Tuesday, July 3, 2012

#393 - Orlando Pena

We’ll get back to the AL and the action shots on the next post. Right now we get Orlando Pena who by the time this card came out may have been back in the AL himself. Orlando moved around a lot and was still going at 40-plus because of his big assortment of off-speed pitches including his favorite, a forkball he threw from three different angles. ’73 was an emblematic year for Orlando. His amazing stats in the minors in ’72 got him promoted to Baltimore to start the season in the majors for the first time in a few years. He did well enough in a few appearances but really got his break when Cards pitcher Scipio Spinks went down with injury. St. Louis bought Orlando from the O’s and it turned out to be a nice purchase as he went 4-4 the rest of the way with six saves for a bullpen that was always looking for help back then. He followed that up in ’74 by going 5-2 with a 2.60 ERA before he was sent in September to the Angels for Rich Hand. It was his best run for one team since his days in Detroit in the mid-Sixties. So that smile he throws us from Candlestick was well-deserved.

Orlando Pena grew up in a coastal town in Cuba where he was a local pitching star through and after high school. He was discovered while playing for one of the state teams by a Reds scout and signed in ’55. Good thing, too, because working at his father’s grocery store as a butcher he’d already scarred his pitching hand a few times. He almost regretted his signing, though, when the plane taxiing ahead of him in Havana for his first trip to the States crashed on takeoff. But he made it out and in his first year of D ball that summer went 21-8 with a 1.96 ERA. After winning 19 in B ball in ’56 he spent all of the next two seasons in Triple A, which was nice because the Reds’ IL franchise was back in Havana. He won a combined 23 games those summers, both with excellent ERA’s, and debuted up top late in the ’58 summer, throwing great ball in his few innings.

Pena stayed up the whole year in ’59 but though he got some starting time couldn’t reproduce his ’58 numbers on a bigger scale and had a disappointing season. He spent most of the ’60 and all the ’61 season back in Triple A, now relocated to Jersey City because of political events back in Cuba. He won a total of 25 games those seasons with pretty good ERA’s and after the latter season went to the Braves through a trade to Toronto of the IL. For Milwaukee he stayed in the minors, again putting up pretty good numbers, and that August was sent to Kansas City. The A’s pulled Orlando up and the rest of the year he got spot starts and put up a winning record with an excellent ERA for a losing team. The next two seasons he spent in the KC rotation and in ’63 tied for the team lead with 12 wins and a better than AL-average ERA but also led the league in losses with 20. After a great start to the ’64 season that featured his new forkball his stats went south and his ERA bloated. In ’65 a terrible start to the season got him placed on waivers from which he was claimed by Detroit. He recovered big that year and gave the team four saves along with his published stats. In ’66 he added another seven saves in possibly his best full season to that point. Then early in the ’67 season he was sold to Cleveland as the Detroit pen got crowded and as in the past, put up very nice numbers – including eight saves – the rest of the way for his new club.

The ’68 Indians had a surprisingly good pitching staff and like in Detroit the prior year, Pena was crowded out and spent the ’68 season back in Triple A, where he went 7-6 with a 2.80 ERA, mostly in relief. During the season he was on the move again, first to the new Seattle Pilots and then the new Kansas City Royals. For the latter team he stuck in the minors, in '69 going 9-3 with three saves but also with an ERA that climbed above 4.00. In ’70 he didn’t pitch anywhere for KC except batting practice until Pittsburgh picked him up. His short stay with the Pirates produced a couple wins and a couple saves before their staff got healthy and he was released again. Then the Orioles got him before the ’71 season and he split a few innings up top with a season spent between Single A and Triple A going 11-5 with a 0.99 ERA and seven saves as a starter at the lower level and a reliever at the higher one. Every one of his four teams that year – he also played winter ball – won a title and he got a share of the Orioles playoff take. Then in ’72 he went all Cy Young on everybody as he went 22-3 with a 1.25 ERA and seven saves in another year split between those two levels. That got him up top and after his nice St. Louis run he finished ’74 by throwing shutout ball for the Angels. After starting the ’75 season for them in Anaheim he was released and at age 41, finally done. He went 56-77 with a 3.71 ERA, 21 complete games, and 40 saves up top and 148-91 with a 2.80 ERA in the minors. He also won enough games in Cuba to get into its Hall of Fame.

After he finished playing Pena became a scout for the Tigers which is still his professional activity. Not too surprisingly he specializes in Cuban and Latin American ballplayers.

Only room for one star bullet on the card back and both it and the cartoon were touched upon above. He does revive the parenthetical name for the first time in a bunch of cards.

 Here’s an easy one since these two played together:

 1. Pena and Dick Green ’63 to ’65 A’s.

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