Friday, July 25, 2014

#422 Mike Jorgensen

Card thoughts: Jorgensen is an example of a player that was around a lot in baseball in my youth, but has virtually disappeared: The late-inning defensive replacement. He was an even rarer breed: The late inning, defensive first baseman replacement. In this case, he backed up Jack Clark, never a great fielder. Here, he sits in an aquarium for the Topps photographer, looking rough and old (he was 35).

The player: Jorgensen came up with the Mets during their glory years in the late 60s/early 70s. He began his career much the way he ended it: Backing up a poor fielding, good hitting first baseman, in this case Donn Clendenon. After an initial two seasons where he rarely started a game, Jorgensen was traded to the Expos and became their starting first baseman. Although he was a great fielder, and even won a gold glove in 1973, he didn’t hit for enough power to be a first baseman (although, he had a fine batting eye, good enough to earn him an OPS above .900 in 1974).

The Expos were willing to trade hitting for fielding, so when they acquired Tony Perez, Jorgensen played sparingly, and he was soon traded to the A’s. This effectively ended his career as a starter. After this, it was a rare year that he averaged more than 1 ½ at bats per game.

What really affected Jorgensen’s ability as a hitter, however, was a terrible beaning he got when he was a Ranger. Andy Hassler beaned him early in the 1979 season. After attempting to come back, it was found that he had a blood clot in his head that could have killed him.

Jorgensen was sent back to the Mets in 1980 for Willie Montanez (who had been sent to the Rangers in a mid-season deal). He was more of a super utility guy for the Mets, playing first and all three outfield positions. Eventually, the Mets acquired Keith Hernandez, who was a great hitter and fielder, leaving Jorgensen’s role superfluous. After playing about 80 games with the Braves over parts of two seasons, backing up Chris Chambliss, Jorgensen landed in his final spot, St. Louis. In the post season, he pinch hit three times and played left field once, without doing anything of note.

I did not remember this, but Jorgensen managed the Cardinals for part of the 1995 season, replacing Joe Torre. He now works as a scout for the organization.

Rear guard: "Squint tighter. And they're (the stats) gone." -- Aaron Stauffer

Thursday, July 17, 2014

#421 Dave Palmer

Card thoughts: Dave Palmer looks like a very linear man. Straight and narrow. On all his Fleer and Donruss cards, Dave is always identified by his full first name, David.

The player: Dave Palmer pitched in the same high school rotation as future major league pitcher Dave LaPoint. He made the majors just two years out of high school, making his debut at the age of 20. In 1979 and 1980, Palmer apprenticed as a swing man, with his best season coming in the former year where he was 10-2, including being unbeaten in seven starting decisions (among 11 starts).

Unfortunately, arm troubles hit Palmer in 1981, and he didn’t pitch in the majors that year. 1982 saw him come back for 13 starts, where he was fairly effective (6-4, 3.18 ERA). Unfortunately, 1983 saw him miss time once again, this time for the whole season with an elbow injury (it’s likely that today, Palmer would have been a candidate for Tommy John surgery).

With his history of injury, the Expos were hesitant about putting him in the rotation early in the 1984 season. After a long relief stint, Palmer was selected to pitch the second game of a doubleheader. He pitched 5 perfect innings, before rain halted the game. Although Palmer got the win, as the game was official, he was not credited with a perfect game. But the injuries were taking a toll, and the rest of the season Palmer struggled, with his ERA rising by almost half a run over the previous season (he also missed the entire month of August). Missing August again the following year, Palmer made just 23 starts, but his ERA (3.71) was high for low-scoring Olympic Stadium, and he had his first losing record (7-10).

Given his inability to stay healthy, and his slowly declining effectiveness, it wasn’t surprising that Palmer wasn't resigned by the Expos. Signing with the Braves, Palmer finally had a season where he was able to make all of his scheduled starts. Pitching at homer happy Fulton County stadium (aka “The Launching Pad”), Palmer saw his ERA climb, and an increase in walks showed his home stadium was getting to him (107 walks in 209 2/3 innings). But his 11-10 record was pretty good for a last place team, and his better health had the Braves expecting they could rely on him the following year. However, his arm was still fragile, and he reverted back missing significant chunks of the season. When healthy, he was ineffective, as his ERA shot up to 4.90, and he won only 8 games against 11 losses.

Palmer was not signed after the season, and went to the Phillies, where the familiar story emerged: Couldn't stay healthy, and a losing record and high ERA when he pitched. He did memorably have quite a blooper, tripping over third base and landing on his face while advancing on a wild pitch thrown by Cubs pitcher #330 Rick Sutcliffe.

A cup of coffee with the Tigers in 1990 (5 starts, 7.79 ERA), and a few minor league appearances for the Indians, and Palmer was done. He is currently the pitching coach for a suburban Atlanta high school.

Rear guard: All I can say about that factoid is this. Manny Mota is better known as being a great pinch hitter, especially with the Dodgers. But when the Expos drafted him, he was a high-average hitting, fourth outfielder. He had a card as an Expo in 1969, but he was badly airbrushed on that one. The Expos only held on to him for a few months in 1969 before he was traded to the Dodgers for Ron Fairly and Paul Popovich (Popovich was traded later in the day to the Cubs for Adolfo Phillips and Jack Lamabe). Here Mota's 1970 card, his first with the Dodgers.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

#420 Von Hayes

Card thoughts: This would be the last season for awhile that Hayes would be a full time outfielder. He would move to first in 1986. Also, Von Hayes, seems like a last name in search of a first name. “Von”, or “Van” were often appended to famility names in Germanic speaking countries (much like “De” or “Di” in Romantic speaking countries) to denote aristocratic origins.

The player: I always thought that Von Hayes was going to be a superstar. But other than the 1986 season, he never seemed to translate his awesome hitting skills into consistent results. I was probably blinded by wishful thinking: On my favorite cards was his rookie card and I hoped it would go up in value.

Hayes was one of the few, good young hitters the Indians got rid of in the 80s . . . but the Indians got five players in exchange (conversely, Hayes was one of the few, good young hitters the Phillies acquired instead off shipping off to the Cubs).

After coming in 7th in the Rookie of the Year balloting in 1982, Hayes was considered one of the best young hitters in the game. He could hit with some power, take a walk, and steal a base. He had yet to be able to do that consistently, however, as his OPS was just average. The Phillies coveted him, however, and were willing to give up five major leaguers, including useful veteran Manny Trillo, future starting right fielder George Vukovich, catcher #273 Jerry Willard, and future star #391 Julio Franco.

At first, the trade looked like a bust. Phillies fans, appalled by the cost of the Hayes trade and turned off by his aloof demeanor, never really liked him. Expecting a superstar, they cringed as he drove in just 32 runs in 124 games in 1983. He bounced back in ’84 and ’85, where his production was solid, but not spectacular. 1985 did see Hayes hit a remarkable two home runs the first inning (including a grand slam) in a 26-7 slaughter of the Mets.

He really shone, however, in 1986, when the promise seemed to finally be fulfilled. Moved into the middle of the lineup, Hayes reached career highs in runs (107-led the league); hits (186); doubles (46-also led the league); RBIs (98); and batting average (.305). Despite being top ten in the MVP vote, Hayes didn’t make the all-star team. Perhaps his shoddy defense at first was the answer.

Hayes would finally make the all-star team in 1989, after having a year that modern sabermetricians salivate over (5.1 WAR, 15% walk rate, 28 steals with a 80% success rate, an OPS+ of 140). Another good season would follow, but in 1991, Tom Browning broke his arm with a pitch, causing to miss much of the season (and hit a career low .225).

After a trade to the Angels, Hayes couldn't return to form. The broken arm was still troubling him (he hit another .225), thus leading to conclusion that the broken bone took about 40 points off his career average.

After retiring, Hayes managed in the Diamondbacks and A’s organizations (he led three straight teams to first place finishes). His last gigs were with Independent League teams.

He’s also inspired the name of a decent indie rock band, who appear to play mid 90s east coast style indie rock (here’s the story of the choosing of the name – no word if they ever met Von Hayes).

Card thoughts: I linked to Hayes rookie card earlier in the post. It was a "Rookie Stars" card: Chris Bando, was the much younger brother of Sal Bando. He has a card in this set, where his career will be explored in greater depth. Pitcher Tom Brennan was hardly a prospect, as he was 28 before he made it to the majors. Maybe Topps took pity on him because he had been drafted in the first round in 1974.

Larry Bowa hit a lot of triples, mostly of the hustle varierty. In fact, he reached double digits in triples three times. Here's his 1972 card.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

#419 Frank Wills

Card thoughts: The photo in the dusk. The five-a-clock shadow. The lowering, thick black eyebrows. The man looks like a mechanic. It is worth noting that this does not look like any of the other card photos of Wills, where he sports a mustache and is considerably less beady-eyed and swarthy.

Perhaps this odd photo can be attributed to the fact that Willis is obviously airbrushed into a Mariners uniform, as he spent spring training with the Mets in 1985.

The player: Not to be confused with the security guard who discovered the Watergate break-in, Wills was emblematic of the awful starting pitching the Mariners had had pretty much from their inception. A talented star in both baseball and football at Tulane University, he led the team to their first ever NCAA title, and was the punter on the football team that went to the Liberty Bowl (1979).

Wills was drafted in the first round by the Royals in 1980, but his college success did not translate to pro ball. As a starter in the minors, Willis struggled with his control, and eventually was moved to a swingman role in AAA, a spot usually reserved for “organization” men. But he was a first round pick, and the Royals presumably wanted to prove he wasn’t a bust, so he was called up early in the 1983 season, when he started the year 5-2 at Jacksonville (Southern League).

In the majors, Wills averaged 6 innings per start, and pitched decently enough (2-1 with a 4.15 ERA overall, including 4 starts). But it was soon back to the minors for Wills, where he struggled once again at AAA. Another brief call up for 10 games in 1984 (half in relief, half starting) led to a 5.11 ERA, and a loss in confidence that their former first round pick would ever pan out.

In an insanely complicated four-team team between the Mets, Royals, Rangers, and Brewers, players were flying everywhere. The Royals eventually ended up with Jim Sundberg, and Wills made it to the Mets, where he was DFA’d after spring training and eventually sent to the Mariners for forgettable Midwest League pitcher Wray Bergendahl (another former first round pick).

With the Mariners being thin on pitching, Willis finally got a chance to prove himself, but he only proved the Royals were right in letting him go. A 5-11 record with a 6.00 ERA wasn’t going to cut it, even with the lowly Mariners. Released at the end of the season, he hooked on with the Indians, where he wound up as their closer during the end of the 1986 season (4 saves in 6 opportunities).

Willis would have his best seasons with the Blue Jays, with whom he spent four years, two of them as a serviceable middle reliever in 1989 and 1990.  He was not used in the 1989 post-season, however.

Apparently, Wills was working as a limousine driver when he died at age 53, after complaining about feeling ill a week earlier. Despite not being very successful in the majors, he remains a legend in New Orleans for both his high school and college exploits.

Rear guard: Wills first win was against the Twins and he was fairly effective, giving up just 1 run and striking out 3.