Saturday, July 4, 2009

Independence Day

I'll take my turn to editorialize. A few years ago in my church, we were having a celebration of freedom in America and they were playing the National Anthem. For some reason, I tried to put myself in the shoes of Francis Scott Key while he wrote the song.

Imagine. You're detained on a British boat in Baltimore harbor at night while your fledgling country is being attacked and invaded by the greatest power on the earth at that time. You can hear blasts and see explosions all night and you don't know what's going on.

You ask someone near sunup, thinking about seeing things were OK when the sun went down last night...

O, Say can you see

By the dawn's early light.

What so proudly we hailed

At the twilight's last gleaming.

You're worried about the flag at Fort McHenry, but you can only try to catch a glimpse over the sides of the boat every now and then because it isn't safe to put your head up.....

Whose broad stripes and bright stars

Through the perilous fight

O'er the ramparts we watched

Were so gallantly streaming.

In the darkness, you can't see if the Fort is holding or not. Every now and then when there's an explosion, it gives you a burst of light to see what's going on.....

And the rockets red glare,

The bombs bursting in air,

Gave proof through the night

That the flag was still there!

And as long as our flag is still there, the Fort is holding and everything is OK! With the raising of the flag over Fort McHenry he knew we'd held off the Brits. Imagine the relief and joy every time Francis sees Old Glory still waving on shore.

Then, Francis Scott Key poses a question and a challenge from that boat to you and me, almost 200 years in the future......

Oh, Say does that Star Spangled Banner yet wave,

Over the land of the free

And the home of the brave?

There was a time that I'd be at a ballgame and I couldn't wait for the National Anthem to be over so I could join the umpire in a hearty "Play Ball." Now, when the National Anthem is over, I'll give Francis Scott Key a quiet answer to his question: "Yes, the flag still waves over the greatest country the earth has ever known." Somehow, I think he's in a place now where what's going on here doesn't matter to him, but I'd like to think that he'd take some peace knowing everything is still OK.

That being said, I love Det. Frank Drebin as Enrico Palazzo butchering the song. While I am absolutely reverent about it at the ballpark (and think what Roseann Barr did to it absolutely sucks), I can have a good laugh at "The Naked Gun."

#127 -- Duffy Dyer

Duffy Dyer

Somehow I think Duffy disqualified himself from making the backup catcher Hall of Fame by starting over half his team's games in 1972 and 1977. However, he spent much of his career in the bullpen warming up guys like Tug McGraw, Grant Jackson and Dale Murray, and putting on the shin guards and mask to warm up a pitcher between innings when Jerry Grote, Ed Ott or Gary Carter had been on base at the end of an inning. What does a backup catcher do? One thing they don't do is grab headlines.

Duffy, however, would be one of the more famous backup catchers, partly because of his nickname and partly because of being a long-time Met. Duffy was a first round draft pick (secondary phase) out of baseball factory Arizona State in 1966 as the 9th pick. The 2nd overall pick in the regular phase was teammate Reggie Jackson.

Duffy didn't have quite the career that Reggie did. He was a rookie on the 1969 Amazin' Mets, but was at best a 3rd string catcher behind Jerry Grote and J.C. Martin. He did get one at bat in the Series without getting a hit. In 1972 he had his career highs in games, at bats, hits home runs (8), RBI and strikeouts. He didn't play as much in 1973 and didn't play in the post-season at all.

Duffy had some occasional pop in his bat, but too often he didn't make contact. Then again, the backup catcher rarely has time to get his full batting practice in, as he's busy catching guys that need to get some work in on the side. Certainly in Spring Training the backup catcher's role is purely catching and has nothing to do with hitting. He got traded to the Pirates and spent 4 years there as a backup, getting to appear in the 1975 long enough to draw a bases loaded walk off Rawly Eastwick in the bottom of the 9th to tie up Game 3. The Reds promptly scored twice in the 10th to close out the sweep. He then bounced on to Montreal and Detroit to close his career.

He's been involved in baseball all his life. He's now the catching coordinator for the Padres, but he's been a minor league manager at several different levels. One thing that's bugging him now is that he's lost his 1969 World Series ring. He had to be in the Dominican last summer and thinks someone stole it out of his locker. If anybody sees it at a show or on ebay, give Duffy a call.

I love this card because it shows a young Duffy in the classic catching pose. This looks like a spring training shot with somebody else's catching mitt lying behind him and the cool (yeah, right) windbreaker sleeves on.
1972 Feature
July 4, 1972 had a full slate of games. Many were low scoring, with 7 runs by the Expos over the Dodgers being the biggest offensive barrage. A lot of these games were well-pitched. Lynn McGlothen of the Red Sox threw a 3-hit shutout for his first big league win. Pat Dobson gave up a Dick Allen homer in the first, but coasted to a 3-hitter in a 2-1 victory over the White Sox. Dick Tidrow of the Indians and Roger Nelson of the Royals each threw 4-hit shutouts. In the National League, Larry Dierker had to scatter 8 hits to shut out the Pirates.

The Game of the Day is Tom Seaver and the Mets against the Padres in the first game of a doubleheader. Clay Kirby only lasted 2 2/3 innings for the Padres. He only gave up 2 runs and 3 hits, but he walked 4 in the 3rd, forcing in 2 runs. When you hit as poorly as the Padres and you're facing Tom Seaver you can't afford to walk guys with the bases loaded. The Mets didn't get anything else the rest of the day.
But with Tom Terrific pitching you don't usually need much. Seaver struck out 11, walked 4 and gave up only a single to Leron Lee with 1 out in the 9th. That was a problem because Big Nate Colbert represented the tying run on deck. He also represented the end of the game because he rolled into a 6-4-3 double play. Seaver threw a wonderful game here.

Also on this day was a game I remember watching on TV as an 8-year old. It was an afternoon game between the Reds and the Cardinals. Scipio Spinks was a sensation for the Cardinals that year and entered the game 5-4. He also had character, as he had a stuffed monkey he carried around for luck that he called Mighty Joe Young. I remember the Cardinals had a feature on the pre-game show about it. Joe let Scipio down that day as the Reds scored 5 off him in the bottom of the 2nd. In the 3rd, the Cardinals got a rally going and Scipio was on 1st with 1 out. Luis Melendez doubled and Scipio ran through a stop sign at 3rd and tried to score. He was safe, but on his slide into Johnny Bench, he tore ligaments in his knee and was never effective again. (The play-by-play on Retrosheet even mentions the torn ligaments.) He missed the rest of the year. I still remember the announcer (I can't remember if it was Jay Randolph or Mike Shannon) bemoaning the fact that he ran. It was something to the effect of, "When you're down by 5 in the 3rd, there's no reason for you to have your pitcher trying to score with 1 out." Makes sense to me. I guess Chien-Ming Wang wasn't the first pitcher to have his career severly interrupted by a baserunning effort.

(Oh, yes. I can also hear my wife in the background, "How can you remember that detail from a baseball game 37 years ago, but you can't remember to mail in the cable bill?" I hope I'm not the only one with that type of memory.)

Friday, July 3, 2009

#126 -- Bart Johnson

Bart Johnson

The 1970's was a decade of a lot of things. Bell bottoms, hippies, tube socks, lava lamps and the White Man's Afro. Bart Johnson had a White Man's Afro and it seemed to work for him. There's a lot of information on Bart in this interview of him and it also shows all of his baseball cards. See as the decade went along that Bart seemed to aspire to become the albino Oscar Gamble.

Bart had a heck of a lot of athletic talent. He went to BYU and, in the days before freshman eligibility on the varsity basketball team, averaged 28 a game for the freshman team. John Wooden unsuccessfully recruited him for UCLA. Bart said he picked baseball over basketball because he had Cy Young stuff pitching, but would have "only" been a solid NBA player. He'd have given Randy Denton a run for his money on the hair front. (Here's a coincidence...I was looking at Johngy's blog to see if he'd interviewed Bart and I found this Youtube interview of the Ultimate White Man's Afro, Randy Denton!)

Bart had a blazing fast ball and had a great 1971 season. He had a lot of promise and thought he'd take off in 1972, but he hit like a thud. He gave up 8 runs in an extra inning game (written up here in the 1972 Feature). He'd hurt his knee playing basketball in the off-season, told the Sox about it and they said he'd "be fine." However, they didn't want him to shelve it, so he ended up playing outfield (and batting .316) in the Sox A and AA teams.

He came back to pitch in 1973 and was so-so, probably still recovering. He got into it with the Sox in Spring Training of 1974 because they wanted him to go to the minors. He threatened to quit and work publicity for the World Football League's Chicago Fire. He even had a tryout with the Seattle Super Sonics that summer, but nothing came of it. He finally decided to go back to pitching and had a great 1974 second half where he started to fulfill his potential. From July 7 to the end of the year he was 10-4, 2.74 and had back to back shutouts in late August.

He's going to make a top of the rotation pitcher in 1975 to combine with Wilbur Wood and Jim Kaat, right? No. He herniated a disc in his lower back during a spring training game because he slipped on a wet mound. They weren't able to do much back then and he missed the whole season. He was in the rotation all year in 1976 (along with Goose Gossage) and didn't do well. By 1977, he'd lost a lot on his fast ball and it was over.

Bart's been a scout since his playing days wrapped up. He's working for the Nationals now and, from what I've seen on other message boards, he can be spotted in establishments near his Oaklawn, IL home.

1972 Feature
Lots going on July 3, 1972. Hank Aaron had a big day with a homer, double, single, 2 walks and was hit once in a 13-9 win at Houston. Rick Wise got a complete game 4-2 victory over the Reds and hit a 2-run homer. The Orioles pasted Detroit 15-3, and had a 6 run inning and a 7 run inning in the game. They had 21 hits, 16 of them were singles. The Phillies got to Don Carrithers of the Giants for 4 runs and 5 hits in the first inning. They got nothing -- no runs and no hits -- the rest of the way, but it was enough because they Steve Carlton getting his 10th win. Willie Stargell hit a 2-run walk-off homer to power the Pirates past the Cubs.

My Game of the Day is in Disneyville, where Catfish Hunter of the A's had a pitching duel with Rudy May of the Angels. The A's had pushed across a run in the 7th. The Angels hadn't gotten anything off Hunter. Bert Campaneris singled to lead off the 8th and Joe Rudi was safe when Rudy May made an error on his sacrifice bunt attempt.

Now we get the big situation of the game. A's ahead 1-0 in the top of the 8th. Nobody out. Good speed at second with Campeneris and Rudi on at first. Coming to the plate is the A's best hitter and biggest slugger, Reginald Martinez Jackson. He does something that would never be done in today's game. He lays down a sacrifice bunt. Successfully. Can you imagine Tony LaRussa asking Albert Pujols to do that? If Joe Girardi asked Alex Rodriguez to sacrifice, could he get the bunt down? However, Big Ego Reggie moved the runners along. Captain Sal Bando was walked intentionally and Mike Epstein knocked a 2-run single to break the game open. A couple of batters later Dave Duncan got another 2-run single and the A's held on to win the game 5-0. Catfish had a 2-hitter.

I had to look it up. Reggie had 4 sacrifices in 1972 and 13 for his career, but after 1972 he only got down 1 sacrifice bunt.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

#125 -- Dave Cash

Dave Cash

I always liked Dave Cash. He had a lot of style, as you can see in this card. He's got the wristbands, the hat's cocked just right and he's got just the hint of an arrogant sneer as he pretends to look at the pitcher that's going to throw him a pitch. I always think of him as a Pirate, although he had his best success with the Phillies.

Dave came up and got some playing time in 1970 filling in for Bill Mazeroski. In 1971 he played half-time at second and some at third, still getting over 500 at bats. However, Rennie Stennett was coming up and Cash had to split time with him.

In 1974 Cash was part of a straight up trade within the division to the Phillies for Ken Brett. It worked out for both teams, more so of the Phillies than the Pirates. Cash teamed up with Larry Bowa to anchor the middle infield and had over 200 hits twice (and 189 the other year).

Cash retired with the highest fielding percentage for a second baseman. For a time in the 1970's, he held the record for most at bats in a season, which means he led off, played every day, played for a team that scored a lot and he didn't walk. But he didn't strike out either. He's somebody that you'd think would have good speed, but wasn't a good base-stealer, stealing 120 and being caught 74 times, just over 60%, which wasn't good for a 1970's leadoff hitter.

I always thought Dave Cash was cool. I also saw that he was part of the 1st all-black starting 9 in the majors on September 1, 1971. It's probably happened a few times since.

1972 Feature
Nolan Ryan continued his assault on July 1, 1972, by striking out 16 A's in a 5-3 win. He gave up 3 runs on only 5 hits, but also walked 3, hit Sal Bando and Bill Voss in the 7th and threw his 9th wild pitch of the year.

The Game of the Day is going to be in Fenway. Going into the top of the 9th the Red Sox have a 5-3 lead, but the Brewers scored 2 in the 8th and have momentun. All of the Red Sox runs have come on home runs, two by Ben Oglivie and one by former Brewer pitcher Marty Pattin. Don Newhauser came in to relieve in the 9th and got a grounder to short. Since Luis Aparicio had not been hitting well, the Sox were trying out rookie Juan Beniquez at short. Beniquez had a much better bat, but was a woeful shortstop. In 1971 he played 15 games at short, made 6 errors and fielded .895. He was better in 1972. In 27 games he made 14 errors, but his fielding percentage improved to .900. It's hard to field under .900. Juan never played shortstop again until a 1 inning emergency for the Angels in 1985.

Anyway, an out and a walk later and the tying run is on base. The Sox bring Luis Tiant in to face Ron Theobald. We've seen Theobald's card. He's not menacing looking and he hit like he was borrowing Eddie Gaedel's bat. Theobald did make some solid contact on Tiant, however. He did the right thing and hit a grounder to Juan ".900" Beniquez, but Beniquez handled it cleanly and it turned into a 6-4-3 game-ending double play. Theobald hits it hard, but that turns it into a double play when Beniquez fields it cleanly. Sometimes guys go against what they would normally do.