Monday, January 24, 2011

#86 - Joe Ferguson

Well I like this. Two action shots in a row, this one of a young Joe Ferguson. This is Joe's third card - first one post-mustache - despite the fact that technically '73 was his rookie year. Here he is in Philadelphia which seems odd since a bunch of the Topps shots were taken on the west coast. It looks like he is returning to his spot behind home plate after chasing a foul pop-up. So who's the Phillie in the photo? It's Craig Robinson who we've already seen in this set. This is already the third card on which Craig has been prominently displayed in this set. That ties him with the amount of non-Traded Dodgers cards have been in the set so far. As for Joe, an action shot is appropriate for him in this set. A big past of the LA resurgence in the mid-Seventies was the strengthening of the defense up the middle and that happened in '73 as Joe, Davey Lopes, and Bill Russell all became regulars that season. Plus Joe had arguably his biggest offensive year, topping out in runs (84), homers, RBI's, and walks (89) in '73. He also put up a whopping total of three errors behind the plate that year. So those fans should all be watching our boy during his biggest season. Instead they are all looking over their right shoulders at something in the stands. Maybe Apollo Creed had just arrived.

If you are of a certain age and love baseball, Joe will always be famous for The Play. There have been a lot of better Series, but I think few better plays than Ferguson's Game 1 catch and throw home of Reggie's fly out to nail Sal Bando. There is a clip of the '74 Series on YouTube and I have linked to it here. It is an amazing play.

Joe Ferguson was drafted in '68 by LA out of The University of the Pacific where he was an outfielder. He averaged .287 his first couple seasons in A ball as he transitioned to being primarily a catcher. Although he had a tough start defensively at his new position - 25 errors in '69 - he became very good defensively in that role. He bumped up his average in a '70 spent in Double A and then put up discounted numbers in half a season at Triple A Spokane in '71. He also got a good look that season as one of LA's revolving door of catchers. He returned to Triple A for most of '72, put up much better numbers at that level and got back upstairs to stay at the tail end of the season. After his big rookie season in '74 with the emergence of Steve Yeager, Joe started playing more in the outfield. Though his plate time and stats came in a bit, he put up his best OBA at .380 and got to the post-season. After being injured in '75 - a key reason LA did not repeat as pennant winner - and missing two-third's of the season he had a slow start in '76 and was traded mid-year with a couple minor leaguers to the Cardinals for Reggie Smith.

Ferguson was still damaged goods after the St. Louis trade and he would hit at Mendoza levels the rest of the way for the Cards. But following that season he went to Houston for Larry Dierker and had a nice offensive rebound, posting his best numbers since '73, with a .257/16/61 line with a .379 OBA. After a very discounted start to the '78 season he returned to LA for outfielders Rafael Landestoy and Jeff Leonard. Pretty good timing for Joe as he was able to revive his average a bit and was able to see action in that post-season. He then had a very good '79 - 20 homers and 69 RBIs in under 400 at bats in a year split pretty evenly between catcher and outfield. By 1980 Joe's knees were pretty shot and his playing time was significantly reduced, although he did hit the homer that forced the playoff game that season against Houston. He was released early in '81 and signed as a free agent with the Angels. For the next three seasons he was the backup catcher to Ed Ott and Bob Boone and served as pretty much a player-coach. '83 was his last season. He finished with a .240 average, 122 homers, and 445 RBIs. He also became pretty adept at getting on base and had a lifetime .358 OBA. In his two post-season years he hit .200 with four RBI's and a .378 OBA in his 13 games.

Ferguson almost immediately went into coaching following his playing career. He coached at the MLB level for the Rangers ('86-'87) and the Dodgers ('88-'93) before moving into roving instructional work. He then began managing in the minors for Baltimore ('96-2002) and then moved to managing in the independent leagues ('03-'04 and '07-'09) around another gig as a catching coach for San Diego ('05-'06), his last stint being with Camden in '09.

This is a really crooked card. Given Joe's status at the time, his star bullets have some minor-league info; '69 was also the year with all the errors but he was certainly a hustler with those other stats. I always like when athletes were artists - it sort of gave them that dual energy thing. One of the tough things about doing research on Joe Ferguson is getting lots of info about the other Joe Ferguson, the NFL quarterback for the Bills whose career pretty much overlapped this Joe's.

Two NL West guys that were probably fierce competitors are going to get linked through a third NL West club:

1. Ferguson and JR Richard '77 to '78 Astros;
2. Richard and Morgan '80 Astros.

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