Friday, June 19, 2009

#121 -- Ed Sprague

Ed Sprague

Every team has a scouting story about how they found this guy or that guy which is out of the ordinary. Ed would be one of those stories for the Cardinals. Of course, it might have been a better story if he'd made more of an impact on the big league level. Ed couldn't have been scouted the conventional way. Like Sidd Finch, he didn't play high school baseball or college baseball. Somehow a Cardinal scout found him pitching in the Army in Germany and signed him as a free agent in 1966.

OK. That is an unusual story. So the Cardinals get this raw, hardthrowing pitcher and stash him in the low minors to get some seasoning. First year in the minors he gets some innings under his belt and walks a lot of guys. Second year in the minors he pitches a full season at A-ball (California League) and goes 11-7 with a 3.12 ERA and gets the walks under control (the ERA is artificially low as he gave up 83 runs, but only 54 earned....what? was this a team full of scatterarms?). He's looking at a promotion, right? The A's take him in the Rule 5 draft and he spends 1968 learning in the big leagues. He goes a respectable 3-4, 3.28, but his BB/K ratio is 1.0 and he has 6 wild pitches in 68 innings. Still, 4 years removed from an Army base with no baseball background and he's in the big leagues, giving up a homer to Brooks Robinson in his debut (although he did get the other 6 guys out that he faced).

Ed split 1969 between the minors and A's and was then sold to the Reds. He was in the minors in 1970 and came up for a cup of coffee in 1971. He bounced from the Reds to the Cardinals (he only pitched 8 games, but as a young, impressionable Cardinal fan I remember him vividly as one of the guys who couldn't do anything right in the early 70's) and then on to the Brewers. He was off to a 7-2 start in 1974 when he had a knee injury in Comiskey. That messed him up. He came back in 1975 to go 1-7, but what was really telling was walking 40 and only striking out 21 in only 67 innings. He got in 8 innings in 1976 and got shelled. That was it for Ed Sprague in the big leagues until Ed Sprague (his son) made it with the Blue Jays (later to make it in the Mitchell Report).

Remember how the A's noticed him in the California League? After his career was over he went back to California and owned the Stockton franchise.

1972 Feature
A couple of teams went wild on June 19, 1972. Roberto Clemente had 3 RBI on 2 doubles and a homer as the Pirates made up for the previous day's shutout, cuffing the Dodgers 13-3. Reggie Smith homered twice to lead the Red Sox to a 12-0 blasting of the Rangers. But the Game of the Day will feature a couple of hot teams.

The Mets come in having won 3 out of 4 and hanging on to first place in the East by a half-game. A month before they had a 6 game lead, so they need to get things going again. The Astros have won 6 out of 7 and are only a game and a half behind the Reds (who were shut out by Bill Stoneman and the Expos).

We're set up for a pitching duel with Jon Matlack going against Larry Dierker and the game is in the Astrodome. These pitchers don't disappoint. Matlack gets out of a couple of early jams by striking out Jimmy Wynn in the 1st and 3rd. The Astros keep getting guys on base and Houdini Matlack keeps squirming off the hook (like the mixed metaphor?). Finally, in the 7th, the Astros break through for a couple of runs and tack on another in the 8th. What had the Mets been doing? Nothing. Duffy Dyer singled to start the 3rd, but he was erased in a double play. Dierker walked leadoff man Willie Mays a couple of times, but he never got past first and Dierker stops the Mets on a 1-hitter.

Pretty special. Pretty amazing stretch for Astro pitching when you look to see that the day before, Jerry Reuss didn't allow a hit until Larry Bowa doubled to lead off the 9th. It's not like a Johnny VanderMeer thing, but it's not very common for a team to pitch back to back 1-hitters.

With this loss, the Mets fell out of first place and would not again hold sole possession of 1st in 1972.

One other item from June 19, 1972. The Cubs saw the beginning of a long career this day. Rick Reuschel made him big league debut, relieving Billy Hands in the 4th and striking out Bobby Bonds. He was then lifted for a pinch-hitter, but he would go on to win 10 games that year and 214 in a long career. He went on to strike out Bonds 11 more times, but Bobby got the best of it, hitting .350 with 3 homers in his career off Rick.

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