Sunday, April 6, 2014

#407 Sal Butera

Card thoughts: I hate the T-Shirt look. Along with the casual way Butera is swinging his bat, I feel like I’m witnessing a beer-league softball game. This is Butera’s first Topps card since the 1983 set.

The player: The classic backup catcher, Butera moved around a lot in an era when that wasn’t as common as today. Despite only playing 9 years in the majors, Butera played with 5 different teams. Butera was signed by the Twins in 1972 as an undrafted free agent, although it appears he was loaned to both the White Sox and Yankees his first two pro years. At any rate, Butera couldn’t hit, and often backed up better prospects in the minors including  John Lochnar and Ray Smith. But despite this, Butera had a better career than both of these guys and 8 years after he was signed, he finally made his major league debut in 1980.

Butera was the starting catcher in 1981, but #184 Tim Laudner was coming on strong in the minors, so he was relegated to a backup role once again in 1982, where he hit .254 with a .617 OPS.

The Twins found themselves with a surplus of catchers in 1983, with Dave Engle shifting there from the outfield. So Butera was shipped to the Tigers for the unforgettably named Stine Poole. He only played 4 major league games with the Tigers before he was released. Once again, he played mostly in the minors for the Expos, his new team, before catching on with the big club as the third catcher for the 1985 season. In his full-time return to the majors, Butera hit just .200.

As part of a big deal after the season, Butera was sent to the Reds where he hit a little better (.239 in 56 games). After just 5 games the following year, he was released, which fortuitous for Sal, as the team that signed him (the Twins, once gain) won the World Series that year. Butera started one game in the ALCS going 2 for 3, and came in as a defensive replacement for Tim Laudner in Game 4.

After not being able to make up their mind on whether to keep Butera (he was resigned but released before the 1988 season), his career ended with a whimper, as he hit just .233 in 23 games with Toronto.

After his playing days Butera, like many other good field no hit catchers, went into managing. He helmed several Astros minor league clubs and spent his final year managing the Twins AA club, going 65-77. His son, Drew Butera, has caught in the majors for the Twins and the Dodgers and is an even worse hitter than his dad (career OPS: .491). 

Rear guard: Ron LeFlore was famously signed out of prison by the Tigers. He was one of the best base stealers in the game before Rickey Henderson emerged in the late 70s. He stole 97 bases in 1980, but after being signed by the White Sox the next season, his career went into rapid decline (perhaps because he had lied about his age . . . he always claimed to be 4 years younger than he was). Here's LeFlore's 1981 card.


Matt Runyon said...

I didn't know LeFlore had lied about his age. That would explain a lot about his short career.

Douglas said...

I met Sal in 1983 when he was at AAA Evansville (my icon is Bosse Field) plus saw him the next year when he played for Expo's Indianapolis club. I was thinking "man you were just with the Twins." Seemed like a nice guy.

The AAA American Association had several players with colorful nicknames: Razor Shines, Shooty Babbit, Skeeter Barnes, Barebo Garbey. Barnes and Garbey were very good.