The break from the routine–that’s what we’re all after. Whether it be in the workplace or during an affair of the heart (or both, depending on your employer’s laws covering such things), we’re all looking for that which does not fit a certain pattern. In the case of baseball, we want to find the most extreme exceptions, those that are so far afield from the ordinary occurrences of a player’s career, that they look downright alien in the context of their careers. Thanks to the efforts of retrosheet.org, we can now view box scores from individual games.
With that in mind, let’s examine some of the great exceptions of the recent past:
Ladies and gentlemen, tonight’s starting pitcher: Jesse Orosco
This is how you know you’re getting old: you remember when Jesse Orosco was a rookie. That was 1,258 appearances and a quarter-century ago. Of that career-record 1,258 games, Orosco relieved in 1,254 of them. Here are the exceptions:
June 6, 1979 at Cincinnati
How many times has this happened to you? You’ve never pitched at a higher level than community college or rookie ball and the next thing you know, it’s Opening Day and you’re on the mound at Wrigley Field. That was Orosco’s early career trajectory. (He retired the one batter he faced that day: Bill Buckner.) Orosco did not begin his professional career as a starter and then convert. The year before, he had relieved in all 20 appearances he made in the Appalachian League as a member of the Twins organization. By the time he found the ball in his locker at Riverfront Stadium on June 6, he had made 16 relief appearances after making the Mets team out of spring training. He was averaging a walk every two innings to that point and walks were involved in both runs he allowed in his first start. He was lifted for a pinch hitter leading off the sixth, leaving the game down 2-0. (New York would later rally for a 5-3 win.)
June 11, 1979 vs. Cincinnati
Another start and another four-walk performance, only this time it came in just 3 2/3 innings. Again, Orosco left trailing 2-0 and again the Mets rallied to win. This one earned him a demotion to the minor leagues where he would remain for over two years. He spent the rest of 1979 starting at Triple-A before the organization had him refocus on relieving in Double-A in 1980 and back in Triple-A in 1981.
June 8, 1982 vs. Pittsburgh
This is the longest outing of Orosco’s long career–six innings. In the latter stages of his career, it might take him three weeks to rack up that many innings pitched. He walked two men in the first and it led to a run. He also surrendered an RBI double to opposing pitcher Don Robinson–not that there’s any shame in that. Robinson had a better EqA that year than three of the players in that day’s lineup for the Bucs–Omar Moreno, Johnny Ray and Dale Berra. Orosco left the game trailing 4-0 and took the loss, dropping his record to 0-5.
July 8, 1982 vs. San Francisco
Another spot start with an emphasis on the spotty. Orosco was already down 2-1 when he ran into trouble in the fourth. Once again, walks didn’t help the situation and he left the game with one run in and runners on first and second. Pat Zachry couldn’t get the final out before allowing both runners to score, giving Orosco a line of 3 2/3 IP, 7 hits, 5 ER and 3 walks. The Mets rallied, but lost 9-7. And so ended the starting pitching career of Jesse Orosco. The final 1,199 appearances of his career would come out of the bullpen.
Tonight’s losing pitcher: Ron Guidry
We don’t have much truck with pitchers’ won-loss records in these parts, but when a guy goes 25-3 as Ron Guidry did for the 1978 Yankees, even we have to take note.
July 7, 1978 at Milwaukee
Guidry was 13-0 when he took the mound against the Brewers, who got all the runs they would need in the first on a three-run bomb by Larry Hisle. Mike Caldwell held the Yankees to just four hits and went the route in the 6-0 shutout, as was custom at the time.
August 4, 1978 vs. Baltimore
How have things changed in baseball since the ’70s? Consider this: the Yankees were defending World Champions and had a 15-1 pitcher going against the Orioles that day. Attendance? Only 28,189. Plug in those same parameters today and you’d be lucky to find an empty seat anywhere at the big ball orchard in the Bronx (as radio’s Art Rust was calling it at the time). Guidry had a 1-0 lead heading into the seventh. Yankee attempts to support him further were undercut by three double plays. Shortstop Bucky Dent made an error to lead off the seventh, allowing Eddie Murray to reach. Doug DeCinces followed with a home run that turned out to be the decider. Guidry went the route, allowing just five hits, striking out 10 and walking none.
September 20, 1978 at Toronto (Game 1)
This was Guidry’s one true train wreck all year and it couldn’t have come at a worse time–although when is any time good in a season that ends in a tie? On only one other occasion did he last less than six innings and that was a five-frame stint. This time out, with the Red Sox in the midst of their late recovery from blowing a double-figure hold on first place, Guidry didn’t make it out of the second inning. The Yankees left the bases loaded in the top of the first and the roof immediately fell in against a team that was not real big on getting on base (and the things they did when they did get there! Try 28 for 80 in the stolen base department). Guidry surrendered hits to the first two Blue Jays and then threw away a sac bunt attempt, allowing both runners to score. Things got worse in the second as Rick Bosetti hit a two-run triple and Bob Bailor followed it with another triple. Guidry left trailing 5-0 and the Yankees would go on to lose 8-1. Guidry’s record now stood at 22-3. Guidry recovered immediately with a two-hitter his next time out and won again on September 28. His final victory came in the famous tie-breaker game at Fenway Park on October 2.
Tonight’s stolen bases: Cecil Fielder
Heading into the 1996 season, Detroit Tigers first baseman Cecil Fielder had played well over 1,000 major league baseball games and had yet to steal a base. What is more, he had only been charged with five failed attempts (even the notoriously lead-footed Hall of Fame catcher Ernie Lombardi had stolen eight bases in his career). Fielder too, had eight steals, but they came in the low minors when he was a teenager and in his early twenties, a time period that was over a decade in the past.
1996 was going to be different though, and it didn’t take long for that to become apparent:
July 3, 1996 vs. Milwaukee
Mike Potts pitched just a portion of one season in the big leagues and had the misfortune to be on the mound when the immovable Fielder doubled his career stolen base total. His catcher was Jesse Levis.
Of course, there’s always Fifties catcher Russ Nixon who never stole a single base in his 12-year career. We’re not looking for extremes, though, we’re seeking out those who tried and didn’t get there.