Wednesday, May 29, 2013

#548 - Sonny Siebert

There’s no telling regarding in which uniform Sonny Siebert is posing. I’m inclined to go with Boston’s since I am pretty sure the Rangers didn’t have piping on their lapels and there is for sure whited-out piping here. I guess that’s OK since Sonny seems to have been a pretty mellow and unassuming guy who didn’t hold gripes. After pitching well for the Sox for the better part of four seasons Sonny got himself in the Boston doghouse in ’72 when yet another injury undermined his pitching during the later months of the season when the Sox were in a serious run for a division title (they lost out to Detroit by half a game). So in ’73 he’d only gotten into two games in April before early in May he was sent to Texas basically for a later cash payment. For a while Sonny had a nice revival in Texas and in early July he was 6-6 for a poor team while pitching in the rotation and sporting a 2.10 ERA. Then he separated his shoulder, missed a month, and once again saw his late-season work get compromised by an injury. Shortly after the season ended he was traded to the Cards for Tommy Cruz, Jose’s brother, hence this card. Sonny’s air-brushed card and wry expression are probably more appropriate to his time in Boston than his expectations for St. Louis. He was actually pretty excited about this trade, since the Cardinals were basically his hometown team. He’d almost landed on a St. Louis team before, but that was years back and in a whole other sport.

Sonny Siebert grew up in Bayless, Missouri, where in high school he was all-state in both hoops and baseball. He got a scholarship to the University of Missouri for the former sport and his junior year led his team in scoring with a 16.7 average. That spring of ’58 he also played baseball his first year there, alternating between first base and the outfield. He led his team with eight homers, made third team All-American, and hit .460 during the CWS in which Missouri lost to USC in the championship. He was then signed by Cleveland, forgoing his senior year in both sports. His first season started late and that summer he hit a combined .242 in D and B ball while playing outfield. In ’59 a separated shoulder and broken ankle limited him to 185 at bats, but he put up 12 doubles and 45 RBI’s while hitting .238 in C ball. In Instructional League ball that fall his ankle was still a mess so he only threw batting practice, which proved a bit serendipitous when it was suggested to him to turn to pitching. While he was thinking about that he was invited to try out for the NBA’s St. Louis Hawks and he practiced with the team for three weeks. Deciding he didn’t retain enough of his hoops sense, he returned to baseball, this time as a pitcher. He picked up a fastball fast and in B ball in ’60 went 8-7 while striking out 142 batters in 149 innings with a 3.93 ERA. In ’61 he had some growing pains, going 6-8 in the rotation in A ball and then 0-1 out of the pen with 33 K’s in 28 innings of Triple A ball but at both stops had ERA’s well over 5.00. ’62 was considerably better as he went 15-8 with a 2.91 ERA and nearly a strikeout an inning in A ball. In ’63 a great spring training was followed by a pretty lousy year in Triple A as Sonny went only 4-10 with a 4.83 ERA. But the following year he had another great spring, held out to negotiate his way onto the roster, and made the team, never returning to the minors as a player.

Siebert had done a nice job pretty much mastering his fastball on the fly and he would be a control specialist throughout his career. Initially he was also good at ringing up K totals and his rookie year was quite good as he worked as a swing guy with 14 starts and three saves among his 41 games. He returned for an excellent sophomore season, winning his 16 games in only 27 starts, recording over a strikeout an inning, and leading the AL in K’s per walk. He finished among AL leaders in ERA, which he would also do the next two seasons. In ’66 he put up nearly identical numbers though his K totals fell as he began relying more on his sinker and change-up. He threw a no-hitter at Washington in June and was named an All-Star despite missing some time with finger, back, and foot injuries. In ’67 and ’68, though nursing nagging injures, he continued to pitch well, putting just over a runner an inning on base and sporting excellent ERA’s, but poor run support led to a combined 22-22 record. A couple starts into the ’69 season Sonny, who was never shy about holding out to get a decent salary, was traded to Boston in a big deal that had him, Vicente Romo, and Joe Azcue going to the Sox for Dick Ellsworth, Juan Pizarro, and Ken “Hawk” Harrelson.

The trade to Boston was initially viewed badly by fans on both sides. Siebert and Azcue were fan favorites in Cleveland, though the Tribe was always looking to replace the steady Azcue behind the plate and Sonny kept pissing off management with his holdouts. The Hawk was also a fan favorite in Boston and was coming off a career season that got him named TSN’s AL Player of the Year. Boston would get the better of the deal by far as Harrelson was retired in about a year and Sonny continued pitching well even though his ERA stepped up a tad because of the shorter Fenway dimensions. His K totals also continued to drop as he became a craftier pitcher, mixing up his arsenal a bunch more and relying less on his fastball. His last couple seasons in Cleveland he’d had elbow problems which continued in ’69 and though his innings totals came down a bunch and he worked nearly as much out of the pen as in the rotation, he still won 14 the rest of the way and added five saves. His elbow was operated on after the season and though he was still hurt by a bad back the next two seasons he pitched great ball for the Sox, picking up more innings each year and dropping his ERA. The latter year he was again an All-Star. In ’72 he continued going great guns as the Sox were in contention pretty much the whole season. Through late July he was 9-5 with a 2.79 ERA when he developed tendinitis in his ankle. That pretty much killed his season – thereafter he went 3-7 with a 6.08 ERA – and got him in the BoSox management’s doghouse after they barely missed the division title.

After the two trades got Siebert back to his home state, Sonny began his NL career by throwing a shutout at the Pirates in his first start. But then the year looked very much like ’72. Through late June Sonny was 7-4 with a 2.56 ERA but was again experiencing trouble with his elbow. After two bad starts he was placed on the DL when it was revealed he again had tendinitis. He missed about a month, threw decent ball in most of his starts, and finished the season out of the pen. His most memorable game in the second half had to be a relief spot: he came into a game against the Mets in the 23rd inning and pitched two innings of shutout ball to get his last win of the season. After the season he joined a pitcher exodus as he, Alan Foster, and Rich Folkers were sent to the Padres for Ed Brinkman and Danny Breeden. Sonny got in six starts for the Padres – 3-2 with a 4.39 ERA – before going to Oakland in May for Ted Kubiak. For his third team in a row he threw shutout ball his first start and did pretty well generally, going 4-4 with a 3.69 ERA the rest of the way as a spot guy. It would be Sonny’s final season and he finished with a record of 140-114 with a 3.21 ERA, 67 complete games, 21 shutouts, and 16 saves. Not too surprisingly, he had some good moments at the plate also, hitting .173 with 12 homers and 57 RBI’s in 660 career at bats.

After playing Siebert returned to the St. Louis area where he had a Baskin Robbins franchise and was also sort of a wholesaler for local newspaper routes. In ’84 he returned to baseball as a pitching coach in the Padres chain which culminated with being the Padres coach in ’94 and ’95. From ’96 to ’98 he worked that role in Colorado Springs, an affiliate of the Rockies. Since then he has done some scouting and been mostly retired. His son Steve was a ’90 draft pick by the Padres who made it as high as A ball and has had his own coaching career.

Sonny’s second star bullet invited me to check out his defensive stats. He also led the AL pitchers in putouts in ’71 with 25. Extending the stats lines Sonny is 123rd all-time in lowest amount of hits per nine innings given up, with just over eight per nine innings. Pretty good for a one-time outfielder. Sonny is a definite improvement baseball-wise over his given name. I believe Sonny is the third cartoon bowler in the set. According to another cartoon he had about a 190 average.

We use Sonny’s final team for the hook-up:

1. Siebert and Jim Holt ’75 A’s;
2. Holt and Glenn Borgmann ’72 to ’74 Twins.

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