Monday, January 16, 2017

#341 Doug DeCinces California Angels

One of the more unique action shots in the set, Doug DeCinces is observed catching pop-up in the bright sunlight.  This is the veteran's ninth Topps card and his first as an Angel.

Player:  Doug DeCinces was an up and coming infielder with the Orioles at a time when they just didn't have room for him.  With future hall of famer Brooks Robinson at third, Mark Belanger at short, and Bobby Grich at second, the O's infield was crowded.  DeCinces had a cup of coffee in '73 and in a single major league game in '74 before sticking as a utility infielder in '75.

With Robinson now 39 years old, Decinces grabbed a bigger chunk of playing time in '76 and despite run-ins with manager Earl Weaver and Baltimore ownership, he eventually settled in at third base. Harsh treatment from Weaver and unfair comparisons to Robinson would plague him his entire stay in Baltimore.

DeCinces spent six years as a starter for the Orioles with his best season with them coming in 1978 when he clubbed 28 HR, slugged .526 and posted a 149 OPS+.  The rest of his Baltimore tenure, before and after, he never hit more than 19 HR or hit higher than .263.

Bookending Baltimore legends, DeCinces was sent packing after the 1981 season to make room for Cal Ripken at the hot corner.  Had the O's realized that Cal could be much more than adequate at short maybe they would have held on to DeCinces.  Instead they swapped him to California for Dan Ford.

DeCinces got a fresh start in California. A notoriously slow starter, he caught fire in the second half batting .340/.412/.653.  He finished the year with career highs in BA .301, 2B 42, HR 30, RBI as he won the Silver Slugger at thirdbase and finished third in MVP voting.

He spent the next six years with the Angels generating good but not always great numbers hitting 16 to 26 HR each year with 2 or 3 WAR seasons.  The Angels cut DeCinces at the tail end of the '87 season and he was picked up by the Cardinals.  He went 2 for 9 with the Redbirds to cap his MLB career.  He traveled to Japan to play one year for the Yakult Swallows.

Flipside:   DeCinces hit three home runs on 8-3-82 and three more on 8-8-82.  That seems the most impressive thing about his season and should have been at the bottom of this card.  Or maybe "Doug started August with 14 hits and 9 HR in 28 at bats." 

Oddball:  A very good bio on DeCinces tells me among other things that he broke his nose four times.

History:  I remember DeCinces as one of the veterans with the Angels who came close but didn't reach the World Series.  It wasn't until after he retired I realized he had been in the '79 World Series. In the fall classic DeCinces slugged a HR in his first WS bat but was 4 for his next 24 as the O's dropped the seven game series to the Pirates.
Then in California, DeCinces and the Halos were knocked out of the ALCS in '82 and '86 with both series going the distance.

Looking back at his career, I can't help but think that DeCinces never was able to live up to his full potential.  Injuries were certainly a factor as he played more than 140 games just four times.  All in all a very good career though.

Monday, January 2, 2017

#340 Larry Gura Kansas City Royals

Another card full of the color blue!   Veteran Larry Gura is seen here following through with his left handed throwing motion on his 12th Topps card. 

Player: Illinois native Larry Gura was drafted in the 2nd round by the Cubs in 1969 after playing collegiate ball at Arizona State. He made his  MLB debut in 1970 but Gura's career took a while to get going as he never established himself in Chicago and was traded to Texas after the '73 season and to the Yankees in May of '74.    

Gura was the Yankees number five starter in 1975 and won seven games with a 3.51 ERA in 151 innings.  Gura was unable to secure a spot in the Yankee rotation in '76 and was traded to Kansas City where he was a little used long man most of the year although he spun a four-hit shutout in one of his four starts.

Gura again worked primarily out of the pen in '77 with 10 saves and a 3.13 ERA.  Gura would find himself in an out of the rotation in '78 before landing there for good in late July.  Although he made just 26 starts his 2.72 ERA helped him get votes in CYA voting (7th) and a token MVP vote (23rd).

Now 31 years old, Gura averaged 32 starts a season over the next five seasons as he became a mainstay of the KC rotation.  A rough start to the '79 campaign doomed that season (4.47 ERA) but he bounced back with a monster campaign in 1980.  Gura logged an iron-man 283 innings with a 2.85 ERA, and made his lone all-star team and finished 6th in CYA voting.

The southpaw continued to get outs at a proficient clip during the '81 strike season but was average or well below the rest of his career as his ERA went from 2.72, 4.03, to 4.90. Although KC was getting back to their winning ways Gura struggled through the 1984 season and was released in May of '85 as the youth movement was in full swing with the likes of Saberhagen, Gubicza, and Jackson.

Gura returned to the Cubs but allowed 19 runs in 20 innings and was released, thus ending his 16 year career.

Flipside: You can see from his yearly stats that Gura was a late bloomer but he didn't spend much time in the low minors.  The Cubs placed him in low-A ball to start his career but promoted him later that year all the way to AAA.  Gura would pitch at least part of seven more seasons in the minors but they were all in AAA.

Oddball:  Gura may be the only player whose tennis hobby helped get him traded.  

History:  Gura had a strange but long career in pro ball racking up 126 wins with a 3.76 ERA.  Many remember him for his success against the Yankees once they traded him away.  The numbers bear this out.  In 20 career starts he did very well with 11-6 record, 3.10 ERA and 10 complete games.  His postseason experience pitted the Royals against the Yankees four times with mixed results. 

Saturday, December 17, 2016

#339 Terry Harper Atlanta Braves

Do you like blue? Because I have a card for you!  Blue jersey, blue helmet, blue borders, blue sky, blue dugout...I think you get the picture.  This is Terry Harper's third Topps card and his second solo card.

Player:  Georgia native Terry Harper was drafted as a pitcher by the Braves in the 16th round in 1973, and after three years of getting knocked around in single-A ball he made the move to the outfield in 1976.  Harper worked his way up the chain and made his major league debut in September of 1980, netting 10 hits in 54 at bats in the month's final season.

Harper spent most the strike filled '81 season on the major league roster and posted a .260/.353/.356 line in 40 games.  The lanky outfielder didn't make the team coming out spring training in 1982 and beat the heck out of AAA pitching for three months (.384/.468/.678) before getting called back up the bigs when a struggling Brett Butler was demoted.  Harper torched lefties in a part time role and struggled against righties finishing with a.285 bating average when the dust settled. 

Harper w"as the Braves 4th outfielder in '83 behind Dale Murphy, Brett Butler, and Claudell Washington and posted pedestrian numbers.  The next year was a disaster as he batted .157 and spent the dog days of summer in AAA ball.

When Braves prospect Brad Komminsk floundered in left field, Harper filled the void and 1985 would be a career year.  Harper hit 17 HR, 72 RBI, and stole nine bases, all career highs.  
Harper returned to part time role in '86 and was traded to Detroit in the offseason.  Harper split 1987 between Detroit and Pittsburgh in his final major league campaign.

Flipside:  Seeing that he only a handful of at bats in his first three pro years is really odd but it was a by product of him pitching.  I wonder if his career had started as a hitter if he would have been a better hitter in the long term?

Oddball:  Harper is listed on this card (and most of his cards) as 6'1" but he is listed on most websites as being 6'4".  Makes me wonder if he had a growth spurt after his first pro season and he never had his info updated?

History: Harper seemed to have a lot of ability with a rifle arm, good speed and occasional pop but other than 1985 he never played full time.  He finished his eight year career with a .253/.321/.371 line. These days Harper coaches youth baseball in his home state of Georgia.

Thursday, December 15, 2016

#338 Bob Owchinko Oakland A's

Bob Owchinko shows up here in the '83 set on his sixth Topps card.  I do not particularly remember this card but I do remember some of his earlier cards with the Padres.  Until this post I thought his name was Ochawinko or Owachinko.  Anyway he is the only player in MLB history with the letters O-W-C in succession anywhere in his name.

Player: Owchinko was the 5th overall pick in the '76 draft and made two poor starts for the Padres in September.  The lefty started the 1977 season in the majors but was called up in May and made 28 starts for San Diego with a mediocre 4.45 ERA.  Underscoring how differently young pitchers were used back in those days, Owchinko twice made starts on two days rest and came in relief in the second game of a double header after starting game one. 

Owchinko would have his best pro season in 1978 with a 3.56 ERA across 202 innings.  The following season Owchinko got blasted in his first start and didn't get another starting assignment until April was nearly over.  Although juggled in and out of the rotation he got better as the year went on and had a 2.73 ERA in the second half.

The Padres traded Owchinko to the Indians and he was their #5 starter and mop up man for the 1980 season but won just two of his fourteen starts with a 5.27 ERA.  Traded again, this time to the A's, Owchinko would pitch exclusively out of the pen for skipper Billy Martin.  Owchinko's curve was an asset against lefties and he did alright as a short reliever.  The next season he was said to have gotten in Martin's doghouse and was used in a mop up role.  Although he pitched in 54 games only 11 were A's victories. Owchinko was released the following spring and spent almost the entire '83 season in AAA Hawaii.

The Reds picked him up and Owchinko appeared in 49 games with a handful of spot starts and posted a 4.12 ERA.  He spent all of 1985 in the minors, resurfaced for three starts with Montreal in 1986, and called it a career.

Flipside:  Born in Detroit and playing at Eastern Michigan, I am surprised Owchinko never landed in Tigers organization.  They seemed prone to giving local guys a chance during the 80's.

Oddball:  Owchinko wore number 44 with the Padres but after he landed in Cleveland he wore seven different numbers over his next six seasons.

History:  Owchinko was a highly thought of lefty when he was drafted in '76 and, although things at times looked promising in San Diego, he never quite found the success on the field that was forecast for him.  Owchinko finished with a 37-60 record with a 4.28 record.

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

#337 Tito Landrum St. Louis Cardinals

Terry Lee "Tito" Landrum appears here on his 2nd Topps card in the Cardinals powder blue road uniform.  If I had to venture a guess I'd say they were playing in Shea Stadium at the time based on the dugout in the background

Player:  Landrum was undrafted after high school and it was October before he signed with the Cardinals in 1972.  After eight seasons of minor league ball Landrum finally reached the show in July of 1980.  Playing all three outfield positions, he came to the plate 85 times with a modest .247/.306/.325 line.  Those stats are pretty representative of his career line with a dash more pop as he aged.  

In 1982 Landrum was used as a utility outfielder, a role that is not really present in today's game of 12 man bullpens.  His season was little more productive as he added his first two career homers and a few more walks, leading to a 112 OPS+.

The next year would be quite an experience for Landrum.  He was sent down to the minors in May, called up late in August and traded in a postseason-roster-deadline deal to Baltimore.  He batted .310 in September for the O's but the best was yet to come.  Landrum worked himself into the O's lineup for the ALCS vs the White Sox and hit the go-ahead home run in the 10th inning of the game four clincher.  Landrum didn't bat in the World Series but the Birds soared over the Phillies and Landrum was a World Champ.  

The Orioles traded Landrum back to the Cardinals the following spring training.  The post season hero parlayed his success into a platoon role over the next three seasons with 1985 being his career year batting .280/.356/.429.  Landrum was again a postseason star batting .429 in the NLCS and .360 with a homer in place of the injured Vince Coleman during World Series play.  

Landrum was released by St. Louis in '87 and finished the year in Dodger blue.  He landed in Baltimore in '88 but was released after just three hits in 24 at bats.  That would be the final action in Landrum's MLB career.  

Flipside: Awful small print but Landrum's 1978 line shows 68 steals.  Of course caught stealing isn't on the back and he was caught just 11 times.  68 of 79 is pretty good but it didn't carry over to the majors as he was successful in just 14 of 29 career attempts.

Oddball:  How much more odd can you get than this:
Career stats in 1107 plate appearances: .249/.309/.353, 13 HR and 14 for 29 on steals
Career postseason in 50 plate appearances: .347/.360/.510, 2 HR and 2 for 2 on steals

History:  Landrum is the rare role player with two instances of "15 minutes of fame".  Was his playoff success a case of luck, small sample size variation, or some mysterious ability to rise to the occasion?  After his playing career Landrum attended NYU and earned a degree in physical therapy and now works in that field.  Proving that he was no dumb jock, Landrum was chosen valedictorian of his graduating class.

Friday, December 2, 2016

#336 Rene Lachemann Seattle Mariners

This is Rene Lachemann's first Topps base card as a manager. I've said it before and I'll say it agian, I hate the pink borders on the Mariners cards.

Although he played just three years in the majors he appeared on four Topps cards as a player.  His 1965 rookie card is worth some money, probably because that Jim Hunter guy that is also on the card.

Player:  Lachemann, like many managers, was a catcher in his playing days, playing parts of three seasons for the A's, two in KC and one in Oakland.  As a 19 year old in his first pro season he hit 25 homers at three different levels.  Production like that got A's management excited and Lachemann on a Topps card as a teen. 

He made his MLB debut on his 20th birthday in '65 and hit nine dingers in 92 games, displaying the power that was so rare for catchers of that era.  Alas, those would be the only blasts he would hit in the majors as he had just five at bats in '66, spent all of '67 in the minors, and fizzled in 60 at bats in '68.  One downfall may have been his throwing arm since he only threw out 10 would be base stealers in 66 career attempts.

Manager:  At just 28 years old Lachemann found his playing career over after the '72 season.  He would go on to manage in the A's chain for four years until moving on to the new Mariners franchise in 1977 at AAA San Jose. 

Lachemann managed San Jose for two years, then followed the squad to Spokane in '79.  In 1981 the big league Mariners started the year 6-18 and they fired Maury Wills and hired the 36 year-old Lachemann.  

Following the disastrous Wills' tenure, Lachemann and the Mariners went 38-47 the rest of the way during the strike shortened campaign.   1982 would prove to be the best season in Seattle's young history when they won 76 games besting their previous high by nine games.  A 26-47 start was Lachemann's undoing in 1983 when he was canned after an eight game losing streak.  According to Seattle reporter Tracy Ringolsby Seattle owner "George Argyros also wasn't pleased in early May when he phoned Lachemann in the dugout and demanded a pitching change and Lachemann threw the dugout phone".  

The Mariners gig was a great opportunity at the start and ended with what seemed like a raw deal from a meddling owner. Lachemann wasn't out of work long and was hired by the Brewers to run the team in 1984.

Lachemann only spent one year in Milwaukee as the team struggled to a 94-loss, 7th place finish.   Once again Lachemann seemed to get hosed.  He was notified that he was fired in the last week of the season yet asked to finish out managing the last three games. The Brewers were without Paul Molitor for all but 13 games, sluggers Cecil Cooper, Ben Oglivie, and Ted Simmons combined for a measly 27 homers, and the pitching staff was unremarkable aside from aging stars Don Sutton and Rollie Fingers.

Lachemann seemed to find success as a coach in Boston '85-'86 and Oakland '87-'92 winning four pennants in total and a championship ring with the A's in '89.  

Lachemann, by now a well respected coach, was given another shot as a manager with the expansion Florida Marlins.  As their inaugural skipper he was given a longer leash than he had in Seattle and definitely more than Milwaukee.  After winning just 64 games their first year the Fish improved in '94, playing at a .443 clip when the season ended early due to the strike.  1995 marked another shortened season and Florida showed a little more improvement, playing .469 ball.  The following season the Marlins brass canned Lachemann mid-year after a 39-47 mark.  

Since then Lachemann had a few coaching stops in various roles with the Cardinals, Cubs, and back with the A's.  From 2008 to 2012 Lachemann served as hitting coach for the Rockies AAA affiliate in Colorado Springs.  He was back in the bigs serving on Walt Weiss' staff from 2013 through this past season. Lachemann was among three coaches also let go when Weiss got the axe at the end of the year.

Flipside:  With all those minor league seasons split into a first and second half it looks like Lachemann was managing in the minors for a long time when in reality it was eight years and change.

Oddball:  Growing up in Los Angeles, Lachemann was a bat boy for the Dodgers where he picked up after many stars including Maury Wills who he eventually replaced in Seattle.

In his later coaching days Lachemann has been known to dispense in-your-face advice to youngsters when giving them a souvenir ball.  

History:  Lachemann is a true baseball lifer, spending every one of the past 53 seasons either playing, coaching or managing in professional ball.  Lachemann came from a family of ball players having played and coached with his brother Marcel in a few different stops.  He also has another brother Bill who played in the minors.  
Lachemann's major league managerial winning percentage is only .433 but he seems very well regarded by those who have worked with him.  It would have been interesting to see how he would have done with more talented team than the one's he had to work with.  No word on whether the 71 year-old will retire or be serving on someone's bench in 2017.

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

#335 Steve Henderson Chicago Cubs

Man there is a lot happening on this card. First of all we see Steve Henderson bunting in a batting cage.  The bat has tape around the barrel which isn't something you often see on cards.  We have a tire from the rolling cage and the rarest find is what I think is a camera man on the left with blue jeans. How often do you see someone in jeans on a baseball card?  
Also Henderson's badass mustache is readily visible in the inset.  
Anyway, this is Henderson's sixth Topps card.  He would appear on ten base cards in his career from 1978-'88, with Topps omitting him from the '87 set.  

Player: Steve was one of three unrelated Henderson's to play OF in the 80's which I always found confusing (more on that later). He got his start in the Reds chain when he was drafted in the 5th round in 1974.  Henderson would find himself in the headlines before he made the majors when he was dealt with three others to the Mets in the July 1977 Midnight Massacre deal that sent Tom Seaver to the Reds.

The Mets immediately put him on the roster and despite the Big Apple pressure after the very-unpopular trade, Henderson batted .297/.372/.480 in 99 games.  The impressive showing allowed him to finish 2nd in National League ROY voting to Andre Dawson.  At one point Mets skipper Joe Torre claimed that "Someday the Seaver trade will be referred to as the Henderson trade".

The young leftfielder played nearly every day in 1978 but his batting average dipped to .266 and his slugging went down to .399.  Despite good speed he had a penchant for killing rallies with a league leading 24 double plays.  

Henderson rebounded in '79 batting .306/.380/.480 before an injury sidelined him in July for all but one game at the tail end of the season.  He returned to everyday status in 1980 and batted a respectable .290 and swiped 23 bases. 

Prior to the '81 season the Mets dealt Henderson and cash to the Cubs for Dave Kingman. Henderson played well for his new team batting .293 with a .382 on base percentage.  The '82 season saw him him slump early and his average hovered around the Mendoza line for most of the summer.  A blazing August (.337 average) helped salvage the season a little, but he still ended up batting a career worst .233.

The Cubs traded Henderson to the Mariners after the season for Rich Bordi and Henderson would have one more season as a regular and did OK batting .294 with 10 HR and 10 SB.  Henderson's days a regular disappeared as the Mariners outfield became crowded with veterans Barry Bonnell, Al Cowens, Gorman Thomas and youngsters Dave Henderson and Phil Bradley.  Henderson again put up moderate production with 10 HR and in 364 plate appearances.

Henderson, by now 32 years old and a free agent signed a deal with the A's in '85 and batted .301 as the right-handed half of a platoon with Dave Collins.  After just two hits in 26 at bats to start the '86 season the A's released him.  He latched on with the White Sox but had to swallow his pride and play at AAA Buffalo the rest of the year.

Henderson found himself without a team in '87 but hooked back up with the A's franchise playing the first half of the year at AAA Tacoma.  He was called up mid-year and was a 5th outfielder behind Jose Canseco, Dwayne Murphy, Mike Davis, and Luis Polonia.  Henderson did alright batting .289 in 126 plate appearances.

The following spring he signed with the Astros and split the year between the parent club and AAA Tucson.  His .217 average, lack of power, and diminishing speed did little to convince anyone to keep him around and that would be his last season in the majors.  

Henderson played all of '89 in AAA ball for the Pirates and spent the next two winters in the Senior Professional Baseball League before calling it a career.

Flipside:  The '82 season was the first real stinker of his career.  He finished the year in a 1 for 23 funk.

Oddball: Steve was definitely the least popular Henderson of the three outfielders with that surname in the 1980's.  Of course Rickey is the Hall of Famer and everyone knew Rickey but Dave Henderson and Steve were for a long time like a whole different category Henderson.  Of course Dave later made a name for himself in the playoffs for the Red Sox in '86 and later part of the powerful A's teams.  But geez check out the chart below...teammates in Seattle for a while, both later on the A's, neither of them Rickey. No wonder I couldn't keep them straight.

History:   Henderson's career started with a lot of promise and although he went on to play 12 seasons the 12 HR and .852 OPS he posted as a rookie would prove to be career highs.  At first glance the stats for Henderson can look more positive than you would expect.  A career 114 OPS+, a .280 BA and .352 OBP aren't too shabby but some digging revealed some weaknesses in his game.  Perusing the scouting reports on him from the 1980's most pointed out that he had trouble with inside fastballs.  Once that became apparent pitchers attacked him there.  He was fast but the raw talent didn't translate to the basepaths as he had several seasons where he was caught stealing more times than he was successful.  Despite his speed,  Henderson was considered a liability in the field which further hurt his chances to play everyday.  
Although he may not have lived up to the potential that many thought he had, Henderson still had a nice career.
Since his playing career ended Henderson has been a coach at many different stops.  He was recently let go from his hitting coach position with the Phillies.