|Loved this card from the get-go in 1989.|
Steve Avery was 47-22 until suffering an injury to his muscle core area around his armpit; He would only go 44-50 after that. This next stat line floored me, he pitched a workload of 135 MLB games before he turned 24! Many point to this, as maybe the reason of his sudden downfall -- that he was overworked. I know in 1993, the Braves went to a 4-5 rotation basically, having Pete Smith or whoever at the time going once every 9 starts, as Tom Glavine, John Smoltz, Greg Maddux & Avery went every 4 games. Avery pitched 667.1 innings from 1991-1993, not to mention the innings logged during the post-seasons from this period as well.
It's easy to imagine that Avery would have went on to win 200+ games easily in his career, especially since we all know that the Atlanta Braves remained a force beyond the 90's, setting a division dominance of 14 years straight from 1991-2005, that included a few National League titles, and a lone World Championship in 1995.
Avery may not have been as great as the "Big Three", but at times he appeared as every bit as good. From 1991-1993, he had two separate 18 win seasons, the other year (1992) he just didn't get the run support, going 11-11 with a 3.20 ERA. Avery's WHIPs during this period ranged from 1.160 to 1.228, he wasn't the strike-out artist as a Smoltz or a Maddux or Glavine even; Averaging about 130 K's per 230 innings. Starting 35 games in each season during this stretch at the ages of 21-23, quite a workload at a young age.
I know that some old timers/old school guys may read this, then scoff & say, Joe Blow of the so-and-so team in 1960-what used to throw 330 innings a season at age 24. I say, this is different times, from about the beginning of the 1980's on, things changed in baseball with ways the pitchers are brought up, to pitch counts started, and this goes all the way back now to high school & colleges being more careful -- now was it for the better? Who exactly knows, I do think they baby pitchers too much now, and that in a big game, you just need to throw that pitch count out of the window. I believe we talked about this at the recent tournament in Michigan, I want to say it was with my friend Ron Emch & someone else, while waiting for food -- for us Tigers fans, Max Scherzer came straight to mind, Game 2 of the 2013 American League Championship, and how Jim Leyland should have kept Scherzer in longer, but decided to yank him (all worrying about pitch counts), apparently in this case Max said he had no more gas in the tank -- that's when I completely agree with the old school guy, I'm sorry, but you are in the big game, you lay it on the line! That's why you get paid the big bucks... now Scherzer makes bigger bucks for Washington, maybe this will inspire him to give it his complete all -- this is also why I always loved Justin Verlander over a Scherzer, Verlander will stay out there until his arm falls off.
No one can go back & say this is where it all changed in baseball, where coaches & management took over, sure Baseball is more of a business than it ever has been, we see it when players start making bigger money, the managers don't risk their star players to steal as often -- think Mike Trout for instance. Trout stole 49 bases in his 2012 American League Rookie-of-the-Year campaign, while hitting 30 HR's in 139 games that season. He stole 33 of 40 bases in 2013, and then watched his number drop to 16 in 2014. He is easily a 30/30 threat, if not a possible new addition to the 40/40 club, but this my friends is where big money & big business of Major League Baseball takes over. No owner wants to see his big money player crash hard into second base, and risk getting hurt. Personally, if I was the owner, I say let him run, let him play the damn game! But I'm just a guy in northern Michigan writing a baseball blog.
|Fidrych on the cover of Rolling Stone.|
I think there may be a reference point in where it could have changed for pitchers, and it may all go back to Mark "The Bird" Fidrych. Fidrych's climb was not only extraordinary in the baseball realm, but he was also impressive in the pop culture realm -- overnight, Fidrych became a rock star, he made the cover of every single sports magazine out there & even made the cover of Rolling Stone Magazine. My dad to this day, always asks me "Who won the Rookie-of-the-Year in 1976, the year you were born?" as if I forgot the answer to this question many times before (which I didn't of course) -- I think he continues to ask me this, because Fidrych's season, his moment in the sun, still burns brightly in the sky for Tigers fans of all ages. I was too young to remember the Fidrych hoopla. I do know that Fidrych was to Motown, what Tony Conigliaro was to Beantown. We fall in love with the tragic stories of baseball lore.
Fidrych of course, as you all know only pitched 81 innings in the year following, in 1977, with a 2.89 ERA after winning 19 games in 76', leading the American League with a 2.34 ERA. Got hurt, a leg injury that led to his arm mechanics problems, and was out of baseball after 1980. He was practically done midway through 1977. Practically a year-and-a-half wonder.
|Someone's custom-made card for Horton.|
Then there are weird cases as in Tony Horton for the Indians. The story is repeated in this wonderful book I have by Dennis Purdy (some of you may remember his work in USA Today & USA Today's Baseball Weekly) by the name of "The Team-by-Team Encyclopedia of Major League Baseball". The book breaks down every franchise, sections of all-time records, season records, starting lineups & rotations, best players from those franchises & a section devoted to "Franchise Highlights, Low Points and Strange Distinctions"; It was in this section that the Horton story comes up, I will repeat the story from in the book...
After leading Cleveland with 27 homers and 93 RBIs in 1969, first baseman Tony Horton hit a wall. In a game on May 24 against the Yankees, Horton hit three homers, but, when he failed to hit a fourth and the Tribe lost 8-7 in extra-innings, he became depressed over his inability to slug the needed fourth homer. Then on June 24 in a doubleheader against the Yankees, Horton watched as Bobby Murcer hit four consecutive home runs. In that same doubleheader, Yankee pitcher Steve Hamilton twice struck out Horton on his "folly floater" pitch -- a blooper -- and Horton was so embarrassed that he literally crawled back to the dugout amid a thunderous chorus of boos. Finally, on August 28, Horton, extremely despondent over his batting slump, played his last game. After the season he was hospitalized for depression, unable to handle the fan's booing, and, at just 25 years of age, he left baseball forever.
By the way, if you don't have this book, you must get this book -- a must have!
Here is another interesting article from a different book, an excerpt taken from "Top of the Order", a Cleveland fan repents to Tony Horton. Also another interesting fact is Tony Horton didn't have any Topps Baseball Cards produced for him, and that the cards I found were all custom-made, here is a link with some explanation of the no Topps Cards for Horton deal on a blog by Bob Lemke.
Many other names came up in the discussion, there is the case of Dickie Thon -- just coming two good seasons in 1982 & 1983. His 83' season, he was a N.L. All-Star, batting .286, 20 HR & 79 RBI with 177 hits for the Astros. Then early, in the following season, he got beaned by a Mike Torrez fastball that broke his orbital bone around his left-eye socket, his injury would effect his depth perception & would hamper his future potential -- he would have been a perennial All-Star, and some scouts & fans believed he could have been a future HOF'er even. He would bounce back a bit, briefly from 1989-1991, having his best seasons since 1983 -- but from 1984-1988 his career was a wash. He would eventually win the 1991 Tony Conigliaro Award in recognition of his return & recovery from his severe eye injury. But let's face it, he never quite recovered from that beaning.
There is also obvious cases mentioned like Herb Score, Bo Jackson & J.R. Richard. I believe the MLB Network did a Prime 9 episode on the top 9 players whose careers were altered -- These three were definitely on the list, plus a few of the others earlier mentioned. Score, of course, busted out in 1955, winning the American League Rookie-of-the-Year, leading the A.L. with 245 K's, he would lead the league again in 1956 with 263 K's, including a league-leading 5 shutouts. Quickly, became one of the best arms in the A.L., which was impressive considering that his rotation mates were future Hall of Famers, Bob Feller & Bob Lemon. Score's career changed when he was hit with a line drive to the face by the Yankees' Gil McDougald. He was never the same.
Deion Sanders was really the only NFL/MLB player to successfully do both, for a bit, after Bo Jackson; Brian Jordan followed for a few years with the Falcons & MLB Cardinals -- But I think Bo's career altering injury on the football field made players think twice about trying to play both sports, and now players usually stick with one. The last high profile duo-sports guy in recent years has been Drew Henson from the University of Michigan -- he was praised as the better QB of him, and a guy named Tom Brady, he then shifted from football to Baseball, and decided to play for the Yankees who drafted him, it would be a mistake, since many felt he was a better football player, he would then go back to the NFL, and play briefly for a down-and-out Dallas Cowboys team (pre-Tony Romo). Anyways, the duo-sports star pretty much died with the potential of Bo Jackson.
|Richard was one of the absolute best in the game, until fate intervened.|
Then there are the unfortunate deaths of players in the Indians' star Ray Chapman (killed by a Carl Mays pitch), Darryl Kile, Steve Olin (with teammate Tim Crews, in boating accident), Nick Adenhart & Oscar Taveras. Kile died of coronary disease while his Cardinals were in town to play the Chicago Cubs, he was the first player since Thurman Munson (in 1979) to die, while the season was still in progress. Kile was only 33, he was once again one of the better pitchers in baseball after two wasteful seasons in Colorado's I'm not a pitcher's friend atmosphere. Kile signed with Colorado after a career season in Houston (1997), in which he went 19-7, with a 2.57 ERA & 205 K's in 255.2 innings. He was back on track in 2000 with 20 wins for the Cardinals, which he sported a 3.91 ERA & had 192 K's; In 2001, he followed with a 16-11 record, 3.09 ERA & 179 K's -- his ill-fated 2002 season, in which he died, he was 5-4, with a 3.72 ERA with 50 K's in 84.2 innings.
|Gibson with the Homestead Grays.|
Nick Adenhart & Oscar Taveras are two different stories that involved alcohol. Adenhart, who entered the season as the Los Angeles Angels' #1 top prospect according to Baseball America & many other sources, would be victim of a drunk driver, as his car was struck just outside of the Angels' complex. Oscar Taveras who was the Cardinals' top prospect for a few years, entering 2014 -- he was often compared to fellow Domincan Republic star Vladimir Guerrero for his smooth, balanced swing & impressive outfield arm. Taveras died with his girlfriend, while driving under the influence in the Dominican Republic. The Cardinals have had a bad stretch with unfortunate deaths with Kile, Taveras, and Josh Hancock. Hancock, like Taveras, died while driving drunk in 2007.
There is of course the careers that were effected due to World War II, one that comes straight to mind is that of the Washington Senators' Cecil Travis; Plus many wonder how much more impressive the career numbers would look today for Ted Williams, Joe DiMaggio & Bob Feller.
The unfortunate segregation that denied great MLB careers in Josh Gibson, Buck Leonard, Oscar Charleston, Cool Papa Bell & many, many more... including a full career of Satchel Paige have us baseball die-hards wondering how cool it would have been if they got to play in the Majors the entire time. These players were denied by the unfortunate fact that the MLB Commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis, who led the charge to keep African-American & other colored ballplayers out of the great game. It's this same Landis that is in the Hall of Fame with other racists such as Cap Anson, yet the Hall will not let in Pete Rose...
...which leads me to this...
|A fan's custom-made card of the big collision between Rose & Fosse.|
Pete Rose and the 1970 All-Star Game Game, in which Rose plowed over Ray Fosse. I used to be under the impression that Rose definitely altered Fosse's career. I'm now on the bubble, and think more on the lines that maybe Fosse was just having a really good year in 1970, playing above & beyond -- because his brief stints before never showed potential. You can almost draw a direct parallel of Fosse's 1970 season to the 1987 season that Matt Nokes had. I think pitchers figured them out as years went on, and that the OPS's in their other years are more reflective of what they should be based on. Fosse actually average more games played for the next three seasons after the injury, ranging from 133-143 (which is really good for a catcher by the way). His OPS was .830 for his 1970 season, but his OPS's only ranged from .644 to .726 the next three years. Also in his brief time before his breakout 1970 season, he only had 21 hits in 132 AB's with 2 HR's (.159 AVG) -- which indicates that maybe the power he lost due to the shoulder injury, was actually more like the power he always had, and that 1970 was nothing more than a fluke. He still hit 12 & 10 HR's in full seasons in 1971 & 1972 -- yet people want to say he was never the same after the All-Star Game. Going back to Nokes, Nokes hit 32 HR's in 1987 (finishing 3rd in A.L. ROY), his OPS that season was .880 -- his OPS numbers ranged from .661 to .778 from 1988-1993. I think due to the fact that the injury happened in a high-profile game & play, people want to point to that as the moment Fosse's career changed. Did he end having a severe injury due to that? Yes, only because Fosse who has admitted as much, didn't want to lose his job for being hurt, him staying in put stress on the shoulder that resulted in the break -- players feared a lot about losing their jobs back in those days. There is numerous reports from old teammates that Fosse was a player that made many excuses, and seemed to use this "career-altering" injury as a crutch. It's easy to understand why Rose has got tired of Fosse's story over the years, and both have bickered about it since.
- Ray Fosse Still Bitter About Rose - an interesting article written by Tracy Ringolsby for Fox Sports in 2014. Rose has been known to change his stories on many things through the years, and I can see Fosse's point, while at the same time, it's like get over it, already & move on!
I personally don't feel the play itself was a dirty play, Rose trying to explain what he was trying to do sounds ridiculous, because he shouldn't have to explain it, he has nothing to be sorry about, explain it as it was, you play the game hard all the time, and that Fosse should have not been standing right on the plate. Rose-haters (and there are many) keep calling it a dirty play, but let's admit it, if it was one your favorite players in that scenario, you would be saying something completely different. So to the Rose-haters, get over it!
Anyways, that pretty much wraps up my piece for now on the discussion of everything above, I'm sure it won't be the last time I blog about the could-have-been aspects of baseball careers nor the last time it's discussed on the APBA Baseball Facebook Group.