The Boston Red Sox have had some awful starts in their history but often a second chance came. In this instance, it didn’t and should have.
Was it the worst start I have ever seen? As a kid, I pitched and I have seen worse since I was the guilty party, but not at the major league level. The Boston Red Sox brought up right-hander Charlie Zink to face the Texas Rangers on August 12, 2008. I was at the crime scene. Zink was already considered a top prospect by Baseball Prospectus. Zink’s life story is most interesting, but that one and only appearance. Ouch! I could not find another one like it.
Zink managed to get through the top of the first unscathed with the Rangers going down 1-2-3, but Scott Feldman, the Rangers righty starter, surrendered ten runs including a David Ortiz blast. Despite the horror show, Feldman stayed in the game for another 1.2 innings and two more earned runs. Then it happened to Zink.
"Zink’s knuckleball is very good, and has improved every year in the system, but its still not in the same category as Wakefield’s. On the other hand, Zink has a low-to-mid-80s fastball that he mixes in deceptively, using the same delivery as his knuckleball. Also throws a cutter that he uses when he feels hitters are sitting fastball. Developing a changeup in 2008. Can struggle with control. Zink is fearless throwing his knuckleball in the zone – sometimes he’ll get quick outs and other times it can get hit hard. – Sox Prospects"
The Rangers chipped away for a pair and then it caved in for Zink at the top of the fifth. The Rangers started to hammer Zink and soon Javier Lopez came in. The line was forgettable with eight runs and 11 hits, but no loss. The Red Sox won the contest 19-17 and Zink goes into the record books with a 16.62 ERA. That was Zink’s MLB career.
More from BoSox Injection
- Red Sox Nation deserves far more from Fenway Sports Group
- Bizarre trade deadline comes back to haunt Red Sox after Nathan Eovaldi departure
- Red Sox’ Moneyball-style offseason continues with Corey Kluber contract
- Rich Hill’s Red Sox departure puts him within striking distance of unique MLB record
- Red Sox offseason takes another nasty hit with Nathan Eovaldi departure
Zink was the type of player I admire – a gritty non-draftee who signed upon the recommendation of Luis Tiant. His life was one that would certainly make a nice baseball movie, but those are too often concerned about the Billy Chapels of the game.
I had seen Zink at Pawtucket (AAA) and his pitch of merit was a knuckleball. In 2008, Zink finished the season with the PawSox at 14-6 with a 2.84 ERA and that season earned Zink a Most Valuable Pitcher Award for the IL. The following season that reversed and Zink was 6-15 and 5.59 ERA. His scouting profile showed promise, but Zink’s career soon followed the same path as that one MLB start.
What happened? When you live by the knuckleball you can die by the knuckleball and we have seen that with Tim Wakefield. Zink could throw other pitches but nothing that hitters in even Double-A could not handle. The control goes and you end up laying one in there. I still can picture a few meatballs tossed by Wakefield and Steven Wright that are in low earth orbit.
"Unlike the old-fashioned knuckleballers from the game’s early days, who actually put two knuckles on the ball, and unlike the modern practitioners, who used their fingernails, Zink employed a unique hybrid grip. He had his thumb under the ball, his index knuckle pressing in, and the extended fingernail of his third finger alone digging into the cowhide. That one middle digit—with three coats of nail hardener applied to the claw—was pointed at the batter after the delivery. – WEEI"
Zink was released by the Red Sox prior to the start of the 2010 season and signed by the Cardinals who also sent him packing. Zink hooked on with the Twins and returned to the International League and Rochester. He did nothing and cast his baseball future with the Independent League Lancaster Barnstormers and that was it. After 2-2 and 7.80 ERA the dream was over and Zink went on with his life at 31-years-old.
Did the Red Sox give up too early? Baseball history is littered with knuckleball pitchers who actually hit their stride after the age of 30. The problem with Zink was his control, poor secondary pitches, and a knuckleball that seemed to often desert him. Wakefield worked with Zink and we know that Wake managed to survive to toss his flutter ball 85% of the time, but Wake also had a career 3.4 BB/9.
Zink is now in California and retired with a wife and son. What I also wonder about is salary. Baseball cheaps out on minor league players and often a decision to stay is based on economics. Zink was a college graduate and now stuck playing indy ball for coffee money. Staying was not incentivized by MLB’s archaic salary structure for minor league players – and the issue that is being worked upon today.
Zink has a partner in disappointment and that is Allan Travers of the Tigers who in his only MLB start gave up 24 runs of which just 14 were earned. The righty toiled the whole game for his only professional appearance as the Tigers lost to the A’s 24-2 with a squad made up of walk-ons. This was all the result of the Tigers going on strike over the suspension of Ty Cobb. Rather than a forfeit and losing the gate share (15,000 attended) they cobbled together a nine for a one-game adventure.
Zink is now firmly a member of the cup of coffee players who became one and done, but fame is often part of the picture. Walter Alston made it into one game with the Cardinals in 1936 but made it to the HOF with seven pennants and four World Series titles as manager of the Dodgers for 23 years.
Possibly the most famous cup of coffee was little known until the movie Field of Dreams became a mega-hit. Moonlight Graham was a real player who appeared in one game for the 1905 Giants. The numbers are surprising for the cup of coffee collection as it nears almost 1,000 players. Zink made it for that one game and most do not.