Tuesday, January 11, 2011

#79 - Gene Tenace

I have been picking up what seems to be some trends in this Topps set. For instance, this card is the fourth in a row of a west coast guy. Plus we have an A's guy which means the next card will be a Met. But this card belongs to Mr. Tenace, so let's concentrate on him. Or the card.

First of all, I like it. It is an action card taken when a pitcher is being yanked, given the other personnel on it. Second, it is an action shot that actually designates Gene as the correct subject of the card, unlike his action shot in '73 when he was called Joe Rudi.Also, Gene was a daring guy: he apparently wore no helmet while catching. And speaking of catching, this card is a bit deceptive because in '73 Gene spent by far most of his field time at first base. There he had a typical Tenace season: good D, quite good power, not a terribly high average but an OBA that pushed .400. Finally, it looks like he is holding a bag of rosin. It could have been a warm day, but I bet it had more to do with whomever was pitching. I think I have too much time on my hands.

One last segue before I get into Gene. I alluded to this on the Preston Gomez post and since Dick Williams is in the photo, now is as good as any a time to get into him a little bit. Williams was the manager for the A's during the '73 season. He quit right after the Series ended because he was tired of owner Charlie O's meddling, which came to a head during the whole Mike Andrews thing (more on that on the Series cards). When Williams tried to take on a new job - as manager of the Yankees - Finley would not let him out of his contract. Therefore, there was a shot he would be back. In the meantime, Al Dark was hired to manage the A's but I guess the situation was in too much turmoil by the time the Topps set went to press for them to issue an Oakland manager card.

Now back to Tenace. He was drafted by the Kansas City Athletics in the 20th round of the first draft in '65. Most of the reason he went so late was that he was from a tiny town in Ohio that didn't get on scouts' radar and so area players generally didn't get viwed until they played in regional tournaments, which Gene didn't do until his senior year. In this set, though, Larry Hisle and Al Oliver were also from the same neck of the woods so maybe the scouts should have spent more time there (that's a pretty good trio). Gene was an outfielder/pitcher in HS and initially in pro ball played the former position and every infield position but shortstop as well. And when he DID pitch, the results were pretty good: in the minors he went 0-1 with a 1.61 ERA in 28 innings. At the plate though it would take him a while to establish himself and it wasn't until '67 in A ball that his average got above Mendoza levels. In '68 he put up his first big offensive numbers at that level with a .283/21/71 line. That year was also his first behind the plate and his defense there was so good that it would be his primary position the next bunch of years. Then in '69 he went crazy in Double A with a .319/20/74 line in only 276 at bats. It was around this time that Gene also developed an affection for walks, posting a .438 OBA. He came up late in '69 and then, after another big but short Triple A season, made Oakland his home.

Tenace established himself the next three seasons as the primary backup to Dave Duncan behind the plate after Phil Roof got sent to Milwaukee. In '70 and '71, despite not too much plate time, he posted some good offense numbers and right away excellent OBA's. In '72 his playing time increased but his numbers all fell pretty hard though he then got a bunch of playing time in the post-season and had a rough go of it against Detroit: Playing second base (?!!) he dropped a ball that would have been a third out after which Detroit rallied; he then made up for it by singling home the winning run of the playoff. But he then cranked it against the Reds in the Series as his four homers and nine RBI's won him the mvp award. And the starting first baseman slot, the position at which he primarily played the next two seasons. After his first year as a starter in '73 went well, he would get on base the next two Series at a better than .400 clip. '74 saw his average tumble to .211 but his power remained and his AL-leading 110 walks kept his OBA high. In '75 he moved back to primarily being a catcher, which is ironic since he was named starting first baseman for that year's All-Star team in what was his only appearance in that game. That year his average rebounded and he topped out with 29 homers and 87 RBI's. After missing a little time to injuries in the '76 season - though otherwise his numbers were comparative to '75's - he left town in the big diaspora that hit Oakland hard as free agency began.

Tenace, along with teammate Rollie Fingers, was among the first big free agent signees and the two of them headed south to the Padres. In San Diego Gene continued switching between catcher and first. And he kept piling on the walks; his '77 season total of 125 led all of MLB. Gene generally posted lines that were slight discounts to his ones in Oakland - his line average was .237/17/60 - though that OBA killed at .403. While he got no post-season work for the Padres, following the '80 season he went to St. Louis in the big trade that brought the Padres Terry Kennedy. There he backed up Darrell Porter for two seasons, raised his OBA to .426 (though on only 253 at bats in his two seasons), and was again on a Series-winning team in '82. After that season he went to the Pirates where he did spot duty at first and was then done. For his career, Gene hit .241 with 201 homers, 674 RBIs and a .388 OBA. In the post-season he hit .158 with 14 RBI's and a .338 OBA in his 42 games. He was also an excellent fielder.

After his playing career ended, Tenace almost immediately began his coaching one, first with Houston and then with the Blue Jays, where old friend Cito Gaston put him in as hitting coach. With those guys Gene won two more Series rings in the early Nineties. He then went to St. Louis and in 2008 back to Toronto to reprise his role when Gaston did the same. He has gotten some serious props from current Blue Jays for helping with their swings. He has been subject to some serious debate over his HOF worthiness. He was pretty much dismissed on the ballots right away but advocates point out his OBA and defense numbers relative to his peers and they apparently make him a shoo-in. I'm on the fence; I'm a Munson guy.

This is a great card back, if only for that name. Just on that, Fury should be in the Hall. His birth name is actually Fiore Gino Tennaci - even better - and I guess Fury is the anglicized version. Lots of stuff about the '72 Series and this is the only instance I remember him being called "Steamboat." My one critique is with that last bullet: I assume it is a record for a seven game Series since Donn Clendenon posted a slugging average of 1.071 in five games in the '69 Series.

For the double connection we have:

1. Tenace and John D'Acquisto '77 to '80 Padres;
2. D'Acquisto managed by Charlie Fox on the '73 to '74 Giants.

For Fox as a player we have:

1. Tenace and Felipe Alou '70 As;
2. Alou and Whitey Lockman '58 Giants;
3. Lockman and Mel Ott '45 Giants;
4. Ott and Charlie Fox '42 Giants.

Now that's pretty good. 31 years in five guys.

1 comment:

  1. i have one of these and i was wondering if you knew the value.