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Where the 15 Minutes of Fame Never End
Today’s spotlight in obscurity falls upon the chosen few players in NBA history whose first and last names begin with the same letter. As a Celtics fan, the first and obvious name rendered from my memory is Rajon Rondo, neither obscure nor mediocre. But then, among the NBA’s active players, you have Alexis Ajinca, Brandon Bass, Jared Jefferies, Mike Miller, Patrick Patterson, Samardo Samuels, Tyrus Thomas, James Johnson, and Joe Johnson, a veritable who’s-who of the “All Alliterative NBA Team.” Thanks to NBA.com’s active player list, I was able to come up with these ten or so players with relative ease.
Pondering players from the bygone era was a bit more difficult, and I could only come up with a little less than a handful. The two I could think of off the top of my head, being on the Rockets kick that I am, are Lewis Lloyd and Robert Reid, mediocre all. Lewis and Reid played on the same Rockets squad together during the 1985-86 season and, after a freak Ralph Sampson tip in at the buzzer of game five of the Western Conference Finals that deprived the basketball nation of yet another Celtics-Lakers match-up, were handily beaten by the Celtics in six games. This was largely due to continual defensive lapses by every member of the Rockets with the exception of Hakeem Olajuwon, who altered the basketball skyline during those six games by blocking shots left and right, including tying Bill Walton for an NBA Finals record 8 blocks in game 4.
Coincidentally, Olajuwon would spend some time guarding Walton, who was coming off the bench as the Celtic’s 6th man supreme as well as a Sixth Man of the Year Award. Unfortunately Olajuwon’s individual brilliance was overshadowed by unending offensive and defensive missteps by the other Rockets starters. Let’s engage in some statistical analysis that highlights the obvious mediocrity of both Lewis Lloyd and Robert Reid, two players whose only redeeming factor is the fact that their names are alliterative and easy to remember if one is ever called upon to exhibit their knowledge of the mid 80’s Houston Rockets.
Lewis Lloyd was drafted early in the fourth round (7th pick, 76th overall) directly out of Overbrook High School in Philidelphia, which primed him for an undistinguished career highlighted by that brief Finals run. Perhaps most the most notable event in Lewis’s career happened late in 1986 when he, alongside Rockets teammate Mitchell Wiggins, tested positive for cocaine and was suspended immediately from the league for 2 1/2 years. Despite playing most of his career with the Rockets, the organization felt the coke-addled Lloyd was no longer a good fit for their team, who were now wisely building around the talented center Hakeem Olajuwon.
Post suspension, Lloyd played a whopping two games for the Philadelphia 76ers, and finally another 30 for the Rockets, not starting a single game for either team in the 1989-1990 season. Lloyd, between 1981 and 1990, posted career averages of 13.2 points per game on a respectable 52% field goal percentage while grabbing 3.1 rerbounds and handing out 2.9 assists. He scored an underwhelming 5,130 career points, or approximately 33,000 less than Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. Lloyd made the playoffs only twice with the Rockets, though the appearances did come back to back, in the 84-85 and 85-86 season. Lloyd’s playoff averages are again underwhelming: 14.7 ppg, 3.8 rpg, and 4.4 assists per game in 25 total playoff games in two years. Let’s talk now about Robert Reid, another giant of alliterative sports nomenclature.
Reid was drafted by the Houston Rockets in 1977 in the second round (18th pick, 40th overall), and he would remain in a Rockets uniform for 10 years, reaching the finals twice in a five year span, being beaten both times by the aforementioned Celtics. In thirteen seasons Reid reached the playoffs nine times, but alas, his post season glory was cut short with the exception of the 80-81 and 85-86 seasons, the only playoff appearances in which he played twenty or more post season games. In fifteen seasons, Robert Reid scored 10,448 career points while shooting a modest 45% from the floor and 73% from the free throw line.
Despite his height and athleticism, he averaged just under five rebounds in 919 career games, of which he started only 284. Despite their statistical differences, both Lewis Lloyd and Robert Reid hold a number of dubious mutual distinctions. Both have first and last names that start with the same letter, have both been beaten by Larry Bird (Robert Reid having been ousted twice from the Finals by Bird), have both been Houston Rockets, and have both washed down the cruel bitter pill of mediocre obscurity that has tainted their careers inexorably and prevented any kind of meteoric rise to NBA stardom. Robert and Lewis, though, can both rest easier knowing that in some far-flung microcosmic corner of the internet world, their obscurity is not only appreciated, but celebrated.
Unless you’re one of our many, many Japanese fans, our next Obscure Spotlight will be a guy whose name you haven’t heard in quite some time. The Nippon league’s single-season hit leader, with 214, is not Ichiro, as you may expect, but instead that record belongs to American Obscure Athlete Matt Murton.
Murton was picked 32nd overall by the Red Sox in 2003. His time in the Boston organization was brief, however, as in 2004 Murton was involved in the trade that sent Nomar Garciaparra to the Cubs. He made his Major League debut for the Cubs on July 8, 2005, two years to the date after signing his first pro deal with Boston.
Murton spent the ’06 season starting in the Cubs’ outfield. He became a fan favorite and enjoyed a successful campaign, hitting .297 with 13 homers and 62 RBI. Cubs’ GM Jim Hendry, ever the masterful evaluator of baseball talent, however, decided during that ’06 offseason that the team could do better in left field. So he brought in one of the true unsung kings of the Steroid Era, Cliff Floyd. Murton played in only 94 games in 2007 as a result.
Murton was never the same after being platooned with Floyd. In July of ’08 he was moved along with the truly obscure Eric Patterson and Sean Gallagher to the Athletics for Rich Harden and Chad Gaudin. He would play in just 38 more games in his Major League career, spending time with the A’s and then the Rockies in ’09.
Matt Murton’s greatest source of notoriety instead comes from his time in the Japanese Nippon Professional Baseball League, where ‘s become one of the premiere hitters in the country. Perhaps one day the 29-year-old pro veteran will make a return to the Majors. For now we’ll have to settle for watching him from the other side of the world, tearing it up with the Hanshin Tigers. Not the Detroit ones.
I was watching ESPN Classic this morning and they had a sweet rerun of an old show you may remember, starring Kenny Mayne, called Two -Minute Drill. It was the worldwide leader’s trivia precursor to Stump the Schwab, and one of Mayne’s questions to a well-dressed Claude Julien-lookalike was “What journeyman quarterback led the 1995 Kansas City Chiefs to a 13-3 regular season record?” I was completely stumped, and surprised to find out it was one-year wonder Steve Bono. So let’s talk about this fellow.
Bono was a two-sport star at UCLA, earning letters as both the catcher of the school’s baseball team and as the Bruins’ starting quarterback. Bono ultimately chose football, and was picked in the sixth round in 1985 by the Vikings. In four seasons spent between Minnesota and then Pittsburgh, he played in just seven games, starting three of them. It wouldn’t be until the 49ers started him in six games in 1991 that Bono would get his first significant playing action. In that ’91 season Bono went 5-1 as a starter, throwing 11 touchdowns and four interceptions, filling in for Joe Montana, before being moved back to the bench in favor of the rapidly ascending Steve Young.
After being moved to Kansas City following the 1993 season, Bono was once again relegated to backing up Montana. He waited out Montana’s retirement and was given the starting job in 1995. His only season as a sixteen-game starter went swimmingly in KC. The team went 13-3 and Bono would go on to Honolulu for his first and only Pro Bowl. He threw for 3121 yards despite completing only 56.3 percent of his passes.
When the Colts visited Arrowhead in a divisional round matchup following KC’s first-round bye week, Steve Bono was
thrust into the spotlight in the most important game of his career. Against Jim Harbaugh and the Colts, Bono went 11-for-25 for 122 yards, including one touchdown and three interceptions. Bono was benched late in the fourth quarter for Rich Gannon, and the team went on to lose 10-7, while the Colts went on to face the Steelers in one of the greatest AFC Championship games ever played.
Bono never did recapture the magic of his ’95 season, and after 1996 was released in favor of future Kansas City great Elvis Grbac. He spent his final three seasons in Green Bay, St Louis, and then Carolina, starting only two more games in his career, both in St. Louis. He went 0-2 as a starter.
As many pundits accurately predicted, top prospect Mike Stanton has started the season quite well for the Florida Marlins. He currently holds the #3 spot on Baseball America’s list of its top 100 prospects, and has hit 5 home runs and driven in 13 in 99 at-bats. Stanton is, by all accounts, one of the better young players in the game and a sure bet to be a Major League superstar sooner rather than later. But this culturally relevant Mike Stanton is only one of three Mike Stantons to have appeared in Major League Baseball games in the past 30 years. These two other, more obscure Mike Stantons, deserve nothing less than a spotlight today on Obscure Athletes. Because the rising star of the current Mike Stanton will continue to bury the legacy of these other Stantons with every accomplishment the future MLB great, puts on his resume.
Our first Mike Stanton is one you probably don’t remember much of. That is, of course, unless you don’t fall nicely into what our high-priced marketing department, complete with focus groups and double-blind studies, tells me our “chief demographic” is. The first Mike Stanton was a right-handed pitcher who spent 7 seasons in the majors over the course of ten years, between 1975-1985. He was drafted thrice before finally signing in 1973 with the Astros. He made his Major League debut for the team in 1975, but appeared in just seven games, five out of the bullpen. He pitched his way to a 7.27 ERA and an 0-2 record in just 17.1 IP. His big league
journey looked to be over, but alas five years later, in 1980, Stanton made the Indians’ roster out of camp and appeared in 51 games that season. Mike had his best season in 1983 with the Mariners, when he pitched in 50 games out of the Seattle bullpen, and posted a 3.32 ERA. He last appeared in 1985 for the White Sox. And the award for greatest mustache on a baseball player named Mike Stanton goes to….Mike Stanton, Right-handed pitcher!
The other ‘other’ Mike Stanton is the one you’re probably more familiar with. Drafted by the Braves in 1987, Stanton made his major league debut with the same team two years later in August of 1989. In parts of seven seasons with Atlanta, Stanton pitched 289.2 innings in his 304 appearances, all out of the bullpen.
Stanton made just one start in his career, for the Yankees in 1999. The Yanks were the team with which this Stanton enjoyed his highest level of success. He went 31-14 with a 3.77 cumulative ERA for the Bronx Bombers in parts of seven seasons. Stanton also spent time in Washington, Texas, and several other teams in his 19-year career. He made his
lone All-Star appearance in 2001, and to date remains the only Mike Stanton in the history of Major League Baseball to make an All-Star game. That’s the last beacon of notoriety that this Mike Stanton cleaves to as of May, 2011.
Why is Mike Stanton such a baseball name? I have no idea. One day I hope to make an “All-Mike-Stanton” team. We currently have two relievers and an outfielder.
They called Ron Coomer the “Coom Dawg.” What a lame nickname. Like, the guy played in the majors for nine seasons, and that’s the best they could come up with? Ron Coomer really does sound like the name of an obscure athlete, too. I could never picture Ron Coomer being an all-star, yet his Wikipedia page informed me that indeed, Coomer was the Twins’ lone representative in the 1999 All-Star Game at Fenway Park. And with the all-millenium team in attendance, featuring a Ted Williams lovefest, Coomer is a mere footnote upon the 1999 baseball season. Coomer struck out in his only All-Star Game at-bat.
The Athletics took the infielder in the 14th round of the 1987 draft. Coomer kicked around in the A’s, White Sox’, and Dodgers’ farm systems before being traded to the Twins in 1995, for whom he would make his debut on August 1. Most of his major league success would come in Minnesota, where he would play five full seasons, including his all-star performance in 1999. Coomer hit .278 for the Twins with 77 home runs and a .746 OPS.
During the 2000 season, Coomer was moved from third base to accomodate the emergence of power-hitting third baseman Corey Koskie. The Twins released Coomer after that 2000 season, and he played a season each for the Cubs, Yankees, and Dodgers. The Coom Dawg was never the same after he left Minnesota. His last season was in 2003, when he played in just 69 games for Los Angeles.
Just because I was curious, other members of the ’99 AL All-Star Team? John Jaha, BJ Surhoff, Jose Offerman, and Brad Ausmus. Good thing Pedro was pitching.
It’s request Thursday on Obscure Athletes, and the first suggestion on Our Page On Facebook was for Otis Smith. Let’s
face it, an Otis Smith Obscure Spotlight was inevitable, and I’m a man of the people. I’m not some malevolent, unreasonable lord and master of Obscure Athletes. What I’m trying to say is, we’re listening. Ya know?
Otis Smith is the consummate NFL underdog. In college, he suffered a separated shoulder but came back to be a two-year starter as an upperclassman. Undrafted out of Missouri, Smith signed on with the Eagles in training camp and made the team’s roster. In his four-year tenure with Philadelphia, he started only four games but appeared in all but one, mostly as a fifth defensive back. After his career in Philadelphia was over, Smith moved to greener pastures–namely, a Jets uniform, where he would be able to be a regular starter for the first time in his career.
Smith is known as one of the numerous “AFC East Guys” who seem to hop between AFC East teams throughout their career. He played 1995 for the Jets, but was waived by New York in late September of the following season, when he signed on with the Patriots. He went on to start nine games for New England, and was on the roster for their appearance in Super Bowl XXXI. That year, in the AFC Championship game against the Jaguars, Smith returned a fumble 47 yards for a touchdown, sealing the Jags’ fate.
The 1997 offseason saw Otis Smith on the move again, this time back to New York to play for the same Jets team that cut him less than a year before. The ’97 season was Smith’s best. He intercepted six passes, returning three for touchdowns, and forced a fumble. Otis Smith would stick around with the Jets until after his injury-riddled ’99 campaign, when once again, he was waived by the Jets and signed by the Pats.
Smith started for three more full seasons in New England, and he was key in Super Bowl XXXVI against St. Louis, recording an interception. Oft-forgotten about that game was the Otis Smith fumble return for a touchdown that was taken off the board due to a Willie McGinnest holding call. After the ’02 season Smith would have only one NFL season left in him, this time in Detroit, where he started thirteen games.
Smith is now a defensive assistant for the Chiefs. I’ll always remember Smith for how much McGinnest fucked up his moment of fame in the Super Bowl. But at least Otis Smith’s fifteen minutes of fame have Obscure Athletes to make sure they never end.
Wanna see your favorite obscure athlete featured in the Obscure Spotlight? Send your suggestions to firstname.lastname@example.org
I remember Gus Frerotte as the quarterback who 1) seemed to always be brought in when a team was down by about a zillion points in the fourth quarter, and 2) once slammed his helmetted head against a concrete wall on Sunday Night Football, straining his neck in the midst of celebrating a touchdown run. And with Charlie Batch injured for the Lions in 1999, Detroit called upon none other than the great Gus Frerotte to lead them in the playoffs against the Redskins–the very team that drafted him five seasons earlier. They lost, 27-13 and Frerotte completed just 21 of 47 passes, throwing two interceptions and posting a passer rating of just 52.0.
Frerotte’s the pride of the University of Tulsa, where he holds several major passing records. Surprisingly Tulsa’s not exactly pumping out NFL quarterbacks, so most of his records still stand. As a second-year quarterback for Washington, Frerotte became the starter. It was the Redskins for whom Gus would have his greatest success, and in 1997, made his first and only trip to the Pro Bowl.
Frerotte would see spot-starting action in 2000 with the Broncos, and made another starting appearance in 2005
when he beat out obscure athletes AJ Feeley and Jay Fiedler for the starting job in Miami. 2008 saw Gus Frerotte once again in the starting role, this time in Minnesota, where he led the Vikes to an 8-3 record in 11 games before suffering a back injury and losing his starting job. After being cut by the Vikings a year later, Frerotte retired. His 74.2 career passer rating is right on par with how mediocre you’d imagine it would be, and it nicely compliments his 114 touchdowns to 106 interceptions.
I was surprised to find that Frerotte only started six games for the Lions, all during that ’99 campaign. Maybe a Charlie Batch-led Lions team would have won a game or two in the playoffs. But I doubt it. Interestingly enough, the Lions haven’t been to the playoffs since. Perhaps it’s that Gus Frerotte was the key to their magical 8-8 playoff run in 1999. Or maybe he’s just another stop on the wonderfully, beautifully mediocre carousel of Lions starting quarterbacks.
Today on Obscure Athletes we’re starting a miniseries that, like every
miniseries we’ve done here, may or may not one day be completed. I promise to try my very best. We’re going chronologically here, so that means we’re stepping into the DeLorean and setting a destination time of 1999.
The turmoil is palpable in Denver. The greatest quarterback in the history of their franchise just retired, leaving the reigns in the hands of Brian “I’m telling my dad on you” Griese, and the remaining offensive star, running back Terrell Davis, has just gone down four games into the season. The team is 0-4.
Enter Olandis Gary. In the fifth game of the season he rushed for just 64 yards on 20 carries in a win over the Raiders. Gary’s performance picked up over the remainder of the season–one that many Broncos fans consider a lost one. Denver went 6-10 but Olandis Gary finished with 1159 yards rushing and 7 touchdowns in just twelve games.
Gary looked to be the full-time starter in 2000, but on opening night of the season, on Monday Night Football in St. Louis, Gary carried the ball 13 times for 80 yards, but tore his ACL in a 41-36 loss to the Rams, and would miss the whole season. To make matters worse for Gary, future star of this segment Mike Anderson stepped into Gary’s role and racked up 1487 yards and 15 touchdowns, and the team went 11-5.
Gary never regained his full-time starting position in Denver. He would start just four more games in his NFL career, and after 2002, move on to Detroit. He appeared in 13 games, starting one, and rushed for just 384 yards on 113 carries.
Indeed it seems Olandis Gary could have had a long, successful career in the NFL, yet like so many players (Particularly Denver running backs) he was a career victim of injuries. That, coupled with the Broncos’ backfield that once seemed to create thousand-yard rushers out of thin air, left Olandis Gary out of the NFL for good. The system that built up Olandis Gary for one magical 6-10 run in Denver, was responsible for tearing him down. Good thing Olandis Gary has Obscure Athletes to forever preserve his fifteen minutes of fame.
I saw a fellow who looked to be in his mid-20’s yesterday who had on a Frank Castillo Red Sox t-shirt. It was a name I hadn’t thought of in years, and all I
could ever remember about him was how much he would piss me off to watch pitch. His name always comes up when playing a game of “Name everyone who appeared on the ’04 Red Sox World Series team,” usually right after Ellis Burks.
Frank Castillo had three solid seasons in Major League Baseball. Unfortunately for him, he also had ten mediocre ones. The El Paso, Texas-born pitcher was drafted by the Cubs in 1987 and made his debut for Chicago in June of 1991. Castillo spent parts of seven seasons in the Windy City. The wind must have been blowing out most of the time. His best season came in 1995 when he went 11-10 with a 3.21 ERA. During that season Castillo came within one out of throwing a no-hitter at Wrigley Field against the Cardinals. With two outs in the top of the ninth, fellow obscure athlete Bernard Gilkey roped a line drive to left that got by Sammy Sosa and slowly rolled to the fence. The no-hitter, and so too Frank Castillo’s chance at baseball immortality, were over.
From 1997-2000, Castillo played for four different teams. In 2001 the Red Sox brought in Castillo, and in that season he put up a Castillo-like 10-9 record with a 4.21 ERA in 136 2/3 innings. In 2004, Castillo pitched exactly one inning for Boston in time split between Boston and their AAA Affiliate, Pawtucket. That inning earned Castillo a World Series ring as part of the ’04 team.
The Marlins brought in Castillo in 2005, but he was simply unable to recapture the magic that made him a marginally talented Major League pitcher, and started only one game. Castillo ended his Big League career with an 82-104 career record and a 4.56 ERA. Frank Castillo, if you ever read this, I hated watching you pitch, but you’re a friend of Obscure Athletes. And a World Series Champion. And the subject of today’s Obscure Spotlight.
A friend of mine and I were having a discussion the other day about the best baseball players never to make an All-Star game, and a name I haven’t heard in far too long came up: Otis Nixon. The 17-year Major Leaguer may never have made it to the Summer Classic, but stuck around because throughout his career offered two scarce Steroid Era commodities: good outfield defense and base stealing ability.
Otis Nixon is 16th all-time in stolen bases with 620, even despite never leading either
league in steals, and his .270/.343/.658 line is wholly unimpressive, even for a leadoff hitter. In 5800 career plate appearances, Otis Nixon hit 11 home runs, and had just over half as many RBI (318) as stolen bases in his career.
A well-documented cocaine addict, Nixon was infamously suspended for the 1991 World Series after he tested positive for the substance. But his flashy defense and flair for the dramatic kept him in the Majors for a good while, highlighted in 1999 while Nixon was playing for Atlanta. Down 8-7 in the eighth inning of game 6 of the NL Championship Series, Nixon pinch ran, and with one out, stole second and advanced to third on a wayward throw into center field. He would go on to score the tying run in the game, and Atlanta eventually won both the game and the series.
Otis Nixon played for nine teams in his Major League career, including two stints in Atlanta from 1991-93 and then back with the Braves in 1999, his final season in the Big Leagues. Nixon’s career high in home runs came in 1985 for Cleveland. He hit three. Base-stealing ability may make you a 17-year major leaguer, but we all know chicks dig the long ball, and that’s why Otis Nixon lives on today only as an obscure athlete.
And I heard he doesn’t blow coke on the reg anymore, so that’s good. Good for Otis.