Friday, December 7, 2012

#466 - Dick Billings

This is Dick Billings’ final card and he goes out in style with a pretty cool action shot. Dick – more often referred to as Rich – looks pretty pissed here and my guess is an opposing runner just crossed the plate, maybe in Oakland. Dick had a tough year in ’73. After finally achieving a starting catching role most of the past couple seasons new Rangers manager Whitey Herzog platooned him with Ken Suarez and Dick’s average suffered, falling into Mendoza territory. Then, to add injury to insult – yeah, I know what I said – Dick got steamrolled at the plate in a game in April of ’74 by Bobby Murcer and missed the next six weeks, allowing rookie Jim Sundberg to get the catching role unchallenged. Once everyone saw Sundberg’s work behind the plate, that was it for Dick and he would soon be gone. So maybe the expression on his face is an appropriate one for lots of reasons.

Dick Billings starred in the big three sports and track in high school in Troy, Michigan and then attended Michigan State on a baseball scholarship. Back then Dick was an outfielder and sometime third baseman and his junior year at MSU he hit .375 to lead the Big Ten in ’64. After he got a BS in Education he was taken by the Senators in the ’65 draft – in the 25th round so maybe something went wrong his senior year – and that summer hit .264 in A ball while playing the outfield. In ’66 he upped his numbers at the same level pretty good, hitting .312 with 14 homers and 70 RBI’s. He moved up to Double A in ’67 but didn’t hit too well. He did, though, put in some serious time at third, and that versatility helped move him up in ’68 to Triple A where he upped his average to .276. After a few games in the outfield in DC in the fall, it was generally regarded that he wasn’t going anywhere fast at third base so in ’69 he was moved back to Double A to learn a new position: catcher. He’d work back to Triple A and the Show that year but it was a tough one as he barely hit .200 at any level. But in ’70 he nailed a pretty good season in Triple A where he caught nearly exclusively: .305 with 15 homers, 67 RBI’s, and a .380 OBA.

In’71 Billings was up in DC where he played a bit in the outfield and split time behind the plate with Paul Casanova before taking over the position with his superior hitting after the halfway mark. Dick did have issues, though, as he led the AL in passed balls in about half the games of his fellow catchers. In ’72 he turned pretty much the same trick, this time wresting the job full-time from Hal King, who’d come over from Atlanta for Casanova. Then came his woeful ’73 though he did have a high moment when he caught Jim Bibby’s no-hitter that year. After giving way to Sundberg he hit .226 in a limited back-up role before going to St. Louis in an August sale. For the Cards Dick did some time at Triple A Tulsa before getting into just a couple games up top. In ’75 he hit .294 in Triple A with the same deal upstairs and after the season he was done. He hit .271 with 55 homers in the minors and .227 with 16 homers up top.

After playing Dick returned to the Arlington area where he opened his own investment and commercial real estate shop. He has been there ever since and makes frequent appearances at Rangers and other MLB events.

I’ve tried to get some color on how long Dick managed in Venezuela but haven’t been too successful. He also taught school during some off-seasons. He only got plunked half as many times when he had his bigger ’70 season so I guess he learned to move back off the plate. While researching this post I came across a book which I gotta get: "Seasons in Hell" by Mike Shropshire. It's about the Rangers from about '73 to '75 and one of the best quotes from the book regards Rich, manager Whitey Herzog, and the '73 season. In spring training of that year Whitey opined that "If Rich Billings is our starting catcher, we're in trouble." Billings' response upon hearing the above? "Whitey, obviously, has seen me play."

Texas contributed David Clyde’s debut to the baseball centennial celebration in ’76. I believe it’s one of only two contributions from 1973. It is detailed on the Clyde post.

This one’s easy:

1. Billings and Dick Bosman ’68 to ’73 Senators/Rangers.

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