Obscure Athletes

Where the 15 Minutes of Fame Never End

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Obscure Spotlight: Matt Murton

"I was in the Nomar trade, ya know.."

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.

Obscure Spotlight: Ron Coomer

Oft-forgotten is how smooth the Coom Dawg's swing was.

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.

Obscure Spotlight: Frank Castillo

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

Frank Castillo's a man with an intimidating fastball, and an even more intimidating pitching face!

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.

My theory on what happened to Ben Grieve

Grieve graced the front of the A's official pocket-sized schedule in 1999

When the Sandy Alderson-led Oakland A’s picked an 18-year old Ben Grieve with the second overall pick in the 1994 MLB draft, there was little doubt in the baseball community that he was bound for superstardom. By the time he made his Major League debut in September, 1997, there were even fewer skeptics. Ben Grieve’s outfield ability and raw power shone through in just a month of action in 1997, as he collected 24 RBI in 24 games.

1998 was Grieve’s first full season in the majors, and he picked up right where he left off a year earlier, playing in 158 games, hitting 18 home runs and driving in 89 runs, making his only All-star game and winning the AP Rookie of the Year award. Grieve’s next season saw his home run total take a jump to 28—a season he followed up with his best ever in 2000. That 2000 season, Grieve hit .279 with 27 homers and a career-high 104 runs driven in.

"What happened to my talent, and all the fans who used to come see me?" A defeated Ben Grieve grimaces.

That offseason, Ben Grieve was dealt to the Tampa Bay Devil Rays in a three-way deal that saw obscure athletes Angel Berroa and AJ Hinch being sent to Kansas City and brought Mark Ellis and Johnny Damon to Oakland.

Some speculate the move to Tampa Bay was Grieve’s downfall, others cite his work ethic and frustration. Still others point to his inability to stay healthy after his second season with the D-Rays. But I knew what was wrong. I’d seen it before. To me it was obvious that the Monstars stole Ben Grieve’s talent. Unfortunately for him, Bugs Bunny wasn’t walking through that door to help him get his talent back, and Grieve was never the same. He played just two full seasons in Tampa Bay, and his OPS saw a giant drop.

After an injury-plagued 2003 season, Grieve was released by Tampa Bay, and he signed a deal with the Brewers in an attempt to revitalize his career. In August of that season the Brew Crew sent Grieve to the Cubs, for whom he would only play only 38 games in two seasons (which were divided by the ’05 offseason, during which he signed with the Pirates and was released when Spring Training ended).  Ben Grieve, once one of the most highly touted prospects of the 1990’s, never played a game after 2005. Grieve’s career tends to live on today as the answer to the trivia question “Who won the 1998 AL Rookie of the Year award?” Such an obscure ending to a career once with so much promise. Damn you Danny DeVito!

Obscure Spotlight: Glendon Rusch

Glendon Rusch is a great example of who comes to mind when I think about pitchers who seemed to always be around, but put up stats that make you wonder how he sustained such a long career. Rusch has a 67-99 career record with a 5.04 ERA,

Rusch seen tipping his hat to a no-doubt sparse crowd after a no-doubt dazzling start

numbers that remained consistently obscure  through his 12 seasons in the big leagues. The Seattle-born pitcher made his Major League debut for the Royals in April of 1997, and almost immediately solidified himelf as one of the most stunningly mediocre pitchers in baseball. Rusch made 27 starts in that ’97 campaign, going 6-9 with a 5.50 ERA–numbers that would land most young major league starters in the bullpen.

Rusch wasn’t done being a back-end-of-the-rotation hero in KC, though. He followed that rookie season with a dismal 6-15 record, complete with a 5.88 ERA in 24 starts. Numbers like these would have been enough to run most pitchers with numbers so forgettable out of the majors .Yet Rusch managed to stick around through those seasons in Kansas City.

The following three seasons saw Rusch land in New York to play for the Mets, before making stops with the Brewers and Cubs, where in 2004 he put up his most effective season, going 6-2 with a 3.47 ERA, mostly out of the bullpen. It would be the only season in which Glendon Rusch put up an ERA better than 4.0. Rusch played briefly for the Padres before ending up in Colorado in 2009. There he went 2-0 in 11 innings out of the bullpen but with an era of 6.75,  before being designated for assignment by the Rockies. Rusch currently plays independent league baseball, and he’s yet to return to the Majors. Here’s hoping one day he does.

Obscure Spotlight: Shawon Dunston

Shawon Dunston could never decide in which uniform he felt he looked better. Try and follow me here: He was drafted by the Cubs first overall in 1982, and seemed pretty content for ten major league seasons there, before heading to San Fransisco to play for the Giants in 1996. He then headed back to Chicago for part of the 1997 season, and then once again ended up with the Giants again for a portion of 1998. He’d spend a year split between the Mets and Cardinals, and after one more season in St. Louis, decided to take a third go-around with the Giants for two more years before hanging it up. Oh, and he played for the Pirates at one point too….I think. 

I would VASTLY overpay for a Shawon Dunston jersey.

Being a solid base stealer with lead-off speed seemed seldom utilized, and hiscareer .296 on base percentage will tell you why. He walked slightly more than Stephen Hawking over his 18-year career, highlighted by his first all-star season in which he struck out 108 times, drawing just 16 walks. That season, keep in mind, an all-star season, he put up a cringeworthy .271 OBP to accompany his .249 average.Dunston would put another all-star selection on his resume in 1990, with his stunningly average .262/.283/.709. Granted he was a shortstop, but is it so wrong to ask for something, even slightly above average offensive production in order to be an all-star? Must have been a couple down-years for shortstops.

Remember when everybody wore those badass half-team colored high socks?

Dunston finished his 18-year major league career with a .269/.296/.712 line, with 150 career home runs. Oddly enough, in his only year of eligibility before being exiled from the Hall of Fame ballot (Why the fuck was Shawon Dunston on the Hall of Fame ballot? I dunno), he actually received one vote from a member of the Writers’ Association, who felt as though Greenberg, Wagner, and Banks just wasn’t quite complete without ‘Dunston.’ No one ever even bothered to tell him that his first name is spelled wrong.

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