(BaseballStL) -- Did you know…..
The shortest player in major league history was Eddie Gaedel, who, at 3 feet, 6 inches, walked on four pitches in his only major league at bat? Bill Veeck, owner of the lowly St. Louis Browns sent him to the plate as one of his many gimmicks over the years.
Oakland As owner Charlie Finley once hired an Olympic sprinter to be his designated runner? The designated hitter was such a success that Finley tried dedicating one position on his roster to a designated runner who would steal bases and score winning runs. Herb Washington, a gifted runner who was no baseball player was so designated. He met with mixed success since speed does not translate into reading pitchers. He was picked off first at a crucial moment of the World Series, essentially ending the experiment.
Many players have had what used to be called “the Yips,” or the sudden, inexplicable inability to throw the baseball accurately to first base. Steve Sax, a promising youngster with the Los Angeles Dodgers was one, going from Rookie of the Year in 1992 to 30 errors in 1993. Some players never recover.
One of the most painful was Chuck Knoblauch, who excelled as a Minnesota Twin during their World Series run in 1991 and was rewarded with a huge contract. But the Twins faded from contention and he demanded a trade. The Twins complied, sending him to the New York Yankees where, he would say years later, the bright lights, the pressure and the expectations got to him.
He once argued with an umpire on a safe call without asking for time out, allowing the go-ahead run to score from first base. His throws got more and more erratic until he unleashed some of the worst throws in baseball history. He once uncorked his fourth wild throw in three games, striking the mother of announcer Keith Olberman in the face who was sitting 7 rows behind first base.
Of course, not all bad throws had roots in deep emotional trauma. Boston third baseman Butch Hobson, for example, made so many poor throws one sportswriter said he had an arm like a sprinkler system.
The most painful for Cardinal fans is, of course, Rick Ankiel, a promising youngster with a troubled background but an arm like a cannon. Brought up in 1999 at age 20, Ankiel had electric stuff and helped the Cardinals to the play-offs in 2000, going 11-7 in the regular season.
Against Atlanta, then-manager Tony LaRussa decided to pitch Ankiel at Busch Stadium where he would feel more comfortable. After two scoreless innings, Ankiel began to disintegrate on national television, flinging ball after ball to the screen. He walked 6 and threw five wild pitches before he was mercifully removed. Anyone who has ever watched a meltdown like that knew this was not likely to end well.
It didn’t. He started one game against the New York Mets in the NLCS, couldn’t get out of the first inning and his pitching career was effectively over.
But, the story did have a moderately happy ending. After several failed attempts to rediscover his form, Ankiel had a respectable career as an outfielder, hitting .285 in 2007 and spanking 25 taters in 2008. He continues to play, now for the New York Mets.
Good teams have good chemistry, a camaraderie that transcends the business of baseball. Bad teammates make for a poisonous, malignant clubhouse and often answers the question, “How can that team be so bad with all that talent?” The worst teammate ever may be hard to award because so many things that happen never make it out of the clubhouse. Sometimes they do, like when Chicago Cubs players pitcher Carlos Zambrano and catcher Michael Barrett got into an altercation that resulted in an actual fistfight in the dug-out in front of a stunned television audience. (Zambrano was declared the winner by the media, who reported he dropped Barrett like a bad habit).
The absolute worst teammate award though probably goes to Ruben Rivera, a relative of Yankee great Mariano Rivera. Ruben was a horrible hitter but a decent glove signed to give the Yanks some insurance for the aging Bernie Williams.
During spring training, Rivera, according to all accounts, stole one of Derek Jeter’s Rawlings gloves from the clubhouse and sold it to a memorabilia dealer for $2,500.
The Yankees released Rivera after he got the glove back and apologized to Jeter.
Read more about these and other baseball oddities in Filip Bondy’s book, “Who’s on Worst?”