Wednesday, February 29, 2012

#125 Leon Durham - Chicago Cubs

Leon Durham is pictured leading off third base here on his third Topps card.  I like this photo as Topps tends to get in a rut with the batting shots.
Player:  Leon Durham was a first round pick of the Cardinals in 1976.  He played first base and some outfield in the minors was called up in May of 1980.  With Keith Hernandez entrenched at firstbase, Durham played the corner outfield spots and played in 96 games.  He batted .271 with eight homers and 8 stolen bases.  After the season, the Cards sent Durham, Ken Reitz and Ty Waller to the Cubs for Bruce Sutter.

Durham changed teams, but was still blocked at first base by Bill Buckner so he landed in right field.  Durham performed reasonably well at the plate with a .290/.344/.460 line while adding 25 steals in the strike shortened '81 campaign.  He split time evenly between center and rightfield in '82.  He batted .312, belted 22 HR, and drove in 90 runs.  He swiped 28 bases and posted a 151 OPS+.  His production netted him an All-Star selection and Silver Slugger award.  Durham battled injuries throughout the '83 season and batted.258 in only 409 plate appearances. 

The Cubs moved Durham to first base and traded Buckner early in the '84 season.  "Bull" had a very good year batting .279/.369/.505 along with 23 HR and 96 RBI.  At this point he still had decent wheels and stole 16 bases.  The Cubs won the division and although he hit two homers in the NLCS he is remembered for something else.  He made a crucial error in deciding Game 5 which the Padres ultimately won.   

Durham continued on with the Cubs, hitting 20+ HR each of the next three years with batting averages from .262 to .282.  Each year he missed more time with injuries and played only 131 games in '87.  The Cubs traded Durham to the Reds for pitcher Pat Perry on 5/19/88.  Durham struggled before and after the trade and spent most of year in drug and alcohol rehab.  He batted just .218 in 45 games. 

After the season, Durham was released by the Reds.  He signed with St.Louis over the winter and spent the first half of the year in AAA.  He was called up but was rarely used getting just one hit in 18 at bats.  He failed a drug test and was suspended in September for the remainder of the season.  Durham tried to come back several times playing mainly in independent leagues.  He got as far as the Angels AAA team in '95 but never made it back to the majors.  He retired with 147 HR in ten seasons and a career line of .277/.356/.475

Flipside:  You can see that Durham was from Cincinnati but as you read his return home did nothing to revive his career.

History:  Fair or not, Durham is often lumped in with his Cubs predecessor at 1B, Bill Buckner, as a postseason goat.   He was a productive offensive force his first six years in the league with an OPS+ of 129.  Like far too many althletes, drugs and alcohol hastened his decline and he was washed up at age 30.
Durham has been the Tigers AAA hitting coach at Toledo for since 2001.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

#124 Marc Hill - Chicago White Sox

Marc Hill shows up here on his 9th Topps card.  Although not a candid action shot, it is an interesting staged picture with the ball mid air as Hill gets ready to take a whack.  The background makes the ball difficult to see with the sun shining on the bright yellow seats in the background.  I can't tell if Hill is wearing a traditional windbreaker or a rubber suit to help him shed weight.

Player:  Marc Hill debuted with the St. Louis Cardinals by catching a two-hit shutout at the tail end of the 1973 season.  A 10th round pick in the 1970 draft, Hill was blocked at catcher by Ted Simmons and Tim McCarver and spent all but ten games in '74 back at AAA. 

In October of '74, Hill was traded to the Giants for Ken Rudolph and Elias Sosa.  With San Fran he played a reserve role and batted .214 in '75.  He returned in that role in '76 and his average dipped to .183.  Hill had good defensive skills and a strong arm which helped him win the starting job in '77  He responded with his best year batting .250 with nine home runs in 320 at bats.  He hit .243 with three homers in '78 in what would be his last action as a regular.

In a reserve role Hill batted .207 in '79. Mid-way through the 1980 season he was sold to the Mariners.  He completed the year with another .207 batting mark.  Hill contemplated retirement but signed with the White Sox.  In Chicago, Hill was the third string catcher and rarely played.  In the entire '81 season he batted six times with zero hits. He played in 16 games that were usually out of hand by the time he got in. With his portly build and scruffy beard he fit right in with fellow Sox LaMarr Hoyt, Greg Luzinski, and Marv Foley.

Hill was Carlton Fisk's main backup in '82 and hit .261 with three long balls in 88 at bats.  Hill was known as a pranskter and although he didn't play much he seemed to be one of those "clubhouse" guys that management loves for being a good teammate and positive influence.  Hill hit .226 in '83 and did not play in the ALCS loss to the Orioles.  

In '84 Hill hit .233 with 16 extra base hits, his most since his Giant days.  He soon began losing playing time to young Joel Skinner.  He batted .133 and .158 in limited playing time over the next few seasons and retired following the '86 campaign.  In 14 seasons, Hill hit .223/.295/.317 with 34 career home runs.  He had one career steal on the back end of a failed hit and run.

Flipside:  Hill also had a great game on 9/23.  He went 2-4 with a homer, double, and walk. 

Oddball:  As mentioned earlier the White Sox had a portly bunch in the early 80's:
I could have added Britt Burns and Dennis Lamp too, but I think you get the point.

History:  Like recent post subject Mickey Hatcher, Hill was a prankster and fun guy to be around which along with his defensive skills kept him in the game for 14 years.  The only time his team made the playoffs he did not play. 
Hill managed in the minors for a while and was on the Astros staff in '88.  He surfaced in '91 as the Yankees  bullpen coach.  He also managed in the minors for a while. 
Hill was recently honored at his former high school on Feb 22.

Monday, February 27, 2012

#123 George Frazier - New York Yankees

George Frazier shows up here on his fourth Topps card.  They would use a similar action shot on his '84 and '88 card.  Something doesn't look right with this card, but it looks too good to be airbrushed. 

Player:  George Frazier was drafted by the Brewers in '76.  After a trade to the Cardinals for Buck Martinez, the lanky reliever broke into the Cards pen in 1978.  He appeared in 14 games with an 0-3 record and a 4.09 ERA in 22 innings.  He was shuttled back and forth from St. Louis to AAA Springfield over the next two seasons.  With the Cards he pitched in 25 games in '79 and 22 more in '80.  He was used mainly in middle relief and threw 55 combined innings and earned three saves.

Frazier was down on the farm in June of '81 when he was dealt  to the Yankees.  New York called him up for the stretch run in August.  He pitched well for his new team saving three games with a 1.63 ERA in 27.2 innings.  Frazier pitched 5.2 frames of scoreless work in Game 2 of the ALCS to earn the win over the A's.  His glee was short lived though as he would be hung with losses in Games 3, 4, and 6 of the World Series.  Frazier gave up seven runs in 3.2 innings and is the only pitcher to lose three games in a best of seven World Series.

As a setup man, Frazier had remarkably similar years the next two seasons with identical 4-4 records.  He appeared in 63 games and 111 innings in '82 and 61 games and 115 innings in '83.  His ERAs were 3.47 and 3.43.   In the off-season he was traded to the Indians.  He played half of the '84 season there until he was packaged in the Rick Sutcliffe / Joe Carter trade with the Cubs.  Frazier pitched in a  total of 108 innings with 4 saves and a 3.92 ERA.  In the NLCS he gave up two runs in 1.2 innings in the Cubs lopsided Game 3 loss to the Padres.

Frazier struggled for the Cubs the next year and a half and was traded in '86 to the Twins in a deal involving former teammate Ron Davis.  Frazier was a bit more effective for the Twins and finished the year with a 5.06 ERA in 78.1 innings.  He pitched in 81.1 frames in '87 with a 4.98 ERA and two saves.  Frazier didn't appear in the ALCS but had two shutout innings in Game 4 of the World Series.  The Twins won the championship and Frazier had the ring that had eluded him in '81.  He retired with 29 career saves and a 4.20 ERA in 675.2 innings of work.

Stuff: Fastball, curve, slider.  Frazier mixed things up by changing his arm angle frequently.

Flipside:   Frazier never started a game in the majors (and only one in the minors) but in '82 he had eight appearances of 4+ innings.

Oddball:  Frazier was brutal as a fielder. He made 13 errors in 130 chances for a career fielding percentage of .900.

History:  Whether he deserves it or not, Frazier will be best remembered for his three losses in the '81 World Series.  He was able to be on the winning side in '87 with the Twins.
Frazier has been a color commentater for Rockies TV since 1997.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

#122 Jimmy Smith - Pittsburgh Pirates

This is Smith's one and only Topps card.
Player:  Jimmy Smith was drafted by the Orioles in the 6th round of the 1976 draft.  The Pirates were his third organ-ization by the time he reached the big leagues.  He made the Pittsburgh squad as backup infielder in '82.  Manager Chuck Tanner rode his starters hard as his four infield starters Jason Thompson, Johnny Ray, Dale Berra, and Bill Madlock aver-aged 157 games each.  The lanky Smith got into only 42 games, 14 of those as a pinch runner.  He batted .238  with two doubles and a triple in 52 plate appearances. 

Before the '83 season started the Pirates sold Smith to the White Sox.  He spent the entire year in AAA and was released.  He tried catching on with the Tigers in '84 but was cut loose in spring training.  After that, he falls off the grid.

Flipside:  During a stretch of steady playing time, Smith had 7 hits in 15 at bats from May 4 to May 14.

Oddball:  Even though it is a common name there has been only one other Jim, Jimmy, or James Smith in the major league history. 

History:  Smith has the shortest MLB stay of any subject so far.  If you blinked in '82 you likely missed his career.  Even though he had such a brief stay in the majors, Fleer and Donruss each produced a card for Smith in '83.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

#121 Mickey Hatcher - Minnesota Twins

Hatcher is pictured here on his fourth Topps card while taking batting practice.  Topps used a lot of batting practice pics in the '80 set but not too many in this set.  Personally, I appreciate any pic with Tiger Stadium in the background.
Player:  After playing football and baseball at the University of Oklahoma, Mickey Hatcher was drafted by the Dodgers in 1977.  He debuted in '79, playing right field and third base and batted .269 with a home run in 93 at bats. 

Hatcher was up and down with the Dodgers in 1980.  He tore up the minors but struggled in LA, finishing the year with a .226 average with most of his at bats coming as a pinch hitter.  With the emergence of Pedro Guerrero, the Dodgers felt Hatcher was expendable and dealt him and two minor leaguers to the Twins for Ken Landreaux. 

Hatcher received regular playing time with his new team in '81.  The Twins played him in CF and although he only made two errors, his range was sub par.  Hatcher posted slash stats of .255/.285/.350 in 377 at bats.  He was a reserve in '82 DH-ing and playing the corner OF positions.  He was quite a hacker walking only eight times in 286 plate appearances as he hit just .249 with a meager 65+ OPS. 

Hatcher turned things around in '83 batting .317 in 375 at bats with a career high nine home runs.  Hatcher didn't waste much time in the batters box walking 14 times and striking out just 19.  His performance earned him the starting left fielder job in '84 and he showed good range posting 1.7 dWAR.  Hatcher batted .302/.342/.406 playing in a career high 152 games.  He played semi-regularly over the next two years batting .278 and .282 with three homers each year.

The Twins released Hatcher during spring training in '87 and he was picked up by the Dodgers.  Reunited with his old team, Hatcher pinch hit and backed up at the four corner positions batting .293 in '88.  Hatcher played first base in NLCS against the Mets and filled in for the injured Kirk Gibson in LF in the World Series.  Hatcher had a great series, belting two homers and batting .368 as the Dodgers took out the A's in five games.

Hatcher continued as a bench player in '89 and batted .295 in 224 at bats.  His production fell apart in '90 as he posted a line of .212/.248/.250.  Hatcher retired and started his coaching career in AAA in '91.  He was active for 17 games but hit just .160 for Albuquerque and that was the end of his playing days.

Flipside:  Topps really dug deep into their verb vault on this card.  We have delivered, produced, went, cracked, and laced in the highlights.

Oddball:  Hatcher gained national attention during the '88 World Series for his frantic scramble around the bases on his two homers and his dash to first after a base on balls.  Of course a whole blog could probably devoted to the goofiness of Mickey Hatcher. 

History:  Hatcher was a World Series hero for the Dodgers in '88.  He was traded away from LA a year before they won in '81 and was cut by the Twins when they won in '87.  In 12 MLB seasons, he posted a career line of .280/.313/.377.  Offfensively he hit for average but didn't offer much else. 
Hatcher coached and managed in the Dodgers system for several years and has been the Angels hitting coach for the past 12 years.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

#120 Len Barker - Cleveland Indians

This is Barker’s 7th Topps card.

Pic:  Barker peers in towards the plate while blurry palm trees wave in the spring training background.  Hey, Barker makes four players in a row with a mustache!
Player:  Len Barker debuted with the Texas Rangers in September of 1976.  A third round pick in the '73 draft, he made two starts including a shutout in his second start.  He started the '77 season in the minors but was plugged into the Rangers rotation in July and pitched mainly in long relief.  He was effective in the role and earned two notable wins in marathon extra inning affairs.  On 9/17 he came into the game in 8th inning and pitched 9.2 innings of scoreless relief.  Eight days later he entered a game in the 7th and threw 8 innings of shutout ball to earn the win.  He finished the year with a 4-1 record and a 2.66 ERA in 47.1 innings. 
Barker spent '78 in the pen and part of the year in AAA.  In 29 games he logged 52 innings with four saves and a 4.82 ERA.  After the season he was traded to Cleveland with Bobby Bonds for Larvell Blanks and Jim Kern.  With the Indians, Barker made 10 relief appearances before joining the rotation in June.   He wasn’t effective in either role and went 6-6 with a 4.92 ERA over 137 innings.  Barker was a workhorse in 1980 making 36 starts, logging 246 innings, and striking out a league best 187 innings.  He won 19 games despite a league average ERA of 4.17.
Barker's 1981 season, and career for that matter, were highlighted by a perfect game on May 15Here is a nice video recap.  Barker also started the All-Star game after the strike ended.  He finished the year 8-7 with a 3.91 ERA and once again led the AL with 127 strikeouts.  He had a solid year in '82 with a 3.90 ERA in 244 innings.  He completed 10 games and had a 15-11 record. 
Barker was fighting through a rough '84 season when he was traded to Atlanta for three players to be named later.  While Barker pitched better for Atlanta he had only one win and the price the Braves paid was steep.  The Braves missed the playoffs and two of the players sent to Cleveland were Brett Butler and Brook Jacoby who both turned into All-Stars.  Barker's combined for a 9-16 record and a 4.88 ERA.
The big right-handed hurler signed a big five year deal with the Braves but missed time with an injury in '84, and posted a 3.85 ERA in 20 starts.  His '85 season was a disaster logging just 73 innings with a 6.35 ERA. 
Before the '86 season started the Braves released Barker and ate the rest of his contract.  He bounced around the minors for a while and resurfaced with the Brewers in '87.  He made 11 starts with a 5.36 ERA.  Barker's once promising career was over at age 32.   
Stuff:  Mid 90s fastball, curve, change

Flipside:  Barker pitched ten innings in a game twice in '82, receiving a no decision both times.
Oddball:  One way to evaluate trades is compare Wins Above Replacement (WAR) that players accumulate for their new teams.  Barker after the Braves acquired him had 0.7 WAR.  The Indians got -0.7 WAR from Behenna, 15.7 WAR from Butler, and 14.1 from Jacoby.  So the Indians come out on top 29.1 to 0.7.
History:  Barker will always be remembered for his perfect game in '81.  Unfortunately many will also recall his burnout as a Brave.  Atlanta never should have paid such a steep price for Barker.  While the flame thrower racked up the K's he recorded an ERA+ over 100 just once as a starter with the Indians.  Barker pitched 11 seasons in the majors with a 4.34 ERA, a 74-76 record, and 975 strikeouts in 1323 innings.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

#119 Tom Brookens - Detroit Tigers

This is Brookens’ 4th Topps card.

Pic:  Brookens is breaking out of the batters box.  We've seen a few shots like this lately.  Topps would use a very similar pic in '84 for Brookens.

Player:  Tom Brookens was a first round pick of the Tigers back in 1975.  He steadily advanced through the minors and debuted with the big club in July of ’79.  The 25 year-old third baseman played in 60 games and batted .263.   He stole 10 bases, played good defense, and also filled in at second base.  Brookens was the Tigers regular starter at the hot corner in ’80, batting .275/.315/.418 with ten homers.  He experienced the best of times and the worst of times in 1980.  On 8/20 he went 5-5 with a home run and triple and started a triple play.   He had a game to forget on 9/6 committing four errors to tie a record. 

Brookens played semi-regularly at third over the next three years batting between .214 and .243 while also backing up Lou Whitaker at 2B and Alan Trammell at SS.  By 1984 he was fighting off young Howard Johnson for playing time and he was used as a reserve.  He batted .246 as the Tigers rolled to a World Championship.  Brookens didn’t play much in the postseason going hitless in five at bats.

The Tigers traded HoJo away and Brookens was the default starter at third base in ‘85.  He played in a career high 156 games and hit 34 doubles but batted just .237.  In ‘86 the Tigers had Darnell Coles at third base and Brookens was again a utility player.  He batted .270 in his reduced role and was used all over the field.  Coles slumped in ’87 and Brookens regained the starting job and hit a career high 13 HR while batting .241.  He went hitless in 13 at bats in the ALCS as the Twins defeated the Tigers.  Brookens was a regular for the ’88 season putting up a familiar line of .243/.313/.351 in 136 games. 

On the brink of the ’89 season the Tigers dealt Brookens to the Yankees for lefty Charles Hudson.  Brookens filled a utility infielder role for New York and batted .226 in 168 at bats.  He was released following the season and signed with the Indians for the ’90 season.  Brookens batted .266 in his last year for the Tribe and he retired following the season.  In 12 seasons he batted .246/.296/.367 with 71 HR and 86 SB.

Flipside:  In addition to the highlights listed, on 9/6/82, Brookens hit a homer to lead off the top of the 10th inning to put the Tigs on top in a 6-5 win.

Oddball:  Brookens was forced into catching duty during an extra inning game on 7/20/85.  After manager Sparky Anderson had pinch hit for both his catchers, Brookens caught the last five innings of the Tigers 6-5 win in 15 innings.  As this game ran past my ten-year-old bedtime, I had to get the game recap the next day.  I remember the picture in the paper the next day.  I wish I could find it, he looked like a little kid inside the catchers gear.
Tom's twin brother Tim played in the minors for four years with Texas and Detroit. 

History:  Brookens was not a great player by any stretch.  He never posted and OPS+ over 100 but was consistently mediocre.  His batting average never topped .275 but managers knew what to expect from him.  He had good range at third base and in his first seven years in the league he averaged 0.8 dWAR.
Today, Brookens is the Tigers first base coach.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

#118 Chris Welsh - San Diego Padres

Welsh appears here on his second Topps card.
Pic:  Topps captures Welsh mid-delivery and we see that he had an unusual leg kick.  I'm not digging the neon green with the Padres cards.

Player:  Chris Welsh was drafted by the Yankees in the 21st round of the '77 draft.  He spent four years in the minors and as the '81 season was getting ready to start he was traded to the Padres.

Welsh was plugged into San Diego's starting rotation and made 19 starts in '81.  The rookie posted a 3.78 ERA with a 6-7 record in 123 innings of work.  The soft-tossing lefty spent most of '82 as a starter but was not as successful as the year prior.  Although he was 8-8 he had a 4.91 ERA in 139 frames with an abysmal 63/48 walk to strikeout ratio. 

Welsh started '83 in the Padres bullpen with one spot start before he was sold to the Expos.  In 59 combined major league innings he posted a 4.42 ERA.  He had a strong year in '84, albeit in AAA Indianapolis, winning 13 with a 3.01 ERA. 

The Expos traded Welsh to the Rangers for Dave Hostetler in December of '84.  The 30 year-old lefty made his way back to the majors in May  of '85 and worked in long relief and made six starts.  He logged 76 innings with a 4.13 ERA and was released after the season was over. 

The Reds picked up Welsh for the '86 season and he made 24 starts with a 6-9 record and a 4.78 ERA.  Welsh was cut loose by the Reds and he spent a few weeks with Baltimore's AAA affiliate in before hanging up the cleats in '87.

Stuff:  Side-arm fastball mid 80s, sinker low 80s, overhand curve.  He also threw a change up that he gripped like a splitter and turned it over like a screwball.

Flipside:  The shutout on June 12 was impressive but it's a good thing he had two RBI in the May 31 game because he gave up six runs in 6.1 innings.  I'm sure Welsh was more proud of his other two complete game wins, but hey, two hits by a pitcher is pretty cool.

Oddball:  Here is a video of Welsh (now a Reds broadcaster)crying in the dugout in an ad for JTM Foods while Bronson Arroyo sings and plays guitar.  Yeah, I think it fits in the oddball category.

History:  Welsh did not have a very distinguished MLB career.  He had career record of 22-31 with a 4.45 ERA.  He had a deceptive funky straight arm motion and kind of slung the ball toward the plate.  In today's era of specialization he probably would be a one or two batter lefty reliever.

Monday, February 20, 2012

#117 Alan Knicely - Houston Astros

Card:  Alan Knicely appears on his third Topps card.  For the fourth consecutive card in the set, this is the players first solo card. 

Pic:  Knicely looks like he hit one down the third base line in a spring training game.  Knicely is rocking the shades and the 'stache...more on that later.

Player:  Alan Knicely was drafted by the Astros in '74 as a pitcher.  He began the transformation to a corner infielder at single-A Dubuque in '76 and even pitched in 14 more games a year later.  In '78 at double-A Columbus, Knicely made the move to outfield but struggled with a .227 average.  He repeated at Columbus in '79 and was moved behind the plate.  Knicely tore it up, belting 33 HR with a line of .289/.383/.566 and was named co-winner of the Southern League's MVP with teammate Danny Heep.  The catcher went 0-6 in a September stint with the Astros.

Knicely was promoted to AAA in '80 and continued to rake, batting .318/22 HR/105 RBI.  He continued to learn the catcher position and K'd in his lone MLB at bat.  Knicely had another great year in the minors in '81 hitting .306 with 18 HR and 96 RBI.  He made the most of the seven at bats he received in September, hitting two HR and two singles while with the big club.  Knicely finally made the Astros in '82 as a third catcher, pinch hitter, and rightfielder.  He batted .188 in 136 at bats with two HR. 

Knicely wasn't graceful behind the plate and Houston wasn't sure what to do with him, so they traded him to the Reds for Bill Dawley and Tony Walker.  The Reds no-facial hair policy didn't do any favors for Knicely's appearance.  Check out a montage of Knicely as seen through his Topps cards:

With the Reds, Knicely was again a third string catcher behind Dann Bilardello and Alex Trevino.  He batted .224 in 98 at bats and added a pair of HR.  Knicely was at AAA in '84 and batted .333 with 33 HR and 126 RBI.  His domination earned him another league MVP award and a September call up.  He batted just .138 in 29 at bats. 

Knicely was up and down with the Reds and AAA in '85 and was enjoying his most productive MLB season when he was traded in August to the Phillies.  With his new franchise he spent all but seven at bats back in AAA.  In majors he hit a combined .242 with 5 dingers and while in the minors he batted .360 with 10 long balls. 

Knicely was cut in the spring of '86 and picked up by St. Louis.  When Jack Clark was injured they called up Knicely to play first base, but he was unable to deliver, batting .195 in 85 at bats.  He spent all of '87 at AAA Oklahoma City and retired.

Flipside:  Man that is one off-center back! 
Knicely's other HR was on July 29 and although he went 3-3, he also had a passed ball and an error. 

Oddball:  Quoted in the August 4, 1986 issue of Sports Illustrated, Knicely said about a pop-up that hit him in the head, "That will come on Wide World of Sports right after the guy who falls off the ski slope."

History:  Knicely had quite an interesting career.  It must have been very frustrating to dominate minor league pitching but struggle in the majors.  In 600 MLB plate appearances he hit .213 with 12 HR.  In the minors he hit .295 with 159 HR.  He really didn't have a true position and I wonder how he would have done if he could have been a full time DH in the American League.   

Sunday, February 19, 2012

#116 Dave Schmidt - Texas Rangers

This is Dave Schmidt's 2nd Topps card.  For the third card in a row Topps features a player who appeared on a three player Future Star card in the '82 set.

Pic:  Here we see Schmidt in the stretch position.  I like inset pictures with a blue sky background.

Player:  Dave Schmidt was a 26th round pick out of UCLA by the Rangers in 1979.  By '81 he debuted with Texas, pitching in 14 games with one start.  He earned one save in 31 innings with a 3.13 ERA.  Schmidt made Rangers for good in '82 but they struggled to find a role for him.  He started out in a mop-up role, started a few games, back to mopping up, middle relief, saved four games in July, and joined the rotation for a while in August and ended the season on the DL with bone spurs in his elbow.  He finished the year with a 3.20 ERA in 109 innings with 4 wins and 6 saves. 

Schmidt recovered from surgery to repair his elbow but didn't pitch again until May of '83.  He pitched purely in a relief role the next two years appearing in 74 games over the '83/'84 seasons with ERAs of 3.88 and 2.56.  The Rangers had a league low 21 saves in '84 but Schmidt recorded 12 of them.  Schmidt made four starts in '85 (including a complete game shutout) but pitched mainly in short relief.  He logged 85 innings with five saves and a 3.15 ERA.

Following the '85 season Schmidt was dealt to the White Sox in a five player trade.  In a bullpen by committee, he saved 8 games sharing closer duties with Bob James, Gene Nelson, and a young Bobby Thigpen.  Schimdt worked 92 frames with a 3.31 ERA.For some reason the White Sox released Schmidt in December and he was signed by the Orioles. 

Schmidt had always considered himself a starter and the pitching poor O's gave him a shot.  He threw a three hit shutout on 6/24 and a two-hitter on 7/12 and didn't walk a batter in either game. He moved in and out of the rotation over '87-'89 seasons with a 28-23 record.  He was successful his first two years with ERAs of 3.77 and 3.40.  However things went south as Baltimore relied on him for a heavier workload in '89.  Pitching in a career high 156 innings, Schmidt gave up 196 hits and 24 HR leading to a 5.69 ERA.  This was the first time in his career his ERA was above four. 

Schmidt moved on as a free-agent with the Expos and was closing games by May.  He saved 13 games with a 4.31 ERA but did not pitch after an injury in July.  Schmidt never really recoverd as he was shelled in four outings in '91.  He tried again in '92 with Seattle but gave up seven runs in 3.1 innings.  He was released by Seattle and caught on with AAA Tacoma (A's) but he retired after he failed to get on track.  Schmidt pitched 12 seasons in the big leagues with a 3.88 ERA in 902 innings with 54 wins and 50 saves.   

Flipside:  Check out this wild game that Schmidt started on 8/17/82.  He went ten innings and left with the game tied 1-1.  The White Sox scored two runs off the pen in the top of the 11th, but the Ranger first baseman Dave Hostetler hit a three-run homer to end the game.

Oddball:  Schmidt's career splits indicate a 3.52 ERA in the first half versus a second half ERA of 4.42.  Perhaps juggling him back and forthe between the pen and rotation tooks a toll on Schmidt as the year wore on.

History:  Schmidt never pitched in the post-season or was an All-Star, but he was an effective set-up man for several years.  His flexibility to start and work out of the pen was a benefit to the teams he pitched on, but he may have been better off used strictly in relief. 
Today Schmidt is the Coordinator of Sarasota Operations, Baltimore's Gulf Coast League affiliate.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

#115 Chili Davis - San Francisco Giants

Here is Chili Davis' second Topps card and the first solo card.
Pic:  Looks like Davis just hit a ball to the right side, you can really see Davis' eyes watching where he hit it.  That seems pretty cool to see on a card but runs counter to what I'm always telling the little leaguers.. 

Player:  Chili Davis was drafted out of high school in the 11th round by the Giants in 1977.  As a catcher in rookie ball he had 22 errors and 22 passed balls in 49 games prompting a move to the outfield.  With an impressive spring training he made the Giants in '81 but didn't play much and was sent down after just 15 at bats.  The switch-hitting centerfielder was a fixture atop the Giants lineup in '82 and batted .261 with 19 homers and 24 steals.  Davis finished fourth in ROY voting.  Offseason surgery on an injured ankle robbed Davis of some speed as he would never again top 20 steals.

Davis slumped as a sophomore and batted just .233 with 11 HR.  1984 was a breakout year for Davis as he batted .315 with 21 HR and 81 RBI.  He was voted to his first All-Star team and posted a 148 OPS+.  The next two years were so-so as he batted in the .270s with 13 HR both years.  By now he was splitting time between center and right field.  Davis slugged 24 homers and stole 16 bases in '87 as Giants won the NL West.  Chili was chilly in the NLCS going 3-20 as the Giants lost to the Cards.

Davis signed with the Angels as a free-agent and spent the '88-'90 seasons in California.  He hit 20+ HR his first two years and batted .268 and .271.  His production tapered off a bit in 1990 as he battled back problems and adjusted to his new DH role.  As '91 approached, Davis signed with the Twins and assumed the DH position full-time.  He belted 29 homers, drove in 93 runs, and walked a career best 95 times.  The Twins won the World Series as Davis homered in games 2 and 3 against the Braves.  He hit for average in '92 (.288) but his power waned as he hit just 12 HR.

Davis returned to the Angels where he would play the next four seasons.  In '93 he had a career best 112 RBI.  In '94 and '95 the labor strife shortened two very productive years.  He posted a slash line of .315/.420/.527 while hitting 46 long balls in 227 games.  Davis kept up the steady production, batting .292 with 28 dingers in '96.  After the season he was traded to Kansas City for Mark Gubicza and Mike Bovee.  Davis hit a career high 30 homers for the Royals in '97 and was once again a free-agent. 

Davis signed with the New York Yankees and injured his ankle in the second game of the year.  He was out until August but came back and hit .291 in 103 at bats.  Davis started 8 of the Yankees 13 playoff games hitting .259 with a homer as the Yankees won the first of consecutive championships.  He returned as their regular DH in '99 and batted .269 with 19 HR.  He was a part time player in the postseason hitting just 2 singles in 18 at bats as the Yankees repeated.  Davis retired after 19 seasons with 2,380 hits, 350 HR, 1,372 RBI and a line of .274/.360/.451. 

Flipside: Davis was the first Jamaican born player to play in the majors.  He moved to LA with his family when he was 10 years old.  He later played with fellow Jamaican Devon White with the Angels. 

Oddball:  You might think that Davis' nickname of Chili is some sort of take on his given name of Charles but it's not.  He was given the name after a bad hair cut at age twelve that made his hair look as if it had been shaped by a chili bowl. 
Davis was hit by pitch only 15 times in 19 seasons.

History:  Davis was a three time All-Star and won three championships in his career.  As far as switch-hitters are concerned, Davis' 350 HR are only surpassed by Mickey Mantle, Eddie Murray, Chipper Jones, and Lance Berkman.  Davis was well respected by his teammates and was often referred to as a steady veteran influence wherever he played.  Here is a pretty in depth bio on Davis.
His post playing days have been sprinkled with coaching positions in various organizations.  He was Pawtucket's hitting coach in 2011 and was named Oakland A's hitting coach for the 2012 season.

Friday, February 17, 2012

#114 Jim Slaton - Milwaukee Brewers

Slaton and his fabulous hair appear on his 12th Topps card.

Pic:  A lot to dislike here.  Slaton had the same crappy pose in '76 and '78.  The hair, the hair...c'mon put a hat on that mop please.  I suppose this card's one redeeming quality is the Tiger Stadium background.

Player:  Jim Slaton was a draft pick of the Seattle Pilots back in 1969.  When he debuted in '71 the franchise was now in Milwaukee, and he recorded a 10-8 record in 23 starts with a 3.78 ERA.  He spent most of '72 back in AAA, but did make eight starts but was roughed up with a 5.52 ERA and 1-6 record. 

Slaton got on track in 1973 and turned out to be a durable pitcher.  He didn't strikeout a lot of hitters, but he spent the next five years in the Brewers rotation pitching at least 217 innings each year with a career high 292 in 1976.  He kept his ERA around four and won 10+ games each year.  In '77 he had a 2.99 ERA at the break and was selected to the All-Star game but did not play.  

After the '77 season Slaton was traded with Rich Folkers to Detroit for Ben Oglivie.  In Motown, Slaton turned in a typical season with a 4.02 ERA and won a career high 17 games.  It turned out to be a great trade for the Brewers as Oglivie developed into a power hitter in Milwaukee.  The Tigers released Folkers and Slaton returned to the Brewers as a free-agent in '79, winning 15 with a 3.63 ERA.

Slaton was injured in '80 and pitched in only three games.  He returned in '81 going 5-7 with a 4.37 ERA in the strike shortened season.  The six-foot righty pitched out of the pen in the '81 ALDS, giving up two runs in six innings of work as the Brewers bowed out against the Yankees.  He made seven starts in '82 but was used more in long relief.  He had a 10-6 record with a 3.29 ERA in 117 innings and had six saves, all of which were two innings or more.  He pitched exclusively in relief in the postseason and did well, giving up just one run in 7.1 innings.  He won Game 4 of the World Series in relief but the Brew Crew lost out to the Cards in seven games.

Slaton pitched in 46 games in '83, all in relief and won 14 games despite a 4.33 ERA.   After the season he was dealt to the Angels for outfielder Bobby Clark.  In California, Slaton was used mainly as a starter but was not effective.  He posted ERAs of 4.97 in '84 and 4.37 in '85 going 13-20 over the two seasons.  He started the '86 season poorly and was released in June with a 5.65 ERA.  He was signed by the Tigers two weeks later and joined their bullpen.  He pitched in 22 games with a 4.05 ERA.  Slaton retired and later began his coaching career.

Stuff: Fastball, slider, curve, change

Flipside:  Slaton was the ultimate long reliever in '82 logging 13 games with three or more relief innings.

Oddball:  Quick who is the Brewers all-time leader in Wins?  Slaton with 117.  He also leads the franchise in innings, games started, and losses.

History:  Slaton was a durable starter who generally kept his ERA around league average.  He pitched well in the postseason but never won a World Series.  He finished his career with a 151-158 record and a 4.03 ERA (95 ERA+) in 16 seasons. 
Slaton is currently a pitching coach in the Dodgers system.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

#113 Ron Roenicke - Los Angeles Dodgers

Card:  You’re looking at Ron Roenicke’s 2nd Topps card and the first card of his own.

Pic:  Here is a picture of Roenicke following through with a lefthanded swing against the Expos. Thirty years later he looks quite different.
Player:  Ron Roenicke was drafted by the Dodgers in the first round of the 1977 draft.  While in the minors the switch-hitting outfielder displayed the ability to hit for average, take walks, and steal bases with a high of 47 steals at double-A in 1979.  In 1981 he dominated AAA ball with a slash line of .316/.450/.526.  His performance earned him a September call up and he batted .234 in 47 at bats for the Dodgers.   He made the team to start the ’82 campaign and was used as a pinch hitter and spare outfielder.  He batted  .259 in 143 at bats but his ability to milk a walk carried over to the big leagues as his 21 walks helped him to a .359 OBP. 
Roenicke was again a reserve for LA in ’83, but with the emergence of slugging Mike Marshall the Dodgers had no room and released him in July.  He signed with Seattle and received regular playing time in center and left field.  He batted .239 in 343 combined at bats with 6 HR.  Seattle cut him during spring training in ’84 and he signed with the Padres.  He spent most of the year at AAA but was called up at the end of the season and had six hits in twenty at bats.  He did not play in the NLCS but did appear in two World Series games but did not bat as San Diego lost to Detroit in five games. 
Roenicke was again a spring training casualty but caught on with the Giants in ’85.  He batted .256/.408/.406 in 133 at bats and backed up all three outfield spots.  In ’86 he was cut by San Fran, signed by Oakland assigned to AAA Tacoma, and sold to Philadelphia, all in a month’s span.  He platooned in centerfield with Milt Thompson for the Phillies in ’86 batting 275 times.  He offset a .247 average with 61 walks leading to a nifty .381 OBP.  He had tough time in ’87 batting .167 in 78 at bats and was in AAA Maine as much as Philadelphia. 
The Phillies let him go and he spent ’88 between Cincinnati and AAA Nashville.  He batted .135 in 37 big league at bats in what would be his final year of MLB action.  He spent ’89 in Texas’ farm system and then started his coaching career.  In 1,294 at bats he batted .238/.353/.338 with 17 HR and 24 SB. 

Flipside:  If you think those are some impressive walk totals in his minor league stats, you are correct.  He walked in 17.1% of his minor league plate appearances.
Oddball:  There is a Brewer fan site at which is basically covers allthings Brewers and other baseball stuff.
History:  Roenicke at his best was a useful bench player for a while.  He got on base often and played good defense.  His on base ability would probably be appreciated a little more in today's SABR-friendly era of statistical analysis.  Ron's brother Gary played in big leagues for twelve years. They never played against each other in the regular season since they spent the majority of their time in opposite leagues.  They did play together in Senior Baseball as seen this card here
Like many ex-players Roenicke coached after his playing days ended.  After serving on the Dodgers and Angels coaching staffs Roenicke took over the manager’s post in Milwaukee for the 2011 season.  He led the team to the NLCS in his first year at the helm.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

#112 Bob Shirley - Cincinnati Reds

Card: This is lefthanded pitcher Bob Shirley’s 6th Topps card.

Pic:  A great action shot of Shirley getting ready to throw a forkball, a pitch he added to his repertoire in 1980.  I just wish the pic wasn’t so bright.

Player:  Bob Shirley joined the Padres after a distinguished career at the University of Oklahoma.  After he was drafted eighth overall in the January draft in '76, Shirley spent just one season in the minors.  The young lefty made the Padres rotation and began 1977 as their fourth starter.  By the end of the year he led the Padres in wins 12, ERA 3.70, innings 214, and strikeouts with 146.  Shirley started the '78 season in the rotation but was in and out of the pen all year.  He started 20 games and relieved in 30 others with a 3.69 ERA in 166 innings. 

In 1979 Shirley started 25 of his 49 games and pitched in 205 innings with a 3.38 ERA.  He pitched in relief in all but 12 games in 1980 earning 7 saves in 137 innings with another sub-4 ERA. 

Shirley was traded in the eleven player trade that sent Rollie Fingers and others to St. Louis.  Shirley changed teams but not roles, starting 11 of his 28 games with a 4.08 ERA. 
On the cusp of the '82 season he was dealt to the Reds for Jeff Lahti and a minor leaguer.  Shirley recorded a 3.60 ERA starting 20 games and relieving in 21 more in what would be his only year in Cincinnati.

Shirley was signed as a free-agent by the Yankees in '83 and started the year in the rotation.  Despite pitching his second career shutout on 4/27, it was a rough year as he finished with 5.08 ERA.  He started 17 games but spent a good chunk of the year as a rarely used mop-up man.  The next three years with New York he assumed the swingman role pretty which much defined his career. 

In '84 Shirley posted a 3.38 ERA in 114 innings.  In '85 he was even better with a career best 2.64 ERA in 109 innings.  He threw a lot of gopher balls in '86 and saw his ERA double.  In '87 he had a 4.50 ERA when he received his release from the Yankees in June (more on that later).  He signed with the Royals but pitched in only three games in KC after getting rocked for 12 runs in 7 innings.  He pitched in AAA through the '88 season and retired with a career 67-94 record, 18 saves and a 3.82 ERA.

Flipside: The April 25 highlight is an odd game to mention since he pitched just 0.2 of an inning.  They could have mentioned his complete game win on August 21 when he struckout 7.

Oddball:  Although Shirley and his ex-Yankee teammates deny it, Don Mattingly first hurt his back in 1987 when he and Shirley were rough-housing in the Yankee locker room.  Donnie Baseball never really hit with the same authority after the injury.  We'll never know for sure if a playful Shirley / Mattingly wrestling match impacted Mattingly's career but Shirley was released the same day.

History:  Shirley had a weird career in that he logged his most innings in his rookie year.  Although effective that year, he never again lasted an entire year in the rotation. Throughout his career he seemed to have a habit of getting shelled early in games when he didn't have his good stuff, but was reliable when used in spot starts.  If he would've been born twenty years later he probably would have been used as a situational lefty and perhaps had a longer career.