Tuesday, November 29, 2011

#122 Pete Filson

Card thoughts: For some reason, I feel this picture was taken the same day as #17 Mike Stenhouse. It looks like pre-game warm-up tosses at Yankee Stadium. This would be Filson's last Topps card.

The player: Filson was a hotshot prospect in the Yankees system. In his first three minor league seasons he had ERAs of 1.67, 2.79, and 1.89. He had an amazing 17-3 record in 1981 with the Yankees AA and A clubs. But as the Yankees were wont to do in the 80s, they traded him away to the Twins in exchange for former star catcher Butch Wynegar and mediocre innings-eater Roger Erickson. While Filson didn't exactly shine for the Twins, they did get three decent years out of him as a long reliever and spot starter. His best season came in 1984, where he threw a career high 118 2/3 innings and went 6-5.

The year shown on this card would be Filson's last as a regular reliever. He pitched 18 innings for the Twins and White Sox in 1986; 22 for the Yankees in 1987; and 35 for the Royals in 1990. Interestingly, Filson is shown throwing a pitch that year in Ken Burns appendix to his baseball documentary "Extra Innings."

After his career ended, Filson was the pitching coach for the Newark Bears from 2003-2006. He current runs a baseball school in a hard to pronounce suburb of Philadelphia, near where he grew up.

Rear guard: Filson won his first game in relief of Jack O'Connor against the Angels. He went 2 1/3 innings, gave up only 1 hit, walked 2, and struck out 4.

Rick Renick may have hit a home run in his first at bat, but he hit only 20 over a five year career, all with the Twins. The home run came off the Tigers' Mickey Lolich in the 2nd inning. Renick didn't have a Topps card representing that year (would have been a '69 card), but here's Renick's card from 1968.

Monday, November 28, 2011

#121 Nelson Simmons

Card thoughts: Simmons looks lonely and cold, sitting by himself on the bench. Maybe he's sad because he realizes this will be his only Topps card. And the position should read "OF-DH," as he played the field more.

The player: Some ballplayers resemble submarines. They surface only a brief time in the majors, yet their career is long. Through perseverance, blind hope, a passion for the game, or just lack of anything better to do with their life, they continue toiling in obscurity in the minors. Simmons is that type of player. In a cup of coffee with the Tigers in 1984, the switch-hitting Simmons mashed the ball at a .433 clip. Impressed, the Tigers made him a reserve outfielder the next year, the one represented by the card. Here, he was less effective, hitting only .239, but showing good power with 1/3 of his 60 hits going for extra bases (11 doubles and 10 home runs). Two of the home runs came in a game against the Orioles where hit one from both sides of the plate (each off of a different Martinez!). Simmons surfaced again for his opponent that day in 1987 for 16 games.

But at age 24, that would be the last he would see of the majors. Instead, he played 7 more years of affiliated ball for various organizations, hitting just enough to make a AAA or AA squad. Simmons career as an organization man was followed by 4 years in the independent Western League. He finally ended his career at age 37 with Reynosa in the Mexican League, hitting a measly .217.

Rear guard: Simmons was on fire in 1984. All three of his hits on September 19 were singles and he stole a base as well. His first home run was a pinch hit, 2-run shot off White Sox pitcher Gene Nelson. He drove in
Chet Lemon.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

#120 Steve Carlton

Card thoughts: Kind of an awkward follow through picture. Also, Carlton is over 40 in this picture, but looks like a much younger man. This would be the last of Carlton's 14 Phillie cards.

The player: Carlton is regarded as one of the best left-handed pitchers of all-time. Early in his career, he featured a devastating curve to go with a blazing fastball. But the pitch he was most known for was a wicked slider. Carlton, besides being one of the most durable pitchers in the modern era (16 straight seasons of over 200 innings pitched, not counting the 1981 strike season), is 11th all time in wins (329), 6th all time in games started, 4th all time in strikeouts, 9th in innings pitched. Although Carlton spent most of his career as a Phillie, he started out as a Cardinal. He had several good years for St Louis, with ERAs consistently under 3. He made the all star team in 1968, 1969, and 1971 (he would go the game 7 more times with the Phillies), but he was always in the shadow of Bob Gibson.

The Cardinals inexplicably traded Carlton after a 20 win season in 1971 to the Phillies for Rick Wise, one of the worst trades ever made. Essentially, both pitchers were holding out for $5,000 more than their respective teams were willing to pay, so the hold outs were swapped. The very next year Carlton had one of the most incredible seasons ever en route to his first (of 4) Cy Young awards. For the last place Phillies (who only won 59 games), Carlton won 27 games (you read that right . . . Carlton won 45% of the team's victories all by himself!), completed 30 games, struck out 310, and had a 1.97 ERA (all of these numbers led the league). But the pressure of being a superstar took its toll. Carlton owed much of his success to his focus and concentration, which he honed with regimen of martial arts (and a ritual where he stuck his hand in a giant tin of rice, attempting push his way to the bottom). The magic left him the next year and he led the league in losses the next year with 20, his ERA a full 2 runs higher. Part of the problem was that he didn't like throwing to #62 Bob Boone, so he requested that his personal catcher, Tim McCarver, be brought over from the Cardinals. McCarver ended up catching almost all of his starts from 1976-1979.

Carlton suffered through some more mediocre seasons in the mid-70s as the Phillies floundered, but in the late 70s and early 80s, the Phillies began to dominate. Carlton was the anchor of those staffs, winning over 20 in 1976, 1977, 1980, and 1982 (leading the league in the latter three years). His 300 innings in 1980 may be the last time a pitcher will ever pitch over 300 innings. At age 37 in 1982, Carlton had his last great year, winning his last Cy Young award. After that, all those innings caught up to him, and he would never win more than 15 games again. His last full season for the Phillies, represented by this card, he went 1-8. He was released mid-season in 1986 and became a vagabond, desperate to squeeze every last win from his aging arm. He pitched for the Giants, White Sox, Indians and Twins those final three years, his ERA often over 5.

Carlton went in as a first ballot hall-of famer in 1994, getting 95% of the vote.

Rear guard: The 1985 season was Carlton first since his rookie season where he didn't complete a game. He was injured a lot of this season.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

#119 Barry Bonnell

Card thoughts: That is one classic, basic straight-up closed batting stance.

The player: Bonnell came up in the Braves system and broke into the big leagues in 1977, hitting .300. With the Braves, and later the Blue Jays, Bonnell was a high average, streaky hitter with little power. He generally drove in only 40-50 runs a year. Bonnell's best season was in 1983 with the Blue Jays when he hit .318 and slugged .469, both career highs.  He was a good defensive outfielder who could play all three outfield positions and possessed an excellent, strong arm. In 1984, after coming to the Mariners, Bonnell developed Valley Fever. This ended up curtailing his career. He managed to get into 110 games in 1984 while playing through the illness, but he was only a part-time player for the last two years of his career.

Bonnell's life outside of baseball is pretty interesting. A devout Mormon who was derisively tagged with the nickname "Preacher". Bonnell is responsible for converting former Braves star Dale Murphy to the faith. He once admonished a group of kids from his church for holding up a banner that said "Give 'em Hell, Barry." After baseball, Bonnell was a Mormon bishop, an airline pilot, an importer, a salesman for home medical supplies, and blacksmith hobbyist. He is currently pursuing a writing career.

Rear guard:  Bonnell's inside the park home run was against his future team the Seattle Mariners. It was a ball that was off the left centerfield wall, and bounded quickly back to the infield on the springy Kingdome AstroTurf. Bonnell also scored the tying run that day.

Monday, November 21, 2011

#118 Jerry Royster

Card thoughts: An exciting shot with a dull background. Looks like it was taken during an afternoon game at Veterans Stadium. I think that may be Ozzie Virgil sliding into second.

The player: Royster came out of the deep Dodger farm system in the 70s, hitting .300 a couple of times for AAA Albuquerque. Once he got to the majors, Royster became a hitter who could drive the ball through the infield, or bloop it over an infielder's head but rarely drive the ball. He did show some good speed, however. Royster had a hard time breaking into the Dodgers' all-star infield and was traded to the Braves in 1976 along with Lee Lacy, Tom Paciorek, and Jimmy Wynn for Dusty Baker. Royster was given an opportunity to play regularly at third base that year, but he made 18 errors in 148 games. He never again played over 100 games at any position, as the Braves played him at second, third, and in the outfield.

He was not a great fielder at any of these positions, but he was adequate. Royster was in the lineup for his speed and on-base ability and he actually scored over 100 runs and stole 35 bases in 1979 when he was given a chance to hit at the top of the order. But that year would be his last as a regular player. Although Royster continued to get into nearly 100 games a year, it was generally as a substitute. The year shown on this card was his first with the Padres. After one more year with the club, he would fill the utility role for the White Sox (55 games), Yankees (18 games), and Braves (68 games) before he ended his career in 1988. Royster ended up playing over 600 games at third, 400 games at second, and about 100 each at shortstop and in the outfield.

After his playing career was over, Royster coached and managed for a time in the minors. He coached for Davey Lopes on the Brewers in 1992, and took over the team after Lopes was fired. He had a disappointing 53-94 the rest of the season and was fired. Royster later became the first non-Korean to manage in the Korean League. In an amusing promotional spot, Royster seems excited to be managing the Lotte Giants. If anyone reading this speaks Korean, it would be nice to know what's going on here (oddly, Royster speaks no Korean, only English, in the ad).

Rear guard: Most players hit worse when they get to the West Coast; Royster managed to post a career high slugging percentage in his first year with San Diego.

Friday, November 18, 2011

#117 Bruce Kison

Card thoughts: This is Kison's last Topps card. I also have his rookie card where he is shown in the exact same pose. Other than that, this is one psychedelic card. The players behind Kison look like they're swimming in an unclean aquarium.

The player: Kison entered the league in 1971 and as a rookie he was already pitching some big games. In the NLCS and World Series that year, he didn't give up a run while pitching out of the bullpen, winning 1 game in each series. He didn't give up a postseason run until 1975.

During the regular season, Kison was used as a spot starter and long reliever. He had a reputation as a head hunter and was among the league leader in hit batters three times, despite rarely pitching over 200 innings. Kison pitched sidearm or three-quarters which added more pop to his pitches (and also fed that reputation: a ball pitched from three-quarters often rises). His best season came in 1976 when won 14 games against 9 losses. In 1979, Kison got another World Series ring with the Pirates. He was ineffective in his only World Series start that year, giving up 5 runs in 1/3 of an inning in game 1, seemingly coming unglued after a Phil Garner error. The next year he signed with the Angels and injured his arm. He had some success with the Angels, winning 10 games in 1982 and another 11 in 1983, but he rarely pitched deep into games. The year represented by this card would be Kison's last.

Kison was the pitching coach for the Royals from 1992 to 1998 and the Orioles in 1999. He also served as a bullpen coach for the Orioles in 2007. He currently scouts for the team.

Rear guard: A 5-3 record with a 4.11 ERA is not a bad way to end a career.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

#116 Brook Jacoby

Card thoughts: Either those pants are really high-waisted, or Jacoby's torso is really out of proportion to his legs. I remember this name I found hard to pronounce, due to its unfamiliar, upper-class origins. For years, I thought the guy's name was Jack-o-bee.

The player: Jacoby was stuck behind Bob Horner as a Brave. So the Braves made on of the worst trades in their history and sent he and future star Brett Butler to the Indians for washed-up pitcher #24 Len Barker. Jacoby immediately became the Indians' everyday third baseman, and remained so for the next seven years. The year shown by this card was his first good season, as he hit 20 home runs and drove in 87; in 1986 he made the all-star team and drove in another 80 runs; and in the homer-happy year of 1987, Jacoby managed to reach the top 10 in home runs with 32. Most of those were solo shots, however, as he drove in only 69. Jacoby continued to put up solid numbers in the following seasons, although his power numbers diminished after that '87 season. He made the all-star team once again in 1990, but after a prolonged slump stemming from an elbow injury in 1991, he was traded to the A's. After lasting only half of season in Oakland, Jacoby returned to the Indians as a backup infielder in 1992. An injury to young third baseman Jim Thome pressed him into regular service once again, but he produced a paltry 72 hits and .326 slugging percentage. That was his last year as a player.

Jacoby has been the Cincinnati Reds hitting coach for the last 5 years. Here's an overview of Jacoby as a hitting coach.

Rear guard: Here's Jacoby's first Topps card. I never counted traded cards as rookies, as they were released in limited quantities very late in the year. Jacoby's first hit was an RBI single off of Padres pitcher Fred Kuhaulua. It drove in #107 Rafael Ramirez.

Gary Alexander was a power hitter who struck out too much to be an everyday player. Both pinch home runs came against the Yankees.

Monday, November 14, 2011

#115 Jay Howell

Card thoughts: I always think of Howell as a Dodger. In this shot, I think of him as a young God in the flower of youth, emerging from the golden sun.

The player: Howell was a pitcher with tons of potential who didn't become great until teams stopped forcing him to be a starter. After an up and down minor league career for the Reds and Cubs, and Yankees, Howell finally became a reliable reliever for the latter team in 1984. This promptly got him included in the first of two blockbuster trades he was involved in where the Yankees got Rickey Henderson and the A's got a bunch of young players who went on to have good careers . . . but usually for someone else.

The West Coast agreed with Howell and he made the all-star team for the first of three times in the year represented by this card, saving a career high 29 games with a 2.85 ERA. Unfortunately, his ERA rose each of the two years after that, making him expendable. Thus, the second blockbuster trade he was involved with came to be. The Dodgers, Mets, and A's were involved and some of the other players who changed teams were Alfredo Griffin, Jesse Orosco, Kevin Tapani, Matt Young, and Bob Welch. This trade would put in place the players that led to World Series titles for both the Dodgers and A's in the next couple of years. Howell was a big part of the Dodgers '88 title. He had a 2.08 ERA during the regular season and saved 21 games. In the playoffs he was terrible, however, and was caught using pine tar to doctor the ball, leading to his suspension for two games in the NLCS.

Howell continued pitching effectively for the Dodgers, with ERAs of 1.58, 2.18, 3.18, and 1.54 and double digits in saves over the next four years. After signing with the Braves in 1993 he had one more good year before ending his career with the Rangers at age 38. He coached baseball for California State-Northridge from 1998 to 2005.

Rear guard: Howell's first win came in the second game of a double header against the Pirates. He lasted 5 1/3 innings, giving up 4 runs on 6 hits. He also helped himself out by scoring a run and placing two sacrifice bunts.

Rick Monday was most famous for saving an American flag from being burned, but he was a solid outfielder for many teams during his 16 year career. Like Howell, he played for the A's, Dodgers, and Cubs. He only had 54 RBIs in the 1969 season.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

#114 Mike Brown

Card thoughts: Brown looks like a big bee.

The player: Brown was one of those players who tear up the minors, but never make a mark in the big leagues. After a tremendous season at Edmonton, the AAA affiliate of the Angels, where he hit 22 home runs, drove in 106, and hit .355, Brown was called up to the big club. After hitting .284 in limited duty in 1984, he hit a respectable .268 the next year, finding it hard to get regular playing time in the outfield.

The Pirates thought highly of him and he was traded to them in midseason as part of a blockbuster deal where the Pirates sent veterans John Candelaria, Al Holland, and George Hendrick for Bob Kipper and a bunch of young players who didn't pan out. Finally getting a chance play every day, Brown shone, sporting a .332 average and .512 slugging percentage as the regular rightfielder for the remainder of the '85 season. Given the rightfield job the following year, Brown stumbled badly, hitting only .218. This was unfortunate, as competition by Bobby Bonilla, Andy Van Slyke, and Barry Bonds in the outfield meant that the Pirates no longer needed to be patient with an ex-prospect who had had one good major league season. Brown would see only 18 more games of major league action in 1988 for his original team, the Angels, before disappearing as an organization man into the minors.

Rear guard: Mike Brown's first home run came in the second inning off of the Tigers' Milt Wilcox. It drove in Bobby Grich. Those runs were lost in the shuffle of a 13-11 slugfest lost by the Angels.

Jake Stenzel played in the first lively ball era, when batting averages of .352 (which he hit in 1894) didn't even get you in the top 20. The league batting average that year was .309 and the Pirates hit .312, scoring almost 8 runs a game. The 1894 campaign was Stenzel's finest. He scored 150(!) runs in 132 games, hit 39 doubles, 20 triples, 13 home runs, and drove in 121.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

#113 U.L. Washington

Card thoughts: One of the most awesome all time first names in baseball. Growing up, I used to rack my brain to figure out what U.L. stood for. The only clue I had was the U L logo that appeared on several electrical appliances, but surely his first name wasn't Underwriters Laboratories was it? Now I know. U. L. stands for nothing. That is his given birth name. The one other thing missing from this card is Washington's ubiquitous toothpick. He also barely played any shortstop this year--most of his games were at second.

The player: A star basketball player in high school, Washington had never played organized baseball before being convinced by his brother (an usher at Kaufman Stadium) to try out for the Royals Academy. The Academy was designed to transform raw athletic talent into baseball skills. Washington, along with longtime Royals second baseman Frank White, were the two best players to emerge from the academy. Made into a switch-hitter early in his career, Washington always hit far better from the right side, with more power, although from both sides of the plate he invariably hit balls into right field. His best power year, and best overall season, came in 1982 when he hit 10 home runs, drove in 62 and had a .286 batting average and .414 slugging percentage--all career highs. Washington exhibited blazing speed from both sides of the plate, stealing a career high 40 bases in 1983. And in those days with more turfed stadiums, Washington had the range and arm to play a deep shortstop, but he often made errors on balls other players couldn't get to: He had a league leading 36 errors in 1983.

With the emergence of Onix Conception, and with #99 Buddy Biancalana waiting in the wings, there was no room anymore on the Royals for U.L., and he was shipped to the Expos for two minor league pitchers. He would play only the year represented by this card for the Expos, before playing his two last seasons for the Pirates.

Rear guard: The two-homer game Washington had against the A's in 1979 were the only 2 homers he hit all season. He also drove in 6 runs. Just to show you how baseball has changed: There were only 2,300 people in the stands that night. And it was a Friday night!

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

#112 Bill Campbell

Card thoughts: For some reason, that aquamarine background really brings out the red in this card. Another spring training shot, as I don't think the Cardinals ever had a solid red road uniform.

The player: Bill Campbell's fastball only reached the upper 80s, but he had an excellent screwball, and his herky-jerky motion hid the ball well, helping him become one of the great short relievers in the 1970s. Here is demonstrating some of the pitches he threw. Campbell wasn't used like a short reliever of today. He would often pitch 2 or 3 innings to get a save. After a brief audition the previous year, he became the Twins closer in 1974. Pitching in 63 and 120 innings, he racked up 19 saves. The following year, he was less effective and only saved 4 games. 1976, however, Campbell would have one of the best ever seasons by a reliever. Pitching in a league leading 78 games, Campbell racked up a 17 wins (tied for most wins in relief in the American League) to go along with 20 saves. He also pitched an incredible 168 innings, a inning count a lot of regular starters have trouble reaching today. This breakout season led to the Red Sox making Campbell one the first big money free agents. He didn't disappoint in the first year of his contract, saving a league leading 31 games with an excellent 2.96 ERA. Unfortunately, the heavy workload caught up with him and he battled throughout the rest of his contract with injuries--which made him one of the first free agent busts as well. Finally healthy again with the Cubs, he was back to his inning-eating ways, leading the league again in appearance with 82 in 1983.

After 1983, Campbell became a drifter, appearing in single seasons with the Phillies, Cardinals, Tigers, and Expos.

Rear guard: Campbell blew the save against the Tigers but still got the win, pitching 3 innings in relief of Joe Decker who had given up 6 runs. Campbell gave up 1 run on a home run by Eddie Brinkman, while striking out and walking 1 batter.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

#111 Roger Craig

Card thoughts: I remember when I kept hearing about this San Francisco sports figure in the news. Turns out it was this guy. Not much to say about this photo, other than if you look at Roger Craig cards from the 60s, he pretty much looks like this. Must be the distinctive nose.

The manager: Craig was your classic swing pitcher, when that was still a common position on a staff. He generally pitched about half of his games as a reliever and half as a starter. He had one incredible year in this role, leading the league in shutouts in 1959 and sporting a miniscule 2.06 ERA. Unfortunately, as a player Craig is best remembered as one of the worst pitchers on the original Mets teams, leading the league in losses in both 1962 (24) and 1963 (22).

After his playing days were over, Craig became a well-regarded pitching coach. In fact, he is one of the fathers of the split finger fastball, having taught it to many of his pitchers. In 1978, he was finally given a shot to manage the Padres. He led them to an above .500 finish the first year, but in 1979, the team won 16 less games, and his contract was not renewed. He returned to his role as a pitching coach for the Tigers, including their World Series winning year of 1984. He was working in Tigers minor league system when he was hired to replace Jim Davenport for the last 18 games of the 1986 season. He was very successful as a Giants manager; all of his teams were over .500 until 1991. He won the division in 1987 and the pennant in 1989, losing the infamous "earthquake" World Series in the latter year against the A's. Craig is known for the expression "hum baby" which he applied to grinders, like third-string catcher Brad Gulden. I've never heard this phrase, but Giants fans seem to recall the phrase fondly.

Rear guard: The major omission here is Gary Rajsich, who batted 91 times for the Giants. However, he was traded to the Cardinals mid-season (although he never made it back to the majors). Perhaps Topps was waiting for him to appear in a Cardinal uniform.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

#110 Scott McGregor

Card thoughts: Always an awkward angle for a shot of the pitcher. Given the expression on McGregor's face, he looks like he's going to whip a ball in your face.

The player: Hard to believe, but until 1983 the Orioles were one of the most dominant teams in the American League, due in large part to their pitching. McGregor was a big part of that. From 1978 until 1985, he won at last 13 games a year. Highlights included a 20-8 record in 1980 and an 18-7 record in the Orioles World Series winning year of 1983. He was especially tough in the postseason, with a career ERA of 1.63 over 4 series. McGregor did this despite having a fastball that rarely topped 84 mph. The secret to his success was pinpoint control, an excellent change up, and incredible pitching intelligence. He would be comparable in pitching style to Tom Glavine, except that he did not have the endurance of Glavine. In fact, the year represented by this card would be the last that McGregor would pitch where he had better than a .500 record.

At age 32, his control began to desert him, leaving him exposed to the long ball. After campaigns where he sported a 6.64 (1987) and 8.83 ERA (1988), McGregor retired, playing all of his 13 seasons with the Orioles. He became a Pentacostal minister after retirement, before returning to baseball in 2002 to be a minor league pitching coach in the Orioles system.

Rear guard: McGregor's first win was against to Indians. He pitched 7 1/3 innings giving up only 2 runs on 7 hits. He struck out 3.

Despite having a reputation for being less than durable, McGregor completed a quarter of all his starts and had 23 career shutouts. His first shutout was also against the Indians, in the first game of a doubleheader. He beat Rick Wait, who also pitched a complete game, by the score of 3-0.