Monday, April 14, 2014

Ted Sizemore (#174)

Next up for the Topps 1969 All-Rookie team is 2nd baseman Ted Sizemore, who was also the 1969 NL Rookie of the Year.

Sizemore was signed by the Dodgers out of the U. of Michigan in 1966. He played 3 seasons in the minors, beginning as a catcher in '66, then split his time between catcher and outfield in ’67 and ’68.

Ted made the Dodgers on opening day 1969, and was installed as the team’s regular shortstop. When Maury Wills was re-acquired from the Expos in mid-June, Sizemore moved over to 2nd base for the remainder of the season.

Sizemore appeared on a Dodgers Rookie Stars in the 1969 Topps set, with his position noted as 2B-C. Although a catcher in the minors, he didn’t see any action behind the plate until 1976, when he caught 11 innings that season.

Sizemore received 14 of the 24 first-place ROY votes, far outpacing Al Oliver and Coco Laboy, who had 3 votes each.

In 1970, Ted shared 2nd base with Jim Lefebvre, who won the 1965 Rookie of the Year award as the Dodgers’ 2nd baseman. Lefebvre had missed a good chunk of April and July in 1969.

Caught in an infield logjam, Sizemore was traded to the Cardinals after the season for 1B/3B Dick Allen. Sizemore played for the Cardinals for the next 5 seasons. Early in 1971, he was the 2B-SS swingman, filling in for incumbents Julian Javier and Dal Maxvil, but by late June he had replaced Javier as the everyday 2nd baseman. For the rest of his time with the Cardinals, he was strictly a 2nd baseman, starting 100 to 130 games per season.

In spring training 1976 he was traded back to the Dodgers for outfielder Willie Crawford. This was a 1-year stint, where he started about 1/3 of the games at 2nd base, behind Davey Lopes.

Ted moved on the the Phillies after the season, in exchange for catcher Johnny Oates. Sizemore replaced Dave Cash as the Phillies’ regular 2nd baseman, and was there as the Phillies made the playoffs in 2 consecutive seasons, their first post-season action since 1950.

Before the 1979 season it was on to the Cubs, where Ted started 95 of the first 101 games at 2nd base before his August trade to the Red Sox for 4th-string catcher Mike O’Berry. (How does a starting 2nd baseman only fetch a backup catcher in return?)

The Sox already had Jerry Remy and Jack Brohamer sharing 2nd base, but Ted managed to start 23 of the final 41 games. 1980 was Sizemore’s final season, He only played 9 games (the last one on 5/27) before the Sox released him 3 days later, ending his 12-year career.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Al Oliver (#166)

Al Oliver played 18 seasons in the majors (1968-85), the first half of his career as the Pirates center fielder. With this card, Al is the 1st baseman on the 1969 Topps All-Rookie team, the position he played during his rookie season, then not again regularly until 1982 with the Expos.

Oliver was signed by the Pirates in 1964, and played 4 seasons in the minors (1965-68), primarily as a 1st baseman. His major-league debut came in late September 1968, with a 4-game cup of coffee.

Al was installed as the Pirates' every-day 1st baseman in 1969, taking over for Donn Clendenon, the 5-year starter who had been selected by the Expos in the expansion draft. He played in 129 games as a rookie (97 starts at 1B), hit 17 homers and had a .285 batting average. Al finished 2nd in the Rookie of the Year voting, behind Dodgers' 2nd baseman Ted Sizemore.

Oliver began the 1970 season as the starting 1st baseman, but by early May, he was alternating with Bob Robertson at 1B (64 starts, to Robertson’s 96 starts) and with Roberto Clemente in right field (52 starts). Although getting more playing time than in his rookie season, his homeruns and batting average both dropped.

In 1971, Al took over the center field spot from the departed Matty Alou, and would remain there through the 1976 season (except for 2 months in 1974, when he moved back to 1B while Robertson was out of the lineup).

1977 was Oliver's last in Pittsburgh. He moved to left field to accommodate rookie center fielder Omar Moreno. During his time with the Pirates, Al played in the post-season in '70, '71, '72, '74, and '75, and made the all-star team in '72, '75, and '76.

In December 1977, Al was involved in a 4-team, 11-player trade which sent him to the Rangers. Other big names in the deal were Bert Blyleven (Rangers to Pirates), Tom Grieve and Ken Henderson (Rangers to Mets), Jon Matlack (Mets to Rangers), and Willie Montanez (Braves to Mets). Oliver spent 4 seasons with Texas, three as an outfielder and his final one as their DH. He also won the Silver Slugger award in 1980 and 1981.

During spring training 1982, Oliver was traded to the Expos for 3rd baseman Larry Parrish. He played 2 seasons with Montreal as their 1st baseman, winning his 3rd consecutive Silver Slugger award in 1982.

Al moved on to the Giants in February 1984, but by late-August was sent to the Phillies, as Philly tried to shore up first base in their first season without Pete Rose.

Oliver was on the move again in 1985. He spent the first half of his final season with the Dodgers, and the last half with the Blue Jays. His final games were in the 1985 ALCS against the Royals.

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Bob Didier (#232)

During spring training 1969, the Braves traded their long-time catcher Joe Torre to the Cardinals for slugging first-sacker Orlando Cepeda. This left the catching chores in the hands of veteran backup Bob Tillman and two rookies: Walt Hriniak (RIN-ee-ack) and Bob Didier. In fact, those 2 catchers shared a high-numbered Braves Rookies card in the 1969 set.

Although Hriniak was 6 years older, in the Braves’ system since 1961, and got a taste of the majors in September 1968, Didier won the starting job in 1969. (I learned today that Hriniak had been an infielder until midway through the 1968 season, so that may have given Didier the edge.)

Bob Didier was signed by the Braves in 1967, and after 2 seasons of class-A ball, he made the jump to the Braves at the start of the 1969 season. Bob started 108 games behind the plate (with Tillman starting 52 and Hriniak only 2), and hit .256 (ok for a rookie catcher) with 32 RBI. He also finished 4th in the NL Rookie of the Year voting behind Ted Sizemore, Coco Laboy, and Al Oliver.

So, Didier’s on his way to a fine career, right? Wrong! In 1970 he was buried behind Tillman (63 starts) and Rule 5 pickup Hal King (51 starts). Bob only started 48 games that year, and appeared in 9 others as a pinch-hitter.

1971 brought more bad news for Didier. Rookie Earl Williams began the season alternating at 3rd base with Clete Boyer. On June 20th, Williams (having never caught in the minors) made his first career start behind the plate in the 2nd game of a doubleheader. By mid-July, Williams was the everyday catcher, and Didier was riding the pine, with only 7 of his 43 starts coming after June 20th.

After playing a few dozen games in the minors in ’70 and ’71, Didier spent most of 1972-74 in triple-A, moving to the Tigers’ organization in May ’73 and the Red Sox in March 1974.

Bob wrapped up his career with the AAA teams for the Astros (1975) and Braves (1976). His major-league career fielding percentage is .994!

He managed in the minors off-and-on from 1977 to 2010.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Mike Nagy (#39)

Mike Nagy pitched in the big leagues for 6 seasons, mostly as a starter for the Red Sox in 1969 and 1970.

Nagy was signed by the Red Sox in 1966, and played 3 seasons in class-A ball before jumping to the majors to begin the 1969 season. As a 21-year-old rookie, Mike was 2nd on the staff in starts and innings pitched (behind Ray Culp), but had fewer strikeouts and more walks than the other 3 primary starters.

Nagy finished 2nd in the AL Rookie of the Year voting behind the Royals’ Lou Piniella, receiving 6 of the 24 1st place votes (to Piniella’s 9 votes).

Arm injuries affected him for the rest of his career. Mike slipped to 6-5 in 1970, and while he was the team’s #4 starter, he played a few games in the minors. He was back in triple-A for most of the ’71 and ’72 seasons, only pitching 12 games for Boston in 1971 and one in 1972.

Nagy was traded FOUR times in 1973: to the Cardinals in January, to the Rangers in March, back to the Cardinals in June (for pitcher Jim Bibby), and to the Astros in December. For all that traveling, he played only 9 games with the Cardinals, while spending most of the season with 2 AAA teams.

Mike pitched 9 games for the Astros in 1974 (his last major-league game coming in May), then spent the rest of 1974 and all of 1975 with their AAA team. He also played in Mexico from 1976 to 1979.

In 1977, Nagy started a still-operating real estate business in the Bronx.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Bill Butler (#377)

Bill Butler burst onto the scene in 1969, as a member of the Royals’ starting rotation. After a fine rookie season, his career began to sputter, and was over in a few years.

Butler was drafted by the Tigers in 1965, and spent 4 seasons in their minor-league system. After the 1968 season, Bill was the 11th player selected by the Royals in the expansion draft.

He made his major-league debut by starting the 5th game in Royals’ history in April 1969. By the end of that first season, he had made 29 starts, tied with Roger Nelson for 2nd place behind Wally Bunker’s 31 starts. Butler also led the staff with 156 strikeouts (26 more than the veteran Bunker).

In 1970 Butler (and Bunker) had off-years, with Butler slipping to 4-12 and only 75 strikeouts, while walking 87. The following season, he played 14 games for Kansas City and 13 games for their triple-A team in Omaha.

In July 1972, Bill was sold to the Indians, and spent most of ’72 and all of ’73 in the minors. In October 1973, he was dealt to the Twins.

Bill pitched out of the Twins bullpen during the ’74 and ’75 seasons, but spent all of 1976 and most of 1977 in the minors.

Butler was traded to the Dodgers after 1he 1977 season, and spent all of 1978 as a reliever for the Dodgers’ AAA team in Albuquerque, before retiring.

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Recapping the Bat Rack Team

Before I head off down the path of the 1969 Topps All-Rookie team, one last look at the 1970 cards featuring players hanging out at the bat rack:

Tony Taylor and Del Unser each had 2 stints playing for the Phillies. Their first was as a starting player, and their second was as the team's go-to pinch-hitter.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Coco Laboy (#238)

Jose "Coco" Laboy is our 3rd baseman on the “Hangin’ at the Bat Rack” team. (He's also the perfect transition to my next several posts on the Topps All-Rookie Team.)

Laboy was signed by the Giants in 1959, and played 4 seasons in their farm system, mostly as a shortstop. After the Giants released him prior to the 1963 season, he was signed by the Cardinals and played another 6 seasons in the minors at 3B/2B, including 1965-68 in triple-A.

Laboy was selected by the Expos in the expansion draft, and was the Expos’ starting 3rd baseman during his (and the Expos’) first 2 seasons. Coco hit 18 home runs as a 29-year-old rookie, and finished tied for 2nd in the NL Rookie of the Year award.

After 2 seasons as the starting 3rd baseman, Laboy injured his knee while playing winter ball, and for 1971 he switched places with Bob Bailey (his backup in 1970). That arrangement continued through the 1972 season.

After 9 starts at 3rd base in late-April 1973, Laboy was relegated to the bench, playing his last major-league game on May 16th. He spent the remainder of the 1973 season in the minors.

After his baseball career, Laboy returned to Puerto Rico and worked for the government for 27 years, eventually becoming the director of athletics for Puerto Rico.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Del Unser (#336)

Here’s centerfielder Del Unser, perusing the bat rack. (Actually, it looks more like the perennial second-division Senators “borrowed” a shopping cart from the local A&P for their bats.)

Unser came up with the Senators in 1968 and immediately took over the center field position, starting 153 games in his rookie season. He finished a distant second place in the Rookie of the Year voting to Yankees’ pitcher Stan Bahnsen.

Unser was drafted by the Twins in June 1965 and by the Pirates in January 1966, but did not sign. He was the Senators’ #1 pick in the June 1966 draft, and played the remainder of that year and all of 1967 for the York (PA) White Roses, the Nats’ double-A team.

The following season he jumped to the majors out of spring training, and was Washington’s starting center gardener for the 1968 and 1969 seasons. After starting the first 11 games in 1970, Del was relegated to the bench for much of the season, only starting 21 games after April 27th, as Ed Stroud took over his position.

In 1971 Unser was back in the driver’s seat, starting 2/3 of the games in center, while the newly-acquired Elliot Maddox starting most of the other games.

Del was traded to the Indians after the 1971 season in an 8-player deal, but only lasted 1 season in Cleveland. A year later he was traded to the Phillies for outfielders Oscar Gamble and Roger Freed. [Oh, how I LOVED this trade back then! The Phillies were getting a bona fide center fielder in exchange for two stiffs that had worn out their welcome. It was one of the first deals by Paul Owens, who had taken over as Phillies’ GM in June 1972.] 

Pushing 1971-72 center fielder Willie Montanez over to right field, Unser manned center field for the Phillies during the ’73 and ’74 seasons. After 1974, he was traded to the Mets (with reliever Mac Scarce and catching prospect John Stearns) for reliever Tug McGraw and 2 backup outfielders. (Obviously, McGraw made major contributions for the next half-dozen seasons.)

After a few seasons with the Mets and Expos, Unser returned to the Phillies in 1979, this time as a pinch-hitter extraordinaire. He played in over 90 games each in ’79 and ’80, but started less than a third of them. His value was now in his timely hitting (.298 in 1979). After 2 more seasons with the Phillies, Del retired after the 1982 season.

Unser has worked off-and-on for the Phillies since then, most notably as a batting coach and minor-league instructor.

Del’s father Al was a catcher for the Tigers and Reds in the mid-1940s.

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Jay Johnstone (#485)

Jay Johnstone just came off his first full season in the majors in 1969, starting 141 games in center field for the Angels. It would also be the high point of his career in terms of playing time (even more than his 1975-76 stint as the Phillies’ regular right fielder). In deference to Del Unser (next post), I’m going to tab Jay as the right fielder on the “Hangin’ at the Bat Rack” team.

Johnstone was signed by the Los Angeles Angels in June 1963. He played in the Angels’ farm system from 1963 to 1968, the last three seasons in triple-A. Jay also played for the Angels for parts of 1966 to 1968, making his major-league debut on 7/30/1966 at age 20.

Jay was a full-time major-leaguer from 1969 to 1972. After his breakout 1969 season as the team’s regular center fielder, he played just over half the games in 1970 in center field, sharing the position with Roger Repoz, Jarvis Tatum, and Tony Gonzalez.

After the season, Johnstone and 2 others were traded to the White Sox for outfielder Ken Berry and 2 others. Jay spent the next 2 seasons with the White Sox. 1971 turned out to be similar to his last year with the Angels: the primary center fielder, but sharing the post with others. He also started 2 dozen games in right field. In 1972, Johnstone shared center field evenly with former Angels’ teammate Rick Reichardt, but overall, his playing time was decreasing.

Johnstone was released by the White Sox during Spring Training in 1973, and picked a few weeks later by the Athletics. He spent most of the season in the minors, while also playing 23 games with Oakland.

After spending part of the 73-74 off-season as property of the Cardinals, Jay was signed by the Phillies on April 3rd. He spent the first half of 1974 in the minors, but was recalled by the Phillies in early July, and was the team’s regular right fielder from that point until they acquired Bake McBride in June 1977.

In mid-June 1978 he was traded to the Yankees for reliever Rawley Eastwick, but was flipped to the Padres the next day. He was granted free agency after the season, and signed with the Dodgers. Johnstone spent the remainder of his career as a part-time outfielder and pinch-hitter.

After 2 seasons with the Dodgers and 3 with the Cubs, he returned to the Dodgers to start the 1985 season, but appeared only as a pinch-hitter in his final season. He pinch-hit 17 times over the entire season (missing all of May, July, and August).

Johnstone played in the post season with the Phillies (’76, ’77), Yankees (’78), and Dodgers (’81, ’85).

Also check out his 1967 card.