Kirk Rueter struck out 2.1 batters per nine innings in his last season with the Giants. That might be my favorite stat. In a league where the pitcher bats, Rueter couldn't strike anyone out. He had 33 starts in his Giants career in which he didn't strike out a single batter — that's the equivalent of a full season. The other half of that stat: The Giants were 16-17 in those games. Yep, that's Kirk Rueter. Often giving the Giants a chance to win, even if he throws like the third-base coach. And when he had his "I Can't Believe It's Not Strikeout Stuff!" going, he was the best. When he recorded at least one strikeout, the Giants were 149-95 in his starts.
It's possible that Barry Bonds and Jeff Kent contributed to those totals. Maybe. I mean, it sure seems like something they would have done.
No matter, Rueter was associated with winning. And winning was good. Plus, he has a goofy countenance and demeanor. In the end of my Highlander sequel spec script, he cuts off A.J. Pierzynski's head. You're probably going to want to get in on the ground floor of this one, producers.
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The obvious cult favorite player for Padres fans is Eric Owens, but that's too easy. My cult favorite player is Will Venable, current right fielder, part time mass of pure potential unrealized. I'm just about alone among Padres fans when it comes to Will Venable, but there is an unlikely fellow Venable fan out there in Tommy Lasorda. Interestingly, we both like Will for the same reason.
There was a Spring Training game against the Dodgers a few years back and Will Venable hit the ball over the center field batter's eye. It actually bounced off the top of the batters eye, so it made for an extra-impressive hop out of the ballpark. It was such a perfect swing and he showed so much quickness on the paths that I've since made it a daily prediction that Will Venable will hit for the cycle, despite his tendency to never actually hit for the cycle. It hurts me a little when others criticize my Will.
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I’m going to leave off the obvious “Everybody loves the Blake Street Bombers!” because they were hardly cult favorites. I’m also excluding Jamey Carroll and Johnny Herrera from this, because I don’t think their cult status is anything more than the irrational love that everyone has for scrappy guys. No, the guy who most meets this criteria is Yorvit Torrealba.
At the plate, Torrealba kind of sucked the entire time he was with the Rockies with the exception of late-2007 and late-2009. He had a bit of a noodle arm when it came to controlling the running game, but he had a lot of the catching intangibles (worked well with a pitching staff, framed pitches well, etc), and the Rockies saw some of their best pitching with Torrealba behind the plate.
But what made Torrealba just so incredibly entertaining to watch was how expressive he was. When he was hitting, he'd somehow squeak these inexplicable balls through the infield, split gaps where he had no business splitting gaps, and would just freak out (emphatic hand-clap, fist-pumps) when he pulled into whatever base he reached safely.
There was one game back when Jose Mesa was with the Rockies where Yorvit came halfway out to the mound and said (and I paraphrase) “Hey! You’re too old for me to be coming out to talk to you like this! Make your damn pitch!”
There was this other game against the Dodgers in 2008 where Matt Kemp started jawing with Torrealba after a strike-three tag-out, and Torrelba clocked Kemp and then tackled him. It was completely awesome.
The moment that really endeared Yorvit to Rockies fans, though, was in 2009 when Torrealba’s son was kidnapped in their home country of Venezuela, the kind of story we’ve heard all too frequently these past several seasons. Apparently it was a pretty incompetent kidnapping, but everyone was still very thankful to hear that his son (and brother-in-law, who was also abducted) was released safely. It was a very human moment for Rockies fans.
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Los Angeles Dodgers — Dave Anderson
Dave Anderson was a highly regarded middle infielder, drafted out of the University of Memphis in the first round in 1981, ahead of such players as Mark Langston, Mark Gubicza, and John Elway. Anderson didn’t do much as a hitter in his 10-year big league career, eight of which he spent in Los Angeles. Anderson hit .235/.312/.311, and his best offensive years in Los Angeles — 1984 and 1988 — produced an OPS+ of just 88.
Anderson never really latched on to a full-time role with the Dodgers, starting more than 79 games just once in his career. But he has a permanent place in Dodger lore, as he was the decoy in Game 1 of the 1988 World Series. With two outs in the ninth inning and the Dodgers down 4-3 against Dennis Eckersley, Anderson stood in the on-deck circle with Mike Davis at the plate. Davis didn’t do much with the Dodgers that year, but Eckersley remembered him as the teammate who hit 22 home runs in Oakland in 1987. With the light-hitting Anderson due up next, Eckersley could afford to be careful with Davis, who ended up working a walk.
But Anderson never batted. He returned to the dugout in favor of the injured Kirk Gibson, who hobbled to the plate and hit the most famous home run in Dodgers history. Anderson’s role was small, but it was enough to ensure his status as a Dodgers cult favorite.
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Before becoming a Diamondback, Craig Counsell was well-known for two things: his unusual batting stance, and scoring the winning run of Game 7 of the 1997 World Series for the then-Florida Marlins. After becoming a Diamondback… well, let’s face it, those are still probably the only two things he’s well-known for. But those who watched the 2001 World Series know that the Diamondbacks wouldn’t have won it without Counsell.
In Game 7 of the 1997 World Series, Craig Counsell scored the walk-off run in the bottom of the 11th inning for the Marlins. In history’s eighth series-ending walk-off win, Counsell’s run from third base and leap onto home plate became the visual. Counsell reached base on an error. Four years later, Craig was on base for the next walk-off victory. He was hit in the hand by Mariano Rivera, loading the bases and pulling the infield in for Luis Gonzalez.
His career offensive numbers leave no doubt he won’t, aside from his cleats, be a Hall of Famer (as a player, at least). In six years with the Diamondbacks, Counsell hit .266/.348/.357 with 24 home runs. His defense was average-to-above-average. He didn’t seek the limelight; off the field, he was shy and incredibly modest, but his teammates knew he was one of the smartest players in the game. He grew up in the game, he loved the game, and he knew the game. Everybody knew Counsell would take a front office job whenever he retired, which he did this past spring, joining his hometown Milwaukee Brewers as Special Assistant to the GM. Many predict he might be a major league manager, or general manager, some day.
Counsell’s .083 average in the 2001 World Series surely wasn’t impressive. Neither was his .182 average in 1997. But in those two years’ NLCS combined he hit .400 with six RBI and won NLCS MVP in 2001. Neither team would’ve gotten to, nor won, their World Series without him.
On October 1, 2006, Luis Gonzalez and Craig Counsell both left the Diamondbacks for good. Both were honored with incredible class by the organization – their numbers painted into their positions, defensive replacements in the ninth inning to standing ovations, and a ride around the field after the game. For the Diamondbacks and their fans to honor Counsell in this manner shows he’ll always have a special place in our hearts.
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