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Your Random D-Back: Koyie Hill

Or: how to cut off three fingers and still play baseball in the MLB.

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Arizona Diamondbacks


“While filming the movie The Eagle back in 2010, [actor Channing] Tatum was forced to wade through a freezing river in Scotland. To stay warm between takes, the crew would mix boiling water with river water and douse the star. At the end of the workday, however, a crew member forgot to add in the cold water and poured scalding water down Tatum’s front side, burning his penis.” - storytelling on a weird accident that happened to actor Channing Tatum, as published in 2018

“While shooting The Lost City of Z, [actor] Charlie Hunnam played host to an uninvited guest — in his ear. “I was staying in this little shack on this hill and woke up at three in the morning to this ungodly noise, like there was a pneumatic drill in my ear. An insect had burrowed into my ear and hit my eardrum so it couldn’t go any further. It was a long beetle with wings. When it couldn’t get back out, it kept trying to burrow further in and flapping its wings. That’s what woke me up.” - storytelling on a weird accident that happened to actor Charlie Hunnam, as published in 2018

“Carl Pavano, a starting pitcher who struggled with staying healthy late in his career, had a mundane injury occur to him in the 2013 offseason. Pavano was shoveling snow outside his home, slipped, and fell onto the handle of the shovel, which hit him in the abdomen. He thought he was fine, but several days later Pavano had to be rushed to the hospital with massive internal bleeding. He had a lacerated spleen and a collapsed lung.” - storytelling on a weird accident that happened to baseball player Carl Pavano, as published in 2017

“Back in 1990, outfielder Glenallen Hill awakened on his couch in a daze, not knowing where he had sustained some nasty cuts and bruises on his arms and legs. He had been taking a nap, and in the midst of his dreams had a nightmare about being chased by spiders. Hill, an arachnophobe, ran across the room in his sleep, bumped into a wall, and fell through a glass table.” - storytelling on a weird accident that happened to baseball player Glenallen Hill, as published in 2017

These are just a couple of random and weird accidents that happened during the career of these actors and baseball players, although none as perfect as this one:

“Rojer had almost recovered from a cruciate ligament injury, but was out of action for another year due to an accident in the bathroom due to a slightly over-enthusiastic hug, although in his case it was completely intentional. The former player went showering in 2008 and his girlfriend accompanies him “and one thing leads to another”.” - Adapted storytelling on Dutch football player Eldridge Rojer’s injury.

Maybe we all have some crazy story to share, a near-death or a really nasty experience. Mine was an ulcer I had in my throat, probably less than 10 years ago. I am one of those guys that hardly ever visits a doctor, not because I am against medicines and things like that, but just because I am one of those that will say “it will pass, don’t complain”, like with my kid three years back when he actually had a broken arm (oops!). So, about 10 years ago I would have a sore throat, would hardly speak and then the next day everything would be okay only to have the next day a terrible pain again and could hardly speak. This went on for about a week and after five days I made an appointment with the doctor’s office. He asked me: “what is wrong?” and I couldn’t say crap and just made some kind of an “hmmpf” sound and he said: “oh I see, get the hell out of here and go to first aid in the hospital”. Over there the otolaryngologist got one of his colleagues to “take a look” at this special case (if I would not mind but how could I object without being able to say words) before he ended up with some iron clamp on my tongue and a knife in my throat cutting up the ulcer. In case you want to know why one day I could speak and the other day not in the previous week: that was the ulcer growing and then letting go all of the fluid. I had to stay in the hospital for five more days, although that was more courtesy of Spanish health care than anything else.

Well, obviously, this is the introduction to this week’s random D-Back, that is Koyie Hill, and I wouldn’t have written about weird accidents were it not for Hill to have cut of three fingers at one time and still come back and play baseball. The story would have been better had he played the day after the accident with a bloody glove on, but it is still pretty bad ass.

“Hill, who had plans to become an architect before playing baseball, and his dad, who works as a carpenter, were in the garage in October of 2007, working on some wood that was to be used for a window frame. While Koyie was using the table saw, part of the wooden frame got stuck in the saw and Koyie’s hand went with it. “It cut my thumb off first, went through all the muscle in my thumb, and it went back and turned and cut all four tendons and all four fingers and all four ligaments,” he said.” - Storytelling on Koyie Hill’s accident on in 2008

Ok, that was gore.

A steep hill.

Tulsa born Koyie Hill was drafted in 2000 in the 4th round of the MLB draft out of Wichita State, a university that has delivered quite some solid although unspectacular MLB players of whom Joe Carter might be the most famous one.

Hill was an on-base machine for the Wichita State Shockers (great name) that under the auspices of local baseball coach legend Gene Stephenson was a fixed name in the NCAA Division I tournament. In his 3 college years he hit for averages well over .320, supported by a huge BABIP, without being a running prodigy. That led the Dodgers to drafting him in 2000.

The bat regresses to “normal” BABIP numbers and Hill doesn’t produce the huge OBP numbers he showed in college, but he progresses steadily through the ranks and is regarded a good prospect. In 2003 Baseball America has Hill ranked number 9 in what could be considered an average farm system.

However, Koyie Hill is blocked in Los Angeles by All Star catcher Paul LoDuca and David Ross, thus becoming somewhat expendable. He becomes part of a trade with the Arizona Diamondbacks at the verge of the mid-season trade deadline. The Dodgers want to make a pennant run and the D-Backs are looking to renew their roster during a disastrous 2004 campaign. Steve Finley becomes the headline of the move to Los Angeles, although the real catch for the Diamondbacks here is Koyie Hill.

Was the hill to steep to climb in Los Angeles with two better catchers in front of him, the path to first catcher in Arizona proves to be too much as well for young Hill. His start in 2004 doesn’t impress that much and a broken ankle at a home plate collission ends his season too soon. After that the 2005 opening day catcher quickly loses out to Chris Snyder as well and ends up in Tucson, where he doesn’t really impress much. As quickly as he showed up in the desert, just as quickly he burns away and at the beginning of the 2006 season he is placed on waivers and picked up by the Yankees. In the International League he hits for a terrible .412 OPS and his career seems to be over but then the Chicago Cubs show up.

Some things are inexplicable.

Just like in statistics you have unexplained variance, in baseball you also have unexplained variance. Koyie Hill is unexplained variance or, maybe better, Koyie Hill stayed in the MLB because of unexplained variance. I mean, if you look at his stats there is no reason to keep him around for that long. But you have these players that for some kind of reason beat the statistics and are kept on rosters no matter what. Like Koyie Hill.

On the Diamondbacks Koyie Hill was worth -0.1 bWAR, in 124 plate appearances (47 games). After that he manages to play in 8 more MLB seasons, until 2015, even after cutting off 4 of his fingers in 2007.

“They added enough bones to my middle finger to where it moves some. They had me hold a ball in my left hand to see where my finger was placed so when they sewed it back on it was fixed in a position. So you could say it was actually built for playing baseball now, which is something a baseball player always wanted.” - Koyie Hill quoted from the Chicago Tribune in 2008 on restructing his fingers after the saw accident

Despite the comeback and appearing in over 6 seasons at Wrigley Field, Koyie Hill is a popular name to show up in articles on “worst Cubbie ever”. His stats certainly help him in that quest, 423 (!) plate appearances with three home runs and a .204 average and a .533 OPS, apparently good enough for becoming the second worst all time offensive run scorer. And he was apparently not even a good defensive catcher.

When his time with the Cubs was over in 2011, he didn’t give up and signed multiple minor league contracts with the Cardinals, Reds, Nationals, Rangers, Marlins, Nationals (again) and Phillies until his MLB career finally stopped in 2014. His 46 OPS+ in 951 ABs over 11 MLB seasons, good for a -2.6 bWAR is remarkable (just as remarkable as a 2019 article in The Athletic saying that Hill is working in the construction industry).

Taking into account the accident and comeback he had, his tale is not only remarkable but also one of perseverance.