Sunday, June 21, 2009

#152 Phil Ortega

#152 Phil Ortega
Has anyone ever bothered to count the number of hatless players in the 1965 Topps set who have flattops? It certainly appears to have been the hairstyle of choice for the baseball playing gentleman.

Fun facts about Phil Ortega:

-Hailing from Gilbert, AZ, Phil signed with the Dodgers in 1959.

-Had two thirteen-win seasons in the minors, but found it difficult to crack the stacked big-league staff in Los Angeles. Threw only 32 games in his first four seasons with the Dodgers (1960-1963).

-Four-hit the Braves on April 26, 1964 for his first big-league win.

-As a swingman with the 1964 club, went 7-9 with a 4.00 ERA and one save, but did toss three shutouts.

-Following an offseason trade to Washington, he led the Senators from 1965-1967 with 34 wins (Pete Richert, who also went from L.A. to D.C. in the same deal, had 31 before being sent to the Orioles in May 1967).

-On May 29, 1966, struck out seven straight Red Sox from the first through third innings in a 3-2 win.

-His 3.03 ERA in 1967 was a career-low and marked the only season that he was better than league average.

-Played spoiler in his final start of 1967, four-hitting the White Sox in a 1-0 victory and eliminating them from postseason contention.

-Pitched five games in 1969 for the Angels before retiring with a career record of 46-62 with a 4.43 ERA in parts of ten seasons.

-His nightmares must have been full of Robinsons: Bill, Brooks, Floyd and Frank batted a combined .329 (27 for 82) with 15 walks, 7 home runs, and 17 RBI against him!
#152 Phil Ortega (back)

#151 Kansas City Athletics Team Card

#151 Athletics Team Card
I appreciate the high visibility of the kelly green numbers on the Athletics' chests, as well as the white numbers on their green sleeves. It makes it much more feasible to identify individual players on a team card; for instance, I could tell you that the gentleman standing fourth from the right in the middle row is #25, Moe Drabowsky.

As I've mentioned in several individual player posts, the 1964 K.C. A's were just plain awful. The club started out 17-35, which cost manager Ed Lopat his job. They weren't any better under his replacement, finishing up 40-70 with Mel McGaha at the helm. Add it up and you get a 57-105 record, good for dead last in the American League and 42 games behind the first-place Yankees. Understandably, there weren't many people that were interested in seeing them play. 642, 478 fans came through the turnstiles at Municipal Stadium, and only the Senators drew smaller numbers than that.

The Athletics hitters didn't do much hitting, with a collective .239 average that was second-worst in the A.L. They did place third in the league with 166 home runs and 538 walks, though. Shortstop Wayne Causey batted .281 with 88 walks and 31 doubles, and first baseman Jim Gentile (28 home runs) and All-Star right fielder Rocky Colavito (34 HR, 102 RBI) supplied the lion's share of the power.

The pitching was a real weakness in Kansas City, as 12 of the 18 pitchers used by the team started at least one game and Orlando Pena led the club with 12 wins. John O'Donoghue was the only other hurler in double-digits, and the only pitchers with winning records were All-Star John Wyatt (9-8, 3.59 ERA, 20 SV) and reliever Wes Stock (6-3, 1.94 ERA, 5 SV). Overall, the club racked up a 4.71 ERA and was at the bottom of the league in hits, runs, walks, and home runs allowed. The less said about it, the better.

During the Athletics' brief stay in K.C. (1955-1967), they finished no higher than sixth place in the A.L. and lost 100 games in four seasons total. But by their second year in Oakland, owner Charlie O. Finley had assembled a contender. They had five consecutive trips to the postseason from 1971-1975, and won three straight World Series before the free agency era tore them down.
#151 Athletics Team Card (back)

Thursday, June 18, 2009

#148 Willie Kirkland

#148 Willie Kirkland
While your eye may be drawn to Willie Kirkland's oversized warmup jacket collar or his "What are YOU lookin' at?" glower, I choose to focus on the toothpick hanging from the right side of his mouth. He clearly paved the way for U. L. Washington. A true barrier-breaker.

Fun facts about Willie Kirkland:

-A player with roots in Siluria, AL, Willie signed with the Giants in 1953.

-Compiled averages between .293 and .350 in four seasons in the minors with 142 home runs.

-After serving in the military in 1957, made the Giants' Opening Day roster the following year. Hit .258 with 14 home runs and 56 RBI, as well as 25 doubles (a career high).

-Was known as a skilled outfielder, twice leading the league in double plays by a flycatcher (1958 and 1961).

-Popped 22 home runs in 1959 and 21 in 1960, and batted a personal-best .272 in the former season. Also tripled 10 times in 1960.

-With Felipe Alou, Orlando Cepeda, and Leon Wagner all elbowing their way into the Giants' lineup, Kirkland was traded to the Indians after three seasons by the Bay.

-In his first year with the Tribe, Willie led the club with 27 home runs and 95 RBI.

-Tied a major league record with home runs in four straight at-bats

-With his production dropping sharply in 1962-1963, he was moved first to the Orioles and soon thereafter to the Senators. He hit .240 in nine seasons in the majors with 148 home runs before heading to Japan, where he spent six more years with the Hanshin Tigers.

-Willie adapted to the Land of the Rising Sun better than most American players, hitting 126 homers and learning to speak Japanese. He even married a Japanese woman!
#148 Willie Kirkland (back)

Sunday, June 14, 2009

#142 Bill Monbouquette

#142 Bill Monbouquette
It's probably just as well that Boston didn't put player names on the backs of their jerseys in the 1960's. Can you imagine trying to squeeze all twelve letters of "Monbouquette" across the shoulders? The Red Sox clubhouse man certainly would have been earning his keep.

Fun facts about Bill Monbouquette:

-Hailing from Medford, MA, Bill signed with the Red Sox in 1955. The day he signed, he wound up in a holding cell after he and his father got in an altercation with some soused fans who had spilled their drinks on his mother!

-After winning 37 games in three and a half minor league seasons, he debuted with the Red Sox in July of 1958. He acquitted himself well, completing three of his eight starts with a 3.31 ERA.

-Bill soon became the go-to guy on some poor Boston teams, averaging 14 wins a year from 1960 through 1965 with a 3.65 ERA and sixteen total shutouts. Also was a three-time All Star in that span.

-Set a team record for strikeouts in a game by fanning 17 Senators on May 12, 1961. Roger Clemens later surpassed him with 20 K's on two occasions...but who cares about that guy any more?

-Snapped a four-game winless streak by no-hitting the White Sox on August 1, 1962. He retired the last 22 batters after walking Al Smith in the second. Nearly as impressive was his 12-inning four-hit shutout of the Indians on April 11 of that year!

-Bouyed by strong run support (5.17 runs per game), won 20 games (against 10 losses) despite a fairly average 3.81 ERA in 1963. Won nine straight decisions in midseason.

-In 1965, was the great Satchel Paige's last-ever strikeout victim in a major league game.

-Boston traded him to Detroit before the 1966 season, and he had a nondescript year-plus in Motown before joining the Yankees in May of 1967 and turning in a 2.36 ERA in 33 appearances (including 10 starts).

-Split 1968 between the Bronx and San Francisco before retiring with a 114-112 career record and a 3.68 ERA in 11 seasons.

-Coached in the Mets and Tigers organizations, served as the Mets' major league pitching coach in 1982-1983, and managed in the minors for the Yankees and Mets for a year each.

-Was diagnosed with leukemia a few years ago, and is currently in remission. However, he needs bone marrow and stem cell transplants to keep the disease at bay.
#142 Bill Monbouquette (back)

Thursday, June 11, 2009

#141 Charlie James

#141 Charlie James
Charlie James is a pleasant-looking man. That's all I've got. Dig those dimples, ladies!

Fun facts about Charlie James:

-Born in St. Louis and stayed close to home, attending the University of Missouri and Washington University before signing with the Cardinals as a free agent in 1958.

-Jumped straight to AA upon signing, earning Texas League Rookie of the Year honors at age twenty when he hit .278 with 66 extra-base hits (36 doubles, 11 triples, 19 home runs) for the Houston Buffaloes.

-Was even better at AAA Rochester in 1959, hitting .300 with 63 extra-base hits (32 2B, 13 3B, 18 HR) for the Red Wings.

-Debuted with the Cardinals on August 2, 1960; had only nine hits in 50 at-bats in the majors, but did club two home runs and a double.

-Did better with more regular playing time the following year: .255, 19 doubles, 44 RBI in 108 games. He also helped the Redbirds tie a dubious record as one of three pinch hitters to strike out in an inning. It came in the ninth inning of a May 10 contest vs. the Reds, and Bill Henry was the Cincinnati reliever who nailed down the 3-2 victory. A fourth pinch hitter, Gene Oliver, walked during that inning.

-In a career-high 129 games in 1962, also reached highs in average (.276), runs (50), and RBI (59).

-Hit .268 with a personal-best 10 homers in 1963, his last year as a regular.

-Bashed two game-tying solo home runs off of Billy Pierce in one game, July 6, 1963; unfortunately, the Giants would go on to beat Charlie's Cards, 5-3.

-After slumping to .223 in 1964 (and going 0-for-3 in the World Series), was traded to Cincinnati, where he collected only eight hits in 41 at-bats the next season. Retired as a .255 hitter with 29 longballs in parts of six seasons.

-Hit two home runs each off of a pair of very good pitchers: Harvey Haddix and Sandy Koufax.
#141 Charlie James (back)

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

#139 World Series: The Cards Celebrate

#139 World Series: The Cards Celebrate (back)
Back-to-back World Series cards, and this one skips over Game Seven and spoils the outcome. Oh well, it's all in the order that I received the cards. What we have here is a beautiful action shot of the St. Louis players leaping off of the bench and rushing the field after Bobby Richardson popped out to Dal Maxvill at second base for the final out in Bob Gibson's 7-5 complete game victory in Game Seven. The only player I can identify is Tim McCarver, who is in his catcher's gear and is at far left of the multi-player man hug. I really like those red satin Cardinals jackets with the bird in his batting stance, and I think it's a shame that the guy in the tan suit at top left and the gentleman in the green patterned shirt and light-colored pants at top right had their heads chopped off; I bet they were really something. It's too bad that security is so tight at sporting events these days (though it is completely understandable). The iconic images of two small boys greeting Bill Mazeroski as he rounded third base with the 1960 World Series-winning homer, or the enthusiastic and unkempt young gentlemen joining Hank Aaron for his 715th home run trot are truly a part of baseball history.

This was the Cardinals' first World Series trip and title since 1946, when they outlasted the Boston Red Sox in seven games. The Redbirds wouldn't have to wait as long for their next trip to the promised land, as they made back-to-back appearances in the Fall Classic in 1967-1968. In both of those years, the series again went seven games; the former a victory over the Red Sox, and the latter a defeat to the Detroit Tigers.
#139 World Series: The Cards Celebrate (back)

Monday, June 08, 2009

#137 World Series Game Six: Bouton Wins Again

#137 World Series Game Six: Jim Bouton Wins Again
As you may have surmised from my semi-frequent references to it, I am a huge fan of Jim Bouton's book Ball Four. As such, I'm very happy to finally have one of Bouton's vintage cards in my collection. It's a great one, too, an action shot of the 25-year-old righty in mid-windup. With the intense look on his face, you can see why they called him "Bulldog".

This card also captures Bouton at the peak of his powers, one of his last moments as a true star. He had been an All-Star in his sophomore season, going 21-7 with a 2.53 ERA in 1963 and taking a hard-luck 1-0 loss in Game Three of the World Series. He was strong again in 1964, posting an 18-13 record and a 3.02 ERA while leading the league with 37 starts. He picked up in the Fall Classic right where he'd left off in the previous October, outdueling Curt Simmons to give the Bronx Bombers a 2-1 series lead with a 2-1 complete game victory in Game Three. But St. Louis pushed the Yanks to the brink of elimination by winning back-to-back squeakers, and New York called upon the Bulldog to be the stopper in Game Six.

The Cards got to Bouton early, with back-to-back singles by Curt Flood and Lou Brock to lead off the bottom of the first inning. Flood scored on a 4-6-3 double play off the bat of Bill White to give the home team a 1-0 lead. But the Yankee starter settled down quickly, blanking the opponents throughout the rest of the early and middle innings and tying the game himself with a fifth-inning single off of Curt Simmons to score Tom Tresh. An inning later, New York took the lead on back-to-back home runs by Roger Maris and Mickey Mantle. After Simmons departed, the Yankees broke the game open with a five-run eighth that was capped by a Joe Pepitone grand slam. Staked to an 8-1 lead, Bouton allowed a single run in the eighth and put two runners on in the ninth before being relieved by Steve Hamilton. Hamilton permitted one run to score before inducing a double play grounder by Flood to shut the door at 8-3. New York had forced a decisive seventh game, and they could give thanks to Bouton, who won both of his starts and allowed four runs (three earned) in 17 and 1/3 innings (1.56 ERA).

For more on the 1964 World Series and Jim Bouton,'ll just have to wait until I get to those cards.
#137 World Series Game Six: Jim Bouton Wins Again (back)

Sunday, June 07, 2009

#126 Los Angeles Dodgers Team Card

#126 Dodgers Team Card
Wow, the entire Dodgers team went with the crossed-arms pose. The body language indicates hostility and anger, which fits nicely with the fiery red background. Grrr!

1964 was a disappointing season for the defending World Champion Dodgers, who suffered their first losing season since 1958. Walter Alston's charges went 80-82 to finish thirteen games back of the Cardinals in sixth place. Their Pythagorean record (expected W-L based on runs scored and allowed) was 86-76, which suggests some bad luck. At least the poor performance didn't keep the crowds away; L.A. packed a league-best 2,228,751 fans into Dodger Stadium.

The Dodgers offense could run, but that was about the extent of their production. They led the league in steals, with Maury Wills pacing the N.L. with 53 swipes and Willie Davis contributing 42. No one on the club topped a .300 average, with Davis' .294 being the top mark. Tommy Davis' 86 RBI paced the team, and Frank Howard (24 HR) outpaced everyone else by ten longballs. The Dodgers hit .250 as a club, sixth in the league, and their 614 runs were third-lowest in the loop.

As usual, the arms of the Dodgers were their calling card. The team's only two All-Stars were the right-left combo of Don Drysdale (18-16, 2.18 ERA, 0.97 WHIP, 237 K) and Sandy Koufax (19-5, 1.74 ERA, 0.93 WHIP, 223 K). Koufax and Drysdale finished 1-2 in the N.L. in ERA and WHIP, and Koufax was also the leader in winning percentage, strikeouts per nine innings, and shutouts (seven). There was a dropoff in the rotation after that pair, but the boys in blue still allowed the fewest runs in the National League (2.95 ERA) and topped the circuit in shutouts with eighteen. Ron Perranoski (3.09 ERA, 14 SV in 72 G) and Bob Miller (2.62 ERA, 9 SV in 74 G) held down the fort in relief and were the top two pitchers in the league in appearances.

The struggles of 1964 turned out to be an abberation for the Dodgers, as they would win the next two National League crowns as well as another World Championship in 1965.
#126 Dodgers Team Card (back)

Thursday, June 04, 2009

#114 Jim Hickman

#114 Jim Hickman
I'm not sure of the reason for Jim Hickman's anguished look in this photo. Maybe someone just called him "Piano Legs". Then again, maybe it's just the general sort of anguish that came with playing for the Mets in the 1960s. Jim had a fascinating, trivia-rich career, which I never would have expected. It's days like this that I'm happy to be doing this blog!

Fun facts about Jim Hickman:

-A proud son of Henning, TN, Jim signed with the Cardinals in 1956 as an amateur free agent.

-Languished in the St. Louis organization for six years before being claimed by the Mets in the Expansion Draft.

-Was a fairly average player as a Met, hitting double-digit home runs for four straight seasons and batting .241.

-Did have several landmark performances in New York, including the first cycle in team history. It was a natural cycle, in that he hit in order: single, then double, then triple, then home run. Walloped the last home run in the Polo Grounds on Sept. 18, 1963. On Sept. 3, 1965 he became the first Met to hit three home runs in a game (all off of Ray Sadecki).

-Was the last of the original Mets to leave the team when he was traded to the Dodgers in December 1966 with Ron Hunt for Tommy Davis and Derrell Griffith. Had a terrible year in L.A., but did pitch two decent innings on June 23, allowing only a solo home run to Willie Mays.

-Received more regular playing time after being traded to the Cubs, and hit 89 home runs in a four-year span from 1969-1972. This included a monster year in 1970, when he posted career highs across the board (102 R, 33 2B, 32 HR, 115 RBI, .315/.419/.582). He delivered the hit that allowed Pete Rose to pancake Ray Fosse and win that year's All-Star game. For his efforts, Hickman (who had hit .237 in 1969) was the 1970 N.L. Comeback Player of the Year.

-Had a flair for the dramatic, hitting seven walk-off home runs in total. One of these was a grand slam against the Cubs on Aug. 9, 1963, and it snapped Mets pitcher Roger Craig's record 18-game losing streak!

-Wore out future Hall of Famer Steve Carlton. In 69 trips to the plate against "Lefty", Jim hit .293 with two triples and four home runs and racked up a .975 OPS.

-Retired in 1974 as a career .252 hitter with 159 HR and 560 RBI in a 13-year career.

-Served as a coach for the 1999 Clinton Lumber Kings, a Class A affiliate of the Reds.
#114 Jim Hickman (back)

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

#111 Lee Thomas

#111 Lee Thomas
Lee Thomas is wearing his best half-sneer, half-grimace in this picture. Did Topps only take one picture of him that Spring, or were the rest even less flattering? He's pictured with Team Hatless thanks to a midseason trade from the Angels.

Fun facts about Lee Thomas:

-Born in Peoria, IL, James Leroy Thomas signed with the Yankees as an eighteen-year-old in 1954.

-Despite showing good power and a steady bat in the minors (.287 career AVG), Lee spent seven seasons in the Yankee organization before getting a whopping two at-bats with the big league club in 1961. The Bombers promptly swapped him to the brand-new Angels in a five-player deal.

-Late in his rookie season (Sept. 5, 1961), Lee had a monstrous game, hitting three home runs against the A's: a game-tying solo shot in the third inning, a grand slam in the sixth to bring the Angels within 9-6, and a three-run shot in the eighth to give them the lead. Amazingly, Kansas City came back to win 13-12 in the bottom of the ninth on a two-run homer from Bobby Del Greco.

-Hit .284 with 24 HR and 70 RBI in his first try with the Angels, earning a third-place share in Rookie of the Year balloting.

-Was an All-Star in 1962, reaching career highs in the triple crown categories (.290, 26 HR, 104 RBI).

-After a few lesser seasons, rebounded in 1965 for 27 doubles, 22 HR, 75 RBI, and 72 BB (with just 42 K!).

-Spent his last three years in the National League as a bench player, retiring in 1968 with a .255 average, 106 HR and 428 RBI in eight seasons.

-Spent the 1969 season in Japan, playing for the Nankai Hawks.

-Worked for two decades in the Cardinals organization as a coach, minor league manager, and Director of Player Development. Helped build the teams that went to three World Series in the 1980s, winning it all in 1982.

-Served as general manager of the Phillies (1988-1997), acquiring players such as Lenny Dykstra, Curt Schilling, and Mitch Williams. In 1993, the Phils made it to the World Series, where they were bested by Toronto in six games. He went on to work in the Red Sox front office until 2003, then scouted for the Brewers and Astros.
#111 Lee Thomas (back)

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

#110 Ron Santo

#110 Ron Santo
Hey, whaddaya know? Two posts ago, I mentioned Ron Santo, and here he is! This is a beauty of a card, with the stadium opening up behind him (I wish I knew which one it was), and of course the great Cub-head patch on the sleeve. That's all I've got; sometimes you just want to sit back and admire a nice-looking card on its merit.

Fun facts about Ron Santo:

-Hailing from Seattle, Ron signed with the Cubs at age nineteen in 1959.

-Jumped straight to AA, hitting .327 at San Antonio. He would debut with Chicago the following year.

-Hit at least 17 home runs each year for 13 straight seasons (peaking with 33 in 1965), and became the second player ever to hit 300 HR as a third baseman (Eddie Mathews being the first). Also drove in between 94 and 123 runs each year, 1963-1970, making him the only third baseman to ever do so. Led the league in walks four times as well.

-Was a nine-time All-Star in fourteen full seasons.

-Set a team record with a 28-game hit streak in 1966. Missed seven games in the midst of the streak with a broken cheekbone suffered when hit by a Jack Fisher pitch, and returned with a primitive version of the ear-flap helmets that would later become mandatory.

-One of the most skilled third basemen of his or any era, he won five straight Gold Gloves (1964-1968) and broke several National League records (double plays, assists, total chances); his marks were later broken by Mike Schmidt.

-Traded to the White Sox in 1974 after becoming the first "10 and 5" (10 years in the league, 5 with the same team) player to veto a trade (he would have gone to the Angels). He had a miserable season, batting .221 with 5 HR and 41 RBI while splitting time between designated hitter and the unfamiliar territory of second base. Retired at age 34.

-Hit .277 for his career with a .362 on-base percentage. Retired as the second-best at his position in home runs (342) and slugging average (.464) and third-best in RBI (1,331), total bases (3,779), and walks (1,108).

-Was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes as a teenager, and early in the 2000s had both legs amputated below the knees as a result of the disease.

-Is one of the most popular Cubs past or present, and is beloved in Chicago for his passion for the team, which shines through in his color commentary on WGN radio. Had his #10 retired by the team in 2003. Though he's been regrettably overlooked for Hall of Fame enshrinement thus far, he claimed at his jersey retirement ceremony, "this is my Hall of Fame!".
#110 Ron Santo (back)

Monday, June 01, 2009

#102 Steve Boros

#102 Steve Boros
From the "there must be something wrong with me" department, I look at this picture of Steve Boros, poised to receive an imaginary throw from the imaginary catcher, and all I can think about is how much his red undershirt looks like that old-timey flannel underwear. You know, the kind with the square button-up panel in the rear that were all the rage in classic cartoons. Also, someone is building a giant tower out of Construx beyond the outfield. That's my take, anyway.

Fun facts about Steve Boros:

-The Flint, MI native signed with the Tigers in 1957 as a bonus baby ($25,000) out of the University of Michigan, where he earned a bachelors' degree in literature. My kind of guy!

-Forced to jump straight to the majors because of bonus baby rules, Steve went 6-for-43 in 1957 and 1958 before he was allowed to step down to the minors for more seasoning.

-A .305 average at AA in 1959 and an MVP season at AAA Denver the following year (.317 AVG, 42 2B, 30 HR, 119 RBI, .402 OBP) helped him to earn a return to the majors.

-As a 24-year-old rookie in 1961, he hit a solid .270 with 5 home runs and 62 RBI. His pitch recognition was a major asset, as his 68 walks boosted him to a .382 OBP. He missed more than a month with a broken collarbone, or else his final numbers would have been even stronger.

-Struggled to build on his initial success, but did slug 16 home runs in his sophomore season and continued to draw walks (.228 AVG/.331 OBP).

-Hit three home runs in one game on August 6, 1962, the first two against fireballer "Sudden Sam" McDowell. However, all three were solo shots and the Tribe rallied to beat the Tigers in the bottom of the ninth.

-Was traded to the Cubs in 1963 and saw action in only 41 games. The following season he was bought by the Reds and received significant playing time for the last time in his career, batting .257 with little power.

-After appearing in two games with Cincinnati in 1965, hung on in the minor leagues for five years before calling it quits. He batted .245 with a .344 on-base percentage as a major leaguer.

-Coached for a few teams: Kansas City (1975-1979; 1993-1994), Montreal (1981-1982), and Baltimore (1995). Also spent 1970-1974 and 1980 managing in the minor leagues for the Royals and Expos.

-Had two unsuccessful stints as a manager in Oakland (1983-1984: 94-112) and San Diego (1986: 74-88). Was famously ejected while delivering the lineup card before a game on June 6, 1986. The previous night, umpire Charlie Williams had called Padres runner Bip Roberts out on a play at the plate despite the facts that A) Bip had beat the tag and B) Williams had not seen the play. Boros had been ejected for arguing the call at the time that it occurred, and the next day approached home plate with the lineup card and a videotape of the disputed play. Williams ejected him before he ever even delivered the lineup!
#102 Steve Boros (back)