Happy Birthday to Me, Rickey Henderson, and 64 Other Ballplayers

December 25 marks a holiday for most of this country and probably, for most of my readership–if so, my sincere wishes for a happy holiday to you. For me the day is somewhat more paradoxical: I’m Jewish and thus don’t celebrate Christmas, which is fine by me because I’m none too fond of that red and green color scheme. It also happens to be my birthday, number 32 to be exact.

I’ll spare you the tales about how this combination of circumstances influenced my psyche while growing up (long story short: people forgetting birthday bad, never having to work or go to school on birthday good) and, as usual, move onto the baseball angle in all of this. Baseball-reference.com lists 65 players as being born on December 25, including Hall-of-Famers Pud Galvin and Nellie Fox, and future Hall-of-Famer Rickey Henderson. Henderson is undoubtedly the best major-leaguer born on this day, but then again, he’d be the best major-leaguer born on any one of over three hundred other days, too.

Given that there are 253 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, though they don’t really have a closer.

Pos  Name (Years)                 AVG   OBP   SLG   HR

C Quincy Trouppe (1952) .100 .182 .100 0
1B Walter Holke (1914-1925) .287 .318 .363 24
2B Nellie Fox (1947-1965) .288 .348 .363 35
3B Gene Robertson (1919-1930) .280 .344 .373 20
SS Manny Trillo (1973-1989) .263 .316 .345 61
LF Jo-Jo Moore (1930-1941) .298 .344 .408 79
CF Rickey Henderson (1979-) .280 .402 .420 290
RF Ben Chapman (1930-1946) .302 .383 .440 90

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 (1999-2001) 5 0 0 3.68
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’s now a coach with the Chicago White Sox.

* 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’s spent several years as a pitching coach, and I believe was recently hired somewhere.

One more thing I discovered: 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. You learn something new every day, even on your birthday…

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