Monday, September 6, 2010

#14 - Paul Popovich

This is Paul Popovich's last card with the Cubs, for whom he played the bulk of his career.Paul had a relatively busy year in '73, mostly due to an injury to Glenn Beckert. Paul would regularly back up the whole infield outside of first base and was dubbed a "supersub" in '69 during the Cubbies. big playoff push. Just prior to the '74 season he would get sent to Pittsburgh where he didn't play terribly much but did experience his first post-season action. Here he gets a pre-game shot at Candlestick. Those towles hanging in the dugout look a bit like bowling pins to me.

Paul Popovich grew up in West Virginia, where he was a big hoops star, averaging over 41 points per game his senior year. He then went to West Virginia University where he played both basketball and baseball and his sophomore year hit .426 to get an all-conference selection at second. He also got a fat bonus that spring of 1960 and began his career in Double A. While he fielded very well at second, his offense was a bit lacking and after two years at that level he moved to B ball in '62, where his average got worse, But after returning to Double A in '63 he had a big year with a .313/17/60 line, by far his biggest season. '64 would be his year in the military and around it he wouldn't hit too well in Triple A, though he would get a hit in his first MLB at bat. Beside the ho-hum offense, Paul was kept on the farm by having both Kewn Hubbs and Glenn Beckert ahead of him and in between two much better and identical seasons at Triple A in '65 and '66 he had a very nice fall IL season that former year, hitting .329 while getting his first looks at third and short. In '67 he finally made it up to stay.

The Cubs team on which Popovich alit in '67 was characterized by an infield in Ernie Banks, Beckert, Don Kessinger, and Ron Santo that collectively almost never sat. So at bats would be tough for Paul to come by, though his impressive fielding would make him the team's go-to sub. Still, it wasn't a very productive offensive rookie showing, and after the season the Cubbies sent him to LA for outfielder Lou Johnson. LA was about as opposite Chicago as it got in infield stability away from first, so in '68 Paul had his closest year to being a regular, getting the most starts at second while also doing time at short and Paul got big props from Don Drysdale during the pitcher's record shutout streak that year. His numbers improved a bit and he didn't strike out too much, but he wasn't going to be the long-term answer for LA. So when the kids started coming up in '69 - namely Ted Sizemore, Billy Grabarkewitz, and Bobby Valentine - Paul lost a bunch of strting time and that June he would be involved in a big trade, going to Montreal with Ron Fairly for Maury Wills and Manny Mota. Paul was then flipped back to Chicago with pitcher Jack Lamabe for outfielder Adolpho Phillips.

The situation into which Popovich returned for the Cubs was pretty much the exact one he left except that the team was smack in the middle of a big pennant chase. So when Paul put up an uncharacteristic .312 for Chicago the rest of the way he did it in a high-profile arena and got that "supersub" tab. He would then spend the next four seasons as an infield backup for the Cubs, primarily at second and third. Just prior to the '74 season he went to Pittsburgh for pitcher Tom Dettore. For the Pirates he spelled second and short, but in a much reduced role, though he did hit '600 in the '74 NL playoffs. He was released mid-year during the '75 season, ending his playing career with a .233 average.

Popovich would return to LA as in infield coach in the Dodgers system for ten years. He made the Chicago area his permanent home and was still residing there when he was interviewed a couple years back, though there was no mention in that interview of what else he has done professionally since playing.

The back of the card is pretty tame. It does not list Popovich's minor league years - no room - but there were obviously quite a few. The star bullets confirm his biggest season in the minors As for the cartoon, $40,000 was an awful lot in 1960 so he must have been a pretty awesome West Virginia University player.

For the degrees exercise, the goal is to get the list to be as short as possible. Here I fail that, although the longer lists are more fun:

1. Popovich and Ken Holtzman, '67 and '69 to '71 Cubbies;
2. Holtzman and George Hendrick '72 A's;
3. Hendrick and Tom Hilgendorf '73 Indians.

So three is still my record on the long side.


  1. That's Candlestick Park. When in doubt, guess that it's either Oakland or SF. From 1971 or 1972 onward, Topps employed a photographer by the name of Doug McWilliams who was from here in the Bay Area. I met him at the A's pre-season Fanfest a couple of times and asked about his work. Topps liked his work, so if you see tons of shots in Oakland and SF in the 70's, it's no coincidence. He would shoot half the team at one game. Look at the Rangers, for example, in '74, '75, or '76...there are players standing in the same spot with the same sunlight and the same players in the background.

  2. Ok, cool. Thanks for the tip. Pretty good homework too. I'll still get a bunch wrong. Just a warning.