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This Day in Transaction History: Athletics release Joe Blanton

As mentioned yesterday, most of the days going forward will not have the most interesting transactions since most of them get done before the start of when the regular season usually starts, so you’ll have to humor me with some of these. Today’s article is not so much about the transaction but who it involved.

On this day six years ago, the Athletics released pitcher Joe Blanton, just a couple of weeks after signing him to a minor league deal. Blanton made two unimpressive appearances for Triple-A Sacramento before announcing his retirement from baseball. Of course, that would not be the end of the line for Blanton as he would come out of retirement and sign with the Royals in 2015. He would spend the next three years working as a reliever, two of them quality campaigns. Following a subpar 2017 year with the Nationals, Blanton retired again, this time for good.

As a Phillies fan, I have fond memories of Blanton though he wasn’t exactly a perennial Cy Young Award candidate. In Game 4 of the 2008 World Series against the Rays, Blanton hit a solo home run off of Edwin Jackson. It wasn’t a particularly impactful home run, as it boosted the Phillies’ lead to 6-2, and they would go on to win 10-2. However, Blanton became the first pitcher to homer in the World Series since A’s pitcher Ken Holtzman in Game 4 of the 1974 World Series against the Dodgers.

At the time, Blanton had a career OPS of .151. He would retire with a .263 OPS. The league average OPS for pitchers from 2005-17 — the span of Blanton’s career — ranged from .306 to .369. Even by pitcher hitting standards, Blanton was a subpar hitter. His hitting a home run, even off of Jackson, was extremely unlikely.

Last month, I used Phillies pitcher Vince Velasquez as a jumping-off point to discuss why I am against the DH rule. I mentioned Blanton’s home run, among other fun and unlikely feats accomplished by pitchers. Objectively, the DH rule is correct. However, subjectively, I am very much swayed by these one-in-a-blue-moon events. I would gladly trade 40 home runs by a DH and five more in the postseason for one postseason home run by a pitcher who otherwise stinks at hitting.

Since Blanton’s World Series home run 12 years ago, only three pitchers have homered in the postseason since: the Cubs’ Travis Wood in Game 2 of the 2016 NLDS against the Giants, the Cubs’ Jake Arrieta in the very next game (off of Madison Bumgarner, no less), and the Brewers’ Brandon Woodruff in Game 1 of the 2018 NLCS against Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw.

There have only been 24 home runs hit in the postseason, hit by 22 different pitchers. By comparison, there have been 23 perfect games in baseball history. Blanton did something about as rare as what Roy Halladay did against the Marlins on May 29, 2010.