CONGRATULATIONS TO THE CONTEST WINNER SEAN MacNAIR who correctly identified Rudy Pemberton’s 1996 season for the Boston Red Sox.
Thank you also to everyone who responded with the correct answer to yesterday’s trivia contest! There were a lot more responses than I anticipated, which was a great surprise.
For his correct response, Sean has won a set of 8 Strat-O-Matic Baseball teams from the National League of 1988.
Rudy Pemberton was a September, 1996 callup by the Boston Red Sox from AAA Pawtuckett. It was his second stint in the show, as he had hit .300 on the button in 30 at bats for the Tigers in September a year before. As a 26 year old with 1518 AAA at bats under his belt – and a slash line of .315/.335/.502 at that level – Pemberton had nothing left to prove in the minors.
What he proceeded to do that September was beyond anyone’s expectations, however. Pemberton hit safely in 11 of 13 games, compiling 21 hits in 41 at bats for a batting average of .512.
In the book You Never Forget Your First: Ballplayers Recall Their Big League Debuts, by Josh Lewin Trot Nixon recounts the details of his major league debut on September 21, 1996. It was a great game, a 12-11 barnburner with the Yankees, won on a base hit by – who else? – Derek Jeter. Pemberton played right field in that game, going two-for-three with a double and an RBI.
That date has significance for me, personally. It was my twenty-first birthday. My friends took me out to the bars to at midnight the night before to celebrate, but I don’t remember anything beyond our first stop. I woke up the morning of the 21st sick, tired, vaguely embarrassed, weird, new and excited. I had entered a new club, where alcohol was available everywhere. I felt invincible. On September 21, 1996 I was Superman.
From Trot Nixon’s anecdote in the book:
On September 21, 1996, Rudy Pemberton and I were both wearing the same costume.
Unfortunately for Pemberton, his experience as Superman was fleeting. He was the Sox’s opening day right fielder in 1997, but hit just .238 in 27 games before losing his job to Troy O’Leary. Rudy never played in the big leagues again, despite managing a career .296 batting average and .829 OPS in 5955 minor league plate appearances. He finally retired from professional ball after the 2005 season, despite hitting .337/.433/.511/.944 over two stops in Mexico.
My experience as Superman was fleeting, too. It wasn’t long before it was apparent that alcohol was my kryptonite. Like Pemberton, I hung around for a long time trying to recover the glorious feeling I had back in my first September, but it never would be the same. Eventually I realized that I was powerless over alcohol and that my life had become unmanageable.
I have a soft spot in my heart for guys like Rudy Pemberton. I know what it’s like to enjoy a glorious time in my life and to chase that feeling for years afterward. Maybe we all do. Maybe we’ve all had a September like Pemberton’s. Maybe we’ll each know the feeling of someday having to fold up and put away the uniform, too.
Until then, there’s always next year.
From page 269 of The New Bill James Historical Baseball Abstract
(pub. 2001), the best September callups in baseball history: