Monday, October 28, 2013

#604 - '74 Rookie Infielders

As has been the recent trend, on this infielders card we get a couple guys who had significant MLB careers and a couple who didn’t stick around terribly long. Andy(?) Thornton looks like he’s up on a mountain somewhere and appears to be in his Braves uniform which I only know about pre-research because he was on the Atlanta team card. Two of these guys appear to be smiling and Frank White actually seems to be suppressing a laugh which would make this by far the most jovial of the rookie cards to date.

Terry Hughes grew up in Spartanburg, South Carolina where he was a local basketball and baseball legend and had been scouted in the latter sport since he was in eighth grade. Given what was generally viewed as “can’t miss” status, he was playing high school ball that year and during his HS Career hit .288, .321, .400, and .615. He only has four seasons because during his junior year he was suspended from both his hoops and baseball team (I do not know why). He also played American Legion ball in the summers and hit .415 prior to his senior year in that league. Apparently every team scouted him and in the ’67 draft the Cubs made him the second pick after Ron Blomberg (and before Bobby Grich). Terry eschewed another American Legion season to play Rookie ball and hit .278 at that level. In ’68 he moved around a bit and in A ball that summer hit .283 while on loan to Boston, .221 back in the Chicago system, and .328 with a .424 OBA in a month of Double A ball. ’69 was all Double A around some military time and was the first year he played principally at third as he had specialized in shortstop until then. In an off year he hit .249 but in ’70 he bounced to hit .286 in Triple A and made his MLB debut in September. The next two seasons were spent strictly in Triple A and both years he missed some time to injury. In ’71 he hit .255 while playing mostly in the outfield and in ’72 he had his best offensive season, hitting .302 with a .385 OBA and 13 homers as he returned to third base. Just prior to the start of the ’73 season he was sold to the Cards for whom he also played in Triple A, hitting .289 with 51 RBI’s before being called up in August to do late inning work the rest of the season. That year he also had his first Toops rookie card and so, like Sergio Robles on the prior post, this card isn’t technically Terry’s rookie one. After the season he was involved in a big trade, going to Boston with Reggie Cleveland and Diego Segui for John Curtis, Lynn McGlothen, and Mike Garman, another heralded ’67 draft pick. In ’74 Terry spent all of the season on the Boston roster, putting in time at third behind Rico Petrocelli and Dick McAuliffe. In ’75 he was the last guy cut in spring training and he returned to Triple A where he hit .253. He then put in a partial season back with the Cards at that level in ’76 and was done. Terry hit .209 in 54 games up top and .269 in the minors. By the early Seventies he was taking college classes and he eventually got a degree in education. After playing he returned to South Carolina where since 1989 he has been a baseball coach and teacher at Boiling Springs High School.

John Knox is listed here as a third baseman but he would play nearly exclusively at second for Detroit; Ron Cash from a few cards back was listed as a second baseman but he played both corner infield positions. With Reggie Sanders from Ron’s card the whole infield was covered almost so Detroit was sure in overhaul mode at the time of this card. John was born in Newark, NJ, but by the time he was in high school had relocated to Ohio and then went on to Bowling Green State University there where he graduated with a degree in education and finished as the school record holder with 107 career hits. He was drafted by Detroit in ’70 and that summer hit .315 in A ball with a .437 OBA. The next year he put up .271/.368 numbers in Double A before spending most of the next two seasons as a Triple A Toledo Mud Hen. He had pretty similar seasons, posting a .294/.374 year in ’72 and .274/.367 numbers in ’73. He made his Detroit debut the former year in August and then in ’73 hit .281 while playing sparingly, both years behind Dick McAuliffe and Tony Taylor. He then spent all of ’74 and ’75 on the Detroit roster where he hit a combined .287 while playing behind light-hitting Gary Sutherland. The knock on John back then was that he wasn’t a great fielder and in ’76 when Detroit had a bunch of younger infielders in the wings, he was sent back to Triple A. Early that year he was sold to Cincinnati – not exactly an open book at second – and for them stuck at the Triple A level. In ’77 he stopped playing to sell real estate and life insurance in the Toledo area and after a failed comeback in ’78 he was done. He finished with an MLB average of .274 in 219 at bats and a minor league average of .276 and did an inning of late defensive work in the ’72 playoffs. It has been hard to track this guy since then but he was later admitted to his school’s hall of fame and he does some work with a greyhound rescue group down in Texas so that may be where he now resides.

Andre Thornton would hold onto the “Andy” tag on his Topps cards through the ’76 set. Born in Alabama, he and his family relocated to a suburb of Philadelphia where in high school Andre was a big three sports star. He was also a bit of a pool hustler and when he was signed it was in a pool hall, by the Phillies in the late summer of ’67. He only hit .182 in a few games in A ball that year but upped it in ’68 at the same level to .249 with 31 RBI’s in 185 at bats. In ’69 he missed a bunch of time for his National Guard military hitch but hit .251 with 13 homers and a .373 OBA around that in the year he became deeply religious. In ’70 he was off to yet another A team but his at bats went south by about 100 as he missed time to both The Guard and to a broken hand. In ’71 he had a strong bounce. Finally up to Double A he hit .267 with a .399 OBA, 26 homers, and 76 RBI’s. He had one ten-game streak during which he hit nine homers. That got him promoted to Triple A the next year where Andre continued his improvement with a .290/20/65 season in just 300 at bats for two teams since he was traded mid-year to Atlanta with Joe Hoerner for Jim Nash and Gary Neibauer. He remained at that level to start the ’73 season but after a poor start he was sent to the Cubs for Joe Pepitone where he would have a huge slugging binge the next two months, putting up a .289/17/45 run with a .484 OBA in just 135 at bats. That prompted his late July call-up to Chicago where he hit .200 in the few games in which he saw action the rest of the way. In ’74 he split time at first base while putting up a .261 average with ten homers, 46 RBI’s, and a .368 OBA. The next year he got more starts there and responded with a .293/18/60/.428 year that seemed to solidify his hold on the spot after he missed the first month-plus with a broken wrist. But a poor start in the ’76 season got him benched and then traded to Montreal for Larry Biitner and Steve Renko where his slump continued. After that season he was sent to Cleveland for pitcher Jackie Brown. A famously slow starter Andre was hitting only .150 and had been benched in favor of Bill Melton at first when he got back in the line-up and went on a tear, putting up a .286/25/65/.400 stat line in the last 100 games. From there he didn’t look back and over the next two seasons he would average .248 with 30 homers and 99 RBI’s as the club’s leading slugger while providing excellent defense at first. Amazingly those seasons came after a horrible accident in the ’77 off-season in which his wife and daughter were killed and Andre and his son badly injured. In spring training of ’80 he suffered a knee injury which required two operations and caused him to miss the whole year. Then, between the strike and a broken hand, ’81 was pretty much a hot mess. But in ’82 Andre recorded probably his best season, putting up a .273/32/116/.386 stat line while winning the AL Comeback Player of the Year award. By now mostly a DH, Andre would record four more pretty good power years  - in ’84 he won a Silver Slugger - before retiring during the ’87 season. He finished with a .254 average with 253 homers, 895 RBI’s, and a .360 OBA and was twice an All-Star. By that time he was in wide demand as a speaker and he also owned a string of Applebees restaurants for a time after playing. After he sold his chain to the parent company he founded GCI, a logistics company. That firm merged with ASW, a supply chain management company, in 2007 and since then Andre has been the firm’s CEO. He has a SABR bio and a whole chapter devoted to him in Terry Pluto’s “The Curse of...”

When Ewing Kauffman founded the Royals in the late Sixties, one of the first things he did was establish the Royals Baseball Academy, a team-run institution that took select local kids to Florida each year and would teach them a higher level baseball they would otherwise have not been able to access. In the first class of ’70 Frank White was a member, having played ball in high school and even a bit at a local JUCO before the family ran out of money. After a year in the Academy he went to Rookie ball as a shortstop in ’71 where he hit .247 and then moved fast. He split ’72 between A and Double A, hitting .267 with 12 homers and 24 stolen bases. In ’73 he moved up to Triple A, began putting in most of his time at second base, and hit .264 around two stints up in KC where he did support work at short and second and hit .223. Technically he wasn’t a rookie in ’74 because he got into too many games in ’73 and his second year he also put in some time at third, producing roughly the same numbers. He did one more year of reserve work in ’75 when his average took off to .290 and early the next season established himself as the regular second baseman, a position he would then hold for 14 years. He would be middling on offense for a bunch of years and his OBA was never very high, but he didn’t strike out too much, and he would occasionally do pretty well, hitting .275 in ’78, stealing 28 bases in ’79, and hitting .298 in ’82. Frank’s forte was his defense and beginning in ’77 he would win six consecutive Gold Gloves and during that time make four All-Star teams. In ’83 he was moved up in the line-up and that year he had 77 RBI’s. In ’84 he hit 17 out and he then became an outright slugger, the next three years averaging 20 homers and 77 RBI’s. In the ’85 Series he batted in the clean-up spot and in ’86 and ’87 won two more Gold Gloves while also returning to the All-Star game and winning a Silver Slugger the first season. He remained with KC through the ’90 season, finishing with a .255 average, 160 homers, 886 RBI’s, over 2,000 hits, and 178 stolen bases. Defensively he is 12th all-time in assists and putouts at second base and ninth in double plays. In the post-season he hit .213 with 16 RBI’s in 42 games. After a year off in ’91 he became the first black manager in the Boston chain when he manged the Rookie franchise in ’92. He then coached a year in the minors before moving up to Boston from ’94 to ’96. From there he returned to KC as a coach (’97-2001); assistant to the GM (2002-’03); manager of the team’s Double A franchise (’04-’06); and director of player development and community relations (’07-’10). That last year the Royals got real miserly with his salary and he quit the community relations role and after the 2011 season he was fired from his part-time announcing role because the team claimed he was too critical. Since 2012 he has been a coach for the independent Kansas City T-Bones and a sales representative for a roofing company.

This group raises the bar pretty high with 34 MLB seasons between them, as well as seven All-Star games, eight Gold Gloves, two Silver Sluggers, and a Comeback Player award. Reading their last names in succession sounds like an amusing headline: “Hughes Knox (Knocks) Thornton White.” I guess it would have worked if Andre was a pitcher.

Pitchers come in handy getting from the last card to this one:

1. Sergio Robles and Jim Palmer ’72 to ’73 Orioles;
2. Palmer and Dick Drago ’77 Orioles;
3. Drago and Terry Hughes ’74 Red Sox;

Then we get a pretty efficient ‘round the card:

1. Terry Hughes and Dick McAuliffe ’74 Red Sox;
2. McAuliffe and Willie Horton (watch this guy) ’64 to ’73 Tigers;
3. Horton and John Knox ’72 to ’75 Tigers; Horton and Andre Thornton ’78 Indians;
4. Thornton and Pete LaCock ’73 to ’76 Cubs;
5. LaCock and Frank White ’77 to ’80 Royals.

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