Monday, July 24, 2017

Final Card - Walt Hriniak

Here is Walt Hriniak's first solo card (#392), which is also his final card. In fact, his major-league career was over in 1969.

Hriniak began in the Braves' farm system in 1961, and played in the minors for 8 seasons, mostly as a middle infielder. He didn’t begin catching on a regular basis until 1968.

After 8 seasons as the Braves' starting catcher, Joe Torre was traded to the Cardinals after the 1968 season. Torre had shared the starts with journeyman Bob Tillman 60/40 in 1968, with Hriniak making 6 starts during his September call-up.



In 1969 the Braves seemed determined to go with 2 rookies behind the plate, as indicated by this high-numbered card in 1969:


However, with no prior major-league experience, Bob Didier won the catching job in 1969, starting 108 games while Tillman stayed on as the backup, catching 52 games. Hriniak started 2 games in early-June (showcased?), then was traded to the Padres a week later for outfielder Tony Gonzalez.

Walt started 17 games behind the plate for the Padres in 1969, and appeared in another dozen games as a pinch-hitter. It was his final season in the majors.

He spent all of 1970 with the Padres' AAA team, mostly as a 2nd baseman. Just before the start of the 1971 season he was traded back to the Braves, who released him in July. A month later he was picked up by the Expos, but played the entire season, as well as '72 and '73, in the minors.

For someone with such a short and insignificant playing career, Hriniak became a well-respected hitting coach.  He began coaching in 1974, first for the Expos, then the Red Sox. Initially a base coach or bullpen coach, by the mid-1980s, he became Boston's hitting coach, working with players like Carl Yastrzemski, Wade Boggs, and Dwight Evans.

After 12 seasons with the Red Sox, Hriniak coached the White Sox for 7 season, then opened up his own hitting school.

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Born on the Same Day - 7/3/1940

Last October I started a new series called "Born on the Same Day", featuring players who were born on the same day (!) and year. The scope of this exercise is those players (or managers) who have cards in the 1965-1970 sets (because that's what I dooze). Ideally, I should also have their cards. 

In researching this, I found 51 pairs and 2 trios. In a few pairs both are stars, some pairs have 1 star, and other pairs are just 2 guys named Joe. In a few cases, these players were also teammates. 

I am going to post these in chronological order, and distribute them across my 1966-1970 blogs depending on which cards I have for who. This is the 16th post in the series, but the first on the 1970 blog. 

This is post #16 in the series: Coco Laboy and Cesar Tovar - both born on 7/3/1940.


After 10 seasons in the Giants' and Cardinals' farm systems, Coco Laboy made his major-league debut at age 28 with the expansion Expos in 1969. He was tied for 2nd place in the NL Rookie of the Year voting, and was named to the Topps All-Rookie team. He played 2 full seasons and parts of 3 others with Montreal, and retired after the 1973 season.

Primarily a 2nd baseman and outfielder, Cesar Tovar has played every position, and played all 9 IN ONE GAME during the 1968 season. He played for 12 seasons, his first 8 with the Twins.

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Bobby Tolan (#409)

Bobby Tolan played for 5 teams over his 13-year career (1965-79). His greatest success came during his time with the Reds (1969-73).


Tolan began with the Cardinals, debuting in 1965 at age 19. The Cards primarily used him as a backup to 1st baseman Orlando Cepeda and center fielder Curt Flood, (which is to say he spent a lot of time as a pinch-hitter!) With the departure of Alex Johnson after the 1967 season, Tolan became Roger Maris' backup in right field for 1968.  Bobby played in the World Series in both '67 and '68.

After the '68 season, Tolan was traded to the Reds (with pitcher Wayne Granger) for center fielder Vada Pinson. Bobby was the Reds' everyday center fielder in 1970 and 1972, and split his time between center and right fields in '69 and '73.

In 1969 he reached career highs in home runs (21) and RBI (93) while batting .305. The following year his power numbers dropped but his batting average peaked at .316. Tolan also led the NL with 57 stolen bases in 1970.

After missing the entire 1971 season due to injury, be returned for 2 more laps with the Reds, but with all his numbers steadily declining from year-to-year. While with the Reds, he appeared in the post-season in 1970 and 1972, and hit .417 in the 1970 NLCS.

Tolan was traded to the Padres after the 1973 season for pitcher Clay Kirby. He was the team's primary right fielder in 1974. In 1975 he was the primary left fielder, but also started a few dozen games at first base and right field.

The Padres released him in February 1976, but he was picked up by the Phillies in spring training, and spend the season as Dick Allen's backup at first base, starting 40 games there in addition to a few dozen starts in the outfield.

Tolan was released by the Phillies in late-May '77, but caught on with the Pirates a few weeks later.

After the 1977 season, he was granted free agency, but got no takers for more than a year. He played in Japan during the 1978 season, then the Padres re-signed him in July 1979, where he finished up the season (and his career) playing 22 games (all but 1 as a pinch-hitter).

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 thought 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.