Friday, October 26, 2012

#453 - Balor Moore

We now segue from a first round pick for the Cubs to the first round pick for the Expos. Balor Moore was the first player ever drafted by Montreal ex the expansion draft. When he was a hard-throwing high school pitcher in Texas he was deemed the left-handed version of Nolan Ryan. Things wouldn’t quite turn out that way and when this card came out it was a pretty pivotal time for Balor. While his sophomore season of ‘73 didn’t quite match up to his rookie year it had its moments. By July he was 4-10 with a 4.95 ERA and was sent down to the minors. When he returned in August he blanked the Cards in a complete game. He then went 2-6 the rest of the way during the pennant run. But there was still promise as he finished second in the NL in strikeouts per nine innings and then in winter ball he threw the first perfect game ever in Puerto Rico. Unfortunately ’74 would be a hot mess as he hurt first his ankle and then his elbow and moved from the Expos’ promising list to their doghouse. His flame-throwing days were over but Balor was a resilient guy and down the road he’d be a big success.

Balor Moore went 25-9 as a high school pitcher just outside Houston but, as he said, the defense behind him was never that hot as evidenced by the three no-hitters he threw: he lost all of them. The Expos and other teams were high on him when he graduated in ’69 but so were the Longhorns. The former group decided to make their bid after seeing him pitch one last time but unfortunately that game was a start after a state tournament in which he threw 27 innings in a weekend and Balor’s arm was tight and tired. The word was that he was injured and so all MLB teams but Montreal walked. The Expos gave him a tryout and after he struck out nine guys out of twelve they offered him $20,000. Balor said no thanks, signed with Texas, and then pitched an American Legion game in which he struck out 14 in five innings. Montreal reconsidered, upped their bid to $30,000, and Balor signed. The Expos must have been pretty happy when he tore up both Rookie and A ball that summer. In ’70 he picked up where he left off in A ball, got called up for a couple starts in Triple A, and then to Montreal for a May debut. The first outing went well but the next few innings didn’t and he was returned to Triple A for the duration of the season. There – shades of Tommy John from a couple posts ago – he was forced to learn a slider to complement his fastball and curve. All that really did was contribute to his declining control and to things bottoming out with a terrible first half of ’71 in Winnipeg. What saved Balor was his Army hitch that summer which took him away from baseball for nine months. When he returned in ’72 he put together a nice season at Double A Quebec and then got promoted to Montreal.

Moore had a pretty lame start to his ’72 stay in Montreal, going 0-3 with an ERA over 6.00 in his first few starts. But things improved markedly each month and by the end of the year he had nearly ten strikeouts per nine innings and seemed to deliver on his promise. Then in ’73 came more pressure to use the slider, a significant ramp-up in walks, and the short stint in the minors. In ’74 the control was still an issue but he improved his ERA to under 4.00 in a couple starts and had 16 K’s in 13 innings before he hurt his ankle. Sent down to Triple A to work on his control and rehab he hurt the elbow, had a couple disastrous outings, and was done for the season. After starting off the ’75 season still in Triple A with 45 walks in 27 innings Montreal – the organization never bought that his arm was hurt – sold Balor to the Angels. For them he threw much better in a few stints in A ball – a 0.96 ERA in four starts – before Frank Jobe removed bone chips from Balor’s elbow. Rehab was tough in ’76 – a 6-12 record with a 5.55 ERA in Double A – but a combined 6-4 season with a 3.52 ERA out of the pen in '77 at a couple minor league levels got Balor back to the majors where he went 0-2 with a 3.97 ERA in a few games of swing work. Early in the ’78 season he was sold to Toronto. Seems the Texas boy couldn’t stay away from Canada.

Moore looked like a good pick-up for the Blue Jays early in the ’78 season when he had a 4-1 record with a 3.18 ERA and re-established his control. Unfortunately that run was more of a blip than a resurgence and the rest of the way he was 2-8 with an ERA approaching 6.00. He would stick with Toronto through the ’80 season, going a combined 12-17 for the Blue Jays with an ERA just south of 5.00 up top and a bit worse in a few games in the minors. After being released in September 1980 he hooked up with both the Milwaukee and Houston organizations in ’81 but didn’t do too well at their Triple A levels. That finished him up in baseball with a record of 28-48, 16 complete games, four shutouts, a save, and a 4.52 ERA at the MLB level and 43-63 with a 3.90 ERA in the minors.

Though he spent a major part of his career up north, Moore returned to Texas full-time post-career and got involved in a whole new one, becoming an officer at Brittex Pipe Company in the early Eighties and the company’s owner in ’84. He continues to run the pipeline company and plays lots of golf as well as in an occasional old-timers game.

Balor’s start to his career was pretty amazing and it took a while for his ERA to have a number before the decimal point. I don’t know what this guy was doing fooling around with the Longhorns before he signed. Seems to me Baylor would have been the best choice.

So just because I’m too busy to look up Watergate stuff I am going to revive another event-type commentary to close the posts. In 1976 MLB had each team submit its best moment to the league to honor its centennial. For Montreal it was its home opener in ’69. That game occurred on April 14th at old Jarry Park – or Parc Jarry if you were Canadian – and the Expos won 8-7 over the Cardinals. The winning pitcher was Dan McGinn who pitched over five shutout innings in relief of Larry Jaster and the hitting star was Mack Jones, who knocked in five runs with a triple and a homer.

So these two guys were in the same division but probably didn’t run into each other too much:

1. Moore and Bill Stoneman ’70 and ’72 to ’73 Expos;
2. Stoneman and Ron Santo ’67 to ’68 Cubs;
3. Santo and Gene Hiser ‘’71 to ’73 Cubs.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

#452 - Gene Hiser

It goes like this sometimes. We move from a guy who had an extended career to one who barely had one, at least in terms of MLB at bats. This is Gene Hiser’s first and only solo card. He had a rookie one – with Burt Hooton – in the ’72 set. Gene is giving us the old extended bat pose while at least one guy in the background looks impressed at Candlestick. ’73 was by far his busiest year up top as it was his only season with over 100 at bats and no time in the minors. He also parked his only homer that year and it was meaningful as it tied up a game the Cubbies went on to win. Defensively, he got into 64 games split pretty evenly between all three outfield spots and made only one error. It was the only error of his career.

Gene Hiser grew up outside Baltimore where he played soccer and baseball at Towser High and then continued in both sports at the University of Maryland. He was all-ACC in baseball for three years and in his senior year of ’70 led the conference with a school-record eleven homers while being named first team All-American. That year the Cubs drafted him in the first round and he went right to Triple A where he had an OK season. After pounding the ball in ’71 spring training he split the season between a short stint of A ball, Triple A – he was loaned to the Houston organization for that run - and his debut season for the Cubs. In ’72 it was back to Triple A where he put up a nice average, showed pretty good speed at the top of the order, and posted a .396 OBA. After again getting into a few games in Chicago, ’73 was all Cubbies. In ’74 and ’75 he reprised the back and forth between Triple A and up top, fading to a .247 season at the lower level the first year but rebounding to hit .320 with a .394 OBA the second year. In Chicago he continued his reserve role, hitting .235 in ’74 and .242 in ’75 in his final MLB season. ‘76 was split between the Cubs and the White Sox in Triple A where he hit a combined .248 and closed out his career. Gene hit .202 for the Cubs and .267 with a .356 OBA in the minors.

Hiser has had a pretty good run since playing. He graduated Maryland with a degree in education and initially continued his off-season job of running a sporting goods store which he did through ’79. He then became an insurance rep for MassMutual and settled in Hoffman Estates, MD. In ’83 he and another MassMutual guy opened a financial advisory business named Barrett and Hiser which in ’97 was bought by GCG Financial. Gene remains there as a principal. For about 17 years he was also a local travel soccer coach at which he apparently had a pretty good run. He organizes and participates in various golf outings.

There are Gene’s monster ’71 spring training numbers. Too bad he couldn’t follow through on them. At Maryland he was a teammate of future Indian Jim Norris and he shared all-ACC honors with Tom Bradley, who’ll be coming up in a few posts.

Let’s use the guy with whom Gene shared his rookie card for this exercise:

1. Hiser and Burt Hooton ’71 to ’75 Cubs;
2. Hooton and Tommy John ’76 to ’78 Dodgers.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

#451 - Tommy John

A guy I used to work with always said never to trust a person with two first names. But this guy always seemed pretty honest. Still over a year before his famous surgery, Tommy John looks like he’s in a bit of pain at Shea. That look sort of belies the season he was undergoing. After experiencing a season-ending injury in his first year in LA in ’72, Tommy put any fears regarding his comeback to rest early in the ’73 season and went on to record his best record – until then - in his new town mostly through immaculate control (only 50 walks in 220 innings). Then in ’74 things were going even better: the Dodgers were chugging to the NL West title behind Andy Messersmith (11-2 at the break) and Tommy (11-3) when in his final start before the All-Star game his arm “went dead.” It would be his final game of the season – fortunately for LA Don Sutton filled the gap by going an amazing 13-1 after the break – and when it was discovered by team doctor Frank Jobe that Tommy had an ulnar nerve problem, Tommy made the very unusual decision to go under the knife. History was born in the ensuing operation but it would take a while to reveal its legacy.

Tommy John grew up in Indiana which means that he played basketball. He was apparently good enough to get recruited by Kentucky and is listed on some sites as playing for Indiana State. I have been unable to verify that and according to Wikipedia Tommy attended ISU but never actually played there, which seems more plausible. What he did do, after an illustrious high school run as a pitcher during which he was 28-2, was sign with Cleveland in ’61.  His money pitch back then was a curveball and his first summer in D ball he went 10-4 with a 3.17 ERA. In ’62 he had control issues and put up a record of 8-10 with a 4.06 ERA in a season split between A and Triple A. Then in ’63 he rallied to go 15-10 with a 2.60 ERA split between Double A and Triple A and made his debut up top that September, posting a nice ERA in three starts and some bullpen work. In ’64 Tommy began the season in Cleveland, was told to add a slider to his pitch arsenal, and posted not great numbers while instituting his new pitch. By mid-year he was back in Triple A where his numbers only improved to 6-6 but with a 4.26 ERA. The following January Cleveland sent Tommy, Tommie Agee, and John Romano to the White Sox in a three-team deal in which the team picked up former star Rocky Colavito from Kansas City. According to the book “The Curse of Rocky Colavito,” it was the Tribe’s worst trade since they traded Colavito away.

With the White Sox, John moved to a team that had much better defense and with his slider a year older his numbers improved markedly since most of his outs were ground ball ones. He won 14 each of his first two years and his ERA improved each of his first four seasons. In both ’66 and ’67 he led the AL in shutouts. In ’68 he was having an excellent season though the team wasn’t doing too well when in August Dick McAuliffe charged the mound after he thought Tommy threw at him. John defended himself but during the tumble separated his shoulder and missed the rest of the season. When he returned the next year the club was in the midst of a bad run and over the next three seasons he posted losing records with escalated ERA’s – though they were well better than league averages – and even had control issues. In ’70 he led the AL in wild pitches. After the ’71 season he went to the NL and the Dodgers with Steve Huntz for Dick Allen. Tommy’s renaissance in LA was pretty complete as he posted a record of 40-15 with a 2.89 ERA in three years before he got hurt. In ’72 he missed a bunch of starts due to an elbow injury incurred while running the bases and in both ’73 and ’74 he led the NL in winning percentage. Given his future success in the post-season his loss during the ’74 Series was probably significant.

After the operation and a long rehab in ’75 John returned to the mound in ’76 and in 31 starts went 10-10 with a 3.09 ERA to win NL Comeback Player of the Year. He improved on those numbers by winning 20 in ’77 and 17 in ’78 and both years finally got post-season work, killing the Phillies in the NL Playoffs, and going 1-1 in the Series against the Yankees. After the ’78 season he became a free agent and signed almost immediately with his former Series opponents. In NY Tommy kicked off with probably his two finest seasons, going a combined 43-18 with a 3.20 ERA in ’79 and ’80. In the ’81 strike year he went 9-8 with his best NY ERA of 2.63 and that year faced his former mates in the Series. In ’82 he was 10-10 by August when he was traded to California for Dennis Rasmussen and then went 4-2 during the Angels’ stretch run. But from then through mid-’85 he went only a combined 20-30 with an escalated ERA and then was picked up off waivers by Oakland for whom he went 2-6 the second half of ’85. Tommy then returned to the Yankees as a free agent at age 43 where after a short stint in the minors he went 5-3 with a 2.93 ERA in ’86. He followed that up with a 13-6 season in ’87 and then went 11-15 as he finished up his career the next two years. When he was done in ’89 Tommy was 288-231 lifetime with a 3.34 ERA with 162 complete games and 46 shutouts. He appeared in four All-Star games and in the post-season was 6-3 with a 2.65 ERA in 14 games.

After playing John took off a year in ’90 to write and promote an autobiography. In ’91 he became the baseball coach at Westminster Academy, a school in Florida attended by his three sons. He stayed there through ’94 when he became a broadcaster for the Twins which he did through the ’96 season. From ’97 to 2006 he was mostly affiliated with the Charlotte Knights, a Triple A team for whom he did announcing and some coaching. When not with the Knights he broadcast Yankee games (’98) and was a pitching coach in the Montreal system (2002-’03) and manager of the Staten Island Yankees (’04).  After the Knights he moved to manager of the independent Bridgeport Bluefish for whom he went 159-176 from 2007 to ’09. He left that gig to take a sales and contact job with Sportable Scoreboards.

Tommy took his lifetime record above .500 in ’73 and shows a bunch of admirably low walk totals. Both years he was injured (’68 and ’72) look like they could have been his two best seasons.

A battery-mate helps in this hook-up:

1. John and Bob Boone ’82 to ’84 Angels;
2. Boone and Richie Hebner ’77 to ’78 Phillies.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

#450 - Rich Hebner

Here’s Richie Hebner – Topps liked to call him Rich – posing in spring training in front of what appears to be a bunch of fans checking out some action on one of the other fields, although that one guy in what I’m hoping is a yellow shirt seems to be checking out our subject. The shot also appears to have been taken in ’73 since that looks like a piece of electrical tape coming off his left shoulder (at this point my guess is that the Pirates put the tape on the sleeves in honor of Roberto Clemente before they were able to get the patches with his number). Judging by Richie’s card number Topps loved the guy since only thirteen guys in the set received his or a higher designation (cards ending in 50 or multiples of 100). I was certainly a big enough fan of the guy – he could be a pretty entertaining interview subject – and he did have a pretty good ’73, putting up until then personal bests in homers and RBI’s. He also hit an inside-the-park homer on Opening Day (I guess that should be capitalized). But I’m not terribly sure what he did to earn the honor. Then again, I’m just a guy with a blog, so what do I know.

Richie Hebner grew up outside Boston where at Norwood High he was a hockey and baseball star. In the latter sport he hit well over .400 in both his junior and senior years. The Bruins drafted him after his senior year – in which he had 29 goals and was an All-American – of ’66 but Richie opted for the other guys who drafted him, the Pirates, who selected him as a first round pick. He wasted little time in tagging the ball in the minors, hitting .359 with 20 RBI’s in 26 Rookie League games that summer. In ’67 he hit .336 in A ball and settled in at third base after being primarily a shortstop until then. In ’68 he hit .276 in Triple A and then made his debut that September. In his first MLB at bat he had to take over the count when the guy in the line-up ahead of him had been thrown out of the game for arguing the two strike calls against him. Richie went to the plate already down 1-2 and then watched as Freddie Patek, who was on first, got gunned down trying to steal second. That sounds like a no pressure introduction to MLB.

In ’69 Hebner started hot after being given the starting third base gig in spring training. He was hitting nearly .400 in mid-May and settled for being the only rookie in either league to hit over .300 that season. He probably would have made Topps Rookie team but Coco Laboy of Montreal showed a bit more power. The next year his numbers stayed roughly the same and he then hit .667 in the NL playoffs. In '71 he missed some weekends and about half a month mid-summer - military reserve? - but when around amped up his power considerably and then was a huge hand in winning his Series ring, knocking in eight runs in his seven post-season games. In ’72 he lost his first time to bad knees but he was able to keep his power elevated that year and the next few seasons. In ’74 he got his most at bats and hits of his career as his average rose 20 points. The next couple seasons he lost a bit more time to sore knees, his homers got reduced to single digits the second year, and both seasons he put up sub-.250 averages. Following the '76 season he went to the Phillies as a free agent.

For Philadelphia Hebner moved to first base, replacing the departed Dick Allen and Bobby Tolan. There he resumed his pre-'75 stat lines, averaging .284/18/66 seasons in just over 400 at bats per. He also returned to the post-season both years and in '77 hit .357 against the Dodgers. Then in ’79 when the Phillies picked up Pete Rose to play first, Richie went to the Mets with Jose Moreno for pitcher Nino Espinosa. There, for a crappy team, he became about the 500th third baseman in the New York history and put up nice numbers with a .268 average and 79 RBI’s. After that season he was on the move again, going to Detroit and the AL for Jerry Morales and Phil Mankowski.

Hebner had a bang-up first season in Detroit in ’80, hitting .290 with 82 RBI’s – his personal best – in only 341 at bats as he split time between first and third. But his follow-up season didn’t go so well as Richie, never a fast guy to begin with – was bedeviled by bad wheels and saw his numbers drop pretty significantly in the strike year. In ’82 he started about a third of the games at first and had revived his average almost 50 points when in August he got sold back to Pittsburgh. For the Pirates he hit .300 as mostly a right fielder during the stretch drive. He remained in Pittsburgh for the ’83 season, subbing mostly at third while he hit .265.  He then moved to the Cubs as a free agent where he spent two seasons backing up the corners and pinch-hitting. In '84 he helped win a division title by hitting .300 in the pinch and .333 overall and his second year he put up 22 RBI's in only 120 at bats. After the ’85 season he was done with a .276 average with 203 homers, 890 RBI’s, and a .352 OBA. He hit .270 with four homers and 16 RBI’s in 30 post-season games as well.

Hebner, who famously worked in his dad’s cemetery digging graves during off-seasons, moved into coaching once his playing career ended. In ’87 he coached a local American Legion team and somehow turned that into managing in the Toronto chain the next year (he did come in first place in ’88). He then went to Boston as hitting coach under Joe Morgan (’89-’91) before returning to the Toronto system as a roving hitting coach (’92-’94) and manager (’95-’96). He then hooked up with the Pittsburgh system as a coach (’97-’99) and manager (2000) before returning to the top as the Phillies hitting coach in 2001. He then began a long tenure with the Durham Bulls, then a Tampa Rays Triple A affiliate, as its hitting coach from ’02 to ’07. After that it was to the Orioles system for two years as a manager (’08-’09) and one as a coach. After not coaching in 2011 he was named the manager of the Norwood Navigators, a summer college league team, in 2012. As a manager Richie has gone 316-331. 

Richie had to get a big bonus to compete with the hockey guys. His brother umped in the International League a bunch of years and was a pretty good hockey player himself.

Charlie Sands would work here but he rarely played so let’s try this:

1. Hebner and Milt Wilcox ’80 to ’82 Tigers;
2. Wilcox and Tommy McCraw 72 and ’74 Indians.

Monday, October 22, 2012

#449 - Tommy McCraw

Tom – or Tommy – McCraw almost looks like he’s going to fall down at Yankee Stadium. New York was generally not a great place to fall down back then – especially in the Bronx – so let’s hope he kept his footing. Tommy had a pretty long run with the White Sox, but the last few years of his career he was pretty itinerant. In fact, from ’71 to his final card as a player in ’75 he was not once on successive cards with the same team. And his trades tended to occur at the beginning of the season so most of that time he was on a different team than the one on his card. The trade that got him to California for the ’73 season was one in which he and a minor leaguer were swapped for Leo Cardenas in April. Tommy was then the Angels’ first designated hitter on opening day, though most of the season he played the positions designated on his card. While Tommy probably didn’t play as much as he’d have liked – his primary role was backing up Vada Pinson in left – he did put up his best season average by that point in his career. He also got to hang out a bunch with Frank Robinson and strike up a relationship that would be beneficial down the road.

Tommy McCraw was born in Arkansas and relocated to southern California as a kid. He played at least hoops and baseball at Venice High School and hit .475 his senior year. He then continued both sports at Santa Monica College, a two-year school from which he was signed by the ChiSox in ’60. That year he hit .286 with 79 RBI’s in D ball. In ’61 he hit .326 with 96 RBI’s in C ball and then in ’62 he jumped all the way to Triple A where his average stayed intact as he moved to the top of the order and posted a .408 OBA. In ’63 he was hitting .282 at that level when Chicago first baseman Joe Cunningham went down with an injury and Tommy was called up to replace him. The rest of that season was an indication of the type of player he was for the Sox: very good defense, good speed, not too much average or power. His first few full years he split time at first – initially with Cunningham and then with Bill Skowron – and also played left field. In ’67 and ’68 he was the starter at first and then the next two years split time again – mostly with Gail Hopkins – at first and in the outfield as Chicago investigated putting more power at the former position. Tommy wasn’t too happy by the end of the ’70 season and after it he got moving, going to Washington for Ed Stroud.

DC wasn’t exactly a salve for not playing as McCraw, after a fast start, found himself in the familiar position of backing up first and the outfield. He did have a couple memorable moments, however: a lazy pop-up against Cleveland that went for an inside-the-park homer after three Indians banged into each other chasing it; and making the final Senators out ever when he was picked off trying to steal second after getting on base with a pinch hit, meaning he also had the final Senators hit ever. He also got to play for manager Ted Williams and though his average didn’t reflect Ted’s tutoring, his career would down the road. In ’72 Tommy and former Indian Roy Foster went to Cleveland for Ted Ford. There Tommy played first and all three outfield positions while getting his most at bats since ’68 and posting his best average and OBA (both of which would be topped the next year). In ’74 after starting the season with California he returned in mid-year to Cleveland in a sale. His stats for both teams that season would be eerily similar as he posted exactly 34 hits, eight doubles, three homers, and 17 RBI’s for each one, finishing the year with a .294 average. Before the ’75 season he was named a Cleveland player-coach to join new player-manager Frank Robinson. In the former capacity Tommy was released mid-season after hitting .275. That ended his time as a player with a lifetime .246 average with 75 homers, 143 stolen bases, and 404 RBI’s.

As noted above McCraw moved into his new coaching career right away. He stuck up top with Cleveland through the ’75 season and then moved to be a hitting coach in their minor league system from ’76 to ’79 when he was pulled back up to join Dave Garcia’s staff. He stayed with the Indians through ’82 and then moved to San Francisco (’83-’85) to re-join Robinson. He then moved to the Mets, first in the minors (’86-’88) and then in NY (’92-’96), sandwiched around three seasons in Baltimore (’89-’91). During his time up top in NY the team average rose from .235 to .270. He then went to Houston (’97-2000) and again hooked up with Robinson, this time in Montreal (’02-’06) where he remained through the team’s first season in DC. After that it was back in the Mets system where since 2007 he has been hitting coach of their Gulf Coast League team.

In that ’67 game from the first star bullet, Tommy nearly homered a fourth time when his last hit was caught on the warning track. He also had an interesting moment when he made it all the way home on a walk: the fourth ball got away from the catcher and Tommy was almost at second when the throw from the plate went into center; the outfielder then overthrew third base and Tommy was in. Topps gets big points for their forecasting in the cartoon.

Here we use an AL guy who finished up in the NL:

1. McCraw and Elliott Maddox ’71 Senators;
2. Maddox and Ron Hodges ’78 to ’80 Mets.

Friday, October 19, 2012

#448 - Ron Hodges

This is the rookie card of Ron Hodges. Ron had a very interesting initial season in MLB. First off he was called up despite hitting only .173 in the minors, and that was in Double A. The Mets were in a bind: Jerry Grote broke his wrist the second week of May and NY bought Jerry May from Kansas City to replace him. May then went two-for-three in his first start a couple games later but sprained his own wrist in that game and would only get into a couple more games before he got released. Then there was Duffy Dyer, pressed into a starting role, but hitting only about .140 while playing every day. So Ron got the nod, leap-frogging the Triple A guys – they weren’t hitting too well either – because he handled pitchers much better. He then hit .306 in his first 15 games while Mets starters went 8-7 with him behind the plate. While that won-loss mark doesn’t seem too hot at that point the team was 25-32 when he wasn’t starting. Ron cooled off a bit offensively, but in September he was part of probably the biggest Mets play of the year: the “ball off the wall” play where he combined with Cleon Jones and Wayne Garrett to nail Richie Zisk at the plate in a game that helped NY win their division. By playoff time everyone was relatively healthy again so Ron only got one post-season plate appearance. But he made it count, getting on base with a walk. He would then settle into a long career with the Mets as a back-up guy for Grote, John Stearns, and Alex Trevino. I always like Ron’s ’77 card when he was a dead ringer for Thurman Munson in an action shot. Plus he's got a great surname for a Met. Here he is a bit more pedestrian in a posed shot at Shea.

Ron Hodges is from Rocky Mount, Virginia, and upon graduating from its Franklin High School in ’68 went to Appalachian State University where he pounded the ball pretty hard, including his first ’69 season when he hit .422. He hit well over .300 in both ’70 – when he was drafted in the sixth round by the Orioles – and ‘71, when he was a first round pick in two separate drafts by Kansas City and Atlanta, but opted not to sign with any of those teams. He did sign with the Mets after they picked him in the January ’72 draft in the second round and forewent his senior season for a pretty good year in A ball which included a .380 OBA. After a nice IL season he moved up to Double A in ’73 and then to NY. In ’74 he stayed up top as the third-string guy behind Grote and Dyer. When in ’75 John Stearns joined the club after a trade from Philadelphia Ron spent most of the year at Triple A Tidewater – where he hit .266 with a .372 OBA – before returning to New York for the rest of his career. In ’76 he had four homers and 24 RBI’s in only 155 at bats and in ’77 he hit .265 behind Grote and Stearns. The next two years were pretty much all Stearns in that catcher’s two best seasons and Ron was the number two guy. Then in ’80 Stearns got hurt for the first time and Alex Trevino got the starting nod. Ron got hurt that year also when in a game against Montreal he separated his shoulder going into first. The next year he was on the other side of an injury – again against Montreal – when, trying to nail Tim Raines attempting to steal second, he drilled pitcher Craig Swan in the back, breaking two of Swan’s ribs. In ’82 Stearns got hurt again and Ron got a bunch more at bats (the third string guy that season was Bruce Bochy, current Giants manager), topping out career-wise in homers (five) and RBI’s with 27. Then in ’83 Ron was the starter when Stearns missed pretty much the whole year. Though he had zero power that year he hit .260 with a .383 OBA. The next year Mike Fitzgerald took over and in his last season Ron again moved to the number two position. He finished with a .240 average with a .342 OBA. That walk in ’73 was his only post-season appearance.

After playing Hodges returned to Rocky Mount where since ’85 he has been a realtor. His site is linked to here. He also has raised three sons that were pretty good athletes themselves. The youngest one, Casey, was drafted by Atlanta in 2008 and had a couple good seasons in Rookie ball and may or may not still be playing Independent League ball.

Ron gets some pretty good star bullets given his short career until then. That tournament average is probably the highest I’ve seen quoted yet on a card in this set. And those IL numbers are what got him promoted to Double A. On the Ultimate Mets Database site, sort of a go-to for Mets fans where they can comment on different players, there is a bunch of derogatory posts regarding Ron’s career until a couple members of his family castigate those posters and defend their dad. Then the negative posts sort of grind to a halt. I dunno. .240 for a back-up catcher who had a pretty good OBA and hit lefty? That doesn't sound too bad. That site is linked to here.

So Ron is the other side of the double hook-up. First for Quilici as manager:

1. Hodges and John Milner ’73 to ’77 Mets;
2. Milner and Bert Blyleven ’78 to ’80 Pirates;
3. Blyleven was managed by Frank Quilici from ’72 to ’75.

Again, the hook-up for Frank as a a player is the same:

1. Hodges and John Milner ’73 to ’77 Mets;
2. Milner and Bert Blyleven ’78 to ’80 Pirates;
3. Blyleven and Frank Quilici ’70 Twins.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

#447 - Frank Quilici/Twins Field Leaders

This guy is only 34 years old and already in his second year of managing the Twins when this photo was probably taken in an away park (Oakland? – those guys behind Frank have yellow jerseys on). Unlike Sparky Anderson, Frank Quilici looked his age and was handed the managing job by his boss, Calvin Griffith, when he actually expected he would manage in Denver, the Twins’ Triple A affiliate. Instead Frank stepped in up top and took over a team that was pretty much middle-of-the-road. The Twins of ’73 had an amazing young pitcher in Bert Blyleven and a couple young hopefuls in Ed Bane and Danny Fife. They also had a lineup that could hit – they led the AL with a .270 team average that year – but with the Killer on the decline were not exactly over-run with power. Or speed, outside of Rod Carew. They managed to be in first place as late as early July, when only two games separated the top five teams in the AL West. But then the A’s caught fire, the new pitchers sort of petered out, and the Twins finished in third place with a record of 81-81.

Frank Quilici grew up in Chicago where he played rec league baseball in the city's park system. It was a good thing that system was so extensive because his high school didn’t have a baseball team. Upon graduating a friend got him a try-out with the coach of Loras College in Iowa. Frank made the cut and his first semester worked two jobs to pay for school but the schedule was a bit much and before the season began the following spring he was back home where he worked at a bottling plant the next year-plus. He was then discovered by a Western Michigan University scout playing rec ball and signed with the school, playing middle infield, twice going to the CWS, and being named second-team All-American his junior year and first team his senior year. During that time he had two connections to the Yankees: they tried to sign him after his junior year; and Jim Bouton was his roommate. Upon graduating WMU in ’61 he was signed by the Twins and that summer hit a combined .276 for a couple D level teams. In ’62 he hit at Mendoza levels in both B and A ball. But he got things together the next three years, earning league all-star nods at second base each year while moving from A to Double A to Triple A. His best full year was ’64 when he hit .261 with 60 RBI’s and a .343 OBA in Double A. In ’65 he was hitting .277 at the higher level when the Twins got hit with injuries and Frank was called up in mid-July to play second during the pennant run. He hit only .208 but did a very nice job on defense, coupling well with MVP Zoilo Versalles, and earned starting assignment for the Series, during which he hit .200 with a .333 OBA. In ’66 he returned to Triple A Denver where he hit .256 and the next year got leapfrogged by the guy who would render him a back-up, Rod Carew. After barely playing anywhere in ’67 Frank stayed up top the next three seasons, doing reserve work all over the infield, topping out in ’68 when he hit .245 in 229 at bats. In ’69 he returned to the post-season under manager Billy Martin and when Martin left the Twins to manage Detroit in ’71 he recruited Frank to join him. Calvin Griffith wasn’t too crazy about that so he relegated Frank to a coaching position in ’71 and then in ’72 named him manager, replacing Bill Rigney. His final record as a player was a .214 average in the regular season and a .182 in ten post-season games.With an under-developed farm system, Frank did a pretty good job as a manager, going 280-287 through ’75. He then moved to the broadcast booth for a few years before leaving baseball to partner with an old college buddy in an automobile supply business that did quite well. When he retired he chaired the Minneapolis park system for a while, channeling his rec league ball days. He also plays golf and makes appearances on behalf of his old team. In 2009 he did a long phone interview which was pretty interesting and to which I have linked here. Frank pretty much interviews himself and is a genial, well-spoken guy with some great stories.

Vern Morgan excelled in sports at a young age and was signed by the Giants out of Emporia, Virginia in ’44 when he was just 15. But the signing was voided and Vern then attended Fort Union, a local military academy, where he played football, basketball, and baseball. After graduating in ’47 he went to the University of Richmond with the plan of continuing in all three sports. But his football season was delayed when the NCAA questioned his eligibility due to his Giants signing – he later played – and his hoops season got blasted by appendicitis. Then before playing baseball he was signed by the Cubs in the spring of ’48. A third baseman, Vern could hit, and he kicked things off with a .331 season that summer in B ball. The next three seasons were spent primarily in A ball where he never hit below .296 and during which he had a couple forays as high as Triple A. He then missed all of ’52 and ’53 to the military and the Korean War. He returned in ’54 to hit .322 in A ball and had his debut in Chicago that August, hitting .234 the rest of the way. After a brief stay up top in ’55 – he hit .225 in 31 games lifetime – it was back to the minors. After finishing out the season in A ball, Vern went to the Nats in the minor league draft and spent the next four seasons with Chattanooga, a Double A team. He peaked with them in ’57, hitting .335 with 14 homers and 92 RBI’s. In ’60 he moved down to A ball in his last regular season. He began managing in ’61 and played a bit at first and pinch hit through ’64 when he finished as a player with a .301 average in the minors. He continued to manage through ’68 and was 488-540 lifetime. In ’69 he went up to Minnesota as a coach and remained one through the early part of the ’75 season when he had to take a leave to undergo a kidney transplant. That operation was unfortunately rejected and Vern passed away later that year at age 47.

Bob “Buck” Rodgers has a bio on the Angels Team Records post.

Ralph Rowe was pretty much a lifetime resident of Newberry, South Carolina. An outfielder, he was signed by Cleveland in ’42 out of high school and started with a bang, hitting .357 that summer in D ball. Then came WW II and the Marines, for whom Ralph was stationed in the Pacific. When he returned in ’47 he’d been traded to the Cubs and for them hit well over .300 the next two seasons in B ball. In ’49 he hit .280 in A ball and was promoted for a few games in Triple A. After a ’50 back in B ball, he was traded to the White Sox for whom he hit .327 in Double A and after a strong start there in ’52 again hit Triple A. But after a .172 average at that level the ceiling was in place. He put in three more years at the Double A level, batting between .275 and .309, and then returned to the service in ’56. He put in another two years as a regular: in the Cleveland system in Double A in ’57 and the Washington one in ’58 in A ball. He became a manager in ’59 and thereafter played sparingly, finishing in ’61 with a lifetime average of .296 in the minors. Meanwhile he coached from ’60 to ’62 and then managed again from ’63 to ’71, all in the Twins system, and had a lifetime mark of 750-648. In ’72 he moved up top as a coach which he did through ’76. He then moved to the Orioles system from ’77 to ’80 in the minors, and from ’81 to ’84 as the Baltimore hitting coach. After a brief retirement following the ’84 season he returned in ’85 as the O’s pitching coach but that didn’t go terribly well. He then resumed hitting coach duties, first in the Montreal system (’86-’88), and then the Atlanta one (’89 until at least ’90). He eventually retired to Newberry where he passed away in ’96 at age 72.

Frank played so recently that the two-way hook-up should be pretty easy. First for him as manager:

1. Quilici managed Cesar Tovar on the ’72 Twins;
2. Tovar and Lenny Randle on the ’74 to ’75 Rangers.

Now for Frank as manager. This will look familiar:

1. Quilici and Cesar Tovar ’65 and ’67 to ’70 Twins.
2. Tovar and Lenny Randle ’74 to ’75 Rangers.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

#446 - Len Randle

This card used to amuse me as a kid. I know – and knew – that Lenny Randle was in a posed shot but what’s he doing with the ball? Maybe he’s playing pepper. Also this shot appears to be from the same group as that of his ’73 card, which would make it from spring training of ’72. Back then Lenny was deemed heir apparent at second base but an injury and a sub-.200 average that year put that on hold for a bit. He did get the gig in his break-out ’74 season under Billy Martin. Lenny was Billy’s type of player: smart and scrappy. But he had trouble with transitions. So in a couple years when it was someone else’s turn to take the starting role, Lenny didn’t handle it too well. Sometimes I guess he was a little too scrappy.

Lenny Randle grew up in the Compton area of southern California and at Centennial High there was a big three sports star as a running back, point guard, and catcher/infielder. After he graduated in ’67 he was drafted by the Cards but he instead opted to go to Arizona State and do the Reggie thing, namely football and baseball. In the prior sport he was a return specialist and his six TD’s in that role is still a school record. In baseball he was an all-conference second baseman and shortstop, winning a CWS title in ’69 and leading the Sun Devils in hitting with a .335 average in ’70. That year he was drafted in the first round by the Senators and that summer went straight to Triple A where he didn't hit too well but did a nice job in the field at second. ’71 was much better and his average, .390 OBA, and excellent defense got him up to DC by mid-June where he again did pretty well in the field but not at the plate. His average tumbled further in ’72 when the Rangers traded incumbents Bernie Allen and Tim Cullen to give Lenny more playing time but by the end of the season he was back in Triple A. He posted nice numbers at that level in ’73, adding 39 steals and a .373 OBA to his stats as well as a bunch of games in the outfield.

At the end of 1973 Billy Martin became the Texas manager and he became a big fan of Randle, inserting him into the starting role at third base while moving Dave Nelson to second. Lenny also started a bunch at second and a couple games in the outfield as he became one of the reasons the Rangers challenged for the division with his .302 average and 26 stolen bases. In ’75 he split starting roles pretty evenly between third, second, and center field as his average fell a bit but he posted better OBA numbers. In ’76 he settled in at second and stole 30 bases but his average settled also, to .224. In spring training of ’77 Texas manager Frank Lucchesi announced that rookie Bump Wills – Maury’s son and ironically another ASU product – would take over the second base job. Lenny wasn’t too happy with the move and during a discussion with the manager popped Lucchesi in the face, breaking his cheekbone, and putting him in the hospital. Lenny was fined $10,000, suspended for 30 days, and was shortly thereafter traded to the Mets. Until then Lenny had a very good reputation: he was well- but soft-spoken, was well-read, and had returned to ASU to finish his undergrad degree in political science and a masters in special education and had already started working with kids in off-seasons. To many the incident was out of character for him so when he moved on he wasn’t totally demonized.

Randle went to NY for Rich Auerbach and the team he joined was a pretty hot mess. That year Lenny was one of the few bright spots on the Mets as he basically reprised his ’74 season for them, hitting .304 with 33 steals and a .383 OBA while playing third base. Unfortunately he followed it up by channeling his ’76 year as his average dropped over 70 points. The following spring he was released and caught on with the Giants, for whom he played about a month of Triple A ball , before going to Pittsburgh with Bill Madlock and Dave Roberts for Al Holland and Ed Whitson. It should have been great timing for Lenny but with Madlock, Rennie Stennett, and Phil Garner ahead of him at his best positions, he remained in the minors. He was sold to the Yankees that August and for NY he appeared in a few games in the outfield the rest of the way, hitting .179. Prior to the ’80 season he was signed as a free agent by the Mariners and then sold to the Cubs. In Chicago he hit .276 while again moving back to third as the team’s starter there. In ’81 he returned to the Mariners as a free agent where he split time at third with Dan Meyer and had his big YouTube moment by trying to blow an Amos Otis dribbler down the third base line foul. He finished up his career in the States with Seattle in ’82, compiling a .257 average with 27 homers, 322 RBI’s, 156 stolen bases, and a .321 OBA.

Randle continued to play ball after his career stateside ended, becoming the first US player to play in Italy’s league. He played there for seven seasons and eventually relocated there. Ball-wise he also played back here in the Senior League and in a few games for the Angels in ’95 – he was 46 – when MLB was tossing around the idea of playing replacement games. Earlier that decade he returned to Compton to coach his old high school baseball team. Professionally he has returned to Arizona, where he was inducted into ASU’s hall of fame in the Eighties. That is the home base of his baseball school, which actually moves around a bit. He also runs an agency that sets up tours of spring training sites and engages athletes to speak to kids. His website is linked to here.

Lenny’s star bullets are pretty pedestrian, but he was only hitting .205 by the time his card came out. Plus, like the photo, they’re delayed a year.

By the way, there’s a fat gap between this post and the last one because the scanner was down. I’ll try to catch up.

These guys both played college ball:

1. Randle and Jim Mason ’72 to ’73 Rangers;
2. Mason and Doc Medich ’74 to ’75 Yankees and ’78 Rangers.

Monday, October 8, 2012

#445 - George Medich

Topps gives George “Doc” Medich an action shot and an honorary card number, which is pretty interesting since neither Randy Jones nor Steve Rogers received either honor and they both beat out Doc for spots on the Topps rookie team. He did make the Baseball Digest team, however, in a nod to an awfully good rookie campaign that certainly belied Doc’s selection as a 30th round draft pick in ’70. He was a busy boy in ’73, returning right after the season to Pitt’s med school to continue his studies. It was a frenetic existence he led back then and would continue to do throughout his MLB career and it led to some serious and sad problems down the road. But for the moment he got to enjoy his status as a big member of the NY rotation which he’d keep for a couple years. Here at Yankee Stadium he looks pretty enormous – he does go 6’5´- as he gets ready to unload what looks like a curve in front of a sea of blurry faces.

George Medich was born and raised in Beaver County, PA, an area that was strongly industrial business-wise. George was industrial as well, especially in sports, where he was a quarterback, basketball forward, and baseball first baseman and pitcher. Following his graduation in ’66 he went to the University of Pittsburgh on a scholarship where he played both football and baseball and studied pre-med. In the former sport his best year was his junior one when he caught 23 passes for 330 yards as a tight end. He was also a punter. His senior year he got a late start because of his baseball duties. In that sport he went 4-2 his senior year and won the school’s Charles C. Hartwig award given to a senior athlete. He was drafted by the Yankees that June and after finishing his studies that year had a super season in A ball and a tough one in Double A. In ’71 he again had a late start due to his studies and had another very good year at the lower level. After another delayed start to the ‘72 season he solved the Double A puzzle with more excellent pitching and made his NY debut in September. Then it was back to school.

After his big rookie year in ’73 Medich topped himself in ’74 by winning 19 to tie Pat Dobson for team lead. He was a streaky pitcher that year, at one point throwing five complete game wins in a row. In ’75 he went 16-16 with a 3.50 ERA and after that season went to Pittsburgh for Ken Brett, Dock Ellis, and a kid named Willie Randolph. The trade was a huge win for the Yankees and this Doc went 8-11 in a year slowed down a bit by injury. The next year he was involved in another big trade, going to the decimated A’s with Dave Giusti and rookies Doug Bair, Tony Armas, Mitchell Page, and Rick Langford for Tommy Helms and Phil Garner. Doc wasn’t too happy with the deal since at the time he was in Pitt’s med school and Oakland was nasty bad but he eventually showed up and while his 4.69 ERA was high, he was the only guy in the Oakland rotation outside of Mike Torrez (who went 3-1) to post a winning record at 10-6. But when Charlie O realized he wouldn’t be able to sign Doc he sold him in mid-September to Seattle for whom he went 2-0 in three starts. But he wasn’t done traveling yet and two weeks later he went to the Mets off waivers where he went 0-1 in a good start. He then signed with Texas as a free agent and over the next four seasons generated some decent numbers for the Rangers, most of them in the rotation. His best year was the strike season of ’81 when he went 10-6 with a 3.08 ERA. All his complete games that year – four of them – were shutouts. In ’82 his arm sort of blew up as he went 7-11 for Texas with a 5.06 ERA. That pushed them to sell him to Milwaukee for the Brewers’ stretch drive in August and for them his ERA stayed pretty much the same but he went 5-4 in ten starts. He got some post-season action against St. Louis but the results weren’t so great. He was released after the season and decided to pursue the medical career. Doc went a combined 124-105 with a 3.78 ERA, 71 complete games, 16 shutouts, and two saves. In that game against the Cards he had an 18.00 ERA in his two innings.

Medich did the residency thing at Pitt and then did one at Children’s Hospital from ’81 to ’86. Not too surprisingly he specialized in orthopedic surgery. In ’83, though, everything hit the fan when Doc was busted for writing pain-killer scrips for fictitious patients to support a drug habit he’d apparently had since when he was playing. He got off relatively lightly the next year and was supported by a guy named Mickey Zernich, another local former Pitt athlete who had an orthopedic practice. Over the next few years Doc worked at various local hospitals, did a long rehab stint, worked in drug counseling, and won a bunch of local golf tournaments. But bad news followed him: in ’92 he was suspended from his chief of surgery gig at the Medical Center of Beaver County and in 2001 he relapsed on the drug thing, again getting busted for writing scrips that were basically for himself. Another stint in rehab followed and depending on the source he either is or is not continuing to work as a doctor. A couple sites say he lost his license and was banned following his second incident but in ’05 when his son got married, he is listed as a working physician and he seems to have a current practice back in the Aliquippa area, although he is no longer with Zernich. Whatever he’s doing I sure hope he got the drug thing handled.

Doc gets a bunch of star bullets, a couple requiring an explanation. As indicated above, part of the reason his ’72 season was short was because he was in med school when it began. The Mayor’s Trophy Game was an annual exhibition game between the Yankees and the Mets that no veterans really liked to play – Sparky Lyle bitched about it a bunch in “The Bronx Zoo” – and was a quick mid-season rookie showcase.

These guys probably barely played each other:

1. Medich and Willie Stargell ’76 Pirates;
2. Stargell and Vic Davalillo ’71 to ’73 Pirates.

Friday, October 5, 2012

#444 - Vic Davalillo

From a member of the Topps rookie team of ’72 we go to a member of the Topps rookie team of ’63. Vic Davalillo gets his last Topps card for a few years as shortly after this card came out he would be released by Oakland and spend a few seasons playing in Mexico. But despite his 61 at bats and sub-.200 season for Oakland in ’73 – a big downtick from his ’72 year – Vic came in handy for the A’s. When Bill North went down with an injury just before the post-season, it was Vic who took his place, hitting .625 with a double and triple against the Orioles in the AL playoffs. He didn’t hit nearly as well against the Mets – one hit in eleven at bats – but he continued to get a bunch of time in the field against NY and got another ring to add to his ’71 one. That was a nice way to end a season in which he hit nearly 100 points under his career average and got sold to Charlie O when that guy stockpiled role players for his ’73 pennant drive. It would be another one of those in a few years that brought Vic back to the States.

Vic Davalillo grew up in Venezuela in a family of all boys. His dad died when Vic was young – how young varies depending on the source used for Vic’s birthdate – and Vic played ball and worked while still in school. His older brother Pompeyo – Yoyo was his nickname – was by then a bit of a local baseball legend and left to play ball stateside. Vic was studying to be a mechanic when in ’57 he began playing for national powerhouse Leones. Yoyo had already left a legacy there and in ’58 the elder brother was playing for the Cincinnati farm team in Havana when he introduced scouts to his brother, who had a nice short season on the mound. Cincinnati signed Vic in ’58 and he split that summer between D and C ball, going a combined 6-6 with a 3.08 ERA. In a ’59 all in D ball he went 16-9 with a 2.48 ERA in his best season as a pitcher and in ’60 he posted a 6-9 record with a 2.86 ERA in B ball while also starting 24 games in the outfield (he hit .271). That trend continued in a ’61 split between B, A, and Triple A in which he went 4-4 but his average slipped to .238. After that year the franchise for which he was playing – the old Havana one – got moved to the Cleveland system and the Indians opted to keep Vic. For them he spent a full season in the Triple A outfield – he pitched six games – and produced great numbers with a .346 average, eleven homers, 99 runs, 200 hits, and 69 RBI’s. The next year he went up to Cleveland.

Davalillo settled right into the Indians outfield. With his pitching arm he made a pretty good defender and he brought some speed as well. Nicknamed Mighty Might by fans he was having a nice rookie year when he was hit by a pitch from Hank Aguirre that broke his arm, resulting in nearly two months of missed time. He still finished with that .292 average to make the Topps team but that HBP affected his aggression at the plate. He returned in ’64 to win a Gold Glove but many felt the drop in his average came from his hesitancy at the plate. ’65 saw an offensive revival good enough to earn Vic an All-Star nod, a .301 average, and 26 stolen bases, the most of his career. In ’67 he began to lose some starting time in center, first to Jim Landis, and then to Chuck Hinton and Don Demeter as Cleveland went to a platoon system in the outfield. After a slow start in ’68 he was sent to California for Jimmie Hall, another outfielder. While he raised his average to .298 the rest of the way, he lost his regular spot in center to Jay Johnstone the next year and after barely playing, was sent to St. Louis for Jim Hicks. Again he pushed his average up in his second home but it was his worst overall season as he hit .219 on the year. For the Cards in ’70 he was a back-up outfielder extraordinaire as he hit .311 with 33 RBI’s in 183 at bats. The next year he and Nelson Briles went to Pittsburgh for George Brunet and Matty Alou. Perfect timing for Vic as he again went super-sub, hitting .285 in the regular season – mostly while playing right – and got his first post-season work. In ’72 he moved to left where he got a bunch more playing time as he started against right-handers. Then in ’73 new kids Richie Zisk and Dave Parker limited Vic’s playing time and he got sold to Oakland.

In ’74 Davalillo was seldom used, put up numbers comparable to his ’73 ones, and was released in May. By then Vic had developed a reputation as a big drinker and it was thought that some behavior while intoxicated also led to his dismissal. Either way he immediately went to Mexico where he hooked up with Cordoba where he hit .329 in ’74 and .355 with 70 RBI’s in 114 games in ’75. In ’76 he hit .333 for Puebla and in ’77 he was hitting .384 for Aguascalientes – for whom Yoyo was manager – when Al Campanis sent scout Charlie Metro down to find a lefty pinch-hitter. Charlie signed Vic on the spot and he was back in the States, hitting .313 the rest of the way in that role as a great complement to Manny Mota. He then began a winning rally against the Phillies in the NL playoffs and hit .333 against the Yankees in the Series. In ’78 he and Mota were again magic, with Vic hitting .312 and putting up the same average against NY in the Series. He pinch-hit two more seasons for LA, finishing up in ’80 when he was 43. Vic hit .279 for his career, stole 125 bases, and hit .323 with a .400 OBA in 22 post-season games.

Davalillo played for an even longer time in his native Venezuela than he did stateside, setting an all-time national mark with a .325 average in 30 years and retiring when he was 50. He won a bunch of batting titles there and was and is a national icon. He was inducted into his country’s hall of fame in 2003 and since playing has managed an amateur team and given lots of clinics in his homeland.

Vic’s card back is interesting in some unusual ways. Regarding the star bullet, initially he was given credit for the 24 hits which tied Dave Philley’s record. But later it was decided that his second hit in a game in which he moved to the field wasn’t technically a pinch hit so his number was reduced by one. The record was broken in ’76 by Jose Morales, ironically a part-time teammate in Oakland. Topps also has Vic’s birthdate listed as 1939, which is what he generally told people. It was actually in 1936.

At this point I have covered a year’s worth of music news for both ’73 and ’74. Maybe I’ll revive the whole Watergate thing. Here is something a bit entertaining: normally I get between 50 and 100 hits a day to the blog. Yesterday it was 250. The added traffic came from an S+M site. Not exactly my target audience.

One of my favorite second basemen links these two:

1. Davalillo and Dave Cash ’71 to ’73 Pirates;
2. Cash and Tom Hutton ’74 to ’76 Phillies.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

#443 - Tom Hutton

Tommy Hutton was in the second year of his quasi-regular status as first baseman when this photo was snapped at Shea. After his trade from LA he split duties there in ’72 with Deron Johnson and in ’73 with Willie Montanez. Then from ’74 on it was all back-up all the time, a normally thankless job at which he performed quite well. He was an excellent defender and was adept at getting on base – his OBA for his Phillies years was .350 – and was a good clubhouse guy, a skill he would put to use down the road. Like Alan Foster of the previous post he began his career as a southern Cal glory boy and heartthrob who was able to settle in nicely to whatever role his career brought him. His ’73 highlight was probably his two homers and four RBI’s against the Mets at the end of June which took the Phillies to within a game of second place, the highest they’d be all season outside of the first week or so. Tommy was hitting .344 at the time but both he and his team would cool off considerably as they headed to another last-place finish. This was Tommy’s last card sans mustache so maybe its appearance helped propel his team in a new direction.

Tommy Hutton was a big Pasadena High School athlete. When he finished there he was the school record holder in career points in hoops and won the 1964 California Interscholastic Federation (“CIF”) award his senior year in baseball. The following year the award was won by his cousin, Bill Seinsoth, another Dodger-to-be who was a CWS MVP at USC and then was killed in a car accident in ’69 after his only year in pro ball. Tom signed with the Dodgers in late ’64 while attending Pasadena City College and then had a big season in A ball in ’65. He slowed down not at all the next year when he won his Double A league’s player of the year award, continued to hit pretty well in Triple A, and then made his debut for LA behind Sandy Koufax. The next few years he missed some time for military duty and his ’67 offensive numbers sagged a bit. But his defense sure didn’t as he posted only one error all year. That year he also had the first of what would be three Topps rookie cards (’69 and ’72 would be his other years). In ’68 his average revived a bit as it would continue to do the next few seasons at Triple A. He spent a bunch of time on the LA roster – and bench – in ’69 and after returning to the plus side of .300 in ’70 won his second player of the year award in ’71 as he rediscovered his power and put up huge numbers at Spokane.

By then the Dodgers had two new kids to battle it out for first in the wake of Wes Parker’s expected retirement in Billy Buckner and Steve Garvey and rather than lose him to a $25,000 veteran draft, the Dodgers sent Hutton and his big numbers to the Phillies for Larry Hisle. Tommy had hit .303 with a .378 OBA in the minors altogether so Philly, dealing with its own older first sacker in Deron Johnson, was willing to take a flier. Tommy did pretty well, showing some diversity while also playing in the outfield, although he pretty much left his power back in the minors. Each of the next four seasons in Philly he saw a declining amount of at bats as first Montanez and then Dick Allen took the regular first base spot. He hit .309, mostly in the pinch, in ’77 and in both ’76 and ’77 got some post-season action. While with the Phillies he developed an uncanny knack to hit Tom Seaver – by mid-‘77 he was .432 with three homers and 14 RBI’s in 37 career at bats against him – and so when the Phillies went up against NY Tommy started the Seaver games. After the ’77 season he was sold twice: first to the Blue Jays for whom he did the first base/outfield thing; and in July ’78 to the Expos for whom he primarily pinch hit. He would stay up north the rest of his career, filling in the pinch through the ’81 season for Montreal. Tommy finished with a .248 average with a .339 OBA and had 234 career walks against only 140 strikeouts. In the post-season he went hitless in four at bats.

After playing Hutton began a long career in the broadcast booth, starting right away with Montreal. He was with the Expos from ’82 to ’86 and then moved to the Yankees (’87-’89) and Toronto (’90-’96). Since ’97 he has been broadcasting for the Florida Marlins.

Tommy gets a good informative card back, at least for me since I can expound on all this stuff. He is the second-to-last guy in this set who was on that ’72 Topps rookie team. On the Baseball Digest rookie team he got a spot in the outfield because the magazine named John Milner first baseman. In ’73 he met pitcher Dick Ruthven which means he also met his future wife since she was Ruthven’s sister. And the cartoon is interesting since it is so flighty. But not incredibly so because Tommy was still doing the nightclub thing as a singer/musician which he began back in his Dodger days with his ’69 card-mate Alan Foster.

So while these two were best buds and spent lots of baseball time together almost none of it was up top:

1. Hutton and Bobby Tolan ’76 to ’77 Phillies;
2. Tolan and Alan Foster ’75 Padres.