Saturday, May 28, 2011

Bob Tillman (#668)

My only recollection of Bob Tillman is that the Red Sox traded him to the Yankees midway through the 1967 season for catcher Elston Howard, causing Tillman to miss out on the '67 World Series. (Well, technically they were not traded for each other. I learned today that Howard was traded to the Red Sox on August 3rd, and Tillman was sold to the Yankees 5 days later. Essentially, they were traded for each other.) This is Bob's next-to-last card, generously donated to this blog by

Tillman was signed by the Red Sox in 1958, and spent the next 4 seasons in the Sox' farm system - mostly as a catcher, but playing a few dozen games at 1st base in 1961.

Bob's major-league debut came on April 15, 1962. In his rookie season, Tillman started 58 games behind the plate, compared to 69 starts for Jim Pagliaroni. The bulk of Bob's playing time came when he started every game from the 2nd game of a doubleheader on 5/20, to the 1st game of the 6/17 doubleheader. After that time, he got spot starts on Pagliaroni's days off. (Russ Nixon was also around to start 33 games that season.)

After the season, Pagliaroni was traded to the Pirates for 1st baseman Dick Stuart, so Tillman shared the position with Nixon in 1963, starting 89 games (to Nixon's 72). In 1964, Bob became the undisputed #1 backstop for Boston, starting 120 games, with Nixon starting only 41. (September call-up Mike Ryan started game #161.)

In 1965, Tillman was still the starting catcher, but his playing time was reduced as both Nixon and rookie Ryan started 30 games each, with Ryan starting 13 of the last 14 games. That was a sign of things to come, for in 1966 Mike Ryan took over the #1 catcher's job, starting 106 games while Tillman only started 56 games. (By this time, Russ Nixon was playing for the Twins.)

In 1967, the Red Sox had another rookie catcher join the team (Russ Gibson), so Tillman's contributions were cut way back. He only caught 26 games (18 starts) as the 3rd-string catcher. With the Yankees, Bob didn't fare any better, although he did move up to 2nd-string catcher (because the Yankees only carried 2 catchers!) Tillman alternated with Jake Gibbs for the latter half of August, but once rosters were expanded, rookie Frank Fernandez took his spot in that duo.

After the season, the Yankees traded Tillman to the Braves for 3rd baseman Bobby Cox (yes, THAT Bobby Cox. He had spent the previous 8 seasons languishing in the minor leagues.) Tillman was the Braves' 2nd-string catcher in 1968 and 1969. In '68, he filled in during Joe Torre's early-season injury, and when Torre would move out to 1st base. The following season Tillman backed up rookie Bob Didier. I suspect that with knuckleballer Phil Niekro on the team, Tillman drew the unenviable assignment of catching those games.

In Bob's final season of 1970, he shared the catching duties evenly with Didier and Hal King, actually making more starts than either of those two. Bob retired after the 1970 season, although his final card is in the 1971 set.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Final Card: Bob Johnson

This is the final card for Bob Johnson (#693). This was one of five 1970 cards sent to me by the nice folks at

Bob was a utility infielder who played for 11 seasons, starting with the Kansas City Athletics, and making 6 more stops before wrapping up his career with the Oakland Athletics. Johnson began playing pro ball in 1954 for an unaffiliated class-D team. After the season, he was acquired by the Detroit Tigers, and spent the 1955-59 seasons with various teams in their organization. Following the 1959 season, he was selected by Kansas City in the Rule 5 draft. After only 1 season with the Athletics, Bob was taken by the Washington Senators in the 1960 expansion draft.

With the Senators, Bob shared the shortstop job in 1961 with Coot Veal, and the following season started 117 games between 3rd base and shortstop.

After the 1962 season, Johnson was traded up the road to the Orioles, where he spent the next 4+ seasons, as the backup at all 4 infield positions. Bob did not appear in the 1966 World Series, as the Orioles only used 9 batters and 4 pitchers to dispatch the Dodgers in a 4-game sweep.

In May 1967, Bob was sold to the Mets. This began a succession of short stops with several teams (Mets, Reds, Braves, Cardinals, Athletics) over the last 4 seasons of his career.

Bob's last game was on June 10, 1970. He was released by the A's on July 8th, ending his 11-year career.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Jack Billingham (#701)

Here is Jack Billingham's 1970 card. It's been a full season since he was traded to the Astros, yet we still get a hatless card! This is one of five 1970 cards that were sent to me by last fall.

Billingham was signed by the Dodgers in 1961, and pitched 7 seasons in the minors (mostly in relief) before making the Dodgers in 1968. In his rookie season he appeared in 50 games, all but 1 in relief.

After the 1968 season, Jack was selected by the Montreal Expos in the expansion draft. As I mentioned in the Curt Flood post below, the Expos attempted to trade Donn Clendenon to the Astros in January 1969 for Rusty Staub. When Clendenon refused to report, Montreal shipped Billingham to Houston as part of the package to salvage that deal.

Billingham pitched for the Astros for 3 seasons (1969-71). Mostly a reliever in the minors and for his 1st two seasons in the bigs, Jack moved into the starting rotation beginning in 1970.

Following the 1971 season, Jack was on the move again. This time, he was part of an 8-player deal with the Reds. The Astros sent 5 players (Billingham, 2B Joe Morgan, SS Denis Menke, and outfielders Cesar Geronimo and Ed Armbrister) to the Reds for 1B Lee May, 2B Tommy Helms, and utilityman Jim Stewart. This seems like a crazy lopsided deal now. The Astros trade Morgan AND FOUR OTHER PLAYERS for Lee May, a fading Tommy Helms, and a scrub IF-OF? It seems like the Reds should have traded May and 1 other player straight-up for Morgan! (But I digress.....)

Adding to the Reds' fleecing of the Astros was that Billingham's career caught fire in Cincinnati. He won 19 games in both 1973 and 1974, and finished in the top 6 in Cy Young voting in both seasons.

Jack pitched for the Reds for 6 seasons, winning (and losing) in double figures in each season. After the 1977 season he was traded to the Tigers, and pitched in Detroit for 2 full seasons and 1 month into the 1980 season.

In mid-May 1980, he was shipped to the Red Sox, but was released a month later.