Thursday, June 16, 2005

The TATB Hall of Fame

Maybe it's because superstars never lack for cheers, but growing up I always found myself rooting for baseball's obscurities, its no-names, its misfits.

While my neighborhood buddies pretended to be the usual superstar suspects - Rice, Fisk, Lynn - in our daily Wiffle Ball games, I usually imagined myself as the hustling spaz of a third baseman, Butch Hobson . . . except on those occasions when when some new unknown player arrived via Pawtucket and piqued my interest.

I suspect I was among a select (and freakin' strange) few New England 10-year-olds who preferred pretending he was Sam Bowen to Dewey Evans. And I suspect I was stood alone in being at least as interested to say hello to Chico Walker as I was to say goodbye to the icon he replaced in left field in the eighth inning of the Sox's final game of the season in 1983. Yeah, okay, good luck in retirement, Yaz, and don't sweat it. Seems pretty obvious this cool Chico cat will hold down the fort in left field for the next 10 years.

What can I say? I was weird like that. Still am. The more obscure the player, the better I seem to like him, particularly if he seems like a character. (I'm guessing you've already gathered this from Rodney "Buckethead" Craig's "contributions" to this site.)

Which brings us here, to the first class of inductees to the TATB Hall of Fame.

Simply put, it's my way of homage to random dudes I've liked through the years, ballplayers who were forgotten, others who were barely heard from in the first place. All of them played in the majors. Many of them played for My Beloved Maine Guides. None of them will be getting into the other Hall of Fame. You know, the one in Cooperstown.

The selection process was laborious and complicated. In other words, I came up with this list 10 seconds before I sat down to write this baby. I intended to make up a starting nine, but I couldn't think of a catcher, and I had an extra outfielder or two I wanted to get in. Hey, if John Madden can put every starting linebacker in the NFC on his All-Madden Team, than I can list 10 players on my team. And I won't even make you eat any turducken.

This Hall of Fame will certainly grow over time - I'm already kicking myself for forgetting the inimitable Jeff Stone, savior of the '90 Red Sox - and your suggestions are appreciated and encouraged. Feel free to either email them to me via the link at the right, or post them on the comments section of the post.

Without further ado, the inaugural 10:

Chico Walker: Okay, maybe he shouldn't have been the guy to replace Yaz during his final game - it should have been Jim Rice, even though he DH'd that day. But Walker turned out to be a useful utility guy once he escaped the Sox system; he rotted in Triple A purgatory from 1980 to '84 while Boston management favored the likes of Steve Lyons and Ed Jurak. Wrote Bill James (yes, that Bill James) in his 1993 Player Ratings book:

"Switch hitter, plays all over the field like Tony Phillips, and is still an outstanding baserunner at 34. He'd have about 1,500 hits by now if he'd come up with the Red Sox about 1980, but they didn't think he could play."

Junior Noboa: This is how lousy the Cleveland Indians were in the mid-'80s, when they were "supplying prospects" to My Beloved Guides: Noboa was rushed to the majors in '84 at age 19, his .254 batting average and 1 homer in Double A apparently too enticing for the big club to resist. The buffoons in the Tribe front office took misguided pride in claiming they had the youngest player in majors, which in their collective puny minds guaranteed him of future stardom. (The other 19-year-old in the majors that season? Some kid named Gooden for the Mets. Heard that worked out better.) Noboa had decent years for the Guides in' 85 and '86, but the future journeyman lost enough luster off his prospect status that the cheapo Indians didn't even give him an official jersey for his '88 Topps photo shoot. Check out that jacket - it's straight off the the Ralph Lauren Chaps discount rack at Marshall's. The teal wall is lovely, though.

Shooty Babitt: The subject of one of all-time cruelest (or funniest) baseball quotes, depending on your sense of humor: "If he ever plays for me again," said A's manager Billy Martin late in the '81 season, "please, Shooty me." Martin kept his word. Babitt's big league career began and ended that season. But his unforgettable name lives on.

Butch Hobson: Okay, so he's not obscure, at least in these parts, though many probably forgot he played for the Yankees. (Yeah, that's him at the top of the page.) His regrettable dalliance with the Pinstripes forgiven, shouldn't there be a place on every roster for the Red Sox's bat-rack-endangering, bone-chip-adjusting, 30-homer-hitting, 44-error-making third baseman of the late-'70s? Yes, there certainly should be, particularly considering Hobson is TATB's boyhood hero. TATB still remembers meeting Hobson for the first time in 1984 and getting his autograph. TATB also recalls those timeless words of wisdom he offered upon parting: "Hey, don't forget your pen." Ah, sweet memories.

Sam Horn: Batting practice Hall of Famer, patron saint of the message board, and an all-around good guy whose effervescent personality somehow fails to shine through on NESN studio gig. This baseball card cracks me up for some reason. Can't you just see the cartoon thought-bubble forming over his head: "Say, how's this glove apparatus thingy work again?"

Dwight Taylor: Dig the Harry Caray glasses, dude. Taylor, a speedster who had a cup of coffee with the Royals early in the '86 season, has a couple claims to fame, at least in my world:

1) Spotting my 9-year-old sister staring at him, jaw agape, while he signed autographs before a Guides game in '84, he playfully tugged her pigtail and said, "What's the matter? Haven't you ever seen such a handsome black man before?" She hadn't, as far as I knew, which I dutifully informed Taylor. I think he's probably still laughing.

2) According to Boston Herald columnist Steve Buckley, the Guides' beat writer for the Portland Press Herald at the time and an occasional TATB lurker, Taylor and his wife were the parents of five children by the time they were in their mid-20s, thus earning the nickname Dwight "Try Some Sleep At Night" Taylor from his teammates. Just can't beat good clubhouse humor.

Tom Newell: Two major-league games. One major-league inning. A career ERA of 36.00. He's TATB's personal "Moonlight" Graham, as explained here.

Ron Jones: Never heard of him? You would have, had fate not been so cruel . . . or had AstroTurf never been invented. Jones was one of the premier prospects in baseball in the late '80s, a line-drive hitting lefty who drew comparisons to Tony Gwynn for his sweet swing and Pillsbury Doughboy physique. Jones came up at the end of the '88 season and absolutely tore it up for the Phillies, hitting 8 homers the final two months. But soon he tore something else up: the ligaments in his knee.The injury ended his season, but he diligently rehabbed, returned to the Phillies in '89, and seemed on his way to fulfilling the great promise that had earned him mentioned in the same breath as guys named Sheffield and Griffey the previous year. The return lasted two weeks. He tore his ACL in both knees when his leg got caught in a seam in the brutal Veterans Stadium turf while chasing a fly ball. He made it back to the Phillies briefly in '90 and '91, kicked around Triple A for years as a DH, but that disastrous day in Philadelphia, for all intents and purposes, spelled the end of a promising career.

Otis Nixon: Like Hobson and Horn, he was a little too accomplished to qualify as obscure. But the Original O-T-I-S makes the cut for obvious reasons - there's gotta be one ridiculously good-looking guy on the team. You know, for the ladies.

Rodney Craig: Who else but our very own Buckethead? TATB correspondent, international man of mystery, part-time ninja, Lisa Lisa And Cult Jam backup singer - Rodney's a man of many hats, a real irony considering no hat has ever fit his mammoth head. (Hence the cruel and hurtful nickname.)

Comment on the honor, Bucket?

"You like me. You really like me, #$%##!" (Sniff!)

Yes, we do. And the rest of these misfits, too. Baseball may brush them aside, but they'll never be obscure to us. In this warped corner of cyberspace, they're Hall of Famers.

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One more thing: If you liked the concept of this post - taking a bunch of silly baseball cards and writing a wise-ass blurb about them, more or less - then you'll love this book. And should you order it, remember to tell 'em Buckethead sent ya. - CF