Wednesday, May 22, 2013

#329 Randy Niemann - Pittsburgh Pirates

Randy Niemann is a poser.  Well, he is.  He is pictured on his third Topps card in the dreaded empty fist in overhead glove.  By the look of the inset picture Niemann feels pretty bad about the sham.
At least we get a good look at Willie Stargell's stars on Niemann's pillbox hat.

Player: Randy Niemann's pro career started when he was drafted by the Yankees in the June secondary draft in 1975.  After two and a half years in the Yankees system he was sent to the Astros as part of the Cliff Johnson trade.  After a few more years in the minors, Niemann debuted with Houston in May of 1979.  He had an impressive start to his career with two shutouts and another complete game win in his first seven games.  Nonetheless he shuttled back and forth between the pen and rotation. After his second shutout he made only two more starts but neither lasted past the fourth inning.  Niemann appeared in 26 games with a 3.76 ERA and 1.343 WHIP in 67 innings.  

Niemann spent the beginning and end of the season in Houston with a sojourn to AAA Tucson in the middle.  With the Astros he was  used in middle relief with one start.  In 33 frames he posted a lackluster 5.45  ERA.  He spent all of '81 back in Tucson before he was dealt to Pittsburgh in the Johnny Ray / Phil Garner trade. 

After starting the '82 season at AAA Portland, Niemann was called up to Pittsburgh where he served as the teams mop up man with a 5.09 ERA in 35 innings.  He spent all but eight games back in Portland and failed to impress the big league Pirates with an ugly 9.22 ERA. The Bucs traded Niemann to the White Sox in September but he pitched in just five games for Chicago in '84.

Niemann was traded to the Mets at the end of spring training in '85.  He pitched very well as a swingman for Tidewater with a 2.76 ERA in 159 innings.  He pitched 4.2 scoreless frames for the Mets in September call-up.  The AAA success along with the scoreless fall set up Niemann for a role on the '86 team.  He spent all but a few weeks in the Mets bullpen and although he was often used in low leverage situations he was able to hang around for the championship season.  He pitched in 31 games with a 3.76 ERA and the highlight was a spot start win over the Cardinals on 8/17.  Although on the roster, he did not play at all in the postseason.

The big lefty signed with Minnesota but pitched in just six games for the Twins as a situational reliever.  The Twins won the World Series but Niemann was nowhere near the action this time. He returned to the Mets organization in '88 but struggled through 10 rough innings back at Tidewater and retired.

Flipside:  A "scoreless relief stint" is the best Topps could come up with?!?!  Sure he wasn't exactly Kent Tukulve out of the pen c'mon!  How about "Tossed a 1-2-3 11th inning for the save on 9-23-82.

Oddball: When the Mets traded for Niemann they gave up minor leaguers Ken Reed and Gene Autry!  As far as I can tell this Gene Autry was not related to the singing cowboy who can claim to be the only person with five Hollywood stars.

History: Niemann was on some great teams but as a spare reliever he never pitched in the postseason.  His pitched exactly 200 innings in the big leagues with a 4.64 ERA and allowed just over a runner and a half per inning.  

Friday, May 17, 2013

#328 Craig Reynolds - Houston Astros

This is Craig Reynolds' 6th Topps card and he looks happy in the inset and upset in the action photo.  Perhaps he just pulled a grounder to 2nd or 1st base in a spring training game.
Player: Craig Reynolds was a first round pick of the Pittsburgh in 1971 but never really got much of a chance with the Pirates.  After parts of five seasons in the minors they gave him 76 at bats in '75 and he batted just .224.  In 1976 he hit .290 as he repeated AAA, but received just seven games of action with Pittsburgh.

Reynolds got his break when the Mariners traded their 11th round selection in the expansion draft, Grant Jackson, to the Pirates for the left-handed infielder.  The Mariners starting shortstop in their inaugural game, Reynolds was a mainstay at shortstop playing 135 games in in '77.  He rarely struck out or walked and showed little power.  He hit .248 that year but improved to .292 the next season and made the AL All-Star team in '78.

The M's traded Reynolds to the Astros in December of '78 for Floyd Bannister.  Reynolds assumed the starting job at short for Houston.  Although Reynolds' numbers weren't eye popping, when the Cardinals Garry Templeton infamously turned down his All-Star invite with his "If I ain't starting, I ain't departing" line, it opened the door for Reynolds and he was named to the NL All Star squad.  He led the NL in sacrifice bunts with 34 while batting an empty .265.

Reynolds slumped to .226 in 1980 but rebounded with a better season in '81.  He batted .260 and strangely led the NL in triples with 12, including three in one game.  He pulled off the rare feat of hitting more three-baggers than doubles (12/10).  It was about this time that Reynolds began to battle problems with vertigo.  That along with the emergence of Dickie Thon led to Reynolds playing a reduced role.  Batting less than 150 times in both '82 and '83 hit .254 and .214 while also playing second and third base.

In '84 Reynolds stepped back into the fray when Thon was recovering from the beaning that marred his career.  Reynolds responded by hitting .260, with a career high 6 HR, and showed good range at shortstop.  Reynolds and Thon would share playing time the next two years with Reynolds batting .272 and .249 in the '85 and '86 seasons. 

Reynolds got most of the playing time in '87 but as usual, his production was neither impressive nor embarrassing as he hit .254 and played solid defense.  Now in his mid-30's, Reynolds took on a utility role the next two years and wound down his career batting .255 and .201.  He retired following the '89 season after 15 seasons in the majors.

Flipside: When Topps spells out Philadelphia and San Fransisco in the highlights they are saying "We really don't have any reason to abbreviate.  This is all we got".

Oddball:  Reynolds made two appearances as a pitcher in blow out situations but he threw gasoline on the fire both times.  He allowed three runs as he finished up a lopsided loss to the Mets on 7/17/86.  Three years later he allowed four runs in another laugher against the Pirates.

History:  Reynolds was a defensive minded shortstop whose OPS+ topped 100 just once, and barely with a 101 mark in '78.  In his prime he was an above average defender and he led the NL in range factor in '85.  Reynolds is known as the only shortstop to named in consecutive seasons to both the AL and NL All star teams.  He and the Astros made it as far as the NLCS in 1980 and 1986 with Reynolds getting 7 hits in 29 career postseason at bats.  When he retired, only Roger Metzger had played more games at SS for the Astros. 

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

#327 Bobby Castillo - Minnesota Twins

Where is Bobby Castillo pitching?  Hard to tell from this fuzzy ambiguous background.  I will say, Castillo's mustache probably deserves its own card.  Castillo's 4th Topps card shows him in the powder blue uniform / navy blue hat in the action shot and the white uni / red hat combo in the inset.
Player: Bobby Castillo was a 5th round pick of the Royals in 1974 and spent his rookie ball season as a thirdbaseman hitting .253.  He worked the next several years in the Mexican Leagues learning to pitch, and while he was south of the border he was sold to the Dodgers.  During the '77 season he came back to the states and made his major league debut in September.  He pitched 11 innings and allowed 5 runs winning his only decision.

The 5'10" righty split the '78 season between LA and Albuquerque.  While in the majors Castillo logged 34 innings, all in relief, and was 0-4 with one save and a 3.97 ERA.  He spent most of '79 in the minors and had to wait until August for a promotion.  Once back in his hometown of LA he was effective with a 1.13 ERA in 24 innings.  Castillo was trusted with some late inning work and saved 7 games in 7 opportunities.

Castillo would have his best season in 1980 tossing 98 innings in 61 games with a 1.169 WHIP and 2.75 ERA.  His biggest contribution to the Dodgers may have been over the winter when he showed 19 year-old rookie Fernando Valenzuela how to throw the screwball.  The next season was a let down as his ERA ballooned over five in 50 innings of work.  He pitched one inning in each the NLCS and World Series as the Dodgers won it all. 

During the offseason the Dodgers sent Castillo packing to the Twins in a four player deal.  He began the year in middle relief but after some injuries to Twins starters he was pushed into the rotation at the end of May.  Despite not having made a start since 1977, he thrived in his new role and logged 218 innings with a 3.66 ERA.  He finished strong with six complete games in the last two months including a four-hit shutout over the Royals on September 10.

Injuries and ineffectiveness led to a poor showing in '83 as he posted a 4.77 ERA in 158 frames.  A shoulder injury forced his '84 debut until July.  Pitching mainly out of the pen he was productive (1.78 ERA) in 25 innings but walked 19 batters.

After the '84 season he was signed by the Dodgers where he spent the '85 season in middle relief.  His control continued to trouble him as he issued 41 freebies in 68 innings which helps explain his 5.43 ERA.  Castillo was cut from the Dodgers the next spring training and returned to pitch in Mexico.  Comeback attempts with the A's and Mariners failed and he spent the '87 season plying his trade in Japan for the Chunichi Dragons.
Flipside:  I'm not sure I've mentioned this before but it's somewhat perplexing that Topps lists inning fractions in the most recent season and career totals but not the other seasons.  Beginning in '77 Castillo threw 11.1, 34, 24.1, 98.1, 50.2, and then 218.2.  You can see that Topps rounds one-third of an inning down and two-thirds up which makes sense.  The career total isn't correct in that he actually tossed 437.1 innings at this point in his career.  The 436.2 total merely reflects Topps rounding efforts in his first five years plus his precise '82 total.

Oddball: Castillo's last game in the majors was in mop up duty in Game 4 of the '85 NLCS.  The Dodgers were up two games to one but the Cardinals jumped all over starter Jerry Reuss in the second inning.  The Redbirds plated nine off of Reuss and reliever Rick Honeycutt who faced four batters but failed to record an out.  Castillo came in with two outs in the second and pitched the next five and a third innings allowing two runs.  The totality of the onslaught was too much for the Dodgers to overcome as they lost 12-2 and the series in six games.

History:  Castillo had one really good season as a reliever and one as a starter in his career.  His career line indicates a 38-40 win-loss record, 18 saves, a 3.94 ERA (100 ERA+), 689 innings pitched in nine seasons of play.  Since retiring as a player, Castillo has been active in promoting Mexican-American baseball history and supporting inner-city youth participation in baseball.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

#326 Garth Iorg - Toronto Blue Jays

Thanks for checking back in.  I've been busy managing four and half foot tall ballplayers rather than writing about the older guys on cardboard but I plan on posting more regularly when I can.  
Garth Iorg looks like he's playing 2nd base in this photo and checking out some action on the left side of the infield. I don't remember him with a mustache but he wears it well here in classic early 80's fashion.  The light blue and purple borders are an excellent fit for the Blue Jay cards in this set. 
The pronunciation of his last name was a mystery to me as an eight year old.  I think I incorrectly called him eye-org for at least a year.  "ORJ" is the correct way to say his name.
Player: Garth Iorg was an 8th round pick of the Yankees in 1973 but never played in the majors for New York.  Although he hadn't yet reached AAA he was on the Blue Jays radar and was selected in the '76 expansion draft as Toronto prepared for their first season.  He spent all of '77 at AAA and made the team in '78.  He hit very little with the big team and after a month of hitting under .200 he was sent back to the minors where he would remain for nearly two years. 

A hot start at AAA Syracuse got him back to the majors in May of 1980 and he would remain with Toronto the rest of his career.  He filled a utility role for the Jays the next two years playing everywhere but rightfield, catcher, and pitcher.  Statistically his first two years were both similar and unimpressive.  He came to the plate about 230 times in both '80 and '81 and hit .248 and .242 with little power and few walks.

In '82 Iorg found a role as a platoon partner at thirdbase with fellow infielder Rance Mulliniks.  Iorg also saw time at secondbase, DH, and was a frequent pinch hitter batting .285 in 442 plate appearances.  A righthanded hitter, Iorg complimented Mulliniks' lefty stick and the  Jays used the
arrangement for the next five years.  Iorg hit .275 in '83 and fell off to .227 in '84.

1985 would be Iorg's finest season in many respects.  He set career highs in all three slash stats (.313/.358/.469) and home runs with seven.  His OPS+ of 121 would be the only time he topped 100 in his career.  He had just two hits in the ALCS against Kansas City but was able to play against his brother Dane an OF/1B for the Royals.

Garth hit .260 in '85 and saw his average plummet to .210 the following year. After the '87 season Iorg retired at age 32 with a .258/.292/.347 career line and a franchise record 178 pinch hits.

Flipside: Twelve base on balls is a ridiculously low total for how many times Iorg batted in '82. He only walked 114 times in his career. 
According to his Wikipedia page Iorg's hometown of Blue Lake named it's  only baseball field in Iorg's honor. 

Oddball:  In the 1980s Iorg and Mulliniks were often referred to as a successful platoon duo but Iorg didn't really live up to his end of the deal.  While Mulliniks posted seven seasons with an OPS+ over 100, Iorg had just one.  Looking solely at how Iorg hit lefties, his .268/.304/.373 still leaves a lot to be desired.

History:  Iorg found his niche in majors as a platoon player, which is a vanishing role these days. With 12 and 13 man pitching staffs, teams just don't have the depth the platoon much anymore.  Iorg's last at bat in the majors came in game 162 of the '87 season.  He grounded out to pitcher Frank Tanana as the Blue Jays lost to the Tigers, capping Toronto's last month collapse.   Iorg has three sons in minor league baseball.  Iorg currently is the Brewers first base coach.