The Futility Infielder

A Baseball Journal by Jay Jaffe I'm a baseball fan living in New York City. In between long tirades about the New York Yankees and the national pastime in general, I'm a graphic designer.

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

 

Sucking in the Seventies

There are futility infielders, and there are Futility Infielders. Today's New York Times features a Tyler Kepner article on Yankee first base and infield coach Mick Kelleher, an exemplar of the good-field/no-hit players whose baseball cards clogged my collection in the late '70s. Joe Posnanski has his Duane Kuiper, owner of one major league home run in 3,754 plate appearances. Kelleher, who plied his trade for five teams over 11 years, never homered in 1,202 PA. "Since he retired in 1982," notes the article, "no position player with that many plate appearances has failed to hit a homer."

For his career, Kelleher hit .213/.266/.253, which if you'll pardon my French is spectacularly craptatstic. Though not as bad as the late, legendary John Vukovich, Kelleher ranked in the top 15 in the Futility Infielder Foulness Index. None of which is to heap abuse on his lack of ability or love for the game. Men like Kelleher, Vukovich and Mario Mendoza are the glue that holds baseball together, lifers who despite their limited playing skills find ways to pass on their love and knowledge of the game, often with half a century of service.

In Kelleher's case, he's consistently worked as a coach, instructor and scout following his 15 years as a player (including the minors). According to the article, he's spent most of the past 13 years in the Yankee organization, and has worked extensively with Robinson Cano and Derek Jeter. While neither has a sterling defensive reputation by any stretch, a bit of sun is shining on the Mick these days as the man behind the scenes of the team who went a record 18 games without making an error, a streak that ended last night when Jorge Posada threw one into center field on a stolen base. A lack of errors or high fielding percentage isn't the defining stat of a good defense, but it's worth noting that the Yankees rank fifth in the league in Defensive Efficiency, the frequency with which they turn batted balls into outs, and third in Park Adjusted Defensive Efficiency. Last year they were 12th and 11th, respectively. And that's in a 14-team league. So if Kelleher's a part of the improvement, he deserves a tip of the cap.

I was at the park last night, as it stands, in the company of one of the usual reprobates, Nick Stone, as well as Matador Records/Can't Stop the Bleeding domo Gerard Cosloy, the first time we'd met after years of occasional link swapping. As we watched the Rangers get their asses handed to them -- seriously, the ghost of Johnny Oates was shaking his head as he watched their more well supported than actually improved pitching staff get the shit knocked out of them -- we spent plenty of time discussing the finer points of Wilco and Fall personnel changes as well as the relative career arcs of AL Rookie of the Years gone sour Angel Berroa, Bob Hamelin and Joe Charboneau. Meanwhile, spurred by a pair of plunkings by Vicente "Shitty Pitcher" Padilla, Mark Teixeira had a big takeout slide which uncorked a seven-run inning for the Yanks (the two don't like each other much at all, going waaaay back. Good times.

And maybe it was a couple of those big $11 beers talking, but our seats in section 423, in the fourth row of the upper grandstand between third base and home plate, felt a little like home. Observe the following triptych from my iPhone's crappy little camera:


Last night


Our current plan seats


My final game at the old park

OK, I'm not exactly sure why the last one is so messed up -- it appears I shot while the camera was scrolling from pic to pic -- but it's the sense of scale that's the take-home. We were still further back and up than our old seats; about halfway into the old Tier Reserved, if I had to hazard a guess. But a definite improvement on our current lot.

Speaking of Kelleher, his former Cubs teammate Steve Swisher, father of current Yankee Nick Swisher, also came up for discussion as a thoroughly crappy hitter (.216/.279/.303 in 1,577 PA). In fact, both rank among the Seventies' 30 worst in terms of OPS+ with an 850 PA minimum (stats 1970-1979 only):
Player              PA   HR    BA     OBP    SLG  OPS+
Mario Mendoza 879 2 .201 .237 .247 31
Luis Gomez 1043 0 .216 .265 .248 44
Mick Kelleher 943 0 .223 .272 .265 46
Rob Picciolo 907 6 .224 .238 .291 46
Luis Alvarado 1177 5 .218 .251 .276 48
Jack Heidemann 1210 9 .212 .264 .269 49
Dal Maxvill 1593 1 .210 .289 .241 49
Hal Lanier 887 6 .227 .263 .273 49
Rich Morales 998 6 .195 .270 .249 50
Terry Humphrey 1170 6 .211 .265 .267 52
Bobby Wine 951 4 .219 .272 .276 52
Pepe Frias 1153 1 .239 .269 .294 53
Paul Casanova 1173 20 .213 .243 .307 53
Jim Mason 1756 12 .203 .259 .275 54
Bill Plummer 1005 14 .189 .267 .280 54
Tim Johnson 1408 0 .223 .274 .265 55
Dave McKay 1289 12 .224 .259 .307 57
Paul Popovich 1036 11 .226 .279 .303 57
Randy Hundley 1403 24 .222 .273 .311 58
Hector Torres 1321 16 .216 .267 .294 58
Doug Flynn 1863 6 .240 .271 .298 59
Tom Veryzer 2243 11 .237 .281 .295 60
Bob Heise 1129 1 .243 .274 .288 60
Steve Swisher 1458 18 .219 .282 .307 61
Enzo Hernandez 2612 2 .224 .283 .266 61
Tim Cullen 893 3 .211 .274 .278 61
Johnnie LeMaster 1016 6 .223 .275 .304 62
Pete Mackanin 1107 22 .212 .255 .335 62
Darrel Chaney 2164 14 .220 .298 .294 63
Ted Martinez 1574 7 .240 .270 .309 63
Ah, so many memories of worthless baseball cards and automatic outs, from Papa Mario on down to the Dodgers' resident futilityman, Teddy Martinez. Somebody ought to start a web site.

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Comments:
Since I went looking for it belatedly, here's Kelleher's resume, according to the press release announcing his hiring:

"Kelleher, 61, will enter his first year as the Yankees' first base coach having spent the previous three seasons as the organization's roving infield instructor. This will be his third stint as a Major League coach, serving three years as Detroit's first base coach from 2003-05 and as Jim Leyland's first base coach and infield instructor with Pittsburgh in 1986.

"Prior to his three seasons in Detroit, Kelleher was the Yankees' roving defensive coordinator from 1996-2002 as well as a Major League scout in 1998. His other Minor League coaching duties were with the San Diego Padres (1984-85), Chicago Cubs (1987-92) and Milwaukee Brewers (1994-95) organizations. A third round draft pick by St. Louis in 1969, Kelleher played 11 seasons at the Major League level with the Cardinals (1972-73, '75), Houston Astros (1974), Chicago Cubs (1976-80), Detroit Tigers (1981-82) and California Angels (1982). He finished his career with a .974 lifetime fielding percentage, appearing in games at second base, third base and shortstop. He won two Rawlings Silver Glove Awards (1972, '75) in the minors as the National Association's best shortstop."
 
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