Tuesday, August 7, 2012

#413 - Don Money

Here is another one of my favorite players (sorry if that’s a venal start). Don Money wasn’t exactly unsung since he did get All-Star appearances including a start even, but in the days of Brooks, Nettles, and Bando in the AL he was sort of overwhelmed publicity-wise. I’ll always remember him from those team and All-Star photos in which his ears stuck straight out. You can’t tell that here, in an action shot in Oakland where Don appears as if he’s about to pounce on a grounder. He had a nice year in his first AL season after a big trade, upping his average a bunch and finally giving the Brewers an established full-time third baseman for a few years. It didn’t start out that way, though. In late June he was hitting below .200 but a second-half tear pulled his average up 80 points. He also hit leadoff a bunch for the Brewers which helps explain his 22 stolen bases which got him in the top ten. And he moved his home base to Jersey while he was playing for the Phillies and then stayed there after the trade, which is saying a lot, and further endeared him to me as a kid.

Don Money was born in DC and played ball in Maryland where he was both a pitcher and a shortstop. His coach knew a Pittsburgh scout by the name of Syd Thrift who came down and gave Don a couple tryouts during his senior year in ’65. He liked what he saw and though Don took and passed a civil service exam and was offered a government job he signed with the Pirates for zero money. In rookie ball that summer he hit .241 while playing the field – he didn’t pitch in the minors – with a bit of power and then .236 the next year in A ball. Then in ’67 at that level he hit .310 with 16 homers and 86 RBI’s to win his league’s MVP award. He was still playing shortstop and was a nasty good fielder but the Pirates had Gene Alley up top with a young Freddie Patek in the wings so after the ’67 season Don was traded with Woodie Fryman and Bill Laxton to the Phillies for Jim Bunning.

Money and fellow rookie Larry Hisle made the cut in spring training of ’68 and in their first series in LA that year Don drove in Larry twice in his first game to help win it. But after his big start he only played in a few more games and he was optioned back to Triple A where he hit .303 the rest of the season. After that year incumbent Philly shortstop Bobby Wine went to Montreal and Don returned, this time for good. While he didn’t hit a ton he did pretty well for a first-year shortstop and made the Topps rookie team. Just because the Phillies wanted a lock on that spot they brought up Larry Bowa the next year and moved Don to third. He responded with some excellent defense, added some power, and boosted his average 66 points. Don was pretty much a dead pull hitter back then and the team wanted him to change his stroke to hit to all fields. But the results for him were pretty frustrating. His average returned to the .200’s and his power got halved in ’71. That year he also played a bunch in the outfield and at second while John Vukovich got a shot at third. Then he was reviving his big hits if not his average in ’72 when a new third baseman on the horizon – Mike Schmidt – helped impel the big trade with the Brewers: Don, Billy Champion, and Vukovich for Jim Lonborg, Ken Brett, Ken Saunders, and Earl Stephenson.

After his big second-half rally, Money went on a nice consistent streak the next five years in Milwaukee, putting up averages that ranged between .267 and .293 and making four All-Star teams. In ’74 he led the AL in at bats but then missed some games the next couple seasons with injuries. In ’77 the Brewers acquired Sal Bando as a free agent so Don moved primarily to second and had his best power year with 25 homers and 83 RBI’s. In ’78 he was voted the All-Star starter at second base even though by game time he was playing mostly first due to an injury to Cecil Cooper. In ’79 Cecil got healthy and kids Jim Gantner and Paul Molitor got a lot more time at the other two bases so Don mostly DH’d and did utility work. That was pretty much the same deal in ’80 and his average fell to the .248 area those two seasons. In ’81 he platooned at third with Roy Howell and the two did a pretty good job in the strike year as the Brewers made the playoffs for the first time. Then in ’82 he and Roy turned the platoon trick again but this time as DH as Molitor took over third base. Don got a bunch of work in the post-season that year and then returned for one more season of reserve work before being released in ’84 spring training. Don ended things with a .261 average with 176 homers and 729 RBI’s. He hit .185 in eleven post-season games.

In ’84 Money signed to play ball in Japan, apparently receiving a fat contract to do so. While he was only hitting .260 a couple months into the season he was leading the league in homers when he got tired of his living and travel arrangements and quit. He returned to the US and New Jersey where he stuck around for a bit before returning to baseball through coaching in the Tigers system before taking over as manager in Oneonta from ’87 to ’88. He then returned to Jersey for ten years where he coached high school ball. In ’98 he returned to pro ball, this time in the Brewers system, where he managed at various levels through 2011. He is currently Milwaukee’s director of player development and also continues to do some coaching back in Jersey.

Don's star bullets give a good indication why his nickname was Brooks. From late ’73 through mid-’74 he went 88 games without an error and I believe his ’74 fielding percentage of .989 is still an AL record. During the streak he took 261 chances without an error so he just killed the one he set in the star bullet. He had a working farm in NJ which was pretty rare for a part-timer. It was there he returned to after his bad experience in Japan.

So Taylor and Money just missed playing together though Chuck only got in five games for the Brewers so it wouldn’t have counted anyway:

1. Money and Dick Allen ’68 to ’69 Phillies;
2. Allen and Chuck Taylor ’70 Cards.

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