Friday, August 16, 2013

#579 - Cecil Upshaw

Back to the action shots we get a great follow-through of a sidearm delivery by Cecil Upshaw at Candlestick. At 6’6” Cecil was a tall guy with a big wingspan so that delivery must have looked like it was coming from third base. It was effective for a while, too, until a couple injuries to his pitching hand really compromised his pitching. That downfall began in earnest in ’73 when after an ineffective start to the season, Cecil was sent to Houston by the Braves for outfielder Norm Miller. Things didn’t get much better in Houston where a fat ERA and not much use only led to one save. And as the Traded card illustrates, it was a very short stay with the Astros. It would be an even shorter stay with the Tribe and though he pitched not too shabbily, Cecil would be out of ball in a couple years. That’s too bad since he was generally regarded as one of the nicer guys playing. His Traded card is my guess an airbrush Atlanta cap, possibly during spring training. It’s not a terrible art job but with Cecil looking like he just woke up and facing the sun it is reviving a seldom-used category in this set, the ugly card.

Cecil Upshaw grew up in Louisiana and after graduating high school he went to Centenary College in his home state. There he played hoops and baseball, setting a couple scoring records in the former sport and going 12-4 his two varsity seasons with 156 strikeouts – another school record – in 126 innings. He was signed by the Braves in early ’64, missing his senior year, for a bonus of about $30,000. Apparently, though, the team let him finish both his basketball season and his degree, which at least partly explains his pitching in only two A ball games that summer, going 1-0 with a 1.12 ERA. After a couple early relief jobs at that level in ’65 he moved to Double A where he went 3-8 with a 3.18 ERA as a swing guy. In ’66 he was a starter at that level the first half of the year, going 4-5 with a 2.77 ERA, before spending the second half in Triple A where his numbers were awfully close: 5-5 with a 2.87 ERA again as a swing guy. Later that season he made his debut in Milwaukee. Cecil then began the ’67 season in Triple A where he posted a 2-2 record with a 2.16 ERA in 25 games, all but one in relief. His position now better defined, he returned to Milwaukee that summer for good.

For the balance of the ’67 season Upshaw continued his good work, showing excellent control, and recording eight saves. In ’68 he took over as Atlanta’s closer, putting up 13 saves in his 52 games, while pitching more than two innings per appearance. In ’69 the Braves did a better job setting up Cecil as his innings per appearance fell but his saves total more than doubled to 27. He continued his good work in the playoffs, getting into all three games and recording a 2.84 ERA, though he was unable to prevent his team from going down in a straight set. Then during spring training of ’70 he was out with some friends for dinner and while strolling home he decided to show off some of his hoops moves. Bad move since he was ironically wearing his college ring on his pitching hand and when showing his dunk move he got the ring stuck on either an awning of a sign and nearly severed the finger. The resulting surgery caused him to miss all that season and for part of that time he busied himself with writing a sports column in a local paper. He returned in ’71, promptly hurt the same finger again in one of his first appearances, and put together a pretty good comeback season, adding 17 saves to his career-high eleven wins. But amidst those numbers there were some indication he was not the pitcher he had been: his control was sliding a bit and his pitches weren’t as overpowering and the increased number of hits he was giving up popped his ERA by over half a run. In ’72 he added 13 saves as his workload dropped by about a third. Frankly, both seasons were pretty good, especially given the dimensions of Atlanta’s home park, and I think the ’73 trade was about the potential for more injury – he’d missed a month in ’72 with a sore arm – and that Cecil was the Atlanta player rep which was never a positive thing for one’s career. So first he went to Houton and then, with this trade, to Cleveland. With the Tribe he put up a pretty good ERA in his first few games before being included in another April trade, this one a tad bigger: he, Dick Tidrow, and Chris Chambliss went to the Yankees for Fred Beene, Tom Buskey, Steve Kline, and Fritz Peterson. It was a very unpopular trade in NY and Cecil pretty much helped fill the setup and occasional closer gap, going 1-5 but with six saves and an ERA just over 3.00. After the season he was sent to the White Sox for infielder Eddie Leon and though he did more passable work -1-1 with a save and a 3.23 ERA in 29 games – he was released at the end of the season. That finished things for Cecil as he walked away with a 34-36 record with 86 saves and a 3.13 ERA.

After playing Upshaw remained in the southeast where he worked in several businesses, none of which has been specified. He was pretty low profile media-wise and pops up generally in three instances: as some background for his son Lee, who was a minor league pitcher for the Braves in the late Eighties; as the name bequeathed more than a few times to Toronto outfielder/first baseman Willie Upshaw; and in 1995 when he passed away from a heart attack in Georgia. He was only 52.

Cecil gets a star bullet for his college stats, and it appears to have been a pretty good final year for him, though he did not play his senior year as noted above (so I guess Topps means his junior year). He didn’t bring that hitting prowess to his pro time though for a reliever his .160 average wasn’t too bad. A ping pong paddle would actually work in his right hand on the card front. Cecil gets a mention in “The Bronx Zoo” by Sparky Lyle that is actually quite funny, but it’s pretty gross so I won’t mention it here.

The guy for whom Cecil was traded, Jerry Johnson, had a season sort of similar to Cecil’s. He went 5-6 with six saves and a 6.18 ERA. He doesn’t have a card in this set for some reason, though he did every other year from ’69 to ’76.

Another double hook-up, Cecil missed pitching for The Major by less than a season. For Houk as a manager:

1. Sparky Lyle and Cecil Upshaw ’74 Yankees;
2. Lyle was managed by Ralph Houk form ’72 to ’73.

Now for The Major as a player. Pretty much the same as last time:

1. Upshaw and Roy White ’74 Yankees;
2. White and Mickey Mantle ’65 to ’68 Yankees;
3. Mantle and Ralph Houk ’51 to ’54 Yankees.

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