As someone who shares a birthday with Michael Jordan, Lou Diamond Phillips and Paris Hilton, the talents I bring to the table should be obvious. Yet I look to those baseball players born on my birthday constantly for affirmation and for ammunition in my ongoing effort to convince my wife that my birthday team will beat her birthday team, a battle she consistently meets with what I can only assume is an affect of indifference.
I turned 31 on Thursday, February 17, and thought it would be a good time to once again check out my zodiac compatriots. Alas, no one new has emerged since Brian Bruney, who stumbled through the 2010 season. But it also led me to wonder - are teams better off trading for players born on my birthday, or trading them away?
As mentioned before, Bruney doesn't present a strong case. Dealt by the Yankees to the Nationals for Jamie Hoffmann in the winter of 2009, Bruney pitched to a 7.64 ERA over 17.2 innings in 2010 before getting uncermoniously dumped in May. Hoffman, whom the Nationals had acquired in the Rule 5 draft from the Dodgers, was eventually returned by the Yankees to the Dodgers, where he still threatens to break through as a fifth outfielder. In other words, strike one.
Josh Willingham, born exactly one year before me, makes a better case for my people. Acquired by Washington with Scott Olsen from Florida for Jake Smolinski, P.J. Dean and Emilio Bonifacio, Willingham gave the Nats a pair of solid offensive seasons, with a 127 OPS+ in 2009, a 129 OPS+ in 2010. The Athletics traded for him this winter, giving up Corey Brown and promising young pitcher Henry Rodriguez of the close rivals, the Fightin' February Twenty-Fifths. The jury's still out on this one.
Going further back in time, the February 17th connection had a feel-good story in Roger Craig, born on that date in 1930. After a pair of seasons with the Mets in 1962 and 1963, campaigns in which Craig pitched reasonably well, but piled up a combined 46 losses, the Cardinals acquired him for pitcher Bill Wakefield and outfielder George Altman.
While Wakefield was mediocre and Altman was well below that, Craig had a magnificent season in St. Louis, pitching to a 118 ERA+ and even striking out nine over five scoreless innings in the World Series. He is a monument to the best a February 17 trade can work out. His transaction a year later, along with Charlie James to Cincinnati for Bob Purkey, ended with little value on either side. Purkey was born in, of all months, July.
As for the most famous February 17 baseball baby: that would be Wally Pipp back in 1893, who was never traded, only sold. One can imagine the Yankees were able to drive up his price only so far following the 1925 season in which Lou Gehrig established himself, making idle threats about keeping Pipp for another 48 years, then installing him at Designated Hitter. We learn little from Pipp's example in terms of trade value, but it reminds me of an important lesson: never take Tim up on an offer to take the day off. We February 17ths are easily replaced.