Saturday, February 15, 2014

#397 Steve Buechele

Card thoughts: I always thought Buechele had a weird body. Perhaps it was his oval like head combined with a lack of shoulder breadth that made me think of Beaker. Oh, and for a time he also sported the dreaded flowing curly-haired mullet, the most offensive of all mullets.

The player: Buechele was a third baseman known more for his solid defense than his offense. Despite playing the majority of his career in hitter friendly ball parks, he never slugged better than .450, a low average for what should be a power position.

A college roommate of John Elway at Stanford, Buechele was drafted in the 5th round by the Rangers and immediately assigned to AA Tulsa where he hit .296 in 60 games. Mainly a second baseman in the minors, Buechele was shifted to third in 1985 to get him to the majors quicker (veteran Toby Harrah was manning second, and #285 Buddy Bell was about to be traded to the Reds).

Once Bell was traded on July 19th, Buchele had the unenviable task of replacing one of the all time greatest fielding third basemen. While Buechele held his own at third (he certainly was fielding better than the aging Bell), his average of .219 no doubt fueled many a fans lament at the loss of the popular Bell.

Luckily, Buechele began to hit better the following season. Although his average remained consistently low (he never hit above .250 in any of his full seasons with the Rangers), his fielding at third generally made up for his offensive short comings. Before he left the Rangers in 1991, Buechele would lead the league in range factor twice, and fielding percentage one. In fact, his .991 fielding percentage in 1991 at third base is a record at the position.

But in a midst of a career year in 1991 (18 home runs, 66 RBIs. .783 OPS), the Rangers decided it was best to shop him at the top of his game. So he was sent to the Pirates in a deadline move for former #1 draft pick Kurt Miller (the #24 prospect in baseball). While he was an improvement over the yearlong revolving door at third (John Wehner, Jeff King, and Bobby Bonilla all started a lot of games there), he hit just .246 the rest of the season, and .249 the first part of the next one.

With Buechele’s range and fielding affected by the faster artificial turf, he just wasn’t the same player as he was with Texas. Finally, with the Pirates deciding to go with Jeff King full time at third, Buechele was dealt to the Cubs for free agent bust Danny Jackson. I was excited with the arrival of Buechele, as the Cubs finally had a legit third baseman that they had lacked since the departure of Ron Cey.

But Buechele was the wrong side of thirty, and while he didn’t embarrass himself in his four seasons with the team, his 31 home runs in 1144 Cub at bats are pretty poor for a team that plays 81 games a year in a hitter friendly park. Eventually, with Buechele hitting just .189 by July 4th in 1995, he was released, catching on for a few last games with the Rangers a few days later.

Buechele currently manages the Rangers' AAA franchise in Round Rock, Texas.

Rear guard: Jim Bibby is better known as a Pirate. At age 28, 1973 was his first full year in the majors. After starting the year with the Cardinals, he was dealt to the Rangers on June 6. He later came within one hit of pitching a perfect game against the Braves in 1981 (the only hit came from the leadoff hitter, Terry Harper. Bibby retired the next 27 batters in succession). Here's his 1974 card.

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