Thursday, April 25, 2013

#538 - Cesar Tovar

In one post we get back both an action shot and a Traded card. That seems about right for Cesar Tovar, a guy who once played nine positions in a game. Cesar came to Philadelphia after the ’72 season for Joe Lis, Ken Reynolds, and Ken Sanders. The Phillies had just sent third basemen Don Money and John Vukovich to Milwaukee to clear a path for college guy Mike Schmidt and they then picked up Cesar for insurance in case Mike had trouble with big league pitching. And initially he did, so it was a good thing Tovar was around. But as the season went on Schmidt got more settled at third, Cesar had to have surgery on his knee, didn’t get too much time in the outfield when he returned, and he publicly declared he wanted out of Philly. So did Larry Bowa which was a bit ironic since one of the other reasons the Phillies brought in Cesar was to be an influence on Bowa. But that probably wasn’t what they had in mind.

Cesar Tovar was born in Caracas, Venezuela, where he grew up playing ball, principally at second base. He was signed by Gabe Paul, then working for Cincinnati, while Paul was on a scouting expedition for a friend of Cesar’s named Gus Gil. The Reds wanted Gil and Gil asked them to sign his friend or the deal was off. That Paul did and Cesar got started that summer in D ball where he hit .252. In ’60 he moved up to C ball where he hit significantly better, with ten triples, twelve homers, and a .304 average. Somehow those numbers got him moved back to D ball in ’61 where he put up a 19/78/.338 year while also stealing 88 bases. In ’62 the Reds got it right and moved him up to B ball where he had a 10/78/.329 season with 56 steals. In ’63 he got loaned to the Twins and in Triple A that year he made an impression with an 11/49/.297 season with 41 doubles and 115 runs scored while splitting time between shortstop and the outfield. In ’64 he returned to Cincinnati, stuck in Triple A, added third base to his positions, and had a pretty good year , hitting .275 with 94 runs and 40 stolen bases. When the Twins came calling for a middle infielder, Cesar was their second choice – apparently Tommy Helms was their first – and Minnesota got him for pitcher Gerry Arrigo.

Tovar began ’65 on the Twins roster and did OK, but not good enough to stick, so in a month he was back in Triple A, where he hit .328 with eleven homers and 28 stolen bases the rest of the way. In ’66 he stuck in Minnesota and had a pretty good rookie year, spending most of his time at second while stealing 16 bases. In ’67 and ’68 he had very similar seasons – he had 35 stolen bases the latter year – while splitting time pretty evenly between third base and the outfield. That first year he led the AL in plate appearances even though he had no regular position. In ’68 he did his one position per inning thing in a game against the A’s. That was appropriate since the first guy to pull that off was Bert Campaneris, who played in that game. In ’69 the Twins got Billy Martin as a manager and Cesar quickly became a favorite of the manager with his hustle and versatility. He upped his stolen base total to 45 that year and beginning that season was principally an outfielder. Minnesota went to the playoffs that year and also the next when Cesar led the AL in doubles and triples in what was probably his best season. In ’71 he led the AL in hits. In ’72 a shoulder injury pulled his stats down a bunch. That November he was sent to Philadelphia.

While Larry Bowa’s wish to be traded didn’t happen – good thing for both him and the Phillies – Tovar’s request was honored and he got sold to the Rangers. Reuniting with Martin seemed to do the trick as Cesar had a nice bounce, upping his average to .292 and his RBI total to 58 while again playing around the outfield. But ’75 got a bit tumultuous as injuries and a fast fallout by Martin with management led to Billy’s departure. Cesar’s numbers came in with the rest of the team as his RBI totals halved and his average fell to .258. That season he was primarily a DH for both the Rangers and Oakland to where he was sold in late August for the stretch drive during which he hit .231 the final month. He did mostly pinch hit work for the A’s in ’76 before he went to the Yankees the final month-plus – again reuniting with Martin – where he finished out his career in the same role. Cesar batted .278 for his career with 46 homers and 226 stolen bases and 834 runs. He only K’d about once every 15 at bats and he hit .250 with four runs in eight post-season games.

Tovar had a long winter career in Venezuelan ball during and after his US one. When he was done he was fourth in career games played and hits, second in runs and stolen bases, and third in doubles. He hit .286 for his career there, which as a player lasted through ’85. Immediately after his stateside career ended he played the next three regular seasons in Mexico, hitting well over .300 in each one. When he finished up as a player in Venezuela he continued there as a coach. He was a big smoker and by the early Nineties he had a few health problems as a result. Early in ’94 he contracted pancreatic cancer which killed him later that year. He was 54.

Cesar has a nice clean signature that is very compact, sort of like him. He doesn’t have the parenthetical name thing going but that’s because his mom and pop never married.

The back of the Traded card gives a glimpse of Cesar’s early history with Billy Martin. The two were very similar players though Billy did a bit better in post-season work. According to the book "Seasons in Hell", during his first season with the Rangers, Cesar habitually ran into other players so much while chasing down fly balls that he was told he should wear a cowbwll so his teammates could hear him coming. "More cowbell!"

Gabe Paul could certainly link up these two guys in a hurry but through teammates we have to look elsewhere:

1. Tovar and Del Unser ’73 Phillies;
2. Unser and Steve Mingori ’72 Indians.eHHeHYeHJh

1 comment:

  1. The Phillies also picked up former Pirates' 3B-SS Jose Pagan for insurance/mentoring purposes. Before long, nether Pagan or Tovar was necessary!