Sunday, October 28, 2012

#236 Steve Renko - California Angels

Veteran Steve Renko graces his 14th Topps card in an Angels jersey, one he was no longer wearing by the time this card came out.  He displays a nice easy pitching form on the mound but has somewhat of a grimace in the inset.  At least it's not as bad as his '82 card.

Player: Steve Renko was drafted as a firstbaseman in 1965 and did not covert to pitching full time until 1968.  As his 1969 season unfolded the Mets traded the big 6'6" Renko to the Expos.  Although he had a 5.45 ERA at AAA Tidewater the Expos used him immediately in the big leagues.  He showed a propensity for missing bats but also missed the strike zone often, allowing just 94 hits but dishing out 50 freebies in 103 innings.  He finished his rookie year with a 6-7 record and 4.01 ERA (92 ERA+). 
Renko was a workhorse for the Expos with 28 wins and 498 innings pitched over the 1970-71 seasons.  He made 70 starts and also relieved in 11 games.  His ERAs of 4.32 and 3.75 were both marginally worse than average. These traits became an earmark of Renko's career, taking the ball whenever needed, both starting and relieving, and pitching around  league average.
He followed with the worst and the best year of his 15 year career.  He went 1-10 with a 5.20 ERA in '72.  Renko then had a 15 win season with a 2.81 ERA (135 ERA+) in 249 innings of work in 1973.  His 4.1 WAR would be more than double his next best season.  Renko had ERA's just over four the next two years and after a slow start in '76 he was traded with Larry Biitner to the Cubs for Andre Thornton. 
Renko finished the year strong for the Cubs and ended up 8-12 with a 3.98 ERA (96 ERA+).  An August trade send him across town to the White Sox where he finished with 4.04 ERA.  Renko was traded to Oakland during spring training in '78 and made 25 starts for the A's, with a 4.29 ERA in 151 frames. 
Now 34, the veteran free-agent hurler signed with the Red Sox in 1979.  He made 50 starts the next two years with ERA's of 4.11 (108 ERA+) and 4.19 (101 ERA+) winning a combined 20 games.  After the 1980 season he was traded with Fred Lynn to the Angels.   In and out of the rotation with the Halos, Renko had his lowest ERA in years, 3.44, and finished 8-4 for his new team.  Although his ERA jumped up a full run, he went 11-6 as the Angels won the AL West.  It was the first time his team made the playoffs but he did not appear in the postseason. 
Renko was released by the Angels and signed with his hometown Royals for the '83 season.  In typical fashion he made 17 starts, 8 relief outing and logged 121 innings with a 4.30 ERA.  Renko retired after the season with a 134-146 record and a 3.99 ERA (98 ERA+). 
Stuff: Cut fastball and knuckle curve

Flipside: Renko was actually drafted in the 24th round, not the 31st as listed in a tiny font here on the back.
Oddball:  Steve Renko was the starting quarterback for Kansas University where he specialized in handing the ball off to Gale Sayers.  It's a good thing baseball worked out for him as he completed just 33.7% of his passes.
Renko had to unearth his old first baseman's glove when he played three innings at first on 9/22/72.  During the '72 and '73 seasons Renko batted .292 and .273 and even batted in the 7th spot in a game on 8/26/73.  He responded with a single and double in three at bats. 
History:  Renko possessed enough size and talent to be drafted by both the Oakland Raiders and New York Mets.  In fact he was K-U's last three sport letterman as he excelled at basketball too.  
In his pro career he made the transition from first baseman to pitching and was in the majors to stay after just 53 appearances on the mound.  He never made an All-Star team or tasted the post season.  He toiled at the back end of major league rotations for 15 seasons and today might be labeled a league average inning muncherRenko was a pitching coach in the minors from 1995 to 2006. 
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