“Hand Me The Sphere, Kind Sir, And I Shall Attempt To Slay The Batsmen”

The noted Irishman McGaffigan strode to the mound with confidence. His nine were in a tough spot with the game all square at five a side late in the eighth frame. The Trolley Dodgers eliminated the Scotsman McClure from the game with a hard double off the bat of Hoffman, plating Shelby and advancing the elder statesman Garner to third.

The August night was comfortable, yet the Montreal nine were on pins and needles. The Californians had runners on second and third and the go ahead run was one dash away. Landrum stepped to the plate, as McGaffigan peered into his receiver Reed.

Parrett had started the inning on the hill for the Tri-Colors, but Shelby earned a free pass and Rogers came out of the bench area to wave in McClure.  Stubbs, the powerful, fooled all observers with a bunt that moved Shelby to the middle sack. McClure regained himself and allowed Trevino to fly out to Candaele at second, but Hoffman redeemed his fellow batters with his hard smash.

Now, McGaffigan was facing a tough customer in Mr. Landrum. Yet the tall Floridian yielded no quarter and asked the same, fanning the pinch batter in four pitches which stranded the Trolley Dodgers running and preserving the all square situation.

Holton kept the Expos in check in the ninth, and McGaffigan did the same, but Manager LaSorda opted to replace Holton with Crews, in thinking that a fresh arm would suffice in extra frames. Yet those plans were foiled as Galarraga, who plays with feline grace despite his ample girth, deposited a double past the elderly Garner at third. Foley strode the plate, and the Los Angeles pilot LaSorda may have opted to take his chance pitching to the normally soft hitting middle sacker.

But Mr. Foley was not to be denied, expertly splitting the gap to where neither Shelby nor Stubbs could catch it as it flew through the air, and Galarraga came around to dent the scoreboard for the visitors. The lanky Irishman McGaffigan saddled up again in the 10th aiming to notch another victory for the Tri-Colors.

Shelby led off with a ball expertly placed between Foley and Candaele. He thought second was ripe for the taking but Reed dispatched him with an expert throw down to Foley. The powerful Stubbs then drew a free pass, but McGaffigan took no more chances, eliminating Trevino and Garner for the victory. The season of sorrow for the defending champions grows, and the Montreal nine resolves to chase the Cardinal clad St. Louis squad with all speed.

(Don’t ya think Andy looks like a 19th century player in that shot?)

Dream Team?

More like a nightmare!

Sure, 1988 was a weak year for rookies in the AL. Walt Weiss won with a OPS of .633. The best rookie performance was either Don “The Guns Of” August or Jody Reed. Bryan Harvey did some good work as the Angels’ closer.

But Espy?

He got a third place ROY vote. His OBP was under .300. His K/W ratio was 4/1.

He also played LF more often than not.

The Rangers were 12th in the AL in runs, mostly because they gave offensive sink holes like Espy plenty of at bats.

The “Dream Team” set highlighted 11 rookies from 1988 and 11 NL and AL rookies from the past decade.

For some reason, Topps didn’t put Harvey, August or Reed on the card. But they had Dave Gallagher, Espy and…

Paul Gibson.

Again, I ask…Dream Team?

Bill Bene – 1989 Topps

December 30, 2010

Yes, It Is Hard To Hit When You Duck & Cover

I remember getting this card in my last fling of card collecting. It also coincided with starting my Baseball America subscription.

Bene makes Robbie Beckett look like Tom Seaver.

The back of the card said that they had beaucoups scouts at a JV game in his junior year at Cal State Los Angeles.

So, he wasn’t in a Division 1 program, and pitching JV as a JUNIOR?

And he was a first round draft pick??

Bene was Steve Dalkowski without the booze, though the photo above looks like he was roused from his bed the day after a raucous affair.

Bene actually had to throw to dummies because he broke the wrists of two teammates during simulated games.

Here’s the beginning of Bene’s career after a brief short-season stint in 1988.

1989 – 0-4, 10.33, 27 IP, 56 BB, 24 K, 5 HB, 18 WP

1990 – 1-10, 6.99, 56 2/3 IP, 96 BB, 34 K, 6 HB, 23 WP

1991 – 1-1, 4.15, 52 IP, 65 BB, 57 K, 2 HB, 21 WP

Did he hit the Bull?

He was getting better. In 1992, he pitched decently and in 1993, in AA San Antonio, it looked like he had it put together. Sure, 5-6, 4.84 wasn’t great, but in 70 2/3 innings he walked just 53.

Then came 1994. He started at San Antonio again, and was promoted to Albuquerque. That was his undoing. A 10.12 ERA in 13 1/3 innings with 16 walks and 5 WP. The Dodgers let him go after that season.

The Reds took a chance in 1995, but seven hits and nine walks in four innings was the end of that. Bene later pitched some in the independent leagues and then resurfaced in 1997 in the Angels’ system.

His line in AA and AAA – 0-4, 6.68, 68 2/3 IP, 70 H, 66 BB, 70 K, 21 WP. Right back where he started from.

Perhaps if he wasn’t a Top 5 pick, there wouldn’t have been pressure on him to perform right away, and he could have been in extended spring training just trying to figure it out.

But of course, scouts may have said to themselves, “I’m watching a guy pitch in a Division II Junior Varsity game. Why am I here??”

As for Topps, featuring #1 draft picks was a good idea – too bad the cast of characters weren’t so hot:

Mark Lewis

Bene

Monty Fariss

Willie Ansley

Ty Griffin

Five of the top 13 in that draft never made the majors, and two others had a negative WAR. Lewis had a -3.7 WAR in almost 1000 major league games.

You know, I think I’d rather go play roulette than try to draft in the first round of the major league draft.

Brian Bohanon – 1992 Topps

December 29, 2010

In Another Life, He Could Have Been Les Sweetland

The Phillies were horrific for many stretches, but the late 1920′s and early 1930′s were most foul, mainly because they couldn’t get anyone out, at all.

Les Sweetland was one of the culprits. The journeyman lefty had one decent year and four rotten ones. In 1930, the Phils were 52-102, drew only 299,000 at the Baker Bowl, gave up 1,199 runs, and didn’t have a regular hit under .280.

The offense was so prevalent in the NL in 1930, and the Baker Bowl park factor so high, that Phil Collins (no, not the balding skin slammer who later became creator of pop songs most foul) had a 4.78 ERA and his ERA+ was 114. That year, Sweetland was 7-15 with a 7.71 ERA and gave up 271 hits in 167 innings.

The 1999 version of Brian Bohanon was 12-12 with a 6.20 ERA for Colorado. His ERA+ was only 94.

Bohanon eked out a 12-year career as a lefty swingman because he was willing to take the ball. He usually played for bad teams, he didn’t pitch very well anywhere except for the Mets and the Dodgers in 1997-98, and his usual modus operandi was give up lots of hits and walk about four batters per nine.

Had there been 28-30 teams in MLB in 1930, Sweetland probably could have lasted more than 5 seasons.

It was also lucrative for Bohanon to have those two good seasons. He cashed in, signing a $9.1 million 3-year contract with Colorado. And honestly, no one really should have expected an under 4.50 ERA in the pre-humidor days.

Sweetland’s Phils, by drawing so poorly, were reduced to paying their players as little as possible. Even cranks who liked offense were probably turned off by 14-9 and 13-6 games on a regular basis.

July 23-26, the Phils lost four at home by scores of 16-15 (in 13), 19-15, 9-5, and 16-2. That 16-15 game was the second in a doubleheader. (The first game was a 2-1 loss – tough break for Snipe Hansen in a 0-7 season).

The Rockies weren’t THAT bad, but runs were scored by the bunches. Of any time to have a 12-man staff, it was pre-humidor Colorado.

But now, Coors Field is calmed down a bit, and pitchers like Bohanon are left to cursing their bad timing, much like Sweetland and company when the Baker Bowl finally bought the farm.

Terry Leach – 1990 Score

December 29, 2010

Sidewinder, Side-armer, Submariner…

It seems that lately there are some pitchers that throw sidearm or submarine and also throw hard.

That wasn’t always the case.

It used be guys like Leach and Todd Frowirth and Mark Eichhorn – guys who threw that way as the last chance to make it. It was one step away from knuckleball-dom.

Leach was an unlikely story to begin with – a non-drafted non-foreign free agent that made it to the bigs and had a sustained career.

What’s even more amazing is that he actually started in the ill-fated Gulf States League, and gave up 43 hits and 12 home runs in 19 innings. Somehow, he got a tryout with the Braves and was signed in 1977. He moved up in the chain, but I guess they weren’t impressed by a 1.95 ERA in AA and AAA because he was released in mid-1980. The Mets immediately signed him and he was in the bigs in 1981. In 1982, he spent more time in New York.

But the Mets didn’t trust him. He didn’t get back to the big club in 1983 and didn’t pitch well in AAA and was traded to the Cubs after the season. The Cubs moved him to the Braves, who released him in May of 1984. But the Mets snagged him right away and sent him back to AAA. At age 30, he was stuck in Tidewater.

He did get back to the bigs in 1985 and 1986, briefly, but somehow stuck it out and made an opening day roster for a first time in 1987 at age 33. His patience was rewarded (and the Mets’ patience as well) by going 11-1 with a 3.22 ERA as a swingman.

Though never a closer, nor a full-time member of the rotation, he was quite a valuable pitcher for the Mets, Royals, Twins and White Sox until 1993.

And if you were one of the few fans in Baton Rouge in 1976, you’d never ever have thought that Leach would have made a Class A team the next season.

Baseball is just one of those games…

Rich Yett – 1990 Score

December 28, 2010

Pitching To Contact…

Oh, my. It’s Rich “NOT” Yett.

One of the poster boys of the Indians of that era.

I have no freakin’ idea why he was in the majors. His stats in the minor weren’t great, and his peripherals were not good.

He was the “player to be named later” in the Bert Blyleven trade – after the Indians got Jay Bell and Curt Wardle.

His ML debut was April 13, 1985.  It’s odd because that’s his only appearance for the year, and he didn’t last long. Two errors kind of screwed him though. But he never appeared in the majors again, then he was in the Blyleven trade.

It wasn’t ALL bad – just nothing that stood out on why he was supposed to be a major league pitcher.

He did have a decent 1988 – 73% quality starts. But his ERA+ that year was 89. So say what you will. If he could have built on that – or if the Indians would have let him build on that, he may have been OK. But he’s just another train wreck of the Indians 80′s staffs.

By 1990, at age 27, he was back in Minnesota’s organization. And, well, he didn’t do well. At Portland he was 4-6, 6.17. He pitched OK for the Twins at the start of the season, but he was sent down – and I guess he didn’t take it well.

And he was done…done in by ground balls and liners that got through – because he didn’t have a strikeout pitch and had to pitch to contact – and the Indians were NOT a team to do that with.

 

Ah-HAH!

I know the reason Kurt Miller bombed as a prospect.

He routinely waved all of his teammates in, a-la Eddie Feingold (“The King”), but it doesn’t work in baseball.

That, and he insisted on pitching in the twilight, and batters learned not to swing, so the umps kept calling balls.

What, you have a better reason?

Protip: When you deal the #5 pick in the draft one year after you draft him in a two for one to get Steve Buechele, then you’re not good at drafting.

Protip #2: When your first round draft pick can’t strike out a batter-an-inning in short season Class A, and then can’t strike out a batter-an-inning in Class A the next year, you’re not good at drafting.

Protip #3: If you are drafting 5th in the first round, and Mike Mussina is available, and you take Kurt Miller, you’re not good at drafting.

It’s Snowpocalypse! No, it’s Monday…

I know it’s tough on travel, but I can’t help to chortle at the massive panic out in the East. Our airport here in the Twin Cities was closed during our mid-December blizzard but it was only shut down for a brief amount of time.

The problem, of course, is the wind and the blowing snow. But why is it taking so freakin’ long for the NYC area airports to re-open? You would think the FAA and the airlines would have contingency plans if they’re shut down, especially if folks are just connecting there.

Anyway, as an operations guy, I marvel at the hub-and-spoke system and always think on how it could be improved. But really, it’s the cheapest way to get from “A” to “B”, even though it seems counter-intuitive to fly from Minneapolis to Atlanta to get to El Paso. But hey…

What does any of this have to do with Larry Walker? Well, he’s Canadian, eh? They know snow. He’s pictured as an Expo.

And he’s a Hall Of Famer.

“Oh, there’s the Coors Field Effect!” “Oh, there’s the steroid era!” “Oh, Oh! He had injuries.”

Yes, his time was shortened. And yes, Coors field helped inflate his counting stats. But OPS+ is normalized for park and era. And his career OPS+ is 140.

He was a plus (+96 fielding runs) fielder and had a fantastic arm.

Of course, he could have become a true household name had not the strike interrupted 1994.

There are others who should be in the HOF before Walker: Alomar, Raines, Blyleven, Santo, Whitaker, Larkin, and Trammell. And I hate that game of “if X is in then Y should be in” because it keeps lowering the lowest common denominator. Over time, that could potentially lead to “if Duane Kuiper is in the HOF, then Tom Veryzer should be as well.”

So I’ll just say Walker, some day, should be in the HOF. He’d be a better player than at least 1/3 of the current HOFers.

BTW, I got this card about 16 years too late to redeem whatever I was supposed to redeem on the back. C’est la vie and all that rot.

 

Some Decorum Please, Miguel

I think Morgan would like his family jewels intact if at all possible!

September 3, 2007 – San Diego at Arizona. Montero tags Ensberg out at home! What a play! It kept the lead from growing to 8-2 and then who knows how many more runs the Padres would have scored that inning! Holy cow!

Bill Murphy on the hill for the Diamondbacks, and with one out in the ninth Ensberg pinch hits for Doug Brocail and coaxes a walk. Brian Giles also walks and then Mike Cameron laces a single to left. Eric Byrnes rocks and fires a strike to Montero. Ensberg’s a dead duck and the score remains 7-2. The Padres tack on three more runs and the final is 10-2.

Even if the situation wasn’t a game-altering one, it’s still nice to have some action at the dish on a card.

 

 

The Bomber

Say what you want about Giambi – the ball could really jump off of his bat.

It’s funny that there were so many parallels to McGwire. Notice that he’s a 3B here – just like McGwire was when he was first a prospect. He also had a brother that played a major league sport whose career was rather ignominious (Dan McGwire – rotten QB and Jeremy Giambi – SLIDE DAMN YOU!) and brief.

Giambi played 3B when he first came up in 1995 and some in 1996, but not again except for a brief appearance in 1999 in a wild, woolly game with Kansas City. You could probably guess that it would be slow-pitch softball with Blake Stein and Dan Reichert pitching. It wound up a 13-11 Oakland loss when the Oakland pen (namely Billy Taylor and Chad Harville) blew a three-run lead and then gave up a game winning blast to Jermaine Dye. Giambi was inserted at third because Oakland lost the DH after pinch hitting and pinch running  like crazy late in the game. He was only in there for two batters.

Aside from Tony Phillips and Randy Velarde, that was a team of plodders. Giambi, Eric Chavez, John Jaha, Matt Stairs, Ben Grieve, Olmedo Saenz, Mike MacFarlane and Scott Spiezio didn’t win any foot races at all.

Oh, and attention Dusty Baker – those base cloggers finished fourth in the AL in runs scored, despite being 13th in batting average and stolen bases.

In honor of Giambi, and a gift for you on Christmas, here’s one of the best power trio rock songs ever:

 

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