Tuesday, January 31, 2012

#323 - Richie Scheinblum

Before George Brett took over and immortalized Number 5 on the Royals uniform that number belonged to this guy, who may not have been able to match George's ability to hit up top - except for one-plus seasons - but sure does make for an interesting subject while researching these posts. After a hugely successful '72 Richie here did some traveling, going first to Cincinnati and then California. For the Reds he got off to a slow start - he always did - and when he criticized the team for not playing him it struck enough nerves in the Reds organization that their pr guy took out an ad in The Sporting News to explain their side of the situation. Shortly thereafter Richie was sent to the Angels for a couple minor leaguers - one of whom was named Thor - and hit over .300 the rest of the way, including over .400 in September when he was the club's regular left fielder. Richie had a pretty good sense of humor, also. A pretty poor fielder when he once stumbled climbing the dugout steps he said "No pushing, coach!" when the guy to whom he was referring was at the other end of the dugout. On what will be his final card he is posing in Oakland.

Richie Scheinblum has about as colorful a past as anyone in this set. Born in NYC, his mom was very sick and his dad was constantly working at two jobs so Richie and his siblings were for the first seven years of his life foster kids at various homes. His mom had passed away when he was seven and that year his dad moved them all to Englewood, NJ. It was there that Richie began playing baseball and famously learned how to switch hit from his Little League coach who was a woman. After high school at his dad's urging he went to CW Post College in NY mostly because it was the only school to which his lousy grades would grant him admittance. There he earned ten letters - setting a school record - including in hoops where he played guard alongside NBA coaching legend Larry Brown. In '64 he tried out for both the Pirates and the Indians and was signed by the latter team for what he said was "a book of greenstamps" but was actually around $12,000, a pretty decent bonus back then. That summer he hit .309 in Class A ball and did well enough in winter ball in Venezuela that he had a rookie card in '65. That year he upped his average to .318 in A ball and got into a couple games up top (he claimed he was 19 that year but the baseball-reference site still lists him as 22). In '66 Richie moved to Double A and clipped a few points from his average. But in '67 he closed in on .300 again in Triple A and the next year he hit .304 with 14 homers and 78 RBI's. Both years he got some action in Cleveland.

In '68 the Indians experienced a bit of a revival mostly due to its pitching staff. Lee Maye, who was more-or-less the regular left fielder was getting up there and at the end of the season Richie was pretty much promised the gig for '69. But after a poor spring he came out of the box 0 for 35 and that sort of sealed the deal - along with the acquisition of Ken Harrelson - on any shot as a regular in Cleveland. In '70 after an excellent season back in Triple A - .337 with a .424 OBA, 24 homers, and 84 RBI's - Richie was sold to the Senators.

Scheinblum was back in Triple A to kick off '71 but he took full advantage of it by putting up some of the biggest numbers his league had seen in a generation, hitting .388 with a .490 OBA, 25 homers, and 108 RBI's in just 374 at bats. Those numbers didn't go with him in his few games in DC and so after the season he got sold again, this time to the Royals. In KC Richie got off to one of his slow starts but by early June began rallying and at the All-Star break - a game in which he participated - was hitting .324. As late as September he was neck-and-neck with Rod Carew when they were both hitting around .340. Then he fouled a pitch off one ankle thrown by Catfish Hunter and the next game got pegged in the other foot by Blue Moon Odom and, barely able to run, his hitting tailed off. But he still finished with a .300 average and at trade time he was a hot enough property for the Royals to get Hal McRae and Wayne Simpson for him and Roger Nelson. Richie then became pretty itinerant and after his '73 travels hit the road again after a poor start in Anaheim, first back to KC for Paul Schaal, and then when the '72 magic didn't recur, to the Cards. That was Richie's last stop up top and he finished with a .263 average and a .343 OBA.

In '75 and '76 Scheinblum played for the Hiroshima Toyo Carp, hitting .291 the first year and .308 the second. Nobody there could pronounce his last name so they called him Richie Shane. His first year he and Gail Hopkins, coincidentally another ex-Royal, led Hiroshima to the playoffs for the first time in a long while. In the '76 off-season Richie tore his Achilles tendon, ending his baseball career. He moved back to Anaheim where for a while he ran his own jewelry store. He'd married a woman from Providence and they had a son, Monte, who became a pro golfer. At one point his buddy Jay Johnstone went into the store and announced "It's a stickup!" and sent the customers in the place into a panic. Richie kept the store through '89, got divorced in '92 and relocated to Florida shortly thereafter where he has since worked for Corp LogoWear, a company that makes promotional products.

Richie gets a big star bullet for his '71 season in Denver, but there are tons of other options. A fun negative one is that in '69 spring training he achieve what he called a "negative cycle." He was thrown out at first, second, third, and home in the same game.

Again we need a league-changer to make this connection:

1. Scheinblum and Lou Piniella '72 Royals;
2. Piniella and Mike Torrez '77 Yankees;
3. Torrez an Ernie McAnally '72 to '74 Expos.

Monday, January 30, 2012

#322 - Ernie McAnally

Ernie McAnally is the latest of a few players in this set that did the position player to pitcher shift after his career started. Ernie was a third baseman/outfielder and sometimes pitcher growing up in Texas and switched gears while in the minors. Although in '73 he improved his record markedly it was not his finest season and Ernie wouldn't stick around in the majors too much longer. Here he appears to be about to orate - he was a big Christian athlete - at Shea.

Ernie McAnally grew up in Mount Pleasant, Texas, where he played hoops and baseball in high school. After graduating in '64 he went to Paris Junior College where in '65 he continued playing third base and in '66 made the All-Junior College Tournament team as a catcher after helping Paris reach fifth place in the nationals. That summer he was drafted by the Mets and went to Rookie ball where he hit .265 as an outfielder. In '67 he missed some time to kick off his military hitch and then hit .246 in A ball. In neither season did he display much power and in '68 he moved to the mound in A ball, going 9-7 with a high ERA but also a strikeout an inning. Ernie had a killer fastball and he would pretty much maintain the strikeout pace in the minors after being drafted by the Expos organization following the '68 season. '69 was spent in A ball where he only got eleven starts but improved his ERA considerably. In '70 he began adding a curve to his repertory while going 12-13 in Triple A. The next spring he made the Expos roster.

In '71 McAnally went 11-12 his rookie year while leading the NL with 18 wild pitches. It would be his best season as he continued to post relatively high ERA's and didn't exactly exhibit tight control. His control improved a bit in '72 but his record sure didn't. But '73 started realtively well for him as despite a couple missed starts and lots of no-decisions he was 5-1 with a 2.96 ERA by mid-June. But then things got a little sloppy as he missed a couple more starts, his ERA got fat, and he spent about a month out of the rotation. In '74 his record fell to 6-13 and after the season he was sold to Cleveland. For the Indians Ernie pitched one start at Triple A in '75 and was then released. He went 30-49 for his career with a 4.03 ERA, 21 complete games, and six shutouts.

After playing McAnally returned to his hometown where he got into banking. For a bunch of years he has been a senior vice-president of American National Bank there. I have enclosed a recent photo of him at an awards ceremony here.

That first star bullet is pretty impressive given it was achieved during his third season as a pitcher. The second star bullet represents a career high for Ernie which was written about in a nice article a few years ago by a journalist who had met Ernie through a family friend when she was a kid. I have linked to that article here.

Let's get to some music stuff here. In '73 January 27th saw two new number ones on both sides of the pond. In the States Stevie Wonder's great song "Superstition" hit the top. In honor of this subject's post it is appropriate to mention that one of the guys who covered this song to acclaim was fellow Texan Stevie Ray Vaughan. In the UK that group Slade scored another top song. "Blockbuster!" would stay in that spot over there for five weeks. These guys were pretty huge. I frankly didn't remember them until resarching music back then for this site. Lastly on this date in '73 a group formerly known as Wicked Lester performed its first show in a club in Queens NY under its new name: Kiss.

So Ernie takes a sort of meandering route back to Steve Braun:

1. McAnally and Mike Marshall '71 to '73 Expos;
2. Marshall and Rod Carew '78 Twins;
3. Carew and Steve Braun '71 to '76 Twins.

Friday, January 27, 2012

#321 - Steve Braun

I had for a long while thought this guy was Ryan's dad, even though they look pretty much nothing alike. He's not but he did put up a few pretty good hitting seasons of his own when he played, most of them in the uniform pictured here. This card represents a transitional period for Steve here. '73 would be his last year of regular work at third base as his ability to hit for average and to play pretty much anywhere allowed his move to the outfield while Eric Soderholm, who'd been splitting time with Steve at third and couldn't really play anywhere else, took over his old position.

Steve Braun grew up in Jersey and was tabbed by the Twins in the '66 draft. A week after graduating high school he was in Rookie ball where he played second base and hit a tad light. The next year he returned to that level and boosted his average 15 points. That got him moved to A ball but almost right after there was a bigger move into the armed forces. He lost the rest of the '67 season and all of '68 and '69 to the military before returning in '70 to A ball. There he hit .279 and because by then the Twins had an institution at second base named Rod Carew, he took up third base. The results were impressive enough and the situation up top at third was unsettled enough that after a pretty good spring training in '71 Steve moved all the way up.

Braun had a pretty good rookie year in '71, especially considering all the steps he vaulted to get to Minnesota. Though he had a middling average and not too much power he played a pretty good defense and made the Topps and Baseball Digest rookie teams at his position, also spending a little time at second. In '72 he boosted his average considerably to .289 and would keep it in the .280's the duration of his career with the Twins, except for '75 when he topped .300. In '74 and '75 he took over left field from Jim Holt. In '76 he became a true utility guy as the arrival of Lyman Bostock moved Larry Hisle to left. That year Steve played primarily DH, a little outfield, and a little third. After the season, tired of owner Calving Griffith's penny-pinching, Steve asked to be left off the protected list for the expansion draft. As a result he was selected by the new Seattle Mariners.

Braun's time in Seattle was not terribly productive. While he was able to recapture a regular spot in left field, his average tanked to the .235 area without the support of the big Minnesota lumber. In June of '78 he was traded to the Royals for Jim Colborn and for Kansas City for the next couple seasons he would do back-up outfield work and revive his average to the .260's. He got his first post-season work in '78 also. In '80 after a slow start he was released and shortly thereafter picked up by Toronto. He played a bit in Triple A for the Blue Jays, hitting .328, and resumed things up top in the role that would define the rest of his career, pinch-hitting. After departing Toronto as a free agent he signed with the Cards and was able to extend his career for five seasons in his new role. While his average in '81 was below .200 he had a nearly .400 OBA. The next three seasons he averaged .275 with an OBA in the high .380's. In '82 and '85 he saw some Series action, winning in the former season. After the '85 season he moved down to Triple A basically as a reserve guy since that year the rosters were reduced by one. After that season he retired with a .271 average, 52 homers, and .388 RBI's. He generated a .371 OBA and although he hit .091 in eight post-season games, he batted .333 in three Series games.

Braun got into coaching immediately after playing, becoming a hitting coach in the St. Louis system from '87 to '89 before assuming the same role up top in '90. He then spent the Nineties as a roving hitting instructor in the Boston and Yankees systems. In 2000 he became hitting coach for the Trenton Thunder which he did through '06. Since '02 he has been running his own baseball school in the Trenton area.

Steve gets star bullet props for his defense which was quite good despite his moving around a bunch. His military time was spent mostly on an Army base in Germany. There is a recent in-depth interview with him linked to here.

Since Braun was primarily AL and Dusty primarily NL, this will require a league-changer:

1. Braun and Bill Stein '77 to '78 Mariners;
2. Stein and Ralph Garr '76 White Sox;
3. Garr and Dusty Baker '70 to '75 Braves.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

#320 - Dusty Baker

Dusty Baker gets a shot at Shea and a "10" card for his sophomore season. He had a good year and while he didn't hit 40 homers like a few of his teammates, he did score 101 runs, get 99 RBI's, and hit .288. Following up a .321 average his first full season, Dusty was thought by many to be the heir apparent to Hank Aaron, at least in the average department. That was not to be but despite a couple off seasons Dusty would have a pretty solid career and be around baseball for a long time after this card.

Dusty Baker hailed from California and was drafted out of high school - in the 26th round! - by the Braves in '67. Despite his late pick he played that summer in Double A but not too much. The next year he missed time for his military hitch and then hit .325 between two Single A stops. In '69 he had a mediocre year split between Double and Triple A, but then in '70 and '71 he hit .325 and .311 - but without too much power so I still don't understand the Aaron comparison - at Triple A Richmond. All those seasons he also missed some playing time due to his reserve commitments. He got in some at bats in Atlanta each season from '68 to '71 but with guys out there like Hank Aaron (his brother Tommie was on the team then as well), Rico Carty, Felipe Alou, and Ralph Garr all hitting .300 he couldn't crack the lineup.

In '72 things were pretty messy at first base with Orlando Cepeda's crash and burn. So despite the return of Rico Carty from injury, Hank Aaron had to spend most of his time at first and Baker finally got his shot and took over center field from Sonny Jackson, who had moved out there from shortstop in '71. Dusty used the promotion to his advantage and hit .321 to secure a spot. After his excellent follow-up season, '74 and '75 were pretty mediocre in comparison. Atlanta's offense in general took a huge hit from '73 and Dusty averaged .259 with 20 homers and 70 RBI's. Both years he also spent a bunch of time in right field to make way for Rowland Office. Some games in '74 he would play both positions which he said later influenced his offense in a negative way. After the '75 season he was traded to the Dodgers in a pretty big deal that brought Jimmy Wynn, Lee Lacy, and Tom Paciorek to Atlanta.

Hopes were high for Baker in LA in '76. The team publicly announced that they made the trade with the expectation that Baker would do for the team that year what Wynn had done in '74. Talk about a high bar. But things didn't quite go Dusty's way. Bothered by a knee injury, his stats cratered to a .242 average with only four homers and 39 RBI's. But to open the '77 season new LA manager Tommy Lasorda named Dusty his starting left fielder and the response was huge: not only did Dusty hit .291 with 30 homers and 86 RBI's in the regular season but he won two playoff games against the Phillies with homers. After a '74-like '78 he posted big power years in '79 and '80. In the latter year he hit .294 with 29 homers and 97 RBI's to come in fourth in NL MVP voting and win a Silver Slugger. In '81 the power came in substantially but he hit .320 for his second Silver Slugger. He also was named to his first All-Star team and won his Gold Glove in the Dodgers' World Series year. Another All-Star season followed in '82 as he kept his average above .300 and rediscovered his power, with 23 homers and 88 RBI's. After a discounted '83 he left LA and moved to San Francisco as a free agent. For the Giants Dusty split time in right with Jack Clark, hitting .292. He was then traded across the bay to Oakland for a couple minor leaguers. He put up pretty good numbers in '85 but then ran out of gas during '86 and after the season he retired. Dusty finished with a .278 average with 242 homers and 1,013 RBI's. In the post-season he hit .282 with five homers and 21 RBI's in 40 games. His career OBA was .347.

Baker's conversion to the coaching side was pretty much immediate. In '88 he re-joined the Giants as first base coach. From '89 to '92 he was the team's hitting coach. He became the manager in '93, won 103 games, and NL Manager of the Year. He would win that award twice more during his stay in San Francisco which lasted until 2002, winning three division titles and reaching the Series his last year. He then moved to Chicago where he managed the Cubs from '03 to '06. His first season there the Cubbies reached the post-season. Things went south in '05 when the team's two franchise pitchers, Kerry Wood and Mark Prior, both got hurt and Dusty was accused of going Billy Martin on the pitching staff and over-using its aces. In '07 he took over Cincinnati where he continues to manage after returning the Reds to the playoffs in 2010.

At this point in his career Dusty had good enough numbers to not have to mention basically the same info in two star bullets. Dusty had a pretty interesting time in high school. He grew up in Riverside where Bobby Bonds was on his Little League team. When he was a junior he moved to Carmichael where he and his siblings were the only black kids in the school district and Dusty was a four-sport star including - obviously - track. When he signed with the Braves, his dad - who was a strict guy and wanted his son to go to college - sued the Braves to block the deal. When he lost he put Dusty's money in a trust until he was 21.

Given the closeness of Dusty's given name to a Chuck Berry tune it is appropriate to post some music news. On this date in '74, two new number ones hit. In the States Ringo Starr had his second chart-topper as a solo guy with "You're 16." On the song he was backed by former band-mate Paul McCartney - on kazoo, of all things. In the UK the new top spot belonged to "Tiger Feet" by Mud. I never heard of these guys or this song and just checked out the video on YouTube. Think of something halfway between Styx and the Partidge Family and you get the picture. The violinist wears a cape which tells you all you probably need to know.

So at least Johnnie B and Randy were both in the same league:

1. Baker and Rick Monday '77 to '83 Dodgers;
2. Monday and Randy Hundley '72 to '73 Cubs.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

#319 - Randy Hundley

The first thing that struck me while checking out the cards on this post is that the Randy of the regular card looks years younger - and tanner - than the Randy of the Traded card. That leads me to believe that this card photo was taken well before the '73 season, maybe around the same time Ron Santo's was. This Randy sure looks fit at Candlestick. He would have had to be. If this card is from the late Sixties, he would have been in the midst of a four-year run where he AVERAGED 152 games behind the plate. But Randy wasn't indestructible and by '73 his knees were toast. While he was an icon in Chicago, he just couldn't play that well any more. But the Twins needed someone to help corral their young pitching staff and the Cubs needed a catcher who could put up some innings, hence the trade. The Traded card is a bit glossy but I think the logo is done pretty well. It also looks like the photo is taken at Shea.

Randy Hundley came out of Virginia where he must have been a big deal because in 1960 he was signed by the Giants for about $110,000. Somehow avoiding the bonus baby rules, Randy went to D ball that year where he hit OK but fielded way better. That would be the theme the next couple years in C ball as well. Then in '63 he moved up to Double A and his offense took off as he hit .325 with 23 homers and 81 RBI's, all numbers up hugely from his norm. In '64 and '65 he settled into Triple A as his stats floated down to where they'd been. Both seasons he got very brief looks up top. But Tom Haller had a stranglehold on the catcher position and after the '65 season Randy and pitcher Bill Hands were traded to the Cubs for Lindy McDaniel and Don Landrum.

Chicago manager Leo Durocher, who engineered most of his trades, was the guy who got Hundley and he immediately made him a starter. Randy didn't disappoint, setting rookie records for games caught and home runs by a catcher. He also led the NL in assists and picked off 50 guys. All those numbers got him fourth place in NL ROY voting and a spot on the Topps team. In '67 he boosted his average 30 points and won a Gold Glove while making only four errors behind the plate, then a record. In '68 his average tanked but he set another record by catching in 160 games. Then in '69 he ramped things up early in the season as the Cubbies led the division, by keeping his average above .300 through mid-July. That helped him get his first All-Star nod but then his average dipped as his guys fell out of first. But that was just the prelude. In '70 Randly missed about half the season due first to bone chips in his hand and then a knee injury. Early in the '71 season he re-injured the knee so badly it required an operation that killed pretty much the entire season. He was able to return to the starting gig for the '72 and '73 seasons but with his knees now shot his average was embedded in the .220's and he was forced to make throwing adjustments that compromised his assist and pick-off totals.

In Minnesota Hundley only got into a few games during '74 and was released after the season. He was picked up by San Diego to back up Fred Kendall for '75 and then sold to the Cubs prior to the '76 season when he only got a few at bats. In '77 he was brought back as a bullpen coach, got into a game, and was released as a player. Randy ended his career with a .236 average, 82 homers, and 381 RBI's. He ranks in the top 100 in lifetime putouts and fielding percentage for catchers.

After coaching in '77 and '78 Hundley managed for three seasons in the Cubs system, posting a record of 193-213. Shortly thereafter he basically invented the fantasy baseball camp. He is still at it, running one back in the Cubbies' fold.

All of Randy's bullets and the cartoon focus on his four big seasons. He's got some first name. I guess you didn't take that one public unless you bashed a bunch of dingers. Like Mr. Fielder, Randy had a son that played. Todd Hundley also caught and had some pretty big seasons for the Mets in the Nineties.

The Traded card back gives us the normal expectations summary. Alas, it was not to be.

This hook-up gets a big help from a league-shifting Hall of Famer:

1. Hundley and Fergie Jenkins '66 to '73 Cubs;
2. Jenkins and Toby Harrah '74 to '75 Rangers;
3. Harrah and Jim Merritt '73 to '75 Rangers.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

#318 - Jim Merritt

Jim Merritt looks a bit devious at his spring training home. Perhaps he is hiding something behind his mitt. Jim made headlines in '73 when he was fined for throwing what he described as a "Gaylord Perry fastball", commonly known as a spitball. It would herald pretty much the bottom of another gloomy Ranger season back then and shortly thereafter Billy Martin would take over as manager, a guy Jim just missed pitching for in Minnesota. Billy was an ironic choice given Jim's new notoriety since earlier in the season he had been accused of having his Detroit pitchers throw spitters. All that controversy. And all this guy wanted to do was pitch and become a big winner again. But that wasn't in the cards as he went through one of the quickest reversals ever.

Jim Merritt was Cali all the way, growing up in West Covina where he was a local high school pitching star and sometime batboy for the Dodgers. Just to keep everything centered geographically, LA signed him out of school in '61 and that summer he threw in the rookie instructional league (those stats never made Topps or baseball-reference) and then by his own telling "the commissioner of baseball turned me loose" (???) and he was selected by the Twins in the first year draft. For them Jim didn't get turned loose - or did, depending on how you translate that - as he went 19-8 with 249 K's in 223 innings in D ball. After compressed numbers the next year in Double A he had two good seasons in Triple A in '64 and '65: 13-17 with a 2.74 ERA and 13-8 with a 3.13 ERA. In the latter season he got promoted to Minnesota right into a pennant drive.

In '65 Merritt came up in August and moved between the pen and the rotation, getting nine starts, and showing excellent control. That work got him some Series relief work where he again did quite well. In '66 he got pushed mostly to the pen since the Twins back then had a loaded rotation and his control got even better. Jim had a wide array of out pitches: a fastball, screwball, and change-up - and was very good at working the corners of the plate. In '67 he was able to bull his way into the rotation and he had his best control year ever, giving up only 30 walks in 228 innings and leading both leagues with a 5.37 strikeout to walk ratio. The next year the Twins slipped a bit as Harmon Killebrew missed about half the season and nobody else stepped up offensively. Jim's record suffered as well, although his ERA was near league average. After the season the Twins, needing to fill a big hole at shortstop, sent him to the Reds for Leo Cardenas.

In the NL things got weird for Merritt. The mound was lowered prior to the season to help get back some offense and it was harder for him to utilize his vaunted control. His K to BB ratio fell to 2-something and he led the NL in both earned runs and homers as his ERA moved up by over a run. But the young Big Red Machine pounded the ball behind him and he finished with his best record up till then in the majors. In the winter of '70 the Reds got a scare when Jim broke his elbow falling off his roof. By spring training on the surface he was fine and he posted a big start to the season, winning the opener and going 14-6 with a 3.12 ERA by the All-Star break and pitching in that year's game. But the rest of the season he went 6-6 with an ERA above 5.00 and a horrible start in his only Series appearance. It later turned out that he had re-injured his elbow around mid-year. For the Reds '71 would be a bummer, the biggest hiccup in the Machine's run. Bobby Tolan was lost for the season, Bernie Carbo crashed, and nobody else on offense could match the hoary numbers put up in '70. But no fall topped that of Jim's. The elbow injury aggravated his shoulder and combined the two injuries destroyed his control. Although he had picked up a knuckleball by then as well, he would lose his first 11 decisions, fall out of the rotation, and herald the end of his career. In '72 he was sent back to Triple A for most of the season and that December he was sent to the Rangers for Hal King and Jim Driscoll.

Back in the AL, Merritt moved between the rotation and the pen, but wasn't too effective in either spot. In '74 he lost a bunch of time to his injuries and in '75 after a few games he retired. On his '75 card his mustache makes him look a bit like the guy from the Six Million Dollar Man who was the title guy's boss. Jim finished with an 81-86 record, a 3.65 ERA, 56 complete games, nine shutouts, and seven saves up top. In the post-season he went 1-1 with a 5.23 ERA. Since playing he has been added to West Covina's Walk of Fame and showed up at some Twins festivities but most of his goings-on have been a mystery. He definitely resettled in California where he may or may not be into old cars, run his own insurance agency, or gotten into real estate (those last two are usually pretty safe bets for old ball players).

Between the star bullets and the cartoon Jim sports a pretty good resume until you check out his most recent stats. His control was pretty amazing before he got hurt. He only averaged about a walk a game. The book "Seasons in Hell" has a front row seat at the Texas game in which Jim doctored his pitches. The first ball in play was hit to Jim Fregosi at third base and his throw to first sailed way high. Fregosi was already laughing before the ball landed because his error was caused by all the grease on the ball.

On January 23, 1973 in music news Neil Young was performing in NYC at Madison Square Garden when he announced that a peace agreement was reached in Viet Nam. The announcement got him a ten-minute standing ovation.

These two guys just missed each other in the playoffs:

1. Merritt and Jim Bibby '73 to '75 Rangers;
2. Bibby and Jim Sundberg '74 to '75 Rangers (Merritt barely pitched for these guys);
3. Sundberg and Richie Zisk '78 to '80 Rangers.

Monday, January 23, 2012

#317 - Richie Zisk

After the Jim Perry ping we pong back to a young guy with Richie Zisk's first solo card. Richie had a pretty sweet rookie year. After Roberto Clemente's tragic death Manny Sanguillen initially took his place. When Manny proved less than adept in the outfield Gene Clines took over and was doing pretty well until he went down with a bad hamstring. Richie then took over right field for pretty much the second half of the season. Outside of Al Bumbry he put up the best average and power stats of any rookie outfielder but he was shut out of placement on any rookie teams. And to top it off he was the runner nailed at the plate in the Mets' "ball off the wall" play. But it was still a great start. Here Riche takes a cut in spring training on a field that's a bit beat up. For a young guy, he's sporting a bit of a belly.

Richie Zisk was born in Brooklyn and moved to Jersey as a kid. There is a lot of verbiage out there indicating he went to - and some say graduated from - Seton Hall, but given he graduated high school and was signed by Pittsburgh in '67 that doesn't seem too likely. What he DID do was hit a ton that summer in Rookie ball. He followed that up by doing roughly the same at various stops in the Pittsburgh chain including '71 and '72 which were spent at Triple A. By then he was running into the roadblock that was the Pirates outfield. With Clemente, Willie Stargell, Matty Alou, Vic Davalillo, Clines, and Al Oliver all .300 hitters up top, it was a formidable barrier. Despite some time in Pittsburgh in both '71 and '72, Richie was still only getting into the lineup once a week when circumstances moved his way in mid '73.

Zisk passed on having a sophomore jinx season when he hit .313 with 17 homers and 100 RBI's in '74. The next two seasons he moved across to left as fellow '73 rookie Dave Parker took over right field. Those years he averaged .290 with 21 homers and 82 RBI's. Unsigned before the '77 season he was traded before it began with Silvio Martinez to the White Sox for pitchers Terry Forster and Goose Gossage. In Chicago Richie had his best offensive season, maintaining the .290 average and adding 30 homers and 101 RBI's as one of the Southside Hitmen that nearly swiped the division that year. After that season he signed with Texas as a free agent.

In Zisk's first couple seasons for the Rangers his average took a hit, dropping to .262. But his first year he had 22 homers and 85 RBI's as he hooked his second consecutive All-Star nod. In both '79 and '80 he had his knee operated on and the latter year, though he missed a few games, he boosted his average back to .290 with 19 homers and 77 RBI's. After the season he was involved in a huge trade in which he went to Seattle and Willie Horton, among others, came to Texas. Richie's first season with the Mariners he had the distinction of winning Comeback Player of the Year, which was pretty odd because outside of his average moving to .311 the rest of his stats ran roughly the same as those of the year before. By now Richie was strictly a DH as his knees were pretty shot. After a pretty good '82 - .292 with 21 homers and 62 RBI's - he tumbled a bit in '83 and then retired. He finished with a .287 average with 207 homers, 792 RBI's, and a .353 OBA. In the post-season Richie hit .400 with a .455 OBA in six games.

When Zisk finished playing he relocated to Miami to get a communications degree at Barry University. While there in '85 he did play-by-play work for a local Yankees cable affiliate. Deciding he liked being on the field better, he chucked the communications thing and went to work for the Cubs, starting off with the roving minor league hitting instructor gig in '86. He has been with Chicago since, including a couple seasons as a minor league manager and many as various level hitting coaches. As a manager Richie has gone 145-129.

Richie put up some big minor league hitting numbers and gets the star bullet treatment for some of them. Richie, whose original surname was Zysk, was of Polish extraction and would later be inducted into the Polish-American Athletic Hall of Fame. So his move to Chicago at some point isn't too surprising since that city then had the biggest Polish-American population in the States. He grew up in Parsippany, a town a stone's throw away from Morristown, where I grew up.

Sorry to fall back on this one, but it works:

1. Zisk and Buddy Bell '79 to '80 Rangers;
2. Bell and Jim Perry '74 to '75 Indians.

Friday, January 20, 2012

#316 - Jim Perry

We move now from a guy whose career was brand new to one near the end of his. Jim, the older of the pitching Perry brothers, poses rather nobly at Yankee Stadium in an undated photo. This shot was definitely taken before '73 since Jim is airbrushed into his Tiger uniform, and I have a hunch a few years earlier. A Twin for a long time he enjoyed a mid-career revival when the leagues were split into divisions. In '73 he landed in Detroit where he had a pretty good season as the third starter. During the year he went up against his brother for the only regular season game in either of their careers. The game was a pretty big deal because it was the first time any two brothers started against each other in the AL (the Niekro's had pulled the trick in the NL in '69). The game didn't really live up to the hype as Gaylord took the loss and Jim wasn't around for the decision. The next season they'd be together but this time for the same team.

Jim Perry was born and raised in North Carolina where he and his brother alternated between pitching and third base. According to Jim during his senior year the two threw nine consecutive shutouts. Jim then attended Campbell College where he played baseball (and perhaps hoops) for three years. In '56 he was signed by Cleveland for $4,000 and went to D ball that summer. A big fastballer then, he went 7-8 with a 4.80 ERA but over a strikeout an inning. In '57 he moved to C ball and while the K totals came in the other stats improved: 15-12 with a 2.88 ERA. He then got promoted to A ball, picked up a slider and went 16-8 with a 2.79 ERA with excellent control. He'd also hit .259 in the minors and in '59 he made the Cleveland roster.

Perry had an excellent debut year, initially pitching out of the pen but by the end of the season joining the rotation. His 12-10 record and 2.65 ERA - which would have been third in the AL if he had enough innings - got him second place in AL ROY voting to Bobby Allison and a spot on the Topps team. His sophomore year a 10-4 start got everyone excited and though he cooled off a bit his AL-leading 18 wins would be a career high for a while. He also led the AL with four shutouts and 35 starts. Jim's first season Cleveland was a pretty good team but bad trades in '61 and later rendered them pretty impotent for the next few seasons and in '61 that caught up to Jim as his record reversed itself and his ERA flew. In '62 he evened his record and lowered his ERA but the honeymoon in Cleveland was over and early in '63 he was traded to the Twins for Jack Kralick, another pitcher.

Perry finished '63 in the Minnesota rotation pulling his ERA back to earth. In '64 he was used as a reliever and '65 began that way as well before injuries kicked him into the rotation and he posted the best ERA of any starter, helping the Twins reach the Series. The next three seasons would see him shuttle between the pen and the rotation, each year with very good numbers. In '69 Jim's old teammate Billy Martin became manager and one of his first decisions was to put Jim into the rotation full time. Billy's managing cred was solidified when Jim won 20 and the Twins won the division. Then, though Billy left, Jim topped himself to kick off the 70's, winning 24 to tie for the AL lead, and winning the Cy Young. The next year although he earned his second consecutive All-Star nod, the long ball found him again and his record evened out as his ERA flew partly on the AL-leading 39 homers surrendered. After a sub-.500 season in '72 he was traded to Detroit for pitcher Danny Fife.

In spring training of '74 Perry returned to Cleveland in a three-team deal that had Jerry Moses go to Detroit from NY and Walt Williams and Rick Sawyer to the Yankees from Cleveland. Back with his brother for the first time since high school, Jim put up a great season, combining with Gaylord for 38 wins. That year at age 38 Jim went 17-12 with a 2.96 ERA. It would be his last good season as a 1-6 start with a 6.69 ERA to kick off '74 got him sent to Oakland with Dick Bosman for Blue Moon Odom. Although he improved to 3-4 for the A's Jim was released that August. He finished with a 215-174 record with a 3.45 ERA, 109 complete games, 32 shutouts, and ten saves. He also hit nearly .200 up top. In the post-season he was 0-1 with a 6.75 ERA in five games. He and Gaylord remain the only brothers who have each won the Cy.

After playing, Perry returned to North Carolina where for a long time he based himself as a scout for the A's. He also has taken part in a bunch of fund-raising golf tournaments there and done some pr work for the Twins. In 2011 he was named to the Twins' Hall of Fame.

Jim only gets space for one star bullet but it's one that's tough to top. I have no idea who his off-season employer was.

On this date in 1974 Stevie Wonder appeared publicly for the first time in five months at a music festival in Cannes. The appearance was a big deal because immediately after his last one he was in a nasty car accident in which he was almost killed.

Getting an old guy and a new guy together can be tough:

1. Perry and Buddy Bell '74 to '75 Indians;
2. Bell and Charlie Hough '80 to '85 Rangers;
3. Hough and Ron Cey '71 to '79 Dodgers.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

#315 - Ron Cey

Now this is a great card. The Penguin here demonstrates a swing that is all leg power. Practically holding the bat by the knob, Ron's stroke is like a big pendulum. I don't know where this ball landed but if he got all of it, it sure wasn't in the park. It is also a great card to commemorate the start of his career. Before Ron took over third base for LA in '73 the Dodgers hadn't had a regular third baseman put up two full consecutive seasons since Jim Gilliam in '59 and '60. Third was always a mess while the Dodgers were in LA: until Cey 44 guys had been used at that position and in '72 the guys who rotated there combined for 53 errors. So just on defense alone Ron was a huge improvement. Plus he could hit and in '73 his numbers would get him sixth place in NL Rookie of the Year voting. He made the Baseball Digest's and TSN's rookie teams but not Topps' which is pretty surprising. But it was a successful debut and Ron would be an LA fixture for over a decade.

Ron Cey came out of Tacoma where in high school he was a running back, basketball guard, and infielder who was the first guy at his school to earn nine varsity letters (Ahmad Rashad would do it too a few years later). In '66 both the Giants and the Mets took a look at him his senior year: the Giants sent three scouts who didn't like him and the Mets picked him in the 24th round. Instead Ron went to Washington State on a baseball scholarship where the coach there - not Tommy Lasorda - gave him the Penguin handle. After taking his school to the regionals in '68 he was drafted by the Dodgers in the third round and had a great start to his career in A ball. He had another excellent season at that level in '69 and then took time for his military hitch, returning in late '70 to have a comparable season in Double A. In '71 and '72 Ron hit the crap out of the ball at Triple A - the Dodgers moved franchises around in between - and posted a .455 OBA the latter year. After a few games in LA each season he made the roster for good in '73.

Cey hit the ground running in his rookie year and improved from there. In '74 he was named to his first of six consecutive All-Star games as he upped his homer and RBI totals to 18 and 97, respectively. He also got his first post-season work, having a great playoff against the Pirates. In '75 he topped 100 RBIs for the first time. In '76 he missed a few games to injury and his power stats came in and then in '77 he put up huge numbers to open the season: in April he hit .425 with 29 RBI's. Though he cooled off considerably, he hit his lifetime high with 110 RBI's and 30 homers, joining Steve Garvey, Reggie Smith, and Dusty Baker as the first set of four teammates to each hit over 30. He also returned to the playoffs the next two seasons. The next three years he averaged over 26 homers and 81 RBI's. He then hit for his best average -.288 - in the strike year of '81. That season he and baseball got a real scare when in the Series in Game 5 Ron was hit in the head by a Goose Gossage fastball timed at 94 mph. Then just to show his resiliency he won Game 6. After one more season in LA in '82 the Dodgers dismantled the corners of the storied infield, letting Garvey go as a free agent to the Padres and trading Ron to the Cubs for a couple no-names.

In Chicago Cey got off to a horrible start and had to crank the remainder of the season, finishing with a .275 average and 90 RBI's. In '84 his start was just as bad and in late June he was still hitting under .200. But he went on a tear during the stretch drive, hitting .287 with 12 homers and 45 RBI's in the Cubbies final 55 games to help get them their first title since '45. He had the resurgence despite two hand injuries. Those were topped by an elbow injury during the playoffs that killed his hitting and helped contribute to the big upset to the Padres. In '85 the Cubs were a big disappointment and Ron's power numbers took a serious dip. At that point the hand issues were chronic and they severely mitigated his ability to swing the bat. In '86 his average revived but his power didn't and he split starting time with a couple other veterans, Manny Trillo and - coincidentally - Davey Lopes. After that season he was traded to Oakland for whom he mostly DH'd. He was released mid-season after hitting .221 and was done. Ron hit .261 for his career with 316 homers, 1,139 RBI's, and a .354 OBA. In the post-season he also hit .261 with seven homers, 27 RBI's, and a .362 OBA in 45 games. He is still the all-time Dodger leader in homers with 228. He is also tenth all-time with assists at third base.

After playing Cey took off a bunch of years to be a self-proclaimed "Mr. Mom." In '97 he returned to LA and has been with the Dodgers since, doing some coaching but working primarily in media and community relations.

Ron has tons of star bullet potential from his time in the minors and Topps opts for two good ones, one for defense and one for offense. I'm not too sure - sorry - why sure in the cartoon has to be in parentheses but Ron always was a superior defender who didn't get too much credit for it. His assists numbers indicated above should put the damper on that.

In music, 1974 saw two new number ones on this date. In the States, Al Green's latest chart-topper was "Show and Tell." In the UK it was "You Won't Find Another Fool Like Me" by the New Seekers. The Seekers were an Australian/British group that had hit it big by accident a couple years earlier when a song they recorded for a Coca-Cola commercial - "I'd Like to Buy the World a Coke" - became very popular. The group then dropped all the Coke references and re-released the song as "I'd Like to Teach the World to Sing" and the song went gold.

The best way to do this hook-up is through an infield reserve:

1. Cey and Rick Auerbach '74 to '76 Dodgers;
2. Auerbach and Johnny Briggs '71 to '73 Brewers;
3. Briggs was on the '73 Brewers (so was Auerbach but he only had ten at bats).

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

#314 - Milwaukee Brewers/ Pilots & Brewers Records

This is a surprisingly not bad team photo, given some of the bombs we've had recently. It's a bit blurry, but it shows the big scoreboard beer keg and it is close enough to the players that we can recognize just about everybody. The first person in the first standing row - it may be a woman - looks like Robin Yount but that guy was still in high school when this photo was taken. The Brewers had the best season of the team's young existence in '73. Although one-time phenom Bill Parsons couldn't find the plate and Don Money began his AL career in Mendoza territory, the first consistently-fielded team in history got it together and when Jim Colborn stepped into the rotation things started rolling. In June the team went 18-11, including a ten-game winning streak to knock Detroit out of first. That must have REALLY pissed off Billy Martin. Then in July the pitching coach quit and first place was history. In the meantime Money had his average up in the .280's and the team was still at .500 in late August, by far the latest in the season that happened. A September swoon brought them back to earth but Colborn became the first franchise pitcher to win 20 and the team would not perform as well again until Bambi came along.

The checklist front is pretty prosaic: no fancy signatures or symbols. The '73 starting line-up is pretty well represented and the big off-season trade with California is evident by the inclusion of Ken Berry and Clyde Wright. But only a couple pitchers from the '73 staff are here. I guess that is pretty emblematic as the lack of solid pitching after Mr. Colborn sort of did these guys in late in the season.

While I do enjoy researching these big posts, I must admit I'm happy to find that only a couple of these guys aren't in this set. Let's get to them:

Before there was David Clyde there was Lew Krausse. Lew was a huge phenom in high school in PA and by his own count he threw 18 no-hitters by his graduation. In '61 he was signed by the Kansas City A's for a huge bonus baby package of $125,000. According to Lew he really signed because the A's - who employed his dad, a former big league pitcher, as a scout - promised to keep his dad employed another five years if Junior signed. A week later he made his first start, pitching a three-hit shutout. in his second game he gave up his first homer - ever - and in his third game his elbow popped. It turned out the tendon had detached but nobody realized it until the end of his rookie year. He ended it going 2-5 with a 4.82 ERA and then hit the minors. After a decent '62 in A ball he spent the next three in Triple A where he didn't have a consistently good season until going 12-7 with a 3.22 ERA in '65. He also got in a few games up top that season and the prior one but didn't do too well. On top of that his '65 Topps card had someone else's photo on it. In '66 he had his best season back in KC: 14-9 with a 2.99 ERA. The rest of his time with the A's was rocky as his record never really came close to '66 and he ran afoul of Charlie O. In '69 he appeared in "The Breakfast Club" (check out his card) by which season he was pitching more in relief than in the rotation. In '70 he went to the Pilots/Brewers in the trade that brought Oakland Don Mincher. That year he went 13-18 with a high ERA in the rotation and then had a significantly better '71 - 8-12 with a 2.94 ERA in the rotation and long relief - before going to Boston in another big trade. By then his arm was a mess and he missed most of the season to injury. He then moved around a bit and spent most of '73 for Oakland at Triple A where he had pretty good numbers. He didn't have a Topps card in either '73 or '74 but did get one in '75 after moving to Atlanta for most of the '74 season, going 4-3 his final season in the majors. In '75 he was back in the Oakland system where he ended things as a pitcher. For his career he went 66-91 up top with a 4.00 ERA, 21 complete games, five shutouts, and 21 saves. After playing Lew returned to the KC area where he plays golf and shows up at reunions. I have no idea what he has done professionally after ball but he - along with Clyde - prominently surfaced in an SI article about Steven Strasburg in 2009.

Gene Brabender was a big right-hander who earned a degree of immortality in "Ball Four." Born and raised in Wisconsin, he was the first native to play for the Brewers. Gene played everywhere in high school baseball, also playing football and hoops. After attending Whitewater University for a semester he was signed by the Dodgers in '61. For them he had a tough time in the low minors that season but improved his ERA by over two runs in D ball in '62. The next year he went 15-10 in A ball and had a couple nice relief outings up a level. He then lost all of '64 and '65 to the military where he served as an MP on Army posts and played ball. O's scouts observed him there the second season and later made him a Rule 5 draft pick. In '66 he made his debut up top for the Series winners, throwing middle relief and having a pretty good rookie season with a 4-3 record, 3.55 ERA, and a couple saves. He split '67 between Triple A and Baltimore and improved his stats up top, now strictly as a starter. In '68 he split time between the pen and the rotation and after the season was traded to the new Pilots with Gordie Lund for Chico Salmon. In '69 Gene went 13-14, setting a record for wins for an expansion team that lasted almost 30 years. His ERA rose a run though due to a shoulder problem. That got worse the next year as his record tumbled hard: 6-15 with an ERA above 6.00. After the season he was sent to the Angels for Bill Voss but for California he couldn't get healthy and after an 8.00 ERA in a few games at Triple A in '71 was done. He finished with a record of 35-43 with a 4.25 ERA, 15 complete games, four shutouts, and six saves. After playing he ran a mobile home business on the Wisconsin peninsula until '78 when he returned to his hometown to do construction work. He passed away in '96 from an aneurysm when he was 55.

It is now tally time. On the offensive side a couple guys have cards elsewhere: catcher Ellie Rodriguez and outfielder Joe Lahoud had been traded to California. Only John Felske's 22 at bats are not represented. That's about the best we've seen. The downside is that a few pitchers are absent. Skip Lockwood also moved to the Angels. But closer Frank Linzy (2-6 with 13 saves), former Phillie Chris Short (3-5), Carlos Velasquez (2-2), Ray Newman (2-1), and Ray Gardner (1-1) are all missing as well as a few 0-1 guys. That means only 134 of 162 decisions are represented by this set, ranking Milwaukee close to the bottom. On the team card a bunch of these missing guys are present: Linzy is number 25 in the third row; Short the first guy in the fourth row, Velasquez the third from the right in the third row; Newman the third guy from the right in the fourth row; and Gardner the concerned-looking guy in the middle of the fourth row.

In music on January 18th of '73 the Rolling Stones put on a fund-raiser in LA for victims of the Nicaragua earthquake, the same quake Roberto Clemente was rushing to when his plane went down. Mick Jagger's wife back then, Bianca, was from Nicaragua and the group raised $200,000 to which they added $150,000 of their own money. I hadn't known those guys to be that generous before finding this out.

The Phillies and the Brewers did a big recent trade that helps out here:

1. Billy Champion was on the '73 Brewers;
2. Champion and Barry Lersch on the '69 to '72 Phillies.

Monday, January 16, 2012

#313 - Barry Lersch

Barry Lersch gets a double card post by virtue of having the first Traded card in over 40 posts. Barry looks pensive on what appears to be a brisk day at Shea. The grass is awfully long so he should have been pretty happy if he was pitching that day since he was a ground ball type of guy. There are some fellow Phillies on the field behind him but I cannot make them out. Barry's '73 season was sort of a downer. His starts were reduced to near zero and most of his pen work was in middle relief. He got a good number of innings for a reliever back then and his control was still quite good but his ERA was his highest in a full season until then. And he got traded just when the Phillies were starting to get pretty good. Regarding that, his Traded card is pretty benign although we do get to see his number 34 on his cap. That card might also be at Shea. Wherever it was it looks nasty out judging by the small patch of sky. Barry never played for the Braves. He would go to Triple A and then get sent to St. Louis. The worst part about the trade for him - but pretty funny for the rest of us - is discussed below.

Barry Lersch was born and raised in Denver where he played baseball and was a local diving champ. He then went to Mesa College, a local two-year school, and led them to the JuCo World Series in '64, making the all-tournament team. That summer he was signed by the Phillies. He was busy trying out for the Olympics diving team so he didn't get going in pro ball until the next year when he had a nice start in Single A: 9-9 with a 2.85 ERA and over a strikeout an inning. He took a step back at the same level in '66 and then served in the military for most of '67 before he returned to go 6-1 with a 1.69 ERA in nine starts. Again he had over a K an inning and in '68 he moved up to Triple A. At that level he had two very good seasons: 11-8 with a 2.84 ERA in '68 and 7-4 with a 3.39 ERA in '69. The latter year he also got some early and late looks up top in Philadelphia.

In 1970 Lersch made the Phillies roster and after some good work early in the pen he was put in the rotation where he continued to perform well, putting up the best ERA of any starter. In '71 he was in the rotation the full year but his record fell to 5-14 as his ERA moved above league average. That meant a lot more pen time in '72 when his numbers improved and in '73 when they didn't. With this trade he went to the Braves where he was sent to Triple A where he had a pretty good year, going 14-8 with a 3.10 ERA. With less than a month left in the season he was sold to the Cards for whom he had a disastrous one-inning outing. After the season he was released and in '75 he signed with Cleveland's Triple A Oklahoma City franchise for whom he went 6-2 out of the pen but with a fat ERA. Barry's card from that year shows a guy that looks substantially older than here so the time in between must have been tough. After the season he hung them up and returned to Colorado. He finished with a record of 18-32 with a 3.82 ERA, nine complete games, a shutout, and six saves. In the minors he went 58-42 with a 3.39 ERA.

It has been tough to pin down what Lersch did professionally after baseball. It is less tough to find what he did recreationally: he played baseball, first in an over-50 league and then in an over-60 league back in the Aurora area. It was there that he passed away in 2009 of a heart attack at age 65.

Barry had some nice minor league seasons and is regarded warmly on sites that mention his passing. He also played winter ball in Venezuela where in '71 he had a 1.71 ERA. On the web are some photos of him during his diving days, but I didn't want to sign on to the site to import them.

This is an optimistic Traded card write-up but lets get to the nitty gritty of the deal. The Braves were after pitching in the winter of '73 and had a fondness for a Phillie pitcher named Randy Lerch. It was he they meant to acquire, not Barry. When Barry showed up at camp the coaches asked him why he was fooling around with a left-handed mitt (Randy was a lefty), he was a little confused. When he told them he was a righty, the Braves coaches realized they were handed the wrong guy. Steinbrenner would have tarred and feathered whoever did that deal.

Catching up on music news, in '73 there were two big concerts in early January. On the 13th at the Rainbow Theatre in London Pete Townshend arranged an all-star tribute to Eric Clapton who was in self-imposed exile while trying to get out from under his heroin addiction. He appeared for the show but then disappeared again. On the 14th Elvis did a show that was televised to an estimated one billion people. The show raised a bunch of money for a Hawaiian cancer fund - it was beamed by satellite from there. In '74 on the 12th Steve Miller took over number one in the States for the first time with "The Joker." The song also went gold that day. I remember skiing to it all the time at Great Gorge when I was a kid. Every now and then the Playboy bunnies from the nearby club would hit the slopes. See how interesting the non-baseball stuff can be?

Barry and Deron were teammates so this one's easy:

1. Lersch and Deron Johnson '69 to '73 Phillies.

Friday, January 13, 2012

#312 - Deron Johnson

Deron Johnson has just popped one up that looks like its headed over to the home dugout at Oakland (or perhaps Yankee Stadium). Deron is another guy whose career enjoyed a resuscitation from the creation of the designated hitter and he put together a pretty good season after acquired by Oakland in early May. Like Terry Forster from a couple posts back, Deron was a Cali kid who was named Mr. Baseball there a few years before Mr. Forster. Also, like Terry, Deron had a pretty good sense of humor, although his was a bit drier. When a fan asked him in '73 how he was hitting them, Deron's response was "right handed."

Deron Johnson was a big multi-sport star in high school in San Diego. He was an excellent football player and had lots of colleges, including Notre Dame, hot on him. In baseball he was a big deal also, earning the Mr. Baseball honor in '55 as a junior. In '56 he opted for baseball, signing with the Yankees, and hitting the ground running that year in D ball where he had 24 homers and 78 RBI's in just 243 at bats. The next year he had 26 homers in A ball while keeping his average above .300. From '57 to '59 Deron had a home at Triple A Richmond where he maintained his great power - averaging 27 homers and 95 RBI's - as he segued from strictly an outfielder to having most of his starts at third base. After getting in a couple late games in NY in '60 he began the season there in '61 and after barely playing was traded to Kansas City that June.

For the A's his rookie season Johnson served as a fourth outfielder and although he posted a low average and high strikeout totals, his power was as good as any of the starters. Right after the season ended he returned to his army base - he'd spent six months there after the '58 season - and served there through August of '62, pretty much killing that season. After it he was sold to the Reds for anywhere between $20,000 and $100,000 depending on the source. Regardless of the price, it would be a good acquisition for Cincinnati. In '63 Deron went to Triple A San Diego - his hometown - for a year-long tune-up and he hit 33 homers with 91 RBI's while splitting time between the outfield and the infield corners. In '64 he moved to Cincy where he played primarily first and had a nice year. Then in '65 with the arrival of Tony Perez he moved to third and had a monster season, leading the NL in RBI's. In '66 he got moved around a bunch on defense and it impacted his season as his stats returned to their '64 levels. Then in '67 under new manager Dave Bristol Deron's stats and confidence shriveled and after the season he was sent to Atlanta for Jim Beauchamp and Mack Jones.

Johnson bottomed out for the Braves in '68 as he played the corners and even his power pretty much deserted him. That December he was sold to the Phillies for next to nothing and like with the Reds the sale heralded a revival. Bob Skinner, his first manager in Philly, was a big fan and made Deron a project, alternating him and Dick Allen between third and the outfield. Deron's confidence returned and the next three seasons he rediscovered his power. In '70 and '71 he played first base, a position he maintained the early part of '72 before a bout of peroneal palsy sapped his strength and killed his season. After a slow start to the '73 season he was sent to Oakland in May for a minor leaguer. There he had another brief revival even garnering some MVP votes. But in '74 his average tumbled to below .200 and that June he was sent to the Brewers for Tom Parsons. For Milwaukee he took over DH but his stats didn't get any better and in early September he was sold to the Red Sox to help their division run. He was released at the end of the season and the following April signed with the White Sox. For them he had his last decent year as primarily a DH - 18 homers and 72 RBI's - before he had a deja vu and returned to Boston in September. This time he batted .600 in a couple games down the stretch and the Sox kept him around until June of '76 when he was released. Deron ended up with a .244 average with 295 homers and 923 RBI's. His sole post-season of '73 he hit .200 in ten games.

Johnson moved pretty much right into coaching in the minors and then managing a Triple A team for California in '78. He then worked exclusively up top: with the Angels ('79-'80), the Mets ('81), the Phillies ('82-'84), the Mariners ('85-'86), and back with California ('87-'92). He was still with the Angels when he learned he had lung cancer and then shortly thereafter passed away. He was 53.

Those are a couple good star bullets and I'd have liked to see Deron go up against Bill Sudakis on the lanes. In honor of Deron I am listing all the California Mr. Baseball winners below. Look at the list from around the time of this set. Every guy from '52 to '85 with the exception of Craig Landis had a significant career in baseball ('66 is Ken Brett - Kemer is his nickname - and I believe we know the '84 winner as Kevin Mitchell) or somewhere else (check out the '79 winner). Pretty impressive.

2011 - Henry Owens, Huntington Beach Edison, P
2010 - Cory Hahn, Santa Ana Mater Dei, P-OF
2009 - Tyler Matzek, Mission Viejo Capistrano Valley, P-1B
2008 - Aaron Hicks, Long Beach Wilson OF-P
2007 - Mike Moustakas, Chatsworth INF
2006 - Tyler Robertson, Fair Oaks Bella Vista OF-P
2005 - John Drennen, San Diego Rancho Bernardo OF
2004 - Matt Bush, San Diego Mission Bay INF
2003 - Ian Stewart, Westminster La Quinta INF
2002 - Delmon Young, Camarillo OF (Jr.)
2001 - J. P. Howell, Carmichael Jesuit P
2000 - Mike Stodolka, Corona Centennial DH-P
1999 - Ryan Christianson, Riverside Arlington C
1998 - Sean Burroughs, Long Beach Wilson 3B
1997 - Jon Garland, Granada Hills Kennedy P
1996 - Eric Chavez, San Diego Mt. Carmel SS-P
1995 - Eric Chavez, San Diego Mt. Carmel SS-P (Jr.)
1994 - McKay Christensen, Fresno Clovis West OF
1993 - Derrek Lee, Sacramento El Camino OF
1992 - Jason Kendall, Torrance C
1991 - Dmitri Young, Oxnard Rio Mesa 3B
1990 - Mike Lieberthal, Westlake Village Westlake C
1989 - Todd Johnson, Fresno Bullard C-P
1988 - Scott Davison, Redondo Beach Redondo Union P-DH
1987 - Tom Redington, Anaheim Esperanza SS
1986 - Brian Johnson, Oakland Skyline C
1985 - Gregg Jefferies, San Mateo Serra SS
1984 - James Mitchell, El Cerrito OF
1983 - Kurt Stillwell, Thousand Oaks SS
1982 - Bret Saberhagen, Reseda Cleveland P
1981 - Lenny Dykstra, Garden Grove OF
1980 - Darryl Strawberry, Los Angeles Crenshaw OF
1979 - John Elway, Granada Hills OF
1978 - Lloyd Moseby, Oakland 1B
1977 - Craig Landis, Napa Vintage SS
1976 - Rickey Henderson, Oakland Technical OF
1975 - Carney Lansford, Santa Clara Wilcox SS
1974 - Lonnie Smith, Compton Centennial OF
1973 - Robin Yount, Woodland Hills Taft SS
1972 - Scott McGregor, El Segundo P
1971 - Keith Hernandez, San Bruno Capuchino 1B-Semipro
1970 - Terry Forster, Santee Santana P
1969 - Jeff Burroughs, Long Beach Wilson OF
1968 - Tim Foli, Sherman Oaks Notre Dame SS
1967 - Bill Buckner, Napa 1B
1966 - Kemer Brett, El Segundo P
1965 - Bob Boone, San Diego Crawford P
1964 - Willie Crawford, Los Angeles Fremont OF
1963 - Bob Tolan, Los Angeles Fremont P-OF
1962 - Rudy May, Oakland Castlemont P
1961 - Bob Bailey, Long Beach Wilson SS
1960 - Wade Blasingame, Fresno Roosevelt P
1959 - John Boccabella, Kentfield Marin Catholic 3B
1958 - Dick Ellsworth, Fresno P
1957 - Johnny Callison, Bakersfield East OF
1956 - Mike McCormick, Alhambra Keppel P
1955 - Deron Johnson, San Diego OF
1954 - Don Drysdale, Van Nuys P
1953 - Frank Robinson, Oakland McClymonds 3B
1952 - Jim Gentile, San Francisco Sacred Heart 1B
1951 - Ed Cereghino, Daly City Jefferson P
1950 - J.W. Porter, Oakland Technical C
1949 - Paul Pettit, Harbor City Narbonne P
1948 - Karl Olson, Mill Valley Tamalpais OF
1947 - Gus Triandos, San Francisco Mission C
1946 - Jim Baxes, San Francisco Mission 2B
1945 - Jack Harshman, San Diego 1B
1944 - Jackie Jensen, Oakland OF
1943 - Herb Gorman, San Francisco Balboa 1B
1942 - Charlie Silvera, San Francisco St. Ignatius SS
1941 - Bob Brown, San Francisco Galileo SS
1940 - Duane Pillette, San Diego P
1939 - Ferris Fain, Oakland Roosevelt 1B
1938 - Bob Lemon, Long Beach Wilson SS-P
1937 - Rugger Ardizoia, San Francisco Commerce P
1936 - Bobby Doerr, Los Angeles Fremont 2B (Pro)
1935 - Ted Williams, San Diego Hoover OF
1934 - Frankie Hawkins, San Francisco Sacred Heart SS
1933 - Chet Smith, San Diego P
1932 - Gordon Maltzberger, Colton P
1931 - Joe DiMaggio, San Francisco Galileo SS (Semi-pro)
1930 - Athos Sada, San Diego OF
1929 - Arleigh Williams, Oakland Technical C
1928 - Frank Dobranksy, San Diego P
1927 - Willard Hershberger, Fullerton C
1926 - Dick Bartell, Alameda SS
1925 - Louie Almada, Los Angeles P
1924 - Joe Cronin, San Francisco Sacred Heart SS
1923 - Gene Hollister, San Francisco Mission P
1922 - Walter Berger, San Francisco Mission 3B
1921 - Babe Herman, Glendale 1B
1920 - Bernie Viveiros, Oakland Technical 2B
1919 - Ren Kelly, San Francisco Poly P
1918 - Brick Muller, San Diego OF
1917 - Johnny Gillespie, Oakland Technical P
1916 - Ray Lorrigan, San Francisco Poly P
1915 - Frank Schellenback, Hollywood P
1914 - Bert Cole, San Francisco Lowell P
1913 - George Kelly, San Francisco Poly 3B
1912 - Harry Heilmann, San Francisco Sacred Heart SS
1911 - Will James, Oroville P
1910 - Eddie French, San Francisco Sacred Heart P
1909 - Babe Hollis, San Francisco Cogswell P
1908 - Oscar Vitt, San Francisco Wilmerding SS
1907 - Lloyd Burton, Alameda SS
1906 - Mowatt Mitchell, Los Angeles 1B
1905 - Walter Johnson, Fullerton P
1904 - James Schaeffer, Berkeley C
1903 - Mead Hamilton, San Francisco Lowell P
1902 - Mead Hamilton, San Francisco Lowell 2B
1901 - Heinie Heitmuller, San Francisco Lick 1B
1900 - Orvall Overall, Visalia 1B-Town team
1899 - Will Moreing, Stockton P

Johnson and Grote would have probably appreciated each other as they both had reputations for being rednecks:

1. Johnson and Felix Millan '68 Braves;
2. Millan and Jerry Grote '73 to '77 Mets.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

#311 - Jerry Grote

In another great action shot Jerry Grote appears to have just hit one off his bat handle in a game at Shea against the Reds that may or may not have been a playoff game. Jerry was one of the Mets' walking wounded in '73. In May he went down with a fractured wrist that kept him out of the lineup for three months. He then had a tough time coming back - his average was still under .200 by early August - but hit nearly .300 from there on as NY won the division after a nice comeback. To demonstrate how snake-bitten these guys were earlier in the season, when Grote went down the Mets bought Jerry May from KC. In May's first game he sprained his wrist and a week later he was out of the majors for good..

Jerry Grote was born and raised in Texas where he was a high school track star and pitched, caught, and played third in baseball. In '61 he went to Trinity University where he played a season of baseball in which he hit .413 with five homers and 19 RBI's. He was signed that summer of '62 by the Colt .45's and got things kicked off the next spring in Double A San Antonio. He did quite well, hitting .268 with 14 homers and 62 RBI's and caught full-time, picking up a bunch of tips from his back-up Clint Courtney, a former Braves catcher. In '64 he graduated to Houston where he shared time behind the plate with John Bateman. While Jerry was by far the superior defender, Bateman was a bit better offensively and in '65 when Ron Brand came up, Jerry was sent to Triple A Oklahoma City. There he hit much better and when the season was over he was sent to the Mets for Tom Parsons.

Grote went from one crappy team to another and in '66 he was named NY's starting catcher, improving his average 50 points over his '64 one. In '67 he fell back below .200 but he picked off half the guys that tried to steal on him and did a great job helping develop new phenom Tom Seaver. In '68 new manager Gil Hodges worked with Jerry on his hitting and Grote got his first All-Star nod as a result. In '69 he hit lifetime highs in homers and RBI's for the Series winners while significantly cutting down on his K's (for the rest of his career his K totals pretty much matched his walk ones). In '70 and '71 he led the NL catchers in putouts but his percentage of runners picked off dropped substantially, however, and in '72 new manager Yogi Berra named Duffy Dyer the starting catcher. It was revealed later in the season that Jerry had bone chips in his throwing elbow and after the season he had them removed. After his up-and-down '73 he returned to his starting gig in '74 and was hitting .288 mid-season to make his second All-Star team. In '75 he upped his average to a lifetime high of .295 and in '76 he served his last season as the Mets starting guy behind the plate.

In '77 the Mets traded Tom Seaver to Cincinnati. It had already been an unusual season for Grote as John Stearns took over the starting catcher job and Jerry had almost as many starts at third base as he did behind the plate. Shortly after Seaver left, Jerry was sent to the Dodgers for a couple minor leaguers. With LA he was the third guy behind Steve Yeager and Johnny Oates. In that role his at bats would be extremely limited but he did return to the post-season the next two seasons. After the '78 season he basically retired to be with his family in Texas. But late in '80 he got divorced and at 38 he signed with the Royals for the '81 season. While Jerry would again be pretty far down on the depth chart, he did put up one last memorable feat when that July he had seven RBI's in a game. Despite that and hitting over .300 in his limited role he was released in late summer and re-signed with LA. After a couple games with them he was done. Jerry hit .252 with 39 homers and 404 RBI's for his career. In the post-season he hit .222 in 26 games. Defensively he is in the top 30 all-time for putouts at catcher (all those NY strikeouts) and in the top 70 for fielding percentage.

After playing Grote briefly returned to baseball in '85 when he managed a couple teams in the Detroit system, even playing a game behind the plate. Most of the time he hung out in Texas.

Unsurprisingly Jerry's star bullets focus on his defense. The cartoon adds a lot of color to what he did after playing. The ranch he bought was a working one outside San Antonio and that is just what he did - worked the ranch. He also got involved in a bunch of local San Antonio businesses, including managing a real estate firm and a couple restaurants. San Antonio is still his home base.

These guys played together on LA but barely so I am going through their battery-mate:

1. Grote and Duffy Dyer '69 to '74 Mets;
2. Dyer and Terry Forster '77 Pirates.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

#310 - Terry Forster

This is a great card and we've nearly seen it before. Bart Johnson's card photo is taken in front of pretty much the same group of blurry fans. I got curious and did some digging and it looks like this game may be from July 1 in Oakland. If so then I am wrong about the time of Rollie Fingers' card since I had opined that it was a playoff shot. I now believe that it is also from this game and the reason for the fat Oakland crowd is that this was the third game in a series between the teams in which they were tied for first at its outset. Oakland won the game 3-0, with Blue Moon Odom and Fingers shutting down the Sox against Johnson and this guy here. But Terry did pretty well, throwing nearly five innings of shutout ball himself. He looks pretty nimble here which is a stark contrast to how he'd look later in his career. This card is also the first in what will be three straight action shots and I always like those.

Terry Forster was born in South Dakota and moved to Santee California by the time he was in high school. There he attended a school called Santana where in 1970 he was named the state's Mr. Baseball. While researching this post I came upon the list of the guys that won that award. They are amazingly well-represented by future Major Leaguers. Terry was sandwiched between Jeff Burroughs and Keith Hernandez. On another post I will list all the winners. Back to Terry, he was drafted by the White Sox in the second round of the '70 draft. That summer he had an excellent record in Single A in his only minor league stint in a long time. In '71 he was elevated all the way to Chicago.

Forster had a good rookie season for the Sox in '71. He then stepped up huge in '72, putting up a then Sox record 29 saves, along with his excellent ERA and over a strikeout an inning. '73 got interesting for him because he was having a very similar first half to the prior year's - at the time of this game (if I am correct) he was 1-1 with 11 saves and a 1.94 ERA - when some Sox pitching issues pretty much forced him into the rotation. While he did OK, his relieving numbers were much better and he finished the year with only 16 saves. But in '74 it was back to all relief and Terry responded by leading the AL with 24 saves and winning Fireman of the Year. In '75 he was off to another nice start when he injured his elbow in late May and was lost for essentially the rest of the season. In '76 staff ace Wilbur Wood got hurt and a couple other starters bombed so Terry and bullpen partner Goose Gossage were put in the rotation. That didn't go too well as they combined for an 11-29 record and the bullpen was decimated. After the season the two went to Pittsburgh for Richie Zisk and Silvio Martinez.

In '77 the two transplants paired up pretty well, Forster as the set-up guy, and Gossage as the closer, and both had comeback seasons, Terry going 6-4 after his 2-12 '76. After the season they each became free agents, Gossage going to the Yankees, and Terry to the Dodgers. In LA Forster continued his comeback, dropping his ERA over two runs as he pitched exclusively in the pen the first season since his big '72. His 1.92 ERA and 22 saves helped LA return to the playoffs and he had an excellent post-season. Early in '79, though, the elbow problems returned and he only put up 27 innings the next two seasons. In '81 he managed a tentative return where his season numbers were only so-so but he performed well in the playoffs and Series and won a ring. After a better '82 - at least until he gave up that Joe Morgan homer - he hit the free agent market again, this time landing in Atlanta.

For the Braves, Forster had his best regular season since '78 - 3-2 with 13 saves and a 2.16 ERA - and despite some injuries and his growing girth put up very good numbers his other two seasons there as well. Regarding that latter qualification, during his career Terry's weight got inflated by about 50 pounds to where during '85 David Letterman referred to him as a "fat tub of goo." In response Terry got a shot on Letterman's show and it was quite funny and showed Terry to be a pretty endearing and understanding guy. I have linked to his appearance on YouTube here. After that season he spent '86 with the Angels, where he again did pretty well, and in '87 signed with the Twins for whom he put up a few innings in the minors before he was done. Terry went 54-65 with a 3.23 ERA, five complete games, and 127 saves for his career. In the post-season he was 1-0 with eight shutout innings and nine strikeouts in his eight games. He was an excellent hitter, batting .397 with only nine K's in 78 career at bats. He has the highest lifetime average of any player with over 50 at bats.

Despite his winning personality, Forster sort of went low key after his playing career. His last few seasons playing he met and married a woman from Montreal and relocated to Quebec. I am unsure as to what he did professionally but for a bunch of years he has coached the little league team from a town called Val d'Or. I have linked to another site here in which a happy Terry poses with his team about two-thirds of the way down (since it is a site from Quebec, it is in French, so anyone wishing to view it may have to have it translated).

I covered a whole bunch of this stuff above but those star bullets are pretty good. Terry got a big card in '74 with a "10" designation. But his '73, despite being pretty good, certainly didn't eclipse a bunch of other guys' seasons who didn't get that honor. I think he got this number because of his '72 work and given his '74 season, this card could be regarded as being prescient.

For the hook-up we get help from an infielder who probably wished he could hit like our boy here:

1. Forster and Derrell Thomas '79 to '82 Dodgers;
2. Thomas and Dave Roberts '72 to '78 Padres.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

#309 - Dave Roberts

For our first double card in a while we get a beaming Dave Roberts at Jack Murphy Stadium in San Diego. This Dave was an infielder, the other Dave Roberts, a former Padre, a pitcher. This Dave was a hot property back then. An excellent high school pitcher and infielder, Dave went to Oregon on a baseball scholarship and was the first draft pick by the Padres in '72. He went straight to San Diego where he took over third base and made the Topps Rookie team. After hitting .286 his second year, it was all upside for this guy. But how quickly things can change.

Dave Roberts was born in Oregon and went on to local baseball fame there in high school before going to Oregon in '69. He played summer ball in Alaska in '70 and '71 and hit .342 in two seasons there with 17 homers and 103 RBI's in 120 games as a shortstop. The second year he played with future Padre teammate Dave Winfield. After an All-American junior season in '72 for Oregon in which he hit .410 while playing third, he was selected number one by San Diego and immediately inserted at third. In '73 he began the season at second due to Derrell Thomas being injured and hit horribly, well under .200 by the end of May. He went down to Triple A Hawaii for some renewal, hit .375, and returned to third in San Diego in June, hitting well over .300 the rest of the way. He set what would be career highs in homers and RBI's that year before he began his slide.

In '74 Roberts had another nasty start to his season, caused partly by a back injury, but unlike '73 he never came out of it. While he spent no time in the minors that year, he did see some bench time. It was a significant decline: in 318 at bats he hit only .167 with five homers and 18 RBI's. Along the way he lost the starting third base gig to Dave Hilton. In '75 this Dave was shipped back to Triple A where he spent most of his time at second and hit .262 with 12 homers and 71 RBI's in 121 games. That got him back to San Diego where he hit .283 the last month-plus and reclaimed third base. In '76 the Padres traded for Doug Rader who took over third and Dave was back in Hawaii where his offensive numbers were a bit of a discount to those of '75. He spent most of his time in a new position, catcher, where he did a decent job defensively. In '77 he did a round trip to the Blue Jays before settling in back in San Diego as the third string catcher behind Gene Tenace and Bob Davis. '78 was split between San Diego and Hawaii and after the season he left the Padres for good with Oscar Gamble and some cash to the Rangers for Mike Hargrove, Kurt Bevacqua, and Bill Fahey.

In '79 Roberts backed up just about everywhere except pitcher, hitting .262 in only 84 at bats. The next year he got a serious bump in playing time as the number two guy at three positions - third, catcher, and short. After hitting .238 with his best homer and RBI totals since '73 - 10 and 30, respectively - he left as a free agent, signing with the Astros. After spending most of the year on the bench he was traded to the Phillies for a minor leaguer. A few games into the '83 season he was released. Dave finished with a .239 average with 49 homers and 208 RBI's. He got one pinch at bat for Houston in the '81 playoffs, striking out.

Roberts' first year after playing, 1984, he managed a team in the Royals chain but after a poor season was done. In '85 he became a scout for the Indians which he did through the middle of '87 when he was promoted to be a Cleveland coach. In '88 he became a scout for the Tigers which he continued to do through at least the late 2000s.

Topps sure likes to dig back pretty far for Dave's star bullets, don't they. I think this is the first time I have seen specific mention of a player's sophomore high school baseball season. On the Goldpanners he also played with Pete Broberg and Jim Sundberg. Dave is the second of what would be three Dave Roberts to play for the Padres. The most recent was the outfielder and current coach who looks like he has successfully fought off lymphoma.

I think this is a weird one:

1. Roberts and Al Oliver '79 to '80 Rangers;
2. Oliver and Bruce Dal Canton '68 to '70 Pirates.