Thursday, September 29, 2011

#92 Al Cowens

Card thoughts: This card always upset me as a kid. I could never figure out what Cowens was doing. This is more of a shot for a football card.

The player: Al Cowens had a fairly ordinary career. He had just enough speed and hitting ability to be an everyday player for the Royals, Angels, Tigers, and Mariners, but played without much distinction save one awesome season. In 1977, Cowens played in every game and hit 23 home runs, drove in 112 runs, and hit .312 with a .525 slugging percentage, coming in second to Rod Carew in the MVP voting despite not making the all-star team. He even won a gold glove. Cowens never matched that production in any other season. He didn't even reach double digits again in home runs until he was traded to the Mariners in 1982. In between, Cowens had a two year stint with the Tigers which was memorable, but not for Cowens baseball hitting ability. While with the Tigers, Cowens attacked White Sox pitcher Ed Farmer in retalliation for being hit by a pitch the previous season when he was still with the Royals. A warrant for assault was issued for his arrest in Illinois and Cowens had to leave town for the rest of the series. Farmer dropped the charge on condition that Cowens shake his hand. He was known as "Coward Cowens" at Comiskey for the rest of his career.

Cowens finally found his power again in his last years as a player with the Mariners, hitting 20, 15, and 14 home runs with the team between 1982 and 1985. He was released by the team on June 12, 1986 after playing 20 games. He died of a heart attack in 2002 at age 50.

Rear guard: That extraordinary 1977 season really stands out when you line it up with all the other ones, especially the power numbers.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

#91 Steve Crawford

Card thoughts: Another baseball season over. Even though the team I follow tanked (as usual), I'll still be sad all winter long as the wind howls around the house and snow and sleet eddy up onto the porch. Hopefully, this blog will keep me (and anyone who may be reading this) dreaming of a warm summer day at the ballpark. Of course, with these players, I might start dreaming of long ago summer days of playing pickup basketball (and baseball) and riding up to Revco or going to Gary's Dugout to pick up some more cards. Well enough of this Proustian nonsense (I guess I am reading Within a Budding Grove). On to the set!

This card has the same lighting as #11 Bob Ojeda and was no doubt taken on the same day in Florida (note the dual palm trees perfectly framing Crawford). This is the first of the "sweaty" Red Sox cards. A very famous Red Sox later in the set looks even greasier than this guy.

The player: Crawford came up in 1980 and pitched sporadically out of the bullpen (and as a starter in an ill-fated 1981 campaign), before 1985. In the days before every team had an everyday closer, Crawford shared that role with Bob Stanley during the season shown on this card. It would be his best year. He had 12 saves to go along with a career high 91 innings pitched. He would win 2 games in relief during the post-season for the pennant-winning 1986 Red Sox, but would only pitch one more season with the Sox before he signed with the Dodgers, who he never pitched in the majors for. The next year, he signed with the Royals and pitched 3 more seasons with them as a middle reliever, retiring in 1991.

Rear guard: Crawford's first win shows how much the game has changed. It was a complete game victory over the Rangers where he gave up 12 hits, 3 runs, and 2 walks. They didn't have pitch counts back then, but I'm guessing he threw more than 120 pitches.

Tony Conigliaro's career hit a setback the year he reached 100 home runs. He was hit in the eye by a pitch on August 18 and missed the rest of the season and all of the next. Although he had his best season a year after he returned, hitting 36 home runs and driving in 116 runs in 1970, he essentially retired by the age of 26 due to persistent vision problems.

Monday, September 26, 2011

#90 Garry Templeton

Card thoughts: Garry with two Rs? Okay, whatever. This card lacks the finish of the other cards in this set. The front is lightly rough to the touch.

The player: Nicknamed "Jumpsteady," Templeton stormed into the National League at the young age of 20 and his early career eerily resembles that of Cubs shortstop phenom Starlin Castro. He had speed (although he was caught stealing a lot), great range and arm (although he committed lots of errors), and could hit for average. He led the league in triples from 1977-1979, and in hits in 1979. Despite his great season in 1979, Templeton was not voted in as a starter for the all-star game. He petulantly refused to go to the game when selected as a reserve, although the quote "If I'm not startin', I'm not departin'" commonly attributed to him was actually said by broadcaster Jack Buck. Templeton started doing heavy drugs in the early 80s which led to some erratic behavior. He told manager Whitey Herzog that he would no longer play day games after night games. In 1981, after being booed for failing to run out a dropped third strike, Templeton made several obscene gestures to the fans and got in a fight with Herzog. 

The Cardinals needed to get rid of the unpopular and unhappy player and engineered a trade with the Padres for future hall-of-famer Ozzie Smith. This was not the lopsided trade it seems today. Smith and Templeton were about equal defensively, but Smith couldn't hit a lick at that time. But Smith learned how to hit with the Cardinals and Templeton's knees started to go while with the Padres and he never regained his early career form as a hitter. However, he did mature and was considered the team leader on the 1984 pennant winning Padres (and is one of their all-time most popular players). The year shown on this card was Templeton's last all-star appearance and his career began to slowly decline soon after. He ended his career in 1991 with the Mets and managed to get 2,000 hits. Here's an excellent fan site for Templeton.

Rear guard: Templeton's homers came from the lead off spot off of the Braves' starter Mickey Mahler and losing pitcher Craig Skok. His second homer was the deciding run in the Cardinals 5-4 win.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

#89 Randy St. Claire

Card thoughts: St. Claire looks afraid to throw that next pitch.

The player: St. Claire was a mediocre middle reliever who only pitched in 162 games in 9 seasons. He was generally kept as insurance at AAA for when a reliever would go down with an injury or be ineffectual. Only during the season shown on this card and 1987 could St. Claire be considered a regular reliever. The latter season was his best, when he pitched in 44 games for the Expos and had 7 saves and a 2.15 SO/BB ratio. He also pitched a bit with the Reds, Blue Jays, and Braves where he pitched in the 1991 World Series.

St. Claire is probably better known as a well-regarded pitching coach. He started in the minors immediately after his career was over, becoming the Expos coach in 2003. Fired by the Nationals (the team the Expos became in 2005) in 2009, he was hired by the Marlins the next season, which is the job he currently holds.

Rear guard: St. Claire's first win came after he pitched 4 innings at the end of a 15 inning game against the Giants. He also scored the winning run on a fielder's choice by Vance Law.

Monday, September 19, 2011

#88 Tom Nieto

Card thoughts: Badly off-centered card. Which is a shame, because whoever was taking pitchers of Cardinals catchers this year was awesome. Just wait until later in the set when an even better card shows up. Anyhow, great shot of Nieto fielding a bunt at Dodger Stadium, dust and all. Note the old bill-less catchers cap and how thin Nieto looks for a catcher.

The player: This card is way more exciting than Nieto, the player. In the majors for his fielding and game calling abilities, Nieto brought almost nothing to the plate (except a wicked set of eyebrows). He hit .205 over seven seasons with the Cardinals, Twins, Expos, and Phillies. Nieto's "best" season was this one, his only season as a regular when he took over for aging former star Darrell Porter. He hit .225 and drove in 34 runs in a career high 253 at bats.

Nieto has been a long time minor league manager and major and minor league coach with the Yankees, Mets, Cardinals, and Twins organizations.

Rear guard: Joaquin Andujar also won 20 games in 1984. He was a poor hitter, averaging only .127 in his career. He also hit 2 home runs in 1976 for the Astros.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

#87 Candy Maldonado

Card thoughts: Such a melodious name. Candy Maldonado. Real name Candido. Boy, did I cringe when the Cubs signed him as their "big" free agent acquisition in 1993.

The player: Maldonado was long time regular outfielder for many teams--7 to be exact. Thought of as merely a fourth outfielder by the Dodgers even though he tore up the minors, Maldonado blossomed after being traded to the Giants after the season shown on this card for go-nowhere catcher Alex Trevino. He drove in 85 runs in both 1986 and 1987 and hit for the cycle in the latter year. He gained infamy, however, in the 1987 playoffs when he dropped a fly ball by Cardinals catcher Tony Pena leading to the Cardinals only (and winning) run in game 6 of the NLCS. The Cards would go on to win the series. Luckily for me, when he went back to the post season in 1989 he did no damage against the Cubs in the NLCS (.000 average) and little damage in the World Series against Oakland (1 hit in 11 at bats).

Maldonado would parlay his success with the Giants into several lucrative short term deals in the 90s. First, he was signed by the Indians where hit a career high 22 home runs and drove in 95 in his first season there. Signed next to a two year deal with the Brewers, the team soured on him after he hit .207 in 34 games. Given away for a song to the Blue Jays, he managed to win a World Series with them in 1992 contributing with a game-winning hit in game 3 and a home run in the clinching Game 6. The Cubs, during one of their blah years, signed him to a two year deal (hey, he did hit 20 home runs and drive in 66 for the Blue Jays the previous season) to play right field and replace future Hall of Famer Andre Dawson. He was bad and lost his starting job quickly, even though the Cubs were certain he'd give their offense some oomph. He was traded a mere 154 at bats (.186 average) into his contract back to the Indians (luckily, the Cubs got popular slugging bench player Glenallen Hill in return). Maldonado cycled through two more teams before his career ended in 1995.

Rear guard: Maldonado's first home run was off of Giants pitcher Fred Breining in the 5th inning. It drove in catcher Jack Fimple, who I've never heard of.

Hall-of-Famer Hoyt Wilhelm was able to pitch so long because he was a knuckleballer. He was one of the premier reliever of his days, long as they were. Wilhelm did not appear in a game on this memorable date. Does it still count?

Thursday, September 15, 2011

#86 Tom Waddell

Card thoughts: I don't know what Tom Waddell did or who he did it too, but he doesn't seem very happy to be in this mug shot.

The player: Surprisingly, Waddell is one of only eight players born in Scotland to ever play in the majors. This Dundee native was drafted from the Braves by the Indians in 1983 in the minor league Rule V draft. He was a good reliever his rookie season, saving 6 games with a 3.06 ERA. He was converted into a starter in the latter part of the season represented by this card and went 4-1 in his 9 starts. Waddell blew out his shoulder at the end of the 1985, and was only able to pitch 3 more major league games in 1987 before having to retire. He does instructional videos now.

Rear guard: George Uhle "The Bull" was the ace of the Indians staffs in the 20s. He led the league twice in wins in that decade with 26 and 27 wins. He was a really good hitter as well, hitting .289 for his career, hitting over .300 six times in a 17 year career. The grand slam was his only home run in 1921 and was off of Dutch Leonard. He drove in 6 runs that day, a third of his total for that year.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

#85 Tony Perez

Card thoughts: One my favorite cards in the set. It's not often you see a player card where another player is as prominent. In this case, it is up and coming star #28 Eric Davis whose own card in this set is not as interesting. This photographer must have dug the symbolism of Perez, Reds legend, near the end of 23-year career passing the torch to the next generation.

The player: Perez was one of the greatest players in the 70s, on one of the greatest teams of the 70s: The Cincinnati Reds. From 1967-1977, Perez drove in over 90 runs every year, and over 100 runs 6 times--although curiously for a man known as one of the best RBI guys of his era, he never led the league. He was a 7-time all star as well. Starting out as a third baseman, Perez' poor fielding moved him to first in 1972. He was a fairly poor fielder at first as well, but he was in the lineup for his bat, not his glove. His best season on the Big Red Machine came in 1970 when he hit a career high with 40 home runs, runs batted in with 129, runs with 107, and batting average with a .317 mark. When the Reds went to World Series (and they went often in Perez' time with the team: 1970, 1972, 1975, and 1976), he was productive, driving in 11 runs in 24 games.

Despite his continued success with the Reds, he was traded after the 1976 season to the Expos for mediocre starter Woody Fryman and durable reliever Dale Murray. This was the start of the break-up of the Big Red Machine. His first year in Montreal was as productive as the old days, but the last two years Perez began to show his age as he neared his late 30s. He experienced a renaissance year in 1980 with the Red Sox when he drove in over 100 for the last time. But he would never again be a regular player for the rest of his career. Reuniting with former Reds teammates Joe Morgan and Pete Rose, he came off the bench for the Phillies in 1983 World Series but only hit .200. Rose brought him back to the Reds when he became manager in 1984, and he had some good years, even managing to hit .325 as pinch hitter during year represented by this card. He retired in 1986, 28th all-time in runs batted in.

Perez was fired 44 games into his managerial career by the Reds. He took the Marlins over for their last 114 games of the 2001 season and finished 4th. He was elected to the Hall of Fame in 2000, despite having comparable numbers to Harold Baines, Dave Parker, and Rusty Stab, none of whom are considered hall-of-famers. However, Andre Dawson, Al Kaline, Jim Rice, and Billy Williams, who are also comparable, are in. No doubt, Perez' "intangibles" (he was a franchise type player on a deservedly famous, successful team) helped him get in.

Rear guard: Always fascinated as a kid by the players who had played so long, you could barely read their stats. All those years, and no league leaders.

Monday, September 12, 2011

#84 Curt Young

Card thoughts: Seeing this combination of A's colors always brings me back to seeing the old Madison Muskies, Oakland's A ball affiliate in the Midwest League. Other than that, Young looks like the grown-up singer of one of those 70s "family" bands.

The player: Young was one of the unheralded pitchers for the A's dynasty from 1988-1990. Overshadowed by such star starters as Dave Stewart and Bob Welch, Young won 13 games in both 1986 and 1987, although doubtless he was helped by the A's potent offense. He also pitched a one-hitter in each of those seasons against the Royals and White Sox. When the A's started their run of 3 straight pennants in 1988, Young contributed 11 wins. Although he was not in the A's post-season rotation, he pitched in 2 games without giving up an earned run. In 1989 when the A's won the World Series, he was left off the post-season roster due to his poor 5-9 record. He bounced back with a 9-6 mark the following year (and gave up no runs in one World Series appearance), but that would be his last as regular starter. He pitched mostly in relief his last 3 seasons, splitting time with the Yankees, Royals, and a last fling with the A's in 1993.

Young was the A's pitching coach from 2004 to 2010. He currently fills that capacity with the Boston Red Sox.

Rear guard: Young gave up only 2 hits and no runs in first win, beating the Royals #77 Charlie Liebrandt.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

#83 Phil Garner

Card thoughts: A really awkward looking card. Phil Garner's trademark mustache looks like its been dyed blond.

The player: Phil Garner was nicknamed "Scrap Iron" for his scrappy play and resemblance to this cartoon character. One of the better hitting second baseman in the 70s and early 80s, Garner drove in over 70 runs 4 times and generally scored over 60 runs a year which may not sound like much by today's standards, but in that lower scoring era it was enough to send Garner to the all-star game in 1976, 1980, and 1981. His best season was in 1977 with the Pirates when he scored 99 runs, hit 17 home runs, drove in 77, and had a fine .441 slugging percentage. The next year, he hit grand slams on consecutive days. But Garner's reputation with the Pirates was made in 1979 in the post season when he hit .417 in the NLCS and an incredible .500 in the World Series.

In 1981 he was traded to the Astros for second base prospect Johnny Ray (who would go on to have a very good career for the Bucs). He was shifted to third base in 1983 to make way for a very similar type of second baseman, Bill Doran. His post-season magic did not translate to the Astros: He hit .111 in the 1981 ALCS and .222 in 1986. After 70 games with the Dodgers in 1987 and 15 with the Giants, Garner retired, and started on his next career as a manager. He managed 7 years with the Brewers (where they began to play the National League-style ball that made them a natural fit when they shifted leagues in 1998); a bit more than 2 years with the Tigers, and 4 years with the Astros where he had his greatest success, leading the team to the playoffs his first two seasons, getting to the World Series in 2005 where they lost to the White Sox.

Rear guard: Only 160 games were played in 1975 for some reason I can't determine.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

#82 Tippy Martinez

Card thoughts: For years, I thought Tippy was Dennis Martinez' brother. They played on the same team, kind of looked the same, and Martinez was a fairly uncommon name in the majors at the time. But I was wrong. I will say that I always thought it was cool when a ballplayer's nickname was used as his first name on a card, so I always liked this card. Especially since it nicely isolates Tippy's pitching motion, against a non-distracting blurred background.

The player: Tippy was unusual for his time, in that he only started two games in the majors, and rarely started in the minors. He may be one of the first "star" middle relievers. Martinez came to the Orioles in 1976 in a blockbuster deal where the Yankees were sent longtime Orioles catcher Elrod Hendricks, veteran ace Ken Holtzman, promising rookie pitcher Doyle Alexander, and reliever Grant Jackson for youngsters Martinez, catcher Rick Dempsey (started at catcher for the next decade or so), and pitcher Scott McGregor (138 wins for the Orioles). Rudy May was also included: He won 17 games the next year for the Orioles. Tippy had perhaps his best year the year the Orioles won the pennant in 1979, winning 10 games as a long reliever. He was bad in the World Series, however, where he was mainly used as a lefty specialist. The next year, Martinez began to close some games, a recorded double-digit save totals for the next five years.

Martinez redeemed his poor post-season performance in 1983 when the Orioles won the World Series. An all-star, Martinez went 9-3 with 21 saves. In the World Series, he didn't give up a run and saved 2 games. This was also the year Martinez got a win without ever retiring a batter at the plate, due to three pickoffs. It was the 10th inning, and Weaver must have done a really poor job of managing that day because he was out of position players. Lenn Sakata, normally an infielder, was catching and two outfielders were playing second and third. The Blue Jays were therefore eager to test Sakata. The man Martinez inherited on base, Barry Bonnell, was picked off by Tippy's first throw. The next batter, Dave Collins, walked. Collins was one of the fastest men in baseball at the time, but he also got picked off. Cecil Upshaw, the final batter in the inning, reached on an infield single and he was picked off as well. You can read about this and other memorable games in Martinez' career here.

By the time this card was issued, Martinez was nearing the end of his career. He would only pitch 20 more innings over two years with the Orioles and the Twins before hanging up his spikes in 1988. He did play the senior circuit for awhile and opened a taco stand at Camden Yards.

Rear guard: Wrong again Topps! Tippy's first major league win was 7-12-75 against the Twins. Martinez, likely the last man in the bullpen, pitched to one batter in the top of the 16th inning and got Steve Braun to ground out to first. The Yankees rallied to win the game in the bottom of the 16th.

Monday, September 5, 2011

#81 Gene Mauch

Card thoughts: It may be my imagination, but I seem to recall there being a lot of crusty looking managers in 1985 who had managed for decades. They seemed recycle known quantities much more back then. This was Mauch's 25th year as manager.

The manager: Mauch was a reserve middle infielder with little power for 6 teams over 9 seasons, batting a measly .239. As a manager, in the 27 years he managed, Mauch only had two seasons when he did not manage in the majors from 1960-1987. He was a practitioner of "small ball" and loved riding the opposing players and umpires from the bench. He started by managing the Phillies for most of the 60s, garnering a .486 winning percentage. He was present for the epic collapse by the Phillies in 1964 when, up by 6 1/2 with 12 games to play, the Phillies missed winning the pennant by 2 games. The cause was his decision to ride his two aces, Jim Bunning and Chris Short too hard. Previous to this, in his second year managing the Phillies they lost 23 games in a row.

The Expos must have liked what they saw of Mauch, as he was the first manager in franchise history. Perhaps the 20 losses in a row by Expos in 1969 can be attributed to that, or perhaps Mauch was truly "ill-fated," as many believed. After 7 seasons with the Expos, none above .500, he was hired by the Twins and managed some good teams for them in the late 70s. 3 out 5 of his teams were above .500. Mauch would have his greatest success as the manager from the Angels. But he never won a pennant with them either, despite being one game away in 1982, and one strike away in 1986. The Angels were the only team he would manage to a cumulative record of over .500. He reportedly had to quit because he was chain smoking so much as a manager it was affecting his health. He eventually died of lung cancer in 2005.

Rear guard: I only needed Jerry Narron and Juan Beniquez to complete the Angels! Of course, the great omission here is Mike Witt, the top pitcher for the Angels in 1985 of whom I had no idea until I was surprised by his existence in the 1986 ALCS. I have no idea why Mike Witt's card was missing for this year, but not in 1985 or 1987. If any one knows, please comment!

Saturday, September 3, 2011

#80 Darryl Strawberry

Card thoughts: This picture was taken at Shea Stadium of Strawberry warming up before the game. But when I think of Strawberry, I have the vision of his long form rocking back, lifting his right leg, ready to lace the ball into the outfield or over the fence. And of a certain chant.

The player: Strawberry had it all. He could run, throw, hit, steal bases, hit home runs. A five-tool player. 30-30 club member. 8 straight all-star games. Rookie of the Year (1982). #1 overall pick in 1980. But it all fell apart after age 30. Like all the 80s Mets, I hated Strawberry. I'll never forget how excited I was to be able to razz Strawberry with the eternal "Da-aryl, Da-aryl" when the Cubs played the Mets at Wrigley. Bart Simpson dug this chant too (Strawberry was one of Mr. Burns' softball ringers in "Homer At The Bat"). This card shows Strawberry in his prime. He hit over 20 home runs in his first 9 seasons when that was a big deal. In 1987, 1988, and 1990 he hit over 35 home runs and drove in over a 100 as a lynchpin for the perennial Met contending teams. Many of his home runs were monster blasts (or moon shots), like this one that hit the clock at old Busch Stadium, or this one that hit the roof at Olympic Stadium. He also came up big in the post-season. He hit 4 home runs and drove in 12 in 3 post-season series with the Mets. Like most of the Mets of that era, he was also known for off-the-field incidents. He got in fights with Wally Backman and Keith Hernandez, would sleep in late and miss team workouts, and generally acted like a boor. The Mets, tiring of his disruptive behavior, did not make a big play to resign him after the 1990 season, which ended up being a smart move. Strawberry decided to sign a lucrative 5-year contract with the Dodgers, his hometown team. His first season with the team he put up his customarily great numbers, and at this point in his career he had 280 home runs, and a seemingly sure path to the Hall-of-Fame.

But as he hit age 30, his production dropped alarmingly. The fast life Strawberry was living began to catch up to him. He began to get injured regularly and he only played 75 more games over the next two seasons with the Dodgers, while also battling drug and alcohol abuse. The Dodgers released him two years early from his contract, owing him 10 million dollars. Strawberry attempted a comeback with the Giants but could only get on the field for 29 games. George Steinbenner of the Yankees then took Strawberry on in 1996 as a reclamation project, after he was suspended for cocaine (although Strawberry once said on Letterman he could never see himself playing for George). He did well as a part time player, even hitting 24 home runs in 1998. But another set back occurred when he was diagnosed with colon cancer, which spread to his lymph nodes by 2000. The cancer diagnosis sent his life into a further tailspin. He was busted for drug violations several times, and reportedly lost his will to live. However, he did live and has rehabilitated himself. Always a well-spoken fellow, Strawberry has provided analysis after the Mets games since 2007.

Rear guard: Harry Chiti happens to be the ONLY player in major league history traded for himself. Chiti hit .195 for the Mets in 15 games, so they sent him back to the Indians. He would never play another major league game.