Monday, January 18, 2010

#135 -- Vada Pinson

Vada Pinson

About 25 years ago there was an older fellow that had a ball card shop in Springfield, Missouri (near where I live) had a piece in the paper about something he'd done in his store called the Call of Fame. He's taken a wall in his store and put up something like plaques for ballplayers who were really good, but not quite Hall of Fame worthy. I remember Ron Santo being there as well as this guy. When the best players of the 60s are rattled off, there were so many great outfielders (Aaron, Mays, Clemente, Frank Robinson, Rose, Clemente...and that's just the National League) that Vada Pinson gets lost.

On Baseball-Reference's Hall of Fame indicators list, he falls just short. When you look at the career comparable players, you see a lot of other guys who would make what I call the Hall of the Pretty Dang Good, guys like Dave Parker, Steve Garvey, Al Oliver, Johnny Damon, Bill Buckner, Willie Davis, along with a couple of Hall of Famers (Roberto Clemente, Zach Wheat) a borderline Hall of Famer (Bernie Williams) and Steve Finley. The comparables by age are Al Kaline, Roberto Clemente and Cesar Cedeno. So Vada's in pretty good company.

Vada ranks 47th all time in hits with 2757 and had a career OPS+ of 110 (he didn't walk a lot). He was an All-Star only twice and once was 3rd in MVP voting. Vada was a great complimentary player. He was the centerfielder for the Reds through the 60s with league average range. He had double digits in assists most seasons, which meant he had a good enough arm to throw guys out, but not such a good arm as to keep guys from trying to take an extra base.

The Reds traded Vada in 1968 and he then bounced around from the Cardinals to the Indians, the Angels and finally the Royals, where he ended his major league career in 1976. He had a long coaching career afterwards, finishing up with the Marlins in 1995. He passed away in 1995 at the age of 57 following a stroke.

This card is obviously an airbrushed Indians photo into an Angel uniform after the trade to the Angels. It's another in a long series at that time taken in Yankee Stadium.

I wish that older fellow still had his card shop. It wasn't one with a bunch of display cases full of jersey cards, etc. He just had boxes of older cards from the 50s, 60s and 70s all over the place. That would be a great place to spend a week now.......

Sunday, January 17, 2010

#134 -- Carl Morton

I don't know why, but I always thought Carl looked sad and forlorn in this card. It's almost as if he's thinking, "It's really cool that we get to train here in West Palm Beach (see the palm tree next to the light pole in the background?), but when this is done then we have to go to Jarry Park in cold freaking Montreal and get our brains beat in." Or..." I signed with the Braves thinking I could someday play alongside Hank Aaron in the outfield. Then, moving to the mound, maybe I could be in the rotation with Niekro. Now......hello last place."

Carl didn't make it as a hitter in the minors, but he had a good arm, so they let him pitch and he took to it. He posted good numbers in A and AA for the Braves in 1967-68, so the Expos took him in the expansion draft. He started the season as their number 4 starter. He pitched great in his debut, allowing no runs and 6 hits in 9 innings, but Joe Niekro of the Cubs matched him and Carl took a no-decision (Cubs won in the 12th).

He started getting hit harder and by May 3 he was 0-3 with a 5.40 ERA, so the Expos sent him to their AAA team in Vancouver. The Pacific Coast League in those days was a deathtrap for pitcher stats with the ball flying all over the place in Salt Lake City, Denver, Albuquerque and the other high altitude stops around the league. Carl handled it very well, going 8-6 with a 3.52 ERA allowing only 118 hits in 133 innings.

In 1970, Carl was NL Rookie of the Year, winning 18 games for an Expo team that went 73-89. Unfortunately, he turned that around in 1971, going 10-18 and followed that up 7-13 in 1972. Then he was traded back to the Braves for Pat Jarvis. He finally got to be teammates with Hank Aaron for a couple of years and had three strong years in the Launching Pad, winning 15, 16 and 17 games.

In 1976 Carl signed a $100,000 contract with the Braves. However, when he went only 4-9, Ted Turner got rid of him and he found out his contract wasn't guaranteed (accoring to the Baseball Reference Bullpen). I thought everything was guaranteed in baseball, but I guess not.

Carl bounced around the minors for another couple of years before giving it up in 1979. He tried to stay in shape, but that didn't do him well, either. He dropped dead of a heart attack in his parent's driveway returning from a jog in 1983. Wow. I hear that 65,000 a year die during exercise. Maybe Carl's forlorn look on this card is just some kind of premonition.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

#133 -- Joe Keough

Joe Keough

I'm blessed with a last name that's easy enough to pronounce. I can't take any credit for that. We don't get to pick our last names, at least until we get old enough to go down to the courthouse and file for a legal name change or, if you're a woman, old enough to get married. Even then, I think most women pick a husband and get stuck with a name, rather than go out and marry someone to get his last name (except for the gold-diggers who like the last name "Trump", et. al.)

Joe Keough didn't get blessed with a name easy to pronounce. I remember when I was a kid being stumped on this one. KE-og didn't sound quite right. If I looked at it today, it might be pronounced the same as "cough." But, for those of you that don't know, it's pronounced KEY-oh.

Joe was a really talented guy who was drafted in the 2nd round (21st overall selection) out of high school by the old Kansas City A's in 1965. That was the year the draft was begun, so Rick Monday was the A's first draft choice. In the same round, 15 picks later, Johnny Bench went to the Reds.

Joe rose through the A's system fairly quickly. It wasn't difficult then because, although there were guys like Campaneris, Bando, Jackson, Hunter and Fingers coming along, there wasn't much at the major league level blocking him. It wasn't like he was a first baseman in the Cardinal organization. Joe made it up in 1968 after Charlie Finley moved the team to Oakland. He gets to debut as a pinch-hitter in the 2nd game of a double-header in Yankee Stadium leading off the bottom of the 8th with the A's trailing 3-2. This is a pivotal early August game, with the A's holding a 2 1/2 game lead over the Yankees for 5th place. Lindy McDaniel, a pretty good reliever is pitching, but Joe takes him deep to tie the game. At this point, Joe is on pace to break all records with a career OPS of 5.000. (For those that care, the A's went on to win the game on a 10th inning RBI single by Reginald Martinez Jackson.)

Joe only hit .214 that year, but I suppose it was impressive enough to be the #4 selection by the Royals in the expansion draft. Joe spent most of his time with the Royals as a 4th outfielder/pinch-hitter. He hit .322 in 183 at bats in 1970, but quickly tailed off in 1971 and 1972. His playing time tailed off as well. He was traded to the White Sox for Jim Lytle. He played in 5 games, batting once, grounding into a double play.

Joe is probably more famous now for being the brother of Marty Keough and uncle of Matt Keough. Matt followed Uncle Joe into the A's organization and had a few good years as a starting pitcher whose arm Billy Martin could blow out. He then married a 1980 centerfold model (no, it's not a centerfold's safe to click the link) and moved to a ritzy neighborhood near Irvine and had a short and unceremonious tenure on the Real Housewives of Orange County.

Looking in the background behind Joe and over his left shoulder is a guy wearing what looks like an Oriole hat. Is Dave McNally spying on the Royals?

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

132 -- Joe Morgan

Joe Morgan

When I was a kid, there was always a vacant lot next door. In fact, I had a vacant lot next door to me until I was 27 and bought a house. That meant that a little boy that liked baseball spent a lot of time mowing those vacant lots so he'd have a place to play baseball. I usually didn't have neighbors that played baseball, so I spent a lot of time by myself. I'd throw up the ball, hit it and then use my imagination to fill in the gaps on what happened based on where the ball went. Of course, I'd run through actual lineups, meaning I had to learn to bat left-handed. It also meant that I had to learn batting stances.

Bobby Tolan and Carl Yastrzemski held the bat very high. Roy White started his hands down below his waist when batting left-handed. Willie Stargell whipped his bat around several times.

But there was no more distinctive batting stance than Joe Morgan's chicken wing. I suppose it must have been a timing trigger. But to see a guy standing there pulling his elbow up to his body....I don't know. I know as a 9 year old I thought I'd broken a rib once when I pulled it too far and too quickly.

Morgan gets card number 132. How's that for respect for a future Hall of Famer? And it's not like this is an early card. He was going into his 10th season in the big leagues. But he was a lifetime .263 hitter and his 162 game average was a thoroughly unimpressive 12 HR, 51 RBI with 36 SB and OPS+ of 121. The Cincinnati years (1972-1979) were much better: 162 game average of 22 HR, 86 RBI, 57 SB, .287 average, OPS+ of 147 and 2 MVP awards.

Needless to say, in the 60's, he was seen as just another really good second baseman, but in the 70's, he got better (power increased and strikeout rate decreased) and he was seen as the best second baseman of the decade. What happened? My best supposition could be that he got different coaching when he got to the Reds, but how many 10 year veterans really change much based on what coaching they get? More likely he's hitting 3rd, behind Rose and Griffey and ahead of Bench, Perez and Foster, both of which meant he was going to see more fastballs.

I think Morgan gets a bad rap now. His playing career is largely overlooked and he's just seen as some arrogant broadcaster. He's got reason to be arrogant, but the only complaint I have is that he seems to have developed a Tony Gwynn-like addiction to doughnuts. It's hard to look at either Gwynn or Morgan and believe they stole 50 bases.

There's a bonus player standing in the distance behind Morgan. This is a 1971 regular season shot, rather than a spring training photo. That's Astro catcher Johnny Edwards. The only other possibility is that this is in Cincinnati and that's Red backup catcher Pat Corrales, because the Astro and Red uniforms from a distance were similar. Still, I'm going with Edwards.

Monday, January 11, 2010

131 -- Jim Nettles

Jim Nettles

Wilton Guerrero. Tommie Aaron. Paul Reuschel. Vince DiMiggio. Rich Murray. Hector Cruz. Jim Nettles fits into a category with these guys. They were all the ball-playing brother of an All-Star, some even got to have Hall of Famers as brothers (although none were able to parlay that into as much fame as Billy Ripken). Jim had the blessing of following Graig through high school in San Diego and then to San Diego State.

So, by the time college is over, and Graig is 3 years ahead of Jim, that's the end, right? Nope. Graig is drafted in the 4th round by the Twins in 1965 and in 1968 the Twins take Jim in the 4th round. Graig was traded to Cleveland by the time the Twins brought Jim up in 1970.

Like Wilton, Tommie, Paul, Rich and Hector, Jim Nettles didn't have much of a career. He played with the Twins in 1971-72, primarily off the bench, and was then traded to the Tigers. After a partial season with the Tigers in 1974, he bounced around AAA, Mexico and Japan, getting 23 at bats with the Royals and A's in 1979 and 1981. He had a 9 year managerial career in the minors, ending with a 39-101 record with Bakersfield in 1996.

He did hit homers off Catfish Hunter and Gaylord Perry. One guy he hit really well was Joe Decker, who he got twice in 3 at bats against Decker on July 20, 1974 in Tiger Stadium. Jim had 16 career home runs, but 5 of them came in July 1971. His first 2 homers were in each game of a doubleheader against the Royals (the first a walkoff in the bottom of the 10th) and then he homered off Sonny Siebert, Stan Bahnsen and Fritz Peterson (an inside the parker) that month, all pretty good pitchers.

It's a pretty good picture on the card. Looks like one of the posed shots with the bat outstretched so it looks like the photographer snapped the picture mid-swing. It looks like a coach ambling towards the outfield to run drills. I can't figure out who it is. Any help would be appreciated.