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 though 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.