Wednesday, October 22, 2014

#428 Max Venable

Card thoughts: I always wondered how ball players, especially base stealing types, wore glasses. You would think the glare would get to you.

The player: Despite the awesome name (although his given name is William), Venable was not much of a baseball player. In high school, he was known more as a football star, and he turned down scholarships to sign with the Dodgers. He became, however, a surplus minor leaguer with them, despite once driving in over 100 runs as a leadoff hitter while at Lodi (California League). The Giants drafted him in the Rule 5 draft in 1978, and he spent ’79 as a defensive replacement and pinch runner, hitting just .165. 1980 was a bit better as he hit .268 and he ended up starting a few more games in the outfield. But in ’81, he spent most of the year at Pheonix, only getting into 18 games in the majors.

Venable once again played the role of the late-inning defensive replacement and pinch-runner in 1982, but by 1983 he was the primary back up outfielder. Despite the confidence the Giants had in him, he ended up hitting just .219. He did, however, come in second in stolen base percentage, swiping 15 bags while only being caught twice.

After a quick stop in Montreal (he was a throw-in in the Al Oliver deal), Venable landed in Cincinnati where he had his best season in 1985, hitting .289 and stealing 11 bases in 77 games. This impressed the Reds, and they made him their primary left-handed pinch hitter the following year. But he didn’t hit well in the clutch (.175 in high-leverage situations) or much overall (.211).

The Reds gave on Venable, and he spent almost the entire 1987 season at AAA Nashville, appearing in just 7 major league games. 1988 found him exiled to the Mexican League, where he hit .319 in 13 games.

Against the odds, he once again became a steady contributor with the Angels in 1990 and 1991, where he hit around .250 and played solid defense. Another two years in a foreign country (in Japan, where he hit well for the Chiba Lotte Marines), and there would not be a third chance, as his career ended in 1993.

Venable immediately became a manager in the Braves minor league system, but he couldn’t win at Idaho Falls (1994) or Danville (1995), as the talent at those levels consisted of Bruce Chen (who is still pitching), and that is about it. He was relegated to a coaching role, which he performed ably in America and Korea. Venable’s most recent gig was as the hitting coach for High Desert in the California League.

Yes, Wil Venable, long time outfielder for the Padres, is Max’s son. Another son plays in the Canadian Football League.

Rear guard: Palindromes? A frustrated English major wrote this trivia question! In World War II, Kazak was part of the D-Day operation, where he was bayoneted, and his elbow shattered by shrapnel. Despite this, he persevered and became an all-star in 1949. By 1952, he was already done in the majors. Kazak had just 1 hit in those 13 Red games that year. But Kazak didn’t give up: He played another 7 years in the minors, retiring at age 40. Kazak would never play for the Tigers, despite being shown with them on his ’53 card.