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The Boys of September
Jeff Pearlman
September 23, 2002
As the days dwindle down and rosters swell, fans can sneak a peek at next season's phenoms—and applaud the guys who can't believe they're in the Bigs
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September 23, 2002

The Boys Of September

As the days dwindle down and rosters swell, fans can sneak a peek at next season's phenoms—and applaud the guys who can't believe they're in the Bigs

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While Rotisserie geeks remain obsessed with their imaginary employees and front-runners gloat beneath their Diamondbacks or Yankees caps, real baseball fans—the ones who know that Aubrey Huff's middle name is Lewis and that Herbert Perry grew up on a dairy farm—love September for a reason all their own. To them, nothing is more intriguing than this month's expansion of rosters, when teams are allowed to add up to 15 players.

For many second-division clubs, a looooooong season suddenly comes to life. Buried in the cellar, the Tigers called up 10 players this month. As guys named Infante (Omar) and German (Franklyn) poured into his office, Detroit manager Luis Pujols had one question: "Who are you?" In Tampa 22-year-old Dewon Brazelton—the team's top mound prospect—made his first big league start last Friday against Toronto. Even though he took the loss, Devil Ray fans (all six of 'em) saw something they haven't seen in years—a young, hard-throwing righthander in their uniform.

So many great stories start in September. Three seasons ago, with his team 25� games out of first, Devil Rays general manager Chuck LaMar called up a lefthanded pitcher named Jim Morris. At first his promotion generated only local buzz. Then word spread that Morris, a 35-year-old high school science teacher, hadn't played professionally in 10 seasons. Three years later Morris's trip to the majors became a Hollywood movie, The Rookie.

That's the beauty of all this. Whether a September call-up becomes a baseball immortal (on Sept. 17, 1941, the Cardinals promoted an unheralded kid named Stan Musial) or remains a baseball nobody (convinced he was their third baseman of the future, the Red Sox brought in Ted Cox for 13 games in 1977, then traded him to Cleveland the following March), he's guaranteed to have his day in the late-summer sun. "Now I can always say I played in the majors," says White Sox rookie outfielder Joe Borchard, who was promoted on Sept. 2 and, that same day, crushed his first home run. "It's the highlight of my athletic career, no doubt."

It's everyone's highlight, that taste of glory. Thanks to a September call-up with St. Louis in 1936, Hall of Fame manager Walter Alston could relate to his Dodgers players as someone who had performed in the Show. ( Alston most likely forgot to mention that, ahem, his one-game career featured an error, and a strikeout in his only at bat.)

Players get into the history books this way. In 1998 the Reds, buried in fourth place, ushered in Stephen Larkin, a .228-hitting Double A outfielder. In Cincinnati's season-ending victory over the Pirates, the infield was all brothers: Stephen Larkin at first, Bret Boone at second, Barry Larkin at short and Aaron Boone at third. Red Sox catcher Carlton Fisk, thanks to a 1969 September call-up, eventually became one of 24 big leaguers to play in four decades.

September call-ups sometimes make a major impact. On Sept. 1, 1980, the Phillies brought in righthanded starter Marty Bystrom, who went 5-0 to help Philadelphia clinch a division title. That follows in a Phillies tradition: On Sept. 23, 1908, Philadelphia recalled a young lefty, Harry Coveleski, who had already been up briefly twice before. In three straight starts Coveleski beat the Giants, who wound up losing the pennant in a one-game playoff against the Cubs. Although Coveleski went on to have three straight 20-win seasons with the Tigers, from 1914 to 1916, a nickname was born. Fifty-two years after his death Harry Coveleski is still the Giant Killer. One month created a legend.