This annotated week in baseball history: Dec. 14-Dec. 20, 1967

On Dec. 15, 1967 Mo Vaughn was born. Vaughn would be a solid hitter, but also would make 139 errors in his career. As a first baseman, Vaughn topped the table in errors a record six times. Richard did not err quite so frequently this year, but he is only human. Read on….

When I visited Australia this year, one place I went was to Alice Springs, in the Outback. That means it’s a pretty dry place. Alice gets less than 300 millimeters of rain per year on average, which is about what London gets every few hours.

The Todd River, which runs through Alice Springs, is listed on most maps, including the one I had, as “usually dry.” Of course, “usually” does not mean “always,” which I discovered in rather abrupt manner when a thunderstorm rolled in, flooded the Todd and left me stranded on one side while my hotel was on the other.

(It all got worked out in the end; I didn’t have to sleep on the street.)

When it comes to facts in these columns, I like to think of myself as “usually right.” But then, “usually” does not mean “always” so let’s continue my holiday tradition and look back at the things I got wrong in 2008. Most of these were caught by my dedicated readership, so thank you for that, and thank you as well for coming to read every week. I appreciate it.

In my column on Yankee Stadium, I wrote that Reggie Jackson and Babe Ruth were the only players to hit three home runs in a single game in postseason history. So far as the World Series goes, that’s correct. In the postseason, however, there is another man on the list: George Brett.

Appropriately enough for my column, Brett hit his three homers at Yankee Stadium. It was Game 3 of the 1978 ALCS, and Brett slammed his three home runs in his first three at-bats. Incredibly, his heroics were not enough for the Royals, who lost the game and eventually, the series.

In April, I wrote on the history of the Seattle Pilots, today’s Milwaukee Brewers. I managed to get two things wrong here. Embarrassingly, I misspelled the name of one-time Pilots prospect and current Cubs’ manager Lou Piniella, leaving out the second “i.”

In that same piece, I misidentified Bud Selig as a “used car salesman.” While it is true that Bud sold cars, he actually owned a new car dealership. This isn’t a huge distinction, but I suppose that new car dealers are regarded as less shady than their counterparts in the “pre-owned” market, so I will make sure to point it out.

That being said, Selig—he of World Series-cancelling strikes, collusion as an owner and attempted contraction among other things—remains a shady character.

Looking back at the career of pitcher, basketball player and sometime bon vivant Gene Conley, I identified him as “the only man to appear for three major league franchises in a single city.”

But then, that’s not even close to true. A pretty good number of people played for the Yankees, Giants and Dodgers in New York, and a small number of others played for the Cubs, White Sox and Chicago Whales of the Federal League.

Being that I knew that several men had hit the New York Trifecta (so to speak), including Hall of Famers like Willie Keeler and Burleigh Grimes, I suspect what I meant was that Conley was the only man to play for three franchises spread across two sports. I’m not so sure of that fact, either, so maybe it is best just to leave things alone.

This one isn’t so much an error in the sense of getting a fact wrong as it is that I made a poor choice. To celebrate the birthday of the state of California, I created the all-California team. A pretty dominant squad, it is hard to imagine how a team with Ted Williams, Joe DiMaggio and Tony Gwynn as an outfield could be improved.

Nonetheless, while Keith Hernandez, whom I selected for the team’s first base spot, was a great player at his best, first base on the team really should have gone to Eddie Murray. Murray was hugely consistent throughout his career. He was a back-to-back runnerup in MVP voting in 1982 and ’83, finished his career with 504 home runs and was elected to the Hall of Fame in 2003.

For a player of that caliber, Keith Hernandez can serve as a hugely overqualified defensive replacement. On a team as good as the one California can field, there is no shame in that.

Incidentally, some wondered how I could pick new Hall of Famer Joe Gordon over Joe Morgan. While it is true that Morgan spent most of his childhood in Oakland, he was born in Texas, not moving westward until after his fifth birthday. This means that his spot on an all-state team will have to wait until I decide to Remember the Alamo! or something.

I’ll end with a correction for the sake of clarity. In my column on the massive Orioles-Yankees trade, I described Gus Triandos’ 30 home runs in 1958 as the most by an American League catcher that decade.

That is true, but only in the sense that no American League catcher hit more. Yogi Berra also slugged 30 homers as a catcher during the 1950s, and did it twice: in 1952 and ’56. This isn’t to take anything away from Triandos’ slugging, merely to point out that another managed a similar feat.

Seeing them all laid out like that does rather give the impression I make a lot of mistakes. And those ares only the “highlights,” leaving out things like my confusing Curt Flood for Curt Ford. But of course everyone makes mistake; while Mo Vaughn might have managed all those errors at first base, even Omar Vizquel—an unquestioned defensive wizard—occasionally booted one.

So I will keep writing and, let’s be honest, keep making mistakes. But I have readers to catch those mistakes, and so long as I stay “usually” right, I hope I will continue to make a column that is “always” worth a look.

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