Tuesday, November 30, 2010

#60 - Lou Brock

There has been very good representation so far in this set of some bad trades - Frank Robinson for Milt Pappas, Nolan Ryan for Jim Fregosi, Mickey Lolich for Rusty Staub - and here is a representative from another one. Midway through the 1964 season Lou Brock was traded from the Cubs to the Cards for a pitcher named Ernie Broglio. Lou would then be a pivotal player on Cards teams that went to the World Series three of the following five years. He would go on to get 3,000 hits, tons of stolen bases, and into the Hall of Fame on his first shot. Here he looks like a happy camper in what appears to be the Cards' spring training site. Like a bunch of his fellow Cards, Lou would have a tough start to the '73 season and at the beginning of May his average was sub-.240 and he only had three steals. But he would crank things up pretty quickly from then on and finish with an average just shy of .300 and yet again lead the NL with 70 stolen bases. 1974 would be the year he would go on to collect a then-record 118 steals.

Lou Brock grew up in Louisiana where he eventually became an HS baseball star and then won an academic scholarship to Southern University. At that school, things started tough as he lost the scholarship and hit only .150 his freshman year. But his sophomore year he led the school to an NAIA championship with his .535 average and after a junior year in which he hit .370 he was signed by the Cubs that summer of 1960 for a pretty good bonus. Picked up too late to play that year, in '61 Lou had a C ball season in which he hit .361 with 117 runs, 38 steals, and 82 RBI's from the top of the order. That was enough of an audition for Chicago and in '62 he was promoted way up to the majors.

The Cubs of the early Sixties had some good sticks in the lineup but not too much pitching. The team also employed a sort of manager-by-committee system that didn't produce very good records and almost no real guidance for young, raw players like Brock. For a guy whose primary game was speed, Lou could bang homers and during his career would sport the high strikeout numbers that came with that skill. So while his rookie numbers were pretty good, Lou had a tough time trying to figure out what kind of hitter he was supposed to be. And on defense he put up a few too many errors in center. So offensively his sophomore year was not an improvement to the prior one and with the trade of George Altman Lou was moved to right, a bad sun field at Wrigley, which made fielding even more frustrating (though with his speed Lou came in second in the NL in both putouts and assists). After a discounted beginning to the '64 season, the Cubs - still hurting for pitching - made the June swap for Broglio, a big winner in years past for the Cards (to be fair the Cubs also got other players including former MVP Bobby Shantz). Poor Ernie never got things going for the Cubs while for Lou it was a whole other story.

Brock went on a tear in his new home to finish with a .348 average for St. Louis, ably filling the functional void left by Stan Musial's retirement the prior year. His speed would be the catalyst to take the Cards to the Series where they won memorably over the Yankees. Defensively, he would take over left field. In '65 he really began ratcheting up the stolen bases with 63 and in '66 he won the first of his titles in that department with 74. '67, another Series season, would be one of his best offensive ones as Lou led the NL with 113 runs and 52 steals while setting personal bests in homers and RBI's. In '68 his doubles, triples, and 62 steals led the NL as he saw his final Series action. '69 was a disappointing year for St. Louis but not because of Lou as he kept his numbers up and led the NL with 53 steals. He gave up the title by a couple bases in '70 to Bobby Tolan but that year began a run of six of seven .300 seasons. '71 saw Lou top out with 126 runs in his final 200 hit season and a return to the All-Star game while in '72 the runs came in a bunch but nothing else did.

'74 was another big season for Brock. The Hank Aaron home run record chase ended early in the season when Hank topped the Babe. So when Lou decided to chase another record in Maury Wills' stolen base one, he had a lot of eyes on him and sort of smashed through the record. That would be his final year of leading the league. In '75 and '76 he kept the average above .300 and the stolen bases above 50 while in the next two seasons Lou showed his age. But he had a big year in '79, moving his average up over 80 points to .304 while returning to the All-Star game and recording his 3,000th hit. He won the NL Comeback Player of the Year in what would be his final season. He finished with 3,023 hits, 938 stolen bases, and a .293 average. He also hit 149 homers. In the post-season Lou's numbers were pretty amazing: .391 with four homers, 13 RBI's, 16 runs, and 14 stolen bases in 21 games.Defensively the once-challenged outfielder is eighth all-time in left field putouts, 23rd in assists, and 27th in double plays.

In David Halberstam's book, "October 1964", he devotes the preface to a description of Brock's time with the Cubs. It is a significant narrative on how Brock viewed baseball and played the game: he took copious notes on his game and opposing pitchers; he was so driven to succeed that he worried his roommate, Ernie Banks; he desperately tried to make himself a better fielder since right field in Wrigley was a notorious sun field and he had never learned how to play in the sun. When he moved to the Cards it was pure freedom for Brock; he was allowed to run whenever he wanted, he was allowed to swing freely and not be restricted by typical lead-off man demands. It all paid off pretty well.

Nice numbers on the back. Those consecutive years of 50+ stolen bases would reach a total of twelve. Brock led the NL in steals every year from '66 to '74 except 1970 and was an All-Star six times. His signature is another one with a reverse lean. The cartoon is actually significant. Brock turned that flower business into a great success and source of wealth. A driven guy, indeed.

I am going to re-use another guy also mentioned above:

1. Brock and Bobby Tolan '65 to '68 Cards;
2. Tolan and Ross Grimsley '71 to '73 Reds.

Monday, November 29, 2010

#59 - Ross Grimsley

Here is another action shot of a member of the playoff-bound Reds. Here Ross Grimsley appears to be letting loose a curve at Riverfront (thanks Anthony and Jim). He had a nice '73 run through the All-Star break, going 10-5 with a 2.59 ERA. He should have had an even better record but the Cincy bats were strangely silent behind him. But he got them back by cooling off a bit at the end of the year and then had a not great playoff start against NY. Plus, Ross and manager Sparky Anderson did not get along: Ross was a bit too free-spirited for his manager and everyone else running the organization. He wouldn't keep his hair short, he got lucky amulets from witches, he wouldn't bathe when on winning streaks. I guess it was all a bit much for the guys in Cincinnati.

Ross Grimsley was drafted out of high school by Detroit but didn't sign. Instead he went to the brand new Jackson State Community College where he led his team to the first conference championship. He was then drafted by the Reds in the secondary draft of early '69 and this time he signed. A big starter who threw heat, Ross moved quickly through the minors. He went 9-4 with a 3.32 ERA that first summer and in '70 jumped to Triple A where he went 11-8 with a 2.73. By then he began adding an assortment of sinkers to his pitching resume and after a 6-0 start with another sub-3.00 ERA to kick off the '71 season Ross got promoted.

Grimsley debuted with the Reds in May and put together a pretty good rookie season, earning a spot on the Topps Rookie team. He followed that with a better '72 and then had a great post-season, beating Pittsburgh once and Oakland twice. His poor showing in the '73 playoffs probably didn't help his standing in the front office, hence the trade to Baltimore.

For the Orioles Grimsley grew a 'stache, a big afro, and was accused by Billy Martin, among others, of throwing a greaseball using stuff secreted in the mop on his head. In '74 he won 18 games with four shutouts, a 3.07 ERA, and by far his personal best in strikeouts. On top of that he resumed his excellent post-season work. But in '75 the ERA got elevated by a run and he posted his first losing season, and in '76 things got messy as arm woes caused some missed starts, though he did get his ERA below 4.00 and posted a winning record. After winning 14 in '77 he left via free agency for the Expos.

It all came together for Grimsley that first year in Montreal: his only 20-win season, his only All-Star appearance, and some Cy Young votes. He remains the only Montreal pitcher to win 20 games. From there, though, it was all downhill. His walk and hit totals went up, his ERA would stay well north of 5.00 and he was essentially done after the '80 season. A brief comeback attempt with Baltimore in '82 didn't last and he was done at age 32. His career stats were 124-99 with a 3.81 ERA, 79 complete games, 15 shutouts, and three saves. In the post-season Ross went 3-2 with a 3.24 ERA in nine games and hit .333 with an RBI.

Surprisingly Grimsley became a pitching coach almost immediately after his playing career ended with a bunch of organizations, primarily San Francisco's since '99 and where I believe he currently resides employment-wise.

This is another Traded card that I don't think is too bad. That bird must have been tough to airbrush and the setting is recognizable. I believe it is again Shea, evidenced by the Schaeffer billboard in the background. Nice sideburns too.

Lots of info about the '72 season, in this case a wise choice by Topps. Regarding the cartoon, Grimsley had/has - dare I say it - beautiful green eyes. A bunch of times he would accentuate the color by wearing turquoise-colored contact lenses. Definitely an odd bird.

The back of the traded card is pretty prosaic. There were also a few minor leaguers involved in the trade, one being Junior Kennedy, who would go on to do some backup infielding for the Reds and Cubs. Ross' dad put in years in the minors and came up at age 29. He had a decent season but I guess was too weathered to keep on the major roster. He did pitch in the minors through '61 and won 129 games there.

We have an AL hookup this time:

1. Grimsley and Rick Manning and Duane Kuiper '80 Indians;
2. Kuiper, Manning, and Charlie Spikes '75 to '77 Indians.

Friday, November 26, 2010

#58 - Charlie Spikes

This is Charlie Spikes in his first solo card - he had a rookie card in the '73 set - at Yankee stadium. It is kind of an ironic shot because Spikes was traded the previous off-season from the Yankees as part of the deal that brought them Graig Nettles. Charlie was a big guy and prior to the '73 season there was much anticipation about the type of slugger into which he would develop. According to the Cleveland brass he was the piece that made the Nettles trade tolerable. And Charlie gave the Tribe a pretty good rookie season, leading the team in homers and RBI's. His average was a tad low - but so was just about everybody's on that team - and the strikeouts a tad high, but overall he seemed like a shot to deliver on his promise.

Charlie Spikes was drafted by the Yankees in the first round in '69 out of Louisiana, where he was a multi-sport star and in baseball a power-hitting third baseman. Charlie would be handcuffed a bit his first couple seasons in Rookie ball and then A ball by strikeouts but his power was pretty impressive and his base-running surprisingly so as those two years he stole 29 while getting caught only six times. In '71 at the higher level he dropped 40 strikeouts, added nearly as many points to his average, and became entrenched in his new position in the outfield. A fine Double A season in '72 followed during which he also stole 23 bases, sported a .400-plus OBA, and prompted a September call-up.

The big trade - Spikes, Jerry Kenney, John Ellis, and Rusty Torres for Nettles and Jerry Moses - was pretty interesting since the man that orchestrated it for Cleveland, Gabe Paul, departed as their GM right after the trade to become the Yankee GM. Given that the trade was a steal for the Yankees it was a bit suspicious at the time. Charlie had a nice rookie season becoming a starter right off the bat. The next season was better as he boosted his RBI total to 80 and his average 33 points. It would be his best season. In winter ball that year Charlie was nailed in the eye by a pitch and though he recovered it seems undeniable from his stats that the incident affected the rest of his career and the remainder of Charlie's time in Cleveland would be tough. Already one of the guys in Gaylord Perry's doghouse for his real or imagined loafing, Spikes withered under Frank Robinson's critical eye when the latter became the Indian manager. In '75 his average dropped back to the .230 level and his playing time decreased, most of it to rookie Rick Manning, a high-average (for a while at least) contact guy who was a much better fielder.  Charlie's home run total dropped to three in '76, his last season as a regular. In '77 Charlie was demoted to Triple A  and after a good partial season there that included a .293 average and seven homers and 31 RBI's in 164 at bats as well as a rediscovered ability to steal bases (for his minor league career he stole 86 while being caught only 16 times) he returned to Cleveland. But after a season off the bench the rest of the way that produced fewer than 100 at bats he went to Detroit for shortstop Tom Veryzer.

In Detroit Spikes reunited with his first MLB manager, Ralph Houk, and hopes were high that Charlie would regain his offensive footing. But at the top of the season he injured his knee and was assigned to Triple A for rehab. There he hit quite well - .320 with a .438 OBA - but in minimal at bats and after a bit of time in Detroit that produced discounted numbers, Charlie got knee surgery and was then released. Just prior to the '79 season he signed as a free agent with Atlanta. For the Braves Charlie enjoyed a bit of a revival as a pinch hitter, that year producing a .362,2/13 line with five doubles and a .423 OBA in 47 at bats. His '80 was also pretty good - a .294/0/2/.351 line in 34 at bats - but Charlie had only a two-year contract that was not renewed. In '81 he moved to Chunchi in Japan but was not too comfortable overseas and quit early that season. That was his last in baseball. For his career he hit .246 with 65 homers and 256 RBI's.

After playing Spikes returned to Louisiana where for a time he worked in a textile factory until a back injury put him on disability.

In the mid-'70's the Indians, like many teams, were pretty strapped for cash and decided to save money on transportation by moving from commercial airlines to a local commuter service. The planes were prop planes and since they were not pressurized they had to fly in the low heavier air, which meant two things. One was that the flights were much longer: a normal 90-minute flight would take three hours. Two was the planes could not fly above the weather. Once in '76 the plane on which poor Charlie was traveling was struck by lightning. Apparently by the time the plane landed, he and several other Indian passengers were curled into fetal positions. No wonder the guy's stats took a hit!

Leslie is Charlie's real first name; he opted for the middle one for I think obvious reasons. He had a nice compact signature; it leans to the left which is odd for a right-hander. This is also the second time we have seen that - maybe it was a thing back then. He hit 22 homers in '71. I cannot grab his August '72 stats, but his whole season was pretty good. His nickname, at least early on, was the "Bogalusa Bomber."

Again, one guy links the two players, and it is an All-Star:

1. Spikes and George Hendrick '73 to '76 Indians;
2. Hendrick and Darold Knowles '71 to '72 A's.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

#57 - Darold Knowles

1973 was the year that made Darold Knowles famous, or at least the answer to a trivia question. It would be an unusual year for him, mostly in good ways. On his way to another very good Oakland season out of the pen, his best outing through the end of July was probably his last one: nearly five innings of two-hit shutout relief that got him the win. In fact, there's a good shot this photo is from that game as Darold only went up against the Rangers twice at home that year. That prompted Oakland to use Darold in a way he almost never was - in the rotation. So in August Darold got four starts and while the first three weren't anything special, the last one was: a six-hit shutout against Boston. The rest of the way he returned to the pen Then, after getting zero work in the AL playoffs, Darold had himself a helluva Series, becoming the first pitcher to appear in all seven games. Here he has a nice action shot hurling at home against the Texas Rangers. Who's that guy on second base behind him? It looks too small to be Jim Spencer or Toby Harrah or Bill Sudakis. I am going with Jim Mason. If I am correct about the game, it could be Mason, who was on second when Darold came in. The only other white guy to reach second in that game against him was Rich Billings, who I guess it could be as well. Whoever it is certainly is not an aggressive runner.

Darold Knowles was signed by the Orioles in '61 out of Missouri after trying - and failing - to give college a shot. A big fastball guy back then - see the card back - his first two seasons in C ball he went a combined 23-12 with a 2.79 ERA and nearly 400 K's in 325 innings. In '63 he graduated to Double A and went 16-7/2.73 and began expanding his pitches to incorporate some off-speed and sinking stuff so the K numbers came down. The next year he took on a spot role in Triple A so the innings were down but in '65 after a not great early look up top an improved 11-5/2.53 got him back up in Baltimore that again didn't go terribly well. While in the minors he also pitched a bit for the Twins' system although I see no record of a trade; this seems to have happened fairly often and I believe that back then it was fairly common for players to be loaned between franchises. While Darold's Baltimore looks were a tad short of perfection he was still claimed to be a hot property for the O's. Then they sent him to the Phillies with Jackie Brandt for Jack Badschun.

Knowles had a pretty good rookie year for Philly, posting over 100 relief innings and grabbing 13 saves with a nice ERA. But then he was on the road again, this time going to the Senators for outfielder Don Lock. Darold picked up where he left off and in '67 except for his record he improved on his Phillies numbers, posting 14 saves. Then he was en route to a very nice '68 when his season was cut short by National Guard duty in Japan, of all places. He returned in '69 and was an All-Star in another 13-save season. His best year was probably 1970, though. Despite a 2-14 record, he pitched 119 innings, got 27 saves and had an ERA of 2.04. About a month into the '71 season he was traded with Mike Epstein to Oakland for Don Mincher, Frank Fernandez, and Paul Lindblad.

Knowles had pretty excellent timing in getting with the A's. While in Oakland he closed the second most games behind Rollie Fingers, for whom he also set up (ooh, bad, ending with a preposition!). The balance of '71 he put up seven saves of his own and saw his first post-season action. He then put up a sweet '72 that included eleven saves before he broke his thumb late in the season while batting. Then in '73 he made up for his lost Series time in a big way. But then '74 was tough. Darold didn't get along too well with new manager Al Dark, his time on the hill came in a bit, and his numbers tumbled to a 3-3/4.22 season with only three saves. After that year he was again on the trading block, this time going to the Cubs with Bob Locker (around the corner) and Manny Trillo for Billy Williams.

Knowles had sort of an intriguing year in '75. Taking over as the Cub bullpen ace, he led the team with 15 saves and won six games, but his ERA was huge at 5.81. That number improved markedly in a '76 that had a line of  5-7/2.89 with nine saves. But by then Bruce Sutter was the new man in the pen and Darold went to Texas for Gene Clines. His '77 was quite good at 5-2/3.22 with four saves and was followed by a sale to Montreal that produced a better '78 at 3-3/2.38 with six saves. Darold then took the free agent route, signing with St. Louis, where he pitched through 1980. He finished with a 66-74 record, that one complete game shutout, 143 saves, and a 3.12 ERA. In the post-season he gave up no earned runs and put up two saves in his eight games.

Following his playing career Knowles has done a bunch of coaching at both the major and minor levels. From '81 to '88 he was a roving pitching instructor in the St. Louis system. He then moved to the Phillies, where he coached up top ('89-'90) and in the minors ('91-2001). He then coached in the Pittsburgh system (2002-'05) and Toronto's ('06-present) where he is currently coaching close to home in Florida.

By the way, this is another great instructional pitching photo. Knowles frequently threw a slider and judging by the grip and the position of the laces, that is what he is preparing to throw here.

These are some pretty good bits of trivia. The Ban Johnson League was and is a college-aged summer league based in Kansas City (Knowles played at Missouri). The guy he pitched against struck out 18. In '61 he went 11-5 with a 3.29 ERA. He got those K's in only 164 innings. I can't find any more dirt about the no-hitter but it looks like it was thrown at Stockton, a California League C-level club.

He threw awfully well against them, but how do we get from Mr. Knowles to those '73 Mets? Through his NL days of course.

1. Knowles and Wayne Garrett '78 Expos;
2. Garrett on the '73 Mets.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

#56 - Mets Team Records

Here are the '73 NL champs. Like the Orioles card this one has very good clarity; I can pretty much recognize everyone including the three Hall of Famers in the second row. The guy in the shades and the fro in the back left is a mystery - Nino Espinosa? - but everyone else I am pretty sure about.The only downside to the photo is that backdrop. Depressing!

1973 was a pretty crazy year for these guys. Just about every regular got hurt and the team pretty much occupied last place from early June until the end of August. Tom Seaver injured himself moving a case of wine. They finally gave up on Jim Fregosi, moving him to Texas. Willie Mays retired before the end of the season, promising to return if the team made the playoffs, which did not seem likely at the time of his announcement (this is one of his last cards while he was active; the other one is down the road). There was a bunch of talk about Billy Martin replacing Yogi Berra as manager. That was all laid to rest by a September during which the Mets went 19-8 while the only other NL East team over .500 was Montreal. The definitive game of that drive was on September 20th in which the Mets beat Pittsburgh in the 13th inning. The game featured the "Ball off the Wall" play in which a Cleon Jones to Wayne Garrett to Ron Hodges relay nailed Richie Zisk at the plate. It was also the rally during which the "You gotta believe!" slogan became meaningful. In the end the Mets won their division with an 82-79 record, up 1 1/2 games over St. Louis. In fact the five top teams were within five games on the last day of the season. It was a very emotional year.

There is not too much special on the front of the checklist. It is split pretty evenly between guys on the '69 club and the "newer" guys. Some signatures are pretty formal but nothing particularly stands out.

Now that I have done this a couple times, the format I established is to talk about the guys without cards in the current set. Here goes:

Roy McMillan was a shortstop who signed with the Reds in 1947 out of his small Texas town after a tryout. While he had some moments as a hitter in the minors - a .307 in C ball in '48 - he quickly earned a reputation as a defensive gem He came up in '51 and was pretty much Cincinnati's starting shortstop through the 50's, and was widely viewed as the NL's best at that position. During his time in Cincy Roy would twice be named an All-Star and win three Gold Gloves. After the 1960 season he was traded to the Braves to make way for Leo Cardenas. He would be the regular Milwaukee guy for three seasons and earn some MVP votes in '61. Early in the '64 season he went to the Mets for Jay Hook. He started for NY the next two years and played for them through the '66 season, his last as a player. Roy hit .243 for his career with 68 homers and nearly 600 RBI's. Defensively he finished very high in career categories and currently ranks 19th in career shortstop putouts, 18th in assists, and eighth in double plays. He then took up coaching, first in the Mets' system ('67 as a coach and '68-'69 as manager), up top for Milwaukee ('70-'72), and then at that same level for the Mets ('73 to '76). During that time he managed the Brewers a couple games in '72 and took over NY after Yogi was canned in '75 and went a combined 27-28 in those two stints.He then moved to manage in the Minnesota system ('77-'80) before scouting for Montreal ('81-'97). As a manager in the minors he went 454-449 and won two league championships. He died shortly after the end of the '97 season of a heart attack at age 68.

Charlie Neal was another Texas kid whose first pro experience was for the Negro League's Atlanta Black Crackers when he was a teenager. He then signed with Brooklyn in 1950. While he would hit .286 in the minors as a second baseman, he would not get to The Show until '56 since he had two Brooklyn icons ahead of him in the middle infield in Jackie Robinson and Pee Wee Reese. That year he arrived early in the season and hit .287 as a backup middle guy. In '57 Reese moved to third so Charlie took over as shortstop. When the Dodgers moved to LA Jackie opted to retire and Charlie regained his primary position, taking over second base. He would then put up his two best seasons, in '58 topping out with 22 homers despite missing some time; and in '59 charging things up by hitting .289, 30 doubles, 11 triples, 19 homers, 83 RBIs, and 102 runs. He would follow that up with a monster Series against Chicago. In '60 he was again an All-Star (as he had been in '59) though his offense came down pretty hard and remained there in '61. Prior to the team's initial '62 season he was traded to the Mets where he was the first starting second baseman. He put up his best numbers since '59 but after a discounted start to the '63 season went to the Reds midway through in what would be his final year. He hit .259 for his career with 87 homers and 391 RBI's and won a Gold Glove. In the post-season he hit .323 with two homers and six RBI's in his seven games. There is absolutely nothing out there on what he did subsequent to his playing career. He passed away in '96 at age 65.

In 1962 Charlie Neal roomed with the Mets' catcher Choo Choo Coleman, who was a bit of an airhead. During training camp the following season, Charliel bet someone that Choo Choo would not know who he was, despite their time together the prior year. When the other player asked Coleman who Charlie was, his response was "Number seven". Neal won the bet.

Frank Thomas had a colorful career, not all for good reasons. A big local kid, he was signed by Pittsburgh late in '47 after apparently attending seminary school in his teens. He planned to be a priest but liked baseball too much. He had some big seasons in the minors, including his first one in '48 when he knocked in 132 in D ball and in '51 when he hit 23 out with over 90 RBI's in Double A before being called up top. He hit OK the rest of the way, returned to Double A for a big year - .309/35/131 and came up for good later that season. With the Pirates Frank was viewed as the heir apparent to Ralph Kiner and he remained with Pittsburgh through '59. While there he averaged 27 homers and 90 RBI's. His best season was '58 when he hit 35 homers with 109 RBI's. But despite being a three-time All-Star he never led the league in homers like Ralph did and after his big '58 he was traded to the Reds with a guy named Whammy and others in the deal that got Pittsburgh Smokey Burgess, Don Hoak, and Harvey Haddix. But an arm injury led to an off season and following it Frank went to the Cubs, had surgery on his hand, and put in other discounted year. Early in '61 he went to the Braves where he recovered his stroke. Prior to the '62 season he was traded to the Mets for Gus Bell and had a decent season - .266/34/94 - for that terrible team. In '63 he moved to first base - he also had played third - and would stay there midway through the '64 season when he was traded to Philly for that team's pennant run. He was having a nice run for the Phillies when he broke his thumb; it was cited as one of the reasons for the team's collapse that year. In '65 he and Dick Allen got into a fight with racial overtones and Thomas was sent to Houston the next day. After return stints with the Cubs and Braves, he was done in '66. For his career he hit .266 with 286 homers and 962 RBI's. He also had eight kids. While Thomas was playing he would boast that he could catch anyone's hardest throw bare-handed; as far as I can tell, he always did. There is no dirt out there on what he did after baseball professionally though for a long while he did the old-timer game thing and he still shows up regularly at card shows.

Donn Clendenon has one of the most intesting Wiki pages that I have ever seen. The link is here. Set on becoming a teacher after his graduation from Morehouse College like his dad, Donn was influenced enough by his stepfather, a former Negro League star. to take a few days off from his teaching job and try out for the Pirates in '57. He made the cut and while in the minors he developed some power, his fielding at first base, and his ability to strike out. He came up late in '62 and despite only 222 at-bats finished second in Rookie of the Year voting. He stuck with Pittsburgh through '68, averaging .275 with 17 homers, 77 RBI's, and 125 K's. His biggest Pirate seasons were '65 and '66 when he put up lines of .301/14/96 and .299/28/98 respectively. Following the '68 season he was taken by the Expos in the expansion draft - the Pirates had Al Oliver coming up - and was quickly traded to Houston with Jesus Alou for Rusty Staub. Harry Walker was the Astros' manager; Donn had played for him in Pittsburgh and did not want to do so again, so he refused to report. After half a season in Montreal, he was traded to the Mets for a bunch of young players. He became a clubhouse leader, sat out the NL playoffs, and had his kick-ass Series against Baltimore. 1970 may have been his best season - 22 homers, 97 RBI's in less than 400 at-bats - and after a '71 in which his playing time was greatly reduced, he went to the Cards in '72 for his last season. He finished with a .274 average, 159 homers, and 682 RBI's. In the post-season he hit .357 with three homers, four RBI's, and a .438 OBA in his four games. Donn was very active away from baseball professionally during his career, working as a teacher, a consultant, and in management for some pretty big companies. Following baseball, he got a law degree, started his own criminal law firm, and in the Eighties had a pretty big drug problem. He got cleaned up, did a bunch of rehab work, and passed away in 2005 at age 70 from leukemia.

Bill Wakefield pitched one season in the majors, and it wasn't that bad. Bill came out of Kansas City and then went to Stanford. Somewhere along the way he must have put up some impressive pitching numbers since he was signed by St. Louis just prior to his sophomore baseball season in '61. A starter, he won nine and ten in A ball and Double A, respectively, each of the next two seasons but each year had a losing record and a pretty high ERA. After a '63 in which he went a combined 4-10 out of the pen in Double A and Triple A with another high ERA, he came to the Mets with George Altman for Roger Craig (good trade for Roger; bad one for Bill). Primarily a reliever in '64, he did some spot starting, including the first night game at Shea. He finished with a 3-5 record, two saves, and a 3.61 ERA, pretty good for that team. That year he also earned his degree at Stanford. He went back to the minors, where outside of his last season, 1966, he regularly had ERA's close to 5.00 which I guess is what kept him from coming back. He also seems to have had some control issues. In the minors for his career he went 29-53 with a 4.67 ERA. Following baseball Bill was an operations VP at S+W Fine Foods ('67-'77); a VP at Kransco ('77-'94); and since '94 has run his own firm which manufactures sporting goods (he is on LinkedIn). There is a nice video of Bill on YouTube in which he throws out a first ball at the new Citi Field in 2009.

Roger Craig has a bio on the Houston manager/coaches card.

Jack Fisher was signed by the Orioles out of his Atlanta high school in '57. After a shaky career start that year he won 14 in B ball in '58 and then eight in half a Triple A season in '59. Around those last numbers he debuted up top that year and while he was only 1-6 was deemed to be part of a group of young pitchers - Milt Pappas, Steve Barber, Jerry Walker, and Chuck Estrada were the others - to pull Baltimore out of the second division. 1960, during which he was 12-11with a 3.41 ERA, was his best season. In '61 and '62 he recorded losing seasons as his win totals moved down while his ERA moved way up. Following the '62 season he was traded to the Giants. After a not great year there as a spot guy he got to come to the Mets in the infamous "make-up draft". In four years with the Amazins' he led the league in losses twice and in earned runs three times. Prior to the '68 season he went to the White Sox in a pretty big trade that brought the Mets Tommie Agee. While he went 8-13 for the Sox he put up his best ERA of 2.99. In '69 he went to the Reds. After that season and a 1970 spent in the minors - for Baltimore and St. Louis - he was done. He finished with an 86-139 record with a 4.06 ERA, 62 complete games, nine shutouts, and nine saves. After playing he coached a bit and worked for a publishing company before opening a restaurant in PA he ran for a long time called "Fat Jack's" (his nickname when he played).

The most prominent everyday player in '73 without a card is Willie Mays who had 209 at bats. Jim Fregosi had a card with his new team in Texas. Jim Gosger also put in some outfield time and had 92 at bats but he hadn't had a card since '71. On the pitching side 5 wins, 21 losses, and seven saves are not represented; those stats belonged to Jim McAndrew (3-8 with a save and a 5.38 ERA in his last NY season), Buzz Capra (2-7 with four saves and a 3.86 ERA also in his last NY season), Phil Hennigan (0-4 with three saves and a 6.23 ERA in his final MLB year) and a couple 0-1 guys in Craig Swan, who would go on to have a decent MLB career, and Tommy Moore, who wouldn't. Most of these guys do make the team photo card, however. Mays is the second guy in the second row; Capra, Gosger, and Hennigan are the first three in the third row; and McAndrew is the third guy from the right in the last row. Though the Mets were NL champs, the excluded at bats and decisions get them close to the bottom of the list in representation.

Getting Frank Robinson linked to these guys takes advantage of a very big trade:

1. The '73 Mets included Jerry Koosman, Tom Seaver, etc.
2. Koosman, Seaver, etc. and Nolan Ryan on the '67 to '72 Mets;
3. Ryan and Frank Robinson '73 to '74 Angels.

Friday, November 19, 2010

#55 - Frank Robinson

This is my favorite Frank Robinson card. Pensive and smiling, I think he looks very noble. Very managerial, which would be a fitting adjective in a couple years. '73 marked Robby's return to the AL in a big trade after a one-year hiatus. Early in the season he moved into sixth place for all-time homers and he had a pretty good year, coming back in time to take advantage of a new position and rest his tired knees; it would be his last big season.

Another of this set's iconic Hall of Famers, Frank Robinson was signed by the Reds in '53 out of his Oakland high school. He then pretty much burned through their minor system with big years in '53 (C ball) and '54 (A ball) before having an off and shortened '55 due to a shoulder injury. But Cincy had seen enough and in '56 Frank moved seamlessly into a hard-hitting outfield (with Gus Bell and Wally Post), helped push the Reds to a winning record, and won Rookie of the Year. Not one to buy the sophomore jinx thing, Robby pretty much eschewed that in '57 though  renewed shoulder pain pulled down his numbers a bit in '58. Primarily an outfielder, he would move to first base in '59, allowing Vada Pinson to break in during the latter's rookie year. It was around this time that Robby would invert his strikeout to walk ratio, adding to his slugging prowess with a high OBA. A big year that year was followed by another injury-affected (though not much) '60. In '61 Frank would move back to the outfield and lead Cincinnati to the Series, winning his first MVP award. A bigger '62 followed as did three more awfully good years. Following the '65 season Robby was viewed as aging fast and the Reds management sent him to Baltimore for pitchers Milt Pappas and Jack Baldschun and outfielder Dick Simpson. Oops.

All Robinson did in his first AL season was post his monster MVP triple-crown numbers, leading his new team to a Series win. But Robby WAS aging pretty quickly - at least his knees were - and '67 and '68 were discount years affected by injury. He bounced in '69 with his final 100 run/100 RBI season again helping Baltimore reach the Series, and then had another discounted year - except for his average - in '70 as the O's won the thing again. '71 was yet another Series year as Robby just missed another three figure RBI season. After that season, Robby was traded to the Dodgers in '72 for a bunch of young players; the only one of those guys that would have a prominent career was Doyle Alexander.

After a '72 season in which Robinson posted a career - till then - low in at bats, he hit the road again in another big deal: he, Bobby Valentine, Bill Singer, Billy Grabarkewitz, and Mike Strahler went to California for Andy Messersmith and Ken McMullen. Robbie remained with the Angels through most of '74 but the manager in him was coming out and he didn't get along too well with Bobby Winkles. So late that season he went to Cleveland and for the year as a whole put up a .245/22/68 line. The following season he was named the team's manager - in his first managerial at bat he homered - and would stay with Cleveland through '76 as a player when he retired from that role. He finished with just short of 3,000 hits, 586 homers, 1,812 RBI's, and a .294 average. In the post-season he hit .238 with ten homers and 19 RBI's in 35 games. He had twelve All-Star seasons and won a Gold Glove and got into the Hall his first shot in 1982.

Robinson managed Cleveland through the '77 season and after getting canned when that team sort of imploded, finished out the year as a coach back in Anaheim. He then coached for Baltimore ('78-'80) and managed a bit ('78) in its system. In "81 he moved back to the NL as manager of the Giants, which lasted through mid-'84. He then returned to Baltimore to coach ('84-'87), act as an admin guy ('87-'88), and manage ('88-'91), winning Manager of the Year in '89. Robby had a habit of taking over broken teams, making them better - sometimes playoff-better - and then being let go shortly into another fade. He got back to the Baltimore admin side from '91 to the late Nineties, when he took on the same role for MLB. By the 2002 season, the league had taken over the Montreal franchise and named Frank its manager, which he did through '06 for his final baseball gig. He went 1,065-1,176 as a manager up top and remains retired.

1976 was a big anniversary year. Besides the Bicentennial, it was the NL's centennial and the 75th anniversary of the AL. As part of the promotional exercises surrounding those events, each team was asked to submit its most memorable moment in its history. Cleveland's was Robinson's first at bat as manager, the obvious significance being that he was the first black manager. The only other one I remember offhand was Texas' (David Clyde's first game). I am continuing to try to find that list and will include it here if and when I do.

This is a nice card back. I believe this card was the first one in which Frank's lifetime average dipped below .300 in quite some time. The cartoon is lame and has been seen before. Maybe I will count all the movie goers.

Frank's year in LA gets some mileage here:

1. Robinson and Bill Russell '72 Dodgers;
2. Russell and Elias Sosa '76-'77 Dodgers.

Since we still have seen only one Dodger card, I am happy to throw around more Blue.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

#54 - Elias Sosa

This is a nice action shot of Elias Sosa, another workhorse reliever who put in the innings but did not attain quite the notoriety of Campbell, Hiller, etc. during his career. His most high-profile moment may have been the pitch he served up as Reggie Jackson's second of three homers in the '77 Series game. This is his rookie card. It is taken at Candlestick in what was an awfully good rookie year for this kid. In fact, for Elias personally it was sort of a career apex in that he topped out in games, wins, and saves in '73 and finished in third place for NL Rookie of the Year. And he was no shrinking violet: a cocky guy, Juan Marichal - of all people - had to talk to him about calling out opposing hitters. Plus he's about the only guy I've seen in this set whose glasses make him look more threatening.

Elias Sosa was signed by the Giants in '68 out of the DR and took a while to get on track (he didn't win a game until his third season) in Rookie and A ball. After finally posting some wins in '70 at the higher level, but still toting a fat ERA, he then had a couple good seasons in '71 (as a starter in A ball) and '72 (as a Triple A reliever), a season in which he got some productive late MLB innings and posted three saves. He then broke spring training in '73 as a member of the San Francsisco pitching staff.

Sosa's '74 season was also pretty good as he went 9-7 with a 3.48 ERA in another year of 100-plus innings. But he worked a bunch more as a setup guy that year and his saves decreased to six. Almost immediately following that season he was traded - his '75 card is an airbrush job - to St. Louis with catcher Ken Rudolph for catcher Marc Hill. After being used not too often in mid-season Elias went to Atlanta with Ray Sadecki for Ron Reed and Wayne Nordhagen. While his usage went up with his new team, his numbers really didn't get any better which continued into '76. Then came another trade, this one with Lee Lacy to the Dodgers for Mike Marshall, and the change worked this time for Elias as his ERA dropped by nearly two runs the rest of the way. In '77 he had a real nice season as a setup guy - 2-2 with a 1.98 ERA and a save in 44 games - followed by his first post-season action. But the following January he was on the move again, first in a sale to Pittsburgh, and then just before the season began, in a trade to Oakland with Miguel Dilone for Manny Sanguillen - Elias got his fair share of trades that brought transplants back home - and Mike Edwards.

With the A's Sosa had his biggest season since his rookie one, taking over the closer role and going 8-2 with a 2.64 ERA and 14 saves in 109 innings in 68 games. Good timing for him since he was unsigned and after the season would be a free agent. Montreal grabbed him and for the Expos, Elias put up a similar line of 8-7/1.96/18/97/62 as contributor to a young surge up north. '80 was a marginal discount at 9-6/3.07/nine/93/67 and '81 a bit more of one as the strike year impeded his momentum, though he did have a much better post-season. For the '82 season he was sent to Detroit where the ERA got a bit toppy and after a sale to San Diego he finished out his MLB time in '83. For his career Elias was 59-51 with a 3.32 ERA, 83 saves, and over 900 innings in 12 full seasons. In the post-season he was 0-1 with a 7.56 ERA in seven games.

When done with playing Sosa coached in the minors a bit, including for the Giants organization beginning in '95 though information is sketchy enough I have no idea how long that lasted or where or when else he coached. However, according to his LinkedIn profile he has since 2001 been working for MLB International as a Latin American Coordinator.

The cartoon gives props to Marichal's kick, so it is one of the few individualized ones in the set. Topps likes to throw around the capital letters ("Honorable Mention") more than even I do.

Here another HOF guy links the two players:

1. Sosa and Willie McCovey '73 Giants;
2. McCovey and Fred Kendall '74 to '76 Padres.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

#53 - Fred Kendall

Here is Fred Kendall, Padres starting catcher and the subject of the second Washington Nat'l card of the set. Fred is fresh off his '73 season as San Diego's MVP. It was also Fred's best career season as he topped out in average, homers, and RBI's in what was pretty much his busiest year. Here he crouches at the Padres' spring training compound.

Fred Kendall was a '67 draftee of the Reds out of his Torrance, California high school as a catcher, but you know who was in front of him there. Though Fred lacked Johnny Bench's power, he had a couple decent offensive seasons, including a .301 in A ball his first year and a .292 in '68 in Double A. Following that season he was selected by San Diego in the expansion draft and  with his new team put up a very similar '69 in Double A with a bit more power prior to his late look. His next season was an error-less '70 behind the plate in Triple A. After some time at that level in '71 he moved into the starting Padre lineup late that summer.

Kendall's predecessors in San Diego weren't monster batsmen so even though his MLB average entering the '72 season was sub-.200, Fred was given a split starting assignment with recent transplant Pat Corrales. He turned in some nice D and on offense cracked that .200 barrier before taking on the job solo the next year. He retained the starting gig in '74 but as his average swooned 50 points, his at bats moved down. In '75 Fred's average again moved to sub-.200 as his at bats came way in to make room for the new young catching hope in Bob Davis. But Davis' stick wasn't too great either and Fred was staff ace Randy Jones' favorite receiver - Jones gave Fred a lot of credit for his pitching success in '75 and '76 - so in '76 Fred got a big jump in at bats as he reported a much better .246/2/39 offensive line. After the season Fred, Hector Torres,  and Johnny Grubb were sent to Cleveland for George Hendrick.

With the Tribe, Kendall moved into another split-role assignment - this time with Ray Fosse - and turned in numbers a bit better than his '76 ones. After that for the Indians he went to Boston - with Dennis Eckersley, oof! - for Rick Wise and other guys. He played very sparingly for the Red Sox, again for obvious reasons, and the next season returned to San Diego. After a couple backup seasons he was released in 1980. Fred finished with .234 average with 31 homers and 244 RBI's.

Following a few years with a real-world job, Fred returned to baseball as a minor league coach and manager in the White Sox system. In that second role from '92 to '95 he went 246-243. He then hooked up with former teammate Buddy Bell and became his bullpen coach for all his major league stops, the last being in 2007 in Kansas City. His son is, of course, Jason Kendall, currently with the Royals.

Some more poop on the whole Washington/San Diego situation might be appropriate here. Between low attendance woes and other business losses, San Diego's owner - CA Smith - got in dutch with the IRS, among other parties. He actively sought various deals, the most promising of which was a bid by a Japanese group to take the Padres to Washington. The city of San Diego sued to block the move; I do not know the outcome of that legal situation. But things were up in the air enough with Smith's finances that a move to DC seemed likely, at least enough to print those cards. In the end, of course, the Padres stayed in San Diego, becoming the property of McDonalds millionaire Ray Kroc. That was a pretty good save.

The card back focuses on Fred's primary strength, his fielding. The cartoon references the Connie Mack league which I always thought was strictly a northeastern rec league, but since Kendall was a California kid I guess not.

All NL this time:

1. Kendall and Johnny Jeter '71 - '72 Padres;
2. Jeter and Al Oliver '69 - '70 Pirates.

We will see Jeter later in the AL.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

#52 - Al Oliver

Here is Al Oliver at Candlestick. It is the first photo we get to see the number 21 on the Pirates' sleeves. That was Roberto Clemente's number. Like just about every other Pirate, Al's '73 was impacted by the off-season death of Clemente. With Willie Stargell forced to pick up more outfield time and Bob Robertson's stick starting to decay - though that one had nothing to do with Roberto's passing - Al put in more time at first base than he had since '70. It was still an awfully good season as he posted until then career highs in runs, homers, and RBI's, just missing the century mark in that last one. The only demerit Al gets - and I really don't want to be gross - is that he really needed to wear a cup for this photo. Too much information...

Al Oliver was a mean hitter and was only beginning to hit his stride in '73. During the early part of his career he alternated between first base and center field. Pittsburgh was loaded with hitters at both spots and Al was a desired guy in the lineup so I think his versatility contributed to his time on the field. Signed by the Pirates in '64 out of his Ohio HS, Al had been all-state in both basketball and baseball, the same as his HS teammate Larry Hisle (those must have been some teams). He put up some nice numbers three of his four years in the minors: in '65 and '66 he averaged over .300 in A ball;  in '67, his only off year, he had military commitments; and he had a big '68 line of .315/14/74 in Triple A despite some more missed time and prior to his late call-up. After a good fall ball season that year and a very good camp in '69 he was up for good.

Oliver immediately moved into the starting Pittsburgh lineup. In the minors he'd been exclusively a first baseman until pulling some outfield time in '68 and his first couple seasons first would be his primary position. He had a nice rookie season, placing second in NL Rookie of the Year voting. In '70 he upped his plate time and his RBI's and in '71 with Bob Robertson's arrival, he moved to center field, where he continued his very good defense and then won a ring. In '72 he cranked his offense a bit and made his first All-Star team. He would continue putting up very good offensive lines - he averaged a .307/15/78 line that would have been better if he didn't miss over a month in '76 to injury - through '77. That last year he was strictly an outfielder as Pops Stargell took over first.

After the '77 season Oliver was involved in a huge multi-team trade that landed him at Texas. While there he alternated between outfield and DH. Shifting leagues was not a problem for Al as he maintained his .300 average and high RBI pace. His first two seasons he hit .324 and in '80 he became a slugger big time with a .319/19/117 line that earned him his first Silver Slugger award. He won it again in a discounted '81 strike season and following it he returned to the NL, this time to Montreal, essentially for Larry Parrish. There he became almost exclusively a first baseman. In '82 he had his biggest season ever, leading the league with a .331 average, 204 hits, 109 RBI's, and 43 doubles, while also setting his PR with 22 homers. After one more season for the Expos during which he again led the NL in doubles, Al was traded to the Giants. His last two seasons he moved from San Francisco to Philly, LA, and Toronto. At that last stop he had some significant post-season numbers to close out his career. He finished with a .303 average with 2,743 hits, 219 homers, and 1,326 RBI's. In the post-season he hit .228 with three homers and 17 RBIs in 28 games. He was on seven All-Star teams and won three Silver Slugger awards

Oliver claimed that owner collusion forced him out of baseball before he was ready and cost him a sure Hall of Fame shot. But he doesn't seem bitter and since playing has done speaking engagements and has a self-help type website going which I guess has been another post-career thing. He has had some strong backing for HOF candidacy although his first year eligible he did not get the requisite amount of votes to stay on the ballot. His lifetime stats are right on the line.

Al was quite a fielder as the first star bullet and cartoon point out. His nickname was actually Scoop. Again Topps defaults to an old season and while his '72 numbers were nice, '73 was much better as he reached his until-then career highs by far in some stats. While Al was in Pittsburgh he had his own radio show. For a while he must have stayed in Texas because when his son Aaron played football for Texas A&M, he was listed as having grown up locally. These days it appears Al is back in Ohio.

Let's make this an All-Star affair:

1. Oliver and Bobby Bonds '78 Rangers;
2. Bonds and Bobby Heise '70 Giants.

Monday, November 15, 2010

#51 - Bobby Heise

Bobby Heise had the distinction in my little mind (at the time) of being a '69 Met. He also was an everyman infielder for the Brewers. Unfortunately, he is also emblematic of the guys in the initial Topps Traded set, unlike the last two featured: they really didn't impact their new teams very much. Bobby's '73 would be a prelude to that: the arrival of Pedro Garcia, Tim Johnson (both as rookies), and Don Money (trade) all worked to compress his field time considerably that year and his numbers fell pretty hard. And unfortunately for him the rest of he seasons would much more resemble his '73 than his '72. But down the road he'd be a much bigger impact guy, just in a different biz.

Bobby Heise had a dad who was in the military so as a kid he moved around a bit, settling in California for high school. His dad also played semi-pro softball so Bobby's ability to star on the diamond was partly innate. He was signed by the Mets in '66 after a year at a local JUCO and worked his way through their system over the next three years, alternating between second and third base and shortstop. That first summer in A ball was pretty good with a .283 average, 50 RBI's and 28 stolen bases. In '67 at that level  he hit .298 but the RBI and steal totals dropped. That year he also began his military commitment. In '68 he jumped to Triple A where his offense was sort of ho-hum, though he did steal 14 bases. He upped his average at that level in '69 to .278 and bumped his stolen bases to 20. He put in very small amounts of time for the Mets from '67 to '69, hitting around .300, but got shut out the last year from post-season play. Following that year he was traded to the Giants with Jim Gosger - who would later return to NY - for Dave Marshall and Ray Sadecki.

It was in his one full season in San Francisco that Heise hit his personal high in RBIs backing up Tito Fuentes and Hal Lanier in the middle infield. He then went to Milwaukee early in '71. That year the Brewers infield was quite messy and Bobby would be one of four guys to get starting time at short and one of six at third. '72 would be his - relatively - big year playing-time wise as he backed-up Ron Theobold at second and Mike Ferraro at third and put up generally his best offensive numbers. After the '73 season and the trade shown here, for the Cardinals, Bobby would spend nearly all his time in Triple A - where he hit .326 while playing second - before a July trade to California for Doug Howard. There he stayed up top to spell Denny Doyle at second (he hit .267) and then in '75 he moved to Boston for Tommy Harper to spell Denny Doyle at second (.214 but with 21 RBI's in only 126 at bats). After another year with the Sox in the same role, he finished his career with KC in '77. He hit .247 up top and .283 with 76 stolen bases in the minors. While he played on three pennant or Series winners, Bobby never saw any post-season action.

Heise had an interesting post-baseball life. Following his career he returned full-time to Vacaville where he became a police officer (for 26 years) and corrections officer and fought off cancer. You gotta give him credit for his persistence.

In his regular card, Bobby is posed pensively at Yankee Stadium - further imprinting him in my (ok, yes, still small) mind as a New York guy. His Traded card, while obviously airbrushed, is not that bad although it is yet another one of unknown geographic origin.

The Mets really did seem to churn them out in the late '60's and early '70's, didn't they? Championship clubs and between Seaver, Ryan, Koosman, etc. some awfully good players. Another multi-sport guy, Bobby grew up in California - his dad was a corrections officer also - and recalled Whitey Hertzog as his favorite manager. Yes, I know that is not a very good segue.

Topps covers the Cards infield pretty well here (Torre was the first baseman but we already know that). Not too much else to say.

Lets use a former NL guy to get these guys together in the AL:

1. Heise and Johnny Briggs ' 71 to '73 Brewers;
2. Briggs and Rod Carew '75 Twins.

Friday, November 12, 2010

#50 - Rod Carew

This looks like a home uniform Rod Carew is wearing so I am tempted to say this shot is from Metropolitan Stadium. I am pretty sure that by '73 the Twins stopped wearing pinstripes but perhaps I am wrong. Every other Twins card was photographed in Anaheim but this is the only jersey that is not that grey/blue color in the set. But Rod certainly does look pissed, doesn't he. Maybe he just had a contract meeting with the generous Mr. Griffith. And who's that in the batting cage? I am going with Mike Adams, but let's not pretend I really have a clue.

Not too much to reveal about this guy. I remember watching a show where they had Rod batting super-slow motion and you could actually see him adjusting his swing halfway through the swing itself. It was pretty amazing. This man could just hit his ass off. And in '73 he did just that, leading the AL with his .350 average and his hits and triples totals. Plus he stole 41 bases, until then his MLB high.

Rod Carew was born in Panama in interesting circumstances (see below). While he was in high school his mom moved with Rod and his brother to NYC to get away from Rod's dad, who was an abusive guy. Rod played some club ball, got a tryout with the Twins when they were in town to play the Yankees, and got signed on the spot in '64. He then put in three seasons in the minors - a year in Rookie ball and two in A ball - during which he of course averaged .300, stole 114 bases, and also found time for military reserve work (and he wasn't even a citizen!). In '67 he got promoted all the way to the top.

Carew moved right into the starting second baseman job for the Twins and won the '67 AL Rookie of the Year. He was also an All-Star which he remained every season but his last, or 18 consecutive years. That first year was extra fun because Minnesota was in it until the final game of the season. '68 was a little bit of a discount but so was just about EVERY hitter's '68. But he made up for that in '69 by winning his first batting title and stealing home seven times. In '70 Rod was cranking when he got taken out by a Mike Hegan slide at second and missed over half the season to leg surgery. '71 was a nice comeback year, '72 another hitting title, and '73 ushered in the big stolen base totals. In '74 (.364) and '75 (.359) came two more titles. That second year Rod began putting in some time at first, a position he would then play for pretty much the duration of his career.. In '76 he missed another title by three points and in '77 he had his best year, flirting with .400 - he finished at .388 - and having his only 100-RBI season, as well as a .449 OBA. He won the AL MVP that year. After one more season - and title (.333) - he finally got out of Calvin's miserly domain and went to the Angels in a pretty big trade. Four guys came over from California. I remember one of them, Ken Landreaux, said he should have been traded even-up (what a boob!) for Rod.

With California the batting titles stopped but the hitting sure didn't and his first season of '79, though he missed nearly two months with a broken thumb, Carew was rewarded with his first post-season time in almost a decade.He added 13 points to his average in '80, kept it north of .300 during the strike year and in '82 helped the Angels to another post-season berth with his .319.He topped out for California with a .339 in '83 and then played two more years, retiring after the '85 season. Rod finished with a .328 average, 3,053 hits, over 1,000 stolen bases, and a .393 OBA. The only real viable knock on him was his poor post-season average of .220 in his 14 games. Defensively he is in the top 100 for major fielding categories at both first and second base. He made the Hall on his first shot in '91.

Following his career Carew ran his own hitting school from his California home. He then began a long run as hitting coach for the Angels ('92-2001) and the Brewers (2002-'03). He made headlines in the mid-90's when his daughter got sick and he pleaded for bone marrow donors. She sadly passed away at an awfully young age.

Some tidbits on the back of the card include his full name (Rodney Cline was the name of the doctor who delivered him - on a train!), and his apparent ability to bunt from the wrong side of the plate.

Given Steve Renko's movement during the second half of his career, this one is easy:

1. Carew and Steve Renko '81 to '82 Angels.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

#49 - Steve Renko

Steve Renko looks huge in this picture which I am pretty sure is in the same park as the earlier Ken Singleton shot, just in a nicer part of the park. Steve WAS a big boy, going 6'5" and he put that frame to good use during the '73 season, posting career bests pretty much across the board while leading a Montreal team in wins that came a hair away from winning the division. In this photo the field actually looks quaint with the picket fence and the telephone poles in the background. Where did the Expos play spring training ball - in somebody's front yard?

Steve Renko was a Kansas boy, and after high school attended the eponymous university where he was, among other things, Gale Sayers' quarterback. He topped out in that role his junior year as the starter - with Sayers in the backfield, Steve threw a grand total of 86 passes all season - as the team went 5-5. The "other things" were a year of hoops as a freshman - ten points and six rebounds per game - and on the mound and first base in baseball where as a senior he posted a 0.99 ERA and hit .344.Those numbers got him noticed by the Mets who in '65 made Steve a 24th round pick. Actually drafted for his stick, Steve hit .290 in Rookie ball that first year. But he followed that with a poor split season  between A and Double A season in '66 - a combined 165 strikeouts in 441 at bats - which pretty much forced the notion of pitching on him the following season. To be fair, he must have had an enormous strike zone. He stared well in '67, going 8-1 with a 1.61 ERA in the rotation while still playing a bit at first (he hit .218 with ironically much better K numbers). Then a '68 split between Double A and Triple A level resulted in an 11-12 record with a 3.21 ERA was followed by a terrible partial season at Triple A before Steve was part of the trade that brought Donn Clendenon over from the Expos in mid-'69.

Despite his early numbers, Renko  immediately moved into the Montreal rotation. A decent rookie year was followed by an elevated ERA in '70  and by a pretty good '71 in which Steve would tie his lifetime high in wins. By the end of that year he was the rare Expo starter with a career winning record. Things went south in '72, however: he went 1-1 his first two starts but in a combined twelve innings he allowed 15 walks and only five K's which was a portent for the rest of the year. Lots of runs came and in the second half he spent most of his time in the pen. After his big bounce in '73, Steve went a combined 18-28 the next two seasons with an ERA just over 4.00 as the Montreal fortunes sort of ebbed, partly because of that horrible Mike Torrez/Ken Singleton trade to Baltimore. Early in the '76 season, Steve went to the Cubs with Larry Biitner for Andre Thornton.

Renko played a bit more than a year for the Cubbies, spending the rest of the '76 season in the rotation and '77 as a spot guy, missing nearly two months that year to injury. That August he moved across town for Larry Anderson and went undefeated the rest of the year for the ChiSox in a great stretch run for him (though the Southside Hitmen were woefully short of other pitching and faded). Then it was off to Oakland with Jim Essian for Pablo Torrealba where Steve did an OK job for a rebuilding franchise before leaving as a free agent. Signed by Boston, he would stick with those Sox for two seasons, going a combined 20-18 in the rotation with an ERA just better than league average. In '81 he was part of the big trade that brought Fred Lynn back to the West Coast and for California went 19-10 the next two years. While his ERA got elevated that second year, he had a winning record but did not see any post-season action. He would move to Kansas City as a free agent for his final year and be done following the '83 season with a 134-146 record with a 3.99 ERA, 57 complete games, nine shutouts, and six saves. He ended up being a good hitter as a pitcher, finishing with a .215 average with six homers and had three seasons for Montreal in which he hit .270 or higher.

After playing Renko worked away from ball for over ten years, though I have no idea what he did. He then became a pitching coach for the next twelve, finishing with the Charleston Riverdogs in 2005. Since then he has apparently been retired.

These are interesting bullet/star points since they completely ignore Steve's fine '73 season during which his ERA was over a run better than his career average. In '71 he also had 12 RBIs but it was not one of his better averages. Frankly, the second star only makes me think about how much he sucked the rest of the season; his ERA in the other games would have been well over 7.00. I will say that this guy on a horse would have been something to see. Steve has a couple sound bytes on the web and is a nuanced and thoughtful speaker with some great stories. His son played ball as well and had a long minor league career that reached Triple A. Steve was inducted to his school's hall of fame.

Let's make some good usage out of a bad trade:

1. Renko and Pepe Mangual '73 to '76 Expos;
2. Mangual and Mickey Lolich '76 Mets;
2. Lolich and Dick Sharon '73 to '74 Tigers.

I also could have gone through Rusty Staub, the guy Lolich was traded for, which would have taken the same number of steps.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

#48 - Dick Sharon

This is the second rookie card in a row. On it, Dick Sharon, a reserve outfielder, does that Ruthian bat-pointing thing at something or somebody off camera. It almost looks like he is giving directions. This is a pre-game batting practice shot at what looks like Comiskey Park. The only reason I am doubtful about that supposition is that all the White Sox we have seen so far have been in away uniforms. Anaheim had an overhang also but I don't think they had bleachers back then. I am sticking with Comiskey because everything looks old. Even the batting cage is broken. '73 was Dick's actual rookie year. Slated to make the team out of spring training, he had to stick in Toledo (Triple A) when catcher Dick Sims went down with an injury and Detroit needed a replacement (Dick should have told them he could catch). He would make it up in May and spend the remainder of the season as the team's fourth/fifth outfielder behind the vets Willie Horton, Al Kaline, Jim Northrup, and Mickey Stanley. Dick was an excellent athlete and a superb defender. He was also, it seems, very protective of his gear: could be have made the number any bigger on his wristband?

Per his card back, Dick Sharon was a big deal athlete at Sequoia High in California. About the only dirt I could get on his baseball career was that he was the first freshman in his conference to win the batting title. Presumably he remained an over-achiever since he was drafted by the Pirates in '68 in the first round. A tough first year in Rookie ball was followed by a better - but still tough '69 in A ball. He got a bit of mojo at that level in '70 when he showed some power and got his average up a bunch. '71 began his military commitment with its missed time but that year he kept his average at its '70 level and then in '72 at Triple A he may have had his best offensive year had he not missed time. After that season he went to the Tigers in a minor league deal.

Despite his weak start, Sharon got his promised '73 call-up and put in some decent outfield time. Another year of reserve duty in '74 saw his average come in on reduced at bats. Following that season he and Ed Brinkman were sent to San Diego for Nate Colbert. For the Padres Dick did his reserve thing, but this time with a sub-.200 average and after that season he was again on the move, this time to St. Louis for Willie Davis. He then got flipped to the Angels and finally to Boston in the deal that made Dick Drago an Angel. His '76 would be spent in Triple A where he hit .232 as a reserve guy. It was his final season Dick finished with a .218 average with 13 homers and 46 RBI's in 467 MLB at bats. In the minors he hit .239 with 56 homers.

After playing Sharon became an avid fly fisherman and led fishing expeditions in the Northwest. At some point he opened his own shop in Montana where he apparently continues to spend his professional time.

The card back gives mention to Sharon's athletic ability and his defensive credentials in the cartoon. Topps really seems to be reaching with the last star, however. Dick apparently was unafraid to voice his opinion. While his up top numbers weren't great, they weren't bad for just a year's worth of at bats. My bet is his mouth didn't help his career any. MLB back then wasn't crazy about independent thinkers.

Let's take an NL route for these guys:

1. Sharon and Bobby Tolan '75 Padres;
2. Tolan and Mike Schmidt, et al, '76 Phillies;
3. Schmidt and Dick Ruthven '73-'75 and '78 to '82 Phillies.

This is another instance which may be a degree high.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

#47 - Dick Ruthven

This is Dick Ruthven's rookie card. Dick was a hot ticket. At the top of '73 he was still at school at Cal State - Fresno. While there he set - and still holds - the Big West career ERA record of 1.52. He also set and again still holds his school record for strikeouts with 372. Those numbers helped make him a first round pick by the Phillies in the '73 secondary draft. He went right to the majors for the second half of the season, sliding into the starting rotation of a reviving franchise. And given the shape of the team that year, his initial numbers weren't too bad. Still, this card of Dick's is filthy, like someone tried to put it through a print roller. I know rookies aren't supposed to get any respect but did that apply to their cards as well? Upgrade!

Dick Ruthven was a big deal high school pitcher who would be drafted by Baltimore the summer after his senior year of '69. Dick would pass to pitch for Fresno where he obviously did very well and was then selected by the Twins in the first round after his big junior year. Either the Minnesota money wasn't right (probably, considering the team's owner) or Dick wanted another year at school, but he passed again only to sign with the Phillies the following January. A big kid who threw heat in college, Jim would have some control issues early in his pro career and in '74 he would go 9-13 in the rotation while shaving  a few points from his ERA for a much-improved team. To work on his control, Dick finally saw some minor league action to kick off the '75 season, and in Triple A went 10-12 with a 3.18 ERA and nearly a strikeout an inning while halving his walk totals. He got back to Philly in August and went 2-2 the rest of the way as a spot guy but didn't bring his new control with him. Following that season, Dick continued his interesting transactional history by being traded twice in two days. He initially went to the White Sox for Jim Kaat. He then went to the Braves with Ken Henderson - and Ozzie Osborn! - for Ralph Garr. And I thought the Sanguillen trade was weird!

Ruthven's move to Atlanta seemed to be the perfect cure for his pitching ailments as he opened the '76 season off 10-7 with a 2.68 ERA and very good control to get his first All-Star nod. But right around that time, word was that Braves owner Ted Turner, who could be a prick, made a pass at Dick's wife and then tried to humiliate Dick when the player made the owner apologize. The whole situation made Dick very uncomfortable and it showed in his pitching line as he went 4-10 with a 5.65 ERA the rest of the way that year and 7-13 with a 4.23 in '77, though admittedly neither team was very good. After going 2-6 to kick off the '78 season Dick returned to the Phillies in a trade for reliever Gene Garber.

In his new/old home Ruthven put up some nice numbers the rest of the way in '78 - 13-5 with a 2.99 ERA - to help propel the team to its third straight division title. Another hot start in which he was 6-0 with a 1.65 ERA by early May of '79 was arrested by a shoulder injury that limited his games and effectiveness the rest of the way. But a big 1980 during which he went 17-10 propelled Dick to the number two in the rotation guy behind Steve Carlton for the Series winners. He followed that year with an excellent post-season. He then went 12-7 with a ridiculous 5.15 ERA in the strike season of '81 and earned his second All-Star pick. He led the league in earned runs again so I guess that was the trick. After a .500 season in '82 that included some more missed time but a much better 3.79 ERA Dick had a poor start in '83. That May he was sent to the Cubs for future AL MVP Willie Hernandez.

Once again Ruthven had a very nice start with a new team as the rest of the way for the Cubbies he went 12-9 with a 4.10 ERA, a drop of over a run from his Phillies time. But in '84 and '85 he would go a combined 10-17 with an elevated ERA and get shut out of any playoff time the former year.. He was released early in the '86 season and ended his career at 123-127 with a 4.14 ERA, 61 complete games, 17 shutouts, and a save. In the post-season he went 1-2 with a 3.38 ERA in five games.He was also a decent hitter, putting up a .183 average with 44 RBI's during his career.

After playing, despite his bad experience with the Braves, Ruthven settled in Georgia. There he got involved in real estate, initially with his own construction company, and then as an investor. He is the second guy in a row with another major leaguer for an in-law: his twin sister married Tommy Hutton.

Other future MLB guys on that college all-star team included Ed Bane, Steve Swisher, Warren Cromartie, Rick Langford, Jackson Todd, Alan Bannister, Roy Smalley, and Fred Lynn. It would have made a pretty good MLB team. For the second star, I didn't know college players back then were allowed to get paid to play, so that's an eye-opener. The cartoon's a yawner.

So I won't have to change the colors for this post. Let's see if the trades help to link these two guys up:

1. Ruthven and Jim Kaat '78 Phillies;
2. Kaat and Pat Kelly '74 to '75 White Sox.

Yup. And Kaat and Ruthven both hit about the same clip as well.

Monday, November 8, 2010

#46 - Pat Kelly

This is Pat Kelly, a speedy outfielder from the '70's, fresh on the heels of his All-Star season, posing somewhere near the visitor's dugout at Yankee Stadium. There were other baseball-playing Pat Kellys (Kellies?) but this guy was the most successful of the bunch, particularly his run opening the '73 season. Pat came shooting out of the box and at the end of May was leading both leagues in hitting with a .441 average. Shortly thereafter he got hit with some shoulder tendinitis that pulled down the average and affected his throwing big time, but he would still produce one of his best seasons. Pat also made everyone's best-dressed list, a pretty scary or cool - depending on your tastes - achievement back then. He is the first guy in this set who had a Hall of Fame running back for a brother and the first one related by marriage to another player who we'll see - God willing - much later in the set. Mr. Kelly brings a tidy bit of trivial baggage to this blog.

Pat Kelly was signed by the Twins in '62 out of Philadelphia where, like his brother Leroy, Pat was a big three sports star. He would then spend the next three years in A ball, even though he garnered well over a .300 average and '400 OBA. He finaly advance to Double A in '66 where he had a big season, hitting .321 with a .430 OBA and 52 stolen bases. '67 was a move up to Triple A where he missed half a season to military work but still hit .286 with 19 steals before his very short MLB debut. In '68 he bettered those numbers at that level to .306 and 38, again missing time, and again playing sparsely up top. After that season he was taken by the Royals in the expansion draft prior to their initial '69 season.

With Kansas City, Kelly moved into a starting outfield spot - predominantly right - pretty much immediately and put up some serviceable numbers. His rookie season of '69 he stole 40 while in '70 he stole 34 while his average dropped a bit due to an elevated strikeout total, though his OBA remained the same at .348. Also, prior to his first KC season, Pat began playing winter ball in Venezuela where he became a bit of a local star. Following the '70 season he and pitcher Don O'Riley went to the ChiSox for first basemen Gail Hopkins and John Matias.

Kelly had a rough start to his White Sox career. He injured his knee during training camp and then spent a bunch of time his initial season in Triple A where he hit .355 before returning midyear to hit pretty well for the big boys. In '72 he continued as the starting guy in right and stole 32. In '74 his tendinitis recurred which affected his field time a bit and his run totals came in though he matched his '73 average. It was also his first season doing serious DH work. '75 was back to nearly all outfield with a bit more power including his Chicago best nine homers. In '76 the arrival of Lamar Johnson at DH and Ralph Garr in right pulled Pat's playing time in a bit and as a precedent to his future, nearly all his starts were against right-handers. Following the season he went to the Orioles for Dave Duncan, who never played for the White Sox.

In Baltimore, Kelly moved with ease into manager Earl Weaver's revolving platoon system, normally working against righties from left field. In '77 he stole 25 while posting 49 RBI's in 360 at bats. In '78 the at bats dropped a bit but he knocked in 40 while raising his average to .274. Pat had been platooning with Andre Mora, who returned to Mexico following that season and in '79 Pat took on a reserve role so his plate time continued to decline. But in '79 he posted a .288/9/25 line in only 153 at bats and then had an excellent post-season. In '80 his average came in but in only 200 at bats he scored 38 runs and stole 16 bases. He would then depart the O's as a free agent , sign with Cleveland, where he did some pinch hit work and presumably got close to his future in-law, Andre Thornton. Pat was released late that summer and after that it was goodbye baseball. He finished with a .264 average with 76 homers, 418 RBI's, a .354 OBA, and 250 stolen bases. In the post-season he hit .333 with a homer and four RBI's in eight games.

Kelly had been a hard liver until becoming reborn in the mid-Seventies and then working hard to spread his gospel by creating prayer groups at subsequent baseball stops. After baseball he took on preaching full time which he did until he passed away of a heart attack in 2005. He was 61.

1964 was nice season for Pat. Outside of leading the league in doubles, he hit .357 with 16 homers, 70 RBI's, and 72 walks in only 387 at-bats. In '68 he only got caught stealing four times. Being Philly's best athlete was probably a neat trick. I do not see that his older brother Leroy pulled that off and he went on to be a three-time 1,000 yarder for the Browns. There is a funny bit about Pat while he was in Baltimore. Pulling his preacher thing, he was constantly chasing manager Weaver to "walk with God." Earl's reply was "I'd rather see you walk with the bases loaded."

The Baltimore angle is hard to pass up for these two guys:

1. Kelly and Jim Palmer '77 to '80 Orioles;
2. Palmer and Dave Johnson ' 66 to '72 Orioles.

Hall of Famers all over the place.

Friday, November 5, 2010

#45 - Dave Johnson

Here we have yet another action shot - which is nice - with the featured player in a compromised position - which is not so nice. After two pop-up shots, we have Davey Johnson swinging and missing big at Shea Stadium. Since the card is a featured one (ending in a "5") wouldn't it be nice to have a more complimentary shot? Maybe the boys at Topps though a little humility was in order.

1973 was Johnson's biggest offensive year by far; a season in which he was one of three Braves to hit 40 home runs which was a first. Ironically, Atlanta did not have a winning record that year. A big reason for that can be seen by checking Davey's defensive stats. In an admittedly abbreviated season in '72 in Baltimore, he had six errors and during his time there averaged about twelve per season. In '73 he had 30. Atlanta was just the place defenses went to die.

Davey Johnson's dad was in the Army and as a kid Davey moved around a bunch, a status that would be emblematic of his later career as well. He settled in San Antonio for high school and then went to Texas A&M where for two years he played both hoops (point guard) and baseball (shortstop). Signed by Baltimore in '62, he kicked things off in his old position in C ball and had such an excellent season that in '63 he jumped all the way to Double A. That year he began playing second a bit, kept up his very good offensive numbers - between those two levels, he'd hit about .315 with 23 homers and 105 RBI's in what amounted to about a full season - and by season's end was in Triple A. At that level in '64 he lost some points off his average but continued to show good power with 14 triples, 19 homers, and 73 RBI's. And his defense all along had been very good. So he made the cut out of spring training in '65, played and hit very little, and returned to Triple A, where for about a third of a season he hit .301 whie playing shortstop exclusively. By the end of the season he was back in Baltimore.

When Johnson came up to Baltimore the team was pretty set in the middle infield with excellent defenders Jerry Adair at second and Luis Aparicio at shortstop. But Davey's stats to date were tough to ignore and the notion of his added pop in the line-up got him the starting second base gig over Adair in '66. Adair objected - he was later traded to Chicago - but Davey argued his choice pretty well, coming in third place in AL Rookie of the Year balloting, making that year's Topps team, and playing on a Series winner. He boosted his power a bit in '67 and then like just about everyone else his offense declined in '68 - though not by much - and he garnered his first All-Star selection.In the Series years of '69 to '71 Davey boosted his average to just north of .280, got a couple more All-Star nods, and won his three Gold Gloves. By then recurring back pain was becoming an issue for him and in '72 - also a year in which he had a shoulder injury - he missed some serious time and his offense stats tumbled significantly. By then Bobby Grich was ready to ascend into a full-time position and after that season Davey went to the Braves with Pat Dobson for Earl Williams.

Following his big year Johnson split the '74 season between second and - to relieve his back - first base. His numbers much more resembled his Baltimore ones that his '73 ones though he did get his error totals down to those levels as well. Then, after one at bat in '75 - I have never been able to figure that out - Davey was released. Shortly thereafter he went to Japan where he had a terrible '75 season while playing third but a pretty good bounce in '76 with a line .275/26/74 back at second base. Overall, it was a  very interesting time with the Giants. After two years overseas he came back as a part-timer with first Philly - for whom he had a real nice '77 with a line of .321/8/36 in only 153 at bats - and the Cubs. His playing career was done after the '78 season. Davey finished with a .261 average with 136 homers and 609 RBI's. He hit .225 with a couple homers and twelve RBI's in 31 post-season games. And defensively at second he is in the top 75 in both putouts and double plays.

Johnson then went right into managing, first in the Inter-American League and then for various stops in the Mets' chain before arriving at the top in '84. He led the Mets to the Series win in '86 and had by far the best winning percentage of any of their managers so he was of course let go by them in 1990. In '93 he was hired by the Reds and in the two strike-shortened seasons that followed took them to first place; he was then fired again. The same thing happened in Baltimore and then LA: he made winners out of losers. After leaving LA in 2000 he took on a succession of national team gigs and is now a part-time advisor to the Nationals. As a manager he has gone 1,372-1,071 up top and in the minors 190-155. I am one of the people who thinks his managerial successes warrants a Hall of Fame entry.

The back of the card is all about his '73 season which makes complete sense. Topps gets points for the cartoon as it is finally a real tidbit. It would have been nice if he could have used his piloting skills to barrel roll some of the owners for whom he managed - Marge Schott and Peter Angelos - out of the plane. He is a pretty accomplished guy: he finished his degree in Mathematics at Trinity College; he is a master scuba diver and has taught classes in that; and he took grad classes at Johns Hopkins.

Let's use the AL to link these two guys:

1. Johnson and Curt Blefary '65 to '68 Orioles;
2. Blefary and Mel Stottlemyre '70 Yankees.