Friday, January 31, 2014

#635 - Johnny Edwards

This card gets us to pretty much the end of the final card run that has recently characterized this set. Johnny Edwards’ card is the eleventh out of the last 13 non-team cards that represent that person’s final Topps card. Here he crouches at the Houston spring training facility prior to his penultimate season. Johnny began ’73 as the starting Houston catcher, which he’d been since the ’69 season. But an injury early in June took him out of the line-up for about six weeks which made things kind of tough for the club because the Astros had just traded his regular back-up Larry Howard to Atlanta. So they pulled up Skip Jutze from the minors and he did a pretty good job while Johnny was out and then split time with him the rest of the way. In ’74 Houston traded for Milt May and also called up Cliff Johnson so Johnny’s plate time declined pretty significantly and he would retire following the season. He’s pretty pensive in this photo and I like that he has an empty sack behind him. Somehow it seems appropriate for a final card.

Initially, Johnny Edwards was Ohio all the way. Born and raised in Columbus, he played basketball and baseball in high school and in the latter sport was all-state his senior year of ’56 while also serving as class president. A pretty smart guy, Johnny would then go to Ohio State on a baseball scholarship and his sophomore year he led the Buckeyes with 24 hits to earn second-team all Big Ten while earning a degree in engineering which he completed in ’63. In the meantime he was signed by Cincinnati early in ’59 and that year had a bang up season in C ball, putting up a .320/16/99 line while leading league catchers in putouts and double plays. In ’60 he moved up to Double A where he had a .293/14/70 line while continuing to improve defensively. After beginning the season in Triple A in ’61 with a .264/8/39 line in under half a season he was called up to Cincinnati.

Edwards reached the bigs in late June of ’61 and arrived in the middle of a pennant race. He scored and knocked in a run in his debut but his offense that season wasn’t his strong suit. While behind the plate he did excellent work with the Reds pitching staff in helping take Cincinnati to the Series. Then he led the team in batting with a .364 average with two doubles and two RBI’s in the loss to NY. In ’62 he replaced Jerry Zimmerman as the starting catcher and over the next four seasons Johnny would establish himself as one of the NL’s premier receivers, over that time earning three straight All-Star nods and two Gold Gloves. He was a defensive specialist and during that time led the NL at least once in each major fielding category and had a significantly better percentage than league average in throwing out runners. His hitting generally improved each year of that run as well as he topped out in RBI’s in ’63 and average in ’64. He seemed on the way to bettering both those numbers in ’65 when he missed some time due to a shoulder injury. In ’66 he was having a good spring when on the last day of training camp he broke a finger on his right hand, which was his throwing one. In order to attempt to keep him in the line-up his finger was set so that it would be able to hold a baseball but it made holding a bat difficult and made hitting problematic. So Johnny’s average dove significantly that year as he missed a bunch of time anyway and it remained at that depressed level in ’67 just in time for the debut of a new kid named Johnny Bench, already obviously the team’s next starting catcher. After the season this Johnny was sent to St. Louis for catcher Pat Corrales and pitcher Jimmy Williams.

Edwards had some pretty good timing his first seasons with new teams and again in ’68 moved to a team in a pennant race. Tim McCarver was the starting catcher and initially Johnny wasn’t too crazy about the trade but he would end up pretty much splitting time behind the plate with McCarver as each receiver worked exclusively with his own starting pitchers. In Johnny’s case his two were Bob Gibson and Steve Carlton, who combined for a record of 35-20 in Gibson’s MVP season. He recorded only three errors all year and threw out 56% of the few runners that reached base against his starters. But after the season he was sent to Houston for catcher Dave Adlesh and reliever Dave Giusti in an attempt to shore up the St. Louis bullpen. This time Edwards wasn’t stepping into anything like a pennant race. But in ’69 he did return to an uncontested starting role for the Astros which allowed him to post his best RBI totals since ’65. He would retain that role pretty much through his ’73 injury, though he also missed a bunch of time to injury in ’71, and continued to do excellent defensive work. In ’74 he closed things out behind Milt May and he finished with a .242 average with 81 homers and 524 RBI’s and a .333 post-season average in his four games. Defensively he is in the top 20 all-time in putouts behind the plate, the top 50 in double plays, and the top 100 in assists. He finished his career throwing out 39% of attempted base stealers.

Edwards did not rest on his baseball laurels, either while playing or thereafter. Earning his degree allowed him to pursue a meaningful career away from baseball and from ’64 to ’69 he was a research engineer at the GE Nuclear Materials Lab in Cincinnati. After he was traded to Houston he became the Quality Engineering Manager for Cameron ironworks in that city. After his baseball career ended in early ’75 he was named that company’s Operating Manager of its Critical Service Product Line. In ’92 he moved to CTC International where he was a vice-president and then in ’95 upon that company’s purchase by Baker-Hughes he was a Plant Manager until his retirement in 2002. He continues to reside in the Houston area and will make appearances on behalf of the Astros.

Johnny’s signature sort of deteriorates by the end there. His fine defensive work shows up in his star bullet and his cartoon highlights his degree. Part of the reason he was pissed about his trade away from Cincinnati was because of his work there away from baseball, though maybe it was a good thing he got away from the nuclear testing facility.

Since Johnny did some pretty sensitive work away from baseball his card seems an appropriate place to return to Watergate goings-on. At this point it was late ’73 and both the missing tapes and the missing section of one tape were central to the case:

12/7/73 – Another tape with at least a partial Watergate theme is reported to have a segment that was now blank. At this point Judge John Sirica indicated his preference to have the tapes moved to the US Courthouse in DC. The tapes had remained with the White House for transcription but the two missing segments were making various people wary that the tapes would be further compromised if left there. Alexander Haig – always good for a quote, however off base it was – opined that “some sinister force” must have erased the segments.

2/6/74 – Watergate took a breather for the holiday recess and then the State of the Union but on this date the first big fallout was evidenced by the House of Representatives authorizing the Juciciary Committee to investigate grounds for impeaching President Nixon.

Again we get a double hook-up to Eddie Mathews. First to him as a manager:

1. Edwards and Orlando Cepeda ’68 Cardinals;
2. Cepeda and Hank Aaron ’69 to ’72 Braves;
3. Aaron was managed by Eddie Mathews on the ’72 to ’74 Braves.

For Eddie as a player it works like this:

1. Edwards and Joe Morgan ’69 to ’71 Astros;
2. Morgan and Eddie Mathews ’67 Astros.

Thursday, January 30, 2014

#634 - Eddie Mathews/Braves Field Leaders

When I was a kid I couldn’t always tell whether or not Eddie Mathews was a white guy and it was photos like this one that confused me. Eddie sure had a nice tan going which I guess came with the territory of working in sunny Atlanta. He’d returned there as a coach a couple years earlier and was elevated to manager about two-thirds of the way through the ’72 season. He improved things a bit and ’73 was his first – and only – full season in the role. There would be some exciting times what with all the homers but the launch pad that County Stadium resembled back then, coupled with some injuries, and just some dreadful pitching, made it difficult for the team to get any real traction. He would improve to a winning record in ’74 but, combined with other issues, that improvement wasn't enough and he gave way to Clyde King 100 games into that season. Here he looks moderately concerned home in Atlanta. Things down the road would warrant that expression.

Eddie Mathews was born in Texarkana, Texas, and as a young boy he relocated to Santa Barbara, California, where he was a big deal high school football and baseball star. He was highly sought by many schools for the former sport but opted to sign with the Braves in ’49 for a $6,000 bonus. In D ball that summer he had a .363/17/56 line in just 240 at bats and the next year put up a .286/32/106 line in Double A. He split the next season between Double A and Triple A but missed most of it to Navy service for the Korean War before he was recalled because his dad was sick and Eddie was his family’s only income producer. In ’52 he was called up to Boston where, though his average was a bit light and his K totals a tad high, he wowed people with his defense at third and hit 25 homers. He cranked things up big the next year with his .302/47/135 line. His homer total led the NL and his OBA was .402 as he made his first All-Star game. Over the next two seasons he would average lines of .289/41/102/.418 as Milwaukee’s main slugger as a young teammate Hank Aaron was establishing himself. Eddie’s RBI totals fell a bit the next few years as Aaron became a premier slugger himself and Eddie’s line averaged .274/33/89/.370 as he took two trips to the Series, winning one. In ’59 he again led the NL in homers during a .306/46/114/.390 season followed up by another big power year in ’60 with his .277/39/124/.397 year. Beginning in ’61 he led the NL in walks three consecutive years as his lines averaged .279/28/92/.394. By then he’d been having some back and shoulder issues that were beginning to compress his swing a bunch and in ’64 his numbers fell to .233/23/74/.344 before a big bounce in ’65 with a .251/32/95 line. By ’66 the back pain was serious and his days as a big slugger were over. After a final season in ’66 with Atlanta he was sent to Houston where he played primarily first base in ’67 before an August trade to Detroit to help in the stretch run. He remained with the Tigers in ’68 as primarily a pinch hitter for the eventual Series champs. Eddie then retired with a .271 average with 512 homers, 1,453 RBI’s, 2,315 hits, and a .376 OBA. In the post-season he hit .200 with a homer and seven RBI’s in 16 games with a .385 OBA. He was an All-Star nine times and defensively ranks in the top ten for third basemen in putouts, assists, and double plays.

For a couple years after playing Mathews was a salesman for a couple firms but he wasn’t a big fan of that work. So in ’71 he returned to baseball as a Braves coach and then assumed the manager position in ’72. By then he had a pretty serious drinking problem and that problem was part of what led to his dismissal in ’74. He was 149-161 as a manager which would turn out to be significantly better than his immediate successors. He then worked briefly with the Brewers – where he turned down the manager job – before moving to San Diego and having a run as a scout. He would return to formal coaching with the Rangers, Oakland (’81-’83) and Atlanta (’88-’89) around his scouting work. He was admitted to the Hall in ’78 and in ’92, a couple years after retiring, he had a second serious attack of pneumonia, his first being while with the A’s. He was nearly better by ’94 when he wrote his autobiography and was attending card shows on a regular basis. He did that through ’97 when he was in a bad boating accident that shattered his pelvis. Thereafter things were very tough for him physically and in early 2001 he passed away from complications of pneumonia and heart problems. He was 69. He has a detailed SABR bio.

Jim Busby grew up in rural Texas and in ’45 went to TCU on a football scholarship. I have read that he was in the Army during WWII but since he had just turned 18 when the war ended that doesn’t seem right. By his junior year he was TCU’s starting QB and in ’47 he took his team to the Cotton Bowl. He also hit over .500 as a fleet outfielder and ran track as well, setting the school record in the 100-yard dash. In ’48 he was signed by the White Sox and that summer hit .305 in a season split between B and A ball. In ’49 he hit .306 at those same levels and missed about half the season so it was most likely that then was his Army time. In ’50 he moved up to Triple A where he hit .310 with 17 stolen bases around his few games in Chicago. In ’51 he made the team in spring training as its starting center fielder and as a rookie hit .283 with 68 RBI’s and 26 stolen bases. He was also an excellent fielder who over his career would only post 16 errors. Early in ’52 he went to Washington for Sam Mele and there his average slid a bit before rebounding the next two years when he averaged .306 with 81 RBI’s and 15 stolen bases per season. After a slow start in ’55 he returned to the Sox where he finished out the year. He then went to Cleveland as part of a deal for Larry Doby where his .235/12/50 line was a bit of an improvement. In early ’57 he was on the move again to Baltimore for Dick Williams – I guess he liked being traded for future managers – where he hit .250 but his power stats depleted a bunch. By ’58 he was a reserve guy and he filled that role for the Red Sox, back in Baltimore, and in Houston before he finished as a player during the ’62 season. Jim put up a .262 average with over 1,100 hits and 97 stolen bases during his career. He is in the top 50 all-time for putouts in center and the top 100 in assists and double plays. He remained with Houston as a coach the duration of the ’62 season and stayed there through ’67. He then moved on to Atlanta (’68-’75), the White Sox (’76), and Seattle (’77-’78) before going 37-27 as a manager in ’79 in the Inter-American League. After that league folded he moved to Florida full-time where he ran some orange groves he’d acquired earlier. He then retired in Georgia where he passed away in ’96 at age 69.

Connie Ryan was born in New Orleans where he would be a star athlete at the same high school later attended by Rusty Staub. Ryan then earned a baseball scholarship to LSU, where he remained through his sophomore year of ’40 when he left to sign a minor league contract with Savannah, a B-level affiliate of the Atlanta Crackers, an independent team. After hitting .302 that year as s econd baseman, he moved up to the A-level Crackers in ’41 and hit .300 there. In ’42 he was sold to the Giants where he had a tough time in NY before returning to Double A, hitting .243 that season. Immediately prior to the ’43 season he was sent to the Braves as part of a deal for Ernie Lombardi and as the regular guy at second Connie hit .212. He improved that substantially in ’44 when he was hitting .295 with 13 stolen bases before he enlisted for WW II after D-Day. Named to the All-Star team that year, he remained in the service through ’45 and returned to Boston as the starting second baseman in ’46 and ’47, hitting .241 and .265 with 69 RBI’s respectively. In ’48 Boston acquired Eddie Stanky and Connie became a reserve, getting only 122 at bats that year and limited time in the Series. In ’49 he was a utility guy, playing all infield positions, which he continued through early in ’50 when he went to Cincinnati for Walker Cooper. With the Reds he returned to a starting role that season and for all of ’51, hitting .246 during that time. He then moved to the Phillies in a big trade for the ’52 season, where he retained the regular role, hitting .257, until he was placed on waivers in ’54 (despite hitting .296 at the time). The ChiSox took him and Connie finished out his career that year and the next with Chicago and then back in Cincinnati with a .248 average with just under 1,000 hits. He went 0 for 1 in his only Series at bat and is in the top 100 all-time in putouts at second. He remained in baseball in a bunch of roles. As a minor league manager he went a combined 403-383 for the Braves (’55-’56, ’68-’69), Cincinnati (’58), Houston (’62), and Kansas City (’67). He was also an MLB coach for Milwaukee/Atlanta (’57, ’71, ’73-’75) and Texas (’77-’79) and manager for both going a combined 11-22 in interim roles for the Braves (’75) and the Rangers (’77). In between and thereafter he scouted for Houston (’61, ’63-’66), Kansas City/Oakland (’67, 70, 71, and in the Eighties), the Braves (’69-’70), and Texas (’76). He would then retire to the New Orleans area where he passed away in ’96 at age 75.

Ken Silvestri grew up in Chicago where he was an all-state football player for two years and then went to Purdue on a football scholarship (this has been a very educated coaching group thus far). He spent two years at Purdue, playing both baseball and football, before being signed by the White Sox in ’36. He spent his first two years in D ball, hitting .270 and .307, with 23 homers that second year. He moved up to Double A in ’38 and spent more time there in ’39 – both years hitting .272 - around his debut in Chicago. He hit lightly his rookie year, batting just .173 in minimal plate appearances. He raised that to .250 in ’40 with ten RBI’s but in just 24 at bats. After that season he went to the Yankees where he took on the Ralph Houk role – almost zero plate time – before Houk got there. Ken again hit .250, this time in 40 at bats, and won a Series ring, before enlisting for WW II, which would take him away from baseball the next four years. He returned in ’46 to hit .286 again in limited time before Houk assumed his role and Ken spent the bulk of the next two years in the minors, hitting a combined .226 but with a .377 OBA. He then moved to the Phillies via the Rule 5 draft for the ’49 season, returned to the Series in ’50, and finished his MLB time in ’51 with a .217 average in just 203 at bats over eight seasons. He returned to the service in ’52 and ’53 in Korea and then came back to baseball in ’54 as a player and then player/manager in the Yankees system, which he did through ’58. He went 255-242 his four seasons as a manager and won two league titles and finished his minor league playing career with a .268 average. He would then get a bunch of MLB time as a coach with the Phillies (’59-’60), the Braves (’63-’75), and the White Sox (’76, ’82). In between he coached in the St. Louis system (’61-’62) and Chicago’s (’77-’81) before going into semi-retirement as a scout for the ChiSox beginning in ’83. He was still scouting for the team when he passed away in ’92 at age 75.

Herm Starrette grew up in Statesville, North Carolina, where he was a big deal pitcher and basketball player. His brother George would be a pro hoops player and Herm was offered a basketball scholarship to Wake Forest but opted to go to local Lenoir-Rhyne College where he pitched his freshman and sophomore seasons of ’57 and ’58 before signing that June with the new Orioles. That summer he went 7-9 in C ball before improving at that level in ’59 to go 17-7 and 9-7 in ’60 around some military time. Up until then a rotation guy, in ’61 in B ball he went 11-7 as a spot starter and in ’62 became a reliever, going 14-10 with a 2.65 ERA in 61 games in A ball. The next three years he would pitch well out of the pen in Triple A, going a combined 14-7 with a 2.14 ERA. He also got three looks in Baltimore over that time-frame and although he threw well – 1-1 with a 2.54 ERA in 46 innings – he never stuck. Back in Triple A in ’66 he hurt his arm and was done as a pitcher, finishing with a minor league record of 72-50 with a 3.32 ERA. He then became a pitching coach in the Orioles chain, succeeding George Bamberger in ’68 as director of pitching and continuing the Baltimore streak of developing premier starters. He did that through ’73 when he became the Atlanta pitching coach. He remained with the Braves through ’76 and then moved on to San Francisco (’77-’78 and ’83-’84), Philadelphia (’79-’81), Milwaukee (’85-’86), the Cubs (’87), and Baltimore (’88). He then became minor league pitching coordinator for the Expos (’89-’92) and Boston (’93-2002) both while working closely with Dan Duquette. After Duquette was replaced as Boston GM following the 2002 season, Herm retired to Florida where he still resides.

I’ll skip over Watergate stuff this post and go straight to the double hook-up. For Eddie Mathews as a manager:

1. Mathews managed Ralph Garr on the ’72 to ’74 Braves;
2. Garr and Dave Hamilton ’76 to ’77 White Sox.

That was pretty good. Now for Eddie as a player. I am just going to add a step to the above:

1. Mathews and Sonny Jackson ’67 Astros;
2. Jackson and Ralph Garr ’72 to ’74 Braves;
3. Garr and Dave Hamilton ’76 to ’77 White Sox.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

#633 - Dave Hamilton

I know Dave Hamilton is only chewing on a wad of chaw in this photo but from that expression on his face it appears he may have also been recently engaging another substance. That may explain why he appears to be at about a 45 degree angle with the field behind him. On the plus side Dave breaks a recent string of final cards with his second one for Topps. Dave was in the midst of his first run in Oakland during which he was generally the fifth/spot starter in a pretty loaded rotation. It was a good time to be in that position since in each of his first three seasons Dave’s team won the Series. ‘73 was a bit of a streaky season for Dave. He began the year back in Triple A and had a nice enough run in the rotation to return to Oakland in early June. After a couple sloppy early starts he went on a nice run and by the end of the month was 5-1 with a 2.85 ERA. But July brought three straight bad starts and by mid-August, after being moved to the pen, he was back in the minors. He returned for a couple late games in September but then got shut out of any Series action. Dave tended to be a streaky guy which was part of what delayed his ascension to the MLB level. Here he looks like he needs to get out of the sun in Oakland.

Dave Hamilton grew up in Edmonds, Washington, where he played hoops and baseball. In the latter sport his senior year in high school he went 8-0 with a 1.19 ERA and fanned 114 batters in his 59 innings. Those stats helped make him a fifth-round choice by Kansas City in the ’66 draft. That year in A ball his ERA was a bit high but he got lots of strikeouts. The next year he began his military reserve work, missing a bunch of games, but got his ERA down a bit when he was able to play, keeping the K’s above one an inning. He then split ’68 between two teams at that level, again in the rotation, where he had odd experiences. At his first stop he went 3-5 as his ERA climbed again; at his second he pitched much better ball, lowering his ERA by nearly two runs, but somehow went 0-7. Things got a bit better at that level in ’69 and then more-so in his few starts in Double A so in ‘70 he finally stuck at a higher level as he spent that whole season in Double A. Then in ’71 he put together a nice season as a swing guy in Triple A before kicking off the ’72 season with another excellent record in his eight starts at that level. Late that May he was promoted to Oakland.

In ’72 upon being called up, Hamilton walked smack into a division run and put up a win in his first start. By the end of June he was 5-1 with a 1.30 ERA and got everyone thinking of Vida Blue’s run when he first came up a couple years earlier. July and early August were a bit tougher though and by the middle of the latter month he was in the pen where his numbers got a bit better and he added a save. His post-season numbers weren’t too hot though and in ’73 he pretty much ran the same way, though the ERA was considerably higher. In ’74 he got a few spare innings in the pen until he returned to the rotation in mid-May and went on another of his runs, closing June with a 5-1 record and 2.82 ERA. So far his MLB records through June were 15-3. He then followed suit, cooling off a bit and working out of both the rotation and the pen. In neither that nor the former season did he see any post-season action. In ’75 the A’s weren’t as flexible and while Dave pitched well enough in his first three starts, a couple mediocre ones moved him to the pen by May and in June he was sent to the White Sox with outfielder Chet Lemon for pitchers Stan Bahnsen and Skip Pitlock. There Dave started his first game but then was exclusively a reliever and finished the year 7-7 with a 3.25 ERA and six saves.

With Chicago Hamilton was a reliever nearly all the time and his first full season of ’76 closed most of his games, recording a record of 6-6 with a 3.59 ERA and ten saves. In ’77 he moved to more of a set-up role though his numbers stayed pretty much the same as he went 4-5 with a 3.61 ERA and nine saves. Following that season he and pitcher Silvio Martinez went to St. Louis for reliever Clay Carroll. Things didn’t go too well for Dave in that other league as he went a combined 0-2 with one save and a 4.46 ERA in only 40 innings of work. Following that season he returned to the AL and Oakland as a free agent and in ’79 was a spot guy and reliever as he went 3-4 with a 3.70 ERA and five saves for a pretty poor team. In ’80 some tough times up top got him moved to Triple A for most of the season where he did some OK work out of the pen. After putting in a few innings at that level in ’81 Dave was done. He finished with an MLB record of 39-41 with a 3.85 ERA, four complete games, a shutout, and 31 saves. In the post-season he put up a 27.00 ERA in his three games and was 53-48 in the minors.

Hamilton would settle full-time in the San Ramon area of California where he became a foreman for a roofing contractor company and beginning in ’96 the head baseball coach at that town’s California High School. He was still at that second role through at least 2007 and looks like he put up some pretty good records there.

That is the second or third “most inspirational player” award I have seen on the backs of these cards. My school didn’t have those back then. Maybe it was a more benign title for team mvp? I assume Dave was a guard.

11/17/73 – President Nixon, in a televised meeting with a bunch of Associated Press newspaper editors, discusses Watergate a bit among other subjects. During the speech he utters his famous “I am not a crook” line as he defends his record while in public service.

11/21/73 – By this time the process had begun in summarizing the White House tapes according to the original deal between the Senate Committee and the White House. In the meantime the Supreme Court was still reviewing whether or not to demand a full release of the tapes. On this date the White House reported that two of the specifically-requested tapes were missing. One of the tapes would turn out to be the one in which over 18 minutes of conversation between President Nixon and former White House Chief of Staff H.R. Haldeman was blank. That tape was made three days after the Watergate break-in so it was widely believed that the deleted conversation must have included the break-in as a topic. It was this tape that Nixon’s personal secretary Rose Mary Woods said she must have inadvertently erased as she was transcribing the tapes.

Normally these cross-league hook-ups are tough but one guy helps out huge here:

1. Hamilton and Jesus Alou ’73 to ’74 A’s;
2. Alou and George Culver ’70 to ’72 Astros.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

#632 - George Culver

On a busy sunny day at Shea we get yet another final card of pitcher George Culver showing a pitching form that appears to have even the cops behind him interested. George had come over to the Phillies from LA early in August which makes it a bit easier to get a time-frame for this photo. The only time the Phillies were at Shea after the trade was an early September stand during which they lost three out of four which may help explain George’s concerned look. His ERA spiked a bit after his arrival even though his record was pretty good. By this point George had been pitching with bone chips in his elbow for a couple years so every visit to the mound was a pretty painful ordeal for him. He would get into another 14 games for the Phillies in ’74 with the same control issues as well in his final MLB work. At least he gets to go out in an un-retouched uniform.

George Culver grew up in the Bakersfield area of California. In high school he lettered in the big three sports plus track and cross country. When he graduated in ’61 he was offered a $1,000 bonus by the Phillies but shot that down to attend Bakersfield College, where he pitched for two years before he was signed by the Yankees for $2,500 in ’63. That summer he threw well in the rotation for three A teams, going 7-6 with a 2.07 ERA. And 170 K’s in 139 innings. He was then selected by Cleveland in the First Year Draft and in ’64 he went 11-6/ 2.41 in Double A before improving to 4-2/1.18 in seven starts in Triple A that year. In ’65 he shared his first Topps card with Tommie Agee from two posts ago but that year had a tougher season in Triple A as he went 10-11 and his ERA popped to 4.95. That kept him on the farm but in ’66 he rallied to go 14-10/2.93 on the same Portland team and that September he made his Cleveland debut.

Culver made the Tribe roster out of spring training in ’67 where as a rookie he worked exclusively out of the pen. His ERA was a tad high but his record was quite good as he added three saves. After that season he went to Cincinnati in the deal that brought Tommy Harper to Cleveland. For the Reds George joined the rotation and was the team’s busiest pitcher, finishing second among starters in ERA despite posting a losing record. That June he threw a no-hitter against Philadelphia. The next year he began experiencing the elbow problems and he moved between the rotation and the pen and missed six weeks as his ERA bloated. After the season he was sent to St. Louis for pitcher Ray Washburn. For the Cards George had a tough start to the season as a spot guy and midway through he was sent to Houston for Jim Beauchamp and Leon McFadden. For Houston he settled down a bunch throwing out of the pen and put up three saves. He remained with the Astros in ’71 and for the next two years was one of the team’s go-to pen guys, putting up seven saves the first year and upping his strikeouts a bunch in ’72 when he moved to a setup role. During spring training of ’73 he was sold to LA where he again did set-up work but his K totals tumbled a bit. Still, he posted a good ERA and added a couple saves before his move to Philly. In ’74 he threw well as a starter in Triple A – 7-4 with a 2.23 ERA in 13 starts – but not too great in Philadelphia. In ’75 he had less success at the lower level and midway through left to pitch in Japan but didn’t throw too much better. By then his MLB time was done and he finished at that level with a record of 48-49 with a 3.62 ERA, seven complete games, two shutouts, and 23 saves.

For a time during off seasons Culver worked as a sportswriter for local papers in the Bakersfield area, where he continued to reside. Around 1970 he became involved in doing fund-raisers for his old college, and after Japan he returned to the area full time to do odd jobs. In ’78 he managed the local independent affiliate while pitching in 23 games and going 2-0 in the pen. He then hooked up with the Phillies organization again as a roving pitching instructor (’79-’82), minor league coach (’83-’85 and ’89-’98), and manager (’86-’88). In that last role he went a combined 263-294 and made his league’s playoffs twice. After some time away he came back to coaching, this time in the LA organization, which he did from 2004 to 2010. In between and since he has remained very active in local baseball, particularly in supporting his alma mater for which he has raised around one million dollars through golf tournaments and other events. He continues to reside in the Bakersfield area.

George’s no-hitter gets star billing. That second one is a bit odd since he only had those two saves that year, though it was a pretty good one. George has some funny cards. In ’68 and ’70 Topps uses the same photo in which he has real short hair and looks like he’s 19. In the early Seventies he was sporting as big a set of muttonchops as anyone in the sets then. He has been inducted into some local halls of fame for his charity work.

In Watergate news the whole tape thing is coming to a head:

10/20/73 – President Nixon had offered what he considered a compromise regarding the tape recordings made by the system he had installed in his White House office. Instead of handing over the requested tapes, those tapes would be reviewed by Senator John Stennis, a Democrat from Mississippi. While that compromise appeared to be accepted by the Senate Committee it was not by Special Prosecutor Archibald Cox, who continued to demand the tapes. In what became known as “The Saturday Night Massacre”, Nixon ordered Attorney General Elliot Richardson to fire Cox, whom Richardson had appointed to the position in the first place. Richardson refused and instead tendered his resignation. Nixon then ordered Deputy Attorney General William Ruckelshaus to fire Cox but Ruckelshaus refused as well. Depending on the timing of following statements Ruckelshaus then either resigned or was fired by Nixon. Nixon then turned to Solicitor General Robert Bork to fire Cox, since in the wake of the two resignations, Bork was now Acting Attorney General. Bork complied and fired Cox. Cox’s investigative powers were then turned over to the FBI who raided the Special Prosecutor’s offices and cleaned out all the files. The move, widely seen as desperate and a whitewashing of the scandal, pretty much backfired. Congress got pissed and pretty much immediately resolutions appeared in the House to have President Nixon impeached. Within a few days Nixon back-tracked and indicated he would share some of the files with Judge John Sirica. He also instructed Bork to name a new Special Prosecutor.

11/1/73 – Bork names Leon Jaworski the new Special Prosecutor. Jaworski had his own politically-connected law firm in Texas, was categorically a Democrat and a friend of LBJ, but had voted for Nixon twice. He came into prominence by overseeing several high-profile WW II-related war crimes and court martial trials in both the US and Europe after the war.

A guy who seemed a shoo-in for the Hall early in his career helps here:

1. Culver and Vada Pinson ’68 Reds;
2. Pinson and Steve Barber ’72 to ’73 Angels.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

#631 - Steve Barber

This final card thing just keeps going and we’re not done yet. Here Steve Barber shows his game face on a field of which I am shamefully unaware (those blue girders look right for The Met but I don’t believe that stadium had an overhang. County Stadium?). Steve is air-brushed into his Brewers cap. He was one of the many guys on the other side of the Ollie Brown trade from a few posts back, and like Ollie, Steve never played an inning for his new team. After a decent year out of the pen for California in which he added four saves to his stats, Steve went – sort of – back to Milwaukee in that huge trade from which just about every other participant also has a non-Traded traded card in this set. But he got released during spring training and would later in the year hook-up with San Francisco in his last MLB run. Steve was an original Pilot – hence the sort of above – which means he got some print in “Ball Four” which I will get to below. Here he looks awfully non-commital or maybe sedated. All that moving around late in his career probably made him feel that way.
Steve Barber grew up in Maryland, not terribly far from the freshly-relocated St. Louis Browns, who would sign him as one of the first new Orioles in ’57. Steve had just finished high school during which he twice led his team to a bi-county championship and didn’t lose at all his senior year. He had a big fastball but was pretty wild and that whole one-pitch thing didn’t work too well in the minors. While he averaged a strikeout an inning he also averaged nearly a walk an inning and his first two seasons he went a combined 15-21 with an ERA over 5.00 as he couldn’t get above C ball. But he also gradually picked up a curve and in ’59 calmed down – a bit – in D ball when he went 7-11 with a 3.85 ERA and 172 K’s with 143 walks in his 159 innings. His curveball improved considerably that year and in ’60 it would help him make the improbable jump all the way to Baltimore.
Barber had a bang-up spring in ’60 and made the Orioles staff out of training camp. He started in the pen where he got a couple saves and then moved into the rotation where he had a real nice rookie year where he came in sixth in the AL with his ERA. Control was still an issue as he led the AL in walks (113) and wild pitches (10). He also officially joined the Orioles’ “Kiddie Corps”, a group of four young pitchers that also included Chuck Estrada, Jack Fisher, and Milt Pappas. Those guys would go on to various degrees of success but their first year together they went a combined 55-40 at an average age of 21 and seemed primed to lead the O’s out of the horrid history the team inherited from its Browns days. In ‘61 Steve did his part in cementing the Corps’ legacy by winning 18 and leading the AL with eight shutouts (the Corps overall went 56-43) as Baltimore made a big run for the pennant with its 95 wins. Things got pretty frustrating for everyone in ’62 when Steve had to do his Army hitch and could only pitch on weekend leaves the first half of the season and then missed a month-plus with a trip to the DL. His record literally halved though he pitched quite well, the Corps dropped big to 37-42, and Baltimore had a losing record. But he followed that up with a big ’63 in which he became Baltimore’s first 20-game winner, again finshed in the top ten in AL ERA, and made his first All-Star team. By then the Kiddie Corps was blown up as Fisher had been traded and Estrada had only a partial season in Baltimore, though the remnant had its best record of 39-24. In ’64 his first significant tendinitis struck and Steve missed a month through early June and never really got into a good groove in his first sub-par season. ’65 began as only a partial improvement and by the end of June Steve was 5-6 with a 3.72 ERA. But the rest of the way he went 10-4 with a 2.24 ERA in the best run of his career to salvage another nice year. Then in ’66 he was on another good run when the tendinitis nailed him again and he missed all but five games in the second half. He couldn’t even pitch in the All-Star game to which he was selected and he got shut out of any Series action. By ’67 the elbow pain was pretty devastating and after a not great start that year Steve went to the Yankees in July for infielder Ray Barker, a couple minor leaguers (one with the great name of Chet Trail), and cash. Steve pretty much matched his early season numbers with his new team as combined he recorded his worst MLB season. In ’68 he posted pretty good numbers in a spot role after some Triple A time before going to the new Seattle Pilots that winter in the expansion draft.
With Seattle Barber was sort of a legacy guy because of his big seasons with the Birds so he was going to get a real shot at the rotation. But his arm was a mess and he had a couple stints on the DL and some more in the pen in what was a pretty nasty season. He was released the following spring and hooked up with the Cubs. He threw real well in four Triple A starts – 1-1 with a 1.55 ERA – but poorly up top and by May was on the road again, this time to Atlanta. For the Braves, Steve turned the same trick, going 7-1 with a 3.36 ERA in ten Triple A starts while being below average in his MLB work. In ’71 his ERA remained high though he stayed in Atlanta the whole year and recorded a couple saves in his pen work. After an abortive beginning to ’72 he was cut and signed with California as a free agent. Back in the AL Steve recorded a good little season with an excellent ERA and another couple saves. After the trade here he was cut again by the Brewers in camp and then signed with the Giants. After some iffy Triple A work he came up to throw a few innings that summer in his final MLB work. He then pitched in Triple A for the Cardinals that August and was done. He finished 121-106 with a 3.36 ERA with 59 complete games, 21 shutouts, and 13 saves.
After playing Steve remained in Arizona where he established a business installing stereos in cars and trucks. In ’78 he relocated to Nevada where he became a fleet manager for a company that rehabilitated cars which he did through ’91. He then became a bus driver for a local school that worked with handicapped kids. He was still doing that when he passed away in 2007. He was 68.

Steve’s signature differs a bit from his given name. I guess his hobby led pretty naturally to what he did after playing. In ’67 Steve threw all but one out of a no-hitter that he lost 2-1. In the game he gave up ten walks and hit two guys. In “Ball Four” Steve comes across as nearly a tragic figure. Jim Bouton said that all those years of throwing a curve permanently disfigured Steve’s left arm and that it was noticeably shorter than his right one. In nearly every scene in which Steve participates he is in a whirlpool bath or the diathermy machine. His price in the draft was pretty steep at $175,000 and at some point he earns Bouton’s resentment because he was asked to go to the minors while doing rehab and refused, which theoretically disallowed another pitcher coming up and may have contributed to Bouton’s stay in the minors that season.
By this point Watergate was all about the tapes, the tapes, the tapes...
10/10/73 – Spiro T. Agnew resigns as Vice President as part of a plea deal with the Justice Department. As it was becoming evident that Agnew would be found guilty of accepting bribes – unrelated to Watergate – he was offered a deal that he could plead guilty only to under-reporting his income by $29,500 in ’67 if he also stepped down as Vice President, which he accepted. In the wake of that departure President Nixon nominated House Minority Leader Gerald Ford to replace Agnew.
10/19/73 – After months of haggling over the tapes made by the system installed by President Nixon in the White House, Nixon and the Senate Committee reached an apparent agreement. Senator John Stennis, a democrat from Mississippi would be allowed to review requested tapes and then prepare summaries of those tapes to the Committee and the Special Prosecutor. It was unclear whether Nixon would or would not have final say over the selected tapes. While the Committee agreed to the deal, Special Prosecutor Cox did not and issued a statement that afternoon that he still demanded the tapes.
This hook-up gets done through the AL:

1. Barber and Jerry Adair ’60 to ’65 Orioles;
2. Adair and Tommie Agee ’66 to ’67 White Sox.

Friday, January 17, 2014

#630 - Tommie Agee

Back to the final cards, and in this case the plural works two ways. For the record of the last eight non-team cards in this set, six have been the final ones issued during those players’ careers. And Tommie Agee gets to go out with a double, just like Felipe Alou did a bunch of posts back. These aren’t great cards – Tommie looks pretty unhappy as a Cardinal and that look up on his Traded card could be years old. But he did have some great ones. In ’71 he slides into second as Joe Morgan and (I think) Dennis Menke try to get a ball that appears trapped in Tommie’s underarm while the umpire – in a uniform out of 1920 – looks like he’s about to signal an out, which would make no sense. I think that one gets topped in ’73 when Tommie is making a catch in center with Rusty Staub – our last post subject – jogging over from right and (again, I believe) Ken Boswell doing a crossover in back of another ump in a photo in which all three guys – a record? – had to be air-brushed because Tommie went to Houston before that season. He’d been having a rough time since about mid-’71 when extensive knee pain took away lots of his power and a year later his speed. And though he spent less than half his career in a Mets uniform, it is odd to see him out of it. His last year really was his last year – no more stats after the ones on this card – and after the trade mentioned above sort of fell flat. Despite hitting well in a couple early starts in left field for Houston, the dereliction of his knees contributed to most of his time being spent in reserve work where it was difficult to maintain a consistent average and the strikeouts- Tommie always had a problem with those – were a bit high for the decreased power production. By mid-August he was the team’s fifth outfielder and was soon after traded to St. Louis for infielder Dave Campbell. With the Cards Tommie got some starts in center – he was acquired because regular guys Jose Cruz and Luis Melendez were hurt and stopped hitting, repectively – but the average continued to taper. After the season the Dodgers got super busy in early December with trades. Their long-time starter in center, Willie Davis, was sent to Montreal for big-inning reliever Mike Marshall and Tommie was acquired in this trade to fill the gap. But the next day his former teammate Jimmy Wynn was picked up by LA for pitcher Claude Osteen. Jimmy would have a monster season in helping LA to the Series while Tommie wouldn’t get out of spring training. So he returned to NY, just not as a baseball player.
Tommie Agee grew up in and around Mobile, Alabama, where in high school he was a star in the big three sports plus track. In football while he was a three-year starter his team lost only one game. He was an end while future Mets teammate Cleon Jones was a halfback. In baseball he was an outfielder/pitcher and his senior year of ’60 he hit .390. He then went to Grambling on a baseball scholarship where he added first base to the above positions and hit .533 his one season before being signed by Cleveland for a big bonus. In D ball the rest of the summer he hit .261 with 15 homers and 40 RBI’s in under half a season. Tommie almost always hit from the top of the line-up and was super fast. In ’62 he moved up to B ball where he put up a .258/7/55 line with ten triples and 25 stolen bases before a couple games in Triple A and then his first look in Cleveland. In ’63 he moved to Double A where he experienced his first lost time from his knee, had a line of .274/5/36 in just under 300 at bats, stole 19, and recorded his best OBA of .354. He also returned to Cleveland at the end of the season for look number two. Then in ’64 it was off to Triple A Portland where he became a slugger with his .272/20/62 line with 35 steals but 144 K’s. After his third late crack at the Cleveland outfield he, young pitcher Tommy John, and John Romano went to the White Sox as part of a three-team deal in which Cam Carreon went to Cleveland (from Chicago); Mike Hershberger, Jim Landis, and Fred Talbot went to KC (from Chicago); and Rocky Colavito returned to Cleveland (from KC).
Initially, Chicago smelled a lot like Cleveland for Agee. He began the season in Triple A, where his .226/8/33 line was a significant discount to his prior season and his September call-up worked about as well as his previous ones did. But in ’66 Tommie had a real good camp and in the wake of Danny Cater’s trade to KC, incumbent center fielder Ken Berry moved to Cater’s spot in left opening up center for Tommie, who made the most of his opportunity. Still a rookie, he led the Sox in runs (98), hits, doubles, triples, homers, RBI’s, average, and stolen bases (44). He made the All-Star team, won a Gold Glove, and finally was named AL Rookie of the Year. ’67 would be a mixed year though. While Tommie hit OK during the season’s first half and again was an All-Star, he had a nasty slump in the second half which was pretty lousy timing since the Sox went to the wire on the pennant. After the season he was on the move again, this time to the Mets with infielder Al Weiss for Tommy Davis, Jack Fisher, and a couple minor leaguers.
While Agee’s first year in a new town was better than the last time he tried that trick, it wasn’t by much. Acquired to finally fill a defensive hole in center that had been there since pretty much the Mets themselves had, and to add some pop to the top of the line-up, Tommie did pretty well in the former department but pretty badly in the latter. Off to a pretty good start at the plate he ran into an early wall in that monster 24-inning game against Houston in which he went 0 for 10 to begin a season-long slump that didn’t allow him to break .200 until the last couple weeks. He went from being the everyday center fielder to missing starts and his RBI total was pretty horrendous as he came in with north of 100 strikeouts. But ’69 was a whole new year and Tommie put up his best stats since his ROY season. While he was still toting a high K total – 137 that year – he delivered in the role for which he was acquired while scoring 97 runs. Then came his headline-worthy post-season in which he hit .357 with two homers against Atlanta and then had those two circus catches against Baltimore that saved a game in the Series. As another reward Tommie was named the AL Comeback Player of the Year. ’70 was better for Tommie personally as he improved in runs (107), hits, doubles, triples, stolen bases (31 vs. 12), and average and won his second Gold Glove. By the end of the year, though, his knees were causing him some serious pain and in ’71 Tommie missed a combined six weeks to injury. He kept his average up there and stole 28 bases but his power subsided quite a bit. In ’72 he missed time to both injury and the return of Willie Mays as that year the average and the stolen base total (8) fell prey to his knees. Following the season he was sent to Houston for Rich Chiles and Buddy Harris. After the ’73 season he was done, finishing with the stats on the back of this card and 167 stolen bases. In the post-season he hit .250 with three homers, five RBI’s, and three steals in his eight games.
Agee had while still a Met purchased an interest in The Outfield Lounge, a bar pretty close to Shea Stadium in Queens. After he was done playing he pretty much took it over as a full-time pursuit. He was also heavily involved in local PR events for the Mets and other NYC youth programs. He then became associated with a company called Stewart Title Insurance with whom he was working while attending a meeting in NYC in 2001. It was there he was stricken with a heart attack that would prove fatal. Tommie was only 58. A year later he was inducted into the Mets Hall of Fame. He has a SABR bio.

Tommie gets a big number and a big star bullet on his card back. Those catches robbed Andy Etchebarren and Paul Blair (who just recently passed away) of multi-base hits that would have likely driven in five runs. When he was traded to the Sox it was part of an arranged deal. The Tribe wanted Rocky Colavito back and he was in the hands of the A’s. Chicago wanted catcher John Romano because he hit with some power although his defense was very suspect. Cleveland told Chicago they could get Romano if they picked up Colavito which they were able to do principally because he’d had a big ’64 and wanted a raise and KC owner Charlie O Finley didn’t want to pay. So Cleveland got Rocky, Chicago got Romano, and the two throw-ins to the deal from the Cleveland side were Tommie – whose stats are all above – and a guy who won 286 more games.

Tommie had a one-day run as LA’s newest center fielder. Ah well.
By mid-August of ’73 most of the big names had already testified before the Senate Committee, which was still pursuing some of the tapes from the White House:
8/15/73 – President Nixon delivers a televised address for the first time in three months. In it he indicated it was time to stop using Watergate as a diversion and/or an obstacle to getting real work done, notably dealing with inflation and Viet Nam. He opined that “it (was) clear that both the hearings themselves and some of the commentaries on them have become increasingly absorbed in an effort to implicate the President personally in the illegal activities that took place” in another clear indication of his belief of myriad conspiracies against him. He reminded people that he already accepted responsibility for abuses that occurred during his administration but then also reminded everyone that he was innocent of all activities related to the scandal. He reiterated that he would not turn in any tapes on the basis of national security. The presentation didn’t go terribly well; the next day a poll revealed that 31% of the populace were in favor of the President’s job performance, a 20-year low in that poll.
As that ’73 card of Tommie’s illustrated, this is an easy hook-up:
1. Agee and Rusty Staub ’72 Mets.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

#629 - Rusty Staub

As a welcome back to the land of baseball cards, Rusty Staub gets a rather odd action shot at Shea. Rusty had some contractual differences with Topps that left him without cards in the ’72 or ’73 set, though he does make at least one appearance in the latter set jogging towards center on Tommie Agee’s card as Agee makes a catch (more on that card on the next post).  Here, Rusty looks like he is conversing with someone to his left – the catcher maybe – while just about every fan’s focus appears to be on something in the outfield. Rusty was in the midst of his second season in NY, having come over from Montreal in a big trade prior to what would be a bit of a train wreck for him in the ’72 season. Then, like a lot of his teammates, ’73 was sort of a mixed season for him. Early on, Rusty got nailed in the hand by a pitch which made it pretty tough for him to grip a bat the balance of the season. Because of the plethora of injuries suffered by just about every other starter he never went on the DL and the injury contributed to discounted power from his recent full seasons. But he was still the team’s biggest power threat and he came up big in the post-season with three homers – his only hits – and five RBI’s in the playoffs and a .423 average with six RBI’s in the near-upset of Oakland in the Series. And even with the injury it was better than the prior year. So if Rusty is smiling here as I suspect, he had reason to.
Rusty Staub grew up in New Orleans, which seems about right given what he did in his off-seasons. In high school there he played basketball and baseball. His senior year he hit .474 and homered to win the state championship. The prior summer he led his team to the American Legion world series and the summer after his senior year he hit .553 for that team. That summer was ’61 and when Legion play ended Rusty was signed by Houston to a bonus baby contract. He had a big first year in B ball, putting up a line of .293/23/93 with 115 runs and a .429 OBA while playing first base. Houston then elevated him all the way up and that year he split time between – primarily – first and right field. His numbers weren’t crazy impressive but he put up more walks than strikeouts and earned a spot on the Topps Rookie team. He remained in Houston to start the ’64 season but after struggling offensively returned to the minors, where in Triple A he put up a line of .314/20/45 with a .427 OBA in just 226 at bats, so there was nothing left for him to prove at that level.  When he returned in ’65 he was moved to right field as his primary spot, put up his first double digit homer tally, and added 40 points to his average. In ’66 he added another 25 points to his average, got into slugger territory with his RBI total, and put in some time in left. In ’67 he put up the best average of his career while leading the NL in doubles and in ’68 he hung in there offensively in a tough year to do that while playing only first base again. In both ’67 and ’68 he was an All-Star. Early the next year he was sent to the new Montreal Expos for Jesus Alou and Donn Clendenon in a deal that was almost derailed because Clendednon refused to report (he did not want to play again for Houston manager Harry Walker). The deal got fixed when the Expos subbed Jack Billingham, Skip Guinn, and $100,000 for Clendenon.
With Montreal Staub became a fan favorite. Named “Le Grande Orange” by the Canadians for his red hair, he endeared himself to the fans up north by responding to them in French when he was asked for autographs. He wasn’t too shy with the bat either. In ’69 he jumped on the homer train as he put up a .426 OBA. In ’70 he hit the 30 homer mark the only time in his career and in ’71 he nearly had triple figures in both runs and RBI’s. He’d also become an excellent right fielder and he and first baseman Ron Fairly made a very good right side defensive duo even though they were probably the two slowest guys in the league. All three years Rusty was an All-Star as his OBA during his initial time with the Expos topped .400. Then, just before the start of the ’72 season he was part of another big trade in which he went to NY for three guys who would turn into immediate starters for Montreal: Tim Foli, Mike Jorgensen, and Ken Singleton. His first year with the Mets was going great guns: in mid-June he was hitting over .300 and NY was in first place. Then he got hit in the hand by a George Stone pitch. He would continue to play for over a week but it would turn out that his hand was broken and he would miss the first significant amount of time in his career in seeing his season halved. After his dramatic comeback season in ’73 he put up a .258/19/78 line for a crappy ’74 club and then in ’75 improved to .282/19/105 as he set a team record for RBI’s. As a reward he was on the road again, this time to Detroit in a horribly-balanced trade which got the Mets Mickey Lolich, who was well past his prime.
With Detroit Staub returned to the All-Star game in ’76 as the starting AL right fielder as he went on to post a .299/15/96 line for his first shot in the new league. He then became a full-time DH as well as an RBI machine the next two seasons as he put up stats of .278/22/101 and .273/24/121 respectively. But Rusty did not want to DH and in ’79 he held out in spring training and didn’t get into the line-up until early May. He started off well enough and his power stats were pretty much in line with where they’d been the past few seasons, but his average slid to under .240 and he’d burned some bridges with the holdout so in July he was sent back to Montreal for cash and a minor leaguer. He was warmly received by his old fans and picked up his average by 30 points the rest of the way as he did some reserve work at first and in right. His return was short-lived, though, and after the season he went back to the AL to Texas for Chris Smith and LaRue Washington. With the Rangers he got off to another hot start - .412/2/9 through April – when he went down with an injury and missed the next month-plus. He finished with a .300/9/55 line in his 340 at bats and after the season signed as a free agent with the Mets. Back in NY he would spend the initial part of the ’81 season starting at first and then split starts there the rest of the way with fellow re-acquiree Dave Kingman. He also did some significant time as a pinch hitter and that year of his overall .317/5/21 line – on 161 at bats – his pinch stats were .300/0/6 with a .467 OBA. In ’82 he reversed things, getting most of his starts late in the season as his line slipped a bit to .242/3/27 but he showed more power in the pinch with a .211/1/13 in 57 at bats. By ’83 NY was getting more solid at Rusty’s field positions and from about mid-year on he was exclusively a pinch hitter. That year in that role he went .284/3/25 in his 81 at bats and .296/3/28 overall in 115 at bats. In ’84 he was .273/1/18 in just 66 pinch at bats and in ’85 .262/1/8 with a .404 OBA in 42 at bats in his final season. Rusty finished with a .279 average, 292 homers, 1,466 RBI’s, 2,726 hits, and a .363 OBA for his career. In his only post-season he hit .341 with four homers and eleven RBI’s in his eleven games. All-time he is in the top 100 in hits, doubles, total bases, walks, singles, and RBI’s. Defensively he is in the top 25 for right field assists, putouts, and double plays.
Staub kept busy before and after he was playing. While he was laid up in ’72 he refined a lot of the cooking skills he learned from his mom, preparing meals for teammates, and later cooking in some local restaurants. By ’77 he opened his own ribs place on the Upper East Side of Manhattan and he later added another one on Fifth Avenue. After playing he was a color announcer for over 20 seasons for NY and during that time he also established a fund that helped families of NYC police and fireman injured or killed in the line of duty. That fund exploded after 9/11 and raised over $125 million for affected families. He’s been an active community guy in NY as well and has been elected to the Louisiana, Mets, and Expos halls of fame.

 Almost all the info on the back of Rusty’s card has been covered above. He relocated from Houston to NY later during his Mets time and remained there a long time thereafter. In the NL playoffs in ’73 he nailed his shoulder slamming into the wall after making a catch of a long fly hit by Dan Driessen and had to throw underhand during the Series. It didn’t seem to hurt his hitting too much though.
In mid-summer of ’73 the existence of the White House taping system and the acquisition of the tapes by the Special Prosecutor and the Senate Committee were the main themes but news-wise they were a dead issue until the Supreme Court’s decision over their release. So most news now was tangential stuff:
7/21/73 – Around this time former Attorney General John Mitchell testified before the Committee. By the time of Mitchell’s testimony it had already been established that he’d been involved in both planning and covering up the Watergate and other break-ins so he was past denying his own involvement. So the recurring theme of Mitchell’s testimony – again in contrast to John Dean’s testimony – was labelled in the press the “see no evil, hear no evil, say no evil” thread. Mitchell claimed that he and others involved never told President Nixon of any White House involvement in the break-ins and subsequent actions so that he would have no knowledge of them and therefore be insulated from any political fallout. After his testimony, and with the lack of any definitive news regarding the tapes, negative public opinion regarding Nixon abated a bit. But then...
Early August ’73 – Vice-President Spiro T. Agnew became a big political liability for issues completely unrelated to Watergate. Agnew, who was never accused of any Watergate involvement nor was asked to testify, had built his recent reputation as a conservative populist bulldog who frequently baited the press and anyone else he deemed as liberal with alliterative characterizations like “nattering nabobs of negativism” and many references as being effeminate. Prior to joining the Nixon ticket in ’68 he was the Governor of Maryland and around this time investigations into accusations of bribe-taking by him while in that role from various contractors became high-profile. Those prosecuting the accusations ran a double thread against Agnew: that he accepted the bribes and that he failed to report income from them. While there was no association between the President and Agnew’s actions while governor, the revelations generally prevailed a “What’s next” attitude on the public regarding the administration.
So my general rule is 100 at-bats are necessary to “officially” make guys teammates. In this case those at bats took the latter player six years but he gets there:
1. Staub and Ivan Murrell ’63 to ’68 Colt .45’s/Astros.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

#628 - Ivan Murrell

Just to shake things up, Topps offers us another final card, this one in the form of an action shot of Ivan Murrell at first base in what appears to be Jack Murphy Stadium (thanks Paul). He certainly could have had a card for ’75 since he put in a decent amount of time for Atlanta in ’74. Action cards are always a good way to go out and the ’73 season was as representative as any for Ivan’s career. Most of his early work was pinch hitting but he wasn’t cracking .200 in that role; he did that for a bit in some starts at first in early June while Nate Colbert was down. But then he faded again and was still around .180 when he got a bunch of starts in center in September and hit .304 for the month. His big problem offensively is reflected in his walk and strikeout totals for the season – two and 52, respectively - in his 210 at bats. Ivan was a big guy and therefore had a big strike zone but those numbers would make even Dave Kingman turn red. This photo is probably from a game during his September run so he gets to be memorialized from a happy time in his career. And that Padres yellow actually looks pretty good in profile.

Ivan Murrell was born in Panama and grew up in Costa Rica but would return to his home country from time to time. He must have been huge compared to the other kids in Costa Rica, which is probably why he picked up the nickname “Bull.” His dad was a big deal cricket player in Panama and Ivan returned there for high school where he played soccer, basketball, volleyball, and finally baseball his senior year. An amateur boxer and excellent soccer player, he was training for a career in either when he was spotted by a Houston scout and signed in ’63. He had a tough time that summer in A ball, hitting .221, but still made his Colt .45’s debut that September in one of those all-rookie games the team did to raise its profile. He didn’t hit much better his second A level stop in ’64 but he did add some power, posting a .220/10/51 line. In ’65 he hurt his knee during spring training, required surgery, and missed the whole season. He returned in ’66 to post his best A stats with a .253/12/63 line and finally seemed to be on a good roll when he followed that with a Triple A line in ’67 of .289/14/82 with eight triples and twelve stolen bases before returning to Houston where he hit well in his few games. In the minors that year he led all league outfielders in putouts. In ’68 he channeled his ’65 spring training experience by injuring his heel but made the Astros Opening Day roster anyway. That injury really impaired his stroke and that .102 average wasn’t getting him anywhere and so in early July after scant usage he was returned to Triple A where his numbers didn’t improve too much. At the end of the year he was selected by San Diego in the expansion draft.

In his initial year with the Padres Murrell settled into a fourth outfielder role, putting in most of his time in center behind Cito Gaston. While his D was spotty and his 65 strikeouts were pretty high, he was one of the team’s most consistent hitters. In ’70 he upped his at bats a bit by moving primarily to left as incumbent Al Ferrara was in phase-out mode and topped out in homers with twelve. But it was the same story with too many errors and too many K’s. So in ’71 when Ferrara was pretty much gone and Gaston went into his big swoon, instead of Ivan getting more plate time, he was leap-frogged on the depth chart by Larry Stahl and new guy Leron Lee. Again, Ivan put in most of his time in left and his fielding improved a bunch but in ’72 with Jerry Morales ready to be a regular and Johnny Jeter brought in as savior – that didn’t work – Ivan got returned to Triple A where he had a bang-up season, posting a .335/14/62 line while fielding well. After his return in ’73 he was taken off waivers by Atlanta right at the end of training camp in ’74 for whom he did first base and outfield work while hitting .248 with twelve RBI’s in 133 at bats. He finished his MLB time with a .236 average with 33 homers and 123 RBI’s. In his 1,372 plate appearances he walked only 44 times while striking out 342 times.

In ’75 Murrell put in nearly a full season of Triple A ball for Atlanta while playing nearly exclusively in the outfield and posting a line of .266/12/26 in just over 300 at bats. He then spent ’76 in the Mexican Leagues where he appears to have learned some plate discipline because when he returned to the San Diego system in ’77 he put up a .342/24/98 line with just 68 K’s in his 448 at bats. But those numbers weren’t enough to get him back so he returned to Mexico where he played for various teams through ’83. He then got into coaching and scouting, which he did for the San Diego, Oakland, Cleveland, and Mets organizations by the time he did a season of Senior League ball in ’89. He then relocated to St. Lucie full time to continue coaching for the Mets and then do so for some local high schools and colleges. He also was an ESL instructor at the schools and then got into individual coaching. Late in 2006 he was found to have stomach cancer from which he passed away two days after its discovery. He was 63.

That three-game run from the first star bullet was named specifically on Ivan's '72 card and occurred from May 30 to June 1 of '71. His big minor league stats from '72 make the second star bullet. Regarding the cartoon, he was supposedly selected for the Pan Am games of '63 for Panama's entry but opted to sign with Houston instead. As an amateur boxer he was also reportedly undefeated.

The big Watergate theme now is the White House taping system revealed in Alexander Butterfield’s testimony:

7/18/73 – Around this time it is believed that President Nixon ordered the taping system in his office be turned off, a couple days after Butterfield’s testimony. Both the Senate Committee and Special Prosecutor Archibald Cox requested samples of the recorded tapes but both were rebuffed.

7/23/73 – President Nixon sends the Senate Committee, in care of its chairman, Senator Sam Ervin, a letter in which he refuses to hand over any tapes requested by the committee. Both Ervin and vice-chairman Howard Baker express remorse at this decision, Ervin calling Watergate “the biggest tragedy ever suffered by this country.” Nixon indicated in his letter that the basis for his refusal was both the potential misinterpretation of statements made on the tapes regarding Watergate and its tangential activities and other sensitive topics of discussion not related to the scandal. At the same time a White House aide, Charles Alan Wright, sent Special Prosecutor Archibald Cox a letter denying him access to the tapes as well. Cox responded immediately with a subpoena seeking eight specific tapes. The matter was now in the hands of the Supreme Court.

7/24/73 – John Erlichman takes the stand in front of the Senate Committee for the first time. He defends his role in the break-in of the office of Daniel Ellsberg’s psychiatrist – a memo released earlier in June already established his involvement so he was past denying it – as necessary to protect national security. He also disputes many specifics of John Dean’s testimony the prior month. At this point though, at least publicly, pretty much every one of Dean’s assertions that has been able to be proven or disproven – particularly the existence of the taping system – has fallen under the prior category so Erlichman’s testimony is widely believed to be suspect.

The best way to get these two final card guys together is through the NL so here goes:

1. Murrell and Leron Lee ’71 to ’73 Padres;
2. Lee and Carl Taylor ’70 Cardinals.