Tuesday, May 31, 2011

#169 - Steve Rogers

Here is one of the pitchers from the Topps Rookie All-Star Team of '73 (the other is only a few cards away). Steve Rogers had a monster rookie year for the Expos that season and we catch him here at their Daytona Beach site - Thanks, Clay - in the first photo on part of the compound that actually looks like a ballfield. Steve really did start off with a bang. After giving up two runs in an eight inning no-decision in his first start he threw a one-hit shutout for his first win, another shutout in his next start for his second win, and by the time he was 5-3 a few weeks later, four of those wins were shutouts. While things wouldn't always roll that easily for Steve, he would go on to be arguably one of the best Montreal pitchers ever.

Steve Rogers grew up in Missouri where he was a late bloomer in baseball, not even making his high school varsity team until there were two games to go in his junior season. But he improved quickly and during his American Legion season in '67 he was drafted by the Yankees whom he shot down. Instead he went to the University of Tulsa where he grew three inches, pitched very well, and earned a degree in petroleum engineering. He was a first rounder for the Expos in '71 and went right to Triple A where he pitched the next two seasons. He didn't start off too well, going a combined 5-16 with an ERA around 4.00. In winter ball in '72-'73 he had Billy DeMars as a manager. DeMars helped Steve fix his delivery and taught him a rising fastball. Then in '73 spring training he picked up a slider from Cal McLish, the Expos pitching coach. Sent first to Double A Quebec and then Triple A Peninsula to work on his new array of pitches, he posted excellent numbers and that July got called up to Montreal. He responded with a 10-5 record and 1.54 ERA in the rotation, fueling a second-half rally by the Expos that kept them in the race through late September. In addition to making the Topps team he came in second in NL ROY voting.

In '74 Rogers would make his first All-Star team but he got hit with a bit of a sophomore jinx as he went 15-22 with an ERA of 4.46. Part of the reason for the numbers reversal was some subtle changes to his delivery caused by what would turn out to be bone chips in his elbow which wouldn't be discovered and removed until after the '76 season. But in '75 and '76 he would pull his ERA back to the low 3.00's while putting up losing records for some pretty bad teams. In '77 he went 17-16, in '78 he won 13 with a 2.47 ERA, and in '79 he again won 13 and led the league in shutouts with five. In both the later years he was an All-Star. In '80 he stepped things up, winning 16 and in '81, the strike year, he went 12-8 in only 22 starts. He then kicked Philadelphia's butt in the divisional series and threw well against LA in the NL playoffs, but got immortalized by giving up the winning series homer to Rick Monday (overall in the post-season that year he went 3-1 with a 0.98 ERA in four games). In '82 he had his best season, going 19-8 with a 2.40 ERA to lead the league and finishing second in NL Cy Young voting. In '83 he won 17, but by now a nagging shoulder injury was taking its toll and in the next two seasons he would go a combined 8-19 before being released early in '85. After a couple attempts at comebacks with California and the White Sox - both in Triple A - Steve retired. He finished with a record of 158-152 with a 3.17 ERA, 129 complete games, 37 shutouts, and a couple saves. He ultimately made five All-Star teams and is the Montreal/Washington career leader in wins. His post-season work was restricted to the '81 season.

After his playing career ended, Rogers made it back to baseball through consulting work with the Major Leagues Players Association which was a natural step as he'd been a player rep during his time with the Expos. The MLPA hired him in '98 and he continues to work there. He was inducted to Tulsa's hall of fame in the mid-Eighties.

This is a good card back. Steve gets props for his college career, summer ball, rookie year, and military service. His career record at Tulsa was 31-5 with a 2.06 ERA and 327 K's in 301 innings. He was an All-American his senior year and twice led his team to the CWS. The National Baseball Congress Tourney is a summer series held in or around Wichita that essentially works as a championship for summer league teams. Other participants in the tourney who've already had posts include Tom Seaver, Rich Troedson, and Johnny Grubb.

Let's use a recently deceased HOF guy to hook up these two:

1. Rogers and Bob Stinson '73 to '74 Expos;
2. Stinson and Harmon Killebrew '75 Royals;
3. Killebrew and Danny Thompson '70 to '74 Twins.

Monday, May 30, 2011

#168 - Danny Thompson

Danny Thompson takes a cut at Yankee Stadium which at one point was nearly his home park. It looks like a nice day. I don't think there were too many of those in the Bronx in 1973. It must have been a tough season for Danny as immediately before it he was diagnosed with leukemia. The disease would overhang the rest of his career and eventually prove fatal but Danny rose above it and almost never missed any time due to what must have been nearly crippling pain. He took solace in living his dream as a ball player and that dream doesn't get any better than on a sunny day.

Danny Thompson was an Oklahoma kid all the way - although he was born in Kansas - as a high school athlete in Capron and an All-American shortstop at Oklahoma State. He played in both his sophomore and junior years at OSU and was all-Big Eight both seasons. He won his All-America distinction in '68 based on his .349, five homer season, the year he led his team to the CWS. He was drafted in the first round that spring by the Twins  after shooting down the Yankees ('65), the Reds ('67) and the Senators (earlier in '68). Danny got off to a pretty good start, topping .280 in Single A ball in '68 and .300 in Double A the next year. While his average got knocked down pretty good at Triple A in '70, he only made five errors in 58 games and was called up to Minnesota to help fill the gap at second due to Rod Carew's injury. He also got into the playoffs that season. In '71 Carew was healthy again and though Danny stuck on the major roster he rarely played, spending nearly all his field time at third. In '72 the Twins sent Leo Cardenas to California freeing up the shortstop spot and Danny responded with his best offensive season as the new solo guy there. In '73 he lost some playing time to Jerry Terrell and the average came in a bunch.

In '74 Thompson won the Hutch Award, given annually to a player demonstrating courage in the face of adversity. That was the season his illness became more publicly recognized.. He dealt with it more than admirably and after another split season with Terrell in '74 he led all AL shortstops with a .270 average in '75. In June of '76 he was traded to the Rangers with Bert Blyleven for Roy Smalley, Mike Cubbage, Bill Singer, and some cash. For the Rangers he backed up at second and third base. Shortly after that season ended, though, the leukemia caught up to him and he passed away that December at age 29. For his career Danny hit .248 and posted a .276 in the minors. He hit .125 in his three post-season games.

After Thompson's death former teammate Harmon Killebrew and his business partner Ralph Harding began a memorial golf tournament in Danny's name that is in its 34th year. The site for the tournament is linked to here. It has been a rousing success raising many millions of dollars for cancer research.

Danny gets star bullets for his first minor league season and has another cartoon detailing his off-season work. Unofficially I am pretty sure that theme has been number one for these cartoons so far.

Tiant and Thompson are pretty close alphabetically. Does it help? Yup:

1. Thompson and Luis Tiant '70 Twins.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

#167 - Luis Tiant

Wow. No number "0" or even a "5" card for El Tiante even though he won 20 and sports one of the best Fu's of the set. Still, he looks like he's handling it pretty well in his first of what will be a bunch of successive action shots. And there were a lot of 20 game winners in the AL in '73, in no small part due to it being the first year of the DH. Luis probably didn't mind the dis. The big win total should have been all the confirmation he or anyone else needed that Luis' comeback was more than a one-season event. And it wouldn't be too long before he and his mustache were media darlings.

Luis Tiant's age was sort of like Gaylord Perry's spitter: it became a statistic in its own right and was constantly challenged. Officially born in 1940 he could have been born as much as ten years earlier but, frankly, he looks a little too good in current photos to be that old. Luis came from good baseball stock as his dad, Luis Sr., was a long-time lefthander for the New York Cubans of the Negro Leagues and also played winter ball in Cuba. The junior Luis was spotted in a junior league and signed a minor-league contract with Mexico City for whom he played three seasons. His first year of '59 didn't go too swimmingly as he went 5-19 with a high ERA and more walks than K's. But his record improved over the next two years to a combined 29-16, his ERA dropped by two runs the second season, and his BB/K ratio also righted so that following the '61 season he was sold to Cleveland. For the Indians a good '62 in Single A was followed by a '63 at the same level in which he went 14-9 with a 2.56 ERA and 207 strikeouts in 204 innings.The next year he moved up to Triple A and moved his game up many more notches by going 15-1/2.04/154 in just 137 innings, earning a mid-season call-up as well as the Topps Minor Leage Player of the Year. In Luis' first start he shut out the Yankees and he went on to win ten games in 16 starts that summer. After a good sophomore season he would split time in '66 between the rotation and the pen recording eight saves and leading the league with five shutouts in only 16 starts. In '67 he had his first of two successive seasons of over a strikeout an inning. Then in '68 he had his killer year: 21-9 with an AL-leading 1.62 ERA and nine shutouts. Any other year he would have won the Cy but '68 belonged to Denny McLain and his 31 wins. Luis did come in fifth in MVP voting however. He also struck out 19 Twins in a game while giving up zero walks and made his first All-Star team.

Tiant had pitched during the winter in Mexico and elsewhere, but after his amazing '68 the Indians told him to rest his arm during the winter. Unfortunately Luis had an arm that thrived on being worked and shortly into the '69 season he hurt it and the results were almost a total reversal of his prior year's numbers. Following that season he was sent to the Twins with Stan Williams for Dean Chance, Graig Nettles, Ted Uhlaender, and Bob Miller. He began the season well enough but then that May fractured his scapula and pulled a muscle in his back. He was 6-0 at the time with a 3.12 ERA and wouldn't make it back to the mound until August after which he'd pitch sparingly and in pain the rest of the way. He did hit over .400 that season. The Twins released him the following March and it took him two weeks to hook up with a new team. He signed a 30-day minor league contract with the Braves, threw in five games and wasn't called up. He then hooked up with Louisville, Boston's Triple A team, at the request of its manager, Darrel Johnson. There he went 3-5 in nine starts with a 4.17 ERA and he was called up in early summer. He got bombed in his first start, had some trouble reining in the runs, but gradually improved over the season. In July he put up ten shutout innings in one start and in August struck out ten Royals in another one. Moments like those were promising, Luis' attitude was infectious, and the Sox signed him to a major league contract.

In '72 Boston's faith in Tiant paid off as he led them almost to win the division. Late in the year he won six straight including four consecutive shutouts and he led the league in ERA, winning Comeback Player of the Year. He had six shutouts that season. In '73 he returned to the 20-win category ironically without throwing a single shutout. He won 22 in '74 and made his second All-Star team. '75 was a special year for Luis as he won 18 despite his ERA picking up a run. He also saw his second year of post-season action where he put on a show for the nation with his crazy delivery while winning one game in the AL playoffs and two in the Series. The Sox also flew in his parents from Cuba which was a big deal since he hadn't seen his dad since '61. He won 21 in '76 and then 25 over the next couple seasons. He signed with the Yankees as a free agent in '79 and won 21 the next couple years. After being released in '81 he signed with the Pirates. He won a couple for Pittsburgh and went 13-7 for Portland, their Triple A club. Even though he was 40 he played winter ball in Mexico again and was then sold in April '82 to the Angels for whom he pitched one season before leaving as a free agent. That was it in the majors for Luis and he finished with a 229-172 record, a 3.30 ERA, 187 complete games, 49 shutouts, and 15 saves. In the post-season he went 3-0 with a 2.86 ERA and three complete games in his four starts. Although he has never won more than about 30% of the votes for the Hall his stats put him right on the cusp.

Luis still holds the record for most strikeouts in a game without a walk. The cartoon is cool but you already knew that from the front of the card. After he finished playing, Luis did various things including making commercials, community work for the Sox, various work in baseball in Mexico, and coaching baseball for a few years at Savannah College of Art and Design. He recently had a documentary released about him which was shown at the Tribeca Film Festival in 2009. Luis has a SABR bio.

For the hookup we use another tough pitcher:

1. Tiant and Marty Pattin '72 to '73 Red Sox;
2. Pattin played for Jack McKeon in '74 and '75.

Friday, May 27, 2011

#166 - Jack McKeon/Royals Field Leaders

This is Jack McKeon's card during his first year as a manager. In '73 Jack led KC to the best season of the team's short existence at that point as they used a mid-season surge to grab the division lead right after the All-Star break. But the KC pitchers ran out of gas just as the Oakland guys got hot and Jack had to settle for second. He is only 42 in this photo. Remember when he was the cigar-chomping manager of the Marlins when they won the Series in 2003? He was 72 then and that was eight years ago. Pretty scary.

Jack McKeon was a Jersey kid who was signed by the Pirates in '48 at 18 (his birthday is the same as my dad's which is pretty wiggy) while attending Holy Cross. He hit .251 the following summer in D ball but that would be his highest average and he would miss part of the early Fifties to military time. Jack was a catcher during his career which never rose above Class B ball and ended with a .210 lifetime average in '59 after years in the Baltimore and Washington systems also. By '55 he was managing as well and after he was done as a player he continued to manage in the Washington/Minnesota system through '64 after which he became a scout. He then moved to the expansion Royals' system in late '68 and from '69 to '72 he managed in the minors for KC, the last couple seasons putting up some good numbers at Omaha, their Triple A club, and winning  two league titles. '73 was his first season managing the Royals which he did through '75. After a season in the Atlanta system in '76 he also managed the A's ('77 to '78), Padres ('88 to '90), Reds ('97 - 2000), and Marlins ('03 to '05). He had a long run as Padres GM ('81 to '90) which is where he picked up the handle Trader Jack from when he put together the '84 pennant winner. He also did admin work for Cincinnati ('93 -'97) and Florida (2006-'11). He won Manager of the Year twice in '99 and '03 and had that one Series winner in 2003. Lifetime as a manager he is 1,051-990 up top and 1,151-1,152 in the minors.

Galen Cisco was Ohio all the way to the point that he was starting fullback and captain of the Ohio State '57 NCAA title winner. There he was also a linebacker and went 12-2 for his pitching career. He was signed by Boston in '58 and in '59 would win 17 between three minor league teams. After a couple decent Triple A seasons he came up to the Sox in '61 but for two seasons there had an ERA above 6.70 while going 6-11 as a spot guy. He then went to the Mets late in '62 and parts of four seasons was part of the rotation, losing 15 in '63 and 19 in '64 despite having a 3.60 ERA. He then spent the next few seasons moving between Triple A and the majors for Boston and Kansas City with '70 being his final season. He finished with a 25-56 record and 4.56 ERA with nine complete games and three shutouts in the majors and went 66-60 in the minors. He became the KC pitching coach in '71 which he did through '79. That was followed by stints at Montreal ('80 to '84), San Diego ('85 to '87), Toronto ('88 to '95), and Philadelphia ('97 to 2000). I believe he has since done some scouting.

Harry Dunlop was also a catcher who was signed in '52 by the Pirates. He also played some first base and even pitched a bit during his career. He started off pretty famously, being the catcher in '52 for three no-hitters in two weeks, one in which his pitcher threw 27 strikeouts! He had military duty from '53 to '54 and then returned to the Pirates system where he would play mostly Single A ball until released in '57. He then hooked up as a player/manager for an independent C team in '58, and hit .349 while finishing in second place. He continued to hit and coach quite well in the low minors and by '61 he was playing and managing in the Baltimore system which he did through '67, his final season as a player. He would hit .276 for his minor league career. After a year in the California system Harry was part of the initial KC coaching staff in '69 and remained there through '75. He coached also at St. Louis ('76), Cincinnati ('79 to '82 and '98 to 2000), San Diego ('83 to '87), and for the Marlins in '05. He also managed some more in the minors in the Cubs system ('77 to '78); the Padres one ('83); and the Milwaukee one ('91 to '93); and worked on the admin side for San Diego ('88 to '90). His managerial record is 894-794, all in the minors. Lots of his post-KC MLB time was spent with McKeon.

Charlie Lau was another - of course - catcher signed by Detroit in '52. Like Harry Dunlop, he had a strong start in D ball, hitting above .330. He then lost two years to the military as well and returned in '55 for a season of B ball and then spent most of the next three seasons in Triple A. During the '59 season he was traded to the Braves for whom he played at the same level. After very moderate playing time up top he was sold to the Orioles in '61 and by the end of the season his major league average was under .200 mostly as a pinch hitter. In '62, though, he got some playing time for the O's and hit .294. The next few years he split between Baltimore and Kansas City (the A's) and would generally hit pretty well in limited play. He was a good defensive catcher but his throwing arm was not so great. He was also developing a reputation as a hard worker and observer of the game so he'd probably decided by then that coaching was in his future. After being injured in '66 the at bats stopped coming and he was done by the end of the '67 season. His lifetime average was .255 and he hit .294 in the minors. Charley then moved into coaching, managed a year in the Atlanta system in '68 - he went 78-62 - and then moved to the KC one in '69. He became a coach for the Royals from '71 through '78, moved to the Yankees from '79 to '81, and then to the White Sox. He was revered as a hitting coach and had many pupils who would significantly improve their averages with his help: George Brett, Hal McRae, Willie Wilson, Rick Cerrone, Reggie, Greg Luzinski, and Carlton Fisk among them. Charley was still active as a White Sox coach when he died of cancer in '84. He was 50.

Since McKeon never played in the majors, this exercise is confined to him as manager:

1. McKeon managed Cookie Rojas from '73 to '75;
2. Rojas and Dick Allen '64 to '69 Phillies;
3. Allen and Willie Davis '71 Dodgers.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

#165 - Willie Davis

This is Willie Davis' third year in a row with an action card. And this one is much better than the '73 one when it looks like he was nearly beaned. Here Willie looks like he's stroking one to left field in what appears to be the same park as on Joe Ferguson's card which would make it Philadelphia. If it fell in there's a good shot that Willie would be at second base by the time the photographer was ready for another shot. Willie's final season in LA maintained his path through the early Seventies with another All-Star nod and his third Gold Glove season in a row. His trade here would be a very big deal and is represented by a Traded card that falls under the not-too-bad designation as there is only a bit of the cap that needed to be air-brushed. He seems bemusedly happy at his future home at Jack Murphy Stadium.

Willie Davis was born in Arkansas and grew up in LA where he was a star in football, basketball, track, and baseball at Theodore Roosevelt High and probably pre-ordained to join the Dodgers with whom he signed upon graduating in '58. He went to C ball in '59 and tore it up so much that in '60 he jumped all the way to Triple A which he demolished also (in his two seasons he got over 400 hits, 83 doubles, 42 triples, scored 266 runs and hit .349). In '60 he was named The Sporting News Minor League Player of the Year. The downside of this is that when Willie came up he thought he was a power hitter and recognized that that was where the - relatively - big money lay. As a result, despite an occasional decent homer tally it took a very long time for Willie to establish himself as a hitter and his averages tended to be all over the place.
Davis got a call-up in late '60 and hit pretty well. In '61 the phase-out of Duke Snider and the phase-in of Willie as the LA center fielder began and in '62, his first season as a full-time starter, he led the league in triples and showed good further power with 21 homers and 85 RBI's. He also stole 32 bases, topped out in runs scored with 103, and was solidifying himself as a premier defensive guy. The following four seasons he would waffle back and forth between bad and good averages and three of those four years he would get to the Series, winning two of them. His even years tended to be better stats-wise - in the Sixties he averaged 86 runs in even years against 59 runs in odd years - and in '64 he stole a personal best 42 bases. In '67 and '68 Willie's average got stuck around .250 and his power declined to the point where he was down to single digits in homers. He also was creeping up in strikeouts to near the century mark. This caused the big re-evaluation.

1969 would be a significant season for Davis. He broke his arm in spring training and then missed more time after he got hit in the face and broke his cheekbone. While he was sitting out he decided that his game wasn't hitting homers, but getting on base. That process was cemented after a June game at Forbes field in which he hit three towering blasts that all ended up as putouts. He switched to a heavier bat used by Ken Boyer, choked up and cut down on his swing, and hit .353 the rest of the season, which included a club-record 31-game hitting streak. He also knocked 50 strikeouts off his total. In '70 he led the league in triples and in '71 he made his first All-Star game and won his first Gold Glove. That year he put together the second-longest Dodger hitting streak of 25 games. During that three-year stretch he was the only NL guy outside of Pete Rose to hit .300 each season. '72 and '73 were both Gold Glove seasons and in the latter one he was an All-Star again.

In '74 the Big Trade (Part I) sent Davis to Montreal where he had an excellent season, with a line of .295/12/89 with 86 runs scored. But the Expos had a lot of young outfield talent coming up and early in '75 they sent Willie to the Rangers for Pete Mackanin and Don Stanhouse. For Texas he started most games in center as his average fell to .249. His stay in the AL was short, though, and in June he went to the Cards for Ed Brinkman. He experienced a pretty good revival in St. Louis, adding 42 points to his average and upping his RBI totals pretty well.  After that season he was on the road again, going to San Diego for Dick Sharon. After a year with the Padres he went to play ball in Japan for two seasons. There he hit well enough - .306 with 25 homers; .293 with 18 homers - but he managed to piss off his teammates with his Buddhist chantings. In '79 Willie returned to the States for a year of pinch-hitting with the Angels. That was his last season in the majors and he finished with a .279 average, over 2,500 hits, 138 triples, 182 homers, and almost 400 stolen bases. He also scored over 1,200 runs and knocked in over 1,000 and in the post-season hit .179 in his 17 games. He still holds lots of career LA Dodgers records.

Willie had some interesting post-season experiences. In '65 against the Twins he stole three bases in one game. In '66 he famously had three errors in one inning. In '79 he went one for two as a pinch hitter. After he finished playing Willie was a player-manager for a couple seasons in Mexico. He was an avid golfer and after his baseball career ended he spent a bunch of time doing that. By the mid-Nineties he was living back with his parents and in '96 he was arrested for threatening them with a sword when they wouldn't lend him $5,000. There is very little information on him between that time and his death in 2010 at age 69.

Willie gets the star treatment in his cartoon. He was one of a few Dodgers in the '60s who would see TV and movie time. Willie was in "Mr. Ed" and "The Flying Nun", two '60s sitcoms, as well as the movie "Which Way to the Front?"

I like the "...has been known..." comment here. Topps also should have let us know a couple more times how fast Willie was. This was a huge trade as LA desperately wanted a premier reliever and gave up their only established non-pitching star to get him. The next day the Dodgers would pick up Jimmy Wynn to replace Willie.

This is a longer road than I thought it would be:

1. Davis and Willie Crawford '69 to '73 Dodgers;
2. Crawford and Marty Perez '77 A's;
3. Perez and Tom House '71 to '75 Braves.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

#164 - Tom House

This is Tom House's first solo card. He had a rookie card in '72 then got shut out in '73. So technically he was still a rookie that second season, a year spent entirely in the pen and entirely up top. Tom's ERA was a little toppy also but so was everyone's who pitched in the Atlanta bullpen that year. But he posted a good record that included four saves. He's doing the sideways stare-down thing at Shea and was heading into the best season of his career, one in which he'd go high profile for an event that occurred when he wasn't even on the mound.

Tom House was a west coast kid who went to USC after shooting down the Cubs as a '65 pick his senior year of high school. He threw a season of freshman ball and then in '67 as a sophomore he put up some pretty good numbers for the varsity: 5-3 with a 1.43 ERA. Those got him drafted by the Braves and he split his first summer throwing good ball in Single and Double A. He began '68 at the higher level, threw well, and spent the remainder of the year as well as all or most of the next four seasons at Triple A Richmond. That first season he posted some nice numbers in the rotation but '69 was a bit more challenging and by a third of the way through the '70 season he was working pretty much exclusively in relief. In '71 he took nearly two runs off his ERA and recorded eleven saves, later seeing his first MLB time.Then in '72 he put up super numbers that included 20 saves. After finishing that year in Atlanta he was up for good, at least for a while. In '74 he would have his best season, going 6-2 with a 1.93 ERA and 11 saves in 102 innings. He even got his photo in Cooperstown that year as he was the guy who caught Hank Aaron's record-breaking 715th homer. In '75 he matched his save total while going 7-7 with a 3.18 ERA. After the season Boston was looking for some lefty relief and Tom was traded to the Red Sox for Rogelio - Roger - Moret, another relief specialist. So he had to wait a couple years for the full Topps air-brush treatment.

In Boston House's ERA climbed above 4.00 as he got a bunch less work than he did in Atlanta. His saves total fell to four that year and after a lousy start to the '77 season, he was sold to the Mariners where he recovered a bit and spent some time in the rotation, going 4-5 while lowering his ERA to 3.93. He again relieved with some spot starts in '78, pitching 116 innings, his career high. But he couldn't bring the ERA down and he would be released during spring training in '79. By then he was having some serious knee issues and that year he would throw and coach a bit in the Inter-American League, where his numbers were quite good in the rotation, 5-2 with a 2.36 ERA. When that league folded, so too for the most part did his pitching career. Tom finished with MLB numbers of 29-23, with a 3.79 ERA, four complete games, and 30 saves and was 39-36 with a 3.03 ERA in the minors He could hit, too: .257 in a restricted amount of at bats up top and .227 in the minors.

Tom's real baseball legacy is from off the field stuff, however. After he finished playing, he became a pitching coach for a bunch of organizations: the Astros, Padres, and Rangers in the States as well as the Marines in Japan. He also later came out about his steroid use during the Seventies, informing that it was pretty prevalent during his playing career. He has authored a number of books on pitching, helped establish the National Pitching Foundation, and has a business and website - linked to here - devoted to pitching. He is currently the pitching coach at USC.

This card back has some pretty good tidbits. He is one of a very few guys to get his first career win on the last day of a season. He is listed at 185 pounds here; when he was on 'roids, he blew up to 220. Finally, Tom was a big achiever degree-wise. He returned to USC where he picked up his BS in Management in '71, a Masters in Marketing in '74, a Masters in Psychology in '81, and a PhD in Psychology in '84.

Tom hooks up to Ken through the AL:

1. House and Leroy Stanton '77 to '78 Mariners;
2. Stanton and Ken Berry '72 to '73 Angels.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

#163 - Ken Berry

Here we have another non-Traded traded card. That "M" isn't too bad but the phosphorescent blue in the cap is a killer. Ken here is probably air-brushed from an Angels uniform. His last season as an Angel was one of Ken's better ones as he led all California regulars in batting average for the second year running and he again topped league outfielders in fielding percentage. The lack of background markers doesn't help too much in telling us where the photo was shot. Frankly, that looks like Dorothy's farm in the background, but Ken wasn't headed to Oz, just Milwaukee.

Ken Berry may not have been from Kansas, but he was from Kansas City, and like the subject of the prior post, he was a local football and baseball star in high school. He then played both at Wichita State as a freshman until he was scouted and signed by the White Sox in early '61. After a season of developmental ball that year during which he hit .308, Ken moved up in '62 to first C and then Single A ball. For the latter team he hit .368 with a .450 OBA and at the end of the season he was called up for a couple games. In '63 and '64 Ken spent almost all his time at Triple A where his plate discipline sort of went out the window as his average and OBA fell by a bunch and his strikeouts moved up considerably. But the '64 Sox were notoriously short of outfield power and Ken's 20 homers and 83 RBI's that year were awfully tempting so he was pulled up for a month in the thick of a pennant race with the Yankees and hit .375 during a week of starts.

In '65 Ken became the regular Sox center fielder, replacing Jim Landis and continuing Landis' legacy with some deft fielding. His hitting wasn't so hot as he experienced the after-effects of an old neck injury as well as ulcer attacks as a rookie. He did hit 12 homers, though, which would be his career high. In '66 his average rebounded and in '67 he led the team in that department. Those two years, Ken ceded center field to Tommie Agee. In '67 Ken was an All-Star, voted fourth by the players, but initially told by AL manager Hank Bauer that he wouldn't be picked. But injuries to Frank Robinson and Al Kaline forced Bauer to reconsider and Ken was in. Following the season Agee was traded to the Mets and Ken moved back to center. It would be during these years that he earned the nickname Bandit for his ability to make leaping grabs of potential home runs against the fence. In '70, probably his best overall season, Ken won his first of two Gold Gloves. After the season ended, he was traded to California with Syd O'Brien for Jay Johnstone, Tom Egan, and Tom Bradley.

The 1970 Angels had surprised the league by matching their best all-time record to date and hopes were high for '71, especially for the new outfield of Berry, Alex Johnson ('70 AL batting leader), and Tony Conigliaro (36 homers and 116 RBIs). But Tony C quit in June, Johnson kept getting in trouble, and Berry hurt his hand, spending considerable time on the DL. It was a lost season for everyone. In '72 Ken got healthy and his average popped over 60 points and he won his second Gold Glove. '73 was also a successful season as his average remained above .280 and he continued his reign in fielding percentage, as he did three of the previous four seasons. But Mickey Rivers was finally ready to take over center and after the season ended, Ken was traded to the Brewers in a big trade with Clyde Wright, Steve Barber, and Art Kusnyer for Joe Lahoud, Ellie Rodriguez, Skip Lockwood, and Ollie Brown. Ken would be the fourth outfielder for Milwaukee and get released early the next year to again make way for some young guys. Shortly thereafter he was picked up by Cleveland and for '75 he played sparingly for the Indians and he was then through. For his career, Ken hit .255 with 58 homers and 343 RBI's and put up a lifetime fielding percentage of .990 in center. I have linked to a 2005 interview with the guys at Baseball Almanac here.

After playing Ken turned to coaching. He posted a record of 399-343 managing various minor league affiliates of a bunch of clubs on and off from '82 to '97. In '88 he was technical advisor to and had a bit part in the movie "Eight Men Out." Since '97 he has coached for the Mets, Marlins, and the Brewers at various places throughout their organizations.

Here Ken gets some star bullet props for his D. "Rock-n-roll records." Boy, that takes me back.

When I was a kid, I used to think this Ken Berry was the same guy that was on "F-Troop", a hilarious - to an eight-year-old anyway - sitcom. Not even close. Apparently I was an idiot.

I just mentioned this guy:

1. Berry and Alex Johnson '71 Angels;
2. Johnson and Bill Freehan '76 Tigers.

#162 - Bill Freehan

Before a couple guys named Thurman and Carlton showed up in the early '70s, this guy was the premier All-Star catcher in the AL. Bill Freehan could hit for power, get on base, and had almost no defensive peer during his most productive seasons. He was an excellent handler of pitchers. Here he squats in a kind-of-smiling, kind-of-squinting way in Detroit. Bill came out of the gate fast in '73 and was still hitting above .300 by early June while getting the lion's share of starts behind the plate. But he also only posted eleven RBI's through then on zero homers. From that point on, though, his average began a season-long slump and though his power revived a bit he would pretty much split starts with Duke Sims. But he was named an All-Star for his tenth consecutive season, led AL catchers in fielding for the third time, and he would get a nice bounce in '74

Bill Freehan, like his pal and teammate, Willie Horton, was a product of Detroit. Bill, though, moved to Florida where in high school he was all-state in both football and baseball. College was a toss-up between Western Michigan and Michigan, but the former had no football program, so Bill opted to be a Wolverine. As a sophomore he hit .585 to lead Michigan to the Big Ten title. He was also stellar as an end and linebacker and would have loved to put in four years in Ann Arbor, but the Tigers stepped things up huge by offering Bill $150,000 to sign that spring of '61. His dad kept the money; Bill would only get it if he finished his degree at Michigan. Normally that amount got one in bonus baby territory but that summer he split time between C and Single A ball, hitting well at both stops. In September he came up to Detroit just as they ran out of gas chasing the Yankees. He got into a couple games and got a bunch of tutoring from Gus Triandos. '62 was spent at Triple A with no call-up since that season his team was in the finals. Bill again hit well - a .283 average with another high OBA (he would finish in the minors at .294 and .380, respectively). It would be his last season in the minors.

Freehan made the Tigers in spring training of '63 for good and midway through the year he took over as the number one catcher from Triandos. Shades of things to come, he shone defensively as he picked off 44% of guys trying to steal, a significant premium to the AL average. In '64 he became the first Tiger catcher to hit .300 since Mickey Cochrane 30 years earlier in what would be one of his best power seasons and his first All-Star year. It was also the first of three years he would lead the AL in getting hit by pitches. In '65 he hurt his back in spring training and his hand later in the season, resulting in some downtime and a significant discount to his offense. But he would add the first of five consecutive Gold Gloves to his award tally while leading the AL in catcher putouts the first of five consecutive seasons as well. In '66 it was the same story offensively but he won his first fielding title. Then in '67 he moved closer to the plate in the batter's box and saw huge improvement in his numbers, including a career-best .389 OBA. In '68 he came in second to his battery-mate Denny McLain in MVP voting as his average saw only a token decline and he added to his power stats. He only hit .083 in the post-season that year, but he did team with Willie Horton in nailing Lou Brock at the plate in what was deemed the turnaround play of the Series. But both '69 and '70 saw compression in his offensive numbers and that second season he had fusion surgery to remediate his continued back pain. While the surgery compromised his mobility a bit, it allowed him to post improved numbers in '71. In '72 he missed some time to a broken thumb and in '73 he experienced that slump that contributed to the platoon work he shared with Sims, of which Bill was not a fan. But in '74 the architect of that system, Billy Martin, was gone, Bill stepped up his playing time, and he had another nice revival, with a .297/18/60 season. Ironically he was not an All-Star that year - probably because he also spent a bunch of time at first base - but he would be again in '75, his final season as a starter. In '76 he split time with John Wockenfuss and Bruce Kimm, who was Mark Fidrych's personal catcher. That would be Bill's final season. He would hit .262 with 200 homers and 758 RBIs and a .340 OBA for his career. In the post-season he hit .139 with five RBI's in his ten games. He is 11th all-time in putouts as a catcher and tied with Elston Howard for best fielding percentage for catchers that played as many games as those two did.

So Freehan did get his bonus money, finishing his degree at Michigan during the '66 season. During his last couple seasons as a player, Bill started a automotive manufacturing rep business in the Detroit area in which he has been a principal ever since. In the early '90s he took some time off to assume head baseball coaching duties for his alma mater for five years after the previous coach left during an NCAA investigation. Bill restored the program and then returned to his business.

As noted above, Bill also led the AL in fielding percentage three times. The game from the cartoon was in '68 as well. That year he led the league in HBP with 24. Bill has a SABR bio.

This is as appropriate a place as any to name the Tigers' contribution to the centennial I have discussed on a couple posts. In '76 Detroit offered as its finest historical moment the '68 Series victory over the Cards.

This will be quicker than I thought:

1. Freehan and Ron LeFlore '74 to '76 Tigers;
2. LeFlore and Steve Rogers '80 Expos;
3. Rogers and Ray Burris '81 to '83 Expos.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

#161- Ray Burris

This is the first rookie card in the set for a while and its subject has some of the best muttonchops in the set so far. Ray Burris was a big kid and was probably pretty intimidating if that was the scowl he normally had on his face while pitching. Here he practices its usage at Candlestick. Ray had sort of a bipolar '73. He made the Chicago roster out of spring training, won his only start, and threw some nice ball out of the pen, and by early May had a 1.15 ERA in his 16 innings of work. But he needed more mound time so the Cubbies moved him down to Triple A where he had a rough go of things in the rotation. He came back up in late June, and while not matching his early-season numbers, continued to throw well in middle relief work the rest of the way.

Ray Burris was an Oklahoma kid all the way. Upon finishing high school he attended what is now Southwestern Oklahoma State University where he pitched as a starter for four years. He was then drafted and signed by the Cubs in '72 and started things off at Double A in the rotation, showing excellent control. In '74 he continued where he left off, posting a 2-0 record and a good ERA his first month, but a tough late spring and summer raised his ERA a couple runs and got him some time back in the minors as he finished 3-5 with a 6.60 ERA. But in '75, despite a relatively high ERA, he would win 15, which he would repeat in '76 while pulling his ERA down a run, earning the distinction of being one of the league's five best young pitchers in a Baseball Digest article later that year. But those two seasons would be his best overall. In '77 he won 14 as the Cubs made an early season run for the division but he also lost 16 as his ERA ballooned. In '78, another losing season, his ERA remained toppy and it was his final season in the rotation for the Cubs. He began '79 as a long guy out of the pen and then in May went to the Yankees for Dick Tidrow.

Getting to a new league didn't help matters at all for Burris and after a 1-3 stint with a 6.18 ERA he was placed on waivers late that summer. He was taken by the Mets and for them he got in four decent starts although he went 0-2. He remained in the rotation in '80 and went 7-13 with a 4.02 ERA, after which he departed NY for the Expos via free agency.

For Montreal, Burris had a bit of a resurgence, going 9-7 in the strike year for his first winning record since '76. He also had a 3.05 ERA, his best in that department since his rookie year. In the NL Championship Series vs LA he had his finest hours, going 1-0 with a 0.53 ERA in 17 innings. Ray would stay with the Expos two more seasons, with neither approaching his '81 work. Following the '83 season he went to Oakland for Rusty McNealy and cash. His '84 season would be his final one as a winner, as he went 13-10 with a 3.15 ERA. He then went to the Brewers essentially for Don Sutton, and then flip-flopped between them and the Cards for the next three seasons, none terribly successful. His last season was '87 for Milwaukee. His final numbers were 108-134 with a 4.17 ERA, 47 complete games, ten shutouts and four saves. His overall post-season numbers were 1-1 with a 1.61 ERA in his three games

Ray is another guy who moved right into coaching once his playing career ended. In fact he was the Brewers pitching coach in '87 before he got into a few games. He would work for both the Brewers and the Rangers up top, play some Senior baseball at the end of the Eighties and then work for a bunch of teams in minor league capacities, usually as a roving pitching coach. He is currently doing that for the Tigers.

This is an interesting card back. The first observation is the obvious one: someone forgot to turn the number screw an extra quarter on the upper left. No wonder Ray looks a little pissed on the front! He prefers the formal signature and his was nice and legible in that '70's style with the little o for a dot. The first star bullet references the old name of his school. There he won 35 games in his career including 16 his senior year during which he K'd 150 batters, which was then an NAIA record. He was inducted into his school's hall of fame in '85. The second star bullet indicates Bradenton, which was the Cubs' rookie team, and Midland, their Double A team. Lastly, Ray was 6'5" so I don't know why the basketball's so big in the cartoon, but he was probably pretty good.

I'm going to pull in one of my favorite pitchers on this one:

1. Burris and Ken Holtzman '78 to '79 Cubs;
2. Holtzman and Brooks Robinson '76 Orioles.

Friday, May 13, 2011

#160 - Brooks Robinson

So Blogger was just down for a day plus, which means this is the third time I'm typing this. That's my only complaint, though, since Blogger's free and looks great. On to more noteworthy things, I have always really liked this card. Like the other Robinson with whom he once played, Brooks' card is pretty regal. He appears pensive and looks much younger than his years; so young, in fact, that he bears a striking resemblance to Tim Matheson, who played Otter in "Animal House." Brooks was in the midst of a general decline in his offense in '73 but he still had some great moments during the season, like setting a record for lifetime homers by a third baseman and hitting nearly .300 from August on, when the O's went on their big surge to reclaim the division title.

Brooks Robinson is a Hall-of-Famer requiring no introduction. He grew up in Arkansas and went to a high school that did not have a baseball team. He was actually a very good basketball player and had imagined he would go to Arkansas on a hoops scholarship. But a local former minor-leaguer saw him play summer ball after he graduated and wrote a letter to his old teammate who just happened to be Paul Richards, the Baltimore GM and manager of the mid-'50s. Richards sent over a scout and Brooks was signed in '55 for the maximum non-bonus baby amount, $4,000. He then kicked off his career pretty handily, hitting .332 in B ball before seeing some late action in Baltimore. In ' 56 he hit .272 in Double A before another September call-up. Brooks didn't hit too well in his limited time but he did get  to hang out with his eventual predecessor, George Kell, who tutored him on third base and some off-field stuff. Brooks then started the '57 season as the regular guy at third but after a couple months of sub-.200 hitting was returned to Double A where he hit .266 over most of the summer. He returned to Baltimore in August and though it took him a while to get his offense churning, he hit over .400 the final three weeks. That gave the Birds the impetus to trade Kell and the next season that looked like an excellent move when Brooks came out of the box strong and was hitting north of .300 through early June. But he then cooled off significantly, showed not too much power, and split starts the balance of the season. Then '59 was nearly an exact replica of '57 but this time he was sent down to Triple A where he killed the ball, and when he returned in the summer, he claimed his spot at last with a .292 average the rest of the way.

When the Sixties arrived, so too did the reign of Robinson as an institution at third base. In 1960, his first uncontested season as a regular, he was an All-Star and a Gold Glove winner. He would retain the former honor the next 14 seasons and the latter one the next 15. Five of the next six seasons his average wouldn't dip below .284 and outside of '61, when he was moved to the leadoff spot, and '63, when the whole team offense sort of imploded, he averaged 95 RBI's. In the meantime the Orioles, a pretty terrible team when his career began, were riding some excellent young arms, some strong power, and defense to contender-dom. In '64 Brooks had his big MVP season and two years later he would play in his first post-season, fresh off the acquisition of his fellow Mr. Robinson, former Reds slugger Frank. That year the Birds won the Series in a roll over LA as Brooks put up his second 100-RBI season. In '67 both Jim Palmer and Dave McNally went down with big injuries so a title defense wasn't happening and Brooks' offense saw a discount. It remained there in the tough year of '68 and though his average bottomed out in '69, his power sure didn't as he closed the decade the top side of 20 homers and 80 RBI's to help his team return to The Series. But that time around they were the upset losers.

Robinson saw a nice offensive upswing in '70 and '71, both pennant-winning seasons for the Orioles. That first year he pretty much won The Series for Baltimore with his huge bat and an unprecedented defensive show. Then following that second season the O's sent Frank Robinson to LA and Brooks' numbers tumbled pretty hard as Baltimore missed the playoffs. He would then post a .288 average in '74, but that would be his last good one as he only hit .201 in '75, his final year as a regular, and his last as a Gold Glove winner. In '76 he split starts at third with new guy Doug Decinces and in '77 he did some reserve work at the hot corner in his final season. Brooks finished with a .267 average in 23 seasons (a record for seasons with one club) with 2,848 hits, 268 homers, and 1,357 RBIs. On top of the MVP, All-Star games, and Gold Gloves, he is still first in games, chances, putouts, and assists at third base, as well as second in fielding average. In the post-season he hit .303 with five homers and 22 RBIs in 39 games. He made the Hall in '83, voted in on his first shot.

Robinson, about whom nobody has written a bad word, got into some financial problems before he retired that would dog him for a bunch of years. In 1978 he got a job as the color guy for Orioles broadcasts which he did through '93. During that time and thereafter he has been a fixture at many autograph shows. Despite his financial issues, he has done a bunch of work raising money for charities, as well as other work in support of MLB. He sounds like a great guy.

Here's another card for which there is no room for the star-bullets. I'll add one. For the baseball centennial celebrated in '76 - I've mentioned this on other posts - each team was asked to submit its most special moment. For the O's it was the '70 Series win and Brooks' performance in it. He was a pretty modest guy. For almost every interview I found researching this post he would always bring up one record: he hit into five triple plays. I guess he has a pretty good sense of humor as well.

The thing with playing for one team is that these things get tough:

1. Robinson and Luis Aparicio '63 to '67 Orioles;
2. Aparicio and Sparky Lyle '71 Red Sox;
3. Lyle and Jim Ray Hart '73 to '74 Yankees.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

#159 - Jim Ray Hart

This is one of the posts I have been looking forward to because I never understood what happened to this guy. Five good seasons and then - boom! - right off a cliff. Plus I think I may have been the only guy around that actually liked the Yankees back then, so it gives me some nostalgic closure. Away from all that, this is Jim Ray Hart's final card, taken during his only active season as a Yankee. Jim is a little shy of over-the-top happy in this photo. Maybe he's confused, like me, by whatever's going on behind him at first base. It looks like Mike Hegan back there, but what are those things surrounding him? Jim is sporting the patch the Yankees wore that season honoring the 50th anniversary of Yankee Stadium. The stadium would experience a renovation in '74 and '75 and the Yankees had to move to Shea. Jim wouldn't be joining them for long.

Jim Ray Hart was from North Carolina, where his dad reportedly made a living manufacturing and selling bootleg alcohol. After finishing high school in Hookerton, he was signed by the Giants in 1960 and finished the year in the developmental (D) leagues where he hit pretty well. In '61 he moved up to C ball, splitting time between the outfield and shortstop, and killed there: .355 with 22 homers, 123 RBIs, and a .419 OBA. He continued along that path in A ball in '62 and Triple A in '63, those two seasons playing only third base. In the latter year his numbers came in a little, although he still hit above .300 and had an OBA above .370. In '63 he also got some time in SF, very little time unfortunately, since in his first game Bob Gibson hit him in the shoulder, breaking his scapula, which is really hard to do with a baseball. or anything for that matter. After Jim returned, he was in for six games when he got beaned by Curt Simmons, putting him in the hospital and ending his season. Tough way to start.

Hart returned in '64 and had an awfully good rookie year, nearly aping the one Dick Allen had in Philly, who he lost out to in ROY voting. He played primarily third base, of which he was not really a fan. He preferred the outfield, but when he came up it was stocked with .300 hitters Mays, McCovey, and Alou. His defense numbers were not so hot, but over his first five seasons, Jim would average .285 with 28 homers and 92 RBIs, earning an All-Star nod in '66. In '69 Jim hurt his shoulder again, limiting his playing time. By the time he was moderately healthy again, Jim Davenport and then Alan "Dirt" Gallagher had taken over third and a significant part of Jim Ray's time in the majors was spent in the outfield. He also played a bunch at Triple A from '70 to '72, all at third, putting up excellent numbers including a .320 average and a .420 OBA. But his power came in a bit and his range was declining and those factors, combined with his now chronic shoulder problem, led to an early '73 sale to the Yankees, where he put in a season splitting DH Time with Ron Blomberg.

Much later in an interview with Baseball Digest, Hart indicated his decline was also due to what was more or less an open secret while he was playing: he had a serious drinking problem. Beginning in the late '60's he was basically mailing it in, and his demotion to the minors was more about alcohol than his playing abilities. When the '74 season began, after a slow start, the Yankees sent him to Triple A as well, where he played a few games. He then asked if they would pay him his full salary if he quit. The answer was yes, so he did. Only 32, Jim finished with a .278 average, 170 homers, and 573 RBIs in 1,125 games, which worked out to significantly better averages than most third basemen of his time. After leaving MLB, Jim played two seasons in Mexico as well as in in some old-timers games. He also generally went into a downward trajectory, losing his home to foreclosure and scrounging for loose change in local stores. He put himself into rehab in the '80s and eventually got a job working in a warehouse for Safeway in a couple cities in California. At the time of the interview - '91 - he was living in Sacramento and he would finish in Newark, California in 2006 when he retired. Since then he has again gone radio silent.

Jim gets a star bullet for his rare feel-good moment from the early '70s. He also hit for the cycle in that game. If you Google Jim there is some confusion as to his whereabouts. One site indicates he is homeless in Newark, NJ but he was actually employed in Newark, California.

All NL West for this hookup:

1. Hart and Jesus Alou '64 to '68 Giants;
2. Alou and Jack Billingham '69 to '71 Astros.

Monday, May 9, 2011

#158 - Jack Billingham

This is a great action shot. Yeah, it's quite blurry and seems to focus on Jack Billingham's butt, but check out his face and its intensity. It is taken at Shea, which means there's a pretty good shot it is a post-season photo, since the stands seem full. It's of a guy on the hated Reds, who may have been the most consistent starter on those Seventies monster teams. In '73 Jack was the only Reds starter not to miss time to injury and he began the season with an 8-2 record, important because during that time both the rest of the pitching and the bats were cold. As things heated up and the Reds went after the division title, Jack proved to be the staff's ace starter. It was his best season and he would get an All-Star nod, lead the league in shutouts, and grab some Cy votes, finishing fourth. This photo also has a level of personal resonance, but I'll get to that later. And it probably has Tony Perez' ankle in the photo as well.

Jack Billingham was signed by the Dodgers in '61, just out of high school in Florida. He stayed close to home his first two seasons in D ball, but it didn't help much as his numbers were pretty terrible (a combined 2-11 with an ERA over 5.00). But in his defense he missed a ton of time to his military commitment. In '63 he moved to Single A ball and threw pretty well, going 9-6 with a 3.49 ERA and a huge reduction in his walk totals. All three of those first seasons he mostly worked out of the rotation. In '64 he moved to the bullpen and the results were significant: that year he went 8-4/1.70 with 157 K's in 127 innings. He continued that good work in a '65 split between Double and Triple A, going 7-3 with a 2.12 ERA. He then spent all of '66 and '67 at Spokane, LA's top Triple A franchise, as its top reliever, going 13-13/3.35. He finally made it to LA in '68, got into 50 games out of the bullpen and recorded eight saves in a very nice rookie year.

Things then moved pretty quickly for Billingham. In the winter of '68-'69 he was taken in the expansion draft by the Expos. Then right before the '69 season started, Jack was sent to Houston as part of a make-up trade in which the Astros sent Rusty Staub to Montreal for Donn Clendenon, who refused to report to to the Astros. After a serviceable year out of the pen in '69 the Astros got smart and midway through '70 put Jack in the rotation where he won 13 and knocked his ERA down 40 points. In '71 the ERA came down hard again, but he got zero run support (the Astros averaged less than two runs in his losses). He also had to have some varicose veins removed at the beginning of the season which put the damper on his value to other teams since that type of procedure was deemed a sign of being over the hill. So when the Reds gave up the right side of their infield for Joe Morgan, Dennis Menke, and a couple young outfielders, Jack was widely seen as a throw-in in the deal. And when the '72 Astros came strong out of the gate while Jack started 0-5, his value seemed dubious. But the Reds' bats picked up and he went 12-7 the rest of the way. He was strongest in the Series that year, blanking Oakland for a combined 13 innings.

While Billingham's ERA popped a run in '74 he would again win 19, followed by 15 wins in '75. That second year he again saved the best for last, giving up one earned run in nine Series innings. He would win 22 games the next two years but his ERA continued to spiral upward (it was above 5.00 in '77) and in the '76 Series he only threw relief. In '78 Jack went to Detroit for a couple minor leaguers and he had an excellent season, winning 15 as his ERA floated down to league levels. He won ten in '79, splitting time between the rotation and the bullpen. His last season was '80 which he split between Detroit and Boston. For his career, Jack went 145-113 with a 3.83 ERA, 74 complete games, 27 shutouts, and 15 saves. His numbers in the post-season were awfully good: 2-1 with a 1.93 ERA in ten games.

 After playing, Billingham would do some coaching at various levels for the Astros, retiring in 2006.

Jack gets props for his '72 post-season and '73 regular season work. He is another guy who opted for a formal signature. And, yes, the Billinghams and the Mathewsons were related. This brings up the personal aspect I indicated above.

So what's this above? A baseball, obviously, perhaps a historically important one. When I bought this ball I was told it was authenticated. As it was my first serious foray into sports collectibles, I was not aware that the person who authenticated the ball would be the same guy who sold it to me. Lesson learned. It is the game ball from Christy Mathewson's first major league win in 1900. Or it's a ball from 1970 that someone ran over with his truck a couple times. Who knows? Anyway the authentication stated that it was purchased in a Mathewson/Billingham family auction in '72. So even if the ball isn't authentic, at least the relationship is. I like to think it's the real thing. At least it's a great conversation starter when guests come over.

Back to cousin Jack, he gets with Mr. Harris thusly:

1. Billingham and Jesus Alou '69 to '71 Astros;
2. Alou and Willie McCovey '63 to '68 Giants;
3. McCovey and Vic Harris '77 to '78 Giants.

Friday, May 6, 2011

#157 - Vic Harris

Here we have another California kid, another sophomore card, and another guy I can find almost nothing about. That he shares a name with a higher-profile Negro Leaguer isn't much help either. I'm actually glad Vic Harris here has a non-Traded traded card because I don't think I'd be able to fill up the space for two cards. But here he is, looking like a dazzled teenager at Oakland in his airbrushed hat. At least Vic's got his uniform on which gives him a significant step above Fergie Jenkins' card. And that card is an appropriate reference since at the end of '73 Vic was part of the deal that brought the Rangers Jenkins, going to the Cubs with Bill Madlock. During the season Texas gave Vic the chance to show them what he had, moving him for most of the season to center field, replacing Joe Lovitto. He wasn't terrible, but he struck out a bit much for a slap hitter and his vaunted stolen base skills only resulted in thirteen (vs. being caught twelve times). He did make some nice plays to help preserve Jim Bibby's no-hitter and it would be by far his busiest MLB season.

Like Roy White, Vic Harris grew up in Compton. He went to high school in LA and then attended Los Angeles Valley Junior College where he set the school's stolen base record and led the team in hitting his senior (sophomore? - I never know what the second year is at two-year schools) season. He was then drafted by Oakland and had a good season up in Coos Bay, Oregon, sort of a Rookie league team. That guy Charlie Chant was on his team. In '71 he moved up to regular Single A and put up another real good season grabbing a .395 OBA. He split early '72 between Double and Triple A for the A's who then in July sent him with Marty Martinez to the Rangers for Ted Kubiak and Don Mincher. It was an ironic trade since Vic had been exclusively a second baseman until then and Oakland made the trade partly to get Kubiak to fill the gap left by an injured Dick Green, himself a second baseman. Also the A's had Manny Trillo ahead of Vic in the minors. Texas immediately made Vic their starter at second - where he replaced Lenny Randle - and he rewarded them by going 0 for 36 (pretty tough). He would hit above .200 the rest of the way but wasn't making anyone's pulse jump.

Vic got another chance with the Cubs as Chicago's long-time second baseman Glenn Beckert was sent to San Diego. Given the job, Vic again responded pretty poorly and his average slipped back below .200 and the Cubbies had to scramble to get someone to fill the gap. In '75 they acquired - who else - Manny Trillo, who was just not going to sit, and Vic played a tiny bit splitting time between the outfield and infield. In '76 Vic moved to the Cards for Mick Kelleher to do his utility thing and then for the next two seasons to San Francisco in a big trade. '77 wasn't bad but by now Vic was striking out too much and was just getting nowhere on the basepaths. He also put in some time at Triple A those two years. After the '78 season the Giants didn't re-sign him.

For '79 Vic hooked up with Milwaukee and had a nice season at their Triple A club in Vancouver (he played well way up north), hitting .275 with a .361 OBA and 82 runs. He then made it up top for a bit in '80, did OK, and was not signed for the next season. He then did the next best thing, hopping over to Japan to play there for three seasons, he for the Kintetsu Buffaloes. His first year would be his best in pro ball - .268 with 22 homers and 74 RBIs - and he had a decent follow-up in '82 - posting a .368 OBA - although his power numbers tanked. '83 was pretty bad and he returned to the States and one more partial season for Louisville, the Cards' Triple A team in '84. That was it for Vic as he finished with a .217 average. He hit .253 overall in Japan and .280 in the minors.

The Japanese Wikipedia page for Harris is pretty funny. It has some interesting translated stat columns ("Number of Kills" being my favorite). There is an allusion there to Vic returning to Compton and doing something in Japanese-American baseball but I can't tell what it is. Since 2006 his media profile has risen considerably. Since then he has been affiliated as an instructor with the Urban Youth Academy, an MLB-sponsored baseball training school in Compton. He has also been admitted to his school's hall of fame.

Well he started off pretty well in the stolen base department according to his star-bullets. I like the cartoon. It would be interesting to know how many hits he got that way. Vic was a JUCO All-American his second year at LA Valley. He also gets some props in the "Seasons in Hell" book as being a nice guy.

Another easy hookup via the Giants:

1. Harris and Randy Moffitt '77 to '78 Giants.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

#156 - Randy Moffitt

Sticking to the west coast we cross the bay to Candlestick and Randy Moffitt during year two of his generally efficient major league career. While at San Francisco, Randy essentially was half of a tandem of closers, first Elias Sosa and then Gary Lavelle. Randy had a nice sophomore season in '73, leveling out his record while dropping over a run from his ERA and posting 14 saves. While things were going pretty well for him on the mound, it would also be a memorable year for something having nothing to do with baseball.

Randy Moffitt was drafted by the Giants in 1970 out of the University of California, Long Beach. He grew up in Long Beach and while at school set records in innings and strikeouts. He had an excellent start to his career at Single A Fresno and jumped to Triple A in '71. After a tough time in the rotation he was moved to the pen where he remained for all of '72. He came up the latter part of that season, unfortunately during the annual Giants swoon and had a decent, but not spectacular, rookie season, garnering four saves. '73 would be one of the better seasons and was also a good year for his sister - Billie Jean King - who beat Bobby Riggs in the "Battle of the Sexes" tennis match. His ERA bloated a couple runs in '74 but he topped out in saves that season with 15. After a prosaic '75 he had his best year in '76, topping out in innings while posting 14 saves and a 2.27 ERA. He had two more good seasons in '77 and '78; overall from '73 through '78 he did good work, averaging 61 games, five wins, and 13 saves over that period.

In '79 Randy's numbers tanked as he developed a stomach ailment that restricted his pitching to 28 games, many of them in extreme pain. It turned out the ailment was an intestinal parasite called cryptosporidia enteritis that took nearly two years to diagnose. The parasite is common in horses but in the few cases to that time it had been recorded in humans, it was almost always fatal. For the next two seasons '80 and '81, Randy pitched only 27 innings while dealing with his ailment. The Giants cut him in August of '81, leaving him to deal with the rest of his recovery on his own. For the '82 season he hooked up with Houston and threw pretty well, going 2-4 with three saves and a 3.02 ERA in 30 games. In '83 he signed with the Blue Jays and had a rocking beginning to his season, going 3-0 with six saves and a 1.59 ERA in his first 18 games, usurping the role of team closer. He cooled off significantly, though still posting the best numbers of any Blue Jay reliever that season, finishing 6-2 with a 3.77 ERA and ten saves. But Toronto didn't pick up his contract and after a one-game shot with the Brewers' Triple A club, he was through. Randy finished with a record of 43-52, 96 saves, and a 3.65 ERA He did some nice work at the plate, too, recording a .313 average in '75 and a .214 the following year, and didn't strike out terribly much. In the minors he was 16-17 with a 3.22 ERA. 

Moffitt has gone radio silent since playing. I can find the odd photo and he is an advisor for the Gay and Lesbian Athletic Foundation but I have no idea what he has done for any of the past 37 years. He was very interested in horses and had a grooming license at one point but I cannot find out if he pursued that path. But his sister is still pretty high-profile.

The card back is pretty unassuming. I guess Randy was also, since the fishing angle was a dead end as well.The guy who won that ERA title in '70 was a Bakerfield Dodger by the name of Al Dawson who went 17-6 that year but flamed out quickly after that and never made The Show.

These two get connected by a big trade:

1. Moffitt and Vida Blue '78 to '81 Giants;
2. Blue and Bert Campaneris '69 to '76 A's.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

#155 - Bert Campaneris

This is a pretty prosaic card after all the great A's action shots but I guess we were due. Before I get into Campy here I have to give props to some of the recent commentators, particularly Clay, who has educated me on the Expos' spring training sites and carlsonjok on photography. With this card we are back to the A's following or leading the Mets by a card or two. Bert had a pretty typical season for him in '73. After missing the first week for a suspension - see below - he worked his way out of an early slump to get another All-Star nod based on his mid-season .300 average. That cooled off a bit over the balance of the season but more good defense numbers preceded his best offensive post-season that all contributed to his second straight ring.

Bert Campaneris was yet another player born and raised in Cuba. There Bert was primarily a catcher and after he was signed by Kansas City in '61 it was the position at which he first played in the minor leagues. In a '62 season split between D and Single A ball he also played the outfield, shortstop, and first base. He even pitched a couple games and in one he did so ambidextrously. His offense at both levels was quite good as his combined numbers included a .300 average with a .390 OBA. In '63 he graduated to Double A for a short season - perhaps he was injured - and he stayed there for the bulk of '64, both seasons hitting above .300 while concentrating primarily on shortstop. He came up to KC later that second season and in his first game hit two homers off Jim Kaat. While Bert was not without power, that game was not indicative of the type of player he would be. What he would be was a slightly above average hitter for a shortstop at the time with a not too great OBA, but who could steal bases, run intelligently, provide very good range defensively, and have a great attitude. From late '64 through '76 Bert would be the regular A's shortstop, accumulating five All-Star nods during that time. In '65 he showed his versatility by playing an inning at each position. That experiment ended badly when he was steamrolled at the plate by Angel Ed Kirkpatrick and then missed a couple games with a dislocated shoulder. In '66 he showed his base-running skill by scoring four times in a win without the benefit of another player's RBI. From '65 to '68 he took over from Luis Aparicio and led the AL in stolen bases each year, which he would do again in '70 and '72. During the '68 season he also led the AL in hits. In '70 he became a power hitter for a season, knocking 22 homers with 64 RBIs, both personal bests by wide margins. In '71 the solid play began paying off as Oakland won its first of five straight division titles. In '72 Campy only played a couple playoff games against Detroit; he was suspended for the rest of them because he threw his bat at Tiger reliever Lerrin LaGrow after the pitcher threw at him. He was suspended ten games for that, but Bowie Kuhn allowed him to play in the Series and the remaining suspension was pushed forward to the '73 season.

In both '74 and '75 Campaneris would again be an All-Star and have two of his best offensive seasons. The first year he topped out in average and OBA, with a .290 and .347, respectively. Then in '76 he put up his last big stolen base total of 54 - the most he'd had in seven seasons - as the A's set a team record. Following that season he was part of the big exodus and signed with the Rangers as a free agent. While on paper his offensive and defensive numbers held and he was again an All-Star, at 35 his range was being compromised. In '78 his numbers tumbled hard and early in the '79 season he was traded to the Angels for Dave Chalk. For California he was a part-timer for the balance of '79 through '81. The Angels did not re-sign him after that last season and the following year he played in Mexico. In '83 he came back to play some games for the Yankees and hit .322. He also played some minor league ball for those guys and after the season left as a free agent. That was it for Campy and his totals would include a .259 average with nearly 1,200 runs, 313 doubles, 86 triples, and 79 homers. He also stole 649 bases and is currently 14th all-time in that category. He does lead lifetime in playing in the most no-hit games at eleven. In the post-season he hit .243 with eleven RBI's and ten steals in 37 games. He is still the A's leader in games played.

When done playing Campy settled in Arizona. He did some coaching in spring training for a couple clubs and coached in Japan from '88 to '89, but while there had two of his World Series rings stolen. He played in the Senior Baseball League in the late '80s and holds local baseball camps around AZ. He is also a regular at lots of MLB fund raising events.

Most of this stuff I covered up top. In the early '90s Bert had a young daughter and it turned out that one of her classmates in Scottsdale was the daughter of Lerrin LaGrow, the pitcher at whom he'd thrown the bat in the '72 playoffs.

I'm going to opt for some power guys on the hookup:

1. Campaneris and Reggie Jackson '68 to '75 A's;
2. Jackson and Lee May '76 Orioles;
3. May was on the '73 Astros.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

#154 - Houston Astros Team Card

Here are the 1973 Houston Astros and they are the early '73 version because Jesus Alou and Tommie Agee are still on the team. (They are both in the second row to the right of the guy that looks like Eddie Munster in a suit). '73 was supposed to be a big year for these guys. They were fresh off their best season in '72, which was oddly enough ignited by their side of the big bad trade before that season.

There were some early bright spots as Jerry Reuss began the '73 season by going 6-1 and the team used a 14-3 surge to go into first place right after the All-Star break. But too much would go wrong in '73: manager Leo Durocher labeled Jim Wynn and Bob Watson - Bob Watson?! - troublemakers; Wynn had to move to the leadoff spot 'cause nobody else could get on base from there so his power numbers tanked; Larry Dierker got hurt; Don Wilson broke his hand; and at one point in the season they had no catcher. All contributed to an inability to keep up with the Reds and the Dodgers as the Astros finished in fourth place at 82-80. For Durocher the last straw was new phenom JR Richard getting hurt in a motorcycle accident; at the end of September Leo quit. He would be replaced by the guy at his left in the team photo, Preston Gomez. Here they are photographed in what looks like somebody's basement, but it would be a couple years before the team got that low.

The team checklist card is fine; just another of my bad scans. Nothing too telling on the front. The biggest signature - Milt May's - is by a guy not even on the team yet. Cesar Cedeno's is the most interesting with the little symbols above it. Jimmy Wynn's has the most character. No Hall of Famers though JR may have been headed that way before things went horribly wrong. But this is a happy group so let's keep things light.

Time to delve into some team records. Not a lot to post here because almost all these guys had cards in this set. If this blog was about just about any other set in the early Seventies, though, I'd have to do a Rusty Staub bio because he went a pretty long streak without a Topps card. Pretty wiggy.

 Fred Gladding had just finished his last season in '73 and is actually on this card (second from right on the top row). Fred was a reliever who signed out of Michigan (the state, not the university) in '56 with Detroit after playing semi-pro ball following high school. After a couple very successful seasons in the low minors, he swam around from '58 to '60 at all three top minor league levels for Detroit, putting up respectable numbers as a starter. From '61 to '64 he would be primarily a reliever - at the top exclusively so - as he shuttled between Triple A and Detroit, all pretty good years for the Tigers. By '64 he was entrenched in the Detroit bullpen. The next three years were all good for Fred as he moved from setup guy to closer, peaking with 12 saves - with a 1.99 ERA - in '67. But Fred's timing sucked and just as the Tigers were on the way to winning it all, he was traded to Houston for Eddie Matthews. He got hurt in '68 but returned in '69 to lead the NL in saves with 29. He would remain the team's number one reliever through '72. He finished with a record of 48-34, a 3.13 ERA, and 109 saves. He still has the best all-time record among Detroit pitchers with over 20 decisions. After he played he coached in the Detroit system until pulled up top as the Tigers pitching coach from '76 to '78. He then moved to the Cleveland system in the same role through at least the early Nineties and at some point retired to the Georgia area.

Turk Farrell was one of baseball's colorful guys. Signed by Philadelphia out of Boston in '53, Turk put up some pretty good years while moving up through the system the next four seasons. By '57 he was up in Philly and he had an excellent rookie year, going 10-2 with a 2.38 ERA and ten saves out of the bullpen. For the Phillies, Turk was strictly a reliever and he had a good follow up year (8-9 with eleven saves) but a poor '59 season. By then he had also developed a reputation as a hard partyer as part of a group called the Dalton Gang with whom he would get into some trouble. So even though he had his best season in '60 - 10-6/2.70/11 saves - after a poor start in '61 he was sent to the Dodgers where his bad year continued. Before the team's initial '62 season he was drafted by the Colt .45's and was moved into the rotation. In '62 he had an ERA just above 3.00 but poor run support led to his 10-20 record. He put up three more seasons of good ERA's and managed to eke out a winning record, going 36-34 during that time. In '66 the ERA shot up and the losing record came back and early in the '67 season Turk returned to the Phillies, again as a reliever. He put up a great partial season with his new team - 10-6 with a 2.34 ERA and 12 saves - and continued to work out of the Philly bullpen through the '69 season. After a couple stops at some minor league teams and Mexico, he was done after the '71 season. Lifetime Turk went 106-111 with a 3.45 ERA and 83 saves. He turned his back on baseball and moved to the UK to work on offshore oil rigs. It was there that he died in a car accident in '77. He was 43.

So how does the '74 set do representing the '73 Astros? Not too badly. Of the everyday players, Tommie Agee had a card with the Cards, and the two most prominent players without cards in the set were Jimmy Stewart and Hector Torres, both backup infielders. Neither had more than 68 at bats. Both are in the team picture, Stewart fifth in from the right next to Cesar Cedeno in the third row and Torres is the last guy in the back row. On the pitching side, eight wins, eight losses, and seven saves aren't represented. Those belonged to Jim York (3-4 with six saves and a 4.42 ERA in the middle of his career); Juan Pizzarro (2-2/6.56 in his second-to-last season); Gladding (2-0/4.50/one save and discussed above); and rookie Mike Cosgrove (1-1/1.80). Another rookie, Doug Konieczny, actually has a rookie card in this set, but for some reason doesn't make the cut for the checklist. York is the third guy in the last row and Cosgrove is the baby-faced guy to the left of Don Wilson in the back row.

Matlack spent a bunch of time in Texas and this is pretty easy:

1. Tommie Agee on the '73 Astros;
2. Agee and Jon Matlack '72 Mets.

Monday, May 2, 2011

#153 - Jon Matlack

Now this is a great card. For a number of reasons. First, it shows a pitcher throwing his signature pitch. For Mr. Matlack here, that would be his curveball. Jon had a big overhand curve and, like Bart Johnson a few posts back, incorporated a big kick into it. While the kick is not shown here, the long stride does give an indication of how big it was. Also, Jon is into this pitch: he's got the Michael Jordan thing going with his tongue. Next, Matlack looks like he's the only Met on the field. The first and second basemen must be hugging the bases which would indicate there's at least a runner on first. In fact, if you look closely at the right side of the photo, you can make out a corner of a mitt and a head with what appears to be a blue batting helmet. It could be John Milner or maybe even Willie Mays. The odd thing is that it looks like whoever it is is still holding the runner on, but Jon is already mid-pitch. Lastly, look at that crowd! There's not an empty seat, definitely a nice change from some of the other cards. It is therefore interesting to speculate as to whether this is a post-season shot. Matlack's only game in the playoffs was at Cincinnati, so it ain't against the Reds. During the Series, two of his starts were at Oakland, so if this is a Series game, it is Game 4. I think I've about worked this card to death.

Jon Matlack was a star high school pitcher from West Chester, PA. When he was scouted by a lot of teams, he was ultimately selected by the Mets. But since he was 16 at the time, he wasn't allowed to sign which was an invocation of something called the American Legion rule. The rule basically stated that any player selected before his 17th birthday had to wait six months until signing, which was a pretty absurd way of keeping American Legion teams from being raided, I guess, but put the poor players in limbo. I cannot believe the rule came up too much, but who knows. On top of everything else, at the time of his selection, Jon's dad was undergoing treatment for cancer. The poor kid must have been torn to pieces. At any rate, later in '67 he did sign, but too late to get into more than a couple games in Double A ball that year. He had a very nice year in '68 at Single A (13-6 with a 2.76 ERA) and then spent the next three seasons at Tidewater where the ERA was a tad high but he put up winning seasons each year, averaging 12 wins per. In '71 Jon got a few starts at the top, going 0-3 but with a respectable ERA.

Matlack came zooming out of the gate in '72, winning his first six games and having a four game streak in which he allowed one earned run in each game. He would finish 15-10 with an ERA of 2.32 on the way to winning Rookie of the Year. '73 would be a year of highs and lows for Jon, the high probably being his two-hit shutout of the Reds during the playoffs. The low occurred during a game against the Braves at Shea. Jon was pitching to Marty Perez, who hit a come-backer that popped Matlack right in the temple. He was rushed to the hospital and it turned out his skull was fractured. Pretty scary stuff but '73 was sort of a year of destiny for the Mets and Jon ended up missing only two starts. His Series was awfully good, except in the won-loss column in which he was 1-2, but with a 2.16 ERA. Jon would then go on a three year run in which he was an All-Star each season (in '75 he was co-mvp) and lead the league in shutouts twice but fell prey to weak-hitting support and went a combined 46-37, even though his ERA was well under 3.00. In '77 the Mets turned truly awful and Jon's record fell to 7-15 as his ERA bloated. Following the season, he was another featured player in the huge three-team trade that had him go to Texas, John Milner to Pittsburgh, and Willie Montanez (from Atlanta) and Tom Grieve and Ken Henderson (from the Rangers), come to the Mets.

In Texas, Matlack went back to posting a superb ERA - 2.27 - while winning 15 games. In '79 his season got interrupted by elbow surgery and he only won five games in 13 starts. He returned in '80 with better than a league average ERA winning ten games. '81 was the strike year and Jon's numbers were not great as he missed some time and only got 16 starts. He had also developed shoulder issues at this point. In '82 he had a decent season but he was now working out of the pen as much as he was starting. Some speculated that was due to his being player rep during the strike year. Another sub-par year in the bullpen followed in '83 and then Jon was done at only 33 years old. He went 125-126 for his career with an ERA of 3.18 with 30 shutouts, 97 complete games, and over 1,500 strikeouts. In his only postseason he was 2-2 with a 1.40 ERA. When done playing he gave both real estate and horse raising a shot, but by '87 was back in baseball as a pitching instructor, first for the Padres, and then for Detroit which he was still doing as recently as last year.

That's a great middle name. It must have been a family one. Matlack was a big deal in high school. Along with the 22-1 record he threw five no-hitters including a perfect game. For the ROY voting, Jon got 19 out of 24 votes. Four went to Dave Rader of the Giants and one to Jon's teammate, John Milner. '72 was a great season for Matlack; I'm pretty sure the high point was speaking at my Little League dinner in Morristown, NJ that fall.

This one's easy:

1. Matlack and Oscar Gamble '79 Rangers.