Thursday, December 30, 2010

#75 - Jim Colborn

Jim Colborn looks like he is barely able to suppress a laugh at Yankee Stadium. He had reason to be happy as '73 was his breakout year and his profile expanded exponentially with an All-Star and 20-win season. He also was a bit of a kook so it is highly likely that whatever the joke was, he was the only one in on it.

Jim grew up in California and graduated from Whittier College in '67 with a degree in sociology. He played baseball there and was skipped over in the draft but was signed later that summer by a Cubs scout as a free agent. That signing came after he requested a competing college coach to get him a tryout since Whittier had no relationship with anyone vis-a-vis baseball. That year and in '68 Jim had a nice run in A ball, going a combined 19-9 with a 3.25 ERA at that level. He missed a little time prior to the second season because in late '67 he was awarded a scholarship to the University of Edinburgh to work on his masters where he also played hoops and was named All-Scotland in basketball. In '69 he jumped to Triple A where he went 8-7 in the rotation with a 2.28 ERA. Those numbers earned him a call-up that July where the work was scarce but he pitched well. Jim continued to do so in '70 in Chicago, again primarily in relief. But, being a "college boy",  he was far from Leo Durocher's favorite, and after a poor start to the '71 season Jim was sent back to Triple A where he remained in the pen and again recorded pretty good numbers which included eight saves. After the season he and Brock Davis were sent to Milwaukee for Jose Cardenal.

Things went much better right off the bat for Colborn around the corner in his new home. As a spot guy he put up some nice numbers in '72 - a .500 record and 3.11 ERA for a team that lost 91 games. In '73 he started the season as a reliever, and in early May, relieved Bill Parsons early in a game and pitched the final nine innings, getting the win. Then, when Parsons, the Brewers' boy wonder the past two seasons, couldn't get in gear, Jim took his spot in the rotation. By mid-June he was 11-3 and the Brewers were in first place. They both cooled off considerably after that and it took Jim four attempts to get his final win, but in the end he became the Brewers' first 20-game winner and made that All-Star team. He also garnered a reputation as a flake by throwing on a mask and sweeping the field during a rain delay. Unfortunately it was tough for Jim to reproduce that magic the next three years and as the team got progressively worse over that time, so did Jim's record as he went a combined 30-41 with a 4.00 ERA.

Following the '76 season, Colborn went to the Royals with Darrell Porter for Jim Wohlford, Bob McLure, and Jamie Quirk. The trade proved instantly successful for KC as it got a solid starting catcher and a hurler that won 18 games. Colborn also pitched a no-hitter that season. It was his only season with a division winner but because Whitey Herzog went with all lefties against the Yankees, Jim saw no post-season action. After a poor start in '78 he was traded to the Mariners for Steve Braun. But '78 ended worse than it started and he was released before the beginning of the '79 season. That was it as a player for Jim. For his career he went 83-88 with a 3.80 ERA, 60 complete games, eight shutouts, and seven saves.

Although a bit unorthodox as a player, Colborn has had a pretty varied and successful career in baseball since the early '80's. After some time away from ball he got started in the Cubs system as a pitching coach ('84-'86) and then pitching coordinator ('87-'89). He then coached in Japan for Orix ('90-'93), managed in the Oakland chain (where he was 223-192 from '94 to '96), was director of Pacific rim scouting for Seattle ('97-2000), and has served pitching coach for Jim Tracy in both LA (2001-'05) and Pittsburgh ('06-'07). Since then he has taken on that Pacific rim gig again, now for Texas, which he is still doing. There is an interesting interview with him here.

The star bullets represent some nice numbers. I guess Jim experienced a baseball pull away from the States at an early age. Jim was tight with a bunch of teammates, including Ken Holtzman and Ken Brett and was a pallbearer at the latter pitcher's funeral.

Keeping the last two posts all AL makes this pretty easy:

1. Colborn and Bobby Darwin '75 to '76 Brewers;
2. Darwin was on the '73 Twins.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

#74 Senators/Twins Records

Two multi-card posts in a row. This time it's a team set and this team photo is much more representative of the set than the O's one from a few posts back. It's blurry enough that I don't recognize a soul outside of Rod Carew and maybe Bobby Darwin for obvious reasons. 1973 was a typically mediocre year for these guys. Led by Carew, they topped the league in batting average, hits, and doubles, but they were plagued by injuries to The Killer and George Mitterwald. The ascensions of Darwin and Larry Hisle power-wise was nice but each guy also brought high strikeout totals. Also, their pitching was substandard, despite Bert Blyleven's breakout season. They had a couple high-profile draft choices  - Ed Bane and Dan Fife - that went bust and the A's and for a long time the ChiSox and Royals were too talented to beat. It was the type of middle-of-the-road performance that would characterize the team for most of the rest of the decade.

Nothing too special about the checklist. Harmon Killebrew has the best signature and it looks like Jim Holt and Mitterwald learned writing script from the same person. The lack of name pitchers after Blyleven speaks volumes. Bobby Darwin's signature stands out as the most formal. With a signature like that I would have expected him to be on the HMS Beagle.

As expected, a bunch of these records are from the old Senators, a few of whom played together on that '33 pennant winner.

Joe Cronin was a HOF shortsop who played primarily for the Nats and Red Sox. Joe grew up in San Francisco where he was a city tennis champ and baseball star. After some semi-pro ball he was signed by the Pirates in '25, put in some good minor league numbers, and after two false starts for Pittsburgh was sold early in '28 to the Kansas City Blues, a minor league team, for about $500. The Blues turned around and sold him to Washington midway through the '28 season for $7,500. Joe moved right into the lineup during Bucky Harris' last year as player/manager. He amped things up in '29 and then went on a tear, with four straight years of 40+ doubles, five of 100+ RBI's , and four of batting over .300. In '30 he won the precursor to the MVP award with a .346/13/126 season. In '32 he led the AL with 18 triples and in '33 with 45 doubles. That last year he replaced Walter Johnson as manager and won the pennant before losing the Series to the Giants. After another good season he was traded to the Red Sox for Lyn Lary and a lot of cash. He both managed and played in Boston as well. In '35 he posted 95 RBI's but he then missed half of '36 to a broken thumb. He bounced in '37 with a .307/18/110 season and then in '38 led the AL with 51 doubles. After averaging 100 RBI's the next three seasons Joe took himself out of the everyday lineup in '42 to let Johnny Pesky play and then retired as a player during the '45 season after he broke his leg. He managed the Sox through '47, winning the pennant in '46. After that he moved to Boston's front office through '59, when he became the AL president. He kept that position through '73, when he retired. As a player, Joe hit .309 for his career, with over 500 doubles, 170 homers, and over 1,400 RBIs. He played in seven All-Star games, including the first three, and in the post-season hit .318 in his five games. He was elected to the Hall in '56. As a manager he went 1,236-1,055. He passed away in '84 at 77.

Sam Rice built a HOF career out of a horrible story. A farmer in Indiana, he was playing semi-pro ball in 1912 when a tornado killed pretty much his entire family. He left the area, joined the Navy, and in 1914 was signed by the Petersberg Goobers, a C team,  as a pitcher. He was quite good in that role and in the minors would go 20-14 with a 1.72 ERA lifetime. In late 1915 he was signed by Washington and that team converted him into an outfielder after he hurt his arm pitching. He could already hit and he settled into the starting lineup in 1917, hitting .302. The next year he missed nearly all of to return to military duty for WW I. He came back in '19 and re-established himself as a hitting machine, earning the nickname Man-o-War after leading the league in stolen bases. Sam would put up six seasons of over 200 hits, 14 of hitting over .300, and nine of stealing over 20 bases. Although he became a permanent regular late - at age 29 - he was around for all the Nats' pennants (he hit .302 in the post-season). He led the league in hits twice and triples once. He stayed with DC through the '33 season (when he was 43) and finished up with Cleveland the next year. His lifetime stats include a .322 average with 2,987 hits, 498 doubles, 184 triples, and 351 stolen bases. He made it to the Hall in '63. Following his career he returned to farming and during WW II employed a bunch of interned Japanese Americans to take them out of the camps. He passed away in '74 at age 84.

Mickey Vernon is one of very few guys who played in four decades (the Thirties through the Sixties) and had two periods of service with the old Senators, sandwiched around a year plus at Cleveland. He missed two full seasons in his prime to WW II, possibly robbing him of a spot in the Hall. Vernon was an excellent fielder at first base, his sole position when he played. He was tall at 6'2" but awfully thin at only 170 lbs. He was signed by the Nats out of his freshman year at Villanova in '37 and improved his average as he moved up in the minors the next three years, peaking with a .343 in A ball in '39 that got him up to DC later that year. Mickey finished out that season as the starting guy at first but then in '40 got shoved back to Double A, where he hit .283 before returning to DC at the end of the season. He was again the full-time guy at first the next three seasons. Never a big home run producer, Mick averaged a .283/9/83 line over that span before he was inducted into the Navy following the '43 season for WW II. His first year back, in '46, he ramped things up big and led the AL in hitting and doubles, at .353 and 51, respectively. After big discount years in '47 and '48 - he averaged a .254/5/67 line - Mick went to the Indians in '49 where his numbers improved significantly. But then after a poor start in '50 he returned to DC in one of those huge trades those "second division" guys did back then. He hit over .300 the rest of the way then put up a couple decent seasons before another big year in '51 when he again did the double lead thing with 43 doubles and a .337 average. He also scored 101 runs and knocked in 115, both career highs. He remained with Washinton the next two years and then went to Boston in '56, where he had a big year before beginning to wind things down the next season. He went back to Cleveland in '58 and then to the NL for his last two seasons, with the Braves and the Pirates, for whom he also coached (he was good buddies with Danny Murtaugh). He retired with a .286 average - and five seasons of .300 or better - almost 2,500 hits, 490 doubles, over 1,300 RBIs, and seven All-Star appearances. Right after his playing career ended Mickey became the first manager for the NEW Senators from '61 to '63. He then coached back in Pittsburgh ('64) and St. Louis ('65) before managing in the minors for KC/Oakland ('66-'68), Atlanta ('69-'70), and NY ('71). His record as a manager was 135-227 up top and 406-433 in the minors. He then coached in the minor leagues for Kansas City ('72-'74) and LA ('75-'76) before coaching up top for Montreal ('77-'78). He then scouted for the Yankees through '88 when he retired. Mickey passed away in 2008 when he was 90.

Goose Goslin - real name Leon - was signed out of Salem, NJ by the Columbia Comers of the independent Sallie (South Atlantic) League in 1920. Back then, minor league teams would often sign players directly and Goslin was recommended by an umpire. At the time Goose was a pitcher and though he did pretty well in that role off the bat - 6-5 with a 2.44 ERA - his hitting so impressed management that he was moved to the outfield. After another good offensive season in '21 he was sold to the Nats late in that season and did well enough the rest of the way to get a semi-regular spot in '22 and then a permanent outfield one in '23. The nickname came from both his strange fielding style - he flapped his arms when he ran and was always challenged defensively - and the size of his nose. Goose led the league in triples his first full season (with 18), RBIs his second (129), and triples again his third. He led the league in hitting in '28. Like Rice, he played on all three pennant winners even though he was traded to the Browns in '30 for General Crowder and Heinie Manusch in a big deal at the time. He returned to the Nats for '33 and then went to Detroit the following season, just in time to participate in that club's post-season romps. He played out his career in '38 back in DC and finished with a .316 average, over 2,700 hits, 500 doubles, 173 triples, 248 homers, and over 1,600 RBIs. He had 11 seasons with over 100 RBIs. In 32 post-season games he hit .287 with 7 homers and 19 RBIs. He played in one All-Star game - most of his career was before that event began - and was elected to the Hall in '68. Following baseball he went back to Jersey to run a boat rental company and passed away from lung cancer in '71 - he was a big smoker - at age 70. His .379 average was recorded in '28, not '23 as the card says.

Like Goslin, Ron Perranoski is a Jersey boy, Ron from Fair Lawn. He attended Michigan State where he was all Big Ten his senior year of '58 and was in the rotation with Dick Radatz. Ron was signed by the Cubs that year and continued as a starter in B ball that summer, but with limited success. His numbers picked up markedly in Double A in '59 but after that season he was traded to LA - for Don Zimmer - while in military reserve duty in early '60. LA made him a spot guy in Triple A that year and his numbers continued to improve and the following spring he made the LA Opening Day roster. He was an immediate success and that year he pitched his only major league start as the Dodgers put him in the pen and he responded with a 2.65 ERA with six saves. The saves total increased to 19 in '62 and then in '63 Ron had a great season - 16-3 with a 1.67 ERA and 21 saves in 69 games - and was a vital cog for that Series winner. He would regularly post double digits in saves - except for '66 when he was hurt - and play in two more post-seasons with the Dodgers before he was traded to the Twins following the '67 season with Bob Miller and John Roseboro for Zoilo Versalles and Mudcat Grant. For the Twins he continued his fine pitching and in '69 and '70 he would lead the league in saves, with 31 and 34 respectively, briefly holding the AL record. After a poor start in '71 he went to Detroit. He then returned to LA and then California, for whom he pitched briefly in '73 (he had no '74 card). His final stats were a 79-74 record with a 2.79 ERA in 737 games with 179 saves. He was much less successful in the post-season with an ERA of almost 8.00 with a save in ten games in those five years. After finishing as a player he became the LA minor league pitching coordinator ('74-'80) before in '81 becoming LA's very successful pitching coach for 14 seasons. In '95 he moved to San Francisco as its minor league pitching coordinator before moving up to the MLB level to coach ('97-'99) and then to the admin side as an assistant to the GM (2000-present).

Walter Johnson, "The Big Train", pitched his whole career for the Nats. He was born in Kansas and as a kid relocated with his family to California so his dad could work in the oil patch.After playing some local semi-pro ball as a teenager he did the same thing a couple summers in Idaho from where he was signed by Washington in '07. The Senators were pretty terrible back then and though Walter pitched well, it took a while for his record to catch up to his skills (32-48 his first three seasons). But beginning in 1910 he would be a machine, that year going 25-17 with a 1.36 ERA. Over the ten seasons beginning that year, the Train would win over 20 games every season and over 30 twice. He led the AL in that span five times in wins, four times in ERA, four times in shutouts, six times in complete games, five times in innings pitched, and nine times in strikeouts. His personal bests during that period were 36 wins; a 1.14 ERA; 370 innings; 38 complete games, eleven shutouts, and 313 K's. He won pitching's Triple Crown in '13 and '18. In '20 he got hurt, put up a losing record, and took a couple years to get back in form. By then the rest of the team caught up to him skillwise and in '24 Walter led the Nats to a Series title with another Triple Crown season: 23-7 with a 2.72 ERA, six shutouts, and 158 K's. He would win 20 again in '25 to get the Nats another pennant and then finish things up in '27. After 21 years in DC as a player, Walter won 417 games with a 2.17 ERA, 531 complete games, 34 saves, and 110 shutouts. He hit pretty well too with a lifetime .235 average with 255 RBI's. He still had the K record of 3,509 at the time of this set. In the postseason he went 3-3 with a 2.52 ERA, five complete games, and a shutout in his six games. He was elected to the first HOF class in '36. After playing he managed the Nats for four years - and had the highest win percentage of any of their managers - and Cleveland for three and then retired in '35. He passed away from a brain tumor in '46. He was only 59.

Happy Townsend actually was happy and came out of Townsend, Delaware (the town is named for his family). He threw against Washington College for a semi-pro team in 1897 and impressed the team enough that it recruited him and he spent the next two years at the school as the school's top pitcher. In 1900 he played semi-pro ball in Chester, PA where he reportedly went 35-5 while hitting over .400. He was signed by the Phillies in '01 and went 9-6 that season, which would be his only winning one. He then jumped to the Nats - although the Washington University site says he was traded for Ed Delahanty - where he went 22-69 the next four years. The year he lost 26 he also led the league with 19 wild pitches. In '06 he went to Cleveland where he went 3-7 in his final MLB season. He finished with a 34-82 record with a 3.59 ERA, 107 complete games, and five shutouts. He then pitched and coached in the minors through at least '09 and then went back to Philadelphia to live and work. He passed away in '63 at age 84.

Bob Groom came out of the St. Louis area and had the interesting minor league experience of either winning or losing 20 or more games each of his five seasons. On the strength of his '08 season in Portland - he went 29-15 in over 400 innings - he was signed by the Senators. His rookie season he went 7-26, but after a couple seasons that were markedly better - a combined 25-34 - in 1912 he went 24-13 with a 2.62 ERA. After a .500 season in DC in '13 he jumped to the Federal League for its two seasons, for the St. Louis Terriers, for whom he went 24-31. When the league folded he went to the Browns a couple years and then Cleveland. He was a decent pitcher, compiling a 119-150 record with a 3.10 ERA, 157 complete games, 22 shutouts, and 13 saves, but he wound up leading his league in losses three times. After baseball he returned to the St. Louis area where he worked at his family's coal business and also coached for local American Legion leagues. He did finish two years of med school but seems to have done nothing in that direction. He passed away in '48 at age 63.

Emil "Dutch" Leonard, not to be confused with the Boston pitcher of the same name from earlier in the century, was a well-traveled knuckleballer from the '30s to '50s. Born in rural Illinois he initially followed his dad into coal mining. But that got old fast, and a good athlete, he made his way to Chicago where he then worked and played ball for an electric company. He'd picked up the knuckler in HS when he got hurt in a hoops game and lost a lot of speed on his fastball. But his catchers would never call it so he rarely used it in games. Signed to a local B team in '30 he put up not great numbers until '32 when he was having a very good season when the team folded and he couldn't gat to a new one. In '33 he was purchased by the Dodgers, put up a 3.13 ERA in A ball, and then looked good in a few games at the end of the year. In '34 he won 14 and saved five as a spot starter. The next year his ERA stayed the same and he saved eight but his record fell to 2-9 and the next couple seasons he was sent down. There, Dutch ran into Paul Richards - the same guy who'd be a big deal exec by the time of this set - who would be his catcher and wasn't afraid of catching a knuckleball. Finally free to use his pitch, Dutch went a combined 28-11 those two years before getting traded to the Cardinals who then flipped him to Atlanta, then a Southern League team. Prior to the '37 season the Nats took Dutch in the Rule 5 draft. For them he pitched well as a starter, compiling a 118-101 record over the next nine seasons - including 20 wins in '39 - and making three All-Star appearances for a team well below .500 at the time. He went to the Phillies in '47 where he put in two good years and the Cubs in '49. After a poor year in the rotation for Chicago that year, the Cubs moved Dutch to the pen where at age 41 in 1950, he became one of the team's premier relievers. He lasted in Chicago through '53 when he hung them up at 44. He finished with a 191-181 record with a 3.25 ERA, 192 complete games, 30 shutouts, and 45 saves. After his playing career he became a Cubs coach ('54-'56) and then became a youth counselor and coach in Illinois. He passed away in '83 at age 74.

Bobo Newsom I covered on the Orioles team post. Almost all the above guys have SABR bios.

The Twins 1973 team is very well represented in the '74 set. Danny Walton is the only regular player with significant time without a card (he had 96 at bats and four homers as a reserve outfielder). On the pitching side, Jim Kaat was traded to the White Sox during the season and Ken Sanders to Cleveland, so their cards are with their new teams. Including them, 161 of 162 decisions are represented by cards, the lone missing loss going to Jim Strickland, a journeyman. Both missing guys are in the team photo: Walton is to the immediate left of Carew in the third row with that big 'stache; and Strickland is four to the right from Walton.

Since Marshall pitched for Minnesota, this will be quick:

1. Rod Carew '73 Twins;
2. Carew and Mike Marshall '78 Twins.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

#73 - Mike Marshall

It has been a while since we have had a multi-card post and it is appropriate that it is this guy, the subject of the first or second biggest trade of the off-season. Mike Marshall looks enormous here pitching at Candlestick in a position that indicates he has yet perfected his delivery system (more on that later). If I am correct, then that is one of four guys behind Mike: Ron Hunt (too tall to be him I think) or Tim Foli (don't see the glasses) at second or Mike Jorgensen or Hal Breeden playing an awfully wide first base. My nod goes to Jorgensen. Regardless of who is behind him, Mike put up a very big year in '73, setting soon-to-be-broken records in games and relief innings by a pitcher; winning 14 in the pen with an NL-leading 31 saves; and finishing second in NL Cy Young voting. He damn near got his team to the playoffs which would have put a non-US team there 20 years before Toronto.

Like the man himself, Marshall had an interesting career. Signed by the Phillies in 1961 as a shortstop, Mike put up some nice offensive numbers in four minor league seasons: a .280 average with an OBA in the upper .300s. He had a very bad back that was injured in a horrible car accident when he was 11 and that plagued him throughout his career which made fielding problematic. One season he had 68 errors. He reached Double A in the infield and in '65 informed management that he was going to become a pitcher. He had just finished his undergrad degree at Michigan State and had started on his Masters when they demoted him to A ball in response to his position change. Mike actually put up some decent numbers as a reliever right off the bat and by the end of the '65 season was back in Double A. Prior to the '66 season he was sold to Detroit and for them he put up super numbers at that level - 11-7 with a 2.33 ERA again in the pen - and was promoted in '67. It was around then that he became interested in the physics of throwing a baseball and kinesiology and that year he initiated his ability to piss off his managers and other players by utilizing the fruits of his academic labors in his craft. Despite excellent numbers, he was sent down by Mayo Smith, who was upset that Mike taught himself a screwball, which would be his signature pitch. It was also around this time that as a graduate teaching assistant at Michigan State, Mike had a student who happened to be a wide receiver on the football team named Steve Garvey. After a season in Triple A as a starter - he went 15-9 with a 2.94 ERA - he was taken by the Pilots in the expansion draft. There he got some nice props from Jim Bouton in "Ball Four" and also argued constantly with manager Joe Schultz and pitching coach Sal Maglie, neither of whom came off particularly well in the book. Thogh Mike's numbers remained pretty good in Triple A  - the Seattle minor league system was a bit messy - Mike's '69 for the Pilots was pretty messy itself and he decided around then that due to his back and other issuers he was much more effective as a reliever. He was sold to the Astros before the '70 season and then went to the Expos mid-year for Don Bosch. For both teams his time was spent primarily at Triple A where his numbers - a combined 6-4 with a 1.85 ERA and seven saves in 25 games - showed it was time to be given a shot up top. It was in Montreal he found his niche.

For the Expos, everything started clicking for Marshall in '71. While his ERA was nothing special, it was his first of four successive seasons that he led the league in games finished and the year he established his game: three money pitches (screwball, slider, and curve) and 100+ innings in relief with double digits in saves and decisions. He attributed his success to an understanding manager in Gene Mauch. In '72 and '73 he had his two huge seasons, garnering significant Cy Young and MVP votes. Those four seasons he put up 93 saves. When in '73 LA decided that a workhorse reliever was the needed step for a title, they sent Willie Davis to Montreal for Marshall. The trade was hugely rewarding for LA as the team won the NL pennant and Mike got his Cy, setting new records in games and relief innings pitched, with 106 and 208 respectively. In '75 Mike broke a rib throwing a curve which aggravated his back as well and he missed a significant part of the season. In '76 he was traded to the Braves - while he and Walter Alston got along great, he and Tommy Lasorda were not friendly - and for the next few seasons his stats were mediocre. During that time he injured his knee and finally had surgery that repaired his back.

In '78 Marshall was signed by the Twins as a free agent and reunited with Gene Mauch, then Minnesota's manager. For those next two seasons, he was up to his old tricks, and in '79 he had numbers that rivaled his best: 142 innings, 10 wins, a 2.65 ERA, 32 saves, 90 games, and 84 finished games. He led the league in those last three. He had a poor start in '80 and as player rep managed to piss off Calvin Griffith and was cut. A nice season followed with the Mets, but despite really good numbers, he was released. Mike finished with a 97-112 record, 3.14 ERA, three complete games, a shutout, 188 saves, and 1,386 innings pitched in 723 games, or nearly two innings per game. He was also a pretty good hitter and an excellent fielder. In his sole post-season, '74, he went 0-1 but with a 0.75 ERA in seven games, striking out 11 in 12 innings.

Marshall now runs a baseball institute in Florida where he teaches pitchers to throw using the fundamentals he developed from his studies. He has a pretty cool website, linked to here. It has videos and a bunch of literature.

OK, so we finally have a lame Traded card. It is not the phosphorescent paint on the hat that bothers me so much as it is the photo itself. First of all, it is the same one used for Mike's regular '73 card. On top of that, I am almost positive that it is a Tigers uniform he is wearing which would make the photo seven years old! That's lame.

Look at those '73 numbers: hard to believe they were just a warm-up. Of course Marshall played chess; the guy was a genius. He has another name that would have been great for a lawyer. Mike was also the guy that talked Tommy John into getting his rotator cuff surgery.

Not too much going on with the Traded card back. I find it hard to believe that his season did not qualify for at least a "5" card. Frankly, though, I have not found anyone occupying those cards not deserving of that status.

Again, these two guys narrowly missed playing with each other:

1. Marshall and Tommy John '74 to '76 Dodgers;
2. John and Aurelio Rodriguez '80 to '81 Yankees.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

#72 - Aurelio Rodriguez

Here we have the original A-Rod performing some lateral footwork on a spring training field that apparently abutted somebody's backyard, judging by that roof in the background. Aurelio - actually called Rod when he played - had a gun for an arm and seems to be without his usual mitt which he painted black and called "The Black Hand" (sounds like something from Sherlock Holmes). In '83 Rod was named by Baseball Digest as the best Latin American third baseman ever and in 2002 in an informal poll, Duane Kuiper and Mark Krukow - then covering Giants games - both named him the owner of the best infield arm they ever saw. So did Elrod Hendricks in a separate interview. Also, he was already a legend baseball card-wise because his '69 card was really a picture of the California batboy. Aurelio's '73 was a pretty typical year for him: low average, high strikeouts, spotty power, and very good fielding as around him everyone else in the Detroit infield got old pretty fast.

Aurelio Rodriguez was purchase by the Angels from Jalisco in the Mexican League in '66 after hitting .292 with 18 triples for that team. In '67 he generated some nice offensive numbers at both Double and Triple A levels - over .300 at both stops - and was called up to California. He gave an early indication of his defensive skills by producing only one error in 29 games. In '68 he started the season back in Triple A - .249 while playing short - but then came up and got increased playing time after incumbent third baseman Paul Schaal got beaned. When Schaal then got taken by KC in the expansion draft, Rod got the starting gig. He showed an indication of his skill set by leading the AL in double plays and finishing second in assists from his position that year. Then in '70 he'd stepped up his average a bit when early in the season he went to Washington in a trade.

In a trade that initially worked out pretty well for both sides, Rodriguez and outfielder Rick Reichardt went to DC for third baseman Ken McMullen. Aurelio thrived offensively under manager Ted Williams and his 19 homers and 83 RBIs would be career highs by pretty large margins. But following that season he was sent to Detroit with Ed Brinkman and Joe Coleman for Elliott Maddox, Denny McLain, and others. That trade ended up being hugely one-sided as Detroit got the left side of its infield for the next four years and Rod was the primary Detroit third baseman for the rest of the decade. While he wouldn't approach those Nat offensive totals he would put in that excellent D. In '71 he topped out with 68 runs scored. In '72 he helped Detroit break the Baltimore strangle hold on the division while leading the AL in assists and putouts, but he had a horrible playoff (0 for 16). In '75 he had his best power year since '70 with 13 homers and 60 RBI's and in '76 he became the first AL Gold Glove-winning third baseman whose name was not Brooks Robinson since the '50s. In the late '70s he began to lose playing time, first to Phil Mankowski, then to Tom Brookens, though in '78 he topped out with a .265 average. Following the '79 season Rod was sold to San Diego.

Rodriguez got in about half a season of split time at third for the Padres in '80 when he was again sold mid-summer, this time to the Yankees. The sale worked for him because he got some considerable starting time in NY because Graig Nettles went down with hepatitis. In '81 Aurelio hit .346 in a very reduced role. In the post-season those two years he hit a combined .389 for the Yankees. He then went to Toronto - for whom he never played - the White Sox, Baltimore, and back to the Sox the next two seasons. In '83 he also saw his last post-season action for Chicago, ironically against Baltimore. For his career, Rod hit .237 in 17 seasons, with 124 homers and 648 RBIs. In the post-season he hit .206 in his 14 games. Defensively he is in the top ten all time at third base for double plays and assists and is currently 35th in putouts.

Rodriguez continued playing Mexican League ball after he finished in the States, both in the winter and the summer. In '83-'84 he was his winter league's mvp. In summer ball he hit well over .300 through '87 and then began coaching, along with some managing. He also managed in the States - he went 35-42 in 1990 in the Detroit system - and was still coaching when he was killed in Detroit in 2000 by a car that jumped the curb and ran him down on the sidewalk. He was 52.

We have the first parenthetical name seen in a while. On Wikipedia, it lists his full name as Aurelio Rodriguez Ituarte Jr. so maybe it is an alternative last name, although I have yet to see it used in the signature. Lots of references to his defense. Long Hits gets capitalized; I still think that is a funny term. Aurelio was buried in his home town.

This one is all AL:

1. Rodriguez and Gary Sutherland '74 to '76 Tigers;
2. Sutherland and Danny Frisella '76 Brewers.

Monday, December 20, 2010

#71 - Danny Frisella

I think Danny Frisella is auditioning for the A's in this picture. This new mustache - it is the only time he had one on his card - would certainly fit right in with that crew and Lord knows the Braves weren't going anywhere fast. But he sure looks happy in Atlanta. And there weren't too many happy pitchers in Atlanta in '73 - the park was nicknamed "The Launch Pad" and produced some high ERA's. Danny was the ace of the pen despite his jumping by nearly a run; his eight saves led the team.

Frisella was a Cali kid, graduating from Serra HS in San Mateo in '63 after a big deal baseball career there. He then went to the College of San Mateo for a year before transferring to Washington State. There Danny continued to post some big numbers - 17-1 for his career - and in '65 led the team to the CWS. That spring he was drafted by the Braves but passed and then played ball that summer for the Goldpanners. He was the Goldpanners most valuable pitcher (he was 7-2 with a 2.13 ERA) which carries some significant weight when one realizes that Tom Seaver and Andy Messersmith were on that staff as well. Back at WSU in '66 Danny again made the all-conference team and was then drafted by the Mets, this time signing. A good year in the rotation in A ball that summer was followed by a better one - 11-5 with a 1.88 ERA and five shutouts - in '67 split between that level and Triple A. Those numbers got him up to NY where he enjoyed a typical season for Mets pitchers back then - a pretty good ERA coupled with a lousy record. In '68 he split time between the Mets and the minors. While he continued to be a starter at Triple A, where he went 4-2 in his seven games, as he had been for the bulk of his career to this point, in the majors he started coming out of the bullpen. In '69 he was primarily a minor-leaguer where he went 11-2 with a 2.76 ERA mostly in Triple A and for the Series champs put in only a couple innings.

Following the '69 season Frisella finished his military reserve work which had contributed to lost innings his previous three years. He also threw winter ball where he ran into Diego Segui, who taught Danny the forkball. After starting the '70 season in Triple A with another excellent rotation run, Danny and his new pitch came up for good in mid-season and hit his stride. He put up a save as the middle guy the rest of the way and then the next year joined Tug McGraw as co-stoppers in the pen. '71 was Danny's best season with twelve saves and that excellent ERA.While that number popped a bit in '72 and he ran into some arm issues, he still got it together to report nine saves. Following that season, Danny and Gary Gentry went to the Braves for Felix Millan and George Stone.

While NY made out pretty well with its half of the trade, Gentry's career went south pretty much immediately and Frisella had some tough times of his own. His '74 Atlanta follow-up season was a big discount to '73 as Danny's ERA popped another run and his saves total declined to six. After the '74 season he went to San Diego for Clarence Gaston. Though Danny continued as a pen guy for San Diego, his numbers were very similar to his '67 in NY - 1-6 with a very good ERA, this time 3.13. He also put up nine saves. Prior to the '76 season Danny was again on the move, this time to St. Louis for a couple minor leaguers. After not too much field time he went to the Brewers for outfielder Sam Mejias. For his second '76 team, he had a nice '76: a 5-2 record, 9 saves, and a 2.74 ERA in 32 games. He seemed to be back on a good track, but on New Year's Day 1977 he was killed in an accident in his dune buggy. Danny had a lifetime record of 34-40 with a 3.32 ERA and 57 saves in 351 games.In the minors he was 38-16 with a 2.60 ERA and nearly a strikeout an inning.

'71 was Danny's best season and was the only one in which he averaged better than a K an inning. I am hoping he didn't enjoy that scuba diving while with the Mets. I've done that in the NY area and all I've ever seen were a couple dead flounders. When Danny played ball at Washington State, one of his teammates was John Olerud, father to the future NY first baseman.

Let's use the other bullpen guy to link these two:

1. Frisella and Tug McGraw '67 to '72 Mets;
2. McGraw and Dick Allen '75 to '76 Phillies.

Friday, December 17, 2010

#70 - Dick Allen

Dick Allen,as far as I was concerned, was The Man. He was my favorite player. From the batting helmet to the tape measure line drive homers to the fu manchu to the ball-busting way he dealt with all those inequalities in Philly, he was like Marlon Brando and James Dean and Joe Namath and Jim Brown rolled into one: a rebel who delivered. He must have been a pain in the butt to the front office guys, but why would a kid care about that? He was 5'11" and could touch the backboard over a foot above the rim (which means he had a vertical leap of about 42 inches), he could sing (he had a group that performed at Sixers games), he had a talk show, and he was just published on Night Owl's blog. His SI cover - the one where he juggles baseballs while smoking - was just named as that magazine's 29th best. He's still The Man. And this is the first card we get to see his face since his '71 Dodger card ('73 was an action shot away from the camera and '72 was taken around 1937). Dick appears to be on the bench here which was unfortunately a place he spent a considerable part of the season after getting run over by Mike Epstein. That injury killed what was shaping up as a pretty good follow-up to his MVP '72 year and pretty much derailed any hopes the Sox had of contending for the AL West title.

Allen was signed by the Phillies in '60 for $70,000, a huge sum back then and at the time the highest ever given a black player. He came from Wampum, PA and a family of nine kids and no dad. He had two brothers that also put in some big league time - Hank and Ron - but neither as successfully. When Dick was a kid, a spring flew off a screen door and hit him in his left eye, hence the glasses and his early nickname, Droopy. In the minors he progressed smoothly and in four seasons averaged .300 with a bunch of speed - 40 triples - and improving power. He also played everywhere: shortstop, second base, and the outfield. Being a northern kid, he did not get his first taste of southern hospitality until he played at Little Rock in '63 and wasn't allowed to get into the airport to get his own bag from the carousel. But he ended up winning over the fans there by hitting a ton and then got a short look at the end of that year and came up for good the following season. The Phillies were more-or-less set in the outfield, so they put Richie - as he was called then, over his objections - at third base. He responded with his super ROY season. He led the league in runs, triples, total bases, and strikeouts. He also led third basemen in errors by a pretty fat margin. Those last two stats were considered by his detractors to be pretty big chinks in the armor. But Dick, while aware of his K totals, was also comfortable with them as he later said it allowed him to figure out the pitchers; his seven seasons of .300-plus averages would seem to justify that. And his E totals were always accompanied by assists and putout totals near the top of the league. He also moved around position-wise a lot. For instance, just when settling in at third base - he knocked his E totals from 41 to 26 to about 15 in his first three seasons - the Phillies moved him to the outfield. But his offensive numbers stayed awfully good during his time in Philly: in '66 he missed twenty games and still had 40 homers and 110 RBIs; in '68 he had 33 homers and 90 RBIs during The Year of the Pitcher. But times were rough for Dick: the Thomas fight in '65, the hand through the headlight that severed nerves in '67, the racist taunts by the fans and the showering with objects that led to the full-time wearing of the batting helmet. Playing in Philly was tough back then for a black guy. Just ask...well, Dick Allen, since no other black guy at that point had lasted more than a couple seasons. All prompted Allen to seek an exit from Philly and he often expressed those requests by writing them in the sand around third and then first base.

In 1970, Allen got his wish, and he was sent to the Cards in the trade made famous by Curt Flood's refusal to report to the Phillies (they later got Willie Montanez). After a fine season there (he didn't like not being able to go to the track; they didn't like him stopping off at bars before games), he went to LA for Ted Sizemore. While his last years in Philly he had settled into the outfield, when he became itinerant, he also started moving around the diamond again. This was most true in LA where he split time pretty evenly between third, first, and the outfield. There was also a report that Walt Alston refused to manage Mr. Allen, so that all contributed to another short stay, although he led the team in homers and RBIs, both by wide margins. At the end of the year he went to the White Sox for Tommy John.

In Chicago, Allen had a homey manager from back in PA, Chuck Tanner, who let him be, and Allen responded with his MVP season in which he led the league in homers, walks, slugging, and RBI's. Ten more points on his average and he would have won the triple crown. '73 was a tough one for Dick: despite putting up some nice numbers, he went down in late June after a harsh collision with Mike Epstein. He finished that game and then found out he had a broken leg. He tried to come back in August but after a game in which he went 3 for 5, he had to sit out the rest of the season. In '74 he again led the league with 32 homers and hit .301 with 88 RBI's, despite "retiring" in early September to attend to his race horses. The trouble that time was that he and Ron Santo were at odds; Santo and maybe Wilbur Wood were probably the only Chisox guys that could mobilize fans successfully against Allen, but I cannot find any more info on that. After that season Dick went to the Braves for Jim Essian and $5,000 and then to the Phillies, again for Jim Essian and $150,000 (nice trade). This time there were no troubles off the field (at least not initially), but the magic was more or less gone and after two years in Philly during which he averaged a .248/14/55 line in 357 at bats - and his only post-season appearance - and a half season in Oakland in '77, he was all done. 351 homers, 1,100 RBIs, a .292 average, a .378 OBA, and seven All-Star appearances were his highlights. In the post-season Dick hit .222 with a .417 OBA in his three games.

Allen had a rough time of it after baseball, losing his horses to a fire and most of his baseball pension to his ex. Things began to come together in the mid-Eighties, though. He coached a year with Texas, began showing up at card shows, and published a well-received autobiography at the end of the decade. In the mid- Nineties he began doing some community work for the Phillies and has since been added to the team's hall of fame. He looked pretty good during an interview with Bob Costas last year on MLB Network, so I guess he's doing OK.

I already covered just about all the star bullets in my above homage. He says he signed his name Rich or Richard because nobody knew who Dick was. There's Wampum again, which was the name he used on his A's uniform. He had quadraphonic sound - remember that? - in his apartment in '73 so I guess he did like music.

So these two guys had the same colors on their cards and almost played together:

1. Allen and Dave Cash '75 to '76 Phillies;
2. Cash and Del Unser '74 Phillies.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

#69 - Del Unser

Here is Del Unser behind the batting cage at what appears to be Candlestick. This shot is taken during his first stint with the Phillies and boy, Del's first season in Philly was sure a big uptick to his '72 in Cleveland. Each of his stays in Philly were memorable for different reasons and I am pretty sure that Del, a thoughtful man, appreciated the ironic arc taken by his career.

Del's father Al - not the race car driver - was a big league backup catcher during the WWII years. He then coached and managed in the minors and the younger Unser was a batboy for some of those teams. After being a star in the big three sports in HS - in baseball he was a pitcher and first baseman - Del then went to Mississippi State and after being selected by the Twins and the Pirates, respectively, in earlier drafts passed on those teams. He wanted to get his degree and in '66 he did just that - in Mathematics - and that year hit .343 to be both a President's Scholar and TSN All-American outfielder. During his college summers he also played ball in the Basin League. Del was again drafted and finally signed for real in the first round of the '66 secondary draft by the Senators. The next two years were spent in Double A and were nothing special offensively since he averaged about .226 but he did establish himself as an excellent defensive outfielder and after a big Fall IL season in '67 followed by a good spring in '68, Del made the DC cut.

Unser came up in '68 with a reputation for speed and outfield grace. He moved right into the Senators' starting lineup as center fielder. '68 was a tough year to break in as a hitter and even though he hit only .230 with 30 RBI's in over 600 at bats, Unser came in second in Rookie of the Year voting. In '69 he nearly doubled his RBI total and raised his average nearly 60 points. On top of the effects of the expansion year and lowering of the mound, Del attributed the improvement to delayed effects from time spent with Harry Walker, then the Astros hitting coach (Houston and Washington shared a spring training site) and having another hitting guru, Ted Williams, as his manager. An injury early in the '70 season robbed him of significant field time and pulled Del's average down a bit. In '71 the playing time bounced but the average didn't and following that year he went to Cleveland in a trade for which another ROY runner-up, Roy Foster, was the primary piece on the other side. For the Indians Del had a horrible year and he came to the NL in a trade for Oscar Gamble after one year.

With Philadelphia Unser prospered, settling into an up and coming outfield and in '73 putting up numbers to rival '69's. In '74 he upped his RBI total to 61, his lifetime high, and continued his stellar work in center. By the end of that season, the Phillies were well-stocked in the outfield and sent Del to the Mets with others for Tug McGraw. In '75 Del flirted most of the season with the NL Batting title and finished with his lifetime high as a regular, .294. But in '76 after a strong start his average took a nosedive and mid-season he went to the Expos for Pepe Mangual. Those late-'70's Expos were developing a formidable outfield themselves (Andre Dawson, Ellis Valentine, and Warren Cromartie) and even though Del's numbers had a nice resurgence in '77 his playing time diminished. By '78 he had settled into his role as a defensive replacement and the one that would characterize his next few seasons, pinch hitter. Following '78 he signed with the Phillies as a free agent.

Unser's second coming in Philadelphia saw him become a fan favorite even though his field time was almost non-existent. In '79 his numbers were excellent in the pinch - a .322/4/14 line with a .385 OBA in 45 at bats - and he set a record with three straight pinch hit homers. In '80 his line was again impressive - .333/0/7/.413 in 39 pinch at bats - and he forever endeared himself to Phillies fans with amazing clutch performances in both the NL playoffs and the Series. He would hang out there until midway through the '82 season, when he was released. His career numbers were a .258 average, with 87 homers and 481 RBI's. In that one post-season, he hit .455 with 3 doubles and 3 RBI's in 11 at bats. Defensively Del ranks 80th all-time in center field putouts and is in the top 50 in assists and double plays.

After working with relatives away from baseball for a bit over a year, Unser returned to the Phillies fold in '84. Initially he was the team's director of minor league hitting before moving up as hitting coach after that season. He did that through '88 and then was returned to his minor league gig ('88-'89), was director of player development ('89-'98), and scout ('98-present).

The star bullets appropriately indicate Del's defense and his speed. He has a nice flowing signature; I'll leave the lean thing alone. Not only did Del get a degree in mathematics but by the time he came up he had already completed his first year in a masters program.

Again we have a couple guys who missed being teammates by a few seasons:

1. Unser and Larry Bowa '73 to '74 and '79 to '81 Phillies;
2. Bowa and Grant Jackson '70 Phillies.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

#68 - Grant Jackson

This is a happy Grant Jackson in his home uni. Given there are no palm trees in Baltimore, it must be a spring training shot. There is a sign for a milk ad and possibly a Yoo-Hoo ad in the background adding to the charm. I will always be a fan of this guy thanks to his famous butt play (hard to word that benignly), but that will come up later. In the meantime, Grant's '73 season invites commentary because it was quite good. Not only did he lead O's pitchers in ERA, but he also tied for team lead with nine saves - he and Bob Reynolds formed a pretty impressive lefty/righty closer combo - and set a record by putting up the most seasonal wins by a reliever without a loss. That record still stands.

Grant Jackson grew up in Fostoia, Ohio, where he was a big deal track, basketball, and baseball guy and once struck out 33 guys in a double header. But his grades weren't so hot so after HS he attended a local campus extension of Bowling Green, played some ball, and then watched his grades go south again. So he cadged a tryout with a local guy who happened to be a Phillies scout. The tryout went well and Grant was signed by the Phillies in late '61. He kicked things off in '62 with a messy year of C ball and then went 12-8 the following year in A ball, like most guys back then working around his military reserve hitch. '64 was another middling season split between A and Double A and in '65 Grant went 9-11 in Triple A, though his ERA improved a bunch. In '66 Grant finally put up another winning season at that level, going 10-8 with a 3.96 ERA. Exclusively a starter in the minors, he came up at the end of those two later seasons and put up some inconclusive numbers. But after a pretty good spring training in '67 he came up for good.

Jackson's timing for his arrival in Philly wasn't crazy great as the team's stars were either aging fast or just moody - see the approaching Dick Allen bio. His first year Grant was a spot guy and did OK, putting up an ERA that matched his better ones in the minors and adding a save. In '68 his innings came in - more reserve work - but so did his ERA, though his record sure didn't reflect that. Still, the ERA was pretty good and the next year Grant got elevated to the rotation and for a pretty lousy team put up a record that got him an All-Star nod. But that off-season Dick Allen left in a trade that initially didn't work out too well for Philly, the team continued its downward spiral, and this time Grant's pitching line joined the fun. But then his timing improved markedly as he and Jim Hutto were sent to Baltimore for infielder/outfielder Roger Freed.

With the Orioles Jackson moved to a swing role in '71 that qualified him as the closest thing that team had to a fifth starter; the four other guys each won 20 games. From then on it was all relief. The O's back then had rotations stocked with innings hogs so pen work could be light. But Grant made it work awfully well and in '72 recorded eight saves in his 22 games with a very good ERA, '73 improved across the board and the next two years were more of the same: a 6-4/2.57 line with twelve saves in '74; and a 4-3/3.35/7 line in '75. In '76 a not great start to the season led to low usage and probably Grant's inclusion in a big mid-year trade that June: he, Ken Holtzman, Doyle Alexander, and Elrod Hendricks went to the Yankees for Rudy May, Dave Pagan, Tippy Martinez, Scott McGregor, and Rick Dempsey. Again, Grant's timing was pretty good as in the second half he excelled for the pennant-winning Yanks, going 6-0 with a 1.69 ERA with a save and a shutout in a rare start.

Despite Jackson's great '76 work for NY he was getting up there - he'd turned 34 at the end of that season - and he was left unprotected for the expansion draft. So he was grabbed by the Mariners - his '77 card is for that team - and was then traded to the Pirates for infielder Craig Reynolds. His first season he did setup work for Goose Gossage and earned four saves of his own. After Gossage split, Grant became part of a bullpen rotation with Kent Tekulve and others and threw some nice ball. In '78 his line was 7-5/3.63/five saves and in the Series season of '79 he posted one of his best seasons, going 8-5 with a 2.96 ERA and 14 saves. After a nearly identical '80 season, Grant got itinerant and would move to Montreal, Kansas City, and back to Pittsburgh before finishing as a player early in '82. He ended his career with an 86-75 record with a 3.46 ERA, 16 complete games, five shutouts, and 79 saves. He had some decent moments as a hitter, throwing off a .333 average in '77 and a .230 the following year.

Jackson had interesting post-season experiences. He put up nice numbers: 3-0 with a 2.55 ERA and less than a runner an inning in his 13 games. He is one of a few guys to go to the Series with three different teams: the O's, the Yanks, and the Pirates. He won Game Seven in '79. It was during the '76 Series that he had the incident to which I referred in the opening paragraph. In Game Three Johnny Bench, I believe, hit a line drive up the middle. When Jackson, a left-hander, completed his motion, he was turned more-or-less towards third base. The ball hit Jackson right in the meat of his hip and he was able to retrieve it and throw Bench out. I remember the announcers cracking up at one of the only bright spots of the Yanks' performance that Series.

Jackson became a coach after his playing career ended, returning initially to the Pirates from '83 to '85. He then coached in the minors for Pittsburgh, the Cubs, the White Sox and the Yankees before returning up top with Cincinnati ('94-'95). He then coached in the Reds system through 2001 before moving to Baltimore's in '02. He retired for a few years before rejoining the Cincinnati system (2006-'07) and again retiring to his home outside Pittsburgh. 

I am guessing Jackson was hurt during the first half of the '72 season, hence the first star bullet. I am glad Topps made mention of his '73 season. Nothing much else to say about the back although I do like the signature. Grant was a fast worker and was somewhat known for being able to jump into a game with minimal warmups, so there's a tidbit.

I bet these guys get connected through the NL:

1. Jackson and Bill Robinson '77 to '81 Pirates;
2. Robinson and Tommy Helms '76 Pirates.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

#67 - Tommy Helms

Here we have yet another Astro card shot in a location that barely resembles a ballfield. While I suppose that could be the outfield fence over Tommy Helms' left shoulder, it seems awfully far away. Frankly it looks much more like a farm what with the fencing and the low buildings. These guys rival the Expos in odd training parks.What wasn't odd was Tommy's '73 season. Tommy topped out in RBI's that year and his average was the best he put up in his three years as a Houston regular. That offense, coupled with his usual sterling work at second base, helped keep Houston in the playoff hunt for a while until his old team and LA steamrolled the division.

Tommy Helms was from Charlotte, NC, where he was chased by at least half a dozen MLB teams before being signed by the Reds in '59 out of HS. Then a shortstop, he started his career that summer in D ball and was a bit challenged. But he rebounded nicely at that level in '60, pulling his batting average up 40 points and his fielding one up over 20. He then moved up the ladder, putting up ten triples in B ball in '61 and then a fat .340 average in A ball the next year. That season enabled him to jump all the way to Triple A in '63 where his average dropped considerably while he got his first work at second base. But '64 saw another nice bounce at the same level to .309 with 69 RBI's as he again played short exclusively. It also got Tommy his first short look in Cincinnati. Most of '65 was spent in Triple A again, where the average moved up to .319 before an extended late season look in which Tommy brought both his position and high average up with him. After that trial he was up for good.

Helms' shortstop spot was still manned by All-Star Leo Cardenas in '66 and his other favored position of second base was taken by another All-Star guy, Pete Rose. But Cincy management wanted Tommy's glove on the field so in the wake of a disastrous trade - see ya Frank Robinson - incumbent third baseman Deron Johnson got moved to the outfield and Tommy got third base, a position he'd never played at any level. But Tommy was an adaptive athlete and he responded by by putting up good enough offensive (.284, 23 doubles, 72 runs) and defensive (only 13 errors) numbers to win the NL Rookie of the Year. In '67 the Reds moved Rose to the outfield, Tony Perez to third, and Tommy to second, the position he would inhabit during the bulk of his career. His numbers stayed pretty consistent the next two years and he would see All-Star appearances in each one. His average dropped a tad the following two seasons although he maintained his defensive excellence, acknowledged by the Gold Gloves he won each year. But following the '71 season he was part of the big trade that brought the Reds Jack Billingham, Joe Morgan, Denis Menke, and Cesar Geronimo for Lee May, Jimmy Stewart, and him.

While it would be tough to be on the wrong side of a trade that built a pennant-winning Machine, Helms helped it pay immediate dividends for the Astros as the team recorded its best record in '72. Tommy teamed with Roger Metzger to solidify the middle infield into one of the best in the league and would remain Houston's starting second baseman through '74, a year in which his offense was comparable to his '73 numbers. After that season, Houston traded Lee May to the Orioles for Enos Cabell and Mike Andrews' younger brother, Rob. Rob was the second baseman of the future and pretty much immediately replaced Tommy. After a year at backup, Tommy went to the Pirates for '76 to sub for Richie Hebner at third. He was then sold to Oakland and then traded back to Pittsburgh in a hugely populated trade that brought the A's two third's of that year's outfield. He finished out the season with Boston as a DH and then was done. Tommy finished with a .269 average with 34 homers and 477 RBI's. In the post-season he hit .241 in eight games. Defensively he is in the top 100 second basemen in career putouts and assists and in the top 65 for double plays and fielding percentage.

Helms stayed close to baseball following retirement, becoming a Texas coach for the '81 and '82 seasons after running his own vending machine business back in NC. In '83 he moved to Cincinnati where he would eventually be joined by his old pal Pete Rose and even did some managing stints for the Reds after Pete was suspended - for bumping an ump - and finally dismissed. Tommy went a combined 28-36 in that role. He then left the Reds at the end of the '89 season to manage in the Cubs system. He would then ten years later manage the independent Atlantic City Surf from 2000-2002. In those roles he went a combined 175-205. What he did during the Nineties or since AC is a mystery but in a 2010 interview he looks awfully good so I guess he did something at which he prospered.

I like the signature; it has some flash but is still legible. It's a bit hard to check the cartoon data - at least for me - but Tommy had an awfully low strikeout ratio.

We are back to crossing leagues, so this exercise may add some miles:

1. Helms and Pete Rose '65 to '71 Reds;
2. Rose and Sparky Lyle '80 to '81 Phillies.

One of the things Blogger does is keep data rolls on the Posts page summing up categories placed in the Labels box. The last post was the 66th card, or 10% of the set. I thought it might be interesting to see some of the totals and other data. Here are some tidbits:

Every playoff year from '64 to '87 is represented by a player from one or more of that year's teams. '57 to '59 and '61 are also represented. There are ten players from the '71 post-season and nine from '72, '74, and '78.

There have been 14 action cards. There have been 38 cards in away uniforms and 19 in home uniforms.

Award-wise, there have been five MVPs, four Rookies of the Year, four Cy Young winners, four Comeback Players of the Year, and two guys from the '73 Topps Rookie Team. There have been nine guys who would one day be enshrined in the Hall of Fame.

Milestone-wise, there have been 13 rookie cards, eight Traded cards, seven cards that were the last ones for that player, and five guys who are now deceased, which I think is pretty good for 37 years down the road.

There have been four cards with the parenthetic names, four cards I have classified as ugly, and two guys who served in Viet Nam.

But the Astros are still the only guys pictured on the horse farm.

Monday, December 13, 2010

#66 - Sparky Lyle

This is Sparky Lyle's last card without his walrus mustache. It is also one of the cards I am classifying as an action shot even though there is nothing happening. Not unless you include that wad of tobacco being chewed. The shot looks like it was taken by the dugout at Yankee Stadium. Spark's '73 was pretty active though it didn't start that way as an off-season ankle injury led to an abbreviated spring training and a save-less April. But in May he caught fire and by the end of June had 19 saves which helped him grab his first All-Star nod. He would finish with 27 saves for the season despite missing some significant time from early August on, again due to the ankle.

Sparky Lyle played American Legion ball in rural PA during high school - his HS didn't have a baseball team - and was signed by the Orioles in '64. After spending that summer as a starter in Rookie ball (not so good) and A ball (quite good), Sparky was left unprotected and taken in the first year draft by the Red Sox. While his first season for Boston didn't produce great numbers - 5-5 with a 4.24 ERA in A ball - it was a very important year for Sparky career-wise because of two things: he met Ted Williams who told Sparky he needed to pick up a slider; and he got moved to the pen. Armed with his new pitch Sparky accelerated his move upward as a nice 8-3 extended season in Double A and fall ball in '66 was followed by a '67 in Triple A during which he went 2-2 with a 1.71 ERA in 16 games that got him elevated to Boston that June.

Once Lyle got to the MLB level he was there to stay and he picked up that summer of '67 where he left off in the minors, throwing excellent ball and adding five saves. An injury in late September kept him from the Series though. Two excellent seasons followed during which Sparky accumulated a total of 28 saves. Then, after not giving up a run until early May a tough spring of '70 led to a poor record and elevated - for him - ERA, though he did record 20 saves. '71 saw the ERA returned to its norm, another 16 saves, and a trade. Prior to the '72 season the Sox, looking for a first baseman after the trade of George Scott to the Brewers, sent Sparky to the Yankees for Danny Cater and Mario Guerrero. The trade worked out damn well for NY.

While the trade hardly matched the Ruth sale from years earlier, it did land the Yankees an All-Star reliever for a backup infielder and a guy that would be out of baseball in three years. Lyle hit the ground running for NY in '72, posting his best numbers to date, including a sub-2.00 ERA, nine wins, and a then-AL record 35 saves (that record was broken the next season by a guy we have already seen, John Hiller). Sparky was viewed as the primary reason the Yanks almost won the division and he would ironically finish higher in MVP voting (third) than in Cy Young voting (7th). After his All-Star '73 he repeated the great/OK pattern in '74 -'75: the first year he went 9-3 with a 1.66 ERA and 15 saves; in '75 as things got a bit testy with manager Bill Virdon, his line was 5-7/3.12/six. In '76 Spark returned to the All-Star game, led the AL with 23 saves, and pitched shutout ball in the post-season. In '77 he stepped up those numbers in his final All-Star season, led the league in games, went 13-5 with a 2.17 ERA and 26 saves, and won the Cy, the first AL reliever to do so. He won two games against KC and one in the Series. The reward for that was being stuck behind free agent Goose Gossage the following season and while the numbers were decent - 9-3/3.47/nine saves - it was a very frustrating season for Lyle as detailed in his diary of that year, "The Bronx Zoo." After repeated requests to be traded he got his wish when after the season he was sent to Texas in a deal that brought the Yankees Dave Righetti.

Things didn't go super well for Lyle once he departed NY. His record woulds be pretty good and his first season in Texas produced a 5-8/3.13/13 saves line. But after his ERA moved up by over a run in '80 Sparky was sent to Philadelphia for the pennant dash and while he threw well he got there too late to make the post-season roster. In '81 he went 9-6 in 48 games but the ERA stayed up there and he only recorded two saves. After a poor start to the '82 season he was sold mid-year to the White Sox in his final year. Sparky finished with a 99-76 record, 238 saves, a 2.88 ERA and 899 games, all in relief. In the post-season he was even better: 3-0 with a 1.69 ERA and a save in his 13 games. And he wasn't a bad hitter, putting up a career batting average of .192.

After playing Lyle made some Miller Lite commercials and spent a few years working the casino circuit. He then returned to baseball in '97 when he became the manager of the Somerset Patriots, a Jersey minor league franchise. He just finished his 13th year there.

The first star bullet refers to a game in '64 in which Lyle pitched 15 innings. The cartoon is very tongue-in-cheek although the author of it may not have known that at the time. Sparky's primary association with birthday cakes was that he enjoyed sitting - naked - on the ones that came for his teammates. This is also courtesy of his book. I do not remember anything from it that specifically related to the '73 season, but there will be other pearls on future posts.

It does seem appropriate to link these two All-Stars with a third:

1. Lyle and Lou Piniella '74 to '78 Yankees;
2. Piniella and Amos Otis '70 to '73 Royals.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

#65 - Amos Otis

If you were a Yankee fan in the '70's, Amos Otis was one of those guys that you respected but kind of hated. He was a pretty complete player. His '73 season was a good indication of that: a big power boost got him to 26 homers and 93 RBI's while hitting .300 and a starting All-Star nod in center field. Plus he looked a little like Superfly. Here he is in one of the poor action shots that marred these sets for a while. He is in pretty good focus but everyone behind him looks like they are being viewed through a glass of water. That is probably Chuck Tanner looking out from the dugout which would place this shot at Comiskey. There is some irony regarding the placement of this card in the set, but I will get to that in a bit.

Amos Otis hailed from Mobile, Alabama which may have presaged his time with the Mets since that team's two outfield stars of the late Sixties/early Seventies - Cleon Jones and Tommie Agee - were from Mobile as well. And the Mets did scout Amos but he was drafted by the Red Sox in '65 out of HS as a shortstop. In Rookie ball that summer he got moved to third base since the Sox already had a big deal kid in Rico Petrocelli at shortstop. Amos put up a .329 average while fielding pretty well at his new position. In '66  he got moved to A ball where he played both corners and his offense cooled a bit. But he then hit .360 in fall IL ball only to be left unprotected and be taken by NY in the minor league draft. For the Mets he moved up to Triple A, added outfield to his infield corner positions, and put up a discounted '67 average of .268 but ramped up his base-running with 29 steals. When he came up at the tail end of that year his primary position was center field. '68 was all Triple A where the average moved up to .286, the field time was all first and center, and he rediscovered his power stroke with 15 homers. In '69 Amos made the NY cut titularly as the club's new third baseman - about number 135 in the series -  but then didn't get any starts there until mid-April when Ed Charles was out a couple games. The Mets gave him three starts at third during which he hit .300 and had one error. Then they moved him to center where his bat cooled off and he got left on the bench until June. So much for the new third baseman: the Mets sent Amos back to Triple A in June where he had an excellent half season and then pulled him back up in September for some limited outfield time. Then they did a very bad thing: they sent Amos to the Royals for a "true" third baseman in Joe Foy, ironically the guy ahead of Amos at that position back in the Boston system. Foy who'd put up somew decent numbers in Boston, had some weight issues and was rumored to have drug ones as well. The NY flyer on him didn't work out too well as Joe only lasted there for a season before finishing things up in DC in '71. To make things even worse for NY, Foy's failure at third prompted the other big bad trade NY undertook, but that's for another time.

Otis would be The Man in KC for pretty much the next decade, moving right into a starting outfield shot. His first year as a regular he led the AL in doubles while stealing 33 bases and posting a nice average while earning his first All-Star selection. In '71 the steals got bumped up to an AL-leading 52, the ribbies popped, and he recorded his first .300-plus well as his first Gold Glove. After another good '72 Amos saw some cleanup time in '73 which helped move up the power stats. A discounted '74 was prelude to an injury-marred '75 that saw his average decline to its KC low of .247 but his stolen bases spike back up to 39. Then came the playoff years of '76 to '78 when Amos averaged .276 with 19 homes, 87 RBI's, and 27 stolen bases. In '76 he again led the AL in doubles with 40. In '77 he missed some time for injury and in '78 he topped out in RBI's with 96. In '79 both NY and KC missed the annual playoff battle but not because of Amos who posted his only 100 run season and a .295/18/90 line while stealing 30. In '80 injuries allowed Willie Wilson to begin getting some center time and Amos' time in the field declined that season and the next few, though he did post 88 RBI's and a .286 average in '82 in under 500 at bats. He stuck with KC through the '83 season, went to the Pirates as a free agent in '84 as a backup, and was released during the season. He retired with a .277 average, over 2,000 hits, over 1,000 RBI's and 374 stolen bases. In the post-season he hit .295 with three homers, eleven RBI's, and eight steals in his 22 games. He was an All-Star five times. And as a three-time Gold Glover, he also excelled defensively, more or less.

That was the knock on Otis when he played. A bunch of people felt he was not the most aggressive hustler out there. He was sort of infamous for not running out popups, not crashing into outfield walls, stuff like that. Sparky Lyle - coming up next, hence the irony - was not a fan and in "The Bronx Zoo" slams Otis for being less than enthusiastic in the field. Who knows? His stats look awfully good to me: tenth all-time in center field putouts; 20th in assists; and 12th in double plays.

It has been tough to get a line on what Otis did after playing. He DID play in the Senior League's two seasons in '89 and '90. He also coached for San Diego ('88-'89) after a year as a roving hitting coach in that system and Colorado ('93) sandwiched between doing the same thing in the Rockies system ('92 and '94). In '92 he admitted his bat was corked for the bulk of his AL career. At some point since then he retired to Las Vegas out of where he golfs and does card shows.

We are looking at a man who discovered his niche. While the star bullets focus on '70 and '71, the next two seasons were not shabby either. I could see Amos dancing, but not in a finger-snapping, knee-bumping kind of way.

I should address my minor infatuation with the signature leans since it came up on my last post. When I grew up, I was at the tail end of the "being a lefthander is bad" social more system, which was apparently not decided by a baseball man. Being left-handed was considered egregiously wrong and I remember the nuns at the Catholic school to which I went - not for long - trying to convert all the poor lefties to righthanded writers. When cursive was taught, the natural lean for righties was to the right; for lefties - or at least the ones I knew - it was to the left. When the teachers failed to convert the lefties, which was most of the time, they insisted they pick up the rightie lean for their writings. Some did, some didn't. For signatures, most people defaulted to their natural lean. So in addition to supplying a point for commentary on the card backs, the whole signature lean thing is, at least for me, a point of culural reference.

But, back to Mr. Otis, he and Doug Rau barely missed each other a couple post-seasons so let's see how we hook them up now:

1. Otis and John Mayberry '72 to '77 Royals;
2. Mayberry and Jimmy Wynn '70 to '71 Astros;
3. Wynn and Doug Rau '74 to '75 Dodgers.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

#64 - Doug Rau

Doug Rau was one of the mainstay Dodger starters when the team won pennants in the mid and late '70's. This is his first solo card and I am pretty sure it is Holman stadium at Vero Beach, the Dodgers' spring training spot at the time. '73 was sort of a transitional season for Doug in that it was his rookie season and also the only one during which he was primarily a setup guy. He got some spot starts but inconsistent usage didn't help his stats too much so that he kept his ERA below 4.00 was pretty impressive. He also put up three saves. That would change in '74. Rau's pitching hand looks enormous in this picture. He also has the shortest name thus far. Also, the guy in the background looks like he's zipping up after relieving himself. But this is a post about a starter, not a reliever, so let's go.

Doug Rau was originally drafted by the O's in '67 but chose to go to Texas A&M where he still holds the school's lifetime ERA mark of 1.50. As a junior in '70 his ERA was another record 0.86 and he was an All-American. He was also drafted by LA in the first round and had a bang-up summer in A ball with some sick stats. He maintained the low ERA in '71 in Double A and watched it get a little fatter up a level that year. But that got fixed by another excellent record in Triple A in '72 that got him moved up for good - more or less - that September, leaving behind a minor league record of 38-15.

Rau began his MLB career in a spot role and continued his excellent ERA numbers his first month in LA. After his mixed rookie year  in '74 he moved into the departed Claude Osteen's spot in the rotation and his first year there went 13-11 while shaving 20 points from his ERA. From that year on, Doug was the main left-hander in the LA rotation and would contribute some very good pitching lines: 15-9 with a 3.11 ERA in '75; 16-12/2.57 in '76; 14-8/3.43 in '77; and 15-9/3.26 in '78. In '76 he finished second in the NL with his ERA number. His post-season success, though, was dubious at best and there is a famous verbal clip - it is on YouTube - of Tommy Lasorda yanking him from a '77 Series game (lots of f-bombs, so don't play it around the kids). Early in the '79 season Doug got hurt; from what I remember it was rotator cuff stuff. His productivity fell off a cliff. He won one game that year, took a stab at minor league rehab in '80 and got cut in early '81. He signed with the Angels, pitched horribly there, and was done before the '81 season was over. He finished with an 81-60 record with a 3.35 ERA, 33 complete games, 13 shutouts, and those three saves. In the post-season he was 0-2 with a 6.55 ERA in six games.

Rau had completed his A&M degree early in his pro career and then during it laid seeds for his life after baseball. He co-founded a firm called Crown Financial in Houston, a VC-type small business lender, where he remains a principal.

Another right-tilted lefty signature! I know I'm grasping, but I still find it an interesting phenomenon. The star bullets are informative but a little dry, as is the cartoon. What male wasn't into cars back then? Here's a tidbit: Rau married and is still married to the woman (girl) he met in first grade.

These guys miss being teammates by a year, but let's keep it all LA:

1. Rau and Willie Davis '72 to '73 Dodgers;
2. Davis and Bill Sudakis '68 to '71 Dodgers

Monday, December 6, 2010

#63 - Bill Sudakis

OK, so here we go. Check out this picture of Bill Sudakis and then look at the one of Luis Aparicio two posts ago - how's that for self-advertising? - and you'll see that they are almost the exact same spot. Who says this blog stuff isn't exciting? Speaking of exciting, Bill's '73 season was much more so than his injury-marred '72. Picked up from the Mets for one-time phenom Bill McNulty, this Bill caught a little bit and DH'd a couple games but by the end of June was toting an average well below Mendoza levels on less than 100 at bats. But by then various experiments at third base for the Rangers had failed - six guys in '73 got significant time at that position - and big Mike Epstein had been traded. So Bill got a bunch of work the rest of the way at the infield corners and made it count by posting a .276/12/38 line on just under 200 at bats. He only played two games in right field which makes his card designation a little odd - it should have been 1B-3B - but he would eventually up his season profile a bit when he got a mention or two (kind of) in a great book.

I have always wanted to categorize Bill Sudakis as an enigma because I have found him strangely interesting. But outside of a couple blurbs, I can't really find anything to justify that. Sudakis was signed by the Dodgers in '64 out of his Joliet, Illinois HS and that summer had a tough run in Rookie ball while playing third. The next year in A ball he added 30 points to his average and second base to his resume. That was followed by a '66 in which between A ball and his fall IL season Bill put up a .286/24/110 line that got the folks in power-starved LA very excited as he put in time at yet another position - shortstop - but didn't wow anyone with his defense. By then Bill was doing his military reserve bit so he'd miss some time but around that in '67 at Double A he hit .293 with 73 RBI's while completing the infield sweep by getting a bunch of time at first. After a very similar '68 at the same level, Bill got everyone excited again with a very nice September run in LA at the hot corner. So in spring training of '69 he was named the latest in a recent endless spate of LA third basemen.

Sudakis' rookie year of '69 was a bit mixed: while his offensive stats - particularly his average - didn't live up to the promise of his '68 season, he still posted the best year of an LA third sacker in a long while and finished second on the team in homers and fourth in RBI's. But his defense was a little suspect. So in '70 an impatient LA management combined with Bill's seeming ability to play just about anywhere led to two things: the Dodgers moved on to a new starter at third, Billy Grabarkewitz (who would give way to Steve Garvey, who would give way to Bobby Valentine, who would give way to Ken McMullen, who would give way to ... that guy that stuck); and half of this Bill's games were at catcher. In that role he was a gamer, adding 30 points to his average and again finishing second in homers even though his at bats dropped by over a third. But Bill was a big guy whose only real playing time at the position was an abbreviated '69 fall IL season and on top of  an inability to throw out base stealers - he caught two out of 32 - he really messed up his knees in his new position. So '71 saw an extreme contraction of playing time, a big drop in the offense, and in early '72 a placement on the waiver wire. The Mets grabbed him but with knees still a hot mess, Bill got almost no playing time at any level, putting in a little rehab time in Triple A. After the trade to Texas, he was an AL guy.

After the second half revival of '73, Sudakis hit the road again in the trade shown here. With the Yankees, he played first and DH'd, posting numbers that were a slight discount to his Rangers ones. For a few reasons - see below - he was then traded to the Angels for Skip Lockwood. After a few games in '75 for California he was released mid-season and picked up by Cleveland, where again he got very little playing time before an August release. In '76 he signed with Kansas City where after an abbreviated but productive Triple A season for the Royals in '76, he was done. Bill finished with a .234 average, 59 homers, and 214 RBI's in 530 games.

This Traded card looks familiar, right? It is just a closeup of his regular card. This is another card I think is not too bad as the airbrushed Yankees logo looks pretty good. I know it seems I am being generous, but there will be some bad ones coming up.

So Bill Sudakis did have some colorful moments with the Yankees. In Sparky Lyle's book about the '78 season, "The Bronx Zoo", he tells stories about various teammates from the past. The Sudakis one is that when Bill Virdon (lots of Bills on this post) was managing the Yanks, he was fond of flexing his biceps while doing the locker room lecture thing. Sudakis, who had really big pipes himself, would stand behind Virdon and do double bi shots during the lectures. So at least the guy had a sense of humor. Then, there is the Dempsey fight. Rick Dempsey and Sudakis were both back-up catchers to Thurman Munson during the '74 season. After calling each other out status-wise on a flight back to The City, they got in a big brawl in the lobby of their hotel. There are lots of incarnations of this fight - Sudakis stabbed Dempsey with a fork, Dempsey KO'd Sudakis with three punches, flying chairs, Lou Piniella - but what seems uniform is that the fight ended when Munson got Dempsey in a headlock. Also Bobby Murcer hurt his hand breaking up the fight; that was significant because the Yanks were in the pennant hunt - it was late September - and they went into the last series without their best hitter. They would lose out to the O's by two games.

In '68 Bill had only five errors at third. Regarding that third star, he did have some killer games during his September show. I think the cartoon is pretty amusing. I am frankly no bowling scholar, but I find it hard to believe that one made lots of bucks being a part-time professional bowler, especially in the early Seventies. I could see this guy in the plaid pants and short-sleeved collared shirts though.

Lots of December trades; in fact this is the 37th anniversary of this one. Sudakis' nickname was Suds, which I just remembered. The trade was a purchase and from what I remember, Suds and Mike Hegan were going to spring training in '74 to fight it out over who got first base, since both Alou's had been traded in late '73. Frankly, neither won, and the Yankees got their guy later in the season from Cleveland in yet another good trade/ bad trade depending on how close you were to Lake Erie.

The other book in which Sudakis gets mention, indicated in the opening paragraph, is "Seasons in Hell", one of the best baseball books ever, which covers the Texas seasons from '73 to '75. The best bit about Bill in the book was a bit salacious, so much so that the author kept him anonymous in the narrative (Bill's enjoyment of sharing positions extended beyond the diamond; I'll leave it at that) but in the index that bit gets included under his label. Turns out that from the rest of the book, Bill fit in nicely with that team.

Let's use the competition to get these two guys linked:

1. Sudakis and Mike Hegan '74 Yankees;
2. Hegan and Bob Locker '71 to '73 A's.