Tuesday, September 15, 2015

It's Larry Yount Day

Today, September 15th, is Larry Yount Day, in honor of the patron saint of September Call-Ups.

For those of you not familiar with the older brother of Hall of Famer Robin Young, Larry is the guy in baseball history who out-did the fictional Moonlight Graham.

Larry got called into a meaningless game for the Houston Astros in the 9th inning on this date in 1971 for his major league debut. He was out of baseball shape, having been out with the National Guard the previous week. (The common Vietnam-era practice of draft-eligible baseball players was to join the National Guard and get a friendly exemption from most actual duties, but they did have to drill from time to time.) He was stiff in the bullpen, but hid it from the coaches, and was announced as the relief pitcher without being entirely warm.

He got to the mound and started throwing his warm-up tosses, but was flinching from elbow pain as he threw them. This got the attention of his catcher, and then the coaching staff, who came to the mound, and removed him.

Under baseball rules, normally a pitcher has to face one batter before he can be removed legally (a pinch hitter may be announced and then replaced; the stricture on pitchers is to avoid an endless series of swaps that would delay the game forever as managers jockey for right-lefty matchups). However, there's an exception in the rules for injuries.

That said, when a player is thus removed from the game, he's credited with a game "played" - and thus in Larry Yount's case, he was an official major leaguer the moment he stepped onto the mound.

Yount's stiffness continued so he never got into another game that year. In the spring of 1972, he had a great spring training but got optioned to AAA with the last cuts due to some other players on the roster having run out of minor league options. The club expected to bring him back later that season, and indeed Larry started out great at AAA. But something happened -- not an injury, Larry swore later -- and he lost his effectiveness suddenly, and ended up spending a very mediocre year entirely in AAA. He kicked around the minors a few more years, and was traded to the Brewers in 1973 for another minor leaguer, where he broke spring training camp with his younger brother Robin -- then a rookie-- in 1974, but he hung up his spikes after not making the big club.

Here's his line from Baseball reference:
1 major league game "played"; zero batters faced; a perfect line with mathematically undefined ERA and Wins-Above-Replacement.

Dream the dream, you September call-ups of life.

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