Thursday, March 31, 2011

#127 - Tom Paciorek

Tom Paciorek is doing the big bat extended swing pose at Candlestick. This card is finally his first solo one after rookie cards in both '71 and '73 so he certainly deserved a shot to stretch it out. Tom is the third Dodger so far for whom '73 was his first significant season and with less than 200 at bats it was barely that. And things weren't going too swimmingly for him as through July he was hitting .213 with only five RBI's on less than 100 at bats, lots of them pinch ones. But from August on he got some outfield starts - primarily in left and center - and hit .295 the rest of the way.

Tom Paciorek grew up much like Willie Horton did from a few posts back: poor and crowded in Detroit. He and a few of his siblings were big local sports stars and Tom would attend the University of Detroit (until they cut their football program) and then the University of Houston from where he was drafted and signed by the Dodgers in '68. He put in two seasons of Class A ball and in '70 landed at Triple A where he was a big part of those kick-ass minor league behemoths that Tommy Lasorda managed. Tom would hit over .300 and drive in over 100 runs each of the next three seasons and in '72 was named TSN's Minor League Player of the Year. He got tiny amounts of playing time at LA each year and in '73 was on the roster to stay. But the outfield was crowded, especially with line drive hitters, and Tom could never crack the lineup full time. His at bats and average declined each of the next two seasons though he did get a little post-season action in '74 and did well hitting .667 with a double. After the '75 season he went to Atlanta with Jimmy Wynn, Lee Lacy, and Jerry Royster for Dusty Baker and Ed Goodson. In '76 he enjoyed his first season with more than 300 at bats and hit .290. In '77 the outfield got crowded again, his playing time was cut in half, and his average fell to .239. '78 was weird in that Atlanta cut him twice and after the second time Tom hooked up with Seattle. In the AL things got better.

Paciorek had a pretty good '78 half season for the Mariners, hitting just shy of .300. He followed it with a decent '79 in which he put up his first double-figure homer season and then in '80, at age 34, finally got into enough games to get over 100 hits. In '81 he hit .326 with a lifetime MLB high of 66 RBI's and made the All-Star team, continuing his snake-bit ways by having his best season in the strike year. As a reward for those numbers Seattle sent him to the White Sox for Todd Cruz and Jim Essian. In '82 and '83 Tom kept his average north of .300 and then got some starting time in the playoffs. His numbers came in in '84 and the next year he went to the Mets in a mid-season trade. He spent his last two seasons with the Rangers where he hit in the .280's. For his career he hit .282 with 86 homers and 503 RBIs. In the post-season he hit .316 in eight games. His baseball-reference bullpen page is about the most detailed I have ever seen.

Immediately after playing, Paciorek returned to Chicago where he was the White Sox color guy from '88 to '99. After a year in Detroit, from 2001 to '05 he did the same thing for the Braves. He then moved to DC for the Nationals and was done after the '06 season. In '93 he made headlines in a different way when he accused one of the priests at the Catholic high school he attended of sexually abusing his brothers and him. He had decided to come forth when the priest - a guy named George Shirilla - was reinstated after another molestation charge against him was thrown out because the statute of limitations had expired. While Tom got nowhere in his suit he did get the guy away from any more teaching positions.

Topps also gave a Player of the Year award out and it correlated pretty well with the TSN one. The formal name of the award is the Spink Award (Topps also gives one by the same name to a journalist). I have not been able to find the co-winner for '72 but I'm pretty sure it will show up soon. The cartoon is a clue to Tom's nickname when he played. It was Wimpy, after the guy that ate all the hamburgers in the Popeye cartoons.

Skipping the checklist, these two guys played down the coast from each other:

1. Paciorek and Ron Cey '72 to '75 Dodgers;
2. Cey and Derrell Thomas '79 to '82 Dodgers;
3. Thomas and Nate Colbert '72 to '74 Padres.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

#126 - Checklist #1

This is the first regular set checklist and, yeah, it's marked. I got these cards - most of them anyway - when I was a kid in '74 and I dutifully checked them off, thereby defacing the card. But I do think I was pretty neat. There is nothing terribly special about these cards: no photos - like in the late 60s - or even pictures on them. Just a black pennant. There were five checklist cards so each one had a fifth of the set or 132 cards. Each checklist contained a special set. This one had the Aaron commemorative set that kicked off the blog. There are no typos although there is that card #31 which is listed here as the A's: Mgr/C'ches card when it was in fact the Astros manager card. Looking at the major - the "5" and "0" - cards quickly you get a pretty good All-Star team loaded in pitchers and outfielders but missing the left side of the infield. I will discuss the set milestones more in depth following card #132, the last one on this checklist.

More of the same on the back. You do get to see the next six cards coming up. No degrees of separation exercise here obviously. I will return to that on the next card.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

#125 - Nate Colbert

The next Padre/Washington Nat'l guy is an All-Star with a "5" card even. Nate Colbert was a belter and was just coming off the best five year run of his career. While '73 was a bit of a downtick for Nate in the big power numbers, it was still an awfully good offensive season for a Padre back then. He also had some of the meanest facial hair of the set. which I think gets accentuated by that crazy Padre yellow. If those blurred seats in the back are red, this should be Candlestick, or it could be home at Jack Murphy Stadium. A bunch of the Padres away shots are in Riverfront, though, so who knows. It IS one of the best smiles in the set at least.

Nate Colbert was a local St. Louis kid who saw Stan Musial play at Sportsman's Park, which would turn out to be ironic later in his career. Nate's dad had played for the Kansas City Monarchs of the Negro Leagues so he had a lot of exposure to baseball. He was signed by the Cards in '64 out of St. Louis Baptist College. He put in a little time in FLA for rookie ball and in '65 played Single A where he demonstrated some power. But the Cards had a pretty good pipeline for first basemen and they left Nate unprotected so Houston gobbled him up for the '66 season in the Rule 5 draft. I now have a handle on how that worked: when a player was taken in that draft he incurred "bonus baby" status for a year and had to stay on the major league roster. This Nate did in Houston for all of '66 but he only got into a couple games and in '67 he went down to Double A where he wowed them with his power - 28 homers - but also would strike out 143 times. '68 was spent at Triple A where the power numbers declined a bit and in a late-season call-up to the Astros. That winter Nate was drafted by the Padres in the expansion draft.

Colbert immediately became the San Diego starting first baseman and would retain that position for the club's first five seasons. Nate was the only consistent offensive threat on the Padres during that time as he averaged 30 homers and over 80 RBIs despite the high strikeout totals. He was an All-Star from '71 to '73 and nearly went to the Mets after the '71 season in a trade that blew up and then had NY grab Rusty Staub. His best season was '72. More on that year below.

In '74 the Padres traded for Willie McCovey and to make room for him, Colbert played some outfield. He began experiencing significant back problems that year and his average plummeted. That November he went to the Tigers for Ed Brinkman and Dick Sharon to fill the recently-retired Norm Cash's role. But his offensive numbers continued to fall and by mid-year he was sold to the Expos. His numbers didn't recover for Montreal either. He would get cut by them early in the '76 season and then sign as a free agent with Oakland. But after a season with their Triple A club in which he put up some decent power numbers - twelve homers and 44 RBI's in 210 at bats - he was still striking out once every four at bats and then he was done. Nate finished with a .243 average, 173 homers, and 520 RBIs in just over 1,000 games. He was also excellent defensively and led the league in both assists and putouts on a few occasions.

After his playing career was over Colbert worked his way back to the Padres and by '85 was involved in their community affairs program. He then coached in their minor leagues the next five seasons. In 1990 he was indicted for mortgage fraud for listing properties he didn't own to get a loan. He spent some time in prison, came out and became a minster with his wife. He also returned to baseball and in '95 and '96 managed a couple independent clubs, going a combined 62-100. As recently as last year he and his wife have been running an advisory business to amateur athletes.

That was some double header in August of '72. Nate broke Stan Musial's record for RBIs in a two-fer and was actually at the game in which The Man did it when he was a kid, hence the irony indicated above. Those two games were against Atlanta and even Hank Aaron said it was the most amazing power display he ever saw.

This one won't be as tough as I thought:

1. Colbert and Ollie Brown '69 to '72 Padres.
2. Brown and Bob Coluccio '73 Brewers.

Monday, March 28, 2011

#124 - Bob Coluccio

After a pretty long drought, we have the second rookie card in the past four cards. Bob Coluccio is happily anticipating his major league career while taking a swing in spring training. It must have been nice for a Washington kid to play baseball in a land of palm trees. He picked a good year to be a rookie as '73 would be the best one to date in the young Seattle/Milwaukee franchise. Out of spring training Bob assumed starting right field duties after Ollie Brown and Joe Lahoud were moved primarily to DH. Despite that designation on Bob's card he only put in a couple games at that position in '73. It would be his best season in the majors and the Brewers organist would raise his profile by playing the theme to The Godfather whenever Bobby came to the plate.

Bob Coluccio was drafted by the Pilots out of nearby Centralia High School in '69. A middling hitter and pretty good fielder, he would split time between the infield and outfield the next four seasons in the minors. He started drawing notice as a potential major leaguer in early '72 when his light hitting but good second base work had him projected as as utility infielder. That year he bumped his average 80 points as he moved to the Triple A outfield where his review was upgraded to "good prospect who needs polish in the outfield."  The next year he made the cut.

In '74 Coluccio moved to center but his power numbers got sliced roughly in half which he claimed was due to some bad advice from Harvey Kuenn, the Milwaukee hitting coach, who wanted Bob to be more of a classic leadoff guy. Then after a few games in '75 in which he couldn't crack .200 he was sent to the White Sox for Bill Sharp. There he moved back to right field but his numbers really didn't recover at all. In '76 and '77 he would play pretty much exclusively at Triple A Iowa, where he put up so-so numbers. He was released at the beginning of the '78 season, signed with Houston, and after a few games with their Triple A club, went to the Cards for whom he finished up the season in the minors as well. Despite an overall year of batting over .300 he was traded after that season to the Mets, for whom he never played. For his career, Bobby hit .220 with 114 RBIs in 370 games. In the minors he hit .262.

According to his home web page - linked to here - Coluccio has been in real estate ever since he finished playing ball where he has apparently done well. He looks almost exactly the same as on his card photo despite one obvious difference.

Bob's other stats from '72 include 19 doubles and a .377 OBA. That Evansville team had a pretty good share of '73 Brewers on it - Pedro Garcia, Jim Slaton, Jerry Bell, and Darrell Porter, among others - and went 83-57. In off-seasons Bob drove a beer truck for one of owner Bud Selig's Schlitz dealerships. That's some name - I get "The Godfather" reference. His nickname while playing was a derivative of Joe Pepitone's Italian Stallion - The Macaroni Pony.

I've used this guy before:

1. Coluccio and Dave May '73 to '74 Brewers;
2. May and Nelson Briles '77 Rangers.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

#123 - Nelson Briles

I am pretty sure that Nelson Briles is mere feet away from the location in which Ken Singleton was on his card which I designated as an ugly one. It looks a little nicer in this photo of Nellie here who appears to be adorned in his home uniform. It's not Three Rivers, nor is it an old photo from Forbes - Nellie was not with the Pirates when Forbes went down in '70 - so it must be the Pittsburgh spring training complex. Regardless of its location, the subject of the photo looks pretty content doing one of those phantom follow through poses the Topps people liked. '73 was a pretty good year for Nellie. While Pittsburgh had a pretty challenging season in the wake of Roberto Clemente's passing, the team was in the race through the last week and Nellie led the staff in wins, complete games, and innings and all starters in ERA

Nelson Briles was signed by the Cards in '63 out of Santa Clara University. He is the second Santa Clara player on this blog - Rich Troedson was the first - and he left school after his sophomore year to play ball. While at Santa Clara he had a big freshman year, going 11-2, which caught the eyes of a lot of scouts. He further raised his profile when in an exhibition game against the Giants he struck out five guys in three innings, including Willie Mays and Willie McCovey. In between he spent the summer of '62 in Canada where he went 16-4 for the Medicine Hat semi-pro team. He then had a very successful first season in Double A Tulsa in '64, going 11-6 with a 2.79 ERA as a starter. That would be his only minor league action.

In '65 the Cards called Briles up to the St.Louis bullpen.He had a pretty good rookie year, posting four saves and also put up decent numbers his sophomore season with six saves and a way better than average ERA, although his record was pretty poor at 4-15. He also did some spot starting in '66 which continued into '67 when he nearly reversed his record. That year he had a very nice start in the pen and when Bob Gibson went down with an injury, Nellie took his spot in the rotation, winning nine straight starts. His 14-5 record and 2.44 ERA earned him some MVP votes and his performance was a big contributor to the Cards reaching the Series that year. He had a real nice Series, pitching a complete game win in the third game and a couple shutout innings in Game 6, a loss. In '68 he had what was probably his finest regular season ,winning 19 with a 2.60 ERA. His '68 Series was not as good (0-1 with an ERA over 5.00). His '69 season was pretty good but the Cards were done with post-season play for a while. In '70 his hamstring went south on him and his poor season led to him being thrown in to a trade with the Pirates (he and Vic Davalillo went for Matty Alou and George Brunet).

Back in the bullpen for most of '71 Briles would make some quality spot starts down the stretch and earn a spot in the Series. He won Game 5 against Baltimore, throwing a two-hit shutout in what many thought was the turning game of the Series. A couple 14-win seasons followed and then came the above trade moving Nellie to the AL.

Kansas City wanted Briles to add a quality arm to its rotation, but it turned out differently. In '74 spring training Nellie tore cartilage in his knee and would win only five games with his worst ERA in four years. In '75 he began the season 4-1 with a 2.92 ERA when a liner by Fred Lynn nailed his elbow in a May game. He initially tried to pitch through it and then sat out all of June and won only two games the rest of the year. After the '75 season Nellie went to the Rangers for Dave Nelson. '76 was a revival year for him: 11-9 with a 3.26 ERA for a losing team. But that was his last hurrah and over the next two seasons he would go 10-8 with an ERA in the mid-4.00's for Texas and Baltimore. He finished with a career mark of 129-112 with a 3.44 ERA, 64 complete games, 17 shutouts, and 22 saves. In the post-season he was 2-1 with a 2.65 ERA and that shutout in his six games.

The front of this Traded card is about the worst one so far. The air-brushed colors are way too florescent and the colors don't match. The background is on a field, which has been a rarity for these cards, so that's nice.

While his immediate future with the Royals was nothing special, Briles did go on after playing to a high profile baseball career. In '79 he began calling Pirates games on TV, which he did for two seasons before moving to the same gig nationally for USA Cable. After three years with USA he broadcast Mariners games for another three years  In '86 he moved to Pirates administration, becoming their director of corporate sales. He was still in that position when at a golf outing in Florida on behalf of the Pirates he had a fatal heart attack. He was 61.

There are some nice props in those star-bullets. It's some signature. It looks like he tried to fit all the letters of his first name in one spot. And that's a great cartoon: Nellie did have an act. He was sort of a Dean Martin-type performer: a little singing, some baseball stories, and some comedy. He actually sang the anthem at one of the '73 Series games.

 On the back, this may be the only time I've seen KC spelled phonetically on a Topps card. All the guys mentioned in the deal have cards. Unfortunately Nellie didn't have quite the expected impact.

A recent HOF inductee gets these two together:

1. Briles and Bert Blyleven '76 to '77 Rangers;
2. Blyleven and Jim Holt '71 to '73 Twins.

Friday, March 25, 2011

#122 - Jim Holt

This is Jim Holt's last Topps card in a Twins uniform, the team with which he played most of his career. In '75 he gets air-brushed into an A's uniform even though he played for Oakland in '74. Jim had his busiest MLB season in '73. Back from the minors and with long-time left-fielder Tony Oliva moved to DH, Jim split starts in left with Larry Hisle while also spending some time at first base. At the top of the season he hit from the ninth spot where his free-swinging ways and speed were seen as good complements to the top of the order guys, Hisle - Larry Hisle led off? - and Rod Carew. But Jim did such good work with his stick. posting career highs across the board, that by season's end he was in the fifth spot. Here he gazes wistfully in an unknown location, perhaps to the '74 Series where he will have his moment in the sun.

Jim Holt grew up in North Carolina where he played high school ball but was a little guy. After graduating he tried out for both the Pirates and the Indians but when both passed he enlisted in the Army. There he played some service ball and was signed by the then Kansas City As in '65 as a free agent. I have read from a couple undocumented sources that he then missed his first year because he was serving in Viet Nam which would make him just the third guy on this blog to have done so, but have found no verification of that service. In both '66 and '67 he did put in a couple Single A seasons for the A's, playing the outfield and producing a well over .300 average. Following the '67 season he went to the Twins in the Rule 5 draft and was on their major league roster for all of '68, grabbing a little over 100 at bats in a crowded outfield. He then went down to Triple A Denver in '69 where he had a very impressive season.

In '70 Holt returned to the Twins and the next two years would see significant action in the outfield, primarily in center, where he spit time after Ted Uhlaender was traded, and left, when Tony Oliva had to rest his aching knees. But the Twins had plenty of hitting and Jim was not distinguishing himself enough to stick around. So in '72, when Oliva's injury should have given Jim a big opportunity, he was sent back to Triple A where he had another All-League season (.333 with 96 RBIs). He then hit .444 in a late season call-up and stuck for all of '73. Jim had foot issues and following the '73 season had a bone spur removed from one foot. In the '74 season Jim was moved to first base full time and either despite or because of his operation his average dove about 40 points as his playing time was constrained. He was also apparently gaining weight and that August he went to Oakland for Pat Bourque to provide some timely hits for the A's down yet another playoff-bound stretch. He didn't exactly deliver, going 0 for 20 as a pinch hitter. But Oakland made the playoffs anyway and in Game 4 of the Series, Jim would deliver the game-winner. In '75 he again put in most of his time at first, but the weight continued to be an issue and his playing time again decreased as he hit .220. In '76 most of his time was spent at Triple A Tucson where although he hit .337 he was released before the season ended. After a season spent in Mexico in '77 ended his time in baseball Jim finished with a .265 average with 177 RBIs. His career average in the minors was .319. In the post-season he hit .273 with two RBI's in twelve games.

After baseball, Jim returned to North Carolina where he was a fireman in a town called Elon. In '79 he started a business with a couple other guys that sold specialty fire hoses to municipal fire companies. That business was sold in 2006 but it appears that Jim remained with the company and continues to work there now. He has a SABR page.

In that '69 season at Denver, Jim also had 12 triples. This cartoon is lame and the inviting comment given that he supposedly had a weight issue is that maybe he enjoyed watching television a little too much.

All AL again. In fact, these guys played together:

1. Holt and Larry Lintz '75 to '76 As.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

#121 - Larry Lintz

This is the first rookie card in a long while and its subject really looks the part. Larry Lintz would have been about 23 when this photo was taken but he looks about 15. He was a little guy, playing at under 150 pounds, and a speedster. Larry was a true rookie in '73, coming up mid-season after starting the year in Triple A where in only 76 games he put up 57 walks and stole 48 bases.While exclusively a shortstop prior to his call-up, Larry would spend most of his field time spelling Ron Hunt at second, and in addition to his published stats he stole twelve bases in the 40 games he actually saw some plate time. And he started strong too, still posting an above .300 average at the end of August. But September was a bit unkind and unfortunately for Larry he was more of a career September guy than an August one. Here he looks like he's doing one of those "kid in a candy store" looks of wonderment at Candlestick.

Larry Lintz was drafted by the Expos out of San Jose State University in '71. He grew up in Oakland and initially went to nearby Laney College, a two-year school. At San Jose State he was a shortsop and his senior year was all-conference while stealing 34 bases. He also ran track in college. He came east to A-level Watertown his first year and hit pretty well. In '72 he moved up to Double A and didn't hit terribly well but stole a bunch of bases and walked enough to have an OBA over .380. In '73 he was brought up to Montreal to add some speed to the lineup.

In '74 Lintz had his biggest season, splitting time at second with Ron Hunt and Jim Cox and stealing 50 bases in a little over 100 games. That was an Expos record until Ron LeFlore came along (he is getting a bit of print in these posts). Gene Mauch, Larry's manager, said he was the best player he ever saw once he was on first base. The trouble was getting him there and Larry's defense, although better than his hitting, was not good enough to warrant him playing full time. In '75 he got into about half the games through July, but his average and stolen base totals declined and he was traded to the Cards for Jim Dwyer. He played very rarely for St. Louis and after the season went to Oakland for a guy named Charlie Chant who had one "t" too many to be a private detective. In Oakland Larry succeeded Herb Washington and Lightning Hopkins as the team's principal designated runner. In the next two years he got only 44 plate appearances but scored 32 runs and stole 44 bases. In '76 his 31 steals contributed to a record AL 341 team stolen bases. He was cut after the '77 season and signed as a free agent with Cleveland. For the Indians he played second and third in Triple A (he also put in a bunch of time for the A's in '78 at that level). But those two positions were a dead end since the Tribe had Duane Kuiper and Buddy Bell and then Toby Harrah there and early in '80 Larry was released. His major league career, which added up to about one whole season was memorialized by a .227 average, 137 runs, and 128 stolen bases. In the minors he hit only ten point higher, but had a .404 OBA.

I cannot find a bit of info on Larry since he finished playing. Sort of like he just ran off to nowhere. There is, however, a Larry Lintz listed as residing in some of the same areas this guy did in California who is also listed a s former mail carrier so perhaps Larry did some work for the post office after baseball.

Despite the steadily declining average, Larry was getting recognition his first couple years. That's a pretty sick stolen base total in '72. Pretty prosaic cartoon but it beats the next one.

This is another all-AL hookup:

1. Lintz and Rich McKinney - remember that guy? - '77 As;
2. McKinney and Wilbur Wood '69 to '71 White Sox.

Rich McKinney was a middle infielder for the Sox who went to the Yankees in '72 to be their third baseman. When that didn't work the Yanks got their new guy who stuck around a long time.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

#120 - Wilbur Wood

Our next action shot - and obviously here "action" stretches the descriptive limit - is of Wilbur Wood reposing on a bench at an away stadium, probably either Oakland or New York since that is where just about all his teammates were photographed. That he was not on the mound was sort of an event for Wilbur during the earlier part of the season. In fact, Wilbur had one of the sickest starts ever to kick off the '73 season: in Chicago's first forty games, Wilbur went 13-3 with a 1.71 ERA and three straight shutouts (four in all) while getting a decision in every one of his games. He was on a pace to win 52 games! while that obviously didn't happen, Wilbur still put up some pretty mind-numbing stats: he continued to record a decision in his next 21 games and in his 49 starts only missed getting a decision in five of them. The arguably most successful knuckleballer of the first half of the '70's, Wilbur was a huge innings hog who seemed to have the ability to pitch every day. At least until Ron LeFlore shut him down.

Wilbur Wood was a three sport - football, hockey, and baseball - home-grown kid who signed with Boston in 1960 out of high school, where he won 24 games. He learned the knuckleball from his dad while playing youth league ball. When he hit the minors, though, he was aware that the knuckler was frowned upon so he threw more conventional pitches, primarily a fastball and a curve. Those would work to varying degrees in the Boston system the next few years in the minors and through '63  he had gone 35-30 with a career ERA well below 3.00. But in 32 games in the majors over that span he went 0-7 with an over 4.00 ERA as a spot starter and reliever. In '64 he made the Sox out of spring training but after a few bad early outings Wilbur was released outright to the club's Triple A franchise where he had a bang-up year, going 15-8 with a 2.30 ERA. Those numbers got Pittsburgh interested in him and late that year he was sold to the Pirates.

With Pittsburgh, Wood finally spent a full season up top in '65, finally won his first MLB game, and put together a decent season, though he wasn't used terribly much. But in '66 Wilbur got squeezed out of MLB Time and returned to Triple A where he put up a 14-8 season with a 2.41 ERA as a starter in a year where he tentatively turned to the knuckleball. At the end of that season he was traded to the White Sox for Juan Pizzaro and it was then that Wilbur's MLB career took on a new life.

The '67 ChiSox team Wood joined was a good one for a pitcher with his skillset to get established. For one thing, Chicago was in a pennant race all year and for another, one of the best knucklers ever was in the rotation in Hoyt Wilhelm. That spring Wilhelm worked with Wilbur to refine his pitch and the results were immediately beneficial. Wilbur had a nice '67, posting his first four MLB saves and then turned it on in '68, getting into a then-record 88 games and going 13-12 with 16 saves and a 1.87 ERA. Two facets of his knuckler contributed to his success: one was that his tended to tail down and away from righthanders; two was that he could throw it for strikes. Two more excellent seasons in relief followed. During that span in the pen, Wilbur led the AL in games three times and in games finished twice. Then before the '71 season Joe Horlen got hurt and Chuck Tanner moved Wilbur into his spot in the rotation. Tanner also wanted to have heat coming out of the pen and he had two young guys named Terry Forster and Goose Gossage who could do that.

Wood responded impressively, going 22-13 in 42 starts his first year and 24-17 in a league-leading 49 starts in '72. In those two years he would come in third and second, respectively, in Cy Young votes. After his fast 1973 start got brought back to earth by Sox injuries, Wilbur still won 24 and again led the league in starts as he would the next two seasons. In '74 he won 20 while in '75 he lost that many as his ERA bloated a bit. It was his first season in five years without Ed Hermann as his catcher so that was probably a contributor to that performance. In '76 Wilbur kicked things off very well and in early May was 4-3 with a 2.24 ERA when he started a game against Detroit. Ron LeFlore hit what Wilbur described as an inside-out hit right up the middle. An inside-out hit is one in which the batter's hands are kept inside the arc of the swing for the whole pitch and stay close to the body during contact. It looks to the fielders as if the batter is pulling the ball but in reality it can be hit to all fields. Wood wasn't ready for the comebacker and it hit his knee, shattering the kneecap. That was it for his season. When he returned the next couple seasons he was tentative on the mound and tried to re-work his knuckler so that it would tail to the inside instead of the outside. It didn't work too well and after 17 wins combined in '77 and '78 with an elevated ERA he quit. For his career he went 164-156 with a 3.24 ERA, 114 complete games, 24 shutouts, and 57 saves. He was also named to three All-Star teams. There is a nice interview with Wilbur on the Baseball Almanac site here.

After baseball Wood initially moved into the fish market business outside Boston before getting into insurance and pharmaceutical sales which he was still doing at the time of the above interview in 2005. He was named to the White Sox all-century team.

Wilbur was in the thick of an excellent stretch of his career at this point. He had one of the most successful reliever-to-starter transitions ever and had not had an off season since '64. That career ERA is awfully impressive also. The Fireman of the Year award has been given out by The Sporting News every year since 1960.

I just miss being able to use Jim Morrison on his one. Instead it will use some ex-Yankees:

1. Wood and Oscar Gamble '77 White Sox;
2. Gamble and Bill Robinson '72 Phillies.
3. Robinson managed by Danny Ozark on the '73 and '74 Phillies.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

#119 - Danny Ozark/Phillies Field Leaders

1973 was Danny Ozark's first as a manager. He succeeded Paul Owens who was also the Philadelphia GM and had hired him. The Phillies were terrible in '72. If it weren't for Steve Carlton, the team would probably have challenged the '62 Mets for futility. Although the '73 bunch was the only NL East team not in the running for the division title, it did pick up 12 wins on that '72 team and introduced future stars like Bob Boone and Mike Schmidt. They would then duel with the Pirates for the top spot the rest of the decade and win the Series in 1980. Ozark was the manager for most of that resurgence and in just about every one of those years his players asked that he be replaced. But by the time he was done in '79 he would have - and still has - the best record of any Phillies manager to manage as many games as he did.

Danny Ozark was signed by the Brooklyn Dodgers - as a lot of these guys would be - in 1942. After a year at second base in the low minors he missed all of '43 to '45 to WW II. When he returned in '46 he was moved to first but there were two obstacles. One was that he lived in Buffalo which gave him no time to prepare for the spring training glut of returning servicemen; two is that he had a guy named Gil Hodges ahead of him at first base. Danny would make it as far as Triple A and was a starter at various levels through '55 but he could never crack the bigs. He would hit .282 with over 200 homers in the minors and had some pretty big seasons, twice clubbing over 30 homers. In '56 he got his first management gig in the Dodger chain and he continued to manage in the minors through '64. In '65 he was promoted to coach for Walt Alston which he did through '72. Then came the Phillies job which he kept through pretty much the Seventies. In '76 he won his first division title as well as Manager of the Year. After three straight division titles, a slow start to a '79 season hit hard by injuries got him dismissed. The knock on him was that he was too laid back but he must have done something right since that run hasn't been repeated. In '79 he returned to LA to coach until he had a falling out with Tommy Lasorda in '82. He coached in San Francisco from '83 to '84 then briefly managed the team and then scouted for the club for a bunch of years. His MLB managerial record was 618-542 and in the minors was 665-648. He passed away at age 85 in 2009.

Carroll Beringer was a pitcher who signed with the Dodgers in '46. In '47 he won 22 in Class D ball. He was moving up the ladder when in '51 and '52 he missed whole seasons for the Army. While he pitched well when he returned he was pretty much in neutral in the Dodger system and would get no higher than Triple A. In '59 he went 19-5 to win Pitcher of the Year in the Texas League. By then he was 33 and he began to coach as well as play. He would finish his minor career going 145-82 with a 2.98 ERA. From '61 to '72 he would coach for Alston in LA. He then coached with the Phillies from '73 to '78. He quit the last gig to spend more time with his family in Texas. There he did a bunch of fund-raising for local teams and Texas Wesleyan University. He passed away earlier this year at age 82.

Billy DeMars was an infielder signed by the Dodgers in '43, who played one season in the lower minors and then, like Danny Ozark, got sucked into WW II, missing the next two seasons. He returned to B Ball in '46, had a big '47 season in which he hit .328 and was taken in the Rule 5 draft by the A's in '48, for whom he would debut in the majors that year. He went to Detroit in '49, where he played in Triple A, and then the Browns in '50. He was the primary infield backup for St. Louis that year, got in one game the following year and then returned to the minors for the rest of his playing career. In the majors he hit .237 in 211 at bats and in the minors .267. By '58 he was managing in the - now - Baltimore system, which he did through '68. In '69 he moved to Philly where he was the hitting coach through '81. He then coached at Montreal ('82 to '84) and for the Reds ('85 to '87). He was given props by, among others, Eric Davis and Barry Larkin for help with their hitting, and by Steve Rogers, for help with his curveball. His managerial record in the minors is 711-729. After leaving the Reds Billy returned to the Phillies as a roving minor league hitting instructor, which he did through the Nineties.

Ray Rippelmeyer - the name is spelled incorrectly on the front of the card - was signed by the Braves in '54 while at Southern Illinois University. He was quite the hoops player in college and he was drafted by the Knicks in '55 and inducted into the school's hall of fame. He started well in the minors and by his second season he was up in Double A. But he lost '56 to military duty, returning to Triple A ball in '57. Again he pitched pretty well and after the '59 season he was drafted by the Reds in the Rule 5 draft. When expansion came in '61 he got plucked by the new Senators and in '62 made his major debut. In his only season he went 1-2 with a 5.49 ERA. He did, however, hit .500 with a homer in six at bats. He was then returned to the Reds and the minor leagues where he played through '65. His lifetime minor league record was 114-83. In his final season he managed and then from '66 to '67 coached in the Cincy system. He then moved to the Phillies' system in '68 and '69 and became the major league pitching coach in '70. He stayed up top through '78 where he helped, among others, Steve Carlton with his slider and Jim Lonborg with his big comeback in '76. He initially retired to his Illinois farm after the '78 season and then returned to the Phillies system in the late Eighties. He followed that up with gigs for the Reds ('89-'90) and the Mets ('91-2003) after which he retired for real.

Bobby Wine was a recent player - his final season was '72 - who was signed by the Phillies in '57. He started off strongly in the minors, hitting over .300 his first two seasons. But he was also beaned pretty badly during that time and it led to him being admittedly tentative at the plate for the rest of his career. But he was an excellent fielder and by '62 he was in the majors where he had no errors in 20 games at third base. His main position was shortstop and it was there in '63 that he would win a Gold Glove. He was the Phillies regular there through '68 although he missed substantial time to back injuries in both '66 and '68. He would also be a big help for Dick Allen whenever the latter guy played the outfield. Allen had a notoriously weak throwing arm and Bobby would sprint to the outfield - he actually took lessons from a local college track coach - whenever a ball was hit Dick's way to take the relay. Bobby then went to Montreal in the '69 expansion draft and there succeeded Maury Wills as starter by the end of the season. He had his best offensive season in '70 (.232 with 51 RBI's) and was Montreal's main guy there through '71. For '72 the Expos got Tim Foli from the Mets and Bobby's career as a player was pretty much done. He hit .215 lifetime. He was coaching back with the Phillies before '72 was over which he did through '83 when he was let go after the team lost the Series. He probably would have left anyway since he was passed over a couple times to manage by then. He then moved to Atlanta as a scout ('84 to '85) and coach ('85 to '90) and was an interim manager in '85. He went 16-25 when he managed. From '93 to '96 he coached for the Mets. He then returned to scout for the Braves which he is still doing. His son Robby played a bit and coaches Penn State baseball.

I can't do the double this time since Danny Ozark never made it to the majors:

1. Danny Ozark managed Dave Cash on the '74 to '76 Phillies;
2. Cash and Bill Lee '79 Expos.

Monday, March 21, 2011

#118 - Bill Lee

This is the third Red Sox in the last 14 cards. Bill Lee is posing in the same outfield Don Newhauser was earlier in which I surmised it was a spring training shot against the Mets. I have no reason to characterize this place any differently now. That looks like another Red Sox pitcher in the background and he's kind of stocky so I'm going with Marty Pattin. The '73 season was a very successful transitional one for Bill. While recovering from some bone chips in his ankle that abbreviated his spring training, the Sox tried to trade him. But after not getting into a game until the season's second week, four excellent relief outings in April - a 1.45 ERA with a win and a save in 19 innings - got Bill moved to the rotation. While his first start didn't go too well, a 10-3 run got him named to the All-Star team that summer, and he would win 17 for the first time. But Bill made his mark long before the '73 season. Before his first game at Fenway he took a look at the Green Monster and asked a teammate if they kept it there during games; thus was born The Spaceman.

Bill Lee was drafted in a late round by the Sox out of USC in '68. He was fresh off winning the college World Series in which he had a win and a save. In his two minor league seasons, '68 and '69 he kicked butt, going 10-6 with a 1.81 ERA. He reached Boston in mid-'69 and pitched sparingly out of the pen with an occasional start the next two seasons. In '71 he was the team's main middle reliever and added a couple saves to his very good numbers. In '72, after Sparky Lyle was traded, the Sox went to closer by committee and Bill led the team with five saves. After his big '73 he won the same number of games each of the next two seasons, though his ERA climbed a bit each year, and that second year he would see his first post-season action in an exciting Series. But early in '76 he got nailed by Graig Nettles during a bench-clearer at Yankee Stadium and came out of it with an injured shoulder and a mostly lost season. Once he returned to the lineup in '77 he bounced back pretty well, getting nine wins in about a half season. In '78 he returned to the rotation and won ten. But his criticism of manger Don Zimmer and his off-field behavior was wearing thin which both compressed his number of starts those two years and after the '78 season got him traded to Montreal for Stan Papi.

For the Expos in '79 Lee went 16-10 in his last good year as a starter. Injuries slowed him down in '80 and the next year he performed well in relief, with five wins and six saves After a couple games in '82 he was released after he made a stink about the release of a fellow player. That was it for Bill in the majors. He finished with a 119-90 record with a 3.62 ERA, 72 complete games, ten shutouts, and 19 saves. He was a pretty good hitter, batting .208, and performed well in the post-season with a 2.93 ERA in 15 innings.

The Spaceman stayed on the radar after baseball. He ran for President in '88, played in the Senior League during its two seasons, and wrote a bunch of books. He made headlines in 2000 when he claimed he got stoned with GWB in '72. In 2010 he started and won a game for the Brokton Rox, an independent team. He still plays ball as much as he can and claims he lives off the land. Who knows?

According to the first two star bullets, Bill had quite a career at USC, although I believe one of those wins was actually a save. It sort of makes one wonder why he didn't go until the 22nd round of the draft. Maybe he already had the offbeat reputation. He did have a nice year relieving in '71 but Sparky Lyle was definitely the closer so I don't know what determined "top man" back then. The cartoon is interesting since he apparently pitched righty below the border. He had some colorful times in winter ball: in PR one year he got into a nasty fight with Ellie Rodriguez and had to be rescued by Ron Woods, which was ironic since that last guy would be a Yankee. Bill also got punched by Reggie Smith while having a debate about Lee's usefulness as player rep. It was one of the reasons Smith was traded.

This one will be easy:

1. Lee and Sparky Lyle '69 to '71 Red Sox;
2. Lyle and Ron Blomberg '72 to '76 Yankees.

Friday, March 18, 2011

#117 - Ron Blomberg

Back to the action shots, this one is of the first ever designated hitter. For a while it was a tossup. The Yanks played Boston at Fenway in the first AL Opening Day game and the first two guys went down in a double play. If Boston retired the side, Orlando Cepeda was due to bat fifth in the bottom half and judging by the boxscore - Boston would win 15-5 - there was a good shot he'd get up. But Ron Blomberg was batting sixth and after the next three guys loaded the bases (on a double and a couple walks), Blomberg walked to force in a run and his bat was headed to Cooperstown. But Ron wasn't a one-game wonder in '73. He was actually set to again platoon at first base with Felipe Alou and did not bat at all as a DH in spring training. But he then pulled a hamstring and couldn't play the field so he was asked to DH and history was made. He went one for three in that game and was booming early in the season so that by late June he was hitting over .400, the latest date that had been achieved in 25 years. By July he was still at .397 but after the All-Star break the Yanks slumped and he would finish hitting .329 with 12 homers and 56 RBIs in what amounted to just over half a season. Here it looks like he's wristing out a single at Yankee Stadium.

Ron Blomberg - pronounced Bloomberg - was a first rounder out of Georgia by the Yankees in '67. He was a wildly sought after kid since he was a star in football, basketball, and baseball. He was a big, solid prospect at 6 feet and 200 pounds and was of course compared to Mickey Mantle when he was signed for $90,000, a pretty big sum back then. In the minors he showed some good power that summer in Rookie ball but was building a reputation as a line drive high average guy and was moved from first to the outfield. Up for a couple games in '69 he arrived for good in '71 and hit .322 in about a third of a season, doing well enough to make Baseball Digest's - though not Topps' - rookie team. In '72 his average tumbled but Ron got more at bats and hit his peak in homers with 14. But '72 was the year he started being platooned and during the rest of his career he would rarely hit against lefties, limiting his at bats. But he was a crowd pleaser and although he would be hurt a bunch as well, he did fulfill one of the goals the Yanks had for him: bringing more Jewish people to the park (his autobiography is "DH - Designated Hebrew").

Blomberg continued hitting well in '74 - a .311 average with 48 RBI's in 264 at bats - but got hurt in the Shea outfield. In '75 more pain followed, this time I believe his knee, and he would post only 106 at bats that year and then just two in '76. By '77 spring training he was healthy again but before the season started he wrecked his shoulder running into an outfield wall. After a year on the DL he signed as a free agent with the White Sox. He saw limited action in '78 and was then done. He hit .293 with 52 homers and 224 RBIs in 449 games and unfortunately missed any NY post-season action.

After baseball, Boomer moved around a bit. He became a motivational speaker, using his Jewish heritage as a sort of schtick. He also ran a couple baseball camps and wrote his autobiography. In 2007 he was invited to Israel to coach a team there and ended up winning the league championship. He is currently a scout in the Atlanta area for the Yankees.

Pretty good numbers, Ron was one of a few AL guys with a lifetime .300 average. The cartoon is no surprise; back then the Hawks had the Pistol playing for them. I guess he was the top DH. Jim Ray Hart was the other one and outside of average their stats were pretty similar.

Boomer was one of the few Yankee stars of this era. Let's use another one:

1. Blomberg and Bobby Murcer '71 to '74 Yankees;
2. Murcer and Derrel Thomas '75 to '76 Giants;
3. Thomas and Jerry Reuss '79 to '83 Dodgers.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

#116 - Jerry Reuss

Now here's a happy guy. Jerry Reuss smiles a lot on his cards. He looks like he knows how to turn on the charm. Small wonder that after he finished playing he became a sportscaster. Jerry is smiling even though someone did something horrible to his uniform. He isn't exactly airbrushed here. He just had all identifying symbols removed. He was also just traded from the Astros to the Pirates so that was something to smile about. But '73 was actually a pretty good year in Houston for Jerry: his hot start to the season - 11-5 by the All-Star game - helped keep Houston in the running through midyear and he finished the season with his first MLB plus-.500 record, led the NL in starts, and was the ace of the Houston staff. He was also apparently a hell of a dresser back in the day, a big fan of two-toned platform shoes - I had a pair of those - which must have been a sight, since he was already 6'5". This photo is from Shea, in a city where that outfit would have been very much at home.

Jerry Reuss was drafted by the Cards out of high school in '67. He got a pretty decent bonus so he must have been a hot prospect. His parents also got a trip to Hawaii. He spent most of that year at Single A where he only went 2-5 despite posting a 1.86 ERA. He then moved up a rung each year, posting another fine ERA in '68 in Double A around some military time and then winning 13 in Triple A in '69 prior to his debut up top. In '70 he was cruising at Triple A - 7-2 with a 2.12 ERA - so the Cards pulled him up to the rotation. '71 was all St. Louis and though Jerry was a .500 pitcher during his time with the Cards, his ERA was a bit high partly because of some big walk totals. Following that season he was traded to the Astros for Scipio Spinks as Houston was looking for a lefty starter to go up against the improving Dodgers.

Reuss' first season in Houston was mixed. He had a big drop in wins but his ERA came in pretty nicely as well. After his much-improved '73 he went to the Pirates for catcher Milt May. His time in Pittsburgh resulted in mostly premium work to his prior seasons. In '74 he won 16 again and improved on nearly every stat outside of K's. In '75 he went 18-11/2.54 and was the NL starter at the All-Star game (he was 10-6 at game time). But away from the field things were pretty wiggy. He got fined for taking his wife on the road. He got fined for going to college. He got shot down when he asked to have a no-smoking section on the team bus (he was/is an asthmatic). After another good year in '76 (14-9/3.53) in '77 his numbers cooled off a bit and in '78 he was barely used, ending up in the bullpen by mid-season.

In 1979 Reuss was traded to the Dodgers for Rick Rhoden and took his place in the LA pen. While his numbers were nothing special in a sort of lost season for LA, he did get some starts and had a nice last few weeks, going 2-1 with a 1.23 ERA. In the off-season the Dodgers signed Dave Goltz as a free agent and Jerry was back in the bullpen to start the season. He did, however have a productive off-season himself in which, worried about losing some pop from his fastball, he visited Dr. Frank Jobe, of Tommy John fame. It turned out that the muscles on his left side had atrophied, apparently in part due to his asthma. Workouts helped him rebuild his muscles so when Goltz went down Jerry was able to take his rotation spot and fly. He would go 18-6 in '80 with a 2.51 ERA and a league-leading six shutouts to win the NL Comeback Player of the Year Award. He also fired a no-hitter. In '81 he went 10-4 with a 2.30 ERA and destroyed Houston in the divisional series. In '82 he missed throwing a perfect game by a first inning hit and again won 18. He would be an effective started for LA through '85. Earlier injuries took their toll the next couple seasons as he moved from LA to the Reds to the Angels, none of for whom he pitched well. In '88 he went to the White Sox as a free agent and had a nice season, going 13-9 with a 3.44 ERA. There he won his 200th game. The next year his stats took a hit and he moved to the Brewers. In '90 he signed with the Pirates organization and pitched for Triple A Buffalo. He was called up for a bit that season allowing him to be one of a handful of pitchers to throw in four decades. That was his last season and in the end he went 220-191 with a 3.64 ERA, 127 complete games, 39 shutouts, and eleven saves. In the post-season he went 2-8 but with a 3.59 ERA and a shutout in his eleven games. He also threw in two All-Star games.

In 1990 Reuss joined ESPN as an analyst for Angels games which he did for twelve seasons. In the early 2000's he did some coaching at various levels for the Expos, Cubs, and Mets. In 2006 he signed on to be the LA color guy.

There's that informative little type again. That's a cute cartoon; Reuss is pronounced Royce. Even though he was from Missouri, Jerry was a self-proclaimed surfer dude. He looks it in his photo.

These two guys played a long time:

1. Reuss and Richie Zisk, '74 to '76 Pirates;
2. Zisk and Bruce Bochte '81 Mariners;
3. Bochte and Willie Horton '79 to '80 Mariners.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

#115 - Willie Horton

I don't think I'm going out on much of a limb when I say that this is the best card of the set. I know we're not even a fifth of the way through but this card is a masterpiece. From that helmet that would go everywhere to the mustache to the pose and expression that would fit perfectly on Mount Rushmore, Willie Horton gives us one of the baddest-ass shots ever. This is the look of a guy that says "Yeah, I just took you deep with my one-handed stroke. Next time I'll take you deeper." And in '73 Willie was ready to do just that. Coming off a '72 that was about his worst season, Willie benefited from a better relationship with his manager that promised more starting time; a new roommate in Frank Howard; and a strong start at the plate, going 12 for 29 in his first seven games. While he had much bigger power years, Willie turned in his best MLB avaerage and got himself a "5" card.

Willie Horton was born in Virginia and grew up in Detroit. He was the youngest of 19 kids (!!!), six of whom passed away before he finished high school. When he was done playing high school ball he hooked up with a sandlot team called Walway and in 1960 participated in something called the Altoona Class D tournament in which he hit .600. The tournament MVP was Bill Freehan. In '61 Willie signed with the Tigers - after passing up a bigger offer from Boston - for $22,000 of which he used $10,000 to buy his family a nice house in the 'burbs (amazing what ten grand could get you back then). Willie plowed through the minors quickly, moving from Class C ball in '62 to Double A the next year. At the end of the '63 season he came up to the Tigers, hit .326, and hit his first homer off Robin Roberts in front of his dad. In '64 a poor start had him down in Triple A where he hit .288 with 28 homers and 99 RBI's. He returned in '65 and set himself up in left field where he would be the starter for a bunch of seasons. His first two years he grabbed over 100 RBIs. In '65 while playing winter ball his folks were killed in a car crash which sort of beat the poor guy up. He added to his growing legend in '66 when he broke a bat on a checked swing. In '67 he developed an inflammation in his heel which killed his ribbie totals but the improving Tigers nearly won the pennant. Willie did try to single-handedly stop that year's race riots in Detroit. In '68, his heel repaired, he came back strongly, hitting a career-best 36 homers, getting the game-winner for Denny McLain's 30th, and having a super Series. Along with hitting .304 with a .448 OBA he threw Lou Brock out at home in the play many thought was the Series turner.

In '69 Horton again had some nice power numbers but he went AWOL for a week during the season when he thought he wasn't being appreciated (he was pissed off about the way he'd been used in the Series). In '70 he hurt his ankle and was done by mid-July in what was setting up to be his best season. In '71 he was healthy but he began being platooned in left and started playing right field. He also got a new manager that year named Billy Martin and the two didn't get along terribly well. That situation sort of peaked in a bad way in '72. Willie showed up to spring training overweight and during the season would hurt his foot and shoulder, missing a bunch of time. Martin also benched him, the first time that had happened, and Willie turned in by far his worst offensive numbers. And that was topped off by a one for ten performance in the playoffs. After the nice bounce in '73, Willie's legs were starting to break down and he had his knee operated on, missing half the season. Too bad because he went out hitting .298 with 47 RBI's in just 238 at bats. He did, however, have enough power to kill a pigeon with a ball he hit. In '75 he was given the DH job and responded nicely, putting up his best full-season power numbers in years (25 homers and 92 RBI's). He won top DH award that year (it is now called the Edgar Martinez Award). In '76 Alex Johnson and Rusty Staub were added to the lineup so Willie lost some at bats. He also re-hurt his knee that season and in '77 after one game he was sent to the Rangers for Steve Foucault.

Horton had a good season during the '77 Texas revival with a line of .289/15/75 but at the end of the year was traded to Cleveland with David Clyde for Tom Buskey and John Lowenstein. He also played for Oakland and Toronto that year which meant his spray paint got quite a workout - he kept his batting helmet and repainted it every time he joined a new team. In Toronto that year he had a wiggy experience when he and his family had a fight with some fans in the parking lot and a mountie hit him over the head, putting Willie in the hospital, according to him with a coma for two weeks. But redemption happily came in '79 when, picked up by the Mariners, he put up a .279 average with 29 homers and 106 RBIs to win the Comeback Player of the Year, also winning that Edgar Martinez to be thing again. A disappointing '80 season followed and after a trade to Texas again, Willie would get to Pittsburgh and play the next two years for the Pirates' Triple A club, where he put up quite good numbers - an average line of .287/20/79 in 400 at bats - but apparently not good enough to be recalled. After a year in Mexico in '83 he was done. For his career he hit .273 with 325 homers and 1,163 RBIs. He also played in four All-Star games and was a .242 hitter with a homer and three RBI's in twelve post-season games.

In '85 old antagonist and new friend Billy Martin brought in Willie to coach the Yankees. He also coached for the White Sox in '86. After a bunch of years affiliated with some non-profits, Willie hooked up with the Tigers in 2000 in admin as a community outreach guy. He is still there.

Willie has a nice signature. Its almost rune-like. Boy, nothing dates a card like the term "phonograph records." That was old even in '73!

All AL this time:

1. Horton and Bobby Valentine '79 Mariners;
2. Valentine on the '73 Angels.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

#114 - Angels Team Records/Checklist

Ah, the '73 Angels. I loved this team as a kid 'cause of Bobby Valentine and Nolan Ryan, but what a mess it was. They took a charge at respectability that year with Ryan and Bill Singer piling on early wins and Bobby hitting the crap out of the ball. But then he went down, they went 5 and 12 right before the All-Star break and were out of it before the summer really got going. But Nolan kept kicking butt so every fourth day was going to be an adventure. Plus they did have some power with Mike Epstein, Frank Robinson, and Bob Oliver to keep things interesting. And lots of young guys. The team card here is another one that is emblematic of the set. Between the blurry photo and the shadow I cannot tell who anyone is. Also, even if I could, a lot of the faces wouldn't be on the team roster anyway.

The checklist front gets to what I alluded just above. The Angels had a high turnover before the '74 season. Look at these signatures: out of 12 of them, three of them weren't even on the '73 team. If you go back one more season, only three guys - Ryan, Bob Oliver, and Sandy Alomar - were on the team in '72. So there were lots of moving parts on those California teams of the early to mid-'70's. These signatures are representative also. Frank Robinson's is classy; Mike Epstein's is big and all over the place; Vada Pinson's is quietly regal; and Sandy Alomar's is smooth. This card would be a field day for a handwriting expert. But the degree of turnover it implies really was not very conducive to winning a lot of ball games.

As with the newer teams that hadn't won anything yet, Topps presents a year-by-year team record instead of just the records of the team's pennant winners. And all the record holders are pretty recent guys since the team had only been around since '61. Here are the backgrounds of the guys without cards in this set:

Bobby Knoop was signed by the Braves in '56 out of his Iowa high school and started that year in D ball. Always a second baseman with very good defensive skills his progression through the Milwaukee system was arrested a bit by too many strikeouts and a surplus of middle infielders. After hitting fairly well at the lower levels, he had a nice half season at Double A in '60 hitting .280, also his first season of action in Triple A. He remained at the higher level the next two years, though his average took a hit as he missed a bunch of time for his military commitment. He then went to the Angels in '63 through the Rule 5 draft and after a much improved Triple A season came up to the majors in '64. From then through '68 he was the club's starting second baseman and during that time he won three Gold Gloves and was named to an All-Star team. While his defensive work was excellent, he had trouble at the plate again posting lots of K's. His best years were '65 when he topped out at .269 and '66 when he led the AL with eleven triples and also hit 17 homers with 72 RBI's, all those numbers well above his norm. In '69 he was traded to the White Sox for Sandy Alomar who didn't have the defensive props but added speed and a more consistent stick. In Chicago Bobby again was the starter for two seasons, though '70 was beset by injury. In '71 he went to the Royals as infield backup to Cookie Rojas where he remained through '72 when his playing career ended. He finished with a .236 average and was a .980 fielder and is in the top 100 for career putouts, assists, and double plays at second base. He immediately went into coaching and by '77 was up with the ChiSox where he stayed through '78. He then was with California for a long haul - '79 through '96 - and also put in a year at Toronto in 2000. More recently he has worked for the Rockies as a scout and as a director of player development.

Albie Pearson was a small (5'5") energetic outfielder who was signed by Boston in '53 out of his California high school where he was 25-6 with a 0.83 ERA and hit over .500 his senior year. Though signed as a pitcher, he proved to be too good a hitter in the minors, hitting well over .300 and developing good speed and an excellent eye; his career OBA in the minors was well over .400. But an understandable lack of power and his size kept him on the farm for the Sox. Prior to the '58 season he was traded to the Senators for Pete Runnels and that year he came up and won the AL Rookie of the Year for his .275 average and energetic play. In '59 he started slowly, missed some time to injury, and was sent to the Orioles for Lenny Green. There he backed up the outfield the next two seasons and in '60 spent some time back in Triple A, where he again hit over .300. In '61 he went to the Angels in the expansion draft. The team's first starting center fielder, Albie would average 100 runs a season the next three years while hitting about .285 during that time. His runs total led the league in '62 and in '63 he was an All-Star while hitting .304. But Albie had serious back issues and in '64 began missing significant time because of them. By early '66 he was removed from the starting lineup and he was released later in the year. Like Bobby Knoop, he was done as a player by his early thirties. Albie hit .270 for his career with an OBA of .369. He would later DJ but his passion was helping kids and he currently runs and for many years has run the non-profit Father's Heart Ranch in which he receives struggling children. He sounds like the real deal Angel.

Buck Rodgers was signed by Detroit in '56 and like Bobby Knoop above earned a reputation for his defense in the minors. While he would hit a combined .277 in the minors, he advanced slowly - he was a contemporary of Bill Freehan - and by '60 had played only 23 Triple A games. He then went to the Angels in the expansion draft and after hitting .286 with 62 RBI's for the Triple A club, made it up to LA at the tail end of the season, and hit an uncharacteristic .321. In '62 he became the starting Angel catcher and put up stats - .258/6/61 - that earned him second place in AL ROY voting and put him on the Topps rookie team. He was a starter through the '68 season, and was quite adept at picking off runners, peaking with a 52% in '67, but unfortunately his rookie offensive numbers would prove to be by far the best of his career. His '63 was hurt by a broken finger he initially tried to play through and then missed time for; in '65 he had an ankle injury; and in '67 he had a blood infection. By '68 he was hitting around Mendoza levels, and in '69, after spending most of the season in Triple A, he was released, after the Angels fired their only manager until then, Bill Rigney, who was a big fan. That was it as a player for Buck, who was a lifetime .232 hitter and threw out 43% of attempted base stealers. He turned to his new career - coaching - immediately and moved around a bunch. He coached for the Twins ('70 to '74) after following Rigney to Minnesota, managed in the Angels chain ('75 and '77), coached for the Giants ('76), coached ('78 to '80) and managed ('80 to '82) the Brewers, managed the Expos ('85 to '91), and managed the Angels ('91 - '94). During that last gig he had to take some time off while recuperating from a bus crash in '92. His managing record was 784-773 and I believe he is the winningest manager in Expos history (520 wins), a team for whom he won Manager of the Year in '87. After managing he scouted for the Phillies through '96 and then became head of baseball operations for an independent Cali team. In '98 he retired after reciving a big insurance check for that '92 bus accident. Buck has a SABR bio.

Leon "Daddy Wags" Wagner was a colorful outfielder who liked to party. Signed by the Giants in '54 out of Tukegee University, he was a huge power hitter in the low minors, including in '56 when he hit 51 homers in B ball. In '57 he was out for the military then returned in '58 to Triple A ball. After a big partial season he was promoted and put some time in the SF outfield for and hit .317. But that SF outfield was packed with hitters and when in '59 his average fell to .225 Leon was then traded to St. Louis where he had a crappy year and went down to the minors. At the end of that '60 season he was traded to Toronto of the International League who then flipped him to the Angels for Lou Johnson. With LA Wags became a starter and a big power guy, the next three years averaging 30 homers and 92 RBI's a season. In '62 Daddy would tap 37 homers for 107 ribbies, his best season. While with the Angels he had two All-Star appearances. In '64, troubled by Leon's party habits, the Angels sent him to Cleveland for Joe Adcock. For three seasons he continued to start in the Indians' outfield, over that time averaging 28 homers and 82 RBI's a season. In '66 he would be involved in an on-field collision with Larry Brown that would put Brown in the hospital for a month. In '67 Leon would be platooned in right field with Rocky Colavito by new Cleveland manager Joe Adcock (the same guy for whom Daddy was traded) and that was the beginning of the end for both Wags and Rocky. In '68 he went to the White Sox for Russ Snyder and in '69 he returned to San Francisco where he spent most of his time the next two years in the minors. One more Triple A season for Leon for the Padres in '71 and he was done. He finished with a .272 average, 211 homers, and 669 RBI's. After his career he acted in a few movies, owned a clothing store - "Get Your Rags From Daddy Wags" - which he ran into the ground, and continued his recreational use of drugs. He passed away in 2004 at 69; at the time he was living in a shed behind a video store in LA. He, too, has a SABR bio.

Minnie Rojas was a Cuban pitcher signed by San Francisco in 1960 when he was 27. Prior to then he had been a pitcher for the Cuban national team but was also a soldier for the ruling regime in the Fifties. So when Castro came to power, poor Minnie was on the wrong side of things. The last American scout in Cuba - Dave Garcia, who would later be an MLB manager - discovered Rojas and convinced the Giants to draft him since if he remained in Cuba he would probably be killed. Minnie had excellent control but almost zero speed, and by '63, though he'd reached Triple A, his career ERA was over 4.00, which wasn't great since he was nearly exclusively a reliever. The Giants then sold Minnie to Jalisco in the Mexican League in '64. But getting out of the States was awfully tough for Minnie that spring since he didn't have a visa and couldn't go home so he didn't get to Mexico until that August, though he then went 6-6 with a much better ERA. Then in '65 for the same club Minnie went 21-12 which put him on the Angels radar  and the club picked him up from Jalisco for $2,500. He started the '66 season in Triple A putting up good numbers including lots of strikeouts as a spot starter and was then promoted later that spring and finished off the year for the Angels nicely, going 7-4 with a 2.68 ERA and ten saves. In '67 he went 12-9 with a 2.52 ERA and led the league in games finished and his 27 saves to win Fireman of the Year. But that success was short-lived as arm problems in '68 caused his numbers to tank a bit and by '69 he was back in the minors and then Mexico, in what would be his last season. Minnie went 23-16 with a 3.00 ERA and 43 saves in the majors. Then in 1970 he was involved in a horrible car crash that killed his wife and two daughters and left Minnie paralyzed. He would recover enough to run some teams in Mexico. He passed away in 2002 at 68.

George Brunet grew up in Michigan and was signed by Detroit in '53 (or '52). After a couple seasons in regional ball he was sort of passed on to the Kansas City A's in the mid-50s. That transaction - or non-transaction - pretty much epitomized his career in which he pitched just about everywhere (his page on baseball-reference has the most uniform numbers I've ever seen). After posting some really mediocre numbers at a bunch of levels - only for one club was his ERA under 4.00 - he first came up in '56. The next year he got off to an uncharacteristic 10-3 start in Double A and then lost eight straight when his club scored not a run behind him for 51 innings. He left KC in mid-'60 and his travels took him to the Braves, the Astros, and Baltimore, for all of whom he was pretty terrible up top but put up consistently good Triple A numbers. In late '64 he found his way to the Angels, got up top immediately and although over the next four-plus seasons he put up a losing record - twice leading the league in losses - he actually had pretty good other numbers, was a staff workhorse, and was way better than average in ERA. During the '69 season he left California for the Seattle Pilots where he returned to his bad number days. In "Ball Four" Jim Bouton and he had an exchange about George's refusal to wear underwear. After hanging out the next three seasons with the Senators, the Pirates, and the Cards, respectively, he played in the minors for a couple years, ending things with San Diego in '73. In the majors he went 69-83 with a 3.62 ERA, 39 complete games, 15 shutouts, and four saves. In the minors he went 111-113 with a 3.95 ERA. But George wasn't done in '73. He then went down to Mexico where he pitched straight through until '89. That meant that without a whole lot of success on top that he pitched for 37 seasons. He threw a no-hitter when he was 42 and became a member of the country's baseball hall of fame based on his 132 wins, 55 shutouts, and 2.66 ERA. In '81 he had a heart attack down in Mexico and that slowed him down only a little. But in '91 while he was coaching down there he had another heart attack that would prove fatal. He was 56.

Dean Chance was a big deal high school pitcher in Ohio - he went 52-1 - when he was signed by Baltimore to a big bonus in '59. After a couple decent seasons in the minors he was unprotected, selected by the new Senators in the '60 expansion draft, and then immediately traded to the Angels, apparently per order from the AL commissioner. After throwing some decent Triple A ball in '61 he came up at season's end for good. Beginning in '62 he became very high profile for two reasons: one was that he immediately became staff ace of a new team that was surprisingly successful; two was that Dean, a big good-looking guy, and his roommate buddy, Bo Belinsky, became big Hollywood jet setters and frequently traveled in rarefied celebrity company. While Bo would crash pretty quickly, Dean became a damn good pitcher, peaking in '64, when he won the Cy based on his 20-9 season. eleven shutouts, and sick 1.65 ERA. He would hang with the Angels through '66 when he had a losing record and was traded following the season to Minnesota. Dean left the Angels as its all-time leader in most pitching categories, having gone 74-66 with a 2.83 ERA in his five seasons. He won 20 his first season with the Twins, had a nice .500 season in '68, and then missed a bunch of '69 to injury, though he pitched around it pretty well. But the injury hampered his pitching style which consisted primarily of a low fastball and a screwball changer, and his numbers thereafter went south pretty quick. The next two seasons he pitched for Cleveland, the Mets, and Detroit and was done after '71, finishing with a record of 128-115 with a 2.92 ERA, 83 complete games, 33 shutouts, and 23 saves. In his only post-season appearance he got hit hard in a couple innings. After baseball Dean ran his own carnival and was a boxing promoter, and had a stint as president of the IBA.

Given the above, the expectation is that a significant part of the '73 Angels team will be missing from this checklist, which is correct. Starting with catcher, the only guys in the whole set with any time there are Charlie Sands and Rick Stelmaszek and they only had 59 at bats between them. The other guys - Jeff Torborg, John Stephenson, and Art Kusnyer - were pretty much done major league-wise. At first, Jim Spencer had gone to Texas, where he had a card. At second, Billy Grabarkewitz moved to Philly and Billy Parker was done. Al "Dirt" Gallagher put in the most time at third in his last season and Jerry DaVanon got more at bats than either included catcher as a backup infielder. None of those last three has a card. The outfield and DH are covered, though. Only Ken Berry, who has a card with the Brewers, is missing. But over 900 California '73 at bats are missing from this set which has to put them near the top of the heap. On the pitching side, Clyde Wright and Steve Barber moved to the Brewers also. Only Andy Hassler, who went 0-4 in his first season, and Ron Perranoski, at 0-2 - he was covered on the Twins team post - had decisions and didn't have cards, so 156 of 162 decisions is represented. That's not so bad. Here is my stab at the missing guys in the team photo. Gallagher is the second guy from the left in the second row and Torborg and Stephenson the last two in that row. Kusnyer is the tall guy, third in in the third row and DaVanon the eighth guy in. Parker was even shorter than Alomar - next to Kusnyer - so I don't think he's here. And I don't see either of the missing pitchers.

Just about everybody played for the Angels, including the last guy, so:

1. Leroy Stanton was on the '73 Angels;
2. Stanton and Dick Drago '76 Angels.

Monday, March 14, 2011

#113 - Dick Drago

After a three-card run through the NL we return to the AL with another non-Traded traded card. Dick Drago had been traded from the Royals to Boston and he is shown here on a bleak day barely air-brushed into a Boston cap from a road uniform God knows where. The artist gets a couple points for the "B" but he didn't even try to color the cap black. While Dick again posted a year of double-figure wins in '73, his ERA reached its highest level during his time in KC, based on too many hits and not enough strikeouts while he was on the hill. Add that to a bit of friction between Dick and new manager Jack McKeon and the trade news was not all that surprising.                         

Dick Drago was signed by the Tigers out of the University of Detroit in '64. A star pitcher in high school in Ohio - he went 18-3 and his senior year threw two no-hitters - Dick had barely played in college when Detroit grabbed him. Sent to A ball in '65 he would go 5-14 but with a very respectable ERA his first season. The next three, moving from A to Triple A, he would win 15 each year with excellent ERA numbers. All seasons he was principally a starter. Before he got a chance to pitch for Detroit though, he was left unprotected and taken by the Royals in the '68 expansion draft.

Pretty much right off the bat Drago took a place in the KC rotation and for the next five years would be the team's most consistent starter and winner. His first two years he tied for second in team wins while posting a combined better than league ERA, despite losing records.Then he posted his best season in '71 when he won 17 and had a 2.99 ERA, finishing fifth in Cy Young voting. That was followed by another very good ERA in '72, but with a losing record. After his discounted '73, Dick was sent that October to the Red Sox even-up for Marty Pattin. They'd both had off years and their new clubs were hoping a change of scenery would turn things around. Dick left KC as the team's career wins leader.

With Boston in '74 Drago became a swing guy, moving between starting and relieving, knocking over half a run from his ERA while adding three saves to his record. During the '75 season he moved into the closer role with a couple wins and 15 saves. He then pitched very well in the post-season, going 0-1 with a 1.04 ERA in eight innings. But prior to the '76 season, Dick was traded to the Angels for outfielders Dick Sharon and John Balaz. There he had a mediocre season as he posted six saves but also an ERA that moved up to his '73 one. After a good start to the '77 season he was sent to Baltimore for Dyar Miller, another reliever. There his numbers revived a bit and after the season he returned to Boston as a free agent. After a nice '78 - 4-4 with a low ERA and seven saves - he put up his best relief numbers in '79, going 10-6 with 13 saves and a 3.03 ERA. In 1980 the Boston pitching sort of imploded and Dick was pressed into some starts, having a particularly good week late in September when he won two of them in a row. But overall '80 was not great and the following season he went to Seattle for Manny Sarmiento, former Reds ace-to-be. After a pretty poor year there, Dick was done. He finished with a record of 108-117, 62 complete games, ten shutouts, 58 saves, and an ERA of 3.62.

In '82 Drago was one of a bunch of former major leaguers - George Scott, Diego Segui, and Luis Tiant were among the others - that SI caught up with while playing ball in Mexico in an article that highlighted the rigors of playing down there. He played in the Senior League that appeared in the late '80's and later had some financial issues. But in a blog posted by a friend in '09 he seemed content and charming. That blog is linked to here. Around this time he also was part of a group that put together a children's book about baseball used to raise money for non-profits.

In '66 Dick went 15-9 for Single A Rocky Mount. That no-hitter from the second star bullet was the first game of a double header. In the second game that day, Dick's roommate threw another no-hitter. Here we have another bowler and according to the cartoon, Dick was fond of using a ball bigger than his head.

Since I cannot seem to avoid the AL, let's see how it gets used on a career guy:

1. Drago and Jeff Burroughs '81 Mariners;
2. Burroughs and Davey Lopes '82 to '84 A's.

I believe this is the first time the Mariners name has been used in this blog.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

#112 - Davey Lopes

This is Davey Lopes' first solo card. In '73 he had a rookie one. In my ignorance I had always thought Davey was a Hispanic kid from one of the islands or the Americas. Actually he was an urban kid from Providence who grew up in tough circumstances and is of Cape Verdian - a small country off the west coast of Africa - descent. In '73 he was a savior for LA, becoming their first full-time second baseman since Ted Sizemore got traded and solidifying the middle defense with Bill Russell. The improved defense was a big deal for LA because that year most of their pitchers were low ball specialists which meant lots of grounders. That year Davey would be named second baseman on Topps' Rookie All-Star Team. In this photo, I am pretty sure those are Astros in the background, but this sure ain't the Astrodome, so I guess it's a spring training shot.

Davey Lopes was drafted by the Giants in '67 - to which he said no thanks - and the Dodgers in '68. He had attended college at both Iowa Wesleyan and Washburn following their athletic director as he traveled between schools. His name was Mike Sarkesian and he had coached against Lopes in Providence and took an interest, eventually persuading him to go to school. Lopes had nine siblings and no dad so it wasn't in the cards without the outside push. After he signed with the Dodgers Davey elected to continue school, hence his two short minor league seasons in '68 and '69. That second year he graduated with a degree in education. That freedom allowed his elevation to Triple A ball in '70 where he resided the next three summers with a whole bunch of other future major leaguers. Prior to '71 he was an outfielder but during that season he started playing second base. He got a late look in LA in '72 there and then in '73 was kept on the roster to back up Lee Lacy, who had an excellent spring training and was handed the second base job. But Lacy started slowly and then got hurt, allowing Davey to step in. He recognized an opportunity when he saw it and he never looked back, becoming the regular second baseman through '81. Davey would put up good offensive numbers, play a superior second base, and show exceptionally good base-running abilities. Some of his stolen base ratios were pretty amazing: in '78 he stole 45 bases and got caught four times. In '75 he set a record by stealing 38 straight without being caught. He led the NL twice in steals, including in '76 when he missed a bunch of time to injury. Given the above, Davey was normally a top of the order guy and he would report some pretty good offensive numbers away from his stolen base work. He averaged about 90 runs a year in his full seasons, topping out at 109 in '79. And he had some pop in his bat, that same year hitting 28 homers. He also did a pretty good job getting on base, putting up a .349 OBA, and adding about ten points to it when healthy. With the Dodgers he would play in four All-Star games, earn a Gold Glove, and get to the post-season four times, winning the Series in '81. But that year Davey got off to a super slow start and missed a month to injury on top of losing all the strike time. He posted by far his worst regular season numbers.

In '82 the Dodgers had Steve Sax coming up and they broke up the storied infield by trading Lopes to Oakland. While his '82 wasn't anything special - though he did add over 30 points to his average - he had a nice offensive year in '83. The next season Davey would get shifted to the outfield by the arrival at second base of - of all people - Joe Morgan. Late in the season he was sent to the Cubs and re-joined Ron Cey. In '85, at age 40, he stole 47 bases (and was caught four times) in about half a season while hitting .284. Then in '86 he was hitting at a .300 clip when he was traded to the Astros. He stayed in Houston as a reserve through '87. He finished with a .263 average, .349 OBA, 155 homers, and 557 stolen bases. In the post-season, Lopes hit .238 with six homers, 22 RBIs, and 19 stolen bases in 50 games.

After playing, Lopes moved into coaching right away for Texas, Baltimore, San Diego, and the Nationals through 2006. From 2000 to '02 he managed the Brewers for whom he was 144-195. From 2008 to 2010 he was the Phillies' first base coach and during that time the team had the league's highest stolen base ratio. This year he will be coaching first for LA.

That first star bullet is pretty cool. From '70 to '72 Davey put up really good Triple A numbers but he was overshadowed by guys like Valentine, Garvey, and Paciorek. I had read elsewhere that he taught so he got some usage out of his degree. He has certainly taught a bunch of current players. Davey was quite an old rookie in '73 at 27.

Lopes is the third NL'er in a row. Let's try to keep this all NL:

1. Lopes and Joe Morgan '84 A's;
2. Morgan and Clay Carroll '72 to '75 Reds.