Thursday, June 29, 2017

R.I.P. Anthony Young

It's happened again. The curse of the 1990s Cub pitching staff claimed another, as Anthony Young passed away Tuesday from a brain tumor. I only have vague memories of Young, as I'd just started following baseball when he was with the Cubs, but I do remember his name and reading about his famous losing streak after the fact.

He's been preceded in death by six other Cubbie hurlers from the decade: Rod Beck, Geremi Gonzalez, Kevin Foster, Dave Smith, Jessie Hollins, Frank Castillo, and if you want to count the year 2000, Ruben Quevedo as well.

Rest in peace, Mr. Young. Your perseverance will never be forgotten.

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

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

We're back again, looking at the first player to debut for each major league expansion franchise. We did the first seven last time, and now it's time for the last seven!

8. Kansas City Royals: Harmon Killebrew, June 23, 1954

At last we come across another Hall of Famer. We also have a rarity, in that this player didn't suit up for the expansion franchise in its first few years, but its seventh, that being 1975.

Killebrew debuted in 1954 with the Washington Senators as an 18-year-old pinch-runner against the White Sox. It's a bit ironic that the slow-footed slugger first stepped onto the diamond in such a role, but baseball can be a funny game. While "Killer" appeared in the majors every year between 1954 and 1958, he didn't become a full-time player until 1959, when he took over at third base and led the AL with 42 home runs. He would go on to lead the league in homers five more times, finishing with a career total of 573.

After 21 years with the Senators/Twins franchise, the 38-year-old Killebrew was released, and he signed with the Royals as a free agent shortly after. He served mainly as a DH for Kansas City, and while he belted 14 homers his last season, his batting and on-base averages were far below his career levels, signalling that his time had come.

9. Toronto Blue Jays: Ron Fairly, September 9, 1958

1958 was the Dodgers' first year in Los Angeles, and it also saw the debut of a youngster who would spend 12 seasons in Dodger blue. Fairly was a first baseman/outfielder whose versatility and patience at the plate helped the Dodgers with four pennants and three World Series. He was traded to the Expos during their inaugural season, and he would remain there through 1974.

His experience with one first-year Canadian franchise made him a good candidate for another. In 1977, he was traded to the fresh-faced Blue Jays, where he would hit a career-high 19 home runs serving mainly as designated hitter, and also be the team's lone All-Star representative.

The Jays traded him to the Angels after the season, where he would spend his final year in the majors before calling it quits.

10. Seattle Mariners: Diego Segui, April 12, 1962

Segui was a right-handed pitcher who always seemed to have a place with Charlie O. Finley's Athletics. He debuted for the franchise during their all-losing-season stint in Kansas City, then was reacquired by the team twice after finding himself elsewhere. He didn't stick around long enough to taste victory champagne though, as the A's traded him to the Cardinals during their 1972 World Series championship season, the franchise's first in 42 years, never to reacquire him again.

Segui holds the distinction of being the only player to play for two different major league franchises in the city of Seattle. He was a relief ace for the ill-fated 1969 Pilots, then found himself back in the Emerald City for the Mariners' debut season. He was named Opening Day starter, but didn't make it out of the 4th inning, earning the loss. After two more poor starts, Segui was demoted to the bullpen, making only occasional starts the rest of the season. He finished the year with a record of 0-7.

Segui never returned to the majors, but he continued his career in the Mexican League, where he played until 1985.

11. Florida Marlins: Charlie Hough, August 12, 1970

On a summer night in Pittsburgh's brand new Three Rivers Stadium, the Dodgers were leading 11-4, but reliever Pete Mikkelsen clearly didn't have his best stuff that day. Walter Alston decided to bring in a rookie knuckleballer for a chance to close out the game with two on and two out. After walking Al Oliver to load the bases, the young Florida native struck out Hall of Fame slugger Willie Stargell to earn the save. It was the first appearance of a 25-year career in the bigs, as well as the first appearance by a future Florida Marlin.

Hough didn't stick in the majors until 1973, when he became a reliable member of the L.A. bullpen. He remained with the Dodgers through 1980, appearing in three World Series (all losses) along the way. After being sold to the Texas Rangers, he was converted to a starter in 1982, a role he'd hold the rest of his career. He was pretty consistent in that role; from 1982 to 1988 he won between 14 and 18 games each year, while making over 30 starts and throwing over 200 innings each time. One wonders what he might've done had he been made a starter sooner.

When the Marlins prepared for their inaugural season in 1993, they signed the soon-to-be 45-year-old hometown boy to be a veteran presence on their pitching staff. He started the first game in Marlins history and earned the win, en route to 34 starts and over 200 innings pitched for the newcomer franchise. He retired after the 1994 season due to a degenerative hip condition.

12. Colorado Rockies: Dale Murphy, September 13, 1976

Speaking of Charlie Hough earning saves, he earned one in a game against the Braves in 1976 that marked the debut of a young Atlanta player named Dale Murphy. The kid, who would develop into a franchise icon and win back-to-back MVPs while playing center field in the early '80s, started at catcher and went 2-for-4 with two driven in. One of those RBI even came against Hough in the 8th inning.

While Murphy was one of the best players in the game for nearly a decade, he began to decline in his early 30s, and was traded to the Phillies during the 1990 season, a year before his longtime franchise would start winning pennants and make a case for being the Team of the '90s.

After a knee injury limited Murphy to only 18 games in 1992, the Phillies brought him back on a minor league contract for the next season. However, when the Rockies showed interest, the Phillies granted him his release so he could sign with the first-year club. Sadly, Murphy's stint in Colorado only confirmed that he had nothing left, as he slashed .143/.224/.167 with no home runs, despite the thin Rocky Mountain air. When the Rockies released him in May, he officially called it quits.

13. Arizona Diamondbacks: Mike Morgan, June 11, 1978

With the 4th pick in the 1978 MLB Draft, the Oakland A's selected an 18-year-old high school pitcher named Mike Morgan. The A's were off to a surprising start at the time, in first place after finishing the previous year in last, and they decided to give the youngster a major league start less than a week after selecting him. Morgan pitched a complete game and allowed only two earned runs against the formidable Baltimore Orioles, but it wasn't enough, as his offense was shut out by Scott McGregor. After losing his next two starts, the A's sent him to the minors. Oh, and the A's? Their hot start proved to be a fluke, and they finished with 93 losses.

Morgan proved to be one of the most well-traveled players in baseball history, playing with 12 franchises over the course of 22 years, including two separate stints with the Cubs. The veteran was a few days short of 39 when he made his postseason debut, coming out of the bullpen for the Cubs in a Division Series where they were swept by the Braves. It wouldn't be his last chance though, as he signed with the third-year Diamondbacks before the 2000 season. In 2001, the franchise made its second postseason appearance, going all the way to the World Series and beating the Yankees in seven games, giving Morgan a ring 23 years after his professional debut. He retired after the 2002 season.

14. Tampa Bay Rays: Wade Boggs, April 10, 1982

And we have one more Hall of Famer to add to the list. Boggs was one of the greatest third basemen in history, winning five batting titles with the Red Sox and leading the league in on-base percentage six times. He defected to the rival Yankees after 1992, where he spent five seasons and won a World Series in 1996.

The Devil Rays, as they were known at the time, signed Boggs for their inaugural season in 1998. Like Charlie Hough with the Marlins, it was a return home, as Boggs grew up in Tampa. While the first two seasons of MLB in western Florida weren't much to write home about, Boggs provided the team with some highlights. He hit the first home run in franchise history on Opening Day 1998, and the next year, he got the 3,000th hit of his career. That hit was a home run, making him the first player in baseball history to get number 3,000 on a homer. As it turned out, it was the last home run he would ever hit in the big leagues, and he only gathered ten more hits after it. He finished the season on the injured list with torn cartilage in his knee, and announced his retirement in November.

He finished with a lifetime .328 batting average, 12 All-Star selections, and was inducted to the Hall of Fame on the first ballot.

I hope this list was interesting. Long before any of these franchises was conceived, there were future members of the roster playing baseball at the top level. Only in retrospect did we know that these players were making history.