Florida Marlins pitcher HAYDEN PENN & his place in Baltimore Orioles history
First of all, I really like Hayden Penn. I was rooting for him to earn a place on the Orioles Opening Day roster this spring, and surprise more than a few people with a solid major league season in 2009. That said, I can’t be sorry he’ll be sleeping with the fishes in Florida Marlins-ville.
The reasons are threefold: 1) I have my doubts that he’ll ever approach the greatness many once believed he was destined for, 2) Even if he does approach it, he’s probably better off with a fresh start in a new zip code, and 3) For now at least, his dubious place in the Orioles record book is secure.
You see, it’s not that unusual for a pitcher to surrender more runs than innings pitched and get stuck with an unsightly earned run average in excess of 9.00. Baseball’s search for healthy, effective arms is constant, and the list of guys who got lit up in limited chances is getting longer everyday.
You’ve got to look a lot harder to find pitchers that returned to the mound enough times to log even 10 innings when they were allowing more than an earned run per frame on average. The Baltimore Orioles have been playing ball for 55 years since returning to the American League in 1954, and only nine hurlers that make you want to hurl have “achieved” this distinction.
If you’ve forgotten about the brief stints in Baltimore of Darold Knowles (9.20 ERA in 14 2/3 IP), Bobby Munoz (9.75 in 12), Esteban Yan (10.89 in 19), Lesli Brea (12.27 in 11), Richie Lewis (12.71 in 11 1/3) & Jim Brower (13.86 in 12 1/3), it’s understandable. None of them made themselves welcome to stick around long, though it should be pointed out that three of them had respectable major league careers, with Knowles going to an All-Star Game and winning three World Series rings.
Go a little deeper into the black hole of Orioles history and you will find only three names, the unholy trinity of Baltimore mound ineptitude if you will. No quartet of 20-game winners here. No Cy Young awards, no, nothing like that. Here we have Paul Shuey, a once solid reliever who arrived in Baltimore after three-and-a-half years out of the big leagues and posted a 9.82 ERA. Twenty-eight earned runs in just 25 2/3 innings. Shuey surrendered the final nine runs of the Orioles appalling 30-3 loss to the Rangers on 8/22/07, got released two weeks later and went back into retirement.
Kurt Ainsworth came to Baltimore as one of three players in a deal for Sir Sidney Ponson at the interleague trade deadline in 2003. Though Ainsworth was coming off a broken shoulder blade, the Orioles had high hopes. A trio of relief outings at the end of the year, and seven starts at the beginning of 2004, resulted in a 9.82 overall ERA in 33 innings, however, and Ainsworth dropped out of pro ball after tears to his labrum and rotator cuff were discovered the following spring.
This brings us back to Hayden Penn. As a 20-year-old, he joined an Orioles team in first place in late-May and went 3-2, 6.34 in eight starts. There was every reason to believe he’s improve with experience, but a laundry list of injuries and improbable strokes of bad luck made sure it never happened…at least not in Baltimore. The only other big league action Penn saw with the O’s were a half-dozen starts in late 2006 in which he got absolutely clobbered. As a result, his final tally in an Orioles uniform reads 60 earned runs in 58 innings, a 9.31 ERA. In 55 years, no Baltimore pitcher was so ineffective with so much opportunity.
Still, I’d love to see some manager hand Hayden Penn the baseball over and over and let him fix the ledger. It’s a shame it won’t be in Baltimore, but we’ll always remember the California kid with the funny name and the inflated ERA. Good luck in Miami!