Saturday, September 29, 2012

#220 Dusty Baker - Los Angeles Dodgers

Dusty Baker's 13th Topps card shows him following through with his line drive swing on very bright day.  Baker has looked pretty much the same throughout his playing and managerial career. 
Although green isn't a Dodger color, it goes well with this card.  Baker shares a 1971 rookie card with Don Baylor and Tom Paciorek.  The three players would play a combined 56 years in the majors.
Player:  Johnnie B. "Dusty" Baker played 19 years in the major leagues, mostly with Atlanta and Los Angeles.  Baker's first taste of MLB action came in four brief stays with the Braves over the 1968-1971 seasons.  After batting less than 100 times and shuttling back and forth from Richmond over the previous four years, the former 26th round pick had to be happy to make the '72 opening day roster.  Baker was a part time player at first but was starting everyday in CF by mid-May.  Baker posted a .321/.383/.504 line, hit 17 HR, and recorded 5.0 WAR. 

Baker displayed similar power numbers over the next three years as he hit 60 homers for the Braves.  His batting average however dipped to .288, .256, and .261 over the '73-'75 seasons.  While in Atlanta some had hyped Baker as the next Henry Aaron but his time as a Brave came to an end in November of 1975 when he was traded to the Dodgers. 

In Los Angeles, Baker had a terrible time adjusting to his new location and hit just four homers with a .242/.298/.307 line.  He rebounded and hit a career best 30 dingers in '77, with a .291 batting average and a 134 OPS+.  He became a mainstay for the Dodgers in leftfield and was there through the 1983 season.  Baker's power production varied from year to year.  For instance, after his 30 HR year he hit 11, 23, 29, 9, 23, and 15 long balls.  His average fluctuated from .260 to .320 but he was noted as a clutch RBI hitter.

Baker won a Silver Slugger in 1980 and won a Gold Glove and Silver Slugger in 1981.  With the Dodgers Baker had some memorable playoff and World Series moments and won a ring in '81. 

Baker signed with the Dodgers rival San Francisco Giants after the '83 season. The two-time All-Star was used as a part time corner outfielder by the Giants and although he hit only three homers he hit .292 with a .387 OBP.  During the following spring, Baker was traded across the Bay to the A's. 

Baker finished his career in Oakland playing the '85 and '86 seasons.  He played first base, DH'd some and appeared occasionally in the outfield.  He clubbed 14 HR in '85 but just four in '86.  Baker retired with 242 HR, 1,981 hits, and 1,013 RBI.

Flipside:  Baker gets the small font treatment as Baker had 15 seasons under his belt.  That was quite a game for Baker on May 8.  Here is the box score.

Oddball:  Much has been written and debated about a player's perceived ability to perform in the clutch.  Baker was one of those guys who always seemed to be feared in RBI situations.  He never had a 100 RBI season, so what gives?  Maybe it was his exposure on national television during the Dodgers playoff runs or some memorable big hits with men on base.  Perhaps it was the Game Winning RBI stat that was hyped for a while in the 80's.
Below are three BA/OBP/SLG lines:

A.   .278/.347/.432
B.   .282/.341/.423
C.   .280/.361/.429

Not much difference is there?  Line A is Baker's career mark.  B is his postseason averages, and C is Baker's career numbers with runners in scoring position. 

Even this web page falsely touts Baker as having 25 career walk-off home runs.  Way off! An accurate list shows slugger Jim Thome with 13 being the most all-time. 

Don't get me wrong, I'm not bashing Baker.  I'm sure Dodger fans liked seeing him in the box in crucial situations.  But if players can elevate their game in tight situtations it isn't by much.

History:  Baker had a long 19 year career and is certainly remembered by most as a Dodger.  Baker was a good player for a long time, who earned 32.4 career WAR and won a World Series in '81.  In addition to his other accolades, Baker received MVP votes in three different seasons and has gone on to a long managerial career.


Thursday, September 27, 2012

#219 Mike Armstrong - Kansas City Royals

This Mike Armstrong card always gives me the "willies" when I see it.  I don't know Armstrong, can't find anything negative about the guy's character, but he looks like a creeper on this card.  Also Topps got lazy and used a head shot from the same photo session and background.  Double creepy.
I had this big write up planned on how Armstrong reminded me of Milton from the movie Office Space but apparently I'm not the first to make that comparison.
Anyway here is his 2nd Topps card, with what looks like Tiger Stadium rafters in the background.

Player:  Mike Armstrong came up through the Reds system but was traded to the Padres before he reached the majors.  He appeared in 11 games in '80 and 10 more in '82 with San Diego but was wild and ineffective.  Armstrong got his break when he was sold to the Royals right before the '82 campaign.  
After beginning the season in the minors for the ninth straight year, Armstrong was called up in May.  Used mainly in long relief, he gradually was trusted in more crucial spots and was soon bridging the gap to ace reliever Dan Quisenberry.  The Royals used Armstrong in copious doses and he lived up to his last name.  In one stretch he pitched 25 innings in a 17 day period and pitched well.  By the end of the year, he had recorded six saves while logged 112 innings with a 3.20 ERA.
The side-slinging Armstrong was used in more short relief situations in '83 but still worked over 100 innings notching 10 wins with a 3.80 ERA.  The Royals traded Armstrong while his value was at its peak and fetched Steve Balboni from the Yankees in return. 
The heavy workload caught up with Armstrong and he was not the same in New York.  He spent the first half of '84 on the DL nursing a sore elbow and didn't appear in pinstripes until June.  The season wasn't an entire waste as pitched in 36 games with a 3.48 ERA. 
Armstrong had a disappointing spring training in '85 and he never regained the trust of Yankee management.  He was up and down several times over the next two seasons but pitched just 23.1 innings with the Yanks.  He was released from AAA Columbus in April of '87 and was signed by the Indians.  Armstrong was brutalized for 18 runs over 18.2 frames before Cleveland stopped the terror and sent him to the minors.  Armstrong never made it back and his career was over. 
Stuff:  85-87 mph fastball, slider

Flipside:  At first glance the back of this card has the look of a long time veteran.  Instead it is the winding travels of a journeyman reliever.  Armstrong had a lot of stops along the way to the majors.  Including his later work, he played in 12 different minor league cities.
Oddball:  Armstrong was the winning pitcher in the famous Pine Tar Game.
History:  Armstrong pitched eight seasons in the majors but 215 of his 338 career innings came in a two year stretch for the Royals.  Strange how it took until he was 28 years old to establish himself, but was damaged goods by the time he was 30.  

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

#218 Roy Howell - Milwaukee Brewers

This is the 8th Topps card of Roy Howell's career.  Any guesses as to what team that is in the dugout?  Angels maybe?
The 3rd BASE designation on his card is not accurate. Howell didn't play third at all in '82 and '83.

Player: Roy Howell was a left handed hitting third baseman and DH for 11 seasons in the big leagues.  He broke in with Texas in 1974 and the former first round pick batted .250 in 44 at bats during his rookie year.  Howell, who hit 22 HR as a 20 year-old in AAA in '74, earned the starting job at the hot corner for the Rangers in '75.  He never lived up to expect-ations though as he failed to hit over .253 or more than 10 HR in either '75 or '76.
Howell started the '77 season on the bench and after an 0-17 start he was traded to the expansion Blue Jays.  Howell was playing everyday for Toronto and although he missed a month due to injury, he hit .316 in 412 plate appearances.  Manning the hot corner for the next three years, Howell hit .270, .247, and .269 with 8, 15, and 10 HR respectively over the '78-'80 seasons.
He signed a free agent deal with the Brewers prior to the '81 season.  Howell struggled with injuries and hit just .238 in his first year in Milwaukee.  In '82 with Paul Molitor now playing third base, Howell served as the left-handed hitting platoon partner with another displaced third sacker, Don Money.  Howell hit .260/.305/.350 in 98 games but was one of the easier outs in a loaded lineup.  Howell was hitless in 14 postseason at bats as the Brew Crew bowed out to the Cardinals in the World Series. 
Howell was productive in '83 with a .278/.330/.448 line in 211 plate appearances.  With Molitor injured for most of '84, Howell had a chance to regain his old job back but his performance did little to suggest he was up to the task.  Howell's numbers slipped to .232/.284/.348 and he was rusty with the glove, fielding just .907 at third.  
Released by the Brewers after the '84 season, Howell tried to jump start his career with the Giants but was cut in spring training.  He spent the '85 season at the Phillies AAA affiliate before retiring.  Howell hit .261/.321/.389 in 11 seasons with 80 career homers.

Flipside: Wax stain and fuzzy numbers. 
Strangely Howell hit nine triples but had zero steals in 1980.  Usually a player fast enough to leg out that many triples is fast enough to steal a few bases.  Not Howell though, he swiped only nine bags his entire career and must have been hitting a lot of liners to the gaps. 

Oddball: Howell, like many players who played in the 70's and 80's, went through various looks and hair styles.  On his '83 card he had short hair and a trimmed beard.  Below you can him as a young bespectacled Ranger, a bearded Jay, a clean-shaven Brewer, and how he appeared in 2008:
History:   Howell's two claims to fame are his time with the new Toronto fanchise and his spot on the pennant winning Brewers.  His 1978 season with the Blue Jays earned him an appearance in the All-Star game where he grounded out against Steve Rogers in his only at bat.
Looking back at his career, Howell didn't really excel in one particular area. His left handed bat and ability to play third made him a commodity and he parlayed that into a decent career.

Monday, September 24, 2012

#217 Tim Stoddard - Baltimore Orioles

Although not an in game action photo, Tim Stoddard's 3rd Topps card is pretty cool because of the fans in the background.  I wonder if those folks know they are on this card? 
This is the second pitcher named Stoddard to appear in the last 22 cards.  They don't seem to be related but I still got Bob and Tim Stoddard mixed up when I was a kid. 
Tim Stoddard looks like a gruff, no-nonsense type of guy who always looked older than he really was. The orange-brown borders go great with the Oriole cards in this set. 
Player:  Originally drafted by the White Sox, Tim Stoddard  had a successful collegiate career playing both baseball and baketball.  He won a NCAA basketball title as a starting member of the 73-74 NC State team.  Stoddard pitched just one inning for Pale Hose in '75 and was released two years later.

Stoddard caught on with the Orioles in '78 throwing 18 innings and allowing 12 earned runs.  He then emerged as a key part of manager Earl Weaver's bullpen in 1979.  He posted a sparkling 1.71 ERA in 58 frames and saved three games along the way.  Stoddard was used in four games in the '79 World Series, earning the win with three innings of scoreless relief in Game 4.  He also had an RBI single in his lone post season at bat.

The 6'7" Stoddard was the Orioles closer in 1980 and saved a then team record 26 games.  He posted a 2.51 ERA over 86 innings in 64 games.  He shared closing duties the next two seasons saving 19 with ERAs around four for Baltimore.  On an individual level the '83 season was a disaster as he was ineffective (1.6 WHIP, 10 HR, 65 hits allowed in 57 innings) but he won as a ring as a member of the championship O's.

Stoddard was then traded to the A's for Wayne Gross, but was traded again to the Cubs before the '84 season began.  Stoddard had a decent year with a 3.82 ERA in 92 frames of work and won a career best 10 games.  He left for sunny San Diego for the '85 season and after a mediocre campaign bounced back in '86.  Traded mid-year to the Yankees for Ed Whitson he logged a 3.80 ERA with a personal high 94.2 innings. 

He topped 90 innings again in '87 and save 9 with a 3.50 ERA (127 ERA+).  He struggled through most of the '88 season (6.38 ERA) until the Yankees cut him loose in August.  He pitched in 12 games for Cleveland but was released in July ending his career.

Stuff:  Fastball low-90s, slider, occasionally a change and curveball

Flipside:  Stoddard never did start a game in the majors although he began his career as a starter in the minors.

Oddball:  Stoddard has changed quite a bit through the years:

History:  Stoddard was an imposing figure on the mound and he used his crisp fastball as a short reliever for 13 years in the majors.  He had 76 saves in his career with a 3.95 ERA (101 ERA+).  He could usually be counted on to pitch in 50-60 games with a decent ERA.  He had two terrible years along the way, with his best years coming early in his career in Baltimore where eventually won a World Series in '83.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

#216 Tony LaRussa - Chicago White Sox

If you exclude the team photo cards in '80 and '81, this is Tony LaRussa's first Topps manager card.  He had three cards as a player with his rookie issue coming way back in 1964.  To me LaRussa looks a bit dazed and confused in this photo.
Player:  Tony LaRussa reached the majors in 1963 with the Kansas City A's when he was just 18 and batted .250 in 44 at bats.  He didn't resurface again until 1968.  He never was a regular in the majors and had only 176 at bats in his career.  All but seven at bats came for the A's as he had very brief stops with the Braves and Cubs.  In parts of six seasons he batted .199/.292/.250
Manager:  LaRussa was hired by the White Sox to manage their double-A team in Knoxville in 1978.  With two months left in the '79 season the White Sox season, they promoted LaRussa, by then at AAA, to manage the big club.  The White Sox won half of their remaining games but finished in fifth place. 
A 90 loss season followed in 1980 but better days were on the horizon.  The Pale Hose finished just over .500 in '81 and won 87 in 1982.  The '83 squad won 99 games and walked away with the AL West, outpacing the second place Royals by 20 games.  Chicago lost in the ALCS to Baltimore three games to one.  LaRussa was recognized with the AL Manager of the Year award.  Things fell apart in '84 as Chicago won just 74 games.  The ChiSox improved to 85 wins in '85 but when they started 26-38 in '86 LaRussa was given the axe.
LaRussa was not out of work long as the Oakland A's tabbed him as their new manager less than a month after he left Chicago.  He took over a  31-52 team and they won 45 of their last 79 games.  The A's were .500 in '87 but soon emerged as the AL's best team.  They won 306 games over the next three seasons, won the pennant each year, and beat the Giants in the '89 World Series.
The A's had one more first place finish under LaRussa, but after back to back sub .500 seasons in '94 and '95, and an ownership change, he left for St. Louis.  Under LaRussa's guidance the Cards alternated winning and losing seasons from '96 to '99.  Then starting in 2000 they won 95, 93, and 97 but failed to advance to the World Series despite making the postseason each year.  A third place finish was a setback in 2003.  The Redbirds won 105 games and the NL pennant in 2004 but were swept by the Red Sox in the World Series.  They returned to the playoffs with a 100 win season in 2005 but lost in the NLCS to the Astros.
LaRussa may have saved his best managing for the last six years of his career.  With a team without nearly as much firepower as the two previous years, he led the 2006 Cardinals to another NL Central crown.  The team won only 83 regular season games but ended up winning it all against my beloved Tigers in the World Series. 
After a sub-.500 2007 season the Cardinals would win 86 to 91 games over the next four seasons.  The 2011 team surged at the end of the year and squeaked into the postseason.  Once again underdogs, the Cards took out the Phillies and Brewers to reach to World Series.  LaRussa overcame some blunders and St. Louis defeated Rangers to earn their second championship in six years.  LaRussa soon retired and with 2,728 career wins he ranks third all-time behind icons Connie Mack and John McGraw.
Flipside:  LaRussa was able to amass so many wins because he was a great manager and had great players but it sure helped that he began his managing career at age 33. 
Oddball:  LaRussa was involved in baseball for so long there are a number of things to mention.  His law degree from Florida State, his Animal Rescue Program (ARF), his lineups that often placed the pitcher in the 8th spot, and the bullpen mishap in the 2011 World Series are just a few notable oddities.
History:  LaRussa won a World Series with both American and National League teams and is one of the all-time greats.  Along with longtime pitching coach Dave Duncan, LaRussa is credited with the advancement of the specialized use of the bullpen.

Monday, September 17, 2012

#215 Mario Soto - Cincinnati Reds

This is Mario Soto's fifth Topps card and it shows him as I remember him- with an intense look on his face.  The inset shows the same fiery stare.  Hot pink border- Yikes!
Player: Mario Soto was a fireballer with an outstanding changeup who spent his whole major league career with the Reds.  He was signed by Cincinnati in '73 and after some impressive minor league seasons was called up in 1977.  He had trouble keeping the ball in the yard allowing 12 homers in 60 innings and posted a 5.34 ERA. 
Soto spent most of '78 in the minors, but did well in a September call up with a 2.50 ERA in 18 frames.  The Reds converted Soto to a reliever in '79 and he began the year at AAA.  He was recalled mid year and appeared in 25 games with an ERA of 5.30.  The next year he pitched mainly in long relief but also made 12 starts.  Overall it was a very good year as Soto logged 190 innings, struck out 182, with a 3.07 ERA.  His production earned him a fifth place spot in Cy Young voting. 
In the strike shortened '81 season, Soto won 12 in an NL best 25 starts, completing 10 of them.  He K'd 151 in 174 innings with a 3.29 ERA.  Soto was a workhorse over the '82 and '83 seasons, logging 531 innings with 31 complete games.  He was as dominant as any NL hurler, striking out 516 batters with an ERA in the 2.70s both years 
Soto was again durable in '84 and '85 seasons and his performance slipped just slightly.  He won a career best 18 games in '84 and posted an ERA of 3.53 and followed it with a 3.58 mark in '85.  
He never really was healthy again as he struggled through the next three years making just 39 combined starts with little effectiveness.  The Reds released Soto during the '88 season and he pitched one inning for the Dodgers at the single-A level before calling it quits.  Soto retired at age 32 with 100 career wins, a 3.47 ERA (108 ERA+), and 24.6 WAR in 12 seasons.
Stuff:  Fastball (90-95), circle change, occasional slider

Flipside:  Soto is listed at just 176 lbs.  Maybe it was a lot to ask of him to pitch over 1,000 innings over the '82 to '85 seasons. 

Oddball:  Soto had a noted temper and was suspended twice during the '84 season. The incidents are best detailed here.

History:  Soto's career ended too soon and he is often forgotten outside of Cincinnati.  His only postseason action was two scoreless relief innings in the '79 NLCS.  He received Cy Young votes four different years and was a three time All-Star. 
Soto has stayed involved with the Reds in various capacities and currently works in their front office. 

Saturday, September 15, 2012

#214 Jerry White - Montreal Expos

Jerry White's 7th Topps card shows him following through with a right handed swing.  White's hair poofs out of his wrinkled up Expos hat in the inset.

Player:  Jerry White was a reserve switch-hitting outfielder and pinch hitter for 11 seasons in the major leagues.  White was drafted by the Expos in 1970 and had a 4 for 10 debut in a September 1974 look-see. This may have helped his cause in making the 1975 squad but he batted just six times in the first two months as he was primarily used as a pinch runner.  He was sent back to AAA but hit .319 in September (29/91) when he was called back up to the majors.
White was the Expos starting CF for the first half of the '76 season but finished the year as a pinch-hitter and occasional leftfielder.  He batted .245 in 278 at bats with 15 steals and 2 HR.  He barely played in '77 and wasn't playing much when he was dealt to the Cubs in June '78.  White hit .278 with Chicago but was traded back to the Expos after the season. 

Back in Montreal, White had a nice year in '79, batting .297/.391/.428 in 161 at bats.  He hit .262 the following season and knocked a career high 7 home runs.  The rest of his career was less productive as he hit .218, .243, and .149 over his last three years in Montreal.

White spent the next two years playing in Japan for the Seibu Lions and the Yokohama Taiyo Whales.  He returned to play in the states in '86 but had just three hits in 24 at bats for the St. Louis Cardinals.  White retired with a .253/.337/.363 line with 21 HR and 57 SB.  His career WAR totaled 2.3.

1983 Topps 214 Jerry White (Back)
Flipside:  I found this scan of White's card and used it because of it's brightness.  You can see from his year to year totals that White was never a regular although he started most of the first half for the Expos in '76.
Oddball:  White, now a first base coach for the Twins, got quite a scare on June 8 of this year.  Check him out at the 1:30-1:45 mark of this video.  
White is so startled by the thunder strike he takes cover behind the first base umpire!
White hit .408 (42/103)  against the Cubs in his career, .105 points higher than any other team he faced.  
History:  White spent most of his career with the Expos who had no shortage of outfield talent during the late 70's and early 80's.  It is easy to see why White played a reserve role with Montreal as they had Andre Dawson, Ellis Valentine, Ron LeFlore, Warren Cromartie and Tim Raines during his tenure. 
White's career highlight has to be his role in the '81 NLCS. He started all five games for the Expos, had five hits in 16 at bats including a double and home run.  Manager Jim Fanning chose White as a starter over a young Tim Wallach and Terry Francona.  White's three run homer in Game 3 was the deciding blow and provided the Expos only long ball in the entire series.  Although White played well the Expos lost to the eventual World Series champion Dodgers. 

Saturday, September 8, 2012

#213 Tom Burgmeier - Boston Red Sox

Tom Burgmeier's 13th Topps card shows him in a staged pose, with an empty fist in his glove at what looks like Yankee Stadium in the background.  This is nothing new for the veteran hurler who had several bland posed cards years earlier.  I have to think Topps didn't try very hard for an action shot of Burgmeier as he pitched over 100 innings in '82.  At least they could have had him play catch with somebody and got some real movement on the card.

Player:  Tom Burgmeier didn't have an easy path to the big leagues but he didn't let that stop him from having a lengthy career.  Signed by Houston Colt 45's in the fall of 1961 he was released from their AA team in 1964.  The left-handed reliever caught on a month later with the Angels but didn't make the majors until 1968.  Burgmeier had an unimpressive rookie season (4.33 ERA in 72 innings) and was left unpro-tected in the upcoming expansion draft.

Selected by the newly formed Royals, Burgmeier improved in each of his first three years in KC, lowering his ERA from 4.17 to 3.16 to 1.73.  He saved 17 games during the '71 campaign as he appeared in a career high 67 games.  He took a big step back in '72 as his ERA jumped over four and by 1973 he was back in the minors.

After the '73 season, Burgmeier was traded to his home state Minnesota Twins.  His inaugural season as a Twin was OK at best but he turned in two very good years over the '75 and '76 seasons.  He was a workhorse out of the pen for the Twins, saving 12 games and logging 191 innings over the two years with ERA's of 3.09 and 2.50.  After a 1977 season in which his WHIP rose to 1.5 and his ERA soared over five, Minnesota let Burgmeier leave for Boston via free agency.

Burgmeier worked in middle relief for the Red Sox in '78 with a 4.41 ERA in 61 innings.  Like wine and many other lefty handed hurlers, Burgmeier got better with age as he never again would post a seasonal ERA over 2.87.  In '79 he earned some late inning set up work and saved four games.  1980 would prove to be his finest season.  He saved a career best 24 games, posted a 2.00 ERA, 1.081 WHIP, and made his only All-Star team.

No longer the closer, Burgmeier did a fine job in middle relief the next two years, averaging more than two innings per appearance and with ERA's of 2.87 and 2.29.  He left Boston for Oakland after the '82 season and performed well in a similar role, logging 96 innings in 49 games with a 2.81 ERA.  Injured for most of '84, Burgmeier pitched just 23 innings and retired and the end of the year.

Stuff:  Fastball, sinker, slider, curve.  Suspected of throwing a spitter near the end of his career. 

Flipside:  The reverse is difficult to read here but it mentions his 8 innings of relief on June 11.  Burgmeier earned the 6-2 win after starter Bobby Ojeda left with a bad hamstring.  Burgmeier took over and didn't allow a baserunner until the 6th inning nor a hit until the 8th.   

Oddball:  Burgmeier was quite an athlete,  and was lauded as an excellent fielder.  He even played outfield on three occasions, twice after taking over as a pinch runner.  Even at the age of 39, he was deployed twice as a pinch runner for Jeff Burroughs during the '83 season.

Career:  Burgmeier never appeared in the postseason and although selected to the 1980 AL All-Star squad, he did not pitch in the game.  He had a nice career for a player who worked for six years in the minors before making the show.  Burgmeier had some good years early in his career but became very consistent as a veteran.  He posted a 98 ERA+ in his 20's and an even 100 from his age 30 to 34 seasons. From age 35 until the end of his career he recorded an ERA+ of 167.  He finished his career with a 79-55 record, 102 saves, 3.23 ERA in 1,258.2 innings.