Thursday, May 31, 2012

#180 Rickey Henderson - Oakland A's

Rickey Henderson is pictured here on his fourth Topps card.  He seems in pain in his follow through.  It is a cool action picture although I wonder if they used an older picture for the cameo picture. 

Player: A fourth round pick in '76, Rickey Henderson debuted with the A's in 1979.  In a little over half a season of work Henderson stole 33 bases with a .274 batting average.  His OPS+ of 88 would be the last time he would post under 100 until the year 2000. 

Henderson quickly became the ideal and premier leadoff man in the league.  Epitomizing Billy Martin's aggressive baserunning, Henderson would steal an even 100 bases in 1980 and top the century mark two more times.  He smashed the single season record with 130 in 1982 and had an amazing 86 at the All-Star break.  He was efficient and adept at his thievery, usually topping 80% in his success rate.  

Hitting from a pronounced crouch, Henderson worked the count and led the AL in walks in '82 and '83.  He typically hit around .300 and regularly topped a .400 on base percentage.   

In 1981 Henderson stole two bases in both the ALDS and ALCS but the A's were defeated in the latter round by the Yankees.  Henderson stayed in Oakland until he was traded for five young Yankee prospects following the '84 season.  Over his first six seasons, Henderson averaged 102 steals and 107 walks per 162 games.
Awesome view of Henderson's low profile acceleration.  Two other HOF'ers- Baltimore's Eddie Murray and Cal Ripken Jr., are an added bonus in this photo courtesy of Gary Soup.

Henderson's developing power coincided with his move to New York.  He hit 24 HR to go with 80 steals, 146 runs scored, and a 157 OPS+.  Along with positive contributions in the field it all added up to 9.8 WAR.  He duplicated his 20/80 feat in '86 with 28/87.  He and Eric Davis are the only players to have reached that level of power and stolen base production in the same season and Henderson did it back to back. 

He played only 95 games due to injuries in '87 but still stole 41 bases to go with his .423 OBP.  He lost out on a eighth consecutive SB title as Seattle's Harold Reynolds swiped 60.  Reynolds recalls this phone call from Henderson after the season ended:

"The phone rings. 'Henderson here.' I say, 'Hey, what's going on, Rickey?' I think he's calling to congratulate me, but he goes, 'Sixty stolen bases? You ought to be ashamed. Rickey would have 60 at the break.' And then click, he hung up."

Things returned to normal in '88 with Henderson swiping a league best 93 bags to go with a .305 average.  He would not be bested again until '92. He was in the midst of a long slump in '89 when the Yanks traded him back to Oakland for three players (including Eric Plunk who had traveled west in the first trade).  Rickey turned it on once back with the A's and finished the year a league best 126 walks.  He was electric in the postseason, stealing a record eight bases in the ALCS while getting on base fifteen times in five games.  He got on base 11 out of 19 times in the World Series victory over the Giants.

Henderson and the A's tried to repeat but were swept by the Reds in '90.  The regular season was typical Rickey with a AL leading 119 runs scored.  He battled injuries the next two years but was still getting on base more than 40% of the time.  In '91 Henderson broke Lou Brock's All-Time record when he stole bag number 939.  1993 saw the A's trade Henderson to Toronto and although he didn't produce all that well for the Jays he won a second World Series ring.

The A's brought the free agent Henderson back to Oakland on a two-year deal.  He played only 199 games over the '94 and '95 seasons.  He ventured down the coast and signed with the San Diego Padres in '96.  Playing in the National League for the first time, he was still getting on base often enough to be a valued commodity.  In August of '97 he was dealt to the Angels for three fringe players.  He struggled with the Angels and returned to Oakland as a free agent following the '97 season, marking his fourth tour of duty as an Athletic. 

Although Henderson batted just .236 he led the AL with 118 walks and 66 steals.  At 39 years old, he stayed healthy all year and played in 152 games.  He then signed with the Mets for the '99 season and batted 315/423/466 with an OPS+ of 128.  It would be the last time he would finish over 100 in the category.

Henderson returned to Mets in '00 but was released in May.  Although he no longer hit for average or power he could still get on base and steal some bases, even in his early and mid forties.  He hung around with stints in Seattle, back to San Diego in '01 where he got his 3,000th hit on the last day of the season, Boston in '02, and one last hurrah with the Dodgers in '03.  Although that marked the end of MLB career Henderson still insisted he could play and finished his playing career in independent leagues in '04 and '05.  He finally conceded that he was retired on 7/13/07.

In all Henderson played 30 years of professional baseball.  His major league totals are astounding and he holds the career record for steals (1,406) and runs scored (2,295).  

Flipside:  Henderson played so long, it seems strange now seeing such a short stack of stats on the back of his card.  He was born in Chicago, moved to Oakland when he was two years old and was able to play for his home town team. 

Oddball:  There are so many great quotes and stories about Henderson that they have taken on mythical status.  Even if half the stuff attributed to Henderson is true (see links) it's still great stuff.

History: Growing up in the 80's, I cherished all Henderson cards.  He was the first non-Tiger that I made an effort to collect.  His cards were like gold to me and seeing card of his from the early 80's brings back great memories.

Henderson won two World Series and retired with a line of 279/401/419 with 106.8 wins above replacement.  His wikipedia page is solid and detailed and if you are a fan you should check it out. 

Henderson was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2009 with 94.8% of the vote.  I think A's GM Billy Beane said it best:

"He's the greatest leadoff hitter of all time, and I'm not sure there's a close second." 

Saturday, May 26, 2012

#179 Luis Tiant Super Veteran

Then and Now:  Tiant was in the midst of a dynamite year at AAA Portland when was called up to Cleveland in July '64.  In '82 Tiant was given a chance to help the Angels during their AL West winning season, but didn't play in the postseason. 

Career Span: 7/19/64 - 9/4/82.  As a rookie Tiant played briefly with Al Smith, a Negro League veteran and member of the Indians '54 championship team.  Tiant was on the '82 Angel squad at the same time as rookie Gary Pettis
Tiant played with Tommy John in '64 and in '82 when the Angels added John as Tiant neared the end.

All Star:  Three time AL All-Star, '68, '74, '76.
Tiant started the 1968 contest and was hung with the loss.  Willie Mays singled off Tiant in the bottom of the first and made his way to third base after an errant pickoff throw and a wild pitch.  After Tiant walked Curt Flood, he coaxed Willie McCovey into double play whiched plated Mays, the only run of the game.
He also took the loss in the '74 All-Star game allowing three runs in two innings in relief of Gaylord Perry.  Tiant pitched two scoreless frames but did not factor in the decision in the '76 contest.

League Leaders: 1st ERA in '68 and '72, 
1st in WHIP '73,
1st in H/9 in '68, 
1st in K/9 in '67,
1st in shutouts in '66, '68, and '74
1st in pitcher WAR in '68

All Time:  21st with 49 shutouts,
37th with 2,416 strikeouts

Postseason:  Tiant allowed two runs while retiring two batters mopping up Game 2 of the '70 ALCS as a member of the Twins who were swept in three.
Tiant started and won Game 1  of the '75 ALCS for the Red Sox as they dispatched the favored A's.  He allowed just one unearned run in a complete game effort. 
Tiant twirled a gem shutting out the Reds on five hits in Game 1 of the World Series.  Three days later he went the distance, throwing 163 pitches in a 5-4 win in Game 4. Thanks to rainy New England weather, Tiant was able to start Game 6 on five days rest.  He allowed six runs in seven innings in one of the greatest games of all time.  The Red Sox eventually won the game in 12 innings but lost the Series.  This was as close as Tiant would come to getting a ring.

Cy Young: 6th in '72, 4th in '74, and 5th in '76.

MVP:  5th in '68, 8th in '72, 1th in '74, 26th in '76.

Hall of Fame:  Nope, peaked in '88 with 30.9% of the vote.

Friday, May 25, 2012

#178 Luis Tiant - California Angels

Luis Tiant is shown here on his 18th and final Topps card.  His rookie card was issued way back in 1965  (Tiant did not have a card in the '72 set).   By the time this card came out, he had already retired.   
I am pretty sure this picture was taken at Tiger Stadium during the Angels trip to Detroit in late August.
Player: Luis Tiant began playing pro ball in Mexico as an 18 year old in 1959.  The young Cuban played in Mexico City through the end of the '61 season when his contract was sold to the Cleveland Indians.  After winning fifteen games with a 2.04 ERA at AAA Portland, he was called up in July of 1964.  With the big club Tiant went 10-4 with a 2.83 ERA (128 ERA+) in 127 innings.  The 23 year-old won 25 games between his two stops and the future looked bright. 

Tiant started his second year in the pen, battled a sore arm, and joined the rotation in June.  He posted a league average ERA with an 11-11 record.  Tiant lost some weight and bounced back winning 12 games each of the next two seasons with ERAs of 2.79 and 2.74.  Although he started only 16 of his 46 games in '66 he still managed to lead the AL with five shutouts.

In the pitcher friendly year of '68 Tiant was dominant by any standards.  He topped the AL with a 1.60 ERA (186 ERA+), 5.3 hits/9, and nine shutouts and won 21 games for a middle of the road Cleveland team.  His fortunes turned for the worse in '69 and he led the league in the losses (20), HR allowed (39) and walks (129).  Despite all this, his 101 ERA+ indicates he really was pretty much league average.  The last place Indians decided to shake things up and swapped Tiant in a six player deal to the Twins

Now with the Twins, Tiant got off to a 6-0 start but was sidelined for two months with a crack in his shoulder blade.  He came back in August and finished the 1970 season 7-3 in 92 innings.  After pulling a muscle in spring training the following year the Twins released him. 

Tiant signed with Atlanta who were only willing to give him a brief look before releasing him. Picked up by Boston, Tiant pitched briefly at AAA before he was called up in June '71.  He made a few starts and pitched in long relief but struggled with a 4.85 ERA and 1.452 WHIP.

The charismatic, cigar puffing, Cuban began the year in the pen and continued to make a few starts across the schedule.  Tiant caught fire and stayed in the rotation over the last two months and completed 11 of his last 13 starts with an 11-2 record and 1.20 ERA as Boston made an unsuccessful push for the AL East lead.  Tiant led the league with a sparkling 1.91 ERA while pitching 179 innings.

Over the next six years Tiant would be a mainstay in the Red Sox rotation and was a Fenway favorite, often serenaded to chants of Loo-eey, Loo-eey, Loo-eey.  Over the '73 - '76 seasons Tiant averaged 20 wins, 281 innings, with a 3.31 ERA and accumulated 20.7 WAR.  Tiant and the Red Sox came up short in the heartbreaking '75 World Series (more on that in the next post).

Tiant had an off year in '77 with a 4.53 ERA but rebounded in '78 with a solid 3.31 and 13 wins. He came through late in the year starting on three days rest most of September as the Sox chased the Yankees. He pitched two hit shutout over Toronto to force the Bucky Dent game #163.

Boston was unwilling to give Tiant more than a one year deal and he signed a two year contract with the Yankees who also added a ten year deal as a scout when he finished playing. He had a decent year in '79 with a 3.91 ERA in 195 innings but fell apart in '80 with a 4.89 ERA in just 136 frames.

The 40 year old Tiant was not ready to hang it up and signed with the Pirates but spent most of the year at AAA.  He was called up for nine starts at the end of the '81 season. He went 2-5 with a 3.92 ERA but was released at the end of the year.  Tiant started the '82 season back in Mexico pitching for Tabasco (it's more than a sauce), before his contract was purchased by the Angels for the stretch drive.  He made a couple of good starts but was otherwise ineffective and had a 5.76 ERA in 29.2 innings.  Tiant retired with a career mark of 229-172 and a 3.30 ERA (114 ERA+). 

Stuff:  In his heyday Tiant had a power fastball, and even in his early years he threw a great variety of pitches from all arm slots.  In addition to his four-seam fastball he also had a curve, slow curve, slider, palmball, knuckleball, and change up.  A brief example of his exaggerated pitching motion can be seen here.
Flipside:  Wow, those are some tiny, tiny stats.  Looking at his career, his down years from '69-'71 might have cost him a shot at the Hall of Fame.  He only had a total of 17 wins those three years and had double digits every other year from '64 - '80.  Had he averaged 15 wins those years he would have finished with 28 more wins giving him 257 career.  While that total wouldn't have guaranteed him a spot in Cooperstown, it may have gotten him a few more votes.  

Another thing that may have cost Tiant a few W's is that Cleveland was stocked with a bevy of young arms in the early to mid 60's and he could have been called up earlier than 1964.  In his '63 and '64 minor league campaigns he went 29-19 with a 2.61 ERA.  At the time the Indians had Tommy John and Sam McDowell who were nearing drinking age but had debuted in '63  They also young veterans Gary Bell, Mudcat Grant, Jim Perry, and Pedro Ramos.  Tiant's success in the minors may have just been overlooked due to the glut of arms the Indians had at the time. 

As far as the HOF voting, Tiant received 30.9% of the vote in his first year of eligibility in '88 but lost support and was dropped from the ballot in 2002.  

Oddball:  How many players play for the same minor league team 17 years apart?  If you don't include established big leaguers on rehab assignments, probably not too many.  Tiant pitched for AAA Portland in '64 when they were the Tribe's top farm team.  When he signed with Pittsburgh in '81, Portland was now affiliated with the Pirates.  Perhaps returning to his old stomping grounds rejuvenated Tiant  as he came within one out of pitching back-to-back no hitters.

History:  Tiant was a very popular pitcher especially when he was with the Red Sox.  After his playing days he scouted for the Yankees in Mexico.  He later managed Savannah College of Art and Design for four years. 
A documentary of Tiant's return to Cuba, "The Lost Son of Havana" was released in 2009. The SABR bio on Tiant, is a good read and was a great source for much of info read here.
My next post will cover Tiant's Super Veteran card.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

#177 Harold Baines - Chicago White Sox

This is Harold Baines' third Topps card.  He would appear on many more cards during his long career but this is the Baines I remember.  The picture looks like it was taken on a cold day in Chicago.  Although I like these uniforms, the number placement between the hip and groin is very strange. 
Player:   Harold Baines was tabbed as the first overall pick by Chicago in the '77 draft.  Baines moved fairly quickly through the minors and coming out of spring training in 1980 he won the rightfield job.  

Baines had a rather poor rookieyear with a stat line of .255/.281/.405. The White Sox protected their young prospect by platooning him in '81 and his rate stats improved across the board (.286/.318/.482).  Patience still wasn't a strong point with only twelve walks in 296 plate appearances. 

The young rightfielder had a break out season in '82.  Playing in 161 games he knocked 25 HR and drove in 105 runs.  He received a few MVP votes but it was Baines' consistency that would be a hallmark of his career.  Over the next '83-'87 seasons Baines would hit 20+ HR while his OPS+ ranged from 109 to as high as 142.  Whether it was the respect of opposing hurlers or a developing batting eye, Baines improved to around 50 walks a season to go with a batting average that hovered around .300.  The right-handed slugger struggled in the '83 ALCS loss to the Orioles getting just two hits in sixteen at bats.

Early in his career Baines was regarded as a plus defender with a strong arm, but by 1987 he had been slowed by knee problems which limited him to DH duty.  He started only 60 games in the field the rest of his career.  Baines slumped in '88 with only 13 HR while hitting .277.  He rebounded in '89 and was hitting .321 when he was dealt to the Rangers along with Fred Manrique for Sammy Sosa, Wilson Alvarez, and Scott Fletcher.  Baines was rather unproductive for the Rangers slugging just .390 in 50 games.  He had been such an icon for White Sox baseball that after the trade they made the strange move of retiring his #3 uniform in the middle of the year.

After enjoying the stability of playing for the same franchise for most of the 80's, the next twelve years would see Baines change teams every couple of years.  In '90 the Rangers moved him to the A's in a deadline deal for two players to be named later.  He played a combined 135 games with an OPS+ of 130.  He found himself in the postseason and had a good ALCS with his five hits helping dispatch of the Red Sox.  With the DH only used in Oakland, Baines only started two World Series games with one hit as the A's lost to the Reds.

Baines remained with the A's for the next two years and followed a decent year in '91, .295/.383/.473, with a mediocre one, .253/.331/.391.  Baines shredded Toronto pitching in the ALCS with 11 hits in 25 at bats but the A's didn't advance. 

Before the '93 season the A's traded Baines to his home state Orioles.  He spent the next three years hitting in typical Baines fashion, around .300 with 16-24 HR. 

Baines returned to the ChiSox as a free agent in '96.  He dusted off his retired uniform and hit .311 while slugging .503.  He was traded in another deadline deal back to the O's in '97.  Following a.300 campaign he had a fine postseason with eight hits in twenty two at bats, but Baltimore lost in the ALCS to the Indians. 

Baines platooned for Baltimore in '98 and hit .300 with 9 dingers, the first time he was held under 10 HR in his career.  At 40 years of age he returned to more regular role in '99 and responded by hitting .312 with 25 HR.  His 103 RBI marked the first time since '85 he topped the century mark, the longest span in baseball history between such seasons.  Oh, and of course Baines was dealt to the Indians in late August and was back in the playoffs.  Despite his 5-14 performance with a HR, the the Indians lost to Boston in the ALDS.

Baines signed with the Orioles for a third tour of duty and hit .266 with 10 HR in half a season before being traded back to the White Sox for a third stay in the Windy City.  He hit only .213 the rest of the year and was 1-4 in the ALDS loss to Seattle. 

Now 42 years-old he returned to Chicago as a part time DH in 2001 and hit just .131 in 32 games.  A hip flexor injury shelved him in July, and save for a final pinch hit strikeout in September, his career was over.  Baines played 22 seasons and compiled 2,866 hits, 384 HR, 1,628 RBI, with a .289 average.   

Flipside:  It is somewhat surprising to see Baines with 10 steals in '82 as it represents 29% of his career total of 34.

Oddball:  Longtime White Sox owner Bill Veeck had Baines on his radar as early as 1971 when young Baines was still in Little League. Both Veeck and our subject lived in St. Michaels, Maryland and the attentive owner knew all about the young slugger.  Although he sold his share of the Sox in '81, the move paid dividends for years.

History:  Baines had a remarkable career that is neatly divided into two phases.  He was the face of the White Sox in the 80's and became a popular trade deadline target in the 90's.  Curiously each time he was traded his production was lower for his new team.  Listed below, his OPS+, before and after the trades:

1989 CHI 165 ---> TEX 102
1990 TEX 131 ---> OAK 128
1997 CHI 127 ---> BAL 104
1999 BAL 151 ---> CLE 75
2000 BAL 103 ---> CHI 60

While accumulating impressive career stats, Baines never had a very high peak season with just one above 3.1 WAR (4.0 in '84).  The '84 season marked the only Black Ink in his career as he led the AL in slugging at .541.  He was picked to six AL All-Star teams and won a Silver Slugger in '89. 
Baines' lack of MVP caliber seasons along with his long time DH role led to little Hall of Fame support and he fell off the ballot in 2011.  It's the right call, but Baines should be heralded (pun intended) for his longevity and reliability. 

Baines never won a World Series as a player but got a ring as a member of the White Sox coaching staff in 2005. 

Saturday, May 19, 2012

#176 Dave Righetti - New York Yankees

Topps shows Dave Righetti on his second card pitching in a spring training game.  The yellow coloring on the Yankees cards looks good on some of the cards and I think it works here.
Player: It's easy to forget that Dave Righetti started his career in the Rangers franchise.  A first round pick by Texas in 1977, Righetti opened eyes with a 21 strikeout performance for AA Tulsa in '78.  In the offseason, he was sent to New York in a ten player deal that saw Sparky Lyle head to the Rangers.

Righetti split '79 between AA and AAA and he debuted in September for the Yankees starting three games and lost his only decision.  His initial showing was decent but it was clear he needed to work on his control as he walked 10 in 17 innings.  The young lefty spent all of 1980 at AAA and struggled to find the plate walking 101 in 142 frames. 

After allowing just five runs in 45 innings at AAA Columbus, the Yankees called Righetti up in May of '81.  He was plugged into the rotation and the only thing that slowed him down was the players strike.  He made 15 starts and his control was much improved as he walked only 38 in 105 innings.  Righetti allowed just one long ball all year and just 6.4 hits per nine innings.  Had he thrown a few more innings his 2.05 ERA would have led the league.  He easily won the AL Rookie of the Year award ahead of Boston's Rich Gedman.
In the postseason Righetti excelled in the ALDS and ALCS but in the World Series he was roughed up in a Game 3 no-decision. 

Control problems dogged Righetti all year in '82.  He topped the AL with with 108 walks and spent three weeks back at AAA.  He still managed a 11-10 record with a 3.79 ERA (105 ERA+).  He bounced back with improved command in '83 as he walked just 67 in 217 innings.  He lost his last four decisions but still posted a solid 14-8 record. The highlight of the year was a no-hitter over the Red Sox on the Fourth of July.

With the departure of Goose Gossage the Yankees moved Righetti to the pen and he took over closing duties.  He was effective in his new role recording 60 saves over the '84 and '85 seasons with ERAs of 2.34 and 2.78.  In '86 Righetti set the major league record for saves with 46 (since broken) which is even more impressive if you consider that 26 of those saves were longer than one inning.  He recorded a 2.45 ERA, made his first All-Star team, and finished fourth in AL Cy Young voting.       

Righetti continued to do well as the Yankees closer averaging 29 saves from '87 to '90.  He kept his ERA around three and a half and made a second All-Star team in '87.  By 1990, "Rags" was normally used in one inning stints as was becoming the norm around major league baseball.

Righetti was a free-agent after the '90 season and signed a four year deal with the San Francisco Giants.  He had an effective '91 season saving 24 games with a 3.39 ERA in 71 innings of work.  The veteran southpaw lost his closers job in '92 to young Rod Beck and made a four game attempt as a starter, but for the most part Righetti struggled mightily in middle relief over the '92 and '93 seasons. 

After his poor '93 season (5.70 ERA), the Giants released Righetti and he had forgettable stints with the A's and Blue Jays.  Righetti hooked up with the White Sox in '95 and returned to a starting role.  After proving himself in 15 starts at AAA Nashville, he returned the majors.  Although he had a 4.20 ERA, he didn't miss a lot of bats allowing 65 hits in 49 innings.  Righetti called it a career and retired after 16 major league seasons. 

Stuff: Mid 90s fastball, slider, sinker, change and a curveball.   

Flipside:  Righetti probably would have made the majors sooner if he had better control.  In the minors from '77-'82 he walked nearly a batter every other inning.

Oddball:  If the Twins had their way they would traded HOF'er Rod Carew to the Yankees in '79 and received Righetti, Juan Beniquez, Damaso Garcia, and Chris Chambliss in return.  The Yankees wouldn't bite however and the teams never did work out a deal.

History:  Two things jump out at me when I think about Righetti, his no-hitter and his 46 save season.  He had a 3.49 lifetime ERA (114 ERA+) and 252 saves was at one time a record for lefties. 
Righetti has been the pitching coach in San Francisco since 2000. 

Friday, May 18, 2012

#175 Bo Diaz - Philadelphia Phillies

Here is a great action shot of Bo Diaz taken at Shea Stadium.  This is Diaz's fifth Topps card and they featured him donning catcher's gear for the second year in a row, something that would continue until they showed him batting in the '88 set.
Not sure what is happening here, maybe a throw just came in from the outfield and Diaz is checking a runner between first and second base.

Player:  Baudilio "Bo" Diaz was signed as a free agent by the Red Sox in December of 1970.  The Venezuelan preferred to stay in his home country and didn't play much in the minors until 1974.  In 1977 the Red Sox gave him a brief look, but he struck out in his only at bat.  With Carlton Fisk around, Boston had little need for another catcher so they packaged Diaz and three others to Cleveland for Dennis Eckersley and Fred Kendall

Diaz made the Cleveland roster in '78 but was a seldom used third catcher behind Gary Alexander and Ron Pruitt.  Diaz hit .236/.260/.315 with a pair of homers in 127 at bats.  He spent most of '79 back in the minors but did see action in 15 games with five hits in 32 at bats for the Tribe.

By 1980 Alexander was out of the picture and Diaz platooned with Ron Hassey.  Diaz batted just .227 with three home runs in 207 at bats.  Hassey was injured in '81 which opened the door for Diaz to play everyday.  Diaz caught fire and at the time of the strike, was hitting .356/.400/.568.  He was rewarded with an All-Star appearance for the AL, but struck out in his at bat.  Diaz himself was felled for a few weeks to an injury and cooled off, batting .313 in 199 plate appearances. 

The Indians moved Diaz to the Phillies in a three team, five player deal that saw Lonnie Smith land in St. Louis, and Lary Sorensen in Cleveland.  The Phillies made Diaz their everyday starter and he responded with a career year.  Diaz batted .288/.333/.450 with 18 HR and 85.  His production fell off in '83 (.236, 15 HR) but it was a great year for the team as the Phillies won the NL East.  Diaz was two for thirteen in the NLCS victory over the Dodgers.  Although he had five hits in fifteen at bats the Phillies fell to the Orioles in the World Series. 

Diaz was hampered by knee injuries in '84 and was limited to only 27 games.  In '85 he broke his wrist in April and missed nearly two months.  He struggled when he returned and was traded to the Reds in a six player deal.  Diaz played better with his new team and was able to salvage the season with a .245 in 263 trips to the plate.

The veteran played nearly everyday the next two years and hit .272 and .270 in the '86/'87 seasons.  He hit 25 homers over this span and contributed 3.4 defensive Wins Above Replacement. 

Shoulder and knee problems plagued Diaz the next two years and he hit under .220 in limited action.  He retired following the '89 season after 13 years of major league action.  

Diaz's career stats: .255/.297/.387, 87 OPS+.

Flipside:  Judging by Topps decision to give Diaz a card ending in 5, they expected more full-time seasons from Diaz.  As you can see, '82 was his first year as a starter.  For his career he had four seasons with 134+ games played.   Every other season he played 92 or less.   

Oddball:  Diaz was catching when Robby Thompson made history by getting caught stealing four times in a 6/27/86 contest.  Diaz gunned down Thompson three times on failed hit-and-run plays.  The fourth caught stealing occurred when reliever John Franco picked off Thompson as he broke for second base.

Diaz is the record holder for HR in a single season for the Venezuelan league with 20 in the '79-'80 season.  Diaz played ball in his home country  every year from 1972-1990. 

History:  Diaz was a two time All-Star and is best remember-ed as the catcher on the pennant winning Phillies in '83.  Maybe Diaz would have had fewer injuries had he not played in the off season.  The grind of catching seems hard enough. 
Diaz passed away in 1990 when the satellite dish he was attempting to move fell and crashed on top of him. 

Thursday, May 17, 2012

#174 Jerry Ujdur - Detroit Tigers

This is Jerry Ujdur's second Topps card.  He shared a rookie card with two other Tiger hurlers in the '81 set.  Although he was coming off a ten win season, this would also be his last card. 
The pic shows Ujdur (YOU-jer) following through during a spring training game.
Player: Jerry Ujdur started his pro career with the Detroit Tigers organization after being drafted in the fourth round of the 1978 draft.  Advancing quickly through the Tigers system the former University of Minnesota product debuted in August 1980.  In nine games (two starts) he allowed 20 runs and 46 base runners in 21 innings.  Ujdur got another chance the next year but it wasn’t any easier for the young righty, as he allowed 12 runs in 14 innings.  Adding to his struggles to stay in the big leagues, Ujdur collapsed in the bullpen and was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes.

When the Tigers needed another starter in June '82 Ujdur got the call, and this time he showed much improvement.  He made 25 starts and proved he had a resilient arm by making seven starts on three days rest.  In 178 innings he allowed only 150 hits, a ratio that was second best among AL qualifiers.  He finished the year with a 10-10 record and a 3.69 ERA, 110 ERA+.  Despite his success, Ujdur had trouble with the long ball (29) and his 86/69 strikeout to walk ratio was unimpressive.

The Tigers had big expectations from their staff in ’83.  Ujdur along with Jack Morris, Dan Petry, Dave Rozema, and veteran Milt Wilcox had the makings of a strong starting five.  Ujdur however was unable to hold up his end of the bargain and was sent to the minors after eight rough outings.  He was recalled in September but a few mop up efforts failed to impress.  Ujdur finished the year 0-4 with a 7.15 ERA in 34 frames.

Ujdur was dumped by the Tigers at the end of spring training in '84 and was picked up by the Indians.  He toiled in the minors for most of the season, the fifth time in his career he spent significant time at the AAA level.  He received a look in September but was beat up for 14 runs in 14.1 innings.  Ujdur subsequently retired with a lifetime mark of 12-16 with a 4.78 ERA, 87 ERA+.

Stuff:  Two-seam fastball, change up, slider.
Flipside:  You can see Ujdur had seven complete games in '82 but never pitched a shutout in the big leagues.  He would have if the Tigers would have scored in the first nine innigns of a July 31 contest against the Blue Jays.  Ujdur went nine shutouts innings but Dave Rucker lost it in the 10th. Toronto pitcher Jim Gott went all 10 innings and got the 1-0 win.

Oddball:  Ujdur's first start of '82 came in game two of a June 9 double header against the Indians in Detroit. Ujdur was relieved with one out in the 8th after giving up a two-run homer to Toby Harrah that tied the game at three.  The game would remain locked up through the 15th inning when play was suspended. 
The game was resumed September 24 and decided in the 18th when Alan Trammell scored on an Ed Glynn wild pitch.  Both sides used only five pitchers in the marathon contest and Tiger reliever Dave Tobik earned 1.2 Win Probability Added although the win went to Larry Pashnick who retired the only bater he faced.

History:  Ujdur gets lost in my memory of young Tiger pitchers who came up in the 80's.  As a young kid I heard about Ujdur, Dave Rucker, Larry Pashnick, Howard Bailey, and Dave Gumpert and bought the hype.  Somehow none of them ever developed and they all seem muddled into one group of guys who never panned out. 
Ujdur had one good season but was unable to keep the momentum he created during his good '82 campaign and he was out of baseball by '85.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

#173 Jim Morrison - Pittsburgh Pirates

I have to admit, I've had random Doors songs running through my consciousness as I research Jim Morrison.  No not him...this guy:
This Jim Morrison appears here on his 5th Topps card, but for the second card in a row, Topps uses a posed picture. 
Is that Shea Stadium in the background?  

Player: Jim Morrison came up through the Phillies chain in the late 70's.  The former fifth round pick did well in the minors, but Morrison was blocked by Mike Schmidt at third base.  Morrsion had three hits in a seven at bat audition in '77.  He was called up late in April of '78 and received some playing time at second base.  He got off to a decent start but cooled quickly, at one point going three weeks between hits.  He was up and down with the Phils but never got on track batting .157 in 123 plate appearances.

Morrison found himself stuck at AAA Oklahoma City for a fourth year in 1979.  He was tearing it up when he was mercifully traded to the White Sox mid-season.  Splitting time between second and third base, Morrison was able to play nearly every day for the White Sox and knocked 14 HR with a .275/.324/.508 stat line in 67 games.
Morrison played in all 162 games for the Chicago in 1980. He batted .283 with 40 doubles and 15 HR and was an adequate defender at second base.  In ’81 he moved across the diamond to third base but due to injuries and the strike, he was limited to 90 games.  His production lagged as he posted a .234/.261/.372 line.
Returning as the White Sox third baseman in ’82, Morrison didn’t do much at the plate (.223 BA) and was traded to the Pirates in June.  Pittsburgh used him in a reserve role and he hit .276 wearing Black and Gold.  Morrison filled a utility role in ’83 and played sparingly to start the year. Batting just 174 times he posted a .304/.347/.487 line. His playing time nearly doubled in ’84 and he posted similar rate stats with 11 home runs.  He slipped to .254 with just four homers in ’85 and at 32 years of age his career seemed to heading downhill.
Morrison was the Bucs starter at the hot corner in ’86 and although the team lost 98 games, he had a career year setting personal bests with 23 HR, 88 RBI, and 3.1 wins above replacement. He was hitting .264 with nine home runs when he was dealt to the Tigers in August of ’87 for fellow third sacker Darnell Coles and a PTBNL. In the thick of the tight AL East race, the Tigers deployed Morrison at six different positions as well as DH.  He hit only .205 in 122 plate appearances in Motown but made the playoff roster as the Tigers faced the Twins in the ALCS.  In his first playoff action since striking out in his lone at bat as a Phillie in the ’78 NLCS, Morrison had two hits in five at bats.
Tigers manager Sparky Anderson continued to use Morrison all over the field in ’87 but the Tigers gave him his walking papers in June after producing a .216/.216/284 line in 74 trips to the plate. The Braves picked him up and he hit even worse, .152/.229.239.  He did add a new position to his resume, pitching three times and providing 3.2 innings of scoreless relief in blowouts.
The 37 year-old Morrison played in the Senior Professional Baseball Association in ’89 and ‘90 but after the league folded his playing days were over. In 12 major league seasons, Morrison hit .260/.305/.419 with 112 HR and an OPS+ of 98.

Flipside:  Although Morrison played in all 162 games in ’80 he only topped 130 games one more time in his career with 154 in ’86.
Oddball:  Morrison led the Senior Pro Baseball Association with 17 HR in ‘89.  He was batting .650 in five games when the league folded in 1990. 

History: Morrison had a decent career although he never few solid years but nothing really memorable about him other than having the same name as a rock legend.
Morrison currently manages in the Rays chain.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

#172 Vern Ruhle - Houston Astros

Shame on Topps for not only giving us a posed shot of Vern Ruhle, but repeating the same pose (different setting) he had in the '82 set.  Ruhle wasn't a star, but the veteran deserves better treatment on his 9th Topps card.
Player:  Vern Ruhle grew up in Coleman, Michigan which is about 40 minutes from my hometown.  He was taken by the Tigers in the 17th round in the '72 draft and was able to stay in state.  He debuted with Detroit at the end of the '74 season, making three starts and two long relief appearances.  Ruhle won both of his decisions with a 2.73 ERA.

Ruhle spent the '75 season in the Tigers rotation.  Pitching for a 102 loss team, Ruhle finished 11-12 with a 4.03 ERA in 190 innings.  The next year was more of the same as the Tigers struggled despite a decent effort from Ruhle (9-12, 3.92 ERA). 

In 1977 the Tigers were disappointed with Ruhle after three rough starts in May and sent him down to the minors.  He didn't return until September and finished the year with a 5.70 ERA in 66.1 innings.  The Tigers released Ruhle the following spring, closing the book on his Tigers tenure.

Ruhle wasn't out of work long as he was picked up by the Hosuton Astros.  He spent the first three months of the '78 season in the minors and made an immediate impact upon his return to the show.  He had back to back shutouts in August and had a 2.12 ERA with no home runs allowed in 68 innings. Ruhle started the '79 season as the Astros #4 starter but missed three months due to injuries.  Limited to ten starts, Ruhle's ERA nearly doubled to 4.07. 

Pitching at the back end of the Astros rotation, Ruhle had a career year in 1980.  Already in the midst of a solid year, Ruhle stepped up with five complete game wins during the stretch run.  He set a personal best with 12 wins and would have been third in the NL in ERA (2.37), but he fell just short of qualifying with 159.1 innings.  Ruhle started Game 4 of the NLCS against the Phillies.  He allowed three runs in seven innings and recieved a no decision.  The Astros eventually lost the game in extra innings and dropped the deciding Game 5.

As the Astros #5 starter in '81, Ruhle made 15 starts and relieved in five others with a 2.91 ERA.  Incredibly this was the highest ERA of all Astros pitchers with 63 or more innings.  Ruhle was given the starting assigment in Game 4 of the NLDS but was outdueled by the Dodgers' Fernando Valenzuela and lost 2-1.

Ruhle won seventeen games over the next two seasons and he was phased into a bullpen role in '83.  He spent the '84 season as a long reliever and spot starter.  His ineffectiveness led to a 1-9 record and a 4.58 ERA.  The Astros cut Ruhle loose and he signed with the Indians for the '85 season.

With the Indians Ruhle filled a similar role with similar results.  Pitching in 42 games with 16 starts, he received little offensive support and had a 2-10 record with a 4.32 ERA (96 ERA+).

Ruhle had trouble finding work in '86, but caught on with the Angels mid-season and provided some depth to their pitching staff.  Mainly pitching in long relief, Ruhle had a 4.15 ERA in 47.2 innings.  He gave up two runs in two-thirds of an innings in the ALCS loss to the Red Sox.  Ruhle pitched in the minors in '87 but was finished as a big-leaguer.

In 13 seasons Ruhle had a 4.21 ERA (97 ERA+) with a 67-88 record. 

Stuff: Sinker, slider

Flipside:  I don't know why I never noticed this before but Topps is more specific in the innings pitched column in '82 and rounds off the innings for all the previous years. Ruhle never reached 200 innings in '76 falling one out short at 199.2

Oddball:  I already mentioned Ruhle had the highest ERA on the Astros '81 team.  Here is a look at that pitching staff. (ERA, innings pitched):

Joe Niekro            2.82, 166
Don Sutton           2.61, 158.2
Bob Knepper        2.18, 156.2
Nolan Ryan          1.69, 149
Ruhle                    2.91, 102
Dave Smith          2.76, 75
Joe Sambito         1.84, 63.2        

Frank LaCorte (3.64, 42) was the only other Astro with more than 29 innings. 

History:  Ruhle always seemed to be big deal in Mid-Michigan since he was a loal hero.  He was a decent back end of the rotation pitcher for a while and was in the spotlight in the '80 NLCS.  He was involved in a controversial call which caused a 20 minute delay when he speard a soft liner off the bat of Garry Maddox in Game 4.  The play was either a double play or triple play depending on whether he trapped it or not.   
Ruhle transitioned into a fine pitching coach serving in that capacity for the Astros ('97-'00), Philles ('01-'02), Mets ('03), and Red ('05-'06). 
While in spring training with the Reds in '06 he was diagnosed with multiple myeloma.  The cancer which attacks plasma cells was pretty aggresive and Ruhle passed away on January 20, 2007.