Saturday, January 24, 2015

#138 -- Mike Kekich

Mike Kekich




It's 1964.  You're a hotshot lefthanded pitcher graduating from a Los Angeles high school and the Dodgers reach out to sign you.  You throw hard and people are comparing you to Sandy Koufax. That's how Mike Kekich's baseball career started.  There's one story that everyone associates with Mike.  However, it appears that he doesn't like to talk about that, and I'll respect that.  I understand someone not wanting to be defined by one bad decision.

Mike Kekich had a golden arm and I'm sure the Dodgers thought they had another great lefty for their rotation signed.  He went through 4 levels of the minors in 1964, striking out 185 in 183 innings.  Problem was that he also walked 155 & gave 159 hits for a WHIP of 1.716.  Still, strikeouts can strand a lot of those baserunners.

The Dodgers gave him a start on June 9, 1965 against the Phillies.  He was a 20 year old making him major league debut.  He gave 4 runs in 3.1 innings.  He gave the fielders the day off in his first inning, striking out Tony Taylor.  He walked Cookie Rojas.  Then he struck out Dick Allen and Rojas was caught stealing with Dick Stuart at bat.  The 2nd inning went easy, but after a couple of walks, Tony Taylor got his revenge with a 3 run homer.  Alston took him out in the 4th after another walk and a double.

Mike got a few relief appearances the rest of the year, but he never really advanced.  Mike never had an ERA+ better than 80.  After failing to fulfill the promise in that golden arm and not taking Koufax's spot in the rotation, he was traded to the Yankees.

He made the back end of the Yankees rotation in the early 70s, but never really put it together.  His strikeouts went down to about 5/9IP, but he still walked about 4.5/9IP and his WHIP stayed around 1.5.  He had arm trouble with the Yankees.  After getting traded to the Indians, he was released after a half-season.  He had stints with the Rangers and the expansion Mariners before ending his big league career in 1977.  He pitched in AAA for the Mariners in 1978, but never got a call-up.

Mike's a real estate agent in Albuquerque now.  Every few years there's a story about his years with the Yankees and it will mention that he didn't return media calls.  Can't blame him.  Frankly, I'd rather hear an interview with him about his major league debut or what it was like to try to fit into the Dodger rotation in 1968 and any pressure he felt of trying to be the next Sandy Koufax. He was a teammate of David Clyde in Texas in 1975.  I wonder if they talked any about being bonus babies, rushed to the big leagues and having arm trouble and disappointments.

Those are the stories I wish Mike Kekich could tell.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

#137 - Dick Williams

Dick Williams



I like the manager cards.  The manager in baseball is a visible part of the team and, with all the pitching changes we have more recently, the game.  At this point, Dick Williams had some success as a manager, but his Hall of Fame credentials were still out in front of him.

Dick came up as a utility guy with the Dodgers and then bounced around. I've heard it said that utility guys sitting on the bench can become good managers because they can sit there and soak up the game.  Of course, that was said when Dick, Sparky Anderson and Tony LaRussa were so successful in the 70s and 80s.  It seems the catcher is more in vogue now with Bruce Bochy, Mike Scioscia and Mike Matheny having success.

Dick's first managing job was to take over the Red Sox in 1967 after they'd finished 9th (out of 10) in 1966.  Of course, The Impossible Dream Sox took the Cardinals to the 7th game of the World Series that year.  Expectations caught up as he was let go in 3rd place in mid-1969 after finishing 4th in 1968.

Charlie Finley hired him in 1971 and he was a good fit for the raucous A's.  Dick basically threw them out there and let them play.  They won the Division, but fell to the Orioles in the ALCS in 1971. As you see Dick in his shiny satin jacket, he's getting ready to win the 1st of 2 straight World Series titles in Oakland.

Finley's meddling with the team was more than Dick could take.  There were the little things, like letting Vida Blue hold out and mess up his 1972 season and interfering with the roster.  However, when Finley pulled the Mike Andrews Incident in the 1973 World Series, Dick Williams did the unthinkable:  he decided to leave the A's at the end of the year.  The A's were still the class of the league and won the Series again in 1974, but Williams decided he didn't need to be a part of it.

He spent parts of 3 forgettable years with a bad Angels team. Then he was hired in Montreal where they had talent, but didn't have any kind of winning tradition.  It took a couple of years, but by 1979 they had their 1st winning season and in 1981 Dick became the only manager to take the Expos to the post-season.  He also got the Padres to their first World Series (and only winning game in the World Series) in 1984.  He then had 3 bad seasons with the pre-Griffey Mariners (who didn't?) before being done.

Dick got 4 teams to the playoffs and was a Rick Monday homer from getting all of them to the World Series.  He was elected to the Hall of Fame as a manager in 2008.

I'll always associate him with the A's.  I can imagine him hanging out in his office, letting all hell run loose in the clubhouse all the while figuring out how to cuss Finley out when he called with another meddlesome idea.  No telling how long the A's would have stayed in the playoffs if Finley hadn't run Williams, and then his best players, off.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

#136 -- Darrel Chaney


     

               
Welcome back.  It's been a few days short of 5 years since I've updated this blog.  Kids, work, priorities get in the way of baseball cards.  A lot's happened in the world in the last 5 years, but you already know that.  

I always associate Darrel Chaney with Dave Concepcion.  Darrel came up to the Reds in 1969, a year before Concepcion.  He was always a part-timer with the Reds.  When Concepcion came up in 1970 they split time for a few years until Concepcion's figured out hitting in 1973.  Chaney was a league average shortstop by the traditional stats Sparky would have had available, but was almost always in negative territory for defensive runs saved (which Sparky didn't have).Concepcion was a Mendoza line hitter in 1971-1972, but made the All-Star team in 1973 and that was the end of splitting time with Chaney.

Darrel was an All-American football player coming out of high school. He could have gone to some Big 10 schools to play football, but not baseball.  I always think of Darrel as a slappy with the bat, but he hit his way into the big leagues, hitting 23 homers in AA Asheville in 1968.  He only hit 14 homers in his 11 year career and had 190 RBI, 1 less than Hack Wilson had in 1930.  

Darrel made it to 3 World Series with the Reds, winning a ring in 1975.  After that season, probably because of the emergence of Doug Flynn as the primary utility infielder, Darrel was traded to the Braves for Mike Lum.  Darrel had the opportunity as the everyday shortstop for the 1976 Braves.  He had his best year, with more than double the plate appearances he had in any other year.  However, in 1977, he missed April and was splitting time with Pat Rockett, who had a historically bad year.  Problem was, Darrel hit even worse than Rockett. He didn't get regular playing time after that and 1979 was his last year in the big leagues.  Dave Concepcion still had another 9 years in the big leagues ahead of him.

Darrel is now well thought of in the Atlanta area as a Christian motivational speaker and the Chairman of Major League Alumni Marketing. Guys like Darrel Chaney don't get all the glamour.  I'm sure it's not fun to play 11 years at the minimum salary and not know if you're going to make the team every year.  However, you've got to have the bench players like Darrel ready to step in when needed.

The card is pretty ordinary.  Darrel gives the basic posed hitting stance, which is different than the basic, posed fielding stance he had on several of his other cards.  The quote from Sparky on the back that "Darrel has a chance to develop into a real good hitter" was, well, let's say optimistic, but with Concepcion hitting .200, Sparky was needing one of them to step up.

Monday, January 18, 2010

#135 -- Vada Pinson

Vada Pinson







About 25 years ago there was an older fellow that had a ball card shop in Springfield, Missouri (near where I live) had a piece in the paper about something he'd done in his store called the Call of Fame. He's taken a wall in his store and put up something like plaques for ballplayers who were really good, but not quite Hall of Fame worthy. I remember Ron Santo being there as well as this guy. When the best players of the 60s are rattled off, there were so many great outfielders (Aaron, Mays, Clemente, Frank Robinson, Rose, Clemente...and that's just the National League) that Vada Pinson gets lost.

On Baseball-Reference's Hall of Fame indicators list, he falls just short. When you look at the career comparable players, you see a lot of other guys who would make what I call the Hall of the Pretty Dang Good, guys like Dave Parker, Steve Garvey, Al Oliver, Johnny Damon, Bill Buckner, Willie Davis, along with a couple of Hall of Famers (Roberto Clemente, Zach Wheat) a borderline Hall of Famer (Bernie Williams) and Steve Finley. The comparables by age are Al Kaline, Roberto Clemente and Cesar Cedeno. So Vada's in pretty good company.

Vada ranks 47th all time in hits with 2757 and had a career OPS+ of 110 (he didn't walk a lot). He was an All-Star only twice and once was 3rd in MVP voting. Vada was a great complimentary player. He was the centerfielder for the Reds through the 60s with league average range. He had double digits in assists most seasons, which meant he had a good enough arm to throw guys out, but not such a good arm as to keep guys from trying to take an extra base.

The Reds traded Vada in 1968 and he then bounced around from the Cardinals to the Indians, the Angels and finally the Royals, where he ended his major league career in 1976. He had a long coaching career afterwards, finishing up with the Marlins in 1995. He passed away in 1995 at the age of 57 following a stroke.

This card is obviously an airbrushed Indians photo into an Angel uniform after the trade to the Angels. It's another in a long series at that time taken in Yankee Stadium.

I wish that older fellow still had his card shop. It wasn't one with a bunch of display cases full of jersey cards, etc. He just had boxes of older cards from the 50s, 60s and 70s all over the place. That would be a great place to spend a week now.......