Sunday, February 5, 2017

#344 Roger LaFrancois - Boston Red Sox

Not only is this Roger LaFrancois' rookie card it is his only Topps card.  I don't remember LaFrancois or this card at all

No doubt it takes a lot of talent, ability, and hard work to reach the majors but LaFrancois has the look of guy they pulled out of the stands and threw a uniform on him.  He is bigger (6'2") than he looks in the pic.
Player: LaFrancois' was a local guy from Connecticut.  After an unremarkable minor league tenure he made the BoSox in '82 as a third catcher, behind Gary Allenson and Rich Gedman.  
Remarkably LaFrancois was on the major league roster the entire season but did not get a start until game 162.   When I first saw his stats for 1982, I though all his games were as a September call up but they were spread out with one in May, two in June, one in August and the rest when rosters expanded in September.  

Coming into the final game LaFrancois was batting .400 (2/5).  As the game went into extra innings LaFrancois was one for four taking his season average to .333 (3/9).  With a a chance to bat .400 precariously hanging into the balance, LaFrancois steadied his nerves in hostile Yankee Stadium as he came to bat in the top of the 11th.  Facing long odds with veteran lefty Rudy May on the hill, the 26 year old, lefty swinging backstop beat out an infield hit to second base.  Not only did he reach the magic .400 mark but he scored the go-ahead and eventual winning run.  

Ok...so I may have overplayed that a bit but it makes for good theater.

LaFrancois returned the minors never to return.  After two poor seasons in AAA he started his coaching career which is still going.

Flipside:  It seems absolutely crazy to me to sit on the bench for 154 of 162 games but I can find no record of LaFrancois being injured and he did not play in the minors in '82.

Oddball:  There wasn't a whole lot of roster transactions for the Red Sox in '82 as they only had thirteen position players with more than 24 at bats and only eleven pitchers with more than nine innings.

History:  I may have had a little fun with LaFrancois' career stats but being able to say you batted .400 is pretty cool.  LaFrancois caught 25 of the 33 innings in the longest minor league game ever.  That and some other bits about LaFrancois can be read here.

Thursday, February 2, 2017

#343 Bob Bailor New York Mets

Looks like Bob Bailor is running downhill on his 6th Topps card with Shea Stadium in the background.  It's a n excellent action shot that would be better if he wasn't wearing the Topps logo on his head.  Couldn't they have reduced the size another five percent?

Strange to see the 3B-SHORTSTOP-2B designation.  Seems like the 3B-SS-2B would suffice.  In fact that's what Topps did on his next two cards.  I wonder how they chose the order since he played more 2B and SS than 3B in these three seasons.

Player: Bob Bailor came up through the Orioles system and found it tough to crack the big league roster in the mid-70s. This depth along with a rotator cuff injury limited him to 13 big league at bats over the '75-'76 seasons.  Bailor got his break when the AL expanded and Toronto made him an original Blue Jay. 

Bailor played all over the diamond in '77 and was a regular in the Jays lineup posting what would prove to be career numbers with a .310 BA and five of his nine career homers.  He remained an everyday player the next two years but saw his productivity drop each year.  By 1980 he was more of a utility man and played everywhere but first base and catcher.  He even made three appearances on the mound.

After the '80 season he was sent packing to the Mets in exchange for Roy Lee Jackson.  He had just 81 at bats in '81 but he batted .284.   Bailor earned more playing time the next two-years as a "play anywhere" guy and if nothing else provided stellar base running with 38 steals in 44 attempts.

Bailor was traded after the '83 campaign to the Dodgers in the Sid Fernandez deal.  He was pretty much a bench player with less than 150 plate appearances each year.  The Dodgers cut Bailor in the spring of '86.  He sat out the '86 season and then coached in the Jays organization through the '95 season before retiring from pro baseball.



Flipside:  Another significant discrepancy in height as Topps lists Bailor at 5'9" and baseballreference.com lists him at 5'11"

Oddball:  Bailor didn't play baseball in high school because his school didn't field a team.  He made his mark in American Legion ball.  Although un-drafted he caught the eye of scout Jocko Collins who signed him for the O's. 

Playing winter ball in Venezuela he was at the beach with some teammates on New Years Day 1974 when pitching prospect Mark Weems drowned in the undertow. Bailor and his fellow farmhands searched for three days but could not locate Weems' body.

History: Bailor was a good glove defender whose versatility helped him get to the big leagues and carve out a decent career.  He was pretty aggressive hitter not taking too many pitches so he neither walked nor struck out much.  He hit well enough (.264 career average) that he often was able to earn starter playing time.
The scrappy Bailor was an original Blue Jay which is probably his biggest claim to fame.  He returned to coach first base with Toronto and won championship rings in '92 and '93.

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

#342 Atlee Hammaker San Francisco Giants

A lot of orange on this card as Atlee Hammaker appears here on his first solo card after sharing a three player card in the '82 set when he was still with the Royals.

Player:  Hammaker was a first round pick of the Royals in '79 and made his MLB debut two years later.  The young lanky lefty allowed 24 runs in 39 innings and was traded the following spring to the Giants in the Vida Blue trade.

Hammaker didn't start the year with San Fran but entered the Giants rotation in May and had an up and down season, finishing with a 4.11 ERA in 27 starts.

Everything was peachy as the '83 season started.  He had a 1.70 ERA at the All-Star break but was bearing the burden few knew about; his shoulder was killing him.  Specifically his rotator cuff. Despite the pain he went to the All-Star game where there was little margin for error.  He allowed seven runs in just 0.2 innings including a grand slam to Fred Lynn, the first in All-Star history. Although his injury limited him to just eight starts the rest of the year, he won the NL ERA title with a nifty 2.25 mark and had the lowest WHIP and BB/9 in the majors.

The surgery recovery and bone spurs limited him to six starts in '84.  Hammaker made 29 starts in '85 but the Giants were pretty awful and he won just five games despite a league average performance.  

The '86 season was a wash as he missed the entire season with a shoulder injury and surgery to both knees.  He was fairly effective when he came back with ERAs between 3.58 - 3.76 over the next three years as he bounced from the rotation to the pen.

Hammaker's ERA rose over four in '90 and the Giants cut him loose in August.  He signed on with the Padres and pitched briefly for them at the end of '90 and one game in '91.  He sat out the '92 and '93 seasons recovering from Tommy John surgery.  

By the time '94 rolled around many had forgotten about the lefty, but Hammaker returned to the majors with the White Sox after some success with their AAA team.  Two scoreless outings in relief meant things were looking up.  The success helped land him a job in the Pale Hose pen in '95 as a lefty specialist but it didn't work out as he allowed nine runs in 6.1 innings.  Hammaker was released and retired from the game.


Flipside:  Three complete games within four weeks in the 1982 highlights!  This was actually was part of a stretch of 52.2 innings over six games.  At that point his arm fell off and the Giants trainers held it together the best they could with duct tape.  I joke, but of course it's hard to say if the workload did him in or not. but he wouldn't see that workload today.

Oddball:  Hammaker warned his five daughters not to date ballplayers but at least one didn't listen and married the Indians Yan Gomes anyway.

History:  Hammaker, whose mother is Japanese, was one of the first Asian-American players in the majors following Mike Lum and Lenn Sakata.  His career was derailed by injuries and unfortunately he is remembered by some for his All-Star game and postseason failures.  In the early 80's Hammaker's future looked bright but he is on a long list of player's who were let down by their health.

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.