Thursday, August 2, 2012

#410 - Pedro Borbon

I have to admit I always thought this guy was sort of a jerk. Yeah, I know he was an excellent reliever for a long run – and this card is smack dab in the middle of it – but he used to bite people and start fights and was a big fan of cock fighting and was rumored to be one of dog fighting as well and I got no use for those people. So now the venting’s out of the way and we can concentrate on the good stuff: the pitching. Borbon put up great numbers in ’73, adding 14 saves as part of the bullpen-by-committee the Reds had going back then. His ERA chopped a run off a fine ’72 one and all those innings were relief ones. The guy was definitely a workhorse and he’d cap off his season by having a sweet playoff run against the Mets. But then he’d cheap shot Buzz Capra during the free-for-all after the Rose-Harrelson knockdown before he bit a hole in Cleon Jones’ hat. The guy was at least a poster child for anger management. But the best – and worst – was yet to come.

Pedro Borbon didn’t pick up a baseball until he was 16. This is according to him, but remember he also told people he had a grandfather who was 136. Initially a catcher he got whacked on the side of the head by a better when he leaned too far forward to catch a pitch. That apparently caused him to become a pitcher where he had enough local success that he was signed by the Cards late in ’64. Because of an issue with his DR team – again, according to Pedro – he was not allowed to pitch in ’65. When he did get around to pitching the next year he did an awfully nice job and spent the next three seasons in A ball – a mystery since he pitched so well – going a combined 19-10 with a 2.21 ERA, a bunch of saves, and some pretty good control, pretty much exclusively in relief. Prior to the ’69 season he was selected by the Angels in the Rule 5 draft and thereby had to pitch up top, which he did but not terribly well, although he won his first game. That November he was sent to the Reds in the trade that brought California Alex Johnson and Chico Ruiz, which is strangely appropriate since Ruiz pulled a gun on Johnson during the ’71 season. Pedro returned to the minors for the most part his first two seasons, going a combined 17-8 with 13 saves and a 3.15 ERA in Triple A. After some token innings for Cincinnati each season he was called up for good in ’72.

Borbon kicked things into gear right away once he finally got some serious innings. And they were serious as his 122 innings was the first of six successive seasons in which he’d throw at least 120 with only three starts during that time. He put up 11 saves that season and also began another streak of generally excellent post-season work although he lost the final game of the Series to Oakland. In ’74 he went 10-7 with 14 saves and in the Series championship years of ’75 and ’76 went a combined 13-8 with 13 saves and a 3.15 ERA. The former season he got into another fight, this time against the Pirates, and famously pulled out the hair of and bit the side of Pittsburgh pitched Darryl Patterson. In ’77 Pedro put up his best season by going 10-5 with 18 saves in his final year of 120-plus innings. He then went 8-2 in ’78 but with a 4.96 ERA in Sparky Anderson’s final season. The next year, despite a pretty good start to the season, he was sent to the Giants for utility guy Hector Cruz but pitched pretty poorly down the stretch. He was released by San Francisco at the end of ’80 spring training and couldn’t get a gig so he volunteered to throw batting practice for the Cards, who eventually signed him. Though he went 1-0 with a 3.79 ERA – with ten walks in 19 innings – he was released during the season, ending his MLB career. He finished with a record of 69-39 with 80 saves. In the post-season he went 1-1 with a 2.42 ERA and three saves in 20 games. He also hit pretty well for a reliever, posting a lifetime .205 average.

Borbon continued to pitch in DR during the winter where he was usually a starter. Late in his playing career he opened a disco and at least immediately after his career in the US ended he busied himself with those two activities. He later played some semi-pro ball in Texas and pitched both seasons in the Senior League while it was around in ’90 and ’91. In ’95 he offered himself to the Reds as a replacement player when there was a shot they might have been used if the strike wasn’t settled. That didn’t go too well and from what I understand he supported himself with various business interests, card shows, and celebrity appearances until 2010 when he was inducted into the Reds hall of fame. He passed away earlier this year at age 65 after a bout with cancer.

Pedro gets some pretty generic star bullets, especially considering the colorful sound bites he generated. That cartoon is a literal one. In a fore-shadowing of long-throwing some pitchers use today, Pedro would stand at home plate and wing the ball to the outfield, many times reaching the wall and sometimes even the seats.

I don’t think Borbon would have done too well in a fight with this guy:

1. Borbon and Ken Griffey Sr. ’73 to ’79 Reds;
2. Griffey Sr. and Joe Niekro ’85 to ’86 Yankees;
3. Niekro and Ike Brown ’70 to ’72 Tigers. 

Sadly, I believe this is the first of these exercises to incorporate three players from this set who have since deceased.

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