Wednesday, July 31, 2013

#345 Donnie Moore

Card thoughts: Moore was definitely one of the more tragic figures in baseball in the late 80s, and he looks pretty sad in this picture, even though he was about to become one of the top closers in baseball.

The player: The Cubs were a terrible team in the late 70s/early 80s, but they had a knack for producing great relievers. When Donnie Moore came up with the Cubs in the mid-70s he shared the pen with Bruce Sutter and Willie Hernandez, both of whom were top relievers in the 80s. But Donnie wouldn’t get success until much later, and then lose everything—including his life.

It took Moore until he was 28 to escape from the minors completely. In between AAA stints, he turned in mediocre middle relief outings for the Cubs, Cardinals, and Brewers. Moore was more noted for his bat. Despite not getting many plate appearances as a reliever, he had a career OPS of .703.

Pitching-wise, it wasn’t until Moore was traded to the Braves in 1982 that his career began to really take off. Developing his secondary pitches (split-finger, slider, and change) allowed him to move into the closers role, despite battling leg injuries in each of his Brave seasons. Moore eventually became one of a trio of closers on the Braves, leading the team with 16 saves.

But Moore was left unprotected by the Braves in the off-season and was “chosen” by the Angels as compensation for losing #55 Fred Lynn to free agency. No doubt he was left unprotected after the Braves signed his former teammate Bruce Sutter to be their closer. With the Angels, Moore would become a dominant closer. In the season represented by this card, he had a career low 1.92 ERA and was third in the league with 32 saves. A first time all star, he pitched two shutout innings in the AL’s 6-1 loss to the National League.

Although not quite as spectacular in 1986, Moore was an integral part of the Angels’ division leading team. Unfortunately, in the ALCS, Moore was one strike away from sending the Angels to the World Series when he gave up a game-tying home run to #221 Dave Henderson. Moore would  later lose the game in the eleventh inning by giving up a sacrifice fly to Henderson.

Moore was never the same after that pitch. He struggled with injuries in 1987 and 1988, before being released. After signing with the Royals, Moore pitched for a time with their AAA affiliate in Omaha before getting released. Depressed and suicidal from the release (and, supposedly the Henderson home run although some have called that a myth), Moore shot his wife and later shot himself a month after his release.

Rear guard: I loved getting cards from the 70s as a kid that showed current players as former Cubs. This is a good one, as it is one of the few Topps cards Moore looks happy on..

Monday, July 22, 2013

#344 Jim Wohlford

Card thoughts: The aging, leather-faced fifth outfielder/pinch hitter. A staple in this set (Although Wohlford looks run down on many of his 70s cards too).

The player: Tim McCarver once said that Jim Wohlford was too intense to be an everyday player. This was in 1983, which shows the McCarver’s “wisdom” is not new news.

The real reason that Wohlford wasn’t an everyday player was that he wasn’t very good. A beneficiary of the 1970s, when hitting above .250 with no power was considered good enough for a starting player, Wohlford  got his first big break with the Royals. As the primary left fielder in 1974, he played in 143 games and had career highs in just about every offensive category. In a telling statement of the times, he had a meager .343 slugging percentage in what is considered a power position. And Wohlford didn’t supplement that lack of power with speed, which would have been acceptable, given the times. Sure, he stole 16 bases bus he was caught 13 times.

Wohlford remained the starting left fielder in 1975, primarily because of his excellent defense, certainly not because of his offense (.255/.317/.312 was his triple slash line. Yes, his OPB outranked his slugging percentage). Eventually, a better hitter was installed in left, and Wohlford almost all of his remaining years as a reserve outfielder.

He did get another chance to start, however, when he was sent to the Brewers in 1976 with Jaime Quirk and Bob McClure in exchange for Darrell Porter and Jim Colborn. Both of the latter players would propel the Royals to a division win in 1977, while Wohlford was worse than replacement level in left. Once again, Wohlford struggled to put good wood on the ball, and he was still sent on suicide missions to second, despite the fact that it was obvious wasn’t a base stealer (17 steals, caught 16 times).

Wohlford became a more valuable player, once his playing time was limited. In 46 games the following season, he would hit .297, a career high (he also slugged over .400). Having found his niche, Wohlford settled in as a defensive backup in the outfield, interspersed with occasional pinch hitting duties. A highlight from this era in Wohlford’s career include driving in 5 runs against the Pirates late in 1984 while with the Expos, which improbably sent his confidence sky high, as he declared that he was a late bloomer. However, the rest of the league didn’t think so, and Wohlford would end his career 2 years later as an Expo backup left fielder.

Rear guard: Yawn. I guess we can talk about Wohlford's 1985 season highlights. Of which there is one. On April 19, against the Cubs, he hit a pinch three run home run in the sixth inning to give the Expos a 5-3 lead they would not relinquish.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

#343 Carlos Diaz

Card thoughts: At first glance, this looks like another Tiger Stadium card.

The player: Carlos Diaz was striking out about a man an inning as a reliever before it was the hip thing to do. Which explains why he got traded so much in his short career. I also have some weird memory of him throwing 100+ miles an hour, but I’m not sure if that recollection is a false one.

Drafted by the Mariners, Diaz had just jumped from A to AAA ball, when he was traded to the Braves, straight up, for #168 Jeff Burroughs. After 2 more successful seasons in AAA, he was promoted in 1982 to the Braves, where he had a fairly pedestrian couple months before being sent to the Mets with only three weeks left in the season for nonentity Tom Hausman.

Diaz would turn in his finest major league season in 1983, when he pitched in a career high 54 games with a fine 2.05 ERA. Apparently believing that season was a fluke, the Mets engineered a great trade (for them) with the Dodgers, getting future star Sid Fernandez and AAA mainstay Ross Jones for Diaz and utility infielder Bob Bailor.

Despite pitching in a pitchers park, in a pitchers division, Diaz’ ERA ballooned to 5.49 in 1984. But by the time this card was issued, his career had righted itself and he was generally effective, as he had career highs in wins (6) and strikeouts (73) while only walking 18.

The strikeouts must have taken a toll on his arm, because he was never the same after that. His elbow injured for much of the season, Diaz could only pitch in 19 games in 1986, and his ERA was a mediocre 4.26. Released by the Dodgers after the season, he tried to latch on to the A’s the next spring training, but he wasn’t healthy enough to make the team, and he retired.

Rear guard: Diaz actually gave up a run to the Astros, before the Braves rallied for four ninth inning runs to beat them.

Now that is an obscure statistic. Ted Sizemore had 5 triples in 1969, his rookie season (he would win the Rookie of the Year award). He would finish with 21 career triples, only a few less than his career home run total (23). Here's that rookie card.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

#342 Gary Redus

Card thoughts: Redus looks like he's bawling.

The player: Redus was blessed with both power and speed, but only consistently showed the latter. His most magical pro season came in rookie ball.

About that amazing season: Redus still holds the professional league record for batting average. At Billings in 1978, Redus hit .462, 100 points higher than the second place batter, teammate Skeeter Barnes. In 68 games, Redus scored an incredible 100 runs, and ended up with a .559 on base percentage.

While he would never have another year like that one, Redus continued to hit .300 in the minors before he came up for good in 1983 with the Reds. His rookie season showed the same promise as his Billings year, as he scored 90 runs, slammed 17 home runs, and stole 39 bases as the Reds starting left fielder. A good article on that season can be found here. But Redus would never show that kind of power again. His home run totals dropped to 7 in 1984, as the Reds tried to bat him leadoff for most of the year. By the year this photo was taken, Redus had become a fourth, or platoon, outfielder, where he was useful for his defense, speed (his career stolen base success rate was a robust 79%), and ability to get on base.

Since the Reds now had Nick Esasky patrolling left, Redus was expendable, and he was sent to the Phillies with Tom Hume for pitchers John Denny and Jeff Gray. Redus power returned in Philly where he swatted 11 home runs in just 340 at bats.

This production attracted the White Sox, who made a deal for him at the end of spring training in 1987. Redus would play in the most games since his rookie year, and managed to reach the top ten in steals (a career high 52). He also established career highs in hits (112) and doubles (26). However, his average and OPS were fairly low for a corner outfielder (.236 and .790, respectively). When the White Sox were floundering midway through the 1988 season, Redus was sent to the Pirates for backup catcher Mike Diaz.

With the Pirates, Redus would have his most sustained success, as manager Jim Leyland used him all over the outfield and at first base during the triumvirate of years (1990, 1991, 1992) when the Pirates won the old Eastern Division. A highlight of his tenure with the Pirates is when he hit for the cycle on August 25, 1989. Redus was also a good hitter in the 1992 NLCS, where he put up Billings-like numbers, hitting .438 with a 1.313 OPS while sharing time at first with Orlando Merced.

Redus finished out his career with the Rangers, where he spent most of the 1994 season (his last) on the disabled list with an elbow injury. He now runs a baseball academy in Decatur, GA.

Rear guard: Here's Redus' traded card.

This "Talkin' Baseball" is missing an article before "Red Seats" which makes it highly confusing. I guess everyone was supposed to know that the red seats were in the third outfield deck. The #85 Tony Perez blast came off Mets pitcher Jim McAndrew.