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.