Wednesday, August 21, 2013

#582 - Bucky Dent

A few posts ago we had a one-off card of Ralph Houk, the only manager solo card in the set. This card is another one-off and completely outdoes the Houk one. It is Bucky Dent’s rookie card, an action shot at Comiskey, a full year before Bucky was actually a rookie, and therefore the first card of a member of the Topps Rookie All-Star Team of 1974. So in this instance Topps, by either plan or happenstance, did an awfully good job of predicting a player’s immediate value, at least in terms of its own reward system and that of others (Bucky would come in second place in ’74 AL ROY voting). After a nice start in Triple A Bucky made his debut in June when he got three weeks in Chicago replacing the injured Ken Henderson on the roster. Most of his work was late inning stuff but he did well enough and when he returned in August he got into the line-up as a nearly everyday shortstop, toting a .300-plus average into early September. The average tailed off but not the expectations. After a few post-Aparicio years of not great results Chicago was ready to offer the baseball world another premier shortstop.

Bucky Dent spent his youth in Georgia and Hialeah, Florida, where in high school he was a big deal fullback and shortstop. He signed a letter of intent to play football at Tennessee. That was in December of ’68 and between that time and the next summer he eschewed both the letter and the Cardinals, who drafted him that June. Instead he went to Miami Dade North where he played a season after again rejecting the Cards in January. He finally signed with the White Sox in June of ’70 - he was a first rounder both times that year – and then hit super in Rookie ball before cooling off a bit in A ball that summer. In ’71 an injury both shortened his season and reduced his offense numbers further but ’72 saw a nice bounce in Double A. He then managed to put up nearly similar numbers in his ’73 Triple A season around his two call-ups.

In ’74 Dent cranked up his MLB career as he hit .274 his rookie year as the everyday Chicago shortstop, really the first one since Luis Aparicio left following the ’70 season. He got the rookie trophy on his ’75 Topps card and that year also went to his first All-Star game as the back-up to Bert Campaneris mostly by toting a .300 average through mid-season. By the end of the year his average had fallen to .264 and in ’76 when the Sox pretty much bottomed out in their post-Dick Allen swoon he hit .246. Defensively, despite pretty much a new DP partner each year, he was doing just fine, regularly finishing in the top three in major fielding categories each year and in ’75 leading AL shortstops in assists, putouts, double plays, and fielding percentage.

In 1977 the Yankees returned to spring training after a ’76 in which they played excellent regular season ball to get to the post-season before they were devoured by Cincinnati in the Series. So the impetuous George Steinbrenner knew things had to be tweaked. He fixed the outfield by signing Reggie Jackson. And all pre-season he expressed his desire for an All-Star infield. He was covered everywhere in that respect except shortstop and after chasing the Sox for Dent George finally got him right before the season began for Oscar Gamble and two young pitchers, Lamarr Hoyt and Bob Polinski. Bucky stepped right into the lion’s den, carving out his own niche as a literal poster boy for the teenage girl set. His offense wasn’t anything special but the team had plenty of that and his defense continued along the same tract it had been. After going to the post-season for the first time in ’77 he had a tough time in ’78. A hamstring injury he incurred in spring training dogged him all year and caused him to miss about four weeks in the summer and contributed to lowering his average to .240. But by playoff time he was relatively healthy and in the one-game playoff against Boston for the division title he got things going for NY with his clutch homer. Then in the Series he hit .417 with seven RBI’s to win the MVP. In ’79 he suffered the general malaise that affected the team as a whole and then bounced the next two years with two All-Star selections. In ’80 he had his best offensive season since ’75, hitting .262 with 52 RBI’s and in ’81 his season ended early when he broke a hand sliding, also missing the playoffs. In ’82 the Yankees picked up Roy Smalley, a better hitter than Bucky, and after a couple months Dent, having been replaced by Smalley, was sent to Texas for another former NY heartthrob, Lee Mazzilli. Bucky split shortstop time the rest of the way with Mark Wagner and Doug Flynn and then took over the starting role in ’83, when he hit .237 in his last year as a regular. Texas released him just before the ’84 season began and Bucky re-signed with the Yankees, where for a month he played Triple A ball, hitting .250. The Yankees released him and he signed with Kansas City for whom he got some token at bats the rest of the way. The leg problems that had hampered him the last couple years did him in and after the ’84 season he retired with a .247 average with 40 homers and 423 RBI’s. In the post-season he hit .277 with 15 RBI’s in 24 games. Defensively he ranks in the top 100 all-time in putouts, assists, and double plays for shortstops.

I’ll dispense with the star bullets and go straight to the cartoon, since it’s the most interesting feature on the card back. The grandmother mentioned was Bucky’s maternal one and she was a full-blooded Cherokee. Bucky had an interesting upbringing. After he was born he was given by his mom to her sister and brother-in-law to raise. His original surname was O’Dey and he thought of his aunt and uncle as his parents until he discovered they were not shortly before high school. He later developed a relationship with his birth dad and he was always close with his mom’s mom. On his high school team he played with a back-up catcher named John Teixeira, whose son Mark would later play for the Yankees. There is also some good dirt on Bucky in “The Bronx Zoo.” Early in the ’77 season before he got rolling, George Steinbrenner tried to trade Ron Guidry to the Sox for Dent. Good miss. When Bucky hit that three-run shot off Mike Torrez in the playoff game it was the second big shot hit off Torrez by a Yankee shortstop. Earlier in the season Fred Stanley grand slammed him.

This gets pretty easy since these guys played together:

1. Dent and Jim Spencer ’78 to ’81 Yankees.

1 comment:

  1. I can't be the only person who has noticed that you matched up Bucky Dent with Jim Spencer and not Fred Norman.