Tuesday, October 8, 2019

Jim Rooker (#222)

This is Jim Rooker's first solo card, and one of the many nice cards from the '69 and '70 sets featuring the new Royals' uniform.

Although the expansion 1969 Royals pitching staff was led by ex-Oriole veterans Wally Bunker and Moe Drabowsky, Rooker was one of several youngsters (along with Roger Nelson, Dick Drago, Bill Butler, and Tom Burgmeier) forming the foundation of a solid pitching staff.

Rooker was signed by the Tigers in 1960, and was an outfielder in their minor-league system from 1960-64. He has also pitched 10 innings in 1962, but by 1964 was pitching on a regular basis.

In 1965 he pitched 115 innings in 28 games, collecting 95 strikeouts but only compiling a 2-11 record. After another 2 1/2 seasons in the minors, he made his major-league debut with the Tigers in mid-1968, pitching 2 innings on June 30 and 2 more on July 6th, before returning to the minors.


The day after the season was over, he was sent to the Yankees as payment for the earlier acquisition of pitcher John Wyatt. 2 weeks later, he was selected by the Royals in the expansion draft.

Jim was the team's #5 starter the first year, then jumped to #2 in 1970. He was moved to the bullpen in 1971, and spent parts of ’71 and 72 in triple-A. Upon his return to Kansas City in 1972 he was back in the starting rotation.

After the 1972 season he was traded to the Pirates for pitcher Gene Garber. He put in 7 solid seasons (1973-79) in the Pirates' starting rotation, and for the first few years was one of their top 3 starters (along with Jerry Reuss and John Candelaria) He played in the post-season in '74, '75, and '79.

Rooker only pitched 4 games in 1980 (the last on May 2nd) and was released after the season, ending his 13-year career.


After his playing career he was a broadcaster for the Pirates from 1981-1993, and for ESPN from 1994-97.

From Wikipedia:

Rooker's most famous moment as a broadcaster came on June 8, 1989, during a Pirates' road game against the Philadelphia Phillies at Veterans Stadium. The Pirates scored 10 runs in the top of the first inning, including three on a Barry Bonds home run. 

As the Pirates' cross-state rivals came to bat in the bottom of the first, Rooker said on the air, "If we don't win this one, I don't think I'd want to be on that plane ride home. Matter of fact, if we don't win, I'll walk back to Pittsburgh." 

Both Von Hayes and Steve Jeltz hit two home runs (the latter would hit only five during his Major League career) to trigger a Phillies comeback. In the eighth inning the Phillies, now trailing only 11–10, scored the tying run on a wild pitch, then took the lead on Darren Daulton's two-run single and went on to win 15–11. 

Rooker had to wait until after the season to make good on his "walk home" promise, conducting a 300-mile-plus (480 km) charity walk from Philadelphia to Pittsburgh. 


He now writes childrens' books.

Tuesday, October 1, 2019

Willie Smith (#318)

This is "Wonderful" Willie Smith, on his last decent-looking baseball card. Willie had a card every year from 1965 to 1971, but Topps didn’t make much of an effort on his cards. He was capless in '66, '67, '68, and '71, and airbrushed in 1969. The same photo was used in '67 and '68. 

Here's a surprising fact I just learned today while researching Smith's career. He began as a pitcher in the Tigers' organization from 1960 to 1963, including pitching 11 games for the Tigers in 1963.

(Baseball-Reference.com also shows that he played Negro League baseball in 1946 and 1948 (pitching 6 innings in '46 and 4 innings in '48), but that must be a mistake because he would have been 7 and 9 years old. Maybe it was an Eddie Gaedel-type stunt?) 


In April 1964 he was traded to the Angels for pitcher Julio Navarro, and was converted to an outfielder to get his bat in the lineup. He responded with a .301 average! Smith also pitched 19 games for the Angels that year. Willie was the backup left and right fielder, but was 2nd overall in innings played (717) among Angels' outfielders. Not bad having never played outfield before!

In 1965 he was the regular left fielder, playing 122 games there, but still #2 overall – this time behind rookie center fielder Jose Cardenal.

Willie's playing time decreased greatly in 1966. Young Rick Reichardt took over the left field job, and with rookie Jay Johnstone also joining the team, Smith spent a lot of time on the bench – only starting 40 games. After the season he was traded to the Indians for 3rd baseman George Banks (who never played in the majors after 1966).

Smith spent most of 1967 in triple-A, only appearing in 21 games for the Indians, mostly as a pinch-hitter in April and September.

He began the 1968 season with the Tribe, but again was used only as a pinch-hitter, playing in 33 games until his late-June trade to the Cubs for outfielder Lou Johnson. He had more success in Chicago, starting 36 games in left field (with Billy Williams moving over to right field on those days). The fact that Smith only played left field (or pinch-hitter), and moved a star like Williams out of position, makes me think Willie was either a defensive butcher or had a candy arm.

In 1969 he started 30 games in left field (again moving Williams to right field, not giving him a day off. Because Williams NEVER took a day off). Smith also made 16 starts at 1st base when Ernie Banks took a breather. Willie played more games that year (103) than any season since 1965.

His final lap in Chicago was 1970, but he only played 2 innings in the outfield all season. Rather, he was the 3rd-string 1st baseman (behind Jim Hickman and Banks), with 43 games (32 starts).

In November he was traded to the Reds, and split the 1971 season between Cincinnati (31 games) and their triple-A team (77).

Smith also played in Japan in 1972 and 1973.

He passed away in 2006 at age 66.

Saturday, September 21, 2019

Tom Hilgendorf (#482)

This is Tom Hilgendorf's rookie card. On the back, it shows that he made his major-league debut in 1969, pitching only 6 games (and 6 INNINGS!) To which I say "Why does he have a card?" Surely he only rates half of a Cardinals Rookie Stars card?

I'm also labeling this post as "new to me", because back in the day I only collected cards from 1967-69, and also in 1972. Either he wasn't in the 1972 set, or I wasn't paying attention to relievers on teams I didn't follow. So I was not aware of Tom for many years. I got this card just a few years ago as I was building the 1970 set prior to starting this blog.

Truth be told, my first awareness of him was when I got his 1976 Phillies card sometime in the 1980s, while I was completing my 1964-present run of Phillies cards. Still, although I followed the Phillies closely from 1967 to the mid-1980s, I have absolutely no recollection of him pitching 53 games for Philly in 1975. (Surprising, because I DO remember many forgettable appearances by Phillies' relievers Mike Wallace, Dave Wallace, Ron DiOrio, Frank Linzy, John Montague, Ed Farmer (in his 1st go-round), Jesus Hernaiz, Pete Richert, and George Culver.)


Anyway, Tom began his career in the Cardinals' organization way back in 1960. After 6 seasons on the farm, he missed the '66 and '67 seasons.

Hilgendorf returned to the Cards' organization in 1968 and made his major-league debut in August 1969. In both 1969 and 1970, he played for the Cardinals and for their AAA team.

After the 1970 season, he was traded to the Royals but played all of 1971 in the minors.

Tom began the '72 season in the minors but was traded to the Indians in mid-June. He pitched 19 games for the Tribe in the second half. From 1973 to 1975 he managed to stay out of the minor leagues. Tom was the Indians' top man in the bullpen in 1973, leading the relievers in innings pitched and saves (6). In '74 he dropped to the #4 reliever slot.

During spring training in 1975, he was traded to the Phillies for a minor-leaguer and spent his final MLB season pitching 96 innings (all in relief) slotted behind Tug McGraw and Gene Garber.

The Phillies released him the following April, and although he was picked up by the Pirates, he played the 1976 season in triple-A before retiring.

Thursday, September 12, 2019

Doug Rader (#355)

This is Doug Rader’s 3rd solo card, but anyone familiar with vintage Topps cards will know that the '68 and '69 Astros cards are not much to look at.  Rader also appeared on an Astros Rookies card in 1967.

Rader was signed by the Astros before the 1965 season. After just 2 ½ seasons, he made his major-league debut in July 1967.

He played a bit at 3rd base, but was mostly used at 1st base during his rookie season, starting 33 games there during the 2nd half. (In early-August, the Astros traded veteran Eddie Mathews to the Tigers, opening up 1st base for Rader.)


Rader was back on the bench at the start of 1968, but with long-time regular (and original Colt .45) Bob Aspromonte out of the lineup for a month beginning in mid-June, Doug began a streak of 32 starts at 3rd base. Even after Aspro’s return, Rader played most of the time.

Aspromonte was traded away after the ’68 season, so Rader was the full-time 3rd baseman, starting almost every game until early-September 1975.

Doug also won the Gold Glove award every season from 1970 to 1974.

In December 1975 he was traded to the Padres for pitchers Larry Hardy and Joe McIntosh. He started 136 games at the hot corner in 1976, an improvement over the 7-man committee playing there in 1975. 

He started 47 of the first 55 games in 1977, then was sold to the expansion Blue Jays in early-June.

Rader played 96 games with Toronto that year, split between 3B and DH. He was released during spring training in 1978.

After his playing career he became a manager. He coached for the Padres in 1979, then managed their AAA team from 1980-82. He also managed the Rangers (1983-85), White Sox (1986), Angels (1989-91), and Marlins (1993-94).

Saturday, August 31, 2019

Joe Coleman (#127)

Joe Coleman Jr. was a starting pitcher for the Senators (1965-70) and Tigers (1971-76), then spent his last 2 ½ years bouncing around to 5 different teams.

Coleman (whose father pitched for the Philadelphia Athletics and others from 1942-55) was the Senators’ 1st-round pick in the June 1965 draft. He made his major-league debut that September, with 2 complete-game wins at age 18.


After spending much of 1966 back in the minors, Joe made the Senators on a permanent basis in April 1967. He started 22 games and posted 8 wins in his rookie season.

Coleman won 12 games in 1968 and 1969 – not bad for a perennially bad team. He also had an identical 3.27 ERA both years, and struck out 139 and 182 batters.

After an off-year in 1970, Joe was part of an 8-player trade with the Tigers. Coleman, along with shortstop Ed Brinkman, 3rd baseman Aurelio Rodriguez, and pitcher Jim Hannan were exchanged for pitchers Denny McLain and Norm McRae, 3rd baseman Don Wert, and outfielder Elliott Maddox. With McLain’s career crumbling, the Tigers got the better of that deal.

Joe put in 5 full seasons with Detroit, including winning 20, 19, and 23 games from 1971-73. He also struck out over 200 batters each of those seasons, and made the All-Star team in 1972.

In June 1976 he was sold to the Cubs, which started the slow unwinding of his career, as he bounced from the Cubs to the Athletics, Blue Jays, Giants, and finally the Pirates in 1979.

Coleman has been a minor and major-league pitching coach for the Angels, Cardinals, Rays, Tigers, and Marlins since 1980.

Joe Jr was the middleman in 3 generations of ballplayers. His son Casey pitched for the Cubs and Royals from 2010 to 2014.

Sunday, July 21, 2019

Born on the Same Day - 4/18/1942

Another installment in my "Born on the Same Day" series, featuring players who were born on the same day (!) and year. 

This is post #25 in the series: Steve Blass and Chuck Taylor - both born on 4/18/1942.


Steve Blass played for the Pirates from 1964 to 1974, and was their ace from 1968 to 1972. In 1972 he won 19 games and finished 2nd in the Cy Young voting.

The following season he mysteriously lost his ability to control the ball, and his strikeout/walk ratio plummeted. It became known as "Steve Blass disease".


Chuck Taylor was a reliever for the Cardinals and Expos from 1969 to 1976.
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Sunday, July 14, 2019

Dave Campbell (#639)

About 5 years ago (wow, has it been that long?) a blog reader sent me four cards from my 1970 want list in exchange for a handful of 1968 Topps playing cards. Those cards were Dave Leonhard, Dalton Jones, Bob Allison, and Dave Campbell (all high numbers). 

Dave Campbell (whose nickname is "Soup") was a utility infielder who played for the Tigers and Padres, but he did have 2 seasons (1970-71) as a regular for the Padres.

Campbell was signed by the Tigers in 1964, and played in their farm system for several years, initially as a first baseman until switching to 2nd base in 1966. He made his major-league debut with 2 games in September 1967.


Campbell returned to the minors the following season, except for a 9-game stint with Detroit in June.

In 1969 he played 32 games for the Tigers, spread across the entire season, although it appears he was back in the minors for much of mid-May to mid-July.

In December 1969 Dave was traded to the Padres (with pitcher Pat Dobson) for pitcher Joe Niekro. This was Campbell’s big break, as he was San Diego’s regular 2nd baseman in 1970, replacing 1969’s trio of Jose Arcia, John Sipin, and Roberto Pena. Dave reached career-highs in games (154), at-bats (581), runs (71), hits (127), doubles (28), homers (12), and RBI (40). The only blemish was his paltry .219 batting average.

In 1971 the Padres acquired 2nd baseman Don Mason from the Giants, so Campbell alternated between 2B (with Mason) and 3B (with Ed Spiezio). In late-May Gary Jestadt was acquired from the Cubs, and joined the 2B/3B mix. Campbell started 68 games at 2B and 31 at 3B. By late-August, the team had settled on Mason at 2B and Jestadt at 3B, so Campbell rarely played after that.

Dave started 30 of the first 35 games at 3rd base in 1972, but then Jestadt reclaimed the job, and Campbell was shipped off to the Cardinals. He played sparingly for St. Louis, and in August was traded to the Astros for outfielder Tommie Agee.

He played 9 games for Houston in 1973, and 35 games in 1974. In his final season he was used mostly as a pinch-hitter or pinch-runner.

In the late-1970s he started doing play-by-play for the Padres. This led to a 20-year career at ESPN (1990-2010).

Sunday, June 9, 2019

Gates Brown (#98)

I have made 1321 posts to my 1963 - 1970 baseball card blogs since 2009, and only now am I getting around to Gates Brown. Sorry, Tigers’ fans.

William James "Gates" Brown spent his late-teen years in prison on a burglary charge, and while playing ball for the prison team, he was spotted by a Tigers' scout and was signed in 1960. After 3 ½ seasons on the farm, he made his major-league debut in June 1963.

Brown was the ideal player for the designated hitter position, but unfortunately that didn't exist until his career was winding down. Except for 1964, Gates was used mostly as a pinch-hitter and backup left fielder during his first 10 seasons. In '64, he was the Tigers' regular left fielder, starting a career-high 106 games there after Rocky Colavito was traded away the previous winter.

Willie Horton joined the Tigers on a fulltime basis in 1965, taking the left field job away from Brown for good (clubbing 25+ home runs and 100+ RBI in each of his first 2 seasons). Horton also made his first of 4 All-Star teams as a rookie.


Brown was relegated to pinch-hitting and occasional play in left field through the 1972 season, although he did start 56 games in '71 and 72 games in '72.

There's a funny story that, since Gates spent a lot of time on the bench, he had his fair share of in-game hot dogs. From Wikipedia:

On August 7, 1968, Brown wasn't in the starting lineup, and decided to grab two hot dogs from the clubhouse. He was ordered by manager Mayo Smith to pinch hit, so he stuffed the hot dogs in his jersey to hide them from his manager. 

"I always wanted to get a hit every time I went to the plate. But this was one time I didn't want to get a hit. I'll be damned if I didn't smack one in the gap and I had to slide into second—head first, no less. I was safe with a double. But when I stood up, I had mustard and ketchup and smashed hot dogs and buns all over me. The fielders took one look at me, turned their backs and damned near busted a gut laughing at me. My teammates in the dugout went crazy." 

After fining Brown $100, Smith said, "What the hell were you doing eating on the bench in the first place?" Brown replied, "I decided to tell him the truth. I said I was hungry."

The DH was instituted in 1973, suiting Brown just fine. Unfortunately, that would last only 1 season, as veteran Al Kaline became the DH in 1974, and with Ron LeFlore playing fulltime in 1975, Horton slid over to the DH role that season.

Brown whiled away his final 2 years on the bench, seeing action in 120 games over that 2-year span, all as a pinch-hitter.

He was the Tigers’ hitting coach from 1978-1984.

Brown passed away in 2013 at age 74.