Saturday, December 17, 2016

#339 Terry Harper Atlanta Braves

Do you like blue? Because I have a card for you!  Blue jersey, blue helmet, blue borders, blue sky, blue dugout...I think you get the picture.  This is Terry Harper's third Topps card and his second solo card.

Player:  Georgia native Terry Harper was drafted as a pitcher by the Braves in the 16th round in 1973, and after three years of getting knocked around in single-A ball he made the move to the outfield in 1976.  Harper worked his way up the chain and made his major league debut in September of 1980, netting 10 hits in 54 at bats in the month's final season.

Harper spent most the strike filled '81 season on the major league roster and posted a .260/.353/.356 line in 40 games.  The lanky outfielder didn't make the team coming out spring training in 1982 and beat the heck out of AAA pitching for three months (.384/.468/.678) before getting called back up the bigs when a struggling Brett Butler was demoted.  Harper torched lefties in a part time role and struggled against righties finishing with a.285 bating average when the dust settled. 

Harper w"as the Braves 4th outfielder in '83 behind Dale Murphy, Brett Butler, and Claudell Washington and posted pedestrian numbers.  The next year was a disaster as he batted .157 and spent the dog days of summer in AAA ball.

When Braves prospect Brad Komminsk floundered in left field, Harper filled the void and 1985 would be a career year.  Harper hit 17 HR, 72 RBI, and stole nine bases, all career highs.  
Harper returned to part time role in '86 and was traded to Detroit in the offseason.  Harper split 1987 between Detroit and Pittsburgh in his final major league campaign.

Flipside:  Seeing that he only a handful of at bats in his first three pro years is really odd but it was a by product of him pitching.  I wonder if his career had started as a hitter if he would have been a better hitter in the long term?

Oddball:  Harper is listed on this card (and most of his cards) as 6'1" but he is listed on most websites as being 6'4".  Makes me wonder if he had a growth spurt after his first pro season and he never had his info updated?

History: Harper seemed to have a lot of ability with a rifle arm, good speed and occasional pop but other than 1985 he never played full time.  He finished his eight year career with a .253/.321/.371 line. These days Harper coaches youth baseball in his home state of Georgia.

Thursday, December 15, 2016

#338 Bob Owchinko Oakland A's

Bob Owchinko shows up here in the '83 set on his sixth Topps card.  I do not particularly remember this card but I do remember some of his earlier cards with the Padres.  Until this post I thought his name was Ochawinko or Owachinko.  Anyway he is the only player in MLB history with the letters O-W-C in succession anywhere in his name.

Player: Owchinko was the 5th overall pick in the '76 draft and made two poor starts for the Padres in September.  The lefty started the 1977 season in the majors but was called up in May and made 28 starts for San Diego with a mediocre 4.45 ERA.  Underscoring how differently young pitchers were used back in those days, Owchinko twice made starts on two days rest and came in relief in the second game of a double header after starting game one. 

Owchinko would have his best pro season in 1978 with a 3.56 ERA across 202 innings.  The following season Owchinko got blasted in his first start and didn't get another starting assignment until April was nearly over.  Although juggled in and out of the rotation he got better as the year went on and had a 2.73 ERA in the second half.

The Padres traded Owchinko to the Indians and he was their #5 starter and mop up man for the 1980 season but won just two of his fourteen starts with a 5.27 ERA.  Traded again, this time to the A's, Owchinko would pitch exclusively out of the pen for skipper Billy Martin.  Owchinko's curve was an asset against lefties and he did alright as a short reliever.  The next season he was said to have gotten in Martin's doghouse and was used in a mop up role.  Although he pitched in 54 games only 11 were A's victories. Owchinko was released the following spring and spent almost the entire '83 season in AAA Hawaii.

The Reds picked him up and Owchinko appeared in 49 games with a handful of spot starts and posted a 4.12 ERA.  He spent all of 1985 in the minors, resurfaced for three starts with Montreal in 1986, and called it a career.

Flipside:  Born in Detroit and playing at Eastern Michigan, I am surprised Owchinko never landed in Tigers organization.  They seemed prone to giving local guys a chance during the 80's.

Oddball:  Owchinko wore number 44 with the Padres but after he landed in Cleveland he wore seven different numbers over his next six seasons.

History:  Owchinko was a highly thought of lefty when he was drafted in '76 and, although things at times looked promising in San Diego, he never quite found the success on the field that was forecast for him.  Owchinko finished with a 37-60 record with a 4.28 record.

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

#337 Tito Landrum St. Louis Cardinals

Terry Lee "Tito" Landrum appears here on his 2nd Topps card in the Cardinals powder blue road uniform.  If I had to venture a guess I'd say they were playing in Shea Stadium at the time based on the dugout in the background

Player:  Landrum was undrafted after high school and it was October before he signed with the Cardinals in 1972.  After eight seasons of minor league ball Landrum finally reached the show in July of 1980.  Playing all three outfield positions, he came to the plate 85 times with a modest .247/.306/.325 line.  Those stats are pretty representative of his career line with a dash more pop as he aged.  

In 1982 Landrum was used as a utility outfielder, a role that is not really present in today's game of 12 man bullpens.  His season was little more productive as he added his first two career homers and a few more walks, leading to a 112 OPS+.

The next year would be quite an experience for Landrum.  He was sent down to the minors in May, called up late in August and traded in a postseason-roster-deadline deal to Baltimore.  He batted .310 in September for the O's but the best was yet to come.  Landrum worked himself into the O's lineup for the ALCS vs the White Sox and hit the go-ahead home run in the 10th inning of the game four clincher.  Landrum didn't bat in the World Series but the Birds soared over the Phillies and Landrum was a World Champ.  

The Orioles traded Landrum back to the Cardinals the following spring training.  The post season hero parlayed his success into a platoon role over the next three seasons with 1985 being his career year batting .280/.356/.429.  Landrum was again a postseason star batting .429 in the NLCS and .360 with a homer in place of the injured Vince Coleman during World Series play.  

Landrum was released by St. Louis in '87 and finished the year in Dodger blue.  He landed in Baltimore in '88 but was released after just three hits in 24 at bats.  That would be the final action in Landrum's MLB career.  

Flipside: Awful small print but Landrum's 1978 line shows 68 steals.  Of course caught stealing isn't on the back and he was caught just 11 times.  68 of 79 is pretty good but it didn't carry over to the majors as he was successful in just 14 of 29 career attempts.

Oddball:  How much more odd can you get than this:
Career stats in 1107 plate appearances: .249/.309/.353, 13 HR and 14 for 29 on steals
Career postseason in 50 plate appearances: .347/.360/.510, 2 HR and 2 for 2 on steals

History:  Landrum is the rare role player with two instances of "15 minutes of fame".  Was his playoff success a case of luck, small sample size variation, or some mysterious ability to rise to the occasion?  After his playing career Landrum attended NYU and earned a degree in physical therapy and now works in that field.  Proving that he was no dumb jock, Landrum was chosen valedictorian of his graduating class.

Friday, December 2, 2016

#336 Rene Lachemann Seattle Mariners

This is Rene Lachemann's first Topps base card as a manager. I've said it before and I'll say it agian, I hate the pink borders on the Mariners cards.

Although he played just three years in the majors he appeared on four Topps cards as a player.  His 1965 rookie card is worth some money, probably because that Jim Hunter guy that is also on the card.

Player:  Lachemann, like many managers, was a catcher in his playing days, playing parts of three seasons for the A's, two in KC and one in Oakland.  As a 19 year old in his first pro season he hit 25 homers at three different levels.  Production like that got A's management excited and Lachemann on a Topps card as a teen. 

He made his MLB debut on his 20th birthday in '65 and hit nine dingers in 92 games, displaying the power that was so rare for catchers of that era.  Alas, those would be the only blasts he would hit in the majors as he had just five at bats in '66, spent all of '67 in the minors, and fizzled in 60 at bats in '68.  One downfall may have been his throwing arm since he only threw out 10 would be base stealers in 66 career attempts.

Manager:  At just 28 years old Lachemann found his playing career over after the '72 season.  He would go on to manage in the A's chain for four years until moving on to the new Mariners franchise in 1977 at AAA San Jose. 

Lachemann managed San Jose for two years, then followed the squad to Spokane in '79.  In 1981 the big league Mariners started the year 6-18 and they fired Maury Wills and hired the 36 year-old Lachemann.  

Following the disastrous Wills' tenure, Lachemann and the Mariners went 38-47 the rest of the way during the strike shortened campaign.   1982 would prove to be the best season in Seattle's young history when they won 76 games besting their previous high by nine games.  A 26-47 start was Lachemann's undoing in 1983 when he was canned after an eight game losing streak.  According to Seattle reporter Tracy Ringolsby Seattle owner "George Argyros also wasn't pleased in early May when he phoned Lachemann in the dugout and demanded a pitching change and Lachemann threw the dugout phone".  

The Mariners gig was a great opportunity at the start and ended with what seemed like a raw deal from a meddling owner. Lachemann wasn't out of work long and was hired by the Brewers to run the team in 1984.

Lachemann only spent one year in Milwaukee as the team struggled to a 94-loss, 7th place finish.   Once again Lachemann seemed to get hosed.  He was notified that he was fired in the last week of the season yet asked to finish out managing the last three games. The Brewers were without Paul Molitor for all but 13 games, sluggers Cecil Cooper, Ben Oglivie, and Ted Simmons combined for a measly 27 homers, and the pitching staff was unremarkable aside from aging stars Don Sutton and Rollie Fingers.

Lachemann seemed to find success as a coach in Boston '85-'86 and Oakland '87-'92 winning four pennants in total and a championship ring with the A's in '89.  

Lachemann, by now a well respected coach, was given another shot as a manager with the expansion Florida Marlins.  As their inaugural skipper he was given a longer leash than he had in Seattle and definitely more than Milwaukee.  After winning just 64 games their first year the Fish improved in '94, playing at a .443 clip when the season ended early due to the strike.  1995 marked another shortened season and Florida showed a little more improvement, playing .469 ball.  The following season the Marlins brass canned Lachemann mid-year after a 39-47 mark.  

Since then Lachemann had a few coaching stops in various roles with the Cardinals, Cubs, and back with the A's.  From 2008 to 2012 Lachemann served as hitting coach for the Rockies AAA affiliate in Colorado Springs.  He was back in the bigs serving on Walt Weiss' staff from 2013 through this past season. Lachemann was among three coaches also let go when Weiss got the axe at the end of the year.

Flipside:  With all those minor league seasons split into a first and second half it looks like Lachemann was managing in the minors for a long time when in reality it was eight years and change.

Oddball:  Growing up in Los Angeles, Lachemann was a bat boy for the Dodgers where he picked up after many stars including Maury Wills who he eventually replaced in Seattle.

In his later coaching days Lachemann has been known to dispense in-your-face advice to youngsters when giving them a souvenir ball.  

History:  Lachemann is a true baseball lifer, spending every one of the past 53 seasons either playing, coaching or managing in professional ball.  Lachemann came from a family of ball players having played and coached with his brother Marcel in a few different stops.  He also has another brother Bill who played in the minors.  
Lachemann's major league managerial winning percentage is only .433 but he seems very well regarded by those who have worked with him.  It would have been interesting to see how he would have done with more talented team than the one's he had to work with.  No word on whether the 71 year-old will retire or be serving on someone's bench in 2017.