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.

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