CSS Button No Image Css3Menu.com

Baseball Prospectus home
  
  
Click here to log in Click here for forgotten password Click here to subscribe

<< Previous Article
Premium Article Future Shock: The Top ... (04/07)
<< Previous Column
You Can Blog It Up: De... (04/07)
Next Column >>
You Can Blog It Up: De... (04/09)
Next Article >>
Premium Article Ahead in the Count: Pr... (04/08)

April 8, 2010

You Can Blog It Up

Dead Player of the Day and Other Notes #9

by Steven Goldman

DEAD PLAYER OF THE DAY

In which I pick a page from the encyclopedia at random and riff on what I find.

Karl Spooner LHP 1954-1955 (1931-1984)

An epically mishandled super-prospect, though no one knew any better at the time. Signed by the Dodgers in 1950 for just $600, Spooner had great raw stuff for a left-hander, but the Dodgers failed to nurture it. His 1954 with Fort Worth of the Texas League was amazing, and by today’s standards spectacularly abusive. He pitched 42 games, starting 31. He threw 238 innings, allowed 176 hits, 162 walks, and struck out 262. His ERA was 3.14. According to the Sporting News, “His blazing fastball  has brought him a one-hitter, three two-hitters, one three-hitter, one four-hitter and two five-hitters. He once struck out 15 men in one game, twice whiffed 14, once fanned 13, and three times struck out 12.” (He also pitched two no-hitters at the lower levels.) To that innings total, add in winter ball during the previous winter and several starts in the ’54 Texas League playoffs. In the last of them, Spooner pitched 16 innings.  

Spooner had help on at least one of his Fort Worth strikeouts. In a July road game against the Houston Buffs, the umpire called Spooner’s first pitch on batter George Lerchen a strike. Lerchen argued the call, stepping out of the box to do so. The umpire ordered him to hit, but Lerchen kept arguing. The umpire told Spooner to pitch to the empty box. He did, and the umpire called strike two. A whole bunch of ejections followed, including Lerchen, his manager (Dixie Walker), and two other Buffs. When the pinch-hitter to finish Lerchen’s at-bat was slow in arriving, the umpire told Spooner to pitch again, even though there was no batter at the plate. Strike three was called. More ejections followed and a near-riot on the part of the Buffs fans, but the K is part of the record…

The Dodgers were in the process of losing the pennant to the Giants by a mere five games, in large part because their starting rotation was weak, so their failure to call up Spooner sooner played a significant role in the race. Spooner was a drawing card for the Cats and ownership was reluctant to let him go, so the Dodgers left him in Texas until the very end of the season. When a couple of their starters went out with sore arms at the very end of the season, manager Walter Alston decided to give him a try. Spooner started against the NL champion Giants on September 22 (though Leo Durocher rested most of his regulars after an at-bat or two each) and pitched a three-hitter (Alvin Dark, Willie Mays, and Johnny Antonelli got him), walking three and striking out 15. He struck out the side three times, and at one point struck out six consecutive batters. He K’d his last batter, pinch-hitter Dusty Rhodes, who was having a season for the ages (.341/.410/.695), one which he would carry into the World Series. In Peter Golenbock’s Bums, Clem Labine recalled, “That man had a fastball that was unbelievable, not for sheer speed, but for how much the ball moved… I can remember Dusty Rhodes… saying to Leo, ‘Give me a bat. I can hit this kid.’ And he went out there and took three strikes, boom, boom, boom, never swung at one. He went back to the dugout and conceded, ‘Yeah, he has good stuff.’”

After the game, catcher Roy Campanella said, “He’s the greatest young pitcher I’ve ever seen. I couldn’t believe it.” Spooner had time for one more start before the season ended. He pitched a four-hit shutout against the Pirates, striking out 12. That was the last game of the season. Spooner’s debut went into the books: 18 innings, seven hits, no runs, six walks, 27 strikeouts.

Spooner and the Dodgers spent the winter dreaming on the terrific rotation they would have in 1955, with the young fireballer joining don Newcombe, Carl Erskine, and Johnny Podres. During spring training, as Spooner was hurriedly warming up to get into a game, something tore in his shoulder. The Dodgers nursed him through 29 games, but the stuff was gone forever. Surgery failed to bring it back, and Spooner’s career was over.

A Serious Question

I was watching a bit of today’s Dodgers at Pirates game and counting the empty seats. I gave up when I reached 35,000 (announced attendance was 9,352). Last season, the Pirates finished third-to-last in the majors total attendance at 1.58 million. During the postseason years of 1990-1992, they ranked no higher than sixth in the NL. The year PNC Park opened, they drew roughly 2.5 million, which was good enough for only 11th in the NL. The novelty of the new park quickly wore off, and since then they have typically finished 15th out of the 16 NL teams. Pittsburgh has been losing population continuously since the 1960s, a trend the current census will undoubtedly continue. Demographics suggest that the local fanbase lacks the funds to adequately support the team.

Why is there major league baseball in Pittsburgh? PNC Park is not the reason. Just because someone was willing to build the Pirates a wonderful ballpark does not mean that it should have been built, nor does it make the Pirates a viable franchise even if they start winning, though that last point will remain an irresolvable hypothetical for so long as the Pirates remain a second-division team. With only 38,000 seats, unless PNC somehow develops a Fenway-like cachet and resultantly inflated pricing, the Pirates may never get adequate support from attendance.

The Pittsburgh Metropolitan Statistical Area currently ranks 22nd in the nation. Of the 21 larger markets, all but one, the Inland Empire area of California, has a team. When the current census is completed, we could see several MSAs surpass the old-time Steeltown, among them Portland, Sacramento, Orlando, and San Antonio.  The average income in these places is higher. As in the early 1950s, when baseball found itself out of alignment with the population and suffered declines in attendance as a result, it is detrimental to the health of the game to cling to a location just because it has a long tradition of being there.  

You often hear of places like Portland that although they’re sort of nice places, they could never support a MLB franchise. Depending on your point of view, Pittsburgh either proves or disproves that. Baseball doesn’t need more small-market franchises, but as population shifts are documented, areas now viewed as marginal will become viable and areas now considered viable will become unsupportable. Pittsburgh is already there, it’s just that no one is ready to acknowledge it. Baseball leaving is an inevitability.

The DPOTD Index

At reader request:

DPOTD #1 George Grantham

DPOTD #2: Tommy Bridges

DPOTD #3: George Case

DPOTD #4: Bill Bevens

DPOTD #5: Sammy Byrd

DPOTD #6: Paul Strand

DPOTD #7: Ival Goodman

DPOTD #8: Herm Winningham (Not Dead)

Steven Goldman is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Steven's other articles. You can contact Steven by clicking here

Related Content:  Pittsburgh Pirates

11 comments have been left for this article. (Click to hide comments)

BP Comment Quick Links

jayjaybee99

Let's hope that baseball remains in Pittsburgh. I'm from NY and not a Pirates fan, but as a lover of the history of BB it would be a blow to lose an original 8 NL team. Granted they need to start to win and spend some $ to make that happen, but it is to the benefit of baseball to have a home in Pittsburgh.

Apr 08, 2010 14:20 PM
rating: 0
 
ObviouslyRob

If the Pirates move, it'll make an even four of the original eight in the same city, four moved. I like the balance!

The shame would be losing that absolutely stunning park. But as far as baseball in Pittsburgh is concerned? Well, looking at the past 17 seasons, it's been lost for a while.

Apr 08, 2010 16:32 PM
rating: 0
 
krissbeth

What teams would you contract on this basis? Or are you strictly thinking of moving teams to new locales?

Apr 08, 2010 14:25 PM
rating: 0
 
BobbyRoberto
(907)

Everything you wrote about Pittsburgh is probably true, but it would crush me to have my lifelong favorite team be contracted or moved. There's no way I can be rational about this, I realize, but as a Pirates fan I can't imagine anything worse that MLB could do than eliminate my team.

Apr 08, 2010 14:36 PM
rating: 2
 
devine

Hi from Portland! We'll take those Pirates whenever you're finished with them, Pittsburgh.

Apr 08, 2010 16:06 PM
rating: 0
 
devine

...or the Rays. How about the Rays? They didn't get their new stadium, did they?

Apr 08, 2010 16:06 PM
rating: 0
 
Richie

As Bill James (cue chorale music) has written, it's not just $$$, but loyalty too. Not keeping the Pirates there for old times' sake, but because there is a base there that's committed to 'their' team. A base which does spend money, and which isn't in place in (say) San Antonio. So San Antonio has to have a lot more $$$ there than Pittsburgh in order to be a ready substitute for Pittsburgh.

Given how awful the Pirates have been for how long, I don't see grounds for reading rites over Pittsburgh. Milwaukee's smaller than Pittsburgh, has the lake directly to the east and the Cubbies and Sox to the south. Yet is now drawing very well, after one measly playoff appearance (and quick washout). And it's not like the Pirates can move into Brooklyn or Long Island or Malibu. For the foreseeable future they are and ought to be committed to Pittsburgh.

Apr 08, 2010 16:14 PM
rating: 1
 
David J Marsh

Pirates should move to Charlotte, there's already a ton of Steeler fans here to welcome them.

I hope they stay in Pitt.

Apr 08, 2010 18:06 PM
rating: 0
 
R.A.Wagman

I get the point, but what a shame that would be. My brother and I did a short baseball junket last summer, and the highlight for me was Pittsburgh. PNC Park was stunning, the Pirates had a good crowd that night (http://www.retrosheet.org/boxesetc/2009/B08010PIT2009.htm), more than I have gotten used to seeing at the Rogers Centre in Toronto. The Pirates themselves were young and exciting - check that boxscore.
I have also read reports of Pittsburgh experiencing rebirth by devoting energy and funds to different industries, health and/pharmaceuticals, IIRC. People of Pittsburgh - it's up to you.

Apr 08, 2010 19:28 PM
rating: 0
 
bcat25

Being a lifelong yinzer, you are way off base and don't know much about the current economy or cultural boom of Pittsburgh at all(#1 housing market, few more I cut and pasted at bottom). If the management spent just a little bit of money the seats would be filled. Pittsburgh is a HUGE sports town (and always looking to tailgate) but they will only support winners. Look at the Pens, they were almost moved a decade back. They built a strong team through the draft and struck the lotto with Crosby. Now they are one of the hottest teams in the NHL and sell out every game. You should here the buzz around this place after taking the first two from the Dodgers. Its crazy. But it happens every year a bunch of excitement and packed houses only to see the Buccos go 6-18 in May. By the way, The game you so happened to catch was a Thursday afternoon game with 80% chance of rain. Believe me if the Bucs can somehow remain around .500 well into August, they will increase their attendance compared to the past 10 seasons. All Pittsburgh needs is a .500 ball club and they will come.

Here's some rankings to ponder
Pittsburgh has been named one of North America's top three Cities of the Future by Foreign Direct Land Investment magazine, an affiliate of the Financial Times, London. The rankings are based on a variety of criteria, and Pittsburgh topped the list of large cities in cost effectiveness, which included business space rental and purchase prices, salaries and energy costs.

Most Livable Pittsburgh has been ranked #1 Most Livable City in America by Places Rated Almanac. The 379 metropolitan areas surveyed were evaluated in nine categories: housing affordability (cost of living), transportation, jobs, education, climate, crime, health care, recreation and ambience (museums, performing arts, restaurants and historical districts).

Creative Pittsburgh is rated one of the five best places for members of the so-called "Creative Class"—a segment that fuels cultural and economic vitality—in a study released by Kiplinger Personal Finance Magazine in cooperation with former Carnegie Mellon University professor Richard Florida, who developed the "creative class" concept.

Cleanest Pittsburgh has been ranked among the top 10 of the World's Cleanest Cities by Forbes magazine. The magazine recognized the city's transformation stating, "though formerly a steel capital of the U.S., it has turned around and is now into healthcare, education, robotics, technology and financial services."


Pittsburgh has been ranked one of the smartest places to live in America by Kiplinger's Personal Finance Magazine. Based largely on its affordability, cultural and leisure activities, education options and quality housing, Pittsburgh is the ninth smartest place to set down roots. The magazine studied data that also included the quality of healthcare, crime rates, weather and commute times in an effort to determine the 50 most fiscally sensible cities in America in which to live. The magazine had positive comments about Pittsburgh: “Currently undergoing a renaissance, this hidden gem has distinctive neighborhoods, tree-lined streets, glittering skyscrapers, upscale shops and a diversified economy.”

Pittsburgh ranks among America's 50 Hottest Cities for business relocation and expansion, according to Expansion Management. The magazine's list was determined by site selectors and their perceptions of a city's potential based on factors like business environment, work force quality, operating costs, incentive programs, work force training programs, and the ease of working with the local political and economic development community.

Apr 09, 2010 12:05 PM
rating: 0
 
Drungo

I think the measure of MLB shouldn't be the Yanks and the Red Sox and how well they support giant metropolitan areas, but instead how well MLB can come up with a business model that maximizes the number of people who have local teams.

Pittsburgh can support a very good baseball team. I have little doubt that Milwaukee and Cincy can, too. As well as Portland and San Antonio and Las Vegas and Vancouver. Not under the current setup, where the big teams are allowed to have eternal access to markets five, 10, 20 times larger than others. But there could certianly be reforms that give everyone roughly equal markets, so any metro area with roughly 1M people could support a team.

I much prefer a setup where everyone has a home team to root for, rather than one where most of the people in Portland and Pittsburgh root for the Yanks and Sox, or ignore the sport altogether.

Apr 09, 2010 12:41 PM
rating: 0
 
You must be a Premium subscriber to post a comment.
Not a subscriber? Sign up today!
<< Previous Article
Premium Article Future Shock: The Top ... (04/07)
<< Previous Column
You Can Blog It Up: De... (04/07)
Next Column >>
You Can Blog It Up: De... (04/09)
Next Article >>
Premium Article Ahead in the Count: Pr... (04/08)

RECENTLY AT BASEBALL PROSPECTUS
Fantasy Article Player Profile: David Robertson
Fantasy Article The -Only League Landscape: National League ...
Fantasy Article Tale of the Tape, Dynasty Edition: Nick Burd...
Fantasy Article Dynasty League Positional Rankings: Top 50 R...
Premium Article Rumor Roundup: Huston Street Might Have Reli...
Pitching Backward: In Search of the Winninge...
Rubbing Mud: A Solution Does Not Exist

MORE FROM APRIL 8, 2010
Premium Article Under The Knife: Sneaky Recoveries
Premium Article Manufactured Runs: April is the Cruelest Mon...
Premium Article Future Shock: The Top 101 Prospects Update, ...
Premium Article Ahead in the Count: Projecting Free Agent Pe...
Premium Article Contractual Matters: Rule 5 Update

MORE BY STEVEN GOLDMAN
2010-04-13 - You Can Blog It Up: Dead Player of the Day #...
2010-04-12 - You Can Blog It Up: Dead Player of the Day a...
2010-04-09 - You Can Blog It Up: Dead Player of the Day a...
2010-04-08 - You Can Blog It Up: Dead Player of the Day a...
2010-04-07 - You Can Blog It Up: Dead Player of the Day a...
2010-04-06 - You Can Blog It Up: Dead Player of the Day a...
2010-04-05 - You Can Blog It Up: Dead Player of the Day a...
More...

MORE YOU CAN BLOG IT UP
2010-04-13 - You Can Blog It Up: Dead Player of the Day #...
2010-04-12 - You Can Blog It Up: Dead Player of the Day a...
2010-04-09 - You Can Blog It Up: Dead Player of the Day a...
2010-04-08 - You Can Blog It Up: Dead Player of the Day a...
2010-04-07 - You Can Blog It Up: Dead Player of the Day a...
2010-04-06 - You Can Blog It Up: Dead Player of the Day a...
2010-04-05 - You Can Blog It Up: Dead Player of the Day a...
More...

INCOMING ARTICLE LINKS
2010-05-12 - You Can Blog It Up: Dead Player of the Day #...