Monday, March 10, 2014

#644 - Wayne Granger

I’d always thought this was a legit shot of Wayne in his new uniform. Those pinstripes are sure real but on closer inspection that “NY” on the cap is not and the setting sure isn’t Yankee Stadium. This, I think, is a spring training shot in one of the old Minnesota pinstriped shirts. That means that might be Joe Decker in the background if that’s a 23 on that uniform. All conjecture of course but if correct this puts him back in ’72, which would represent pretty much the last year of the first good part of his MLB career. ’73 began with his trade back to St. Louis for an outfielder who seemed mired in the minors but would strike gold in Minnesota, Larry Hisle. Oops. Then he and the Cards got off to a horrid start, the team opening the season 3-22 and Wayne going a month-plus before pitching in a game the team won. While he would finish May strongly he threw uneven ball the rest of the way, recording only five saves through early August. By then it was apparent he was no longer the stopper he had been and he was sent to the Yankees for minor league pitcher Ken Crosby. He would pitch better the rest of the way for NY but suffered some porous defense behind him – twice as many runs as earned ones – and by the time this card came out he was released. Just before the ’74 season tipped off he was signed by the White Sox so he would remain in a version of pinstripes but by then arm pain would dictate his career path and he wouldn’t get another card until ’76 when he popped back in the NL with a perm and a new team. But with his serious mien Wayne seemed ready for anything.

Wayne Granger grew up in Huntington, Massachusetts, where he was apparently always skinny but played hoops and baseball before going to nearby Springfield College after graduating in ’63. After a year of ball there he signed with St. Louis as a free agent early in ’65 and after a rough start in Double A got things going in A ball, going a combined 11-12 with a 3.10 ERA in the rotation. Wayne could throw heat but he also had a pretty wicked sinker that he could throw anywhere from full overhand to sidearm. Those pitches would become his out pitches from then on. In ’66 he moved back to Double A and the pen and had a big season, going 11-2 with a 1.80 ERA while helping his club to the league title. In ’67 he moved to a spot role in Triple A with an 8-7/3.03 line and then the next year returned exclusively to the pen where a 4-3/2.16 start to the season had him in St. Louis by early summer.

Granger got called up in June of ’68 right into a pennant race in the wake of injuries to reliever Ron Willis and some ineffective pitching by starter Dick Hughes, two guys who were big contributors to the ’67 title. Wayne responded well with a nice record and four saves as he gradually moved into a closer role before throwing a couple of Series innings. But after the season the Cards needed to fill a hole with Roger Maris’ retirement so Wayne and outfielder Bobby Tolan were sent to Cincinnati for Vada Pinson. It was a very good trade for the Reds as Wayne pretty much immediately took over the closer role, setting a record with his 90 games and recording 27 saves to win TSN’s Fireman of the Year award. He kept things going in ’70 when he set another record with his 35 saves to win his second straight FOY and help take Cincy to the post-season for the first time in a decade. Things got a bit sloppy there, though, when he gave up a grand slam to Baltimore pitcher Dave McNally. Still, Wayne returned in ’71 to a team that would be greatly diminished by injuries, though he was able to again lead the NL in games pitched with 70. But the saves were harder to come by and late in the season his ERA got elevated a bit as he lost closing time to Pedro Borbon. Wayne finished with eleven saves and after the season he was sent to Minnesota for another slight reliever – though leftie – Tom Hall.

With the Twins in ’72 Granger put together a pretty good season, lowering his ERA a bit and nearly doubling his saves total to 19. But a lot of that good work was front-loaded – by late June he had a 0.70 ERA and 13 saves - and some tough summer outings led to losing lots of late closing time to Dave LaRoche. After the series of moves he landed in Chicago early in ’74 and spent nearly all of that season in Triple A where he went 10-3 as a spot guy with a 3.24 ERA and five saves. He then signed as a free agent with Houston for whom he returned to the MLB level, doing mostly set-up work while going 2-5/3.65 with five saves. After being released following the season he signed with Montreal and split ’76 between Jarry Park – 1-0/3.66 with two saves in 27 games – and Triple A where he went 3-1/2.45 with six saves in 26 games. After then signing with and being released by the Braves Wayne relocated to Mexico where he pitched the next two seasons, primarily for Durango. In ’79 he threw for three leagues – Inter-American; Mexican; and in Triple A – in what would be his final season. He finished with an MLB mark of 35-35 with nary a start, a 3.14 ERA and 108 saves. In the post-season that grand slam killed him as he had an 11.25 ERA in his four games. In the minors he was 49-32 with a 3.01 ERA.

After his playing career ended Granger made his home in Florida, where he worked in sporting goods, at a boat dealership, and then for 15 years ran his own billiards business. In ’82 he was inducted into the Cincinnati hall of fame. After selling the billiards shop he returned to Massachusetts where he is retired.

There is no shortage of star bullets for Wayne here with his two big seasons in Cincinnati. On the back of his ’69 card Topps made a big typo, indicating that he helped his Reds team to the Series when it was actually St. Louis.

I sure didn’t see this hook-up coming but here goes:

1. Granger and Dave LaRoche ’72 Twins;
2. LaRoche and Ken Landreaux ’77 to ’78 Angels;
3. Landreaux and Steve Garvey – or a few other guys – ’81 to ’82 Dodgers;
4. Garvey was on the ’73 Dodgers.

When Ken Landreaux went to the Twins as part of the deal for Rod Carew he said it should have been even up and that he’d make the Minnesota fans forget Carew. That guy had balls.

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