Friday, March 20, 2009

#80 -- Tony Perez

Tony Perez

There are many of the Topps sets where the player's position is noted on the front. Off the top of my head, it's hard to think of one where it isn't mentioned. The 1972 set doesn't have the player's position on the front, but they do have it on the back. I say that because when I mention "Tony Perez" the position most usually associated with him is first base. At this point, he'd been a regular with the Reds for 7 years, so he was fairly well established.

From 1967-1971, Tony played third base for the Reds. Looking at the stats, he was roughly league average, which surprises me some. I don't remember him being a great fielder, but I suppose this goes to show he was a good athlete. The Reds were playing Lee May at first, and there sure wasn't anywhere else he was going to play. When the Reds made the blockbuster deal with the Astros (May, Tommy Helms and Jimmy Stewart for Joe Morgan, Cesar Geronimo, Denis Menke and Jack Billingham -- who got the best of that?) in addition to picking up a lot of talent, the Reds cleared a spot to move Perez to first.

Tony had great RBI numbers. Of course, he had Pete Rose, Joe Morgan and either Bobby Tolan or Ken Griffey hitting in front of him. I'm convinced Enzo Hernandez could have hit 4th or 5th for the Reds and driven in 80 runs. Tony wasn't a loud guy who called attention to himself. He just went along and did his thing without a lot of fanfare.

The Big Red Machine suffered a blow when the Reds traded Perez to the Expos to open up playing time for Dan Driessen. That was in 1977. The next time the Reds went to the World Series was 1990. Driessen was good, but he wasn't Tony Perez good. It's true that Perez was a 10 year vet at the time and he was going to start winding down, but for the next couple of years his numbers were still better. Woodie Fryman and Dale Murray didn't really do a whole lot for the Reds, either.

I always liked Perez as a player, but I don't think he'd make my Hall of Fame. He had good lifetime numbers, especially RBI, but he just doesn't hit me in the guy as being a Hall of Famer. He was one of those guys, like Ron Santo, Dave Parker and Andre Dawson who was consistently far above average, but not dominating. Oops. I mentioned that I don't think Ron Santo should be in the Hall. I should know better than that with all the Chicago readers I have. Please forgive me guys!

Oh, and Mario had a bad encounter with Tony.

#79 -- Red Sox Rookies (Garman, Cooper, Fisk)

Here's one of the best multi-player rookie cards you'll find. All 3 had good major league careers, 2 were All-Stars and 1 is in the Hall of Fame.

Mike Garman didn't have a long Red Sox career. The Sox kept bringing him up but not for long, even in years like 1972 when they didn't have much in the bullpen. However he wasn't really putting it together. The minor league numbers on the back were also kind of unspectacular. However, when he was traded to the Cardinals, he put up a couple of good seasons and was the right-handed complement to Al Hrabosky. Then the Cardinals traded him for Don Kessinger. Whoops. However, Garman went downhill, too. He had another good year in 1977 and threw a scoreless 5 innings in the playoffs that year.

Cecil Cooper. What I remember most about him is a unique batting stance. It took him a while to establish himself as a semi-regular in Boston. Originally he would get platooned and not play against lefties. He was a great hitter. It didn't matter what anybody threw at him, he hit it. He got traded to the Brewers because there just wasn't any room for him, Jim Rice and Yaz in Boston. It opened up playing time for him and he finally got to play full time. He's 2nd or 3rd in most Brewers lifetime hitting categories. Of course, he's now the Astro manager.

Carlton Fisk. Everyone knows him for the big homer in the 1975 Series. He was a lot more than that. He was somewhat of a surprise as the Red Sox catcher in 1972. He hit 7th or 8th most of the year, despite winning the Rookie of the Year and finishing 4th in the MVP voting. He had early injury problems, but overcame that to be extremely durable. If it weren't for Yaz, he'd have been the face of the Red Sox franchise during the 70's. I have to say, I also remember him for the commercial where he was splitting wood in his flannel shirt hawking Skoal. I guess it was better than cigarettes, but looking back it's probably not the best product to endorse.

I have to show it:

Thursday, March 19, 2009

#78 -- Steve Arlin

We hear a lot now about how expansion has watered down the pitching. I happen to agree with that and think it's one reason (including bat technology, smaller dimensions in the ballparks, stronger ballplayers and wussified training techniques for pitchers) that baseball has more offense now than 40 years ago. That debate was going on in the early 1970's as the mound had just been lowered and there was another round of expansion that increased by 25% the number of teams -- and pitchers -- in the league. We went from 20 teams to 24 teams. I happen to think that's still a perfect number of teams in the league, but I know we won't go back to that.

Steve Arlin might have been the kind of guy to be pointed at as an "expansion" pitcher. I remember him for 2 things: he wasn't very good, he lost a lot of game and he was a dentist. I guess that was 3 things, but I lumped the first 2 together. Check out his stat lines:

1971 228 9-19 211 103 156 3.48
1972 250 10-21 217 122 159 3.60

Those were his best years. Granted, the ERA and the H/IP numbers aren't bad (ERA was slightly above league average), but the other numbers are bad. They got worse. Arlin was traded to Cleveland in 1974 where he finished off a 3-12 year to complete his career at 34-67 .337. He played on some really bad San Diego teams, but his stats would only neutralize to 33-51 .393. That's bad, too.

He did have 11 career shutouts in his 34 wins. Playing for San Diego, you almost had to toss a shutout to get a win. In 1972 he went at least 9 innings and allowed 1 or 2 hits 5 times. His record: 3-1. That includes a loss and a 10 inning no-decision where he only allowed 1 hit and a 2-hitter where no hits were allowed until 2 outs in the 9th. Three of those low hit games came in a 4 start stretch in June-July.

If you just looked at the numbers, like I did when I was 8, you'd be like me and think Arlin wasn't a very good pitcher. However, looking a little deeper, you'd see why the Padres kept throwing him out there. You just didn't know when he was going to "get it," turn the corner and become a superstar. Unfortunately for Steve, that never happened in the big leagues. He wore out guys like Willie Mays (3-24, 10 Ks), Lou Brock (2-15) and Willie Stargell (5-27, 8 Ks). But he got beat around by guys like Dal Maxvill (8-12), Wayne Garrett (7-19, 3 HRs) and Willie Crawford (7-23, 3 HR, 9 BB).

I joke with my wife when I try a home improvement project like, "You know, if this law thing doesn't work out, I could go into laying ceramic tile." Steve went ahead and studied dentistry for when the baseball thing didn't work out. In fact, he missed his first Padre Spring Training in 1969 because he was in dental school. I have to repeat my sorry comment from a Stats on the Back post, but I think he played a character in some North Pole claymation special on TV where he told Preston Gomez, "I don't want to pitch for the Padres and lose 20 games a year. I want to be a -- a -- a -- dentist!"

#77 -- Ron Theobald

Ron Theobald

I actually remember Ron Theobald. How, I have no earthly idea. Why I can remember Ron Theobald, but not remember to get the trash out on Thursday mornings is an enigma that provides mild frustration to me and something more than mild frustration to my wife. If there's a forgettable player in this set, it's probably Ron Theobald.

The Brewers picked him up as a minor league throw-in in 1970. He'd been in the minors since 1964. That may not be all that unusual, except that Ron was a college player, so he should have been a little more advanced. Still in 1971 he won the second base job from Ted Kubiak and hit well enough to bat second most of the year. He hit .276, which wasn't bad, although he didn't even have gap power.

In 1972 he fell to earth, hitting just .220, although he drew enough walks that his OBP stayed at its 1971 level of .342. His power numbers still weren't there and his "slugging" percentage was an anemic .256. Ouch. He still got most of the playing time at 2nd base, mostly because he was slick with the glove. He teamed with Rick Auerbach for a keystone combination that combined for 3 HR, 49 RBI and hit .219. Oh. Ron was also 0/7 on stolen base attempts. Needless to say, the Brewers found a new second baseman in 1973 and Ron never saw the big leagues again.

I hate to talk about how somebody looks (well, not really, but I'd hate to offend Ron or his family if they happened to Google this), but in this photo Ron looks like he's about 50. He just doesn't look like a pro baseball player. Ron does show excellent form for executing the sacrifice bunt. I think he was a fundamentally sound ballplayer who wasn't much for hitting. Baseball had a lot more room for guys like Ron in 1972 than it does today.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

#76 -- Don Carrithers

Don Carrithers

If Don's biggest thrill in his high school sports career was 17 K's in a one-hitter in the first game of the season, I guess he didn't win a state championship. Don was kind of a fair-to-middlin' swingman that went between middle relief and spot starting. He wasn't ever really spectacularly good or bad. As a Cardinal fan, I'd probably compare him to Brad Thompson (I know, most of you don't know who WonderBrad is).
Don pitched in the 1971 playoffs. He didn't do very good. He came into the 7th inning of Game 2 with the Giants down 4-2 in the game after winning Game 1 on the road. Hits by Dave Cash, Al Oliver and Roberto Clemente were enough for him to be pulled without getting anyone out and the Pirates won. Nobody ever likes their post-season career ERA to be "inf."
Don's picture looks like he'd been banished off the Phoenix practice field into the desert. Where Bert Campaneris' card was full of green, there's nothing living in this card. Kind of an interesting contrast.
Don was in the Giant rotation down the stretch in 1971, but he was consistent. In his 8 August-September starts, he had a complete game 1-0 shutout of the Astros and 2 other wins, but also had 2 games where he didn't get out of the 2nd inning. That inability to find consistency was the story of his career.
Don rode the shuttle between AAA, the DL and the big leagues with the Giants and later with the Expos. The Twins purchased his contract for the 1977 season, but after getting into a car wreck, he only appeared in 7 games (ineffectively) and was finished.
1972 Feature
I found 1 event that occurred on March 18, 1972. Comedian Dane Cook was born today. Some find him funny. I'm kind of, eh. What I did find funny was the movie "Dan in Real Life" where his brother stole his fiance. But the funny part was when his brother got set up on a blind date with that gal from his high school days and the whole family burst into song about Ruthie "Pigface" Draper.

#75 -- Bert Campaneris

Bert Campaneris

Campy was one of the first of the A's from the glory days of the 70's to come along, just after Dick Green and a few weeks before Dave Duncan and Blue Moon Odom came up. As I mentioned earlier, Campy is Jose Cardenal's cousin. He made a splash right off the bat for the woeful A's.
I remember Campy hitting leadoff and being a speed demon on the bases. Through the early 70's, he was the sparkplug for the team and a All-Star. He was the starting shortstop for the 1973 game in KC that I got to attend as a 9 year old. When he was announced as the leadoff hitter, the AL fans booed him and every other Oakland A that was announced. I didn't understand and my dad had to tell me that the KC fans were still bitter at the A's moving out of KC.
This card features Campy in a bunting pose. There's a lot of green around, with the border, the uniform, the hat, the wall, the grass and the rest of the players in the background. I wish I'd timed this to come out on March 17.
On September 8, 1965, Campy got to play all 9 positions in a game. He got into some plays. In the 2nd he was involved in a rundown. In the 4th, he caught cousin Jose's flyball to left. In the 5th he caught Paul Schaal's fly to center. In the 6th he botched Jim Fregosi's fly to right, allowing a runner to score from 1st. In the 7th, he caught a popup at first, but didn't have to handle a throw on a ground ball. He pitched the 8th, getting Cardenal to pop up as the first man he faced. He walked the next 2 and then a run scored on a base hit. He then struck out Bobby Knoop and a runner was thrown out trying to steal. He caught the 9th and Ed Kirkpatrick stole 2nd on him. Later, however, Kirkpatrick was thrown out trying to advance to home (I couldn't tell if it was a wild pitch, passed ball, etc.) The game went extra and Campy went out.
Campy went at 160 pounds, so I don't think he was on steroids in 1970 when he had his "Brady Anderson" season hitting 22 homers, when his next highest total was 8. He didn't draw a lot of walks. If he played now, he'd be seen as an average shortstop with a below average OPS+. However, he was a top star that was universally well-liked (except for Lerrin LaGrow and Billy Martin).
Campy did learn his lesson about throwing that bat in the 1972 playoffs. He was hit twice in the 1973 Series and once in the 1974 Series without incident.
I liked watching Campy. I still don't know why those people were booing him at the All-Star Game.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

#74 -- Cecil Upshaw

Cecil Upshaw

In the late 60's, Cecil was a top reliever in the league. He and Claude Raymond teamed up to make a good late innings combination for the Braves. He helped them to the NL West title in 1969 and pitched well agains the Mets as the Braves were swept out. He even hit his only homer in 1969.

However guys who are 26 sometimes do things they regret. Cecil fit that category. In the off-season he's having dinner with friends when he decides to show off how he can jump to touch a sign. He was 6'6", after all. He gets his ring finger caught and severs the nerves. He had a lot of surgery and missed the entire 1970 season. Whoops. That's got to go into the list of baseball injuries along with Vince Coleman's tarp, Mike Matheny slicing a finger open and missing the playoffs, Clint Barmes slipping while carrying in groceries and Moises Alou's treadmill. Cecil should have just said he was washing his monster truck.

Cecil came back strong in 1971, but he wasn't the same. He slipped further in 1972 and started bouncing around in 1973. His final season was in 1975 and his K/BB ratio had eroded significantly. Cecil was a sidearmer and I suspect he needed movement to be successful and the injury affected his grip. Cecil had a heart attack and passed away in 1995. He and BJ Ryan of the Blue Jays are the only pitchers from Centenary to play in the big leagues.

Cecil got to play with his cousin, George Stone, with the Braves. Of his 78 Braves' saves, 12 of them came in George Stone's wins. That would have made nice talk around the Thanksgiving table at their grandparents' house.

1972 Feature

Here's a brief return, but it doesn't have much to do with the world 37 years ago. On March 17, 1972, future baseball wife Mia Hamm was born. She seems to be a nice gal for a Tar Heel.

Older sets featured in blogs

As I'd mentioned a long time ago, I got the idea to do this from Andy's 1988 Topps blog. I'm not going at the breakneck pace Andy went at.

In browsing before I started this, I'd also seen Kevin's pursuit of the 1965 set. He's still plugging along and is almost half done.

I've found a couple of new blogs that deal with what I consider to be older sets. Steve is featuring his 1970 set in his blog. He's only 53 cards short of completing it, so I think this will be somewhat like Kevin's 1965 in that we'll get to see him finish it up. While I don't share his love for the Cubs, I'm also trying to get this set finished, although I'm about 365 cards short of the whole thing. His profile says he lives in Sarasota. That's one of my favorite vacation places. I love the beach on Longboat Key.

Finally, I saw a link on Steve's page to a new one that the Pack Addict is doing on completing a 1969 set. He's got a healthy want list up, so you might stop by to see if you can be of some assistance. I'm now considering starting a 1969, but I've only got about 120 of those and I should probably finish off my 1964, 1972 and 1970 sets before starting another one with expensive stars and high-numbers.
Project '62, among other things, also chronicles the completion of a 1962 set.
There may be others out there, but we've got blogs that feature the 1962, 1965, 1969, 1970 and 1972 set. I know there are some that go into the 1980's and 90's, but I'll leave those for someone a little younger than me.

NCAA tourney under 1972 rules

This will be a little bit of a feature on how much has changed in sports in 37 years. There are some big differences in how college basketball looks now than how it looked in 1972.

The biggest deals with how the NCAA selection is done. In 1972, only one conference -- the ACC -- had a postseason tournament. That was how they selected their NCAA representative. What's that? Their representative? This year the ACC has seven teams? You're sounding like they only got one.

That's right. Through 1974 each conference got one representative and every conference used the regular season except for the ACC. 1974 was the catalyst for change. At the end of that season everyone knew the best teams in the country were UCLA of the Pacific 8 and NC State and Maryland of the ACC. Only 2 of those teams would make the tournament. The fact that the ACC had a tournament made the final in Greensboro between NC State and Maryland one of the greatest college games ever. If you ever have a chance to catch that on one of the classic networks, watch it. NC State won and got to go to the NCAA. Maryland lost and had to go to the NIT.

In 1972 there were 25 teams in. In that day there were also more independents (like Notre Dame) that could be invited. If the NCAA kept to that selection criteria, here are the teams that would be in this year:

America East Binghamton *(won head to head)
Atlantic 10 -- Xavier
ACC -- Duke (takes tourney champion)
Atlantic Sun -- Jacksonville
Big 12 Kansas
Big East Louisville
Big Sky Weber St.
Big South Radford
Big 10 Michigan State
Big West Cal St-Northridge
Colonial Virginia Commonwealth
Conf. USA Memphis
Horizon Butler
Ivy Cornell
Metro Atl. Siena
Mid-American Bowling Green *(won head to head)
MEAC Morgan State
Mo. Valley Creighton *(tied head to head…better record)
Mtn. West BYU *(tied head to head…better record)
Northeast Robert Morris
Ohio Valley Tennessee-Martin
Pac-10 Washington
Patriot American
Southern Davidson
Southland Stephen F. Austin
SWAC Alabama St.
Summit North Dakota St.
Sun Belt Western Kentucky *(won head to head)
West Coast Gonzaga
WAC Utah St

You'd look at this and think that the 4 #1 seeds would have to be Louisville, Memphis, Duke and Kansas. However, in 1972 they didn't balance the regions. You'd go to "your region." By that logic, you'd have the #1 seeds being Duke (East), Louisville (Mideast), Kansas (Midwest) and Washington or Gonzaga (West).

Louisville should be the overall #1 in this scenario, but they'd have the toughest bracket because they'd likely have to deal with LSU and Memphis in their bracket (unless Memphis was put in the Midwest).

Here's how I'd seed:

EAST (cupcake city, baby)
1. Duke
2. Siena
3. American
4. Binghamton
5. Radford
6. Robt Morris
7. Morgan St
8. Cornell

1. Louisville
2. LSU
3. Butler
4. Davidson
5. Jacksonville
6. VCU
7. Bowling Green
8. Tn-Martin

MIDWEST (monster region)
1. Memphis
2. Kansas
3. Mich St.
4. Xavier
5. Creighton
6. W.Ky.
7. N.Dak.St.
8. Alab. St

1. Gonzaga
2. Washington
3. BYU
4. Utah St.
5. Weber St.
6. SFA
7. Northridge

In 1972, they didn't seed, either. However, under this scenario, Duke has the easiest cakewalk, but they wouldn't win the championship. The dream would be a Louisville v. Memphis finals matchup with Duke and Gonzaga playing the third place game (yes, they did that in 1972).

There are many things that I like about 1972, but I like the changes that have brought about the college basketball tournament as we know it. If this were how the tournament were selected, we wouldn't have had the conference consolidation we've had over the years. The old Metro conference and the Southwest conferences would still be around. (Imagine the Metro conference tournament final under 1972 rules -- Memphis v. Louisville with everything on the line.) Freshman eligibility, allowing players to dunk and the revamped tournament have turned this into a time of the year I like. At least until Duke loses and the tournament ends for me.

#73 -- Steve Huntz

There aren't many in this set that I have no recollection of. Steve is one of those. Most of what I know about Steve is that I have his 1969 Cardinal Rookie Stars card that he shares with Mike Torrez. When I think of Steve Huntz, that's what I think of. I'd even forgotten he was in this set.

This photo does a pretty good job of showcasing the White Sox red uniforms. The Sox have had several major overhauls to the uniform. They had a grey color scheme for a lot of their years, but in 1971, Mr. Veeck must have wanted to liven things up, so he went to the red/powder blues. Then, by 1976, they went to the familiar dark grey pajamas and even wore shorts a game or two. They also had some funky futuristic fonts in the late 70's and 80's before settling into a more traditional uniform style in the early 90's. The uniform Steve has on also has the large TV numbers on the sleeves. you just don't see those very often.

One of the reasons I don't remember Steve is that he didn't play in the big leagues in 1971. He was with the Cards most of 1969 as a reserve infielder, but didn't hit at all. About the only offensive tool he had was that he could draw a walk. That's about the only way a .194 hitter with no power could get his OPS+ up to 74. The Cards sent him to San Diego and he exploded with 11 of his 16 career homers, 7 of them in the month of May. I guess the league then figured him out. If someone did that today, there would be "shades of Brady Anderson" rumors flying around.

The Padres "sold high" on Steve. He was with the Sox for 1971 and he didn't get much time. His only 2 homers of 1971 came on August 17 off Mickey Lolich. Based on that and his May 1970, I guess you could say he was a streak homer-hitter. He reappeared in 1975 with the Padres for 53 at bats. That was enough to get him a card in the 1976 SSPC set. If you've never collected that, you've missed out. They're the full-bleed pre-cursors to the Donruss set and have some wild photos.

Steve's 1971 card pictures him with the Giants. The Pads sent him to San Francisco in December 1970, just in time for Topps to airbrush the Padre logo off his helmet. During spring training the Giants moved him for reliever Steve Hamilton. So he gets a White Sox card for 1972. In December 1971 he's part of the Tommy John-Dick Allen deal and goes to the Dodgers, for whom he never plays. When we see John and Allen later, we'll see them with their new teams. I guess life's better when you hit more than .206 for a career.

Steve's back living in the Cleveland area where he grew up. I found a State Farm insurance agent named Steve Huntz in the area and the chances are it's the same guy. If you need a good neighbor in the Cleveland area, look him up and ask him about playing with Bob Gibson, Nate Colbert and Walt "No-Neck" Williams.

Monday, March 16, 2009

#72 -- Bruce Kison

Bruce Kison

Kison was brought along by the Pirates in 1971 and was in and out of the rotation. That was the story of his career. He was the epitome of the swingman/5th starter in the 70's when most teams went with a 4 man rotation. He had a nice long career, mostly as a starter, but never pitched 200 innings in a year. That's not unsual now, but in the 70's, 300 innings was what 200 innings is now.

It seemed like I had a lot of this card when I was growing up. Either that or I had it out a lot because it's very familiar. I like the foul line running through the photo in this shot. I also like the fans along the rail down the left field line, hoping to get an autograph of Clemente or Stargell, but likely getting stuck with Gene Alley, Bob Johnson or Milt May.

Bruce also became well known for throwing inside. He plunked 11 in only 129 innings in 1974. Wow. Supposedly in his final year as a Red Sox in 1985 he threw at Jorge Bell. Bell came to the mound to fight and tried to throw a karate kick, missed because Kison stepped aside and laid him out. At least that's according to an internet report and we know those are always right.

Kison's probably most known for being the winning pitcher in the first night World Series game in 1971. He wasn't the starter, but relieved Luke Walker who had a rough first inning. Kison kept the Orioles off balance most of the rest of the way. That might be due in part to the fact that he hit three of them (a World Series record tied by Jose Contreras of the White Sox in 2005) so nobody wanted to dig in too deeply.
One of the most curious stats about Bruce was his hitting performance in 1978. He was a reasonably good hitter, but in 1978 he only had 4 hits: a single (10th inning of a tie game off Terry Forster), a double (September 1 off Mickey Mahler), a triple (September 7 off Pete Falcone) and a homer (September 29, last at bat of the year, off Steve Carlton). He had a "season cycle." I suppose, since they were in order, you could call this a natural season cycle. This doesn't happen often because it means you can't get more than 4 hits in a season. One other pitcher (Ray Poat in 1947) and three position players (Fred Manrique, 1985; Curtis Pride, 1993 and Matt Diaz, 2004) have "accomplished" this feat. Most players -- even pitchers -- prefer to have more than 4 hits in a season.

Bruce was also late for his wedding on October 17, 1971. It took a police escort, a Lear jet and a helicopter to get him and his best man, Bob Moose, there close to time. It almost seems a cliche from a teen movie, but Bruce and Bob showed up reeking of alcohol. However, this was one time that I don't think the bride or future in-laws were upset. You see, Bruce and Bob had to cut short their celebration of a Game 7 World Series win over the Orioles to get there. This story from Sports Illustrated is pretty cool.

NCAA Tournament Invades Baseball Card Blogs

I can't help it. I went to school at Duke. It's been transplanted into my very being, although Duke sucks at about every other athletic endeavor except basketball.

We've been paired with Binghamton in the tournament, which I understand is the former SUNY-Binghamton. Normally, I would write bad things about Binghamton because it is the ancestral home of former North Carolina point guard King Rice (I know. Nobody out there remembers King Rice from the early 1990's or even cares).

However, I've learned that 2 of my favorite blogs have ties to Binghamton, NY. So as not to insult the Night Owl and Easy Life Steve, I've learned there's more to Binghamton than being the home of a Tar Heel.

Now that doesn't mean I'm rooting for Binghamton or anything, but I'll at least cut out the vitriol and hatred until the second round. Then, unless I learn of a reason not to, I'll be able to pick on either the Texas Longhorns or the Minnesota Gophers (I'm hoping Minnesota wins!)

#71 -- Angels Team

California Angels

The Angels finished 5 games below .500, but that was only good for 5th in the West at 18 games behind the A's. Even at that, they overachieved. They really didn't have much offense, with Bob Oliver being about all they had. The coolest thing about this card has to be the dude in the sky blue leisure suit on the right hand side of the card. Based on the fire orange jacket I saw Tennessee coach Bruce Pearl wearing over the weekend, I have to wonder if that guy borrowed that jacket from Dean Smith. ("Go to hell, Carolina, go to hell!")

Their strength was in the starting rotation. Nolan Ryan came over from the Met bullpen and joined Andy Messersmith, Clyde Wright and Rudy May to form a formidible roation. Unfortunately, they didn't have much of a bullpen. They had 16 saves that year. Sixteen. Francisco Rodriguez was getting that many a month last year.

The Angels were kind of stuck as a franchise. By this time, they were in their 12th season and they were going nowhere. In their 2nd year (1962), they'd had a surprising 3rd place finish in a 10 team league. But 10 years later, they weren't going anywhere. They'd also traded the "face of the franchise" Jim Fregosi for a talented pitcher named Nolan Ryan that didn't have the control to pitch regularly with the Mets.

We've been told a lot about the curse of the Red Sox and the Cubs. However, the Angels were thought to be a cursed franchise. There were a lot of accidents, injuries and illnesses that kept them down. There wouldn't be much happen for the Angels for several years except for Nolan Ryan, who became a pretty good pitcher once he was allowed to throw, no matter how many he walked.

In 1972 the Angels didn't have any award winners. They only had the one All-Star everyone gets. Nolan Ryan was named to the team, but he didn't pitch in the game. The Angels really didn't have much in the minor leagues, either. The only players they really produced in the first 15 years of the franchise were Andy Messersmith and Frank Tanana. They do much better now.

The next year they tried to develop more talent through trades by trading Messersmith and Ken McMullen to the Dodgers for Frank Robinson, Bill Singer and some young guys, but that didn't really work out. It wasn't until they could pick up some stars through free agency (Don Baylor, Joe Rudi, Bobby Grich, Rod Carew, Reggie Jackson) that they broke through.

At this point in time, however, for the Angels, contending was like Fantasyland and they were as likely to find that at the Big A as they were down the road at the land of Disney.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

#70 -- Mike Cuellar

Mike grew up in Cuba before Fidel Castro came to power. He was a ballplayer. My recollection of him is how much fun he had playing ball. The story is that he was discovered while pitching for a Cuban army team. The Reds picked him up and had him playing in local Havana. He came up for a couple of games and was hit hard. He went back to the minors and roamed around several years. He had a little bit of a chance with the Cards in 1964, but they traded him to the Astros in 1965.
He made a team's rotation for the first time in 1966 at the age of 29. However after he took a step back in 1968 (at age 31) the Astros cut their losses and sent him to Baltimore for Curt Blefary. Orioles really got the better of that deal. Mike really kicked it up a notch and became one of the elite pitchers in the American League. He won a Cy Young in 1969 with 23 wins (and wasn't an All-Star). From 1969 through 1974, he won at least 18 games/year.
Mike was so-so in the postseason. He had a lot of opportunities, because the O's were always there. In 12 postseason starts, he was only 4-4, but his ERA was only 2.85. Those numbers would deify anyone now.
1975 was the start of Mike's decline. He really fell in 1976 and only got into a few games in 1977. Too bad that he didn't start having success until later on. He'd have had quite a career if he wasn't such a late bloomer. That, however, may be more a matter that he was a screwball pitcher and he it took a while for him to perfect it. At age 42, he tried to come back, but could only make it in the Mexican League, but he had a winning record at 7-6. Remember, in the late 70's we really didn't see anybody pitching in their 40's (except knuckleballers like Hoyt Wilhelm).
Mike has been a pitching coach in the Independent leagues lately. He's been in Orioles spring training this year, but as a special instructor and not as a prospect. He's only 71.

#69 -- Roger Freed

Roger had a monsterous minor league career. Check out those numbers as he came up the ranks in 1968 (31, 103 .289), 1969 (22, 90 .298 in the Texas League, which has always been a pitcher's league) and 1970 as the International League MVP (24, 130 .334). Nobody likes to do this, but he came back to AAA ball with the 1976 Denver Bears, hitting 42 homers and winning the league MVP. It's a good sign for a major leaguer to be the MVP 6 years apart, but nobody wants to win a second MVP at a minor league level.
I think Baltimore must have recognized Roger's talent being a little one-dimensional as he was coming up. They didn't have room in the outfield for him and sent him to the Phillies for Grant Jackson. Jackson had a good career with the O's, but Roger couldn't get established for the Phils.
The Phils gave him a shot in 1971 with a lot of playing time in right field, but he didn't hit like they'd wanted. I don't think the Phillies would have been disappointed with him finishing 4th on the team in homers as a rookie, but for that number to be only 6 homers (tied with Oscar Gamble, Joe Lis and Rick Wise) was a disappointment. He also didn't hit for average and struck out a lot. His playing time reduced in 1972, sharing time with Tommy Hutton, Mike Anderson and Gamble. He still didn't hit for average, had disappointing power and struck out too much.
He wandered around after that, through the minors with the Indians, Reds and Expos. He even had a year in the Mexican League. After his monster year with Denver in 1976, the woeful Cardinals took a flyer on him in the Rule 5 draft (largely because Vern Rapp had managed him in the minors) and he had a great year as a pinch-hitter (5 homers, 11 walks and only 9 strikeouts in 83 at bats). Did I mention he also hit .398! His production as a pinch-hitter declined and after a couple of more years the Cards released him.
Before being released, he had one of those magic moments. Bottom of the 11th, bases loaded, 2 out. Astros scored three in the top of the 11th, so this is it. Astros have Joe Sambito on the hill, and he's one of the top relievers in the league. The air in the stadium was deflated because Garry Templeton had just struck out for the 2nd out. Freed pinch hits for Jerry Mumphrey as the last chance. Bang! Game-winning grand slam! A loser becomes a winner. Way to go, Roger!
Roger had heart trouble and died at age 49 in 1996. When googling him, I found a link to help find his gravesite, for anyone who's into that.