Friday, September 30, 2011


The entire starting infield of the Baltimore Orioles was showcased in 1973, as Topps gave them all action shots on their cards. For Andy Etchebarren, however, the picture shows him taking a swing before a road game:

Card #618 -- Andy Ecthebarren, Baltimore Orioles

Andy Etchebarren was the last major leaguer ever to bat against Sandy Koufax. It was during the 1966 World Series, and he hit into a double play to end the inning. The Orioles swept that series, giving him the first of his two rings.

During Earl Weaver's tenure with the team, he and Elrod Hendricks teamed up in a platoon system that helped the O's staff become one of the most dominant in the majors. His influence helped four pitchers (Jim Palmer, Dave McNally, Mike Cuellar and Pat Dobson) win 20 or more games in 1971, as well as helping his team capture five of the first six American League East divisional titles.

Unlike many who played his position, he was a catcher for every game he played as a major leaguer. His career batting average was low, but he was noted for his patience at the plate, having a much higher on-base percentage than a .235 career hitter would be expected to have.

The California Angels acquired Etchebarren before the 1975 season and he spent three years there and a short four-game stint with the Milwaukee Brewers in 1978 before embarking on his next career. By the end of his time with the Angels, he was a player-coach, and continued coaching with the Brewers. He moved his way up the organization and eventually became a bench coach for the team under Tom Trebelhorn. He became a minor league manager in the 1990s and is still managing in the Independent League today.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Quite a Follow-Through

Only one set of brothers has ever thrown no-hitters in major league history. And they weren't named Niekro, Perry or Reuschel. One of those brothers is this guy:

Card #589 -- Ken Forsch, Houston Astros

Ken Forsch tossed his non-no in 1979, and brother Bob hurled two gems while a member of the St. Louis Cardinals. Bob, however, hadn't made the majors in 1973 and was still two years from having his first baseball card.

For a horizontally-oriented image, this shot is well-positioned, with teh catcher and umpire cropped out. Instead, the photo shows only Forsch and the Giant he's facing. At this moment of the game, those are the only two players that matter.

Forsch pitched with the Astros between 1970 and 1980. He started in the rotation but was moved to the bullpen in 1974. He eventually returned to his spot as a starter in 1979, and thanked his team by tossing that no-hitter early in the season. It was his first start of '79 and the team's second game. He was traded to the California Angels for Dickie Thon in 1981 and remained there until 1984. After not pitching at all in '85, he returned the following year but was released seven weeks into the season. He signed with the Mariners but wasn't able to rise above their AAA ballclub.

Forsch became an executive after his retirement. He has been the assistant GM for the Angels since 1998.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Another "WTH?!" Picture

Here's another one of the many "Who is that?!" pictures that appeared in the 1973 Topps baseball card set:

Card #45 -- Ellie Rodriguez, Milwaukee Brewers

The picture shows the catcher getting ready to throw to second. It's not clear whether this is a steal attempt...the other Brewers player behind him indicates a pitcher (the visible "2" on his jersey indicates he's either Skip Lockwood or Bill Parsons) is backing him up at the plate, but the batter is still holding a bat in his hand. Since the umpire's backside takes up a full third of the card, he covers up any clues.

There's one thing for certain. The catcher shown isn't Rodriguez, it appears to be Paul Ratliff. If that's correct, it would be the only card Ratliff would have in the set, since he never had a Topps card since 1971 and played his final major league games the next year. But he's not the guy who we're discussing.

Ellie Rodriguez was one of few Puerto Rican-born catchers of his era. He played for five different teams between 1968 and '76, with the Brewers being his longest stay. He came up as a Yankee, was an original member of the Royals and later caught Nolan Ryan's fourth no-hitter with the Angels. His final season was spent with the Dodgers in 1976.

Ellie Rodriguez went into scouting after his retirement and still performs that task today.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Good Grief!

Actually, the title of the post ought to read "Good Greif!" On the other hand, it serves as a perfect saying for anybody who happened to be a pitcher for the Padres at that time:

Card #583 -- Bill Greif, San Diego Padres

Baseball has never really seen anything like San Diego's 1972-'73 uniforms. It's a color that isn't easily defined: some (like me) say it looks like hot mustard, others say it looks like something you need to clean out of a cloth baby's diaper. In any case, the Padres weren't a very good team then but were able to say they had a uniform that most resembled a 1970s household appliance.

Bill Greif managed to get the only double-digit wins total of his career in 1973. His ten wins represented a sixth of the Padres' win total that year, but the team's anemic run support helped saddle him with 17 losses as well. Greif never managed a winning season in his career; the closest he came was 1-1 in his rookie season (1971) with the Astros. He was San Diego's Opening day pitcher in '74 and demoted to the bullpen the next year.

Splitting 1976 between the Padres and the Cardinals, Greif sat out the '77 season after failing to make the Expos in Spring Training. In 1978, he signed with the Mets but wasn't able to get any higher than the team's AAA affiliate in Tidewater. That was probably a favor; the 1978 Mets were every bit as bad as the Padres of the early 1970s. That would prove to be his final season in professional baseball.

Fortunately, Greif was able to get some education in. He had attended college at the University of Texas before his major league playing days and graduated Phi Beta Kappa. He went on later to pick up a master's degree as well and was involved in real estate after his career was over.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

A.L. East Runner-Up

The team pictured here was the second-place team in the American League East, much like they've been for many years recently:

Card #596 -- Boston Red Sox Team Card

First place didn't go the Yankees, however, the Tigers took the division in '72. In '73 the Orioles took the division (as they had every other year since divisional play began) and the Bosox were once again slotted second. That was the end of the line for skipper Eddie Kasko after four years. Despite back-to-back second-place showings and a winning record every season, the Red Sox brass had little use for a manager who couldn't get the team back to the World Series like predecessor Dick Williams. Darrell Johnson took over (and he guided the team to another pennant in '75).

The fabled Yankee-Red Sox rivalry was given a resurgence in 1972. Though it had its moments over the years (the Babe Ruth trade, the Williams/DiMaggio years), the two teams weren't usually both competitive at the same time in recent years. In 1972, the two teams were part of a tight four-team stretch run that inflamed the passions of both players and fans. At the same time, the Munson vs. Fisk dynamic began, Bill Lee was beginning to seem to enjoy beating up on the pinstripers and another trade (Sparky Lyle for Danny Cater) just added fuel to the fire.

The rivalry would need some time to build, however. It would take several more years, a late-season collapse and a well-placed Mike Torrez pitch that Buck Dent sent over the Green Monster to really get the rivalry heated up.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Looking For Mr. Wright?

Here's another Spring Training shot, with a glove just laying on the ground in the back. Otherwise, he's doing his best to look like the silhouette that appears below him:

Card #578 -- Ken Wright, Kansas City Royals

This would be Ken Wright's third and final appearance on a Topps card. He had joined the Royals in 1970 and served as both a spot starter and set-up reliever. In 1971 and '72, he split his time between the Royals and their AAA affiliate in Omaha.

In 1973, he would end up with his only winning record in the majors (6-5) but was traded with Lou Piniella to the Yankees after the season for Lindy McDaniel. Piniella stayed with the Yankees but Wright would not. He pitched in three games for the club in April and was traded again. This time, he went to Philadelphia but pitched in their minor league system. He never made the majors again.

Friday, September 16, 2011

A Long, Unfulfilled Wait

As a rookie, this pitcher threw three World Series games, all against Bob Gibson. He won one, lost one and earned a no-decision as the Yankees lost the 1964 Series to the Cardinals. At the time, the Yankees had been in more than half of the previous 40 years' worth of World Series. It was just a matter of time before they returned:

Card #519 -- Mel Stottlemyre, New York Yankees

It took them 12 years, but Mel Stottlemyre was already retired by then. He did his part to help get them back, with three 20-win seasons and five All-Star game selections, but a torn rotator cuff finished his career in 1974. He was one of the few bright spots on a sometimes dismal Yankee squad in the late 1960s.

The picture on this card shows him taking a warmup pitch in Yankee Staudium. However, he appears to be in the on-deck circle, as a bat can be seen behind his right leg. The Cleveland Indians are already on the field behind him.

After his playing career, he would go on to serve as a pitching coach. With the Mets from 1984-'93, he was there to help Dwight Gooden rattle off some great seasons on the mound and finally won his World Series ring in '86. He would return to the Yankees in 1996, where he would get four more rings that eluded him as a player.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

The New Skipper is a Familiar Face

In 1972, the Brewers gave their manager job to a man who was well-known to the fans in Milwaukee:

Card #646 -- Del Crandall and Coaches, Milwaukee Brewers

He also appeared on Topps cards as a player every year (except one) from 1952-'66.

Del Crandall was one of the most consistent catchers of the 1950s, beginning when the Braves were still playing in Boston. With Crandall calling the pitches, the Braves' staff (including Warren Spahn, Lew Burdette and Bob Buhl) was one of the best in the league. The team finished in first or second seven times between 1953 and '60, including two pennants and a World Series title. He also caught three no-hitters in that time period.

After retiring, Crandall turned to managing. His stint in Milwaukee lasted through 1975, and he piloted the Mariners in 1983-'84. Unfortunately, he was placed in charge of teams that had little spark and ended up with a losing career record.

Harvey Kuenn was also well-known to the previous generation of Topps collectors. He and Crandall had briefly teamed up in 1963 with the Giants, but Kuenn was one of the better hitters of the late 1950s, winning the batting title in 1959 and being respected as a batter who could hit well to any part of the field. He was named as the interim manager for the Braves when Crandall was fired in 1975, but he returned to the position in 1982 and led "Harvey's Wallbangers" to the World Series. He passed away in 1988.

Joe Nossek, on the other hand, was a relatively recent player. He had been active from 1964-'70, mainly with the Twins and A's. 1973 was his first year as a major league coach; he would spend 28 years in various dugouts and was known for his skill in picking up opposing teams' signals.

Bronx-born Bob Shaw was a pitcher for several teams between 1957 and '67, including stints with Detroit (where he teamed with Keunn) and the Braves (where Crandell caught him). He served as the pitching coach for the Brewers and was later a manager in the minor leagues. Cancer took Shaw in 2010.

Jim Walton's playing career was confined to the minor leagues, and was managing minor league teams while still in his 20s. He was a new addition to the Brewers' coaching staff in 1973, where he served as the first base coach. Since 1975, he has worked as a scout and a developer of players.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Not the Presidential Candidate

One of the things I like about baseball and football cards from the early 1970s is the way many of them explain what players do in the offseason to support their families while the paychecks stop until the next season. Insurance agent, car salesman, was a glimpse into how many had to lead "blue collar" lives before the salaries climbed. This guy, however, was an engineer for GE's research and development for nuclear fuel elements:

Card #519 -- John Edwards, Houston Astros

Too bad the card here doesn't mention that. Instead, it talks about his fielding percentage the past few seasons. Frankly, the "nuclear scientist" thing would have been much more interesting. Apparently, it didn't pay well enough to lure him away from the diamond, but it's nice to have something to fall back on.

The picture is evidently a Spring Training shot, with Jack Hiatt taking his turn inside the batting cage.

Johnny Edwards (which is what his early cards called him) was a star catcher in Cincinnati. He was a rookie during the team's surprise 1961 season, where they propelled into the World Series. He was an All-Star player for three straight years (1963-65). He caught Jim Maloney's no-hitter, as well as another game where Maloney pitched 10 no-hit innings but the Reds lost due to a lack of run support. However, when Johnny Bench was drafted, there wasn't room for any other catchers named Johnny there. He was traded to the Cardinals before the '68 season.

In St. Louis, Edwards was relegated to backup for regular catcher Tim McCarver. He still managed to catch another no-hitter for Ray Washburn that season and made one more World Series appearance. After showing he could be an everyday catcher, the Astros made a trade for him when the '68 season was over. He played 151 games behind the plate in '69, a career high. He was a regular in Houston for four years. In 1973, he shared time with Skip Jutze and played his final season in '74.

Edwards was a solid but unspectacular hitter, but was perhaps one of the best defensive catchers of his day. The fact that he was forced aside due to Johnny Bench's arrival shouldn't detract from his skills.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Kenny S.

At the time this card came out, this player was in the middle of a three-year stint in Montreal:

Card #232 -- Ken Singleton, Montreal Expos

Born in New York and a graduate of Hofstra University, Ken Singleton was drafted by the New York Mets and played with them from 1970 to '71. However, he would become a thorn in the side of the other New York team beginning in 1975 when he spent a decade with the Baltimore Orioles.

Singleton played his best baseball during his stint in Baltimore. He always got good OBP numbers, hit around the .300 level frequently and was often one of the top players in plate appearances. He hit 35 home runs as a switch hitter in 1979; at that time, only Mickey Mantle had reached that level in the American League. He was a key part of pennant-winning teams in 1979 and '83, winning the World Series in 1983.

Singleton began a transition from the outfield to DH in 1981, but continued to be a threat with the bat even as age took its toll on his glove. That season, he ran a streak of 10 consecutive hits, a record.

After his retirement in 1984, Singleton returned to the Expos as a broadcaster. He eventually went back to his native New York to handle color commentary and occasional play-by-play for the Yankees.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Taking Some Pre-Game Swings

This player was a rookie in 1972 but still managed to start for the Texas Rangers' very first game:

Card #276 -- Joe Lovitto, Texas Rangers

However, Joe Lovitto struggled in 1973 and went back to the minors after getting a leg injury. He was able to make it back to the parent club in '74, but another injury-shortened season in '75 ended his time in Texas. He was traded to the Mets for '76 but was released in Spring Training.

In this picture, Lovitto poses beside a batting cage before a game (which I'm guessing is in Oakland, anybody who knows for sure can chime in with a comment). There is a coach giving instruction in the batting cage, and even two umpires discussing something as they walk out to the field.

Lovitto was renowned for his speed, which made him terrific in the outfield. However, the injuries hampered his abilities and led his career to be cut short. Sadly, cancer cut his life short. He was only 50 when he passed away in 2001.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Frustrating Season...

In 1972, This guy threw a one-hitter, three two-hitters, and a had ten-inning stint in which he only allowed one hit...and finished 10-21. That may explain the look he's giving on this card:

Card #294 -- Steve Arlin, San Diego Padres

In fact, Steve Arlin only won 34 games in his short major league career, but 11 of them were shutouts. Had he played for a team that could provide more run support, perhaps he'd have gotten more wins.

As of this writing, no San Diego Padres pitcher has ever thrown a ho-hitter, but Steve Arlin is the one who's come the closest. On July 18, 1972, he took a game into the ninth against Philadelphia but Denny Doyle broke up the no-hitter with two out in the ninth. He won the game, but it would be the last victory he'd get until late September.

At the time, San Diego was a young expansion team and their play wasn't exactly inspiring. In fact, in 1974, new owner Ray Kroc (the McDonalds' visionary) even went on the PA system during the team's home opener and apologized to the fans for what was on the field. Steve Arlin started that game and was chased in the second inning after falling behind 5-0 to the Astros. Arlin didn't finish '74 with the Padres; he was traded to the Indians in June and finished what would be his final major league season there.

Arlin's career started out with a lot of promise. A star for Ohio State, he struck out 20 batters in 15 innings in the 1965 College World Series. Between that year and a return trip in 1966, he set a record for the lowest ERA in the CWS with 0.96 in 47 innings. Fortunately for Arlin, he studied dentistry during his playing years and had that to fall back on when he retired.

Arlin's grandfather was Harold Arlin, who called the very first radio broadcast of a baseball game in 1921 on KDKA.

Friday, September 2, 2011


Back when I was in the Army, recruits with long or hard-to-pronounce last names (like mine) were often referred to as "Private Alphabet" by our drill sergeants and other NCOs. That has absolutely nothing to do with this player except he'd have been called that as well:

Card #301 -- Billy Grabarkewitz, California Angels

If it appears the partial Angels log is airbrushed, that's because Billy Grabarkewitz had spent his entire major league career through 1972 as a member of the Los Angeles Dodgers. Topps didn't have a lot of time to get a picture of him in an Angels uniform, as he was traded to Philadelphia that August. He never spent another full season with another team, splitting '74 with the Phillies and Cubs and getting into six games with the A's in 1975 before being sent down to the minors. He was released after the season and never played again.

Grabarkewitz was a skilled infielder, but there was nowhere to put him when he was a Dodger, not when they were putting together their fabled Garvey/Lopes/Russell/Cey lineup. He made the All-Star team in 1970. However, injuries nagged him and affected his performance after that. As it turned out, 1970 would be Grabarkewitz's one shining year in the majors.

He went into the insurance business after putting away his glove.