Saturday, August 26, 2017

Larry Brown (#391)

Here is Larry Brown, the Indians' starting shortstop from 1965-69. He's demonstrating the best way to lose a fingernail while bunting!

Brown played in the minors from 1958 to mid-1963, then made his big-league debut in July 1963. The Tribe had been using a trio of starting shortstops over the first half of the season (Tony Martinez, Dick Howser, Jerry Kindall), but Larry started 45 of the final 70 games there. His 45 starts were more than any of the other three players. Brown also started 20 games at 2nd base in his rookie season.

In 1964, Howser started 161 games at shortstop, while Brown found a temporary home at 2nd base, making 87 starts. This arrangement continued into the start of the next season, but by mid-July, Brown had replaced Howser at shortstop, and started 75 of the final 80 games there.

Larry remained a fixture at shortstop for the next several seasons, although his double-play partner became a revolving door.

In 1969 he only played in 132 games, although still managing to collect as many at-bats (450+) as in his earlier full seasons. He was the regular shortstop for the season's first half, then gave way to Eddie Leon. Brown started sporadically at 3B and SS for the rest of the season.

Larry was clearly a backup in 1970. The Indians cleaned house at the non-1B part of their infield, replacing Vern Fuller/Zoilo Versalles, Brown, and Max Alvis/Lou Klimchock with Eddie Leon, Jack Heidemann, and Graig Nettles at 2B, SS, and 3B respectively. Brown only started 35 games that season, spread across those 3 positions.

In April 1971 Brown was sold to the Athletics. After backing up Bert Campaneris and Dick Green in 1971, Larry was the starting 2nd baseman for 44 games in 1972 (mostly from late-April to mid-June), as 2nd base was a carousel of 5 players that season. Although Brown didn't play in the post-season with the Athletics in either '71 or '72, he did play in the '73 ALCS for Baltimore… vs the Athletics.

Released after the 1972 season, he played very sparingly for the Orioles in 1973 (29 at-bats) and Rangers in 1974 (76 at-bats).

His brother Dick Brown was a catcher for the Indians, White Sox, Tigers, and Orioles from 1957 to 1965.

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Gene Brabender (#289)

Here is Pilots' starting pitcher Gene Brabender, warming up in Yankee Stadium. I was surprised to see today that Gene only played for 5 seasons (1966-70). Although his first 3 seasons were with the Orioles (which is how I remember him), he was traded to the expansion Pilots seemingly minutes before the start of the 1969 season, and went on to lead the staff in wins, strikeouts, and most other pitching categories.

Brabender started out in the Dodgers' chain (I also didn’t know that) in 1961. After 3 seasons as a starting pitcher (mostly in Class D and Class A), Gene lost 2 seasons to military service, then was selected by Baltimore in the post-1965 Rule 5 draft.

He made the Orioles from the get-go in 1966, making his debut in May. Brabender pitched in 31 games as a rookie, all but one in relief.

Gene began the 1967 season back in the minors, getting the triple-A fine-tuning he missed earlier. Recalled in late-July, he started 14 games (completing 3) over the final 2 months of the season.  

In 1967, only Dave McNally remained a top-5 starting pitcher from the previous season's World Champion pitching staff that swept the ’66 World Series. (Injuries cut down Jim Palmer and Wally Bunker, and Steve Barber was traded away by mid-season. ) In their place were rookies Tom Phoebus and Jim Hardin, Brabender, and Pete Richert who was acquired from Washington.

Gene's last season with the O's was 1968. With McNally, Hardin, and Phoebus each making 35+ starts, Brabender was a swing man, only starting 15 of his 37 games.

In 1969 the Orioles acquired starting pitcher Mike Cuellar from the Astros. With Palmer once again healthy and reliever Dick Hall back from his 2-year stint with the Phillies, Baltimore's pitching staff was not only solid, but crowded. Gene was traded to the Pilots during the final week of Spring Training for utility man Chico Salmon. Brabender led the upstart Pilots with 13 wins, 139 strikeouts, 29 starts, and 202 innings pitched. He was also one of Jim Bouton's favorite subjects in his book Ball Four.

Gene's final season was 1970 with the Milwaukee Brewers. Other pitchers acquired in the off-season (such as Lew Krausse, Ken Sanders, Bob Bolin, and Dave Baldwin) surpassed him, cutting his workload down from 40 games in 1969 to 29 in 1970. Of course, having a 6-15 record and a 6.02 ERA probably had something to do with it.

Brabender was traded to the Angels in January 1971 for outfielder Bill Voss. His final card is in the 1971 set (as an Angel), but he played the entire season with the Angels' AAA team, the retired.

He passed away in 1996 at age 55.

Saturday, August 5, 2017

May I Call You?

Here's a break from the normal routine. I went through my 1966 to 1970 cards, and found over a dozen cases where three or more players have the same last name (and many more with just two). I've already done the brothers thing, so they won't be included in this series.

I started off with all the Jacksons, and now here are the (wait, I can't say "Mays", because Willie isn't here) individuals whose last name sounds like "May". (There, that oughta do it!)

(I once told the story here of how in 1967, until I got Tony Cloninger's late-series card, I thought Tony Cloninger and Tony Conigliaro were the same person. Imagine the dilemma I would have had with Lee May and Lee Maye!)