By Hal McCoy
UNSOLICITED OBSERVATIONS from The Man Cave wondering why Santa Claus delivered a lump of coal, even though I left him cookies and bourbon and he parrtook of both.
—This is a Christmas Story for Cincinnati Reds fans. . .a Steve Christmas story.
A fan has to be bleeding Cincinnati red, and bleeding profusely, to remember Steve Christmas. He was here and gone in a wisp.
His nickname, of course, was ‘Tree”, and he was a catcher with the Reds in 1983, Johnny Bench’s last year, the year Bench tried to play third base. Christmas appeared in 19 games and was 1 for 17 (.083),
The Minnesota Twins tried to sign him out of Colonial High School in Orlando, Fla., in 1975, where he not only played baseball but was an ambidextrous quarterback who threw for 2,000 yards and 26 touchdowns.
The baseball coach was former Reds pitcher Hershell Freeman. The Twins offered him a $2,500 bonus and $500 a month to sign, but the scout told him they didn’t consider him a major league prospect as a third baseman/pitcher.
“He actually told me, ‘We don’t think you can play in the big leagues,’” said Christmas.
Christmas didn’t sign. Instead he went to Southwestern Oklahoma State University. As a favor to Hershell Freeman, the Reds gave him a tryout and signed him. . .and immediately turned him into a catcher.
Christmas languished in the minors for several year. In 1983, he hit .400 during spring training but the Reds dispatched him back to Triple-A Indianapolis. Frustrated, he yelled at manager Russ Nixon and general manager Dick Wagner. Next thing he knew he was on loan to the Houston Colt .45s as a minor league catcher.
Eventually, he was returned to the Reds and was called up from Double-A Waterbury in September of 1983. In his first major league at bat, Chicago Cubs closer Lee Smith struck him out on three pitches.
“Did he throw hard? Yeah, those pitches were real hard. He blew the ball by me and I ain’t never seen anything like ‘em,” said Christmas.”
His only hit was a single off Jeff Lahti of the St. Louis Cardinals and the Reds traded him to the Chicago White Sox after the season.
And that’s where Christmas got his revenge for the insult the Twins scout laid on him. In September of 1984, Christmas pinch-hit for starting catcher Marc Hill and hit a three-run home run to beat the Twins, his only major league home run.
He batted 11 times for the White Sox in 1984 and nine times in 1986, but at least he had a cup of coffee in the majors. . .and that’s another Reds story — pitcher Todd Coffey.
Anyway, Merry Christmas, Christmas, wherever you are.
—Wise words from Terry Pluto of cleveland.com on the angst Cleveland Browns fans are displaying over all the scenarios involving the Browns making or missing the playoffs: “. . .in the name of Paul Brown why can’t everyone take a deep breath and enjoy the season.” (If the Browns lose Sunday to the 1-and-13 New York Jets, they don’t deserve a playoff spot.)
—When was the last time a University of Kentucky basketball team began a season 1-and-5? Well, it was before Adolph Rupp coached the team. It was when they still had the center jump after every basket. It was 33 years before Alaska and Hawaii became states.
It was their 1926-27 season. The Wildcats, under Basil Hayden, finished 3-and-13. Adolph Rupp, the Baron of the Bluegrass who always wore a brown suit, took over in 1930.
Does anybody else think that UK coach John Calipari’s one-and-done recruiting method is catching up to him?
—QUOTE: From former Kentucky coach Adolph Rupp: “I know I have plenty of enemies, but I’d rather be the most-hated winning coach in the country than the most-popular losing one.” (Which category are UK fans placing John Calipari right now?)
—Sinclair Community College isn’t playing baseball this season, but the Tartan Pride’s reputation precedes it. They are ranked 11th in the National Junior College Athletic Association Division II pre-season poll.
Eleventh? Looks as if Dabo Swinney swayed the vote.
—Why the designated hitter rule stinks. Back in 1964, New York Yankees pitcher Mel Stottelmyre had five hits in a game against the Washington Senators.
That will never happen again. Pitchers rarely pitch five innings, let alone bat five times.
And maybe there should be an asterisk next to Stottlemyre’s five hits. They did come against the Washington Senators, a team so bad that their slogan was, “Washington — first in war, first in peace and last in the American League.”
—Stuff that Hall of Fame pitcher Greg Maddux did during his career continues to fascinate me. For example, in 1997 game he pitched a complete game with 78 pitches, 63 for strikes.
Perhaps he was tearing a page from Cleveland pitcher Addie Joss’s book on how to pitch. Joss pitched a perfect game in 1908 against the Chicago White Sox and used 74 pitches.
The game took 1 hours and 32 minutes and the losing pitcher was Big Ed Walsh, who was 39-and-15 that season.
—QUOTE: From Cy Young on Addie Joss: “Addie Joss was a great man and I’m certain he never had an enemy.” (Well, just the White Sox hitters during that perfect game.)
—What do former relief pitchers John Franco and Kent Tekulve have in common, other than they both once pitched for the Cincinnati Reds?
Both appeared in more than 1,000 games without ever starting one. Franco holds the record with 1,119 relief appearances with no starts. Tekulve appeared in relief 1,050 times with no starts.
—QUOTE: From former major league catcher/broadcaster/humorist Bob Uecker, who took a bat to home plate for no apparent reason: “I led the league in teammates telling me, ‘Go get ‘em next time.’”
—Hall of Fame second baseman Nellie Fox is remembered for having the biggest tobacco chaw in history in his cheek while he played for the Chicago White Sox and choking up a couple of inches on his bat.
He choked on the bat, but not on his chaw, and displayed amazing bat control. He played for 19 seasons and never struck out more than 18 times in a season. And in 12 of those seasons he made more than 600 plate appearances.
No, he never heard of analytics or launch angle or the Three True Outcomes.
—QUOTE: From Hall of Fame second baseman Nellie Fox: “No one had to tell me I was never going to be a home run hitter. I was hitting the same ball as the rest of the players, but when the big guys cracked one, it went out of the park. Mine went out of the infield.”
—If JuJu Smith-Schuster no longer will dance on the mid-field logos before NFL games, perhaps he can take his act to Dancing With the Stars.
Right now, playing with the Pittsburgh Steelers, he isn’t dancing with too many stars.