Thursday, September 30, 2010

#24 - John Hiller

This is my first blurry card which is too bad because it is a pretty interesting setting. Between the players in the dugout doing the Can-Can and the Wright Brothers airplane buzzing the stadium in the upper left, it is a pretty raucous place (it is actually Baltimore). This card also represents the first time a team has been repeated in the regular set. That's appropriate since this card's subject, John Hiller, made a lot of appearances himself in '73, leading the AL in games while also setting a new record with his 38 saves. And not only did those stats, which included that tiny ERA, get him fourth place in both AL Cy Young and MVP voting, it earned him Comeback Player of the Year. And to top everything off, he really pulled off a heroic act by rescuing a tot that had fallen into a motel swimming pool. All that just two years removed from an incident that nearly ended his pitching career - and his life.

John Hiller was a workhorse reliever - and sometime starter - for Detroit, for whom he played his whole career. He was signed in '63 out of the suburbs of Toronto, where he grew up playing ball as a respite from hockey. When he was signed he was playing local semi-pro ball and was introduced to Detroit by a scout in Buffalo. That year he won 14 in the rotation in A ball and then in '64 John went a combined 10-16 in Double A but with better ERA's at both levels. That fall he threw IL ball as a spot guy, a prelude to his '65 when he was all relief in Double A, lowering his ERA by another run to 2.53. He threw shutout ball in his late MLB debut that year. '66 was supposed to be his first MLB season but John got sick, went down to Triple A to rehab - again in the pen - and saw his ERA climb to 4.43 before another couple innings up top.Then in '67 he had a much better start to his Triple A season - 5-1 with a 3.00 ERA - as a spot guy before his final call-up early that summer.

Hiller came up to Detroit as part of a group of young pitchers that included Mike Marshall, another guy destined for some big relief numbers. John did his spot thing his rookie year and did quite well, throwing two complete game shutouts, saving three games, and walking only nine guys - which would be uncharacteristically low for him - in his 65 innings. '68 was more of the same as his starts doubled, he kept his ERA low despite a significant rise in walks, and he got to get a Series ring. In one game that year John threw nine shutout innings of relief. In '69 and '70, John moved to more of a set-up role, collecting seven saves over that time and adding a slider to his pitch rotation. He generally pitched well though his ERA spiked a bit that first year. Then came that miserable '71.

Hiller had a bit of a weight problem and despite the number listed on his card - which was his weight when he was a rookie - he was over 220 pounds by the end of 1970. In January of '71 he had three heart attacks in one day at age 28, which explains the fat gap in his stats. He spent the rest of the year recovering, which included some experimental intestinal surgery, which sounds like a precursor to gastric-bypass surgery. Anyway, John spent the rest of the year and early '72 doing his own rehab and re-signed with Detroit as a coach (the Tigers had cut him to free up room but it seems the understanding was he would be able to return if he chose so they did not go all Scrooge on him). By July John was ready to return, upped his contract to a player again, and tentatively started pitching again. While there were some rough spots - in August in the games in which he pitched, Detroit went 3-9, though John himself picked up a save and dropped his ERA by over a run - it was generally excellent work and the low ERA and three saves helped Detroit return to the post-season. After his big '73, John had a big follow-up and in '74 he set a record for relief wins with 17 - later tied by a guy coming up in the next couple cards - with another excellent ERA of 2.64 and 13 saves. '75 was going pretty well - 2-3 with 14 saves and a 2.17 ERA when a mid-July injury ended his season. '76 was another big year - 12-8/2.38 ERA/13 saves and a shutout in his only start - followed by a '77 in which John did the spot role again and his record and ERA took a bit of a hit. He had his last good year in '78, during which he was 9-4/2.34/15, followed by two mediocre years and a departure from the majors in 1980. When John retired he had 125 saves, then the fifth most in baseball history, and was also 87-76 with 13 complete games and three shutouts. In the post-season he went 1-0 with a 5.06 ERA in five games.

After playing Hiller worked for a bit as a pitching coach in the Detroit system, but a circulation problem in one of his legs made flying difficult and he returned to Michigan where he had a long run in the insurance business.

The back of the card shows a reliever at the top of his game and John is the fourth guy I have seen - along with Catfish Hunter, Mickey Lolich, and Dave May - whose '73 stats probably warranted at least a "5" card. His cartoon is another reference to sandlot baseball - although the first from Canada - which was a source of players in the '60's. Sandlot baseball was basically any grownup Babe Ruth League (for guys 18 and older) that was not affiliated with any full-time organized baseball organization. That first star bullet occurred in John's final game before his heart attack; pretty eerie.

For the separation gig, we go primarily through the NL:

1. Hiller and Nate Colbert '75 Tigers;
2. Colbert and Ivan Murrell '69 to '73 Padres;
3. Murrell and Craig Robinson '74 Braves.

This is the second time I have used Colbert. The guys that swithched leagues are handy for this exercise because Topps usually has an AL guy follow an NL one. We will see Nate later on.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

#23 - Craig Robinson

This post is an example of the second type of three that are represented by two cards. 1974 was the first year that Topps issued the Traded sub-set. They would try it again in '76 and then make it a full-time set beginning in '81, at least for a while. The Traded set had its own checklist and was numbered with the same designation as the player's regular card, but with a "T" added to the number. This post has the first Traded card.

Craig Robinson is in an away uniform at Shea, apparently during one of the colder months, though since Craig attended Wake Forest, he may have been spoiled by those warmer temperatures. Craig returned to Philadelphia in late July and took over shortstop the rest of the way following an injury to Larry Bowa. He was sure no Bowa, either offensively or defensively - ten errors in 42 games - and though he didn't know it at the time, '73 would be Craig's second busiest MLB season. His year in Triple A prior to his call-up was pretty good though, and for the second season in a row, Craig would get league all-star honors. And for a rookie shortstop at the time, his numbers weren't that bad. Regarding the card, I like the casually dropped mitt in the background.

Craig Robinson was drafted by Philadelphia out of Wake Forest in 1970. That was his senior year at that school and while there Craig was twice named All-ACC at shortstop and his senior year hit .363 while leading his team in just about every offensive category. He kicked things off that year in Double A and had a tough time offensively, though he did well in the field. He then began a nearly three year residency at Eugene in Triple A and while there posted some good offense and improved defense. In '72 he got his first short look up top. After the '73 season, per the included card, Craig went to Atlanta.

With Atlanta, Robinson moved into the shorting shortstop position made available when incumbent middle infielders Davey Johnson and Marty Perez slid over to first and second base, respectively. While Craig's offense was nothing special - .230 with 29 RBI's - it was not abnormally bad for shortstops in his era. But his defense was not up to snuff and the following year he lost the starting gig to Larvell Blanks, who did have a pretty good stick. After not playing too much Craig went to San Francisco in a mid-season deal for Ed Goodson and then didn't play too much the rest of the way for the Giants. '76 then went pretty much the same way in reverse - though he did hit better - when he returned to Atlanta in the Willie Montanez for Darrel Evans trade. He was released during spring training in '78, hooked up with San Diego, and after a partial season at Hawaii, the Padres' Triple A club, he was done. Craig finished with a .219 MLB average and hit .245 in the minors.

After playing Robinson did some coaching and in '85 managed in the Atlanta chain, going 28-40 in that season. He then moved to a different business, casinos, and in '94 hooked up with The Horseshoe, a hotel/casino in Bossier City, Louisiana, where he is currently the Director of VIP Acquisitions.

The Traded card features the player's name in the top pennant and the full name of the team in the bottom one. The player is of course air-brushed into his new uniform, almost always, if not exclusively so, minus the logo on the cap. Air-brushed photos rarely went well but this one is harmless enough. Robinson's got the windbreaker under the sirt thing going. Both photos show that he was a big fan of Ray-Bans.

Robinson's fielding abilities are touted on the back of his card and were clearly his ticket to the major leagues. The cartoon is nice; that sentiment always made me think the players were appreciative of being in the game.

The back of the Traded card was made up to resemble a newspaper headline of a fictional paper, "Baseball News." The card number is in the upper left, the traded date in the byline, and a colloquial headline is in bold caps. In this era, the nickname "Robby" was most often applied to Frank Robinson but I do not think Craig and Frank were ever mistaken for each other. The body of the card lists the details of the deal and this card was particularly predictive as Robinson did get a bunch more playing time with his new team if only for one season.

Dick Allen makes another appearance in the separation exercise. He was my favorite player, so maybe it is intentional:

1. Robinson and Greg Luzinski (or Larry Bowa, etc.) '73 Phillies;
2. Luzinski and Dick Allen '75-'76 Phillies;
3. Allen and Cy Acosta '73 White Sox.

Plus the colors are all the same!

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

#22 - Cy Acosta

This is the second of three cards Cy Acosta would have in his career, and in all of them he looks pissed off. Here we have another away uniform which means that I have no idea where the shot was taken. It does seem that Topps' photographers spent a lot of time on the West Coast, so I am going to toss out Oakland with its fat warning tracks. Cy had a very nice season for Chicago in '73, which was technically his rookie year. His ten wins and 18 saves made him the de facto closer of the team, a role that would unfortunately not last very long. But Cy would get pretty big props in another league.

Cy Acosta was born in Sinalao, Mexico and shortly after finishing high school was pitching in the regional Mexican Leagues, which were roughly equivalent to A ball, where after a couple losing seasons with some fat ERA's, he got off to a nice start in '68 for a couple teams. That year he moved up to Jalisco, one of the national teams, and after a rough start enjoyed a couple good years, seemingly out of the bullpen. Despite a poor start at that level in '71 he was purchased by the White Sox and the rest of the way did nice work in a spot role. After relief work at that level in '72 he was pulled up to Chicago early that June.

Acosta wouldn't get used terribly much his first season up which wasn't really a knock on him, since besides the team's big three starters - Wilbur Wood, Stan Bahnsen, and Tom Bradley - and the pair of 20-year old relievers - Goose Gossage and Terry Forster - there wasn't a lot of mound time to go around. But when he did get some time, Cy pitched very well, posting a tiny ERA and earning five saves. After grabbing the closer role in '73 he had a very irregular '74, coming out of the box strong, getting beat up a bit in May, and pulling his ERA back down in June, only to get barely used the rest of the year. Perhaps he was injured, as he did no minor league time that year, and finished 0-3 with three saves in only 46 innings. During spring training of '75 Cy was sold to Philadelphia for whom he had a short not great run before he was released early that year, ending his MLB time. He finished with a record of 13-9 with a 2.66 ERA and 27 saves.

After his release Acosta returned to Mexico, where he would pitch through the '86 season, going a combined 82-93 in mixed-use roles. For his career in Mexico, Cy's record of 122-137 with a 3.42 ERA would get him into that country's Hall of Fame (Salon de la Fama) in 2004. Judging from some videos, - they are all in Spanish - it appears that since then Cy has been coaching down there as well.

The back of Cy's card is the first which displays the parenthetical name. A bunch of Hispanic players had those on their cards and I was never sure to what they referred (middle name, mom's maiden name?). I should really do some digging on that. For the stars, Topps does the skip-a-year thing and concentrates on '72 which was a nice rookie season for Cy. The cartoon warrants quotations for some reason - I guess so we don't take "hopping" literally - and displays a factoid that sounds like it came from a scouting report. He is the last Cy to play MLB ball.

For the separation exercise, we take a trip through the NL:

1. Acosta and Dick Allen '72 to '74 White Sox;
2. Allen and Claude Osteen '71 Dodgers;
3. Osteen and Bob Gallagher '74 Astros.

Monday, September 27, 2010

#21 - Bob Gallagher

Okay, no knock on Bob Gallagher, but this is about the nastiest card photo I have ever seen. It looks like it was taken behind a stable or a prison and there is just no way the back of the Astrodome was that ugly. It must be a spring training shot and it looks like a dreary day. That coupled with the scowl on Bob's face really sort of short-changes him on his initial card, doesn't it? Maybe it was part of the rite of being the new guy. Bob had been picked up by Houston in the Rule 5 draft at the end of '72 from Boston, the second time he'd been moved that way. A good spring training got him on the Astros roster on Opening Day and for most of the season, Bob's primary role was as pinch hitter before taking a regular outfield gig in mid-August, after Cesar Cedeno and then Jimmy Wynn got hurt. While Bob would do pretty well during that stretch, hitting .278, it would prove to be pretty much his only time in a regular role up top. So while it wasn't always green, at least there is some grass in the photo.

Bob Gallagher was born in Massachusetts, moved to California as a kid and after graduating high school in '65 went to Stanford, where he continued to play ball. He was drafted by the Dodgers after his junior year of '68 but opted to play summer ball and then finish his degree so he didn't get rolling professionally until '69. A first baseman/outfielder in school, Bob moved nearly exclusively to the outfield and had a decent first summer in A ball, stealing 18 bases. In '70 and '71 he moved up the ladder to Double A and Triple A, respectively, raising his average substantially on two powerhouse teams. A top of the order guy, while his stolen base totals declined - he had five that second year - he maintained an OBA of about .380 over that time. Still, after the '71 season he was plucked for the first time in the Rule 5 draft by Boston,put up a pretty good Triple A season and then had a cup of coffee in '72. After that year he moved to Houston.

In '74 though the Astros traded Jimmy Wynn to LA, Houston had some new guys vie for outfield time in Greg Gross, Wilbur Howard, and Cliff Johnson, all of whom had better sticks than Gallagher. So Bob reprised his early '73 role for the team and hit .172 on only 87 mostly pinch-hit at bats. Just after that season he was traded to the Mets for Ken Boswell. He would spend most of the '75 season in Triple A, where he hit .264, before putting in minimal outfield time for the Mets, and shortly after the season was traded again, going to the Giants for Leon Brown. After one year at Phoenix, San Francisco's Triple A club - .258 with 61 RBI's in his busiest season - he was done. Bob finished with an MLB average of .220 and in the minors hit .288.

Gallagher had received his Stanford degree in '69 in education and pretty much immediately after his playing career ended he became a social studies high school teacher back in California, an occupation it appears at which he is still active.

The back of the card indicates that Bob was some player during his Stanford days and what he did between semesters. He was a tall guy st 6'4' which matches the tallest we have seen so far. Bob hit a bit above .300 during his Goldpanners career - so that was the summer ball he did after being drafted - and had some big deal teammates up there in the Nettles brothers, Bob Boone, Brent Strom, and Dave Kingman, most of whom have cards in this set. Lastly, his cartoon refers to his grandfather, Shano Collins. Any baseball historians will recognize that name: Shano was an outfielder on the 1919 Black Sox. He was purchased by the White Sox in 1910 from Springfield, an independent minor league team, and played for them through 1920. He was not one of the players indicted and subsequently thrown out of baseball (he hit .250 in the '19 Series). He played for Boston through '24 and retired with about 1,700 hits and a .264 average. He then played a couple years in the minors, putting up over .300 averages until he was 42. He passed away in '55 at age 69. His photo on baseball-reference does show a resemblance to Gallagher.

For the degrees exercise, I don't think his Mets stay warrants going that route, which would shorten the trip. Therefore I go through the Astros so here goes:

1. Gallagher and Skip Jutze '73 Astros;
2. Jutze and Leroy Stanton '77 Mariners;
3. Stanton and Nolan Ryan '72 to '76 Angels.

No Yankees.

Friday, September 24, 2010

#20 - Nolan Ryan

The 20th card is a classic Nolan Ryan action shot. Ryan had a very linear delivery with no wasted motion. Every body part - right thigh, left foot, left elbow - is pointed directly at the plate. His intensity is pretty gripping as he gets set to hurl another 100 mph fastball. I know there are lots of complaints out there about the '70's action shots and this one is a little blurry, but it sure does catch the essence of Ryan as a pitcher.

1973 may have been Ryan's best season. It was the first of his two 20-win seasons, his ERA was below 3.00, and it was the year he broke Sandy Koufax' strikeout record. He also threw two no-hitters. He was so overwhelming in the second one against Detroit that Norm Cash came to the plate with a piano leg. This shot appears to be taken in Baltimore. Nolan pitched twice there in '73 and my hunch is this is the earlier game, on May 6, in which he threw against Jim Palmer who will also have an action shot at Memorial Coliseum. As the baseball gods at Topps were wont to do in this set, Nolan's featured card is from a game he lost, if my assumption is correct. Topps liked to roll that way sometimes.

Nolan Ryan grew up in Alvin, Texas and threw enormous heat at a young age, so was followed by MLB scouts practically through high school. He went 19-3 his senior yesr with 211 strikeouts but when the local area scouts finally got the big guns down to Texas to check Nolan out, Ryan uncharacteristically had a tough time in a big game and interest waned. He was eventually taken in the twelfth round by the Mets in '65 and that summer while he whiffed a bunch of guys in rookie ball he had control issues and a losing record. That all got better in '66 when in A ball he went 17-2 with a 2.51 ERA and 272 K's in only 183 innings. When he threw three starts late in Double A that season he went 0-2 despite posting a 0.95 ERA and 35 strikeouts in 19 innings; his debut up top didn't go quite that well. In '67 Nolan did the lion's share of his military commitment and between A and Triple A ball only threw in four games, though he did well. But his rookie card in '68 had him paired with Jerry Koosman; I have to believe that their MLB win total of 546 is the highest ever represented on a rookie card.

While Ryan's rookie year of '68 wasn't quite as good as his card-mate's, it was still not too shabby. He joined the rotation, had a pretty good ERA, and tossed nearly a strikeout an inning. But Nolan had some issues with NY: the coaches barely spoke to him; when they did speak to him it was only to tell him to throw more heat so he didn't learn any new pitches; and he and his wife weren't big fans of the NYC lifestyle. He moved to a spot role for the Miracle Mets team of '69 and had a nice post-season for them that year, before putting up two good seasons back in the rotation which were marred mainly by increasing walk totals and mediocre records. So when after the '71 season Nolan was feeling like the red-haired stepchild, he asked out, and the Mets obliged. Nolan went to California with Leroy Stanton and Don Rose for Jim Fregosi, a trade regarded as one of the most lopsided of all time. What made the trade even worse was that the Angels actually didn't want Nolan at first; they insisted on Gary Gentry, which NY declined and kept pushing Ryan on them until California relented. Wow.

Ryan's career changed considerably in his new home, and every season Nolan was with the Angels except one - '75 in which he was hurt - he led the league in strikeouts. He would also be an All-Star for them five times. His first season there he learned a curve, which made his fastball that much more devastating. In '72 he led the AL with nine shutouts. In '74 he topped out with 22 wins and 333 innings. In '76 he again led the AL with seven shutouts, K'd 327, and had a very good ERA of  3.36 but had zero hitting support and led the AL in losses while going 17-18. After a '77 that mirrored '72, Nolan got nailed again with the injury bug. '78 included nearly 40 days on the DL and was sub-par; and in '79 after a 12-6/2.54 start got him named starting AL pitcher in the All-Star game, Nolan hurt his elbow and went only 4-8/5.59 the rest of the way. By then Nolan was 32 and California thought it wouldn't be so bad to let him go as a free agent. Ah, well.

Ryan went back home and signed with Houston and during his first few seasons with the Astros dialed down his strikeout ratio to less than one per inning, as well as his total innings and decisions. After a pedestrian first year Nolan put up a big season in the '81 strike year when he went 11-5 with an NL-leading 1.69 ERA. He went a combined 30-21 the next two years and then the two after that was sub-.500 but in the playoff year of '86 he went 12-8 and kicked the strikeouts back to above one per inning. In '87 he led the NL with a sick 270 in 212 innings and also led the league with a 2.76 ERA while going only 8-16 which is one of the most bizarre combination of stats I have ever seen. After an '88 in which he also led the NL in K's Nolan went free agent again, remaining in Texas, but switching leagues.

In '89 at age 42 Ryan went to the Rangers and that year put up his last season of over 300 Ks. After two more very good seasons - in '90 he threw his sixth no-hitter and won his 300th game - arm issues finally got the better of him and after damage to his elbow in September of '93 he finally rode off into the sunset. Nolan finished with a record of 324-292, a record 5,714 strikeouts and an ERA of 3.19, 61 shutouts, and three saves. In the post-season he went 2-2 with a 3.07 ERA, a save, and 63 strikeouts in 59 innings. He was elected to the Hall on his first shot in '99.

Ryan's ability to handle his finances pretty much matched his ability to throw strikeouts and after a couple years on the sidelines he returned to baseball, initially by coaching at TCU in the mid-Nineties while his sons were there. He then moved to the ownership and admin side in pro ball by purchasing a Double A franchise in '97 and a Triple A one in 2004, both of which he helped guide to very successful returns. In 2008 he was named president of the Rangers, a title he continues to hold.

Lots of information about the 1973 season is found on the back of the card. The move to the AL certainly seems to have done Ryan a world of good, at least in those first two seasons. The cartoon is another one referencing the player's off-season activities.

Following the recent trend, a Yankee connects the two players:

1. Ryan and Mickey Rivers '72 to '75 Angels;
2. Rivers and Gerry Moses '71 Angels;

I guess I am a bit Yankee-centric.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

#19 - Gerry Moses

Gerry - or Jerry - Moses, depending on the source, was an itinerant backup catcher in the first half of the '70's. In '73 he replaced one of the guys for whom he was traded - John Ellis - in filling that role for the Yankees behind Thurman Munson. Since Thurm almost never sat back then, Gerry's field and plate time declined substantially though he did pretty well in his limited work. Here he revives the away uniform photo and displays the brightest smile this side of the first Aaron card. Gerry was a big boy at 6'3" and 205 lbs and it shows in this photo. As usual, I do not know where this was shot, but I have never seen a stadium where the seats come right down to the field before which should be a good clue. My guess is spring training.

Gerry Moses was a big deal athlete while growing up in Mississippi and was widely recruited by SEC schools as a quarterback. In baseball in high school he both pitched and caught and had an understandably big arm. But his favorite team growing up was the Red Sox so when their local scout offered Gerry a huge bonus in '64 he chose baseball. That summer he hit well in A ball with 13 homers and 39 RBI's in a bit over 200 at bats. In '65 while Gerry didn't hit too well at either A or Double A levels, he was called up to Boston mid-spring because of his bonus baby status and hit a homer in his second of four pinch at bats In '66 he began his military commitment and around that hit much better in Double A. He then roughly matched those numbers in a '67 at the same level and a '68 in Triple A. Towards the end of that latter season he returned to Boston where he put up some nice numbers during his late look.

1969 was smack in the middle of a long transient period for Boston in the catcher position. Russ Gibson was the number one guy but he was an old 30 and didn't have much of a stick and during the season the Sox acquired two new guys in Jose Azcue from Clevelnad - who was actually in the same boat as Gibson but even more so - and then Tom Satriano from California, who was really more of a utility guy than straight catcher. But they all had experience behind the plate and though Gerry came out of the box strong he was barely used until late August when he took over the starting catching role the rest of the way and hit pretty well. He retained that role in '70 when another hot start had him with a .300-plus average in early June when he was named to the All-Star team. But the second half of the season was full of injuries, including one to his finger, and his average fell 40 points as he had to miss some games. After that season it became apparent that it was only a matter of time before another kid would be taking over the Boston catcher role and Gerry went to California in a big trade with Tony Conigliaro and Ray Jarvis for Dog Griffin, Kan Tatum, and Jarvis Tatum.

The California catching situation was not terribly unlike Boston's in '69 so in '71 Moses was one of three guys to get regular time behind the plate. Though Gerry's offense came in a bit as his at bats did, he picked off 43% of attempted base stealers. Then, just after that season ended, he was part of another big trade, moving with Alex Johnson to Cleveland for Vada Pinson, Frank Baker, and Alan Foster. With the Tribe Gerry backed up Ray Fosse in a season in which his numbers continued to move the same directions, that year his pick-off percentage moving to 48%. In a recurring theme, big trade number three moved Gerry to New York with Graig Nettles for Chalie Spikes, Rusty Torres, Jerry Kenney, and John Ellis. After his yet further reduced role in '73 Gerry moved again, this time to Detroit as part of a deal in which Ed Farmer went from Detroit to NY, Jim Perry went from the same place to Cleveland, and Walt Williams and Rick Sawyer went from Cleveland to NY. With the Tigers Gerry's plate time moved up a bunch since starter Bill Freehan was in decline mode. That year Gerry hit .237 with 19 RBI's in just under 200 at bats. Then in '75 Gerry moved three times: to the Mets in January; San Diego in April, and the White Sox in July. All the moves were sales and Gerry played barely at all at each stop. It would be his final season as a player and he finished with a .251 average with 25 homers and 109 RBI's up top and with a .250 average in the minors.

Shortly after his playing career ended, Moses and former teammate Mike Andres opened a baseball school which  has had a pretty long run. He has simultaneously had a long career in the food industry. He is a resident of Massachusetts and has been a very big contributor to the Jimmy Fund and other local charities in the Boston area.

The back of the card indicates Moses' defensive abilities during his minor league stint. The cartoon is pretty cool, especially since Archie Manning reached new relevance due to the success of his kids.

Again, the Yankee route connects the players:

1. Moses and Thurman Munson '73 Yankees;
2. Munson and Gary Thomasson '78 Yankees.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

#18 - Gary Thomasson

This is the second rookie card in a row as this was Gary Thomasson's first Topps card. Per the back of the card, he was on the Topps Rookie All-Star Team as a first baseman although he was primarily an outfielder. He began '73 in that latter role as a regular for the first month-plus. But when Gary Matthews then came on strong this Gary lost his spot as his .229 average couldn't compete with the .300 of the other Gary. So for most of the middle part of the season this Gary did pinch hit work. Then in July he began getting some work at first to spell the injured Willie McCovey and he would get occasional starts there and in the outfield the rest of the way while pulling his average up nearly 60 points. Regarding his rookie team status, in '74 Topps for some reason eschewed the gold cups normally placed on the front of the cards to indicate who was on the team. If the back narratives indicate it, however, it should be easy enough to create the whole bunch. If not, a little digging will have to be done. It is another exercise I look forward to in annotating this set.

Gary breaks the away uniform streak by having his shot taken at Candlestick. In the background is a gentleman wearing uniform number 4 who I imagine is a coach since he has neither a bat nor glove and his number is not on the roster. I am going with Joey Amalfitano.

Gary Thomasson hailed from Oceanside, California where a big high school career in football and baseball got him selected by the Giants in the seventh round of the '69 draft. He would hit quite well that year in Rookie ball while playing first and the outfield. He then moved up a rung each year and in '70 hit not too badly as a top of the order guy and stole 37 bases. He would preserve most of his stat line in '71 in Double A - though not the stolen bases - and add some power in Triple A in '72 as well as some strikeouts, which would be a continuing demerit. That year he got his first look in Frisco and the next year he moved there to stay.

For the two years after his rookie season Thomasson would play mostly the outfield in a platoon role - Cary was a lefty - as he started about half the games each year. But over that time his average fell to .244 and then .227. In '76 in the wake of Willie Montanez's trade to Atlanta he got more time at first and revived his average to .259, before having his busiest year in '77 when he put up a .256/17/71 line in 446 at bats. After that season he was part of the biggest trade for one guy when he, Gary Alexander, Dave Heaverlo, Mario Guerrero, Phil Huffman, Alan Wirth, John Henry Johnson, and $300K went to Oakland for Vida Blue.

Thomasson did his reserve thing for Oakland in '78, but only hitting .201, before a mid-season trade for Del Alston and Mickey Klutts brought him to the Yankees. He second half was significantly better than his first one as he hit .276 in NY and then got some post-season time. Just prior to spring training of '79 he returned west and to the NL in a deal for Brad Gulden, one of the three catchers that would unsuccessfully try to take over the recently deceased Thurman Munson's place behind the plate that year. Gary had one of his better offensive years with a .248/14/45 line in 315 at bats but also struck out 70 times. So when LA got some new kids in the outfield in '80 - Rudy Law and Pedro Guerrero - Gary spent most of '80 on the bench before a sale that December to the Yomiuri Giants in Japan. His MLB time ended with a .249 average and he hit .200 in six playoff games.

When Thomasson was signed by the Giants, he was the highest paid player in the league and big things were expected. And though Gary had an OK stat line in '81 with a .261/20/50, the biggest stat he produced was his 132 strikeouts, which nearly set a record. And Gary certainly paid for that transgression. On top of being benched the next year, he was given the nickname in Japan of "the great whirring fan" and an artist developed an exhibit called a Thomasson which was explained as "a big, expensive thing that does nothing." Awfully harsh and understandably it has been quite difficult to get a line on Gary's activities or whereabouts after his playing days.

On the card back is evidence of a decent minor league career that peaked at Phoenix in '72. As mentioned above, the last star indicates his attained status vis-a-vis Topps Rookie team. The cartoon indicates Gary was a musician. I have not been able to verify this elsewhere, but since according to his stats he had a bit of both power and speed, he was probably multi-talented enough for that to be true. Also, I believe he has the first middle name I have seen that is a girl's name and a biblical one at that.

Thomasson and Bird meet through the Yankees, as follows:

1. Thomasson and Willie Randolph '78 Yankees;
2. Randolph and Doug Bird '80-'81 Yankees.

I hope that is not too abhorrent for a west coast guy.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

#17 - Doug Bird

This is great. Right after the Orioles team card is Doug Bird. I love it. This is another card with the featured player in an away uniform. If I have been correct, it is the eighth in a row (not including the Orioles team) which is a pretty good steak. I am guessing that the stadium is Oakland, but may be wrong. I am also guessing that the player in the background is Hal McRae. As for the card's subject, Doug here had a big spring training in '73, throwing shutout ball throughout, and after a short stay in Triple A came up to KC. Initially he was little used the first month-plus, even though in his second outing he threw five innings of relief, striking out eight. But after some more good irregular work, he moved into the closer role in early July and went on to have a fine rookie year, saving 20 games. This is his rookie card.

Doug Bird was drafted in '69 in the third round by Kansas City out of Mount San Antonio Junior College, which surprisingly was in California and where he went 5-1 his second year. At the tail end of  a good first season in Winnipeg, the California beach kid got homesick and took off for home; since he was no longer in college, Doug was told to report to the draft board. But it being '69, the draft board was blown up, all its records lost, and the new lottery system took over. Doug benefited by having a high number and therefore never served. He took that as a sign and went back to baseball. In '70 in A ball he had a very good run for one A team and a short tougher time with another but overall got over a K an inning. '71 was another good season in A ball during which - signs of things to come - Doug got saves in each of the two games he didn't start. '72 was a successful transition to Double A before some short work in Triple A. Until that second stint he had been mostly a starter but his Triple A time was all relief.

Bird's start to the '74 season was a bit more tarnished than in the prior year though he would get things right by early May. In the meantime KC moved to a little bit more of a committee bullpen model and Doug's saves that year halved, though he still led the team and posted a very good 2.73 ERA while going 7-6. '75 resembled '74 as Doug went 9-6/3.25 while recording eleven saves - again leading the team -and also grabbing four starts.'76 would be a very different year for him. Ace Steve Busby was injured and manager Whitey Herzog recruited Doug to the rotation, which generally went pretty well and by early July, Doug was 9-1 with a 2.86 ERA in that role. While he would cool off a bunch - he finished 12-10/3.37 - it was pretty successful transition year for him and really helped bail out the Royals who made their first trip to the playoffs that year. In '77 it was back to the closer role as he went 11-4 with 14 saves but his ERA elevated a bit to 3.88, along with the rest of the league's. Then in '78, Doug was the AL West's version of Sparky Lyle as KC, eager for a big-name fire-balling reliever, acquired Al Hrabosky, who would immediately step into the closer role. Behind The Mad Hungarian, Marty Pattin and Steve Mingori also got more work and poor Doug had sort of a perfect storm-type season as his innings and strikeouts dropped, his walks - very uncharacteristic - and ERA - to over 5.00 - rose, and he only recorded one save. Plus he gave up a big Thurman Munson homer in the playoffs. And the bad stuff didn't stop when the season did; that December he got sued by former teammate Buck Martinez for accidentally shooting Buck during a hunting trip back in '76. Geez.

Just prior to the '79 season Bird was traded to the Phillies for Todd Cruz. While in his new home most of his stats got right, the ERA remained above 5.00 and just prior to the start of the '80 season, Doug was released. Shortly thereafter he was picked up by the Yankees who moved him to Triple A where he had a nice run, going 6-0 with a 2.25 ERA and a couple saves as a spot guy. Doug returned to The Show in mid-July and continued his nice run as a long reliever, going 3-0 with a 2.66 ERA and a save the rest of the way. Ironically when KC finally beat the Yanks in the playoffs, Doug was in the New York bullpen; then he got to watch on TV as one of his former teams beat the other one in the Series. So much for timing. Doug continued his good work for NY in '81 when he went 5-1 with a 2.70 ERA as a spot guy before a deadline trade to the Cubs with Mike Griffin for Rick Reuschel. For the Cubbies he finished 4-5 in the rotation and then spent all of '82 in that role despite an early-season injury that impacted his pitching in a bad way. Doug went 9-14/5.14 before in his final start he hurt his shoulder crashing home, which would prove to be a career-killer. In December he went to Boston for Chuck Rainey where he had a horrible season as a spot guy in what would be his swan song as a player. Doug finished with a record of  73-60 with a 3.99 ERA, eight complete games, three shutouts, and 60 saves. He walked less than 300 guys in over 400 games and over 1,200 innings. In the post-season he was 1-1 with a  2.35 ERA in his six games.

And that's it. While I have read snippets of post-career interviews with him, none of them have indicated what he has done or where he has resided after playing. But he certainly seems happy enough, so I assume it's all been good.

The back of the Bird card highlights Bird's minor league career, which was not bad. The cartoon is lame, although at 6'3" Bird would stand out on the slopes. The only good thing about Doug's '78 was that he got to be part of a colorful christening of the bullpen group by Herzog: "Hungo (Hrabosky), Mungo (MIngori), Duck (Pattin), and the Bird."

Again we are linking a team to a player via degrees of separation.

1. Bird and Fran Healy '73 to '76 Royals;
2. Healy and Elrod Hendricks '76 Yankees;
3. Hendricks was on the '73 Orioles.

A pitcher and two catchers. More appropriate reference points.

Monday, September 20, 2010

#16 - Browns/Orioles Records

This is the first team photo card. It is also the last '73 playoff team represented by this set. For the team cards, I am doubling them up with the team checklists. Lots of smiles characterize the team picture and just about everybody is recognizable, which is rare. The mustaches of Tommy Davis and Earl Williams stand out, but the most prominent feature is the unibrow of Andy Etchebarren. That thing was amazing - he must have had one of the top ten eyebrows in baseball history. The empty Memorial Stadium looks a bit drab, but the grass is impressive. Maybe it is the grass upon which Tom Hilgendorf is kneeling a few cards back. The Orioles as a team in '73 were nearing the end of a streak which would get them to the playoffs/ World Series six times in nine years from '66 to '74. In '66 and '70 they won the whole ball of wax. The Birds were once again led by a fine pitching staff, though some of the older guys - namely Mike Cuellar and Dave McNally - were near the end of their runs. Excellent defense and some timely power also characterized the team though that last stat was moderated significantly from the team's better days. But the speed brought by new guys Al Bumbry and Rich Coggins did a lot to make up for that. Early in the season the Yankees gave them trouble but a 14-0 run during August pretty much decided things.

1974 was the second and, as far as I know final, year that Topps inserted unnumbered team checklist cards (in '73 they were blue) in packs. Alternatively one could send in for the whole set. The front of the cards, like the '73 ones, was a bunch of signatures from members of the team. On the O's card lots of signatures are by the guys who'd supplied a bunch of the team's recent success, both from the mound and offensively. There are two Hall of Fame guys in Brooks Robinson and Jim Palmer. Boog Powell's signature is fittingly the biggest one. The back I will get to below.

The Baltimore Orioles had been the St. Louis Browns since the inception of the American League. They moved to Baltimore in 1954. St. Louis generally performed pretty woefully, almost always finishing in the bottom half of the league (then called the "second division"). Almost all the hitting records come from the Browns days. George Sisler is a Hall-of-Famer. Heine Manusch is another recognizable name. As for the rest of the guys:

Jack Tobin was an outfielder who grew up in St. Louis and then played local and semi-pro ball until discovered while installing telephone lines on poles in 1913 and that year went on to hit about .335 for the independent St. Louis Terriers. The next year that league morphed into the Federal League, a rebel league begun by some major leaguers as a protest to low salaries. Tobin led that league in at bats and with 184 hits in 1915, while also stealing 31 bases. At the end of that year with the folding of the league imminent, he was sold to the Browns, for whom in '16 he had a tough transitional year, hitting .213. So for the '17 season he went to Salt Lake City in the PCL and had a monster long season with 285 hits and a nearly-.500 OBA while hitting .331. Aftter a solid year back in St. Louis in '18 Jack got his mojo going as a starting outfielder and hit well over .300 each of the next five seasons, peaking in '21 when he led the AL in at bats and triples with 18, while hitting .352 and scoring 132 runs. In '24 his average fell to .299 and in '25 Jack hit .301 as a reserve guy. He then went to Washington and Boston where he hit .310 in his final MLB season. He hit .309 for his career with a .364 OBA. He was a little guy, only 5'8", and almost never struck out, that big year of  '21 doing so only 22 times. He played independent ball in '28, was a player-coach in the Browns system in '29, and managed a team in the independent Three I league in '30. He would also coach for the Browns from '44 to '51. Away from pro ball, he would run his own auto dealerships, work for a distillery, and in the early Fifties coach some semi-pro teams, all in the St. Louis area where he would reside until he passed away in '69 at 77.

Harlond Clift was the Brown third baseman from '34 to '43. He grew up in Yakima, Washington, where his folks had a big apple farm. Discovered while playing town ball in '32 he was signed by St. Louis and had a couple decent years in A ball before coming up in '34. In a very good rookie year he would post 100 strikeouts, the only season they would exceed his walks. Harlond would become sort of a prototypical power-hitting third baseman and post pretty fat OBA's. He scored all his runs from the top of the line-up where he was placed to take advantage of his ability to get on base. In '37 he was moved to the heart of the order and the next two years would be his biggest with a .306/29/118 line with 103 runs and a .413 OBA ('37, his All-Star year); and a .290/34/118/119/.423 in '38. The next three seasons he averaged a line of .266/17/85 but maintained an elevated OBA before his power died a bunch in '42 and really crashed the following year, during which he was traded to DC for the stretch run. Harlond would remain with the Nats through '45, missing St. Louis' only pennant season the prior year. He finished with a .272 average with 178 homers and 829 RBI's His lifetime OBA was .390 and he finished in the top 30 for third base assists, putouts, and double plays. In '46 and '47 he played for Yakima, a B league affiliate of Pittsburgh and managed the second year. After a few years of scouting for Detroit he returned to Yakima to run the apple farm he inherited from his parents. But after some tough times he ended up losing the farm, became a widower, and was living alone in a trailer by the early Eighties. He passed away in '92 at 79. His nickname was "Darkie." I'm not touching that one.

George Sisler was always a big deal in baseball, from his Ohio high school to his years at the University of Michigan, where his coach was Branch Rickey. Back then George split his time between pitching and the outfield and he excelled at both at Michigan, where he ran into some trouble - the Pirates claimed they signed him while in high school - and left after his junior season, signed by the Browns, whose manager was Branch Rickey. George moved right to MLB that spring of 1915 and went 4-4 with a 2.83 ERA and also hit .285. In '16 he would come out strong at the plate so that year he moved primarily to first, pitched much less - he would pitch rarely from then on - and hit .305. The next six seasons would be the biggest of George's career as he averaged .377 with nine homers, 84 RBI's, 104 runs, 40 stolen bases, and only 19 strikeouts. The year with all the hits he also led the AL with a .407 average and topped out with 137 runs and 122 RBI's. His MVP season of '22 was his best with that fat average, AL-leading 134 runs, 246 hits, 18 triples, and 51 stolen bases, and a .467 OBA. In '23 George had a nasty sinus infection that impacted his vision and forced him to sit out the season. He returned in '24, also became manager, and posted some very good years through '27, though their averages - .317 with eight homers, 88 RBI's, 90 runs, and 17 stolen bases - were a marked discount to his ones pre-injury. He was sold to DC following the '27 season and then flipped early in '28 to the Braves for whom he continued to hit over .300 through '30, his final MLB season. George finished with a .340 average with 102 homers and 1,178 RBI's, a .379 OBA, and 375 stolen bases. He managed the Browns for three seasons, going 218-241, a pretty good run for that team. George was sold to the Cards after the '30 season and for them put in two years in the minors, one as a manager. He then founded a sporting goods company and became very involved in softball. In '42 he rejoined Rickey and became a coach/scout for the Dodgers ('42-'50) and the Pirates ('51-'73). He was elected to the Hall in '39 and passed away in '73 at 80 in St. Louis.

Roy Bell was a Texas kid all the way, going to Texas A&M after growing up in Bellville. and then playing some local ball. Roy's nickname was Beau, although I do not think he was related to the current NFL linebacker Beau Bell. Beau graduated A&M in '31and then spent the next four years in Galveston, an A league team, where he had a big '34, hitting .337 with 51 doubles, numbers that got him signed by St. Louis. After a half season during which he hit .366 for the Browns' A club, he came up top and hit .250 the remainder of the year. An outfielder, he then exploded in '36 and '37: a .344/11/123 line with a .403 OBA the first year followed by a line of .340/14/117/.391 in '37. That second year was his All-Star season and he led the AL with his doubles and 218 hits. In '38 he hit 13 homers with 84 RBI's but his average fell to .262. He then had a very discounted '39 during which he was traded to Detroit, a one-year revival for Cleveland in '40, and a final season in '41 for the Tribe as a player/coach. Overall he hit .297 with 165 doubles, 46 homers, and 437 RBI's, He played a year of Double A ball for the Browns in '42 and had a big year in B ball - .346/11/111 - in '47 while managing the team to a 55-99 record. From '51 to '58 he coached his alma mater to a 98-104-1 record and two league championships. He remained at A&M where he worked on the physical plant until he retired before passing away in '77 at age 70.

Heinie Manush was of German extraction out of the deep south, he from Alabama. He grew up in a very competitive family, was a local sports star, and signed with a PCL team in 1920 when he was 18. After barely playing that year he moved to a Candian B team, where he hit well, in '21 and then in '22 to an A team in Omaha where his .376 average got him signed by Detroit. Heinie came up immediately with the Tigers as a starting outfielder, came under the tutelage of fellow southerner Ty Cobb, and became a decent line drive hitter. In '26 it all came home when he had a monster year with an AL-leading .376 and 86 RBI's. But the next year Cobb left the team, Heinie's average fell to .298, and after the season he was traded to the Browns. In '28 he had his biggest season, along with the big triples number hitting .378 with 108 RBI's, and leading the AL with 241 hits and 47 doubles. After another big year in '29 Heinie was off to a similar start in '30 when he was traded mid-year to DC for his buddy Goose Goslin. Heinie would continue his fine run for the Senators, topping out in runs (121 in '32) and RBI's (116 in '32 as well) and in the Series year of '33 again lead the AL with 221 hits and 17 triples. '34 was his All-Star year but in '35 his numbers faded a bunch and after some trades he was a regular in '36 for the Red Sox and in '37 for Brooklyn. He would then play sparingly up top until he finished things up with Pittsburgh in '39, ending with a .330 average with 2,524 hits, 491 doubles, 160 triples, 110 homers, and 1,183 RBI's. In the post-season he hit .111 in five games. Heine would continue to play in the minors a bit and from '40 to '45 would manage there as well, mostly in the Boston system. He would then scout and coach a bit for Pittsburgh, DC, and finally the new Senators, which he did through '62. He was admitted to the Hall in '64 and pass away from cancer in '71 when he was 69.

Ken Williams grew up in Oregon where he quit school after eighth grade to work and play local semi-pro ball. He was signed at age 22 to a Canadian independent team and played north in 1913 and '14, hitting relatively well at what were D level franchises. He moved to The States and B ball for Spokane in '15 and after hitting .340 the first half of the season joined the Reds outfield as Cincinnati had an affiliation with Spokane then. After hitting .242 in the second half  and barely playing to open the '16 season he spent the balance of that  year and all of  '17 in the minors (where he hit .313 in the PCL) before missing all the '18 season to WW I. He was then signed by the Browns during the '19 season, became the starting center fielder, and at age 29 he did well, averaging well over .300 with an over .400 OBA. He hit .307 the next year and in '21 took off as a power guy and over the next five years would average a .339/27/110 line, despite missing time to injury, particularly in '24 and then in '25 when he was horribly beaned. '22 was his biggest year and along with leading the AL in RBI's he also led it with 39 homers, becoming the first guy to put up the 30 homer/30 stolen base duo and the first guy to hit over 30 out while compiling less strikeouts (31) than homers. That '25 beaning impacted Ken's '26 as well and thereafter his power came in a bit though he continued with the good averages. He remained with the Browns through '27 and then went to the Red Sox where he hit .303 in '28 and was having a bang-up start to the '29 season at age 39 - he was hitting .345 - when he collided on a play, broke his skull, and was done as a player up top. Ken finished with a .319 average with 196 homers, 916 RBI's, and a .393 OBA. He returned to Oregon and played a couple years for Portland's PCL team. He then returned to his hometown of Grants Pass, where he worked as a cop and owned a billiards parlor. He passed away in '59 at age 68 from heart disease. All the above guys have SABR bios and all of them rarely struck out.

On the pitching side, McNally, Barber and Stu Miller are the only "new" guys, which I find surprising. Here are backgrounds:

Stu Miller did not play high school ball while growing up in Massachusetts and right after school joined the Navy for a long hitch. When he got out in '49 he tried out for the Cards on a whim and was signed on the spot. After a rough start that year he won 16 in D ball in '50, 13 in B ball in '51, and was 11-5 in Triple A in '52 before being called up to St. Louis. That year he had a great short rookie season, going 6-3 with a 2.05 ERA and two shutouts. But his next few seasons up top were not very good and in '54 and exclusively in '55 - when he won 17 - he spent time back in Triple A. In the midst of a not great '56 he was traded to the Phillies and after that season to the Giants. After a '57 start in Triple A he moved up for good, threw better in NY that year and posted an NL-leading 2.47 ERA in '58. He put in a couple more years as a spot guy and then in '61 moved to the pen exclusively and had a big year , going 14-5 with a 2.66 ERA and 17 saves. That year was his All-Star one and in the game Stu was famously blown off the mound by a gust of wind. He was also named Fireman of the Year. After 19 saves and some post-season action in '62 he went to the Birds before the '63 season. He pitched very well for them the next five seasons, particularly in '63 when he had a 2.24 ERA, 27 saves, and his AL-leading games total to get his second FOY award; and in '65 when he went 14-7 with a 1.89 ERA and 24 saves. He saw no time in the '66 Series because the starters were so damn good. After another good season in Baltimore he finished out his career with Atlanta in '68. Stu went 105-103 with a 3.24 ERA, 24 complete games, five shutouts, and 153 saves and in the post-season threw shutout ball in two games. After playing he returned to the SF area where he owned a liquor store.

Jack Powell grew up in Illinois, dropped out of school early, and played local ball until 1897 when he was signed by the Cleveland Spiders of the NL where he played alongside Cy Young. That year he won 15 and then 23 in '98 when he led the NL with six shutouts and '99 when he had 40 complete games in the year the Spiders merged with the Cardinals. Young left the team and its fortunes declined a bit as Jack won 36 over the next two years with a higher ERA. In 1902 he jumped to the Browns and that year won 22 before posting a losing record in '03 - though with a better ERA - and then being traded to the Highlanders. In '04 for NY he again won 23 and then late in '05 he returned to the Browns just in time to be part of a bunch of second division teams. Jack would remain in St. Louis through his final season in 1912, most of that time posting losing records and leading the AL with 19 losses in 1911. But during that time he also put up a 1.77 ERA one year and a 2.11 ERA two years. He finished with a record of 245-254 with a 2.97 ERA - a bit of a premium to league average in the deadball era - with 422 complete games, 46 shutouts, and 15 saves. A good hitter, he batted .192 with 124 RBI's. While playing he'd purchased a saloon in the Chicago area which he continued to run after done playing. He passed away in Hillside, Illinois in '44 at age 70.

Urban Shocker is a name with which many old-time Yankee fans are familiar. He played on the 1927 team called Murderer's Row. He was also born and raised in the midwest, he in Ohio, where he played semi-pro ball until he signed in 1912 with a Canadian team as a catcher. After injuring his hand he moved to pitching and in '14 and '15 won 20 and 19 up there in B ball with excellent ERA's. In '16 he moved to a Double A team, won 15, and was signed by the Yankees for whom he went a combined 12-8 the next two years in a spot role. Prior to the '18 season he was traded to the Browns for which he again did spot work before being called into WW I duty in France. He returned to St. Louis during the next season, won 13 in the rotation, and then went on a roll, winning at least 20 each of the next four seasons. His biggest years were '21, when he led the AL in wins, and '22 when he went 24-17 with a 2.97 ERA and led the AL with 149 strikeouts. After a discounted '24, he was traded back to NY where a .500 season his first year was followed by 19 wins in '26 and 18 in '27. By then he'd had a known heart condition which would get him released - that was nice - shortly into the '28 season and from which he would pass away later that year at 38. Shocker went 187-117 with a 3.17 ERA, 200 complete games, 28 shutouts, and 25 saves. In the post-season he went 0-1 with a 5.87 ERA in two games in the '26 Series. Another good hitter, Urban hit .209 with 70 RBI's and a .334 OBA during his MLB time.

Fred Glade - nickname "Lucky" - pitched a few years around the turn of the last century. He came from a pretty wealthy family - his dad owned some milling businesses - in Iowa so he played ball sporadically for the nearby Grand Island club. He signed with a C team in Texas in 1898, hit .364 as an outfielder, and went 3-2 on the hill. The next three years he stayed close to home for a couple B teams, winning 13 in '99 and apparently leading his league in strikeouts in 1900. Fred was super fast and had a motion in which he turned his back to the batter, like Luis Tiant. His K totals got him signed by the Cubs in '02 and after just a couple innings for Chicago he spent most of that season and all of '03 in A ball. At least when he played he did; Fred was often running out on his teams to go back to the mills where he was by then a manager and was paid a lot more than he was to pitch. At the end of that stint he was drafted by the Browns and in '04 had a nice rookie year, going 18-15 with a 2.27 ERA. But then '05 just sucked for him as he went 6-25 to lead the AL in losses. Two winning seasons in St. Louis followed and then Fred asked to be traded. He went to the Highlanders, threw a few games, and then was done. He finished 52-68 with a 2.62 ERA, 107 complete games, 14 shutouts, and two saves. He returned full-time to the milling business which he took over after his dad died in 1910. That business would become ConAgra Foods in 1971 so when Fred passed away in '34 at age 58, he died a rich man.

Alvin Crowder - the "General" - was from North Carolina. He quit school in fifth grade to work on the family farm and by age 14 was playing company ball while working for RJ Reynolds. In 1919 when he was 20 he enlisted in the Army, traveled the world, and played Army ball where he was discovered in '23. Signed to a PCL team that year he did middling work the next few seasons until '26, when he went 17-4 for an A team and was then sold to the Senators. By then given his nickname for his service work, he had a decent rookie year as a spot guy and then in '27 was traded to the Browns during a not great sophomore year. But '28 went well as The General went 21-5 to lead the AL in win percentage. He followed that with some decent numbers until a mid-season trade - with Heinie Manush for Goose Goslin - took him back to DC. This time with the Nats he would have his best run, winning 18, 26, and 24 games the next three seasons. Off to a crappy start in '34 he went to Detroit where he had a 5-1 stretch run and then pitched well in the Series. In '35 he won 16 and then a Series game. By '36 he had big arm problems and later that year was released, finishing his MLB time with a record of 167-115 with a 4.12 ERA, 150 complete games, 16 shutouts, and 22 saves. He was 1-2 with a 3.81 ERA in his five Series games. After playing his immediate mission was to return a minor league team to the Winston-Salem area, which he did, and was involved in all levels of its administration until he sold it in '39. He then continued in various duties for the team and had stakes in other local businesses, including real estate, grocery stores, and a bowling alley. He passed away in '72 from heart disease. He was 73.

Bobo Newsom pitched for everyone in the first half of the 20th century. A colorful guy, he was born in South Carolina, played baseball in high school and prep school, and signed with a local C team in 1928, when he was 20. He could never remember anyone's name so he called everyone Bobo, hence his nickname. He threw some good ball in the minors, had a few nasty innings up top the next few years for Brooklyn and the Cubs and then in '33 had a huge PCL season, going 30-11. Those numbers got him drafted by the Browns for whom he lost 20 in '34. He then moved to DC - where he won 17 in '36 - to the Red Sox, and back to St. Louis where along with all those walks in '38 he somehow won 20 while posting an ERA of 5.06, which was about league average. That would kick off Bobo's best career run as he won 20 again in '39, despite a mid-season trade to Detroit, and then posted his best season in the Series year of '40, when he went 21-5 with a 2.83 ERA. In '41 the Tigers were killed by losing players to the war and Bobo lost 20 again and thereafter moved around a ton, mostly to poor teams, though he managed to get to the Series again in '47 with the Yankees. He would pitch in four decades up top and his travels took him to St. Louis three times and DC five times. Bobo would pitch through '53, when he was 45, and finish with a record of 211-222 with a 3.98 ERA - a pretty good premium to league average when he pitched - 246 complete games, 31 shutouts, and 21 saves. He and Jack Powell, listed above, are the only two pitchers with greater than 200 wins that have losing records. They both pitched for the Browns which says something about the team. In the post-season Bobo went 2-2 with a 2.86 ERA and a shutout in his five games. Bobo owned and ran a drive-in diner in Florida after he played and passed away there from liver disease in '62 at age 55.

I didn't even know Rube Waddell pitched for the Browns, but here he is. He is the Hall-of-Famer famous for being a bit of a boob by watching airplanes fly overhead or running to watch a fire engine during games. He went 19-14 with that fine ERA his first season with St. Louis. Since this post is so long, Rube will have his bio posted on the Oakland site.

The back of the checklist cards has the team roster per the Topps set. It also has a drawing of a handsome fellow in the upper left holding the smallest baseball I have ever seen. The checklist cards were not numbered as they were an addendum to the regular set. The other added set WAS numbered and we will get to it in a few cards.

Per my first post, I am stealing an idea from another blog, that of tallying up the players represented by the set. The model comes from the '75 blog. Baltimore was such a well-run organization back then that there were very few peripheral players. For the pitchers, every decision is represented by a card, with one player, Orlando Pena, having a card on another team, St. Louis. On the player side, Elrod Hendricks with 101 at bats and Enos Cabell, with 47 are the only guys that got decent playing time missing. Both are in the team shot. Cabell is the fouth guy in from the left in the top row and Hendricks is the smiling guy right below him.

Finally, the degrees of separation exercise gets changed a bit. Let's see how Joe Torre gets linked to the '73 Orioles team (the avenue was hinted at above):

1. Torre and Orlando Pena '73 Cardinals;
2. Pena and the '73 Orioles.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

#15 - Joe Torre

Joe Torre gets an action shot, the first one in a few cards, but still the fourth one out of ten, a pretty good ratio. It looks like Joe just got brushed back. Maybe he hit a homer his previous at bat. Similar to the subject of the prior post, this was Torre's last card in a Cardinals uniform as he was air brushed into a Mets uniform in '75. Joe was an All-Star in '73 and had a pretty hot start to the season, with an average of around .340 at vote time. But he was in decline mode and his light power to that point - only 25 RBI's through mid-June - presaged a second half during which he hit below .260. He put in a lot more games at first - which he shared with Tim McCarver - than at third, and it wouldn't be too long before he was on his new career path. I am so blind that I cannot tell if we are seeing another away uniform, but I think so. The white of the uniform is not quite as bright as the white in the piping. If so the crowd was probably cheering the brushback. My guess is he's at Shea, his future home.

Joe Torre was signed by the then Milwaukee Braves in '59 after growing up in Brooklyn under some tough circumstances. Joe's dad was abusive and he would be helped a bunch by his brother Frank, who was then playing for the Braves. Joe was a hell of a local player but was deemed too chubby by lots of scouts and it took some persuading by Frank to the Milwaukee administration to take Joe. But Frank was a good scout and after a kick-ass year in C ball in '60 - Joe put up a line of .344/16/74 with a .450 OBA - Frank's little brother got a hit in his first game up top. After kicking off '61 with a .342 clip in Triple A, Joe came up for good.

Torre was a catcher when he began his career but the Braves already had a perennial All-Star at that position in Del Crandall. But Crandall got hurt early in the '61 season and after a couple other veteran guys didn't show too much Joe got pulled into the lineup. He had a monster arm and his first few seasons behind the plate Joe would pick runners off at a pretty significant premium to league averages. His rookie year he got 49% (vs an NL average of 38%) and that defense coupled with some pretty good plate numbers got Joe second place in that year's ROY voting - Billy Williams won - and a place on the Topps Rookie team. In '62 Crandall was healthy so he returned to the starting spot and Joe's at bats pretty much halved. In '63 Del's average declined fast though he was still Warren Spahn's guy behind the plate so he and Joe split starting time and Joe got some other starts at first, position roles that would continue the next few seasons. In '64 Del left and Joe went on a nice three-year run, averaging a line of .310/28/97 with a .373 OBA and being named an All-Star each season. He also won a Gold Glove in '65. In '67 he hit a bit of a wall and in '68 an early season hand injury and the general offensive malaise that pervaded the '68 season pulled Joe's numbers down pretty significantly. By then Joe was the Braves player rep and he declined the contract offered him following the '68 season, one in which his offered salary was reduced. So it was no surprise when Joe was then traded to St. Louis for Orlando Cepeda.

Torre didn't have the best timing as a player to get some Series action. He came up to Milwaukee just after the team made two Series trips and he got to St. Louis just after the team made two Series trips. Another parallel was that the Cards already had an All-Star catcher in Tim McCarver so when Joe got there he took the spot of the guy for whom he'd been traded and nearly all his playing time was spent at first base. That year Joe began the best three-year run of his career with numbers that bettered Cepeda's. Then in '70 starting third baseman Mike Shannon began a quick career wind-down due to nephritis. And McCarver was traded to the Phillies as part of the Curt Flood deal which brought Dick Allen to the Cards. So in spring training of '70 Joe went into overdrive with coach George Kissell to learn how to play third. During the season he swapped time behind the plate with new kid Ted Simmons, Allen took over first, and Joe put in nearly half his field time at third in a pretty seamless move. He returned to the All-Star game that year on the heels of another excellent offensive season. Then Joe exploded in '71 as he played third exclusively while leading the NL in hits, batting average, and RBI's in his MVP season. Two All-Star seasons followed the next years but '72 was a big discount offensively and '73 a bit less of one. After putting up numbers in '74 during which Joe spent nearly all his time at first - his line was .282/11/70 - he was traded to the Mets for Ray Sadecki and Tommie Moore.

In '75 Torre returned to third for the Mets with a little bit of time at first. He split time at both positions with a bunch of guys, primarily Ed Kranepool, Wayne Garrett, and Dave Kingman. So his at bats came way down as did his average, which landed at .247 with a similar move lower in his power stats. In '76 he again played the infield corners, splitting time at third with Ray Staiger, and did some pinch hitting work, while moving his average up to .306. In '77 Joe did nearly all pinch work before being named mid-year as manager of the team. It would be his final year as a player and he finished with a .297 average with 252 homers, 1,185 RBI's, and a .365 OBA. He was an All-Star nine times.

Torre inherited a pretty ugly team with that '77 Mets squad that got only uglier after the geniuses upstairs traded away Tom Seaver. So Joe's introduction to managing wasn't a great one. But he would ultimately have a long and successful run in that role, putting in time in NY ('77-'81), Atlanta ('82-'84), St. Louis ('90-'95), the Yankees ('96-2007), and LA ('2008-present). During that gap in the late Eighties he was an announcer for the Angels. He won a division title his first year with the Braves, ten with the Yankees, and two with LA. He grabbed six pennants with the Yankees, as well as four Series titles, and was named Manager of the Year twice (in '96 and '98). Through the end of '09 he is 2,246-1,915 for his career. Joe's other big achievement post-playing career has been the creation and managing of his Safe at Home Foundation, which does lots of work with abused spouses and kids.

'71 was Torre's MVP year, so its presence is primary on the back of the card. Torre was born in Brooklyn and if you believe the tabloids, he may be back working in the City pretty soon, but not for the Yankees.

I am going to bring up an old guy for the link but it counts:

1. Torre and Gene Oliver '63 to '67 Braves;
2. Oliver and Paul Popovich '69 Cubs.

Gene Oliver was primarily a catcher during the '60's. He was also a first baseman and outfielder. He was primarily a backup. He went to Northwestern and sounds like he was a pretty interesting guy. He passed away in 2007 from lung cancer.

Monday, September 6, 2010

#14 - Paul Popovich

This is Paul Popovich's last card with the Cubs, for whom he played the bulk of his career. Paul had a relatively busy year in '73, mostly due to an injury to Glenn Beckert. Paul would regularly back up the whole infield outside of first base and was dubbed a "supersub" in '69 during the Cubbies' big playoff push. Just prior to the '74 season he would get sent to Pittsburgh where he didn't play terribly much but did experience his first post-season action. Here he gets a pre-game shot at Candlestick. Those towels hanging in the dugout look a bit like bowling pins to me.

Paul Popovich grew up in West Virginia, where he was a big hoops star, averaging over 41 points per game his senior year. He then went to West Virginia University where he played both basketball and baseball and his sophomore year hit .426 to get an all-conference selection at second. He also got a fat bonus that spring of 1960 and began his career in Double A. While he fielded very well at second, his offense was a bit lacking and after two years at that level he moved to B ball in '62, where his average got worse. But after returning to Double A in '63 he had a big year with a .313/17/60 line, by far his biggest season. '64 would be his year in the military and around it he wouldn't hit too well in Triple A, though he would get a hit in his first MLB at bat. Beside the ho-hum offense, Paul was kept on the farm by having both Ken Hubbs and Glenn Beckert ahead of him and in between two much better and identical seasons at Triple A in '65 and '66 he had a very nice fall IL season that former year, hitting .329 while getting his first looks at third and short. In '67 he finally made it up to stay.

The Cubs team on which Popovich alit in '67 was characterized by an infield in Ernie Banks, Beckert, Don Kessinger, and Ron Santo that collectively almost never sat. So at bats would be tough for Paul to come by, though his impressive fielding would make him the team's go-to sub. Still, it wasn't a very productive offensive rookie showing, and after the season the Cubbies sent him to LA for outfielder Lou Johnson. LA was about as opposite Chicago as it got in infield stability away from first, so in '68 Paul had his closest year to being a regular, getting the most starts at second while also doing time at short and Paul got big props from Don Drysdale during the pitcher's record shutout streak that year. His numbers improved a bit and he didn't strike out too much, but he wasn't going to be the long-term answer for LA. So when the kids started coming up in '69 - namely Ted Sizemore, Billy Grabarkewitz, and Bobby Valentine - Paul lost a bunch of starting time and that June he would be involved in a big trade, going to Montreal with Ron Fairly for Maury Wills and Manny Mota. Paul was then flipped back to Chicago with pitcher Jack Lamabe for outfielder Adolpho Phillips.

The situation into which Popovich returned for the Cubs was pretty much the exact one he left except that the team was smack in the middle of a big pennant chase. So when Paul put up an uncharacteristic .312 for Chicago the rest of the way he did it in a high-profile arena and got that "supersub" tab. He would then spend the next four seasons as an infield backup for the Cubs, primarily at second and third. Just prior to the '74 season he went to Pittsburgh for pitcher Tom Dettore. For the Pirates he spelled second and short, but in a much reduced role, though he did hit .600 in the '74 NL playoffs. He was released mid-year during the '75 season, ending his playing career with a .233 average.

Popovich would return to LA as in infield coach in the Dodgers system for ten years. He made the Chicago area his permanent home and was still residing there when he was interviewed a couple years back, though there was no mention in that interview of what else he has done professionally since playing.

The back of the card is pretty tame. It does not list Popovich's minor league years - no room - but there were obviously quite a few. The star bullets confirm his biggest season in the minors As for the cartoon, $40,000 was an awful lot in 1960 so he must have been a pretty awesome West Virginia University player.

For the degrees exercise, the goal is to get the list to be as short as possible. Here I fail that, although the longer lists are more fun:

1. Popovich and Ken Holtzman, '67 and '69 to '71 Cubbies;
2. Holtzman and George Hendrick '72 A's;
3. Hendrick and Tom Hilgendorf '73 Indians.

So three is still my record on the long side.

Friday, September 3, 2010

#13 - Tom Hilgendorf

Continuing the recent theme of guys that got to the majors relatively late, we have Tom Hilgendorf at lucky 13. This is Tom's first card since the '70 set and that one was Tom's first card so, given that he started playing in 1960, that is an awfully long road to two cards. In '73 Tom assumed the role of left-handed closer for The Tribe, matching initially with Jerry Johnson and then - after a mid-season trade - with Ken Sanders. It was by far Tom's best season up top and his six saves led the team. That is a nice patch of grass Tom is kneeling on and I believe that he is in an away uniform so I do not know where the shot was taken, though the go-to stadiums (stadia?) in this set for Cleveland photos was Municipal Stadium, Oakland, or Yankee Stadium. Judging by the shadow, though, I can guess when: shortly after noon. That has to be good for something.

Tom Hilgendorf was signed out of his Clinton, Iowa high school in 1960 and that summer got started as a reliever with a couple D league teams for the Cards. After a forgettable '61 as a spot guy in C and A ball, Tom had a nice three-year run as a starter, putting up nearly identical records - a combined 33-26 - in C ('62) and Double A ('63-'64) with some nice ERA's. At the higher level he moved to the pen in '65 and did well but then when moved up to Triple A in mid-season his numbers plunged big. Then there is a two-year blank which generally meant military service back then, but in Tom's case was actually due to hepatitis which he got in winter ball and nearly killed him. He got back to ball in '68, had a year similar to his '65 - thogh his discounted Triple A numbers were much better - and then finally had a pretty good year at the higher level as a spot guy in '69, later making his MLB debut, putting up two saves. In '70 Tom got a solo rookie card - off just six MLB innings! -  did more good Triple A spot work, and added three saves up top. After the '70 season he was traded to Kansas City for Ike Brookens.

With the Royals Hilgendorf pitched exclusively in Triple A and had a nice run, going 10-2 in relief with a 3.27 ERA over the next saeason-plus before a July '72 trade to Cleveland for Jim Clark. The Indians immediately pulled Tom up and he did nice work the rest of the way, including in some starts, and then moved to full-time pen work in '73. But '74 was a little ugly for Tom. Though still the top lefty in the pen, his ERA ballooned to 4.84, starting with a game in April in which he gave up four homers in relief. In June he played a major part in the infamous 10 cent beer night by getting hit over the head with a chair when the fans stormed the field. Before the '75 season he went to the Phillies where he had a really good season. As a set-up guy he went 7-3 with a 2.14 ERA; at one point in mid-season he had 25-plus consecutive scoreless innings. While on paper he had no saves that year he did get a real one when he pulled a 13-year old boy lying on the bottom of a pool out and resuscitated him. But the Phillies cut him the next spring and after a brief tryout for Pittsburgh in '76 he was done. He went 19-14 with a 3.04 ERA, two complete games, and 14 saves in the bigs and in the minors was 77-62 with a 3.43 ERA.

After playing Hilgendorf goes MIA a bit. A couple cards indicated his carpentry work - see below - and there is some mention that he returned to his hometown and did that there professionally.

Topps gets points for the tidbits on the back of Tom's card. Those first two are pretty amazing. In '64 he pitched a total of 177 innings for Tulsa, so that week accounted for almost a quarter of his whole season. And 110 degrees in Nicaragua sounds like no fun at all. One wonders if that game contributed to his ailment. In '71 he was 5-1 at Omaha, KC's triple A club. The cartoon is an emblematic one; lots of players back then had other incomes because they had to. Free agency was still four years away.

Okay, here comes the degrees bit:

1. Hilgendorf and Jim Lonborg on the '75 Phillies;
2. Lonborg and Dave May on the '72 Brewers.

I would have thought it would be longer.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

#12 - Dave May

This is Dave May's last card with the Brewers. In '75 he gets airbrushed into a Braves uniform; he was traded for Hank Aaron. '73 was May's finest season by a pretty wide margin. He actually led the league in total bases, was an All-Star, and finished eighth in MVP voting that year. He also put together a 24-game hitting streak, the AL's longest for a bunch of years. All those facts should have arguably warranted him getting at least a "5" card, but here he is at number twelve. Dave was a big reason Milwaukee was in first place mid-season and put up its best record in its existence in '73. Regarding the shot, my reflex is to say its Comiskey because of those arches, but that looks like real grass to me so I am going with Cleveland, an odd choice for an away shot and that is definitely an away uniform Dave is wearing. Plus that looks a lot more like a Cleveland uniform behind Dave than a Chicago one. So far we are on a streak of four away uniforms in a row after starting out with two home ones (outside the first Aaron card). If I am correct on the location of May, it is an odd angle of the field, and I have no idea in which part of the diamond he is.

Dave May was signed by the Giants after being a football, basketball, and baseball star at his Delaware high school. He had a bunch of brothers who played baseball as well and Dave was scouted and signed after being viewed in summer league games in which he played with some of his siblings. That was in '61 and Dave got things rolling the next year with a big season in D ball, hitting .379 with a .457 OBA. In HS Dave was a third baseman but he moved to the outfield upon turning pro and the Giants were always overstocked with those. So maybe that is why despite his initial season, Dave was left unprotected and snapped up by the Orioles in the first year draft. He then hung in A ball the next three seasons for Baltimore, interesting again since he always hit at that level, putting up a combined .334 average with a .435 OBA while averaging eight triples, 14 homers, 72 RBI's and 32 stolen bases. In '66 he finally got to Triple A where his numbers were discounted a bit. But he fixed that in '67 when he hit .317 at that level and then made his Baltimore debut.

Like the Giants earlier in the decade the Orioles in the second half of the Sixties had a stocked outfield and in '67 the starters included a former MVP in Frank Robinson; former Rookie of the Year in Curt Blefary; and and all-world center fielder who could hit in Paul Blair, as well as a host of backup guys. So playing time was going to be tough to come by for May when he arrived. In '67 he got some time at the outfield corners. Like just about all players who came through the Baltimore system, Dave was an excellent fielder whose natural position was center. In '68 he made the cut in spring training and got a bunch of starts in right and center to start the year, but with an average that was at .140 by early June, he was returned to Triple A. There he hit .315 for a month, was recalled, and hit .260 the rest of the way. '69 was a bit similar - but without the Triple A time - as Dave needed a late season revival to pull up his average from Mendoza levels and was used mostly as a reserve guy in right, though he did get a little post-season time. After not playing too much to kick off the '70 season, he went to Milwaukee in June for pitchers Dick Baney and Buzz Stephen.

The trade would be a big benefit for May. While he would miss any more post-season action, he immediately became Milwaukee's starting center fielder after the trade and would do some nice work in that position. He would have a decent offensive run in the second half and then step things up a bit in '71 when his stats included his MLB best 15 stolen bases. In '72 his dad passed away which seemed to hit Dave hard, at least as reflected by his offensive production. But he then had the big bounce in '73. Then '74 was a lot like '72. Dave was sick in spring training and it sort of stuck around the first half of the season. Plus he was moved to right field, which didn't make him crazy happy. His numbers tumbled pretty hard to a .226/10/42 line and that November he and a minor leaguer were sent to the Braves for Hank Aaron.

Picking up his recent pattern, May had a good year in his new home in Atlanta. As part of an outfield platoon system, Dave got the lefty role in all three spots and in just over 200 at bats, put up a nice bounce in his .276/12/40 line with his MLB-best OBA of .361. The next year was an even one so Dave slumped again, his line falling to .215/3/26 on pretty much the same number of at bats. Prior to the '77 season he was part of a big trade in which he, Ken Henderson, Adrian Devine, Carl Morton, Roger Moret and cash all went to Texas for outfielder Jeff Burroughs.True to form, Dave's numbers picked up a bunch as did his playing time and in 340 at bats his line rose to .241/7/42. Once again, though, an even year was a downer, this time in a big way as Dave hurt his shoulder in spring training and by the time it got better he'd been flipped back to the Brewers. There he got some token pinch and DH at bats but hit only .195 before getting sold to Pittsburgh in September. For the Pirates Dave again got nearly no plate time and was released following the season. He signed with the Phillies, got cut in '79 spring training, and then hooked up with the short-lived Inter-American League where he hit .265 before it folded. That was his final season in pro ball and Dave finished with MLB numbers of .251 with 96 homers and 422 RBI's. In the post-season he got a walk in three plate appearances.

May returned to Delaware full-time after playing to raise his kids and play some semi-pro ball for a furniture store sponsor while also working at the store. On his team were ex-Brewers (and Phillies) Johnny Briggs and Chris Short so the team was pretty good and Dave apparently hit a bit over .300 the five years he spent with it. In '83 he was a coach in the Atlanta system, but part of his job was cutting people which he didn't like so he quit after that year and returned to the furniture business. He also sold electronics and worked as a cook and for five years as a county recreational director. In 2003 he had a leg amputated because of diabetes and it appears that since then he has been in a wheelchair. His sons, Derrick and David, played college ball and Derrick put in a bunch of MLB time, principally with the Cubs.

Besides the '73 stats, the first thing that jumps out at me is the middle name. he had to be the only LaFrance to play in the majors. The cartoon is pretty blah; May would be a lot bigger than that if he was sitting on top of a backboard. I do think he is one of only a couple players to be born in Delaware. When Brooks Robinson won MVP in the '70 Series, he was using Dave's glove. That would be a great star bullet. Dave has a SABR bio also.

On to the degrees of separation:

1. May and Toby Harrah, '77 Rangers;
2. Harrah and Jim Bibby '73 to '75 Rangers.

That was easy!