September 6, 2005
You Could Look It Up
Baseball Prospectus Infinity Edition #5
If Baseball Prospectus had been founded by Samuel Clemens in 1884 instead of Gary Huckabay in 1996, not only would Mark Twain have died a happier, wealthier man, not only would he never have written "Tom Sawyer, Detective," but we would have player comments that predated the first Baseball Prospectus book. These are an approximation of those comments. For the past four installments we've been working our way through the alphabet before wrapping around and starting over. This installment, players from Q through S:
JACK QUINN, RHP, NEW YORK YANKEES, 1909-1912, 1919-1921; BALTIMORE TERRAPINS, 1914-1915; PHILADELPHIA A'S, 1925-1930; BROOKLYN DODGERS 1931-32; CINCINNATI REDS, 1933
Jack Quinn was in the majors beginning in 1909 and was still there in 1933. He was nearly 50 by the time he was done, and there was suspicion among the writers that he was actually older. Some said that he had fought in the Spanish-American War as an underage volunteer in 1898. That would have meant he was born somewhere between 1881 and 1883. If that was in fact the case, he was already 50 when closing (quite effectively, too) for the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1931-1932.
In an anticipation of the 2002-2003 Dominican "Age-gate," Quinn didn't want anyone to know his actual age; no team would want to give a 50-year-old a contract. He claimed a birth date of July 5, 1885, and when reporters would quiz him on his military service, he would pretend he had no idea what they were talking about. The dialogue went something like this:
WRITER: Say, Jack, did you ever run into Teddy Roosevelt when you were out in Cuba?
WRITER: Theodore Roosevelt.
QUINN: Never heard of him.
WRITER: The late president. Rode up San Juan Hill in that war.
QUINN: What war?
WRITER: Spanish-American War.
QUINN: We fought Spain?
WRITER: Yeah, you know..."Remember the Maine," Dewey taking Manila and all that.
QUINN: Spain, huh? Well I'll be darned. When was this alleged war?
WRITER: Actual war. It was...
QUINN: Hypotheticall war. Was that the same Dewey who used to play third for Toledo? That kid had thick fingers like overstuffed sausage casings, and one time there was this girl, see, and...
WRITER: No, it really happened, this war...
QUINN: Ostensible war.
WRITER: Official war. That you were in. In 1898.
QUINN: Eighteen-ninety-eight? Oh, well that explains it. I was still a wee bairn then. Hadn't even been weaned from me mama's bounteous mammary glands what nourished all 17 of us children simultaneously. Which reminds me of that Toledo Dewey that you brought up. "Dipsy" Dewey they called him. You see, there was this girl, and…
And onward it went until game time or someone phoned in a bomb threat.
Quinn was one of 16 spitball pitchers who were grandfathered after the unsanitary pitch was outlawed prior to the 1920 season. By and large these spitballers were an unusual bunch. While there was nothing much exciting about Yancey "Doc" Ayers of the Detroit Tigers (studied medicine, never finished), Dana Fillingim of the Boston Braves (he pitched a 19-inning complete game on May 3, 1920, beating the Dodgers 2-1), "Bald Dick" Rudolph, also of the Braves (became a mortician after leaving baseball), or Allen "Dixie" Sothoron of The St. Louis Browns (was called "Dixie" because people insisted on pronouncing his name "Southern"), the rest packed a lot of strangeness into a small, select group:
RAY "RUBE" CALDWELL, CLEVELAND INDIANS: Struck by lightning while making his first start for the Indians in the ninth inning of the August 24, 1919 game against the A's. He got up and finished the inning for a 2-1 win.
STAN COVELESKI, CLEVELAND INDIANS: Won 215 games with a .602 winning percentage, 2.88 ERA, inducted into Hall of Fame.
"SPITTIN'" BILL DOAK, ST. LOUIS CARDINALS: The Bill Doak model glove was a best-seller for Rawlings for years after his retirement in 1929, continuing even after his death; because he was one of the first pitchers to endorse a glove, his namesake mitt became the basic model for the line.
"SHUFFLIN'" PHIL DOUGLAS, NEW YORK GIANTS: Made a famously bad career move: Got drunk, wrote a letter to a member of the Cardinals suggesting that he would be willing to throw games. Judge Landis banned him for life.
RED FABER, CHICAGO WHITE SOX: One of the 1919 White Sox who didn't cheat, Faber won 254 games with a succession of bad teams, made it to the Hall of Fame in 1964.
RAY FISHER, CINCINNATI REDS: Banned from baseball for life by Judge Landis… for jaywalking (this is just a guess but it's as good as any other, since Fisher hadn't done anything worse than voluntarily retire and Landis never explained what he was doing); was Gerald R. Ford's football coach at Michigan. Was reinstated at the age of 92 by Commissioner Bowie Kuhn.
MARV GOODWIN, ST. LOUIS CARDINALS: Pitched ineffectively through 1922 and was released; pitched his way back to the majors with the Reds at the tail end of 1925 only to die from injuries suffered in a military plane crash (he was an officer in the air reserve) on October 25 of that year.
BURLEIGH "OL' STUBBLEBEARD" GRIMES, BROOKLYN DODGERS: Won 270 games, inducted into the Hall of Fame.
CLARENCE MITCHELL, BROOKLYN DODGERS: The only lefty spitballer in big-league history, in the fifth game of the 1920 World Series, his line drive to Cleveland second baseman Bill Wambsganss started the only unassisted triple play in World Series history.
ALLAN RUSSELL, BOSTON RED SOX: Suffered paralytic stroke on June 24, 1920, while waiting for a train prior to series against the Yankees. He was 26 years old.
URBAN SHOCKER, ST. LOUIS BROWNS: A deteriorating heart condition forced him to retire early in the 1928 season at age 35; he died before the year was out.
Jack Quinn's birth is now recognized to have taken place on July 5, 1883.
ROLANDO ROOMES, OF, CINCINNATI REDS, 1988-1990, MONTREAL EXPOS, 1990
Rolando Roomes was among the best in major-league history at not making contact. If his 130 strikeouts in 406 career at bats actually qualified for the career list, his 32% would rank second only to Rob Deer's 36% in the history of the majors. Yes, in some ways Roomes is one of the few players that can claim he was better at what he did than all but one player in the lifetime of the game. In fact, his one skill was so refined that they couldn't let him play anymore.
Roomes' ranking on the all-time list assumes none of the other short-timers beat him there; freer swingers include Oakland A's great Rob Nelson, who whiffed in 43% of his 152 career at-bats, or Rangers mistake Bo Porter, who fanned the spectators 41% of the time in 126 career at-bats.
In Roomes' sole extended trial, 1989, his averages were .263/.296/.419. The National League hit .246/.312/.365. In another year the Reds might have cared more about on-base percentage, but in 1989 the team and the city were distracted by the Pete Rose scandal. Resultantly, lots of Reds got to post poor OBPs. Todd Benzinger was given an insane 686 plate appearances and allowed to bat .245/.293/.381 (1.3 VORP). He was the first baseman. Lenny Harris (one of the most inexplicable careers of all time--he must have the world's most charming personality) consumed 199 plate appearances and batted .223/.263/.277. These merely scratch the surface of a team too confused to concentrate on winning.
Roomes was 25, old for a prospect when he had his minor-league breakthrough at double-A in 1987. Here are the numbers that got the Reds excited enough to deal Lloyd McClendon to the Cubs for him:
AB H 2B 3B HR BB SO SB CS AVG OBP SLG 1987 Pittsfield, AA 503 155 19 12 21 42 135 32 17 .308 .369 .519 1988 Iowa, AAA 419 126 19 5 16 26 134 15 10 .301 .359 .484These numbers were superficially interesting, but masked Roomes' key weakness. Like Dennis Haysbert's Pedro Cerrano in "Major League," which came out at the same time that Roomes did, Roomes could not lay off the curve ball. Surfacing in May as a platoon alternative to Paul O'Neill, Roomes batted .362/.375/.617 before word got around the league. Roomes hit his third home run on June 3. His next one came on July 6. He saw only a handful of fastballs in that time and would see only a handful more during the brief remainder of his career.
COUNT SENSENDERFER, OF, PHILADELPHIA ATHLETICS (NATIONAL ASSOCIATION), 1871-1874
Not much is known about John Phillips Jenkins Sensenderfer. That he was born in Philadelphia in 1847 and died there in 1903 is clear, but as for the rest, it's not even known for sure whether he batted right-handed or left-handed. Nor was he a star. But Count Sensenderfer was one of the great baseball names, and some of the game's original magic was lost when he went away.