Wednesday, November 30, 2011

#55 Mookie Wilson

Card:  This card is Mookie Wilson's third Topps card.  He was featured along with Hubie Brooks and Juan Benrenguer on a three player future stars card in the '81 set for his rookie card. 

Pic:  Nice action shot of  Wilson following through and starting his way out of the box.  Topps used a similar action shots of Wilson in '82 and later in '88.  As you can see in the inset, Mookie is generally pretty happy guy.

Player:  Mookie Wilson was a second round pick by the Mets out of the University of South Carolina in the 1977 draft.  Wilson spent four years in the minors batting .290+ in three of the four and averaged 40 stolen bases per year.  He was called up in Septemeber of 1980 and was allowed to start 26 of the Mets last 30 games.  The 24 year-old centerfielder hit .248 and stole seven bases in his first taste of big league action.

Wilson made the Mets out of spring training in '81.  He started in right field for the for the first six weeks, then moved to centerfield in May.  He batted .271 with 24 steals in the abbreviated season.  Over the next three seasons Wilson was the Mets everyday centerfielder and performed consistently, posting batting averages of .279, .276, and .276.  The speedy Wilson was a base stealing weapon swiping 58, 54, and 46 bases over the '82-'84 seasons.

An arm injury and the arrival of Lenny Dykstra cut into Wilson's playing time in 1985.  Limited to 93 games, Wilson hit .276 for the third year in a row and added 24 steals. 

Wilson's '86 season of course was highlighted by his ground ball through the legs of Bill Buckner in Game 6 of the World Series.  Wilson and his Mets pulled off the miraculous comeback to win the game and the series.  From the '86 through '88 seasons Wilson was a semi regular sharing centerfield with Dykstra and filling in often in left and rightfield.  Although not an everyday starter he recorded between 378 - 385 at bats each year and posted batting averages of .289, .299, and .296.  The Mets again reached the post season in '88 but Wilson could only manage two hits in the NLCS loss against the Dodgers.

Wilson continued in his semi-regular role with the Mets in '89 but with him batting .205 and the Mets mired in a seven game losing streak, he was dealt to the Blue Jays at the trade deadline for Jeff Musselman and Mike Brady (no not that one!).  Wilson batted .298 for Toronto and helped push them into the postseason.  He batted .263 in four games as the Blue Jays bowed out of the ALCS losing to the A's.

Wilson was Toronto's everyday centerfield in 1990 batting 265 and stealing 23 bases in 27 attmepts.  With the acquisition of Devon White for the '91 season, Wilson started occasionally in left field and was deployed as a pinch runner and pinch hitter.  In 86 games Wilson batted only .246.  The Blue Jays won the AL East and Wilson would get two hits in eight at bats before the ALCS was decided in the Minnesota Twins favor. 
At 35 years of age Wilson was no longer able to cover as much ground in the outfield and wasn't getting on base consistently, so he hung up the spikes.

Flipside:  Wilson also had three four-hit games during the '82 season. 

Oddball:  Mookie's given name is William.  It's a good thing he went by Mookie , 'cos it could have been confusing during the 80's with two speedy centerfielders named Willie Wilson.
Mookie got his nickname for the way he pronounced the word milk when requesting it as a young child.

History:  Wilson will always be remembered as the batter who hit the grounder through Bucker's legs in the '86 World Series.  With his speed, managers were tempted to bat him at the top of the lineup but Wilson never walked more than 35 times in a season.  Taking a few more walks would have made him even more valuable given his career 77% success rate when stealing bases. 
After retirement Wilson has worked as a coach for the Mets.  Wilson is the stepfather and uncle of former baseball player Preston Wilson. (In case you are wondering...Mookie's brother fathered Preston four years before Mookie married Preston's Mom). 

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

#54 Jim Maler

Card:  This is Maler's rookie card.  He would only have two Topps cards in his career.

Pic:  Here Maler is pictured in the Mariner's powder blue road jersey's.  No batting gloves...  He looks quite different a year later on his '84 card.

Player:  Jim Maler was a first round pick (5th overall) of the Mariners in the 1978 draft and by 1980 he already had reached the AAA level.  He repeated at Spokane in '81 and it seemed he was showing the ability that made him a first round pick by batting .309 and hitting 19 home runs.  The first baseman made his major league debut with Seattle in September of '81 and did well hitting .348 in 23 at bats.

As the Mariners starting first baseman, Maler got off to a rip-roaring start to the 1982 campaign by belting home runs in Seattle's first two games.  Maler's production soon waned and by the end of June with only four home runs and a .243 average to show for his 185 at bats, he was sent back down to AAA.  He raked upon his return to the bushes batting .336 and earned a September call-up.  He did little to show he could hit major league hitting and finished the year stuck on four homers and batted a meager .226.

Maler opened the '83 season at AAA, but was called up in May as he continued to shred minor league pitching.  Maler was platooned getting some starts against lefties but failed to deliver batting .182 in 66 games before getting demoted in July.  He went back down for good and hit .332 against in AAA.  The Mariners realizing that perhaps a change of scenery would do Maler some good, sent him to the Mets for minor league pitcher John Semprini

Maler kicked around at the minors the next three years for the Mets, Phillies, and Rangers organizations but never got another look at the bigs.

Flipside: Maler drove in only 17 runs in the 64 games not listed in his highlights. 
The Mariners switched AAA affiliates after the '81 season moving the team from Spokane to Salt Lake City.

Oddball:  Maler is one of only two AL first baseman to have recorded three assists in one inning.  Dick Stuart is the other.  Unlike Stuart, Maler was reliable with the glove committing only one error in 81 games at first base.
Maler retells a very cool story about his rookie card here.

History:  Maler showed some promise in the minors hitting for a high average and sporadic power but wasn't able to duplicate his production in the majors.  Maler was hampered by knee injuries in his career, however all things considered, the former first round pick was a disappointment for the Mariners. 
By no means a dumb jock, Maler is an extermination expert and president of All Florida Pest Control.

Monday, November 28, 2011

#53 Mike Witt

Card:  Mike Witt appears in his second Topps card, one year after his '82 rookie card.

Pic:  Witt is following through with his delivery.  It gives a glimpse at his 6'7" frame.  Witt appears to be seducing the camera man in the inset.

Player:  Mike Witt was a drafted in the fourth round by the Angels out of local Servite HS in Anaheim in 1978.   Despite having never pitched above double-A ball and still only 20 years of age, Witt made the Angels rotation to start the '81 season.  Witt had a nice rookie year winning eight with a 3.28 ERA. Witt completed seven of his 21 starts and did not allow more than 4 earned runs in any game.  For his efforts Witt finished fifth in Rookie of the Year voting.

Witt had a solid year in '82. Although he won only eight games he posted a 3.51 ERA for the division winning Angels.  He made 26 starts but at times was squeezed from the rotation by the elder members of the Angels rotation such as Ken Forsch 35 yrs old / 35 GS, Geoff Zahn 36 yrs old / 34 GS, Steve Renko 37 yrs old / 23 GS, Tommy John 39 yrs old / 7 GS, and Luis Tiant  41 yrs old / 5 GS.  The veteran Angels won the AL West but Witt only saw action out of the pen, as the Angels lost to the Brewers in five games.

1983 was a setback for the lanky hurler as he bounced in and out of the rotation going 7-14 with a 4.91 ERA.  Witt had his breakout year in '84 winning 15 with a 3.47 ERA.  He made history by pitching a perfect game against the Texas Rangers on the last day of the season.  Witt had a similar year in '85 winning another 15 with a 3.56 and firmly establishing himself as the staff ace.

Witt had a career year in '86 setting career bests with 18 wins, 208 strikeouts, 269 innings, 14 complete games, and three shutouts.  Witt and the Angels won the AL West and faced off against the Red Sox.  Witt stymied the Sox in game one allowing one run in complete game 5-1 win.  Witt started game five with the Angels up three games to one. Witt again pitched well and carried a 5-2 lead into the ninth.  After allowing a one-out, two run homer to Don Baylor, Witt retired the next batter on a pop fly.  One out away from clinching a World Series berth manager Gene Mauch went to the pen and they could not hold the lead famously losing the game in 11 innings and the Series in seven games.  Personally it was a rewarding year for Witt as he was named to his first All-Star team and finished third for the Cy Young award.

Witt remained the Angels workhorse logging 247 and 249 innings over the '87 and '88 seasons winning 16 and 13 games respectively.  Witt had lost some effectiveness though as his ERA crept over four both years.  Witt no longer was fooling hitters in '89 as he went 9-15 ERA with a 4.53 ERA.  Perhaps the workload over the prior years finally caught up with him.  From '84-'88, Witt averaged 252 innings and ten complete games. 

In 1990 Witt tried to work out his problems from the bullpen and was effective in that role. On April 11, Witt pitched the last two innings of a combined no-hitter started by Mark Langston.  Witt had a 1.77 ERA in 20.1 innings when he was traded to the Yankees for Dave Winfield.  The Yankees moved Witt to the rotation and he made 16 starts the rest of the year.  Witt was less successful as a starter winning only five for the Yanks with a 4.47 ERA. 

Witt struggled with injuries the rest of his career and pitched in only 11 games over the next three seasons before hanging it up for good at age 32. 

Stuff: Witt had a plus fastball but relied heavily on a hard curve ball.  In his perfect game he threw 55 curves, 37 fastballs and 2 change-ups.

Flipside:  Witt gave up two hits, a walk, an unearned run over 2.1 innings to get the win in relief on May 15 as mentioned here on the back.  Why Topps chose to highlight that I have no idea.  They could have mentioned his four hit shutout on August 7 against Oakland.

Oddball:  Witt was (is?) very thin at 6'7" and is listed at only 185 lbs.  Has there ever been a thinner major leaguer?  Using his 6'7" and 185 vitals his Body Mass Index is 20.8.  Answer in the comments if you find one.

History:  Mike Witt was a workhorse for the Angels staff in the mid-80's.  Witt will be remembered for his perfect game, finishing a combined no-hitter, and as the starter of the famed game 5 of the '86 ALCS.  Witt has since been coaching high-school baseball in his native California.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

#52 Onix Concepcion

Card:  This is the first of four Onix Concepcion Topps cards.

Pic: A .239 career hitter, I'm sure Onix is not happy about having to hit uphill.

Player:  Onix Concepcion was signed by the Royals as a free agent from Puerto Rico in 1976.  With nearly five seasons of minor league ball under his belt, the shortstop got the attention of the Royals with his speed and back-to-back 300+ seasons and was called up to the Royals on August 30, 1980.  Concepcion played 12 games down the stretch for the division winning Royals, mainly as a pinch runner.  Beating the postseason roster deadline by one day, Concepcion rode the pine in the ALCS but pinch ran three times in the World Series as Kansas City fell to Philadelphia.

Concepcion spent most of '81 at AAA Omaha and appeared in two games in September with KC but did not bat.  Concepcion spent the entire '82 season with the Royals, played shortstop and second base and batted .234 in 205 at bats.  With George Brett limited to 123 gamesin '83, Concepcion filled in at thirdbase as well as up the middle for the Royals.  The 5'6" infielder batted .242 in 219 at bats with 10 stolen bases.

Concepcion was the Royals primary shortstop in '84 but missed six weeks with a sore shoulder and broken hand.  In 287 at bats, he batted .282 and hit the first home run of his career.  Concepcion went hitless in seven at bats as Kansas City lost to Detroit in the ALCS.  The strong-armed Concepcion returned as the Royals starting shortstop in '85 but batted only .204 in 314 at bats.  By September he had lost his job to Buddy Biancalana, an even weaker hitter who was regarded as the better glove man.  The 27 year-old Puerto Rican sat the bench in the '85 post-season, appearing in seven games as a sub, and going hitless in his only at bat as the Royals captured the World Series over the Cardinals.
Concepcion spent 1986 at AAA Omaha but was relegated to part time duty and was released at the end of the year.  Concepcion caught on with the Pirates in '87 and had a pinch hit on opening day.  Batting 1.000, he was sent down to AAA and not heard from in the majors again.    


Flipside:  Concepcion had his best month in May of '82 batting .329 in 82 at bats with 13 RBI.
Oddball:  Is Onix Concepcion his name or is he really Jorge L. Rodriguez?  Was he born in Puerto Rico or Brooklyn, NY?    According to this website he is really Rodriguez and was born in Brooklyn.  Not sure why the reason for the deception.  There are advantages for a foreign player assuming a new identity such as making themselves younger to impress scouts.  I haven't seen this information anywhere else so I don't know what to make of it.

History:  Concepcion's (or is it Rodriguez..?) biggest claim to fame is as a member of the '85 champion Royals.  He also saw time in the '80 Series and '84 ALCS.  Not too bad for a player appearing in less than 400 major league games. 

Saturday, November 26, 2011

#51 Chicago Cubs

Team Leaders:  Leon Durham led the Cubs with his .312 average as well as his 22 home runs.  Bill Buckner led the team with 105 RBI.  Fergie Jenkins led the staff with his 3.15 ERA, 14 wins, and 134 strikeouts.

Record: 73-89, 5th in the NL East.

Flipside: The back list 24 players plus manager Lee Elia, including two Hall of Famers in Jenkins and Sandberg and one who should be in Lee Smith.

Most Common Starters:
C.   Davis
1B. Buckner
2B. Wills
3B. Sandberg
SS. Bowa
LF. Moreland
CF. Durham
RF. Johnstone

Steve Henderson and Gary Woods also saw significant time in the outfield as Moreland split time between LF, RF, and catcher.  This was Sandberg's only year as a third baseman. Yeah, Bull Durham started 71 games in CF and 71 in RF.  His range factor per 9/inn in CF of 2.34 was -.32 less than league average while in RF it was 2.10, 0.09 better than league average.

Pitching Staff:
Jenkins 34 GS
Bird 33 GS
Noles 30 GS
Martz 24 GS
Ripley 19 GS
Closer: Smith 17 Saves

-Jenkins was the only starter with an ERA below league average. 
-The starting pitchers only completed nine games. 
-Tidrow, Campbell, Hernandez, and Proly contributed 25 saves and filled out a stellar bullpen that was the strength of the team. 
-Other than 13 games from Ken Kravec, Hernandez was the only lefty on staff.

Friday, November 25, 2011

#50 Bob Horner

Card:  This is Horner's fifth card.  His rookie card was in the '79 set.

Pic:  Horner is in position at third base.  Looks like Candlestick Park.  Horner is such a beastly man that he grew a full beard in the five minutes between his action shot and the inset picture.

Player:  Bob Horner was the first overall pick in the 1978 draft having set numerous school and collegiate records while at Arizona State.  The Braves immediately put the 20 year-old to work in the big leagues and he launched a home run in his first game against Bert Blyleven on June 16th.  Horner struggled a bit the rest of June, but eventually displayed the prodigious power that made him a college star.  Horner finished strong with home runs in his last three games of the year.  In what would be a sign of things to come, Horner missed the last six games of the year with a neck / shoulder injury.  Although Horner didn't debut until June, he won the Rookie of the Year based on his 23 dingers and 63 RBI.

Horner was ready for the '79 season but injured his ankle opening day and missed 32 games.  The young third baseman launched 33 homers and drove in 98 runs while batting .314 in 121 games.  Injuries again dogged Horner in 1980 causing him to miss 30 games due to ankle and shoulder problems.  Horner still hit 35 long balls with 89 RBI.  He missed another 25 games in the '81 strike year, hitting 15 home runs in 79 games.

1982 would be a big year for both Horner and the Braves.  Horner teamed with fellow slugger Dale Murphy to lead the Braves to the NL West title.  Although bothered by by foot and elbow injuries, Horner played in 140 games and had 32 home runs and 97 RBI.  Horner had only one hit in the playoffs as the Braves were swept in three games by the Cardinals.

Injuries plagued Horner again in '83 causing him to miss significant time with ankle and wrist injuries and a stomach ailment.  When he was playing, he hit .303 with 20 homers in 104 games.  Horner fractured the same wrist diving for a ball in '84 and played in only 32 games.  He came back to hit 27 home runs in both of the next two seasons playing in 130 and 141 games in '85 and '86.  Horner hit four home runs on July 6, 1986 to tie a major league record.

Horner became a free agent in 1987 but due to his injury history and a collusion by the owners, he could not find a contract to his liking.  Horner took his talents overseas to the Tokyo Yakult Swallows of the Japanese League.  On a one year contract, Horner hit 31 home runs for the Swallows and looked to return to the U.S. in '88.  By now strictly a first baseman, Horner signed with the Cardinals.  Horner hit only three long balls in 60 games with the Redbirds before a season ending shoulder injury ended the hefty blond's season.  He received a spring training invite from the Orioles in '89, but the injury ravaged 31 year-old decided to retire.

Flipside:  Horner's '82 season was one of only two seasons in his career which he played more than 130 games.

Oddball:  Horner is one of the rare major league players to have never played in the minors.  Players who came after Horner and debuted in the majors, such as Jim Abbott and Pete Incaviglia both worked in the minors later in their thirties as they tried to resurrect their careers.

History:  Bob Horner was blessed with tremendous power and ability but could not stay healthy which led to a lot of disappointment for the Braves and their fans.  In ten injury riddled seasons, He hit 218 home runs and had an OPS+ over 100 every season.  Looking at his stats averaged over 162 games, he hit 35 bombs with 109 RBI.
Horner will always be remembered for his four home run game and as a big part of the Braves '82 team.  Horner enjoys a leisurely retirement and still follows the Braves.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

#49 Willie McGee

Card: This is Willie McGee's rookie card.

Pic:  A great action shot of McGee returning to first base as Dave Kingman plays first base.  The inset picture is not the most flattering.  They used a similar picture for his '86 card.
Topps has a history of not always portraying players at their best.

Player:  Willie McGee was a first round pick in the '77 winter draft by the Yankees.  After five seasons in their system the speedster was traded to the St. Louis Cardinals for Bob Sykes.  The Cardinals called McGee up in May of '82 and by June he was the everyday centerfielder.  McGee batted over .300 for most of the year before a September slump dropped his final average to .296.  McGee batted .308 with a homer in the Cards three game sweep of the Braves in the NLCS.  The 23 year-old stepped up in game three of the World Series against the Brewers, belting two home runs and making a spectacular catch in centerfield.  The Cardinals won the series and McGee finished third in Rookie of the Year voting.

McGee's start to the '83 season was delayed 14 games with a shoulder separation but he rebounded to be named to his first All-Star team.  McGee batted .286, with 39 steals and won the first of three Gold Gloves in his career.  The '84 campaign was very similar as McGee batted .291 with 43 stolen bases.  Batting behind fellow burner Vince Coleman, McGee had a career year in '85 as he won the NL batting crown with a .353 batting average.  The switch-hitter also led the league in triples with 18 and in hits with 216.  McGee added 56 stolen bases and scored 114 runs as well.   McGee had seven hits in both the NLCS (Cards over the Dodgers in six games) and the World Series loss to the Royals.  McGee's fine regular season earned him the NL MVP award.

McGee slumped and battled injuries in '86 as he batted .256, a drop of .097 from his league best average the year prior.  In the '87 season, McGee found himself batting fifth in the Cards lineup and he responded with a career high 59 extra base hits (37-11-11) and 105 RBI.  McGee had an excellent post season, netting 18 hits in 14 games against the Giants and eventual World Series champion Twins.  McGee had a nice '88 campaign with a .292 average and 41 steals but lost most of the '89 season to injury and batted only .236.

McGee rebounded in '90 and was batting .335 when he was traded to the Oakland A's on August 29 for Felix Jose and two others.  McGee batted .274 for his new team as the A's won the AL West.  McGee batted a disappointing 4 for19 in the postseason as the Reds knocked off the A's.  At the time of his trade, McGee had already accumulated enough at bats for the batting crown.  McGee's .335 mark held and he won the second batting title of his career. 

In the off-season, McGee signed a four year deal with his home town San Fransisco Giants.  McGee played between 130 and 138 games each of the next three years for the Giants.  His batting average ranged from .297 to .312.  By the '94 season, McGee had slowed down, with only 40 stolen bases total over the past three years and had shifted from center to left field.  A torn achilles limited his '94 season to 45 games as he batted .282.  McGee's was a healing free agent in '95 and did not sign with the Red Sox until June.  McGee played semi-regularly and batted .285 for Boston.  McGee went 1-4 in the ALDS loss to the Indians. 

McGee returned to the Cardinals in '96 as a reserve and pinch hitter and his veteran presence and .307 average contributed to the Cardinals winning the division.  McGee went 1-10 in the NLDS win over the Padres but had a strong NLCS, albeit in a losing effort, batting 5-15 against the Braves.  McGee continued as a fourth outfielder / pinch hitter role over three more seasons batting .300, .253, and .251 before retiring in 1999 at age 40.

Flipside:  McGee also had two-four hit games in '82, stealing a base in each.

Oddball:  Even though McGee's .335 led the National League in batting average in 1990, he finished the year with a combined major league average of .324.  Eddie Murray batted .330 for the Dodgers and George Brett .329 for the Royals.  This was an odd situation where the player who led the major leagues in hitting, Eddie Murray, didn't win a batting title in either league.
Former teammate John Morris does a spot on impersonation of McGee's batting stance and swing here.
Many people know that Howard Cosell nicknamed McGee "E.T." after the movie alien during a national TV broadcast, but McGee and his family hated the nickname and considered it insensitive.

History:  Willie McGee is beloved by Cardinals fans for his humble nature as much as his baseball ability.  There is a petition to get his number 51 retired in St. Louis.  Over his 18 year career, McGee won a world series, an MVP award, two batting titles, two gold gloves, a silver slugger, and was named to four all-star teams.  McGee retired with a .295 batting average, 2,254 hits, and 352 stolen bases. 
McGee has a nice tribute website which provided a lot of info for this post. 

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

#48 Lary Sorensen

Card:  This is Larry Sorensen's 6th Topps card.  He would have two more cards after this.  His rookie card was in the '78 set.

Pic: Sorensen is either following through with a pitch, or he was decades ahead of his time and he is getting ready to fist bump his catcher.

Player:  Lary Sorensen was drafted by the Milwaukee Brewers in the 8th round of the 1976 draft.  The right-handed pitcher out of the University of Michigan moved quickly through the Brewers minor league system and made his MLB debut June 7, 1977.  He was plugged into the Milwaukee rotation making 20 starts as a rookie, recording a 4.36 ERA and 7-10 record.

After a rough April to start the '78 season, Sorensen settled in as a durable pitcher and came within one out of completing all six of his starts in May.  Sorensen had 11 wins by the All-Star break and was selected to the AL squad.  The 22 year-old threw three scoreless innings in a losing effort. By season's end Sorensen had started 36 games, with 17 complete games, three shutouts, 18 wins with a 3.21 ERA over 280 innings of work.  Sorensen pitched to contact as evidenced by his mere 78 strikeouts and 50 walks, inducing many ground outs with his sinker.  Sorensen followed up his breakout year with a solid '79 season winning 15 games with a 3.98 ERA over 235 innings. 

Sorensen began to show some wear and tear in 1980 and became quite hittable, allowing 242 hits in 195 innings.  Still, he managed to win 12 games with a 3.68 ERA. His ability to induce double plays helped him get out jams as his 54/45 strikeout to walk ratio was troubling.  Sorensen was traded in December with David Green, Dave LaPoint and Sixto Lezcano to the St. Louis Cardinals for Rollie Fingers, Ted Simmons and Pete Vuckovich.

Sorensen made 23 starts for the Cardinals in the strike-shortened '81 season and did fairly well with a 7-7 record and a 3.27 ERA.  Sorensen was again traded in the off season.  This time in a three team deal that sent Sorensen to Cleveland and saw Bo Diaz go to Philadelphia and Lonnie Smith land in St. Louis.

The '82 season was a rough one for Sorensen.  He started 30 games but lost his last seven decisions to finish 10-15 with a career worst 5.61 ERA.  Sorensen bounced back with a 12 win season in '83.  He lowered his ERA to a more respectable 4.24 and logged 222 innings.  Sorensen was a free agent and left Cleveland for Oakland. 

Sorensen struggled mightily with the A's in '84, giving up 240 hits in 183 innings.  He made 21 starts and had 25 relief appearances.  His inability to miss bats was catching up with him and he finished with a 6-13 record and 4.91 ERA.  The A's let Sorensen go and he signed with the Cubs where he spent the '85 season pitching in middle relief and making a few spot starts. Sorensen pitched in 45 games with a 4.26 ERA.  Sorensen was released in spring training the following year.

Sorensen missed the start if the '86 season as he was given a 60 day suspension for his part in the Pittsburgh cocaine scandal.  He spent the rest of the year pitching in the minors, first for the Phillies organization and then Montreal.  He made the Expos opening day team in '87 and pitched out of the pen with a few starts.  After three months and a 4.72 ERA, the veteran was sent back down to AAA in June and released at the end of the year.

After spending most of '88 in the minors, Sorensen pitched unremarkably in twelve games for the Giants.  Sorensen was brought back the following year but did not make the team. Sorensen's playing career was over at age 33.

Stuff: Sinker, slider

Flipside: You know it was a bad year, as Topps really drags out the wordy description on the last highlight because there wasn't thing else positive to say.

Oddball:  Unfortunately Sorensen has struggled mightily with alcoholism since his retirement resulting in numerous jail and prison sentences for seven DUI's.  He seemed to be in recovery in 2007 but was found unconscious after he drove his car into a ditch on February 2, 2008.  He registered a 0.48 blood alcohol content and was eventually sent back to prison.  Experts believe a BAC that high is enough to kill all but hardcore alcoholics.

History:  Sorensen at his best was a decent to above average pitcher who could log plenty of innings.  Adjusting for the '81 strike, Sorensen averaged 225 innings per year from '78-'83 with a 3.97 ERA.  Eventually his lack of a strikeout pitch caught up with him and he finished with a 93-103 career record.  
In retirement he provided color commentary on college baseball games for ESPN.  He also was on the Detroit Tigers radio team for a few years before leaving to deal with his alcoholism in June of '98. 

Monday, November 21, 2011

#47 Dave McKay

Card:  This is Dave McKay's 6th and final Topps card.  His rookie card was a four player card in the '76 set.  Despite playing in 95 games and getting 274 at bats in '77, Topps omitted McKay from the '78 set.  Perhaps they were scared off by his .195 average.  I think you can see the pain in McKay's eyes.

Pic: McKay has nice form in his batting stance.  The action shot and inset really show the contrast between the A's classic home uniform versus the bright road jerseys.  His hat in the inset appears to be glowing.

Player:  Dave McKay was signed by the Minnesota Twins in 1971 as undrafted free agent.  The Vancouver, British Columbia native was moved around the infield wherever he was needed playing mainly second and third base.  McKay's minor league stats were unremarkable but he was called up to the big leagues when Twins third baseman Eric Soderholm was injured in August of 1975.  McKay was given the chance to start virtually everyday at the hot corner and started off well stringing together a 16 game hitting streak before he cooled off and finished with a .256 average in 125 at bats.  McKay spent the first two months of 1976 as the Twins starting third baseman but struggled to hit (.203) and was sent down to AAA in June for the rest of the season.

In November the Blue Jays selected McKay in the expansion draft and made him their starter at third base for their inaugural game.  McKay had two hits in the opener but scuffled badly at the plate.  He showed his versatility as he was shifted around the infield as the year went on.  His average plummeted as low as .164 in August, but improved to .197 by years end.   McKay was the everyday second baseman in 1978 and while his defense was acceptable, his batting skills left a lot to be desired.  Not only was his average low, but he rarely walked or hit for much power as evidenced by his .238/.268/.351 slash stats.  McKay returned in '79 as the starter at second for the Blue Jays but after hitting around .200 most of the year, he found himself back in AAA by the end of May.  He was recalled in September and ended the year with a .218 average and was released in November.

McKay made the Oakland A's squad in 1980 as a utility player but by years end he was starting everyday at second base.  He finished with a .244 batting average and played in 123 games.  McKay played semi-regularly to start the '81 season, but again by the end of the year was starting at second.  McKay batted a career best .263 and had three hits in the ALDS against the Royals and three more in a losing effort against the Yankees in the ALCS.  McKay played in only 78 games in '82 as his average sank to .198.  McKay spent the '83 playing in Oakland farm system.  After McKay batted .186 at single-A, he realized he skills were no longer going keep him around as player and he moved into coaching.  

McKay has been a first base coach for the Oakland A's ('85-'95) and St. Louis Cardinals from '96 through the 2011 season.  After the Cardinals hired new manager Mike Matheny, it was announced that McKay would stay within the organization, but in a different capacity. 

Flipside:  Once again Topps omits a players best game from the highlights....McKay had three hits and three RBI in a 10-6 win on August 16.  McKay hit a home run in his last career game off Larry Gura.
Since McKay spent all of '83 in the minors before he retired, these are McKay's career totals on the back. 

Oddball:  McKay has come under fire at various times for his involvement in the A's steroid use during the late '80s.  McKay co-authored this book, with Jose Canseco on baseball weight training.  While Tony LaRussa's first base coach, McKay was also the A's first strength and conditioning coach.  McKay has has denied knowing about steroid use during this time, but he had to know what was going on having overseen the development of Canseco, Mark McGwire, and Jason Giambi among others.  McKay's own son, Cody a career minor leaguer save for 77 major league at bats, was implicated in the Mitchell report as a steroid user.  I'm not saying McKay needs to be crucified in the media, but given all the scandalous steroid stories in the media his involvement seems to be under-reported.

History:  McKay batted .229 over eight major league seasons as a part time infielder.  As a player he will be remembered as an original Blue Jay.  McKay is better known as his days as a coach having won World Series rings in '89 with the A's and '06 and '11 with the Cardinals.  McKay was inducted into the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame in '01.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

#46 Richard Dotson

Card:  Dotson's third Topps Card.  His rookie card can be found in the '81 set.

Pic:  It occurs to me that with the new uniforms that the White Sox were wearing it forced Topps to use photos exclusively from the '82 season for ChiSox players.  Still Dotson pitched in 34 games, but none in New York where many of their shots are taken.  Topps must have realized at some point they needed a recent picture of Dotson and had him pose for a moment with his hat pulled down low for a few quick pics.  Still, an action shot would've been nice....

Player:  Richard Dotson was a first round pick (7th overall)  of the Angels in the '77 draft.  The 18 year-old Dotson was dispatched to rookie level ball in Idaho Falls where he bombed, allowing 133 base runners in 66 innings.  The Angels traded the young right-hander along with Bobby Bonds and Thad Bosley to the Chicago White Sox for Brian Downing, Dave Frost and Chris Knapp.  With the Sox, Dotson was sent to double-A Knoxville, a curious move considering his epic fail at the rookie level, but his control improved over the the '78 season and even more so as he repeated at Knoxville in '79.  Dotson made his MLB debut in September and threw a six-hit shutout against the A's in his second start.  In five starts Dotson was 2-0 with a 3.70 ERA.

Dotson was a regular member of the White Sox rotation in 1980, making 32 starts with 198 innings.  The 21 year-old was 12-10 with a 4.27 ERA and was 7th in rookie of the year voting.  Dotson led the AL with four shutouts in the strike shortened '81 season but had a league average ERA of 3.77 and was 9-8 on the season.  In 1982, with an ERA near five, Dotson was sent to the pen for a few weeks in July.  Dotson improved as the year went on, allowing only 30 earned runs in his last 15 starts.  Dotson finished the '82 campaign with an 11-15 record and 3.84 ERA.

Dotson started the '83 campaign slowly but turned the corner in mid-July.  Dotson went 14-1 over his last 16 starts with a 2.09 ERA and six complete games.  For the season Dotson won 22 games to go with only seven losses.  Dotson made a career high 35 starts and worked 240 innings creating a formidable one-two punch with staff ace LaMarr Hoyt.  The White Sox won the AL West but Dotson was hit hard in his only postseason start of the ALCS as the White Sox gave way to the Orioles in four games.  Dotson finished fourth in Cy Young voting, with teammate Hoyt winning the award.

Dotson picked up where he left off in '83 by starting the '84 season 11-4 with a 2.64 ERA in the first half.  Dotson threw two scoreless innings for the AL in the All-Star game.  While Dotson was a durable starter completing 14 games, he slumped in the second half and won only three games to finish 14-15 with a 3.59 ERA.  1985 was a setback as Dotson pitched in only 9 games before having season ending shoulder surgery.

Dotson was healthy but ineffective in '86.  He made 34 starts but lost a league high 17 and had a grotesque 5.48 ERA in 197 innings.  Still only 28 years old the righty bounced back somewhat in '87.  His 4.11 ERA was below league average during the homer happy season and he put in 211 innings over 31 starts and posted an 11-12 record.  On November 12th, the White Sox traded Dotson and Scott Nielsen to the New York Yankees for Dan Pasqua, Steve Rosenberg and Mark Salas.

Dotson received a ton of run support in '88 as his new Yankee teammates scored five or more runs in 18 of his 29 starts. This allowed him to have a winning 12-9 record despite a 5.00 ERA.  Dotson would not be so fortunate in '89, as he was released in June after winning only two of his nine starts and posting a 5.57 ERA.  Picked up by his old squad, Dotson used smoke and mirrors to post a 3.88 ERA despite a 1.535 WHIP in 17 starts with Chicago. Dotson finished '89 with a combine record of 5-12 with a 4.46 ERA.

The Royals signed Dotson as a free agent for the '90 season.  Dotson flamed out in KC, losing all four of his decisions and was released in June with a 8.48 ERA.  Hastened by shoulder injuries, Dotson's career came to end at only 31 years of age.  His last four losses dropped his career record to 111-113.

Stuff: Fastball (90 mph), change, curve, slider.  After '87 shoulder surgery, fastball (84 mph), change, curve


Flipside: Strangely Topps omits Dotson's four hit shutout win against Texas on September 4th, from his highlights.  Dotson allowed 13 base runners and both runs in that 14-2 romp on August 3rd but somehow that gets mentioned instead.  And that June 19 "highlight"... he gave up four runs in 6.2 innings.  He had many more games that were more deserving than that.

Oddball:  On Sept. 10 1984, Dotson drilled Oakland DH Dave Kingman to load the bases in the third inning. Kingman charged the mound and landed a series of uppercuts to Dotson's jaw.  Kingman was ejected and Dotson somehow stayed in the game.  Perhaps dazed from being slugged by the slugger, Dotson walked the next batter on four pitches and forced in a run. This turned out to be the only run of the game as Oakland won 1-0.  You can more about it here.

History: Dotson will be remembered for his 22 win season in '83 helping the White Sox win the AL West.  In his prime he could pitch deep into games and keep the score close. After Dotson hurt his arm, he wasn't the same and his career had a premature end.  Dotson stayed away from pro baseball for 11 years before returning as a minor pitching coach in the White Sox organization.  

Saturday, November 19, 2011

#45 John Mayberry

Card:  This is Mayberry's 14th and final card.  He appeared on a two player rookie card way back in the 1970 set.

Pic: Mayberry is in the ready position, staring in towards the plate with a blurry Yankee stadium crowd in the background.

Player: John Mayberry was a first round pick (6th overall) for the Houston Astros in '67.  He rose quickly through the minors and had brief, hitless cups of coffee with the Astros in '68 and '69. He split time the next two years between Houston and AAA Oklahoma City.  Mayberry struggled in the big leagues as the Astros tried to get him to cut down on his powerful left handed swing and focus more on contact hitting.  After hitting only .216 and .182 over the '70 and '71 seasons, the young first baseman was dealt to Kansas City for Lance Clemons and Jim York.

Mayberry flourished with the Royals in '72, blasting 25 home runs, driving in 100 runs. and putting up .298/.394/.507 slash stats.  The 24 year-old Detroit native put up a similar stats in '73, with 26 HR, 100 RBI.  His good eye and new found respect from AL pitchers led to a league leading 122 walks and .417 on base percentage in '73. 

The 1974 season was not as enjoyable for the big lefty. Mayberry's power and average sunk and his 234/.354/.424 line indicates. Mayberry came back with a career year in '75, hitting 34 homeruns and driving in 106 runs in a Royals lineup featuring Amos Otis, Hal McRae and a young George Brett.  Mayberry again led the league in walks with 119 and his 168 OPS+ was a league high.  Mayberry's year was highlighted by a 47 game mid-year stretch where he hit 21 home runs with 50 RBI and a .387 average.  This hot stretch started with an eight game tear with eight home runs.  Mayberry finished second in MVP voting sandwiched between Fred Lynn and Jim Rice.

Although the Royals made their inaugral playoff berth in '76 in wasn't because of a big year from Mayberry.  He hit just 13 homers including just three after June 28.  He played in 161 games but hit only .232.  Mayberry hit a home run in the playoffs but the Royals lost to the Yankees.  Mayberry's '77 campaign was slightly better but not up to his previous All-Star level.  Mayberry hit 23 home runs but his average was .230 and his strike outs exceeded his walks 86 to 83, for the first time as a Royal.  The '77 playoffs were a disaster for Mayberry, as reported here on his Wikipedia page...

During the 1977 American League Championship Series against the New York Yankees, Mayberry arrived late for the fourth game, which was played in the afternoon, after a late-night outing. Mayberry played very poorly on both offense (striking out twice in two plate appearances) and defense (dropping a foul pop and a routine infield throw). Mayberry's ragged play prompted manager Whitey Herzog to bench him midway through Game Four and to leave him out of the starting lineup for the decisive fifth game.
........Consequently, before the start of the 1978 season, the Royals sold Mayberry to the Toronto Blue Jays, who were beginning their second season of play in the American League.

The hefty lefty gave the Jays an instant power source.  Mayberry delivered 22 and 21 homers over the '78 and '79 seasons and batted .250 and .274.  Mayberry hit .248 and launched 30 home runs in 1980 but his All-Star days were behind him as he hadn't been able to recapture the sucess he had with the Royals. 

Mayberry hit 17 long balls in the strike shortened '81 season and again batted .248.  Mayberry was traded in May of '82 from the Jays to the New York Yankees.  In New York the 33 year-old was not a full time player for the first time since his Astros days.  On the year he batted .218 with 10 homers. 
Mayberry was released in spring training the following year and he hung up the cleats.

Flipside: Those are some tiny stats! They should have cut out the highlights so we could read the rest of the back.  From '72 to '75 Mayberry was a force averaging 27 taters with a .399 on base average.

Oddball: Mayberry came from the same high school, Detroit Nortwestern, as former stars Willie Horton and Alex Johnson.
Mayberry's 34 home runs in '75 is still a Royals record for left handed hitters.

History:  Mayberry was twice an All-Star and was a force in the mid-70's.  Whether it was too much partying, poor conditioning, or just a sudden decline in ability, Mayberry best years were long gone by 31 and his career was over by 33. 
After his playing career he coached in the Toronto farm system and with the Kansas City Royals staff in '89 and '90. Today Mayberry's namesake son plays for the Phillies.

Friday, November 18, 2011

#44 Don Robinson

Card:  Don Robinson appears here on his fifth Topps card.  His rookie card was in the '79 set.

Pic: With his hefty 6'4" frame and his crazy hair it's no wonder why they called him Caveman.  Those pants are awful, they look like sweat pants or pajamas.

Player: Don Robinson pitched three years in the minors before making the '78 Pirates.  The former third round pick made a few relief appearances and a spot start, and then earned a slot in the rotation with back to back complete games wins in late April.  Robinson was steady all year long and had a fine rookie year winning 14 games in 32 starts and pitching 228 innings.  Robinson with a 3.47 ERA and nine complete games finished third in Rookie of the Year voting and eighth in the Cy Young.

Robinson made only 25 starts in '79 after missing several starts in June and July and finished the year in the pen.  Caveman won eight with a league average 3.87 ERA.  Robinson was in the pen for the postseason and earned a relief win in the NLCS against the Reds and won game two of the World Series against the Orioles.  The "We are Family Pirates" prevailed and at age 22, Robinson was the youngest member of the World Champion Pirates.

Dealing with injuries, Robinson didn't pitch until rejoining the rotation in May.  His ERA spiked at 5.02 in June and he was sent to the pen.  He later returned as a starter and finished strong to get his ERA down to 3.99 and ended the year with a 7-10 record.  More injuries made his '81 season a wash as he pitched in only 16 games with two starts and a 5.87 ERA. 

Robinson won a career high 15 games in '82.  The burly, wild-haired righty re-injured his shoulder but pitched through the pain logging 227 innings. He lost his last five decisions and finished with a 4.28 ERA.  The injury riddled Robinson threw only 36 innings in '83. 

Robinson moved to the bullpen in 1983 and resurrected his career.  He stayed relatively healthy and appeared in 145 games over the next three years and earned 27 saves with ERA's between 3.02 and 3.87.

Robinson continued to excel as a reliever and was sent to the Giants for Mackey Sasser in a trade deadline deal in '87.  Robinson helped the Giants win the NL West and combined to win 11 and earn 19 saves for his two teams with a 3.42 ERA.  Robinson was hung with the loss in game three of the NLCS and the Giants eventually fell to the Cardinals in seven games.

Robinson had six saves through the first half of the '88 season when the Giants put him into the rotation.  The 31 year-old veteran did well winning eight as a starter with a 2.33 ERA.  The battled scarred hurler had endured injuries and surgeries to his toe, knee, elbow, and shoulder, taken numerous cortisone shots, and pitched with a knee brace but didn't miss a start in '89 until late September.  Robinson turned in a 3.43 ERA while winning 12 for the division winning Giants.  Robinson won game 3 of the NLCS against the Cubs as he helped the team advance to the World Series.  Robinson was moments away from starting game three of the World Series against the A's when the Loma Prieta earthquake decided to wreak havoc on the West Coast.  After the series was delayed for ten days, Robinson eventually got to start game four but was pounded early by the A's who swept the Giants.

Robinson scuffled the next two years for the Giants and posted ERA's of 4.57 and 4.38 and was granted free-agency after the '91 season.  Robinson pitched for both the Angels and Phillies in '92 couldn't stay healthy.  Caveman retired with a 109-106 record and a 3.79 ERA (ERA+ of 97).

Stuff: Early in his career, low 90's fastball, curve, and palm ball.  Later he ditched the palm ball and added a slider. The last few years he relied on a sinker, slider, curve, and change up.

Flipside: Those 228 innings as a rookie would prove to be a career high.

Oddball: Robinson could hit well for a pitcher as the highlights on the back of the card attest. Caveman wielded his club for 16 RBI in '82 and won the first of three Silver Slugger awards.  As his shoulder injury threatened his  pitching career, the Pirates seriously considered moving Robinson to the outfield.  In fact Robinson played winter ball in '83 alternating between the mound and rightfield.  Although Robinson remained a pitcher, he did make a start in leftfield on the last day of the '84 season.  Featuring a lineup with immortals like Eddie Vargas and Ron Wotus, Robinson batted third and went 1-3 with an RBI.  In 1990 Robinson hit a pinch homer to become the first pitcher do so since 1971.  Over 15 seasons Robinson hit 13 HR in 631 at bats with a .231/.252./.330 line.

History: Robinson was a warrior on the mound, pitching often in pain.  He was a crucial part of the '79 Pirates pitching staff and helped the Giants to the playoffs twice.
Now-a-days Robinson, along with former Pirate catcher Mike LaValliere, owns a baseball instructional facility in Florida.