Thursday, June 30, 2011

#52 Chris Welsh

Card thoughts: I wish this card would have shown Chris Welsh's unusual pitching motion like this one. Here's just a ho-hum picture of Welsh receiving the ball back from his catcher.

The player: Welsh was highly valued as a young pitcher with an unusual side arm delivery, where he would sling the ball to the plate straight armed. Originally drafted by the Yankees, he was a part of a blockbuster trade quite common in those days. Along with Tim Lollar, Ruppert Jones, and Joe Lefebrve he was traded for John Pacella and Jerry Mumphrey. As a rookie, Welsh quickly established himself as a starter. Despite a losing record, he had 4 complete games along with 2 shutouts during his first campaign. He was not as effective in the following years, and after being purchased by the Expos in 1983, he would not see the majors in 1984. After coming back to the majors in '85, his career would end the next season with the Reds. He currently is the color commentator for the Reds TV broadcasts.

Rear guard: Welsh gave up only 3 hits and no earned runs in 7 innings against the Giants in his first win. Neither of the first 2 players acquired by the Rangers ever played for them. They were flipped immediately to the Indians with pitcher Denny Riddleberger, and outfielder-first baseman Del Unser to the Indians for pitchers Rich Hand and Mike Paul, outfielder Roy Foster, and catcher Ken Suarez. Mike Paul and Rich Hand had really good 1972 seasons, but Roy Foster never played in the majors for the Rangers, and Ken Suarez was a backup catcher with little hitting ability. On the other side of the trade, Del Unser would go on to have a fine career with various teams and the other players barely ever played in the majors again. Advantage: Rangers

Sunday, June 19, 2011

#51 Bobby Wine

Card thoughts: There were a lot of pictures taken in his spring training park. Wine looks a little overdressed in this picture, and the odd shadows on his uniform makes it look like he's sweating in some very strange places.

The player: As a player, Wine was a good fielding, light hitting shortstop with a career batting average of .215 over 12 seasons. Immediately after his playing career in ended early in the 1972 season, he became a coach with the Phillies. He would stay as a coach in that organization until 1983. After a year away from the coaching box, he would become the third-base coach for the Braves during the year shown on this card. He became the interim manager on August 26 when the Braves fired Eddie Haas. He went 16-25 the rest of the season and would never manage again. In later years, he would become a coach for the Braves (again) from 1989-1990 and the Mets from 1993 to 1996. His son Robbie Wine is a former major league catcher.

Rear guard: This card has an error. Someone must have sloppily written 51, so the printer thought it read 57. There's a few glaring omissions on the cards Topps chose to print of Braves players. Joe Johnson, who started 14 games was not given a card and neither was Steve Shields, who pitched 68 innings in relief and started 6 games. I must have gotten this card early in the collecting year: Only 6 Braves players are checked off.

Monday, June 13, 2011

#50 Dan Quisenberry

Card thoughts: Another card that looks like it was taken underwater in a dirty lake, with the blurred blue-green background. Other than that, what you get here is the pitching motion that made Dan Quisenberry famous.

The player: Quisenberry was a marginal prospect with no plus pitches until his manager in 1980, Jim Frey, suggested that he emulate Kent Tekulve and sling the ball submarine style. Relying on guile and deception  rather than strikeouts, he instantly became the top reliever in the American League, leading the league in saves every year but one from 1980 until 1985, with a career high 45 in 1983. He also led in games pitched in 1980, 1983, and 1985. Unlike relievers today, Quisenberry regularly logged over 100 innings in relief a year.

All those stressful innings added up, however, and after the year shown on this card he would never again have over 20 saves or pitch more than 100 innings. By 1988 he was relegated to mop-up duty and despite signing a lifetime contract with the Royals, he was released and signed by the Cardinals. After one more effective year in 1989, he signed with the Giants but blew out his rotator cuff at age 37 and retired. He retired as was one the greatest control pitchers of all time, as well as being one of the first pitcher to be an exclusive closer.

Quisenberry became a published poet after his career ended. Sadly, he died of brain cancer at age 45 in 1998. I reprint one of his poems below (appropriate to this blog):

that first baseball card I saw myself
in a triage of rookies
atop the bodies
that made the hill
we played king of
I am the older one
the one on the right
game-face sincere
long red hair unkempt
a symbol of the ’70s
somehow a sign of manhood
you don’t see
how my knees shook on my debut
or my desperation to make it
the second one I look boyish with a gap-toothed smile
the smile of a guy who has it his way
expects it
I rode the wave’s crest
of pennant and trophies
I sat relaxed with one thought
“I can do this”
you don’t see
me stay up till two
reining in nerves
or post-game hands that shook involuntarily
glory years catch action shots
arm whips and body contortions
a human catapult
the backs of those cards
cite numbers
that tell stories of saves, wins, flags, records
handshakes, butt slaps, celebration mobs
you can’t see
the cost of winning
lines on my forehead under the hat
trench line between my eyes
you don’t see my wife, daughter and son
left behind
the last few cards
I do not smile
I grim-face the camera
tight lipped
no more forced poses to win fans
eyes squint
scanning distance
crow’s-feet turn into eagle’s claws
you don’t see
the quiver in my heart
knowledge that it is over
just playing out the end
I look back
at who I thought I was
or used to be
now, trying to be funny
I tell folks
I used to be famous
I used to be good
they say
we thought you were bigger
I say
I was

Rear guard: On a lighter note, look at the strikeout and walk totals. Absolutely miniscule for a closer. Adair was a solid fielding second baseman who like many of his fellow middle infielders at the time could barely hit a lick. He was released in 1970 as he was about to board the team plane, a particularly callous action by the Royals.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

#49 Rick Manning

Card thoughts: What's so funny Rick? This candid shot catches Manning in mid-guffaw. I wish the modern club would go back to this classic jersey. The current home Brewers logo and uniform is decidedly dull.

The player: Manning was a hotshot rookie who reached the majors with the Indians at age 20. He never hit for a high average, but he could fly and played a great centerfield, winning the gold glove in 1976. The gold glove season was also his best offensively. Beating the sophmore jinx, Manning hit .292, scored 73 runs and stole 16 bases. The next year, Manning broke his back (!) after landing awkwardly on the astroturf at the Kingdome in Seattle while attempting to steal second. While rehabbing his injury, Manning accepted teammate Dennis Eckersley's kind offer of a place to stay. He promptly took advantage of this hospitality by sleeping with Eckersley's wife. This prompted a trade of Eckersley to the Red Sox after the 1977 season.
One of the highlights of Manning's career is when he caught the final out of Len Barker's perfect game.

Manning was traded to the Brewers in 1983 for Ernie Camacho, Jamie Easterly and Gorman Thomas. He would hit a disappointing .229 with the Brewers and by the time this card was printed, he was a reserve outfielder. He would make his mark in other ways, however. He helped develop the cheesehead hat seen ubiquitously at Packers and Brewers games during his last season in 1987. He is currently the Indians TV color commentator.

Rear guard: Here's Manning's first Topps card.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

#48 Bill Almon

Card thoughts: Boy, that yellow Pirates batting helmet does not go well with the home uniform. This picture makes Almon look like a short guy. He was actually 6'3". You'll note that lots of cards in this set have this kind of teal/light blue blurry background. This is because a lot of the action shots were taken in the astroturfed, all purpose stadia so common in baseball in the 80s. They all had that bluish background. Since Almon is in his home uniform, it's obvious that this photo was taken in Three Rivers Stadium.

The player: It's appropriate this blog is highlighting Bill Almon while the baseball draft is going on. It's also a cautionary tale for all those fans who are certain their team's #1 draft pick is going to be a star. Almon was the first pick overall in the 1974 draft for the Padres, yet he never became a great player. He did lead the league in sacrifices with 20 during rookie year while picking up 160 hits; and later, as the starting shortstop for the White Sox he hit .301 in 1981 (and came in 19th in MVP voting?!); but he spent most of his career as a utility infielder for a variety of teams including the Expos, Mets (twice), A's, and Phillies. Despite all his travels, he was the only trade he was involved was when the Padres got former all-star second baseman Dave Cash from the Expos for him.

Almon was the last player from Brown University to make the majors (which shows he was no slouch in the brains department). He would coach baseball there after his retirement from 1993 to 1996.

Rear guard: Players in the first round that the Padres passed on to pick Bill Almon: Rick Sutcliffe, Garry Templeton, Lonnie Smith, Lance Parrish, Dale Murphy, and Willie Wilson (all of whose cards also appear in this set).

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

#47 Juan Berenguer

Card thoughts: Just a classic shot of Berenguer's pitching motion at old Tiger Stadium. The dark mustache perfectly complements his black and white Tigers home whites. This would be Berenguer's last Tigers card.

The player: Juan Berenguer was an inconsistent starter with the Mets, Royals, and Blue Jays until he signed with the Tigers in 1982 after leading the league in losses the year before. He found his niche as a starter for the next couple of years winning 9 games in 1983 and a career high 11 in the World Series winning year of 1984. He did not pitch in the post season that year, however. His transition to the bullpen during the year shown was not successful and he was traded to the Giants the following year for oft-traded Dave LaPoint, future star Matt Nokes, and Eric King. After a good year in San Francisco, Berenguer signed with the Twins where he had his greatest success. A hard throwing middle reliever when that was a rare commodity, he captivated the hearts of sun-deprived Minnesotans with his on-the-mound antics every time he struck out a batter. Nicknamed "Senor Smoke" and "El Gasolino," Juan consistently won about 8 games a year and had an ERA in the 3s from 1987-1990. But he was terrible in the '87 World Series, losing a game and giving up 5 runs and 10 hits in just 4 1/3 innings.

Despite this, Berenguer starred in a wince-inducing video dreamed up by a bunch horrible ad exec types where a terrible "rap" (I use this term in the loosest sense) was performed by a bunch of faceless studio musicians while Berenguer showed off his signature strikeout move. I kid you not. 

Berenguer had one more good year in him with the Braves, where he signed in 1991. In his only season as a closer, he saved 17 games and had a stellar 2.29. In a bit of bad luck, Berenguer was wrestling with his kids on a off-day and broke his arm, preventing him from going to the World Series with the Braves. He never really recovered from that injury and his career ended a year later with the Royals. I guess playing in Minnesota gave the Panamanian a taste for hockey: His son currently plays minor league hockey.

Rear guard:  Berenguer's first major league win came against the Cardinals. He pitched 7 1/3 innings and gave up 9 hits, 2 runs, and struck out 4. The game was saved by Jeff Reardon, his first major league save.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

#46 Billy Hatcher

Card thoughts: You don't often see a ballplayer as relaxed as this. Hatcher's  blue away jersey is blending into the blue seat. This is cruelly appropriate: Hatcher would ride the pines as the 5th outfielder for most of the 1985 season, his talent invisible to manager Jim Frey.

The player: The Cubs had a lot of great position players in the minors in the early 80s: Shawon Dunston, Joe Carter, Pat Tabler, and Mel Hall all come to mind. Hatcher was another prospect in this mold. His calling card was blazing speed--he stole 84 bases in the California League in 1982. Unfortunately for Cubs fans, Hatcher would be traded in 1986 to the Astros for serviceable, unspectacular outfielder Jerry Mumphrey.

For the rest of his career, Hatcher always seemed to come up big for playoff bound teams. His best season with the Astros was in 1987 when he scored 97 runs, drove in 63 more, and hit .296 with 70 steals. He also got caught that year with a corked bat, which, using the time honored excuse, he claimed belonged to a pitcher. He kept up his hot hitting in the playoffs, hitting 2 home runs and batting .280 in the 6 game ALDS. After slumping with the Astros a couple of years later, he was sent to the Pirates for veteran Glenn Wilson, and then to the Reds. Once again, in the Reds' World Series winning season of 1990, Billy Hatcher shined. Although his regular season stats were average, in the World Series he hit an incredible .750 with 7 straight hits. He also scored 6 runs and had 4 doubles.

The rest of Hatcher's career alternated between starting and as a reserve outfielder. He would hit .262 in his last full-year as a regular with the Reds (1991) and a solid .287 with 71 runs scored for the Red Sox in 1993. But without the bright lights to motivate him, after that year Hatcher drifted from the Phillies to the Rangers as a reserve who could be counted on for the big hit and bursts of speed off of the bench but not much else.

After his 12-year career ended in 1995, Hatcher has gone on to have a long career as a coach at the major league level. He was a coach for the Rays from 1998-2005 and currently serves as the Cincinnati Reds' first base, outfield, and baserunning coach, a job he's held since 2006.

Rear guard: What a horribly miscut card! There is no record of Vaughn stealing home in this game. He did score a run, but it looks like it was on a fielder's choice. Hippo Vaughn also led the league in innings pitched and strikeouts during the 1919 season.