Friday, June 29, 2012

#229 Bill Gullickson

Card thoughts: This card was issued during Gullickson's "blue period."

The player: Gullickson pitched sidearm and featured a blazing (but somewhat erratic) 90+ fastball and a "slurve." He broke into the big leagues with a bang in 1980, when he set a rookie record (since broken by Kerry Wood) with 18 strikeouts in a game. Gullickson's 10-5 record and 3.00 ERA was good enough to place him second in the rookie of the year balloting. The next two seasons were a struggle, as the Expos hitters generally didn't support him in his starts, either at the plate or in the field.

Gullickson became a consistent winner at the age of 24 when he won 17 games against 12 losses, despite an ERA in the high threes. Until 1987, when he left for Japan, Gullickson always won more than he lost, and never won less than 10 games.

Gullickson was traded to the Reds in 1987, but unfortunately, Gullickson began to have problems giving up the gopher ball, and gave up an incredible 40 home runs in 213 innings in 1987. His subsequent trade to the Yankees later that season left him unhappy, so he jumped at the chance to play in Japan for the 1988 and 1989 seasons. The Japanese were fascinated by his ability to pitch, despite suffering from diabetes. A Japanese diabetes society named an award "The Gullickson Award" for a diabetes sufferer who best serves society.

Upon returning from Japan in 1990, Gullickson wasn't necessarily a better pitcher, but he pitched for better teams. After a bad season with the Astros, Gullickson signed with the Tigers in 1991, and it was a good signing as he led the league with 20 wins and 35 games started. While with the Tigers, he met a young Sam Fuld (now an outfielder with the Rays), also diabetic, who stated Gullickson inspired him to keep playing baseball.

Despite rising ERAs the next two seasons, Gullickson remained a consistent, double-digit winner. After a 4-5 record in 1994, he retired. Despite having a career ERA of nearly 4, Gullickson had 167 career wins and only lost 136.

Rear guard: Hal Breeden hit the only triples in his career in 1973 (6), and it turned out to be his best season. Here's his card from that year.

This date in baseball history: In 1975, the Reds establish a major league record with 14 straight errorless games.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

#228 Tom Lawless

Card thoughts: Another grotesque, all red Cardinals picture. Lawless looks like the absolute twin of #112 Bill Campbell.

The player: A player like Tom Lawless doesn’t really exist in the majors today. Let me rephrase that: A player like Tom Lawless would never be on a major league team all year long with as little ability as he showed with the bat. Despite a career .207 batting average, and only twice getting more than 100 plate appearances in a season, Lawless stuck on a major league roster for more than half of his career.

The reason he was able to stick almost exclusively as a late inning replacement and pinch runner is twofold:

1)    The highest paid players were not paid as much relative to today. This allowed a club to pay Lawless above the league minimum, because of his years of service. Today, when a few of a team’s top players can command over 1/3 of the total team salary, team’s can’t afford a player like Lawless. They just move these types of players up and down from the minors for a few years, then get new ones.
2)   The mediocre, light (or really no-hitting) middle infielder whose only value in the majors is his glove (and maybe his legs) has been supplanted on the roster by the mediocre, control challenged middle reliever whose only value to the team is his ability to pitch frequently.

On to Lawless. Despite being an awful hitter, he did have a somewhat eventful career. Breaking in with the Reds in 1982, after three straight seasons in the minors where stole over 60 bases, Lawless stole 16 bases, despite being on base only 44 times.

Despite this early promise, the Reds didn’t much need a second baseman who rarely hit a ball that reached the outfield fence. With incumbent Ron Oester starting every game but two in 1983, Lawless was buried in the minors the entire year, where he managed to show some power for the first time and hit .279.

Back up in 1984 as the Reds’ principal backup young third baseman Nick Esasky and second baseman Ron Oester, Lawless was having a career year, hitting .250 when he was traded to the Expos for none other than all-time hit king #1 Pete Rose. This was would be the only player in history Rose was traded for. He rewarded the Expos by hitting .176 in 11 games at the end of the ’84 season, leading to his trade to the Cardinals.

Lawless would have his most productive (relatively speaking . . .) years as a member of the St Louis Cardinals from 1985-1988. His role was to provide a late inning rest for perpetually ailing starting third baseman Terry Pendleton. Each year, Lawless would get about 10 hits and drive in runs in the single-digit range. But Lawless did have a post season to remember in 1987. Pendleton was unable to field, or swing the bat from the right side, due a rib-cage injury suffered in the NLCS, which limited him to DH duties. Lawless and Jose Oquendo, therefore, shared the starting third base duties in the World Series, despite the fact that Lawless had hit .080 with only 2 hits in the regular season as he battled injuries. His only hit in the World Series was a big one. In Game 4, Lawless hit a three-run home run, which was only the second in his entire career. Perhaps feeling powerful, Lawless hit his second (regular season) home run in 1988 but batted just .154.

Toronto, for some reason, signed him in 1989, and he continued his light hitting ways, hitting .229 in 70 at bats. An .083 average got him released for a final time early in the 1990 season.

After his playing career, Tom Lawless managed for several years in the minors, including the Midwest League (5 years), Carolina League (2 years) and the California, South Atlantic and Texas Leagues (1 year each). 

Rear guard: Ha! Maybe Topps should have cited Lawless' only home run (at the time). But that would be mean. The Lawless "shot heard round the Lawless kitchen table" was launched off of Braves pitcher Ken Dayley, who actually saved the game in the World Series that Lawless had hit his second career home run.

Before Tim McCarver was a droning, befuddled color man on TV who frequently gets his analysis mixed up, he was a really good catcher for several teams (all but one had the color red in their uniform, strangely enough. Other than the year he hit 13 triples (represented by this card), McCarver did not have another season where he reached double digits in that category.

This date in baseball history: In the old days, a pitcher's warm up pitches lasted until a batter stepped in the box. On this day in 1911, A's first baseman Stuffy McInnins hits a home run on a "warm up pitch." The Red Sox  protest, although it does not reverse the homer, leads to a rule that spells out how many warm up pitches a pitcher gets in each inning.

Monday, June 25, 2012

#227 Al Jones

Card thoughts: Obvious spring training photo, which is almost identical to one on his 1985 Topps Card. If you like to play detective, note that Jones cap on the previous card had his last name written under the bill. In this case, it's his number. Conclusion: Jones was considered more likely to make the team out of spring training the previous season.

The player: Al Jones is one of those players I have absolutely no recollection of, and he left only a tiny mark on the game of baseball.

Jones arrival in the majors was a bit of a fluke. He was drafted out of Alcorn State University, a small land grant university in Mississippi known more for producing pro football players (Jones is still the only baseball player ever drafted from the school). Despite his obscure background, Jones got the Sox’s attention by saving 22 games for their low-A affiliate in Appleton in 1983. He also went 11-1 and had an almost non-existent 0.93 ERA.

Jones was rewarded by jumping all the way from A ball up to the majors at the end of the season. He pitched 2 1/3 innings and gave up 1 earned run. The next season, Jones’ saw his most extensive in the big leagues. For a time, he was the White Sox closer and out of the 20 games he pitched that season, he finished 14 of them and got 5 saves . The year shown on this card, Jones broke with the club and was pitching well, with a 1.50 ERA, before being injured.

Jones never made it back to the majors, and he spent time in the Brewers organization before pitching and coaching in the Chinese Professional Baseball League at some unknown date.

Rear guard: Homer Blankenship won only one game in his career, and he only pitched 13 innings the season he appeared with his brother. Ted was a little better, having been a rookie in 1922 like his brother. Ted  had a 77-79 record over 9 years, with his best year being 1925 when he went 17-8 with a 3.03 ERA.

This date in baseball history: In his third major league at bat, Bobby Bonds hits a grand slam against the Dodgers in 1968.

Friday, June 22, 2012

#226 Lee Lacy

Card thoughts: This is Lacy’s first card as an Oriole, and it’s another shot of an Orioles player in an awful Star Wars style warm up shirt (at Yankee Stadium). Warning: There will be more.

The player: Given his hitting ability, it’s surprising Lee Lacy didn’t become a regular until his final playing years. But perhaps the wise decision to platoon Lacy (he destroyed left-handed pitching) and using him as a pinch hitter actually helped him, as it didn’t overexpose him.

After hitting over .300 in three out four minor league seasons, Lacy arrived to the Dodgers mid way through the 1972 season and took the second base job away from struggling Jim Lefevre. Lacy hit only .259 with a weak .625 OPS, which was unfortunate for him because a young #125 Davey Lopes made his debut at the end of that season.

Lopes beat Lacy out for the starting second base job in 1973, and his average plummeted to .207 as he was barely used at second. Due to his poor showing in ’73, the Dodgers were understandably wary of using him too much in 1974. But even though he got only 80 or so at bats, mostly as a pinch hitter, he raised his average to .282. That, and his ability to play all three outfield and most of the infield positions, convinced the Dodgers to increase his playing time in 1975. Usually starting when a left-hander was pitching, Lacy hit over .300 for the first time, and upped his power totals.

Because of this improvement, Lacy became attractive to other teams. The Braves snatched him, along with other good young players blocked by the Dodgers strong starting 8 (Tom Paciorek and #118 Jerry Royster) and aging superstar Jim Wynn for Dusty Baker and Ed Goodson. But the Dodgers, missing Lacy’s potent bat off the bench, got him back in June for disgruntled reliever Mike Marshall.

The next year was a typical Lacy campaign, as he hit for a decent average, played all over the field, and exhibited hardly any power. After not seeing much action in the NLCS, he tore up the Yankees in the 1977 World Series. Lacy hit .429 (the highest on the team) in a losing cause.

1978 was Lacy’s best year to date. He started playing the outfield more, and he hit for a good average, but the surprise was his career high 13 home runs and .518 slugging percentage. Lacy set a record that season, since tied, where he hit home runs in three consecutive pinch hit at bats. As the Dodgers were playing the Yankees again in the World Series that year, and as this was the year the DH was in effect in the World Series (the DH used to be used alternating years), manager Tommy Lasorda started Lacy in the 4 games in the series. He couldn’t repeat his previous success, however and hit only .143.

Lacy hit the “re-entry” draft the following season. The re-entry draft was a complicated system that was used at the start of the free agent system. Any player that could not come to terms with his club was made available to the league at large. If at least 13 teams claimed the player, he was a free agent, but could only negotiate with the teams that had drafted him. Lacy signed with the Pirates, which was a good choice (although not for his personal life—more on that later), as he got his only World Series ring with them in 1979.

1980 was a transformative year for Lacy, in that he became a threat the steal bases for the first time in his career (he was 32 at the time). Perhaps it was playing the majority of his games on artificial surface, but Lacy began to garner double digits in steals every year for the next five years he played on the Pirates. The turf also helped his batting stroke. Lacy hit over .300 every year, except the strike shortened 1981 season, he played with the Bucs. He had a career high in steals with 40 in 1982, but his best overall season came at age 36. He hit 12 home runs, drove in a career high 70 runs, and got into 138 games, despite being the team’s fourth outfielder.

Perhaps it was the cocaine that was responsible for Lacy’s late career energy surge. Lacy was part of the big cocaine trials in 1985, and was one of many current and former Pirates who admitted buying and using the drug, even during games. Initially, he was recommended to be suspended for a year, but the sentence was reduced to community service.

The Orioles signed Lacy in 1985 and, despite his age (37), installed him right field to make him a regular for the first time since his rookie season (and even then, he only started 60 games at second). He didn’t disappoint with the Orioles, posting solid .293 average with 9 home runs and 49 runs batted in. In 1986, a much better power year for the league as a whole, Lacy was a regular once again and had similar numvers, although his average dropped just below .290 for the first time since 1981.

But age finally caught up with ageless Lee Lacy in 1987, and retired at the end of the season. In his last at bat, Lacy pinch hit for DH Jim Dwyer and flew out to right.

Lacy is the father of WNBA player Jennifer Lacy.

Rear guard: The stats were squeezed so some facts could be inserted. Lacy's first hit was in his first major league game and came off Giants pitcher Ron Bryant.

This date in baseball history: Carl Griffith, in selling the Twins to Carl Pohland, ends the longest family ownership of a team in baseball history in 1984. The family bought the team (then the Washington Senators) in 1920.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

#225 Ron Darling

Card thoughts: This is a terrible picture. It looks like one of those cards Topps issued back in the 50s for players who had changed teams in the off season where they didn’t have time to airbrush a new hat. There is absolutely no logo anywhere indicating that Darling plays for the Mets. I mean, the Topps photographers this year were obviously at Shea a bunch. Couldn’t they get an in action shot of Darling in uniform? Or perhaps Topps was trying to highlight his good looks.

The player: Darling is a smart guy. He speaks both French and Chinese fluently, as his parents were immigrants from China and Canada, respectively. Darling also spent his formative years attending exclusive East Coast prep schools. This probably paved his way into Yale, although he didn’t graduate as he was drafted by the Rangers in his junior year.

Darling was a mediocre minor leaguer. After playing only one season at AA in the Rangers organization, he was traded with Walt Terrell to the Mets for Lee Mazzilli. He wasn’t much better at AAA Tidewater the next two seasons, where he placed in the top 5 in walks issued both seasons. Despite this, Darling was promoted to the Mets at the end of 1983 and spent the next 13 years exclusively in the majors, where he threw a curve, slider, change, split finger fastball, and a four-seam fastball.

Despite still having a problem with walks (leading the league with 114 issued the season shown by this card), Darling was a consistent winner with the Mets. He had seasons of 12, 16, 15, 12, 17, and 14 wins through the 1989 season. Highlights from this productive run include making his only all star team in 1985; being third in ERA with 2.86 in 1986; pitching 14 innings in the 1986 World Series without giving up an earned run; and, um, being on the cover of GQ magazine.

1988 would be Darling’s apex, as he reached career highs in wins (17), complete games (7), and shutouts (4). His post-season heroics in 1986 were not matched in the NLCS in ‘88, as he gave up 6 runs early and lost the deciding Game 7 to Dodgers pitcher #159 Orel Hershiser.

After another good season in 1989, Darling pitched poorly for the rest of his Mets career. He would pitch scoreless ball in one start, and then get blown out in the others. Darling was finally traded to the Expos in 1991 for Tim Burke. He had three more bad starts for the Expos until they traded him for the second time in 1991, this time to the Oakland A’s. This revived Darling’s career for a brief moment. In 1992, Darling had a season similar to the ones he had as a young Met, going 15-10 with a 3.66 ERA. Darling lost his only post-season start that year, although he only gave up 2 runs in 6 innings against the Blue Jays in the ALCS.

The A’s, perhaps thinking that Darling had regained his star pitching form, signed him to a multi-year contract after the season. This was a mistake. It turned out, rather than auguring good things to come, Darling’s 1992 season was his last hurrah. In his last three seasons with the A’s, he never had an ERA under 4, and never won more than he lost, although Darling could have had one last good year in 1994, as he had a great July that propelled him to double digits in wins and led the league in games started. But the strike ended the season in August. Darling was released by the A’s on his 35th birthday in 1995.

Darling, always a photogenic cat, has been heavily involved in television while he was a player, but especially since he retired, working as a studio baseball analyst, a color commentator, bank pitchman, and bit part actor. He has also written an awesome article about what it is like as an athlete when you know your time in the big leagues is up. Definitely worth a read.


Rear guard: Darling's first win came against the Pirates, and was a complete game. He gave up 7 hits, and 2 runs. The losing pitcher was #161 Lee Tunnell

Doug Flynn is actually a legendarily powerless hitter, who only got regular playing time because nobody could hit from in the mid to late 70s (and the early 80s, for that matter). In 1980, when he hit those triples, he had a .312 slugging percentage for the year. .312! (At least it was above average for Flynn, his career slugging percentage was .294). Flynn was in the top ten in triples that year, however, so he had good speed. Here's his card from that year.

This date in baseball history: Jim Bunning, who later became a senator (and undeserving Hall of Fame inductee), tosses a perfect game against the Mets in 1964. This is significant, as Bunning is the first to throw a no-hitter in both leagues.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

#224 Cesar Cedeno

Card thoughts:  This is Cedeno’s last card. And seeing this card, I never remembered Cedeno as a Cardinal. He was only there at the tail end of the season, and was with the Reds before so this could be airbrushed, as the teams wear the same colors. But it would have to be the best airbrushed card in Topps history, because if you look closely, so can see a little cardinal peeking out of the folds on his shirt. This is a detail that would be unnecessary to add.

The player: Cedeno came into the league billed as “The Next Willie Mays” by none other than the former great’s manager Lou Durocher. Cedeno had it all: he played a great center field, could run, had power (even though the Astrodome sapped a lot of it), and could hit for average.

But unfortunately, Cedeno had a bit of a violent streak (to put it lightly). In 1973, he shot and killed his 19-year old mistress in a seedy hotel in Santo Domingo after getting drunk and high with her (although it was ruled involuntary manslaughter—they were fighting for the gun). Not much justice back then in the Dominican, and Cedeno got off easy with a 100 peso fine. He also got in a violent confrontation with police in 195 after an argument with another girlfriend; smashed a bottle over a man’s head after he accidentally bumped him in a bar in 1986; and later beat up still another girlfriend in 1988.

Enough with the soap opera and on to the field. From 1970-1977 (the first 8 years of his career), he led the league in doubles twice (a high of 40 in 1971); stole over 50 bases six times (a high of 61 in 1977); scored over 80 runs seven times (a high of 103 in 1972); drove in better than 80 runs four times (a high of 102 in 1974), and hit over .300 three times (a high of .320 in 1973). In addition, Cedeno won gold gloves from 1972-1976, and made the all star team as a starter in 1973 (and as a reserve in 1972, 1974, and 1976).

Cedeno’s 1978 season was marred by injury and on the field blowups. He injured his hand after slamming it into the dugout after making an out in a game in June. A much more serious knee injury soon after kept him out until September. After an injury free 1979 season where he mostly played first base to protect his knee, Cedeno propelled the Astros to their first ever playoff berth with a comeback season which ended with 10 home runs, 71 RBIs, 48 steals, and a .262/.348/.374 line. In the NLCS, he hit only .182 and hurt his ankle, which would sap most of his speed for the rest of his career.

The Astros made it back to the playoffs the following year, and Cedeno did a little bit better, hitting .214. But the Astros—correctly, as it turns out—felt Cedeno’s career was in decline. They traded him to the Reds at the end of 1981 for #27 Ray Knight.

#1 Pete Rose had been quoted years ago that if Cedeno was on the Reds, he’d become the best player in the league. Well, he eventually made it, but superstardom was long in the past, and Rose was on the Phillies. Cedeno hit for a good average for the Reds from 1982-1985, but was only a regular for the 1983 season. His power and speed had been lessened by age, and by the time he was traded to the Cardinals 1985, he had become the Reds fourth outfielder.

Cedeno played that August and September for the Cardinals as if he knew he was nearing the end and wanted to go out on a high note. Cedeno hit an incredible .434 in 76 at bats and hit 6 home runs and batted in 19 runs filling in at first for the injured Jack Clark. In the playoffs, he filled in as the starter in left for the sidelined Vince Coleman but had averages of .167 and .133 and drove in only 1 run.

Cedeno ended a potential hall of fame career, marred by injury and personal issues, with the Dodgers on June 2, 1986. He started in left and scored a run after walking and stealing second.

Rear guard: Once again, I was always excited when I turned a card over and the stats were in fine print. Especially if a player had led the league in a category a long, long time ago.

Cedeno went 3 for 4 the day of his first grand slam, adding a double and a single. His granny was off Dodgers pitcher Claude Osteen and drove in Marty Martinez (on with a single); Don Wilson (on after hitting a comebacker to the mound, forcing Larry Howard at home); and future Hall of Famer and color bloviator Joe Morgan (who had walked).

This date in baseball history:  The first organized baseball game in history is played on this date in 1846 in Hoboken, New Jersey.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

#223 Atlee Hammaker

Card thoughts: Either there is a lot f pitching rosin on Hammaker's cap, or a regulation cap wasn't available for the shoot so he sent a kid out to buy a cap at the souvenir stand.

The player: Hammaker, of both German and Japanese descent, was a well traveled Army brat before he accepted a basketball scholarship to obscure university East Tennessee state. While there, he was encouraged to take up baseball. This was a wise choice, as the Royals selected Hammaker in the first round of the 1979 draft. After an okay minor league career, he reached the majors in 1981. 

Hammaker had a three-quarters delivery, and threw hard for a left-hander: His "tailing" fastball (nowadays called a "cutter") sat at 90 mph. He also threw a good slider, a curve, and a sometimes effective straight change. At the plate, he was terrible. Hammaker's career average was .118.

A 1-3 record with a 5.54 cast doubt in the Royals mind whether Hammaker would perform well for them in the future. They shipped him to the Giants in a trade, along with #41 Brad Wellman and some other players for Vida Blue. Hammaker would have his best seasons with the Giants. After a 12-8 mark in 1982, he won the ERA crown the next season with a 2.25 ERA, despite a barely above .500 mark at 10-9. At 172 innings, he was barely over the minimum innings needed to qualify for the lead.

Hammaker made the all star team that year, but pitched one of the most disastrous innings even in that game. In 2/3 of an inning, he gave up 7 runs, including a grand slam to #55 Fred Lynn, the first in all star game history. He would never be back.

At the end of the 1983 season, Hammaker was put on the shelf with tendonitis. The problem recurred the next year, and he also injured his shoulder. He only got into 6 games, but still had a fine 2.18 ERA.

Hammaker regressed to 5-12 during the season represented by this card. Hammaker appeared in spring training the next year suffering from a mysterious ailment contracted on a Carribean cruise in the off-season. The sickness sapped his strength as his weight dropped and his body fat increased. He missed the entire 1986 season to combat the illness.

After his return, Hammaker’s days as budding star ended. He generally was a 6-7 inning starter in his spot starts, but was also used in long relief. Hammaker fulfilled this role in the 1987 NLCS, where he gave up a three-run home run to light hitting Cardinal utility man Jose Oquendo to put the deciding Game 7 out of reach for the Giants.

1988 was the last year Hammaker was able to pitch over 100 innings, and he went 9-9 in that campaign with 3 complete games and 5 saves. Subsequent years saw his innings pitched diminish every year as he was wracked with various injuries. Hammaker was released by the Giants in 1990 and was signed by the Padres, with whom he pitched 24 innings over 1 ½ seasons with a 6.75 ERA. By this point, Hammaker had been on the disabled list 12 times since the start of his pro career. When he had trouble staying healthy in 1991, he was released by the Padres, and was out of baseball for 2 seasons.

The White Sox signed him 1992 originally, but he was released in spring training after, you guessed it, another injury, this time to his elbow. They gave him another chance a year later, and this time, after pitching well in the minors, he made it back to the big leagues, but for only 1 1/3 innings. In 1995, Hammaker had a 12.71 ERA over 6 1/3 innings, which led to his final release.

Rear guard: Hammaker beat the Angels for his first win by going 7 innings and giving up 1 run. Unfortunately, he walked 5 while striking out only 2.

Since the Giants had been around in New York since the San Francisco Giants is that significant. At any rate, Finigan had a couple of good seasons as the starting third baseman on both the Philadelphia and Kansas City A's in the mid-50s (he came in second to pitcher Bob Grim in rookie of the year balloting in 1954), but he only played 23 games as a reserve infielder for the Giants. Topps airbrushed his 1959 card to pretend he was on the Orioles (he'd be sent there after the season). His 1958 card shows him as a Giant, although he's shown in profile and I'm pretty sure that's a KCA on his hat.

Gail Harris, one of the guys he was traded for, had a really good year as the Tigers first baseman a year after the trade; Ozzie Virgil (Sr.), the other player involved in the trade, was a serviceable backup third baseman, but was injured 1/3 of the time he was with the Tigers.

Monday, June 11, 2012

#222 Craig Gerber

Card thoughts: Another picture of an Angel in the batting cage. No doubt taken at the same time as this picture of #127 Jack Howell and #190 George Hendrick. This is Gerber’s only base set Topps card. Fleer also issued a card of him this year.

The player: Wow, this is going to be the dullest post of the set. Gerber only played this season in the bigs. He generally was the late inning defensive replacement for poor hitting youngster Dick Schofield. In his brief 65 game career, Gerber only got 97 plate appearances, and hit for no power, but a decent batting average.

He did have really extraordinary range at short, however, which is why he made the big leagues. It certainly wasn’t his minor league offensive stats, where he hit .251 with a .312 slugging percentage over 6 seasons.

It may be a coincidence, but for a time in the 90s there was a staffer in the Angels marketing department named Craig Gerber. Anyone know if this the same guy?

Rear guard: Chico Ruiz (the third baseman) snagged Amos Otis' ball near third. He stepped on third, fired to Alomar at second, who then threw to Cowan at first. Here's are Ruiz', Alomar's, and Cowan's cards from that season. Only Alomar was a starting infielder.

This date in baseball history: The last game is played today before the 1981 baseball strike.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

#221 Dave Henderson

Card thoughts: I don't remember Henderson being this skinny. This shot of him is almost identical to his card in 1985.

The player: Henderson, nicknamed Hendu, is most famous for his post-season prowess as a hitter. I still remember the 1986 ALCS where, hitting for the Red Sox, he hit a 2 run home run off Donnie Moore in the ninth inning with 2 outs. At the time, the Red Sox were an out away from elimination. After the Angels tied it in the bottom of the ninth, Henderson hit a fly in extra innings to send the series back to Boston, who eventually won in 7 games.

Before his Boston heroics, Henderson was a platoon outfielder for the Mariners. Now, the Mariners were terrible in the 80s, and it is a wonder that they didn't see that much talent in Henderson, especially since he was the Mariners first ever draft pick. In 5 full seasons with the club, he generally managed to hit around 15 home runs and drive in about 50, even while never playing over 140 games. His issue was impatience, as he struck out 3 times as much as he walked.

Boston picked him up for the stretch drive in 1986 for four marginal players. Although he hit only .196 in 36 games, in the post season that year he was clutch, as mentioned before.

The next season, there was no place in the Red Sox outfield, even as a platoon player as the team was set with veteran Jim Rice and up and comers Mike Greenwell, Ellis Burks, and Todd Benzinger. After only getting 184 at bats, he was sent to the Giants who were in the process of winning the NL West and no doubt remembered how Henderson could come through in the clutch in a pressure filled situation. While being the middle of many rallies with the Gians, he only hit .238 and wasn't on the playoff roster.

It looked as though Henderson's peak would be his post-season heroics with the Red Sox. But the A's snapped him up in 1988 and, even though he had not been a regular for a couple of years, he was installed as the starting centerfielder, a position he would hold throughout the A's dynasty. Henderson, surrounded by sluggers like Jose Canseco and Mark McGwire, had a career year, hitting 24 home runs, driving in over 100, and scoring more than that as well. At age 29, Henderson had finally lived up his potential, and he continued his slugging ways until 1991, when he made his first, and only, all star team after hitting .340 in the first half of the season.

1991 would be Henderson's last star turn. A knee injury limited his playing time to just 20 games the next year, and when he came back at full strength in 1993, something had been lost, and his average dropped to .220, his lowest in a full season. He finished up as a reserve outfielder for the Royals in 1994.

Despite being a mostly average regular season hitter, Henderson shone when the lights were brightest, amassing a career .298 average in the post-season, with a slugging percentage of .570. He won a World Series ring with the A's in 1989.

Henderson has been a color man for Seattle Mariners radio broadcasts since 2011. He previously held the same role in the TV booth from 1997 to 2006.

Rear guard: One feature of the 1986 set is that sometimes the backs of the cards are bit washed out looking. This is one of those cards.

Henderson's grand slam (why is this capitalized? Are we German?) was in a losing cause and came off Brewers pitcher Moose Haas. It drove in #92 Al Cowens, Richie Zisk, and Dave Revering.

Glenn Abbott's victories came against the Brewers (2-1); A's (3-1) and (4-3); Twins (9-7); and Orioles (6-1). Abbott also got a no decision on July 8, where he got roughed up by the Twins for 3 runs in 2 and 2/3 innings. For the season (here's his card), Abbott went 12-13. In his career, he struggled to ever win more than he lost, and ended up with a poor 62-83 record over 11 years. But he'll always have July, 1977 to be proud of.

By the way, there's some bad editing here. It should say "turned the trick." Still, this is part and parcel of Topps odd habit of using sayings on their cards that no one uses in everyday conversation. They must have had some octogenarian ex-sportswriter writing these things.

This date in baseball history:  Astros players Rusty Staub and Ken Aspromonte refuse to play in a game against the Pirates in 1968. The league had given individual teams the decision whether to cancel their games because of the assassination of RFK, and the two players benched themselves in protest of the game being played.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

#220 Bob Horner

Card thoughts: Fair or not, the first thing I think of when I think of Bob Horner is "fat." The last thing I think of is his defense, which suffered at third so much from his immobility and lack of range, that you can see he had started transitioning to first by this season. Despite this, Topps chose to show Horner lumbering in to pick up a bunt.

The player: Horner was a dead pull power hitter, but despite hitting over 20 home runs five times, he never drove in more than 100. For some reason, etched in my memory, is waking up one morning in the summer of '86, laying on the living room floor with the sports page, as usual, and seeing that Horner had hit 4 home runs in a game, which in that power challenged era seemed absolutely incredible to me.

Horner was drafted first overall by the Braves in 1978, and went straight into the majors. In fact, the only minor league team he played for was in Japan, at the end of his career. The move to bring Horner to the majors immediately was a wise one, as he hit 23 home runs in only 89 games, winning Rookie of the Year honors. The next two seasons he was equally effective, hittng 33 and 35 home runs, reespectively, despite missing time with chronic shoulder and leg injuries.

Despite these hitting feats, Horner only made one all star team, in one of his best seasons in 1982. He was in the top 10 in home runs (32), runs batted in (97), and slugging (.501). This was also last year Horner was a regular third baseman. His great season did not continue into the NLCS: he only hit .091 against the Cardinals.

Injuries again took their toll on Horner for the 1983 season. Despite having a good season--hitting 20 home runs, driving in 63, and hitting .303—he broke his wrist on slide into second base, missing the last 6 weeks of the season. He re-injured the wrist the following season, leading to a “lost” 1984 campaign, where he only got into 32 games.

Horner was back to being a feared slugger in the season shown on this card and the one following. He also switched full time to first base after the arrival of Ken Oberkfell. Despite hitting 27 home runs each of the last two years of his Braves career, he was not offered a contract by any team after the 1986 season as a result of collusion by the owners. He was forced to ply his trade in Japan. Unlike many star players who find themselves in Japan, Horner was still in the prime of his career. He hit 31 home runs and drove in 73 for the Yakult Swallows in 1987.

Returning stateside in 1988, Horner finished up as the Cardinals starting first baseman for the first half of the season, until a shoulder injury shelved him for the remainder of the year. That was it for Horner as he retired at age 30, his career shortened by severe and chronic injuries to his wrist and shoulder.

Rear guard: Although 100 home runs is nothing to sneeze at many, many players, including some that were never power threats, have reached this mark. For what it is worth, Horner's 100th home run was in a game of dueling hall of famers (Phil Niekro and #100 Nolan Ryan). His three run home run off the Astros' starter Ryan drove in #107 Rafael Ramirez and #149 Brett Butler.

Also, there is no way that Horner is 190 pounds. Maybe as a rookie, but he was already listed at over 200 pounds by the 1983 season. I'd say he's closer to 225.

This date in baseball history: Hah! Bob Horner was selected on this date in 1978 as the #1 overall pick in the nation. Happy draft day, Horner!

Sunday, June 3, 2012

#219 Dennis Lamp

Card thoughts: Lamp’s trademark mustache is in evidence here, but not his glasses. On his early cards, Lamp was always bespectacled. I was always fascinated with card pictures where the ball seemed like it was coming right at the camera.

The player: Lamp was a pitcher reliant on his sinker . . . almost too much at times, as he also had a good curve and slider. Which makes it astonishing that his success came with a team that played a majority of its games on artificial turf. He was also valuable because, especially in the middle of his career, he could pitch in any role: starter, middle relief, long relief, and closer.

Lamp was drafted by the Cubs, and made his debut with them in 1977. He was mainly a starter for the club, and not an especially effective one. He only had one winning season in the 4 years he pitched for them, including records of 7-15, 11-10, and 10-14. Here’s a game where Lamp was getting destroyed by the Phillies in the first inning of a game in 1979. To add insult to injury, he led the league in earned runs given up in 1980, mostly due to his wildness (8th in walks, 3rd in wild pitches).

The Cubs had enough, and completed a rare trade with the White Sox, getting pitcher Ken Kravec in exchange. Lamp turned his career around with the Sox. They wisely made him a swing man, and he responded with a 2.41 ERA in 1981. Lamp was even better the next year, winning 11 games, splitting his time about equally between starting and relieving. In 1983, Lamp was almost exclusively used as a reliever, which would be his role for the rest of his career. He went 7-7 during the season, and gave up no runs over 3 innings in the ALCS.

Lamp’s next stop was with the Blue Jays, where he would have the best of years of his career. He came within 1 win in 1984 of setting the record for most consecutive relief wins in a season. And in the year shown on this card, Lamp did not lose a game, going an outstanding 11-0 with 3.32 ERA, and he kept up his hot pitching the ALCS, where he once again gave up no runs over 3 appearances.

After another season with the Jays, Lamp would spend one season with the A’s (where he was ineffective) and then to Red Sox for four seasons, with the 1989 season as a highlight. Lamp had a career low 2.32 ERA and 1.095 WHIP that season.

Lamp would end his career in 1992 with the Pirates. Since retiring, Lamp has a worked a variety of jobs not usually associated with an ex-player including as a temporary worker and a salesman on commission at Nordstrom. He currently mans a seafood counter at a grocery store, and says he loves his job. In case you are wondering, Lamp isn’t broke. He just likes working.

Rear guard: Wow! Lamp's first card is the only one where he is sans mustache. Maybe there was a rule in the Cubs minor league system against facial hair. Out of the other three pitchers he shares his card with, Roy Thomas has a card in this set, so he lasted awhile; Cardell Camper, besides being an awesome name, only won 1 game and pitched 3 games and is now dead; and Craig Mitchell was the first overall pick in the 1973 draft, yet he only pitched 5 games over a 3 year career and ended up with a 7.82 ERA.

This date in baseball history: The famous poem "Casey at the Bat" was published in the San Francisco Examiner under a pseudonym in 1888 because the author, Ernest Thayer, a humor columnist for the paper, was ashamed at the poor versification.