Wednesday, June 20, 2012

#384 - Chris Chambliss

In the midst of a big NL run we get Chris Chambliss posing mellowly at an empty Yankee Stadium. This would be his last card in a Cleveland uniform as early in ’74 he was traded to the Yankees. ’73 was a mixed year for Chris. After fighting off an early injury the prior year and then rallying to put up his best average, Chris and the Tribe rode Gaylord Perry’s coattails to a pretty improved record in ’72. So hopes were high for ’73. But their side of the Graig Nettles trade flopped, the pitching sort of fell apart, and though Chris was finally healthy for a full season, not too many guys got on base ahead of him. So although he put up a 19-game hitting streak and had his best power year he only knocked in 53 runners. Part of what led to the ’74 trade was the Tribe’s desire for more power at first so they opted to replace Chris with John Ellis, acquired a year earlier in another one-way Yankees-Indians trade. Oops.

Chris Chambliss moved around a bunch as a kid as his dad was a pastor for military bases. By the time he reached high school he was in Oceanside, California, where he played shortstop and first base, as well as football and basketball. He then went to Mira Costa College, a local two-year school where he played football and baseball. He was drafted by the Reds after his first season there and then after claiming all-league honors in both spots was drafted by Cincinnati again in ’68 in a much higher round. This time Chris opted for UCLA where in his one season he hit .340 with 15 homers – then a school record – and 45 RBI’s. He then played summer ball in Alaska and was the MVP in that year’s series. Those stats prompted Cleveland to make him the number one pick in the ’70 winter draft and this time he signed. He went right to Triple A Wichita where he put up excellent numbers. He also put up more time in the outfield than at first since Ken Harrelson was set as the first baseman. At the end of the season he did some military time and then in ’71 spring training hurt his leg so he remained in Wichita to start the season. But after Harrelson slumped big to open the year he retired to play golf and Chris was called up to take his spot.

When Chambliss got healthy he pretty much became the regular at first base in mid-June. An excellent fielder, he also kicked things off well hitting-wise and at season’s end not only made the Topps rookie team but was the AL Rookie of the Year. In ’72 a pulled hamstring had him out for a month and contributed to a slow first half. He rebounded to post a higher average than in ’71 but his power stats suffered a bit. After a pretty good start to the ’74 season – he was hitting .328 – Chris was included in a big trade to NY: he, Cecil Upshaw, and Dick Tidrow for Fritz Peterson, Tom Buskey, Fred Beene, and Steve Kline. It was a hugely unpopular trade in Yankee land as NY gave up two guys in their rotation and Chris was booed for a while shortly after the trade. He only hit .243 the rest of the way which didn’t help too much. But he provided excellent defense and as the Yankees made a run for the division he was embraced. In ’75 he had his biggest year to date: .304 with nine homers and 72 RBI’s. Then in the pennant-winning seasons of ’76 to ’78 Chris had his best years, averaging .284 with 15 homers and 92 RBI’s. The most memorable game of his career was probably his walk-off homer to win Game 5 of the ’76 AL Championships. That year he was an All-Star and in ’78 he won a Gold Glove. In ’79 his average and homer stats of .280 and 18 pretty much matched his prior seasons but without Thurman Munson ahead of him for half the year his RBI total dropped to 63. After the season he was sent to Toronto with Damaso Garcia and Paul Mirabella for Rick Cerone, Pat Underwood, and Ted Wilborn. About a month later he went to the Braves in another big trade.

In Atlanta Chambliss took over first base and put together two solid seasons in ’80 and ’81. In ’82 he had his biggest power season in four years as he hit 20 homers with 86 RBI’s and was a big contributor to the division-winner. He followed that up in ’83 with an even better year – 20 homers and 78 RBI’s with a .280 average in about 100 less at bats. In ’84 his hitting tailed off a bit and he lost some starting time to Gerald Perry. His time in the field declined more significantly the next two seasons as first Perry and then Bob Horner took over first. After the ’86 season – in which he hit .311 – he retired. Chris finished up top with a .279 average, 185 homers, and 972 RBI’s. In the post-season he hit .281 with three homers and 15 RBI’s in 30 games. Defensively he ranks in the top twenty for assists at first base and in the top thirty for putouts there.

In ’87 Chambliss returned to NY as the Yankees’ minor league hitting director. In ’88 he coached for NY up top which he also did from ’96 to 2000. In between he managed in the minors, first for Detroit (’89-’90) and then Atlanta (’91-’92) and also coached in St. Louis (’93-’95). In ’02 he coached for the Mets and from ’04 to ’06 for the Reds. He also managed in the Florida chain (’01) and in the White Sox chain (’09-’10) after coaching in the Atlanta one (’07-’08). His record to date as a manager is 506-490. Since 2011 he has been the hitting coach for the Mariners.

Chris isn’t too hurting for star bullets. Regarding his wife, Audry, she was a model and cabaret singer who sang the national anthem before at least one Series game and also wrote a regular piece in one of the local NY papers about being a player’s wife. Chris’ son also played pro ball, topping out in ’99 in A ball.

There is a bunch of music news to nail down so here we go. In ’73 June 16 saw a new Number One in the UK: Suzi Quatro’s “Can the Can.” A beat-heavy throwaway it is a bit reminiscent of the mid-Eighties hit “Jungle Boy” by John Eddie. In ’74 the new top song in the US on June 8 was “Band on the Run” by Paul McCartney and Wings. Paul was now toting the title of his band around more openly and the title track to his big album was on top for a week (I thought it was a lot longer). Also on that date back in the UK keyboardist Rick Wakeman left the group Yes to pursue his solo career, which got off to a pretty good start when his album “Journey to the Center of the Earth” topped the charts. On June 15 “Band...” got replaced in the States by “Billy Don’t be a Hero” by Bo Donaldson and the Heywoods, who thankfully didn’t enjoy a lot of chart success. At least the new top song in the UK “The Streak” by Ray Stevens had a sense of humor.

Still keeping it all-NL on the hook-up:

1. Chambliss and Gary Matthews ’80 Braves;
2. Matthews and Mike Schmidt ’81 to ’83 Phillies;
3. Schmidt was on the ’73 Phillies.


  1. I love this site! My beau and I are huge baseball fans and we're making up our wedding invitations to look like '74 Topps cards. I've been combing the archives to find a good cartoon to use for the back and this one is danged near perfect, but I was wondering if you knew of any others that might work--ones about love or marriage or dating or anything with a man & a woman? I've found Juan Marichal's too (though I'd need to crop the kids out!) Let me know if you can think of any!

    1. Hi Kelsey. That's pretty cool. Sorry to take so long to respond - I've been away - but there are actually two cards coming up that should be appropriate. Google Ed Farmer (#506) and Wayne Garrett (#510) for their card backs. Or you can just wait a couple days to see the posts here. Good luck with your wedding!