Given that there are 256 members of the Hall of Fame (including executives), having two or three HOFers born on any single date is an above-average representation. Still, having spent some time looking over the resumes of the 65 ballplayers with December 25 birthdays, I can't make any claims for the All Xmas Team I've assembled. They're exceedingly long on futility infielders and backup catchers, short on outfielders, first basemen, and power hitters in general. Their pitching is pretty solid -- a front three of Pud, Ned, and Ted -- though they don't really have a closer.
C Gene Lamont (1970-1975) .233 .278 .371 4
IF Tom O'Malley (1982-1990) .256 .329 .340 13
IF Joe Quinn (1884-1901) .261 .302 .327 29
IF Bill Akers (1929-1932) .261 .349 .404 11
OF Red Barnes (1927-1930) .269 .347 .404 8
OF Gerry Davis (1983-1985) .301 .370 .397 0
PH Wallace Johnson (1981-1990) .255 .316 .332 5
Pos Name (Years) W L S ERA
SP Pud Galvin (1875-1892) 364 310 2 2.86
SP Ned Garver (1948-1961) 129 157 12 3.73
SP Ted Lewis (1896-1901) 94 64 4 3.53
SP Charlie Lea (1980-1988) 62 48 0 3.54
SP George Haddock (1888-1894) 95 87 2 4.07
RP Al Jackson (1959-1969) 67 99 10 3.98
RP Lloyd Brown (1928-1940) 91 105 21 4.20
RP Eric Hiljus (1999-2002) 8 3 0 4.72
RP Charlie Beamon (1956-1958) 3 3 0 3.91
CL Jack Hamilton (1962-1969) 32 40 20 4.53
A few words about the selections:
* Quincy Trouppe spent twenty-two years in the Negro Leagues before receiving a 10-at-bat cup of coffee with the Cleveland Indians in 1952, at age 39. He was a fine player in his day, making All-Star teams everywhere he went and accumulating a lifetime Negro League Average of .311. He also won a Negro League championship as player-manager of the Cleveland Buckeyes. Bill James rates him the #7 catcher of the Negro Leagues in the New Historical Baseball Abstract. One more interesting note about him: during the height of World War II, he had trouble securing a passport to play in the Mexican League. The league's president intervened, and made arrangements for Trouppe's services in exchange for those of 80,000 Mexican workers. You could look it up.
* Manny Trillo played most of his career as a second baseman, and a slick-fielding one at that, winning three Gold Gloves and setting a record for consecutive errorless games. But Nellie Fox also won three Gold Gloves at 2B, so I took the liberty of moving Trillo to SS (where he had limited experience). I'm sure he and Nellie would have made a fine double-play combo. Trillo is the only Christmas-born ballplayer whose real name is Jesus.
* Jo-Jo Moore and Ben Chapman both crack Bill James' Top 100 lists by postion. Moore ranks 77th among LFs, Chapman 55th among CFs (I put him in right because he played a good portion of his career there). Chapman was, by all accounts, an aggressive ballplayer who fought a lot. He stole as many as 61 bases, and had some power as well. He later managed the Philadelphia Phillies for parts of four seasons and is most noted for baiting the rookie Jackie Robinson with racial epithets. Schmuck. We'll let Trouppe manage this squad, just to rub it in Chapman's face.
* Red Barnes -- don't you love that name? Gerry Davis did pretty well in 73 ABs for the Padres, but missed out on their glory year of 1984. There's now an umpire with the same name, but I can't figure out if its the same guy.
* Wallace Johnson was a pretty good pinch-hitter whose claim to fame was the hit that put the Montreal Expos in their first (and only) postseason in 1981. He spent five years as the third-base coach with the Chicago White Sox but was fired after the 2002 season. At last notice, he had plans to run for a city council position in Gary, Indiana, the murder capital of the U.S. Fun.
* Three of the pitchers on this team made their names in the 19th century, when pitching and pitching stats were much different. Galvin had back-to-back 46-win seasons in 1883 and 1884, making over 70 starts each year. He won 20 games or more ten times, and lost 20 games or more 10 times as well. George Haddock went from 9-26 in 1890 for Buffalo of the Players League to 34-11 with Boston of the American Association the following year. Ted Lewis won 47 games over two seasons for the Boston Beaneaters in 1896-1897.
* Ned Garver was a hard-luck pitcher who managed to go 20-12 for a St. Louis Browns team that went 52-102 in 1951. This performance so impressed MVP voters in the AL that he finished second to Yogi Berra.
* Speaking of pitching for lousy teams... at 8-20 with a 4.40 ERA, Al Jackson could have easily been mistaken for the ace of the 1962 Mets (though Roger Craig had an equal claim). Jackson managed to lose 88 games in a 5-year span, four of those with the Mets. He had a long career as a pitching coach (Red Sox, Orioles, Mets) and is now a roving instructor within the organization where he gained his fame (or infamy).
* A couple of others have claims of infamy. Pitcher Jack Hamilton is best known for hitting Tony Conigliaro in the face with a pitch in 1967, one of the most severe beanings in the annals of baseball. Hamilton's only major league homer was a grand slam off of the aforementioned Al Jackson. Morrie Rath (who didn't make the cut here), a second baseman with a career 254/.342/.285 line, was hit by a pitch from Chicago Black Sox hurler Ed Cicotte to open the 1919 World Series. The message of this purpose pitch: the fix was in.
* So far as I can tell, there's at least one Jewish ballplayer with a December 25 birthday. Alta Cohen played in 29 games from 1931-1933 for the Brooklyn Dodgers and the Philadelphia Phillies. In his first game he got two hits in a single inning when the Boston Braves failed to notice that he batted out of turn. He spent the rest of his career paying for his sins: .194/.289/.224.
* The first Christmas-born ballplayer, Nat Jewett (who I'm guessing didn't celebrate either), was a member of the 1872 Brooklyn Eckfords of the National Association, who went 3-26 for the season. Sweeeet.
* Rickey Henderson was the only Christmas-born ballplayer to appear in the majors in 2003. After starting the season at Newark of the independent Atlantic League (where he hit .339/.493/.591 in 56 games), the Dodgers finally picked up the phone in mid-July. Rickey got off to a flying start, hitting two homers in his first four games, but thereafter went 10-for-58 with one measly double and finished at .208/.321/.306. Oh mama, can this really be the end?
* Erik Hiljus spent time in the bigs from 1998-2002, most notably going 5-0 with a 3.41 ERA in 2001. But poor control and the Oakland A's pitching depth have apparently doomed him. He spent all of 2003 at the A's AAA club in Sacramento, going 11-10 with a 4.69 ERA in 174.2 innings.
* Only two other Christmas-born ballplayers who have appeared in the majors are still active in organized ball. The first is outfielder Tarrik Brock, who went 2-for-12 in his cup of coffee with the 2000 Cubs. Brock, a veteran of thirteen professional seasons, spent 2003 in the Dodger organization, mostly with the Jacksonville Suns of the AA Southern League, where he hit .272/.386/.495 in 98 games. The second is outfielder Scott Bullett, 35, who hit .233/.283/.356 in 247 games from 1991-1996, mostly with the Cubs. Bullett played in the Mexican League in 2003, splitting the season between the Reynosa Broncos and the Monterrey Sultanes, and hitting .323/.409/.495.
Rickey, Nellie, Manny, Quincy, and all of my fellow December 25-born mates -- happy birthday, guys!
Because its status has changed as often as the weather, and because of some sage wisdom I once received from a pinstriped leadoff hitter with the worst throwing arm I'd ever seen, I long ago resolved not to sweat the potential Alex Rodriguez-Manny Ramirez trade. The mainstream media have turned the potential Red Sox-Rangers trade into a red-ball requiring round-the-clock coverage, calling this the Deal of the Century and the Trade of the Millenium and pumping clichés along the lines of "the Hot Stove has never been hotter" until the cows have keeled over in the pasture. This soap opera has been going on for over six weeks, and if we're to believe reports, the deal is finally dead because yet another artificially imposed deadline set by a desperate billionaire has passed.
My recent experience at the Winter Meetings in New Orleans, where conflicting reports about the deal's status swirled around the Marriott lobby like twin tornadoes, only strengthened my resolve not to worry about this trade. At one point I overheard Peter Gammons and Jayson Stark talking about it to a third party and though my rabbit-ears briefly buzzed, I walked right past. I spent three days perfectly happy to listen to somebody -- anybody -- tell me that the Devil Rays were about to sign Jose Cruz, Jr. or speculate whether Scott Spiezio or J.T. Snow would make a better first base foil for Jason Giambi, rather than listen to one more report about the status of the A-Rod deal. As my mother is prone to say, "D.I.L.I.G.A.S.?" – Do I Look Like I Give A Shit?
The Yankee fan in me is supposed to be cowering in fear over this deal, which would bring the AL MVP to the heart of the Red Sox batting order, where he could feast on Yankee pitching 19 games a year. Oh. Having died about two dozen small deaths in October, one for every time the Yank hurlers had to run the Nomar-Manny-David Ortiz gauntlet, I'm decidedly unfazed by that possibility.
On the other hand, the East Coast sophisticate in me is supposed to be elated that yet one more great player would be inducted into our midst, arriving in a division most accurately referred to as the AL Beast. I didn't know we were in a hip-hop war with the West Coast; somebody please bust a cap in Billy Beane’s ass for me, and tell that bitch Bill Bavasi what time it is.
The Dodger fan in me is supposed to be elated at the possibility of this deal, because should A-Rod hit Beantown, the likely destination for Nomar Garciaparra is L.A. Yes, I’ll be bummed when Cesar Izturis and his .597 OPS are put out of a job, but I fully believe second baseman Alex Cora’s Incredible Vortex of Suck can do at least something to offset the 25 homers and 100 RBI which Nomah will provide to that offensive excuse the Dodgers have for an offense.
The baseball fan in me who has been shelling out hundreds of dollars a year and spending countless hours in front of the TV watching cranky millionaires play ball is supposed to be outraged -- OUTRAGED, I tell you -- that the players’ union stood in the way of this deal, demanding that A-Rod’s record-setting contract was adhered to. The pundit in me is supposed to be churning out thousands of words a week telling my readership why this deal is either going to destroy baseball or save it.
Kids, I'm over it. When the first rumors of the story broke, I took a long hard look in the mirror and said to myself, "Only when Alex Rodriguez is photographed wearing a Red Sox jersey am I going to get worked up about this." And I take great pride that, at least in this instance, I've been true to my resolve. I got more worked up over the Yanks re-signing futilityman Enrique Wilson to a one-year, $750,000 contract than I did over the thought of A-Rod in a B cap, perhaps on the theory that if I ignored it, the trade would just go away. My pal Nick and my blog-bud Alex Belth may have been losing sleep over the trade, or tearing their hair out in fist-sized chunks, but that's not me.
I’m not convinced that the deal is "dead," because I’ve seen too many horror movies where the protagonist wipes off his brow and says, "Whew, I'm glad that’s over!" moments before brain-eating radioactive zombies from Hell burst through the back door and wreak havoc all over again, eating the girlfriend, the loyal dog, and the plucky sidekick with the limp. See, I always find myself checking my watch in those situations, knowing that it’s too soon for the movie to be over. And since it’s not July 31 yet, I'm not buying the exaggerated reports of this deal’s demise.
But I'll say this. I've never been more depressed at the state of mainstream baseball coverage than I have been over this deal. The likes of Mike Lupica and Peter Gammons put forth shrill down-from-the-mountain pronouncements, pointing fingers at the big egos involved here -- players, agents, owners, union leaders -- without ever turning the mirror on themselves, and plenty of writers followed suit. This whole three-ring circus has been an exercise in their self-importance, these old hens leaking rumors to anyone within earshot in order to keep the attention focused on their au-thor-i-tah around the clock. Said hens feel obliged to tell A-Rod that he doesn't need those extra $12 million, or $30 million, or $80 million, or whatever it is because he’s already paid more than entire countries, most of which have no chance of finishing in the first division of the Third World. And while they're telling Rodriguez how much money he doesn't need, they might as well get off another shot or two at how greedy the entire Players Association is, and how evil Gene Orza is for protecting the interests of the constituency he's paid to protect. These writers have so much invested in covering this Deal of the Century that they're blaming anyone and everyone who stands in its way. So much for no jeering in the press box.
That's not to say that there hasn't been good coverage of the situation. Jack Curry of the New York Times has done a good job sticking to the facts, ESPN's Jim Caple weighed in with a unique angle on A-Rod trying to steal Nomar's job and another piece about the union's point of view, and the Baseball Prospectus guys -- particularly Joe Sheehan and Chaim Bloom -- have been batting... well, they've been putting up very high EQAs.
The other thing that chafes my ass about this whole non-deal is that, unlike some trades which are contingent on a contract extension and the two teams given 72 hours to hash out a deal, the Sox have had weeks to talk to A-Rod. Geez, Bud, tell us who's your real favorite in that Yankee-Red Sox rivalry.
I'll admit that I thoroughly enjoy the schadenfreude of watching the richest man in baseball toil in the obscurity of the AL West cellar, a prisoner of the contract he signed. I have plenty invested in preserving the fragile equilibrium of unhappiness in the Red Sox ranks, those one-named divas agitating for more respect as they prove how self-centered they are, and I'm hoping that Kevin Millar's Foot-in-Mouth-ectomy shows up on the Surgery Channel. Furthermore, I love to see a writer lashing out at Larry "Evil Empire" Lucchino, even if that writer is Tracy Ringolsby. So I’m happy that thus far this trade hasn't be consummated.
But if it does go down, whether tomorrow or in Spring Training or one minute before August 1 strikes, I've got no beef with Rodriguez or Hicks or Henry or Boras or Orza or any of the other principals involved for figuring out a way to do the deal that's within the rules. The union's gains which created those rules are hard-won, and for all the mess he's in, A-Rod’s money is well-earned -- on a marginal basis, he really is worth that extra dough. The only caveat to that deal is that I'm not going to read one more goddamned word about if I can help it. There are too many other pressing baseball issues -- such as Bert Blyleven's Hall of Fame candidacy, the amazing career of Chicken Stanley, and the secret lives of fungo hitters -- for me to give any more attention to this one.
Home for a week in Salt Lake City, my eye drifted to this SI.com article about former local minor league star Willie Mays Aikens, whose legend was made during my youth here. Born just following the 1954 World Series (not during, as the baseball cards claimed), Aikens was named by his delivering physician for the Giants superstar outfielder, who made a pretty fair catch that year. A first baseman, he was the California Angels’ #1 pick (#2 overall) in the January 1975 draft.
Despite being glacially slow and lousy on defense, the man could hit, and he rose quickly, reaching the Salt Lake Gulls, the Angels’ AAA affiliate, in 1977. He he hit .336 AVG/.435 OBP/.569 SLG with 14 homers in a half season and earned a promotion to the big club, where he hit only .198/.277/.242 in 101 plate appearances. He spent all of 1978 in SLC, hitting .326/.423/551 with 29 homers and 110 RBI, but stuck with the Angels in 1979, and was a regular on their AL West-winning squad. Sharing time at first base with Rod Carew and at DH with Don Baylor, he hit .280/.376/.493 with 21 homers. Inexplicably, he failed to receive a vote in the Rookie of the Year balloting, providing the general public with its only reason to remember John Castino. But as the first minor-leaguer I followed to make good in the bigs, he holds a special distinction in my eyes.
Aikens was traded to the Kansas City Royals in a five-player deal that December, and became the starting first baseman on a pennant-winning team. He hit .278/.356/.433 with 20 homers, his stats suffering due to overexposure to left-handed pitching (.694 OPS vs lefties, .899 vs righties). In the opening game of the World Series against the Philadelphia Phillies, he entered the national spotlight by slugging two home runs in a losing cause. He singled in the winning run in the 10th inning of Game Three, then matched his two-homer feat in Game Four, helping the Royals to even the Series at two games apiece and becoming the first player with two multi-homer games in the same World Series.
He had three more good seasons in KC, the best of which came in 1983, when -- limited to only 89 PA against lefties -- he hit .302/.373/.539 with 23 homers. But the headlines he earned that year weren’t so good. Aikens was one of four Royals, along with Vida Blue, Jerry Martin, and Willie Wilson, who were arrested for attempting to purchase cocaine, pled guilty, and drew three-month jail sentences as well as year-long suspensions from baseball by commissioner Bowie Kuhn. Those four thus earned the ignominious distinction of becoming the first active players to do time.
Days after being suspended, Aikens was traded to Toronto for Jorge Orta. His suspension was reduced, and he resumed his career with the Jays, but he was a disappointment, hitting only .205/.298/.376 in 1984. He got off to a similarly slow start in 1985 and was released in May, never playing in the bigs again. Ironically enough, he homered in his final big-league at-bat.
Aikens continued to play in the Mexican League, but his drug problems followed. By the early '90s, according to the SI article (written by Mike Fish), he was doing coke day and night, and his weight had ballooned to 300 pounds. He was busted again in 1994 for selling crack to an undercover female cop, and with his prior record and the presence of a shotgun in his squalid house, drew a sentence of 20 long years in the federal penitentiary in Atlanta.
Nine years into his sentence, Aikens has been trying to clear his name. He requested a presidential pardon and got former players and managers, including Hal McRae, Dusty Baker, and Jim Fregosi, to write on his behalf. But recently he learned that his request had been denied by President Bush. Still, Aikens’ case has made him something of a poster child for the flaws with mandatory sentencing. The crack distinction is crucial to his case. According to Fish:
Aikens ending up selling about 2.2 ounces to the undercover cop. But because of the tougher federal guidelines for crack, he was sentenced as if he had sold 15 pounds of powder cocaine. Plus, he got five years for using a firearm during commission of a crime.
Several sources, from SI writer Frank Deford to conservative columnist Debra Saunders, have noted that the crack was produced at the behest of the undercover cop, and had he not cooked up the rock, his sentence would have run out years ago.
Fish’s article tries to draw a comparison of Aikens to Darryl Strawberry and Lawrence Taylor, and while it's true his is a sadder tale than theirs -- seeing as how both of those men are free and still cashing in on their celebrity -- the small matter of a gun involved in his crime doesn't exactly help his cause. But there's no getting around the sorrow of this story, especially for somebody who remembers marvelling at his long home runs.