Sunday, August 18, 2019

#347 Sammy Stewart -Baltimore Orioles

Sammy Stewart appears here on his fourth solo Topps card.  His rookie card was one of those black and white numbers in the 1979 set. Although strangely enough he appeared on a Record Breaker card in the set.  I wonder if Stewart is the first player to appear on a record breaker card before his first base card?
Anyway we see Stewart here in a nice action shot.   I think it could have been better if we could see the ball in his hand.  Stewart's uni-brow is not as evident here as it is on some of his cards.  
The orange and brown borders work beautifully with this card.
Player: Sammy Stewart was drafted in the 28th round of the 1974 draft by the Kansas City Royals but did not sign.  He went undrafted in 1975 but signed a free-agent deal with the Baltimore Orioles following his second year at Montreat Anderson Junior College in North Carolina.
Stewart had mixed results as a starter in the minors but got his chance in game two of a twin-bill against the White Sox on 9/1/78.  Stewart earned his first MLB win allowing two runs in 5.1 innings pitched.  Most notably he struck out seven consecutive Chisox to set an MLB record for a rookie.

Stewart found his niche as Earl Weaver's long man on the Orioles 1979 pennant winner posting a 3.52 ERA in 117 innings.  Making 28 of his 31 appearances from the pen, Stewart averaged eight innings in his three starts and earned the W in each.  Stew didn't play in the ALCS but had a crucial role in the O's game 4 World Series win.  Relieving Dennis Martinez who was knocked out in the second inning, Stewart held the Pirates scoreless over the next 2.2 innings.  Baltimore mounted a late comeback, winning 9-6 and taking a 3-1 lead in the series.  Alas, the Pirates came back to win it all.

"The Throwin' Swannanoan" as he was known, had an almost identical year in 1980 with a 3.56 ERA in 118 IP with, three starts and 30 relief appearances.  The 1981 season saw a familiar workload although it was condensed into the strike shortened schedule.  Logging 112 innings in 105 games Stew posted a stellar 2.32 which led the AL depending on what you want to believe.

The big right-hander got his chance to start twelve games in 1982 but also found himself on the disabled list with bone chips in his knees.  Although he won 10 games for the first time in his career his ERA swelled to 4.14.  The following season Stewart would make only one start but logged an incredible 144 innings, with a 3.62 ERA.  He excelled in the postseason with 9.1 scoreless innings  including a save in the ALCS.

Used exclusively in a relief role in 1984, Stew was used as a closer part time and saved a career best 13 games.  Stewart made his last career start in October of 1985 but didn't get out of the third.  He was roughed up again three days later.  The two outings raised his ERA from 3.10 to 3.61 and would prove to be the end of his stay in Baltimore.

The Orioles traded Stewart in December 1985 for infielder Jackie Gutierrez.  Never a thin man, Stewart now sported a beer belly but was plugged into the familiar long relief role with the Red Sox. He missed seven weeks of action of the DL mid-year with an arm injury and threw a career low 63 innings with a 4.38.  Stewart clashed with Boston skipper John McNamara and did not see action in the postseason.  The Red Sox let him walk in free agency.

Stewart was unemployed as the 1987 season commenced.  He signed on with the Indians in June and after a brief spell in AAA, Stewart was back in the bigs.  Used mainly as a closer on a putrid Cleveland squad.  Stewart did not pitch well (5.67 ERA in 27 IP) and it was his last action in the majors.  

Flipside:  His weight listed at 200 lbs....C'mon Sammy, put both feet on the scale!

Oddball: According to Stewart's SABR biography by Bill Nowlin, Stewart nearly pitched lefthanded in a game in 1981. This fine Washigton Post piece claims Stewart did throw lefty in a game but I am betting it was in spring training.

History:  When I think of Stewart I think of his uni-brow and effective long and middle relief. Stewart spent 10 seasons in the majors and ended up with an even 10.0 WAR, posting a 59-48 record with 45 saves.  Although he yearned to start he was very effective in the role that O's skipper Earl Weaver and his other managers used him.
Outside of baseball Stewart did not have an easy life. Both of his children were born with cystic fybrosis ultimately losing his son Colin in 1991.  Stewar battled alcoholism throughout his career and drugs after he left the game.  Stewart served time and was homeless for a while.  He seemed to be turning things around when he passed away in 2018.

*Many of the facts from this post come from Nowlin's thorough SABR bio.

Saturday, May 6, 2017

#346 Joe Pittman San Diego Padres

This is Joe Pittman's second and last Topps card.  The green border usually clashes on the Padres cards but it works here as goes nicely with the green grass.  The inset pic look like it was taken right before or after the main photo.  Like a lot of cards from this set, I think this in Candlestick Park.
I always thought Pittman looked like a little guy on this card but he is listed at 6'1".
Player: In 1975 Joe Pittman was a 5th round pick of the Houston Astros and as a 22 year old coming out of college, he was given an aggressive assignment to AA Columbus to start his pro career. Despite his advanced placement, Pittman didn't reach the majors until six years later when he was promoted in April of 1981.
Pittman had an excellent season at AAA Tucson in 1980 but was blocked by future Hall of Famer Joe Morgan at second base.  With Morgan gone in '81, the Astros had a revolving door at second and employed Pittman, Rafael Landestoy, Dickie Thon, and late year acqusition Phil Garner.  Pittman batted .281 with a .333 on base percentage and was a plus on defense as well.  Although he only played 35 played games in the field he was fourth in the NL in Total Zone Runs at 2B.  Pittman made the postseason roster but was relegated to a bench role and went 0-2 in the NLDS loss to the Dodgers.

Pittman spent most of the early part of the 1982 season back in the minors before a June trade sent him to the Padres.  In San Diego Pittman was used at both second and shortstop as well as a pinch hitter.  Pittman never really adjusted to a role as a reserve batting .185 off the bench compared to .267 as a starter.

With the exception of 17 games with the Giants in '84 Pittman spent the next three years at the AAA level before leaving pro ball.

Flipside:  The Houston native had to be thrilled to be drafted by the Astros.  It seems that teams used to draft more hometown guys than they do now.

Oddball: Pittman was one of the leading batters in the 1990 Senior Professional Baseball Association when he posted a .337 batting average.

History:  Pittman was a speedy infielder who didn't get on base enough or hit for enough pop to reach the big leagues at a young age.  Once he got there he struggled to keep his head above water. After his playing career he coached in the Astros system for a while.  Later employed in construction, Pittman passed away in 2014 when he collapsed on the jobsite in 2014.

Thursday, May 4, 2017

#345 Jim Clancy Toronto Blue Jays

This is Jim Clancy's 6th Topps card.  His right arm blurs as he follows through with a pitch and the bright background is out of focus too.  Jim looks slightly perturbed in the inset.  Maybe it's because he is without his familiar mustache. 

Player: Jim Clancy was drafted by the Rangers but never played for them.  The Blue Jays made Clancy their 6th pick in the expansion draft and he made 13 starts in 1977.  He was a regular in the Jays rotation in '78 but was injured for much of the '79 season.  We wasn't very successful in either campaign but he started to to put it together in 1980.  Although he walked a league high 128 batters he logged an impressive 250 innings with a 3.30 ERA.

The '81 season was a step backward as Clancy's ERA ballooned to 4.90.  Clancy would start 40 games in 1982 and barring a dramatic change in pitcher usage, that's something we likely won't see again. He put in 266 innings of work with a neat 3.71 ERA, earning him his lone All-Star selection.

The next six years Clancy would he a workhorse for Toronto and seemed to be either a little better than average or a little bit below average.  Considering the nine seasons he spent with the Jay's in the 80's Clancy was 112-112 with a 4.02, pretty much your average number three or four starter.

After the 1988 season the Houston Astros signed the 32 year-old righty to a three year deal paying out over a million dollars a year.  If you thought this signing was a bad idea you were right. Clancy won just nine game in two and a half years with the Astros.  Having been demoted to the pen he found some success during the '91 season and was traded to the Braves halfway through the year. Even though he struggled in Atlanta, he found made the playoff roster and won game three of the World Series, recording the final out in the top of the 12th before the Braves walked it off in the bottom frame.

Clancy retired after failing to catch on with the Cubs in 1992, ending his career with a 4.23 ERA in his 15 season of work..

Flipside: The 1982 totals are all pretty much career bests for Clancy as he finally was able to command his pitches and lower his walk rate.

Oddball: I remember Clancy pitching a lot against my Tigers in the 1980s and for good reason as Clancy had a 4-17 record against Detroit.

History:  Often playing second fiddle to Dave Stieb, Clancy did make two opening days starts in 1981 and and 1984.  He had a rubber arm and was a bit of a throwback even for his era. According to, Clancy made eight starts on two days rest and 58 on three days rest in his career.  In fact his 40 games started in '82 was the last time a non-knuckleballer started that many.
Even though he is known as having the most losses in the 1980s (126), he helped the Blue Jays go from struggling expansion team to a top flight team in the AL East.

Sunday, February 5, 2017

#344 Roger LaFrancois - Boston Red Sox

Not only is this Roger LaFrancois' rookie card it is his only Topps card.  I don't remember LaFrancois or this card at all

No doubt it takes a lot of talent, ability, and hard work to reach the majors but LaFrancois has the look of guy they pulled out of the stands and threw a uniform on him.  He is bigger (6'2") than he looks in the pic.
Player: LaFrancois' was a local guy from Connecticut.  After an unremarkable minor league tenure he made the BoSox in '82 as a third catcher, behind Gary Allenson and Rich Gedman.  
Remarkably LaFrancois was on the major league roster the entire season but did not get a start until game 162.   When I first saw his stats for 1982, I though all his games were as a September call up but they were spread out with one in May, two in June, one in August and the rest when rosters expanded in September.  

Coming into the final game LaFrancois was batting .400 (2/5).  As the game went into extra innings LaFrancois was one for four taking his season average to .333 (3/9).  With a a chance to bat .400 precariously hanging into the balance, LaFrancois steadied his nerves in hostile Yankee Stadium as he came to bat in the top of the 11th.  Facing long odds with veteran lefty Rudy May on the hill, the 26 year old, lefty swinging backstop beat out an infield hit to second base.  Not only did he reach the magic .400 mark but he scored the go-ahead and eventual winning run. I may have overplayed that a bit but it makes for good theater.

LaFrancois returned the minors never to return.  After two poor seasons in AAA he started his coaching career which is still going.

Flipside:  It seems absolutely crazy to me to sit on the bench for 154 of 162 games but I can find no record of LaFrancois being injured and he did not play in the minors in '82.

Oddball:  There wasn't a whole lot of roster transactions for the Red Sox in '82 as they only had thirteen position players with more than 24 at bats and only eleven pitchers with more than nine innings.

History:  I may have had a little fun with LaFrancois' career stats but being able to say you batted .400 is pretty cool.  LaFrancois caught 25 of the 33 innings in the longest minor league game ever.  That and some other bits about LaFrancois can be read here.

Thursday, February 2, 2017

#343 Bob Bailor New York Mets

Looks like Bob Bailor is running downhill on his 6th Topps card with Shea Stadium in the background.  It's a n excellent action shot that would be better if he wasn't wearing the Topps logo on his head.  Couldn't they have reduced the size another five percent?

Strange to see the 3B-SHORTSTOP-2B designation.  Seems like the 3B-SS-2B would suffice.  In fact that's what Topps did on his next two cards.  I wonder how they chose the order since he played more 2B and SS than 3B in these three seasons.

Player: Bob Bailor came up through the Orioles system and found it tough to crack the big league roster in the mid-70s. This depth along with a rotator cuff injury limited him to 13 big league at bats over the '75-'76 seasons.  Bailor got his break when the AL expanded and Toronto made him an original Blue Jay. 

Bailor played all over the diamond in '77 and was a regular in the Jays lineup posting what would prove to be career numbers with a .310 BA and five of his nine career homers.  He remained an everyday player the next two years but saw his productivity drop each year.  By 1980 he was more of a utility man and played everywhere but first base and catcher.  He even made three appearances on the mound.

After the '80 season he was sent packing to the Mets in exchange for Roy Lee Jackson.  He had just 81 at bats in '81 but he batted .284.   Bailor earned more playing time the next two-years as a "play anywhere" guy and if nothing else provided stellar base running with 38 steals in 44 attempts.

Bailor was traded after the '83 campaign to the Dodgers in the Sid Fernandez deal.  He was pretty much a bench player with less than 150 plate appearances each year.  The Dodgers cut Bailor in the spring of '86.  He sat out the '86 season and then coached in the Jays organization through the '95 season before retiring from pro baseball.

Flipside:  Another significant discrepancy in height as Topps lists Bailor at 5'9" and lists him at 5'11"

Oddball:  Bailor didn't play baseball in high school because his school didn't field a team.  He made his mark in American Legion ball.  Although un-drafted he caught the eye of scout Jocko Collins who signed him for the O's. 

Playing winter ball in Venezuela he was at the beach with some teammates on New Years Day 1974 when pitching prospect Mark Weems drowned in the undertow. Bailor and his fellow farmhands searched for three days but could not locate Weems' body.

History: Bailor was a good glove defender whose versatility helped him get to the big leagues and carve out a decent career.  He was pretty aggressive hitter not taking too many pitches so he neither walked nor struck out much.  He hit well enough (.264 career average) that he often was able to earn starter playing time.
The scrappy Bailor was an original Blue Jay which is probably his biggest claim to fame.  He returned to coach first base with Toronto and won championship rings in '92 and '93.

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

#342 Atlee Hammaker San Francisco Giants

A lot of orange on this card as Atlee Hammaker appears here on his first solo card after sharing a three player card in the '82 set when he was still with the Royals.

Player:  Hammaker was a first round pick of the Royals in '79 and made his MLB debut two years later.  The young lanky lefty allowed 24 runs in 39 innings and was traded the following spring to the Giants in the Vida Blue trade.

Hammaker didn't start the year with San Fran but entered the Giants rotation in May and had an up and down season, finishing with a 4.11 ERA in 27 starts.

Everything was peachy as the '83 season started.  He had a 1.70 ERA at the All-Star break but was bearing the burden few knew about; his shoulder was killing him.  Specifically his rotator cuff. Despite the pain he went to the All-Star game where there was little margin for error.  He allowed seven runs in just 0.2 innings including a grand slam to Fred Lynn, the first in All-Star history. Although his injury limited him to just eight starts the rest of the year, he won the NL ERA title with a nifty 2.25 mark and had the lowest WHIP and BB/9 in the majors.

The surgery recovery and bone spurs limited him to six starts in '84.  Hammaker made 29 starts in '85 but the Giants were pretty awful and he won just five games despite a league average performance.  

The '86 season was a wash as he missed the entire season with a shoulder injury and surgery to both knees.  He was fairly effective when he came back with ERAs between 3.58 - 3.76 over the next three years as he bounced from the rotation to the pen.

Hammaker's ERA rose over four in '90 and the Giants cut him loose in August.  He signed on with the Padres and pitched briefly for them at the end of '90 and one game in '91.  He sat out the '92 and '93 seasons recovering from Tommy John surgery.  

By the time '94 rolled around many had forgotten about the lefty, but Hammaker returned to the majors with the White Sox after some success with their AAA team.  Two scoreless outings in relief meant things were looking up.  The success helped land him a job in the Pale Hose pen in '95 as a lefty specialist but it didn't work out as he allowed nine runs in 6.1 innings.  Hammaker was released and retired from the game.

Flipside:  Three complete games within four weeks in the 1982 highlights!  This was actually was part of a stretch of 52.2 innings over six games.  At that point his arm fell off and the Giants trainers held it together the best they could with duct tape.  I joke, but of course it's hard to say if the workload did him in or not. but he wouldn't see that workload today.

Oddball:  Hammaker warned his five daughters not to date ballplayers but at least one didn't listen and married the Indians Yan Gomes anyway.

History:  Hammaker, whose mother is Japanese, was one of the first Asian-American players in the majors following Mike Lum and Lenn Sakata.  His career was derailed by injuries and unfortunately he is remembered by some for his All-Star game and postseason failures.  In the early 80's Hammaker's future looked bright but he is on a long list of player's who were let down by their health.

Monday, January 16, 2017

#341 Doug DeCinces California Angels

One of the more unique action shots in the set, Doug DeCinces is observed catching pop-up in the bright sunlight.  This is the veteran's ninth Topps card and his first as an Angel.

Player:  Doug DeCinces was an up and coming infielder with the Orioles at a time when they just didn't have room for him.  With future hall of famer Brooks Robinson at third, Mark Belanger at short, and Bobby Grich at second, the O's infield was crowded.  DeCinces had a cup of coffee in '73 and in a single major league game in '74 before sticking as a utility infielder in '75.

With Robinson now 39 years old, Decinces grabbed a bigger chunk of playing time in '76 and despite run-ins with manager Earl Weaver and Baltimore ownership, he eventually settled in at third base. Harsh treatment from Weaver and unfair comparisons to Robinson would plague him his entire stay in Baltimore.

DeCinces spent six years as a starter for the Orioles with his best season with them coming in 1978 when he clubbed 28 HR, slugged .526 and posted a 149 OPS+.  The rest of his Baltimore tenure, before and after, he never hit more than 19 HR or hit higher than .263.

Bookending Baltimore legends, DeCinces was sent packing after the 1981 season to make room for Cal Ripken at the hot corner.  Had the O's realized that Cal could be much more than adequate at short maybe they would have held on to DeCinces.  Instead they swapped him to California for Dan Ford.

DeCinces got a fresh start in California. A notoriously slow starter, he caught fire in the second half batting .340/.412/.653.  He finished the year with career highs in BA .301, 2B 42, HR 30, RBI as he won the Silver Slugger at thirdbase and finished third in MVP voting.

He spent the next six years with the Angels generating good but not always great numbers hitting 16 to 26 HR each year with 2 or 3 WAR seasons.  The Angels cut DeCinces at the tail end of the '87 season and he was picked up by the Cardinals.  He went 2 for 9 with the Redbirds to cap his MLB career.  He traveled to Japan to play one year for the Yakult Swallows.

Flipside:   DeCinces hit three home runs on 8-3-82 and three more on 8-8-82.  That seems the most impressive thing about his season and should have been at the bottom of this card.  Or maybe "Doug started August with 14 hits and 9 HR in 28 at bats." 

Oddball:  A very good bio on DeCinces tells me among other things that he broke his nose four times.

History:  I remember DeCinces as one of the veterans with the Angels who came close but didn't reach the World Series.  It wasn't until after he retired I realized he had been in the '79 World Series. In the fall classic DeCinces slugged a HR in his first WS bat but was 4 for his next 24 as the O's dropped the seven game series to the Pirates.
Then in California, DeCinces and the Halos were knocked out of the ALCS in '82 and '86 with both series going the distance.

Looking back at his career, I can't help but think that DeCinces never was able to live up to his full potential.  Injuries were certainly a factor as he played more than 140 games just four times.  All in all a very good career though.