Thursday, August 30, 2012

#245 Jim Sundberg

Card thoughts: I don’t why, but looking at this picture I’m thinking of the nickname “Sunny Jim” Sundberg. Probably have former Cards first baseman "Sunny Jim" Bottomley.

The player: The 70s were a glorious time for catchers. Whereas you would only find the occasional catcher in the 50s and 60s who would catch more than 120 games, the 70s saw such notables as Johnny Bench, Thurman Munson, Carlton Fisk, #62 Bob Boone, and #237 Ted Simmons all catch nearly 140 games some years, with great hitting and receiving skills to boot. Sundberg certainly belongs in this category. Although more similar in hitting prowess to Bob Boone than Johnny Bench, he was in a league of his own when it came to defense.

Sundberg was a 1st round draft choice by the Rangers in 1973 and, as the Rangers were wont to do in the early 70s (see David Clyde), he was rushed to the majors in 1974 with only a year of A-ball under his belt. Despite this, Sundberg acquitted himself well as a rookie, finishing fourth in Rookie of the Year voting and making the all star team. He wasn’t the hitter he would yet become, hitting only .247 with a .678 OPS, but his defense was already remarkable.

Sundberg was the first catcher since World War II to have more than 100 assists in 1975, but the rest of the season was a mess, as he hit a meager .199 with a .256 slugging percentage. After a similar weak 1976 offensive campaign (when he won the first of 6 straight Gold Gloves), Sundberg looked be the proverbial good field no hit catcher.

But Sundberg really turned things around in 1977, hitting .291 and finishing in the top 20 in MVP voting. He would hit above .275 every year until 1981, and developed some power as well, heating 10 home runs and slugging 24 doubles in 1980.

After 10 years with the Rangers, Sundberg was traded to the Brewers in late 1983 after hitting only .201 the previous season. He had a bit of a late career renaissance in 1984, making the all star squad as a reserve. But the Brewers signed another 70s catching relic, Ted Simmons, and he traded as part of a four-team deal to the Royals after the season. It’s hard to tell who went where in these complex affairs, but Danny Darwin, Tim Leary, Don Slaught and a minor leaguer were distributed among the Rangers, Brewers, Mets, and Royals.

Sundberg steadied the Royals young pitching talent, enough so that they had a the second lowerst team ERA in 1985. Sundberg scored a dramatic winning run in Game 6, avoiding Darell Porter’s swipe tag at home in the 9th inning. After the 1986 season, where he hit a career high 12 homers (but with a low .212 average), he signed as a free agent with the Cubs. I remember Sundberg in this time as seeming very, very old. He was brought in because Jody Davis’ knees were blowing out due to the lack of trust the Cubs had in reserve Steve Lake. Sundberg fulfilled his role as a steady backup for the 1987, and beginning of the 1988 season.

After a season and a half with his original team, the Texas Rangers, Sundberg retired. Upon retirement, he had caught the second most games in history (behind Bob Boone), and had a .993 fielding percentage. He is now VP of Public Relations for the Rangers, where I am sure he is very sunny.

Rear guard: Here's Sundberg's first card. I'm surprised he didn't get a rookie cup, but it went to Barry Foote, a career .230 hitter who had his best offensive season as a rookie.

This date in baseball history: Ty Cobb's first major league at bat was on this day in 1905. He doubled off Jack Chesbro.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

#244 Craig Lefferts

Card thoughts:  Another great photo showing a pitcher in the midst of his motion. You usually can't see this angle when watching a baseball game. It's obvious that part of Lefferts' effectiveness is because he hides the ball so well.

The player: Craig Lefferts was a lefthanded relief pitcher in the days when that didn’t mean pitching to just one guy. And, although rarely hitting, Lefferts is actually the last pitcher to win the game with a home run. It came off the Giants’ Greg Minton in 1986.

Lefferts was born on an army base in West Germany, but played college ball here in the United States, where he won the deciding game in the 1980 College World Series. Drafted by the Cubs, he only played his rookie season with them before being traded to the Padres in a three team trade that brought Scott Sanderson to the Cubs.

Lefferts had a breakout season his first year with the Padres, as his career low 2.13 ERA solidified the Padres bullpen and helped them win the pennant for the first time. He gave up no runs in both playoff series. The 83 games Lefferts appeared in 1986 led the league, and it seemed like he would have a home in San Diego for years to come.  But the Padres traded him in a massive trade to the Giants in just after the 1987 Independence Day.

Lefferts helped the Giants to two playoff berths, and soon became the team’s closer, saving 11 and 20 games from 1988-1989. He continued in this role after he was traded back to the Padres, saving 23 games, ranking in the top ten each of the two seasons he relieved for the team.

A curious thing happened in 1992. After not having started in 8 years, Lefferts was converted by the Padres into a full time starter. Apparently, he was upset after he lost the closing job to offseason acquisition Randy Meyers. Surprisingly, Lefferts was very effective as a starter, going 13-9 with a 3.69 ERA. He was so good, that the Orioles wanted him as a starter for their stretch run, and traded Ricky Gutierrez to get him. Unfortunately for the O’s, he only went 1-3, and they lost the East to the Blue Jays.

Returning the relieving the following year with the Rangers, Lefferts found the magic was gone. Perhaps the career high (by a lot) innings he pitched in 1992 affected his arm. His career high 6.05 ERA was worrisome; his 17 home runs given up in just 83 1/3 innings, appalling.

After a final season with the Angels (he was released in early July), Lefferts retired. He has been a pitching coach in the minors since 1999.

Rear guard: Lefferts was starting when he got his first win against the Pirates. He pitched 7 1/3 innings, giving up only 1 run (on a Tony Pena RBI single), even though he walked 4 and struck out only two.

Bob Miller was a 12-year veteran reliever in 1971, even though he was only 32. The Padres were the second of three teams he pitched for that year, and he won 7 games and had a fine 1.41 ERA. He pitched 4 relief innings in Game 1, and won after the Padres scored a run in the bottom of the 12th on an RBI single by .083 hitter Tommy Dean. In the second game, Miller pitched two more innings. Once again, the Padres prevailed by tying the game in 8th, and winning the game in the bottom of the 9th inning on a double by the heroically named Angel Bravo (who was actually pinch hitting for Miller). Here's Miller airbrushed into a Pirates uniform, his last team of that year.

This date in baseball history: This was the day, in 1981, that #90 Garry Templeton was fined and suspended for obscenely gesturing to St Louis fans after failing to run out a ground ball.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

#243 Johnny Grubb

Card thoughts: Johnny Grubb and #101 Dave Bergman. Always got these guys mixed up. Although Grubb is obviously the handsomer of the two. Some have compared his square-jawed visage to Clark Kent.

The player: Grubb was one of a talented crop of young hitters that came up in the Padres system in the early 70s. In his 1973 rookie season, Grubb came in sixth in Rookie of the Year voting by batting .311. The next year, he made the all star team but flew out in his only at bat. Grubb remained the Padres regular left fielder until 1976, but remained mostly a singles hitter. He did reach the top ten in doubles with 36 in 1975.

In a trade that was seen as bad at the time, the Indians traded George Hendrick to get him in 1977. Grubb promptly blew out a knee, and got into only 36 games that year, hitting .301. Grubb finally learned to slug for power the next two years, hitting 15 and 10 home runs, respectively. He became a better left fielder as well, leading the AL in assists in 1978.

By 1979, Grubb was on the Rangers, a team he would fill the role as fourth outfielder/ designated hitter and platooning right fielder. Highlights of his Texas days include a 21 game hitting streak in 1979.

By the time he was traded to the Tigers in 1984, Grubb was generally used as a lefty pinch hitter off the bench. He pinch hit 3 times in the ’84 World Series, but only appeared twice (two other times, he was announced, but didn’t bat). He got 1 hit in 3 at bats.

After his retirement, Grubb coached for his former high school for a decade.

Rear guard: Grubb's grand slam was in a losing cause against White Sox starter Francisco Barrios. It drove in Duane Kuiper (who had reached on a fielder's choice); Buddy Bell (hit by pitch); and Jim Norris (walked).

This date in baseball history: Gaylord Perry is caught for the first time doctoring the ball, and is ejected in 1982. Perry, who had pitched 20 years at that point, had always been suspected of cheating.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

#242 Rich Thompson

Card thoughts: I love this picture. Thompson’s follow through looks like he’s trying to mimic the Indians “C” cap logo.

The player: The Indians had a lot of rookies on their team in 1985. Unfortunately many, like #208 Ramon Romero, had terrible rookie seasons and were barely heard from again. Thompson falls into that category. The state of pitching in the Indians' minor leagues was terrible in the mid-80s, so guys like Rich Thompson were promoted. He had good control and struck out a lot of guys as a closer in the minors. Unfortunately, in 1985 he walked 48 with only 30 strikeouts in 80 innings. This led to 3-8 record and 6.30 ERA in 57 relief appearances.

Thompson then disappeared into the minors from 1986-1988, first with Milwaukee, then with three different organizations in 1987. Thompson was converted into a starter at Omaha (Royals) in 1988 and had a good 2.90 ERA in that role. With Indianapolis Indians (Expos) the next year he was even better, leading the league in ERA with a mark of 2.06. This earned him a ticket back to the bigs with the Expos, where in 33 innings he continued his strong pitching with a 2.18 ERA. Despite this, he would pitch only one more major league game finishing off a 5-0 Expos loss to the Mets in 1990.

Rear guard: Colavito was one of the most feared sluggers in the late 50s/early 60s. In 1959, he led the league with 42 homers even though he only batted .257. Colavito ended up with 374 homers in his career. Those 4 homers against the Orioles produced 6 RBIs. The Indians would need all of them in a slugfest which they barely won 11-8. Here's his card from that year.

This date in baseball history: In the primitive era of baseball (1886), a dog runs on to the field and starts tearing at the Reds' centerfielder's pant leg. This causes him to miss Chicken Wolf's (real name!) high fly, leading to a game winning, inside-the-park home run for the Louisville Colonels.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

#241 Tony Fernandez

Card thoughts: Blue everywhere! There will be more of these posed spring training shots in the set.

The player: A thin man (his playing weight was only 165 lbs on a + 6 foot frame), Fernandez nevertheless was a consistent, high average hitter. But he was most adept at defense. Fernandez was the Ozzie Smith equivalent the American League. He could make the acrobatic play with ease, including leaping into the air while simultaneously making an underhanded throw to first base.

He was well suited for the turf era. Fernandez had a line drive stroke, and was a prolific triples and doubles hitter. After backing up Alfredo Griffin in 1984, Fernandez won the starting job in 1985, only missing one game. His 10 triples put him in the top ten, and he led the league in assists by a shortstop, although he also committed 30 errors. In the ALCS Fernandez hit .333.

The next five years could be considered his star years. Fernandez made the all star team in 1986, 1987, and 1990, and won gold gloves four straight years. His best overall season was in 1986, when he got 213 hits, scored 91 runs, and hit .310. On the fielding side, he led shortstops in fielding percentage with .983. Fernandez made it back to the post season with the Blue Jays in 1989, hitting .350 in a loss to Oakland. This was also the season where he set a record for best fielding percentage by a shortstop (.991). In 1990, he led the league in triples with 17.

Fernandez was traded in a blockbuster deal to the Padres in 1990 with Fred McGriff for future hall-of-famer Roberto Alomar and Joe Carter, both of whom propelled the Blue Jays to back to back World Series victories. With the Padres, Fernandez became more of a singles hitter, but he still hit in the high .270s.

A trade in 1993 brought him to New York, where he hit an abysmal .225 for the Mets, before being sent back to the Jays early in the season (the 2nd of 4 different times he played for Toronto). The Blue Jays had been rotating veterans Dick Schofield and Alfredo Griffin (again) in the shortstop position to little avail. Fernandez immediately solidified the position, hitting .306 in 94 games and playing typically stellar defense. In the Blue Jays World Series victory over the Phillies, he hit .333 and drove in 9 runs.

The Reds picked him up in 1994, but used him at third as another hall-of-famer, Barry Larkin, had short locked down. Fernandez excelled at his new position, hitting .279 and leading the NL with a .991 fielding percentage, incredible for a third baseman.

The next season was his only one with the Yankees and his last as a shortstop, but he memorably hit for the cycle against the A’s. But Fernandez missed the entire following season (when the Yankees won the World Series) with a broken elbow. Then it was on to the Indians, where he hit a career high 11 home runs during the season. In the World Series that year, his go-ahead 2 run single in Game 7 was negated by a costly error in the 11th inning that led to a Series loss.

Back for 2 more years with the Blue Jays, Fernandez set career highs in batting average (.328) and RBIs (75) in 1999, and made his last all star team. After a year in Japan, he spent his final major league year as a utility player for the Brewers and, once again, the Blue Jays.

Rear guard: Fernandez' first hit was a double off A's starter Tim Conroy. He later scored on a single by #74 Rance Mulliniks.

This date in baseball history: In 1983, both Donnell Nixon and Vince Coleman break Rickey Henderson's pro ball record of 131 stolen bases while in the minors.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

#240 Tommy John

Card thoughts: The name Tommy John just seems wrong to me--too diminutive and cloying for an adult (although Tom John is much worse). By the time this photo was taken, John had played for 22 seasons.

The player: While Tommy John is probably best known today for the surgery named after him that has saved countless big league careers, he was a one of the winningest lefthanders in baseball history, perhaps even Hall of Fame caliber. Only Jim Kaat, as a comparative pitcher, has not reached the Hall of Fame, and he probably should be in as well.

A top prep basketball player, John made his debut for the Indians all the way back in 1963 at only 20. John only pitched two seasons with the club before being traded in a three way trade to the White Sox with the big name being Rocky Colavito. John was very effective in his seven years with the club, with ERAs mainly in lower reaches of the threes. But the late 60s White sox couldn’t hit a lick, and John was only above .500 in 1965 (14-7); 1966 (14-11); and 1968 (10-5). As an example of White Sox futility, John led the league for the second time with 6 shutouts in 1967, but poor run support gave him a record of 10-13.

It was John’s trade for moody slugger Dick Allen to the Dodgers (a much better hitting team) that made John a star. In his 7 years with the Dodgers, John never had and ERA above 3.50 or a winning percentage below .500. Some highlights from his time with the Dodgers include leading the league in winning percentage in 1973 and 1974; winning the Comeback Player of the Year award in 1976 after missing all of the previous season recovering from his namesake surgery; winning 20 games for the first time in 1977; and making the top 10 in Cy Young award voting twice.

After the 1978 season, John signed a fat $2.3 million, four-year contract with the Yankees whose owner, George Steinbrenner, was one of the first to splurge on free agents. John was more than worth the money, as he won over 20 games in both of the non-strike shortened season he played with the Yankees, and once again led the league in shutouts with 6 in 1980. At age 39, John went 10-10 in the early part of the 1982 season, which prompted a trade to the Angels for pitcher Dennis Rasmussen.

John helped the Angels reach the playoffs for the first time by going 4-2 down the stretch. But he had a so-so ALCS, where he pitched a good Game 1 and won, but gave up 6 runs in just 3 1/3 innings for the loss in Game 4. Age really began to catch up to John as he struggled the next two seasons, as his sinker began to hang up in the zone, and hitters pounded out hits (a league leading 287 in 1983).

John was released by the Angels in the season represented by this card, and signed by the A’s for some reason, who he rewarded with an ERA of 6.19. Although most objective observers would have considered this the end for John (after all, he was 42), he refused to quit, signing a series of one-year contracts with the Yankees for the last four years of his career. Although he was often injured, John managed record his last double digit season in 1987, going 13-6.
John finished his career with 288 wins against 231 losses. At the time of his retirement, he held the record for most seasons spent in the majors (later broken by Nolan Ryan). But his longevity is held against him in the Hall of Fame balloting, as it is believed that his career win total came more from persistence rather than dominance.

Activities post-retirement include managing the Bridgeport Bluefish in an independent league and hawking a muscle ache cream for aging athletes, GoFlex. John’s son, a former child star on Broadway, died of an overdose in suburban Chicago, and his daughter is married to a Chicago Bears player.

Rear guard: That is the most important "On Disabled List" you will ever see on the back of a baseball card. Plus, I don't know how they fit all of John's subsequent years on the back of his later cards. The type is already pretty small.

This date in baseball history: Milwaukee Brewers superfan Milt Mason ends his occupation of a team sponsored trailer on top of the scoreboard when the team finally drwas over 40,000 fans in 1970. Mason, a former tain engineer, is the inspiration for Bernie the Brewer, the team's beloved mascot.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

#239 Joel Skinner

Card thoughts: I used to have one of these mesh shirts in '85. Cool in the summer, yes, but when you sweat in them, they would stick to your skin.

The player: Skinner was the son of the much more successful Bob Skinner, outfielder for several team in the 50s and 60s (there's a father/son card out there from the 1985 set documenting this). His career average of .228 meant that he wasn't going to supplant Carlton Fisk anytime soon as the White Sox starting catcher.

Drafted by the Pirates, Skinner was once again drafted while still in A ball by the White Sox in the now obsolete free agent compensation draft. After some decent minor league seasons where he showed some decent power for a catcher, Skinner made his debut at the end of the '83 season and in 6 games hit .273.

He struggled to stay in the majors full time the next two seasons, including this one, due more to the presence on the roster of veteran Marc Hill than his iffy bat. He did managed to hit .341 in limited duty in 1985, encouraging the Sox to drop Hill the following season and install Skinner as the second string catcher. As Fisk was getting older, Skinner got into a lot of games as a late inning defensive replacement, and didn't make the most of it, hitting .201. In a mid-season salary dump, he was traded along with Ron Kittle and Wayne Tolleson to the Yankees for the far superior backup #157 Ron Hassey.

Skinner hit better for the Yankees, getting his average up to .259 for the rest of the year. But when the 1986 season was done, Skinner was surprisingly third in errors committed by a catcher, despite not being an every day catcher.

Skinner spent the next two years backing up a succession of veteran catchers on one-year deals, but not hitting much, including having an astonishingly low .137 batting average in 1987, a hitters year. A trade to the Indians for the perpetually peeved Mel Hall rejuvenated him a bit, and for the last three years of his career, he at least managed to hit .230 every year.

Skinner later managed in the Indians minor league system, and took over as manager of the big club in 2002, where he led the club to a third place finish, despite going 35-41 in a partial season. Skinner was a bench coach for the A's last year and is now the manager of the White Sox AAA team.

Rear guard: Skinner's led of the third inning of the second game of double header getting a single off A's pitcher Chris Codiroli. This began a six-run rally.

This date in baseball history: The first color television broadcast of a baseball game occurs on this date in 1951.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

#238 Larry Parrish

Card thoughts: Look out Larry! There's a weird, pinwheel-type shape heading straight for your right eye! Once again, we have the ubiquitous "hanging around the batting cage at Tiger Stadium" shot. The only thing that draws one's notice is that the photographer failed a lesson from Photography 101: Do not have your subject looking into the sun when taking his picture.

The player: Parrish was one of a stable of stars, and very good players, who made up the powerful late 70s Expos teams. Sharing the lineup with the likes of Andre Dawson, #170 Gary Carter, Ellis Valentine, and Warren Cromartie, he put up some big power numbers in the 70s.

Parrish came up as a third baseman, and became a regular there in his rookie year. His 10 home runs, 65 RBIs and .274 average were good enough to land him in third place in rookie of the year voting, and a Topps card with an all-star rookie cup.

After a sophmore slump when his average dropped to .232, Parrish's offensive numbers improved every year for the remainder of the 70s, culminating in a 30 home run, 82 RBI campaign in 1979, which earned him his first all star berth.

Despite his power, Parrish had some flaws in his game. Although he exhibited good range at third, he made far too many errors there. Also, as a dead pull hitter, teams would tend to overshift on him, leading to low batting averages, and less than optimal RBI numbers for a power hitter.  Parrish also struck out a ton (for the times) and barely ever walked. With today's emphasis on OPS, it is important to note that Parrish only went over .900 once in that department, in 1979.

After another two productive seasons, he was shipped to the Rangers in 1982 for Al Oliver in a deal that worked out well for both clubs. Parrish was immediately shifted to right field, where his strong arm immediately made him one of the more feared outfielders in the American League. In the more offensive minded league, Parrish had some of his most consistently good years. In 1984, he topped the 100 RBI mark for the first time, more on the strength of his 42 doubles than his 22 home runs.

The year represented by this card was a down year, but Parrish bounced back with a 94 RBI season in 1987, and once again topped 100 runs batted in 1987, leading to his second all star berth. But, showing how fast you age in baseball when you hit 35, a year after that season he was out of the game as a player. Now exclusively a DH, Parrish was hitting .190 to start the following season with 79 strikeouts in 273 plate appearances when he was released. The Red Sox, needing an extra bat for the stretch run, picked him up, and he would hit  much a better .259 while with that club. In the ALCS that year, he wouldn't get a hit in 5 at bats.

Parrish would go on to play in Japan for two years, and he was quite successful there, making the all star team both seasons, and beating out fellow former big leaguer Cecil Fielder for the home run crown with 42 in 1989.

Parrish would come back stateside, and become a coach and manager in the Tigers system, eventually managing the Tigers in 1998 and 1999. In his only full season of managing (1999), the Tigers came in third in the central division, despite losing 92 games. The Royals and Twins were worse, each losing 97. After being let go as manager after 1999, he went back to managing and scouting in the Tigers minor leagues. His last job in baseball was as the hitting coach for the Braves in 2011.

Rear guard: In the fourth inning against the Dodgers, Parrish's grand slam drove in Andre Dawson, Gary Carter, and Ellis Valentine. The Expos went on to win the game 10-9.

This date in baseball history: In 1946, every major league team would play a night game for the first time in history.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

#237 Ted Simmons

Card thoughts: This is a quite impressive shot of Simmons “genuflecting” while ripping a ball to left. In the position circle, the “C” designation is more honorary than honest, as his secondary position was at first. I remember Simmons when he was a creaky, washed up backup catcher for “America’s Team,” the Atlanta Braves, who I watched on TBS in the mid 80s when I was desperate.

The player: A really good case can be certainly be made for Simmons being in the hall of fame. One of the best hitting catchers of all time, he drove in over 90 runs 8 times and over 100 3 times. For his career, he hit .285 and had nearly 2,500 hits, similar to Carlton Fisk, Yogi Berra, and Gary Carter, all in the Hall of Fame. Simmons’career hits at catcher was a record until Ivan Rodriguez broke it; his one-time record 483 doubles was also broken by Rodriguez. Oh, and he did this all as a switch-hitter.

A first round draft pick of the Cardinals, Simmons made it to the majors in 1970, platooning with Joe Torre, no slouch in the hitting department himself. Torre was moved to third in ’71, and Simmons became the starting catcher for the next decade. With his long hair and tendency to get his uniform dirty, he became perhaps the most beloved Cardinal of the decade, a lone bright spot on several lackadaisical teams.

As a starter for the Cardinals, he was remarkably durable, catching over 140 games 4 times. The Cardinals would often stick Simmons in the outfield or at first on his off days at catcher, just to get his potent bat in the lineup more often. Although not much of a power hitter (who was at spacious old Busch Stadium?), he consistently had his slugging percentage above .400, due to his ability to drive the ball deep into the gaps.

It is hard to pick out a standout year with Simmons because he was so remarkably consistent in the 70s. A few highlights include being the starting catcher in the 1978 all star team; rarely striking out more than 40 times in a season; driving in over 100 runs two straight seasons (1974 & 1975), despite barely hitting 20 home runs; and leading the league in intentional base on balls twice (1976 & 1977), a measure of how dangerous opposing pitchers found him in clutch situations.

Simmons also set a couple of records, including most hits by a National League catcher (188 in 1975) and most home runs and RBI in a season by a Cardinals catcher. But Simmons intensity on the field often spilled over off the field. Of course, one of the objects of his rage was well-known loudmouth and jerk John Denny, who he beat up in the clubhouse in 1976.

A more ominous feud with manger Whitey Herzog (both GM and manager of the 1980 Cardinals) led to his trade to the Brewers. Apparently, Herzog wanted Simmons to move to first, and the latter refused the move, and in fact went public with his complaints. This was all it took to be traded with #185 Rollie Fingers and Pete Vukovich for a bunch of scrubs who never amounted to much with the Cards. These three players would become to core players on the “Harvey’s Wallbangers” squad that went to the 1982 World Series. Simmons drove in 97 runs that year, and in the World Series he hit 2 homers and drove in 3.

1983 was Simmons last good year. All of those games behind the plate began to take their toll, and, being in the American League, he began spending a substantial time at designated hitter. Simmons was a starter that year in his last all star game, and he had a season similar to his best years in the 1970s. He hit 18 home runs, drove in 103, and hit .303.

The next two seasons with the Brewers, Simmons spent most of his time at DH, catching no games in 1984 for the first time in his career, and only 15 in 1985. Being at designated hitter did rejuvenate his bat. After hitting .221 in 1984, he came back with a 12-76-.273 line the next year.

This convinced the Braves to add the aging Simmons as the backup first baseman/third-string catcher in 1986, although he ended up mostly pinch hitting for them the last three years of his career. Getting into about 75 games a year, he managed to hit .248 over the three-year span.

In his post-playing days, Simmons has held a variety of front office positions, including general manager of the Pirates (he had retire after a year when he suffered a heart attack), director of player development for the Cardinals and Padres, and a scout for the Indians. On the field, he served as Bud Black’s bench coach for the Padres in 2009 and 2010. Simmons is now a senior advisor with the Mariners.

Rear guard: These are almost Simmons' entire career numbers. He would only hit 10 more homers and 66 more RBIs in 411 at bats over the next three years, the equivalent of one of Simmons' off years in his prime.

This date in baseball history:  Thurman Munson, the star Yankee catcher, dies in private plane crash in 1979. Munson was learning to fly the plane.