League great Buck O’Neill logged two plate appearances in a Northern League All-Star game less than a month later. At the age of 94, he was declared the new record holder. But someone had failed to do their homework. In a 1999 publicity stunt, Ted “Double Duty” Radcliff (another Negro League legend) had apparently thrown a pitch for the Schoumburg Flyers of the Northern League. He was 96-years old at the time of his mound appearance.

The oldest players to appear in major league action are as follows:

Satchel Paige: The former Negro League great made a novelty appearance for the Kansas City A's on September 25th, 1965 at the age of 59. He held the Red Sox scoreless for 3 frames, yielding just one hit--a double to Carl Yastrzemski.

Charley O'Leary: An infielder during the Deadball Era, O'Leary was serving as coach for the Browns in 1934 when he entered a game against the Tigers. The 58 year-old veteran had not seen major league action in 21 years. It didn't effect his swing any as he singled off of Elden Auker, becoming the oldest player to hit safely in the bigs. 

Nick Altrock: When arm problems reduced his effectiveness as a pitcher, Altrock joined the Washington Senators coaching staff. He served in that capacity from 1912 to 1953, occasionally seeing action as a player. Altrock is best known as a baseball comedian--using wacky antics in the coaching boxes to distract opponents and amuse fans. In 1933, he made a pinch-hitting appearance at the age of 57 for the Senators, failing to hit safely. 

Jim O'Rourke:  A little know Hall-of-Famer, O'Rourke posted a .310 batting average during a 23-year career that stretched from 1872-1904. His lifetime total of 1,729 runs scored currently ranks 24th on the all-time list. He also played every position on the field including pitcher and catcher at one time or another. In September of 1904, he hit safely for the Giants at the age of 54. He remained the oldest player to hit safely in the majors until Charley O'Leary upstaged him thirty years later. 

Minnie Minoso: A seven-time All-Star, Minoso got his name on a short list of players to appear in the majors during five different decades. He earned that distinction in 1980, when the White Sox--desperate to boost attendance to Comiskey Park--installed him as a pinch-hitter in an October 4th game against the Angels. He failed to hit safely at the age of 54. Given another chance the following day, he was retired in his only plate appearance. The event didn't generate much fan interest as attendance remained below 10,000 for both games.


Tuesday, June 25, 2013

The Most Dangerous Pitchers of All-Time

In my last post, I talked about the intensity of Roger Clemens. It got me to thinking about the most notorious headhunters of all-time. Who were they and how many batters did they plunk? To satisfy my curiosity, I consulted the record book and came up with a Top Ten List.

Beanballs were far more common in the game's early days. In fact, they were a standard practice. Often ordered by managers themselves, they served two essential purposes:
1.) To retaliate for a home run or a plunking by an opposing pitcher.
2.) To prevent rival batsmen from getting too comfortable at the plate.
When Indians' shortstop Ray Chapman was killed by a Carl Mays' pitch in 1920, everyone became a bit more aware of the danger involved, though beanings continued to be a regular occurrence. In response to a rash of them during the 1940 slate, the Dodgers chose to wear protective cap liners in 1941. Only three other teams followed suit. Helmets would not be mandated in the majors for another 30 years. Nowadays, umpires have a zero tolerance policy and will thumb a pitcher out of a game at the slightest sign of trouble it seems. 

In compiling my all-time list of mound menaces, I was surprised to find several notoriously nasty hurlers missing. For instance, Don Drysdale, who instilled fear in the hearts of opponents for 14 seasons, hit a total of 154 batters, giving him a rank of 18. Bob Gibson, another scary guy, plugged 102 opponents between 1959 and 1975, placing him at #79. Other nasty boys such as Sal Maglie (who was nicknamed "The Barber" because of his close shaves), and Roger Clemens (who I railed against in my last post) are also absent from the Top Ten. (In case you're wondering, "The Rocket" is at #14 with 159 hit batsmen--just ahead of the fiercely competitive Nolan Ryan).

Without further ado, here is my list:
1.) Gus Weyhing 277
2.) Chick Fraser 219
3.) Pink Hawley 210
4.) Walter Johnson 205
5.) Randy Johnson 190
     Eddie Plank 190
6.) Tim Wakefield 185
7.) Tony Mullane 185
8.) Joe McGinnity 179
9.) Charlie Hough 174
10.) Clark Griffith 171

Weyhing played for 11 teams in 14 seasons from 1887-1901. In '87 and '88 alone, he pegged a cumulative total of 79 batters. His mark of 42 in 1888 is second only to Phil Knell, who drilled 54 unlucky batsmen in the American Association seven years earlier.

Fraser toiled for 7 teams between 1896 and 1909. He posted his highest single season total in 1901 with Connie Mack's A's, hitting 32 opponents.

Hawley spent just ten years in the majors but landed third on the all-time list by hitting at least 20 batters per year from 1893-1900. He led the National League twice in that category.

Walter Johnson was often referred to as "The Big Train." With 417 career wins and 2 pitching triple crowns, he was arguably the best hurler in history. He wasn't afraid to move batters off the plate though, posting double digit totals in the HBP column on 9 occasions. His single season high was 20 (in 1923).

Randy Johnson carried the moniker of "The Big Unit." In addition to being scowling and fierce, he was also a little bit wild. He led the AL in walks for three consecutive seasons while drilling a total of 34 batter in 1992/'93. During one All-Star outing, he had John Kruk so scared, the big first baseman bailed out on three consecutive pitches.

Plank: Another Deadball Era pitcher, Plank won 326 games (mostly for the A's) during his Hall of Fame career. He didn't find his way to Cooperstown by being a nice guy on the mound. He led the AL twice in hit batsmen, peaking at 24 in 1905.

Wakefield/ Hough: Both of these guys were practiced in the art of the knuckleball, which explains their wildness. Given the choice, most batters would prefer to be hit by knuckleballs, which travel at an average speed of roughly 68 mph.

Mullane may actually be higher on the all-time list since his career totals are incomplete (three seasons are missing). He hit 185 batters that historians know about. Nicknamed the "Apollo of the Box" he won at least 30 games every year from 1882-1887.

McGinnity packed his hit-by-pitch totals into a relatively short span with just 10 years of major league service. He averaged 18 beanings per year between 1899 and 1908, which he spent mostly with the Giants. Known as "The Iron Man" he hit 40 batters in 1900--the third highest total for a single season.

Griffith was referred to by Bobo Newsom as the "greatest pillar of honesty baseball ever had." Despite his personal integrity, he hit at least 20 batters during three seasons. After his 20 year pitching career was concluded, he became owner of the Senators and a beloved figure in Washington.

For good measure, I looked up the all-time victims' list and will conclude this post with it:

Hit-By-Pitch Leaders (Batsmen)

Hughie Jennings 287
Craig Biggio 285
Tommy Tucker 272
Don Baylor 267
Jason Kendall 254
Ron Hunt 243
Dan McGann 230


Saturday, June 22, 2013

Roger Clemens: An Erratic October Performer

Impressive statistics aside, Roger Clemens was a little too intense for his own good. He yelled at umpires, taunted opponents and sometimes threw at their heads. To get himself psyched up for starts, he would rub hot linament on his nether regions and (according to one eyewitness) "snort like a bull." Sure, the guy won 354 games and struck out more than 4,600 batters, but in big game situations, he often crumbled under pressure.

In Game 1 of the 1986 ALCS, the Angels lit him up for 10 hits and 7 earned runs over 7.1 innings. In Game 2 of the World Series that year, he was lifted with one out in the fifth after yielding 5 hits, 4 walks and 3 earned runs. Though some might argue that "The Rocket" was only 23 years-old at the time and still trying to find himself, the October meltdowns continued sporadically throughout his career.

His performance in Game 4 of the 1990 ALCS was just plain bizarre. After making a quality start in Game 1, he became irritated with what he perceived as showboating by Oakland players. He made a nuisance of himself on the Boston bench during Games 2 and 3--shouting angrily at players and umpires. Scheduled to start the fourth contest, he took leave of his sanity. The normally clean-shaven right-hander took the mound sporting a Fu-Manchu beard and a thick coat of eye black (a highly unusual practice for a pitcher). He adorned his cleats with plastic Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle faces. After retiring the A's in order in the first, he suddenly lost his effectiveness. On the heels of 2 consecutive singles and a run-scoring fielder's choice, he gave up a walk to the light-hitting Willie Randolph. Unhappy with Gerry Cooney's calls behind the plate, he stared stonily at the ground and shook his head.Cooney, who was fed up with Clemens' antics by that point, barked at the irascible hurler. It was the straw that broke The Rocket's back as he called Cooney several names unfit to print and was promptly tossed out of the game, which was won by the A's, 3-1. 

Clemens had yet another strange mental lapse during the 2000 Subway Series against the Mets.  Facing Mike Piazza during an Interleague matchup earlier in the season, Clemens had plunked his crosstown rival squarely in the helmet, forcing him to miss the All-Star Game with a concussion. Over the course of the season, the story got blown out of proportion as sportswriters speculated when the two would square off again. The showdown arrived on October 22nd--Game 2 of the Fall classic. In the first inning,  Piazza was behind in the count, 1-2, when his bat shattered on contact with a 97 mph fastball. The barrel end came flying toward Clemens, who was so amped up on adrenaline (and God knows what else) that he picked it up and threw it angrily in Piazza's direction. The ball rolled foul and Umpire Charlie Reliford stepped between the two men (though Piazza was so stunned he would likely not have tangled with Clemens anyway). When order was restored, Piazza grounded out to end the inning and Clemens rushed to the clubhouse,where he broke down in tears. The Yankees won the game, 6-5 thanks to an uncharacteristically strong October outing from "The Rocket." 

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Forgotten Stars of the 1950s (Concluded)

Finishing up one of my favorite eras of baseball, here are a few more forgotten greats from the decade that gave birth to Rock-n-Roll.

Del Ennis
Ennis got to live the American dream. Born and raised in Philadelphia, he played well enough in high school to earn a minor league contract with the Phillies. After just one season on the farm, he aspired to the Big Show with his home town club. Before his debut, he spent 2 years in the Navy, serving in the South Pacific during WWII. The right-handed slugger made an All-Star appearance in his rookie campaign, hitting .313 with 17 homers and 73 ribbies. There was no Rookie of the Year Award in 1946, but he would have been a top contender. By the time the '50's rolled around, Ennis had become one of the premier clean-up men in the National League. From 1949-1957, he gathered at least 95 RBI's on nine occasions, leading the league in that category during the 1950 slate. Surprisingly, even with 31 long balls and 126 runs batted in, he was not selected to the All-Star team. That honor went to his left field rival, Ralph Kiner. Kiner sat out the World Series that year as Ennis and his "Whiz Kids" took on the Yankees. The Phillies were greatly over-matched and Ennis managed a miserable .143 batting average against a staff anchored by the likes of Whitey Ford and Allie Reynolds. Whenever Ennis came to bat over the course of his career in Philly, local radio announcers referred to him as "Ding Dong Del" or "Ennis the Menace." Philadelphia fans are a notoriously tough lot and Ennis was subjected to quite a bit of abuse over the years. He shrugged it off for the most part with the exception of one isolated incident in which he went up into the stands after a fan. During his career, he hit .293 with runners in scoring position and seemed to thrive in the heart of a playoff race, batting .311 during September and October. Traded to the Cardinals in '57, he reached the century mark in ribbies yet again. In '58, it was reported that his wife suffered a mental breakdown during the season. Tending to the family crisis, Ennis slumped at the plate and missed more than 40 games. He later ended his career with the White Sox, hitting just .219 at the age of 34.

Harvey Kuenn
Kuenn had a habit of hitting off his front foot and his power was limited as a result. He had great bat control and was fond of putting the ball in play. In his prime, he never drew more  55 walks in any season and never struck out more than 38 times. He had a knack for hitting the ball to all fields and spoiling good pitches. Kuenn spent just one season in the minors before getting a call-up from Detroit. He hit .325 in a September debut during the '52 slate and remained a regular with the Tigers through 1959. In his first full season, he was named Rookie of the Year. Between '52 and '59, he led the league in hits four times and doubles on three occasions. He won a batting title in '59 with a handsome .353 average. In all, he exceeded the .300 mark at the plate 9 times during his career. Kuenn was selected to the All-Star team every year from 1953 through 1960. A versatile fielder, he played every outfield position and also spent significant time at shortstop. He was known as an aggressive defensive player who was capable of making stupendous plays but vulnerable to flubbing easy ones from time to time. He led AL shortstops in errors during the '57 slate but also had the highest fielding percentage among players at his position twice--once as a right fielder and once as a shortstop. Kuenn's career numbers captured the attention of baseball writers as he peaked at 39% of the Cooperstown vote in 1988. He generated enough support to remain on the ballot for 15 years.

Roy Sievers
Sievers began his career with his hometown Browns, capturing Rookie of the Year honors in 1949 with a .306 batting average, 16 homers and 91 RBI's. His follow-up was disappointing as he hit just .238. His decline has been widely attributed to Browns' coaches, who tampered with his batting style. After that season, Sievers vowed not to let anyone alter his mechanics. He ended up in the minors for the '51 slate, separating his shoulder making a diving catch. Eager to make the big club in '52, he injured his arm during infield practice and would be forced to undergo surgery. He was back with the Browns in '53, getting into 92 games while boosting his batting average to a respectable .270. Traded to the Senators in '54, he broke the franchise record for homers despite playing half his games in spacious Griffith Stadium, where fly balls went to die. Sievers would beat his own record 3 years in a row, peaking at 42 long balls in 1957--tops in the AL. He also led the league in RBI's and total bases that year while finishing third in MVP voting. A 4-time All-Star, Sievers would collect no fewer than 91 RBI's 8 times and hit 20 or more homers during 9 seasons. One of Sievers' biggest fans was Vice President Richard Nixon, who arranged to meet with Sievers on a return trip from Moscow one season. 

Billy Pierce
Pierce was one of the most successful White Sox hurlers of all-time. Pitching for Chicago from 1949 through 1961, he collected 186 victories. In that span, he won at least 15 games 7 times while reaching the 20-win threshold twice. During the '50's, Pierce led the league in ERA, wins and strikeouts once apiece while pacing the loop in complete games for 3 straight seasons (1956-1958). The Michigan native was only five-foot-10, 160 pounds, but his fastball/ slider combination kept hitters on their heels. Among the best of his generation, he was named to 5 straight All-Star teams ('55-'59). A hip injury in '59 sidelined him for several weeks and when the ChiSox earned their first World Series berth since 1919, manager Al Lopez used Pierce exclusively in relief. After the Sox lost to the Dodgers in 6 games, that decision came under fire. During his 18-year career, Pierce threw 4 one-hitters and lost a perfect game in the ninth. Traded to the Giants in '62, he found his way back to the World Series, making 2 quality starts while posting a 1-1 record. He had a lifetime ERA of 1.89 in 5 Series games. Pierce was named to the White Sox "Team of the Century" and remains a popular figure in Chicago.

Monday, June 17, 2013

Forgotten Stars of the 1950s (Part II)

Lew Burdette
Burdette spent portions of 18 seasons in the majors, winning 203 career games. Most of those wins came in the 1950's. Burdette started in the Yankee farm system, going 16-11 at his minor league peak. There was little room for him on a star-studded Yankee staff so he was traded to the Braves. He was with the club when they made the move from Boston to Milwaukee. The change of scenery suited him well as he improved his record from 6-11 in '52 to 15-5 the following year. He would win at least 15 games in 7 of the next 8 seasons. With four effective pitches in his arsenal, the tall right-hander posted the lowest ERA in the National League during the '56 slate (2.70). He helped the Braves to consecutive pennants in '57/ '58. His performance in the '57 Fall Classic was among the most dominant of all-time as he won all three of his starts (2 of which were shutouts) against some of the game's most dangerous hitters, including Mickey Mantle and Yogi Berra. Milwaukee triumphed in 7 games then bowed to the Bombers in the same number of contests the following year.  Burdette was a fair hitter for a moundsman, drilling 15 career homers while driving-in 271 runs. He had a pair of multi-homer games--one in '57 and another in '58. He fashioned back-to-back 20-win campaigns in '58/ '59 then followed with a 19-win effort in 1960.

Willie Jones
Jones carried the memorable nickname of "Puddin' Head," which was derived from a 1930's song entitled "Wooden Head, Puddin' Head Jones." His professional debut was delayed when he spent three years in the Navy during WWII. He joined the minor league ranks in 1947 and earned a September call-up that year. Most people would argue that Jones's primary value to the Phillies was his glove. The wide-ranging third baseman set a National League record for most seasons leading the league in fielding percentage (1952-1956). In that same period, he topped the circuit in putouts every year. In addition to flashing the leather, he was a pretty fair hitter, averaging 69 RBI's per season during the 1950's while finishing in double digits for homers in 7 straight campaigns. His single season high in both categories came in 1950,when he led his Philly squad to a World Series appearance against the Yankees. During the regular season, he ran his batting average up to .315 before slumping in the second half and finishing at .267. He hit at a respectable .286 clip in the Series as the youthful Philly "Whiz Kids" bowed to the New Yorkers in 4 games. 

Jim Gilliam
Since Gilliam played on 4 pennant winning Dodger clubs of the '50's, he has not necessarily been forgotten. It's more accurate to say that he has been overshadowed by the big names around him. In his '53 debut, he found himself playing alongside Roy Campanella, Pee Wee Reese, Jackie Robinson and Duke Snider. The 24 year-old infielder made his presence known, leading the league with 17 triples while working 100 walks. He captured Rookie of the Year honors that year. Nicknamed "Junior," Gilliam had a keen batting eye at the top of the order--most often hitting out of the first or second slot. From '53-'59, he averaged 83 walks per year and usually posted on-base percentages in the high-threes. He had good speed, swiping 21 or more bases 4 times in that span while consistently appearing on NL leaderboards. A 2-time All-Star, Gilliam was solid defensively, leading NL second baseman in fielding percentage during the '57 slate. He finished among the top 5 in putouts and assists five times apiece. Gilliam was a versatile fielder and was used quite a bit at third base and the outfield as well. The Dodgers won 2 of the 4 World Series he played in during the 1950's.

Johnny Antonelli
A southpaw with a devastating fastball and elusive curve, Antonelli threw 5 no-hitters for Jefferson High School in Rocehster, New York. He received a bonus of $65,000 when he signed with the Braves in 1948, but the big money made his teammates jealous and irritated Manager Billy Southworth. As a result, Antonelli saw limited playing time in his first three seasons, taking the hill just 46 times. He was denied a World Series share when his teammates voted on the issue in '48. He spent two years in the military during the Korean War. By the time he got back, the Braves had moved to Milwaukee and appointed a new manager. Antonelli saw far more playing time under Charlie Grimm in '53 and proved what he could do as a regular member of the rotation, winning 12 games while finishing among the top ten in ERA, strikeouts and complete games. He would finish with double digit win totals for the remainder of the decade. Traded to the Giants in '54, he had his best all around season, posting a 21-7 record while fashioning the lowest ERA in the circuit at 2.30. His 6 shutouts were also tops in the NL. In the World Series that year, he was virtually untouchable, starting once and relieving in another game against Cleveland. He emerged with a 1-0 record and a 0.84 ERA. From '56-'59, the slender left-hander made four straight All-Star appearances while posting a 67-54 record. He led the NL in shutouts again in '59. By the time the '60's rolled around, Antonelli was unhappy with the Giants and the media, which had never really treated him fairly. His performance suffered and he was booed by fans. Removed from the starting rotation, he was traded to Cleveland. The Mets tried to acquire him in the '61 expansion draft but Antonelli retired before climbing on board that sinking ship.    

Friday, June 14, 2013

Forgotten Stars of the 1950s

The 1950's are considered to be one of the most colorful decades in baseball history. For fans of the old school, it was the swan song for the 8-team format in both leagues. The Junior Circuit was dominated by the Yankees, who won 8 pennants and 4 consecutive World Series from 1950 through 1953. Rising above their long-running status as "Bums," the Brooklyn Dodgers met Casey Stengel's invincible crew in four October showdowns, claiming a long awaited world championship in 1955. With the game fully integrated, iconic players like Willie Mays, Hank Aaron, Ernie Banks and Frank Robinson embarked on long, storied careers that would land them in the Hall of Fame. It was easy for lesser stars to get lost in the mix with so many Cooperstown greats in uniform. Over my next several blogs, I'd like to profile some of the '50's forgotten stars.

Vic Wertz
At the very least, Wertz became the subject of an interesting baseball trivia question. It was Wertz who hit the towering drive in Game 1 of the 1954 World Series that forced Willie Mays to turn his back to the plate, sprint toward the centerfield wall at the Polo Grounds and make a game-saving basket catch that has been included in World Series highlight reels ever since. "If it had been a homer or a triple, would people have remembered it? Not likely." Wertz commented years later. In addition to making Willie Mays more famous than he already was, Wertz had a highly successful career in his own right. Making his debut with the Tigers in '47, he stuck around for 17 seasons, becoming a major producer for four different clubs. He hit .500 with 4 extra-base hits in Cleveland's 4-game World Series loss to the Giants in '54. It was his only taste of the postseason. During the 1950's, he averaged 20 homers and 88 ribbies per year. Those numbers would almost certainly been higher had he not suffered a bout of polio in '55 and a leg injury in '58 that limited him to a combined total of 99 games in those two campaigns. A sign of respect, Wertz led the league with 11 intentional walks in 1957. A four time All-Star, he finished among the top 10 in MVP voting four times while splitting time defensively in the outfield and at first base. He was competent though not exceptional at both positions. He led the league in putouts as a right fielder three times and a first baseman once. He gathered no fewer than 94 RBI's on six occasions.  

Gus Zernial
When they encounter the name, most casual fans say 'Gus who?' But Zernial was one of the most feared sluggers of the 1950's. In the American League, only Mickey Mantle, Yogi Berra and Larry Doby matched Zernial's home run output during the decade. Zernial was nicknamed "Ozark Ike" after a popular comic strip character. He played hard in the outfield and broke his collarbone twice making diving catches. His playing time was severely limited both times. The handsome Zernial caught the eye of Marilyn Monroe in 1949 when the starlet came to the ballpark to do a pictorial. Though they never dated, the two remained friendly afterward. The ultra-jealous Joe DiMaggio held a grudge against Zernial to his dying day, commenting irritably that Monroe would "never date a bush-leaguer like Zernial." But in his prime, Zernial was no bush-leaguer. His professional career would have begun sooner had he not spent three years in the military during WWII. He tore up the Pacific Coast League in the late-'40's, launching 41 homers in 1946 and 40 more in '48. With the White Sox in 1950, he set a franchise record for long balls with 29. Zernial was a free swinger who never hid the fact that he was trying to crush the ball every time he came to the plate. As a result, he led the league in strikeouts twice and placed among the top 5 six times. When he made contact, there wasn't a stadium that could contain him. He paced the circuit in homers during the '51 slate and collected at least 27 dingers in 6 of his 11 seasons. (A remarkable accomplishment in the pre-steroid era) Hampered by the previously mentioned injuries, he still averaged 23 homers and 74 RBI's per year during his relatively brief big league career. Overshadowed by the big names of the era, Zernial made his only All-Star appearance in 1953, going 1-for-2 at the plate and making a putout in the outfield.    

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

...Got Milk?

The life of a pitcher can get pretty boring between assignments--especially in the bullpen where hurlers have resorted to drastic measures to pass the time.  A fact that is lost on laymen: By the time players get to the major leagues, they have literally watched thousands of games (from the bench or the field) and don't necessarily consider the sport to be entertaining anymore. That's why relievers have traditionally occupied themselves in creative ways such as tending miniature vegetable gardens, playing elaborate jokes on teammates or, in some cases, performing scientific experiments. In his book, Ball Four, Jim Bouton admitted to abusing ethyl chloride--a freezing agent used to numb bruises and abrasions. The colorful moundsman sprayed the substance on various crawling insects and observed their reactions. After a myriad of trials, he concluded that, following a period of suspended animation, the creatures thaw and resume their normal activities. 

Hmm. Interesting. 
Thank you, Dr. Bouton.

 Starters work every four or five days and are just as prone to the summer doldrums as relief pitchers. Dodger right-hander Brad Penny evidently had a lot of time on his hands in 2006, when he challenged Marlins’ bat boy Nick Cirillo to drink a gallon of milk in an hour without throwing up. Cirillo carefully considered the dare before accepting it, even consulting an EMT. When he expressed concerns to Penny about getting in trouble, the hurler responded: “How are you going to get in trouble for drinking milk?” With $500 at stake, Cirillo finished the entire gallon in fifty nine minutes, but lost the bet when he vomited outside the clubhouse shortly afterward. The Marlins suspended him for six games, drawing the attention of David Letterman, who interviewed Cirillo on his show. “It would be all right if he was gooned on steroids,” the veteran host sympathized. “He’s full of milk and they suspend the poor kid.”

Saturday, June 8, 2013

Gallery of Rogues Update

For the record, my second book has been officially released by Scarecrow Press. It's called Baseball's Most Notorious Personalities: A Gallery of Rogues. In an earlier post, I mentioned that the release date had been delayed.

I've always been fascinated by the bad guys who have played the game over the  years and I had a lot of fun compiling their biographies. Amongst all the riff raff, you'll also find decent guys like poor Fred Merkle, a nineteen year-old rookie who committed a base running gaffe back in 1908 that allegedly cost the Giants a pennant. Merkle's mistake (a relatively minor one in hindsight) directly influenced the outcome of a game that left the Giants tied for first place with the Cubs on the last day of the season. A one game playoff between the two clubs ended in favor of Chicago when superstar hurler Christy Mathewson (a 37-game winner that year) suddenly imploded on the mound, allowing a 4-run outburst that proved to be the difference in the match. Whenever that ill-fated season is recounted, Merkle's gaffe seems to take precedent over Matty's meltdown. 

Another unfairly stigmatized player is Jim Bouton. Bouton had a couple of great seasons for the Yankees in the 1960's before arm trouble forced him out of the majors. He developed a knuckleball and began a long comeback trail that ultimately led to one of the most important books in baseball history.When Bouton released his epic tell-all memoirs, Ball Four, he became a pariah. The book was eventually recognized for what it was--one of the most candid, hilarious and insightful baseball tomes ever written. But Bouton was shunned by the establishment, losing many friends and suffering the ignominy of being banned from old-timer's games at Yankee Stadium for decades. If you've never read Ball Four, it should be on your list.

...While you're at it, you can add Gallery of Rogues as well.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Pitching Nightmares

Talk about a bad day at the office...

Browns' hurler Sam Gray, a right-hander who won at least 15 games 3 times during the 1920's, once gave up consecutive homers to Bob Meusel, Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig of the Yankees on consecutive pitches. As Gehrig was rounding the bases, Gray requested a ball from umpire Billy Evans that was "Not of the home run variety." Evans accomodated him only slightly. On the next pitch, outfielder Ben Paschal followed with a double that missed clearing the wall by a matter of inches.

By no means was this the ugliest performance by a man named Gray.

In August of 1909, 30 year-old Senators' rookie Dolly Gray (no relation to Sam) issued 8 walks to the White Sox in one inning, resulting in 6 runs. The situation became so comical for the Sox that manager Billy Sullivan jokingly ordered left fielder Patsy Donovan to go to the plate without a bat. The fact that Senators' manager Joe Cantillon left Gray in the game (even in an era when pitchers were expected to finish what they started) is mystifying. Equally mystifying is the following factoid: Gray ended up with a 1-hitter that day.

Other horrific pitching performances to chew on...

In 2007, four Red Sox hitters homered consecutively off of Chase Wright of the Yankees. In 2010, Adam Laroche, Miguel Montero, Mark Reynolds and Stephen Drew of the Diamondbacks all went deep off of Brewers' hurler Dave Bush in succession. This has happened seven times in major league history, though Bush, Wright and Paul Foytack of the Angels are the only pitchers to remain on the mound throughout. Foytack coughed up 4 straight long balls to the Indians in July of 1963. An interesting connection--One of those shots came off the bat of Tito Francona. Francona's son, Terry, was managing Boston in 2007 when the Red Sox victimized Chase Wright.

Sunday, June 2, 2013

The Elusive Quadruple Play

Though triple plays are somewhat rare, they do not fall into the category of astounding on-field events.  According to the Society For American Baseball Research, there have been 691 triple plays in the majors from 1876 to the present day--the last one occurring at Yankee Stadium on April 13, 2013. As I sat down to write this blog, I began pondering the possibility of something far more unusual. Have there ever been four outs recorded on one play, I wondered. 
A quadruple play...
Is that even possible?
Incredibly, the answer is YES.

Right Fielder Wilfredo Sanchez, the first player in Cuba to record 2,000 hits in his career, nearly accomplished this rare defensive feat during the 1970's. With the bases loaded and nobody out in a tie game, Sanchez made an extraordinary catch in right-center field. Believing that the ball was headed for the gap, runners on first and second strayed far past their respective points of origin. After recording the first out of the frame, Sanchez alertly fired to second base for a double play. The ball was then relayed to first, completing an inning-ending triple killing. 

But the fun was just beginning...

The runner on third had tagged up as Sanchez caught the ball and crossed the plate BEFORE the third out of the sequence was recorded--therefore breaking the tie. Had the same runner left third before the ball was caught, the run would have been nullified and a fourth legal out would have been registered. (Plays of such nature are referred to as "timing plays.") The manager of Sanchez's team argued strenuously with the ruling and the four-man umpiring crew was somewhat divided. One official believed that the runner on third had left early, but he was overruled by his comrades. The run was counted.

Sanchez later commented of his brush with baseball immortality, "I became the only man to start a triple play which drove home the opposing team's winning run."

As for the elusive quadruple play, I could find no evidence that this has occurred at any level of professional play. Guess I'll just have to keep watching and waiting.