Tuesday, March 29, 2011

#125 - Nate Colbert

The next Padre/Washington Nat'l guy is an All-Star with a "5" card even. Nate Colbert was a belter and was just coming off the best five year run of his career. While '73 was a bit of a downtick for Nate in the big power numbers, it was still an awfully good offensive season for a Padre back then. He also had some of the meanest facial hair of the set. which I think gets accentuated by that crazy Padre yellow. If those blurred seats in the back are red, this should be Candlestick, or it could be home at Jack Murphy Stadium. A bunch of the Padres away shots are in Riverfront, though, so who knows. It IS one of the best smiles in the set at least.

Nate Colbert was a local St. Louis kid who saw Stan Musial play at Sportsman's Park, which would turn out to be ironic later in his career. Nate's dad had played for the Kansas City Monarchs of the Negro Leagues so he had a lot of exposure to baseball. He was signed by the Cards in '64 out of St. Louis Baptist College. He put in a little time in FLA for rookie ball and in '65 played Single A where he demonstrated some power. But the Cards had a pretty good pipeline for first basemen and they left Nate unprotected so Houston gobbled him up for the '66 season in the Rule 5 draft. I now have a handle on how that worked: when a player was taken in that draft he incurred "bonus baby" status for a year and had to stay on the major league roster. This Nate did in Houston for all of '66 but he only got into a couple games and in '67 he went down to Double A where he wowed them with his power - 28 homers - but also would strike out 143 times. '68 was spent at Triple A where the power numbers declined a bit and in a late-season call-up to the Astros. That winter Nate was drafted by the Padres in the expansion draft.

Colbert immediately became the San Diego starting first baseman and would retain that position for the club's first five seasons. Nate was the only consistent offensive threat on the Padres during that time as he averaged 30 homers and over 80 RBIs despite the high strikeout totals. He was an All-Star from '71 to '73 and nearly went to the Mets after the '71 season in a trade that blew up and then had NY grab Rusty Staub. His best season was '72. More on that year below.

In '74 the Padres traded for Willie McCovey and to make room for him, Colbert played some outfield. He began experiencing significant back problems that year and his average plummeted. That November he went to the Tigers for Ed Brinkman and Dick Sharon to fill the recently-retired Norm Cash's role. But his offensive numbers continued to fall and by mid-year he was sold to the Expos. His numbers didn't recover for Montreal either. He would get cut by them early in the '76 season and then sign as a free agent with Oakland. But after a season with their Triple A club in which he put up some decent power numbers - twelve homers and 44 RBI's in 210 at bats - he was still striking out every four at bats he was done. Nate finished with a .243 average, 173 homers, and 520 RBIs in just over 1,000 games. He was also excellent defensively and led the league in both assists and putouts on a few occasions.

After his playing career was over Colbert worked his way back to the Padres and by '85 was involved in their community affairs program. He then coached in their minor leagues the next five seasons. In 1990 he was indicted for mortgage fraud for listing properties he didn't own to get a loan. He spent some time in prison, came out and became a minster with his wife. He also returned to baseball and in '95 and '96 managed a couple independent clubs, going a combined 62-100. As recently as last year he and his wife have been running an advisory business to amateur athletes.

That was some double header in August of '72. Nate broke Stan Musial's record for RBIs in a two-fer and was actually at the game in which The Man did it when he was a kid, hence the irony indicated above. Those two games were against Atlanta and even Hank Aaron said it was the most amazing power display he ever saw.

This one won't be as tough as I thought:

1. Colbert and Ollie Brown '69 to '72 Padres.
2. Brown and Bob Coluccio '73 Brewers.

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