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.

Monday, February 4, 2013

What is Ernie Riles Doing?

1989 Upper Deck #497 - Ernie Riles - Courtesy of

Hey football season is over and soon spring training will begin so I'm happy about that.  Lately I've been pretty busy working on some longer articles but thought I'd show this card of infielder Ernie Riles. 

What is Ernie trying to do to that poor Giants logo?  Never mind don't answer that!

Monday, January 28, 2013

Ducky, Doc, Kid, and the 1901 Tigers

1901 was the maiden year of the American League and the Detroit franchise had graduated from the Western League and was one of eight teams in the circuit.  With a roster filled with the likes of Ducky, Doc, and Kid they had a lineup that sounded more like Snow White's dwarfs.  In reality they were National League defectors, castoffs, and eager ballers Detroit brought with them from the Western League.

According to the Tigers history page on the season started in grand fashion:

On April 24, 1901, the Tigers prepared to take to the field for their first official American League game. A standing room only crowd was anticipated at Bennett Park, but unpredictable weather postponed the opening by a day.
On that historic afternoon, April 25, 1901, in front of 10,000 fans, the Tigers entered the ninth inning trailing Milwaukee, 13-4. A series of hits and miscues followed, moving the score to 13-12 with two runners on. With two out, Tiger Frank "Pop" Dillon faced reliever Bert Husting, and the lefthanded hitter rapped a two-run double to complete a 14-13 comeback win.

That's a tremendous way to start a season and team history but what always got my attention about the Tigers first team was the awesome nicknames on the team.  Here is a breakdown of the roster:

Frank "Pop" Dillon 1B: Tabbed "Pop" due to his premature graying hair, he hit the game winning two run double in the opener which was his fourth two-bagger of the game.  He batted .288, and although at 6'1" was the biggest positional player in the lineup, hit just one home run.  That's understandable since most of the circuit jobs in those days were inside the park numbers.  He became a well known manager in the Pacific Coast League.
Daniel "Davey" Crockett" 1B: Apparently dubbed Davey after the frontiersman of the previous century, he filled in for Dillon for a month, played 28 games and was released.  In those day teams typically carried a very light bench with a backup catcher and a utility player.  Crockett would play in the minors until 1912 but never played in the majors again.
William "Kid" Gleason 2B:  The switch-hitting Gleason led the team with 12 triples and at age 34 was actually the elder statesman on the team.  Players of the era who were smallish (Gleason was 5'7", 155lbs) and showed a lot of youthful energy were often named Kid.  As a pitcher he won 138 games until shifting to the infield in 1895.  Long before it was popular, Gleason worked out at a gym in the off season to stay in shape which allowed him to play into his 40's.  Despite his lengthy playing career he is probably best known as the skipper on the 1919 Black Sox.  Later Connie Mack's right-hand man in Philadelphia, he remained a popular figure in the game, and was mourned by over 5,000 at his funeral in 1933.
Norman "Kid" Elberfeld SS:  Elberfeld was the same size as Gleason but eight years his junior. This Kid was a wild, brawling, umpire baiting firecracker and gave the Tigers a double play Kid-duo.  He was known for disinfecting his spike wounded shins with whiskey.  The longer crown of "Tabasco Kid" aptly described his hot temper but he had talent too.  He hit .308 and led the team with 76 RBI and 3.7 WAR.  In 14 years of major league action he piled up 30.4 WAR and, no doubt aided by his personality, was hit 165 times by pitches.  In 1936, Elberfeld took a turn at bat as a 61 year-old for the Fulton Eagles, the D-League team he managed.
James "Doc" Casey 3B:  Casey was called "Doc" on the basis of his medical schooling at the University of Maryland.  Casey batted .283, scored 105 runs, and played good defense at the hot corner.  He played six more years in the majors and continued in the minors as a player-manager until leaving the game in 1912 to become a dentist and pharmacist.


Frederick "Fritz" Buelow C:  Buelow was born in Germany and like most catchers of the era didn't hit much, batting .224 while playing in 70 games. He had a strong arm throwing out 50.4% of runners attempting to steal which was good for second in the league.  He rarely overthrew the bag as he led the AL in fielding percentage for backstops with a .967 mark.  Fritz played until 1907 and retired with a sub-.200 batting average.

Al "Shoddy" Shaw C:  Born in England, Shaw and Buelow gave the Tigers a pair of European born catchers.  Although he didn't have the same defensive prowess as Buelow, "Shoddy" was a take on his last name and not pertaining to his defense.  He was released April and brought back in June and played in 55 games batting .269.

James "Ducky" Holmes LF: I'm not sure how Holmes got his nickname but at 5'6", 170 lbs he was squatty and perhaps waddled a bit when he walked.  While that is pure conjecture on my part what is known is that he was could run well stealing 160 bases after his 30th birthday, a time when most players were slowing down.  He led the Tigers with 28 doubles and four home runs but is best known for an incident that occurred a few years earlier in the National League.  He was suspended for an anti-Jewish slur toward New York Giants owner Andrew Freeman when his visiting Orioles played at the Polo Grounds in 1898.  Known as a well traveled troublemaker, he played ten years in the majors batting .281 with 234 stolen bases.


James "Jimmy" Barrett CF:  Detroit's first star player, Barrett had blazing speed, a rifle arm, a solid bat and patience to boot.  He put up a .298/.385./378 stat line and led the team with 110 runs.  His 76 base on balls were 25 more than his closest teammate.  In 1905 he would suffer a serious knee injury from which he never really recovered.  The injury opened the door for a young centerfielder named Ty Cobb who replaced him in CF.  Barrett played from 1899 to 1908 but earned 16 of his 17.8 WAR from 1900-'04.

William "Doc" "Kid" Nance RF:  Nance was a young sensation in his hometown of Fort Worth, Texas where he was known as the Kid but he was known in Detroit as Doc.  The 24 year-old batted .280 and led the AL with 24 sacrifice hits.  His season was highlighted by a six-for-six game on July 13. Although a regular rightfielder for Detroit, he never played in the majors after 1901.  One flaw in his game may have been lack of foot speed as he was the only regular with less than 10 steals.

Lewis "Sport" McAllister Utility: A fine athlete at 5'11" and 180 lbs he had good size, switch-hit, and could do little bit of everything.  McAllister suffered as a member of the famously terrible Cleveland Spiders of 1899 before he came to Detroit.  In 1900 he even umpired a Western League game when the scheduled arbiter was held out in fear for his safety. Sometimes Detroit's only reserve available, Sport backed up at catcher and played everywhere but second base and pitcher.  He got into 90 games and batted .301 in his super sub role.  McAllister was out of the majors by 1903 but played in the minors until 1915, his age 40 season.

Roscoe "Roxy" Miller P: The ace and workhorse of the Tigers staff, Miller completed all but one of his 36 starts and logged 332 innings.  He won 23 games with a 2.95 ERA (130 ERA+) and posted 6.7 WAR, good for 5th in the league.  The 6'2" hurler was the tallest player on the team and apparently a ground ball specialist as the Tigers recorded 21 infield assists in a Labor Day contest . He kept the ball out of the gaps and allowed just one home run on the year.  Miller jumped to the National League in the middle of  '02 to join John McGraw's Giants put pitched poorly for his new team and finished the year with a sup-par ERA and a 7-20 record.  By 1905 he was out of the majors and he passed away in 1913 at age 36 from unknown causes.

Ed Siever P:  The southpaw was more of a power pitcher than Miller and led the team with 85 strikeouts in 288 innings.  Seemingly more aggressive in his pitching, he allowed nine homers on the year.  He won 18 games on the strength of a 3.24 ERA that was ninth in the circuit and led the league with a 1.91 mark in '02.  He was sold to the Browns in '03 but was brought back in '06.  He was the only player from this inaugural squad to reach the World Series with the pennant winning editions at the end of the decade.  In '08 Siever was released and blamed brash young star Ty Cobb for running him out of town.  While that may true, Siever had a 69 ERA+ at the time so it was likely his own fault.

 John "Jack" Cronin P:  At 200 lbs the six-foot Cronin was the heaviest Tiger and their number three pitcher.  His performance was league average and he allowed 261 hits in 219 innings and won 13 games.  He was out of the majors a few years later but was a successful minor league hurler winning 95 games for Providence from '05 to '09.

Joseph "Little Joe" Yeager P:  The slender pitcher was also a backup shortstop playing 12 games there as well as 26 games on the bump.  The '01 campaign was by far his best as a hurler as he won 12 games with a 2.61 ERA (147 ERA+) in 199 innings.  At the plate he had a pair of homers with a .296 average.  By '03 he was finished as a pitcher but played until '08 as a utility infielder.


Emil Frisk P: Like Yeager, Frisk would transform into a position player later in his career. Frisk was a spare pitcher and worked 74 innings in 11 games and showed his batting talent with a .313 average.  He would never pitch in the majors again but was a regular outfielder for the Browns in 1905.  Somewhat of a minor league legend, he was dubbed the "Wagner of the Minors" amassing over 2,000 hits mainly for teams on the west coast.

Frank "Yip" Owen P:  Nicknamed for his home town Ypsilanti, Michigan, Owen was a rookie who would have the best career of these Tiger pitchers.  He pitched 56 frames with less than stellar results for the Bengals but later found great success for the White Sox.  From '04 - '06 he won 64 games with a 2.12 ERA for the ChiSox, but like a lot of players was out the league a few years later.

Ed High P: Besides Siever, the only other lefty to pitch for Detroit.  He debuted on July 4 and filled in for a month logging 18 innings which turned out to be the full extent of his major league career.

George Stallings managed the fairly balanced team which scored 742 runs good for fifth in the eight team league.  The pitching was a little stronger and was third with 696 runs allowed.  Detroit finished in third place with a 74-61 record behind Chicago and Boston.

Roster turnover was high the next few years as the National and American Leagues continued to squabble over player rights. The Tigers would slide to 52-83 in '02 and would not return to respectability until 1905.

The last living member of this motley crew was Sport McAllister who passed away in 1962 at 87 years of age. 


Saturday, January 26, 2013

George Kell, Laryngitis, and Major League Ball in Las Vegas

As the 1996 season was set to begin the Oakland Coliseum was still being renovated, forcing the Athletics to play their first six home games at their triple-A affiliate in Las Vegas at Cashman Field.  I came across this video clip of the Detroit Tigers broadcast from April 7 when the Tigers wrapped up a four game series against the A's in the strange setting.

The energetic Jim Price opens things up with a standard pre-amble.  At the 0:35 mark, long time play by play man George Kell starts the intro and sounds like something out of a science fiction movie with his familiar Arkansas drawl deeply effected by laryngitis.  Kell's color man Al Kaline gives Kell the business and seems concerned whether he's up to task.  Kaline, a splendid rightfielder, but just a decent color man reads the lineups and goofs on Jason Giambi's surname, calling him "Yambi". 

Growing up as a Tiger fan, I was fortunate to have Hall of Famer Ernie Harwell and the baritone Paul Carey calling games on the radio.  On TV it was Kell and Kaline who were dubbed as a HOF duo (more on that later).  Jim Price later joined them as a third wheel.  Why stubborn ol' George didn't hand the mic off to Price, I don't know.  Kell sure sounds like his voice needs a break and Price, while not a strong play-by-play man, was certainly capable.  I don't recall watching this game so I don't know if Kell stayed on air long enough to call Geronimo Berroa's two-run walk off home run or not.

The Tigers were a terrible team in '96 going 53-109 and at one point were 13-46.  Sparky Anderson had managed his last game the year prior and the team was run by new skipper Buddy Bell.  Alan Trammell was in his last year and Cecil Fielder would be dealt to the Yankees before the year was over.  Led by Bobby Higginson and Travis Fryman the Tigers could put runs on the board but were terrible on the mound.  Felipe Lira and Omar Olivares were the only two pitchers to start more than 17 games as nominal ace Justin Thompson missed most of the year.  The team ERA was 6.38.  Yes six-thirty-eight.

Oakland still had Mark McGwire and Terry Steinbach cranking out homers but they too had pitching woes with a 5.20 ERA and finished 78-84.  It appears Giambi is the last active player from this game.

Back to the Tigers broadcast tandem of Kell and Kaline.  Kell had a certain warmth that made it seem like you were talking baseball with your friendly neighbor.  He had a habit of getting over excited on fly balls that fell well short of the fence and into the mitts of awaiting outfielders.  One time I recall his voice escalating on a pop-up that was caught by the second baseman in short rightfield.  I doubt Kell was trying to be dramatic. I think he just had bad eyes. 

He was also prone to overstating a player's talent, making comments that some average opposing player was one of the best in all of baseball.  Well I suppose on a global scale all players in MLB are the best get my point.  No one was buying Pat Kelly or Vance Law as an All-Star.  Don't get me wrong Kell was a joy to listen to.

Kaline always came through with solid analysis and was big on fundamentals.  Kaline was often mangling guys names which was comical and sometimes frustrating.  Jim Price was on board late toward the Kell-Kaline run and brought a third voice to the booth.  Price still does color commentary on Tigers radio and while he doesn't carry the pedigree of Kell or Kaline on the field or in the booth he's become a friendly familiar voice.

Kell and Kaline were tabbed as the Hall of Fame team and Kaline is certainly deserving.  Kell batted .306 in a 15 year career amassing over 2,000 hits.  He was a ten time AL All-Star and famously edged Ted Williams for the batting crown in 1949.  Kell was elected by the Veterans Committee in 1983 after he never cracked 40% in the writers vote when he was eligible.  His 34.5 career WAR is often cited as one of the Hall's weakest selections.  Maybe it was a lack of third basemen in the Hall that helped his cause.

George Kell was a very good player, a fine broadcaster, and memories of him calling Tigers games will last forever.  After starting in radio in the 60's and then moving on to TV in the 70's the '96 season would be Kell's last behind the microphone.  Kell passed away in 2009 at the age of 86.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

1977 ALCS Program and Keds Shoes

You are looking at a program from the 1977 ALCS which featured the Royals and Yankees.  As you can tell this was sold in Kansas City and displays a wonderful montage of Royals on the cover. I picked this up at a local card shop for only two bucks.  It was the cover that drew me in.  I'm not a Royals fan by any means but the artwork was too cool to pass up. 

Inside it's a typical program with stuff like rosters, a score sheet, and player pics and profiles such as the one here on George Brett.  

Check out this ad for Keds shoes.  What Kansas City fan wouldn't want their own Royals sneakers?
1977 was the second year in a string of three which saw the Royals lose to the Yankees in the ALCS.  The Royals finally made it to the World Series in 1980 only to lose to the Phillies.  They exited from the AL playoffs in both '81 and '84 before finally putting it all together for a championship in 1985.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

1972 Topps Bob Aspromonte

About four or five years ago I stumbled upon a lot of 1972 Topps that I won in an online auction.  It was a tremendous find since it was advertised as a mixed lot of cards from the 70s and 80s.  Previous to this extremely lucky find I had exactly one card from the '72 set in my possession.  I suddenly had approximately half of the 787 card set.  Before then I had never been able to decide whether I liked the eccentric set or not.  After the black borders of the '71 set, the gray borders of '70 and the vanilla '69 set, these rainbow splashes must have popped some eyeballs in '72.  Seeing a several hundred of these colorful cards was quite an experience and I was hooked. 

Since then I have been piecing the set together usually card or three at a time.  Thankfully I have series 1 through 5 knocked out.  The 6th series...well that's a different story.  Back when Topps released their cards in series the final issue was often overlooked.  Kids were going back to school and turning their attention to football.  Therefore the 6th series is pretty scarce and pricey with commons going for about $4-6 on eBay if you want it in decent condition.

Bob Aspromonte, card # 659 is my latest addition.  I need 58 more cards to finish off this beast of a set.  I have the bigger names from the last series like Rod Carew, Joe Morgan, Steve Carlton, and Steve Garvey

Like a lot of players from that set, I knew little of Aspromonte before getting this card. So I gave it a good look.  Check out that batting glove.  Or is it a golf glove?  Who is that in the background?

As I looked into Aspromonte's career I was a little surprised that although pictured here with the Reds, he never played for them.  After playing for the Mets in '71 he was brought into Reds camp in '72 but didn't make the squad.  Not only did Aspromonte not play with the Reds in '72 he didn't play anywhere instead retiring at 33.  That really isn't that unique but by the time people got their hands on this card, Aspromente's career was well over.

Some intersting facts on Aspromonte:
  • He was the last Brooklyn Dodger player to retire.  He got into one game for Brooklyn as an 18 year-old in 1956.
  • He also was an original Houston Astro or Colt 45 as they were known then. He was plucked from the Dodgers roster with the 3rd pick in the expansion draft.
  • His brother Ken played seven years in the majors.

Sometimes I get frustrated with a the high prices of the cards from the 6th series. After all who wants to pay five bucks for a Luis Alvarado card?  But I am close. I will keep trucking.