Thursday, June 26, 2008



I can't imagine any player today breaking this record, which was set by the great Chicago White Sox second baseman Nelson Fox, who is now in the Baseball Hall of Fame. This feat is inscribed on Fox's plaque in Cooperstown.

Fox, during the 1958 season, played an incredible 98 straight games without ever striking out. Fox came to the plate 451 times during that stretch and batted .293, collecting 116 hits and 34 bases on balls, as well as 9 hit by pitches, 10 sacrifices and 2 sac flies, but no strikeouts. In my mind, this feat is comparable to Joe DiMaggio's 56 game hitting streak. Fox struck out 11 times that season. There are players in the major leagues who strike out that often in a weekend.

On May 16, 1958, Fox, facing the forgettable Dick Tomanek of the Cleveland Indians, went down swinging. Then, on August 23rd, in the first inning against the immortal southpaw, Whitey Ford of the world champion New York Yankees, Fox was fooled again and went down on strikes. But then, Ford, who was known as the "Chairman of the Board" and one of the all time great money pitchers, fooled a lot of batters over the course of his Hall of Fame career. Incidentally, of Fox's 11 strikeouts that season, 8 occurred in the first innings of games, and all were off different, mostly average pitchers like Jack Urban, Duke Maas, Billy O'Dell, Hank Aguirre and Bobby Shantz.

Fox was the ultimate contact hitter. A left handed hitter, he stood in the batter's box with his feet spread like a duck, holding up a thick handled bat, and took a short compact swing. He could hit the ball off the thick handle and still put it into play. He hit few home runs, although he once hit 2 in a game in Detroit, which had a short fence in right field. The Sox lost that game 10-9. Fox struck out 216 times in his 19 year career, in over 9200 at bats. Heck, Ryan Howard struck out 199 times in 2006 alone (but hit 58 homers). Fox led the league in fewest strikeouts for 11 straight seasons.

Fox, who died of cancer in 1975 at age 48, had his name immortalized in the 1989 Steven Seagal movie, Above the Law, where the spy, Seagal's nemesis, was named Nelson Fox. The story is that the director, Andrew Davis, an old friend of mine from the South Side of Chicago, is a Sox fan although he lives in California now. About 5 years ago, at a party, Davis and I had some laughs about that when I brought it up to him. Davis, known for action films like The Fugitive, with Harrison Ford, and Collateral Damage, with Gov. Schwarzenegger, often sneaks in those types of hidden treasures in him movies, which are usually filmed in Chicago.


Zero. This could only happen to New York Yankee outfielder Roger Maris in his record breaking 1961 season, who batted with the great Mickey Mantle in the on-deck circle. Opposing pitchers, caught between a rock and a hard place decided that Maris, despite his 61 home runs and 141 RBI's was the lesser of two evils. Mantle, batting behind him, collected 53 homers that season.


One of the weakest hitters ever--Dwain Anderson, a shortstop with St. Louis and San Diego, came to the plate 144 times in 1973, and batted a pitiful .121 with no extra base hits. Mercifully for the fans, they sent him back to the minors the next season. More recently, Mike Gallego of the Oakland A's came to the plate 120 times and batted .233 with no extra base hits.


He may or may not be proud of this one, but former Chisox slugger Frank Thomas now holds the all time record for most plate appearances without a sacrifice bunt--approximately 10,000 and counting. But he does have 520 homers. No manager in his right mind would expect Thomas to bunt--or play the field, for that matter.


They didn't occur in the same game, but outfielder Al Zarilla hit 2 triples in one inning for the St. Louis Browns in 1946. Playing for the Boston Red Sox in 1950 against the St. Louis Browns, he hit 4 doubles and a single in one game. Boston won that game 29-4 in Fenway Park.

Zarilla, a journeyman outfielder, batted .276 over a 10 year career. His other distinction, while we're on unusual baseball records, was to play in the same outfield with Gus Zernial with the 1951 Chicago White Sox, thus creating the only outfield in baseball history to have 2 players with names starting with "Z" playing together. Carlos Zambrano was not born yet.

That's all for now.



Wednesday, June 4, 2008



That award goes to Rudy Pemberton who was promoted from the Toledo Mud-Hens to the Boston Red Sox in the closing days of the 1996 season, and in 13 games, smacked 21 hits in 41 at-bats for a .512 batting average. He had 8 doubles, 1 homer, and 10 runs batted in. His on-base percentage was .556. Instead of punching his ticket for the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, the Red Sox sent him back to the minors in 1997 after 27 games and a .238 average. His major leaguie career ended with a total of 52 games and an excellent .336 lifetime batting average. He signed on to play in Japan with the Seibu Lions, but was slowed by injuries and didn't make it there either. Eventually he drifted to the Mexican League where he achieved some success, leading that league in RBI's.


The forgettable Ted Cox of the 1977 Boston Red Sox got 4 straight hits in his first game. He started out his second game with 2 more hits. Unfortunately, reality set in and he became mortal again. His career consissted of parts of 4 seasons with a lifetime batting average a very ordinary .245.

Left handed relief pitcher Terry Forster pitched in 614 games over 16 seasons for several teams in the 1970's and 1980's and in his infrequent trips to the plate batted an incredible .397 over his career. He came to bat 78 times, collecting 31 hits, which included 4 doubles and one triple, but no homers. He drove in 7 runs. Actually, he went hitless in 4 trips in his final season, 1985. His lifetime average at the end of the 1984 season was off the charts at .419 (in 74 at-bats).

Forster hit the only infield double I ever saw. Playing for the Chicago White Sox, he came to the plate in the late innings of a close game, with a runner on first base. The opposing team, anticipating a bunt, had their third baseman charging up toward the plate. Forster faked a bunt and swung away, smashing a line drive off the poor guy's knee. The ball bounced up into the stands for a ground rule double.

As a pitcher, he was fairly successful, with 127 career saves, and he led the American League in saves in 1974 with Chicago. Later in his career, he grew more portly, close to 300 pounds, prompting David Letterman to make fun of him. Forster later appeared on the Letterman Show with his attractive wife to show that even fat guys can get pretty girls.


Bill "Mad Dog" Madlock came to the Chicago Cubs in 1974 in a trade for Hall of Fame pitcher Ferguson Jenkins. He replaced Cubs legendary third baseman Ron Santo. Madlock led the league in batting in 1975 and 1976, and in fact holds the Cubs' franchise record for highest batting average for players with over 400 games (.336). Madlock was then traded by the tight-fisted Cubs owner Phil Wrigley when he asked for more money. He got his nickname for his fiery temper. He was extremely competitive, often sliding hard into second base to break up double plays.

Several themes kept recurring in his career--he feuded with team management, umpires, opposing players and even his own teammates. If he was unhappy, it showed on the field. When he was happy, usually shortly after being traded to a new team, he played like a superstar. He won two additional batting championships with Pittsburgh in 1981 and 1983. Besides his 4 batting titles, he was in the top 5 hitters in 3 other seasons. He was ejected from games 18 times in his career and suspended several times. His lifetime batting average was .305, with more than 2000 hits and 168 homers. In his first year of eligibility for the Hall of Fame, he received only 4% of the sportswriters' votes and was dropped from the ballot. His stats speak for themselves, and I believe he will eventually make the Hall of Fame.


PETE ROSE, who holds many baseball records including 4256 hits, went to the Federal Pen for tax evasion for not reporting the income from signing autographs at card shows. Everybody knows about him, so I won't expound on his career.

DENNIS MCLAIN, like me, from the South Side of Chicago, was the last pitcher to win over 30 games. In 1968, playing for Detroit, he won 31 and lost 6. He lost his last two starts by 2-1 and 1-0 scores. His secret: he drank a case of Pepsi every day.
Detroit Manager Chuck Dressen introduced him to the ponies and he was hooked. Late in the 1967 season, he got his toes broken by mobsters collecting gambling debts. At the time, he gave conflicting stories of how it happened, but the true story surfaced several years later in Sports Illustrated. In any event, he couldn't pitch the rest of that season, and that may have cost Detroit the pennant. After his great 1968 season, he drifted into a life of crime, "befriending" characters like John Gotti Jr. and Tony "The Ant" Spilotro, getting suspended from baseball and doing several terms as a guest of the government for racketeering, gambling, drugs and embezzlement.

FERRIS FAIN, an outstanding defensive first baseman, played for the Philadelphia A's and Chicago White Sox between 1947-55. He won consecutive batting championships in 1951 and 1952 but he remained largely anonymous except for frequent fights and temper outbursts. In 1954, with the Sox, he missed half the season when he broke his hand in a barroom brawl. Fain was a good hitter, drew many walks and rarely struck out. His lifetime on-base percentage wsa .424 which is 13th best of all time. The 12 players ahead of him are all in the Hall of Fame or will be soon. They include such greats as Ted Williams, Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig and Ty Cobb. Fain's average placed him ahead of other legends like Mickey Mantle, Stan Musial and Shoeless Joe Jackson. The reason Fain is largely unknown is that he hit very few homers--only 48 in his 9 year career. In later life, he merited several years of Federal time for drug trafficking and running a marijuana farm.

ORLANDO CEPEDA, the only Hall of Famer in this group, did time for drugs. Among his hitting credentials was that he hit over .300 with over 30 homers for the first 4 years of his career. Late in his career, he was traded by Oakland to Atlanta for the aforementioned Dennis McLain.


This award goes to Virgil "Fire" Trucks, a powerful right handed pitcher with the Detroit Tigers in the 1940's and 1950's. He had some outstanding seasons in the
1940's. He was released from the Navy 2 weeks prior to the 1945 World Series. He started Game 2 against the Chicago Cubs and pitched a complete game victory, 4-1. The Cubs haven't been back since, but that's another story. By 1952, the Tigers, along with the Cubs of that time, had gone straight downhill--they couldn't hit or catch the ball, and their pitchers got no run support.

Trucks pitched a no-hitter in May, 1952, against the Washington Senators in front of only 2000 fans (there was a parade for Gen. MacArthur that day in Detroit). They won 1-0 on a homer by Vic Wertz in the bottom of the ninth inning. Several weeks later, also against Washington, Trucks gave up a single to leadoff hitter Eddie Yost and then retired the next 27 hitters. Detroit won 1-0 again. Then in August, in New York against the World Champion Yankees, he pitched another no-hitter in another 1-0 victory. He also pitched a 2-hitter that season. In his 5 victories, he allowed only 9 hits combined. In his 19 losses, he yielded a whole bunch of hits. Despite his miserable won-loss record, his earned run average was a respectable 3.97.

Incidentally, his nephew, Butch Trucks founded the Allman Brothers Band.

That's all for now.



Sunday, June 1, 2008


One of my favorite ball players from the 1950's and 60's was the great pinch hitter Forrest "Smoky" Burgess. He grew up on tobacco road in North Carolina and inherited the nickname from his father. He was a decent catcher for quite a few seasons from 1949-64, making the National League All-Star team 6 times, until his girth interfered with his mobility.

Smoky was a guy the average fan could identify with--a short fat guy with a large belly. In his bio he is listed at 5'8" and 187 pounds, but when I saw him play in his later years with the Chicago White Sox, he was closer to 287 pounds. On one occasion he won a clubhouse bet by eating 100 hot dogs in 30 minutes. But even if he couldn't bend down anymore to play in the field regularly, the left handed hitting Burgess could still hit the fastball with authority.

His lack of foot speed became legendary--he could run the 100 yard dash in just under 2 hours. But they paid him to hit, not run in track meets. The Chisox, locked in a close pennant race, would send him to the plate in critical situations with men on base. When Smoky delivered, as he often did, the team would quickly send in a pinch runner, otherwise he would clog up the basepaths. In fact, he was removed for a pinch runner 206 times in his career which is 9th most in major league history, behind such slowpokes as Willie McCovey (332), Greg Luzinski (260) and Harold Baines
(234) who ran bases like they were running through quicksand. I didn't know they even kept statistics on stuff like that.

Incredibly, in the 1966 season, Burgess collected 21 hits plus 11 walks, but he scored no runs at all. In fact, he holds the record for most at-bats in a season
(80) without scoring a single run. But he drove in 15 runs and his on-base percentage was an outstanding .413. The previous season, 1965, with 22 hits and 11 walks, he scored only 2 runs, both on pinch hit home runs. An efficient hitter with men on base, he drove in 24 runs with those 22 hits.

Over his career, he collected 145 pinch hits (in 507 at-bats for a .286 average) which was the all time record until it was surpassed by Manny Mota 14 years later. Of those 145 pinch hits, 16 were home runs, which places him among the all time leaders. Many knowledgable fans consider him the greatest pinch hitter of all time, even though his records have been broken by singles hitters like Mota and Lenny Harris. Harris, who although he didn't scare many pitchers, played long enough to be the current record holder with 212 pinch hits (with a batting average of only
.261). By contrast, Burgess's lifetime batting average, over 18 seasons was .295 with 126 home runs.

One must consider that pinch hitting is one of the most difficult jobs in baseball. The player must sit on the bench, sometimes for days at a time, patiently waiting in the dugout for that one opportunity to hit against a pitcher throwing the ball at 95 mph. It takes a unique individual to be able to get loose on short notice and be able to produce in a pressure situation. Unlike some of the recent pinch hitting specialists who have approached or surpassed his records, Burgess was usually called upon to face the opposing team's best relief pitcher in the late innings of a close game with men on base. He was expected to deliver a game tying base hit in a clutch situation, and he usually did.

Early in his career, Burgess played a couple of seasons with the Chicago Cubs, but was traded to Cincinnati and later to Philadelphia and Pittsburgh. In his best season, 1954, he batted .368 in 108 games for the Phillies, but he lacked the necessary at-bats to qualify for the league batting championship. Later, as a catcher with Pittsburgh, he caught Harvey Haddix's famous 12 inning perfect no-hit game against Hank Aaron and the Braves. He played in 6 games in the 1960 World Series for the champion Pittsburgh Pirates against the New York Yankees, batting .333.

In an interview, he said that his most satisfying pinch hit was the homer he hit off the Cubs Sam Jones at the close of the 1956 season to allow his Cincinnati Reds to equal the NL team season home run record (221). His manager, Charlie Dressen sent him up to bat for weak hitting shortstop Roy McMillan, ordering him, "Make it a home run or nothin'" Smoky swung the bat and the ball landed on Sheffield Avenue outside Chicago's Wrigley Field.

Speaking of pinch hitters, the most remarkable pinch hitter in history was the forgettable Carroll Hardy because of the all-time greats he pinch hit for. He was the only player ever to pinch hit for the legendary Ted Williams, perhaps the greatest hitter of all time. The story was that Williams foul tipped a ball off his knee, and he had to leave the game. Hardy replaced him and lined into a double play.
Hardy was also called upon in his rather undistinguished career to bat for Hall of Famer Carl Yastrzemski and home run champion Roger Maris. Batting for Yastrzemski, he bunted for a single. Batting for Maris, he hit a 3-run game winning homer.

Next: Some other unusual and little known baseball records.