- David Schoenfield, SweetSpot blogger
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It still seems strange to put the Astros in the AL West. Charley Kerfeld was a strange sight in 1986, with his glasses, punk rock haircut and uniform that was just a little too tight around the middle. As a hard-throwing 22-year-old rookie out of the bullpen, he went 11-2 with a 2.59 ERA and seven saves, helping the Astros to a division title. And that was it. He got off to a slow start the next year, was sent back to Triple-A, spent time on the DL with calcium deposits in his elbow and finished with a 6.67 ERA in 21 games with Houston. Two years later he was back in Class A, fighting weight and control issues.
Dave Frost went 17-7 in 1979 for the Angels' first playoff team but suffered elbow problems after that, so let's go way back to a guy named Billy Moran. The Angels acquired him in their 1961 expansion season from Toronto of the International League (Toronto was an unaffiliated Triple-A team). In 1962, he hit .282 with 17 home runs, making the All-Star team and finishing 13th in the MVP vote for an Angels team that won 86 games and finished a surprising third in the American League. Moran was 28 and had never hit much in the minors; he had just one more season as a regular and finished with 28 career home runs.
In 1979, the A's were a terrible joke, going 54-108 and drawing just over 300,000 fans ... including 653 for one April game. In 1980, Charlie Finley hired Billy Martin as manager and the A's won 83 games. A second-year outfielder named Rickey Henderson helped but so did Mike Norris, a pitcher who had gone 12-25 with a 4.67 ERA in parts of five seasons. Martin had engineered many turnarounds as manager and part of his philosophy was to ride his starters as long as possible. Norris, 25 years old that year, went 22-9 with a 2.53 ERA, finishing second in the Cy Young vote. He threw 24 complete games in 33 starts, throwing 284 innings. He threw more than nine innings five times, including 14 innings in a 6-2 win over Baltimore on June 11. Five days later he went the distance in an 11-8 victory.
Norris pitched well enough to make the All-Star team in 1981, but that was it. He tore up his shoulder in 1983. An addiction to cocaine didn't help matters. "I was supposed to be the greatest right-hander ever to throw the baseball, no question," Norris said in 2007. "I chose not to be respectful of all the great abilities I was blessed with."
Dave Fleming went 17-10 as a rookie in 1992 and looked like a guy who would win a lot of games in the majors. But he was a finesse lefty with a slow curveball that the league eventually figured out.
My choice, however, goes to Mike Parrott. In 1979, he went 14-12 with a 3.77 ERA, tossing 13 complete games and two shutouts, good for a 4.8 WAR -- ninth among AL pitchers. A nice season. Followed up by ... well, he won on Opening Day in 1980, beating the woeful Blue Jays. Then he lost his next six starts. He lasted just one inning in the start after that, although he ended up with a no-decision. After a relief appearance, he was back in the rotation and lost four more starts in a row. He then allowed two runs in one inning in relief but that apparently impressed manager Darrell Johnson enough to put him back in the rotation. He promptly gave up four runs in the top of the first inning.
We're not done. A couple more games in relief was followed by an August demotion to the Triple-A, where he posted an ERA under 1.00 in four starts. Maury Wills was managing the M's by now and Wills was probably the worst manager in major league history. Among other problems he was using cocaine. You probably guess what happened. In September he gave Parrott another chance in the rotation. He lost all three starts. He was 1-14 by this time with a 7.04 ERA (but down from 8.06 after his recall). He had started 16 games, lost 14 of them, got knocked out in the first inning in another and beat a team that would lose 95 games.
So Wills made him the closer. He actually saved three games. Then on Sept. 30, the Mariners scored a run in the top of the 14th to take a 5-4 lead against the Royals. George Brett hit a three-run homer off Parrott to win the game. Finally, the last game of the season in Texas, Mariners leading 2-1 in the sixth with two outs and a runner on, Wills brings in ... of course, Mike Parrott. Because his season hadn't been bad enough. Jim Anderson throws a ball away. Game tied. Parrott pitches into the ninth. The Rangers win. His final record: 1-16, 7.28 ERA.
Believe it or not, the Mariners gave him another shot in 1981. He went 3-6 with a 5.08 and that was it.
But he'll always have 1979.
Center fielder George Wright showed promise as a rookie in 1982 and then had an outstanding sophomore season, starting 160 games in center and appearing in all 162. He hit .276/.321/.424 with 18 home runs and 80 RBIs, was a switch-hitter and just 24 years old. The future looked bright.
It wasn't. He hit .243 with a .273 OBP in 1984. The Rangers gave him another shot in 1985 and he had a historically awful season -- .190/.241/.242 in 395 plate appearances -- an amazing 49 runs worse than what a league average hitter would have produced. Baseball-Reference rates it as third-worst season by a position player since 1901, at -3.9 WAR, worsted only by Jerry Royster of the 1977 Braves (-4.1) and Jim Levey of the 1933 Browns (-4.1).
Wright hadn't even hit rock bottom. That came the following season in his final game with the Rangers. With Charlie Hough throwing a no-hitter, Wright entered the game in left field as a defensive replacement. With one out, he dropped a fly ball for a three-base error. Wally Joyner then singled to tie the game. Joyner advanced to second on a passed ball and Hough struck out George Hendrick with two outs ... but there was another passed ball, Joyner scored and Hendrick reached and the Rangers lost. Two days later Wright was traded to the Expos.