Tuesday, September 21, 2010

#17 - Doug Bird

This is great. Right after the Orioles team card is Doug Bird. I love it. This is another card with the featured player in an away uniform. If I have been correct, it is the eighth in a row (not including the Orioles team) which is a pretty good steak. I am guessing that the stadium is Oakland, but may be wrong. I am also guessing that the player in the background is Hal McRae. As for the card's subject, Doug here had a big spring training in '73, throwing shutout ball throughout, and after a short stay in Triple A came up to KC. Initially he was little used the first month-plus, even though in his second outing he threw five innings of relief, striking out eight. But after some more good irregular work, he moved into the closer role in early July and went on to have a fine rookie year, saving 20 games. This is his rookie card.

Doug Bird was drafted in '69 in the third round by Kansas City out of Mount San Antonio Junior College, which surprisingly was in California and where he went 5-1 his second year. At the tail end of  a good first season in Winnipeg, the California beach kid got homesick and took off for home; since he was no longer in college, Doug was told to report to the draft board. But it being '69, the draft board was blown up, all its records lost, and the new lottery system took over. Doug benefited by having a high number and therefore never served. He took that as a sign and went back to baseball. In '70 in A ball he had a very good run for one A team and a short tougher time with another but overall got over a K an inning. '71 was another good season in A ball during which - signs of things to come - Doug got saves in each of the two games he didn't start. '72 was a successful transition to Double A before some short work in Triple A. Until that second stint he had been mostly a starter but his Triple A time was all relief.

Bird's start to the '74 season was a bit more tarnished than in the prior year though he would get things right by early May. In the meantime KC moved to a little bit more of a committee bullpen model and Doug's saves that year halved, though he still led the team and posted a very good 2.73 ERA while going 7-6. '75 resembled '74 as Doug went 9-6/3.25 while recording eleven saves - again leading the team -and also grabbing four starts.'76 would be a very different year for him. Ace Steve Busby was injured and manager Whitey Herzog recruited Doug to the rotation, which generally went pretty well and by early July, Doug was 9-1 with a 2.86 ERA in that role. While he would cool off a bunch - he finished 12-10/3.37 - it was pretty successful transition year for him and really helped bail out the Royals who made their first trip to the playoffs that year. In '77 it was back to the closer role as he went 11-4 with 14 saves but his ERA elevated a bit to 3.88, along with the rest of the league's. Then in '78, Doug was the AL West's version of Sparky Lyle as KC, eager for a big-name fire-balling reliever, acquired Al Hrabosky, who would immediately step into the closer role. Behind The Mad Hungarian, Marty Pattin and Steve Mingori also got more work and poor Doug had sort of a perfect storm-type season as his innings and strikeouts dropped, his walks - very uncharacteristic - and ERA - to over 5.00 - rose, and he only recorded one save. Plus he gave up a big Thurman Munson homer in the playoffs. And the bad stuff didn't stop when the season did; that December he got sued by former teammate Buck Martinez for accidentally shooting Buck during a hunting trip back in '76. Geez.

Just prior to the '79 season Bird was traded to the Phillies for Todd Cruz. While in his new home most of his stats got right, the ERA remained above 5.00 and just prior to the start of the '80 season, Doug was released. Shortly thereafter he was picked up by the Yankees who moved him to Triple A where he had a nice run, going 6-0 with a 2.25 ERA and a couple saves as a spot guy. Doug returned to The Show in mid-July and continued his nice run as a long reliever, going 3-0 with a 2.66 ERA and a save the rest of the way. Ironically when KC finally beat the Yanks in the playoffs, Doug was in the New York bullpen; then he got to watch on TV as one of his former teams beat the other one in the Series. So much for timing. Doug continued his good work for NY in '81 when he went 5-1 with a 2.70 ERA as a spot guy before a deadline trade to the Cubs with Mike Griffin for Rick Reuschel. For the Cubbies he finished 4-5 in the rotation and then spent all of '82 in that role despite an early-season injury that impacted his pitching in a bad way. Doug went 9-14/5.14 before in his final start he hurt his shoulder crashing home, which would prove to be a career-killer. In December he went to Boston for Chuck Rainey where he had a horrible season as a spot guy in what would be his swan song as a player. Doug finished with a record of  73-60 with a 3.99 ERA, eight complete games, three shutouts, and 60 saves. He walked less than 300 guys in over 400 games and over 1,200 innings. In the post-season he was 1-1 with a  2.35 ERA in his six games.

And that's it. While I have read snippets of post-career interviews with him, none of them have indicated what he has done or where he has resided after playing. But he certainly seems happy enough, so I assume it's all been good.

The back of the Bird card highlights Bird's minor league career, which was not bad. The cartoon is lame, although at 6'3" Bird would stand out on the slopes. The only good thing about Doug's '78 was that he got to be part of a colorful christening of the bullpen group by Herzog: "Hungo (Hrabosky), Mungo (MIngori), Duck (Pattin), and the Bird."

Again we are linking a team to a player via degrees of separation.

1. Bird and Fran Healy '73 to '76 Royals;
2. Healy and Elrod Hendricks '76 Yankees;
3. Hendricks was on the '73 Orioles.

A pitcher and two catchers. More appropriate reference points.

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