The Favorite Obscure Baseball Figure Project

A little while ago I came up with the idea of asking various baseball fans to pick their favorite obscure baseball figure from the past. As the word “figure” indicates, the person doesn’t have to be a player; it can be anyone employed within the game itself, by a team or by a league, including umpires, coaches, scouts, and front office personnel (but not the media).

My idea is that time and a focus on sabermetrics and efforts to determine who should be in the Hall of Fame have left many uniquely interesting and/or appealing retired/deceased baseball people by the wayside. I’m asking for help in bringing to light some old baseball people who are worth remembering.

Obscurity is a little hard to define, but by definition it excludes anyone in the Hall of Fame. My general guideline is that if the typical enthusiastic but non-obsessive baseball fan either hasn’t heard of him or barely recognizes his name, he’s obscure. By “favorite” I don’t necessarily mean that you admire or like the guy, just that you think he’s interesting, compelling, or represents something important in baseball history.

It could be someone like Hal Chase or one of the Black Sox, who you don’t like at all, but are fascinated by. Some examples of good candidates for favorite obscure player are Art (the Great) Shires, Arlie Latham, Fats Fothergill, Kirby Higbe, Johnny Mostil, Chick Stahl, and Lou Sockalexis. Or, from the non-player ranks, George Moriarty, Nick Altrock, George Magerkurth, Chub Feeney, Art Fowler, and Dick Howser.

If you’ve come by this post and have someone in mind, just put his name in the comments. I’m only asking for a name, but if you’ve already written something online about the person (it can be either a man or a woman), I’ll link to that; and if you want to write a few sentences talking about your favorite obscure baseball figure, that would be fine.

Here are some picks from people I’ve emailed to ask for their choices. The choices are bolded to make them easier to see, and most links go to their Wikipedia pages:

From Peter Schiller, who runs Baseball Reflections:
Boston’s Tony Conigliaro or deceased former closer Dick “The Monster” Radatz.

From Bill Miller, who runs the On Deck Circle blog:
Dave Kingman

He was a completely unlikeable character.  His former teammate John Stearns once said that Kingman had all the personality of a tree-trunk.  At 6’6″ and just over 200 pounds, Kingman was tall, lanky and extremely awkward. Somehow, he was once the San Francisco Giants first-round draft pick.

Of his 1518 career hits, an astonishing 442 were home runs.  He led the N.L. in homers twice, and in strikeouts three times.  Finished with a career batting average of .236 with a .302 on-base percentage.  He was arguably the most one-dimensional player ever.  He was awkward on the bases and in the field, and as a hitter, he simply went up there hacking like no one else in baseball history.

Kingman once played for four teams in one season: Mets, Padres, Angels, Yankees (1977).  Nobody could stand him long enough to keep him very long. His 1816 career strikeouts rank 12th all time, but it ranked 4th all time at the time of his retirement.  Considering all the home runs he hit in his career, his career WAR is a very poor 18.0.

Kingman is the only player in history to hit 30 home runs in his final season in the Majors.

In 1986, while with Oakland, Kingman sent a live rat in a box to a female reporter because he didn’t think women reporters should be in men’s locker rooms.

When Kingman led the N.L. in home runs with the Mets with 37 in 1982, his .203 batting average was the lowest in history for a home run leader.  It was also lower than Cy Young winner Steve Carlton’s batting average for the year, .218.

In 1981, Kingman led the N.L. with 105 strikeouts, despite playing in just 100 games.

I once saw Kingman hit a home run, one-handed, into the upper deck in left field at Shea Stadium, just a few feet away from leaving the park entirely.

As a Mets fan, I always stood in awe of his home runs, but even as a kid I always thought he was one of the worst players I ever saw.

From Scott Simkus, who runs the Outsider Baseball Bulletin:

It’s tough to pick one favorite.  There’s so many wonderful characters from the games past.  But one guy who’s been on my mind lately is Charles Blackwell.  He was a Negro league outfielder whose career spanned the deadball years to the late 1920s.  As the stats emerge, he’ll become somebody worthy of serious conversation.  In over 350 games from 1917 to 1923 (a pretty big sample size for blackball), Blackwell’s average hovers near .330 with an OBP north of .400.  He had some power, 12 hr in 78 in 1921, and obviously he drew walks.  Plus: He had good speed, stealing at least 65 bases, and anchoring center field for St. Louis before young Cool Papa Bell replaced him.

From Steve Treder, Hardball Times columnist and VP of Strategic Development at the Western Management Group:

The hard part is choosing only one!

I’ve written numerous THT articles on the types of guys you’re thinking of.  I agree that in many ways these folks are more interesting than the stars.

http://www.hardballtimes.com/main/article/carlos-bernier/

http://www.hardballtimes.com/main/article/the-tht-interview-george-brunets-left-arm/

http://www.hardballtimes.com/main/article/not-just-any-bob-miller/

http://www.hardballtimes.com/main/article/rocky-nelson/

http://www.hardballtimes.com/main/article/walt-bond/

http://www.hardballtimes.com/main/article/delving-into-the-dalkowski-depths/

http://www.hardballtimes.com/main/article/daddy-wags/

http://www.hardballtimes.com/main/article/bob-kennedy-part-1/

http://www.hardballtimes.com/main/article/bob-kennedy-part-2/

http://www.hardballtimes.com/main/article/snuffy-stirnweiss/

http://www.hardballtimes.com/main/article/casimir-kwietniewski/

From Greg Simons with Hardball Times:
Bob “Death to Flying Things” Ferguson and Pete Reiser.

From Daniel Shoptaw, Cardinals blogger and head of the Baseball Bloggers Alliance:
Ellis Kinder, because he was from Atkins, AR, which is 10 miles down the road, but I didn’t come across him until reading David Halberstam’s Summer of ’49.

From Graham Womack, who runs the Baseball: Past & Present blog:
My first pick is Ron Necciai, who struck out 27 batters in a minor league game in 1952. He was immediately called up to the Pittsburgh Pirates, proceeded to go 1-6 with a 7.08 ERA, and that was the end of his big league career. He threw his last pitch in the majors at 20– kind of a latter day David Clyde.

Bruce Baskin, who runs a blog on Mexican baseball:
I’ll go with a fascinating but obscure player from South of the Border: Hector Espino.

Espino is a God among baseball fans in Mexico, a terrific combination of power and average who dominated two leagues around the calendar for over 20 years. In 24 Mexican League seasons, he batted 335 with 453 homers and 1,573 RBIs and collected five batting titles, four home run crowns and two RBI championships. In as many winters in the Mexican Pacific League, he hit .329 (only player in MexPac history with a career BA over .289) with 299 homers and 947 RBIs playing a much shorter schedule. Titles in the LMP? How about 13 in batting, 7 in homers and 8 in RBIs? For his year-round pro career, Espino topped 4,500 hits, 750 homers and 2,600 RBIs.

But apart from the statistical orgy, Espino was considered a giant as a man. He spent part of one season playing minor league ball in the USA, batting .300 with 3 homers in 32 games for the Cardinals’ Jacksonville affiliate in 1964 before leaving for home. There’ve been a number of reasons as to why, but I’ve been quoted elsewhere as saying it was his revulsion over racism in Civil Rights era Florida was the primary motivating factor and I’ll stick with it. He was a very proud man who did not need to play in the States to be fulfilled and he rejected a number of overtures from MLB organizations to play at home, and he’s revered as much for that in Mexico as for his playing skills. Nobody is as beloved in Mexican baseball history as Hector Espino, but few fans outside that country have ever heard of him.

Tim Raetzloff:
My choice would be Ken Williams. I can give you several reasons, but I suggest you check him out a bit yourself.

I do have some info on him at http://www.abarim.com/who.htm

Chip Greene:
Hal Keller, Charlie’s brother. I’m relatively sure his name is obscure to most people. I am a serious baseball historian yet it wasn’t until I began researching Charlie’s career that I discovered the depth and breadth of Hal’s career.

I wrote about him for SABR’s BioProject. Here’s the link: http://bioproj.sabr.org/bioproj.cfm?a=v&v=l&bid=3192&pid=7355

Thomas Burns, who runs Oysta Buns:
Opie Caylor

Thanks to Steve Lombardi for giving this effort some broader publicity over at the Baseball-Reference blog. Here are the dozens of picks that were submitted as responses to his post there, from the mostly anonymous/pseudonymous commenters:

Brad:
Mine would be Silent Mike Tiernan. Not that I’m necessarily drawn to taciturn players, but he had a fine career in the ancient NL and didn’t bequeath much in the way of stories. Always assumed him to be a gentleman based on essentially his obit.

Radar O’Reilly:
Rawly Eastwick. 1975 Reds, first NL Rolaids Fireman of the Year winner. Proto-closer along with Rollie Fingers.

Macaulay:
Mine would be Jay Dahl, who pitched for the Colt .45s all-rookie lineup for one game in 1963 and died in a car accident two years later at 19.

I’ve always wondered what his story was.

Was he thrilled to have had a shot at the big leagues (esp. so quickly and so young), or embittered to have gone back to the low minors after essentially being used as part of a publicity stunt?

Would he have made his way back up to the bigs, and showed up again 10 years later working out of the bullpen in Cleveland or someplace?

Of course, there’s not much of sabermetric or historic interest in his 2 2/3 innings in the bigs; it’s all the backstory, I suppose.

MTL:
Eddie Gaedel of the St. Louis Browns. Shortest player in history, wore number 1/2.

Steve Lombardi:
I want to say Kerry Dineen. Local boy made good by making the Yankees in 1975. I seem to recall him making a game winning play or hit near his first game. And, that was pretty much it for him.

Charles:
Lipman Pike. The first home run king.

Artie Z:
Ed Hearn – for most players, either their wikipedia page or their bb-ref page is the first one to pop up. Although he may not be obscure much longer. According to his website, Hollywood has called!!!

Juan Sin Miedo:
Mark Belanger, remembered fondly by many O’s fan of the 70’s. Mark was compared to a young Marty Marion in a 1967 Sporting News article and then again was rated as the top AL short stop in an “Sports” magazine article in 1980 (Nolan Ryan was on the cover), interesting read if you would like to know how Robin Yount and Ozzie Smith was rated back in 1980 (FYI Larry Bowa was rated No. 1 SS in NL) Mark won 8 GG awards but left a lot to be desired with the bat.

Andy Patton:
Urban Shocker. hard pressed to find a better baseball name than his.

Bruce Markusen:
A player I’ve always liked is Alan “Dirty Al” Gallagher. He was an eminently mediocre third baseman for the Giants and Angels, but was very colorful; he wore crazy clothing and did backflips on the field. So I’ll nominate him.

BobBobson:
Sparky Lyle, who liked to plant his ass in the birthday cakes of his teammates during their celebrations.

Adam Penale:
Fred Van Dusen, 1 at bat, which was a HBP.

BSK:
For whatever reason, as a kid (I’m 27 now) Andy Van Slyke was someone special. I wasn’t a Pirates fan (far from it… Mets), so maybe it had to do with the teams playing back in the ol’ NL East, but I just remember thinking the dude was something else. It got to the point that I once drunkenly insisted that Andy Van Slyke invented baseball. He somehow became that impressive in my subconscious. I probably couldn’t pick the guy out of a lineup at this point, but I remember listening to Mets games on The Fan back in the day and just being in bizarre awe of the guy.

JoeC:
Mentioning Jay Dahl and his being used reminds me of David Clyde, who was used similarly by Bob Short (there’s another possible subject) with the Rangers in 1973. Pitched in the big leagues at 18 and out by age 24, I think. Luckily for Clyde, he is alive and presumably well.

Spartan Bill:
Chris Pittaro

Another victim of the Sparky Anderson hype machine, While the tigers were having a fantastic 1984 season Pittaro was hitting .284 w/ 11 HRs at AA ball. Well he wasn’t going to beat Lou Whitaker for the 2nd base position, but Sparky moved him to 3B in spring training, and with the aid of the gullible Detroit media, Pittaro was going to lead the team to bigger and better things in 1985.

He did go 3-4 on opening day, but within about 4 weeks he was on the bench and 2 weeks after that he was in Nashville learning how to be a SS. Came up and played 2 games in June but hit only .194 in AAA.

He made the team again to start the 86 season, but 2 weeks later he and his .095/.095/.095 line were back in AAA.

section 34:
Dave Criscione.

The guy had 10 plate appearances as a third-string catcher on the 1977 Orioles, and that was it for his major-league career. One of them, on July 25, was an 11th-inning walkoff home run in Criscione’s only at-bat of that game (he entered in the 10th for defense).

The batter before Criscione, who made an out to lead off the 11th inning, was Brooks Robinson, who retired less than three weeks later. By then, Criscione, 25 years old, was back in the minors, never to return. He had a respectable .768 OPS at AAA the following year but retired afterward at age 27.

I was at that game, and since then I often think of Criscione and think that there’s a guy who must remember that one swing extremely well.

NoChanceforPettitte:
I go with Lyman Bostock. It’s sad that he’s obscure.

And Terry Larkin, who shot his wife and tried several times unsuccessfully to kill himself before finally succeeding by drawing a razor across his neck.

Craig:
Kid Elberfeld. Anybody who drops a knee on Ty Cobb’s neck is OK by me!

Joe Conlon:
The starting Yankee outfield during WWII..Herscel Martin LF..Tucker Stainback CF…and Bud Metheny RF…a grand alliance if there ever was one.

The DGs:
Max Patkin!

Chuck:
Larry Yount.

Announced into a game as a reliever for the Houston Astros, injured himself warming up and never “pitched” in the major leagues again. I hear his younger brother was pretty good too.

Raphy:
How about Chet Hoff who played for the Yankees even before Babe Ruth played for the Red Sox, but only died in 1998. He was 107 years old at his death.

Albert7:
Curtis Pride.

steveg44:
Bob “hurricane” Hazle
Came in……. earned his name…..went out with a whisper

AlvaroEspinoza:
Kevin Maas! The “Baby Bomber” had one hell of a half season in ’90 as a rookie for the Yanks. Then, nothin’.

Spindlebrook:
I have many, many favorite players like this. Especially ones whose ML career was very short or fragmented.

Steve Fireovid
is one who came to mind immediately, his book The 26th Man is a fine diary of a minor league season.

Other faves of mine include Ken Huckaby, Andy Abad, Dan Rohrmeier, Bubba Carpenter, Neil Fiala, Mike Maksudian, Rich Sauveur, Shawn Gilbert, Steve Ratzer, Tony Barron, Matt Skrmetta, Brian Dallimore, Rick Short, Steve Bowling, Creighton Gubanich, Roger LaFrancois, Max St. Pierre…

Also, I’m a fan of former replacement players who later made the bigs, like Edgar Caceres, Ron Rightnowar, Ron Mahay, Dan Masteller, etc, and the 18 players whose ML career began and ended in 1994 (look them up, I doubt if anyone has heard of these guys).

Dan A:
Ed Jurak – Sox utility infielder 80’s. So obscure that I always said that I would marry any girl who knew who he was. Never found that girl, but still found a great wife.

My Dad’s favorite is Sibbi Sisti from his youth as a Boston Braves fan. Nothing particularly compelling except for a cool name.

DoubleDiamond:
Someone mentioned Curtis Pride. Yes, he’s one of my favorites, too. A three-sport star at John F. Kennedy High School in Wheaton, MD, he was on a soccer all-star team that played in China. His other sport was basketball, which he played at the College of William & Mary. He had a fairly high grade point average, too, which no doubt helped him get into William & Mary.

Curtis Pride may have been the first deaf player who didn’t have a certain nickname. It’s a real shame that these players got this nickname, but I hope we have progressed to the point where no one else who is deaf is known by that name.

Jeff J.:
What might have been … John Kull.
Perfect fielding percent as a fielder.
Perfect winning percent as a pitcher.
Perfect batting average as a hitter.

Steven:
Charley Smith. In 1965, he (along with Al Jackson), was traded by the Mets to St. Louis for 1964 NL MVP Ken Boyer, then, in 1966, was traded to the Yankees straight up for Roger Maris.

Kingturtle:
Charlie Faust!!

oh yeah, and don’t forget Astyanax Douglass – just for having such a cool name.

Frank Clingenpeel:
My personal favorite {no surprise to anyone who has heard me extol his virtues} would be Cookie Rojas; although I would also favor some public acclaim for Eddie Stanky {“He can’t hit, throw or field; all he can do is beat you”} and, of course, George Case {“The greatest player no one ever heard of”}. And Fleet Walker, the man who broke the color line several decades before Jackie Robinson was an itch in his daddy’s britches.

One other candidate; Dennis Ribant — the first EVER winning Mets starting pitcher.

Neal:
Pedro Borbón. The prototype middle reliever. Could Sparky Anderson have been Captain Hook without him? Took a bite out of a Mets’ hat after the brawl in the 1973 LCS. Probably could’ve pitched 2 innings a game for 5 or 6 days in a row.

Backinblack:
Ozzie Canseco. I seem to remember him playing more than just 9 games for the A’s back in the summer of 1990. He and his brother “combined” to hit 462 home runs.

Andyr:
How about Duke Carmel? One of the earliest men to play with both the Yankees and Mets- along with a cool-sounding name…

Thomas McGrath:
I would enter either of two people both sides of the same improbable event. One is a record that will NEVER be broken, the other a record I only would like to see if a member of my favorite team broke it.

People discuss records that will never be broke like DiMaggio’s consecutive game hit streak or Williams consecutive reaching base streak. There is one record that will NEVER be broken: Most Grand Slams Given Up To One Player, Inning: Chan Ho Park 2.

My second person would be the obscure soul who upped his career GS total in that game to 2 in the 3rd inning of an April 23, 1999 game vs. the Dodgers. He did go 0 for 3 in the rest of the game finishing with only 8 RBIs: Fernando Tatis

Mark V:
Merv Rettenmund was a solid player who played for a long time that nobody remembers. Also, Rick Miller and Larry Harlow.

Darrel:
Paul Schaal, who got shipped off to the Angels by the Royals to make room for a rookie……….named George Brett.

Tim H:
As a Marlins fan (yes, we exist), I’m gonna go with Joe Strong. Came up with the Marlins in 2000, the year after the Rays brought up Jim Morris, so he kind of gets overshadowed, but when you’ve played in five countries over sixteen years before finally getting the call at age 37, you can hardly say his story is any less intriguing. Looked like the sort of guy who’d be named Joe Strong, too.

Matthew Glidden:
I nominate Jamie Quirk, who turned in 18 seasons playing every position except pitcher and wore 10 different uniform numbers for 8 teams. Quirk finally crested 500 hits in season 17 and led the MLB (for a while) in “homers hit by surname starting with Q.”

Jamie’s most notable moment came in 1984 as, for one at-bat, a Cleveland Indian.

“…with the score tied in the bottom of the ninth, [closer Ron] Davis gave up a two-out home run to Jamie Quirk, who was making his only plate appearance in a one-week stint with the Indians. The game basically eliminated the Twins from the AL West race. I submit that anyone who thinks Reusse is too negative about local sporting concerns needs to watch Ron Davis set everything you’ve ever loved on fire, over and over and over again, before judging him.”

RandBall article: Stu’s Hunt Down: Jamie Quirk

CST:
Most of my favorite obscure players are guys are guys who had awesome short stints. I played Strat-O-Matic in the 80s/90s, and we did away with limitations on playing time in the league, which gave some of these guys truly great seasons.

Randy Asadoor comes to mind. He had a career of 60 PA, all with San Diego in 1986, during which he hit .364/.397/.455 for an OPS+ of 137. He was 23 that year. But he never got another shot.

Luis Medina was one of those AAAA players. He came up with the Indians in 1988 and smashed 6 homers in 51 AB. He struck out a ton and had an OBA of .309, but I did have him hit over 50 homers for me in a SOM season.

Bill:
Alex Cole… speedy singles hitter… can’t get a regular job and starts dealing drugs and running charges on his friend’s credit card.

Tim:
Benny Distefano, the last left-handed player to play catcher in the major leagues.

John Autin:
Wonderful Willie Smith, one of the last truly 2-way players.
With the Angels in 1964, Willie Smith:

– Played 87 games in the outfield, LF, batting .301 with 11 HRs in 373 PAs and a 125 OPS+; in the field, he made just 2 errors and had a positive dWAR.
— Pitched 31.2 innings in 15 games (including 1 start), with a 2.84 ERA / 116 ERA+.

For his career, Smith pitched 61 innings over 29 games, with a 3.10 ERA / 113 ERA+. As a hitter, his OPS+ was over 100 in 4 out of 5 seasons i in which he had 200+ PAs.

Smith’s 46 career HRs ranks 7th among all players with at least 20 games pitched.

On Opening Day 1969, Willie Smith pinch-hit for Jim Hickman in the bottom of the 11th with the Cubs down by a run, and smacked a 2-run HR off Barry Lersch for the walk-off win.

Smith came up with Detroit. In his last minor-league season before his MLB debut, Smith went 14-2 in 17 starts at AAA, with a 2.11 ERA in 145 IP, and batted .380 in 50 games (31 of them as a nonpitcher).

Macaulay:
Most people seem to be sticking to players, but the post says other baseball figures are eligible too.

I’d have to add Fresco Thompson, the former Dodger front-office stalwart.

I just love the resonance of the name:
Fresco Thompson.

(I didn’t know — or perhaps had forgotten — that he played in the bigs too. I looked him up while typing this.)

John Autin [a second choice from him]:
Babe Ganzel, OF with the Senators in 1927-28. Batted .438 in a September cameo in 1927 (21 for 48), with 7 walks and 3 Ks, for a 1.176 OPS.

In his first full game, Babe Ganzel went 4 for 4 with a triple and double, plus a walk. All 4 hits came off the wonderfully-named Browns pitcher Elam Vangilder, in support of the marvelously-named Hod Lisenbee. Babe batted 3rd for the Sens, surrounded by HOFers Sam Rice, Bucky Harris and Goose Goslin; he was batting in the place of HOF teammate Tris Speaker, who sat out the game.

He hit his only HR on September 29, 1927; in that same game, a slightly more famous Babe went deep twice, tying his own season record with 59 HRs. (Ruth would hit his 60th the next day, also against Ganzel and the Senators.)

On October 2, 1927, the last day of the season, in a Sens-A’s game that featured HOFers Jimmie Foxx, Mickey Cochrane, Al Simmons, Tris Speaker and Sam Rice, as well as the stars Jimmy Dykes and Max Bishop, Babe Ganzel was the batting star, as he repeated his 4-4, triple, double line from 2 weeks prior.

The following year, Babe Ganzel went 2 for 26 and was sent back to the minors. He continued to hit well there for several years, but never got another shot at the bigs.

Babe Ganzel was the son of Charlie Ganzel, a longtime major leaguer who was a catcher and utility man for the Boston Beaneaters, one of the dominant teams in the 1890s. Charlie Ganzel won pennants with Boston in 1891-93 and ’97.

According to B-R Bullpen: “Charlie debuted in the majors 43 years before Babe, the longest span between the first game by a MLB father and his MLB son. Charlie had been dead for 13 years by the time Babe debuted.”

Babe’s uncle, John Ganzel, also played several years in the majors, leading the 1907 NL with 16 triples.

Bill Tuck:
Cliff Mapes, who had three numbers retired. First he wore number 3, which was retired a few days before Babe Ruth’s death. Then he was assigned number 7. Later on Mickey Mantle wore that number.

Mapes was eventually traded to the Detroit Tigers, and wore number 6. Shortly after he left the Tigers, number 6 was assigned to Al Kaline.

David:
Ron Wright. One game, 3 at bats in MLB career. Strikeout, grounded into double play, grounded into triple play. If there were a stat for outs created per plate appearance, his career average of 2.0 would definitely be difficult to beat.

Bill Tuck:
Al Benton, who pitched mainly for the Detroit Tigers in the 1930s through the early 1950s. On August 6, 1941 against the Cleveland Indians in the third inning he had two sacrifice hits in the inning. Detroit won the game 11-2, when all the runs were scored in the same inning.

Once I heard a baseball announcer say Benton was the only person to strike out both Babe Ruth and Mickey Mantle. As a young pitcher with Cleveland he struck out Ruth in his last season with the Yankees.
In Benton’s last year with Boston he struck out a young Mickey Mantle.

Paul Drye:
Ellis Valentine. As sweet an age 22-25 run as you could want, but got hit in the face with a ball mid-1980 and was never the same after that. Drugs were apparently a part of it too.

He also had one of the best outfield arms in history, with 25 assists at age 23, after which nobody ran on him any more.

Jack Zerby:
Fred Caliguiri, probably known primarily to more seasoned members of the Philadelphia A’s Historical Society . . . Fred pitched the last couple months in the woeful 1941 A’s rotation, part of 1942, and was gone from the majors. But on September 28, 1941, Connie Mack sent him out for the last game of the season (second game of a DH) against the Red Sox in Shibe Park, one of the games that Ted Williams elected to play that day with his .400 average on the line. Fred “held” Williams to two-for-three, but mastered the rest of the Red Sox with a six-hit, 7-1, complete game win.

illdonk:
Rob Ducey, who had one of the most impressively unimpressive careers in major league history.

Every team has a man on the roster who can usually fill in at a few positions, come in as a late defensive replacement, and is the first to be sent to the minors when a spot is needed. Usually, a player will fill this role for a year or two, either moving up to become a regular or heading back to the minors on their way out of the game.

Then there’s Rob Ducey. Ducey played 13 seasons in the majors (1987-2001), plus a two-year mid-career stint in Japan. This is a fairly impressive number – players become eligible for the Hall of Fame with ten seasons – especially considering that Ducey never once did anything that anybody would possibly remember.

His consistency was impressive, though it’s the same kind of consistency shown by a drunk who passes out in the same alley every night. During his first seven years, mostly spent with the Blue Jays, Ducey never had fewer than 48 or more than 85 at bats in a season. He got between 15 and 17 hits for five straight seasons, and six or seven RBI’s for four straight. Usually a player with this kind of statistical record is a defensive specialist, perhaps a back-up catcher, or can be used as a pinch runner, but Ducey was an outfielder who didn’t steal more than two bases until his ninth season in the majors.

Ducey was born in Toronto, so maybe the Blue Jays had the same kind of rules as Canadian radio, where a certain percentage of all songs have to be performed by Canadian artists; he also later played for the Montreal Expos. Still, four U.S. teams (plus the Nippon Ham Fighters) let Ducey hang around with them. He finally rewarded the Phillies in 1999 with his breakout season: A .261 average, 8 home runs and 33 RBIs. In other words, Ducey did not appear in the Mitchell Report.

Ducey finished his playing career in 2004, playing for the Canadian Olympic team which finished 4th. He was the oldest player in the tournament, which is probably the most impressive line in his career. Well, except for the time he was essentially traded for himself.

Wendell:
I would like to draw your attention to the player who took over in the outfield when the Babe left the Yankees. He was a good Canadian by the name of George “Twinkletoes” Selkirk. He was a decent player, although no Babe, but hit a very respectable .290, topped 100 RBI twice and batted over .300 five out of his nine seasons.

Cheese:
Benny Kauff:

The ‘Ty Cobb of the Federal League’, never really lived up to it in the majors, but had a few good seasons.

Turned down a bribe by Hal Chase and was also banned by Landis (who didn’t by him, right!) after being acquitted of accepting stolen cars.

Phil Haberkorn:
Relief pitcher for the Cubs. . . . .
Recorded 10 saves in a pennant-contending season. . . .
His Uniform #42 has been retired, but not in his name. . . . . .
Chuck “Twiggy” Hartenstein.

[And]:
We would serenade this reliever from the bleachers back in the day when bleacher seats were $1 and there were no lights at Wrigley Field.
“If the ball leaves the park
And don’t land ’til it’s dark,
That’s Za-moray…..”
.
Oscar Zamora.

Evan:
Mike Brito.

If you want to see more of the choices people have come up with, go on to part II of this project.

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  1. Arne, Thanks for including the full text of my piece on Kingman in your blog-post. I’ll do what I can to get the word out, Bill

  2. […] good folks at Misc. Baseball are working on a "Favorite Obscure Baseball Figure Project." Here's what they wrote on that: A little while ago I came up with the idea of asking various baseball fans to pick their […]

  3. Favorite among guys I saw play is Gene Tenace. Going back further, I have a soft spot for Max Bishop, on-base machine.

    I also wrote a series of articles at THT that you might enjoy: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6.

  4. You should really check out Gabriel “Pete” Hughes if you haven’t already. A lifetime minor league .350 hitter with home run power, almost an rbi a game and a minor league record for career walks, topping 200 in a season twice. And catch this. His OBP for his career…. .530!

  5. Pete Gray was a professional baseball player best known for playing in the major leagues despite having lost his right arm in a childhood accident.

    Aloysius Joseph “Allan” Travers, aka Rev. Aloysius Stanislaus Travers made a one-game appearance during the 1912 strike of the Detroit Tigers. Travers was only playing because the Detroit Tigers team had refused to play after their team mate Ty Cobb had been suspended for attacking a heckler. Travers pitched the sport’s most unlikely complete game, allowing 26 hits, 24 runs, 14 earned runs, 7 walks and 1 strikeout. Travers faced 50 batters through 8 innings, and was tagged with the loss in the 24-2 decision.

    Archibald Wright “Moonlight” Graham appeared as a right fielder in a single major league game for the New York Giants on June 29, 1905. His story was popularized by Shoeless Joe, a novel by W. P. Kinsella, and the subsequent 1989 film Field of Dreams.

    Edward Carl “Eddie” Gaedel was an American with dwarfism who became famous for participating in a Major League Baseball game. He made a single plate appearance and was walked with four consecutive balls before being replaced by a pinch-runner at first base. His jersey, bearing the uniform number “⅛”, is displayed in the Baseball Hall of Fame.

    Lawrence Columbus “Crash” Davis was a professional baseball player whose name inspired that of the main character of the 1988 movie Bull Durham.

    Charles Victor Faust (“Victory”) was an American Major League baseball player whose career, statistically speaking, was only slightly lengthier than that of Moonlight Graham, but who was regarded by his team, the New York Giants, as a good luck charm. He won a spring tryout with the Giants in 1911, after informing manager John McGraw that a fortune teller back home in Kansas had told him he needed to go pitch for the Giants and help them win the pennant. Faust had no real pitching ability, but McGraw was a superstitious sort, and brought Faust along. He actually put him in for a couple of innings in different games, late in the 1911 season.

    Herbert Lee Washington is a former world-class sprinter in the early 1970s who parlayed his speed into a brief Major League Baseball stint. He played in 105 major league games without batting, pitching, or fielding, playing exclusively as a pinch runner. His 1975 Topps baseball card is the only baseball card ever released that uses the “pinch runner” position label.

    Masanori “Mashi” Murakami is notable for being the first Japanese player ever to play for a Major League team. Sent over to the United States by the Nankai Hawks, Murakami saw success as a reliever for the Giants, debuting at the age of 20 in 1964. Following the 1965 season, however, Murakami headed back to his original Japanese club. For thirty years Murakami was the only Japanese player to appear in an MLB game. Pitcher Hideo Nomo became the second Japanese-born player to play in MLB in 1995.

    Fritz Peterson (P)& Mike Kekich (P) swapped families in an arrangement the pair announced at spring training in March 1973. They decided that they would one day trade wives, children, and even dogs. A light moment came when New York Yankees General Manager Lee MacPhail remarked, “We may have to call off Family Day.”

    Steven Louis “Dalko” Dalkowski is sometimes called the fastest pitcher in baseball history and had a fastball that probably exceeded 100 MPH. Some experts believed it went as fast as 115 MPH. Dalkowski was also famous for his unpredictable performance and inability to control his pitches.

    John Francis Paciorek is famous for having arguably the greatest one-game career in baseball history. Paciorek, who had been called up when rosters expanded in September, got into the final game of the 1963 season, on September 29, as the right fielder. He went to the plate five times, hitting three singles and drawing two walks, for a perfect career batting average and on-base percentage of 1.000, scoring four runs and driving in three during the game.

    Ralph Richard “Blackie” Schwamb was a German-American professional baseball player who was a pitcher in the Major Leagues in 1948. After the 1948 season, Schwamb killed a Long Beach doctor. Schwamb was doing the work to pay off a debt to Los Angeles mobster, Mickey Cohen. His life is subject of Eric Stone’s 2005 book Wrong Side of the Wall.

  6. Ronald Andrew Necciai is a former Major League Baseball starting pitcher who played with the Pittsburgh Pirates in the 1952 season. Necciai is best remembered for the unique feat of striking out 27 batters in a nine-inning game, which he accomplished in the Class-D Appalachian League on May 13, 1952. He is the only pitcher ever to do so in a nine inning professional league game.

  7. Jay Dahl is also my favorite and my most admired obscure baseball player. He was also my cousin and I idolized him. I remember watching Little League games that he pitched and the music on the the radio that made him dance. He was athletic, charismatic and multi-talented. Most of all, he loved baseball. I think he would always have been involved in the game, if only coaching Little League.

  8. Al Montreuil played in 5 games in 1972 as a replacement for my all-time favorite Cub, Glenn Beckert. He had only 1 hit in 11 at bats and never returned to the majors. Nothing that special about him, I just thought he had an unusual name and thought that his quick exit from the majors was fascinating and I always felt there was more to his story than those 5 games in the majors. So recently I did a little research on him and discovered that after he retired from baseball, he returned to his native Louisiana and went into business. And from I understand, he was very active in offering help when Hurricane Katrina hit. The fact that he was so active in the community makes his story that much more interesting.

  9. Dich Hughes of the Cardinals. After a long minor league career, the Cardinals all but gave up on him. Vern Rapp, a future manager of the big club, went to bat for the young hurler and he was given another chance but in another team’s system.

    Called up in September 1966 and was brilliant. He was even better in 1967, winning 16 games as a rookie, coming in second place in ROY voting behind a kid named Seaver.

    Blew out his rotator cuff the next spring training, pitched admirably for one more painful season. And then his career was over.


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