Sunday, May 31, 2009

#101 -- Astros Rookies (Greif, Richard, Busse)

Bill Greif

None of these 3 guys provided any production for the Astros in 1972. Therefore, we should just consider this an example of Topps getting it wrong for its Rookie Prospects. The Astros went with a very set lineup of vets in 1972 and didn't have room for any rookies to break in. The Astros lineup was so set in 1972 it's a little difficult to play Strat-O-Matic because they just didn't have very many at bats to bench players. If somebody gets injured, the only infield replacements you've got are Bobby Fenwick and Jimmy Stewart.

Back to the Rookies on this card. I misspell Bill Greif's name all the time. I give myself a lot of "grief" over that. I guess perhaps I'll use that to learn to spell it properly. Bill's most known as a losing pitcher with the Padres. The Astros got more out of Bill in 1972 than anyone else on this card, as he and Derrel Thomas were the big parts of a trade to the Padres for Dave Roberts (the lefty pitcher). Bill proceded to go 5-16, 10-17 and 9-19 before the Padres decided to turn him into a reliever. Bill didn't do much better as a reliever. His 1977 card has achieved some fame as he never played with the Expos, despite what Topps made us believe.

J.R. Richard is the centerpiece of this card. I loved J. R. Richard in the late 70's and into 1980. He was big and fierce and looked it in the Astro rainbow uniforms. He threw hard and for several years didn't really know where it was going. In 1971 he pitched at Oklahoma City and averaged 10.5 K/9IP. Unfortunately, he also walked 105, which was almost 5.5/9IP. He wasn't a regular in the big leagues until 1975. His career really was only from 1975-1980 and in those 6 years he went 96-65 with 1339 strikeouts. That's in 5 1/2 years.

I remember 1980 very well. I was rooting for the Astros because of a good pitching staff, Bill Virdon was the manager (he lives in the same area I do), the cool uniforms, and the Cardinals were still kind of sucking. The Astros had picked up Nolan Ryan, so they had 2 guys who'd been striking out 300/year and a 20-game winning knuckleballer to sandwich between the two. J.R. got off to a great start and looked like a Cy Young for sure until he started complaining of a dead arm. Nobody believed him until he collapsed with a stroke in July. I remember a "Sporting News" cover with him and "Who Shot JR's Arm?" on the cover. He tried to come back through the minors, but he couldn't do it. He ended up losing a lot of money to an oil scheme and a couple of divorces and was living under a bridge in the mid-90's. He's got things back together now, thanks in large part to friends in baseball and his faith. One of my favorite autographed cards is a 1977 J.R. Richard. I don't know if it's real or not, but it's good enough for me.

I'd like to know what would happen if J.R. hadn't had a stroke end his career at age 30. If he had another 5 1/2 years like the preceeding 5 1/2 years, he'd be looking at roughly 200 wins, 3000 strikeouts and a Cy Young or 2. I think the Astros would have pushed by the Phils in the 1980 NLCS (the best LCS in history) if he was there, so he might have even had a World Series ring. I don't think he would have retired voluntarily at age 36, so he might have hung around to rack up stats like a lot of guys do, but for the prime 10-11 years, he'd have a great start on Cooperstown numbers. What a shame.

I actually knew who Ray Busse was without having to look him up. That's because the Cardinal announcers in the 1970's made every young player out to be the next great Cardinal Hall of Famer. Therefore, I have memories of guys like Ray Busse, Tom Heintzelman, Hector Cruz, Skip Jutze, Stan Papi, and so on. What I remember about Ray was, "at 6'4", he's a little tall to be a good shortstop." I think it was Mike Shannon who said that. A guy named Ripken came along about 10 years later..... However, Busse wasn't going to be the great 6'4" shortstop. He had a career batting average of .148 over 155 at bats. (The record for lowest career batting average by a non-pitcher with 155 at bats or more is Dick Smith's .134.) Ray did hit 2 homers in his 70 Cardinal at bats. They came off Rich Reuschel and Sam McDowell, who were a couple of pretty good pitchers. Perhaps Mike Shannon's comment about 6'4" shortstops had some basis in reality: Ray had a lifetime fielding percentage of .898 in his 23 games for the Cardinals in 1973. That's really bad. What's even worse is that the Cards trotted him out there as their starting shortstop 20 times in 1973, a year they finished only 1 1/2 games out of first. Man, if only Mike Tyson had been available more.

1972 Feature

On this date (May 31) in 1972, there were 10 games played in the big leagues and 8 of them were 1-run games. That would have been an exciting night on Baseball Tonight if such a thing existed then. The Angels came back with 1 in the 8th and 1 in the 9th to beat the White Sox (2nd major league win for Lloyd Allen, who's coming up next). Detroit beat the Indians 5-4 in 10, but not before the Indians tied the game in the 9th when Jim Northrup dropped a fly ball that would have been a sac fly. Dodgers beat the Giants 5-4 in 10 on a Manny Mota triple (he was then caught stealing home). In the pitching duel of the day, Bob Gibson and the Cardinals beat Ferguson Jenkins and the Cubs 1-0.

Also on May 31, 1972, Red Sox fans everywhere rejoiced (at least those who had been in 2004 and then got in Dr. Brown's DeLorean) as Dave Roberts was born. This is for all of Chowd Nation.


  1. I've also thought about what J.R. Richard might've done if not for that stroke. He was awfully impressive (and gave the Dodgers fits).

    That 1980 NLCS was one great one. I'm thinking the '86 one (Mets-Astros) was better, except I wasn't fond of the winner.

    Re: Cardinals announcers making all their prospects sound like all-stars. I thought only Yankees announcers did that.

  2. We mentioned you in this post

    and didn't even realize the author is THE MMayes when we said what a fantastic blog this is. Yes, we should read the fine print more closely. [self-directed eyeroll]

  3. Wow, I am most impressed with your blog! I can trace my start in collecting baseball cards back to when my mom bought me two packs of 1972 Topps cards, and I remember Steve Mingori of the Indians was the first card out of the pack that I saw. Also in that first pack was Bob Oliver, my first Royals card, and I was really excited (I'm from K.C.), and I collected Topps cards for the next 20 years or so.

    Topps cards from '71, '72, and '73 were my favorites because of the colors, graphics and photography as well as even the amateur-ish air-brushing! Today's cards are too slick and sterile for my liking, and seeing the old cards again takes me back to a simpler time. Your commentaries on each player are fun to read, and the 1972 sidebar stories are a brilliant added touch--nicely done!

  4. There was a Sports Illustrated column in 1993 that predicted that JR would have been in the Hall of Fame if not for the stroke. He and the Astros would have won the 1986 World Series with a rotation of Scott, Ryan and Richard.

    Tonight, I will post the HOF Plaque that they put up in the article and if possible, the article itself at my 1980 blog:

  5. checked site every day glad its back thanks

  6. The link to his plaque

  7. I remember Richard's lawyer gave an indignant press conference after the stroke. But I think the criticism of those around Richards at that time is unfair. Richards behaved erratically for some time before the stroke. And I don't mean stroke-like symptoms. I don't remember the details, but there was a Sporting News article in 1979 (pre-stroke) that called into question much of Richards' behavior - and the article was very plausible.

  8. Sorry. The Sporting News article must have been 1980 (not 1979) (assuming the stroke was 1980).