Thursday, November 21, 2013

#376 Bill Dawley

Card thoughts: This was Dawley’s last card as an Astro. And it is an unusual one. The Astros are in their home jerseys, yet the game Dawley is pitching in is not at the Astrodome (note the sun).  I couldn’t remember Dawley at all, but I guess he had a card in both the ’87 and ’88 Topps sets.

The player: Dawley had a long slog through the Reds system. Drafted in 1976, he spent six years as an undistinguished starter in their system, before being sent to the Astros for backup catcher Alan Knicely.

The Astros wisely converted Dawley to a closer, and he made the all-star team his rookie season, recording 14 saves and a 2.82 ERA. In the all star game, Dawley didn’t give up a run in 1 1/3 innings. He was only the third pitcher at the time to start the season in the minors, and play in an all star game. Switching relief roles in 1984, Dawley had his most successful major league season as a long-man, going 11-4 with a 1.93 ERA in 60 games.

Although Dawley would remain a successful relief pitcher the next two seasons, he would never again have the kind of success he had in his first two seasons. Despite a 5-3 record and near league average ERA, the Astros had released him by the time this card appeared in packs, in a salary saving move. The White Sox grabbed him, and Dawley pitched well for the one season he was with the club (his 3.32 ERA was really good, in what was a hitter’s year).

Another trade for a middling backup player ended Dawley up in St. Louis, where he saw his last significant action, posting a high ERA (4.47), and astonishingly high amount of intentional base on balls issued for some reason (11, in 96 2/3 innings). His poor performance, particularly in September, left him off the Cardinals post-season roster.

Dawley never again had a regular major league job, as his short stints with the Phillies (13.50 ERA, 8 games) and the A’s (4.00 ERA, 4 games) will attest. With the Phillies, he was known as the “soft underbelly” of the bullpen, and with the A’s, no one could figure out why he would sign with a team with no openings (he got his chance when the A’s traded Greg Plunk and Eric Cadaret for Rickey Henderson in mid-summer).

Rear guard: Remember when I said Dawley was one of the few players who ever pitched in an all star game after having started the season in the minors? Well, he was called up so quickly, he never got in a game for Tuscon in '83, despite being on their roster. In fact, Dawley's first major league win was in his debut for the Astros when he finished off a game by going the last three innings of a 7-6 win against the Expos.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

#375 Rich Gedman

Card thoughts: You seldom see an action shot like this in this set: Gedman’s body is tensed; his eyes drift skyward, as he obviously thinks he got all of a ball. Gedman was in the middle of three straight seasons when he was one of the top catchers in baseball.

The player: Gedman, a local boy from Worcester, MA was not drafted out of high school. Signing as an undrafted free agent, his learning of the catching position greatly enhanced his value to the Red Sox.

Despite Gedman’s undrafted status (a newness to the catching position), he was both a great receiver and hitter in the minors. Unfortunately, when Gedman was signed, long time star catcher #290 Carlton Fisk blocked his progress to the majors. But by 1981, Fisk had signed with the White Sox, opening up the position. As a rookie that season, he shared time with Gary Allenson, whom he easily outperformed in the strike shortened season (he had a “triple slash” line of .288/.317/.434). Gedman came in second in Rookie in the Year voting that season.

A sophomore slump in 1982 (.249 batting average), was followed by a much better season in 1983, partly because of the hiring of Walt Hrniak as a hitting coach, considered one of the better coaches in that era. Gedman would have his best season in 1984, where he finally began hitting for power, blasting 24 home runs and driving 79, in the first of three all-star caliber seasons in a row. Even his catching improved, as he threw out 41% of base stealers that season.

Including 1984, Gedman would lead the league in caught stealing for three straight seasons, and he continued his good hitting in 1985, with a career high 80 RBIs, earning first of two straight all-star appearances. Although his hitting was about as good in 1986 (and he threw out 50% of all base runners), Gedman led the league in passed balls with 14, which might be attributable to overwork (he had caught over 130 games the past two seasons). This would come into play in the World Series that season, as it was commonly believed that the Bob Stanley “wild pitch” that allowed the Mets to tie Game 6, was really a Gedman passed ball.

In a freak accident after the season, Gedman was struck by a warm up toss on a barnstorming tour of Japan, fracturing his cheek bone. This limited his playing time to 52 games in 1987. Even worse, along with 9 other players, Gedman remained unsigned as a free agent after January 8 in that off season, which meant that if he was not offered a contract by another team, he couldn’t re-sign with the Red Sox until after May 1. The owners colluded against many of these players, which led to Gedman not getting an offer from another team, which forced him to sit out the first month of the season, before re-signing with the Red Sox.

Gedman ended up hitting .231 that season, but that would be the highest he would hit in his last five years in the majors. Poor hitting led to his relegation to the bench after the Red Sox signed Rick Cerone before the 1989 season; the arrival of Tony Pena the next year made his presence on the club superfluous, and he was traded early that season to the Astros as a part of a “conditional” deal, whatever that means.

With the Astros, he would hit .202; but as a backup with the Cardinals in 1991, he would hit an incredibly low .106!  Gedman’s offense was so poor that season, he had a negative OPS+, and he got only 10 hits all season (but 40% of them for extra bases—3 home runs and 1 double). He raised his offensive production considerably in 1992, but a .219 average is still really bad, and Gedman was released. After playing a brief time with the Yankees AAA club the following season, he retired.

Gedman has stayed active in the Worcester baseball scene, managing the local independent league team for six seasons. Staying close to home, he was named the hitting coach for the Red Sox short-season team in Lowell in 2011, but moved away to Virginia to fill the same role for the Salem Red Sox in 2012.

Rear guard: Rudy York was quite a player in the late 30s/early 40s, mostly for the Tigers. He had just been traded to the Red Sox for Eddie Lake, when he had his big day. York hit two home runs (one of which must have been a grand slam) and a double to drive in those 10 runs. For the season, York drove in 119 for a team that scored 792 runs in 154 games.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

#374 Terry Francona

Card thoughts: This post is timely, as Francona just won the Manager of the Year award again. As a player, he won no awards, nor was named to any all star squads. And, strange to say, I don’t recall Francona playing for the Expos, even though it was the team he played the most games for. 

As for the photo, the angle makes him look like he's swinging one of those souvenir wooden bats they give out at the game. And Francona really doesn't look like he's aged that much since then.

The player: Son of Tito Francona, as a player he never achieved his father’s success. But his managerial career has made everyone forget about Tito (although it is also Terry’s nickname).

A college hero, Francona was the College World Series MVP in 1980, and was also named Sporting News player of the year that season. This led to a first round selection in the draft that year. Francona rocketed to the majors after just 2 minor league seasons, after hitting .351 between two levels in 1981. He consistently hit well in limited play (.321 in 46 games in 1982, .346  in 58 games in 1984), but found it hard to gain much playing time at his primary position, first base, as the Expos preferred to go with veterans at that position (#1 Pete Rose, Al Oliver, and #65 Dan Driessen all blocked him at one time or another). Francona also missed time with injury, significantly in 1982, he injured his knee, a problem that his plagued him into his middle age. By the time all those guys were gone, the Expos had a better first baseman, Andres Galarraga, waiting in the minors, so Francona was released after the season shown on this card. He signed with the Cubs, and I vaguely remember him with the Cubs, although he was once again blocked at first by a veteran in front of him (Leon Durham) and a hot prospect behind him (Mark Grace).

His stay with the Cubs lasted just one year, and the rest of his days in the majors would also be one year assignments as a pinch hitter/reserve first-baseman/outfielder. In this role, his best season would be with the Indians (1988), where he hit .311, including .333 as a pinch hitter.

Francona is considered one of the best managers in the game today, and is particularly lionized in Boston, where he won two World Series for a team who hadn’t won since 1918.  Of course, when he managed the Phillies for four years (1997-2000), he never got the team above .500, whereas with the Red Sox (from 2004-2011)  he never won less than 85 games. And, of course, he left the Red Sox under controversial circumstances, including the team collapsing down the stretch in 2011, supposedly because of Francona’s distraction due to his pending divorce.

Francona earned a modicum of payback, after his successor, #261 Bobby Valentine, completely tanked the Red Sox in 2012. He took over the Indians, a moribund team the year before, and led them to a wild card berth this past season, earning the Manager of the Year award in the process.

Rear guard: Francona was never much of a home run hitter, so his first one is special. It came off champion closer Bruce Sutter, and began a comeback in which the Expos would eventually win in extra innings.

Ellis Valentine was one of the stars of the Expos in the 70s. 1977 was one of the first of three years where Valentine hit over 20 home runs and drove in over 75 runs for the team. Note that the Expos played their first several years at Jarry Park. Here's Valentine's card from that season.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

#373 Urbano Lugo

Card thoughts: This is Urbano Lugo’s rookie card, and as indicative of the poor rookie crop that Topps featured in this set, Lugo would only get one other card. His father, identically named, had a card issued for him by Topps when he pitched in the Venezuelan League.

After a decent, but not spectacular minor league career (13 wins in both ’83 and ’84), Lugo began the 1985 campaign in the minors, but was recalled for use in the bullpen. At first only used when the Angels were losing, Lugo was propelled into the rotation on June 11, where he lasted just 4 innings giving up 3 runs. But the Angels won his next 6 starts, with him factoring in three of the decisions. But Lugo could not sustain his success, and after being unable to make it past five innings in his next three starts (he lost all three, giving up 13 runs in 12 innings), he was sent back to the bullpen where he appeared extremely sporadically for the rest of the season.

In 1986, he spent most of the season with AAA Edmonton, going 8-6, only resurfacing for a couple of spot starts and relief appearances after rosters were expanded in September (despite which, he got a Topps card). In the winter, he pitched a no-hitter in the Venezuelan League.

Lugo broke camp with the Angels the following year, but he was abysmal as a starter, giving up at least a run an inning (including 8 in 5 innings on May 1), before being sent to the minors for good later that month.

No longer in the Angels long term plans, Lugo was released and signed by the Expos in 1989 (where he barely pitched), and a year later by the Tigers, where he appeared in 13 games in April and May, with terrible results again, especially in relief (for instance, he gave up 6 hits (including 3 home runs) and 5 runs to the Blue Jays on May 6, turning a close game into a rout.

Lugo, a pretty big wheel in his native Venezuela, runs free baseball clinics in his home country. Unlike on his baseball cards, his photo is all smiles.

Rear guard: Merv Rettenmund was one of the better pinch hitters in the 70s. His grand slam in '78 was his only one that year. Here's his card from that season.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

#372 Ben Ogilve

Card thoughts: Pensive. Serene. How appropriate.

The player: Born in Panama, but raised in the Bronx, it took quite a long time for Ben Ogilve to establish himself as a legit everyday player.  He found it hard to break into the Red Sox outfield in the early 70s, as the Red Sox were solid there with Carl Yastrzemski, Reggie Smith, and Tommy Harper out there.  Part of the reason was his defense. Although he had a good arm, Ogilve had a tendency to over run the ball, which led to batters taking an extra base on him. He also had not filled out yet. Gangly and a little clumsy, Ogilve was derisively nicknamed “Spiderman” by the club.

Ogilve got more chances when he was traded to the Tigers for infielder Dick McAuliffe in 1973. Appearing in over 100 games for the first time as a platoon partner with Dan Meyer, he did exhibit the power he would in later years, but hit a respectable .286. The power began to show up in 1976, when he hit 15 home runs (while playing more often as a designated hitter) and 21 as the regular right fielder the following year. But despite his success with the Tigers, like the Red Sox they never really believed in his talent. Once again, a derisive nickname was attached to Ogilve: the “Banana Man” (because he ate a lot of bananas, but note the racist overtones).

Ogilve tried to not let the lack of faith get to him. Teammates seemed to think that he was a bit of a dunce, who lacked passion for the game. But he was a mellow fellow, who was into philosophy—reportedly, Rousseau, Plato, and Thoreau were among his favorites.

It was after the age of 30 when Ogilve really began to shine. With the Brewers, Ogilve was inserted more regularly into the lineup, usually in the fifth spot. He got his big break when incumbent right fielder Larry Hisle tore a rotator cuff early in 1978. By necessity, Ogilve became an everyday player.  In 1979, he drove in 81 runs while slugging .525. In 1980, he was even better, tying for the league lead in home runs with 41 while driving in 118. His league lead in intentional walks with 19 showed how much opposing pitchers respected Ogilve. And fans noticed as well. Ogilve was voted into the all-star game as the starting left fielder, over players like Rickey Henderson and Jim Rice. In the game, he went 0 for 2 with 1 walk.

Ogilve was a huge reason why the 1982 Brewers were nicknamed “Harvey’s Wallbangers.” Although his average dipped to .244, he slugged 34 homes and drove in 102 runs, while once again making the all-star squad as a reserve. In Game 5 of the ALCS, he hit an important home run off of Bruce Kison, for only his second hit of the series. He once again hit a solo home run in a deciding game, this time Game 7 of the World Series, but it was in a losing cause.

Ogilve would remain with the Brewers until 1986, a veteran presence who still commanded respect for his power, despite its decline over the years. He spent 1987 and 1988 with in the Japanese League, where he hit for both power and average. Since retirement, he’s been a hitting coach with various minor league clubs, most recently with the West Michigan Whitecaps (Class A). 

Rear guard: Ogilve's first three homer game came against the Tigers. His home runs drove in four of the Brewers five runs in that game.