Thursday, May 31, 2012

#378 - Burt Hooton

Now this is a great action shot, and for a couple reasons. First off, its the second action shot in the last six posts of an iconic field, and even if you’re not a Cubs fan you gotta love those ivy-covered Wrigley Walls. Second, check out the subject, Burt Hooton. He has just released a pitch but it looks like he could be hailing a cab. That’s the beauty of throwing the knuckler and its derivative curve; it’s not too physically demanding. Third, Burt looks pissed. He always looked pissed which is how he picked up his “Happy” nickname. And last, there is a guy playing in the outfield behind Mr. Hooton. Who is it? It’s a right-hander for sure. So it ain’t Rick Monday or Gene Hiser. And it’s not Jose Cardenal because he played exclusively in right. Billy Williams batted left but he was a left fielder and he threw righty. Rick Reuschel’s card is also an action shot and I’m betting Topps didn’t make too many trips to Wrigley that summer. If I am correct and the photos are from the same game, then that game was most likely played on August 15 when both pitchers hit the mound in a 15-1 blowout by the Braves (that would also explain the pained look on Burt’s face). Rico Carty was the left fielder that whole game so that is probably our boy in the outfield which is nice since Rico was shut-out card-wise in this set.

But back to our subject, Hooton had a pretty good ’73 with the Cubbies, despite some time in the pen and an ERA that rose a bunch from the prior season. He tied with Reuschel and Fergie Jenkins for most wins on the team, but none of them had a winning record. It would be his last good season in Chicago as things went downhill for him pretty fast beginning in ’74. But better things awaited him on the left coast.

Burt Hooton grew up in Texas where he taught himself a knuckle-curve pitch when he was 14. He threw four no-hitters in high school and then two more at the University of Texas where he was an All-American his three varsity seasons and compiled a 35-3 record with 13 shutouts and a 1.14 ERA. He’d been drafted by the Mets in ’68 but opted for college and then was drafted by the Cubs in the first round upon graduating Texas in ’71. Nine days later he made his first appearance in Chicago. In his second game he struck out 15 Mets. In his third he threw a shutout. Chicago then optioned him down to Triple A – to work on his pitching (?!) – and he blew people away there too with 135 strikeouts and only 19 walks in 102 innings. Needless to say in ’72 he came up for good.

Hooton continued his hot career kick-off in ’72, throwing a no-hitter in his first start that year. He had an awfully good rookie year but the days of averaging over a strikeout an inning were over and despite his 2.81 ERA he put up a losing record. Same deal in ’73. Then in ’74 he got off to a poor start and spent more time in the pen than the rotation and went 7-11 with a 4.80 ERA and a save. In ’75 he bottomed out in Chicago, going 0-2 with an 8.18 ERA in his first three starts. He also upstaged manager Whitey Lockman in a game so when the Cubbies had a chance to trade him to the Dodgers, they went for it. Burt went to the Dodgers for pitchers Eddie Solomon and Geoff Zahn.

Too bad for the Cubs. While Zahn and Solomon went a combined 2-7 the rest of the way, Hooton revived big to go 18-7 with a 2.82 ERA and four shutouts in his new home. In ’76 he took a step back, posted a nice ERA, but had a losing record. In ’77 he recovered his winning ways, going 12-7 with a 2.62 ERA. His first playoff game that fall was a mess, though, as he walked four guys in a row in his only start and couldn’t get out of the second inning. But he had a pretty good Series against NY, going 1-1 with a 3.75 ERA. Then came his big ’78: 19-10 with a 2.71 ERA and second place in the NL Cy race. After a crappy post-season run he put up some pretty good seasons the next few years, going a combined 25-18 in ’79 and ’80 and 11-6 with a 2.28 ERA in strike-shortened ’81, making his first All-Star team. That year he finally had a consistently good playoff run with a 4-1 record in five starts with an ERA of below 1.00 as LA won the whole thing. Burt got the NLCS MVP award. Then in ’82 he was having a not-great start to his season when a bone spur was discovered in his knee, the same one that had been operated on when he was a kid. It required an operation that didn’t quite take and despite flashes of his old self the next three seasons in LA were pretty tough. Burt went a combined 16-21 from '82 to ’84 and spent the last one in the pen. In ’85 he signed as a free agent with Texas and though he got off to a 2-1 start in the rotation soon fell prey to his old injury and was released after the season. In his career Burt went 151-136 with a 3.38 ERA, 86 complete games, 29 shutouts, and seven saves. In the post-season he was 6-3 with a 3.17 ERA in eleven games, all starts. He continues to rank pretty high in Dodgers career pitching stats; his record in LA was 112-84 with a 3.14 ERA and 22 shutouts.

After a couple seasons off Hooton returned to baseball in ’88 as a pitching coach in the Dodger system which he did through ’95. From ’96 to ’99 he did the same thing at his alma mater, the University of Texas. He then took on the pitching coach gig for Nolan Ryan’s Round Rock minor league team in 2000 but halfway through the season was promoted to Houston where he was the coach through ’04. In ’05 he returned to Round Rock and he is still the pitching coach for the franchise which in 2011 moved to Oklahoma City.

Lots of nice stuff happened to Burt when he opened his career and Topps gets most of it in the star bullets. Besides the knuckler, Burt also had a fastball, straight curve, and a change-up.

Mostly pitchers on this hook-up:

1. Hooton and Ray Burris ’73 to ’75 Cubs;
2. Burris and Steve Rogers ’81 to ’83 Expos;
3. Rogers and Ron Woods ’73 to ’74 Epos.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

#377 - Ron Woods

Back in the NL we get Ron Woods’ final card at Shea. Ron seems a bit confused as to what to do with that ball which may help explain his soon-to-be departure from the majors. But Ron was actually a pretty good fielder. Ironically, too, ’73 was his biggest season in terms of at bats and a bunch of other offensive numbers as his platooning partner in center, Boots Day, was hurt part of the year. Over a month into the season Ron was leading the NL in hitting with a .429 average. It’s been tough to get information on this guy. Most items pulled by search engines get you info on Ron Wood, the Stones guitarist. If you look up his Detroit days you get – you guessed it – Tiger Woods info. So if Ron wanted to go underground after he played he sure had the right name to do it.

Ron Woods was born in Ohio and at some point relocated to the LA area since he also played for Chet Brewer’s teams and played high school ball against future teammate Roy White. Ron was signed by the Pirates upon graduating in ’61 and then began a long minor league odyssey to the majors that took up most of the rest of the decade. After showing some good power his first two years in D ball – a combined 35 homers and 129 RBI’s in 590 at bats – he spent the next four seasons bouncing back and forth between A and Double A ball. That last year – ’66 – he was traded to the Tigers and for them he improved his numbers enough to step up his advancement. In ’67 he hit .296 with ten homers in Double A and in ’68 he batted .292 and hit 16 out in Triple A. In ’69 he was brought up to Detroit to be a defensive back-up in the outfield.

In 1969 the defending Series champ Tigers were pretty set in the outfield with Jim Northrup, Willie Horton, and Al Kaline. Woods got into a couple games when Horton had a fit and quit the team for a couple games. After only 15 at bats through mid-June Ron was traded to the Yankees for ex-icon Tom Tresh. NY had a lot more holes to fill so Ron spent a bit more time in center the rest of the way but only hit .175. In ’70 he played winter ball in Puerto Rico to work on his hitting. That move ended up being as good for him as it was for Boston pitcher Bill Lee since Ron pretty much saved Lee from getting destroyed by Ellie Rodriguez after Lee hit the catcher in a game. Ron returned to NY, this time splitting right field time with Curt Blefary since Bobby Murcer had taken over center. Ron’s numbers improved a bunch but that .227 average was still pretty light. After a few games to start the ’71 season he was traded to the Expos for old NY favorite Ron Swoboda.

Woods had a nice run his first year in Montreal, hitting .297 with a .382 OBA as he got some time in both right and center. In ’72 he and Boots Day became the platooned center fielder for the next two seasons. That year Ron had the biggest day of his career as he hit two homers with six RBI’s in a game. After peaking out playing-wise in ’73 he and Day saw significant contractions in playing time in ’74 due to the acquisition of Willie Davis. In January ’75 his contract was sold to the Chunichi Dragons of Japan for whom he would play for two seasons. His first year there he hit 16 homers with 45 RBI's, 69 runs, and a .263 average and towards the end of the season he was among a group of four players attacked by some rabid fans in Hiroshima. Pretty dramatic stuff so I wish I could have obtained some more color. In ’76 he matched his average but then departed the team midway through what seems to have been his final year as a player. In the States he hit a lifetime .233 with 26 homers and 130 RBI’s. He added about 100 points to his OBA as he had more walks than strikeouts. In the minors he hit .276 with over 130 stolen bases.

At some point after he played, Woods opened a photography studio back in Thousand Oaks, California, which he was doing in the late Seventies. I have gone hitless in trying to find what Ron has done since.

Ron had some speed early in his career both on the basepaths and in the outfield which gets noted in the star bullets. No hints here either to what he'd do after baseball.

We get lucky on this hookup with a former Rookie of the Year:

1. Woods and Stan Bahnsen ’69 to ’71 Yankees;
2. Bahnsen and Jorge Orta ’72 to ’75 White Sox.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

#376 - Jorge Orta

The action shots are over for a couple cards as we return to Yankee Stadium for a shot of Jorge Orta who seems to be borrowing Bob Watson’s glum look from a few posts ago. Jorge became a regular for the White Sox in ’73, in the process boosting his average over 60 points. Jorge was never much of a fielder but with Mike Andrews having run out of gas a bit earlier than expected he did fill a big potential hole at second, questionable defense or not. So like Mr. Watson he should also be pretty happy but he obviously isn’t. Maybe Topps wouldn’t let him put on both his batting gloves.

Jorge Orta’s dad played pro ball in Cuba. By the time Jorge was around his dad had relocated to Mexico – nice timing – and was on the road a bunch as a coach. Jorge was frequently with him so there was a bunch of transition in his teen years and his main outlets were pick-up games of hoops, which he also played in high school.  When he graduated he opted to give baseball a shot. He made the Fresnillo team but after a few games there decided to return to his dad who was now running his own restaurant. He spent the next year-plus under his father’s tutelage and returned at the tail end of the ’70 season to post a pretty good average. The next year he exploded with his .423 in the summer league and then finished with a .362 in the fall league. He was then recommended to new White Sox player personnel director Roland Hemond who flew down to watch Jorge deliver his Mexicali team the league championship and signed him on the spot. Jorge – after his wrist was healed following his falling through a window celebrating the championship – was brought up to Florida late that fall for some instructional league play. He then hit a ton in ’72 spring training and made the Sox. Early that season he split time between second and shortstop but after hitting an anemic .202 was sent to Double A Knoxville. There he revived his stroke and after again smashing the ball at a good clip in ’73 spring training he was up for good.

In ’74 Orta continued his upward climb in hitting, posting a .316 average with 67 RBI’s and a .365 OBA. In ‘75 he hit .304 and was named an All-Star, but was replaced due to a pulled hamstring. In ’76 the Sox acquired Jack Brohamer and Jorge got itinerant, spending most of his time at third and in the outfield. He had a tough time error-wise at both spots but did finish high among AL outfielders in assists. His average contracted 30 points but he also had by far his best stolen base season with 24 thefts. In ’77 the Sox got free agent Eric Soderholm to play third and Jorge returned to second where he upped his average to .282 and his RBI total to his career best of 84. Then in ’78 Jorge’s offense sputtered a bit and he missed some time as his nagging hamstring issues became more chronic. That peaked in ’79 as he missed some time and played more DH than second. After the season he opted for free agency and signed with the Indians.

The Indians of ’80 had a bit of an offensive revival, led by first-year wonder Joe Charboneau, and Orta moved into right field to be a part of it. His average upticked to .291 and he got his second All-Star nod even though he spent a couple weeks on the DL. Then in ’81 he led AL outfielders with eleven assists but the offensive numbers went south as he missed more time. After that season he was traded to LA in the deal that brought Cleveland Rick Sutcliffe. Good trade for the Indians as Jorge’s season for the Dodgers was a mess even though he had another excellent spring. He hit only .217 with eight RBI’s in 115 at bats as a right fielder/pinch hitter. After the season he was shipped to the Mets for Pat Zachry. But the Mets were pretty loaded with lefty-hitting outfielders so a month later they sent Jorge to Toronto. Back in the AL he did much better, raising his average 20 points in twice as many at bats, while also raising his homer and RBI totals almost five-fold. Then he went to the Royals for Willie Mays Aikens, problem-child. Jorge was by now chiefly a DH and in KC he hit nearly .300 in his new home splitting time with Hal McRae. That year he got his first taste of playoff action. In ’85 and ’86 he continued platooning with McRae, the former year becoming part of a Series champ. Jorge earned a kind of immortality when in a game against St. Louis he was called safe in a play in which it was later revealed he was clearly out. KC was down 1-0 in the game – the play happened in the ninth – and 3-2 in the Series. They ended up winning the game 2-1 and the Series the next night so the play was a big deal. Jorge would play a partial season with the club in ’87 before he was released mid-year, finishing his career. He ended with a .278 average with a .334 OBA, 130 homers, and 745 RBI’s. In the post-season he hit .111 in eight games with an RBI.

There are indications out there that Orta got into coaching in the Houston system immediately after playing, however specific documentation of anything is pretty sparse until the mid-90’s or so. He did continue to play off-season ball in Mexico for a bit and in ’94 played for a season in Italy. Then for sure he coached in the Houston chain from ’97 to 2005, including three seasons as a manager at the Class A level (2001-’03) during which he went 116-84. In ’06 he moved to the Cincinnati chain where he has been a hitting coach at a few levels, including a roving one for two years.

That really was a monster season in the first half of ’71 although back then the Mexican Leagues were considered about a half step below Single A ball. Those two stolen base totals were in the minors as well. The cartoon is a bit tricky: in a newspaper interview his rookie year Jorge noted that a hoops scout from UCLA saw him play in Mexico and told him to come check out the school, but I have found nothing substantive indicating he was ever actually offered a scholarship. At 5’10” he must have been a hell of a point guard.

On May 26, 1974 David Cassidy of the Partridge Family is performing at White City in London. Back then Cassidy was that time’s version of Justin Bieber and the concert was attended by thousands of adolescent girl fans. Over 1,000 will get medical care at the stadium, six will be hospitalized, and one will pass away from heart failure. The grim event pretty much marks the peak of Cassidy’s singing career.

We use a couple of stylish AL guys for the hookup:

1. Orta and Pat Kelly ’72 to ’76 White Sox;
2. Kelly and Jim Palmer ’77 to ’80 Orioles;
3. Palmer and Earl Williams ’73 to ’74 Orioles.

Friday, May 25, 2012

#375 - Earl Williams

Returning to the action shots we get Earl Williams about to hit somewhere in an AL park. On this card at least Earl appears to have converted to Hinduism. He probably could have used it as his recent trade to Baltimore wasn’t going too well. He was still hitting for power, as his homer and RBI totals would attest. But his average dropped over 20 points, he spent some time on the DL, and he and the other Earl of Baltimore were having a testy time. Plus that other guy, manager Earl Weaver, made a bold prediction that when the O’s got this Earl it guaranteed them the pennant. Not exactly; the A’s juggernaut prevented that from happening. Plus, Baltimore gave up an awful lot to get this guy. Pat Dobson didn’t have a great run in Atlanta but he came back to the AL and won nine in half a season. Johnny Oates became starting catcher for the Braves. And assumed broken-down second baseman Davey Johnson set a record with his 43 homers. Oof. That’s a lot to live down. And Earl was no wallflower, preferring the Dick Allen method of conflict resolution over the Gandhi kind. So when the other Baltimore catchers and then the fans jumped behind Weaver to let Williams know how they felt he was right back at them. And all because the Braves turned him into a damn catcher.

Earl Williams was a three-sport star in Montclair, NJ. His senior year he averaged 20 per game in hoops and got a scholarship to Ithaca College when he graduated in ’65. He was also a pretty good pitcher who could throw heat so when the Braves trumped the school with an offer that included a bonus, Earl opted for baseball. Pretty much at least. He did go to school first where his contract prevented him from playing. The next summer he both pitched – 1-0 with a 3.10 ERA in eleven games – and played first base in a short season. In ’67 he dropped pitching in A ball and split time between the outfield and first. Then in ’68 he missed a bunch of time with an injured knee as he split time with a couple Single A teams. He finally got things going in A ball in ’69 with big homer and RBI totals and a .340 average. Those couple years he was still primarily a first baseman. Then in ’70 the club decided to take advantage of his arm and split him between first and third in both Double A – where he hit 21 doubles, 19 homers, and had 63 RBI’s in about half a season – and for a short stint in Triple A. He also got into a few games up top where he hit and fielded well at the corners. In ’71 he was slated to return to Triple A but a hot spring training made him a big-leaguer instead.

1971 was a tough year for the Braves. Orlando Cepeda’s knees finally gave out and he only got in a little under half a season at first. Batting champ Rico Carty missed the whole season on the DL. Clete Boyer was in a contract dispute and was running out of gas anyway at third base. So they were facing a wicked set of circumstances in shooting for their second NL West title in three years. The chaos worked out pretty well for Williams though. His season began at third base while the intended new guy there, Darrell Evans, got a little more seasoning. When Cepeda went down he also put in some time at first. But the Braves true need was behind the plate. ’69 rookie all-star Bob Didier had since faded to mediocrity and neither he nor Hal King could hit a lick. So the Braves threw Earl back there. He wasn’t real pleased but being the excellent athlete he was he did a pretty good job, winning pundits from even Phil Niekro, a tough boy to catch. Plus Earl was slugging up a storm and at the end of the year his 33 homers and 87 RBI’s would allow him to pass early-season favorite Willie Montanez for NL Rookie of the Year. In ’72 he pretty much matched his offensive numbers in more plate appearances but he had a tougher time catching as he led the NL in passed balls with 28 – he was catching Niekro – and helped give up 78 steals. He also let it be known he wasn’t crazy happy playing behind the plate. So when Baltimore was shopping for some power, Atlanta was listening. Earl went to the O’s with heralded minor leaguer Taylor Duncan for Pat Dobson, Roric Harrison, Johnny Oates, and Davey Johnson.

’73 wouldn’t be all bad for Williams in his new home. A lack of knucklers on the O staff reduced his passed balls to four and he threw out nearly as many guys as he allowed to steal. With Boog Powell’s decline he also got in a considerable amount of time at first. Plus he was a significant uptick offensively to anyone else the Orioles had behind the plate. He also had a pretty good playoff against Oakland, hitting .278 with a homer and four RBI’s in the five games. And Baltimore did win the division his two seasons there. But ’74 was an even tougher season as his RBI numbers declined to 54 and his homers to 14 even though he picked up his average a few points. And he went o-fer in the playoffs. Plus he was now getting racially-tinged hate mail on a regular basis. So when Baltimore returned Earl to Atlanta for pitcher Jimmy Freeman, he wasn’t too displeased. But it wasn’t ’71 any more. Though playing a bunch more at first than catcher, Earl didn’t come close to matching his power output in ’75 – 11 homers and 50 RBI’s in 383 at bats – nor in ’76. So when he kicked off that second season hitting only .212 he was sold mid-year to the Expos. For Montreal he continued his double position thing and raised his average 25 points the rest of the season. But with Gary Carter solidifying himself behind the plate and free agent acquisition Tony Perez taking over at first, Earl was released in ’77 spring training. He was shortly thereafter picked up by car wreck Oakland for whom he hit 13 homers in 348 at bats as a catcher/DH and also stole the only two bases of his career. But he also had only 38 RBI’s and hit .241 and in spring training of ’78 he was released. Later that spring Earl actually put an ad in the New York Times soliciting his services – I have linked to an article regarding that here – but got no takers. So in ’79 he went down to Mexico and that year hit .343 with 20 homers and 112 RBI’s for Durango. In ’80 he moved to Campeche but his stats were nowhere near as good and by mid-season he was done. In ’81 he was offered a minor-league contract by Pittsburgh but declined. That ended his time in baseball. Earl finished with a .247 average with 148 homers and 457 RBI’s. In the post-season he hit .208 with a homer and four ribbies in seven games.

When Williams finished he returned home to Montclair and shortly thereafter relocated to Somerset, NJ, where he spent the next twenty years as a warehouse operations manager. As of the above article from 2011 he has been retired.

Most of this stuff Topps offers is is old hat in the star bullets. Earl could be a streaky hitter. In his big '69 season he had eight homers in seven days, two of them grand slams. In his brief '76 stay with Montreal he had a span of six homers in 24 at bats. There's that phonograph record thing again.

We have one bit of music news from 1973. On this date Mike Oldfield, a 20-year old wunderkind from the UK, released his album “Tubular Bells” on which he performed all the instrumentation. It’s single, of the same name, was a pretty big hit in both the UK and the US, mostly because it was used as the theme song to the big-selling summer freak show movie “The Exorcist.”

Earl gives us another break since he and Marty were teammates:

1. Williams and Marty Perez ’71 to ’72 and ’75 to ’76 Braves and ’77 A’s.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

#374 - Marty Perez

Marty Perez breaks the action shot streak – it returns next post – but looking at that sky behind him it looks like Marty’s going to be running for cover any second. It’s probably just a bad filter but that Shea skyline does look nasty. Marty came into his own a bit offensively in ’73, but his most important moment influence-wise would have been when he lined a shot up the middle against Jon Matlack that cracked the pitcher in the skull and nearly ended his life, if not his season. Pretty scary stuff. So if this is that game at which Marty is smiling, no wonder those Shea gods were angry.

Marty Perez was a baseball star at Redwood High in Visalia from where he was signed by the Angels in ’64. That summer he hit .273 in Rookie ball. After a strong start at that level in ’65 he moved to a couple A teams where his average took a dive. He remained in A ball in ’66 and then hit .289 there in ’67. In ’68 he hit pretty well in Double A and then the next two seasons staked out Triple A Hawaii where he hovered around .280. Both years he got some short looks up top but with Jim Fregosi putting together his best summers those seasons, there wasn’t any real room for Marty. After the ’70 season – ironically right before Fregosi sort of fell apart – Marty was sent to the Braves for catcher John Burns.

Things weren’t too rosy for Atlanta at shortstop in ’70. Sonny Jackson just wasn’t much of a fielder and so in ’71 he was moved to the outfield and Perez was handed the gig. While Marty was high on the errors list and was benched for a bit so that Zoilo Versalles could show everyone he was done, he was definitely an improvement over the past. One area in which the Braves weren’t hurting was hitting so though Marty hit under .230 his first couple seasons, that was OK. When in ’73 he upped things to .250 with 57 RBI’s that was a bonus. And his eight homers were enough to make him part of the record-breaking infield total that year. He also put up his best assists total that year. In ’74 Davey Johnson got moved to first and Marty slid right behind him into second, which would be his predominant position from then on. Marty upped his average at his new position ten points and then in ’75 hit .275, his best for a season. In ’76 he split the early part of the season between second and short before being traded that June to San Francisco with Darrell Evans for Willie Montanez, Craig Robinson, Jake Brown, and Mike Eden.

In the second half of ’76 Perez did a pretty nice job replacing problem child Derrell Thomas at second, hitting .259 with more walks than strikeouts. But after the season the Giants, hungry for outfielders, sent Marty to the Yankees for Terry Whitfield. After a couple games in NY Marty was on the move again, this time to Oakland with Dock Ellis and Larry Murray for Mike Torrez. Marty took over second base pretty much the rest of the way for the depleted A’s, but with a much worse line-up around him his average fell to .231. In early ’78 he was released and then picked up by the Mets for another west coast/ east coast volley. The Mets sent him to Triple A Tidewater where he put in more time at third than anywhere else, hit .261, and fielded well enough. But for NY he wasn’t the answer and after the season he was released. Marty finished with a .246 average. He was pretty good at putting the ball in play, nabbing a strikeout about every nine at bats.

Perez pretty much made the Atlanta area his home base early in his career up top and has remained there since. He ran a baseball camp for a while with former teammate Adrian Devine and participates in local charity and Braves golfing tournaments. Since 1980 he has been in the insurance business and has had his own shop since ’92.

Marty gets star bullet attention for his defense in ’68 and his being a member of the ’70 PCL division champs. Who else was on that team? Doug Griffin – future BoSox second baseman – and Winston Llenas with his 108 RBI’s were the big offensive guns. Tom Bradley, another future Giant, and Dave LaRoche were among the pitching leaders. Pretty much everyone on the team’s roster did time up top. Plus they got to play in Hawaii.

So I missed a pretty big music item yesterday, more on the business side than on the talent one. Clive Davis, for years president of Columbia Records, gets canned on May 23, 1973. It seemed Clive was dipping into the company coffers to pay for things like his son's bar mitzvah and his apartment makeover so he was nabbed for tax evasion. But Clive would be back and within a few years he formed his own label, Arista Records. Probably the biggest talent he directed in his later years was Whitney Houston so he sure didn't lose his touch.

Marty and John missed each other by a year so let's fix that up:

1. Perez and Darrell Evans '71 to '76 Braves and '76 Giants;
2. Evans and John Curtis '77 to '79 Giants.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

#373 - John Curtis

We move from a Cardinal to a soon-to-be Cardinal for this next post. John Curtis gets another great action shot that I believe shows off his curve. But what really makes this shot is that I am pretty sure it is the first one in the set with a backdrop of an iconic left field wall, in this case, Boston’s Green Monster. There will be another famous backdrop coming up in a few posts. If we saw a little more of the scoreboard here we might even be able to pinpoint the game. In many ways, ’73 was John’s best season: he scored his most innings and wins of his career, as well as starts (30), and complete games (10). As for his Traded card, I have one word: shampoo! That slick-back on his head looks nasty. But those glasses are all-Seventies. I can’t nail down the location of this photo or of the guy behind him. The sideburns make me want to say Doug Griffin, but that’s just a guess.

John Curtis was actually born not terribly far from Boston, in Newtown, Massachusetts, and then moved to upstate NY while a kid. After graduating from high school in ’66, where he had an excellent record as a pitcher, he was drafted in the first round by Cleveland. John instead opted to go to Clemson where his freshman year he threw three no-hitters and the following summer was the first US pitcher to beat Cuba in the Pan-Am Games. He returned for his sophomore season and was then drafted – again in the first round – by the Red Sox and this time signed. He spent the rest of the summer in A ball where he turned in a pretty good season. After a step back at the same level in ’69 he moved up a notch in ’70 and put together a good enough season to get a look in Boston that summer. He then spent most of ’71 and part of the next year in Triple A where he continued averaging nearly a strikeout an inning. In ’71 he had a much more successful short run for the BoSox and in ’72 he moved up for good.

Curtis stepped into the rotation upon being called up in ’72 and did pretty well, especially for a lefty in Fenway. After this trade he moved to St. Louis, a team desperately in need of a left-hander. John wouldn’t be their salvation, however, as the team was mired in mediocrity those years and he wasn’t helping much as a few too many hits and flat-lined strikeouts vs. walks stats pulled his three-year record to 24-34 with a 3.88 ERA. His last two seasons there he was spending as much time in the pen as in the rotation. Right after the ’76 season he was part of another big trade, moving to San Francisco with Willie Crawford and Vic Harris for Mike Caldwell, John D’Acquisto, and Dave Rader. ’77 was not so hot – 3-3 with an ERA over 5.00 in 43 games, but ’78 was much better and in ’79, despite a relatively high ERA, he was one of the team’s most consistent winners, going 10-9 with a 4.18 ERA in 18 starts, his most since ’75. He then hit the road again, moving down to San Diego as a free agent. His first season there he pretty much matched his ’79 numbers, though he pulled his ERA down over half a run. Then in ’81 a crappy start to the season returned him to the pen as he finished 2-6 with a 5.13 ERA. He improved substantially in ’82, going 8-6 with a 4.18 ERA. That August he was sold to California for its stretch run – he got shut out of the post-season – and he finished out his career there the next two seasons. John put up a record of 89-97 with a 3.96 ERA, 42 complete games, 14 shutouts, and eleven saves.

While Curtis was still in the minors he returned to Clemson in the off-seasons and finished up his degree in history in ’71, pretty quick for a part-timer. That year he also took an off-season gig writing sports for a local paper. When he finished playing he took the writing gig on as his new profession, bylining stories for a bunch of papers, including the San Francisco Chronicle, as well as SI. Then in 2000 he also returned to baseball via coaching, getting pitching coach work for the independent Long Beach Breakers (2000-’02), before moving to the Milwaukee system (’03-’08), and then Oakland’s (’09 on). He is currently pitching coach for the A’s Huntsville franchise.

Those strikeout totals were the outstanding feature of John's '69 which in pretty much every other way was not a great season for him. Topps' second star bullet requires some digging as to what they meant by "key." In '72 outside of John, the Sox had four lefty pitchers on staff: Bill Lee, Gary Peters, Bob Veale, and Rogelio Moret. Lee won three at Fenway and Peters and Veale one each. So, yeah, six wins could be considered key, especially since they nearly won the division that year.

Look at Topps throw around the colloquialisms with "southpaw" and "murder." Outside of that it's a pretty blase card back. Unfortunately for John, the prediction regarding his future in St. Louis was a bit too optimistic.

This one’s easy since as noted above these guys played together:

1. Curtis and Ken Reitz ’74 to ’75 Cards.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

#372 - Ken Reitz

The second action shot in a row gives us Ken Reitz at third base, a position at which he excelled. Topps must have loved this shot since it has a player blowing a bubble-gum bubble. This is Ken's first solo card and in his first full regular season - I believe he spent too much time up top in '72 to be officially considered a rookie in '73 - he took over the third base gig from Joe Torre, a pretty tough act to follow. Ken's offensive season was nothing spectacular but he did lead the NL in fielding percentage at his position, a trick he would also pull in '74 and then every season from '77 to '81 (except '79 when he came in second). Ken was quick at the hot corner and would also regularly be among league leaders in assists. By contrast he was one of the slowest guys in the league, also regularly making the top ten in grounding into double plays. And he almost never walked. But Ken's lack of speed wouldn't be his undoing in baseball; rather it would be his fast-paced lifestyle.

Ken Reitz was drafted in a late round by the Cards in '69 upon graduating from Jefferson City High School in California where he played football and baseball. That summer his .324 average in Rookie ball in a few games got him pushed up fast to A ball. After spending another season in A ball in '70 he moved up a rung each season, reaching the top in late summer of '72. By the time he got to St. Louis he had what would be his career nickname: Zamboni.

In '74 Reitz ratcheted up his batting average 35 points and continued his fine fielding. In '75 he won a Gold Glove in what was ironically his worst fielding percentage season by far. Prior to the '76 season he went to the Giants for Pete Falcone for a year before he returned to St. Louis for Lynn McGlothen. By then Ken had ramped up his RBI totals to the mid-seventies and was back at the top in fielding. That year - '77 - he set a record for fewest errors in a season at third with nine. He also peaked power-wise with 17 homers and 79 RBI's. Unfortunately it was also around then that he acquired his amphetamine habit and while it was not yet impacting his performance on the field, it was getting him into some trouble off of it. In '79 during some downtime in an airport he crashed through a plate glass window while he and Keith Hernandez were throwing around a football. In '80 Ken broke his own record for fewest errors with eight in what was his only All-Star season. He also topped out his OBA with an even .300. But his RBI total dropped to 58, his lack of speed was becoming a liability, and he was becoming increasingly paranoid from his drug habit, at one point shooting out the back window of his car because he heard voices from his back seat. That December he and newbie Leon "Bull" Durham were sent to the Cubs for Bruce Sutter.

1981 was the split strike season and the Cubs didn't perform terribly well in either half. Reitz did well enough on defense but a bone chip in his elbow impacted his throwing and his average fell to .215. During spring training of '82 he was released and that May picked up by Pittsburgh. After getting some late-inning defensive work in a few games he was released a month later. He then returned to St. Louis where, among other things, he worked for a local cable company and threw batting practice at Busch Stadium. He also played slo-pitch softball which he was still at when the Cards signed him in July of  '83 to a minor-league contract as insurance for their Triple A pennant drive. But by then Ken's drug dependency was out of control and before the season was over he was in rehab, which kept him out of action baseball-wise until early in the '85 season. Then he signed a minor-league deal with Tulsa, now a Double A club in the Texas chain and for them hit .222 while playing both corners and some middle infield. In '86 he signed with the Class A San Jose Bees, an unaffiliated team under new ownership that specialized in being a last shot for ex-major leaguers who got in trouble (some of his teammates were Mike Norris, Derrell Thomas, and Steve Howe). Ken played two seasons for the Bees, '87 as a player-coach, and then hung them up. His final average up top was .260 with 68 homers and 548 RBI's. His .970 lifetime fielding average is sixth best.

After done playing Reitz turned to drug counseling and spent a bunch of years with the Franklin County Drug and Alcohol Center. He would also work his way back to baseball as a part-time scout and fielding instructor for several teams. Earlier this year he was given a job by former teammate Joe Torre helping to analyze games for MLB. He has also become an excellent scratch golfer and makes regular appearances at pro-am tournaments and Cards-sponsored tournaments.

Ken is already getting props for his defensive work in his Topps star bullets. That hitting streak helped get him promoted upstairs where he continued his hot hitting late in the year. I have not read that he continued his hobby later in his career or after playing.

Time to catch up on some music news. On May 19 of '73 there were new Number One's in both the US and the UK. Stevie Wonder's upper "You Are The Sunshine Of My Life" takes over the top spot in a mellow move from his recent social commentary hits. In the UK the new topper was "See My Baby Jive" by Wizzard. A light rocker, this is another song that has to be seen - it is also on YouTube - to be truly appreciated. The lead singer is dolled up as a white version of George Clinton and plays the french horn and cello. That they never cracked the top then in the States is not a huge mystery.

Let's get these two Cali kids together:

1. Reitz and Ted Simmons '72 to '75 and '77 to '80 Cards;
2. Simmons and Jim Slaton '81 to '83 Brewers.

Monday, May 21, 2012

#371 - Jim Slaton

This card begins a pretty good run of action shots and this one is as good as any of the ones coming up. Jim Slaton appears to be about to launch a curveball at Arlington, judging by his grip and the red railings behind him. If I am correct about the site then that turnout is pretty impressive; probably a David Clyde game. In fact, Jim did start against Dave in Texas on July 17, a Tuesday day game, which he won 6-3, so this is probably a photo from that game. Jim had a pretty nice bounce in '73 from his sophomore jinx season the prior year. He was able to get his strikeouts to top his walks for his first time up top and his 13 wins were second on the staff to twenty-game winner Jim Colborn. This Jim will always be immortalized for me from his '76 season. He and Bill Travers had a nice run in an otherwise forgettable year for the Brewers. To capitalize on it, someone came up with a knockoff of the old Braves refrain: "Spahn and Sain and two days of rain." "Travers and Slaton and two days of waitin'" may not have had the same ring but I still remember it almost 40 years later so it had something going for it.

Jim Slaton is yet another California kid who made good in baseball. Jim called Antelope Valley - an area about 60 miles north of LA - home and after high school attended a junior college with the same name. After a year of juco ball he was drafted by the Pilots in '69. Too good for Rookie ball - one hit and 16 strikeouts in eight innings - he turned in a nice short season in A ball that summer. In '70 at the same level he was going great guns until called into the military that spring. He returned a year later, got bumped to Double A for a few games and then found himself in Milwaukee, pulled up by his excellent minor stats and a serious dearth in starting pitching up top. Despite throwing more walks than K's Jim had a pretty good rookie year, tossing four shutouts to be part of the team's league-leading 14. Then came his horrible run to kick off '72 and he was back in Double A where he had an excellent revival. He returned to Milwaukee for good late that season.

After a '74 pretty identical to his '73 Slaton fell apart a bit in '75, going 10-18 with a spike in his ERA. In '76 he went 14-15 with a 3.44 ERA - Travers was 15-16 - and together the big two won almost half the Brewers' games. The next season he had a nice start - 7-4 with an ERA well under 3.00 - and made the All-Star team. But after going 3-10 with a fat ERA the rest of the way Jim was sent to Detroit with Rich Folkers for Ben Oglivie. That trade worked out pretty well for Milwaukee since they got another power-hitting outfielder for a couple guys that won ten games between them the prior year. It worked out even better the following year when in '79 Slaton returned to the Brewers as a free agent after winning his personal best 17 in his short stint with the Tigers. He then posted probably his best season, going 15-9 with a 3.63 ERA, and seemed to be peaking career-wise just when his team was getting good.

Then Slaton hit the wall, the same one recent post subjects Larry Hisle and Steve Busby did. In Jim's third start of the '80 season against Toronto he tore his rotator cuff, ending his year. He returned in mid-'81 to the rotation and went 5-7 the rest of the way. Then in '82 and '83 he moved to the pen as a long guy and sometime closer. He did pretty well in that role, going a combined 24-12 with eleven saves those two seasons. He also put out some nice post-season numbers that first year. After the '83 season he went to California for Bobby Clark where he rejoined the rotation. But like his former team his stats went south - a combined 17-26 with a 4.87 ERA in almost three seasons. In the second half of '86 he returned to Detroit to get a couple saves out of the pen. That was it for Jim. He went 151-158 with a 4.03 ERA with 22 shutouts, 14 saves, and 86 complete games. In the post-season he went 1-0 with a 2.03 ERA and a save in eight games.

Slaton returned to baseball shortly after his playing career ended. He played a bit in the Senior League before it folded and then became a coach beginning in '92. He began with the Oakland organization ('92-'94), and then moved to the Cubs chain ('95-'96), and then Seattle's ('97-2007) where he spent the last three seasons up top as bullpen coach. In '08 he moved to the Los Angeles chain where he has coached in the minors and subbed up top when pitching coach Howell has been laid low by diabetes. He is currently the pitching and rehab coach at the club's Canyon Ranch minor league facility.

When Jim returned to the minors after his poor start up top in '72 he did a nice job of turning things around which Topps notes in his star bullets.

I would not have expected this hook-up but here we go:

1. Slaton and Reggie Jackson '84 to '86 Angels;
2. Jackson and Bob Watson '80 to '81 Yankees.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

#370 - Bob Watson

Back at Shea we get a - I dunno, moribund?; tense?; beatific? - Bob Watson wearing an oversized shirt that makes him look small, which at 200+ pounds he certainly wasn't. Bob should certainly be a lot happier than he appears. Apparently in the midst of his second straight season of hitting .312 he was named in '73 to his first All-Star team and was quietly becoming one of the best hitters in the NL. He also grabbed an emergency start behind the plate when the Astros ran out of catchers and responded by hitting a homer. At least Topps recognizes him by giving him a "ten" card. It does appear to be a nice day but maybe those guys in suits in the background indicate something portentous is about to unfold. Or maybe Bob just had to go to the bathroom.

Bob Watson was a product of Los Angeles and Fremont High School. Like just about every other black guy in this set from LA he played for Chet Brewer's team helping to raise his profile a bit. A Dodger fan while growing up, Bob met with the team through local scout Tommy Lasorda when he graduated high school  but the team suggested he go to college before shooting for an MLB career. He followed their advice and attended Los Angeles Harbor College for a year where he played ball. In '65 he signed with the Astros as a free agent and then got things rolling with two seasons of Single A ball in which he hit .285 and .302 with some decent power. Both seasons he played behind the plate, his main position until then. He got an at bat in Houston late the second year, grounding out against Claude Osteen of his favorite Dodgers. He spent most of '67 split between Double A - where he was an all-star - and Triple A, batting a combined .275 with 19 homers and 75 RBI's. That year he began playing other positions, primarily first and the outfield. He also got a few more at bats up top. In '68 a hot start in Triple A - .395 with five homers and 16 RBI's in 20 games - moved him upstairs for his rookie season where he got some decent outfield time before breaking his ankle. That meant a '69 of rehab back in the minors - and at catcher - where after some pedestrian numbers in Double A he hit over .400 at Triple A with 48 RBI's in 223 at bats to earn a permanent MLB residence..

When Watson finally came up for good in '70 both the outfield and first base were pretty full. Since Cesar Cedeno took over as the new guy in the former spot, Bob initially vied with John Mayberry for back-up time at first behind Joe Pepitone. But in mid-season Watson went on a pretty good tear, Pepitone got sent to the Cubs, and Bob took over first base. He finished with some pretty good numbers. In '71 the Astros got a new shortstop in rookie Roger Metzger so incumbent Denis Menke got moved to the corners and Bob spent a bunch of time in the outfield where he would stay most of his time the next three seasons as in '72 Houston picked up Lee May in its big trade with the Reds. Bob ramped up his stats significantly in '72 and then in '73 added a .402 OBA to his posted numbers. In '74 some nagging hamstring issues pulled his power numbers down a bit. He bounced pretty well in '75  by hitting .324 with 85 RBI's and also made the record books as the scorer of baseball's millionth run (although that was later disputed). He also made his second All-Star team and moved back to first bas as the regular guy following May's trade to Baltimore. In '76 and '77 Bob knocked in over 100 runners each season, peaking power-wise the latter year when he hit 22 homers with 110 RBI's while hitting .289. In '78 he put up the same average but like in '74 his power contracted due to nagging injuries. After kicking off '79 with a slow start, Cedeno took over first and Bob was swapped to Boston for pitchers Bobby Sprowl and Pete Ladd.

The Red Sox made out pretty huge in the deal to bring Watson north as he raised his average 100 points to .337 with a .401 OBA the rest of the way. He then turned free agent and signed with the Yankees for the '80 season. It was a good one for Bob as he split time with Jim Spencer at first and DH'd a bit, hitting .307 with 68 RBI's in 469 at bats. He also got his first post-season action, hitting .500 as NY went down to the Royals. Then in the first game of the '81 season he injured a groin muscle and tried to play through it but by the time of the strike was hitting only .190 with seven RBI's. During the strike he did some rehab work and also worked at an investment bank. After some DL time following the strike he returned to pull his average up a bit. The whole team was in a sort of funk the second half and finished with a losing record. But then they amped everything up in the playoffs, including Bob who hit .438 in a first-round upset of Milwaukee. Then in the Series he tagged the Dodgers with a .318 average, a couple homers, and seven RBI's in six games. Early in the '82 season he was traded to Atlanta for Scott Patterson, a pitcher who would go on to have far more success as an actor. It was an ironic move in that the guy who replaced him in NY was John Mayberry and the one Bob would back up in Atlanta was Chris Chambliss, the same player he replaced on the Yankees. Bob would spend his last three seasons in that role, peaking in '83 when he hit .309 with 37 RBI's in only 149 at bats. He would retire after the '84 season and finish with a .295 average with 184 homers, 989 RBI's, and a .364 OBA. In the post-season he hit .371 with a .403 OBA, two homers, and nine RBI's in 17 games.

Despite his early success in banking Watson stayed in baseball thereafter. In '85 he became the Oakland batting coach, helping the team reach the Series in '88. In '89 he left to become assistant GM of Houston. In '94 he became the first minority GM when he took over the top spot for the Astros. In '96 he moved to the same position in NY for two years. Then in '98 he moved to MLB as its head of on-field discipline, a position he retained until retiring after the 2010 season. He continues to do some ad hoc community work for MLB.

Topps seems to be reaching with Bob's star bullets, especially those last two which are right on the card. That's pretty weird considering his years of success in the minors and sandlot ball. Those homers sort of were the catalyst that got his stats rolling in '72.

So contrary to '73, a bunch of stuff happened in music the first half of May '74. On the fourth new hits took over the top spot on both sides of the pond. In the States Grand Funk Railroad scored with its version of Little Eva's "Do the Locomotion." In the UK ABBA hit the top with "Waterloo." On the eighth, British keyboardist Graham Bond, a big blues guy in the Sixties, killed himself by jumping in front of a subway train. He was 36. On the ninth in Boston guitarist Bonnie Raitt has a new opening act. Bruce Springsteen debuts his newly-penned song "Born to Run" which prompts critic Jon Landau to write his famous "I have seen the future of rock-and-roll ..." line thereby helping send Bruce to new heights. The 18th is a big day with two Number One's. In the US the timely novelty song "The Streak" by Ray Williams began a three-week run. In the UK "Sugar Baby Love" by the Rubettes topped Ray by reigning for four weeks. The song is a sort of doo-woppy disco number sung by a group wearing outfits halfway between John Travolta's "Saturday Night Fever" suit and The Guardian Angels' outfits. A video of the song is on YouTube and for anyone wishing a three minute dive smack into 1974, this is it.

So like the last pair Bob and Paul really never hooked up during their careers. We remedy that here:

1. Watson and Lee May '72 to '74 Astros;
2. May and Mike Torrez '75 Orioles;
3. Torrez and Paul Lindblad '76 A's.

I also could have used Dave Duncan but that would take just as many steps.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

#369 - Paul Lindblad

This is a great action shot. With the sun appearing to be directly overhead casting that odd light on the seats behind Paul here, I used to think they looked like typewriter keys. This is a big pitch for Lindblad and I do not remember him generally ending up in this position. By the '73 season he was nearly at the end of what was a roughly eight-year run without an error which would seem to validate my memory. '73 was not a great year statistically for Paul as he only finished less than a third of his games and got two saves. But he timed the back-and-forth of his team moves between Oakland and Washington/Texas pretty well and on his second go-around with the A's got three playoff years.

Paul Lindblad grew up in Chanute, Kansas where he was a multi-sport guy and then attended the local two-year school. Upon graduating he moved to the University of Kansas where he played a couple seasons of basketball and baseball - a teammate was future A's pitcher Chuck Dobson -  graduating in '63, and then again staying local by signing with the A's. The rest of that summer he went 10-2 with a 1.74 ERA in 14 starts in A ball. He followed that by going 11-8 with a 3.32 ERA in Double A in '64 and 12-11 with a 3.67 ERA in Triple A in '65. He debuted for KC that September and while he gave up a bunch of runs his first month he didn't walk anyone while striking out twelve in seven innings. He was up to stay.

While Lindblad would get a combined 24 starts his first two full seasons, his primary role was as a set-up guy and after a rough rookie year in '66 he settled into a nice run for the duration of his first round with KC/Oakland. His best years were '69 and '70 when he added nine and three saves, respectively, to his posted stats. After an equally good start to the '71 season in May he was sent to Washington with Frank Fernandez and Don Mincher for Mike Epstein and Darold Knowles. He then put up two very nice seasons for the Senators/Rangers, adding eight saves for them in '71 and nine during a '72 season in which he led the AL with 66 appearances. Those stats got Oakland turned on enough to bring him back - for Brent Alyea - and Paul again filled the gap for his old team. In '73 he got his first post-season action, winning a Series game in which he was the last pitcher to throw to Willie Mays. In '74 he picked up his regular season numbers significantly - 4-4 with a 2.06 ERA and six saves but got shut out in the post-season. Then in '75 he went 9-1 with a 2.72 ERA and seven saves in what may have been his best season. It was certainly one of his more eventful ones: on the last day of the season he, Vida Blue, Glenn Abbot, and Rollie Fingers combined to throw the first four-pitcher no-hitter.

After some playoff work in '75, Lindblad put in another good season in Oakland in '76, going 6-5 with a 3.06 ERA and five saves. He then returned to Texas in a sale. His numbers declined a bit in '77 and then after appearing in only 18 games through the end of July '78 he was sold to the Yankees for the stretch run. He actually started a game for NY during his couple months there and again experienced some post-season work - although not terribly successfully - and got his second ring. He was sold to the Mariners following the season but didn't make it out of spring training. That ended his career which finished at 68-63 with a 3.29 ERA with a complete game and 64 saves. A good athlete, he hit .195 during his career. In the post-season he was 1-0 with a 3.48 ERA in six games.

When he finished playing Lindblad remained in the Arlington area where he set up a business designing and installing custom homes. He also put in some time as a minor leage pitching coach, first in the Milwaukee system ('87-'90), and then Seattle's ('91-'92). He was working in the Padres system when he was diagnosed in '93 with early onset Alzheimer's Disease - he was only 52 - which set in rapidly and within a couple years required him to take residence full-time in an assisted-living facility. He passed away from the disease in 2006. He was 64.

Paul gets some informational star bullets. He would have been only 16 in that semi-pro game in '60. Given his immediate career after baseball he likely put his hobby to good use. He wouldn't have faced his middle name name-sake until late in each one's career.

Returning to music in my attempt to catch up, let's get through the first half of May '73. No new Number One's - "Tie a Yellow Ribbon ..." had a stranglehold there - but some interesting stuff. On the first Washington D.C. had a "Marvin Gaye Day" which honored the singer who performed that night at The Kennedy Center. On the sixth Paul Simon began his first major tour without old buddy Art Garfunkle. And on the tenth another former member of a famous group, Paul McCartney, had a variety show in which he sang and danced at a pub in Liverpool.

Lindblad never faced Manny Mota since he didn't get any '74 Series work:

1. Lindblad and Jim Pagliaroni '68 to '69 A's;
2. Pagliaroni and Manny Mota '63 to '67 Pirates.

Jim Pagliaroni was a catcher during the Sixties who also played for the Red Sox and the Pilots in his final season. He had some pretty good years as the main guy in Pittsburgh in the middle of his career and gets a bunch of time as one of the more colorful guys in "Ball Four."

Friday, May 18, 2012

#368 - Manny Mota

With this card we leave the AL but not the smiling faces. Manny Mota shows us his pearly whites on an equally sunny day even though he appears to have some sort of wrist injury. He appears to be at Shea, a favorite Dodger haunt back then. '73 was a good year for Manny, one of a few milestones. It was his last season as a quasi-regular and his first and only one as an All-Star. In '74 he would begin being used pretty much exclusively as a pinch-hitter, a job he actually enjoyed and one at which he would excel into his early forties. I cannot tell who that is behind Manny, although common sense would dictate that it is Bill Russell.

Manny Mota grew up in a big family in the Dominican Republic and managed to go to a local Catholic high school that was pretty high-profile in the DR. From there he moved to the country's air force, where he continued to play ball. In '57 he was signed by the Giants just a couple days after his 19th birthday and relocated to The States. That year he hit .314 in D ball, setting the tone for what would be his hitting style throughout his career: lots of singles and few strikeouts. In '58 he topped .300 again in B ball and did the same in a '59 split between all the A levels. In '60 in Double A he had a breakout power season for him - 79 RBI's - while batting .307. He spent all of '61 in Triple A, hitting .289, and then split '62 between Double A and San Francisco, where he spent the early and late part of the season as a late-inning guy. Following the season he was traded to Houston for Joey Amalfitano and then before the '63 season kicked off to the Pirates for a guy named Howie Goss (a great baseball name if I ever heard one).

Mota spent the bulk of his first season for Pittsburgh at Triple A where he hit .293. While he was up top he boosted his average nearly 100 points from that of his short '62 season. He then spent the next five seasons putting up some excellent averages as the Pirates' fourth outfielder, playing behind Matty Alou, Willie Stargell, and Roberto Clemente. During that time he began other pastimes that would occupy his time to the present day: back in the DR he had his own television show; and he also started his foundation for underprivileged kids. In '66 and '67 he ramped up his average to batting title territory and after a '68 in which he hit a very respectable .281 he got hurt that December playing winter ball back home. Pittsburgh then left him unprotected and Manny was snapped up by the Expos as the second pick in the expansion draft.

While Mota was a little slow coming back from his leg injury - which would nag him for years and partly contribute to his later move to pinch hitter - it sure didn't hurt his average too much. After hitting .315 in a few starts he and Maury Wills were sent by Montreal to LA for Ron Fairly and Paul Popovich. That deal would work out pretty well for both sides as Fairly got more playing time in Montreal and Wills put in a last couple of good seasons as shortstop. Manny really took to his new home, hitting .323 the rest of the way. He was rewarded the following year by getting the most playing time of his career. But it was a tough season in one way for Manny: a foul line drive off his bat killed a young spectator. After a '71 in which Dick Allen and some new kids took away from his playing time a bit he returned in '72 to post probably his best season as a regular. Manny, who when platooned generally hit against lefties, actually hit about 100 points higher against righties that season. In '74 Walt Alston moved him to be his main pinch-hitting specialist and statistically Manny didn't flinch. Over the next seven seasons he hit .310 in his new role. His best season was probably '77 when in 50 plate appearances he had zero strikeouts, hit .395, and had a .521 OBA. In '79 he broke the career pinch-hitting hit record with his 145th hit. He finished with 150 and held the record for almost 30 years. After retiring following the '79 season in '80 he was activated for a few games and then for one at bat in '82. Manny finished with a .304 average with a .355 OBA. He only struck out once every twelve at bats. In the post-season he hit .375 with a .444 OBA in ten games.

While he was playing stateside Mota also played winter ball in the DR, compiling a lifetime average well above .300. After he retired he coached down there and continued his foundation work as well as some local tv work. He also moved that act up north where he remained - and still remains - with LA doing some hitting coaching and Spanish-language broadcasting as well as a bunch of local community work for the Dodgers.

Manny gets one star bullet and Topps gets creative, giving a guy noted for his hitting some props for his defense. He has a great parenthetic name going here.

So this has been the lamest posting stretch for this blog thus far. Sorry about that but work has been a bear. I still have to catch up on music and that Watergate thing I started months ago. One thing at a time. Let's get to the rest of April '74 music news. Thankfully there's not too much. On April 20 the new Number One in the States was a bunch of initials : "TSOP" by MFSB. Those stood for "The Sound of Philadelphia" by Mother Father Sister Brother. The song was an instrumental conjured up by the Gamble-Huff guys - who back then sort of turned Philly into their own version of Motown - and featured occasional chimes by The Three Degrees, their former all-female backing group who would have their own hit later that year.

It's been so long between posts I had to look up to whom Manny's link goes. Two short-named old guys. Their longevity should help:

1. Mota and Tom Haller '69 to '71 Dodgers (and '62 Giants);
2. Haller and Norm Cash '72 Tigers;

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

#367 - Norm Cash

This would be the final card of Stormin' Norman's career. Norm had already seen a serious contraction of his playing time in '73 and in '74 he was unceremoniously dumped before the season ended. It was not a terribly fitting end to a guy's career in Detroit who'd entertained fans for a long time both on and off the field. His best moment of the '73 season may have been when he came to the plate as the final out of Nolan Ryan's no-hitter carrying a table leg. He had his huge '61 season, made a bunch of All-Star teams, was an offensive star in the '68 Series, and twice won Comeback Player of the Year (although I guess that last one could be viewed as a mixed blessing). Plus Norm was a friendly guy who played hard off the field as well, happy to suck some down with fans at local bars. That last trait would get him some trouble at the end. Here he reaches for an imaginary low throw during spring training showing off a mitt that looks as old as he is. Leaning on the batting cage behind him appears to be manager Billy Martin, no slouch in the partying life himself.

Norm Cash was a big deal football star in high school in Texas. He then attended Sul Ross State in Alpine, where as a sophomore he rushed for over 1,200 yards. Signed by the White Sox that spring of '55 he hit .290 in B ball with 17 homers and 64 RBI's. He upped that the next year at the same level to .334 with 23 homers and 96 RBI's. Both years he played primarily in the outfield. He then missed all of '57 and over half of '58 pulling his military hitch. He split the latter season between Chicago, where he only got eight at bats, and Triple A, where he hit .247 in 29 games. In '59 he returned to the top where he spent most of his time backing up Earl Torgeson at first base. After the season he went to the Indians in a big trade that brought the Sox Minnie Minoso. Then before the '60 season began he moved to Detroit for Steve Demeter.

 When Cash got to the Tigers he pretty much immediately took over first base, adding a .402 OBA to some pretty good stats. In '61 he had a monster year, leading the AL in hits, average, and OBA (with a .489), but only coming in fourth in MVP votes in the year of the M and M boys in NY. It was also revealed later that he'd corked his bat that year, or at least part of it. While he was never able to match those stats again he was a better than average power guy and fielder at first for the rest of the decade, hitting more than 20 homers each season. In '62 he nearly matched his '61 homer total though his average fell over 100 points. After a couple good years in '63 and '64 he was halfway through the '65 season and was hitting .204 with seven homers and 24 RBI's. The rest of the season he hit 23 homers with 58 RBI's in 78 games, while hitting over .300 to pull his final average up over 60 points. That second half won him his first Comeback of the Year award. In '66 he made his second All-Star team with stepped up stats although that was the first season his strikeout totals exceeded his walks. He was also putting down the sauce pretty good by then and after a significant downtick in '67 experienced another slow start in the big Series year of '68. But he again hit well over .300 in the second half and then turned it on in the Series by hitting .385 with a homer and five ribbies in seven games. He continued his rally in '69 and then hit a wall in '70 when injuries led to his smallest homer output since his ChiSox days. In '71 his big bounce doubled his homer total and nearly did the same to his RBI count. It also landed him two successive All-Star selections and his second Comeback Player award. He got a bit more post-season action following the '72 season and then began his slide. By August '74 he was done. Norm finished with a .271 average with 377 homers and 1,103 RBI's. He also put up a .374 OBA. In the post-season he hit .311 with two homers and seven RBI's in 45 at bats. He ranks in the top 25 in games and assists at first base and in the top 50 in putouts.

Cash had relocated to Michigan during his time with the Tigers on a permanent basis and in the off season worked a bunch locally, including in banking. At the end of his playing career he moved into the auto parts supply business. He also had a gig broadcasting Monday Night Baseball for ABC for a few years in the mid-Seventies. Still a big drinker, he suffered a stroke in '79 when he was only 44. He would eventually recover and then do some local broadcasting in the early Eighties. In '86 he slipped off a dock in rural Michigan, fell in the water late at night, and drowned. He was 51.

Norm gets one star bullet so it of course covers his big '61. He was drafted by the Bears in the 13th round but opted for the Sox instead.

This has been a lame month of posting. The new blogger format sucks and it’s taken five attempts to post this entry. Also too much work. Let's sum up the rest of April of '73 in the music world. On April 21 a new song took over Number One in both the US and the UK. "Tie a Yellow Ribbon Round the Old Oak Tree" was a huge hit for Tony Orlando and Dawn. On the 26th, Elton John started his own record company, Rocket Records. He was still under contract on both sides of the pond so he wouldn't be able to record for it until '76. On the 29th rising star John Denver began a weekly show on BBC television.

This is the last card in a three-card AL run so let's get Norm and Larry together:

1. Cash and Jim Perry '73 Tigers;
2. Perry and Rod Carew '67 to '72 Twins;
3. Carew and Larry Hisle '73 to '77 Twins.