Saturday, March 7, 2009

#59 -- Fred Stanley

Fred Stanley

This is not a good airbrush job on Fred's hat. The coloring just isn't right. The only thing I'll give the artist credit for is they made the hat on the guy in the background match the Indians' dark hats of the time. The rock in the back tells me this is an Arizona spring training site, which both the Indians (Tucson) and the Brewers (Tempe) had at the time. I'm going to say Fred's got a Milwaukee Brewer hat on because the Indians acquired him in late March 1971, so he would have spent most of 1971 in Brewers' camp. This raises an interesting question: could the guy in the background have truly an Indian in a Spring Training game between the Tribe and the Crew?

Fred was not the best "Frederick Stanley" that ever played. However, I've got to play a trick to make that statement. The best was Frederick Stanley McGriff. However, Chicken had a long and interesting career. He was a Pilot (so he goes on that checklist). In 1972 he was sent from the Indians after only 6 games to the Padres for the rest of the year. The Yankees picked him up for the 1973 season and he stayed with them through the 1980 season. He then finished up with a couple of years in Oakland.

Fred was never a regular. He got his most playing time in 1975, but only got into 117 games and had 252 at bats. In 1976 he started 87 games at short, the most games started in his career. He didn't have any real production, but the Yankees made the playoffs anyway (their appearance in the World Series was tainted by Chris Chambliss' failure to touch home plate in Game 5 of the ALCS). The next year they picked up Bucky Dent and Fred was back to the bench.

Fred only hit 10 homers, but 2 of them were grand slams (1973 off Kevin Kobel, 1978 off Mike Torrez). Fred was one of the worst "sluggers" of modern times. In 1976 he had 260 at bats and 5 extra base hits. He had a lifetime batting average of .216, slugged .263 and a career OPS of .564. That's not very good.

"Chicken" is now the director of player development for the Giants. He had a lot of years to sit on teh bench and continue working his butt off to be ready. Guys like Fred may not have been the kind of ballplayer that you'd build a team around, but every team that wins has a guy like Fred that's versatile and ready to step in and get the job done.

Friday, March 6, 2009

#58 -- Ernie McAnally

Ernie McAnally

When I was young, I had a few problems with Ernie McAnally. First, his name was far to close to Dave McNally, so they became inextricably linked in my mind. Second, Ernie pitched for the Expos and he didn't seem to win much. Third, (my apologies for my 8 year old self to all the Ernies out there, most of who I've learned in the last 35 years are great guys) Ernie just seemed like a funny name. I'm hoping I'm not the only one out here that arrived at feelings about a ball player based just on his name or how he looked. I guess I was one of those school bullies your parents warn you about. I also know I'm not alone.

Ernie started as an outfielder in the Mets' system. The card back says he hit so-so in the minors, but he couldn't hit well for a pitcher in the big leagues, with a lifetime .132. He did take Juan Pizzaro downtown in his rookie year of 1971. The Expos took a flyer on Ernie in the expansion draft because he'd only pitched one year, but they must have been impressed by his 9K/9 IP ratio that year. I like that the card back credits former big league ballplayers Wes Stock (who was coaching with the A's at the time) and Met farm director Whitey Herzog (a good shot at the Hall of Fame as a manager with the Rangers, Royals and Cards) for making the switch from outfield to the mound.
He made it in their rotation in 1971. It was his best season, 11-12, 3.90. His won-loss totals fell after that and he had a lifetime winning percentage of .380 in 4 years. That's quite a bit worse than even the Expos' .467 winning percentage over his career. The Indians purchased his contract at the beginning of the 1975 season and Ernie never smelled the big leagues again.

However, just looking at the numbers doesn't do a guy like Ernie justice. I found a writer who got to meet Ernie when she was a young girl through a friend. She paints a different story. He's a deeply religious guy who still occasionally talks to young ballplayers about "pitching and Jesus." He returned to Texas to become a banker. He proudly displays a scorecard from a game where he beat Bob Gibson for his second big league win.

When I read that article, I don't see the guy with the funny name that wasn't as good as the Oriole pitcher when I was young. I see the guy who got to live a dream, beat a Hall of Famer, and realizes what is really important in life. I think I'll start remembering that guy.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

#57 -- Bob Oliver

Bob Oliver

For the 2nd time in the last 3 cards, we've got a player whose son is still pitching in the big leagues. Bob's son is Darren Oliver, who I thought was finished about 5 years ago, but he's lefthanded, so he'll be in the big leagues for another 8 years.

There's no denying Bob in this photo. Where do we start? I may have thought John Ellis was lazy in his posed "first base stretch" photo, but Bob's going all out. Looks to me like he's reaching out to get a throw from Cookie Rojas while the Royals are attempting to double up Bert Campaneris. This was likely taken at the Royals' old spring training home in Fort Myers. From what I've read, it's fallen into disarray, but some college teams use it. From what I could tell of the street view on Google Maps, it's not really anywhere I want to visit the next time I go to Fort Myers.

Then, there's the satin jacket. What's up, Bob? Did you forget to wear your uniform top on picture day? Spill a cherry Kool-Aid on your shirt? Surely it's not that cold in Spring Training. Bob sure does a good job of modeling the Royals' jackets I remember from my youth. Plus, he's featuring the John Olerud style of wearing the batting helmet in the field almost 20 years before Olerud made it fashionable.

Bob was one of the Royals' first big power hitters. He had some of their most memorable "firsts" since he played for the 1969 expansion Royals. He had the first 6-6 game in 9 innings. He also had the first grand slam, on July 4 against Jim Bouton. Imagine that, it took over 3 months for the Royals to hit a granny.

However, when the Royals picked up John Mayberry, Bob was expendable. He mostly played first, but he could go to 3rd or play the outfield without embarrassing himself. The Royals got good production while Bob was there, but they didn't get much for trading him. They picked up Tom Murphy, who spot started some in 1972, then flipped him to the Cardinals for Al Santorini. As a Cardinal fan, Al Santorini couldn't have been taken off our hands too soon. He never played in the big leagues for the Royals. Great. In a matter of 2 deals, they turned Bob into zilch. Bob's career didn't do so great after leaving KC. He did fine in 1972 as the Angels' first baseman, but then his knees started to bother him and he bounced around and slid out of baseball.

Bob is now retired and runs a baseball academy looking to give instruction and opportunities to athletes in Sacramento.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

#56 -- Rich Chiles

Rich Chiles

There isn't much to write about Rich's career. This is his rookie card. He got some time with the Astros in 1971 and was their top pinch hitter, although he only hit .227. In his rookie year he set the team record for pinch hits (since broken) with 11. He didn't really get any other playing time to speak of until he joined the Twins in 1977. He hit in the .260s with the Twins in 1977-78 before being released at the beginning of Spring Training 1979.

Hard to tell much about where this picture is. About the only place Topps was taking NL pictures with turf was Candlestick, but this doesn't have a Candlestick feel to me. The guys in the background are wearing Houston road uniforms (these were the boring uniforms before the great stripes that started around 1975). Also, I don't know why, but when I saw his photo it just screamed, "I didn't know John Schneider hit left-handed." (Disclaimer: You can now see why I'm a lawyer and not in graphic arts. I verily stinketh at photoshop/paint. That's supposed to be an Astro hat I drew on John Schneider/Rich Chiles.)

There are two other things I've found about Rich that are more interesting than his playing career. His cousin was Hall of Famer George Kelly, a first baseman with the New York Baseball Giants. I'd have to admit that would have been cool growing up to know you were going to have Christmas and Thanksgiving with a former big league ballplayer (Kelly didn't make the HOF until 1973). It also would have made a cool cartoon on the back of his card, with Rich looking at Kelly (with a pillbox style hat) and having a word balloon saying, "Hi, Cuz!" (I'll not try to draw the cartoon in Paint.)

I'd read in a geneology article (ain't Google great!) that Rich was managing the family farm after his baseball career. Then a September 2008 Boston Globe article credited Rich with being one of Dustin Pedroia's first hitting coaches, when Pedroia was about 7. Again, wouldn't it be kind of cool that an MVP's family would remember you as the child's instructor.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

#55 -- Clyde Wright

Clyde Wright

Back at Billy Cowan's card, we saw the halo at the top of the Anaheim Stadium scoreboard. Now we see the next level down. Maybe a little disappointing. It's advertising gasoline and, from the color scheme, I think it's some form of the Amoco company (Correction from Andy: It's Chevron). I think we'll see this again with some of the Angels, as that spot seemed to be pretty popular for the Topps photographer.

Once upon a time, pitchers had to earn their way into the rotation. A young, up and coming pitcher would work out of the bullpen and get some spot starts along the way in order to get to a point where he would make the starting rotation in a year or two. This still happens sometimes, but a lot of guys now just move right into the rotation. Clyde made his way into the Angel rotation this way.

He had 4 years of spot starts and then was put in the rotation full time in 1970. Not much was expected because he went 1-8 4.10 in 1969. He was waived and unclaimed. He learned a screwball in a Caribbean winter league and the Angels took him back, where he went 22-12 and made the All-Star team in 1970. Ray Fosse might wish he hadn't, because Clyde threw a pitch to Jim Hickman that led to


Clyde had a good year in 1972, finishing 18-11 with a 2.98 ERA that was above the league average of 2.92. He also had a good year at the plate with 2 homers (off Dick Drago of the Royals and Dave Lemonds of the White Sox), 13 RBI and a .217 batting average. However, it was his last good year. Something happened that he stopped fooling hitters as his already so-so strikeout rate plummeted and his batting average against went up. He went 11-19 and 9-20 in 1973 and 1974 before being finished after 94 innings in 1975 with Texas.

He then had a stormy course in Japan with the venerable Yomiuri Giants for 3 years, pitching and homering in the Japan Series his first year. Unfortunately, in Game 7 he gave up the game-winning homer after telling his interpreter he was tired and needed to come out. Hopefully todays Japanese pitchers over here have heard that story and make sure their interpreters understand them.

Clyde had some tough days when his career was over. But he's on top of everything now. He has run a succesful academy in Anaheim called the Clyde Wright Pitching Academy. He also had a son, Jaret Wright, that pitches in the big leagues. Although Jaret is in Pirates' camp this spring, he's unlikely to pick up the 32 wins he needs to allow he and his father to join Mel and Todd Stottlemyre as the only father-son combinations to win 100 games each.

Monday, March 2, 2009

#53 & 54 -- Bud Harrelson & "In Action"

Bud Harrelson

Derrel Harrelson (good thing somebody that cared about him slapped "Bud" on him...Derrel's a good name, but that rhyming might not have worked out so well) was born on June 6, 1944. That was a hell of a day to be born.

Imagine that. You're having your 10th birthday party, a pretty big deal, and all anyone is talking about is the 10th anniversary of the Normandy Invasion. I suppose we now know why he was named Derrel, but he just as well could have been David, Donald or Daniel, when your birthday is also D-Day.

Bud always had spunk and fight in him. He went all of 5'11" and 160, but he didn't back down from anybody. Just ask Pete Rose. Bud couldn't hit his way out of a wet paper bag, but he could play the field well enough to stay in the lineup. In fact, about the only thing that could keep him out of the lineup was National Guard duty. Yes, there was actually a time when ballplayers missed time for summer Guard camp. During the season, even. And Bud missed time in 1969 when he won a World Series ring. But then again, wouldn't you expect this from a guy born on D-Day?

The "action" card here is great. It's not got much to do with Bud, though, although he's nicely slapped a ball out there. I think that's an Atlanta Braves' catcher, which would make it either Earl Williams or Hal King. I'm going to narrow this down to Earl Williams on Saturday, July 3, 1971. I'll pick that over May 22, just because the crowd is more shirtsleeves. I don't know if you can make it out, but there's a gal with some bug-eyed sunglasses in the front row on the left side of the dugout looking down to get a bite of something. Just behind her there's a long-haired hippie with a tan Gilligan hat on. (You may have to click on the card and then zoom in to see them.) Looks like an episode of Life on Mars. If only No Nuts Norris were sitting back there.....

Sunday, March 1, 2009

#51 & 52 -- Harmon Killebrew & "In Action"

Harmon Killebrew

Harmon Killebrew was one of the gentlest big men to play in the big leagues. He's 2nd all time for most AL homers. Anytime Babe Ruth is the only person ahead of you on the leaderboard, you're a stud . By this time in his career, Harmon was declining. But I'd have to say that he's still the best Minnesota Twin in their history, with only Rod Carew close by.

This makes back to back Hall of Famers. If you want to count Harmon's appearance on John Ellis' "action" card, this is 5 cards in a row with Hall of Famers. Pretty good run.

Harmon wasn't big, only 5'11". But he hit some of the farthest homers around. Legend has it that an Idaho senator tipped off Clark Griffith about this guy who was hitting .847 for a semi-pro team. That's pretty good. That's even better than I hit in my heyday of playing co-ed softball and refining my stroke to hit it to the girl in right field that didn't want to be there. Harmon signed and, under baseball's Bonus Baby rule, had to spend 2 years on the big league roster. He made his debut 6 days short of his 18th birthday. He wasn't ready. It wasn't until 1958 that he was ready to play.

OK, it's Hall of Fame time. You've got a guy with 573 lifetime homers, at the time #5 all-time (Aaron, Ruth, Mays, F. Robinson), 1 MVP award and 5 other Top 5 finishes, 11 time All-Star, lifetime OPS+ of 143 and 8 40-homer seasons. In or out? In Harmon's first trip on the ballot, he was named on only 59% of the ballots. Bob Gibson was the only inductee and future HOFers that didn't make it that year included Don Drysdale, Hoyt Wilhelm, Juan Marichal, Red Schoendienst, Jim Bunning, Nellie Fox, Richie Ashburn, Orlando Cepeda, Luis Aparicio and Bill Mazeroski. Harmon, with his credentials, didn't make it until the 4th ballot. There's no doubt that "The Killer" was a shoo-in Hall of Famer, but you can see that the voters at that time were very protective of who got enshrined in Cooperstown. I fall into that same crowd and think the HOF is for the very absolute best of the best.

The "action" card could be one of two things. Either Harmon has just nailed one that's headed for parking lot or he's popped up to the catcher. Either way, even though he wasn't a tall guy, he looks like a giant the way Topps framed this card. I think it's great. Harmon lives in the Scottsdale area now and does a lot of charity work, including a golf tournament every year in the name of his former Twin teammate Danny Thompson, who died of leukemia.

Harmon's one of those guys who isn't just a Hall of Famer ballplayer, he's a Hall of Fame person.