Tuesday, January 31, 2012

#97 Ross Baumgarten - Chicago White Sox

Card:  Baumgarten is shown here in his fifth and final Topps card. 

Pic: Baumgarten pitched only 12 games for the Pirates and this looks like it was taken in Shea Stadium.  Therefore this photo was taken Aug 1, 1982.  Baumgarten was wild that day, yielding eight walks in 4.2 innings.  He also allowed five hits but managed to give up just two runs as the Bucs managed to win 4-3 in extra innings.

Player:  Ross Baumgarten was drafted by the White Sox in 1977 after playing college ball at the University of Florida.  The Illinois native made his MLB debut on 8/16/78, giving up two runs over six innings and earning the win over the Rangers.  Baumgarten pitched in six other games and ended the year with a 5.87 ERA.

Baumgarten earned a spot in the White Sox starting rotation in '79 and made 28 starts. The young lefty threw three shutouts and won 13 games with a 3.53 ERA.  He finished fourth in voting for AL Rookie of the Year behind co-winners Alfredo Griffin (2.3 WAR) and John Castino (1.7 WAR). Baumgarten with 3.6 Wins Above Replacement probably should have won the award.

The 6'1" lefty was a hard-luck pitcher for the offensively challenged White Sox in 1980.  Chicago averaged just 2.1 runs per start with Baumgarten on the hill and he finished with a 2-12 record despite a 3.44 ERA.   The highlight of his season was a one-hit shutout on July 2nd against the Angels.

Baumgarten struggled a bit in '81 as his ERA went up to 4.06 in 19 starts and was traded with Butch Edge to the Pirates in return for Vance Law and Ernie Camacho.  In '82 he broke some fingers on his pitching hand trying to field a line drive in late April and missed nearly eight weeks.  He struggled greatly with Pittsburgh, losing all five of his decisions and ending the year with a 6.55 ERA in 12 games.  The Pirates released him after the '82 season. 

Baumgarten bounced around AAA with Oakland and Detroit in '83, but ineffectiveness and a shoulder injury convinced him to retire at age 28.

Stuff:  Fastball, cutter, curve, change up 

Flipside:  When a player has a rotten year as our subject did, it's hard for Topps to find appropriate highlights for the backside.  As example, Baumgarten gave up four runs in 2.2 innings of work in the April 24 game mentioned here. 

Oddball:  Baumgarten and recent post subject John Castino were high school teammates.  As mentioned they were both top rookies in '79 and in the '80 Topps set they were featured back to back on cards #137 and #138.

History:  Baumgarten's career got off to a good start but faded after some early success.  He looked to have a promising future ahead of him but injuries derailed his career.  He retired with a 22-36 record with a 4.00 ERA (ERA+ 101). 
Baumgarten made a smooth transition to the business world and is now a successful financial advisor.

Monday, January 30, 2012

#96 Dick Howser - Kansas City Royals

Card:  Dick Howser appeared on seven Topps cards as a player.  This is his first of five as a manager.

Pic:  Nothing exciting about these manager still shots, at least he's smiling. 

Player:  Dick Howser played college ball at Florida State University before starting his pro career.  Howser was a shortstop for the Kansas City A's, Cleveland Indians, and New York Yankees.  He batted .280 in his first year and finished second in AL Rookie of the Year voting in '61 to Red Sox pitcher Don Schwall.  He was also named to the AL All-Star team. 

After that, his play fell off and was a part time player the next two years.  Playing for the Indians in '64, Howser played in all 162 games and batted .256.  He again returned to a bench role and finished his career with the Yankees in '68.  In 1969, Howser was hired as the Yankee's third base coach, a position he held for ten years. 

Manager:  Howser managed one game for the Yankees in '78 when he filled the gap between Billy Martin and Bob Lemon.  In '79 he returned to his alma mater to skipper the Seminoles.  He was only there one year however as the Yankees brought him back to manage the club.  The Yankees won 103 games during the 1980 season but were knocked out of the ALCS by the Royals.  Howser was not one to back down from Yankee owner George Steinbrenner which led to his dismissal despite the successful regular season.

When the Royals let Jim Frey go during the strike shortened '81 season, Howser took over and led the Royals to a second half division crown.  The Royals however were flushed by the A's in three games.  Howser guided KC to consecutive second place finishes in '82 and '83.

In '84 Howser managed a young Royals team to an 84-78 record, good enough to win the AL West.  The Royals were swept by the Tigers in the ALCS.  Howser had now been in the playoffs three times, but had yet to win a single game.

Howser and the Royals repeated as AL West winners in '85 with a 91-71 record.  The Royals knocked the Blue Jays out of the ALCS setting up an interstate match up against the St. Louis Cardinals.  The Royals fell behind two games to none before winning 6-1 in game three.  The Cardinals won game four to take a 3-1 series lead but the Royals would win the next three games to take the '85 World Series crown.

In the '86 All-Star game Howser managed the AL to a 3-2 victory over the NL.  It was only the third time the Junior Circuit had won since 1963.  It was during the All-Star break when Howser began feeling ill, and no one knew it would be the last game he would ever manage.  He was diagnosed with a brain tumor and stepped down as Royals manager.  After surgery, Howser attempted a comeback during spring training in 1987, but physically was too weak and handed the controls over to Billy Gardner.   Sadly, Howser never recovered and passed away June 17, 1987.

Flipside:  It was all or nothing with Howser's playing career.  Twice he played 158 games or more and the other eight years were 107 games or less.

Oddball:  Here is a glimpse into Howser's relationship with meddling Yankee owner George Steinbrenner: according to his Wikipedia page:
"....whenever Steinbrenner would call the manager's office before or after games while Howser was meeting with coaches or reporters, Howser would pick up the phone, say "I'm busy!", and hang up."

History:  Howser was beloved by Royals fans for bringing them a championship in '85.  In his six plus seasons as manager, Howser never finished the year lower than second place.
Howser earned the admiration and respect of many for his fight against the brain tumor that ended his life and career way too soon. 

This statue of Howser was unveiled at Kauffman Stadium on April 10, 2009.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

#95 Alan Trammell - Detroit Tigers

Card:  This is Trammell's sixth Topps card.  He shares a classic rookie card with Paul Molitor in the '78 set. 

Pic:  Trammell looks like he's scrambling out of the batters box in a day game against the Angels.  Topps could have used a more flattering shot of Trammell in the inset.

Player:  Alan Trammell was a 2nd round pick of the Tigers in '76 and debuted at the end of the '77 season along with long time double play partner Lou Whitaker .  Trammell, a raw 19 year-old shortstop, batted .186 in 43 at bats.  He won a spot in the Tigers starting lineup for the '78 season.  While he learning the ropes of big league play he batted .268 and .276 over the '78/'79 seasons.

In 1980 Tram hit .300 for the first time and was rewarded with his first All-Star appearance.  Trammell batted just .258 both of the next two years but was an asset with the glove, posting 15 and 10 fielding runs above average according to Total Zone.  Trammell was entering his prime and reached a new level of performance in '83 batting .319/.385/.471 with 14 HR and 30 stolen bases.  For his efforts Trammell was named AL Comeback Player of the Year.

The '84 Tigers jumped out to a 35-5 start and easily won the AL East with 104 wins.  Tram batted .314 with 14 HR.  He went 4-11 with a triple and homer, in the three game sweep of the Royals.  Facing the San Diego Padres, he led the Tigers to a World Series victory batting 9-20 with two HR and was named series MVP.

Trammell battled knee and shoulder injuries in '85 and hit just .258.  After off season surgery to repair both of his damaged limbs, he hit 21 dingers in '86.  With 25 steals Trammell joined teammate Kirk Gibson as the only two Tigers to have 20/20 seasons. (Since matched by C.Granderson)

1987 would be Trammell's best season.  Batting cleanup, he hit 28 home runs with a .343/.402/.551 line.  Over the last month of the season Tram hit .417 with seven homers as the Tigers overtook the Blue Jays to win the AL East in the last week of the season.  The Tigers ran out of gas in the ALCS and were bounced by the Twins.  Trammell finished 2nd in MVP voting behind George Bell, although Tram or Wade Boggs were more deserving.

Trammell had a fine '88 season batting .311 but the follow-ing years would be marred by injuries and the Tigers decline.  Trammell batted .243 in '89 but rebounded with a .304 effort in 1990, the last season he would be healthy enough to play 140+ games.  He had another down year in '91 and a broken ankle limited him to 29 games in '92.  Tram had a resurgence in '93 batting .329 in 112 games.  Over '94-'96 season he was no longer a starter and batted .267, .269, and .233 over that time.  Trammell retired with a career .285 average, 2,365 hits, 185 HR, and 1,003 RBI. 

Flipside:  Looking at the stats here on the back, it shows how the '83 season was a turning point in his career.  Through '82 he had hit .300 just once and had yet to hit for power.  From '83 forward he would hit .300+ six more times with eight seasons of 10+ HR.

Oddball:  Check out this video of Trammell and Whitaker appearing on Magnum PI.

History:  Trammell was a six time All-Star and won a World Series MVP.   He won three Silver Slugger awards to go with his four Gold Gloves.  He was not a flashy player but was fundamentally sound and always seemed to make the right play.  Tram and Whitaker were the longest running double play combo in MLB history.  Baseball stat guru and historian Bill James rates Trammell the ninth best shortstop of all-time.  Trammell's HOF candidacy has picked up steam as he received 36.8% of the vote after receiving 24.3% of the vote in 2011.
After his playing career Trammell was the Tigers hitting coach in '99 and then was the Padres first base coach for three years.  He returned to manage the Tigers from '03-'05.  From '07-'10 he was the Cubs bench coach and is currently the bench coach for former teammate and Diamondback manager Kirk Gibson. 

Saturday, January 28, 2012

#94 Dave Edwards - San Diego Padres

Card:  Edwards appears here in his fourth and final Topps card. 

Pic:  A nice photo of Edwards swinging the bat.  In the inset  pic the rarely used Edwards looks perturbed.  Maybe a coach just told him "Hey Edwards, you're starting today, nah just kidding". 
I wonder why Topps used a green border with the Padres cards.

Player: Dave Edwards was drafted by the Twins in the 7th round in 1971.  Having just turned 17 years old in February, Edwards started his pro career that summer in Rookie ball.  Eight years and 839 games later, Edwards made his debut as a September call up in 1979.  Used in center and leftfield, Edwards racked up 44 at bats and batted .250 with a home run in his first taste of MLB action.

Edwards made the Twins to start the '79 season and was initially used as a pinch runner and defensive replace-ment.  He played all three outfield positions and by July was starting more than not.  He batted .249/.323/.389 with 8 homers and 6 stolen bases on the year. 

In 1980, Edwards was platooned in the outfield as a right-handed contrast to the rest of the Twins left-handed outfield of Rick Sofield, Ken Landreaux, and Hosken Powell. Edwards batted .250 with 2 HR in 200 at bats.  An indication of Edwards struggles was his 12/51 walk to strikeout ratio. 

Before the '81 season the Twins sent Edwards to the Padres in exchange for pitcher Chuck Baker.  Edwards started against lefties but curiously batted only .198 when he had the platoon advantage.  He played mainly rightfield and batted just .214 overall in 112 at bats.  Edwards started only six games the entire '82 season.  He registered just 55 at bats with most of his action as a defensive sub.  He batted a meager .182 and was released at the conclusion of the season.  Edwards finished his career with a .238 average, 14 home runs and 12 stolen bases. 

Flipside:  Unfortunately for Edwards, these are his career stats.   You know it's a rough year when Topps gets wordy in the highlights. 

Oddball:  Edwards has twin brothers Mike and Marshall who both played in the majors.  We'll see Marshall much later in the set.  None of the three had prolonged careers and it's interesting to compare.  Career slash stats for the three:
Dave         .238 / .301 / .350    640 at bats
Mike         .250 / .280 / .298    879 at bats
Marshall   .258 / .267 / .316    310 at bats
Oddly Dave played for the Twins but neither of his twin brothers did.

History:  Edwards  was used a lot in his career as a defensive replacement and pinch runner.  His stats do not indicate he was particularly adept at either task.  Although his range was adequate for the corner outfield spots, his range factor in center was below average.  In his short career he made 20 errors resulting in a terrible .958 fielding percentage.  His base stealing stats or his two career triples don't indicate anything more than average or slightly above average speed.  At the plate he didn't get on base enough or hit for much power.  By the end of 1982 his career had run its course and Edwards was done playing before he turned 29.

Friday, January 27, 2012

#93 John Castino - Minnesota Twins

Card:  Castino appears here on his fourth Topps card.

Pic:  The pic seems a bit out of focus.  I like the sun reflecting off his helmet.  Like several cards in this set, Castino's uniform seems to blend into the background.

Player:  John Castino was drafted in the 3rd round in the 1976 draft.  Despite never having played past the AA-level, Castino made the Twins squad in 1979.  At first Castino was used mainly as a defensive replacement and started only six of the Twins first 31 games.  Before May was over, Castino had dislodged Mike Cubbage as the starting third baseman.   Castino showed good range at the hot corner, finished 2nd in the AL with 22 sacrifice hits, and batted .285.  The 24 year-old shared AL Rookie of the Year honors with Blue Jays SS Alfredo Griffin

Castino built on his rookie year with a solid sophomore campaign in 1980.  Batting .302 with 13 home runs, Castino continued his sold defense at third and even started ten games at shortstop.  Despite his lofty average, Castino still was called on to bunt often, placing 2nd in the AL again with 21 sac bunts.   Castino led the AL with 9 triples in the '81 strike year but his average dropped to .268. 

Castino experienced problems with his back in '82 which eventually led to a spinal fusion.   Splitting time between thirdbase and secondbase, Castino batted just .241 in 117 games.  After the surgery, the pain was lessened and Castino was able to play in 142 games, primarily at secondbase. He rebounded with a much better year with a .277/.348/.403 stat line. 

Castino experienced more pain in '84 and was able to play in only eight games.  A second back surgery ended his career at age 29.

Flipside:  Castino also went 3-4 with a single, double, triple, and sac fly in a 10-2 win against Texas on 9/15/82.

Oddball:  Castino retired at a young age due to injury. Comparing Castino's top ten comparable players through age 28 shows that if he had stayed healthy he would have likely played about five more years and amassed around 600 more hits.  Some of the more notable comparable players are Phil Garner, Ray Knight, and Mark Loretta.

History:  Castino was a hard nosed blue collar type player who played all out, all the time.  He found out after he began experiencing back pain that he had been born with a deft in his spine that was likely aggravated by diving around the ball field.  The Twins only finished over .500 once in his career (82-80 in '79) and he never got to play in the postseason. 
Castino is currently an investment advisor.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

#92 Mike LaCoss - Houston Astros

Card:  LaCoss shows up here on card #92, his fifth Topps card.
Pic:  LaCoss is in his follow through, possibly at Shea Stadium.  It looks like the inset picture was taken a frame or two before or after the action shot.

Player:   Mike LaCoss was drafted in the 3rd round by the Reds in 1974. Halfway through the '78 season, LaCoss was called up to Cincinnati.  He made 15 starts  and ended his rookie year with a 4-8 record and a 4.50 ERA.  LaCoss excelled during his second year and was named to the NL All-Star squad with a 2.22 ERA.  LaCoss regressed in the second half but finished with a 14-8 record and a 3.50 ERA over 205 innings of work.  The 23 year-old hurler got the nod to start game 3 of the NLCS but was wild, walking four in 1.2 innings and took the loss as the Pirates swept the Reds out of postseason play.
LaCoss floundered in 1980 as he gave up 207 hits and 68 walks in 169 innings leading to a 4.62 ERA and 10-12 record.    He was even worse in '81 sporting a 6.12 ERA in 78 innings. 
LaCoss was cut from the Reds in spring training in '82 and claimed off waivers by the Astros.  Pitching mostly out of the bullpen LaCoss managed to strand a lot of runners, many of them his own.  His WHIP of 1.400 and unimpressive 54/51 walk to strikeout ratio defy a much more impressive 2.90 ERA.   The Astros used LaCoss as both a starter and reliever over the next two years splitting his time almost evenly.  The results were middling, though he had an even 12-12 record, his ERAs of 4.43 and 4.02 were above league average.  
The 6'5" righty was a free-agent and signed in 1985 with Kansas City.  Used exclusively as a reliever, LaCoss pitched in 21 games with a 5.09 ERA.  He was demoted to AAA Wichita in August.  Meanwhile the Royals went on to win the World Series. 
LaCoss made the '86 Giants squad as a non-roster invitee to spring training. He pitched at the back end of the rotation, and occasionally in relief.  He won 23 games over the '86 and '87 seasons with ERAs of 3.57 and 3.68.  LaCoss was used out of the pen in the '87 NLCS, pitching 3.1 scoreless innings against the pennant winning Cardinals.  He pitched in 19 games, all starts in 1988, but the season ended prematurely due to a knee injury.  LaCoss had a 7-7 record and again had an ERA in the mid-threes.  
LaCoss started the '89 season as the Giants closer and was doing a good job, when injuries to the starting staff forced him back into the rotation by the end of June.  He ended the year 10-10, with 6 saves and a 3.17 ERA in 150 innings.  He pitched poorly in the postseason giving up three runs in as many innings in his start against the Cubs.  He gave up three more in 4.1 innings in two relief appear-ances against the eventual champion Oakland A's.   
LaCoss had knee surgery in 1990 and pitched in only 13 games.  He was ineffective in '91, getting knocked around to the tune of a 7.23 ERA in 47 innings and was released in July.  LaCoss tried to make it back with the Expos the following year but flamed out in AAA Indianapolis.  LaCoss finished his career with a 98-103 record and 4.02 ERA.
Stuff: Fastball, splitter, curve, and sinker

Flipside: In addition to the highlights listed, LaCoss also threw 7 shutout innings against the Braves on 9/14.

Oddball:  LaCoss hit two home runs in his career and they came in consecutive at bats, although they were hit in two separate games in 1986.  The first came off 1B/OF Dane Iorg who took the mound in a lopsided affair.  His second blast came off of Reds lefty Tom Browning on 6/29.  

History:  LaCoss had an up and down career but pitched his best as a member of the San Fransisco Giants.  Like many who worked under him, LaCoss had his career revived by split-finger guru Roger Craig.  With San Fran, LaCoss kept his ERA under 4.00 in five of the six seasons he spent there and provided value in several roles.  
LaCoss never won a championship, but had several close calls.  He was a few years late to the party with the Reds, was demoted mid-year by the '85 Royals and was knocked out the postseason twice with the '89 World Series his best shot at glory. 
LaCoss was recently named pitching coach for the minor league San Rafael Pacifics. 

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

#91 Larry Milbourne - Cleveland Indians

Card:  This is Milbourne’s 7th Topps Card.  He was a Topps All-Star rookie in the ’75 set but did not reappear until the ’78 set.

Pic: The well traveled Milbourne is air-brushed into his Indians uniform.  It makes him look like a cardboard cutout.  I despise airbrushing, but as you'll see Milbourne didn't usually stay in one place very long.

Player:  Larry Milbourne started his pro career in '69 and bounced around from franchise to franchise before getting a chance when the Astros took him in the rule five draft in 1974.  Now with his fifth franchise, Milbourne had finally made the big leagues.  He spent the '74 season as a reserve, often deployed as a pinch runner or defensive sub at second base.  The switch hitting rookie hit .279/.329/.309 in 136 at bats.  Milbourne was similarly used in '75 and '76 batting .212 and .248 respectively.

The Astros traded the 26 year-old infielder to Seattle during spring training in '77.   With the expansion Mariners, Milbourne had the game winning hit in the teams first win.  He played second and shortstop while batting .226 in 236 at bats.  Milbourne continued in a utility role for the Mariners through the 1980 season.  He played around 100 games each year and batted .226, .278, and .264 over this stretch.  In '78 he had a game to remember, belting homers from both sides of the plate in a 7-6 Mariners win on July 1st.  Those would his only home runs on the year.  In 1979 Milbourne led the AL with 12 pinch hits in 30 at bats.

Following the 1980 season, Milbourne was traded to the Yankees.    Playing a lessened role on a good team, he had his most efficient season in '81, batting .313 in 164 at bats backing up Bucky Dent and Willie Randolph.  Milbourne was thrust in the spotlight when Dent went down with an injury late in the season.  Milbourne more than held his own during the post-season, batting .327 over three rounds as the Yankees eventually lost to the Dodgers in the World Series.

Milbourne was traded in a five player deal in May of '82 to the Twins.  He spent two months with the Twins and was traded to the Indians.  Milbourne got the chance to play everyday with the Indians and batted .257 on the year as he racked up a career high 416 at bats.   Over the winter the Indians sold Milbourne to the Phillies.  He played 41 games for Philadelphia and was sold to the Yankees in July, batting .221 in 136 at bats. 

Traded to the Mariners before the '84 season, Milbourne mainly played third base and batted .265 in 211 at bats.  He hung around at Calgary, the Mariners AAA affiliate in '85, but was released in August.  Milbourne then likely cashed in his frequent flier miles and ended his journeyman career with a flight back home to New Jersey.

Flipside:  Milbourne bounced around in '82 but was red hot in August as he batted .333 (32/96)

Oddball:  Straight from his baseball-reference page here are Milbourne's transactions before he reached the major leagues:

·  June 18, 1969: Signed by the Baltimore Orioles as an amateur free agent.
·  April 7, 1970: Released by the Baltimore Orioles.
·  April 2, 1971: Signed as a Free Agent with the San Francisco Giants.
·  November 29, 1971: Drafted by the California Angels from the San Francisco Giants in the 1971 minor league draft.
·  November 27, 1972: Drafted by the St. Louis Cardinals from the California Angels in the 1972 minor league draft.
·  December 3, 1973: Drafted by the Houston Astros from the St. Louis Cardinals in the 1973 rule 5 draft

History:  Milbourne will be remembered as an original Mariner and for his well played postseason with the Yankees.  He had good speed and although he lacked both power and patience, he occasionally posted a decent batting average.  His only season with an OPS+ over 83 was with the Yankees in '81 (118).  His defense was average but he was valued enough for his versatility and switch-hitting that he always seemed to find a home.  Milbourne batted .254 in 11 seasons while playing for six different teams. 

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

#90 Jerry Reuss - Los Angeles Dodgers

Card:  Veteran pitcher Reuss appears on his 14th Topps card.
Pic:  By the looks of his hand, it seems Reuss either turned over a change up or threw a screwball.
Player:   Jerry Reuss was a 2nd round pick of the St. Louis Cardinals, his home town team in 1967.  By the end of the ’69 season the tall lefty had thrown seven shutout innings in his first MLB action.  He split the ’70 season between the majors and AAA Tulsa, making 20 starts for the Cards with a 4.10 ERA.  Reuss was a part of the Cardinals starting staff in ’71, making 35 starts and logging 211 innings.  Reuss struggled with his control walking 109 batters and it showed in his 4.78 ERA.
Just prior to the ’72 season, Reuss was dealt to the Astros for Lance Clemons and Scipio Spinks.  Reuss won nine games in ’72 with a 4.17 ERA in 30 starts.   The 6’5” Reuss made a league best 40 starts in ’73 but the young Reuss clashed with old-school manager Leo Durocher.  Reuss won 16 games with an ERA (3.74) near the league average but the friction with Durocher led to a trade to Pittsburgh which sent backstop Milt May to Houston.
Reuss won 48 games over the ’74-’76 seasons with the ‘75 being the best of the three.  He pitched six shutouts and had a sharp 2.54 ERA in 237 innings.  The playoffs had not been kind to the blond lefty, pitching well but getting hung with two losses in the NLCS defeat to the Dodgers in ’74 and getting hit hard against the eventual World Series champion Reds in ’75.  In 1977 he was not as effective and his ERA jumped to 4.11 which caused manager Chuck Tanner to demote Reuss to long man / spot starter status in ’78.  Reuss pitched only 82 innings with a 4.90 ERA. 
Before the ’79 season commenced, Reuss was traded to the Dodgers for Rick Rhoden.  He started the year in the pen and struggled for a while after joining the rotation.  His ERA was over five with two months left in the year but he lowered it to 3.54 by the end of the year but lost twice as many as he won (7-14).  
Reuss enjoyed his best years in the early 80's. The 1980 season was his best, as he posted a 2.51 ERA in 229 innings, won 18 games, and led the NL with 6 shutouts.  He threw a no-hitter against the Giants on June 27th with the only base runner reaching on a Bill Russell error.  His great year allowed him to finish second in Cy Young voting.  He stayed the course in ’81 with a 2.30 ERA and 10 wins in the labor-strife shortened season.  Reuss pitched well in the postseason throwing a shutout to close out the NLDS and winning a critical game five of the World Series.  The Dodgers went on the defeat the Yankees as Reuss and the Dodgers enjoyed bringing a championship to Los Angeles. 
Reuss continued to pitch well winning 18 and 12 over the next two years with ERAs of 3.11 and 2.94.  His '83 playoff experience wasn't as swell as '81, losing a pitcher's duel in game one of the NLCS and getting rocked in a game four loss to the Phillies.  Reuss was relegated to the pen for a while after a rough start to the '84 season which saw him end up with a 5-7 record and a 3.82 ERA.
Reuss rebounded with a 2.92 ERA over 212 innings in '85.  The veteran lefty won 14 regular season games but lost game four of the NLCS to the Cardinals who dispatched the Dodgers in six games.  A sore elbow and eventually surgery derailed his '86 season as he scuffled with a 5.84 ERA in 74 innings. 
Reuss came back in '87 but had lost velocity and was not the same.  After a two inning relief appearance the Dodgers released Reuss. He was picked up by the Reds but his performance was forgettable (30 ER/34 IP).  He was dumped again and was a little better for the Angels, where he posted a 5.25 ERA in 16 starts. 
Reuss signed with the White Sox and bounced back with a respectable 3.44 ERA in 188 innings in '88.  Things weren't as smooth in '89 and he was traded mid-year to Milwaukee for Brian Drahman.  The crafty lefty struggled for the Brewers too and finished the year with a 5.13 ERA in 140 innings. 
Reuss, now with a head full of white hair that made him appear even older than his 1949 birth date would attest, was not ready to hang it up.  This led him to a whirlwind tour in 1990.  Signed and released by the White Sox in spring training, Reuss also pitched for the Astros at the AA and AAA levels before the Pirates picked him up and assigned him to AAA Buffalo.  Reuss pitched well enough to get called back up to Pittsburgh.  He pitched out of the bullpen for three games and got the start in game #162, giving up three runs in five and a third innings.  Reuss realized his time had run out and retired with 220 wins over his 22 year career.
Stuff:  Until his elbow surgery, Reuss

Flipside:  Reuss followed up his one-hitter with a four-hit shutout in his next start on 4-27-82.

Oddball:  According to an interview with Reuss, the Cardinals traded the young lefty to the Astros because owner August Busch II didn't approve of Reuss' blond mustache.

History:  Reuss bounced around a lot following his prime years with the Dodgers.  He will be best remembered as a key part of the '81 championship Dodgers.  Reuss was a two time All-Star, accumulating 220 wins with a career ERA of 3.64. 
After his rubber arm finally wore out, he turned to the broadcast booth, working games for the Dodgers and ESPN.  He then coached in the minors for the Expos, Cubs, and Mets.  Later he worked on radio broadcasts for the the Las Vegas 51's.
Reuss has a pretty cool website, check it out.

Monday, January 23, 2012

#89 Leon Roberts - Toronto Blue Jays

Card:  Roberts appears on his 8th regular issue Topps card.

Pic:  Topps captured Roberts in a Blue Jay uniform although he didn't play for Toronto until after a trade on July 15th.  Roberts looks like a down to earth, old school kinda guy. 

Player:   Leon Roberts was selected by the Tigers in the 1972 draft after a stellar career at the University of Michigan.  He debuted with the Tigers in late 1974 and batted .270 in 63 at bats.   Roberts was the Tigers primary right fielder in ’75 and batted .257/.316/.385 with 10 HR. 
Following the ’75 season he was traded to the Astros in a seven player deal.   Roberts platooned in left field batting .289 with seven long balls in 235 at bats.   In 1977 Roberts was buried deep on the Astros bench and after a 2-21 start to the season, he was sent down to the minors in June.  He returned with a hitless six at bat showing in September. 
After the season the Seattle Mariners traded for Roberts and sent Jimmy Sexton to the Astros.   Roberts started in right field for Seattle and the 27 year-old enjoyed a career year.  Roberts hit 22 home runs and drove in 92 runs, both setting high water marks for his career.  His .301 batting average ranked 5th in the AL and his .879 OPS was 6th best.  Roberts found it difficult to duplicate his successful ’78 campaign, regressing to a .271 average while hitting 15 HR with 54 RBI in ’79.  His production further waned in ’80 batting .251 with only 10 homers. 

For the third time in six years, a December trade sent Roberts packing.  This time he was dealt to Texas in an eleven player deal.    Roberts played both corner outfield spots for the Rangers and started against lefties.  He batted .279/.345/.421 in 72 games.  He was filling the same role in ’82 when he was sold to Toronto.  Roberts struggled with both teams and batted a combined .230 on the year.

Prior to spring training in ’83 he was sent to Kansas City in return for 19 year-old Cecil Fielder.  Roberts hit .258 for the Royals with eight home runs in a part-time role.  In 1984 Roberts played very sparingly, batting .222 in 45 at bats.  He did not make the post-season roster for the AL West champion Royals and was released after the season.  Roberts returned to the Tigers franchise and hit .267 at AAA Evansville before calling it quits in ’85. 

Flipside:  Both of the highlights on the back came while he was a Ranger.  After he was sold to Toronto he struggled quite a bit but had two 3-hit games in September.  Strangely the Blue Jays were shutout in both games despite Roberts efforts.
Topps lists Roberts birthplace as Kalamazoo, Michigan but most references list him as born in Vicksburg about a 15 minute drive from K'zoo. 
I missed posting this on Roberts 61st birthday by one day...go figure. 

Oddball:  It is much more fun to watch position players pitch than pitchers hit… On July 3, 1984 Roberts took the hill to finish a one-sided affair against the Indians.  Already down 12-3, the Indians added three more off Roberts including a home run by Chris BandoAccording to Roberts the home run glanced off of an outfielder's glove and over the fence.

History:  Roberts had an eleven year career in the big leagues and enjoyed his most productive seasons in Seattle, accumulating 9.8 WAR in his three years there.   Roberts completed his career with 78 HR and a .267/.332/.419 line.  Although he played for six different franchises he never tasted the postseason, just missing out with the Royals at the end of his career.
After his major league career was over, Roberts stuck around managing in the minors for the Tigers before playing in the Senior Baseball League. Since then he has served on several minor and major league staffs. It was announced on January 3rd that Roberts joined the Oklahoma City RedHawks (Astros) as their hitting coach.

Hey faithful readers, check out a new blog on the scene.  Written by Mariner1, the "1979 Topps" takes a look at...you guessed it 1979 Topps. 

Sunday, January 22, 2012

#88 Jim Gantner - Milwaukee Brewers

Card:  This is Gantner's 6th Topps card.

Pic: The left-handed Gantner follows through with a swing as the Brewers play the Angels.  I bet Gantner would have some funky hat-hair if we could somehow pry his hat off.

Player:  Jim Gantner was drafted in '74 and had brief trials with the Brewers in '76 and '77.  Having played primarily third base in the minors, Ganter stuck with Milwaukee in '78 as a utility infielder.   Playing sparingly, Gantner batted .216 in 97 at bats.  He was able to play a bit more in '79 playing 70 games filling in at 2B and 3B for Paul Molitor and Sal Bando and batted .284. 

Due to Bando's decline and an injury to Molitor, Gantner was able to play semiregularly in 1980.  Again splitting time at 2B and 3B, he batted .282 in 415 at bats.  With Molitor playing in the outfield in '81, Gantner played everyday at 2B and showed good range and a steady glove fielding .984 while batting .267.  The Brewers lost in the divisional playoffs to the Yankees with Gantner going 2 for 14 in 4 games.

Gantner batted ninth and started at second base most of the time for the Brewers loaded lineup in '82 and hit a career best .295.  After a 3-16 ALCS against the Angels, Gantner excelled in the World Series going 8-24, with 4 doubles and a triple.  However Harveys Wallbangers fell short of the championship as they lost the World Series to the Cardinals in seven games.

Gantner now playing every day hit .282 in both '83 and '84.  He played in a career high 161 games in '83 and also established career marks with 11 homers, 8 triples, and 74 RBI.  His OPS+ of 107 would mark the only time in his career over 100.
Gantner played regularly and batted .274 and .254 in the '85 and '86 seasons.  An injury limited him to only 81 games in 1987, but he returned to active duty at second base in '88 and stole a career best 20 bases.  He stole another 20 bags in '89 and batted in the .270's over the '87-'89 seasons.  On 8/15/89 Gantner tore a knee ligament when he was taken out by Marcus Lawton's roll block slide at second base.  He was unable to return until the following June. 

"Gumby" came back and batted .263 in 88 games in 1990.  The next season, the Brewers added Willie Randolph to the infield, so Gantner moved over to third base, batted .283, and hit his first homer in four years.  Now 39 years old, Gantner played a utility role in '92 and batted .246 in his final season.   He retired with 1,696 hits and played all of his 1,801 career games in a Brewers uniform.

Flipside: Gantner's .295 batting average in '82 was his career best and he was very consistent usually batting in the .270 - .280 range.  Because he never walked much his OBP% would hover just over .300 each year.  In fact from '79-'91 his OBP was between .300 and .336 each year. 

Oddball:  In a 8/29/79 game the Brewers found themselves getting pounded by the Royals early.  To save the bullpen the Brew Crew sent out Sal Bando to pitch three innings, Gantner one inning and Buck Martinez finished up with an inning.  I don't recall ever coming across a game where three position players pitched. 

History:  Gantner was a consistent performer for the Brewers for 17 seasons. Gumby was solid but not flashy in the field and well liked by his Brewer teammates and fans.
His career spanned from playing with Hank Aaron (Gantner pinch-ran for him in Aaron's last game) to young Brewers such as Gary Sheffield and Greg Vaughn.  Through the years he played his entire career with Hall of Famer Robin Yount.
Now a days Gantner is involved with several business ventures and has coached off and on since retiring.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

#87 Joe Rudi - Oakland A's

Card:  This is Rudi's 15th and final Topps card.

Pic:  Rudi looks relaxed as he gets ready to bat.  I prefer a shot like this over one with a contorted follow through. 
I'm not feeling the bright green/pink combo.

Player: Joe Rudi was signed by the Kansas City A's in '64 and struggled to establish himself in the big leagues.  Rudi batted under .200 in his first three years with the A's from '67-'69.  In 1970 he worked with A's hitting coach Charlie Lau who shortened his swing.  Rudi batted .306 in 350 at bats with 11 HR and had started to fulfill the potential the A's had seen in him. 

1971 was Rudi's first season as a starter and while his offensive stats (.267 BA, 10 HR) don't stand out he had a great season defensively.  Both FanGraphs and Baseball Reference list Rudi with 14 fielding runs for the year, a terrific total for a left fielder.
Rudi went 1-8 in his first taste of postseason action as the A's bowed out against the Orioles.  Rudi had one of his best seasons in '72.  He batted .305/.345/.486 and led the AL in triples with nine and hits 181.  Rudi made his first All-Star team and finished 2nd to Dick Allen in MVP voting. 

                                                     Pencil drawing by Dan Guerra

Rudi excelled in the playoffs helping the A's start their dynasty by knocking off the Reds in '72.  He hit a home run and had a remarkable catch against the wall in the ninth inning to preserve a 2-1 win in Game 2.

Rudi's production fell off in '73 batting .270 with 12 HR.  He played well in the World Series batting .333 in the A's triumph over the Mets.  Rudi was great in '73, leading the AL with 39 doubles, batting .293/.334/.484 with 22 HR and a career best 99 RBI.   He won his first Gold Glove, made his second All-Star team and finished second to Jeff Burroughs for AL MVP. The A's cruised to their third championship in a row as Rudi batted .333 with a homer in the '74 Series win over the Dodgers. 

As 1975 unfolded the A's dynasty was crumbling at the hands of A's owner Charlie Finley and his various disputes with his star players.  On June 15, Finley sold Rudi and Rollie Fingers to the Red Sox and Vida Blue to the Yankees.  The deal was voided by Commissioner Bowie Kuhn and despite the circus like atmosphere surrounding the team, the A's were able to again win the AL West.  The A's however weren't destined to win four in a row and were swept out of the ALCS by the Red Sox.  Rudi batted .278 with 21 HR on the year and won another Gold Glove.

Rudi played out '76 as he eyed free agency, batting .270 with 13 HR and 94 RBI.  Although for several years he had been regarded as under rated, this obviously was no longer the case as Rudi finished 12th for the AL MVP despite his pedestrian stats. 

Rudi inked a five year deal with the Angels but struggled with injuries and the expectations of a free agent signee.  Rudi's skills were eroding and he averaged only 360 at bats per season.  His best year for the Angels was '78 when he batted .256 with 17 HR.  After the '80 season he was traded with  Jim Dorsey and Frank Tanana to the Boston for Fred Lynn and Steve Renko

With the Red Sox his average plummeted to .180 in 122 at bats.  The season marked the seventh consecutive year his average decreased.  Again a free-agent, he returned to Oakland, who signed him to a two-year deal. (Yikes!)

Playing primarily firstbase, Rudi batted .212 in 193 at bats in '82 while battling chronic achilles problems which also kept him on the DL for the following season.  Having played his last game at age 36, Rudi called it a career.

Flipside:  These stats are tiny and signify his career totals.   If you can read his games played column you'll see that he only played 134+ games in a season twice in his career, 147 in '72 and 158 in '74.  It's no accident that his healthiest seasons were also his most productive.  His WAR in those two years...5.9 and 5.6.  His next best season '75 was 3.1. 

Oddball:  Rudi was already 6' tall by age 11.

History:  Rudi, a 16 year veteran amassed 1,468 hits with 179 HR and a .264 career average.  Rudi's peak years coincided with the A's dynasty.  By the time he was 30, Rudi was constantly dealing with various injuries.  He was a three time All-Star and won three gold gloves for his fine fielding ability. 

Rudi worked as a coach off and on for the A's in the 80's for Tony Larussa and now works in real estate in Baker City, Oregon.

Much of the data for this was pulled from a fine bio on the SABR Biography Project page on Rudi.