Debuts and Departuresby Chris Jaffe
June 21, 2010
Some people end up writing for THT because they come up with brilliant ways of analyzing the contemporary game. Others add to our historical knowledge. Still others use cutting edge analytical tools (re: pitch F/X stuff) to enhance our understanding of players.
Me? I take a different approach. I come up with completely ridiculous and labor-intensive projects that no one in their right mind would do, and then spend far too much time working on them - oftentimes without any real idea why I'm working on them. Then I come here and turn them into columns.
Take my latest project for example. As many good sojourners to Baseball-Reference.com know, the site can tell you whoever was born on a given day or died on any particular day. However, the site doesn't give you a similar chance to look up what days all players made their MLB debut or played their final game.
You can go to an individual player's page and see what the appropriate days were for him, but if you want to look up who were the best players to debut on May 14 or retire on June 3, there's no easy way to figure it. The only way to determine that is by going through thousands of players, tracking their first and final games, and looking at the results. And really, what kind of crazy fool would be willing to such a completely ridiculous project like that?
Me, that's who.
Yeah, really. I thought it would be fun to look up (I wasn't kidding when I said I was a crazy fool), and worked on it for a few months. I included "only" 2,047 debuts and 1,842 departures. The difference occurs because: 1) some debuts haven't yet departed, and 2) I went year-by-year instead of player by player so some guys got placed in for debuts but not departure, or vice versa. I had no rules for who to put in other than who I wanted to. It's iffy on the edges, but I put in around 2,000 players - the best player excluded is probably the 1,453rd best player. And who cares about the 1,453rd best player?
Discussing the best debuts/departures per day for all baseball history would be way too much for one column. Maybe I'll have a series of columns on those lines (depends if I think they'll make good columns or not). For now, I'll just provide an overview of some of the more interesting/odd things I blundered into.
Well, let's start with some basics. Here's the month-by-month breakdown for starters:
Month Debuts March 3 April 669 May 237 June 193 July 188 August 192 Septembr544 October 21
No, the results aren't terribly surprising. There is a definite era difference. Prior to 1960, there are almost twice as many Aprils and Septembers. Since then, Septembers have a clear lead. I don't know beans about the history of in-season roster expansion, but something clearly happened right around 1960.
The earliest starts are all recent ones, as before then there were no March games. The latest debut I have down came on Oct. 23. That was Fred Goldsmith back in the old National Association in 1875. In non-NA baseball, the latest MLB debut I know of came on Oct. 15, 1892 (Heinie Peitz). In the 20th Century, the latest debut for any notable player was Randy Myers, who began his career on Oct. 6.
Among Hall of Famers, the earlier debut was April 5, by Robin Yount. The latest was Oct. 3, by Max Carey.
My full list contains at least one player debuting on each day from March 31 to Oct. 6. The peak date came on April 17, with 53 people beginning on that frequent Opening Day. Here's the All-April 17 starting lineup:
Pos Name C Jimmie Wilson 1B Duke Snider 2B Red Schoendienst SS Arky Vaughan 3B Harlond Clift RF Roberto Clemente CF Mickey Mantle LF Frank Robinson SP Don Drysdale SP Jim Palmer SP Red Faber SP Larry Jackson SP Bob Buhl
I know Snider didn't play first, but there's a bit of a logjam in the outfield. I'm certainly not going to put Snider on the bench if it means starting Zeke Bonura. There's a logjam at short, with Vaughan winning out over Joe Tinker, Luis Aparicio and Herman Long. If you'd like a (future) manager, Whitey Herzog, Paul Richards and Chuck Dressen all began their playing careers on this date. Not many people from recent years appear because Opening Day is earlier, but the best recent April 17s are Mike Hampton, Austin Kearns and Erik Bedard.
An April 17 also oversaw the greatest one-day onslaught of future Hall of Famers ever. On April 17, 1956, four future immortals began their MLB playing careers: Clemente, Aparicio, Drysdale and Herzog. OK, fine - Herzog's playing career ain't why he'll go into Cooperstown this summer. It's the only time in the 20th Century more than two HoFers began on the same day.
In the 19th Century, three times a trio of future immortals all debuts on the same day. Not so coincidentally, they were all Opening Days. (This also explains why they happened more often in the Gilded Age: smaller rosters meant virtually no bench.)
Anyway, all three the 19th Century HoF triplets had a Herzog-type amongst them. On May 2, 1881, Bid McPhee and John Clarkson were joined by Hall of Fame owner (but then infielder) Charles Comiskey. Two years earlier, Hall of Fame players Roger Connor and Mickey Welch debuted alongside eventual immortal manager Ned Hanlon. In 1871, Al Spalding, George Wright and HoF manager Harry Wright showed up together. That trio should hardly count, as they'd been pro baseball players before there was a league.
There have been several times a pair of Hall of Famers debuted on the same day. They always happen in April at the start of the season - with one exception. On Sept. 10, 1912, the baseball world welcomed Stan Coveleski and Rabbit Maranville. Both their teams lost that day.
Though each day in April through September has at least one player debuting, some days have only one notable player debuting. May 21 and June 7 are the unfortunate days with a sole debut each: Keith Foulke debuted on May 21, 1997, Bones Ely debuted on June 7, 1884. There are also several days in October with only one debut, but that's way late in the year anyway, when the game has normally stopped off.
That said, the weakest day of debuts may have been a completely different one: Aug. 23. Only two debuts on that date made my file, and they're both fairly marginal entries: Doug Davis and Jose Hernandez. Despite the fact that they played in the 21st Century, I wouldn't be surprised if some people out in reader land aren't familiar with them. I suppose June 7 was still the weakest (Ely was also a marginal entry), but those are the anti-April 17 days.
First, let me note the date of final games refers to final regular-season games. If they played in the postseason (and some of these guys ended their careers in the World Series), those moments are ignored.
As for departure dates for my noteworthy players, here's how it breaks down month-by-month:
Month End April 73 May 175 June 153 July 208 August 184 Septembr721 October 328
It's really not too surprising: It's less evenly distributed across the year and heavily placed toward the back. That's exactly what we all know, though, isn't it? I find it a little interesting that May has more departures than June, but that's fairly minor.
The latest departure was, shockingly, not as late in the year as the latest debut. Blame the National Association. (Of course, if you include the postseason, you have Paul O'Neill last playing on Nov. 4, but b-ref's info isn't set up for me to check postseason last games very easily.) The latest regular season final game came on Oct. 15 - when Hall of Famer Bid McPhee and non-HoFer Bill Lange both last played.
Sid Fernandez holds the distinction for the earliest in-season departure by a prominent player: April 5. It makes sense that the titleholder would be a pitcher: When they blow their arms out, there's no coming back. (My hunch for explaining why May tops June is that pitchers with the weakest arms have blown them out by June 1, but many still lost their final effective ligaments in May. Not that I'm going to look at all the names and see if my hunch is true of not.) The earliest final game by a Hall of Famer was April 13, Hugh Duffy.
The latest departure by a position player: Danny Tartabull on April 7. Interestingly, both Fernandez and Tartabull retired in 1997. From April 16 to Oct. 10, every date has at least one prominent player retiring.
Predictably, the end of the year has the days with the most retirings, led by Sept. 27, with 87 different players. It's actually difficult to create an All-9/27 Team, because all the best players are jammed in certain positions (like catcher or outfielder), while lacking in other slots (first and second base, most notably). The best players to retire on this day include Stan Musial, Johnny Bench, Ozzie Smith, Frank Baker, Andre Dawson, Max Carey, Enos Slaughter, Alan Trammell, Roy Campanella, Rabbit Maranville, Tony Oliva and Ron Santo. The best pitcher would probably be Lon Warneke.
Anyhow, the top 22 retirement days are all either in September or October. The biggest pre-Labor Day is Aug. 10, with 15 - most notably Hall of Famer Ross Youngs, and more recent stars Tom Brunansky, his former teammate Kent Hrbek, World Series hero Kirk Gibson and wonder of two sports Bo Jackson.
Finally, when looking up this stuff, I came across instances when more than one impressive thing happened in the same game. I want to highlight some of those here, going from most recent to the farthest back:
Aug. 2, 1990: White Sox youth movement
In the first game of a doubleheader that day, a pair of former first-round picks by the Chicago White Sox arrived in the major league squad. On the mound was starting pitcher Alex Fernandez, who had a very nice run for himself in the mid-1990s. At first base was the greatest hitter in Chicago history: Frank Thomas.
April 3, 1989: Double dose of four-decade players
When the 2010 season began, the two longest tenured position players in major league baseball were Ken Griffey Jr. and Omar Vizquel. Amazingly, they both debuted on the same day, in the same game, for the same team, the Seattle Mariners.
Griffey (obviously) has since retired, but even in retiring he's given us some impressive symmetry. The last game he ever played in was on May 31, 2010, exactly 19 years after the last game his father ever played in.
July 12, 1987: Random midsummer coincidences
There are plenty of games where multiple long-lasting players retire - but they almost all occur in September or October. Here's one from the middle of the season. When the Brewers played the A's, long-time Milwaukee stalwart Cecil Cooper finished his career, as did veteran third baseman (and then-Oakland player) Ron Cey.
Added bonus: Walt Weiss made his debut in that same contest.
Sept. 9, 1977: A somewhat famous one
Here's one Bill James noted in one of his books. In the second game of a doubleheader, the Tigers debuted a new middle infield combination: Lou Whitaker and Alan Trammell. Not bad. (The first game saw Tito Fuentes and Tom Veryzer in those slots. They would both be sent packing that offseason.)
Added bonus: Just four days earlier Lance Parrish made his MLB debut for the Tigers.
Sept. 3, 1966: Charles Finley knew talent
The Kansas City A's premiered a pair of fine September call-ups on this day: Sal Bando and Rick Monday.
April 14, 1962: Dueling baby photos
This was the best example I could find of two prominent starting pitchers squaring off against each other in the respective MLB debuts. The Giants unleashed future Hall of Famer Gaylord Perry. He didn't do so well, and ended up getting relieved by Don Larsen.
On the other side, the Reds brought out rookie Sammy Ellis. He didn't have a great career, but he did win 22 games in 1965.
Sept. 30, 1927: A Ruthian conclusion
The date might look familiar to a student of baseball history: It's the day Babe Ruth launched his 60th homer of the 1927 season. It's almost important for another reason, though. In that same game, Walter Johnson made his final appearance. Neat, huh? Incredibly, he didn't pitch. Instead, he pinch-hit, for Tom Zachary, the man who had just given up No. 60.
April 14, 1925: The greatest pair of introductions ever
The Mariners' double-debut of Griffey and Vizquel was mighty impressive, and it sure is appropriate that Trammell and Whitaker both began on the same day. But let's not kid ourselves - neither is the greatest pair of debuts one team ever unleashed in one day.
On April 14, 1925, Connie Mack gave us one amazing battery: Mickey Cochrane and Lefty Grove began their careers in the same game. Not bad.
April 19, 1920: Not nearly as impressive, but still interesting
The 1925 pair wasn't Mack's only example of a pair of quality players beginning in the same game. Five years earlier, when his starting pitcher didn't have any zip, Mack brought out two rookies as relievers for the first time: Eddie Rommel and Slim Harriss.
Rommel had the better career by far, making Bill James' list of the Top 100 Pitchers of all-time in the New Historical Abstract. Harriss was a quality pitcher ruined by circumstance. He labored for the A's when they sucked, and just when they started to turn the corner, he was sold to the Boston Red Sox, when they were at their nadir. Thus he went 95-135 despite an ERA+ of 100 for his career.
The last hurrah: Sept. 4, 1916
I'm 99 percent sure this one was intentional. Back in the day, Christy Mathewson and Mordecai Brown frequently dueled against each other. Here, they each took the hill one last time, and sure enough, they faced each other one last time.
Oct. 2, 1908: Ending it as a footnote
John Anderson was a longtime outfielder who ended up in baseball lore. He reportedly attempted to steal an already occupied base in 1903, causing such a play to become known as a "John Anderson."
Well, five years later, his career came to a conclusion in a rather memorable game. He took the field the day Ed Walsh and Addie Joss squared off in arguably the greatest pitchers duel ever. Walsh fanned 15 Indians, but lost 1-0 when Joss threw a perfect game.
References and Resources
All departure/debut info comes from Baseball-Reference.com
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.
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