How ‘bout dem Dodgers??? HOW ‘BOUT DEM DODGERS!!!
You ain’t gonna believe this one. I’m a big fan of “Jeopardy.” I’m sure the contestants who appear on the show must first audition for a display of trivia brainpower. The final question on a “Jeopardy” show recently was in the category of what they called Pro Football Geography. “A few states have more than one NFL team. Only one of those states borders the Mississippi River. Name it.” It took me all of 1/2 second to spit out the correct answer, Missouri. I thought the question was a slam-dunk, and that all three contestants would get it right. None did! Would you believe…………two contestants replied with Minnesota; at least they know their geography if not the NFL. But the most ludicrous answer of the three was Florida. Hey, Florida is only a thousand miles off.
As a side-bar and totally unrelated to sports, I’ve maintained for years that we are, in general, the least educated first-world country in existence. You don’t believe it? Just ask college students/graduates and/or business people and corporate executives to name our state capitols or spell words correctly or punctuate sentences correctly or compute math problems without the assistance of an electronic device. Or ask them how many of the ten states that touch the Mississippi River they can name. Or watch the Jay-walking segment on the Tonight Show. I suspect then you’ll believe it!
Story of the Week
BASEBALL'S BEST CAREER PINCH-HITTERS
When I decided to do this article, I found one had already been written a few years ago by Robert Nishihara. Much of what you’ll read here was his...........along with lots of my own opinions and updates. Pinch-hitting is no easy task, and I greatly respect the guys who can go from the pan right into the fire and produce when they’re called upon to deliver right now.
One of the keys to being a successful pinch-hitter is simply being available. That is, a player has to have demonstrated enough talent to be on the roster but not enough to be in the starting lineup and is, thus, available as a sub off the bench. However, the player also has to be good enough and poised enough to earn his manager's confidence to call on him regularly as a substitute. Indeed, it is this combination of a given player's availability for substitute duty and his manager's willingness to call on him that creates repeated pinch-hit opportunities.
Of course, the space between those opportunities is heavily punctuated by inactivity. Bench players often must wait. And wait. And wait for that elusive nod from a manager to get into a game. The ability to conjure up the patience required for all of this waiting mixed with the ability to instantaneously concentrate when called upon is something that some players do better than others. The steely nerves necessary for such a balancing act, weighing tedium and intense focus in equal terms, are not shared by all.
And a pinch-hitter's opportunity is distilled into a single at-bat per game, usually under some significant game situation pressure. At a moment's notice, he is expected to grab a helmet and bat, take a practice swing or two in the on-deck circle, and step into the batter's box ready to hit. It is baseball's equivalent of going from 0 to 60. And he must perform this task knowing that the spotlight will rarely if ever be his and that he will spend so much more time watching others play the game rather than be on the field himself taking part in the action.
Versatility is the key element to his longevity. At one time or another in his career, Lenny Harris manned every position on the field except pitcher and catcher. And in this day and age of baseball rosters carrying eleven and sometimes even twelve pitchers, it is not surprising that a player who has at least a yeoman's knowledge of every position on the diamond, save pitcher and catcher, can find himself a spot on a major league roster. Of course, when Lenny Harris broke into the majors in 1988, there was much more unknown about his abilities than known. As with any young player, Harris' promotion to the major league level was accompanied by equal parts expectation and optimism, his value left to be determined over time. Harris ultimately defined his ability level; ordinary at the plate, versatile in the field, and possessing the uncanny knack for collecting pinch-hits. Lenny Harris closed his 18-year career following the 2005 season with 212 pinch hits, a record that I feel will never be equaled.
The previous record holder was Manny Mota, who had 150 career pinch-hits. Unlike Harris, Mota saw considerable playing time for much of his career as a fourth outfielder. He regularly accumulated between 300 and 400 at-bats a season and consistently batted over .300. His greatest season likely was 1966 when he hit .332 in 322 at-bats and finished with a .472 slugging percentage for the Pittsburgh Pirates.
After Mota lost a step in the field, he became a pinch-hitter exclusively. From 1973 to 1979, Manny Mota became something of an icon for the Los Angeles Dodgers. This creaky, old man sitting at the end of the bench would grab a bat and helmet, walk to the plate and somehow turn into Superman. His timely line drive base hits would routinely break the hearts of countless numbers of teams. Manny Mota finished his career with over 1,100 hits and a .304 lifetime average.
Prior to Mota, Forrest Burgess was the standard bearer for pinch-hitters. Fans of the 1950s and 1960s may better remember him as "Smoky" Burgess. And Burgess, of reasonable defensive prowess, appeared as a catcher, starting or otherwise, for most of his career. However, he also found time, among his stints with the Cubs, Phillies, Pirates, and Reds to acquire a legitimate reputation for delivering pinch-hits. By the time he retired, Burgess had accumulated 145 pinch-hits, a record that stood for over a decade. Smoky Burgess finished his career with over 1,300 hits, a .295 lifetime average, and 126 career homers.
However, the truth is that the most famous pinch-hitters are not measured by volume but rather by delivering a single hit (or handful of hits) at the right moment. Thus, Bernie Carbo is forever remembered for delivering a dramatic 3-run, pinch-homer for the Boston Red Sox late in Game Six of the 1976 World Series, and Dusty Rhodes is still remembered for his four clutch pinch-hits (including a game-winning, pinch-homer in Game One) in the 1954 World Series for the victorious New York Giants. But the man who holds the record for most pinch-homers, Cliff Johnson, is lost to time because none of his 20 pinch-home runs occurred during a game worthy of enduring memory.
Here’s to the ice-cold task of delivering the big pinch hit in the clutch. It is, to be sure, an art-form.
Last Week’s Trivia
Bill Madlock is the only player in MLB history to win a pair of batting crowns with two different teams. He did it in 1975 and 1976 with the Cubs. He did it in 1981 and 1983 with the Pirates.
Trivia Question of the Week
Thanks to Jordan Davis for this one. This great MLB player is in Cooperstown; great is the operative word here. He’s also in another Hall of Fame. Who is he? Also, name the other Hall in which he is enshrined. See next week’s Sports Junkie for the answer.