Friday, June 26, 2009

#124 -- Yankee Rookies (Closter, Torres, Hambright)

Alan Closter

The Yankee farm system of the 1990's was what got them their late-90's success by developing guys like Derek Jeter, Bernie Williams, Mariano Rivera and Andy Pettitte. That same farm system helped continue the playoff success through the early part of the 2000's by causing other teams to overvalue Yankee prospects because they were Yankees. The Yankee farm system of the 40's and 50's (including the Kansas City A's) was responsible for the success in the 50's and early 60's, largely because there was no draft and the Yankees could send out superscouts like Tom Greenwade out with suitcases full of money to sign guys like Mickey Mantle, Elston Howard and Bobby Murcer.

That led to the institution of the Amateur Player Draft. The Yankees didn't adjust well for a long time. As a result, their farm system really sucked in the late 60's and 70's. This card is an example. None of these three guys were major contributors, but they were Yankees....
Al Closter was signed in 1965, but drafted and sold before he made his big league debut with the Senators in 1966. He wasn't ready, as he came late into the O's blowing out the Senators. He gave up a double, walked 2 (including pitcher Moe Drabowsky) and got light-hitting Luis Aparicio on a fly to deep center. The Senators let him go back to the Yankees rather than keep him on the roster. He came back in 1971 and had his most time, going 2-2, 5.08 in 1 start and 13 relief appearances. He gave 5 runs on 5 hits (including homers to Mickey Stanley and Norm Cash) in his only start. In 1972, he only got into 2 games and didn't come up to the Yankees in 1973. Late in the season, he was the Player to be Named Later in the deal that brought Pat Dobson to the Yankees from Atlanta. The Braves decided to put him on the expanded roster to see what they got. After 4 games, 4 1/3 innings and 7 earned runs, they decided they'd seen enough. Al pitched at AAA in 1974 and 1975 before giving it up. But, Al's in the Syracuse Baseball Wall of Fame and I'm not.

Rusty Torres had the best career of these 3. He was signed at age 18 and slowly worked his way along until things clicked for him in the minors when he turned 20. He had a cup of coffee in 1971 that led to all kinds of great predictions because he hit .385 in 26 at bats over 9 games. He struck out looking in his first game against Pat Dobson (1 of 3 strikeouts that day). Rusty never fulfilled that promise. He was a journeyman that hit .212 in parts of 9 seasons in the bigs.

Rusty, however, appeared in three of the oddest and most infamous American League games of the 1970's. On September 30, 1971, he was the Yankee right fielder in the last Washington Senator game before they moved to Texas. Rusty was 1/4 in the game. He was also walking to the on-deck circle when the fans rushed the field with 2 outs in the 9th causing a forfeit.

Fast forward to June 4, 1974. Rusty is a bench player for the Indians and comes to pinch-hit in the 9th. The Indians are at home and trailing the Rangers 5-4 when Rusty is summoned to bat. He singles and moves Ed Crosby to 2nd with 1 out. Alan Ashby follows with a single to load the bases. Crosby then scored on Johnny Lowenstein's sac fly and Rusty was the winning run on 2nd with 2 out and Jack Brohamer coming up to face Steve Foucault. He never got to bat. Fans, likely affected by Cleveland's Ten Cent Beer Night promotion, stormed the field, stole MVP Jeff Burroughs' glove and the game was forfeited to the Rangers. This link has a great description of the night, complete with Ranger manager Billy Martin ordering the team to arm themselves with bats to storm centerfield to save their comrades. Think I'm kidding? Check out the picture showing some of Billy's Batwielders escorting Burroughs to safety. (That's Jim Spencer on the left and I don't know who's on the right.)

Guess what happened July 12, 1979? Rusty is now with the White Sox who are hosting a doubleheader against the Tigers. Rusty goes 1-3 and scores the lone run as the Sox lose to Pat Underwood. Here's the link to Game 2. Rusty didn't play. Nobody played. Comiskey became unplayable between games because it was Disco Demolition Night. The Wikipedia account is kind of funny, especially noting that Sox broadcasters Harry Caray and Jimmy Piersall were commenting in Game 1 about strange people roaming the stands. Stranger than the ones in the press box?

I wouldn't be surprised if Rusty hadn't been in Comiskey a few years ago when that redneck and his son jumped Royal coach Tom Gamboa.

Roger Hambright had a much more sedate career than Torres, but had more substance than Closter. Hambright was up most of the second half of 1971 pitching out of the bullpen. He went 3-1 with 2 saves and a 4.39 ERA that wasn't very good back then. He got off to a good start, with 3 scoreless innings and a win in his first 2 appearances. In his 3rd, the Yanks took a 1 run lead in the top of the 12th, so he was positioned to get another win. The White Sox tied the score and had a runner on 2nd with 2 out and Carlos May coming up. Ralph Houk decided to walk May to get to Bill Melton. Anybody remember Bill Melton on a card so far in this set? A three-run homer later and Hambright has his first big league loss. Roger had a couple of more good years in the bullpen in the minors before not doing well in 1974 (arm trouble, perhaps?) and ending his career at the ripe old age of 25.

No 1972 feature here. I think I've brought up enough 1970's culture here!

Thursday, June 25, 2009

#123 -- Ed Acosta

Ed Acosta

Here's a guy that I just don't remember at all. When I think of an Acosta, I think of Cy Acosta of the White Sox, but they're no relation. Ed only played in part of 1970 with the Pirates, part of 1971 and then was up the whole year in 1972 with the Padres and that was it.

The shutout mentioned on his cardback was an 8-hitter against the Phillies in his first appearance for the Padres in 1971. Of his 6 starts in 1971, 3 of them were complete game victories, which kind of makes you wonder why they didn't keep him in the rotation. It looks like he was primarily used in a mop-up role in 1972 and then he vanished. Baseball-Reference doesn't record a release, sale to the Rangers or any other kind of banishment. Perhaps he went back home to Panama to open a baseball academy to tutor young men that would turn into closers for the Yankees. Perhaps he went to play in another league in Latin America. I don't know where Ed Acosta went, but he was a big guy and did reasonably well.

1972 Feature
Five doubleheaders dominated the baseball schedule on June 25, 1972. Ed Acosta went out to pitch the 9th of a 3-3 tie with the Giants and allowed 2 runs. Fortunately for him, Garry Jestadt hit a 2-run homer to bail him out and send the game to extra innings, where the Giants won in dramatic fashion. Garry Maddox hit a 1-out double in the 14th. Ed Goodson grounded out to third. According to what I see in the box score, it looks like Maddox was running and kept going. First baseman Nate Colbert was credited with an assist and catcher Pat Corrales an error, so I would suppose that Maddox bowled Corrales over and injured him, as it relates that Fred Kendall replaced Corrales behind the plate. What a gutsy move and it paid off in a 14-inning 6-5 win for the Giants.

Lynn McGlothen made his debut with the Red Sox this date. I remember him as being the "anchor" of the Cardinal staffs once Bob Gibson retired and before Bob Forsch took over. Wow, the Cardinals really did suck in the mid-70's.

Also, happy 37th birthday to Carlos Delgado of the Mets, who was born on June 25, 1972. Anyway, as happy a birthday as you can have on the disabled list watching Chris Carpenter and the Cardinals beat Johann Santana and your team in CitiField (hopefully for me) this afternoon.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

#122 -- Larry Biittner

Larry Biittner

For a long time in the 70's I misspelled Larry's last name. I'm sure I wasn't the only person that didn't put in the second "i". On Google, there are about 5,640 results for "Larry Biittner" and about 1,100 results for "Larry Bittner". I don't know if there are very many other ballplayers with such a large percentage of hits for the wrong spelling.

Larry, or "Butch" as he's supposedly known (story to follow), was a solid contact and average hitter that didn't have a lot of pop. He had 2-3 years when he played full time, but was usually a part-time player and pinch-hitter. Believe it or not, but at 3, 31 .259, he was one of the Rangers' best hitters in 1972. He hit .315 in 1975 for the Expos and .298 for the Cubs in 1977, but never hit more than 12 homers and never had an OPS+ over 117.

Biittner had his only 2-homer game in a Cubs 23-6 win over the Padres in May 1977. On July 4 of 1977, in the 1st game of a doubleheader in Chicago against his former teammates, the Expos, he took to the mound in a game the Cubs were trailing 11-2. He promptly gave up a 3-run homer to Larry Parrish. He also got taken deep by Ellis Valentine and Andre Dawson, none of which would be an embarrassment. I don't know what he was throwing, but of the 4 outs he got, 3 of them were strikeouts. He struck out pitcher Jackie Brown after Parrish homered. OK, he's a pitcher, big deal. Well, he also struck out Del Unser and Larry Parrish to end the game.

I don't know how to run the report (Andy.....), but I can't believe there are very many non-pitchers who have struck out more than 3 in a game in the last 40 years. For all Biittner did with the Cubs and Reds, this has to be one of his most unusual accomplishments. However, this is a guy that really loved playing ball. In doing my Google search, I found this article about a softball player that marvelled at the "old" guy playing 3rd base next to him and homering often...finding out it was Larry "Butch" Biittner.

1972 Feature
Friday, June 23, 1972 was a big day on the schedule. Steve Arlin followed up his June 18 2-hitter by throwing a 1-hitter at the Giants, beating them 4-1. The only hit came on Garry Maddox' 1-out triple in the 2nd and he scored on a sacrifice fly.

Nolan Ryan threw a 2-hitter at the A's, beating them 2-1. The A's only hits were a 1st inning solo homer by Reggie Jackson and Dave Duncan's 7th inning single. However it took an 8th inning Bob Oliver homer to win the game for the Angels. This win set Ryan on a 5 game winning streak where he didn't allow more than 3 runs or 6 hits in any of those games. None of those were the no-hitters, but I have a feeling we may see him again in this section.....

This date also became a big day in the Watergate saga. It was on June 23, 1972 when President Nixon and H.R. Haldeman were taped formulating a plan to cover up the break-in. The tape didn't come out until August 1974, but it was enough to put the final shovel of dirt on the Nixon Administration. I'm sure they didn't know it at the time, but it's a good lesson. If there's something going on bad, you might as well fess up, because someone will find you out.