Friday, April 27, 2012

#162 Mark Clear - Boston Red Sox

Mark Clear is shown here on his 4th Topps card.  The blurry spring training background gives the appearance that he could be throwing in a local wooded park. 

The Phillies selected Mark Clear in the 8th round of the 1974 draft but had little patience with the 18 year-old after he gave up 69 runs in 51 innings in Rookie ball and released him.  He was signed by the Angels whose uncle Bob Clear was a long-time scout and coach in their system. 

With the Angels organization Clear made steady progress through the minors, mainly as a relief pitcher.  He made the opening day roster and was a vital part of the Angels AL West winning squad.  Clear pitched 109 innings, all in relief, with a 3.63 ERA (112 ERA+).  He shared closing duties with lefty Dave LaRoche.  Clear’s penchant for putting runners on base (1.422 WHIP) made for some nerve racking late innings.  His 11-5 win-loss record and 16 saves was enough to get him an All-Star selection, third place in ROY voting, and a few MVP votes.  In the ALCS, Clear appeared once against the Orioles and provided 5.2 innings in relief of Dave Frost in Game 2.  He gave up three runs but kept it close, though the Halos lost the game 9-8 and the series 3-1.

In 1980, Clear worked in what we would call now a bullpen by committee, earning nine of the teams saves in a pen that had seven hurlers earn between one and ten saves.  He K’d 105 in 106.1 innings, once again with a WHIP around 1.4.  That he let only two balls leave the yard helped keep his ERA at 3.30.  The Angels traded Clear, Carney Lansford, and Rick Miller to the Red Sox in December or 1980 for Rick Burlson and Butch Hobson.

Clear led his new team with nine saves in ’81 but it wasn’t easy.  He gave up 11 HR and walked 51 in 76.1 innings and he allowed a runner and half per inning.  Somehow he managed an 8-3 record and a lucky 4.11 ERA.  The next year he matched fellow reliever Bob Stanley with 14 saves and was selected to his second All-Star team.  Again his WHIP pushed 1.5 yet he kept his ERA at an even 3.00 and won 14 games in relief.  By striking out 109 batters, Clear became the first pitcher to strike out 100+ in two seasons without having started a game.

The wheels came off the Mark Clear roller coaster ride as he collapsed to a 6.28 ERA in ’83.  In 96 innings he gave up 101 hits and 68 walks.  Through 1983 Clear had averaged nearly two innings per appearance which may have taken a toll on the curveball specialist.  He was wild but marginally effective in a setup role the next two years with ERA’s of 4.02 and 3.72.

After the ’85 season Clear was dealt to Milwaukee for infielder Ed Romero.  While with the Brewers Clear shared closing duties with rookie left-hander Dan Plesac and tied a career best with 16 saves.  His 2.20 ERA was by far a career best as were his success could be traced to his improved control, walking less than one per two innings for the first time in his career. 

The wildness returned and Clear's ERA went up to 4.48 in ’87 as he saved six in in 78.1 innings in support of Plesac.  In 1988 he had a 2.79 ERA over 29 innings but elbow pain sidelined Clear for the next year and a half.  He made a comeback with the Angels but pitched only 7.2 innings before retiring.

In eleven seasons, Clear saved 83 games with a 3.85 ERA.

Stuff:  Curve, fastball, slider

Flipside:  Clear came into the July 17 game in the 8th inning with a runner on and no outs.  He got out of the jam without allowing a run.  The Red Sox exploded for six in the bottom of the inning.  Backed with a 8-2 lead, Clear then gave up solo homers to Frank White and Hal McRae.

Oddball:  Clear seemed to have low ERA's relative to the amount of runners he put on base.  Check out these ERA and WHIP rates.  It goes to show ERA probably isn't the best way to define a relief pitcher's effectiveness.

1982 3.00 ERA, 1.457 WHIP
1984 4.03 ERA, 1.746 WHIP
1985 3.72 ERA, 1.707 WHIP

History:  Clear had a rough start to his career. It seems improbable that a player released after one year of Rookie ball would go on to a productive major league career but that's just what he did.  Once in the majors he had an up and down career.  When his control was decent he flourished.  Other times he got it done with smoke and mirrors.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

#160 Dave Kingman - New York Mets

Dave Kingman's 12th Topps card shows him following through with one of his powerful swings at Shea Stadium.  He looks a bit like a woodchuck in the inset. 
Player:  The San Francisco Giants drafted Dave Kingman in the first round in 1970 and the USC product was immediately tabbed a can't miss prospect.  The 6'6" Kingman had prodigious power, a rifle arm, and moved well for his size.  He wasted little time in the minors and debuted with the Giants in July, 1971.  They played him at 1b and LF and he hit .278 with six homers in 128 trips to the plate.

As the '72 season began the Giants tried Kingman at the hot corner and while he had plenty of range, his glove work was shaky.  That the Giants bounced him around the diamond at 1B and LF probably didn't help the young slugger.  Kingman hit for plenty of power though, blasting 29 long balls to go with 16 steals.  In what would become typical Kingman fashion, he K'd 140 times and hit .225.   He regressed in year three and was benched before finishing the year with a flourish.  He hit 24 bombs in 351 plate appearances but hit just .203.

Kingman didn't improve in '74 hitting .223 with 18 HR in part time play and he was sold in the offseason to the Mets.  Kingman's power potential developed in New York as he hit 36 and 37 HR in the '75 and '76 seasons, garnering the first of three career All-Star selections in the latter season.  Even though he produced slugging percentages around .500 his output was counter balanced by on base percentages below .290. 

In 1977 "Sky Kong" as he was known for his sky-high fly balls, embarked on one of the strangest seasons in history.  He was hitting only .209 with 9 homers when he was traded to the Padres in June.  Although he hit 11 bombs for the Padres and batted his usual .238, they released him on September 6.  The Angels picked him up and after 10 games dealt him to the AL East leading Yankees.  He hit four dingers in 24 at bats but due to his late arrival, was ineligible for the postseason.  In December, Kingman signed with the Cubs landing him on his fifth team in six months.

In Chicago, Kingman revived his career and despite injury problems he hit 28 home runs with a .266/.336/.542 stat line in 448 plate appearances.  Playing left field and healthy in '79 he had his best season.  He hit an NL best 48 homers and drove in 115 while batting a career high .288.  He also led the league in slugging with a .613 mark.   Injuries relegated Kingman to half a season's worth of action in 1980.  He batted .278 with 18 home runs but the surly slugger's relationship with the Chicago media rapidly deteriorated.  The Cubs had enough of Kingman and dealt him in the offseason back to the Mets for Steve Henderson

Kingman moved to first base with the Mets and hit 22 HR with a .221 average in '81.  He led the NL with 37 taters in '82 but hit just .204.  In '83 he fell below the Mendoza line and hit 13 HR in part time duty. 

Released over the winter by the Mets, Kingman made the A's as a non-roster invitee in 1984.  Working almost exclusively as a DH, Kingman hit 100 HR over the next three seasons with batting averages steadily decreasing from .268, to .238, to .210.  During June of the '86 season he mailed a live rat to a female reporter, continuing his frosty demeanor towards the press. 

After years of strained relations with the media and his teammates, Kingman was released.  He found his suitors very limited but signed with the Giants halfway through the '87 season.  He spent 20 games at AAA Phoenix without getting called up.  Kingman retired with 442 career home runs and a .236/.302/.478 line. 
Flipside:  Those stats look tiny due to his gypsy like '77 season.  Not only did he play for four teams, he played in all four divisions. 

Oddball:  Kingman hit a lot of homers, he hit them far, very far.  One blast at Wrigley went anywhere between 530-600 feet depending on the reports.  It landed approximately where I scribed HR on this overhead shot of Wrigley:
Photo from Google maps.

Standing on Waveland Avenue and looking north down Kenmore Avenue, the ball landed on the third or fourth porch roof on the east side of the road.  Marked with red in the pic below.

History:  Kingman was one of the first sluggers to survive despite hitting for a low average.  As his career went on he became more and more one dimensional, swinging for the fences at all costs.  His career home run total of 442 was at one time the most of any non-Hall of Famer.  Strangely enough Kingman was teammates with two players who are HOF eligible who have passed him in HR totals but haven't been elected, Jose Canseco and Mark McGwire
In the next post I'll look at Kingman Super Veteran card and his lifetime accomplishments. 

Friday, April 20, 2012

#159 Mike Stanton - Seattle Mariners

This is Mike Stanton as he appears on his second Topps card.  He isn't the long time left-handed reliever and he doesn't prefer to be called Giancarlo
Ultra-violet rays can be quite damaging, just check out his 'stache which was black when he started spring training.  Ok, all joking aside, he could have used some sun screen.
Player:  Mike Stanton had a rough start to his major league career.  After spending a few years in the Astros' minor league chain he debuted in 1975 and gave up 14 runs in 17.1 innings.  First impressions are sometimes hard to shake and Stanton would find the road back to majors a difficult journey. He bounced around the minors the next fours years for three different organizations, and even played in the short lived Inter-American League in '79.

Stanton finally broke through and made the Indians roster in 1980.  Although a starter in the minors the hard throwing right-hander would work from the pen in the majors.  He pitched in 51 games for the Tribe and despite a 5.56 ERA and 1.65 WHIP he somehow saved five games.  He showed improvement in '81 lowering his ERA to 4.36 and saving two games.

After the season, Stanton was sold to the Cardinals in December.  In February of '82, the Indians bought his contract from the Cardinals and released him five days later.  I'm not sure what the situation was with Cleveland and Stanton, but he tried out and made the Mariners' squad.  Working as a set up man for Bill Caudill, Stanton had a 4.16 ERA in 71 innings and saved seven games. 

The next two years he was at his best as he posted ERAs of 3.32 and 3.54.  He saved 15 games and logged 126 innings over the '83 and '84 seasons.  In 1985 he was not as effective and was released in June with a 5.28 ERA in 29 frames.  The White Sox gave him a try but he was pounded for 12 runs in 11.2 innings and released for the last time.

Stuff:  Fastball low 90s, sinker, slider

Flipside:  As listed, Stanton was drafted in the first round of the '73 January Draft, secondary phase.  He was the fifth player taken.  He was drafted three times before that by Atlanta, Kansas City, and Texas before signing with the Astros in '73.  

Oddball:  While playing in the Inter-American League, Stanton pitched for Maracaibo Petroleros de Zulia, a team based in Venezuela.  The upstart independent league was granted AAA status but had a slew of problems and folded before the season was over.  I had never knew of this league before researching Stanton.  He recorded a 2.70 ERA with a 3-2 record before things were shut down. 

History:  Stanton was a journeyman reliever and never sniffed the postseason.  He recorded 31 saves in his career with a 4.61 ERA in seven seasons. 
Evidently, Stanton stayed in the Seattle area and tore his rotator cuff in '99.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

#158 Rob Wilfong - California Angels

This is Rob Wilfong's fifth Topps card and his first in a California uniform.  It looks like he is trying to check his swing.  In the cameo pic it looks like Wilfong just realized Booby Grich is the man, and that his own playing time will be limited.
Player:  Rob Wilfong was drafted by Minnesota in the 13th round in 1971, and he made the Twins opening day roster in 1977.  The young second baseman batted .246 in 171 at bats but had only three extra base hits.  Wilfong's left-handed bat got him some starts against right-handed pitching and he appeared in 92 games in 1978.  He improved to a .266 average and added 15 sac bunts. 

1979 would prove to be Wilfong's best year as he managed to start everyday against righties and batted .313 in 485 plate appearances.  He hit nine home runs, added eleven steals, and finished with a .313/.352/.458 stat line.  He led the AL with 25 sac bunts and was fourth with ten sac flies. He was unable to build on his success and in 1980 he took a step back, hitting just .248.  The sure-handed Wilfong made only three errors leading to a .995 fielding percentage.
After hitting .246 in 1981 and a .160 start to the '82 season the Twins had seen enough and sent Wilfong to the Angels in the Doug Corbett / Tom Brunansky deal.  Wilfong played a backup role with the Angels and hit .245 for his new team.  He batted .254 in '83 and with an aging Angel infield, Wilfong received increased playing time.  He did little to change disprove his backup role as he batted .248, .189, and .219 over the next three seasons.  He hit well in the '86 playoffs going 4-13 including a game tying hit in the bottom of the ninth in Game 5.  The Angels eventually lost the game and the series to the Red Sox.

Wilfong was released in the spring of '87 and was signed by the Giants but played just two games before he was released again ending his career at age 33.  Wilfong played 11 seasons and retired with a .248/.303/.345 stat line.

Flipside:  That '79 season is by far his best season.  He produced 3.2 WAR that year and never had a season before or after with more than 0.9.

Oddball:  The Twins tried to cut Wilfong's pay in '82 by more than the allowable 20%.  By tendering him an invalid contract he could have become a free agent.  Instead he signed a three-year deal.  A few months later he was dealt to the Angels.

Wilfong hit a homer in his first pro at bat as a minor leaguer in 1972.  He also homered in his last at bat in the majors in '87 which is a heck of a way to start and end a career.

History:  Wilfong was a backup most of his career and his managers seemed to like having his left handed bat on the bench.  He was fairly predictable hitting around .250 and playing steady defense.   
After his playing days he was a scout for the Tigers and Angels. 

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

#157 Steve Bedrosian - Atlanta Braves

This is Steve Bedrosian's second Topps card.  The card features the standard pitching action shot.  The inset looks like maybe it was taken earlier, maybe in '81 before Bedrock's mustache filled out. 

Player: Steve Bedrosian, a third round pick in the '78 draft, was a starting pitcher as he worked his way up through the minors.  It was as a relief pitcher however that he would make a lasting impression in the majors.  He debuted in the second half of the '81 season getting into 15 games, mainly in middle relief while making one start.  Like many rookies he was wild walking 15 in 24.1 innings and finished with a 4.44 ERA.

In 1982 Bedrosian started the fourth game of the season, was hit hard, and moved into the pen.  He worked in middle relief for a few months before earning the trust of manager Joe Torre.  By June he was stealing a few saves from Gene Garber  and he finished with 11 saves on the year in 137 innings with a sharp 2.42 ERA.  He pitched in two games in the NLCS against St. Louis but was not impressive giving up two runs while retiring three batters.

Bedrock shared closing duties in '83 and '84 with Gene Garber, left-handed Terry Forster, and journeyman-turned-relief specialist Donnie Moore.  Bedrosian saved 19 games while logging 120 innings with a 3.60 ERA in '84.  In '83 he lowered his ERA to 2.37 and saved 11.  He had made a pair of spot starts in August and hit the disabled list with an arm injury.  Joe Torre was blamed by some for abusing Bedrock's arm as he had a tendency to fade at the end of the year. 

Despite the glut of relief pitchers the Braves signed Bruce Sutter to big money and Bedrosian was moved to the rotation under new skipper Eddie Haas.  While marginally effective (3.83 ERA, 100 ERA+), he suffered a 7-15 record on a fifth place Braves team.   

After the '85 season Atlanta traded Bedrosian to Philadelphia with Milt Thompson for Ozzie Virgil and Pete Smith.  The Phillies wisely moved Bedrosian back to the pen, where he won the closers job and did well with a 2.83 ERA in 90 innings with 29 saves.  In '86 he was even more effective saving 40 over 89 innings.  He posted a 2.83 ERA and won the Cy Young award in a close vote outpaciing Rick Sutcliffe and Rick Reuschel by two and three points respectively. 

Bedrosian was merely average in '88 saving 28 with a 3.75 ERA.  In what turned out to be a good trade for the Phillies, they sent Bedrosian and Rick Parker to the Giants in June for Dennis Cook, Charlie Hayes, and Terry Mulholland.  Bedrosian saved 23 games on the year with a 2.87 ERA.  He was an important part of the Giants division winning team and he saved three games against the Cubs in the NLCS.  He did not register a save in the World Series but did pitch two scoreless innings against the victorious A's. 

Bedrosian saved 17 in 1990 but his ERA rose to 4.20 and he walked more than he struckout, 44/43.  Following the disappointing season, he was traded for next to nothing to the Twins.  With the Twins he set-up for fellow bearded reliever Rick Aguilera and saved six games of his own.  His ERA of 4.42 wasn't impressive but he enjoyed the ride as the Twins won the World Series over the Braves.  Bedrosian pitched in five games in the postseason allowing two earned runs in 4.2 innings.

The veteran hurler sat out the '92 season with numbness in his pitching hand but returned to the Braves for the '93 campaign.  Bedrosian was very effective in a middle relief role for Altanta.  Pitching in middle relief he registered a 1.63 ERA in 49.2 innings but did not appear in the playoffs.  In '94 he was still decent although his ERA doubled to 3.33.  He pitched one more year but it didn't end well as he posted a 6.11 ERA in 28 innings.

For his career, Bedrosian saved 184 games with a 3.38 ERA in 1191.1 innings.

Stuff:  95 mph fastball, slider 

Flipside: Bedrosian completed 21 of his 81 minor league starts but none of his 46 major league starts.

Oddball:  His '85 season really is odd.  He made 37 starts but never went more than seven innings.  He averaged less than 5 2/3 innings per start but logged a total of 206.2 frames on the bump.  One reason for his short leash was that he made almost half his starts on three days rest.

History:  Bedrosian had a good run, winning a World Series and a Cy Young in his 14 year career.  His versatility may have caused him to be overused in his early days in Atlanta, but he pitched until he was 37 years old. 

Monday, April 16, 2012

#156 Billy Martin - Oakland A's

So here we see Billy Martin on his 11th Topps card as a manager.  I wasn't sure whether to count the 70's team cards with a small pic of the manager as one of his cards, but I did.  Martin had nine Topps cards as a player.

Martin looks somewhat creepy in the picture.  I think it has something to do with his glasses.  I never noticed the crucifix under the A on his cap until now. 
Player:  Billy Martin played in the major leagues from 1950 - '61.  He missed all of the '54 season and most of '55 serving in the military.  Although a light hitting second baseman who never had an OPS+ over 97 in the regular season, he was a postseason hero for the Yankees. 
Martin was a role player on the '51 championship team but was a regular on the '52, '53 and '56 teams that won it all.  Martin and the Yanks won the pennant in '55 but lost to the Dodgers in the World Series.  Martin hit .500 with two dingers in '53 and in 99 career World Series at bats he hit .333/.371/.566 with five homers.

The Yankees traded Martin in '57 after the infamous wild brawl at the Copacabana night club involving Martin, Mickey Mantle, Hank Bauer, and Whitey Ford.  Believed to be a bad influence on his more talented teammates, the Yankees traded Martin to the Kansas City A's.  From there he embarked on a vagabond tour of the Midwest with stops in Detroit, Cleveland, Cincinnati, Milwaukee, and Minnesota.

Martin finished his playing career with four championships and a .257 lifetime average.  

Manager: Martin stayed in the Twins organization after his playing career as a scout from '62-'64.  He then was a third base coach from '65 until the middle of '68 when he took over the Twins AAA team in Denver.  He replaced Cal Ermer in Minnesota for the '69 season and led the Twins to the division title.  Along the way the rookie manager ruffled owner Calvin Griffith's feather's with his frequent confrontations with umpires. A back alley fight with his own pitcher Dave Boswell showed Martin was just as fiery as he was during his playing days.  The Twins were swept out of the inaugural ALCS by the Orioles and Martin was canned.

After spending 1970 out of baseball, Martin was named manager of the Tigers in 1971.  He led the veteran team to a second place finish his first year and an AL East crown the next.  The Tigers lost to the A's in the '72 ALCS.  Martin was terminated by Detroit in '73, despite a 71-63 record at the time, after he admitting ordering his pitchers to throw at Indian batters.  Martin had been wearing out his welcome anyway as he frequently bickered with GM Jim Campbell.

Martin wasn't unemployed long as Texas hired him shortly after and he finished the season as the Rangers skipper.  He turned the Ranger franchise around taking them from 6th in '73 to a surprising 84-76 second place finish in '75.  He was fired in the second half of the '76 season as Texas ownership was disappointed with their 44-51 record. 

Martin once again was quickly hired, this time returning to the Big Apple to guide the Yankees.  Under Martin, New York won a pennant in '76 and a World Series in '77.  Although successful Martin was often fighting with owner George Steinbrenner, star outfielder Reggie Jackson, or both.  After stating "the two of them deserve each other - one's a born liar [Jackson], the other's convicted [Steinbrenner]", the Boss had enough and sent him packing during the middle of the '78 division race.

Seeking to spark the Yankees in '79, Steinbrenner fired Jim Lemon and brought Martin back mid-season.  Although they won 55 of their last 95 games, the Yankees finished fourth.  After Martin roughed up a marshmallow salesman in the offseason, he was let go a second time. 

Martin went on to manage the Oakland A's and his aggressive style of baseball, dubbed Billyball, injected life into the A's.  They finished second in 1980 and won the first half of the strike abbreviated '81 season.  After sweeping the Royals in the divisional series his old Yankee crew knocked the A's out in the ALCS.  Martin expected his starting pitchers to finish what they started and his 1980 squad led the league by a wide margin in complete games with 94.  Martin wore out his pitching staff and by '82 the team limped to fifth place finish.  Martin was convinced he deserved a five-year extension but with the pitching staff ailing and his post game tantrums becoming more and more regular A's ownership cut him loose.

Martin was in and out as the Yankees manager three more times but never lasted more than a season.  He was at the helm for the '83 season and led NY to a 91 win third place finish with the famous Pine Tar incident highlighting the year.  After his third firing he was brought back early in the '85 season.  A fight with his pitcher Ed Whitson left Martin with a broken arm and marred the '85 season.  The Yanks finished second but Martin was axed by NY for a fourth time. 

Martin returned one more time in 1988.  After a 2-7 road trip Steinbrenner fired Martin one last time although the Yankees were 40-28 and only 2.5 games behind Detroit in the standings.

When Martin died in 1990 he was rumored to be preparing to take charge of the Yankees yet again.  His career record stands at 1253-1013 and his lone championship came with in the Bronx Zoo in 1977.  His aggressive style always paid immediate dividends when he took over a team, but his brawling and argumentative nature wore out those around him.

Flipside:  Those two hits in the same inning were his first two at bats in the big leagues.  The game was a wild one against the Red Sox at Fenway.  Martin entered the game as a defensive sub in the 6th.  Trailing 10-4 in the 8th inning, the Yankees started to rally.  With one out and two on, Martin hit an RBI double off Mel Parnell to make it 10-5.  By the time he batted later in the inning, the Yankees had an 11-10 lead and had chased Parnell and two other Boston hurlers.  Martin hit a two run single of Al Papei to make it 13-10.  The Yankees would add two more in the top of the ninth to make it 15-10, which was how it would end after the Red Sox failed to answer. 

Oddball: Martin probably got into more brawls than any post WWII-era ballplayer.  This link has a partial list.

History:  Martin's number was retired at Yankee stadium in 1986 and he was quoted as saying-
I may not have been the greatest Yankee to put on the uniform, but I was the proudest.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

#155 Dan Quisenberry - Kansas City Royals, 1982 Rolaids Relief Man of the Year

Dan Quisenberry's fourth Topps card is a great card in many facets.  The border colors for KC are appropriate and work great with their powder blue road jerseys.  The green background is nice and doesn't distract from the action photo which shows Quiz in his famous submarine delivery.  The torque on his arm is obvious and the blurriness gives the picture a sense of motion.

Player:  Dan Quisenberry was considered a non-prospect despite a stellar college career at Division-III University of LaVerne and was not drafted.  Quiz led his college mates to a third place finish in the NAIA tournament, using his rubber arm to complete both games of a double header in the final round.  He signed with the Kansas City Royals in '75 and although he advanced to Double-A in his first pro season, his low-80s fastball wasn't lighting up radar guns. Although he was extremely effective in the minors, he had to wait until '79 to make his MLB debut.

Quisenberry was called up in July of 1979 and earned his first save two weeks later.  He displayed superb control and his sinking deliveries induced many ground ball outs.  He finished the year with five saves, a 3.15 ERA, and only two un-intentional walks in 40 innings. 

It was around this time that Quisenberry dropped his sidearm delivery to his well known submarine style.  Quiz wasn't used as closers are now, and during the 1980 season Royals manager Jim Frey used him for three or more innings ten times.  Quiz was up to task and led the AL with 33 saves and added 12 wins.  He had a 3.09 ERA over 128.1 innings and won the Rolaids Relief Man of the Year. (Hey, it was a big deal back then!)  After a save and a win in scoreless relief in a successful ALCS against the Yankees, Quiz and the Royals faced the Philles in the World Series.  He pitched in all six games with mixed results, winning one with two losses and a save as the Phillies won it all.

Quisenberry had a fantastic '81 season with a 1.73 ERA in 62 innings.  He recorded 18 saves in the strike ravaged season and pitched a scoreless inning in an ALDS loss to the A's.  Over the next four years Quiz would establish himself as the best fireman in the AL.  He racked up 161 saves from '82-'85 while setting a new record with 45 in '83.  His ERA was 2.38 over this stretch and he pitched at least 129 innings each year.  He was an All-Star three times, finished second or third in Cy Young voting all four years, and won four more Rolaids Relief Awards.  He even finished as high as third in the MVP vote in '84. 

Quiz and the Royals experienced great success in the mid 80's, winning the AL West twice with a World Series win over the Cardinals in '85.  Quiz pitched in eight games in the '85 postseason allowing three earned runs in nine innings with a win, loss, and a save. 

Quisenberry was still effective but the Royals were just average the next two years.  He had a decent ERAs of 2.77 and 2.76 but his workload was reduced as he pitched only 140.1 combined innings in the '86 and '87 seasons.  He shared some of the closing duties with Steve Farr, lefties Buddy Black and Jerry Gleaton, and veteran Gene Garber, and recorded only 20 saves.

By 1988, more and more of Quisenberry's grounders were turning into line drives and he was released in July.  He was picked up by the Cardinals but pitched even worse for them and ended the year with a combined 5.12 ERA and only one save. 

Quisenberry got his groove back in '89 and thrived in a set up role for the Cardinals.  Logging 78.1 innings he had a 2.64 ERA and earned six saves.  In 1990 he signed a free agent deal with the Giants.  Unfortunately he tore his rotator cuff in his fifth appearance of the year and eventually retired.  In 12 seasons he saved 244 games with a 2.76 ERA (ERA+ 147). 

Stuff:  Low 80s sinker, curve, change up, and a knuckleball.

Flipside:  Quisenberry "Calmed the Twins uprising"? He gave up two hits, a walk, and gave up a run in 1.2 innings but did get the save.  Obviuosly he had better outings to choose from. 

Oddball:  Quiz was known for his sense of humor.  Here are some links to several of his quotes.

In his pro career Quiz only started one game on the mound and he threw a complete game. It happened in single-A ball in 1975.

The submariner had impeccable control.  In his career he pitched 1,043 innings but walked only 162 batters and 70 of those were intentional.  He had only four wild pitches, seven hit batters, and his catchers were never charged with a passed ball.

History:  Take a look at the stats of these two pitchers:

Pitcher A  12 years, 24.3 WAR, 2.83 ERA, 1042 IP, 300 saves
Pitcher B  12 years, 24.3 WAR, 2.76 ERA, 1043 IP, 244 saves

Pitcher A is Hall of Famer Bruce Sutter, and pitcher B is Quisenberry.  I'm not advocating that either pitcher belongs in the Hall.  However it's rather odd that Sutter got in while Quiz got 3.8% of the vote in '96 and fell off the ballot despite very similar numbers. 

Quisenberry published several poems and this one titled "Baseball Cards" can be read here.

Quisenberry was a dominant relief ace and was the best in the AL from '80 to '85.  He wasn't overpowering but his motion and delivery kept hitters off balance.  Sadly he passed away in 1998 after battling brain cancer.

Monday, April 9, 2012

#154 Johnnie LeMaster - San Francisco Giants

Johnnie LeMaster appears here on his eighth Topps card as he bats in what looks like Shea Stadium.  Who is that on deck?  LeMaster looks horrified in the inset.
Player:  Johnnie LeMaster was drafted in the first round by the Giants in 1973.  He was very error prone, posting fielding percentages of .882 and .903 his first two years in the minors.  That didn't stop him from reaching the majors late the next season.  The young shortstop debuted in September of '75 batting .189 in 79 trips to the plate including an inside-the-park home run in his first at bat.

The following year LeMaster got the call earlier and spent the last two months of '76 with San Fran.  He posted a .210/.233/.280 line in 100 at bats.  He stayed with the big club for almost all of '77, spending only a month mid-season back at Fresno.  He backed up Tim Foli at SS and got into 68 games, but batted just .149. 

LeMaster spent the next two years splitting time at short with Roger Metzger.  LeMaster batted .235 in '78 and a career best .254 in '79.  He played regularly in 1980 but mustered only a .215 average in 442 plate appearances.  His defense had begun to slip and in turn Giants fans dubbed our subject "Johnnie Disaster".  In the strike-shortened '81 campaign LeMaster batted .253 but had only ten extra base hits in 324 at bats.

As poor as LeMaster played, the Giants couldn't find anyone to replace him and he returned in '82 batting .216 as their starter.  Perhaps intrigued by the idea of starting every game with one out, Giant skipper Frank Robinson decided to bat LeMaster in the leadoff spot in '83.  In a career high 534 at bats he batted .240/.317/.307.  He did respond with career highs in steals with 39 which was 26 more than his previous best and added six homers.

In 1984, rookie Dan Gladden eventually took the leadoff spot from him but LeMaster got into 132 games and batted .217.  He was traded twice in May of '85, going from the San Fran to Cleveland to Pittsburgh in less than four weeks.  LeMaster was 0-16 as a Giant, 3-20 as an Indian, and 9-58 as a Pirate, and all three teams finished in last place.

LeMaster was released by the Pirates the next spring and except for five games for Montreal's AAA affiliate in Indianapolis, he was out of action in '86.  He had two hits in 24 at bats as he tried to fill a utility role for the A's in '87 but was released in July.  He spent the rest of the year in the minors playing in the White Sox chain. 

LeMaster retired after the '87 season with a career stat line of .222/.277/.289 in 12 seasons
Flipside:  LeMaster had three games not mentioned where he went 3 for 4.

Oddball:  Hounded and booed by the Giants fans at various times in his career, LeMaster wore a jersey with BOO in place of his last name.

History:  I try to shy away from harsh criticism in my posts but it's hard to see what compelled the Giants from playing LeMaster so much.  Granted he was a pro athlete, clearly more gifted than the average Joe, but couldn't the Giants find anyone better?  It's not like he was good glove/no hit. LeMaster not only never had an OPS+ higher than 79, but he posted -8.0 dWAR in his career and had four seasons of -1.0 or more.   

Sunday, April 8, 2012

#153 Jerry Koosman - Chicago White Sox

Here is Jerry Koosman on his 16th Topps card.  I am a bit surprised Topps didn't give Kooz a card ending in 0 or 5 which is the case for most stars, semi-stars and veterans. 
Player:  At this point in his career Jerry Koosman was the proverbial crafty veteran lefty.  He started his career with the Mets as an amateur free agent back in 1964.  When he reached the big leagues in '67, he had trouble finding the plate walking 19 in 22 frames and went 0-2.  Koosman broke camp with the Mets in '68 and started the year with back to back shutouts.  He was stellar all year with a 2.08 ERA (145 ERA+) and a 19-12 record.  He earned a save by striking out Carl Yastrzemski to preserve the NL's win in the All-Star game.  The young southpaw lost a tight vote to Johnny Bench for NL ROY. 

The Mets franchise grew up in the 1969 season.  Led by  the righty-lefty 1-2 punch of Tom Seaver and Koosman, the Mets won it all defeating the Braves in the NLCS and the heavily favored Orioles in the World Series.  Koosman was roughed up in a no-decision in Game 2 against the Braves but was sharp against the O's, earning victories in Game 2 and the clinching Game 5.  Koosman's regular season had been another All-Star performance with 17 wins and a 2.28 ERA (160 ERA+) in 241 innings.

Despite missing three weeks in June with a broken jaw sustained in a batting practice mishap, Koosman was solid in 1970.  He won 12 games and registered a 3.14 ERA in 212 innings.  Koosman struggled with injuries over the next two years.  He won 17 combined games and made 24 starts each year. 

Koosman and the Mets both came back strong in '73.  Kooz won 14 with a 2.83 ERA in 263 frames and the Mets won the NL East.  He won Game 3 against the Reds in the NLCS and the Mets matched up against the A's in the Fall Classic.  Koosman got the hook after allowing three runs in 2.1 innings in Game 2, a contest the Mets came back to win in 12 innings.  Koosman and Tim McGraw teamed up on a three-hit shutout to to defeat Oakland in Game 5 but the A's eventually won in seven. 

Koosman was effective and consistent the next two years winning 14 and 15 with ERAs of 3.36 and 3.42 in the '74 and '75 seasons.  He won 21 in '76 with a career high 200 K's and a 2.69 ERA.  He was runner-up to Randy Jones in the NL CY voting.  A year after winning 21, he lost 20 in '77 to lead the NL despite a decent 3.49 ERA.  At this point the Mets had a putrid offense and Kooz posted a 3-15 record in '78 while posting a 3.75 ERA. 

Over the off-season the Mets traded the 36 year-old Koosman to the Twins for a young Jesse Orosco.  Now in his home state of Minnesota, and backed by a better team, Kooz reversed his fortunes and was a 20 game winner once again in '79.   His ERA climbed a bit to 4.03 but he still won 16 games and ate up innings (243).  Koosman was traded in August of '81 to the White Sox for three bit players and cash.  His ERA was steady at 4.01 but he led the AL with 13 losses in the strike shortened campaign. 

Now 39 years-old, Koosman started 1982 as Chicago's long reliever.  After a rocky start, he settled into the role and worked his way into the rotation in July and stayed there through the end of the season.  He finished with 11 wins, three saves, and a 3.84 ERA in 173 innings.  Again he started the year in the pen in '83.  He soon was back in the rotation.  After some initial success he faded in the second half and finished with a 4.77 ERA.  He recorded just one out in the '83 ALCS as he was hit hard in a mop-up role in Game 3 against the Orioles.

In a trade of 41 year-old hurlers, the White Sox sent Koosman to the Phillies in February of '84 for Ron Reed.  Kooz showed he still had some life in his high mileage left arm and logged 224 innings with a 3.24 ERA.  He was pitching fairly well in '85 when he injured his knee.  He missed over a month and and after re-injuring the knee on August 21, he walked off the field for the final time.  He was 6-4 with a 4.62 ERA at the time.

Koosman retired after 19 seasons with a 222-209 record, 3.36 ERA, and 2556 strikeouts.

Stuff: Fastball (low 90s early in career), curve, change, slider

Flipside:  Koosman threw those 7.2 innings in relief of Dennis Lamp on 7/3.  On 9/1 he threw a four-hit shutout.  Why did Topps capitalize victory?

Oddball:  According to this bio, Koosman was nearly deployed to Vietnam as a helicopter pilot but was able to play ball and get noticed by the Mets. 

History:  Koosman seems largely underappreciated by all but the older generation of Mets fans who remember him fondly for his big role on the stunning '69 championship team.  He had a fine career and although he wasn't flashy he was very effective for a long time. 

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

#152 Jay Johnstone - Chicago Cubs

Veteran Jay Johnstone is pictured here on his 15th Topps card.  Johnstone usually has a big smile on his cards and this is no exception.  It even looks like his grinning as he take batting practice. 

Player:  Jay Johnstone was a flakey left-handed hitting reserve outfielder who bounced around the major leagues for 20 seasons.  He got his start with the Angels, signing fresh out of high school in 1963.  He spent three and a half seasons in the minors before debuting in the majors in 1966.  He played all three outfield positions while starting almost every game over the last two months of the season, batting .264 with three homers.

Johnstone started the year as the Angels CF in '67 but slumped badly after fouling a pitch off his ankle.  He was sent down to the minors for a spell before coming back up at the end of the year.  In 237 plate appearances his stat line of .209/.226/.274 did little to indicate he would play 18 more seasons in the majors.  He split the '68 season between the Angels and AAA, and had better results this time around as he batted .261 in 41 big league games. 

The Angels used Johnstone as their everyday CF in '69, and his 148 games would be a career high.  He responded with a .270/.321/.381 line and played good defense leading to 3.3 WAR.  After a 11 hits in 20 at bats to start to the '70 season, he quickly fell back to earth and ended up a platoon player.  He finished with a .238 average in 119 games.  After the season he was traded in a six player deal that sent him to the White Sox.

Johnstone had a solid season for Chicago in '71 with a .260 average and establishing high water marks in both HR (16) and SB (10) in 124 games.  The White Sox hoped for more power from Johnstone and he struggled to fit the bill in '72 as his average collapsed to .188 with four long balls in 290 plate appearances.  During spring training the following year, Johnstone asked for and was granted his release when he was given a pay cut.   He was signed by the A's but had just three hits in 28 at bats before spending the rest of the year in the minors.

In '74 he turned up with the Phillies where he would enjoy his finest personal success.  Over the next four seasons he would fill the fourth outfielder role on good Philadelphia teams.  He batted .295 in 224 plate appearances in '74 and batted a career best .329 in 350 trips to the plate in '75.  Continuing in his platoon role, Johnstone had a career year in '76 as he batted .318/.373/.457 with 38 doubles.  He batted 7-9 in his first taste of postseason action but the Phillies were swept out of the NLCS by the Reds.  Johnstone had another productive year in '77 as he hit .284 with 15 HR.  The Phillies and Johnstone (1-5) were stymied against the Dodgers in the NLCS. 

Johnstone was struggling through the '78 season with a .179  average when he was traded in June with Bobby Brown to the Yankees for Rawly Eastwick.  Used mainly as a pinch hitter in the Bronx, Johnstone batted .262 during the regular season.  He got into two World Series games but did not bat as the Yankees defeated LA.  He played sparingly to start the '79 season and was sent mid-season to San Diego for Dave Wehrmeister.  In San Diego he resumed his familiar platoon role and hit .294 as a Padre. 

The Dodgers signed the veteran outfielder in 1980 and he was a pinch hitting specialist for most of the year before starting 30 of the Dodgers last 32 games.  He batted a solid .307 in 279 plate appearances.  In '81 he was again primarily a pinch hitter but with poor results as he hit just .205.  He was 2-6 in the postseason and hit a big two-run homer in Game 4 to help tie the series.  The Dodgers went on to claim the world title, giving Johnstone his second ring. 

After Johnstone managed just one hit in thirteen at bats to start the '82 season he was cut by the Dodgers, but caught on with the Cubs soon after.  They liked his left handed bat and platooned him yielding a .249 average and 10 HR.  He was a pinch hitter in '83 and '84 with moderate success batting .257 and .288 respectively.  The Cubs released Johnstone in September of '84, three weeks before they embarked on a rare playoff chance. 

Johnstone hooked up again with the Dodgers in '85 but was injured most of the year.  Dodgers manager Tommy Lasorda liked his veteran influence and despite two hits all season, the 39 year-old Johnstone made the playoff roster.  He was 0-1 in the NLCS, grounding out in his last major league at bat.  He retired with a career stat line of .267/.329/.394 with 102 HR and a 103 OPS+. 

Flipside:  Some tiny stats on the back of this card...  Johnstone played in 20 seasons but qualified for just one batting title when he had 597 plate appearances way back in '69. 

Oddball:  Johnstone's pranks are well documented, here are videos of some more. 

Johnstone and former teammate Rick Monday share the same birthday (11/20/45), both played with the A's, Cubs, and Dodgers and both served in the Marines during the late 60's.

History:  Johnstone's
Johnstone has hosted several TV shows, written three books, and provided color commentary for the Yankees (89-90) and Phillies (92-93).