Thursday, March 21, 2013

Baseball Cards in Song Lyrics

The title says it all.  Can you think of any songs with baseball cards in the lyrics? 
Here's one....

Ageless rock band Chicago references the cardboard collectibles in their 1975 single "Old Days". 

According to the Wikipedia page the song was written by James Pankow for the band and sung by Peter Cetera.  Quite interestingly, Cetera despised singing it because of the reference to the Howdy Doody show which he hated.

Baseball cards at 0:45

I've heard the song many times, and but for some reason it really jumped out at me lately and made me wonder if there were more.

Searching for others led to the discovery of a song titled "Baseball Cards" by the Wavves a San Diego based surf-noise rock band.  Strangely the song makes no reference to cards or baseball at all.

Further the post-rock-emo outfit The Appleseed Cast recorded the song "Marigold and Patchwork" in 1998 and it contains a reference to hearing baseball cards roaring in the spokes of a bicycle, (2:16, listen here).

The 2002 single "Capturing Moods" by indie rock band Rilo Kiley refers to selling baseball cards for rent (2:28, concert video here).  Personally I'd rather be homeless. 

"If I Only Had a Heart" a catchy 2001 single by the power-pop rock band Ozma mentions "...selling it all at the baseball card convention". (1:48, listen here).

There are more...surprisingly a lot more.  Here is just one of lists.

May it be on the radio, your mp3 player, your 45's, or whatever your listening preference, listen carefully, maybe you'll run across a song with baseball cards somewhere in the lyrics.

If you have a favorite, feel free to drop it in the comments.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Deadball Era Nickname Quiz Part I

I covered the 1901 Tigers and some of the wacky nicknames on the team in previous post, but their were plenty of others across the major leagues at the time.  Each team had a Doc or a Kid or Deacon or Chief but I love the unique monikers that some players had.  See if you can match the half dozen players below with their well known nickname.

If the post is well received I will make this a recurring feature. All players were active in 1901.

Nickname                                           Given Name
1) Bones                                             A) Tully Hartsel
2) Cupid                                             B) William Ely
3) Boileryard                                      C) William Kennedy
4) Brickyard                                       D) Clarence Childs
5) Cozy                                               E) William Clarke
6) Topsy                                             F) Patrick Dolan

Answers below:
1-B, Bones Ely:  At 6'1", 155 lbs the name is self explanatory.  A defensive shortstop with little punch at the plate, he played 14 years mainly for St. Louis and Pittsburgh in the National League between 1884 and 1902.

2-D, Cupid Childs: Baby faced and squatty at 5'8" and 185 lbs the cherubic secondbaseman nonetheless had a stellar career.  He was the best keystoner not named Nap of his era and his .416 OBP is third best all time for secondbasemen.  Despite his rotund build he was a good defender and he played 13 years in the majors amassing 41.7 WAR.

3-E, Boileryard Clarke: Yeah, say that name three time fast!  Evidently dubbed Boileryard because of his loud voice, he was a slightly better than average secondbaseman for 13 years. 

4-C, Brickyard Kennedy: Named for the same reason as Boileryard, Kennedy was a four time 20 game winner for Brooklyn.  According to the Baseball Library, Brickyard was a "lovable, eccentric illiterate" better known as Roaring Bill who won 187 games in a 12 year career.

5-F, Cozy Dolan:  I'm not sure where the nickname came from but this pitcher turned outfield died of Typhoid in spring training in 1907.  Another Cozy Dolan, apparently unrelated, debuted two years later.

6-A, Topsy Hartsel: With premature white hair and a pink complexion, Hartsel got his name from a sportswriter in Indianapolis in 1900 who remarked that he was "as light as Topsy of Uncle Tom's Cabin is black".  Hartsel played 14 years and used his 5'5" frame to shrink the strike zone, making him an effective lead off man.  The A's outfielder topped the AL five times in walks and retired after the 1911 season with 30.9 WAR.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Sons of Greatness

It hard not to notice celebrity scandals. They are all over the place no matter your interest level.  But what about the children of superstars?  They didn't ask to be famous, yet it is thrust upon them.  For goodness sakes there are people who can recite the names of Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie's kids. 

While baseball player's children don't get their pictures splashed across tabloids it must be difficult growing up with a famous dad.  I recently noticed the troubled lives the sons of some name Hall of Famers have endured.  Sure they have all the benefits of the rich and famous; private schools, wealth, etc...  But that only takes you so far. 

With a famous last name people expect you to be great no matter if you are an athlete or not.  Some make it and are successful but even they sometimes have a dark cloud around them.  Take Ty Cobb Jr. for instance.  The second of the five Cobb children was born in 1910 months after his father and the Tigers had lost the third of three straight World Series.  He grew up in his father's shadow and seemed well aware of his high profile.  Although Jr. liked baseball he was quite shy and avoided it to dodge further comparisons to father.  He played tennis and had the biggest tennis pro of the day, Bill Tilden, as his personal coach.  Ty Jr. headed off to Princeton but quickly flunked out of school.  He turned things around and enrolled at Yale and became captain of the Princeton tennis team. 

Ty Jr, on the right, looked like his dad but was quiet and shy.
Ty Cobb Jr. graduated with a medical degree and became a well respected physician in his home state of Georgia.  Unfortunately his father would outlive him as Dr. Tyrus Cobb Jr. passed away in 1952 after battling brain cancer.

Then there is the sad tale of Joe DiMaggio Jr.  The son of the Yankee Clipper and actress Dorothy Arnold was born 10/23/41.  He stayed away from the diamond, preferring football to baseball.  He played high school football and although his dad was retired, he never made time to watch him play.  Young Joe enrolled at Yale University but quickly dropped out and moved back to California.  Joe was a lot closer to his step-mom Marilyn Monroe than his father and kept in contact with her even after they split.  In fact Joe was one of the last people to have talked to the movie star on the phone the night she died.

Joe DiMaggio Jr.
Joe and Joe Jr.
After an fulfilling an enlistment in Marines, Joe worked a variety of jobs but never really stuck with anything.  His life was marred by anger, alcohol, and drug problems.  A car accident in 1976 led to part of his brain being removed which seemed to amplify his anger issues.  Dad bought him a new truck cab but he soon totaled it and worked odd jobs most of the 1980s.  Sometimes homeless, he spent several long stretches estranged from his dad.  He continued to struggle with drugs and had a few run-ins with police and died in 1999 at age 57 five months after his father passed.
Mickey E. Mantle was the Mick's firstborn and is often referred to as Mickey Mantle Jr. although they don't share the same middle name.  He seems to have led a well adjusted life and even played some baseball but had just a sliver if his dad's baseball talent.  Mickey Jr. was a staple at his dad's fantasy camps but his pro career consisted of four hits and 26 strikeouts in 57 at bats in A-ball in 1978.  Sadly Mantle Jr. passed away in 1999, just 47 years old from non-Hodgkin's lymphoma.

Mick Jr.

The Commerce Comet had three other sons: Billy, Danny, and David.  Billy was named after Mick's drinking buddy Billy Martin, and died at a drug and alcohol rehab center at age 36 in 1994.  Billy had battled lymphoma and heart problems as well as substance abuse.  Danny and David have had their share of struggles and health scares but are still around managing the licensing of the Mantle name.

While Cobb, DiMaggio, and Mantle all named their firstborn son after themselves, Ted Williams did not.  John-Henry Williams was Teddy Ballgame's only son but they did not have a close relationship.  John graduated from college and founded a short-lived trading card company named after his dad.

With shady motives and Ted's health declining, John played ball for the Gulf Coast Red Sox in rookie ball in 2002.  At 33 John was more publicity than prospect and broke two ribs chasing a foul ball and went hitless in six at bats. 

Ted passed away in July, 2002 and John had his dad's body infamously placed in cryonic suspension.  Somehow he produced an suspicious yet valid contract that stated the he, Ted, and his sister Claudia were to remain in a deep freeze after they passed away in the hopes they could be brought back to life in the future.  Meanwhile John kept playing ball and found a spot in the independent Southeastern League in 2003 hitting a meager .149 with stints for Selma and Baton Rouge.  John-Henry's time to join his father in the freezer was sooner than he anticipated as he passed away from leukemia in 2004 at just 35.

So that is the brief tale of four of the all time best ball players firstborn sons.  While the younger Cobb and Mantle stayed out of trouble their lives were cut short by disease.  DiMaggio Jr. lived the longest of these four but probably had the most troubled life.  And John-Henry.... what a buffoon!

Sure I may have cherry picked some of the sad tales from among baseball's greats but it seems the sons of greatness often experience tragedy in life, death, or both.

Follow me on Twitter @989baseball.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Shaved What?!?!

Slang changes through the years and baseball is no different as words and phrases work their way in and out of fashion.  I recently was browsing through an issue of The Sporting News from 4/4/1946 when an article about a bulletin issued to Yankee ballplayers heading north with the team.  TSN writer Dan Daniel summed up the message that came from GM Larry McPhail and manager Joe McCarthy as such:

No player is to show up in a hotel dining room, or a Pullman dining car minus his jacket and cravat. 
In short all Yankees are to look like Yankees.  McCarthy wants no wearing of caps.  He abhors public pipe smoking.  He has a violent dislike for those Lord Fauntleroy sport shirts with open collars draped over the jacket. 
Col. McPhail and Sparse Joe insist on a wall-draped, well-groomed, outfitted hair cut. Pusses shaved. 

Yes, please make sure you shave your puss.  Of course back in those days puss either referred to a cat or as in this case your face.

The terminology has changed but the Yankees still have their ban of facial hair.  So the next time a player gets traded to the Yankees, just think he's going to have to shave his puss if he wants to wear pinstripes

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Arena Baseball at Hughes Stadium

Imagine Fenway park with the Green Monster just 310 feet from the plate enticing left handed hitters to crack one over the wall.  Now imagine a similar setup with the wall moved in to 77 feet closer to the infield.  That is what Sacramento Solons hitters enjoyed and their pitchers endured in 1974.

Sacramento rejoined the Pacific Coast League in '74 after a 13 year absence and revived the Solons nickname that had been used by the previous incarnation from 1936 to 1960.  They landed the gig luring the Brewers top farm team from Eugene but did so despite lacking a baseball facility to call home.  They chose Hughes Stadium, a 47 year-old football facility and did the best they could to make it work for professional baseball.  The left field foul pole was intended to be 260' from the plate but they weren't allowed to infringe upon the track that circled the field and the fence was just 233' down the line.
The wall in left field was topped by a net that was in play extending the "wall" to 40 feet in height.  The inviting seats in left, were in time, nicknamed the Camellia Gardens after the state flower.  The right field corner was also hitter friendly, just 300' from the plate.  The deepest part of the field was a very reachable 390' to dead center.

Stocked with future Brewer bombers Gorman Thomas and Sixto Lezcano, journeyman Tommie Reynolds and hometown boy Bill McNulty, the Solons bashed a mind-blowing 305 home runs in 144 games.  The poor pitching staff allowed nearly as many and 491 of the 606 long balls hit by Solons and opponents were hit at Hughes Stadium.

The carnage started with 51 HR in the first six games, 33 over the net which was soon dubbed Mt. Sacramento.  After the barrage, the Solons extended the net all the way to the left-center gap in an attempt to cut down on the cheapies.  The PCL batters continued to build their home run totals with 93 taters in the first 13 games.  The outside wall to the stadium behind the left field wall / net was just over 300 feet from the plate resulting in plenty of drives landing outside the venue.

The high scoring games that took place resembled a game foreign to baseball purists but drew fans into games that often had final scores resembling football games.  No lead was safe as Solons fans came to find out.  They lost a game to Tacoma that they led 9-3 with two outs and a runner on base.  Tacoma hit four straight home runs, a double, and took a 10-9 lead (and eventual win) with another big fly.  Twice 14 homers were hit in a game and twenty grand slams were observed by the Sacramento faithful.  The offense drew the fans in and minor league owners took notice as the Solons led the PCL in attendance.  Fortunately for pitchers none of them got crazy and moved the fences in drastically.

Because the outfielders could play so shallow, runners rarely took an extra base and were sometimes forced at second or third on hard hit singles.  Sometimes a batter would be nabbed at first base on a one hopper to an alert outfielder.  Sacrifice flies were a rarity, doubles were uncommon and no one hit a triple until July.  Solons manager Bob Lemon said of adjusting his strategy for the funky park- "It's like pro basketball.  You call a time-out in the last two minutes and that's when the game is won. I let them play for eight innings and then try to win it. You never have it won and you're never out of it."  Solons GM John Carbray couldn't ignore the strange brand of ball being played in Sacramento but tried to put a positive spin on the circumstances stating "We have some pluses in the conversion.  We have a good infield and good lighting."

Solons rival and Phoenix manager Rocky Bridges, upset when he found out one of his pitchers was an atheist, threatened the hurler with a starting assignment in Sacramento.  Bridges claims the next time he saw the young man he was carrying a bible and rosary beads.

Indians farmhand Steve Dunning did the improbable on August 16, when he no-hit the Solons.  His performance was made possible by striking out 14 and allowing just three shallow fly balls, leading Spokane to a 10-0 win. Just a month earlier, Tacoma's Coley Smith was the first to hold the Solons in the park as they had homered in their first 54 home games.

With one game to go in the season the Solons faced off against the Hawaii Islanders, both tied for last with 66 wins.  The Islanders broke a five game losing streak by beating the Solons 8-5, sticking it to Sacramento fans again.  You see, the Islanders moved from Sacramento on the verge of the '61 season leaving the fans without a team.

The Solons finished the year 66-78 allowing 1,030 runs while scoring 937.  The disgruntled pitching staff turned in a 6.70 ERA.  Roger Miller, who would claim just two innings of major league action in his career, was far and away their most effective pitcher with a 4.48 ERA.  Miller, presumably a sinker ball pitcher, held opponents to 1.2 HR/9 while his teammates allowed double that.

Bill Castro a reliever with a 4.71 ERA was the only other hurler with a mark under five.  He seemed no worse for the experience going on to a ten year major league career with 45 saves.  Bill Travers had the best MLB career of the suffering Solon pitchers, winning 65 games for the Brewers from '74 to '80.  The lefty pitched just five games for Sacramento allowing 22 runs in 23 frames.  Thankfully Brewers brass thought enough of him to promote him in late May where he stayed the rest of the year. 

Gary Cavello allowed 40 home runs in 116 innings on the way to a 9.16 ERA.  Already 26 and yet to sniff the majors, he retired from the game after the monstrosity.  Cavello's 40 home runs allowed were eclipsed by teammate Tom Hausman who gave up a club high 50 dingers but somehow limited the damage enough to keep his ERA at an even 6.00.  Hausman won a team high 12 games but vowed not to return saying "I'll miss the fans, they stuck with this team through some tough times".

Southpaw Thomas King's HR/9 at 2.2 was in line with the rest of his teammates but perhaps spooked by the thought of facing lineups full of right handed hitters, he walked 54 in 68 innings and allowed 117 hits on the way to a 10.32 ERA and a 2.515 WHIP.  He too would never pitch again.

Solons sluggers were led by third sacker Bill McNulty who belted 55 HR and slugged .690 SLG,  and Gorman Thomas with 51/.656 SLG.  The duo sparked hopes of breaking Tony Lazzeri's PCL home run record of 60.  Even though breaking the record would have been inflated by Hughes tiny dimensions, Lazzeri had the benefit of a 198 game schedule. Thomas led the race most of the year but slumped and was suspended by GM Cabray for repeatedly breaking bats and tossing helmets after many of his PCL record 175 strikeouts. 

Hughes Stadium aided the 6'4" McNulty more than anyone.  At 28 years old his MLB career had been limited to two cups of coffee with the A's in '68 and '72.  The Sacramento native was a fan favorite and cranked 44 of his homers at Hughes.  He never made it back to the majors but was able to parlay his big year into a contract with a Japanese team in '75.

Twenty year old Sixto Lezcano also excelled with a .325/.393/.602 line and 34 homers propelling him to an up and down big league career.  At 32, Tommie Reynolds was easily the elder statesman on the squad.  He hit 32 HR despite hitting just 12 in over 1,300 major league plate appearances earlier in his career.

The immortal Stephen McCartney was an original Seattle Pilot draftee and was in the seventh of eight minor league seasons.  The 178 lb. converted infielder stroked 32 of his 98 career homers in '74 and had 30 of the Solons 80 outfield assists.  While his infield skills were an asset in the bandbox outfield, it did nothing for his career as he never reached the majors.  In contrast to McCartney, the Brewers had high hopes for infielder Tommy Bianco who was taken third overall in the '71 draft.  The prospect started his career as a second baseman and usually hit like a middle infielder but was shifted to first base in '74.  Hughes Stadium helped the 5'11" Bianco's stats look like a first sacker with 28 home runs.  That was about the best Bianco had to offer as he hit .179 in just 34 major league at bats. 

Three other Solons topped double digits in taters but there was a certain indignity that came with some of the homers as McNulty said "It's downright embarrassing when one of my routine pop flies goes for a homer".  Sacramento management conceded a change was needed but also was thrilled to have led all of the minors in attendance with over 295,000.  Plans were discussed regarding a new stadium for Sacramento fans to call home but there was no way it would be ready for the '75 or even the '76 season.  Hughes Stadium had been deemed unfit for school usage due to earthquake safety regulations which didn't apply to business enterprises.  The Solons tore up the cinder track and pushed the left field fence as far back as possible bringing it to a slightly more reasonable 251' and extended the right corner to 309'.

The changes to Hughes reduced home runs by about 40%, but it was still very hitter friendly.  Five Solons topped 20 dingers in '75 but the stats no longer looked like science fiction as no one topped 28.  The pitchers were still feeling the crunch but allowed about a run less per game.  Offensively the Solons couldn't keep up as Thomas and Lezcano graduated to the Brewers and McNulty left for Japan early in the year.  GM Cabray was optimistic about drawing 500,000 fans and even had the Solons donning shorts to fill the seats.   

photo from
Despite strong attendance figures the Solons struggled to find funding to build a stadium and their future in Sacramento was bleak.  It didn't help any when the team repeated as cellar dwellers with a 59-85 record.  When a new stadium didn't materialize, the Brewers concluded they didn't want their top pitching prospects working in a Pony League size field and looked elsewhere.  The Rangers transferred their AAA talent to Sacramento for the '76 season.  Although they were outscored 948 to 828 the '76 Solons finished at 70-72, outplaying their pythagorean record by eight games.

After the '76 season the Solons were still unable to get a stadium deal done.  The plan was to move to San Jose until a deal could be struck.  It never happened and after little support in their new location the team was moved to Ogden, Utah in '79.  Sacramento would have to wait until 2000 for baseball to return. 

I am disappointed that I could not find a picture of the inside of Hughes Stadium when baseball was played there.  So I gathered up the dimensions and overlaid them on a diagram of a current hitter friendly stadium, Citizens Bank Park in Philadelphia.  I drew it to scale with the 1974 Hughes Stadium dimensions in blue and Citizens Bank in red.

Hughes Stadium located on the campus of Sacramento City College is still in use and underwent a major rebuild in 2012.  The  action is limited to football, track and field, and other non-baseball events but the mid-70s saw an arena style game like we'll likely never see again in pro baseball.

Hughes Stadium in modern times
 Many of the anecdotes and data were compiled from The Sporting News Archives from 1974-1976.

Friday, February 8, 2013

Crowning the King of the Pinch Runners

Pinch runners can come in several forms: young speed burners, warm bodies taking the spot of a creaky kneed veteran or weak hitting defensive subs who are faster than the starter at their position.

I'm looking for the specialists.  These guys need someone else to get on base before they can get in the game.  The candidates I'm looking for rarely needed a glove or bat and will have 0.5 or fewer career plate appearances per game. Likewise they will have played less than half of their career games in the field so as to exclude defensive subs.

There have been a few articles that have unearthed some very cool data and analysis on pinch-runners and their history, and I won't attempt to rehash their data.  In 2006 Brandon Isleib looked at pinch runners over the past 50 years at Baseball Prospectus.  Among other cool stuff, his data showed the lumbering Willie McCovey was pinch run for 332 times.  A year later Steve Treder wrote in The Hardball Times examining non-batters, specifically those who had less than 0.9 plate appearances per game. The data included both defensive subs and pinch-runners.  Suffice it to say when looking at the speed burning specialists some interesting stories emerge.

Perhaps Sandy Piez was the first pinch running specialist.  The son of German immigrants the outfielder stole 73 bases in the Virginia League in 1913.  New York Giants manager John McGraw was known for his aggressive style and gave Piez a spot on the roster for the entire 1914 season.  The Hall of Fame skipper deployed Piez almost exclusively as a running specialist.  Piez appeared in 37 games and stole four bases and scored nine runs.  He played the field just five times with two coming in a season ending double header in which he started both contests in the outfield.  Despite his rust, he went 3 for 8 accounting for all his at bats on the season.  Piez never played in the majors again, spending 1915 in the minors before returning to his alma mater, Rutgers, as their baseball coach. 

Several players over the following decades fit the bill in single seasons but later went on to have other seasons with regular playing time.  Pepper Martin is one example.  Martin is a familiar name to baseball fans for having played with the 1930s Gas House Gang era Cardinals.  He broke into the big leagues in 1928, played in 39 games and evidently was on the team solely for his legs as he batted just 16 times and played in the field in just four games.  Martin stole a pair of bases and scored 11 runs and one has to wonder why he didn't get a chance to hit more given that he had hit .300+ the previous three years in the minors.  After one more year in the minors, Martin came back in 1930, played 12 more years winning two World Series and three stolen base crowns.  So while the guy known as the "Wild Horse of Osage" makes for an interesting story, his career use doesn't fit what were looking for here.

Decades later players like Dick Schofield, Jim Rivera, Jackie Hernandez in the 50s and 60s had seasons where they were used primarily as runners.  But later in their they career received "regular" playing time.  Both Jack Reed and  Ross Moschitto were used by the Yankees in the 60's to give Mickey Mantle's legs a rest but they usually stayed in on defense too so they are excluded from the study.

It wasn't until Charlie Finley came upon the major league scene that pinch running specialists became a known commodity.  The eccentric A's owner was always looking for an edge and was certain that elite speed was an underutilized portion of the game.  After a swift Panamanian youngster named Allan Lewis stole 116 bags for the A's single-A team in 1966, he became the first in a string of specialists employed by the A's.  Lewis played, or should I say ran, for the A's for six of the next seven years.  (He spent '71 in the minors after breaking an ankle in spring training).  In this time, "The Panamanian Express" got into 156 games, stealing 44 while getting caught 17 times.  He came to the plate just 31 times with just 10 games in the field.  Lewis won World Series rings with the A's in '72 and '73 scoring runs in both series.  He attempted two postseason steals and was cut down both times by Johnny Bench. 

After the '73 season, A's manager Alvin Dark saw Herb Washington competing in a track meet on TV and decided to give him a try as a "designated runner".  Washington ran track and was a reserve wide receiver on the Michigan State football team but had zero baseball experience.  Washington replaced Lewis on the roster and was asked to run and nothing else.  He got in 92 games in '74 and never batted or took the field.  He stole 29 bases but was caught 16 times. While his speed was undeniable, he lacked baseball instincts and his success rate wasn't special at all.  He was picked off by Dodger pitcher Mike Marshall in the '74 World Series and was retired on both of his attempts in the ALCS.  Washington got into 13 games in '75 before he was released in May ending his brief baseball career.  Topps gave Washington a card in the '75 set, something that eluded Lewis even though he played six seasons.  I believe the Pinch Run. tag on Washington's card is one of a kind.
In late March of '75 the A's purchased 23 year-old outfielder Don Hopkins from the Montreal Expos.  Hopkins struggled to hit in the minors but he stole 59 bases in 66 attempts the year prior.  Although he made the team based on his overwhelming speed he was at least a real baseball player.  He and Washington were actually both on the A's for about a month in early '75 before Oakland decided there wasn't room for both of them.  Hopkins stayed and played in 82 games with 21 steals in 30 attempts.  He went one for six at the plate while playing five games in the outfield.  Hopkins was relegated to the minors for all but three games in '76 and was thrown out in his only steal attempt.

Baseball Card Database

Also replacing Washington in 1975 was Matt Alexander a blazing fast player who had spent parts of the previous two years with the Cubs.  Alexander was at one point a highly touted prospect with Chicago but never took hold of a position.  Sold to the A's, he played in 214 games over the '75 - '77 seasons stealing 63 bases and getting caught 31 times.  Alexander got to bat occasionally going 12 for 82 for Oakland.  The A's released him in '78 and he was out of baseball and training as a barber late in the '78 season.  The Pirates who were guided by former A's skipper Chuck Tanner signed him and gave him a chance.  He played in 103 games over the next four seasons in Pittsburgh, with 30 steals and was nabbed only 7 times.  He took the field 22 times and curiously knocked 12 hits in 27 at bats.  Alexander had 0.52 plate appearances per game in his career which is a bit over the limit, but for the sake of this study I'm calling him a specialist.

Larry Lintz was another rabbit employed by the A's in '76 and '77 but he had 585 at bats in previous action, mainly with the Expos.  Although he batted just 31 times with the A's and was 44 for 59 on the bases, his prior record as a "real" player eliminates him as a career pinch runner.

The last runner in the A's stable was Darrell Woodard, a second baseman by trade who was called up for the last two months in '78.  He got into 33 games, 15 of them in the field and went 0-9 at the plate. Despite stealing 90 bases in 97 tries the year earlier in the minors, he stole just three bases in seven attempts against major leaguers.  Oakland also used reserve outfielder Miguel Dilone often as a pinch runner in '78 but the days of an exclusively pinch runners were fading away.

The 80s came and went with Rickey Henderson, Tim Raines, and Vince Coleman stealing prodigious bases but no specialists emerged.  Then Rodney McCray came up to the White Sox in 1990 and made the team out of spring training despite having never played above A-ball.  He got into 32 games all as a sub and stole four bases without being caught and was hitless in six at bats.  He spent most of '91 in the minors where he became known for running through a fence in a highlight reel catch.  McCray played 17 more games for the Sox in '91 and 18 for the Mets in '92.  In all he played in 67 games in his career with zero starts and was nine for ten in steal attempts. 

No one else quite fit the mold until Mariners rookie Luis Ugueto in 2002.  A rule-V pick out of the Marlins organization, Seattle used the infielder mainly as a pinch runner to keep him involved.  He played 62 games, 44 as a pinch runner.  He stole eight bases, was caught four times, and batted .217 in 25 plate appearances.  He played 12 more games the next year and spent the rest of career in the minors, twice suspended for steroid use. 

These guys may not have been as effective as intended but we need to crown a king.  So here are the players who best met the requirements. Let's look at the stats:

Sandy Piez            37 G, 0.21 PA/G, 4 SB, SB% unknown
Allan Lewis          156 G, 0.20 PA/G, 44 SB, SB% 72.1
Herb Washington  105 G, 0 PA/G, 41 SB, SB% 64.6
Don Hopkins         85 G, 0.09 PA/G, 21 SB, SB% 67.7
Matt Alexander    374 G, 0.52 PA/G, 103 SB, SB% 71.0
Rodney McCray    67 G, 0.22 PA/G, 9 SB, SB% 90.0
Luis Ugueto          74 G, 0.42 PA/G, 10 SB, SB% 71.4

Piez may have been the first but he didn't steal enough bases.  When it comes down to it, neither did the two latest entrants, so McCray and Ugueto are out.  That leaves a quartet of A's to choose from..
It's a tough choice.  Washington is the closest thing to a "pure" pinch runner because he never did anything but run.  He didn't do it well and has the lowest success rate and is out of the running..
Hopkins played the least and wasn't much better than Washington when it came to getting away with thievery.
Alexander came to bat more often and by far had the most non-running action.  He does have more than twice as many steals as anyone else on the list but should I let him squeak by with his 0.52 PA/G?
Lewis' rate of success is a hair better than Alexander's, not to mention Lewis scored all on his own with a surprise home run in 1970.  But that's besides the point.
Lewis was the first in the string of A's, was a part of two of their championship teams, and had the best steal rate so I'm pronouncing him King of the Pinch Runners.

Lewis with the Kansas City A's

Finley's experiment lasted over a decade and came and went without much success.  With 12 man pitching staffs there is no room for a team to carry many reserves on offense, let alone a pinch running specialist. 
Allan Lewis' SABR bio


Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Tommy Lasorda's 1954 Topps Rookie Card

Here is a look at longtime Dodger manager Tommy Lasorda's one and only Topps card as a player.
While researching Lasorda for my 1983 Topps blog post I ran across this card.  I didn't know much about Lasorda's playing career and was intrigued.  However this card itself it quite remarkable.  Topps still called him Tom even when he was a manager and everyone knew him as Tommy.  Here we see the formal Thomas Lasorda on the facsimile autograph with a nice color portrait and a small black and white "action "shot.  It seems strange to have his glove extend into the white border.   

The reverse talks about some impressive minor league feats but they didn't translate into major league success for Lasorda.  His big league career consisted of four games with the Dodgers in '54 and '55 and 18 games for the Kansas City A's in '56.  In 58.1 career innings he walked 56 , had an 0-4 record with a 6.48 ERA.  But get a look at the cartoons at the bottom on the card.
Nothing like being called a "little guy" on the back of your baseball card.  Topps lists him here at 5'10" but he's listed on his manager cards at 5'9".
The batter he hit in Cuba was bigger than Lasorda for sure but if he charged a pitcher these days he'd be smaller than most hurlers.
And finally the third cartoon which is my favorite and speaks for itself.