Tuesday, March 18, 2014

#649 - Fernando Gonzalez

I know we’re coming down to the wire here and sometimes when that happened Topps was fishing for guys to put on the cards. But two cards for a guy with 51 MLB at bats? That’s a little crazy. In the ’76 set Topps gave rookie Willie Randolph a Traded card but that was actually pretty cool, plus Willie was an integral part of a pennant winner that year. Not so for Fernando here, though his path would sort of follow Willie’s in that he’d get with the Yankees eventually. Here he’s sort of hanging out in Pittsburgh as a seldom-used back-up at third base and a pinch hitter. Unlike Terry Crowley from the previous post Fernando wouldn’t develop into a franchise in that latter role but he would get some time as a regular elsewhere in the infield. Here he poses at Shea, most likely in September since that was the only series in which he played there. He was up top nearly the whole season except for a couple mid-summer months back in Triple A where he put up a nice average with zero power. On his Traded card he looks plain nasty, like he's ready to be cast in one of those Clint Eastwood spaghetti westerns. This one’s a spring training shot with Al Oliver in the background when hopes should have been high for Fernando since he was probably coming off a pretty good season when this shot was taken but I guess he’s showing his poker face. I think if I saw that mug in a game I’d just fold.

Fernando Gonzalez was signed out of Puerto Rico by the new Seattle Pilots in late ’68. For them he seemed to have hit well enough in A ball but his fielding at his primary middle infield positions was pretty awful and he was released. He spent ’70 playing semi-pro ball in Canada, returned to PR for winter ball where he was managed by Roberto Clemente, and did well enough to get signed by Pittsburgh at the star’s recommendation. Back in A ball he hit a ton and more importantly fielded significantly better while playing primarily shortstop. In ’72 he moved up to Double A where he had another big offensive year and moved to the hot corner on defense before making his debut with the Pirates. After the trade shown here he moved to Kansas City where he got some nominal field time before being sold to the Yankees in May. NY was sort of in a transition mode that year at second base as longtime regular Horace Clarke had been sent to San Diego and Sandy Alomar had yet to arrive from California. So Fernando got his first regular MLB gig at second before his low average allowed Alomar to take over the spot and get Fernando sent back to Triple A where his past offensive success at that level was elusive. During spring training in ’75 he was released.

Gonzalez hooked up with the Poza Rica team in the Mexican League the first half of the ’75 season and in July was re-acquired by Pittsburgh to finish out the season in Triple A, where he hit at a .279 clip while returning to third base. He remained there for all of ’76 where he posted a .321/13/70 line as the regular corner guy. He then returned to the big club in ’77 where he did back-up work at third and in the outfield and put up some respectable offensive numbers with a .276/4/27 line in his 181 at bats. He began ’78 in the same role but wasn’t getting nearly as much work before he was plucked off waivers by San Diego. The Padres were also in a bit of a jam at second as high profile kid Mike Champion didn’t work out and Fernando immediately stepped into the starting role, hitting .250 the rest of the way while providing some pretty good defense. In ’79 he was the starter early in the year and he started strongly with a .300 average the first month-plus but when his streak ran out it did so hard and by the end of the year displaced shortstop – by Ozzie Smith – Billy Almon moved over as the starting guy. Prior to the ’80 season the Padres picked up Dave Cash to take over second full time and Fernando was released. He hooked up with California and that year had a .311/16/70 line in Triple A while splitting time between second and third but didn’t get any call. In ’81 he began the season hitting .274 in the same role but was released and then returned to Mexico to play. He did that the next four years and then in mid-’84 returned to the States to coach and play for the Yankees Double A franchise, hitting .257 in 60 games. That was his final work as a player and Fernando finished with a .235 MLB average on top of his .297 minor league one.

Gonzalez played Senior League ball in ’89 and seems to have worked a bit in Mexico and Puerto Rico as a coach after he played but nothing specific is out there.

Maybe that big ’72 warranted the rookie double card thing. The cartoon was a big help for the bio since everywhere else it just said he was out of pro ball. Despite what I said above Fernando actually had some nice numbers as a pinch hitter. In ’77 he hit .370 in that role with a .429 OBA and nine RBI’s in his 27 pinch at bats and in ’78 he hit .444 with a .500 OBA in his ten plate appearances.

Fernando was part of a pretty big trade and all the other principals have the double cards as well. “Originally drafted by the A’s”, huh? That may be a typo because I have found no relationship between Fernando and Oakland in my research.

These two sure aren’t going to get linked by the teams on their Traded cards:

1. Gonzalez and Rick Dempsey ’74 Yankees;
2. Dempsey and Terry Crowley ’76 to ’82 Orioles.

1 comment:

  1. The concept that Topps ran out of players later in the set and therefore more marginal players appeared at the back end always interests me. I'd like to look into that for the post-series era cards (1974 through the 1980s, at least). But the only one that I am familiar with right now is the 1975 set and it definitely appears to be the case with that one.