Friday, August 28, 2015

Top Rookies Who Quickly Faded (1980-1999)

Joe Charboneau- Indians
"Super Joe" was a breath of fresh air for the struggling Indians, hitting .289 with 23 homers and 87 RBIs in his debut. During spring training the following year, he was injured executing a headfirst slide. He was limited to 70 appearances in '81/'82 and, though he underwent surgery, he never returned to his prior form. He continued in the minors through 1984.

Steve Howe- Dodgers
Howe claimed the second in a line of four consecutive Rookie of the Year Awards given to Dodger players. He saved 17 games and won 7 more in 1980 while compiling a 2.66 ERA. Though he had a handful of decent seasons after that, he became infamous for his alcohol and cocaine use. During his twelve years in the  majors, Howe was suspended seven times. In 1992 he received a lifetime ban, which was overturned by his arbitrator. Out of the majors after '96, he died in a 2006 car accident.

Jerome Walton- Cubs
Great things were expected of Walton after his rookie campaign, in which he hit .293 with 46 RBIs while helping the Cubs to a division title. Perennially injured, he never matched those numbers in any other season. Though he appeared in 123 games in 1991, he managed a feeble .219 batting average. Aside from the '95 slate, he logged fewer than 100 at-bats every year from 1992-1998.

Pat Listach- Brewers
Primarily a shortstop, the speedy Listach was handy at second base and in the outfield as well. In his rookie season of '92, he stole 54 bases in 149 games. Multiple injuries limited him to no more than 101 appearances per year over the next five seasons. In 1996, the Brewers tried to trade him to the Yankees, but ended up sending pitcher Ricky Bones to New York in compensation when Listach failed to get into a single game due to injury. 

Bob Hamelin- Royals
 Hamelin had a promising first year with the Royals, smashing 24 homers with 65 RBIs in 101 games. But he never realized his potential. Slow afoot and below average defensively, he served mostly as a designated hitter over the next four seasons. He was out of the majors by the end of the '98 campaign.

Todd Hollandsworth- Dodgers
Though Hollandsworth hung around the majors for more than a decade, he couldn't match the success of his 1996 effort, when he was honored as the NL's top rookie with a .291 batting average, 42 extra-base hits and 21 stolen bases. The Dodgers eventually gave up on him in 2000, shipping him to Colorado. Hollandsworth would spend time with six more teams before retiring. He was property of multiple clubs during four of his twelve major league seasons.

Kerry Wood- Cubs
 Wood is considered one of the top strikeout artists in baseball history with a lifetime average of 10.3 K's per 9 innings. In his fifth major league start, he fanned 20 batters in a game--a record matched twice by Roger Clemens. The injuries began to pile up immediately following Wood's Rookie of the Year effort. He sat out the entire '99 slate with arm difficulties and ended up missing significant playing time in all but two seasons between 2000 and 2006. In '07, he was assigned to the bullpen. Though it lengthened his career, he never led the league in any major statistical category for relievers. He appeared in his last game during the 2012 slate.

Scott Williamson- Reds
This right-hander was a workhorse for Cincinnati in his rookie season of '99, winning 12 games and saving 19 with a handsome 2.41 ERA. The Reds hung onto him until July of 2003, when it became evident that he was not developing into a star. He was a major contributor for the Red Sox during the 2003 ALDS and ALCS, but faded back into obscurity immediately afterward. Though he entered 103 games between 2004 and 2007, he was credited with just 3 wins and a save. His ERA was an unwieldy 5.42 in that span.  In 2011, he put his World Series ring up for sale.

Monday, August 17, 2015

Top Rookies Who Quickly Faded (1947-1979)

Since 1947, major league baseball has honored its top freshman with a Rookie of the Year Award. The award was combined in '47/ '48 with only one player being chosen from both leagues. Though many recipients have gone on to long, fruitful careers, there are plenty of honorees who faded quickly into oblivion. Over the next several posts, we will take a look at these forgotten "flashes in the pan."

Sam Jethroe- Boston Braves
A speedy center fielder with wide range and strong arm, Jethroe spent most of his best seasons in the Negro Leagues. He was thirty-three years old by the time he reached the majors in 1950. The oldest player to be named Rookie of the Year, he led the league in stolen bases and scored 100 runs in consecutive seasons. In '52 His batting average plummeted to .232 and the Braves dumped him. The Pirates picked him up in '54, but quickly abandoned the project. 

Joe Black- Brooklyn Dodgers
Black developed his skills in the Negro Leagues before making his big league debut at the age of twenty-eight. He took the NL by storm, posting a 15-4 record primarily in relief with 15 saves and a 2.15 ERA. He was a starter In Game 1 of the '52 World Series, becoming the first black player to appear in the postseason win column with a 6-hit gem against the Yankees. In 1953, manager Chuck Dressen urged Black to experiment with a changeup and it seriously screwed up his mechanics. He never posted an ERA below 4.00 ever again. He was out of the majors after the '57 slate.   

Harry Byrd- Philadelphia A's
This right-hander had the misfortune of playing for one of the worst teams in the majors at the start of his career. Still, he would have fizzled in any city. After claiming Rookie of the Year honors with 15 wins and a 3.31 ERA in 1952, he led the league in earned runs, hit batsmen and losses the following year. Over the next three seasons, he played for four different teams, compiling a mediocre 20-19 record.

Don Schwall- Boston Red Sox
The BoSox rejoiced when this towering right-hander (standing 6-foot-6) posted a 15-7 record and a 3.22 ERA in his big league debut. But he was never terribly effective after that. In his '62 follow-up, he accrued a cumbersome 4.94 earned run average and lost 15 of 24 decisions. He was traded to Pittsburgh and Atlanta before disappearing from the majors after the '67 slate. He was one of only six Red Sox players to be named Rookie of the Year. All of the others went on to longer, more prosperous careers.

Ken Hubbs- Chicago Cubs
The Cubs thought they had found an ideal infield partner for Ernie Banks when Hubbs arrived on the scene. The smooth-fielding second baseman collected 172 hits and became the first rookie to win a Gold Glove Award. Though his batting average dropped to .235 in '63, he posted the second highest range factor in the league and was hailed as one of the premier defensive infielders in the game. Realizing that his debilitating fear of flying could endanger his career, he decided to confront it by taking flying lessons. In a tragic turn of events, he died when the plane he was piloting crashed in a storm shortly before the '64 slate.

Mark Fidrych- Detroit Tigers
Fidrych became a media sensation in his debut not only for his pitching performance but also for his peculiar on-field antics. His 19 wins, 2.34 ERA and 24 complete games made opposing teams envious. And his bizarre behavior--which included talking to the ball and grooming the mound with his bare hands--won him legions of fans throughout the baseball world. He was off to another good start in '77 before an arm injury ended his season prematurely. Though he had sustained a torn rotator cuff, it wouldn't be diagnosed for several years. He tried to pitch through it, but couldn't. He was finished in the majors by 1980.

 Butch Metzger- San Diego Padres
In the 1970s, closers were expected to work several innings at a time. Groomed as a reliever in the minors, Metzger ate up 123.1 innings for the Padres in '76, gathering 11 wins and 16 saves while posting a 2.92 ERA. He tied a major league record by winning the first 12 decisions of his career. After his Rookie of the Year effort, he never had another good season. Over the next two campaigns, he went 5-5 with a cumulative 4.30 ERA--way too high to be an effective closer. He converted just fifty-three percent of his career save opportunities.

John Castino- Minnesota Twins
Castino appeared to be on his way to bigger and better things when he captured Rookie of the Year honors on the strength of his .285 batting average and sterling defensive work around third base in '79. His follow-up season was even better as he topped the .300 mark at the plate and led the league in assists. Soon afterward, he began to suffer from chronic back pain. He sat out 61 games in '81 and 45 the following year. Out of the majors by '85, he obtained his Masters Degree and pursued a career as an investment advisor.              



Sunday, August 9, 2015

Immaculate Innings By Hall of Famers

On the surface, baseball may appear to be a simple sport, but in reality nothing could be more complicated. A man stands on a raised dirt platform and attempts to throw a rawhide sphere over a distance of sixty feet, six inches into an invisible quadrant measuring slightly more than three square feet past an opponent armed with a wooden club who has practiced the art of hitting flying projectiles for most of his life. All this under the scrutiny of an official who has been given the authority to make arbitrary and at times unjust decisions. Put in its proper perspective, the so-called "immaculate inning" is one of the most stupendous feats in all of sports.

Three pitches--Nine Strikes--Three Outs--One Inning

There are seventy four pitchers currently residing in the Hall of Fame. Of those men, only eleven have completed an immaculate inning. Details are as follows:

Rube Waddell of Philadelphia A's  against Baltimore Orioles at Columbia Park in Philadelphia. July 1, 1902.
Third Inning. Catcher: Ossee Schreckengost. Batters: Billy Gilbert, Harry Howell and Jack Cronin. Final Score: A's 2 Orioles 0.

Dazzy Vance of Brooklyn Robins against Cincinnati Reds at Ebbets Field in Brooklyn. September 14, 1924.
Second Inning. Catcher: Hank DeBerry. Umpire: Bob Hart. Batters: Sam Bohne, Bubbles Hargrave, Eppa Rixey. Final Score: Robins 2 Reds 0.

Lefty Grove of Philadelphia A's against Cleveland Indians at at Shibe Park in Philadelphia. August 23, 1928.
Second Inning. Catcher: Mickey Cochrane. Umpire: Dan Barry. Batters: Eddie Morgan, Luther Harvel and Chick Autry. Final Score: A's 3 Indians 1.

Lefty Grove of Philadelphia A's against Chicago White Sox at Comiskey Park in Chicago. September 27, 1928.
Seventh Inning. Catcher: Mickey Cochrane. Umpire: Harry Geisel. Batters: Moe Berg, Tommy Thomas, Johnny Mostil. Final Score: A's 5 White Sox 3.

Robin Roberts of Philadelphia Phillies against Brooklyn Dodgers at Ebbets Field in Brooklyn. April 17, 1956.
Sixth Inning. Catcher: Andy Seminick. Umpire: Jocko Conlon. Batters: Carl Furillo, Charlie Neal, Sandy Amoros. Final Score: Phillies 8 Dodgers 6.

Jim Bunning of Detroit Tigers against Boston Red Sox at Briggs Stadium in Detroit. August 2, 1959.
Ninth Inning. Catcher: Red Wilson. Umpire: Nestor Chylak. Batters: Sammy White, Jim Mahoney, Ike DeLock. Final Score Red Sox 5 Tigers 4. (This was a one-inning relief appearance for Bunning)

Sandy Koufax of Los Angeles Dodgers against New York Mets at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles. June 30, 1962.
First Inning. Catcher: John Roseboro. Umpire: Mel Steiner. Batters: Richie Ashburn, Rod Kanehl, Felix Mantilla. Final Score: Dodgers 5 Mets 0.

Sandy Koufax of Los Angeles Dodgers against Houston Colt .45s at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles. April 19, 1963.
Fifth Inning. Catcher: John Roseboro. Umpire: Bill Jackowski. Batters: Bob Aspromonte, Jim Campbell, Turk Farrell. Final Score: Dodgers 2 Colt .45s 0.

Sandy Koufax of Los Angeles Dodgers against Cincinnati Reds at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles. April 18, 1964.
Third Inning. Catcher: John Roseboro. Umpire: Al Barlick. Batters: Leo Cardenas, Johnny Edwards, Jim Maloney. Final Score: Reds 3 Dodgers 0.

Nolan Ryan of New York Mets against Los Angeles Dodgers at Shea Stadium in New York. April 19, 1968. 
Third Inning. Catcher: Jerry Grote. Umpire: Tom Gorman. Batters: Claude Osteen, Wes Parkeer, Zoilo Versalles. Final Score: Dodgers 3 Mets 2.

Bob Gibson of St. Louis Cardinals againsst Los Angeles Dodgers at Busch Stadium in St Louis. May 12, 1969.
Seventh Inning. Catcher: Joe Torre. Umpire: Al Barlick. Batters: Len Gabrielson, Paul Popovich, John Miller. Final Score: Cardinals 6 Dodgers 2.

Nolan Ryan of California Angels against Red Sox at Anaheim Stadium in Anaheim. July 9, 1972.
Second Inning. Catcher: John Stephenson. Umpire: John Rice. Batters: Carlton Fisk, Bob Burda, Juan Beniquez. Final Score: Angels 3 Red Sox 0.

Bruce Sutter of Chicago Cubs against Montreal Expos at Wrigley Field in Chicago. September 8, 1977.
Ninth Inning. Catcher: Steve Swisher. Umpire: Terry Tata. Batters: Ellis Valentine, Gary Carter, Larry Parrish. final Score: Cubs 3 Expos 2.

Randy Johnson of Houston Astros against Atlanta Braves at Turner Field in Atlanta. September 2, 1998.
Sixth Inning. Catcher: Brad Ausmus. Umpire: Gary Darling. Batters: Javy Lopez, Andruw Jones, Greg Colbrunn. Final Score: Astros 4 Braves 2.

Randy Johnson of Arizona Diamondbacks against Pittsburgh Pirates at PNC Park in Pittsburgh. August 23, 2001.
Sixth Inning. Catcher: Damian Miller. Umpire: Mike Fichter. Batters: Tony McKnight, Gary Matthews, Jack Wilson. Final Score: Pirates 5 Diamondbacks 1.

Pedro Martinez of Boston Red Sox against Seattle Marineers at Fenway Park in Boston. May 18, 2002.
First Inning. Catcher: Jason Varitek. Umpire: Jerry Meals. Batters: Ichiro Suzuki, Mark McLemore, Ruben Sierra. Final Score: Red Sox 4 Mariners 1.
In examining the data, I believe that Randy Johnson's immaculate inning against the Braves in 1998 is the most impressive. With all the chanting and tomahawk chopping, Atlanta's Turner Field was a tough place for opposing pitchers during that time. Lopez and Jones were imminent power threats with 65 homers between them that year. Colbrunn was no slouch with a bat either, entering the game with a .307 average. Johnson had already thrown more than 200 innings at that point in the season and the Braves were making their third pass through the lineup against him. At least he had the benefit of Gary Darling's notoriously wide strike zone.