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.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

#120 -- Bill Freehan

Bill was one of the AL's best catchers in the era between Yogi Berra/Elston Howard and Thurman Munson/Carlton Fisk. He was good for a 20, 70, .265 season every year. He made 10 straight All-Star games (11 overall) and won 5 Gold Gloves. I didn't realize this, but his value to the Tigers is reflected in the fact that he was 3rd in AL MVP voting in 1967 and 2nd in 1968. That's not for the Tigers' team MVP, but the league MVP. In 1967 he was a distant 3rd behind Yaz' Triple Crown and Harmon Killebrew's 44 homers. In 1968, however, he was a solid 2nd, behind teammate Denny McLain's 31 wins and unanimous MVP.

Still, Freehan's stats don't really jump out and grab me and maybe that's because I've lived through the era of guys like Todd Hundley hitting 40 homers and that numbs me to good hitting catchers. It was a lot more rare in the 1960's.

Bill's a Detroit man through and through. He was a baseball and football star for the Big Blue and returned to coach the baseball team at the University of Michigan in the early 90's (just after the Jim Abbott era). The Tigers signed him in the days before the amateur draft. I'm sure Freehan never thought about signing with anyone else. He made his debut in 1961, but didn't stick until 1963. He was the Tigers' starting catcher through the 1975 season. In 1976 he played part time, but hit 5, 27, .270 in 71 games. The Tigers released him after the season (I guess deciding the future was now with Johnny Wockenfuss and Bruce Kimm) and he retired.

Bill was also involved in a couple of oddities in his career. He liked to crowd the plate. Apparently, on August 16, 1968, Jim Lonborg wanted to pitch inside because he hit Bill in the 2nd, 4th and 7th, three consecutive plate appearances. No indication of any riots. Fortunately for Bill, Lee Stange had relieved Lonborg when he came up in the 8th. Bill quietly flied to left.

An even more odd play really showed off Bill's behind-the-plate skills. I'll let you know I've never heard of a play like this and I'd love to see the video of it. On July 5, 1969, the Tigers are in Baltimore and, despite being 43-33, they're 11 games behind the Orioles already. Speedy Paul Blair led off the 3rd with a triple. According to Baseball Library, Frank Robinson swung and missed and the bat flew out of his hand. Apparently Blair had strayed too far away from the bag and wasn't paying attention (looking at the bat, perhaps?) and Freehan the catcher tagged him out. Unassisted. Speed demon Blair run down by a catcher. That's a play for the archives.

1972 Feature
On June 18, 1972, there were a few good individual performances. Skip Lockwood (who we saw a few cards ago) threw a 5-hit shutout at the Royals. Vida Blue finally won his 1st game of the season after winning 24 in 1971. Vida was 14-2 by this time in 1971. San Diego's Steve Arlin made a 1st inning run stand up and threw a 2-hit shutout at the Pirates. Cesar Cedeno showed off his all-around talent with 2 doubles, a single, a homer and a steal of 3rd in a 10-0 win over the hapless Phillies.

The Game of the Day will be in Riverfront Stadium where Tom Seaver goes against Ross Grimsley. Cincinnati leads the West by 1.5 over the Astros and the Mets enter the day a half-game behind the Pirates. The Reds get a run in the 1st. Seaver walked Rose and Morgan. He then got a force at 2nd and struck out Johnny Bench with runners at 1st and 3rd for the 2nd out before Tony Perez singled in Rose. The Mets got that run back in the 4th on a Duffy Dyer double.

Seaver was dominant after the 1st. The Reds had a little rally in the 7th, but Seaver struck out pinch-hitter Ted Uhlaender and then got Rose on a fly ball with runners on 1st and 2nd. Seaver became the Player of the Day and won his 9th game of the year when he homered off Grimsley in the 7th to give the Mets a 2-1 lead. It was Tom Terrific's 2nd homer of the year and if he hadn't hit it they might still be playing. Neither team was hitting that day. This game, coupled with the Pirates shutout loss, put the Mets in first in the East.

By the way, that win I mentioned that Vida Blue got? It was also Charlie Finley's Mustache Day in Oakland that launched the great handlebars of Rolllie Fingers. The link explains how this was all a ploy to try to get Reggie Jackson to shave the mustache he started in Spring Training, but nobody gets one over on Reginald Martinez Jackson.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

#119 -- Marty Perez

I think I was pretty impressionable as a young baseball fan. If I ever heard something good about a player, that's what they were forever. That explains why I still can't believe Mike Rogodzinski, Tom Heintzelman or Stan Papi didn't make it big. Anyway, I must have heard something good about Marty Perez somewhere along the line because I grew up thinking he was a mid-level shortstop. He wasn't a Dave Concepcion or Bud Harrelson, but I always thought he was on a par with guys like Chris Speier or Tim Foli.

Imagine my shock when I grew up a little more and ran across his stats in the Baseball Encyclopedia. Marty was a full-time shortstop from 1971-1977 for the Braves, mostly, spending 1976 with the Giants and 1977 with the A's. But he hit .240 with no power, didn't steal bases, didn't walk a lot, and was an average to below average shortstop. But somehow he was a big league starter for most of 7 seasons. Of course, so was Mike Tyson. This just goes to show how the position of shortstop has undergone a transformation in the last 40 years. His career OPS+ was 70, hitting a high of 81. Since I don't like to use the word "suck" when I teach Sunday School, I'd have to say as a hitter, Marty verily stinketh.

He did hit lefty starters fairly well, as long as they weren't Hall of Famers. He hit over .340 against guys like Geoff Zahn, Doug Rau, Dave Roberts, Jerry Koosman and Jon Matlack. Good righthanders overpowered him. He was 0-for-John Montefusco and hit under .150 against Fergie Jenkins, Don Wilson and hard-throwing Tom Phoebus.

Not much else to say about Marty except that I'll forever link him with his double play partner, Felix Millan.

1972 Feature

Now, after all that about Marty, I'm going to write something much more complimentary. He played a big part in our June 17, 1972 Game of the Day. The Expos were in Atlanta to play the Braves and Ernie McAnally took a 2-0 lead into the 9th for the Expos. Ernie got Mike Lum to ground out and struck out Rod Gilbreath (making his big league debut). However, Marty worked a 2-out walk. Lum Harris sent Jim Breazeale (winner of the 2008 Cardboard Junkie Baseball Card Tournament) up to pinch-hit for Phil Niekro. He hits it out. Game goes to the 10th.

In the 10th, Ralph Garr singles to lead off against McAnally. After a passed ball on Terry Humphrey, McAnally wisely walks Hank Aaron. Mike Marshall comes in to relieve and Rico Carty singles in the winning run. All because Marty Perez worked a 2-0ut walk in the 9th. Way to go, Marty!

While this was going on, a security guard found some tape over a door lock. He took it off, but noticed it was back a few hours later and called the police. He had no idea how much that one phone call would change politics and journalism. That tape was in the Watergate Office Complex in Washington, DC, where future NBA Commissioner and 1972 Democratic National Committee Chairman Lawrence O'Brien had an office. Arrested that night were 5 men who worked for the Commitee to Re-Elect the President.

I remember the aftermath well, but nobody really remembers the break-in. President Nixon swept to one of the largest electoral and popular vote margins of all time. That's what's ironic. They didn't have to try to get the Democrats' secrets because they didn't stand a chance anyway. The 1972 election was decided the day Senator Ted Kennedy dropped Mary Jo Kopechne in the Chappaquiddick pond in 1969.

Instead of letting a special prosecutor deal with this, President Nixon decided to cover it up. The same paranoia that led his operatives to break in and look for secrets led him to try to cover it up. I guess he must have been gone the week they taught in Sunday School that your sins will find you out.

I liked President Nixon. I may have only been 8 in 1972, but I was a big Nixon guy. I got a poster in 1973 in the school book order and hung it in my room. It was still hanging in my room 10 years later when we were trying to sell our house (that was a good point for the folks that ended up buying it). However, for all the forward thinking in the Nixon/Kissinger foreign policy, he missed it big. Because of this, people mistrust politicians now, because he looked in the camera and said, "I am not a crook."

What's also ironic is that in 1968, Nixon was elected largely on a "law and order" platform that resonated with middle America, especially after the Democrat's convention in Chicago where anarchy broke out on national TV.

It would be nice if America could remember June 17, 1972 for Jim Breazeale's dramatic pinch-homer, but, unfortunately, this date will be inextricably linked with Nixon and company.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

New 1972 Cards!!

There are new 1972 cards being produced!! There's a link in the comments section of the Cleo James card to a new blog featuring great photoshops of current players on 1972 designs. The site is 1972 Topps Redone.

He's taken some current player pictures and put them into the 1972 format. So far we've got Yadier Molina in get-up that Gerry Cheever (1972 Boston Bruin goalie) would have laughed at...without a mask on. Joe Torre is signing a baseball for a fan (without the mutton chops you'll see here along about card #500). Tim Lincecum is taken out of a game (looks about as happy as a 1972 starter was to leave a game). Finally, Johan Santana, in a Spring Training shot that reminds me of a Sports Illustrated cover.

I'll be looking forward to more of these and adding this blog to my list on the right for easy access.

#118 -- Skip Lockwood

Skip Lockwood

This Brewers Spring Training photo includes a photo of one of the rocks that you see in the Arizona shots. If 1972 baseball cards were sent to Neptune and the inhabitants tried to figure us out from this set (scary thought, isn't it?) they'd get out the topographical map and wonder where all the mountains in Wisconsin are.

Skip also looks very 70's in this shot. He's got the sideburns coming way down and up towards his mouth. That took a lot of grooming back then. It's also a lot different from the bookish version of Skip we see in later cards with the Mets.

Skip signed with the A's as an 18 year old out of high school and was brought up in 1965. Those stats aren't on the back of his card because he hit .121 as a 3rd baseman. I guess he didn't scare Sal Bando too much. Looks like after a couple more years of trying to make it as a hitter he started pitching in 1968. For some reason, the Pilots took a flyer on him and drafted him in the expansion draft. After going 6-2 in 10 starts in AA ball, the Pilots brought him up in 1969, with just over a year's pitching experience in the minors.

He finished a couple of blowouts, giving 2 runs in 2 innings, not looking too impressive. The runs came on solo homers to Elrod Hendricks of the Orioles and Ike Brown of the Tigers, not exactly thought of as big time sluggers. However, they let him start 3 games in September and he did great. Since he was with the Pilots, he went 0-1, but he had a 2.70 ERA. He went 7 innings and gave 1 run in a 1-1 tie with the Angels, lost 2-1 to the White Sox and left after 7 against the Twins tied at 3 in a game the Pilots won in 14.

He earned a spot in the rotation from 1970-1973, but was mediocre, going 28-54 (ouch) despite a 3.70 ERA over that time. He was traded to the Angels and didn't get much work there in 1974. He was traded to the Yankees in the off-season, but was released at the beginning of 1975. The A's picked him up, but he was stuck at AAA Tucson, pitching so-so between the rotation and bullpen. The Mets purchased him for bullpen depth and he found his niche. He was a big part of the Mets bullpen in the late 70's before arm trouble shut him down in 1979. He tried to come back with his beloved Red Sox (native of Massachusetts) but he wasn't the same. The Sox released him in the last cuts before the 1981 season started. He tried to hang on with Montreal's AAA team in 1981, but that was it for his baseball career.

But that wasn't all for Skip Lockwood. He's done some baseball analyst work, but he's had a really interesting post-baseball career. He has a Master's degree from MIT in 1983, shortly after his baseball career ended. That's a pretty big accomplishment, especially given that he went from high school to baseball and he had to pick up a bachelor's degree somewhere along the way. Skip is only one of three MIT grads to have played in the big leagues with Art Merewether (1 at bat for the Pirates in 1922) and Jason Szuminski (7 games in 2004 for the Padres) are the others.

Skip is currently the CEO of a company called PACE 360, a company involved in sales and marketing.
1972 Feature
On June 16, 1972 there were 6 shutouts in the 11 games played. Joe Coleman of the Tigers threw a 3-hitter at the Angels, Jim Palmer needed Grant Jackson to get the last out with the bases loaded to preserve a 3-0 win over the Twins, the A's got 4 in the 1st and Ken Holtzman scattered 7 Indian hits to win 5-0, Ron Reed gave the Expos only 7 hits in the 2nd game of a doubleheader in Atlanta, Cub rookie Burt Hooton stopped the Dodgers on 6 hits, and the Game of the Day is in the Houston Astrodome.

The Phillies absolutely sucked in 1972. Except when Steve Carlton took the mound. They were 59-97 overall, but Carlton was 27-10. The Phillies were 29-11 when he pitched, meaning they were 30-86 when he didn't pitch. You've got to wonder how they only threw him out there 40 times. Carlton went to the mound on June 16 against Don Wilson of the Astros and they put on a pitching duel. Wilson was taken out of the scoreless game in the 7th. Don Money had singled to start the inning and Larry Bowa bunted him to second. Supposedly that would be so the next hitter had a chance to knock him in. At this point, the Astros decided to get a fresh pitcher in to face that hitter, so Tom Griffin came in. Carlton was the batter. He flied to center and the game stayed scoreless.

In the 9th, the Phillies put runners at 2nd and 3rd with nobody out. Carlton was the scheduled hitter. The Phillie bullpen was so solid that he was left in to hit and struck out. Good thing. In the bottom of the 9th Cesar Cedeno led off with a double and the meat of the lineup is coming up. Carlton intentionally walked Jimmy Wynn. Then he struck out Lee May, got Bob Watson to line out to left. He walked Doug Rader to load the bases, but the less formidable Tommy Helms came up and flied to center.

In the 10th, the Astros again got a runner to 2nd on a balk with nobody out. They bunted him to third with one out, but Carlton struck out Roger Metzger and got Cedeno to ground out and end another threat. The Phils got their leadoff man on in the 11th and bunted him to 2nd. Larry Bowa then popped up, meaning Carlton would be coming up with a man in scoring position and 2 out, just like the 9th. This time they lifted him for Oscar Gamble. Gamble singled, but the run couldn't score. The next batter groundd out. Dick Selma relieved and Jimmy Wynn promptly led off the bottom of the 11th with a homer. Sounds to me like that game was going to last as long as Carlton would.

Monday, June 15, 2009

#117 -- Cleo James

Sometimes there's a card comes up where the player or the subject (like the Billy Cowan "halo" card or the Billy Martin "finger" card) has been written about enough that there's just nothing fresh to write. Sometimes there's a card comes up of someone I could write for hours on end how great they are, like Willie Mays. Sometimes I'll research a lesser known player and find a lot of stuff that's interesting for me.

Then sometimes there's a guy comes up like Cleo James where it's hard to find anything. Cleo didn't have a long or distinguished career, but he was obviously talented and kept at it. I couldn't find anything on what Cleo did after baseball (which I usually find interesting). But for every All-Star like Jim Fregosi or Hall of Famer like Harmon Killebrew, there are dozens of guys like Cleo James that get more than just a taste of the big leagues, but don't do enough to really leave memories. Here goes...

Cleo made the Dodgers' Opening Day roster in 1968 as a 27 year old rookie. He'd had 2 years at A, AA and one year at the AAA affiliate in Spokane for seasoning. His debut was to pinch-hit for Tom Haller against Bob Veale of the Pirates, who was a tough lefthander. Cleo struck out. His first hit came in his next at bat, almost a week later, against Al Jackson of the Mets. He only got one start that year, striking out in 3 at bats against the Reds. He was back in the minors by May 10 and was later dealt to the Cubs.

He came back to the big leagues with the Cubs in 1970, playing some centerfield and pinch-hitting. He hit his first homer off Bruce Dal Canton of the Pirates, and ended up with 5 for his career (all-time leader for big leaguers named "Cleo.") Oh, and like the cartoon on the back shows, he liked to play ping pong.

1972 Feature

June 15, 1972 had a light schedule, with only 6 games on the schedule, including the Pirates sweeping a doubleheader from the Giants in Pittsburgh. The Giants won the West last year and with this doubleheader loss they have the worst record in baseball. Things don't get better for them

The Game of the Day is in Anaheim. Vince Colbert threw a gem. He was matched up against Clyde Wright of the Angels. Colbert came in 0-4 and Wright was 5-3. However, Colbert shut the Angels down on 5 hits and 3 walks. Graig Nettles knocked in Ray Fosse with a 4th inning double and that was the only scoring through the 9th. The Angels threatened in the bottom of the 9th. With 1 out they've got Ken Berry on 1st and Vada Pinson on 3rd. Rookie Leroy Stanton, acquired in the Jim Fregosi trade, came up.

Colbert, however, met his best friend once again that day. Stanton grounded into a 6-4-3 double play, one of 3 the Indians turned that day which allowed Colbert to finish off the shutout. Today, he'd never have been allowed to make it that far, but here he was allowed to pitch through the jams.

Born on June 15, 1972 were 3 big leaguers: Ramiro Mendoza (who had a good couple of years and then flamed out), Tony Clark (who seems to have had a better career as a part-timer than a starter) and Andy Pettitte (still a big-time contributor with the Yankees).

Sunday, June 14, 2009

#116 - Ed Farmer

Ed Farmer

Ed Farmer was a so-so reliever through the early 70's. He made it up with the Indians in 1971 and pitched middle relief. He stayed in the same role through 1974. He had a mid 4.00's ERA and had as many walks as strikeouts. I'm surprised he made it in the big leagues that long.

When he went to the minors, he spent 1974, 1975 and 1977 in the starting rotation. He didn't do any better, but must have gotten hurt in 1975. He had a 7.00+ ERA in 13 starts in 1975 and didn't pitch in 1976. However, in 1978 the Brewers put him in the bullpen in AAA Spokane. He still had an ERA of 6.00, but he got a shot in the big leagues and did well.

In 1979, however, he was traded to the White Sox in mid-season and everything finally clicked. I don't know if he made a deal with Louis Cypher or not (like Sully said about Brad Lidge in a great post) but he started doing the job when put into "game" situations. He sure went into the right place because his competition for the closer's role with the White Sox was Mike Proly and Randy Scarbery.

In 1980, Ed made the All-Star team. He came into a pressure situation in the 6th. The NL had just tied the score 2-2 and Dave Winfield is standing at the plate with runners on 1st and 3rd with only 1 out. He got Winfield to hit a grounder to 2nd (potential double play?), but Willie Randolph made an error and the go-ahead run scored. Keith Hernandez then beat out a dribbler near the mound before Farmer got Pete Rose to ground into an inning-ending double play.

He came into the All-Star break with a 6-3 record, 17 saves in 21 chances and a 3.00 ERA. After the break he was 1-6 with 13 saves in 20 chances and a 3.80 ERA. Not quite the same. His 1981 season looked like his early 70's seasons and he signed with the Phillies as a free agent after the season. He didn't do anything good with the Phillies or A's and was done in 1983.

Farmer is most known now for being the play-by-play voice of the White Sox. Before that, he was known for a feud with Al Cowens. On May 8, 1979, he started a game for the Rangers against the Royals. He hit leadoff hitter Frank White and broke his hand. In the 4th, he hit Al Cowens in the jaw. Each missed at least 30 games, which may have something to do with why the Royals didn't win the Western Division that year. Al Cowens had a long memory. In June of 1980, He faced Farmer in Chicago, hit a grounder and ran it out.....right to the mound and sucker punched Farmer from behind. Farmer decided to press charges and Cowens had to get the heck out of Dodge. They later buried the hatchet. Al Cowens wasn't someone you'd want to have looking to get even with you.

1972 Feature
The Game of the Day is going to be in Oakland. Bobby Grich hit a leadoff homer in the top of the 10th off Catfish Hunter to give the Orioles a 2-1 win. Dave McNally and Hunter both pitched complete games in this one. You don't see pitchers going 10 innings anymore and here's 2 that did. Earl Weaver didn't feel the need to bring Eddie Watt in to pitch the 10th; he figured McNally was pitching well so he left him in.

What's also remarkable about this game was that it was finished in 2 hours and 2 minutes. That gets you into the 6th inning now. It's not like there weren't baserunners, either. The Orioles had 6 hits and the A's had 4. Hunter had the only 3 walks of the game (imagine a pitcher going 1o innings now without walking someone). There were 5 hours in the game. Still, they finished the game in just over 2 hours. What a concept......