The Jay Ballers
of the World
History of Ballplayers Named Jay,
Part I: Pitchers
Six and a half
years ago, when I first got hooked up to the Internet and made my own home page
(thankfully long gone), another man sharing the name Jay Jaffe emailed me. "Who
are you and why are you using my name?" asked an indignant Jay M. Jaffe, who turned
out to be, by his own description, "the (reasonably successful) 52 year old head
of a marketing consulting firm in Washington D.C." Since then, I've discovered
that I have even more company in the Jay
Jaffe club. But if my thirty-two years on this earth have convinced me of
one thing, it's that I'm the REAL Jay (Steven) Jaffe. At least on this website.
Growing up, I didn't
know anybody else who shared my first name, a circumstance which produced feelings
of uniqueness (at best) and loneliness (at worst; I was a bit envious of boys
with more popular names). The only ballplayers I knew of with the name Jay were
Jay Johnstone, a flaky pinch-hitter who became a minor celebrity author ("writing"
two books) thanks to a pinch-hit home run in the 1981 World Series for the L.A.
Dodgers, and Jay Peters, a AAA outfielder in the Angels chain who played at Salt
Lake City in the late '70s and led the league in sweatbands, and whose career
was never the same after a mid-season broken leg.
Today, I'm much
more secure with my name. I once worked at a company in which I was one of three
Jays, and I now have several Jays to look to on the ballfield (and no, I've never
felt any special love for the Toronto Blue Jays). In fact, it turns out that the
name Jay is more popular than ever among big-league ballplayers. Six Jays played
in the majors last season (Bell, Buhner, Gibbons, Payton, Powell, and Witasick),
and four played in 2000 and couldn't have strayed too far from the show (Canizaro,
Ryan, Spurgeon, and Tessmer). With the help of Baseball-Reference.com,
I pulled out a list of all of my ballplaying namesakes. As somebody who enjoys
hustling out even my flakiest digressions as if they were sharp liners off the
wall, I now share my study with you. Of the 38 ballplayers who've gone by the
first name (throwing out Joey Jay and Jayhawk Owens--both offered up by the BR
search enginefor obvious reasons), half of them have played during my 31-year
lifespan. But they go as far back as Jay Pike (1877).
In some cases,
my research didn't go much further than the Internet would take me. But thanks
to the wonders of Baseball-Reference,
Baseball Library and other sites around the web, I've managed to compile capsule
histories of each of the 38 ballplayers who share my first name (even if it was
actually their nickname). Even with those limited resources,
I was able to find out a fair amount about these Jays. What strikes me in examining
this cross-section of ballplayers is how brief some of their major-league careers
were (13 of the 38 played less than 10 games). A poignant theme seems to run through
the tales of these menfull of promise and auspicious beginnings (two Jays,
Bell and Gainer, homered on their first big-league pitch), occasionally scaling
the peaks of glory (Bell scored the winning run in Game 7 of the 2001 World Series,
Powell garnered the win in Game 7 of the 1997 Series), more often than not finding
their dreams dashed all too early, yet some of them willing
to go to the ends of the earth to stay in the game they lovedJapan, Mexico,
Taiwan, Italy, Thunder Bayor to keep alive a faint hope of making it back
to the Show.
Rather than risk
lulling you to sleep, I've split this into two piecesthe pitchers here,
and the hitters in a piece to follow. At the bottom of the page are career stats
for these pitchers, courtesy of Sean Forman at baseball-reference.com. Clicking
on the player's name takes you to his page at BR.
One more thing:
since my name isn't going to change anytime soon, this is an ongoing project which
I will update from time to time. If any of you out there have information about
any of these ballplayers which you'd like to share for this article, please email
me at email@example.com.
Currently tied for 62nd place on the Milwaukee Brewers' all-time list for saves,
only 132 behind Dan Plesac.
Real name James Epherium Avrea. Nearly 30 years old when he debuted. Had almost
nothing to do with the Cincinnati Reds 66-87 record in 1950.
On December 9, 1982, Baller was one of five Phillies (Manny Trillo, Julio Franco,
George Vuckovich, and Jerry Willard were the others) sent to Cleveland in a controversial
deal for Von Hayes. After his major league days were over, he served a bitter
stint in the Mexican League and then headed for Japan, where he was a teammate
of Ichiro Suzuki on the Orix Blue Wave in 1994.
This one's a chiller. Signed by the Houston Colt .45s in June of 1963, at the
tender age of 17, Dahl showed promise with a 5-1 record and a 1.42 ERA at Moultrie
of the Georgia-Florida League. So much promise that Dahl got called up, and was
the starting pitcher for the Colt .45s when they fielded the first all-rookie
nine in baseball history on September 27, 1963. The rookies, who included Joe
Morgan, Rusty Staub, and Jerry Grote, got pounded by the New York Mets 10-3, and
Dahl, knocked out in the third inning, took the loss. Unable to pitch in 1964
due to a back injury, he played in eleven games as an outfielder with Statesville
in the Western Carolinas League. Returning to the Western Carolinas League in
1965, this time with Salisbury, he had regained his pitching form with a 5-0 record.
The day after he won his fifth game game, he was killed in an auto accident which
killed another passenger and blinded a teammate of his. He was 19 years old. There's
on The Astros Daily website.
Real name John William Franklin. The overall #2 pick by the San Diego Padres in
the June 1971 draft, Franklin was chosen before players such as Jim Rice, Frank
Tanana, George Brett, Ron Guidry, Mike Schmidt and Keith Hernandez. Called up
to the show in September, in his only start he gave up career home run #638 to
Hank Aaron. Young pitching will break your heart.
Real name Jehosie Heard. A Negro League veteran, he played for the 1948 Birmingham
Black Barons of the Negro American League, where he was a teammate of a rookie
named Willie Mays. The Black Barons won the final Negro League World Series that
year, as the Negro National League folded following the season. He only appeared
in two games, but Heard was the first black player for the Baltimore Oriolesthough
the franchise had fielded black players while it was based in St. Louis.
A bonus baby signed in 1957 by the Reds out of Northwestern (where he was an engineering
student), Hook struggled in parts of five seasons with Cincinnatihis best
was an 11-18, 4.50 ERA campaign in 1960. Cutting their losses, the Reds exposed
him in the 1962 expansion draft, and he was selected by the New York Mets. He
didn't do horribly, given the historically dismal circumstances; he recorded the
franchise's first victory (after they'd lost their first nine games), and as their
number three starter behind Roger Craig and Al Jackson, went 8-19 with a 4.84
ERA. That performance was actually 1.5 wins above what the Mets could have been
expected to win without him in the same number of decisions.
Hook's renown with
the Mets came when he wrote an article for Sport Magazine about why a curveball
curves. The joke, of course, was that "he had a hard time getting the message
though to his arm," as the authors of the Great American Baseball Card Flipping,
Trading, and Bubblegum Book put it. Casey Stengel called him "the smartest
pitcher in the world until he goes to the mound." Hook folded up his slide rule
and went home after a 4-14 campaign and then a batting-practice-esque three appearances
in 1964. He received his Masters degree in thermodynamics from Northwestern and
took a job with Chrysler, later returning to his alma mater as a visiting professor
and a board member of their engineering school. The Old Professer would have been
The most famous, or infamous, of all the Jay pitchers, Howell became the Dodgers
closer in 1988 after bouncing around to varying degrees of success with the Reds,
the Cubs, the Yankees, and the A's. Up to that point, his two big claims to fame
were losing the 1987 All-Star Game and being involved in one of the decade's biggest
trades, when Rickey Henderson, another player and cash were sent from the A's
to the Yankees for Jose Rijo, Stan Javier, Tim Birtses, Eric Plunk and himself.
Though he did well in Oakland, a season-ending injury opened the door for converted
starter Dennis Eckersley to try his hand at closing. Having lost his job, Howell
was traded to the Dodgers with Alfredo Griffin for Bob Welch and Matt Young in
As the Dodgers'
closer, Howell finished the 1988 season on a hot streak, going the last seven
weeks of the season without allowing a run as the Dodgers took the NL West. He
achieved his notoriety with a trying postseason. In Game 1 of the NLCS against
the Mets, both his and fellow Dodger pitcher Orel Hershiser's scoreless streaks
were brokenthey surrendered three runs in the ninth inning, and Howell took
the loss. In his next appearance, in a rainy Game 3, he was ejected for illegally
having pine tar on his glove. The National League suspended him for three games,
though the penalty was reduced to two on appeal. Howell's absence triggered one
of my all-time favorite baseball memories, as Orel Hershiser, who'd pitched seven
innings in defeat the night before, came out of the bullpen in the 12th inningof
Game 5 to shut down the Mets with the bases loaded. After the Dodgers made it
into the World Series, Howell surrendered a game-winning homer to the A's Mark
McGwire in Game 3, but saved Game 4 the next night. He spent another four years
with the Dodgers, three as their closer before losing his job to Roger McDowell,
and bounced from Atlanta to Texas before retiring in 1994.
Real name James Jay Hughes. Broke in with a great Orioles team in 1898 featuring
Wilbert Robinson, John McGraw, Hughie Jennings, Willie Keeler, and Joe Kelley,
going 23-12 with a 3.20 ERA as their second-best starter. He pitched a no-hitter
on April 22, 1898 (another no-hitter, by Cincinnati's Ted Breitenstein, was thrown
the same day, marking the first time that happened). Hughes was transferred to
the Brooklyn Superbas for 1899; the Orioles and Superbas were both owned by the
same people. Jennings, Keeler, and several other key Orioles were transferred,
including manager Ned Hanlon, who had an ownership stake. The owners wanted to
transfer McGraw and Robinson as well, but they refused to leave due to their business
interests and family in Baltimore. In Brooklyn, Hughes was the National League's
second-best pitcher behind Hall of Famer Vic Willis in 1899. He led the circuit
with 28 wins (against 6 losses) and an .824 winning percentage, and posted the
5th best ERA. He had two more respectable seasons, then disappeared from the game.
Fell from a train and fractured his skull, dead at 50.
Faced only three batters in his single major league game, walking two and plunking
one; sources differ as to whether or not the runs scored (CNNSI,
Baseball Almanac and my old MacMillan Baseball Encyclopedia say yes,
baseball-reference says no; I've gone with the majority opinon and altered the
stats in the table below). Bad pitching ran in the family; his older brother Doc's
final game, in 1901, was an eight-inning, 26-hitter in which he allowed 21 runs
(14 earned), walking two and striking out none. The 26 hits and 21 runs allowed
still stand as National League records. Ouch.
Given four starts in September for a mediocre Twins team in 1983, Pettibone ran
the table, going 0-4. His first
start was a heartbreaker. Holding the Kansas City Royals to a 1-1 tie into
the ninth, he got two outs, then allowed a single to Hal McRae and a 2-run homer
to Willie Aikens. Amazingly enough, two starts later, Pettibone was victimized
again by the same hitter! Aikens broke a 1-1 tie with a solo homer in the seventh.
Two batters later, John Wathan hit an inside-the-park homer. Aikens was nowhere
near Pettibone's other two losses, neither of which was quite so cruel. Pettibone
later turned up to audition as a replacement player for the California Angels
during the spring of 1995. According to this
article, he was working at the time as a special agent for the U.S. Treasury
Department. I wonder what the hell that entails.
Very solid middle reliever. A mainstay of the Florida Marlins bullpen during their
1997 championship season, he appeared in 74 games with a 7-2, 3.28 ERA performance.
He capped it all by being the winning pitcher in Game 7. When the Marlins were
imploded at the behest of scumbag owner Wayne Huizenga, he was traded to Houston.
He's had some solid seasons since then, last year appearing in 74 games split
between Houston and Colorado (his 3.24 ERA in those two pitching hellholes translates
to a 150 ERA+ for the year, thank you very much). He cashed in with a 3-year,
$9 million deal with the Rangers this winter. Greaaaaat, another pitchers' paradise.
Breaking in with the Red Sox in 1964, he was a useful reliever for a couple of
seasons before being traded to the Braves for a pair of skisBob Sadowski
and Dan Osinski (Lee Thomas was actually the main Boston player in the deal).
Over a four-game stretch in 1967, he retired 28 straight batters, or one more
than a perfect game. Traded to the Reds the next season, he was much less successful.
According to a friend of his, he's now a successful automobile salesman in his
hometown of Salisbury, North Carolina.
Back when I lived in Providence, Rhode Island, I entertained visions of a freelance
writing career focused on music. In my first (and only) paid article, I profiled
a Providence band called Six
Finger Satellite for Option magazine. Six Finger Satellite's lead singer
was named J. Ryan (short for Jeremiah); he stood 6-foot-7 and could really scream
over a wall of guitars and Moog synthesizers. But he was a nice guy, otherwise.
I'm sure this Jay Ryan (real name Jason Paul Ryan) is a real nice guy too, but
he can't pitch for shit. In 66.2 big league innings, he's allowed 17 homers, or
one every 3.9 innings. Spent last year at the AAA level split between Nashville
(Pirates affiliate) and Las Vegas (Dodgers affiliate) compiling a 3- 8 record
with a 6.42 ERA. He might want to consider a singing career instead.
After pitching well enough to win the Jim Palmer Prize as the Orioles Minor League
Pitcher of the Year, he got a taste with the Orioles in 2000. Following two relief
appearances, he won his first start, pitching seven strong innings against Tampa
Bay. He started the 2001 season at Rochester, where he was only marginal (3-5,
4.55 ERA in 15 starts). The decimated Orioles called him up for a week but he
didn't get into a game. Returning to the minors, he dislocated his non-throwing
shoulder fielding a bunt and required surgery, shelving him for the season.
Postcards from the It's All Downhill From Here department. Debuted with the 1998
Yankees in late August, he nabbed an extra-inning win against the Angels. With
the division long sewn up, he got into six more ballgames and pitched reasonably
well. Or at least well enough to distinguish him from the immortal likes of Mike
Buddie, Mike Jerzembek, Ryan Bradley, Joe Borowski, and Jim Bruskein my
mind at least. He spent the next two seasons with a stranglehold on the closer's
job... in Columbus. Though he led the International League with 28 saves in '99
and racked up 34 in in 2000, he didn't fare well in his limited tastes of the
Bronx. Sporting a career 7.77 ERA, the Yankees shipped him to Colorado, not exactly
the place to fix that kind of thing. Failing to crack the Rockies' roster in the
spring of 2001, he was shipped out to Colorado Springs, where he lit up things
to the tune of a 6.59 ERA (hey, it's the altitude) before being traded to the
Indianapolis Indians (the Milwaukee Brewers AAA affiliate). He settled down, winning
seven games and saving four, with a 2.79 ERA. But if he can't crack the measly
Brewers staff this year, things don't look good for our Jay.
Originally drafted by the Mets in 1980, he was traded to the Reds in 1984. As
a 22-year old rookie for the Cincinnati Reds, he went 6-2 in 14 starts and impressed
enough to earn spot in the team's '85 rotation. But he went 10-16 with a 3.92
ERA and was shipped off to the Expos. Two seasons of proving himself a below-average
starter north of the border, he was sent to Baltimore in 1988. Starting the season
in the minors, he had nothing to do with their 21-game losing streak to open the
season, but he made up for his tardiness by posting 15 losses for a team that
posted 107 overall. He did help in their turnaround the next season, winning once
in late May and four times in June. But he seems to have dropped off the face
of the earth for the rest of the season, following his next start. He'd lost the
magic when he resurfaced the next season, going 2-7 before being traded one final
time, to Pittsburgh. His 16 losses remained a low-water mark of sorts for the
Reds until Steve Parris lost 17 in 2000. 'Tis sweet to be remembered, as Flatt
& Scruggs once sang.
Real name Gerald Alfonse Witasick. Last summer, for one brief and shining half-season
in San Diego, he performed as if he were not just a servicable middle reliever,
but an unhittable one. This was in direct contradiction to the three years he
spent trying to crack the A's staff and two years posting high-5 ERAs for the
Royals. San Diego cashed him in before the bubble burst, liberating touted (but
somewhat damaged) prospect D'Angelo Jiminez from the Yankees. He quickly reverted
to form in the Bronx, and assured his departure by allowing eight runs in 1.1
innings in relief of Andy Pettitte in a nightmarish Game 6 of the World Series.
All told, he did post a 3.30 ERA in 79 innings in 2001, striking out 106. The
Yanks managed to get something useful in exchange for Gerry over the winter, trading
him to San Francisco for John Van Der Waal. A couple boxes of baseballs would
have been fine, really.