Tagged: Bob Feller

The Strasburg Redux

With today’s unfortunate news out of Washington I thought it was appropriate to do something I’ve never done here before, and re-post much of what I wrote about Stephen Strasburg on June 13 under the title “Right Now He’s Karl Spooner, Maybe Harry Krause.” This was, sadly, prophetic, and I sincerely hope it’s only temporary.

From June 13:

…as comparisons have been thrown out to Clemens, Ryan, Koufax, Pedro Martinez, Kerry Wood, Smoky Joe Wood, and everybody except Smokey Robinson And The Miracles, it is useful to remember that there have been more impressive starts. It is also useful to remember – as The Strasburg is either a potential victim of bad mounds around the sport, or is generating such strength that he’s gouging out good mounds – that injury has undone pitchers who have broken in even more impressively than has The Strasburg.
Karl Spooner is the most obvious 

warning story, but the match is a lot weaker than first blush might suggest. Spooner is the most tragic of baseball’s pitching prospects (this side of Steve Dalkowski, anyway). After a 21-9 season at Fort Worth of the Texas League in 1954 (262 strikeouts, 162 walks), the lefthander was promoted by the Brooklyn Dodgers, who gave him two late-season starts. Spooner proceeded to shut out the New York Giants on three hits, 3-0, in his debut, striking out 15. Four days later he shut out the Pirates on four hits, 1-0, striking out 12 more. With Strasburg exiting early today, Spooner’s record of 27 strikeouts in his first two starts remains unchallenged. 
But those strikeouts are a little less impressive than they look. The Giants, who had already clinched the National League pennant and would within two weeks sweep the heavily-favored Indians in the World Series, began pulling their starters in the second inning. In fact, ten of Spooner’s 15 K’s were against seven batters who averaged only 62 At Bats in 1954. Three came at the expense of back-up shortstop Billy Gardner, two against Joey Amalfitano (a “Bonus Baby” who had only five At Bats all season), two against pitchers. Five Giants regulars faced Spooner: Alvin Dark, Whitey Lockman, Don Mueller, and future Hall-of-Famers Monte Irvin and Willie Mays. They got nine AB’s against him; he struck out only one of them (Irvin).
In Spooner’s second start he didn’t do quite as well against a much weaker Pirates’ line-up. Nine of the twelve strikeouts came against rookies, including three from Nick Koback, a catcher who only had seven At Bats that year in which he didn’t strike out against Karl Spooner. Starting shortstop Gair Allie, who only appeared in the majors that one season, struck out twice, as did transient pitcher Jake Thies. That trio accounted for seven of Spooner’s dozen.
Spooner, of course, hurt his knee during a spring training game in 1955 and lingered ineffectively through his full rookie year with the Dodgers – then never pitched in the majors again.
Bob Feller was at The Strasburg’s second start today in Cleveland – on the right you’ll see how TBS just barely caught the extraordinary pitcher in the press box during this, his 55th season in retirement. 
The mind reels at the thought that the year before Feller signed with Cleveland, Walter Johnson was still managing the Indians, and Babe Ruth was still playing. Feller knew them both – knew Johnson very well – and knew all the others, including guys who played in the World Series of the 1880’s, and everybody since – and today he watched The Strasburg.
It’s intriguing to look back at Feller’s debut, fresh out of high school and with his 18th birthday still months away. Impressively, the Indians rolled Feller out slowly in 1936,  having him work exclusively in relief for his first month, then finally starting him against the St. Louis Browns on August 23. He struck out 15 that day, and while a review of the box score would not produce a lot of household names only one K came at the expense of an utterly obscure player, a St. Louis catcher named Nick Giuliani. 
The Tribe again used Feller in relief for a time before giving him his second start on September 7, again against the Browns. He struck out ten. On the 13th he came back with his mind-boggling 17 strikeouts at age 17, against a Philadelphia A’s team that had a fill-in double-play combination of Hugh Luby and Rusty Peters who whiffed four times combined, and pitcher Randy Gumpert, who added a pair.
The play-by-play is incomplete for the pitcher with the greatest two-month start in the game’s history. Like Spooner, Harry Krause provides a cautionary tale about injury. He had started two games for the A’s early in the 1908 season, splitting decisions, and then went back to the minors. He stuck again in 1909 but didn’t get a start until May 8. After a neat 1-0 win, he still didn’t get another start until the 17th (the A’s had Hall of Famers Chief Bender and Eddie Plank ahead of him, and Cy Morgan, and Jack Coombs – who would blossom in ’10 to win 31 games). Krause then did it again – a 1-0 win (in twelve). Still he didn’t get another start for twelve days. The third victory earned him his spot in the rotation, and by July 11 he was merely 10-0 with 10 complete games, six shutouts, and four 1-0 wins. And then something in his arm began to hurt…
Krause was 11-1 lifetime at the time of the injury. He went 25-25 the rest of the way. Remarkably, despite whatever the injury was (“Sore Arm” was literally the catch-all medical diagnosis well into the 1970’s), he would win 249 games over 16 further seasons in the Pacific Coast League.

Foul Balls; And 2010 Forecasts: NL East

Before we
wrap up the National League forecast, the Denard Span incident this afternoon
in Tampa (he hits his own mother with a foul ball – and she is wearing one of
his uniforms at the time) called to mind three equally unlikely events with
players and fans and balls flying into the stands:

1. August
17th, 1957. Richie Ashburn, who got to the Baseball Hall of Fame largely by
virtue of his ability to keep fouling off pitches he didn’t
like, until he got one he did like, fouled one off into the stands
at Connie Mack Stadium in Philadelphia. It struck – of all people – Alice
Roth, the wife of the sports editor of the newspaper The Philadelphia Bulletin. They
had to carry Mrs. Roth (and her broken nose) off on a stretcher. While
they were so doing, Ashburn, who was still
at bat and still fouling pitches off, hit Mrs. Roth with another foul

2. Of
course, on June 17th, 2000, Chuck Knoblauch of the New York Yankees picked up a
ground ball and threw it wildly towards first base. It instead hit a fan
sitting behind the dugout, breaking her eyeglasses. The fan, of course, was my

And perhaps the unlikeliest of the events: After Span got hit, the Associated
Press was reminded of the Bob Feller incident (reminded by Bob Feller, of
course). On May 14, 1939, when the Hall of Fame flamethrower was still just 20
years old, he threw a pitch at Comiskey Park which some member of the White Sox
fouled into the seats – striking Feller’s mother. May 14, 1939 was, of course,
Mother’s Day.

Now to
finish up the NL:

the obvious sleeper, if that’s not too much of an oxymoron. If Troy Glaus and
Jason Heyward produce as Atlanta expects them, Bobby Cox will have a
competitive final year. If they exceed expectations (and Heyward gives off the
vibe of a Pujolsian, From-Day-One-Superstar) the Braves might actually air out
the division. The rotation gets a little sketchy behind Hanson and Jurrjens,
and there is little or no room for injury (if Glaus gets profoundly hurt or
Heyward is Jordan Schafer
, Eric Hinske and Omar Infante will be playing nearly every
day). And of course it would not be the Braves without another new closer.
Here, updated from its first appearance in this space last summer, is the Bobby
Cox bullpen honor roll:

1. Joe
Boever, 1990

2. Mark
Grant and Kent Mercker, 1990

3. Mercker
and Juan Berenguer, 1991

Alejandro Pena, 1991-92

5. Jeff
Reardon, 1992

6. Mike
Stanton, 1993

7. Greg
McMichael, 1994-95

8. Brad
Clontz, 1995

9. Mark
Wohlers, 1995-98

10. Kerry
Ligtenberg, 1998

11. John
Rocker, 1999

Ligtenberg and Mike Remlinger, 2000

Rocker, 2000-01

14. Steve
Karsay, 2001

15. John
Smoltz, 2001-04

16. Danny
Kolb, 2005

17. Chris
Reitsma, 2005

18. Kyle
Farnsworth, 2005

Reitsma, 2006

20. Ken
Ray, 2006

21. Bob
Wickman, 2006-07

22. Rafael
Soriano, 2008

23. Manny
Acosta, 2008

24. John
Smoltz, 2008

Soriano, 2008

26. Mike
Gonzalez, 2008-09

Soriano, 2009

28. Billy
Wagner, 2010.

could make just two starters out of Anibal Sanchez, Nate Robertson, Andrew Miller, Sean West,
Ryan Tucker, Rick Vandenhurk, and Chris Volstad, the Marlins might be the
favorites. By mid-season this could be the most potent offense in the league,
because all Florida needs to produce seven house-wreckers in a row is for one
of the following three kids to live up to his promise: Logan Morrison, Gaby
Sanchez, Mike Stanton (if the Heyward-esque Stanton explodes to big league
quality, you put him in the outfield, you put the fabulous Chris Coghlan back at second or third,
and move either Jorge Cantu or Dan Uggla to first). Florida’s biggest question
mark is the bullpen, where Leo Nunez may or may not succeed.

All that
can be said about NEW YORK is: Sigh. I love the people who run this club, from
the ticket takers to the owners. But this year the wheels could fall off even
worse – and farther – than last. I think Jason Bay is a legitimate power
source, and I thought Jeff Francoeur a steal, but that begs the question of
what the Mets now expect from the guy who is still their top offensive
prospect, Fernando Martinez. If Bay, Beltran, and Francoeur are to be the
outfield for awhile, why is Martinez still there? Plus, the silence
about Beltran is ominous. The
ominousness of Daniel Murphy’s bat is silent. And there is nothing – nothing –
dependable in any of the three categories of pitchers, except for Johan
Santana, Pedro Feliciano, and Frankie Rodriguez, and the latter is just another
closer now. It is absolutely plausible that by June 1 the only questions will
be whether or not to give Ike Davis a taste of the majors, whether or not to
start screwing up Jenrry Mejia the way the Yankees messed with Joba
Chamberlain, and if some Japanese team will take Luis Castillo off their hands.

I’m not
the only person who believed Buster Olney’s story about PHILADELPHIA and Ryan
Howard – if not the plausibility of a swap for Pujols, then at least internal
musings about his decline against lefthanded pitchers and his decreasing
success against breaking pitches. When you are chewed up and spat out by Damaso
Marte, you are not exactly still in the same league as Pujols, or Adrian Gonzalez
for that matter. I’m a little suspicious of the assumed improvement in putting
Placido Polanco in at third (he’s 34, he fell off appreciably last year, he is
moving to a tougher position). Raul Ibanez seems to represent that Sword of
Damacles hanging over any team trying for three in a row (if you haven’t had a
significant position player injury in the first two seasons, you’re going to
in the third). I am not sold on the
rotation (Blanton, Contreras, Moyer, Kendrick – two of these guys must do well),
and the bullpen looks to be sketchier than a year ago.

There are
ways WASHINGTON can suddenly stop being a last-place team (the Ian Desmond
decision was superb – it needs to be followed by similar decisions involving Drew
Storen and Stephen Strasburg, and maybe new limbs grown by Jordan Zimmermann
and Chien-Ming Wang – quickly). Also, I think he’s a quality individual, but
the retention of Jim Riggleman as manager – after ten seasons that have produced
only one finish better than third (a weak second for the Cubs in 1998) – makes
little sense here. Unless Mike Rizzo is thinking of Pat Listach or Rick
Eckstein as a future big league manager, respectability for this club is going
to be the time it takes them to swap out Riggleman plus
the time it will take to break in his
replacement. Why not skip the first step?

I’ll take the long odds that the Braves’ breaks fall the right way and Cox goes
out with a winner in a tight race over the Phillies. The Marlins will hit a ton
but waste the brilliance of Josh Johnson and Ricky Nolasco by using 11
different fifth starters and half a dozen closers. The Mets will have their
nightmare collapse and be wondering if they can unload not only Castillo, but
maybe Beltran and Reyes, too. They will finish a few games ahead of the
Nationals – but only a few.


LEAGUE PREDICTIONS: As mentioned, I like the Braves, Reds and the Rockies for the division titles. The Wild Card would seem to be a battle between the Phillies and the Giants – I really like San Francisco’s rotation, and I really do not like Philadelphia’s chances of getting through another season without physical calamity. So let’s assume the Rockies finish with the best record – they should handle the Giants, and the Braves’ experience should make them favorites over the Reds. An Atlanta-Colorado NLCS? I think the Rockies win that one, as much as I’d be rooting for the man I always greet as the guy the Braves once traded to the Yankees for Bob Tillman, who had been traded to the Yankees for Elston Howard, meaning Coxy was as good as Elston Howard….