Friday, June 29, 2012

Half the Way...

The title of this post has almost nothing to do with this player. It's actually a mention that this blog is now at the halfway point. It's hard to belive that, as I feel like I have yet to scratch the surface on this set. From here it's all downhill (or so they say), but hopefully it doesn't seem like I'm coasting. And now to the regularly scheduled entry...fittingly, a man who often came to the mound in the middle of a game:

Card #248 -- Jerry Johnson, San Francisco Giants

Jerry Johnson wasn't in a Giants uniform when the 1973 season began. After three years as a relief specialist and a big help in getting the team to the 1971 postseason, he was considered expendable and placed on waivers during Spring Training. The Indians picked him up. And so, the revolving door of teams continued for Johnson, who managed to play on seven different teams in his ten major league seasons.

Johnson was signed by the Mets is 1963 as a third baseman. However, he struggled with his defense and became a pitcher in order to stay in the game. When he finally came up to the majors in 1968, it was as a Phillie. After being involved in the Curt Flood trade, he split 1970 between the Cardinals and San Francisco. After the one season in Cleveland, he stopped in Houston and spent two years with the Padres before joining the Blue Jays in their inaugural season.

In fact, Jerry Johnson earned the win the first time the Toronto Blue Jays ever took the field, coming in during the fifth inning to preserve the victory. He retired after that season with a career 48-51 mark and a 4.31 ERA.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Underrated at Third Base?

In 1973, this guy was returning to the Dodgers after nine years away:

Card #196 -- Ken McMullen, Los Angeles Dodgers

That's why this picture was chosen for the card. Though Topps could have used a photo of him as a fresh-faced rookie in the correct uniform (and they've been known to recycle photos from several years in the past), they went with an old Angels picture that required minimal airbrushing. In fact, it looks like this picture was likely taken at the same session as the photo on his 1972 Topps card.

Signed out of high school, the Oxnard, California native first appeared as a Dodger in 1962 and was part of the team's World Series-winning team the next year. He was dealt to the Senators after the 1964 season. Taking over the "hot corner," he remained as the regular there through 1970. While overshadowed by Brooks Robinson, he was a very good defensive threat that Mickey Mantle called "underrated" at the position.

Early in the 1970 season, he was dealt to the Angels and contributed at third there as well. However, when he was traded back to Los Angeles, he was limited to pinch hitting and late-inning replacement. He spent three years with the Dodgers -- batting during the 1974 NLCS -- before moving on to Oakland in 1976 and the Brewers in '77.

Today, McMullen serves as a representative of the Dodgers' Legends Bureau.

Monday, June 25, 2012

All-Time Team Leader...

It's hard to believe that 164 homers would be the all-time Chicago White Sox record until 1987, but it was, and this player held it:

Card #455 -- Bill Melton, Chicago White Sox

It looks like Bill Melton was asked really quickly for a pose when this picture was taken. He came up to the White Sox in 1968 and was a regular at third through 1975. Not particularly noted for his glove prowess (in fact, Harry Carey would often criticize him on the air for his miscues), his home run production made up for the hope that no liners were hit near the "Hot Corner."

In 1969 and '70, he led the team in home runs, and in '71, he led the entire league in the statistic. It was the first time a White Sox player had ever lead the American League in homers...but when you think of it, the White Sox really weren't known for the ability to hit for the fences at that point. Before 1968, they were chiefly remembered for being dominant as a team during the Dead Ball era, and also for throwing the 1919 World Series. Melton was rewarded for his season by being named to the 1971 A.L. All-Star team.

However, it was downhill from there. A freak injury at his home (he herniated a disc in his back while breaking his son's fall from the garage roof) shortened his season in 1972. Unfortunately. he was never the same. Though still able to produce double digit home run totals from 1973-'75, Melton was clearly on the way out. He was traded to the Angels after the '75 season. He played there for a year, and finished in 1977 with the Indians.

After his career, Melton was a real estate agent before getting a job in the White Sox' marketing department. Today, he's a broadcaster for the team. His all-time homer record is long gone (just like Comiskey Park). Harold Baines topped it in '87, then Carlton Fisk beat that a few years later. Then, Frank Thomas rewrote the club's record book.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Here Comes Amos...

This player lost his spot on the Miracle Mets team due to a clash with Gil Hodges. Instead, he went to a new team and became a part of a different winner:

Card #510 -- Amos Otis, Kansas City Royals

Shown here taking his turn at the plate against the Brewers, Amos Otis was given short looks with the Mets in 1967 and '69. However, Hodges was set on moving him to third base and Otis disagreed. That got him sent back to the minors, and after the 1969 season, he was traded to the Royals for Joe Foy. That trade worked in Kansas City's favor; Foy was out of baseball by 1971 and Otis was a fixture in the Royal outfield for over a decade.

He took part on a team that won three straight division titles from 1976-'78, but ended up losing the ALCS each year to the Yankees in hard-fought contests. A five-time All-Star and three-time Gold Glove winner, Otis also led the league in steals for 1971. By 1980, though, his skills diminished and Willie Wilson took over centerfield. That didn't stop Otis from crushing three homers in that year's World Series against the Phillies. He remained in Kansas City until 1983, then finished his career in Pittsburgh in '84.

After retiring, Otis was a coach. He worked with the San Diego Padres in 1988-'89 and for the Rockies during their inaugural season in 1993. He also admitted in the early 1990s that he used a corked bat for part of his big league career.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Also Known as Tommy...

As the 1973 season got underway, this guy was beginning with a new team:

Card #86 -- Tom McCraw, Cleveland Indians

Tommy McCraw was traded to the California Angels on April 2, just before the season opener but after Topps issued the card you see above. Which is too airbrush artist really could have gotten the "correction" made pretty quickly on the action shot.

McCraw had been a fixture in the White Sox' outfield from 1963 through '70. After that, he moved around, from the Senators in '71, the Indians in 1972, the Angels in '73 and back to the Tribe in a 1974 trade. He finished his big league career in Cleveland in 1975. During his year in Washington, McCraw recorded the team's last out before they moved to Texas when he was caught trying to steal second in the 8th inning. He would also be the Angels' first-ever designated hitter in 1973.

When he retired, McCraw was a teammate of player/manager Frank Robinson; he went on to serve as a batting coach for 23 seasons, and four teams he coached were managed by Robinson.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Pinch Hitter Deluxe

Though his skills really didn't translate to an everyday position, this guy still played for 13 years in the majors, and all of them with the same team:

Card #508 -- Gates Brown, Detroit Tigers

A member of the Tigers since 1963, Gates Brown had largely been called upon as a bench player but was only a regular in 1964. Since the Tigers also had Al Kaline, Mickey Stanley, Jim Northrup and Willie Horton, his outfield time was limited and he helped whenever he was called. In 1968, he had one of the all-time finest years of a pinch hitter, hitting .462 over the season in that capacity. In 1973, Brown was available to fill the new DH position and appeared in the most games (125) in any season of his career, but reverted to a pinch hitter for the final two years of his career.

Before becoming a major leaguer, however, Brown had some off-field issues that landed him in an Ohio reformatory as a teenager. His baseball skills helped to set his life straight, and he never regretted getting a second chance. In fact, as his playing days wound down, he served as a mentor for Ron LeFlore, who had a similar early-life hard-luck story.

After his retirement, Brown served as a hitting coach for the Tigers from 1978 through 1984. He still instructs at a Tiger fantasy camp in Florida and has long been a fan favorite.

Friday, June 15, 2012

A Man Called "The Blade"

At 6 feet tall but only 150 pounds, this pitcher was nicknamed "The Blade" due to his physique:

Card #8 -- Tom Hall, Cincinnati Reds

An occasional starter but mainly a setup reliever, Tom Hall pitched with four clubs in his major league career. Coming up with the Twins in 1968, he was traded to the Reds after the 1971 season. After two division titles and one pennant, he was traded to the Mets in 1975 and then the Royals in 1976. When he was released halfway through the '77 season, he signed with the Twins again but never made it back to the club.

Though he notched a respectable 52-33 lifetime record and a 3.27 ERA, Hall was noted during his career for his control. He tossed a two-hitter against the Angels in 1968 and twice notched 12 strikeouts in a game. However, injuries limited his effectiveness late in his career.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

The Brew Crew

To fill out this team picture, it looks like several players brought along neighbors and relatives. Maybe this was taken during a team cookout:

Card #127 -- Milwaukee Brewers Team Card

It had only been a few seasons since this club had entered the league as the expansion Seattle Pilots and then moved to Milwaukee just six days before the 1970 season. Though the Braves had already been there from 1953-'65, there was another Milwaukee Brewers in the American League's inaugural season..the moved to St. Louis in 1902 and became the Browns. The name Brewers would also be used for the city's minor league franchise from 1902-'52, and was used as far back as 1884.

In 1972, the team moved to the A.L. East when the Senators went to Texas and took their place in the A.L. West they brought from Seattle. They also brought in a former Brave (Del Crandall) to manage the club. The moves made little difference, as the team finished in the same place -- last -- as they did in 1971. They would improve to fifth in 1973. The highlight of the Brewers' '73 season occurred off the field, when they drafted a young shortstop named Robin Yount.

The team would make gradual improvement from year to year, but never posted a winning season until 1978. Few of the players shown here would be around to see that, however. But the Brewers were a strong  team for several years in the decade after that. Today, however, they aren't even in the same league (moving to the National League in 1998).

Monday, June 11, 2012

Keeping Up With the Joneses

This player is probably best known for being a hero in the 1969 World Series:

Card #540 -- Cleon Jones, New York Mets

Although Cleon Jones caught the final out of the Series, it was an incident earlier in that game that helped spark the rally he is remembered for. A pitch that seemed to hit Jones in the shoe went unnoticed until manager Gil Hodges showed the umpire that the ball had shoe polish on it. The next batter was Donn Clendenon, who slammed a home run to get the Mets within one run of Baltimore. On his next trip to the plate, Jones doubled in what proved to be the winning run.

Jones came up to the Mets for short stints in 1963 and '65, and became a regular in the Shea Stadium outfield in 1966. He was basically a fixture there through 1974 and possessed what was considered one of the game's best arms. He showed that strength in September '73 against the Pirates, connecting with Wayne Garrett to cut down Richie Zisk at the plate. At a time when the Mets were fighting for the division title, Jones showed he was still valuable to the team.

Unfortunately, Jones was released after an altercation with Yogi Berra in 1975. The next year, he was with the Chicago White Sox but was released after thirteen games and retired. He remains as a beloved figure to Mets fans for his place on the 1969 "Miracle" team and is a member of the team's Hall of Fame.

Friday, June 8, 2012

Player's Moved...But No Airbrush Here

The player on this high-numbered card was no longer on the team when the card showed up in packs:

Card #553 -- Mickey Scott, Baltimore Orioles

This was the second straight year that Mickey Scott shows up in the final series of a Topps set; in 1972, he would share space with two of his fellow Baltimore teammates. Here, he's making a pitch fairly far from the mound in a picture that's obviously from Florida...check out the Disney Word sign in the background. Walt Disney World, by the way, opened in 1972, the same year this shot was taken.

Born in Germany but raised in Newburgh, New York, Scott was signed by the Yankees in 1967 but didn't come up to the majors until 1972. By then, he was with Baltimore. However, the Montreal Expos bought his contract in May of '73 and he pitched with them the rest of the year. He spent '74 in the minors but came back in 1975-'77 with the California Angels. He retired after spending all of 1978 in the minors.

Scott was a starting pitcher during his early days in the minors but converted to a relief specialist by the time he made the majors. Though he was limited in his appearnces while in the majors, he was very effective during his minor league career. After his playing days, he owned a bar in Binghamton, New York and worked in various capacities for the New York Yankees. Sadly, Mickey Scott died in 2011 at the age of 64.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

First-Time Skipper

In 1973, this guy was the brand new manager for the Angels:

Card #421 -- Bobby Winkles and Coaches, California Angels

However, he had just finished a very successful run and the head coach at Arizona State University, where he led the school to three College World Series titles and coached some successful future major leaguers (Reggie Jackson, Sal Bando, Rick Monday, Larry Gura). He was never a big league player, spending 1951-'58 in the minors before moving to ASU the next year. He also wasn't successful as a manager in the majors. He was fired midway through the '74 season. He moved over to the A's for the rest of the year as a coach and eventually manged them from 1977-'78. He also coached for the Giants, White Sox and Expos through 1988.

Tom Morgan was a former major leaguer, however. He pitched with six different teams from 1951-'63, including several years as a New York Yankee. He worked as a pitching coach for the Angels, the Padres and the Yankees. He passed away after suffering a stroke in 1987.

Salty Parker's major league experience involved a weeklong stretch in 1936 with the Tigers. He was a longtime coach in the minors, as well as with the Angels, Giants, Indians, Mets and the Astros. In 1973, he was beginning his second stint as an Angels coach. He also served as an interim managerfor the Mets and Astros. He moved on to become a scout and passed away in 1992.

Jimmie Reese was a member of the Yankees in 1930-'31, where he was the roommate of Babe Ruth, as well as the Cardinals in 1932. After a long stretch as a player, scout, coach and minor league manager, he joined the Angels in 1972 as a conditioning coach. His specialty was running a fungo drill, using a bat he designed himself. He remained with the Angels until his death in 1994. The team retired his jersey number in his honor.

John Roseboro played between 1957 and 1970 in the majors, with most of those years spent with the Dodgers. A catcher, he succeeded Roy Campanella and caught Sandy Koufax, Don Drysdale and Don Sutton. While catchers are often the best-suited players to become coaches, Roseboro's career on the bench was relatively short. After one season with the Senators and three with the Angels, he and his wife mostly focused on running a public relations firm in Beverly Hills. Roseboro passed away in 2002.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Before the Armband

This player wore a black armband for the rest of the 1972 baseball season to remember the slain athletes from that year's Olympics:

Card #78 -- Richie Scheinblum, Kansas City Royals

He's not wearing it here, but this appears to be a Spring Training photo. The athletes were members of the Israeli team and Richie Scheinblum (who was Jewish) claimed he wore the band not due to their shared religion, but due to the fact that they were fellow humans.

Scheinblum was a native of New York and grew up in New Jersey. While growing up, he taught himself to hit from both sides of the plate. During his college career at C.W. Post, he excelled in a number of sports, earning 10 letters. He decided to stay with baseball, signing with the Indians. He had short stints with them in 1965, 1967 and 1968 but never managed to stick with them. A similar experience with the Senators in 1971 led to him being once again sent down to the minors.

That 1971 season was one to remember. Scheinblum played for the American Association's Denver Bears that year and batted .388. It was the highest in the league in 20 years, and would never be equaled during the 26 years before the league folded.  That season allowed him to be a regular in 1972, when the Royals purchased his contract. He made the most of that season, earning a spot on the All-Star team. However, his lack of power and poor fielding worked against him and he was traded to the Reds in the off-season.

After that, Sheinblum bumped around for two seasons, from the Reds to the Angels to the Cardinals,and back to the Royals. He played in Japan the next two seasons until suffering a torn Achilles tendon during a pick-up basketball game in 1976. That injury ended his career.

After retiring, Scheinblum ran a jewelry store in California before eventually moving to Florida and working for a company that specializes in embroidery.

Friday, June 1, 2012

A Man Called "Mon"

Research for this player kept bringing up information about another, more modern player with the same name:

Card #117 -- Ramon Hernandez, Pittsburgh Pirates

However, the two Ramon Hernandezes are not in any way related.

Ramon Hernandez spent nine major league seasons with four different teams, but the vast majority were with the Pittsburgh Pirates. He came up with the Braves in 1967 and then the Cubs the next year. He spent 1971-'76 with the Pirates, returned to the Cubs and then finished with the Red Sox in 1977.

Hernandez pitched 337 games, all of them as a reliever. He was noted for his sidearm delivery, with a twist that made it hard for opponents to see what type of pitch he would be throwing. It was similar to the motion his teammate Kent Tekulve used, except that Hernandez was left-handed and Tekulve threw much harder.

Ramon Hernandez passed away in his native Puerto Rico in 2009.