I told you that I knew a lot about John Milton. Further proof: he wrote: “Truth never comes into the world but like a bastard, to the ignominy of him that brought her birth.”
It’s not often (although maybe it is) that you see, perhaps the second greatest English poet, have something in common with a journeyman major league pitcher.
Clearly, Sparks deserved to be disgraced for dislocating his shoulder trying to tear a phone book in half. When your body is your moneymaker, let’s try to treat it nicely. I mean there is a reason contracts have strict clauses in them — you can thank the Steve Sparks of the world, also Clint Barmes, Jeff Kent, etc.
While the dislocation breakdown is interesting, Sparks is one of the rare modern-day knuckleballers. As the card notes, its likely Sparks would have made the club in 1994 as a 28-year-old (knuckleballers are notoriously late bloomers).
This is all by way of saying that in his first taste of major league action, Sparks, 29, lead his club in innings pitched. He threw 210 in 1995 and would have his best season for a long time in the majors. While his ERA (4.63) and WHIP (1.46) leave a lot to be desired, on account of his sheer amount of innings, he finished 9th in rookie of the year voting and was worth 3 WAR.
It’d take three years before Sparks was that valuable again. In 1998, he posted a 4.34 ERA and 1.46 WHIP for the Angels in 128.2 IPs. Not great, but still about 2.8 WAR.
He finally put it altogether in 2001 as a 35-year-old for the Detroit Tigers. He threw 232 innings, posted a 3.65 ERA and a 1.33 WHIP and was worth 4.2 WAR. He would be out of the majors just three years later.
Still, for a guy who didn’t get to the majors until he was 29 (partly because he was an idiot), he amassed 1,319 innings and was worth, on average, roughly one win per year above a replacement. Not bad for Mr. Phone Book.
For the history of this series, check out this article: Check You Out On the Flip Side: Howard Johnson.