Wednesday, February 29, 2012

#342 - Jim Lonborg

After two relatively young guys we get a player who's not exactly old but is certainly worn. Jim Lonborg poses in Candlestick, a place he hadn't been to much by the time of this shot because he was a first-time NL'er in '73. It wasn't Jim's best season and while that year he put up his second most wins in six years, he had a losing record and an ERA that popped 2 runs. His shoulder affected his pitching which was pretty much the story every season since '67 and would be for the rest of his career. He was supposed to be a super nice guy so it was too bad that his pitching time was bedeviled as much as it was. But he was still immortalized back in Boston.

Jim Lonborg played hoops and baseball while growing up in California where his dad was a professor at a local university. He played high school ball with future Reds pitcher Mel Queen. When he graduated in '60 he went to Stanford on an academic scholarship and played both hoops and pitched his freshman year. From then on it was all baseball and in the summers he would play ball in leagues sponsored by the Orioles, first in Washington and then in the Basin League - where his teammates were Jim Palmer and Merv Rettenmund - which encompassed the northern plain states. Ironically it was there he was spotted by the Red Sox who in '63 signed Jim to a $25,000 bonus. He returned to Stanford to work on his degree in biology - he'd intended to be a surgeon - and the spring of '64 began his pitching career in A ball where he went 6-2 with a 3.20 ERA and better than a strikeout an inning. He was moved up mid-season to Triple A Seattle where he went 5-7 with a 4.84 ERA. While the numbers at the higher level weren't super, the next year he was a Red Sox.

In '65 Lonborg made the Sox out of spring training and went right into the rotation. While his first-year numbers weren't too hot the Sox liked his poise and the next year he split time between the pen and starting, improving his record substantially. That off-season he played winter ball and refined his pitching considerably and then got into shape by skiing. When he returned in '67 he went on a tear, providing the pitching to complement Yaz's hitting as the two led Boston to the Series. Jim led the AL in wins and strikeouts and won the Cy and then had a super Series - 2-1 with a 2.63 ERA with just two walks in 24 innings - even though he lost the final game to Bob Gibson. When he decided to do his off-season exercise thing again - he bypassed winter ball - he tore up his leg on the slopes and required surgery to repair two ligaments in his knee. While his recovery early in the season helped kill Boston's shot as repeat pennant winners, the leg damage was not directly responsible for the time spent on the DL in ensuing seasons. When he began pitching again, Jim compensated for his tender knee by over-working his right shoulder, which caused some serious rotator cuff wear. Over the next four seasons he missed time for injury every year, spent some time in the minors, and compiled a 27-29 record with an ERA above 4.00. After the '71 season he was part of a big trade that sent him to Milwaukee.

For the Brewers Lonborg had a bit of a comeback, winning 14 and putting up a 2.83 ERA, the best of his career. By now he was a control guy and his seasonal target for walks was under 100. Despite his nice numbers he was then involved in another big trade that sent him to the NL (both trades had Ken Brett beside him). His first year in Philly he kept the walk totals low but the shoulder helped derail him a bit. In '74 he had a relatively pain-free year and led the reviving franchise with 17 wins and the starters with a 3.21 ERA. In '75 he flipped back and missed a considerable part of the season to injury, halving his win total. In '76 he was cruising and he began the season 8-0 to help keep the Phillies on top for most of the year. He would win 18 as he experienced his first post-season action in nine years. From then on, though, he was in a bunch of pain and his workload suffered. He did go 11-4 in '77 on another division-winner and then faded to 8-10 with an ERA above 5.00 in '78. After a couple poor showings early in '79 he retired. Jim finished with a record of 157-137 with a 3.86 ERA, 90 complete games, 15 shutouts, and four saves. In the post-season he went 2-3 with a 3.51 ERA in five games.

When Lonborg finished playing he returned to the Boston area full time and enrolled in Tufts University's dental program. He got a degree, opened a practice in a small town on the way to Cape Cod, and is still at it.

Jim's star bullets are all '67. Pre-med guys had better enjoy reading.

We have had two NL guys in a row and these guys would be playoff opponents:

1. Lonborg and Mike Schmidt '73 to '79 Phillies;
2. Schmidt and Pete Rose '79 to '83 Phillies;
3. Rose and Dan Driessen '73 to '78 Reds.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

#341 - Dan Driessen

This is our first true rookie card in a long while. It also represents the first Topps 1973 Rookie All-Star Team honoree in over 100 cards. I love this card. You have the subject, Dan Driessen, in a posed shot way out of position. You have a billboard ad for Sunbeam in the background. You have Don Gullett looking huge on the mound in the background. And you have a beautiful sunny spring training day that looks like it was a great one in which to do even the tedious workout stuff. Dan had a fun year in '73 and filled a big hole for the Reds when he came up. Denis Menke, who'd been the starter at third completely stopped hitting and Cincy was in a jam. But they had this guy and his .409 average at Indianapolis and when they pulled him up and slotted him in the line-up he didn't disappoint. Dan went on to hit .301 and provide good enough D at third to make the Reds stop worrying. He also put in a bunch of games at first - and in fact played many games at both - which enabled the Baseball Digest guys to throw him on their rookie team at that position (they picked Ron Cey for third). Dan came in third in NL ROY voting in a strong year for rookie third basemen (besides Cey, Ken Reitz was a rookie, as was Bill Madlock, Mike Schmidt, and Jerry Terrell) so copping the Topps spot was a pretty big deal.

Dan Driessen came out of what was back then a pretty rural Hilton Head, South Carolina, before the place turned into a resort vacation destination. His high school did not have a baseball team, so Dan - who was a catcher - and his older brother Bill both played for a rec league team many towns away. Since Dan had no real organized footing he flew under the radar and his rec coach wrote letters to every big league team advocating for both Bill and Dan. They both got tryouts with the Braves and Dan was the last guy cut. Then he had a Florida tryout for the Reds and made the cut. That year - 1970 - he got off to a rocky start in A ball by hitting only .223. But he played excellent D at his new position, first base, and was able to return the next year to add over 100 points to his average at the same level. In '72 he moved up to Double A and put in some time at third so the Reds must have known what was coming. Then to kick off '73 it was third base all the way at Triple A where he hit .409 and had a nearly .500 OBA before he was called up that June.

After his impressive debut, Driessen pretty much took over third the next year, hitting pretty well with a .281 average but having a bit of trouble defensively. In the meantime fellow '73 rookie Ken Griffey was stepping things up huge and George Foster was finally coming around so with Pete Rose and Cesar Geronimo Cincy had four starting outfielders. Beginning in '75 Dan would be the odd man out as Rose was moved to third and he backed up first base and the outfield. He hit .281 again in '75 but slid to .247 the next year, but both years put up nice OBA and power numbers. He got almost zero playoff time each year but in '76 they incorporated the DH in the Series for the first time and Dan was the Reds' guy, hitting .357. The next year Cincy let Tony Perez leave as a free agent and Dan took over first. He had a nice '77, continuing Doggie's run of 90-plus ribbie seasons by posting 91 himself while hitting .300. He also stole 31 bases that year. He then settled into a long run as the regular guy at first, excelling defensively and being a middling hitter for the position. In '80 he led the NL in walks and he continued as the number one guy midway through the '84 season when he was traded to the Expos for Andy McGaffigan and a minor leaguer. He then became a journeyman, moving to San Francisco and Houston before settling in St. Louis in '87. He actually spent most of that season - as he had in '86 - in Triple A and was called up after Jack Clark got hurt. He had a couple key hits in the post-season that year but it was his last hurrah as he was released that November. Dan finished with a .267 average with 153 homers and 763 RBI's. He also stole 154 bases and had a .356 OBA. In the post-season he hit .212 with a homer and four RBI's in 23 games. Defensively he is 19th all-time with a .995 fielding average at first base.

Driessen had spent some winters playing ball in Mexico and even won a batting title there in the mid-Seventies. In '88 he played there during the regular season and then in '89 returned to the States to play in the Senior League which he did for both its seasons. He would eventually return to Hilton Head year-round where he started his own excavating and truck business and spent a bunch of years as the assistant baseball coach at the high school. This year he will be inducted into the Reds Hall of Fame.

Dan has one of the more qualitative card backs I have seen in this set. Topps needs to let us know in the first star bullet that he was "completely" overlooked in the draft. And the second part of the last star bullet is great. I guess that .327 average in '71 was done with a cricket paddle. The "Cobra" nickname came from Dan's habit of sort of unwinding into his swing.

Let's get the hookup with the '76 Series opponent now. The middle guy was already mentioned above:

1. Driessen and Don Gullett '73 to '76 Reds;
2. Gullett and Thurman Munson '77 to '78 Yankees.

Monday, February 27, 2012

#340 - Thurman Munson

We get back to the regular cards with a perennial All-Star and a personal favorite in Thurm here. This may be the first of Munson's cards with his signature mustache - his '73 one had him in an action profile shot so it was hard to tell. Thurm was an easy guy to love if you were a Yankee fan with his clutch hitting and irascible nature. He was probably an easier opponent to hate with his clutch hitting and irascible nature. He was a pain in the butt at the plate when his adjustments of his body and uniform between each swing seemed to single-handedly add about 20 minutes to each game. And he was not exactly a fun guy for the media: if they paid attention to him he'd feel crowded; if they left him alone, he'd pout because he felt ignored. But you had to love his confidence: when asked he said that if he and Carlton Fisk were on the same team, "Fisk had better learn a new position." No surprise they got in all those fights. '73 was a pretty good season for Munson though. Even though he probably got the worst of that year's brawl with Fisk, he turned his offense up a notch, hitting above .300 with his first real power: 20 homers and 74 RBI's. He was an All-Star and Topps gave him a "10" card. It was a good preview year of what was to come. Here he poses with something resembling a smile in Florida during spring training as his teammates behind him do an admirable job of not sliding right off what appears to be a very tilted field.

Thurman Munson was born and raised in and around Canton, Ohio, the site of the NFL Hall of Fame. Fittingly he played football, as well as basketball and baseball in high school where he was all-state in all three sports. Upon graduating in '65 he was an understandably hot property and he opted to go to close by Kent State on a baseball scholarship. When he went to college he continued to play shortstop, his high school position, and after playing local ball his first summer in '67 he went to play in the Cape Cod League where he won the batting title with a .420 average. It was there that a Yankee scout spotted him and wanted to sign him on the spot. But back then there was a rule that any college player that was under 21 and had already put in two years of college ball couldn't sign with a pro team until he turned 21. So Thurm returned to Kent State and by the spring had gained 20 pounds - to about 195 - and his coach had him play catcher. After he turned 21 that June the Yankees made him their first rounder and gave him a $75,000 bonus. He hit the ground running, posting a .301 average the rest of the summer in Double A ball. He then missed the first part of the '69 season to finish up his Army hitch. When he returned in July he put up a .363 average with a .435 OBA in 28 games. That August he was called up to the Yankees.

When Munson showed up in NY the team's two catchers were Jake Gibbs, a former college football star, and Frank Fernandez, who was a rookie the prior season. Both were pretty good behind the plate but they had light averages and only Fernandez had any real power. Munson moved pretty seamlessly into the grid, impressing everyone with his ability to take control of the game and his confidence at the plate. He also picked off more than half the runners who tried to steal on him despite his unorthodox three-quarter throwing motion. When he returned in '70 he got off to a one for thirty start at the plate. But manager Ralph Houk kept him in as the starter and Thurm hit .316 the rest of the way to be the first AL catcher to win Rookie of the Year. Then in '71 he experienced an offensive slowdown as his average slid 50 points in part due to an injury that affected his hand-eye for a while. That injury was caused by a play while catching in which Thurm was steamrolled by Orioles catcher Andy Etchebarren and was knocked unconscious, dropping the ball. It was the only error Munson had all season and his defense that year shone as he nailed 61% of would-be base stealers to lead the AL. He also got his first All-Star pick that year. In '72 the average bounced back by 30 points and in '73, on top of what was listed above, he won his first of three consecutive Gold Gloves at catcher.

Munson suffered a hand injury late in '74 spring training that impacted both his ability to hit - he couldn't really close his right hand around the bat - and to throw out guys, resulting in a career-worse in the latter category of 35%. That year he hit .261 with 13 homers and 60 RBI's while posting a .316 OBA, the worst of his career. But he came back strong in '75, hitting .318 to finish third in the AL, getting over 100 RBI's for the first time, and throwing out over 50% of potential base stealers to lead both leagues. In '76 he led the Yankees with his MVP season - .302 with 17 homers and 105 RBI's - to their first post-season since '64. And he didn't slow down in the playoffs, hitting .435 against Kansas City before putting up a .529 in the Series sweep by Cincinnati. In '77 he posted his last of the three successive .300 and 100 ribbie seasons. Again he put up strong post-season numbers and while he had to put up with you-know-who in the end he got his first ring. In '78 knee and shoulder ailments brought a painful season and his power numbers slid as he put in a significant uptick in games in the outfield and at DH. But he still hit .297 and had eight ribbies in the Series to win his second consecutive ring.

In '79 the Yankees really couldn't get it going, starting off in a hole again as they did in '78 but with no miracle rally coming. Munson began more openly agitating for being traded closer to home and he had begun taking flying lessons and bought a small Cessna so he could basically start commuting back to Ohio. In early August he was practicing take-offs and landings back near Canton when on one landing attempt he came down too steeply, nicked a treetop, and crashed into a huge tree stump. Thurm's neck was broken on impact and he died of smoke inhalation in the ensuing fire. He was 32 years old. Thurm finished with a .292 average, 113 homers, and 701 RBI's. He also has some nice rankings in lifetime defensive stats. In the post-season he did super, with a .357 average, three homers, and 22 RBI's in 30 games.

Thurm has lots of good star bullet potential and most of those chosen are pretty good. He also made the All-Star team every season from '73 to '78. Other nicknames of his were Pigpen and Tugboat.

There were always lots of stories about Thurm and his gruff nature but a favorite one is a much sweeter one. Early in the '76 season Tiger Ron Leflore took a 30-game hitting streak into Yankee Stadium. Late in the game he was 0 for 3 and the score was 9-5 Yanks so the game wasn't really on the line. Thurm knew that Ron liked them high and in so in his last at bat he told Leflore to expect the pitches there, trying to help him extend his streak. Ron didn't believe him and took the first two pitches for strikes. Thurm jogged out to the mound and told pitcher Tippy Martinez - it was before that year's big trade with Baltimore - to lay it in high and inside. This time Leflore finally got wise and swung but he missed the pitch and his hitting streak ended.

No significant music news so let's get the degrees of separation exercise going again. We link up Thurm to the last regular player card subject, Juan Marichal:

1. Munson and Jim Ray Hart '73 Yankees;
2. Hart and Juan Marichal '63 to '72 Giants.

Friday, February 24, 2012

#339 - All Star Pitchers

Finally we get to the pitchers so this will be a big post. Catfish was having one of his banner seasons by the break while Rick Wise had a nice early run that partly redeemed him from being the other side of the big Steve Carlton trade from a year earlier. While these guys did not have the most impressive numbers for their positions they would both go on to record one of the best seasons of their careers. And they both pitched well in the game. Let's line up the AL guys first:

Catfish Hunter - 15-3 with a 3.32 ERA
Bert Blyleven - 12-9 with a 2.59 ERA
Jim Colburn - 13-5 with a 2.78 ERA and one save
Ken Holtzman - 15-9 with a 2.23 ERA
Bill Lee - 12-4 with a 2.63 ERA and one save
Nolan Ryan - 11-12 with a 2.84 ERA
Bill Singer - 15-5 with a 2.65 ERA
Sparky Lyle - 3-5 with a 1.91 ERA and 26 saves
Rollie Fingers - 3-5 with a 1.26 ERA and 10 saves.

First off, it's pretty amazing how many decisions some of these guys already had. At this point in the season each team had played roughly 98 games. So Ken Holtzman had a decision in about a quarter of his team's games by then. Also this list underscores part of the reason Oakland won three straight Series with three guys with excellent numbers as All-Stars. Blyleven and Colburn were young guys on their way to their best seasons and would both win 20 for the only time in their careers. Bill Lee was becoming a fan favorite in Boston and spent a bunch of time in the pen in '73. Ryan and Singer were a hot duo for the Angels and while Nolan's record wasn't so hot he'd already struck out over 200 batters by then. And Sparky after a slow start - no saves until May - was on a torrid pace. Now for the NL guys:

Rick Wise - 11-5 with a 3.10 ERA
Jack Billingham - 14-6 with a 2.02 ERA
Claude Osteen - 11-5 with a 3.03 ERA
Don Sutton - 12-6 with a 2.39 ERA
Tom Seaver - 11-5 with a 2.02 ERA
Wayne Twitchell - 8-3 with a 2.29 ERA
Jim Brewer - 4-3 with a 2.01 ERA and 11 saves
Dave Giusti - 6-1 with a 1.39 ERA and 10 saves.

Wise was a big reason why the Cards were in first after the break after a 3-22 start to the season. Billingham was doing all he could to make everyone know that the Reds were more than an offensive marvel. The Dodgers matched Oakland by having three pitchers on the staff with Jim Brewer performing pretty well in his last big season and Osteen putting up big enough numbers to land LA the big slugger it needed in '74. Seaver was a perennial and would go on to grab a Cy. Twitchell was the Phillies' sole representative and Giusti, like Brewer, was having a big year late in his career. So the AL totals are 101-57 with 38 saves and the NL's are 77-34 with 21 saves with the AL having an extra guy. This is a tough one. I know the NL killed in this game but I gotta give the edge here to the AL guys.

The final piece gives zero information; it lets us know the MVP was a black guy but nothing else. But we already knew who it was.

In music we get a new Number One in the States in '73. This song would, I believe, go on to be the top song for the entire year on a lot of playlists. "Killing Me Softly With His Song" by Roberta Flack had actually been previously recorded by another artist and Roberta after hearing it adopted it as hers after long hours spent in the studio perfecting it. The song is about a concert the writers attended by Don McLean - who had a big hit with "American Pie" - so he was the "His" of the song title.

So back to baseball, here is the big bonus. It's the whole puzzle. It isn't a great shot but this way nobody has to do the old cut and paste. Plus, to the best of my knowledge, it's the last puzzle Topps ever did.

This is a full-service blog. Tell your friends.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

#338 - All Star Right Fielders

For the final outfield slots we get Reggie in Oakland and Billy Williams in what appears to be Candlestick. They're both digging the facial hair and Billy, like a lot of his NL brethren, is slightly off-center. Reggie was in the midst of his MVP season which would climax with his first Series time since he was hurt for the one in '72. Billy had a huge '72 and early in '73 showed no signs of abating his prior year's pace. Plus he was supposed to be one of the nicest guys in the game. This review will be quick so let's get it going. In the AL we have:

Reggie Jackson - .292 with 23 homers and 81 RBI's
Dave May - .330 with 17 homers and 56 RBI's.

At this point in the season Reggie had the most ribbies of anyone in either league. His numbers up to now were awfully similar to those of Willie Stargell. I add Dave May because he played both center and right in the game. For the NL we also have a pair of guys:

Billy Williams - .278 with 11 homers and 50 RBI's
Bobby Bonds - .306 with 25 homes and 64 RBI's.

Billy had done something of a fade since elected as his average was near .300 back then. Bobby was having one of his bigger seasons and his numbers get more impressive when one realizes they were created almost exclusively from the leadoff spot. I think the nod for this position goes to the AL.

So this is it. While not the final piece, this puzzle back tells us all we need to know about the identity of the All-Star MVP. Now that that little bit of drama is over, let's broaden our horizons with some other news.

In music in '74 a new song took over the top spot in the UK. Suzi Quatro's "Devil Gate Drive" was her second Number One song across the pond. Suzi pulled a Jimi Hendrix in that though she was born in the States, she was much bigger in the UK at the beginning of her career (neither of her two Number Ones got significant chart time over here). She was a sort of prototypical punk rocker and pretty much the first female rock star. Back here she would become known for two things: one was a mellow duet that got significant chart time called "Stumblin' In" later in the Seventies; two was a recurring role on the sitcom "Happy Days" in which she played Leather Tuscadero, whose character fronted a band and was the sister of Fonzie's girlfriend Pinkie. On this same date Suzi was interviewed by a journalist for New Music Express, the UK rag that was pretty much their version of Rolling Stone. The journalist who interviewed her was Chrissy Hynde, later the singer and front person for The Pretenders.

I'll pick up the Watergate stuff in a couple posts.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

#337 - All Star Center Fielders

Sliding over to center field we get a couple young guys in the prime of their respective careers. These guys were both speedy with a pretty decent bit of power, Amos Otis a little more consistent with the long ball and Cesar Cedeno a bigger base stealer. Amos was a few years older than Cesar so that they both had their best run about the same time says a lot about the shape of Cedeno's wheels down the line. Also Cedeno was a bit more of a people person back then while Amos was a pretty quiet guy. But they were both having their arguably best seasons when they were selected. Let's see the AL guys now:

Amos Otis - .291 with 20 homers and 59 RBI's
Pat Kelly - .294 with 1 homer and 27 RBI's
Paul Blair - .295 with 6 homers and 36 RBI's
Dave May - .330 with 17 homers and 56 RBI's.

A lot of these guys had significant years in '73. Amos' early numbers were good enough to nudge Bobby Murcer over to left. Pat Kelly came out of the gate fast and was still at nearly .400 a month into the season. Blair finally seemed to regain control of his hitting after a horrible beaning a few seasons back and Dave May was having his career season. For the NL guys:

Cesar Cedeno - .318 with 16 homers and 43 RBI's
Willie Davis - .302 with 13 homers and 58 RBI's
Willie Mays - .214 with 4 homers and 16 RBI's.

Cedeno would go on to his best season average with a .320. Willie Davis was mighty upset he wasn't voted on as a starter so it was a nice gesture for Sparky to throw him the bone. His stats deserved it though. And Willie Mays sort of dumbs things down a bit but it was his swan song game and he'd get a little more excitement later in the year. This is a tough one. Davis and Otis are neck-and-neck but I think May gets the nod over Cedeno and the other two AL guys kill the other Willie so I give this one to the AL.

Ok, now here is the only piece that I think makes the identity of the MVP less than certain. I think this part of the face looks a lot more like a young Frank Robinson than the person it actually is. But maybe that's just me. Plus I'm obviously trying to stretch out the whole drama of this exercise.

So we are now finally up to '73 with the big deal Watergate stuff. Let's pick up the action.

January 8 - Judge John J Sirica is picked to preside over the break-in trial. All seven known - or thought known - conspirators are on trial: the five burglars and G Gordon Liddy and E Howard Hunt. Judge Sirica would be pretty aggressive during the trial, questioning witnesses, interrupting summaries, and using other tactics to try to find out if there were other conspirators. The trial begins on this date.

January 11 - E Howard Hunt pleads guilty to all charges. It was surmised at the time that he pled so to keep potential evidence and testimony against him out of the trial. Also, around the time of the actual burglary his wife had perished in an airplane crash. With her at the crash site was also found a large check from CREEP. Both his perceived grief from his wife's passing and his wish to keep her from being sullied were thought to impact his plea decision as well.

January 15 - Four of the Watergate burglars - Barker, Gonzalez, Martinez, and Sturgis - pleaded guilty to all charges.

Here's a little tidbit to return us to baseball. On baseball-reference the player with whom Amos Otis has the highest similarity score is Cesar Cedeno. Pretty wild.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

#336 - All Star Left Fielders

On to the outfielders. First off, the only thing saving this card from being labeled an ugly one because of that huge hole in Pete Rose's teeth is the guy behind him in one of those old straw campaign hats who looks like he's puffing on a stogie. Now that's old-time baseball. Pete is at an away stadium somewhere while his counterpart Bobby Murcer gets to pose near his home batting cage. When these teams were selected it seems that the AL went heavy on the infielders while the NL loaded up on outfielders. For the NL it worked, judging by the score. The specific outfield designations are pretty subjective so I am defaulting to the designations given by the box score and baseball-reference. Let's look at the AL left fielders first:

Bobby Murcer - .305 with 18 homers and 68 RBI's
Willie Horton - .349 with 13 homers and 40 RBI's.

Can't argue with these picks. Willie was killing the ball despite some missed time and Bobby was putting up one of his best seasons. Willie actually played left that year but Bobby was actually all center field so he got to pull an Aaron for the game.
Over in the NL we get:

Pete Rose - .324 with 2 homers and 34 RBI's
Bob Watson - .325 with 9 homers and 62 RBI's
Manny Mota - .351 with 1 homer and 20 RBI's
Ron Fairly - .307 with 10 homers and 27 RBI's
Willie Stargell - .293 with 28 homers and 72 RBI's

See, lots and lots of left fielders and they were all primarily in that position in the regular season in '73 so the NL gets high grades for accuracy. Rose was on his way to an MVP so nice going by the fans. Watson was making a name for himself with his second consecutive big year after finally getting to play regularly. Mota only played about half the games but he sure seems to have maxed out his time. Fairly was the sole Expo on the team and Willie was chasing Pete for that MVP. Again I think the NL gets the nod on this position.

So now the cat is pretty much out of the bag as to our All-Star Game MVP.

Since after the long weekend there's no music to catch up on, let's get caught up some more on the whole Watergate thing:

9/29/72 - The Washington Post, pretty much breaking a story a day at this point, reported that while John Mitchell was Nixon's Attorney General he controlled a slush fund used to finance intelligence-gathering operations against Democrats.

10/10/72 - The Post gets some FBI dirt that found out the break-in was only part of a big political spying and sabotage campaign waged by CREEP on the Democrats.

11/11/72 - Nixon wins a second term in a huge landslide.

Friday, February 17, 2012

#335 - All Star Shortstops

This is the first All-Star card without at least one Hall of Famer on it. Back then shortstops were almost exclusively fielders so an absence of impressive offensive stats won't be so surprising. But these two guys had mustered some decent stats by then. Bert Campaneris hit 22 homers one season and Chris Speier, though only in his third season, had already put up a 15 homer, 71 RBI, and .361 OBA season in '72. These two guys played across the bay from each other but their teams were moving in different directions. Oakland after a mixed start was preparing for another division title and the Giants, close to the top the early part of the season, were doing their big fade. Now for those stats. For the AL guys:

Bert Campaneris - .280 with 1 homer and 27 RBIs
Ed Brinkman - .251 with 4 homers and 27 RBI's.

Freddie Patek probably should have been given the nod ahead of either of these guys but Bert had been close to .300 earlier in the year. Ed was close to the end of the line but he'd recently set a couple of error-less game records and got some MVP votes in '72.

Chris Speier - .268 with 9 homers and 45 RBI's
Bill Russell - .291 with 2 homers and 41 RBI's
Dave Concepcion - .287 with 8 homers and 46 RBI's.

I take back what I said up top. These are all pretty good numbers by a bunch of pretty young guys. Plus they were all NL West guys. Speier was the new hot guy and Russell was one of six Dodgers Sparky Anderson named to the team. Those are pretty good props from their biggest competitor. Concepcion was already the best guy Cincy had seen at the position since Leo Cardenas was in his glory years. Again I gotta give the nod to the NL guys.

Not too much to say about these puzzle pieces any more. Let's move on to the music and Watergate stuff.

On this date in '73 the band Free, whose biggest song was "All Right Now", perform their last concert in Hollywood, Florida. Singer Paul Rodgers and drummer Simon Kirke will soon form a new band that would go on to bigger heights, Bad Company.

Picking up the timeline for Watergate:

6/19/72 - The Washington Post announces the James McCord connection to CREEP. The head of the organization, former Attorney General John Mitchell, in the same article denied any link by either him or CREEP to the burglars.

8/1/72 - The Post, which by now gave reporters Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward principal responsibility for Watergate coverage, reports that a $25,000 check made out to CREEP landed in the bank account of Bernard Barker, one of the Watergate burglars.

8/30/72 - President Nixon announces that an internal investigation conducted by White House counsel John Dean found no White House involvement in the Watergate burglary.

9/15/72 - Indictments are formally made against the five Watergate burglars. Indictments are also filed against E. Howard Hunt and G. Gordon Liddy. Hunt was a former CIA agent and Liddy a former FBI supervisor who were both linked to the break-in. They would later be generally regarded as co-heads of the plumbers.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

#334 - All Star Third Basemen

For the All-Star third basemen, Topps uses photographs taken at their go-to stadiums - at least in this set. Brooks Robinson is at Yankee Stadium and Ron Santo at Candlestick in a photo that looks a bit more current than his regular card one did. Brooks looks a little out of whack, like he just left a Bronx barfight. But I do love that cartoon oriole on his cap. Brooks was a perennial All-Star back then as was Ron but the latter guy really is the only one of the two whose stats were appropriate for starting status. That's a good lead-in to check on those now. We start with Brooks and his AL buddies:

Brooks Robinson - .228 with 7 homers and 37 RBI's
Dave Nelson - .287 with 4 homers and 31 RBI's
Sal Bando - .265 with 18 homers and 54 RBI's
Buddy Bell - .274 with 5 homers and 34 RBI's.

Almost half the AL is represented here. Based on stats alone at this point in the season, both Graig Nettles and Bill Melton were more deserving but Graig was still trying to live down his Indian past and Bill always got dissed by voters and managers. Brooks had an admittedly tough season and is a legacy guy. Both Nelson and Bell - the sole Indian All-Star - were hitting close to .300 when chosen. Dave's other stats are a bit light but that year he was pushing for starting time at third against five other guys. Buddy's seem light too until you realize he had already nearly matched his RBI totals for all of '72. Sal was the big banger in the group. He, like Brooks, was another All-Star regular. Now for the NL:

Ron Santo - .298 with 11 homers and 50 RBI's
Darrell Evans - .271 with 27 homers and 67 RBI's
Joe Torre - .298 with 9 homers and 45 RBI's.

So Ron, also well above .300 when selected, has deserving All-Star stats. Darrell, like his infield teammate Davey Johnson, was banging the ball at a big clip that year. And Joe was already listed at first but since he played both positions I threw him in again. I think the NL clearly has the edge here. Like both catcher and second base, the starters are now all Hall of Famers. In fact the only guy on these card fronts so far NOT in the Hall is Dick Allen.

Another puzzle piece. They should have made this the second piece to keep people guessing, although I guess anyone that read a newspaper back then would have known who the subject was. We DO know it's a right-hander from this section.

In music on this date in '74 "The Way We Were" returned to the top spot in the US.

The big compelling national story in '73 and '74 - outside of inflation - was Watergate. In addition to the occasional music news I thought it would be relevant to highlight some of the important dates regarding the back story and actual events from back then. The set-up starts in '71:

6/13/71 - The New York Times began serializing a group of documents it called The Pentagon Papers. These were Defense Department Documents regarding covert and other actions during the Viet Nam War that were leaked by a department analyst named Daniel Ellsberg.

9/9/71 - A DC-area psychiatrist's office is burglarized. One of the psychiatrist's patients is Daniel Ellsberg and it is thought then that information was being sought in the burglary to discredit Mr. Ellsberg. Months later it turns out the group responsible for the burglary is employed by the White House and will be named "The Plumbers" by the media for their orders to fix media leaks that could discourage President Nixon's re-election. While the discrediting strategy would not prove terribly effective with Mr. Ellsberg it would prove so months later with a man named Thomas Eagleton who was originally George McGovern's VP candidate but had to step down after it was revealed he had been subject to electric shock therapy as a psychological treatment in his younger days. It would prove to be a big blow to the McGovern campaign.

5/28/72 - Bugging equipment was installed in the Democratic National Committee ("DNC") headquarters at the Watergate Hotel. The headquarters took up the whole sixth floor of the hotel. It would later turn out the equipment was installed by essentially the same group that burglarized the office of Ellsberg's shrink.

6/17/72 - Five burglars were arrested at 2:30 am during a break-in at the Watergate DNC headquarters. A security guard called the police after he noticed that tape he had taken off a stair doorway had been replaced to prevent the door from locking. The police then basically just followed the taped doors up to the sixth floor which was the last one taped and the burglars gave themselves up. They were caught with bugging equipment, pen-sized stun guns (?!!), and $2,300 in sequential $100 bills. The burglar's names were Edward Martin, Frank Sturgis, Bernard Barker, Eugenio Martinez, and Virgilio Gonzalez. Barker, Martinez, and Gonzalez were all native Cubans who had been involved in the Bay of Pigs fiasco early in the JFK presidency. Sturgis was a former WW II vet who was a leader of that operation. The most interesting guy was Martin. His real name was James McCord and he was an ex-CIA agent who was presently employed as security director for a group known as CREEP (Committee to RE-Elect the President).

More tomorrow.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

#333 - All Star Second Basemen

On to the second basemen. For the AL Rod Carew continues the trend of being photographed in a batting helmet but he is right outside a cage, so that works for me. In every card in this set Rod looks pissed, like he just had another conversation with the Twins' miserly owner Calvin Griffith. Maybe he did. Everything I've read about Rod indicates he was a sweetheart. Maybe he just hated to pose. Joe Morgan, on the other hand, just looks stoned. I want to say Joe's at Shea but his uniform looks too white so maybe he's at Riverfront. Wherever he is he's sweating up a storm, judging by his hatband. Plus he's pretty off-center.

Let's look at the AL second basemen:

Rod Carew - .350 with 6 homers and 34 RBI's
Cookie Rojas - .263 with 4 homers and 47 RBI's.

Rod's average is something else and he was in the middle of a pretty dominating run in the Seventies nabbing batting titles. Cookie Rojas seems like an interesting choice until you look around the league. Dick McAuliffe had been a regular All-Star but he was on his way out. And Bobby Grich was just getting established in Baltimore. For all the other AL teams second base was pretty much a crapshoot so maybe Cookie was the best guy after all. Now for the NL guys:

Joe Morgan - .295 with 12 homers and 48 RBI's
Davey Johnson - .251 with 23 homers and 62 RBI's.

Joe was kicking butt back then with his offense and Davey was in the midst of his huge power surge. His average isn't anything special but the rest of his stats are. That must have felt pretty good to him after he was cut loose by the O's. At this position I gotta go with the NL. That .350 is tough to beat but Joe probably had the higher OBA even with the 55 point discount.

Here we have puzzle piece number two. This one is a lot more descriptive and pretty much seals the deal on the identity of the game's mvp. At least it does once you realize who the San Francisco reps were since the face is almost entirely in the dark. I like these puzzles but, honestly, it's not a very good photo.

So in music I blew it yesterday. There WAS a big Valentine's day event. In '74 David Bowie was performing at Radio City Music Hall in NYC. He was wearing a dress and he got mobbed while onstage by a fan who tried to kiss him. Of course the fan was a guy who knocked Dave on his ass. Shortly after Bowie collapsed and the show had to be cut short. Talk about tough love.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

#332 - All Star First Basemen

For the first basemen we get Dick Allen in what appears to be Yankee Stadium and Hank Aaron who appears to be signing autographs. This card represents a bit of the nuances that were sometimes attached to All-Star selections. Hank barely played first base for Atlanta in '73 and Dick was hurt about a month before the game and was pretty much shut down the rest of the season. His place in the starting lineup was taken by John Mayberry who with teammate Amos Otis produced pretty much all the offense the AL had for the game.

Now let's get to the stats. First for the NL:

Hank Aaron - .255 with 27 homers and 52 RBI's
Joe Torre - .298 with 9 homers and 45 RBI's (Joe also played third in the game)
Nate Colbert - .271 with 10 homers and 49 RBI's (the sole Padre)

Joe hit a ton earlier in the year and at selection time was probably still north of .300. Nate had that big '72 and Hank would ramp up the RBI totals down the stretch. Now for the AL:

Dick Allen - .310 with 16 homers and 41 RBI's
John Mayberry - .297 with 20 homers and 80 RBI's
Jim Spencer - .280 with 3 homers and 32 RBI's
Carl Yastrzemski - .259 with 12 homers and 52 RBI's.

Dick's totals don't seem so great until you realize he put them up in only about 2 1/2 months. Mayberry would play the whole game at first as Spencer only pinch hit and Yaz did not appear. Jim was also north of .300 at selection time and was only playing in about half the Ranger's games at that point so his numbers can be amplified. And Yaz was all over the place in '73 which probably contributed to his sub-par - for him - stats. I think because of Mayberry's ribbies the AL gets the nod for this position.

So what the hell is on the back of this card? Well, it's a photo, and it's not a sideways monolith but part of the puzzle that when assembled would show the All-Star Game's MVP. You can probably figure out who it is by looking at the box score. This piece obviously doesn't reveal too much but that just keeps the drama going.

So ironically on Valentine's Day there's no music news. Not even an appropriately sappy song I used to hate to throw out there. Just all baseball.

Monday, February 13, 2012

#331- All Star Catchers

The second half of the '74 set kicks off with a special sub-set. Anyone viewing the checklist post for this group of cards many moons ago saw this coming. This will be the last All-Star sub-set for Topps in a long time. For the next bunch of sets Topps would designate All-Star status on each player's regular card, except for '75 when they put the distinction on Hank Aaron's special card. We begin this group with the starting AL and NL catchers, represented by a pugnacious-seeming Carlton Fisk and a smiling Johnny Bench. Those are two pretty good representations for these guys back then: Carlton had been in the big brawl with the Yankees and Johnny was already doing commercials and appearing on variety shows. Neither of them was a stranger to All-Star play during his career as Fisk got 11 selections and Bench 14. And they're both in the Hall of Fame.

There's not too much to do with these cards commentary-wise since most of that is with their regular cards. So let's go with the stats that got these guys on the team. I will also add the alternates and their stats just to make things complete. I am not doing a deep dive because that takes too long. For position guys I am just going with average, homers, and RBI's. For the pitchers, just the record and ERA. All these stats are as of the All-Star break which means they do not perfectly represent the stats that warranted selection since they'd have been from a few weeks earlier, but they should be pretty close. First for the AL guys:

Carlton Fisk - .275 with 18 homers and 47 RBI's
Thurman Munson - .297 with 13 homers and 45 RBI's (that must have been a fun clubhouse)
Bill Freehan - .254 with 2 homers and 17 RBI's

Bill didn't get in the game and by then was sort of a legacy guy. Now for the NL:

Johnny Bench - .248 with 18 homers and 71 RBI's
Ted Simmons - .284 with 7 homers and 52 RBI's

Just on power alone I think the edge there went to the second bunch.

On the back of this card Topps gives the box score of the game which is I think a nice touch. It wasn't much of a game. The NL basically wiped up the floor with the AL team which only managed five hits. There was an injury: Catfish Hunter nearly lost his hand trying to field a come-backer and all the non-Oakland pitchers with the exception of Sparky Lyle got bombed. Back then the NL was on a pretty good run. From 1950 to 1985 the AL only won five times and one game ended in a tie. That's a pretty nasty record. But over that time the AL had the edge in the Series. That was compensation if you were an AL guy like me.

There are a few music items to mention. In '73 on February 11th there was a variety show tribute to Duke Ellington which included appearances by Roberta Flack, Aretha Franklin, Ray Charles, and the group Chicago. On the 13th the soundtrack to Elvis' big satellite show in January went gold and on the same day Elvis got sick performing in his resident home in Vegas. The doctor that treated him off-stage was given a Lincoln Continental. Nice fee. In '74 on this date a new club in NYC opened called The Bottom Line. Stevie Wonder, Johnny Winter, and Dr. John all performed at the unveiling. The club would raise its profile later that year in August and moreso in August of '75 when Bruce Springsteen performs a bunch of legendary shows there. It closed down a few years ago when landlord NYU took over the space. It was a great club.

No hook-ups this time. They'll be resumed on the regular cards. So to return to baseball, let's do the recap thing since the last post memorialized half the set.

Post-Seasons: as in the last rundown, all post-season play from 1957 to 1989 is represented by at least one participant with the exception of 1960. All years from '72 to '74 are represented by 48 participants.

Awards: not to put anyone down, but the last ten per cent of this year's cards have been a pretty pedestrian bunch and most of these numbers barely move. We are up to 18 MVP's, 12 Cy Young winners, 16 Rookie of the Year winners, and 17 Comeback Players of the Year. There are now seven winners of The Sporting News Minor League Player of the Year, 15 Manager of the Year winners (although two of them won multiple times), and 10 Firemen of the Year.

Milestones: another slowdown here. We have 28 rookie cards, 31 Hall of Famers, 35 cards of people who were traded prior to the season, 19 cards representing that player's final Topps entry, and 34 cards of players who have since passed. While that last category has sadly spiked a bit, it still is hovering around eleven per cent of the cards which I think is pretty good.

Rookies: only the '62 Topps rookie set is now not represented in this set. The years and their representative totals are as follows:

'59-3, '60-1; '61-2; '63-2; '64-4; '65-3; '66-5; '67-4; '68-4; '69-3;
'70-4; '71-4; '72-7; '73-6.

If this percentage keeps up - I don't think it will - then this is not too bad. From a very cursory run-through Topps' ability to pick rookies who would go on to substantial MLB careers was much better on the position guys than on the pitcher side.

Random: there are now 78 action shots, 107 cards of players in home uniforms, and 185 of guys in away uniforms. There have been 25 cards with players that have the parenthetical name thing, and ugly cards (thankfully) and cards of guys who served in Viet Nam (surprisingly) are still stuck at five and four, respectively. There have been 12 Washington Nat'l cards so far but that number will soon hit a wall.

Friday, February 10, 2012

#330 - Juan Marichal

As far as final cards go this one is about as good as any I've seen. How many icons get to go out with their most visual trademark? Juan Marichal is still kicking high at age 35 at Candlestick even when there's just one fan in the stands. I had always thought his kick was a big power move but on researching this post I found that it was basically a ploy: he did it so everyone would concentrate on his leg and not see what pitch was coming. Pretty clever guy. The other iconic shot of Juan was his braining of Johnny Roseboro in '65. It was a pretty scary shot with Marichal's bat raised high above his head and ready to come down again on an already bleeding Dodgers catcher. It was sort of a milestone moment in Juan's career and after it a lot of people became non-fans despite his pretty amazing numbers. The incident probably delayed his induction into the Hall for a few years until Roseboro himself had to vet him as a good guy. Pretty noble of John - I am pretty sure I wouldn't be that forgiving of someone who hit me over the head multiple times.

There is a lot going on with this post. Not only is it an action shot of a player's final card, but it also represents the halfway point in the set. On top of that there is a Traded card. And this one is special because until recently - RIP Ron Santo - it represented the only one of an HOF player. So it's the only one that claimed any real value. And this Traded card is pretty good. The artist really didn't have to do anything and Juan is smiling on a sunny day. No biggie moving to the AL.

Juan Marichal came out of the Dominican Republic where in high school he was a shortstop until his junior year when a far-sighted coach had him take the mound. He already had a fastball back then and quickly added a curve. He then played ball for a team run by the dictator's son before being signed by the Giants in '57. That year he went 21-8 in D ball with 256 strikeouts and only 50 walks in 245 innings, with a 1.87 ERA. He spent '58 in A ball, going 18-13 with a 2.39 ERA and almost as good a K to BB ratio. During that season he picked up a change-up and slider to add to his retinue. He moved to Triple A in '60, taught himself a screwball, and went 11-5 before being called up that July. So before he even hit the bigs Juan was armed with five pitches he could throw for strikes. And the big kick.

Marichal had as good a first game as almost anyone, giving up one late hit in a start against the Phillies while striking out twelve. In '61 he won 13 despite missing three weeks late in the season with a leg injury. During '62 spring training he took off to get married and then returned to win 18 and help pitch the Giants to the Series. Then came the fireworks. Discounting '67 when a leg injury had him miss about 12 starts, for the years '63 to '69 Juan averaged 23 wins, nine losses, and a 2.30 ERA. And zero Cy Young's. Juan's big years always happened when someone else's did so he kept getting shut out. But he did make the All-Star team every year from '62 to '69. In spring training in 1970 Juan got sick and was given a shot of penicillin to which he had a horrible reaction and had to be hospitalized the next ten days. It turned out he suffered a bad allergic reaction and it affected his full season in a negative way. In '71 he had a nice bounce and was told he would pitch the division-winning last game of the season which he won 5-1. He lost his only playoff start to Pittsburgh even though he only gave up two runs. Then '72 and '73 were further impacted by the allergic reaction - he was developing arthritis and had to take regular cortisone shots to control it - and probably age. By the time he was sold to the Red Sox after the '73 season all his boys in SF had left and he expected the sale because there were strong rumours that owner Horace Stoneham was running out of money.

After the trade Marichal would go 5-1 in limited work in Boston but with an ERA that approached 5.00. At the end of the season he was released and signed with the Dodgers but after a couple lame starts he retired. Juan finished with a record of 243-143 with an ERA of 2.89, 52 shutouts, and 244 complete games. He won two victory titles, an ERA title, and led the NL in shutouts and complete games twice each. He pitched in a total nine All-star games and went 0-1 in the post-season with a 1.50 ERA, two walks, and ten strikeouts in 12 innings over two starts. After playing he did some scouting and by the early Eighties was the Oakland director of scouting in the DR. He left that to become Minister of Sports for his home country from 1996 to 2000. In '98 he was involved in a nasty car crash - he was not driving - that left him hospitalized for a while. The silver lining there was that he got a good doctor that prescribed rehab work for his arm and shoulder and within a few months he had more mobility in his pitching arm than he'd had in years. In the late '80's and early '90's he also did some Spanish-language broadcasting for various stations. He was elected to the Hall in '83 and since 2000 has been mostly retired.

On the regular card back we get one good star bullet and one obvious one. I like the cartoon. He would also eventually have a son. When I was growing up most of my friends that were dogs with women ended up having daughters as a sort of kharmic payback. If that theory holds water Juan must have been quite an operator.

Topps gets pretty creative with this Traded card. Check out that headline. Plus that first sentence is pretty good. They don't attribute the quote to anyone but it is a pretty interesting one in that back then Boston regularly came in second place and in '72 only missed first by half a game. But I guess that's losing. In any case Juan wasn't the guy to get them over the top. That would be that other colorful Spanish-speaking pitcher on their staff with a unique motion.

So to catch up on music news for this month there are only a couple items. In '73 a new Number One song hit in the States. "Crocodile Rock" by Elton John would be the first chart topper of his career (that's pretty surprising) and was taken from his album "Don't Shoot Me I'm Only the Piano Player." That album also produced the hit "Daniel." In '74 on the 7th Barry White won the first four of what would be many gold records. Barry was a big deal that year, charting as both a solo guy and with his Love Unlimited Orchestra, a 40-piece band. His golds were for "Never Never Gonna Give You Up" and "Stone Gon'" (solo) and "Love Theme" and the album "Under the Influence of Love Unlimited" (with the orchestra).

I guess Marichal pitched against Belanger a bit in '74 but outside of that their careers never crossed:

1. Marichal and Lindy McDaniel '66 to '68 Giants;
2. McDaniel and Curt Blefary '70 Yankees;
3. Blefary and Belanger '67 to '68 Orioles.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

#329 - Mark Belanger

Here we have Mark Belanger posing at Yankee Stadium. Mark not only played for the Orioles but was also from Boston, so this choice as a setting may have been tough. Because of the pose and his high choke it almost looks like he's holding his bat upside down, like an oar. He almost wasn't an Oriole for this shot. After the '72 season, one in which Mark split time at shortstop with new thing Bobby Grich, Mark was to be included in a big trade to Atlanta in which he, Eddie Watt, Johnny Oates, and Pat Dobson were to be exchanged for Earl Williams, Marty Perez, and a phenom at the time named Taylor Duncan. But the trade fell through when Atlanta wouldn't give up Duncan and a day later the same essential trade happened except that Perez and Watt stayed put and the Braves got Davey Johnson - and his 43 homers - instead of Belanger. The contested Duncan would put up one season with Oakland in '78 and then be done. Mark here won the first of six consecutive Gold Gloves, Grich settled in at second, and relative harmony ruled in Baltimore for the balance of the decade.

Mark Belanger came out of Pittsfield, Mass where he played both basketball and baseball. He later credited hoops with his ability to move so well laterally at shortstop. For a while the Red Sox and Orioles were neck-and-neck in signing him in '62 but Mark went with Baltimore because their scout saw him in about 35 games while the BoSox guy only came to about five. That summer he did a nice job offensively in D ball, hitting .298 with a .486 OBA. He then missed all of '63 for the Army and when he returned the next year hit a portentous .226 in A ball. But after working a bit in the spring with Ron Hansen his defense improved markedly and the next two seasons he moved up a rung, improving his D each step, and hitting .262 in '66 at Triple A. Each of the '65 and '66 seasons he got short looks up top.

In 1967 Belanger came up to Baltimore for good, putting in time behind Luis Aparicio at short and Davey Johnson at second. His hitting wasn't anything special, but he impressed everyone enough with his glove that Little Louie, who really wasn't terribly kind to Mark, was traded back to the White Sox. The new O's shortstop pressed at the plate in '68 and the next spring spent a bunch of time working with Charlie Lau, ostensibly the Baltimore bullpen coach, but apparently on his way to his renowned hitting guru status. Mark upped his average 80 points and put up the best offensive season of his career in '69. He would then uncharacteristically homer in the AL playoffs. In '70 he returned to earth average-wise before rebounding the following year. In '71 he also won his second Gold Glove (the first came in '69) before he kicked off his big string a couple years later. '72 was pretty crappy for him between Grich's ascendancy and a bit of a decaying relationship with manager Earl Weaver. But then came all the defensive wizardry, an All-Star selection in '76, and by '78 the highest lifetime fielding percentage for a shortstop ever. Mark would be the regular guy through that last season when Kiko Garcia and then Len Sakata replaced him. But both those guys were just stopgaps until some kid named Ripken came along. In '81 Mark - who'd been the Baltimore player rep for a bunch of years - was a big presence in the pre- and post-strike negotiations with management. That is never a career builder and when he added a public declaration about Weaver losing his mojo, his time in Baltimore was done. In '82 he signed as an infield reserve with LA and then hung them up. He finished with a .228 average, 167 stolen bases, and a .300 OBA. I only mention that last number because for a few years in the midst of his career he put up the best O numbers for that stat which shows its light regard back then. Along with the eight Gold Gloves he led the AL in fielding at short four times and assists three times. In the post-season he hit .183 in 43 games. He ranks high across the board in defensive stats for his position but lost the best fielding average years later to Cal, among other guys.

After playing Belanger capitalized on his player rep status and became a union representative, mostly as a rep to the players. He eventually worked up to being union head Don Fehr's assistant which he was still at when he contracted lung cancer in the mid-Nineties. He passed away of pneumonia related to his cancer in '98. Mark was 54.

Mark gets some recognition for his awards in the star bullets. He was an all-star each league he was in once he got back from the service. Regarding that, he also put in a couple years of reserve work in the National Guard after his Army hitch. I like the cartoon but have not been able to find any specific information regarding it. Given his backround, I'd say he did a little hoops work locally.

Jutze played with a former Oriole and a future one so this is pretty easy:

1. Jutze and Lee May '73 to '74 Astros;
2. May and Mark Belanger '75 to '80 Orioles.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

#328 - Skip Jutze

For the first three years of the Seventies, Houston catching was handled by Johnny Edwards backed up by Larry Howard. But in '73 almost the day after the Astros traded Howard, Edwards got hurt and Houston was pretty much without a catcher. Even Bob Watson had to start a game behind the plate. So Skip here pretty much saved the day. Acquired at the end of '72 he was once a pretty hot prospect. Things didn't really work out that way up top and '73 was the most action he ever got at that level, but for that year he filled an awfully big gap. Here he gets photographed at Candlestick with a teammate in the background who is perhaps signing autographs. If I am correct in that the partial number on that guy is an eight then it is probably Cesar Cedeno. For anyone interested, by the way, Skip pronounced his surname JUTZ-ee. I had always thought it was a long u, like the rugs.

Skip Jutze was born in Bayside - which means Queens - New York. That was before the Mets came along so most baseball fans in that part of the city rooted for the Giants. He then went to Clarke High School in Westbury, NY, where he was a big multi-sport guy, quarterbacking his team to an undefeated season as a sophomore. When he graduated in '64 he went to Central Connecticut State where by his sophomore season he was again starting QB and was all-conference. He also played some baseball and was drafted in '66 by the Red Sox and in '67 by the Tigers but both times passed to stay in school. He graduated in '68 with a degree in education and was drafted by the Cards, this time signing. After a couple games that summer in Rookie ball he hit pretty well in A ball. At that level in '69 he got less than 200 at bats which back then tended to mean injury or military duty. '70 and '71 were spent in Double A and in '72 he ramped things up considerably at Triple A before his September call-up. He did OK offensively that month but his most impressive stat was nailing 12 of 18 would-be base-stealers. After the season he was sent to Houston with shortstop Milt Ramirez for infielders Ray Busse and Bobby Fenwick.

In '74 Houston got a couple new catchers in Milt May and Cliff Johnson so Skip, deficient to both offensively, returned to Triple A where he hit .321 in 100 games. He then spent '75 and '76 as the third catcher in Houston getting under 100 at bats each season. His defense was pretty good but he never put up the lofty pick-off totals of his time in St. Louis. After the '76 season he was basically sold to the Seattle Mariners where in '77 he backed up Bob Stinson, hitting .220. He was released during '78 spring training finishing with a .215 average. In the minor leagues he hit .286.

Skip gets some props for his defense in his star bullets. His cartoon is particularly relevant since it gives a good window on his life after playing. He was already teaching at a middle school on Long Island in his off-seasons (when he wasn't playing ball in PR), and after he finished playing would resume that role. Within a decade after his last game he was coaching at the high school level, particularly in Colorado. As recently as 2010 he was coaching at Regis University in Colorado and he is also on the coaching staff of a St. Louis-based group called the Sandlot Baseball and Softball Academy with quite a few other former major leaguers.

Tom and Skip had relatively brief careers up top so this may be a long one:

1. Jutze and Milt May '74 to '75 Astros;
2. May and Mickey Stanley '76 to '77 Tigers;
3. Stanley and Tom Timmermann '69 to '73 Tigers.

Or not.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

#327 - Tom Timmermann

This is Tom Timmermann's last card which means it's the only he one he had without the heavy dark-framed glasses that were omnipresent on all his other cards. So maybe it is fitting that his photo was taken on a dark day at Yankee Stadium. It took a long time for Tom to reach the top: he was 29 his rookie year. He had a streaky '73. After being traded to the Indians by Detroit early in the season he won his first game - ironically against the Tigers - lost a couple, and then went 6-1, eventually finishing with a pretty good record for a pretty poor team, despite an awfully high ERA. There wouldn't be too much of a follow-through, hence the final card thing, but at least the last run would have some drama.

Tom Timmermann grew up in Illinois where he attended and played ball at both a public and Catholic high school. From there he went to Southern Illinois University for a couple years until he was signed by the Tigers in '60. He had a good start that summer in D ball - 3-2 with a 1.61 ERA in nine starts - and in '61 went 15-6 with a 2.70 ERA in C ball for probably his best professional season. After nine wins in A ball the next year he spent a bunch of seasons mostly in the pen, moving between Double and Triple A. After pitching only 50 innings in '66 - he may have been hurt or off in the military - he moved up to Triple A Toledo the next two-and-a-half seasons. '67 and '68 were again mainly bullpen years with a few spot starts. In '69 he returned to the rotation and after a 9-2 start with a 2.41 ERA in eleven starts he made his debut up top that June.

Timmermann had a pretty good rookie year in '69, pitching relief and adding a save to his listed stats. In '70 a rough start got him moved to Triple A for a few games. But he returned strongly and his 27 saves not only led the team and ranked him high in the Fireman race, but also won him Tigers Man of the Year. In '71 new manager Billy Martin didn't like what he saw of Tom in spring training so Tom was moved to set-up guy and Fred Scherman took over the closer role. Then in '72 Billy took a turn on Tom and stuck him in the rotation and the result was pretty good ERA-wise. Tom wouldn't get any playoff action that year against Oakland and early in the '73 season when Martin was looking for a new reliever Tom was dealt to Cleveland with former Met Kevin Collins for Ed Farmer. After his streaky '73 Tom kicked off '74 for Cleveland 1-1 in four games but with an ERA above 5.00. He returned to the minors for some more work but the results there were about the same and he was done. He finished with a 35-35 record up top with a 3.78 ERA, eight complete games, two shutouts, and 35 saves. In the minors he was 75-58 with a 2.99 ERA.

Timmermann is another guy who has pretty much gone radio silent since his playing days. He returned to Illinois where there is a local sports writer - he actually works for the St. Louis Dispatch - with the same name, so perhaps they are related.

Topps seems to be reaching a bit with the second star bullet and the cartoon. Tom's first game was scoreless, but he only pitched a bit over an inning. I think part of the problem was that this was his first card without his extensive minor league statistics so they never had to fill the gap before.

Another double link and Sparky would manage in Detroit, but more than half a decade after Tom left. First for Sparky as manager:

1. Timmermann and Milt Wilcox '73 to '74 Indians;
2. Wilcox was managed by Anderson on the '70 to '71 Reds and the '79 to '85 Tigers.

Now for Sparky as a player:

1. Timmermann and Tony Taylor '71 to '73 Tigers;
2. Taylor and Robin Roberts '60 to '61 Phillies;
3. Roberts and Sparky Anderson '59 Phillies.

Friday, February 3, 2012

#326 - Sparky Anderson/Reds Field Leaders

Look at all of Sparky's white hair. And those wrinkles on his neck. This is an old baseball guy in what I am labelling as - yes - an action shot. Sparky is 39 years old in this photo at Riverfront. Look at how baseball can age a guy.

There were some question marks for Sparky going into the '73 season. It was only his fourth season but he'd already been to the Series twice. But his best power guy, Johnny Bench, was coming off lung surgery. His fastest guy, Bobby Tolan, though he had a huge comeback in '72 was still a question mark after missing all of '71 with a leg injury. Pitching was spotty and there may or may not have been a big hole at third base. By mid-season he had most of his answers: Bench was fine; Tolan's speed was gone; Denis Menke was pretty much toast but new kid Dan Driessen was able to take his spot and hit the hell out of the ball; and after Jack Billingham and Don Gullett, starting pitching was middling. So they weren't all good answers and by the end of June an under-.500 month had the Reds in fourth place. But they acquired a little guy who'd pitched them tough earlier in the season and Fred Norman went on an 8-0 run as they put together a killer July and August and finally nudged the Dodgers out of first in September. Then it was all Reds and all they had to do to get back in the Series was beat a team that could barely play .500 ball. Oops.

Sparky Anderson was a hustler of a second baseman who was signed by the Dodgers out of high school in South Dakota in '53. He started things off that spring in C ball and hit OK but had a rough time in the field. He spent the next five seasons working up the Brooklyn/LA chain, producing very good defense and some nice averages - .296 in '54 and .298 in '56 - with not much power, although he did hit 35 doubles in '58. That was his third year of Triple A and after it he was traded to the Phillies for three guys. Philly immediately pulled him up and he was their second baseman for all of '59, hitting .218 with 34 RBI's. That was it for Sparky up top and the next four seasons he spent at Triple A Toronto for various franchises. For his minor league career he hit .263.

In '64 Anderson returned to Toronto but this time as a manager. After a winning season there, he moved to the St. Louis system for three years and to the Cincy system for one, establishing a record of 395-295 over that time. In '69 he became a coach with the new Padres and in '70 was signed away as the Reds manager. Sparky had immediate success in Cincy, going to the Series with the Machine. Sparky was famous for his bifurcated system of letting his players play but having a quick hook for his starting pitchers. After his '71 hiccup, he led the Reds to four more Division titles, three NL Championships, and two straight Series titles, all by '78, after which he was canned. Sparky was quickly named manager of Detroit and while the success there wasn't as immediate, it came soon enough as the Tigers rode a fast '84 start into the Series. Another Division title came in '87 and while in Detroit he won two Manager of the Year awards, ironically after none in Cincinnati. Sparky stuck with Detroit through '95 when at 61 he stepped down, leaving behind a lifetime 2,194-1,834 record. Following his managing he did some broadcasting for the Angels through '99 and was inducted into the Hall in 2000. Over the next ten years his health slowly deteriorated until, suffering from dementia, he passed away in 2010 at 76.

Alex Grammas was born and raised in Alabama and after high school and his military hitch was a star in Mississippi State baseball from '47 to '49. That last year he was signed by the White Sox. His next four seasons he spent in the minors playing the left side of the infield and, like his manager, was an OK but generally light hitter (though he did hit .327 in A ball his first season). In '53, after being traded to the Cards, Reds, and back to the Cards, he put up a .307 average with 62 RBI's while playing exclusively shortstop at Triple A Kansas City. The next year he hit the majors, playing the same position as Red Schoendienst's DP partner. His 401 at bats were a career high and after another season as the primary guy he would move to Cincinnati where he backed up Roy MacMillan a few seasons. Following his minor league path he returned to St. Louis in '59 where he was the regular guy for a season before settling into his backup role the rest of his career. He finished that out with two seasons for the Cubs ending in '63 with a lifetime .247 average. Like Sparky, Alex moved right into managing, running a Double A Cubbies club in '64. He then coached for the Pirates from '65 to '69 when he also managed the last five games of the MLB season, going 4-1. But The Pirates were able to wrangle a return out of Danny Murtaugh so Alex moved to Cincy where he coached third from '70 to '75. He then got the managing gig for Milwaukee but after two terrible seasons in '76 and '77 he was done as a manager, finishing with a record of 221-264. He returned to coaching for Cincy ('78), Atlanta ('79), and Detroit ('80-'91) and then retired.

Ted Kluszewski had by far the biggest playing career of any of these guys. A big boy from Illinois, he went to the University of Indiana on a football scholarship where he also played baseball, leading the football team to an undefeated Big Ten championship and hitting .443 as a center fielder his senior year of '45-'46. He was signed later that year by the Reds and in A ball later that summer hit .352 with 87 RBI's in 90 games. After a .377 follow-up in Double A in '47 he made the Reds lineup for good the following year, taking over first base and hitting .274. He upped that to .309 in '49 and .307 with 25 homers and 116 RBI's in '50. By then he had taken to cutting off his jersey sleeves to free up and show off his huge pipes. After a setback in '51 he went on a huge run, averaging 38 homers, 108 RBI's, and .315 over the next six seasons. He was an All-Star every year from '53 to '56. He then ran into a wall that was his bad back and was not able to put up a full season as he moved to Pittsburgh, the White Sox, and the Angels. His last hurrah was in the '59 Series for Chicago when he hit .391 with three homers and ten RBI's in six games against LA. Klu finished up with California in '61 with a .298 average, 279 homers, and 1,028 RBI's. After some time away from baseball he returned to Cincinnati and was the club's hitting coach from '70 to '78, Sparky's duration as manager. From '79 to '86, when he suffered a heart attack, he was a minor league hitting instructor for the Reds. He retired after his '86 episode and passed away two years later from a heart ailment. He was 63.

George Scherger was signed by the Dodgers out of his high school in North Dakota in '40. A second baseman, he put in three seasons at the D level before he then put in three years in WW II. When he returned in '46 he went to B league ball but that was the highest level he reached as a player and the next season he began managing as well. George would play through '56 and finish with a .270 average in the minors. He also managed through that year and from '57 to '60 coached in the Brooklyn/LA system. He returned to managing from '61 to '65 and then moved to the Cincinnati system, coaching in '66 and managing the next three years. He was named first base coach by Sparky in '70 and stayed with him his full time in Cincy. In '79 he returned to the minors to manage, which he did through '82. From that year through '87 he returned to coach up top. After one last season as manager in the minors in '88 he retired to Florida. His lifetime record as manager was 1,312-1,253. George passed away in 2011 at age 90.

Larry Shepard was a pitcher out of Ohio who went to McGill University in Canada. Signed by the Dodgers upon graduating in '42 he won 15 that year in C ball. He then missed the next three-plus seasons for WW II, returning in '46 to win 12 in B ball and the following year 15 in A ball. Despite his upward mobility and apparent success he was 28 that year and prospects were slim for hitting the majors before he was 30 so the next year he started managing as he continued pitching. He went 22-3 in D ball in '48 and the next three years averaged 22 wins as a pitcher at Class C Billings. From then on he focused on relief and managing and in '52 he moved to the Pirates system. He pitched through '56 and finished with a record of 179-84 with a 3.31 ERA. By '58 he was up in Triple A where he continued to manage through '66. In '67 he moved to Pittsburgh to coach and in '68 was named the Pirates' manager. He kept that gig through a pretty good '69 but was fired with five games left that season (and ironically replaced by Alex Grammas). Like all the other guys he joined Sparky in Cincinnati from '70 to '78 as Reds pitching coach and then for a season did the same thing in San Francisco, retiring after the '79 season was over. He finished with a managing record of 168-156 in the majors and 1,232-1,100 in the minors. Larry moved back to Nebraska where he did some consulting coaching to the Lincoln team he had managed in the late Fifties. He passed away there in 2011 at age 92.

This is the first time we get a double hook-up in a while. First for Sparky as a manager:

1. Anderson managed Tony Perez from '70 to '76;
2. Perez and Tommy Harper '64 to '67 Reds.

And as a player:

1. Anderson and Don Cardwell '59 Phillies;
2. Cardwell and Art Shamsky '68 to '69 Mets;
3. Shamsky and Tommy Harper '65 to '67 Reds.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

#325 - Tommy Harper

Tommy Harper is the third AL guy in a row which has been pretty rare so far in this set. He does break one streak though, in that his '73 season was a pretty big one. In a sort of comeback year Tommy boosted his offensive numbers pretty considerably in Boston and led the AL in stolen bases, setting a Red Sox record in the process. He gets a sunny spring training shot here, which is appropriate because he was generally a well-spoken, thoughtful guy. He got good props in "Ball Four" and his profile would get raised years later after he was done playing but we can get to that below.

Tommy Harper came out of California where he played high school ball with Willie Stargell and Curt Motton. He was all-league in both football and baseball at Encina Alameda High near Oakland and continued reaping league awards at San Jose Junior College. He then transferred to San Francisco State and was hitting over .500 when he was signed by the Reds in '60. He had a deceptively good first summer that year in B ball, hitting .254 while playing second, but with a .427 OBA, 65 runs, and 26 stolen bases in only 79 games. He spent '61 at the same level and position, boosting his average 70 points and showing some good power from his leadoff spot with 15 homers and 65 RBI's. The next year he jumped all the way to Cincy, starting the opener at third but after a few games was admittedly overwhelmed and sent down to Triple A the rest of the season. There Tommy had a big year, hitting .333 with 120 runs, 26 homers, 84 RBI's, and a .450 OBA while working on his game at third. The next season he went up for good.

In '63 Harper took over right field for the Reds, becoming, with fellow rookie Pete Rose, the first of a new generation of Reds that would ultimately become The Big Red Machine. Tommy put up pretty good numbers on offense, most of them approaching those of Mr. Rose, who won that year's NL Rookie of the Year. Tommy did get named to the Topps rookie team. In '64 he moved to left, switching positions for the most part with Frank Robinson, and suffered a bit of a sophomore setback. Then in '65 he turned it on and though hitting a relatively - for a leadoff guy - light .257 led the majors in runs scored with 126. A bunch of those runs were knocked in by recent post subject Deron Johnson. In '66 Tommy boosted his average a bunch but in '67 he did a big about face and after the season he was traded to Cleveland for Brad Raudman, George Culver, and Fred Whitfield.

For the Indians Harper pretty much bottomed out. The Cleveland outfield was a bit messy in '68 - eight different guys started at least 55 games - and Tommy was used mostly against lefties which didn't work too well. So when the new Seattle Pilots nabbed him in the expansion draft that winter, Tommy wasn't unhappy. In the Pilots first - and only - season he played everywhere, primarily at second and third. His average wasn't anything special but he put up a .349 OBA - the highest of his career to date - and led the majors with 73 stolen bases, the highest AL total since Ty Cobb swiped 96 in 1915. Then in '70 Tommy rewrote the Pilots/Brewers record book - it WAS only a year old - when he had his best overall season. Settling in pretty much at third, he hit .296 with 104 runs, 31 homers, and 82 RBI's to make his first and only All-Star team. He finished pretty high in AL MVP voting and became the fifth guy - and first infielder - to hit 30 homers and steal 30 bases in the same season. After a discounted '71 in which he again became itinerant in the field, Tommy was part of a big trade that sent him, Lew Krausse, and Marty Pattin to the Red Sox for Jim Lonborg, Ken Brett, Don Pavletich, George Scott, Billy Conigliaro, and Jim Lahoud. Inserted into center field his stats in '72 were almost identical to those of the prior year. After the big step-up in '73 he slowed down a bit in '74, playing mostly left field and DH. After the season he went to the Angels for Bobby Heise. For California he played mainly first base and did a notch better than in '74 until mid-August when he was sold to Oakland for their then-annual pennant run. Tommy did a nice job, hitting .319 the rest of the way and stealing a perfect seven bases. He got his first post-season appearance and walked but that was pretty much his last hurrah. In '76 he signed as a free agent with Baltimore for whom he DH'd and pinch hit. He was released at the end of the season and retired with a .257 average, 146 homers, 567 RBI's, 972 runs, and 408 stolen bases.

In '77 spring training Harper went to Oakland, hoping to hook up with the decimated former champs. When that didn't work he took a scouting gig with the Yankees. In '78 Boston hired him away into their sales organization and from '80 to '84 he was the Sox first base coach. In '85 he moved back to the admin side, this time as an assistant GM. That tenure got stormy, however when Tommy complained to management about the team's long-standing policy in spring training of offering passes to the local Elks Club, which only admitted whites (in '85?!!). He was fired that December and in response filed a discrimination suit through the EEOC the following January. There is an interview with Tommy linked to here when he was working at an auto maintenance place as a follow-up gig. He won the case in December and the Sox stopped using the club. By '88 Tommy was back in baseball as a consulting base-running coach for the Expos. From '90 to '99 he was a Montreal coach proper. In 2000 he returned to Boston and remained on the coaching staff through '02. Since then he has worked as a roving and consulting hitting coach for the Sox, most recently bailing David Ortiz out of his 2011 slump.

Tommy gets the solo star bullet and it came up on top. His cartoon is kind of lame. In "Ball Four", a book Tommy has disavowed but is presented quite well in, it is explained that he showed up in Seattle's spring training camp fresh from his military tour in the Air Force. The service thought so highly of him that they invited him back offering him the position of staff sergeant if he re-upped. Tommy's response was "You can make me a general and I'm not coming back."

In music news on this date, Barbra Streisand's "The Way We Were" took over Number One in the States in '74. Sorry about that Tommy.

Since we are still all-AL, this one should be quick:

1. Harper and Danny Cater '72 to '74 Red Sox;
2. Cater and Steve Kline '70 to '71 Yankees.