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.