Wednesday, August 31, 2011

A Free Swinger...But a Tough Out

In 1968, this player was picked by the New York Mets as the first overall draft pick:

Card #19 -- Tim Foli, Montreal Expos

Tim Foli was known for being a fiery player, with a temper to match. He was also known as a tough player to strike out. However, he was a free swinger who was able to put the ball in play (he rarely walked) but had very little power. As the picture on the card shows, he would choke up on the bat, which was unusual for the era. He was also known for his skill with the glove, which allowed infielders to stick around in those days.

Foli was a well-traveled player, spreading his career over sixteen years and six different clubs. It was with the Expos that he spent the longest tenure, from 1972-'77. He was popular with the fans in Montreal, but his anemic hitting saw him traded to the Giants. In '78, he was a regular for his original team (The Mets), who had the worst record in the National League. He would get traded to Pittsburgh three games into the 1979 season, and he won his only Series ring that year.

In 1981, we was traded to another contender in California, who went to the ALCS. After one more season with the Angels and another with the Yankees, he finished up in Pittsburgh in 1985. He became a coach after his playing days were over, as well as a minor league manager. In those capacities, he was still a fiery competitor. Age didn't mellow him at all.

Monday, August 29, 2011

A Fan Favorite...Pinstripes Edition

Sparky Lyle had a lot of things to say about his teammates when he wrote The Bronx Zoo in 1978 with Peter Golenbock. Many of them weren't complimentary. About Roy White, he said: "Roy White is probably the nicest...guy on the club. He's quiet. He's well respected by everybody, and he's very classy." In a book that is lauded as a tell-all account, that's no faint praise.

Card #25 -- Roy White, New York Yankees

Fans loved Roy White in New York. He was one of the few Yankees from the pre-Steinbrenner  era who were allowed to stick with the club for years afterward. He didn't bother getting cute quotes to the writers, never demanded to get put into a better lineup position, he just went out to left field and did his job.

The back of this card says that White is the only player to have switch-hit triples in a single game (he did that on September 1970). Though the feat has been matched since then (Jerry Mumphrey in 1981 and Jose Macias in 2004), it's rare to hit two triples in a single game, much less from each side of the plate.

White came up to the Bronx in 1965, an era where the Yankees had appeared in the previous five World Series and fifteen out of the previous eighteen. He probably figured it would be a matter of time before he got the chance to play in the postseason, but it ended up turning into a twelve-year wait. He won his Series rings in 1977 and '78 and played for the Yankees through 1979.

He then went to Japan and played for the Yomiuri Giants for three more years, where he played alongside Sadaharu Oh. After hanging up his cleats, he became a coach for the Yankees (three times) and several other teams.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Two-Sport Threat

At the time this picture was taken, this pitcher was part of the rotation but would soon transition to the bullpen:

Card#72 -- Ron Reed, Atlanta Braves

In this photo, Ron Reed's delivering a pitch to Braves catcher Paul Casanova. He looks like he's about to fall down (or is that from the tilt of the field?).

From 1966-'75, Reed was a starting pitcher for the Braves, continuing in that role for the Cardinals for the rest of '75 after being traded. After that season, he was traded to the Philadelphia Phillies and moved into a new role as a reliever. He became renowned for being a tough pitcher to hit a home run against, and was a regular in the postseason during his 1976-'83 tenure with the team. He would get in one last season with the White Sox in 1984 before retiring.

In addition to being one of only eight major league pitchers to notch both 100 career victories and 100 saves, Reed was a two-sport star early in his career. After starring in both baseball and basketball at Notre Dame, he played on the Detroit Pistons in 1965-'66 and 1966-'67 during the off-seasons.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Star Player...But Not Quite Immortal

Before this player passed away from a stroke in 1995, there was a push by several fans to get him enshrined in the Hall of Fame:

Card #75 -- Vada Pinson, California Angels

However, 2,757 hits and 485 doubles aren't numbers that will cement induction. That said, Pinson remains eligible through the Veterans' Committee and can conceivably get a plaque in Cooperstown someday.

Before I get into a recap of Pinson's career, I will point out the way the field is tilted in the picture on his '73 Topps card. That and the small turnout for the game (though the photo could have been snapped before the game, even if it doesn't look like there are any fans walking toward their seats).

A graduate of McClymonds High School in Oakland, he was a teammate of Frank Robinson. Pinson joined Robinson when he came up with Cincinnati in 1958. He remained with the Reds until 1968 and had his best years with that club. In 1961, he was the runner-up for the National League batting title as he helped the Reds to the World Series. Batting ahead of Robinson early in his career and behind Pete Rose later on, he got a lot of good pitches and took the opportunity to rack up the runs and RBIs.

In 1969, the Reds traded Pinson to the Cardinals, but his season was disappointing. After that, he would spend two seasons with three different clubs: Cleveland, California and Kansas City. Even toward the end of his career, he was still able to play over 100 games a year and wasn't relegated to the DH position to get a bat into the lineup. He was still able to capably play in the field, and filled in wherever he was needed.

After retiring, Pinson became a major league coach with the Mariners, White Sox, Tigers and Marlins. Though efforts to get him into Cooperstown failed (and then cooled off after his death), Vada Pinson was still one of the most exciting and productive batters of the 1960s.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Quite a Name...

I was too young to collect cards in 1973 (I actually started in 1979), but if I had, this player's name would have brought out the inner voice of that 14-year old that still lives inside me:

Card #98 -- Dick Woodson, Minnesota Twins

He is standing in front of the unmistakeable facade of the old pre-renovated Yankee stadium in this photo. In 1974, he played his last major league home games there.

Dick Woodson was originally brought up as a set-up reliever and occasional starter for the Twins in 1969 and '70. He played in the ALCS both of those years as well. In '71 he was sent back to the minors and re-emerged as a starter for the Twins in 1972. He achieved a 25-23 mark for the team as part of the rotation from '72 through the first month of '74.

In May of '74, he was traded to the Yankees, where he returned to a role of occasional starter/set-up reliever. By mid-season, he was once more in the minors. This time, he never made it back to teh parent club, and was done after the 1975 season.

Friday, August 19, 2011

The Mad Hungarian

This guy was quite an imposing character when he took the mound:

Card #153 -- Al Hrabosky, St. Louis Cardinals

When he came in to pitch, Al Hrabosky stalked to the mound. He glared and brooded. He turned his back to the batter and psyched himself up, inciting himself into an angry mood. He eventually sported a Fu Manchu mustache, giving him an even more sinister appearance. It must have worked; he would post a 64-35 all-time record and notch 97 saves (before the statistic was amped up as the specialists developed) during his career.

He pitched with the Cardinals from 1970-'77. In 1975, he led the league in saves (22) and winning percentage (13-3, .813) and was named Fireman of the Year. In 1977, new Cardinals skipper Vern Rapp demanded he shave off his facial hair. He complied, but his numbers were substandard. He was traded to Kansas City after the season.

That 1978 season with the Royals saw him get into his only postseason. He pitched in three games of the ALCS against the Yankees in a losing cause. After two years with the Royals, Hrabosky dipped into the free agent pool and signed with the Braves before the 1980 season. He was there for three years but notched only seven saves during that time as his playing time diminished. In 1983 he tried to catch on with the Chicago White Sox but retired during Spring training.

After stepping down from the mound, Hrabosky stepped into the broadcasting booth. He has been doing color commentary for Cardinals games and has hosted a radio sports talk show in St. Louis.

And although he was very well known for striking fear into the batters he faced, it seems Hrabosky is one of the nicest guys you'd ever meet in person.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Sometimes the Stats Don't Tell the Whole Story

This is a posed photo, but this player really looks like he's enjoying the fact that he's able to wear a big league uniform:

Card #166 -- Terry Harmon, Philadelphia Phillies

Terry Harmon was a career Phillie, spending 1969-'77 with the team (as well as a two-game trial in '67). Although he was a utility infielder during that time -- he never played more than 87 games in a single season -- he was considered helpful enough to stay with the Phils as they rebuilt from the team with the worst record in the National League in 1972 to a regular contender later in the decade.

Harmon is shown here with his glove, which is appropriate. Though he was able to play capably at every infield position, he occasionally flirted with the Mendoza Line in his career and amassed four home runs in his career. And that's because he had a power surge in his final season and cranked out two of them.

Since retiring, Harmon has been dabbling in TV. He was a broadcaster at a local Philadelphia cable sports station and eventually moved over to sales.

Monday, August 15, 2011


Here is a player who was popular with the fans:

Card #188 -- Cookie Rojas, Kansas City Royals

Here he is at Spring Training, surrounded by equipment. Check out the player in the background, resting against a chain-link fence.

His given name was Octavio Victor Rojas Rivas...but fans simply know him as "Cookie."

Though signed in 1956, he wouldn't make it to the big leagues until 1962, when he played for the visiting team in the first game ever at Dodger Stadium. His tenure in Cincinnati that year was short; after 39 games and a return to the minor leagues, he was dealt to the Phillies. With the Phillies, Rojas filled in wherever he was needed on the field and finally secured the staring position at second base by 1965. His double-play tandem with shortstop Bobby Wine was often referred to as "The Days of Wine and Rojas."

(For those who didn't know..."The Days of Wine and Roses" was a popular song by Henry Mancini in the early 1960s, and the theme to a film of the same name. I'm mentioning that since the history of popular music of the 1960s is often sparse in the history books before the arrival of The Beatles.)

Rojas' offensive numbers were falling by 1969, so the Phillies sent him to the Cardinals as part of the deal involving Dick Allen and Curt Flood that led to free agency. He struggled in St. Louis and would get traded to the Royals in June 1970. The veteran was able to become a leader quickly in Kansas City, holding down the post at second for the next several years and representing them in the All-Star game every year from 1971-'74.

In 1976, he lost his starting job to Frank White, who is still the only Royal to play more games that Rojas at second base. After two years as a utility player, Rojas signed with the Cubs in '78 but never played in a game for them. After his retirement, Cookie Rojas was a coach and manager at the big-league level, and eventually moved into the broadcast booth. He's currently handling the Marlins' Spanish-language telecasts.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Waiting For the Forceout

Waiting for the throw as Bert Campaneris makes his way to first, Bob Oliver has his glove ready and hopes the throw isn't off:

Card #289 -- Bob Oliver, California Angels

Actually, this picture may have worked better on a horizontally-oriented card. There were certainly worse images in the set that were given that treatment.

At the time this picture was taken, Bob Oliver was a teammate of Nolan Ryan. His son Darren was also a teammate of Ryan's, during the Hall of Famer's final season in 1993. He was a new member of the Angels in 1972, having been traded from the Royals in May. He would stay in California until late in the '74 season, when he was traded to Baltimore. He played with the Yankees in 1975 and then three more years in the minors before retiring.

An original member of the Royals in 1969, Oliver was the first player on that team to hit a grand slam. he also was the first to collect six hits in a nine-inning contest.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Sportin' the Mutton Chops

I've mentioned before that 1970s style is sometimes unintentionally hilarious because of the way its proponents dropped them later on. Long, unwashed hair. Bell-bottom pants. Plaid shirt patterns. Earth shoes. And -- on display here -- the long "mutton chop" sideburns:

Card #216 -- Toby Harrah, Texas Rangers

Plus, I like the fact that his last name is a palindrome.

In 1986, Toby Harrah was the last active major leaguer who had played with the Washington Senators. He first came up with the Senators in 1969 and moved over with the team to Texas in 1972. He remained with the organization through 1978, when he was traded to Cleveland for Buddy Bell. After five seasons with the Indians, he went to the New York Yankees as a platoon player in 1984. He then returned to the Rangers (and a full-time role) for two seasons.

Harrah was the last player to see a pitch as a member of the Senators. He was standing at the plate when Tommy McCraw was thrown out trying to steal in the bottom of the eighth. There was no bottom of the ninth...after the team's fans trashed the field before the game was official and caused a forfeit to the Yankees.

Harrah also participated in two trivial oddities during the 1970s. In 1976, he played an entire doubleheader without taking a single chance. That is a really big deal, considering the fact that he was a shortstop. In 1977, he and Bump Wills hit back-to-back inside-the-park home runs. That has never happened before or since, even in the "dead ball" era when heads-down baserunning was the style.

After retiring, Harrah was the Rangers' manager for the second half of the 1992 season. He is currently a hitting coach for the Detroit Tigers.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Kuckleballing Workhorse

This player defined "workhorse," being one of the last pitchers to regularly throw 300 innings a season:

Card #150 -- Wilbur Wood, Chicago White Sox

One of the more dominant hurlers of the early 1970s, Wood finished second to Gaylord Perry in a very close race for the Cy Young award.

Wood came up in 1961 with the Red Sox. Primarily a reliever at first, he had a career record of 1-8 with the BoSox and Pirates before getting traded to Chicago in 1966. After arriving there, Hoyt Wilhelm showed Wood how to throw a knuckleball and encouraged him to use it exclusively. In 1971, he was converted to a starting pitcher by White Sox skipper Chuck Tanner.

Despite his reluctance to join the rotation, he soon became a feared and respected pitcher. He was called upon to do things that weren't seen since the "Dead Ball" era. He started 49 games in 1972 -- no other pitcher had started that many since 1904 -- and was even on the mound for both games of a doubleheader in 1973.

Unfortunately, a line drive by Ron LeFlore back to the mound in 1976 shattered Wood's kneecap. He had surgery and was able to return, but he never was the same. He stuck it out until 1978 before retiring.

Friday, August 5, 2011

A Cup of Coffee, But Still Holds a Distinction...

Here's another card that was given the airbrush treatment:

Card #567 -- Bob Fenwick, St. Louis Cardinals

In 1972, Bob Fenwick played with the Houston Astros as a utility man. The card mentions on the back that he had been traded to the Cardinals during the offseason.

Incidentally, but the time this card appeared in the later series wax packs, his major league career had ended. He played his final game on May 8, 1973 and spent the rest of the season (and all of '74) in the minor leagues. He actually changed team affiliations three times in 1973.

One interesting bit of trivia: Fenwick was born in Okinawa in 1946 while that island was under American military occupation. He's the only major leaguer with that distinction.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Post/Card #200

This is the 200th here's card #200:

Card #200 -- Billy Williams, Chicago Cubs

Interestingly, I'm in Chicago today for the National Sports Collector's Convention. That makes this post a nice coincidence.

Billy Williams was a lot of things to Cub fans during the 1960s and early 70s. He was an Iron Man, and he hit for average as well as power. He was the National League Rookie of the Year in 1961. He was a six-time All-Star. As it turned out, the only thing he wasn't able to do in Chicago was play in the they traded him to Oakland after the '74 season.

Williams spent two years in Oakland as one of the early beneficiaries of the new DH rule. In 1975, he finally made his first postseason, but the A's fell to the Red Sox in three games. After retiring, he became a major league coach.

Billy Williams was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1987. While few fans debate his place in Cooperstown, his name and that of Fergie Jenkins are often brought up as reasons why Ron Santo hasn't been able to get in as well. Which I've never really understood.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Fun With Roman Numerals

This player has a name that almost looks like a Roman numeral:

Card #483 -- Dal Maxvill, Oakland A's

(T. Sean Shannon...a reader of this blog, stand-up comic and a Facebook friend of mine said that on one of his homemade videos. I couldn't find the one with Maxvill in it...but here's one he did for the 1973 Topps set.)

Dal Maxvill had only come to the A's in September 1972 after having spent his entire career in St. Louis. This is a photo that may have otherwise been airbrushed. Thankfully, Topps had a photographer contact in the Bay Area, as it seems a lot of cards had pictures taken in San Francisco and Oakland. He would end up in Pittsburgh during the 1973 season, but returned to the A's in '74. Thanks to his years on the Cardinals and A's, he won four World Series rings between 1964 and '74.

Maxvill was a great infielder, but a notoriously weak-hitting batter. In 1970, he set a record for players with at least 150 games played by accumulating only 80 hits all year. He also went 0-for-22 in the 1968 World Series, which is still a record for futility in a single Series. In fact, during his time in St. Louis, it was said that Bob Gibson should take the eighth spot in the batting order, since he was more valuable as a hitter.

After retiring, Maxvill became an executive, and served as the general manager of the St. Louis Cardinals from 1984-1994.