marc w · February 17, 2012 at 5:00 pm · Filed Under Mariners 

1) As many of you know, Hall of Fame catcher Gary Carter passed away yesterday at the age of 57. Carter was coaching college baseball in Florida when he was diagnosed with brain cancer last year. He was able to make a final trip to see his team’s first game two weeks ago.

As an M’s fan in the early 80s, National League stars existed as stories, rumors, and highlight packages on This Week in Baseball. Maybe it was the state of the AL West at the time (with the M’s having recently acquired Bob Kearney from the A’s, Jim Sundberg’s end-of-career struggles and Bob Boone’s late-career batting ineptitude), but Mel Allen kept showing me a catcher blasting home runs and flirting with a .300 average. It seemed a bit bizarre, and the fact that he played in Canada, in a French-speaking city, just magnified my confusion.

The biggest catching star in the AL was probably Lance Parrish, and as an AL partisan, I initially suspected that Parrish was better because he played against better competition (like the Mariners!) in games using English rules (not whatever the Montrealers were doing, what with Tim Raines, Andre Dawson, Jeff Reardon, Steve Rogers all putting up video-game stats). But then Carter moved to the Mets and was a cog on one of the best, most memorable teams of the 1980s, and I had to admit that not even Parrish’s appearance on Diff’rent Strokes could close the gap. Carter was the best catcher of his generation, and I didn’t really have a sense of him until he was in his 30s. It was only really in the past few years that I’ve learned just how good he was defensively. He routinely threw out 40% of would-be base-stealers, leading the league twice with 47% marks.

2) Tim Wakefield announced his retirement today after a 19 year MLB career. He pitched for the Red Sox from 1995 through 2011. Drafted as an IF, he switched to pitching as a 22-year old in the New York-Penn League and steadily rose through the ranks before making his MLB debut with the Pirates on July 31st, 1992. That day, against the Cardinals, the rookie earned a win with a complete-game, 10K performance. He won his next start (pitching 8 innings) and by the end of the year, Wakefield was 8-1 and a key member of the Pirates rotation in the NLCS against the Braves. He went 2-0 in the NLCS, tossing complete games in the 3rd and 6th games.

The Pirates won the NL East that year somewhat comfortably, but they were tied with Montreal on July 30th, the day before Wakefield’s debut. His dominance down the stretch (and his two post-season wins) make for one of the more important late-season call-ups in recent (I guess calling it ‘recent’ is a stretch) memory. And then, like so many Shane Spencers and Kevin Stockers, he lost it. In 1993, Wakefield had an ERA and FIP in the mid 5’s, and walked 75 (with 9 HBPs!) with only 59 Ks. The Pirates finished 5th that year and haven’t had a winning season since. Wakefield toiled in the minors in 1994 and was, improbably, even worse than he was in 1993. Again he gave up more free passes than Ks, and his ERA climbed to nearly 6 en route to a 5-15 year with Buffalo. Given the disruption due to the MLB strike, it actually took the Pirates until April of 1995 to release him.

And then, just as suddenly, he was back. His first game was May 27th, a 7 IP, 1R gem against a very good Angels line-up. He took the hill again 3 days later (?) and blanked the A’s over 7 1/3 IP. His 3rd start came against the Mariners, and Wakefield went 10IP to get a 2-1 win (after Bobby Ayala gave up a walk-off HR in the 10th). He ended up going 16-8 on his way to 186 wins in a Red Sox uniform.

3) On a happier note, today’s the opening day for Division 1 college baseball. Baseball America’s weekend preview looks at some of the big match-ups, including #10 Vanderbilt traveling to Palo Alto to take on #2 Stanford. The UW Huskies are in San Diego to take on San Diego State, whose manager, Tony Gwynn, underwent surgery this week to have a tumor removed from his cheek (can I pause here to say F#$! you, cancer). The surgery apparently went about as well as it could have – for a 14 hour procedure which involved removing nerves in Gwynn’s face and replacing them with nerves from his shoulder), and Gwynn hopes to be back in the dugout this season.

UW’s a young team with a number of JC transfers, but they’ve also got sophomore Austin Voth, who returns after impressing scouts in the Cape Cod league this summer. Northwest JC Player of the Year McKenzie ‘Mac’ Acker is an undersized lefty with very good velo, and could also get some time in the OF.

WSU begins its season with three games at Mississippi State. The Cougars are led by slugging 1B Taylor Ard, who led the Pac 10 in HRs last season with 10. OF Jason Monda’s another player to watch. Their top three starters from a year ago are gone, so they’re going to need some freshmen to step up. The Pac-12 coaches picked WSU to finish 9th, one spot ahead of UW.

Seattle University kicked things off with a series against Utah Valley University. Due to the forecasted winter storm, the Redhawks were scheduled to kick their first game off today at 11am. Don’t know if they were able to beat the rain or not. Starters Seafth Howe and Brandon Kizer return from last year’s team, as does 2011 OBP leader Trent Oleszczuk. If the weather clears at all this weekend and you’re eager to watch some baseball, check out the Redhawks.

4) Larry LaRue’s got an encouraging blog post up on Franklin Gutierrez, who weighed in at 201 lbs. So he’s now gained closer to 20 lbs since last season. I’m encouraged that his IBS symptoms haven’t returned and that he’s been healthy enough to put on weight, but it’ll be interesting to see how he adjusts to playing at a new weight. Obviously, this is a much easier adjustment than the ones he tried to make last year, but this strikes me as something that could take a few months to work out. The M’s carried two black holes in CF last year, with both Gutierrez and Mike Saunders struggling through their worst seasons as professionals. A healthy Gutierrez would go a very long way towards getting the M’s offense back on track, while his defense might make the back of the M’s rotation look OK.


14 Responses to “Beginnings/Endings”

  1. awakeling on February 17th, 2012 5:22 pm

    Carter was before my time, but I remember Wakefield in the NLCS when I first started watching baseball. I remember that being pretty impressive to me then. He’s had a nice career. Thanks for this write-up, Marc. The game needs a few more knuckleballers.

  2. Shawnuel on February 17th, 2012 6:07 pm

    Gary Carter was the best catcher of his generation? Johnny Bench says “hello”. Otherwise, you are spot on. Quite the humanitarian as well.

    I’ll miss Wakefield. Not sure if Charlie Haeger is on a roster anymore. If not, R.A. Dickey may be the only knuckle-baller left throwing today. Well…..and Tim Tebow.

  3. wabbles on February 17th, 2012 6:33 pm

    @ Shawnuel Johnny Bench: 1967-1983 Gary Carter: 1974-1992 It’s not quite a generation but Bench’s heyday was when Carter just was getting started.

  4. MKT on February 17th, 2012 7:43 pm

    “As an M’s fan in the early 80s, National League stars existed as stories, rumors, and highlight packages on This Week in Baseball”

    That’s why it’s wrong when people call inter-league play a gimmick. The gimmick was having half of the teams never play the other half, unless they met in the World Series. Imagine never being able to see Gary Carter, Willie Mays, Stan Musial, Jackie Robinson, Bob Gibson, etc. in person. Yeah I know the leagues started as separate entities, but one of the principles of progress is not to be bound by tradition.

  5. Shawnuel on February 17th, 2012 7:49 pm

    Bench’s rookie year was actually ’68 (called up in Sept. of 67). I got into baseball Bench’s rookie season, when I was almost 5 years old and still have his ’68 (ROY) rookie Topps card. I remember them both being in the big leagues for a very large portion of my adolescence. Their careers overlapped for 10 full seasons. Not trying to be dogmatic but that definitely says same generation to me. Some might even argue Carlton Fisk is Carter’s equal in that time frame, though I wouldn’t be one of them. However, not sure there have ever been 3 catchers of this quality in the majors the same era/generation.

  6. marc w on February 17th, 2012 8:15 pm

    Good point, Shawnuel – I suppose I wasn’t clear about when a generation starts and when one ends, but to me, Bench was clearly the era before. When I look now, they were only ~10 years apart but I associate Bench with the late 60s-mid 70s, while Carter I associate with the 80s. This is perhaps unfair to Carter, who had some of his best years in the late 70s, when Bench was in his declining years.

    Maybe I should say that Carter was the best catcher between Bench and Ivan Rodriguez.

  7. marc w on February 17th, 2012 8:18 pm

    There was a lot of overlap, but there was a lot of overlap between, say, Ken Griffey Jr and Albert Pujols – again, around 10 years. But they’re different generations to me. My baseball generations appear to be about 10 years in duration, which is obviously half is long as the standard definition of 20.

  8. marc w on February 17th, 2012 10:48 pm

    I’m with you, MKT. It’s been a great way to see great players from the NL, and it’s been fun whipping up on the Padres, too.
    Honestly, the biggest change was getting cable/ESPN. Without it, it was damn hard to see NL guys, and, with so few M’s games televised, some AL East guys too.
    As a kid I had some 82-83 fleer stickers in my room, and I’d stare at the mustachioed visage of Steve Rogers and just go, “who the f#% ARE you?”
    I loved copying batting stances/wind-ups of the AL guys, but I had no idea about the NL guys below the Steve Carlton/Dwight Gooden/Fernando Valenzuela tier.

  9. rsrobinson on February 18th, 2012 8:33 am

    I also see Carter as the next generation after Bench even though their careers ovelapped somewhat. It seemed like the Reds were always on TV in the ’70s so I grew up watching that awesome Big Red Machine lineup. I saw a lot less of Carter until he played with the Mets in the ’80s.

    That’s very encouraging news about Guti’s weight and strength gain. I think he’ll bounce back in a big way this year.

  10. pmbaseball7 on February 18th, 2012 5:45 pm

    Another player to watch at UW is Freshman 1B Trevor Mitsui. He was the 2011 Washington Gatorade State Player of the Year, and 1st Team All-American. He is a great kid who has all the tools to be successful, and was an honor to coach last year. Very excited to see how his career plays out.

  11. madatms on February 18th, 2012 10:16 pm

    My father coached Bob Kearney in San Antonio,in Little League, and my brother (older) played with him ,both of my brother-in-laws,also played in high school with him-they all went to a different high school ,then my brother and I.What ever happened to him ,just curious.Where does he live these days? I never play with him but never knew he did okay and made it to the bigs

  12. marinerblue on February 18th, 2012 10:28 pm

    Well, I put Carlton Fisk ahead of Carter, but its splitting hairs. I was a big fan of the Expos in the early 80s and it hurt to see him go to a team I didn’t like. Regardless, he always seemed to be a class act. He went way to young.

  13. shortbus on February 19th, 2012 12:03 pm

    That’s great news for Guti. Given how closely his statistical decline tracked his illness, I don’t think it’s unreasonable to hope for him to put up a .700 OPS this season.

  14. Shrike on February 19th, 2012 7:30 pm

    Mike Cameron just announced his retirement. Was Franklin Gutierrez, in his best full season with the Mariners, equal to Mike Cameron at his peak?

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