Monday, March 7, 2011

#108 - Al Hrabosky

Returning to NL East pitchers, we have Al Hrabosky, before his Mad Hungarian persona took over. Showing his follow through at Candlestick, he is fighting off those San Francisco Bay winds in his warm-up jacket. At this point in his career, Al had already had two Topps cards but this one represented his true rookie season. It was a funny year for him: his work up top in the pen - he recorded his first five saves in '73 - was markedly better than his work in a Triple A rotation.And it did the trick in keeping him in St. Louis after a few years pinging back and forth between the minors and the NL.

Al Hrabosky was drafted by the Twins out of high school in '67 and shot them down, opting to go to Fullerton State. He was then drafted out of there by St. Louis in the first round of the January '69 draft and threw well as a starter at Single A Modesto that year. In '70, off a great start at Double A Arkansas, he got pulled up to the Show and came out of the pen for the Cards late in the season. '71 was sort of a wash as he bounced between St. Louis and both the Double and Triple A teams and didn't get in a lot of games at any of them. That usually meant some military work back then. In '72 and '73 he continued the ricochet thing, although on the strength of his 2.09 ERA and over a K an inning, '73 was the year he stuck with the big club.

In '74 The Mad Hungarian came out: Al grew the wicked Fu, turned his back to the batter before every pitch and talked to himself, and then stared menacingly at the hitter before pitching. It was a total psych job and it worked: that year he went 8-1 with a 2.95 ERA and nine saves. In '75 he really lit things up , going 13-3 with a 1.66 ERA and led the league with 22 saves. Both seasons he would do well in the Cy Young race. In '76 and '77 he would return to earth a bit as his ERA got a little toppy, although he was the Cards' bullpen ace both seasons. Prior to the '78 season he was sent to KC for Buck Martinez and Mark Littell.

For the Royals Hrabosky assumed the closer role and in '78 put up a nice year as his ERA dropped over a run and he put up 20 saves. Al also saw his first playoff action (he gave up a run in three innings). I was at one of the games at Yankee Stadium. It was a game in which George Brett hit three solo homers; when Hrabosky came in the game, the whole stadium started booing and throwing stuff on the field. I think he reveled in those reactions as part of his act. After another good year in '79 he became a free agent and signed with Atlanta. For the Braves Al continued coming out of the pen but was not the number one guy as Atlanta had Rick Camp and Gene Garber ahead of him. In '81 his workload contracted significantly which was too bad since his ERA barely cleared 1.00. But that stat blew up for him in the playoff year of '82 as Garber took over the closer role and after the season Al was released. He signed with the ChiSox but only pitched for Denver, their Triple A club, and didn't do terribly well. He wrapped things up with a 64-35 record, a 3.10 ERA, and 97 saves in 545 games. He moved into broadcasting almost immediately and is currently calling Cards games for the local Fox affiliate. He also owns a restaurant across the street from the stadium.

Al pitched the final two innings of that first win. His first save was about a month later. Two wins and five saves got Al to be the top lefty in '73; things are sure different for relievers now. That Al's career ended with the ChiSox is a bit ironic since that team was one of the first to scout him in college. In fact, the team DID sign a major leaguer-to-be after attending one of Al's games but we won't see that guy for some time in this set.

The two Al's just missed each other in the Cards' system. That should help:

1. Hrabosky and Lou Brock '70 to '76 Cards;
2. Brock and Alex Johnson '66 to '67 Cards.

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