Tuesday, May 3, 2011

#154 - Houston Astros Team Card

Here are the 1973 Houston Astros and they are the early '73 version because Jesus Alou and Tommie Agee are still on the team. (They are both in the second row to the right of the guy that looks like Eddie Munster in a suit). '73 was supposed to be a big year for these guys. They were fresh off their best season in '72, which was oddly enough ignited by their side of the big bad trade before that season.

There were some early bright spots as Jerry Reuss began the '73 season by going 6-1 and the team used a 14-3 surge to go into first place right after the All-Star break. But too much would go wrong in '73: manager Leo Durocher labeled Jim Wynn and Bob Watson - Bob Watson?! - troublemakers; Wynn had to move to the leadoff spot 'cause nobody else could get on base from there so his power numbers tanked; Larry Dierker got hurt; Don Wilson broke his hand; and at one point in the season they had no catcher. All contributed to an inability to keep up with the Reds and the Dodgers as the Astros finished in fourth place at 82-80. For Durocher the last straw was new phenom JR Richard getting hurt in a motorcycle accident; at the end of September Leo quit. He would be replaced by the guy at his left in the team photo, Preston Gomez. Here they are photographed in what looks like somebody's basement, but it would be a couple years before the team got that low.

The team checklist card is fine; just another of my bad scans. Nothing too telling on the front. The biggest signature - Milt May's - is by a guy not even on the team yet. Cesar Cedeno's is the most interesting with the little symbols above it. Jimmy Wynn's has the most character. No Hall of Famers though JR may have been headed that way before things went horribly wrong. But this is a happy group so let's keep things light.

Time to delve into some team records. Not a lot to post here because almost all these guys had cards in this set. If this blog was about just about any other set in the early Seventies, though, I'd have to do a Rusty Staub bio because he went a pretty long streak without a Topps card. Pretty wiggy.

 Fred Gladding had just finished his last season in '73 and is actually on this card (second from right on the top row). Fred was a reliever who signed out of Michigan (the state, not the university) in '56 with Detroit after playing semi-pro ball following high school. After a couple very successful seasons in the low minors, he swam around from '58 to '60 at all three top minor league levels for Detroit, putting up respectable numbers as a starter. From '61 to '64 he would be primarily a reliever - at the top exclusively so - as he shuttled between Triple A and Detroit, all pretty good years for the Tigers. By '64 he was entrenched in the Detroit bullpen. The next three years were all good for Fred as he moved from setup guy to closer, peaking with 12 saves - with a 1.99 ERA - in '67. But Fred's timing sucked and just as the Tigers were on the way to winning it all, he was traded to Houston for Eddie Matthews. He got hurt in '68 but returned in '69 to lead the NL in saves with 29. He would remain the team's number one reliever through '72. He finished with a record of 48-34, a 3.13 ERA, and 109 saves. He still has the best all-time record among Detroit pitchers with over 20 decisions. After he played he coached in the Detroit system until pulled up top as the Tigers pitching coach from '76 to '78. He then moved to the Cleveland system in the same role through at least the early Nineties and at some point retired to the Georgia area.

Turk Farrell was one of baseball's colorful guys. Signed by Philadelphia out of Boston in '53, Turk put up some pretty good years while moving up through the system the next four seasons. By '57 he was up in Philly and he had an excellent rookie year, going 10-2 with a 2.38 ERA and ten saves out of the bullpen. For the Phillies, Turk was strictly a reliever and he had a good follow up year (8-9 with eleven saves) but a poor '59 season. By then he had also developed a reputation as a hard partyer as part of a group called the Dalton Gang with whom he would get into some trouble. So even though he had his best season in '60 - 10-6/2.70/11 saves - after a poor start in '61 he was sent to the Dodgers where his bad year continued. Before the team's initial '62 season he was drafted by the Colt .45's and was moved into the rotation. In '62 he had an ERA just above 3.00 but poor run support led to his 10-20 record. He put up three more seasons of good ERA's and managed to eke out a winning record, going 36-34 during that time. In '66 the ERA shot up and the losing record came back and early in the '67 season Turk returned to the Phillies, again as a reliever. He put up a great partial season with his new team - 10-6 with a 2.34 ERA and 12 saves - and continued to work out of the Philly bullpen through the '69 season. After a couple stops at some minor league teams and Mexico, he was done after the '71 season. Lifetime Turk went 106-111 with a 3.45 ERA and 83 saves. He turned his back on baseball and moved to the UK to work on offshore oil rigs. It was there that he died in a car accident in '77. He was 43.

So how does the '74 set do representing the '73 Astros? Not too badly. Of the everyday players, Tommie Agee had a card with the Cards, and the two most prominent players without cards in the set were Jimmy Stewart and Hector Torres, both backup infielders. Neither had more than 68 at bats. Both are in the team picture, Stewart fifth in from the right next to Cesar Cedeno in the third row and Torres is the last guy in the back row. On the pitching side, eight wins, eight losses, and seven saves aren't represented. Those belonged to Jim York (3-4 with six saves and a 4.42 ERA in the middle of his career); Juan Pizzarro (2-2/6.56 in his second-to-last season); Gladding (2-0/4.50/one save and discussed above); and rookie Mike Cosgrove (1-1/1.80). Another rookie, Doug Konieczny, actually has a rookie card in this set, but for some reason doesn't make the cut for the checklist. York is the third guy in the last row and Cosgrove is the baby-faced guy to the left of Don Wilson in the back row.

Matlack spent a bunch of time in Texas and this is pretty easy:

1. Tommie Agee on the '73 Astros;
2. Agee and Jon Matlack '72 Mets.

1 comment:

  1. I redeemed a card of Turk Farrell in Topps diamond giveaway. I ended up trading it away. Had I read this before the trade, I wouldn't have dealt it.