Birthdays by the Bunches

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This is John-William Greenbaum pinch-hitting for Don Wardlow and also freezing my behind off here in Bloomington, Indiana! In today’s baseball news, the Pittsburgh Pirates have signed the inexplicably wild, once promising right-hander Daniel Bard to a Minor League contract. He used to be a brilliant set-up man for the Boston Red Sox, but was removed for his control problems. Injuries likely contributed to these, and as the injuries worsened, so did the control problems. Finally, Bard was diagnosed with career-threatening Thoracic Outlet Syndrome (TOS), although he finally has had it taken care of. To give you an idea of what untreated TOS is like, J.R. Richard had the condition and it led to his near-fatal stroke.

The St. Louis Cardinals are expected to sign South Korean relief pitcher Seung-hwan Oh. Oh, a right-hander, is perhaps the most celebrated closer in the history of the Korean Baseball Organization. He throws three pitches and relies heavily on changing speeds: a mid-90s four-seam fastball, a hard slider, and a slow curve thrown with the same arm motion as the hard slider.

There are a number of notable baseball birthdays today. Left-handed-hitting outfielder Elmer Flick was born on this day in 1876. Coming up with the 1898 Philadelphia Phillies, he led the NL in RBI in 1900. In 1902, however, he jumped to the American League’s Philadelphia Athletics, and was shortly thereafter granted free agency. He signed with a team called the Cleveland Bronchos; they were renamed the Naps after manager Nap Lajoie in 1903. Manning right field, Flick was one of the best outfielders in the American League from 1902 through 1907. After winning the 1905 batting title, he led the AL in runs scored, triples, and stolen bases in 1906. In 1907, the Detroit Tigers offered to trade a young outfielder named Ty Cobb for Flick. The Naps said no, to their everlasting regret. While Cobb would become one of the finest outfielders in baseball history, Flick’s career would be derailed by injuries in 1908. Elmer died two days shy of his 95th birthday in 1971, but did live to see himself inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1963.

Schoolboy Rowe has a birthday today. Called up by the Detroit Tigers at the age of 23 in 1933, Rowe apparently looked a lot younger than he really was, hence the nickname. But in 1934, he went 24-8 with a 3.45 ERA; excellent for one of the most hitter-friendly eras in history. After the gangly right-hander made the AL All-Star team in 1935 and 1936, he nwas stricken by a number of injuries, though Detroit doggedly stuck with him, getting one excellent season out of him in 1940 when he went 16-3. Injured again in 1941, he split the 1942 season with Detroit and Brooklyn, pitching effectively with neither team. In 1943, however, he rebounded with the Philadelphia Phillies. After missing 1944 and 1945 due to military service, Schoolboy had three solid seasons with Philadelphia from 1946 through 1948 (even making the NL All-Star Team in 1947) before finally retiring after a rough season in 1949. He worked rather extensively as a pitching coach after his playing career was done.

Al Gardella has a birthday today. If the last name sounds familiar, he was the brother of legendary Mexican League jumper and Reserve Clause challenger Danny Gardella. As a Major Leaguer, Al played in just 16 games for the 1945 New York Giants, going 2-for-26, but also scoring two runs and getting a solitary RBI. However, Al Gardella was better-remembered as a power-hitter whom the Detroit Tigers hoped would one day supplant Hank Greenberg in the outfield. However, Gardella’s prodigious power began declining around 1943, a season he split between the Red Sox and Phillies organizations. After missing all of 1944, Gardella was signed by the New York Giants, he seemed to work well in a short trial in higher-classification baseball, and that’s how he got his career. By 1946, however, he was back in Class D ball, signing his contract directly with the Peekskill Highlanders of the North Atlantic League, a team only a few minutes from where he lived in Peekskill, NY. He stayed there until the franchise moved to Bangor, PA in 1950, after which he signed a Minor League contract with the Phillies. He’d served as a player-manager with Peekskill and Bangor alike, holding down the same job with Trois Rivieres of the Provinicial League in 1951 and Pulaski of the Appalachian League in 1952 and 1953 before finally hanging ’em up. He passed away in 2006.

Don Mossi turns eighty-seven years old today. Although the left-hander is often remembered today, unfortunately, for his unflattering looks, Mossi was a devastating opponent on the mound. He came up with the 1954 Cleveland Indians, and Joe Ginsberg told me that only one Indians left-hander that he caught–Herb Score–had a better fastball. A relief pitcher, Mossi would just throw fastball after fastball; he had a good slider, but didn’t use it much and was very much a thrower at that point. By 1956, however, Don had caught on, and was using that devastating fastball to set up either his slider or his excellent curveball. As a result, in 1957, he made his first and only AL All-Star Team. Acquired by the Detroit Tigers with Ray Narleski in 1959, Moss was converted into a starting pitcher and added a changeup to his already potent repertoire. Mossi was a dominating pitcher in his first three seasons with Detroit before having an off-year in 1962. Converted into a swingman in 1963, Mossi had a solid season, but was shipped off to the White Sox for cash. Pitching exclusively out of the bullpen, Mossi pitched extremely well, but was released anyway. “The Sphinx” finished his career in 1965 with the woeful Kansas City A’s, part of a surprisingly formidable bullpen that also included Jack Aker, Jim Dickson, and John Wyatt.

Jim McAndrew turns 72 today. A fine right-handed starter from Lost Nation, IA, McAndrew was the eleventh round pick of the Mets in the inaugural 1965 draft. He came up with the likes of Tom Seaver, Jerry Koosman, Gary Gentry, and Nolan Ryan, but unlike those guys, McAndrew was a soft-tossing sinkerballer, though he possessed one of the best curveballs on the pitching staff. McAndrew debuted in 1968, and in spite of a 4-7 record, put up a 2.28 ERA. Even with the ’69 World Championship team, McAndrew was unlucky, going 6-7 with a 3.47 ERA. In 1970, he went 10-14 with a 3.56 ERA. After a down year in 1971, he greatly improved in 1972, going 11-8 with a 2.80 ERA. However, in 1973, McAndrew injured his arm, curtailing his career. He finished off his career in 1974 with the San Diego Padres.

Dan Norman is 61 today. You may recall Dan Norman as being the rather strange choice of dealbreaker in the Tom Seaver-to-the-Reds trade. When the Mets learned that no way, no how were they getting Rawly Eastwick, they asked for another outfield prospect, in addition to Steve Henderson, to be thrown in. The Reds had drafted right-handed-hitting, right-handed-throwing outfielder Dan Norman in the 15th round of the 1974 draft and he was widely considered a “sleeper” prospect. He had excellent tools, but didn’t really know how to apply them. However, since the Mets couldn’t get Eastwick, they wanted to look like they were getting an elite prospect and informed the Reds that the deal would be contingent on the inclusion of Norman. The Reds, given that they were getting Tom Seaver in return, immediately caved to the Mets’ demands and threw in Norman. Debuting in the Major Leagues in 1977, Norman was never more than a fourth outfielder with the Mets during his tenure with them from 1977 through 1980. After hitting just .185 in 1980, Norman spent all of 1981 in the Minors–though he did regardless change organizations. In Mets Bad Trade #2, he was sent to the Montreal Expos for Ellis Valentine…and oh yes, the Mets also threw in a relief pitcher named Jeff Reardon. Norman played fifty-three ballgames with the 1982 Expos and hit .212, putting an end to his Major League career. He would later play in the Cubs, Tigers, and Orioles organizations before finishing his career off with the independent Miami Marlins in 1987.

Manny Acta is 47 years old. Signing with the 1987 Houston Astros as a right-handed-hitting third baseman, second baseman, and even first baseman, Acta showed tremendous promise in 1987 and 1988. However, repeated injuries in 1989 and 1990 derailed Acta’s promising career as a player; he never got past AA ball and was done after 1991. But Manny Acta stayed in baseball, first working in the Astros organization as a manager. In 2002, Acta got a job as Frank Robinson’s third base coach on the Montreal Expos, holding the position through 2005. In 2006, he was the third base coach for the New York Mets, and then managed the Washington Nationals from 2007 until part way through 2009, when he was fired. Acta was presiding over a pretty lousy Nationals team, though, and I always believed he was doing the best with what he had. He managed the faltering Cleveland Indians from 2010 to 2012, again not finishing the 2012 season, but again not really having a ballclub that could do very much. He’s currently the third base coach for the Seattle Mariners.

Rey Ordonez turns 45 today. One of my earliest memories of Rey Ordonez after he defected was Sparky Anderson commenting that “he’s the best defensive shortstop I’ve seen since Ray Oyler”. Well, the only problem with that was that former Industriales shortstop and Cuban defector Rey Ordonez had was that in addition to fielding like Ray Oyler, he also HIT like Ray Oyler. although he hit a marginally acceptable .257 in his first season with the Mets, Ordonez would only once match that mark over a full season, batting .258 in 1999. He really was a remarkable, fun-to-watch fielder, and I remember current Baltimore Orioles broadcaster Gary Thorne, then working with the Mets, coined the term “a Rey Ordonez inning” to describe any inning in which Rey Ordonez recorded either an assist or a putout. They were far more common than you’d might think! But in the Mets championship season in 2000, Ordonez’s hitting was so bad that Mets had to resort to using Melvin Mora and Kurt Abbott at short until the trade deadline. Abbott really wasn’t all that bad, but Mora was a butcher in the field. As such, Steve Phillips overpaid to replace him, acquiring impending free agent Mike Bordick from the Orioles for Mora, Mike Kinkade, Leslie Brea, and Pat Gorman. Ironically, he had a far better option: the Mets still owned the rights to Domingo Cedeno, on loan to the Mexican League and someone who was both hitting and who had an excellent Spring Training. But back to Rey Ordonez. “Rey-Rey” returned to the everyday role in 2001 and held it through 2002. The Mets traded him to the Tampa Bay Devil Rays for Russ Johnson and Josh Pressley in 2003, and while he did hit with Tampa Bay, he suddenly couldn’t field. After an unsuccessful comeback with the Padres, he managed to get into a few games with the 2004 Cubs before finally calling it quits in 2005. He attempted to make a comeback with the 2007 Mariners, but after he was assigned to AAA ball, he said he was too old for it, and retired once more.

Jermaine Allensworth turns 44 today. A first round pick of the 1993 draft out of Purdue by the Pirates, Allensworth was a right-handed-hitting, right-handed-throwing centerfielder. He was extremely athletic and received high marks for being a five-tool player. Called up in 1996, he was billed as the Pirates’ future leadoff man, but as his walk totals sank and his strikeout totals soared, it was clear that was at best a fourth outfielder. After getting off to his best start with the 1998 Pirates, he was shipped to the Kansas City Royals for Minor Leaguer Manuel Bernal. His batting average sank back down and he was traded to the Mets for cash in August of 1998. Allensworth struggled through 34 brutal games with the 1998 Mets, batting just .204. He returned in 1999, since the Mets believed it to be a fluke. However, Bobby Valentine and Steve Phillips disagreed over how to handle him. Valentine saw him mainly as a defensive replacement while Phillips saw him as a fourth outfielder. Quickly displaced by Benny Agbayani after hitting .219, he was shipped to the Boston Red Sox in the off-season for Jon Nunnally. Injured during his entire stay in Boston, he tried comebacks with the 2001 Tigers and 2002 Braves, but failed to make either ballclub. Regardless, he played independent league ball from 2004 to 2008.

Wonderful Terrific Monds–and yes, that is his real name!–is 43 today. The son of football player Wonder Monds, Wonderful Terrific Monds III got his name because the original bearer of the name came after his mother had thirteen or fourteen girls before finally having a boy, which Mr. Monds thought was “wonderful and terrific.” However, there was much more to him than his name. Although drafted in the fiftieth round of the 1993 draft by the Braves, Wonderful Terrific Monds proved his worth as a ballplayer, tearing up every level until he reached AA ball in 1996. That’s when he got injured, and Monds, a veritable lock to make the Majors, began declining precipitously. Injured again in 1997, he played with the Rockies organization in 1998, and all of a sudden, he was striking out an unusual amount of times. After the Reds got him in 1999, Monds played one final, injury-riddled season before retiring.

Maikel Folch is 36. You may remember him from the World Baseball Classic on Cuba’s roster in 2006. Folch was a left-hander who threw all kinds of junk, including what I sincerely believe to be doctored baseballs. Back in Cuba, in the Serie Nacional, he pitched with Ciego de Avila, debuting in 2001-02 and then struggling from then until the 2005-06 season, when he came out of nowhere to go 11-0 with a 2.43 ERA as one of Cuba’s best pitchers. He continued as an elite pitcher through the 2009-10 season, but then began struggling with arm troubles in 2010-11. After abbreviated seasons in 2011-12 and 2012-13, he finally retired. I believe his pitch arsenal to have included a 90 mph four-seam fastball, a two-seam fastball, a cut fastball, a sinking changeup, a circle changeup, a screwball, at least two different curveballs, a slider, and a slurve. And yes, he doctored some of those pitches, especially the sinking changeup. I am convinced of that and you cannot change my mind.

Frank Montieth is 29. Another Cuban pitcher you may recall from the World Baseball Classic, Frank Montieth is a right-hander who comes right at you. He has a four-seam fastball capable of touching 95 mph, a good hard slider, and an acceptable curve, though he’s always lacked a change of pace. He’s likewise lacked very much endurance. See, in Cuba, pitchers still often get to pitch complete games. It’s just the nature of baseball there. In the 2005-06 season–and he came in the 2003-04 season–Montieth had a career-high five complete games. In all of his other seasons combined, and he still is pitching, he has a total of six complete games. Spending his entire career with Industriales, the rap on Montieth is that he gets winded easily and just does not have much stamina at all. Indeed, in his first two seasons in 2003-04 and 2004-05, he was a relief pitcher and in 2009-10, he likewise worked exclusively out of the Industriales bullpen. He’s since gone back to starting, but has never shaken the reputation of being a pitcher who tires too quickly, pitching over 100 innings just once down there.

I hope you enjoyed all of those birthdays, and hope you enjoyed my pinch-hitting appearance!

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