Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Harmon Killebrew (#150)

I posted Harmon Killebrew’s 1967 card several years ago, as part of a post about Topps messing up their own color scheme, and used 6 of his cards in an obituary post more recently. Now Harmon is back as the first baseman for the “Hangin’ at the Bat Rack” team.

Killebrew bashed more home runs (393) during the 1960s than any other player, and although he is most often thought of as a 1st baseman, he also played a lot at 3rd base, and even a few seasons in left field, as the Twins moved him around in an effort to get him and fellow sluggers Bob Allison and Don Mincher all into the same lineup.

“Killer” was signed by the (old) Washington Senators as a bonus baby in 1954. That meant keeping him on the major-league roster from day 1 of his pro career. As such, he spent his first 2 seasons with Washington, although only playing in 9 games in ’54 and 38 games in ’55 as a pinch-hitter and backup 3rd baseman (with a few games at 2nd base).

Killebrew finally got his minor-league seasoning from 1956 to 1958. He split his time between Washington and class-A Charlotte in 1956, then spent most of the next 2 seasons in the minors. He hit 29 homers at double-A Chattanooga in ’57 and another 19 dingers in 1958.

In 1959, Harmon was brought back to the majors to stay. In his first season of fulltime play, he led the AL with 42 homers (something he would repeat 5 more times in the next 10 seasons). He also made his first of 11 all-star appearances. Harmon started all but 5 games that season at 3rd base, taking over from last year’s regular, Eddie Yost.

1960 was the team’s final season in the nation’s capital, and Killebrew found himself beginning the season as the 3rd baseman, with rookie Don Mincher at 1st base. By mid-season, Killer was moved to 1st base (a new position for him), and ended up starting 71 games there. Harmon remained at 1st base for most of 1961, although also starting a few dozen games at 3rd. He clouted 46 homers, but was a distant 3rd behind Roger Maris (61) and Mickey Mantle (54).

The following season he led the AL with 48 homers and 126 RBI (and 142 strikeouts), and found a new position (left field). He started 150 games in left, after the Twins acquired veteran 1st-sacker Vic Power from the Indians a few days before opening day. The next 2 seasons were carbon-copies of 1962. Harmon led the league with 45 and 49 homers, and was the team’s everyday left fielder.

Following knee surgery, Killebrew returned to the infield starting in 1965. That season, he was limited to 113 games and only 25 home runs, missing all of August and most of September with a dislocated elbow (from a collision with a baserunner). He returned on 9/21, just in time to play against the Dodgers in the World Series. He bat .286 with 1 homer in the post-season.

When Mincher was traded to the Angels after the 1966 season, Killbrew primarily played 1st base for the rest of his career, although he was back at 3rd base for most of 1969 and 1970. Killer again led the AL in home runs in 1967 (44) and 1969 (49). In 1969, he also led the league with 140 RBI and won the MVP award.

In his last 2 seasons (1974-75) he was primarily used as a DH. He was released by the Twins in January 1975, and played his final season with the Royals.

Killebrew was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1984. In 2010 he was diagnosed with cancer, and died in 2011 at age 74.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Final Card: Juan Rios

In the last post, I commented that Juan Rios’ card also had an “at the bat rack” pose, because I could see that card in my mind’s eye, since it was one of the few cards from this set that I had back in 1970. 

When I went to my 1970 binder to pull the card for this follow-up post, I noticed a total of NINE players (including Tony Taylor) who Topps snapped at the bat rack. That’s enough for an entire lineup, so… since you’ve already met the 2nd baseman (Taylor), here now is Juan Rios, the shortstop for the “Hangin’ at the Bat Rack” team! 

Juan Rios (#89) had a brief major-league career – 87 games for the 1969 expansion Royals, to be exact. By the time this card came out, Juan was back in the minors, where he would stay until retiring after the 1974 season. This is his final baseball card.  He also appeared on a Royals Rookie Stars card in 1969.

Rios was signed by the Mets in 1965, but didn’t begin playing until 1966. He was a shortstop in the Mets’ chain for 3 seasons, until he was selected by the Montreal Expos in the December 1968 Rule 5 draft.

The following March, he was sold to the Royals. Juan was with Kansas City for the entire season, as the backup middle infielder behind 2nd baseman Jerry Adair and shortstop Jackie Hernandez. Rios managed to start 43 games (2B-30, SS-10, 3B-3), and played in another 44 as a pinch-hitter or defensive replacement.

In 1970, that role was filled by rookie Rich Severson, so Rios returned to the minors, where he played for the Royals’, Brewers’, Yankees’, Twins’, and White Sox’ organizations. He also pitched in 3 games during the 1973 season.

Rios passed away in August 1995, at age 53, in his birthplace of Mayaguez, Puerto Rico.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Tony Taylor (#324)

"Tony Taylor at the bat rack". I always liked this card, a very unusual shot for back in the day. Tony may spend a lot of time browsing the bat rack, but he didn't spend much time at the helmet rack. He was one of the few players of that time that wore the inside-the-cap protector, rather than a batting helmet.

This was also around the time when Taylor was morphing from a regular 2nd baseman to a utility infielder.

Tony was signed by the New York Giants in 1954. After 4 seasons on their farm, he was selected by the Cubs in the Rule 5 draft following the 1957 season. Taylor became the Cubs' regular 2nd baseman from the beginning of the 1958 season, starting 128 games there as a rookie, and 148 games in 1959.

After starting the first 19 games in 1960, he was traded to the Phillies for pitcher Don Cardwell and 1st baseman Ed Bouchee. For the next 5 years (5/13/60 - 5/31/65) Taylor started most of the games at 2nd base for Philadelphia. While the other 3 infield positions were revolving doors during that time, 2nd-sacker Tony started at least 140 games each season (except for missing much of the 2nd half of 1961).

In June 1965, Cookie Rojas transitioned from jack-of-all-trades to starting 2nd baseman, and they each finished with 78 starts. Even with losing his 2nd base job, Taylor still played as much as any regular.

In 1966, 3rd baseman Richie Allen missed most of May, and upon his return spent 6 weeks playing in left field, with Taylor starting 42 games at 3rd base during this time. He also started 63 games at 2nd, spelling Rojas.

The following season, 1st baseman Bill White missed all of April and May with an off-season injury. Tony started 43 games at 1st base that season, without ever having played the position previously. When Allen went down with a hand injury in late August, Taylor started the final 40 games at 3rd base.

Allen returned to the Phillies in 1968, but with the hand injury on top of his already-suspect defense, he played that season as the regular left fielder, with Taylor at the 3rd base spot for 137 games.

In 1969 the Phillies added 3B/LF Deron Johnson, subtracted Bill White, and moved Richie Allen to 1st base. This left Taylor as a swing man between 2B (when Rojas got time off) and 3B (when Johnson was playing left field).

Tony continued as the backup 2B-3B in 1970, although he got much less playing time than the previous season, now that the starters were youthful upstarts Denny Doyle and Don Money. He was traded to the Tigers in mid-1971, and played 2 1/2 seasons there as Dick McAuliffe's backup at 2nd base.

After he was released by the Tigers, the Phillies brought him back for the 1974 - 76 seasons as their pinch-hitter extraordinaire. His old pal Dick Allen even rejoined the team for the '75 and '76 seasons.

After his playing career was over, Taylor coached for the Phillies for many seasons.

Taylor's late-1960s baseball cards showed his hometown as Yeadon, PA. That was next to the town I grew up in, and whenever we drove through Yeadon, we always hoped to see Tony walking down the street somewhere, but it never did happen (surprisingly enough!)