Wednesday, October 16, 2013

#601 - '74 Rookie Outfielders



On this card we get two decently-long careers and a guy who probably still causes hand-wringing in Boston. One guy is a bit out of position on this card, at least for this part of his career, and not one of them looks terribly happy. This card kicks off the final eleventh of the set so let’s get to know these guys. The long delay on this one is partly because the text got lost. Now I have to publish this post in two parts because Blogger won't let me publish it in one. That always sucks.

Ed Armbrister was a happy guy pretty much all the time, despite his look here. Born and raised in the Bahamas as a kid he took advantage of the relative baseball craze that swept his nation when its first native came stateside to play MLB ball. Ed was spotted by a Houston scout in ’67 and signed in time to get in a full season in A ball, where he hit .211. He upped that by 50 points the next year and then in ’69 showed off his speed by stealing 26 bases while hitting .271. He then spent the next two years in Double A, hitting .238 in ’70 – while apparently not walking once in 442 plate appearances! – and upping it to .298 with 16 stolen bases in ’71. Following that season he was included in the big deal to the Reds and would then spend the bulk of the next three years in Triple A. He got his first rookie card that first year (and would have another one in ’75) and over that time would average .300 with nine triples, 16 stolen bases, and 63 RBI’s per year. He made his debut in late August of ’73 and worked the balance of the year in some occasional starts in center as well as pinch running and late inning work, hitting .216 before getting some playoff action. ’74 was nearly all in the minors and he would then spend the next three years strictly up top as the late-inning back-up guy. In ’75 he raised his profile huge when in the Series he put down the bunt that Carlton Fisk threw into center field after he got tangled up with Ed in front of the plate. He would hit .295 in ’76 and .256 in ’77 but the most at bats he got any of those three years up was 78. In ’78 he returned to Triple A for a year, hitting .276 with 32 steals his final stateside season. He then played in Mexico the next couple years, putting up a .291/13/62 line in ’79 but fading to .135 the next year, his final one as a player. For his career Ed hit .245 and .143 in his ten post-season games during which he garnered two rings and in the minors .273 with over 150 stolen bases. After playing he returned to the Bahamas where for years he was a croupier at local casinos and then worked in various local government roles. He has recently started an eponymous baseball league there and was donated a bunch of equipment by the Reds. He has a SABR bio.

Rick – or Rich, as Topps likes to designate him – Bladt was a Cali kid signed out of Foothill College (where he may or may not have played ball) by the Cubs in ’66. A speedy outfielder, he hit .294 in Rookie ball that year and .267 in A ball in ’67. In ’68 he improved to .293 at that level and then in ’69 he wrapped a .312 season in Triple A with 18 stolen bases around a few games in the summer in Chicago when Ron Santo was injured. After that year he and another minor leaguer went to the Yankees for outfielder Jimmie Hall and Rick would then spend the next five seasons as an outfield regular at Syracuse, the NY Triple A franchise, during which he averaged a stat line of .256/9/47 with 70 runs and 12 steals a year. His highs during that span were a .276 average with 12 homers in ’72, and 97 runs and ten triples and 19 stolen bases in ’73. In ’74 he bottomed out with a .226 average. But in ’75 he’d raised his average 40 points when Elliott Maddox tore up his knee at Shea and NY pulled up Rick that August to replace him. After a couple scattered starts he would become the everyday center fielder from early September on and hit .222 during that time. In ’76 NY picked up Mickey Rivers and Rick returned to Syracuse where he had his best year with a .285/9/60 line with 81 runs and a .385 OBA. That year he was also famously involved in a situation in which the ball from a hit he was chasing was lost in the outfield grass and had to be ruled a double. After that season he and Maddox were sent to Baltimore for Paul Blair and Rick spent his final year hitting .226 in Triple A. He finished with a .215 average in 62 MLB games and a .268 average with over 100 steals and a .350 OBA in the minors. After playing he moved to Oregon where he had a long career in construction as a carpenter and continues to reside.

By the time this card came out Brian Downing had just obtained his driver’s license which he needed to go on his first-ever date. A very shy guy who was obviously a late-bloomer, Brian’s baseball story is a great rags-to-riches one. He didn’t make his high school team in Anaheim until his senior year and then he never played. He then went to Cypress College, a local JUCO school, where he played a semester and happened to be seen by a White Sox scout in a game in which he lined a shot off future MLB reliever Al Hrabosky. When the scout heard Brian was hitting .333 he signed him up for a tryout not knowing that was his only hit of the season. Brian did well at the tryout and was signed that May. He kicked off that summer of ’70 in Rookie ball, where he hit .219 while catching. He then moved up a rung each year, hitting .246 in A ball as a catcher/third baseman in ’71 and .278 with 15 homers in Double A in ’72 when he added outfielder to his positions. He got on base at a pretty good clip - .370 in the minors – and in ’73 after hitting .246 in Triple A he was moved up to Chicago at the end of May. On his first play at third he caught a pop-up before falling down the dugout steps and dislocating his knee, missing the next two months. He returned to hit .178 while splitting time between his three positions. In ’74 he backed up Ed Hermann while hitting .225 and then Brian was the starting catcher the next two years, hitting .240 and .256. But he missed significant time both years – to an elbow injury in ’75 and a broken hand in ’76 – and in ’77 lost the starting catching gig to Jim Essian, though his numbers when he did play - .284 with 25 RBI’s and a .402 OBA in 169 at bats – were his best in Chicago. They would remain that as after the season ended he and pitchers Chris Knapp and Dave Frost went to California for Bobby Bonds, Thad Bosley, and Richard Dotson. His first season in ’78 he became the Angels’ starting catcher, hitting .255. Then in the off-season he worked on two things: weight training and opening his stance. They both worked huge and in ’79 he put up a .326/12/75 stat line with a .418 OBA and made the All-Star team. He was rolling in ’80 in the same role - .290 with 25 RBI’s his first 93 at bats – when he broke his ankle and missed the rest of the year. California then decided they liked his bat enough to put him in a safer place – he still had nagging shoulder and elbow pain – and opted for left field. Over the next ten years he would average a .267/20/70 stat line which included missed time in ’81 for the strike and in ’83, ’88, and ’90 for injuries. In his healthy seasons he averaged .275 with 25 homers and 85 RBI’s. He also put up a .370 OBA during that span and helped California reach the post-season two more times. After the ’90 season he was not re-signed and he went to Texas as a free agent where he DH’d – a role he performed primarily since ’87 – the next two years, averaging .278 with a .390 OBA. Brian finished playing at 41 with a .267 average, 275 homers, 1,073 RBI’s, and a .370 OBA. In the post-season he hit .197 with eight RBI’s in 16 games. He remained in Texas after his baseball career was over on a working farm in the small town of Celina. He was very bitter toward the Angels about his release from the team and would not show up for invitations to team events until 2000 when he was included on the franchise’s all-time team. He was inducted into the team’s hall of fame in 2009. Not bad for a guy who couldn’t make the cut in high school.

Bake McBride’s dad was a Negro League pitcher and Bake played baseball, basketball, and ran track in high school in Missouri before doing the same thing at Westminster College. Hoops was his first love, followed by track – he still holds his school’s record in the 200 – but after a shoulder injury pretty much killed his basketball ambitions he tried out for the Cardinals during his junior year and was then selected in the 37th round (!!!) of the ’70 draft. After hitting .423 in Rookie ball that summer, he hit .294 with nine steals in only 85 at bats in A ball. In ’71 at the higher level he hit .303 with 40 steals while scoring 85 runs and in ’72 hit a combined .322 with 42 stolen bases and 92 runs scored in a season split between Double A and Triple A. After beginning the ’73 season hitting .289 with 23 stolen bases by July he was called up to St. Louis. He would spend the rest of the year getting a few outfield starts and pinch hitting and put up a .302 average. In ’74 he was named starting center fielder and he then put together an NL ROY year with his .309 average, 81 runs, and 30 stolen bases. Late that season he and Lou Brock – going for the teammate record for steals – were mailed death threats on a regular basis and required police protection. In ’75 Bake hit .300 and stole 26 bases, though he missed his first significant time to injury, this one a shoulder impairment. In ’76 he was gunning along with a .335 and an All-Star selection when his season was ended in July by knee surgery. That year he finished his degree at Westminster (he would be inducted into the school’s hall of fame). A somewhat slow comeback in ’77 and an issue with new manager Vern Rapp – Rapp wanted Bake to lose his afro - pulled down his average to .262 and restricted his playing time a bit and wound up partly forcing the deadline trade of Bake and Steve Waterbury to the Phillies for Tom Underwood, Rick Bosetti, and Dane Iorg. Bake turned it up the rest of the way, hitting .339 with 27 steals down the stretch. Bake would move to right in the Philly outfield and in ’78 he hurt his wrist which resulted in his average slipping a bunch to .269 and his being platooned with Jerry Martin. But he bounced when given the everyday gig in ’79, hitting .280 with twelve triples and in ’80 he turned on the power a bit with 33 doubles and 87 RBI’s as he spent a bunch of time in the fourth spot and hit .309 and got some significant MVP votes. In ’81 more knee injuries pulled his numbers down and after the season he was traded to Cleveland for reliever Sid Monge. In ’82 he was off to another excellent start - .365 in his first 27 games – when the injury bug really nailed him as a bad contact lens solution gave him conjunctivitis and he pretty much couldn’t see from that point on. He returned in ’83 for another injury-plagued season during which he hit .291 in 70 games. After he wasn’t signed he hooked up with Texas for whom in ’84 he hit .296 in Triple A. But at 35 his knees were toast and he retired after that seaon. He finished his MLB career with a .299 average with 548 runs and 183 stolen bases. In the post-season he hit .244 in 22 games. He returned to the St. Louis area where he has gone underground professionally but has had some relatives in the media: his son Bake is a personal trainer with a local hospital and has a YouTube video; a nephew Travis McBride was recently a local baseball star; and another nephew Joe McBride is a big deal jazz pianist.

2 comments:

  1. The 0 walks in 1970 on the BBReference page is a typo. He had 22 walks.

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