Friday, December 30, 2011

The "Other" Bernie Williams

All this week, I've been featuring players whose names are close to more recent (unrelated) members of the New York Yankees. Today, here's a guy whose name matches exactly: 

Card #557 -- Bernie Williams, San Francisco Giants

Bernie Williams spent parts of three seasons in San Francisco, but actually spent all of 1973 with the Giants' AAA affiliate in Phoenix. He would return in 1974 for 14 games with the Padres but was demoted back to the AA level by the end of that season.

In 1975, Williams went to Japan to play for the Hankyu Braves. He became a star there, playing through 1980 and contributing to a monumental team in 1978.

During his short time with San Diego, he shared the outfield with rookie Dave Winfield. Winfield just missed playing alongside the other Bernie Willaims, who made his major league debut the year after Winfield left the Yankees.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011


This is definitely an airbrushed photo:

Card #423 -- Johnny Jeter, Chicago White Sox

Johnny Jeter was traded to the White Sox after two years in San Diego. He had come up with the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1969 and had been sent to the minors for 1971 before being traded to the Padres. His tour with the White Sox lasted one year, before spending '74 with the Cleveland organization. After six games in the majors that year, his career was over.

His highlight was probably the game in 1972 where he slammed two of this 18 career home runs. However, since he played for San Diego that year, the Padres found a way to lose the game anyway.

In 1992, Jeter's son Shawn played 13 games with the Toronto Blue Jays.

Monday, December 26, 2011

The Original "A-Rod"

This A. Rodriguez also played third base for the New York Yankees, but nobody ever thought to call him "A-Rod." The practice of shortening a player's name seems to be a modern phenomenon:

Card #218 -- Aurelio Rodriguez, Detroit Tigers

Aurelio Rodriguez was well-renowned for having one of the strongest throwing arms of any third baseman in the game. No less of a third baseman than George Brett praised him, saying that he would toy around and pound the ball in his glove...and still throw a batter out by 10 feet. He only won a single Gold Glove at his position, but the one he picked up in 1976 broke Brooks Robinson's streak of 15.

Baseball card collectors know him as the player whose picture on his 1969 Topps card was actually a batboy for the Angels. California was the first of seven major league teams Rodriguez played for over the course of a 17-year career, but he spent more time with the Tigers than any other.

And it was in Detroit that he met his doom. While visiting the city in 2000, he was a pedestrian that was in the wrong place when a freak car accident occurred. There have been three men named Aurelio to have played in the major leagues (the others were Aurelio Lopez and Aurelio Monteagudo), and all three were killed in car accidents at a relatively young age.

A member of the Mexican baseball Hall of Fame, his funeral was attended by thousands. Among the mourners was the country's president.

Friday, December 23, 2011

A Man Called "Vuk"

Airbrushed into his new uniform, this player spent all of 1972 in the minor leagues:

Card #451 -- John Vukovich, Milwaukee Brewers

Despite a short trial with the Philadelphia Phillies in 1970 and a longer one in '71, this would be John Vukovich's rookie card. This picture originally showed him wearing a Phillies uniform, but he was sent to Milwaukee before the 1973 season in the same deal that sent Don Money to the Brewers (and Money was airbrushed into an even more ridiculous-looking uniform on his card).

Getting traded to the Brewers was probably a good thing for Vukovich at the time, as Denny Doyle was the Phillies' regular second baseman. He spent two years in Milwaukee and then started 1975 as Cincinnati's third baseman. He was benched in favor of Pete Rose so George Foster could be given more playing time and then sent back to the minors. He would return to Philadelphia in 1976 and would stay with the organization for the rest of his career.

Though he was never an everyday player and rarely batted above .200, he was still quite popular with the team's blue-collar fans. Though he never played in the 1980 World Series, Vukovich was still a member of that World Championship team.

After retiring in 1981, Vukovich worked as a coach. Twice, he was named interim manager: he led the Cubs for one day in 1986 and split a doubleheader, and finished the last nine games of the '88 season for the Phillies. He was considered again for the Phils' skipper job in 2000, but the post went to his childhood friend and former teammate Larry Bowa.

In 2001, Vukovich was diagnosed with brain cancer. He fought it for years, but lost that battle in 2007. After his passing, he was inducted into the Phillies' Wall of Fame, the team wore his nickname on their uniforms and dedicated their 2007 season to his memory. That's high praise for somebody who was never a regular on the team.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Better Than Ken Hubbs?

In 1962, this player was selected to Topps' All-Star Rookie team as the second baseman, despite the fact that fellow second sacker Ken Hubbs actually won the Rookie of the Year award in the National League:

Card #293 -- Bernie Allen, New York Yankees

This Spring Training shot was the image on Bernie Allen's final card. Although he started 1973 with the Yankees, his contract was purchased by the Montreal Expos during the summer. He would finish his career there at the end of the year.

Allen signed with the Minnesota Twins after playing at Purdue University, where he also played quarterback on the football team. He replaced Billy Martin as the Twins' second baseman in 1962 and had an outstanding rookie season (as evidenced by his inclusion in the All-Star Rookie team). However, he would get sent back down to the minors for part of 1965. In 1967, he was traded to the Washington Senators. When that team moved to Texas in 1972, he was traded to the Yankees.

At New York, he was used as a pinch-hitter and picked up the slack for regular second baseman Horace Clarke and third baseman Graig Nettles. The card above shows him as a third baseman, but he split his time between second and third during his stay in The Bronx.

Monday, December 19, 2011


The title above this post isn't meant to say this player was a comedian; instead, it was his most effective pitch:

Card #126 -- Jim Brewer, Los Angeles Dodgers

Jim Brewer took advice from Warren Spahn, who encouraged him to develop the screwball as a unique pitch. He definitely made the most of it, gaining a repuration as one of the toughest pitchers in baseball against right-handed hitters. In fact, opposing managers would send up left-handed pinch-hitters (unusual for southpaw pitchers) because he was so rough on righties.

Brewer came up with the Cubs in 1960 and was traded to the Dodgers before the 1964 season. In a dozen seasons in Los Angeles, he settled into a role as one of the team's top relief specialists. He appeared in more games than any other Dodger pitcher except Don Sutton and Don Drysdale, saved 125 games for the club and appeared in three World Series. He would be traded to the Angels in 1975 and retired after the '76 season.

As a rookie with the Cubs, Brewer was involved in a nasty on-field incident involving Billy Martin, who was then playing for the Reds. After brushing back Martin with a pitch, Billy threw his bat toward the mound. Brewer picked up the bat and handed it to the approaching Martin, who simply cold-cocked him instead to taking the bat. The punch broke the cheekbone under Brewer's right eye and put him in the hospital for two months.

Jim Brewer passed away in 1987, after sustaining injuries in a car crash.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Eating the Dirt

The eternal fourteen-year old inside my head really wants to make an inappropriate wisecrack about the picture on this card:

Card #236 -- Tito Fuentes, San Francisco Giants

The photo shows the aftermath of a play at second in Candlestick Park, where the Astro second baseman has just eaten dirt, the shortstop is running to back the play up and an outfielder stands at the ready. There appears to be a batter in the foreground, which means this was most likely a stolen base attempt. There really is no way to tell whether Tito Fuentes is safe or out, but looking at Fuentes's performance in 1972, he stole twice at home against the Astros, once on April 22nd and again on August 5th. It also showed that he wasn't caught stealing at all against the Astros that season, so he appears to have made it.

Tito Fuentes was an unabashed hot hog whose quotes were good for writers and whose headbands worn outside his cap made for great baseball card pictures. He was signed in 1962, one of the last players taken from Cuba before a trade embargo was put in place by the United States. He came up for the first time in 1965 and remained with the Giants through 1974. After a couple of years in San Diego and a one-year stint in Detroit, he came up for 13 games in 1978 in Oakland before retiring.

In 1973, Fuentes set a record for the best season in history for fielding percentage at second base. He only made six errors in 160 games on his way to a .993 average. Interestingly, he was among the National League leaders in errors committed during 1971 and '72. Late in his career, he hit over .300 for the only time in his career during his one season in Detroit. Despite having a career season, the team had Lou Whitaker ready to play and let him go.

In 1981, he stepped into the broadcast booth when the Giants began their Spanish-language radio programming. He remains with the broadcast team today as an analyst and is just as popular today as when he was covering second in Candlestick.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Taking Needed Practice

It's ironic that Topps chose a picture of this guy taking his turn at batting practice:

Card #599 - Ed Crosby, St. Louis Cardinals

Ed Crosby was a prototypical good field/no hit infielder, amassing a .220 career batting average and failing to hit a single home run in his six seasons. After coming up to the Cardinals in 1970, he would split 1973 between St. Louis and Cincinnati before spending parts of three seasons in Cleveland. He remained in the minor leages until 1979 but wasn't able to get back to the majors after 1976.

Despite his anemic stats and short career, Crosby had a son who would win the Rookie of the Year Award in 2004. In fact, Bobby Crosby enjoyed a longer major league career than his father did. Another son, Blake, is in the Oakland A's organization.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Rare Combination

A couple of weeks ago, I asked about the structure in the background, wondering if it was some type of hotel at the Mets' spring training facility. It turns out the structure is the old scoreboard at Shea Stadium. In any case, it's in the background of this card:

Card #290 -- Cesar Cedeno, Houston Astros

Cesar Cedeno was a player who possessed power, speed and defensive abilities that made a player like Willie Mays a star, as well as an eye for walks and a strong outfield arm. He was a four-time All-Star during the 1970s and won the Gold Glove at his position every year from 1972 through '76. In the pre-Rickey Henderson era, he stole more than 50 bases for six consecutive seasons. In fact, he was the second player after Lou Brock to hit 50 20 homers and steal 50 bases in a season (doing that for three straight years). In short, he was a solid player who racked up some impressive stats that made him dangerous to his opponents.

However, for much of his career he played half his games in the Astrodome, a notorious place that ate up stats like that. It would have been interesting to see him play for a more powerhouse club like (Pittsburgh or Cincinnati) during the era and see how far they might have gotten. As it turned out, Cedeno did end up on the Reds, but they were no longer the Big Red Machine by the time he arrived in 1982. Late in his career, he was traded to the Cardinals in 1985 and provided a large spark that helped propel them past the Mets that year and into the World Series.

After finishing his career in Los Angeles in 1986, he became a coach in the Winter Leagues in Venezuela and his native Dominican Republic.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Chico...Don't Be Discouraged...

For those who didn't recognize the words in the title...they were the opening words to the TV show Chico and the Man, even though that didn't actually debut until 1974. "Chico" was the nickname of this guy:

Card #522 -- Leo Cardenas, California Angels

Leo "Chico" Cardenas was an infielder who spent sixteen seasons in the major leagues. He came up in 1960 with the Cincinnati Reds and remained with the team through 1968. He appeared in the '61 World Series against the Yankees and moved into the team's regular shortstop role by 1962. When Pete Rose came up in 1963, Cardenas was his double play partner. He would be traded to Minnesota and played for the Twins during the first two ALCS series. After the '71 season, he was traded to the Angels.

1972 was Cardenas's final year as an everyday player. His skills were beginning to wane due to his age, so he lasted that one season in California. By the time this card was included in wax packs, he was playing for the Cleveland Indians. 1973 was the first season where Cardenas played any position besides shortstop (we went to third in 10 games), and he would split time between the left side of the infield -- with a couple of DH appearances for the rest of his career. His final two seasons were spent in Texas, where he played for his ex-Twins skipper Billy Martin.

Cardenas is a native of Cuba, which provides the backdrop for an interesting story about him. While he was playing in Havana during the 1950s, Cardenas was on the field when several supporters of Fidel Castro became so excited they began firing their rifles in the air. Some of the bullets arced back onto the field and several players (including Cardenas) were injured by the gunfire. As the political climate in the country worsened, Havana's team was forced to play the rest of their schedule in the U.S.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011


At 80 years old, this guy is still active in major league baseball:

Card #12 -- Don Zimmer and Coaches, San Diego Padres

Don Zimmer began his baseball career in 1949 and was a member  of the 1955 Brooklyn Dodgers. He was also a member of another legendary team (but for totally different reasons), the 1962 New York Mets. After retiring as a player, he immediately became a coach in the minor leagues. By 1971 he was coaching in Montreal and moved over to San Diego as the third-base coach in 1972. 11 games into the season, the Padres fired Preston Gomez and gave Zimmer his first big-league skipper job. He remained a manager, with the Red Sox, the Rangers and the Cubs and was a visible member of the New York Yankees' coaching staff between 1996 and 2003. Today, he works for the Tampa Bay Rays.

Red Sox fans aren't likely to rate him high on their list of favorite people. Not considering he was the skipper of the fateful '78 team, and not after he rushed the mound to confront Pedro Martinez in 2003. A pepperpot as a player, he definitely showed his emotion on the field. But I've been told by those who know him that he's about as down-to-earth in person as you'll ever expect anybody to be.

Zimmer was one of the managers whose card contained a variation in the 1973 Topps set.  The card above shows solid-colored background behind the coaches' heads, while the one below still has the natural backgrounds (tinted, but still natural):

Dave Garcia never made the major leagues as a player. He later went on to manage the Angels from 1977-'78 and the Indians from 1979-'82. He continued to coach and scout into his 80s and is still around to tell his stories.

Johnny Podres was a hero of the 1955 World Series and a teammate during Zimmer's two tours with the Dodgers. After finishing his career as one of the original Padres in 1969, he remained with the team as a pitching coach and would hold that capacity through 1996 with various teams. Sadly, Podres passed away in 2008.

Bob Skinner was a member of two other teams that beat the Yankees in the World Series (the 1960 Pirates and 1964 Cardinals). He had already served as manager of the Phillies in 1968-'69 and remained a coach into the 1980s. His son Joel followed in his shoes as a player and coach.

Finally, William "Whitey" Wietelmann was an infielder with the Boston Braves from 1939-'46 and the Pirates in 1947.  He was a long-time coach when the San Diego Padres was still the name of the PCL team and coached for 13 seasons in the majors. He passed away in 2002.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Another Sad Story From the 70s...

This pitcher tossed the first no-hitter on artificial grass, as well as the first inside a domed stadium:

Card #217 -- Don Wilson, Houston Astros

Don Wilson pitched two no-hitters during his career, one in 1967 and the other in '69. 20 of his 104 wins was a shutout, including the last game he pitched. He was a pitcher who could rack up strikeouts (averaging 6.6 per 9 innings) while not allowing a whole lot of hits and walks. He even managed to lay down a bunt double against the Phillies in 1971, which is a rare feat.

However, Don Wilson's death will probably overshadow what he did in his life. On January 5, 1975, he was found dead in his garage. His car was running and the garage was closed, so he died of carbon monoxide poisoning. His son was also in the car with him. A daughter and his wife were inside the house and had to be hospitalized. The death was ruled an accident, but that hasn't stopped fans from suggesting something else was afoot.

Ironically, the picture on this card seems to suggest an inner sadness, something that may not have been noticed until the sad news broke.

Friday, December 2, 2011

You Say it's Your Birthday...

There are two players who were born on December 2 that appear in the 1973 Topps set. One was Pedro Borbon, who was featured earlier. The other is this guy, who's painted into his new uniform (including a way-too-big hat logo and city name on his shirt) after being traded away from the Reds after the end of the 1972 season:

Card #428 -- Wayne Simpson, Kansas City Royals

Wayne Simpson turns 63 today. And why am I focusing on today's birthday boys? Well, if you're familiar with the Beatles song I quoted in the title of this post, the next line in the lyric applies to me.

This picture is airbrushed, due to Simpson having been a member of the Cincinnati Reds until 1972. The hat logo is too large, as is the "Kansas City" emblem on his shirt (not to mention that a white shirt would have said "Royals" on it).

Simpson made his major league debut in 1970, pitching a compete two-hit shutout against the Dodgers. He was a key member of a rotation that won the pennant and was an All-Star. However, he tore his rotator cuff late in the season and missed the postseaon. He was able to come back from his injury but wasn't the same pitcher afterwards. He spent both '71 and '72 shuttling between Riverfront Stadium and the AAA affiliate in Indianapolis before he was traded to Kansas City in the Hal McRae deal.

Simpson continued to split time between the majors and minors in '73 and spent all of '74 in the minors. He would return to the majors in 7 games with the Phillies in 1975 and one last season in California in 1977 before being sent down for good and then finishing up in Mexico in 1979.

The 1970 Reds staff had three promising young pitchers: Simpson, Don Gullett and Joe Gary Nolan (See the comments for the correction -- Ed.). Interestingly, all three developed arm problems and were out of the game by the end of the decade.