Tuesday, March 15, 2011

#114 - Angels Team Records/Checklist

Ah, the '73 Angels. I loved this team as a kid 'cause of Bobby Valentine and Nolan Ryan, but what a mess it was. They took a charge at respectability that year with Ryan and Bill Singer piling on early wins and Bobby hitting the crap out of the ball. But then he went down, they went 5 and 12 right before the All-Star break and were out of it before the summer really got going. But Nolan kept kicking butt so every fourth day was going to be an adventure. Plus they did have some power with Mike Epstein, Frank Robinson, and Bob Oliver to keep things interesting. And lots of young guys. The team card here is another one that is emblematic of the set. Between the blurry photo and the shadow I cannot tell who anyone is. Also, even if I could, a lot of the faces wouldn't be on the team roster anyway.

The checklist front gets to what I alluded just above. The Angels had a high turnover before the '74 season. Look at these signatures: out of 12 of them, three of them weren't even on the '73 team. If you go back one more season, only three guys - Ryan, Bob Oliver, and Sandy Alomar - were on the team in '72. So there were lots of moving parts on those California teams of the early to mid-'70's. These signatures are representative also. Frank Robinson's is classy; Mike Epstein's is big and all over the place; Vada Pinson's is quietly regal; and Sandy Alomar's is smooth. This card would be a field day for a handwriting expert. But the degree of turnover it implies really was not very conducive to winning a lot of ball games.

As with the newer teams that hadn't won anything yet, Topps presents a year-by-year team record instead of just the records of the team's pennant winners. And all the record holders are pretty recent guys since the team had only been around since '61. Here are the backgrounds of the guys without cards in this set:

Bobby Knoop was signed by the Braves in '56 out of his Iowa high school and started that year in D ball. Always a second baseman with very good defensive skills his progression through the Milwaukee system was arrested a bit by too many strikeouts and a surplus of middle infielders. After hitting fairly well at the lower levels, he had a nice half season at Double A in '60 hitting .280, also his first season of action in Triple A. He remained at the higher level the next two years, though his average took a hit as he missed a bunch of time for his military commitment. He then went to the Angels in '63 through the Rule 5 draft and after a much improved Triple A season came up to the majors in '64. From then through '68 he was the club's starting second baseman and during that time he won three Gold Gloves and was named to an All-Star team. While his defensive work was excellent, he had trouble at the plate again posting lots of K's. His best years were '65 when he topped out at .269 and '66 when he led the AL with eleven triples and also hit 17 homers with 72 RBI's, all those numbers well above his norm. In '69 he was traded to the White Sox for Sandy Alomar who didn't have the defensive props but added speed and a more consistent stick. In Chicago Bobby again was the starter for two seasons, though '70 was beset by injury. In '71 he went to the Royals as infield backup to Cookie Rojas where he remained through '72 when his playing career ended. He finished with a .236 average and was a .980 fielder and is in the top 100 for career putouts, assists, and double plays at second base. He immediately went into coaching and by '77 was up with the ChiSox where he stayed through '78. He then was with California for a long haul - '79 through '96 - and also put in a year at Toronto in 2000. More recently he has worked for the Rockies as a scout and as a director of player development.

Albie Pearson was a small (5'5") energetic outfielder who was signed by Boston in '53 out of his California high school where he was 25-6 with a 0.83 ERA and hit over .500 his senior year. Though signed as a pitcher, he proved to be too good a hitter in the minors, hitting well over .300 and developing good speed and an excellent eye; his career OBA in the minors was well over .400. But an understandable lack of power and his size kept him on the farm for the Sox. Prior to the '58 season he was traded to the Senators for Pete Runnels and that year he came up and won the AL Rookie of the Year for his .275 average and energetic play. In '59 he started slowly, missed some time to injury, and was sent to the Orioles for Lenny Green. There he backed up the outfield the next two seasons and in '60 spent some time back in Triple A, where he again hit over .300. In '61 he went to the Angels in the expansion draft. The team's first starting center fielder, Albie would average 100 runs a season the next three years while hitting about .285 during that time. His runs total led the league in '62 and in '63 he was an All-Star while hitting .304. But Albie had serious back issues and in '64 began missing significant time because of them.By early '66 he was removed from the starting lineup and he was released later in the year. Like Bobby Knoop, he was done as a player by his early thirties. Albie hit .270 for his career with an OBA of .369. He would later DJ but his passion was helping kids and he currently runs and for many years has run the non-profit Father's Heart Ranch in which he receives struggling children. He sounds like the real deal Angel.

Buck Rodgers was signed by Detroit in '56 and like Bobby Knoop above earned a reputation for his defense in the minors. While he would hit a combines .277 in the minors, he advanced slowly - he was a a contemporary of Bill Freehan - and by '60 had played only 23 Triple A games. He then went to the Angels in the expansion draft and after hitting .286 with 62 RBI's for the Triple A club, made it up to LA at the tail end of the season, and hit an uncharacteristic .321. In '62 he became the starting Angel catcher and put up stats - .258/6/61 - that earned him second place in AL ROY voting and put him on the Topps rookie team. He was a starter through the '68 season, and was quite adept at picking off runners, peaking with a 52% in '67, but unfortunately his rookie offensive numbers would prove to be by far the best of his career. His '63 was hurt b a broken finger he initially tried to play through and then missed time for; in '65 he had an ankle injury; and in '67 he had a blood infection. By '68 he was hitting around Mendoza levels, and in '69, after spending most of the season in Triple A, he was released, after the Angels fired their only manager until then, Bill Rigney, who was a big fan. That was it as a player for Buck, who was a lifetime .232 hitter and threw out 43% of attempted base stealers. He turned to his new career - coaching - immediately and moved around a bunch. He coached for the Twins ('70 to '74) after following Rigney to Minnesota, managed in the Angels chain ('75 and '77), coached for the Giants ('76), coached ('78 to '80) and managed ('80 to '82) the Brewers, managed the Expos ('85 to '91), and managed the Angels ('91 - '94). During that last gig he had to take some time off while recuperating from a bus crash in '92. His managing record was 784-773 and I believe he is the winningest manager in Expos history (520 wins), a team for whom he won Manager of the Year in '87. After managing he scouted for the Phillies through '96 and then became head of baseball operations for an independent Cali team. In '98 he retired after reciving a big insurance check for that '92 bus accident. Buck has a SABR bio.

Leon "Daddy Wags" Wagner was a colorful outfielder who liked to party. Signed by the Giants in '54 out of Tukegee University, he was a huge power hitter in the low minors, including in '56 when he hit 51 homers in B ball. In '57 he was out for the military then returned in '58 to Triple A ball. After a big partial season he was promoted and put some time in the SF outfield for '58 and hit .317. But thaty SF outfield was packed with hitters and when in '59 his average fell to .225 he was then traded to St. Louis where he had a crappy year and went down to the minors. At the end of that '60 season he was traded to Toronto of the International League who then flipped him to the Angels for Lou Johnson. With LA Wags became a starter and a big power guy, the next three years averaging 30 homers and 92 RBI's a season. In '62 Daddy would tap 37 homers for 107 ribbies, his best season. While with the Angels he had two All-Star appearances. In '64, troubled by Leon's party habits, the Angels sent him to Cleveland for Joe Adcock. For three seasons he continued to start in the Indians' outfield, over that time averaging 28 homers and 82 RBI's a season. In '66 he would be involved in an on-field collision with Larry Brown that would put Brown in the hospital for a month. In '67 Leon would be platooned in right field with Rocky Colavito by new Cleveland manager Joe Adcock (the same guy for whom Daddy was traded) and that was the beginning of the end for both Wags and Rocky. In '68 he went to the White Sox for Russ Snyder and in '69 he returned to San Francisco where he spent most of his time the next two years in the minors. One more Triple A season for Leon for the Padres in '71 and he was done. He finished with a .272 average, 211 homers, and 669 RBI's. After his career he acted in a few movies, owned a clothing store - "Get Your Rags From Daddy Wags" - which he ran into the ground, and continued his recreational use of drugs. He passed away in 2004 at 69; at the time he was living in a shed behind a video store in LA.He, too, has a SABR bio.

Minnie Rojas was a Cuban pitcher signed by San Francisco in 1960 when he was 27. Prior to then he had been a pitcher for the Cuban national team but was also a soldier for the ruling regime in the Fifties. So when Castro came to power, poor Minnie was on the wrong side of things. The last American scout in Cuba - Dave Garcia, who would later be an MLB manager - discovered Rojas and convinced the Giants to draft him since if he remained in Cuba he would probably be killed. Minnie had excellent control but almost zero speed, and by '63, though he'd reached Triple A, his career ERA was over 4.00, which wasn't great since he was nearly exclusively a reliever. The Giants then sold Minnie to Jalisco in the Mexican League in '64. But getting out of the States was awfully tough for Minnie that spring since he didn't have a visa and couldn't go home so he didn't get to Mexico until that August, though he then went 6-6 with a much better ERA. Then in '65 for the same club Minnie went 21-12 which put him on the Angels radar  and the club picked him up from Jalisco for $2,500. He started the '66 season in Triple A putting up good numbers including lots of strikeouts as a spot starter and was then promoted later that spring and finished off the year for the Angels nicely, going 7-4 with a 2.68 ERA and ten saves. In '67 he went 12-9 with a 2.52 ERA and led the league in games finished and his 27 saves to win Fireman of the Year. But that success was short-lived as arm problems in '68 caused his numbers to tank a bit and by '69 he was back in the minors and then Mexico, in what would be his last season. Minnie went 23-16 with a 3.00 ERA and 43 saves in the majors. Then in 1970 he was involved in a horrible car crash that killed his wife and two daughters and left Minnie paralyzed. He would recover enough to run some teams in Mexico. He passed away in 2002 at 68.

George Brunet grew up in Michigan and was signed by Detroit in '53 (or '52). After a couple seasons in regional ball he was sort of passed on to the Kansas City A's in the mid-50s. That transaction - or non-transaction - pretty much epitomized his career in which he pitched just about everywhere (his page on baseball-reference has the most uniform numbers I've ever seen). After posting some really mediocre numbers at a bunch of levels - only for one club was his ERA under 4.00 - he first came up in '56. The next year he got off to an uncharacteristic 10-3 start in Double A and then lost eight straight when his club scored not a run behind him for 51 innings. He left KC in mid-'60 and his travels took him to the Braves, the Astros, and Baltimore, for all of whom he was pretty terrible up top but put up consistently good Triple A numbers. In late '64 he found his way to the Angels, got up top immediately and although over the next four-plus seasons he put up a losing record - twice leading the league in losses - he actually had pretty good other numbers, was a staff workhorse, and was way better than average in ERA. During the '69 season he left California for the Seattle Pilots where he returned to his bad number days. In "Ball Four" Jim Bouton and he had an exchange about George's refusal to wear underwear. After hanging out the next three seasons with the Senators, the Pirates, and the Cards, respectively, he played in the minors for a couple years, ending things with San Diego in '73. In the majors he went 69-83 with a 3.62 ERA, 39 complete games, 15 shutouts, and four saves. In the minors he went 111-113 with a 3.95 ERA. But George wasn't done in '73. He then went down to Mexico where he pitched straight through until '89. That meant that without a whole lot of success on top that he pitched for 37 seasons. He threw a no-hitter when he was 42 and became a member of the country's baseball hall of fame based on his 132 wins, 55 shutouts, and 2.66 ERA. In '81 he had a heart attack down in Mexico and that slowed him down only a little. But in '91 while he was coaching down there he had another heart attack that would prove fatal. He was 56.

Dean Chance was a big deal high school pitcher in Ohio - he went 52-1 - when he was signed by Baltimore to a big bonus in '59. After a couple decent seasons in the minors he was unprotected, selected by the new Senators in the '60 expansion draft, and then immediately traded to the Angels, apparently per order from the AL commissioner. After throwing some decent Triple A ball in '61 he came up at season's end for good. Beginning in '62 he became very high profile for two reasons: one was that he immediately became staff ace of a new team that was surprisingly successful; two was that Dean, a big good-looking guy, and his roommate buddy, Bo Belinsky, became big Hollywood jet setters and frequently traveled in rarefied celebrity company. While Bo would crash pretty quickly, Dean became a damn good pitcher, peaking in '64, when he won the Cy based on his 20-9 season. eleven shutouts, and sick 1.65 ERA. He would hang with the Angels through '66 when he had a losing record and was traded following the season to Minnesota. Dean left the Angels as its all-time leader in most pitching categories, having gone 74-66 with a 2.83 ERA in his five seasons. He won 20 his first season with the Twins, had a nice .500 season in '68, and then missed a bunch of '69 to injury, though he pitched around it pretty well. But the injury hampered his pitching style which consisted primarily of a low fastball and a screwball changer, and his numbers thereafter went south pretty quick. The next two seasons he pitched for Cleveland, the Mets, and Detroit and was done after '71, finishing with a record of 128-115 with a 2.92 ERA, 83 complete games, 33 shutouts, and 23 saves. In his only post-season appearance he got hit hard in a couple innings. After baseball Dean ran his own carnival and was a boxing promoter, and had a stint as president of the IBA.

Given the above, the expectation is that a significant part of the '73 Angels team will be missing from this checklist, which is correct. Starting with catcher, the only guys in the whole set with any time there are Charlie Sands and Rick Stelmaszek and they only had 59 at bats between them. The other guys - Jeff Torborg, John Stephenson, and Art Kusnyer - were pretty much done major league-wise. At first, Jim Spencer had gone to Texas, where he had a card. At second, Billy Grabarkewitz moved to Philly and Billy Parker was done. Al "Dirt" Gallagher put in the most time at third in his last season and Jerry DaVanon got more at bats than either included catcher as a backup infielder. None of those last three has a card. The outfield and DH are covered, though. Only Ken Berry, who has a card with the Brewers, is missing. But over 900 California '73 at bats are missing from this set which has to put them near the top of the heap. On the pitching side, Clyde Wright and Steve Barber moved to the Brewers also. Only Andy Hassler, who went 0-4 in his first season, and Ron Perranoski, at 0-2 - he was covered on the Twins team post - had decisions and didn't have cards, so 156 of 162 decisions is represented. That's not so bad. Here is my stab at the missing guys in the team photo. Gallagher is the second guy from the left in the second row and Torborg and Stephenson the last two in that row. Kusnyer is the tall guy, third in in the third row and DaVanon the eight guy in. Parker was even shorter than Alomar - next to Kusnyer - so I don't think he's here. And I don't see either of the missing pitchers.

Just about everybody played for the Angels, including the last guy, so:

1. Leroy Stanton was on the '73 Angels;
2. Stanton and Dick Drago '76 Angels.

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