Friday, September 3, 2010

#13 - Tom Hilgendorf

Continuing the recent theme of guys that got to the majors relatively late, we have Tom Hilgendorf at lucky 13. This is Tom's first card since the '70 set and that one was Tom's first card so, given that he started playing in 1960, that is an awfully long road to two cards. In '73 Tom assumed the role of left-handed closer for The Tribe, matching initially with Jerry Johnson and then - after a mid-season trade - with Ken Sanders. It was by far Tom's best season up top and his six saves led the team. That is a nice patch of grass Tom is kneeling on and I believe that he is in an away uniform so I do not know where the shot was taken, though the go-to stadiums (stadia?) in this set for Cleveland photos was Municipal Stadium, Oakland, or Yankee Stadium. Judging by the shadow, though, I can guess when: shortly after noon. That has to be good for something.

Tom Hilgendorf was signed out of his Clinton, Iowa high school in 1960 and that summer got started as a reliever with a couple D league teams for the Cards. After a forgettable '61 as a spot guy in C and A ball, Tom had a nice three-year run as a starter, putting up nearly identical records - a combined 33-26 - in C ('62) and Double A ('63-'64) with some nice ERA's. At the higher level he moved to the pen in '65 and did well but then when moved up to Triple A in mid-season his numbers plunged big. Then there is a two-year blank which generally meant military service back then, but in Tom's case was actually due to hepatitis which he got in winter ball and nearly killed him. He got back to ball in '68, had a year similar to his '65 - thogh his discounted Triple A numbers were much better - and then finally had a pretty good year at the higher level as a spot guy in '69, later making his MLB debut, putting up two saves. In '70 Tom got a solo rookie card - off just six MLB innings! -  did more good Triple A spot work, and added three saves up top. After the '70 season he was traded to Kansas City for Ike Brookens.

With the Royals Hilgendorf pitched exclusively in Triple A and had a nice run, going 10-2 in relief with a 3.27 ERA over the next saeason-plus before a July '72 trade to Cleveland for Jim Clark. The Indians immediately pulled Tom up and he did nice work the rest of the way, including in some starts, and then moved to full-time pen work in '73. But '74 was a little ugly for Tom. Though still the top lefty in the pen, his ERA ballooned to 4.84, starting with a game in April in which he gave up four homers in relief. In June he played a major part in the infamous 10 cent beer night by getting hit over the head with a chair when the fans stormed the field. Before the '75 season he went to the Phillies where he had a really good season. As a set-up guy he went 7-3 with a 2.14 ERA; at one point in mid-season he had 25-plus consecutive scoreless innings. While on paper he had no saves that year he did get a real one when he pulled a 13-year old boy lying on the bottom of a pool out and resuscitated him. But the Phillies cut him the next spring and after a brief tryout for Pittsburgh in '76 he was done. He went 19-14 with a 3.04 ERA, two complete games, and 14 saves in the bigs and in the minors was 77-62 with a 3.43 ERA.

After playing Hilgendorf goes MIA a bit. A couple cards indicated his carpentry work - see below - and there is some mention that he returned to his hometown and did that there professionally.

Topps gets points for the tidbits on the back of Tom's card. Those first two are pretty amazing. In '64 he pitched a total of 177 innings for Tulsa, so that week accounted for almost a quarter of his whole season. And 110 degrees in Nicaragua sounds like no fun at all. One wonders if that game contributed to his ailment. In '71 he was 5-1 at Omaha, KC's triple A club. The cartoon is an emblematic one; lots of players back then had other incomes because they had to. Free agency was still four years away.

Okay, here comes the degrees bit:

1. Hilgendorf and Jim Lonborg on the '75 Phillies;
2. Lonborg and Dave May on the '72 Brewers.

I would have thought it would be longer.

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