Sunday, August 20, 2006

Three completely random baseball cards . . .

. . . just for the hell of it.

Those kick-ass disco sideburns . . . the you-want-fries-with-that? uniforms . . . the fact that it pictures one of the smoothest cats ever to play in the big leagues . . . the joy it gives me to remember that Steinbrenner hated him so blindly that he ended up getting suspended for hiring a creep named Howie Spira to dig up dirt on the slugger he derisively labeled Mr. May . . . yeah, I'd say this Dave Winfield '78 Topps card is one of my all-time favorites, and one of the rare ones on this site that actually belong to me. Got it signed outside the players' parking lot at a Sox-Yanks game in Sept. '82, when I was 12. If I recall correctly, the other two autographs I collected that day were Brian Denman and Bobby Ramos, neither of whom will be joining Winfield in Cooperstown anytime soon. So the dude is forever all right in my book, Robin Givens's mom be damned. And I suppose there is one Yankeeography that I'd actually enjoy watching, though something there's a better chance of Horace Clarke getting a monument than of Steinbrenner greenlighting a fawning bio on his old enemy.

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Anything to bring on a little bit of good mojo tonight, right?

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I was all set to make a "bleepin' icewater" joke here, but then I remembered a segment on Bobby Sprowl from Rob Neyer's Big Book of Baseball Blunders (which I reviewed for the Globe a while back - definitely worth checking out) in which the author disputed a couple of common perceptions about the kid lefty's role in the '78 collapse. It's interesting stuff:

Oddly enough, among all the mistakes Zimmer might have made in 1978, the one for which he’s best remembered — pitching rookie Bobby Sprowl against the Yankees in the fourth game of the “Boston Massacre”— was not a mistake. Or at least it wasn’t Zimmer’s mistake.

As the story goes, when explaining why he’d selected Sprowl to start against the Yankees, he said something like, “The kid’s got ice water in his veins.” [For the record, I remember the quote as "Ice water. Bleepin' icewater."] Sprowl walked four batters in the first inning and got yanked. The Red Sox wound up losing 7-4, their fourth straight loss to the Yankees, which made the two clubs dead even in first place.

But Zimmer didn’t say that Sprowl had ice water in his veins. Not exactly. According to a 1983 Peter Gammons column, Zimmer said, “The minor league people say Bobby Sprowl has ice water in his veins.” That’s a distinction worth making, I think.

Sprowl started three games, but the only one anybody remembers is the start against the Yankees. In his debut, though, he’d turned in a quality start — seven innings, three earned runs—against the Orioles, but the Red Sox lost to Jim Palmer. In his third start, he didn’t pitch particularly well, giving up three runs in five innings, but the Red Sox beat the Tigers on Jerry Remy’s RBI single in the eleventh.

And that was it. Sprowl didn’t pitch again that season, not even in garbage relief. He opened the ’79 season in the minors, and was traded to Houston in June.

Sprowl was an odd choice. The Red Sox’s farm team in Pawtucket had the best pitching in the International League (park effects notwithstanding). Sprowl posted a 4.15 ERA in fifteen games. Meanwhile, the Pawtucket staff included Chuck Rainey (13-7, 2.91), Joel Finch (11-8, 3.18), Burke Suter (11-6, 3.24) and (most interestingly, considering the future) John Tudor (7-4, 3.09). Yet none of these guys pitched at all for the Sox in ‘78.

Pitching Sprowl might have cost the Red Sox the pennant. But 1) he pitched poorly just once, 2) in that game the Red Sox scored only four runs, and 3) either way, it was hardly Don Zimmer’s fault.

Hey, think Tudor might be available to start tomorrow?

(My apologies for the haphazard layout here. Blogger keeps crashing my computer when I try to post photos today.)

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