Friday, September 28, 2012

A Statistican

Not a lot of people can say they struck out Willie Mays on their 18th birthday. But this guy could:

Card #375 -- Larry Dierker, Houston Astros

In 1964, Larry Dierker made his debut the same day he turned 18. Taking the mound for what were then called the Houston Colt .45s, he struck out Willie Mays in the first inning. Staying with the team through their name change to the Astros, he remined in Houston through 1976. He was the Astros' fist 20-game winner in 1969 and tossed a no-hitter against the Expos in '76. He pitched one last season in St. Louis before retiring as a player.

Known to many as a smart baseball "numbers" guy, Dierker was a member of SABR and was known to crunch the numbers of the game. He worked as a broadcaster and was also a very successful manager, taking the Astros to the postseason four of the five years he led the club. In 1999, however, he suffered a Grand Mal seizure and missed 27 games while he was unergoing brain surgery to correct the problem.

Fired after the 2001 season, Dierker returned to brodcasting and has written several baseball-related columns and two books about the game.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

A Six-Time Draftee

This guy was drafted five times during his USC collegiate career, and ended up signing with a different team:

Card #387 -- Jim Barr, San Francisco Giants

Jim Barr was a teammate of both Dave Kingman and Bill Lee when he was with Southern California, where he was part of the team that won the 1968 College World Series. He finally signed with San Francisco in 1970 and was playing with them in 1971. By 1972, he was a regular in the starting rotation.

During that 1972 season, he showed that he was a force on the mound by retiring 41 batters in a row (over two starts, but neither was a no hitter). From 1973 through '77, Barr won at least ten games for the Giants. After the '78 season, he signed with the Angels as a free agent and pitched with them until injuries cut short his 1980 season. He was signed to the White Sox for '81, but was unable to get out of the minors. For 1982, he returned to San Francisco and pitched with the Giants through the 1983 season.

After his playing days were over, Barr spent 16 years as the pitching coach at Sacramento State.

Monday, September 24, 2012

"Foul" Ball?

I've seemed to neglect a lot of Hall of Famers on this blog lately. It's been six months since the last one was featured. Rest assured, there are plenty of them and I still have some big names left in the set including two rookie cards of Hall of Famers. But, let's toss out one of the more unflattering shots of the entire 1973 Topps set:

Card #380 -- Johnny Bench, Cincinnati Reds

From another angle, this might have been an excellent picture. Johnny Bench is making a catch of a foul ball. But...(maye that's not the word to use here) Bench's shot is taken from the worst possible angle, showing him from the back. It's been said that he sometimes refuses to sign this card because the photo is so ridiculous. Now, whether that's truth or simply a hobby legend depends on somebody taking this card to Bench at a card signing. And I'm not paying for him to scribble on this card.

I probably don't have to recap Bench's career, as he was one of the biggest stars of his day. He played his entire 17-year career in Cincinnati and led the Reds to back-to-back titles in 1975 and '76. He was a perennial All-Star, getting picked from 1968-'80 and again in 1983, and won every Gold Glove Award from 1968-'77. He was the National League's Most Valuable Player twice, in 1970 and '72. After his career was over, his number 5 was retired by the Reds.

As a rookie, he immediately showed who was the boss. Pitcher Jim Maloney kept shaking him off when he was signaling for a breaking ball because he wanted to throw a fastball. When Bench yelled, "your fastball's lost its pop!", Maloney let out a stream of expletives at the rookie. To prove his point, Bench took off his glove and caught the fastball barehanded. Maloney eventually trusted him enough to throw a no-hitter under his tutelage in 1969.

In my own youth, he was the leader of The Baseball Bunch, where he instructed the kids on the team about baseball fundamentals (along with dozens of his fellow players) and kept the San Diego Chicken in line. 

Friday, September 21, 2012

If It's Tuesday, I Must Be in Oakland...

Since the last two players featured this week were in airbrushed threads, let's just close the week out with one more:

Card #222 -- Rob Gardner, Oakland A's

Ironically, Rob Gardner didn't stay with the A's very long. His contract was purchased in May by the Brewers. It was another in a long line of transactions for the southpaw -- he played with six teams in eight seasons -- and Milwaukee ended up sending him back to the A's that July. He never played in the majors again after that, though.

 Rob Garner came up with the Mets in 1965. From there, his itinerary gets a little bit fuzzy. After the Mets, he was with the Indians, the Cubs, the Yankees, the A's, the Yankees again, the A's again and the Brewers. Add to those tours of duty the trips down to the minors and you have one well-traveled player. He stuck it out in the minors through 1975 before he retired.

One thing that pops up in the long list of transactions is the fact that he was traded twice for different Alou brothers. The two times he was dealt to the A's, he was traded for Felipe and Matty Alou.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Un Hombre Se Llama "Huevo"

For the second entry in a row, Topps had some work to offer its airbrush artist:

Card #381 -- Vicente Romo, San Diego Padres

Vicente Romo was just beginning with the Padres in 1973, after a trade brought him from the White Sox. He came up to the majors in 1968, where he pitched a single inning before being returned to the Cleveland Indians, the team that had originally signed him in 1964. He also pitched for the Red Sox from 1969-'70. A reliever, he stayed in San Diego through 1974 and then went back to Mexico, his native country.

In Mexico, Romo was an unparalleled star. During his U.S. career, he would sometimes go home and pitch, before giving another try in the North. During the 1960s and 70s, he was one of the most feared pitchers in the LMP. He pitched a perfect game in 1967 and amassed a record 182 wins and the all-time lowest ERA in the league. His nickname "Huevo" (meaning "egg") came from the zeros that were racked up on the scoreboard when he pitched.

He did make it back to the majors, pitching for the Dodgers again in 1982. He then returned again to Mexico, where he played into his 40s. He was inducted into that country's Hall of Fame equivalent in 1992 and is still considered one of the legends of the sport there.

Monday, September 17, 2012

A Man Called "Fly Rod"

This guy's cap is an obvious airbrush job:

Card #74 -- Billy Champion, Milwaukee Brewers

Until 1972, Billy Champion had spen his entire career with the Philadelphia Phillies, with whom he debuted in 1969. The Phillies weren't a great team at the time, and Champion's overall record with the team was 12-31 during the four seasons he spent with the team. When he was traded to the Brewers, it may have seemed like a lateral move, but he was able to have a couple of quality seasons there. In four years there, he actually had a winning record with the team.

Champion was largely employed as a "swing man," alternating from the starting rotation to a mop-up role in relief. Not a really efficient strikeout artist, he managed one really good season in 1974, going 11-4 on a staff that was fairly mediocre.

Champion became a scout for the Cubs after his retirement, and a pitching coach after that.

Friday, September 14, 2012

That's Pronounced "KWAY-ar"

This player has a pretty cool 'fro peeking out underneath his Orioles cap. While it isn't Oscar Gamble-worthy, it's still cool:

Card #470 -- Mike Cuellar, Baltimore Orioles

Between 1969 and 1973, Mike Cuellar was part of one of the most feared starting rotations in the major leagues. He shared the 1969 American League Cy Young Award, made the postseason  five of those six seasons and was part of the only staff besides the 1920 Chicago White Sox with four 20-game winners. Today, it's something special when one pitcher gets 20 wins; having four on the same team is a phenomenal feat. In fact, it's been 10 years since the last time a pair of teammates (Derek Lowe and Pedro Martinez of the Red Sox) turned the trick.

Cuellar first came up with the Reds in 1959, pitching four innings and notching a 15.75 ERA. After several transactions and some time in the Mexican League, he returned with the 1964 St. Louis Cardinals, where the Cuban native took a relief role and helped the team get to the World Series. He went to the Astros the next year, where he transitioned to the rotation. After several years as Houston's prime lefty, he joined the O's in 1969.

Cuella was a four-time 20 game winner with the Orioles and logged a 143-88 record in his time with the team. But, as his advancing age dropped him to a 4-13 mark in 1976, the team released him. In 1977 he signed with the Angels as a free agent, but only pitched in a couple of games with them. He wasn't finished though; Cuellar returned to the Mexican League and continued to pitch, even making the Senior League when he was over 50.

Sadly, stomach cancer claimed him in 2010.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

The "Redbirds"

This team has won more World Series Championships than any other team outside of the Yankees:

Card #219 -- St. Louis Cardinals Team Card

It's also the team that has retired the most jersey numbers of any team outside of The Bronx. Counting a microphone for Jack Buck, a logo for Rogers Hornsby (who played most of his career before the numbers were added) and a made-up number honoring owner Gussie Busch's 85th birthday, there have been 14 numbers retired by the team.

However, the team's dominance would be muted during the 1970s, as the team failed to win a pennant depite having a Cy Young Winner (Bob Gisbon, 1970) and a pair of MVP winners (Joe Torre, 1971 and Keith Hernandez, 1979). Despite having several Hall of Famers in the field and another in the dugout (Red Schoendienst) the team that made three World Series in the 1960s were unable to finish any higher than second place for a dozen years after the realignment into divisions.

The picture above features the 1972 team that finished in fourth place in the N.L. East, finishing 76-81 in a strike-shortened season. In 1973, they fared a little better, going 81-81 but finishing in second place in a contentious division. That said, the fans stuck by the team until "Whitey Ball" brought them more success in the next decade.

Monday, September 10, 2012

My Kinda Guy

After retiring from the game, this guy worked as a freelance writer:

Card #143 -- John Curtis, Boston Red Sox

That said, John Curtis actually had a fairly long pitching career, spanning 15 seasons from 1970-'84. He finished with the Red Sox -- the first team he pitched for -- in 1973. After the season, he was traded to St. Louis and was there through 1976. He was dealt to the Giants then, and pitched with that team until 1979. Free agency sent him to San Diego for a few years, and a purchase by the Angels in 1982 sent him to his last big league team.

His stints in Boston. St. Louis and later San Diego saw him used in the rotation, while the other teams were content to use Curtis as a set-up man. He notched 10 or more wins 5 times in his career; unfortunately, he lost more in a season (14) than he ever won (13).

After retiring, Curtis wrote pieces for Sports Illustrated as well as for several newspapers. The upstate New York-raised, Clemson educated Curtis eventually returned to the diamond as a pitching coach, beginning in 2000.  

Friday, September 7, 2012

This Guy Could Have Been in a Stroh's Commercial...Or Maybe Not

Shortly after the time this card appeared in packs, this guy was placed on waivers by the only team he'd ever played for:

Card #457 -- John Strohmayer, Montreal Expos

With the Montreal Expos, John Strohmayer had accumulated an 11-9 record since 1970. He was largely a reliever, but occasionally called to start as well, especially in 1971. With the New York Mets, he went 0-0. With only a single inning at the end of 1974 after a season in the minors, his career was finished.

A South Dakota native, Strohmayer was bothered late in his career by shoulder problems. So he went to school and became a teacher. He taught in California from 1976-'92 and worked his way up the rakns from there, eventually becoming a superintendent by 2002. He retired from that career in 2009 after 32 years.

That year, he took a share of a lottery jackpot worth millions.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

The Switch at the Keystone

At the time this card was issued, this player was a regular shortstop. The next year, he switched to second base:

Card #144 -- Marty Perez, Atlanta Braves

Here's a little-known fact about Martz Perez: he is one of the few players who ever pinch hit for Hank Aaron. Even late in his career, few could say they ever picked up a bat and stood in for "The Hammer."

Perez came up in 1969 with the Angels after growing up in Visalia, California. After the 1970 season, he would be traded to the Braves, the team that used him most on the diamond. He stayed with them through 1975, when he was sent to the Giants in a deal that also included Darrell Evans. After that, he seemed to move around frequently: in '77 he was dealt to the Yankees but only used in a single game. A month later, the Yanks sent him to Oakland. He became a free agent at the end on the season, but resigned with the A's. However, the team released him in 1978 and he signed with the Mets. Once that team -- as bad as it was -- kept him in the minors, he saw the writing on the wall and retired.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Jason's Dad

1973 was this guy's first full year as an everyday major league catcher:

Card #221 -- Fred Kendall, San Diego Padres

Unfortunately, he played with the Padres, who lost over 100 games that year. That may account for the "deer in the headlights" look that Fred Kendall gives in this portrait. After first coming up with the team in 1969, he backed up Chris Cannizaro, Bob Barton and Pat Corrales. And those guys took a real licking on the early Padres teams (in fact, Corrales's card shows the result of the battering those guys often took). In the 1972 season, Kendall was the next guy on the firing line.

He remained the Padres' regular backstop through 1976, an era where the team never saw a winning season. In 1977, he was finally given a chance to play with another team; unfortunately, that team was in Cleveland and they weren't much better. The next season, he was traded again to the Red Sox. It was a team that was in contention for much of the year and reuinited him with his old skipper Don Zimmer...but had a Hall of Fame-caliber presence behind the plate in Carlton Fisk.

So, he went back to his original team as a free agent and spent the next year and a half there before retiring. After his playing days, he followed the lead of many catchers and went into managing. For four years, he was a skipper in the White Sox's system and then became Buddy Bell's preferred bullpen coach. His son was Jason Kendall, who was also a big league backstop from 1996-2010.