Thursday, February 28, 2013

#318 John Tudor - Boston Red Sox

I don't remember John Tudor with facial hair but here he is with a red mustache on his third Topps card.  With the mustache he looks like the guy who fills the vending machines where I work.  It seems like they could have arranged the picture better and not cut off his right foot.  Although if they center Tudor it might look like he's sitting on the circular cameo frame, so maybe not.

Player: John Tudor wasn't a highly touted prospect as he worked his way through the minors, which would make his eventual success that much sweeter.  He was a 3rd round pick in the January draft in '76 and despite ERA's below 3.50 he was a swingman his first three years in the minors.  He was given a permanent spot in the Pawtucket rotation in '79 and pitched very well earning a promotion in August.  He made six spot starts for the Red Sox but wasn't effective.

Tudor started the 1980 season in Pawtucket's rotation but was recalled mid-year and made 13 starts for Boston with an 8-5 record and 3.02 ERA.  The next season was not as good as he struggled with a 4.56 ERA and ended the year in the bullpen.  He was solid the next two years winning 13 games in both '82 and '83.  His detractors noted his game to game inconsistencies while his supporters appreciated his gutsy competitive spirit.  The Red Sox had two other lefty starters in Bruce Hurst and Bob Ojeda, and Tudor was shipped to Pittsburgh in return for Mike Easler.

Tudor performed well in Pittsburgh although he suffered from lack of support.  Still he finished with a 12-11 record and 3.27 for a last place team.  Seeking to add some punch to their lineup the Pirates sent Tudor to St. Louis in the George Hendrick deal.

The soft tossing port-sider began the '85 season slowly with just one win in the first two months of the season.  When Tudor made his 12th start on June 8 he was 2-7 with a 3.73 ERA.  The southpaw then went on a tremendous stretch that lasted the rest of the year.  Over his last 25 starts he went 19-1, with a 1.32 ERA and 10 shutouts.  His shutouts total and 0.938 WHIP led the National League and while 21 wins and a 1.93 ERA usually equal a Cy Young award, Doc Gooden's amazing season topped him. 

Tudor pitched fairly well in the NLCS going 1-1 with four earned runs in 12.1 frames and dazzled allowing just a single run allowed in Game 1 shutting out KC in Game 4 of the World Series. The Cards had to be confident with their ace on the hill for Game 7.  Tudor had been pitching in pain since his rookie year and including the postseason had logged over 300 innings.  It all seemed to catch up with him at the worst time as his usual pinpoint control was nowhere to be found and he failed to make it past the third inning as the Royals won the game and the Series.

His left shoulder would continue to give him trouble in '86 and really the rest of his career. With a fastball in the low 80's he had little margin for error but he was still productive with 13 wins and a 2.92 ERA but his shoulder problems shut him down in September.

Tudor's shoulder was operated on in the offseason and he was ready to go on opening day.  After three starts he suffered a broken leg when Mets catcher Barry Lyons flew into the dugout chasing a foul ball and crashed into him.  Tudor returned in August and pitched well down the stretch.  The Cards were careful not to push Tudor as he only went as far as eight innings once and he went 6-0 over his last eight starts with a 2.79 ERA.  He pitched well in the postseason until he was shelled for 6 runs in the Game 6 loss to the Twins in the World Series.

Coming off knee surgery, Tudor missed the first three weeks of the '88 season but excelled upon his return.  St. Louis was way out of the race in August and traded Tudor to the Dodgers for Pedro Guerrero.  Tudor continued to get batters out for the Dodgers and won 10 games with a 2.32 ERA on the season.  After one so-so start in the NLCS, Tudor took the mound for Game 3 of the '88 World Series against the Dodgers but lasted just one and a third innings as he left with a elbow pain.

Tudor was repaired in the offseason getting Tommy John surgery on his elbow, frayed cartilage from his shoulder removed, as well as some screws removed from his knee.  He pitched in just six games in '89 and returned to St. Louis in 1990.  His fastball now topped out at 80 but the bionic pitcher located extremely well and went 12-4 with a 2.40 ERA in 146 innings.  Tudor retired after the season with a 117-72 record and 3.12 ERA.

Flipside:  By ERA his '79 trial and '81 season were by far his worst.  After a 4.06 mark in '83 he ERA would never again break four.  His ERA+ from '82 through the rest of his career was 127.
Oddball:  Tudor and his mates on the '84 Pirates led the Senior Circuit with a 3.11 ERA and allowed just 567 runs.  Their meager offense scored 615 which on paper should equal 87 wins according to their Pythag record.  The Bucs somehow won just 75 and finished in dead last in the NL East.   
History: Tudor won over 13 games just twice and received votes in CY voting just one time but was as good a pitcher as anybody in the National League when he was healthy.  His '85 season was truly amazing and he did it all without a blazing fastball or trick pitch. Whitey Herzog summed him up pretty well when he said:
“Nobody ever did more with less.... John won me 64 ballgames and only lost 27 [actually 62-26] between 1985 and 1990, a record that still leaves me shaking my head, considering the stuff he had. Well, when you can’t crack eighty-five on the radar gun, maybe a foul mood and a chip on your shoulder are just the right ticket. They sure didn’t hurt John.”
Tudor himself had a dry, straightforward wit and always seemed to speak honestly about his performance had this to say during his last season:
“My changeup is getting faster, which is a bad sign, because it means my shoulder isn’t allowing the proper deceleration. It was as if I was getting by on reputation. I haven’t been able to get the ball inside, so I don’t have anything to keep hitters from diving on me. I haven’t thrown a slider all season. I’m not getting the proper extension at the end of my delivery, so not only am I not getting the pop on my fastball, but I don’t have my control. . . I have all these doubts storming inside me, and they all revolve around that 78-mile-an-hour fastball.”

Monday, February 25, 2013

#317 Gary Rajsich - New York Mets

Not only is this Gary Rajsich's rookie card, it's his only Topps card.  Looks like this picture of Rajsich breaking out of the box was taken when the Giants visited Shea Stadium.  Because he only played one day game against the Giants I'm pretty sure this picture was taken on May 9, 1982.  He batted three times in the game with a fly out to center, a ground out to first, and a single to right.  Judging by where Rajsich is looking I'd say were are looking at either the ground out or the single.

PlayerGary Rajsich went the baseball machine known as Arizona State which produced no less than 49 major league players in the 70s and 80s.  He was an 11th round pick of the Astros in 1976 and had a slow start to his pro career hitting for neither power or average his first three years.  He broke through with 20 home runs between two levels in '79 and was a minor league stud at AAA Tucson in 1980 batting .321/.435/.575 with 14 triples, 21 HR, 99 RBI, and 12 steals. 

At age 26 Rajsich wasn't exactly a blue chip prospect and the Astros traded him to the Mets for another minor leaguer with an even stranger name: John Csefalvay.  Rajsich took advantage of his fresh start at AAA Tidewater and crushed homers at an amazing clip.  He was on the Mets radar but with Dave Kingman, Lee Mazzilli, and Rusty Staub they had a glut of leftfielder / first base types.  With 24 home runs in 78 games and 288 plate appearances, Rajsich's season was ended by a broken wrist, otherwise he surely would have been a September call up.

Rajsich made the Mets opening day squad in '82 as a reserve and spent the year as a pinch-hitter finding playing time scarce until the last month of the season.  He struggled in the unfamiliar bench role and hit just a pair of homers while batting .256 in 162 at bats.

He spent most of '83 back at Tidewater waiting until rosters expanded before getting another chance.  He hit .333/.400/.500 in 40 plate appearances with only one strikeout which was  a major improvement since he K'd about 25% of the time in '82.  

Rajsich was sold to the Cardinals as rosters were taking shape in April of '84 but spent all but seven at bats at AAA Louisville where he clubbed 29 homers.  In the offseason he and three other Cards were sent to San Francisco in exchange for Jack Clark.  The Giants used him as a pinch-hitter and part time first baseman but he again struggled when he wasn't in the starting lineup.  He batted just .165 in 110 plate appearances and was demoted in July.  The Cards purchased his contract and he finished the year back at Louisville.  He spent the next three years playing in Japan for the Chunichi Dragons before retiring. 

Flipside: You can see from the numbers that Rajsich really improved after his first three years in the minors.  He credits the purchase of a $1,200 pitching machine after the '78 season for turning his career around.  He practiced relentlessly, with his wife feeding the machine and Rajsich hitting 400 pitches a day, taking heed from the Ted William adage that "the only way to learn how to hit, is to hit".

Oddball: There is saying that pinch hitting is one of the hardest things to do in sports.  You would get no argument from Rajsich, who was a mere 4 for 64 as a pinch hitter.  The rest of the time he was 70 for 232, a .302 average.

History:  Rajsich had a brief major league career with a career line of .236/.328/.345 in 149 games.  Perhaps he would have been off as a DH in the American League, but with a poor track record of pinch hitting, it's hard to say.  He has had a much better career as a scout, signing Jon Lester for the Red Sox.  Rajsich was named the Orioles director of amateur scouting in 2011.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

#316 Paul Splittorff - Kansas City Royals

Paul Splittorff's 13th Topps card shows him mid delivery in a spring training location.  The picture is a frame a or two too late to capture his high leg kick for which he was known.
Player: Paul Splittorff was a part of the Royals inaugural free agent draft class in 1968.  Although the odds are long on a 25th round pick making the majors, Splittorff was the first Royal from that draft to make the big league roster when he was called up at the tail end of the 1970 season.  He was roughed up in two appearances allowing nine runs in 8.2 innings.
Splittorff got another chance in June, 1971 and pitched consistently, allowing three or less earned runs in 18 of his 22 starts.  The young southpaw finished with a 2.68 ERA (127 ERA+) in 144 frames of work.  Splittorff should have finished higher than the fifth place spot he received in a weak AL ROY class that saw Chris Chambliss win with a .275, 9 HR season.
The Royals found Splittorff to be a reliable starter in their rotation as he averaged 217 innings over the next nine seasons.  Although his ERA over that time frame was not spectacular at 3.77, he was a workhorse, twice racking up as many as 262 innings and five times making 35 or more starts.  He won a career high 20 games in '73 and 19 in '78. 
The Royals won four divisional titles and a pennant in 1980 with Splittorff, and though he wasn't the ace of the staff, he pitched well in the postseason with a 2-0 record and 2.79 ERA in 38.2 innings.  He got off to a rough start in '81 and then tossed an eleven inning six-hit shutout on May 23 against the Twins.  He came back on three days rest and was rocked and it was a struggle the rest of the year posting a career worst 4.36 ERA. 
At this stage of his career the soft tossing lefty was confined to the back of the rotation.  He made 28 starts in '82 with a 4.28 ERA but improved to a 3.63 mark in 27 starts in '83.  With a bevy of young pitchers in the system (Saberhagen, Gubicza, Jackson) and an sky high ERA of 7.7, Splittorff retired on June 29 after meeting with GM John Schuerholz. 

Flipside: You can really see that by the early 80s, Splittorff was a five to six inning starter as he had no complete games in '82 and just one in '81. 
I always appreciate players who stay with the same team their entire career.
Oddball: Splittorff struck out 61 batters in 156 innings in 1983.  So what's so odd about that you ask?  That total led the Royals staff!  Bud Black threw a few more innings but K'd just 58.  Veteran Larry Gura topped 200 frames but whiffed just 57. 
History: Splittorff holds many of the Royals career pitching marks including wins (166), starts (392) and innings pitched (2,554).  He moved into the broadcast booth for the Royals right after he retired, a position he held until he passed away in 2011

Friday, February 22, 2013

#315 Rick Burleson - California Angels

Judging by the trees in the background, Rick Burleson's 9th Topps card was taken in a spring training location. It's a good thing they took the picture when they did because Burleson played only 11 games in '82. 

Player: Rick Burleson was a first round pick of the Red Sox in the 1970 January draft and by 1974 was battling for a starting shortstop job in Boston.  Although he started the year at Pawtucket he was soon promoted.  He and Mario Guerrero started 81 games each at short and Burleson also got into 31 at second.  In 415 plate appearances he posted a .284/.320/.372 line and despite a record three errors in his first game, his freshman year was deemed a success and he finished 4th in the Rookie of the Year voting.
Burleson's rate stats dropped across the board in '75 (.252/..305/.329) but his play at shortstop was seen as a key to the Red Sox success.  Despite his lack of offense he received some MVP votes. His postseason was successful batting .444 in the ALCS and .295 in the World Series loss to the Reds. 
The man known as "Rooster" was a mainstay of the Red Sox for the rest of the decade as he averaged 153 games played from '75-'80.  His batting average fluctuated from a low of .248 to a high of .293 with single digit home run totals while playing good defense.  He was an AL All-Star and received a few stray MVP votes from '77-'79 with a Gold Glove in '79. 
Like many of his teammates, Burleson had contract squabbles with Boston so they traded him to California with Butch Hobson for Carney Lansford, Mark Clear, and Rick Miller.  The Angels signed Burleson to a six-year, $4.65 million deal, at the time the biggest contract ever for a shortstop.
Burleson's gritty all-out hustle made a positive impression on Angel fans who initially frowned on the trade and big contract.  His numbers in the stat ledger were some of the best of his career as he batted .293/.357/.372 with a career high 112 OPS+ in the abbreviated '81 campaign.  He was an All-Star for the fourth time and won the Silver Slugger award. 
Rooster's '82 season was a wash as he tore his rotator cuff two weeks into the season.  He battled to get back and played just 33 games in '83 but this was the tip of the iceberg of his health problems.  In spring training of '84 he re-injured his shoulder and he didn't return until September.  He played in just seven games and was limited to pinch hitting and pinch running duties.  In the offseason he dislocated his shoulder while lifting weights which caused nerve damage to the very area he was trying to strengthen.  The mishap cost him the entire '85 season, meaning he had played just 51 games over the past four years. 
Burleson mounted yet another come back and started the '86 season as the Halos' starting shortstop.  He was soon displaced by Dick Schofield but he was hitting well and started 38 games as a DH.  In all he batted .284/.363/.391 in 312 trips to the plate.  He got into four games in the ALCS and went three for eleven as the Angels fell to his former team.  After the season he received the Comeback Player of the Year award. 
With his contract up he signed with the Orioles to play second base but was batting just .209 when he received the pink slip in July.  He retired with a .273/.328/.361 stat line in parts of 13 seasons.
Flipside: Burleson played so little in '82 that three of his seven hits make the highlights section.

Oddball: Boston teammate Bill Lee summed up Rooster's intensity by saying "Some guys didn't like to lose, but Rick got angry if the score was even tied."

History: It might be hard to imagine Burleson as the type of player who would be the highest paid shortstop, but when he signed that big contract Robin Yount, Alan Trammell, and Ozzie Smith had yet to peak and Cal Ripken was still in the minors.  Rooster made most of his noise in the 70s a time when shortstops were held to lower offensive standard than the next two decades.  Burleson certainly was a good defender ranking second all-time in range factor per nine innings at SS with 5.245 chances.  To sum it up, Burleson had a nice stretch as the Red Sox sparkplug but he played just 253 games for the Angels. 

Monday, February 18, 2013

#314 Ken Dayley - Atlanta Braves

Rookie card alert! Well if you want to be technical, Donruss put out a card of Ken Dayley in their '82 set even though he hadn't yet reached the majors.  We've seen this background in a lot of cards and I probably should know what the location is.  Candlestick maybe?  Dayley looks a little bewildered in the inset picture or perhaps he's just looking into the sun. 

PlayerKen Dayley was the third overall pick of the Braves in the 1980 draft out of the University of Portland.  After spending his first year at AA Savannah, Dayley pitched well at AAA Richmond in 1981, with a 3.33 ERA in 200 innings, but showed he wasn't quite ready for the majors by walking 117 batters.  He started the '82 season back at Richmond but was called up to the Braves in May.  He made 11 starts and had a handful of relief outings with mixed results before being sent back down at the end of July.  He returned in September, but did not pitch in the postseason for the Braves.  His stats on the year show improved control but he was hit pretty hard sporting a 4.54 ERA and 1.458 WHIP in 71 innings.
Dayley didn't initially make the team in '83 but was recalled in mid-June and was used as a spot starter and long man out of the pen.  The results were slightly better but the young pitcher improved a little bit to a 4.30 ERA in 104 frames. 
The southpaw made the Braves opening day roster and was supposed to be a part of Atlanta's rotation but after failing to make it past the fourth inning in three of his four starts he was demoted.  He was traded to the Cardinals in June with Mike Jorgensen for Ken Oberkfell.  The Cardinals put him right to work but after two disastrous starts and a mop up appearance he was sent down for the balance of the season.  Dayley's major league numbers were not pretty as he went 0-5 with a 7.99 ERA.
Dayley made the '85 Cardinals roster as a bullpen arm and was put to use right away with three scoreless outings in the first four games.  He was even trusted with some save opportunities and have four saves and a 0.95 ERA at the end of May.  He continued to be a dependable late inning option for manager Whitey Herzog as he saved 11 games with a 2.76 ERA in 65 innings.  Dayley was stellar in the postseason logging 12 shutout innings with a win and two saves, as the Cards fell to the Royals in the World Series.
Dayley was having a decent season '86 when he hit the shelf in July with a 3.26 ERA.  Tommy John surgery left him out of action until the following May.  He returned and pitched well with a 2.66 ERA and four saves.  He ran his postseason scoreless streak to 20.1 innings before he came into Game 6 of the World Series to face Kent Hrbek with the bases loaded.  Dayley surrendered a grand slam pushing the Twins lead to 10-5.  The Twins went on to win the game and took the series the next day.
The injury bug bit Dayley again when he injured his back while pitching on opening day in '88.  He missed five weeks but put up similar numbers to the year prior with a 2.77 ERA in 55 frames.  Dayley was healthy and continued his strong pitching with a third consecutive season with a sub-three ERA (2.87) and a career high 12 saves.  His ERA rose to 3.56 in 1990 but he was still effectively keeping men off base as he allowed less than eight runners per nine innings for the fourth year in a row. 
The Blue Jays signed the free agent Dayley after the 1990 season to a three year $6.3 million deal but it was a disaster as the Blue Jays would get just five innings from Dayley over the next three years.  Dayley was plagued by vertigo and elbow problems and finished his career in '93 at AAA Albuquerque allowing 15 runs in 10 innings before calling it quits.   

Flipside:  Not sure how many of those minor league complete games were of the nine inning variety. At the big league level Dayley made 33 starts and worked into the eighth inning just twice and never completed a game.  His best shot came on 6/24/83 when he carried a five-hit shutout and a ten run lead into the ninth inning against the Reds.  Dayley gave up a double to Gary Redus to start the inning and retired the next two batters before giving up a home run to Johnny Bench.  A single, walk, and a double to the next three hitters got him the hook in favor of Steve Bedrosian who put out the fire. 

Oddball:  These days St. Louis fans see a lot more of Dayley's daughter Sara than they do of him. Sara Dayley is an anchor for KSDK and Rams in game reporter.

History:  Once Dayley found his niche in the majors he had a nice stretch with a 2.98 ERA and 39 saves from '85 - '90.  He twice was on pennant winners with St. Louis, but was on the disabled list when the Blue Jays won back to back in '92 and '93.

 You can follow me, this blog, and the Oddballs blog on Twitter @989baseball

Sunday, February 17, 2013

#313 Gary Gray - Seattle Mariners

Gary Gray, Gray Gary, Gary Gary, Gray Gray. 
Gary Gray's cards always throw me for a loop when flipping through a stack.  I'm not dyslexic but I always have to pause to read his name correctly.
Let's look at Gray's second Topps card.  He's is batting in a sunny spring training picture and has a crooked hat in the inset.  The OUTFIELD-1st BASE label is inaccurate.  Gray played just 11 games in the OF in his career and none at all in '82

PlayerGary Gray was a streaky right-handed hitter drafted by the Rangers in the 18th round in 1974.  By hitting over .300 each year he advanced a level each year and debuted with Texas in 1977 with two at bats.  The next two years he hit .300+ at AAA with 13 and 17 homers but found playing time scarce at the big league level.  He came to bat about 50 times each year but hit just .240 and .238 in his brief opportunities. 

Before the 1980 season the Rangers included him in a multi-player deal that sent him to Cleveland.  He showed he had nothing left to prove in the minors throttling AAA pitching at a .335/.414/.577 clip in 96 games.  Called up to the Indians he started four games right off the bat but then rarely played the rest of the year.  He batted just .148 in 54 at bats with a pair of homers.

The Indians left him off the 40 man roster and he was plucked by the Mariners in the Rule-5 draft.  Platooning with Bruce Bochte, Gray finally got a chance to play in '81 and hit 13 homers.  The power was evident but he walked just four times with 44 whiffs en route to a .245/.257/.476 slash line.

Gray was sent down to Salt Lake City to start the '82 season, perhaps with the intention of refining his definition of the strike zone.  When he returned in May he showed better judgment at the plate with 24 walks against 59 strikeouts in 295 plate appearances.  He lost some pop along the way and hit just seven homers while hitting .257.

The Mariners sold Gray to the Angels after the '82 season but he never played for California. He spent the four of the next five years playing in Mexico but never made it back to the majors. 

Flipside: These are Gray's career stats and his last card.
Oddball: Gray was tried in leftfield in order to get his bat in the lineup but according to 1983: The Scouting Report he had terrible time judging fly balls. 
History: Gray was a minor league stud but couldn't get it done in the majors.  In over 1,700 plate appearances at the AAA level he posted a .312/.368/.510 line.  In 663 trips to the plate in the majors he hit .240/.281/.402. 

Saturday, February 16, 2013

#312 Brian Kingman - Oakland A's

I swear these Oakland A's cards aren't fluorescent but they show up that way.  Brian Kingman's fourth Topps card shows the hurler on the mound adjusting his cap.  I should count how many A's cards have the brighter green hat in the inset pic versus the newer darker green in the main picture.

Player: Brian Kingman signed with the A's as undrafted free agent in 1975 after he graduated from the University of California at Santa Barbara.  Featuring a good fastball and hard breaking curve ball he advanced through the A's system.  By mid 1979 he was in the A's rotation and made 17 starts with an 8-7 record, and a 4.31 ERA in 112 innings. 
Kingman's 1980 season would shape the rest of his life.  He was the A's number five starter for what amounted to a .500 team (83-79) and although his rate stats were not terrible with a 3.83 ERA (98 ERA+) and 1.377 WHIP, he lost 20 games with just 8 wins.  The A's scored more than three runs for him in just nine of his 30 starts and were shutout five times.  Compare his stats to those of teammate Steve McCatty:
                  ERA    IP     WHIP     H/9   HR/9     BB/9   SO/9
Kingman    3.83   211   1.377    8.9    0.9       3.5      4.9
McCatty    3.86   221   1.358    8.2    1.1       4.0      4.6
Kingman gave up a few more hits but was otherwise better than McCatty in the other rate stats. These look more like the numbers of a .500 pitcher and at 14-14 that's what McCatty was.  The A's scored 5.04 runs per game for McCatty but screwed Kingman over by plating just 2.87.  Kingman was the fall guy and lived with the 20 loss tag the rest of his career.
Kingman wasn't bad in '81 but he couldn't buy a win either.  He was yanked from the rotation in August and finished the year 3-6 with a 3.98 ERA in 100 innings.  He started the '82 season in the minors and was recalled in June.  He wasn't fooling hitters much as their hits became more frequent and the strikeouts waned.  If nothing else he was determined to earn a win, twice working into extra innings and facing more than 40 batters.  He finished the year at 4-12 with a 4.48 ERA, bringing his career mark to 23-45.
He was sold to Boston in the offseason but cut in spring training.  The Giants picked him up and he pitched poorly and appeared in just three games.  He spent the rest of the year in the minors and retired from pro ball after the season.

Flipside: Those 10 complete games jump out and seem impressive until looking at the team stats and seeing that he was fifth on the team in complete games.
Oddball:  Starting in 2000, Kingman would travel to a pitcher's game if he was on the verge of losing 20 games.  He even brought a voodoo doll to help ward off a loss.  It "worked" four consecutive times for three different pitchers.  Kingman was out of the country and not able to attend when Mike Maroth lost his 20th game for a terrible Tiger team in 2003.
History: Kingman was long known as the last pitcher to lose 20 games and it was an albatross he carried as a player.  However he embraced it in retirement, thankful that he was remembered for something. 
His could have benefited from a move to the bullpen.  He didn't have the stamina that A's manager Billy Martin pushed for and that the other A's pitchers possessed.  In his 20 loss season in 1980 he had a .196 opponent batting average with no home runs allowed in the first inning.  In his career he only pitched 12 games in relief and those stats are skewed by his three bad outings for the Giants at the end of his career.  Perhaps he could have been an effective one or two inning reliever, but we'll never know. 
Kingman retired with a 23-45 record, 4.13 ERA, and a 92 ERA+ in 551 innings.   

Thursday, February 14, 2013

#311 Glenn Brummer - St. Louis Cardinals

Glenn Brummer second Topps card is shows him in a non-game shot.  Seeing a catcher on a card crouching without gear is nothing new as Topps used this type of pose a lot in the 70s but this seems like a new angle anyway.  The brick wall in the background indicates that Wrigley Field is the venue.  Would you believe that Brummer is, at most, 27 years old in the inset picture?  At least it's a better look than his rookie card.

PlayerGlenn Brummer signed as undrafted free agent in 1974 and as such was never really considered a prospect.  In fact he was a backup his entire minor league career, never getting more than 367 at bats in a season.  He got the call to the big leagues in May of '81 when Darrell Porter went down with an injury.  Veteran Gene Tenace got most of the starts but Brummer and fellow journeyman Orlando Sanchez took turns spelling him behind the plate.  Porter returned two months later and Brummer stuck around as a spare part, catching a few innings here and there.  Brummer got into 21 games with 6 hits in 30 at bats.
Brummer was in the majors most of the year with the Cardinals serving as a third catcher behind Porter and Tenace.  Brummer batted .234 in 64 at bats and did not draw a walk. On August 22 Brummer made a play against the Giants that would be remembered by all that were fortunate to see it.  He entered the game at catcher after Steve Braun pinch hit for Gene Tenace and the game went to extra innings.  With one out in the bottom of the 12th, Brummer singled and moved to third after a pair of singles were sandwiched around a foul out.  With the bases loaded and two outs and a 1-2 count on David Green, Brummer shocked everyone in the stadium by stealing home, sliding head first with the winning run.  He hadn't stolen a base since 1980 and wasn't known for his speed but his aggressive play exemplified the Cardinals approach. 

Home plate ump Dave Pallone took some heat for not staying in position to call the pitch strike three which would have been three outs, but that is a no win situation for any umpire.
The steal would define Brummer's career and was a spark for the Cardinals who went on to win the NL East and the World Series with Brummer playing just an inning on defense in game six.
Brummer and Jamie Quirk split the back-up duties in '83 and Brummer had decent production for an end of the bench sub, batting .276/.351/.356 in 99 plate appearances.  Tom Nieto was Porter's main backup in '84 and Brummer made just 61 trips to the plate with .207 average.  He hit his only career home run off of Scott Sanderson on 4/18/84.
He received his release from the Redbirds the following spring and hooked up with the Rangers.  In Texas he and Geno Petralli backed up Don Slaught.  Brummer played in a career high 49 games and batted .278.  He was released in November and spent '86 at Hawaii, his last year as an active player.
Flipside: You can see from his stolen base and triple totals that Brummer wasn't that quick so it's no wonder he took the Giants by surprise.
Oddball:  In '77 the Cards lent Brummer to the Mets single-A affiliate in Lynchburg in 1977 where he hit the best of his career, with a .328/.370/.380 line in 146 trips to the plate.
History:  Brummer's steal of home is what he is remembered for and by going all out without the steal sign he was putting his career on the line.  Third string catchers usually don't have a lot of rope but Brummer was safe and the rest is history.  He played parts of five seasons in the majors with a .251 average in 347 at bats. 

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

#310 Greg Luzinski - Chicago White Sox

Greg Luzinski looks like maybe he's admiring one of his moon shot home runs to left field here on his 13th Topps card.  His cameo picture is not the most flattering. 
Player: Greg Luzinski was drafted in the first round with the 11th overall pick in the 1968 draft.  Still just 19 years old when he debuted in September of 1970, he went two for twelve in eight games.  After mashing AAA pitchers for a .940 OPS in '71 he was called up and started the last 27 games at first base.  Luzinski offered Phillie fans a glimpse of a his offensive prowess by batting .300/.386/.470 with three home runs, including a 480 foot blast which at the time was the longest homer to leftfield at Vets Stadium. 
With veteran first baseman Deron Johnson coming off a 34 home run season the Phillies moved the burly Luzinski to leftfield in '72.  Johnson and most of the Philly bats stunk in '72 leading to a last place finish.  Luzinski was a bright spot with the bat leading the team with 18 HR and 68 RBI, and although he wasn't graceful in leftfield (11 errors) nor agile (1.86 chances/9), the Phillies left him there the rest of the decade.
Luzinski continued to improve knocking 29 home runs and driving in 97 both team highs while batting .285.  A right knee injury and subsequent surgery cost him 74 games and sapped his power in '74 limiting him to just seven homers.  He broke out in '75 with 34 HR, a league best 120 RBI, and a .300/.394/.540 stat line.  Luzinski's monster season led to a 2nd place finish in the MVP race. 
While the knee surgery had repaired his knee but cost Luzinski even more range in leftfield.  His power waned in '76 but he was consistent, hitting .280 or better each month and ending the year at .304.  He hit just 21 HR but still posted a 134 OPS+ and teamed with Mike Schmidt to form a fearsome tandem in the middle of the Philly lineup. 
The Phillies won the first of three consecutive NL East crowns in '76 and Luzinski excelled in the postseason.  He got a hit in all 11 NLCS games with a home run each year, but despite this Phils were unable to capture the pennant.
The '77 season would be Luzinski's finest with career highs in traditional stats like 39 HR, 130 RBI, .309 BA as well as a 156 OPS+.  His batting heroics and gaudy stats led to a runner-up finish behind George Foster in NL MVP voting.  Luzinski followed with another fine year, mashing 35 homers in '78.
Luzinski began to decline and hit .252 with just 18 homers in '79.  He was set back by a injury in 1980 and further slumped to .228/.342/.440 while playing just 106 games.  The year ended on a high note as the Phillies won the World Series over the Royals in six games.  He only started six of the Phillies eleven games that postseason. After getting hits in games one and two of the NLCS, Luzinski had now hit safely in a record 13 straight NLCS games. He had the eventual game winning hit in game four with a pinch hit double that drove in Pete Rose in the tenth inning.   
Over the past two years his lack of mobility in left was becoming more apparent.  His range factor was around 1.5 and with the league average around two, it meant that Luzinski was not getting to a ball an average fielder would reach about every other game.  As spring training was ending in 1981 the Phillies sold the "Bull" to the White Sox where he could assume the DH position.  He stayed relatively healthy for his hometown team and hit 18 HR in the strike year.  With Pale Hose batting instructor Charlie Lau tinkering with Luzinski's swing, his average rose to .292 in '82 but cost him some power as he hit 18 HR.  He did hit to the gaps more often as evidenced by a career best 37 doubles. The Bull also knocked in 100 runs for the fourth time in his career with 102. 
Luzinski was a big part of the White Sox offense as they won the AL West in 1983. He hit 32 homers and drove in 95 runs but was just 2 for 15 in the ALCS.  Luzinski played one more year batting .238 with just 13 homers in 1984 and retired after the season.  
Flipside:  The Luzinski I remember was the cartoonish hefty-slow-footed slugger with the White Sox but he really was a force with the Phillies.  From '75 - '78 he batted .295/.386/.535 with 446 RBI.  He was an All-Star and finished top eight in MVP each year.
Oddball: In low-A level ball in 1968 the Phillies tried the 17 year-old Luzinski at third base. They soon found out it wasn't for him as he made six putouts, six assists, and six errors in five games.
History:  Luzinski was a ferocious slugger who had a great offensive peak.  However his defense limited his value as metrics such as Total Zone show that by the mid-70s he was about 10-20 runs below average in the field per season.  The Bull would have been much better off had he been in the American League sooner.  Luzinski retired with 307 career home runs and a .276/.363/.478 stat line.

Monday, February 11, 2013

#309 Jeff Leonard - San Francisco Giants

Jeff Leonard's fourth Topps card shows him wearing the Giants black jersey top in the action photo and although the inset is a similar angle, he's wearing the home whites there.

Player: Jeff Leonard was signed by the Los Angeles Dodgers as an undrafted free agent in 1973.  He advanced steadily through the Dodgers system and made his debut with the Dodgers going 3 for 10 at the end of the season.  Leonard absolutely destroyed AAA pitching in '78 batting .365/.443/.532 before they traded him to the Astros in a deal that brought Joe Ferguson back to LA.  With just a few weeks left in the season, Leonard kept up his torrid pace hitting .385 in eight games.
Leonard began the '79 campaign as a reserve but by mid-May he was starting in rightfield.  He hit at a .290 clip with a .360 on base percentage and stole 23 bases but the cavernous Astrodome suppressed his power.  Although he hadn't been a prodigious home run hitter in the minors he had averaged around ten a season.  He along with a few other Astros went homerless that year but Leonard didn't go unnoticed and finished in second place for  NL Rookie of the Year.
The 1980 season was brutal for Leonard as he started the year as the Astros fourth outfielder behind Jose Cruz, Cesar Cedeno, and Terry Puhl and never did anything to win his job back.  He batted just .213 but he did manage to hit the first three homers of his career.  Leonard was hitless in three at bats off the bench in the NLCS against the Phillies.
The Astros traded Leonard and Dave Bergman to the Giants for Mike Ivie just weeks into the '81 season and demoted Leonard down to AAA.  He torched minor league hurlers to a .401 tune in 207 plate appearances while waiting for the strike to conclude and a chance at a recall.  "Hac-Man" got his chance and kept on hacking when he got to San Fran knocking 18 extra base hits in 141 plate appearances.
Leonard's finish to the '81 season earned him the starting centerfield job in '82 but he was removed from his post in favor of rookie Chili Davis after just two weeks.  He slid over to leftfield but missed over two months with a wrist injury.  He came back but his batting stroke was off and although he hit a career best nine homers, his average slid to .259. 
Nicknamed "Prison Face" for his icy glare by teammate Bergman, Leonard had a breakout season in '83.  He batted .279 but hit 21 home runs while driving in 87 runs and stole 26 bases.  He repeated with 21 homers but raised his average to .301 with an OPS+ of 138.  He regressed to .241 and 17 HR in '85 and injuries limited him to '89 games in '86.
Leonard was a man of many names and by this point in his career preferred Jeffrey over Jeff.  The change precipitated a change in nicknames too from "Prison Face" to the more noble "Penitentiary Face".  But it was also around this time where he began taking his home run trots with his left arm tucked in earning the moniker "One Flap Down".  He hit 19 long balls in '87 while batting .280 and making his first All-Star team.  It was his postseason batting that got the attention as he homered in the first four games of the NLCS.  His home run trot drew the ire of Cardinals pitchers and fans and although St. Louis won the series, Leonard was voted series MVP.
Hac-Man was slow out of the gate in '88 was traded to the Brewers in June for Ernie Riles.  He hit just ten homers on the year and finished with an OPS+ of 77.  Leonard signed on as the Mariners DH in '89 and the move helped him play in a career best 150 games.  He also set career bests with 24 HR and 93 RBI but his rate stats of .254/.301/.420 were quite sub par for a DH.  The following year he played more leftfield than DH which further decreased his value as his already suspect defense was now in further decline. He slugged just .356 and was a boat anchor in left while accumulating -2.0 WAR.
Leonard spent the '91 season at the AAA level for the Royals but never returned to the majors and retired after the season at age 36.
Flipside: Leonard is listed at 6' 3 1/2" but current sources list him at 6'2".  Topps rounded up to 6'4" on his '88 and later card backs. 
Checking out his stats through the '82 season, you would not think this player would go on to have three 20 HR seasons.

Oddball: A great pictorial piece here by Patrick Dubuque of the many faces of Jeffrey Leonard.

History: Looking back at his career compared to my memory of Leonard, I realize he was quite overrated.  He was a streaky hitter who could get hot (see '87 NLCS) but he earned just 7.2 WAR in his career with 6.3 earned in '83 and '84.  His low walk rate and poor defense were magnified by his inconsistent power.  When he was healthy he could club 20 home runs with a decent average but he played over 140 games just once in his career. His career stats: .266/.312/.411, 144 HR, and 163 SB

Saturday, February 9, 2013

#308 Jesus Vega - Minnesota Twins

After a string of veterans we see Jesus Vega's only Topps card.  The dude sure has some hairy arms.  Vega appeared as a DH twice as much as a first baseman despite what it says on the card.

PlayerJesus Vega was signed by the Brewers out of Puerto Rico in 1975 and hit over .300 three years in a row in the minors to start his career.  He was acquired by the Twins in the minor league draft and hit .297 at AA Orlando in '77.  After batting .293 with 13 homers at AAA Toledo he was given a late season call up.  Vega got into four games but was hitless in seven at bats.

The Twins recalled Vega in May 1980 to DH and after slapping five singles in 29 at bats he was sent back down.  He returned in September however he got into just two games and ended the year batting .167.  His production was down in 1981 and he spent all season in the minors.

Vega surprisingly made the Twins roster in '82 and platooned at DH with an occasional start at first base.  He batted .266/.289/.372 with five homers in 199 at bats and fell out of favor as he made just one start after 8/1.  After spending the '83 season back at Toledo he spent part of '84 with the Dodgers organization.  He played one more year in Mexico before hanging it up for good.

Flipside:  The Twins loaned Vega to Tidewater during the '81 season which cemented his status as a non-prospect.

Oddball:  Vega didn't hit like most firstbasemen as he was more of a line drive hitter.  The Twins tried Vega at third base when he was at AA Orlando but he made three errors in two games before they moved him back to first.

History:  Vega was a typical replacement level player.  That might even be a stretch as he posted -1.2 WAR in his brief career. His batting skills would have matched up well for a middle infielder or centerfielder but he was a shaky fielder even at first base.

Friday, February 8, 2013

#307 Lou Piniella - New York Yankess

This Lou Piniella card forms the bread around a Tommy Lasorda (#306) manager sandwich with fellow player turned manager Larry Bowa (#305).  By 1987 all three were managing in the big leagues.  This is Piniella's 17th Topps card and it's a good one.  I'm guessing Lou hit a routine grounder or fly ball by the way he's staring out into the field, but the way the bat is suspended vertically mid-air is what makes the card. 
Piniella looks a little perturbed in the inset picture and his hat is barely sitting on the top of his head.

PlayerLou Piniella was signed by the Indians in 1962 but was drafted away over the winter by the Washington Senators in a minor league draft.  Still in the minors in '64, Piniella was traded to the Orioles and made his major league debut late in the year.  He got into four games but batted just once.  In March of '68 he was traded again to the Indians, his original franchise.  He spent the next three years at AAA improving his production each year.  He was called up but went 0 for 5 in six games.  After the '68 season he was drafted by the Seattle Pilots in the expansion draft but was sent packing to the AL's other expansion team in Kansas City before the season started.
All this time Piniella was a perpetual prospect leading to three separate multi-player "rookie" cards:
Look how thin Piniella looks in '64!  Topps recycled Piniella's head shot from '68 for the '69 card indicating his new team as the Pilots, but he was in KC when the season started.  The expansion Royals plugged Piniella into the outfield and he led off the Royals era with four hits in the opener.  He batted .285 with 11 homers and despite all his travels still had rookie eligibility and won the AL Rookie of the Year award.
Nicknamed "Sweet Lou" for his sweet line drive swing, he hit over .300 two of the next three years.  In 1972 he posted a 138 OPS+ and  led the AL with 33 doubles but also grounded into a league high 25 double plays.  When his average slipped to .250 in 1973 he was traded to the Yankees.
The Yankees used Piniella in the corner outfield spots and he batted .305 in his first year in pinstripes.  The following year he struggled with an inner ear infection and batted just .196 in 199 at bats.  Piniella was used in a semi-regular role the next two years getting time at DH as well as the outfield.  He batted .281 in 351 plate appearances in '76 and batted a career high .330 in 369 plate appearances in '77.  Piniella played a more regular role in '78 and batted .314/.360/.445 with a career high 34 doubles. 
The Yankees of course won three straight divisions and World Series in '77 and '78 with Piniella playing a starting role in the championship years.  The next three years Piniella saw his playing time gradually reduce as he hit for a decent average.  Piniella didn't hit for much power but was what you would hear some analysts call a "professional" hitter.  He was hitting .302 in the middle of 1984 when he retired to became the Yankees hitting coach. 
Flipside: Tiny font alert!  It's hard to see anything besides the wax stain on the back.  Piniella had to wait until '69 to get his first hit despite his cups of coffee in two earlier seasons.  His hit to lead off the bottom of the first in the Royals inaugural game was also the franchise's first hit.
Oddball: When Piniella (the manager) left Seattle for Tampa Bay the Rays sent outfielder Randy Winn to the M's as compensation.  According to Winn is the 9th most comparable player to Piniella.
History:  Piniella had a successful playing career highlighted by two championships with the Yankees.  He won a NL ROY award and was an All-Star just once. He didn't hit for much power reaching double digits in home runs just five times with a career high of 12.  Piniella had a reputation as a clutch hitter but what is clutch and is it repeatable?  Let's look at the numbers to see how they shake out. 
Career line: .291/.333/.409. 
Runners on base:  .297/.344/.409 (2,676 AB)
In scoring position: .303/.366/.427 (1,493 AB)
Bases loaded: .346/.346/.489 (131 AB)
Postseason: .305/.317/.418 (141 AB)
So either he rose to the occasion when the stakes were high or he lacked concentration when no one was on base.  The postseason and bases loaded data isn't a huge sample size but he did he marginally better with guys on so I'm going to say Piniella was a slightly better in crunch time.
Piniella for sure was a pretty good batter but his defense negated a lot of his value leaving him with
9.3 WAR in his 18 year career.
Of course many fans today know Piniella as a manager who won 1,835 games in parts of 23 seasons for the Yankees, Reds, Mariners, Devil Rays, and Cubs. 

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

#306 Tommy Lasorda - Los Angeles Dodgers

Tommy Lasorda is listed as Tom but what fun is that?  It looks like Lasorda might be trying to make a point with an umpire.  He had one card as a player in the '54 set and his first manager card was in the '78 set.  So not counting team cards in other sets this is just his third Topps card.

PlayerTommy Lasorda had a lengthy minor league career and parts of three seasons in the majors.  The 17 year old Lasorda began his pitching career in 1945 for the Phillies organization but served in the Army the next two years.  Resuming his career in 1948 at Schenectady of the Can-Am league he whiffed a mind boggling 25 batters in a 15 inning victory and drove in the winning run with a single.  The season was otherwise a downer as he struggled with control walking 153 in 192 innings.

The Dodgers acquired Lasorda in the minor league draft and a better year followed in '49 as he posted a 2.93 ERA for Carolina in the South Atlantic League.  Lasorda spent the next six years with the Dodgers top farm club in Montreal.  While north of the border, Lasorda worked his way up from swing man to staff workhorse.  He got into four games with Brooklyn in 1954 and four more the next year but did not factor into any decisions.  In '56 the Kansas City Athletics purchased him and he was 0-4 with a 6.15 ERA and 45 walks in 45 innings.  The A's traded Lasorda to the Yankees for Wally Burnette which spelled the end of his major league career. 

Lasorda pitched for Denver in the Yankees system until May of '57 when the Dodgers bought his contract from the Yankees.  He pitched in the minors for the Dodgers organization until July 1960.  He won 136 games in the minors but the southpaw was wild walking 4.8 per nine innings. 

Manager:  Lasorda worked as a scout for the Dodgers from '61 to '65 before receiving his first managerial post for the Rookie League Dodgers in 1966.  Lasorda won three championships in the low minors and worked his way up to AAA Spokane by '69.  When the team moved to Albuquerque in '72, so did he and he guided them to a PCL championship.  

Lasorda was promoted to the Dodgers third base coach position in '73 which he held until Walter Alston handed off the manager's job with four games to go in the '76 campaign.  The colorful Lasorda had been courted by other teams and the Dodgers were anxious to get Lasorda in the fold before losing him to another team.  How much pressure Alston felt to step down isn't known but Lasorda had reportedly turned down managerial jobs from other teams to stay in LA. 

Lasorda guided the Dodgers to NL pennants in his first two seasons at the helm with 98 and 95 win seasons.  The Dodgers fell victim to the Yankees, losing in six games in both series.  After a sub-par '79 season the Dodgers and Astros were tied after 162 games in 1980.  The deadlock set up a game 163 which the Astros won handily.  Lasorda and the Dodgers came through with a World Championship in '81 getting revenge on both the Astros and the Yankees along the way.

Lasorda had been known for his work with young players in the minors and continued to develop talent at the major league level.  The Dodgers had a string of NL Rookie of the Year winners from 1979-82 that included Rick Sutcliffe, Steve Howe, Fernando Valenzuela, and Steve Sax.

The Dodgers won the NL West in both '83 and '85 but were eliminated in the NLCS both times.  After a pair of 89 loss seasons in '86 and '87 Lasorda and the Dodgers won the World Series in 1988 defeating the A's in five games.  The image of a jubilant Lasorda running out of the dugout following Kirk Gibson's walk off Game 1 home run is a lasting image to all who witnessed the moment.  (Lasorda seen here at the 1:46 mark).

Over the next five years the Dodgers finished 4th, 2nd, 2nd, 6th, and 4th.  The 6th place 99 loss season in '92 would be by far the worst during Lasorda's tenure.  The Dodgers were in first place in '94 when the strike ended the season.  The '95 team won the NL West but were swept in three games by the Reds.  The Dodgers were 41-25 when Lasorda checked himself into a hospital with what was determined to be a heart attack.  Lasorda recovered but announced his retirement from the dugout on 6/29/96.   

Flipside: Lasorda walked a whopping 56 in 58 major league innings.  The 25 strikeout game was a record at the time but since has been broken.  Lasorda's first managing gig was in Pocatello, Idaho in 1965.  I wonder why Topps didn't excluded it?

Oddball: Some of my first baseball memories were made watching "The Baseball Bunch" which starred Johnny Bench coaching youngsters on the fundamentals of the game.  Each episode they consulted the Dugout Wizard who was played by Lasorda.  The Wizard was a baseball guru clad in a turban who proclaimed baseball knowledge for young and old. 

On the opposite end of the spectrum from children's broadcasting are some of Lasorda's famous R-rated rants. There are a number of them but my favorite is when he rips on the Padres Kurt Bevacqua and Joe Lefebrve

History: Lasorda retired as one of the all time greats with a career record of 1599-1434 winning two World Series, four pennants, and eight first place finishes.  He was elected to the Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility in '97.  His Dodger teams were usually very pitching strong and when they stalled out it was usually on offense. 
Lasorda managed the U.S. Olympic team to a gold medal in 2000 and has stayed active with the Dodgers and MLB in a variety of roles.  

Sunday, February 3, 2013

#305 Larry Bowa - Chicago Cubs

Veteran Larry Bowa is shown here on his 14th Topps card.  We had a great streak of action shots going but now we've seen three posed pictures in a row.  But hey, if you like choking up on the bat, batting gloves, or curly hair overflowing from a player's hat, then this is the card for you.

PlayerLarry Bowa was playing ball at Sacramento City College when he caught the attention of Philadelphia scouts and was signed as a free agent in October of 1965.  Even though he went undrafted and was cut twice from his high school team, Bowa advanced all the way to AAA in his first year of pro ball.
Bowa made the team in 1970 as the Phillies starting SS and got off to a very slow start hitting under .200 for the first two months of the season.  The Phils stuck with their slick fielding rookie and he improved to .250 by the end of the year.  Bowa was definitely all glove as he had only 23 extra base hits and 21 walks.
The next two years Bowa hit .249 and .250, led the NL with 13 triples and won the first of two career Gold Gloves in '72.  His average slipped to .211 in '73 but a resurgence in '74 helped earn his first All-Star berth.  He played in all 162 contests and finished the year batting .275.  He further improved in '75 batting .305/.334/.377, by far career highs in all three categories.  His two homers doubled his career total to four and he continued to be a threat on the base paths with his 24 steals.
Bowa followed with .248, .280, and .294 batting averages the next three years.  With most hitters, batting average doesn't show the whole picture but for Bowa it was critical.  His glove and defensive consistency were top notch and he had good speed.  However he did not walk much and had zero power, so when the hits didn't drop, his value did.  After receiving a few stray MVP votes the past three years he finished third when he hit .294 in '78.  During the '76 - '78 seasons the Phillies were bounced out of the NLCS each year, with Bowa batting .125, .118, and .333. 
Bowa hit .241 in '79 season was named to his fifth and final NL All-Star team.  After hitting .267 in 1980 he helped Philly finally get their elusive World Series ring by batting .326 with four steals in the postseason.  The fiery Bowa's relationship soured with Philly management during the '81 season and he let it known he wanted out of town.
In January of '82 the Cubs new GM and former Phillies manager swindled his former employer by acquiring Bowa and rookie infielder Ryne Sandberg for Ivan Dejesus.  Bowa for Dejesus was one thing but the coup-de-gras was netting future HOF'er Sandberg in the deal.  Bowa got off to a stunningly slow start spending the first two months under the Mendoza line which led to speculation that the 36 year old was washed up.  He slowly heated up and as of June 12 was hitting .212 when he went on a crazy hot streak going 14 for 20 over the next five games raising his average 40 points.  He ended the year with a familiar .247 and hit .267 the following campaign.
Bowa was obviously slowing down in '84 and hit just .223 with an OPS+ of 49.  His veteran leadership was credited with helping the Cubs win the NL East but Bowa went 3 for 15 in the NLCS and the Cubbies were ousted by the Padres.
Bowa lost his starting job to rookie Shawon Dunston in '85.  He regained his post for a while but ended up splitting at bats three ways with Dunston and veteran Chris Speier.  Bowa was vocal in his displeasure with the arrangement the Cubs cut him loose in August.  He was picked up for the stretch run by the Mets but had little to offer with two hits in 19 at bats.  After receiving his release he retired after 16 seasons in the majors. 

Flipside: The Cubs won that game on 4/17 by eight runs.  Topps sure liked single game feats but they could have mentioned Bowa hit .360 in June.
Oddball: When the Phillies were checking out Bowa in college, he was ejected from the first game of a double header.  Luckily for Bowa, scout Eddie Bockman stuck around for game two and was impressed with his play. 
History:  Bowa at one time held the single season fielding percentage record for shortstops at .991 and retired with a .980 mark.  He thrice recorded double digits in Fielding Runs above average but by his Chicago days he was below average in the field.  Offensively his lifetime stat line of .260/.300/.320 is only attractive if you like round numbers.  When he did find his way on base he was an asset stealing 318 bases at a 75% clip. 
Bowa was back in the big leagues as a manager in '87 with the Padres.  Since then he has managed the Phillies as well as coached for the Mariners, Angels, Yankees, and Mariners.  

Saturday, February 2, 2013

#304 Dave Rucker - Detroit Tigers

Whoa, check out that cameo pic!  Dave Rucker looks like he rolled into the Tigers spring training complex in Lakeland after a hard night of drinking. 
I usually blast Topps for posed shots but I appreciate Tiger Stadium in the background.  This is Rucker's first solo card as he shared a card with fellow Tigers "suspects" Howard Bailey and Marty Castillo.

Player: Dave Rucker was drafted by the Tigers in the 16th round of the 1978 draft.  He played college ball at UCLA where he was a teammate of recent post Floyd Chiffer.  Rucker moved quickly through the Tigers system and made the team in '81 but made just two appearances before he was sent down to AAA Evansville for the rest of the year.
Rucker had to wait until July of '82 to get another chance and worked in middle relief with a few spot starts.  He tossed a one run complete game win over the Indians in the second to last game of the year. The gem lowered his ERA to 3.38 in 64 innings.  For the fourth year in a row Rucker started the campaign at AAA, this time getting a promotion in May.  He imploded though and allowed 17 runs over nine innings and was sent packing to the Cardinals in exchange for veteran reliever Doug Bair. 
After Rucker tuned things up at AAA, the Redbirds called him up and he was a serviceable arm out of the pen.  In 37 innings he posted a 1.459 WHIP with a 2.43 ERA.  He had his best year in '84, logging 74 innings in 50 games with a 2.10 ERA.  While he sometimes put runners on, (1.315 WHIP), he was helped by keeping the ball in the park as he didn't surrender a gopher ball all year.
The Philadelphia Phillies were impressed with Rucker and traded veterans Bill Campbell and Ivan Dejesus to the Cardinals to get him.  The left-handed Rucker wasn't as effective in Philly as he allowed more than one-and-a-half runners per inning in a career high 79 frames.  The next year saw his ERA balloon to 5.76 in 35 innings in '86 and he was sent down to the minors in July. 
Rucker spent the '87 season at the Rangers AAA affiliate and signed with the Pirates after the season.  He resurfaced in the majors in June of '88 as a lefty specialist and stayed with the team through the end of the year with a 4.76 ERA in 28 innings.  Rucker spent all of '89 back in the minors and then hung up the cleats for good.  

Flipside: Pretty strange how Topps doesn't mention his complete game win October 2, which was easily the best game of his career.

Oddball: Rucker was a bit of a klutz on the mound making 10 errors in 83 chances in his fielding career.

History: Rucker had a decent fastball with a lot of movement that tailed in on right handed hitters.  He struggled with his breaking pitches early in his career and wasn't as effective against left handed hitters as he should have been.  Rucker falls into a large group of pitchers in my mind who came up with the Tigers in the early 80's and never panned out.  Guys like Rucker, Howard Bailey, Larry Pashnick and others never made an impact as the Tigers groomed few home grown arms in the decade. The Tigers were fruitful in the mid-to-late 70's producing Mark Fidrych, Dave Rozema, Jack Morris, and Dan Petry who all found some success despite varying measures of health.
Rucker career stats: 16-20 record, 1 save, and a 3.94 ERA (95 ERA+) in 319 innings.