Thursday, May 31, 2018

Paul Popovich (#258)

Paul Popovich was a backup middle infielder, mostly for the Cubs, but he also played briefly for the Dodgers and Pirates.

Popovich was signed by the Cubs in 1960. He played 7 seasons in their farm system, almost exclusively at 2nd base. During this time he managed to appear for the Cubs in 1 game in April 1964 and 2 games in September 1966.

Paul made the Cubs' team in 1967, and played 49 games in his rookie season. He started 26 games at shortstop (every game that Don Kessinger did not start) including most of the games in early June and early July. In November 1967 he was traded to the Dodgers for outfielder Lou Johnson.

Surprisingly (even to me now), Popovich was the Dodgers' primary 2nd baseman in 1968. He started 80 games there (to Jim Lefebvre's 53 starts). I can only assume that Lefebvre was out of the lineup with injuries. Popovich also started another 35 games at shortstop, giving the newly-acquired bust Zoilo Versalles some (much-needed) time off.

All in all, Paul started 115 games for LA that season and played in 134 total games, making 462 plate appearances – all career highs for him. The following year, he would return to utility infielder status for the remainder of his career.

With 1969 ROY Ted Sizemore's arrival, Popovich was without a position in 1969. He only started 12 games during the season's first half, then was traded to the expansion Expos in mid-June (with outfielder Ron Fairly) for shortstop Maury Wills and outfielder Manny Mota.

The same day, Montreal flipped him to the Cubs for pitcher Jack Lamabe and center fielder Adolfo Phillips. Now back in Chicago, Popovich picked up where he left off in 1967 – giving the Cubs’ regular infielders (mostly 2B Glenn Beckert, but also Kessinger and 3B Ron Santo) a day off now and then. This continued through the 1973 season.

Just before the start of the 1974 season, he was swapped to the Pirates for pitcher Tom Dettore. Paul was the backup 2nd baseman to Rennie Stennett (the Pirates had just lost Dave Cash to the Phillies in the off-season) for the next year and a half. He also appeared in 3 games in the 1974 NLCS.

Popovich was released at the end of July 1975 to make room for mid-season call-up Willie Randolph.

Monday, May 14, 2018

Rollie Fingers (#502)

Here is Rollie Fingers’ first solo card. (He appeared in a late-series AL Rookie Stars card in the 1969 set.) Fingers pitched for the Athletics (1968-76), Padres (1977-80), and Brewers (1981-85) in his 17-year career.

He was signed by the Athletics in December 1964, and after 4 seasons in the minors, he got his feet wet with Oakland in 1 game in September 1968.

Always a starter in the minors, he was primarily a reliever with Oakland, but started 8 games in 1969, 19 in 1970, and 8 in 1971. Beginning in 1972, it was only bullpen work for Rollie for the remainder of his career (except for 2 starts in 1973).

Fingers was an All-Star with the Athletics every season from 1973-76, and led the AL in games pitched in ’74 and ’75. Rollie pitched in every post-season from 1971-75 with the Athletics.

After the 1976 season he was granted free agency, and signed with the Padres. He pitched 4 seasons in San Diego, leading the NL in saves in ‘77 and ’78, and making the All-Star team in 1978.

Traded to the Cardinals in December 1980 in an 11-player deal, 4 days later he was sent to the Brewers in a 7-player deal.

Fingers made the All-Star team in his first 2 seasons in Milwaukee, and led the AL in saves in 1981. He also won the Cy Young and MVP awards in 1981. Although he pitched in the ’81 ALDS, he missed the entire 1982 post-season (including the World Series) due to injury.

After missing the 1983 season with that injury, he returned for 2 more seasons with the Brewers (still with a full workload at age 37 and 38) before getting his release after the 1985 season.

Rumor is that Pete Rose offered him a contract to play for the Reds in 1986, but he would have had to shave off his mustache per team policy, so he declined.

Fingers was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1992, only the second reliever to gain entry to Cooperstown by that time.