Sunday, May 18, 2014

#412 Jim Clancy

Card thoughts: Oh boy, am I bored with these interchangeable Blue Jay head shots of indistinguishable white pitchers.

The player: With a long career as a high-ERA innings eater, it seemed the Blue Jays were always waiting for Clancy’s raw stuff (one of the best sliders in the game, an overpowering fastball) to translate into a consistently winning season. Every year, however, Clancy would get himself involved in a bunch of a blow outs that raised his ERA a bunch, which belied his effectiveness in other starts. Edwin Jackson of the Cubs comes to mind as a similarly frustrating pitcher.

An original Blue Jay, he was selected from the Rangers minor league system in the expansion draft, despite pitching consistently poorly there. He made it to the majors later in 1977, but his first full time season was in ’78, where he had a typical season for him: a near .500 record, with an ERAs north of 4.

After a few more inconsistent years, mostly marred by injury, Clancy had an great campaign in 1982, starting a league high 40 games (I guess the thought was then the injuries allowed a pitcher to “rest” his arm), and pitching the fourth inning of the all star game. Clancy ended the year 16-14 and a career high 266 innings pitched.

Another good season followed in 1983 (15-11), but in 1984, he was pretty terrible (13-15, 5.16 ERA). Despite this, he was still run out there all the time, and led the league once in again in games started. Clancy was injured much of the season shown on this card (only 23 starts), so he wasn’t much of a factor in the playoffs (1 inning pitched, 1 run given up). But the next three seasons were typical Clancy: Lots of decisions, leading to both double digit wins and losses, high ERAs (for the time), and lots of innings pitched.

The Astros signed him as a starter for the 1988 season, but he was very hittable (9.5 hits per nine innings), before being demoted to the bullpen. The same thing happened the following season, where his bloated 6.51 ERA got him exiled for a time to Tuscon.

By 1991, he was no longer a starter. Traded midway through the season to Atlanta, after he posted a 2.78 ERA in 55 innings (with 5 saves) with the Astros, he pitched poorly down the stretch, but was kept on the post-season roster. He ended his career by pitching 4+ innings in the World Series.

Rear guard: Clancy's first win came against the Brewers and it was a complete game. By giving up just 2 runs in 9 innings, he lowered his ERA from his ghastly major league debut (22.50) where he gave up 5 runs in 2 innings.

Monday, May 12, 2014

#411 Sparky Anderson

Card thoughts: Sparky Anderson seems about a million years old in this picture (he is only 51!). A lifetime of sun and no sunblock will do that to you.

The player/manager: Like most managers, Anderson was no great shakes as a player. Strangely enough, he played just one season in the majors, but that was as the Phillies staring second baseman. In 152 Games in 1959, he hit .218, and then he never played another major league game.

But as a manager, Anderson was much more successful, although he tended to be a tad too boastful. He was hired at age 36 to be the Reds manager, and guided that team to two World Series wins and four pennants. One of his first acts as the Reds manager was install #1 Pete Rose as the team captain. He also made sure the team was disciplined, on and off the field. I n a time when spring training was still seen as a way too slowly gear up for the season after an off-season of lying about, Anderson insisted on organizing drills and having curfew times. Players were also required to be clean cut, and wear suits while travelling. In exchange, Anderson preferred to run the club as a type of extended Socratic dialogue, as players were encouraged to question his methods and actions.

One innovation Anderson introduced was pulling starters early. I’ll bet you’d be hard pressed to name a dominant pitcher on any of those Big Red Machine teams, but their relief corps was always top notch. Anderson was nicknamed “Captain Hook” for this tendency, which was notable in an age when starters were expected to finish games.

Eventually, in the late 70s the Reds hit a rough patch as their team aged. Anderson was fired after the 1978 season, and was about to sign a long contract with the Cubs (!) (oh what might have been!), when the Tigers hired him. The Tigers had a great core of young players, and Anderson disciplined them to become winners. He predicted they’d win a World Series in five years, which basically came true (they on after being in first wire-to-wire in 1984).

After being successful for years on teams that were “expected” to win, Anderson won with an overachieving Tigers team in 1987, winning the Manager of the Year award in the process. But his work ethic was taking a toll on him, and he was sent home for exhaustion for a few days in 1989. He ended up managing until 1995, but the Tigers teams he managed were uniformly terrible. He was elected into the Hal of Fame in 2000, having won the fifth most games all-time (2194 wins), having only lost 1834 (a .545 winning percentage).

Rear guard: No glaring omissions. No doubt Topps wanted to make sure they completely covered the reigning world champs.