Saturday, November 27, 2010


Here's a surprise: not only does it appear that no one has answered this question, but it seems that no one has bothered to look at it at all. (Who says nature abhors a vacuum?)

Jose Lopez: putting the turkey back into Turkey Day?
Perhaps it's because the concept is too recondite (yes, we need that fancy word for "obscure" here). It could also be that "being born on Thanskgiving Day" is far less of a fixed proposition than being "born on the Fourth of July," or Christmas, or (thanks to recent events) on 9/11.

Being born on Thanksgiving Day is a kind of fluke thing that happens to folks whose natal day occurs between November 22-28, and even once it happens, that birthday only rarely falls on Thanksgiving Day from that point forward due to the vagaries of the calendar. (It doesn't quite have the "puff of smoke" quality that goes with being born on February 29th, of course, when one's birthday simply disappears for three years.)

Lots of baseball players were born between November 22 and November 28, but only a precious few were actually born on Thanksgiving Day. There are barely more players born that day that one can count on the fingers of both hands (even if you happen to be Antonio Alfonseca): the most recent of these is Jose Lopez, born November 23, 1983. (We won't spoil the caption by repeating its punch line here.)

It's a bit tougher if you are Ricky Ledee, however. Though it's possible that such never really becomes even a minor issue for the journeyman outfielder, the fact remains that Ledee's natal day (November 22) was one of several Thanksgiving Days to coincide with the assassination of John F. Kennedy. (For the record, Thanksgiving Day occurred on November 28th in 1963.)

Walt Weiss: Doing the Mashed Potato over second base
Yes, I know you're thinking, this can't be the answer, because if it is, I'm going to get hold of Malcolm's email address and stuff his in-box with everything I can get my hands on...and you'd almost be justified in doing so. (Kindly remember the admonition in this blog's very first post: "I won't if you won't.") So are there any players with substantial careers whose birthdays happened to fall on Thanksgiving Day?

Well, there's Walt Weiss. He played nearly twice as many games as Ledee (1495 as compared to the Yankee Dipper's 855.) Heck, Walt was actually an All-Star once (though I think it was an injury replacement). Perhaps the only reason to keep mentioning Walt is the fact he was actually born on the Thanksgiving Day that occurred six days after the tragedy in Dallas. No one ever called Walt "Mr. November."

Billy Rogell, with the secret ingredient for great
Turkey Day stuffing: old shoelaces
We are only barely moving up the food chain with our next player. Billy Rogell (born November 24, 1904) was pretty much the Walt Weiss of the 1930s--like Walt, he played shortstop for a successful team but deserved only a smidgen of the credit for that team's success. Rogell actually batted fifth for the pennant-winning Detroit Tigers in 1934, and drove in 100 runs despite hitting only three homers and fashioning an OPS+ that was slightly below league-average. (Would you believe that Hank Greenberg actually batted behind Rogell in the Tigers' batting order for most of 1934? Would you believe there's actually a ballplayer named Maxwell Smart??)

Fortunately, Rogell is nowhere near the best player born on Turkey Day (doubly fortuitous, as otherwise this post would need a snarkier title). We edge closer to the mashed potatoes and gravy with our next player. He didn't play shortstop, possibly due to a complete absence of foot speed. That's right, he was a catcher. (Tommy Lasorda, not otherwise known for his one-liners, rules the roost with this observation about him: "If he raced his pregnant wife, he'd finish third.") But the teams he's managed have finished first more than they've finished third, and he's only had three teams finish below .500 in eleven years.

Mike Scoscia, thankful for not winding up in the
hospital from yet another home-plate collision
Have you got it? Yes, it's Mike Scioscia, born Thanksgiving Day (November 27th) in 1958. It sure seemed that Mike was around longer than Weiss or Rogell, but he played fewer games than those guys--probably because he had all those stints on the DL after being laid out in a home-plate collision. Perhaps the most astonishing stat in his career data: he actually had 12 lifetime triples.

All right--this is getting just a little stale...there must be something better than this, right? Something that makes wading through all this verbiage at least semi-palatable? Could there actually be a Hall of Famer born on Thanksgiving Day in order to redeem this rickety concept? (And not Lloyd Waner, either.)

Well, yes. There is a Cooperstown inductee who needs to have the phrase "Born on Thanksgiving Day" added to his plaque. (And it ain't Little Poison: he was born March 16th.)

It's Lefty Gomez. (Yes, there's a faction of you out there whose response is, "That's not a Hall of Famer, that's Lefty Gomez!" But Frankie Frisch et fils put ol' Goofy in the side door in 1972, so why add to the already-rampant noise pollution?) His Turkey Day birthday was November 26, 1908.

Lefty Gomez, displaying a shoe that also doubles as
a Thanksgiving carving knife...
Despite his short career, Lefty was a pretty darned good pitcher, with two ERA titles and four 20-win seasons. He led the AL in strikeouts and shutouts three times. The Hall is not rotting from within because Lefty has a plaque in Cooperstown--there are other reasons for that.

And let's face it: Lefty's wit is probably what got him into the Hall. He was a funny fellow. The one-liners abound. For example, his response when Joe DiMaggio, who'd told the press that he hoped to play center field so well that they'd all forget Tris Speaker, let a Hank Greenberg line drive go over his head for a triple: "Roomie, if you keep playing Greenberg that shallow, you're going to make them forget Lefty Gomez."

There's some karmic thing at work here, methinks. A universe willing to work against its own entropy allows such random felicities as Lefty being a Turkey Day birthday boy--instead of, for example, Ty Cobb, or Hal Chase--or Jose (Have Needle, Will Travel) Canseco. Let's all be thankful for even this smallest of favors, eh?