Friday, July 29, 2011

Hall of Fame Week, Part 3

Last weekend, retired executive Pat Gillick was inducted into the Hall of Fame. Since he never was a player or manager, he never had a card issued. This presents a problem when it comes to featuring him on this blog. In 1973, he was the director of scouting for the Houston Astros...but I'm not sure which prospects he had an active hand in signing. So, I'll go back to a time when he was still a player.

In 1958, Gillick was a pitcher for USC when that team won the College World Series. This player was also on that team:

Card #125 -- Ron Fairly, Montreal Expos

By the end of 1958, Fairly was playing in the Dodgers' outfield and managed to play in the regular World Series in 1959. In all, he was able to play in four World Series with the Dodgers, winning three. However, he would be traded to the Expos during their inaugural season in 1969, in the deal that brought Maury Wills back to Los Angeles. He stayed with the Expos until 1974 and went through five teams in the following four seasons.

Along the way, he managed to hit over .300 with the Cardinals in 1975 and was an All-Star in 1977 when he represented the Blue Jays during their first season in the league.

After retiring, Fairly became a broadcaster. He currently fills that capacity for the Seattle Mariners.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Hall of Fame Week, Part 2

Last weekend, Roberto Alomar was inducted into the Hall of Fame. Since he was still a kid in 1973, he wouldn't have a baseball card yet. However, his father was an active player:

Card #123 -- Sandy Alomar, California Angels

Sandy Alomar was adept all over the field. He was capable of playing any infield or outfield position. He was also a fleet-footed baserunner who was an aggressive base stealer. Ironically, his main weakness was the one he shows here, his bat. His career average was .245.

Alomar is better known as the father of two future major leaguers. Sandy Alomar, Jr. was a catcher, and Roberto is now in the Hall of Fame. Both came up to the majors in 1988 for the San Diego Padres, where Sandy Sr. was a coach. He's still coaching with the Mets today.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Hall of Fame Week, Part 1

Hall of Fame Weekend is over, and this player is now enshrined in Cooperstown:

Card #199 -- Bert Blyleven, Minnesota Twins

In 1973, he was able to win 20 games for the first (and only) time in his career. He also led the league with 9 shutouts that year, and he was second in both strikeouts and ERA.

Some fans say the Hall of Fame is an honor that's long past due for Blyleven, and others have pointed out that he really wasn't a dominant pitcher during his career on the order of a Nolan Ryan, Tom Seaver or Steve Carlton. However, when he retired, he was within sight of 300 wins, struck out more than the guy who was the career leader when he was just starting his career (while that mark was broken before he reached those numbers, it's worth mentioning) and was on two World Series winners.

Some say he the SABR-centered statisticians had a hand in his election; others point out that he was hurt by being a member of some really lousy teams during his career that failed to give him better run support. Those people will probably always argue those I'm not going to dwell on them.

What I will point out is that Blyleven was one of the most notorious pranksters during his playing career. His forte was the "hot foot," where he would light the laces of an unsuspecting teammate's cleats. In the clubhouse of one of his teams, there was a sign above the fire extinguisher that read: "In case of Blyleven, Pull."

After retiring, Blyleven became an announcer and has been known for his rather colorful way with the language. Not bad for a guy who was born in Holland.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Mr. "7-for-7"

On September 16, 1975, this player did something nobody else has been able to in nine innings since 1900:

Card #348 -- Rennie Stennett -- Pittsburgh Pirates

But before I explain that, I have to mention the photo on the card. It was common with pre-1971 Topps sets to have players pose for the camera, so there are a lot of cards with obvious issues: the "hidden ball" tricks, the pitchers who seem to be throwing air, the guy who's swinging a bat in the outfield. And then there's the fielder who looks like he's going for a ground ball. In Stennett's case, not only is he smiling, but he appears to have just stepped out of the dugout.

If you're going to fake least be on the field.

In 1975, Stennett penciled his name in the record books by going 7-for-7 in a game against the Cubs. As you may have guessed for a player to get that many at-bats in a single game, it was a virtual bloodbath (the poor Cubbies were on the receiving end of a 22-0 thrashing). Stennett wasn't the first of go 7-for-7 (Cesar  Gutierrez did it in 1970), but Stennett was the first modern era player to reach that mark within a standard 9-inning game. The "modern era" caveat hides the fact that Wilbert Robinson also went 7-for-7 in a nine-inning contest in 1892...but for whatever reason, 1800s records outside of victories get short shrift in these discussions.

Interestingly, Stennett didn't even finish his 7-for-7 game, as Willie Randolph was sent in to pinch-run for him after his seventh hit.

Despite that one showing of offensive agility, Rennie Stennett was better known for his glove and his baserunning skills. He came up with the Pirates in 1971 but wasn't on the postseason roster when they won the World Series that year. He was part of divison champs in 1972, 1974 and '75 and finally got a Series ring in 1979. However, his starting job at second base was lost that year when the Pirates picked up Bill Madlock. He went to the Giants via free agency in 1980 and finished his career there after a two-year stint.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

It's a Strike!

As you can see by the umpire's call, Dave Concepcion just had a strike called against him:

Card #121 -- Dave Rader, San Francisco Giants

Dave Rader had become the Giants' starting catcher in 1972 as a rookie. For his effort, he was the runner-up for the Rookie of the Year award. Unfortunately for him, the winner of the A.L.'s Rookie of the Year Award was also a catcher, so the Topps All-Star Rookie trophy was placed on Carlton Fisk's card instead.

Interestingly, Rader finished his major league career as Fisk's backup in with the Red Sox in 1980.

Rader was a very good defensive player, which helped the Giants overlook his weaker offensive statistics. He would remain with the Giants through 1976, before being traded to the Cardinals to back up Ted Simmons for 1977. The Cubs picked him up for 1978, which allowed Rader to once again become a starter. The next year, he was traded to Philadelphia where he was a third-stringer to Bob Boone and Tim McCarver. That led to his Boston gig.

After being signed with the Angels for 1981, he was released during Spring Training and hung up the mask for good.

Monday, July 18, 2011

A Man Nicknamed "Gimpy"

At the time this card was issued, this man had recently hurled a no-hitter:

Card #70 -- Milt Pappas, Chicago Cubs

His last name at birth was Pappastediosis.

Actually, the game on September 2, 1972 against the San Diego Padres had been a perfect game with two outs in the ninth inning, before umpire Bruce Froemming called two close pitches as balls to let Larry Stahl go to first. Pappas retired the next batter, but has always claimed that Froemming took away his perfect game.

Pappas originally came up with the Baltimore Orioles in 1957. In 1961, he tossed a fastball that would become Roger Maris's 59th home run. When the Orioles traded him to the Reds after the '65 season, they picked up Frank Robinson, which was eventually seen as a lopsided trade in favor of Baltimore. However, Pappas was still a good's just that Robinson's next season was a monster. He eventually went to Atlanta in 1968 and the Cubs in 1970. 1973 would be Pappas's final season.

Debuting at the age of 18, Milt Pappas was one of 16 pitchers in the liveball era to win 150 games before his 30th birthday. Of that list, only Greg Maddux has ever managed to get 300. He also hit 20 home runs during his career.

As for his nickname "Gimpy"...Pappas had knee surgery at 17, and was called that during his recuperation. Despite not being injury-prone during his major league career, the nickname manged to follow him.

Friday, July 15, 2011

The Other Reggie

Though overshadowed during his career by another player named Reggie, Reggie Smith was no slouch on the diamond:

Card #40 -- Reggie Smith, Boston Red Sox

I love the way Smith's afro is beginning to sprout under his hat in this photo.

Reggie Smith was part of two great teams. First, he was part of the "Impossible Dream" Red Sox in 1967. A decade later, he was the centerfielder and a key weapon in the Dodgers' arsenal during the late 1970s. Since I began paying attention to baseball in the late 1970s, I remember him more as a member of the Dodgers between three World Series against the Yankees and as a part my budding collection of baseball cards. Therefore, seeing him in another unifrom seems odd, even though he spent more time with the Red Sox than he did in Los Angeles.

Smith was a gifted batter, who could hit for both average and power. He also possessed excellent range in the outfield. While not exactly Hall of Fame material, Reggie Smith's career numbers have definitely been overlooked. 1973 would be his final season at Fenway, and he was traded to the Cardinals after the season. After posting two straight .300 seasons in St. Louis, he was traded to the Dodgers for Joe Ferguson (which, in hindsight, was a really lopsided deal). He helped the team to back-to-back Series in 1977-'78.

In 1980, Smith suffered a couple of injuries that limited his playing time. First, he and Derrel Thomas had a locker room argument, so Smith took his frustration out on a water cooler. The cooler won, and sixty stitches were needed in his wrist. Then, he injured his shoulder making a throw. That ended his season and limited him in 1981, but he was still able to play in the World Series (a winning effort) that year.

In 1982, Smith tested free agency and entered into talks with the Yuriomi Giants in Japan. However, they wouldn't get into financial specifics, so he stayed in the U.S. and played for a different Giants team. That would be his final season in the majors, and he ended up going to Japan for 1983. Despite a bad experience there that saw him frequently ridiculed for his mannerisms, Smith still paid attention to the coaching he recieved at the hands of Sadaharu Oh and used them in his own coaching career later on.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

The Tribe

As was the habit for the team at the time, there were some players here who would be remembered for their prowess on other teams, but together they were something of a motley crew:

Card #629 -- Cleveland Indians Team

Their ace pitcher was a workhorse in 1972. Gaylord Perry won 24 games en route to a Cy Young award, but the rest of the staff found it hard to keep a winning record. And so it continued in 1973, except that Perry wasn't able to get more than a .500 record either. They finished in sixth place in the A.L. East that year.

That had to be a thorn in the side to all those Tribe fans who remembered the glory days when their staff included Bob Feller, Bob Lemon, Early Wynn and Mike Garcia.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Hot Mustard and Empty Seats...

I don't know what stands out in this picture more...the "hot mustard"-colored uniforms the Padres wore or the empty stadium in the background:

Card #32 -- Fred Norman, San Diego Padres

In 1973, Fred Norman started out with a 1-7 record, so the Padres traded him to Cincinnati on June 12. Finally able to help out a team that could give him some run support, he responded by going 12-6 for the Reds the rest of the season. Despite an overall 13-13 record, he still finished in 6th place among Cy Young votes for such a strong second half.

Despite getting into his first major league game with the Kansas City A's at the age of 19, he never made the big leagues to stay until he was 27. In between, there were several short stints in the majors for him with the A's, the Cubs and the Dodgers. He finally caught on with the Cardinals in 1971, but then was traded to San Diego and turned into a starting pitcher. From 1971 through '73, he suffered trough a 13-30 record. So, when the call arrived that said he'd been traded to the Reds, he may have been happy to get it.

His record in Cincinnati was consistent, and he was a part of two straight World Championship teams in 1975-'76. He was always able to get over 10 wins every year and his ERA was always in the 3.30-3.70 range. He also managed to keep a winning record during his years with the club, save for an 11-13 mark in 1979. After that season, he signed as a free agent with Montreal and finished his career as an Expo in 1980.

Despite his terrible career numbers through the first half of 1973, Fred Norman retired with a lifetime mark of 104-103 thanks to his six and a half years with the Reds.

Friday, July 8, 2011

A "Blue Moon," Indeed!

It's interesting that a card featuring a guy whose nickname was "Blue Moon" has a photo with such a prominent backside:

Card #315 -- John Odom, Oakland A's

Johnny Lee Odom made his major league debut at nineteen years old. It was 1964, he was facing the Yankees and no less a figure than Mickey Mantle welcomed him to "The Show" by knocking one of his first-inning pitches deep into the leftfield stands at Kansas City's Municipal Stadium. He was shuttled back and forth between the parent club and the minors through 1967.

In 1968, the A's moved to Oakland and Odom's career began to click. That year, he was one out away from a no-hitter against Baltimore. Through the midpoint of the 1969 seaon, he was nearly unstoppable. He was a key part of the A's teams that won three staright championships, but philosphical differences among the different managers caused him to be switched bewteen the rotation and the bullpen.

He would be traded to Cleveland in 1975 and then bounced to the Braves, and then the White Sox in '76. That year, he and Francisco Barrios combined on a no-hitter against the A's. It would be his final big league victory.

In addition to his pitching duties, Odom was a well-regarded hitter before the DH rule was implemented and was sometimes called in to pinch-run. Though several of his teammates were given nicknames by A's owner Charlie Finley, Odom was first called "Blue Moon" as a kid because of his round face.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Hard Road to the Majors

Would you believe this guy was unable to make the cut for his high school varsity baseball team?

Card #119 -- Larry Bowa, Philadelphia Phillies

Undaunted, Larry Bowa became a fixture at shortstop for the Phillies during the 1970s. After high school, he was a star at Sacramento City College but wasn't expected to make the draft. In fact, when the Phillies sent a scout to watch him play, he was tossed out of the game for arguing with the ump. In the end, he had to prove himself on a Winter league team before the Phillies decided to give him a shot.

When he arrived in Philadelphia in 1970, he was quickly named as the regular shortstop. The team was fairly awful at the time, but the management began building a solid team around him: pitcher Steve Carlton was acquired in 1971, Mike Schmidt took over third shortly after that and the pieces slowly fell into place. Between 1976 and '81, the Phillies made the postseason five years out of six and won the 1980 World Series. Bowa's reputation as a firebrand helped him to become a fan favorite at Veteran's Stadium, even if the team's management didn't always concur.

In 1981, the Philadelphia front office had grown tired of Bowa's antics and looked to trade him away. The Cubs had recently hired his former manager Dallas Green as their GM and offered to make a deal for him...but on one condition. Green knew Bowa wouldn't be a long-term solution and demanded that minor league shortstop Ryne Sandberg be part of any deal. Needless to say, the trade was quite a benefit the Chicago for years to come. Bowa was a key member of the 1984 Cubs, but lost his starting job to Shawon Dunston the next year. He would finish 1985 (and his career) with the New York Mets.

After retiring, Bowa was a manger (for both the Padres and Phillies) and a coach for several teams. He also used his unique perspective on the game to become a radio analyst.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Ted Striker's Inner Dialogue

I can't look at this card without hearing the line from Airplane! that runs through Ted Striker's mind as he's having flashbacks from the War:

"Now pinch hitting for Pedro Borbon...Manny Mota!"

Card #492 -- Pedro Borbon, Cincinnati Reds

The only problem is that Borbon and Mota were never teammates.

As a relief pitcher, Borbon spent most of the 1970s with the Big Red Machine, appearing in three World Series and winning two of them. He compiled a very respectable 62-33 mark with the Reds, while notching 76 saves. When he was traded to San Francisco in 1979, a local legend was started that said Borbon placed a hex on the Reds that wasn't lifted until the last member of management left in 1990. Borbon has repeatedly said the story was a hoax, but it still persists.

While starting his career with the Angels in 1969, he was tarded to the Reds in a deal that brought the troubled Alex Johnson to California. He would finish his career in St. Louis in 1980.

In 1973, he was involved in a bench-clearing brawl between the Reds and the Mets. After scuffling with Met pitched Buzz Capra, Borbon picked up a cap that was lying on the ground and placed it on his head. After realizing he'd inadvertently grabbed a Mets cap, he took a bite out of it with his teeth.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Now Batting, Left Fielder...#25...

I grew up a little later, so this picture of Jose Cruz seems a little odd:

Card #292 -- Jose Cruz, St. Louis Cardinals

I remember him as a member of the Houston Astros, where he would play from 1975-'87. Even when he played for the Yankees (my favorite team) in 1988, he looked odd even in pinstripes.

Baseball was a family affair for Cruz. His brothers Hector and Tommy both made their major league debuts in 1973, and his son Jose Jr. was a major leager between 1997 and 2008. Originally signed by St. Louis, he made the parent club late in the 1970 season and was one of the team's outfielders through 1974. Houston bought his contract for 1975.

He blossomed into a local star while playing in the Astrodome. Unfortunately, since that wasn't exactly a hitter-friendly park, he wasn't able to grab the attention he may have gotten in other cities. Offensively, he only led the league one time (with 189 hits in 1980) However, he didn't let that bother him, as he was a key member of the Astro teams that won division titles in 1980, 1981's first half and 1986. Along the way, he was able to set a number of all-time team records.

After 1987, Cruz tested the free agent waters despite being 40 years old. And of course, the Yankees -- in a period of questionable free agent activity -- picked him up, hoping he could work out as an occasional DH. He lasted halfway through the season, even hitting a pinch grand slam in his second to last game.

After finishing up his playing days, he became a first-base coach for the Astros, where he was on hand to watch Craig Biggio break several of his own all-time club records.