Monday, April 22, 2013

#535 - Bobby Tolan

Given the palm trees in the background this must be a spring training shot. But from the look on Bobby Tolan’s face it could be taken from last September. Bobby had about the worst year of anyone in this set – given his past achievements – in ’73 this side of Steve Blass. After his pretty huge comeback in ’72 he began ’73 strongly enough and was still north of his ’72 average in early May. But then came a big swoon which may or may not have been instigated by more leg issues and by late June he was down to Mendoza levels. It was also around then that he was moved to right field in a switch with Cesar Geronimo. He then began to lose at bats as he got pinch hit for late in games and did a bit of that himself so new guys Ken Griffey and Ed Armbrister could get some looks. In August he got into a shouting match with the director of player personnel over Bobby’s facial hair and as a result he was banned from the team for a bunch of games. Then in mid-September he was suspended by the team for the rest of the year, thereby missing the post-season. Marvin Miller filed a grievance on his behalf but Bobby was sent packing to the Padres for Clay Kirby. So Bobby had lots of reasons to look the way he does in this photo. Having a glow-in-the-dark air-brushed hat to boot just seals the deal.

Bobby Tolan grew up in LA where he went to Fremont High and was teammates with Bob Watson and Willie Crawford. Signed by the Pirates his senior year he hit .271 as a first baseman that summer in A ball. He was then selected by the Cards that winter in the first year draft who moved Bobby to the outfield and Double A. He had a nice season in ’64, hitting .297 with a .369 OBA with 68 RBI’s and 34 stolen bases. In ’65 he moved to Triple A and the top spot of the order, hitting .290 with 45 stolen bases. He also made his St. Louis debut that September. In ’66 he hit .333 to start the year in Triple A, got some mid-season time in St. Louis, missed some time for military service – as he would the next couple years – and finished the season in Triple A. In ’67 and ’68 he worked around his military time to be the club’s fourth outfielder behind Lou Brock, Roger Maris, and Curt Flood. While he was a bit frustrated for a lack of playing time, he did get to go to two Series and won a ring in ’67. After that second year the Cards were looking for a veteran to replace the retired Maris and they traded Bobby and Wayne Granger to the Reds for Vada Pinson.

Tolan began the ’69 season as the everyday guy in right field and by about midway through he moved to center. The deal worked out quite well for Cincinnati as Bobby hit .305 with 26 stolen bases and got his power groove on with lifetime highs in homers and RBI’s. In ’70 he moved to the top of the order again and finished that year with lifetime highs in average, OBA (.384), and stolen bases, with an NL-leading 57. He returned to the post-season this time as a starter and got on base at about a .385 clip. After that season the Reds put together a barnstorming basketball team – Pete Rose, Lee May, and Wayne Simpson were also on it – of which Bobby was the star. At least he was until he ruptured his Achilles tendon. That injury kept him out of baseball for all of ’71 and was the biggest contributor to the Reds big bust that year. By spring training of ’72 he was mostly healed and he would have an excellent return, hitting .283 with 42 steals and 82 RBI’s to again help lead the Reds to the playoffs. That year he was a big RBI guy as he put up ten in 12 games and also stole five bases. After the misery of ’73 he was traded to San Diego in November with Dave Tomlin for Clay Kirby.

When Tolan got to San Diego he moved to right field since the Padres had young guy Johnny Grubb in center. That first year Bobby was a soothing presence for fellow new Padre Derrell Thomas and though his speed was clearly compromised – indicated by a severe decline in steals and lending more credence to his leg being hurt in ’73 – he had a bit of an offensive recovery, pulling his average up 60 points and hitting more doubles and scoring more runs even though his at bats were lighter by about 100. That happened because in July he had to have knee surgery after messing it up on a catch in foul territory. In ’75 he returned and was moved to left field in a switch with Dave Winfield. That year he made it through the season relatively unscathed and hit .255. He was released after the season and signed with the Phillies. He had returned to first base a bit during the ’75 season and in ’76 he got most of his field time there, splitting time with Dick Allen. He turned in a decent season, hitting .261 with 35 RBI’s in 272 at bats. In ’77 the Phillies picked up Richie Hebner to play first and Bobby, after a few at bats, got released and then signed by Pittsburgh, for whom he pinch hit the rest of the year. In ’78 he went to Japan to play for the Nankai Hawks for a season where he joined Carlos May. He then returned to the States and in ’79 hit .284 for the Puerto Rico team of the short-lived Inter-American League. He then re-signed with San Diego where he finished up the season and his career as a pinch hitter. Bobby finished with a .265 average with 86 homers, 497 RBI’s, and 193 stolen bases. In the post-season he hit .253 with 13 RBI’s and seven stolen bases in 27 games.

Tolan immediately began a coaching career following his playing one, beginning by coaching third base for the Padres in 1980. He moved to first base and hitting coach where he remained through ’83 and then managed two seasons in the minors. In ’86 he moved to the Seattle system as a hitting instructor: in the minors that year and in Seattle in ’87. In ’88 and ’89 he managed in the Baltimore system and then moved on to manage in the Senior Leagues, winning the only title that league ever had. He then shows up sporadically in managing and coaching gigs: in ’99 he managed the Nashua Pride; in 2005 he coached the Bristol Sox and in 2006 managed the Great Falls Sox. In 2008 he reappeared in headlines when his son Robbie, a draftee of the Washington Nationals, was shot in his driveway in Texas after being mistaken for a car thief. There was lots of controversy around the event with the Tolans claiming racial profiling led to an overly aggressive use of force. Robbie’s career ended shortly thereafter and the cop was acquitted but a civil suit is still on. Bobby still does card shows and has begun an eponymous local league that has its own site. As a manager he has gone 309-309.

That first star bullet is interesting because Bobby did not make the MLB All-Star team and was not part of the game roster in 1970. However he was named to The Sporting News NL All-Star team at the end of the season. In ’72 he also won the Hutch Award. Eddie Tolan has been variously listed as Bobby’s cousin or uncle. He won both the 100 and 200 sprints in the ’32 Olympics after setting both high school and college records while going to school in and around Detroit. Initially he wanted to be a doctor but funds were hard to come by for his schooling during the Depression. He won some professional meets in Australia in ’35 and worked for various municipalities until he passed away in ’67 at 59 from a heart ailment. Eddie was described as “bulky” when he was a runner: he topped out at about 135.

These guys missed each other on the Phillies by a few years:

1. Tolan and Mike Schmidt ’76 to ’77 Phillies;
2. Schmidt and Eddie Watt ’74 Phillies.  eHHeHYeHJh

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