Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Bat Masters of '72

It's been a really long time since I last visited this subset:

Card #61 -- 1972 Batting Leaders

While the card shows two Hall of Fame players, they were actually the only Cooperstown-bound players who finished in the top 5 in either league among the leaders in batting average. Carew finished six points ahead of the Royals' Lou Piniella, while Williams outpaced the Braves' Ralph Garr by eight points.

For Carew, it was his second batting title after leading the American League in 1969. That said, he was just getting started, winning another five crowns between 1973 and '78. He would continue to consistently hit over .300 until 1983, when he was late into his thirties.

For Billy Williams, however, it was the only time he'd lead his league in the statistic. It was a great year for him, as he also led the senior circuit in slugging percentage, total bases and OPS (which wasn't recognized as a stat then).

Monday, November 28, 2011

The Mop-Up Role...

With only the second baseman (who I'm assuming is Dick Green) in the background, here's another one of the many shots from the 1973 Topps set showing a pitcher's delivery:

Card #214 -- Dave Hamilton, Oakland A's

I'm also noticing how sparse the crowd is in the background.

This is Dave Hamilton's rookie card, as he came up to the A's during the 1972 season. His first game was a win on against the Rangers, as he started the second game of a doubleheader. In fact, he won the first four games he pitched, but struggled soon afterward. His record was 6-5 in August when he was moved to the bullpen. He struggled in the postseason, blowing a save in the ALCS and getting tagged for four runs in only two-thirds of an inning during one of his two Series appearances.

The A's would win the World Series each of Hamilton's first three years. However, he didn't appear in the postseason in either 1973 or '74. He would also be used wherever he was needed, be it in the rotation or in the bullpen. When he was traded to the White Sox in '75, he would be placed into the bullpen on a full-time basis. He saved 25 games for the team in three seasons. In 1978, Hamilton was sent to the Cardinals and the results were disastrous. He was limited to a role mopping up, appearing in 13 games that were all eventually lost. Finally, his contract was sold to the Pirates, who were led by his former manager Chuck Tanner. He redeemed himself in Pittsburgh, but was soon relegated to mop-up duty again by the end of the year.

In 1979, Hamilton returned to the A's as a free agent, but the team was a much different club that in his first stint. He also went back to his former role of switching between the rotation and the bullpen. His 3-4 record that year doesn't seem so bad when you take account of the fact that the A's lost 108 games. In 1980, he split time between the A's and their affiliate in Ogden, but when he was demoted further in 1981, he retired.

After retiring from baseball, Hamilton spent some time as a high school coach. Since the teaching profession isn't regarded to be a well-paying one, he also worked with a construction company.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Good Luck Charm

Although he moved around a lot in the middle of the decade, this guy was part of four division-winning teams in six seasons:

Card #161 -- Ted Martinez, New York Mets

And that doesn't count the fact that he wasn't even in the majors during one of those two seasons he wasn't on a team that made the postseason.

The fact that he's wearing a windbreaker under his jersey indicates this is a Spring Training photo, as does what appears to be a hotel in the background. The Mets trained in St. Petersburg, Florida in 1972 and that appears to be a home uniform. Perhaps a reader who remembered the old Al Lang Field will verify that.

Ted Martinez had a major league career that spanned the 1970s. His first season was 1970 when he first came up with the Mets and he finished in Los Angeles in 1979. In between, he split the '75 season between the Cardinals and A's and was in the Reds' minor league system in 1976. However, he was on the following division-winning teams:

  • 1973 New York Mets
  • 1975 Oakland A's
  • 1977 Los Angeles Dodgers
  • 1978 Los Angeles Dodgers
Had he made the majors during 1976, he'd have been with the Reds, who won the World Series that year.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Les Expos

Tomorrow is Thanksgiving in the United States and today is one of the busier travel days of the year. As a result, I'll make this a short entry:

(No Number) -- Montreal Expos Checklist

At the time this card was printed, the Expos were still a relatively new expansion team, and 1973 was its fifth season in existence. The team name was chosen both as a nod to the 1967 Expo held in the city and the fact that it was the same in both French and English.

Once again, the twelve names on the front of the card do not give a complete lineup. Fairly is at first, Hunt at second and Foli lines up at short, but a third baseman is missing. The outfield consists of Day, Singleton and Woods. The pitching staff consists of Renko, Moore, Marshall, Morton, Torrez and Stoneman. No catcher is listed.

So far, this blog has featured six of the unnumbered blue-bordered checklist cards. Only one team has had a full lineup presented in its signatures.

Monday, November 21, 2011

A Touch of Blass...

Right about the time this card was printed, this pitcher's fortune suddenly changed:

Card #95 -- Steve Blass, Pittsburgh Pirates

In 1972, Steve Blass was an All-Star, going 19-8 with a 2.49 ERA, and was the runner-up for the Cy Young Award. He had been a steady performer for the Pirates since joining them in 1964 and won two World Series games in 1971.

In 1973, he suddenly lost his control. He would end up with a 3-9 record and his ERA ballooned to 9.85. Blass was sent down to the minors in 1974 and was out of the game in '75. Nobody has any explanation for what happened to him, but the term "Steve Blass disease" is still used whenever a promising pitcher's stuff suddenly and inexplicably drops off. Recent "diagnoses" include Dontrelle Willis and Rick Ankiel.

Blass joined the Pirates' broadcast crew in 1983 and is still providing color commetary on the radio.

Friday, November 18, 2011

A Man Called "Bull"

Appropriately, the picture on this card shows Greg Luzinski taking a big swing:

Card #189 -- Greg Luzinski, Philadelphia Phillies

Luzinski would never be mistaken for a top-notch fielder. He was literally placed in left field to limit his defensive liability to the Phillies. Instead, he was placed in the lineup because of the fact that he always represented a brutal power threat. When the Phillies advanced to the NLCS every year from 1976-'78, he smacked a home run in every one of those series.

When the Phillies finally reached the World Series in 1980, Luzinski's season was the worst of his career. However, he still connected for the only home run of the NLCS to help get them to the Series. After that season, his contract was sold to the Chicago White Sox. Not only did that allow him to return to the city where he grew up, but the switch to the American League allowed him to move into a DH role and added four years to the end of his career. Though age had limited his physical abilities, he still showed his brute power: in '83, three of his home runs cleared the roof at Comiskey Park and he hit grand slams in back-to-back games in '84.

After retiring, Luzinski was a coach at several levels from high school to the majors. Today, he runs a barbecue inside Citizens' Bank Park in Philadelphia.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

All Seven Games

In 1973, this pitcher did something that has never been equaled before or since:

Card #274 -- Darold Knowles, Oakland A's

During the World Series, the A's and Mets went the distance, playing seven games. Darold Knowles took the mound in every one of those games, not allowing any earned runs and saving games 1 and 7. While a total of 6.1 innings over those seven games doesn't seem like much, it's still amazing to note that even with today's specialized pitchers that it hasn't happened again.

Knowles did a lot of traveling, playing with eight different clubs in his 16-year career. He was mainly a starting pitcher during his minor league years, but filled in wherever he was needed in his short stint with the Orioles in 1965. Going to Philadelphia the following year, he began building his reputation as a workhorse, appearing in 69 games and continued that role with the Senators from 1967-'71. He missed part of the 1968 and '69 seasons when his reserve unit was activated.

In 1971, Knowles was traded to Oakland and would be part of a team that went to the postseason every year he was there, including three straight World Series. The A's bullpen also had Rollie Fingers and Bob Locker, so his number of appearances took a hit. Despite appearing in all of the games in the '73 Series, they were his only World Series appearances with them; he missed the '72 postseason after sustaining a broken thumb and was sidelined in '74 after a poor season.

He was traded to the Cubs in 1975 and played with four different clubs in his final six seasons. The end of the line came in 1980, when he retired as a Cardinal and accepted an offer to coach in their minor league system. He still coaches today, as the pitching coach for the Dunedin Blue Jays in Florida.

Darold Knowles still holds a major league record: he picked off a base runner every 24 innings during his career.

Monday, November 14, 2011

A Decade Ahead of His Time...

Ten years before Michael Jackson popularized the one-glove look, this guy shows he's way ahead of the fashion (wearing a pair of wristbands, another '80s fashion accessory):

Card #101 -- Ken Henderson, San Francisco Giants

At least he isn't also wearing this pants pulled halfway down his hip or turned his cap around. However, he's also not shown in the uniform he actually wore during the 1973 season.

Ken Henderson was a switch-hitter who was also a great defensive outfielder. However, the Giants had a surplus of outfielders in the late 1960s, with Willie Mays, the Alou brothers, Bobby Bonds, and occasionally Willie McCovey, which limited his playing time. As the 1970s began, there were more outfielders waiting to play: Dave Kingman, Garry Maddox and Gary Mathews. Since some of the competing players were better at the plate, the Giants traded Henderson away after the 1972 season was over. Realizing his value, the team was smart enough to trade him into the other league, sending him to the White Sox along with Steve Stone for Tom Bradley.

He spent three seasons in Comiskey Park, even playing in all 162 games in 1974. However, he moved around frequently after that, playing for five different teams from 1976-'80 as age took its natural effect on his physical shape.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Not On My Watch

Today is Veterans' Day. As a veteran myself (U.S. Army, early 1990s), I would like to express my gratitude to all who have taken years out of their lives and helped keep this country safer. Today's card features a player who never went overseas with the military but will be remembered for an act he did that made many assume he had:

Card #44 -- Rick Monday, Chicago Cubs

On April 25, 1976, Rick Monday was in the outfield at Dodger Stadium and watched a man and his young son sneak on to the field. They had doused an American flag with lighter fluid and were set to burn it as a protest. Before they could get the match lit, Monday ran over and grabbed the flag away from them. That incident has come to overshadow a career that was itself very good.

Like many players of the era, Monday was placed in a reserve unit to satisfy his military obligation and keep him available to play baseball at the same time. Monday served with the U.S Marines one weekend a month and for a two-week training session every year until he had satisfied his obligation. Though critics complained that the system was unfair to those who didn't have alternatives available to them and were forced to go to Vietnam, the owners did it to prevent losing prized prospects for a year or two and losing time having them on the field.

Rick Monday was a star at Arizona State University, before becoming the very first player claimed in the major league draft in 1965. He was chosen by the Kansas City A's and came up to the club in '66. He was traded to the Chicago Cubs after the 1971 season for Ken Holtzman and enjoyed five productive seasons at Wrigley before being traded to the Dodgers before the '77 season in the deal that sent Bill Buckner to Chicago. It's been said that the '76 flag incident caused the Dodgers to be interested in Monday, but it needs to be pointed out that Dodgers skipper Tommy Lasorda had tried to secure his services during his days as a scout in the early 1960s.

After missing out on Oakland's three straight World Series, Monday arrived in Los Angeles in time for the team to win pennants in 1977 and '78 and was instrumental in getting the team to the World Series again in 1981. During the NLCS, Monday connected for a home run off Steve Rogers that gave the Dodgers the edge they needed to win the final game. Monday finally won his World Series ring that year when the Dodgers beat the Yankees in six games.

Monday remained with the Dodgers until retiring in 1984. The next year, he began a broadcast career that continues today. Starting on a cable TV station doing pregame shows, he went to the Padres in 1989 and joined the Dodgers' crew in 1993, replacing the void left when Don Drysdale died suddenly. He still does color commentary for the team on their radio broadcasts.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

A Grim Lesson

Despite all the feats and awards this player would accumulate during a seventeen-year career in the major leagues, his personal issues overshadowed them:

Card #582 -- Darrell Porter, Milwaukee Brewers

In 1980, former player Don Newcombe visited the Kansas City Royals' clubhouse and posed ten questions to the team. A "yes" answer to three of the questions might indicate that the player was having issues with drug abuse; Darrell Porter answered yes to all ten. He soon checked into a rehab facility, becoming one of the first players in any sport to publicly affirm the problem. He became a born-again Christian and was active in outreach programs to help other players get a grip on their own problems, but he never was able to control the demons that plagued his own life. He died in 2002 and the coroner's report said he had ingested enough cocaine through recreational use to stop his heart.

However, the end of the story shouldn't lessen what he achieved in his baseball career. Porter first came up to the majors with the Brewers while still a teenager and was third in the voting for the 1973 Rookie of the Year award. An All-Star nod came in 1974 but his best years came after being traded to the Kansas City Royals in 1976. He caught Jim Colborn's no-hitter in 1977 and became one of six catchers in history to score 100 runs while driving in 100. The other five are all in the Hall of Fame.

After his personal issues surfaced, Porter's numbers declined, but he still had highlights: three World Series with one that brought him a ring and an MVP award, another no-hitter caught in 1983 (Bob Forsch's). He was also one of few players who wore glasses on-field; many of his contemporaries chose to use contacts instead. He would switch teams twice via free agency, going to the Cardinals before 1981 and to the Rangers after 1985. However, the best thing to sum up his career might have been the statement his former teammate George Brett made:

"He played every game like it was the seventh game of the World Series."

Coming from a noted competitor like Brett, that was no faint praise.

The card shown here is Porter's first solo card. In 1972, he was included on a multi-player rookie card but his picture was switched with Jerry Bell's.

Monday, November 7, 2011

"El Tiante"

Thanks to Bill "Spaceman" Lee's book The Wrong Stuff, I learned more about this guy that I really ever wanted to know. But I'll let you read the book, because I'm not going to rehash it:

Card #270 -- Luis Tiant, Boston Red Sox

Luis Tiant's father was a tremendous baseball player in Cuba and the Negro Leagues, and he followed in those big shoes from an early age. Starting in the Mexican League, he came up with the Indians in 1964 and quickly became a very respected pitcher, striking out almost a man every inning. In 1968, he went 21-9 with 264 strikeouts and an amazing 1.60 ERA. Had it not been for Denny McLain winning 31 games, he may have gotten more attention for his numbers.

That said, the teams pay attention to numbers, so when Tiant dropped to 9-20 in 1969 he was traded to Minnesota. He spent one season with the Twins and was released by the team in the Spring of '71. He would split that season between the Braves' minor league team in Richmond, the Red Sox' AAA affiliate in Indianapolis and with the Red Sox. Once he was able to stay with the Bosox, he responded by winning 15 games and notching a 1.91 ERA to lead the league. He would earn double-digit win totals for the rest of the 1970s and win 20 three times. He became one of the Sox' most valuable pitchers and helped them to a pennant in 1975.

After the Red Sox' collapse in 1978, Tiant was traded to the New York Yankees. He pitched well in 1979 but showed his age the next year. He pitched for the Pirates in '81 and went back to the Angels in '82.

Even though he's been retired for nearly 30 years, Tiant still holds the all-time record for wins among Cuban-born players and ranks third among all Latin Americans behind Dennis Martinez and Juan Marichal.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Better Than Rose?

They say that no matter how good you are at something, there will always be somebody better who will eventually come along. When this guy was a high school student in Cincinnati, he was seen as a better player than classmate Pete Rose:

Card #5 - Ed Brinkman, Detroit Tigers

To be fair, Rose wasn't a natural athlete and had to earn his right to be a great ballplayer; he came by the nickname "Charlie Hustle" honestly. As a result, Western Hills coach "Pappy" Nohr said that Rose was "a good ballplayer, but not a Brinkman." Scouts focused on Ed Brinkman's high average and the 15 games he won on the mound in his senior year. He signed with the Washington Senators after graduating and made the team in 1961. By 1963, he was a regular at shortstop.

After the 1970 season, Brinkman was traded to the Tigers in the Denny McLain deal and took up a right side of the infield (along with Aurelio Rodriguez) that was considered to be virtually unhittable. In the Tigers' division-winning year of '72, Brinkman was named "Tiger of the Year," and his fielding prowess won him a Gold Glove in 1973. His glove was exceptional enough to help people overlook a .224 lifetime batting average.

1974 would be his final season in Detroit, and he split '75 among three major league teams: St. Louis, Texas and the Yankees, where he rejoined former manager Billy Martin. After retiring, Brinkman became a coach in the minors and then an infield coach for the White Sox during the 1980s. He remained with the team in various capacities until retiring in 2000.

Sadly, Ed Brinkman passed away from lung cancer in 2008.

This card was featured last week in the excellent Number 5 Type Collection, but that didn't  play into my decision to feature it here now. But I'll put the link here because it's a great card-related blog.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

The Vet in the Background

It may not have been much of a venue compared to what Citizens Bank Park offers today, but the colorful seats in Veterans Stadium and high-rising Upper Deck area make for an interesting background on this card:

Card #619 -- Billy Wilson, Philadelphia Phillies

Veterans Stadium was still relatively new when this photo was taken. The Phillies moved in during the 1971 season and it watched the team build into a dominant National League force by the end of the decade, win a World Series in 1980 and host two more in 1983 and 1993. It was built to accomodate both baseball and football teams (a novel concept when it was built, but one that was seen as antiquated just a generation later), and also housed several professional soccer clubs and a USFL franchise.

I'm talking about the stadium in the background because there more to be read about it than there is about Billy Wilson. He was exclusively a reliever who pitched in 179 games from 1969-'73 and ended up with a 9-15 record. His minor league stats were much better, and that's what Wilson's Baseball-Reference Bullpen page focuses on. His Wikipedia page, on the other hand, has little more than the fact he was in major league baseball for a few years.

This would be Wilson's final Topps card. He passed away in 1993.