Lemmy Tell ya: He’s the Ace of Spades

Scan 52

“If you like to gamble, I tell you I’m your man, you win some, lose some, it’s all the same to me. The pleasure is to play, makes no difference what you say, I don’t share your greed, the only card I need is the ace of spades.” Motorhead’s Ace of Spades

Ten years before the U.S. Playing Card Company release its 1990 Major League All-Stars boxed set, Motörhead, one of the most influential rock bands to come out of England, released its fourth studio album. The record, titled Ace of Spades, featured a title track that would become the band’s signature tune. Using poker as a metaphor and a long list of cliches for the lyrics, the tune perfectly summarized frontman Lemmy Kilmister’s penchant for fast living.

Randy Johnson, the man they called the Big Unit, didn’t have that insatiable thirst for self-destruction (at least not to my knowledge), but while on the mound he did exude, note-for-note and beat-for-beat, the band’s music. Johnson was the perfect embodiment of Motorhead’s intensity, ferocity, anger, power and speed. If Lemmy’s pitch for life was marked by recklessness, Randy Johnson’s pitching was marked by wildness- or at least early on in his career.

Still a very raw talent when the Montreal Expos traded him to the Pacific Northwest, the 6’10” lefty wasn’t even the centerpiece of the May, 1989 trade that sent Mariners’ All-Star ace Mark Langston north of the border. While Johnson had the highest ceiling of the return, the two other prospects acquired, Brian Holman and Gene Harris, were considered the safer prospects. If Johnson hadn’t been so wild and erratic early in his career, perhaps the Expos would not have traded the lefty.

The trade was a gamble for 32 year-old Expos GM Dave Dombrowski, whose first three seasons as Montreal GM saw him make 23 trades involving 62 players. Sure, he was sending away talent, but the risk Dombrowski faced was acquiring a pitcher who was going to be a free-agent at the end of the ‘89 season- and Montreal was not exactly a popular destination for free-agents. But he really had no choice. The team was in fourth place and number 4 starter Pascual Perez started the season 0-7 after spending most of the spring in drug rehab.

“No free-agent will come here. Almost every no-trade provision includes Montreal. That puts us in a big competitive disadvantage.” Expos manager Buck Rodgers, in the July 31, 1989 issue of Sports Illustrated

Langston lived up to the Ace billing- accumulating a 4.9 WAR while going 12-9 in 24 games, with a 2.39 ERA. The lefty registered 6 complete games, 4 shutouts and 175 strikeouts in 176.2 innings. However, after sitting at 17 games over .500 on July 31st, the team would go into a tailspin and finish the season at 81-81 (they had also been at .500 at the time of the trade)- good for 4th in the NL East.

Dombroski’s gamble didn’t pay off in the long run, as Mark signed with the Angels in the offseason. The gamble did payoff for the Mariners, though. It took a few years, but Randy Johnson became the ace that the team lost when it traded Langston.

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A Brick in the Wall

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I wanted very badly to name this post Another Brick in the Wall, but to do so would be disingenuous; this is the only card of Brick Smith that I own. It also happens to be his only major league card and, thus, the only Brick in my “Wall of Mariners.”

Changing the format of the blog from featuring trades and purchases (Maildays!!) to anecdotal pieces about the players to have donned the Seattle uniform has been difficult with players like Smith. The former first baseman’s MLB career consisted of just 20 plate appearances over 2 seasons (’86, ’87) and there wasn’t anything of significance to report. So in cases like this, I rely on just plain dumb luck. And I’m feeling pretty lucky about now.

Knowing there wasn’t a lot out there about Smith, I resorted to checking out his Wikipedia page, where I came across this:

Could it be? An educational reference for something I so desperately wanted to tie in with the Pink Floyd classic! Is this some type of protest (one that falls short of a choir of school children singing, ‘we don’t need no education. We don’t need no thought control”)?

The link referenced in the 7th grader’s attempt at… oh, how I wish I could say it was dark sarcasm… complaining about the difficulty of the class was, in fact, a dead link. However, I eventually found a Providence School and lo-and-behold, there was a reference to a Brick Smith, assistant baseball coach for 20+ years. No mentioning of him as a teacher.

Unfortunately, Brick’s card didn’t scan so well. But then it dawned on me that even this misfortunate event played into the whole Another Brick in the Wall theme. If you’ve ever seen The Wall, then you remember the scene featuring the protest song, and the faceless masks worn by the children…and this scan fits perfectly with that. It’s like a card of a faceless player.


Roger Waters drew lyrical inspiration from his experience in the Cambridge schools he attended as a youth and created Pink Floyd’s iconic Another Brick in the Wall, Pt. 2. Instead of inspiring kids, Waters found the educational system there to be oppressive. “The same who are susceptible to bullying from other kids are also susceptible to bullying by the teachers,” the former Floyd leader is quoted as saying.

Arbitration

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Sometimes I wonder if I don’t need an arbiter to settle the disputes taking place inside this collector’s head.

Now before you implore me to see my doctor and get back on my meds, I want to assure you there’s nothing wrong with me. Nothing that a doctor can cure, anyway.

Like many in the hobby, I struggle to decide which (team) sets are worth adding to my collection. There are just too many products over the past 30 years to even think about trying to collect them all- and yet I have found myself investing time, money and space while trying to keep up with the Jones’ on way more sets than I should (most of which I don’t even like). But the time has come to draw a line in the sand and settle these disputes once and for all- and I’ve been able to resolve them without any outside help.

Jim Todd, on the other hand, needed a third party after not being able to come to an agreement with the Mariners on his salary following the 1978 season. Todd, coming off his third consecutive poor season, was offered $80,000 for the ’79 season- the same amount he played for in 1978. Convinced he was worth 100,000, he filed for arbitration but was put on waivers and then released before the hearing; Oakland then signed him as a free-agent three weeks after his release.

Jim was even worse in ’79, which turned out to be his worst- and last- season in the majors.

As bad as the Mariners looked during the whole process, they did offer up an excuse: the team was negotiating with the pitcher prior to the arrival of new team president and CEO Dan O’Brien. Once O’Brien arrived in mid-January, the team began to re-evaluate some of its players, according to then-GM Lou Gorman.

Casey at the Plate

I came across this Casey Kotchman card last week while re-organizing my collection and found something (finally!) that inspired me to pick up pen and paper my iPad and begin typing away. And the fact that Sunday marked the 130th anniversary of the first publication of the poem Casey at the Bat is purely coincidental. I wasn’t aware of the publishing date until it was mentioned during the Mariners broadcast Sunday afternoon.

To my knowledge, there has never been any mentioning of the position that Mighty Casey manned while in the field. In my mind’s eye, I envision him as a power-hitting first-baseman. Part of my thinking comes from our English lexicon. “Possessing great and impressive power or strength,” is how the Oxford Dictionary defines the word, mighty. I guess it’s also inferred in the poem itself. The first and third stanzas tell us that the Mudville nine is down 4-2, with Cooney and Barrows registering the first two outs before two more hitters reach base. With two on in scoring position and the game-winning run coming to the plate, there is a confidence that the home team is going to win the game. A three-run dinger, perhaps? The next to last stanza describes Casey’s one and only swing in the AB. “And now the air is shattered by the force of Casey’s blow.” You don’t use that kind of language to describe a ‘hoodoo’ or a ‘cake,’ folks.

Our Casey (for one forgettable season, anyway)- Casey Kotchman- was anything but mighty at the plate. No, our Casey was more like Flynn and Jimmy Blake, the two weak hitters who preceded the protagonist in Thayer’s comic ballad.

While Kotchman never possessed a great bat, his 2010 season for the Mariners was absolutely terrible. And considering that the team was coming off a 2009 season that featured a putrid offense and then let first baseman Russell Branyan (2.6 WAR for the ’09 team) walk- and then trading for Kotchman to be his replacement, was truly befuddling.

There was hope early in the season, as Kotch was hitting the ball with more authority than he typically did; more fly balls from his bat resulted in three homers in his first 49 plate appearances. It didn’t take long, however, before Casey regressed back to being a ground ball hitter.

By early June, the team recalled Mike Carp from Triple-A Tacoma, hoping to get more offense from the position. After the Carp experiment failed, the team acquired Russell Branyan, their first baseman from the 2009 team, from Cleveland. Casey’s days as a starter seemed to be over*.

Part of Casey’s 2010 offensive woes could be attributed to bad luck- he had just a .229 BABIP, after posting seasons of .305, .272, and .283 before being traded to Seattle. What’s more, his BABIP on line drives was only .507- over 200 points below league average. But his ground ball rate was higher than his career rate (which was already high) and for the season, Casey hit 200 ground balls, 98 fly balls and 63 line drives. His tendency to put the ball on the ground resulted in grounding into 15 double plays.

A few more swing and misses:

  • .616 OPS
  • 73 OPS+
  • -1.7 offensive WAR (that’s a minus 1.7)
  • -0.55 WPA
  • 69 wRC+

Unlike those fans in Mudville, Seattle fans didn’t (or at least *shouldn’t have*) have much expectations for Casey at the plate.

*This wasn’t necessarily true. Kotchman would go on to have a pretty decent 2011 season as Tampa’s first baseman