Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Terry Harmon (#486)

Terry Harmon was the Phillies' good-field/no-hit backup infielder from 1969-1977. (He also made a few pinch-running appearances in 1967.) This is Harmon's first solo card. In the 1969 set, he appeared on one of the last-series "National League Rookies cards.

As far as I know, Harmon is one of only 3 players to have played their entire career (of at least 10 seasons) with the Phillies (along with Mike Schmidt and Larry Christenson). Jimmy Rollins will join that group, unless he gets off-loaded to another team in the next few years.

Harmon was signed by he Phillies in 1965, and played in the minors during the 1966-68 seasons. Terry was called up to the Phillies for a few games in mid-1967 while Johnny Briggs was on the DL, and appeared only as a pinch-runner. It appears he was "loaned out" to the Buffalo Bisons in the Washington Senators' organization for the 1968 season.

During his rookie season in 1969, Harmon started 36 games at shortstop for the Phillies, including all 24 games between June 13th and July 4th, in place of regular SS Don Money. Terry also started 12 games at 2nd base and saw action in another few dozen games.

In 1970, hotshot rookies Larry Bowa (SS) and Denny Doyle (2B) joined the team, further cementing Harmon's status as a backup. Still, he started 18 games at short and 10 at 2nd base.

Terry caught a break in 1971, as Doyle only played in 95 games, enabling Harmon to start 49 games in his place. 1972 was more of the same, with Terry starting 41 games at 2B along with 5 at shortstop.

With Cesar Tovar (and Billy Grabarkiewitz in mid-season) joining the Phils in 1973, both Harmon and Doyle had their playing time cut back at 2nd base, although Harmon was still the #2 man behind Doyle. Over at shortstop, rookie Craig Robinson took most of the starts that Bowa didn't make.

Terry played four more seasons with the Phillies, but with his starts cut way back. Dave Cash was the team's regular 2nd baseman from 1974-76, making a backup all but unnecessary. Harmon retired after the 1977 season.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Billy Champion (#149)

Yes, this now seems like an all-Phillies blog, and will be for just the next 8 posts, as I complete my multi-blog  "Phillies players from 1966 to 1969" series...

Billy Champion was one of the many pitchers not named Steve Carlton who haunted the Phillies' pitching staff in the early 1970s.

Champion was signed by the Phillies in 1965, and was a starting pitcher for their class-A teams for 4 seasons, followed by a half-season in triple-A before making his major-league debut in June 1969. Champion's minor-league seasons were so-so, except for 1968 (15-5, 2.03 ERA) and 1969 (7-1, 1.66 ERA).

In 1969, long-time veteran Chris Short was the opening day starter, but after 2 starts he was lost for the season. The team carried on with 4 starters until Champion was recalled in early June, becoming the 5th starter. Billy responded with a 5-10 record and a 5.01 ERA in 23 starts.

He found himself back in the minors for most of 1970, while also pitching 7 games for the Phillies (14 innings and an ERA over 9.00) in August and September. Somehow, that won him a fulltime job with the team for 1971, when he was used mostly as a reliever.

The 1972 season opened with Steve Carlton as the new man on the staff, and I must have gotten swept up in the euphoria, because I remember thinking to myself back then that Champion "just might" give the Phillies a 1-2 punch along with Carlton. (If only we had back then, I might have avoided such nonsensical thoughts!)

The 1972 season was a disaster for every Phillies' pitcher not named Carlton. On the bright side, the team cleaned house in the off-season, getting rid of suspects like Champion, Ken Reynolds, and Jim Nash, along with the aging Short and Woodie Fryman, and brought in Jim Lonborg, Ken Brett, Dick Ruthven, Larry Christensen, and Wayne Twitchell, so that Carlton didn't have to account for half the team's wins again.

Champion was shipped to the Brewers along with 3rd basemen Don Money and John Vukovich for Lonborg, Brett, and others. He pitched for 3 full seasons in Milwaukee, with the high point coming in 1974 when he compiled an 11-4 record in 31 games (23 starts).

Billy began the 1976 season with the Brewers, but played his last major-league game on June 5th, 7 years and 1 day after his debut. He was released in late June and spent the remainder of the '76 season with the Braves' AAA team in Richmond. His final season was in 1977, back with the Phillies' AAA team.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

John Briggs (#564)

John Briggs was first of several young outfielders developed by the Phillies' farm system in the mid-1960s (along with Alex Johnson, Adolfo Phillips, and Larry Hisle). Although Briggs' Phillies' career began before, and ended after, the other three players, like all of them he found his greatest success after leaving the Phillies.

Johnny was signed by the Phillies late in 1962, and spent just one season (1963) at class-A Bakersfield before becoming a full-time major-leaguer at the start of 1964. Briggs was primarily used as a left-handed pinch-hitter during his rookie season, but also played 20 games in the outfield. He accumulated 66 at-bats in 61 games that season.

His role expanded in 1965, as he shared the starting center field duties evenly with another lefthander, Tony Gonzalez. Briggs ended up with the 4th-most innings played by the outfielders, due to Gonzalez' significant playing time in left field.

1966 was more of the same for Briggs, although in addition to Gonzalez, he was now sharing center field with veteran Jackie Brandt and, to a lesser extent, utilityman Cookie Rojas.

In 1967 Briggs moved over to left field, and began the season in a strict platoon with rookie SS-OF Gary Sutherland. By mid-season, he had moved back to center field, and platooned with Don Lock, while Lock's former platoon partner Gonzalez became the full-time left fielder.

1968 brought some change to the familiar Phillies' outfield routine. Richie Allen, fresh off a wrist injury that ended his 1967 season (and never a defensive whiz at 3rd base anyway) moved to left field fulltime for 1968. With veteran Johnny Callison in right, this threw everyone else (Briggs, Gonzalez, and Lock) into the center field mish-mash. Previously always a center fielder or left fielder, Briggs also spent most of July as the starting 1st baseman (replacing veteran Bill White) and part of August as the regular right fielder, since Callison missed several weeks in late summer.

The logjam worked itself out in 1969, as White was dealt back to the Cardinals, Gonzalez was lost in the expansion draft, and Allen moved in to play 1st base. With rookie Larry Hisle scheduled to take over the center field job, that left Briggs in sole possession of left field. Well, that plan was sidelined by rookie Ron Stone, who tore up the Grapefruit League in March. Stone began the season in left field, sending Briggs to the bench. The spring phenom's inevitable cool-off sent Briggs back to left, until he was replaced by Deron Johnson. Only Johnson's trip to the DL, followed by Allen's month-long suspension in mid-summer got Briggs back into the left field starting job.

Briggs and Stone shared the left field job during 1970, then Johnny was traded to the Brewers in April 1971 for 2 minor-leaguers.

He was a full-time regular with Milwaukee for 4 seasons, hitting 21, 21, 18, and 17 homers during that time. After playing 1st base for all of 1971, he moved out to left field to make room for George Scott. John began the 1975 season as the Brewers' left fielder, and after a mid-June trade to the Twins, he finished out the season (and his MLB career) as Minnesota's 1st baseman.

Briggs played the 1976 season in Japan, before retiring.