Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Card #92: Brad Havens

Who Can It Be Now?
Bradley David Havens was born on November 17, 1959 (according to Baseball Reference; The Baseball Cube says Havens was born 11/17/1958), in Highland Park, Michigan. He grew up in the Detroit area and played baseball for Kimball High School in Royal Oak, Michigan.

According to an unsourced but incredibly detailed blog post about Havens, Havens "watched the Detroit Tigers play at Tiger Stadium hundreds, if not thousands[,] of times as a child and teen." Not to pick nits, but the top-end of that math is probably off.  Even if Havens watched every single game at Tiger Stadium from the day he was born until the end of the 1977 season, he would have topped out at 1458 games (and that doesn't try to take into account the few games that were cancelled for strikes in the early 1970s or rainouts that were never made up).  But hyperbole is a better story.

Anyway, that website is probably correct in saying that Havens was an All-State pitcher in Michigan in 1977 as a senior. That was the year that Havens was selected in the 8th Round of the June Amateur Draft by the California Angels.  

Havens did not play minor league baseball until 1978, however. It's unclear why he did not play in 1977 -- probably because he signed too late, if I were guessing -- but the Angels sent him to Single-A Quad Cities in the Midwest League, a full-season league, for his professional debut in 1978. At Quad Cities, he pitched well -- 200 innings, 171 hits allowed, a 2.66 ERA (based on 59 earned runs...though he gave up a total of 80 runs), 74 BB, 197 Ks -- all good, solid numbers for a kid fresh out of high school.  Maybe the 200 innings was a bit much, but there's no indication that it caused any arm problems.

Before the 1979 season, however, Havens left the Angels organization. He was one of the pieces sent to Minnesota (along with catcher Dave Engle, pitcher Paul Hartzell, and OF Ken Landreaux) in exchange for eventual Hall of Famer Rod Carew.  The Twins had tried to force the Angels into trading them Carney Lansford, but the Angels refused to include Lansford after his 1978 season.  

In the Twins organization in 1979, Havens split time between Single-A Wisconsin Rapids and Double-A Orlando.  He got lit up like a Roman candle in Orlando -- 7.28 ERA, 128 hits allowed in 94 innings, 50 walks against 63 strikeouts -- so the Twins sent him back to the Single-A California League with Visalia in 1980.  Frankly, assuming that he was born in 1959, he had plenty of time even at that point -- he was still nearly 2 years younger than his competition in Visalia.  There, he put up a good record of 14-9 and a 3.32 ERA (but 18 unearned runs) in 195 innings.  His walks went back down and his strikeouts went back up, which is what you would expect for a good pitching prospect.

In 1981, Havens started the year in Double-A Orlando.  He pitched pretty well -- 3.53 ERA in 74 innings (with 9 unearned runs) and with good walk and strikeout ratios.  He was called up to the major leagues on June 5, 1981 for his major league debut.  It had to be an intimidating experience -- he debuted by pitching a half an hour from where he grew up, against the Detroit Tigers -- his childhood team.  He was facing the Tigers ace, Jack Morris, on top of everything else.  

Yet, he was not overawed -- despite being credited with the loss, he only gave up two hits, though one of them was a solo homerun to shortstop Alan Trammell.  The news story about the game mentioned that he was "obviously pumped up at the prospect of pitching before a Polish Night crowd of 23,133. . . ."  I mean, those crazy Poles...but, more saliently, he showered and left the stadium before the game ended with his father.  Havens pitched one more game -- another loss to Detroit, this time in Minnesota -- before the strike shut down work for a couple of months.  

When play resumed Havens pitched creditably -- getting his ERA as low as 2.74 by September 20 before getting rocked his last three starts of the season to finish with a 3-6 record, a 3.58 ERA in 78 innings with 24 walks allowed (with 6 of those in his final two starts) and 43 strikeouts.  This performance gained him a point in the rookie of the year voting -- good enough to tie him with his teammate Gary Ward for 9th overall in the voting -- but far behind winner Dave Righetti.

Thus, at the age of 22 in 1982, Havens skipped over Triple-A and pitched the entire year in Minnesota. He did okay -- a 10-14 record for a team that finished 60-102 and with a 4.31 ERA for a team that finished with a 4.72 team ERA isn't a bad result. 

Theoretically, then, he came into the 1983 season as the putative ace of a staff that was led in 1982 by the now-recently deceased Bobby Castillo.  Indeed, Havens was the Opening Day starter for the Twins in 1983 -- once again pitching against the Detroit Tigers.  To say things went poorly for Havens in 1983 is akin to saying that things went poorly for Custer at Little Big Horn.  

The first start was a disaster.  The Tigers sent 10 men to the plate in the first inning, though it could have been worse in that the inning ended when Tom Brookens was thrown out in a rundown at third bases to end the inning.  He made it into the second inning, and was yanked after getting just four outs.  TV announcer Pat Hughes -- who later joined the Milwaukee Brewers as Bob Uecker's straight man/color commentator -- was calling his first game of his career at the age of 27. He misremembered the game story, but the story he tells is nonetheless wonderful gallows humor from Twins manager Billy Gardner:
My major league debut was opening day, Twins-Tigers, April 1983, at the Metrodome. I'm twenty-seven, doing TV, excited till Detroit scores six runs in the first, young starter Brad Havens giving up a three-run homer to Larry Herndon to the football press box in right-centerfield. Later, I'm having a beer in the press lounge when Twins skipper Billy Gardner sits down and starts sipping. I say, "Havens left after only two-thirds of an inning. One good thing, Billy, is that he threw only thirty pitches. You could probably bring him back in a couple of days to pitch again." He took a sip, smiled, and said: "You're right, I could." Pause. "But why in the world would I want to?"
By the time the Twins finally sent Havens to Triple-A, he had racked up 80-1/3 innings in which he gave up 110 hits, 11 homeruns, 38 walks (against 40 strikeouts) and 73 earned runs for a massive 8.18 ERA.  His 8 earned-run season debut didn't help matters, but it was not an isolated incident -- he allowed four or more earned runs in 11 of his 16 appearances.

In many regardings, 1983 exposed Havens for being the limited Quad-A pitcher that he turned out to be.  It also started a four-year series of moves in which he changed teams 4 different times by being released three times and being traded twice.  The Twins tired of Havens's ineffectiveness and sent him to the Baltimore Orioles at the end of spring training in 1985 in exchange for pitcher Mark Brown.  Havens spent his final full season in the majors with the Orioles in 1986.  Otherwise, he shuttled back and forth to Triple-A, the very definition of a replacement level pitcher.

In 1987, Havens was shipped out to Los Angeles with John Shelby as part of the Dodgers dumping Tom Niedenfuer for giving up a homer to Ozzie Smith.  At first, things went reasonably well. But, by 1988, Havens was the butt of Tommy Lasorda's jokes.  Lasorda left Fernando Valenzuela in a game in mid-April for 151 pitches.  The Bill Plaschke story from the LA Times (no word on whether Plaschke was wearing argyle) had the following exchange:
When asked if he had to leave Valenzuela in [the game], Dodger Manager Tom Lasorda said: "Absolutely. Who should have I brought in? [Brad] Havens?"
File that one under, "call your agent immediately." The Dodgers designated Havens for assignment a few weeks later. Havens rejected the trip back to Albuquerque and was released on May 13, 1988.  

Being left handed, though, Havens was able to catch on with the Cleveland Indians.  He pitched in 28 games there in 1988 and 7 games in 1989 before the Indians released him -- once again on May 13, but this time in 1989. Despite lackluster results, Havens got yet another chance.  

This final chance was with his hometown Tigers. They saw 13 games and 22-2/3 innings of work and decided that they, too, could live without the cosmic stylings of Brad Havens, and they released him at the end of the season.  This time, however, enough VHS videotape of Havens getting taken deep by people had worked its way around the league, and he did not get another chance.

Mustache Check: I'm not sure that the 21-year-old blond Havens physically could grow a mustache at the time this photo was taken. So no mustache.

Trivial Pursuit
If I thought Steve Henderson was bereft of interesting side information, I had no idea of what was in store with Havens.  So, here's what I got: Havens was pitching (for Detroit, not for Pittsburgh, ESPN) on July 23, 1989 when he gave up a walk-off hit-by-pitch against the California Angels.  It took until April 12, 2014, for the Angels to win again on a walk-off hit-by-pitch.

Seriously, that's it.

A Few Minutes with Tony L.
Facing Havens in the 1980s was not a difficult thing for batters.  Opponents hit .272/.341/.438 against Havens over the course of his career.  That's not very good when you are looking at league averages roughly around .263/.324/.400 for the AL and, for his two NL season, around .255/.320/.380.  He actually did slightly better against Milwaukee than his career numbers would suggest, but I don't remember him for that.

Other websites have tried to find Havens.  For example, the Minneapolis Star-Tribune tried, and the best they came up with was that Havens has returned home to suburban Detroit and that his name is tied to two companies -- Brad Havens Baseball Clinics, Inc. and Major League Gutters & Windows.  From what I could tell, that first company is no longer an active corporation, having been dissolved by the Michigan Secretary of State's office for the failure to pay the annual registration fees.

What I have been able to discern is that Havens has for some time now been serving as an assistant coach at the high schools back home in Royal Oak, Michigan.  For example, Coach Joel Hoover at this website references that he was instructed by Havens when Hoover was still 17 years old and at least 17 years ago.  That would be about the right timing for Hoover's retirement from major league baseball after playing in Detroit. 

The other, even clearer context clue is from a story that I cannot access but which has a short excerpt saved at  The Daily Press & Argus from Novi, Michigan, had a story on June 5 with a photo of "Brighton assistant coach" Brad Havens having pitched 8 years in the majors.  Havens does not appear by name on any of the Brighton High School baseball photos, but I have to think that that is him.  There are enough references from the archives on Google from that newspaper to make me fairly certain about that.

I just don't care enough to pay any money to get to the Novi, Michigan, newspaper articles.

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