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?

 

 

A Missed Opportunity (-ies)?

Reminder! Reminder! Spring Cleaning is upon us! I’ll ship out the first sets soon. Plenty of teams available. Sign up!

If you’re looking for Syketo in Baseball Reference, he’s known as Keto Anderson. Still, the premise is the same.

Syketo missed his opportunity. He hit well in the rookie league and the Northwest League, but was still raw in some baseball skills (20 for 36 in steals, 13 walks in two seasons in the AZL.)

In 2001, he led the Northwest League in batting average (.376), runs (70), and hits (109). He then played a few games in the Midwest League but didn’t hit well. Still, with some work he could have an impact. His brother, Marlon Anderson, was already in the bigs and baseball does love it some nepotism. So does Topps, and that’s why he probably got a card in Total.

After the season, he was traded to the Padres for Winston Abreu. (Yeah, I had to really dig for that one…Abreu was traded to the Padres from the Braves as part of one of many trades involving Rudy Seanez in the history of baseball. Abreu was released by the Cubs in April of 2002, foreshadowing for Anderson…)

Syketo was sent back to the Midwest League and had a good average, but he didn’t walk and was 11 for 20 in steals. He also had just one home run. So there was work to be done. The scene in Spring Training 2003 probably looked like this:

“Anyone who has a roster spot please step forward. Not so fast Syketo…”

Yes, he was released in Spring 2003. He then spent four seasons in the independent leagues for four different teams before hanging them up after a season in the United League where he led the league in runs scored, hits and stolen bases. But playing for Alexandria in the UL was probably not going to get him to the bigs, so he hung ‘em up.

So Anderson missed his opportunity. But even if he made the bigs there would have been another opportunity lost.

Can you imagine Harry Caray saying Syketo?

SLIDE, YOU $#!^* SLIDE!

Just think if Jeremy slid into home on that fateful play, what would be different (assuming Jeter still tries to make the play)?

That would have tied the game at 1, with the Yanks already down 2-0. That means the Yanks wouldn’t have been around to lose to the Diamondbacks in the World Series.

Jeter would still be Jeter.

The Yankees would still be the Yankees.

The A’s still would be who they were – discarding expensive players for cheaper, and sometimes better, alternatives.

Jeremy would still be out of the league earlier than he should have been thanks to a blatant disregard of defense and a bat that just withered and died.

In effect, nothing would have changed except who the Diamondbacks played in the 2001 World Series, and the possible winner of the 2001 Series. But anything after that…same story.

But damnit, HE STILL SHOULD HAVE SLID!

So-So So

For a while, it seemed like every team was signing a Japanese player. As with any player moving to a foreign land, it’s an adjustment. Some were good, others were spectacular failures.

Then there’s So Taguchi.

Unlike some imports, he started out in the minors and that seemed to be the plan as he started in New Haven. However, any big plans the Cards had for him didn’t come to fruition. He was never more than a 4th outfielder – a spare part.

That was to be expected. Again, unlike some imports he was in decline in Japan and was merely a useful player, not a superstar. He was humble and worked hard, and he was a favorite in the organization and among fans.

But the question is, here’s a 32-year old player starting in AA. Would that development time be better spent on younger players? At age 32, Taguchi was Taguchi. He never had a WAR over 1.0; never had an OPS+ of over 100.You expect imports from Japan to be hyped as stars – that wasn’t the vibe with Taguchi. Could a AA roster spot be better spent on a 22-year old that has a chance to be more than a 4th outfielder?

Finding and grooming talent is still a huge, nebulous ordeal. You don’t know how players will react to bus rides from Beloit to Bowling Green, eating on $10 a day and sleeping multiple to a room. You don’t know if or when a prospect will blow out an arm, or totally lose his swing, or flail at the sliders on the outside corner that no one in high school could locate. You don’t know about how the 19-year old phenom will interact to the older, more cynical players.

Baseball is a hard enough game even without these developmental questions. Taguchi was no mystery. He did what was logically expected. But prospecting is a risk /reward continuum. Become safe, and you fall behind. Become reckless, and you fall behind.

Why Did The Duncan / LaRussa Kool-Aid Wear Off After One Year?

SPRING CLEANING UPDATE: I’ve decided to become an Expos team collector, because I’m ornery, and think that Montreal should still have a team. That means no Expos non-doubles will be in the mix. But any Expos doubles will go with the Nats or in the grab bags.

You’ll also get some ‘sets’ – which is just the doubles of a particular set, plus the minis and inserts. The team sets will have the parallels and relics. And the grab bags will have non team specific good stuff plus the triples, etc. that I have.

And now…

A lot has been written about the ‘magic’ that Tony LaRussa and Dave Duncan have performed on starting pitchers in St. Louis (and somewhat in Oakland). Usually, it’s a short-term reclamation project that doesn’t last that long. Pitchers that aren’t projects tend to break down (Matt Morris, Mark Mulder, Adam Wainwright, Chris Carpenter), but most every pitcher breaks down somehow over time. And not every pitcher takes to it (Mike Maroth for one, Kent Mercker for another). And it’s usually short term or only stays in St. Louis (Pat Hentgen, Kent Bottenfeld, Jeff Suppan).

But it isn’t just for vets.

Case in point – Simontacchi.

He was a 21st round draft pick in 1996, and typical of 21st round draft picks, when you go 3-7, 6.97 in the Midwest League you get released. He was.

After his release, he pitched in the Frontier League in 1998. The Pirates picked him up in 1999 to fill a Class A roster. He did that, and was released again after the season. But all was not lost – he was one of the pitchers for Italy in the 2000 Olympics. After the games he signed with the Twins and went to AAA (his first time at that level) in 2001.

The numbers looked bad (7-13, 5.84), but he pitched in Edmonton. The team was awful and those seven wins led the club. Also, his K/W ration was fabulous (83K / 23 BB). So the Cardinals signed him and sent him to AAA, where he probably had no idea at the onset of the season that he’d be in the bigs. But a 5-1, 2.34 slate, coupled with a staff in shambles (Woody Williams, Garrett Stephenson injured – Josh Pearce, Bud Smith, Travis Smith found wanting – and they even had to use Mike Timlin and Mike Crudale as emergency starters) led the Cards to call up Simontacchi.

He came up on May 4, and then the Cards were scuffling at 13-16. Simontacchi pitched an outstanding game, beating the Braves 3-2, allowing just five hits and a walk.

From there, the Cards took off, cruising to a 97-65 record and winning the NL Central by 13. But they lost the NLCS to the Giants. Simontacchi wasn’t lights out all of the time, but he stabilized the rotation during the first part of the year.

The next year, Simontacchi demonstrated why a W-L record by itself is one of the worst gauges of a pitchers’ value. He was 9-5, but had a 5.56 ERA, a 1.536 WHIP and a -1.2 WAR. Whatever Duncan and LaRussa did for him wore off, and he was quite hittable.

He was more down than up in 2004, and kicked around everywhere until 2007 when he all of a sudden resurfaced with the Nationals. Again, he showed a knack of winning, somehow, going 6-7 with a 6.37 ERA in 13 starts before crashing out in Florida on July 15th. Giving up three dingers and five runs in 4 1/3 innings was the last straw even for the 2007 Nationals, who ran through 26 pitchers in a 73-89 season.

Whatever potion Duncan and LaRussa cook up is potent, but it may be short lived and side effects may include your arm falling off. And once you pass outside the domain of the mad wizards, the effect will wear off.

Two-Sport Washout

Don’t get me wrong, you gotta be a great athlete to play professionally in two sports. Heck, even if you don’t make the majors in baseball, and play another one professionally, you’re still probably amongst the best athletes around.

Of course, being a great athlete doesn’t mean you can actually play the game – the 80’s and 90’s failed #1 draft picks in baseball are testament to that.

Henson played minor league ball while he was excelling on the football field for Michigan. While rare, it’s not unheard of and I don’t think the NCAA has declared it illegal yet (but don’t you dare give a salute after a touchdown).

During his college football days, he obviously didn’t give baseball 100% of his attention. Still, whether it was because of his raw, raw talent or sucking up to the Yankees, Baseball America had him as one of THE top prospects. I know that prospect means potential, but even with Henson’s limited minor league time it was evident that he had poor strike zone judgment and poor defensive skills. The smart thing to do would be to convert him to RF and let him play in the New York-Penn and Sally Leagues for a while. But the Yanks, if I remember, signed him to a major league contract so he had to stick in a short amount of time otherwise he’d be lost on waivers.

The Reds actually had Henson for a brief time, if you recall. They received Henson and two other prospects for the rental of Denny Neagle in 2000, and then traded him back to the Yanks with another prospect for the infamous Willie Mo Pena.

After his senior football season at Michigan, he rather much stunned everyone by walking away from a sure big money contract in the NFL and concentrating on baseball. Injuries may have had something to do with it as he still had a year of college eligibility left.

Henson rehabbed his football injuries and then played most of a season in AAA Columbus, where his weaknesses were definitely exposed. A .222/.249/.367 slate wasn’t going to cut it at any level. He definitely needed more seasoning. But the Yanks kept him at AAA in 2002 and Baseball America was still drinking the Kool-Aid, rating a player that had an 8.5 / 1 K/W ratio and an OBP under .250 a top 10 prospect.

His 2002 was better. He walked more and had more power, but struck out way too many times and his defense was atrocious. His fielding percentage was .893 and he only was involved in 11 DPs.

Yes, .893. The first 3B for the Highlanders in 1903 was Wid Conroy, who had a .919 fielding percentage with the glove the size of a golf glove on his left hand. And by the metrics, Conroy was an average 3B for his era in 1903.

(Anytime you can throw a Wid Conroy into a blog post, it’s a good day!)

Henson needed to learn to hit and field, but here he was in the bigs. Just like Josh Booty, it was a ‘stunt’ (at least I think it was – it certainly wasn’t because of merit) that Henson was called up at the end of 2002. And Donruss could now claim that at least one of these players made the majors!

2003 may have been a make or break year. He progressed some in 2002 and he was back there in Columbus (I still would have lobbied for the Sally or FSL, but what do I know…) swinging at everything, making errors, and not hitting home runs. His OBP dipped under .300 and while he had 40 doubles, he hit just 14 home runs. He did improve his fielding, up to a staggering .918 fielding percentage. Normally, FP is garbage but when it’s this low, you gotta pay attention to it.

The Yanks again called him up, and he started two games at third. Still, the Yanks and Henson had to make a decision.

Anticipating something (or other), the fledgling Houston Texans took a gamble on Henson and drafted him in the sixth round of the 2003 draft. They had their QB of the future in David Carr (please, no laughing…you’ll wake the kids and the cat) but they thought they could leverage Henson into something else down the road if / when he gives up on baseball

And some sucker trade partner wouldn’t have long to wait…

The QB class in this draft was less than stellar: After Carson Palmer it went Leftwich, Boller, Sexy Rexy, Ragone, Chris Simms, Wallace, St. Pierre, then Henson, followed by Bollinger, Kingbury, the immortal Gibran Hamdan and Dorsey. A punter and a long snapper were drafted before he was. Of course, Henson had been out of football for three years and this was a gamble at pick 192 for the Texans.

The Cowboys were now coached by Bill Parcells, and in 2003 they went 10-6 with Quincy Carter and Chad Hutchinson (both of them also played pro baseball – Hutchinson in the majors with the Cards)  as their quarterbacks. (Oh, and this Tony Romo guy was there too.) Carter had his…(sniff)(ALLEGEDLY)…issues, and Parcells didn’t like Hutchinson. He did like what he remembered about Henson and the Cowboys inquired if Henson was serious about quitting baseball.

Soon, Dallas dealt a 2005 3rd round pick (not bad value for a 2003 6th) for Henson, and they also signed Vinny Testaverde to help the trio of young QBs (Carter, Henson, Romo). Of course, you know that Carter was released quickly, and Testaverde was Parcell’s man until, well, he struggled. Then Bill threw in Henson – and oh, by the way, he was starting on Thanksgiving! Not like anyone would be watching.

Drew played QB like he played 3B. He was 4-12 for 31 yards and was benched at the half.

(BTW, the player that Houston drafted – Vernand Morency – also played minor league baseball.

Henson never got another chance in the NFL. He did play well for the Rhein Fire, but he was just a backup in Dallas, Minnesota and Detroit. In 2008, he was promoted from the practice squad to backup QB to Daunte Culpepper after Kitna, Orlovsky and Stanton were hurt. Henson saw action in two games, fumbling on back-to-back snaps in the Thanksgiving day game, and then taking a sack in his other action.

He was a two-sport major league athlete and had two-sport major league hype. He also had one major league hit, and one NFL touchdown pass.

More than a lot of people could say, but he took a lot of money from George Steinbrenner and Jerry Jones for those single accomplishments.

As soon as I wrote that, I wondered if that was such a bad thing or not…

 

Oh, Sweet Jeebus…

Merciful God, thank you for allowing us to partake in this delicious feast of comedy. May we gain strength and solace from the gifts you have bestowed, in your name we pray…Amen.

I think I’ve got about 129,571 Steve Garvey jokes just riffing off of the “Who Would Have Thought”.

One thing I can say, though, is that when he was playing people thought he should run for office, and that he’d be a good Senator.

They were right on the money! Not that it’s a positive comparison. I assume Steve would have been a GOP senator, and he’d fit right in with John Ensign and David Vitter!

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