There are tons of great baseball names out there. Steve Rushin, a terrific sportswriter, has banged out several columns having to do with player names. Steve Marantz once wrote “Van Lingle Mungo is better than sex” in reference to the former Dodgers pitcher.
In my youth, there were great names: Rance Mulliniks, Mark Grudzielanek, Spike Owen, DeLino DeShields. My favorite? Razor Shines.
But, as a Dodgers-rooting child, I always loved when they faced the Giants. For the rivalry, of course, but also in the hopes that Atlee Hammaker could pitch in the series.
I loved Atlee Hammaker. Not because the Dodgers – and a lot of other teams -usually beat up on him, but rather I loved the way Vin Scully said his name. He enunciated each syllable and let the name fill up his mouth before it trickled off his tongue, cascaded out of his mouth and found its way into our ears.
Hammaker wasn’t an overpowering pitcher, and despite being a first-round pick, could never find a niche. Was a he a starter? A long reliever? A late-inning guy?
Yet, because he threw with his left hand, he hung around for 12 seasons.
His career line was 59-67 with a 3.66 ERA. His strikeout-to-walk ratio was 2.1 which is pretty good and his WHIP was 1.24, which is also not bad. But he didn’t really bring much to the team. Just a guy who could eat up innings. All teams need those guys and they are rarely liked because they usually pitch in blowouts so fans don’t really care too much about them.
His best year also brought about his worst moment. In 1983 Hammaker led the NL in ERA (2.25) and had eight complete games. He was an All-Star that seasondespite only posting a 10-9 mark for the 23 games he started, a further illustration of his mediocrity. (He only had three seasons in his 12 that he was a true starter making 27 or more starts. Starting pitchers ideally make 33 starts per season.)
Yet, he became the only pitcher in All-Star Game history to allow a grand slam.
In a microcosm of his career, Hammaker almost got out of that infamy when his 1-2 fastball to Fred Lynn just missed the outside corner. Had he not pitched so horrendously in that game he probably gets that call.
But on the next pitch Lynn smokes a breaking ball into the seats and the Comiskey Park fans sing “Na Na Na Hey Hey Goodbye” to chase Hammaker into the dugout.
My favorite part of that video showing Hammaker make history was when Joe Garagiola mentions the button on Hammaker’s hat (1:10 mark). In so many words he calls the Giants fans a bunch of wimps for not sticking out the cold of Candlestick Park, illustrating his point by talking about a button the Giants gave any fan who withstood an extra-inning game.
First off, what kind of fan leaves the ballpark during extra innings? (As a Dodgers fan I get the irony to this question.) Second, what kind of self-respecting fan wears a button as a symbol of pride that he/she watched an extra-inning baseball game? What a terrible promotion aimed at all the non-baseball fans that call themselves Giants fans.
You know what? You deserved Atlee Hammaker, San Francisco.