This annotated week in baseball history: Feb. 7 – Feb. 13, 2010

As “Snowmageddon” continues, paralyzing much of the East Coast, Richard looks at players who might be at home in such weather.

Like a lot of people—good-looking, intelligent people—I’m a summer person. I like warm weather. I don’t really understand winter people. Summer has baseball, no school and many hours of sunlight. Winter has football, tromping through the snow and Seasonal Affective Disorder. This doesn’t seem like a hard choice to me.

(I do have one friend who is a “seasonally appropriate” person; he is equally good with winter or summer, so long as the temperature and conditions are as they should be for the time of year. Warm days in December bother him, as do cold, rainy June days. But he’s the only one like that I’ve ever met.)

Being a summer person, I’m not crazy about February, and even less crazy about the gigantic amounts of snow being dumped on the East Coast. But even some baseball players—who strike me as summer people—might be at home in this weather, at least if their names are any indication. Let’s look at some of these men:

George Winter

This is not the George Winter who had pioneering work on wound healing, nor the George Winter noted for his paintings of American frontier life. Rather it is pitching George Winter, better known during his playing career as “Sassafras.”

Winter made his major league debut in 1901 for the Boston Americans. He won 16 games that season with a 2.80 ERA, good enough to put him in the top 10 for ERA and winning percentage. The 1901 Red Sox finished second in the American League, thanks in no small part to the efforts of Cy Young, at the tail end of his glory period, who won 33 games. Young would have easily taken his namesake award, had such a thing existed.

For his part, Winter was the second-best rookie pitcher that year behind Roscoe Miller of Detroit, who went 23-13 for the Tigers. Winter’s Gettysburg College teammate Eddie Plank also debuted that year; he was inferior to both Winter and Miller but would of course end up with the best career of any rookie debuting that year.

J.T. Snow, enjoying a non-winter day at the ballpark. (Icon/SMI)

Winter had trouble maintaining his rookie-year form, and went just 28-21 with a 110 ERA+ over the next three seasons. In 1903 the Americans made it to the World Series, but manager Jimmy Collins went with a three-man rotation and Winter saw no action.

Winter became a full-fledged member of the Boston rotation in 1905, but he struggled and would put up a gruesome 6-18, 4.12 ERA line in 1906. Still under 30, he bounced back with the best year of his career in 1907. Pitching for a truly dreadful Boston team, Winter went 12-15 with a 2.07 ERA, good for the seventh-best ERA+ in the league. Combined with the efforts of Cy Young, the pitching staff saved the offensively hapless Americans—their team OPS+ was 83—from total disgrace.

That was the last strong moment of Winter’s career; after a poor start in 1908 (4-14, 3.05), he was waived by the newly christened Red Sox and picked up by the Tigers. Winter went 1-5 in Detroit despite a 1.60 ERA, and saw the only postseason action of his career in the Tigers’ loss to the Cubs.

Winter pitched in Montreal in 1909 and 1910, perhaps hoping to earn a trip back to the majors. But his 2-10 record in 1910 sealed his fate and he was out of baseball thereafter. This does give Winter the odd distinction of being among a handful of players to have their last appearance be in the World Series. People have been remembered for much worse things.

Jake Freeze

That’s right, it’s the original Mr. Freeze! This one made his debut for the White Sox in 1925, pitching in two games and allowing just one run in 3.2 innings. But though he bounced around the minors for a few seasons thereafter, including winning 12 games in Terre Haute in 1929, his White Sox stint would be his only time in the majors.

J.T. Snow

That’s Jack Thomas Snow, to answer a question it has never previously occurred to me to ask. Snow was a well-regarded defensive first baseman—he won the Gold Glove at first base every year from 1995 through 2000 despite switching leagues during that time. Only five men have more Gold Gloves at first than Snow. Some years, like 1997, Snow hit the way teams expect a first baseman to hit, but he was generally a slightly better than league average hitter. In his 12 full seasons, Snow had an OPS+ of 112 or 113 in four of them.

Despite his Gold Gloves and lifetime .863 postseason OPS (including a .407/.448/.556 line in his only World Series), Snow will likely be remembered primarily for the incident during the 2002 World Series. As Snow scored on a Kenny Lofton triple, he saw waiting for him at home plate Darren Baker, the 3-year-old son of Giants skipper Dusty Baker. The younger Baker, who was serving as a bat boy, had come out to retrieve Lofton’s bat before the play was over.

Thinking fast, Snow grabbed Baker by his jacket and lifted him out of the way of Angels catcher Bengie Molina who was awaiting a throw for a possible play at the plate on David Bell. The incident prompted a rules change that bat children would have to be at least 14 years old in the future.

Snow was a good sport about the story, saying that the younger Baker was “so eager all the time,” even when the eagerness could have caused a serious collision.

Winter, Freeze and Snow are not the only major leaguers who might be at home during these snowstorms. Eleven players—including Curt Schilling—were born in Alaska, noted for its cold winters. A handful of others were born in countries not famous for long, sunny days like Norway, Ukraine and Sweden. But that is a column for another day, so for today I hope everyone stays inside and thinks warm thoughts of summer.

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  1. Richard Barbieri said...

    I also could have included former Angel Dave Frost, 19th century play “Coldwater Jim” Hughey and, in honor a favorite activity on snow days, Sled Allen.

  2. Bob Rittner said...

    Are we being sticklers for spelling? If not, we can have 2 “Freese’s” at 3B, Gene and now David. And there have been a number of Hales, but no Hail that I can find.

    Of course, if it is a mild winter, and we want to stretch things a little, we could put Billy McCool in the bullpen.

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