Monday, October 22, 2012
40,000 days since Mordecai Brown debutsPosted by Chris Jaffe
40,000 days ago, one of the best pitchers in baseball history made his major league debut.
On April 19, 1903, Mordecai "Three Finger" Brown pitched in his first big league contest, and it was quite a debut. Pitching for the St. Louis Cardinals, Brown threw a complete-game shutout for a 3-0 win. Yeah, that’s a nice way to start a career.
For 1903, at least, it was not a harbinger of things to come. Brown's debut day shutout would be the only one he threw all year long. Wins would also prove to be far and few between, as he ended the year with a record of 9-13, rather south of stellar. To be fair, that poor record reflected the lackluster quality of his teammates, as the Cardinals lost over two-thirds of their games on the season for a woeful 43-94 mark. When Brown wasn’t the pitcher of record, they were 34-81.
Also, while Brown’s end-of-season numbers didn’t turn many heads, his performance 40,000 days apparently caught at least a few eyes. You see, the team he shut out was the Chicago Cubs. It would be the first of five times Brown started against the Cubs that year, and though the Cardinals lost three of those games, the Cubs liked what they saw from Brown. They liked him so much that in December the Cubs picked him up in a trade with the Cardinals.
Now, it’s impossible to say exactly how much Brown’s debut-day performance impacted the decision by the Cubs to trade for him, but it stands to reason that it a fair amount to do with it. After all, it was a complete-game shutout, and Brown was just making his debut—and the Cubs did opt to trade for him that offseason.
If the shutout was a big part of the reason Brown became a Cub, then today plays a big role in his Hall of Fame case, much more than because he debuted on this day.
The St. Louis Cardinals of the first decade of the 20th century were a dreadful lot. They annually finished in the second division, well out of any pennant race. More to the point, they had a terrible defense that let many balls go for hits.
Chicago was a different story. They were assembling a squad with a great defense centered on middle infielders Joe Tinker and Johnny Evers. Their team Defensive Efficiency score in 1906 of .736 is the greatest single-season mark by any squad ever.
Don’t get me wrong. Brown was a legitimately great pitcher and earned his place in Cooperstown, but it certainly didn’t hurt to pitch in front of a world class defensive unit. That benefit allowed him to flourish as much as he could.
In Brown’s first season in Chicago in 1904, not only did his win-loss record improve from 9-13 to 15-10, but his ERA plummeted from 2.60 to 1.86. From 1904-11, Brown’s ERA was 1.72 in 2,192 innings. Even if you account for all the unearned runs back then, his ERA is damn impressive. A combination of Brown’s arm and the Cubs’ gloves did it.
But before Brown could reach his prime with the Cubs, he had to debut against them, and that debut was 40,000 days ago.
Aside from that, many other baseball events today celebrate either their anniversary or “day-versary.” Here they are, with the better ones in bold if you’d rather just skim over things.
1,000 days since a trio of free agent signings occurs. Minnesota signs Jim Thome, Oakland inks Ben Sheets, and San Diego lands Jon Garland.
2,000 days since Atlanta’s Jarrod Saltalamacchia debuts, setting an odd record in the process. There are 14 letters in his last name, the most ever, breaking a previous mark of 13 letters in a last name, a distinction jointly held by 15 players.
3,000 days since Arizona trades Roberto Alomar to the White Sox.
6,000 days since Jeff Bagwell enjoys his greatest game ever according to WPA. He’s 2-for-4 with a home run, four RBIs, a walk, and a strikeout in Houston’s 4-3 win over the Pirates for a 0.971 WPA.
7,000 days since Joe Carter hits three homers in one game for the fifth time in his career.
9,000 days since several notable players appear in their last game, including Don Baylor, Graig Nettles, and Charlie Lea.
9,000 days since Rafael Palmeiro hits the first of 12 career grand slams.
15,000 days since multiple memorable players appear in their last contest, including Bob Aspromonte, Chuck Hinton, and former AL MVP Zoilo Versalles.
30,000 days since Al Simmons hits a home run in the bottom of the 14th inning, the latest he ever goes deep in a game. However, it’s not a walk-off as the A’s allowed a run in the top of the 14th. In that same game, Lefty Grove has the longest relief outing of his life, nine innings. The A’s beat Boston, 8-7.
1845 The first ever known box score is published. It’s in the New York Morning News.
1872 Kid Carsey, pitcher, is born.
1883 Bill "Rough" Carrigan, catcher and manager of multiple world champion Red Sox teams, is born.
1907 Jimmie Foxx, Hall of Fame slugger, is born.
1910 The Cubs stay alive, barely. Down three games to none, they rally to tie Game Four against the A’s in the bottom of the ninth and win in 10 innings, 4-3. They’ll lose Game Five, though.
1916 Harry "the Hat" Walker, hitter and manager, is born.
1920 Eight members of the 1919 White Sox AL pennant winners are indicted for fixing the 1919 World Series.
1927 Hall of Fame outfielder Ross Youngs dies.
1933 St. Louis Browns owner Phillip de Catesby Ball dies on his 69th birthday. He’s been the owner since the Federal League days and has seen the team through some successful years, but those days came to an end with the Depression.
1935 Tommy Tucker, baseball’s first notable switch hitter, dies.
1941 Wilbur Wood, White Sox knuckleball pitcher, is born.
1954 Earl Whitehill, longtime Tigers pitcher and 200-game winner, dies.
1962 Boston signs amateur free agent Tony Horton. He’ll have a nice career before it’s derailed by mental problems. (He’ll recover but stay retired.)
1967 A’s owner Charles O. Finley hires Bay Area native Joe DiMaggio as vice president of the A’s, who are moving to Oakland this offseason.
1969 The Dodgers release aging starting pitcher Jim Bunning.
1969 The Twins hire Bill Rigney to their new manager.
1972 The Mustache Gang does it, winning Game Seven over the Reds, 3-2. It’s the sixth one-run game of the Series, the all-time record. This is the first of three consecutive world titles for Oakland, making the A's the only non-Yankee club to win three straight crowns.
1973 The Angels trade Clyde Wright, Ken Berry, Steve Barber, a fourth player, and cash to the Brewers for five players.
1973 Ichiro Suzuki is born.
1974 The Giants trade Bobby Bonds to the Yankees for Bobby Murcer. This begins the sojourner phase to Bonds’ career.
1975 The Big Red Machine does it, topping the Red Sox in Game Seven, 4-3. They get the tying run in the top of the seventh and the winning run in the ninth for the win.
1976 Catcher/third baseman Michael Barrett is born.
1982 Angels manager Gene Mauch resigns. 1983 will be his first season away from the dugout in over 20 years. He’ll return to managing the Angels in a few years, though.
1982 Yankees infielder Robinson Cano is born.
1985 Baseball commissioner Peter Ueberroth meets with owners and tells them that each team needs to get “exclusive control over the players on its roster who would become free agents.” The era of collusion is about to begin.
1991 The Braves top the Twins, 5-4, in Game Three of the World Series to avoid falling down three games to none in the Fall Classic. This will become the second World Series to have the home team win every game.
1992 Longtime baseball broadcaster Red Barber dies at age 84.
1997 The Indians top the Marlins in the coldest game in World Series history, 10-3. It’s just 38 degrees during Game Four.
2000 The Pirates hire new manager Lloyd McClendon.
2000 It’s one of the most (in)famous World Series incidents of the 21st century: the Piazza-Clemens incident. When Mike Piazza’s bat shatters in Game Two of the Mets-Yankees showdown, Clemens picks it up and throws a fragment towards where Piazza is running. Clemens immediately apologizes to the umpire, and since it’s the World Series, he’s not ejected. The Yankees hold on against the Mets, 6-5. It’s 6-0 entering the ninth when the Mets get five runs.
2003 The Marlins top the Yankees, 4-3 in 12 innings, in Game Four to even the World Series at two games apiece. The Yankees score twice in the top of the ninth to tie it up but end up having to rely on Jeff Weaver in the 12th, so no wonder they lose.
2006 The Tigers top the Cardinals, 3-2, in Game Two of the World Series. It’s the only game Detroit wins in this year’s Fall Classic, and it is most famous for TV cameras show some odd substance on the pitching hand of the Tigers' ace starter, Kenny Rogers.
2009 The Angels top the Yankees, 7-6, in Game Five of the ALCS. Anaheim takes an early 4-0 lead, then falls behind 6-4 before rallying for the victory.
2011 Roy Smalley, ballplayer and father of another ballplayer, dies at age 85.
2011 Albert Pujols has one of the greatest one-man shows in World Series history. He’s 5-for-6 with three homers, four runs, and six RBIs in St. Louis 16-7 Game Three demolition of the Rangers.
History instructor by day, statnerd by night, Chris Jaffe leads one of the most exciting double lives imaginable; with the exception of every other double life possible to imagine. Despite his lack of comic-book-hero-worthiness, Chris enjoys farting around with this stuff. His new book, Evaluating Baseball's Managers is available for order. Chris welcomes responses to his articles via e-mail. Oh, and now he's on twitter.