Monday, July 30, 2012

The Current Bosox Skipper

At the beginning of this year's baseball season, this guy took the manager's position of the Boston Red Sox:

Card #502 -- Bobby Valentine, California Angels

This picture is airbrushed, as Valentine spent his entire career through 1972 with the Los Angeles Dodgers. You can pay an artist to paint red and blue stripes on the uniform and white out the Dodgers' distinctive jersey features, but it was apparently to much to ask somebody to crop out the rest of the Phillies player sitting in the lower right corner.

Starting with California in 1973, Valentine got off to a .302 average, but was injured by the outfield chain-link fence while trying to rob Dick Green of a home run. During the attempt, his spikes were caught and he suffered multiple fractures in his leg. Not only did that injury end his season, it robbed him of his speed, As a result, he never stayed long with his teams as a player. He moved to the Padres in 1975, the Mets in 1977 and the Mariners in '79. He retired that year and moved on to coaching.

In 1985, Valentine was tapped to be the Rangers' manger. A few days before his 35th birthday, he was the youngest non-playing manager in years. He remained with the team through 1992. After a short stint as a manager in Japan, Valentine was named the New York Mets' manager in 1996 and guided them to the 2000 World Series. He was fired by the team after 2002, and he returned to Japan to manage the Chiba Lotte Marines again. He moved to the ESPN broadcast booth in 2009, where he remained until the Red Sox called.

Bobby Valentine is regarded a smart baseball man. Hopefully he's smart enough to keep ESPN executives on his speed dial. Especially if you hear what Red Sox fans have been saying about him.

Friday, July 27, 2012


This guy had already played his last major league game before this card was printed:

Card #157 -- Denny Riddleberger, Cleveland Indians

1972 was Denny Riddleberger's only year with the Cleveland Indians. He spent part of 1973 in the minors but retired during the season. Originally signed by the Pirates in 1967, he came up with the Senators late in 1970 and pitched with them in 1971 as well. After the team moved to Texas, they traded him to Cleveland before he even would have had time to unpack.

There really isn't a lot of information about Denny Riddleberger to be found Online, so I'll talk about this little fact: though he was a left-handed pitcher, he batted righty. That is an interesting distinction...did he get forced to do that, or was it simply because he learned to bat the same way his friends did? I don't know, I'm just asking.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

A Future Yankee...and a Future Yankee Killer

This player bookended his career as a Cub but was better remembered for the other two teams he played with:

Card #501 -- Larry Gura, Chicago Cubs

Larry Gura first came up with Chicago in 1970, but was used sparingly through 1973. An occasional starter, he also worked the bullpen. He was traded to the Rangers, and then the Yankees before the 1974 season. Beginning in 1975, the Yankees used Gura as a member of the starting rotation.That said, they should have known what they were doing when they sent him to the Royals in 1976.

Gura's best years were in Kansas City. He particularly irked his former team, going 11-6 against them and seeing them four out of five years (1976-'78, '80) in the ALCS. In 1978-'81, he won every game against them where he had a decision, including two ALCS games. He was a member of the team that went to the '80 World Series; ironically, he was released by the team in 1985, the same year they finally won a championship.

1985 would be Gura's final year. He went back to Chicago, and the Cubs also released him before the year was over.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Not the Spanish Painter

There was an artist in Spain during the 1700s with the same name. However, this blog doesn't pretend to embrace high art, so we'll focus on this player instead:

Card #47 -- Luis Melendez, St. Louis Cardinals

This Luis Melendez was nicknamed "Torito," the Spanish term for "baby bull." He came up to the Cardinals in 1970 and was solid enough with his glove to be regular for a couple of seasons. However, Bake McBride came up in 1974 and Willie Davis was brought to the team the next year. With Lou Brock and Reggie Smith already playing out there, it was getting crowded, and with more talent coming up through the farm system, it was clear that something needed to be done.

As a result, it was decided to convert Melendez into a shortstop. That proved disastrous, however, and Melendez moved back into the outfield. In 1976, he was traded to San Diego, where he served largely as a late-inning fill-in. He stayed with the Padres through 1977. The next year, he signed with the Blue Jays as a free agent, but never made the big league squad.

After his retirement as a player, Melendez returned home to Puerto Rico and eventually became a successful manager. He also managed in the minors in spurts since the late '80s, winning a South Atlantic League championship in 2004.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Great Job!

The subject line has noting at all to do with this player. He's in front of an empty seating section, and it looks like the police officer in the background can rest easy to know he's doing a great job:

Card #113 -- Jerry Grote, New York Mets

Actually, the title line would be an adequate description of Jerry Grote, as well. He was one of the best defensive backstops of his era. I've always said that catchers should get more credit than they do -- there's a reason so many of them are managers -- and he was a big part of the Mets teams that went to the World Series in 1969 and 1973. He also backed up three World Series-bound Dodgers teams late in his career.

When Grote came up to the big leagues, he was with the other "new" team of 1962, the Houston Colt 45s. After taking over behind the plate for the team in 1964, he went back to the minors for '65 and then was traded to the Mets during the offseason. He immediately took his place in Shea, and became the director of pitches for a talented young staff that would soon include Tom Seaver, Nolan Ryan, Jerry Koosman and Tug McGraw.

Known for his habit of rolling the ball back to the far side of the mound when a strikeout ended the inning so the opposing pitcher would have to walk a few extra steps, Grote was a competitive player who helped to get the team out of its "lovable loser" routine after showing up. His presence was a big factor in 1969, when the team rallied to win the World Series against the heavily favored Orioles. He played every inning of that Series and his pitch-calling helped hold the O's to a .146 batting average.

Injuries began to slow Grote down and limit his time in 1972-'74, and then Duffy Dyer and John Stearns began to take over. In 1977, Grote was dealt to the Dodgers, where he was a backup to Steve Yeager on two straight pennant-winning clubs. Though he retired after the 1978 season, he was enticed by the Royals to return in 1981. He split that season with the Royals and the Dodgers before retiring for good.

After his retirement, Grote spent a few seasons managing in the minors, and also raised cattle on his Texas farm. He's also a color commentator for his local minor league team.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Sporting the Chops -- The New Guy Edition

All three of the guys here are sporting sideburns. It was the 1970s, what else were they going to wear? Once again, not all of these guy were truly "rookies":

Card #602 -- 1973 Rookie Pitchers

In Mel Behney's case, he had already appeared on a Reds' rookie card in 1972. Those were his only cards, which was interesting because his only major league action came in a two-week trial in 1970. He went 0-2 and never made it back out of the minors. In fact, during Spring Training of 1973, Behney had been traded to the Red Sox and was playing his final season.

Ralph Garcia also didn't make the majors in 1973, reaching the Padres for short stints in 1972 and '74. He stayed in the minors through 1975, and then went to Mexico, where he became a star. This would be his only appearance on a Topps card.

Doug Rau managed to stay around until 1981 and had several more cards in the process. The was a Dodger from 1972-'79, missed all of 1980 due to rotator cuff surgery, and then went to the California Angels in 1981. He was initially a reliever and worked his way into the starting rotation by 1974. He was a capable pitcher, but is perhaps best remembered by a mound conference with Tommy Lasorda during the 1977 World Series that isn't suitable for a family broadcast but lives on thanks to the Internet.

Monday, July 16, 2012

An Early Hobby Lesson

Early on in my hobby pursuit, when I was a little less knowledgeable about what was available, I picked up two totally different 1974 Topps cards of this guy:

Card #539 -- Tom Murphy, Kansas City Royals

One showed him with the Cardinals, while one explained that he had been traded to the Brewers, and even added a "T" to the card number to update it. I was 11 years old (it was 1984) and was pretty sure I'd picked up something unique out of the same dime box. I was soon introduced to the separate "Traded" series of 1974 as I looked through a book about cards.

That has nothing to do with Tom Murphy, though. From 1968-'79, he appeared with six different clubs, so his appearance on a Traded card really wasn't going to be unique. He came up with the Angels, where he stayed through early in the '72 season. He was then traded to the Royals (as seen above) and then spent 1973 in St. Louis. His trade to Milwaukee after the season led to the card I found. In 1976, he traveled to Boston and then joined the Blue Jays for their inaugural season in 1977. He remained with the Jays until the end of his major league career. While he started with California, Murphy was almost exclusively a reliever on his other stops.

In 1974, he was one of only two American League pitchers to collect a hit (Fergie Jenkins was the other). It was the year after the implementation of the designated hitter, and there was an occasional tweak that placed pitchers in the lineup. That's pretty cool, but when I see him, I immediately think of his place in my own Hobby history.

Friday, July 13, 2012


This guy spent parts of eight seasons in the majors, but never spent more than two years with a single team:

Card #594 -- Vic Harris, Texas Rangers

This card, which shows Vic Harris striking a batting pose taken in front of the dugout (really natural, I might add sarcastically), was the first of his career.

The "journeyman" tag applies to Vic Harris for his position as well as his teams. He played at six different positions during his career. Originally signed by the Oakland A's, he had already been traded to Texas before he came up to the league in 1972. He was largely a second baseman that year, taking the place of Lenny Randle. In 1973, however, he took the outfield more often. In all, he appeared in all three outfield positions as well as second, third and shortstop.

After playing for two season with the Rangers, Harris moved to the Cubs for two seasons, spent 1976 in St. Louis and then went to the Giants for two more years. He spent all of 1979 in the minors, but made it onto the Brewers' roster in 1980. After being released for his weak hitting, Harris moved on to Japan. He spent three years there with the Kinetsu Buffaloes, starting off strongly but fading in his final two seasons. In 1984, he attempted a comeback but was unable to get out of the Cardinal's farm system and called it a career.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Ivy Leaguer

This guy was a pitcher for Dartmouth before his major league career:

Card #51 -- Chuck Seelbach, Detroit Tigers

Chuck Seelbach pitched during four major league seasons (1971-'74), and all of them were spent with the Detroit Tigers. 1972 was really his only notable year, but what a season it was. As a reliever, he pitched the bulk of his major league innings that year and won 9 of his 10 games. More importantly, he was called in with the division title on the line against the Red Sox in the final game of the season. In dramatic fashion, he struck out Dwight Evans and Cecil Cooper, and the got Ben Ogilve to fly out. With that, the Tigers clinched the division.

Unfortunately, an arm injury limited him in '73 and ended his career in 1974. However, Seelbach did something that is more notable after hanging up his glove. He went back to his former high school in Ohio and became a history teacher, where his influence was arguably greater than it would have been if he'd stayed an athlete.

Monday, July 9, 2012

An Unheralded Ace

In 1972, this guy finished with a record over .500:

Card #112 -- Gary Ross, San Diego Padres

Okay, he went 4-3 as a reliever. But when your team loses 95 games that year, anything over .500 is noteworthy. On the entire staff, only he and Mark Shaeffer (2-0) won more games than they lost. And that, in a nutshell, sums up the 1972 San Diego Padres.

Gary Ross was on the Padres' original squad in 1969, but not its Opening Day roster. He began that season as a member of the Chicago Cubs, the team he debuted with the previous season. A trade during the first month of the season made him part of the expansion team, and he went 3-12 -- losing 11 of those in a row -- as a reliever and spot starter. Ross stayed with the team through 1975, where he occasionally went back to the minors and worked as a starter. Seeing that, the California Angels dealt Bobby Valentine to get him just as the season was about to end.

Through 1977, Ross took a spot in the Angels' rotation. However, his 10-21 record with the team led to his release by midseason, and that was the end of his career. To date, the 11 straight losses he suffered with the Padres in 1969 stands as a club record.

Friday, July 6, 2012


This guy was a high school teammate of Tim McCarver in Memphis,Tennessee:

Card #69 -- Phil Gagliano, Boston Red Sox

McCarver would join him again in St. Louis, where the two would be part of two World Series champs during the 1960s. Phil Gagliano's tenure with the Cardinals would run from 1963-'70. He would be traded to the Cubs for the second half of that season, and then traded again to the Red Sox after the season was over. By the time this card was issued, he was on the move again. He spent the 1973 and '74 seasons in Cincinnati.

Largely a utility player and pinch hitter, he's listed on the card as a third baseman despite playing at second more often...but since none of the cards in 1973 split the position due to the set design, Topps were forced to put him somewhere. He also played in the outfield and at first during his career, and two games at shortstop. In short, Gagliano played wherever his team needed him.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Setting Off the Fireworks

Seeing as how today is the Fourth of July, here's a team that provided plenty of fireworks -- both on the field and off -- in 1973:

(No Number) -- Oakland A's Team Checklist

The Oakland A's were right in the middle of their three-year run as the best team in baseball. 1973 would see the team win its second of three straight titles, so this checklist is as close as you'll get to a great team at the time.

But is it complete? The infield is solid, with Tenace at first, Green at second, Campaneris at short and Bando at third. A reserve first baseman (Mike Hegan) is present as well. Dave Duncan takes his place behind the plate, but there are only two outfielders here (Reggie and Rudi). Two starters -- Hunter and Blue -- take the mound, with Fingers and Knowles in the bullpen.

They come very close to fielding a "complete" team...but, like the players that made up the roster, they're just a little bit off.

Monday, July 2, 2012

"Jumbo" Jim

This player had played his final major league game by the time this card appeared:

Card #509 -- Jim Nash, Philadelphia Phillies

This card shows some light signs of airbrushing, the result of a midseason trade that sent him to the Phillies. The Phillies released him during the 1973 preseason; he signed with Oakland and spent all of that season in the minors before calling it quits.

For Nash, the A's trial was a full-circle move, as he originally came up in 1966 while the club was still in Kansas City. The A's were a sub-.500 team that year, but Nash went 12-1 in 18 games and racked up a 2.06 ERA, which would have given him second place in the league if he'd racked up enough innings to qualify. He matched his 12-win total the next year; unfortunately, he matched it with 17 losses. A 13-13 showing in 1968 and 8-8 mark in '69 but him on the trading block, and he was a Brave in 1970.

After two and a half years with the Braves and a half season in Philadelphia, it was over. As for his nickname? At 6-foot-4 and weighing 240 pounds, there's not a lot of downside to calling him "Jumbo."