Dancing in September: Golden Dreams Were Shiny Days

Friday, September 22 2006 @ 12:07 AM EDT

Contributed by: Matthew E

So Adam Lind looks good.

September callups are one of my favourite things about baseball. They're a whole new (or not so new) set of toys for the ballclub to play with, a fun suddenly-available bag of tricks to dip into in the late innings when things get tough. They're like when your elven cleric finds a chest full of potions, and you don't know what they're going to be or how useful. Is that middle infielder from Double-A going to be a potion of Extra-Healing or just Marsupial Control?

Lind, so far, seems useful. (Potion of Invisibility, maybe.) His career's only 13 games old at this writing, but in it he's gone 18 for 48 with 2 walks, 8 doubles and a home run, for a quite corking 1004 OPS. I'd take that. Now, obviously, those are just September numbers, and only two thirds of September numbers at that. So I don't want to get too excited about it.

What I do want to do is look at some other Jays hitters who've made their debuts in past Septembers to see how they compare to Lind. Give us a bit of a context. The players I want to look at:

a) are hitters
b) who came to the big leagues for the first time as a September callup
c) with the Jays, and
d) played well.

My sources include my own memory, a stack of old media guides, and the internet. I can go back as far as the '84 season.

Our first candidate is Nelson Liriano. Now technically Liriano wasn't a September callup when he made his debut in 1987. The Jays brought him north right at the end of August so he'd be eligible for the postseason (which of course turned out not to be an issue). Up to that point, the Jays hadn't been able to find a second baseman that year, futzing around with Mike Sharperson and Manny Lee and Garth Iorg. For a while, Liriano looked like he had the position locked up. From this vantage point, his numbers don't look so hot (.241/.310/.342) but he started with a bang and then tailed off. Detroit manager Sparky Anderson said about him, "Every time I look up, he's on base." He was a really exciting player (at his best), and everybody figured he'd be the second baseman for a long time. Didn't happen. Liriano never really put it together, and bounced around to four other teams before calling it a career. But, hey, look at this: his only sniff of the postseason was in the '89 LCS against Oakland, and he went 3 for 7 with 2 walks, an RBI, a run scored, and--holy Moses!--3 stolen bases. That ain't bad at all.

There are a lot fewer of these guys than I thought there'd be. Next one is John Olerud in '89. Olerud is I guess roughly comparable to Lind; he was only 20 when he made the bigs to Lind's 23, but they're both corner types not known for speed or defense (although Olerud's defense eventually got pretty good). Olerud was just a baby in '89 and only played in 6 games, but in those 6 games he hit .375 (just like Lind!) and impressed everybody on his way to a fine career.

Do I want to count Tom Quinlan's 1-for-2 in 1990? I do not.

Oh, here we go: Domingo Martinez in '92. I was rooting for Martinez; I thought the Jays should have given him a better shot. At the time I thought that, anyway; I realize now that he was just a slow first baseman who didn't hit quite enough and was caught behind Olerud to boot. The Jays gave him a couple of sniffs in consecutive Septembers and he chipped in okay: 5 for 8 with a homer in '92 and then 4 for 14 with another homer in '93. Hope you enjoyed your career, Domingo; I sure did. (If anybody's wondering where Delgado and Shawn Green are in this little history, they both got cups of coffee in September '93 and combined to go 0 for 7 with a walk.)

Shannon Stewart and Howard Battle were called up at the end of '95, which was of course one of the two worst years in the history of the Jays. You remember Stewart, of course, and Battle was a third base prospect. Neither one really burned down any buildings but there was a bright spot: they drew 9 walks between them, which was a significant portion of the team's 12th-in-the-league total.

Amazing what you forget. I wouldn't have known this if I hadn't written this article. In 1997, Tom Evans (third base prospect) and Rich Butler (of the Fabulous Butler Boys) got called up and actually played all right. Evans went .289/.341/.421 in 12 games, and Butler was .286/.375/.357 in 7 games. I had no idea. I mean, I remember their names, but those are pretty good Septembers for a couple of guys who never really had big league careers.

In 1999 it was Casey Blake's and Vernon Wells's turn. Neither of them embarrassed themselves (Wells: .261/.293/.352 in 24 games--he was 20 years old; Blake: .256/.293/.385 in 14 games) but clearly they weren't ready for prime time.

For the next batch I have to rely on my memory that these guys all debuted as September callups. 2002 brought us Jayson Werth, who looked at the time (.261/.340/.348 in 15 games) like he might be a player someday, but what he really turned out to be Werth was Jason Frasor, so so much for that. In 2004, we saw Guillermo Quiroz arrive on the scene and not hit very much, while Eric Crozier (remember him? First base quasiprospect who came to town in return for Josh Phelps?) hit two homers, drew a short stack of walks, and made a nice catch. And then last year John-Ford Griffin hit .308 with some power in 7 games.

And that's it. Looking back at these guys, a couple of things strike me. First, most of them didn't get much playing time. Not surprising; typically there isn't an open position waiting to be filled by a September callup, so they have to scramble for opportunities. Looks like Lind is going to end up playing more than most of the ones I mentioned. Second, really good performances over more than just a few games are not common. Who did I mention who played fifteen, twenty games and hit really well? Nobody, I guess. Lind's ahead of them all.

Except one. There's one guy I didn't mention. I left him out on purpose. He and Lind may well be in competition for the best-hitting September callup the Blue Jays ever had. Some details on our mystery date:

He made his debut as a 23-year-old one September, and there was definitely a position waiting for him. He played 22 games that month, and claimed that position as his own by hitting a lubricious .306/.359/.528, with 4 home runs, 10 runs scored and 10 RBI. Obviously, a young man with a bright future. Anyone guess who he is? If so, would you care to speculate on whether Lind is going to match his career?

(Something is wrong with me. Going through all these old rosters... I didn't expect to come across any names I didn't recognize. I'm sitting here, "Mark Dalesandro? Who? John Hudek, is that the Atlanta guy? He was never with the Jays, was he? Really? Mike Romano, sure, he was the guy in the Cone trade, but I don't remember him actually making it to the majors!" How can there be Blue Jays I don't remember at all?)