Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Card #58: John D'Acquisto



Who Can It Be Now?
Dr. John Francis D'Acquisto was born on Christmas Eve, 1951, in San Diego, California.  He attended Abraham Lincoln High School in San Diego, and from all accounts from his career, he could throw a baseball very hard -- by his own memory, he recalled being clocked at 102.4 miles per hour on a slow gun (which would be perhaps around 107 MPH on other guns).  He wowed the scouts from the Giants enough for them to make him their first round draft pick (17th overall) in the 1970 June Draft.  

He signed nearly immediately and was assigned to Great Falls in the Pioneer League. Immediately, both his abilities and his shortcomings were evident.  In just 55 innings in 1970, D'Acquisto struck out 84 batters -- a whopping 13.7 K/9 in an era when 5.9 K/9 was the league average for the National League.  The shortcoming? He walked a similarly mind-boggling 12.1 batters every nine innings -- 74 in total.  If he were coming up in the minor leagues today, he would be Nuke LaLoosh come to life.

Despite the struggles, the Giants moved him up a level in 1971 to full-season Single-A in the Midwest League.  There, and in the two years that followed first in the California League (high Single-A) and in the Pacific Coast League (Phoenix for Triple-A in 1973), D'Acquisto reined in his walks to somewhere in the neighborhood of around 4.6 per nine innings.  That's still not great, but it was acceptable enough for the Giants to bring him up to the Major Leagues for a cup of coffee in September of 1973.  He picked up his first major league win that September by throwing a complete game against his hometown San Diego Padres on September 21, 1973, before 2,992 of his friends. 

Coming in to 1974, the Giants decided to plug D'Acquisto into their rotation as their fourth starter.  At times he was excellent, and other times he could not find home plate with a map, a compass, a GPS system, and a homing pigeon.  He walked 124 and struck out 167 in 215 innings that year, but it's the inconsistency from game to game that stands out.  His June was excellent -- 14 walks, 42 strikeouts, and a 2.77 ERA in 52 innings.  July? 41 innings, 33 walks, 28 strikeouts.  In some regards, that is what you get with a young pitcher, certainly. He was successful enough to be named as the National League Rookie of the Year and Rookie Pitcher of the Year by The Sporting News (though he did not receive any votes from the BBWAA).  

All the pitching in the minors and in the majors, though, took its toll on D'Acquisto. Obviously, more attention is paid these days to keeping a young pitcher's workload under control.  It's doubtful that D'Acquisto would have thrown 233 innings in 1971, 209 innings in 1972, and 212 innings in 1973 in the minors these days.  Looking at the 1974 season on a game-by-game basis, it's similarly unlikely that D'Acquisto would be left in to finish games in which he faced 38 hitters (June 7), 33 hitters (June 27), 33 hitters (September 6), and 39 hitters (September 15).  

To try to put this into a pitch-count context that we understand today, I used Nate Silver's rough estimating tool from Baseball Prospectus back in April of 2003.  His formula is set forth on that page, and I won't replicate it here.  If you plug in D'Acquisto's pitching lines from just the four games I mentioned above, you get the rough estimate that D'Acquisto threw 140 pitches on June 7, 116 pitches on June 27, 130 pitches on September 6, and a ridiculous 161 pitches on September 15 (he walked 6 and struck out 8 in that game).  Even taking a 10% margin of error into account by assuming that D'Acquisto was more efficient than this equation gives him credit for, those are still very high totals.

The reason I went down that rabbit trail is because D'Acquisto missed much of the 1975 season after undergoing elbow surgery and, frankly, he was never again the same pitcher that he was in that first season in 1974.  He never again reached any higher than 133-2/3 innings pitched in the big leagues.  While he still struck out hitters later in his career, he only had two seasons -- 1980 and 1982 -- where his walks per nine innings were lower than the 5.2 number from 1974. It is telling that an Associated Press game story on July 19, 1976 about him finally getting his first win the previous night started with the following paragraph:
Some walks, some runs and John D'Acquisto usually headed for the nearest exit. It got so bad that one writer nicknamed him "Ball Four" D'Acquisto.
And you guys think I can be harsh.  

Yet, despite the obvious control problems, many teams believed that he could be "fixed" by their staff and took chances on him (that's my conjecture here, by the way...I don't have a quote on that).  He was traded after the 1976 season to St. Louis along with Mike Caldwell and Dave Rader in exchange for Willie Crawford, John Curtis and Vic Harris.  The Cardinals got a three-month look at him and decided that they would rather have the Padres try to fix D'Acquisto, so in May of 1977 D'Acquisto went back home to San Diego with Pat Scanlon in exchange for Butch Metzger.

He stayed in San Diego until August of 1980.  The Montreal Expos traded for him for the pennant chase as another arm out of the bullpen.  D'Acquisto pitched well enough that year to earn a big 4-year, $1.1 million contract from the California Angels.  Interestingly, D'Acquisto himself rues signing that contract -- he wanted to play for the Yankees, who also made an offer for his services.  But, as this lengthy blog post that D'Acquisto himself wrote sets out, his wife vetoed the idea:
"I don't want to go to New York," my wife said, a half-empty glass of Cabernet accentuating her words.  "I don't care how much the Yankees will pay us."
Despite the good-sized contract, the Angels took one look at D'Acquisto's pitching and had buyer's remorse, it seems.  Perhaps it was the fact that he pitched 19-1/3 innings in April and May in Anaheim and gave up 12 walks, 26 hits, and 23 earned runs while striking out just 8.  In any event, the Angels apparently viewed their four-year contract as a sunk cost just 2 months in and sent D'Acquisto to Salt Lake City in the Pacific Coast League on May 26, 1981.   

So, in 1982, D'Acquisto was just thirty years old, but his career was on life support.  It got worse -- the Angels simply cut him at the end of spring training.  It took him three weeks to find another job -- with the Braves -- who promptly cut him after 3 months in the organization.  The Oakland Athletics took a flyer on him in August of that year and gave him his final 11 appearances as a big league player.  The White Sox then gave him a shot at Triple-A in 1983, but after 17 innings in which D'Acquisto gave up 18 earned runs, they mercifully cut him loose.

Nanu Nanu
This 1982 Topps card was D'Acquisto's last Topps card as a major league player.  He appeared in the 1983 Fleer set as an Oakland Athletic, however, and he also appeared in the 2005 Topps Rookie Cup set with a relic card numbered to just 7.

The Verdict
On October 4, 1995, a federal judge ruled that D'Acquisto and his lawyer Thomas F. Goodman falsely represented themselves to investors as sophisticated money managers and falsely stated that investor funds were invested in low-risk ventures that would be paid back with interest.  He admitted to selling counterfeit securities in 1996 in a New York District Court and spent time in prison from 1996 and then received additional time for his misuse of investor funds to buy racehorses, luxury cars, property, and a part interest in a Mexican baseball team.

He lost his securities license as a result as well.

Orange You Smart
Normally, I wouldn't follow a "this guy went to prison for securities fraud" section with any discussion of how smart a guy is.  Then again, it wasn't his fault, appD'Acquisto, though, used his prison time to get his post-high-school education jump started.  By 2004, though, he had received a doctorate of science in exercise science and physiology with a focus on biomechanics.  While it is a degree from an online university, it is a doctorate.  Granted, former major league pitcher Dr. Mike Marshall is not impressed and believes we should ignore D'Acquisto and his theories on biomechanics, but hey -- D'Acquisto is a doctor.

A Few Minutes with Tony L.
D'Acquisto made no impact on me in 1982, probably because of all the injuries and the fact that he was a National Leaguer.  D'Acquisto appears to be relatively easy to contact for people who are interested in interviewing him.  There are a number of blogs with stories about his life since baseball.

Of course, as you might expect for a relatively intelligent man who spent time in prison for fraud and was fined over $7.5 million by the Securities and Exchange Commission, he is a bit defensive about that time.  He told Fansided on SI.com:
I was set up by very slick individuals that said I stole a bunch of money, and they they come to find out that I didn't.  It (the money) was in their hands to begin with.  They were using me as a fall guy so they can sneak away with everything and they did.
D'Acquisto maintains his innocence to this day and accused authorities of targeting him. Prosecutors involved, however, maintain simply that the record speaks for itself.  Further, keep in mind that D'Acquisto pleaded guilty to at least one of the charges.

Since getting out of prison, though, D'Acquisto has done everything from getting his doctorate to becoming a firefighter and EMT in California and working construction.  If you are interested, you can prepay for an autograph from D'Acquisto by going to his Past Pros website (Willie Mays Aikens also has one).

When all is said and done, I do not believe that anyone can accuse D'Acquisto of leading a boring life.

3 comments:

  1. That is odd he had a relic card.

    We'll keep D'Acquisto away from all the 1982 players once we pay their appearance fees. I don't want him giving investing ideas.....

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  2. Here's an article John D wrote about his 1975 arm injury. It just came out. (http://www.instreamsports.com/alpha/node/365).

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    Replies
    1. Wow, that is an awesome article/blog post! Thanks for putting it up, Matthew!

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