Monday, April 9, 2012

#154 Johnnie LeMaster - San Francisco Giants

Johnnie LeMaster appears here on his eighth Topps card as he bats in what looks like Shea Stadium.  Who is that on deck?  LeMaster looks horrified in the inset.
Player:  Johnnie LeMaster was drafted in the first round by the Giants in 1973.  He was very error prone, posting fielding percentages of .882 and .903 his first two years in the minors.  That didn't stop him from reaching the majors late the next season.  The young shortstop debuted in September of '75 batting .189 in 79 trips to the plate including an inside-the-park home run in his first at bat.

The following year LeMaster got the call earlier and spent the last two months of '76 with San Fran.  He posted a .210/.233/.280 line in 100 at bats.  He stayed with the big club for almost all of '77, spending only a month mid-season back at Fresno.  He backed up Tim Foli at SS and got into 68 games, but batted just .149. 

LeMaster spent the next two years splitting time at short with Roger Metzger.  LeMaster batted .235 in '78 and a career best .254 in '79.  He played regularly in 1980 but mustered only a .215 average in 442 plate appearances.  His defense had begun to slip and in turn Giants fans dubbed our subject "Johnnie Disaster".  In the strike-shortened '81 campaign LeMaster batted .253 but had only ten extra base hits in 324 at bats.

As poor as LeMaster played, the Giants couldn't find anyone to replace him and he returned in '82 batting .216 as their starter.  Perhaps intrigued by the idea of starting every game with one out, Giant skipper Frank Robinson decided to bat LeMaster in the leadoff spot in '83.  In a career high 534 at bats he batted .240/.317/.307.  He did respond with career highs in steals with 39 which was 26 more than his previous best and added six homers.

In 1984, rookie Dan Gladden eventually took the leadoff spot from him but LeMaster got into 132 games and batted .217.  He was traded twice in May of '85, going from the San Fran to Cleveland to Pittsburgh in less than four weeks.  LeMaster was 0-16 as a Giant, 3-20 as an Indian, and 9-58 as a Pirate, and all three teams finished in last place.

LeMaster was released by the Pirates the next spring and except for five games for Montreal's AAA affiliate in Indianapolis, he was out of action in '86.  He had two hits in 24 at bats as he tried to fill a utility role for the A's in '87 but was released in July.  He spent the rest of the year in the minors playing in the White Sox chain. 

LeMaster retired after the '87 season with a career stat line of .222/.277/.289 in 12 seasons
Flipside:  LeMaster had three games not mentioned where he went 3 for 4.

Oddball:  Hounded and booed by the Giants fans at various times in his career, LeMaster wore a jersey with BOO in place of his last name.

History:  I try to shy away from harsh criticism in my posts but it's hard to see what compelled the Giants from playing LeMaster so much.  Granted he was a pro athlete, clearly more gifted than the average Joe, but couldn't the Giants find anyone better?  It's not like he was good glove/no hit. LeMaster not only never had an OPS+ higher than 79, but he posted -8.0 dWAR in his career and had four seasons of -1.0 or more.   

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