This annotated week in baseball history: June 10-June 16, 1987

On June 10, 1987, a player who is attempting to break one of baseball’s biggest records began his professional career. Nope, not Barry Bonds.

Being that the major league draft—televised for the first time—was held recently, it seems fitting to do a story that involves the draft, albeit very peripherally.

While some might claim that a player’s professional career begins when he is drafted, that’s not technically true. A player can—and sometimes does—choose not to sign the contract he is offered and continue his amateur career. It is not until pen is put to paper that a player can truly call himself a professional.

For Mike Stanton, that day came on June 10 of 1987. He had been drafted by the Braves on June 2 out of Southwestern University—which also produced Mike Timlin—in the 13th round, but did not sign until June 10, probably because the Braves had bigger fish to fry. (Incidentally, that was a pretty good 13th round; in addition to Stanton it also had Steve Finley, Troy O’Leary and Ryan Thompson.)

Stanton dominated in the minor leagues, putting up a 2.86 ERA, striking out more than a man per inning and earning a call-up to the Braves in 1989. He appeared in 20 games that year, but just seven the next.

In 1991, however, the Braves went worst-to-first and Stanton was a major part of it, appearing in 74 games with a 2.88 ERA. Stanton continued to pitch well for the Braves, even splitting closing duties in 1993 with Greg McMichael, with Stanton recording most of the saves.

In 1995, looking to shore up their relief corps, the Red Sox acquired Stanton from the Braves. He appeared in 22 games for the Red Sox that year but found himself a hired gun lefty again the next season when the Olde Towne Team sent him to Texas for the playoff drive.

Stanton again appeared in 22 games for his new team, and pitched well, although he took a loss against the Yankees in the 1996 ALDS. Deciding that if he couldn’t beat them he would join them, Stanton signed with the Yankees for the 1997 season.

It was a nearly perfect match. Stanton would stay with the Yankees for six seasons, winning three World Series. He made the All-Star team in 2001 and filled in as everything from an emergency starter (his only career start) to a closer when Mariano Rivera was on the shelf.

After 2002, Stanton signed a three-year deal with the crosstown Mets. It proved to be nearly as poor a fit as the Yankees had been good. In addition to breaking his streak of 11 straight playoff appearances (with four different teams) Stanton was never comfortable at Shea. He either missed time (as in 2003) or allowed nearly half his inherited runners to score (as in 2004). Before the 2005 season, the Mets decided they’d had enough and sent Stanton back to the Yankees for Felix Heredia.

Stanton was no better for the Yankees than he had been for the Mets and earned his release after giving up a walk-off home run. Stanton signed with the Nationals and promptly allowed a game-winning run to score on a balk in his first appearance, thereby losing two games while throwing only one pitch, which is some trick.

Stanton generally pitched better for the Nats, however, and earned himself a very late season trade back to the Red Sox. He pitched in only one game during his return to Boston and some might have thought his career was at an end.

Instead, Stanton signed up for another tour in Washington. He appeared in 56 games while pitching well enough to merit yet another trade to a team with contending aspirations, this time the Giants. His time in San Francisco—26 games, eight earned runs—was good enough for the Reds to reward Stanton with a two-year contract that includes a third year vesting option.

Now you might have noticed that I have been referring to Stanton’s games appeared in rather than his innings. This is to illustrate the record Stanton has a good chance of breaking: most games appeared in by a pitcher. The all-time leader is Jesse Orosco, who sits at 1,252. Entering this season, Stanton’s total was 1,109, putting him 144 from taking sole possession of the record. Giving Stanton credit only for the two years he is under contract, that would require an average of 72 appearances a season.

(The catch in all this is that Stanton’s contract is based on—what else?—appearances, so if he tops 140 in two years, he will automatically earn a third.)

Through Thursday, Stanton had appeared in 34 games for the Reds already this season, fourth in the National League. That puts him on pace for 82 appearances, and would leave him just 62 games shy of getting into the record book.

A comparative study on an unwritten rule of baseball.

Although Stanton could lose it at any time, I’d say he’s likely to depose Orosco sometime in 2008. I’d also guess that if Stanton begins to approach Orosco’s record, it won’t acquire the sort of coverage that has accompanied Barry Bonds’ chase for Hank Aaron. (To say nothing of the hand-wringing and gnashing of teeth.)

But how long does Stanton figure to be on top? Answer: a good long while. Although a handful of active players are in the top 50, only one figures to have a shot at catching Stanton. That would be Steve Kline. Kline is just 34 and had 728 appearances entering this season. Presuming Stanton will end his career around 1,275 appearances, Kline would have “only” 547 to catch him.

Of course, the ultimate games leader might be someone like Byung-Hyun Kim (366 appearances entering 2007 and just 28) but at the moment, the goal is in Mike Stanton’s sights.

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