Friday, August 23, 2013

#584 - Ken Rudolph



In the last few posts we have had a couple of airbrushed cards. Technically this should have been another one since by the time this card appeared its subject had been traded to the Giants. In a bit of irony, then, Ken Rudolph is photographed at Candlestick, his future home. Ken was coming off his busiest year when the trade happened, having taken advantage of the continuing erosion of number one guy Randy Hundley to get some decent time behind and at the plate. Like most reserve catchers his offense wasn’t anything special and he made a few too many errors but he also threw out 42% of the guys that ran on him and that number was a discount to the ones he put up in past seasons. One of his biggest moments at bat that year was probably late in the season when he lined a single off Reggie Cleveland that would keep the Cubbies from being on the bad side of a no-hitter. That was the second time up top he pulled off that one.

Ken Rudolph was born in Illinois and at some point during his youth relocated to the Los Angeles area where he played football and baseball at Cathedral High and once threw a perfect game. From there he went to Los Angeles City College where he was team mvp before being drafted in the second round by the Cubs. After hitting .205 with good power in Rookie ball that summer he moved up to A ball where he hit .276. In ’66 he began his military hitch and around that hit .263 in A ball, again with decent power. That was followed by two more abbreviated seasons in ’67 and ’68. He hit .243 in A ball the first year but slid to .190 in a ’68 split between Double A and Triple A. After his second good IL season in a row that fall he made the Cubs roster to open the ’69 season and would spend the next three seasons shuttling between Chicago and the minors. His first hit up top was a pinch hit double against Cincinnati that began a winning rally. The first two years he spent time at Double A San Antonio, hitting .348 in a few at bats the first year and .250 the second. In ’71 his away time was in Triple A where he had his best offensive year with a .285 and 31-RBI year.

In Rudolph’s first few forays in Chicago he was either the second- or third-string guy behind the plate. The order didn’t really matter much because Randy Hundley generally played every day which would probably help wreck his knees in a couple seasons. In ’71 Ken lined a single in the ninth inning to break up a Juan Marichal no-hitter. It was his first hit of the year after going 0 for 17. That year Hundley missed nearly the whole season and in ’72 when he came back he needed to sit for extended periods so Ken got his first year of 100 at bats. At some point in ’73 the plan was to have him replace Hundley as the full-time guy – Randy was also traded prior to the ’74 season – but at some point that changed, my guess is due to Ken’s offensive output. So the Cubbies got a new number one guy from the Twins in George Mitterwald and Ken went to the Giants for pitcher Willie Prall. With the Giants he moved to the two spot behind Dave Rader, hit the game-winner in his first at bat, and upped his offense to .259 with a .350 OBA in his 158 at bats. After the season he and reliever Elias Sosa went to the Cardinals – they were both air-brushed on their ’75 cards – for Marc Hill, another catcher. St. Louis the next two seasons was similar to his early days in Chicago as Ken moved behind another catcher who rarely sat, Ted Simmons. In ’77 he was sold back to the Giants where he was almost never used behind Hill and Gary Alexander and was ironically replaced in St. Louis by Dave Rader. That July he was sold again, this time to Baltimore, who needed a quick fix for a few days while Rick Dempsey was injured. Ken did the job, hitting .286 in a few at bats, but was released after the season. Prior to ’78 spring training he signed on as a player-coach with St. Louis and pulled that role in Triple A where he hit .200 but had six dingers in only 110 at bats. That ended his playing time with an average up top of .213. In the minors he hit .250.

 In 1979 Rudolph returned to the Chicago fold where he managed the team’s Gulf Coast League franchise (he went 19-32). He seems to have then returned full-time to the Illinois area for a few years where he participated in at least one fantasy camp. By ’89 he had relocated to Arizona where he was operations manager at a UPS in Scottsdale. He also at some point obtained an education degree from the University of Nebraska – some commute from any of those places – and put it to use when in ’98 he began coaching baseball at Arcadia High School in Phoenix. He did that through 2012 when he retired. He is associated with a group in the area that does private baseball coaching. He has also had an affiliation with the Diamondbacks for a number of years as a coach and scout. He continues to reside in Arizona.


I dunno, I think Topps could have come up with a better star bullet than that second one. First off, they got the year wrong as Ken put up that average after being recalled in ’71, not ’72. Then it just invites one to ask what he hit the rest of the year which obviously wasn’t very good. That third star bullet is fun though. Through ’72 Ken threw out a pretty amazing 33 of 54 runners who attempted to steal on him. That’s a 61% clip. The cartoon is a trip also. I believe it is the most specialized and entrepreneurial off-season pastime seen thus far in the set. I wasn’t able to dig up any info regarding it though.

These two were almost always in different leagues and this one gets long:

1. Rudolph and Mike Caldwell ’74 Giants;
2. Caldwell and Ben Oglivie ’78 to ’84 Brewers;
3. Oglivie and Marty Pattin ’72 to ’73 Red Sox.

Off next week for vacation. See you in September. Happy Labor Day.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

#583 - Marty Pattin




In another sort-of nod to Ralph Houk we get the second of two recent air-brushed cards in this photo of Marty Pattin, which I am guessing is of him in a Boston uniform sometime in the spring. Marty had come off a pretty wild ’72 season which ended in a way that should have portended a big year in ’73 but it didn’t start off that way as he went 1-6 with a horrible ERA coming out of the gate, sort of similar to the prior year. Marty specialized in streaks his couple years with the Sox and while his finish to ’73 wasn’t as big as the prior year, he did do a good job in evening out his record in what would be his last season as a solid rotation guy. Marty was a righty with a big overhand fastball and curve as well as a slider he picked up while in Milwaukee and when he got to KC following the trade indicated with the airbrush his assortment of pitches was used in an assortment of roles. That looks like a Boston guy behind him but there’s no way I can tell who it might be.
 
Marty Pattin grew up in Carleston, Illinois, a college town. After a high school career in which he threw three no-hitters he went to Eastern Illinois University in his hometown where he put up some nice numbers on the mound. After going 10-1 with a 1.99 ERA and 118 strikeouts in 86 innings his junior year he was off to a 4-0 start his senior year when a collision with a teammate dislocated his shoulder and ended his collegiate career. He still placed both years on the Little All-American team (Eastern Illinois was an NAIA school) and was drafted and signed by the Angels following the latter season of ’65. His shoulder got better in time for him to throw some Double A games that summer but that didn’t go too well as Marty went 0-6 with a 4.70 ERA in his ten starts. So he began the following year in A ball but dazzled people enough – 4-1 with a 1.26 ERA and 52 K’s in 43 innings – that he got shipped to Triple A Seattle where he would reside for awhile. That year he won his first six starts on his way to a 9-2 record. In ’67 he went 12-11 with a 2.69 ERA and in ’68 he began the season 1-0 with a 2.42 ERA in his first four starts when he got a call-up that May which would put him in the majors for good.

Pattin’s first bit of work in California was quite good as he took on a role of a spot and middle relief guy, recording a nice ERA and adding three saves. The new Seattle Pilots, seeing those stats and remembering his popularity while in Triple A there, took Marty as an expansion draft choice. Between too many homers and the normal expansion early-years performance it wasn’t a great sophomore campaign for Marty but with the team’s move to Milwaukee things improved substantially for him. Not right away though. The ’70 season was looking like an instant replay when he went 0-3 to start the year, he got moved to the pen, and his ERA tried to break 6.00. But by mid-June he was back in the rotation and from July on he went 10-5 with a 2.61 ERA. That roughly coincided with the time he mastered the slider taught to him by pitching coach Wes Stock. That was followed by a ’71 in which there were few hills and valleys, just good consistent pitching the whole season. It was Marty’s All-Star year and could have been a lot bigger than it was as the Brewers averaged less than three runs in his losses. By then Marty was a hotly sought commodity and so when the big trade went up just after the season ended with the Red Sox, he was involved. Marty, Tommy Harper, and Lew Krausse went east for George Scott, Jim Lonborg, Ken Brett, Billy Conigliaro, Joe Lahoud, and Don Pavletich.

That big trade did not go Boston’s way initially, certainly not by Pattin’s stats. In shades of his ’70 season Marty went 3-8 with a fat ERA to open the season. But then a 5-0 run in July kicked off a 15-4 second half that included a 2.34 ERA and 11 complete games. After the discounted follow-up year he went to the Royals for pitcher Dick Drago. Marty's first year in his new home went not too dissimilar to his first one in his former one, with one big exception: he didn’t have a regular spot in the rotation in which to remedy a bad beginning. Instead Marty lost mound time and went 3-7 with a 3.99 ERA in only 25 games. But things improved after that. In ’75 he began the season in the pen with his normally early high ERA. But he won his first couple decisions anyway and after a couple successful long relief stints in May got into the rotation after Nelson Briles got hurt. Marty had a pretty good run until Briles returned and then finished the season back in the pen, mostly as a long guy. He finished 10-10 with a 3.25 ERA and five saves. ’76 started again in the pen but this time it was a reverse of ’75: a good ERA but a poor record. So when that year Steve Busby went down Marty rejoined the rotation coming in with a 1-7 record and five saves with a 3.30 ERA. He would go 7-7 the rest of the way in that role with an excellent 2.24 ERA and then get his first playoff work. In ’77 he went 10-3 as a spot guy and then the next three years his innings fell as the Royals staff stayed relatively healthy. But Marty pitched well during the time he was used, going a combined 12-5 with eleven saves and a 3.88 ERA. He returned to playoff ball two of those three seasons and had a short highlight that last year when in his one inning of Series work he struck out Mike Schmidt and Greg Luzinski. After the ’80 season he became a free agent but when interest was limited he decided to retire finishing with a 114-109 record with a 3.62 ERA, 64 complete games, 14 shutouts, and 25 saves. In the post-season he put up a 4.50 ERA in his five games.

After Pattin wasn’t signed in the ’81 free agent market he took a year off and then became the head coach at the University of Kansas from ’82 to ’87. He then returned to pro ball for Toronto where for two years he was a roving pitching coach and then an organizational pitching instructor from mid-’89 to ’93 part of the time during which his son Jon was in the team’s system. For a short time in the early Nineties he coached a minor league team in South Korea. He relocated to Lawrence, Kansas – home of the university – in the mid-Nineties where he has been doing fantasy camps since.


No little print on the card back memorializing the trade though Dick Drago, the other side of the trade, has it on his. Topps was getting lazy at this point in the set. Marty’s win record was broken in ’73 by Jim Colborn’s 20. That big strikeout game appeared on most of his early cards. Like Bucky Dent Marty had an interesting personal life, initially outlined in “Ball Four.” He was given to his grandparents to raise shortly after he was born when his parents divorced. From a young age he was doing early morning chores like picking up kerosene for the family stove and delivering newspapers to make household ends meet. He taught himself to pitch by throwing apples and later emulated a baseball-playing cousin who was a local star and passed away in a car accident in his teens by adopting his cousin’s Donald Duck voice (it can be heard on YouTube). When his grandfather died in his early teens Marty was placed in a sort of institutional rooming house where he may or may not have remained through high school. His high school baseball coach sort of took him under his wing and introduced Marty to a local businessman, Walt Warmouth, who gave Marty work and then financed his college career. Marty ended up getting a bachelors in PE from the school and then a Masters in Industrial Arts, both of which he had by his Pilots days.

Marty and Bucky faced each other plenty. Let’s use Lou even though Marty missed him by a year:

1. Pattin and Cookie Rojas ’74 to ’77 Royals;
2. Rojas and Lou Piniella ’70 to ’73 Royals;
3. Piniella and Bucky Dent ’77 to ’82 Yankees.

Speaking of Buck Dent, I messed up his hook-up on the former post. Here is his real one to Fred Norman:

1. Dent and Don Gullett ’77 to ’78 Yankees;
2. Gullett and Fred Norman ’73 to ’76 Reds.

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.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

#581 - Fred Norman



Not too many players had as dynamic a ’73 season as this guy had. After a promising ’72 season in which he finally demonstrated the promise for which he was signed over ten years earlier, Fred Norman was having a typical season for a Padres starter to open the ’73 season. He threw well in his first start against LA but didn’t get a decision. Then through early June he piched in only one game the team won, a complete game victory over Cincinnati. Then on June 13 things changed, decidedly for the better. The Reds were in a bit of a bind: picked to win the NL flag again, third base was messy, their outfielders outside of Pete Rose weren’t hitting, and the starting pitching was spotty. The team had lost four in a row and was in fourth place, six games back of LA. So they picked up Fred for some mound help and only had to give up a pinch hitter (Gene Locklear) and a minor leaguer to get him. So the next game Fred went up against Pittsburgh and shut them out. His next start he went up against the Giants and shut them out. His next start he went up against LA and shut them out through eight-plus innings. So not only did Fred resuscitate his season – and possibly his career – but he also helped do the same thing for Cincinnati. By early August he had gone 9-1 as a Red and Cincy had climbed to second place. He was the pitcher of record in the big July 1 win against LA won by Hal King and his walkoff homer. Fred would fade a bit down the stretch but his acquisition would prove a big catalyst as the Reds went 68-35 after that trade. And all that from such a little guy. He’s not helping his cause in this photo at Candlestick, in which he appears to be wearing Lee May’s old windbreaker under his jersey. Not a very dynamic card for such a dynamic year but in his new home there’d be lots of drama to come, most of it the good kind.

Fred Norman was born in San Antonio and moved to Florida as a kid where he attended Jackson High School where he played basketball and pitched. His senior year he threw a no-hitter in a big game in which he struck out 19 of 21 batters and that happened to be viewed by a bunch of scouts. A bunch of teams came calling and Fred signed with Kansas City in June of ’61 for a reported $65,000 bonus. He went right to Double A ball that summer but had control issues and went 1-7 with a 5.70 ERA and more than a walk an inning. A ball was still tough the next year – 3-5 with a 4.89 ERA but a much better K/BB ratio – so he was moved to B ball where things got better with a 7-5, 4.09 stint in 16 starts and his K’s zoomed to 147 in 95 innings. That September he made his debut for the A’s and did nice work in his few innings. Outside of a few unspectacular innings in KC ’63 was spent all at Double A where Fred put up his most consistent numbers to date: 13-14 with a 3.09 ERA and a fat 258 strikeouts in 198 innings. That December, though, he went to the Cubs for outfielder Nelson Matthews.

In ’64 Norman got his first Topps card, a rookie one on which he was paired with a guy with a great baseball name, Sterling Slaughter. Fred began the season in Chicago, had an excellent first start against Pittsburgh – no decision – but then sort of crashed and burned and by mid-May he was back in the minors, first at Triple A and then back down to Double A. But none of those stops went too well as he went a combined 3-14 with a 7.15 ERA and just had some terrible luck or bad fielding behind him. In his Double A stint he gave up 46 runs on only 55 hits! In ’65 he got another rookie card but no time in Chicago as he continued to fall, finishing the year in A ball where he had a 5.52 ERA but at least got back his control with 63 walks and 116 strikeouts in his 106 innings. He was also hurt a bunch that year but he came back in ’66 to Double A ball and his best season to date: 12-11 with a 2.73 ERA and 198 K’s in 191 innings. That got him a couple innings in Chicago and he stayed there to start the ’67 season when in late April he was sent to the Dodgers for pitcher Dick Calmus. Fred would spend the balance of that year in Triple A where his numbers were pretty good at 8-5 with a 3.71 ERA. He then did a back and forth the next two seasons, putting up a 6-8 season with a 4.39 ERA in Double A in ’68 and then a 13-6 with a 2.62 ERA back in Triple A in ’69. In ’70 he got his third Topps card as a Dodger, five years after his last one – a record? – and that year was all LA as Fred, a starter pretty much his whole career to date, took on a middle relief role with limited success. By the end of the season he was plucked off waivers by St. Louis with whom he ended the year.

Norman didn’t stay with the Cardinals too long and most of that time was in the minors, but it was there that the genesis of his new pitching career began. He began the ’71 season at Triple A Tulsa, a team that happened to have as its pitching coach a guy named Warren Spahn. Spahn told Fred that he thought his days as a power pitcher were over – and at 28 with barely 100 MLB innings under his belt Fred was impelled to listen – and that it was time to rethink his game. So he taught Fred a screwball which the little guy took to pretty immediately, going 6-1 in his seven starts with a 2.18 ERA and 72 K’s in 62 innings with his new pitch. The Cards brought him back up but, not crazy with the early results, sent him to San Diego for Al Santorini. With the Padres now, Fred finally got his big shot and while the resulting 3-12 record was pretty ugly, that 3.32 ERA was awfully good and his spot as a regular in an MLB line-up was finally assured. In ’72 came another unspectacular record but of his nine wins and six shutouts, three wins and two shutouts came against Cincinnati which was probably a big factor in the following year’s trade.

After the fun of ’73 Norman settled into a nice run as an above-average pitcher on an awfully good team. Through ’79 he would go 85-64 as a Red with a 3.43 ERA as generally the third starter. In ’75 he went 12-4 as the Reds returned to the playoffs and then won the Series and in ’76 he went 12-7 with his best ERA of 3.09 as his team repeated. In ’77 he won his most games in a season with 14 and then won eleven each of the next two years. In his seven seasons in Cincinnati the team went to the post-season four years. After that last season he left as a free agent and signed with Montreal for whom he had an OK year as a swing guy. He finished things up after that season with a record of 104-103 with a 3.64 ERA, 56 complete games, 15 shutouts, and eight saves. In the post-season he was 1-1 with a 5.01 ERA in six games.

After a year away from baseball Norman returned to the Cincinnati fold as a pitching coach in its minors system in ’82, which he did through at least ’84. After that I have been unable to find out what he has done professionally or otherwise. But he certainly hasn’t disappeared. There is a lengthy two-part interview done by Redleg Nation earlier this year that I have linked to here.


Fred gets some expected star bullets though I do think Topps could have been more specific in that second one. He’s another car-loving guy. Fred’s ’73 card was a great action shot in one of those all-yellow Padres uniforms. His cartoon that year indicated he was a bachelor and had the requisite female cartoon character chasing him. I wasn’t even able to determine in my research if that status ever changed.

Fred and Jim were almost always in different leagues so someone will have to hop. They both did time with the A’s but nearly two decades apart (!):

1. Norman and Don Gullett ’73 to ’76 Reds;
2. Gullett and Lou Piniella ’77 to ’78 Yankees;
3. Piniella and Jim Spencer ’78 to ’81 Yankees.

Gullet pitched less than 50 innings in ’78 and that’s my normal threshold. Dave Winfield would have been quicker but he came to the Padres from the University of Minnesota after Fred left.

Monday, August 19, 2013

#580 - Jim Spencer



On this card we get a first-time All Star in what is his most frequently-used card pose. Jim Spencer hit nearly .300 the first few months after his trade to Texas from California and provided his usual excellent defense at first to get the All-Star nod in ’73. Other than that it wasn’t a crazy memorable season for him as he’d hit better in the past, especially power-wise. He’d come over from Anaheim in a pretty big deal involving pitchers and first baseman: he and Lloyd Allen for Mike Epstein, Rich Hand, and Rick Stelmaszek (who was actually a catcher). Once Jim arrived he more-or-less took over first base for the Rangers, sharing some starting time with fun guy Bill Sudakis. Jim would also put in some time at DH during his stay with the Rangers since in another year he would be joined by Rookie of the Year Mike Hargrove at the position. Jim wasn’t a big fan of being platooned – who was? – but he generally did good work in that role and wouldn’t stop with the Rangers. But for now he is residing in Texas – the photo appears to have been shot in Oakland – and on a Topps honor card which was not a bad place to be.

Jim Spencer was born in Pennsylvania and by the time he hit high school was residing not too far from Annapolis, Maryland. At Andover High he was named All-American in basketball and baseball, being both a pitcher and first baseman in the latter sport and tapping the ball at a .407 clip during his high school career. A first round draft choice by the Angels upon graduating in ’65 he hit a light .223 in A ball that summer. In ’66 he moved up to Double A where his stat lines improved pretty markedly over the next three seasons: .264/16/53 in ’66; .279/19/72 in ’67; and .292/28/96 in ’68 when he won his league’s mvp and made his debut for California in September. He moved to Triple A Hawaii to open the ’69 season and hit .262 in 47 games before being pulled up to Anaheim for good.

In ’69 the Angels brought old Dr. Strangeglove, Dick Stuart, back from Japan to play first base but that didn’t go so well as the Doctor couldn’t break .200 his first month of at bats. So California brought up Spencer to take over the position and while his numbers weren’t super great, they were a significant improvement over Stuart, both offensively and defensively. In ’70 Jim took over the position for real, providing some good offense and winning his first Gold Glove as he led AL first baseman in putouts, double plays, and fielding percentage. He would lead the league in that last category four years in a row. In ’71 he also topped the AL in putouts and assists, topped his previous highs in doubles and homers, and saw his average fade a bit as the other offensive threats in the lineup pretty much disappeared. In ’72 Jim kicked off the season with a low average and shortly into it the Angels picked up Bob Oliver who vied with Jim for starting time at first and then pretty much won the position outright. So Jim’s at bats declined and he finished the season as a left fielder.

In ’74 new kid Mike Hargrove arrived to press Spencer for time at first and while Jim would put up nearly the same exact offensive numbers as he did in ’73 for Texas – a few more homers, a few less walks – he did it partly from a different place, DH. It was the first year in the last five he didn’t lead the AL in fielding percentage but that was just because he didn’t get enough chances. In ’75 Texas had a sort of messy time replicating the team's ’74 success and a dearth of outfield offense got Hargrove moved out there for a significant part of the season. That meant that Jim got to do nearly all his time at first that year and his .266/11/47 season wasn’t terribly dissimilar to his prior ones. After the season he went back to California for pitcher Bill Singer and the next day was flipped to the White Sox with outfielder Morris Nettles for pitcher Steve Dunning and infielder Bill Melton. With the Sox Jim amped up his power a bit, the next two years averaging 16 homers and 70 RBI’s while getting the lion’s share of first base time that otherwise went to Lamar Johnson. In ’77 he won his second Gold Glove even though he was injured nearly a month, mostly from a foot ailment. After that season Jim went to the Yankees in a trade that was otherwise populated by minor leaguers.

 Spencer arrived in NY in a good year for drama. It was the season of the big comeback from 15 behind but Jim saw a significant part of it from the bench. Chris Chambliss was the first baseman and he rarely sat so nearly all of Jim’s appearances were as a DH and it wasn’t a terribly productive season as he hit .227 in 150 at bats, his lowest amount of plate time since ’68. But his RBI total of 24 was pretty good for him and he did get some action in that year’s Series. Then in ’79 as most of the team was having an offensive meltdown, Jim put up probably his best season in the same roles, with a line of .288/23/53 in only 295 at bats. The next season Chambliss left for Atlanta and while Jim’s at bats – and his offense - came in a bit he got to enjoy most of them at his normal position, where he split time with Bob Watson. After putting up a .236/13/43 season in 259 at bats and complained about his being platooned, just before the ’81 season began Jim and a bucket of cash was sent to Pittsburgh for Jason Thompson, a power-hitting younger first baseman. But the deal was nixed by the commissioner’s office – too much cash – and Jim again put in some games at first before he was traded in May to Oakland. There he spent the next season-plus as a back-up first baseman, again seeing some post-season action that first year. It would be his final stop as a player and he would retire following the ’82 season with a .250 average with 146 homers and 599 RBI’s. In the post-season he hit .150 in eight games. Defensively his .995 fielding average at first is in the top 25 all-time and he is in the top 100 in assists at that position.

Spencer returned to the Yankees as a scout after he played which he sandwiched around a few years as a coach for The Naval Academy which began in ’86. He was still doing some work for NY when he passed away from a heart attack in 2002 at only 54. There’s been a bit of a streak going recently of former players passing away at relatively young ages. I sure hope that ends soon.


Jim has some nice penmanship and Topps gives him props for his big ’68 season and some defensive work in a year he didn’t win a Gold Glove. His grandfather, Ben Spencer, was an outfielder on the 1913 Senators.

Two former Yankees are years apart in their time with the team, but that should help anyway:

1. Spencer and Lou Piniella ’78 to ’81 Yankees;
2. Piniella and Cecil Upshaw ’74 Yankees.

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.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

#578 - Ralph Houk



For this post we have a sort of one-off card for this set. Ralph Houk gets the only solo manager card as every other manager was joined by at least some of his support staff. So what was Ralph’s deal? The explanation is told by his wardrobe. Ralph is photographed near the batting cages at Yankee Stadium, home field for his employers at the time of the photo. After the ’73 season Ralph resigned with two years left on his contract. NY had been picked by many to win the division but though the team had some early hot hitters – especially Ron Blomberg and his .400 average – the starting pitching sort of combusted outside of Doc Medich and mid-year acquisition Pat Dobson. But ’73 was also the year the Yankees got acquired by a group of which a certain George Steinbrenner was a member. And my bet is that a year under the helm of that guy was enough to propel Ralph elsewhere. And while at his resignation media meeting he declaimed any interest in a new managerial post, within a couple months he was named the new Detroit manager, ironically following, for the most part, a guy who would later be following him, for the most part, as the leader of his old team, Billy Martin. And Ralph hadn’t filled out his coaching staff yet so hence the solo shot with an air-brushed cap. The artist left alone the pinstripes – maybe he’d hoped Detroit would just head in that direction – so it’s a pretty odd look. And the Tigers would give him a couple seasons that probably made him wistful for those NY years (talk about a lack of pitching!) before he helped steer the franchise to its own glory year a bit down the road. For now, though, he was just a new guy on a new team, with a head full of vagaries that normally were encountered. Which is exactly the way he looks.

Ralph Houk came out of Stull, Kansas, where he was a high school football and baseball player at Lawrence High School and was signed by the Yankees in ‘39 after a year of semi-pro ball. He put in a full season of D ball that year where he hit .286 but with little power. He moved up the chain, hitting .313 in C ball in ’40 and then .271 in B ball before a couple games in A ball and then enlisting late that summer as an Army Ranger. He would climb there as well, reaching the level of Major – his nickname when he returned to baseball - before he was through and earning a Purple Heart, the Bronze Star, and the Silver Star for combat that included the Battle of the Bulge. He returned stateside and to baseball in ’46, where he hit well in both Double A and Triple A, combining for a .298 average. In ’47 he made his debut for NY, hitting .272 in 92 at bats. It would be his busiest season as he would generally be the third-string catcher behind Yogi Berra and Charlie Silvera. But his timing was pretty excellent as he was around for six Series wins during his eight seasons in NY and he would hit a respectable .272 in just 158 at bats over that span and hit .500 in his couple Series at bats. He continued to do some Triple A time as well, hitting .302 in ’48 and .275 in ’49. After his final season up top in ’54 he became a manager in the NY system, going a combined 260-202 in three years at Triple A Denver. He then came up to be a Yankees coach under Casey Stengel from ’58 to ’60 before being named as Casey’s successor in ’61. Again, The Major’s timing was exquisite as he took NY to the Series each of his three seasons, winning it all in ’61 and ’62. In '63 he was named AL Manager of the Year. Prior to the ’64 season he moved up to the GM spot as the guy he was behind most of his playing career, Yogi Berra, took over as manager. Yogi got his aging guys back to the Series, but after a tough loss to the younger Cardinals was canned and replaced with the guy who beat him, Johnny Keane. But Keane had a miserable time overseeing a rapid demise and a few games into the ’66 season he was replaced by Ralph, who this time around would run things through ’73 and did a pretty good job with the staff he had. He would finish as high as second in ’70 - his second MOY season - and overall during that second run finished above .500 with an under .500 team.

In ’74 and ’75 Houk got to experience what Johnny Keane did in ’65 and ’66 with the Yankees as Detroit aged super fast, its success on the field suffered mightily, and by ’76 the team had only three starters left from the ’73 team. The infield went first, then the pitching, and then the outfield. After bottoming out at 102 losses in ’75 the team improved by 15 wins in ’76 due to a great trade (Rusty Staub for Mickey Lolich); the continued ascendancy of Ron LeFlore; and a rookie named Mark Fidrych. But the Bird really only lasted one season as his arm got hurt and Detroit pretty much preserved its record in ’77 before improving to 86-76 in ’78. Ralph retired following that season, leaving a pretty good nucleus for his successor, Sparky Anderson, to build into a Series winner. After a couple seasons off, Ralph returned to managing in ’81, this time for Boston. While the Sox weren’t as depleted as either the late-Sixties Yankees or the ’74 Tigers, the team had recently lost Carlton Fisk and Fred Lynn and were in a rebuilding mode. Ralph would again integrate young stars-to-be into the line-up over the next four seasons like Wade Boggs and Roger Clemens. He also would again top a .500 record and again retire in ’84, leaving a rebuilt franchise for the next guy to take to the Series. His last MLB gig was as special assistant to the GM at Minnesota from ’87 to ’89 when he then retired for real to Florida where he lived out his life until he passed away in 2010 at 90. Ralph’s MLB record was 1,619-1,531.


Since there are no coaches for which to provide info, Ralph gets an expanded bit of his own managerial achievements on the back of his card. It really was a big change between those early-Sixties Yankees and the ones that came after. In two of the books I’ve often cited for this blog, Ralph gets some pretty good play. In “Ball Four” Jim Bouton mentions some contentious stuff with Ralph while he pitched for the Yankees but he sums it up by saying Ralph was a good manager. In “The Bronx Zoo” Sparky Lyle was a much more overt fan of Ralph’s and indicated that the reason Houk resigned in ’73 was in fact that he couldn’t manage under Steinbrenner any more. He seconded the notion about Ralph’s skill as manager and his sensitivities to his players’ needs.

This will be the first double exercise in a long time. First for Ralph as a manager:

1. Houk managed Bobby Murcer on the ’66 and ’69 to ’73 Yankees.
2. Murcer and Mike Sadek ’75 to ’76 Giants.

We just need to add a couple steps to do the link for Ralph as a player:

1. Houk and Mickey Mantle ’51 to ’54 Yankees;
2. Matle and Roy White ’65 to ’68 Yankees;
3. White and Bobby Murcer ’66, ’69 to ’74, and ‘79 Yankees;
2. Murcer and Mike Sadek ’75 to ’76 Giants.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

#577 - Mike Sadek



It is nice to finally get a rookie card that doesn’t also represent a player’s only card, which is what we have here with the card of Mike Sadek. Mike only had 60 at bats in ’73 but he was on the Giants roster the whole year as the third-string catcher behind Dave Rader and Chris Arnold. He generally wasn’t much of a hitter – when he hit his first homer, Willie McCovey feigned passing out in the dugout – but he was a very good defensive guy of which there have been quite a few in this set. He would go on to  a decently-long career as mostly a back-up guy all with San Francisco and his relationship with the team would encompass decades.

Mike Sadek was born in Minnesota where his dad worked for Hormels, the food processing company. When he was a kid his dad was relocated for a time to Chicago where Mike would become a Little League legend before returning to Minnesota when he was entering high school. His brother Bob was a big deal athlete who would go on to become a college coach. Mike became a football and baseball star at Richfield High and then went on to the University of Minnesota from where he was drafted by the Giants following his sophomore season of ’66. He declined, played another season, and then was drafted and signed by the Twins the following spring. He had sort of a protoypical offensive experience in A ball that summer and then missed a bit of time each of the next two seasons to the military, improving his average a bit in A ball in ’68 and then suffering a decline in Double A in ’69, when he did some infield time along with catching. His OBA that second season was not too bad, though, at .327 as he frequently walked a pretty impressive amount. After that season he was taken by the Giants – I guess they really liked the guy – in the Rule 5 Draft. Mike then spent the better baprt of the next three seasons at Triple A Phoenix where he would split time behind the plate with other young hopefuls, among them Dave Rader and Jake Brown. He came up in ’73 to do the back-up work and then spent just about all of ’74 back at Phoenix, where he had a .251/1/38 season with a .355 OBA in his busiest year. After hitting a notch better in half a ’75 there, he was moved up for good.

Sadek finished the ’75 season splitting back-up time again, this time with rookie Marc Hill, who would leapfrog Mike to replace Rader as the number one guy after Dave was traded to the Cards following the ’76 season. He hit about .220 those two seasons in just under a combined 200 at bats. In ’77 he cranked his first homer, causing the McCovey histrionics, and led the NL in pickoffs, nailing 44% of the guys who tried to run on him while hitting .230. He upped his average each of the next few years until he topped out in ’80 pretty much across the board with a .252/1/16 season with a .363 OBA in 151 at bats. In ’78 he missed some time after having his jaw broken in a collision at home plate with Chicago’s Ivan DeJesus. He also lost some time to injury in ’80. After a final year of back-up work in ’81 he was done, finishing with a .226 average and more walks than K’s for his career.

After retiring Mike remained in the San Francisco area where for a few years he delivered newspapers. In ’83 he hooked up again with the San Francisco organization where for years he was a community relations guy and then also a roving and special projects catching and bullpen coach. As of 2010 he was still affiliated with the Giants but I am unsure of his relationship with the team since then. In ’99 he was named the catcher on the all-Seventies team.


I've always found it odd when one side of the card would be perfectly centered - like the front of this one - and the other be a bit of a mess. Mike gets some first card treatment with a star bullet each about his high school and college career. I am not terribly sure what he did to win that particular award, but he sure was small for a catcher, wasn’t he? 165 pounds. He must have been a tough bird so maybe that was inspiring to his teammates. My son catches in Little League and he tops out at about 65 pounds so it sure is inspiring to me.

The Cards and Giants made quite a few trades in the Seventies so at least one of them has to help:

1. Sadek and Ken Reitz ’75 Giants;
2. Reitz and Scipio Spinks ’72 to ’73 Cardinals.

It's too bad Mike and Scipio were never in the same battery. Mike's nickname was "Sheik" so Spinks pitching to Sheik would definitely have had a sort of Arabic flair.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

#576 - Scipio Spinks



Here we have one of the sets best alliterative names. I’d always thought Scipio Spinks was a Latin guy but, nope, he came out of the south side of Chicago with a pretty mean heater to wreak some havoc in the NL. Unfortunately for him a short meeting with Johnny Bench’s shin pad put a lot more damage to Scipio than he ever did to opposing hitters. In what’s been an unfortunate trend lately – outside of Mr. Garvey, of course, Scipio is yet another post subject on his way out when his card was published. After the Bench collision robbed him of the second half of what had been a pretty good ’72 season he began ’73 with a sore shoulder on top of that and went 0-4 in his first five starts. He then took off nearly all of May to rest his shoulder and returned to get his first win throwing shutout ball against the Reds. He followed that up his next start with another eight innings with no earned runs but the layoff in May had allowed calcium deposits to accrue in his shoulder, only making matters worse. He returned to the DL in mid-June after losing another game for the remainder of that season. By the time this card came out he’d been traded to the Cubs for Jim Hickman. This, then, is his final card and it appears he is home at Busch Stadium showing us a follow-through that may or may not have incorporated a baseball bat.

Scipio Spinks was born and raised in Chicago, as noted above, where he pitched high school ball his freshman and sohpomore year while attending a Catholic school. His junior year he transferred to a parochial school that had no team so those years Scipio threw American Legion and some summer semi-pro ball. Signed the summer after his senior year of ’66 he put up pretty good numbers out of the pen that year in A ball, going 1-1 while striking out 59 batters in 39 innings with a 2.54 ERA. He also gave up a large amount of walks and control would be a bit of an issue for him during his career. In ’67 he went 5-11 as a swing guy at the same level but with an ERA of 2.09 and 135 K’s in 125 innings. Then in ’68 he improved his record to 9-6 in the same role at the same level and supported it with a 2.27 ERA and 149 strikeouts in 123 innings. In ’69 he finally moved up: to the rotation in Triple A but this time his 7-11 record may have been better than his pitching as his ERA bloated to 5.48 and his walk total equaled his strikeout one. He did a lot better in his few innings in Houston though. He had a much better ’70 in Triple A, going 9-12 with ten complete games and a 3.30 ERA while dropping his walks total significantly and nearly recording a K an inning. His short bit of work up top didn’t go so well this time but after a ’71 in Triple A of 9-6 with a 3.25 ERA and 173 K’s in 133 innings he came up for good and this time pitched much better for the Astros, earning his first win in a complete game over Atlanta. He was having a nice spring training in ’72 when just before the delayed season started, he and Lance Clemons were sent to St. Louis for Jerry Reuss.

When Spinks hooked up with the Cardinals to open the ’72 season he was technically still a rookie. But he sure didn’t pitch like one, throwing six complete games in his 16 starts while doing pretty well control-wise and posting a nice ERA. He’d won his last two starts when in a July 4th game at Cincinnati, he tore ligaments in his knee while scoring and colliding with Johnny Bench. The injury ended his season and contributed to a pretty swift decline. After his trade to Chicago, Scipio returned to the minors but threw horribly in his few innings before returning to the DL. In ’75 he hooked up with the Yankees and then back with Houston at the same levels but in both spots his control was just lost as he posted a 1-6 record in ten starts with a 5.40 ERA. That finished Scipio’s time on the mound as he went 7-11 with a 3.70 ERA and seven complete games in the majors and 45-58 with a 3.55 ERA in the minors with better than a strikeout an inning.

After a tryout with Pittsburgh in ’76 Spinks pitched winter ball in Venezuela and then didn’t make it out of pring training in ’77. He then became a scout for Houston which he did through early ’80 when he left to become the pitching coach at Jackson State University – Walter Payton’s school – where he coached Dennis “Oil Can” Boyd. He may or may not have returned to scouting in ’81, depending on the source, but he definitely did so in ’89, this time for San Diego, which he did through ’94. In ’95 and ’96 he was a pitching coach in the Padres system. He returned to scouting in ’97, moving back to the Houston system as an affiliate, which he also was for a couple other teams. He remained with Houston through 2012. He continues to do some free agent scouting as well as act as pitching coach for a baseball school called Proway, based near his home in Houston. Scipio has a few YouTube videos, the most recent in association with a Dock Ellis documentary. He’s a happy guy.


That second star bullet was a big deal and was done in Scipio’s second start of that season. That’s some basketball player the Topps guys created there. It looks like Artis Gilmore in drag. Scipio’s name was a family one and when he was a kid he was called Ronnie. He and Bernie Carbo shared a big stuffed ape they called Mighty Joe Young, after the movie gorilla. When Scipio was traded from St. Louis he sent the toy to Carbo, who took it with him to Boston. There is a photo of it with Carbo on the web. Scipio has an informative SABR bio.

Since Scipio’s only significant time up top was with St. Louis we need to go through there:

1. Spinks and Ted Sizemore ’72 to ’73 Cardinals;
2. Sizemore and Willie Davis ’69 to ’70 Dodgers;
3. Davis and Steve Garvey ’70 to ’73 Dodgers.

Monday, August 12, 2013

#575 - Steve Garvey



Remember when Steve Garvey was squeaky clean? Remember when he played third base? Back in ’73 most people didn’t know about the squeaky clean part so that was just beginning. But this was the final card on which he would be designated a third baseman and Topps seemed reluctant to let that go because in ’73 Steve actually put in zero time at that position. Thanks to the near-meteoric ascendency of Ron Cey that year, third base was finally free of the decade-plus mess of new faces it had been. And while Steve’s climb to regular status during the year was much more sublime than Ron’s, it was still impressive in what was an important transitional season for him. After three years of limited success trying to break into the line-up at third, the acquisition of Ken McMullen and the call-up of Cey left Steve without a position to start the ’73 season. He got some April starts in left field, but after going ofer in the last three of them that quickly ended. So for the first half of the season Steve was a pinch hitter and he did nice work in that role, going eleven for 26 for a .407 average in the pinch. That work got him some starts at first in late June during which he continued to hit and by early July he had taken over the position, pushing Bill Buckner to the outfield. On his action shot here Steve appears to have either just whiffed on a pitch or avoided an inside toss in what I assume is Philadelphia, the site of the other LA away action shots. Topps gives him an honorary card number which is quite prescient of them as was giving Steve and fellow ’74 MVP winner Jeff Burroughs an action shot for their big seasons. I always liked this card as I always liked his ’73 card in which he is nearly obscured by Wes Parker’s back. On that card Wes appears to be congratulating Steve after the latter guy just scored a run, possible following a homer. But in a more figurative way it could have been Wes passing the torch – delayed a year – to the new institution at first base for the Dodgers.

Steve Garvey was born in the Tampa area of Florida shortly after his folks had moved down from NY to run a motel. His dad had been a Dodgers fan and, as luck would have it, by the time Steve was about eight his dad had shucked the motel biz and become a bus driver. That spring was the first in which he became the Dodgers spring training bus driver and he leveraged that position to get his kid in as batboy. From there it was to local fame as a third baseman and in football first as a halfback and then a quarterback. His senior year of ’66 he had lots of offers from local schools to play baseball – he was seen generally as too small for football – and was drafted by the Twins. But his high school baseball coach was buddies with the coach at Michigan State and Steve got a scholarship there to play both sports. His freshman year he was shut out from playing football but he had a big role playing ND quarterback in practice the week before that huge game and in baseball he hit a grand slam in his first at bat. His sophomore year he was a defensive back and recorded thirty tackles and in baseball he hit .383 with nine homers and 38 RBI’s to get an All-American nod. LA nabbed him in the first round and he signed and in Rookie ball that summer hit .338 with 20 homers and 59 RBI’s in only 216 at bats. In ’69 around some military time he put up a .373/14/85 season in 316 at bats while playing both infield corners in Double A. Then in ’70 after a pretty-much hitless month of April in LA he was part of the wildly loaded Triple A Spokane club for whom he had a .319/15/87 year while moving back to third base full time. In July he returned to The Show almost for good.

Garvey had made his MLB debut in April and returned in July of ’70 to try to add his wood to the line-up. His best shot was at third base, a position which had been in flux since pretty much the early Sixties. In ’69 Bill Sudakis had settled in there but his bat went cold and he was needed at catcher so in ’70 new guy Billy Grabarkewitz pretty much took over. Billy was having a pretty good year but was putting up high K totals and was also needed elsewhere, he at second base and shortstop. So Steve got a bunch of starts at third in July and the rest of the month hit nearly .300. He then lost a bit of time for military stuff and got squeezed by roster moves back to Spokane, where he remained until September. He returned to LA to get some more work at third and pulled his average up another 40 points. In ’71 Billy G was a mess between injuries and a severely declined offense so Garvey again was the early-season starter at third and that year he remained pretty much the regular guy until breaking his hand in early June and then missing nearly two months. He retained his spot when he returned but his offense was a bit light so for the immediate future third base was still viewed as a bit open. In '72 Steve did get the Opening Day nod at the position and never really had a batting slump, but a lack of power and way too many errors – most of them throwing ones – opened the door for other guys to put in time there, namely Billy G and Bobby Valentine (though to be fair nobody performed well at the hot corner that year; the team as a whole recorded 53 errors!). In ’73 Steve finally got a regular gig for real, just on the other side of the diamond.

In 1974 Garvey began in earnest his onslaught of NL pitching. As part of an infield that stayed intact – actually beginning midway the prior season – through ’81, Steve was a huge offensive gun throughout his time in LA. Over the next nine seasons he would put up an average of .306 while averaging 198 hits, 22 homers, and 102 RBI’s in his full seasons (I am discounting the strike year of ’81 though that was a good one also). He got his MVP in ’74 with a .312/21/111 year while leading LA to the Series and was an All-Star in eight of those seasons and a Gold Glove winner in four of them. In ’75 he recorded his higest average - .319 – and hit total with 210. In ’77 he joined the LA power train, becoming one of four guys on the team with over 30 homers while recording a career-best 115 RBI’s. In ’78 and ’80 he led the NL in hits, both times with over 200. He had six 200-plus hit seasons in seven years. Not surprisingly LA was quite prolific post-season-wise during that span, making the playoffs five of those years and winning the Series title in ’81. He also put together his record 1,207 consecutive game streak during that time. When his contract expired following the ’82 season the dismantling of the infield continued – Davey Lopes left after the ’81 season – as Steve signed as a free agent with San Diego.

Garvey’s signing by the Padres was viewed as huge though many thought his best days were behind him. He was still a solid hitter and an excellent defender and would ably serve as a clubhouse leader. And things went well, at least until a dislocated thumb suffered at the end of July 1983 ended both his season and that consecutive game streak. But he still hit .294 in his 100 games and came back strong in ’84 when he helped take San Diego to the Series with a .284 average, 86 RBI’s, an error-less season at first, and a spanking time against the Cubs in the playoffs. He returned as the regular guy at first the next two seasons, posting 81 RBI’s in each one though his average slid, especially that second year. After an ’87 of mostly back-up and pinch hit work he retired. He finished with a .294 average on 2,599 hits, 272 homers, and 1,308 RBI’s. He upped his stats in the post-season to hit .338 with eleven homers and 31 RBI’s in 55 games. He is currently in the Top 100 all-time in hits, singles, total bases, and sacrifice flies, and just misses that mark in RBI’s. Defensively he is 13th in putouts, 47th in assists, 23rd in double plays, and seventh in fielding percentage at first base. At this point he seems about a push to get in the Hall, though it would have to be through the veteran votes.

Garvey was still a Golden Boy when he retired. He’d done lots of television work during his career and that seemed a good fit. There was also lots of speculation about him running for office (a conservative, he lionized Ronald Reagan). But things got public about Steve in a bad way when a contentious divorce amidst lots of extra-marital flings lended him in hot water image-wise. He ended up doing a pretty good Shawn Kemp impersonation by fathering eight kids with four women which pretty much killed his shot in politics. But he put together a media company that specializes in infomercials and has always been big on the corporate lecture circuit, both of which he has been doing since the late Eighties. He was inducted into his high school hall of fame in the Nineties and the Michigan State one in 2010.


Steve gets the offensive and defensive props on the star bullets. When he was at MSU one of his professors was Mike Marshall, his teammate on the ’74 pennant winner.

This one is faster than I would have thought and gets abetted by another ’74 teammate:

1. Garvey and Al Downing ’71 to ’77 Dodgers;
2. Downing and Dave May ’70 Brewers;
3. May and Bill Parsons ’71 to ’73 Brewers.