Wednesday, February 27, 2013

#314 Frank Pastore

Card thoughts: Everything is wrong with this picture. Let’s go through the reasons why this may be the worst card so far in this set:
-- Pastore appears to be wearing a red garbage bag
-- Pastore’s face is greasy and has the identical 
    texture of his “bag” ensemble
-- The background looks like the screening of the 
    most boring movie ever: "The Green Parking Lot 
    (not a good contrast to Pastore’s “wrinkled 
      strawberry” look.)
It is worth noting that Pastore looks nothing like the man depicted here on any of his other cards.

The player: Pastore’s pitching motion was often compared to teammate Tom Seaver’s, which irritated the former to no end. He relied on a 90+ fastball almost 90% of the time to get batters out, but also sported a very good curve. At the plate, he was from the Carlos Zambrano school of hitting: Couldn’t bunt worth a lick, but could hit decently for a pitcher. What set Pastore back was a recurring injury to the tendon in his middle finger.

Pastore was not so great in the minors, but the Reds must have seen something they liked in him, as he was called up to the team in 1979, 4 years after being drafted out of high school. In his first stint with the club, he was a primarily a reliever but was made a starter in 1980.  Even though he’d only once had a winning record in the minors, Pastore went a surprising 13-7 for the Reds as he led the team in almost every pitching category.

Injuries led to his ineffectiveness from 1981-1983. Pastore never could manage over 30 starts or 200 innings in a time where that was considered a prerequisite for a starter.  In a 1984, a more serious injury occurred when a line drive off of #175 Steve Sax shattered his elbow.

By the time this card was issued, Pastore’s days with the Reds were numbered. After a poor spring in 1986, he was released and signed with the Twins, where he pitched a decent 49 or so innings, mopping up. After a few games at AAA for the Rangers, he retired.

In retirement, Pastore has become better known. He once ate the legendary 72-oz steak dinner at the Big Texan Steakhouse in Amarillo, TX in a record 9 ½ minutes (they are really serious about the rules for this!). The record stood for over 20 years.

Pastore continued to seek knowledge (if not eating contests) after he retired from baseball, as he pursued a variety of degrees from various universities, the most important of which would be his theology master’s degree. Pastore became a well-known Christian radio talk show host in LA. He was working this job when he was killed on his motorcycle while riding on the 210 freeway this last December. Just a few hours before, on his radio show, he seemingly predicted his own demise

Rear guard: The night game that Babe Herman hit his home run in was not the first one played by the Reds that season: They had beat the Phillies 2-1 earlier in the season in the first ever night game in the major leagues. (By the way, does anyone still refer to the home run by the tame term "4-bagger?).

Herman hit ten "4-baggers" in 1935, and 181 in his 13-year career. His home run on July 10 was against the Dodgers. Here's his Goudey card from that season.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

#313 Joe DeSa

Card thoughts: DeSa looks like one of those heavies in a bad eighties action/ adventure movie. The frown certainly doesn’t help, although apparently DeSa was a friendly fellow in real life. This would be DeSa’s first, and last, Topps card.

The player: The son of Puerto Rican immigrants, DeSa grew up in Hawaii. His uncle, John Matias played in the majors for the White Sox and was issued a card in 1971 (although he is airbrushed into a Royals uniform).  Also a star football player, DeSa was more accomplished on the diamond and he was drafted out of high school by the Cardinals in 1977.

He quickly shot up to AAA in the Cardinals system, but stalled out there. DeSa in the minors was good hitter (for average) but he really didn’t have the size, or the power, to play first in the majors. He did exhibit a common major league suspicion that each bat only had one hit in it.

Blocked by Keith Hernandez (a player with a similar skill set as DeSa) and later David Green, DeSa was allowed to leave as a six-year free agent after the 1983 season.  Once again, he shone in AAA, but the White Sox had #123 Greg Walker at first, so DeSa was blocked once again.  He was probably issued this card because he broke camp with the White Sox. DeSa wasn’t up for long, but he came back to replace Walker later in the season when the latter had injured his quad.

In 1986, he was back in the minors again, and the White Sox failed to call him up when Walker once again got injured (the Sox had a young prospect named Bobby Bonilla they thought would be better). Feeling that he was out of luck with the White Sox, DeSa signed as a minor league free agent with the Royals, who wanted to move incumbent lumbering first baseman #164 SteveBalboni.

While playing winter ball in Puerto Rico that year, DeSa left a dinner party in the wee hours of a foggy morning, intending to drive back to his home in San Juan. On the way home, he collided head-on with another car on the cross-island expressway, which killed both drivers. On his last day alive, DeSa had cracked four doubles for the Ponce club.

After his death, DeSa was honored in the Buffalo and Hawaii AAA parks.  DeSa is memorialized in his death with a ball field named after him in Honolulu, a “Most Inspirational Player” award given out by the Buffalo Bisons each year in his name, and a golf tournament held in a Buffalo suburb.

Rear guard: Look at all those minor league stops. You need to squint really hard you see DeSa's cup of coffee with the Cardinals in '80.

Although his major league stay was brief, DeSa did have a memorable game on my dad's birthday in 1985. DeSa was pinch hitting for #103 Luis Salazar when he knocked in Harold Baines, #290 Carlton Fisk, and #14 Julio Cruz.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

#312 Tom Filer

Card thoughts: To my surprise, there exists a Tom Filer rookie card in a Cubs uniform in the 1983 Topps set (with a goofy, gaping look on his face). He would not have another card until the 1989 set where once again, he’s doing something weird with his mouth.

The player: Filer went through three organizations before ending up on the Blue Jays division winners in 1985.

Drafted by the Yankees in 1978, he had two really good years as a starter in that organization, but was left unprotected in 1980, and he was snapped up by the A’s who did not impress them enough to keep him: Filer was returned to the Yankees at the end of spring training in 1981.

All the moving around must have effected Filer, because after one start at Columbus (where he was bombed for 5 runs in 3 innings), he was sent to the Cubs for backup catcher Barry Foote, who did not have a hit in his first 26 plate appearances. Filer lost his control, and despite consistently terrible performances at AAA from 1981-1984, he was given 8 starts in 1982 with the parent club. Filer’s 5.53 ERA in those starts convinced the Cubs that he was only fit to be an insurance policy at AAA.

With a (seemingly) strong rotation emerging from the 1984 division winning team, he was deemed expendable by the Cubs and he was not resigned after becoming a six-year free agent. Filer then signed with the Blue Jays, and performed well in the minors, earning him a call up in July, replacing an injured Jim Clancy. All Filer did is go unbeaten in 7 decisions (9 starts and 2 relief appearances). However, appearances are deceiving because he pitched poorly in a third of those starts, pushing his ERA up into the high 3’s (high in that small ball era). In another down note, Filer went down with a tender elbow near the end of the season (the third stint he had spent on the DL).

The elbow injury flared up again spring training in 1986, causing Filer to miss the entire season. He never again pitched for the Blue Jays, becoming the first player in history to leave a team while being undefeated in over six decisions.

Filer hooked up with the Brewers in 1988, where he spent a couple of years as their fifth starter, generally pitching ineffectively. He later spent time with the Mets and Cubs, mostly pitching at AAA for those clubs. At 35, Filer retired from pro ball after a 2-10 record at AAA Norfolk (Mets). He is now a pitching coach for the AAA Indianapolis Indians.

Rear guard: His first win was his only one for the Cubs. It was a great game, as he gave up no runs and beat #150 Joaquin Andujar in a pitcher's duel.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

#311 Dick Schofield

Card thoughts: Appropriate shot of Schofield bunting at Tiger Stadium. He had over 10 sacrifice hits 8 times in his career, and frequently placed in the top ten in the league in that category.

The player: This is the son of “Ducky” Schofield, a long time shortstop for many teams in the 50s, 60s, and 70s, and uncle of Jayson Werth, outfielder for the Nationals. 

After being drafted in the first round by the Angels in 1981, Schofield made his debut a few years later in Anaheim. Despite having 400 plate appearances in each of his first two seasons as the Angels starting shortstop, he failed to get over 100 hits, a pattern that would recur throughout his career (he shares the record for having the most seasons with over 400 at bats without getting 100 hits). However, he was a consistently great fielder at short, which kept him in the lineup. Schofield led the league in fielding percentage in 1984, and consistently ranked in the top ten in range at short, assists, and double plays turned.

He finally had a good offensive season in 1986 to go along with his superb fielding. Schofield reached career highs in runs (67), home runs (13), runs batted in (57) and steals (23). He even got some MVP votes (most likely because of the Angels winning the division). An excellent ALCS followed, where Schofield hit .300 and launched a home run off Oil Can Boyd in Game 3. Besides the ALCS, Schofield most exciting moment that year would have to be capping off an amazing eight-run ninth inning comeback by hitting a game winning grand slam

His following two seasons saw him continue to display pretty decent offense for someone known for his defense, although he never hit much above .250, and he never again hit over 10 home runs. But his offensive contributions pretty much disappeared after 1988. Battling injuries, Schofield didn’t manage to play over 100 games in either 1989 or 1990. Then, when he was again healthy in 1992, he was unable to hit much over .200. With young shortstop Gary DiSarcina breathing down his neck, Schofield only played one game for the Angels before being traded to the Mets. With the Mets, he injured his shoulder again and only managed to hit .195.

The injury bug bit him again in 1993 with the Blue Jays, when he broke his arm early in the season. He came back later, but by then he was an afterthought and wound up being left off the post-season roster. In his last season as a regular shortstop, Schofield got his average up to respectable level (.255), but again fought injuries, this time fighting effects from being hit in the head by a pitch.

Evidently sick of being constantly injured, Schofield announced his retirement after hitting a bare .100 as a backup infielder for the Dodgers in 1995. However, his old team, the Angels, coaxed him out of retirement after the man who replaced him at short, Gary DiSarcina, was lost for the season in August. After playing only a handful of games in 1995 and 1996, Schofield retired for good.

Since retirement, Schofield has managed his hometown Springfield Capitals (Independent) and the South Bend Silver Haws (Diamondbacks). He is currently the hitting coach for the Angels rookie league team in Tempe. 

Rear guard: Schofield looks pretty chubby on his first Topps card.  He also got a "Rated Rookie" card from Donruss that year.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

#310 Greg Minton

Card thoughts:  No longer considered a great closer, Minton gets a card ending in zero. He looks much better without the glasses he sported as a rookie.

The player: Minton was nicknamed “Moon Man,” originally because he got really sunburned while tubing naked (!) in Arizona, but also for the following pranks: He once flooded his home field in the minors so the season could end a day early, and he once “hijacked” the team bus in Atlanta, telling the driver that the other players had already left for the ballpark.

Minton grew up in Southern California, where he was more into surfing than playing baseball. An indifferent student, his only shot of going to college was on a baseball scholarship, which the tiny school of San Diego Mesa College offered him. An erratic throwing, spindly shortstop, he was drafted by the Royals in 1970. It would take a change of position, a trade, and eight long years in the minors before he established himself the majors.

Seemingly stuck forever at AAA Pheonix, Minton finally got a chance, by a crazy twist of fate. After severely injuring his knee in 1978, Minton had to alter his delivery which put new movement on his sinker. With this pitch, he became wildly effective. With incumbent closer Randy Moffat battling a rare stomach disorder, an opportunity opened up for Minton, which he did not miss. In fact, he was so effective early in his career that he holds the record in the live ball era for not allowing a home run for three consecutive seasons (1979-1981).

Along with Gary Lavelle, Minton formed a potent late inning combination. He made the all star team in 1982, going 10-4 with a 1.83 ERA and 30 saves. But despite saving 22 games in 1983, and 19 in 1984, his ERA was on the rise, and Minton certainly was no longer a star by the time this card was issued, having lost the closer job to Scott Garrelts and #138 Mark Davis.

Minton was mainly a somewhat effective middle reliever until he was released in 1988 and signed with the Angels. He regained his focus, and spent the final four years of his career as one baseball’s first “star” middle relievers/set up men. His 10 saves in 3 months with the Angels was his highest total since 1984, and he routinely put up ERA’s in the mid to low twos for the rest of his career.

Minton coached for a bit in the independent and minor leagues after his retirement.

Rear guard: You don't see that "first" on the back of many pitcher's cards. Along with converting a three inning save, Minton jacked a home run off of Braves' pitcher Gene Garber that drove in Bob Brenly. It was his only career home run.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

#309 John Shelby

Card thoughts:  John Shelby: sensitive poet.

The player: I remember Shelby more from his time as a Dodger than as an Oriole. He spent 6 years in the minors before getting regular playing time in 1983. He hit .258 that season and stole 15 bases as he platooned with veteran Al Bumbry in center field. In the World Series that year, his sacrifice fly off Willie Hernandez scored #251 Rich Dauer with the game winning run in Game 4. For the rest of the series, he went 4 for 9.

Despite taking over for Bumbry as the team’s starting center fielder in 1984, Shelby’s .205 average made it hard for the Orioles to believe they had their future center fielder. They went out and signed #55 Fred Lynn, and Shelby was back on the bench until he was traded to the Dodgers in 1987.

The Dodgers who, as usual, were struggling offensively under #291 Tommy Lasorda desperately needed a center fielder that year. They were running out a rookie named Mike Ramsey for the start of the year, but he wasn’t hitting. Once John Shelby got to the Dodgers, he gave them a boost, hitting a career high 21 home runs and 69 RBIs. He had a similar season (with a little less power) the year the Dodgers won the World Series (1988). He only got 4 hits and 1 RBI in the World Series that year.

After these two solid seasons, Shelby’s numbers began to tail off considerably, and it was clear his poor bat no longer made him suitable to patrol center field regularly for the Dodgers, or any other club. After hitting .183 in 1989 (his .157 average at the all-star break was, at the time, the lowest ever for a player with 200+ at bats), Shelby was released early in the 1990 season and was signed by the Tigers about 10 days later. With the Tigers, he played infrequently, and never made it back to the majors after hitting .154 in 53 games in 1991.

Shelby has been a long time coach in the majors. Previous to his current job as the outfielder positioning coach for the Brewers (the so-called “eye-in-the sky” coach), he held coaching positions with the Dodgers (1998-2005), Pirates (2006-2007) and the Orioles (2008-2010). 

The next generation of his whole family seems to be part of the game. Son John played for a time in the White Sox organization and hit .239 for the independent Gateway Grizzlies last year; son Jeremy played one season of rookie league ball for the Orioles; and nephew Josh Harrison is in the majors with the Pirates. Another nephew, Vince Harrison, was once a Tampa Bay farmhand but has been an indie league veteran the last 4 seasons.