Richard celebrates his return to regular column work after a brief summer vacation by looking back at notables whose birthdays were his first week back.
I’m much more of a summer guy than a winter guy. Summer has warm weather, baseball and—in my younger days—no school. As a result, I take far more vacations in the winter when I need the break than I do in the summer.
Despite this, I spent last week in London, where coverage of cricket, baseball’s slow, confusing cousin, was extensive but baseball minimal. Since I missed two weeks worth of columns, we’ll make it up this week by doing a birthday from every day.
Aug. 16, 1890: Baby Doll Jacobson
Admittedly, I don’t have a scientific way to test this kind of thing (or any way, really) but it seems to me that “Baby Doll” Jacobson (born William Chester Jacobson) must have the most mobbed-up sounding name in baseball history. For what its worth, the “Baby Doll” in the sense of the nightgown is believed to originate with the 1956 Elia Kazan film of the same name, which obviously postdates Jacobson’s career.
In any case, Jacobson was a pretty good player, spending most of his career with the St. Louis Browns. Playing in a high average era, he hit .355 in 1920 and finished sixth in the batting race, Jacobson finished at .311 for his career. That’s still good enough to place him the top 100 all-time.
Aug. 17, 1971: Jorge Posada
Posada is that rarely seen beast, the underrated Yankee. The best catcher of whatever we’re calling this decade (the Aughts?) Posada has received MVP votes in only two years this decade, and appeared on the All-Star team just five times.
While not without his flaws—\—his defense has never been outstanding and he is a painfully bad base runner—he is probably at the cusp of a Hall of Fame career, having secured his place as an elite member of the Hall of Very Good with his outstanding 2007 season.
Aug. 18, 1893: Burleigh Grimes
A few weeks ago I composed an entire team of players known for only one thing. I excluded Hall of Famers on the grounds that anyone in there was inherently known for his talent and whatever else there is to say about him. But you probably could construct a team of Hall of Famers who are similarly cursed with their place in baseball history.
I won’t be doing that here, if for no other reason than I might get a column out of it someday. But Burleigh Grimes, the last man to throw the spitball legally, is without a doubt a member of that club. Grimes was a pretty good pitcher at his best, and capable of throwing a huge number of innings, even by the standards of the day. No one pitched more innings in the 1920s, and only one pitcher is within 250 innings.
Aug. 19, 1979: Rocky Cherry
This cannot be anything other than coincidence, but certain days are just chockablock with hilariously named players. In addition to Cherry—doing pretty well in Triple-A for the Red Sox this year—today has a wide range. There’s Sap Randall, who I guess was a gullible sort. Speed Kelly earned his nickname despite having just one career major league stolen base.
There’s Woody Williams and Tex Carleton, which would be great character names for a syndicated show about cowboys. There’s even the answer to a question: What does a 1950s stuffy Dad want his children to listen to? Why, Les Rock, of course.
Aug. 20, 1973: Todd Helton
In one of the first columns I ever wrote for here, I speculated on Helton’s Hall of Fame case. At the time, I wrote that I considered him a Hall of Famer, but would not be surprised to see him on the outside looking in.
Not much has changed on that stance despite the passing of more than two years. Helton’s 2008 was a write-off; he played in just 83 games and put up an underwhelming .779 OPS. But he has rebounded this year, at age 35, hitting .318 and is fourth in the league in doubles. He has a good chance at being one of only 22 players with 550 or more doubles.
|Gregory Scott Williams, doing his thing (Icon/SMI)|
His salary goes to $19.1 million next season (plus a $4.6 million buyout the Rockies will almost surely exercise) so he will have to maintain that level of performance to be even close to worth the cash. But his deal has hardly been the albatross some—myself included—imagined it would be.
But when election time comes he will be an interesting candidate. Still has my vote.
Aug. 21, 1912: Woody Williams
Hey, there’s another Woody Williams! This one was a shortstop, not an especially great one (lifetime OPS+: 67) in the 1930s and during World War II. He was named Woodrow, which is the traditional way of being nicknamed Woody. It occurs to me that I have no idea how the modern Woody Williams got his nickname. I had thought it was for his resemblance to the similarly named Toy Story character, but that’s actually Kirk Rueter.
According to Google, Williams’ nickname is something of a mystery. An unexplained nickname! I just love that.
Aug. 22, 1857: Ned Hanlon
One of three Hall of Famers born this day—the others are Carl Yastrzemski and Paul Molitor—and easily the most obscure. Hanlon had a long, if undistinguished career as a player but made the Hall of Fame as a manager. Hanlon managed the Baltimore Orioles for seven years from 1892 through 1898, winning three pennants with a better than .600 winning percentage. He then moved to the Brooklyn Superbas, where he won two more pennants.
He remains 27th all time in wins—though likely to be passed by Dusty Baker early next year—while only eight men have won more pennants. He was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1996.