Thursday, May 19, 2011

#163 - Ken Berry

Here we have another non-Traded traded card. That "M" isn't too bad but the phosphorescent blue in the cap is a killer. Ken here is probably air-brushed from an Angels uniform. His last season as an Angel was one of Ken's better ones as he led all California regulars in batting average for the second year running and he again topped league outfielders in fielding percentage. The lack of background markers doesn't help too much in telling us where the photo was shot. Frankly, that looks like Dorothy's farm in the background, but Ken wasn't headed to Oz, just Milwaukee.

Ken Berry may not have been from Kansas, but he was from Kansas City, and like the subject of the prior post, he was a local football and baseball star in high school. He then played both at Wichita State as a freshman until he was scouted and signed by the White Sox in early '61. After a season of developmental ball that year during which he hit .308, Ken moved up in '62 to first C and then Single A ball. For the latter team he hit .368 with a .450 OBA and at the end of the season he was called up for a couple games. In '63 and '64 Ken spent almost all his time at Triple A where his plate discipline sort of went out the window as his average and OBA fell by a bunch and his strikeouts moved up considerably. But the '64 Sox were notoriously short of outfield power and Ken's 20 homers and 83 RBI's that year were awfully tempting so he was pulled up for a month in the thick of a pennant race with the Yankees and hit .375 during a week of starts.

In '65 Ken became the regular Sox center fielder, replacing Jim Landis and continuing Landis' legacy with some deft fielding. His hitting wasn't so hot as he experienced the after-effects of an old neck injury as well as ulcer attacks as a rookie. He did hit 12 homers, though, which would be his career high. In '66 his average rebounded and in '67 he led the team in that department. Those two years, Ken ceded center field to Tommie Agee. In '67 Ken was an All-Star, voted fourth by the players, but initially told by AL manager Hank Bauer that he wouldn't be picked. But injuries to Frank Robinson and Al Kaline forced Bauer to reconsider and Ken was in. Following the season Agee was traded to the Mets and Ken moved back to center. It would be during these years that he earned the nickname Bandit for his ability to make leaping grabs of potential home runs against the fence. In '70, probably his best overall season, Ken won his first of two Gold Gloves. After the season ended, he was traded to California with Syd O'Brien for Jay Johnstone, Tom Egan, and Tom Bradley.

The 1970 Angels had surprised the league by matching their best all-time record to date and hopes were high for '71, especially for the new outfield of Berry, Alex Johnson ('70 AL batting leader), and Tony Conigliaro (36 homers and 116 RBIs). But Tony C quit in June, Johnson kept getting in trouble, and Berry hurt his hand, spending considerable time on the DL. It was a lost season for everyone. In '72 Ken got healthy and his average popped over 60 points and he won his second Gold Glove. '73 was also a successful season as his average remained above .280 and he continued his reign in fielding percentage, as he did three of the previous four seasons. But Mickey Rivers was finally ready to take over center and after the season ended, Ken was traded to the Brewers in a big trade with Clyde Wright, Steve Barber, and Art Kusnyer for Joe Lahoud, Ellie Rodriguez, Skip Lockwood, and Ollie Brown. Ken would be the fourth outfielder for Milwaukee and get released early the next year to again make way for some young guys. Shortly thereafter he was picked up by Cleveland and for '75 he played sparingly for the Indians and he was then through. For his career, Ken hit .255 with 58 homers and 343 RBI's and put up a lifetime fielding percentage of .990 in center. I have linked to a 2005 interview with the guys at Baseball Almanac here.

After playing Ken turned to coaching. He posted a record of 399-343 managing various minor league affiliates of a bunch of clubs on and off from '82 to '97. In '88 he was technical advisor to and had a bit part in the movie "Eight Men Out." Since '97 he has coached for the Mets, Marlins, and the Brewers at various places throughout their organizations.

Here Ken gets some star bullet props for his D. "Rock-n-roll records." Boy, that takes me back.

When I was a kid, I used to think this Ken Berry was the same guy that was on "F-Troop", a hilarious - to an eight-year-old anyway - sitcom. Not even close. Apparently I was an idiot.

I just mentioned this guy:

1. Berry and Alex Johnson '71 Angels;
2. Johnson and Bill Freehan '76 Tigers.

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