Tuesday, December 30, 2008

#182 Mike de la Hoz

delahoz by you.
Tonight we're up close with Havana-born infielder Mike de la Hoz. As you might have guessed, his name is Spanish for "Mike of the Hoz". Or not. My Spanish is a tad rusty. (It's actually "of the sickle".)

Signed by the Indians in 1958, Mike hit at nearly every stop, earning his way onto a major league roster by his third professional season. He was a true utility player, totaling 129 career games at third base, 119 at second base, and 108 at shortstop. The Cuban import never exceeded 81 games or 200 at-bats in any year, and 40% of his career appearances were in a pinch-hit capacity. After four seasons in Cleveland, he joined a talented Braves team that included Hank Aaron, Eddie Mathews, and Joe Torre. 1964 was his best year, as he hit .291 with a .346 on-base percentage. In total, Mike also spent four years as a Brave, which would be the balance of his career except for one at-bat with the Reds in 1969. In an eight-year career, he hit .251 with 25 home runs.

Fun fact: July 8, 1965 was a banner day for de la Hoz. Pinch hitting to lead off the eighth inning, he homered off of Dave Giusti of the Astros to bring the Braves to within 6-5. He remained in the game, but Houston scored two insurance runs in their half of the inning. Milwaukee fought back to within one run, setting the stage for Mike to tie the game at 8 with a two-out single in the ninth. The game ground on into the twelfth inning, at which point he led off with a single, advanced to second base on Felipe Alou's bunt, and scored the winning run on Frank Bolling's single!

delahozb by you.

Monday, December 29, 2008

#92 Dick Howser

howser by you.
Dick Howser is modeling his batting stance, the form made him the first Florida State University alum to play in the major leagues. The Miami native and two-time All-American was signed by the Kansas City Athletics in 1958, and debuted with the club in a big way in 1961. He played in 158 of the team's 161 games, leading the A's in runs scored (108), hits (171), walks (92), and steals (37). His .280 average and 29 doubles would be career highs as well. The 25-year-old was selected to both All-Star Games that year and The Sporting News Rookie of the Year. He was also runner-up to Red Sox pitcher Don Schwall for the BBWAA top rookie honors.

Howser had trouble building on his initial performance, and spent the next two years fighting for playing time while his average stalled in the .230s. A mid-1963 trade to Cleveland gave him a spark, as he pulled his average up from a putrid .195. The next year, the Indians made him their full-time shortstop and he played all 162 games at that demanding position. He scored 101 runs and walked 76 times to lead the Tribe, and drove in a career-high 52 runs. But Howser lost his starting job again in 1965, and spent the final four seasons of his career as a part-timer with the Indians and Yankees.

After his retirement in 1968, Dick spent ten years as third base coach and winter league instructor for the Yankees, and then returned to Florida State in 1979 to coach the baseball team for which he once starred. The next year, George Steinbrenner enticed him to replace Billy Martin as the manager of the Bronx Bombers. Despite winning 103 games as a rookie skipper, Howser was subjected to constant meddling by King George. Shortly after falling in the ALCS to the Royals and refusing to fire third base coach Mike Ferraro, the man who had led New York to its most wins since 1963 was shown the door.

Howser was back in a major league dugout midway through 1981, returning to Kansas City to replace Jim Frey as manager of the Royals. The club won 20 of 33 games under its new boss, finishing first in the A.L. West for the second half of the season. Under special split-season rules put in place because of the midsummer players' strike, KC advanced to the Division Series, where they were swept in three games by Oakland. After second-place finishes the next two years, Dick brought home a West division crown in 1984. Another clean sweep out of the playoffs (at the hands of the rampaging Tigers) left his charges hungry, and they responded by winning 91 games and returning to the playoffs in 1985. This time, the Royals got over the hump, outlasting the Blue Jays in a seven-game ALCS to advance to the World Series. In an intrastate matchup, they spotted the Cardinals a three-games-to-one lead before staging a big comeback and winning the championship in seven games.

During the All-Star Break in 1986, disaster struck. Howser seemed out of sorts at times while managing the American League All-Stars, and admitted that he had been feeling ill. He was diagnosed with a brain tumor, and stepped away from his duties with Kansas City. After undergoing aggressive treatment, he returned to the helm in Spring Training the next year, but quickly found that he was not physically up to it and left the club once more. On June 17, just a month after his 51st birthday, Dick passed away.

Following his death, the tributes were numerous. His jersey number (10) was the first to be retired by the Kansas City Royals. The St. Petersburg Area Chamber of Commerce established the Dick Howser Trophy as college baseball's answer to the Heisman Trophy. Florida State University renamed their baseball stadium in his honor, and placed a bust of Howser on stadium grounds.

Fun fact: Dick's only home run in 1965 came on July 2 against a rookie Orioles reliever who was mopping up with the Indians leading 7-0. That pitcher? None other than future Hall of Famer Jim Palmer.
howserb by you.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

#90 Rich Rollins

Rich Rollins by you.
I wonder if the Twins led the major leagues in bespectacled players in 1964. So far I've covered Zoilo Versalles and Don Mincher, and I would go so far as to say that Rich Rollins' horn-rimmed frames put him in the lead for most fashionable four-eyed Twins player. Thanks largely to his glasses, Rich also bears a strong resemblance to actor Jack Coleman, who plays Noah Bennet on the TV series "Heroes". But I digress.

Coming from Mount Pleasant, PA, "Red" Rollins (so nicknamed for his brightly colored hair, which is hidden by his hat in the above photo) matriculated from Kent State University and signed with the Senators in 1960. He was something of a phenom, hitting .341 in his first pro season and debuting with the just-relocated Twins late the following year. He earned the full-time third base job in 1962 and led Minnesota in hitting and on-base percentage with marks of .298 and .374. He also drove in 96 runs and scored another 96 for a club that finished just five games back of the Yankees. The young man's instant success earned the respect of his peers, who voted him into both All-Star Games that summer with the highest vote total of any American League player!

Despite an offseason workout regimen that was ahead of its time, Rich went into his sophomore spring training feeling sluggish. Early in the season, he suffered a broken jaw, which led to a four-day hospital stay, some weight loss, and an 0-for-25 stretch. Remarkably, he recovered to lead his team in batting once more at .307 and matched his previous year's totals of 23 doubles and 16 home runs.

For some reason, Rollins' performance slipped after reaching such great heights in his first two seasons. He hit .270 in 1964, though he set career highs with 25 doubles and a league-leading 10 triples. In Minnesota's pennant-winning 1965 campaign, he fell to .249 with 5 homers and 32 RBI. He appeared in three games in the World Series, going 0-for-2 with a walk. Rich stuck around with the Twins for three more years as a part-timer, continuing to hit in the .240 range. He joined the woebegone Seattle Pilots for 58 games in 1969 before being shut down with a knee injury. After a similarly short 1970 season that was split between Milwaukee and Cleveland, the one-time rookie star was finished at 32. He hit .269 for his career, though his last six seasons came in below that mark.

In the Life After Baseball department, Rich later worked in the front office of the Cleveland Cavaliers basketball team, at one point serving as the public relations director for both the Cavs and the Richfield Coliseum that they called home.

Fun fact: Rich successfully fielded a ground ball by Rick Reichardt of the Angels and threw him out at first base to close out the first win in the history of the Seattle Pilots.
Rich Rollins (back) by you.

Friday, December 26, 2008

#78 Dal Maxvill

maxvill by you.
Hey kids, it's time to play America's Favorite Guessing Game, "Name That Background Teammate"! If you said that the player standing behind Dal Maxvill was Cardinals pitcher Barney Schultz, you're probably correct! Of course, if you were also wondering why Dal was fielding grounders in what looks like the on-deck circle, I don't know what to tell you.

Dal Maxvill was your quintessential all-field, no-hit infielder. Hailing from Granite City, just over the Illinois border from St. Louis, he stayed close to home by attending and graduating from Washington University. The Cardinals signed the local boy in 1960, and he made the big time just two years later. As I've suggested, he wasn't exactly a big-time bat; he hit .217 for his career and never topped .253 for a season. After hitting a three-run home run off of Al Jackson of the Mets in his 46th game as a rookie, Dal would not go deep again for five years. His career total of six longballs in 14 seasons paled in comparison to teammate (and pitcher) Bob Gibson's total of 24. No wonder Cards fans used to call for Gibson to bat ahead of Maxvill in the order!

In 1964, Dal spent three months at midseason back in the minors, but contributed to the eventual world champions with his strong glove at the beginning and end of the season. In thirty games (mostly at second base and shortstop), he committed just one error. He played in all seven World Series games, batting .200 with a double and an RBI. It would be his high-water mark as a postseason hitter. He returned to the Fall Classic with St. Louis in 1967, and again they were victorious in seven games. Maxvill batted a robust .158.

1968 represented both a high and a low in Dal's career. He had his best all-around season, hitting .253 with 52 walks in a pitcher-dominated year and earning a Gold Glove for his play at shortstop. He appeared far down the MVP ballot, as teammate Bob Gibson won the honor comfortably. The Redbirds hoped to repeat as world champs, but Tigers pitcher Mickey Lolich had other ideas. He won three games, and Detroit downed St. Louis in seven. Maxvill wore a pair of goat horns, going 0-for-22 to set a new record for World Series futility.

The infielder seemed to carry his offensive struggles with him into the 1969 campaign, when he hit .175 in 372 at-bats. The following year, he set another dubious mark by managing only 80 hits, the fewest for a position player in 150 or more games. He barely topped the Mendoza line (.201) by virtue of his somewhat-limited 399 at-bats. Maxvill did rebound somewhat from 1971-1972, hitting .225 and .224.

The last few years of his career (1972-1975), Dal bookended a stint in Pittsburgh with two separate stays in Oakland. He won two more World Series with the A's (1972 and 1974), but did not bat once in either series. In fact, former Athletics manager Dick Williams instituted a bizarre platoon for the 1972 pennant race. He had four men on his roster who were quite capable of playing second base (Maxvill, Tim Cullen, Ted Kubiak, and Dick Green), but none of them were very strong hitters. So he would start one of them at second base, and pinch hit for him with a more skilled batsman like Don Mincher. The next time Oakland took the field, another second baseman would pick up his glove. Williams often cycled through all four infielders in the course of one game! Question his tactics if you like, but the skipper is a Hall of Famer.

Maxvill remained in baseball, first as a coach for the A's, Cardinals, Mets, and Joe Torre's Braves, and later as the general manager of the Redbirds (1985-1994). The team won two National League pennants (1985 and 1987), falling in hotly contested World Series to the Royals and Twins, respectively.

Fun fact: Despite totaling a half-dozen round-trippers for his career, Dal hit the first MLB home run in Canada. It was a grand slam off of the Expos' Larry Jaster on April 14, 1969.
maxvillb by you.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

#64 Lou Burdette

BURDETTE by you.
First things first: Merry Christmas to all my readers. Depending on your beliefs, I'd also like to wish you an enjoyable Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, Festivus, and so forth. We've got another good one today, "Lou" Burdette, more commonly known as Lew. He's the very definition of a grizzled veteran, looking every one of his thirty-eight years and then some. I'm not sure what the building is over his right shoulder; perhaps it's the team hotel.

After graduating from high school in his hometown of Nitro, West Virginia, 17-year-old Lew entered the Armed Forces in 1944 in the midst of World War II. After returning home and spending one year at the University of Richmond, he signed with the Yankees in 1947. He climbed steadily through the New York organization, posting his best minor league season in 1948, when he went 16-11 with a 2.02 ERA for the Quincy Gems. The Yankees finally gave him a brief look in 1950, but sent him to the Pacific Coast League the following year. From there, they traded him to the Boston Braves for Johnny Sain, tossing in $50,000 for good measure.

In his first two full seasons with the Braves (spanning the club's 1953 move to Milwaukee), Lew was an effective reliever, posting earned run averages of 3.61 and 3.24, and even won 15 games in 1953 as the team began giving him more starts. The following year the Braves moved him to the rotation, and he spent the next decade using impeccable control, a variety of offspeed pitches with late movement (including a spitball, according to popular belief), and the occasional brushback pitch to become one of the best pitchers of his generation. After winning 15 and 13 games in his first two full seasons as a starter, Burdette really broke through in 1956, going 19-10 with 16 complete games and a league-best 2.70 ERA. He received a bit of MVP consideration as the Bravos won 92 games.

1957 was a banner year for Lew. His regular-season performance was a bit off the pace of his totals for the prior year, but he was selected to his first All-Star Game. Milwaukee made it to the World Series, where the righty showed the Yankees first-hand what they were missing. He went the distance three times, including back-to-back shutouts in a three-day span (he stepped up when Warren Spahn was stricken with the flu). For holding the Bronx Bombers to 21 hits in 27 innings and crafting an 0.67 ERA in the Braves' seven-game Series win, Burdette was named MVP of the Fall Classic. The following year was probably his best all-around effort: 20 wins, 10 losses, 19 complete games, and a 2.91 ERA, followed by a return trip to the World Series. This time New York figured Burdette out, beating him in Game Five and Game Seven to take the trophy.

1959 brought 21 wins and two more All-Star Games for Lew, as well as one unforgettable game. On May 26, he outdueled Harvey Haddix of the Pirates by twirling a 13-inning, 1-0 shutout. While Burdette scattered 12 hits, his counterpart defined the hard-luck loss by pitching twelve perfect frames before faltering. An error and an intentional walk brought Joe Adcock to the plate, and he hit Haddix's final offering for a three-run home run. A jubilant Adcock passed Hank Aaron at second base and was ruled out, his homer changed to a ground-rule double. The Braves' first hit of the game was the only one they needed.

Burdette pitched his own no-hitter in 1960 against the Phillies, plunking Tony Gonzalez to deny himself a perfect game. He won 19 games that year and 18 the following season before slipping to 10-9 with a 4.89 ERA in 1962. The following year was his thirteenth as a Brave, but he would finish it as a Cardinal. This signaled the nomadic phase of Lew's career. Leading up to his retirement at age 40 in 1967, he also played for the Cubs, Phillies, and Angels. He finished with 203 wins and 144 losses, including 179 with the Braves. He completed 158 games, and his 1.84 walks per nine innings rank him fifth among all pitchers since 1920 (minimum 3,000 IP). After wrapping up his playing career, Lew worked as a scout and then as a Braves coach before becoming a public relations specialist for an Athens, Georgia cable company. He passed away in 2007 at age 80, a victim of lung cancer.

Fun fact: Lew set a record by allowing no walks in his nineteen appearances in 1967.
burdetteb by you.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

#41 White Sox Rookie Stars: Bruce Howard and Marv Staehle

White Sox Rookies by you.
Believe it or not, the next bunch of cards that I'm featuring came from Max - and there's more where these came from! Today we've got another two-player rookie card, this one featuring the brightest of the young White Sox. Bruce Howard almost seems to be staring at Marv Staehle in disgust, as if Marv just cracked a lousy joke. Some people are so difficult to please.

Howard hailed from Salisbury, on the Eastern Shore of Maryland. He signed with Chicago in 1962, and was debuting in the Windy City just a year later. He beat another rookie pitcher in an exhibition, leading the White Sox to keep him and release the other hurler, one Dennis McLain. Bruce posted strong earned run averages over ten games with the Pale Hose in 1963-64 (2.65 and 0.81) before landing a regular spot on the club in 1965. He went 9-8 with a 3.47 ERA and 120 strikeouts in 148 innings.

The following season was Howard's best as a major leaguer; he won nine, lost only five, and posted a 2.30 ERA and 1.03 WHIP. He slumped to 3-10 in 1967, but his 3.43 ERA was still solid. After heading to Baltimore along with Don Buford in an offseason trade, the righthander struggled with his control, walking 49 and striking out 42 while putting up a career-worst 4.74 ERA for the Orioles and Senators. At the age of 25, Bruce's time as a big leaguer was abruptly over, despite a tidy 3.18 career earned run average. His son David had a longer career, lasting nine years (1991-1999) as a utility player for the Royals and Cardinals.

Fun fact: Bruce allowed three of his 45 career home runs to the Orioles, and all three were hit by Curt Blefary.

Among card collectors, Marv Staehle may be best known as a guy who appeared on three of these Rookie Stars cards: this one, a 1966 card that he shared with Tommie Agee, and a 1969 Seattle Pilots card that he occupied alongside Lou Piniella (neither appeared in a single game for Seattle). He was also the Player To Be Named Later in the 1967 trade that brought Rocky Colavito to Chicago. The second baseman played just 53 games from 1964-1967 with the Pale Hose, totaling one extra-base hit and five RBI. He got his only significant playing time as a major leaguer with the second-year Expos in 1970, batting .218 with a massive .252 slugging percentage in 104 games. In 1971, he went 4-for-36 with the Braves to cap off his major league career.

Fun fact: Marv's only big league home run came on September 21, 1969, as an eighth-inning solo shot off of the Phillies' Lowell Palmer gave Montreal a 7-6 win.
White Sox Rookies (back) by you.

Monday, December 22, 2008

#355 Vada Pinson

Vada Pinson by you.
I've finally made it to the last card of this batch from Ed, and it's a pretty fine player. Vada Pinson has a nice big smile, even though part of his face is obscured on my version of this card. Let's just pretend that some clouds are drifting by in front of him. They're low-hanging clouds, to boot. I love the billboards on the outfield fence, giving the photo away as having been taken in Spring Training.

Pinson was originally from Memphis, Tennessee, and signed with the then-Redlegs in 1956. He made it to the big leagues in his third professional season, after having an MVP year in 1957 at Visalia in the California League (.367, 40 2B, 20 3B, 20 HR, 97 RBI) and hitting .343 the next year at Seattle of the Pacific Coast League. 1959 would be his first full season with Cincinnati, and he was an instant All-Star, hitting .316 with a rookie record of 205 hits and a league-leading 131 runs and 47 doubles. He hit 20 home runs, the first of nine straight years with 16 or more, and placed in the top five in stolen bases for the first of seven seasons. Right from the beginning, he was a versatile offensive threat. Vada was an All-Star again in 1960, though it was the last time he would receive that honor. He grabbed another doubles crown (37), and had 69 extra-base knocks in all.

1961 was Vada's best all-around season, as he hit .343, topped the N.L. with 208 hits, won a Gold Glove in center field, and placed third in MVP balloting behind teammate Frank Robinson and Giants slugger Orlando Cepeda. The Reds were National League Champions, but Pinson struggled in what would be his only postseason series, managing just two hits in 22 at-bats as Cincy fell in a five-game World Series vs. the Yankees. Unbowed, the outfielder responded with back-to-back 100-RBI seasons, including another hit title (204) and his first triples crown (14) in 1963. He continued as one of the league's top hitters for his final five seasons in Cincinnati, hitting between .266 and .305 and leading the league once more in triples (13 in 1967). Adhering to their philosophy of trading players too early rather than too late, the Reds dealt Vada to St. Louis at the end of the 1968 season.

After one substandard season with the Cardinals, Pinson went to Cleveland and rebounded, hitting .286 with 24 home runs and 82 RBI. He played five more seasons in the American League, starting at least part-time right up until his retirement in 1975. His career statistics are impressive: a .286 average, 2,757 hits, 485 doubles, 256 home runs, 1,170 RBI, 305 stolen bases.

After his playing career, Vada became a coach for several teams, including the Mariners, White Sox, Tigers, and Marlins. He passed away in 1995 after suffering a stroke, having fallen short of selection to the Hall of Fame. He missed out on the big, round numbers (3,000 hits, 1,500 runs, etc.), which seems to have hurt his cause. Nonetheless, he remains on the Veterans' Committee ballot.

Fun fact: Vada is the all-time hits leader among Memphis natives, ranking ahead of Bill Madlock (2,008) and Tim McCarver (1,501).
Vada Pinson (back) by you.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

#288 Jack Hamilton

Jack Hamilton by you.
Pitcher Jack Hamilton was the unwitting instigator of one of the most tragic on-field scenes in baseball history when he beaned Tony Conigliaro in 1967. Prior to that event, he was best known as a pitcher who struggled with his control, but had shown signs of effectiveness as a reliever.

Born and raised in Burlington, Iowa, the righthanded Hamilton was signed by the Cardinals in 1957. Though he no-hit the Kingsport Orioles in his first pro season, he often had trouble spotting his pitches, twice leading his minor league in walks. He lingered in the St. Louis system for four years before being drafted by the Phillies. One year later, he was in the major leagues.

As a rookie in 1962, Jack went 9-13, but led the National League in walks and wild pitches and put up a 5.09 ERA. Over the next three years, he bounced between the majors and minors with the Phils and Tigers, with poor results in the bigs. The Mets gave the righty a shot in 1966, and he became a valuable swingman. He won six games and saved thirteen with a 3.93 ERA (though again he was top five in walks and wild pitches). The following season was the greatest of his career, performance-wise. Beginning as a reliever in New York and moving on to start for the Angels, Jack went 11-6 with a 3.35 ERA. But one bad pitch would write the story for his entire body of work.

On August 18 in Fenway Park, young Red Sox slugger Tony Conigliaro stepped to the plate and dug in, crowding the plate. Jack let a fastball fly, and it went off course. Tony was unable to move quickly, and the ball hit him squarely on the cheek. Blood spilled from every opening of the hitter's head as he dropped to the ground. Conigliaro suffered a fractured cheekbone, a dislocated jaw, and a cyst behind his left eye. He was lucky to survive, but he missed the next year and a half due to blurred vision. Though Tony courageously returned in 1969, he was never the same.

As for Hamilton, he lasted only two more seasons himself, retiring with a 4.53 ERA. He now owns a restaurant in Branson, Missouri and tends to avoid talking about the pitch that he still maintains was an accident. You can read more about Jack, Tony C, and the beaning here.

Fun fact: On May 20, 1967, Jack hit his only career home run, a grand slam off of Al Jackson of the Cardinals. He couldn't stick around to enjoy it, leaving after three innings in an eventual 11-9 loss.

Jack Hamilton (back) by you.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

#256 Tito Francona

Tito Francona by you.
Of all of the "altered" cards I have from 1965, indeed from all sets, this is one of the funniest. I'm guessing that some Phillies fan, or a fan in general who was just itching to have an up-to-date card, got a hold of Tito Francona during the portion of the 1967 season that he spent in Philadelphia. No worries; it's a hatless closeup, so all you have to do is cross out "Cardinals" and write "Phillies". But I guess our anonymous artist was especially possessive of Tito, and felt the need to scrawl his new team's name across the outfielder's forehead! Yipes!

John "Tito" Patsy (yes, Patsy) Francona had a long and colorful history in baseball, beginning with his signing with the St. Louis Browns in 1952. His career was interrupted by military service in 1954 and 1955, meaning that when he made his major league debut in 1956, the team had a new city, name, and colors! Tito didn't seem terribly rusty, as he played 139 games for the now-Orioles and hit .258 with 9 home runs and 57 RBI. He was second on the team in walks (51) and led them in steals with a whopping 11. Despite this strong start, the young outfielder saw a drop in playing time over the next two years, as he bounced from Baltimore to Chicago to Detroit to Cleveland. If he was looking for an encouraging sign during this time, he was twice traded for future Hall of Famer Larry Doby!

It was during his six years as an Indian that Francona became a fan favorite. It certainly didn't hurt that in his first season for the Tribe (1959) he finished fifth in MVP voting, hitting a huge .363 with 20 home runs and 79 RBI in 399 at-bats. He reached double digits in homers in five straight seasons in Cleveland, including his lone All-Star year of 1961, when he hit .301 with 16 longballs and 85 RBI. He also led the American League with 36 doubles in 1960. After he hit .228 in 1963, a 30-year-old Tito had to share time in right field with Chico Salmon, Al Smith, and Bob Chance the following year. He drove in just 24 runs in 270 at-bats and was sent to St. Louis.

Tito spent the last six years of his career much like the first few: with his bags constantly packed and ready to go. His itinerary took him from St. Louis to Philadelphia to Atlanta to Oakland to Milwaukee, as he assumed the role of journeyman reserve. He did get 346 at-bats in 1968 with the Braves, and hit .286. The following year he batted .318 with 42 RBI in just 173 at-bats. In all, Francona's career spanned 15 seasons (1956-1970); he hit .272 with 125 home runs. In 2001, he was named to the Indians' Top 100 roster.

If Tito seems familiar, it's undoubtedly because of his son Terry. The younger Francona was a reserve outfielder and first baseman for a decade, hitting .274 but with much less power than his dad. He's made a name of his own by winning two World Series as the manager of the Boston Red Sox.

Fun fact: The Franconas can be linked by pitcher Grant Jackson, who was briefly a teammate of Tito with the 1967 Phillies and of Terry with the 1981 Expos.
Tito Francona (back) by you.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

#168 Dick Green

Dick Green by you.
Back-to-back Dicks? It may sound like the punch line to a dirty joke, but that's the way the cards are being dealt. Today's special is second baseman Richard Larry Green, who spanned two very different eras as an Athletic. As you can see, he also has a healthy amount of self esteem: he is damned certain that he is #1, and he's gone so far as to iron a number one on his sleeve to make sure that everyone else knows. Good for you, Dick!

Iowa-born Dick Green signed with the Kansas City A's in 1960, and debuted with the big club in 1963. In 13 games, he managed 10 hits, including his first big-league home run. It was a two-run shot off of Boston's Jack Lamabe in front of 909 ravenous fans at Fenway Park! The following year Dick earned the starting second base job and acquitted himself well, batting .264 with 11 home runs. Defensively, he made only six errors, fielding .990! Though his power numbers increased in 1965 (15 HR, 55 RBI), his average dropped to .232. His .250 mark in 1966 wasn't too much better, but he proved resilient elsewhere, boosting his 1966 totals to 24 doubles and 62 RBI, both new personal bests. The year after that was a disaster, however; Green dipped below the Mendoza Line (.198) and couldn't even top .300 in slugging average. Perhaps he was distracted by a move to third base, where he logged over half of his games played in 1967.

1968 brought a fresh start for both Dick and the Athletics as a whole, as the team moved west to Oakland. In their first season in California, the A's added 20 wins to their total and Green, now the backup at second base to John Donaldson, added 35 points to his batting average. It was a small gain in the big picture, but even better things were around the corner. The next year, he regained his starting job with a .275 average, 12 homers, and career highs in doubles (25) and RBI (64). He even received an MVP vote as Oakland surged to second place in the West.

Unfortunately, Dick's roller coaster raged on in 1970. He bottomed out at .190 with four home runs. Nevertheless, the A's trusted his steady glove at second base and he was still the starter for their division championship club in 1971. He also managed a .244-12-49 line. Green played only 38 games in the ensuing season, but a dozen of them were in the postseason. He hit .333 in the team's first of three straight World Series wins. He played on all three of those championship clubs, and went out on top; his final season was 1974, when he won the BBWAA's Babe Ruth Award for outstanding play in the World Series despite going 0-for-13 at bat. That should tell you just how valued his defense was! He turned the pivot on a dazzling eighth-inning play to nail Bill Buckner at third base, helping to preserve Oakland's one-run lead in the clinching Game Five. He retired as the A's all-time leader in home runs by a second baseman, having socked 76 in his 12 seasons in green and gold. Currently, Mark Ellis is right behind him with 68.

Fun fact: Dick Green was part of the Athletics' color guard in 1971-1972, along with Larry Brown, Vida Blue, and Johnny "Blue Moon" Odom.

Dick Green (back) by you.

Friday, December 12, 2008

#165 Dick Ellsworth

Dick Ellsworth by you.
It seems to me that Dick Ellsworth had an itch that he just had to scratch, right between his eyes. He scratched so hard and so long that he took the bridge of his own nose clean off! Despite this customized oddity, this is not the strangest card of this player by a longshot. His 1966 Topps issue features his name, biography, and stats, but the photo is of second baseman Ken Hubbs, who had died in a plane crash in 1964. Eerie.

Like his contemporary Jim Maloney, lefthander Dick Ellsworth played high school ball at Fresno High School. Unlike Maloney, Ellsworth did not go on to college, signing with the Cubs at age eighteen. He debuted with Chicago right away, getting chased in the third inning in a loss to the Reds on June 22, 1958. The southpaw would be back for good in 1960, and despite losing 13 of his 20 decisions, his league-average 3.72 ERA was a sign that he was well on the way to becoming one of the best Cubbie pitchers of the decade. A 10-11, 3.86 effort in 1961 was followed by a disastrous 20 losses and 5.09 ERA in Dick's third season, but he would turn it around in a big way the very next year.

Just 23 years old, Ellsworth won 22 games and lost only 10 while completing a whopping 19 of his starts in 1963. His ERA and WHIP were a miniscule 2.11 (second in the NL to that Koufax guy) and 1.02, respectively. His 185 strikeouts were a career high, as he led the team for the second of third straight years in whiffs. Unfortunately, the lefty came back down to earth in the three subsequent seasons. Stuck on lousy Cubs teams, he posted three more losing records (including a whopping 22 losses in 1966) despite earned run averages that stayed consistently below 4.00. At least he made an All-Star team in 1964! At this point the baseball gods took mercy on Dick, and he was traded to the Phillies for Ray Culp. Despite only being with the club for the first seven years of the decade, Ellsworth led all 1960s Cub pitchers in wins, complete games, and innings pitched.

After a forgettable year in Philly, Dick went to the American League and had one more great season. He went 16-7 with the 1968 Red Sox with a 3.03 ERA. Boston thanked him by trading him two weeks into the following season, sending him to the Indians in a six-player deal. The Tribe began transitioning him to the bullpen, as he was showing signs of wearing down (he barely averaged three strikeouts per nine innings). Splitting 1970 between the Indians and Brewers, Ellsworth came out of the 'pen for all but one of his 43 games. He struggled for 11 games the following year with the Brew Crew, and his late June release brought an end to his career at age 31.

In 1988, Dick's son Steve started seven games for the Red Sox, but lost six of seven decisions. It was the entirety of his major league exposure.

Fun fact: Just how bad were the Cubs during Dick's time in the Windy City? If you neutralize his stats (converting to a generic team that scores an average of 4.42 runs per game), his career won-lost record jumps from 115-137 (.456 win percentage) to 119-113 (.513)! He would never have lost more than 16 games in a season under those circumstances.

Dick Ellsworth (Back) by you.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

#161 Frank Baumann

Frank Baumann by you.
"Yeah, I'm hatless", Frank Baumann seems to say. "Big whoop. Wanna make somethin' of it?" A quick check of the pitcher's vitals shows that he has at least 40 pounds on me, so...no. I don't want to make something of it. I'm trying to decipher the scrawlings in ink on the card front. It looks like someone serial numbered this card themselves: 09 of 14. There's also a 38, which seems to have been his jersey number with the White Sox (1960-1964). I have no idea what is written on the photo: "OH HO"?

In 1952, Frank Baumann (pronounced BOW-men) was a bonus baby, signing with the Red Sox for $90,000 and receiving the nickname "Beau" from owner Tom Yawkey. Early on in his career, he was touted as "Herb Score with control", lofty praise to be sure. After an excellent 10-1 record and 2.55 ERA for AA Louisville in his second pro season, Frank spent all of 1954 serving in the military as part of the Korean War effort. He debuted with the BoSox in 1955 as a 21-year-old, and made sporadic appearances for the club over the next four years. He finally gained a foothold in 1959 and started 10 of the 26 games in which he pitched, winning six and losing four with a fair-to-middling 4.05 ERA.

Frank changed Sox in 1960 thanks to an offseason trade to the Windy City. He had an undefined role on the pitching staff, which speaks greatly to his versatility. With the White Sox the lefty racked up double-digits in both starts and games finished for three consecutive years, including his great 1960 campaign, when he went 13-6 and led the league with a 2.67 ERA. Shockingly, Baumann went on to top the A.L. in 1961 by allowing the most earned runs, thanks to the 249 hits he yielded in 187 and two-thirds innings. His earned run average more than doubled to 5.61. He would rebound nicely the next year in an increasingly bullpen-focused role. With 30 of his 40 appearances coming in relief, Frank pitched to a 3.38 ERA. He saw much less action in the following two seasons, and his ERA again jumped, from 3.04 to 6.19. At that point, the Pale Hose shipped him across town to the Cubs for reserve catcher Jimmie Schaffer. 1965 was the southpaw's final season in the majors, as he gave up three runs in three and two-thirds innings and even visited the minors for the first time since 1958.

Since his retirement, Baumann has kept busy in his native St. Louis as a salesman, an ice rink manager, and an employee of the Missouri State Lottery Commission.

Fun fact: Frank earned a win in relief in his major league debut on July 31, 1955. Leading off the ninth inning of the nightcap to a doubleheader, Jimmy Piersall hit a walkoff home run to deliver the victory for the rookie hurler.
Frank Baumann (back) by you.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

#154 Bob Humphreys

humphreys by brotz13.
It's a good thing that the hypnotic death glare of reliever Bob Humphreys is not fixed directly into the camera; otherwise, there is no telling how many impressionable children in the 1960s would have been mesmerized into becoming the Artful Dodgers to Bob's Fagin. (NOTE: To my knowledge, Bob Humphreys was not the ringleader of a band of child pickpockets.)

A college boy, Humphreys was signed by the Tigers out of Hampden-Sydney College in Virginia. Utilizing a "side-saddle" delivery, which I would love to find a picture of, he put together a decent minor league record in five seasons. He could not replicate those results in his first two callups to the majors, with Detroit (1962) and St. Louis (1963). But the Cardinals recalled him in July of 1964, and he was a reliable bullpen arm down the stretch as the Redbirds chased down the Phillies. He struck out 36 batters in 42 and two-thirds innings, posting a 2.53 ERA. Bob added a scoreless inning of relief in the Cardinals' World Series triumph over the Yankees.

The following April, Bob was dealt to the Cubs. Though his strikeout rate dipped, he was still effective, twirling to the tune of a 3.15 ERA. The grateful Cubbies traded him once more, this time to the Senators for washed-up outfielder Ken Hunt. Fortunately, Washington held on to the reliever for a few years. He placed in the top ten in the league for games pitched in both 1966 and 1968, and his earned run averages ranged between 2.82 and 4.17 in his four full seasons as a Senator. After being released in June of 1970, Humphreys caught on with the Brewers and finished what would be his final big league season with a 2.92 ERA. In parts of nine seasons, he finished 116 games (but saved only 20) with a 3.36 earned run average that was just a hair above the overall league average for his career (3.40).

Bob returned to his home state as a coach for the Virginia Tech baseball team from 1974 through 1978.

Fun fact: Bob gave up one inside-the-park home run in his career. The batter was Bert Campaneris, the runner who scored ahead of him was Dick Green, and their runs were the difference in a 4-3 Athletics win over the Senators on August 2, 1966.
humphreysb by brotz13.

Sunday, December 07, 2008

#124 Tom Satriano

Tom Satriano by you.
This is an especially pensive shot of young utility player Tom Satriano, whose cap bill seems inordinately large; there's a lot of red showing there. Maybe he's worrying about whether he will hit enough to stay in the major leagues.

Tom was a rapid riser after being signed away from the University of Southern California in 1961. He made the jump straight to the majors at age 20, and hit a home run in his first at-bat. Unfortunately, the game was called off due to rain, and the clout was wiped out of the record book. He hit just .198 in 35 games as a rookie while playing all around the infield. He spent most of 1962 at Hawaii and slugged 21 home runs. The following year he pinged between Los Angeles, Hawaii, and Nashville, with no tangible results.

1964 was the first year that Tom spent entirely in the majors, playing 108 games. He added to his versatility by learning to catch, logging 25 games behind the plate, but still didn't do much with the bat (.200 with 1 HR). After three more seasons of sub-average offensive production, he ironically had his best performance in a year that was dominated by pitchers. While the rest of the league was hitting a collective .230, Satriano hit .253 in 1968 with 8 homers and 35 RBI, all career highs. I suppose the Angels sold high, trading him to Boston the following June for veteran catcher Joe Azcue. 1970 proved to be Tom's last year in the major leagues, as he hit .236 in 59 games.

In a more unique example of a baseball family, Tom's daughter Gina pitched for the Colorado Silver Bullets, a women's professional baseball team that traveled in the mid-1990s and challenged mens' teams to exhibition games.

Fun fact: Nine of Tom's 21 career home runs were hit off of pitchers named Jim! He victimized Perry, Bouton, and Hardin twice each.
Tom Satriano (back) by you.

Friday, December 05, 2008

#112 Derrell Griffith

griffith by you.
The sun must have been signing especially brightly for Derrell Griffith's photo shoot, which would account for his nearly closed eyes. Or perhaps the photographer caught him blinking, and Topps used the photo anyway because they really liked his good-natured smile. The future certainly looked bright for Derrell, though looks would be deceiving in his case.

Born in Anadarko, Oklahoma, Derrell Griffith signed with the Dodgers in 1962 and shot through the minor leagues, hitting .313 with 54 extra-base hits in his first swings at pro pitching. After driving in 98 runs and banging another 63 XBH at Albuquerque in 1963, the 19-year-old was viewed as a can't-miss prospect. He was batting .318 at AAA Spokane in 1964 when the Dodgers called him up in June. Derrell made an early impact with his bat, carrying a .300 average midway through September and finally settling at .290 with 16 doubles. (It's odd that the cartoon on his card back says ".294"!) Of course, Derrell didn't look quite so polished in the field. He held his head above water in the outfield, committing two errors in 29 games, but Frank Howard and the Davises (Tommy and Willie) were established out there. So the Dodgers used the rookie at third base, and...ugly doesn't begin to tell the story. In 35 games, he committed 21 errors for a .769 fielding average. It makes one wonder if he was given a left-hander's glove as an elaborate hazing ritual.

Whether it was his misadventures at the hot corner or just a sense that he wasn't quite ready, the Dodgers used Griffith sparingly in 1965 and 1966, shuttling him back to the minors a few more times. He hit just .143 (8-for-56) in those two seasons, though Los Angeles was at least smart enough to keep him in the outfield when he did play. Following the 1966 season, they traded the youngster and All-Star Tommy Davis to the Mets for Ron Hunt and Jim Hickman. The Mets turned around a few months later and dealt Derrell to the Astros for Sandy Alomar, and though he was just 23 years old, the once-promising Dodger phenom never played another game in the major leagues. Our glimpse of Derrell Griffith ends here, as he seems to have eased into anonymity in the ensuing four decades.

Fun fact: Derrell owned Bob Gibson, touching him up for 5 hits in 9 at-bats, including a ninth-inning home run to spoil a shutout bid by the St. Louis ace in August 1964!

griffithb by you.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

#108 Don Mincher

Don Mincher by brotz13.
Sorry for the slow-down in posting this week. Sometimes there just aren't enough hours in the day to do everything, you know? Anyway, we're still in the middle of a batch from Ed, and here's beefy Alabamian Don Mincher. It's somewhat surprising how many players in this set have glasses, compared to contemporary players. Then again, we are pre-dating contact lenses in the mid-Sixties. Soft lenses didn't hit the U.S. market until 1971, as Wikipedia tells it. But I digress.

Originally signed by the White Sox in 1956, Don had his best year in the minors two seasons later when he hit .330 with 23 home runs and 97 RBI for the Davenport DavSox. In 1960, Chicago traded him along with catcher Earl Battey and $150,000 cash for veteran Senators first baseman Roy Sievers. Mincher would eventually become the only player to suit up for both Washington franchises, as well as their relocated reincarnations (the Twins and Rangers). He showed flashes of power and patience in short stints and part-time play from 1960-1962, then announced himself with 17 home runs in 225 at-bats in 1963. He also batted .258, which would actually be on the high end of his career range.

As Mincher's playing time gradually increased in 1964-1965, he delivered back-to-back 20-homer seasons for the Twins. In the latter year, he struggled in the Twins' seven-game World Series loss to the Dodgers, hitting just .130 with a single home run. The roundtripper did come against Don Drysdale in a Game One win, at least. After slumping to 14 dingers in 1966, "Minch" was dealt to the Angels in a package for pitcher Dean Chance. He rebounded, turning in his finest all-around effort with a .273 average (tenth-best in the A.L. in a pitching-heavy year), 25 homers (fifth-best), and 76 RBI. Selected to his first All-Star Game, he also had a pinch single off of Bob Gibson. After another down year in 1968 (.236-13-48), Don was exposed in the Expansion Draft and chosen by the Seattle Pilots.

Much of that lone season with the dreadful Pilots was preserved expertly in Jim Bouton's Ball Four. He spoke of his initial prejudice toward the drawling, Johnny-Cash-loving Mincher, but also admitted that his first impression was wrong. The first baseman was depicted as a good-natured, All-American guy; in one anecdote, he frets about his mother seeing him play and fussing over the lack of a protective earflap on his helmet. He was also apparently a good teammate, serving as team representative in the players' union and engaging in much of the horseplay in the locker room. Like most players, he wasn't thrilled with Bouton's airing of the team's private moments, but the worst dirt on Mincher consists of a few conversations about amphetamine use and a story about him punching out outfielder Wayne Comer for taking a homo-erotic game of chicken a little too far. On the field, Don was the team's only All-Star, again bashing 25 longballs and driving in a career-best 78 runs.

Traded by the Pilots just after they'd moved to Milwaukee, Mincher reached a personal best with 27 home runs for the 1970 Oakland Athletics. The following season he hit .280, another high-water mark, but socked just 12 HR in 415 at-bats with the A's and the new Senators club. He followed the team from DC to Texas for 1972, but was traded back to Oakland in July. His final game was Game Five of the 1972 World Series; he finished his career as a World Champion when the A's topped the Reds in seven games. For his career, Don hit exactly 200 home runs.

After retirement, Mincher opened a sporting goods store back in Alabama and also served as president and general manager of the Huntsville Stars of the AA Southern League from 1985-2001. In 1994, he and a group of investors purchased the team to keep it local. He sold his stake in the Stars in 2001 to become the permanent president of the Southern League. Just a few months ago, he was elected to the Alabama Sports Hall of Fame and had his #5 retired by the Stars.

Fun fact: Don hit two home runs in his first partial season in the majors. The pitchers were Milt Pappas and Whitey Ford. Not bad for your first pair of four-baggers!
Don Mincher (back) by brotz13.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

#104 Checklist 2nd Series

Checklist 2 by you.
Here's another breather in the form of a checklist. As you can see, someone filled in the boxes front and back in pencil, and then went back and erased the pencil...but only on the front. How odd. The featured stars in the second series are Hall of Famers Bill Mazeroski, Frank Robinson, Al Kaline, Brooks Robinson (at #150), Roberto (or "Bob") Clemente, Hank Aaron, and Willie McCovey. Talk about an impressive checklist! You've also got Gil Hodges, Ron Santo, Luis Tiant, and Roger Maris. The big Hero Number goes to National League MVP Ken Boyer at #100.

For those keeping tabs, I have now completed 39.8% of this second series (35 of 88). We are catching fire, and I will continue posting more cards at about the same pace established in the past few months!
Checklist 2 (back) by you.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

#97 Pedro Gonzalez

Pedro Gonzalez by you.
Utility player Pedro Gonzalez is in an abnormally deep crouch. It's probably for the best that we can't see his hands; this is a family blog. You may also notice that there's a chunk of paper missing from the back of the card down below. This is a common affliction for cards of a certain vintage. Back in the day, Ultra-Pro sheets and toploaders were unheard of. This poor card was probably pasted into a scrapbook somewhere, and then painfully extracted at a later date.

Pedro Gonzalez was one of the first major leaguers to hail from the Dominican Republic. He signed with the Yankees in 1958, at age 21. He was a strong hitter at every stop in the minor leagues, including an Eastern League-leading .327 average at Binghamton in 1960. After batting .307 at Richmond in 1963, he finally got the call to New York. Pedro struggled, hitting .192 in 14 games.

1964 proved to be Pedro's best season with the bat in the majors, as he batted .277. Splitting time at five positions, he committed only three errors in 66 games. He appeared in only one game in that Fall's World Series, popping out in his only at-bat. The following year, he appeared in seven games in pinstripes before being traded to the Indians for first baseman Ray Barker. He hit .254 overall with five home runs and 39 RBI. Cleveland used him almost exclusively at second base in his three years with the club; though he was slick defensively, he had little power and his average dipped to the .230 neighborhood in 1966-1967. The following season, he transitioned to managing in the Mexican League. He later spent a dozen years at the helm of the Braves' rookie-level Gulf Coast League team.

Fun fact: An Internet search turns up an incident in September 1965 as Gonzalez' lasting place in baseball. Incensed by two straight brushback pitches from Tigers pitcher Larry Sherry, Pedro charged toward the mound with his bat and took a few swings. He apparently hit Sherry on the arm before things were broken up. American League President Joe Cronin fined Pedro $500 and suspended him for the remainder of the season.
Pedro Gonzalez (back) by you.

Friday, November 28, 2008

#87 Nelson Mathews

Nelson Mathews by you.
Outfielder Nelson Mathews is the first Athletics player I've posted in a while. He's posed while wearing a batting helmet, a rare sight in this set. The #5 on his sleeve is front and center, one of the more distinctive features of the unique A's uniforms. You can also see a teammate in the background. Based on the positioning of the number on the anonymous fellow's back, I'd say that it's in the thirties, rather than an outright #3.

A tall (6'4"), thin outfielder out of Columbia, Illinois, Nelson Mathews stayed close to home by signing with the Cubs for a $25,000 bonus in 1959. His offensive performance was uneven in four years of minor league play, though he did lead the Texas League in 1961 and the Northwest League in 1962 in triples. The latter year represented a breakout for the youngster, as he hit .368 with 54 extra-base hits for the Wenatchee (WA) Chiefs. Based on these numbers and a successful September with the big league club (.306 with 13 RBI in 15 games), he finally appeared to have spot on the Cubs roster after receiving the briefest of looks in 1960 and 1961.

Former Cubs first baseman and manager Charlie Grimm, who was a coach for the team during Mathews' time in Chicago, liked what he saw in the outfielder, likening his fielding to that of Yankees Hall of Famer Earle Combs. Unfortunately Nelson couldn't quite hit like Combs, at least not in 1963. Though he spent the whole season in the majors, the 21-year-old received just 155 at-bats, batting a paltry .155 (what an unwelcome coincidence!). The Cubs washed their hands of him that December, trading him to the Athletics for pitcher Fred Norman.

1964 would be Nelson's only season as a major league regular. He hit .239 with 14 home runs and 60 RBI. His 27 doubles were second-best on the team , trailing the duo of Wayne Causey and Rocky Colavito (tied with 31 each). He led the American League in the dubious category of strikeouts, whiffing 143 times. As Kansas City's everyday center fielder, he showcased the pluses and minuses of his range, leading the league in both putouts (381) and errors (13). In 1965, Mathews was supplanted in the starting lineup by veteran Jim Landis. Despite hitting .212 overall and only coming to bat 184 times, Nelson's seven triples placed seventh in the A.L., five behind co-leaders Bert Campaneris and Zoilo Versalles. At age twenty-three, when most players are just getting their start in the majors, Nelson Mathews was playing his final game.

Nelson's name would come up again thirty years later, when his son T. J. made his debut with the St. Louis Cardinals as a righthanded pitcher. He would go on to have an eight-year career, winning 32 games and saving 16 with a 3.82 ERA. He's best known as one of the three players traded from St. Louis to the A's for slugger Mark McGwire. He was coached in St. Louis by Dave Duncan, who in 1964 was briefly a teammate of Nelson Mathews!

Fun fact: Nelson's first big league home run was a first-inning grand slam off of Stan Williams, giving Cubs starter Bob Buhl all of the support he would need in a 5-0 win over the Dodgers.
Nelson Mathews (back) by you.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

#85 Willie Smith

Willie Smith by you.
You are face-to-face with the lantern-jawed Willie Smith, a versatile athlete from Alabama. He originally signed with the Tigers in 1960, and split his time between the pitchers' mound and the outfield. He proved skilled at both, posting a 14-2 record and a 2.11 ERA at Syracuse in 1963. He also hit .380 in 79 at-bats, prompting Detroit to call the 24-year-old up in June and again in September. The following April, Willie was traded to the Angels for pitcher Julio Navarro. His new team used him as a pitcher and pinch hitter, and he compiled a 2.84 ERA in 31 and two-thirds innings, mostly in relief. But the Halos were so weak offensively (.242 team batting average) that by mid-June they switched Smith to the outfield. Although he was hitting in the .230s at that time, his bat caught fire with more regular playing time. He finished the season at .301 (only one other Angel topped .300) with 11 home runs and 51 RBI. He was also in the top ten in the league with six triples.

1965 saw "Wonderful Willie"'s average drop to .261, but he was still a reliable power source, climbing to fourth in the A.L. with nine triples to go along with career highs of 14 HR and 57 RBI. He was entering the dark ages as a hitter, however. The following season his playing time was more than halved as he hit .185 and homered once. It was back to the minors for much of 1967, when Smith's contract was purchased by Cleveland. After another poor start in 1968 (.143), the Indians traded the outfielder to the Cubs. In part-time duty with Chicago, he turned things around with a .275 batting mark and five longballs. 1968 also saw Willie make a few cameos on the mound. In seven and two-thirds innings, he allowed two hits, one walk, and no runs. Not bad for a guy who hadn't pitched in a major league in four years.

Smith started the 1969 season with a bang for the Cubbies. On Opening Day at Wrigley Field, he stepped to the plate in the bottom of the eleventh with one out and Randy Hundley on first base and walloped a walkoff two-run homer to erase a 6-5 Phillies lead. The Cubs were in first place and would stay there for 129 days, but ultimately blew a lead that was as large as nine games in mid-August. The Amazin' Mets chased the Bruins down and ultimately left them eight games back. Willie hit .246 with nine homers in his last semi-productive season. After hitting .216 in 1970, he finished his big league career the next year as a Red. Not ready to call it a career, the outfielder spent 1972 and 1973 in Japan, hitting .259 with 29 dingers for the Nankai Hawks. Following his playing days, Willie returned home to Anniston, Alabama and volunteered at youth baseball camps. He passed away nearly three years ago, reportedly due to a heart attack. He was 66 years old.

Fun fact: According to an obituary, Smith was the first of four Willies to hit an upper-deck home run at Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium. The others, of course, were Hall of Famers Stargell, Mays, and McCovey.

Willie Smith (back) by you.

Monday, November 24, 2008

#76 Sam McDowell

Sam McDowell by you.
Check out the scowl on "Sudden" Sam McDowell's face as he unleashes an imaginary fastball toward some unlucky hitter! To the best of my recollection, this is also the first card from the set in which you can pretty clearly identify another player in the background. A quick check of the Indians' 1964 roster shows #17 as...Chico Salmon? That doesn't seem right. There's a chance that it could be a 1963 photo, in which case Mike de la Hoz was #17. That's more likely once you look at this suspiciously similar 1964 Topps card. But enough of that.

Towering over most of his peers at 6'5" and more than 200 pounds, Sam McDowell did most things hard and fast. Signed by the Tribe before his 18th birthday, the native of nearby Pittsburgh made his Indians debut in 1961, at the end of his second pro season. He struck out batters by the handful, but wallked nearly as many. That probably contributed to his tentative grasp on a roster spot; Sam did not spend a full season in the bigs until 1965. He started to put things together in 1964, when he went a combined 19-6 at Portland and Cleveland and posted a 2.70 ERA in the majors.

The following year was a memorable one for Sam. The 22-year-old was an All-Star (the first of six selections for him), going 17-11 with 14 complete games and a league-best 2.18 ERA. He also led the A.L. with an absurd 325 strikeouts (not to mention 132 walks and 17 wild pitches). Despite topping the Junior Circuit in K's again in 1966 (225) as well as shutouts (five), McDowell dropped to nine wins. After being unseated by Boston's Jim Lonborg for 1967's strikeout title (by a 246-236 margin), he returned to the top of the league in whiffs in 1968 (283) and 1969 (279). Sam also posted a miniscule 1.81 ERA in 1968, placing him as runner-up to teammate Luis Tiant. The southpaw's win totals were gradually climbing back to the heights of 1965, and he set a new career high with 18 victories in 1969. But the best was just around the corner.

1970 was McDowell's finest all-around year on the mound. He went 20-12 with 19 complete games, a 2.92 ERA, and 304 strikeouts. It was the fifth and last time he led the league in K's, with all five crowns coming in a six-year span. He was rewarded by The Sporting News, which named him Pitcher of the Year.

After following up with a down year by his own standards (13-17, 8 CG, 192 K, 3.40 ERA, 1.46 ERA), Sam found himself as one half of a challenge trade. He was sent to the Giants for fellow All-Star pitcher Gaylord Perry. The Indians would soon find that they had gotten the better of the deal; Perry won 72 games in three-and-a-half years in Cleveland and then netted them Jim Bibby, Rick Waits, Jackie Brown, and $100,000 in a trade with Texas. McDowell, sadly, was already running out of gas. He won just 11 games with an ERA near 4.50 before San Francisco cut their losses and sold him to the Yankees in June 1973. The lefty had a mediocre 29-game stint with the Yankees before coming home to Pittsburgh in 1975. Then 32 years of age, he posted a 2.86 ERA in 34 and two-thirds innings (mostly in relief) as a swan song to his career.

Sam McDowell was a force to be reckoned with in his prime, which helped him to 141 career wins and 103 complete games. He struck out 2,453 total batters, and his ratios of 8.86 K/9 IP and 7.03 H/9 IP are each still ninth-best all-time. Of course, a more disciplined approach may have lengthened both his peak and his career as a whole. He did top the league in walks allowed on five occasions, and in wild pitches thrice. It's also been said that his considerable appetite for alcohol hastened his decline. After his career ended, the drinking worsened, costing him his family. In the early eighties McDowell, deeply in debt, managed to rehabilitate. He repaid his creditors, earned a degree in sports psychology and addiction from the University of Pittsburgh, and found work as a counselor for the Rangers, Blue Jays, and eventually for the Major League Baseball Players' Alumni Association. He remarried in 2001 and started a retirement community in Florida for ex-players.

Fun fact: The character of Sam Malone, the alcoholic ex-Red Sox pitcher played by Ted Danson on the popular sitcom Cheers, was based on Sam McDowell.

Bonus fun fact: Sam played one-third of an inning at second base and two-thirds of an inning at first base in 1970, as manager Alvin Dark switched back and forth between the lefthander and righty Dean Chance. In the former instance, he even recorded a putout, taking a throw from third baseman Eddie Leon to force Frank Howard at second!
Sam McDowell (back) by you.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

#45 Roy McMillan

Roy McMillan by you.
Check out the designer frames on veteran shortstop Roy McMillan! Though you surely wouldn't hit a man with glasses, you're obviously not a National League pitcher. Roy placed in the top ten in hit-by-pitch five times in the N.L. in his 16-year career. That's gotta sting.

Texas-born Roy McMillan signed with the Reds in 1947 and served a four-year apprenticeship in the minors before debuting with Cincinnati at age 21. After struggling to hit in his first season (.211), the young shortstop showed improvement in 1952. He cracked 32 doubles (third-best in the N.L.), added seven home runs, and drove in 57. It would be a career trend for Roy: low batting average, but decent pop - particularly by shortstop standards. It would be his glove that made him a valuable starter, though. In 1954, he set a record (since broken) by turning 129 double plays. From 1957-1959, he won Gold Gloves in the first three years they were awarded. The late Fifties were kind to McMillan, as he also made back-to-back trips to the All-Star Game in 1956 and 1957. 1956 brought personal bests in RBI (62) and walks (76), and the following year he hit a career-high .272. The latter year he was caught in the crossfire of a controversy, as Reds fans stuffed the ballot box to place Roy and six teammates in the starting lineup of the Midsummer Classic. The league intervened, removing Wally Post from the team and Gus Bell from the starting lineup. McMillan and the other four Redlegs remained in the starting nine.

In December 1960, after a decade in Cincinnati, Roy was on the move. The Reds traded him to the Milwaukee Braves for Juan Pizarro and Joey Jay. His three-plus seasons up north were unremarkable, though he set a new personal best with 12 home runs in 1962. In May 1964, after getting into just eight games in the first month of the season, the shortstop again found a new zip code. He was dealt to the sorry Mets for pitcher Jay Hook and a player to be named later. The end was near for McMillan; in his three years in New York, he failed to post a slugging percentage or an on-base percentage above .300. For his career, he batted .243. Five years after his retirement, he was elected to the Reds' Hall of Fame.

Roy stayed in baseball after hanging up his glove, coaching and managing in the Mets' organization from 1967-1969 before returning to Milwaukee as a Brewers coach from 1970-1972. He served as interim manager for two games, splitting decisions while bridging the gap between Dave Bristol and Del Crandall. It was back to the Mets as a coach in 1974. The following year, team brass fired manager Yogi Berra with the club in third place at 56-53. Again, McMillan was installed at the helm. The Mets continued to tread water, going 26-27 under the interim skipper and staying put in third. He was not brought back for 1976, but did spend 1977-1980 managing in the Twins organization, winning a league championship with the A-level Visalia Oaks in 1978. Roy passed away in 1997, ten years after being selected to the Texas Baseball Hall of Fame.

Fun fact: Roy hit two home runs off of Joey Jay and one each off of Jay Hook and Juan Pizarro; he victimized all three pitchers that he was traded for at various points in his career.

Roy McMillan (back) by you.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

#24 Embossed: Diego Segui

SEGUIG by you.
Here's an interesting diversion from the base set. It also kicks off a batch of sixteen cards that I received from reader Ed, who gets his pick of my Orioles doubles just as soon as I have them all sorted. Younger collectors might not realize that Topps has been doing inserts for so long, but it's true. The card you see above is part of a one-per-pack insert set that comprised 72 cards in total. Each of the 20 MLB teams had three or four players in the set with the exception of the Senators (two) and the Indians (five).

These are pretty gaudy by any standard, featuring a profile portrait of the player completely embossed in gold. The American Leaguers had blue borders, and the National Leaguers had red borders, which were a bit rougher on the eyes. Dayf, the Cardboard Junkie, recently picked up a Lee Maye Embossed to complete his Braves team set; you can see it here. The backs of the cards are nearly blank, save for the card number and copyright info in a box at the bottom.

Of course as you can see, my Embossed card does have an extra special touch on the back. Someone attempted to trace Diego's head from the front to the back, with...mixed results. He looks like some sort of half-moose hybrid. An odd detail I noticed on the front is just how prominent they depicted Segui's Adam's apple. That thing's just kind of hanging there. I'd go into more detail about his career, but his base card is sitting in the queue to be posted in the coming weeks and I don't want to use up my material.

So what do you think - should I try to complete this set along with the base cards? I'm definitely interested in collecting the four Orioles: Brooks Robinson, Milt Pappas, Boog Powell, and John Orsino.

SEGUIGB by you.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

#552 Julio Gotay

Julio Gotay by you.
We can all thank our lucky stars that Julio Gotay didn't come along a few decades later than he did. As things stand, we've been spared the obnoxious spectacle of ESPN blowhard Chris Berman dubbing him Julio Gotay "It On the Mountain". But I digress. Gotay makes it back-to-back Halos this week; he's just been traded from the Pirates in early 1965, hence the bare head and the sleeveless jersey with the black and gold piping.
Like our last featured player (Vic Power), Julio was a native of Puerto Rico. Apparently he had a superstitious fear of crosses. After brief trials in 1960 and 1961, he became the Cardinals' starting shortstop in 1962. The 23-year-old hit an unproductive .255 - he had just fifteen extra-base hits in 369 at-bats and drove in 27 runs. In the offseason, he was dealt to Pittsburgh in the trade that brought All-Star shortstop Dick Groat to St. Louis.

The Pirates did not seem to have any real use for Gotay, giving him four at-bats in seven total games over a two-year span. Just before the card above was produced, they liberated the shortstop, trading him to the Angels for mediocre outfielder Bob Perry. Julio saw action in a whopping 40 games during his lone season in California, batting .247. Next it was off to Houston, where he would actually be a useful reserve for three seasons.

Julio had his best season with the bat in 1967, compiling a .282 average in 77 games as an Astro. He hit .248 and .259 in the two years that followed to finish his ten-year career with a .260 average, 6 home runs, and 70 RBI in 389 games.

On July 4, 2008, a few weeks after being hospitalized for treatment of prostate cancer, Julio died of respiratory failure. The Gotay family baseball legacy is carried on by infielder Ruben Gotay. Ruben is Julio's nephew, and has played for the Royals, Mets, and Braves in his four big league seasons.

Fun fact: Julio set an Astros record by hitting safely in eight straight at-bats from June 18-20, 1967. Filling in for Joe Morgan, who was on military leave, he doubled in his last at-bat against Phil Niekro on the 18th, went 5-for-5 on the 19th, including four safeties off of Bob Gibson an RBI single to send the game to extra innings, and a single and a double (following a hit-by-pitch) on the 20th. Not a bad way to start your week!
Julio Gotay (back) by you.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

#442 Vic Power

Vic Power by you.
Ah, Vic Power, one of the greatest baseball names there ever was. Sure, his single-season high was 19 home runs, placing him behind such notable sluggers as Mike Bordick and Davey Johnson, but power is not just about four-base hits. It's a lifestyle. No one embodied that lifestyle, particularly on the diamond, like Vic Power. I like to think of his name as a rallying cry for Vics everywhere: "Vic POWER!".

Victor Pellot Pove grew up in Puerto Rico, and honed his skills playing for the San Juan Senators (or Senadores) in his early twenties. In 1949, he moved to mainland North America and played for a professional team in Quebec. Wikipedia (yeah, I know) suggests that French-Canadian fans snickered at Vic's name (he went by Pellot, his father's surname). There's no sourcing, of course, but my crack Internet research leads me to believe that "pelote", the French word for "ball", could have easily been a source of amusement for the terminally immature. So it was that he began going by his mother's maiden name, "Pove", which was roughly translated to the English "Power". Sheesh, talk about getting bogged down in linguistics.

Vic soon caught the eye of Yankees scouts, who signed him in 1951. The notoriously slow-to-integrate pinstripers seem to have been put off by the unapologetic nature and sharp wit of the young first baseman. During his first season in their organization, he reportedly entered a restaurant and was informed that they did not serve colored people. He replied, "That's OK, I don't eat colored people. I just want rice and beans." Despite hitting .331 with 109 RBI in the minors in 1952, Power was not invited to the major league camp the following Spring. The writing was on the wall, and indeed New York traded him to the Athletics as part of an eleven-player deal in December of 1953. A popular rumor has the Yanks deciding to dump Vic because he had been dating a white woman.

Whatever the circumstances, Power was finally a big leaguer in 1954, at age twenty-six. In the last season for the woeful A's in Philadelphia, he became the club's first Puerto Rican player. But it wasn't until they moved to Kansas City that the first baseman truly announced himself as a force. 1955 would hold up as the finest performance of Vic's career - he was an All-Star and a top-ten vote getter in the MVP race. He hit .319 with 61 extra-base hits and 76 RBI. Despite a dip in power the following season, his batting average stayed strong at .309 and he returned to the All-Star Game. Following a disappointing 1957, the A's shook things up in June 1958 by trading Power and Woodie Held to Cleveland for Roger Maris and two other players. The newest Indian responded by finishing the season at .312 overall with a personal-best 37 doubles and league-leading 10 triples. He also won his first Gold Glove.

Vic Power attracted lots of attention with his flashy play in the field. At the time, it was unheard of to catch the ball one-handed at first base, and it quickly became his calling card. Of course, now we take it for granted that this style of play increases flexibility and range, but Vic was instrumental in redefining his position. He was also an All-Star in two of his three full seasons with the Tribe, combining his doubles power with batting averages in the high .280s and continuing his slick work with the leather.

On the eve of the 1962 season, Power joined the Twins via another trade; pitcher Pedro Ramos was the outgoing Minnesota player. Again looking to make a good first impression, the first baseman was selected as the team's standout player of the year on the strength of a .290, 28 2B, 16 HR, 63 RBI stat line. After a decent encore in 1963, the 36-year-old showed his age the following year. In June, with his average at .222 and yet to hit a longball, Vic was traded to the Angels as part of a three-team deal. After batting .249 with 3 home runs in 68 games in L.A., he was shipped to the Phillies in September. You may be wondering why the card above has an Angels pennant and logo, in that case. As it so happens, the Halos reacquired Power in November, allowing Topps to use a photo of him that they'd ostensibly taken in the summer of '64. By that time, he was completely unable to live up to his name, stroking just nine extra-base hits in 197 at-bats in 1965. When the Angels released him the following April Fool's Day, it was a wrap for Vic Power. He carried a .284 batting average for his career.

The four-plus decades since Vic's career ended have cemented his legacy as one of the trailblazing Latin American players in Major League Baseball. He moved back to his native Puerto Rico and instructed future major leaguers such as Roberto Alomar, Jose Oquendo, Jerry Morales, Willie Montanez, and Jose Cruz, Sr. In 2005, just months after sharing memories of his career in the American documentary Beisbol, 78-year-old Vic Power succumbed to cancer.

Fun fact: Vic is one of 11 players to steal home plate twice in a game, having performed the feat on August 14, 1958. His first swipe gave the Indians a 9-7 lead in the eighth inning. After the Tigers tied the game in the ninth, Power stood on third in the bottom of the tenth with the bases loaded, two outs, and Rocky Colavito at bat. He took advantage of pitcher Frank Lary's struggles, breaking for home and catching him unaware with the game winner!
Vic Power (back) by you.