Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Texas Rangers Slugger Joey Gallo Becomes the Ninth Player Since 2015 to Finish a Season with 40 or More Home Runs and Fewer Than 100 RBI

Gallo hit 41 HRs with just 80 RBI in 2017

By hitting his fortieth and forty-first home runs on the next-to-the-last day of the regular season, Texas Rangers slugger Joey Gallo became the ninth player since 2015 to finish a season with 40 or more home runs and fewer than 100 RBI.  Prior to 2015, a hitter reaching the 40 home run plateau without driving in 100 runs was a rare occurrence--only being completed sixteen times by thirteen different sluggers.  However, with the trend over the last several seasons showing a rise in strikeouts and home runs, the odd combination of 40 home run campaigns with fewer than 100 RBI continues to become more common.

Balls were flying out of the park at a noticeable rate during 2017.  In fact, new records for total number of home runs hit during the season (6,105) and average number of homers per game (1.26) were set in 2017--shattering the previous marks.  However, 2017's incredible longball totals were tempered by records set for total number of strikeouts for a season (40,104) as well as average number of strikeouts per game (8.25).  Yet, as substantial the increase in home runs has been over the last few seasons, the rise in strikeouts has been even more dramatic with new records for total number of whiffs per season and average whiffs per game set each year since 2008.  Furthermore, the strikeout per game rate has increased from 6.77 in 2008 to the whopping 8.25 it was in 2017.  On top of that, 141 hitters struck out 100 or more times in 2017--a total which is more than double the 67 hitters who reached that dubious mark between 1871 and 1960.

Sluggers with 40 home run/sub-100 RBI seasons between 2015 and 2017

By reaching the 40-home run plateau while driving in fewer than 100 RBI, Gallo joined Albert Pujols, Carlos Gonzalez, Mike Trout, Bryce Harper, Nelson Cruz, Todd Frazier, Chris Carter, and Brian Dozier as the ninth player since 2015 to finish a season with that odd combination of totals.  At age 23 in his first full year in the major leagues, Gallo struck out a staggering 196 times in 2017, trailing only Aaron Judge for the highest total in all of baseball.  Strikeouts undoubtedly played a role in Gallo falling shy of 100 RBI but the Rangers slugger is not alone in his tendency to punchout with regularity as, aside from Pujols, each of the other sluggers to put together 40 home run/sub-100 RBI campaigns over the past three seasons have fanned at least 131 times.

Sluggers with 40 longball/sub-100 RBI campaigns prior to 2015

Lofty strikeout totals became more commonplace during the mid-1990s and early 2000s but the scoring environment was so high that the 40 home run/sub-100 RBI campaigns either took place during the strike-shortened 1994 season or had special circumstances like in 2003 when pitchers walked Barry Bonds at an abnormally frequent rate rather than risk giving up the longball to him or in 2006 when Alfonso Soriano was batted leadoff, a rarity for a home run hitter.  Prior to the increase in strikeouts, sluggers with 40 home run/sub-100 RBI seasons generally did not put up the high punchout totals of modern day hitters and were not among the league leaders in strikeouts.  However, the first three sluggers with 40 home run/sub-100 RBI campaigns--Hall of Famers Duke Snider, Mickey Mantle, and Harmon Killebrew--resembled modern day sluggers by finishing among the league leaders in both longballs and strikeouts.  In contrast to the sluggers of today, Snider, Mantle, and Killebrew were exceptions to their era rather than the rule as whiff rates typically hovered around just five per game in their times.

Gallo & fellow "Three True Outcomes" slugger Adam Dunn
Gallo finished 2017 with just 80 RBI, the lowest amount for a slugger who reached the 40 home run plateau.  In addition, Gallo is the first slugger to hit 40 or more round-trippers with an RBI number less than twice their longball total.  Gallo batted a meager .209, the second worst average for a slugger who reached 40 home runs as only Adam Dunn's .204 mark during his 41-longball 2012 campaign was lower.  Dunn had several seasons in which he hovered just above or below the 40 home run and 100 RBI marks and is just one of three sluggers to have two 40 longball/sub-100 RBI campaigns, having turned the odd feat in 2006 in addition to 2012.  Of all the sluggers to put together 40 home run/sub-100 RBI seasons, Dunn is the most similar to Gallo as they both post impressive walk totals while homering and striking out at an alarming rate.  Dunn and Gallo can both be described as "Three True Outcomes" hitters who are most likely to end a plate appearance with either a walk, home run, or strikeout.  However, Gallo may be taking the "Three True Outcomes" hitting style to a new level as he walked 75 times while recording just 94 hits--less than half his 196 punchouts.  Moreover, Gallo's 94 hits was a new low for a slugger who hit 40 or more home runs.  Not surprisingly, the slugger who held this dubious distinction before Gallo was Dunn with 110 hits in 2012.  Set to turn 24 and having just completed his first full season in 2017, Gallo could have several 40 home run/sub-100 RBI campaigns in his future.

Aside from his "Three True Outcome" hitting style, Texas' use of Gallo in the latter part of the batting order also played a role in his lack of RBI.  Gallo made his highest number of starts, 37, hitting out of the seven-spot for the Rangers but was also written into the batting order in the five, six, eight, and nine-holes at least 20 times.

Seasons where hitter had more home runs than singles while qualifying for the batting title

Another unique aspect of Gallo's 2017 campaign is that the youngster joined Barry Bonds and Mark McGwire as just the third slugger to hit more home runs than singles while still amassing enough plate appearances to qualify for the batting title.  Interestingly enough, Bonds and McGwire accomplished this odd feat during years in which they broke the single-season home run record.

In his short career, Gallo has already established himself as one of the game's most powerful sluggers, often hitting highlight reel, tape measure home runs.  In fact, Gallo crushed 494 and 490 foot longballs which ranked second and third, behind only Aaron Judge's 496 foot blast for longest home run distance in 2017.  Overall, eight of Gallo's 41 round-trippers this seasons were of at least 450 feet.

Gallo played three defensive positions in 2017
Gallo's power is undisputed, however, if the slugger fails to progress from being a "Three True Outcomes" hitter, he may need to rely on his defense to stay in the starting line up.  The importance of Gallo's defense is underscored by the differing career paths of two fellow "Three True Outcome" sluggers, Todd Frazier and Chris Carter, who both put together 40 home run/sub-100 RBI campaigns in 2016.  Frazier plays a competent third base and also has the ability to fill in at first as well.  By contrast, Carter proved himself too immobile to play the outfield regularly and was thus limited to first base or relegated to designated hitter duties.  In recent years, Frazier has been a hot commodity in the trade market, first being the centerpiece of a three-team deal that sent him from the Cincinnati Reds to the Chicago White Sox prior to the 2016 season before being swapped to the New York Yankees this past July and aiding the club in capturing the top seed in the AL Wildcard game.  Carter, on the other hand, hit the free agent market but found few teams interested in signing him despite leading the NL with 41 home runs.  Carter ultimately signed with the New York Yankees but struggled for playing time, was released mid-season, and finished the year with the Nashville Sounds--the AAA minor league affiliate of the Oakland Athletics.

Fortunately for Gallo it appears his defensive skill set more closely resembles Frazier's than Carter's.  In his short career Gallo has already spent time at both corners of the infield as well as left field.  Gallo started the majority of his minor league games at third base and filled in for five-time Gold Glove winner Adrian Beltre at the hot corner to start 2017 season while the veteran spent most of April and May on the disabled list.  Gallo was error prone at third as evidenced by his .930 fielding percentage but the advanced defensive metrics did not completely discount his glove as both total zone and DRS saw him as just 4 fielding runs below average.  Following Beltre's return from injury, Texas mostly used Gallo at first base but also started him in left field as well.

Gallo and sluggers who just missed putting together 40 home run/sub-100 RBI campaigns in 2017

After the once rare combination of 40 or more home runs with fewer than 100 RBI was completed by eight different sluggers between 2015 and 2016--having just Gallo turn the odd trick in 2017, one might assume 40 longball/sub-100 RBI seasons are a declining trend.  However, in 2017, several sluggers nearly reached the 40 home run plateau while finishing well under the 100-RBI mark.  Three sluggers--Justin Smoak, Mike Moustakas, and Logan Morrison--each hit 38 home runs while driving in 90, 85, and 85 runs, respectively.  In addition, Cody Bellinger ended the year one longball shy of 40 and three RBI short of 100 en route to breaking Frank Robinson's long standing NL rookie home run record.  Like most sluggers to reach 40 home runs without driving in 100 runs in recent years, Bellinger, Smoak, and Morrison all walked frequently while posting lofty strikeout totals.

Gallo's 41 HRs were part of a record 6,105 in 2017
Another sign that the trend of 40 longball/sub-100 RBI campaigns will continue is the fact that the past two seasons have been the only times in major league history that total number of RBI for the season has been less than four times the total number of home runs.  In 2017, there was an average of just 3.53 RBI per home run, down from 3.70 in 2016.  Although the number of runs scored continues to rise, more and more of these runs are being driven in via the longball by sluggers who post high walk, strikeout, and home run numbers or even hit in the "Three True Outcome" style like Gallo.  Once a statistical oddity, 40 home run/sub-100 RBI seasons have now become a yearly occurrence.

----by John Tuberty

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Photo Credit:  Joey Gallo 2017 Topps Heritage, Joey Gallo 2016 Topps Chrome Baseball Refractor, Adam Dunn 2011 Topps Heritage, Joey Gallo 2013 Bowman Platinum, Joey Gallo 2015 Topps Update

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Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Polaroids of Cal Ripken Jr. and the 1987 Baltimore Orioles from On Field Photo Night

Back in 2011, I posted an article centered on Polaroid pictures my father took of Baltimore Orioles players prior to a 1987 game at Memorial Stadium.  The promotion that night allowed fans to take pictures of Orioles players on the field before the start of the game.  At the time I was a young elementary school-aged fan who attended O’s games several times a year, so my recollection of the actual game is very limited.  In the comments section of my article, I requested the exact date of the promotion so I could know the details and outcome of the game.  Fortunately, a few months back a reader commented that they were also at the game and through a 1987 pocket schedule found online, they were able to provide me with the name of the promotion – On Field Photo Night—as well as the date of the game—August 28, 1987.  So, now knowing the exact date the pictures were taken, I decided to re-post the photos.

Cal Ripken Jr.
Baltimore shortstop Cal Ripken Jr. was only a few days removed from his twenty-seventh birthday in these pictures.  Just six years into his career, Ripken had quickly established himself as a superstar—picking up the AL Rookie of the Year and MVP in his first two seasons.  Though a young man, Ripken already seemed aware of the responsibilities of being one of the faces of the franchise and was just as courteous and polite as you would expect, making sure everyone got photos of him before moving on to the next designated picture-taking area.  Ripken was beloved by the fans and that admiration continued throughout his career.  

Unfortunately for Ripken, the Orioles were in the midst of a three-season stretch from 1986 to 1988 in which the team finished last or next-to-last in the AL East Division.  Several players, such as Ripken, remained from Baltimore’s 1983 World Championship club, yet the franchise had struggled to contend in the AL East in the seasons following their World Series triumph.  Going into their August 28 game, the O’s sat in 6th place in the seven-team AL East with a record of 58-69 – a full 18 games back of the Division lead.  Facing Baltimore that night were the California Angels who were only ten months removed from their heart-breaking defeat at the hands of the Boston Red Sox in the previous year’s ALCS.  After easily winning the AL West with 92 wins in 1986, the 1987 incarnation of the Angels struggled to win and ranked 4th in the division with a 63-65 record.  Yet, with no team running away with the West, the Halos sat just 3.5 games back of first place.

Cal Ripken Jr. had a bit of an off-year in 1987, batting just .252—at that point a career low for the young slugger.  Nevertheless, Ripken was still able to showcase the rare power he possessed as a shortstop, finishing the year with 27 home runs and 98 RBI while earning his fifth career All-Star selection.  For that evening’s contest, Ripken took his customary spot at short and hit third in the O’s batting order.  Even then, Ripken’s presence in Baltimore’s line up was a given, seeing as the slugger had not missed a game since May 29, 1982—a stretch of nearly 900 consecutive games and one that would continue on for eleven more years, over 1,700 more games, and come to define the future Hall of Famer’s career.  Ripken got the scoring started early that night for Baltimore, driving in leadoff hitter Jim Dwyer with a sacrifice fly in the bottom of the 1st to put his team up 1-0.  Aside from the sac fly, Ripken went 1 for 3 in the game.

Hitting behind Ripken in the order was first baseman Eddie Murray.  After a decade with the team, Murray and Baltimore were ready to go their separate ways.  The combination of a public squabble with Orioles owner Edward Bennett Williams, an injury-plagued 1986, and a slow start to his 1987 campaign had turned the fans against Murray.  One of my memories of seeing Murray play is hearing the chorus of boos that rained down on the future Hall of Famer that season.  My sister and I were among the most vocal supporters of Murray, chanting “Eddie! Eddie!” in our futile attempt to counteract the jeers.  Murray had visited my first grade class a year or two before in his full O’s white and orange home uniform—which looked cool on the field, but out of place among a group of teachers and students.  I was lucky enough to have Murray call on me during a question and answer session with my class.  My question to him was, “Do teams ever fight each other?”  Murray’s answer was a quick, “No.”  I’ll forgive him for fibbing to a group of young impressionable kids and not waxing poetic about the bench brawls he witnessed or participated in.  While Ripken did his best to make sure all the fans got pictures of him, I do not recall Murray even coming out on the field for the On Field Photo Night promotion.

This picture has always been amusing to me.  A lady stepped in front of my father while he was snapping a photo of Ripken.  Dad got the picture but the future Hall of Famer was partially obscured by the illuminated back of the lady’s head!  Polaroid photos were not cheap by 1987 standards – they cost a dollar per picture so my father was none too pleased with wasting one on the lady’s head.  I do remember him showing the lady the picture and kidding with her about it.  It’s unfortunate that we had such a limited number of pictures, as aside from Ripken’s professionalism and the lady accidentally photo-bombing this picture, I have two other main memories from that night.  One is pitcher Eric Bell quickly walking across the front row of fans taking pictures and clapping hands as he went by.  Bell’s gesture seemed spontaneous and it’s likely as a young hurler in his first full season, he probably wasn’t the most comfortable being the center of attention.  Nevertheless, I was fortunate enough to be one of those fans whose hands Bell clapped.  Prior to learning the actual date the game took place, I always thought Bell was the night’s starting picture.  My other main memory was O’s legend Frank Robinson going through the front row of fans shaking hands.  Robinson, who was serving as the team’s bench coach at the time, had been voted into the Hall of Fame five years earlier after a distinguished career in which he played significant roles in Baltimore’s championship runs of 1966 and 1970.  As with Bell, I was lucky enough to be in the front row and receive Robinson’s warm greeting.  Thus far my brief encounter with Robinson is the only time I have had the chance to shake hands with a Hall of Famer.  Unfortunately, due to the limited number of Polaroid pictures in a cartridge, we were most likely out of shots by the time Robinson came out so my handshake with the legend was not photographed.

Billy Ripken
The most notable thing about the 1987 Orioles season is that it marked the only time in major league history that a father simultaneously managed two sons on the same team.  After three decades with the Orioles franchise in several different roles such as player, coach, scout, and minor league manager, Cal Ripken Sr. finally got the opportunity to manage the big league club in 1987.  Ripken Sr. took over the team from Earl Weaver who retired after a difficult 1986 season which saw the club keep tabs with the division-leaders through early August before going 14-42 over its final 56 games to finish last in the AL East with a 73-89 record.  The team’s late season collapse sent the future Hall of Fame manager Weaver into retirement.  Unfortunately for Ripken Sr., the 1987 O’s proved to be an uncompetitive team.  After a promising 26-20 start to the season, the 1987 O’s went on a disastrous 5-30 run which left them well behind the AL East leaders.  By July 11, when Ripken Sr.’s son, Billy, made his major league debut, the club sat in sixth place with a 34-52 record.

Billy Ripken proved to be one of the team’s few bright spots during the season, providing strong defense at second base to form an impressive double play combination with brother Cal.  Billy also contributed in the batter’s box, putting up solid offensive numbers while hitting out of the number two spot in front of his older sibling.  In fact, Billy came into the August 28 game batting an excellent .310 with just one error over his first 198 chances.  The .310 average was a huge surprise since the rookie second baseman had hit .247 in 1,694 minor league at bats prior to his major league call up.  The younger Ripken continued his solid hitting on August 28, going 3 for 4 against the Angels and scoring on Ray Knight’s two-run double in the bottom of the 3rd.  Billy finished his rookie campaign with a .308 average but his excellent hitting proved to be an aberration as he slumped to .207 and .230 the following two seasons.  Billy rebounded in 1990, batting .291 to put together the best full season of his career but was released after seeing his average drop back to .216 in 1991 and .230 in 1992.  Ripken Sr.’s managerial career proved to be short lived as he was fired after starting the 1988 season with six straight losses.  However, the club was apt to keep the loyal Ripken Sr., who had served the franchise in a variety of roles and positively impacted so many within the organization.  Ripken Sr. returned to the field for the 1989 season as the O’s third base coach, a position he held through the 1992 season.

Jim Dwyer
Leading off for the Orioles on August 28 was designated hitter Jim Dwyer.  Already a 15-year veteran in his seventh season with Baltimore, the 37 year-old Dwyer had carved out a fine career as a platoon-hitting specialist against right-handed pitchers.  With righty pitcher Mike Witt taking the hill for California, the left-handed hitting Dwyer drew the start at DH and led off the bottom of the 1st with a single and reached second base on a rare error from Angels’ center fielder Devon White.  After advancing to third on Billy Ripken’s single, Dwyer scored on Cal Ripken Jr.’s sacrifice fly.  Dwyer struck out in his second at bat of the day and initially remained in the game when lefty Chuck Finley was brought in to relieve Witt.  Dwyer grounded out against Finley in the 4th and was replaced in the 7th by Alan Wiggins rather than face the lefty a second time.

Over his seven seasons with Baltimore, Dwyer had proven to be a valuable role player for the club.  Aside from filling in at DH, Dwyer was also an accomplished pinch hitter who could play either one of the corner outfield positions.  Used primarily against right-handed pitchers, Dwyer was a difficult out and regularly posted strong on base percentage marks in addition to possessing moderate power.  As a 37 year-old with limited speed, Dwyer was an unlikely choice to hit leadoff but saw the majority of his plate appearances that year come out of the top two spots in the batting order.  The 1987 season was the year of the ‘rabbit ball’ in which batters hit home runs at a record rate.  Dwyer took full advantage of the lively ball and finished the season with a career high 15 home runs in just 281 plate appearances.  In addition to his power surge, Dwyer also hit .274 with a .371 OBP while scoring 54 times.  Clean-shaven during most of his career, the mustached-Dwyer is hard to recognize in this picture.

Larry Sheets and Scott McGregor
Though standing side-by-side in this picture, during the 1987 season, the careers of outfielder Larry Sheets (on the left) and left-handed pitcher Scott McGregor (to the right) were going in opposite directions.  In his third full season, Sheets was in the midst of a breakout year which saw the slugger smack a team-high 31 home runs while also leading the club with a .316 batting average and 94 RBI.  Sheets had shown potential prior to 1987, hitting 36 longballs with a .271 average over 742 plate appearances.  Mostly used as DH in his first two seasons, Sheets split time between left and right field in 1987.  For the August 28 game, Baltimore started Sheets in right and batted him fifth behind the team’s other main power-threats Cal Ripken Jr. and Eddie Murray.  Sheets went 1 for 4 that day with a single in the bottom of the 3rd, scoring along with Billy Ripken on Ray Knight’s two-run double to give Baltimore a 5-0 lead over California.

By contrast, McGregor was having anything but a career-year in 1987.  Battling injuries and ineffectiveness, McGregor finished the season with an ugly 6.64 ERA and 2-7 record.  At the time of the August 28 game, McGregor was on the disabled list with shoulder inflammation.  Whereas the normally clean-shaven Jim Dwyer sported a mustache in his picture, we see McGregor—who spent the majority of his career with hair above his lip—whisker free.  The lack of facial hair certainly makes McGregor look more youthful but at this point the 2,000-plus innings and a decade of major-league pitching had taken their toll on the lefty.  Aside from veteran hurler Mike Flanagan, McGregor was the franchise’s most senior player—having towed the rubber for Baltimore since 1976.  McGregor was most remembered for the World Series-clinching five-hit shutout he spun against the Philadelphia Phillies in Game 5 of the 1983 Fall Classic.  At the time of this picture, McGregor had won 138 career games—all in an O’s uniform.  Sadly, McGregor would not be able to add to that win total as he was released after four ineffective starts the following season, bringing an end to the veteran lefty’s career.

Unfortunately, Sheets would not be able to replicate his excellent 1987 campaign, hitting just 17 home runs with a pedestrian .235 average in 842 plate appearances over the next two seasons.  Baltimore traded Sheets prior to the 1990 season and the outfielder played his final campaign in 1993, never having hit more than 10 longballs in a year after stroking 31 in 1987.  My own lasting memory of Sheets will always be a scorching line drive foul ball the slugger hit into the stands directly into a seat in the row in front of me.  My family (and I) had seats near first base and Sheets’ foul liner acted as a guided missile.  I vividly remember my mother and I only had enough time to duck and cover before we heard the ball smash into one of the metal seats in front of us, leaving a dent.  Fortunately, no one was sitting in the seat when Sheets’ drive careened into it as the man who occupied the chair that day was getting refreshments at the time.  When the man returned to his seat, his wife told him about Sheets’ line drive and showed him the dent in the chair.  The man tried his best to play it off but you could tell from his reaction—a relieved ‘huh huh’—that he knew he was lucky to be out of his seat or Sheets’ drive may have dented his face.

Mike Boddicker
At the time of this picture, right-handed pitcher Mike Boddicker was in his fifth full season and just a few days removed from his thirtieth birthday.  With veteran hurlers Mike Flanagan and Scott McGregor declining, Boddicker became the pitching staff’s ace, earning his first Opening Day starting assignment in 1987.  Boddicker did not get credit for the Opening Day win but pitched well, lasting into the 8th inning while allowing just one run in the team’s 2-1 victory over the Texas Rangers.  Boddicker finished 1987 with a 10-12 record and 4.18 ERA.  Although 1987 was not one of Boddicker’s better years, the righty led the beleaguered O’s starting rotation in virtually every important category including games started, innings pitched, strike outs, wins, and ERA.  Moreover, Boddicker’s 226 innings pitched were 61 frames more than any other Baltimore hurler.

Boddicker was not the O’s starting pitcher for the On Field Photo Night, as his turn in the rotation came up the following day.  Taking the hill for Baltimore on August 28 was rookie John Hayban, who moved from the bullpen into the starting rotation to replace the injured Dave Schmidt.  Opposing the rookie Hayban that night was California’s staff ace Mike Witt who had brought the Halos to within one out of the AL Pennant during the previous year’s ALCS.  However, through his first four innings Hayban looked more like a staff ace than a rookie—holding the Angels hitless while allowing just one walk.  By contrast, the veteran Witt struggled against Baltimore, giving up a sac fly to Cal Ripken Jr., surrendering a two-home run to rookie Mike Hart, and a two-run double to Ray Knight before being lifted after three innings for reliever Chuck Finley with California trailing 5-0.

Terry Crowley
Hitting coach Terry Crowley, pictured here shaking hands with the aforementioned Mike Boddicker, spent the bulk of his 15-year major-league playing career with the Orioles.  After retiring as a player following the 1983 season, Crowley returned to the majors as Baltimore’s hitting coach in 1985.  During his playing career, Crowley filled a role similar to that of Jim Dwyer and was often used as a left-handed hitting specialist brought in to face righty hurlers.  The Baltimore offense struggled during the 1987 season, ranking 13th out of 14 AL teams in runs scored, despite having the third highest number of home runs in the league.  Crowley served as the O’s hitting coach until he and most of the coaching staff were relieved of their duties following the team’s disastrous 107-loss 1988 season.  Crowley returned to the Orioles for a second go-around as the club’s hitting coach from 1999 to 2010 before stepping down to take another job within the organization.  Coincidentally, Crowley’s two tours of duty as Baltimore’s hitting coach each came during very difficult periods of O’s baseball when the franchise struggled to field competitive teams.  However, Crowley was Minnesota’s hitting coach when the Twins won the World Series in 1991.

Alan Wiggins
Prior to knowing the actual date of On Field Photo Night, the presence of Billy Ripken and Alan Wiggins in these pictures helped me narrow down the time frame to between July 11 and August 31—with the former date being the day Ripken was called up from AAA Rochester and made his major league debut, and the latter being the night of the O’s final game before Wiggins was suspended for the remainder of the 1987 season.

At his best, Wiggins could be an excellent leadoff hitter and base-stealing threat.  In fact, Wiggins was a key contributor to the 1984 NL Pennant-winning San Diego Padres, scoring 106 runs and swiping 70 bags.  However, at his worst, Wiggins, who battled drug problems throughout his professional career, could be unreliable and a disruptive presence on a team.  The Padres were patient with Wiggins’ drug problems and even signed the speedster to a four-year contract extension prior to the 1985 season.  Unfortunately, just a few months after signing the contract, Wiggins went AWOL and resurfaced in a drug rehabilitation center.  Despite having just signed Wiggins to a new contract, after his latest drug-related issues, the Padres refused to allow the speedster to rejoin the team and traded him to the Orioles for two minor league players.

In Wiggins, Baltimore saw a long term replacement for both Rich Dauer at second base and Al Bumbry at leadoff.  Wiggins hit well in his first season with the O’s, batting .285 with 30 stolen bases but struggled mightily on defense.  Wiggins was briefly demoted to AAA Rochester the following season and finished the year with just 21 stolen bases and a .251 average.  To start the 1987 season, Wiggins platooned with Rick Burleson at second base and shared DH duties with Mike Young and Jim Dwyer.  However, when Baltimore released Burleson and promoted Billy Ripken from AAA Rochester on July 11, Wiggins no longer saw time at second--being relegated to pinch hitting and pinch running roles.

Wiggins entered the August 28 game in the bottom of the 7th as a pinch hitter, replacing Jim Dwyer.  By this point in the game, the Orioles had blown a 5-0 lead.  Baltimore starter John Hayban gave up RBI singles to Jack Fimple and Brian Downing in the top of the 5th before exiting the game after allowing a leadoff home run to Wally Joyner to start the 6th.  O’s reliever Mike Griffin then surrendered a two-run home run to Dick Schofield to tie the score, 5-5.  In his only at bat of the game, Wiggins flew out to second base against Chuck Finley. Wiggins finished the 1987 season with a career low .232 average but led the O’s—who had very few base stealing threats—for the third straight year in swiped bags with 20.  However, Wiggins’ off-the-field issues reared their ugly head as the season drew to a close.  A few weeks before On Field Photo Night, Wiggins was suspended by the club for three days after being involved in altercations with Jim Dwyer and Cal Ripken Sr.  On August 31, MLB commissioner Peter Ueberroth suspended Wiggins indefinitely for failing a drug test.  Finally, on September 29, Baltimore cut ties with Wiggins, releasing the troubled speedster.  After his release, Wiggins never again played professional baseball.

As 1987 was Wiggins’ last professional season, I knew this picture was taken within days or weeks of his final game.  When I found out the exact date of On Field Photo Night was August 28, I immediately brought up Wiggins’ Baseball Reference page and confirmed that this was in fact the final game of his career.  Tragically, Wiggins passed away from AIDS-related complications at age 32 on January 6, 1991.  On a more heartwarming note, Wiggins’ three children followed in their father’s athletic footsteps, each playing college basketball.  His youngest child, Candice, spent eight season playing in the WNBA.

Terry Kennedy and Mark Williamson
Catcher Terry Kennedy and right-handed relief pitcher Mark Williamson are fittingly pictured together since the two came to Baltimore in the trade that sent hurler Storm Davis to San Diego.  Kennedy brought a fine resume to the Orioles, having already earned three All-Star selections as a member of the Padres.  My sister and I found Kennedy hard to warm up to as the team’s catcher since he replaced our favorite O’s player Rick Dempsey who had won the 1983 World Series MVP and whose entertaining antics were often included in video montages played between innings.  Nevertheless, Kennedy hit .264 with 13 home runs before the All-Star break and made his fourth trip to the Mid-Summer Classic, joining Cal Ripken Jr. as the team’s only two representatives.  Kennedy slumped in the season’s second half to finish 1987 with 18 home runs and a .250 batting average.  Kennedy played catcher and batted seventh against the Angels, going hitless in four plate appearances that night.

While Kennedy was one of the Padres’ most recognizable players at the time of the trade, righty reliever Williamson never pitched at the major league level for San Diego.  Williamson put together a decent rookie season for Baltimore, going 8-9 with a 4.03 ERA in 125 innings.  The rookie hurler pitched almost exclusively out of the bullpen for Baltimore, with all but two of his 61 appearances coming in relief.  Williamson entered the August 28 game in the top of the 9th with two outs to face veteran slugger Ruppert Jones.  Williamson was Baltimore’s fourth pitcher of the game, relieving lefty Jack O’Connor who had pitched two perfect innings to keep the score even at 5-5.  Williamson got Jones to fly out to left to preserve the tie and send the game to the bottom of the 9th.

Kennedy’s second half hitting struggles followed him into the 1988 season and the veteran catcher found himself platooned with Mickey Tettleton.  Following his difficult 1988 campaign, Baltimore traded Kennedy to the San Francisco Giants for Bob Melvin in a swap of catchers. Conversely, Williamson became a mainstay in the O’s bullpen, spending his entire eight-year major league career with the team.  Williamson played a key role in Baltimore’s surprising second place finish in 1989, picking up 9 saves with a 10-5 record and 2.93 ERA in 107.1 innings.

Fred Lynn
After the Orioles followed up their 1983 World Series triumph with a disappointing 5th place finish in 1984, the Baltimore front office wasted little time making moves that they felt would upgrade the team’s on-the-field performance and spur the club back to another AL East title.  Within the space of a week in December, the franchise signed relief pitcher Don Aase and outfielders Lee Lacy and Fred Lynn to free agent contracts.  The biggest move of the three was the signing of Lynn, a former Rookie of the Year and MVP winner, to a 5-year 6.8 million dollar contract.

Lynn played center field and generally batted fifth in the line up behind Ripken and Murray to give the O’s a solid heart of the order.  If Lynn had any ‘buyer beware’ tag on him, it was his reputation for getting injured and not doing everything he could to stay in the line-up.  Unfortunately for the Orioles, Lynn lived up to his ‘oft-injured’ reputation and missed ample time in each of his first two seasons with the team, only playing in 124 and 112 games in 1985 and 1986, respectively.  Lynn’s inability to stay in the line-up made him something of an anti-Cal Ripken Jr., with the 1987 season no different as the center fielder had already missed thirty-plus games heading into late August.  Somewhat fittingly, Lynn did not start the August 28 game against the Angels.  In Lynn’s place, rookie Mike Hart started in center field and hit a two-run homer off Witt in the 2nd inning to put Baltimore up 3-0.  With one out and the score tied 5-5 in the bottom of the 9th, Lynn entered the game as a pinch hitter for Hart.  Lynn stepped in to face Angels pitcher Chuck Finley who had held the O’s scoreless for five full frames since relieving Witt in the 4th.  Lynn took Finley deep for a pinch-hit, game winning walk off home run.  For his one-third of an inning of work in the top of the 9th, Mark Williamson was credited with the win.  Coincidentally, the batter on deck when Lynn’s longball ended the game was Alan Wiggins.  Lynn finished the 1987 season with 23 home runs and 60 RBI but hit just .253.  The injury-plagued outfielder continued to miss time over the season’s last month and ended the year with just 111 games played.  Interestingly enough, 1987 was the fourth consecutive season Lynn finished with exactly 23 round-trippers.

Following the August 28 game, the Orioles and Angels struggled mightily—putting together the two worst records over the remainder of the 1987 season with respective marks of 8-26 and 12-21.  Baltimore’s late season slide gave them a final record of 67-95 and slotted them 6th in the AL East, a full 31 games behind the division-winning Detroit Tigers.  Things would get worse before they would get better for the Orioles as they opened the 1988 season with six straight losses, costing manager Cal Ripken Sr. his job.  Baltimore replaced Ripken Sr. with O’s icon Frank Robinson but the losing continued and the club set an AL record with 21 consecutive defeats as well as the major league record for most losses to start a season.  With the team a distant last in the AL East, the club decided to trade some of their veterans for younger players, dealing away Mike Boddicker at the end of July and Jim Dwyer and Fred Lynn at the end of August.  Baltimore finished 1988 in the AL East cellar with an abysmal 54-107 record.  Following the season, the youth movement continued with more veterans, including Terry Kennedy, either traded away or not re-signed.  Finally in December, the franchise made its boldest move, dealing away their disgruntled superstar, Eddie Murray to the Los Angeles Dodgers.

Despite the trade of many of the team’s veteran players, the 1989 season wound up being a surprising success for the Orioles.  Baltimore spent most of the summer atop the AL East before surrendering the division lead to the Toronto Blue Jays, who outpaced them by two games.  The club’s stunning turnaround from a horrid 54-107 to a solid 87-75 earned Frank Robinson the AL Manager of the Year Award.  However, by the time O’s tasted the unlikely success of 1989, many of the players from the 1987 squad had moved on.  In fact, of the eleven team members pictured from the On Field Photo Night only Larry Sheets, Mark Williamson, and the two Ripken brothers remained.  The August 28 game was also one of the last games I saw at Memorial Stadium as my family moved out of state the following spring.  Fortunately, I held onto these pictures which captured the prime of the legendary Cal Ripken Jr., the beginnings of rookies Billy Ripken and Mark Williamson, and the final days Scott McGregor’s and Alan Wiggins’ careers.

----by John Tuberty

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Polaroids taken by Jack Tuberty

Other Photo credit:  1988 Topps Eddie Murray, 1988 Topps Eric Bell, 1972 Topps Frank Robinson, 1988 Donruss Ripken Family, 1988 Score Mike Witt, 1988 Score John Hayban

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