Sunday, July 21, 2019

Born on the Same Day - 4/18/1942

Another installment in my "Born on the Same Day" series, featuring players who were born on the same day (!) and year. 

This is post #25 in the series: Steve Blass and Chuck Taylor - both born on 4/18/1942.

Steve Blass played for the Pirates from 1964 to 1974, and was their ace from 1968 to 1972. In 1972 he won 19 games and finished 2nd in the Cy Young voting.

The following season he mysteriously lost his ability to control the ball, and his strikeout/walk ratio plummeted. It became known as "Steve Blass disease".

Chuck Taylor was a reliever for the Cardinals and Expos from 1969 to 1976.

Sunday, July 14, 2019

Dave Campbell (#639)

About 5 years ago (wow, has it been that long?) a blog reader sent me four cards from my 1970 want list in exchange for a handful of 1968 Topps playing cards. Those cards were Dave Leonhard, Dalton Jones, Bob Allison, and Dave Campbell (all high numbers). 

Dave Campbell (whose nickname is "Soup") was a utility infielder who played for the Tigers and Padres, but he did have 2 seasons (1970-71) as a regular for the Padres.

Campbell was signed by the Tigers in 1964, and played in their farm system for several years, initially as a first baseman until switching to 2nd base in 1966. He made his major-league debut with 2 games in September 1967.

Campbell returned to the minors the following season, except for a 9-game stint with Detroit in June.

In 1969 he played 32 games for the Tigers, spread across the entire season, although it appears he was back in the minors for much of mid-May to mid-July.

In December 1969 Dave was traded to the Padres (with pitcher Pat Dobson) for pitcher Joe Niekro. This was Campbell’s big break, as he was San Diego’s regular 2nd baseman in 1970, replacing 1969’s trio of Jose Arcia, John Sipin, and Roberto Pena. Dave reached career-highs in games (154), at-bats (581), runs (71), hits (127), doubles (28), homers (12), and RBI (40). The only blemish was his paltry .219 batting average.

In 1971 the Padres acquired 2nd baseman Don Mason from the Giants, so Campbell alternated between 2B (with Mason) and 3B (with Ed Spiezio). In late-May Gary Jestadt was acquired from the Cubs, and joined the 2B/3B mix. Campbell started 68 games at 2B and 31 at 3B. By late-August, the team had settled on Mason at 2B and Jestadt at 3B, so Campbell rarely played after that.

Dave started 30 of the first 35 games at 3rd base in 1972, but then Jestadt reclaimed the job, and Campbell was shipped off to the Cardinals. He played sparingly for St. Louis, and in August was traded to the Astros for outfielder Tommie Agee.

He played 9 games for Houston in 1973, and 35 games in 1974. In his final season he was used mostly as a pinch-hitter or pinch-runner.

In the late-1970s he started doing play-by-play for the Padres. This led to a 20-year career at ESPN (1990-2010).

Sunday, June 9, 2019

Gates Brown (#98)

I have made 1321 posts to my 1963 - 1970 baseball card blogs since 2009, and only now am I getting around to Gates Brown. Sorry, Tigers’ fans.

William James "Gates" Brown spent his late-teen years in prison on a burglary charge, and while playing ball for the prison team, he was spotted by a Tigers' scout and was signed in 1960. After 3 ½ seasons on the farm, he made his major-league debut in June 1963.

Brown was the ideal player for the designated hitter position, but unfortunately that didn't exist until his career was winding down. Except for 1964, Gates was used mostly as a pinch-hitter and backup left fielder during his first 10 seasons. In '64, he was the Tigers' regular left fielder, starting a career-high 106 games there after Rocky Colavito was traded away the previous winter.

Willie Horton joined the Tigers on a fulltime basis in 1965, taking the left field job away from Brown for good (clubbing 25+ home runs and 100+ RBI in each of his first 2 seasons). Horton also made his first of 4 All-Star teams as a rookie.

Brown was relegated to pinch-hitting and occasional play in left field through the 1972 season, although he did start 56 games in '71 and 72 games in '72.

There's a funny story that, since Gates spent a lot of time on the bench, he had his fair share of in-game hot dogs. From Wikipedia:

On August 7, 1968, Brown wasn't in the starting lineup, and decided to grab two hot dogs from the clubhouse. He was ordered by manager Mayo Smith to pinch hit, so he stuffed the hot dogs in his jersey to hide them from his manager. 

"I always wanted to get a hit every time I went to the plate. But this was one time I didn't want to get a hit. I'll be damned if I didn't smack one in the gap and I had to slide into second—head first, no less. I was safe with a double. But when I stood up, I had mustard and ketchup and smashed hot dogs and buns all over me. The fielders took one look at me, turned their backs and damned near busted a gut laughing at me. My teammates in the dugout went crazy." 

After fining Brown $100, Smith said, "What the hell were you doing eating on the bench in the first place?" Brown replied, "I decided to tell him the truth. I said I was hungry."

The DH was instituted in 1973, suiting Brown just fine. Unfortunately, that would last only 1 season, as veteran Al Kaline became the DH in 1974, and with Ron LeFlore playing fulltime in 1975, Horton slid over to the DH role that season.

Brown whiled away his final 2 years on the bench, seeing action in 120 games over that 2-year span, all as a pinch-hitter.

He was the Tigers’ hitting coach from 1978-1984.

Brown passed away in 2013 at age 74.

Friday, May 24, 2019

Bill Stoneman (#398)

In just his 3rd big-league season,  Bill Stoneman became the first big star for the expansion Montreal Expos pitching staff.

Stoneman was signed by the Cubs in June 1966, and after two half-seasons in the minors, he made his major-league debut in July 1967. (Stoneman was so fresh that Topps didn't even have him on a Cubs' Rookies card in the 1967 set.) He pitched 63 innings over 28 games for the remainder of the season, picking up 4 saves.

In 1968 he only played 18 games for the Cubs, while pitching 6 games in triple-A. That doesn't add up to a full season, so maybe he spent time on the DL. After that season Bill was left unprotected in the expansion draft, and was selected by the Expos with the 19th pick.

He began 1969 as the #2 starter behind veteran Mudcat Grant, and in only his 5th start he pitched a no-hitter against the Phillies. By early-June, Grant was dispatched to the Cardinals while Stoneman became the team's ace, leading the staff with 36 starts (9 more than the next guy), 235 innings (56 more than the next guy), and 185 strikeouts (52 more than the next guy).   His 11 wins made him the only Expo hurler with double-digit wins (although he also lost 19 games).

Stoneman had an off-year in 1970, but teammate Carl Morton had an even better season than Bill's 1969,  winning 18 games and the NL Rookie of the Year award.

Stoneman bounced back to lead the staff in '71 and '72. In both seasons he led the team in starts, innings, and strikeouts, with half of his 1971 starts being complete games (19). He also had 13 complete games in 1972, tying him with newcomer Mike Torrez. Bill made his only All-Star team in 1972, and also pitched his 2nd no-hitter in his final game that season (Oct 2nd).

The wheels came off in 1973, as he only started 17 games while his ERA ballooned to 6.80 and only struck out 48 batters. By August he was replaced in the rotation by Steve Rogers, who would finish 2nd in the NL Rookie of the Year voting.

Stoneman was sold to the Angels the day before the 1974 season opener, but by the end of June his record was 1-8 with a 6.14 ERA. He was released 2 weeks later, ending his career.

He began working in the Expos' front office in 1983, and was eventually named their GM. Stoneman was also the Angels' General Manager from 1999-2007.

Thursday, April 18, 2019

Jimmie Price (#129)

Jimmie Price was the Tigers' backup catcher from 1967-1971. (Backing up Bill Freehan meant you didn't get much playing time.) 

Price was signed by the Pirates in 1960, and played in their farm system for 7 seasons (the last 3 at triple-A). Four days before the 1967 season, he was purchased by the Tigers (after already appearing on a 2nd-series Pirates Rookies card that year).

Jim spent 5 seasons as the Tigers' #2 catcher behind Freehan. His most playing time came in 1969, when he had career-highs in games (72), starts (49), complete games (44), and at-bats (192). Price also had 2 at-bats in the 1968 World Series.

The Tigers acquired Tom Haller from the Dodgers in December 1971 to back up Freehan in '72, spelling the end of Price’s career.

Jim has been broadcasting Tigers' games since the 1970s.

Monday, March 4, 2019

Fred Lasher (#356)

Fred Lasher was a relief pitcher for the Tigers in the late-1960s, then pitched most of 1970 for the Indians.

He was signed by the (old) Washington Senators before the 1960 season, and played in the minors for the better part of the next 8 seasons.

Lasher appeared in 11 games for the Twins in April and September 1963, but didn’t resurface in the majors until mid-August 1967 with the Tigers. Fred picked up 9 saves in his 17 games over the final 6 weeks of the season.

(According to the back of this card, the Tigers were in the National League in 1969. Was that a perk for winning the World Series?)

In his first full season (1968), he collected 5 saves, good for 3rd place among Tigers’ relievers. (It looks like they employed a closer-by-committee approach, as all 5 relief pitchers had between 2 and 7 saves.)

Lasher remained in the Tigers’ bullpen until May 1970, when he was traded to the Indians. He pitched in 43 games for Cleveland that year, but compiled a 1-7 record and a 4.06 ERA.

The Angels selected him in the Rule 5 draft following the 1970 season, but he spent most of 1971 pitching in triple-A, while playing only 2 games for the Angels. He was released a week before the 1972 season began.