Monday, January 23, 2012

#317 - Richie Zisk

After the Jim Perry ping we pong back to a young guy with Richie Zisk's first solo card. Richie had a pretty sweet rookie year. After Roberto Clemente's tragic death Manny Sanguillen initially took his place. When Manny proved less than adept in the outfield Gene Clines took over and was doing pretty well until he went down with a bad hamstring. Richie then took over right field for pretty much the second half of the season. Outside of Al Bumbry he put up the best average and power stats of any rookie outfielder but he was shut out of placement on any rookie teams. And to top it off he was the runner nailed at the plate in the Mets' "ball off the wall" play. But it was still a great start. Here Riche takes a cut in spring training on a field that's a bit beat up. For a young guy, he's sporting a bit of a belly.

Richie Zisk was born in Brooklyn and moved to Jersey as a kid. There is a lot of verbiage out there indicating he went to - and some say graduated from - Seton Hall, but given he graduated high school and was signed by Pittsburgh in '67 that doesn't seem too likely. What he DID do was hit a ton that summer in Rookie ball. He followed that up by doing roughly the same at various stops in the Pittsburgh chain including '71 and '72 which were spent at Triple A. By then he was running into the roadblock that was the Pirates outfield. With Clemente, Stargell, Alou, Davalillo, Clines, and Oliver all .300 hitters up top, it was a formidable barrier. Despite some time in Pittsburgh in both '71 and '72, Richie was still only getting into the lineup once a week when circumstances moved his way in mid '73.

Zisk passed on having a sophomore jinx season when he hit .313 with 17 homers and 100 RBI's in '74. The next two seasons he moved across to left as fellow '73 rookie Dave Parker took over right field. Those years he averaged .290 with 21 homers and 82 RBI's. Unsigned before the '77 season he was traded before it began with Silvio Martinez to the White Sox for pitchers Terry Forster and Goose Gossage. In Chicago Richie had his best offensive season, maintaining the .290 average and adding 30 homers and 101 RBI's as one of the Southside Hitmen that nearly swiped the division that year. After that season he signed with Texas as a free agent.

In Zisk's first couple seasons for the Rangers his average took a hit, dropping to .262. But his first year he had 22 homers and 85 RBI's as he hooked his second consecutive All-Star nod. In both '79 and '80 he had his knee operated on and the latter year, though he missed a few games, he boosted his average back to .290 with 19 homers and 77 RBI's. After the season he was involved in a huge trade in which he went to Seattle and Willie Horton, among others, came to Texas. Richie's first season with the Mariners he had the distinction of winning Comeback Player of the Year, which was pretty odd because outside of his average moving to .311 the rest of his stats ran roughly the same as those of the year before. By now Richie was strictly a DH as his knees were pretty shot. After a pretty good '82 - .292 with 21 homers and 62 RBI's - he tumbled a bit in '83 and then retired. He finished with a .287 average with 207 homers, 792 RBI's, and a .353 OBA. In the post-season Richie hit .400 with a .455 OBA in six games.

When Zisk finished playing he relocated to Miami to get a communications degree at Barry University. While there in '85 he did play-by-play work for a local Yankees cable affiliate. Deciding he liked being on the field better, he chucked the communications thing and went to work for the Cubs, starting off with the roving minor league hitting instructor gig in '86. He has been with Chicago since, including a couple seasons as a minor league manager and many as various level hitting coaches.

Richie put up some big minor league hitting numbers and gets the star bullet treatment for some of them. Richie, whose original surname was Zysk, was of Polish extraction and would later be inducted into the Polish-American Athletic Hall of Fame. So his move to Chicago at some point isn't too surprising since that city then had the biggest Polish-American population in the States. He grew up in Parsippany, a town a stone's throw away from Morristown, where I grew up.

Sorry to fall back on this one, but it works:

1. Zisk and Buddy Bell '79 to '80 Rangers;
2. Bell and Jim Perry '74 to '75 Indians.

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