Archive for category Athletics Baseball

Thinking back some 22 years ago, Canseco, Canseco, Canseco…

The July 31st trading deadline in Major League Baseball in 2014 featured a couple of blockbuster deals which first saw the Oakland Athletics acquire left-hander Jon Lester and outfielder Jonny Gomes from the Boston Red Sox for slugger Yoenis Cespedes, and then the Detroit Tigers stunning the baseball world hours later with the addition of former Cy Young winner David Price from the Tampa Bay Rays in a three-team trade which also involved the Seattle Mariners.

Outfielder Austin Jackson, who was part of the Price deal and had been traded to the Mariners, was actually patrolling center field for the Tigers when he was pulled in the seventh inning of Detroit’s afternoon contest against the Chicago White Sox.

That reminded me right away of the Jose Canseco trade back in 1992, when the A’s slugger was standing in the on-deck circle in the bottom of the first inning with teammate Jerry Browne at the plate facing Baltimore Orioles right-hander Mike Mussina on the night of August 31 in Oakland. Canseco, who was hitting third in the lineup and playing right field for the A’s that night, was called back to the dugout by skipper Tony La Russa while Browne was still batting.

Lance Blankenship, a utilityman who played all three outfield positions as well as first base and second base for Oakland in 1992, was sent out to replace Canseco [1].

cansecoWhat happened was A’s general manager Sandy Alderson had just pulled off a trade with Texas, sending Canseco to the Rangers in exchange for outfielder Ruben Sierra and pitchers Bobby Witt and Jeff Russell.

So, the 1988 American League MVP was out of the game, after having played the top of the first inning in right field.

Okay, so not quite the way things unfolded in Detroit in 2014, with Austin Jackson being pulled while he was still on the field, but still… kind of a similar situation, being traded in the middle of the contest.

At least that was the first thing that came to mind when the details of Jackson’s departure from the Tigers-White Sox game was announced.

And getting back to Canseco, the trade of Cespedes to the Red Sox reminds me of that 1992 deal as well. Cespedes, who is of Cuban decent just like Canseco, has just gone from a team that is considered a potential World Series contender to a club that’s not going to make the playoffs. Just like how Canseco went from the first-place A’s in ’92 to the Rangers, who would finish a disappointing fourth with a 77-85 record despite Juan Gonzalez’s 43 home runs and 37 victories posted by the duo of Kevin Brown (21-11) and Jose Guzman (16-11). sierra

Going from a contending team to an also-ran… obviously is very disappointing. That exact same thing, incidentally, also happened later to Sierra, one of the players picked up in the Canseco trade, as the moody outfielder would be dealt from the first-place New York Yankees in 1996 to lowly Detroit in exchange for another slugger, Cecil Fielder. The Yankees went on to win the World Series that year, denying Sierra of a shot at a ring.

One last thing about Canseco. Remember back on July 29 when Cubs catcher John Baker took the mound in the 16th inning of their marathon against the Colorado Rockies? Baker got the pitching victory and even scored the game-ending run in the bottom half of the 16th, but Canseco was not so fortunate in 1993. With Texas getting blown out in Boston, Canseco persuaded Rangers skipper Kevin Kennedy to let him pitch the eighth inning, and he wound up blowing out his arm which eventually required Tommy John surgery. Ironically, DH Chili Davis of the Angels also pitched during that 1993 season, in a blowout loss to Texas. Davis had better luck too, working two hitless innings but hitting Canseco with a pitch.

Ahhh….baseball back in the good old days….

Obviously, these trades in 2014 are very exciting to A’s and Tigers fans, but certainly it brought back some memories from seasons past. And, oh, of course, trades can still happen after the July 31st deadline – but players would have to clear waivers – so we’ll see if any other interesting moves take place down the stretch.

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[1] Blankenship also played third base for the A’s in each of the previous two seasons, and would appear in two games at shortstop for Oakland in his final big-league season in 1993.

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Thanks for your services…but down you go to Triple-A!

Left-hander Tommy Milone, who as recently as two weeks ago was thought of as “Mr. Reliable” of the Oakland A’s pitching staff, was sent to Triple-A Sacramento on July 5 to make room for right-hander Jeff Samardzija, who along with righty Jason Hammel had just been acquired in a trade from the Chicago Cubs.

The 27-year-old Milone was 6-3 with a 3.55 ERA in 16 starts this season for the A’s, and had tossed six shutout innings the day before in Oakland’s 1-0 win over the Blue Jays. Since beginning the season 0-3, the lefty had gone 6-0 with a 2.62 ERA with the A’s going 9-2 in those starts.

It is expected Milone would be back at some point later in the season, but this reminds me of another stunning demotion in Oakland which took place 15 years ago.

Back in 1999, going into the season the A’s starting pitching was led by veteran lefty Kenny Rogers and knuckleballer Tom Candiotti, but beyond those top two spots Oakland seemed very thin in that department.

Jimmy Haynes (5.09 ERA in 1998), Gil Heredia (22-24 lifetime and only 45 career starts), and Brad Rigby (5-6 with a 5.94 ERA in Triple-A Edmonton and injured most of 1998) were expected to be the Nos. 3, 4, 5 starters, respectively.

Mike Oquist, 11-17 with a 5.76 ERA in 1997-98 with the A’s, had been reassigned to minor-league camp to start the season.

With Haynes, Heredia, Rigby, and Oquist not having a lot of big-league experience and with Rogers expected to be traded once the A’s fell out of contention, Candiotti was looked upon to pick up the staff.

rigbyUnfortunately, Candiotti wouldn’t be the innings-eater the A’s were hoping for in 1999 – and it ultimately affected Rigby the most because he had to make emergency relief appearances when Candiotti came out of ballgames early.

What happened was Rigby went on to lose his spot in the Oakland rotation permanently – thanks to Candiotti.

The trouble started on April 11 in Seattle, when Candiotti ripped a fingernail while warming up before his start against the Mariners. Because of the torn nail, he couldn’t throw the knuckleball and had to rely on his fastballs. The Mariners, delighted at seeing the mediocre fastballs that the 40-year-old Candiotti was serving up, ripped him for six runs on seven hits in his 2.1 innings of work in their 11-8 victory.

Because of Candiott’s ineffectiveness and early exit, Rigby – the scheduled starter for the A’s game against Anaheim two nights later – had to come in and pitch in relief of the knuckleballer in order to save the rest of the bullpen. Rigby was pounded for four runs on seven hits in 1.2 innings, and not only was he deprived of his starting assignment against the Angels, he would also be sent to the minors the following day, losing his fifth-starter spot (and major-league roster spot) to Mike Oquist!

Rigby, who had beaten out Oquist as the A’s No. 5 starter in spring training, would be back with Oakland soon enough – he was recalled a week and a half later – but would be pitching exclusively out of the bullpen as a long reliever.

Meanwhile, the Seattle game wouldn’t be the last time that Candiotti put Rigby in a bad spot. Two weeks later, when he had to leave a start in the first inning against Cleveland, Rigby again came in and was ripped for five runs in 5.1 innings. But at least Rigby was able to save the bullpen by pitching deep into the game in relief.

Small consolation, of course, for the man who was supposed to be the A’s fifth starter in 1999. If only he hadn’t volunteered to give the team a few innings to help save the bullpen against the Mariners…

“A couple of days ago, they tell me I’m starting [against the Angels],” Rigby said the day manager Art Howe informed him he was being sent down to Triple-A. “Then I go and throw in the bullpen. Do my arm and shoulder exercises. I ice. I’m in the dugout, ready to watch the game.

“Then the starter [Candiotti] goes down [against the Mariners], and they need a guy to go out there and suck up some innings. I tell them I can pitch. And I go out and pitch. And this [demotion to the minors] happens today. I’m upset. This isn’t right. I went out there and did something for the team.” [1]

As it turned out, Brad Rigby would not start another game in the majors, and would be traded on July 31 with two other pitchers to the Royals for Kevin Appier. Rigby, who had gone 1-7 in 14 starts for Oakland in 1997, would go 4-6 with a 6.01 ERA in 59 relief appearances in 1999-2000, and would appear in his final big-league game with the Montreal Expos on June 24, 2000.

All this after he had easily won the competition for the fifth starter spot in the A’s rotation. [2]

As for Mike Oquist, he started – and won – his game against the Angels, beating knuckleballer Steve Sparks, 3-2. So, that means Oquist had two knuckleball pitchers to thank for his victory; Candiotti for his early exit making Rigby unavailable to pitch and getting him called up, and then Oquist himself throwing well enough in out-pitching the knuckleballing Sparks.

“There’s always some kind of story, the way these things happen,” Oquist would say later. [3]

Well, try telling that to Rigby. And to Tommy Milone in 2014.

But even that’s not the end of the story. Mike Oquist, who had the second-highest ERA (6.22) in the American League in 1998, would be done following the ’99 season at the age of 31. He went 9-10 with a 5.37 ERA that year and never pitched in the big leagues again, instead toiling in Triple-A Toledo for the Tigers organization in 2000 and losing 15 games.

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[1] Frank Blackman, “A Funny Way to Thank Rigby,” San Francisco Examiner, April 13, 1999.
[2] Ibid.
[3] Mark Fainaru-Wada, “Luck Helps Oquist Nail Down Win,” San Francisco Examiner, April 14, 1999.

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