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February 1, 2012

The BP Broadside

My Seven Days of Nervous Baseball and Other Stories

by Steven Goldman

It is Wednesday, One of My Seven Days of Nervous Baseball
On Mondays, I feel like it’s August 16, 1920 and I’m Ray Chapman, striding to the plate against Carl Mays at the Polo Grounds. I’m going to take that submarining busher’s next pitch and kill it—I just have to remember to crowd in so he doesn’t get me on the inside corner.

On Tuesdays, I feel like I’m Lou Gehrig. It’s April 30, 1939, and Joe Gordon is patting me on the back for making a routine stop on a grounder.

On Wednesdays, I feel like it’s June 18, 1977 and I’m Paul Blair. Reggie Jackson has just dawdled after a Jim Rice double and manager Billy Martin has sent me out to right field to replace him in the middle of the inning and on national television. I don’t know if Billy is right or if he’s wrong; I just know that this is the longest jog of my life because Reggie is going to kill me when I finally get there.

On Thursdays, it’s always June 24, 1970 and I’m Tony Horton. I’ve just been humiliated by a couple of Steve Hamilton eephus pitches, and I’m wondering if anyone will think it odd if I just crawl back to the dugout.

On Fridays, I’m Joe Cowley and I just pitched a no-hitter against the California Angels. Sure, I walked seven and allowed a run, but man, I’m good and I’m only going to get better.

On Saturdays, I rest and, as Satchel Paige advised, try to think cool thoughts. Mostly, though, I end up flashing back to some of the glorious days of my past, like my major league debut on July 27, 1918—started the day on the mound for Brooklyn, finished it in uniform with the Navy. In between, I didn’t get an out.

On Sundays, I’m Buck Weaver. It’s October 9, 1919, and I can congratulate myself on having hit .324 in an errorless eight-game World Series. Whatever my teammates have done, I know that for me, it’s going to be all right.

Pursuant to the Foregoing
I’m not depressed, just cynical, pessimistic, and paranoid. Also, I have this rash on my head.  

Pursuant to the More Recent Foregoing
These guys have totally ruined Peanuts for me. Each time I pick up a new volume of the Complete Peanuts from Fantagraphics, I find myself reading each strip twice, once the four-panel way, once the three-panel way—and the three-panel way is often devastating.

Cut Him Open, Count the Rings, and Find Out
I hope Livan Hernandez pitches for another 15 years. Sure, he’s been significantly better than replacement level just once since 2005, and for all we know he might be older than Yoda, but to take off from a point that Bill James once made about Goose Gossage, he might as well keep going—he’s going to be retired a long time.

According to his baseball card, Hernandez won’t even turn 37 for almost three weeks, but it’s much more fun to pretend that he’s somewhere in his late 40s. I’ve always been fascinated by pitchers like Satchel Paige, who tried to live up to the title of Paige’s autobiography, Maybe I’ll Pitch Forever.

Paige pitched three shutout innings for the Kansas City A’s at 58, after a gap of 12 years. A handful of other players got in a post-50 cameo, Paige- or Minnie Minoso-style, but just one pitcher made it to 50 as a contiguous part of his career. That was the spitballer Jack Quinn, who pitched in the majors (including the Federal League) from 1909-1915, then returned from a two-year stay in the almost-major Pacific Coast League and hung around until 1933.

Quinn’s age, name, and place of birth were constantly questioned during his career, and it turns out that nobody had them right, possibly including Quinn himself. He obfuscated about his age, and for good reason—he wanted to keep pitching. Sportswriters could infer from the fact that it was 1933 and Quinn had been pitching in the bigs since 1909 that he was at minimum somewhere in his 40s, but some had gotten the idea that Quinn was old enough to have lied about his age and enlisted to fight in the Spanish-American War (1898) at 16, making his birth-year 1882 and 1932 his age-50 season. When asked about the war, Quinn would deny it or say he never heard of it, Theodore Roosevelt, the Maine, Cuba, or Spain. Put him in front of Mt. Rushmore and point out Teddy’s giant head, and he would put his hands over his eyes and say, “I don’t see anything! Nothing at all!”

In fact, the writers were off by about a year. Quinn was born in 1883, making 1933 his age-49 season given a July 1 birth date. He pitched only twice after that date before drawing what turned out to be his final release, but Quinn was certifiably 50 at that point, even if no one knew it for sure at the time.

Hall of Fame knuckleballer Hoyt Wilhelm got close. When the Dodgers released him on July 21, 1972, he was just five days short of his 50th birthday. He was healthy and effective until he was 48, but after that the clock was ticking. Phil Niekro was fun until he was about 46, far less so at 47 and 48. A sustained Jamie Moyer comeback may be our best hope for the first 50-year-old hurler in 79 years… Unless, of course, the Astros keep Livan around for another, well, how many years do they have to keep him around, anyway?

The Yankees Hire Jim Hendry
He got a multi-year deal, too. If A.J. Burnett has job security, everybody deserves job security.

Pursuant to the Foregoing
They once signed Fred Merkle, too.

Merkle Got a Raw Deal
Yes, I know. I never promised to be fair. See, it's 3:30 AM on Wednesday, and at 3:30 AM on Wednesday, I feel like Fred Merkle making a run for the clubhouse as the fans pour onto the field...

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:  Fred Merkle

6 comments have been left for this article.

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