Worst Offense: Atlanta Braves (May 1985)

When the 1985 season began, the Atlanta Braves were only three years removed from an NL West Division title. But the 1985 campaign was the start of one of the worst stretches in franchise history.

The low point of the season were four games from May 8 to 12.

May started well for Atlanta with a 17-9 win at Cincinnati. But it would take until the 15th of the month until the Braves would equal the run total from that game.

During this stretch, Atlanta was shutout for four consecutive games. This would be four of six shutouts in May and 18 times the Braves were shutout that season.

The infamous streak began on May 8 with a 4-0 loss to the Mets at Shea Stadium. Afterwards, the Braves traveled to Montreal for a weekend three-game series against the Expos. The change of scenery did nothing to jump start the offense.

Expos starter Bryn Smith tossed a six-hit shutout on May 10 while Bill Gullickson earned the win the next day with a 3-0 triumph. Montreal completed the sweep thanks to a combined shutout from David Palmer and Jeff Reardon. Atlanta only managed 17 hits in the three-game series.

The Braves returned home looking to just get the zero off the run column. On May 13 after 37.2 innings, the streak finally ended with Glenn Hubbard’s RBI single in the bottom of the second inning against the Mets. Even though this would be the only run the Braves scored, it was enough to end their five-game losing streak in a 1-0 win.

The 1985 season marked the first of six consecutive years Atlanta failed to reach 80 wins. The Braves had some worse won/loss records after 1985, but their four days in May of zero runs may have been worse than any losing season.

Best Individual Game (Batting): Mike Young

It is always special to witness an historic baseball event in person. I was at Yankee Stadium in 1985 when White Sox pitcher Tom Seaver won his 300th game. One of my friends saw Philadelphia’s Mike Schmidt hit his 500th career home run in Pittsburgh.

For the 28,361 fans in attendance at Baltimore’s Memorial Stadium on May 28, 1987 for the Orioles-Angels game, they witnessed something that had only been accomplished four times previously in major league history.

Baltimore opened up a 5-1 lead after four innings. In the bottom of the fifth, Orioles

image courtesy of marketplace.beckett.com

image courtesy of marketplace.beckett.com

fans did not realize that Mike Young’s pinch hitting appearance for DH Jim Dwyer would be essential to a Baltimore win. His production was not immediate as he struck out in his first at bat.

Leading 5-4 in the top of the ninth, California first baseman Wally Joyner led off with a home run to tie the game. Then in the top of the 10th, Gary Pettis’s RBI single gave the Angels at 6-5 lead. Thanks to Joyner and Pettis’s heroics, it allowed Young to be an extra inning hero twice.

Young led off the bottom of the 10th with a game-tying home run off DeWayne Buice to keep Baltimore alive. After a scoreless 11th inning, Pettis struck again with an RBI ground out to once more give California a one-run advantage.

But it was Young who upstaged Pettis’s two extra inning RBI’s. With Buice on the mound for his third inning of work in the bottom of the 12th, he allowed a lead off walk to Lee Lacy. Then Young sent everyone in Memorial Stadium home happy with a walk-off, two-run homer to give Baltimore an 8-7 triumph.

Young became just the fifth player in major league history to hit two home runs in extra innings. He was the last player to accomplish the feat until Philadelphia’s John Mayberry Jr. in 2013.

Rest of the 80s: The 1987 campaign turned out to be Young’s last best season. He finished the season batting .240 with 16 home runs and 39 RBI. The Orioles former first round draft pick played two more seasons with Philadelphia, Milwaukee and Cleveland. He only played in 115 games in 1988 to 1989, batting .206 with three home runs. 

Best Season (Starting Pitcher): Ron Guidry – 1985

New York Yankees starter Ron Guidry was one of the best pitchers in the late 1970s. He was 25-3 with a 1.74 ERA in the Yankees 1978 championship season. Guidry won at least 11 games in the following five seasons, including 21 victories in 1983.

Image courtesy of amazon.com

Image courtesy of amazon.com

But Yankee fans could be forgiven if they believed Guidry’s best days were behind him after going 10-11 with a career-high 4.51 ERA in 1984.

After starting 1-3 in 1985, Guidry returned to his old form with 12 straight wins (he received three no-decisions during the streak). He tossed a pair of complete game shutouts and allowed two runs or fewer in 10 of 15 starts.

Guidry also came up big down the stretch. He was 6-1 in September and October as the Yankees fell just short of the AL East Division champion Blue Jays. The 34-year old finished the season 22-6 but lost the AL Cy Young Award to Kansas City’s Bret Saberhagen.

The 1985 campaign was Guidry’s last best season. He only won 16 games over the next three seasons before retiring after the 1988 campaign.

My connection to Ron Guidry: He was the starting pitcher when I attended my first Yankees game on June 29, 1980. Guidry allowed two runs on eight hits in 6.1 innings to help lead New York to a 7-2 win over Cleveland. It was one of the Yankees 103 wins that season.

Throwing a Change Up

Hello. Considering it has been a few months since my last post, I figured it was time for an update. But like any pitcher, I shook off my catcher and decided to change things.

Thus, I’m changing the subject matter of my “Baseball History: Beyond the Stats” blog. My subject matter will still be on baseball history, but I decided to condense it to the decade of the 1980s. The decade featured a plethora of interesting players, performances and games. 

I have decided to keep the title of the blog, but that may change in the future. The subject matter will feature the best and worst of the decade. Some of the materials will include the best/worst players (at each position), regular season moments, free agent acquisitions and more.

I have a personal connection to 1980s baseball. I attended my first game, played Little League and neighborhood baseball games and waited with excitement for highlights on SportsCenter. You may remember some of the subject matter, but whether or not you lived in the 1980s, I hope you learn some things about baseball in the decade you may not have realized before.

Enjoy the baseball memories of the 1980s!

Pittsburgh Baseball: It’s A #Bucktober Thing

It didn’t seem like I was watching a baseball game Tuesday night.

PNC Park in Pittsburgh was an electric atmosphere for the Pirates first playoff game in 21

PNC Park hosted its first playoff game Tuesday night.

PNC Park hosted its first playoff game Tuesday night.

years. Not only was the stadium filled to capacity with standing room only, fans gathered on the nearby Roberto Clemente Bridge. Of course the Pirates responded to the tremendous outpouring of support to defeat Cincinnati, 6-2, to clinch a berth in the NLDS against St. Louis.

I don’t consider myself a true Pirates fan, but I’ve actually been to more baseball games in Pittsburgh than any other city. This includes about 20 to 25 games with and without friends while a college student at Point Park University in downtown Pittsburgh. Last night’s fan support was no where close to any game I’ve attended.

I would compare the fan support last night as if a big balloon was over PNC Park. The balloon would have represented all the frustrations of Pirates fans since Game 7 of the 1992 NLCS. Losing seasons, bad draft picks (Bryan Bullington) and free agent signings (Derek Bell) would be inside. Perhaps it even included bloopers, such as when catcher Ryan Doumit’s thrown to second base on a stolen base attempt hit pitcher John Grabow in the back.

Last night, the air would have been released from that balloon in the form of cheering and celebrating. Instead of just another playoff game, Pirates fans showed just how excited they were for a return of October baseball to Pittsburgh. It was fun listening to the cheers and for the Bucs and how the fans rattled Reds starting pitcher Johnny Cueto by chanting “Cue-to.” It was a scene some Pirates fans have never witnessed.

I’m a Yankees fan, and I sometimes get annoyed at the fan base for taking their playoff appearances for granted. If last night was any indication, that will not be a problem for Pirates fans.

The Pirates have been a great story during the 2013 season. Pittsburgh is arguably the greatest sports city in the country, and last night’s game showed why. The Pirates have shown that despite a long playoff drought, postseason baseball and Pittsburgh is truly a #Bucktober thing!

 

The Last Out is Always the Hardest

Last night, San Francisco pitcher Yusmeiro Petit was one strike away from a perfect game.

 Yusmeiro Petit facing Arizona earlier this season.

Yusmeiro Petit facing Arizona earlier this season.

But Arizona’s Eric Chavez delivered a pinch-hit single to right field that ruined perfection. But Petit retired the next batter and settled for a one-hitter in the Giants 3-0 win at AT&T Park.

Petit became the 12th pitcher in major league history to lose a perfect game with two outs in the ninth inning. The same thing happened to Texas pitcher Yu Darvish earlier this season against Houston.

One pitcher who can emphasize with Petit is a man who once wore a Giants uniform. He also came tantalizingly close to celebrating on the mound.

On July 29, 1990, Giants pitcher Scott Garrelts took the mound against Cincinnati at San Francisco’s Candlestick Park. Facing the eventual world champions, Garrelts was one out away from a no-hitter. Reds right fielder Paul O’Neill was Cincinnati’s final hope for their first hit.

On the first pitch he saw from Garrelts, O’Neill lined a pitch to left-center for the Reds first hit. Just like Petit last night, Garrelts rebounded to retire Eric Davis on a fly out to settle for a one-hitter in the Giants 4-0 win.

Scott Garrelts

Ironically, Garrelts teammate Trevor Wilson also lost a no-hitter in the ninth inning earlier in the season against San Diego. Meanwhile, O’Neill would later participate in no-hitters thrown by Yankees teammates Jim Abbott, Dwight Gooden, David Wells and David Cone later in the decade.

I’m sure Petit is disappointed at coming so close to perfection. Throwing a perfect game is an amazing accomplishment. But ask one of the 12 pitchers who lost perfection with one out remaining, they would all agree that the last out was the hardest.

Digging Up Some Dirt on Richie Hebner

RIchie Hebner's primary job when not digging up dirt.

RIchie Hebner’s primary job when not digging up dirt.

There was a time when the gap between a baseball player’s salary and the earnings of the average American worker was not as wide as it is today. Prior to free agency, it was not uncommon for baseball players to work in the off-season.

Richie Hebner had arguably the strangest off-season job in baseball history. He worked as a grave digger.

Hebner hit 203 career home runs over an 18-year career for five teams. He also won a World Series championship with the Pirates in 1971.

When the baseball season ended, Hebner was a grave digger for the family owned cemetery in his hometown of Norwood, Mass. He earned $35 for each grave dug. According to Hebner, he dug graves for 35 years with a simple pick and shovel. As you may have guessed, his nickname was “The Grave Digger.”

According to baseball-reference.com, Hebner earned $67,500 with the Phillies in 1976. If you convert that to today’s dollars, it’s $276,908. That’s well-below today’s major league baseball minimum salary of $490,000.

Imagine Andrew McCutcheon, Mike Trout or any other major leaguer digging graves or working in a warehouse. That wouldn’t happen today, but it was the norm into the 1970s, even for All-Stars and big name players.