However, Miller also pointed out one major oversight on my list. Let's rectify that now...
Dontrelle Day, 2003
Pitcher Personality/Uniqueness: 9
Quality of Team Season: 9
Stadium/Game-day Atmosphere: 7
TOTAL SCORE: 31
When he came up as a rookie in '03, each Dontrelle Willis start was indeed a must-watch event.* The sideways-leaning cap, the high leg kick, the corkscrew windup, the elastic arm action, and the 2,000-watt smile all made Dontrelle an instant fan favorite.
*On a personal note, as a high school pitcher in New York during the height of Dontrelle's popularity, I often attempted to stifle laughter as my teammates "talked it up" by rhyming any word they could think of with "Dontrelle." As I got ready to throw each pitch, I'd hear "C'mon, Dontrelle, Montrelle, Wontrelle, Lontrelle. Whattaya say now, kid?" I know it makes zero sense, but infield chatter is rarely logical.
The D-Train was even exciting at the plate! As a starter, he won nine of his first 10 outings after arriving in Miami from Double-A in May, leading to this excerpt that ran in the Sun-Sentinel:
"Comparisons have been made to pitchers with unusual deliveries, such as Mark Fidrych and Vida Blue, but the closest he comes to in measuring the hype seem to be Fernando Valenzuela and Dwight Gooden, at the same time in their careers.
'I think it happens once every 20 years. It's just doing so well, so quickly does capture national attention especially if he's beaten your team,' said Jim Andrews, editorial director of the Chicago-based IEG Sponsorship Report. 'He becomes a very known quantity. He's known nationally now among baseball fans.'"
While Willis would put up even better numbers in '05, the Marlins made a World Series run in '03 and fans flocked to Pro Player Stadium to see the young lefty pitch. The novelty of Dontrelle's act was just irresistible, akin to a young Springsteen show at the Stone Pony. As Miller said on Effectively Wild, "It's true that [pitchers like Pedro, Koufax, and Gibson] were all dominant, and maybe they were so dominant that, in fact, they overwhelmed the newness effect. But my Days would almost all be young pitchers, who just feel like they're more interesting." The baby-faced Dontrelle Willis was one of the few players who could make Jeffrey Loria's Marlins seem hip.
In retrospect, then, the score of 31 for Dontrelle Day would land it in the Honorable Mention section between Moose Day ('97) and Dizzy Dean Day ('34). Thanks to Sam Miller for giving Dontrelle Day its proper respect.
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