(Poor) Bob Darnell, 1955 Bowman

1955 Bowman, Bob Darnell

I amuse myself in imagining how on one early crisped, freshly mown morn during the spring training session of 1955 some nameless Bowman photographer likely set up his tripod and checked his Logaphot light “extinction” meter—unawares he was about to lose his job later that year in what would be a monopolistic harbinger in the acquisition of Bowman by the notorious Topps company. But before that happened, this Kodak-wielding idealist spectacularly captured the magical moment wherein Bob Darnell defied the laws of physics and threw his fastball so fast that it subsequently vanished in flames and traveled the way of a nuclear-powered, time-bending DeLorean. And now—nearly sixty years later—it just crashed straight through the television screen!

That’s not all: Bob’s career stats also boast a lossless pitching record during his time in the majors. On the other hand, Darnell’s time in the show was so brief that he never won a game either. Yes, that’s right: poor Bob held an 0-0 record during his two-year stint with the Brooklyn Dodgers, the team who subsequently up and left town for sunny California by 1958.

Darnell’s minor league numbers tell a slightly different story. After playing roughly nine years and almost exclusively in AAA, kicking around from St. Paul to L.A. to Montreal and elsewhere, he amassed 778 strikeouts. Sure, his career ERA of 4.06 wasn’t exactly exemplary, but to have experienced that rush of fanning so many batters must count for something, right?

In any case, with the 1956 season—his second and last time called up from the minors to play for Brooklyn—Darnell only pitched one major league game (indeed, only “1.1” innings), during which he failed to strike out any batters and then allowed a hit.

But he tried, didn’t he? Goddamn it! At least he did that.

♦ ♦ ♦

Bob Darnell major league and minor league info and stats found at Baseball-reference.com.

Image courtesy of COMC.com.


Ephemera Found When You Move, Part III: Nolan Ryan Signed Baseball

Signed Nolan Ryan Ball--after the family dog had his way with it

Please humor me for a moment to follow (and perhaps check) my math here: according to Major League Baseball’s sanctified Official Baseball Rules, the distance from home plate to the pitcher’s plate at the mound is 60 feet and 6 inches or 60.5 feet. Now this means when Nolan Ryan hurled his fastest recorded pitch at 100.9 miles per hour in an official major league game that it took all of .408 of one second for the ball to travel from the origin of the mound to the destination of home plate.[1] You may also note that this time is not far off from the average blink of the human eye.

So while the length of time that the featured Nolan Ryan autographed baseball (above) remained in mint condition certainly exceeds that of Ryan’s official fastest pitch, this particular piece of memorabilia nonetheless existed in pristine form for a still relatively brief period.

The story goes that my physician father-in-law received the autographed ball as one of those curious gifts given by some traveling pharmaceutical salesperson. And whatever you may feel about that particular, perfectly legal and not uncommon practice and the lamentable ethics of the broader pharmaceutical industry, I can say with confidence in knowing this discriminating man (my father-in-law, that is, not the traveling pharmaceutical salesperson) that he more than likely said “why, thank you very much—that’s very generous,” while in the same breath, “but no thank you to that worthless poison you’re peddling.”

My father-in-law couldn’t care less about baseball or Nolan Ryan, though, so he in turn gave the signed ball to his teenage daughter (my future partner-in-crime). At the time, she was an avid sports enthusiast, immersed in all manner of scores and statistics, nightly basking in the glow of broadcasts from the soon-to-be imperial ESPN. In fact, she even once attended a Texas Rangers and New York Yankees baseball game.

This inked orb of ephemeral memorabilia did not remain long in her possession, however, before a younger sibling (of yet fully developed capacity for appreciating material values) looked up towards a lofty bedroom display shelf and gazed upon said perched orb. Of course, the first thought that popped into this young child’s noggin proved just too tempting to resist: now isn’t that the perfect little bauble for me to throw and to catch and to play with—with my dog. Thus shortly thereafter Nolan Ryan’s still freshly scrawled autograph met with much smudged and slobbered disaster in the jaws of the family dog. . . .

But the ball survived just fine, albeit a bit lopsided, smeared, and worse the wear.

[1] After much nocturnal, numeric agony and my own feeble math skills, the calculations first require conversion from mph to ftps, or miles per hour to feet per second; hence 100.9 is multiplied by 5280, since 5280 feet equal one mile, and then that product of 532752 is divided by the 3600 seconds that comprise one hour. This yields 147.986 ft./sec. Given this rate, then divide the distance of 60.5 feet by 147.986 ft./sec. (as t = d/r, or time = distance/rate), all to arrive at the .408 seconds travel time.


Poor Nolan–or Poor Koosman



Jerry Koosman was a pretty darn good pitcher in his own right: two-time All-Star, career strikeout total of over 2,500, and a World Series championship. Of course he shared that 1969 World Series victory on the Miracle Mets with the same fellow he shared some space with on his 1968 Topps rookie card–Nolan Ryan. Now I’m not exactly sure about the mentality involved in the destruction (or “damage,” as the online auction descriptions put it with such fine understatement for both of these artifacts) of a Nolan Ryan rookie card. Suffice to say, though, that Koosman certainly looks to have suffered for the worse in this cardboard havoc; in fact, he’s not even present in the first.

And if pressed, my personal favorite would have to be the uppermost example–especially since Nolan is now an “Ookie Star”!

*SABR entry for Jerry Koosman.

The Literary Stylings of Sad Sam Jones, et al.

After retiring from an epic career (especially for a pitcher) in major league baseball, Sam Jones took it upon himself to continue as a productive citizen of the world. He remained an active figure in “the country of baseball,” charitably devoted his time with children on the field, and, apparently, took a liking to poetry.

In the entry for Sam Jones, the SABR Baseball Biography Project includes this piece and attributes it to Jones:

Baseball is but a Game of Life

First base of Egotism, Second base of overconfidence,
Third base of indifference, Home Plate of honest achievement.

A good many men lose by reason of pop-flies;
the short-stop of public opinion frequently nips short the
career of a man who fails to connect with the ball of life
with a good sound wallop.

The winner is the man who knocks the horse-hide of opportunity
loose with the bat of honest effort.

When you  have batted for the last, made the rounds of the bases
and successfully negotiated home-plate,
may we hope to hear the Umpire of LIFE, which after all,
is the esteem of friends and acquaintances,
call to you that you’re safe.

Well. . . . I’m not sure if it’s my favorite baseball poem, but I applaud the effort. On the other hand, I really do admire the following poem from The Glory of Their Times (1966) in the preface for the chapter contributed by none other than Sam Jones, coincidentally (or not). However timeless it may or may not be in terms of style and tone, the sentiment expressed–indeed lamented–holds relevance to this day. Perhaps it’s even more relevant now in this watchful era of pitch counts where fragile pitching arms are micromanaged oh so delicately.

How dear to my heart was the old-fashioned hurler

   Who labored all day on the old village green.

He did not resemble the up-to-date twirler

   Who pitches four innings and ducks from the scene.

The up-to-date twirler I’m not very strong for;

   He has a queer habit of pulling up lame.

And that is the reason I hanker and long for

   The pitcher who started and finished the game.

The old-fashioned pitcher,

   The iron-armed pitcher,

The stout-hearted pitcher,

   Who finished the game.


Untitled poem by George E. Phair.

The Shtick Players Say, Part One: Strasburg’s “Cheese” . . . or “Huddy’s” South’n Drawl

“Well, ya-know, we don’t gitta help ourselves too often. And, uh, ya-know, heesa—heesa young—young stud right-hander who throws sum’ cheese. And, um, ya-know, Auy—Auy’ve been known ta git that bat hit out, a little bit.” [Chuckles.] “Auy admit: Auy enjoy it.”

—Atlanta Braves pitcher Tim Hudson (“Huddy”), still glowing weeks after an unlikely two-base-hit game off Washington Nationals pitcher Steven Strasburg

Strasburg vs Hudson

In a way, almost all baseball cards are made from wood. However, only one of these two cards is made from un-pulped wood. Can you guess which one?