Sunday, January 22, 2012

Clarence Gaston (#604)

This is the first "full" card for Clarence "Cito" Gaston. He previously appeared on a 1969 Padres Rookies card. Topps didn't begin referring to him as Cito until he became a manager.

Gaston was signed by the Braves in 1964 and spent 5 seasons playing in their minor-league system. His only big-league experience with the Braves was 9 games in September 1967.

Cito was the Padres' last (30th) pick in the October 1968 expansion draft. His minor-league days were now behind him, as Gaston made the Padres at the start of the season, and took over the starting center field job from Tony Gonzalez in game #4.

Cito's best season was 1970, when he hit 29 homeruns, batted .318, and was named to the all-star team. He was the team's regular center fielder for 3 seasons, then slid over to right field for 1972 and 1973. His final season with the Padres was 1974, which he spent as a pinch-hitter and part-time right fielder.

In November 1974 Cito was traded back to the Braves for pitcher Danny Frisella. He spent his last 4 seasons ('75-'78) as a pinch-hitter and outfield backup for Atlanta. On September 22, 1978 he was sold to the Pirates, and played 2 games for them before retiring after the season.

Gaston had greater success as a manager, piloting the Toronto Blue Jays from 1989 to 1997, and again from 2008 to 2010. His team finished in 1st place 5 times, including World Series championships in 1992 and 1993.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Back on Topps' Radar: Fred Norman

This is Fred Norman's first appearance in the Topps set (#427) since he appeared on a Cubs Rookies card in the 1965 set. His rookie card was a Cubs Rookies card in the 1964 set. (I first became aware of him back in the day when I got his 1972 card. By that time, he was with the Padres.)

Fred was signed by the Kansas City Athletics in 1961, and spent 3 seasons as a starting pitcher in their minor league system. He also pitched 2 games for the Athletics in each of 1962 and 1963. After the 1963 season, he was traded to the Cubs for outfielder Nelson Mathews.

Norman spent the 1964-66 seasons as a starter in the Cubs' organization, while pitching a few games for Chicago in 1964 and 1966. He began the 1967 season with the Cubs, but after only one appearance, he was traded to the Dodgers on April 26th for pitcher Dick Calmus.

In what is now becoming a familiar pattern, Fred spent 3 seasons (1967-69) back in the minors, this time alternating between triple-A Spokane and double-A Albuquerque. He wouldn't resurface in the majors until 1970, and would remain topside for the rest of his career, except for a brief stint in triple-A during 1971.

Norman spent the entire 1970 season in the Dodgers bullpen - well almost. After pitching 62 innings over 30 games for LA, on September 28th he was claimed by the Cardinals, and pitched 1 inning for them. His time in St. Louis was short though, as in addition to a brief trip to the minors in 1971, he was dealt to the Padres in mid-June for pitcher Al Santorini.

Fred pitched in the Padres rotation from June 1971 to June 1973. During his only full season in San Diego (1972) he was the Padres' #3 starter, and the only lefthander in the rotation. Midway through 1973, he was traded to the Reds, where he enjoyed his greatest success.

Norman pitched for the Reds for 6 1/2 seasons, and finished with double-figure wins every year. He was always in the rotation, early-on with Gary Nolan, Jack Billingham, and ex-Padres teammate Clay Kirby, then in later years right behind the newly-acquired Tom Seaver.

Fred became a free agent after the 1979 season, and signed with the Expos. He spent his final season (1980) in Montreal's bullpen, and was released during spring training 1981.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Danny Murtaugh (#532)

Danny Murtaugh returns to the Topps card set for the first time since 1964.

Murtaugh was a 4-time manager, all with the Pirates. He managed Pittsburgh for 7 1/2 years, from midway through the 1957 season through the end of 1964, including skippering the 1960 World Champs.

Danny returned to finish out the 1967 season, when Harry Walker was fired after 83 games. After a 2-year experiment with Larry Shepard, Murtaugh was back at the start of the 1970 season, and piloted the team to first-place finishes in 1970 and 1971, and won the 1971 World Series.

He retired following the Series, and the Pirates hired their former center fielder Bill Virdon to manage the team in 1972, but Murtaugh was back at the helm in September 1973, and for 3 additional seasons beyond that. In Danny's last 3 full seasons, the Pirates won their division twice (losing the NLCS both times), and in 2nd place once. He retired for good after the 1976 season.

Prior to managing, Murtaugh was an infielder for the Phillies and Pirates from 1941 to 1951, except for his military service in 1944-45.