Every team has its share of "bad" players. Some of these players are easy targets, kicked around by the crowds. Some are pitied, like a formerly good player at the end of the line. And some "bad" players are loved by the fans. Loved, maybe, because they aren't superstars, but are plucky enough, or charismatic enough, or just strange enough to win their way into our hearts.
Here's a look around the Toaster at some of our favorite "bad" players.
Cliff Corcoran: Alvaro Espinoza. Espinoza was the Yankees' starting shortstop from 1989-1991, the worst three-year stretch in franchise history since before Babe Ruth. Espinoza couldn't hit a lick (.255/.281/.318 over his three years as a Yankee starter), but coming on the heals of Rafael Santana (.240/.294/.289 in '88), Wayne Tollison (.245/.280/.316 in '86 and '87), and Bobby Meacham (.233/.293/.306 in '84 and '85), that didn't much matter.
What did was his defense. Espinoza could pick it at short and had an absolute cannon for an arm (in August 1991 the Yankees used him to record the final two outs of a 14-5 loss to the White Sox, which he did, retiring Tim Raines and Robin Ventura in order).
The advanced stats bear it out. He posted Rate2s of 108, 112 and 110 in his three years as the Yankee shortstop. Espinoza's defense was so good that it actually made him a valuable player. At the plate, he was 31 runs below average for his position in his three seasons as the Yankee shortstop, but he saved 44.5 runs more than the average shortstop in the field over the same period. On a Yankee team that lost 273 games over three seasons, that was enough.
But there was more. Espinoza was funny looking. He wore oversized glasses, sported a dreadful cop moustache, and perched his hat on top of his head so that the front of the crown stood stiff and tall in the Rick Honeycutt style. He also looked like he cut his hair with a flowbee. Thick and black, it was too long to be a buzz cut, but too short and even in length to be anything else. Phil Rizzuto, at the time still the greatest Yankee shortstop of them all and a master bunter in his day, was absolutely infatuated with Espinoza's game, which included 23 perfectly placed sac bunts in 1989, good for second in the American League. Scooter would praise him endlessly during WPIX telecasts.
Meanwhile, Yankee PA announcer Bob Sheppard listed "ahl-VAH-roh eh-spee-NO-sa" as one of his all-time favorite names to say.
The Yankees released Espinoza in spring training of 1992, clearing the way for Andy Stankiewicz, Randy Velarde, Spike Owen, Mike Gallego and Tony Fernandez to fill the gap between him and Derek Jeter. Espinoza was quickly snatched up by the Indians and, after a year in the minors in '92, played another six years in the major leagues, picking up a hit in the 1995 World Series against the Braves before retiring after the 1997 season as a 35-year-old eleven-year veteran.
Couldn't have happened to a better "bad" player.
Mike Carminati: I, too, loved how Sheppard said Alvaro Espinosa. It reminded me of local legend Dave Zinkoff's (whose microphone was retired by the Sixers) delivery of Andrew Tooooo-ney.
My favorite "bad" player is a hard one since the Phils have had so many. Least favorite is easy: Steve Jeltz. He embodied everything wrong about the Phils and how their fans' sights could so easily be set so low. I am reminded of a number of old Phils: Greg Gross, Tommy Hutton, Little Louie Aguayo, Gene Garber, Warren Bru Brusstar, Richie "The Hack" Hebner, Jerry Martin, Downtown Ollie Brown, Crazy Jay Johnstone, John and George Vukovich, Larry Andersen, Jose Cardenal, Barry Foote, Marty Bystrom, Bob Whirleybird Walk, Nino Espinosa, Bobby Keith Moreland, Lenny Matuszek, Bobby White Lightning Dernier, Tomas Perez...But I digress.
If I had to narrow it down to two players--I can't do one--they would be Del Unser and Joe Lefebrve, two role players who seemed so clutch (at least before I was told there was no such thing).
Leferbrve was acquired from the Padres for the pathetic Sid Monge early in the 1983 season. The Wheeze Kid Phils (Pete Rose, Tony Perez, Joe Morgan, etc.) were floundering at the time. Lefebrve seemed to energize them. He batted .310 with an OPS 57% better than the park-adjusted league average (one point higher than Mike Schmidt that year). It seemed every game I watched that year featured Lefebrve driving in the winning run either as a pinch-hitter or as a spot starter (he of the lefty bat). Not only that, Lefebrve would play third and was the emergency catcher (3 games). He was like Super Joe McEwing on steroids, so to speak.
Unser has a special spot in my heart because of his heroics late in the 1980 season and in the playoffs. He had the key hit in the deciding game of the 1980 NLCS, driving in the winning run. In game two of the Series he doubled in the eighth to start a come-from-behind rally against closer Dan Quisenberry. Then in game 5, with the score tied in the ninth, he again doubled off of Quisenberry and scored the winning run. He also set a record by hitting three consecutive pinch-hit home runs in 1979. He batted over .300 as a pinch hitter in 1979 and 1980. He could play any of the outfield positions plus first. And he, too, batted lefty.
Cliff: I remember Aguayo coming to the Yanks during those down years. I also remember Cardenal fondly for being the Yanks' first base coach and El Duque conduit during the peak of the '90s dynasty, and for his afro on his old topps cards. People forget this now, but the Luis Sojo fascination emerged after the Yanks got rid of Cardenal and Torre needed a mentor for the Latin Yankees to fill his shoes.
Mike: Aguayo was great: he would bat .250 but would get on these streaks where he'd pop a few homers in a week coming off the bench. He once had about a dozen home runs but it seemed he had 6 or 7 grand slams. I wanted the Phils to start him in front of Jeltz when they decided to trade him to the Yanks.
Cardenal had a great 'fro. His cap and batting helmet were always perched on top, though the helmet sank a bit deeper. He also had a great stance and would sort of bounce on his heals in the batter's box. There was one bad aftertaste in his career though when he went to the Royals and faced the Phils in the '80 Series. By the time he was a Yankees coach, he looked about fifty years older and, I believe, lost the 'fro.
By the way, I thought more about this and there were some bad players to whom I had some sort of personal connection that made me root for them more than anything they did on the field. They are:
Steve Adkins--I lived across the hall from him my sophomore year at Penn. He was a nice guy and was studying meteorology. His record was something like 0-6 with a 5+ ERA and it was his senior year at a school with no baseball street cred, so after I lost touch with him, I assumed he was a weatherman in Wichita or something. Then all of sudden he was on the Yankees and pitched two-thirds of a perfect game. That was his only claim to fame, though.
Cliff Brantley--He was the son of my father-in-law's assistant, which made me follow his brief and uneventful career.
Ron Villone--I was in the outfield bleachers for a Phils-Padres game in the mid-nineties, seated just behind a section of Villone's friends. Every time he got up in the pen, they went nuts. I remember cheering for the guy myself by the time he was called into the game it was so infectious. I remember thinking at the time that the guy's cup of coffee in the majors was almost emptied, but he's put together a decent career since, and I always think about that game when I see him.
Rico Brogna--Back in the mid-Nineties, I was living in Forest Hills, Queens, and could see Shea from my balcony and could actually hear the sucking sound the stadium emitted, according to Dave Letterman. Back in those days, Mets tickets were easy to come by: they were so unpopular that I could get free tickets whenever I wanted from relative's offices, where the tickets usually went unused--I didn't care if the Mets sucked: I actually liked it.
I went one night, when the Phils were in town, and I believe Brogna had just been traded to them by the Mets (or maybe it was before the trade). I had tickets right behind the dugout on the first base side and made sure to get there early enough to see batting practice. The guy sitting next to me kept screaming for Rico to come over. He was a maniac. Finally, Brogna came over--apparently the guy was some sort of acquaintance. He hung out with the guy for a good 10-15 minutes and seemed very nice. Then he had to go back to work.
For the rest of the game, the guy was screaming for a free ball whenever one came Brogna's way. Brogna was good natured about it and did give him one at some point. But the guy was an incredible schivoso and any attention from Brogna would just escalate it. I couldn't help feeling bad for Brogna and even as he became an incredible drag on the Phils lineup for years, I always liked the guy, not to mention "Rico Suave".
Derek Smart: This reminds me of a conversation that a friend of mine and I have at least once a year about which players it would be fun to have a jersey for. The idea being that you would get a jersey for your favorite team, then pick some obscure player from their past and put their name and number on it, thus rendering you automatically cool.
They would have to be someone you could have seen play in your lifetime, they would have to be someone you actually had an affinity for, and best of all, they would have to have a unique name. This avoids the embarassment of having the jersey of, say, former Cub near-co-ROY Dwight Smith, and having someone assume that it was meant to be Lee Smith. Dwight Smith=cool. Lee Smith=not as cool.
I've always leaned toward Doug Dascenzo. I actually saw him play quite a bit, and I liked him a lot. I knew it didn't bode well when he got into too many games--he was basically a starter in the outfield in 1992 despite hitting .255/.304/.311, which was tied for his career high in batting average--but he was one of those dirty uniform guys, and even if he wasn't very good, he had great energy and was a lot of fun to watch.
Besides, he came in as an emergency pitcher four times in his career, and came up with a line of 5 IP, 3 H, 0 R, 2 BB, 2 SO. His K/BB stank, but boy that's a nice hit rate....
I also noticed that he was listed at 5'8" and 160 lbs. My memory tells me that's an overestimation, and that Eddie Gaedel would have been able to slip into his uniform and be comfortable, but perhaps I'd best demure to higher authorities on this point.
Jon Weisman: I figure my favorite bad player would have to be a home-grown Dodger that didn't make it in the bigs. Several come to mind, including the winner of last year's "Most Obscure but Memorable Dodger" contest, the second Mike Ramsey. There's Little Chad Fonville, Garey Ingram, Eddie Pye. Basically, guys who weren't good enough to survive, but didn't hurt your feelings on the way out.
But right now, I feel I have to go with Lemmie Miller, who went 2 for 12 with a walk in his only MLB action, around 1984. I always thought "Lemmie" was a great name for a baseball player. How can you not like a guy who begs to play the moment he says his name? How can you not like imagining the outfield hijinx when someone wants him to make the play, saying, "Lemmie take it"?
Ken Arneson: I guess my favorite bad player has to be Mike Gallego. The guy couldn't hit a lick (although he did have a decent OBP at his peak), but he sure was fun to watch in the field, flinging his little 5'8" (if that) body all over the place.
Cliff: I quite enjoyed Gallego on the Yanks. One of the best double plays I ever saw live was Gallego to Pat Kelly to Mattingly (classic Mattingly scoop). MSG used that in every highlight package they ran for the next few years.
Alex Belth: I was partial to Dan Pasqua and Mike Pagliarulo when they were on the Yanks in the mid '90s. But I don't know if they qualify as bad players. They weren't too bad.
Earlier, I loved Fran Healy in his last year in New York, but that was simply because he was one of the few guys on the 1977 team who actually liked, never mind tolerated, Reggie Jackson. Later on, I read how Healy was such a lazy bastard that he refused to warm up pitchers in the bullpen.
Now, that's my kind of crappy player. Can't get in a game, and the good for nothing slob didn't even want to help out in the pen.