Friday, September 28, 2012

#439 - Norm Miller

Not terribly surprisingly this smiling mug belongs to one of baseball’s true characters. The title of his autobiography – “Norm Who?” – tells a lot about its subject. Norm is posing at Shea during one of those end-of-the-world days judging by the color of the sky. There was a really good chance Norm wasn’t playing that day as he only had eight at bats for the Braves all year. Too bad, too, because he put up six RBI’s in those at bats so by extension if he got up more he could have had a huge season. But by this season Norm’s back was shot and he was placed on the DL just a couple days after being picked up from Houston for Cecil Upshaw. He’d go on it again later in the season and by ’74 the injury would help derail his playing career for good This is his final card.

Norm Miller is another Southern California kid, he from LA and Van Nuys high school. At some point he attended Los Angeles Valley College, a two-year school, but I see no record of his playing ball there. He was signed by the Angels in ’64 when he was 18 so maybe he never did. At any rate, he did some nice hitting to start his career, tapping the ball at a .301 clip with 30 RBI’s and a .448 OBA in 53 games in A ball that summer. In ’65 he showed more power, putting up 20 homers and 92 RBI’s in Double A while he hit .289 with a .405 OBA. When he debuted for Houston later that season the umpire had to let him know that he still had his warm-up jacket on when he stepped to the plate. In ’66 he cooled off a bunch with a .245 and 30 RBI’s in Triple A along with some more at bats up top. In ’67 he shared a rookie card with Doug Rader, hit .406 with a .535 OBA in Triple A and began his MLB career in earnest.

Miller spent most of ’67 in Houston where he backed up Ron Davis in left field and unfortunately didn’t take too much of that Triple A stroke with him. In ’68 he boosted his average over 30 points as he took over the lion’s share of right field since that year Rusty Staub was forced to play first base. Norm held down that spot in ’69 when his best season included a .348 OBA. He also saw his profile raised a bunch retroactively that year when he roomed with Jim Bouton after the latter guy was traded from Seattle and Norm got considerable mention in “Ball Four.” Probably his funniest bit was when he claimed that since he was Jewish he would refuse to play on Jewish holidays, not because he was super religious, but because he happened to go o-fer on the ones in which he did play. In ’70 Houston did some shuffling in the outfield, mostly to allow rookie Cesar Cedeno playing time, and Jesus Alou and his .306 average moved across the field, pushing Norm back to a reserve role. Then in ’71 with the added rise of Bob Watson, Norm got more marginalized and only in ’72 would he again top 100 at bats. In early ’73 he went to the Braves for Cecil Upshaw and in ’74 after hitting .171 in 41 at bats he was released. He attempted to stick with LA in ’75 but that didn’t work so he was done, or done in by his bad back. He finished with a .238 average with ten homers and 160 RBI’s and a .323 OBA. In the minors he hit .284 with a .395 OBA.

Miller had relocated to the Houston area while he was playing for the Astros and moved into marketing there after playing ball. One of his first gigs was for Monterey House Restaurants, a local Mexican food chain. Back then – in the late Seventies – he also pitched batting practice for the Astros. Ten years later when Bouton caught up with him on the 20th anniversary of his book Norm was selling television ads for the Astros. He continues to work in that field, published his book in 2010, and since 2011 has had a local AM radio talk show. He too has a website that includes some YouTube videos and is linked to here.

This is one of the most lopsided card backs in the set which is about right for its subject. Norm also scored the only run to end a 24-inning marathon game against the Mets in ’68.

Since this will be the last post in September it is a good one on which to catch up on music news. In 1973, September 29th saw new Number Ones on both sides of the pond. In the US, Grand Funk Railroad’s “We’re An American Band” took over for a week. In the UK, “Eye Level” by The Simon Park Orchestra began a four week run. As suspected, it is an instrumental – you have definitely heard this song someplace – that was the theme song to a BBC show called “Van Der Valk.” That series, which ran on – and mostly off – for about 20 years starting in ’72 was about a detective based in Amsterdam. Think of a European-stylized “Kojak.”

Ed Herrmann played for Houston a few years after Norm did, but they shared at least one teammate:

1. Miller and Cesar Cedeno ’70 to ’72 Astros;
2. Cedeno and Ed Herrmann ’76 to ’78 Astros.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

#438 - Ed Herrmann

This is Ed Herrmann’s first card with what would from this point on in his career be his trademark facial hair. And Ed goes deep with it in his debut, bringing to mind another  - at that time – cultural icon, Grizzly Adams. Here he shows his swing at Yankee Stadium during another fun season. ’73 was the last of three consecutive – and four overall – seasons in which Ed would lead the AL in passed balls. And he was considered an awfully good defensive catcher, so what was going on? In a word, knuckleballs. Between Wilbur Wood starting nearly every third game and Eddie Fisher and the occasional other experimenter Ed caught nearly 500 innings of that pitch in ’73 so passed balls were just a necessary evil. In a later interview he said his goal every season was to go one game without dropping a Wood pitch. He never got there.

Ed Herrmann hailed from San Diego where in high school he was a linebacker and primarily a pitcher – he went 10-1 as a senior - and was signed for that role by the Braves upon graduating in ’64. Part of the reason he opted for the Braves was that his grandfather had played for them in the early part of the century. But by the time he got to Rookie ball he badly hurt his ankle and couldn’t effectively push off the mound. So the righty pitcher was asked to don catching gear and he had a new home as a left-handed hitter. He hit .286 that year and in ’65 around his military hitch hit .250 in A ball. The previous winter he was plucked by the White Sox in the first year draft. The next couple years he moved up the ladder and in ’67 after spending his season in Double A he got a few at bats up top, debuting on his 21st birthday. He returned to Triple A in a ’68 split between a couple teams and then in ’69 after Jerry McNertney went to Seattle in the expansion draft, Ed moved up to Chicago for good.

Herrmann moved pretty much right into the starting role and had a pretty good rookie year. In ’70 he put on his best offensive show with 19 homers 52 RBI’s and a .283 average in just over half a season. Then in ’71 his numbers got much more ChiSox-ish, mostly due to an appendectomy that constricted his swing a bunch. In ’72 he caught every one of Woods’ 49 starts which hadn’t happened for a battery combo since the 1800’s. He continued in that starting role through the ’74 season, a year in which he was an All-Star. That year his numbers were pretty much identical to his ’73 ones, except for a 35 point bump in his average. In ’75 he wasn’t crazy happy with Chicago’s salary offer and so remained unsigned through training camp and right before the season began he was traded to the Yankees for four minor leaguers. In NY he backed up Thurman Munson and did some DH work. He then asked to be traded to somewhere near his San Diego base and the Yankees obliged, selling him to the Angels prior to the ’76 season.  But he only got into a few games for California before that June when he was sent to Houston for Mike Barlow and Terry Humphrey. There he took over the staring role the rest of the year and though he hit only .204 he was a huge defensive improvement over Cliff Johnson. In ’77 the Astros acquired former LA Dodger Joe Ferguson so Ed moved to a back-up role but performed well, hitting .291 with a career-high .352 OBA. After sitting most of the ’78 first half he was sold to Montreal in June of ’78 where he finished things up by spelling Gary Carter. Ed had a .240 average with 80 homers and 320 RBI’s.

Herrmann stayed near his Southern California base after his playing career ended and also stayed very close to baseball, at least after a while. Initially he got into retail ownership, buying gas stations and liquor stores, neither of which went particularly well. He would inherit an under-18 travel baseball team from Mike Epstein that he coached to a few national championships. From ’94 to ’99 and 2004 to ’07 he coached at Poway High School sandwiched around five years in the same role at Mesa Community College. He has also been a partner with sports agency Seminara Sports and has been a long-time scout, principally for the Royals. He has his own website, linked to here.

Ed’s card back focuses on ’72. The intentional walks were because he batted just ahead of Rich Morales and Luis Alvarado, two notoriously poor hitters. The DP’s were from nailing runners after third strikes. He also was big on working on cars.

I’m going to drop the 100 at bat rule since Jim Lyttle rarely got that many up top. That makes this particular exercise a short one:

1. Herrmann and Jim Lyttle ’72 White Sox.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

#437 - Jim Lyttle

This card always intrigued me a bit as a kid because the “b/e” part of the Expos insignia on Jim Lyttle’s helmet looked like it was glowing. I also liked this shot, which I’m guessing is from Candlestick, because Jim looks moderately pissed, like he just passed on a really good pitch. He’s very tense, judging from his jaw and that vein in his neck. Plus he really likes the pine tar. ’73 was a pretty typical year for Jim, who moved around a lot during his career. He spent the first half of it with Kansas City, where he hit .300 with eleven homers and 45 RBI’s in Triple A before getting sold that July to Montreal after Tim Foli broke his jaw. There were thoughts of using Jim as a middle infielder – he played second base in high school – but instead he filled a gap in center where his excellent defense and pretty decent power got him a bunch of starts down the stretch. It was the most playing time he had since his rookie year of ’70 and would remain so for a few years. So he looks a bit frustrated here, but not as much as he would a couple years down the road.

Jim Lyttle was born in Hamilton, Ohio and relocated to Indiana as a kid where in high school he was a basketball star. He then went to Florida State on a hoops scholarship and his sophomore year was the team’s starting point guard with a 12.4 ppg average. He then played ball, moving to center, and set school records with his .324, 13 homer, and 51 RBI season, earning All-American honors. Following that '66 season he was selected by the Yankees in the first round of that spring’s draft. He had a slow start in A ball that summer but pushed his average up 54 points to .274 at that level in ’67 with some decent speed. In ’68 he moved up to Triple A where he hit only .234 but he bettered that significantly the next year where he hit .313 with seven homers and a .367 OBA in half a season that got him a late look in NY.

Lyttle spent all of 1970 up top where he and Ron Woods – a future Expos teammate – backed up Curt Blefary in right field. Jim missed a bunch of the season after his appendix burst but he still managed to hit .310 and looked good in the field. In ’71 the Yankees acquired Felipe Alou to replace Blefary and with Bobby Murcer establishing himself in center, Jim was relegated to a late defensive and pinch hitting role. After that season he went to the White Sox for pitcher Rich Hinton and had a tough go of it in ’72. He spent most of it in Triple A where he hit .270 but had an unusually large amount of errors. In his few games up top he reprised his ’71 role for Chicago and though he raised his average, recorded 28 strikeouts in his 82 at bats. He then went to KC for outfielder Joe Keough. He began ’74 in Montreal but was almost never used and in May was sold to the Mets, where he again played in Triple A but saw his average move south nearly 100 points from his ’73 one at that level. He then did a repeat, first returning to the ChiSox where he put up excellent numbers in Triple A in ’75 - .311 with a .386 OBA – and in mid-season returned to Montreal where he did much better in the pinch, hitting .273 with a .406 OBA. ’76 was more of the same with the Expos with time in Triple A and up top and in August he went to LA after being released where he finished his career in the US. Jim hit .248 with nine homers and 70 RBI’s in 710 lifetime at bats. In the minors he was a .267 hitter.

Lyttle was a busy boy after his career in the US ended. In ’77 he went to play in Japan where he put in six years with Hiroshima, winning their World Series in ’79 and ’80, the latter year being named Series MVP. He had his best season there in ’81 when he hit .318 with 33 homers and 100 RBI’s. For most of his time with the Carp Adrian Garrett was the other US-born player on the team. Jim finished things up there in ’83 with Nankai and put up a total of 166 homers during his career. He had moved to Boca Raton in ’71 and had completed his degree at FSU by ’76 and when he returned full-time in ’84 was inducted into the university’s hall of fame. The prior two off-seasons he was the JV basketball coach at Boca Academy and in ’84 took over that role for the varsity team. The following spring he took over as head coach of the local American Legion team after the former coach pulled a Ron Artest and got into a fight with some people in the stands. In the meantime Jim had begun his own nursery wholesale and landscaping business. In ’87 he began a two-year stint as head coach of the Flynn University baseball team and from ’98 to 2002 he was the hitting coach for Florida Atlantic University. He had to leave both gigs because his nursery business took up too much of his time. He continues to run a farm in the Boca area.

This is Jim’s final card – except for a pretty funny looking Japanese one in ’79 – and Topps can’t seem to fill it up. Not too surprisingly most of the back facts regard his defense.

These guys both moved around a bunch but didn’t play together:

1. Lyttle and John Ellis – they shared a ’70 rookie card – ’69 to ’71 Yankees;
2. Ellis and Don Hood ’75 Indians.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

#436 - Don Hood

Here is a rookie card and it’s a spring training shot which means it’s about as rookie as you can get. When Doyle Alexander got hurt in July of ’73, Don Hood was the guy that got pulled up and he went to work fast, shutting down Oakland in a long relief appearance. Long relief would be his stock in trade a bunch of his years up top which generally back then meant not too many coveted stats, at least not at contract time. That career would also cover a decent amount of territory since he would play for five teams and would include a bunch of drama, most of it off the field, and some of it just plain odd. For instance the way he ended his first season with Baltimore: in game two of the AL playoffs as a pinch runner.

Don Hood came out of Florence, South Carolina where as a high school pitcher he went 28-1 for his career including an 11-0 senior year in which he pitched his team to a state title. The summer of his graduation – he was 19 – in 1969 he was drafted by Baltimore in the first round. In high school he was all heat and he continued to be primarily a fastball guy his first couple years in the minors, including his first summer in Rookie ball and ’70 in A ball, both of which he averaged well over a strikeout an inning. As he moved up the ladder he continued to add and refine his pitches – mostly in winter ball – and though his K totals subsided, his numbers in Double A in ’71 and Triple A the next couple years were generally pretty good, outside of his record. By ’72 he started working on his new pitch, a forkball, which he would incorporate more and more into his rotation. After a shutout in a start in July in ’73 he was moved up to Baltimore when Alexander went down.

Hood spent all of ’74 on the O’s roster but only got in 57 innings since Baltimore still had a bunch of starters who liked to complete games. He wasn’t real happy about not being used and during the season his mom was found drowned in a stream that ran behind his childhood home after she’d been missing a bunch of days. That must have been terrible and probably fueled Don’s fire about his non-usage which he apparently verbalized quite a bit. After the season he got traded to Cleveland with Boog Powell for Dave Duncan and a minor leaguer. With the Indians Don got to pitch a bunch more and spent a considerable amount of time in the rotation. But that year his walks topped his strikeouts and his ERA was well over 4.00, so the next year he returned to his long relief role which didn’t help too much since both stats got worse. In ’77 he reversed things and went 2-1 with a 3.00 ERA in 105 innings, nearly all in relief, as his K’s once more topped his BB’s. '78 saw him back in the rotation a bunch but his numbers were very comparable to his ’75 ones. In ’79 after a pretty good start he went to the Yankees in June for Cliff Johnson to help fix the mess Johnson made when he put Goose Gossage on the DL wrestling in the clubhouse.

In New York Hood didn’t become the new closer but he did assume a set-up role, allowing Ron Davis – and for a bit Ron Guidry – to fill the Gossage role while Goose was out. Don had one of the better runs of his career that summer, going 3-1 with a save and a 3.07 ERA though his walks continued to top his strikeouts. After that season he signed with St. Louis as a free agent and for the Cards did pretty well as a swing guy, getting eight starts and going 4-6 with a 3.39 ERA. He was released after the season and went the winter without being signed until KC picked him up just before spring training of ’81. He spent all that year in Triple A as a swing guy, putting up a season very much like his one with the Cards. After a few games at that level in ’82 he returned to The Show and went 4-0 the rest of the way. In ’83 he did the back and forth again and his numbers in KC were quite good – 2-3 with a 2.27 ERA in 48 innings – but he again chafed loudly about his lack of playing time which at one point led to a scuffle on the team bus with manager Dick Howser. That wasn’t a good career move and after the season Don was released, finishing his career. He went 34-35 with a 3.79 ERA, six complete games, and six saves.

Hood resided in his hometown during his career and was still there when he played a season in the Senior League in ’89. He got some negative publicity in ’85 when one of the coke dealers nabbed in the big sting operation from earlier in the decade named Don as a frequent customer. At some point thereafter he relocated for good to Florida though there is virtually no media at all about what he had done since his career ended professionally or otherwise. Even his family was in the dark on that if a sequence of posts on the 1980 blog are to be believed. I have linked to them here.

Most of the back of the card stuff was covered above. Note the big dropoff in K’s after his second season. During his high school career he won 25 straight beginning his freshman year.

Now to catch up on the music scene in ’74. It eerily resembles that of the prior year. On September 14, the new Number One in the States is Eric Clapton’s cover of Bob Marley’s “I Shot The Sheriff.” It is followed in the top spot on September 21 by Barry White’s “Can’t Get Enough Of Your Love Babe.” In the UK on that second date Number One is taken over by Carl Douglass’ “Kung Fu Fighting.” On September 23 another rocker passes when the Average White Band’s drummer Robbie McIntosh went into cardiac arrest after snorting some coke that turned out to be heroin laced with strychnine. That happened at a party for Greg Allman at which Allman’s wife at the time – Cher – kept another AWB member, singer Alan Gorrie, from going south by making him stay conscious.

Concepcion didn’t travel but Hood did so that should help:

1. Hood and Hal McRae ’82 to ’83 Royals;
2. McRae and Dave Concepcion ’70 to ’72 Reds.

Monday, September 24, 2012

#435 - Dave Concepcion

This is the second action shot in a row of Elmer Concepcion’s young career and it appears to be taken at Wrigley, although it seems mighty dark in the background for that setting. Elmer was Dave’s nickname foisted upon him by his Cincinnati teammates for the prevalence at this state of his career to see an E – Concepcion in box scores. That certainly wouldn’t last, given all the Gold Gloves he’d rack up over his career. But even at this stage that career was looking pretty good and obviously the Topps guys agree since they gave Dave an honorary card number. By now he was the Reds’ starting shortstop after just a couple seasons in the minors and some injury-plagued ones up top. Those included his ’73 season when he was going great guns with a .287 average well over his career one and was selected to his first All-Star game. But he didn’t play in that game nor the rest of the year as he broke his ankle sliding and took a long time to recuperate. That means – for anyone who cares about such stuff – that this shot is probably from a series in Chicago in early June. Given Dave’s proximity to the bag, he may be taking a practice throw from Johnny Bench since there’s no runner and no hint of Joe Morgan backing him up. Dave also got shut out in post-season action in ’73 but like the cause of that Elmer handle, that would get rectified pretty quickly.

Dave Concepcion was playing ball in his native Venezuela practically year-round when he was signed by the Reds in ’67 a few months after graduating high school. Back then he was primarily a pitcher but by the time he reached the States in late spring of ’68 he was all infielder in A ball. After a less than inspired debut at that level he ramped things up significantly in ’69 at both Double and Triple A, by then firmly ensconced as a shortstop. That was it for his minor league career and in ’70 spring training he made the cut and would split the shortstop role with other young guy Darrell Chaney. Dave had more range and was the better hitter – and hit well in the Series – so in ’71 he was given the regular job in spring training only to give it back when he hurt his wrist. He still ended up splitting time but the injury cooled off his average a bunch. In ’72 he was relatively healthy but his average wasn’t, at least not until the post-season again. After his nice kick-off to ’73 he returned after surgery in ’74 and had one of his best offensive seasons: .281 with 82 RBI’s and a career-high 14 homers and 41 stolen bases. He also copped his first of what would be five – four consecutive – Gold Gloves. By now Dave was widely recognized as a – if not the – premier NL shortstop and the next eight straight seasons he would be an All-Star. In ’75 he was hurt a few games but returned to the post-season, this time going all the way. Then from ’76 to ’80 he averaged .279 with 73 RBI’s and excellent stolen base ratios as he gradually worked his way up the batting order as The Machine was slowly dismantled. He won another Series in ’76 and returned to the playoffs in ’79. In the strike year of ’81 he had his best offensive year, hitting .306 with 67 RBI’s in 421 at bats to win a Silver Slugger. He received the award again in ’82 when he hit .287 and then over the next three seasons his average declined to the .245 area. Beginning in ’86 Dave assumed pretty much a utility role, also playing first and then second, as he groomed his successor Barry Larkin. In ’87 he hit .319 in that role while playing mostly second base. After another year he retired at age 40. He finished with a .267 average, 101 homers, 389 doubles, and 950 RBI’s. He also stole 321 bases against only 109 picks and had a .322 OBA, awfully good for a shortstop from his era. In the post-season he hit .297 with 13 RBI’s in 34 games. Defensively he is 20th in putouts and tenth in assists all-time for shortstops. Lots of people think those numbers are good enough for the Hall.

After playing Concepcion returned to Venezuela where he played winter ball his whole career and was pretty much immediately put into his country’s hall of fame. He owns a farm and a trucking business there both of in which he has actively participated. He also is a big proponent of youth baseball there. His number 13 was retired by Cincinnati in 2007.

Topps does a nice job of spreading the star bullets between offensive and defensive achievements for Dave. The cartoon actually referred to his ’73 season which is unusually timely for those guys.

Since I missed about a week of posts, there is a bunch of music news from both years which deserves mention. Today I’ll concentrate on ’73. On September 15 the new Number One song stateside was Helen Reddy’s “Delta Dawn,” another of her pro-feminist tunes. Things then get pretty gloomy. On September 19 Gram Parsons is found dead from an overdose in a motel room. A couple days later the ex-Byrd’s body is cremated in Joshua Tree National Park per his wishes (his manager covered it with gasoline and struck a match). On September 20, Jim Croce is killed in a plane crash just when his career was really rolling. Back to the prosaic stuff, on the 22nd, the new Number One in the UK is “Angel Wings” by the group Wizzard. Wizzard was a big fan of makeup much like Slade and while the group definitely looked bizarre – think a white version of Funkadelic - this tune is sot of a throwback to the girl group type stuff of the early Sixties.

These guys were divisional rivals for a few years:

1. Concepcion and Buddy Bell ’85 to ’88 Reds;
2. Bell and Mickey Rivers ’79 to ’84 Rangers;
3. Rivers and Ken McMullen ’70 to ’72 Angels.

I also could have gone through Alex Johnson but that would take as many steps.

Friday, September 21, 2012

#434 - Ken McMullen

Here we have the solution to a long-standing problem in LA: the third base position. Ken McMullen, here posing at Shea, came to the Dodgers in a big trade prior to the ’73 season to fill a hole that had been plaguing the team for many a season. And he did, too, hitting .350 out of the box for LA in ’73. Then he pulled a muscle in his back before the eighth game of the season and all of a sudden 1973 became to Ken what 1925 was to Wally Pipp and what Job’s whole life must have been like for him. The guy that took Ken’s place the week he was recuperating – Ron Cey – ended up taking his place the next eleven years. On top of that Ken’s wife was pregnant which should have been a joyful time but for Ken was not so exclusively because his wife was also sick with breast cancer. And she was an exceptionally selfless woman because she wouldn’t let anyone treat her until after she was sure the baby was out of danger, which meant out of her. So ’73, a year that started with so much promise for him, ended up being a big trying experience. But Ken, regularly regarded as one of the nicest guys ever associated with the game, rose to the challenge, supporting his wife, and becoming a pinch-hitter deluxe beginning this year when he had five homers and 18 RBI’s in only 85 at bats. But by the time this card came out Ken would be on leave from LA and back home in Oxnard tending to his wife just before she passed away. Pretty sad stuff especially since they both seemed like special people.

Ken McMullen was a big three athlete when he was signed to a pretty fat bonus – around $60,000 – by Dodger scout Lefty Phillips in 1960. He starred in hoops and played outfield and the corner infield spots in high school and once broke open a state playoff game with an 11th-inning triple that was nullified when the field’s sprinkler system came on. After a nice ’61 in C ball - .288 with 21 homers, 96 RBI’s, and a .415 OBA – he moved up to Triple A in ’62, played mostly outfield, and hit .281 with 21 homers and 81 RBI’s. He then got some games in LA during the stretch run and the playoffs against the Giants. In ’63 it was back to Triple A and third for a couple months before he was recalled to LA and would eventually take over their third base gig before – in another example of bad timing – he went down with an injury and missed the Series. In ’64 it was back to Triple A, sandwiching some games up top, where he split time between first and the outfield. After the season he was involved in his first big trade, joining Frank Howard, Pete Richert, Phil Ortega, and Dick Nen in going to the Senators for Claude Osteen and John Kennedy.

In DC McMullen took over at third base where over the next few seasons he would quietly become one of the AL’s best fielders. He also demonstrated some decent power, regularly finishing among the club’s top three in RBI’s and homers. He peaked offensively in ’69 with his highest double and RBI totals and best full-year average in a year he greatly benefitted from the tutelage of new manager Ted Williams. After a few games in DC to start the ’70 season he was sent to California for Rick Reichardt and Aurelio Rodriguez where he replaced the latter guy at third and revived his numbers considerably as the Angels made a strong division drive. He then got to play for Lefty Phillips, the guy who signed him, in ’71 but suffered through the turmoil of  that season and posted a 17-game hitting streak in a ’72 in which he put up one of his best averages but saw a significant reduction in his power due to a back issue. After that season he returned to LA with Andy Messersmith for Frank Robinson, Bill Singer, Bobby Valentine, Billy Grabarkewitz, and Mike Strahler. Back with the Dodgers he reprised his pinch hitter role in ’74 and ’75, both years putting up awfully good RBI totals in his few at bats. Those two seasons he also investigated playing in Japan but when he was released in ’76 spring training instead went to Oakland. There he would split time between third, first, and DH in a season in which he recorded his most at bats since ’72. But he only hit .220 with little power and after a very similar year with Milwaukee in ’77 he was done. Ken finished with a .248 average with 156 homers and 606 RBI’s. His lone post-season appearance was a strikeout against Pittsburgh in the ’74 NL playoffs. Defensively he is currently 62nd in putouts and 51st in assists all-time for third basemen.

McMullen stayed busy in his off-seasons, most of which were spent back in Oxnard. He ran a baseball camp and some golf tournaments with Jim Colborn who also grew up in that area. He also became actively involved in his family’s auto business. By the early Eighties he began working with the Dodgers in community relations and in the middle of the decade he and Colborn tried to bring a minor league team to his hometown. He still remains an associate of the Dodgers and resides in Camarillo.

On his card back Ken gets recognition for his defense and his team MVP. In the late Sixties Mickey Mantle said Ken was the most under-rated player in the game.

These guys get hooked up by Ken’s old roommate:

1. McMullen and Ed Brinkman ’65 to ’69 Senators;
 2. Brinkman and Lerrin LaGrow ’72 to ’74 Tigers.   

Thursday, September 13, 2012

#433 - Lerrin LaGrow

Here is Lerrin LaGrow on a sunny day in Detroit. Up until this point in his career Lerrin’s most high profile career moment was when he was nearly on the receiving end of Bert Campaneris’ bat launch during the ’72 AL playoffs. I’ve attached an article with excellent photos here to explain that one. When he came to spring training in ’73 it was with the expectation by many that he’d be the main man in the pen but an early injury – he was hurt shagging flies – and general ineffectiveness put the kibosh on that and he ended up spending a bunch of time back in Triple A where he reversed his record but actually recorded a higher ERA than he did up top. Lerrin would eventually become a bullpen ace, but it wasn’t for the Tigers.

Lerrin LaGrow was all Arizona in his early years and after a pretty good high school career in hoops and baseball he went to Arizona State. His sophomore year of ’68 he went 5-0 and his junior year he was 14-1 with a 0.90 ERA in a season that included 29 straight scoreless innings and a CWS title. He was drafted that year by Detroit and had a pretty rough go at it the rest of the summer in Double A, nearly reversing his college record, but with a decent ERA. In ’70 he turned things around at that level with an excellent year that got him his first look up top. ’71 was all Triple A in a messy season where he averaged about a hit, a run, a walk, and a strikeout an inning, pretty much all in relief. In ’72 back in the rotation he settled down a bunch and this time when he got called up he put in a nice stretch run, recording a couple saves and excellent control. That got him his work in the playoffs that year and his day of infamy.

In ’74 Detroit was fading fast and LaGrow was put in the rotation. It was a tough time to be a Tiger pitcher and the next two seasons he went a combined 15-33 with a 4.54 ERA in that role. At the tail end of spring training in ’76 Lerrin was sold to St. Louis and for them he spent the bulk of the year in Triple A Tulsa, going 6-10 with a 4.14 ERA in the rotation. His numbers during his short time in St. Louis were very comparable to his Detroit one in ’72 and after the season he went to the White Sox for Clay Carroll. For Chicago it was all upstairs and all relief in his best year: 7-3 with a 2.46 ERA and 25 saves as the bullpen ace of The Southside Hitmen. In ’78 he recorded 16 saves but his ERA bounced up almost two runs and after a terrible start to the ’79 season he was sold that May to the Dodgers. For LA he finished nicely, going 5-1 with a 3.41 ERA and four saves the rest of the way. In another nod to bad timing, though, it was the first year LA missed the playoffs in three seasons. To continue that theme in ’80 Lerrin signed as a free agent with the Phillies but after some mediocre numbers was released that summer as they went all the way as Series champs. That finished his career with a 34-55 record with a 4.11 ERA, 19 complete games, and 54 saves. In that playoff series he gave up zero runs in his inning of work.

LaGrow continued his education at ASU from which I am pretty sure he graduated in the early Seventies (he was definitely still attending in early ’72). He continued to reside in Arizona during his playing career and ran a couple businesses through the early Eighties that he later sold. Those sales set the tone for his current business Ler’rin Enterprises which brokers the sale of local businesses in Arizona.

Also on that ’69 ASU team were Larry Gura and Lenny Randle, both of whom were instrumental in the CWS victory.

In music on this date in 1974 Stevie Wonder begins his first concert tour since his August 1973 car accident. He is supporting his “Fulfillingness’ First Finale” album and kicks things off at Nassau Coliseum.

This hook-up is much quicker than I’d have thought:

1. LaGrow and Steve Stone ’77 to ’78 White Sox;
2. Stone and Chris Arnold ’71 to ’72 Giants.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

#432 - Chris Arnold

This guy had an interesting history in baseball a couple ways. First, regarding his baseball card history. Chris Arnold had a Topps card every year from ’72 to ’74 during which the prior seasons (’71-’73) he had a grand total of 151 MLB at bats. He was then shut out in ’75 and ’76 when for the similar time (’74-’75) he had 215 at bats. Topps revived him in ’77 after 69 at bats and then, to top it off, he had a Japanese card in ’79. Position-wise he was about as irregular as you get: by majority of innings he was a third baseman (’72); a catcher (’73); a second baseman (’74); an outfielder (’75); and a second baseman again (’76). Chris was a walking advertisement for versatility. In ’73 he would have his best moment up top, a grand slam that helped bring the Giants back from a 7-1 deficit to win a game against Pittsburgh. That day helped to contribute to a nice little year for him which included a .381 OBA and 13 RBI’s on only 54 at bats. Here he poses at Candlestick in a shot that almost perfectly mimics the one he’ll have on his ’77 card. At least that was one thing that didn’t change.

Chris Arnold grew up in southern California and played third base in high school. Upon graduating in ’65 he was drafted and signed by the Giants and began in Rookie ball that summer as a shortstop. That would remain his primary position the next few years in A ball. His error totals were awfully high but his average climbed steadily at that level through mid-’68 when he began doing his military turn as a submariner in the Navy. That caused him to miss all of ’69 and a significant chunk of ’70 as well. When he returned that summer, though, he got promoted to Double A and had a short tour in Triple A and also got moved back to third. In ’71 he got moved again – this time to second – put up some good defensive and excellent offensive numbers and got his first look up top. ’72 was all Giants but not too much playing time with Al Gallagher and Dave Kingman ahead of him. After a brief tour back in Triple A in ’73 he returned to San Francisco for a short but productive season.

In ’74 Tito Fuentes missed a bunch of time so Arnold picked up his most time in the field and at the plate with 174 at bats. He hit .241 with 26 RBI’s and the following season got most of his work up top in late innings. He also hit .339 back in Triple A and returned to San Francisco for all of ’76, where he hit .217 in 69 at bats. In ’77 he would spend his whole year back in Triple A where he hit .302 with 35 doubles and 90 RBI’s as an outfielder. While somebody would take interest in those stats and sign Chris, it wouldn’t be the Giants, and so his career in the States ended. He hit .237 with 51 RBI’s up top and .293 in the minors. Defensively he played every position in San Francisco but pitcher and center field, though he did pitch a bit in the minors.

In ’78 Arnold went to Japan, where he played for the Kintetsu Buffaloes. Joe Lis, Charlie Manuel, and Bobby Mitchell were the other US guys that played on his team. In ’78 he hit .274 with 15 homers and 72 RBI’s. In ’79 he had at least 15 homers as well and by the time he was done after the ’80 season he had 43 homers and a .274 average. He then returned to the States. I have read in various places that he is a sports agent based in Denver but that all seems cut and pasted from the same source. There has been a Chris Arnold actively representing players from the early Eighties to the mid-2000’s – the Dodger first baseman Mike Marshall and Angel outfielder Garret Anderson were clients – but I cannot tell if it’s the same guy.

Topps seems to have a tough time finding star bullets for Chris, so they get a little masochistic with that first one. The second one was a big deal because those happened in only 42 games. The cartoon is a stretch also.

This one is obviously all-NL:

1. Arnold and Garry Maddox ’72 to ’74 Giants;
2. Maddox and Gene Garber ’75 to ’78 Phillies.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

#431 - Gene Garber

As far as I can tell, this is Gene Garber’s rookie card. Up until ’73 Gene had a sort of hit (minors) and miss (majors) career until a couple 14-win seasons prompted a trade prior to the season to KC. For the Royals he played a bit of a swing role, getting eight starts and putting up eleven saves to finish behind Doug Bird as the team’s second most effective reliever. But it would be a short relationship with the Royals and the AL. Midway through the ’74 season he would return to the NL and then begin his MLB career in earnest. Here he looks like he's toting some chaw in Oakland. A great action shot would be of him in mid-windup when he would be facing second base before delivering one of his off-speed pitches.

Gene Garber came out of farm country in Elizabethtown, PA, where he lettered in hoops twice and baseball all four years in high school at shortstop and pitcher. His senior year he tossed five one-hitters and struck out 27 in an 11-inning game. He was drafted that spring of '65 by Pittsburgh in a late round and after a couple token innings in Rookie ball finished out the year in A ball. He remained at that level as a starter the next two seasons when he started late each year since he was going to school. He put up a super 1.89 ERA the second season. In ’68 he kept the ERA low in a season split between Double (as a starter) and Triple A (in the pen) and then did the same in ’69, although that year he was in the rotation at both spots. He also finished his degree and made his debut up top that June. He began ’70 in Pittsburgh but after getting roughed up a bit returned to Triple A where things didn’t get much better and he returned to the pen. He also started his military hitch that year. Then in ’71 and ’72 he enjoyed his two 14 victory seasons at Triple A - nearly halving his ERA that second season - and made another stab up top which again didn’t go too swimmingly. After the season he was traded to the Royals for Jim Rooker.

Garber had another rough patch to open the ’74 season in Kansas City and in June he was sold to the Phillies where he began his stint there in Triple A throwing nearly shutout ball in three starts. Then when he returned upsatairs his NL experience would be extremely different, beginning with a 4-0 season with four saves and a 2.06 ERA the rest of the way. Back then the Phillies had a successful bullpen-by-committee thing going and Gene would be an integral part of that most of the rest of the decade. In ’75 he led the NL in games and games finished and his numbers steadily improved – especially his ERA – the next few seasons. He left behind a 33-28 record with a 2.68 ERA and 51 saves in just under five seasons when he was traded in June ’78 to Atlanta for Dick Ruthven when the Phillies needed another starter. For the Braves, Gene became the closer and posted 22 saves the rest of the way his first year. After a mixed year in ’79 – he matched his 25 save total from the year before but his ERA ballooned by two runs and he lost 16 games – he lost the closer role to Rick Camp a couple seasons though his numbers improved in each one. Then in ’82 he was back in and though he had to pitch through a hamstring injury posted maybe his best year: 8-10 with a 2.34 ERA with a team-record 30 saves as the Braves made it to the playoffs. In ’83 he suffered nerve damage in his pitching arm which led to a doubling of his ERA and a drop in his save totals. ‘84 and ’85 continued to be significant discounts to his ’82 season as his arm issues lingered – in ’85 he only had one save despite finishing 31 games – but in ’86 he would recapture the bullpen ace designation as he went 5-5 with 24 saves and a 2.54 ERA. In ’87 he began the year 8-10 with eleven saves but the Braves had two other aging relievers in the wings in Terry Forster and Bruce Sutter so Gene was sent back to KC at the end of August for Terry Bell and did a nice job down the stretch getting eight saves in his 13 outings. After another season in ’88 with the Royals he was done at age 40. Gene went 96-113 with a 3.34 ERA and 218 saves in his career. His post-season stats were a bit of a discount: 1-3 with a 5.79 ERA in seven games.

After playing Garber returned to his home base of Elizabethtown where he expanded his family’s farm to a pretty decent size. For a bunch of years he has been partnering with his sons in raising emus and is very active as an advocate for the medicinal properties of the oils harvested from the birds. He is also active in preserving farmland in his county.

Gene gets a star bullet for his ’72 season, in which he was his league’s pitcher of the year. He may be the first guy in the set whose tour of duty was indicated by Topps as being with the National Guard.

It’s September 11, which means it’s a pretty somber day here in the NYC area. Since music can be soothing, it feels like a good day to catch up on the news in that area. On September 7, 1973 Elton John kicks off his tour supporting his new “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road” album at the Hollywood Bowl in which he is introduced by Linda Lovelace, the porn actress. On September 8, Marvin Gaye reacquaints himself with the top of the US charts when “Let’s Get It On” goes Number One.

To hook up a pitcher and an outfielder we need an infielder:

1. Garber and Ted Sizemore ’77 Phillies;
2. Sizemore and Matty Alou ’71 to ’73 Cardinals.

Monday, September 10, 2012

#430 - Matty Alou

This was always one of my favorite cards in the set. First off, Matty is sweating up a storm – it’s just dripping from his chin – so he must have just scored and is returning to the dugout. Second, while this is a non-Traded traded card the Topps guys left it alone and I think the pinstripes actually look pretty good with the gold (brown?) and yellow colors Topps opted for on Padres cards. Third, this is Matty’s last card and in fact represents the last time all three Alou brothers would have cards in the same set. And you gotta give Matty some props: if you discount his last few at bats with San Diego in ’74 he went down swinging, putting up a nearly .300 average his final full season. The pinstripes look good on him; a whole lot better than the horribly-airbrushed ones did on his ’73 card. Matty spent the year with NY split between the outfield and first before he and his brother Felipe were sort of unceremoniously dumped the same week in September, with Matty returning to St. Louis. So the over-the-shoulder glance is sort of an appropriate pose as he looks back at his Yankee season and his career, at least in the States.

Matty Alou was signed by the Giants out of the Dominican Republic in ’57 and had sort of a tough summer in D ball, hitting only .247. In ’58 he moved up to C ball and his average moved up as well, to .321. The next two seasons he did the double jump, to A ball in ’59 and Triple A in ’60, where both years he had double-digit homers, pretty good RBI totals, and hit .288 with a .366 OBA the first year and .306 with a .353 the second. After a few at bats for the Giants in ’60 he came up to start the next season and hit awfully well his first couple seasons but with Willie Mays, Harvey Kuenn, Felipe Alou, and either Orlando Cepeda or Willie McCovey ahead of him couldn’t crack the lineup. But he got a bunch of post-season time, first starting the winning-series rally against the Dodgers and then hitting .333 against the Yankees. Then in ’63 he banged up his knee pretty badly in spring training and barely played either up top or in Triple A, where he was assigned for about a month. Ironically that was the year when the three Alou’s all started a game for San Francisco, making history. He would suffer a broken hand in ’64 and though in that season and in ’65 he got an increasing number of at bats, his average wasn’t making anyone too happy, and after the latter season he was traded to Pittsburgh for Ozzie Virgil and Joe Gibbon.

Alou’s move to the Pirates was super successful. The manager back then, Harry “The Hat” Walker had been a batting champion when he played and could be a very effective teacher. His magic worked extremely well on Matty, up until then a strict pull hitter who tried to muscle his hits to right field. Harry had Matty use a heavier bat with no knob which he choked up pretty high. He also had him wait for the pitch a bit longer and really shortened his stroke so that Matty became a punch guy with most of his hits thereafter being to the left side of the field. Finally Matty had a habit – I do not know if this one came from Walker or not – of hitting off his front foot, which was really odd since he began his stance with that foot in the air, like Mel Ott. But it all worked as he immediately took over center field and his first season won the NL batting title with his .342 average. He then lost only a few points off that mark in ’68 when pretty much everyone else’s average fell hard. He was an All-Star that season and the next one when he led the NL in hits and doubles. ’70 would then be his only Pirate season of hitting below .300 and after the season Pittsburgh decided Al Oliver was deserving of a full-time spot and sent Matty and George Brunet to the Cards for Nelson Briles and Vic Davalillo.

Pretty poor timing for Alou, as Pittsburgh went on to win the Series in ’71. But Matty turned in some nice numbers for the Cards including the best power numbers of his career as he put in some time in the third spot instead of his normal leadoff position. In ’72 for St. Louis he played as much first base as outfield since his arm was beginning to wear down and the Cards too had some young guys that needed time in the field. Late that August he lucked out by being sent to Oakland for Bill Voss and he hit pretty well down the stretch and then about 100 points higher in the playoffs. Plus he got back the ring he missed out on in ’71. After the season he came to NY for Rob Gardner and Rich McKinney, two hot prospects that never really made it, and re-united with his brother. After his short bit with the Padres in ’74 his MLB career was done. Matty hit .307 with a .345 OBA – he wasn’t much of a walker – and 236 doubles among his 1,777 hits. He hit .232 in 21 post-season games and also stole 156 bases and ranks in the top 100 for assists from center field.

Alou didn’t waste too much time in furthering his baseball career, signing a contract to play in Japan before he was formally cut loose by San Diego. The team he played for was Taiheiyo and he replaced Frank Howard on the roster, joining Don Buford, another recent exile. Matty played through ’76 when his manager was, believe it or not, Leo Durocher. He finished over there with a .283 average in his three seasons and then returned to the DR where he did local scouting for a bunch of years, mostly for the Giants, but also – at least – for Detroit (from ’87 to ’89). He also did some work for his old winter ball team, Escogigo, for whom most of the top three record spots are held by him and/or one of his brothers. He passed away at home last November, after suffering a stroke brought about by diabetes. He was 72.

Matty has room for one star bullet and it covers his ’72 playoff hitting, which was awfully good. Neither he nor his brothers have the parenthetical name, though the surname by which they were known back home was Rojas, not Alou. He has a SABR bio, though the folks at baseball-reference don't recognize that.

I love to get some dirt involved in this exercise:

1. Alou and Willie McCovey ’60 to ’65 Giants;
2. McCovey and Al “Dirt” Gallagher ‘’70 to ’72 Giants;
3. Gallagher and Dick Lange ’73 Angels.

Al Gallagher – affectionately called Dirt because his uniform was always a mess – was a colorful third baseman in the early Seventies who closed things up with the Angels and really should have had a card in this set.

Friday, September 7, 2012

#429 - Dick Lange

Here is a true rookie card, another rarity of late. Dick Lange looks pretty swarthy in an unfamiliar setting, at least to me. Dick was yet another hot college prospect – we have  had a good run of those lately – who rose fairly quickly through the minors. He too threw some serious heat, although I guess everything was relative back then to teammate Nolan Ryan. He began ’73 at Triple A where he put up some nice starting numbers and then came up late in the season to get some work as a swing guy, with four starts among his 17 games. His ERA was a bit high, but not as high as it is on baseball-reference where they credit him with a couple less innings of work. Sometimes reassessments can be a bitch.

Dick Lange was a star in Midland County, Michigan in the big three sports, and his American Legion team was the state champ in ’67. That team also included Jim Kern and Terry Collins. Dick then went to Central Michigan University where he continued to pitch and was 20-4 for his career with a school-record 229 strikeouts. His junior year of ’70 he went 9-2 with 99 K’s – another record – and that spring he was drafted by California. Dick wasted no time in creating some buzz, going 13-0 with 151 strikeouts in 111 innings that summer in Rookie ball. After some pretty good numbers in eight starts at Double A in ’71 it was up to Triple A Salt Lake City where he would spend a pretty good chunk of time the next seven years. In ’71 he got a save in the only game he didn’t start at that level and in ’72 he added four more to his totals. He debuted that September in Anaheim and got a K an inning in his two games, one of which was a start. '74 was all MLB and though Dick put up his best ERA at that level of 3.80 he only went 3-8 in the rotation. In ’75 he was again a swing guy and went 4-6 with a save but his ERA climbed over a run and in ’76 he was back in Triple A where he went 12-7. At some point that year he apparently hurt his arm and in ’77 although he went 7-2 in nine starts his ERA was 5.37 and he didn’t finish out the year. That was his final season and he finished 9-15 with a 4.47 ERA. In the minors he was 58-36 with a 3.32 ERA.

Lange returned to the Midland area where for a number of years he had his own steel-related business and then was a house painter. In ’91 he was inducted into the Midland County hall of fame and thereafter into the Central Michigan one. Around 2008 he began coaching pitching at a place in Almont called The Strike Zone where he was interviewed and from which a bunch of the above information was gleaned. He also participates in baseball-related golf tournaments.

Dick’s star bullets refer to that excellent Rookie ball year in ’70. He also threw a no-hitter in college that year. He returned to Central Michigan to finish his education degree while in the minors. I do not know how long he taught thereafter.

Let’s try another infielder for the hook-up:

1. Lange and Denny Doyle ’74 Angels;
2. Doyle and Tony Taylor ’70 to ’71 Phillies;
3. Taylor and Gary Sutherland ’67 to ’68 Phillies.

Taylor really should have had a card in this set.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

#428 - Gary Sutherland

Ah, the return of the Traded card. These things have been getting pretty scarce lately and this one is pretty interesting because its subject is yet another guy who by all rights shouldn’t have had a card in this set. Gary Sutherland only had a total of 62 MLB at bats the past two seasons when this card was printed and his inclusion in the trade here was sort of a throw-in. But give Topps props for its crystal ball gazing. Gary would go on to put up the next two seasons as the regular Detroit second baseman from pretty much out of nowhere; or in baseball’s version of nowhere as a 30 year old Triple A player. He did have a bang up year at that level in ’73, posting a .294 average with 36 doubles and 80 RBI’s while leading his league in fielding at second. Gary’s regular card shot shows him in an away uniform at what may be Shea. The Traded shot appears to be older, in a flannel away jersey that is probably Houston’s as well, possibly from ’72. That air-brush job isn’t too terrible. They should have put a Detroit skyscape in the background to add some authenticity.

Gary Sutherland was sort of a west coast version of Bobby Valentine while growing up. At nine he was a local figure skating champion and at Glendale High he would be a basketball and baseball star. After graduating in ’62 he went to USC where he continued to play those two sports. His sophomore year of ’64 he won his team’s defensive player of the year award in hoops and in baseball he was All-American. That summer he was busy as well, playing for the Goldpanners in Alaska – where he hit .365 – and playing in Tokyo in the Olympics where baseball was a demonstration sport (in their one game the US beat Japan). Later that year he was signed by the Phillies and halfway through his junior year would begin his career, putting up a .285 average in Double A and having a fine defensive year at second. The next year he moved up a level where he hit .254, this time while playing shortstop. Gary could put the ball in play and only had 67 strikeouts during his first two full seasons. 

In ’67 Sutherland came up to Philadelphia where he started off hot – he was hitting .400 in early May – and was initially platooned in left field with Johnny Briggs. Gary's average cooled off a bunch the rest of the way and he spent the balance of the season backing up Bobby Wine at short. In ’68 he did the back-up thing again, this time adding third and second to his position arsenal while raising his average a bunch. After the season he went to Montreal in the expansion draft. There he was reunited with manager Gene Mauch and DP partner Wine and in ’69 he teamed with Bobby to form an excellent defensive middle infield for the new team. The trouble was though that neither of them hit terribly well, though Gary did continue his low K totals. In ’70 Gary had a hand injury for much of the season, lost some starting time to Marv Stahle, and saw his average drop thirty points. In ’71 Montreal acquired Ron Hunt from the Giants and Gary got more starts at short than at second as Wine's career was winding down. He did raise his average 50 points, though, which should have helped keep him in the lineup. But in the off-season Montreal picked up Tim Foli from the Mets in a big trade and Gary was sent to the minors. In Triple A he hit .285 before being sold to Houston midway through the season. For the Astros he remained at that level and hit just shy of .300 the rest of the way. After a very similar ’73 he went to Detroit in this trade.

For the Tigers Sutherland immediately took over second base, getting 619 at bats in ’74, by far his most at the MLB level. He hit .254 and then .258 the next year. Both were unfortunately pretty nasty years for the franchise. In ’76 Gary kicked off the year hitting only .205 and was traded to the Brewers for Pedro Garcia, another low-average second baseman. For Milwaukee the rest of the way he would split starting time with Tim Johnson and not improve his average terribly much. After the season he was released and signed with San Diego as a free agent. For the Padres he spent the ’77 season backing up rookie Mike Champion at second, hit .243 and was again released. He hooked up with the Cards for whom he had a token few at bats in early ’78 before he was cut loose in May. He finished with a .243 average with only 219 strikeouts in over 3,100 at bats.

After baseball Sutherland returned to the coast where he gave real estate a shot for a couple years. By ’80 he was back in ball, though, where he would have a long career as a scout: for San Diego (’80-’81; he discovered Tony Gwynn); Cleveland (‘82-’89); the Dodgers (’90-’98); and the Angels (’99-2011). For that last team he would rise to director of scouting until he was swept out last November after the California GM was cut loose. I am unsure what he has been doing since.

Gary’s star bullets are a bit more qualified in nature than quantified. That last name must give him hand cramps at card shows.

As indicated above, Topps does a nice job with the prediction on Gary’s at least immediate future in Detroit. Lots of excessive language here: “Super Scout” makes it seem like that Tighe guy wore a cape and his quote that ends the narrative seems awfully escalated.

Let’s try another utility guy for the hook-up:

1. Sutherland and Ty Cline ’69 Expos;
2. Cline and Bobby Bolin ’67 to ’68 Giants.

Ty Cline was a mostly back-up outfielder and first baseman who swung a light bat for a bunch of teams in the Sixties and early Seventies. He had a nice little post-season run for the Reds in ’70.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

#427 - Bobby Bolin

Bobby Bolin got released in spring training of ’74 on the same day as Luis Aparicio, so like Little Looie, this is his last card. The infield behind Bobby looks enormous and the shot appears to be taken about a year before his release, on a practice spring training field. Bobby certainly deserved a card in ’74 as his ’73 numbers – particularly his 15 saves – made him one of the AL’s better relievers. But new manager Darrell Johnson regarded the 34-year-old Bolin as too old, so he replaced him and his saves and his 2.72 ERA with Diego Segui, who in ’74 was 36, saved ten, and put up a 4.00 ERA. Oops. Bobby and another “aged” reliever – Bob Veale – actually put up 26 saves between them and formed a pretty good closer combo, finishing 53 games between them. Bobby seemed to roll pretty easily though, and it wasn’t long before he was back to his home base and onto his next thing.

Bobby Bolin threw some serious heat as a kid and high schooler but nobody outside the hamlet of Hickory, South Carolina, knew that until the school’s principal kept bugging one of the local rags to do a feature on him. He succeeded and the article got some bird dog scouts to take interest, one of them being from the Pirates, who signed Bobby with Branch Rickey in the room. That signing was later annulled by the commissioner because the Pirates broke all sorts of rules but later in ’56 Bobby signed with the Giants and this time it was left intact. He got things rolling the next spring and went 15-9 in D ball with a no-hitter and a 3.53 ERA but was a bit wild with more walks than strikeouts. He had an off year in C ball in ’58, going 10-8 with a 4.22 ERA but got the K to BB thing ironed out and then in ’59 tossed another no-no as he went 20-8 with a 2.84 ERA and 271 strikeouts in 225 innings in B ball. Those numbers got him into the A’s and in ’60 he went 12-8 with a 3.19 ERA and nearly a strikeout an inning split between Double and Triple A.

When Bolin came up to San Francisco in ’61 he was initially a reliever, a role at which he did a pretty nice job over the next couple seasons, averaging nearly a strikeout an inning, and adding 17 saves through ’63. His second year he got some post-season action, though he didn’t do terribly well. In ’63 he did spot duty and in ’64 his starts outnumbered his relief outings for the first time and though he threw pretty well, his record didn’t reflect it. In ’65 it was mostly pen work again but he got enough innings to get the seventh best ERA in the NL. ’66 was back to the rotation where again an excellent ERA was belied by his record. After a ’67 blow-up he came back strong in ’68 to post the NL’s second-best ERA at almost a run higher than winner Bob Gibson. After a sub-standard season in ’69 he was traded to the Pilots/Brewers for Steve Whitaker and Dick Simpson. While he won the first home game ever in Milwaukee for that franchise it was sort of a lost year there and in September he came to the Sox for outfielder Al Yates. For them he had a couple saves in his six outings and added six more and a winning record despite a high ERA in ’71. He spent a bunch of the ’72 season at Triple A Louisville – he went 6-1 with six saves and a 2.20 ERA at that level - and added five saves up top. After his fine ’73 he was released the following March. Along with the stats on the card he had 32 complete games, ten shutouts, and 50 saves. In the post-season he had a 6.75 ERA in nearly three innings.

Bolin returned to South Carolina, settling in a town called Six Mile where he worked his land for a bit and had his own business that may have been a purveyor of travel cards. He also sold a home in a nearby town that is now a wildlife refuge. In ’86 he returned to baseball as a pitching coach in the White Sox organization. I am not sure how long that tenure lasted but it was long enough for him to get props in developing Bobby Thigpen, the future record-setting reliever. He stayed local, adding a home supplies business to his portfolio, and in 2008 was inducted into his home state’s hall of fame.

Bobby gets room for one star bullet. That game was against the Dodgers. I find it pretty wiggy that on baseball-reference the pitcher with whom he has the greatest similarity is Kerry Wood.

This guy came up in a post a while back:

1. Bolin and Jose Pagan ’61 to ’65 Giants;
2. Pagan and Rennie Stennett ’71 to ’72 Pirates.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

#426 - Rennie Stennett

\When this photo was taken in ’73 it was pretty unknown where Rennie Stennett was going to play. While his card says second base, he had until then pretty much split time between there and the outfield. Then in the wake of Roberto Clemente’s passing following the ’72 season, there was a shot of him returning to the outfield, but instead he spent most of the early part of the season at shortstop after Gene Alley got hurt. Then Dave Cash had to do his military reserve hitch so it was back to second. All this movement helped plague Rennie’s batting average which in mid-season was in the .225 area after he’d averaged .305 up top until then. His average revived a bit but it would still be the lowest of his career for a long while. But the turmoil of ’73 would be erased when Cash got traded to the Phillies and Rennie got the second base gig uncontested in ’74. For the next few seasons he wasn’t going anywhere.

Rennie Stennett was born in Colon, Panama, and then grew up in the Canal Zone where he was a volleyball, basketball, and pitching star at Paraiso High School. After he graduated he played a year in Panama in semi-pro ball where he went 12-4 and hit .400. That second stat impressed visiting scouts more so when he was signed by the Pirates in ’69 and came north for A ball, he began his career as an outfielder. He returned to Single A in ’70, upped his average nearly 40 points, and got two hits in his only Triple A game. In ’71 Rennie stuck in Triple A where he now concentrated on second since the Pirates had a plethora of promising outfielders in the minors and were over-stocked there up top. He responded by hitting the crap out of the ball and by that summer was up in Pittsburgh for good.

Stennett got into games pretty quickly because Bill Mazeroski was hurt and aging fast and Dave Cash was doing his military time. Rennie certainly didn’t disappoint as he hit .353 and was batting leadoff by the time the season was out. But Cash was back by playoff time so Danny Murtaugh had to leave Rennie off the post-season roster. In ’72 he returned, doing time at second and in all three outfield positions, hitting .286 and this time getting playoff play where he hit for the same average. After the Cash trade second was all Rennie’s and he responded awfully well. In ’74 he banged out 196 hits to hit .291. The only real knocks on him at that point was that he never walked – true enough since he was a free swinger – and could be a bit sloppy around the bag, especially when compared to Cash. But Rennie had more range than Dave and that year went 410 straight chances without an error. In ’75 he hit .286, put up his highest RBI total of 62, and made headlines by going seven-for-seven in a game. In ’76 the average came in a bunch but he topped out with nine triples and stole 18 bases, a significant uptick to any total he’d had until then. In ’77 he exploded, stealing 28 bases and putting up a .336 average and a .376 OBA when he went down with a horribly broken ankle in August. That killed his season and probably did significant damage to the rest of his career. He came back in ’78 before the ankle was ready and hit only .243 as he spent time on the DL. In ’79 he fell to .238 as his at bats dropped a tad and Phil Garner took over second mid-way through the season. Rennie only got token time during the post-season run that year but did get a hit against Baltimore in his only at bat. After the season he left as a free agent.

San Francisco signed Stennett for the ’80 season to a then pretty fat contract with a guaranteed bonus. They were hoping he could regenerate some of that ’77 magic but unfortunately for him and them the best he could do was ‘78’s. After hitting .244 with decreased mobility in the field in ’80, manager Frank Robinson wasn’t too happy so in ’81 Rennie got replaced by new acquisition Joe Morgan. During spring training of ’82 the Giants bought out his contract for about a million and Rennie became a poster child for over-spending on undeserving free agents. He spent the rest of the year playing in Mexico for Reynosa and then returned to the States in ’83 where he hit .309 in a pretty decent comeback attempt with Montreal’s Triple A franchise. While he expected a promotion based on that bit of work it didn’t come and that was his last stop for a while in pro ball. He finished with a .274 average with 41 homers and 432 RBI’s. He hit .212 in 14 post-season games and .318 in the minors.

Once his ’83 season petered out Stennett settled in Florida where he briefly had a carpet-cleaning business with some partners. He then joined Davimos Sports Management, a firm founded by former teammate Manny Sanguillen to represent Latin American players in the US. Rennie also played some local ball and in ’89 attempted a comeback with Pittsburgh, nearly making it through spring training. He did put up a pretty good average in the Senior League that year. Since then he has remained a local presence in FLA and still seems to be affiliated with Sanguillen. He is also listed as a partner in a demolition firm down there.

Topps messes up the star bullets a bit with Rennie. In ’71 he only played second so that must have been a hell of a jump to stop that homer in the first bullet. Both of those first two bullets actually happened in ’72. That playoff play was pretty impressive. Playing left, Rennie caught a Cesar Geronimo fly at the line and winged the ball home to nail Bench. The Pirates were down 2-0 when the play happened in the fourth and they won 3-2.

On September 1, 1973 Paul McCartney, his wife Linda, and guitarist Denny Laine would begin recording the album “Band On The Run” in Lagos, Nigeria. I guess that’s where the photos on the posters in the album were shot.

You gotta love those well-traveled reserve guys:

1. Stennett and Ed Kirkpatrick ’74 to ’76 Pirates;
2. Kirkpatrick and Kurt Bevacqua ’73 Royals;
3. Bevacqua and Pete Broberg ’75 to ’76 Brewers.