Friday, October 7, 2011

#7 Gene Richards

The first regular card in the set features speedy outfielder Gene Richards in a colorful Padres uniform getting some batting practice.

Card:  This is Richards' seventh Topps card.  He shared his rookie card in 1977 with Andre Dawson, John Scott, and Denny Walling. 

Picture: Besides the very bright background a few things really stand out in this pic- 1) Richards choking up on the bat a good six or seven inches.  He is choking up like this on his '78, '80, and '84 cards as well. You don't see anyone hold the bat like that anymore. 2) He's not wearing batting gloves. 3) No pine tar or tape on the bat handle.  It seems like it would be hard to grip the bat.  Richards knows how to grow some killer sideburns!

Player: Richards was the number one overall pick in the January draft in 1975. Willie Aikens his college teammate at South Carolina State University, was taken second by the Angels. Richards had perhaps one of the best seasons in A ball history in the summer of '75. Richards posted slash stats of .381/.499/.551 in 134 games along with 85 stolen bases. That got him promoted to AAA Hawaii the next year where he hit .331. Despite the torrid success in his first two pro seasons Richards had to wait until '77 to make his MLB debut when he won the leftfield job and leadoff spot in the Padres lineup. On July 26, Richards would get six hits in an extra inning game to tie an NL record.
Over the next seven seasons the slap hitting Richards would patrol the outfield for the Padres with a decent average and impressive steal totals. The Padres featured an aggressive team in that era. In 1980 Richards, Ozzie Smith and Jerry Mumphrey would become the first trio of teammates with 50 or more steals in a season.
Richards played for the Giants in a part time role in 1984, his last year in the big leagues.

Flip side: Power wasn't part of his game but he was consistent with three, four or five home runs every year.  He hit three more in '83 before getting shutout in '84.  His twelve triples in '78 led the NL.

Oddball: Richards wore four different numbers in his seven year tenure with the Padres, 29, 19, 9 and 17. He wore number 25 with the Giants. 
Richards doesn't strike me as the prototypical firstbaseman but that didn't stop the Padres from putting him there for 83 games over parts of three seasons. Gene must not have been comfortable as he made 20 errors there.

Place in history: Richards is remembered as a speedster with good on base skills.  Defense was his biggest weakness as he is reagrded as having poor instincts, bad hands, and a worse arm.
Despite some early success Richards didn't see any MLB action after turning 31 and retired never having played in the playoffs. He just missed playing on the Padres pennant winning squad of 1984 but by that time he had already been replaced by a young Tony Gwynn.  Richards later played in the short lived Senior League for the Bradenton Explorers in 1989. Richards later managed for a season in the Mets system.

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