Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Players Who Stayed in the Majors Too Long (concluded)

Wrapping up my brief discussion of guys who just couldn't let go...

Tommy John
John came up through the Cleveland farm system and ended up with the White Sox/ Dodgers. He was in the midst of his best season ever in 1974, posting a 13-3 record, when he sustained a career threatening ligament tear shortly after the All-Star break. Dodgers' orthopedist Frank Jobe performed ground-breaking surgery, transplanting a ligament from Johns' right wrist to his elbow. Odds of a successful comeback were believed to be quite slim. The left-hander's career record stood frozen at 124-106 when he sat out the entire 1975 campaign. Defying the odds, he returned the following year and enjoyed his most productive span yet. Between 1977 and 1980, he won 20 games three times. After that, his career went into a tailspin. Chasing the elusive 300-win threshold, the aging southpaw used slow curves and assorted junk to work on opponents. He posted losing records in 4 of 7 seasons from 1983-'89 while compiling ERA's in excess of 4.00 every year except one. At 46 years of age, he compiled an odious 2-7 record with an inflated 5.80 earned run average. He retired short of his goal, finishing with 288 career victories.

Bobo Newsom
Newsom was among the most self-confident hurlers of all-time, referring to himself in the third person and haggling for more money almost every year. He began his slow climb to the majors in 1928, toiling for 7 minor league clubs in 5seasons while getting sporadic call-ups to the majors. He finally landed a full time position with the lowly Browns in '34, leading the league in losses two years in a row. His most successful major league span occurred between 1936 and 1940, when he won 20 games 3 times while posting no fewer than 16 victories. He was 21-5 for Detroit in 1940 with a handsome 2.83 ERA. In the World Series that year, he won two more games while averaging less than 1.5 runs per 9 frames. At 33 years of age, Newsom became a baseball nomad, playing for any team that would meet his salary demands. By the time he retired, he had played for more than half the teams in the majors. He led the AL in losses a total of 4 times. From the age of 40 on, he posted a 6-9 record while bouncing up and down from the majors to the minors. He finished at age 45 with a total of 211 career wins, which would be impressive if not offset by a staggering total of 222 losses.

Charlie Hough
Master of the knuckleball, Hough spent 25 seasons in the Big Show. While playing in the minors during the '68 campaign, he hurt his shoulder and refused to tell anyone for fear that  he would be run out of professional baseball. His performances declined steadily until he worked with Goldie Holt in the instructional league. Holt taught him how to throw the knucker and, though it took several seasons to control it, he finally got it down pat. A sign of good things to come, he went 12-8 in 77 relief assignments for the Dodgers during the '76 slate, posting a miserly 2.21 ERA. Traded to Texas in 1980, he was eventually converted to a starter. From 1982-'90, the durable right-hander started at least 30 games and posted double digit win totals every season. In that 9-year span, he won at least 14 games 7 times for a ball club that was mediocre at best most of the time. Hough hung around until the age of 46, posting losing records in each of his final four seasons. When his ERA rose to 5.15 in '94, he finally called it quits. He retired with 216 career victories against the same number of losses. 

Jim Kaat
Kaat was one of the finest fielding pitchers of all-time, capturing a Gold Glove every year from 1962-1977. It has been said that he continued to receive the award even after his abilities were in decline, but it is a major accomplishment nevertheless. Only Greg Maddux won the award more times. Though not in the Hall of Fame, Kaat's sabermetric scores compare him favorably to inductees Robin Roberts and Fergie Jenkins. Kaat was a fast worker on the mound, commenting once that after 2 hours his fastball turned into a pumpkin. During his 25 years in the majors, he finished among the top ten in strikeouts 12 times and wins on 7 occasions. He led the league in both categories for the Twins in 1966, posting a 25-13 record with a 2.75 ERA. He would reach the 20-win plateau twice more with the White Sox in the mid-'70's. Kaat's ERA typically hovered in the mid-threes to low-twos. He enjoyed his last decent season with the Phillies in 1976, winning 12 games and posting a highly serviceable 3.48 earned run average. He started one game in the NLCS against Cincinnati's "Big Red Machine" that year and ended up with a no decision in a quality outing. By '77, Kaat was 38 years-old and fading. He never won more than 8 games in any season from the age of 40 until his retirement in 1983. During that span, he was a shadow of his former self, compiling ERA's more than 100 points above his career average every year. He generated support from Hall of Fame voters every year from 1989-2003 despite his hesitancy to hang up his cleats. Had he retired at the top of his game after the '76 campaign, he would still have had close to 250 wins and well over 2,000 strikeouts. Many believe he will find his way into the Hall of Fame via the Veteran's Committee.    


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