Sunday Notes: Buck Showalter Admired Don Cooper’s Curveball (and Mo’s Cutter)

Don Cooper’s playing career wasn’t anyhing to write home about. The longtime Chicago White Sox pitching coach made 44 appearances, and threw 85-and-a-third innings, for the Twins, Blue Jays, and Yankees from 1981-1985. His won-lost record was an undistinguished 1-6, his ERA an untenable 5.27. The bulk of his time was spent down on the farm.

He did have a good Uncle Charlie.

“Coop had one of the best curveballs I ever saw,” said Showalter, who was Cooper’s teammate for a pair of Double-A seasons. “He had one of those curveballs you could hear coming out of the hand. We used to call it ‘the bowel locker’ — it would lock your bowels up. He’d sit in the dugout between outings, and all he’d do is flip a ball; he was always trying to get the right spin on it. You could hear it snap. Man, could he spin a curveball. Holy [crap]. It was tight.”

Showalter chose not to compare Cooper’s curveball to that of any particular pitchers, but he did throw out some names when I asked who else stood out for the quality of his hook.

Scott Sanderson had a great curveball,” said Showalter. “Dwight Gooden had a great curveball; you could hear that one coming. Jimmy Key had a great curveball, although his was bigger. Mike Mussina used to invent pitches. One common thing about all those pitchers is that they had a great hand. If you said that to a scout, he’d know exactly what you were talking about. Mariano Rivera had a great hand. He could manipulate the ball. David Cone had a great hand. Curt Schilling. Kevin Millwood is another. He could do things with a baseball; his hands were huge.”

Asked to elaborate, Showalter explained that scouts will look at the length of a pitcher’s fingers, as well as his arm, forearm to wrist. Suppleness is an asset, but so too is the right form of rigidity. Baseball’s all-time-best closer is a classic example.

“Mariano had a really stiff, lateral wrist,” Showalter told me. “He had a thick wrist. It’s one of the reasons he had a great cutter. He could throw through the baseball with his fingers without getting around it. And you don’t find that. Quit looking for it, because you’re not going to find that combination — how long he was from elbow to wrist, how long his fingers were, how great his [supination] was. And it was easy velocity.”

As many know, Rivera also possessed a quality he never got to display in a big-league game.

“He was the best centerfielder we had in extended spring,” recalled Showalter, who tutored New York farmhands before going on to establish himself as a big-league manager. “Every Sunday I would let the pitchers play a game, and I remember saying,’If we ever don’t want to pitch his kid, man can he play centerfield.”

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Mike Elias came to Baltimore from Houston, and the perception that the Orioles have adopted certain Astros philosophies is largely true. It’s understandable that they would. Transgressions aside, Elias’s old organization has obviously done a lot of things right. Tainted or not, two World Series appearances in three years is nothing to sneeze at.

An American League East rival is serving as a meaningful influence as well. That fact presented itself when Elias addressed the recent deal that sent reliever Richard Bleier to the Miami Marlins in exchange for a PTBN.

“With the modern business of the game now, you look at a lot of clubs… like the team we’re playing [this weekend],” Elias told reporters on a Zoom call. “The Rays are very transactional. You’ve got to pick your times and cycle guys in, cycle guys out — keep the talent flow going. Yeah, we’re still at a point in our cycle where we’re going to prioritize stuffing the talent pipeline as much as possible in the minor leagues. Then the goal is to persist in that way once we have the talent-base filled in.”

In other words, expect roster fluidity beyond the rebuild. As for what Baltimore will be getting in return for Bleier, it will almost certainly be a prospect. The name itself will have to wait, baseball’s current circumstances being the reason why.

“This year, if you’re going to acquire a player who’s not in a club’s active-player pool, any trade needs to be structured that way,” explained the Orioles GM. “So obviously I can’t reveal what we might expect to receive, or what our options would be. At some point in time we’ll consummate the rest of the trade.”

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RANDOM HITTER-PITCHER MATCHUPS

Christian Colon is 3 for 5 against Josh Tomlin.

Christian Bethancourt 베탄코트 is 5 for 7 against Johnny Cueto.

Christian Walker is 5 for 11 against Clayton Kershaw.

Christian Vazquez is 10 for 14 against Alex Cobb.

Christian Yelich is 15 for 34 against Jacob deGrom.

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Lyon Richardson is one of the most-promising pitchers in the Cincinnati system. A third-round pick in 2018 out of a Florida high school. the 20-year-old right-hander not only ranks No. 6 on our Reds Top Prospects list, but the esteemed Eric Longenhagen also called him “a potential 2021 Top 100 arm.”

He’s no shrinking violet. Longenhagen’s writeup also described Richardson as “often emotional and demonstrative on the mound.”

Kyle Boddy doesn’t disagree.

“He’s a fiery kid between the lines,” said Cincinnati’s pitching coordinator. “He’s not disrespectful — he respects the game — but Lyon isn’t going to be a calm guy out there. That’s not who he is. He’s not a Kyle Hendricks. And there’s nothing wrong with that. He goes out there and competes.”

Last year he competed well. Toeing the rubber for the low-A Dayton Dragons as a 19-year-old, Richardson forged a more-than-solid 4.15 ERA over 112-and-two-thirds innings. Boddy put it this way: “Not many kids who can’t drink go to the Midwest league and pitch a full season like he did, and do that well.”

Especially when they’re relatively new to pitching. Richardson was an outfielder before moving to the mound just a handful of years ago. His mentality serves him well in that role, even if he does sometimes come off as a bit edgy.

“He was a hard nut to crack, early in spring training,” Boddy told me. “He’s got a little attitude, and a little swagger to him. He’s cognizant of the fact that he was pretty good at a young age, so it took a little bit to get through to him. But now Lyon and I have a really good relationship.”

For both parties, it was simply a matter of getting to know each other (Boddy is no shrinking violet himself.) Behind Richardson’s brash exterior is a thoughtful soul.

“What people don’t know about him is that he loves fishing, and he loves going to beautiful, unknown places on beaches,” explained Boddy. “He’s an avid traveler. Lyon has a serene side to him. He really does. It’s just that between the lines he’s the ultimate competitor. He’s got a little Max Scherzer to him that way. And he doesn’t apologize for it. I don’t think he should.”

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Pittsburgh’s Colin Moran had an MLB-best five home runs going into last night, and Boston’s Christian Vazquez was right behind, with four. Neither is your prototypical slugger, but both have become proponents of hitting the ball in the air.

“Obviously no one wants to hit the ball on the ground,” Moran told me late in the 2019 season. “Those are singles, maybe a double if you get lucky and hit it in the right place, or a triple if you’re really fast — which I’m not. All of the power is in the air. Everybody knows that now.”

“Christian used to be more of an opposite-field hitter,” Red Sox hitting coach Tim Hyers told me in another late-in-the-2019-season conversation.”He kind of got off his back side and used his hands a lot more. Now he’s in his legs and has created more of an arc swing plane, and learned how to get behind the ball better. I’ve always said that ‘Vasquey’ had sneaky power; he just didn’t ever use it that much in game action. Now he’s able to get to it, thanks to his swing change.”

Vazquez had a career-high 23 home runs last year. Moran had 13, also a career high.

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A quiz:

Who was the last position player to hit .400 while spending the entire season on a big-league roster?

The answer can be found below.

———

NEWS ITEMS

SoftBank Hawks southpaw Liván Moinelo has been NPB’s most-dominant reliever this season. The 24-year-old native of Cuba has a 0.95 ERA and 37 strikeouts in 19 innings. Reed Garrett has a 0.59 ERA in 15 relief appearances with the Seibu Lions. A 27-year-old right-hander, Garrett pitched in 13 games for the Detroit Tigers last year.

The SoftBank Hawks postponed today’s game with the Seibu Lions after outfielder Yuya Hasegawa tested positive for COVID-19. Per Jim Allen, it is NPB’s first postponement due to the virus.

John McNamara, who managed six big-league teams in a career that spanned nearly three decades, died earlier this week at age 88. A minor-league catcher during his playing days, McNamara is best known for skippering the Red Sox in their snake-bitten 1986 season.

Bert Thiel, who pitched in four games for the Boston Braves in 1952, died earlier this week at age 94. Del Crandall, 90, is now the only living member of the Boston Braves (per Peter Abraham of The Boston Globe.).

John “Bud” Fowler — an early Black baseball pioneer — has been selected as SABR’s Overlooked 19th Century Base Ball Legend of 2020. Fowler’s SABR bio can be found here.

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The answer to the quiz is Roger LaFrancois, who is celebrating his 63rd birthday today. A left-handed-hitting third-string catcher, LaFrancois had four hits in 10 at bats for the Boston Red Sox in 1982.

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Minor-league baseball lost on of its great ambassadors this past week when Lou Schwechheimer died of complications from COVID-19. Just 62 years old, Schwechheimer was the owner of the Wichita Wind Surge, the Triple-A affiliate of the Miami Marlins. His long time in the game included 37 years with the Pawtucket Red Sox.

Schwechheimer told me the following story in 2005 when he was Pawtucket’s general manager. The subject was Win Remmerswaal, a right-handed pitcher from The Hague, the Netherlands, who by all accounts is the most-colorful character in PawSox history.

“The first time Win got called up {in 1979], the big club was in Milwaukee and we went to his place to let him know,” Schwechheimer recalled. “It was eight o’clock in the morning and we had booked him a 10 o’clock flight. We knocked on the door, but there was no response. We changed his flight to noon and kept knocking. Still no response.

“Some time later, Julio Valdez pulls up in their rental car. It’s missing the front bumper and the windshield is broken. We ask Julio if he knows where Win is. He says, ‘Let’s go in and check.’ We walk into his bedroom and see two black socks sticking out from under the blanket. We said, ‘Win, is that you?’ He said, ‘Yeah, it’s me.’ We said, “We’ve been knocking for two hours; why didn’t you answer?’ He said, ‘I figured it was probably you, and that maybe I was getting called up, but if they really want me, they’d be willing to wait.’”

Remmerswaal’s big-league career consisted of 22 games comprising 55-and-two-thirds innings — all with Boston — between the 1979 and 1980 seasons. As for the veracity of Schwechheimer’s story, there is little doubt that it’s true. Remmerswaal’s antics are legendary in PawSox lore.

Schwechheimer is legendary as well. He’ll be missed.

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Left on the cutting-room floor from this week’s two-part interview with Andy McKay was his sharing of a quote that is typically attributed to Albert Einstein. The subject at hand was what can, and can’t, be quantified.

“Not everything that counts can be counted, and not everything that can be counted counts,” said Seattle’s Director of Player Development. “It’s incredibly valuable for coaches to understand that. It takes some wisdom to understand that.”

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LINKS YOU’LL LIKE

At Viva El Birdos, John LaRue took an early-season look at Cardinal pitch velocity and spin changes.

At The Japan Times, Jason Coskrey wrote about how the Seibu Lions are unbeatable when former A’s and Dodgers right-hander Zach Neal is on the mound.

Tom Gilbert wrote about ‘Baseball, Fathers, and Feminism’ at How Baseball Happened.

When Elaine Weddington Steward became an assistant GM with the Boston Red Sox in 1990, she was first woman in MLB ever to be promoted to that position, and only the second African-American. Gordon Edes talked to her for MLB.com.

FiveThirtyEight’s Travis Sawchik wrote about what a year off might do to baseball players’ skills.

———

RANDOM FACTS AND STATS

Mike Trout has 286 home runs, a .305 BA, and a .418 OBP.
Joey Votto has 286 home runs, a .306 BA, and a .421 OBP.

Willie Mays had 3,283 hits and 660 home runs.
Albert Pujols has 3,205 hits and 657 home runs.

Carl Everett had 1,304 hits and 2,220 total bases.
Jason Varitek had 1,307 hit and 2,220 total bases.

Don Baylor had 18 multi-homer games and 35 multi-steal games.

Pittsburgh Pirates first baseman Jake Beckley had 19 triples in five straight seasons (1891-1895). His yearly batting average over that stretch ranged from .236 to .345.

Cleveland Spiders second baseman Cupid Childs had four seasons with 100 or more walks and 20 and fewer strikeouts. He had a .434 OBP in his eight seasons as a Spider.

Fred Gladding recorded his only career hit on July 30, 1969. A right-handed reliever for the Detroit Tigers and Houston Astros, the Flat Rock, Michigan native had an .016/.016/.016 slash line in 68 plate appearances from 1961-1973. Hs lone hit came as part of an 11-run inning for the Astros — Gladding fanned in the same frame — against the New York Mets.

Cincinnati Reds catcher Willard Hershberger committed suicide on August 3, 1940. Hershberger, who suffered from depression, is the only MLB player known to have taken his own life during the season.

Branch Rickey hit two of his three career home runs on August 5 1906. The left-handed-hitting catcher did with the St. Louis Browns.

Players born on today’s date include War Sanders, who pitched in a dozen games for the St. Louis Cardinals in 1903 and 1904. A southpaw, Sanders went 2-8 with a 5.64 ERA.

We hoped you liked reading Sunday Notes: Buck Showalter Admired Don Cooper’s Curveball (and Mo’s Cutter) by David Laurila!

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David Laurila grew up in Michigan's Upper Peninsula and now writes about baseball from his home in Cambridge, Mass. He authored the Prospectus Q&A series at Baseball Prospectus from December 2006-May 2011 before being claimed off waivers by FanGraphs. He can be followed on Twitter @DavidLaurilaQA.

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pedeysRSox

You have Carl Everett’s hit total listed as 1.304 hits