September Call-Ups: An Appreciation

Bryan LaHair of the Chicago Cubs hits a triple in the 8th inning against the Cincinnati Reds at Wrigley Field in Chicago, Illinois. The Cubs defeated the Reds 4-3. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

I have a problem with September call-ups.

I have always had a problem with September call-ups, and probably always will.

The Problem: Baseball teams play a certain brand of baseball for five months, based on the various limitations of the 25-man roster. And then on the 1st of September, poof -- those limitations suddenly disappear, as any team that wants them can deploy dozen-man bullpens and pinch-runners like there's no tomorrow.

It distorts the game, which is especially offensive (to me) when there are pennant races involved. Which I suppose is the only silver lining to the paucity of pennant races this month; only the Rangers and Angels will be playing important games, some of them decided by the 29th player on the roster.

Which isn't to suggest that I would eliminate September call-ups, if I could.

No, there's just too much fun. First, there are the prospects. Even aside from Strasmas 2011, this is a great month to see some of the top prospects who weren't quite good enough to play in the majors earlier this season. Or who were, but didn't last long. And second, there are the stories. Most of which don't make the national coverage. But I'll bet that on nearly every team, there's at least one September call-up with a great back-story. In fact, teams will sometimes promote a player -- if there's not an issue with the 40-man roster -- purely because of the back-story. See, baseball men do have hearts, and sometimes $60,000 seems a small price to pay for making a dream come true.

Anyway, here are just a few of my favorite September call-ups this year, for various reasons:

  • Atlanta's Julio Teheran started two games for the Braves in May, and didn't last five innings either time. But Teheran's lack of National League action says a lot more about the Braves' depth than about his talents. In 25 games with triple-A Gwinnett this season, Teheran went 15-3 with a 2.55 ERA, and gave up only five home runs in 145 innings. And unlike some teams, the Braves seem to know what to do with young pitchers. If the club ever sheds Derek Lowe, Teheran should be a real upgrade as the Braves look to catch the Phillies in the coming seasons.
  • In 2010, Bryan LaHair batted .308/.385/.557 in 125 games with the Cubs' triple-A affiliate. LaHair (sort of) plays left field and first base. You might think the Cubs could have used a guy like that, last September. He didn't get the call. You might think the Cubs could have used a guy like that, this spring. He didn't get the call, because the Cubs instead spent $10 million on Carlos Pena. Well, Pena wasn't real good and LaHair destroyed the Pacific Coast League, leading the loop with 38 homers and 109 RBI. And this time the Cubs have called. Al Yellon's probably right; at 28, LaHair's probably not good enough to play every day in the majors. But it's nice to see him a get a shot, however brief.
  • Hey, here's one for the record books: Mariners call-up Alex Liddi is set to become the first Italian in major-league history. Oh, he's not the first major leaguer born in Italy; there have been six other Italian-born major leaguers -- most recently, Reno Bertoia -- but all of them came to America when still very young. Liddi actually grew up in Italy, and came to the States at 17, when the Mariners signed him. This is really cool, and Geoff Baker's got details.
  • How can you not pull for Danny Herrera? Yeah, I know he spent real time with the Reds in 2009 and '10, and pitched briefly for the Brewers earlier this season. But he's just returned to the majors with the Mets, and he's a (supposedly) 5'6" lefty who throws real screwballs. We need Danny Herrera in the major leagues.
  • In Devin Mesoraco's first professional season, he OPS'd 580. In his second season, 710; in his third, 692. Paying attention yet? No reason to. Then came 2010, his fourth season; playing at three levels, high-A to AAA, Mesoraco hit .302/.377/.587. He spent the last five months with triple-A Louisville and just kept hitting.  Now he's up, and should be the Reds' No. 1 catcher next season. (Mesoraco was the 15th overall pick in the 2007 draft; his fellow catching prospect, Yasmani Grandal, was the 12th overall pick in the 2010 draft and is right behind Mesoraco on the Reds' depth chart. It's a good problem to have.)
  • Finally, this sort of thing would hardly be complete without mentioning Jesus Montero, who might be the Yankees' Catcher of the Future but seems more likely to become their DH of the Future, with The Future being pretty close to now, particularly after his two-homer game against the Orioles yesterday.

Of course I've just scratched the surface here. Who are your favorite September call-ups, and why?

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