Thursday, July 26, 2012

#405 - Ellie Rodriguez

Now this card is airbrushed for sure as its subject was part of a big trade between the Angels and the Brewers in October ’73 (there are six other players involved in the trade with airbrushed cards). Topps was probably in a hurry to get Ellie Rodriguez in an Angels uniform because none of their starting ’73 catchers made the set. This shot appears to be taken at the Milwaukee spring training site give the big termite mound behind Ellie. His last year as a Brewer was mixed: though he split starting time a bunch more with Darrell Porter he had one of his better offensive seasons, put up a pretty nice OBA of .376, and threw out 52% of attempted base stealers, way better than league average. Regarding the card itself the airbrush job isn’t crazy bad – though the artist seems to have had a tough time with the halo - and Topps certainly gives Ellie the benefit of the doubt by handing him an honorary card number.

Ellie Rodriguez was signed by the A’s out of high school in Puerto Rico and got in a summer of Rookie – where he hit .354 – and A ball before he was plucked by the Yankees in the first year draft.. He spent the next four seasons moving up the ladder from A ball to Triple A, some years hitting reasonably well – like his .291 in ’68 – and some years not, but generally fielding pretty well. It was during this time that he and his brother mugged Bill Lee after a game in which Lee had thrown at Ellie and then had to be rescued by Ron Woods. But by then NY had a couple better-hitting catchers in Thurman Munson and John Ellis and after a couple games up top Ellie was left unprotected for the expansion draft and he was selected by the Royals.

For Kansas City Rodriguez was the primary catcher the team’s initial season. He was rewarded with an All-Star selection which was odd because he was only hitting .260 at game time. The next year he split starting time with Ed Kirkpatrick and then after the season was traded to the Brewers for Carl Taylor. In Milwaukee he took over as the number one guy behind the plate the next three seasons. In ’71 he threw out 58% of attempted stealers and in ’72 he got another All-Star nod, this time more deserving because he was hitting nearly .300 when selected. He also peaked out that year with a .382 OBA. After the ’73 season he went to California with Ollie Brown, Skip Lockwood, Joe Lahoud, and Gary Ryerson for Steve Barber, Art Kusnyer, Ken Berry, Clyde Wright, and cash. For the Angels in ’74 Ellie put in his most single season games behind the plate with 137 and got the most walks of his career, enabling him to keep his OBA level even though his average slid a bit to .253. In ’75 an influx of new catchers reduced his starting time though he did get to catch a Nolan Ryan no-hitter. After the season he was traded to LA for Orlando Alvarez but with Steve Yeager and Joe Ferguson ahead of him for most of the season rarely played, hitting .212 in 66 at bats, although he did put up a .400 OBA. He was released during spring training of ’77 and then hooked up that year with Pittsburgh’s Triple A club for whom he hit .224 in 50 games before being released. That ended his time in the States as a player and he finished with a .245 average with 16 homers and 203 RBI’s. For his career he threw out 41% of attempted runners against a league-average of 38%.

Rodriguez, who had played winter ball pretty much his whole career, continued doing so after his playing career north of the border was done. From ’78 to ’82 he played in Mexico where he also managed in ’79. He also managed in the league in ’85 and between both stints and for a while thereafter appears to have coached both in Mexico and Puerto Rico. In ’98 he became affiliated with the new Atlantic League and continues his affiliation as director of Latin America scouting and player development.

Ellie gets the start bullet props for his All-Star selections - he never played – and his defensive work. He joins Bill Sudakis as one-time Yankees who were bowling fans. No little traded type though.

This hook-up involves two other league-crossing catchers:

1. Rodriguez and Ed Kirkpatrick ’69 to ’70 Royals;
2. Kirkpatrick and Fran Healy ’73 Royals;
3. Healy and Jim Howarth ’71 to ’72 Giants.

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