Monday, April 30, 2012

Could He Throw a "Beene" Ball?

The title of this post is a play on the last name. There doesn't seem to be much evidence that his guy was a headhunter on the mound:

Card #573 -- Fred Beene, New York Yankees

In fact, during his seasons with the Yankees, Fred Beene was able to keep his ERA just below 2.00.

Been started his career with the Orioles, where he was on a constant shuttle between Rochester and the parent club from 1968-70. Dealt to the Padres, he spent the entire '71 season in the minors. In 1972, the Yankees picked him up in a straight-up trade for career minor leaguer Dale Spier. Despite a couple of good years for the club, Beene was dealt to Cleveland early in the 1974 season, and he finished his major league career with The Tribe the next year. He wasn't done playing, however; he kicked around the minors through 1979.

For the most part, Beene was a set-up reliever despite being a starter during his minor league career. However, the Orioles were set with starters during his tenure with the team and Beene had to take the ball where his services fit. His best season was 1973, when he went 6-0 with a 1.68 ERA.

After he retired, Beene spent 20 years as a scout for the Brewers.

Friday, April 27, 2012

This "Heart Attack" Wasn't Just an Expression...

When the 1972 season began, this player was designated as a coach and pitched batting practice:

Card #448 -- John Hiller, Detroit Tigers

John Hiller had suffered a heart attack early in 1971, and had been out of the game ever since. A fairly effective reliever and occasonal starter for the Tigers from 1965-'70, his appearance in the 1968 World Series was less than stellar. The Tigers went on to win, though, giving him his only Ring.

While having a heart attack usually spells the end of the line for most players, Hiller wasn't ready to give it up. After sitting out the entire '71 season, he was invited to the Tigers' Spring Training cam in 1972 but wasn't added to the roster. He stayed on with the team as a coach and was finally able to rejoin the roster in July of '72, and he helped the team win its division.

In 1973, he proved that he was back to stay. He made 65 appearances and set what was then a record for saves with 38. His gritty performance won him the award for Comeback player of the year, but Hiller wasn't done. In 1974, he set a record with 17 wins in relief and made the All-Star team. He stayed with the Tigers until retiring in 1980. A native Canadian, Hiller went into the insurance business in Duluth after his playing days were over.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012


Today marks the two-year anniversary of this blog. To honor that number, here's a card that features two players:

Card #64 -- 1972 Stolen Base Leaders

As a statistic, stolen bases have fluctuated in importance. They'd be a bigger deal about 10 years later, when Rickey Henderson, Tim Raines and Vince Coleman burned up the basepaths. In 1972, the year-end totals are fairly similar to the ones we've seen the past few years.

Both of the players shown above were veterans when it came to leading the league in stolen bases. This was the fifth time each had won the title. For Bert Campaneris, this would be the final one; in Lou Brock's case, he won the next two years, swiping more bases each time. In 1973, he notched 70 to pace both leagues, but in 1974 he took 118 to set a modern-day major league record.

When he retired in 1979, Brock was the all-time leading base-stealer (if you don't count Billy Hamilton, who played during the 1800s) whose record lated as long as Henderson willed it to -- he broke the mark in 1991 -- and Campaneris ended up with a very respectable 649 bases for his career.

Monday, April 23, 2012

A Man Called "Dirt"

Four of the players who were named to the 1972 Topps Rookie All-Star team appeared without any trophy on their card, including this guy:

Card #339 -- Dick Tidrow, Cleveland Indians

Dick Tidrow's nickname was "Dirt," due to his penchant for getting dirty even before the start of a game. In this picture, however, Tidrow has waited at least until after the photographer leaves before getting started.

When he came up to the majors with Cleveland in 1972, he was a starter. By the time he was traded to the Yankees in 1974 (one of several ex-Indians brought over by Gabe Paul), he was converted to a set-up reliever and was part of two World Series championships during his time in The Bronx.  The went to the Cubs in 1979, the White Sox in '83 and finished out his career with the Mets the next year.

He was one of only three people who played for both New York and both Chicago teams in his career. After he retired, Tidrow was a scout for the Yankees and returned to his hometown of San Francisco in 1994. There, he worked in the Giants' front office and was instrumental in developing their current staff.

Friday, April 20, 2012

A Trend-Setter in the Land of the Rising Sun

This player revolutionized the way American players would be seen and used in Japan:

Card #83 -- Leron Lee, San Diego Padres

Although Leron Lee spent eight seasons in the majors, he was still in the prime of his career when he signed a contract to play with the Lotte Orions in 1977. He ended up playing there for eleven seasons and set the career record for batting average for all players with over 4,000 at bats. Before Lee's career, American players in Japan (sometimes derisively called gaijin) largely went overseas at the end of their careers to play for a season or two, or were decent players who just didn't have the ability to play in the majors.

Before going to Japan, however, Lee was a major leaguer. As a kid, I knew him primarily as the "other guy" on Jerry Reuss's rookie card as a member of the Cardinals in 1970. He came up with St. Louis in 1969 and traveled to San Diego, Cleveland and Los Angeles through 1976. His best season was 1972, hitting .300 on a Padres team that collectively hit .228 and even broke up a no-hit bid by Tom Seaver in the ninth inning of a game on July 4. He was one of the few bright spots on a dismal '72 season for the Padres.

Shortly after he went to Japan, he convinced his brother Leon to join him, and the two teamed up to form a feared combo. He played overseas through 1987. His  nephew (and Leon's son) Derrek Lee played 15 years in the majors, notably for the Cubs and Marlins.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Reflections On a Name

Here's a guy whose cards I used to take some interest in, as he was one of the few players who shared a first name with me:

Card #345 -- Chris Speier (Boyhood Photo)

Like many young boys born during the 1970s, I was given the name Christopher. It's Greek in origin, and its roots are fairly's related to the Big Guy on the Cross whose death (some call it "martyrdom") started an entire religion. While this blog isn't religious in any sense, I'll stop there...but in a historical sense, the name "Christopher" goes back nearly two thousand years but didn't seem to become popular for naming people's sons until the early 1970s. I think the fact that that era coincided with Jesus Christ Superstar and what I call "God Rock" (Norman Greenbaum's "Spirit in the Sky," Ocean's "Put Your Hand in the Hand," et. al.) probably helped that. Yes, there were exceptions -- like the player above, and also the guy I was named after -- but most of the Christophers you're likely to meet are likely around 30-40 years old.

None of this has anything to do with baseball. But that's okay, since the picture on this card doesn't, either.

Monday, April 16, 2012

The Stalwart Shortstop

In 1973, this player was at the peak of his career, leading the National League in triples and winning the only Gold Glove of his career:

Card #395 -- Roger Metzger, Houston Astros

Here he is showing his shortstop stance during Spring Training...and obviously not in position. That is, unless the shortstop was meant to be in the outfield on a shift.

Roger Metzger was a defensive star, a regular in the Astros' infield from 1971-'78. Before he was with Houston, he was a farmhand in the Cubs' system and managed to come up to the club for a single game in 1970. Unable to get much playing time while Don Kessinger was still on the team's roster, he was traded to the Astros. He would make his mark there, playing in at least 120 games a season through 1976.

In 1978, he was traded to the San Francisco Giants and joined a star-studded infield that included Willie McCovey, Bill Madlock and Darrell Evans. Unfortunately, a chainsaw accident took off part of four of his fingers after the 1979 season. Metzger still tried to come back in 1980, but hit poorly and was released in August.

After his retirement, Metzger became a high school math teacher.

Friday, April 13, 2012


This guy was a key member of the A's dynasty years, holding down the all-important "hot corner":

Card #155 -- Sal Bando, Oakland A's

Of course, he doesn't look so important in this picture, as he watches the arc of a ball he just popped up.

Sal Bando came up with the A's while they still played in Kansas City, and was one of the first building blocks of the team that would win three straight World Series. Between those three Series and five straight ALCS appearances, Bando often provided some of the fireworks. He clubbed five homers in ALCS play, including the series-winning shot in 1974.

All good things eventually end and Charlie Finley dismantled his team after it began to decline in 1976. Bando became involved in a salary dispute before the 1975 season and bitterly left after '76 as a free agent. He signed with the Brewers and spent four seasons there. He was a player/coach the final two years and filled in where he was needed. After being mainly a third baseman with the A's, he played all four infield positions in Milwaukee. He also served as a DH and even pitched two innings of a game in 1979.

After retiring, Bando moved to the front office. He served as an assistant to the Brewers' GM until assuming that position from 1991-99. He was also an occasional broadcaster for NBC's Game of the Week telecast.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Versatile Player

When the era of Free Agency arrived, the Cincinnati Reds refused to sign any due to philosphical reasons. This guy was the first free agent the team signed in 1980:

Card #249 -- Larry Biitner, Texas Rangers

Reds GM Bob Howsam is credited with building The Big Red Machine but was known for his hard line on labor matters. However, after losing several key members of those championship clubs in the market, the policy was changed by his successors.

That said, Larry Biittner is shown here as a member of the Texas Rangers, a team who were still called the Washington Senators when he first came up to the majors in 1970. He would play for the Montreal Expos and Chicago Cubs before the Reds signed him. His final season was 1983, where he returned to the Rangers to wrap it all up.

Bittner's value to his teams was his ability to play multiple positions, as well as his excellent contact. As his skills diminished, he was still called upon as a pinch hitter frequently. When he retired, he racked up 95 pinch hits. He was also asked to take the mound once in a game that was already a blowout, but the result isn't anything that would put him in a highlight reel. He allowed six earned runs in just an inning and a third, but struck out three in the effort.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Between Munson and Lidle...

This was the last Topps card featuring this player, and the only one that showed him as a member of the Braves:

Card #124 -- Jim Hardin, Atlanta Braves

1972 was Jim Hardin's final year in the majors. He signed with the Braves as a free agent, after half a season with the Yankees in 1971. Before that, he was a member of the Orioles, where he was an early member of a very dominant rotation that included Jim Palmer, Dave McNally and Mike Cuellar. He was also part of the team that won the 1970 World Series.

His final record with Baltimore was 38-28, but there was little room for him in the rotation that boasted four 20-game winners in 1971. As a result, he was traded to the Bronx Bombers. Unfortunately, he will be remembered as a pilot, because he died in a plane crash in 1991. Upon leaving the airport in Key West, Florida, his propeller sputtered out. As Hardin tried to get back to make an emergency landing, he crashed into the parking lot of a restaurant under construction.

With that, Hardin is remembered as one of three Yankees players who perished in aviation accidents. Never mind that he was no longer active as a player (as Thurman Munson and Cory Lidle were) and never mind that he should have been remembered more for the five and a half seasons he spent in Baltimore...The fact that he was a Yankee for a half of one season and was involved in a tragic accident will obscure those facts.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Alou Brother #3

Here is a player whose name I pronounced wrong for several years:

Card #93 -- Jesus Alou, Houston Astros

Where I grew up, we had little interaction with Latino culture, so I simply assumed Jesus Alou pronounced his first name the way we English-speaking Christians pronounced the name of the Big Guy on the Cross. Later, I started Spanish class when I went to high school and learned that it's pronounced "Hey-ZOOS." For what it's worth, I also mispronounced Ivan DeJesus's name until I started watching him on TV.

I also didn't realize he was one of three brothers, either, since Matty and Felipe Alou had retired before I became interested in baseball. Jesus was the youngest of the three, coming up with the Giants in 1963, while his brothers were both already on the team. At times, all three bothers played in the outfield at one time. However, his power numbers were much weaker than his brothers' and the Giants exposed him for the 1969 expansion draft.

While he was selected by the Expos, Alou didn't play for them. He ended up being traded to Houston in the deal that sent Rusty Staub to the team. He remained with the Astros until midway through the 1973 season, when the A's purchased his contract. After the '74 season, he went to the Mets as a free agent but didn't stay long. He played in the Mexican League until his return to the Astros in 1978. During his final season in 1979, Alou moved to a coaching position, and was a scout for a long time after his retirement.

He was also part of an extended baseball family. In addition to his brothers, his nephew Moises Alou, cousin Jose Sosa and nephew Mel Rojas were also major league players.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Relocated "Bums" -- Blue-Bordered Edition

The blue border around this card matches the team pretty nicely:

(No Number) -- Los Angeles Dodgers Team Checklist Card

The Dodgers were building a team that would go to the World Series three times before the decade was over, but still needed a couple of key players in place.

This is the eighth team whose unnumbered checklist card has been featured on this blog, and so far, only two teams have presented a full team among the signatures. This one has three outfielders: Mota, Davis and Crawford. However, the rest of the players are short. There is no catcher, no second baseman and two third basemen (Garvey and McMullen). Buckner is taking first while Russell mans the shortstop position. Finally, there are five pitchers, including Andy Messersmith, whose signature almost looks like John Hancock's in the way it takes up so much space.

The count remains at two "complete" teams in the set so far.

Monday, April 2, 2012

The Fickle Finger of Fate...

This guy was the National League's only 20-game winner in 1973:

Card #298 -- Ron Bryant, San Francisco Giants

This, by the way, is a great picture of Ron Bryant getting ready to deliver at Candlestick against  a member of the Braves. The number 5 that is showing on his jersey indicates that the player is either Paul Casanova, Rico Carty, Oscar Brown or Phil Niekro.

The 24 wins he racked up tied him with Wilbur Wood for the most in the major leagues that year. Bryant first came up to the Giants in 1967 and became a semi-regular in the rotation by 1970. In 1972, he began showing signs that he could be really dominant, pointing to his monster year in '73.

And then it was over. Bryant was injured in a swimming pool accident during Spring Training in 1974, and was never the same pitcher after that. His record fell to 3-15 that year, and the Giants traded him to St. Louis before the '75 season. A 16.62 ERA in a little more than eight innings led to his quick release. Bryant tried to come back in 1976 with the Dodgers, signing but never making it out of AAA.

Just two years after tying for the majors' win total, Ron Bryant was gone. That was an immense burnout.