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.