Monday, February 25, 2013

#503 - Eric Soderholm

The next guy in line to give us one of the go-to poses is Eric Soderholm, who shows us his stance at what may be Baltimore’s Memorial Stadium, though I think we are really back in spring training land. Eric’s pose could actually be a lead-in to the photo of his ’73 card though they’re in different settings. Eric came out of 1973 a lot better off than when he went in. Though he’d put up some pretty nice minor league numbers – especially in ’71 – he couldn’t get his MLB average above Mendoza levels. Plus defensively he’d been groomed to be the replacement shortstop for Leo Cardenas though a lot of scouts said he couldn’t handle that position up top. So even though he generated some pretty good fielding totals he was initially viewed as a disappointment when he came up to play third since the Twins already had plenty of guys who could play there. So he spent a bunch of the season back in Triple A Tacoma where his numbers were OK, but not crazy great. Still he got more time to learn third base and when he returned to Minnesota, though his power was a little light, he did keep his average right around .300 for pretty much the whole season. By the time this card came out he was the team’s regular guy at the hot corner.

Eric Soderholm grew up in Dade County in Florida where he had a big year as a junior shortstop for Coral Park High School in Miami. Scouts were after him big but after a weak senior year Eric moved way down priority-wise and wasn’t drafted his senior year of ’66. He was a little guy and he was able to go to South Georgia College on a fellowship deal wherein he got a ride but he had to put lots of work time in on campus to help pay for it. His first couple months there he bulked up to 175 and that got KC interested enough to draft him in June ‘67 in the eleventh round. But with no offered bonus Eric stayed in school. There is some media noise that he was an All-American while there but in a school publication it appears the best he reached was as a JUCO honorable mention his sophomore/senior year of ’68. Still both years his school won the state JUCO championship and he must have done something right because in the spring of ’68 the Twins made him a first rounder. He didn’t disappoint, hitting 12 homers in under 300 at bats the rest of that summer in A ball and then poking 43 RBI’s on less than 200 at bats at that level the next year. He then hit .294 in a short stop that year at another team at the same level before he ran into a bit of a wall in Double A. But his overall stats were quite good and included 18 stolen bases against only one time caught and a .380 OBA. By then he was pushing 190 and was thought to be too big for shortstop so he began ’70 playing strictly third in A ball before moving up to Triple A where he again put in most of his games at shortstop and picked up his offense significantly. In ’71 his third base experience worked out better at the higher level as he set a league mark with four grand slams and had his best power year. That September he got called up to Minnesota.

Soderholm had a great debut, hitting a homer in his second at bat but the rest of the month his numbers faded a bunch. They didn’t get any better in ’72 average-wise but his power was pretty good in a season split at third with Steve Braun. After moving around in ’73 he came back the next year to take pretty much sole possession of the position, putting up some nice defensive work while hitting .276 with 51 RBI’s. In ’75 he was rolling to a better season when he was out driving on an off day to look at some property he was considering buying and fell in a storm drain, breaking three ribs and tearing the crap out of his knee. It was too bad for the Twins because he was hitting .286 at the time with better power numbers across the board on less at bats than the prior year. The initial fix on the knee was to remove some cartilage and go from there. But Eric could not move laterally on the knee in ’76 spring training so he again went under the knife and had a bunch more cartilage removed, losing the entire season. That November he left town as a free agent.

In ’77 Bill Veeck was back running the show for the White Sox and he was a big fan of reclamation projects so he signed Soderholm to have him fill the hole at third base that got a little big in the wake of Bill Melton’s departure. While there was trepidation about the state of Eric’s knee, especially on defense, he came out strong and provided excellent defense. He also hung in there at the plate and was able to take his time run production-wise since he was surrounded by the Southside Hit Men that year. He then delivered big in the power department as he hit 16 homers after the All-Star break to set a personal high for the season with 25. He also knocked in 67 runs and hit .280, all of which won him the AL Comeback Player of the Year Award. In ’78 the team suffered a relative power drought and Eric’s average slid a bit to .258 but his power stats stayed pretty consistent with 20 homers and 67 RBI’s, and he put in another good year defensively. In ’79 he had a great start in the field and an OK start at the plate but the Sox weren’t doing too well so when Texas came looking for offensive help, Eric went to the Rangers right before the trade deadline for Ed Farmer – coming up – and Gary Holle. Texas was set at third with Buddy Bell but new shortstop Nelson Norman was having a tough time at the plate so Bell did a bunch of starts there while Eric took over third for a few games and also DH’d. He raised his average there by over 20 points. After the season he went to the Yankees to DH and do support work at third. By then he’d had two additional knee operations and while he was quite good at getting anything hit in a limited range, that range was contracting. But in ’80 he got off to a hot start at the plate and was hitting over .300 when starter Graig Nettles went down with hepatitis. Eric and Aurelio Rodriguez then split the work at third for the duration of the season and he ultimately had his best offensive season in a couple years, hitting .287 with eleven homers and 35 RBI’s in 275 at bats. He also got some post-season work for the first time that year against KC. But in the off-season another knee operation killed his ’81 season and with little chance of doing any meaningful work in the field he retired at the end of the season. Eric finished with a .264 average, 102 homers, and 383 RBI’s. In the post-season he hit .167 in his two games. Ironically in the face of all his knee work he is currently third all-time for defensive range per nine innings at third base.

Before he retired Soderholm was able to cadge a tryout with the Cubs. When that didn’t go too well he hooked up with the team as a scout, which he did from ’82 to ’83. While in Chicago he got inspired to start a ticket agency that specialized in sporting events and concerts and which did really well, principally because his timing was perfect Michael Jordan-wise. He also started some hitting coach work on the side that developed into his own baseball academy. In ’97 he began his own alternative healing place in Chicago and it is that business to which he devotes most of his time these days. A whole bunch of the above information comes from an interview given by Eric on the Baseball Almanac site and is linked to here.   

Eric also had a four-for-five day in ’73. ’71 was also a big year for him because the Twins made his brother Dale another first rounder that year. Dale was a shortstop also but never reached the top. On the site inked to above Eric gives pretty amusing color on the defensive abilities of the ’77 Sox. He basically says that Chet Lemon was pretty much the only guy who could actually play with any range or throw the ball. It’s a good read.

This is one of those easy ones:

1. Soderholm and Dave LaRoche ’72 Twins.

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