Baseball Legends Revealed #28

This is the twenty-eighth in a series of examinations of baseball-related legends and whether they are true or false.

Let’s begin!

BASEBALL LEGEND: A baseball team had a “three-fingered” player as well as a six-fingered player in their team history!

STATUS: True

One of the most famous players in Chicago Cub history is Mordechai “Three-Fingered” Brown, the Hall of Fame pitcher who had suffered a series of accidents to his fingers in his youth, including losing most of his index finger in a farming accident and then having his middle finger and ring finger broken while recovering from the original injury.

The result gave him a mangled hand that was basically three fingers and a thumb (and messed up fingers at that). That gave him an interesting grip on the baseball, though, that allowed him to throw pitches from odd angles, helping to make him a baseball Hall of Famer.

Years later, though, the Cubs would have a player who went the whole other direction entirely, when the reliever Antonio Alfonseca debuted for the Cubs in 2002 (after coming over in a big trade from the Florida Marlins, along with pitcher Ryan Dempster in a trade that sent Dontrelle Willis to the Marlins).

Alfonseca has the “disease” polydactyly, which basically just means that he has six fingers and six toes.

Check ‘em out…

Unlike Brown, though, this did not affect Alfonseca’s delivery, as the sixth finger would not touch the ball.

Alfonseca’s last season in the Big Leagues was 2007, leaving the current Major League leader in “fingers on each hand” as a massive tie for first with five.

BASEBALL LEGEND: Don Zimmer had a metal plate in his head.

STATUS: False

While not exactly a standout as a player, Don Zimmer has enjoyed a long and storied career as a coach in the Major Leagues (and he wasn’t a terrible player or anything, he played more than a decade in the big leagues) since retiring as a player in 1965.

What’s amazing is that Zimmer almost never made it past LIVING through the 1953 Minor League season, let along playing in the Major Leagues!

While in the Minors in 1953, Zimmer was beaned in the head by a fastball. He was in and out of consciousness for nearly two weeks and had difficulty walking, talking and eating. He dropped nearly fifty pounds from his inability to eat! Doctors drilled four holes in his skull to relieve the pressure on his brain.

Eventually, he recovered and made the Majors the next season.

However, in 1956, while with the Brooklyn Dodgers, Zimmer was beaned AGAIN!

It was at this time that a myth started around Zimmer. You see, when the holes were drilled in his skull, they were later filled with a filament similar to what you would find in a lightbulb. But when he was examined after the second beaning, it looked like he had a metal plate in his head, and Zimmer, never one to dislike a good story, never denied that he had a metal plate in his head – and thus, a story was born!

Over a half century later, Zimmer is still working in baseball as a special assistant for the Tampa Bay Rays.

Still no metal plates in his head, though!

BASEBALL LEGEND: Pedro Martinez lost the 1999 American League Most Valuable Player Award due to being left off the ballot of two voters completely, one of whom who had made some rather interesting votes the previous season.

STATUS: True

The American League had quite a succession of pitching feats from 1997-2000, as Roger Clemens of the Toronto Blue Jays received back-to-back Cy Young Awards for his pitching performances in 1997 and 1998, when Clemens won the “Triple Crown” of pitching, leading the league in wins, strikeouts and Earned Run Average.

The following year, Pedro Martinez of the Boston Red Sox ALSO won the Cy Young by ALSO winning the “Triple Crown” of pitching. He followed THAT up by winning the Cy Young again in 2000 (no Triple Crown, though, although his 2000 season might have been even better than his 1999 season).

Martinez’s 1999 season was particular notable for what happened when the awards were handed out.

Naturally, he won the Cy Young Award easily. However, he came in a very close second in the voting for the Most Valuable Player, with 239 points compared to winner Ivan “Pudge” Rodriguez’s 252 points. Martinez had received more first place votes, but as it turned out, he was left off of the ballot of two voters COMPLETELY, New York’s George King and Minneapolis’ LaVelle Neal!

In both cases, the voters determined that starting pitchers shouldn’t be eligible (in their mind) for the award, as they don’t play every day.

Now there’s naturally nothing in the award that SAYS that you shouldn’t include everyone, and the aforementioned Roger Clemens had already WON the MVP Award in 1986, but I suppose fair enough – people can make odd decisions, I guess.

However, in the case of King – the PREVIOUS season he had put TWO starting pitchers on his MVP ballot, the Yankees’ David Wells and the Texas Rangers’ Rick Helling! King’s vote for Helling was the only vote Helling received, as he went 20 - 7 with a 4.41 ERA.

King later noted that he had a talk with someone after the 1998 MVP who convinced him that his earlier MVP votes were off-base and that he should no longer vote for pitchers, which he agreed to do, and I’m sure he didn’t expect it to have a major impact right off the bat!

No starting pitcher has won the MVP since Clemens’ 1986 win.

I wonder if King has gone back on his “no pitcher” vow since then?

Okay, that’s it for this week!

Feel free (heck, I implore you!) to write in with your suggestions for future installments! My e-mail address is bcronin@legendsrevealed.com

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4 Responses to “Baseball Legends Revealed #28”

  1. Good stuff this week,

    Here’s two more legendy MVP tales for you which I’ve never seen properly substantiated

    1947 – Ted Williams won the AL Triple Crown but came in 2nd to Joe Dimaggio by like 2 points, and a Boston writer left Ted completely off his ballot because Ted was hated by most of the Boston media.

    1991 – similar story, Bary Bonds has a statistically superior season for a Pennant winning club, but loses to Terry Pendleton after being left off several ballots by Bonds haters. Bonds won in 90,92, and 93, so those missing votes would have given him a then unprecedented 4 MVP’s in consecutive years to boot while still in his original human form. He would later go on to win 4 more MVP’s consecutively in bio-engineered super soldier form in 2001-2004.

  2. Brian Cronin on May 18th, 2010 at 7:05 pm

    I’ll check it out, Jorge!

    Thanks!

  3. Justin Verlander won the AL MVP award for the 2011 season, the first starting pitcher to do so since Roger Clemens in 1986.

    I would doubt the story about Barry Bonds losing the MVP in 1991 because he was left off several ballots by “Bonds haters.” Back in ’91 Bonds was still a pretty popular player. This was many years before there were any allegations of steroid use, and his other disagreeable personality traits had also either not manifested themselves or were not widely known. So I don’t think there actually were any (or if so, not many) “Bonds haters” back then.

  4. I don’t know about that…Bonds was pretty much hated from the moment he got to the Bigs. He acted the same way in his 20s that he did in his 40s, minus the steroids. He was always difficult with the media, which meant they attacked him which led the public to dislike him. Some things don’t change.

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