Thursday, August 27, 2009

#166 Indians Rookie Stars: George Culver and Tommie Agee

#166 Indians Rookie Stars: George Culver and Tommie Agee
Here's a question for longtime baseball fans: Didn't anyone ever get confused in the days when the Indians and the Reds had the same cap insignia? Sure, Cleveland's wishbone 'C' was red on black while Cincinnati's was red on white, but it all seems a little silly to me.

Fun facts about George Culver:

-Born in Salinas, CA, George signed with the Yankees in 1963 but was drafted to the Indians the following December.

-Won seven games and saved three out of the Cleveland bullpen as a rookie in 1967, compiling a 3.96 ERA.

-Was one of three players traded to the Reds that offseason for Tommy Harper, and started 35 games for his new team (11-16, 3.22 ERA).

-No-hit the Phillies on July 29, 1968, winning 6-1. The sole run against him was scored by Dick Allen, who reached and advanced on errors by Woody Woodward and Tony Perez and subsequently scored on a sacrifice fly.

-Returned to the bullpen full-time after a June 1970 trade from St. Louis to Houston and did some of his best pitching in the Astrodome, going 14-13 with a 2.92 ERA and 12 saves during a two and one-half year tenure with the 'Stros.

-After splitting 1973 between the Dodgers and Phillies (7-5, 3.56 ERA), Culver struggled in Philly the next year and was finished as a major leaguer at age 30. In parts of nine seasons, he was 48-49 with 23 saves and a 3.62 ERA.

-George did pitch in the minors and Japan in 1975 before turning to managing. He suffered through a miserable initial effort with the unaffiliated Bakersfield Outlaws, winning 48 and losing 92 in 1978. One of his pitchers was...George Culver. He didn't help his club's cause on the mound, racking up a 5.57 ERA in 42 innings.

-While coaching in the Phillies organization, Culver made a few more on-field cameos and fared even worse, giving up 11 earned runs in six and one-third innings for the 1981 and 1985 Reading Phillies. He was 41 at the time of his final game.

-His second go-round as a manager was much better. He led the 1986 Reading Phillies to a first-place finish in the AA Eastern League, and the club was a contender again in 1987. He was not so fortunate with the two AAA affiliates he later skippered, the 1988 Maine Phillies and 1993 Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Red Barons.

-George is a devoted fund-raiser for his alma mater, Bakersfield Junior College. He was also instrumental in the fund-raising campaign that allowed California State University's Bakersfield campus to start up a baseball team of their own.

Fun facts about Tommie Agee:

-An Alabamian by birth, Tommie attended Grambling State University before signing with the Indians in 1961 for a $60,000 bonus.

-The Tribe called up Agee the following year, when he was only nineteen, but he played just 31 games with them in three seasons before being traded to the White Sox in a three-team trade. The deal allowed Cleveland to reacquire Rocky Colavito from the Athletics, but they gave up Agee and Tommy John.

-1966 was Tommie's first full season in the bigs, and he showed what he could do by winning the American League Rookie of the Year award. He hit .273 with 27 doubles, 22 home runs, 86 RBI, 98 runs scored, and 44 steals. To top it all off, he was an All-Star and a Gold Glover for his work in center field.

-Despite another All-Star selection the next year, he slumped to .234 with 14 homers and 52 RBI. After the season, he was dealt to the Mets in a six-player trade, but the change of scenery did not help. 1968 saw Agee start the season 0-for-34 and bat .217 overall.

-1969 was of course a memorable year for the Mets, and Tommie was a big part of that. He was selected as Comeback Player of the Year: .271, 97 runs, a career-high 26 home runs, and 76 RBI. He carried it into the NLCS, hitting .357 and slugging .857 in the sweep of the Braves. Though he hit just .167 in the World Series, his Game Three performance is still talked about 40 years later. He homered off of Jim Palmer and made two incredible running, sprawling catches to rob Elrod Hendricks and Paul Blair of a possible six RBIs total. The Mets won the game 5-0 and the Series in five games in a stunning upset.

-Agee kept his momentum going in 1970, winning a second Gold Glove and becoming the first African American player to win one in each league. He hit .286, scored a personal-best 107 runs, clubbed 61 extra-base hits, and swiped 31 bases.

-On July 6, 1970, he became the second Met to ever hit for the cycle, driving in four runs in a 10-3 win over the Cardinals.

-Just a few weeks after his cycle, Agee almost single-handedly won a game for the Mets against the Dodgers. In the bottom of the tenth, he bunted Al Weis to second and reached base on an error. After Weis was picked off, Tommie stole second and took third on a wild pitch. L.A. got the second out but walked the bases loaded, at which point he stunned the Dodgers by stealing home for the win!

-His productivity slipped over the next three years and he called it quits at age thirty after hitting .222 for Houston and St. Louis in 1973 and being released by the Dodgers the next Spring. In parts of 12 seasons, he hit .255 with 130 home runs, 433 RBI, and 167 steals.

-After retiring, Agee operated the Outfielder's Lounge near Shea Stadium. He also stayed active by participating in charitable events and children's baseball clinics in New York. He passed away in 2001 after suffering a heart attack at age 58.
#166 Indians Rookie Stars: George Culver and Tommie Agee (back)

1 comment:

  1. George Culver also pitched in 1982 for the Oklahoma City 89ers in the American of the last of the playing managers in 1978 for the Bakersfield Outlaws..