Had the opportunity to chat baseball and about my book “Tom Candiotti: A Life of Knuckleballs” on Vancouver Canadians Game Day with Rob Fai on TSN 1040.
Here’s the part of the program where I talked about the book and about the Blue Jays:
To me, there’s no comparison with Tom Candiotti on the 1991 Blue Jays and R.A. Dickey on the 2015 team. As I’d mentioned on the program, Candiotti in 1991 was looked upon to lead the young pitching staff (one that included rookies Mike Timlin and Juan Guzman as well as youngsters David Wells and Todd Stottlemyre). His innings took pressure off of the bullpen as well as the other starters. Candiotti, in fact, nearly won the 1991 American League ERA title – losing it to Roger Clemens in the final week of the season. (Candiotti, who led the ERA race in late September, finished at 2.65 while Clemens was at 2.62.)
As for Dickey? As I’d noted, he’s basically a six-inning pitcher and he might not even be part of the postseason starting rotation (assuming Toronto makes it to the playoffs).
I got cut off when I was talking about rooting for a guy like Candiotti, but what I’d wanted to say there was that how can one not root for the guy? He was a guy who went undrafted, developed elbow problems that required surgery before he even got to the big leagues, underwent Tommy John surgery and became the second player to ever appear in the majors after the operation, and reinvented himself by throwing a knuckleball after two seasons in the bigs where he was a conventional pitcher. The guy nearly won the ERA title twice, and finished his career with more than 150 victories. How can one not root for a guy like that? Had social media existed then, his story would have been more recognized and remembered.
A couple of items from Baseball Hall of Fame pitcher Pedro Martinez’s autobiography, Pedro (by Martinez and Michael Silverman):
The first excerpt is Martinez talking about what led to his first MLB start.
Even though I never had any physical issues with my right shoulder while I was a Dodger, I sensed that there was more to me being parked in the bullpen and not in the rotation. They said they did not have a vacancy there, but things got weird.
In the middle of September, the Dodgers did ask me to start, in Colorado. It was Tom Candiotti’s turn, but either he or the Dodgers or both decided that a knuckleballer at mile-high altitude was a bad idea. So they told me I’d get my first big-league start at Coors Field. And I had nothing—I blew up like a balloon. Maybe it was pitching on five days’ rest after five months of pitching every other or every day, maybe it was the thin air, maybe it was both.
—Page 78, Pedro
When Martinez then was traded from the Expos to the Red Sox, he made his Boston debut on Opening Day in 1998 against Candiotti and the Athletics in Oakland.
The Athletics started my old Dodgers teammate, the knuckleballer Tom Candiotti. … Seeing Candiotti also reminded me how he was the starter who Tommy Lasorda decided to rest late in the 1992 season, when we were in Colorado and Tommy thought the Coors Field bandbox would be a good place to make my first major league start.
—Page 138, Pedro
Well, that’s very convenient, blaming the knuckleballing Candiotti for his having to get lit up in Colorado.
- At the time, the Rockies played at Mile High Stadium, not Coors Field.
- Martinez’s first start was in 1993, but for some reason “1992” was written on page 138.
- And finally, Tom Candiotti didn’t bail out of his start in Colorado. A simple check on Baseball-Reference.com reveals that Candiotti actually pitched earlier in the series, so Pedro obviously misremembered and nobody bothered to fact-check. Just blame the knuckleballer, right?
And besides, if you’ve read Tom Candiotti: A Life of Knuckleballs, you would already know that Candiotti’s start in Colorado late in that 1993 season was one of the reasons the knuckleball specialist lost the National League ERA title that year!
But to blame a knuckleball pitcher for your failures…it seems that’s what always happens.
This was the AP recap from the Dodger-Padres game from Sunday, May 24, 2015:
Interestingly, the names of Fernando Valenzuela, Orel Hershiser, and Ramon Martinez were left out – all Dodger aces, of course – even though they had done the same thing before too!
I’d written the following, in reference to Candiotti’s worst career start in August of 1995, when he gave up 10 runs against the Giants in just four innings:
Interestingly, Candiotti was not the only Dodger starter to give up that many runs in a single game that season. Just one month earlier, on July 2, Dodger ace Ramon Martinez allowed 10 runs over 4.2 innings in a 10-1 loss to Colorado at Dodger Stadium. Also, Candiotti and Martinez were not the only prominent Los Angeles starters to be tagged for 10 or more runs in a single game. On August 9, 1992, Orel Hershiser also gave up 10 runs over 4.2 innings in Atlanta. Back on June 29, 1983, Fernando Valenzuela surrendered 10 runs in 4.1 innings of work in San Diego. Ismael Valdez (10 runs in Houston in 1998) and Chan Ho Park (11 runs in Los Angeles versus the Cardinals in 1999; 10 runs in Colorado in 1998) would later accomplish the feat as well. It happens.
Now, the AP story didn’t include Valdez either, and that’s just poor reporting. It’s not like Martinez, Hershiser, Valenzuela, et al, pitched in the 1900s or 1910s, when record keeping was not reliable, for crying out loud! This just goes to show that sometimes you can’t believe every story you read… But, oh well, to echo what I’d said in that other post I’d written… It happens.
I have to admit, listening to the Washington Nationals-New York Mets game on ESPN Radio through the first five innings or so on Easter Monday made me think back to the Oakland A’s-Boston Red Sox opener back in 1998.
In the Nationals-Mets game, it was 40-something Bartolo Colon (a former Athletic, by the way) becoming the oldest opening-day starter in Mets history. And it was him losing 1-0 in the middle innings despite pitching a very strong game. Colon’s mound opponent: Max Scherzer, who was making his Nationals regular-season debut and pitching a dominant shutout.
Ahhhhh…back in 1998, it was the 40-something Tom Candiotti becoming the oldest opening-day starting pitcher in Oakland history, losing 2-0 to Pedro Martinez, who was making his Red Sox debut and pitching a dominant game. That night, it was a two-base error by second baseman Scott Spiezio in the fifth inning which led to Boston’s first run on a sacrifice fly. A couple of innings later, the A’s couldn’t turn a double play, and the Red Sox scored an insurance run on another sac fly (which would have been the third out had the A’s turned the DP moments earlier). Oakland did have a chance in the seventh, but Pedro struck out A.J. Hinch and Jason McDonald with runners in scoring position to escape the jam. Oh, by the way, Hinch was making his big-league debut and he had to hit against Martinez and catch Candiotti’s knuckleballs. Yikes.
But it was a moot point – in the Nationals game, the Mets scored three unearned runs off Scherzer, ensuring that Colon’s gem didn’t go to waste.
Speaking of A.J. Hinch having to catch knuckleballs in his first major-league game, check out this video of Andy Allanson and Ron Hassey having to catch Candiotti and Joe Niekro – and also bat against them – in a game from 1986. Candiotti’s first batter would be a sign of things to come for how wild this game turned out to be. Thanks to the YouTube user Classic MLB 11 for uploading it. (Hope it doesn’t get taken down.)
(This, by the way, was Candiotti’s fourth game in the majors throwing the knuckleball. Prior to that, he was a curveball-fastball pitcher.)
Have a fantastic baseball season, everyone!
* * * * *
 There is a distinction here with Candiotti being the oldest starting pitcher for Oakland on Opening Day. In terms of opening-day player in the lineup, Reggie Jackson was the oldest player in Oakland history, as he was the DH back in 1987.
ESPN.com recently posted its Top 20 Moments of the Last 20 Years as part of its 20th anniversary celebration, and there were some glaring omissions on that list.
Let me first state that I like the Patriots and the Saints, and I do watch hockey, so I’m a bit biased here. In ESPN.com’s Top 20 list, again, this is a list of top MOMENTS, with the Boston Red Sox rallying from an 0-3 deficit to beat the Yankees in the 2004 ALCS being ranked No. 1. No argument there with the top-ranked moment. What’s missing on the list, though, are the 2001 New England Patriots winning the Super Bowl about four months after September 11, which at the time seemed very fitting that a team with the nickname “Patriots” won a championship. That’s missing from the ESPN.com list.
And what about the fact the 2007 Patriots completed the first 16-and-0 regular season in NFL history, with Tom Brady and Randy Moss setting league records? That was not on the list. As a side note, the Giants upsetting the Patriots in the Super Bowl following that season did make it at No. 7 on the list. But to not have the Patriots’ historic regular season as a top 20 moment, just doesn’t seem right.
Also missing was the 2009 New Orleans Saints winning the Super Bowl four years after Hurricane Katrina, which I believe should have been on the list. It was the first ever championship for a hard-luck franchise, and should be a top 20 moment. Similarly, there was no hockey moment that made the ESPN.com list, even though in the last 20 years we’ve seen teams such as Detroit (1997), Chicago (2010), and Boston (2011) end lengthy droughts to win the Stanley Cup. You would think that at least one of them would have made it on the list, but there was no hockey moment on there.
Speaking of droughts, the fact that the 2005 Chicago White Sox ended a World Series drought that went all the way back to 1917, should have been acknowledged as well, but didn’t crack the list. There were quite a few basketball moments that did make it, but missing was Ray Allen’s three-pointer for the Miami Heat against the San Antonio Spurs in Game Six of the 2013 NBA finals.
Some of the ones that were on the ESPN.com list included Jackie Robinson’s No. 42 being universally retired at No. 17 and Vince Young’s comeback versus USC at No.15. The No. 42 being retired across baseball was long overdue when it happened in 1997, but it isn’t a moment from a game. I believe this should have been No. 1 on its own separate list, its own separate category, a great off-the-field moment. But it doesn’t fit on this list, which seems to be a list of top moments on the field, on the court, on the ice, etc. I’m not sure that Vince Young’s comeback belongs here as well. Some of the other moments I mentioned, the Patriots’ first title and their 16-0 regular season, definitely do belong. Look at the Saints’ Super Bowl championship, and at least one of the Original Six teams’ Stanley Cup titles recently.
And oh, ESPN.com also posted a list of the Top 20 TEAMS in the Last 20 Years. Let me say that I liked the Red Sox, but I don’t agree with the 2004 Sox being ranked No. 2 behind the Chicago Bulls’ dynasty. The 2004 Boston Red Sox weren’t even the best team in their own sport in the last 20 years, as the Yankee teams from 1998 to 2000 won three straight titles and that 1998 club also was considered one of the greatest in the history of baseball. They set an American League record with 114 wins and then went on to capture their first of three straight titles. I would have to rank that Yankee dynasty ahead of the 2004 Red Sox, and I’m speaking as a Boston fan.
The top four were No. 1, the Bulls dynasty. No. 2, the 2004 Red Sox. No. 3, the New England Patriots dynasty teams. No. 4, the Yankees dynasty clubs. I would have put the Yankees at No. 2. Again with this list, there are some glaring omissions, such as the Greatest Show on Turf, the 1999 St. Louis Rams, not being on there. Teams that won multiple titles over a short period of time, such as the New Jersey Devils and the San Francisco Giants, didn’t make the cut. You could even make an argument for the 1995 Dallas Cowboys, the last of the three Super Bowl championships they won in the 1990s. The Cowboys, in fact, became the first team to win three Super Bowls in a span of four seasons when they won that championship following the 1995 season.
So, Happy Birthday, ESPN.com, and thank you for coming up with these lists as they definitely help to stir up some great debates. But I’m afraid you’ve missed the mark with some of the omissions and poorly-ranked teams.