Friday, May 29, 2015

Obscure Baseball Feats/Records

     With the baseball season well upon us, I thought today I’d discuss a few records which the casual fan might not know.  If nothing else, I need to distract myself from how terrible my Phillies are.  Most of these are records accomplished in one game, by unlikely players (and yes, some of them are Phillies).  As for the abbreviations, the slash for batters (ex. .300/.400/.450) is batting average, on base percentage, and then slugging average.  OPS+ is on base percentage plus slugging average, adjusted for time period, ballparks, etc.—100 is about average and the higher the number the better.  On a similar note, ERA+ is the earned run average adjusted for time period, ballparks, etc., and once again 100 is average and above that is better.  WHIP is the pitcher’s ratio, walks and hits per innings pitched.  (Below 1.00 is spectacular, about 1.25- 1.30 is average, etc.

1)      Tony Cloninger was mostly a slightly below average pitcher in his 12 year career, posting a 113-97 won-loss record, a 4.07 ERA, a 1.381 WHIP, and a 88 ERA+.  However, on July 3rd, 1966 while on the Atlanta Braves, he did something no pitcher had ever done before, or since.  At the plate he hit two grand slams (and drove in another run, for 9 total RBI’s) in a 17-3 rout of the Giants in San Francisco.  Not bad offense from a position usually considered (rightfully) to be an easy out.
2)      Staying on grand slams, we have the case of Fernando Tatis.  Corner infielder and outfielder Tatis was about an average hitter in his career, going .265/.344/.442, with an OPS+ of 101.  Twelve other players, including of course Cloninger, hit two grand slams in one game, but Tatis shockingly hit both in the same inning.  As a St. Louis Cardinal against the Los Angeles Dodgers on April 23, 1999, in the 3rd inning, Tatis hit his two.  Almost as shockingly, both came off the same pitcher, Chan Ho Park.  Why manager Davey Johnson left Park in so long is quite the mystery.
3)      Let’s move to no hitters.  Rick Wise was a decent, but not great pitcher, going 188-181 won-loss, with a 3.69 ERA, a 1.289 WHIP, and a 101 ERA+.  However, on June 23, 1971 while pitching for the Phillies he had a spectacular game.  In addition to pitching a no hitter (with only one baserunner, a walk), he hit two home runs at the plate.  If you’re curious, four other guys have thrown no hitters in a game and also hit one home run—Frank Mountain in 1884, Wes Ferrell in 1931, Jim Tobin in 1944, and Earl Wilson in 1962.
4)      Throwing a no hitter is almost always a career highlight for a pitcher.  However, poor Ken Johnson suffered an embarrassing distinction.  He’s the only player to throw a complete, 9 inning no hitter and lose (0-1, with the run scoring on multiple errors) while pitching for the Houston Colt .45s  versus the Cincinnati Reds on April 23, 1964.  For his career Johnson was a mostly so-so hurler, going 91-106 won-loss, with a 3.46 ERA, 1.199 WHIP, and 102 ERA+.
5)      Pitcher Bobo Holloman had a truly bizarre career.  Delayed in part by World War II, among other things, he didn’t make the majors until he was 30, with the St. Louis Browns.  After making a few relief appearances, he was given his first start on May 6th, 1953.  He threw a no hitter.  But, a couple of months later, in July, he was released, and with good reason, as his numbers were a won-loss record of 3-7, with an ERA of 5.23, a 1.821 WHIP, and a 81 ERA+.  He never pitched in the majors again.  Going back even further, the wonderfully named Bumpus Jones in 1892, while pitching for the Cincinnati Reds against the Pittsburgh Pirates, also threw a no-no in his first starting assignment.  This was really his only bright spot.  In his two year career, he went 2-4, with a 7.99 ERA, a 1.896 WHIP, and a 57 ERA+.  Sabermetrician Bill James rates him as the worst, most unlikely pitcher to throw a no hitter ever.
6)      As a lover of the odd, and absurd, I really enjoy it when position players are picked to pitch.  Obviously, this is usually only in games when the team is already losing by a ton, or more rarely, when they’ve run out of pitchers in a long extra inning game.  The latter scenario has resulted in a few position players getting unlikely wins.  Regular outfielder Rocky Colavito did so for the New York Yankees against the Detroit Tigers on August 25, 1968.  Colorado Rockies catcher Brent Mayne also won a game, on May 6th, 2000.  Philadelphia Phillies second baseman Wilson Valdez beat the Cincinnati Reds on May 25, 2011.  The last guy was Baltimore Oriole designated hitter Chris Davis, on May 6, 2012.  Davis’s case was weirder because he beat another position player-turned pitcher, outfielder Darnell McDonald of the Boston Red Sox.
7)      Merv Connors had a brief, two year career with the Chicago White Sox in 1937-8.  This third baseman/first baseman did well at the plate, hitting .279/.367/.485, for a 111 OPS+.  Known as a good power hitter in the minors, unfortunately his defense was evidently atrocious, as he was let go despite his solid hitting.  He did have one moment in the sun, though, as he hit 3 home runs in one game, on September 17, 1937.  He only had 5 others, total in his short stint in the big leagues.
8)      Staying on this topic, there’s infielder Steve Jeltz.  Unlike Connors, he was fairly pitiful at the plate, compiling totals of .210/.308/.268, with an OPS+ of 61, with only 5 home runs.  Inexplicably, though, two of these came in one game, while he was with the Phillies, on June 8, 1989, against the Pittsburgh Pirates.  To add to the unlikely fun, he hit one right-handed, and the other left-handed.
9)      Only 13 pitchers have hit homers in a World Series game, although Bob Gibson and Dave McNally each did it twice.  The last one was Phillies pitcher Joe Blanton, on October 26, 2008, against the Tampa Bay Rays.  Blanton’s might be the most unlikely of all, since he’s never even had another extra base hit, let alone a home run, in his career to date (he’s still active).
10)  Some players, like Pete Rose, are renowned for their ability to play multiple positions.  Four times this was taken to the extreme, as players played all nine positions in a single game.  Obviously this is kind of a contrived record, usually only done late in the season, when it won’t affect the standings.  Bert Campaneris of the Kansas City A’s was the first, on September 8, 1965, followed by Minnesota Twin Cesar Tovar on September 22, 1968, Texas Ranger Scott Sheldon on September 6, 2000, and finally Detroit Tiger Shane Halter on October 1, 2000.
11)  The players who have played on the most World Series winning teams are, not surprisingly, former New York Yankees.  Catcher/outfielder Yogi Berra played in an amazing 14 Series, and won 10 times, or one ring for every finger.  Outfielder Joe DiMaggio was a close second, winning 9 times.  Infielder Frank Crosetti was on the playing roster for 8, played in 6, and then was a coach for 9 more.
12)  Something very strange happened in 1912.   In May, Detroit Tiger star outfielder Ty Cobb went into the stands and beat up a handicapped heckler.  (This was par for the course for the sociopathic Cobb.  Although, the heckler reportedly used an ugly racial slur, so it’s almost hard to know who was the good guy in all of this.)  Cobb was then suspended indefinitely.  In protest, the rest of the Tigers refused to play.  So the Detroit organization was charged with finding replacement players with little notice.  They literally signed people off the streets of Philadelphia, where their next game was scheduled.  A team of these replacements and some unretired former ballplaying coaches completed the roster for the May 18 game.  Predictably, the experiment was an abysmal failure, as they lost to the Philadelphia A’s 23-2 (or possibly 24-2—different sources give different totals, and I couldn’t find the box scores).  Replacement Tiger pitcher Allan Travers pitched an 8 inning complete game, giving up 26 hits, 7 walks, and the 23 (24?) runs (“only” 14 were earned), for an ERA of 15.75, an ERA+ of 22, and a WHIP of 4.13.  After this debacle MLB forced the real players to return, and Cobb’s suspension was lifted.  All but one of the replacements, including Travers, never played in another Major League game again.  This, sadly, isn’t the all time record for most hits and total runs allowed though—position player turned pitcher Dave Rowe gave up 29 hits, 7 walks, and 35 runs (although “only” 12 were earned) in 9 innings in a game in 1882.  Travers did something else unique—he’s the only major league baseball player to become a priest.

(In the game hours after I wrote this, my pitiful Phils almost made bad history against the Rockies, getting no-hit for 7 and a third innings.  Fortunately they finally got a couple measly hits to break it up.)

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