On the 21st of May, The Baseball Enthusiast celebrates the not-so-great players in Baseball History by proclaiming the Birthday of Morris Benton "Moe" Thacker as the most reasonable day of the year to pay tribute to those whose lack of excellence at the Major League level matters less in our hearts than their determination and honorable opportunity to play the greatest game in the world.
If you don't remember Moe from this post last year, here's a recap of Moe's amazingly un-amazing professional baseball career and life:
Moe was a beast during his high school days at duPont Manual in Louisville, Kentucky; he lettered in football, basketball, and baseball. He was the Captain of Manual’s State Championship Baseball team in 1952 and would be the last Manual alumnus to make it to the major leagues. Thacker was best known as a catcher, avoiding college and heading to professional baseball right out of high school; signing with the New York Yankees as an amateur free agent. His career in their system began with the Fond du Lac Panthers of the Wisconsin State League in 1952, then the Joplin Miners of the Western Association in 1953 and the Norfolk Tars of the Piedmont League in 1954. 1955 saw Thacker debuting in AA ball on the roster with the Birmingham Barons of the Southern Association, then breaking out in 1956 with AAA clubs Richmond Virginians (International League) and the Denver Bears (American Association) before returning to AA in 1957 with the New Orleans Pelicans of the Southern Association.
Thacker would never make the major league Yankees as an “unknown transaction” sent him to the Chicago Cubs in 1958, where he spent time in the minors with the Fort Worth Cats before playing 11 games with the Cubs. 1959 started with Moe back in Fort Worth (by this time a AAA affiliate) for the entire year. He spent 1960 in both the Houston Buffs (American Association, AAA level) and the Cubs (54 games), and again in 1961 with Houston and the Cubs (25 games). 1962 would be Moe’s only all Cubs season, playing 65 games and boasting a less-than-formidable .187/.287/.234, something much less than solid numbers. In October of 1962 Moe was traded to the St Louis Cardinals in a 6-player deal and only played 3 games with 4 plate appearances for the birds, compiling 3 strikeouts. He spent the rest of his professional career in the minors for St Louis, retiring after the 1964 season with a lifetime .177/.290/.227 in the major leagues. Moe was a successful businessman in the fast food industry as a multi-franchise operator for Long John Silver's, and died in Louisville at the age of 63. Moe was inducted into the only Hall of Fame he'll ever be in, that of the duPont Manual High School Hall of Fame, in 1998 (the year following his death). I honor his plaque during each and every visit to the school.
I'm also very proud to annouce that on Episode 9 of one of my favorite podcasts, The Central Message, hosts Nick Devlin and Nick Selby have accepted my nomination of Moe to be the Official Mascot of the excellent Cubs/Cardinals baseball podcast. A move not only made on the basis of his career as a Cub and as a Cardinal, but also in his success with the Long John Silver's franchise, a chain whose product is very much comparable to Moe's professional baseball career.
Please join me in a wax paper beer cup tribute to the best worst Cub/Cardinal there ever was. Hoist a few to old Moe Thacker, I'm sure he's rolling in the heavenly hush puppies as he receives our well-deserved toast. Give 'em Hell, Moe!!!
By the time the Cubs’ 2nd inning had ended, I was pretty sure the story of this game was going to be the inevitable exit of Chris Volstad from the Cubs rotation. 58 pitches, 3BB, 2K, 4R (all earned) and 15 batters faced speaks volumes to Volstad’s continuing slide as a starting pitcher. I think the writing on the wall speaks for itself, and I’m weary (at the moment) of belaboring the “failures” of men* in these posts, so instead I’m going to shake off the dust of another Cubs loss by celebrating the greatness of 2 position players in tonight’s game.
* this pun brought to you by the eve of the 32nd anniversary of the death of Ian Curtis. “Wise words and sympathy tell the story of our history / New strength gives a real touch, sense and reason make it all too much.”
I usually chuckle at catchers, this is mostly due to my unabashed “catcher bias” in my fantasy league, catchers are pudding, I don’t have to draft them so I never do. Furthermore, I like catchers more for what they do behind the plate and less for how they handle themselves with a bat…with the bat, that’s where the chuckling comes from. And the injuries. Tonight, amid an exciting game with an inspiring, yet anti-climactic Cubs comeback in the 9th inning, catchers from both dugouts rocked my baseball world, for sure.
So, these guys were NOT pudding tonight, not Carlos Ruiz and not Welington Castillo.
It’s always fair to expect something special from “Chooch,” tonight’s game was no exception, but maybe a little more special than usual. Besides backing up Roy Halladay very well behind the plate (Halladay was 1-5 against the Cubs going into tonight’s game, with Volstad starting you could almost certainly pencil in 2-5 afterwards), Ruiz went ape in the batter’s box, 4-for-5 with 5 TB and 3 RBI, the last of which you can mark down as the Phillies’ game-winning RBI, if you are so inclined. Even I have a tendency to mutter “CHOOOOOOOOCH” after his plate appearances.
Sir Welington of Beef (sorry, he doesn’t really have a better nickname yet) pulled off his own kind of offensive special as well, 2-for-4 from the #7 hole in the lineup with a whopping 4 RBI (his 3-run double in the 9th being the crack that nearly burst the Cubs’ big chance at a last-minute WIN wide open), 6 TB with a solo lead-off HR in the 8th. With Clevenger on the DL and Soto soon heading there, I suddenly feel warm and fuzzy about his getting more playing time.
The Cubs fought hard, but were a run shy of extending the contest, Halladay improves his Cubs record to 2-5.
Starlin Castro = still sexy...a great defensive bare-handed pick-and-quick throw to put out Juan Pierre (yes, that's right, Juan Pierre) in the 1st inning was lighting kool, his solo HR in the 7th was also eye-popping.
And hey…wasn’t it great to see Casey Coleman again?
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Nick Devlin needs to watch more Cubs games! On a recent episode of the excellent Central Message Podcast, Nick (a Cubs fan) confessed to his Cardinal fan co-host Nick Selby (yes, two Nicks…that’s a great deal of #want) that he really hasn’t been watching the Cubs at all this year. Well, who can blame him? All of us have been told, and for the most part expect, that this season is going to be another losing season while new management works out the kinks in the current roster. See how I artfully dodged the “R” word? For what it’s worth, I’ve been pleasantly surprised so far…for a team that is supposed to suck, they are playing a little bit better than you’d think. This early on, we are still discussing all of this in terms of very Small Sample Size, but with the first week in May almost in the books, I would have thought the Cubs would be the worst team in baseball, and they aren’t.
Sure, there’s heartbreak…sure, there’s hand-wringing and sanctimony about this and that…sure, there are plenty of armchair GMs pleading for the callup of Rizzo and Jackson…sure, there is this Bryan LaHair guy who is riding a Small Sample Size tunnel into certain baseball damnation…but all that aside, I’m saying that if you are “ignoring” the Cubs this season because they are bad and you know they are going to be bad, you should still be watching. If for no other reason, than for pitching, particularly starting pitching. Set Chris Volstad aside (sigh) and as a Cubs fan, you’re seeing the best stuff you could ever HOPE for from Jeff Samardzija, the kind of Matt Garza you expect (even when the team is lousy), improved performance from Paul Maholm after a shaky start, and yes, the proverbial icing on the cake…the most wonderful Small Sample Size season start with the most bitter aftertaste for everyone’s favorite punching-bag pitcher, Ryan Dempster.
Okay, maybe not everyone’s, but certainly mine...so much over the past few years that my kids have learned to call him “Ryan Dumpster” under my influence, so much that over the past few years every time I see any pitcher throw 3-4 great innings and then completely fall apart, that pitcher morphs into a doppleganger of Ryan Dempster as seen through my eyes. But I’m not going to subscribe to this anymore; Ryan Dempster, you have my seal of Cub fan approval.
What is true, is that Dempster is enjoying the best season start as a start in his entire 14-year MLB career, with an ERA of 1.02 after tonight’s game. This season, Dempster has only started 5 games, due to his recent DL visit (where he usually would have started 7 or 8 by now), but if you remove his partial 2004 season and his 2006 and 2007 seasons as the Cubs’ closer, the best Dempster has done in terms of ERA but the close of this date (plus or minus a few calendar days) is 2.39 in 2000 with the Marlins (as a Cub, it was 2.72 in 2008). Where the bitter aftertaste lies is in the knob-worthy W-L statistic still oh so important in pitching performance metrics; in 5 games, Dempster has a 0-1 record and has only earned a whopping 5 runs in support of each of his starts, never pitching less than 6 innings and only allowing 6 runs total (4 of them earned). At age 35, he’s starting out literally on fire…but the Cubs are letting him down, and that’s where the Small Sample Size really comes into play. Sure, it’s early, but for the luvvapete, if the bats are there to support Samardzija, why not Dempster?
We can’t forsake the Cubs’ offense for Dempster’s W-L woes, not entirely. Tonight, the Cubs helped Dempster leave the game with a tie. In gruesome shades of the memorable Cubs home opener on April 5, there’s another culprit involved.
His name is KERRY WOOD.
The situation was different (on the 5th, Dempster was the pitcher of record with a one-run lead) but the question I’m still asking myself is, “Whither Kerry Wood?” I ask this philosophically, and in a manner as delicate as I can to avoid committing Cub fan blasphemy, but I will be more direct: what is the point? On record, Wood is more than likely just as effective in any given situation as the rest of the Cubs bullpen (Marmol: don’t even go there) but as recently as a month ago, we’ve seen this before. Kerry gets the ball in the 8th inning and wastes very little time in allowing the Braves to add 2 more runs on the board with only one batter retired in the process, and 2 getting free passes.
Oh, and HOORAY we are all supposed to be elated when Wood picks off Brian McCann at second base to abruptly end the inning and prevent more run damage, but the only emotion I’m experiencing is mental anguish. I’ve already said the Cubs are better this season than I expected; Wood’s hysterical manipulation of a lead (or the threat of a lead) is not very humorous, given the situation. I would rather laugh at Carlos Marmol (who is hilarious and does really look like a cartoon character) than see Kerry Wood at his worst, even at a time like this when the front office is adamant about the importance of “not winning.” It gets worse when after the pick-off, Wood throws his glove and cap into the stands in disgust on his way back to the dugout. I suppose somebody has to carry the “pout torch” vacancy left by Carlos Zambrano, who better than one of his beloved former teammates?
But, I digress...perhaps Nick Devlin was watching tonight, he does follow the Braves as he lives in the Atlanta area…so Nick, now that I have your attention: HEY, why is this the first time I’m hearing about this Randall Delgado fellow?
I can’t tell you how I missed him last year (I will rely on the old scorekeeper standby “wasn’t watching” in lieu of a reasonable explanation) but I’m watching him now. The 22-year old from Las Tablas, Panama (ah! I’m a fan of Panamanian Braves prospect Christian Bethancourt, so that’s two wacky Panamanians I know in the Braves system!) has been a little bit erratic in 6 games this season, but tonight he handcuffed the Cubs with a gruesome change-up; allowing only 3 hits, 1 run, walking 3 and striking out 5. So young, so good…so what?? We shall see!
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Louisville Slugger Field, Louisville, KY
Game 1 of 4
I was excited at my first chance to see Jeff Francis in Louisville this season, but this almost didn’t happen…the weather forecast was pretty darn nasty looking, with a 100% chance for thunderstorms right about the time of first pitch threatening. My wife, being the good sport she is, decided we should brave the possibility for a rain delay just the same, so we solidered on. The good news: the thunderstorms did come (we could see them across the river) but never threatened the game at all. The other news: Jeff Francis, he of “future greatness” several years ago, is still working on a few things.
So really, is Jeff Francis not his old self anymore, or was his old self that great to begin with? I’ve only really followed him since he became a Royal last season, and while I fell in love with his “stuff,” the fact of the matter is, he wasn’t much help for the Royals last year, and is now working out in AAA Louisville for the Reds
Not saying the Reds don’t need any help in pitching, but is Jeff Francis the answer? Is age catching up to him, or is his ability to miss bats getting there first?
Well, hang on just a second…Jeff Francis may be 2-3 so far this season for a Louisville squad that is at the bottom of their division with a 10-21 record, but you know what…tonight he looked pretty damn good, for the most part. Here’s a breakdown of his work this evening:
Other than a rough 3rd inning, he faced no more than 4 batters (faced 3 batters in 4 innings), induced 8 groundball outs, struck out 6 and only walked one. So what happened in the 3rd inning?
He gave up base hits to Joe Mahoney and Jai Miller to start, those were liners and grounders, respectively, hit to places just beyond the infield where there were no defenders; Mahoney’s shot went a bit deeper, yet still playable. Blake Davis struck out swinging next, then 2 more back-to-back soft liners towards right-and left-center field, both places “where they ain’t,” as Wee Willie Keeler would say. Another sharply hit grounder thru the gap between short and second and 2 runs had scored with one out. Bill Hall pops out weakly to Kris Negron in foul territory, then catcher Chris Robinson walks in a run in 5 pitches. DH Ryan Adams flies out to deep left-center to end the inning.
For the sake of argument, Francis was in trouble when the rookie defenders weren’t where they should have been; I’ll give some credit to the Tides for finding Francis’ pitches with their bats when they needed to, but in the world of nascent defensive metrics, you can’t ignore the fact that with better position play, at a minimum the shots fired by Avery and Antonelli would have been quick outs. This is stuff you can never see in box scores.
Francis’ FIP in this game was 4.63, a few ticks down from his 5.14 game ERA. Throughout his Major League career, Francis has been as high as 5.29 and as low as 3.88 in FIP. For the Bats this season, his FIP is 2.62 (ERA 3.96). So, that can’t really be the entire issue, can it?
I really don’t know what Jeff Francis needs to do to miss more bats, and I also really don’t know why I’m always drawn to pitchers like he, where the talent and application is there, but something just isn’t right. Whatever the issue, I’m not confident that the Reds can help him solve it.
That being said…BilLOL HalLOL.
Photos from the Game:
Bats LHP Jeff Francis
Tides 2B Matt Antonelli faces Jeff Francis
Tides 3B Bill Hall (Major League veteran: 0-for-4, 2K, LIDP and a popout to 2B in foul territory) wobbles on deck
Bats 3B Chris Valaika faces Tides LHP Dana Eveland
Bats CF Denis Phipps faces Eveland
Dana Eveland on the mound
Phipps lines out to Tides CF Xavier Avery
Bill Hall “looking” vs. Jeff Francis
Bats RF Bill Rhinehart (3-for-3, stranded each time) faces Eveland
Bats SS Miguel Rojas (0-for-3, 3 LOB) faces Eveland
Rojas fouls one back…
Rojas lines out to Avery to end the inning, stranding 2.
Jeff Francis: the wind-up and the throw…
(this picture is blurry, but it’s still very KOOL)
Francis checks Blake Davis at 2B
Xavier Avery vs. Jeff Francis
Matt Antonelli grounds out, SS Miguel Rojas to 2B Kristopher Negron to end the Tides’ 7th, stranding Davis
Brad Bergesen on the mound
Bats RHP Scott Carroll, in relief
Tides RHP Miguel Gonzalez relieves Bergesen
Bats LHP Travis Webb gets the ball in the 9th
Neftali Soto faces Gonzalez with 1 out
I was disheartened to find the Slugger Monkey stand only had 1 mystery baseball rookie pack, so my wife and I both couldn’t play the mystery rookie card game. I bought that one, and was further disheartened to find I drew a Hong-Chih Kuo RC.
Official Program, featuring new manager David Bell on the cover
Official Scorecard (with Danny Dorn) and Bat Chat
If you enjoy my work, I encourage you to spread the word via Twitter
(I am @yoshiki89), and also please leave a comment!