Monday, September 23, 2013

#362 Tom Paciorek

Card thoughts: Second high-five picture in the set! And since Paciorek only hit one home run in a Mets uniform, we should be able to identify the circumstance, and his mysterious high-fiving partner. This picture was taken on August 15, in the first inning. Paciorek was the second batter of the game, and he drove in leadoff man, #191 Wally Backman, who had earlier taken a walk. As a child, I pronounced his name “Passiorek.”

The player: Paciorek, who was nicknamed “Wimpy” for some unknown reason, was the most successful of three baseball playing brothers.  One of the myriad of great hitting prospects the Dodgers had in the early 70s, like of many of those players he tore up the PCL, driving in over 100 runs three straight seasons (1970-1972).  Despite this, he was unable to make it to the majors for more than a cup of coffee until 1973. When he did, he was blocked at first by former Spokane teammate Steve Garvey, and in the outfield by a trio of solid veterans (Manny Mota, Willie Davis, and Willie Crawford). Paciorek never would get a chance to be more than a fourth outfielder in LA, as in the next two seasons youngster Bill Buckner and import Jim Wynn would take up the majority of the outfield playing time in left and center, respectively.

Suffering from lack of playing time, Wimpy’s average dipped to .190 in 1976, prompting a trade to the Braves. He still was in a reserve role, but the Braves starting outfielders were far inferior to the Dodgers, so his playing time increased accordingly. Playing in 110 games, Paciorek hit .290 with a league average OPS. He slumped in 1977, and was bad in spring training the next year, prompting the Braves to put him on waivers. He cleared, and went to Richmond for a week. However, he was added to the 40-man again when Gary Mathews separated his shoulder. After only 5 games, he was once again put on waivers, but this time the Mariners claimed him when he failed to report to the minors. Paciorek finished the year strong, hitting .299 for the Mariners.

Paciorek finally got a chance to be a full-time player in 1981, and he made the most of it. Unfortunately, the season was strike shortened so we’ll never know what Paciorek could have done in a full season. He did make his first all star team, and even was tenth in the MVP voting. Top 10 rankings in hits (fifth), total bases (third), OPS (fourth), batting average (second), slugging (fourth), runs batted in (sixth), and doubles (third) made his case, although it is doubtful that those numbers would have held up over a full season.

Then the Mariners foolishly traded him to the White Sox for three nobodies (Jim Essian, Todd Cruz, and Rod Allen). Paciorek would hit over .300 his first two years with the White Sox, and would be their starting first baseman in 1983, the year they went to the ALCS (he hit .250 in the series). The next year, he would set a record by getting 5 hits in a 25-inning game, the most for a player who didn’t start the game (he entered in the fourth inning).

With the Mets breathing down the Cardinals neck in 1985, the coveted some veteran help off the bench to complement their young squad. Paciorek joined the team in July, and hit .284 down the stretch. He would not be able to enjoy the Mets success in 1986, however, as he was playing with the Rangers by then for his final full season.

Paciorek has remained well known in Chicago, particularly for his color commentary on White Sox games from 1988-1999 with the unlistenable Hawk Harrelson (I found “Wimpy” to be the only tolerable thing about watching the Sox). He subsequently did color for the Tigers, Mariners, Braves, and Nationals. His name was once again in the news a few years ago when he accused Rev. Gerald Shirilla of molesting him and his brothers when he was teaching at St. Ladislaus High school.

Rear guard: If you squint hard enough (or just click on the above image) you'll note that Paciorek played in exactly the same number of games with the White Sox and Mets in 1985, and had near identical offensive numbers.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

#361 Shane Rawley

Card thoughts:  I believe Rawley is throwing to first here.

The player: All of Rawley’s pitches moved—a lot. This was at a time when the fastball generally wasn’t expected to move a lot. However, he had a hard time controlling that movement, which led to inconsistency.

Rawley was the rare 70s reliever who was later turned into a starter—and succeeded (most of the transitions were in the other direction).  He was in the Expos and Reds minor league systems before getting a chance with the Mariners in 1978. Filling a variety of roles in the bullpen (long man, co-closer, spot starter), Rawley was consistent, but not spectacular for the Mariners. His best season was in 1980 when he saved 13 games and had a 3.33 ERA.  His best stretch of success came the next season when he earned Player of the Week honors on September 21, when he saved or won, all of the Mariners victories that week.

Rawley was traded to the Yankees in 1982, and they put him into the rotation at the end of July. He struggled a bit, as his ERA was 4.22 as a starter, compared to 3.66 as a reliever. But Rawley showed enough promise that the Yankees put him in the rotation full-time in 1983, where he went 14-14 with a career high 13 complete games and 238 1/3 innings pitched.

Rawley battled fatigue injuries throughout the first half of the next season (sore back, ribs, and shoulder). The shoulder injury was disguised by the Yankees, claiming that he had a sinus infection, in order to keep open the possibility of a trade. He was finally traded to the Phillies for moon-faced Marty Bystrom. Rawley’s record for the Phillies the rest of the year was impressive—10-6 with a 3.81 ERA—but his addition failed to help the Phils retain their first place position in the pennant race.

With the Phillies, Rawley became a dependable, if not spectacular, starter, while struggling to stay healthy. He earned an all-star berth in 1986 (which postponed his wedding), but only won 11 games as he was shut down in August after breaking a bone in his shoulder. With all the injuries, it was surprising to everyone to see Rawley pitch an entire season in 1987, leading the league in games started. His 17 wins were second in the league, but his peripherals were much less impressive (second with 112 earned runs given up, second in hits allowed with 250, and eighth in walks with 86). Much less lucky the following season, his 8-16 record was singularly unimpressive, and he was shipped off to the Twins for some ex- Cardinals (Tom Herr, #88 Tom Nieto).

His record didn’t improve much there (5-12, and 5.21 ERA), and Rawley wisely hung it up, in order to go into the pizza business. You can have a little taste of Rawley if you visit Shaner’s Pizzeria (located in the former “Horsefeather’s” space in downtown Sarasota, Florida).

Rear guard: Rawley's first win came against the Rangers when he pitched a scoreless inning in relief of starter Glen Abbott. He won when the Mariners scored two runs in the 6th, breaking a tie. Rawley looks like he's doing a standing duck and cover pose on his first Topps card.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

#360 Lloyd Moseby

Card thoughts: This is a really big close-up of Moseby’s, well, closed-up batting stance. His nickname was “Shaker,” but he looks pretty calm to me.

The player: Moseby was the third of a trio of great young outfielders (#338 Jorge Bell and Jesse Barfield being the others). He did not have the sustained success those other two had, however.

Moseby’s first few years with the Blue Jays were a struggle, as he provided little power, speed, or ability to hit for average. He was, however, a superior centerfielder which kept his weak bat in the lineup. All that began to turn around in 1983 when Moseby hit .315 (almost 100 points better than the previous season), making it into the top ten in batting. The following season, he would lead the league in triples (15) and drive in 92 runs. One of the major reasons for his improvement is that he upped his abysmal walk rate from around 6% in his first few seasons, to about 10%.

By the time this card was issued, Moseby was an established star in Toronto. He also lived in infamy for stealing second base, then first base, the second base again on the same play in a game against the White Sox. However, that didn’t stop the American League from naming him to the all star team in 1986 (he walked and stole a base).

The following year was Moseby’s best overall season. He reached career highs in runs (106), home runs (26), runs batted in (96) and steals (39). After that, Moseby’s production slid and his numbers resembled those he put up in the early 80s. Some of that slide had to do with the pounding Moseby’s knees had taken for those years running on artificial turf. However, he did come through in the 1989 playoffs, as he hit over .300 in the ALCS, with a four runs scored.

Despite this performance, Moseby was not resigned after the season, and he ended up in Detroit, where he shared center field with #309 John Shelby. By 1991, he was battling a myriad of injuries (bruised heel, pulled hamstring), and had been moved to left field, ceding a lot of playing time to all-or-nothing slugger Pete Incaviglia.

Without a contract in 1992, Moseby elected to go to Japan where he slugged .579 for the Yomiuri Giants. A .246 average in part time play the following year led to his retirement. He later went back to the Blue Jays as a first base coach from 1998-1999.

Rear guard: Roof joined the Blue Jays via trade. Since the Blue Jays had yet to participate in the expansion draft, they gave the White Sox a player to be named later for Roof. Larry Anderson, who was drafted from the Brewers, was sent to the White Sox  January 5, 1977. Roof didn't last long with the Blue Jays--he only played in three games and never got a hit. Here's his 1977 card, where he's airbrushed into a Blue Jays cap (it would be his last card).

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

#359 Mike LaCoss

Card thoughts: Blue, blue, everywhere. This would be LaCoss’s only card in Royal blue. He has pretty goofy looking cards in 1981 and 1989.

The player: Mike LaCoss was a promising young pitcher for the Reds, who came on the scene right as the Big Red Machine was fading in the late 70s. He never fulfilled that early promise, however.

LaCoss’ key to success was his sinker, which kept the baseball in the ballpark. However, he did tend to get a little wild on occasion, and he didn’t have the strikeout as a weapon to get him out of trouble. After a 4-8 rookie campaign, LaCoss went 14-8 in 1979, earning him a trip to the all-star game (he pitched 1 1/3 scoreless innings in the game). But his bugaboo, the walk, haunted him in the NLCS that year, as he made it through just 1 2/3 innings against the Pirates, giving up 4 walks and 2 runs in a loss.

LaCoss really regressed the following two years as his ERA rose each year, ending up at 6.12 in 1981. But while the sinker was too inconsistent for a starter, the Astros felt it would be a good fit in a reliever. So the ‘Stros claimed him off waivers and put him in the pen in 1982. It was a fine year for LaCoss, as he sported a career low 2.90 ERA as the long man out of the pen. He was not as spectacular the following seasons, as he was the Astros main “swing man” in 1983 and 1984. He was a poor starter in particular, with less than a 1/3 of his stars being the quality variety.

LaCoss signed a contract with the Royals in 1985, but was sent to the minors in early August, and didn’t pitch at all in the post season. After another release, he found a home in San Francisco, where he revived his career with several good years as a part-time starter and reliever. Part of his success was no doubt due to learning the split finger fastball from #111 Roger Craig. Even his hitting improved, as he hit home runs in consecutive at bats in 1986. But the Giants got him for his pitching, and after a 10-13 record that year (with good peripherals), LaCoss was ninth in the league with 13 wins in 1987, helping the Giants reach the playoffs, where he pitched 3 scoreless innings in relief. By 1989, he was more of a reliever than a starter, but still got the start in Game 3 in the NLCS. LaCoss wasn’t good, as he spotted the Cubs three runs in the first three innings. But he was saved the loss when the Cubs bullpen couldn’t hold the lead.

LaCoss started his final year (1991) as a starter, but he was terrible in four out of five starts, including giving up 7 runs in the first inning on April 26. He wasn’t much better in relief as, incredibly, he gave up at least a run in each of his first 8 appearances. So LaCoss’s final game on July 2 was a fitting capstone to his year, as he gave up two runs at the end of a 8-4 loss to the Astros. 

Rear guard: The "AL" is superfulous in the Talkin' Baseball write-up, and without the period, it looks like Al's All-Star Squad. Both outfielder Lou Pinella and pitcher Wally Bunker had better seasons than Rodriguez, who hit just .236 with an OPS+ well below average (78). However, he was hitting .260 in the first half. Rodriguez also made the squad in 1972, when he was more deserving of the honor. Here's his 1970 card, where's referred to as "Ellie".

Monday, September 9, 2013

#358 Rick Dempsey

Card thoughts: Looks like an Expo sitting in the dugout, which makes this picture likely taken at West Palm Beach Municipal Stadium during spring training.

The player: Rick Dempsey: Jokester, motivational speaker, 1983 World Series MVP.

For 5 years, Dempsey’s only shot at the majors was as a September call-up for the Twins and the Yankees. Finally, in 1974, he became Thurman Munson’s primary backup.  Dempsey never hit much with the Yankees (his OPS over four years was a meager .605), but was well regarded for his defense and handling of pitching staffs. Many people around baseball at the time considered Dempsey's arm to be the best in the league, and he had the ability to shut down an opponent's running came, important in a time when runs were at a premium.

The Orioles, as always, had a great starting rotation, but had gone through several starting catchers since the beginning of the decade (Dave Duncan, Earl Williams, Johnny Oates, and Ellie Hendricks). They needed some stability behind the plate, especially with a roster of young arms beginning to supplant former rotation mainstays like Mike Cuellar and Jim Palmer.

To that end, Rick Dempsey was included in a massive trade with the Yankees, the principals being Rudy May, #196 Doyle Alexander, Ellie Hendricks, and Kenny Holtzman. Although in his first few years with the Orioles, Dempsey still was hitting in the low .200s, by 1978, Dempsey, getting more playing time behind the plate, raised his average to .259. 1978 would also be the only season Dempsey managed more than 100 hits.

The next season, the Orioles made it to the World Series, and Dempsey contributed with a .400 average in the ALCS. Unfortunately for him, the Orioles lost the World Series to the Pirates. The loss was disappointing, but Dempsey didn’t let it affect his performance, as had his highest average in 1980 (.262).

Dempsey and the Orioles had a chance to average their World Series defeat in 1983, and wouldn’t let the chance pass. Despite hitting just .232 in the regular season (with his slugging percentage a mere .323), Dempsey would garner World Series MVP honors by hitting .386 (all his hits were for extra bases, hence the .983 slugging percentage). Some highlights in the series included doubling in the Orioles go-ahead run in Game 2, doubling twice against #120 Steve Carlton in Game 3, and homering and doubling in Game 5.

Dempsey was the glue that held clubhouses of a decade of Orioles teams together, partly because of his sense of humor. He especially liked to imitate, Babe Ruth, Jim Palmer, and Robin Yount, during rain delays (see this clip from 4:45-5:15 of him sliding all over the tarp).

In his later Oriole years, he even supplemented his low average with a little power (in 1986, he drove in only 29 runs, despite hitting 13 home runs). But good chemistry and better pop didn’t obviate Dempsey’s age. At 36, he simply did not have the mobility and range he once had at catcher, making his offensive limitations that much more glaring.

But his catching knowledge was invaluable, and he was the backup catcher on the Indians (1987), Dodgers (1988-1990), and Brewers (1991).  At age 41, he pitched for the first time in the majors, giving up 1 run in 4 innings of work. By the time Dempsey retired in 1992, he had caught in four different decades, joining #290 Carlton Fisk and Tim McCarver in that rare feat. His career OPS was a devilish .666.

Dempsey has coached in the majors after retirement, serving as the bullpen coach with the Dodgers (1999-2000), and the bullpen and first and third base coach with the Orioles (2002-2006). As befits such a personable guy, he works as an Orioles broadcaster, and has his own well-designed Website

Rear guard: That is an ugly wax stain making it even harder to make out Dempsey's career stats.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

#357 Ed Vande Berg

Card thoughts: That is a lot of lower case letters! Topps struggled with how to spell Vande Berg's name throughout his career. He appeared as Ed Vande Berg on his cards up until 1985; Topps used it again in 1987; then back to the lowercase/one word format in 1988 and 1989.

The player: Ed Vande Berg may have been one of the first lefties to be used exclusively against certain hitters. At a time when most relievers averaged over an inning per appearance, Vande Berg pitched less than a inning in each of his appearances in his first two years.

Featuring a late-breaking slider and overpowering fastball, Vande Berg was fourth in the Rookie of the Year voting in 1982 after pitching in a league-leading 78 games, with a 2.37 ERA. He had another good year in relief in 1983, but the Mariners couldn’t leave well enough alone, and tried to use him as a spot starter the next season, but he only had 29% quality starts, and the experiment was abandoned in 1985.

Vande Berg was traded to the Dodgers late in 1985 for #32 Steve Yeager (the Mariners had previously attempted to trade him to the Red Sox for Mark Sullivan). Pitching in spacious Dodger stadium where home runs go to die, Vande Berg went 1-5 with a 3.41 ERA, but was considered a bust. He was even worse with the Indians and then the Rangers, where his ERA was consistently above 4. After his release by the Rangers, he hooked on with the Cubs AAA Iowa affiliate, where he saved 10 saves as the team’s primary closer. Three more years at AAA (with Calgary) produced ERAs of  8.27, 4.26, and 8.93., and then he was done save a token appearance with an Independent League club in 1997.

Rear guard: Now Topps spelled Vande Berg's name correctly on the back. Anyway, his first complete game was a loss against the Indians the first game of a doubleheader. He gave up three runs on 10 hits, striking out four.

Bruce Bochte drew three walks (and had one hit) on May 7, so there was a lot of firepower behind him to move him all the way around the bases. Bochte had a career high with 81 runs scored in 1979. Here's his chaw-filled face on a card from 1980.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

#356 Mickey Hatcher

Card thoughts:  Hatcher wore both number 44 and 9 in his career. A well-known prankster, Hatcher sported a giant glove on his Fleer card from this year.

The player: Hatcher was a top notch prospect with the Dodgers whose fielding issues and lack of power limited his utility as a major league player. Although he didn’t draw many walks, he’s always sprint to first when he got one.

At every stop in the minors, Hatcher hit in the .300s (including .371 at Albuquerque in 1979). But he had the misfortunate of being in the Dodger system in the late 70s, which was brimming with hitting prospects, and he was also blocked by Ron Cey in the majors. Having no place for a poor fielding third baseman with a line drive stroke, the Dodgers shipped Hatcher was to the Twins in 1981 for Ken Landeraux. Installed as the regular left fielder, he hit around .250, with doubles power, but his defensive shortcomings (largely through indifference) made him worse than a replacement player.

That all changed in 1984, when Hatcher had a career year. Playing in a career high 152 games, he was in the top ten in doubles, and drove in 69 runs with a .302 average. He was still hitting well when kids pulled this from packs in 1986, but his power was dropping, and a .673 OPS is pretty low when you’re playing in the Homerdome.

Hatcher would not be around to contribute to the Twins 1987 World Series run, as he signed with his original organization, the Dodgers, in 1988. This time, he had more success with the team. In 1989, he hit .293 in the regular season as a backup outfielder, and replaced #295 Kirk Gibson in the World Series, batting third. The Dodgers (after Game 1, of course), didn’t really miss Gibby, as Hatcher went on to slug .727 in the series, with 2 home runs and 5 runs batted in.

With Gibson out a lot of the following season, Hatcher got into many games in left and he contributed a .295 average. But a .212 average in 1991 led to his release. Post-retirement, he managed in the minors and had been the hitting coach for 12 years with the Angels before he was fired last year when Albert Pujols and the rest of the team weren’t hitting a lick.

Rear guard: Camilo Pascual was known for his awesome curveball, that allowed him to win over 20 games twice. He was a decent hitter who drove in 19 runs one season. In his career, Pascual hit 5 home runs. Here is his 1966 card.