Part of what separates baseball from other sports is its historical accessibility. While football, basketball, and hockey look nothing like they did even fifty years ago, baseball remains more or less the same sport. There are differences between eras of course, very large and important changes that should be recognized, but at least we can try and compare players like Albert Pujols and Lou Gehrig across time frames. The same cannot really be said about Derrick Rose and Bob Cousy or Jim Brown and Adrian Peterson. There are enough headaches associated with isolating individual performances in either of those sports BEFORE trying to account for the massive changes in playing rules, equipment, athleticism, and the like. To the naked eye, baseball looks pretty similar today to what it did a half-century ago and that gives the game a connection to the past that other sports lack.
But just as integral for baseball's historical intimacy is the access fans have to anecdotes and stories throughout the game's history. In addition to the well known legends like 'Babe Ruth's Called Shot' or Gabby Hartnett's 'Homer in the Gloaming', fantastic productions like The Glory of Their Times, Ball Four, Nine Innings, and Tales from the Dugout (to name just a few of hundreds) have kept countless yarns alive. The strange thing about each of the books and movies that contribute to the fabric of baseball history is that, on their own, none of them are indispensable. Their value comes from the aggregate enjoyment fans get from the endless collection of anecdotes preserved by the authors that just thought someone might like to hear a story.
I would like to help keep this modest tradition alive and well in the blogoshpere era. For the near future (which, admittedly, could end next week) I'm planning on posting an anecdote per week that might otherwise slip past most radars. The purpose here is to preserve something obscure. It could be funny, random, amusing, or otherwise worthwhile, but the key point here is that it would have otherwise gone largely unnoticed. If the idea is popular, we'll do a few more. I'll certainly attempt to keep it a pretty Mariner heavy list of anecdotes so as to avoid going off-topic (I failed on today's). If it flounders, well, at least I tried. And of course, if you have any to share, by all means, include them in the comments.
The first installment comes from yesterday's Minnesota-New York game. The Yankees are still competing for the division but, for the second time in as many seasons, the once mighty Twins are just playing out the string. The Twins have already lost ninety games and they've employed forty-seven players (including twelve different starting pitchers) along the way. It's been a long season in Minnesota, and as often happens to teams in dreary campaigns, the Twins found themselves using a twenty-eight year old minor league journeymen to start game 155.
Esmerling Vasquez spent much of the past decade bouncing around the Arizona organization, finally landing in the Dbacks bullpen for several stints beginning in 2009. Vasquez was decently effective initially but he pitched poorly in 2011 and was placed on waivers just before Arizona advanced to last year's playoffs. The Twins needed pitching help, liked Vasquez's live arm, claimed him, and plugged the righty into their Triple A rotation (despite the fact that he hadn't started a game since 2008). The Twins ran out of pitching by September and as luck would have it, Vasquez found himself in the big leagues for a few spot starts.
One such start came against New York last night. Vasquez isn't exactly a household name, and having not seen much of him, Yankees broadcaster Michael Kay consulted Minnesota's broadcasting booth for the proper pronunciation of 'Esmerling'. After being told that Esmerling is pronounced phonetically, he was dryly reassured by a disillusioned broadcaster: "Don't worry about the pronunciation, he won't be in long enough for you to have to say it." The story was regaled with a chuckle by Kay and, for obvious reasons, he left the broadcaster anonymous.*
*Even anonymously, that's fairly harsh for a broadcaster. Hell, it takes a Peguero-esque slump for Dave and Mike to even SUGGEST that a Mariner might be struggling.
As it turned out though, Vasquez had the last laugh. He worked six innings, striking out five and walking only one in an eventual 5-4 Twins victory.