Tuesday, July 31, 2012

#408 - Charlie Hough

Like the subject of the last post, Charlie Hough had an absurdly long career although Charlie does seem more deserving of one, at least stats-wise. Also, Like Jim Wohlford, this is Charlie’s first solo card as he had a rookie card in ’73. That was a pretty good rookie season for Charlie, who put up nice numbers as a set-up guy including nearly a strikeout an inning. He seems awfully tight-lipped at Shea in this photo. Maybe someone just asked him the secret to throwing an effective knuckler and he doesn’t want to give it up.

Charlie Hough was raised in Hialeah, Florida, where he was a baseball prodigy. He pitched American Legion ball, normally a 16 and over league, when he was in junior high school and played in the Cape Cod League – a summer college one – after his sophomore year in high school. His senior year at Hialeah High he went 11-2 with a 0.68 ERA and hit .368 as an outfielder. That year was 1966 and Charlie was drafted and signed by the Dodgers for a decent-sized bonus with the intent of trying him out at both positions. That summer in Rookie ball he hit .244 and it was pretty much decided he would be a pitcher and even though his 4.76 ERA seems high, it was one of the better ones in the league. The following year he had nice numbers in Single A but his ERA floated up a bunch in a couple games at Double A Albuquerque. He stayed at that level the next two seasons putting up mediocre numbers. The winter following his '69 season he started dabbling with the knuckler and it helped him move up a level where he posted much better numbers – including 18 saves - and later made his debut in LA. ‘71 was a bit of a slowdown and master knuckler Hoyt Wilhelm was brought in to help a bit. Charlie got things ironed out and put up excellent stats, including 14 saves. That season got him pushed up top in ’73 for good.

In ’74 Hough did more set-up work, now for Cy winner Mike Marshall, and had a 9-4 record even though his ERA climbed by a run. In ’75 the ERA came in again, but so did the innings and the wins as his record fell to 3-9. Then, after Marshall lost his effectiveness and was traded to Atlanta, Charlie became the stopper, probably recording his best season in that role in ’76 when he went 12-8 with 18 saves and a 2.21 ERA. In ’77 he went 6-12 with a 3.32 ERA and 22 saves and his strikeouts jumped a bunch. Then in ’78 Terry Forster took the closer role while in ’79 staff injuries and ineffectiveness forced Charlie into 14 starts which helped up his innings a bunch and his record to 7-5, but with a 4.76 ERA was not exactly a successful transition. After a poor beginning to the ’80 season he was sold to the Rangers.

Hough had a better second half to the ’80 season with Texas, again primarily in relief. He picked up that role again in ’81 and even though he only got into 21 games he posted much better numbers, going 4-1 with a 2.96 ERA and adding a few spot starts. So in ’82 Texas decided to move Charlie to the rotation and this time it worked as over the next seven seasons he averaged a record of 16-14 with a 3.58 ERA. In '86 he won 17 and was an All-Star. In ’87 he won 18 while leading the AL in starts with 40 and innings pitched while posting 223 strikeouts, the only time he topped 200. In ’89 and ’90 his stats tailed off a bit as his ERA climbed above 4.00 – though it was still better than league-average – and he went a combined 22-25. After the ’90 season he moved to the White Sox as a free agent, going 16-22 in two seasons. In ’93 he went the free agent route again, this time hooking up with the new Marlins, for whom he started their first game ever. He finished out his career for Florida in ’94 at age 46, becoming one of a few guys who both started and relieved in 400 games. He went 216-216 for his career with a 3.75 ERA, 107 complete games, 13 shutouts, and 61 saves. In the post-season, all with LA, he had no decisions with a 4.82 ERA in eight games with three walks and 20 strikeouts in 19 innings. He has a very detailed “Bullpen” bio on the baseball-reference site.

Hough pretty much immediately returned to baseball through coaching, primarily in the LA organization: in the minors (’96-’98 and 2007-’10); and up top (’98-’99). He also coached for the Mets in NY (2001-’02), minor league ball for the Padres (2003), and in independent ball (2006). Since 2011 he has been working with LA on the player development side.

Here we get some star bullets on Charlie’s then extensive minor league career. He had a few contemporaries born in Hawaii as well: Mike Lum, Milt Wilcox, and Doug Capilla.

These two guys traveled so let’s see if that helps:

1. Hough and Von Joshua ’70 to ’71 and ’73 to ’74 Dodgers;
2. Joshua and Jim Wolford ’77 Brewers.

Monday, July 30, 2012

#407 - Jim Wohlford

Contrary to some recent post subjects this guy had a pretty long career, certainly much longer then I would have expected when he started. Jim Wohlford is fresh off his rookie year, during which he is photographed in Oakland with Gail Hopkins behind him. After half a season of Triple A ball Jim came up to KC where he had a season very indicative of his career: an average a bit north of .260; a little speed without much power; and lots of defensive replacement time in the outfield. But his time in the field certainly made an impression on management since they traded Lou Piniella in order to give Jim a shot at the regular left field job. I guess it seemed like a good idea at the time. Oops.

Jim Wohlford grew up in Visalia, California where he was an infielder and was drafted by the Angels after high school. He shot them down and instead went to the College of the Sequoias where he played ball for a year and made the JUCO All-American team before he was drafted by the Royals in 1970. This time he bit and he was able to hit above or near .300 at Rookie, Single A, and Triple A stops his first three seasons in the minors. At those levels he played mostly infield and his few games up in ’72 he played second base. When he came up for good the next year he DH’d a bunch and in the field was strictly an outfielder.

In ’74 Wohlford got his shot at left field as the guy to replace Piniella. While his .271 with a .327 OBA was certainly no disaster, it didn’t come close to Lou’s best seasons and the speed he brought to the lineup, while it was evident in higher stolen base totals, didn’t exactly wow people since he got picked off 44% of the time. So in ’75 Hal McRae got the lion’s share of work in left while Jim split right with Al Cowens. The next year Cowens took over right solo and Jim returned to left where he split time with rookie Tom Poquette. Though he got starting post-season time – he hit .167 with a .333 OBA and two steals in five games against NY – his .249 vs. Poquette’s .302 gave the nod to the new guy and after the season Jim went to Milwaukee with Jamie Quirk and Bob McClure for Jim Colborn and Darrell Porter. In ’77 he was the primary guy in left but he hit .248 with an OBA under .300 and when the Brewers brought in Larry Hisle as a free agent and Ben Oglivie in a trade, Jim’s at bats dropped by nearly three-quarters even though he upped his average to nearly .300. In ’79 it was more of the same and after that season he left as a free agent.

Wohlford signed with San Francisco, switching leagues though returning to his old haunt in left field. He hit .280 in 193 at bats in ’80 but rarely played in ’81, his average dropping to .162 in only 68 at bats, mostly as a pinch hitter. In ’82 he hit .256 in 250 at bats and at the end of that season went to Montreal for Chris Smith. For the Expos Jim had one of his best years in ’84 when he hit .300 in 213 at bats with five homers and a .342 OBA. After two more back-up seasons the Expos released him and for ’87 he hooked up with Cincinnati. For the Reds he hit .210 in Triple A and was then done. Jim finished with an MLB average of .260 with 21 homers and 305 RBI’s. '76 was his only post-season experience.

After playing Wohlford returned to Visalia where he has been working as a financial advisor, most recently with Wells Fargo. During his career he returned to school to finish his degree at the College of the Sequoias, for whom he has hosted an annual golf tournament for a bunch of years.

Jim went five for five in a game for the Giants also. I think he is the third guy in the set to like “rock-n-roll” records on his card. A couple more and we have enough for a pretty good band.

Speaking of music, there is a bunch of items to post. July 28, 1973 was a busy day. In the UK Gary Glitter had a new Number One with “I’m the Leader of the Band, I Am.” It’s more typical over-the-top performance stuff which is now difficult for me to watch in light of his later transgressions. Also on this date back in the States a group by the name of Lynyrd Skynyrd announced the release of its debut album. A bit north at Watkins Glen a concert seen by over 600,000 people featured the Allman Brothers, the Grateful Dead, and the Band. On July 30 Led Zeppelin performed at Madison Square Garden in the concert used for their movie “The Song Remains the Same” – I always though that concert was from ’75 – which had to be a better night than their last one when they were ripped off of $180,000 in proceeds from that night’s show. In 1974, July 27 featured two new Number Ones. In the US, John Denver’s “Annie’s Song” was written for his wife, with whom he was going through a rough patch. In the UK “Rock Your Baby”, just replaced by “Annie’s Song” in the States, took over for a three-week run. On July 29, 1974 Cass Elliot, former singer from The Mamas and the Papas passed away from a heart attack in London. She was 32.

A near-Cy winner helps in this hook-up:

1. Wohlford and Mike Caldwell ’77 to ’79 Brewers;
2. Caldwell and Steve Arlin ’71 to ’73 Padres.

Friday, July 27, 2012

#406 - Steve Arlin

Here we have the first card of a Padre not joined by one with a “Washington NL” designation. By this point in the set it was clear that new ownership of the team – namely Ray Kroc – would keep it in San Diego so the team designation on all the cards – even the ones already issued – would revert to San Diego. So Topps had to do reissues of all the Padres who had cards before Steve here who looks mildly discomfited even though he didn’t have to go through the process. I can certainly understand why. In ’73 he finally put together a season in which his losses didn’t pretty much completely overwhelm his wins but somehow managed to inflate his ERA by way over a run in the process. If he could only have matched his worse ERA of the prior two years he probably would have more than turned his record around. Tough time to be in San Diego and Steve was probably pining for his days back in Ohio.

Steve Arlin was born in Seattle and by his high school years was living and pitching in Ohio. After graduating in ’63 he went to Ohio State where he would become one of the best college pitchers ever. His sophomore year of ’65 he went 13-2 with a school-record 165 strikeouts including 20 in a 15-inning game during the CWS, which they ultimately lost – the series, not the game – to Arizona State. After that season he was drafted by Detroit but opted to stay in school. In ’66 he went 11-1 with 129 strikeouts while leading Ohio State to its only CWS title and winning MVP of the tournament. Both seasons he was an All-American. After his junior year he was tabbed by the Phillies in the draft and this time opted to go when Philadelphia met his asking price of $106,000. In A ball that summer he did pretty well, going 7-6 with a 3.27 ERA and 116 strikeouts in 110 innings. The next year he didn’t start pitching until late June because a stipulation of his contract was that he be allowed to attend school until he finished. He threw a no-hitter that summer in Double A but other than that it was a bust as his K numbers came way down and his record fell to 2-7 with a 4.46 ERA. That pattern repeated itself in a ’68 split between A and Triple A and ’69 and ’70 spent at the higher levels: late season starts because of school with not great results and strikeout totals that were even with his walks. Prior to the ’69 season he went to San Diego in the expansion draft and got his first MLB action that year and got bombed. But after a shutout late in September of ’70 over the Braves and with his degree finally in hand, he seemed ready to roll.

Arlin was up to stay in ’71 and although he was able to resuscitate his strikeout totals and had a pretty good ERA he led the NL in losses with 19. He turned pretty much the same trick in ’72, this time leading all of baseball with his 21 losses. Than came that weird ’73, but all his past would only be prelude for his ’74: a 1-7 record with a 5.91 ERA and twice as many walks as strikeouts made Steve expendable and that June he went to Cleveland for Brent Strom, another former great college pitcher who couldn’t get it going in the bigs. For the Indians things didn’t get better – that’s how things went for those guys back then – and after going 2-5 with a 6.60 ERA for the Tribe Steve was done. He finished with a record of 34-67 with a 4.33 ERA with 32 complete games and eleven shutouts. That was pretty much on par with his work in the minors: 19-33 with a 4.47 ERA.

After playing Arlin settled immediately into his new profession, the one that demanded all that schooling. He became a dentist, first around Columbus, Ohio, and then back in San Diego. Baseball-wise his number was retired at Ohio State and he was elected to the College Hall of Fame in 2008.

That bonus generally moves around from $100,000 to the one posted in the star bullet. Denny Doyle broke up the no-hitter up top in ’72. His grandpa broadcasted the first radio baseball game ever in Pittsburgh.

These two are certainly on the right coast for a short hook-up:

1. Arlin and Ollie Brown ’69 to ’72 Padres;
2. Brown and Ellie Rodriguez ’72 to ’73 Brewers.He also led the league in walks and with 15 wild pitches.Then came that weird ‘73

Thursday, July 26, 2012

#405 - Ellie Rodriguez

Now this card is airbrushed for sure as its subject was part of a big trade between the Angels and the Brewers in October ’73 (there are six other players involved in the trade with airbrushed cards). Topps was probably in a hurry to get Ellie Rodriguez in an Angels uniform because none of their starting ’73 catchers made the set. This shot appears to be taken at the Milwaukee spring training site given the big termite mound behind Ellie. His last year as a Brewer was mixed: though he split starting time a bunch more with Darrell Porter he had one of his better offensive seasons, put up a pretty nice OBA of .376, and threw out 52% of attempted base stealers, way better than league average. Regarding the card itself the airbrush job isn’t crazy bad – though the artist seems to have had a tough time with the halo - and Topps certainly gives Ellie the benefit of the doubt by handing him an honorary card number.

Ellie Rodriguez was signed by the A’s out of high school in Puerto Rico and got in a summer of Rookie – where he hit .354 – and A ball before he was plucked by the Yankees in the first year draft. He spent the next four seasons moving up the ladder from A ball to Triple A, some years hitting reasonably well – like his .291 in ’68 – and some years not, but generally fielding pretty well. It was during this time that he and his brother mugged Bill Lee after a game in which Lee had thrown at Ellie and then had to be rescued by Ron Woods. But by then NY had a couple better-hitting catchers in Thurman Munson and John Ellis and after a couple games up top Ellie was left unprotected for the expansion draft and he was selected by the Royals.

For Kansas City Rodriguez was the primary catcher the team’s initial season. He was rewarded with an All-Star selection which was odd because he was only hitting .260 at game time. The next year he split starting time with Ed Kirkpatrick and then after the season was traded to the Brewers for Carl Taylor. In Milwaukee he took over as the number one guy behind the plate the next three seasons. In ’71 he threw out 58% of attempted stealers and in ’72 he got another All-Star nod, this time more deserving because he was hitting nearly .300 when selected. He also peaked out that year with a .382 OBA. After the ’73 season he went to California with Ollie Brown, Skip Lockwood, Joe Lahoud, and Gary Ryerson for Steve Barber, Art Kusnyer, Ken Berry, Clyde Wright, and cash. For the Angels in ’74 Ellie put in his most single season games behind the plate with 137 and got the most walks of his career, enabling him to keep his OBA level even though his average slid a bit to .253. In ’75 an influx of new catchers reduced his starting time though he did get to catch a Nolan Ryan no-hitter. After the season he was traded to LA for Orlando Alvarez but with Steve Yeager and Joe Ferguson ahead of him for most of the season rarely played, hitting .212 in 66 at bats, although he did put up a .400 OBA. He was released during spring training of ’77 and then hooked up that year with Pittsburgh’s Triple A club for whom he hit .224 in 50 games before being released. That ended his time in the States as a player and he finished with a .245 average with 16 homers and 203 RBI’s. For his career he threw out 41% of attempted runners against a league-average of 38%.

Rodriguez, who had played winter ball pretty much his whole career, continued doing so after his playing career north of the border was done. From ’78 to ’82 he played in Mexico where he also managed in ’79. He also managed in the league in ’85 and between both stints and for a while thereafter appears to have coached both in Mexico and Puerto Rico. In ’98 he became affiliated with the new Atlantic League and continues his affiliation as director of Latin America scouting and player development.

Ellie gets the star bullet props for his All-Star selections - he never played – and his defensive work. He joins Bill Sudakis as one-time Yankees who were bowling fans. No little traded type though.

This hook-up involves two other league-crossing catchers:

1. Rodriguez and Ed Kirkpatrick ’69 to ’70 Royals;
2. Kirkpatrick and Fran Healy ’73 Royals;
3. Healy and Jim Howarth ’71 to ’72 Giants.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

#404 - Jim Howarth

This is the second and final card of Jim Howarth’s career. Jim came along at a tough time to be an outfielder for the Giants. With contemporaries named Bonds, Maddox, and Matthews he wasn’t going to get much of a chance up top  unless he could hit over .300 with 30-plus homers and 100-plus RBI’s and things didn’t really roll that way. So Jim spent ’73 backing up in center field, a role he also played in ’72. So it was good that he did a nice job at an early age preparing for life after baseball.

Jim Howarth grew up in Biloxi, Mississippi, where he played football and baseball in high school and his senior year in ’65 led his team to the state championship in the latter sport. He then went to Mississippi State where he stuck to baseball and in his junior year of ’68 hit .351 and was all-conference. He was drafted by the Giants that spring and put up a pretty good average in A ball. He then spent the next two seasons in Double A where he put up some nice fielding numbers. The next year he lost some time to the military but got elevated a level and pushed his average up over 100 points with a .428 OBA. He debuted for the Giants that September but missed out on any post-season action.

In ’74 Howarth got into a few games for the Giants as a late-inning guy and spent most of the season back in Triple A where he hit .242 in 51 games which ended things. He finished with a .220 average up top and a .271 average in the minors. By the time he debuted for the Giants he had returned to finish his degree in accounting and while playing interned in commercial banking in the off-season. He returned to the Biloxi area and has been in banking since, his most recent position being Senior VP of retail sales for Hancock Bank.

Jim gets star bullets for some minor league accomplishments – not too surprising – and has about the most predictive cartoon so far in the set.

Given this relatively short post, it’s a good one to get caught up in music news. On July 18, 1973 Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band begins a six-night stay at Max’s Kansas City opening for Bob Marley and the Wailers in Greenwich Village. It is the first set of gigs for Bruce that gets him significant media attention regarding the energy and durability of his live act. On July 21 new Number One’s top the charts in the US and the UK. In the States, Jim Croce’s “Bad Bad Leroy Brown” gets the title and in the UK “Welcome Home” by Peters and Lee starts a one-week run. A guy/girl group, the guy - I assume Peters – appears to be blind and could be anywhere from about 25 to 50 years old. The tune is a syrupy love song that would have been perfect on one of those variety shows so popular back then and was a good miss from the US charts.

Again we do the double, starting with Darrell Johnson as a manager:

1. Howarth and Juan Marichal ’71 to ’73 Giants;
2. Marichal was managed by Darrell Johnson on the ’74 Red Sox.

Now for Johnson as a player:

1. Howarth and Tito Fuentes ’71 to ‘73 Giants;
2. Fuentes and Ollie Brown ’65 to ’67 Giants;
3. Ollie Brown and Tony Gonzalez ’69 Padres;
4. Gonzalez and Darrell Johnson ’61 Phillies.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

#403 - Darrell Johnson/Red Sox Field Leaders

I do not believe this card is airbushed. If it is, it’s an awfully good job. If not, then Topps either pulled out an old photo or a very new one because Darrell Johnson was not the manager of the Red Sox in ’73. That guy was Eddie Kasko, but he was fired right when the season ended, even though he did a pretty decent job managing the team. Darrell had a good ’73 also, managing the Sox Triple A affiliate Pawtucket to a league championship. The reason I believe this could be an old shot is because Darrell coached for the Sox up top under Dick Williams in ’68 and ’69, so this photo may be from then. In any case, his success at Pawtucket led to his being named Kasko’s replacement. While his ’74 wouldn’t be terribly dissimilar to Kasko’s ’73, Darrell would sure enjoy a momentous year in ’75 when he took the Sox to Game Seven against the Reds and won that year’s Manager of the Year. Right here he just looks happy being anywhere associated with baseball, whether he’s airbrushed or not.

Darrell Johnson was born in Nebraska and relocated to California from where he was signed out of amateur ball by the Browns in ’49 when he was 20 (or by the birthdate on this card, 21). A catcher, he would have some decent offensive seasons while moving from D ball to Double A the next four years and in ’52 split a season as a backup guy up top for the Browns and the White Sox, to whom he was traded that summer. He spent ’53 in Double A for Chicago and then returned to the Browns/Orioles – as part of a deal for Virgil Trucks before the ’54 season. After it he went to the Yankees in the same deal that got NY Don Larsen and in ’55 and ’56 hit over .300 as the regular catcher in Triple A. He then spent ’57 and ’58 playing behind Yogi, which meant almost zero at bats, in NY. After a ’59 back in Triple A where his average melted a bunch, he moved around a lot: to St. Louis, the Philles, the Reds, and finally back to Baltimore in ’62. Each year from ’60 to ’62 he got some token at bats up top. He also helped out in coaching which would be a prelude to his new career after he was released in ’62. He hit .234 up top and finally got some Series action in ’61, when he hit .500. In the minors he hit .287.

Johnson then began managing in the Orioles system, beginning with Triple A Rochester in ’63. In ’64 he took them to the title and after a disappointing follow-up in ’65, switched spots with the Double A manager, a guy named Earl Weaver. Darrell then scouted for the Yankees in ’67 before taking over as Boston pitching coach in ’68 and ’69. In ’70 he became a roving minor league coach before taking over Louisville/Pawtucket from ’71 to ’73. Despite his success in ’75 he was pretty quickly replaced after a slow start to the ’76 season by Don Zimmer. But he wasn’t out of work too long as later that summer he was named the manager for the new Seattle franchise. He avoided last place two of his three full years with that team and was replaced toward the end of his fourth season by Maury Wills. He became a coach for the Rangers – under Zimmer – and mid-way through the ’82 season replaced him as manager. That was his final stint in that role and he finished with a record up top of 472-590 and in the minors was 548-473. He then took a series of jobs for the Mets: coach (’83); scout (’84-’93); coordinator of minor leagues (’85-’86); and special assistant to the GM (’93-’99). He then retired and passed away in 2004 at age 75 after a bout with leukemia.

Don Bryant had just segued from being a player to a coach when this card came out. A Florida-born catcher, he was signed by Detroit in ’59, and spent three years in D ball – he missed some time for the service – hitting .272 with 65 RBI’s his final season at that level in ’62. He then spent most of the next two seasons in Double A and then after hitting .179 to start the ’65 season in Triple A was sold to the Cubs, where he didn’t hit much better the rest of the way at the same level. But in ’66 he hit .313 in Triple A and .308 in a few games up top for Chicago in his debut. Before the next season he moved to the Giants in a trade, hit pretty well for them back in Triple A in ’67 and then not so well at that level the following year. He was then drafted by Houston as a Rule 5 guy and spent all of ’69 with the Astros and some of ’70 as well although neither year did he see much action. In the majors he finished with a .220 average with 13 RBI’s in 109 at bats. He spent the rest of the ’70 season back in the minors and before spring training the following year was sold to Boston. For them he hit OK at Triple A that year and then saw diminished time behind the plate as he worked more with the younger guys and became a de facto coach in ’73. In the minors he hit .250 with 35 homers. When Johnson came up he brought Don with him as bullpen coach and he did that through ’76 and then moved with him to Seattle from ’77 to ’80. He seems to have at some point relocated full time to Florida but after his coaching days his professional ones are a bit of a mystery.

Technically Eddie Popowski could have had this manager card since he managed – and won – the Sox’ final game of the ’73 season after Eddie Kasko was dismissed. This Eddie was a Red Sox forever. Born in NJ he was a second baseman who got his pro ball start with the House of David team after he’d already worked at various jobs since he left school in eighth grade. A tiny guy at maybe 5’5”, he was signed by Boston in ’36, finished up that year with the HOD guys, and then hit .281 his first season in A ball the next year. A second baseman, he spent the next four years at that level as his average faded over that time, bottoming at .176 in ’41. The next year he was in the service where he broke his knee badly enough that he never had to do any overseas time during WW II. He returned in ’43 to Double A where he hit only .225 when he was 29 so an MLB career wasn’t in the cards. Instead he continued to play – he topped out at .321 in B ball in ’45 – and began managing in the minors. He finished with a .258 average and lots of fielding titles. He would put in some long seasons, managing in both the regular season and the instructional one and through ’66 put up a record of 1,568-1,357. In ’67 he came up as a coach for Boston which he did through ’75; he also managed after Dick Williams left at the end of the ’69 season and finished with a record up top of 6-4. He coached in the minors to kick off ’76 and then returned to Boston when Don Zimmer replaced Darrell Johnson that year. From then to ’89 he was a special instructor in the Instructional League and from ’89 to 2001 an infielder coach at that level as well as a spring training coach for the Sox. He was still working for Boston when he passed away in 2001 from lung cancer at age 88.

Lee Stange was born and raised in and near Chicago where in high school he was his school’s quarterback, point guard, and pitcher. He then went to Drake University with the intent of playing all three sports but got shut out in hoops and baseball because at some point he badly injured his knee. After leaving school after his junior year he signed with the Senators in ’57 and had a rough start that summer in D ball. But he improved significantly the next year and then did the same routine the next couple seasons in B ball, going 20-13 in ’60. After spending most of the ’61 season in Triple A he made his debut up top in Minnesota later that year, winning his first game. Since he was a pretty small guy – about 5’9” – pretty much everyone viewed him as a reliever, his primary role his first couple seasons up top. In ’63 he got some time in the rotation and responded with his best season, going 12-5 with a 2.62 ERA. After a rough start to the next season he went to Cleveland as part of the deal that brought Mudcat Grant to the Twins. After a nice ’65 for the Tribe, he moved to Boston during the ’66 season. Then in ’67 he put in the best ERA of the starters – 2.77 – on the AL pennant-winner and got some Series time. For the Sox the next three seasons he worked primarily out of the pen where in ’68 he had 12 saves. In ’70 he was traded to the White Sox where he finished things. He went 62-61 up top with a 3.56 ERA, 32 complete games, eight shutouts, and 21 saves and in his only post-season work gave up zero earned runs in his two innings. He then became a coach, primarily with Boston: in the minors (’71, ’80, and ’85-’94); and the majors (’72-’74, ’81-’84). He also coached for the Twins (’75) and Oakland (’76 in the minors and ’77 –’79 up top). In the mid-Nineties he relocated to Florida where he coached for Florida Tech, a D3 school, which he did formally through about 2007 and continues to do on a volunteer basis.

Don Zimmer is another baseball lifer who also happened to be a pretty small guy, at least in terms of height. Born and raised in Cincinnati, he was signed out of high school by the Dodgers in ’49 and did a pretty good job working up the ladder: in ’52 he hit over .300 in Double A and the next two seasons did the same thing in Triple A, all three years with pretty good power for a small middle infielder. He debuted up top in ’54 but barely played, for obvious reasons. He got a bunch more time in ’55 due to Jackie Robinson ratcheting things down a bunch and also got some Series work, winning a ring. His ability to play second, short, and third helped keep him in the line-up and in ’57 he returned to get some regular work there. In ’58 he had probably his best season, hitting .262 with 17 homers and 60 RBI’s in 127 games.  He stuck around for another ring in ’59 and then was traded to the Cubs where he was a regular the next two seasons. He was then drafted by the Mets following the ’61 season and after a few games at third base for those guys went to Cincinnati, where he finished out the season. In ’63 he spent a little time back in LA before he was sold to the Senators where he played the next three seasons, finishing things up in ’65 – a year he actually caught 33 games and threw out half attempted steals - with a .235 average, 91 homers, and 352 RBI’s. He hit .200 with a couple RBI’s in five post-season games. In ’66 Zim went to play in Japan where he did not have a great season. When he returned to the States in ’67 he managed in the Cincinnati system as a player-coach for a year – and even pitched – before finishing as a player at that level with a .287 average. He continued to manage in the minors for the Reds (’68); the Cubs (’69), and San Diego (’70). He then moved to the majors as a coach for Montreal in ’71 and San Diego in ’72. Later that second year he took over as Padres manager which he did through ’73. He then coached for Boston from ’74 to ’76 before replacing Johnson as manager. He remained with the Sox through ’80, nearly winning a division in ’78, and then went to Texas as its manager from ’81 to ’82. After a year coaching with the Yankees in ’83 he returned to the Cubs, first as coach (’84-’86) and then as manager (’88-’91), with stints back in NY (’86) and San Francisco (’87). In ’89 he won his division and Manager of the Year. After that it was almost strictly coaching: back in Boston (’92); Colorado (’93-‘95); again with the Yankees (’96-2004); and then with Tampa (’04-present). For a bit in ’99 he took over as manager of NY while Joe Torre was out for surgery. Outside of that bit Zim went 885-858 as a manger up top. He is the last guy still in baseball who played for Brooklyn.

With a manager card we get the double hook-up. First for Darrell as manager:

1. Johnson managed Bob Robertson on the ’78 Mariners;
2. Robertson and Jim Rooker ’73 to ’76 Pirates.

Now for Darrell as a player:

1. Johnson and Jerry Lynch ’61 to ’62 Reds;
2. Lynch and Willie Stargell ’63 to ’66 Pirates;
3. Stargell and Jim Rooker ’73 to ’80 Pirates.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

#402 - Jim Rooker

This may be my least favorite card of Jim Rooker. With no smile, he appears to still be in his Kansas City mode where he had reasons to frown. But ’73 was the start of a good run for Jim with his new Pirates team. He won double figures for the first time in three years and did it this time with a winning record. Plus his ERA improved by about a run over his KC days and he topped out that year in saves with five. On top of all that he hit .245, channeling his past outfielder days. So he should have been happy at Shea. He would give us a big smile on his ’75 card so maybe it just took a year to all get absorbed.

Jim Rooker was born in Oregon and by the time he was signed by the Tigers out of high school in 1960 had relocated to Illinois. An outfielder with pretty good speed and a gun for an arm, Jim kicked off things at that position that summer in D ball, hitting .220. He then upped it to .268 at that level the next year with a league-leading 13 triples. Jim was a pretty free swinger and his K totals would be pretty high. In ’62 he hit .281 with 16 homers and 80 RBI’s, along with 27 stolen bases from the leadoff spot. In ’63 he finally moved up to A ball where he pretty much replicated his prior year’s numbers and again led his league in triples. But strikeouts were still a problem and the next year the grand experiment began as his offensive numbers slid to .215 split between A and Double A and he went 3-4 at the lower level with a high ERA. ’65 was a developmental year and then in ’66 he went 12-5 in A ball with a 2.05 ERA. ’67 was a good year split between Double and Triple A and in ’68 he went 14-8 with a 2.61 ERA and an IL-leading 206 strikeouts in 190 innings in Triple A. Those numbers got him a few innings up top with the Tigers in their Series season.

After the ’68 season Rooker either got sold or traded for reliever John Wyatt to the Yankees. Shortly thereafter he was selected by the Royals in the expansion draft. After going 2-0 in two starts in both Single A and Triple A early in the season he moved up to KC for his official rookie season at age 26. While his ERA pretty much matched that of the AL, he only went 4-16. His highlight for the year was probably the two dingers he hit off Jim Kaat in a game; he was the first Royal to turn that trick. In ’70 he improved markedly by winning ten and chopped some numbers off his ERA but the momentum was short-lived as a poor start to his ’71 season and inconsistencies the next couple years got him thrown in the pen and the minors, although ’72 was significantly better than the earlier year. After the season he was traded to Pittsburgh for reliever Gene Garber.

After Rooker’s ’73 revival he was rewarded with a regular spot in the rotation that he would hold onto the rest of his stay on the team. His ’74 would be one of his best seasons as he went 15-11 with a 2.78 ERA and hit .305. He then pitched well in a start against the Dodgers in the playoffs. He then averaged 14-9 records a season the next three years, all with quite good ERA’s. In ’78 his ERA popped a run, as his walks topped his strikeouts and he went 9-11. That continued into ’79 when he went 4-7 and his starts were reduced to 17 when he really couldn’t get it going. But he got some Series work and did well, giving up only one run in nine innings, five of them in a surprise start. In ’80 he got off to a pretty good start but hurt his arm in his fourth game and was unable to pitch thereafter, ending his career. Jim finished with a 103-109 record, a 3.46 ERA, 66 complete games, 15 shutouts, and seven saves. He hit .201 with seven homers and went 0-1 with a 3.20 ERA in 19 post-season innings.

Rooker stayed busy after playing. He auditioned for a Pirates announcing job and became the regular radio color guy from ’81 to ’93. He famously indicated in a game in ’89 in which the Pirates took a 10-0 lead in the first inning against the Phillies that he would walk home if Pittsburgh lost. They did and he ended up raising $81,000 for a local hospital when after the season he walked from Philly to Pittsburgh in five days. He also started a restaurant in the Pittsburgh suburbs that he continued to run after he finished announcing and visited about once a month after he moved to Florida in 2006. Shortly after that, missing his grandkids, he authored a series of children’s books with a baseball theme and, building on that, became involved in some local charity work on behalf of kids with cancer. He currently resides in the Jacksonville area.

 Most of the back stuff was covered up front. I believe he is the first guy who mentions guns or hunting in his cartoon.

Jim and Elliott nearly played together up top and did so in the minors:

 1. Rooker and Lou Piniella ’69 to ’72 Royals;
 2. Piniella and Elliott Maddox ’74 to ’76 Yankees.  

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

#401 - Elliott Maddox

Back in the mid-Seventies, right before the Yankees got playoff-good, this guy was one of the reasons to be hopeful for the future. When NY picked him up – by the time this card came out he was there – Jersey Yankee fans were mildly psyched that one of our own was going to be a regular. The mildly part was due to Elliott’s rep as a good fielder/poor hitter type but then in ’74 he turned that notion on its head as he took over the regular center fielder job, hit .303 with a .395 OBA, and finished eighth in AL MVP voting. Then in ’75 he was running at about the same pace until Shea Stadium got in the way. That year-plus was definitely an uptick from the way things had gone recently in Texas. After missing the end of the ’72 season with a broken hand he had a great spring training – where this shot was taken – and got the starting center gig where he was hitting north of .320 by the end of April. He cooled off a bit, got hurt, and when he returned Vic Harris had taken over his position and Elliott got a bunch of pine time. Then he got a new manager in Billy Martin – more on that below – for whom he won his first game. But Elliott and Billy didn’t hit it off and prior to the ’74 season he was sold to NY. So maybe he knew something was up when he posed for this photo. We get a couple of his teammates in the background. The guy on the mound looks huge so I’m going with Jim Bibby and maybe Toby Harrah at shortstop. 

Elliott Maddox was born in East Orange and shortly thereafter moved to nearby Union, NJ. There in high school he was a shortstop/third baseman all-stater his junior and senior years of ’65 and ’66. That spring he also won a regional title with his American Legion team and got drafted by the Astros. But Elliott wanted to go to school and so opted for the University of Michigan where he played the outfield and his sophomore season won the Big Ten hitting crown with a .467 average. He also hit three homers and had 16 RBI’s which doesn’t seem like a whole lot until you realize their seasons only ran about twenty games back then. That summer he was selected by Detroit in the first round and then hit over .300 for a couple of Single A teams. After a .301 at that level while playing third and the outfield Detroit brought him up for the ’70 season.

The Tigers were big fans of Maddox’ diversity position-wise so they jumped him three levels to get him on the roster which was a bit unsettled – mostly by age – in his best positions. That first season up top he played in all three spots and seemingly endeared himself to the guys in charge so when he was included in the deal that dumped Denny McLain on Washington for Jerry Coleman, Aurelio Rodriguez, and Ed Brinkman he attributed the decision to trade him to new Detroit manager Billy Martin. Elliott had a good spring his first year to get manager Ted Williams all excited, but then didn’t produce too well during the regular season. He upped his average a bunch in ’72 and then had that injury. When he finally returned to the line-up after his injury in ’73 his hitting woes continued and then to top that off his friend Billy became his manager again. Despite winning Martin’s first game for him, there was no love lost between the two and Martin sent Elliott packing during spring training of ’74.

After his big year. Maddox kicked off ’75 at a good clip and was hitting .307 when that June his leg got caught in the slop of the Shea outfield and as he made a throw to the infield he did some nasty damage to his knee. That ended his season right there and he didn’t return until late in the ’76 season, stroking a double in his first at bat. In the meantime the Yankees got a new manager in – who else – Billy Martin. The two had had a showdown in ’75 spring training when Elliott opined that Martin couldn’t handle him, Martin replied that Maddox was a flash in the pan, and their first game in the spring Elliott got plunked by a Jim Bibby pitch that he said Martin called. That led to a fight on the diamond and some more words so Elliott wasn’t exactly enthused at the managerial change later that summer. But they had a chat, settled on playing ball, and despite not playing too much that year, Elliott got into five post-season games. But then he was gone again as before the ’77 season he went to Baltimore with Rich Bladt for Paul Blair. Elliott had to do more rehab that year on his knee and didn’t get into an O’s game until July and though his ability to move was severely hampered now, pushed up his average a bunch in some late games. After that season he signed with the Mets as a free agent, returning to Shea, and spent most of the next two years playing right field and some third base. In ’80 he became the regular guy at the latter position against his wishes, fielded pretty well, and was then released to make room for new guy Hubie Brooks. Elliott signed with the Philles for whom he put in a partial season in the outfield in Triple A before he was released. He finished up top with a .262 average, a .358 OBA, and is in the top 75 for outfielder fielding percentages. He hit .214 in his five post-season games.

Maddox stayed occasionally high-profile after he played. At a lawyer’s suggestion he sued the City of NY, the Mets, and the Yankees for contributing to the ’75 knee injury that wrecked his career. He got his suit all the way up to the state supreme court but lost in ’85. In the meantime he had taken on an investment banking career which he did through most of the Eighties. In ’89 he was a US representative on a tour of former Eastern Bloc countries in the wake of the Berlin Wall coming down, sent over there to help start various Little League teams. From ’90 to ’91 he was a Yankee coach. He then relocated to Florida where he continued to do some spring training work for NY, did some local baseball camps, and worked for the state’s Division of Children’s Services as a councilor and coach. He got into a little trouble with that when the state accused him of putting in for disability from that job while he was running around in his camp. He lost that gig, stuck to the baseball camp thing, and continued to coach local ball. He also got some press about his faith. While attending Michigan he took some religion classes and decided Juadaism was particularly appealing. He visited Israel a couple time, coached there in 2006 with ex-teammate Ron Blomberg, and had his bar mitzvah in 2009. He continues to reside and work in Florida.

I’m sure that second star bullet made old fiend Billy Martin happy. Maybe Topps was sticking it to Billy after the manager flipped them the bird on his ’72 card. Elliott is another big music guy.

Ironically I could link these two up through Martin, but there’s a quicker way:

1. Maddox and Don Mincher ’71 to ’72 Senators/Rangers;
2. Mincher and Harmon Killebrew ’60 to ’66 Senators/Twins.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

#400 - Harmon Killebrew

I’ve been on a good jag about being current with my posts but I couldn’t do this one on Friday the 13th, so I skipped a day, or a few since I don’t post on weekends and then got side-tracked. For the big 400 card Topps gives us an action shot of The Killer, who, despite an off year, is very deserving. And it was an off year: early season knee problems killed his power and then required surgery, pretty much cutting his year in half. And while he would return to double digit homer totals his next couple seasons, Harmon was in decline mode so he was not likely to get such an honorary card designation again. Let’s just chalk up the big number to his eight years of 40-plus homers. He is set to tee off somewhere on the road, but it’s hard to tell exactly where. He swung a pretty mean bat; he is about as far away from a choke grip as I’ve seen in the set.

Harmon Killebrew was born and raised in Payette, Idaho. In high school he played the big three sports and was an all-American in football. He planned to go to Oregon – his dad spent a bunch of time in Portland – but a state senator saw him playing summer baseball and happened to know Nats owner Clark Griffith and it was bye-bye football. Harmon signed with DC in ’54, a year outside of high school, for either $50,000 or $30,000, depending on the source. Either way, the amount was enough to land him bonus baby status and he spent his first two years exclusively on the Nats roster, rarely playing, and not hitting terribly well when he did. But he did show some big occasional power and when he was allowed to he hit the minors in ’56 where he hit .325 with 15 homers in A ball. He rose a level each season, continuing to show pretty good power, and after a few stints each year at the top was ready in ’59 to take over a regular spot in DC.

In ’59 Killebrew became the regular Washington third baseman which was his normal position in the minors. Finally given a chance to get decent at bats he responded by hitting an AL-leading 42 homers, probably making DC fans wonder why the team took so long in giving him the gig. Then in ’60 he split time between first and third while missing over a month due to hamstring problems. The guys who subbed for him while he was out were Reno Bertoia (3rd) and Julio Becquer (1st) which are both awfully good baseball names. In ’61 the team moved to Minnesota to become the Twins and Harmon spent most of his time at first while putting up the first of four consecutive 40-plus homer years. Then in ’62 he moved to left field when Don Mincher became the regular guy at first and continued to yank them despite playing with a pulled quad for a couple months. In ’63 a hurt knee contributed to his RBI totals sliding below 100 and in ’65 he cracked his elbow, missing a couple months during the big playoff run. But he hit .286 with a .444 OBA against the Dodgers in the Series and followed it up with two healthy seasons.  He also moved back to the infield as his knees were in pretty much constant pain and he did a better job as a fielder there anyway. Then after a slow start in ’68 he pulled a hamstring in the All-Star game and missed the rest of the year. But he returned big in ’69, leading the majors with 49 homers and 140 RBI’s while posting a .427 OBA to lead the Twins to the first AL playoffs. While the O’s would pitch around Harmon in that series – he was walked six times in three games – it ended an amazing decade in which he led the AL in homers five times, RBI’s twice, and walks three times. He hit the most homers of anyone in the decade and was an All-Star nine seasons.

The Seventies pretty much picked up where the Sixties left off for Killebrew as in ’70 he put up another 40-plus homer and .400-plus OBA year. That was his last year as the regular guy at third and in ’71 while the homer tally dropped he did lead the AL in RBI’s and walks in his final All-Star year. Then in ’72 the knee issue hit hard and the ribbies and average tumbled. After the further slowdown in ’73 he came back to DH in ’74 for about half a season to hit 13 homers and 54 RBI’s. After the year ended he was given the option of coaching, managing in the minors, or being released. He opted for the last one, hooked up with Kansas City for a year of DHing and was done. He finished with 573 homers, 1,584 RBI’s, 2,086 hits, a .256 average, and a .376 OBA. In the post-season he hit .250 with three homers, six RBI’s, and a .444 OBA in 13 games. He was elected to the Hall in ’84, his fourth year of eligibility.

After he was done playing, The Killer did some parallel professional things. In baseball he announced: for the Twins (’76-’78 and ’84-’88); Oakland (’79-’82), where he also served as hitting coach; and California (’83). He also had his own insurance agency from ’76 to ’87 and auto dealership from ’84 to ’90. That last year he relocated to Arizona and began to make a living from personal appearances. He also did a bunch of charity work, including organizing the Danny Thompson Memorial golf outing every year in Idaho and other work to raise funds for kids. In late 2010 he contracted esophageal cancer – he’d had issues with his esophagus in the early Nineties as well – and in May of 2011 decided to go into hospice care, passing away a few days later a few days shy of his 75th birthday.

Harmon gets no space for star bullets but certainly wouldn’t be hurting for them. He has a classy signature. When he retired he would be the number one guy in career homers for a right-hander.

 A couple of music items are worth noting. On July 13, 1973 the Everly Brothers put on their last concert in many years as a duo after Phil Everly smashed his guitar and walked offstage. Brother Don continued to perform, explaining the group breaking up by saying “the Everly Brothers died ten years ago.” They wouldn’t perform together again until ’84. The following day ex-Byrds guitarist Clarence White is killed by a drunk driver while loading a van after a concert. He was 29. On July 13, 1974 a new Number One song tops the charts in George McCrae’s “Rock Your Baby.” George had been an AOR guy who had also written hits for other artists, so of course his big one was written by someone else: Harry Wayne Casey, better known as KC of KC and the Sunshine Band. Finally on July 17th, Cat Stevens performs a charity gig for UNICEF at Madison Square Garden, and in return the group names him its first “pop music ambassador.” Pretty ironic title for a guy who would later demand the killing of author Salman Rushdie.

I am falling back again on the ex-MVP for the hook-up:

1. Killebrew and Zoilo Versalles ’59 to ’67 Senators/Twins;
2. Versalles and Mike Paul ’69 Indians.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

#399 - Mike Paul

I used to sit next to a guy at work who always said not to trust someone with two first names. But Mike Paul here looks like a stand-up guy. It is interesting that we get a card of someone who has been airbrushed right after the Duke Sims card because it points out my observation I made on that post: Mike here went to the Cubs in August of ’73 and needs to be air-brushed into his new colors; Duke went to NY the last week of September and Topps got him in his. Plus this photo looks awfully similar to the one on his ’73 card so it’s probably a year old anyway. But Topps was based in Brooklyn back then so maybe that’s the answer. Anyway, this post is about Mike and not Duke, so let’s get to the correct subject, who appears to be at the Rangers’ spring training site. ’73 was probably sort of a downer for Mike. He’d had by far his best season in ’72 as a swing guy and he had a shot at either a regular rotation job or as pen ace but his numbers went in the wrong direction pretty much from the get-go. In August he nearly killed Dwight Evans with a beanball and shortly thereafter he was traded to the Cubs for Larry Gura. Then in the last month for those guys he couldn’t get his strikeouts to top his walks. That’s no fun. This would be his final card.

Mike Paul was born in Detroit but shortly thereafter it was Arizona all the way as he went to high school and Cerritos Junior College in the state before attending the University of Arizona. He was a strikeout demon at all three spots – at Cerritos in ’65 he was 13-0 and was his conference’s player of the year - and had a nice run in the ’66 CWS, going 7-2 on the season with a 1.89 ERA. In the summers of ’64 to ’66 he played summer ball in Alaska for the Goldpanners where Tom Seaver and Graig Nettles were among his teammates. He was drafted by the Indians following his senior year at Arizona in ’67. He got going in A ball that summer and was soon up to Triple A and for the year he went a combined 5-6 with a 2.34 ERA with 140 strikeouts in 104 innings. In ’68 he returned to A ball but after going 2-1 in four starts with a 1.09 ERA and 49 strikeouts in 33 innings he was called all the way up.

Paul had a very good rookie year as he managed to keep throwing strikes at a pace of nearly one an inning. Pitching primarily from the pen he added three saves and in ’69 added a couple more and also got a bunch of starts. Despite his record his ERA was better than league average. But by ’70 hitters had figured him out and his next two seasons were not so hot as his ERA climbed more than a run each season. Both years he returned to Triple A to iron out his problems. In ’70 at that level he went 6-1 as a starter with a 2.15 ERA but ’71 wasn’t as good with a 6-7 and 4.37. After the season he was traded to the Senators with Rich Hand, Roy Foster and Ken Suarez for Denny Riddleberger, Del Unser, and a couple other guys. Shortly thereafter the Senators became the Rangers and Mike got to play for Ted Williams in his last season as a manager. Ted was notoriously unfavorable towards pitchers but Mike didn’t seem to mind as he posted excellent numbers and led MLB in fewest homers allowed per nine innings (he only gave up four all year).

In ’74 things started poorly for Paul as he gave up a grand slam to Ron Fairly his second inning of work. He was released later in April and then hooked up with the Phillies organization where he played the next two seasons at Triple A Toledo. For the Mud Hens Mike went 7-2 the first year and had a 25-inning stretch where he didn’t walk anyone. He also got another HOF manager in Jim Bunning (it may have been this experience that sent Bunning running to Congress). In ’75 the numbers weren’t as good and after the season he was released. Mike went 27-48 with a 3.91 ERA, five complete games, a shutout, and eight saves up top and 29-21 in the minors with a 3.24 ERA.

After his release Paul continued to pitch in Mexico, principally for Juarez. He apparently did very well as some sources indicate his career ERA down there was below 2.00. In ’80 he went 22-6 with a 2.20 ERA. He pitched below the boarder through the ’82 season and then turned to coaching. He worked in the Padres system (’83-’84), Milwaukee’s (’85-’86), and then Seattle’s (’87-’88) before being named Mariners pitching coach, which he did for three seasons (’89-’91). He was then an advance scout: for Oakland (’92-’94); back in Texas (’95-2001); another follow-up for the Cubs (’02); Arizona (’03-’04); Washington (’05); and Colorado (’06 through ?). I run out of dirt on his professional undertakings after that though he does get some interview time in various stories regarding the Rangers’ recent post-season successes.

Understandably Topps jumps on Mike’s success in ’72 for its star bullets. He also enjoyed horseback riding so maybe he was good at steeplechasing. For a short name he sure does air out that signature. When Mike was with Cleveland he roomed with Tony Horton for a while. That poor guy was one of the more tragic baseball stories of the early Seventies.

Mike and Duke played together:

1. Paul and Duke Sims ’68 to ’70 Indians.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

#398 - Duke Sims

This card has always mystified me a bit. There are quite a few cards in this and other sets – in fact one will be coming up shortly – in which Topps has to airbrush players into uniforms of teams they played for the year before because photos weren’t available in the new team uniforms. Usually that happened when a trade occurred after the Topps photographers took the shots. But Duke Sims here gets a card in a Yankee uniform at the Stadium even when he only played for NY literally the final week of the ’73 season. This is Duke’s last card even though he put in a full season in ’74. Fittingly it is taken at Yankee Stadium since – continuing the “last” theme – Duke here hit the final home run there before the Stadium was shut down for two years to be rebuilt/renovated. He came to NY off waivers from Detroit where he spent most of the season backing up Bill Freehan and, judging by the pitching staff, was back to full-time usage of his catchers mitt (more on that below). Duke has a couple videos on YouTube and in one of them he admits to being a big drinker while he played. Maybe the sun is in his eyes here but this shot looks like it was taken just after he downed a couple. Plus his hat looks oddly tiny. But it’s pretty late as I type this so maybe all that is just me.

Duke Sims was born in Utah and grew up playing the big three sports in Idaho where he was all-state in each in high school. He was signed to Cleveland after briefly attending the University of Idaho in ’59 and did a pretty good number on D pitchers the next two summers, then had his best season in B ball in ’61 when he hit .304 with 21 homers and 88 RBI’s. He continued to hit pretty well the next two summers in A and Double A ball, also doing a nice job defensively behind the plate, although he had a trouble with passed balls. In ’64 he moved to Triple A where his average was light but he only put up two errors. Then in ’65 after hitting over .300 he moved up to Cleveland. He would spend a bit of time in Triple A in ’66 but was pretty much up for good.

The ’65 Indians were a pretty good team and already had a young defensively-skilled catcher in Joe Azcue behind whom Sims would initially play. His first year he didn’t hit too well but he gunned down nearly half attempted base stealers and had come up with ace Sam McDowell so his playing time was assured. After boosting his average in ’66 a bunch he and Azcue spent the next two seasons platooning behind the plate with Joe the better defender and Duke the power guy. He also had some trouble catching knucklers – remember the passed balls – and he took to wearing a first baseman’s mitt whenever he had to catch those guys. In ’69 Azcue went to Boston and Duke got the starting nod over Ken Suarez and rookie Ray Fosse. He also the past couple seasons began putting in time at first and the outfield so the Tribe could keep his bat in the line-up. Then in ’70 things got reversed as Fosse took over the starting role and became an All-Star while Duke, playing everywhere that year, put up his best offensive numbers up top. But Cleveland’s vaunted late Sixties pitching had either been traded away or run out of gas and when the Dodgers came calling for a power hitter, Duke was sent over for pitchers Ray Lamb and Alan Foster.

The ’71 Dodgers, despite being absurdly low on power, were pretty well stocked at Sims’ chief positions of catcher, first base, and outfield. They had just acquired Dick Allen and were pretty flush with young outfielders so if Duke was going to play anywhere, it would be behind the plate. There he vied for starting time with three other guys and did pretty well offensively but because of restricted at bats never really got rolling. In ’72 incumbent Tom Haller got sent to Detroit and Bill Sudaikis to the Mets but Chris Cannizzaro got most of the starts, and with young kids Joe Ferguson and Steve Yeager coming up, and with him toting a sub-.200 average, Duke was placed on waivers. Ironically he was picked up by Detroit to rejoin Haller. Duke was the hard-nosed type of guy manager Billy Martin loved and so when he joined the Tigers in early August he pretty much leapfrogged Haller into the line-up, raised his average over 100 points, and put up a .432 OBA. Those numbers got him lots of playoff time against Oakland and he was the guy behind the plate when Bert Campaneris launched his bat at pitcher Lerrin LaGrow. Then in ’73 when his offense settled down a bunch and after Billy left town, Duke again hit the waiver wire and landed in NY to hit his big homer. Early in the ’74 season he was traded to Texas – where he rejoined Martin – for pitcher Larry Gura and spent his last season backing up defensive whiz rookie Jim Sundberg. Duke finished with a .239 average, 100 homers, and 310 RBI’s, with a .340 OBA. He hit .214 with two doubles and a triple in his four post-season games.

Sims relocated for a bit to the east coast after playing where he did work in financial planning and insurance for a while until he was lured back to baseball in ’86. That year he managed a couple levels in the White Sox system, replacing and then being overseen by old pal Tom Haller. But that only lasted a year – he was pretty tough on the players apparently – and he returned to business, mostly as a sales guy for various industries or as an entrepreneur. He once tried to do a Ralph Branca/ Bobby Thomson type of co-autograph deal with Benji Molina who hit the last homer in Yankee Stadium before its demolition but those two really didn’t have the star power. Since ’92 he has been living and working in Vegas where he has specialized in various web-based marketing gigs and is chairman of the Young Readers Council. He has a pretty decent presence on the web.

Duke definitely has one of the shortest names in the set and is a pretty rare breed in that he was a left-handed catcher. Those two bits of info are related as he played the outfield in two of those playoff games.

There are a couple music items to get caught up on, and they both regard the charts. On July 7, 1973 the new Number One in the US pretty much kept things in the Beatles family as Billy Preston’s “Will It Go Round In Circles” took over for a two-week run. Billy was an keyboardist for a couple of the group’s later albums. In ’74 on July 6 the Hues Corporation’s “Rock The Boat” took over the top spot in the States, thus sealing the deal on the decline in music that year.

Duke and George almost never crossed paths so let’s use a former MVP:

1. Sims and Zoilo Versalles ’69 Indians;
2. Versalles and George Stone '71 Braves.

2. Versalles and George Stone ’71 Braves.

Boy, did that  guy fall hard after his big ’65.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

#397 - George Stone

The action cards keep coming – they’ll end pretty soon – with a slightly off-centered George Stone unloading one from the mound at Shea. It is sort of tough to overstate the impact George had on his new team in ’73. Pretty much a throw-in in the trade that brought Felix Millan over from the Braves, he began the season with low expectations as a middle reliever. Then in May he threw six shutout innings of relief – in a 19-inning game! – and Yogi began to ease him into the rotation. George had always had a tender arm so he could only throw every five or six days from that position. But later in the year as NY was doing the big playoff push he won eight straight and would wind up the season as one of only two starters with a winning record. On top of that he hit .271 during the season as well. And he kept going in the post-season as he gave up only one run in ten innings. It would be a career year for him and the success would be too short-lived. But for one season he was one of the Mets’ brightest lights.

George Stone grew up in Ruston, Louisiana and after high school would attend Louisiana Tech where he played both basketball and baseball for two years. After his sophomore season he was drafted by the Braves in ’66 and immediately put up excellent numbers as a pro, going 8-2 with a 2.25 ERA that summer in A ball. Back then primarily a flame thrower, he would average a strikeout an inning. He then split ’67 between Double A, Triple A, and the military, going 8-5 with a 2.68 ERA. In ’68 the routine was pretty much the same except that he got called up to Atlanta mid-season, leaving behind a minor league record of 19-9 with a 2.53 ERA and only a runner an inning.

Stone got some early season time up top in ’67 but his for real rookie year was ’68, a good year to be a pitcher. Throwing more starts than relief he had a nice year and continued his promising career when he kicked off the ’69 season by going 9-2. Even though he cooled off in the second half and moved part of that time to the pen, where he had three saves, he still posted his career high in wins and got some playoff action. Then his next few seasons were sort of ho-hum as he battled some injuries and general ineffectiveness and after the ’70 season, declining innings as he spent more time in the pen. ’72 was pretty much a disaster as his ERA shot up a couple runs and his control was undone by a shoulder injury. During the season he hit Rusty Staub with a pitch – some say intentionally – that broke Rusty’s wrist, killed that guy’s season, and made George very unpopular in NY. So of course after it that was where he went with Millan for Gary Gentry and Danny Frisella.

After his big ’73 Stone kicked off ’74 in the rotation and looked good his first couple starts but something was amiss as his walk total was steadily beating his strikeout one. His shoulder hurt and after a couple times on the DL it turned out it was his rotator cuff which back then meant serious trouble. He went on the shelf for good in August and didn’t return until June of ’75 but the comeback didn’t last and George became another pitcher laid low by rotator cuff problems. Right before spring training of ’76 he was shipped to Texas for Bill Hands but he knew he was done and so retired before he threw for the Rangers. George finished with a record of 60-57, with a 3.89 ERA, 24 complete games, and five saves. In the post-season he got zero decisions but put up a 1.69 ERA in eleven innings. He hit .212 with 39 RBI’s in 339 at bats during the regular season as well.

After playing Stone returned to Louisiana and got involved in educating kids. He’d been returning to Louisiana Tech in off-seasons and finished up there in ’70 with an education degree. So he became a teacher and a guidance councilor at area schools and also coached baseball through at least ’99. He continues to reside in that neck of the woods.

Look at that - I missed posting George's card on his birthday by a day. There is part of George's early '69 run. I guess he was a streaky guy. As noted above, basketball was a bit more than a hobby.

George and Tommy missed each other in NY by a bunch of years but hook up through a former ROY:

1. Stone and Earl Williams ’71 to ’72 Braves;
2. Williams and Tommy Davis ’73 to ’74 Orioles.

As promised, it is time to do the re-cap of where the set stands 60% into things so here we go:

Post-seasons: things get expanded by a year and each one from 1957 to 1990 with the exception still of 1960 is represented by at least one player. ’73 leads the way not surprisingly with 59 players.

Awards: things are still moving slowly here as we are up to 20 MVP’s, 14 Cy Young winners, 21 Rookie of the Year winners (that is actually a pretty big jump), and 19 Comeback Players of the Year. The Sporting News Minor League Player of the Year is stuck at seven, we have 17 Manager of the Year winners (again with a bunch of multiple winners), and remain at ten Firemen of the Year.

Milestones: we only added one rookie card in the last 66 to move that total to 29. Hall of Famers also moves up only one to 32. There are now 40 official or unofficial traded cards, 25 cards representing the final ones in a player’s career, and 38 cards of players who have since deceased.

Rookie teams: the ’62 team continues to be shut out. Here are the rest of the totals:

’59-3; ’60-2; ’61-3; ’63-2; ’64-3 (I goofed last time) ’65-3; ’66-5;
’67-4; ’68-6; ’69-5; ’70-5; ’71-6; ’72-7; ’73-9
Pretty good growth on the newer teams. We only need one guy to complete the ’73 set.

Random: action shots get a big bump to 91. There are 124 guys in home uniforms and 221 in away ones. Parenthetical names, a good indicator of Latin guys, is up to 27. Ugly cards remain at five, though some have come close, and guys who served in Viet Nam is stuck at four. The Washington Nat’l cards are at 14 but there will be only one more of those.

Monday, July 9, 2012

#396 - Tommy Davis

Tommy Davis brings us back to the AL with a beautiful follow-through in Baltimore. Tommy deserved an action shot in this set after all he put up with the last couple seasons. After refusing to lambast Jim Bouton for his “Ball Four” book, Tommy was basically blacklisted by the owners and was released by the Cubs following the ’70 season, when the book came out. He then signed as a free agent back with the A’s but because nobody claimed him off waivers had to start fresh and saw his ’70 salary of around $70,000 cut in half. Then, after putting up excellent numbers in half a season split between first and the outfield, he introduced wunderkind Vida Blue to an effective agent. Blue did not sign for the following season, Tommy was blamed, and the same thing happened again: he got cut, nobody would take a flier, and he again saw his salary reduced, this time by a third, when he finally did sign with someone, ironically the Cubs. But Chicago barely used him in ’72 and neither did Baltimore after they picked him up in a trade for Elrod Hendricks. Tommy finished the season on the bench in Triple A and nobody would take him still off the waiver wire. The O’s were ready to release him when – voila! – the DH rule passed and Mr. Davis had a job up top again. All he did was hit .307 in the new position with his highest RBI total since his big ’62 season. Lots of regrets by the colluding baseball powers after that one. Karma’s a bitch.

Tommy Davis grew up in the tough Bed-Stuy section of Brooklyn where he played baseball – primarily catcher – and hoops with future NBA Hall of Famer Lenny Wilkens. Tommy could jack the ball back then and his hometown Dodgers eventually won a hard-fought battle with the Yankees to sign him out of high school in ’56. He had very little trouble on the field his first two seasons in D ball, hitting .325 and .356 respectively with a bunch of RBI’s. In ’58 he won over a hostile Texas crowd in Double A by hitting .305 before getting some time in Triple A Montreal, his hero Jackie Robinson’s last stop before joining Brooklyn. By then he was exclusively an outfielder and after a .345 at the higher level in ’59 he was ready for The Show.

The 1960 LA team Davis joined was a mix of older holdovers from Brooklyn and a bunch of new kids who were primarily outfielders – Frank Howard, Willie Davis, and Ron Fairly to name a few. Tommy would settle into that group, eventually become the team’s primary center fielder, and put together good enough numbers to finish fifth in NL ROY voting – Howard won – and earn a spot on the Topps Rookie team. In ’61 his offensive numbers got a bit better but Tommy was distracted a bunch because Walt Alston wanted to take advantage of his athleticism and turn him into a third baseman. That experiment didn’t work too well: Tommy could cover ground but he never mastered the throw to first and had lots of throwing errors when even poor Gil Hodges couldn’t reach the missiles that went over his head. What did work, though, was Tommy’s hitting as in ’62 he put up a monster season, winning the NL batting title with a .346 and knocking in 153 runs, more than anyone else would or did from 1949 to 1998. All that without ‘roids and not even too many homers as the Dodgers that year were an aggressive running club. Tommy came in third in MVP voting behind his teammate Maury Wills and his 100 steals and Willie Mays, who was on a pennant winner after beating LA in a three-game playoff. In ’63 Tommy won another hitting title as his RBI totals came down to earth and that year he got his first taste of “legit” post-season action as his Dodgers beat old nemesis NY in the Series. In ’64 the top of the Dodger order stopped hitting and Tommy got less selective pitches to hit and his average dove 50 points as LA fell from title contention. They roared all the way back in ’65 though, but without Tommy as he broke his ankle taking an awkward step at first and missed pretty much the entire season. It would be a slow comeback in ’66 as he led LA in hitting but couldn’t really turn on that heel any more so his power was pretty much gone. He would return to the post-season but the loss to Baltimore would be his last time as a Dodger player. After the season he was traded to the Mets for Jim Hickman and Ron Hunt.

In NY Davis put up a pretty good season, leading the team offensively and putting up his last double-digit homer season. His RBI totals would certainly have been among his best if anyone could get on base ahead of him. But NY wanted a speedster out there with its other young outfielders and after the season Tommy and a couple other guys went to the White Sox for former ROY Tommie Agee and infielder Al Weis. Chicago was a tough place to hit and ’68 was a tough year to hit anywhere but Tommy put up pretty good numbers and when he was left unprotected that winter was snagged by the new Seattle Pilots in the expansion draft.

Davis would room with Jim Bouton during some of the ’69 season and so would get a lot of mention in “Ball Four.” He comes across as a classy fair-minded guy who didn’t leverage his star status into bad behavior. He also wasn’t afraid to quietly call guys out. So even though he was the leading hitter on the team he was traded to the Astros that August for Sandy Valdespino and Danny Walton, a few weeks after Bouton was. Then in ’70, before the mess occurred, he would spend time with three teams: Houston, Oakland, and the Cubs. He hit pretty well at all three stops. Then the O’s eventually got smart and after his fine ’73 Tommy put up a nearly equal ’74 - .289 with ’84 RBI’s – and then hit .283 in ’75. But by then he was running out of gas and with Lee May putting in more time at DH, he was released. He tried to hook up with the Yankees and then did so with California before finishing out the year and his career with Kansas City. Tommy had a .294 average with 153 homers, 2,121 hits, and 1,052 RBI’s. In the post-season he hit .313 in 20 games.

Davis stayed in baseball after playing, returning to LA and doing some minor league and spring training coaching for the Dodgers and for the ’81 season as the hitting coach for the Mariners. He then returned to LA where he had a less formal relationship with the Dodgers, doing lots of community work and some sales stuff. He also sold insurance and ran hitting clinics. He is now mostly retired though he does do some promotional work for LA and himself, through a small company.

No room for star bullets so we just get the cartoon. Tommy’s dad’s name was Herman also so Tommy adopted his middle name at an early age.

Two action shots of two guys who played together:

1. Davis and Doug Rader ’69 to ’70 Astros.

Tommy's card gets us through 60% of the set. I'll do a re-cap on the next post.

Friday, July 6, 2012

#395 - Doug Rader

The AL run gets interrupted again but the action cards don’t as Doug Rader waits for a pitch at Candlestick. If I am correct about the location then there is a good shot that the catcher in the photo is Dave Rader who was not related to Doug. ’73 was one of Doug’s better seasons, his 21 homers and 89 RBI’s both making his top three seasonal totals. Plus for the only time in nine seasons he kept his strikeout total below 100. Add in his fourth straight Gold Glove season and it’s small wonder he got a “5” card.

Doug Rader played everything while growing up in Illinois and continued basketball and baseball his two years at Illinois Wesleyan University in ’64 and ’65. He also played semi-pro hockey the same time under a couple assumed names. And did a little boxing. When he was signed by the Astros in ’65 to a $25,000 bonus part of the stipulation was that he give up the hockey. Up until his pro career a shortstop, Doug switched to third base his first year because Sonny Jackson was ahead of him. He hit .209 that summer, almost lost his life over the winter while playing ball in Nicaragua, and moved in ’66 to Double A where he hit .290 with 16 homers and 74 RBI’s. After starting the season in Triple A in ’67 and hitting .293 with escalated power, he made his debut for Houston that July.

Rader hit .333 the rest of the ’67 season up top where he garnered some starting time at first base with four other guys. Bob Aspromonte was the regular guy at third then so Doug settled in sort of slowly. In a tough ’68 he hit .267 and started just over half the games at third. After that season Aspromonte went to Atlanta and Doug got the third base gig solo and really didn’t disappoint. Outside of ’71, when nagging injuries limited his time a bit, he averaged 20 homers and 86 RBI’s while he was the club’s regular guy and won Gold Gloves every season from ’70 to ’74. That last season his numbers were pretty much on par with his '73 ones. Then in ’75 Doug’s offense departed and he would lose some starting time to Enos Cabell, who came over from Baltimore in the Lee May trade. Cabell would take over the position the next year after Doug was traded to San Diego for pitchers Larry Hardy and Joe McIntosh. He got the starting gig there after the Padres gave up on Dave Roberts and improved his average by 30 points but with still diminished power. After a pretty good start to the ’77 season he was sold that June to the new Blue Jays where he upped his homer totals but his other stats came in. He would be released during ’78 spring training and that ended his time as a player. Doug hit .251 with 155 homers and 722 RBI’s. He ranks in the top 50 third baseman in all-time assists and in the top 100 in putouts and fielding average.

After a year off from baseball Rader returned in ’79 as a Padres coach. He then moved to manage their Triple A Hawaii club from ’80 to ’82, going a combined 219-201 at that level. He then moved to Texas where he managed the Rangers from ’83 through two-thirds of the ’85 season when he was replaced by Bobby Valentine. Then it was back home to Chicago where he coached the White Sox from ’86 to ’87 and managed a couple games. In ’88 he moved to the Angels system as a scout and was then promoted to manage the big club the following year which he did through ’91. He then was the Oakland hitting coach in ’92, helping to turn around a slumping Mark McGwire, and moved on to the same position for Florida from ’93 to ’94. He then did another go-round as a coach for the White Sox from ’96 to ’97 before he resigned. He accused team owner Eddie Einhorn of betting on games which probably killed his ability to get hired anywhere as a coach again. But Doug didn’t seem to care as he has been pretty much happily retired in Florida since then. As a major league manager he went 388-417 lifetime.

Doug pretty much pulls off the defensive triple crown in ‘70 and does a neat job in his next full season as well. He has one of the best all-time nicknames.

These two guys were foes in the NL West for a bunch of years but the best way to get them together is through the AL:

1. Rader and Pete Vuckovich ’77 Blue Jays;
2. Vuckovich and Jorge Orta ’76 White Sox.
3. Orta and Ken Henderson ’73 to ’75 White Sox.