Friday, September 20, 2013

#596 - 1974 Rookie Pitchers

This card kicks off the final special subset of the ’74 Topps baseball set. For the rookie cards of this set Topps ups the number of participants per card from three to four and adds some consistency by having each card occupied by players of the same position. This one is a pretty good kick-off since three of the four guys here went on to have significant – and by “significant” I mean at least a couple years as a regular – MLB baseball careers. Not one player here is crazy happy about appearing on his first card except Mark Littell. Let’s get to the bios.

After being all-city as a pitcher at Cohn High in Nashville for three years running Wayne Garland went to Gulf Coast Community College where he was all-state in ’69 his only year there. He was a first round pick by the Orioles that June and pitched much better that summer in A ball than in Rookie ball, going a combined 4-5 with a 3.65 ERA. In ’70 he went 7-10 with a 3.54 ERA in Double A and then in ’71 exploded at that level with a 19-5 season with a 1.71 ERA and six shutouts. In ’72 he went 7-9 with a 3.79 ERA in Triple A before going 10-11 with a 3.57 ERA at the same level in ’73, missing some time both years for his military obligation. Wayne’s big pitches by then were his slider and curve, refined under his manager Joe Altobelli. In ’73 he made his debut in Baltimore in September, going 0-1 with a 3.94 ERA in a few games. He then began ’74 back at Triple A where he threw a no-hitter in his first start. He returned to Baltimore in May and went 5-5 with a 2.97 ERA the rest of the way as a spot guy, in one game taking a no-hitter into the ninth inning against Oakland. In ’75 Wayne didn’t sign right away and he was rewarded with all pen work that year as he went 2-5 with a 3.71 ERA and four saves as mostly a long guy. He wasn’t crazy happy about that and in ’76 he played without a contract. But the O’s needed starters that year and Wayne joined the rotation with a big year, going 20-7 with a 2.67 ERA. Still unsigned, he went to Cleveland as a free agent after signing a 10-year contract. His first spring he felt a crack in his shoulder but he pitched through pain that year to go 13-19 with a 3.60 ERA. After starting the next year 2-3 with a fat ERA it was discovered he had a rotator cuff tear and his season ended with an operation on his shoulder. But it was a career-killer and after attempted runs the next three years – he went a combined 13-26 with a 5.02 ERA -  he was released and done up top. Wayne finished 55-66 with a 3.89 ERA with 43 complete games, seven shutouts, and six saves. He threw shutout ball in an inning of post-season work. In ’82 he attempted his final comeback back in Nashville, then a Double A franchise of the Yankees. It didn’t go too well but he stuck around as a pitching coach. In ’83 he coached in the Milwaukee system before becoming the head coach at Aquinas Junior College from ’84 to ’86. He then coached in the Cincinnati system from ’87 to ’92 and the Pittsburgh one from ’93 to ’96 after which he apparently left baseball. At some point he relocated to Las Vegas where according to his Facebook page he still resides. He looks a far cry happier than the guy described as “sullen” in the book “The Curse of...” about his time in Cleveland.

Fred Holdsworth grew up in Northville, Michigan, just outside Detroit. In high school he was a big deal in the big three sports and his senior year he had signed a letter of intent to go to the University of Michigan to play quarterback and pitch on a full ride. He was a smart guy and was his high school’s valedictorian where his dad was the principal. But he was a huge Tigers fan and so when the team drafted him that June of ’70 and promised to cover his tuition when he went to school he signed fast. He got off to a great start that summer, going 5-2 with a 1.43 ERA and a K an inning in eleven starts split between Rookie and A ball. In ’71 he continued the good work, going 13-10 with a 2.51 ERA in A and Double A. He would then spend most of the next three seasons in Triple A where he went a combined 30-21 with a 3.46 ERA in the rotation around a few games each year up top. But after going 0-5 with a 5.97 ERA in just under 60 innings in Detroit, Fred spent all of ’75 in Triple A and in May was sent to Baltimore for Bob Reynolds. Between the two teams he went only 6-13 but his ERA was quite good at 3.55. After beginning the year going 5-4 with a 3.49 ERA at that level he was pulled up to Baltimore where he finally had a good experience going 4-1 with a 2.04 ERA and a couple saves out of the pen. But after a sloppy start in that role in ’77 he was sent to Montreal in July for Dennis Blair and finished the year pretty well by going 3-3 with a 3.19 ERA as a spot guy. But again his MLB success was short-lived and after a couple bad outings to start ’78 he was back in Triple A where he didn’t throw much better as a starter and was released at the end of the season. He hooked up with Detroit again and in ’79 went 13-10 with a 3.79 ERA in a year split between Double A and Triple A. He was sold to Milwaukee for the ’80 season and for them he pitched his last few innings up top inside of a 5-5, 2.67 year at its Triple A club. He threw one more year at that level for Oakland in ’81 and was done. Fred went 7-10 with a 4.40 ERA and two saves for his MLB run and 87-75 in the minors with a 3.35 ERA. He did end up going to Michigan where he got a degree in accounting. He would became a partner at Arthur Anderson and then move to the industry side with Comcast, first as a finance director, and since 2005 as the VP of Finance for the company’s Midwest operations.

Mark Littell was drafted by the Royals in ’71 from a tiny town at the bottom of Missouri where he played hoops and was an all-state pitcher. He moved fast and after going 5-1 with a 2.90 ERA that summer in Rookie ball and 10-9 with a 3.47 ERA and 199 K’s in 153 innings in A ball in ’72, had a big year in ’73. That year was spent mostly at Triple A where he went 16-6 with a 2.51 ERA as a starter. He debuted that June for KC in a start against Baltimore, giving up one run in six-plus innings, but then got bombed, returning to the minors at the end of the month. That was it up top for a while and he spent all of ’74 back in Triple A where an injury helped wreck his numbers a bunch as he went 3-9 with a 4.75 ERA in just 16 games. But he was healthy again in ’75 and went 13-6 with a 3.48 ERA at that level before doing substantially better in his late-season call-up. He got his second rookie card in ’76 when he stuck in KC and became the team closer with an 8-4 record, a 2.08 ERA, and 16 saves in his 60 games. He was named KC Pitcher of the Year even though he gave up that devastating homer to Chris Chambliss in the playoffs. In ’77 he added some spot starts while cutting back on the relief and had another good season with the same record, a 3.61 ERA, over a K an inning, and 12 saves. He then went to St. Louis with catcher Buck Martinez for Al Hrabosky, replacing Al in the Cards pen. In ’78 he went 4-8 with eleven saves and a 2.79 ERA while striking out 130 in his 106 innings. He then went 9-4 with a 2.19 ERA and 13 saves in ’79 before, like his card-mates, his pitching career came crashing down. He suffered bone chips in his pitching elbow in ’80 spring training and appeared rarely the next three seasons for St. Louis, going only 1-6 with four saves and a 5.28 ERA. After some time back in Triple A in ’82 he was released though he still received a Series ring that year. Mark finished with a record of 32-31 with a 3.32 ERA, two complete games, and 56 saves. In the post-season he was 0-1 with a 2.35 ERA in five games and in the minors 49-34 with a 3.32 ERA, 40 complete games, and four shutouts. By the end of ’82 he became a marketing exec with St. Louis with whom he remained a couple years before doing some marketing work outside baseball. In ’88 he returned to the game as a coach for the Australian national team and then for various MLB chains: San Diego (’89); Milwaukee (’92-’96 and 2000-’07); Los Angeles (’97-’98); and Kansas City (’99). In between he worked some more with the Aussies and helped bring a few guys to the Brewers from Down Under. In late 2006 he developed a product called the Nuttybuddy, a sort of larger, more encompassing, more comfortable athletic supporter (check out his YouTube promo video here – it’s hilarious) and took some time off to apply his marketing skills to getting it out there. In 2011 he did some coaching for the Diamondbacks locally and in Panama and in 2012 he signed on to coach at Dickinson College. He resides in Arizona and has a site for his product linked to here.

Ah, well, at least it’s not Dick Hurtz. This Dick also came out of a tiny town from Michigan’s upper peninsula. Up there baseball seasons were quite short and he was primarily a basketball star who got discovered while throwing a no-hitter the summer after his senior year. After a partial year at Northern Michigan University he was signed by the Sox early in ’69 and in A ball that year went 13-12 with a 3.09 ERA. He would miss some time the ensuing few years to the military which slowed him down a bit. In ’70 he went 7-9 with a 3.33 ERA in A ball and in ’71 improved to 8-7, 2.76 in Double A. Up until then a starter in ’72 he was a swing guy in Triple A, going 4-5 with a 3.82 ERA and a couple saves. In ’73 he had a big season at that level, winning the IL’s Pitcher of the Year award for his 12-9, 2.03, four shutout season. He then made a habit of getting called up to Boston when other pitchers got injured. That year after Ray Culp got put on the DL he debuted in August, going 3-2 with a 5.60 ERA. In ’74 he was recalled in June after Rick Wise went down and in two stints up top went 1-1 with a 4.20 ERA and a save, done around a not terrific year in Triple A. In ’75 he made the cut, pitched a few April games and then was not used for nearly all of May until someone got hurt. This time Reggie Cleveland missed a start and Dick threw a shutout in his place. He went on to have a decent June before in his last start that month he was nailed in the face by a comebacker from Tony Muser of Baltimore. His cheek required reconstructive surgery and his right eye was permanently damaged. But he returned in September and then saw some Series action. In ’76 he had his best year up top as he went 6-5 as a spot guy with a 4.33 ERA. After that season he was taken by the new Seattle Mariners in the expansion draft and for them he went a combined 11-23 with a 5.74 ERA in the rotation the next two years. That would finish his MLB time as a player with a 25-37 record, 5.05 ERA, eight complete games and a save. He gave up a run on two walks and no outs in Series play. In ’79 he returned to Triple A with the Pirates franchise and went 9-4 with a 4.33 ERA in the rotation. In ’80 he moved to the Detroit system and there went 7-4 with a 3.04 ERA and ten saves in the pen. He began the next year strongly in that role, going 1-0 with a 3.00 ERA and three saves in seven games before he moved to Mexico where he played and coached the next two seasons. He finished 63-64 with a 3.25 ERA with 15 shutouts and 16 saves in minor league ball. He returned to The States in ’83 where he was a coach in the Cubs system before moving up to Chicago in ’88, beginning a long run as an MLB pitching coach. At that level he worked in Chicago (’88-’91); San Francisco (’93-’97); Boston (’98); California (’99); Cleveland (2000-’01); and Montreal (2002). In ’92 he coached in the Red Sox system and in 2003 he returned to the Cubbies where he stayed through 2006. From ’07 through ’09 he was Cincinnati’s pitching coach until he was released. He seems to have not joined any team since but he has had a nice run in that capacity as both Greg Maddux and CC Sabathia have credited him with making them better pitchers.

Like in ’73 there is no room for stats or any real color regarding each player on the card back. These guys are all within a couple years of each other age-wise and they are all pretty huge, averaging 6’2” and 207 pounds. Maybe we can rank the cards in terms of the MLB career performances by the players pictured. I think the best way to do that is seasons up top and I will do that by anything either 100-plus at bats or 50-plus games on the hitting side and 50 innings or 25 games on the pitching end. As a kicker I will add awards. I bet this card does pretty well. Between these four there were 23 MLB seasons but no awards.

I am going to be optimistic now and attempt to do hook-ups both inter- and intra-card. First a regular one to the first guy:

1. Wayne Garland and Bert Blyleven ’81 Indians;
2. Blyleven and Willie Stargell ’78 to ’80 Pirates;
3. Stargell and Steve Blass ’64 and ’66 to ’74 Pirates.

Now among all these card-mates:

1. Garland and Fred Holdsworth were teammates on the ’76 Orioles;
2. Holdsworth and Will McEnany ’77 Expos;
3. McEnany and Mark Littell ’79 Cardinals;
4. Littell and Bob Stinson ’75 to ’76 Royals;
5. Stinson and Dick Pole ’77 to ’78 Mariners.

I am reducing requirements a bit here because some of these guys didn’t get enough time with one team ever but this run is pretty solid. I also bet that five iterances to circle the block will be pretty good.

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