Billy-Ball Daily: 2008-5-29

5/29/2008
Billy-Ball Daily
Bill Chuck (Billy-Ball his own self)

Billy-Ball – From the diamond to your desktop…
By Baseball Newstalgist, Bill Chuck

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The only spin here is on my screwball

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Top of the 1st
19 TO 21
We always feel lucky when baseball historian John Shiffert joins our pages. Here’s his latest contribution:

19 to 21
No, that’s not exactly the age of the youngest no-hit pitcher, it’s,
Baseball… Then and Now

News Item: May 23, 1991 – Ira “Tommy” Greene no-hits the Montreal Expos in his 15th major league start, six weeks after his 24th birthday.

The stories on the Red Sox’ Jon Lester’s no-hitter all had one thing in common, besides the obvious. While Lester was rightfully praised for his determination in coming back from a rare form of cancer to throw his gem against the Royals, just about every story also made some sort of reference to his relative youth and/or inexperience. After reading enough of these missives, you might get the impression that Lester was watching Sesame Street in the clubhouse between innings. Pretty much everyone had something to say along these lines… either commenting that the Sox now had two young pitchers (Clay Buchholz being the other) who had thrown no-hitters and were thus destined for greatness, or that Lester was the youngest lefty since Bud Smith (who?) to pitch a no-hitter, or that he was the second coming of Nick Maddox (who?) or even invoking such previous no-hit youngsters as Anibal Sanchez (who?) or Wilson Alvarez. Some even brought up Bumpus Jones and Bobo Holloman, who threw no-hitters in their first major league starts, although this comparison was clearly off-base since Lester’s no-hitter came in his 37th start.

While the “youth and greatness” angle made a nice little sidebar to the Lester no-hit story, there’s a little problem with it… Jon Lester isn’t particularly young for a no-hit pitcher, and really young pitchers who throw no-hitters are far from guaranteed greatness. Actually, there were a few other problems with many of the stories as well, like, just who was the youngest pitcher to throw a major league no-hitter? Or, who really holds the record for catching the most no-hitters? (Jason Varitek only tied Ray Schalk’s record of four, by the way.) Let’s look at some of the facts…

First, Jon Lester is not all that young for a no-hit pitcher. Yes, he’s just 24 years and four months old, but there have been a lot of younger pitchers who have visited the No-Hit Hall of Fame. A look at major league no-hitters, courtesy of the Walking Baseball Encyclopedia, Bill Deane, produces no less than 13 pitchers who no-hit a major league team prior to their 22nd birthday. That would be…

1 – Amos Rusie – 20 years/2 months
2 – John Lush – 20/8
3 – Nick Maddox – 20/10
4 – Christy Mathewson – 20/11
5 – Paul (No Relation to Bill) Dean – 21/1
5 – Earl Hamilton – 21/1
7 – Vida Blue – 21/2
7 – Noodles Hahn – 21/2
9 – Bob Feller – 21/5
10 – Wilson Alvarez – 21/9
10 – Smoky Joe Wood – 21/9
12 – Bud Smith – 21/10
13 – Bob Moose – 21/11

Now here is a truly interesting list. Let’s take them one-by-one.

Rusie, the Hoosier Thunderbolt, is actually the youngest person to throw a major league no-hitter, as well as being a factor in the pitching distance being moved back to 60’6″ prior to the 1893 season. A major league pitcher at the age of 18 (his first game was actually three weeks before his 18th birthday), and a remarkable major league pitcher at the age of 19, Rusie was, quite simply, the 19th Century Bob Feller. The National League Indianapolis Hoosiers signed the Mooresville, Indiana, native prior to the 1889 season and immediately (well, on May 9) put him in the pitcher’s box where he went 12-10 with a 5.32 ERA and 109 strikeouts and 116 walks in 225 innings. However, it was the next year, 1890, that he started his legend (and started baseball on the path to moving the pitcher back… possibly to keep him from accidentally killing someone). In 549 innings he struck out 341 and walked 289 – an all-time single season record that is probably pretty safe (he has three of the top four all-time walk seasons as well) for all time. In other words, he threw like a thunderbolt… really hard and not too well controlled. His no-hitter came during the next season, when he went 33-20 for the New York Giants with 337 strikeouts and 262 walks in 500 innings. Despite having thrown his arm out by the age of 27, he was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1977.

Lush’s real claim to fame is that he was the youngest regular player of the 20th Century. Not pitcher, player. A graduate of Philadelphia’s Girard College, Lush was splitting his time between first base and the outfield for the 1904 Phillies, starting at the age of 18 years and seven months. Although he would become primarily a pitcher starting in 1906 (when he threw the no-hitter and went 18-15), he ended up splitting his seven year career between the three positions, compiling a 66-85 pitching record (with just a 96 ERA+) and a .254/.307/.322 batting record (with just a 96 OPS+). In other words, he was mediocre at both hitting and pitching. But, he did throw a no-hitter four months before he turned 21.

Maddox is sometimes given credit for authoring the youngest MLB no-hitter, however, he was 20 years and 10 months “old” when he threw one for the Pirates at the height of the Deadball Era in 1907. It was Maddox’ second start in the major leagues and without a doubt the pundits must have predicted great things for him, since he finished 1907 5-1 with an 0.83 ERA, and then went 23-8 in 1908. However, he went just 15-11 over the next two seasons combined, and was never heard from again. (At least not in the majors.) Even “The Neyer/James Guide to Pitchers” has virtually nothing to say about him.

Little can be said about Matty that everyone doesn’t already know, except that he threw two no-hitters in his glorious Hall of Fame career, the first coming on July 15, 1901, about a month before his 21st birthday. So there was one young no-hitter that served as a portend to a pretty good career. (Although it is interesting to note that Matty, who was traded even-up for the washed up Rusie early in his career, was washed up himself at the age of 35.)

Even though he’s no relation to Bill, he was Dizzy’s younger brother, and Paul Dean looked to be another Diz after the famous DH wherein older brother Jay threw a three-hitter in the first game, followed by Paul’s no-hitter in the nightcap. Supposedly, Diz remonstrated “Daffy” after the game by saying that he would have thrown a no-hitter as well, if he knew Paul was going to do it. Sadly, Paul also threw his arm out after two 19-win seasons and went 12-11 over his last seven seasons, finishing at the age of 30.

Hamilton was a little (5-8) lefty who was brought up by the Browns three months before his 20th birthday in 1911, but who never really justified the Brownies’ decision to do so. Although he ended up pitching 14 years, until just before he turned 33, and did indeed throw a no-hitter in the summer of 1912, his major league career concluded with a 116-147 mark and a 102 ERA+.

Besides having one of the great nicknames of all time, Noodles (he claimed he didn’t know where his childhood name came from) Hahn was one of the great pheenoms of all time, a side-arming, left-handed power pitcher who won 100 games for the Reds before his 24th birthday… and in doing so destroyed his arm. In addition to throwing the only MLB no-hitter of the 1900 campaign (his second season); Hahn won 23, 16, 22, 23, 22 and 16 games in his first six MLB years. However, he also put in 309, 311, 375, 321, 296 and 298 innings in those six seasons. Early in his seventh year – 1905 – he hurt his arm, was released by the Reds, and ended up pitching semi-pro ball. The Highlanders took a chance on him in 1906, but he was through in the majors shortly after his 27th birthday… although he did pitch batting practice for the Reds until 1946, when he was 67.

More modern fans will remember the fuss when Vida Blue threw his no-hitter against the Twins at the tail end of the 1970 season… after which he went 24-8 with 301 strikeouts the next year. Of course, if you recall that, you may also realize that Blue NEVER had another year to match 1971. Although he would have two more 20-win seasons, he would never again even strike out 200 batters in a year, and finished his career with a somewhat disappointing 209-161 record. A good record, but also one of the “what might have been” careers. Maybe it could be said that his career, like the Bird of Paradise, went up his nose.

If Rusie was the 19th Century Feller, then Feller was the 20th Century Rusie, right? Both came up real young and real wild and throwing real hard. And both had no-hitter stuff and were done relatively young. Rusie was pitching in the majors three weeks before his 18th birthday and was done at 27. Feller, who had three no-hitters and 12 one-hitters, was pitching for the Indians three-and-a-half months before his 18th birthday and pitched his last game before he was 38, although, in reality, he was pretty much done before he turned 36 after the 1954 season.

Alvarez’ name has also been invoked in the aftermath of Lester’s gem, since, like Buchholz and Maddox, he threw a no-hitter in his second major league start. In Maddox’ case, he threw a shutout in his first start. In Alvarez’ case, he didn’t get anybody out in his first start for the Rangers in 1989, at the age of 19. Five batters, three hits (two of them home runs), two walks and a quick shower. Two years later, with the White Sox, he threw a no-hitter in his second start, and went on to a decent career… 102-92, 112 ERA+. He lasted until he was 35, by the way.

Which is better than Smoky Joe Wood did, at least as a pitcher. Another true pheenom, Wood debuted for the Red Sox in August 1908, some two months before his 19th birthday. After three seasons of effective pitching (103, 114, 152 ERA+ for those years) but so-so results (1-1, 11-7, 12-13), he became more popular in Boston than Old Ironsides, going 23-17 with a 162 ERA+ and a no-hitter in 1911. And he was just warming up. For 1912, he had one of the great pitching seasons in major league history, going 34-5 with a 1.91 ERA and 16 consecutive wins, leading the Sox to the World Series title (and winning three more games there as well.) Then, in 1913, he broke his thumb and apparently wrecked his shoulder coming back too soon from the injury. Although he would pitch effectively for the next three years, going 36-13 and leading the AL in ERA in 1915, he was done as a pitcher before his 26th birthday. So he became an outfielder and ended up with a career 111 OPS+ (although not the consideration for the Hall of Fame that he merits.)

In some ways the exact opposite of Joe Wood was Bud Smith. Wood threw hard. Smith was a soft-tosser. Wood should be considered for the Hall of Fame, Smith… you’ve got to be kidding. Wood could hit. Smith had seven hits in the majors. However, they both had no-hitters at a young age, and then threw their arms out. Wood at least made a successful comeback with the Indians. Smith was foisted by the Cardinals upon unsuspecting Phillies GM Ed Wade in the Scott Rolen “deal” (a typical Wade quality for quantity trade) and was never heard from again. (He last appeared in three Triple A games in 2005 with the Twins organization.)

Finally, there’s Bob Moose. Although he died young (on his 29th birthday) in an auto accident, he was never going to live up to the promise of his September 20, 1969 no-hitter. Although he’d gone 14-3 with a 2.91 ERA that year, and had not yet reached his 22nd birthday, Moose would never again win as many as 14 and was, in fact, banished to the bullpen by the Pirates for his final three seasons.

While it’s a small sample size, it should be clear that a no-hitter at a young age neither guarantees greatness, nor a long career. For instance, the aforementioned Tommy Greene also threw his arm out, finishing his eight year career with a 38-25 record at the age of 30… and he lasted longer than some on this list. And then there are some of the others who just missed the under 22 list – Burt Hooton, Juan Nieves, Mike Warren and Steve Busby (to say nothing of Anibal Sanchez). It’s not likely any of them are going to make a big time comeback anytime soon. True, Rusie, Mathewson and Feller are in the Hall of Fame, and cases can be made for Wood and Blue, but Lush, Maddox, Dean, Hamilton, Hahn, Alvarez, Smith and Moose sure aren’t going to Cooperstown, at least, not in the Hall (though they’re in the Museum somewhere.) Whether or not either scenario is true for Jon Lester is still to be decided.

Top of the 2nd
THE ROCKIES LEFT CHASING, BUT NOT CATCHING
Chase Utley hit his major league-leading 17th homer to help Adam Eaton earn his first win, and the Philadelphia Phillies beat the Colorado Rockies 6-1 last night to complete a three-game sweep. Adam Eaton (1-3) picked up his first win of the season. Shane Victorino was 3-for-4, extending his hitting streak to 10 games. He also had two stolen bases, giving the Phillies 38 steals in 44 tries. Their 86.4 percent success rate is best in the majors.

Did anybody see Victorino’s slide into the plate Tuesday night? He knocked catcher Yorvit Torrealba down like I was the catcher.

The Phillies (31-24) moved a season-best seven games above .500 with their first sweep of the season. Philadelphia outscored Colorado 33-10 in the series. The reeling Rockies are a season-worst 13 games under .500.

Top of the 3rd
LOSS IN 10, LOSS OF 10
The Twins’ Craig Monroe’s three-run homer with two out in the 9th was the capper, as Minnesota became the first team to overcome a five-run deficit with two outs in the ninth inning to tie since the Padres on Sept. 17, 2005 sending the reeling Royals into extra innings. And then, it got worse.

Then Justin Morneau hit a leadoff homer in the 10th to lift Minnesota to a 9-8 victory and sent the Royals to their 10th straight loss. And then, it got worse.

After the game, Royals outfielder Jose Guillen let loose in the clubhouse, “Too many babies here,” Guillen stormed while seated in front of his locker and spicing his language with obscenity. “They don’t know how to play the game and win the game right, the way it’s supposed to be played. And that’s the problem here. Now I know why this organization’s been losing for a while. Now I know.”

The last time the Twins came back from five-plus down in the ninth to win was May 27, 1997 vs. the Mariners. Minnesota was down 10-5 and scored six in the ninth to win. It was Monroe’s fourth career homer with two outs in the 9th and first since Aug. 30, 2006 (Billy-Ball’s birthday) when he hit a three-run HR to give the Tigers a 5-3 lead at the Yankees.

“We’ve lost (10) in a row,” Guillen said. “How do you think you feel about that as a player? We’re trying to win here. Anytime you start losing, people start blaming the manager. It’s not the manager.

“We have too many babies here who don’t know how to play the game. Well, we’re going to teach them the hard way or we’re going to teach them the easy way. But things are going to change here. I can tell you that. I can promise you that. Soon. And believe me when I tell you that.”

Go Jose go!

Top of the 4th
DIAMONDBACKS TO EARTH
The D-Backs are returning to normal. The San Francisco Giants beat up the heroic Doug Davis in an 11-3 victory, handing the Diamondbacks their seventh loss in the past nine games and eighth out of 11. The eight-run loss tied for the worst of the season, equaling a 13-5 setback to the Colorado Rockies at Chase Field on April 13.

Bengie Molina was 3-for-4 for the Giants with a double and two RBIs to extend his hitting streak to 10 games. He is batting .625 (20-for-32) with 14 RBIs through nine games of the Giants’ 10-game road trip.

The only good news for Arizona was that the Dodgers were swept by the Cubs losing 2-1 on Alfonso Soriano’s 10th-inning single. Arizona still has a 3.5 game lead over the 26-26 Dodgers.

Top of the 5th
THE TRULY GREAT AMERICAN BALL PARK
David Ross homered in a six-run 1st off left-hander Tom Gorzelanny, and the Cincinnati Reds extended their home winning streak to nine games night with a 9-1 victory over the Pittsburgh Pirates. Rookie Jay Bruce had a double and a pair of walks as the Reds extended their best home winning streak since 1980, when they won nine straight at Riverfront Stadium. For Gorzelanny it was the shortest start of his 54-start career, allowing six runs in 2/3 innings.

Bruce is batting .667 (4-for-6) after two games. He’s reached base eight times in 10 plate appearances.

Bronson Arroyo ,working on three days rest, went six innings, allowing one run on three hits. He walked four and struck out six. He evened his record at 4-4. He didn’t get his fourth win last year until July 17. He is 2-0 with a 2.14 ERA on short rest.

Top of the 6th
BILLY-BALL-SITE-OF-THE-DAY
Want to see hideous mascots? Yes, they are all hideous – here you go: http://kids.aol.com/sports/mlb/mascot-gallery

Top of the 7th
PROBABLE PITCHERS
AL
Blue Jays (Jesse Litsch) at A’s (Dana Eveland), 3:35
White Sox (John Danks) at Rays (Edwin Jackson), 7:10
Twins (Kevin Slowey) at Royals (Luke Hochevar), 8:10

NL
Braves (Jorge Campillo) at Brewers (Seth McClung), 1:05
Nationals (John Lannan) at Padres (Wil Ledezma), 3:35
Pirates (Phil Dumatrait) at Reds (Aaron Harang), 7:10
Dodgers (Brad Penny) at Mets (Claudio Vargas), 7:10
Rockies (Jeff Francis) at Cubs (Jason Marquis), 8:05
Astros (Roy Oswalt) at Cardinals (Kyle Lohse), 8:15
Giants (Barry Zito) at Diamondbacks (Randy Johnson), 9:40

Top of the 8th
DID YOU KNOW?
Albert Pujols drew his major league-leading 13th intentional walk in the Cardinals 6-1 win over Houston; he also drew his 45th walk of the season later in the game. He leads the majors in that category by two over the Phils’ Pat Burrell.

Top of the 9th
THANKS TO SHIFF
I always value the contributions of John Shiffert, but I truly appreciate the help today as I battle bronchitis (the meds are working Dr.K). If you are interested in submitting some “evergreen” pieces (stories that are not necessarily time driven) I would love to have them to use. You know the length, you know the style, and you know you will get credit.

Just send them or inquiries to Bill@billy-ball.com.

Thanking you.

Bottom of the 9th
THERE’S ONLY 17 DAYS UNTIL FATHER’S DAY
Show Dad where his memories rank among the greatest baseball moments of all time

Walkoffs, Last Licks, and Final Outs: Baseball’s Grand (and not-so-grand) Finales
By Bill Chuck and Jim Kaplan, Foreword by Jon Miller

This Father’s Day, relive some of the most memorable finales in baseball history with dear ‘ol Dad by flipping through the pages of Walkoffs, Last Licks, and Final Outs. This book is the definitive collection of baseball’s grand–and not-so-grand–final acts, including:

The greatest postseason finishes of all-time
The last moments of the most distinguished old stadiums
Heroic (and not-so-heroic) endings to Hall of Fame careers
Boxscores and linescores for some of the greatest games ever played
A slew of career statistics, ballpark data, and photographs
$14.95, 213 pages, paperback.

Plus, buy just one copy and receive The Bill James Daily Match-ups for your favorite team delivered FREE to your email inbox every day between now and the All-Star break–a $30 value!

To take advantage of this optional special offer, mention the “Father’s Day Special” when calling (800) 397-2282 or enter the name of your favorite team under “Additional Comments” when checking out online. One team per book.
http://www.actasports.com/detail.html?&id=3427

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Information provided in Billy-Ball has been gathered from A.P. reports, espn.com, sportsline.com, mlb.com and numerous other e-sources. Opinions expressed in Billy-Ball are obviously solely the opinions of the author of Billy-Ball and do not reflect those of source material no matter how off the wall they may be.