Friday, September 5, 2014

Dave Leonhard (#674)

A few months ago, I offered up some 1968 Topps Playing Card inserts in trade for something on my want list (which is mostly made up of 1966 and 1970 high numbers). 

To date I have had one response, from blog reader Dave of Middletown, MD. Dave sent me four 1970 high-numbered cards in excellent condition, in return for a handful of 1968 playing cards. Here is the first of those four cards.

Dave Leonhard had a six-year career (all with the Orioles) from 1967 to 1972. I consider him to be in the “2nd tier” of Orioles’ starters of that era (along with Tom Phoebus and Jim Hardin), behind the “1st tier” of Jim Palmer, Dave McNally, Mike Cuellar, and even Steve Barber. (Let’s make Wally Bunker tier 1-A, losing points for lack of longevity.)

Leonhard was signed by the Orioles in 1963, and played 5 seasons in the minors. After winning the International League Pitcher of the Year award in 1967, he made his major-league debut in September.

Dave was a starter in the minors, and also during the 1968 season when the O’s were short on quality starters. (Palmer missed all of 1968 with a sore arm, Bunker was ineffective, and Cuellar had not yet arrived from Houston.)

With the return of Palmer and the acquisition of Cuellar for 1969, Dave was relegated to the bullpen, where he remained for the next 4 seasons. After pitching 94 innings over 37 games (3 starts) in 1969, Leonhard was limited to just 28 innings (over 23 games) in 1970, compiling a 0-0 record with a 5.08 ERA, and was rarely used during the second half.

That bought him a trip back to the minors in 1971, where he was once again used as a starter. Dave didn’t return to Baltimore until July 10th, and played in only 10 games for the Orioles that year.

In 1972 he played in only 14 games. His games were scattered throughout the season, and he didn’t play in the minors that year. It seems like he either spent a lot of time on the DL, or the last seat in the bullpen.

Dave’s final big-league game was on September 20, 1972. In June 1973 he was traded to the Angels for utility man Jim Hutto. Over the next 4 years, Dave bounced around from the Angels to the Cubs to the Expos, playing in AAA in ’73 and ’74, and in AA in ’75 and ’76.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Ray Fosse (#184)

Ray Fosse caught for the Indians, Athletics, and others from 1967 to 1980, but is most remembered for being run over at home plate by Pete Rose on the final play of the 1970 All-star game.

Fosse was drafted by the Indians with the 7th overall pick in the first-ever 1965 amateur draft (6 picks behind Rick Monday and 29 picks ahead of Johnny Bench).

After a few cups of joe in ’67 and ’68, Ray made the Indians in 1969, playing 26 games in the first 2 months, before shipping out to AAA in mid-June. He returned in September to start 11 games in the final weeks.

In 1970 Ray took over the starting catching duties from the departed Joe Azcue, starting 120 of the first 136 games, but did not play after September 3rd. Fosse made the all-star team as a rookie, and despite being bulldozed by Charlie Hustle, Ray hit .307 for the season, with 18 homers and a Gold Glove award.

In 1971 he started 119 games behind the plate, but various injuries caused him to miss the last 3 weeks in July (including the all-star game). However, he won his 2nd Gold Glove award and hit .276.

1972 was Fosse’s last season with the Tribe. He was the #1 catcher again, starting 121 games behind the dish, but his offensive production fell off from his first 2 seasons.

After the season, he was traded to Oakland for catcher Dave Duncan and outfielder George Hendrick. Ray played for the Athletics for 3 seasons. He was the starter in ’73, shared the position with Gene Tenace in ’74, and was Tenace’s backup in ’75. Ray did appear in the post-season each year with the A’s (something he had no chance for with Cleveland back then).

After the 1975 season, Ray was sold back to the Indians, where he shared the starting catching duties with Alan Ashby (in ’76) and Fred Kendall (in ’77). In September 1977, he was traded to the expansion Mariners for pitcher Bill Laxton.

Fosse became a free agent after the 1977 season, and signed with the Brewers, but was injured during spring training and missed the entire 1978 season. He played sparingly in 1979, and was released during spring training in 1980.

Since 1986 he has been a broadcaster for the Athletics.

(With this post, every team is now represented at least once.)

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Gene Michael (#114)

Gene "Stick" Michael played shortstop (mostly for the Yankees) from 1966 to 1975. After his playing career, he worked for the Yankees as a coach, manager, general manager, and vice-president in charge of scouting.

Michael was signed by the Pirates in 1959, and played in their minor-league system for 8 seasons from 1959-66, mostly as a shortstop. He also pitched in 16 games (53 innings) in 1963.

Blocked from a big-league job by the Pirates’ Gene Alley, Stick finally made his major-league debut with the Pirates in July 1966. He played in 30 games over the 2nd half of the season, mostly as a pinch-hitter and pinch-runner.

With Alley going nowhere, Michael was shipped out to the Dodgers (with 3rd baseman Bob Bailey) for shortstop Maury Wills, who would be the Bucs’ 3rd baseman for the ’67 and ’68 seasons. Gene played only one season in LA, sharing the starting shortstop job with veteran Dick Schofield.

After the 1967 season, Michael was sold to the Yankees, where he would play for the next seven years. Gene was the Yanks’ starting shortstop from 1969 through the end of the 1973 season. In 1974, Michael was relegated to the bench as the Yankees went with Jim Mason at shortstop. After one season as the backup SS-2B, Stick was released by the Yankees.

The Tigers picked him up for the 1975 season, where he played sparingly in a bench role. After his 2nd straight off-season release, Michael signed with the Red Sox in February 1976, but he was released in early-May, not having played a game that season.

After his playing career, Gene coached for the Yankees, and later managed them in 1981 and part of 1982. Michael managed the Cubs for parts of 1986 and 1987, then returned to the Yankees as their general manager.

He was the GM from 1991 to 1995, signing most of the great players of the late-1990s dynasty. Unfortunately, George Steinbrenner was his boss, so Gene was fired before the good times began.

Michael has been a Yankees’ executive VP since 2000, early-on as Director of Scouting, then as a senior advisor to the GM.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Jim Wynn (#60)

Jim Wynn played outfield for 15 seasons from 1963 to 1977. His first 11 seasons were with the Astros, then he moved around to 4 other teams in his final 4 seasons.

"The Toy Cannon" was signed by the Cincinnati Reds in 1962 (I did not know that), and after his first season was selected by the Houston Colt .45s in the 1st-year draft. Wynn played in the minors for all of 1962, and parts of ’63 and ’64. He was mostly an infielder in the minors, playing 3B-OF in 1962, SS-3B in 1963, and OF-3B in 1964.

Wynn made his major-league debut with the Colt .45s in mid-July 1963. He started 13 consecutive games at shortstop, then moved out to center field for 9 games, before settling in as the regular left fielder for the final 2 months of the season, replacing Al Spangler.

Jim began the 1964 season as the team’s starting center fielder, but after starting 34 of the first 36 games, he was benched in mid-May, only to be sent down to the minors 3 weeks later, returning in September.

Wynn became a regular outfielder for the Astros from 1965 to 1973, mostly in center field, although he played in left field for parts of ’68 and ’70, then moved to right field permanently midway through the 1971 season, to make room for Cesar Cedeno in center field.

For a small guy, Jim was a power hitter (hence his nickname) and collected 291 career home runs, which doesn’t sound like a lot until you realize he played most of his career in the huge Astrodome.

After the 1973 season, he was traded to the Dodgers for pitcher Claude Osteen. In his 2 seasons with LA, Wynn regained a starting center field job, and made the All-Star team both years. He also played in his only post-season in 1974.

In November 1975, Wynn was part of a 6-player trade with the Braves that sent outfielder Dusty Baker to the Dodgers. Jim played one season with Atlanta (playing left and center fields), but when the Braves signed Gary Mathews as a free agent in November 1976, they sold Wynn to the Yankees 2 weeks later.

Unfortunately for Wynn, the Yankees also acquired Reggie Jackson and Paul Blair in the same off-season, and with Roy White, Mickey Rivers, Lou Piniella, and Carlos May already on the roster, there was no room for the Wynn. After playing in only 30 games, he was released in mid-July 1977, and picked up by the Brewers 2 weeks later.

Wynn DH-ed in 15 games and made 17 starts in center field for the Brewers, then was released after the season, ending his 15-year career.

The Astros retired Wynn’s #24 in 2005. He also worked as a post-game analyst for the Astros.

Monday, July 14, 2014

All-Star Cards

Here are the All-Star cards, those players selected as All-Stars in 1969 by The Sporting News. As with the 1968 and 1969 all-star cards, the players on the cards were not necessarily the starters in the game.

In the actual game, the NL had Steve Carlton and Cleon Jones starting at P and LF respectively. The AL lineup included Mel Stotlemyre, Sal Bando, and Frank Howard starting at P, 3B, and LF. Otherwise, the starters were those you see in the 2 large blocks of cards below. Reggie Jackson started out of position in center field.

The Sporting News selected a lefty and a righty in each league. Here are the lefthanders:

I thought it was odd that the AL roster only included 7 pitchers: Mel Stottlemyre, Denny McLain, Mickey Lolich, Sam McDowell, Dave McNally, John Odom, and Darold Knowles.

The NL brought 9 pitchers: Steve Carlton, Bob Gibson, Juan Marichal, Tom Seaver, Jerry Koosman, Phil Niekro, Bill Singer, Larry Dierker, and Grant Jackson (the Phillies' lone representative).

3 Orioles
2 Giants, Reds, Braves, Cubs, Tigers, Red Sox
1 Pirates, Mets, Twins, Athletics, Indians
0 Phillies, Cardinals, Astros, Dodgers, Yankees, Senators, White Sox, Angels


Saturday, July 12, 2014

Joe Torre (#190)

I posted Joe Torre's 1966 card previously, but a baseball lifer like Torre deserves better than the capless, lavender dreck that was the 1966 Braves (and Angels) cards. Here, Joe has a new team AND a new position.

Like his brother before him, Joe began his career with the Milwaukee Braves. Joe was the team's regular catcher for most of his time with the Braves, and was a 5-time all-star.

After the 1968 season, he was traded to the Cardinals for Orlando Cepeda. Torre played mostly 1st and 3rd base for St. Louis, as they had Tim McCarver (and later Ted Simmons) behind the plate. In 1971, Joe led the NL in hits (230), RBI (137), and batting average (.363) and won the MVP award. He also made another 4 all-star teams while with the Cards.

After the 1974 season he was trade to the Mets for pitchers Ray Sadecki and Tommy Moore. Joe played for the Mets for 2 1/2 seasons, then took over as the team's manager in June 1977.

Joe managed the Mets through the 1981 season, then managed his other 2 former teams (Braves from 1982 to 1984, Cardinals from 1990 to 1995).

His greatest success as a manager was with the Yankees. He managed there for 12 years (1996 to 2007), never finishing lower than 2nd place. During his tenure, the Yankees won the division 10 times, the AL pennant 6 times, and the World Series 3 times.

Torre managed the Dodgers from 2008 to 2010, and now works in the league office. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame (as a manager) in 2014.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Gil Hodges (#394)

Gil Hodges was the long-time slugging first baseman for the Brooklyn Dodgers. After his playing career, he managed the Senators and the Mets, including the Miracle Mets of 1969. Surprisingly, he is NOT in the Hall of Fame.

Hodges was signed by the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1943. He played only 1 game that season (the Dodgers’ final game), then lost 2 seasons while in military service. (He was an anti-aircraft gunner in the Pacific.) In 1946, he played his only season in the minors.

Gil joined the Dodgers in 1947, and was a backup first baseman and catcher that season. He began the 1948 season as the regular catcher, then on June 29th, he moved to first base (with rookie Roy Campanella taking over behind the plate) and the Dodgers had their 1st-sacker for the next decade plus. He was an 8-time all-star, and topped 40 homers twice.

After the 1961 season, the Mets selected Hodges from the Dodgers in the expansion draft. At age 38, Gil was a role player in New York. Hodges’ final game as a player was on May 5, 1963. Two weeks later he was traded to the Senators for outfielder Jimmy Piersall and retired to become Washington’s manager, replacing Mickey Vernon.

Hodges managed the Senators though the 1967 season (finishing 10th, 9th, 8th, 8th, and 6th in his 5 seasons there). In October 1967 he was traded to the Mets for pitcher Bill Denehy. (Does this make him the first manager traded TWICE for players? I know that Chuck Tanner was traded once for a player.)

Gil managed the Mets for 4 seasons, before his untimely death in 1972. Hodges had the good fortune of coming to the Mets at the start of the Tom Seaver-Jerry Koosman era, and guided the team to a World Series championship in 1969.

Hodges passed away following a heart attack suffered just after a round of golf with other Mets’ coaches during spring training 1972. He was 47.

Why is he not in the Hall of Fame?

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Jim Qualls (#192)

Before researching Jim Qualls for this post, I assumed he was a 4th outfielder or possibly a platoon center fielder with the Cubs for a few seasons. What I found is that he played much less than that: a few months in 1969, and some cups of coffee in ’70 and ’72 for 2 other teams. If I hadn’t already scanned his card, I would have just moved on to the next guy. 

Jim Qualls was signed by the Cubs in 1964, and worked his way up the minor-league ladder for 5 seasons before making his major-league debut in April 1969. He made a few pinch-hitting appearances, then was sent down in mid-April.

He returned to the Cubs in June, and was the starting center fielder for most of July, taking over for rookie Don Young. By August, Young had regained the starting role, and Qualls was on the bench. He didn’t play at all after August 22nd.

The following spring he was traded to the Expos for infielder Garry Jestadt. Qualls spent most of the season in the minors, only getting 9 at-bats over 9 games with Montreal in April and May 1970.

In March 1971 he was traded to the Reds, but spent the entire season in the minors. Qualls’ final card is in the 1971 set, as a Cincinnati Red. I’m wondering why he got a card, since he only had 9 at-bats in the previous season.

In December the Reds traded him to the White Sox, and again, he saw limited action (11 games) in April and May 1972 before another trip to the minors.

Qualls wrapped up his career in Japan from 1972-73.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Ike Brown (#152)

Here is Ike Brown’s rookie card. He also appeared in the 1971 to 1974 sets.

One thing that I learned about Ike a few years ago while researching somebody for these blogs (maybe Elston Howard or Ernie Banks) was that Ike Brown also played in the Negro Leagues. This surprised me, because although I had his 1972 card back in the day, I knew he wasn’t in the 1967 to 1969 Topps sets, so I assumed he would have been too young.

Brown is the last player from the Negro Leagues to have made it to the major leagues. To recap, in addition to the well-known alumni to have played in the majors in the 1960s (Willie Mays, Hank Aaron, Ernie Banks, Elston Howard, Minnie Minoso), others were Junior Gilliam, George Altman, John Wyatt, Sam Bowens, Al Smith, and Ike Brown.

After Brown played for the Kansas City Monarchs in 1961, he was signed by the Detroit Tigers in 1962 and spent 7 ½ years in their farm system as a shortstop and third baseman, before making his major-league debut in June 1969.

Brown remained with the Tigers for the rest of the 1969 season, and all of 1970 to 1973. In ’69 and ’70, he was the team’s backup 2nd baseman (behind Dick McAuliffe). After 1970, he was primarily used as a pinch-hitter.

1974 was Brown’s last season in baseball. He played 2 games with the Tigers in early spring, then spent the rest of the season in the minors.

When he retired after 1974, only Aaron remained among active ex-Negro League players.

Brown passed away in May 2001 from cancer, at age 59.

Monday, June 2, 2014

Final Card: Paul Edmondson

Here is the only Topps baseball card for pitcher Paul Edmondson (#414). By the time this card was issued, Edmondson was already deceased, a victim of an automobile accident.

Paul Edmondson was signed by the White Sox in 1965 out of Cal State Northridge. He pitched in the low minors in 1965, then missed the 1966 season while in military service.

Paul returned to the Sox in 1967, pitching in the low minors, including the Florida Instructional League. In 1968, Paul was pitching in the FIL, but also in double-A and triple-A.

He began the 1969 in the minors, but was promoted to the White Sox in June, making his major-league debut against the Angels on June 20th. What a debut! He pitched a 2-hitter, winning 9-1. Edmondson pitched in 14 games during his rookie season, making 13 starts.

On Friday February 13, 1970, Edmondson was driving in the rain along the California coast near Santa Barbara, when his car crashed into oncoming traffic, killing him and his passenger. He was 27.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Pilots Team (#713)

Today we will take a closer look at the Seattle Pilots' team card, which I first posted as part of my Pilots Team Review on my 1969 blog back in January.

I got this card last Fall, the first baseball card I acquired in about 2 years (except for some 1964 Topps Giant cards). After accumulating all the 1970 Phillies cards sometime in the 1980s, I began collecting the full 1970 Topps set in 2010, and now need about 40 to complete the set. Like most of the remaining 40, this Pilots Team card is in the high-numbered last series.

The team only played in Seattle for the 1969 season. In the off-season, the team was put up for sale, which was not finalized until sometime in March. They went to spring training 1970 as the Pilots, and broke camp as the Milwaukee Brewers. For continuity, Topps showed all the players as members of the Seattle Pilots, even cards that went to press after the move.

The statistical leaders of the team were:

Don Mincher - Slugging 1st-sacker from the Angels, who was the Pilots' only all-star representative. He was the Pilots' first selection in the expansion draft.

Tommy Harper - Drafted from the Indians with their 2nd pick, this ex-Reds' corner outfielder split his 1969 season between 2B and 3B.

Tommy Davis - Selected from the White Sox with their 8th pick, but traded away in the closing weeks of the season.

Gene Brabender - He was acquired from the Orioles a few days before the start of the season, and topped most pitching categories.

I read my brother's copy of Ball Four during a cross-country trip in the summer of 1971.  Last year I found an updated edition, which I began reading but haven't picked up for several months.  Now that the Phillies' season is going down the chute, I may get back into that book so that I can find some baseball entertainment this summer.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Carlos May (#18)

I have already posted the center fielder for the 1969 Topps All-Rookie team, so I’m skipping ahead to the final player on the 1969 All-Rookie Team, Carlos May.

Topps failed to include the All-Rookie Team trophy on this card, just like they did in 1968 with Rick Monday, Dick Hughes, and Rich Nye.

Carlos is the younger brother of Reds’ first baseman Lee May (who was a member of the Topps 1967 All-Rookie Team). During his stay with the White Sox, Carlos wore #17, thereby advertising his birthday ("MAY 17").

May was a 1st-round draft pick by the White Sox in 1966. He played 3 seasons in the minors (none higher than class-A) before making his major-league debut in September 1968. Carlos started the final 14 games of the 1968 season, including the last 12 in left field, replacing veteran Tommy Davis.

In 1969, he started 76 of the first 85 games in left field, then moved over to right field, where he started 20 games in July and early August. May also made his first of 2 all-star appearances. After starting both games of the August 8th doubleheader, Carlos missed the rest of the season, having blown off part of his thumb in a mortar accident while in the Marine Reserves. Still, his 18 homers and 62 RBI propelled him to third place in the Rookie of the Year voting. He was also named the Rookie of the Year by The Sporting News.

May returned at the start of the 1970 season, starting 141 games in left field while batting .285 with 12 homers and 68 RBI in his first full season. He moved to first base for the final 7 games of the 1970 season, and remained there for most of 1971. In addition to his 123 starts at 1st base, he started 9 games in left field.

With the arrival of Dick Allen in 1972, May was back in left field, making 144 starts at his usual post. He also started 2 consecutive games at 1st base in late June, with Allen inexplicably moving over to 3rd base. Carlos primarily played left field for the next few years, then split his time between left and 1B in 1975, with Allen having been unloaded traded away to the Braves for backup catcher Jim Essian.

In May 1976, Carlos was traded to the Yankees for pitcher Ken Brett. He saw his only post-season action that year in the ALCS and World Series. Carlos also played for the Yankees for most of 1977, until moving on to the Angels for the final 2 weeks of the season.

May finished his career by playing in Japan from 1978 to 1981.

Saturday, May 3, 2014

Lou Piniella (#321)

I’ve posted the Topps All-Rookie shortstop and 3rd baseman earlier, so let’s skip ahead to the left fielder, Lou Piniella.

Piniella was signed by the Indians in 1962, and played in the minors for 6 seasons (1962-68). After one season in the Indians’ chain, he was drafted by the Senators and spent all of ’63 and part of ’64 with them until he was traded to the Orioles for pitcher Buster Narum. Prior to the 1966 season, the O’s traded him back to the Tribe for catcher Cam Carreon. Lou appeared in a few games for the Orioles in ’64 and the Indians in ’68.

In October 1968 the Seattle Pilots selected him from Cleveland in the expansion draft. This is Piniella’s first solo card. He previously appeared on Rookie Stars cards in 1964 (Senators), 1968 (Indians), and 1969 (Pilots).

Piniella showed up at the Pilots spring training camp in 1969, but (according to Jim Bouton in “Ball Four”) he had a chip on his shoulder, and instead of keeping his yap shut like most rookies, he let it be known that if he was sent down to the minors he wouldn’t report, so the Pilots may as well just trade him.

Pilots’ management decided they didn’t need this young hothead telling them what to do, so on April 1st they traded him to the other AL expansion team, the Kansas City Royals, for pitcher John Gelnar and outfielder Steve Whitaker.

All Piniella did that season was win the AL Rookie-of-the-Year award! He started 122 games in left field, and hit .282 with 68 RBI and 11 homers.

Lou was the Royals’ regular left fielder through the end of the 1973 season. In 1972 he led the AL with 33 doubles, and made his only all-star appearance. After the ’73 season, he and pitcher Ken Wright were traded to the Yankees for veteran reliever Lindy McDaniel.

Piniella spent the remainder of his career (1974-84) with the Yankees. He was the regular left fielder in 1974, but lost that job to veteran Yankee Roy White for the next 3 seasons.

Lou reclaimed the left field job from 1978-80, then finished out his career as a role player (although he frequently DH-ed in 1982). His final game was on June 16th, 1984.

Piniella played in the post-season for the Yankees in '76, '77, '78, '80, and '81.

After his playing career, Lou managed the Yankees (1986-88), Reds (1990-92), Mariners (1993-2002), Devil Rays (2003-05), and Cubs (2007-10). His 1990 Reds won the World Series, while the Mariners won their division 3 times, and the Cubs twice under his watch.

Former Mets’ 1st baseman Dave Magadan is Lou’s cousin.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Ted Sizemore (#174)

Next up for the Topps 1969 All-Rookie team is 2nd baseman Ted Sizemore, who was also the 1969 NL Rookie of the Year.

Sizemore was signed by the Dodgers out of the U. of Michigan in 1966. He played 3 seasons in the minors, beginning as a catcher in '66, then split his time between catcher and outfield in ’67 and ’68.

Ted made the Dodgers on opening day 1969, and was installed as the team’s regular shortstop. When Maury Wills was re-acquired from the Expos in mid-June, Sizemore moved over to 2nd base for the remainder of the season.

Sizemore appeared on a Dodgers Rookie Stars in the 1969 Topps set, with his position noted as 2B-C. Although a catcher in the minors, he didn’t see any action behind the plate until 1976, when he caught 11 innings that season.

Sizemore received 14 of the 24 first-place ROY votes, far outpacing Al Oliver and Coco Laboy, who had 3 votes each.

In 1970, Ted shared 2nd base with Jim Lefebvre, who won the 1965 Rookie of the Year award as the Dodgers’ 2nd baseman. Lefebvre had missed a good chunk of April and July in 1969.

Caught in an infield logjam, Sizemore was traded to the Cardinals after the season for 1B/3B Dick Allen. Sizemore played for the Cardinals for the next 5 seasons. Early in 1971, he was the 2B-SS swingman, filling in for incumbents Julian Javier and Dal Maxvil, but by late June he had replaced Javier as the everyday 2nd baseman. For the rest of his time with the Cardinals, he was strictly a 2nd baseman, starting 100 to 130 games per season.

In spring training 1976 he was traded back to the Dodgers for outfielder Willie Crawford. This was a 1-year stint, where he started about 1/3 of the games at 2nd base, behind Davey Lopes.

Ted moved on the the Phillies after the season, in exchange for catcher Johnny Oates. Sizemore replaced Dave Cash as the Phillies’ regular 2nd baseman, and was there as the Phillies made the playoffs in 2 consecutive seasons, their first post-season action since 1950.

Before the 1979 season it was on to the Cubs, where Ted started 95 of the first 101 games at 2nd base before his August trade to the Red Sox for 4th-string catcher Mike O’Berry. (How does a starting 2nd baseman only fetch a backup catcher in return?)

The Sox already had Jerry Remy and Jack Brohamer sharing 2nd base, but Ted managed to start 23 of the final 41 games. 1980 was Sizemore’s final season, He only played 9 games (the last one on 5/27) before the Sox released him 3 days later, ending his 12-year career.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Al Oliver (#166)

Al Oliver played 18 seasons in the majors (1968-85), the first half of his career as the Pirates center fielder. With this card, Al is the 1st baseman on the 1969 Topps All-Rookie team, the position he played during his rookie season, then not again regularly until 1982 with the Expos.

Oliver was signed by the Pirates in 1964, and played 4 seasons in the minors (1965-68), primarily as a 1st baseman. His major-league debut came in late September 1968, with a 4-game cup of coffee.

Al was installed as the Pirates' every-day 1st baseman in 1969, taking over for Donn Clendenon, the 5-year starter who had been selected by the Expos in the expansion draft. He played in 129 games as a rookie (97 starts at 1B), hit 17 homers and had a .285 batting average. Al finished 2nd in the Rookie of the Year voting, behind Dodgers' 2nd baseman Ted Sizemore.

Oliver began the 1970 season as the starting 1st baseman, but by early May, he was alternating with Bob Robertson at 1B (64 starts, to Robertson’s 96 starts) and with Roberto Clemente in right field (52 starts). Although getting more playing time than in his rookie season, his homeruns and batting average both dropped.

In 1971, Al took over the center field spot from the departed Matty Alou, and would remain there through the 1976 season (except for 2 months in 1974, when he moved back to 1B while Robertson was out of the lineup).

1977 was Oliver's last in Pittsburgh. He moved to left field to accommodate rookie center fielder Omar Moreno. During his time with the Pirates, Al played in the post-season in '70, '71, '72, '74, and '75, and made the all-star team in '72, '75, and '76.

In December 1977, Al was involved in a 4-team, 11-player trade which sent him to the Rangers. Other big names in the deal were Bert Blyleven (Rangers to Pirates), Tom Grieve and Ken Henderson (Rangers to Mets), Jon Matlack (Mets to Rangers), and Willie Montanez (Braves to Mets). Oliver spent 4 seasons with Texas, three as an outfielder and his final one as their DH. He also won the Silver Slugger award in 1980 and 1981.

During spring training 1982, Oliver was traded to the Expos for 3rd baseman Larry Parrish. He played 2 seasons with Montreal as their 1st baseman, winning his 3rd consecutive Silver Slugger award in 1982.

Al moved on to the Giants in February 1984, but by late-August was sent to the Phillies, as Philly tried to shore up first base in their first season without Pete Rose.

Oliver was on the move again in 1985. He spent the first half of his final season with the Dodgers, and the last half with the Blue Jays. His final games were in the 1985 ALCS against the Royals.

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Bob Didier (#232)

During spring training 1969, the Braves traded their long-time catcher Joe Torre to the Cardinals for slugging first-sacker Orlando Cepeda. This left the catching chores in the hands of veteran backup Bob Tillman and two rookies: Walt Hriniak (RIN-ee-ack) and Bob Didier. In fact, those 2 catchers shared a high-numbered Braves Rookies card in the 1969 set.

Although Hriniak was 6 years older, in the Braves’ system since 1961, and got a taste of the majors in September 1968, Didier won the starting job in 1969. (I learned today that Hriniak had been an infielder until midway through the 1968 season, so that may have given Didier the edge.)

Bob Didier was signed by the Braves in 1967, and after 2 seasons of class-A ball, he made the jump to the Braves at the start of the 1969 season. Bob started 108 games behind the plate (with Tillman starting 52 and Hriniak only 2), and hit .256 (ok for a rookie catcher) with 32 RBI. He also finished 4th in the NL Rookie of the Year voting behind Ted Sizemore, Coco Laboy, and Al Oliver.

So, Didier’s on his way to a fine career, right? Wrong! In 1970 he was buried behind Tillman (63 starts) and Rule 5 pickup Hal King (51 starts). Bob only started 48 games that year, and appeared in 9 others as a pinch-hitter.

1971 brought more bad news for Didier. Rookie Earl Williams began the season alternating at 3rd base with Clete Boyer. On June 20th, Williams (having never caught in the minors) made his first career start behind the plate in the 2nd game of a doubleheader. By mid-July, Williams was the everyday catcher, and Didier was riding the pine, with only 7 of his 43 starts coming after June 20th.

After playing a few dozen games in the minors in ’70 and ’71, Didier spent most of 1972-74 in triple-A, moving to the Tigers’ organization in May ’73 and the Red Sox in March 1974.

Bob wrapped up his career with the AAA teams for the Astros (1975) and Braves (1976). His major-league career fielding percentage is .994!

He managed in the minors off-and-on from 1977 to 2010.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Mike Nagy (#39)

Mike Nagy pitched in the big leagues for 6 seasons, mostly as a starter for the Red Sox in 1969 and 1970.

Nagy was signed by the Red Sox in 1966, and played 3 seasons in class-A ball before jumping to the majors to begin the 1969 season. As a 21-year-old rookie, Mike was 2nd on the staff in starts and innings pitched (behind Ray Culp), but had fewer strikeouts and more walks than the other 3 primary starters.

Nagy finished 2nd in the AL Rookie of the Year voting behind the Royals’ Lou Piniella, receiving 6 of the 24 1st place votes (to Piniella’s 9 votes).

Arm injuries affected him for the rest of his career. Mike slipped to 6-5 in 1970, and while he was the team’s #4 starter, he played a few games in the minors. He was back in triple-A for most of the ’71 and ’72 seasons, only pitching 12 games for Boston in 1971 and one in 1972.

Nagy was traded FOUR times in 1973: to the Cardinals in January, to the Rangers in March, back to the Cardinals in June (for pitcher Jim Bibby), and to the Astros in December. For all that traveling, he played only 9 games with the Cardinals, while spending most of the season with 2 AAA teams.

Mike pitched 9 games for the Astros in 1974 (his last major-league game coming in May), then spent the rest of 1974 and all of 1975 with their AAA team. He also played in Mexico from 1976 to 1979.

In 1977, Nagy started a still-operating real estate business in the Bronx.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Bill Butler (#377)

Bill Butler burst onto the scene in 1969, as a member of the Royals’ starting rotation. After a fine rookie season, his career began to sputter, and was over in a few years.

Butler was drafted by the Tigers in 1965, and spent 4 seasons in their minor-league system. After the 1968 season, Bill was the 11th player selected by the Royals in the expansion draft.

He made his major-league debut by starting the 5th game in Royals’ history in April 1969. By the end of that first season, he had made 29 starts, tied with Roger Nelson for 2nd place behind Wally Bunker’s 31 starts. Butler also led the staff with 156 strikeouts (26 more than the veteran Bunker).

In 1970 Butler (and Bunker) had off-years, with Butler slipping to 4-12 and only 75 strikeouts, while walking 87. The following season, he played 14 games for Kansas City and 13 games for their triple-A team in Omaha.

In July 1972, Bill was sold to the Indians, and spent most of ’72 and all of ’73 in the minors. In October 1973, he was dealt to the Twins.

Bill pitched out of the Twins bullpen during the ’74 and ’75 seasons, but spent all of 1976 and most of 1977 in the minors.

Butler was traded to the Dodgers after 1he 1977 season, and spent all of 1978 as a reliever for the Dodgers’ AAA team in Albuquerque, before retiring.

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Recapping the Bat Rack Team

Before I head off down the path of the 1969 Topps All-Rookie team, one last look at the 1970 cards featuring players hanging out at the bat rack:

Tony Taylor and Del Unser each had 2 stints playing for the Phillies. Their first was as a starting player, and their second was as the team's go-to pinch-hitter.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Coco Laboy (#238)

Jose "Coco" Laboy is our 3rd baseman on the “Hangin’ at the Bat Rack” team. (He's also the perfect transition to my next several posts on the Topps All-Rookie Team.)

Laboy was signed by the Giants in 1959, and played 4 seasons in their farm system, mostly as a shortstop. After the Giants released him prior to the 1963 season, he was signed by the Cardinals and played another 6 seasons in the minors at 3B/2B, including 1965-68 in triple-A.

Laboy was selected by the Expos in the expansion draft, and was the Expos’ starting 3rd baseman during his (and the Expos’) first 2 seasons. Coco hit 18 home runs as a 29-year-old rookie, and finished tied for 2nd in the NL Rookie of the Year award.

After 2 seasons as the starting 3rd baseman, Laboy injured his knee while playing winter ball, and for 1971 he switched places with Bob Bailey (his backup in 1970). That arrangement continued through the 1972 season.

After 9 starts at 3rd base in late-April 1973, Laboy was relegated to the bench, playing his last major-league game on May 16th. He spent the remainder of the 1973 season in the minors.

After his baseball career, Laboy returned to Puerto Rico and worked for the government for 27 years, eventually becoming the director of athletics for Puerto Rico.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Del Unser (#336)

Here’s centerfielder Del Unser, perusing the bat rack. (Actually, it looks more like the perennial second-division Senators “borrowed” a shopping cart from the local A&P for their bats.)

Unser came up with the Senators in 1968 and immediately took over the center field position, starting 153 games in his rookie season. He finished a distant second place in the Rookie of the Year voting to Yankees’ pitcher Stan Bahnsen.

Unser was drafted by the Twins in June 1965 and by the Pirates in January 1966, but did not sign. He was the Senators’ #1 pick in the June 1966 draft, and played the remainder of that year and all of 1967 for the York (PA) White Roses, the Nats’ double-A team.

The following season he jumped to the majors out of spring training, and was Washington’s starting center gardener for the 1968 and 1969 seasons. After starting the first 11 games in 1970, Del was relegated to the bench for much of the season, only starting 21 games after April 27th, as Ed Stroud took over his position.

In 1971 Unser was back in the driver’s seat, starting 2/3 of the games in center, while the newly-acquired Elliot Maddox starting most of the other games.

Del was traded to the Indians after the 1971 season in an 8-player deal, but only lasted 1 season in Cleveland. A year later he was traded to the Phillies for outfielders Oscar Gamble and Roger Freed. [Oh, how I LOVED this trade back then! The Phillies were getting a bona fide center fielder in exchange for two stiffs that had worn out their welcome. It was one of the first deals by Paul Owens, who had taken over as Phillies’ GM in June 1972.] 

Pushing 1971-72 center fielder Willie Montanez over to right field, Unser manned center field for the Phillies during the ’73 and ’74 seasons. After 1974, he was traded to the Mets (with reliever Mac Scarce and catching prospect John Stearns) for reliever Tug McGraw and 2 backup outfielders. (Obviously, McGraw made major contributions for the next half-dozen seasons.)

After a few seasons with the Mets and Expos, Unser returned to the Phillies in 1979, this time as a pinch-hitter extraordinaire. He played in over 90 games each in ’79 and ’80, but started less than a third of them. His value was now in his timely hitting (.298 in 1979). After 2 more seasons with the Phillies, Del retired after the 1982 season.

Unser has worked off-and-on for the Phillies since then, most notably as a batting coach and minor-league instructor.

Del’s father Al was a catcher for the Tigers and Reds in the mid-1940s.

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Jay Johnstone (#485)

Jay Johnstone just came off his first full season in the majors in 1969, starting 141 games in center field for the Angels. It would also be the high point of his career in terms of playing time (even more than his 1975-76 stint as the Phillies’ regular right fielder). In deference to Del Unser (next post), I’m going to tab Jay as the right fielder on the “Hangin’ at the Bat Rack” team.

Johnstone was signed by the Los Angeles Angels in June 1963. He played in the Angels’ farm system from 1963 to 1968, the last three seasons in triple-A. Jay also played for the Angels for parts of 1966 to 1968, making his major-league debut on 7/30/1966 at age 20.

Jay was a full-time major-leaguer from 1969 to 1972. After his breakout 1969 season as the team’s regular center fielder, he played just over half the games in 1970 in center field, sharing the position with Roger Repoz, Jarvis Tatum, and Tony Gonzalez.

After the season, Johnstone and 2 others were traded to the White Sox for outfielder Ken Berry and 2 others. Jay spent the next 2 seasons with the White Sox. 1971 turned out to be similar to his last year with the Angels: the primary center fielder, but sharing the post with others. He also started 2 dozen games in right field. In 1972, Johnstone shared center field evenly with former Angels’ teammate Rick Reichardt, but overall, his playing time was decreasing.

Johnstone was released by the White Sox during Spring Training in 1973, and picked a few weeks later by the Athletics. He spent most of the season in the minors, while also playing 23 games with Oakland.

After spending part of the 73-74 off-season as property of the Cardinals, Jay was signed by the Phillies on April 3rd. He spent the first half of 1974 in the minors, but was recalled by the Phillies in early July, and was the team’s regular right fielder from that point until they acquired Bake McBride in June 1977.

In mid-June 1978 he was traded to the Yankees for reliever Rawley Eastwick, but was flipped to the Padres the next day. He was granted free agency after the season, and signed with the Dodgers. Johnstone spent the remainder of his career as a part-time outfielder and pinch-hitter.

After 2 seasons with the Dodgers and 3 with the Cubs, he returned to the Dodgers to start the 1985 season, but appeared only as a pinch-hitter in his final season. He pinch-hit 17 times over the entire season (missing all of May, July, and August).

Johnstone played in the post season with the Phillies (’76, ’77), Yankees (’78), and Dodgers (’81, ’85).

Also check out his 1967 card.