Monday, October 31, 2011

#28 Bruce Bochte

Card:  This is Bruce Bochte's ninth Topps card.  His rookie card was in the 1975 set.

Picture:  It's a cool picture of Bochte gritting his teeth as he swings.
I think Bochte could pass as Dale Murphy's older brother.  At least by looking at these pics anyway.

Player:  Raise your hand if you ever get Bruce Bochte confused with Bruce Bochy.  Yeah me too.  Alright, we got that out of the way.  Bochte was a 2nd round pick out of Santa Clara Universtiy by the California Angels in 1972.  In his two and a half years in the minors, the Pasadena native batted .327, .319, and .355 before he was called up to the Angels in the middle of 1974.  Splitting time between leftfield and first base, Bochte hit .270 with five home runs in 197 at bats in his rookie year.

Bochte was the Angels everyday firstbasemen in '75 until an injury sidelined him for 50 games.  Bochte didn't hit for much power, but he hit .285 and displayed good bat control with 45 walks and only 43 strikeouts.  In '76 the left handed Bochte split time between first base and the corner outfield spots.  His power lagged as he hit only two homers and seventeen doubles in 466 at bats to go with a disappointing .258 average.

Bochte started the '77 season as the Angels centerfielder and batted .290 through 25 games when the Angels traded him to the Indians in a four player deal.  Playing leftfield and first base for the Indians, Bochte continued to hit well, and posted a combined average of .301 with seven home runs in 137 games.

As a free agent Bochte signed with the Mariners for the '78 season.  Batting .263 Bochte hit double digits in the HR category for the for the first time in his career with eleven.  1979 was a career year for Bochte as he batted .316, with 38 doubles, 16 home runs, and 100 RBI.  Bochte made the A.L. All-Star team and the firstbaseman quickly had become one the Mariners first stars.

Bochte batted .300 with 34 doubles and 13 long balls in '80 as he had another decent year.  The strike year of '81 was a down year as Bochte hit only .260 with six homers in 335 at bats.  In '82 Bochte split time between left field and first base and batted .297 but his extra base power was down with only 21 doubles and 12 home runs in 509 at bats.

Bochte would sit out the entire the entire '83 season as a protest against players escalating salaries, believing it was destroying baseball.  After missing the '83 season, Bochte then signed a contract with the Oakland A's for the '84 season.  Bochte hit only .264 with limited power (.345 SLG) in his first year with the A's.  In '85 the A's platooned Bochte and he responded by hitting .295 with 14 home runs in 424 at bats.  Although playing strictly against right handed pitching, Bochte struggled in '86 and could only muster twenty extra base hits while batting .256.
The 35 year-old Bochte walked away from baseball with a career .282 batting average, 1,478 hits and 100 home runs.

Flipside:  Once again Topps omits a much better performance from the highlights listed on the back.  On Sept. 7 against the Royals, Bochte went 4 for 4 with a home run and two RBI in a 5-2 win.

Oddball:  Some former ball players go into coaching, some pursue scouting or work in the front office.  Others go into broadcasting or start their own business.  The free-thinking Bochte became a cosmologist studying the evolution of the solar system and human kind.  Bochte has been labeled many things but you can read more here.  He really has fallen off the grid and isn't involved at all in baseball anymore.

History:  Bochte was an All-Star in '78 for the young Seattle Mariner franchise and a player fans looked to as a star.  Bochte didn't have the power of most firstbasemen but he played good defense, made contact, drew some walks and could be counted on for an average around .300.
His mysterious mid-career holdout to protest high salaries is a head-scratcher.  Bochte kept the first base job warm in Oakland for Mark McGwire to take over in '87.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

#27 Doug Corbett

Card: Doug Corbett appears here on card #27, his third Topps card.  His rookie card is in the '81 set.

Picture: Corbett is getting ready to let loose with one of his sidearm deliveries.  Corbett's left arm is really torqued in a strange way.  If you don't believe me, get up outta your chair, bend your elbow and point your palm to the sky.

Player: Corbett was signed out of the University of Florida by the Royals in '74 as an undrafted free agent and immediately put to use for their rookie league team.  Although he had a 3.00 ERA in 42 innings he was released the following spring.  I guess undrafted players don't have a lot of rope.  Maybe he parked in manager Jack McKeon's parking spot, or maybe he sat in John Mayberry's favorite chair or maybe he just wasn't that impressive. We may never know. 

Corbett was picked up by the Reds and spent the '75 and '76 seasons coming out of the pen and fooling single-A hitters while posting ERAs of 1.48 and 2.22.  In 1977 Corbett was promoted to double-A and pitched 88 innings with a 2.76 ERA.  Corbett split the next year between double and triple-A ball and had a combined 2.13 ERA with 14 saves in 93 innings of action.  Corbett didn't light up the radar gun and as a result wasn't at the top of anyone's prospect list.  Corbett spent all of '79 at AAA and posted a 2.95 ERA in 110 innings of relief. 

While Corbett languished in the minors, the Minnesota Twins were seeking help in their bullpen and selected Corbett in the rule-V draft.  Corbett made his debut in a scoreless game in the 8th inning of the opener against the A's and pitched five scoreless one-hit innings to pick up the win in relief.  At the end of April he was 3-0 with a 2.08 ERA.  By May, Corbett had moved into the closer's role and continued to pitch well.  The rubber armed Corbett pitched 136.1 innings, saved 23 games, and posted a 1.98 ERA.  Corbett finished third in Rookie of the Year voting.

Corbett's second year was excellent as well.  In the strike shortened '81 season Corbett led the league in games and games finished with 54 and 45 respectively.  Corbett earned another 17 saves and ended the year with a 2.57 ERA.  The undrafted Corbett who had toiled seven years in the minors finally got some recognition when he was selected to the AL All-Star team.

Corbett started the '82 season as the Twins closer but was traded in May with Rob Wilfong to the Angels for Tom Brunansky.  Corbett had a rough year going 1-9 with a 5.13 ERA.  Corbett's struggles continued into '83 and after a blown save on May 1, he was sent down to to AAA Edmonton.  Corbett had mixed results in Edmonton but pitched well enough to get called back up in September.  Corbett ended '83 having pitched 11 games for the Angels with a 3.63 ERA. 

After a two game stint at Edmonton to start the '84 season, Corbett re-joined the Angels and got his groove back.  Corbett earned four saves in 85 innings with a 2.12 ERA.  Corbett slipped back to mediocrity in '85 with a 4.89 ERA in 46 innings.

In '86 Corbett would bounce back again.  Working in an excellent bullpen with fellow veterans Donnie Moore, Terry Forster, and Gary Lucas along with rookie Chuck Finley, Corbett contributed 10 saves and a 3.66 ERA in 78.2 innings.  Corbett pitched three games in the ALCS against the Red Sox and earned the win in game 4 with 3.2 innings of scoreless relief.  The Angels would go on to lose in seven games.

Depsite his successful year, as the '87 season started, Corbett was an unsigned free-agent until hooking back up with the Angels in May.  Corbett pitching again at AAA Edmonton had a 1.69 ERA in 10 games when the Angels released him a month later.  Corbett caught on with the Orioles and was roughed up in 23 innings with the Birds yielding a 7.83 ERA.

Corbett got into coaching at the high school and college levels.  In spring training of '95, the 42 year old Corbett pitched briefly for the Atlanta Braves as a replacement player during the strike of '95.

Stuff: Corbett featured a side-arm sinker in the mid to low 80's, a slider and a change up.  Corbett was know to throw a spit ball from time to time and with the natural movement on his sinker probably got accused of throwing it much more than he actually did.  Corbett started throwing a split-finger in '86.

Flipside:  I have to wonder how Topps picked out the highlights on the back of the cards.  Corbett had a scoreless three inning save in a 3-2 game on May 5 against the Red Sox which seems more impressive than the 0.2 innings he pitched as mentioned on 6/29.

Oddball:  Corbett caused a bit of a fuss by wearing red shoes during the '81 All-Start game when everyone else wore black.  It was thought to be a jab at the Reds organization where Corbett spent the '75-'79 seasons in the minors.

History:  Corbett waited a while to make his mark in the majors.  He had three excellent seasons and one good one mixed in with some rough patches.  Corbett had a very durable arm and often was asked to throw two, three, or even four or more innings out of the pen in pressure situations.  An informative interview with Corbett can be found on on the blog.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

#26 Jerry Royster

Card: This is Royster's eighth Topps card.  He first appeared on a Topps card along with Dave McKay, Roy Staiger, and Willie Randolph.

Picture: Another card with a lot of light blue, although I'm not as fond of this one as the Hal McRae card.  Needs just a bit of contrast.  Royster's inset picture looks like the camera man just asked him for the square root of five.

Player: Jerry Royster was signed by the LA Dodgers as a 17 year old undrafted free agent in 1970.  Royster started his pro career at single-A Daytona Beach in '71 and advanced to double-A El Paso in '72.  Playing third base, second base, shortstop and outfield for AAA Albuquerque, Royster batted .302 before he was called up to the bigs in August 1973.  Royster flourished at AAA in '74 and '75 but only saw MLB action once the rosters expanded in September.  Trying to break into the Dodgers infield in the 70's was like trying break into the CIA headquarters.
Having nothing left to prove in the minors, Royster was mercifully traded in a six player deal to the Braves.  Royster was the Braves everyday third baseman in '76 batting .248 with 24 steals.  He played regularly in '77 and moved all over the infield but batted only .216.  

The versatile Royster played multiple positions and was a starter over the next three years with batting averages between .242 - .273.  In '79 Royster had career highs with 35 stolen bases and 103 runs scored, but his performance tailed off in '80.
Playing a reduced role in '81, Royster batted only .204 in 93 at bats.
Royster had one of his better seasons in '82 as the Braves won the NL East.  Royster contributed with 14 steals, a .295 average and good defense at thirdbase and leftfield.  Royster had two hits in eleven at bats in the NLCS against the victorious Cardinals.
Royster continued in the utility role in '83 and '84 but didn't hit much and was not re-signed after the '84 season in which he posted an anemic line of .207/.257/.295.

Royster signed with the Padres in '85 and had a much better year.  While filling in at second and third Royster batted .281 in 249 at bats. Royster, playing the same role in '86 batted .257 and was allowed to leave via free agency after the season.
Royster signed on with the White Sox in '87 and despite only 154 at bats, he hit a career high seven home runs.  The Yankees looking for infield depth traded for the multi-purpose veteran in a late August deadline deal.  Royster seeing action in 18 games down the stretch hit 15 for 42 (.357) but the Yankees finished in fourth place.

In April of '88 Royster was released by the Yankees.  Royster was picked up by the Braves in May.  The '88 Braves were an awful team and Royster played six positions and batted .176 in 102 at bats.
Royster retired as a player and promptly got into coaching.

Flipside: Royster had four hit games on 9/24 and 9/28, both coming in Brave wins.  I guess the two RBI games were more impressive to Topps 
Five of those nineteen career homers Royster hit through 1982 were against the Reds.

Oddball: How bad were the 1988 Braves?  They were so bad that in July they gave the light hitting 35 year-old Royster nine straight starts as their centerfielder.

History: Royster was a quick but light hitting utility man for sixteen seasons.  Looking over his career stats he was often miscast by the Braves as a leadoff hitter.  He had the speed but not the on base ability as indicated by his career .315 OBP.
Royster has managed in the minors for the Dodgers and Padres and has been on major league coaching staffs for the Rockies and Brewers. Royster piloted the Milwaukee Brewers to a last place finish in 2002.
Royster has managed the Lotte Giants in the Korean Baseball Organization since '08.  Jerry Royster became first non-Korean to manage in the KBO.

Friday, October 28, 2011

#25 Hal McRae

Card: Here is Hal McRae on card number 25, his 14th Topps card.  McRae's first card was with fellow Reds prospect Bill Henry way back in the '68 set.  McRae next showed up on a three player card in '70 before getting his own card in '71.  In all, McRae appeared on 18 cards as a player and several more as a manager.

Picture: This is a really nice card.  I like the way the light blue and purple colors on the border compliment the blues of McRae's uniform as he digs in at the plate.  The seats in the background are blue and some blurry person is wearing a purple-ish shirt.

Player: McRae was drafted by the Reds in 1965 and came up through their system as a speedy second baseman.  McRae made his MLB debut with the Reds in '68 playing 17 games. That winter while playing winter ball in Puerto Rico, McRae broke his leg in four places sliding into home plate.  This had a big impact on his career in that it took away a good deal of his speed, limited his range in the field, and cost him almost all of the '69 season.  McRae battled back but his '69 campaign was limited to a handful of games at AAA Indianapolis.

McRae was moved to LF and stuck with the Reds for the entire '70 season as a reserve, batting .248 with 8 HR in 165 at bats.  After going 0-4 versus the Pirates in the NLCS, McRae went 5-11 in a losing effort against the Orioles in the 1970 World Series.  McRae saw increased playing time in '71 and batted .264 with 24 doubles and 9 homers in 337 at bats.  1972 was a different story as the Reds used McRae almost almost exclusively as a pinch hitter. Used in that role in 42 of his 61 games, McRae was productive and batted .278 and 9 extra base hits in 97 at bats. McRae didn't bat in the NLCS but batted 4 for 9 as the Reds lost to the A's in the World Series.  Before the calendar turned to '73, the Reds swapped McRae and Wayne Simpson to the Royals for Roger Nelson and Richie Scheinblum.  You can judge for yourself who got the better of the deal.

The Royals utilized McRae as a part time RF/DH in '73 and he struggled to adapt to the new league batting only .234.  In '74 McRae became a full-time player mostly at DH and he delivered with .310/.375/.475 slash stats.  Taking advantage of the spacious outfield in Kansas City McRae knocked 36 doubles and drove in 88 runs.

With Harmon Killebrew playing his swan song in Kansas City, McRae played left field more than DH in '75.  McRae continued to hit, batting .306 with 38 doubles.  Employed at DH in '76 McRae batted .332 finishing just behind teammate George Brett in the infamous batting race.  McRae claimed that the Twins let Brett's fly ball drop in the last game because they wanted a white player to win the title.  McRae did have a fine season, leading the AL in OBP (.406) and OPS (.868).   McRae batted 2 for 16 as the Royals lost in five games to the Yankees in the ALCS. 

Playing every game on th '77 schedule, McRae hit an AL high 54 doubles, and his 11 triples, 21 HR, and 92 RBI were all career highs.  Despite McRae batting 8 for 18 with three doubles and a HR, the Royals were bounced out of the playoffs by the Bronx Bombers again.  During game 2 of the series, McRae steam rolled Willie Randolph to break up a double play. This helped institute the rule that runners must slide into second and can't knock middle infielders into oblivion.

McRae's stats dropped off in '78 and although he ripped 39 doubles his average slipped to .273.  The Yankees dispatched of McRae and the Royals for a third consecutive year as McRae went 3-14 in four games.  In '79 McRae missed time with a shoulder injury and would bat .288 in 101 games. 

McRae would again be bothered with injuries in '80 but he still put up some big time numbers.  Playing in 124 games McRae batted .297 and hit 39 more doubles as the Royals won the AL West for the fourth time in five years.  After beating the rival Yanks in three games, the Royals lost to the Phillies in the World Series despite nine hits from McRae.
McRae's struggled in the strike shortened '81 (.272 BA, .396 SLG) and the Royals lost in the ALDS to the A's. McRae came back with a monster season in '82 batting .308 with a career high 27 HR and 133 RBI. His RBI total led the league as did his 46 doubles. 

Even though the home runs dropped to 12, 1983 was another good season for McRae as he batted .311 with 41 doubles.  In 1984 McRae was slumping badly, batting .250 with only one home run when the veteran lost his starting DH gig in June.  McRae still played semi-regularly and brought his average up to .303 but he only had 20 extra base hits for the year.  McRae had hits in both pinch hitting appearances in the '84 ALCS, but once again the Royals fell short, this time getting swept by the Tigers.

Playing part time in '85, McRae batted only .259 but contributed with 19 doubles and 14 home runs in 320 at bats as the Royals won the AL West.  The Royals made it past the Blue Jays and played the Cardinals in the '85 World Series.  Pinch hitting three times, McRae got on base twice with a walk and a HBP.  The Royals triumphed over the Cards and in his ninth trip to the post season, at age 40, McRae had finally won a championship.
McRae played part time again in '86 and batted only .252.  He came back to the Royals in '87 but was used very little and was released in July despite a .313 average in 32 at bats. 

Flipside: Looking at his Reds years from '68-'72 on the back of his card here, I can't help but wonder what might have happened if McRae hadn't broken his leg.  Would he have earned a starting spot in the Reds outfield? Could he have been a part of the mid-seventies Big Red Machine? 
Oddball: McRae hit a lot of doubles. A ton. 23.1% of his career hits were doubles.  Where does this rank? I'm not really sure.  I looked at 50 or 60  players from the doubles career leaders list and found only one player who had a higher percentage...Bobby Areau at 23.2% and that will likely drop if he keeps playing.

History: McRae was a great hitter, a three time All-Star, and baseball's first full time DH.  McRae had six seasons where he didn't need a glove.  McRae was on some great teams and won a championship with the Royals. 
After his playing career he managed the Royals from '91-'94 and the Devil Rays from '01-02.  Of course if you punch in "Hal McRae" in any search engine the first thing you find is his legendary blow-up while addressing the KC media in '93.
McRae has been a hitting coach for the Reds, Phillies and Cardinals, winning another ring while he was with the Redbirds in '06. 
Hal's son Brian was a decent player who racked up 1,336 hits in his ten year career.  In fact Brian was drafted in the first round by the Royals in '85 when his ol' man was helping the Royals to their only championship.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

#24 Steve Mura

Card: This is Mura's fifth card.  Mura shared a black and white rookie card in the '79 set with Jim Beswick and a very happy Broderick Perkins.

Picture: Mura playing catch along the third base line at Shea Stadium in New York.  In his powder blue Cardinal uniform he nearly blends into the background in the inset picture.

Player: Mura was drafted in the 2nd round by the Padres in the '76 draft out of Tulane University.  Mura struggled with his control in the minors, walking 257 in 414 innings through the '78 season.  Nonetheless he was called up in September of '78 by the Padres and surrendered ten runs in seven plus innings. 
Mura won a spot in the Padres pen in '79 and made spot starts throughout the year.  Mura finished 4-4 with two saves and a 3.08 ERA. 

In 1980 Mura came out of the pen for 14 games to start the year and then moved into the rotation on May 30.  He pitched well enough to stay in the rotation all year and topped off the year with a complete game, four hit shutout in his last start.  Mura finished with an 8-7 record and a 3.67 ERA in 169 innings.

Mura pitched poorly in '81 winning only five with a league high fourteen losses, a 4.28 ERA and a 1.486 WHIP.
Traded to St. Louis in the Ozzie Smith / Garry Templeton deal, Mura was able to bounce back with a 12-11 season for the playoff bound Cardinals.  Mura's greatest asset was his ability to work deep into games and eat up innings.  Mura threw seven complete games but his pedestrian 84/80 strikeout to walk ratio didn't exactly strike fear into the opposition. Despite pitching the third most innings on the team Mura wasn't used in the postseason as he watched his teammates defeat the Brewers in the World Series.

Mura moved on to the White Sox in '83 when they chose him as a free agency compensation pick.  Mura started out the year pitching in long relief but could not hang with the team.  Demoted to AAA, he went 3-11, with a 4.82 ERA in Denver.

Mura spent all of '84 in AAA pitching in Portland for the Phillies top farm team.  Picked up by Oakland in '85 Mura worked his way back to the majors for a mid-season call up.  Pitching in long relief he pitched 46 innings with a 4.13 ERA, a 1-1 record and one save.  Mura then retired and started a pool service company.

Stuff: Fastball, curve, slider, and a slower curve that he used as an off speed pitch.

Flipside: Mura no doubt benefited from having Ozzie Smith behind in him in both San Diego and St. Louis.  Looking at those SO/BB ratios, he needed all the help he could get from his defense.

Oddball:  Mura had a strange '82 season in that he had seven complete games but also had eleven starts where he failed to finish the fifth inning.

History: Mura was on the St Louis championship team of '82 but didn't get to play in postseason.  Likewise he had a shot at staying with the division winning White Sox in '83 but was ineffective.  Mura didn't have the greatest control and was pretty hittable and thus his career was over before he was 31. 
Mura currently owns Bayou Pool Service in Trabuco California.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

#23 Mike Heath

Card: This is Heath's fifth Topps card.  His rookie card is one of those awful black and white prospect cards with Brian Doyle and Dave Rajsich in the '79 set

Picture: It looks like Heath is looking at a fly ball to left center.  Technically he should be listed as a C-OF-3B if they consider the number of games by position in '82.

Player: Heath, drafted in the 2nd round by the Yankees in '73, played shortstop in the minors before moving behind the dish in '76.  In June of '78 Heath was called to the big leagues to back up Thurman Munson.  Heath batted .228 in 33 regular season games, made the postseason roster, and appeared in one World Series game as the Yankees knocked off the Dodgers.
The Yankees traded Heath to the Rangers and he spent the first half of the '79 season at AAA Tucson before being traded to the A's.  Oakland kept him in the big leagues and Heath was able to play everyday for the last place A's, rotating beteen rightfield, leftfield and catcher.  Heath batted .256 and made a nice impression by throwing out 11 of 25 runners on steal attempts.
From '80 to '83 Heath's playing time for the A's was consistent, racking up 321 to 366 at bats each year.  His role for the A's was a time share behind the plate with Oakland backstops Jeff Newman and Jim Essian, occasionally playing the outfield, and filling in at thirdbase when needed.  Although he didn't usually hit for much power, he launched homers in three consecutive games Aug 27-29 in 1981.  Heath started two of the A's games in the '81 ALDS but went 0-8. Heath had better personal results in the ALCS getting two hits in six at bats in a losing effort to the Yankees.  Another highlight for Heath was catching Mike Warren's no-hitter on Sept 29, 1983.  Over these four years Heath played good defense and averaged four long balls and batted .251.  Heath was able to play everyday in '84 and '85 batting .248 and .250 with 13 HR each year.
The Oakland A's traded Heath to the Cardinals after the '85 season but the 31 year-old receiver struggled in Senior Circuit.  Batting .206 in August, the Cardinals traded Heath to the Detroit Tigers for Ken Hill.  Heath, back in the more familiar AL, rebounded hitting .265 with four HR in 30 games.  In '87 Tiger manager Sparky Anderson platooned Heath and left handed rookie Matt Nokes behind the plate.  Sparky wasn't afraid to use Heath all over the field playing him everywhere but pitcher.  Heath responded with perhaps his finest season with slash stats of .281/.331/.430 and threw out 39% of would be base stealers.  Heath hit a homerun in game two of the ALCS but the Tigers eventually lost in five games to the Twins.
Heath continued with the Tigers over the next three years, getting more playing time as Nokes was unable to stay in the lineup.  Heath put up familiar stats, between five and ten dingers with averages ranging from .247 to .270.
Heath signed as a free agent with the Braves for the '91 season.  While catching in a game against the Reds on July 2, Heath was flattened by Barry Larkin in a home plate collision.  The violent impact put Heath on the disabled list for the rest of the year.
Coming off an injury and a .209 batting average, the 37 year-old  Heath was unable to make it back to the majors in '92 so he finished his career playing for Oakland's AAA affiliate in Tacoma. 

Flipside: Trying to find five highlights for a part time light hitting catcher is no easy feat.

Oddball: Heath's card from '88 makes him look like an amputee.
Sparky Anderson once said Johnny Bench never threw as hard as Mike Heath did...try living that down.

History: Heath won a championship as a rookie and played on two other division winners.  Heath although not a great hitter was consistent with the bat.  He was a good defensive catcher and filled in when needed in the outfield and third base.  Heath managed for a year and a half in the White Sox chain and now makes himself available as a motivational speaker.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

#22 Randy Martz

Card: This is Martz's third and final Topps card. His rookie card was a three player card in '81.

Picture: Martz and his wispy mustache are shown following through after a pitch.  Looks like a sunny day at the ballpark.
Player: Martz was chosen 12th overall in the first round in the '77 draft.  Having recorded a perfect 14-0 record at South Carolina, Martz was promoted as the future ace of the Cubs.  Martz soon worked his way up to AAA, but was hit hard in both '78 and '79.  Martz earned a September call up in 1980 after going 8-6 with a 3.13 ERA.  Plugged into the rotation, Martz made six starts, winning one and losing two with a 2.08 ERA.  Martz pitched to contact and although he gave up only seven earned runs, he also gave up seven more unearned runs and only managed to strikeout five batters in 30.1 innings.
In '82 Martz started and finished the year in the bullpen but made 14 starts in May, June, and July.  Overall Martz went 5-7 with a 3.68 ERA and recorded six saves. 
Martz was the Cubs number five starter in '82 and earned eleven wins with ten defeats and a 4.21 ERA.  A control pitcher who threw a lot of ground balls, Martz' strikeout totals were ridiculously low.  In 147.2 innings he only whiffed 40 batters. 

Perhaps disappointed with there once promising prospect, the Cubs shipped Martz across town with Scott Fletcher, Pat Tabler and Dick Tidrow to the Chicago White Sox for Warren Brusstar and Steve TroutPitching mostly at AAA Denver, Martz did pitch one game for the White Sox in '83.  Martz received a no decision after allowing two runs in five innings of work.
Martz spent '84 and '85 getting roughed up at the AAA level for three different teams before retiring at age 29.

Stuff:  I couldn't find any description of Martz' arsenal.  Looking at his stats it appears he got a lot of ground balls and didn't have much of an out pitch.  I did find a quote saying he threw 90 mph at one point but struggled to get guys out when after an injury he couldn't break 85.

Flipside: Nice wax stain on the back, eh? I read that Martz played three years as a tight end for the South Carolina Gamecocks.  How do you think a 215 lb tight end would fare in the SEC now-a-days?

Oddball: Like other pitchers with low strikeout totals Martz had to rely on keeping the ball in the park and timely double plays for him to be effective.  Here is a good article about pitchers with low strikeouts rates.

History: Martz was a disappointment to Cubs fans and management who expected much more from the former first round pick.  Martz went into coaching and has been the manager for Lewis and Clark Community College since 1991.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

#21 Baltimore Orioles

Team Leaders: Murray and Palmer, a pair of Hall of Famers represent the '82 Orioles well.  Murray also led the team in HR (32)and RBI (110).  Dennis Martinez led the team with 16 wins and 111 strikeouts.  Tippy Martinez led the team with 16 saves.

Record: 94-68, 2nd in AL East, 1 game behind Milwaukee

Most Common Lineup:
1. Bumbry CF
2. Gulliver 3B
3. Singleton DH
4. Murray 1B
5. Lowenstein / Roenicke LF
6. Ripken SS
7. Ford/Dwyer RF
8. Dempsey C
9. Dauer 2B

Sakata also saw a lot of time at SS, with Ripken at 3B.

Pitching Staff:
D.Martinez 39 GS
MacGregor 37 GS
Flanagan 35 GS 
Palmer 32 GS

Closer- T.Martinez 16 saves / Stoddard 12 saves

It was pretty much a four man rotation... was it the last one?  Sammy Stewart and Storm Davis filled in when needed with twelve and eight starts respectively.  The Orioles only used 13 pitchers all season, with the top four starters all logging 226 or more innings. Man, how the game has changed.  Mop up / long reliever Ross Grimsley didn't get a card but was on the team the whole season.  As the ninth man on the staff he was only used in 21 games with 60 innings pitched.  

Flipside: The card back lists 24 players plus manager Earl Weaver. In all four HOFs on the checklist: Weaver, Murray, Palmer, and Ripken.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

#20 Carlton Fisk

If you've been paying attention you probably noticed Topps continues their long standing tradition of reserving cards ending in factors of five to stars. Let's see so far- #10 Gorman Thomas, #15 Ron Cey, and..... #20 Carlton Fisk.

Card: This is Fisk's 12th Topps card. He shared a rookie card with Cecil Cooper and Mike Garman in 1972. Fisk played so long he had cards before, during, and after I was actively collecting. Overall he appeared in 22 regular issue cards from '72 - '93.

Picture: Fisk is pictured here shouting out instructions to his teammates. As a kid I always though he looked like he was crying. He's probably yelling "Two ouu-uuts" or something like that. We get a good look at one of the numerous White Sox uniform
variations that they seemed to change every three or four years in the 70's and 80's. I always liked this variety. Although having a uniform number on the upper thigh / groin area seems kind of awkward, I always thought it was cool.

Player: Carlton Fisk was drafted in the first round of the 1967 draft by the Red Sox out of the University of New Hampshire.  In '68 Fisk tore up single-A ball and did well enough in '69 to earn a two game look in September.  Not quite ready, Fisk spent all of '70 and almost all of '71 refining his game in the high minors. Given a longer look in September of '71, Fisk hit .313 in 48 at bats.  Fisk was in the show  to stay, not returning to the minors except for a eight game rehab assignment 21 years later!
On the bench behind two veterans, Fisk worked his way into a starting job in '72 by virtue of injury to Duane Josephson and Bob Montgomery's lack of defensive ability.  Fisk had a great season, batting .293, belting 22 HR, and a league leading with nine triples. This led to Fisk winning the Rookie of the Year, a Gold Glove, and finishing fourth in MVP voting.  Fisk's average dropped a bit in '73 due to a long second half slump, but he still managed to hit 26 HR.
1974 would bring adversity as he missed the first 17 games of the season due to injury and saw his season end on June 28 when he tore knee ligaments when he found himself on the receiving end of a home plate collision.  At the time of the injury Fisk had a .299 batting average and 11 HR in 187 at bats.
Fisk rehabbed his knee but was hit by a pitch in spring training and suffered a broken arm and did not return to the Red Sox until June of '75.  Batting .331 with 10 HR in half a season of action, Fisk helped lead the Red Sox to the playoffs against the Oakland A's. Fisk went five for twelve as the Red Sox swept the A's and matched up with the Reds in the World Series.  Down three games to two, Fisk hit the one of the most memorable home runs of all-time.  Of course I'm referring to his 12th inning game winning blast that bounced off the left field foul pole as Fisk waved for the ball to stay fair.  Despite Fisk's heroics the Red Sox lost in seven games to the Reds.
Fisk's play in '76 wasn't remarkable but in '77 and '78 Fisk was a workhorse.  Starting 299 games behind the plate, he was productive as ever, batting .299 with 46 HR and 190 RBI over the two seasons.
"Pudge" endured an injury plagued '79 season but bounced back in '80 with a typical Fisk season with 18 HR and a .289 average.
When Red Sox management somehow forgot to mail Fisk's contract on time he suddenly became a free agent.  Since his relationship with Boston brass had been falling apart, he was open to leaving his native New England.  The White Sox made him feel wanted when they offered a five year, $2.9 million deal to come to the south side of Chicago.
Fisk had moderate success in '81 and '82 but the White Sox were slowly improving.  1983 was a big year as Fisk cranked out 26 dingers and helped lead the ChiSox to the postseason.  Fisk and the White Sox struggled against the Orioles and were knocked out of the ALCS in four games.  The next season would be the least productive of his career thus far as he batted only .231 in only 102 games.  At age 37 most catchers are retired or reduced to back up roles.  Not Fisk, he bounced back by hitting a career best 37 HR in '85.  Moved to left field at the start of '86 for reasons still unknown perhaps to all except former Sox manager Tony LaRussa, Fisk struggled hitting only 14 HR and batting just .221. 
Fisk plugged away and over his age 39 to 43 seasons, he played remarkably well for his age averaging 18 long balls a year with a .267 average.  Fisk would play another year and a half breaking the all-time record for games caught with 2,226, but the 45 year-old Fisk would be unceremoniously released days later on June 28, 1993.

Flipside: You see that cup-o-coffee Fisk got in '69?  That allowed him to play major league ball in four decades.

Oddball: Fisk's first love was hoops and he went to New Hampshire on a basketball scholarship.  Fisk realized his size and talent were better utilized on the diamond rather than the hardwood and dedicated himself to the game.

History: Fisk is remembered as a fiery catcher who wasn't afraid to put someone in their place if he thought they needed it.  Maybe it was that same fiery personality that led to conflicts with both Boston and Chicago management through the years, but it's a shame he was released the way he was.  Fisk was extremely durable, played great defense, hit for power, and played the most demanding position on the field into his mid-forties.  Fisk has the second most home runs by a catcher and the second most games caught.  Fisk had a tremendous career winning a gold glove, three silver sluggers, and a Rookie of the Year award.  Fisk was named to eleven All-Star teams, received MVP votes in seven different seasons and was elected to the Hall of Fame in 2000.
Fisk has since patched things up with both of his former teams and has witnessed his number 27 retired in Boston and 72 retired in Chicago.
Fisk currently does work for and is an honorary board member of the Cancer Support Center.

Friday, October 21, 2011

#19 Oscar Gamble

Card: This is Gamble's 14th Topps card.  Gamble would appear in the Topps set from 1970 - 1985

Pic: The left handed Gamble appears to be making his way out of the batter's box and heading down the line.  Although he isn't sporting his well known afro I can't let the opportunity pass without discussing it. The best look at his 'fro can be seen in his '76 Topps traded card.  Looking at shots from his '73 to '82 cards we see the evolution of his iconic hair do:
As you can see in his '77 card (5th from left), Steinbrenner made him trim his hair. Obviously he got away with a bigger 'fro the second around with the Yanks.  But by the '82 season things were changing, and so was Gamble's hair.

Player: Gamble was a left handed hitting, right handed throwing corner outfielder and DH.  He was drafted by the Cubs in the 16th round of the '68 draft, having been discovered playing semi-pro ball by Negro League legend Buck O'Neill. At only 19, Gamble made his MLB debut joining the Cubs in late August of '69 and batted .225 in 71 at bats. Prior to the '70 season, the Cubs sent Gamble to the Phillies for Johnny Callison. 
The next three seasons Gamble would split time between AAA Eugene and the Phillies.  Not hitting for much power or average, Gamble struggled to find his niche. Gamble was again traded, this time to the Indians in a four player deal.
With the Indians Gamble found his groove in '73.  Employed as a platoon DH and occasional left fielder Gamble saw his power increase, knocking 20, 19, and 15 homers.  From '73-'75 Gamble's average was .267, .291, and .261 and he proved he was a solid contact hitter by walking more than he struck out.
After the '75 campaign Gamble was dealt to the Yankees for Pat Dobson.  Gamble slugged 17 dingers but saw his average drop to .232.  Gamble reached the postseason for the first time in his career but struggled and the Reds defeated the Yankees in the '76 World Series.  On the verge of the '77 season Gamble was traded for the fourth time in his career, this time to the White Sox in the Bucky Dent deal.
Once again slotted as a DH against right handed pitching, Gamble had a breakout year for the White Sox with 31 home runs and 83 RBI, both career highs.  Gamble batted .293, had a .386 OBP and slugged .588.  With free agency looming Gamble was looking to cash in on his big year and made it known that he wanted top dollar, which quickly turned off the White Sox.
The Padres signed Gamble to a six-year deal paying him $475,000 per year. As with many high dollar free agent signings, Gamble failed to live up to expectations.  Unable to DH in the National League, Gamble showed a strong arm, splitting time between left and right field but his range was inadequate.  Gamble batted .275 but could only manage seven homers for his new team.  Almost as soon as the season ended Gamble was traded to the Rangers in a five player deal.
Gamble started off well in Texas in '79, and despite missing 26 games in May to injury he was batting .335 at the end of July.  Perhaps looking to trade their new acquisition while he was hot, the Rangers traded Gamble to the Yankees in an eight player deal that sent Mickey Rivers to the Rangers. 
With the Yankees, Gamble got even hotter and batted .389 the rest of the way. Gamble was able to make roots in New York but injuries robbed him of some playing time in the following seasons.  Gamble contributed with decent power and good on base numbers over the next three years. Gamble was re-signed for year at $700,00 but struggled in 1984 batting .184 although he did hit 10 long balls in 125 at bats.
After his poor year the Yankees let Gamble walk and he signed with the White Sox.  Batting only .204 with four homers, Gamble was released in August and thus Gamble's career had reached it's end at the age of 35.

Flipside: It's weird to see a card back with that many seasons without at least one with 500 at bats.

Oddball: One of my favorite quotes was uttered by Gamble in response to perceived racism in baseball: "They don't think it be like it is, but it do"

History: Gamble has gotten a lot of notoriety for his Afro hairstyle and cool vibe.  Gamble was an effective power hitting left handed weapon that his managers enjoyed plugging in against right handed pitching.  Gamble missed out on a championship during his career but will be remembered for someone who thrived in the spotlight in New York.
Today Gamble takes part in Yankee fantasy camps and old timer games.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

#18 Kent Tekulve Super Veteran

The 1983 set includes 34 Super Veteran cards.  The cards feature side by side photos of selected veteran players, a current picture and a black and white picture from early in their career.  The back notes different milestones from their career. I have decided that I will chronicle the following for the 34 super-vets: Then and Now, Career Span, All-Star games, League Leader, All Time Ranks, Post Season experience, MVP/CY voting, and Hall of Fame.

Then and Now: Tekulve looks pretty much the same.  Tekulve's role didn't fluctuate much in his career.  Tekulve was either setting up the closer or closing out games himself.  He held the career record for most games pitched without a start until John Franco broke the mark.

Career Span: 5/20/74 - 7/16/89

All-Star: Only once in 1980, but he did not play.

League Leader: Tekulve led the league in games pitched in '78, '79, '82 and '87.

All Time Ranks: Tekulve ranks 8th all-time with 1,050 games and 52nd with 184 saves.

Post Season: Lost in '75 LCS to the Big Red Machine.  Won championship in '79 with Willie Stargell and the "We are Family" Pirates.

MVP/ CY: Tekulve finished 8th and 13th in '78 and '79 in MVP voting. He finished 5th in Cy Young voting both years.

Hall of Fame: No. Tekulve received 1.3% of the vote in '95 and was removed from the ballot.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

#17 Kent Tekulve

Card: This is Kent Tekulve's eighth Topps card. He would end up appearing on five more base cards.  For some reason Topps did not include him in the '89 set even though he appeared in 70 games in '88 and would go to pitch again in '89.

Picture: Like many of his previous Topps cards this one shows Tekulve in the follow through of his low side arm delivery.

Player: Signed in 1969 as an undrafted free-agent, Tekulve toiled in the minors for over five seasons before reaching the Pirates in May, 1974.  After giving up six runs in nine innings of work Tekulve was sent back down to AAA in June. Tekulve started 1975 in the minors but would be called up in late June.  Setting up for closer Dave Guisti, Tekulve would appear in 34 games, with 56 innings, 5 saves and a 2.25 ERA in '75.
Tekulve got a few more chances to close out games in '76 finishing with 9 saves and a 2.45 ERA in 102.2 innings pitched but was sharing closer duties in a crowded Pirate pen with Guisti and Bob Moose.  Tekulve set up for closer Rich Gossage in '77, once again logging more than 100 innings, with a 10-1 record and 7 saves in 72 relief appearances.
With Gossage leaving for the Yankees in free agency, Tekulve stepped into the closer role for the Pirates. Tekulve was a workhorse out of the pen pitching in 91 games and 135.1 innings to go with 31 saves and a 2.33 ERA.  Tekulve was able to follow up his successful '78 campaign with a nearly identical season.   In '79 Tekulve appeared in 94 games and pitched 134.1 innings with another 31 saves as the Pirates won the NL East.  The Pirates swept the Reds in three games in the NLCS.  After earning the save in game two, Tekulve would lose game four of the World Series versus the Orioles.  He bounced back to earn the save in game six and the clincher in game seven.
Despite 21 saves and a 3.39 ERA in 1980, Tekulve blew 11 saves and was not used as much as the previous two years. Tekulve started '81 in a slump. Through his first 12 games he had lost three and blown the save in three others and had a 6.28 ERA.  Although stripped of his closer role Tekulve bounced back and finished the year with a 2.49 ERA.
Tekulve shared closer duties with lefty Rod Scurry in '82.  Leading the league in games pitched for the third time with 85, Tekulve notched 20 saves and had a 2.87 ERA.
In '83 and '84 Tekulve remained the closer and had ERAs of 1.67 and 2.66 with 18 and 13 saves respectively.
1985 started out roughly for Tekulve as he allowed 6 runs in his first three innings.  Perhaps feeling he was washed up at 38 years old, the Pirates traded Tekulve to the Phillies for Al Holland. Tekulve rebounded somewhat in Philadelphia with 14 saves and a 2.99 ERA, although he did blow 8 saves.
The veteran would then settle into a setup role for the Phillies over the '86-'88 seasons.  The side slinging Tekulve would appear in 233 games and with a decent ERA each year. The Phillies released the 41 year old in December of 1988, but he was not ready to retire.
Tekulve signed on with his hometown Cincinnati Reds.  Sharing a bullpen with "Nasty Boys" John Franco, Rob Dibble, and Norm Charlton, Tekulve found himself pitching in middle relief. Not satisfied with his role and maybe realizing his skills were fading, Tekulve retired in July with a 5.02 ERA in 52 innings.

Stuff: 88-89 mph sinker, slider, and change up.

Flipside: Man, that's one mis-aligned card back...  You won't see numbers like that on closer's cards today.  Most closers today pitch about half the load that Tekulve was in his prime.

Oddball: Tekulve may have been one of the first ace relievers with their own entrance song.  In the Pirates magical 1979 season, when Tekulve entered the game they would play the Spinners "Rubberband Man". Seems pretty fitting with Tekulve's gangly limbs and side arm delivery.
As a side armer Tekulve was vulnerable to left handed hitters and thus intentionally walked many of them. Of the 491 walks issued in his career 179 or 36.5% were intentional.
With two outs in the ninth of a September 1st game in 1979, manager Chuck Tanner took Tekulve off the mound inserted Grant Jackson and put Tekulve in left field.  With the lefty slugger Darrell Evans up and a right handed Mike Ivie on deck, Tanner wanted to keep Tekulve in the game in case Jackson failed to get Evans out.  Evans, a dead pull hitter, uncharacteristically hit a fly ball right to Tekulve for the final out of the game

History: Tekulve was remarkably durable and a workhorse out of the pen often working two or three innings a game.
Tekulve will always be remembered for his aviator glasses and unorthodox delivery, but more importantly as a member of the 1979 World Champion Pirates.  An excellent article on Tekulve from a 1980 Sports Illustrated can be found here.
Tekulve currently works as a post game analyst for ROOT Sport Pittsburgh.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

#16 George Vukovich - Philadelphia Phillies

Card: This is Vukovich's third Topps card. He had two before and would have three more after it.

Picture: Vukovich is following through with his left handed swing. A couple things I notice: 1) He has a mustache in the action shot but not in the inset. 2) His name on the back has a G in front of Vukovich.  Teammate John Vukovich was not on the '82 team so the picture may have been taken in 1981 or 1980.

Player: George Vukovich was drafted in the fourth round out of Southern Illinois University by the Philadelphia Phillies in 1977.  Vukovich played well in his first two years in the minors batting .311 in Single-A in 1978 and .293 in Double-A in '79. 
Vukovich made the Phillies out of spring training in 1980.  Despite being on the Phillies roster all year he started only two games as manager Dallas Green used him as a pinch hitter and defensive replacement.  He played in 78 games and batted .224 in 58 at bats.  Vukovich went 0 for 3 in the NLCS and did not play in the World Series as the Phillies defeated the Royals.
In 1981 Vukovich started the year at AAA and was called up twice during the season, but once again played sparingly.  The left handed Vukovich managed to go 10 for 26 for a nifty .385 batting average despite being deployed in the same manner as the year before.  With the strike shortening the season, the Phillies faced the Expos in the divisional series. With the Phillies down two games to on, Vukovich hit a game winning homer off Jeff Reardon in the 10th inning to tie the series.  Although Expos won game five, his game winner bomb was the highlight of Vukovich's young career. 
Vukovich won a semi-regular job in 1982 platooning in right field. He batted .272 with six home runs and 42 RBI in 335 at bats.
After the season Vukovich was involved in the blockbuster trade that saw Von Hayes go from Cleveland to Philadelphia.  In addition to Vukovich, the Indians received Julio Franco, Manny Trillo, Gerry Willard, and Jay Baller.  In '83 Vukovich was once again platooning through the first few months of the season but finished the year as the every day right fielder despite batting .247 with little power.
In 1984 Vukovich won the RF gig for the Indians and had his finest season batting .304 in 437 at bats.  George made his biggest mark while playing defense ranking first in the AL in both fielding percentage (.988) and range factor (2.49) for all rightfielders.  With his strong arm, Vukovich also gunned down 13 runners from the outfield which ranked fourth in the AL.
Although he was still playing fine defense Vukovich's performance waned in '85, batting .244 with eight homers in 434 at bats. 
Vukovich played the next two seasons for the Seibu Lions of the Pacific League in Japan, winning the league championship both years.
Returning stateside in '88, Vukovich played at AAA Toledo, batting .224 in 89 games for the Mud Hens. At 32 years of age Vukovich was done with baseball.

Flipside: As you can see, Vukovich didn't hit for much power.  As he got older and his average dropped, his defense wasn't enough to keep him around.

Oddball: There have only been two players in the history of MLB with the surname Vukovich- George and John. Although unrelated they played together on the 1980-81 Phillies.

History: Vukovich won a World Series in 1980 but his game winning homer in the NLDS is his defining moment.
Vukovich now lives in Arizona, teaching baseball at Triple Play in Sahuarita. 

Monday, October 17, 2011

#15 Ron Cey

Card: This is Ron Cey's 12th Topps Card and his 10th solo card. His 1972 Rookie Card is a three player card that he shares with Ben Oglivie and Bernie Williams (no not that one). Curiously Topps lists Cey as an outfielder on the '72 card despite never playing there in the minors or majors.

Picture: This is a nice action shot of Cey getting ready to fire the ball across the infield.  At first glimpse you might peg Cey as a hurler.  Oddly this is Cey's only Topps Card where he is pictured fielding.

Player: Ron Cey, affectionately known as the Penguin for his low center of gravity and choppy running gait, was drafted by the Dodgers in '68.  Cey did well in the minors and got a small taste of the big leagues (2 games) in '71 and a better look in '72 (11 games).  With Steve Garvey moving to firstbase in '73, this opened the door and Cey would entrench himself at hot corner for the next ten Dodger seasons.  Cey was a part of the longest running infield in MLB history with Garvey at first, Davey Lopes at second, and Bill Russell at shortstop.  They played together from '73 through '81.
Cey was a remarkably consistent player who could be counted on for around 25 HR, 85-100 RBI and good defense. He did not hit for a high average but he offset that with a very good eye. 
Cey played in nine postseason series and was a consistent performer.  His postseason slash stats of .261/.362/.441 are eerily similar to his regular season numbers of .261/.354/.445.
Cey shared 1981 World Series MVP honors with teammates Pedro Guerrero and Steve Yeager.
Cey was traded by the Dodgers to the Cubs before the '83 season for Vance Lovelace and Dan Cataline.  Cey would provide stabilty at the hot corner for the Cubs, something they had been lacking since the days of Ron Santo.  Cey would hit 24 HR in '83 and 25 more in '84 as he helped the Cubs win the division title.
Desite 22 HR in '85, Cey's performance began to slip a little as he batted a career low .232.  In '86 Cey saw his playing time reduced to 97 games.  Sharing third base with veteran Manny Trillo and former teammate Davey Lopes, Cey remained productive, batting .273 with 13 HR in 256 at bats. 
After the season Cey was dealt to the Oakland A's for Luis Quinones.  Used primarily as a DH with the A's, Cey platooned with veteran Reggie Jackson but struggled.  Cey was batting .221 when he was released July 15, 1987.

Flipside: You can see Cey's consistency in his HR totals.  Not including the strike shortened '81 season, Cey hit between 22 and 30 home runs every season between '75 and and '85.

Oddball: Tommy Lasorda is often given credit for tabbing Cey with the nickname Penguin. However, Cey was given the moniker back in his days at Washington State University.
Ron has played himself in a number of TV series including Columbo, Simon & Simon, Hardcastle and McCormick and Pryor's Place.  Cey even got a gig playing in the house band in an episode of Murder, She Wrote. Cey has also been featured in several commercials.

History: Cey, a six time all star, is beloved by Dodgers' fans for his steady production and 1981 World Series Heroics. Cey is also highly regarded by Cubs fans who appreciated his efforts in leading the Cubs to a rare post season appearance.  Cey works with the Dodgers making appearances on their behalf and working in public relations. 

Sunday, October 16, 2011

#14 Frank LaCorte

Card: This is LaCorte's fifth Topps card.  His rookie card was in the '76 set with three other young pitching prospects.  LaCorte did not appear in another card until the 1980 set.

Pic: Pitchers should never be pictured on a baseball card in a helmet...ever. I do like the action shot as the ball leaves his hand.

Player: Frank LaCorte was signed as a 20 year old undrafted free agent by the Braves in 1972.  LaCorte spent two full years in the minors before making his MLB debut as a September call up in '75. From '76 through '78 LaCorte bounced around from AAA Richmond and Atlanta mainly as a starter.  At this point to say LaCorte's major league career was not successful would be an understatement.  Through his first four seasons, LaCorte was 4-24 with a 6.17 ERA. The 1979 season would bring change however as LaCorte would pitch out of the pen for the Braves.  In May he was traded to Houston and although he started three games for Houston the hard throwing righty was now entrenched as a reliever.
Everything was working for LaCorte in 1980.  Through June 2, LaCorte had given up just one run in 23.1 innings (0.39 ERA) with 4 saves and a 3-0 record out of the pen. Sharing closer duties with Joe Sambito and Dave Smith, LaCorte was an important part of the NL West champions Astros.  LaCorte finished the year with 11 saves and a 2.82 ERA in 83 innings of work.
LaCorte had a decent year in the strike shortened '81 season with five saves and a 3.64 ERA in 42 innings.
Wildness always seemed to haunt LaCorte and it seems to have caught with him in '82 as his ERA inflated to 4.48 in 76.1 innings. 1983 was even worse with a 5.06 ERA in 53.1 innings.
LaCorte left Houston via free agency signing a three year deal with the California Angels. Frank appeared in only 13 games as a torn rotator cuff put him on the shelf.  He came back in '85 but was hit hard at AAA Edmonton.  LaCorte was released by the Angels in spring training of '86 as the injury had been too much to overcome.

Stuff: Fastball (up to 96 mph), Curveball

Flipside: As you can see LaCorte was very wild walking more than a batter every other inning. LaCorte's lone major league complete game was a win on 9/16/76 when he gave up just one run over nine innings, striking out five and walking three Dodgers.  Amazingly LaCorte came back three days later and pitched ten shutout innings again versus the Dodgers.  Frank did not get credit for a complete game however as Adrian Devine relieved in the 11th.  The Braves finally won in twelve innings but LaCorte was probably worn out as he gave up twelve runs in 17 innings in his last three starts of the year.

Oddball: LaCorte once burned his uniform in a fit of rage after walking the bases loaded and blowing a lead late in the game.  When asked about it later LaCorte responded that he thought his number 31 was the source of all his 3-1 counts.

History: LaCorte is remembered as a key part of the '80 and '81 playoff Astros pen. LaCorte is now owner of Marx Towing in his hometown of Gilroy, CA.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

#13 Larry Herndon

Ok hopefully I'm back to posting daily...I've been fighting sickness while working 12 hour days.

Card: This is Herndon's seventh Topps card.  His rookie card is in the '77 set.  He appears on the card with the Topps All Star Rookie trophy in the corner.  As a kid I always  called those "cup" cards. 
This is Herndon's first card as a Tiger.

Picture: Herndon is following through with his long swing. Its kind of a cool shot as it appears he made contact and is starting to run out of the box.

Player: Herndon was a 3rd round pick of the Cardinals in 1971 and made his MLB debut as a September call up in '74.  The speedy Herndon played in eleven games, ten as a pinch runner and singled in his only at bat.
In '75 Herndon was traded mid-season to the Giants but would not see major league action until the following year.  Playing centerfield, Herndon enjoyed a 14 game hitting streak his rookie year and batted .288 with two home runs. Herndon made the team in '77 but only appeared in 49 games and batted .239.  In '78 Herndon regained his starting job, batting .259 but with only one home run and thirteen stolen bases. 
Herndon slowly added a little more power to his game hitting seven, eight, and five homeruns over the next three seasons while batting .257, .258, and .288.
After the '81 season the Giants traded Herndon to the Detroit for Dan Schatzeder. By now Herndon was exclusively a left fielder and Tigers skipper Sparky Anderson must have seen something in Herndon as he often batted him in the middle of the lineup. Herndon responded hitting .292, with 13 triples, 23 HR, and a team high 88 RBI. Herndon followed up his '82 season by hitting .302 with 20 HR and 92 RBI in 1983.
Coming off the two best seasons of his career Herndon saw his playing time cut in '84 as he platooned with Ruppert Jones.  The Tigers ran away with the AL East and Herndon hit a HR in game one vs. the Royals. The Tigers went on to sweep the Royals and faced the Padres in the World Series.  Herndon had the deciding home run in game one and caught the final out in the series as the Tigers prevailed in five games.
Playing semi-regularly over the next two years, Herndon hit .244 and .247 with twelve and eight home runs. In 1987 Herndon had a productive year batting .324 with nine home runs in 225 at bats. The Tigers were chasing the Blue Jays all year and finally passed them with a one game lead with one game left vs. the Blue Jays. Herndon's solo home run was the only run either side allowed as the Tigers won their second division title in four seasons.  The Tigers lost in the ALCS to the Twins despite three hits from Herndon in nine at bats.  Herndon played one more season batting .224 in 1988.

Flipside: As you can see the 23 home runs and 88 RBI were quite a jump from his previous highs. It is quite remarkable, given his previous track record, that he hit long balls in four consecutive at bats.  Before coming to Detroit Herndon had hit a total of 24 HR in 2,129 at bats.  In 2,748 at bats with Detroit Herndon would hit 83 HR.

Oddball: Herndon hit one of the longest home runs in Tiger Stadium when on opening day in 1987 he hit a blast off the facing of the upper deck in center field. Considering the centerfield fence was 440 feet away from home plate, this was quite a blast.
Herndon's minor-league roomate in 1971 was Randy Poffo...better known as wrestling superstar Randy "Macho Man" Savage.

History: Herndon is remembered as part of the World Series winning '84 Tigers and division winning '87 squad. Herndon had an odd career.  He started as a speedster with little power and finished his career with increased but sporadic power.  Herndon didnt walk much and his defense was poor over the last half of his career as his bad knees sapped his range.  Herndon is currently the batting coach for the Tigers single A affiliate in Lakeland.