Posted tagged ‘Roy Smalley’

Loving the Twins and Tim Wakefield


My favorite players are Twins.  My all-time favorite was Kirby Puckett, followed ever so slightly by Roy Smalley.  My next favorite players include Brad Radke, Torii Hunter, and Joe Mauer.  I’m a Twins fan to the core, and unsurprisingly all of my favorite players have spent significant chunks of their career with the franchise.  But if you move into that benighted circle of those who have never been graced by a Twins uniform, all is not darkness and despair.  And in this realm full of non-Twins, written about extensively by such famous sports journalists as Dante Alighieri, my favorite player, for years, has been Tim Wakefield.

Last night, Wakefield pursued his elusive 200th victory against God’s elect, getting a lead in the eight on an error by the aforementioned Joe Mauer.  In a year in which the Twins are disastrously bad, it was easy, for a single night, to hope for Wakefield’s triumph, and I would be thrilled to welcome him to the 200-win club.  Unfortunately, his bullpen blew it in the bottom of the eighth, delaying his quest for 200 for another start.

What’s not to like about Wakefield?  He had the misfortune of joining the Pirates just as the franchise collapsed, and he did not start his career until age 25.  He lost part of his best season to the strike in 1995.  In that season, he went 16-8 with a 2.95 ERA (165 ERA+).  He finished third in AL Cy Young voting, behind his polar opposite, Randy Johnson.  Without the strike he would already have 200 wins.  His best playoff run was in the ALCS in 2003, when he went 2-1 with a 2.57 ERA in 14 innings.   But the 5.65 ERA of Pedro Martinez, the 6.43 ERA of Derek Lowe, and the 7.36 ERA of John Burkett kept the Yankees in the series, leading to Wakefield’s one bad pitch to Aaron Boone.

Through it all, Wakefield kept pitching.  He is now 45, and he has pitched for 19 seasons despite his late call-up.  He is now third on the Red Sox all-time wins list, second in games pitched, first in innings, second in strikeouts, and as any good knuckleballer should be, first in wild pitches by nearly 50.  He has been a model of class and skill.  He will never touch the Hall of Fame and shouldn’t.  But I hope that people will remember one of my all-time favorites, even if he never was a Twin.  May God have mercy on his soul despite that.


The Hall of Fame


Tomorrow, baseball’s Hall of Fame will announce the results of the current round of elections.  In honor of a vote that will almost certainly disappoint me, I thought I would recap my various Hall of Fame pieces, in case anyone is by chance interested:

My Hall of Fame Picks

The Rest of this year’s Ballot

My Veteran’s Committee Picks

The Best Player Not in the Hall of Fame: Lou Whitaker

An Overlooked former Negro Leaguer: Minnie Minoso

And finally,

My Personal Hall of Famer
: Roy Smalley

Tomorrow, we can discuss what happened. Any predictions? Stick them in the comments, please. My guess? Bert Blyleven and Andre Dawson slip in with more than 75% but less than 80. None of the new players are elected, though Alomar comes within 10% of making it. Controversy ensues.

Roy Smalley, Superstar


If I ever made it to Cooperstown, I would be a bit disappointed that there was not an entire wing devoted to the greatness of Roy Smalley. Sadly, Smalley never sniffed the Hall of Fame, and even more sadly his exclusion is entirely correct. Nevertheless, if I had my own personal Hall, he would be a charter member. I think many baseball fans have a player like Roy Smalley in their background, someone they loved when they were younger for reasons that are a bit tricky to articulate. As a matter of fact, most folks I know tended to have two favorite players as kids, one true superstar and one truly unique to the fan. In my case, I loved Kirby Puckett, but I loved Smalley first. So today, let’s here the tale of Roy Smalley, one time shortstop for the Texas Rangers, Minnesota Twins, Chicago White Sox, and New York Yankees.

As a shortstop, Roy Smalley was a failed prototype of the Cal Ripken model. Smalley was the first overall pick in the January amateur draft in 1974, a draft open to players who graduated from high school or college in December. (This draft was discontinued in 1986.) Smalley came out of USC, where he had won the College World Series every year he was in college. Taken by the Rangers, Smalley quickly became one of the larger shortstops in baseball, and an early power-hitting shortstop. Compare him to two top shortstops of the time, Mark Belanger and Dave Concepcion.

Belanger was 6’1″, and weighed 170 lbs. In his biggest power year, he hit 5 home runs in 1974. Concepcion was slightly bigger, at 6’1″, 180. He hit double digit home runs twice in his career, with 14 in 1974 and 16 in 1979. Smalley, a rookie in 1975, was 6’1″, 185, but he combined the slightly higher weight with legitimate home run power for a shortstop. He would hit double digit home runs 9 times, topping 20 on 4 separate occasions. During the 1976 season, he was traded to the Twins for, among others, Bert Blyleven. While with the Twins, he would be one of the best hitting shortstops in the American League, trailing Robin Yount. He would make the All Star team once, in 1979, also the only time he received an MVP vote. In 1982, the promise of the power-hitting shortstop, first seen in Ernie Banks and then revived by Roy Smalley would come to fruition in Cal Ripken, Jr. While Smalley would hit double digit home runs 9 times and top 20 4 times, Ripken would top 20 home runs each of his first 10 full seasons. Smalley was an important part of that transition, but obviously his numbers don’t stack up to his Hall of Fame contemporaries.

For his last hurrah, Smalley would make the World Series with the 1987 Twins, in his last season. He would pinch hit four times, going 1 for 2 with a double and two walks. For his career, Smalley hit .257 with 163 home runs. He had an OPS+ of 103. He was a fairly average fielder, with a fielding percentage nearly identical with the league average for shortstops and a range factor slightly above the average. This is not the resume of a Hall of Famer, though it is arguably the resume of the best shortstop the Twins have ever had.  Smalley was a good player, and in his best years he was very good.  Unfortunately, that description pretty accurately fits many players that have been or will be long forgotten.

Who are the completely random players that would make your own personal Hall of Fame?