Rob Picciolo – 1979 Topps
July 17, 2011
You’d Have Put It In Your Spokes As Well…
He sent me a great bunch of cards on the back of his Grab Bag, and included were a bunch of 1979’s. Now, when I was a lad of 13 1/2, I bought a complete set of 1979 cards for $26 (I think). I sold them later for beer money after college. Now, I want ’em back!
A lot of his 1979 cards seemed worn. That’s not a complaint at all. They will go into my binder and I’ll keep the most worn on my want list (with the appropriate tag), but cards from this era probably should be a bit worn. That meant that the kids were using them for all kinds of things, including using guys like Mike Lum, Vern Ruhle and Mr. Picciolo as noisemakers. They weren’t gathering dust in some old man’s binder waiting for a big payoff…
Moving along…Picciolo was probably my first introduction to advanced metrics. Yes, I had devoured the Baseball Encyclopedia by the time this card first entered by ecosystem. But I hadn’t really moved beyond the BA / HR / RBI mentality (even though I knew that a player on the Mariners or A’s would have to be amongst the greatest players ever to have 100 RBIs with that wretched lineup). Leon Roberts’ 92 RBI in 1978 for the M’s was remarkable considering he had to bat amongst five players with over 250 ABs that had an OPS+ of under 70. Mitchell Page’s 1978 mark for the A’s would have been about 120 RBI had he played for a team that didn’t employ guys like Rob Picciolo.
I think it was 1979. I know it was Monday Night Baseball or something like that; it was a national TV broadcast. And the A’s were on it, for some reason. Maybe it was the ‘rain game’. I know it was summer. Anyway, Picciolo came up to the plate and the yakker said something like “Picciolo has only drawn one walk all year.”
“That can’t be good,” I thought to myself. “I know a walk is as good as a hit – in fact – that’s all I CAN do against the 15-year olds. And the announcers always talk about how valuable Joe Morgan is because he walks 100 times a year.” (They really did, but only because he was Joe Morgan. They didn’t mention any one else who was patient.)
That innocuous observation stuck with me. So when Bill James came out with his Baseball Abstracts, I was a ready consumer, and willing to question analysis and convention. To this day, I think that’s the best case. It’s probably why I’ll never be a conservative (small ‘c’ you political junkies) because if you don’t take risks, take chances, or question conventional wisdom you will never grow and thrive, much less survive.
If walking wasn’t a skill, Picciolo should have had normal walk totals along the way. Nope. He drew 25 in 730 games. He was a -4.4 WAR in his career. As bad as his offense was (especially in 1979), he was worse on defense (-1.2 DWAR that season). And as bad as he was, he spent just 2 full seasons and 2 very partial seasons in the minors. So he had some people fooled in that era because he LOOKED like a decent major league infielder.
But the kids knew. At least the kid that had the card first that Spastik Moose finally got and then passed along to me so I can put it in my binder as a placeholder. He kept Dave Concepcion pristine. He let Picciolo exposed to the elements.
BTW: He actually drew three walks in 1979.
The first was July 4 against the Angels. The A’s lost 17-6.
That’s right, Picciolo went more than half a season (that was game 83 for the A’s – though Rob had played in just half of them due to some nagging injuries, I think) and 111 plate appearances before walking. The A’s were 9-31 when he played until that July day (where they went 9-32 with Picciolo in the game) and that can’t be a coincidence.
Anyway, Don Aase walked him in the bottom of the 3rd with one out and Tony Armas on first. On the next play Rickey! forced out Picciolo at second and the Angels doubled up Armas as he tried to score from second. Yes, you read that right. It was actually a close game until Mike Norris and Craig Minetto gave up 10 runs in the 8th.
The last walk was against the White Sox on September 14. The A’s beat the Pale Hose 8-3 and Ross Baumgarten walked Picciolo to lead off the third. Rickey! forced Rob at second, then Rickey! stole second and third and scored on a sac fly.
So that’s walk one and three. What about walk #2.
Remember when I posted about Alvaro Espinoza?
Keep that in mind.
The day was September 8, 1979. It was the bottom of the ninth. Rookie manager Tony LaRussa’s White Sox were matched against the hapless, hopeless, helpless A’s. Baumgarten had cruised through seven shutout innings but gave up a run in the eighth on a Jim Essian single. Mike Proly got the last out of the eighth and was left in to start the ninth. (This, of course, was before LaRussa had 217 relievers at his disposal.)
Jeff Newman hit a grounder to Kevin Bell at third that Bell booted. (See how bad this A’s team was. You had two career backup catchers in the game AT THE SAME TIME in Essian and Newman.) Derek Bryant pinch ran for him. Wayne Gross hits a single to right to bring up Picciolo.
Runners on the corners. No one out. Tie game.
What does LaRussa do?
He intentionally walks a man who had drawn only one walk all year to load the bases.
He intentionally walks a man who never walks to load the bases for a player who walked ALL THE TIME.
Yes, Rickey! drew a bases loaded walk off of Proly. All because Picciolo was walked intentionally.
“Geniuses” need to learn that hard way, I guess.