Thursday, December 5, 2013

#618 - Jim Mason

We’ve been doing a sort of back and forth between Traded cards and final cards and this card completes that loop, at least for a while. Jim Mason was pretty much the poster boy for light-hitting shortstops, even more so than the guy who’d be synonymous with that designation in a couple years. Here he strikes a tough pose in Oakland but I don’t think too many people were fooled. In ’73 he had his busiest MLB season to date, spelling Toby Harrah at shortstop and Dave Nelson at second. He would top that in ’74 in his first and only season as a downright starter before reverting to his backup role down the road. On his Traded card, which appears to be from the same day, Jim gets another nasty pinstripe airbrush job in one of those “looking up” photos. It seems Topps took those shots in case of that instance which may have grated a bit on the card subjects since there was an implication Topps knew something they didn’t. Jim sure does have a worried look on his face on that card, though he needn’t have been so concerned. In fact, Jim was able to wrangle a decent career out of not much wood despite a bit of traveling

Jim Mason came out of Mobile, Alabama, like a few other guys in this set. Jim was a good enough baseball player to be taken in the second round of the ’68 draft by the Senators. He’d also played basketball and football in high school and after graduating attended the University of Southern Alabama but didn’t play ball there. That first summer he didn’t hit too well but he fielded well enough to get up to Triple A in ’69, a season he missed a considerable part of due to military duty. In ’70 and ’71 he remained at the higher level, gradually getting more lineup time while his average escalated. His OBA both seasons was quite good at .377 in ’70 and .390 the following year. That September he made his debut in DC and was lucky enough to be on the field for the last ugly game there for a bunch of years. He began ’72 back in Triple A where he had his best offensive run before coming up to Arlington in late July on the heels of an injury bug to the Rangers. He spent a month-plus taking over the shortstop role and when Toby Harrah was healthy again spent the last couple weeks as the regular guy at third. In ’73 he was about the only infielder who didn’t spend time at the hot corner before he was sold to the Yankees in December.

New York had been having a pretty long run of light-hitting shortstops since pretty much Tommy Tresh’s rookie year. The latest of those was Gene Michael and in ’74 Michael ran out of gas a bit sooner than expected. So Mason stepped into the starting role and was a pleasant surprise on the offensive side when he hit .250. He was even more so of one when he rapped four doubles in one game early in the season. In ’75 he was expected to fill the starter role again but when his average tanked by almost 100 points Fred Stanley took over that role as he also did in ’76 when Jim hit .180. He did, though, have a rather surprising post-season that second year when he became the only Yankee to go yard against Cincinnati in his only Series at bat. In the winter he went to Toronto in the expansion draft. After hitting .165 in 80 at bats he then returned to Texas in a May trade with pitcher Steve Hargan and some cash foe third baseman Roy Howell. Jim did a bit better the rest of the way for the Rangers, hitting .218 behind Bert Campaneris. He remained in that  role all of ’78 before closing things out with Montreal – he is one of few guys to play for both Canadian franchises – in ’79. Jim hit .203 up top and .252 in the minors.

I have no idea what Mason did once his career ended. Earlier this year a James Percy Mason was married near his hometown of Mobile, so if it is either this Jim or a junior one he apparently returned to his roots at some point.

I’d indicated a couple times that shortstops tended to be small during the time of this set, but outside of Luis Aparacio, that doesn’t actually appear to have been true. Look at Jim’s numbers: 6’2” and 185 isn’t too bad. That he worked for a moving company probably underlines my redaction.

Again Topps dispenses with the details of Jim’s acquisition. I wonder how immediate all that speculation was? I doubt this deal was a front-pager.

We are on the cusp of some big stuff in the whole Watergate scandal. Here are some more lead-ins:

4/23/73 – It was on this date that a third secret slush fund was disclosed. This time the fund was managed by President Nixon’s personal attorney, Herbert Kalmbach, and was reported to hold as much as $500,000. From Florida – maybe the White House staff was on spring break? – a release came that Nixon had no prior knowledge of the Watergate buggings before they occurred. Also on this date a new Grand Jury was convened to investigate news leaks purported to be coming from the sitting Grand Jury.

4/24/73 – The White House directly denied that any payoff or other offer had come from within its confines or from its staff to any of the five Watergate burglars, E. Howard Hunt, or G. Gordon Liddy in return for their silence. Both this and the above denial responded to earlier testimony from James McCord, one of the burglars.

4/25/73 – In what would become a pretty ironic development, especially given his own issues with credibility, Vice-President Spiro Agnew declared with “full confidence” that President Nixon had no involvement with Watergate and would find a way to resolve the Watergate “crisis.” Meanwhile John Mitchell let everyone know that his “conscience is clear” which, from everything out in public about the guy at that point, meant absolutely nothing.

So while Jim had at one time been in the DC area as a Nat, he was now down in Texas just looking for a hook-up with Mr. Ford, another name that would have a big DC profile in the near future. This one’s easy:

1. Mason and Ted Ford ’72 Texas Rangers.

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