Saturday, July 28, 2012

#236 Frank Eufemia

Card thoughts:I always got this guy mixed up with Pete Filson. And, I couldn’t pronounce his name. This is Eufemia’s only Topps card, and he's either chewing tobacco or sucking on a Gobstopper.

The player: This will be a short post. This season was Eufemia’s only one in the majors. He debuted on May 21 (pitching 3 1/3 innings and striking out 2) and his career ended October 1 (1 inning, 1 walk, 1 strikeout). In between, he relieved in 37 other games, struck out 30, and saved 2 games.

Eufemia attempted a couple of minor league comebacks, once with Tidewater (Mets) in 1992 and again with New Jersey (Independent) in 1998, but neither of them worked out. He is a gym teacher at a high school in Montvale, NJ.

Rear guard: Eufemia's first save came in a close 1-0 victory over the White Sox. He was lucky to get the save. After starter Mike Smithson walked Carlton Fisk with one out, Eufemia was called on to relieve, where he promptly gave up a single to Ron Kittle, advancing Fisk to second. In what must have been a base running blunder, Fisk was somehow thrown out at third on a single to right by Jerry Hairston. Eufemia then retired Ozzie Guillen with a flyball to right to earn the save.

Don Mincher was a typical mid-level slugger in the 1960s, generally hitting about 20 homers a year, and struggling to hit over .250. He had 7 hits in 44 pinch at bats in 1964. Here's Mincher's card representing that year.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

#235 Butch Wynegar

Card thoughts: "Butch" is the nickname they always gave the tough kids in young boys' stories. Or "Spike." We'll see a Spike later in the set.

 The player: Wynegar was one of the best young catchers in the 1970s, coming in second in the Rookie of the Year voting at the age of 20. But his trade to the Yankees in 1982 spiraled his career and mental health downward and he was never the same player again.

Wynegar never played above A-ball before debuted with the Twins April 9, 1976. But that didn’t seem to matter, as he hit 10 homers, drove in 69, and walked more than he struck out, as a rookie. Wynegar was no slouch behind the plate either, as he rated just behind Jim Sundberg as the best defensive catcher in the American League. He also was the youngest player at the time to appear in an all star game where he drew a walk in his only at bat. Topps gave him a rookie cup card for his efforts.

Wynegar’s sophomore campaign was even better, as he made his second straight all star team and upped his RBI total to 79, and improved his stellar defense even more by catching 60 base runners stealing, leading the league. He slumped to a .229 average in 1978, but came back with consistent seasons in 1979 and 1980 where he drove in 57 runs each year and kept his average above .250.

Despite signing a lucrative free agent contract with the Twins before the 1981 season, he was traded to the Yankees in the middle of the 1982 season because his poor .209 average (#122 Pete Filson was one of the players he was exchanged for). At first, Wynegar thrived under the good natured tutelage of Yogi Berra and several other “right hand men-managers” to tyrant-tycoon George Steinbrenner, hitting .293 the rest of the way that season. But he hated New York City, so much so that he only went to Manhattan twice in all of his years playing for the Yankees.

Wynegar was platooned with Rick Cerone initially, but once again became the everyday catcher in 1984 and he hit .267. But with arrival of Billy Martin as manager in 1985, his career and mental stability took a turn for the worse. His .223 average that season was the lowest in his career, and he lost playing time to #157 Ron Hassey. The shy and sensitive Wynegar hated Martin’s brash, macho attitude. He was relieved when Lou Pinella replaced him the next season, but he found the latter was just as bad as the former. Hitting .206 in mid July, Wynegar eventually lost all will to play the game, and quit the team in before a game in Cleveland in the midst of three year contract. There’s a fascinating article in the Reading Eagle (part 1 and part 2) with more detail of what led up to this incident.

Placed on the restricted list, Wynegar didn’t know if he wanted to play baseball again. But the Yankees were able to off-load him to the Angels after the season, where played sparingly behind iron man catcher #62 Bob Boone for two years before calling it quits in 1988.

Wynegar has both managed and acted as a coach in the minors since his retirement. He is the hitting coach for the Yankees AAA squad.

Rear guard: Wynegar's first home run was a solo shot off future hall-of-famer Catfish Hunter.

This date in baseball history: In 1962, two Red Sox players, Gene Conley and Pumpsie Green, in a scene straight out of a prison break movie go missing from the Red Sox team bus. They asked to use the bathroom while the bus was stuck in traffic and then disappeared.  They were missing for three days, and then were spotted trying to board a plane is Israel without passports or luggage.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

#234 Doug Corbett

Card thoughts: This would be the last Topps card featuring Corbett with a mustache. He went clean shaven on his 1987 card, and he wasn’t issued one in 1988. All of his cards up until this one showed him with a ‘stache.

The player: Corbett was a sidearm pitcher with a great sinker. The sinker was only consistently effective, however, when he was with the Twins. Once he reached the Angels (a better team), many questioned whether the added pressure got to him. His sinker started to hang, and he started to get creamed.

Before he could make it to the majors, Corbett was with two other organizations, first the Royals and then the Reds. The Twins drafted him in the Rule V draft in 1979. In his first two years, Corbett was one of the best closers in baseball. His rookie season (at the fairly advanced age of 27) in 1980 saw Corbett save 23 games with a 1.93 ERA. He came in third in rookie of the year voting. The next year, Corbett was an all star, and he led the league with 54 appearances. He saved 17 games for a terrible Twins team and featured another fine ERA of 2.57.

Corbett was off to a poor start with the Twins in 1982, but still the Angels coveted him. The Angels liked him so much, they traded minor league slugger Tom Brunansky (who would be a force in the middle of the Twins lineup for years to come) to get him. At the time of the trade, Corbett stated that it was “like going from the outhouse to the penthouse.” Unfortunately, for the first two years with the Halos, Corbett was either terrible (8 saves in 1982 but an awful 5.05 ERA) or mostly pitching in AAA (1983). In 1984, however, Corbett made a comeback of sorts, staying healthy and reducing his ERA to 2.12.

But it was back to his ineffective ways for this season, as his ERA ballooned to 4.89. Corbett had his last good season as a member of the AL West winning 1986 Angels team. Filling in for the injured Donnie Moore mid-season, he saved 10 games, the most since 1983. He won Game 4 of the ALCS by pitching 3 2/3 innings of scoreless relief, but he was scored upon in his other two appearances, giving up a run in a third of an inning in Game 2, and 3 runs in 2 2/3 of inning in Game 6.

Corbett signed a one-year contact with the Orioles after the season, but the team released him in August after he posted a 7.83 ERA over 23 innings.

In retirement, Corbett coached for a time at his alma mater, the University of Florida.

Rear guard: No surprise that Nolan Ryan threw the fastest ball in Angels history. I wonder if this "Talkin' Baseball" fact will appear for other teams?

This date in baseball history: This is the day of the "Pine Tar Incident", when a George Brett home run to win a game against the Yankees was disallowed due to too much pine tar on his bat in 1983.

Monday, July 23, 2012

#233 Steve Lyons

Card thoughts: I feel ashamed that I used to rely on Topps for the positions of players. For crying out loud, Lyons was a starting outfielder for this team, and barely played any third. Yet this, his rookie card, has the positions reversed.

The blurriness of this card (due to improper printing) is appropriate to this player, as is the wide-eyed, Jeff Spicoli look.

The player: Steve Lyons was known as “Psycho” because of his bizarre behavior as a player. He would often play tic-tac-toe with his spikes while playing the infield. In a memorable instance, Lyons absent-mindedly dropped his pants during a game to shake out the dirt. Unfortunately, as a color commentator, some of his off the wall comments got him in hot water.

But Lyons’ odd behavior wouldn’t have been known if he hadn’t been a fairly decent utility player in his career. He played every position, including pitcher, in nine-year span, with most of his action coming at centerfield and third base.

As a rookie, Lyons was the Red Sox starting centerfielder, and he put up decent numbers, hitting .264 and stealing 12 bases. The next season, he was supplanted by veteran Tony Armas who had considerably more pop than Lyons. The latter was traded to the team he would be most remembered for, the Chicago White Sox, in the middle of the season as a result. The other Sox used him all over the field, but he managed to play enough games at third (1988) and second (1989) to be considered the starter at those positions. Lyons best season came in that 1988 campaign, when he played in a career high 146 games, drove in 45 runs, and managed a .686 OPS.

Seemingly better when he played more regularly, Lyons average dipped to .191 in 1990 when he managed to get only 146 at bats. Signing with the Red Sox in 1991, he did a bit better in the subsequent season, hitting .241, but that would be the last year he would come to the plate more than 100 times. In 1992, he played with the three different teams (the Braves, the Expos, and once again, the Red Sox at the end of the year, the third non-consecutive year he played with them.) and only hit .200 in 55 at bats. After a 28 game swan song with the Red Sox in ’93, he was finished.

It seemed Lyons would be a natural as a baseball broadcaster, and he was at first, landing a coveted gig with FOX in 1996 in addition to working for the Dodgers. But a series of racist comments against Jews, Japanese, Italians, and Hispanics over the years eventually got him canned (I guess making fun of a blind guy at a Mets game wasn’t enough). The final straw came when he accused on-air broadcast partner Lou Pinella of “stealing his wallet” and “hablaing Espanol” during an ALCS broadcast. Lyons was fired from his on-air gig, but was still retained by the Dodgers as a road game commenter.

Rear guard:  Lyons also drove in 4 runs on his 2 homer day.

Wow. Billy Werber only died a few years ago at the age of 100! At the time of his death, he was the oldest living former baseball player and the last to have been teammates with Babe Ruth.

Werber was a fast runner; he led the league in steals three times and runs once. His career high was 41 in 1934. All of his hits on July 17th were doubles. He scored 3 and drove in 4 in a 13-5 blowout.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

#232 Rick Rhoden

Card thoughts: For some reason, I always think of Rhoden as a Yankee, although he didn’t spend much time there.

The player: While Rhoden was a pretty good pitcher (151-125 career record), he is probably best known as one of the best hitting pitchers of his era. He finished his career with a .238 average (good for a pitcher), 9 home runs, and 75 runs batted in. Rhoden also overcame a childhood disease that left one leg shorter than the other.

Rhoden was yet another product of the fecund Dodger farm system in the 1970s. Featuring a blazing fastball, but mediocre secondary pitches, he made his debut with the Dodgers pitching 2/3 of an inning in relief of Al Downing in 1974. He didn’t really make a mark until 1976 where he went 12-3 with a 2.98 Era, making his first all-star team. The next season, he had a career high in wins at 16, but despite this was relegated to relief duties in the playoffs where he pitched well.

Rhoden pitched only one more year with the Dodgers. He was disgruntled about being moved to the bullpen for the 1978 season and, as were the rules of the time, since he had played for five years could demand a trade or get free agency at the end of the next season. Rhoden was traded to the Pirates at the beginning of the 1979 season for Jerry Reuss, in a deal that worked out well for both teams in the end, but was a disappointment to the Pirates initially. Battling an inflamed rotator cuff, he only pitched one game that season and missed the World Series. It took until 1982 until Rhoden was able to win over 10 games again. By then, it was believed that he scuffed the ball or used a spitball, due to his over-reliance on the fastball.

Although he usually hovered around the .500 mark, Rhoden would win at least 10 games for the Pirates until they traded him to the Yankees in 1986. His best season may have been in 1984, when he went 14-9 with a career low 2.72 ERA. After leading the league in earned runs allowed (105) the season shown by this card, Rhoden managed to bounce back with another fine season in 1986, winning 15 and sporting a sub-3.00 ERA once again.

This piqued the interest of the Yankees, who at the time were stockpiling veteran talent in as desperate attempt to get back into the post season. While Rhoden won 16 games for the Yankees in 1987, and 12 the next year, his ERA kept climbing, and he was getting old. In addition, Rhoden was injured for significant portions of both seasons with shoulder and back issues. In one interesting instance, in a game in 1988, Rhoden was the designated hitter, the first time the pitcher had filled the role since the adoption of the rule in 1973. He went 0-1.

The Yankees, after signing Andy Hawkins and Dave La Point in the 1988-89 off season, decided they could do without the expensive Rhoden and traded him to the Astros for three minor leaguers. Once again, he battled injuries to his shoulder, and he only managed to start 17 games. Unable to find any takers for his services after the season, he retired.

In his retirement, Rhoden has embarked on a second career as a pro golfer. He’s especially deadly on the celebrity circuit.

Rear guard: Rhoden's first win was against the Padres in relief once again of Al Downing. He pitched 6 innings and struck out 6 while giving up only one run.

Rhoden shared a rookie card with three pitchers who were still pitching effectively when the 1986 set was issued. Not too bad. The fourth, Tom Johnson, won 16 games in 1977 before injuries ended his career. 

This date in baseball history: Brian Downing's record errorless streak in the outfield ends in 1983 after he makes an error on a #160 Chet Lemon.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

#231 Jim Frey

Card thoughts: Because this picture is taken in the dark with a green background, it's making the blues look all messed up.

The player/manager: With Frey, there is no major league career to speak of. After toiling in the minors for the Cardinals, Dodgers, Prates and Braves systems. Frey never got a shot at the majors until he was hired by the famed Earl Weaver to be on his coaching staff in the 70s.

Frey was a manager who always performed spectacularly for a team when first hired (both the Royals and Cubs went to the playoffs in his first year of managing them) before their records tailed off. After coaxing 97 wins out of the Royals in 1980, Frey’s 1981 edition fell flat on his face, and he was fired before the end of the season in favor of #199 Dick Howser. After two years of exile as a coach for the lowly Mets, Frey replaced the mercurial Lee Elia as the Cubs manager. He led the team to the post season for the first time in nearly 40 years and was named Manager of the Year. But he mishandled the pitching staff in the playoffs, and the Cubs didn’t make it to the World Series, despite being up 2-0 in a five game series.

Injuries bedeviled the Cubs in 1985 when their entire rotation went down at once due to injury (either it was a freakish coincidence or Frey was also mishandling his pitchers during the previous regular season as well). Frey was finally fired by the Cubs during the 1987 season, replaced by non-entity Jim Essian.

Frey spent one year as a color commentator for the Cubs on the radio, and them moved into the front offices as GM, replacing the man who had hired him, Dallas Green. There, he made a bunch of terrible deals. A terrifically poor evaluator of talent, he traded Keith Moreland for a washed up Goose Gossage; believed that Lee Smith was going downhill (he saved about 200 more games after the trade) and got back busts #181 Al Nipper and #210 Calvin Schiraldi; signed Dave Smith, Danny Jackson, and George Bell to lucrative free agent contracts long after they were in their primes; and even in the good trade he made (Rafael Palmeiro and Jamie Moyer for Mitch Williams), he ended up choosing two future stars to send, rather than some non-entities.

Frey left the GM spot in 1991 and currently is the vice chairman of an independent league team.

Rear guard: There's no real glaring omissions on the position player side. However, one of these three pitchers should have been issued a card: Jay Baller, Steve Engel, or Ron Meridith. Meridith got a Donruss and Fleer card. 

This date in baseball history: The Senators steal 8 bases off of the Indians in the first inning of a game in 1915, establishing a record.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

#230 Terry Kennedy

Card thoughts: Looks like a couple of front office types or scouts are checking out Kennedy warming up before a game.

The player: While with the Cardinals, Kennedy was a backup catcher with little power. But once he was traded to the Padres, he learned to pull the ball and, for a brief time, was second to #170 Gary Carter in terms of offensive catchers. A slow footed man, Kennedy always had a hard time throwing out base runners, despite a strong, accurate arm.

Kennedy was a first round draft pick for the Cardinals. But with Ted Simmons fully entrenched behind the plate, Kennedy had a hard time breaking into the lineup, After a massive, multi-player trade in 1981, Kennedy finally got his chance with the Padres in 1981, where he hit .301 and made the all star team. He made a massive leap forward offensively the following two years, as he drove in over 90 runs each year. He also tied Johnny Bench’s NL record for catchers with 40 doubles in 1982.

Although still effective, Kennedy’s bat began to slow by 1984. He would never reach his peak production levels again, and it turned out he would not be offensively gifted as Carter as many had forseen. Kennedy would continue to be decent RBI guy for the Padres, and would make the all star team again as reserve the season represented by this card.

After a 12-57-.264 season for the Padres in 1986, Kennedy was sent to the Orioles for pitcher Storm Davis. In his first season with the Orioles, Kennedy made the all star team for the last time by hitting 18 home runs (the most he had hit since 1982) and driving in 62. In 1988, he battled injuries and was ineffective when healthy. His 79 games were the least Kennedy had caught since 1980, and he lost the starting job to Mickey Tettleton.

Kennedy was traded again, this time to the Giants, after the ’88 season. He was starting catcher on the 1989 pennant winners, but by this point his power had deserted him and he drove in only 34 runs. In the playoffs that year, he hit below .200.

Two more seasons with the Giants of increasingly less effective play led to his retirement after the 1991 season. In his final game, he pinch hit for Rod Beck and weakly grounded into a double play.

After retirement, Kennedy became well-regarded minor league manager, in the Cardinals, Expos, Cubs and Padres minor league systems. He won minor league manager of the year honors for his work with the Iowa Cubs in 1998 when he led them to a first place finish and an 85-59 record. Kennedy is the current manager of the Padres top farm club in Tuscon.

Rear guard: I think I spilled pop on this card.

Here's Kennedy's first card. For some reason, in 1979, the Topps multi-player rookie cards are in black and white. Of the other players he shares a card with, George Frazier has a card in this set so I'll discuss him later; and Tom Bruno had actually already been up with both the Royals and Blue Jays before this card was issued. Curiously, Bruno appears solo on an O-Pee-Chee card the year before. 1978 was by far the most productive of his career, as he had a 1.99 ERA in 49+ innings. 

This date in baseball history: In what was once the longest baseball game (time-wise) in major league history, the Mets defeated the Braves 16-13 in 19 innings (at 4 AM) in 1985. The Braves unwisely set off fireworks at that early hour, waking up and freaking out nearby residents.