Tuesday, May 22, 2012

All-Time Bluefield Team - Tom Phoebus

The 12th man on the All-Time Bluefield-to-the-Bigs Team pitching staff is Tom Phoebus. Adorned with an impressive unibrow, this 5-foot-8 righty won 43 games in a three-year stretch for his hometown Orioles and pitched a no-hitter. He grabs the 12th and final spot on the pitching staff.

Phoebus was born April 7, 1942 in Baltimore sharing a birthday with Adrian Beltre and Hall of Famers John McGraw and Bobby Doerr. Other MLBers from Baltimore include Al Kaline and of course, Babe Ruth. He attended Mount Saint Joseph's, the same B-More high school that produced Mark Teixeira, Gavin Floyd and Detroit Lions head coach Jim Schwartz.

At 18, Phoebus signed with the Orioles and reported to Bluefield. He went 6-5 with a 4.05 ERA. He worked his way up the Baltimore farm ranks, but couldn't crack the big league squad. There were often long apprenticeships in the minors back then, but Phoebus was stuck at Triple-A Rochester for three years from 1964-66 while going 32-26 with a 3.36 ERA. That was due to wildness. He pulled the Nuke LaLoosh double play by leading the Class C Northern League in both walks and strikeouts in 1962, then did it again in the International League in 1966 for Triple-A Rochester. He led the league in walks two other times, in the Double-A Eastern League in 1963 and the International League in 1964.

He finally got a shot with a September call-up and he made the most of it. In his major league debut against the Angels at Memorial Stadium, he pitched a complete-game four-hit shutout to outduel fellow former Bluefield pitcher Dean Chance 2-0. Brooks Robinson and Curt Blefary provided the offense with back-to-back homers to start the sixth inning and Phoebus did the rest as he struck out eight. Here are the best mound debuts by Game Score since 1918:

Rk Player Date Tm Opp Rslt App,Dec IP H R ER BB SO Pit GSc
1 Juan Marichal 1960-07-19 SFG PHI W 2-0 SHO9 ,W 9.0 1 0 0 1 12
2 Karl Spooner 1954-09-22 BRO NYG W 3-0 SHO9 ,W 9.0 3 0 0 3 15 143 93
3 Steve Woodard 1997-07-28 (1) MIL TOR W 1-0 GS-8 ,W 8.0 1 0 0 1 12 119 91
4 Jimmy Jones 1986-09-21 SDP HOU W 5-0 SHO9 ,W 9.0 1 0 0 0 5
5 Rudy May 1965-04-18 CAL DET L 1-4 GS-9 9.0 1 1 0 5 10
6 Pedro Astacio 1992-07-03 (2) LAD PHI W 2-0 SHO9 ,W 9.0 3 0 0 4 10 144 87
7 Al Jurisich 1944-04-26 STL CIN L 0-1
12.2 8 1 1 4 7
8 Jim Cosman 1966-10-02 STL CHC W 2-0 SHO9 ,W 9.0 2 0 0 2 5
9 Luis Tiant 1964-07-19 (2) CLE NYY W 3-0 SHO9 ,W 9.0 4 0 0 4 11
10 Van Mungo 1931-09-07 (2) BRO BSN W 2-0
9.0 3 0 0 2 7
11 Mark Brownson 1998-07-21 COL HOU W 5-0 SHO9 ,W 9.0 4 0 0 1 7 101 85
12 Jeff Pico 1988-05-31 CHC CIN W 4-0 SHO9 ,W 9.0 4 0 0 0 6 104 85
13 Wayne Simpson 1970-04-09 CIN LAD W 3-0 SHO9 ,W 9.0 2 0 0 0 2
14 Tom Phoebus 1966-09-15 (1) BAL CAL W 2-0 SHO9 ,W 9.0 4 0 0 2 8
15 Al Worthington 1953-07-06 NYG PHI W 6-0 SHO9 ,W 9.0 2 0 0 4 6
16 George Hockette 1934-09-17 BOS SLB W 3-0
9.0 2 0 0 1 3
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 5/22/2012.

But that wasn't all. He followed that up with another shutout, this one a five-hitter at Kansas City to beat Catfish Hunter and the A's 4-0. Two days later, Baltimore finished the sweep to clinch their first American League pennant. Phoebus is one of only five pitchers to throw nine shutout innings in his first two appearances. The others are Johnny Marcum (1933 PHA), Dave Ferriss (1945 BOS), Karl Spooner (1952 BKN) and Al Worthington (1953 NYG).

Phoebus became a fixture in the O's rotation in 1967, even topping his back-to-back shutout debut from the year before with three straight shutouts from May 22 to June 2. He is the only pitcher with five shutouts in the first 12 games of his career.

In that rookie year of  '67 there wasn't much contact against him as he finished fifth in the AL in strikeouts per nine innings (7.745) and third in walks (114). His 14 victories were the tenth-most in the circuit and his four shutouts were ninth. The Sporting News tabbed him as their AL Rookie Pitcher of the Year.

He picked up right where he left off in 1968. Despite a 2.62 ERA (which was only good enough for a 112 ERA+ during the Year of the Pitcher), he went 15-15. One of those 15 wins was a game against the defending AL champion Red Sox in which he waited out an 83-minute rain delay, then pitched a no-hitter.

Phoebus told the Baltimore Sun in 2009, "What a great thrill it was to throw a no-hitter in my hometown. My dream was to play for the Orioles. As kids we would go to games, sit in the bleachers for 50 cents and ride the right fielder of the opposing team."

He walked two in the first, then set down 13 straight before another free pass. Tom then retired the last 12 batters, including Joe Foy for his ninth K to end it.

It was the second complete-game no-hitter in team history. Surprisingly, with all the great pitching history in Baltimore, there have only been three*:

Rk Player Date Tm Opp Rslt App,Dec IP H R ER BB SO GSc BF AB
1 Jim Palmer 1969-08-13 BAL OAK W 8-0 SHO9 ,W 9.0 0 0 0 6 8 89 35 29
2 Tom Phoebus 1968-04-27 BAL BOS W 6-0 SHO9 ,W 9.0 0 0 0 3 9 93 29 26
3 Hoyt Wilhelm 1958-09-20 BAL NYY W 1-0 SHO9 ,W 9.0 0 0 0 2 8 93 28 26
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 5/22/2012.

* The O's have thrown two other hitless games. Steve Barber and Stu Miller had this bizarre game in 1967 in which Barber was up 1-0 and was two outs away, but lost the no-no and the lead on two walks, a bunt and a wild pitch. Miller came in at 1-1 with men at the corners and one out, Don Wert then reached on a fielder's choice that scored the winning run. There was also this 1991 combined no-hitter that saw Bob Milacki go six innings before Mike Flanagan, Mark Williamson and Gregg Olson each worked a hitless inning to finish it.

The Red Sox have only been no-hit twice since, by Dave Righetti in 1983 and Chris Bosio in 1993.

For the '68 season, Phoebus finished in the AL's top ten in starts (36, 4th), innings (240.2, 10th), strikeouts (193, 7th), K/9 IP (7.2, 8th), H/9 IP (6.956, 10th) and HR/9 IP (0.37, 3rd). Still, his 15 losses were fifth-most and his 114 walks were third-most.

The following season, Phoebus went 14-7 with a 3.52 ERA as the O's rolled to 109 wins and won the pennant. He did not pitch in the World Series, which Baltimore was stunned in five games against the Miracle Mets.

Phoebus started sharing fourth-starter duties with Jim Hardin in 1970 and he excelled, pitching to a 3.07 ERA. The O's won the AL pennant again and this time, Phoebus got into a game in the Fall Classic. Baltimore won the opener, but Mike Cuellar was knocked out early in Game Two. Phoebus came in trailing 4-0 with one out in the third. He induced a double-play grounder to end the inning, then worked a scoreless fourth. The Orioles came back to win the game 6-5 and Phoebus got the victory. Baltimore won in five games to take the championship.

Tom had his World Series ring, but his time pitching for the hometown team was over. In December, he was involved in a six-player trade that sent him to the San Diego Padres in exchange for pitcher Pat Dobson*. In five years with his Orioles, Phoebus went 50-37 with a 3.06 ERA (107 ERA+).

* Dobson won 20 games in 1971, as did the triumvirate of McNally, Palmer and Cuellar. TRIVIA ALERT: They are the last team with four 20-game winners. The only other team to do it was the 1920 White Sox, whose four pitchers were Red Faber and Dickey Kerr along with soon-to-be-banned Black Sox Eddie Cicotte and Lefty Williams.

Phoebus struggled with the Padres, going 3-11 with a 4.46 ERA (74 ERA+) in 1971. He was knocked around in his first start of 1972, then was sold to the Chicago Cubs. He did better as a reliever in the Windy City, posting an ERA+ of an even 100 in 83.1 innings. After the season, he was dealt to the Atlanta Braves for a minor league infielder named Tony LaRussa.

Tom never pitched for Atlanta, going 7-11 with a 3.38 ERA in 1973 as a Richmond Brave in Triple-A.

After that, Phoebus was finished with baseball. As he told the Sun, "he sold liquor for awhile, then worked in a Tropicana factory in Florida before entering college at age 39 to become a teacher. He spent nearly two decades as a physical education instructor in a Port St, Lucie grade school before retiring" in 2003.

Among pitchers with 1,000 IP, Phoebus ranks 60th all-time in hits per nine innings (right between Steve Bedrosian and Carlos Zambrano), and he is also one of only 21 pitchers to win 50 games for the Baltimore Orioles:

Rk Player W From To Age IP ERA ERA+
1 Jim Palmer 268 1965 1984 19-38 3948.0 2.86 125
2 Dave McNally 181 1962 1974 19-31 2652.2 3.18 107
3 Mike Mussina 147 1991 2000 22-31 2009.2 3.53 130
4 Mike Cuellar 143 1969 1976 32-39 2028.1 3.18 109
5 Mike Flanagan 141 1975 1992 23-40 2317.2 3.89 100
6 Scott McGregor 138 1976 1988 22-34 2140.2 3.99 98
7 Milt Pappas 110 1957 1965 18-26 1632.0 3.24 113
8 Dennis Martinez 108 1976 1986 21-31 1775.0 4.16 93
9 Steve Barber 95 1960 1967 22-29 1414.2 3.12 115
10 Scott Erickson 79 1995 2002 27-34 1287.2 4.73 97
11 Mike Boddicker 79 1980 1988 22-30 1273.2 3.73 109
12 Sidney Ponson 73 1998 2005 21-28 1375.1 4.86 93
13 Dick Hall 65 1961 1971 30-40 770.0 2.89 124
14 Hal Brown 62 1955 1962 30-37 1030.2 3.61 104
15 Storm Davis 61 1982 1992 20-30 944.1 3.63 110
16 Rodrigo Lopez 60 2002 2006 26-30 912.2 4.72 94
17 Ben McDonald 58 1989 1995 21-27 937.0 3.89 111
18 Tippy Martinez 52 1976 1986 26-36 752.1 3.46 112
19 Sammy Stewart 51 1978 1985 23-30 866.0 3.47 114
20 Ross Grimsley 51 1974 1982 24-32 907.2 3.78 94
21 Tom Phoebus 50 1966 1970 24-28 807.2 3.06 107
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 5/22/2012.

Phoebus had a few good seasons pitching for the team he grew up rooting for and won a World Series with them. A pretty nice career...and it got started in Bluefield. Much like Ken McBride, Phoebus would make a good back end of the rotation/long relief swingman type on the All-Time Bluefield staff.

All-Time Bluefield Roster
SP 1 Dean Chance
SP 2 Mike Boddicker
SP 3 Bill Monbouquette
RP Tom Phoebus
RP Ken McBride
RP Sammy Stewart
Setup TBA
Setup Arthur Rhodes
Closer Sparky Lyle

C Gregg Zaun

1B Eddie Murray
2B Bobby Grich
SS Cal Ripken
3B Doug DeCinces
IF Mark Belanger

LF Don Baylor
CF Luis Matos
RF Bob Bailor
OF David Dellucci

This is what I wrote before I realized that I was actually about to put Sidney Ponson on the team.

Next up on the All-Time Bluefield-to-the-Bigs Team is Sidney Ponson. I never really thought much of him, and his career ERA was north of five. But you have to give him credit for hanging around for 12 years in the majors and totaling 91 wins and 8.8 bWAR. He grabs the 12th and final spot on the pitching staff.

Ponson was born November 2, 1976 in Noord, Aruba, sharing a birthday with Johnny Vander Meer, Orlando Cabrera and Willie McGee. Sidney is one of only four players from Aruba to make the major leagues; Gene Kingsale, Calvin Maduro and Radhames Dykhoff are the others. All came up with the Orioles between 1996 and 1998 and all but Dykhoff (who is Ponson's cousin) played for Bluefield.

Ponson signed with the O's in 1993 at 17 and began his climb up the minor league ladder in the Gulf Coast League in 1994. He put up a 2.96 ERA and was sent to Bluefield for the 1995 season. He was durable for the Baby Birds as he was one shy of the league lead in starts (13) and his 77.2 innings pitched were the fifth-most in the circuit.

That '95 Bluefield club went 49-16 under manager Andy Etchebarren and won the North Division by 17 games over Princeton. But in the best-of-three Appalachian League Championship Series, they fell to the Kingsport Mets 2-1*. 

* Kingsport's manager was John Gibbons, who was in his first season as a professional manager. He was promoted to high-A Port St. Lucie in 1996 and won the Florida State League title as well. He made it to the majors in 2002 as the Toronto Blue Jays first coach, then succeeded Carlos Tosca as manager in 2004. He went 305-305 before being replaced by Cito Gaston in 2008. He is currently managing in the Padres system as the skipper of the Double-A San Antonio Missions in the Texas League.

After two more years in the minors, Ponson got to the bigs on April 19, 1998 when he was called on for mop-up duty with Baltimore down 9-1 at Texas. He retired 10 of the first 12 batters he faced, but in his fourth inning of relief, he gave up a single to Rusty Greer and a two-run homer to Juan Gonzalez. The O's mounted a comeback with six runs in the ninth, but fell short and still lost 11-7.

That June, Ponson moved into the O's rotation. He took the ball every fifth day with a slighly below-average 4.87 ERA. He posted a 98 ERA+ in 1999 and 2000 and made 32 starts each season. His 210 innings in '99 were the tenth-most in the AL and his 222 frames in '00 were the fifth-most.

After a step back in 2001 and 2002, Ponson had his best season in 2003. He went 14-6 with a 3.77 ERA before being dealt at the trade deadline to the San Francisco Giants. He put up a 3.71 ERA in ten starts down the stretch, but lost six of nine decisions. He made his only career postseason appearance in Game Two of the NLDS against the Marlins. The Giants won the opener and held a 4-1 lead at home in the second game, but Ponson coughed up the lead and was taken out after five innings. Florida won to even the set, then won two thrillers at home in their final at bat to win the series.

Ponson returned to Baltimore as a free agent in 2004 with poor results. He led the league in earned runs allowed (127) and led the majors in hits allowed (265). On the bright side, he tied for the league lead with five complete games and two shutouts. One of those shutouts was a two-hitter at Yankee Stadium on September 4. The three visitors to throw a shutout in the Bronx since then are Roy Halladay, Jon Lester and Felix Hernandez.

Over the '04 and '05 seasons, Ponson had a miserable ERA+ of 79. He was released by Baltimore before the end of the 2005 season, but landed with the Cardinals for the next season. He only lasted until July before being released again.

Fortunately for Ponson, the Yankees came calling when Chien-Ming Wang injured himself running the bases in Houston. He didn't last long in the Bronx, as he was bombed to the tune of a 10.47 ERA in five outings and was released.

He signed with the Twins for another brief stint in 2007, but only lasted seven starts (6.93 ERA). Texas picked him up in '08 and although he went 4-1 with a 3.88 ERA, he clashed with management and was released.

Ponson's improved on-field performance convinced the Yankees to take another chance with him. He went 4-4 with a 5.85 ERA and was let go.

The 2009 World Baseball Classic gave Ponson a chance to pitch for the Dutch team and audition for major league clubs. He allowed four runs in nine innings of work, and earned the win in an amazing upset of the Dominican Republic. He earned a minor league invite from the Royals for the '09 season.

That would be his last major league season as he went 1-7 with a 7.36 ERA. Over his last six seasons, his ERA was 5.82, giving him a gruesome ERA+ of 77.

It would later come out that at that '09 WBC, Ponson failed a drug test for the stimulant Phentermine and was banned from international competition.

He last pitched in 2010 for the Long Island Ducks of the independent Atlantic League, going 4-5 with a 5.64 ERA in 11 starts.

Ponson finished with a record of 91-113 and an ERA of 5.03.

I'd be remiss if I didn't mention myriad off-the-field incidents involving the right-hander. He assaulted a judge in his native Aruba in 2004 and spent 11 days in jail. Then twice in an eight-month span in 2005 he was arrested for drunk driving.

The latter half of his career was a disaster both on and off the field, but he did have a few decent/average seasons early in his career, including a pretty good one in 2003. I put him in there as the 25th man on the fictional roster, at least until he has a run-in with the fictional police or a fight with his fictional manager or front office, then he'll be sent packing. But for now, he's my mop-up man.


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