Friday, January 17, 2014

#630 - Tommie Agee

Back to the final cards, and in this case the plural works two ways. For the record of the last eight non-team cards in this set, six have been the final ones issued during those players’ careers. And Tommie Agee gets to go out with a double, just like Felipe Alou did a bunch of posts back. These aren’t great cards – Tommie looks pretty unhappy as a Cardinal and that look up on his Traded card could be years old. But he did have some great ones. In ’71 he slides into second as Joe Morgan and (I think) Dennis Menke try to get a ball that appears trapped in Tommie’s underarm while the umpire – in a uniform out of 1920 – looks like he’s about to signal an out, which would make no sense. I think that one gets topped in ’73 when Tommie is making a catch in center with Rusty Staub – our last post subject – jogging over from right and (again, I believe) Ken Boswell doing a crossover in back of another ump in a photo in which all three guys – a record? – had to be air-brushed because Tommie went to Houston before that season. He’d been having a rough time since about mid’71 when extensive knee pain took away lots of his power and a year later his speed. And though he spent less than half his career in a Mets uniform, it is odd to see him out of it. His last year really was his last year – no more stats after the ones on this card – and after the trade mentioned above sort of fell flat. Despite hitting well in a couple early starts in left field for Houston, the dereliction of his knees contributed to most of his time being spent in reserve work where it was difficult to maintain a consistent average and the strikeouts- Tommie always had a problem with those – were a bit high for the decreased power production. By mid-August he was the team’s fifth outfielder and was soon after traded to St. Louis for infielder Dave Campbell. With the Cards Tommie got some starts in center – he was acquired because regular guys Jose Cruz and Luis Melendez were hurt and stopped hitting, repectively – but the average continued to taper. After the season the Dodgers got super busy in early December with trades. Their long-time starter in center, Willie Davis, was sent to Montreal for big-inning reliever Mike Marshall and Tommie was acquired in this trade to fill the gap. But the next day his former teammate Jimmy Wynn was picked up by LA for pitcher Claude Osteen. Jimmy would have a monster season in helping LA to the Series while Tommie wouldn’t get out of spring training. So he returned to NY, just not as a baseball player.
Tommie Agee grew up in and around Mobile, Alabama, where in high school he was a star in the big three sports plus track. In football while he was a three-year starter his team lost only one game. He was an end while future Mets teammate Cleon Jones was a halfback. In baseball he was an outfielder/pitcher and his senior year of ’60 he hit .390. He then went to Grambling on a baseball scholarship where he added first base to the above positions and hit .533 his one season before being signed by Cleveland for a big bonus. In D ball the rest of the summer he hit .261 with 15 homers and 40 RBI’s in under half a season. Tommie almost always hit from the top of the line-up and was super fast. In ’62 he moved up to B ball where he put up a .258/7/55 line with ten triples and 25 stolen bases before a couple games in Triple A and then his first look in Cleveland. In ’63 he moved to Double A where he experienced his first lost time from his knee, had a line of .274/5/36 in just under 300 at bats, stole 19, and recorded his best OBA of .354. He also returned to Cleveland at the end of the season for look number two. Then in ’64 it was off to Triple A Portland where he became a slugger with his .272/20/62 line with 35 steals but 144 K’s. After his third late crack at the Cleveland outfield he, young pitcher Tommy John, and John Romano went to the White Sox as part of a three-team deal in which Cam Carreon went to Cleveland (from Chicago); Mike Hershberger, Jim Landis, and Fred Talbot went to KC (from Chicago); and Rocky Colavito returned to Cleveland (from KC).
Initially, Chicago smelled a lot like Cleveland for Agee. He began the season in Triple A, where his .226/8/33 line was a significant discount to his prior season and his September call-up worked about as well as his previous ones did. But in ’66 Tommie had a real good camp and in the wake of Danny Cater’s trade to KC, incumbent center fielder Ken Berry moved to Cater’s spot in left opening up center for Tommie, who made the most of his opportunity. Still a rookie, he led the Sox in runs (98), hits, doubles, triples, homers, RBI’s, average, and stolen bases (44). He made the All-Star team, won a Gold Glove, and finally was named AL Rookie of the Year. ’67 would be a mixed year though. While Tommie hit OK during the season’s first half and again was an All-Star, he had a nasty slump in the second half which was pretty lousy timing since the Sox went to the wire on the pennant. After the season he was on the move again, this time to the Mets with infielder Al Weiss for Tommy Davis, Jack Fisher, and a couple minor leaguers.
While Agee’s first year in a new town was better than the last time he tried that trick, it wasn’t by much. Acquired to finally fill a defensive hole in center that had been there since pretty much the Mets themselves had, and to add some pop to the top of the line-up, Tommie did pretty well in the former department but pretty badly in the latter. Off to a pretty good start at the plate he ran into an early wall in that monster 24-inning game against Houston in which he went 0 for 10 to begin a season-long slump that didn’t allow him to break .200 until the last couple weeks. He went from being the everyday center fielder to missing starts and his RBI total was pretty horrendous as he came in with north of 100 strikeouts. But ’69 was a whole new year and Tommie put up his best stats since his ROY season. While he was still toting a high K total – 137 that year – he delivered in the role for which he was acquired while scoring 97 runs. Then came his headline-worthy post-season in which he hit .357 with two homers against Atlanta and then had those two circus catches against Baltimore that saved a game in the Series. As another reward Tommie was named the AL Comeback Player of the Year. ’70 was better for Tommie personally as he improved in runs (107), hits, doubles, triples, stolen bases (31 vs. 12), and average and won his second Gold Glove. By the end of the year, though, his knees were causing him some serious pain and in ’71 Tommie missed a combined six weeks to injury. He kept his average up there and stole 28 bases but his power subsided quite a bit. In ’72 he missed time to both injury and the return of Willie Mays as that year the average and the stolen base total (8) fell prey to his knees. Following the season he was sent to Houston for Rich Chiles and Buddy Harris. After the ’73 season he was done, finishing with the stats on the back of this card and 167 stolen bases. In the post-season he hit .250 with three homers, five RBI’s, and three steals in his eight games.
Agee had while still a Met purchased an interest in The Outfield Lounge, a bar pretty close to Shea Stadium in Queens. After he was done playing he pretty much took it over as a full-time pursuit. He was also heavily involved in local PR events for the Mets and other NYC youth programs. He then became associated with a company called Stewart Title Insurance with whom he was working while attending a meeting in NYC in 2001. It was there he was stricken with a heart attack that would prove fatal. Tommie was only 58. A year later he was inducted into the Mets Hall of Fame. He has a SABR bio.

Tommie gets a big number and a big star bullet on his card back. Those catches robbed Andy Etchebarren and Paul Blair (who just recently passed away) of multi-base hits that would have likely driven in five runs. When he was traded to the Sox it was part of an arranged deal. The Tribe wanted Rocky Colavito back and he was in the hands of the A’s. Chicago wanted catcher John Romano because he hit with some power although his defense was very suspect. Cleveland told Chicago they could get Romano if they picked up Colavito which they were able to do principally because he’d had a big ’64 and wanted a raise and KC owner Charlie O Finley didn’t want to pay. So Cleveland got Rocky, Chicago got Romano, and the two throw-ins to the deal from the Cleveland side were Tommie – whose stats are all above – and a guy who won 286 more games.

Tommie had a one-day run as LA’s newest center fielder. Ah well.
By mid-August of ’73 most of the big names had already testified before the Senate Committee, which was still pursuing some of the tapes from the White House:
8/15/73 – President Nixon delivers a televised address for the first time in three months. In it he indicated it was time to stop using Watergate as a diversion and/or an obstacle to getting real work done, notably dealing with inflation and Viet Nam. He opined that “it (was) clear that both the hearings themselves and some of the commentaries on them have become increasingly absorbed in an effort to implicate the President personally in the illegal activities that took place” in another clear indication of his belief of myriad conspiracies against him. He reminded people that he already accepted responsibility for abuses that occurred during his administration but then also reminded everyone that he was innocent of all activities related to the scandal. He reiterated that he would not turn in any tapes on the basis of national security. The presentation didn’t go terribly well; the next day a poll revealed that 31% of the populace were in favor of the President’s job performance, a 20-year low in that poll.
As that ’73 card of Tommie’s illustrated, this is an easy hook-up:
1. Agee and Rusty Staub ’72 Mets.

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