Thursday, February 28, 2013

#506 - Ed Farmer

On another one of those oddly predictive Topps cards Ed Farmer gets photographed at Comiskey Park, where years later he would enjoy his greatest success as a pitcher and go on to bigger and better things professionally. But the time period reflected on this card was a bit different. After more-or-less usurping the closer role for the Tribe in ’72, Ed had a pretty ineffective start to the ’73 season and mid-year went to Detroit for infielder Kevin Collins and pitcher Tom Timmermann. The rest of the way for the Tigers he was still pretty ineffective despite his perfect record. For the season he recorded only three saves. By the time this card came out he was traded twice. First he went to the Yankees while teammate Jim Perry went to Cleveland. Detroit got back Jerry Moses from NY and the Yankees also got Walt Williams and Rick Sawyer from the Tribe. Then two days later Ed got sold to the Phillies. That must have been fun. It was good practice, though, because Ed wasn’t going to stop moving for awhile. My guess as to the guy behind Ed in the shot is Jim Northrup.

Ed Farmer grew up in Chicago where he was a prep star at St. Rita High School. He was drafted by Cleveland upon graduating in ’67 and then went 3-0 in seven starts his first summer in Rookie ball. His ERA was only 1.97 but his walk per inning would be a blemish that would return down the road. In ’68 he pitched well enough in A ball but a four-game run at Double A didn’t go too well. In ’69 things got worse at both levels but at the end of the season some work in the IL, during which he went 5-2 with a 3.19 ERA, got him back on track. In ’70 he had a decent year at Triple A and though his numbers took a step back the next year Cleveland was hurting for pitching and Ed got a June call-up.

Farmer was a big guy who threw heat and a slider but was a bit wild. His first year up Cleveland used him in a couple spot starts and primarily middle relief. Despite a pretty high ERA he picked up four saves and in ’72 he eventually worked his way into the closer role, finishing the most games on the team and recording seven saves. After the trade to NY during spring training of ’74 it was disclosed the team was planning on him going to Triple A. Ed balked, which precipitated the sale to Philadelphia. For the Phillies he had a couple good early games but then fell apart control-wise and went to the minors anyway.  Though his ERA was over 8.00 up top he delivered a 2.68 in seven starts in Triple A. Still, after the season Philly sent him packing to Milwaukee for a minor leaguer. ’75 would be a tough year: experiencing sharp shoulder pain, Ed went only 2-8 with a 7.82 ERA in 13 Triple A starts before being sold to the Mexican League’s Union Laguna team and then being released during ’76 spring training. But the experience with the Brewers wasn’t all bad as that year the club picked up the tab on shoulder surgery performed by Dr. Frank Jobe. Ed missed the whole season to recover and was without a team, but in ’77 he got a tryout with Baltimore, made the cut, and had a vastly improved ’77 in Triple A, going 11-5 in 24 starts with a 4.47 ERA. He also dropped his slider that year in favor of a curveball and a change-up.

Farmer only had a one-year contract with the O’s and early in ’78 he returned to Milwaukee where in Triple A he returned to relieving and put up a 9-7 record and eight saves despite a high ERA. He also returned for real to The Show late that year going 1-0 with a save and a 0.82 ERA in three games. After that season he and Gary Holle were traded to Texas for Reggie Cleveland. With the Rangers Ed became the long guy out of the pen for ’79, setting up for Jim Kern and Sparky Lyle. That was a tough role that year since a lot of the Rangers starters regularly went deep and Ed only got into eleven games by mid-way through the season. Though he went 2-0 with a 4.36 ERA in that span his most memorable game came against KC when he plunked and injured two Royals: he broke Frank White’s hand and Al Cowens’ cheek in an incident that would return to haunt him. That June at the trading deadline he went to the White Sox – again with Gary Holle – for recent post subject Eric Soderholm (he keeps showing up). Shades of ’72, Ed took over the closer role in the pen, this time much more effectively as he went 3-7 the rest of the year with a 2.43 ERA and 14 saves.

In 1980 Farmer built on the momentum with which he finished the prior season. He turned in an All-Star season out of the pen, going 7-9 with a 3.34 ERA and a club-record 30 saves. Two negatives compromised that good run, however. One came in June when Ed faced Al Cowens again. Cowens, now with Detroit, grounded out to shortstop but instead of running to first, sprinted to the mound and started pummeling Farmer. Cowens got a five-game suspension and later in the year the two had a public reconciliation in September when they each brought out the line-up card before a game and shook hands. The more far-reaching bad development was pain Ed began to experience in his abdomen late in the season. That pain would continue to haunt him the next decade and would impact his pitching career. His ’81 follow-up season was disappointing as Ed went 3-3 with ten saves as his ERA moved up to 4.61. After the season he was a free agent and he returned to the Phillies for a pretty big paycheck. Philly, looking for a bullpen stopper along the lines of Ed’s ’80 season instead got a discount to the 81 version as in ’82 he went 2-6 with six saves and a 4.86 ERA. By the end of the year he was moved to swing status but things only worsened in that role in ’83, when he went 0-6 with a 6.08 ERA. After some equally bad work in the minors, Ed was released that August and then picked up by Oakland for whom he had a decent ten innings up top after some mid-range work in Triple A. But after some pretty poor numbers the following season at the lower level he was released. In ’85 he hooked up with the new independent Miami Marlins, a Class A team, and went 7-5 with nine saves and a 2.73 ERA. That got Pittsburgh interested and in ’86 he went 4-7 with eight saves for its Triple A franchise. By then he was 36, the pain in his gut was pretty intense, and he decided to retire. He finished with a lifetime 30-43 record with a 4.30 ERA and 75 saves.

Farmer took a year off and returned to baseball in ’88 as a scout for Baltimore, which he did through the ’90 season, during which he returned to Chicago and got some pick-up work providing color on some local newscasts. In ’91 he hooked up full-time with the Sox as assistant to GM Ron Schueler –a former teammate and coach – and relief play-by-play work in the booth. That year he also had the endgame to his abdominal pain. It turned out he had a genetic predisposition to polycistic kidney disease which pretty much wrecked his kidneys and required a transplant that year from his brother, who had not inherited the disease. All well for ’92 he became a full-time broadcaster that year, first as a color guy with John Rooney (’92-2005) and then as the play-by-play man (’06-present) after the team switched radio affiliations. He has also done some work for ESPN radio.

I don’t know what’s going on with the first half of that signature. Ed gets the star bullet props for some high school feats. That second one happened during an Illinois high school all-star game. He was also a star hoops player, no surprise there given his height. This was actually Ed’s last card for a long while. His next one would not be until the ’80 set. That must be a record of some kind.

Both Buckner and Farmer have that Soderholm link and Buckner was a farmer at one point but that doesn’t work here:

1. Farmer and Mike Krukow ’82 Phillies;
2. Krukow and Bill Buckner ’77 to ’81 Cubs.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

#505 - Bill Buckner

If anyone outside of Fred Merckle is a poster child for one play overriding a whole career, this guy is it. Years from the time this photo was taken Bill Buckner would be at Shea for a moment that many too many saw as defining but in reality was just a bad incident magnified by being on a large stage. But that moment is years away and when this shot was taken Billy Bucks was in the midst of his first full-time season as a Dodger. Incumbent first baseman Wes Parker retired after the ’72 season and LA was still trying to figure out to which infield corner Steve Garvey truly belonged and that transitional time gave Bill the opportunity to finally grab a starting lineup spot. So he spent a bit over half the year manning first base until Garvey segued in to do his Lou Gehrig thing, and then moved to his future permanent spot in left field (permanent being a relative term since we are talking baseball). And while Bill didn’t reach his .300-plus average of ’72, he did have a solid offensive year with the low strikeout total – 34 in ’73 – that would epitomize his work down the road. More than one time he probably wished his days at Shea were all as benign-seeming as the one this photo represents.

Bill Buckner grew up a sports star in southern California and in high school excelled at both football and baseball. In the former sport he was a speedy wide receiver who was All-America twice and still holds school records for all-time receptions and receiving yardage. His junior year in baseball he hit .667 to win the state’s Mr. Baseball award (three years after future teammate Willie Crawford won it), and he then came back to hit .529 as a senior. That year was ’68 and the Dodgers made Bill their second pick that spring. Good pick. Bill hit .344 in Rookie ball the rest of the summer while leading his league with eight triples. In ’69 he killed the ball in the IL, hit .307 with pretty good power in Double A, and upped it to .315 in Triple A. That year he also put in his first pro time at first as the outfield was crowded with young guys and Garvey was being groomed as a third baseman. In ’70 Bill put in more time at first than in the outfield in Triple A and hit .335 with 33 doubles and 74 RBI’s with only 45 strikeouts.

In ’71 spring training Buckner slammed the ball at an over .400 clip and spent just about all his time in right, splitting time primarily with Willie Crawford and taking space vacated by Andy Kosco – who had gone to Milwaukee – and Bill Russell, who was moving to shortstop. Bill’s steady numbers got him a spot on the Topps Rookie team that year. In ’72 he also filled in at first for Parker, upped his average over 40 points, and dropped his strikeouts to 13. After Garvey took over first late in ’73 Bill moved to what would be his regular spot the duration of his LA stay in left field. In ’74 he did a real good Willie Davis impersonation – though with a lot less K’s – by hitting .314 with 83 runs and 31 stolen bases as one of the big reasons LA won the NL Championship. In his first Series he hit .250 against the A’s. In ’75 LA ran into a big injury wall and one of the most devastating was to Bill’s ankle, which he severely sprained sliding into second that season. That injury and a subsequent one later that year would pretty much derail the speed upon which his game was built. But Bill was a gamer and after hitting only .243 while active in ’75 he bounced back the next year to hit .301 on 193 hits and even stole 28 bases. After the season the Dodgers had a shot at power hitter Rick Monday, who couldn’t agree to terms with the Cubs and so Bill and shortstop Ivan DeJesus went to Chicago for Monday and pitcher Mike Garman.

Buckner wasn’t crazy happy about going to the Cubs from a pennant contender (his misgivings were right on since LA won three division titles and a Series while he was in Chicago) and for a while there was a shot he wouldn’t go. The Cubbies were pretty much a .500 team during Bill’s tenure there but it wasn’t because of him. In seven full seasons back at first base he averaged a touch over .300 with over 30 doubles, eleven homers, and 74 RBI’s. He only struck out a bit over 20 times a season and he had a couple big years. In ’78 he hit .323 and in ’80 he led the NL with a .324 while hitting 41 doubles. In ’82 he moved a couple spots lower in the lineup and hit .306 with 15 homers and 105 RBI’s, both career highs to that point. In ’81 – when he was an All-Star - and ’83 he led the NL in doubles, with 35 and 38 respectively. But Bill was a big competitor and things in Chicago didn’t always go swimmingly, like when in ’82 he and manager Lee Elia got into a fight. That was also the season he had to turn to a hypnotist – ironically met through recent post subject Eric Soderholm – to help him recover his stroke. While Bil and his manager made up, early in ’84 he would be on the move again, this time to Boston for pitcher Dennis Eckersley.

Again, Buckner’s timing was short of optimal as he missed the Cubbie’s big division title push. While the Cubs got a Hall of Fame pitcher in the trade, Boston got the better deal as Eckersley became a free agent and would have been on the move anyway. Off to a crappy start in Chicago, Bill rallied the rest of the way to hit .278 with 67 RBI’s in about two-thirds of a season in Boston. He then got into the power game the next couple years, getting his lifetime  highs of 201 hits, 46 doubles, and 110 RBI’s on 16 homers in ’85 and parking a career high 18 with 102 RBI’s in ’86. By that year his ankle was affecting him a bit defensively and in a bunch of games Dave Stapleton would replace him on the field in late innings. Unfortunately that didn’t happen on the big play in Game Six of the Series and Bill accrued that negative image to his baseball resume. It would contribute to a very tough start to the ’87 season when constant riding by fans at Sox games led to a mid-’87 release though he was hitting .273 with 42 RBI’s at the time. California picked him up pretty quickly. There he raised his average 30 points as a DH the rest of the way and then reprised that role and did some work at first with Kansas City through ’89. In ’90 he re-signed for a brief stay back with Boston and retired early that season. He finished with a .289 average on 2,715 hits, 498 doubles, 174 homers, and 1,208 RBI’s. Though his speed was mostly taken away pretty early he managed 183 stolen bases and was caught only 73 times. He finished with 453 K’s or roughly one per every 21 at bats. In the post-season he hit .204 with five RBI’s in 23 games.

While playing Bill purchased some ranch property in Idaho which he continued to run with his brother for a bunch of years. He also developed some commercial and residential real estate near the Boise area. In '92 he returned to baseball as the Toronto minor league hitting coach which he did through the '95 season. He then became the White Sox hitting coach which he did through August of '97 when he was released. He then took time off of baseball though he used to do a bunch of autograph shows with Mookie Wilson in memory of that magical '86 moment. Bill returned to Boston as manager of the Brockton Rox in 2011. After doing that for a year he hooked up with the Cubs in 2012 as a minor league hitting coach. As of this writing there is noise he will re-join Brockton in 2013.

Topps doesn’t exactly do a deep dive on Bill’s back of card stuff. He does have one of the clearest signatures so far.

Bill gets with Joe through another former NL West guy:

1. Buckner and Cliff Johnson ’80 Cubs;
2. Johnson and Joe Niekro ’75 to ’77 Astros.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

#504 - Joe Niekro

Here we have an air-brushed card of Joe Niekro in a probably air-brushed place. Joe is in his Tigers uniform which indicates the photo is at least from as far back as ’72. The top of his cap looks like it’s dissipating into the ether which may be how Joe felt his career was going in ’73. He was 28 and had been in pro ball since ’66 but after a promising start to things mediocrity set in and after some not great seasons in Detroit he was shipped off to Triple A to begin the ’73 season where he went 7-10 with a 3.71 ERA in the rotation but by late July was placed on waivers. He was then taken by Atlanta who gave him a few innings for its miserable stretch run during which he got three saves but not terribly much else. He did, however, re-unite with brother Phil who pushed Joe to get back on the bus of a pitch their dad had taught them when they were kids. He honed his knuckleball while in Atlanta though the Braves would not be the beneficiaries of one of the more dramatic turnarounds career-wise in history. Those would go to another team and Joe, seemingly washed up at 28, would go on to pitch meaningful ball well into his Forties. So from this seemingly innocuous undated and edited photo very good, if not great, things were about to issue.

Joe and Phil Niekro grew up in Ohio where their dad went to work in the mines and where they played lots of baseball while kids. Their dad, who was a pretty good semi-pro player, taught them to throw the knuckleball when they were relatively young. Phil would ride it to pretty consistent success during his career but Joe eschewed it for a pretty good heater and a nice slider. He also played hoops and was all-district in both sports. Upon graduating in ’62 Joe went on to West Liberty State College where he continued to play both sports and was captain of each his senior year. In ’64 he led his school to the NAIA CWS championship and he was all-conference in both his junior and senior year. In January of his senior year he was taken by Cleveland in the draft but opted to return for his senior season. The Cubs then selected him in the third round of the June ’66 draft and he signed and spent the rest of the summer posting a 6-6 record and 2.08 ERA split between Rookie, Single A, and Double A ball. For a long time that was it for Joe in the minor leagues.

Niekro’s fine summer in ’66 took him to Chicago to start the ’67 season where he eventually worked his way into the rotation and had a quite good rookie year. At the plate he knocked in eleven runs in only 46 at bats. His follow-up season wasn’t crazy bad as he added four wins to his ’67 mark, but his ERA popped big in a year that just about everyone else’s went down hard and his control got a little dicey. It was widely viewed as a disappointing season even though he had the second-best mark of staff starters and early in ’69 he was traded to San Diego with pitcher Gary Ross for Dick Selma. Joe pulled his ERA back down to league average but it didn’t help him too much as his record tumbled and after that year he was sent to Detroit for infielder Dave Campbell and other hard luck pitcher Pat Dobson. Joe spent all of ’70 in the rotation where his record improved substantially but his other numbers didn’t. In ’71 he became a swing guy, more by necessity than design as his walks topped his strikeouts and his ERA topped out in a bad way. In ’72 he was used much less in the same role and also pitched a couple games at Triple A where he performed pretty brilliantly. Nevertheless, by ’73 Detroit was done and by the end of the next year he was back in the NL.

For Atlanta Niekro again did the back and forth between the big club and the minors, but now it was to refine his rediscovered pitch. The results in Triple A were impressive as he went 8-1 with a 2.08 ERA and seven saves as strictly a reliever. While they weren’t as impressive up top, they were still an improvement over his past couple seasons as he went 3-2 with a 3.56 ERA and much better control. Late in ’75 spring training Joe was purchased by the Astros for $35,000 and put back in the pen where he went 6-4 with a 3.07 ERA and four saves. In ’76 he moved back to a swing role where his ERA at 3.36 was pretty good, but his 4-8 record wasn’t so hot. Things changed markedly in ’77 when in mid-season Joe moved from his swing role to the rotation and finished 13-8 with a 3.04 ERA. After a .500 season in ’78 he took off in ’79 when he went 21-11 with a 3.00 ERA and an NL-leading five shutouts to help lead Houston to its first meaningful pennant run. He got his only All-Star nod that year and finished second to Bruce Sutter in Cy Young voting. In ’80 Joe went 20-12, won the division clincher against LA, and then pitched ten innings of shutout ball against the Phillies, though Houston lost that series. In the ’81 strike year he recorded his lowest ERA of 2.82 and then did it again in the playoffs with eight shutout innings against LA. He came back to win 17, 15, and 16 games the next three seasons, twice leading the league in starts – and twice in wild pitches – and during that time posted ERA’s significantly better than league average. In ’85 he slid to his first losing record in a bunch of years and that September was traded to the Yankees for Jim Deshaies and a couple minor leaguers. By the time he left Houston Joe had won 144 games, pretty good for $35K.

Niekro’s ERA popped a bunch back in the AL, in part due to a bad shoulder. After going a combined 14-15 with a 4.58 ERA in a spot role for NY through mid-’87 he was traded to Minnesota for Mark Salas. It was an opportune move for Joe and while he didn’t pitch particularly well down the stretch – he went 4-9 with a 6.26 ERA – he did get into his first Series where he – guess what – pitched shutout ball. He got a ring but when he returned in ’88 his shoulder was toast and after a couple games into that season he was done. Joe finished with a record of 221-204 with a 3.59 ERA, 107 complete games, 29 shutouts, and 16 saves. He recorded 72 RBI’s during his career and in the post-season was about as perfect as you can get with 20 shutout innings, but with no decisions.

Before ’88 was over Niekro took on a pitching coach role in the Minnesota system. He remained there through ’91 when he moved to the Colorado one, where he stayed through ’93. In ’94 he joined up with brother Phil to coach the Silver Bullets, a women’s professional baseball team sponsored by Coors. That lasted through ’97 after which the team folded. He also continued to coach, mostly one-off deals in which he was brought in to help work on other knuckleball pitchers. He also took time to help develop son Lance who played ball the last decade including a few years up top with the Giants. In 2007 Joe was out shopping for a tuxedo for his daughter’s wedding when he felt a searing pain in his head. It turned out to be a brain aneurysm and two days later it would be a fatal occurrence. Joe was 61 when he passed away. Since then his daughter Natalie has run a site that enlists help to combat what killed her dad. It is linked to here and for those with a longer attention span there is an interview with her here.

I like that first star bullet but I do think the Perfect designation makes the No-Hit (all oddly capitalized) designation unnecessary. Joe hit only one homer during his career and it was off Phil. Plus when he got his 21 wins in ’79 he co-led the league; Phil was the other leader.

These guys both played a bit with NY, but let’s go elsewhere:

1. Niekro and Bill Hands ’67 to ’69 Cubs;
2. Hands and Eric Soderholm ’73 to ’74 Twins.

Monday, February 25, 2013

#503 - Eric Soderholm

The next guy in line to give us one of the go-to poses is Eric Soderholm, who shows us his stance at what may be Baltimore’s Memorial Stadium, though I think we are really back in spring training land. Eric’s pose could actually be a lead-in to the photo of his ’73 card though they’re in different settings. Eric came out of 1973 a lot better off than when he went in. Though he’d put up some pretty nice minor league numbers – especially in ’71 – he couldn’t get his MLB average above Mendoza levels. Plus defensively he’d been groomed to be the replacement shortstop for Leo Cardenas though a lot of scouts said he couldn’t handle that position up top. So even though he generated some pretty good fielding totals he was initially viewed as a disappointment when he came up to play third since the Twins already had plenty of guys who could play there. So he spent a bunch of the season back in Triple A Tacoma where his numbers were OK, but not crazy great. Still he got more time to learn third base and when he returned to Minnesota, though his power was a little light, he did keep his average right around .300 for pretty much the whole season. By the time this card came out he was the team’s regular guy at the hot corner.

Eric Soderholm grew up in Dade County in Florida where he had a big year as a junior shortstop for Coral Park High School in Miami. Scouts were after him big but after a weak senior year Eric moved way down priority-wise and wasn’t drafted his senior year of ’66. He was a little guy and he was able to go to South Georgia College on a fellowship deal wherein he got a ride but he had to put lots of work time in on campus to help pay for it. His first couple months there he bulked up to 175 and that got KC interested enough to draft him in June ‘67 in the eleventh round. But with no offered bonus Eric stayed in school. There is some media noise that he was an All-American while there but in a school publication it appears the best he reached was as a JUCO honorable mention his sophomore/senior year of ’68. Still both years his school won the state JUCO championship and he must have done something right because in the spring of ’68 the Twins made him a first rounder. He didn’t disappoint, hitting 12 homers in under 300 at bats the rest of that summer in A ball and then poking 43 RBI’s on less than 200 at bats at that level the next year. He then hit .294 in a short stop that year at another team at the same level before he ran into a bit of a wall in Double A. But his overall stats were quite good and included 18 stolen bases against only one time caught and a .380 OBA. By then he was pushing 190 and was thought to be too big for shortstop so he began ’70 playing strictly third in A ball before moving up to Triple A where he again put in most of his games at shortstop and picked up his offense significantly. In ’71 his third base experience worked out better at the higher level as he set a league mark with four grand slams and had his best power year. That September he got called up to Minnesota.

Soderholm had a great debut, hitting a homer in his second at bat but the rest of the month his numbers faded a bunch. They didn’t get any better in ’72 average-wise but his power was pretty good in a season split at third with Steve Braun. After moving around in ’73 he came back the next year to take pretty much sole possession of the position, putting up some nice defensive work while hitting .276 with 51 RBI’s. In ’75 he was rolling to a better season when he was out driving on an off day to look at some property he was considering buying and fell in a storm drain, breaking three ribs and tearing the crap out of his knee. It was too bad for the Twins because he was hitting .286 at the time with better power numbers across the board on less at bats than the prior year. The initial fix on the knee was to remove some cartilage and go from there. But Eric could not move laterally on the knee in ’76 spring training so he again went under the knife and had a bunch more cartilage removed, losing the entire season. That November he left town as a free agent.

In ’77 Bill Veeck was back running the show for the White Sox and he was a big fan of reclamation projects so he signed Soderholm to have him fill the hole at third base that got a little big in the wake of Bill Melton’s departure. While there was trepidation about the state of Eric’s knee, especially on defense, he came out strong and provided excellent defense. He also hung in there at the plate and was able to take his time run production-wise since he was surrounded by the Southside Hit Men that year. He then delivered big in the power department as he hit 16 homers after the All-Star break to set a personal high for the season with 25. He also knocked in 67 runs and hit .280, all of which won him the AL Comeback Player of the Year Award. In ’78 the team suffered a relative power drought and Eric’s average slid a bit to .258 but his power stats stayed pretty consistent with 20 homers and 67 RBI’s, and he put in another good year defensively. In ’79 he had a great start in the field and an OK start at the plate but the Sox weren’t doing too well so when Texas came looking for offensive help, Eric went to the Rangers right before the trade deadline for Ed Farmer – coming up – and Gary Holle. Texas was set at third with Buddy Bell but new shortstop Nelson Norman was having a tough time at the plate so Bell did a bunch of starts there while Eric took over third for a few games and also DH’d. He raised his average there by over 20 points. After the season he went to the Yankees to DH and do support work at third. By then he’d had two additional knee operations and while he was quite good at getting anything hit in a limited range, that range was contracting. But in ’80 he got off to a hot start at the plate and was hitting over .300 when starter Graig Nettles went down with hepatitis. Eric and Aurelio Rodriguez then split the work at third for the duration of the season and he ultimately had his best offensive season in a couple years, hitting .287 with eleven homers and 35 RBI’s in 275 at bats. He also got some post-season work for the first time that year against KC. But in the off-season another knee operation killed his ’81 season and with little chance of doing any meaningful work in the field he retired at the end of the season. Eric finished with a .264 average, 102 homers, and 383 RBI’s. In the post-season he hit .167 in his two games. Ironically in the face of all his knee work he is currently third all-time for defensive range per nine innings at third base.

Before he retired Soderholm was able to cadge a tryout with the Cubs. When that didn’t go too well he hooked up with the team as a scout, which he did from ’82 to ’83. While in Chicago he got inspired to start a ticket agency that specialized in sporting events and concerts and which did really well, principally because his timing was perfect Michael Jordan-wise. He also started some hitting coach work on the side that developed into his own baseball academy. In ’97 he began his own alternative healing place in Chicago and it is that business to which he devotes most of his time these days. A whole bunch of the above information comes from an interview given by Eric on the Baseball Almanac site and is linked to here.   

Eric also had a four-for-five day in ’73. ’71 was also a big year for him because the Twins made his brother Dale another first rounder that year. Dale was a shortstop also but never reached the top. On the site inked to above Eric gives pretty amusing color on the defensive abilities of the ’77 Sox. He basically says that Chet Lemon was pretty much the only guy who could actually play with any range or throw the ball. It’s a good read.

This is one of those easy ones:

1. Soderholm and Dave LaRoche ’72 Twins.

Friday, February 22, 2013

#502 - Dave LaRoche

No action card this time but not for a lack of trying by its subject. Dave LaRoche shows his delivery in Candlestick. But this photo was taken years before Dave began tossing his Lalob pitch, the one that got him his YouTube exposure. He may have been able to use that pitch during his time with the Cubs, the only team for which he pitched and had subpar results. He’d come to Chicago after the ’72 season for pitchers Bill Hands and Joe Decker after having a pretty good run back in the AL as a reliever. Dave’s main pitches back then were a fastball, a slider, and a forkball, and he put up good numbers because the last two pitches balanced the first one. But the Cubbies wanted all fastballs all the time and Dave overthrew while there, giving up lots of homers, putting up high ERA’s, and not too many saves. In ’73 he only had four. His record was pretty nice that year but it fell to 5-6 in ’74, a year he started his first games up top. His control continued to waver and though he got into twice as many innings he only put up five saves and spent some time back in the minors. About the only thing that did go well during that time was his batting average which was .355 during his two seasons there. All those stats may have had him longing for time back in the outfield again.

Dave LaRoche played the big three sports while at West Torrance High School in California. He was a placekicker in football and in baseball played second base and outfield and pitched a bit. After his senior year of ’66 he was drafted by the Angels but he passed to go to UNLV on a hoops and baseball scholarship. But when California drafted him again the following January in a significantly better round and offered up more bucks, Dave bit and left school and his scholarship to play ball. That summer he hit .227 with not too much power in A ball while playing the outfield. So there wasn’t too much resistance when he was moved the next year to the mound. In that role he did much better at the same level, going 5-7 with a 2.36 ERA mostly in relief and almost a K an inning. In ’69 he split time between A and Double A, adding nine saves to his card numbers and doing a better job at the higher level. Then in ’70 he killed at Triple A with a perfect record, miniscule ERA, and five saves before a May call-up.

LaRoche had a pretty stunning debut, coming in the 16th inning at home against Boston with two outs, the bases loaded, and a full count on Carl Yastrzemski. He was a little surprised when catcher Joe Azcue called for a slider, then not his best pitch, but he delivered, getting Yaz to ground out and picking up his first win when California scored in the bottom of the inning. He put together a fine rookie season, getting four saves in mostly setup work. His sophomore year he added a win and nine saves as he worked his way into the closer role and after the season went to Minnesota for Leo Cardenas, who the Angels grabbed to replace Jim Fregosi. With the Twins Dave again served as closer, putting up ten saves while recording another excellent ERA. Then came the two not fun years with the Cubs from which he was rescued early in ’75 spring training when he went to Cleveland with outfielder Brock Davis for pitcher Milt Wilcox in a steal for the Tribe. Dave picked up where he left off in ’72, re-establishing himself as one of the AL’s best closers and winning the team’s player of the year award by going 5-3 with a 2.19 ERA, 17 saves, and 94 K’s in 82 innings. He followed that up in ’76 with his first All-Star season, going 1-4 with a 2.24 ERA, 21 saves, and 104 strikeouts in 96 innings. That season he and Jim Kern made an effective bullpen duo as Frank Robinson seemed to be generating an improving team. But that all crashed in ’77 when the rotation blew up. Dave wasn’t immune as he again put up a K an inning but his ERA bloated early in the season and that May he returned to California for Sid Monge, Bruce Bochte, and a bunch of cash. Back home his numbers got a lot better as he recorded 13 saves in a mid-year splurge that took him to another All-Star appearance. In ’78 despite a mid-year back injury he got himself up among the league leaders again with a 10-9 season with a 2.82 ERA and 25 saves. But then in ’79 just as the Angels were making their big playoff push, Dave went cold. Part of it was due to his back, part to being randomly used, but most was just general ineffectiveness. That year he went 7-11 with ten saves but double the amount of homers in less innings than ’78 contributed to an ERA well above 5.00. In ’80 as the team sort of fell apart he took on a swing role, going 3-5 with a much better 4.08 ERA with nine starts among his 52 games. But that wasn’t the role for which he was signed and in spring training of ’81 he was released.

Shortly thereafter LaRoche was picked up by the Yankees, which was fortunate for Dave because it reunited him with coach Jeff Torborg who had previously worked well with Dave as a catcher in Anaheim and a coach in Cleveland. Torborg got Dave back on track and in ’81 he had a nice year as a setup guy, going 4-1 with a 2.49 ERA. He made his second post-season appearance that fall, throwing a shutout inning against the Dodgers. ’82 would be a revolving door season as Dave shuttled back and forth between NY and Triple A Columbus, getting called up six times during the season. He pitched well enough, going 4-2 with a 3.42 ERA, but what drew him attention was the usage of his Lalob pitch, a high-arcing slow pitch that can be seen on YouTube in a strikeout of Gorman Thomas. It would be part of his swan song as a pitcher as after one appearance in ’83 he was cut loose. Dave finished with a 65-58 record, with a 3.53 ERA, a complete game, and 126 saves. When he retired he was the all-time Angels saves leader with 65. In the post-season he had a 3.86 ERA in just over a couple innings with three strikeouts. And he hit .246 during his career.

LaRoche got right into coaching after he played, kicking off in the Yankees system in ’84. He finished out ’86 back in NY then in ’87 moved to the Toronto system and in ’88 to the Mets one. From ’89 to ’91 he was the White Sox pitching coach and from ’92 to ’93 the Mets bullpen coach. He stayed in the NY system through ’95 when he took a few years away from baseball to concentrate on his work in real estate, which he did in off-seasons since playing. He also wanted to spend more time with sons Andy and Adam, both of whom have done MLB time and are currently playing ball. Dave returned to coaching in 2002, putting in three years in the KC system. Since 2005 he has been a coach in the Toronto system and he is currently the pitching coach of the Las Vegas 51’s, the team’s Triple A franchise.

All these back bits were covered above except the first one which occurred the summer after his senior year in high school. Dave’s lineage is actually Mexican but he adopted his stepdad’s surname when he was young.

These guys missed each other with the Tribe by a few years:

1. LaRoche and Ray Fosse ’76 to ’77 Indians;
2. Fosse and Eddie Leon ’69 to ’72 Indians.

Monday, February 11, 2013

#501 - Eddie Leon

Topps keeps the action shots going with this one of Eddie Leon about to deliver a throw to first. Eddie looks sort of relaxed on the throw. Maybe he just speared a line drive and is kicking off an around-the-horn. He appears to be in Oakland, the same venue at which a few other Sox guys were shot. ’73 was Eddie’s first year in Chicago, he being traded there after the previous season for Walt Williams. It would be his last year as a regular as a bad back and a young guy named Bucky Dent conspired to push him to a reserve role the next season. Eddie actually had a pretty good season in the field, putting in considerable time at shortstop for the first time in four years. But that back thing really knocked the crap out of his average and so by this point the writing was pretty much on the wall for him baseball-wise.

When Eddie Leon grew up in Tucson, Arizona, he developed enough of a reputation as a shortstop that he was dogged pretty consistently by a Phillies scout. His high school was sort of a baseball powerhouse and Eddie was on a state champ each year. After high school he opted to go to the University of Arizona where he was a starter for three years. In ’65 as a sophomore he hit .328 and was tabbed by the Twins in the first round. But the team’s offered bonus was way shy of what he wanted so he stayed in school. In ’66 he hit .378 with over 70 RBI’s and led Arizona to the CWS, also earning All-American honors. So he again was tabbed in the first round, this time by the Cubs. Again he declined, but that was because he was only a few credits shy of his degree in civil engineering and he wanted to get that done. So he returned for his senior year, hit .340 and that summer was drafted – first round of course – by Cleveland. (Baseball-Reference indicates he was a second-rounder but a few sites elsewhere say he went in the first round and that sounds better.) Eddie finished his summer split between Double A and Triple A but it was pretty forgetful with his .209 average. In ’68 he spent the year at Triple A Portland where he did much better, raising his average to .245 while also putting up significantly better numbers in the field. In ’69 he had a pretty good spring training and returned to Portland where he hit .262 in a bit over half a season. That July he was called up to Cleveland after third baseman Max Alvis went down with an injury.

When Alvis went out a contingent of people took his spot at third and Leon became the regular guy at shortstop. That .239 average wasn’t so hot and his E totals were a tad high but they were both better than anyone else’s at the position and it was Cleveland. So in ’70 when rookie Jack Heidemann came up, he got the shortstop gig and Eddie was moved to second to keep him in the lineup. The result wasn’t exactly an All-Star year, but both his offense and his defense picked up at a pretty good clip in what was basically a seamless transition. Eddie remained at second in '71 and continued to improve his offense even though Cleveland was headed the other way. At least he did until mid-summer when a nasty back injury took him out of the lineup. That injury would prove to be pretty much a career killer and when Eddie returned in ’72 it was difficult for him to torque his frame during his swing, his average fell a bunch, and he became the infield backup guy behind newbies Jack Brohamer at second and Frank Duffy at short. After the season he moved to Chicago. His ’74 year was all strictly backup behind Dent with only a handful of at bats and after the season he was on the road again, this time to NY where for the Yankees he had a game up top before he went down to Mexico to finish up that year and all of the next for Tampico. Eddie finished with a .236 MLB average and a .243 in the minors.

Staying in school proved to be a wise decision for Leon. Before he was done playing he was using his civil engineering degree for some construction work and he moved into planning and building real estate in and around his home town of Tucson. He became a big deal on local civic boards and a pillar in the community, making his county’s hall of fame in the 2000’s.

So this one I never get. How was Eddie able to play semi-pro ball and continue to play in college? Maybe the semi- part was no pay. He would finish with 55 sacrifice hits during his career, a pretty good number considering it was done in about three full seasons.

Eddie and Lee’s brother Carlos played together for a bit but that doesn’t really help:

1. Leon and Vada Pinson ’70 to ’71 Indians;
2. Pinson and Lee May ’65 to ’68 Reds.

Friday, February 8, 2013

#500 - Lee May

If anyone can bring us back to the simple joy of baseball, it’s this guy. Lee May, an original Big Red Machine member gets one of those action shots in which Topps liked to inform us how fallible baseball players were. I want to say his swing and a miss is taken at Riverfront since that right field dimension is right, but I believe all the dimension markings at Riverfront were in yellow, so I may be wrong. Regardless, the shot does give us the chance to see the frame that generated all of Lee’s power. ’73 was the second year of Lee’s three-year stay in Houston and despite the less favorable Astrodome dimensions he still brought the big power. The Dome shaved about ten homers per season from his home run totals but he found other ways to get in the runs. He put up a then club record 21-game hitting streak during the year and gets rewarded with a big milestone number from Topps. The card guys taketh away and the card guys giveth.

Lee May grew up with his younger brother Carlos in Birmingham, Alabama. In ’77 when Topps did those brother cards they said that Lee and Carlos used to go to the ballfield with their mom, who used to pitch to them, field grounders, and shag flies. That image used to make me smile (seeing my mom do any of those things would have been a trip). Lee was signed out of Parker High by Cincinnati in ’61 but only got in a few games in D ball that summer because he was already playing industrial league ball. In ’62 at that level he hit ten homers and in ’63 in A ball moved up to 18 with 80 RBI’s. Lee was also a pretty good fielder and his only real demerit was a strikeout tally that ran to about one every six at bats. That would never really go away, but as he climbed through the minors his numbers got progressively better: in ’64 he hit .303 with 25 homers and 110 RBI’s in Double A; and in ’65 .321 with 34 dingers and 103 RBI’s in Triple A. That year he made his debut for the Reds in a game and in ’66 he hit very well up top before spending most of the season back in Triple A where he hit .310 with 16 homers and 78 RBI’s in an abbreviated season.

When May came up in ’67 to stay first base had recently been shared by Gordy Coleman, a power hitter who pretty much just ran out of gas, and Tony Perez and Deron Johnson, who both could also play third. Coleman was done by the time ’67 got rolling, Perez pretty much took over third from Johnson, and Deron and Lee took turns at first base. Lee also worked a bunch in the outfield, but he was much better defensively at first. Still, he showed enough power flashes to get TSN’s Rookie of the Year in the NL. Tom Seaver won the official award but Lee did also make the Topps team. In ’68 he spent a lot less time in the outfield and his stats showed a complete ignorance of the sophomore jinx or the dominance by pitchers that year. In ’69 he had his biggest offensive year, receiving his first All-Star nod, and in ’70 he, Perez, and Johnny Bench officially christened The Machine by combining for 119 homers and 371 RBI’s. Lee got his first whiff of post-season action and while he had a mediocre playoff he was about the only Red that remembered his stroke against Baltimore in the Series. In ’71 his numbers made him team mvp and brought him back to the All-Star game in an otherwise disappointing year. After that season he went to Houston with Tommy Helms and Jimmy Stewart for Joe Morgan, Jack Billingham, Ed Armbrister, Denis Menke, and Cesar Geronimo.

Houston was a tough place to be a power guy but May did an excellent job in the RBI department though the homer tallies went south. In ’72 he helped get Houston off to a great start and the team finished with the best record in its history. In ’73 the team posted its second-best record but by ’74 it became apparent the team wasn’t going to be able to keep up with Cincinnati and LA through power. So even though Lee hit 24 out and put up 85 RBI’s he was traded after that year to Baltimore for Enos Cabell and Rob Andrews. His homer totals remained relatively light compared to his Cincy years but he got the RBI totals back up. In ’75 he drove in 99 on 20 homers and in ’76 he led the AL with 109 RBI’s on 25 dingers. That second year he DH’d a bit as Tony Muser got some starts at first. In ’77 Lee hit 27 out with 99 RBI’s and in ’78 he had 25 homers but the RBI total slipped to 80 since he was now hitting behind Eddie Murray, who both cleared the basepaths a bit more than Lee was used to and exchanged positions with him, making Lee a full-time DH. In ’79 Lee’s plate time decreased by 100 at bats and his totals fell to 19 homers and 69 RBI’s. He got some playoff work against California but almost none in the Series since that year was an off one for the DH. In ’80 he was part of a revolving door at DH, splitting time pretty evenly with Terry Crowley and Benny Ayala. In ’81 he moved on to Kansas City as a free agent and for the next two seasons hit over .300 in some pinch and DH work. When he was done after the ’82 season Lee had a .267 average with 354 homers, and 1,244 RBI’s. In the post-season he hit ,263 with two homers and eleven RBI’s in 13 games.

May moved into coaching shortly after his career ended. In ’83 he returned to Baltimore where he coached in spring training and then did some roving work during the season. He then sandwiched two stints with Kansas City (’84-’86 and ’92-’94) around time back in Cincinnati (’88-’89). From ’95 to ’99 he coached back in Baltimore and from 2000 to 2002 with Tampa. He was inducted into the Cincinnati hall of fame in 2006 and has done some community work on behalf of the Reds. His son Lee May Jr. was drafted by the Mets in ’86 and worked his way up to Triple A but was a light hitter with lots of speed but little power. He is now a coach.

Lee gets a tie for the shortest name in the set. Career-wise defensively he is 67th in putouts, 66th in assists, 55th in fielding percentage, and 47th in double plays for first basemen. In that last category he also led his league in ’69, ’72, and ’75.

These two nearly played together at KC in the early Eighties:

1. May and Jim Palmer ’75 to ’80 Orioles;
2. Palmer and Andy Etchebarren ’65 to ’75 Orioles;
3. Etchebarren and Rusty Torres ’76 to ’77 Angels.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

#498 - Pat Corrales

I know nobody was really a fan of these old San Diego uniforms but they sure do stand out against some beautiful outfield grass like what is behind Pat Corrales in this photo. That lawn is nearly perfect in what I’m pretty sure is Wrigley (those row houses behind right field look about right). This was it for Pat as he’d never get another MLB at bat after 1973. It was his second season doing his back-up thing for the Padres after he’d done it a bunch elsewhere in the NL. I like this card but it pales next to his one from ’73, an action shot in which he appears to have been just bowled over by Fergie Jenkins but still has the ball in his hand (Jenkins was out). There’s a good chance this shot is taken from that same day.

Pat Corrales went to Fresno High School in California where he played baseball with future MLB guys Dick Selma and Jim Maloney (Tom Seaver would be another big league alumni a few years later). He was signed by the Phillies after his senior season of ’59 and put in some time in D ball around his military work. In ’60 he showed good power with 60 RBI’s and also led his league in putouts at the same level. In ’61 he continued his ascent by hitting .309 in B ball and was making a name for himself with excellent defensive work. In ’62 he hit only .206 in a year split between A and Triple A but his average was higher at the upper level. He had a much better ’63 in Double A with a .260 and then had one of his best years in ’64 with a .304 and .367 OBA in Triple A, the year he made his debut in Philadelphia. He had a slow start in ’65 but was called up anyway after starter Clay Dalrymple was hurt and back-up Gus Triandos was aging too fast. Pat had what would be his busiest season and was named to the Topps Rookie team as he took over the starting catcher role for a bunch of games and did some solid defensive work. After the season he was involved in a big trade that sent him, Alex Johnson, and Art Mahaffrey to the Cards for Dick Groat, Bill White, and Bob Uecker.

With St. Louis Corrales didn’t get too much work behind Tim McCarver and he spent most of the season on the bench. In ’67 he spent it all back in Triple A where he had his best offensive year hitting .274 with ten homers and 54 RBI’s. He then got traded to the Reds just prior to ’68 spring training with Jimmy Williams for fellow catcher Johnny Edwards. That trade cleared the way for hot rookie Johnny Bench and so Pat’s near-term career path was pretty much set as Johnny’s back-up. Around his ’68 numbers he hit .273 in a half-season of Triple A. The next few seasons he got props for being considered the best back-up catcher in MLB which is sort of a mixed blessing I guess. In ’72 the Reds got a younger version of him in Bill Plummer and Pat spent most of the first half of the season back in Triple A where he hit .316 in 98 at bats. That June he went to San Diego for fellow catcher Bob Barton where he finished the year splitting time with Fred Kendall. In ’74 it was back to Triple A where he hit .249 before being released. Along with his stats from the card he hit .266 in the minors and went 0 for 1 in his only post-season appearance.

Corrales moved into coaching right away and in ’75 went 58-72 in the Padres chain before joining the Rangers late that year as a coach. He kept that role until the last game of the ’78 season when he was named manager, which he did through the ’80 season when he was replaced. He then returned to Philly as a coach in ’81 until he again assumed the manager role the next year. In ’83 he had the Phillies in first but GM Paul Owens was unhappy with the team being only a game over .500 so he replaced Pat with himself (he did that a few times) and took them to the Series. Pat almost immediately hooked up with Cleveland and by the end of the year was managing the team, sort of famously going from a first place team to a last place one in the same season. He took the Tribe through a very improved ’86 where he went from over 100 losses to 84 wins. That set the old SI jinx in motion when the magazine picked them to win the division in ’87 but being the Indians they finished dead last with over 100 losses again. That finished Pat there and in ’88 he managed in the Detroit chain, going 58-84, his final gig as a manager. He then coached for the Yankees (‘89) and the Braves (’90-2006) before hooking up with the Nationals where he coached (’07-’08, ’09, and ’11) and did admin work in between. In 2012 he was a special advisor to the team and in 2013 he’ll do the same role for the Dodgers.

Topps gets an A-plus for its prescient cartoon. Pat went 572-634 in his MLB managing career, which is pretty good when you consider the teams he managed. Another good star bullet is his record of reaching base three straight times on errors in one game.

San Diego’s contribution to the big centennial 1976 baseball bash was Nate Colbert’s huge double-header in ’72 in which he had five homers and 13 RBI’s in Atlanta. I covered that one on Nate’s post. He hit two out in the first game with five RBI’s, and three in the second one – one a grand slam – with eight ribbies. His five homers in a day tied a Stan Musial mark from a bunch of years back. Colbert, who grew up outside St. Louis, was at that game.

Let’s try one of my boys for this one:

1. Corrales and Tony Taylor ’64 to ’65 Phillies;
2. Taylor and Don Money ’68 to ’71 Phillies;
3. Money and Bobby Mitchell ’73 to ’75 Brewers.

#499 - Rusty Torres

History really is a prism, isn’t it? The small moment in time covered by this set gave us the white light of professional baseball players in many different career arcs, but they were all playing ball in ’73. Then came the colors: a lot stayed in or returned to baseball; a whole bunch turned to real estate; quite a few passed away, some of them quite young; some did amazing things; and some got into a little trouble, but nothing truly horrific. This guy changes things a bunch with what he apparently did in 2012. It makes it difficult to write about him but as far as I know he hasn’t been declared guilty yet so let’s just move ahead. After being one of the pieces of the Graig Nettles trade, Rusty Torres got himself a fairly regular gig in the Cleveland outfield in ’73, splitting time in right with Oscar Gamble and a bunch of guys and playing behind George Hendrick in center. Rusty didn’t hit too well but his defense was pretty good. Here he shows his batting stance in Oakland. That’s Chris Chambliss behind him on the right and while that looks like a 25 on the back of the player on the left, that was Buddy Bell’s number and the guy here looks black. My nod goes to that being Oscar Gamble, who was 23.

Rusty Torres got his nickname while growing up because he had relatively blonde hair for his ethnicity or because he swung a stickball bat like a rusty gate. Take your pick. He hit the crap out of the ball in his Jamaica, Queens, NYC vocational high school and was drafted and signed from there by the Yankees in ’66. After military work he began playing in a ’67 summer split between Rookie ball and three A teams. He hit considerably higher at the lower level and in ’68 hit a tad light in A ball. In ’69 he did much better at that level, posting a .392 OBA and adding 14 stolen bases. In ’70 he was the fourth outfielder on his Double A team where outside a .374 OBA his numbers weren’t too hot. But in ’71 he moved up a notch anyway, got a starting gig in Triple A, and posted his best numbers including a .418 OBA. He made his debut for NY with a few games in right field at the end of that September. In ’72 he remained on the NY roster and played behind Johnny Callison in right but a light average got him some time back at Syracuse. He did pretty good work in the field, though, and after the season went to Cleveland with John Ellis, Jerry Kenney, and Charlie Spikes for Jerry Moses and Nettles.

In ’74 Torres did much more back-up than starting work spread pretty evenly between all three outfield spots. But his average slid as did his at bats and late in the season he went to California with Ken Suarez and cash for Frank Robinson. He spent all of ’75 in Triple A where he hit .306 with a .399 OBA and 64 RBI’s. The next year he moved up to become the de-facto starting center fielder as his 68 games there beat out anyone else’s in what was basically a musical chairs situation at that position. But like the last time he started Rusty hit only .205 and the next year with some new free agents in the line-up he worked sporadically, hitting only .156 in 77 at bats. Just prior to the ’78 season he was awarded free agency himself and he signed with Texas and for them in Triple A hit .346 with lots of power - 39 RBI’s in 107 at bats – in just over a month. Then he was on the road again, this time to the White Sox with Claudell Washington for former teammate Bobby Bonds. He hit .280 for Chicago with 55 RBI’s the rest of the way in Triple A and then .318 in a few late games up top. In ’79 it was all Chicago as he hit .253 in a season of outfield reserve work. He then signed with Kansas City as a free agent but didn’t hit too well in another reserve role and spent a bit of the year back in Triple A. He remained there in ’81 with Pittsburgh’s franchise where he hit .257 but with an excellent OBA of .377 and 21 homers with 74 RBI’s. In ’82, his last season as a player, he hooked up with Monterrey in the Mexican League. He hit .212 with 35 homers and 126 RBI’s in nine seasons of MLB work and .274 with 98 homers and a .390 OBA in the minors.  

Torres got into a bit of trouble shortly after his playing career, getting busted with cocaine in ’85. He later started an organization called Winning Beyond Winning, a non-profit that helped kids stay away from drugs through sports. He then got a job as a recreational supervisor for the town of Oyster Bay in Long Island. It was while working there in 2012 that he admitted to rubbing up against and exposing himself to an eight year old girl. Enough said on this guy.

Until his arrests, Torres’ most high-profile footnote was that he was a participant in three games forfeited by MLB, pretty rare since there have only been about a half-dozen all-time. In ’71 he was playing for NY in the final home Senators game when the fans mobbed the field before it was over. That one was obviously never going to be replayed so it was forfeited. The next two were big cultural highlights for baseball: the Cleveland ten cent beer night in ’74; and the White Sox anti-disco night in ’79.

I am sorry to associate anyone with this guy but here goes:

1. Torres and Johnny Callison ’72 Yankees;
2. Callison and Pat Corrales ’64 to ’65 Phillies.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

#497 - Bobby Mitchell

Like Tom Murphy of the last post, Bobby Mitchell revives something. With Bobby it’s his own card. After getting a rookie card in ’71 he got nothing from Topps the next two years and he returned with this shot in Oakland. He’d get cards the next two seasons as well and then he wouldn’t get another one – that I know of – until ’79 and that one was from Japan. But that’s how things worked out for this guy. It took him a long time to get up top and he has some pretty big bio holes which will get illustrated below. But in ’73 he was around a bit. After hitting pretty well in Triple A he returned to Milwaukee in early July and then split time between outfield and DH. Bobby wasn’t the best fielder and he tended to have trouble with inside fastballs which helped contribute to pretty high strikeout totals. But he was fast and the Brewers weren’t exactly rife with outfield All-Stars. He’d get increasing at bats the next couple years and then a lot more after he did his big move overseas.

Bobby Mitchell grew up in Norristown, PA, and in high school he was a big deal basketball, baseball, and track star. His senior year of ’61 he was all-state as a guard in hoops with his 13.8 ppg. In baseball as a shortstop and relief pitcher he was all-district with a .313 average. And in track he broke the school and district record for high jump his first time out with a 6’4.5” leap. After his graduation he...frankly, I have no idea. In ’65 he pops up again when he qualifies for the AAU high jump championship with a 6’9”. And he gets signed by Boston just prior to that summer. He could have been in school I suppose, though there’s no record of that, or maybe the military, but that would be an awfully long hitch. The rest of that summer he played outfield in Rookie ball and did pretty well. In ’66 and ’67 he showed pretty good speed in Double A, particularly the latter year when he swiped 36 bases. But he was also averaging over 100 K’s a season and in ’68 when he moved up to Triple A his average fell a bunch and even though he put up some fat triple and stolen base (42) totals, the Sox left him unprotected in the Rule 5 draft and the Yankees snapped him up. For the next three seasons he stayed in Triple A for NY. ’69 was a mixed bag because he hit real well but made a slow recovery from some knee damage the prior year and missed some time. In ’70 he showed some decent power but his average fell a bunch. He made his MLB debut that summer. In ’71 it was all Triple A with a revived average until a June trade sent him to the Brewers with Frank Tepedino for Danny Walton.

Once Mitchell went to the Brewers he moved to Milwaukee the rest of the season. He started a few games all over the outfield but outside of a big day in which he had two homers and five RBI’s his offense was a tad light and he didn’t get too many looks. After the season he was sent back down where in ’72 he reported huge numbers in Triple A but missed over five weeks from a car accident and then more time due to cartilage damage to his knee. His OBA was a huge .459 but again his high K totals – 76 in 273 at bats – scared the brass. But he made it back up the next year and stayed in ’74 and ’75. That first year he got a few starts in right and center but was used mostly as a DH and pinch hitter, raising his average to .243. In ’75 he put in a bunch of time in left to kick off the season because regular guy Johnny Briggs was injured. In mid-May he was hitting .333. His power numbers had a pretty big move up also, but over the course of a bad season for the team, his average and his playing time fell, the former to .249. He spent ’76 in Milwaukee’s spring training and then shortly after the season began he moved to Japan to play for the Nippon Ham Fighters. There he joined Walt Williams for a couple seasons and Gene Locklear and Sam Ewing for a season apiece. His first two seasons there he accumulated 57 homers and 141 RBI’s while hitting about .244. He had his biggest year in ’78 when he led the league with 36 homers and put up 93 RBI’s while hitting .274 in an all-star season. In ’79 he hit 22 out in his last year as a player. Up top he finished with a .235 average in 609 at bats with 86 runs, 21 homers, and 91 RBI’s. In the minors ex-Japan he hit .286 with 82 homers and over 150 stolen bases.

When Mitchell returned from Asia he moved to California where for many years he was a corrections officer. He also led baseball clinics for local kids and made his high school’s hall of fame. He still resides in central California.

Bobby could have gone 0 for 47 and still won that batting title. He’s another guy who sort of half scripts and half prints his signature. I’m sorta dying to know what he did those four years after high school.

By the time submissions needed to be made for the baseball centennial of 1976 the Brewers hadn’t really done very much milestone-wise. Tommy Harper in ’70 had put up the first ever AL 30-30 season which was nice, but Milwaukee opted for a different event from that year: the return of baseball to the city for the first time since the Braves split following the ’65 season. They got their big crowd of over 37,000 at County Stadium and the fans were certainly zealous enough, but the highlights really end there as the team continued its Seattle ways and lost its April 7 home opener 12-0 to Andy Messersmith and the Angels. Steve Hovley had three hits but there was understandably few other big Brewer moments from that day.

This one’s easy because these two obviously played together:

1. Mitchell and Tom Murphy ’74 to ’75 Brewers.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

#496 - Tom Murphy

Tom Murphy revives a few things for us. The less offensive one is the for-real Traded card. Around this point in his career Tom could have had one of these cards just about every season. The other one is the under-jersey windbreaker that he maximizes to full effect at Candlestick in his impersonation of that kid in those Bazooka Joe comics. But maybe Topps liked that since that bubble gum was another of their products. They sure liked it enough to give us two nearly-identical shots of him. ’73 was a year worth forgetting for Tom. After being returned to the minors from KC in spring training that May he was sent to the Cards for pitcher Al Santorini, who’d spent most of his up top time with the Cards and the Padres. He then got some time in the rotation for St. Louis, though not a lot of it with only 13 starts. That was due in part to finally finishing off his military obligation on a couple weekends. But his record sucked and his other numbers were just OK, certainly not the big bailout the Cards needed on the mound that year. So they sent him packing again back to the AL. At least there he had rosier times for a while.

Tom Murphy would have gotten along pretty well with Roger Nelson from a few posts ago as the two of them spent their high school sports time pursuing hoops, baseball, and cross country. I have read on a couple sites that Tom went to Euclid High School outside Cleveland but baseball-reference has him attending Lufkin in Texas, so one of us is way off. Tom had a twin brother who opted for the football route, first at Northwestern and then at Montreal in the CFL. In the meantime Tom stayed close to home also educationally by going to Ohio University where his sophomore year he was the team’s star pitcher with a 10-0 record, a 2.32 ERA, and 99 K’s in 93 innings. That summer of ’65 he was selected by the Astros in the draft but he opted to remain in school. His junior year he went 6-1 with a 3.46 ERA and 94 K’s in 69 innings and was again selected, this time by the Giants. He again passed and finally signed when California made him a first-rounder in January ’67. He kicked things off pretty well that year, going a combined 7-10 with a 2.96 ERA in all three levels of the A leagues. In ’68 he went 3-1 in eight starts split between Double and Triple A and then got moved to Anaheim. That year was a good one in which to be a rookie pitcher – or any pitcher – and around his first serious military time Tom threw some nice ball in his 15 starts, keeping opponents to less than a base runner an inning.

In ’69 Murphy’s ERA got inflated a bunch, probably due more than a little to his leading the AL in both wild pitches (16) and hit batsmen (21 – a team record). So his record was pretty understandable. In ’70 even though his ERA continued to rise he was a beneficiary of a potent offense that pulled the Angels way up in the standings and nearly reversed his ’69 numbers. He got paid back for that in spades in ’71 though, as even though his ERA tumbled by half a run, his record sank like a stone as all the team turmoil knocked the Angels hard. After a start to the ’72 season that saw him exclusively in the pen he was sent to KC for Bob Oliver. For the Royals things got markedly better as Tom was used in a swing role in nine starts and a few games in relief. He did that after he spent some Triple A time in which his rotation work was quite good with a 4-6 record and a 2.61 ERA. Two trades and one season later he was in Milwaukee.

For the Brewers Murphy found a solid niche as staff closer for a season in ’74. He went 10-10 with 20 saves while leading the AL in games finished with 66. His ERA fell all the way to 1.90 and even though he missed some time with a sore shoulder he was now described as a star in local papers. But in ’75 Milwaukee could not continue its climb to respectability it had initiated the past couple seasons and Tom’s numbers fell hard. He still recorded 20 saves, which was pretty impressive, because that soreness in his shoulder turned out to be tendinitis and he ended up missing nearly half the season to the DL. When he pitched, though, his non-save numbers were pretty crappy: a 1-9 record and a 4.60 ERA. In ’76 after an equally bad start to the season he was sent to Boston with Bobby Darwin for Bernie Carbo. Like the move to Milwaukee, the move to Boston did Tom a world of good as he lowered his ERA over a run from his ’75 one and went 4-5 with eight saves. But also like his Brewers experience the success was short-lived and after going 0-1 with a 6.75 ERA in 16 games in Boston the Sox tried to demote him to the minors. Tom refused, and a few weeks later he was sold to Toronto. Again a new home produced better numbers as he went 2-1 with two saves and a 3.63 ERA the rest of the way. In ’78 he won six and saved seven in the pen and in ’79 after a weak start he was released from his final home. Tom finished with a record of 68-101 with 22 complete games, three shutouts, 59 saves, and a 3.78 ERA.

Murphy had finished his degree in ’69 at Ohio U with a bachelors in education. By ’77 he’d purchased some rental properties in Laguna Beach, CA and he’d already planned to pursue real estate after he played. That he did, establishing his own firm that has since specialized in commercial properties in San Capistrano.

Tom gets some pretty good star bullets and there are some pretty good other ones as well. When he began his career he hit a batter with his first pitch which set the tone for that double he pulled off in ’69. His brother, who after football became a lawyer, and he were fond of doing switches whereby Roger (his brother) would go kicking and screaming into management suites to demand new contracts whenever Tom was going well. I could see making a habit of that if you were Jim Palmer but I think Tom was treading on thin ice on that one.

Nothing too much is going on with the back of the Traded card. I’d say that based on the ’74 numbers Milwaukee made out better in this deal.

This one’s a bit of a surprise but it works:

1. Murphy and Willie Horton ’78 Blue Jays;
2. Horton and Dick McAuliffe ’63 to ’73 Tigers.