Three Strikes: Old Idiots reunite
January, 25, 2011
By Jayson Stark | ESPN.com
STRIKE ONE -- RAYS-ING THE BAR DEPT.
I can't say I'm sure exactly what the Rays will get out of their new Idiots Alumni tag team, Johnny Damon and Manny Ramirez. But I do know this:
No team in history, best I can tell, ever added a free-agent duo like this on the same day.
Think about it. Damon has 2,571 career hits. Manny has 2,573. And they agreed to deals with Tampa Bay practically simultaneously.
I had a tough time remembering any team acquiring two different players with that many hits in the same offseason, let alone on the same day. So I asked my friends from the Elias Sports Bureau to look into it. Here's what they found:
Only two other times in history have teams had two players play for them who (A) hadn't played for them the year before and (B) entered the season with at least 2,500 hits.
One was the 1927 Philadelphia A's, who reeled in a couple of future Hall of Famers --Ty Cobb and Eddie Collins.
The other was the 1984 Cincinnati Reds, who brought back Pete Rose and Tony Perez for a Big Red Machine nostalgia blast.
But the Reds took a very different route than the Rays. They purchased Perez from the Phillies in December, but didn't bring in Rose until August, when they traded for him to be their player-manager. So that's barely a parallel.
At least those '27 A's came close. They signed Collins in December after the White Sox released him, then signed Cobb in February after the Tigers released him. So at least they acquired both in the same offseason.
But, assuming the transaction dates that have careened through history are correct, those signings took place 47 days apart. And from all accounts, the Rays' two signings didn't even take place 47 MINUTES apart -- since they were a 2-for-1 Scott Boras clearance special.
So I'm not certain what the over/under is on how many hits Damon and Manny will combine for this season (200 anyone?). But their real magic number is 2,500 -- because it looks as if they're the first two 2,500-hit men ever acquired by the same team on the same day. Who knew!
STRIKE TWO -- CLOSING TIME DEPT.
OK, quick quiz: Who led the American League in saves last year?
Bzzz. Time's up. That would be Rafael Soriano, with 45.
And who led the American League in saves the year before?
Bzzz. That would be Brian Fuentes, with 48.
All right, now what have those two had in common this offseason?
Bzzz. (A) They were both free agents. And (B) neither of them signed a contract with a team that plans to make him its closer. Fuentes will set up for Andrew Bailey in Oakland. Soriano will set up for some guy named Mariano in New York.
Interesting development, wouldn't you say?
But we can contemplate what it says about the marketability of saves some other time, because it's time for this important History Alert:
Barring Mariano Rivera developments the Yankees foresee only in their nightmares, Soriano stands an excellent chance of setting a record -- for Fewest Saves the Year after Leading the League in Saves.
So what is that record? Depends on how you compute it, of course. But in order to factor out guys who got hurt and attempt to compare oranges to oranges, I'm awarding that record to ...
Mark Davis of the 1990 Royals -- with six.
In order to qualify for this competition, I decided, a pitcher had to appear in at least 50 games the year after leading the league. So with all the injury cases out of the derby, Davis blew this field away.
Just to remind you of his tale, in 1989, he saved 44 games for the Padres, won the Cy Young and became a free agent. He then signed a six-year, $13 million contract with the Royals -- and promptly self-destructed. He had a 7.00-plus ERA in May when the Royals gonged him from that closer's job. And he was never the same again.
His record has held up for two decades. And nobody has even come close. Here's the top six on that leaderboard since the dawn of the modern save rule in 1969:
STRIKE THREE -- IT DOESN'T PAY TO HIT .300 DEPT.
As promised in the last edition of this blog, it's time for a look at the pitchers who entered a club they never aspired to join last year -- the .300-.300 Club.
To qualify, these guys had to allow both left-handed and right-handed hitters to bat .300 or better against them (in at least 40 innings of twirling). It's quite the list.
So that group includes three Pirates (Duke, Morton and Eveland, if you count the fact that he did make one of his 10 starts as a Bucco), two Mariners (Rowland-Smith and Snell) and, most shocking of all, two OPENING DAY STARTERS (Duke and Feldman). Duke pulled this off in 159 innings -- most of anybody on this list. But that pales when measured against the left-right heroics of the legendary Livan Hernandez, who just two years ago allowed both sides to hit .340 or better -- in 180 innings!
Most amazing feat by a member of either group? Eveland also allowed a .400-plus ON-BASE PERCENTAGE to both left-handed hitters and right-handed hitters. And had more walks than strikeouts against both sides. Hard to do, friends. Hard to do.