Archive for category (Baseball) Life Ain’t Fair…

“A Life of Knuckleballs”: Just Missed the Cut, Part I

When I first wrote the manuscript for Tom Candiotti: A Life of Knuckleballs, I had over 600,000 words, which, of course, made it unpublishable.

So, my publisher, McFarland & Co., requested me to cut the manuscript down, and because of that, many stories did not make the cut.

Over the next little while, I will be posting some of the original content that didn’t make it to the book. I call this, “Missed the Cut.”

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This one is from Tom Candiotti’s first month in the majors, with the stories about Pete Vuckovich and the Milwaukee veterans not making it into the book:

The Brewers were still in contention even with the struggles of veteran Don Sutton—who despite pitching nine shutout innings against California on August 24th, was 0-5 with a 6.49 ERA in his last seven starts.

Even though the veteran wasn’t getting it done, the rookies certainly were, up to that point. Including Candiotti, the Brewers had four rookie pitchers who each played a big role in the team’s success. The quartet had 19 wins and 10 saves, led by reliever Tom Tellmann (nine wins, eight saves), Chuck Porter (six wins), Bob Gibson (two wins, two saves), and of course, Candiotti (two complete-game wins in two starts).

As it turned out, Milwaukee wouldn’t win another game in which Tellmann, Porter, and Gibson appeared until the final three days of the season. Tellmann would pitch well down the stretch (2.31 ERA) but the Brewers would go 0-9 in his final nine appearances of the season. They would be 0-4 in Gibson’s appearances—he was 0-2—until he defeated Detroit 6-2 in a meaningless start on the final weekend. As for Porter, he would be 0-4 with a 7.16 ERA—the Brewers would lose all six of his starts—before beating the Tigers 7-4 on the final day of the season.

As for Vuckovich, he wouldn’t make a difference when he made his long-awaited season debut on August 31st. The reigning Cy Young winner would last only 14.2 innings in three starts, going 0-2 with a 4.91 ERA. Meanwhile, in a complete reversal of Sutton’s September 1982 performance, the veteran right-hander would be 1-3 with a 3.80 ERA in his final six starts of 1983.

As Washington Post writer Thomas Boswell noted in late August, “The core of the Brewers’ suspect rotation—Sutton, Mike Caldwell and Bob McClure—has a combined 25-26 record and an ERA over 4.40. When you have to give 27 starts in the pennant race to Chuck Porter, Tom Candiotti, Bob Gibson, Jerry Augustine and Rick Waits, you’re in line for baseball sympathy” (Thomas Boswell, “Mighty Brewers Have Gone From Muscle to Hustle Team,” Washington Post, August 22, 1983).

Though Vuckovich would go winless in 1983, Candiotti, to this day, marvels at the clubhouse presence he exhibited that season. “Vuckovich, like the veteran players, made sure the rookies were paying attention to what was going on,” says Candy. “I’d be on the bench. He’d walk by in the ninth inning and say, ‘What did this batter do in his second at-bat?’ So I’d have to recall the pitch count and things like that. He kept me in the game, kept me watching all the time. That’s how baseball was back then. The veterans kept the young players in the game. All those guys made sure the rookies were paying attention and knew what was going on. And boy, I tell ya, if Pete was asking you a question, you’d better get it right!”

Candiotti also credits Vuckovich with teaching him a lot about pitching, especially pitching around hitters. “He taught me an awful lot, being able to pick the outs you wanna get. I was never taught to walk guys intentionally, like intentionally ‘unintentionally.’ But he sat down with me and went through things with me that I never knew.” For instance, many times a pitcher would walk a hitter apparently unintentionally, when actually it was almost intentional. If, say, there was a runner on second base and a tough hitter up, the pitcher wouldn’t actually give him an intentional pass, but would pitch carefully to him. If the pitcher got the batter out to chase pitches out of the strike zone, that was great. If he walked the hitter, that was fine too—his main goal was to basically not give the batter anything to hit. Candiotti, who never liked to walk hitters, learned to appreciate such a pitching strategy. He was grateful for having Vuckovich as a mentor in teaching him how to pitch in the majors.

“He wore me out, though,” Candiotti laughs. “I had to buy him this and that. This was kind of like my ‘welcome’ to the big leagues. Of course, that Brewers team was a veteran club. [Catcher] Bill Schroeder and I were two of the few rookies that year, until the September call-ups came up to Milwaukee. For a while there, Pete really wore us out. I know he wore me out. He wouldn’t let me in the trainer’s room initially. I was tested as a rookie. But once I passed the test, he was awesome. He was a great teammate to be around.” And how did Candiotti pass the test?

“Well, what happened was I was making my first major-league start. I went into the trainer’s room and Vuckovich was there. He goes, ‘What are you doing here, rookie?’

“I go, ‘I’m just gonna get some heat.’

“Pete says, ‘Get the hell outta here, rookie.’”

Candiotti didn’t let Vuckovich’s abuse bother him. He left the room, pitched Milwaukee into first place, and kept his distance from the veteran pitcher. Soon enough, Vuckovich approached the rookie to welcome him. “A few days later,” Candiotti says, “he comes up to me and goes, ‘You’re doing pretty well. You can come into the trainer’s room now.’ So after that, he was great. But if I’d fought him on it, he would’ve made my life miserable that rookie season.”

He still laughs at how Vuckovich walked 102 batters with 105 strikeouts during the 1982 season and still won the AL Cy Young Award*. While Vuckovich was second in the league in wins—finishing 18-6 with a 3.34 ERA—he was also second in bases on balls. “Now, I think back and I wonder—and I’d joke about it with him—‘How did you win the Cy Young with those numbers?’” Candiotti says with a grin. “He had over a hundred walks! I’d joke about it with Pete, like, ‘That’s one of the strangest things how you won that award!’”

Another veteran who helped Candiotti along that first season was catcher Ted Simmons, who’d assign him homework. “Ted once got me to do a report about the ball-strike counts on which most baserunners ran,” he says. “You know, which counts runners go the most. Or he’d quiz me on pitch selections during a game. It was great. And of course, he called a knuckleball for the first big-league pitch I ever threw. He knew how to help me out as a young player. It was a huge thing for me.”

*One could make the argument that Toronto’s Dave Stieb was robbed of the Cy Young in 1982. Vuckovich, who made 30 starts, pitched 223.2 innings with nine complete games, including one shutout. Stieb, meanwhile, started 38 games, completed 19 of them, tossed five shutouts, and threw 288.1 innings. He led the AL in innings, complete games, and shutouts, and was tied for third in games started. He was 17-14 with a 3.25 ERA, walking 75 and fanning 141.

 

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Video of Candiotti pitching in 1993

Thanks to YouTube, we are able to once in a while come across rare videos uploaded by people just like you and me. I recently came across a video of Tom Candiotti pitching for the Dodgers in Philadelphia back in 1993, posted by a YouTube user called Classic Phillies TV. Thank you, CPTV!

Now, this wasn’t one of Candiotti’s best games, and most baseball fans will be more interested in seeing a young Pedro Martinez pitch a few innings late in the game. However, following this contest, one in which Candiotti fell to 0-3 with a 6.55 ERA through four starts, the knuckleballing Candy Man would then have a dominant four-month stretch that has since been forgotten. In his next 22 starts following this disaster in Philadelphia, Candiotti posted a minuscule 1.85 ERA and the Dodgers won 15 of those games. Unfortunately, Candiotti’s won-loss record wasn’t great because the Dodgers rarely gave him much support, resulting in a modest 8-2 record in those 22 outings, even with that 1.85 earned-run average. Included in that stretch was a 15-start undefeated streak which saw Candiotti go 5-0 with 10 no-decisions. One of his two losses in those 22 starts was a 2-0 defeat to Atlanta’s John Smoltz, where Candiotti gave up just one run – on four hits – in eight innings (the only run came on a sacrifice fly and then the Braves added that second run in the ninth inning off Pedro Martinez).

In the 22-start stretch after the Phillies game, here were Candiotti’s numbers:

155.2 IP, 122 H, 43 BB, 120 SO, 6 HR, .217 opposing BA

It’s pretty amazing given the fact that Candiotti threw a knuckleball and yet averaged under 2.5 walks per nine innings. And only six home runs given up in those innings with nearly a 3-to-1 strikeouts-to-walks ratio.

That run actually gave Candiotti the National League ERA lead going into September, at a major league-best 2.43.

Thanks again, CPTV, for posting the video.

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What Cy Young?

I was asked the following question on Quora.com earlier today:

How many times has a Cy Young award winner gone 0-2 or worse in the post-season?

My response was as follows:

Well, it’s happened to the best. Obviously, I am assuming this question was posted following Los Angeles Dodger lefty Clayton Kershaw‘s second loss in the 2014 NL Division Series against the St. Louis Cardinals, a defeat that sent L.A. home for the winter.

In 1997, Seattle’s Randy Johnson, the AL Cy Young winner two years earlier (and a 20-game winner in that current season), went 0-2 against Baltimore in the Division Series as the Mariners lost three games to one. The following year, Johnson was 0-2 for Houston in the NL Division Series versus Kevin Brown’s San Diego Padres, with the 102-win Astros embarrassed in four games. (In 1997, Johnson was 20-4 with a 2.28 ERA, finishing second in the Cy Young race to Roger Clemens. In 1998, the Big Unit was 10-1 with a 1.28 ERA following a late-season trade to the Astros.)

madduxSpeaking of Brown, his wild-card Florida Marlins beat Greg Maddux twice in the 1997 NLCS, giving the four-time Cy Young-winning Maddux an 0-2 record in that series. The Braves, who won 101 games during the regular season and finished nine games ahead of Florida in the standings, lost to the Marlins four games to two. Maddux had won the Cy Young in 1992, 1993, 1994, and 1995, and was 19-4 with a 2.20 ERA in 1997. [1]

Brown’s 1998 Padres also handed the Braves’ Tom Glavine an 0-2 mark in the NLCS, with San Diego knocking off Atlanta in six games. Glavine had won the Cy Young in 1991 and would win it again that same 1998 season with a 20-6 record and a 2.47 ERA. The Padres had a good year with 98 victories, but they were underdogs against the Astros (102-60) and the Braves (106-56). San Diego’s brilliant run ended in the World Series, where the Padres were swept by the 114-win Yankees.

In 1993, the Toronto Blue Jays beat Cy Young winner Jack McDowell (22-10, 3.37 ERA in the regular season) twice in the ALCS as his Chicago White Sox went down four games to two. It was McDowell’s second straight 20-win season that year, and he was named the 1993 Cy Young in the offseason. McDowell was 0-2 with a 10.00 ERA in that 1993 ALCS, and then two years later in the AL Division Series with the Yankees against the Mariners, was 0-2 with a 9.00 ERA (with the second loss coming in relief in the decisive fifth game).

So, it’s happened before. I’m sure others will chime in as far as exactly how many times it’s happened.

[1] 1997 was truly an odd season. In addition to Maddux and Johnson, a couple of other top pitchers went 0-2 in that year’s postseason. Brown himself went 0-2 in the World Series against the Cleveland Indians. Though Brown never won the Cy Young, he was runner-up to Atlanta’s John Smoltz a year earlier, and was also a 21-game winner in 1992. Andy Pettitte of the Yankees, meanwhile, was 0-2 also in the AL Division Series against Cleveland, one year after finishing second to Pat Hentgen for the AL Cy Young. The Indians also won two games in the 1997 ALCS that were started by Baltimore’s Mike Mussina, who got a pair of no-decisions as the Orioles couldn’t score in those two contests.

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Don’t give me the ball….

Twins right-hander Phil Hughes is one out shy of reaching 210 innings this season, which will cost him a $500,000 bonus. His half-million-dollar bonus kicks in if he reaches 210 innings, and he is at 209.2 after a rain delay forced him out of his final scheduled start on September 24 against Arizona, in a game where he went eight innings.

Of course, Hughes also set a record in that last start, as he finished the season with 16 walks and 186 strikeouts, with his 11.63 strikeouts-to-walks ratio the best all-time for pitchers with a qualifying number of innings. He also has the same number of wins and walks, 16.

Whose record did Hughes break? Bret Saberhagen, who had 143 strikeouts and 13 walks for the Mets in the strike-shortened 1994 season for an 11.00 strikeouts-to-walks ratio. That was a great year for Saberhagen, as he had more wins (14) than walks (13) for a bad Mets team. It was also Saberhagen’s final great season – he was 14-4 with a 2.74 ERA in 24 starts and finished third in the Cy Young race and 22nd in NL MVP balloting. He was also an All-Star that year for the third and final time in his career. (Yes, I know Saberhagen had some success with the Red Sox in the late 1990s – 15-8 with a 3.96 ERA in 1998 and 10-6 with a 2.95 ERA in 1999 – but by that time he was a No. 3 starter at best.)

Another guy I remember is former Cards pitcher Bob Tewksbury, who in 1992 walked only 20 batters and went 16-5 with a 2.16 ERA. Never a big strikeout pitcher, Tewksbury had only 91 K’s in 233 innings that season. But he nearly had the same number of walks and victories! Tewksbury was also poised to win the ERA title, but the Giants gave reliever Bill Swift enough innings down the stretch and the San Francisco right-hander finished at 2.08 in 164.2 innings, beating him out. (The minimum number of innings to qualify for the ERA title is 162.)

bob tewksburyYou can also argue that the Cardinals’ main rival, the Chicago Cubs, cost Tewksbury that ERA title too. On August 31, his ERA was 2.01 after he gave up zero earned runs (and two runs total) in a complete-game victory over San Diego. He gave up two earned runs in each of his next two starts to improve to 16-5 with a 2.07 ERA. Then on September 18 at Wrigley Field, the Cubs pounded him for six earned runs in five innings and his ERA rose to 2.27. Tewksbury rebounded in his final two starts of the year – one earned run in 15 innings – but lost out to Swift.

Another thing too was at the time, he was thought of as a guy who would steal the Cy Young from reigning winner Tom Glavine, who raced out to a 19-3 start by August 19 before slumping late in the year (going 1-5 the rest of the way). On September 13, Tewksbury was 16-5 with three more starts to go, and had he won all three, would have had a shot. Alas, it was Greg Maddux (20-11, 2.18) of the Cubs who wound up being hot in the final weeks to take that sure Cy Young victory away from Glavine (20-8, 2.76).

So, that Hughes story made me think back to Tewksbury losing a couple of major accomplishments in 1992. Of course, they are not the same as one is money and the other is about awards… though I’m sure Tewksbury probably would have had some bonus clauses in his contract that would be triggered had he won the ERA title and/or the Cy Young.

In 1993, Tewksbury then went 17-10 (but with a mediocre 3.83 ERA) and walked just 20 batters, again nearly having the same number of victories and walks. He looked like the second coming of Bob Gibson the following year, winning each of his first six starts and getting out to an 8-1 record. Alas, the wheels fell off and he finished 12-10 with an ugly 5.32 ERA, notching a 6.72 earned-run average in his last 14 starts before the strike wiped out the remainder of the season. He walked 22 in 155.2 innings in 1994.Gullickson

Bill Gullickson was another guy who gave up a lot of hits and didn’t walk that many hitters, though he didn’t have the control that Tewksbury did. After going 20-9 with a 3.90 ERA for the powerful Tigers in 1991, Gullickson was poised to win 20 games for the second straight season. On August 7, he beat Toronto 7-2 on a complete-game eight-hitter to improve to 13-7 with at least 10 starts remaining. Alas, he went 1-6 in his final 10 starts with a 6.45 ERA, including 0-5 and 7.79 in September and October.

And finally back to the Twins, who have said that they would let Hughes pitch out of the bullpen on the final weekend of the season to get the one out to trigger the bonus, according to USA Today. However, Hughes has declined. …which reminds me of another Twins pitcher from 1988.

That season, lefty Allan Anderson had a scheduled start on the final day of the season, but teammate Bert Blyleven told manager Tom Kelly that if Anderson sat out, he would win the ERA title. Kelly gave the left-hander a choice, and Anderson decided to sit out indeed, backing into the ERA championship. It was the first time he had led the ERA race all season, because on the penultimate night of the season on October 1, ERA leader Teddy Higuera of the Brewers gave up three earned runs in 6.2 innings to bump his ERA from 2.41 to 2.45. More accurately, it was 2.4545. Anderson’s ERA was 2.4465, after his shutout against Oakland on September 27. While both ERAs rounded to 2.45, Anderson’s ERA was lower, and he won the ERA title by sitting out his final start on October 2.

What Phil Hughes has decided in 2014 – declining to pitch again just so that he could make an extra $500,000 – is certainly more admirable than what Anderson had chosen in 1988. Bravo, Phil Hughes.

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The best knuckleballer over the past 25-30 years….?

In the Blue Jays’ 10-2 victory over the Mariners on September 23, knuckleballer R.A. Dickey pitched a five-hitter through seven innings to thwart Seattle’s fading playoff hopes (while Toronto hammered M’s ace Felix Hernandez for eight runs).

For Dickey, he improved his record to 14-12 with a 3.78 ERA, the third straight season that he’s won at least 14 games.

Well, I was asked recently on Quora.com: Who was the best knuckleball pitcher in baseball in the last 25-30 years?

A lot of fans are going to come up with the names Charlie Hough and Tim Wakefield. Some might even say Dickey, who won the National League Cy Young Award with the New York Mets in 2012.

I’m going to, however, go with former Indians and Dodgers knuckleball pitcher Tom Candiotti, who was the most consistent knuckleballer over the last 25-30 years.

2012-R.A.-Dickey-213x300While Dickey had his one big season with the Mets (as well as a couple of other solid campaigns in New York where he pitched well but didn’t get much run support), he has not been that great with the Toronto Blue Jays in 2013-2014. He hasn’t been able to duplicate his success from that 2012 season, which kind of makes him a one-hit wonder.

Wakefield will always be highly regarded in Boston because of his longevity and his being on two World Series championship teams with the Red Sox in 2004 and 2007, but he had some very ugly seasons where he pitched poorly. In his rookie year with the Pirates, he was nearly unhittable and was a postseason star as he nearly pitched Pittsburgh into the World Series. However, over his postseason career, he was hit very hard and compiled an overall ERA of 6.75 in 18 career playoff appearances. In his final four career postseason starts, Wakefield was 0-3 with a 10.47 ERA. He especially struggled against Cleveland in the playoffs, allowing at least five runs in each of his three career postseason starts versus the Indians. Yes, he wound up winning 200 regular-season games over a 19-year career, but his ERA was over 4.00 in 15 of those seasons. He had six seasons where his ERA was over 5.00. However, he always seemed to win because of good run support with the Red Sox, as he was 14-13 with a 5.14 ERA in 1996 and 17-8 despite a 4.58 ERA two years later.

As for Tom Candiotti, he pitched 16 seasons in the big leagues, and though he finished with a career losing record and “only” 151 victories, he had an ERA over 4.00 only six times. Candiotti nearly won the ERA title in 1991, finishing with a 2.65 earned-run average that was second in the American League only to Roger Clemens (2.62). Had he allowed just one fewer earned run over the course of that season, Candiotti would have won the ERA championship. In 1993, he finished just 8-10, but suffered from atrocious run support while pitching for the Dodgers. That year, he was the ERA leader in the major leagues, pitching to a 2.43 earned-run average entering September before struggling in the season’s final weeks to finish at 3.12. In fact, for a full decade from 1986-1995, Candiotti had a 3.44 ERA, which was one of the best earned-run averages in baseball during that stretch. He also averaged 30 starts and over 200 innings during that decade, proving to be a very dependable pitcher for his clubs. He and Mark Langston were the only pitchers in the majors to work at least 200 innings in each season from 1986-1993, until the 1994 strike ended both streaks. His career ERAs after the 1995 season were 3.51 in the American League and 3.38 in the National League. Of his 151 career wins, 70 came in starts where he allowed one run or none. Even though he threw the knuckleball primarily during his career, he consistently had a 2-to-1 strikeout-to-walk ratio, meaning he consistently had twice as many strikeouts as he did walks.

Yes, R.A. Dickey was 12-1 with a 2.15 ERA at one point during the 2012 season, and Tim Wakefield started 14-1 with a 1.65 ERA in 1995. However, Candiotti had similar brilliant stretches of pitching…but not the gaudy won-loss records to show for them because the quality of his teams. In 1991, for instance, Candiotti had a 2.01 ERA in his first 19 starts…but only a 9-8 record and was left off the AL All-Star team. In 1993, he had a 1.53 ERA over a stretch of 17 starts, but was 6-1 with 10 no-decisions. The same summer when Wakefield made all the headlines in Boston with that 1.65 ERA in 1995, Candiotti had a stretch of 13 starts where his ERA was 1.74 for Los Angeles. Alas, the Dodgers gave him very little support, resulting in a 4-6 record in that stretch. Naturally, over time his accomplishments are no longer remembered.

Tom Candiotti never truly got any recognition because of the losing records he suffered while pitching for bad teams in Cleveland and Los Angeles. Had he gotten better support, he would have been better remembered. Or, if he had pitched today and gotten the same results, he would be talked about as a hard-luck pitcher because the baseball media now weigh more importance on other statistics and less on wins. During Candiotti’s time, it seemed that wins-and-losses were the be-all, end-all, and with his losing record he didn’t get as much press. Thus, he is forgotten today. On some lists on the Internet that talk about the best knuckleballers in baseball history, some bloggers cite Candiotti’s best season as 1988, when he was 14-8 with a 3.28 ERA. However, he won 15 games in 1990, nearly won the ERA championship in 1991, and from 1992-95 had the fifth-best ERA in the NL (behind only Greg Maddux, Jose Rijo, Tom Glavine, and John Smoltz). People have forgotten that he was one of the best pitchers in baseball for a while, knuckleball or not.

To learn more about Candiotti and his career, check out his biography titled Tom Candiotti: A Life of Knuckleballs, which is available on Amazon.

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