Vince Velasquez
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Vince Velasquez and why the NL shouldn’t adopt the DH rule

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In general, I like to think of myself as a forward-thinking person. I wouldn’t use the word “hip,” but I don’t get stuck in my ways. I’m only in my early thirties, so get back to me in a decade and see if I’m still this way. I want to be a capable and up-to-date old person, sort of like a boomer right now who knows how to fix his own router.

That being said, the one way in which I’m retrograde is my lack of support for the DH rule. The pro-DH arguments are convincing and, I admit, rationally correct. However, I irrationally love watching pitchers hit and, in rare circumstances, play other positions. I believe I can blame Mitch Williams for this. The former Phillies closer delivered a walk-off single at 4:41 AM against the Padres back on July 2, 1993, ending the second game of a doubleheader at Veterans Stadium. As a young Phillies fan who had chronic insomnia and loved the heck out of baseball even back then, I watched the entire game, the memory of which was seared into my brain.

There were many other non-traditional performances from Phillies pitchers in the time since. Robert Person hit two home runs, including a grand slam, and nearly missed a third homer (another grand slam) against the Expos on June 2, 2002. Randy Wolf hit two homers against the Rockies on August 11, 2004. In Game 4 of the 2008 World Series against the Rays, Joe Blanton became the first pitcher since Ken Holtzman in 1974 to hit a homer in the Fall Classic. Don’t worry, I’m not going to stop listing examples.

Another great Phillies-related example was when starter Roy Oswalt played left field in a 16-inning loss to the Astros on August 24, 2010 because third base umpire Scott Barry picked a fight with Ryan Howard and ejected him. The Phillies had no bench players left, so Oswalt had to take the field. Naturally, the first ball in play went right to him, which he caught easily. The Citizens Bank Park crowd erupted in applause and Oswalt flashed a [crap]-eating grin. Oswalt came to bat with the potential to tie the game or even win the game in the bottom of the 16th. He made contact, but grounded out to end the game.

How about when Cole Hamels and Matt Cain traded home runs off of each other on national television? On July 21, 2012, Cain got the best of Hamels, leading off the top of the third inning with a home run to left field. Hamels got his revenge at the dish the very next inning, hitting a one-out solo shot off of Cain in the bottom half.

I’m sorry. Your arguments for bringing the DH to the National League are very good. Sensible, even. But you can pry my pitchers hitting home runs and pitchers playing the field out of my cold, dead hands.

I was reminded of all of this yesterday, when MLB.com’s Sarah Langs resurfaced a highlight of Phillies starter Vince Velasquez playing left field against the White Sox on August 2, 2019. Velasquez had rejoined the rotation not that long ago after a stint of about a month in the bullpen. He was in the midst of another mediocre season on the mound, entering August with a 4.40 ERA. He has always been athletic — more so than many other pitchers — so the Phillies utilized him as a pinch-runner from time to time. That’s what happened against the White Sox when this particular highlight occurred.

The Phillies and White Sox were tied 3-3 in the 13th inning. The Phillies had a minor threat going against Carson Fulmer. Pitcher Zach Eflin, who retired all six White Sox batters he faced, reached on a fielder’s choice bunt and moved to second base with Jean Segura drew a two-out walk. Seeing the potential for a win, then-manager Gabe Kapler sent Velasquez out to run for Eflin. Velasquez’s legs, though, weren’t tested as Rhys Hoskins popped out foul to end the inning.

The 14th inning began and the Phillies were out of players, and Velasquez started two days prior. So Velasquez went out to left field. Adam Haseley moved from left field to center field. And Roman Quinn moved from center field to the mound. This wasn’t Quinn’s first rodeo. He tossed an inning and two-thirds of relief the previous season, though he yielded seven runs in a 24-4 loss to the Mets. He also pitched in relief two and a half weeks prior to this night, surrendering two runs over an inning and a third in a 16-2 loss to the Dodgers.

Quinn found himself in trouble immediately, issuing a leadoff walk to José Abreu. Eloy Jiménez lined out to third base for the first out of the inning, but third baseman Maikel Franco made a wild throw attempting to double Abreu off of first base. James McCann followed up by lacing a single to Velasquez in left field. Velasquez, looking like an actual outfielder, charged the ball and made a perfect one-hop throw to J.T. Realmuto at home, nailing Abreu for the second out of the inning. As Langs noted, Statcast measured Velasquez’s throw at 94.7 MPH. Quinn got Fulmer to ground out to send the game to the bottom of the 14th. Sadly for the Phillies, they went down in order, so Velasquez had to return to left field for the 15th inning.

Things were looking good as Quinn got two easy ground outs to begin the top of the 15th. The White Sox still mounted a threat as Leury García reached on a single and Tim Anderson walked, putting the go-ahead run in scoring position. Abreu then hit another line drive to Velasquez. Velasquez again charged the ball and made another outstanding one-hop throw to home plate, but García’s speed was just a bit too much as he slid in ahead of the tag. The safe call was upheld upon replay review. The ball found Velasquez again when Jiménez smacked a sinking line drive to left field. Velasquez charged, dipped his glove, and tumbled forward to make the catch and, most importantly, protect his wrist in the process. Many a player has broken his wrist attempting such a grab. Velasquez maintained his health and kept it a one-run deficit with the grab, given an elusive five-star rating by MLB.com, as the game headed to the bottom of the 15th. Alas, the Phillies went down in order once again and the White Sox won, 4-3.

I know, objectively, I’m wrong for wanting to keep the DH out of the National League. In aggregate, there just aren’t enough cool pitchers-hitting or pitchers-fielding moments to outweigh the momentum they suck out of the game. Nor do they outweigh the injury risk players face from doing jobs they haven’t been regularly trained to perform. But I’ve been hooked from a handful of absolutely incredible, odds-defying moments throughout my life. You can have your DH who cranks out 40 home runs every season. I will keep my pitchers who hit .130 and who mostly suck in the field just for the off-chance that something amazing happens when they’re doing something they’re not supposed to be doing.

Today in Baseball History: The Yankees become The Yankees

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A couple of weeks ago I wrote about how the Cubs became the Cubs. In the course of that post I talked about how fluid and casual team nicknaming was in the early 20th century. Sometimes the press named a team, informally, and it stuck. Sometimes the team’s owner switched the name back and forth multiple times. It was sort of all over the place.

That was true, too, of baseball’s most storied and, let’s be honest, stuffy organization, the New York Yankees. Rather than proclaim, from on high, what their name — what their brand — would be, they got their name through the same haphazard way so many other teams did. But, on this date in 1913, they became the Yankees for good. Let’s talk about how they finally got there.

They didn’t start in New York, actually. They started in Baltimore, as the Orioles. But they weren’t even the original Baltimore Orioles. That ream was a National League club — led by John McGraw — that the National League contracted along with the Cleveland Spiders following the 1899 season. McGraw cooled his heels in St. Louis In 1900 but then, the following year, the upstart Western League, led by Ban Johnson, upgraded itself to self-proclaimed major league status and reformed as the American League. They put a team in Baltimore, called itself the Orioles and brought John McGraw back via the offering of an ownership stake.

Ban Johnson and McGraw didn’t get along too well and they were in pretty constant dispute. Johnson also didn’t think too much of Baltimore as an AL city and wanted to move the team to New York — Manhattan, specifically — to compete head-to-head with the New York Giants. McGraw, seeing the writing on the wall, but not wanting to let Johnson tell him where to go, left the Orioles in the middle of the 1902 season and joined the New York Giants as their manager and part-owner. Ever the pain-in-the butt, he gave his ownership interest in the Orioles to the Giants, which was a problem given that they were a member of the rival league which wanted to see the AL crushed and eliminated. Add that to the list of many AL-NL disagreements bubbling up at the time.

It was all solved, for the most part, after the 1902 season when the AL and NL entered into what amounted to a peace treaty. They stopped the widespread practice of teams poaching each other’s players and settled various ownership and territorial disputes like the one between the Giants and the Orioles. Finally, as a part of that agreement, the NL agreed to let Johnson to move the Orioles to New York for the 1903 season. What the Giants would not permit, however, is the new AL club to play in the Polo Grounds, so they had to find a new ballpark.

The New York club hastily constructed a new wooden park seating about 16,000 fans on the west side of Broadway between 165th and 168th streets. It was originally called American League Park and housed The New York Americans Baseball Club. The place would eventually be nicknamed Hilltop Park because of its relatively high elevation compared to the rest of Manhattan. The Americans eventually came to be called the Highlanders. For years most people believed that that was solely because they played on literal high land, but more recent research reveals that it was at least in part a play on the last name of the team’s president, Joe Gordon, combined with a reference to the famous British military unit, the Gordon Highlanders. Either way, the Highlanders they were throughout the oughts.

The Polo Grounds was devastated by a fire in 1911 and needed to be rebuilt. Despite their past disagreements, the Highlanders generously allowed the Giants to share their home at Hilltop Park while the Polo Grounds were being rebuilt. McGraw and his club remembered this kindness two years later when they allowed the Highlanders, who were looking for a new place to play given that Hilltop Park was already falling apart, to move into the rebuilt Polo Grounds.

By then the whole “Gordon Highlanders” thing was no longer as amusing as it had initially been. Between that and the team literally abandoning the high ground between 165th and 168th streets, the name “Highlanders” was not really apt. As noted above, teams often had a lot of nicknames, and the Highlander’s third name — apart from that and “Americans” — was the “Yankees.” With a new home in 1913, the club decided to formally adopt it. They played their first game as The New York Yankees on April 10, 1913. 107 years ago today. They lost to Walter Johnson and the Washington Senators (Americans? Nationals? It was confusing!) 2-1.

What’s a “Yankee” anyway?

In the 19th and early 20th century it referred broadly to residents of New England those descended from the original English settlers of the region. This is how Mark Twain used the word in his novel “A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court.” During the Civil War it was used broadly to anyone from up north and, when not referring to the baseball team, is still used that way today. But where did the word actually come from?

Most people who think they have an idea about it are wrong. It’s often told that the word “Yankee” is an anglicization of any number of Native American words — like “eankke” or “y’an-gee” or some such — with the story often having it be an honorary term bestowed by Native American warriors on European settlers who fought bravely. Not surprisingly, linguists have debunked that self-serving notion. There is no evidence for it at all, actually.

The best accepted theory, among linguists and historians anyway, is that it’s of Dutch origin. Sometimes used as a term of derision toward Dutch colonists after England took possession of what is now New York or, possibly, a term of derision used by Dutch colonists in New Amsterdam toward English colonists in neighboring Connecticut. From Wikipedia:

Michael Quinion and Patrick Hanks argue that the term comes from the Dutch name Janke, a diminutive form of Jan (John) which would be Anglicized as “Yankee” due to the Dutch pronunciation of J as the English Y. Quinion and Hanks posit that it was “used as a nickname for a Dutch-speaking American in colonial times” and could have grown to include non-Dutch colonists, as well. Alternatively, the Dutch given names Jan and Kees have long been common, and the two are sometimes combined into a single name (e.g., Jan Kees de Jager). Its Anglicized spelling Yankee could, in this way, have been used to mock Dutch colonists. The chosen name Jan Kees may have been partly inspired by a dialectal rendition of Jan Kaas (“John Cheese”), the generic nickname that Southern Dutch used for Dutch people living in the North.

The Online Etymology Dictionary gives its origin as around 1683, when English colonists used it insultingly in reference to Dutch colonists (especially freebooters). Linguist Jan de Vries notes that there was mention of a pirate named Dutch Yanky in the 17th century. The Life and Adventures of Sir Launcelot Greaves (1760) contains the passage, “Haul forward thy chair again, take thy berth, and proceed with thy story in a direct course, without yawing like a Dutch yanky.” According to this theory, Dutch settlers of New Amsterdam started using the term against the English colonists of neighboring Connecticut.

That’s a lot to take in, but know that the name “Yankees” can, basically, be traced back to people calling each other names. Which, with all due respect to my Yankee fan friends, I must say is not the most inappropriate baseball team name out there.

 

Also today in baseball history:

 

1947: Jackie Robinson becomes the first African-American in the modern major leagues when the Dodgers purchase his contract from Montreal. He’ll make his big league debut five days later.

1962: Dodger Stadium opens in Chavez Ravine in Los Angeles. The Dodgers lose to the Reds 6-3.

1962: The Houston Colt .45s play the first major league game in Texas, beating the Chicago Cubs 11-2.  Of note:

1964: With the Mets having moved to Shea Stadium, demolition begins on the Polo Grounds to clear the way for a housing project.

1971: Veterans Stadium in Philly sees its first game ever played. The Phillies beat Montreal 4-1.

1973: Kansas City’s new Royals Stadium — now Kauffman Stadium — debuts as the Royals beat the Rangers 12-1.

1981:  In his first game for Chicago, Carlton Fisk hits a three-run home run in the eighth inning to lead the White Sox to a 5-3 victory over his his old team, the Red Sox, at Fenway Park.

1989: Ken Griffey, Jr. hits his first major league home run in Seattle’s 6-5 win over the White Sox.