Today marks the 10th anniversary of one of the worst free agent signings in baseball history. On Jan. 16, 2002, the Texas Rangers ownership opened up its pocketbooks to give a gaudy five-year, $65 million contract to starting pitcher Chan Ho Park. At the time, it was one of the richest contracts ever given a pitcher.
The Rangers thought they’d landed themselves a winner. Park had a career 80-54 record as a mainstay in the Dodger rotation with a respectable ERA of 3.80. He’d done especially well in the last two seasons, going 33-21 with a 3.38 ERA.
This signing was part of a big push for the Rangers. The year before they posted a tepid 73-89 record despite a high-powered offense led by Alex Rodriguez, Ivan Rodriguez, and Rafael Palmeiro because they lacked pitching. Their 2001 staff posted a league-worst 5.71 ERA.
Park was the centerpiece in an effort to revitalize their staff. It didn’t work. It really didn’t work. There were a few issues the Rangers didn’t account for. First, Park was a pitcher whose performance was heavily dependent on his home ballpark. With LA, Park had gone 42-24 with a 2.98 ERA in Dodger Stadium but 38-30 with a 4.74 ERA on the road. Dodger Stadium was a pitcher’s park that perfectly suited Park. Texas’s facility was the opposite, a hitter haven.
Second, Park’s success had been partially due to the defense behind him. In 2000, he led the league in fewest hits allowed per inning. While that was partially due to his ability to strike out batters (217 whiffs in 226 innings that year), it was also due to the guys catching balls behind him. Please note 2000 wasn’t an aberration. Park had the third-best hits-per-nine innings rate in 2001 and second-best in 1998. Texas, however, did not have such a fine defense.
The contract had all the makings of a disaster, and sure enough, it was. Park went 9-8 with a horrible 5.75 ERA in 2002, and that turned out to be the high-water mark for him in Texas. The next year he was 1-3 and sat almost all of the season with injury. He pitched a little more for the team until being traded in mid-2005, having posted an overall line of 22-23 with a 5.79 ERA with the Rangers.
When a lot of people think of huge contracts for the Rangers, they think of Rodriguez, but Park had a far, far worse contract. Rodriguez provided value on the field. Park just gave the club a depleted bank account.
For me at least, this deal belongs in part of a time capsule in the self-image of the sabermetric community. I don’t think there was ever such a sense of knowing more or being the wave of the future as their was among the stat community back then. I remember discussions on the late, great Rob Neyer Message Board where we blasted this trade as an obviously bad one. We knew about park factors and Voros McCracken, but apparently the Rangers didn’t.
Looking back, this was the same off-season Billy Beane put the Moneyball A’s together, signing Chad Bradford, Scott Hatteberg and players like that. While the book and movie oversimplify things in telling their story of stats vs. scouts, there was a definite sense a decade ago of stat mavens having the edge. That sense hasn’t gone away, but it isn’t as strong since the A’s fell into irrelevance and “stats vs. scouts” has become “stats and scouts.”
Aside from that, today many other events celebrate their anniversary or “day-versary” (which is an event occurring X-thousand days ago). Here they are, with the better ones in bold if you prefer to skim the list:
1,000 days since the Indians turn double plays in six consecutive innings.
2,000 days since the Indians trade Ben Broussard and cash to the Mariners.
6,000 days since Will Clark bops his 200th home run.
6,000 days since the Twins retire Kent Hrbek’s number.
6,000 days since Cal Ripken has his worst game ever according to WPA. He posts a WPA of –0.510.
7,000 days since the Rockies sign free agent Andres Galarraga.
9,000 days since Dave Winfield mashes the 10,000th home run in Yankee franchise history. (This includes the 1901-02 Baltimore years, as that is part of franchise history).
10,000 days since Dale Murphy gets his 1,000th hit.
1870 Jimmy Collins, Hall of Famer third baseman, is born.
1890 Samuel Gompers, American’s top labor leader, and three other labor bosses pledge their support to the new Players League.
1904 Brooklyn purchases Bill Bergen, the worst-hitting position player ever, from Cincinnati.
1910 Dizzy Dean is born.
1913 The White Sox purchase outfielder Davy Jones from the Tigers $2,500.
1916 Charles Weegham buys the Cubs from Charles B. Taft. The Wrigley family becomes a minority shareholder.
1936 Brooklyn signs free agent and future (ill-deserving) Hall of Famer Freddie Lindstrom.
1957 Steve “Bye-Bye” Balboni, first baseman, is born.
1964 American League owners vote down Charles O. Finley’s plan to move the A’s from Kansas City to Louisville by a 9-1 vote. They tell him to sign a lease in KC or surrender his team.
1966 Black Jack McDowell is born.
1970 Ron Villone is born.
1975 Minnesota releases Harmon Killebrew.
1977 Baby Doll Jacobson, 1920s Browns outfielder, dies.
1980 Albert Pujols, Angels first baseman, is born.
1996 MLB executive council approves of interleague play for the 1997 season.
2001 Anaheim signs free agent Jose Canseco.
2002 The Mets sign free agent pitcher Pedro Astacio.
2003 Baseball honchos establish a new minimum age for batboys, 14 year old. This is caused by the near run-over of young Giants batboy Darren Baker in the 2002 World Series.
2003 Baseball owners vote unanimously that the All-Star Game will determine home-field advantage in the World Series.