Saturday, March 31, 2012

#149 Johnny Ray - Pittsburgh Pirates

After sharing a rookie card in the '82 set, Johnny Ray appears here on his first solo card.  I like the action shot of Ray following through with a throw to first base. 

Player: Johhny Ray was tearing it up at Tucson in 1981 when he was the main player player among three to go to Pittsburgh in exchange for veteran Phil Garner.  At the time of the trade Ray was batting .349 with 50 doubles, 10 doubles, and 5 HR in 525 AAA at bats .  The Pirates immediately promoted him to the big leagues.  Over the last month of the season, Ray hit .245 with another 11 doubles, giving him 61 combined on the year. 

Ray would become a fixture at second base for the Pirates.  He played in every game in '82 and posted a .281/.318/.382 line.   He made good contact, striking out only 34 times and stole 16 bases as well.  Ray finished a close second to Steve Sax in NL Rookie of the Year voting

The switch-hitting Ray was very consistent over the next six seasons, playing 150+ games every year with batting averages between .274 and .312.  He continued to be a double machine hitting 38 in both '83 and '84 to lead the NL.  He was rewarded with a Silver Slugger award in '83 and although Ray was a good defensive player, he never won a Gold Glove as  Ryne Sandberg had that award locked up in the 80's. 

During the '87 season Pittsburgh had young Jose Lind knocking at the door and the Pirates decided to trade the 30 year-old Ray.  The sent him to the Angels in exchange for Miguel Garcia who would go on to pitch less than 20 innings for the Bucs.  Ray topped .300 for the third time when he hit .306 for the Angels in '88 and he made his first All-Star team. 

Ray battled injuries in '89 and played in only 134 games.  He batted .289 and continued to be a tough man to strike out.  He finished top-6 in AB/SO every year from '82-'89.  Nagging injuries bothered Ray all year in 1990 and he appeared in just 105 games while batting .276.

A free agent entering the '91 season, Ray signed with the Yakult Swallows in the Japan's Central League.  Ray played two years overseas and retired.  He finished his career with a .290 batting average, a 101 OPS+, and 20.6 WAR over ten major league seasons.

Flipside:  You can see Ray had some very impressive minor league stats.  Not sure why he was never brought up by Houston in '80 or '81.  Perhaps they were hoping for him to refine his defense.  At least Houston had Bill Doran a year behind Ray, so it's not like second base was a black hole for the Astros after the trade.

Oddball: As if the name Johnny Ray isn't cool enough, his middle name is Cornelius.

History:  Ray had a nice career but began to decline defensively once he hit his 30's.  He never hit below .274 in a full season and finished his career with more walks than strikeouts (353/329).  The 1980's had plenty of good players at second base so it was somewhat easy to overlook Ray with the likes of Ryne Sandberg, Steve Sax, Juan Samuel, Lou Whitaker, Willie Randolph, and Frank White around at the same time.

Friday, March 30, 2012

#148 Dave Roberts - Philadelphia Phillies

Hey, this is this Dave Roberts' 10th Topps card.  Don't mistake him for this Dave Roberts or this one or this one.  Not everyone cares for the powder blue / maroon mix on these Phillies uniforms but I like them.  This looks like it was taken at Shea Stadium.  If it is, then it can be narrowed down to a single he he hit off Randy Jones on 4/13 since that was his only at bat at Shea as a Phillie. 
Player:  The Padres chose Dave Roberts with the first overall pick in the '72 draft.  A shortstop from the University of Oregon, he signed and made his debut the next day, going 0-3.  The Padres used Roberts at third base and second base and he stayed with San Diego the rest of the season.  Playing in 100 games he batted .242 with five home runs.  

Roberts struggled to start the '73 season and spent several weeks in the minors and a few more riding the pine.  His bat caught fire as the season went on.  These are his monthly batting averages: .083-.200-.287-.310-.302-.308.  He also displayed some power knocking 21 over the fence.  He finished the year with an OPS+ of 123 and a .286/.310/.472 line.

In 1974 Roberts again got off to a poor start.  He was unable to snap out of the funk and finished the '74 season with an abysmal .167 average and five HR in 318 at bats.  He spent most of '75 in the minors.  Roberts batted .283 with a pair of home runs in 113 at bats after he was called up in August. 

The Padres acquired veteran third sacker Doug Rader in '76 and decided to keep Roberts in the minors and convert him to catcher.  He spent the whole season at AAA Hawaii and batted .249.  After the season the Padres sold him to the expansion Blue Jays, who decided to trade him back to San Diego before the '77 season started.  Roberts spent the next two seasons as a backup catcher and filled in all over the field.  He wasn't much with the stick as he managed just a .220 average in '77 and a .216 mark in '78.

During the offseason the Rangers acquired Roberts and Oscar Gamble from the Padres in exchange for Mike Hargrove, Bill Fahey, and Kurt Bevacqua.  Roberts would play only 44 games in a hyper-utility role for the Rangers in '79 as he played every position but shortstop and pitcher.  His flexibility was a nice addition to the roster and his offense was decent with him batting .263 with 3 HR in 84 at bats.  In 1980 he filled the utility role once again mainly playing third base, shortstop, and catcher.  He hit 10 HR in 235 at bats with a .238/.280/.383 line. 

The next year the Houston Astros signed Roberts to an amazing five-year, $1.3 million dollar contract.  He would play sparingly batting .241 in 54 at bats.  He was traded to the Phillies during spring training of '82 but his season was hampered by two stints on the disabled list.  He had just 36 plate appearances with a .182 average.

Roberts would start the '83 season on the DL but was released in May and subsequently retired.  He played 10 seasons in the majors with 49 home runs and a .239 batting average.   

Flipside:  It's hard to find highlights for a guy with only six hits on the year.  It seems odd that Topps would issue a card for Roberts but the Phillies had eight players who played between 16 and 35 games and they probably didn't know who to choose. 

Oddball:  Roberts is one of five players in MLB history to play at least 5% of their career games at C, 3B, SS, and 2B.

Topps was left hanging after Roberts went from San Diego to Toronto and back to San Diego during the '76/'77 off-season.  Topps included new Blue Jays and Mariners in the '77 set even though they hadn't played a game yet.  This resulted in Roberts being air-brushed into a Toronto uniform he would never wear.

History:  For the second consecutive post, we have a former first round pick who never lived up to the hype.  Roberts had a promising year in '73, but the league caught up with him and he regressed.  His versatility provided some value but he was a poor defender at the hot corner. 
He managed the Eugene Emeralds in 1984, a short season single-A team in the Royals chain.  The Emeralds stunk up the place with a 19-55 record and Roberts decided that managing wasn't for him.  

Thursday, March 29, 2012

#147 Rick Leach - Detroit Tigers

Rick Leach's second Topps card shows him batting in a sunny spring training game.
Player:  Growing up as a Michigan football fan Rick Leach was a pretty big deal.  He was a running quarterback at the University of Michigan and was an All-American in both football and baseball.

Leach was drafted by the Denver Broncos in the fifth round of the NFL draft in 1979 and the Tigers took him a month later in the first round.  He chose baseball and showed good on base ability in the minors.  Leach was called up early in the '81 season and the lefty played in 54 games at first base and right field.  He struggled to hit advanced pitching and posted a .193 average with one homer in 83 at bats.

Leach spent '82 as a part time player for the Tigers.  In 82 games he posted a .239/.303/.330 line with three home runs.  Playing primarily first base in '83 his hitting improved, but not much.  Leach was pretty good with the glove however posting 1.1 fielding WAR. 

In '84 the Tigers acquired Darrell Evans and Dave Bergman and Leach was cut in spring training.  He signed a week later with the Blue Jays organization where he would spend the next five seasons.  He was mainly a pinch hitter in '84 and batted .261 in 88 at bats.  He spent most of the next season at AAA Syracuse and played just 16 games with Toronto. 

In '86 Leach got into 110 contests as a DH, pinch hitter, and reserve corner outfielder.  He had a career best .309 average along with five home runs and 39 RBI.  Leach continued in this manner batting .282 and .276 in the '87 and '88 seasons.  

After the '88 season Toronto let him walk and he signed with the Texas Rangers.  He filled the same role with his new team and batted .272/.358/.351.  He left Texas after the '89 season for San Francisco where he served as a pinch hitter.  He was batting .293 in August when he was handed a 60 day suspension after a positive drug test.  The suspension ended his season and Leach retired when he was released by the Giants the following spring. 

Flipside:  Leach had two three-hit games in '82, both times with two singles and a double.  

Oddball:  Before receiving his 60-day suspension Leach had gone AWOL on his team twice during his career.  Once in '87 when he went on a cocaine binge and again in '89 when police later found marijuana in his hotel room. 

Leach and Dave Gallagher are the only two players in history with exactly 100 career doubles and 10 career triples.  If you like stuff like that, you should follow High Heat Stats Twitter feed.   

History:  Leach didn't live up to the promise of a first round pick and was out of the game by age 33. He never played in the postseason as he was released by the Tigers in '84 and did not make the Blue Jay playoff roster in '85.  In ten seasons he batted .268 with 18 home runs.  After his playing career Leach became an insurance agent.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

#146 Don Sutton - Super Veteran

Then and Now: I wonder if Sutton wore the poofy hair to hide his ears?

Career Span:  23 seasons from 4/14/66 to 8/9/88.  Sutton was teammates with an aging Jim Gilliam on the Dodgers.  At the end of his career he was teammates with youngsters Jose Canseco on the A's and Devon White on the Angels.

All Star:  Four times.  He never started but appeared in '72, '73, '75, and '77 pitching eight combined scoreless innings in relief.  He earned the win in the '77 contest. 

League Leaders:  Led NL in ERA once, games started once, shutouts once, and WHIP four times. 

All-Time:  Sutton ranks 3rd in games started (756), 3rd in earned runs (1,914), 7th in inning pitched (5,282),  7th in strikeouts (3,574), 7th in losses (256),  10th in shutouts (58), and 14th in career wins (324).

Postseason:  Sutton pitched in the playoffs five times.  He compiled a 6-4 record with a 3.68 ERA in 100.1 innings.  He appeared in four World Series but his team never won it all.

Cy Young:  Finished 3rd in '76, 4th in '74, 5th in '72, '73, and '75.

MVP:  22nd in '76.

Hall of Fame:  Elected in '98, 81.6% of the vote in his 5th year. 

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

#145 Don Sutton - Milwaukee Brewers

Don Sutton is shown here on his 18th Topps card.  He spent most of the year as an Astro before coming to the Brewers in a late season acquisition.  Big props to Topps for capturing Sutton in one of the seven games he pitched for Milwaukee in '82.  This was likely taken on September 12, against the Yankees, one of two day games he pitched on the road as a Brewer.  I wonder if we will ever see another ball player sport a graying white-man-afro?
Player:  Don Sutton was signed by the Dodgers in September of 1964 and spent the next year in the minors.  He debuted the next year amid a star studded rotation featuring Sandy Koufax, Don Drysdale, and Claude Osteen.  Sutton held his own, winning 12 games with a 2.99 ERA and 1.081 WHIP.  He didn't see the light of day in the World Series as his savvy teammates got the starting assignments.  Unfortunately for Sutton and the Dodger blue, the Orioles swept the series.

The sophomore jinx got to Sutton in '67 as his ERA climbed to 3.97 (78 ERA+) and at 11-15, his record reflected his slump.  He improved in '68 reducing his ERA to 2.60 (106 ERA+) but he ended up with the same 11-15 record.   Sutton won 32 games over the next two seasons with slightly above league average ERAs.  

Sutton would prove to be extremely durable and consistent, a hallmark of his lengthy career.  From '71 though '82 he would average 16 wins, with a 2.89 ERA and 1.084 WHIP over that span.  From '72 to '76 he finished either 3rd, 4th, or 5th in Cy Young voting.    

Sutton pitched in the '74 and '77 NLCS and World Series, and was 5-0 with a 2.13 ERA but came away empty both times. 
The Dodgers repeated as NL West champs in '78 but this time around Sutton was hit hard, losing all three of his playoff starts as New York sent LA home empty handed the second year in a row.

After the 1980 season, the free-agent Sutton signed with the Astros.  He won 11 games in the strike shortened season and led the NL in WHIP for the fourth time.  He was unable to help the Astros in the postseason because a line drive shattered his knee cap in the last week of the season.  He returned as his reliable self in '82 and was cruising along as usual when he was dealt to Milwaukee for Kevin Bass, Frank DiPino, and Mike Madden.  The Brewers acquired the veteran to add pitching to a talented offensive team.  Sutton did his job going 4-1 down the stretch to finish with 17 wins on the year.  He was effective in the ALCS earning the victory in Game 3 against the Angels.  The Cardinals however slashed him for 11 runs in two starts.  Sutton had been to five World Series and his team came up short every time.  

Now 38 years old, Sutton showed signs of slowing down in '83 as he won just eight games with a 4.08 ERA.  It was the first time in his career he had won less than eleven.  He was more effective in '84 winning 14 games with a 3.77 ERA.  Before the '85 season Sutton was dealt to Oakland for Ray Burris.  He spent most of the year with the A's but was traded again to the Angels in September for a pair of career minor leaguers.  Sutton finished the year with familiar stats: 15 wins in 226 innings.  

The following year on June 18, Sutton won game number 300 of his career.  He threw a complete game three-hitter, as a home run by Pete Incaviglia was the only run Texas could muster against the 41 year-old junk baller.  In typical fashion Sutton needed just 85 pitches to defeat the Rangers.  Sutton's '86 stats were nearly identical to his prior season as he won another 15 games with a similar ERA (3.77/3.86).  The Halos won the AL West, giving the aging Sutton another shot at the playoffs.  He gave up one run in a Game 4 no-decision that the Red Sox eventually won in eleven innings.  He also gave up a run as he tried to hold the fort in Boston's lopsided Game 7 win.

Sutton was hit hard in '87 but went 11-11 in spite of a 4.70 ERA in 34 starts.  He signed with the Dodgers for the '88 season and was 3-6 with a 3.92 ERA when he was released in August.  His career was over and the Dodgers went on the win the World Series without him.  In 23 seasons he compiled a record of 324-256, 3574 strikeouts, and a 3.26 ERA (108 ERA+). 

Stuff:  Curve, fastball, slider, screwball, change, scuffball 

Flipside:  Those numbers are too small to read here.  Let me recap some of stats:  12 seasons with 15 or more wins, 20 seasons with 200+ innings, and 21 seasons with 100+ strikeouts. 

Oddball:  Sutton was a consistently poor hitter, hitting over .200 just once in his career.  In 1,235 career at bats he never homered, and hit just fifteen doubles and one triple.

Sutton and Dodger teammate Steve Garvey once had a locker room brawl that was instigated by some less than kind remarks about Garvey's image.

History:  Sutton certainly won a ton of games in his long career.  He was elected to the HOF in 1998 in his fifth year of eligibility.  Sutton is sometimes looked as a "compiler", someone who played so long their career totals are bound to be impressive.  He had a nice peak in the early 70's followed by a decade of very good pitching that often was at or near All-Star level (see graph below).  He was ejected from a 1978 contest for scuffing the ball and it is widely admitted by everyone but Sutton that he doctored the ball throughout his career. 

After he was done playing, Sutton moved into the broadcast booth working for the Braves from '89 to '06.  He then worked on Washington Nationals TV for a couple of years before returning to Atlanta to work on radio broadcasts.

Graph borrowed from showing year by year Wins Above Replacement. 


Monday, March 26, 2012

#144 Mark Wagner - Texas Rangers

This is Mark Wagner's sixth Topps card and is the third card in a row to feature a non-game-action shot.  Topps gets it right with the blue and red borders matching the Rangers road uniforms perfectly.
Player:  Mark Wagner was a 19th round pick of the Tigers in 1972 and made his debut with Detroit in 1976.  The 22 year-old shortstop hit .261/.298/.330 in 115 at bats.  He started the '77 season with the Tigers but hit just .146 in 22 games and was shipped to AAA Evansville for the rest of the year. Wagner hit .306 on the farm and had to be hoping for a September promotion but he was passed over in favor of the younger Alan Trammell.

Wagner backed up Trammell and second baseman Lou Whitaker over the next three seasons.  Wagner batted .239 in '78 and improved to .274 in '79.  By 1980, Tram and Lou were established starters and Wagner was not playing much, batting just 72 times at a .236 clip. 

Before the '81 season, Detroit sent Wagner to Texas in exchange for relief pitcher Kevin Saucier.  Although he changed teams, Wagner was still a part-time player for the Rangers.  In '81 he posted an OPS+ over 100 (104) for the only time batting .259/.323/.365 in 95 plate appearances.  The next season he batted a career high 179 times with a .240 average.  In 1983 he played just two games with the Rangers, spending most of the year at AAA. 

Wagner was a free agent and made the Oakland A's squad in the spring of '84.  He batted .230 in 87 at bats while playing shortstop and third base.  Wagner pitched 1.2 shutout innings to end a 14-1 blowout loss on August 20.

He played one more year in the minors before retiring.  In nine seasons, he hit three home runs with a .243/.295/.299 line.

Flipside:  I dislike the shadow figure used on the back of some of these cards.  This one looks like a drunken pitcher.  Not sure how that correlates to a back-up infielder. 

Oddball:  In tracking Wagner's career, I'm not sure what happened in 1983.  He played the previous two years with Texas and played two games for them in June of '83.  As I mentioned earlier he spent the rest of the year in AAA, but he spent 36 games playing with the Tigers organization in Evansville.  Then he is listed as being granted free agency by Texas in November.  Maybe Texas loaned him to Detroit, I'm not sure. 

When Wagner was working as a first base coach at AA Chattanooga in '97, he was pressed into service when the team suffered a player shortage due to injuries and player promotions.  The 43 year-old got into two games and had one hit in four at bats. 

History:   Wagner was at one time thought to be the shortstop of the future in Detroit but was supplanted by Alan Trammell.  He never really got a chance as a full time player.  His defense was adequate and he didn't hit enough to warrant more playing time.  According to Baseball Reference, two of his closest comparable players are Onix Concepcion and Mike Ramsey, both players that have been featured on this blog. 

Sunday, March 25, 2012

#143 Joe Pettini - San Francisco Giants

Topps had a hard time catching Joe Pettini in action which is understandable since he played only 29 games in 1982.  This is Pettini's third card and much better than his freaky rookie card from the '81 set. Although listed as SS-3rd Base, he played exactly two innings at the hot corner in '82.

Player:  Joe Pettini was a utility infielder who made his way to the big leagues despite being skipped over in the draft.  After leaving Mercer University, Pettini signed a deal with the Expos in '77 and hit .304 at three levels of minor league action.  By 1979 he reached AAA where he hit .294.  Over the winter the Expos sent him to the Giants as the player-to-be-named-later to complete an earlier deal for John Tamargo.

With the Giants, Pettini started 1980 in the minors but made his debut in July.  He received regular playing time at shortstop while also appearing at third and second.  He launched his only career home run on 7/23 off Willie Hernandez in his 12th career game.  He finished the year with a stat line of .232/.295/.274.  The Giants may have over estimated his ability to handle shortstop, as his range factor at short (4.13) was well below league average (5.02).

Pettini didn't make the Giants out of spring training in '81 but was called up a month later.   He was used as a defensive replacement but did not perform well in that role.  While coming in at times for Rennie Stennett and Joe Morgan at second base he fielded .920 with sub-par range.  He also was used occasionally as a late inning replacement for Johnnie LeMaster with similar results.  In 12 games at shortstop he fielded at a .870 clip.  He also made one error in eight chances at thirdbase.  When he got the chance to bat, he didn't exactly make up for his poor defense.  In 29 at bats he managed two hits.

Not surprisingly, Pettini spent most of '82 in the minors.  When he was up with the Giants, he hit .205 in 39 at bats, which makes him an odd selection to appear in this set.  Pettini would spend the entire '83 season with the big league team.  He was again used as a defensive sub, pinch runner, and occasional pinch hitter.  He batted .186 in 86 at bats. 

Pettini spent the rest of his career in the minors playing at AAA Phoenix and Louisville through the '86 season.   

Flipside:  Pettini had one other two hit game on 8/23 when he went 2-3 with a walk.

Oddball:  Pettini was the shortstop on a line drive 4-6-3 triple play hit by Dave Cash on 10/3/80

History:  Pettini was a bit overmatched as player "earning" negative 1.9 WAR in his brief time in the majors.  He is much better known for his role as a bench coach for the Cardinals than his playing career.  He managed for eight years in the Cardinals chain and then won World Series rings as the bench coach on Tony LaRussa's staff in 2006 and 2011.  He now holds the same position for the Astros on manager Brad Mills' crew.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

#142 Mike Caldwell - Milwaukee Brewers

This is Mike Caldwell’s 11th Topps card and it looks very similar to Jim Slaton’s card #114. Both cards were taken in Tiger Stadium, with the pitchers pictured in what I call the empty fist pose.

Player: Mike Caldwell was a ready made pitcher when he was drafted by the Padres out of North Carolina State in 1971 . He spent just 19 games in the minors before arriving on the scene later in the year. He relieved in six games, earned his first win, and didn't allow a run in 6.2 innings.

The young lefty spent the next two years bouncing between the pen and rotation. Each season he was more effective as a reliever with ERAs of 3.05 and 3.09 in that role while as a starter his ERA jumped up to 4.27 and 4.28. Pitching for poor Padre teams, Caldwell was hung with a combined 12-25 record over the '72 and '73 seasons while saving 12 games along the way.

After the '73 season the Padres traded Caldwell to the Giants for Willie McCovey and Bernie Williams. In San Fran, Caldwell would open eyes in '74 with a 14-5 record and a 2.97 ERA (ERA+ 130) in 189 innings. He had elbow surgery in the off season and as 1975 unfolded he was unable to duplicate his prior year's success. He was hit hard and demoted to the pen in July and finished the disappointing year 7-13 with a 4.79 ERA. After trying Caldwell again in the rotation, the Giants moved him back to pen in '76. He struggled all year, posting a 1-7 record and a 4.86 ERA.

Caldwell was dealt to the Cardinals in a six-player deal in October of '76 and was flipped to the Reds for Pat Darcy the next spring. Caldwell pitched in middle relief for the Reds and was decent in 14 games before he was traded for the third time in eight months. This deal sent him to Milwaukee for two players who never cracked the majors. The Brewers tried him as a starter but he was ineffective in that role and ended the year back in the pen. His combined stats in Caldwell's whirlwind year show a 4.46 ERA over 119 innings.

As the Brewers prepared for 1978, nothing about Caldwell's previous performance could have predicted the year he would have. The six-foot lefty started the year in the pen but he would join the rotation in late April. All he did was anchor a staff badly in need of an ace, and help the franchise to their first winning season as the Brew Crew finished in third place with 93 wins. Caldwell won 22 games, logged an amazing 293 innings, and completed a league best 23 games. He wasn't just eating innings either as his 2.39 ERA and 1.064 WHIP indicate the leagues inability to make solid contact against him. For his dynamic career turnaround Caldwell was named AL Comeback Player of the Year and finished second in Cy Young voting to Ron Guidry.

Although not as dominant as the year prior, Caldwell was solid in '79 posting a 3.29 ERA over 235 innings. He won 16 against only 6 losses. He was pretty average the next two years with ERA's of 4.03 and 3.93 but he had a good offense behind him. The Brewers made the postseason for the first time in '81 and faced the Yankees in the ALDS. Caldwell was the losing pitcher in Game 2 as NY won the series in five games.

With Harvey's Wallbangers backing him, Caldwell won 17 games in '82. His 3.91 ERA was again around league average and he was a rock for Milwaukee logging 258 innings. After losing his only start in the ALCS, Caldwell responded by shutting out the Cardinals, allowing just three hits in Game 1 of the World Series. He was also the winner in Game 5 as the Brewers took a 3-2 lead in the series. He was called upon to pitch in relief in Game 7. Pitching on two days rest after facing 40 batters in Game 5, he was unable to put out the fire and the Cards went to win it all.

Caldwell was very hittable the next two years with ERA's of 4.53 and 4.64 as he was no longer fooling hitters. Never a strikeout pitcher, he struck out only 92 batters over the '83 and '84 seasons in 354 innings. The 35 year old Caldwell retired with a career mark of 137-130 and a 3.81 ERA (99 ERA+) over 14 major league seasons.

Stuff: Sinker, slider, fastball, curve, change. Accused of throwing a spit-ball especially after his out-of-no-where improvement in '78.

Flipside: Caldwell was quite the workhorse between '78-'82. Even with the strike shortened '81 season he averaged 231 innings over that span.

Oddball: Caldwell was one of the three left-handed Mikes to hand Ron Guidry his only three losses in '78. The other guys were Mike Flanagan and Mike Willis.

Like many players of his day, Caldwell was a prankster. Once while teaming with Reggie Cleveland, he locked Bob McClure in Milwaukee County Stadium's bullpen outhouse by tying the doorknob to the flagpole. McClure got the pair back when he snuck a filthy pig into the duo's hotel room. The pig proceeded to trash the room while McClure listened from across the hall. When he checked on them the next morning the room had been cleaned and Caldwell had the pig in a dog collar and was feeding it french fries. A partial story of the wild prank can be found here.

History: Caldwell was the proverbial crafty lefty. He relied on his sinker to induce ground balls and dropped his three-quarter delivery to near side arm against lefties. Caldwell's career was marked by his dominant '78 season and his '82 World Series performance.  

Since '87, Caldwell had bounced around the minors as a pitching coach making stops with nine different teams. He is currently the pitching coach for the Arizona League Giants

Friday, March 23, 2012

#141 1982 Cleveland Indians

Here we have a pair of Indians that both look strange without their beards.  Veteran Toby Harrah led the Tribe in batting average by 31 points.  Sutcliffe led the Indians and the entire AL in ERA.  Among his teammates, he was bested by Len Barker in strikeouts 187 to 142, and wins 15 to 14. Slugger Andre Thornton brought the thunder with a team high 32 homers and 112 RBI.
The Indians put up 78 wins against 84 losses to finish 6th in a strong AL East.

Flipside:  Topps included 26 Indians in the set including Manager Dave Garcia.  Bert Blyleven who only pitched in four games in '82 is the lone Hall of Famer present.  Rookie Carmelo Castillo played in 20 more games and batted 41 more times than Bake McBride who didn't play after May 21, but Topps deferred to the veteran while Castillo would have to wait for his first card. 

Most common starters:
C   Ron Hassey
1b Mike Hargrove
2b Jack Perconte
3b Toby Harrah
SS  Mike Fischlin
LF  Miguel Dilone
CF  Rick Manning
RF  Von Hayes
DH Andre Thornton

The Indians led the AL in walks with Hargrove and Thornton both topping 100 and Harrah adding 84.  The problem was manager Garcia was prone to batting Dilone and his .286 OBP leadoff.  As a team, they could get on base but were 12th in slugging so they had trouble getting them home.  It didn't help that Thornton didn't have any protection behind him.  

Utility man Alan Bannister played all over the place and owned a .346 OBP.  Garcia sometimes put him in the leadoff spot where he was a better option than Dilone.  The middle infield was a weak spot shared by Perconte, Fischlin, Larry Milbourne, and Jerry Dybzinski.  Hassey's bat was so-so while getting the bulk of playing time at catcher.  He was backed up by the light hitting duo of Chris Bando and Ron Nahorodny.

Manning was mediocre in center.  A young Von Hayes patrolled RF, playing good defense but he hadn't yet developed his offensive game.  He did have a little pop with 14 dingers, joining Harrah (25), and Thornton (32) as the only players with more than eight.

Pitching staff:
This was definitely a sore point as they finished 11th in ERA despite boasting the league leader in Sutcliffe who started the year in the pen and didn't join the rotation until mid-May.  Len Barker ate up the most innings with 244 and recorded a 3.90 ERA.

Larry Sorensen started 30 games while Rick Waits and John Denny started 21 apiece at the back of the rotation.  All three posted ERA's north of 5.00 and Denny was shipped off to Philadelphia late in the year.

Dan Spillner had a 2.49 ERA and 21 Saves as the ace reliever.  Ed Whitson, Tom Brennan and Bud Anderson all started a handful of games when they weren't pitching middle relief or setting up Spillner.  Ed Glynn was the lone lefty reliever.

If Blyleven had been healthy, or Denny pitched like he did in '81 or '83, they no doubt could have finished over .500. 

Oddball:  This was a streaky team.  On May 6, they were 9-14 and proceded to win 5 of 6 games.  They followed that by losing 8 out of 9 games and then reeled off 11 consecutive wins, giving them a 26-23 record.  Cleveland couldn't sustain it though and dropped 5 out of 6 contests and played one game under .500 the rest of the way to finish at 78-84.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

#140 Willie Randolph - New York Yankees

Willie Randolph’s 8th Topps card show’s him busting out of the box.  The inset picture seems a little weird, he looks kind of like a zombie.  Randolph was a quiet guy and one of my favorite non-Tigers when I was growing up.
Player:  Drafted by the Pirates in '72, Willie Randolph moved steadily through the minor league system and debuted in 1975.  The young secondbaseman got into 30 games and batted .164 in 70 plate appearances.  After the season Pittsburgh packaged Randolph, Dock Ellis, and Ken Brett in a deal that brought Doc Medich in return from the Yankees.

Randolph had a nice opening act in New York as he played stellar defense (1.8 dWAR), stole 37 bags, and had a respectable stat line of .267/.356/.328.  He made the AL All-Star squad, an honor he would attain four more times in addition to making one NL squad.  He scuffled at the plate in the postseason getting just three hits in 31 at bats.  Randolph had a similar offensive season in '77 and was among league leaders with 11 triples.  The Yankees won the World Series although Randolph batted just .160 against Dodger pitching.  

Randolph would further improve in '78 posting a .279/.381/.357 line and stealing 36 bases.  A late season injury ended his season in September and kept him from contributing to the Yankees' second consecutive championship.  Randolph would continue his steady play over the years and walked a league best 119 times in 1980 helping him to a 133 OPS+ and a Silver Slugger award.   Although the Yankees were swept by the Royals in the ALCS, Randolph had five hits in the three games.

In 1981, Randolph batted only .232 in the regular season but surprised the opposition with three playoff homers, including two in the World Series loss to the Dodgers.  He proved his consistency, batting .276 to .287 over the next five years.  His good eye and patient approach showed in his .377 on base percentage over the same time frame.  He batted over .300 for the first time in '87 with a .305 mark.  The only blemish was his health, as various injuries allowed him to play an average of only 129 games from '82-'88.  He slumped to .230 in '88 in his last season as a Yankee. 

Randolph signed with the Dodgers in '89 and sported a .282 average and 101 OPS+ in 145 games.  In May of 1990, LA sent Randolph to the A's for Stan Javier.  Nagging injuries marred the season once again, and Randolph batted .260 in 119 games.  After a nine year absence from the postseason, he batted .304 in 23 at bats, but the A's petered out against the Reds in the World Series. 

The 36 year-old Randolph signed with the Brewers for the '91 season and had quite a season.  He batted .327 which was good for third in the league.  Once again a free agent, Randolph caught on with the Mets and batted just .252.  He missed 48 of the last 49 games and retired following the season. 

Randolph ended his 18 year career with a line of .276/.373/.351, 2210 hits, 1243 walks, and only 675 strikeouts.

Flipside:  I never realized that Randolph was such a singles hitter until analyzing his stats.  He never hit more than 7 HR in a season and his 43 extra base hits in '77 established a high water mark, hitting over 33 just one more time. 

Oddball:  Randolph played his whole career as a second-baseman except for ten games at DH and one unfortunate game at third.  Late in his rookie year he started a 9/28 affair at the hot corner in the first half of a double header against the Cardinals.  Randolph made three errors, but was not the only one kicking the ball around that day as teammates Rennie Stennett and John Candeleria also made two errors each.  That's right, the Pirates committed seven errors in that game, leading to five unearned runs and a 6-2 loss. 

History:  Randolph captured two World Series rings early in his career, yet he seems under rated for someone with his career totals.  Although he posted six seasons with 1.0 or more dWAR, he never won a Gold Glove.  His on base skills would be more appreciated by todays fans and the many savvy analytical types currently holding GM positions in baseball.  Among players who spent at least 75% of their career at secondbase, only nine others have more than Randolph's 60.7 career Wins Above Replacement.  In Hall of Fame voting, he received 1.1% in '98 and fell off the ballot.

After his playing career, Randolph coached with the Yankees where he worked until 2004.  He then moved across town to the Mets where he managed for three and a half turbulent years.  Since then he was on staff with the Brewers for two years and the Orioles for one.  In 2012, Randolph will try his hand at studio work, as he joins the crew on the Yankees Daily Show.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

#139 Bruce Berenyi - Cincinnati Reds

Topps captures Reds righthander Bruce Berenyi here on his third card.  It is a pretty cool photo as it looks like he is checking out a play at first base.

Player:  Bruce Berenyi was a first round pick of the Reds in the June secondary draft in '76.  He debuted with Cincinnati in 1980, and was torched for 24 runs in 27.2 innings.  The hard throwing Ohio native made the Reds rotation in '81 and showed off his powerful right arm, throwing two two-hit shutouts and a one-hitter.  He finished 9-6 with a 3.50 ERA (102 ERA+), led the NL in walks with 77,  and finished fourth in Rookie of the Year voting. 

Berenyi was a victim of poor support by his Reds teammates in '82.  He had a nice 3.32 ERA (110 ERA+) but lost a league leading 18 games against 9 wins.  The next year he was decent with a 3.86 ERA, but suffered a 9-14 record. 

Control was always Berenyi's downfall and when he started the '84 campaign with 42 freebies in 51 innings, his time as a Red had run out.  Cincinnati sent him to the Mets mid-year for Jay Tibbs and Eddie Williams.  He regained his command with the Mets and was 9-6 with a 3.76 ERA in New York. 

Disaster struck early in '85 when persistent shoulder pain was discovered to be a tear in his rotator cuff and he was shelved after just three games.  He rehabbed well and made the '86 squad as a long reliever.  He was inserted into the rotation in May but was ineffective in seven starts and was demoted to AAA.  The timing couldn't have been worse as the Mets went on to win the World Series without him.

Berenyi was released after the '86 season and signed with the Expos.  He reinjured his shoulder in spring training and a second rotator cuff surgery signaled the end of his career.  Berenyi's once promising career was over at age 32.  Lifetime, he had a 44-55 record with a 4.03 ERA (91 ERA+).

Stuff:  Fastball in the 90s, slider, curve, change

Flipside:  Topps really emphasized Berenyi's hitting but failed to mention his complete game shutout against the Astros on September 24.

Oddball:  Berenyi did a great job of keeping the ball in the park.  He finished in the top five in HR/9 in each of his first four full seasons.

History:  Berenyi had an All-Star arm but control problems and injuries derailed his stay in the big leagues.  He had an excellent year in '82 (4.9 WAR) and deserved much better than his 9-18 record.  At least he got a World Series share and a ring for his partial season with the Mets in '86.