There is a wonderful little button on Baseball Reference’s Batting and Pitching Game finder that simply asks: “Is Birthday?”
I’ve always meant to click this button and just go down that rabbit hole. Who hit the most home runs on their birthday? Who routinely pitched the best on their birthday? Who spent the most birthdays out on a baseball diamond playing for the crowd?
Well, today’s the perfect day to look it up. On Wednesday, the Big Friendly Giant Aaron Judge celebrated his 25th birthday by playing his first game at Fenway Park. I would not have minded spending my 25th birthday doing that.
But he more than just played his first game at Fenway. Judge hit his league-leading seventh home run — going opposite field, no less. And he made a fantastic into-the-crowd catch.
My favorite part of that video, by the way, is his final answer to: “A win, first home run at Fenway, great defensive play, can you ask for a better 25th birthday?”
The BFG didn’t miss a beat: “No, it’s great, always nice to get a win.”
So, to answer those birthday questions:
Best single game for hitter on his birthday: That has to go to Nomar Garciaparra who on his 29th birthday in 2002 hit three home runs and drove in eight at Fenway Park against the then Tampa Bay Devil Rays. The Devil Rays actually led 4–0 going into the third inning, and the Red Sox scored 10 — Garciaparra hit two home runs in the inning. Boston ended up winning 22–4.
Best career birthday hitter: You could make an argument for Alex Rodriguez, who hit six home runs on his birthday, most in baseball history. Mark Belanger, weirdly, hit .458 in the 10 games he played on his birthday, so he might have made the biggest transformation. But I would say the greatest is 1970s slugger Jason Thompson who in nine birthday games hit .500/.576/.964 with four home runs, 14 runs and 14 RBIs.
Best pitching performance on his birthday: It’s hard to argue against Warren Spahn’s performance in 1951 on his 30th birthday — he pitched 15 2/3 innings in Brooklyn and allowed one earned run. Unfortunately, he gave up a walk-off single to Carl Furillo in the 16th after third baseman Gene Mauch (!) booted a ground ball. So I guess that turned out to be a lousy birthday.
Instead, we’ll go with Marcelino Lopez, a pitcher from Cuba who in 1966 — on his 23rd birthday — threw the best game of his career. He faced the Baltimore Orioles, who would sweep the Dodgers in the World Series just two weeks later. And Lopez was electric. He threw a three-hit shutout and struck out 12, which was the third-highest strikeout total for any American League pitcher that year.
Best career birthday pitcher: Sad Sam Jones pitched the most games on his birthday, with nine. Maybe that’s why he was sad. Bobo Newsome won the most games on his birthday with five. But the best birthday pitcher might have been my old pal Mike Boddicker, who started three times on his birthday, won all three, had a 1.57 ERA for birthday starts and did it with absolutely NOTHING. I say that with great affection; Bod knows. Rod Carew once said of him: “My wife throws out better garbage than he does.” Kirby Puckett once shouted at Boddicker — mid-swing, no less — “Throw it like a man!” Boddicker won 134 big league games and an ERA title anyway. And he was unbeatable on his birthday.
Tango and Bill on the pitcher win
Me: So, let’s try something crazy. We’ve all heard about (or led) efforts to eliminate the pitcher win. That doesn’t seem likely to happen. We’ve all heard about (or led) efforts to change the pitcher win entirely. People don’t seem to keen on that kind of change.
So, my question: Can we, with a relatively easy adjustment or two, fix the pitcher win?
Bill James: There are really two problems with the current system … two main problems. One is that a relief pitcher can position himself to claim a win by surrendering runs (the Chris Sale/Craig Kimbrel situation from last week). The other is that a pitcher who appears in the game only briefly can be credited with the win in preference to a pitcher who contributes more to the effort. I think that those are the two problems that you have to solve. The other problems with the system are minor, and we can live with them.
Me: The fundamental issue, it seems to me, is that the win has been geared around TIMING rather than PERFORMANCE. For some reason, years ago, people decided that WHEN THE RUNS ARE SCORED is the signature question surrounding the win.
Bill: That’s true, I suppose, but it’s more thought than went into it at the time. The rules are written as they are because it was easy.
Tom Tango: I agree with the points here: (1) It’s a decision between timing and performance; (2) No thought was given to the choice.
Me: So is there an easy way to change this?
Tom: If we want to start with simple fixes, then take care of the simple things. You can’t have the guy blow the lead and become eligible for the win because of that.
Bill: I would be opposed to advocating ANY alternative without researching it first. Before I advocated ANY solution, I want to know how it’s going to affect the won-loss record for Whitey Ford, and how it’s going to affect Sandy Koufax, and how it’s going to affect Bob Gibson and Catfish Hunter and Rollie Fingers and Dan Quisenberry and Greg Maddux and Jim Kaat and everybody else. Also, before I advocate any solution, I want to look at 200 or 300 games in which it changes the winning pitcher and confirm in my own mind that those are reasonable.
Tom: Yes, whatever we propose, in terms of being serious has to be tested. We have to first get to a place of showing all the case where the win was given to the “wrong” guy, in anyone’s definition. Once you admit the problem, then we can solve the problem. But you have to show how it’s broken.
Me: Hey, that’s what I’m doing with the Pitcher Win Scoreboard! You know, one idea I’d love to tinker with is making any eligible starting pitcher — that is, a starter who goes at least five innings — the pitcher of record for every game that doesn’t go into extra innings. I think that offers a nod to history (the five-inning rule) and I think it’s reasonable because the starter will have always pitched more than half the game. But I don’t know how that would test out.
Tom: Go find the story of Patrick Roy and his backup. In hockey, they give the win based on the final score, and who the goalie was when the +1 goal was scored. So if the game was 5–3, it’s whoever was in goal when the fourth goal was scored. Patrick Roy left the game with the lead of two goals, I think. His backup gave up a goal. His team scored another goal. Anyway when the game was over, the +1 goal was scored with his backup. Roy destroyed a TV.
Me: Well, I think that sums things up. We keep the rule the same, but the pitchers who get vultured out of a win are allowed to destroy a TV.
Intentional Walks Today
— In the Cincinnati-Milwaukee game, Cincinnati intentionally walked Orlando Arcia with a runner on second and the Reds down 9–3. Intentional walks down 9–3 are particularly offensive. Cody Reed promptly walked the pitcher to load the bases.
— In the Texas-Minnesota game, the the Rangers were ahead 7–3 and had runners on second and third. The Twins ordered an intentional walk to Rougned Odor to load the bases. Intentional walks down 7–3 are not QUITE as offensive as 9–3, but they’re still plenty putrid. Ryan Rua promptly and rightly hit a grand slam home run.
Those were the only two intentional walks of the day.
Intentional walk grade for Wednesday: A.