Jeff Tam – 2002 Topps Total

May 31, 2011

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?



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