Wednesday, February 29, 2012

#342 - Jim Lonborg

After two relatively young guys we get a player who's not exactly old but is certainly worn. Jim Lonborg poses in Candlestick, a place he hadn't been to much by the time of this shot because he was a first-time NL'er in '73. It wasn't Jim's best season and while that year he put up his second most wins in six years, he had a losing record and an ERA that popped 2 runs. His shoulder affected his pitching which was pretty much the story every season since '67 and would be for the rest of his career. He was supposed to be a super nice guy so it was too bad that his pitching time was bedeviled as much as it was. But he was still immortalized back in Boston.

Jim Lonborg played hoops and baseball while growing up in California where his dad was a professor at a local university. He played high school ball with a future Reds pitcher Mel Queen. When he graduated in '60 he went to Stanford on an academic scholarship and played both hoops and pitched his freshman year. From then on it was all baseball and in the summers he would play ball in leagues sponsored by the Orioles, first in Washington and then in the Basin League - where his teammates were Jim Palmer and Merv Rettenmund - which encompassed the northern plain states. Ironically it was there he was spotted by the Red Sox who in '63 signed Jim to a $25,000 bonus. He returned to Stanford to work on his degree in biology - he'd intended to be a surgeon - and the spring of '64 began his pitching career in A ball where he went 6-2 with a 3.20 ERA and better than a strikeout an inning. He was moved up mid-season to Triple A Seattle where he went 5-7 with a 4.84 ERA. While the numbers at the higher level weren't super, the next year he was a Red Sox.

In '65 Lonborg made the Sox out of spring training and went right into the rotation. While his first-year numbers weren't too hot the Sox liked his poise and the next year he split time between the pen and starting, improving his record substantially. That off-season he played winter ball and refined his pitching considerably and then got into shape by skiing. When he returned in '67 he went on a tear, providing the pitching to complement Yaz's hitting as the two led Boston to the Series. Jim led the AL in wins and strikeouts and won the Cy and then had a super Series - 2-1 with a 2.63 ERA with just two walks in 24 innings - even though he lost the final game to Bob Gibson. When he decided to do his off-season exercise thing again - he bypassed winter ball - he tore up his leg on the slopes and required surgery to repair two ligaments in his knee. While his recovery early in the season helped kill Boston's shot as repeat pennant winners, the leg damage was not directly responsible for the time spent on the DL in ensuing seasons. When he began pitching again, Jim compensated for his tender knee by over-working his right shoulder, which caused some serious rotator cuff wear. Over the next four seasons he missed time for injury every year, spent some time in the minors, and compiled a 27-29 record with an ERA above 4.00. After the '71 season he was part of a big trade that sent him to Milwaukee.

For the Brewers Lonborg had a bit of a comeback, winning 14 and putting up a 2.83 ERA, the best of his career. By now he was a control guy and his seasonal target for walks was under 100. Despite his nice numbers he was then involved in another big trade that sent him to the NL (both trades had Ken Brett beside him). His first year in Philly he kept the walk totals low but the shoulder helped derail him a bit. In '74 he had a relatively pain-free year and led the reviving franchise with 17 wins and the starters with a 3.21 ERA. In '75 he flipped back and missed a considerable part of the season to injury, halving his win total. In '76 he was cruising and he began the season 8-0 to help keep the Phillies on top for most of the year. He would win 18 as he experienced his first post-season action in nine years. From then on, though, he was in a bunch of pain and his workload suffered. He did go 11-4 in '77 on another division-winner and then faded to 8-10 with an ERA above 5.00 in '78. After a couple poor showings early in '79 he retired. Jim finished with a record of 157-137 with a 3.86 ERA, 90 complete games, 15 shutouts, and four saves. In the post-season he went 2-3 with a 3.51 ERA in five games.

When Lonborg finished playing he returned to the Boston area full time and enrolled in Tufts University's dental program. He got a degree, opened a practice in a small town on the way to Cape Cod, and is still at it.

Jim's star bullets are all '67. Pre-med guys had better enjoy reading.

We have had two NL guys in a row and these guys were playoff opponents:

1. Lonborg and Mike Schmidt '73 to '79 Phillies;
2. Schmidt and Pete Rose '79 to '83 Phillies;
3. Rose and Dan Driessen '73 to '78 Reds.

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