Saturday, April 2, 2011

#129 - Chris Speier

Now this is an interesting photo, not only because it is an action shot at Candlestick. It is interesting also because a little due diligence needs to be done to figure out who that is playing third in the background. It's not Jose Pagan because all he did that year was pinch hit at Candlestick. It's Cesar Tovar who sort of filled the transitional gap for the Phillies between Don Money and Mike Schmidt. But let's turn to the subject of the card. Chris Speier was everyone's favorite young NL shortstop in '73. Tito Fuentes loved him. Sparky Anderson loved him. All-Star voters loved him. Topps loved him. He was a man with a serious shot at the HOF if all the early print on him was to be believed.

Chris Speier was drafted out of the University of California by the Giants in 1970. He'd been drafted by the Senators out of high school in '68 but wanted to stay closer to home and passed. He went to Double A Amarillo for the '70 season and had a good enough year that he was pegged for Triple A when '71 spring training started. But after a great spring in '71 he not only made the Giants, but was named the starting shortstop, beating out incumbent Hal Lanier. Chris proved to be a whiz at playing the artificial turf and had great range which was a huge help for Tito Fuentes at second. He made the Topps rookie team that year and played well in the playoffs. In '72 he pushed his offensive numbers up to the best of his career and was named to his first All-Star team. In '73 he kept his run production up but in August hurt his shoulder and his average tumbled a bit. But he was named the All-Star starter. '74 was his third and final All-Star selection though his offensive output continued to be hindered by his recovering shoulder. He had a good bounce in '75 with a .271/10/69 season topped with a career-best OBA of .362. But in '76 he got hurt again, his average nosedived, and he gave away some starts to Johnnie LeMaster. Shortly into the '77 season he was sent to Montreal for fellow shortstop Tim Foli.

For the Expos Speier would pick up as regular shortstop. His average never really recovered to his first season level and in general his offense would be compacted a bit from his best days on the left coast. His best two seasons up north were his busiest ones: '78, when he posted a .251/5/51 line; and '82, with a line of .257/7/60. But the rest of his time in Montreal was negatively impacted by two knee injuries, in '79 and '83, though he was an integral part of the Expos' first division winner in '81. Those last two injuries also affected his once-infinite range and in '84 Chris moved to a back-up role and also moved geographically, going to St. Louis and then Minnesota. Following that season he went to the Cubs as a free agent. He would generally reprise his back-up role for Chicago and saw some offensive revivals, like when he hit .284 in '86. He then took the free agent route again, landing back in San Francisco for his final three seasons. After 19 years in the bigs he finished with a .246 average, 112 homers, and 720 RBIs. In the post-season he hit .280 with a .368 OBA in 17 games. He is also one of a handful of guys who hit for the cycle twice, once with Montreal and once during his second Giant stint. Defensively he places quite high in lifetime rankings for shortstops for games (25th); putouts (42nd); assists (32nd); and double plays (31st).

Speier was always an inspired guy per the cartoon and was an intense player. After he finished playing he moved into coaching, first as a roving hitting instructor for the Giants ('90 to '94) and then the Cubs ('95). From '96 to '99 he managed in the Arizona chain, going 256-240. He then coached in the majors for the Brewers (2000), Arizona ('01), the Cubs ('05 to '06) and the Reds ('07 on). The last two gigs he has worked with his friend Dusty Baker.

I like using HOF guys for this exercise:

1. Speier and Gaylord Perry '71 Giants;
2. Perry and John Ellis '73 to '75 Indians.

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