Monday, August 5, 2013

Random Ex-Brave: Tim Spehr

I dropped the "of the day" bit because this isn't a regular column.  As I discussed in the first one, using random.org, I find a player from the past that we probably have forgotten.  While there is a chance that a player randomly chosen by year and alphabetic placement on a roster could be an All-Star, there is a bigger chance that the player is a middle reliever or a failed prospect or, like in today's edition, a journeyman whose Braves career lasted eight games.

Tim Spehr

The Herculean task of being a journeyman catcher is one of endurance and humility.  No team believes in you.  No team commits to you.  For the team you currently play for, there is little effort to find a place on the team for you and your job is forever in danger of being lost.  Your opportunity might present itself in an injury to a major leaguer or the troubles of a young catcher the team clearly prefers.  Your confidence is of little concern to the team.

Tim Spehr fit the mold quite well.  He was selected in the 5th round of the 1988 draft out of Arizona State by the Kansas City Royals.  Turk Wendell was the Braves selection that round, 15 picks before Spehr.  Nevertheless, Spehr was a fast riser, reaching AAA in in his third season and in 1991, during his second run in Omaha, Kansas City's long-time AAA farm club, Spehr made his debut for the Royals.  He had been called up to back up Brent Mayne after the Royals number one catcher, Mike Macfarlane, went down with injury.  He didn't hit, which wasn't surprising, but still got an extended look with 37 games, 27 starts.  With their one-two punch of Macfarlane/Mayne back in 1992 with future manager Bob Melvin playing the role as third catcher, Spehr languished in Omaha during the season, hitting a paltry .199.

After the 1992 season, the Royals sent Spehr to the Expos in a trade, getting little in return.  Mark Gardner was awful in his one season with the Royals and Doug Piatt never played in Kansas City.  Meanwhile, the Royals also sent Jeff Shaw to the Expos.  Shaw never enjoyed his time with the 'Spos, but in 1996, he became a superb reliever for the Reds and went to the 1997 All-Star Game with them and the 2001 All-Star Game with the Dodgers.  Spehr...never went to a major league All-Star Game.

Instead, he would spend the next four seasons as a backup in Montreal. In 1996, the Expos loved Spehr so much they didn't want him to bat.  In 63 games, he only came to the plate just 49 times.  Amazingly, he kept receiving a major league paycheck.  However, the Expos were done with the Great Tim Spehr Experiment (Experience?) and allowed him to leave following the '96 season.  Boston came calling, but only briefly.  Less than a month after signing, Spehr was purchased by the...Kansas City Royals!  Spehr proved without a doubt, you truly can go home again.  Spehr was still buried behind MacFarlane and the young Mike Sweeney so he rarely took the field and two months after being purchased, he was unceremoniously released.  After two long weeks of wondering where he would land, John Schuerholtz came calling and Spehr signed with the Braves.  Well, he had to.  Otherwise, he would have never been an ex-Brave.

A month later, an injury to Javy Lopez brought Spehr up from Richmond, where, surprisingly, he wasn't hitting.  On July 14th, Spehr made his Braves debut for an epic battle as the Braves hosted the Phils.  Tyler Green faced Chris Brock.  Because you probably don't know who either one of those guys are, Brock's the Brave in this case.  Our new Braves catcher batted 8th behind Mark Lemke, who was OPSing .568 at the time.  In the fifth, down 6-1, Spehr faced Green with Fred McGriff, Andruw Jones, and the aforementioned Lemmer on base.  But Spehr could only do what Spehr does and took Green deep on the first pitch for a Grand Slam.  In 656 PA, Spehr hit 19 homers and 2 Grand Slams.  The Braves went on to win the slugfest 10-6 with the help of another Grand Slam, this one by Ryan Klesko.

Spehr would stay with the Braves for another three games before Lopez returned, catching a Kevin Millwood start and even got a call to pinch hit.  Cause nothing says pinch hitter like a career .198 batting average.  Spehr was demoted until September and after rosters expanded, he got into four more games, all as a defensive replacement.  He even swiped his 8th career base on September 26th, making a mockery of Alberto Castillo.

In a move that astonished baseball, the Braves allowed Spehr to leave after the season.  He hooked on with the Mets because that's what you do when the Braves don't want you anymore.  He was then purchased - AGAIN! - by the Royals because they couldn't quit Spehr.  He spent 2000 and 2001 in the Red Sox and Reds organizations (he liked the color?), but never again reached the majors after his 1999 campaign with the Royals.

Spehr retired after the 2001 season.

But he will always have July 14th...1997...when he brought 38,112 fans to their feet at Turner Field with the homer heard around the world....or at least, on TBS.  Thanks Tim!

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