Wednesday, May 31, 2017

The First Active Player From Each Expansion Franchise (Part I)

From 1903 to 1952, Major League Baseball was a pretty static institution. For a full half-century, there were two leagues with the same eight teams in the same cities. (The short-lived Federal League briefly showed its face, but it folded before it could gain the prestige of the American and National Leagues.) The 1950s saw the beginning of franchise moves, with the Braves, Browns, Athletics, Dodgers, and Giants all picking up stakes within a five-year period. It was a new era for baseball, one where market and technological changes forced the game to expand its reach.

From there, we saw the beginning of the expansion era in 1961. The American League was first to add a pair of new franchises, followed by the National League in 1962. More and more teams have been added over the years, to the point where nearly half of all MLB teams are former expansion franchises.

It got me thinking: Who was the first active player in each expansion franchise's history? Who was the player who first stepped onto a Major League field, long before the franchise in question had even been conceived? Let's take a look at all 14 expansion franchises, in chronological order of their first player to debut.

1. New York Mets: Warren Spahn, April 19, 1942

On an early-season day in 1942, before most of baseball's stars had enlisted in the armed forces for World War II, a young left-hander made his debut for the home team in Boston's Braves Field. After coming back from the war in 1946, his career would really take off, and he'd go on to become the winningest southpaw in baseball history, with 363 victories, thirteen 20-win seasons and an eventual Hall of Fame enshrinement.

After the 1964 season, the longtime Brave was sold to the New York Mets, who had just completed their third season of existence. At that point, the Braves had been based in Milwaukee for over a decade and Braves Field had long since been demolished. Spahn played only 21 games as a Met before being released in July and catching on with the Giants to finish out his career.

2. Texas Rangers: Gene Woodling, September 23, 1943

The great platoon outfielder made his debut as a member of the Cleveland Indians, when he pinch-hit for center fielder Hank Edwards in the 8th inning of a late-season game in 1943. He would go on to play 17 years in the majors and win five World Series in a row with the New York Yankees from 1949 to 1953.

When Washington was granted a new franchise to replace the original departing Washington Senators (now the Twins), they took Woodling in the expansion draft, and he played for them during their first two years of existence. Those Washington Senators would become the Rangers several years after Woodling had hung up his spikes.

3. Los Angeles Angels: Joe Nuxhall, June 10, 1944

Perhaps no one on this list had a more memorable debut than Joe Nuxhall. Due to depleted rosters from the war, the Reds gave the local boy, still a month shy of his 16th birthday, a chance to pitch in the late innings of a blowout against the two-time defending NL Champion Cardinals. He predictably got shelled for five runs before being removed. It was his only appearance that season, but it earned him the distinction of being the youngest player in major league history (at least, that we can ascertain).

His appearance ended up being more than a gimmick; he resurfaced with the Reds in 1952, and went on to spend 15 of his 16 major league seasons in a Cincinnati uniform, with two All-Star appearances to his name. In a cruel twist of fate, the only year he didn't spend with the Reds was 1961, when the team won its first pennant in over 20 years. His stint with the fledgling Los Angeles Angels was brief, lasting a little over a month in 1962 before he was released and rejoined the franchise he started with. After his playing career ended, he started a new one as a beloved radio announcer.

4. Houston Astros: Billy Goodman, April 19, 1947

Billy Goodman spent the first two months of his major league career on the roster of the defending AL Champion Red Sox, being used mainly as a pinch-hitter. He went back to the minors for the rest of the season, but he was back for good in 1948, when he finished fourth in Rookie of the Year voting. He developed a reputation for good hitting (.300 career average) and the versatility to play all over the diamond. Other career highlights included a batting title in 1950 and a World Series appearance in 1959 as a member of the White Sox.

His stint with the Astros (then called the Colt .45s) came after the White Sox released him at the start of the 1962 season, and he caught on with the first-year franchise in May. In that final season of his major league career, he mainly served as a utility infielder and a pinch-hitter.

5. Washington Nationals: Roy Face, April 16, 1953

If the early 1950s wasn't the worst period in Pirates history, it was certainly a close second. In 1953, a 25-year-old hurler made his debut, starting 13 of the 41 games in which he took the mound. His 6.58 ERA didn't indicate much promise, and he could've easily disappeared like so many of the mediocrities the Pirates employed back then. However, he resurfaced with Pittsburgh in 1955, and within a few years developed into a relief ace. In 1959, he set a record with 18 wins in relief, and earned the first of three straight All-Star selections.

In 1968, the Pirates sold their veteran fireman to the Tigers, who released him the next year. He caught on with the first-year Montreal Expos (precursor to today's Nats), where he allowed no runs in his first six appearances. After struggling in his next several appearances, he got it together and managed to be serviceable for a few more months, before being released in August, ending the 41-year-old's career.

6. San Diego Padres: Johnny Podres, April 17, 1953

The fortuitously named Podres had his rookie season as a 20-year-old lefty pitcher with the Brooklyn Dodgers during their dominant 1953 season. Two years later, he became a franchise icon when he pitched two complete game victories in the World Series, including a shutout in Game 7, to lead Brooklyn to its first ever title, when they finally vanquished the hated Yankees. For his performance, he was named World Series MVP.

He was a mainstay of the Dodger rotation until he was sold to Detroit in 1966. After spending 1968 out of organized baseball, his career got one last shot with the first-year San Diego franchise, though the results were less than impressive. It turned out to be the end of his playing career, and he soon transitioned into coaching.

7. Milwaukee Brewers: Dick Schofield, July 3, 1953

Schofield had a long career as an infielder, but he was rarely a full-time starter during his 19 years of service. He debuted as an 18-year-old with the Cardinals in 1953, and from 1963 to 1965, he was the Pirates' primary shortstop, the only years of his career where he played in over 100 games.

In 1971, he began the season with the Cardinals (the third St. Louis stint of his career), but they traded him to the third-year Brewer franchise in July. By that point, Schofield was finished, slashing .107/.194/.179 in 23 games with Milwaukee.

Those are the first seven, with seven left to go. In the next installment, we'll look at the rest of them.

Sunday, April 30, 2017

2017 Predictions One Month In

Yes, I know this is totally cheap, but since I forgot to make a preseason predictions post at the beginning of the year, I figured I had to make one at some point. Yes, I have the benefit of knowing about injuries to key players like Adam Eaton and Madison Bumgarner, but it's still early enough in the season that the races are up in the air. Even a quick glance at past seasons one month in shows that a hot start is no guarantee of a postseason berth. Sometimes the teams that end up making it don't even have a winning record yet!

So with that in mind, here are my predictions for the playoff picture and final results of the 2017 MLB season, and they're not much different than what I would've predicted at the beginning of the month:


NL WEST

Los Angeles Dodgers
San Francisco Giants
Colorado Rockies
Arizona Diamondbacks
San Diego Padres


NL CENTRAL

Chicago Cubs
St. Louis Cardinals*
Pittsburgh Pirates
Milwaukee Brewers
Cincinnati Reds


NL EAST

Washington Nationals
New York Mets*
Atlanta Braves
Miami Marlins
Philadelphia Phillies


AL WEST

Houston Astros
Texas Rangers*
Seattle Mariners
Oakland Athletics
Los Angeles Angels


AL CENTRAL

Cleveland Indians
Chicago White Sox
Detroit Tigers
Kansas City Royals
Minnesota Twins


AL EAST

Toronto Blue Jays
Baltimore Orioles*
New York Yankees
Boston Red Sox
Tampa Bay Rays


I'm playing it safe by picking most of the same teams as last year, because that's the way the prediction business goes.

And now for the Playoffs!


WILD CARD GAMES

Rangers over Orioles
Cardinals over Mets


DIVISION SERIES

Dodgers over Cardinals
Cubs over Nationals
Astros over Rangers
Blue Jays over Indians


LEAGUE CHAMPIONSHIP SERIES

Dodgers over Cubs
Astros over Blue Jays


WORLD SERIES

Dodgers over Astros


Hey, it's all one big crapshoot anywho! Your guess is as good as mine!

Monday, March 27, 2017

The Tragic 1991 Orioles



With the news we received yesterday about the death of former Major League reliever Todd Frohwirth, most of us probably paused to lament the loss of such a young man. What most people probably didn’t stop to notice was that Frohwirth’s death was the continuation of an unfortunate trend. That trend? Members of the 1991 Baltimore Orioles dying.

In total, 42 players cracked the box score for the Orioles that final season at Memorial Stadium. Only 26 years later, seven of them have already passed on. One out of every six. That rate is staggering by modern-day standards. You’d have to go back to the Deadball Era, when lifespans were shorter, to see anything comparable.

It didn’t start out this way. At the end of 2010, all 42 of them were still with us. Nothing out of the ordinary. A team with all its players living nineteen years later is hardly unusual. The coaching staff, however, had already been hit hard by then. Johnny Oates, who began the season as bench coach and replaced Frank Robinson as manager, had been lost to cancer six years earlier. Three other coaches, Elrod Hendricks, Curt Motton, and Cal Ripken, Sr., had gone to the great beyond by that point too.

Not long into 2011 though, the players started joining them. The first to go was Francisco de la Rosa on January 6. His death didn’t get much attention here in the United States, as he was a relief pitcher whose entire career consisted of two late-season games for a non-contending team and a total of four innings.

The next one came later that year, and hit home with a lot more fans. Beloved pitcher, executive, and broadcaster Mike Flanagan committed suicide on August 24. The former Cy Young Award winner and franchise icon’s unexpected death was the sad end of an era, just before the long-struggling franchise turned the corner and began to contend again.

After that, another former lefty reliever, Kevin Hickey, died after a diabetes-related coma on May 16, 2012. Better known for his time with the White Sox, he spent three years with the Orioles, of which 1991 was the last.

This bunch managed to escape 2013 without losing anyone, but in 2014, it happened again. Once again it was a pitcher, this time right-hander Jeff Robinson. The journeyman hurler died on October 26 from “undisclosed health issues.”

Early in 2015, the ’91 O’s lost their first position player, and their second guy named Jeff, when utilityman Jeff McKnight lost his battle with leukemia on March 1.

As it had been in 2011, August 24 proved to be a fateful day in 2016, as infielder Juan Bell died from kidney disease in his native Dominican Republic.

And now in 2017, we have another to add to the list: Todd Frohwirth on March 26.

Does this amount to anything more than a statistical anomaly? My guess would be no. However, if I were in some way associated with the 1991 Orioles, I’d start living my life to the fullest. You never know who the grim reaper will claim next.

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

The Names of 1950

I'll just throw this list up here. It's the most common name on each MLB team in 1950. There are some cases where a player went by his middle name, or I counted a player who normally went by a nickname, but I made it as logical as I possibly could.




Ah, 1950. It seems a much more straightforward time.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Congratulations to Our New Hall of Famers!

The BBWAA Class of 2017 is here, and it includes three people I consider worthy: Jeff Bagwell, Tim Raines, and Ivan Rodriguez. Congratulations go out to them!

In their honor, I've updated the Hall of Famers' first ML homers list! Bobby Castillo, Kent Mercker, and Storm Davis join the list of victimized pitchers! Congratulations go out to them as well!