Tuesday, August 13, 2013

#576 - Scipio Spinks



Here we have one of the sets best alliterative names. I’d always thought Scipio Spinks was a Latin guy but, nope, he came out of the south side of Chicago with a pretty mean heater to wreak some havoc in the NL. Unfortunately for him a short meeting with Johnny Bench’s shin pad put a lot more damage to Scipio than he ever did to opposing hitters. In what’s been an unfortunate trend lately – outside of Mr. Garvey, of course, Scipio is yet another post subject on his way out when his card was published. After the Bench collision robbed him of the second half of what had been a pretty good ’72 season he began ’73 with a sore shoulder on top of that and went 0-4 in his first five starts. He then took off nearly all of May to rest his shoulder and returned to get his first win throwing shutout ball against the Reds. He followed that up his next start with another eight innings with no earned runs but the layoff in May had allowed calcium deposits to accrue in his shoulder, only making matters worse. He returned to the DL in mid-June after losing another game for the remainder of that season. By the time this card came out he’d been traded to the Cubs for Jim Hickman. This, then, is his final card and it appears he is home at Busch Stadium showing us a follow-through that may or may not have incorporated a baseball bat.

Scipio Spinks was born and raised in Chicago, as noted above, where he pitched high school ball his freshman and sohpomore year while attending a Catholic school. His junior year he transferred to a parochial school that had no team so those years Scipio threw American Legion and some summer semi-pro ball. Signed the summer after his senior year of ’66 he put up pretty good numbers out of the pen that year in A ball, going 1-1 while striking out 59 batters in 39 innings with a 2.54 ERA. He also gave up a large amount of walks and control would be a bit of an issue for him during his career. In ’67 he went 5-11 as a swing guy at the same level but with an ERA of 2.09 and 135 K’s in 125 innings. Then in ’68 he improved his record to 9-6 in the same role at the same level and supported it with a 2.27 ERA and 149 strikeouts in 123 innings. In ’69 he finally moved up: to the rotation in Triple A but this time his 7-11 record may have been better than his pitching as his ERA bloated to 5.48 and his walk total equaled his strikeout one. He did a lot better in his few innings in Houston though. He had a much better ’70 in Triple A, going 9-12 with ten complete games and a 3.30 ERA while dropping his walks total significantly and nearly recording a K an inning. His short bit of work up top didn’t go so well this time but after a ’71 in Triple A of 9-6 with a 3.25 ERA and 173 K’s in 133 innings he came up for good and this time pitched much better for the Astros, earning his first win in a complete game over Atlanta. He was having a nice spring training in ’72 when just before the delayed season started, he and Lance Clemons were sent to St. Louis for Jerry Reuss.

When Spinks hooked up with the Cardinals to open the ’72 season he was technically still a rookie. But he sure didn’t pitch like one, throwing six complete games in his 16 starts while doing pretty well control-wise and posting a nice ERA. He’d won his last two starts when in a July 4th game at Cincinnati, he tore ligaments in his knee while scoring and colliding with Johnny Bench. The injury ended his season and contributed to a pretty swift decline. After his trade to Chicago, Scipio returned to the minors but threw horribly in his few innings before returning to the DL. In ’75 he hooked up with the Yankees and then back with Houston at the same levels but in both spots his control was just lost as he posted a 1-6 record in ten starts with a 5.40 ERA. That finished Scipio’s time on the mound as he went 7-11 with a 3.70 ERA and seven complete games in the majors and 45-58 with a 3.55 ERA in the minors with better than a strikeout an inning.

After a tryout with Pittsburgh in ’76 Spinks pitched winter ball in Venezuela and then didn’t make it out of pring training in ’77. He then became a scout for Houston which he did through early ’80 when he left to become the pitching coach at Jackson State University – Walter Payton’s school – where he coached Dennis “Oil Can” Boyd. He may or may not have returned to scouting in ’81, depending on the source, but he definitely did so in ’89, this time for San Diego, which he did through ’94. In ’95 and ’96 he was a pitching coach in the Padres system. He returned to scouting in ’97, moving back to the Houston system as an affiliate, which he also was for a couple other teams. He remained with Houston through 2012. He continues to do some free agent scouting as well as act as pitching coach for a baseball school called Proway, based near his home in Houston. Scipio has a few YouTube videos, the most recent in association with a Dock Ellis documentary. He’s a happy guy.


That second star bullet was a big deal and was done in Scipio’s second start of that season. That’s some basketball player the Topps guys created there. It looks like Artis Gilmore in drag. Scipio’s name was a family one and when he was a kid he was called Ronnie. He and Bernie Carbo shared a big stuffed ape they called Mighty Joe Young, after the movie gorilla. When Scipio was traded from St. Louis he sent the toy to Carbo, who took it with him to Boston. There is a photo of it with Carbo on the web. Scipio has an informative SABR bio.

Since Scipio’s only significant time up top was with St. Louis we need to go through there:

1. Spinks and Ted Sizemore ’72 to ’73 Cardinals;
2. Sizemore and Willie Davis ’69 to ’70 Dodgers;
3. Davis and Steve Garvey ’70 to ’73 Dodgers.

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