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Wednesday, April 15, 2009
Useless Info: First '09 Edition


The Useless Information Department has been quiet this month. We apologize for that.

But with the passing of Nick Adenhart, Harry Kalas and Mark Fidrych, it just never seemed like the right time to launch into our regularly scheduled barrage of goofy minutiae.

Sometimes, though, at times like this, it's great to remind ourselves how much fun baseball can be. So here it comes -- the first Useless Info attack of 2009:

• Hail to the chief: We almost had 47-year-old Barack Obama throwing out the first pitch at the Nationals' home opener this week, minutes before 46-year-old Jamie Moyer threw out the real first pitch for the Phillies. So it got us to wondering about this momentous matter of vital national interest:

When was the last time any pitcher started a game who was older than the president of the U.S. of A?

The easy guess is during the John F. Kennedy administration, but sorry. That would be incorrect. The actual answer:

When he was 59 years old, Satchel Paige started one game for the old Kansas City A's on Sept. 25, 1965. Was it a gimmick? Absolutely. But Paige was still 2 years, 1 month and 20 days older than President Lyndon B. Johnson at the time. So a note's a note.

And that, according to our research, is the only time this has ever happened. In fact, the only other really close call came in 1993, during the Bill Clinton administration. Nolan Ryan and Clinton were both 46 years old for most of that season -- but Ryan was 5 months and 12 days younger than the president. Oh, well.

• Cheaper by the dozen: The Marlins have done something this week that's just about impossible. On Sunday, they struck out 13 times against Johan Santana -- and beat him. In their next game Tuesday, they whiffed 12 times against Braves starter Javier Vazquez -- and beat him, too.

We combed through baseball-reference.com's fabulous Play Index and couldn't find any other team since 1954 that won back-to-back games in which it fanned that many times against the opposing starting pitcher. In fact, we found just three other teams that did that within the same week:

1967 Red Sox (Catfish Hunter 12 K Sept. 12, Mickey Lolich 13 K Sept. 19)
1977 Blue Jays (Dennis Leonard 12 K Aug. 14, Nolan Ryan 13 K Aug. 19)
1990 Phillies (David Cone 12 K Sept. 7, Sid Fernandez 12 K Sept. 14)

• Swing and a swish: Nick Swisher headed for the old pitcher's mound in Tampa Bay on Monday wearing a Yankees uniform -- and actually struck out Gabe Kapler. So in honor of that whiff, here's our list of Yankees position players who have pitched and racked up at least one strikeout since 1954:

Wade Boggs: Aug. 19, 1997: K'd Todd Greene.

Rick Cerone: July 19, 1987: Fanned an AL pitcher, Bobby Witt, who was actually pinch hitting in a 20-3 game.

Rocky Colavito: Aug. 25, 1968: Punched out Dick Tracewski -- in the sixth inning, in a game in which Colavito wound up as the winning pitcher.

Gene Michael: Aug. 26, 1968: In the second game of back-to-back doubleheaders, Michael wound up pitching the last three innings, facing 16 hitters and whiffing three of them (pitcher Jim McGlothlin in the seventh, Roger Repoz in the eighth and Rick Reichardt in the ninth). So Swisher has a long way to go to catch Stick Michael in the old strikeout column.

• It's all cyclical: After Orlando Hudson finally became the first Dodger to hit for the cycle at Dodger Stadium -- in Season No. 48 in the life of the ballpark -- loyal reader Eric Orns wondered:

Has any team ever gone longer without a cycle in its home ballpark than that?

Great question. And the answer, according to the Elias Sports Bureau, is yes. The record is …

73 years, 320 days -- by the White Sox at the old Comiskey Park. First home game there: July 1, 1910. First cycle by a White Sox hitter: May 16, 1984, by Carlton Fisk.

The only other teams/parks with a longer cycle drought than the Dodgers at Dodger Stadium: The Indians at Cleveland Municipal Stadium (the final 60 years, 47 days in the life of the stadium) and the Senators at Griffith Stadium (no cycles at all in the 49 years, 173 days they played there).

• It's all cyclical, Part 2: We can't answer this one, so we need your help. We're wondering where Hudson ranks on the list of fastest cycles ever.

We know that he finished off his cycle by the sixth inning. But the only cyclist we know of who completed his cycle any faster than that was Gregg Jefferies, who went cycling by the fifth inning on Aug. 25, 1995. (Andy Van Slyke's great quip after that game: "He could have done it twice. He could have had the bi-cycle.")

But here's our question: Was Jefferies the quickest cyclist in history? If you can help, let us know at uselessinfodept@yahoo.com.

• Multitasker of the week: You've gotta love Micah Owings. He still hasn't thrown a pitch for the Reds -- but he has batted six times since they traded for him in September.

The last man to bat that many times for any team before his first pitching appearance for that club, according to Elias, was Ron Mahay, for the Red Sox back in the mid-'90s.

Now this isn't quite the same thing. But Mahay made it to the big leagues as an outfielder in 1995 and got 20 at-bats and 22 plate appearances that year. He then returned to Boston as a pitcher in 1997.

But Owings is a whole 'nother animal. As loyal reader Eric Lee reports, Owings was actually the first pinch hitter the Reds used this season. He pinch hit for starter Aaron Harang in the fifth inning, on Opening Day. And trust us. You never see that.

We went back 15 seasons and couldn't find any pitcher who pinch hit on Opening Day. Not even if the game went 14 innings. So here's another invitation for the Useless Info Dept. to make you famous.

Go find us some other pitchers who pinch hit on Opening Day or, better yet, were their team's first pinch hitter of the season. And if you're the first to pass that along to uselessinfodept@yahoo.com, you'll be reading your name in this blog. We promise.

Quick pitches

• Junior: Watch out for Ken Griffey Jr. When he hits his next home run, it will be his 400th as a Mariner. And that will make him the first player in history with 400 homers for one team and 200 for another, according to the Sultan of Swat Stats, SABR's David Vincent.

• Crazy eights: In Sunday's game against the Nationals, the Braves went an amazing 8-for-8 with runners in scoring position. Elias tells the Useless Info Dept. that the Braves are the first team in the 40-year division-play era to get that many at-bats in a game with men in scoring position and not make an out. The old record: 6-for-6, by the Red Sox on June 17, 1998.

• 3-K mart: Kerry Wood already has finished out two games for the Indians this season by punching out the side. Believe it or not, he's already halfway to the record for most games like that by an Indians closer. Since the dawn of the modern save rule, no Cleveland reliever has had more than four games in a season in which he finished the game, pitched one inning and got all three outs on strikeouts. The three guys with four in a year: Bob Wickman in 2001, Paul Shuey in 1999 and Jose Mesa in 1996.

• For openers: Never got around to this one after Opening Day, but when Dustin Pedroia homered in the Red Sox opener, it made six straight years that a reigning MVP has homered the next season on Opening Day. That list, according to the Sultan: Barry Bonds in 2004, Vladimir Guerrero in 2005, A-Rod and Albert Pujols in 2006, Justin Morneau in 2007, Jimmy Rollins in 2008, and Pedroia this year. The longest previous streak was only three straight years (Roy Campanella in 1954, Yogi Berra in 1955, and both Campanella and Berra in 1956).

• Special victims unit: So what has Yovani Gallardo done that Rickey Henderson, Todd Helton and Jeff Kent have never done? Hit a home run off Randy Johnson, of course. The Unit had faced 506 pitchers in his career without ever serving up a gopher ball before Gallardo rewrote that feat last week. Amazing. Yet there are 10 active position players who have gotten at least 35 plate appearances against Johnson and still haven't homered. Here they are:

Mark Loretta, 61
Jason Kendall, 47
Helton, 44
Cesar Izturis, 42
Placido Polanco, 42
Juan Pierre, 40
Pedro Feliz, 38
Luis Castillo, 38
Orlando Cabrera, 35
Omar Vizquel, 35

• Eight is not enough: Our resident streak guru, SABR's Trent McCotter, reports that in that crazy April 8 game in which the Phillies came from seven runs back in the seventh inning to beat Atlanta, eight straight Phillies hitters drove in a run. Here's how unlikely a feat that is:

They're the first team to pull that off since the 1956 Tigers. And if you throw out those eight hits, it took the Phillies 166 plate appearances into the season to have eight hitters drive in a run.