Friday, January 31, 2014

#635 - Johnny Edwards

This card gets us to pretty much the end of the final card run that has recently characterized this set. Johnny Edwards’ card is the eleventh out of the last 13 non-team cards that represent that person’s final Topps card. Here he crouches at the Houston spring training facility prior to his penultimate season. Johnny began ’73 as the starting Houston catcher, which he’d been since the ’69 season. But an injury early in June took him out of the line-up for about six weeks which made things kind of tough for the club because the Astros had just traded his regular back-up Larry Howard to Atlanta. So they pulled up Skip Jutze from the minors and he did a pretty good job while Johnny was out and then split time with him the rest of the way. In ’74 Houston traded for Milt May and also called up Cliff Johnson so Johnny’s plate time declined pretty significantly and he would retire following the season. He’s pretty pensive in this photo and I like that he has an empty sack behind him. Somehow it seems appropriate for a final card.

Initially, Johnny Edwards was Ohio all the way. Born and raised in Columbus, he played basketball and baseball in high school and in the latter sport was all-state his senior year of ’56 while also serving as class president. A pretty smart guy, Johnny would then go to Ohio State on a baseball scholarship and his sophomore year he led the Buckeyes with 24 hit s to earn second-team all Big Ten while earning a degree in engineering which he completed in ’63. In the meantime he was signed by Cincinnati early in ’59 and that year had a bang up season in C ball, putting up a .320/16/99 line while leading league catchers in putouts and double plays. In ’60 he moved up to Double A where he had a .293/14/70 line while continuing to improve defensively. After beginning the season in Triple A in ’61 with a .264/8/39 line in under half a season he was called up to Cincinnati.

Edwards reached the bigs in late June of ’61 and arrived in the middle of a pennant race. He scored and knocked in a run in his debut but his offense that season wasn’t his strong suit. While behind the plate he did excellent work with the Reds pitching staff in helping take Cincinnati to the Series. Then he led the team in batting with a .364 average with two doubles and two RBI’s in the loss to NY. In ’62 he replaced Jerry Zimmerman as the starting catcher and over the next four seasons Johnny would establish himself as one of the NL’s premier receivers, over that time earning the straight All-Star nods and two Gold Gloves. He was a defensive specialist and during that time led the NL at least once in each major fielding category and had a significantly better percentage than league average in throwing out runners. His hitting generally improved each year of that run as well as he topped out in RBI’s in ’63 and average in ’64. He seemed on the way to bettering both those numbers in ’65 when he missed some time due to a shoulder injury. In ’66 he was having a good spring when on the last day of training camp he broke a finger on his right hand, which was his throwing one. In order to attempt to keep him in the line-up his finger was set so that it would be able to hold a baseball but it made holding a bat difficult and made hitting problematic. So Johnny’s average dove significantly that year as he missed a bunch of time anyway and it remained at that depressed level in ’67 just in time for the debut of a new kid named Johnny Bench, already obviously the team’s next starting catcher. After the season Johnny was sent to St. Louis for catcher Pat Corrales and pitcher Jimmy Williams.

Edwards had some pretty good timing his first seasons with new teams and again in ’68 moved to a team in a pennant race. Tim McCarver was the starting catcher and initially Johnny wasn’t too crazy about the trade but he would end up pretty much splitting time behind the plate with McCarver as each receiver worked exclusively with his own starting pitchers. In Johnny’s case his two were Bob Gibson and Steve Carlton, who combined for a record of 35-20 in Gibson’s MVP season. He recorded only three errors all year and threw out 56% of the few runners that reached base against his starters. But after the season he was sent to Houston for catcher Dave Adlesh and reliever Dave Giusti in an attempt to shore up the St. Louis bullpen. This time Edwards wasn’t stepping into anything like a pennant race. But in ’69 he did return to an uncontested starting role for the Astros which allowed him to post his best RBI totals since ’65. He would retain that role pretty much through his ’73 injury, though he also missed a bunch of time to injury in ’71, and continued to do excellent defensive work. In ’74 he closed things out behind Milt May and he finished with a .242 average with 81 homers and 524 RBI’s and a .333 post-season average in his four games. Defensively he is in the top 20 all-time in putouts behind the plate, the top 50 in double plays, and the top 100 in assists. He finished his career throwing out 39% of attempted base stealers.

Edwards did not rest on his baseball laurels, either while playing or thereafter. Earning his degree allowed him to pursue a meaningful career away from baseball and from ’64 to ’69 he was a research engineer at the GE Nuclear Materials Lab in Cincinnati. After he was traded to Houston he became the Quality Engineering Manager for Cameron ironworks in that city. After his baseball career ended in early ’75 he was named that company’s Operating Manager of its Critical Service Product Line. In ’92 he moved to CTC International where he was a vice-president and then in ’95 upon that company’s purchase by Baker-Hughes he was a Plant Manager until his retirement in 2002. He continues to reside in the Houston area and will make appearances on behalf of the Astros.

Johnny’s signature sort of deteriorates by the end there. His fine defensive work shows up in his star bullet and his cartoon highlights his degree. Part of the reason he was pissed about his trade away from Cincinnati was because of his work there away from baseball, though maybe it was a good thing he got away from the nuclear testing facility.

Since Johnny did some pretty sensitive work away from baseball his card seems an appropriate place to return to Watergate goings-on. At this point it was late ’73 and both the missing tapes and the missing section of one tape were central to the case:

12/7/73 – Another tape with at least a partial Watergate theme is reported to have a segment that was now blank. At this point Judge John Sirica indicated his preference to have the tapes moved to the US Courthouse in DC. The tapes had remained with the White House for transcription but the two missing segments were making various people wary that the tapes would be further compromised if left there. Alexander Haig – always good for a quote, however off base it was – opined that “some sinister force” must have erased the segments.

2/6/74 – Watergate took a breather for the holiday recess and then the State of the Union but on this date the first big fallout was evidenced by the House of Representatives authorizing the Juciciary Committee to investigate grounds for impeaching President Nixon.

Again we get a double hook-up to Eddie Mathews. First to him as a manager:

1. Edwards and Orlando Cepeda ’68 Cardinals;
2. Cepeda and Hank Aaron ’69 to ’72 Braves;
3. Aaron was managed by Eddie Mathews on the ’72 to ’74 Braves.

For Eddie as a player it works like this:

1. Edwards and Joe Morgan ’69 to ’71 Astros;
2. Morgan and Eddie Mathews ’67 Astros.

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