Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Zen Dayley: The conspiracy against knuckleballers

Keep an eye on how knuckleballer Charlie Zink makes out for in his major-league debut tonight for the Red Sox vs. the Texas Rangers.

It's a little funny that it took an injury to the bad man with the knuckleball, Tim Wakefield, for Zink to earn promotion to the major leagues as a 28-year-old rookie. (Of course, if he was Canadian and was on the Olympic team, maybe he would have been called up sooner -- kidding.) After all, a major-league team can't -- they just can't -- have two pitchers throwing a mystery pitch that managers and front-office executives can't understand, but have to take on faith. They hate that.

The only team in recent memory that doubled up was the 1987 Cleveland Indians, with Tom Candiotti and Phil Niekro, and you know the punchline: That team lost 101 games.

There's some sort of invisible hand that conspires to only keep a few knuckleballers in the major leagues at any one time. Teams have to be in dire straits to consider using one, let alone two, so it's an anomaly that Zink is getting a shot with a team that's in a playoff race. You should think about rooting for him, because life wouldn't be worth living without anomalies.

(Believe it or not, during the wartime season of 1945, the Washington Senators -- who else? -- had four knuckleballers. It wasn't an all-knuckleballer starting staff. They actually used a five-man rotation, which was uncommon back then. The crazy part is it almost worked -- the Senators lost the pennant on the last day of the season.)


  • From Beijing, Poz lay wastes to the myth that certain players only hit when it matters.
  • What are the Rays going to do with Carl Crawford and Evan Longoria both landing on the disabled list?
  • FanGraphs is not sold on Jeff Samardzija being a rookie relief saviour a la Joba Chamberlain. A former Notre Dame football player having a meltdown in October. Throw in Lacey Chabert feeding you peeled grapes, and that's just about perfect.
  • ShysterBall did a much better job of saying that Hillary Clinton has a better chance of coming back than Roy Halladay does in the Cy Young Award race. The Jays' criminal lack of run support and easy capitulation against Cleveland's Cliff Lee (now 16-2, 2.45 ERA for a last-place team) made the lead.
  • Come on, TSN. The Red Sox' comeback vs. the Yankees in the 2004 playoffs started with "a Dave Roberts walk and a steal"? Thirty seconds of research would have avoided that blunder.
Damn, the Jays

  • Shannon Stewart's release means his chances of being one of the best second-time Jays. (No doubt he's really worrying about that, while his agent is making inquiries to see if any Atlantic League teams need help for the stretch drive, or who might need an outfielder in Triple-A for the last three weeks.)

    It's been a little busy on this end of late, so there's not enough for a proper Top 5 of second-time-around Blue Jays. The franchise has seemed to have it share of players who were brought back for another kick at the cat. It's either that the Jays treat players very well, or management just figures they should do the puckheads in the media and favour and make sure they don't have to learn new names all the time.

    Tony Fernández would top the list. He helped the Jays win their second World Series when Pat Gillick brought him back in '93. He came back in the late '90s, the dark years of the Interbrew SA era. The fielding range was gone -- he lasted a couple weeks at second base before shuffling to third, then eventually DH, but he could still rake like nobody's business -- .321 in 1998, .328 in 1999. His bat control, right in the middle of the Arena Baseball era, was such that it like hearing a Warren Zevon song other than Werewolves of London get played on a classic rock station. Everyone else was trying to jack the ball into the second deck and here was this 175-lb. man (if that), inside-outing balls into the gaps like the last of the old-time singles hitters. (This was pre-Ichiro.)

    One game in 1999 vs. the Braves, he fouled off 14 pitches in one at-bat. There's no way of checking it, but he did.

    Who else is there? Another shortstop, Alfredo Griffin, came back to be an elder statesmen on the championship teams. Dave Stieb had his shits-and-grins fling as a long reliever in 1998. Pat Hentgen's return in 2004 is best left forgotten.

    Another that might coe to mind so easily is Mark Eichhorn in 1992-93. In hindsight, Mark Eichhorn getting two World Series rings calls to mind a scene in Mordecai Richler's Joshua Then and Now when a group of friends pen a satirical letter to the NHL asking it to name an award after Mackenzie King in honour of the player who's lastest the longest while doing the least.

    That's a little strong. But it's a safe bet that if you challenged someone to name the 12 players who participated in both of the Jays' World Series wins, they would forget Eichhorn was there. He was back-of-the-bullpen fodder in '92-93. Get this: He made four post-season appearances, all in games the Jays lost, and each in different series.

    Now, can you name the other 11 players?
  • Drunk Jays Fans had some choice words for anyone who's trying to beat a dead horse over Scott Richmond not going to the Olympics. There would be grounds for it if Richmond had been sent back to Syracuse after just three starts (Jesse Litsch is rejoining the starting rotation and John Parrish is going down instead.)

    Once again, for anyone who didn't get the point: The Olympics are not a mecca for North American ballplayers. It wasn't even an official Olympic sport until 1992. A ballplayer who'd rather be in the Olympics than the majors is like a football player who'd rather be in the Arena league than the NFL. That's not politically correct, but so be it.


Duane Rollins said...

Not googling here:



And, um...? Did Sprague get a few games in '92?

How did I do?

Duane Rollins said...

And maybe, but...I still say Richmond is going to regret his three games in Toronto, and what he had to sacrifice for them, when he is sitting around the house at 80.

Duane Rollins said...

CRAP! I missed an obvious one!

sager said...

Fernandez wasn't there in '92 (he was in San Diego then). Leiter was on the post-season roster in '92. Cone wasn't on the '93 team.

You've got 7 ... plus Eichhorn, there's 4 unaccounted for.

Pattington said...


I remember that game when Fernandez fouled off those 14 pitches! You and I were there - you were keeping score and knoched 14 little dots on your scorecard for the pitches! You were obsessed back then too!

Then we got on the wrong train and your mom had to pick us up. Good times.


Duane Rollins said...



Oh! Alfredo!

No idea on the other two. Hint?

sager said...

@ Duane: Morris wasn't on the '93 post-season roster.

Alfredo Griffin is correct. That leaves one guy.

So far we've got:

Pos. players; Border, Carter, Alomar, Griffin, Carter, White, Olerud, Sprague

Pitchers: Guzman, Stottlemyre, Eichhorn

@ Pat: You were with me at that game in 1999, but the time we got lost was in 2000 because it was an interleague game vs. the Expos (who?). Fernández was in Japan that year.

Duane Rollins said...

And it isn't Timlin???

sager said...

You mentioned Timlin already, I forgot to include it in the last comment, plus I thought I had all 12 but now that I look closer I put Carter down twice.

So there's one more, pretty obvious, he pitched in the deciding game of both World Series too.

Duane Rollins said...

And while I have your attention I'd like to ask you this:

Why isn't Tom Henke on the Jays ring of honour?

[/thinking about those teams makes me happy and sad all at once]

sager said...

They can't put No. 50 on the Level of Excellence -- it might remind people of Joey Hamilton.

Duane Rollins said...

Ok, what about White?

[/I could go on like this all day]

Hentgen wasn't on the '92 team was he?

sager said...

He was but was left off the post-season roster.