This annotated week in baseball history: Oct. 25-Oct. 31, 2009

Oct. 31 is Halloween, the day when people everywhere dress up and head out to trick-or-treat and maybe put a scare into their neighbors. Richard looks back at the men born on this day and what might scare them.

In just a few days it will be Halloween, a favorite holiday of those who love either candy or immodestly dressed young women. (Or both, I suppose. Those aren’t exactly mutually exclusive likes.) But Halloween isn’t just about collecting treats, it’s also about frights. In that spirit, this week we’ll look at a few players born this day, and what might scare them the most.

Mickey Rivers: English teachers

At his best, Rivers was a pretty good player. Though an excellent base stealer—a 75% success rate across more than 350 career attempts, including 70 steals in 1975—he was sometimes guilty of demonstrating that you can’t steal first base. Nonetheless, his .327 career OBP is actually a few ticks above league average, and combined with strong defense in center field, Rivers was an asset. He won two World Series while with the Yankees, hitting .308 during his time in the postseason.

What made Rivers most notable was his sometimes trouble with the English language; he was easily the most quotable Yankee since Yogi Berra. Among other things, Rivers said his team would “do all right if [they] can capitalize on [their] mistakes.” Speaking of his time with the Yankees, Rivers reported that he, George Steinbrenner and Billy Martin were “two of a kind.” Asked about his willingness to play multiple positions, Rivers indicated he might have to “commute.”

So whether English teachers or perhaps just the English language itself would be Rivers’ Halloween scare is up in the air, but clearly all are liable to be in Mick the Quick’s personal haunted house.

Steve Trachsel: A quick game

Most of you have probably seen Trachsel pitch, which means you spent a long day watching a baseball. Trachsel pitched slowly. Very, very slowly. While no official statistic tracks time between pitches, Trachsel tended to take each game like he was being paid by the hour. Among other Internet commentaries, Trachsel was derided as the new human rain delay (taking over from Mike Hargrove), “SLOWEST WORKER EVER” (caps in original), and Steve “Slow Hand” Trachsel.

Pictures of Trachsel wandering around thinking about this pitch could not be found (Icon/SMI)

One recent newspaper article observed that while instant replay might increase major league game times, it could not be any worse than Trachsel—who hadn’t pitched in the majors since June of 2008—who was “the one guy . . . so slow that he frequently hears boos from fans.”

Trachsel finished with a career ERA+ of 99, which accurately reflected the roughly average pitcher he was. In year-to-year quality he varied from an ERA+ as good as 144 in 205 innings in 1996 to as bad 81 in the same number of innings just three years later. (For good measure, he led the league in losses that year.)

I don’t know why Trachsel so feared a swiftly delivered a pitch, but whatever the reason it is clear that—at least on the mound— Trachsel suffered from a strong case of tachophobia.

Dave McNally: Being second

Like Rivers, McNally is the owner of a pretty good career. He went 184-119 with a 3.24 ERA, won a World Series and was a three-time All-Star. Unfortunately for McNally, he seemed doomed to finishing second. In 1968, McNally went 22-10 with a 1.95 ERA, the 22 wins good for second in the league. His Orioles, meanwhile, also finished second.

In 1969, the Orioles won the pennant but ultimately were the runner-up to the Miracle Mets. McNally meanwhile, previously the ace of the Orioles staff, dropped down to—of course—No. 2 behind Mike Cuellar.

In 1970 the Orioles finally won a World Series, but despite 24 wins, McNally was only the second-best pitcher on the team behind Jim Palmer, who allowed 16 fewer runs despite pitching nine more innings. The next season McNally again won more than 20 games but was again not the best pitcher on the team, and the Orioles again lost the World Series.

Later in his career, McNally would appeal to arbitrator Peter Seitz to overturn the Reserve Clause, revolutionizing baseball. But even there McNally found himself finishing second; his case was filed along with Dodgers pitcher Andy Messersmith, and the case has become known as either the Seitz Decision or Messersmith-McNally.

To this day, McNally is second all-time on the Orioles franchise list in wins, starts and shutouts—to Jim Pamler, of course. Some people are fated to be haunted by the specter of being second place, and Dave McNally is one of them.

Harry Smith: Major league pitching

That might be a little harsh. Smith probably did not, strictly speaking, fear major league pitching. But maybe he should have. Over the course of his 10-year career (1901-1910), Smith hit a combined .213/.262/.255, which is pretty dreadful even by the standards of the dead-ball era. He saw his most action in 1903, coming to the plate 234 times and managing only 37 hits. All but five—three doubles and two triples—were singles.

Smith was not always quite that inept. Primarily a backup catcher, he did put up some lines above average for that role. His career numbers are still pretty terrible, however. His 214 career hits include just 31 extra-base hits. Among players with at least 1,000 at-bats (and excluding pitchers), only three players have fewer. He is also among the bottom 10 in runs scored, as well as hits, where only Rich Morales has fewer.

Homestretch: The 1967 AL Pennant Race, Part 3
A tight race shows no signs of letting up.

Other players could have made this list, including Fred McGriff, who is no doubt haunted by the 1994 work stoppage that almost surely cost him 500 home runs and a spot in the Hall of Fame, or Ken Keltner, who was chosen to be the perfect example of a borderline Hall of Famer by Bill James. Finally, there’s new addition Mike Napoli, haunted by Mike Scioscia’s odd notion that Jeff Mathis and Gary Matthews Jr. are better options in a playoff game.

Hopefully none of you have quite such a frightful thing scaring you these days, but in any case, Happy Halloween!

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Marty N.
Marty N.

Dave Trembley:  Having your option picked up.
Trembley will return to manage the Orioles in 2010.  Tell me that isn’t scary.

Rick S.
Rick S.

Dave McNally was on TWO World Series winning teams. He went 13-6 for the 1966 Orioles, and started Game 1 of the series, picking up a no-decision. He pitched a shut-out in Game 4, winning 1-0 and clinching the Series. In the 1970 World Series, he won Game 3, and hit a grand slam home run off Tony Cloninger.

Rick S.
Rick S.

A brief correction of my earlier post. McNally’s grandslam in Game 3 of the 1970 World Series was off Wayne Granger. Cloninger started but was lifted before McNally’s blast.