Hopefully Bagwell is thinking wistfully about what hitting in Fenway Park instead of the Astrodome would have been like. (Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images)
Games of Note: Dutch Leonard and the Boston Red Sox are taking on the St. Louis Browns on August 30, 1916. Leonard throws a no-hitter, but sadly does so two years before Baseball-Reference has game logs that would allow me to tell you just how things went down. The 24-year-old Leonard posted a 2.36 ERA that season, which sounds ridiculously impressive, but was in actuality just 17 percent better than the average. He had led the AL with a 0.96 ERA two years prior, far more the elite speed of the day.
Fast-forward to 1918 -- where there mercifully are game logs -- and we see Carl Mays pitching and winning both games of a doubleheader against the Athletics. Mays throws a complete game in the first content, which Boston takes 12-0, then another complete game in the second, where the slacker totally gave up a run that time.
All told, Mays tossed 18 innings, struck out five, walked two, allowed the one run, and scattered 13 hits. He faced 68 batters in one day, and lived to tell the tale. It was a different game back in 1918, and pitchers didn't throw quite the same way as they do now.
Transactions: On this day in 1990, the Boston Red Sox acquired relief pitcher Larry Andersen from the Houston Astros, in exchange for Jeff Bagwell. Andersen was an elite reliever, and threw well in the 22 innings he contributed to Boston, but Bagwell as the price was just too much. And that's not said with hindsight, either.
Bagwell was 22 years old, at Double-A New Britain in the Eastern League. To set the stage for you, the average Eastern League player at the time was 23.6 years old, and hit all of .250/.318/.344. The Eastern League was a pitcher's league, and Beehive Field, where the Double-A Sox team played, was a pitcher's park. Bagwell, in this environment where everyone was against him and any kind of success he could have, produced a .333/.422/.457 line with 45 extra-base hits.
Bagwell was a third baseman at the time, something the Sox had, and they also had another first base prospect, the position Bagwell would transfer to, in Mo Vaughn, who was already in Pawtucket at that time. (But, for the record, performed worse at New Britain the year before as a 21-year-old than Bagwell did.) That's no excuse to deal an up-and-coming prospect in a breakout year for a relief pitcher that was a one-month rental, though. Even if Bagwell hadn't become a Hall of Famer caliber first baseman, it's just not a good way to use your assets. Imagine the Red Sox in contention right now, and in order to bolster their bullpen before the month ends, they deal Jackie Bradley -- in the midst of his own breakout campaign and eventual top 100 placement -- for a reliever with an expiring contract, and feel fine about it because there are other outfield prospects and Jacoby Ellsbury around. That's pretty much what this was.
Bagwell would rank as the #32 prospect by Baseball America before the 1991 season, and rather than return to the minors, posted a 139 OPS+ in his rookie campaign with Houston. That was superior to Red Sox first baseman Carlos Quintana (114), and on the same level as future Hall of Famer and third baseman Wade Boggs (140). Boggs, by the way, was 33 years old, and a year away from free agency. But hey, the Red Sox got a reliever out of it. And Boston got to watch Scott Cooper be both an inferior prospect and corner infielder as part of the deal, too.
Was there any way to predict Bagwell would be a high-quality major-league hitter? Bill James, current Red Sox employee, didn't seem to have a problem pegging him as such. James listed Bagwell with a higher projected batting average than Tony Gwynn in the Stats 1991 Major League Handbook. Bagwell went one better than that, finishing his career at .297/.408/.540 with a 149 OPS+ and as possibly one of the five or so greatest first basemen in the history of baseball, despite calling it a career at 37 due to injury. Not too shabby.
Birthdays: There was a part of me that was happier not knowing that Jeff Bagwell was traded on Ted Williams' birthday. The Splendid Splinter would be 94 years old today. Williams passed away in Florida at the age of 83 back in 2002.