Thursday, March 16, 2017

Bill Robinson (#23)

This may just be my favorite Bill Robinson card (or at least of his non-Phillies’ cards). Just look at the intensity as he keeps his eye on the (virtual) ball. Plus, there’s the Yankee Stadium frieze in the background!

Robinson began his career in the Milwaukee Braves’ organization in 1961. His major-league debut came with Atlanta in September 1966.

After the season, he was traded to the Yankees for veteran 3rd baseman Clete Boyer. Robinson spent the next 3 seasons trying to fill the shoes first of Roger Maris (who was traded to the Cardinals in the same off-season), and Mickey Mantle (who retired after 1968). He appeared to be overmatched, having almost no pop in his bat, and batting under .200 in 2 of those 3 seasons.

Bill spent the entire 1970 season with the Yankees’ AAA team, then was traded to the White Sox for pitcher Barry Moore. Robinson spent another full season (1971) in triple-A, then was traded to the Phillies after the season for a minor-leaguer.

Here is where my interest in Bill Robinson began back in the day. After starting the ’72 season in AAA, Bill was brought up to Philadelphia in late June, and played in 82 games over the rest of the season. Although initially used in a right field mix of suspects, Bill was the team’s everyday centerfielder for the final month, after Willie Montanez moved in to 1st base following Deron Johnson's season-ending injury. I remember being happy for Robinson, that the Phillies had rescued him from the minors and his career was back on track.

In 1973 he started 55 games in right field, and 40 games in center field (spelling the newly-acquired Del Unser). He also made 11 starts at 3rd base, presumably to give Mike Schmidt and his .196 rookie-year batting average a rest on the bench. I can remember at the time Robinson hating to play the infield, because he was making too many errors and felt he was embarrassing himself. Mercifully, that experiment soon ended. Despite being moved around defensively, he clubbed a surprising 25 homers that season and hit .288 – finally achieving the potential the Yankees had hoped for several years earlier.

In 1974 he had similar results as in '72 and ’68 – single-digit home runs, and a sub.240 batting average. Robinson was a swing man in the outfield, but his larger problem was that in 1974 the Phillies had reclaimed another ex-big league outfielder from the minor-league scrap heap – Jay Johnstone. Johnstone would be the team’s regular right fielder from mid-1975 to mid-1977.

With Robinson expendable, he was traded to the Pirates during spring training 1975. Bill played for the Pirates for the next 7 1/2 seasons. I though he was the Pirates' regular left fielder for a number of seasons, but it appears he was a backup outfielder for most of his time in Pittsburgh. In 1977 he split the 1st base starts with Willie Stargell, and was the primary left fielder in 1978.

By 1981, both Robinson and Stargell were bench players/pinch-hitting specialists. As aging veterans, they spent a lot of time sitting together in the dugout. I remember watching a Phillies/Pirates game in mid-1982 just after Robinson was traded back to the Phillies. The TV camera zoomed in on the Pirates’ dugout, and there was Stargell waving to Robinson across the diamond, an empty seat next to him that he left open for his old buddy, should he want to stroll over there for another chat.

Robinson played sparingly for the Phillies for the 2nd half of 1982, and the first half of 1983, then was released in mid-June ’83, ending his 16-year career.

He later coached for the Mets, Marlins, Yankees, and Phillies.

Robinson passed away in 2007 at age 64.

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Cesar Tovar (#25)

Here is Cesar Tovar, the Minnesota Twins' jack-of-all-trades. Tovar has played all 9 positions, including every position in a game on 9/22/1968. (The Twins were in 7th place, 26 games behind, so a publicity stunt was in order.) Tovar began the game as the pitcher, then moved around the diamond in sequence (C, 1B, 2B, SS, 3B, LF, CF, RF) playing 1 inning at each position.

That was the only time he played at P, C, and 1B, but he has played more than 75 games at each of the other positions. He was primarily a 2nd baseman until the arrival of Rod Carew in 1967, then moved to 3B and  the outfield.

Tovar was signed by the Reds in 1959. After 6 years in the minors he was traded to the Twins in December 1964 for pitcher Gerry Arrigo.

Tovar made his big-league debut in April 1965, but after 9 games was sent back to the minors for the rest of the season. He was recalled in September and saw action in 9 more games.

Cesar made The Show for good in April 1966. After riding the bench for the first 2 months, he started 73 games at 2nd base and 27 at shortstop as a rookie.

Rod Carew joined the squad in 1967, so that season Tovar split his time between center field (60 starts) and 3rd base (56 starts), as well as some time at 2B (31 starts).

In 1968 he was all over the diamond, but was the team’s primary 3rd baseman, with 68 starts there. Tovar had more plate appearances in 1969 than all but four other Twins, but was not the main player at any one position.

After the 1969 season, center fielder Ted Uhlaender was traded to the Indians in a 6-player deal, opening up a regular spot for Tovar in the 1970 lineup. Cesar continued as one of the Twins' top 3 outfielders in '71 and '72.

He was traded to the Phillies prior to the 1973 season for 3 suspects, and started 39 games at the hot corner for the Phillies that year, easing Mike Schmidt into his rookie season.

After only 1 season in Philly, Tovar spent his final 3 seasons bouncing around between the Rangers, the Athletics, and the Yankees.

He played in Mexico in '77 and '78, and for his hometown Caracas, Venezuela in the Inter-American League in 1979.

Tovar passed away in Caracas in 1994 at age 54. He was inducted into the Venezuelan Baseball Hall of Fame in 2003.

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Rickey Clark (#586)

Rickey Clark was a teammate of previous blog subject Marty Pattin with the 1968 Angels. Despite Clark's contributions to the 1967 Angels, this is his first Topps card.

Clark was signed by the Tigers in 1965, and after 2 seasons in the minors, he was selected by the Angels in the Rule 5 draft. This means automatically making the team the following season. Not only did he make the team in '67, he was their #3 starter as a 21-year-old rookie, compiling a 12-11 record in 32 games (30 starts).

Unfortunately, his first season was his best season. In 1968 he crashed and burned with a record of 1-11 in 21 games, only pitching half the innings he did as a rookie. Clark spent most of 1969 and all of 1970 in the minors.

He returned to the Angels for part of 1971 (11 games over the 2nd half of the season). His final big-league season was 1972, appearing in 26 games for the Angels, while staying out of the minors for the first time since 1968.

The Phillies purchased his contract in January 1973, and he played 29 games for their AAA team before retiring.

Monday, December 26, 2016

Marty Pattin (#31)

Marty Pattin was the Opening Day starter in the Seattle Pilots' only season of 1969 (despite what Topps says on the 1970 cards). Pattin had a card in every set from 1969 to 1981. He now has a 1968 card (see below), thanks to John Hogan at the Cards That Never Were blog.

Marty began his career with the Angels, having signed with them in 1965. He made his major-league debut in May 1968, and appeared in 52 games that season (48 in relief).

Pattin was selected by the Pilots in the expansion draft following the ’68 season, and was their Opening Day starter. He finished 2nd in starts, innings, and strikeouts to Gene Brabender, who was acquired from the orioles on March 31st.

After 3 seasons with Seattle/Milwaukee, he was traded to the Red Sox with outfielder Tommy Harper and pitcher Lew Krausse for first baseman George Scott, pitchers Jim Lonborg and Ken Brett, catcher Don Pavletich, and outfielders Billy Conigliaro and Joe Lahoud. (SEVEN for THREE – what a steal!)

Marty played only 2 seasons in Boston, but had his highest win totals (17, 15) there.

After the 1973 season, it was on to the Royals in exchange for pitcher Dick Drago. Pattin played his final 7 seasons in Kansas City. He appeared in the ALCS in ’76, ’77, and ’78, and also pitched 1 inning in the 1980 World Series against the Phillies.

After the 1980 season he was granted free agency, but found no takers. He was the head baseball coach for the University of Kansas from 1982 to 1987.

Monday, December 12, 2016

John McNamara (#706)

Here is Athletics’ rookie manager John McNamara, sporting the white cap that the coaching staff always wore.

This was McNamara’s first full season as a major-league manager, and the Athletics’ 3rd manager in the three years since they moved to Oakland in 1968!

John never played major-league ball, but was a minor-league catcher for the Cardinals, Giants, and Phillies from 1951 to 1957, save for missing 1953-54 while in military service.

In 1958 he joined the Athletics’ organization, and was a player-manager from 1959 to 1966 (although he played very little after 1963). He also pitched in 14 games between 1960 and 1963.

McNamara was a major-league coach for the A's in '68 and '69, then took over the reins for the last 13 games on the ’69 season after Hank Bauer was fired.

He only lasted one full season in Oakland. After an 89-73 record, he was replaced by Dick Williams, who led the team to three straight post-season appearances, including World Championships in ’72 and ’73. (In 1974, Al Dark returned to the A’s (having managed them in ’66 and ’67) and added a third consecutive World Championship that season.)

John also managed the Padres (1974-77), Reds (1979-82), Angels (1983-84), Red Sox (1985-88), Indians (1990-91), and back with the Angels as an interim manager for 28 games in August 1996.

His teams made the post-season twice: The Reds won the NL West in 1979, and the Red Sox won the AL pennant in 1986.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Final Card: Jose Tartabull

Here is the final card for outfielder Jose Tartabull (#481). Jose is back on the team he began his career with, after 3 seasons with the Red Sox.

Tartabull was signed by Giants in 1958. After 4 seasons in the low minors, he was traded to the Kansas City Athletics in December 1961 and was immediately promoted to the big leagues at the start of 1962. (I’m guessing the 1962 Athletics were a much worse team than the 1962 NL Champion Giants, so opportunities abounded for a prospect!) 

In 1962 and 1963 Tartabull shared the center field job evenly with aging veteran Bobby Del Greco.

Del Greco moved on after 1963, so you would think Tartabull would be upgraded to full-time center fielder. Wrong! Ex-Cubs backup Nelson Matthews was acquired in the off-season and started 150 games in the center garden, relegating Jose to just 9 starts in 1964 (none after 7/31). He spent most of the season as a pinch-hitter and defensive replacement in left or center.

1965 was more of the same, except that this time it was long-time White Sox’ outfielder Jim Landis imported to man center field. Tartabull started 51 games that year, but also played in triple-A for almost 100 games.

From 1963 to 1966, the Athletics employed a revolving door in the outfield, with 11 different players getting the most innings at the 3 outfield slots. Only Mike Hershberger held a position more than 1 season (RF: '65-'66).

It seemed like Tartabull found a home in 1966, starting every game in through May 20th. Not so fast – after a few weeks on the bench he was traded to the Red Sox (with pitcher John Wyatt) for pitcher Ken Sanders and outfielder Jim Gosger. Jose’s time in Boston was highlighted by a throw that gunned down a runner at home plate in a late August 1967 game, preserving a Red Sox win. (The Sox won the AL pennant by one game that year.)

After 2 ½ seasons as the Sox’ 4th outfielder, he was traded back to the Athletics in May 1969. Jose played parts of ’69 and ’70 and all of ’71 in the minors, then retired after playing in Mexico during 1971.


Tartabull’s son Danny played for various teams for 13 seasons beginning in 1984 (14 seasons, if you count the 3 games for the Phillies at the start of the 1997 season, before he milked a season-long stay on the disabled list with a stubbed toe!)

Here's something currently on Danny Tartabull's Wikipedia page (apparently his gold-bricking was not limited to 1997!):

"Tartabull is currently a fugitive from justice. A warrant was issued for his arrest on May 12, 2012 after he failed to appear for a 180-day jail sentence, and is on the Most Wanted List for Los Angeles County Child Services Department. He has been named the top deadbeat dad in Los Angeles after allegedly failing to pay more than $275,000 in child support for his two sons."

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Ellie Rodriguez (#402)

Ellie Rodriguez was the starting catcher for some bad teams from 1969-75, thus staying pretty much under everyone's radar.

He was signed by the Kansas City Athletics in 1964. After 1 season in the minors he was drafted by the Yankees and played 3 full seasons on their farm.

Ellie made his big-league debut for the Yankees in 1968, playing 9 games (mostly in late-May and early-June), but spent most of the ’68 season with triple-A Syracuse, where he alternated at catcher with journeymen Hawk Taylor and Merritt Ranew.

Rodriguez was selected by the Kansas City Royals as the 13th pick in the expansion draft prior to the 1969 season. He was their primary catcher in 1969 (making the All-Star team as a rookie), and split the catching chores in 1970 with ex-Angel Ed Kirkpatrick.

After the 1970 season Ellie was traded to the Brewers, and once again became his team’s #1 backstop. He was the regular for 2 seasons, and made the All-Star team in ’72. In 1973 he split the catching with rookie Darrell Porter, who had played briefly with Milwaukee in the previous 2 seasons. Porter started slightly more games than Rodriguez.

With Porter entrenched behind the plate, E-Rod was dealt to the Angels in the off-season. Accompanying him to California were outfielders Ollie Brown and Joe LaHoud, and pitchers Skip Lockwood and Gary Ryerson. In return, the Brewers acquired pitchers Steve Barber and Clyde Wright, outfielder Ken Berry, and catcher Art Kusnyer.

Rodriguez continued the pattern that was his career – two seasons as his team’s #1 catcher, then time to move on. However at this stop (Angels) there was to be no All-Star selection, despite 1974 being his best season with the bat (7 homers, 36 RBI).

Ellie’s final major-league season was in 1976, where he was a backup for the Dodgers. LA released him in May 1977 (having not played so far) and he spent the remainder of 1977 with the Pirates’ AAA team.

He also played in Mexico from 1978 to 1982 before retiring.

Friday, November 4, 2016

Preston Gomez (#513)

And now, the eighth consecutive expansion-team post on this blog: Padres' manager Preston Gomez.

Gomez' major-league career consisted of 8 games (4 as a pinch-runner, 4 as a middle infielder) in 1944 for the Senators. He played minor-league ball from 1944 to 1954, then switched to managing.

After managing in Mexico from 1957-58, he was a minor-league skipper from 1959-64 for the Reds, Dodgers, and Yankees.

Preston joined the Dodgers' coaching staff as their 3rd base coach from 1965-68, including 2 trips to the World Series.

Ex-Dodgers' executive Buzzy Bavasi hired him to be the Padres' first manager in 1969, where he lasted until late-April 1972.

Gomez moved on to the Astros, coaching in '73 and managing from '74-'75.

After 4 seasons as a coach for the Cards and Dodgers, Preston landed his 3rd and final big-league managing job in 1980, for the Cubs. He was fired in mid-season, with his team in last place.

His last stop was with the Angels, where he coached and scouted from 1981-2008.

Gomez died in January 2009 at age 85, after being hit by a car 10 months earlier.

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Wayne Comer (#323)

Here is the only card of Wayne Comer pictured in a Seattle Pilots uniform. I read Jim Bouton’s book “Ball Four” during the summer of 1971, and I recall that Comer was one of the players Bouton definitely did not get along with. Wayne’s rookie card is a capless job in the 1969 set.

Comer was signed by the Senators in 1962 (I learned something new today, previously thinking he started with the Tigers). After 1 season in the minors he was traded to the Tigers for 1st baseman Bobo Osborne.

Wayne played in the Tigers’ farm system from 1963-68, also playing 4 games with Detroit in September 1967 and 48 games in 1968 after his late-May recall. In 1968 he was used as a pinch-hitter and left field backup, only making 4 starts that season. (Let’s face it, when your team has Al Kaline, Willie Horton, Jim Northrup, and Mickey Stanley ahead of you in the outfield, you are not going to play much.) Wayne did get 1 at-bat in the 1968 World Series.

Comer was selected by the expansion Seattle Pilots after the 1968 season, and was their #1 outfielder in 1969, playing in 139 games including 85 starts in center field and 40 starts in right field. His 15 home runs were 2nd on the team behind Don Mincher’s 25 dingers.

Wayne lost a starting outfield spot to the newly-acquired Russ Snyder at the start of the 1970 season, and after only playing 13 games (2 starts) he was traded to the Senators in mid-May for outfielder Hank Allen and 2nd baseman Ron Theobald. He played in 77 games for the Sens that season, as a pinch-hitter and 6th outfielder.

After the 1970 season the Tigers purchased his contract, but Comer played all of ’71, most of ’72, and all of ‘73 with Detroit’s AAA team in Toledo. He also played 27 games in the middle of the 1972 season, mostly as a pinch-runner and pinch-hitter (no starts).

Comer’s career ended after the 1974 season, where he played for the Phillies’ double-A team in Reading, PA. Looking back, Wayne’s best season was 1969 with the Pilots.