Results tagged ‘ Houston Astros ’

Larry Yount’s unique, one-game career

By John Odell

Among the treasures of the Hall of Fame’s archives are our player files, which chronicle every player who ever entered a major league game (now numbering over 17,700). In addition, the player files also include Negro leaguers, women from the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League, umpires, managers, coaches, executives, exceptional minor leaguers (like Michael Jordan) and numerous others.

We add to the archive throughout the year, creating a new file each time a player enters a major league game for the first time. But perhaps no one has a more unusual debut than Astros pitcher Larry Yount, the older brother of Hall of Famer Robin Yount.

Larry Yount, you see, debuted in a game he never played in, and then never appeared again.

Drafted by the Houston Astros in 1968, Larry Yount received his promotion to the parent club in September 1971, his fourth season in pro ball. Uncle Sam, however, had just called on him to complete a week of military service, a common occurrence during the Vietnam War era. So after a week of no baseball at all, Yount finally ended up in the Astros bullpen. Maybe the layoff had an effect, and maybe not. We will never know.

On Sept. 15, Yount’s opportunity came. With the Astros trailing Atlanta 4-1 in the top of the ninth, Houston manager Harry “The Hat” Walker called Larry’s number. It was the perfect low-pressure situation to get a rookie’s feet wet. Only 6,513 attended the Wednesday night contest. The Astros were hovering around .500, some 10 games out of the NL West race, and Atlanta was also playing out the string.

As Yount warmed up, his elbow began to stiffen, but he buckled down and reported to the mound, where he was announced as the next pitcher. The pain, however, got much worse as he took his final warm-up pitches on the mound. Not wanting to risk his career in his debut, he called in the trainer, who took him out. Both surely expected that Yount’s turn would come again soon.

It never did.

Larry Yount returned to Spring Training the next year, where he was the last player cut, then returned to the minors, where he played until 1975. However, he never made it to the Show again. He pitched OK, just not well enough to be called up. His elbow was not permanently injured. “It was a non-event, a glitch that had no factor in what followed,” Yount explained later, without excuse. “I just never quite got the job done.”

For his efforts, Yount earned the distinction of being the only pitcher in major league history to “appear” in one game, never throw a single pitch, never face a batter, and never play again. However, because he was officially announced as the pitcher, he is in baseball’s record book, and he has a file in the Hall of Fame. You can look it up… at the Hall of Fame Library.

John Odell is the curator of history and research at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum.

‘Cruz’ through history

By Craig Muder

They stood together in the Museum’s archive, father and son of Major League Baseball fame.

Jose Cruz Sr. and Jose Cruz Jr. have 31 big league seasons between them. But nothing prepared them for their visit to Cooperstown.

“This is unbelievable,” said Jose Cruz Jr., in town this week with his children – Jose Sr.’s grandchildren – for a youth baseball tournament. “The history is here… guys that I played with, Hall of Famers… . I’m still here and I can’t wait to come back!”

The pair and their families visited the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum on Tuesday. Jose Cruz Sr., a 19-year big league veteran best known for his 13 years with the Astros, looks remarkably the same as the smooth left-handed swinger who knocked line drives around the National League during the 1980s. Now 63, Cruz paid special attention to two exhibits: One featuring new Hall of Famer Roberto Alomar, who like Cruz was born in Puerto Rico.

The other exhibit? One featuring Hall of Famer Stan Musial, who was an executive with the St. Louis Cardinals when Cruz signed with the team as an amateur free agent in 1966.

“Stan the Man was my hero,” said Cruz, now a special assistant to the general manager for the Astros.

Jose Cruz Jr., 37, is only three years removed from a 12-year big league career that saw him hit 204 homers and capture a Gold Glove Award for his outfield play in 2003. A student of baseball history, Cruz Jr. tested his father on baseball trivia throughout his visit.

Father and son, bonding through baseball. Seems fitting during a week that will feature the annual Hall of Fame Classic on Father’s Day – Sunday, June 19 – in Cooperstown.

The connection – even at the game’s highest level – remains unbreakable.

Craig Muder is the director of communications for the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum.

Hall Monitor: Crushing, Curses and the Killer

By Trevor Hayes

Things have settled down for me a bit with our publication season, which means the return of my favorite stat-based blog feature, the Hall Monitor. There’s been a lot already this season that has made 2011 special, including Braves icon Chipper Jones setting career marks by collecting his 1,500th RBI and passing Mickey Mantle on switch-hitters RBI leader board. We’ve had lots of great pitching, including two no-hitters – Francisco Liriano’s cap and game ball made it to the Hall earlier this week – and several near misses. So here’s what’s been going lately:

Giambi’s first three: Jason Giambi, the former Yankee-A’s All-Star slugger turned Rockies part-timer, collected his first three homer game last night to lead Colorado over Philly 7-1. Showing he’s still got some power in the tank, Giambi pulled a comparison to Stan the Man. Stan Musial at 41 years old is the oldest player to hit three home runs in a game, beating out Giambi, who at age 40 years, 131 days is now the second-oldest player to do it.

With 416 homers before Thursday’s contest, he also has the highest total before his fiDerek Jeterrst three homer game in Major League history aside from Babe Ruth, who had 522 career dingers before his first three home run performance. Coincidentally enough, Ruth also collected his first three home run game against Philadelphia – but playing in the AL, it was against the A’s not the Phillies.

Another feather in his cap: Derek Jeter likes hitting against the Birds and this week he added one more feat to his growing list of accomplishments on his journey to reach 3,000 hits. With career hit No. 300 against the Orioles, the Yankees captain became the first player with 300 hits against one franchise since Hall of Famer Tony Gwynn retired after the 2001 season. Mr. Padre had at least 300 against Atlanta, Cincinnati, Houston and San Francisco.

Fall Classic mixing and matching: Interleague Play, which begins tonight, always brings some interesting matchups, from the geographic rivals like the 2000 World Series Subway Series rematch of Mets-Yankees, the Bay Bridge Series re-matching the 1989 Fall Classic combatants in Oakland and San Francisco or the I-70 Series 1985 rematch of St. Louis and Kansas City.

But this year brings a rare pairing of the formerly cursed Red Sox hosting the still-cursed Cubs. The Northsiders will be back in Fenway for the first time since the 1918 World Series – which began a drought of 86 years without a title the following year. Saturday night will pair the two in throwback uniforms and several icons from the teams will be around Beantown like Bill Buckner

Mourning the Killer: The Hall of Fame and the baseball community lost a great man and an incredibly talented ballplayer this week with the passing of Harmon Killebrew. His funeral service was held today in Peoria, Ariz., with several Hall of Famers in attendance including 2011 Electee Bert Blyleven, Rod Carew, Paul Molitor, Robin Yount, Frank Robinson and Hall of Fame President Jeff Idelson. Next Thursday, Twins fans will have their chance to show their love for Killebrew with a public Memorial Service at Target Field in Minnesota starting at 7 p.m.

Trevor Hayes is the editorial production manager at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum.

Play it again, Phil

Muder_90.jpgBy Craig Muder

Records, they say, are made to be broken. But my favorite record has never been surpassed.

02-18-11-Muder_Garner.jpgIt has, however, been tied… more than 20 times.

Exclusive? Hardly. But Phil Garner’s 1978 mark of back-to-back games with a grand slam home run will always have a special place with me. Because I was there to see it.

Sept. 15, 1978… My dad took me to my second major league game, which was also my first night game. I remember walking around gigantic Three Rivers Stadium in Pittsburgh, bounding down the left-field box seats to the bullpen edge. There, before the Expos-Pirates game, I leaned over with my program and got Ed Ott’s signature. Ott, the Pirates’ catcher against right-handed starters, was off that night because lefty Woodie Fryman was pitching for Montreal. Duffy Dyer was the Bucs’ right-handed hitting platoon catcher.

02-18-11-Muder_ThreeRivers.jpgGarner’s home run cleared the bases in the bottom of the first, giving him two grand salamis in two nights following his shot against the Cardinals the night before. Scrap Iron was already one of my father’s favorite players, and I recall Dad jumping out of his seat when the ball cleared the fence.

At that point, it was safe to say, I was hooked on baseball.

It seems inconceivable that in the more than 100 years of pro ball prior to that game – and the 32 years since – no one has hit grand slams in three straight games. But there it is, in the record books and in my memory.

These are the moments that will come alive this spring at the Hall of Fame’s new One for the Books exhibit. The stories, the records… the connection that bonds us to baseball. It’s what makes the National Pastime unique.

It’s what makes us love the game.

Someday, the record may fall. But Garner’s effort – and that night with my Dad – will remain forever.

Craig Muder is the director of communications for the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum.

Hello Larry…and welcome spring

Muder_90.jpgBy Craig Muder

It was 31 springs ago, a glorious one for fans of the Pittsburgh Pirates.

I was 11, and my family took a trip to Florida that March to watch the Bucs begin defense of their 1979 World Championship. It was my first taste of the magic of Spring Training.

01-28-11-Muder_BlylevenStargell.jpgThere was no game at Bradenton’s historic McKechnie Field that day, so we wandered over a few streets to Pirate City. With its dorm-like housing and seemingly innumerable practice fields, it was the perfect place to learn baseball.

Of course, future Hall of Famers like Willie Stargell and Bert Blyleven were a bit past the learning stage and were nowhere to be seen. The prolific Pirates farm system, however, featured future major leaguers like Vance Law and Joel Skinner – both of whom were in camp as non-roster invitees.

But the player I remember most that day was Larry Andersen.

My father and I were standing behind home plate, with just a screen between us and the diamond. Suddenly, I heard the “crack-crack-crack” of cleats on cement. And before I could fully turn around to get a good look, there was Andersen – seemingly a giant at 6-foot-3 and 200 pounds – brushing by me while never breaking stride.

I turned back around, getting a glimpse of his number – 52 – and the uncommon spelling of his last name sewn onto his jersey. And then he was gone, off to another day of work on the diamond.

01-28-11-Muder_McKechnie.jpgAt that moment, I considered myself the biggest Pirates fan on the planet. And the fact that I had no idea who Larry Andersen was left me momentarily dazed. But I decided that he must have been some imposter – a player with no past or future who would never see a big league day in a Pittsburgh uniform.

Of course, I was right: Andersen never played for the Pirates. But I was also wrong – because within a year, Larry Andersen had developed into a excellent big league reliever with the Mariners.

The lesson for me was clear: Don’t blink, because greatness can brush by you like a stranger in a crowd.

Andersen went on to appear in 677 MLB games after that March 1980 day (he appeared in 22 as an Indians prospect between 1975 and 1979 for a big league total of 699), but may be best remembered as the player the Red Sox acquired when they sent Jeff Bagwell to the Astros in 1990.

But for me, Larry Andersen always brings back memories of a warm day in Bradenton.

Welcome, Baseball. Bring your cheer. Only two weeks until pitchers and catchers report.

Our long, cold winter is nearly over.

Craig Muder is the director of communications for the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum.

Hall Monitor: One Round Down


Hayes_90.jpgBy Trevor Hayes

The opening round of the playoffs was notable in many ways, from to woes Minnesota has with the Bronx Bombers to the tight, to-the-wire competitions between the Giants and Braves. As October rolls on, today’s players write their stories.


10-15-10-Hayes_FellerLemon.jpgThe Roys
: Bolstered by the second-ever postseason no-hitter and a solid sweep, the Phillies’ rotation is set for another run. And coincidentally, two of the team’s three NLDS starting pitchers share more than a uniform. If Roy Halladay and Roy Oswalt can help bring another World Series trophy to Philadelphia, they will be the fifth set of same-named starters to do so. The others: The 1998 Yankees with David Cone and David Wells; the 1988 Dodgers with Tim Belcher and Tim Leary; the 1983 Orioles with Mike Boddicker and Mike Flanagan; and the first pair, who not only led the 1948 Indians but also joined the Hall of Fame: Bob Feller and Bob Lemon.

Famous in Philly: Cole Hamels was impressive two years ago, and along with the Roys, he’s harnessing that again. He tossed a shutout in the deciding game of the NLDS. In 2008, he marched the Phillies to their first World Series title since 1980, picking up iconic status in the city, four wins and a pair of postseason MVP Awards along the way. His shutout this year was his sixth career playoff win, matching another legend, Hall of Famer Steve Carlton, who served as the team’s ace during its glory years in the 1980s.


10-15-10-Hayes_GehrigRuth.jpgTexas Boppers meet Bronx Bombers
: Over the last week, Ian Kinsler and Nelson Cruz provided plenty of pop to propel the Rangers to an ALCS matchup with the Yankees. The Texas duo each hit three home runs, making them the second pair of teammates to connect for at least three homers apiece while playing five or fewer postseason games, The other pair set their standard in 1928. Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig, with each famous Yankee hitting three homers during a four-game sweep of the Cardinals.

Master Lee: The Ranger’s success against the Rays can also be attributed to the man who won two games. Cliff Lee’s postseason dominance has made him seem incapable of walking batters, who seem incapable of getting to him. His 21 strikeouts without a walk set a new single-series record, besting the previous mark of 14 set by the Braves’ Kevin Millwood when he didn’t walk a Giant in the 2002 NLDS. Meanwhile, Lee  tossed a complete game in Game Five, his fifth game with seven or more innings of without a walk. That ties Hall of Fame Christy Mathewson for the second-most and is just two behind Greg Maddux’s record of seven.

10-15-10-Hayes_GomezGibson.jpgWith just two years of postseason play under his belt, Lee is now 6-0 in seven starts. Only five pitchers in major league history have six wins in their first seven postseason starts, including Hall of Famers Bob Gibson and Lefty Gomez.  Pitching in Games One and Five, Lee won his fifth and sixth straight decisions as a starter to begin his postseason career, equaling Gomez for third-most all-time. The record is eight, and Lee is slated for at least one more start without going on short rest. He’s also rattled off five straight W’s in which he pitched seven or more innings. Only Dave Stewart, Gibson and fellow Hall of Famers Red Ruffing have longer streaks.

Last of the 30: In the first-ever series in which the road team won every game, the Rangers picked up their first-ever postseason series win. Dating back to the 1961 Washington Senators, the franchise has finally claimed victory in baseball’s second season, the last active franchise to do so. The franchise waited 41 years to taste postseason glory, a drought only eclipsed by four teams, three of which began play before the World Series started in 1903. From their birth onward, only the Phillies (104 years), Dodgers (79 years), Orioles (63 years) and Cardinals (50 years) took longer to win their first playoff series. Like Texas, each of those teams had made the postseason before. And each year they finally won a postseason series, they went on to win the World Series. In fact, only the Astros, Brewers, Mariners, Nationals, Padres, Rays and Rockies did not win the World Series in the same season the franchise garnered its first playoff series win.

Trevor Hayes is the editorial production manager at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum.

No-spin zone

Francis_90.jpgBy Bill Francis

The brotherhood of big league knuckleball pitchers is relatively small, but one of its former practitioners could be seen floating through the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum on Monday.

Steve Sparks made a name for himself tossing a baseball with no spin to bewildered hitters during a nine-year big league career spent with the Milwaukee Brewers (1995-96), Anaheim Angels (1998-99), Detroit Tigers (2000-03), Oakland A’s (2003) and Arizona Diamondbacks (2004). The right-hander made the trip from his home outside Houston in Sugar Land, Texas, with his 14-year-old son Blake.

07-20-10-Francis_Sparks.jpg“Blake and I have talked about coming to the Hall of Fame for four or five years now,” Spark said. “He’s going into high school next year and just thought with his schedule this might be our last chance for awhile, so we decided to make the trip this year.

“His sisters are in camp for the month of July so this is a chance for him and me to get out and do something by ourselves.”

This was Sparks’ first trip to the Hall of Fame.

“I’d never been here before, so I was very anxious. It’s a dream come true just seeing all the artifacts. I’ve always been enthralled by the game’s history,” Sparks said. “I grew up reading books about the history of the game, and I work with Fox Sports in Houston doing the pre- and post-game shows for the Houston Astros, so I’ve stayed in it and I’ve always enjoyed it. So for Blake and me to enjoy this together has been a lot of fun.”

Sparks, who turned 45 on July 2, ended his major league with a 59-76 record, highlighted by a 14-9 mark with the 2001 Tigers, and a 4.88 ERA.

“I was in my 40s and I just felt like I was ready to be home with my family,” Sparks said. “And the hitters let me know it was time to get out of the game, too.”

While the Hall of Fame boasts two knuckleball pitchers – Hoyt Wilhelm and Phil Niekro – the game has seen at least 250, but fewer than 90 who threw it regularly. This year, only Boston’s Tim Wakefield, R.A. Dickey of the Mets and Los Angeles Dodger Charlie Haeger are regulars at it.

Sparks was your regular fastball, curveball, slider, changeup pitcher before the Brewers approached him about making a radical change.

“I played professionally for 19 years but my first five or six years I was a conventional pitcher,” Sparks said. “I was kind of stalling out at the Double-A level, and the Milwaukee Brewers, the team I was with in the minor leagues at that point, felt like I might be a good candidate for the knuckleball because being shorter in stature helps (he’s 6-feet tall) and also I had pretty clean mechanics.

“They gave me a three-year plan and I started back over in Single-A, and by the end of that three years I was knocking on the door.”

According to Sparks, it was a lot of trial and error in the beginning, but eventually a coach hooked him up with big league knuckleballer Tom Candiotti.

“I had about five pages worth of questions to ask him over the telephone,” Sparks said. “And then actually got a chance to meet him at the Houston Astrodome at the tail end of one of his seasons with the Dodgers and that was very beneficial. It’s a very close fraternity of knuckleball pitchers, and Candiotti, for myself, was probably the most helpful. He was kind of a hybrid knuckleball pitcher, where he threw a lot of curves and sliders and fastballs, and that’s what I did a lot.

“The biggest luxury for me at the major league level was the bounce back factor. You didn’t have to rely on velocity three or four days after you pitched. You could go out there, and as long as you had good feel and took the spin off the ball you had a chance to be successful.”

And while Sparks played with and against a number of Hall of Famers over the years, he grew up in Tulsa, Okla., with fellow pitcher Tom Seaver as his favorite player.

“In 1969 I was five years old and my father taught me how to read the box scores,” Sparks said. “That was the year the Mets had their miracle season, Tom Seaver was the best player on that team at that time, and that’s who I stuck with.”

Bill Francis is a library associate for the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum.

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