August 25, 2006
Those Who Repeat History are Doomed to Repeat HistoryAlways with one eye on the future and another on the past (with a third still minding the present), we examine today a unique baseball curio that deserves to be dusted off and appraised for possible reuse.
On September 27, 1963, the Houston Colt .45s fielded an all-rookie starting lineup. What made this something more than a novelty act is the fact that it included a future Hall of Famer (Joe Morgan) and a couple of other guys who went on to have excellent careers in the persons of Rusty Staub and Jimmy Wynn). (Imagine having a core of Morgan, Staub and Wynn with the average age of 20. In hindsight, the possibilities seem endless.) Jerry Grote and Sonny Jackson also had careers of decent length, too, with Grote still being active 18 years later.
The Houston starters in this game were especially young. At 21 years, six months, Wynn was the oldest. Most were teenagers and Morgan was just this side of 20. In fact, the '63 Colt .45s unleashed a total of nine teenagers on the world. No other team in history is even close. In spite of what we have been led to believe, there weren't really all that many teenagers playing big league baseball during World War II. The 1944 Dodgers used six and a number of teams, like the Yankees, never used any at all. The other team with the most teenagers was the 1915 A's who also used six as Connie Mack seemed bent on giving every wayward lad on the East Coast a shot at making his team.
Furthermore, the .45s had a number of other very young rookies they could have started as well. Dave Adlesh and Ivan Murrell were all very young and handy. 19-year old rookie pitcher Chris Zachary had started three days before and would close out the season two days after this game. Larry Yellen was supposed to be the starting pitcher but had to opt out because he was observing Yom Kippur. Most famously--and I think I had it in my head that his moment of glory came in this game but it did not--was John Paciorek. The 18-year old would make history two days later by reaching base in all five trips to the plate in his one and only major league game.
Houston's starting lineup:
Every reliever the .45s used was a rookie, as were the other substitutes save for one. Carl Warwick pinch-hit for pitcher Jim Dickson in the eighth inning. Given that Murrell and Paciorek were around, it's a shame one of them wasn't used instead although in Paciorek's case, preserving the all-rookie presentation would have been trading one novelty for another.
The ninth-place .45s lost the game 10-3 to the last-place New York Mets, a team they led in the standings by 14 games. Since then, no other team has ever started an all-rookie lineup, even with all the possibilities that September 1st call-ups present.
I would propose that should change this year. We have in our midst a ballclub that, with very little tinkering, could very easily replicate the Houston trick. The Florida Marlins have the personnel to make this a reality. There doesn't even need to be too much contriving involved since they already have so many rookies on hand playing regular roles.
The lineup could look like this:
Heck, the lineup already looks almost like that. Everyone except Mitchell and Hoover have had significant playing time this year. Hoover has had just four at bats making Mitchell the one pure contrivance. He's currently the third baseman for the Carolina Mudcats of the Southern League. Since the men playing third for the Marlins at Triple A have too much big league time to be considered rookies, it would fall to Mitchell (.214/.314/.405) to fill out the lineup. The other option would be to move Ramirez to third for the day and let Robert Andino start at shortstop.
In addition, the Marlins also have enough rookie pitchers that they could--a lengthy extra inning game excepted--not use a single non-freshman in the game. Chris Resop, Renyel Pinto, Carlos Martinez, Taylor Tankersley and Yusmeiro Petit are all rookies who have done bullpen time this year. This does nothing to mention which starter would get the call. I've listed Johnson because he's having the best year on the team, but they have other choices as well. If, when the time comes, it's not his turn, there are a host of others who could get the call. All have pitched well enough that the Marlins would not be compromised in the same way the '.45s were in 1963 when they chose as Yellen's replacement the adolescent Jay Dahl, a 17-year old making his major league debut. Dahl was cuffed around by the Mets and left trailing 8-0.
No such fate would await the Marlins if Johnson were to be out of turn and they chose to start Anibal Sanchez, Ricky Nolasco or Scott Olsen. All three have double-figure VORPs. Sanchez has pitched well enough to win his last four starts. He's walking a few more than you'd like but sporting the lowest BABIP on the team, so all's well that ends well.
There is a cautionary note that should be sounded, though. What the second-year .45s were doing--apart from generating some ink for a team playing out the string--was announcing to their fans that there was plenty to look forward to in the future. There is no such message to be sent to the fans of south Florida. While the Marlins have outperformed all expectations so far this year, we can't forget that the season began with city representatives of San Antonio, Texas attending the team's season opener against the Astros in Houston. While it would certainly be something to talk about and remember fondly, an all-rookie Marlins game might be hard-pressed to outdraw the original, a contest that attracted just 5,802 customers.
Regardless, it's worth doing. It could even be scheduled for the home game against the Reds on September 27--43 years to the day after the Colt .45s pulled the stunt.
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Thank you for the many responses to my question about sign stealing that I posed in Tuesday's column. The answers were unanimous in their opinion that sign stealing of the non-technical variety--that is, done from the field or dugout without surveillance devices--does most decidedly not constitute cheating.