The only reason long-time Red Sox fans should remember today’s Beantown Baseball Birthday Celebrant is that he was one of the guys Boston got in return when they traded Tony Conigliaro to the then California Angels in October of 1970. At the time, Ken Tatum was a highly regarded young closer who had gone 7-2 during his 1969 rookie season with the Angels and saved 22 games. His ERA that year was a sparkling 1.38 and he finished fourth in the 1969 AL Rookie of the Year balloting. Tatum proved his debut season was no fluke when he followed it up with a 7-4, 17-save, 2.93 ERA year in 1970.
So when they pulled the trigger on the Conigliaro deal, the Red Sox front office figured Tatum would combine with Sparky Lyle to give the club one of the league’s best bullpens for years to come. That didn’t happen. Tatum was pretty much a bust for Boston. During his three seasons with the team he saved a total of just 13 games and ended up as a throw-in in the 1973 trade that sent Reggie Smith to the Cardinals in exchange for Rick Wise and Bernie Carbo. Meanwhile, Doug Griffin turned into a good second baseman for the BoSox and remained with the team for seven years.
Tatum was a native of Louisiana and he played college ball for Mississippi State. A right-hander, the Angels drafted him with their second round pick in the 1966 draft. I can remember when this guy beaned the Oriole center-fielder Paul Blair in the head during the 1970 season. Blair was never again the same hitter after the beaning. Tatum ended his big league career with the White Sox in 1974
The big league career of today’s Beantown Baseball Birthday Celebrant certainly got off to a rough and painful start. The New York Yankees selected the six foot two inch right hander in the ninth round of the 2006 MLB Draft. The ex-Yankee infielder, Andy Stankiewicz was the scout who signed him. Melancon was penciled in as a reliever and assigned to the team’s Staten Island minor league club and two weeks later, after just seven appearances, he was shelved for the season when it was discovered he needed Tommy John surgery. After a one-year recovery period, the Wheat Ridge, Colorado native got rolling. He went 19-2 during his next three seasons in New York’s farm system and also earned 15 saves.
He made his Yankee debut with 13 appearances during the team’s 2009 World Championship season. Whenever a reliever on the parent club was injured, they’d bring up Melancon to fill in for him. Although he made four trips up to the Bronx that year, he did not make Joe Girardi’s postseason roster, but he did post a respectable 3.86 ERA. He didn’t make New York’s big league roster the following year either but was called up in May and made what turned out to be his final two appearances in pinstripes. That July, the Yankees swung a deal for Houston slugger, Lance Berkman and Melancon was one of the two prospects New York gave up to get the switch-hitter. (Infielder Jimmy Paredes was the other.)
Finally getting a chance to pitch regularly at the big league level, Melancon took advantage of it. He went 2-0 with a 3.12 ERA during his first half-year in Houston and then had a break-out year in 2011 with a 20-save, 8 win- 4 loss, 2.78 ERA season in 2011. That December, the Red Sox were desperate to find someone to replace their closer, Jonathan Papelbon, who had just signed as a free agent with the Phillies. Boston offered Houston their utility infielder Jed Lowrie along with pitching prospect Kyle Weiland in exchange for Melancon and the Astros bit. As it turned out, the Red Sox were not planning on putting their new acquisition in the closer’s role. Two weeks after their deal with Houston, Boston made a trade for the A’s closer, Andrew Bailey.
I remember the ESPN/Boston blog boards were pretty enthusiastic about the two closers coming to Fenway and I didn’t blame them. I thought they’d do really well there. But we were wrong. First Bailey got hurt in spring training and remained on the DL till August. That forced Melancon into the closer’s role. The team got off to a horrible start during the 2012 regular season under new manager, Bobby Valentine and their new closer was a key culprit. He lost the season opener and then blew a save in his second appearance two days later. After giving up six runs to the Rangers in an April 17th game, his ERA was 49.50. He was a wreck and Boston was forced to send him down to Pawtucket to try and restore his game and his confidence. He pitched very well there and eventually made his way back to Fenway and pitched decently during the second half. But by then it was too late. The Bobby Valentine hiring had been a disaster for the Red Sox and Melancon would forever be tied to it. He was traded to Pittsburgh on December 26th of 2012. He has pitched like an All-Star since.
This troubled mountain of a man was signed by Boston to a two-year, $12 million free agent contract following the 2010 season. Part of the team’s plan was to pair him with their perennial all-star closer, Jonathan Papelbon to shut down opposing offenses during the final two innings of Red Sox’ games. The other part of the plan was to put some “closer” insurance in place just in case Papelbon himself decided to leave when he reached free agency following that 2011 season. Talk about poor planning.
Jenks appeared in only 19 games for Boston that first year before burry growth spurs on his spine turned his volcanic pitching motion into an exercise in agony and he was placed on the DL. Meanwhile, Papelbon did abandon Boston after that 2011 season to accept a huge deal from the Phillies.
Jenks would never again throw another pitch for Boston. It also now appears likely that he will never again pitch in the big leagues. When this 6’4″, 270 pound right-hander and his 100 mph heater came on the scene with the White Sox, he was the talk of baseball. He put together back-to-back 40-save seasons in 2006 and ’07 and it looked as if he might replace the great Mariano Rivera as the league’s top closer. That didn’t happen. Raised in a log cabin in a remote area of Idaho, Jenks had a well-publicized wild side that seemed to constantly get him into trouble. A hard living off-the-field life compounded by a sore arm and a volatile relationship with his also slightly crazy White Sox skipper, Ozzie Guillen, convinced Jenks the grass was greener in Boston. It sure wasn’t.
By the time the Red Sox signed this 6’4″ right-hander as a free agent in 2003, he had already appeared in over 600 big league games, pitched for five big league teams, won two World Series rings and was 37 years of age. That’s why Red Sox fans who at the time did not pay much attention to the news that Mike Timlin was coming to Fenway, could not be accused of being baseball ignorant. The guy looked like a journeyman reliever with maybe a season left in his heavily-weathered pitching arm.
Instead, Timlin became the workhorse of the Boston bullpen for the next six years, appearing in 394 games during that span, compiling a 30-22 record with 27 saves and becoming an indispensable late-inning bridge to three different Boston closers. Though he did not pitch well in either World Series he appeared in as a Red Sox, he was a key cog in both bullpens that got them there and he earned his third and fourth rings during his six seasons in Beantown. He retired at the end of the 2008 season, at the age of 42 with a 75-73 career record and 141 saves in a total of 1,058 games, which places him currently eighth on the list for most career regular season games as a pitcher.