Tuesday, September 10, 2013

#331 Mike Krukow - Philapdelphia Phillies

This is Mike Krukow's 7th Topps card but his only base card in a Philly uniform.  You don't think pitchers put a lot of strain on their arms?  Put your arm in the same position as Krukow's right wing.  Not too comfortable is it?

Player: Mike Krukow was an 8th round pick of the Chicago Cubs in the 1973 draft and after posting ERA's in the mid to low three's in four minor league seasons he was called up to the big leagues late in 1976.  He allowed four runs in 4.1 innings in his September trial.

Krukow made 33 starts for the Cubs in '77 with a 4.40 ERA (100 ERA+) and won eight against fourteen defeats.  He didn't work deep into many games completing just one and logging 172 frames.  When '78 rolled around Krukow found himself the fifth starter in a four man rotation.  He was used sparingly in April and May and was sent down to the minors for a month before returning in late June when the Cubs returned to a five man set.  He won nine, lost three, and posted a 3.90 ERA (103 ERA+) in 138 innings.

Krukow settled in as an average to below average inning eater the next few years.  The next three his WHIP ranged from 1.38 to 1.53 with adjusted ERA's from 90 to 101.  After the '81 season he was dealt to the Phillies in a trade that sent Keith Moreland and Dickie Noles to Chicago.

His '82 season in Philly saw him work 208 innings, win 13 games, and post a 3.12 ERA.  All of which were new career bests for the 6'4" righty.  His time in Philadelphia was limited to just one season as they flipped him and Mark Davis to the Giants in return for Joe Morgan and Al Holland.

Now pitching in his home state, the Long Beach native looked more like the Cubs version than the Philly version.  He won 11 games in both '83 and '84 but was generally easy to hit allowing an NL high 234 hits in '84.

With pitching guru Roger Craig taking the reins in San Fran, Krukow ditched his slider in favor of the split-finger pitch that Craig taught his disciples.  The results was an out pitch to both left and right handed batters and his WHIP dropped to 1.156 in '85 and 1.057 the following year.  The '86 season would prove to be Krukow's finest as he won 20 games with a 3.05 ERA (116 ERA+) in 245 innings.  He finished 3rd in CY voting, 15th in MVP, and represented the Giants in his lone All-Star appearance.

Whether it was the fact that he was now in his mid-thirties or coming off a career high inning total, Krukow was never the same.  He pitched through shoulder pain the rest of his career, never topping 168 innings or seven wins in his last three years.  He made his lone postseason appearance in the '87 NLCS tossing a complete game against the Cardinals allowing just two runs in the win.

After the '89 season he was diagnosed with a torn rotator cuff and retired the following spring.  His final stats include a 124-117 record, 3.90 ERA (96 ERA+) in 14 seasons.

Flipside:  It's amazing what leaving Wrigley Field will do for a pitcher's statistics.

Oddball:  Krukow hit five home runs in his career which is four more than his Giants broadcast partner Duane Kuiper.  The light hitting infielder had plenty of opportunity batting 3,754 times to Krukow's 819.

History: Krukow was known as a battler and he was able to have a decent career marked by a big season under Roger Craig.  Krukow finished with 21.5 WAR, with four season between 2.0 - 2.3 and three more between 3.0 - 3.4.
These days, he and Kuiper are a popular duo among Giants fans.  Krukow gets a lot of mileage from his baseball jargon, some of which has been assembled here.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

#330 Buddy Bell - Texas Rangers

Buddy Bell is looking very red, white, and blue on his 11th Topps card.  I thought maybe the green blob near his hands was a defect on my card but they all seem to have it.
Bell's image in the cameo pic reminds me of one of the maintenance guys at work.

Player:  Buddy Bell was a 16th round pick of the Cleveland Indians in the 1969 draft.  Buddy played three years in the minors and never returned after he made the Indians big league squad as a 20 year old in 1972.  The Indians had another young thirdsacker in Graig Nettles and the Tribe used Bell in the outfield with just six games at third.  Although he batted just .255 he showed good contact ability striking out just 29 times in 505 trips to the plate.  In November Cleveland traded Nettles away to the Yankees which opened the door for Bell.

Bell was the Indians everyday thirdbaseman for the next seven seasons and while he didn't do a lot of damage at the plate, he proved himself as an excellent glove man at the hot corner.  He batted between .262 and .292 his remaining years in Cleveland with double digit HR's three times.  After the 1978 season Bell was traded to the Rangers for Toby Harrah.  At the time it was considered a trade of a defensive player in Bell for Harrah who was an on base machine and making the transition from SS to 3B.  In reality it was not that much separating their offensive games as Bell's adjusted OPS was 103 vs Harrah's 113. 

Once in a Ranger uniform, Bell's hitting improved as he hit .299 with 18 HR and 101 RBI while playing in all 162 games. He really found his groove and despite some injuries enjoyed his best years in the Lonestar state.  With Brooks Robinson now in retirement Bell was recognized as the AL's best defensive thirdbasemen winning Gold Gloves six year straight seasons from '79-'84.  He added a Silver Slugger award in '84 and received MVP votes in five seasons with a high finish of 10th in '79.  Over that same stretch he posted a 123 OPS+ averaging 14 HR with .300+ batting average twice.

When Bell slumped in '85 the Rangers allowed rookie Steve Buechele to take over at third and traded Bell to the Reds.  Bell struggled all year and batted just .229/.309/.350.  He was now in his mid-thirties but proved he wasn't washed up with back to back productive seasons clubbing a career best 20 HR in '86 and following up with 17 in '87 posting OPS+ of 119 and 107 respectively.

Bell battled injuries in '88 and was scuffling with just 10 hits in 63 at bats when he was traded to the Astros in June.  In Houston he posted a .253/.301/.353 line in 74 games and was released after the season.  He signed on with the Rangers but played sparingly as a DH and spare corner infielder before retiring in June. 

Flipside: Buddy was born in Pittsburgh in 1951 during his dad Gus' was in his second year in the majors with the Pirates.

Oddball:  While he was with the Indians, Bell once switched spots with thridbase umpire Ron Luciano during a spring training game.  According to theclevelandindianfan.com:
In a Spring training game in 1973, Ron Luciano was the third base ump for a game involving Bell and the Indians.  Buddy Bell was having a terrible day in the field, and Luciano was letting him have it- telling him to keep his glove down, to bend over more, and so on. Bell told him that if he made one more mistake, he was going to ump and Luciano was going to play third base. Sure enough, a ground ball scooted through Bell’s legs. Bell handed Luciano his glove, and they exchanged hats. Completing the role reversal, Bell began to taunt Luciano, who suddenly began fearing for his life as he stared in at the hitter. Nobody hit a ball at him- but with a man on first, a batter hit a ball to right field. The base runner rounded second and steamed toward third. Toward Luciano. The right fielder came up throwing and the nervous Luciano screamed at Frank Duffy to cut off the throw. Duffy, laughing, waved his glove at the ball and it zipped through to third base. Luciano caught the ball, later admitting it was in self defense. Bell called the runner safe, and the overweight Luciano righted himself before throwing to second to try to cut down the trailing runner. Luciano’s throw sailed high, and Jack Brohamer lunged to catch it while backing up the play. He flipped the ball to Duffy, who tagged the runner- who was now standing on second base. The call at second was “OUT!”, and when the runner began to object, he was reminded whom it was that had thrown the ball from third. So he put his head down, spat, and ran back to his dugout!

Oddball 2:  Bell's last three games as a player were Sammy Sosa's first three in the majors with the Rangers.

History:  Thirdbasemen seem to be under rated among their peers throughout baseball history and David Gus "Buddy" Bell is no exception.  He finished his career with 2,514 hits, a 109 OPS+, and is 25th all-time with 23 dWAR.
Bell's managerial career has been less successful with just one winning season in nine seasons split among some sketchy Tigers, Rockies, and Royals teams.  He currently works in the front office for the Chicago White Sox as Vice President of player development. 
Bell has lent his support to various epilepsy charities a disease he was diagnosed with after an episode when he was 22.  He kept his condition from the public during his playing days not disclosing his battle until he was managing.  Fortunately medicine has kept him seizure free for over 20 years.
The Bell family has left quite a stamp on baseball history with his dad Gus playing from 1950 to '64 and his sons David playing from '95-'06 and Mike playing in 2000.  From 1950 to 2006 there was a family member playing in 45 of the 57 seasons.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

#329 Randy Niemann - Pittsburgh Pirates

Randy Niemann is a poser.  Well, he is.  He is pictured on his third Topps card in the dreaded empty fist in overhead glove.  By the look of the inset picture Niemann feels pretty bad about the sham.
At least we get a good look at Willie Stargell's stars on Niemann's pillbox hat.


Player: Randy Niemann's pro career started when he was drafted by the Yankees in the June secondary draft in 1975.  After two and a half years in the Yankees system he was sent to the Astros as part of the Cliff Johnson trade.  After a few more years in the minors, Niemann debuted with Houston in May of 1979.  He had an impressive start to his career with two shutouts and another complete game win in his first seven games.  Nonetheless he shuttled back and forth between the pen and rotation. After his second shutout he made only two more starts but neither lasted past the fourth inning.  Niemann appeared in 26 games with a 3.76 ERA and 1.343 WHIP in 67 innings.  

Niemann spent the beginning and end of the season in Houston with a sojourn to AAA Tucson in the middle.  With the Astros he was  used in middle relief with one start.  In 33 frames he posted a lackluster 5.45  ERA.  He spent all of '81 back in Tucson before he was dealt to Pittsburgh in the Johnny Ray / Phil Garner trade. 

After starting the '82 season at AAA Portland, Niemann was called up to Pittsburgh where he served as the teams mop up man with a 5.09 ERA in 35 innings.  He spent all but eight games back in Portland and failed to impress the big league Pirates with an ugly 9.22 ERA. The Bucs traded Niemann to the White Sox in September but he pitched in just five games for Chicago in '84.

Niemann was traded to the Mets at the end of spring training in '85.  He pitched very well as a swingman for Tidewater with a 2.76 ERA in 159 innings.  He pitched 4.2 scoreless frames for the Mets in September call-up.  The AAA success along with the scoreless fall set up Niemann for a role on the '86 team.  He spent all but a few weeks in the Mets bullpen and although he was often used in low leverage situations he was able to hang around for the championship season.  He pitched in 31 games with a 3.76 ERA and the highlight was a spot start win over the Cardinals on 8/17.  Although on the roster, he did not play at all in the postseason.

The big lefty signed with Minnesota but pitched in just six games for the Twins as a situational reliever.  The Twins won the World Series but Niemann was nowhere near the action this time. He returned to the Mets organization in '88 but struggled through 10 rough innings back at Tidewater and retired.

Flipside:  A "scoreless relief stint" is the best Topps could come up with?!?!  Sure he wasn't exactly Kent Tukulve out of the pen c'mon!  How about "Tossed a 1-2-3 11th inning for the save on 9-23-82.

Oddball: When the Mets traded for Niemann they gave up minor leaguers Ken Reed and Gene Autry!  As far as I can tell this Gene Autry was not related to the singing cowboy who can claim to be the only person with five Hollywood stars.

History: Niemann was on some great teams but as a spare reliever he never pitched in the postseason.  His pitched exactly 200 innings in the big leagues with a 4.64 ERA and allowed just over a runner and a half per inning.  

Friday, May 17, 2013

#328 Craig Reynolds - Houston Astros

This is Craig Reynolds' 6th Topps card and he looks happy in the inset and upset in the action photo.  Perhaps he just pulled a grounder to 2nd or 1st base in a spring training game.
Player: Craig Reynolds was a first round pick of the Pittsburgh in 1971 but never really got much of a chance with the Pirates.  After parts of five seasons in the minors they gave him 76 at bats in '75 and he batted just .224.  In 1976 he hit .290 as he repeated AAA, but received just seven games of action with Pittsburgh.

Reynolds got his break when the Mariners traded their 11th round selection in the expansion draft, Grant Jackson, to the Pirates for the left-handed infielder.  The Mariners starting shortstop in their inaugural game, Reynolds was a mainstay at shortstop playing 135 games in in '77.  He rarely struck out or walked and showed little power.  He hit .248 that year but improved to .292 the next season and made the AL All-Star team in '78.

The M's traded Reynolds to the Astros in December of '78 for Floyd Bannister.  Reynolds assumed the starting job at short for Houston.  Although Reynolds' numbers weren't eye popping, when the Cardinals Garry Templeton infamously turned down his All-Star invite with his "If I ain't starting, I ain't departing" line, it opened the door for Reynolds and he was named to the NL All Star squad.  He led the NL in sacrifice bunts with 34 while batting an empty .265.

Reynolds slumped to .226 in 1980 but rebounded with a better season in '81.  He batted .260 and strangely led the NL in triples with 12, including three in one game.  He pulled off the rare feat of hitting more three-baggers than doubles (12/10).  It was about this time that Reynolds began to battle problems with vertigo.  That along with the emergence of Dickie Thon led to Reynolds playing a reduced role.  Batting less than 150 times in both '82 and '83 hit .254 and .214 while also playing second and third base.

In '84 Reynolds stepped back into the fray when Thon was recovering from the beaning that marred his career.  Reynolds responded by hitting .260, with a career high 6 HR, and showed good range at shortstop.  Reynolds and Thon would share playing time the next two years with Reynolds batting .272 and .249 in the '85 and '86 seasons. 

Reynolds got most of the playing time in '87 but as usual, his production was neither impressive nor embarrassing as he hit .254 and played solid defense.  Now in his mid-30's, Reynolds took on a utility role the next two years and wound down his career batting .255 and .201.  He retired following the '89 season after 15 seasons in the majors.



Flipside: When Topps spells out Philadelphia and San Fransisco in the highlights they are saying "We really don't have any reason to abbreviate.  This is all we got".

Oddball:  Reynolds made two appearances as a pitcher in blow out situations but he threw gasoline on the fire both times.  He allowed three runs as he finished up a lopsided loss to the Mets on 7/17/86.  Three years later he allowed four runs in another laugher against the Pirates.

History:  Reynolds was a defensive minded shortstop whose OPS+ topped 100 just once, and barely with a 101 mark in '78.  In his prime he was an above average defender and he led the NL in range factor in '85.  Reynolds is known as the only shortstop to named in consecutive seasons to both the AL and NL All star teams.  He and the Astros made it as far as the NLCS in 1980 and 1986 with Reynolds getting 7 hits in 29 career postseason at bats.  When he retired, only Roger Metzger had played more games at SS for the Astros. 


Wednesday, May 15, 2013

#327 Bobby Castillo - Minnesota Twins

Where is Bobby Castillo pitching?  Hard to tell from this fuzzy ambiguous background.  I will say, Castillo's mustache probably deserves its own card.  Castillo's 4th Topps card shows him in the powder blue uniform / navy blue hat in the action shot and the white uni / red hat combo in the inset.
Player: Bobby Castillo was a 5th round pick of the Royals in 1974 and spent his rookie ball season as a thirdbaseman hitting .253.  He worked the next several years in the Mexican Leagues learning to pitch, and while he was south of the border he was sold to the Dodgers.  During the '77 season he came back to the states and made his major league debut in September.  He pitched 11 innings and allowed 5 runs winning his only decision.

The 5'10" righty split the '78 season between LA and Albuquerque.  While in the majors Castillo logged 34 innings, all in relief, and was 0-4 with one save and a 3.97 ERA.  He spent most of '79 in the minors and had to wait until August for a promotion.  Once back in his hometown of LA he was effective with a 1.13 ERA in 24 innings.  Castillo was trusted with some late inning work and saved 7 games in 7 opportunities.

Castillo would have his best season in 1980 tossing 98 innings in 61 games with a 1.169 WHIP and 2.75 ERA.  His biggest contribution to the Dodgers may have been over the winter when he showed 19 year-old rookie Fernando Valenzuela how to throw the screwball.  The next season was a let down as his ERA ballooned over five in 50 innings of work.  He pitched one inning in each the NLCS and World Series as the Dodgers won it all. 

During the offseason the Dodgers sent Castillo packing to the Twins in a four player deal.  He began the year in middle relief but after some injuries to Twins starters he was pushed into the rotation at the end of May.  Despite not having made a start since 1977, he thrived in his new role and logged 218 innings with a 3.66 ERA.  He finished strong with six complete games in the last two months including a four-hit shutout over the Royals on September 10.

Injuries and ineffectiveness led to a poor showing in '83 as he posted a 4.77 ERA in 158 frames.  A shoulder injury forced his '84 debut until July.  Pitching mainly out of the pen he was productive (1.78 ERA) in 25 innings but walked 19 batters.

After the '84 season he was signed by the Dodgers where he spent the '85 season in middle relief.  His control continued to trouble him as he issued 41 freebies in 68 innings which helps explain his 5.43 ERA.  Castillo was cut from the Dodgers the next spring training and returned to pitch in Mexico.  Comeback attempts with the A's and Mariners failed and he spent the '87 season plying his trade in Japan for the Chunichi Dragons.
Flipside:  I'm not sure I've mentioned this before but it's somewhat perplexing that Topps lists inning fractions in the most recent season and career totals but not the other seasons.  Beginning in '77 Castillo threw 11.1, 34, 24.1, 98.1, 50.2, and then 218.2.  You can see that Topps rounds one-third of an inning down and two-thirds up which makes sense.  The career total isn't correct in that he actually tossed 437.1 innings at this point in his career.  The 436.2 total merely reflects Topps rounding efforts in his first five years plus his precise '82 total.

Oddball: Castillo's last game in the majors was in mop up duty in Game 4 of the '85 NLCS.  The Dodgers were up two games to one but the Cardinals jumped all over starter Jerry Reuss in the second inning.  The Redbirds plated nine off of Reuss and reliever Rick Honeycutt who faced four batters but failed to record an out.  Castillo came in with two outs in the second and pitched the next five and a third innings allowing two runs.  The totality of the onslaught was too much for the Dodgers to overcome as they lost 12-2 and the series in six games.

History:  Castillo had one really good season as a reliever and one as a starter in his career.  His career line indicates a 38-40 win-loss record, 18 saves, a 3.94 ERA (100 ERA+), 689 innings pitched in nine seasons of play.  Since retiring as a player, Castillo has been active in promoting Mexican-American baseball history and supporting inner-city youth participation in baseball.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

#326 Garth Iorg - Toronto Blue Jays

Thanks for checking back in.  I've been busy managing four and half foot tall ballplayers rather than writing about the older guys on cardboard but I plan on posting more regularly when I can.  
Garth Iorg looks like he's playing 2nd base in this photo and checking out some action on the left side of the infield. I don't remember him with a mustache but he wears it well here in classic early 80's fashion.  The light blue and purple borders are an excellent fit for the Blue Jay cards in this set. 
The pronunciation of his last name was a mystery to me as an eight year old.  I think I incorrectly called him eye-org for at least a year.  "ORJ" is the correct way to say his name.
 
Player: Garth Iorg was an 8th round pick of the Yankees in 1973 but never played in the majors for New York.  Although he hadn't yet reached AAA he was on the Blue Jays radar and was selected in the '76 expansion draft as Toronto prepared for their first season.  He spent all of '77 at AAA and made the team in '78.  He hit very little with the big team and after a month of hitting under .200 he was sent back to the minors where he would remain for nearly two years. 

A hot start at AAA Syracuse got him back to the majors in May of 1980 and he would remain with Toronto the rest of his career.  He filled a utility role for the Jays the next two years playing everywhere but rightfield, catcher, and pitcher.  Statistically his first two years were both similar and unimpressive.  He came to the plate about 230 times in both '80 and '81 and hit .248 and .242 with little power and few walks.

In '82 Iorg found a role as a platoon partner at thirdbase with fellow infielder Rance Mulliniks.  Iorg also saw time at secondbase, DH, and was a frequent pinch hitter batting .285 in 442 plate appearances.  A righthanded hitter, Iorg complimented Mulliniks' lefty stick and the  Jays used the
arrangement for the next five years.  Iorg hit .275 in '83 and fell off to .227 in '84.

1985 would be Iorg's finest season in many respects.  He set career highs in all three slash stats (.313/.358/.469) and home runs with seven.  His OPS+ of 121 would be the only time he topped 100 in his career.  He had just two hits in the ALCS against Kansas City but was able to play against his brother Dane an OF/1B for the Royals.

Garth hit .260 in '85 and saw his average plummet to .210 the following year. After the '87 season Iorg retired at age 32 with a .258/.292/.347 career line and a franchise record 178 pinch hits.


 
Flipside: Twelve base on balls is a ridiculously low total for how many times Iorg batted in '82. He only walked 114 times in his career. 
According to his Wikipedia page Iorg's hometown of Blue Lake named it's  only baseball field in Iorg's honor. 

Oddball:  In the 1980s Iorg and Mulliniks were often referred to as a successful platoon duo but Iorg didn't really live up to his end of the deal.  While Mulliniks posted seven seasons with an OPS+ over 100, Iorg had just one.  Looking solely at how Iorg hit lefties, his .268/.304/.373 still leaves a lot to be desired.

History:  Iorg found his niche in majors as a platoon player, which is a vanishing role these days. With 12 and 13 man pitching staffs, teams just don't have the depth the platoon much anymore.  Iorg's last at bat in the majors came in game 162 of the '87 season.  He grounded out to pitcher Frank Tanana as the Blue Jays lost to the Tigers, capping Toronto's last month collapse.   Iorg has three sons in minor league baseball.  Iorg currently is the Brewers first base coach.

Monday, April 15, 2013

#325 Von Hayes - Cleveland Indians

This is Von Hayes second Topps card and first of his own.  Hayes was known as a low key guy but man he looks like he just got shot with a tranquilizer dart in the action shot.

Player:  Von Hayes was a 7th round pick of the Indians out of St. Mary's College in California but spent less than two years in the minors before joining Cleveland big league roster.A third baseman in the minors the Indians were unsure where to play him so he mainly DH'd the last two months of the '81 season.  He hit .257/.346/.394 with a home run and showed off his good speed with 8 steals.

Hayes was the Indians starting rightfielder in '82 but also saw action in center, left, thirdbase and firstbase.  He didn't set the world on fire but he showed flashes of his ability with 14 HR and 32 stolen bases.  At 6'5" he could glide around the bases as well as the outfield.  The Phillies fell in love with him and traded Manny Trillo, Julio Franco, Jay Baller, George Vukovich, and Jerry Willard to Cleveland for Hayes.  As the young outfielder failed to live up to expectations, the Philly the fans taunted him with a "five for one" chant in reference to the trade.  Hayes was platooned and hit just six home runs in 392 plate appearances. He did steal 20 bases for the pennant winning Phillies but was a bench player in the postseason.  He went hitless in his only five at bats.

Better days were ahead for Hayes and as he moved to centerfield his production increased in 1984.  He batted .292/.359/.447 with 16 HR and 48 SB.  The Phillies tried Hayes as various times in the leadoff spot and he had a memorable game on June 11, 1985 when he led off the bottom of the first with a homer and later in the inning pounded a grand slam.  The Phils smashed the Mets 26-7 that day as Hayes later added an RBI single.  His numbers were down from the year before as he hit .263 with 13 home runs.

Hayes moved to first base in '86 and had a great year posting a .305/.379/.480 line with 98 RBI and an NL best 106 runs and 46 doubles.  Through the years Hayes had been improving his batting eye, drawing more walks every year since '83 and it culminated with him getting 121 freebies in '87.  He also topped 20 HR for the first time with 21 while going back and forth between first and centerfield.

Hayes played the first half of '88 with bone chips in his right elbow which eventually led to surgery in July.  Overall the year was a disappointment as he slugged just .409 in 423 plate appearances.  He came back with a strong year in '89 with a career best 26 dingers and 101 walks.  The power /  pateince combo led to an OPS+ of 140 and his only All-Star appearance. 

Coming off perhaps his best year, Hayes was slowed by various injuries and played 129 games while hitting 17 home runs in 1990.  Hayes fell into a deep slump in '91 and was batting a meager .226 with no home runs when he was struck on the wrist by a Tom Browning pitch on June 14.  The pitch broke his arm and he missed 10 weeks.  He came back in September but ended the year with zero HR in 323 plate appearances.

After the '91 season the Philles traded Hayes to the Angels for Kyle Abbott and Ruben Amaro but Hayes was essentially done.  With the Halos he hit just .225 with 4 HR in 350 plate appearances.  At just 34 years old his once promising career was over. 

Flipside:  With Hayes reaching the majors just two years after he was drafted in the 7th round, it shows how much scouting has improved in the last 30 years.

Oddball:  Hayes blames his broken wrist on the demise of his career and I'm sure that it helped hasten his decline, but something else was already causing his rapid descent.  His lack of power in '91 was baffling and I can think of no other batter with his power to go so many plate appearances (250 before the injury, 73 after) without a HR.

History:   Hayes had all the tools and had a decent run with 22.8 WAR from '84 - '89.  His final stats: .267/.354/.416 with 143 HR and 253 steals.  


Saturday, March 30, 2013

#324 Mike Marshall - Los Angeles Dodgers

Mike Marshall looks like he's loading up for a high lobbing slow-pitch softball toss rather than a major league pitch.  This is Marshall's second Topps card and the first of his own.  It appears to be a sunny day as the Expos look on from the third base dugout.

 
Player Mike Marshall was a minor league superstar who in turn became a super prospect in the early 80's.  A 6th round pick in 1978 he put up gaudy minor league stats including a monstrous season at AAA Albuquerque in 1981 batting .373 with 34 HR and driving in 137 runs in just 128 games.  The big 21-year old slugger was promoted to the majors that September but went just 5 for 25.  He struck out in his only postseason at bat in the NLDS.  The Dodgers, eventual world champs, didn't need to push Marshall and in fact he didn't even make the team in '82.  He returned to bashing AAA pitchers until he came up in late June. He was given a few starts at first base and rightfield but was used mainly as a pinch-hitter.  He hit five homers in 110 plate appearances and hit .242.
 
With Ron Cey and Steve Garvey gone the Dodgers moved Pedro Guerrero to 3B and gave youngsters Greg Brock (1B) and Mike Marshall (RF) a chance in '83.  The 6'5" Marshall played in 140 games but he struck out nearly three times as much as he walked with a .285/.347/.434 line.  He struggled in the NLCS with just two hits in 15 at bats.  It wasn't a bad year but it fell short of most fans expectations. He got off to a great start in '84 clubbing 14 HR in the first half and making the NL All-Star team.   His production dropped considerably the second half and he finished with 21 HR and a .257/.315/.438 stat line.
 
Marshall had his best year in 1985 with 28 HR, 95 RBI and a nifty slash stats of .293/.342/.515.  He had three extra base hits against the Cardinals but the Dodgers fell short in the NLCS.  A bad back hampered his '86 campaign as he missed quite a bit of time in July and August.  He hit just .233 with 19 HR in what was a down year for the Dodgers.  His playing time was diminished again in '87 but he was productive when he was in the lineup hitting .294 with 16 dingers. 
 
Marshall played in a career best 144 games in '88 and was a big part of the limited offensive attack of the Dodgers.  Marshall with 20 HR and 82 RBI and eventual NL MVP Kirk Gibson (25, 76) were the only Dodgers with more than 10 homers or 64 RBI.  The lack of pop in the Dodger bats became even more apparent after Gibson was shelved after his epic Game 1 of the World Series.  Facing the power-laden A's, Marshall was now the lone serious long ball threat in the lineup and his three-run bomb in Game 2 got things rolling as the Dodgers won the game 6-0 and later the Series in five. 

Injuries cost Marshall the entire month of June in '89 and he was never really got on track.  At one point he went 193 plate appearances without a homer.  He finished with 11 in 370 at bats with a .260 average.  After the season the Dodgers traded him to the Mets with Alejandro Pena for Juan Samuel.  Although just 30 years-old, Marshall's best days were behind him.  He split 83 games between the Mets and Red Sox in 1990 and hit 10 HR with a .258 average.  He played 62 games for Boston in '91 but was released and played two games for the Angels before the year was over. 

Marshall played in Japan for the Nippon Ham-Fighters in 1992 which would be the end of his playing career for the time being.  He got into coaching in the independent Northern League and played some in 1999.  At age 39 hit .307 in 33 games before resuming his full time coaching role.

 
Flipside:  Those minor league numbers are impressive as he never hit below .321 or slugged less than .494 while in the Dodgers chain. 
 
Oddball:  Before LA media had Matt Kemp and Rihanna's romance to write about they had Mike Marshall and Belinda Carlisle.  I guess being a star outfielder for the Dodgers has it's perks.
 
History:  Marshall's career was definitely diminished by injuries but he was able to win World Series rings with the Dodgers as an on-looker in '81 and as a major cog in '88.  In 11 seasons he hit 148 HR with a .270/.321/.446 line and 10.0 WAR. He never lived up to the hype his minor league stats caused but I'm not feeling sorry for a guy who dated Belinda Carlisle.  As we said in the 80's she was rad.
 
Anyway back to Marshall....after his playing career he coached and managed in the independent minor leagues.  His coaching career is best known for an incident in which he brawled with former major leaguer Tony Phillips in 2011.  You can see Phillips (warming up at 3B) Marshall (moving in from the 3B coaches box) go at it at the 6:00 mark of this video.  It's hard to see but it looks like Phillips, a year older and seven inches shorter than Marshall, got the best of him.  The visiting and appropriately named Chico Outlaws were managed by Jose Canseco who forfeited the game as he thought another brawl would break out if they continued.

Friday, March 22, 2013

#323 Luis DeLeon - San Diego Padres


This is Luis DeLeon's second Topps card and first as a Padre.  I believe this is in San Francisco where we see this orange wall in the background in so many of the cards in this set.  He pitched two day games in San Fran in '82 so it was either June 26 or September 19.  Weather records show a day time high of 78° in the June game and just 72° in the September game.  DeLeon could have worn long sleeves in either game but if I had to pick one I'd lean toward the latter game.
PlayerLuis DeLeon was signed out of Puerto Rico by the Cardinals in 1977.  He spent four years in their system including a decent 10 game major league debut at the tail end of the '81 season.  He was included in the Ozzie Smith / Garry Templeton deal which landed him in San Diego. 
 
DeLeon was a reliever all but his first year in pro ball and he immediately went to work in the late innings for the Padres.  He shared the closer role with lefty Gary Lucas and saved 15 games with an impressive 2.03 ERA and 0.912 WHIP in 102 innings.  He displayed remarkable control especially for a young pitcher walking just eight batters unintentionally.  He and Lucas teamed up again in '83 with DeLeon saving a baker's dozen with just a slight uptick in his rate stats in 111 frames. In two years, DeLeon had earned a reputation for taking the ball often and being unfazed in the late innings. 
 
The Padres traded Lucas away in the offseason and made a big splash by signing closer Goose Gossage who wouldn't be sharing saves with anyone.  DeLeon struggled with elbow tendonitis and was ineffective when healthy.  Surprisingly the young hurler was back in the minors by mid-year.  He was limited him to 32 games with a 5.48 ERA and was left off the postseason roster. 
 
DeLeon split the '85 season between Las Vegas and San Diego and improved somewhat with a 4.19 mark in 38 innings.  The Padres did not renew his contract and DeLeon signed with the Orioles in '86.  He spent all of the '86 season and most of the '87 campaign at AAA Rochester. He recorded a 4.79 ERA 20.2 innings of work in Baltimore in '87 and was not re-signed.
 
DeLeon spent the next year in the Astros system and moved on to the Mariners in 1989.  He made a single appearance for the big league M's and spent the rest of his career in the minors.  He retired with a 3.12 ERA (116 ERA+) and 32 saves in 309 innings of work.

Flipside:  6'1" and 153 lbs.... yeah DeLeon was a skinny dude.

Oddball:  DeLeon had four brothers also named Luis.  Our subject was Luis Antonio but was known better as "Mambo".

DeLeon pitched in 207 games in his career. The first 206 were in relief before he made a four inning start for Seattle in '89. 

History:  DeLeon had two great years for the Padres but pitched poorly during their pennant winning season in '84.  He was still pitching for his native Puerto Rico as recently as 2003, pitching in his 14th Caribbean Series at age 46.  DeLeon was inducted into the Caribbean Series Hall of Fame in 2011.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

#322 Dan Van Gorder - Cincinnati Reds

Look at this, another rookie card.  Of course Dave Van Gorder only has two cards so maybe it deserves another title like half-of-his-career-card.  I don't know, maybe you have some better ideas.  Van Gorder's other card is an odd one and can be seen here. 
This card is a bit different in that Van Gorder clearly is need of some shades as he squints across a spring training infield.
 
 
Look at Van Gorder squint.  Seriously Topps, that's the best picture you had of this guy?  I'mstarting to think maybe he was about to sneeze.
 
Player: Dave Van Gorder was a second round pick out of USC in 1978 and never played below the AA level.  It could not have been easy following in the big footsteps of Johnny Bench but Van Gorder tried when he was called up to Cincinnati in June of '82.  Everyone was looking to see who the Reds next catcher would be.  Alex Trevino had a head start on Van Gorder and our subject did little to gain on him hitting just .185 in 137 at bats.

Sent back to AAA Indianapolis for the '83 season, he did nothing to inspire Reds management and took a big step back hitting just .226/.287/.311.  Van Gorder got off to a better start in '84 and was recalled in July.  He batted 113 times while sharing catching duties with other career back-ups Brad Gulden and Dann Bilardello.  The catching situation was so bad that Van Gorder's .228 average was the best of the group and Gulden's .308 slugging percentage was .028 higher than Bilardello's and .060 higher than Van Gorder's.

Van Gorder broke camp with the Reds in '85 and the Reds added Alan Knicely to the trio while removing Gulden.  Van Gorder slugged the first two homers of his career and avoided the minor leagues for the first time but hit just .238.  The Reds acquired Bo Diaz in August which spelled the end of the Reds catching woes.

The burly backstop was back in the bushes in '86, with his major league action limited to ten hitless at bats in September.  Van Gorder signed with the Orioles and spent a few months as their backup with five hits in 21 at bats.  Released by the Orioles after the season, he was now 30 years old and had shown no improvement from his younger days and his career was over.

 
Flipside:  The 15 home run season at Indianapolis in '81 was a rare burst of power for Van Gorder as he never slugged more than six in a season before or after.
 
Oddball: USC won the College World Series with Van Gorder behind the plate.  They had several fringe level players like Van Gorder, Dave Hostettler, Bob Skube, Jeff Schattinger, and Chris Smith. Teammate Dave Engle ended up with the most accomplished baseball career but another player went on to a Hall of Fame career in another sport.  Former Bengal offensive tackle Anthony Munoz pitched at USC...what an intimidating presence he must have been on the mound!
 
History:  Van Gorder had a career typical of a third string catcher with a .212/.280/.267 line in 468 plate appearances.  With a better arm, perhaps he could have earned a little more playing time, but he threw out just 18% of the runners stealing on him. His strength defensively was apparently his ability to block balls in the dirt as he allowed just five passed balls in his career. 
According to his Wikipedia page, he is currently a manager for UPS in Las Vegas.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

#321 1982 Milwaukee Brewers

You ever wonder what the Brewers cards would've looked like with yellow borders instead of green?  Well here is your chance since I took a few minutes, and I mean just a few, to give the below image a yellow border.  Better? Yeah I think so, but not as much as I thought it would.  Anyway, we see that Robin Yount's team best .331 batting average led the talented offensive unit known as Harvey's Wallbangers which was named after manager Harvey Kuenn. 
Pete Vukovich led all Brewers qualifying pitchers by over half a run with his 3.34 ERA.
The pair seem to be avoiding each other in the two pictures but look how awkward it look if they were on opposite sides and were facing each other. (Thanks to Andy @HighHeatStats for the suggested edit).
 
The 1982 Brewers were a fun team to watch and one of my favorite non-Tigers teams of all-time.  They began the season 23-24 which led to manager Buck Rodgers getting the axe.  In steps Kuenn and the Brewers win 72 of their last 115 games on the way to the AL pennant.  They lost a thrilling World Series to the Cardinals which is really the first Fall Classic I remember from my childhood.  

 
Flipside:  The checklist shows 27 Brewers including Kuenn.  It includes Hall of Famers Yount, Paul Molitor, Rollie Fingers, and Don Sutton who was acquired late in the year.  Larry Hisle got a card even though he played only nine games including the last game of his career on May 6. 
 
Starting Nine:
 
C: Ted Simmons  23 HR, 97 RBI, 3.1 WAR
1B: Cecil Cooper  .313, 32 HR, 121 RBI, 5.4 WAR
2B: Jim Gantner  .295, 2.4 WAR
SS: Robin Yount  .331/.379/.578, 46 2B, 29 HR, 114 RBI, 10.4 WAR
3B: Paul Molitor  .302, 19 HR, 41 SB, 6.1 WAR
LF: Ben Oglivie  34 HR, 102 RBI, 3.2 WAR
CF: Gorman Thomas  39 HR, 112 RBI, 4.6 WAR
RF: Charlie Moore  .254, 6 HR, 0.8 WAR
DH: Roy Howell  .260, 4 HR, -0.6 WAR
        Don Money  .284, 16 HR, 2.0 WAR
 
The last team card profiled was the Pittsburgh squad and like Bucs, the Brew Crew led their league in runs scored.  But Milwaukee was a very different team.  Led by Yount's amazing MVP season the Brewers bashed their way to a whopping 891 runs.  Their powerful lineup boasted three .300+ hitters in Yount, Molitor, and Cooper and had four sluggers top 100 RBI.  With Molitor healthy, previous thirdsackers Howell and Money shared the DH spot.  Money was money, but Howell didn't really hit enough to warrant a DH spot.  Another spot usually reserved for power hitters, rightfield, was manned by Moore who had moved out from the plate with Simmons arrival.  Marshall Edwards (10 SB) and Mark Brouhard (116 OPS+) also chipped in rightfield. 
 
Pitching staff:
 
SP: Mike Caldwell  34 GS, 17-13, 3.91 ERA, 258 IP
SP: Pete Vukovich  30 GS, 18-6, 3.34 ERA, 223 IP
SP: Moose Haas  27 GS, 11-8, 4.47 ERA, 193 IP
SP: Bob McClure  26 GS, 12-7, 4.22 ERA, 172 IP
SP: Randy Lerch  20 GS, 8-7, 4.97 ERA, 108 IP
 
RP/SP: Jim Slaton  39 G / 7 GS, 10-6, 6 Sv, 3.29 ERA, 117 IP
RP: Rollie Fingers  50 G, 29 Sv, 2.60 ERA, 79 IP
RP: Dwight Bernard  47 G, 6 Sv, 3.76 ERA, 79 IP
RP: Jerry Augustine  20 G, 5.08 ERA, 60 IP
RP: Jamie Easterly  28 G, 2 Sv, 4.70 ERA, 30 IP
RP: Pete Ladd 16 G, 3 Sv, 4.00 ERA, 18 IP
 
The staff doesn't seem all that impressive but does boast the AL Cy Young winner.  What, you say you don't see a CY caliber season in there?!?!  Well me either, but Vukovich walked away with the hardware despite allowing over one and a half runners per inning.  But that's a topic for another post.  Caldwell pitched to contact striking out just 75 batters and Haas actually had a lower WHIP than Vukovich despite the unhealthy ERA. 
 
The rotation began the year as Vukovich, Caldwell, Haas, Lerch and McClure.  By the end of the year veterans Don Sutton and Doc Medich, who were acquired in August, supplanted Lerch who was sold to the Expos and McClure who moved to the pen.  Sutton was effective in seven starts going 4-1 while Doc posted a 5.00 ERA in 10 starts. 
 
Fingers was very good but missed most of September and all of the postseason with an injury.  Slaton filled in wherever he was needed and Bernard was good enough for middle relief.  Augustine was with the club all year but made just 20 appearances.  He was used in a mop up role and made two starts including one 12 run nightmare.  Pete Ladd was a midseason call up and by September was closing games in Fingers place.
 
The Brewers won the ALCS in five games over the Angels and had a three games to two edge in the World Series before dropping the final two games to the Redbirds.


Friday, March 8, 2013

#320 Steve Rogers - Montreal Expos

Looks like Steve Rogers is wearing a cool red Expos t-shirt or is it a jersey?  Judging by the sleeves I'd say it's a t-shirt.  This is his 10th base card and just looking at his Topps cards, his first four from '74-'77 were without any facial hair.  From '78-'81 he appears as he is here, with a shaggy mustache.  Then he has a full beard and looks quite different on his '82 cardboard.  Then he came back with just the 'stache for '83 and '84 before returning with the beard in '85.  Meanwhile, Coca-Cola gets some free advertising in the background.

Player: After earning a bachelors degree in petroleum engineering at Tulsa University, Steve Rogers was drafted by the Expos in the secondary June draft in 1971.  He struggled with some terrible minor league teams in '71 and '72, but Rogers put it together in '73 and was called up in the middle of July.  Despite his late start he won 10 games with a sparkling 1.54 ERA, 260 ERA+, and 1.060 WHIP in 134 innings which drew enough attention to get him a second place finish in Rookie of the Year voting. 
 
The sophomore jinx bit Rogers hard in '74.  He proved his durability making 38 starts but lost 22 of them with a 4.46 ERA.  He rebounded lowering his ERA to 3.29 but the Expos were still struggling to score runs and he won just 11 games in '75.  The following season was a frustrating one for Rogers as he missed a month with a broken hand after punching a bat rack.  Perhaps he should have punched the Expos batters instead.  While he posted a 3.21 ERA in 230 innings, Rogers lost 17 games with just 7 wins, marking the second time in three years he led the NL in losses. 
 
The Expos started to show improvement in '77 and he won 17 games with a 3.10 ERA.  Most impressive was his workload as he made 40 starts and logged 301 innings.  Rogers continued to carry a heavy load for the Expos in '78 as he had a two-inning save on July 3, two days after a complete game and made another start three days later. A month later he faced 43 batters in an 11.1 inning-no- decision.  Not surprisingly, by the end August he was on the disabled list with elbow tendonitis, ending his season with 13 wins and a 2.47 ERA.
 
After elbow surgery in the offseason Rogers returned with a 13 win season in '79 and 16 wins in '80 with ERAs of 3.00 and 2.98.  Another strong year followed in '81 and the Expos made the postseason for the first time and knocked off the defending champion Phillies in the strike year NLDS.  Rogers went head to head against Steve Carlton twice and got the win both times, allowing just a single run in the series.  Now facing the Dodgers, Rogers shut them down in Game 3 of the NLCS allowing just a single run in nine frames.  He came into Game 5 out of the pen with the score tied 1-1 in the ninth
and allowed a home run to Rick Monday which gave LA the lead and eventually the World Series berth.
 
Rogers was coming off his finest season when this card was issued as he won a career best 19 games with an NL leading 2.40 ERA in 1982.  Rogers had one more solid year in his arm winning 17 with a 3.23 ERA in '83.  His five shutouts led the National League duplicating his league best five in '79.
 
Shoulder problems sapped his health and effectiveness as he won just 6 of his 28 starts in '84, finishing with a 4.31 ERA.  It ended a nine year stretch of sub 3.50 ERAs.  After a rough start to the '85 campaign, the Expos released their all-time wins leader.  He pitched for the Angels and White Sox in the minors but retired after the season. 
 

 
Flipside:  I was surprised when checking his stats that Rogers never won 20 games.  He has to be one of the better starters not to have achieved the milestone.
 
Oddball:  In 1978 Steve Rogers intervened on teammate Chris Speier's behalf when he was getting berated in the locker room by then Expos GM Charlie Fox.  Upset at Speier's recent 4 for 31 cold spell, Fox was really letting Speier have it when Rogers got in the executive's face and Fox ended up slugging his hurler in the jaw.  Rogers and Speier walked away and the struggling SS responded by hitting for the cycle and driving in six runs.  When the NL didn't discipline Fox, Marvin Miller, the executive director of the players association, petitioned the league president Chub Feeney writing:
 
The Sporting New, 9/18/1978

Which I suppose is a diplomatic way of saying Fox was lucky he didn't get his ass kicked.  He never was disciplined but by the end of the year he was fired and Rogers got a six-year contract. 
 
History:  Much like Dave Stieb who toiled for Canada's second team in Toronto, Rogers was truly one of the underrated pitchers in the game.  From '75-'83 he recorded a 3.00 ERA, and averaged 4.3 WAR and 260 innings pitched.  He started the only All-Star game in Montreal in '82, getting the win with a run allowed in three frames.  He retired with a 158-152 mark which is more indicative of the Expos struggles in the 70's than Rogers' ability.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

#319 Lenn Sakata - Baltimore Orioles

Lenn or Lenny?  My memory tells me that he was usually referred to as Lenny but I can't be certain.  Either way this is Sakata's 4th Topps card and is somewhat unique in that you can only see his face in the inset picture. 
PlayerLenn Sakata was drafted twice before but did not want to leave Gonzaga University until the Brewers drafted him in the January draft in 1975.  He was hitting over .300 at AAA Spokane when he was called up in July of 1977.  The Hawaiian second baseman struggled with the promotion and batted just .162 in 53 games.  Stuck behind Brewer infielders Robin Yount, Paul Molitor, Jim Gantner, and Don Money, Sakata spent most of the next two years back at AAA getting just 78 at bats in '78 and 14 in '79.

The Orioles came calling in December of '79 acquiring Sakata for John Flinn.  The O's sent him to AAA Rochester to start the 1980 season but after he hit .344/.396/.399 in the first month he was called up to Baltimore.  He played secondbase and some shortstop but hit just .193 in a reserve role. 

One knock on Lenny had been his lack of power so he worked out diligently on the nautilus machine and improved his strength.  According to Daniel Okrent in his book Nine Innings:  "Standing next to a taller teammate, like the elongated Jim Palmer, Sakata’s overdeveloped chest and shoulders gave him the appearance of a midget wrestler".  Sakata continued as a sub batting .227 and clubbed five homers in 150 at bats in '81.

Sakata began 1982 as the Orioles starting shortstop and held the position until Cal Ripken slid over from thirdbase midyear.  Sakata still received a lot of playing time after the switch either as a defensive sub for Rich Dauer at second or starting there a few times a week.  With 389 at bats and 136 games it was by far the busiest season of his MLB career.  He batted .259/.323/.370 with 6 HR and 7 SB.

Sakata continued as a reserve at second base the next three years and continued to play solid defense but hit little with averages of .254, .191, and .227.  His career highlight was not at secondbase or at shortstop but in an 8/24/83 contest against the Blue Jays when he was pressed into duty at catcher.  After both catchers Rick Dempsey and Joe Nolan were out of the game, Sakata took over behind the plate in the top of the tenth in a 3-3 game against the Blue Jays.  Toronto's Cliff Johnson homered off Tim Stoddard to give the Jays a 4-3 lead.  Tippy Martinez came in to pitch for the O's and allowed a single to Barry Bonnell.  Anxious to steal on the fill in backstop, Bonnell was picked off first by Martinez.  Dave Collins walked and then got picked off too.  Willie Upshaw followed with a single and unbelievably was picked off to end the inning with Martinez getting the pick off hat trick.  Now down 4-3, Cal Ripken tied the game with a blast to start the bottom of the 10th.  After a walk-ground out-intentional-walk-strikeout, Sakata came up with two outs and unloaded a three run walk-off homer to end the game.  Sakata was on the roster but played in just one game in the Orioles '83 postseason run.

Now a free agent, Sakata left for Oakland but spent most of '86 at AAA Tacoma where he hit .313.  He was called up in August and went 12 for 34 to end the season.  Sakata again was a free agent and landed in New York.  He played sparingly getting about one start a week at thirdbase before his season ended when an awkward slide tore ligaments in his ankle.  Strangely, Yankee slugger Ron Kittle strained a neck muscle helping Sakata off the field and both ended up on the disabled list.

That was the end of Sakata's playing days and he retired with a .230/.286/.330 stat line in 11 major league seasons. 

 
Flipside: Listing Sakata listed at 5'9" is pretty generous since most bio's I've found on him describe him as at least an inch shorter.
 
Oddball: Sakata was just 7 for 102 (.069) in his career against the White Sox and once went 66 consecutive at bats without a hit against the Pale Hose.  View his triumphant hit here, to break the streak.
 
History:  Sakata's place in history is usually described as one of the most prominent Asian-American players in baseball.  He hit well at AAA batting .289 in over 2,700 at bats at that level but couldn't carry it over to the next level.  He was a fine defensive player who found his niche with the Orioles and had a decent career for a non-starter.

Thursday, February 28, 2013

#318 John Tudor - Boston Red Sox

I don't remember John Tudor with facial hair but here he is with a red mustache on his third Topps card.  With the mustache he looks like the guy who fills the vending machines where I work.  It seems like they could have arranged the picture better and not cut off his right foot.  Although if they center Tudor it might look like he's sitting on the circular cameo frame, so maybe not.

Player: John Tudor wasn't a highly touted prospect as he worked his way through the minors, which would make his eventual success that much sweeter.  He was a 3rd round pick in the January draft in '76 and despite ERA's below 3.50 he was a swingman his first three years in the minors.  He was given a permanent spot in the Pawtucket rotation in '79 and pitched very well earning a promotion in August.  He made six spot starts for the Red Sox but wasn't effective.

Tudor started the 1980 season in Pawtucket's rotation but was recalled mid-year and made 13 starts for Boston with an 8-5 record and 3.02 ERA.  The next season was not as good as he struggled with a 4.56 ERA and ended the year in the bullpen.  He was solid the next two years winning 13 games in both '82 and '83.  His detractors noted his game to game inconsistencies while his supporters appreciated his gutsy competitive spirit.  The Red Sox had two other lefty starters in Bruce Hurst and Bob Ojeda, and Tudor was shipped to Pittsburgh in return for Mike Easler.

Tudor performed well in Pittsburgh although he suffered from lack of support.  Still he finished with a 12-11 record and 3.27 for a last place team.  Seeking to add some punch to their lineup the Pirates sent Tudor to St. Louis in the George Hendrick deal.

The soft tossing port-sider began the '85 season slowly with just one win in the first two months of the season.  When Tudor made his 12th start on June 8 he was 2-7 with a 3.73 ERA.  The southpaw then went on a tremendous stretch that lasted the rest of the year.  Over his last 25 starts he went 19-1, with a 1.32 ERA and 10 shutouts.  His shutouts total and 0.938 WHIP led the National League and while 21 wins and a 1.93 ERA usually equal a Cy Young award, Doc Gooden's amazing season topped him. 

Tudor pitched fairly well in the NLCS going 1-1 with four earned runs in 12.1 frames and dazzled allowing just a single run allowed in Game 1 shutting out KC in Game 4 of the World Series. The Cards had to be confident with their ace on the hill for Game 7.  Tudor had been pitching in pain since his rookie year and including the postseason had logged over 300 innings.  It all seemed to catch up with him at the worst time as his usual pinpoint control was nowhere to be found and he failed to make it past the third inning as the Royals won the game and the Series.

His left shoulder would continue to give him trouble in '86 and really the rest of his career. With a fastball in the low 80's he had little margin for error but he was still productive with 13 wins and a 2.92 ERA but his shoulder problems shut him down in September.

Tudor's shoulder was operated on in the offseason and he was ready to go on opening day.  After three starts he suffered a broken leg when Mets catcher Barry Lyons flew into the dugout chasing a foul ball and crashed into him.  Tudor returned in August and pitched well down the stretch.  The Cards were careful not to push Tudor as he only went as far as eight innings once and he went 6-0 over his last eight starts with a 2.79 ERA.  He pitched well in the postseason until he was shelled for 6 runs in the Game 6 loss to the Twins in the World Series.

Coming off knee surgery, Tudor missed the first three weeks of the '88 season but excelled upon his return.  St. Louis was way out of the race in August and traded Tudor to the Dodgers for Pedro Guerrero.  Tudor continued to get batters out for the Dodgers and won 10 games with a 2.32 ERA on the season.  After one so-so start in the NLCS, Tudor took the mound for Game 3 of the '88 World Series against the Dodgers but lasted just one and a third innings as he left with a elbow pain.

Tudor was repaired in the offseason getting Tommy John surgery on his elbow, frayed cartilage from his shoulder removed, as well as some screws removed from his knee.  He pitched in just six games in '89 and returned to St. Louis in 1990.  His fastball now topped out at 80 but the bionic pitcher located extremely well and went 12-4 with a 2.40 ERA in 146 innings.  Tudor retired after the season with a 117-72 record and 3.12 ERA.

 
Flipside:  By ERA his '79 trial and '81 season were by far his worst.  After a 4.06 mark in '83 he ERA would never again break four.  His ERA+ from '82 through the rest of his career was 127.
 
Oddball:  Tudor and his mates on the '84 Pirates led the Senior Circuit with a 3.11 ERA and allowed just 567 runs.  Their meager offense scored 615 which on paper should equal 87 wins according to their Pythag record.  The Bucs somehow won just 75 and finished in dead last in the NL East.   
 
History: Tudor won over 13 games just twice and received votes in CY voting just one time but was as good a pitcher as anybody in the National League when he was healthy.  His '85 season was truly amazing and he did it all without a blazing fastball or trick pitch. Whitey Herzog summed him up pretty well when he said:
“Nobody ever did more with less.... John won me 64 ballgames and only lost 27 [actually 62-26] between 1985 and 1990, a record that still leaves me shaking my head, considering the stuff he had. Well, when you can’t crack eighty-five on the radar gun, maybe a foul mood and a chip on your shoulder are just the right ticket. They sure didn’t hurt John.”
Tudor himself had a dry, straightforward wit and always seemed to speak honestly about his performance had this to say during his last season:
“My changeup is getting faster, which is a bad sign, because it means my shoulder isn’t allowing the proper deceleration. It was as if I was getting by on reputation. I haven’t been able to get the ball inside, so I don’t have anything to keep hitters from diving on me. I haven’t thrown a slider all season. I’m not getting the proper extension at the end of my delivery, so not only am I not getting the pop on my fastball, but I don’t have my control. . . I have all these doubts storming inside me, and they all revolve around that 78-mile-an-hour fastball.”



Monday, February 25, 2013

#317 Gary Rajsich - New York Mets

Not only is this Gary Rajsich's rookie card, it's his only Topps card.  Looks like this picture of Rajsich breaking out of the box was taken when the Giants visited Shea Stadium.  Because he only played one day game against the Giants I'm pretty sure this picture was taken on May 9, 1982.  He batted three times in the game with a fly out to center, a ground out to first, and a single to right.  Judging by where Rajsich is looking I'd say were are looking at either the ground out or the single.

PlayerGary Rajsich went the baseball machine known as Arizona State which produced no less than 49 major league players in the 70s and 80s.  He was an 11th round pick of the Astros in 1976 and had a slow start to his pro career hitting for neither power or average his first three years.  He broke through with 20 home runs between two levels in '79 and was a minor league stud at AAA Tucson in 1980 batting .321/.435/.575 with 14 triples, 21 HR, 99 RBI, and 12 steals. 

At age 26 Rajsich wasn't exactly a blue chip prospect and the Astros traded him to the Mets for another minor leaguer with an even stranger name: John Csefalvay.  Rajsich took advantage of his fresh start at AAA Tidewater and crushed homers at an amazing clip.  He was on the Mets radar but with Dave Kingman, Lee Mazzilli, and Rusty Staub they had a glut of leftfielder / first base types.  With 24 home runs in 78 games and 288 plate appearances, Rajsich's season was ended by a broken wrist, otherwise he surely would have been a September call up.

Rajsich made the Mets opening day squad in '82 as a reserve and spent the year as a pinch-hitter finding playing time scarce until the last month of the season.  He struggled in the unfamiliar bench role and hit just a pair of homers while batting .256 in 162 at bats.

He spent most of '83 back at Tidewater waiting until rosters expanded before getting another chance.  He hit .333/.400/.500 in 40 plate appearances with only one strikeout which was  a major improvement since he K'd about 25% of the time in '82.  

Rajsich was sold to the Cardinals as rosters were taking shape in April of '84 but spent all but seven at bats at AAA Louisville where he clubbed 29 homers.  In the offseason he and three other Cards were sent to San Francisco in exchange for Jack Clark.  The Giants used him as a pinch-hitter and part time first baseman but he again struggled when he wasn't in the starting lineup.  He batted just .165 in 110 plate appearances and was demoted in July.  The Cards purchased his contract and he finished the year back at Louisville.  He spent the next three years playing in Japan for the Chunichi Dragons before retiring. 

Flipside: You can see from the numbers that Rajsich really improved after his first three years in the minors.  He credits the purchase of a $1,200 pitching machine after the '78 season for turning his career around.  He practiced relentlessly, with his wife feeding the machine and Rajsich hitting 400 pitches a day, taking heed from the Ted William adage that "the only way to learn how to hit, is to hit".

Oddball: There is saying that pinch hitting is one of the hardest things to do in sports.  You would get no argument from Rajsich, who was a mere 4 for 64 as a pinch hitter.  The rest of the time he was 70 for 232, a .302 average.

History:  Rajsich had a brief major league career with a career line of .236/.328/.345 in 149 games.  Perhaps he would have been off as a DH in the American League, but with a poor track record of pinch hitting, it's hard to say.  He has had a much better career as a scout, signing Jon Lester for the Red Sox.  Rajsich was named the Orioles director of amateur scouting in 2011.