Tam Lin?

The olde Scottish ballade Tam Lin was performed by Fairport Convention, and the lyrics (only 21 verses!) are here. For the several variations of Tam Lin, including the differences between the major versions, click here.

Now that I’ve chased away all of the baseball fans…back to Jeff Tam.

First, mad props to all of the participants in Spring Cleaning! Woot!

Second, isn’t hockey about the only thing that makes people leave Atlanta for Winnipeg and be happy about it?

Third, did I ask for mad props for the Spring Cleaning participants?

Ok, now to Jeff Tam.

Oakland had great luck in plucking relievers off of the scrap heap. Tam wasn’t just on the scrap heap, he owned the junkyard.

How can we count the ways:

1. Undrafted free agent signed by the Mets in 1993 out of Florida State.

2. Strike replacement player. (Which makes it odd that he has a card – since they don’t share in the royalties – unless they still get the fee. Anyone have a ruling?)

3. Was in a game of waiver ping-pong between Cleveland and the Mets in 1999.

4. Non-roster six-year free agent signed by Oakland in late 1999.

All Tam did in 2000 and 2001 for the A’s was put up a 3.9 WAR  with an ERA+ of 162 and 44 holds. He lost it in 2002 and drifted out of the majors after a bad 2003 with Toronto. He still was pitching in the independent leagues up until 2008.

It’s rather remarkable that a player signed as a domestic amateur free agent in this day and age makes it to a second or third season, much less become one of the best relief pitchers in the game for a couple of years.

How did he do it? How did Tam make it to Shea despite the odds and the stigma of “Replacement Player”?

In the 1993 draft, the Mets selected Kirk “Not The King” Presley. He didn’t make it. 14 of the 42 players labelled as ‘first round picks’ didn’t make the bigs, and 17 more had a WAR of 2.5 or under.

The Mets drafted 45 players in 1993. Only eight of those players made the majors, and only two (Billy Koch and Vance Wilson) had a WAR over what Tam achieved in the bigs. Koch didn’t even sign with the Mets, going to Clemson and then becoming a Blue Jay draftee in 1996.

Tam had a decent debut in Pittsfield in the ol’ New York-Penn League. He allowed 50 hits in 40 1/3, but walked just seven. Still, he faced tough odds to go farther than A ball.

What he did in 1994 got him noticed. After starting at Capital City in the Sally League, he was promoted to St. Lucie in the fast FSL. Tam pitched 26 2/3 innings, giving up 13 hits, six walks and no runs. No earned runs, no unearned runs. No runs.

He got hit hard in 6+ innings in AA, but still his FSL performance turned the Mets heads. Then he became a replacement player – no doubt because he knew the odds were stacked against him.

He mastered AA in 1996, and by 1998 at AAA Norfolk he was dominant which earned him a brief callup in mid-season. He had some arm problems in 1999 and Cleveland snagged him after the Mets dropped him from the 40-man, then the Mets did the same after Cleveland took him off the 40-man. He was wanted, in a kinda, sorta, 26th man way.

After being taken off the roster again after 1999, Tam signed with the A’s. He had two great seasons, which earned him two other big league seasons.

Not bad for a non-drafted free agent and a replacement player, eh?

 

 

Everyone Was Rooting For Him, Until…

…he was a Met.

Billy was a great story when he first broke into the big leagues. And that rather much erased the memory of the first Billy Taylor to make the bigs – the infamous “Bollicky Bill” Taylor of the old American Association. Taylor ‘led’ a group of misfits, drunkards, ne’er-do-wells and social degenerates disguised as baseball players called the Pittsburgh Alleghenys  in 1883. They fought and drank their way to seventh place in that season, and it just wasn’t good for business. However, with talent levels straining to fill two, sometimes three, leagues, “Bollicky Bill” was sporadically employed until 1887.

This Billy was a second round January 1980 draftee by Texas. He played in the GCL, Asheville, Wausau, Burlington, Salem, Tulsa (3+ seasons over 4 years), Oklahoma City (2 1/2 seasons), Las Vegas, Durham, Greenville and Richmond before finally earning a shot in 1993 as a Rule V player with Toronto.

The story was always the same for Taylor – he had great stuff but was wild until he became a full-time reliever in Las Vegas in 1989. From 1991 to 1993, he was lights out in the Atlanta chain, but the Braves never called him up. Finally, he signed with Oakland and earned a big-league shot in 1994 at age 32. On April 5, Opening Day, he faced the Milwaukee Brewers and retired the side in order in the 7th – fanning Kevin Seitzer and Greg Vaughn and getting Turner Ward to fly out.

He had a decent year in low leverage situations, then sat out 1995 with an injury. He came back in 1996 and established himself as the closer for the A’s. He wasn’t lights out, but he wasn’t horrible and kept the job until mid-way through 1999.

The A’s were on the margins of the race, and knew that other clubs over-valued closers. The Mets were in the race big-time and needed to solidify the back end of the pen after John Franco was hurt. Even though they had four decent starters and four other good relievers in Benitez, Mahomes, Cook and Wendell, the Mets made a move for Taylor before the waiver deadline of August 1.

They send a washed-up Greg McMichael and a young, injury-prone pitcher to the A’s for the old ‘proven’ veteran.

That injury-prone youngster? Jason Isringhausen.

Oops.

Anyway, Taylor had pitched in over 800 professional baseball games. He’s heard boos before, sure. But he’d never been in a real pennant race in the bigs, and in New York to boot. Wags no doubt though the lanky, genial southern country boy couldn’t handle the Big Apple. But I think he was just done.

The A’s made off like bandits, because Taylor was a bit wobbly in July (four blown saves and a 7.50 ERA). The wobble became a full blown teeter soon. After three scoreless appearances, he botched two games against the Dodgers at Shea, then after three more scoreless games on the road he was totally creamed in his next home appearance against the Cards. From then on, he was simply a mop-up man, and rather useless to the Mets.

Taylor then hung on for two more seasons, pitching a few games in the bigs for the Rays and Pirates before calling it quits.

For many years, Taylor was a feel-good story – but as soon as he entered the lion’s den in New York no one cared about his perseverance in making the bigs. He was just fresh press fodder for the media.

It’s sad, but in a pennant race, performance matters.

 

You Know Where This Is, But When?

Marty Cordova was on of the players I saw on a trip in 1989 to Elizabethtown, TN (I was driving through the Smokies and said, why not catch a Appy League game?). The Twins faced the Burlington Indians and I think I paid two bucks (or maybe three) to get in – a buck fitty for popcorn and a Coke (I think it was a dry county – no beer available) and fifty cents or so for a program. There was an intimate crowd in what looked like the seating for a large high school, except that there was a great view of mountains out past center field.

As you can imagine, frills weren’t very frilly. You got the Twins roster but for the Indians the PA man spelled out every name as he went through the lineup or when they entered the game. “Leading off for Burlington, the center fielder Mark Charbonnet – C-h-a-r-b-0-n-n-e-t”. (BTW, Charbonnet was fast, but had a 4/51 BB/K ratio – you can’t even steal first base in the Appalachian League.)

The players I saw that made the bigs were Cordova, Steve Dunn, Kerry Taylor for the Twins, and Brian Giles, Jesse Levis and Roberto Rivera for the Indians. I think Robert Person for Burlington and Denny Neagle for Elizabethtown were on the field but didn’t play. The Twins won, if I recall. The one player I really wanted to make the bigs was Pork Chop Pough of the Indians. If you need to know why I wanted him in the bigs, well…

Knowing that the trip from Rookie Ball to even AA is fraught with peril so seeing that many big leaguers on a field in rookie ball was pretty amazing.

Anyway, Cordova made the bigs and won ROY, and had a decent yet disappointing (he never really blossomed as a power hitter) career before injuries derailed him.

This card was produced after the 1997, the year BEFORE inter-league play.

In 1998, the Cubs traveled to Minnesota, so that can’t be.

Either Upper Deck time traveled to 1999, when the Twins were in Wrigley, to snap this shot or…

…the Twins in 1997 (or 1998, perhaps) played a game or two in Chicago before the season after they broke camp.

And Spring Training baseball evaporates from history as soon as the season starts. For a sport that has meticulously recorded everything with 99.9% accuracy (the little blips in the old data are relatively small considering the massive amounts of data compiled since 1871), it’s funny how you really can’t find Spring Training data unless you actually have old media guides or press packets. At least I can’t find them.

Can anyone verify if /when the Twins played at Wrigley before the regular season? Anyone?

Though the above was well written, as Larry noted, sometimes I’m an idiot. And unlike politicians, I’ll admit my mistake, on the record and fix the post.

It slipped my mind that the early inter-league games were played as late as September, so I didn’t look that far down in the game logs. Cordova played in two games at Wrigley in 1997, in left field, on September 1 and 2. The September 2 game was at night, so probably was the September 1 game when the Twins beat the Cubs 7-6. Both teams were God-awful that year, yet 34,117 fans decided there was nothing better to do on Labor Day and be lulled to sleep by Steve Traschel on the mound.

Marty made three catches in the outfield. The first was described as a ‘lineout to short left’ by Lance Johnson. The second was a ‘pop fly to short left’ by Manny Alexander. The final play was in the 4th, a flyout by Johnson. That, I think, is this play.

Now, I feel much better…

Run, Bubba, Run! There’s Free KFC And Pie At Home Plate!

Wow, Spring Cleaning is nearly finished. The last of the original packages go out today and then the grab bags will be assembled soon. Thanks to everyone, and I mean everyone, who participated. More to follow!

In 1971, the Trammell’s of the Knoxville, TN area had a son, and named it Thomas. Needing a middle name, they chose…

Bubba.

And a short-lived folk hero was born!

After making the bigs with Detroit in 1997 (after smashing 33 home runs in AA and AAA combined in 1996 and 28 more in 1997 in Toledo), the Devil Rays took Bubba in the expansion draft. Well, the Tigers thought they were stocked in the outfield with Higginson, Nieves and Hunter with Hamelin at DH.

Yeah, right…

So Bubba goes to the Bay of Tampa and finds himself…blocked…

In 1998 he dutifuly goes to Durham and whaps 16 homers in 56 games. Then gets called up and hits . 286 with 12 dingers in 59 games and an OPS+ of 130.

In 1999, he’s SENT DOWN AGAIN after his performance in the bigs and no doubt was pouting a bit, but he came up and then whacked it around the park again – hitting .290 with 14 homers in 82 games and an OPS+ of 125.

Sure, Bubba was rather ham-fisted in the field, but for an expansion team, you’re going to have to outscore the other team anyway, so why not just let Trammell play in a corner, hit 30 homers and drive in runs?

Well, the Devil Rays wanted these guys to play instead:

Mike Kelly

Quinton McCracken

Dave Martinez

Paul Sorrento

Randy Winn

Rich Butler

Terrell Lowery

Um…what?

Bubba basically forced his way into a full-time spot in 2000. Well, at least a majority of a platoon spot. The Rays at that time were fooling around with Gerald Williams and Jose Guillen as well. Then, in July, the Mets needed some bench help for their run to the World Series and dangled a couple of shiny coins in front of the Devil Rays.

So Bubba went to the Big Apple and the Devil Rays got…

Jason Tyner and Paul Wilson.

A man whose arm was held together with solder and scotch tape and an outfielder who had ONE career home run in over 1,450 career plate appearances.

The Devil Rays wanted speed and defense – I guess so they could run as fast as they could to the buffet table after getting pasted 8-2 every night.

Bubba plays his role as righty masher off the bench, including a huge 2-RBI pinch single off of Andy Pettitte in Game One.

The Padres are smart, and convert a middle reliever into an everyday player, sending Donne Wall to the Mets for Bubba. He has one good year and one fair year over there at Jack Murphy and the Yanks decide in Spring Training of 2003 to deal Rondell White to the Padres for him.

You Yankee fans probably know the rest. Trammell struggles to start the season and then begs off the rest of the season because of depression. There were howls of derision, as I recall. But you know, both his mother and sister had cancer and he was going through a divorce. I’d have some issues then as well.

Bubba makes a few comeback attempts (2004 and 2007) but is no longer on the scene. Too bad. He could have been a true folk hero in Tampa Bay if, you know, the management and front office knew what the hell they were doing.

Which is why that every day I see the standings and see the Rays over .500, I wonder if I’ve inhaled peyote or something. The long standing stain of prior incompetence still lingers, even after Joe Maddon and company have succeeded.

Hey, Look At That…

Yeah, I’ve been busy recently. Lots of hours at Target. A busy time with legal and other issues. Jobs being searched for and resumes sent. Networking done. And a girlfriend who left today to visit Russia with a campus group at the school she works at. She’s gone for two weeks.

Oh, and I’ve finished getting the boxes ready for Spring Cleaning and going to mail out Wednesday (today for most of us, tomorrow for some).

So have a look at Greg Harris (the original model) looking silly…

With That Form, He Was A Natural DH

The Brewers used to grow guys like this on trees. That was the perception anyway.

There was no difference in many people’s mind to players like Jaha, Joey Meyer, Rob Deer, Gorman Thomas, Mark Brouhard, Glenn Braggs, Greg Vaughn and the like. Big lummoxes that hit the ball far – and that’s all they did.

As you know, baseball isn’t so black and white. None of those aforementioned players were that similar, really, but perception of course beats reality two falls to a submission.

Jaha was a DH that played first because the Brewers always seemed to have someone WORSE in the field (like Kevin Reimer). The thing was, he wasn’t a three-true outcome guy like Deer. He could hit for average as well and didn’t always just go “MONGO CRUSH”.

His big problem was injuries. He had more than his fair share. Jaha really only played three full seasons in the bigs and in two of them, he had WARs of 3.4 and 4.6. He didn’t come up to the bigs until he was 26, but again it was due to injuries that stalled him in Class A for three seasons. Jaha’s career was ‘what could have been’, big time.

His best season was 1999, when he mashed the ball for Oakland in their first year of their renaissance. That team crushed 235 home runs, and Jaha was second on the team with 35 (behind Matt Stairs with 38). His OPS+ was 152, one behind Jason Giambi. With guys like Jaha, Stairs, Giambi, Tejada, Ben Grieve (before he went south), a young Eric Chavez, Olmedo Saenz, and Tony Phillips’ last gasp, the A’s went 87-75 and were fourth in the AL in runs despite being 13th in batting average.

What was more impressive was that the home park of the A’s was a horrible hitters park. They had the third best ERA in the AL and had an ERA+ of under 100 and gave 52 starts to Jimmy Haynes and Mike Oquist.

Oh, and they had horrid offensive players like AJ Hinch, Ryan Christenson and Jason McDonald eating a lot of ABs.

Oh, oh, and in a park that required good defense due to the parks quirks, the A”s were…well…defensively challenged. Jaha, Giambi, Grieve, Stairs, Saenz, Phillips and Scott Spiezio were less than stellar. Ok, that’s kind. Grieve’s DWAR was -2.o and Stairs had a -2.6 DWAR. Jaha still was the DH, because if you but him or Giambi out in right or left…well…um, do they make a DWAR that low?

Jaha got MVP votes, made the All-Star team, and was on his way to big things. He signed a big time contract.

And of course,  injuries wiped out his career – the same injury problem that derailed his ascent.  And when Oakland really started to make their move in the AL, he was gone.

Who knows, without his injuries, maybe Jeremy wouldn’t have needed to slide!

Hojo Joins The Old Man’s Expansion Team

First, thanks much to Play At The Plate and YOOOOGE thanks to Oh NO! for their contributions to the Spring Cleaning booty. I am putting together some packages tonight and tomorrow for shipment. FINALLY!

Second, I’m saddened that Harmon Killebrew passed away. I remember that I used to have his 1972 card. Used to. Long gone. Sigh.

And now…Hojo’s sad tenure with the Rockies.

Expansion teams follow two schools of thought – one is to grab the young players and build them, and the second is to grab vets for name recognition and hope for the best.

The Rockies were in their second season in 1994 and I’m pretty sure they went for the latter. In 1993, they wheeled out the decaying corpses of Dale Murphy, Bryn Smith and Bruce Hurst. For 1994, they tried their luck with HoJo and some others.

None of their eight regular position players were under 27. In fact, of their top 14 position players, the only players under 27 were Vinny Castilla (26) and Roberto Mejia (22). Otherwise, it was a case of Danny Sheaffers and John Vander Wals on the bench.

Not many of those bench players had much left – and HoJo definitely didn’t. His OPS+ was 77 and he had a negative WAR in 1994.

It wasn’t but 1991 when HoJo was a holy terror. 4.1 WAR, 145 OPS+ and 38 home runs.

The mighty fall, and fall quickly.

Alas, Poor Donnie Baseball…

Was there a better player with worse luck in baseball history?

Through 1989, he had an OPS+ of 144, accumulated 1300 hits (by age 28), had a WAR of 33.1, was an MVP (undeserved but he was in the team picture), won five gold gloves (sure, its reputation, but he was a decent first baseman). He could be expected to play 10-12 more seasons, in New York, and get 3000 hits and 300 home runs while batting over .300. He’d be a lock first ballot HOF player.

Then, his back started acting up. And by acting up, I mean, “HOLY FREAKIN’ COW I CAN”T MOVE”. My backs done that a couple of times, but I can’t imagine either trying to play baseball through it – or living with it day after day.

Because of the back problem he  couldn’t play every day, couldn’t hit for power, couldn’t field as well. He. Just. Couldn’t.

The Yankees couldn’t do much either when he was around. For an organization that prides itself on championships and winning – for a city that unfairly denigrated fine players like Roy White, Bobby Murcer and tarred a reasonable second baseman like Horace Clarke with a stain of loser-dom just because the Yanks were scuffling during the majority of their careers – Mattingly was about the only revered player that never won anything.

Hal Chase he wasn’t. (Though Chase was popular with the fans – or at least written that way – probably by sportswriters who were cut in on some of his nefarious deeds…)

And of course, the last year he plays, the Yanks make the playoffs. Mattingly’s season was sub-par but he shone in that series in Seattle. Don went 10-24 with a home run in the five-game loss. Then, he retired before 1996.

Of course, 1996 was the year the Yankees became THE GD, MFN’ YANKEES that many of us love to loathe.

He then spent time in the organization, and was the bench coach to Torre and many thought the heir apparent. But Joe Girardi got the job and Mattingly became a Dodger coach and now manager (and looks really, really weird in Dodger blue).

And now, he’s the manager of the biggest clown car in Major League Baseball. With all of the issues revolving around the Dodgers, Mattingly probably is going, “Hell, at least under Steinbrenner he wanted to win and had money, and could pay his bills.”

He’s also got a first baseman that’s hitting like Alvaro Espinoza, an over-matched rookie in left, a third baseman who had elbow surgery and then got a staph infection, a double play combo that are stretched thin defensively (Jamey Carroll, starting shortstop?), no bench, a closer with a complex, a young stud of a closer-in-training that they had to send down, and a counted on lefty reliever on the DL thanks to ‘anxiety disorder’ (and a 11.57 ERA).

Somehow, he’s 19-20 with that team. But that’s a baptism by fire and brimstone.

You Make The Call…

First, thanks to Cardboard Junkie and For Card’s Sake for sending me stuff for my Spring Cleaning. I swear to God one day I’ll get these things out!

Now, onto the star of this here post…

Isn’t it weird to see Lance Parrish tagging out Lou Whitaker?

Before Parrish left the Tigers, Parrish and Whitaker had been teammates since they both had a cuppa joe for Le Tigre in 1977, so any tags by Parrish to Whitaker were in intrasquad games early in spring training. And then, only when they were young and hungry.

Parrish was a darn good catcher and an underrated (or overrated) hitter, depending on if you drank Sparky’s Kool-Aid (Menthol flavored) or not. But the end of the line is cruelest for catchers – one day you’re on top and the next you’re scuffling among five teams in four seasons.

The Mariners were one of those teams, of course. After a couple of so-so years the Angels released Parrish in mid-June 1992  even though that meant the catching would be in the hands of Ron Tingley and Mike Fitzgerald, and the Mariners picked him up because they needed a backup for Dave Valle and the first base combo of O’Brien and Martinez.

Or something.

Those 1992 Mariners were pretty hapless – led by Bill Plummer – who was shown to be a bit out of his league managing in the AL. Plummer got a lot of heat for using 11 pitchers in a game in September, but I think there was more than that which caused Plummer’s exit.

What intrigues me is how the Tiger fans reacted when Parrish appeared in their hallowed ground. It wasn’t like Parrish had been a Tiger just the past season, but he was still a figure from the great 1984 team. Over the July 4 weekend, the Mariners traveled to Detroit for a five-game series, including a July 3 doubleheader.

Shall we see when Parrish tagged / tried to tag  Whitaker?

Sure, why not – it’s what I do best. Well, not really, but I’m good at it.

July 3 – Game 1 – Parrish didn’t play. That was easy.

July 3 – Game 2 – Parrish played. The Mariners won 11-0 and Whitaker never made it past second.

July 4 – Parrish played first base.

July 5 – Parrish moved to catcher in the fourth after starting at first. Both managers made platoon moves very early in the game after pitching changes. Whitaker was on base a lot but didn’t have a play at the plate when Parrish was catching. He was pinch hit for and removed late in the game.

July 6 – A 14-inning affair and Parrish catches each inning. This has to be the game. Whitaker is on base a lot. Let’s see.

  • In the bottom of the third, Parrish made a throwing error during a Milt Cuyler steal of third allowing Whitaker to move to second (and Cuyler scores). Travis Fryman hit a grounder to Dave Cochrane at third. It’s an error and Whitaker scores. Could that be the play?
  • In the bottom of the seventh, Whitaker scores from third on a single to right. That’s not it.
  • But we have the winner in the bottom of the 12th. Russ Swan is on the hill for the Mariners. Whitaker walks and is sacrificed to second by Fryman. Swan throws a wild pitch, and with a runner on third and one out Plummer orders Swan to load ‘em up intentionally. You know the scene – the outfield in as shallow as they can – the infield in at the corners and halfway up the middle so they can try to turn two. More often than not, this alignment leads to a winning single on any ball hit to the outfield. Except…
  • Dan Gladden hits a fly to short right. Whitaker tags. Jay Buhner is in right and as Frank Costanza says “He has a rocket for an arm.” Even if Whitaker’s foot may have grazed the plate, Parrish has the ball, and seems to have counted the seams and verified the signature before tagging Lou. Yer OUT! 9-2 DP! Buhner’s second DP on an attempted sac fly of the game!

Alas, all was not sunshine and unicorns for the Mariners, as they lost in 14. But the game produced a heck of a baseball card, didn’t it?

Today’s Transactions…

The post today, concerning Steve Ontiveros, has been placed on the 15-day DL with shoulder stiffness.

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