RIP Gus Triandos

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Gus Triandos was famously slow ballplayer. There’s a difference between been a regular old slow ballplayer and a famously slow one. The first might go somewhat unnoticed, especially if he tries hard enough. Raul Ibanez is very slow, he will be the first one to tell you that. But he always runs it out and so people don’t notice it much.

But the famously slow ballplayer — he has nowhere to hide. And that was Gus Triandos.

Triandos could hit with power. Man, could he hit with power. At 17, he hit .323 with 18 homers in just 92 games for Class C Twin Falls. The Yankees were generally unimpressed and put him right back in Class C the next year. He hit .435 with 10 homers in 28 games. You would think that might catch their attention. It really didn’t. After a brief move up, they put him BACK in Class C, where he hit .363 with 11 homers in in 74 games. It was as if the Yankees couldn’t believe someone that heavy-footed could hit baseballs that hard. Bill James has written that if Triandos had been established as a big league catcher at a young age, he might have hit 400 or 500 homers.

The Yankees never did believe — they traded Triandos to Baltimore in a 17-player dump that netted the Yankees Don Larsen and Bob Turley. The Orioles got Gus Triandos and, well, they got Gus Triandos. He immediately became one of the better hitting catchers in baseball. He was a regular in Baltimore for seven or so years, and he posted a 111 OPS+ in that time. He hit as many as 30 home runs (only Rudy York among American League catchers had ever hit more) and he also had seasons of 25 and 21 homers. He played in three straight All-Star games, starting two of them.

In Baltimore, he was beloved. He was a self-effacing man, good natured, who understood his place in the world. Outside of Baltimore, yeah, he was known as a famously slow ballplayer. This was especially apparent in 1959, when (as memorialized in the classic NSFW “Which man would you have sex with so you could sleep with the Olsen twins” scene in “The Wire”) the Orioles decided to make knuckleballer Hoyt Wilhelm a starting pitcher. He started 27 games that year, 11 more the next, and that was it for him as a starter …  he started four more games the rest of his career.

So that was fortune of Gus Triandos: To be the starting catcher the year and a half when Hoyt Wilhelm was a starting pitcher. And, it’s quite possible that Wilhelm threw the nastiest knuckleballs in baseball history during that time. He led the American League in 1959 with a 2.19 ERA.  He threw 13 complete games. Wilhelm’s second start that year was April 21, 1959 in Fenway Park. Wilhelm and the Orioles won 5-2. Triandos hit two homers.* He also had three passed balls.

*Triandos killed the ball at Fenway Park. He was a classic pull-hitter, who smashed the ball to left field. In his career, he hit 17 homers in 73 games at Fenway.

Five days later, on April 26, Wilhelm threw a complete game at Yankee Stadium. Triandos had four passed balls.

On August 30 of that year, Wilhelm started against the Red Sox. Triandos had four passed balls in the first two innings. He had 28 passed balls total in 1959 (backup catcher Joe Ginsberg had 21 more). Up to that point, passed balls had not been a particular problem for Triandos. He was a big and solid catcher. But after Wilhelm, passed balls haunted him. He led the American League in passed balls three times — one of those years in Detroit after he had left Wilhelm behind.

And really, few things in baseball are more humiliating than a passed ball. It should be the most basic of all things. The snapshot of Triandos was not of the massive home runs he hit, that big wide stance of his, the wicked cut he would take at the ball. Instead it was the image of this big, slow and proud man watching a ball flip of his glove and then lumbering after it as fast as he could. Triandos took it all in stride. He once said that heaven is a place where no one throws knuckleballs.

On this day — the day after Gus Triandos died at the age of 82 — it is worth remembering a different moment, the moment Gus Triandos hit an inside-the-park home run. It happened toward the end of the season in 1957 at old Memorial Stadium in Baltimore. That Orioles team was perfectly mediocre — 76-76, scored nine more runs than they allowed — and actually had TWO Hall of Fame third baseman (George Kell exiting the stage and Brooks Robinson entering).

It was the fifth inning, a scoreless game, and Triandos smashed a vicious line drive to right field — that was classic Triandos. When he hit the ball hard, he hit the ball HARD. He actually was on the old “Home Run Derby” show once — facing Dick Stuart — and I remember it because he ripped three or four line drives that hit the top of the fence and bounced back in. This line drive also whacked off the left field wall, but he hit it so hard that it caromed off shot right past the left fielder, who was completely overwhelmed by the bounce. The left fielder then began chasing after the ball. The left fielder that day was Ted Williams.

While Williams tried to run down the ball, which had rolled a 100 feet away, Triandos chugged around the bases. The ball was hit so hard and rolled so far away from Williams, that Triandos saw the third base coach waving him in.

And that’s a good way to remember Gus Triandos, an Orioles star when there were no Orioles stars. That very same day, the Orioles pitcher was Hal Smith, who, yes, was a knuckleball pitcher. In the ninth inning, Hal Smith threw a knuckleball to Ted Williams and, yes, it got by Gus Triandos. A passed ball. But on that great day it didn’t matter at all. While Ted Williams ran after the ball, Triandos rounded third, headed for home. He scored standing up.

Bruce Maxwell first MLB player to kneel during National Anthem

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Athletics’ rookie catcher Bruce Maxwell did not stand for the National Anthem on Saturday night. He’s the first MLB player to do so and, like other professional athletes before him, used the moment to send a message — not just to shed light on the lack of racial equality in the United States, but to specifically protest President Donald Trump’s suggestion that NFL owners fire any of their players who elect to protest the anthem by sitting or kneeling.

“Bruce’s father is a proud military lifer. Anyone who knows Bruce or his parents is well aware that the Maxwells’ love and appreciation for our country is indisputable,” Maxwell’s agent, Matt Sosnick, relayed to the San Francisco Chronicle’s Susan Slusser on Friday. He continued:

Bruce has made it clear that he is taking a stand about what he perceives as racial injustices in this country, and his personal disappointment with President Trump’s response to a number of professional athletes’ totally peaceful, non-violent protests.

Bruce has shared with both me and his teammates that his feelings have nothing to do with a lack of patriotism or a hatred of any man, but rather everything to do with equality for men, women and children regardless of race or religion.

While Maxwell didn’t make his own statement to the media, he took to Instagram earlier in the day to express his frustration against the recent opposition to the protests, criticizing the President for endorsing “division of man and rights.”

Despite Trump’s profanity-laced directive to NFL owners on Friday, however, it’s clear the Athletics don’t share his sentiments. “The Oakland A’s pride ourselves on being inclusive,” the team said in a statement released after Maxwell’s demonstration. “We respect and support all of our players’ constitutional rights and freedom of expression.”

Whatever the fallout, kudos to Maxwell for taking a stand. He may be the first to do so in this particular arena, but he likely won’t be the last.

Alex Wilson broke his leg on a 103-MPH comebacker

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This one is brutal. Tigers’ right-handed reliever Alex Wilson was diagnosed with a broken leg after taking a blistering 103.8-MPH line drive off of his right leg during Saturday’s game against the Twins. According to the Detroit News’ Chris McCosky, it’s a non-displaced fibular fracture, but will still warrant an extended recovery period and signal the end of Wilson’s season.

Wilson replaced Drew VerHagen to start the eighth inning and worked a full count against Joe Mauer. Mauer roped an 93.3-MPH fastball back up the middle, where it struck the pitcher on his right calf. While Mauer took first base, Wilson got to his feet and tried to toss a warm-up pitch, but was in too much pain to continue and had to be helped off the field.

Even in a season that isn’t going anywhere in particular, this isn’t how you want it to end. The Tigers have yet to announce a recovery timetable for the 30-year-old reliever, but he won’t return to the mound until 2018. He exited Saturday’s outing with a 4.35 ERA, 2.3 BB/9 and 6.3 SO/9 over 60 innings.

The Tigers currently trail the Twins 10-3 in the bottom of the ninth inning.