Wednesday, November 14, 2012

#458 - Jim Ray

Sometimes, like with Chuck Goggin from the last post, one can get a decent amount of information on guys who barely played in the majors. Then sometimes the reverse happens: guys with fairly significant careers have nothing out there. That’s pretty much the case with this guy. Jim Ray – a contender for the shortest name in the set – was a bullpen stopper for the Astros until shortly before this card came out. He’s shown here on a nasty spring training facility that brings to mind the Houston one but Jim is in an away jersey. That warning track – my guess – looks like it may have a big hole obscured in part by Jim’s right thigh. But the card sort of matches the trajectory of Jim’s career at this point. His ’73 season was running on the same arc as the last two-thirds of his ’72 one, which was derailed apparently by a hurt arm. His control continued to go out the window as his walks outmatched his strikeouts and when the opportunity came to get him elsewhere for a lefty reliever the Astros jumped on it, resulting in the Traded card here. But he did post a winning record with six saves his final year in Houston and for four-plus years he had a nice run so one would think he’d have had some newsworthy moments. Maybe the guy really just needed a PR person.

Jim Ray was born in South Carolina and somewhere along the line he relocated to Holly, Michigan, where in high school he was a four-sport star. That usually meant the big three plus a season of track. He was signed by the Orioles upon graduating in ’63 and turned in some spanking numbers his first summer, going 5-0 in Rookie ball with 78 K’s in 50 innings and pitching a couple scoreless innings in A ball. He was then taken by Houston in the first year draft and his next year-plus had to work around his military commitment. In ’64 he moved to Double A where his numbers were pretty good though his walk totals were getting fat. In ’65 excellent numbers – a combined 9-7 with a 2.71 ERA and 146 strikeouts in 133 innings – got him his debut in Houston. ’66 was all Triple A as he finished up his military time and put up OK numbers. ’67 was a bit bipolar for Jim as he went 8-1 with a 1.30 ERA in Double A and then 3-11 with a 4.24 in Triple A, again putting up around a strikeout an inning. But those numbers were good enough to get him in Houston where he spent the better part of the next six seasons.

Ray had been a fastball and curve specialist in the minors and was primarily a starter at those levels. In his rookie year of ’68 he became a relief guy, mostly in middle innings, and pitched some nice ball, including seven shutout innings in the monster 24-inning game against the Mets. In ’69 he moved into a swing role and earned the nicknames “ray gun” and “stinger” for his strikeout total, which matched his innings. Control-wise it was his best season and in ’70 though his numbers were generally very good as he moved back to the pen full-time – he had five saves – his strikeout totals nearly halved. Houston’s pitching coach, Jim Owens, decided that this Jim was losing control throwing from the windup and had him work on throwing from the set position. Initially it worked very well and though in ’71 Jim’s K totals were less than half of his innings, his walks moved down as well, and he had his best season, winning double figures in relief and posting three saves. ’72 started off even better – a 7-0 record with a 1.85 ERA and three saves through late May. But then came a disastrous run leading up to his first loss a few weeks later during which he gave up ten earned runs and five walks in less than five innings. That run came after missing some time in the wake of experiencing some arm pain, which may or may not have been serious though it was never diagnosed and he spent no time on the DL. The rest of the year he went 3-8 with around a 4.11 ERA as the walk totals moved up. In ’73 his work load decreased and at the end of the season he and Gary Sutherland went to Detroit for lefty Fred Scherman.

Ray’s time in Detroit didn’t go too swimmingly. John Hiller was in the midst of his remarkable comeback from his heart attack and got the bulk of the Tigers relief work. Jim only got into 28 games and went 1-3 with a 4.47 ERA as his walks again topped his strikeouts. After the season he went to Pittsburgh for whom he did not play. After shoulder surgery and aborted comeback attempts with the White Sox in ’75 and with Houston in ’76 – both in the minors – he was done. He finished with a record of 43-30 with a 3.61 ERA and 35 saves; in the minors he went 38-32 with a 3.39 ERA and nearly a strikeout an inning.

And that’s it. There is pretty much nothing out there on this guy. He got a couple token mentions in “Ball Four”, mostly by getting into a fight with another pitcher on the bus. And he’s a tough guy to do searches on, especially since his name is so close to the guy that assassinated MLK.

The card back is pretty simple and shows off his hot start to the ’72 season. But the cartoon doesn’t give too much information. None of his ever did so at least for this writer he was and has stayed very private.

Topps goes tongue-in-cheek on us for the trade headline. As noted above the anticipated duo never really got going. According to Jim in an interview back then he wasn’t even used the first 44 games of the season.

Houston’s big moment that it contributed to the ’76 centennial was the opening of the Astrodome on April 9, 1965. The Colt .45’s had recently been re-christened the Astros in honor of the new stadium which in turn was named for the nearby space program. Though the regular season had already begun the first game was an exhibition one against the Yankees, whose new manager Johnny Keane was a Houston native. Everyone came to the game including President Lyndon Johnson, a native Texan. The game went 12 innings and was forever tied 1-1. Mickey Mantle had put NY up top with a monster solo homer and Houston tied it on a run-scoring single. The game was won by Nellie Fox, who by then was a coach, when he lined a run-scoring single.

I’ll use a guy who actually played with both these players, but not enough with the newer one:

1. Ray and Jimmy Wynn ’65-’66 and ’68 to ’73 Astros;
2. Wynn and Sonny Jackson ’65-’67 Astros;
3. Jackson and Chuck Goggin ’73 Braves.

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