Friday, December 14, 2012

#269 Ron Oester - Cincinnati Reds

Ron Oester's 5th Topps card is unique in that it shows the switch-hitting Red wearing batting gloves. Oester was known for eschewing protection, preferring to bat bare handed according to his Wikipedia page and others. In fact it's the only image I can find of Oester wearing gloves.

Player: Ron Oester played 13 years in the major leagues, all with the Reds.  Taken in the 9th round in the '74 draft by his hometown team, the 18 year-old high schooler had to be quite thrilled.  Oester was a shortstop in the minors and played that position in his first two years with the Reds which consisted of a pair of six game auditions in both '78 and '79.

Oester made the Reds 25 man roster in 1980 but was blocked by veteran Dave Concepcion at shortstop and thus shared second base with Junior Kennedy.  He posted a .277/.336/.363 line in 335 trips to the plate and made a big enough splash to earn a 4th place finish in NL Rookie of the Year voting. 

He became the Reds everyday starter at the keystone position in ’81 and posted what would turn out to be a career best 109 OPS+.  He was steady but unspectacular as he held the Reds secondbase job through the 1987 season.  He didn’t have much power as his career high was 11 HR in ’83 nor was he a blazer on the base paths as he never stole as many as ten bags.  He best average as a regular was in ’85 when he flirted with .300 and finished at .295.       

In July of ’87 Oester tore his ACL and missed the rest of the year, and did not return until the following July.  He batted .280 in 150 at bats during his abbreviated ’88 campaign as he shared time with Jeff Treadway.  Oester won his job back in ’89 but was hitting just .190 when a midseason injury took him out of commission for 5 weeks.  When he came back, he platooned with fellow switch-hitter Luis Quinones.  Oester had always been more potent from the left side and he batted .294 in the second half.

Oester was a bench player in 1990, batting .299 and helping the Reds in their championship season.  Although he was hitless in 12 pinch at bats during the regular season, he was 2 for 4 in the pinch in the playoffs. Early in the year, Oester decided it would be his last season when he lost his starting job to Mariano Duncan.  Winning a World Series ring was a great way to go out and Oester kept his word and retired.

Flipside:  The remark about Oester’s birthday is reminiscent of comments that Topps used a lot in the 50’s and 60’s.  It seems a bit hokey but I suppose it’s cool to have a big game on your birthday.  Besides it’s not easy finding tremendous highlights for a guy like Oester.  It wasn’t like he was going to hit 3 homers in a game or go 6 for 6.

Oddball: Oester, born and bred in Cincy, has had a tumultuous relationship with his team since retiring as a player. Like a lot of ex-players he got right into coaching and as former manager Jack McKeon’s third base coach, he was considered to be the favorite to take over the reigns of the Reds in 2000. When he initally turned down what he considered an insulting offer from Reds GM Jim Bowden, the Reds quickly signed Bob Boone. Oester thought he was still negotiating when Boone’s hiring was announced. He called Bowden a liar and said he was “one of the worst people in the world.” Oester somehow retained his job on the new coaching staff, but after a poor year by the Reds and a midseason scuffle with fellow coach Tim Foli, he was canned after the season.
Oester rejoined the Reds organization in ’04 when new GM Dan O’Brien hired him as the minor league operations director. But he did not last long and got the pink slip before the season was over. Frustrated after he was axed by the team for the second time in three years, he said “I guess I didn't kiss enough (butt).”

History:  Oester was a decent player and finished his career with a .265/.323/.356 line and 8.8 WAR.  He was the type of player that gets overlooked because he wasn’t spectacular at anything, but he was a hardnosed consistent player.  After burning bridges in Cincinnati, Oester now works in the minors for the White Sox organization.

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