Thursday, April 4, 2013

#527 - Bobby Darwin

It’s not much of an action shot, but I’ll take what I can get. Bobby Darwin looks mighty pensive somewhere in the AL away from home. By ’73 he was in his third year as the Rick Ankiel of his day, though Bobby didn’t have nearly the topside success on the mound that Rick did. Still, he was one of the rare guys to make the switch work and in ’73 he was in the midst of a pretty good run for the Twins as a power-hitting outfielder. That is if you discount the strikeouts. Bobby’s numbers in that last stat would make him right at home in today’s game. In ’73 he was also in the middle of a three-year run leading the AL in that category. And since three years was about all the time he was a regular he probably could have extended his reign. But Minnesota had plenty of contact guys so it wasn’t too bad a place to be if the whiffs were a little heavy but so was the power. Bobby’s big game in ’73 was one in which he had seven RBI’s. His homers could be huge – he was very strong – and around the time this card came out he launched one that was measured at 515 feet. That would sure be something to think about.

Bobby Darwin grew up in Watts and at Jordan High School there he was a multi-sport athlete. He was a big pitcher who threw heat and early in ’62 he was signed by the Angels, a few months after finishing school.  He then began a long road in the minors by going 11-6 that season in C ball with over 200 K’s in 153 innings. He also walked nearly a runner an inning which contributed to his 4.12 ERA but the Angels pulled him up for a September start anyway. He got whacked pretty good but also got six K’s in his three innings and began the next year in Triple A. He also began a military hitch that year and through May only got three starts – 0-1 with a 4.85 ERA and too many walks – before he was picked up by Baltimore and had a nice run in A ball, going 4-0 with a 1.61 ERA in five starts. That ended when he tore his rotator cuff, which was usually death to pitchers back then. Bobby rehabbed the rest of the season and returned to A ball in ’64 but the effects were still there as he went 2-11 with a 4.68 ERA. By ’65 he seemed fully healed and he moved up to Double A that year and improved a bunch, going 9-10 with a 3.89 ERA and 89 K’s in 111 innings, his best ratio for a couple seasons. But in ’66 he hurt his elbow and his numbers retracted to 2-6 with an ERA over 5.00 split between A and Double A ball. In ’67 he went 4-4 with a 3.45 ERA as he continued to recover at the higher level, with most of his work being in the pen. Then in ’68 he went 10-6 with a 2.21 ERA back in the rotation at the same level.

In off-seasons back then Darwin returned to LA where he worked tow trucks for Triple A. One day in late fall of ’68 he went out on a call to pick up a car that had been hit that happened to be driven by Al Campanis, the Dodgers GM. Bobby chatted up Al who remembered him from when they scouted him in high school. Al must have liked what he heard because a couple weeks later LA scooped Bobby in the Rule 5 draft. But Bobby hurt that same elbow again in the spring, was crazy wild in a few early games, and then he didn’t get any better when sent down to Spokane, the LA Triple A affiliate. Spokane was managed by Tommy Lasorda then and Tommy was a creative guy. He saw Bobby shagging flies and taking some cuts in the cage and he stuck Bobby in the outfield for a couple late-season games. Over that winter Bobby played semi-pro ball back home and returned to try things out in ’70 in A ball. He broke his hand on an inside pitch, missing five weeks. And his strikeout totals were immense: 127 in 303 at bats. But he also hit .297 with 23 homers and 70 RBI’s so in ’71 he returned to Spokane, cut down the K’s by over 40, and put up pretty good numbers of .293/17/55 in 321 at bats. He even got some looks that fall in the crowded LA outfield. And things were crowded so after the season LA sent their reclamation project to the Twins for Paul Powell.

Darwin’s initial work with the Twins made them pretty happy with the trade. The first few weeks of the '72 season he was hitting over .400 and he led the AL in homers and RBI’s through most of May. He slowed down a bunch and he wasn’t the most nimble guy in the field but he did an OK job in center and turned in pretty good numbers for a 29 year-old rookie (though he didn’t qualify since he spent too much time up top in earlier years). In ’73 he improved his numbers and the next year he bettered things with 25 homers and 94 RBI’s, both career highs. In ’73 and ’74 Bobby got pushed to right with the arrival of Larry Hisle and in ’75 a slow start coupled with rookie outfielder Lyman Bostock’s takeover of right field limited Bobby’s plate time and that June he went to the Brewers for Johnny Briggs. With Milwaukee he got starts in right and left and some DH work which got him more plate time and pulled his average up a bit. But in 355 at bats his homer and RBI totals slid to 13 and 41 on 98 K’s as his average dipped to .234. In ’76 he got a little time in right but had only 73 at bats when he was again the subject of a June trade. This time he went to Boston with Tom Murphy for Bernie Carbo. For the Sox Bobby got some at bats as a DH but his average came in some more and he finished the year at .207. After splitting time in ’77 between the Sox and the Cubs he was done up top. But he did some damage for the Cubbies in Triple A by hitting seven homers and 19 RBI’s in 79 at bats. After spending ’78 playing ball in Mexico for Tampico – Gonzalo Marquez was on his team – Bobby was done. For his career he hit .251 with 83 homers and 328 RBI’s. As a pitcher he went 0-1 with a 10.29 ERA in seven innings. In the minors he hit .270 with 62 homers and 170 RBI’s in about two regular seasons. As a pitcher he was 42-50 with a 3.83 ERA.

In ’79 Darwin returned to his old hood to work in some local businesses. In ’82 he became a scout for the Dodgers. He is still at it and in 2010 received an award for his services.

I think it’s great that a guy who converted from a pitcher to an outfielder is named Darwin. Bobby has a lot of names.

Another Brewers hook-up? Why not:

1. Darwin and Hank Aaron ’75 to ’76 Brewers;
2. Aaron and Frank Tepedino ’73 to ’74 Braves.

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