Wednesday, January 16, 2013

#486 - Steve Stone

For our second double card post in a row we get a guy going the other way, from the AL to the NL. Steve Stone shows some big hair in what appears to be a dreary day at Yankee Stadium, though that may just be the exposure on the camera since there are plenty of shadows. I believe those are Yankees over his right shoulder and my guess is that’s Roy White closest to Steve. Besides the Yankees thing and the double card thing, Steve has a couple other things in common with Felipe Alou, the last post subject. He’s got the Traded card, of course, and he was also coming off a relatively short tenure with the team on his regular card. Steve’s stay with the Sox was for a full season, so it was a bit longer than Felipe’s. He’d come to Chicago from the Giants after the ’72 season with Ken Henderson for Tom Bradley. “73 worked out a bit like his two seasons with the Giants: spot work with most of his games being starts along with some middle relief. The results were a mixed bag as he put up another losing record and his ERA was a tad high, but his innings continued to increase and he finished pretty high in the AL in strikeouts per inning. The big question regarding the Traded card is: where’s all the hair? The photo Topps uses for Steve on this card is one from his Giants days so it’s at least a year older than his regular photo. I like the mop top better but both of these would pale to his ’78 one when his chest hair sort of overwhelms whatever he had on his head. So Steve’s fist stay in the AL was rather short-lived. He’d raise his profile considerably the next time.

When Steve Stone was growing up in Euclid, Ohio, a suburb of Cleveland, he was a star athlete at a variety of sports: volleyball, tennis (a city champ at age 12), ping pong (see card back), and obviously baseball. In ’65 he was the starting pitcher in the state’s East-West All-Star game and he romped. Playing behind him were Thurman Munson (shortstop), Gene Tenace (third), and Larry Hisle (center), so it’s not terribly difficult to figure out why. He then moved on to Kent State where his catcher and roommate would be Munson. In the summer of ’68 he played in the Cape Cod League, a year Steve was also all-conference. The next January he was drafted in the fourth round by the Giants. He would finish his degree in history in ’70 but in the meantime he took his 95 mph heater to A ball where he posted pretty good numbers, including well over a strikeout an inning. He improved things significantly the next year at Double A Amarillo and especially at Triple A Phoenix, where he posted his 1.71 ERA in eight starts. He then began his rookie year of ’71 in San Francisco where his first win was a 5-hit shutout of the Pirates. But inconsistency moved him back to Triple A for a bit and he missed the post-season.

After a decent rookie year Stone started strongly in ’72, going 3-4 with a 1.50 ERA through early June as part of the rotation. By then the Giants were in a nasty slump and had twice as many losses as wins in trying to repeat as division champs. In a game against the Pirates that had three rain delays, Steve hurt his shoulder while warming up and then sitting and worked sporadically the rest of the year, though the end results were a big uptick to his rookie ones. Still he wasn’t too happy with the Giants’ prescribed treatment for his shoulder and he asked to be traded. While with the Sox, Johnny Sain helped Steve ratchet up his strikeouts and after the season he returned to the NL in this trade. With the Cubs things got much better, at least initially. In ’74 Steve put up his first winning record, going 8-6 with a 4.14 ERA as a swing guy. In ’75 He bumped up his starts to 32 and went 12-8 with a 3.95 ERA. Then in ’76 it was shades of ’72, but much worse. Early that year he tore his rotator cuff. Again he chafed at cortisone treatment for it, this time going through his own regimen of freezing his shoulder and then exercising it at the suggestion of a non-team doctor. He played the year without a contract and after going 3-6 in only 15 starts he signed back with the White Sox as a free agent.

Stone had a pretty big I-told-you-so season in ’77. While his ERA popped a bunch to the highest of his career he lucked out signing with The Southside Hitmen and between the team’s offensive surges and his new stamina went 15-12 as the club’s leading starter. Free agent defections in ’78 turned Sox fortunes around a bit in ’78 but despite going 12-12 most of Steve’s numbers were an uptick and after the season he went free agent again, this time signing with the Orioles. By then he was throwing off-speed stuff to help assuage the damage done to his shoulder and with better defense behind him in ’79 he went 11-7 with a 3.77 ERA, over half a run better than his ’78 number. Prior to the ’80 season he developed a master plan: he’d always been tentative with his curve for fear of its effect on his shoulder, but he knew that it was a pretty good pitch and he decided to go all in at age 32 and see where it took him, potential damage be damned. It took him pretty far, to a Cy Young-winning year on the back of a 25-7 record with a 3.23 ERA and a perfect three innings as the AL starter in the All-Star game. He also got his first post-season experience, though that didn’t go nearly as well. The downside was pretty much the expected as his shoulder was permanently wrecked by the breaking stuff. After going only 4-7 with a 4.60 ERA in a strike-shortened and DL-shortened ’81 Steve retired in June of the following year. He finished with a record of 107-93 with a 3.97 ERA, 43 complete games, seven shutouts, and a save. In the post-season he put up a 9.00 ERA in a couple relief innings.

Stone rolled pretty well, having earned his degree in a relatively short time and as an ardent believer in positive energy (he took classes). While he was playing he was a published poet, book reviewer (for Oui magazine, remember that thing?), and successful restaurant owner. By the time he announced his retirement he was offered a color gig on Monday Night Baseball and then parlayed that experience to be the color guy for the Cubs from ’83 to 2004, with two generations of Caray’s. In ’04 he openly criticized the Cubs’ performance and after the season he resigned. He later hooked up with the White Sox as an announcer, a position he still holds.

Steve’s ’69 gets most of the attention on the back and was a pretty good kickoff, despite the losing record. He continued to play both volleyball and ping-pong at Kent State and was a bit of a pool hustler there as well. He lived pretty large and was a bachelor for a long time and even got a Playgirl spread in the early Eighties.

Ironically Stone had about the most meaningful career of any of these guys after the trade and he’d spend years paralleling Santo on the broadcasting side for the Cubs. Topps makes no predictions here which was probably a good thing.

I like when this exercise brings up a Hall of Famer:

1. Stone and Willie McCovey ’71 to ’72 Giants;
2. McCovey and Felipe Alou ’59 to ’63 Giants.

1 comment:

  1. Steve Stone actually got valley fever and left the broadcasting booth for a couple of years. I was so happy when he came back to the Cubs, but he took the fall when Dusty Baker couldn't get his players to stop choking at the end of the '04 season, rather than crabbing that Stone was accurately saying they were choking. I still miss Stoney in the booth.