Tagged: Braves

The Nickname Game: The Road Runner

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Several
players of 1970s vintage were known as “Roadrunner,” including Pirates
teammates Gene Clines and Manny Sanguillen, but only one man became the true “Roadrunner”
(or “Road Runner,” to be completely accurate).

 

That
honor belongs to former Braves, White Sox, and Angels outfielder Ralph “The
Road Runner” Garr. For those who saw Garr play, the name made obvious sense.
Garr, a slashing line drive batter who hit to all fields, could flat-out fly
around the bases. Of all his contemporaries, only one may have been faster.
That was Mickey Rivers, who actually began his pro career in the Braves’
organization at virtually the same time as Garr. Rivers was traded to the
Angels as part of the Hoyt Wilhelm deal, but Garr remained with the Braves long
enough to win the 1974 National League batting title–with a remarkable average of .354

 

Garr
became almost as well known for the “Road Runner” nickname as the original
Looney Tunes cartoon figure created by Chuck Jones. The Braves’ public
relations department gave Garr the nickname after he arrived in the big
leagues; in fact, the Braves so wanted to market Garr that they wrote to Warner
Brothers, Inc. to receive official permission to use the nickname and the catch
phrase “Beep! Beep!” in promotional efforts.

 

Warner
Brothers, through its agent, Licensing Corporation of America (LCA), came to a
history-making agreement with the Braves. “Our contract with the Braves makes
Ralph the first licensed nickname to our knowledge anywhere in the world,” said
Jay Emment, who was the chairman of LCA at the time. The unusual agreement also
made it illegal for any other athlete to use the nickname. (That agreement was
probably unenforceable in reality, but Clines’ “Roadrunner” appellation did
seem to fade into disuse.) Curiously, Garr’s officially certified nickname was
never once included in any of his entries in the Baseball Register from 1969 to 1981.

 

The
Baseball Register might not have recognized it, but just about everybody else
remembers Ralph Garr as the “Road
Runner.”

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The Sunday Scuttlebutt

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How quickly a player’s value can change. Brandon Inge could
have been had for a song during spring training. The Tigers would have taken a
small amount of talent from any team willing to pick up the bulk of Inge’s
contract for 2009. Just a few weeks later, the Tigers are glad that nobody took
a flyer on their starting third baseman. Through Sunday’s games, Inge has hit
seven home runs and is making an early argument for a berth on the American
League All-Star team, especially with Alex Rodriguez on the disabled list. He’s
also played a stellar level of defense at third base, which is no surprise to some
scouts who consider him capable of winning a Gold Glove…

 

The Royals made a surprising move this weekend when they
designated third-string catcher Brayan Pena for assignment. Pena is a rare
breed in 2009–a backup catcher who can actually hit and carries more than a
modicum of power. He also brings versatility to the table, with his ability to
fill in at third, first, and the outfield corners. Expect the Royals to find a
taker in a trade for Pena. If not, he won’t last long on the waiver wire. There
are at least a dozen major league teams who could use help behind the plate

 

The Yankees just cannot seem to avoid injuries. For the
third straight year, the Bombers have been assaulted by a wave of physical
setbacks to start the season. They have five players slated to be part of their
25-man roster currently on the disabled list. The growing list includes set-up
reliever Brian Bruney (elbow), starter Chien-Ming Wang (hip), and default third
baseman Cody Ransom (torn quad), all of whom have hit the DL during the
Yankees’ disastrous weekend venture to Boston…

 

Speaking of waves of injuries, I thought the A’s would be a
factor in the AL West, but the disabled just isn’t cooperating. Staff ace
Justin Duchscherer remains on the 15-day DL with an elbow that underwent
arthroscopic surgery and won’t be able to return until the middle of May at the
earliest.  The A’s also learned this week
that their No. 1 set-up reliever, Joey Devine, will likely be lost for the
season because of an elbow injury. With Duchscherer and Devine, the A’s would
have made a run for the Western Division with the Angels, who have a ravaged
pitching staff of their own, but without at least one of the “Double D’s,”
Billy Beane may have to conduct another firesale this July…

 

Jeff Francouer has promised repeatedly that he’ll be a new
player in 2009, but we’re still seeing the same strangling level of impatience
at the plate. Through Sunday’s games, Francouer has drawn only three walks in
18 games, which is palatable if you’re a Kirby Puckett type of player, but unacceptable
if you’re not hitting for power and not bringing Gold Glove fielding to right
field. Unfortunately, the Braves are strapped for outfielders. They’ve already
made top prospect Jordan Schafer their starting center fielder and just had to place
the disappointing Garret Anderson on the disabled list…

 

On paper, the signing of Milton Bradley made tons of sense
for the Cubs. They need the kind of left-handed bat that the switch-hitting Bradley
can provide. But Bradley has started out miserably at the plate (one hit in 23
at-bats), has already suffered his first injury, and won’t play again until Lou
Piniella deems him 100 per cent healthy. In the meantime, the Cubs will
continue to play with 24 men. Observers in Chicago are also wondering when Milton and
Sweet Lou will have their first blow-up. Both men have explosive tempers that
tend to erupt when things go badly on the playing field. Watch out in the Windy City…

 

Carlos Beltran is hitting like he did during the 2004
postseason, when he practically carried the Astros to their first berth in the
World Series. By flattening out an already level swing, Beltran has been able
to hit National League pitching at a .406 clip. Beltran won’t hit .400 for the
entire season, but his speed, patience, and ability to switch-hit make him a
contender for his first batting title. I just hope that Beltran doesn’t wear
himself out trying to catch everything in an outfield that will feature Daniel “Bull
in a China Shop” Murphy all too regularly and Gary Sheffield on occasion… Sheffield’s
presence on the roster continues to surprise many of the New York beat writers. With Sheffield in town, Fernando Tatis’ role has been reduced
to almost nothing, while Ryan Church remains a platoon player in the eyes of
Jerry Manuel. Sheffield started Friday night’s game against Washington’s Scott Olsen, the first time the
Mets had faced a left-handed starter all season…

 

Finally, a postscript to Hank Aaron’s visit to the Hall of
Fame on Saturday. In filling out all of the artifacts contained in the new
Aaron exhibit, the former Braves legend has donated more than 50 pieces of
memorabilia to the Hall of Fame and Museum. The large supply of Aaron artifacts
include not only the requisite share of milestone bats, balls and gloves, and
his entire uniform from home run No. 715, but also several bricks and a porch
post from Aaron’s childhood home in Mobile, Alabama. Those surviving pieces
from Aaron’s youth serve as yet another reminder of how “The Hammer” came from
modest beginnings, overcoming a lack of money and a preponderance of racism on
his way to one of the greatest careers in the game’s history. Kudos to Hall of
Fame curators Erik Strohl and Mary Quinn for a job well done in constructing
such an extensive exhibit on Aaron, now on permanent display on the Museum’s
third floor.

Bunts and Boots: Marlins Mania, Brian Barton, and Trey Hillman

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With their nearly flawless record of 11-2, the Marlins are
playing spectacularly well, but are they for real? The answer is yes–and no.
Let’s make no mistake about it; the Marlins are a very good team. They have
potent starting pitching and an explosive offense, two features that will allow
them to contend with the Phillies and Mets for either a division title or a
wildcard spot. On the other hand, the Marlins aren’t as great as their 13-game
record would indicate. Six of their 11 wins have come at the hands of the
Nationals, who appear to be the odds-on favorites to post the worst record in
either league. The schedule-maker will eventually balance the Marlins’ ledger,
changing their status from great to merely very good.

 

The Marlins lack the big name value of the Phillies and
Mets, but they don’t lack the talent level of those clubs. Florida’s starting rotation of Ricky Nolasco,
Josh Johnson, Chris Volstad, and Anibal Sanchez looks superior to what the Mets
and Phillies have. Offensively, they have a strong nucleus headlined by Hanley
Ramirez, Dan Uggla, Jorge Cantu, and the revitalized Jeremy Hermida. Even the
Marlins’ major weakness of a year ago, their fielding, has undergone a
renovation, spearheaded by the decision to make the rangy Emilio Bonifacio their
starting third baseman and move Cantu to first base. Those moves have made the
Marlins better defensively at two positions; top prospect Cameron Maybin has
upgraded a third position now that he’s been installed as the starting center
fielder.

 

Clearly, the Marlins are a very good club. They may not be
able to beat both the Mets and Phillies, but they aren’t going to disappear
either…

 

One of the Marlins’ rivals, the Braves, made a small deal on
Monday, but it’s one that should be characterized as a steal. Atlanta sent righty reliever Blaine Boyer to
the Cardinals for Brian Barton, who is just the kind of young outfield talent
the Braves need. Caught in a crowded St.
Louis outfield, Barton is joining an organization that
desperately needs young outfield talent. Highly intelligent, Barton will also
bring the Braves some speed and power, and the ability to play all three
outfield spots. If the Braves are smart, they’ll bring Barton up quickly and platoon
him with Garret Anderson in left field, giving some balance to Atlanta’s lineup. If they’re even smarter,
they’ll give Barton a chance to take the job of Anderson, who is off to a
miserable start in Atlanta
and has no RBIs through his first ten games as a Brave.

 

The cost of bringing in Barton looks more than reasonable.
Boyer is a dime-a-dozen middle reliever who pitched well in the first half of
2008, but has been roundly pelted since then. Middle relievers of Boyer’s
talent can always be found, but multi-talented outfielders like Barton are much
harder to locate. Good move for the Braves…

 

Trey Hillman is taking his share of heat from an
increasingly frustrated fan base in Kansas
City, which can’t understand his infatuation with Kyle
Farnsworth. The high-octane reliever cost the Royals a game for the second time
this season, as Farnsworth was brought into the bottom of the ninth inning of a
tie game on Sunday. Farnsworth promptly gave up a game-winning home run.
Strangely, Hillman had the option of pitching his terrific young closer, Joakim
Soria, who was extremely well rested, not having pitched in six days. That’s right, six days. The
Royals also had a day off built into the schedule the following day, but Soria
remained chained to the bullpen. Hillman has apparently become the latest
manager to become intoxicated by Farnsworth’s 97 to 100-mile-per hour fastball
and his off-the-table slider. But the effectiveness of those pitches continues
to be undermined by Farnsworth’s inability to throw strikes, which too often
puts him into hitter’s counts.

 

Hillman is a smart guy who won throughout his minor league
career and his days in the Japanese Leagues. Hopefully, he’ll realize the truth
about Farnsworth before he starts putting his Royals job in jeopardy.

The Nickname Game: Team Names

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Beginning this week and continuing most Thursdays throughout the season, we present a new feature at Cooperstown Confidential. Though they have become somewhat of a dying art in the major leagues, nicknames are one of my favorite pastimes. They tell us more about teams and players, while adding some color to the game. In this week’s lidlifter, let’s examine some of the best secondary nicknames that have been given to some memorable teams over the last 100-plus years.


While
all current-day teams have official nicknames, there’s always been a tendency
to give some clubs more colorful names, as a way of paying tribute to unique
characteristics or personalities within the teams’ dynamics. Here are 12 of the
most intriguing names that have been given to teams over the years, either by
fans, the media, or by the players themselves.


“Hitless Wonders”: 1906 Chicago White Sox

Epitomizing
the depths of offensive frustration in the Deadball Era, the White Sox batted
.230 with a grand total of seven home runs in the regular season, yet still
claimed the American League pennant. The Sox might not have hit much, but they
drew a ton of walks and played little ball to the hilt, finishing fourth in the
league in runs scored. The White Sox then pulled off an ever larger upset in
the World Series, downing the crosstown Cubs of Tinker-to-Evans-to-Chance fame,
four games to two.

 

“Murderers’ Row:” 1927-1928 New York
Yankees

No
team nickname has matched the fame of “Murderers’ Row,” which actually
originated as a 19th century reference to an isolated row of prison
cells featuring some of the worst criminals of the infamous Tombs prison.  The baseball version of Murderers’ Row
included four future Hall of Famers–Earle Combs (batting leadoff), Babe Ruth
(batting third), Lou Gehrig (in the cleanup spot), and Tony Lazzeri (batting
sixth). The ’27 Yankees didn’t receive much punch from the bottom of the order,
where weak links like Jumping Joe Dugan and Pat Collins resided, but the top
six batters in the lineup did the damage of nine full men.

 

“The Gas House Gang:” 1934-1939 St. Louis
Cardinals

This
name originated with a neighborhood on the lower east side of Manhattan, where a violent group of young men
tormented citizens and came to call themselves the “Gashouse Gang.” The
Cardinals’ version of the “Gang” wasn’t quite as vicious as the street thugs,
but they did feature a number of ruffians, including infielders Leo Durocher
and Pepper Martin, outfielder Ducky Medwick, and ace pitcher Dizzy Dean. The
Cardinals of that era played a hard-nosed brand of ball, sliding hard into
bases, knocking over opposing defenders, and rarely backing away from on-field
brawls.

 

“Whiz Kids:” 1950 Philadelphia Phillies:

Coming
out of nowhere to win the National League pennant, Eddie Sawyer’s “Kids”
featured a day-to-day lineup of players almost exclusively under the age of 30.
The oldest regular was 30-year-old first baseman Eddie Waitkus, but the stars
were the 23-year-old Richie Ashburn and the 25-year-old Del Ennis. The starting
rotation was also headlined by two youngsters, Robin Roberts and Curt Simmons,
whose combined total of wins (37) nearly matched their collective age (44).

 

“Big Red Machine:” 1969-1976 Cincinnati
Reds

Some
newspapers and magazines began to refer to Cincinnati’s dynamic offensive team
as the “Big Red Machine” as early as 1969 and ’70, but the name really caught
on when the franchise steamrolled the rest of the majors in winning the ’75 and
’76 World Championships. That mid-1970s run included a four-game World Series annhilation of the Yankees, a series that too often seemed like Thurman Munson battling alone against Cincinnati’s entire 25-man roster. The cast of characters changed significantly from 1969
to 1976, with Lee May, Tommy Helms, and Bobby Tolan eventually giving way to
George Foster, Joe Morgan, and Ken Griffey Sr. The constants were Johnny Bench,
Tony Perez, and Pete Rose, though both Perez and Rose switched positions in
mid-stream; Perez moved from third to first, and Rose went from right field to
left field to third base. Combining power and speed, few teams in history have
matched the offensive potency of “The Machine.”


“Pittsburgh Lumber Company:” 1970-1976 Pittsburgh
Pirates

The Lumber Company name didn’t really take hold until the mid-1970s, but in retrospect, the 1971 world championship team should be included. Using
a free-swinging approach that might not have been fully appreciated by some
Sabermetricians, the Pirates pummeled their way to five division titles, one
pennant, and a World Championship during the first half of the decade. Other than
Willie Stargell and Bob Robertson, the “Lumber Company” didn’t like to take
walks, which they generally regarded as unmanly. Instead, Roberto Clemente, Al
Oliver, and Manny Sanguillen preferred to swing the bat early and often, and
they did it well, banging a parade of singles and doubles in a constant barrage
against opposing pitching staffs.

 

“Mustache Gang:” 1972 Oakland A’s

After
initially balking at Reggie Jackson’s spring training mustache, Oakland owner Charlie
Finley decided that he liked the new facial hair so much that he offered $300
bonuses to each of his players if they followed suit by Father’s Day. All 25
players took up the challenge, what with $300 being a lot of money to a major
leaguer in 1972. Even after the resulting “Mustache Day” promotion, most of the
A’s kept their mustaches; some took the trend a step further by letting their
hair grown long, while adding beards and heavy sideburns to boot. The new look
certainly didn’t hurt the A’s on the field, as Finley’s gang went on to win the
first of three consecutive world championships.


“The F-Troop:” 1973-1974 Atlanta Braves

The
Braves’ bench players came to call themselves the “F-Troop,” in reference to
the popular TV show that starred Ken Berry and Forrest Tucker. Although the
Braves finished fifth and third, respectively, in 1973 and ’74, they did have
some productive players in reserve. In 1973, backup catcher-first baseman Dick
Dietz hit .295 while drawing an amazing 49 walks against only 25 strikeouts.
Reserve first baseman Frank Tepedino hit .295 with 29 RBIs. And utilityman
Chuck Goggin batted .289 while showing the versatility to both catch and play
shortstop. Without Dietz and Goggin, the bench wasn’t nearly as productive in
’74, resulting in a quick fadeaway for the F-Troop nickname.


“The Southside Hitmen:” 1977 Chicago White Sox

The
’77 White Sox of Bob Lemon finished no better than third in the American League
West, couldn’t field a lick, and had the third-worst pitching in the league,
but still managed to win 90 games while creating a legacy that makes them one
of the most beloved Sox teams in memory. The hard-hitting, stone-gloved lineup
featured Jorge Orta at second, Eric Soderholm at third, Ralph “The Roadrunner” Garr in left,
Richie Zisk in right, and Oscar Gamble at DH, all the while wearing those awful
black and white throwback uniforms that featured collared shirts of the
“untuckable” variety. Finishing second in the league in runs scored, the
“Hitmen” made the summer of ’77 a fun one in the Windy City–and a final legacy to aging owner Bill Veeck.


“The Bronx
Zoo:” 1977-1979 New York Yankees

This
nickname became popular because of the book of the same name written by Sparky
Lyle and Peter Golenbock. “The Bronx Zoo” served as a perfect description of a
team where arguments took place on a daily basis, players fought in the showers
(Cliff Johnson vs. Goose Gossage), the team’s center fielder (Mickey Rivers)
spoke in a language all his own, and Lyle himself routinely sat on birthday
cakes delivered to the clubhouse.  It was
all in a day’s work with the Yankees of the late seventies.

 

“Riders of the Lonesome Pine:” 1981 Detroit Tigers

The
’81 Tigers finished out of the playoff money during the split season and the
bench players really were nothing special, but they deserve credit for coming
up with one of the most colorful nicknames for a backup squad of players. “The
Riders” included the wacky (Johnny Wockenfuss and that wonderful leg-crossing stance), the obscure (Ron Jackson, Mick
Kelleher, and Stan Papi), and the forgotten (Lynn Jones and Ricky Peters).

 

“Harvey’s
Wallbangers:” 1982-1983 Milwaukee Brewers

This
nickname was a natural, given the first name of manager Harvey Kuenn and the
team’s ability to hit home runs at a moment’s notice. Stormin’ Gorman Thomas
led the American League with 39 home runs in 1982, while Cecil Cooper and Ben
Oglivie also cracked the 30-home run barrier. The “Wallbangers” advanced to the
seventh game of the 1982 World Series, but fell back in ’83, finishing fifth in
a stacked American League East. Two future Hall of Famers, Paul Molitor and
Robin Yount, played as regulars for the ’82 Wallbangers, while two others, Don
Sutton and Rollie Fingers, contributed to an underrated pitching staff.

 

A Sunday Splash of Spring Training

Ken Griffey Jr.’s decision to return to Seattle has been portrayed as the feel-good story of the early spring, but I’m not convinced it’s in the best interests of either side. From the Mariners’ perspective, they are acquiring a veteran player in a season in which they have virtually no prayer of contending. In other words, they will be giving playing time to an aging player near the end of the line, playing time that could go to a young, developing player instead. The Mariners are also banking on Griffey helping at the box office, but few players in baseball history have served as one-man drawing cards. Teams have to win to draw fans–and the M’s won’t be doing that in 2009. As for Griffey, he will be playing what could be his final season for an also-ran, when he could have opted for a more optimal situation with the Braves, who at least have a chance to make a run at the National League wild card.  He will also have to endure a return to Safeco Field, hardly a hitter’s haven. Griffey didn’t like hitting at Safeco in his prime; will he feel any better about it in 2009, with a 39-year-old swing that has slowed considerably? This feel-good story could turn very ugly by August…

 

Griffey’s last second change-of-mind caps off what has been a winter of frustration for Atlanta GM Frank Wren. At one point or another, Wren thought he had free agent deals with both Junior and Rafael Furcal, only to be rebuffed at the last instant. He also believed he was close to completing a major trade for Jake Peavy, but the Padres’ asking price grew too large for Wren’s liking. Still, in spite of all the disappointments, the Braves look like an improved team. They added Derek Lowe and Javier Vazquez to a rotation that already included Jair Jurrjens and can now look forward to a full season from lefty closer Mike Gonzalez. And on Monday, they will officially announce the signing of Garret Anderson, their Plan B option to Griffey. Anderson has become a defensive liability in left field, but he is three years younger than Griffey and has just about as much left in the tank offensively. Anderson will platoon with Matt Diaz, another Brave poised for a comeback in 2009…

 

Very quietly, Mets GM Omar Minaya made a shrewd move in bringing veteran outfielder Bobby Kielty to spring training as a non-roster invitee. Kielty didn’t play in the majors at all in 2008, in part because of two different injuries, but he’s healthy now and has a history of hammering left-handed pitching. Kielty’s splits for his career are borderline terrific; he has a .379 on-base percentage and a .503 slugging percentage against portsiders. Capable of playing all three outfield spots, the switch-hitting Kielty would make perfect sense as a platoon partner for Ryan Church in right field. There is an obstacle, however, to the Kielty comeback. The Mets’ fifth outfielder is currently scheduled to be Marlon Anderson, who was dreadful in 2008 but has a guaranteed contract. The Mets will have to show some courage in waiving Anderson and swallowing his salary. Otherwise, Kielty’s best hope might be for an injury to one of New York’s other outfielders.

Card Corner–The Mystery of Dick Dietz

Dietz.jpg

Dick Dietz–Topps Company–1973 (No. 442)

Why didn’t Dick Dietz play beyond the 1973 season? As a valuable backup catcher-first baseman for the Braves, Dietz batted .295 and compiled a remarkable .474 on-base percentage in 1973. In today’s game, most teams would kill for a backup catcher like that. Yet, no major league team saw fit to offer Dietz a contract for the 1974 season.

While his name might not be familiar to younger generations of fans, Dietz was certainly a recognizable player to those who grew up with baseball in the 1960s and seventies. He was an underrated player and a fun-living teammate. He was also a Sabermetric favorite, in much the same way that Gene Tenace and Mickey Tettleton garnered preference in later decades. And for one season, Dietz was just about the best catcher in the National League–playing at a level that put him in company with Hall of Famer Johnny Bench.

In 1970, Dietz batted an even .300 for the Giants while compiling 22 home runs, 109 RBIs, and 84 runs scored. Even more impressively, Dietz drew 104 walks, an excellent total for any player and a remarkable figure for a catcher who lacked the reputation of a Bench or Joe Torre. Although Dietz’ home run and RBI totals didn’t come close to matching those of Bench, his high walk total gave him a stunning on-base percentage of .430–a 79-point advantage over Bench (.351.) On the way to producing such numbers, Dietz earned a berth in the All-Star Game and came off the bench to hit a key home run in the bottom of the ninth.

So why is it that Dick Dietz didn’t become a household name? Unfortunately, he never came close to matching his 1970 numbers again. On the heels of a respectable 1971 season, Dietz was surprisingly sold on waivers to the rival Dodgers during the spring of 1972. The reason? As the Giants’ player representative during the strike of ’72, Dietz had drawn the wrath of San Francisco management. The Giants decided to punish Dietz by selling him to another team, but they mostly punished themselves by receiving nothing of consequence for a highly competent major league catcher.

Shortly after joining the Dodgers, Dietz suffered a broken finger (in his first start with Los Angeles, no less) and missed most of the 1972 season. By then, Dietz’ days as an everyday player had come to an end. During the spring of 1973, the Dodgers sold Dietz to the Braves. (Unfortunately, Topps had already issued its 1973 card for Dietz, which still shows him wearing Dodger duds.) With the Braves, Dietz became a valuable member of the team’s vaunted “F-Troop” bench brigade, which also featured jack-of-all trades Chuck Goggin (who played second base, shortstop, the outfield and even caught one game) and first baseman Frank Tepedino (who later became famous for his work as a fireman on September 11, 2001). And then, after a productive offensive season in 1973, when he compiled a near .480 on-base percentage in a backup role and helped make the Braves’ clubhouse a fun place, Dietz never again played in the major leagues. Believing that he still had ample ability to hit the ball, Dietz felt that major league teams had colluded against him because of his active involvement with the Players’ Association.

Although Dietz was only 32, his career was over–just three years after his All-Star season, which had come at the tender age of 28. Sadly, such rapid declines are not uncommon for catchers, who are subject to more physical wear and tear to their bodies than any other position players. It’s quite likely that Dietz’ extreme workload in 1970 and 1971 contributed to a loss of arm strength, a falloff in his already questionable mobility behind the plate, and to his general lack of longevity. After playing in a staggering 148 games in ’70 and another 142 games in ’71, Dietz’ physical skills had declined from overuse. Yet, in spite of his defensive deterioration, he still had a potent bat, one that was more than capable of producing as a pinch-hitter and a backup. For a team that had two light-hitting catchers in Johnny Oates and Paul Casanova and a mediocre first baseman in Mike Lum, Dietz appeared to be a nice alternative.

During his playing days, Dietz sported a solid six-foot, one-inch, 185-pound frame. After his playing career, he fell victim to a condition that sadly plagues too many former players. Dietz became extremely overweight, which may have contributed to the 2005 heart attack that took his life at the age of 63.

Much like his playing days, Dietz’ life was far too short. Let’s hope that doesn’t make him a forgotten man. Baseball fans should remember that for one season, Dick Dietz was pretty much the equal of Johnny Bench. And that he deserved to play at least one more season, after the way he led F-Troop in 1973.

The Friday Night Rumor Mill–June 16, 2006

It’s a little hard to swallow, given that Atlanta hasn’t missed the playoffs since the administration of the original George Bush, but the first sign of a Braves’ surrender is upon us. According to whispers out of Georgia, the Braves are now shopping Marcus Giles, a sign that the gap between them and the Mets–and between them and the wild card–may be too great. Giles’ knack for injury is part of the reason for Atlanta’s thinking, along with the belief that the younger and cheaper Wilson Betemit could fill the hole at second base. Unfortunately for the Braves, few pennant contenders need second basemen; one of those teams is the Mets, but it’s unlikely that the Braves want to be seen as helping their Eastern Division rivals. Still, a prime suitor could be found in the National League Central, where the Cardinals realize their major league roster needs fortification. Aaron Miles has played decently at second base, but the Cardinals believe they can do better. And then there’s a possibility north of the border; the Blue Jays not only need a second baseman but have some young minor league talent that Atlanta would find useful… There are some non-contenders that could use help at second base, such as the Cubs, but it’s debatable whether Chicago will be in a buying model. The Cubs would also need to find a taker for Todd Walker, who will be forced to move back to the middle infield once Derrek Lee returns from the disabled list…

While the Cardinals make efforts to improve their middle infield, their top priority remains left field. They’ve targeted Pittsburgh’s Craig Wilson as their No. 1 choice, but Pirates general manager Dave Littlefield is not a wheeler-dealer type who will make a move quickly. He has asked about St. Louis’ top pitching prospect Anthony Reyes, which gives you a sense that he is looking for someone to overpay for Wilson. Littlefield needs to be careful here; if he fails to trade Wilson because of overpricing, he will lose him to free agency. There is no chance that the “Blond Bomber,” who remains dissatisfied with his playing time, will return to Pittsburgh in 2007…

If you’re looking for reasons why Allard Baird is no longer the general manager in Kansas City, just consider the asking price he placed on the Yankees when they inquired about veteran outfielder Reggie Sanders. Baird wanted Philip Hughes, the Yankees’ top pitching prospect and one of the top 10 pitching prospects in the game. When general managers make such outrageous trade proposals, they don’t really succeed in driving up the asking price, just in ticking off other general managers. They develop reputations for being difficult to deal with, which leads other GMs to think twice before even picking up the phone.

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Thursday was not a good day for coaches. In Washington, Nationals manager Frank Robinson fired bullpen coach John Wetteland for allowing too many hijinks to take place in the bullpen. (Coincidentally, this came only five days after the passing of Moe Drabowsky, the No. 1 bullpen prankster of all-time.) In San Diego, the Padres fired batting coach Dave Magadan, replacing him with former Braves and Tigers batting instructor Merv Rettenmund. It will be a homecoming of sorts for Rettenmund, who played for the Padres back in the late 1970s and then served as the team’s batting instructor from 1991 to 1999.