This annotated week in baseball history: Dec. 16-22, 1859

On Dec. 21, 1859, Bill Traffley was born in New York City. He would later make exactly 100 errors in his major league career. New York City resident Richard did not make quite that many this year, but still suffered a few misplays.

There is probably no crueler scorekeeping notion than an error. There’s also not really a simpler one. E6: what happened (error) and who is to blame (the shortstop). No appeals, no pardons, a permanent black mark on one’s record.

Luckily for me, when I suffer an E columnist, I have a chance to fix things. Our crack web team can go in and undo my errors. Despite this, it is only fair that, just like our poor shortstop, I take my lumps and point out where I dropped the ball this year.

Credit in nearly all these cases is to my readers, who are very good at noticing historical slip-ups and very kind in pointing them out without labeling me a fool:

From the week of Jan. 1: That’s right, the very first column. I mistakenly wrote that “by 1994 the Yankees had baseball’s best record at the time of the strike.” Actually, the Montreal Expos had baseball’s best record at the time of the strike. The Yankees did own the best record in the American League, but unlike recent seasons the Junior Circuit was not so clearly the better league.

From the week of March 2: Ouch, the dreaded two-error day. Writing about Mel Ott, I said that he was the best player to never be in the minor leagues. I stand by that statement but I was wrong when I said that he competition was a “list (including) Sandy Koufax, Ernie Banks, Robin Yount and Dave Winfield.”

Yount did in fact play in the minor leagues, albeit briefly. He saw time at low-A Newark as a 17-year-old in the end of the 1973 before making the jump to the big-league Brewers the next season.

I also cited Ott as a member of an exclusive club, those with greater than 500 home runs and four or fewer letters in their last name: Ott, Babe Ruth, Jimmie Foxx and Willie Mays. It is still an exclusive club, but it is one bigger than I wrote as Sammy Sosa is at more than 600 homers and counting.

From the week of May 6:
Sadly, I have no clever error metaphor for this one, which is a fact I simply got wrong, and then compounded by drawing a conclusion about a player from it. In my column on amusing injuries I described an incident when Steve Sparks—inspired by a motivational speaker—attempted to rip a phone book in half. As I wrote, it didn’t turn out the way he’d hoped; the phone book “remained in one piece while Sparks did not. He dislocated his shoulder.”

I went on to ask why Sparks—a knuckleball pitcher—would be trying to impress people with a feat of strength when his game was clearly based on guile. As a couple of people wrote to tell me, Sparks was not actually a knuckleball pitcher until he attempted to rip the phone book, and suffered the shoulder injury, which robbed him of major league fastball velocity.

That’s actually even better than what I wrote, so I’ll certainly take it.

From the week of Aug. 12: As Bill Buckner can tell you, there’s nothing worse than letting an easy ground ball go through your legs. Sadly, it happens to the best of us. In the course of writing this column—on first overall draft picks—I criticized the job done by the Mariners’ scouting department and opinioned that “the man to take in 1979 was Andy van Slyke, snapped up by the Pirates with the fifth pick.”

Well, not quite. As it turns out, Van Slyke was drafted in 1979, but it wasn’t by the Pirates and it wasn’t the fifth pick. Andy was the sixth pick that year, and taken by St. Louis. My larger point still holds, luckily, but given that I was looking straight at the draft list when I wrote this column, it sure is frustrating to watch one go through your legs.

From the week of Nov. 4: Luckily for players like Bobby Bonilla, simply not reaching a ball that every player in the league manning one’s position could reach is not an error. A pitcher might swear under his breath, and fans would roll their eyes as another ground ball goes skipping into the outfield, but as far as the official scorer is concerned it’s a hit.

That doesn’t mean it’s not a bad play, though. In my column about families that had two players in one generation and at least one in another I touched on a number of notable clans: the Niekros, Sislers, Boones and Alous.

But just like Bobby Bo watching an easy ground ball scoot past him, I totally missed on including the Alomar family. Sandy Sr. is probably the least of the bunch, but Sandy Jr. was a very solid player for a while, and Roberto ought to be a first ballot Hall of Famer. That might not be an error in the scorebook, but it’s a definitely a play I should have made.

From the week of Dec. 9:
I think we’ve all seen a player gets tagged with an error on account of elements beyond reasonable control. A ground ball hits a pebble and goes flying over someone’s head or the like. While I will concede I got this one wrong, I would argue it was more of a bad-hop than an error.

Writing in my previous column I discussed players nicknamed for their slowness and opinioned that “I think of snails being the standard for slow insects,” rather than slugs which is the more popular nickname. As it turns out, snails are not the standard for slow insects because they are not actually insects.

As my mother—of all people—pointed out to me, snails (and slugs, for that matter) are mollusks, sharing more in common with clams, squid and the like than with members of the insect family.

The Incompleat Starting Pitcher
The end of the nine-inning start and how we got here.

Having provided baseball facts—usually accurately—through the year, I therefore wrap up 2007 with your biology lesson. And, of course, the knowledge that the best way to recover from making an error is to field the next one cleanly. I look forward to picking the short hops through 2008.

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